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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 635

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This is the grave of Billy De Wolfe.

Born in 1907 in Quincy, Massachusetts, William Jones was the son of bookbinder and Baptist who urged his son to become a Baptist preacher. To say the least, that didn’t take. In fact, Jones became interested in the opposite of a Baptist preacher–theatre, dance, and comedy. He was pretty talented and got work with the Jimmy O’Connor Band by the late 1920s. He became a prominent dancer and toured Europe with a dance team.

He wouldn’t have been remembered, just a minor entertainment figure making a living. But in 1943, Paramount Pictures signed him to a deal and he became a stock comedian in their films. Among his better known roles were 1947’s The Perils of Pauline and 1948’s Isn’t It Romantic? These weren’t great films, but then Paramount and the other studios put out loads of second rate material in these years filled with pretty talented people who had little choice in the studio system and, hey, at least they were working.

De Wolfe never became a star and after his Paramount contract expired, he decided mostly to return to the theatre, including starring in the last edition of the Ziegfried Follies in 1957. He worked the occasional movie too. But the new medium of television was perfect for a guy like De Wolfe. Between being funny and one of those “don’t I know that guy?” types, he was great for the one-off casting slots and game shows of the new genre. He was on The Doris Day Show (they were great friends) and starred in a very short-lived sitcom called The Queen and I. In 1967, he got another show, Good Morning World, but it only lasted one season. He usually played fussy characters and had a drag bit too. Yes, he was gay, but he was also closeted during these dark years for any gay actor who wanted to work. His characters seem to be obviously gay but perhaps there was a mind block at the time that didn’t raise those suspicions in viewers.

You might not have heard of Billy De Wolfe. But you almost certainly know him and that’s for his voicing of the magician Professor Winkle in Frosty the Snowman, which debuted in 1969 and has been watched by children and their parents during Christmas season for over fifty years.

De Wolfe remained working until just before his death, in 1974, of lung cancer. He was 67 years old. Here’s some samples of his work:

Billy De Wolfe is buried in Mt. Wollaston Cemetery, Quincy, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other actors who were involved in Frosty the Snowman, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Jimmy Durante, who was the narrator, is in Ladera Heights, California and Arthur Rankin, Jr., who was one of the co-directors, is in Bermuda, which sounds good to me. Frosty himself was voiced by Jackie Vernon, but his ashes were scattered. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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