Childhood & Early Life
Billie Mae Richards was born Billy Mae Dinsmore, on November 21, 1921, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her father wanted her to become a dancer. Thus, he got her enrolled into dance classes when she was still a toddler.
By the time she turned 5, she was already performing on stage. In one of the first stage shows of her dancing career, she performed along with World War I veterans. By then, she had also developed an interest in the army and had started considering enrolling into the Canadian army.
Following her education, she enlisted into the ‘Canadian Royal Navy.’ By then, she had somehow decided to work in the radio and had enrolled into the ‘Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts’ in Toronto.
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Billie made her on-stage debut with the show ‘Meet the Navy.’ The show premiered at Toronto’s ‘Victoria Theatre’ in September 1943. The show, which was directed by Hollywood producer Louis Silver, was initially meant to be performed in front of servicemen only. However, a few days after its premiere, it was opened to the general public, too.
The show became a success and toured around many cities across Canada, US, and Europe during the Second World War. As a key part of the show, Billie earned accolades for her dance skills. The show eventually debuted on TV in 1964.
In the late 1940s, Billie resigned from the army, and following her graduation from the ‘Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts,’ she auditioned to work in the radio. She was eventually hired to speak and sing in the ‘Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.’
In 1950, she had the first major breakthrough of her career when she was hired to voice the character of the ‘Kid’ in the popular on-going radio series titled ‘Jake and the Kid.’ Her voice became extremely popular with the listeners, and she ended up being the voice of the ‘Kid’ until 1956.
In 1964, she voiced the titular character ‘Rudolph’ in the made-for-TV Christmas film ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.’ The stop motion TV animation film was appreciated by both critics and audiences. Since its debut, it has been played on TV almost every year around Christmas. The film also had many parodies and sequels, but none of them could match the success of the original.
In 1965, she voiced the leading titular character ‘Willie McBean’ in the stop motion animation film titled ‘Willy McBean and His Magic Machine.’ The film was a critical and commercial success.
In 1966, she voiced ‘Billy Bond,’ one of the key characters in ‘The King Kong Show.’ The show was an American–Japanese co-production, and Billie appeared in the American version.
The same year, she also worked in the stop motion animated live-action comedy movie titled ‘The Daydreamer’ and voiced some additional characters.
She received another big break in 1967, when she was hired to voice the character of ‘Billy Conner,’ along with some additional characters, in the animated series ‘Spider-Man.’ ‘Spider-Man,’ which was also a huge success when it was released, has now become a cult series. Billie remained associated with the series until 1970. In 1969, she also voiced a few characters on ‘The Smokey Bear Show.’
In 1973, Billie joined the series ‘Festival of Family Classics’ as a voice actor. The following year, she voiced two key characters, ‘Chris’ and ‘Robbie,’ in the adventure animated series titled ‘The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo.’
In 1976, she appeared in the TV film titled ‘Rudolph’s Shiny New Year’ and reprised her voice role of ‘Rudolph,’ the reindeer. In 1979, she reprised her role yet again in the film titled ‘Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.’
In 1985, Billie was hired to voice the character of ‘Tenderheart Bear’ in the animated comedy film titled ‘The Care Bears Movie.’ The same year, the series ‘The Care Bears’ was launched, and Billie voiced ‘Tenderheart Bear’ yet again.
She then reprised her voice role of ‘Tenderheart Bear’ in 1986, with the sequel, ‘The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation.’
In addition, she was also associated with the series ‘The Video Adventures of Clifford the Big Red Dog.’ She has also provided her voice for the series ‘The NeverEnding Story.’
Apart from providing her voice to various characters, she has also worked on live-action projects. As an actor, she has worked in films such as ‘The Big Slice’ (as ‘Lady Overboard’) and ‘Shadow Builder (as ‘Mrs. Butterman’). She has played small roles in series such as ‘Maniac Mansion’ (as ‘Aunt Winnie’), ‘The Hidden Room’ (as ‘Nonnie’), and ‘My Secret Identity.’ She has also appeared in TV films such as ‘Melanie Darrow’ (as ‘Ma Harper’) and ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ (as ‘Aouda’).
Family & Personal Life
Billie Mae Richards married musician Bill Richards in 1940, and the couple lived together until Bill’s death in 1995. The couple had a daughter, Judi Richards, who became a singer-songwriter later.
Billie died on September 10, 2010, at the age of 88. She had a stroke a few days before her death, from which she had initially recovered. However, she was again hospitalized a few days later, following a few complications. She passed away shortly after.