Papers of William Henry Thompson
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Acquisition and Processing Information: This collection was donated to the University Special Collections by Don Thompson.
Scope and Contents
This collection contains a number of ephemeral items having to do with performances by William Henry Thompson in Series I. School books owned and acquired by William Henry Thompson in Series II. Mainly related to music, these items document Thompson's interest in music and the arts. The books also represent the type of education Mr. Thompson received as a boy.
Series III contains materials for William's son Billy or Bill Thompson, who was featured on the radio in the 1930s and 1940s and was a prominent voice actor in the 1950s and 1960s.
Sheet music that arrived with this collection has been moved into an aggregate music collection, Sheet Music Collection, MsC873.
Note: This biography is taken from a much longer autobiography, present in the collection. Mr. Thompson had reached the point in his story when he was 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 cornet 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 Chicago.
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.
Records of the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, MsC 150 Please note the list of additional mini-collections of Chautauqua material at the end of the Redpath finding aid.
Box Contents List
Series I: Biographical Materials
Series II: Ephemera having to do with Thompson, 1877-1939
Empress Theatre. 1889
Apollo Musical Club Chicago. December 23, 1895
Gual’s “The Holy City”. Thursday, June 17, 1897
The Columbia. 1897-1898 Season
Chicago Orchestra. 1898-1899
Apollo Musical Club 28th season. 1899
Grand Vocal and Instrumental Concert in Humboldt Park wed. M.E. Church. Friday, August 31, 1900
The Winnetka Club Concert. Friday, October 19, 1900
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. December 6, 1900 (Program)
Kimball Hall. Wednesday, January 23, 1901
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. December 17, 1901 (Program)
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. April 24, 1902 (Program)
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. December 11, 1902 (Program)
First Grand Concert and Ball, Wicker Park Hall. Friday, December 19, 1902
Henning’s Hall. Friday, June 19, 1903 (8 o’clock)
Boyd’s Theatre Program. 1904-1905 season
New Grand Theatre Program. 1904-1905 season
The Emmetsburg Opera House (three copies). Tuesday, September 12, 1905
Osborne House, the Grill. 1906
Castle Square Theatre, The Gondoliers (Summer Opera). May 13, 1907
Welch-Hugo Incorporation. 1911
Theatrical Events at the Academy of Music. 1912-1913 season
The Empress Theatre, Sullivan and Considine Vaudeville. September 24, 1916
Miles Theatre, Detroit’s Greatest Amusement Value. Monday, October 2, 1916
Hippodrome. October 29, 1916
The New Star Theatre. March 3, 1917
The Globe Theatre, Where High Class Vaudeville Prevails. September 17, 1917
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. December 6, 1928
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. February 20, 1930
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. April 17, 1930
Chicago Mendelssohn Club. January 8, 1931
Radio Star Album. 1939
Alhambra Theatre. no date
Bethlehem, a Christmas Pageant. no date
Bijou Theatre, Richmond’s Popular Playhouse. no date
California Theatre, This Week and Next The...Tenderfoot. no date
---. Souvenir of the Opening
"The Mikado", Town of Titipu. no date
Mountain Park Programme. June 17-22, no year
Mountain Park Programme, Falka. June 24-29, no year
Mountain Park Programme, Fra Diavolo. Week of July 29, no year
Orpheum Theatre. Saturday and Sunday, January 11 and 12, no year
Program at Foster’s the Grand and the Auditorium. no date
Sans Souci Park Theatre. no date
Sterling Opera Co. “Martha”. no date
Testimonial Concert and Reception. Friday, February 28, no year
The Theater, a Weekly Magazine. no date
20 Years of Corn. no date
Series III. Association books
The Book of Knowledge. 1919
Clark’s Brief Grammar. 1876
Warren’s Common-School Geography. 1882
Appletons’ School Readers Second Reader. 1883
School Songs, School Edition, Book One A. 1883
Spencerian System of Penmanship
Sheldon’s Graded Examples in Arithmetic, First Book. 1883
John Martin’s Book, the Child’s Magazine. February, 1922
The Human Body and Its Health. 1884
Conklin’s Handy Manual of Useful Information and Atlas of the World. 1889
Sander’s Newspeller Definer and Analyzer. [1928?]
McGuffey’s New Third Eclectic Reader. no date
McGuffey’s New Fourth Eclectic Reader. no date
Ray’s Practical Arithmetic. no date
Series III: Bill Thompson
Miscellaneous, including a postcard of the NBC studio in the 1940s, and publications from Philco Radio and Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, both featuring photographs of Bill Thompson