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Thompson, William Henry



  • Existence: 1872-1945


Note: This biography is taken from a much longer autobiography present in the collection. Mr. Thompson had reached the point in his story at approximately 40 years of age, when he passed away before he could finish the manuscript. The last entry is the announcement of signing of the peace accord in Berlin on May 9, 1945. Thompson died July 24, 1945. William Henry Thompson was born In Sioux City, Iowa, on October 29th, 1872. He had one older sister, Mary. When he was only three months old, his father was killed in a train wreck near St. Louis, Missouri, where he had apparently been trying to earn money to pay off his debts. Since he could not do this, the young mother was evicted from her house and all her belongings confiscated. Not having close relatives in Sioux City, she moved to Boscobel, in the southern part of Grant County, Wisconsin, where her younger brother lived. The family eventually moved to Chicago, where they lived in extreme poverty, with his mother working in a boarding house from five in the morning until eighth o'clock at night. Sometimes the family would survive on bread and milk for days at a time. His sister also worked, and young Henry, as he was known, earned money for himself and his family by selling the Chicago Daily News and by making hat racks for $1 a week. At the age of ten he stopped contributing to the family finances, as the School Board decided that he must attend school. When he was about 12 years old his mother died after a fall. Mary stayed in Chicago and lived with some cousins, but young Henry was sent to Curlew, Iowa to live with O. L. Berry, identified in the autobiography as his mother's uncle. He spent five happy years on this farm, although his great-uncle was very strict with him. In Curlew, Thompson was introduced to music by his cousins Christina and Anna, who taught him to play the organ, as well as giving him vocal lessons. He also played coronet in the Curlew band during the summers. At the age of 17, he went to Chicago to visit Mary and did not return to the farm at Curlew for many years, and then only as a visitor. In Chicago, he worked several jobs before landing a job as a tailor. He worked at Hart, Schaffner, and Marx for many years. (This company is still in business as of this writing in 2010). He took voice lessons in the evenings and created a reputation for himself. He won a scholarship to study at the American Conservatory of Music and was eventually able to quit his job at Hart, Schaffner and Marx and make a career of music, singing in churches, theaters, and in traveling productions During this time he met Jean Mushett. She was the daughter of the presiding elder of the Methodist Church, and one of the greatest pianists of her time in the Middle West. Jean held the assistant piano-teaching position to the president of the Chicago Musical College, an institution second only to the then celebrated New England School of Music, Elocution, Drama, Voice Culture, and kindred arts. They were married on February 11, 1912 and immediately set out on tour. Their son, William Henry Thompson, was born July 8, 1913 and was soon touring with them and then performing with them. They went under various names, including The Thompson Berri Trio and The Mister Billy Thompson Trio. At one point they worked on the Keith vaudeville circuit. Another son, Donald Bryce, was born to them on October 15, 1925. William Henry Thompson died at the age of 73 on July 24, 1945, in Sioux City. Billy (now calling himself Bill) went on to work in radio. He played several roles in Fibber McGee and Molly for NBC radio. He worked for CBS radio as well. After serving in World War II, he returned to doing voice characterizations for MGM, Disney, and Hanna-Barbera, with an impressive list of parts, some of which are Droopy Dog; Captain Smee; and three dogs, the Italian cook and the Irish policeman in Lady and the Tramp. He was the first voice of Scrooge McDuck. In 1957 he joined the staff of the Los Angeles branch of Union Oil as an executive working in public relations, though he still did occasional voice work. Bill Thompson died suddenly in 1971 at the age of 58.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William Henry Thompson Papers

Identifier: MsC0150.17

A performer on the Chautauqua and vaudeville circuits, Thompson was a singer with the Mendelssohn Club.

Dates: 1877-1928