Birthday: July 18, 1902
Died At Age: 76
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Theodore Childress Wills
Born in: Seagoville, Texas, United States
Famous as: Actor
Height: 6'2" (188 cm), 6'2" Males
Spouse/Ex-: Hattie Elizabeth, Hattie Elizabeth "Betty" Chappelle (m. 1928–1971), Novadeen Googe (m. 1973–1978)
children: Jill Wills, Will Wills
Died on: December 15, 1978
U.S. State: Texas
Chill Wills was an American actor and singer, who primarily played character roles in American Westerns. He started his career as a singer in the 'Avalon Boys Quartet,' which led him to his acting debut. He mostly played jovial and sometimes sinister character role, primarily in Westerns. In 1940, ‘MGM' signed Chill as one of their regular comical cowpokes. He had gained prominence as a voice actor, too, the most notable of his voice roles being that of ‘Francis, the Talking Mule.’ Chill's deep, husky voice later earned him several more voice roles. His breakthrough role was John Wayne's whiskey-drinking funny sidekick in 'The Alamo.' However, the film brought him notoriety in the film fraternity for using blatant and embarrassing means to promote his 'Academy' nomination. Chill continued to work till his death in 1978. He was honored with a 'Walk of Fame' “star.” Chill was strongly opinionated and had a stint as a presidential candidate supporter. Chill was first married to a ballet dancer, with whom he had two sons. He remarried just a couple of years before his death.
Childhood & Early Life
Chill was born Theodore Childress Wills, on July 18, 1902, in Seagoville, Texas. He was just 12 when he started performing with tent shows, in vaudeville, and with stock companies. He attended the 'Minsky College of Burlesque.'
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Chill's early start as a performer led him to found and lead the singing group 'Chill Wills and His Avalon Boys' (also known as ‘The Avalon Boys’) in the 1930s. The group disbanded in 1938. Before that, he had worked with his group in several low-budget Westerns. An ‘RKO’ executive scouted him while his group was performing at the ‘Trocadero’ in Hollywood. Following this, he built a career as an actor.
One of Chill's notable appearances with 'The Avalon Boys' was in the 1937 comedy film 'Way Out West,' in which he provided the bass-singing voice in comic actor Stan Laurel's performance of 'The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.' His other notable voice role was for 'Francis the Talking Mule,' a celebrity character of the 1950s, in seven popular 'Universal-International' film comedies.
He performed the self-composed song 'The Blue-Eyed Sailor Man' in the 1942 'MGM' feature 'Stand By for Action.' He continued to work as a voice-over artist and became the “Voice of Chicago,” ‘Sgt. Joe,’ in the 1953 noir crime film 'City That Never Sleeps.'
Chill played ‘Uncle Bawley’ in the 1956 epic Western drama film 'Giant.' He then appeared in a breakthrough role in the 1960 epic war film 'The Alamo.' His remarkable performance as a beekeeper and protagonist ‘Col. Davy Crockett's (played by John Wayne) Tennessean companion earned him an 'Academy Award' nomination for the ‘Best Supporting Actor.’
Unfortunately, Chill lost his only chance to win the most-coveted award because of his aggressive and tasteless campaign for a win, which was considered one of the most expensive and excessively political campaigns of the time. He was 58 by then and was insecure of losing the 'Academy' award, as he earned the nomination after spending decades in the industry.
The film's star, John Wayne, who also directed and produced 'The Alamo,' made a public apology on behalf of Chill. 'The Alamo' ad campaigns led to several controversies and debates over the professional and moral ethics to promote movies. Chill's publicity agent, WS "Bow-Wow" Wojciechowicz, took the blame for the blasphemous campaign and saved Chill, saying he had not known anything about it.
In 1960, Chill played the title role in an episode of Rory Calhoun's 'CBS' Western series 'The Texan,' titled 'The Eyes of Captain Wylie.' The same year, on February 8, he was honored with a “star” on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame’ (at 6923 Hollywood Boulevard). Following this, Chill appeared in the only season (1961–1962) of the 'CBS' Western series 'Frontier Circus.'
From 1963 to 1964, Chill was active in politics and made appearances on behalf of the ‘Republican’ nominee US senator Barry Goldwater, in his campaign against US president Lyndon B Johnson. However, in 1968, He refused to support Richard Nixon for the presidential run and served as the master of ceremonies for the former governor of Alabama, George C Wallace's campaigns instead.
Chill was one of the few Hollywood stars who endorsed Wallace's campaign against Nixon and Hubert H Humphrey.
In 1966, he reprised his role of a shady Texas rancher named ‘Jim Ed Love’ from the 1965 Western film 'The Rounders' in the 'ABC' comedy/Western series of the same name. In 1968, he starred in an episode of the syndicated radio and TV Western drama series 'Gunsmoke,' titled 'A Noose for Dobie Price.’ He played the character ‘Elihu Gorman,’ a former outlaw who worked together with ‘Marshal Matt Dillon’ (played by James Arness) to track down a former gang member who had escaped jail.
Chill's last appearance was in the 1978 TV movie 'Stubby Pringle's Christmas,' in which he played a janitor.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Chill got married to dancer Hattie Elizabeth "Betty" Chappelle on December 4, 1928, and remained married to her until her death in November 1971. They had two children, Jill Wills, born in 1939, and Will Wills, born in 1942.
Chill was married to Novadeen Googe from 1973 to 1978.
Chill was an avid poker player. One of his close friends, Benny Binion, was the former owner of 'Binion's Horseshoe Casino' in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the man who had started the 'World Series of Poker.' In 1970, Chill participated in the first 'World Series' of the game.
Chill died of cancer on December 15, 1978, at the age of 76 years. He was interred in the 'Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery' in Glendale, California.
The nickname "Chill" was an ironic comment on the day he was born, as it was the hottest day recorded that year. However, it is also believed to be simply a shortened version of his middle name, “Childress.”
Chill was not paid for his voice role of ‘Francis,’ even though it was the main character in the ‘Francis’ franchise.