Billy Bletcher: Little Feller with a Big Voice

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Today is the birthday of Billy Bletcher (1894-1979)

Because of Bletcher’s small size and basso profundo voice, his was a rare career that embraced both visual comedy and voice over work, becoming especially legendary in the latter category. Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Bletcher broke into movies at Vitagraph in 1914. In 1916 he went over to the Vim Comedy Film Company, where he worked with Oliver Hardy in films like A Sticky Affair and The Battle Royal. By 1919 he was out in Hollywood working for Al Christie. He worked for Christie and other studios such as Metro and Fox throughout the twenties.

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In the sound era, he was relegated mostly to bit parts as sight gags, on account of his size. Thus, though his appearances were brief, they were also memorable. For example, he was a man in a deck chair in the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business (1931) and he was the little man with the beard in W.C. Fields’ The Dentist (1932) — “Is he standing in a hole?” Fields asks the nurse when Bletcher enters the office. “Naw, he’s just a little feller!” answers the nurse. Bletcher was also in other sound shorts for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach (where he was briefly teamed with Billy Gilbert), and in ones starring Clark and McCullough, The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges.

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But his biggest and best parts were as a voice over artist. From the early 30s through the mid 1950s he worked regularly for Walt Disney. His most famous roles were the Big Bad Wolf in Three Little Pigs (1933), and Peg Leg Pete. But he also worked at other studios, playing Spike the Bulldog in Tom and Jerry cartoons, and the Captain in The Captain and the Kids for MGM and any number of bears and wolves and other villains at Warner Brothers. His most widely heard voice over work may be in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz, in which he supplied the voices of several of the Munchkins (the Mayor and one of the members of the Lollipop Guild among them).

By the 1960s, work was getting sparse, although he did work occasionally. Jerry Lewis gave him small roles in The Nutty Professor (1963) and The Patsy (1964). His last credit was in a 1971 television production of Li’l AbnerHere is a wonderful interview about his work he gave late in his career: http://www.michaelbarrier.com/Funnyworld/Bletcher/Bletcher.htm.

And here’s his 1920 short Dry and Thirsty (which he also wrote):

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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