Born to vaudevillian parents, Bill Thompson began his career in Chicago radio, where his early appearances included appearances as a regular on Don McNeill’s morning variety series The Breakfast Club in 1934 and a stint as a choir member on the musical variety series The Sinclair Weiner Minstrels around 1937. While on the former series, Thompson originated a meek, mush-mouthed character occasionally referred to in publicity as Mr. Wimple. Thompson soon achieved his greatest fame after he joined the cast of the radio comedy Fibber McGee and Molly around 1936 and brought back the Wimple voice in 1941. Also, in Fibber McGee and Molly, he played a man named Horatio K. Boomer, and although Wallace Wimple and Nick Depopulis were two of his greater roles in the show, his best was the Old-Timer. On Fibber McGee and Molly, Thompson essayed a variety of roles, including a boisterous conman with a W. C. Fields voice, originally named Widdicomb Blotto but soon re-christened Horatio K. Boomer, and Nick Depopulis, the Greek restaurant owner. His two most famous roles on the series, however, were as the Old Timer and Wallace Wimple. The Old Timer, introduced in 1937 was a garrulous old gent who would drop in and listen to McGee’s rambling stories and jokes. He inexplicably referred to McGee as “Johnny,” as in: “That’s pretty good, Johnny, but that ain’t the way I heerd it!” This soon became a national catchphrase and surfaced in Warner Bros. cartoon shorts, notably Tortoise Wins by a Hare in which Bugs Bunny disguises himself as a bearded old man and tries to trick the tortoise into telling him “how he beat that rabbit!”)
Wallace Wimple, an expansion of Thompson’s Breakfast Club role, would prove to be his most enduring character, however. Wimple was a timid birdwatcher, appropriately nicknamed “Wimp” by McGee, who lived in constant terror of his “big old wife,” ironically named “Sweetie Face,” who was often mentioned but never heard. (The term “wimp” for an unmanly character was in common usage already, as with the cartoon character J. Wellington Wimpy). The character, whose greeting was a mild “Hello, folks,” became very popular, and inspired animation director Tex Avery to build a dog character around the voice. This character, eventually named Droopy, was also voiced by Bill Thompson in most of his appearances. Thompson also played the title role, an Adolf Hitler take-off, in Avery’s Academy Award nominated short Blitz Wolf. Around 1943, however, Bill Thompson’s thriving career was interrupted when he joined the US Navy during World War II, and all of his radio characters were temporarily dropped. He returned to Fibber McGee full-time in 1946, however, and also became a semi-regular on Edgar Bergen’s radio series as lecturer “Professor” Thompson. On February 21, 1950, he married Mary Margaret McBride. Thompson continued to work on radio until the late 1950s, notably in several episodes of CBS Radio Workshop, and his animation voice-over career also began to build steam during the 1950s. At MGM, he returned as Droopy and also played Droopy’s recurring bulldog nemesis Spike, known as Butch in his appearances that were produced after Avery’s departure from MGM, and many other characters in the studio’s cartoon shorts (he used the Wimple/Droopy voice for the titular Native American caricature in Big Heel-Watha and for Tom’s lookalike cousin George in a 1957 Tom and Jerry entry Timid Tabby, for two examples).
For Walt Disney Studios, Bill Thompson was heard in many shorts and features, often in either dialect parts or a variation of his Wimple/Droopy voice. His animated feature film credits included the parts of the White Rabbit and the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Smee and the other pirates in Peter Pan (reprising his roles in radio adaptations for Lux Radio Theater), and King Hubert in Sleeping Beauty. Many of the characters he played in Disney productions are now voiced by Corey Burton and Jeff Bennett. His best showcase may well have been in Lady and the Tramp (1955), where he was heard in no less than five dialect parts, as Jock the Scottish Terrier, Bull the Cockney bulldog, Dachsie the German dachshund, Joe the Italian cook, and the Irish policeman in the zoo. In shorts, he was heard as Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore in several “Donald Duck and Humphrey the Bear” entries and as Professor Owl in two music related shorts, Melody and Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (directed by Ward Kimball), amongst many others. He reprised both of these roles in Disney’s various television series, and was the first actor to voice the comic book character Scrooge McDuck (the theatrical featurette Scrooge McDuck and Money). Another prominent role is that of Irish station manager Flannery in “Pigs Is Pigs” (directed by Jack Kinney), and the voice of Uncle Waldo from The Aristocats. Thompson’s final role was as Uncle Waldo in The Aristocats, released shortly before his sudden death from acute septic shock on July 15, 1971, just a week after his 58th birthday. His wife, Mary Margaret McBride, was the daughter of cartoonist Clifford McBride and not the Mary Margaret McBride of radio fame, who was unmarried and lived in New York, while Thompson was on the West Coast. Bill Thompson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in radio, February 8, 1960.
- July, 08, 1913
- Terre Haute, Indiana
- July, 15, 1971
- Culver City, California
Cause of Death
- septic shock