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The University of Iowa Libraries

Special Collections and University Archives

Finding Aid

Papers of William Henry Thompson
MsC 150.17
Collection Dates: 1877- 1928
1.5 linear ft.

Access and Restrictions: This collection is open for research.

Digital Surrogates: Except where indicated, this document describes but does not reproduce the actual text, images and objects which make up this collection. Materials are available only in the Special Collections Department.

Copyright: Please read The University of Iowa Libraries' statement on Property Rights, Copyright Law, and Permissions to Use Unpublished Materials.

Use of Collections: The University of Iowa Libraries supports access to the materials, published and unpublished, in its collections. Nonetheless, access to some items may be restricted by their fragile condition or by contractual agreement with donors, and it may not be possible at all times to provide appropriate machinery for reading, viewing or accessing non-paper-based materials. Please read our Use of Manuscripts Statement.

Acquisition and Processing Information: This collection was donated to the University Special Collections by Don Thompson.

Photographs: none

William H. Thompson portrait


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.


Biographical Note

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.


Related Materials

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.

Keith/Albee VaudevilleTheater Collection



Box Contents List

Box 1

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

Box 2

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?]

Box 3

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