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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the William Henry Thompson Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1877-1928
Creator: Thompson, William Henry (1872-1945)
Extent: 1.50 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0150.17
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: A performer on the Chautauqua and vaudeville circuits, Thompson was a singer with the Mendelssohn Club.

Alternate Extent Statement: Ephemera throughout.

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

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

Preferred Citation: William Henry Thompson Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

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.

This collection contains a number of ephemeral items having to do with performances by William Henry Thompson. School books owned and acquired by him are also here.  The books represent the type of education Mr. Thompson received as a boy.

Box 3 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.
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

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • Biographical Materials
  • Part 1 of William Henry Thompson's biography, "Looking Backward". - 1944
  • Part 2 of William Henry Thompson's biography (incomplete as he died before it was finished) - 1944
  • Ephemera Related to Thompson - 1895-1916
  • Empress Theatre: Sullivan & Considine Vaudeville, Cincinnati, Ohio, program (2 copies). Week of September 24 - 1916
  • Apollo Musical Club program, "Samson and Delilah", December 11 - 1899
  • Program from Gaul's "The Holy City", June 17 - 1897
  • The Columbia Theatre program, "Jack and the Beanstalk" - 1897
  • American Conservatory of Music program, Twelfth Annual Concert and Commencement Exercises, June 20 - 1898
  • Chicago Orchestra Fifth Concert program, December 9 and 10 - 1898
  • Apollo Musical Club program, "The Messiah", December 23 - 1895
  • Program from Grand Vocal and Instrumental Concert in Humboldt Park Swedish M.E. Church, August 31 - 1900
  • Program from Winnetka Club Concert, Friday, October 19 - 1900
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club, December 6 - 1900
  • Program from concert given by the Choir of Christ English Ev. Lutheran Church, January 23 - 1901
  • Ephemera Related to Thompson - 1901-1907
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club Concert, December 17 - 1901
  • Poster: Grand Musical, Dramatic and Spectacular Entertainment for Benefit of St. Anthony's Hospital Given at the Auditorium Thursday Evening, April 11 - 1901
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club Concert, April 24 - 1902
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club Concert, December 11 - 1902
  • Program: First Grand Concert and Ball, Wicker Park Hall, Friday, December 19 - 1902
  • Program: Pupils' Recital, Henning's Hall, Friday evening, June 19 - 1903
  • Boyd's Theatre program (2 copies) - 1904-1905
  • New Grand Theatre program - 1904-1905
  • Program: The Emmetsburg Opera House, Souvenir of the Opening, (3 copies) Tuesday, September 12 - 1905
  • Island Park Theatre program (2 copies), Owasco Lake, Season - 1906
  • Castle Square Theatre program (3 copies), week of May 13 - 1907
  • Ephemera Related to Thompson - 1911-1928
  • The Interstate Line program, "A Royal Reception", week of October 29 - 1911
  • "The Play's the Thing" program, The Player. Season - 1912-1913
  • Empress Theatre program
  • Miles Theatre, Detroit, Michigan program - 1916
  • Hippodrome, St. Paul, Minnesota: program for week of October 29 - 1916
  • New Star Theatre
  • Globe Theatre program (2 copies); week of September 17 - 1917
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club, December 6 - 1928
  • Ephemera Related to Thompson - 1930-1931
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club, February 20 - 1930
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club, April 17 - 1930
  • Program from Chicago Mendelssohn Club, January 8 - 1931
  • Alhambra Theatre, undated
  • "Bethlehem, A Christmas Pageant," undated
  • Bijou Theatre program, undated
  • "The Tenderfoot", California Theatre, undated
  • "The Mikado" playbook
  • Mountain Park Programme, June 17-22, [n.y.]
  • Ephemera Related to Thompson - 1904-1908
  • Foster's Grand Auditorium, program (2 copies). Season - 1905-1906
  • Mountain Park Programme, "Fra Diavolo", week of July 29, [n.y.]
  • Mountain Park Programme, "Falka", week of June 24-29, [n.y.]
  • Orpheum Theatre, program, January 11 and 12, [n.y.]
  • Sans Souci Park Theatre program, no date or play title. Appears to be missing some pages.
  • Sans Souci Park Theatre program, "The Sultan of Sulu"; no date.
  • The Sterling Opera Company program, "Martha" and "Sleeping Queen"; no date
  • Testimonial Concert and Reception for Carrie Jacobs-Bond (program); February 28, [n.y.]
  • Copy of The Theatre magazine, October 5 - 1908
  • Flier including advertisement for the Davidson Theatre, Season - 1904-1905
  • Poster for the Star Concert Company, Mutual Lyceum Bureau, no date
  • Box 2:
  • Association Books - 1876-1882
  • Illustrated booklet about The Book of Knowledge, vol. 1, - 1919
  • Clark, Stephen W. A Brief English Grammar with Illustrations and Diagrams. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., - 1876
  • Warren's Common-School Geography. Philadelphia: Cowperthwait & Co. Includes two hand-written notes by William Henry Thompson - 1882
  • Association Books - 1883
  • Mueller, C.E.R. and O. Blackman, Ed. School Songs, Book One (A). Chicago: Geo. Sherwood & Company - 1883
  • Harris, William T., Andrew J. Rickoff, and Mark Bailey. Appleton's School Readers. The Second Reader. New York: D. Appleton and Company. - 1883
  • Spencerian System of Penmanship. New York & Chicago: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, and Co. [n.d.]
  • Association Books - 1883-1922
  • Smith, William Thayer. The Human Body and Its Health. New York & Chicago: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, & Company - 1884
  • John Martin's Book, The Child's Magazine. New York: John Martin's House, February - 1922
  • Swarthout, M. French and M.A. Farnham. Sheldon's Graded Examples in Arithmetic. First Book. New York and Chicago: Sheldon and Company. - 1883
  • Association Books - 1854, 1888
  • Sanders, Charles W. Sanders' New Speller, Definer and Analyzer. New York and Chicago: Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor, & Co. - 1854
  • Conklin, George W. Conklin's Handy Manual of Useful Information and World's Atlas. Chicago: Laird & Lee, Publishers. - 1888
  • Box 3:
  • Association Books - 1865, 1866
  • McGuffey, W.H. McGuffey's New Fourth Eclectic Reader: Instructive Lessons for the Young. Cincinnati, New York: Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. - 1866
  • McGuffey, W.H. McGuffey's New Third Eclectic Reader: For Young Learners. Cincinnati, New York: Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co. - 1865
  • Ray's Practical Arithmetic
  • White Rats Actors' Union of America application for membership form
  • Materials Related to Bill Thompson
  • Color postcard of NBC Radio City, Hollywood, California - 1940-1949
  • Pamphlet: "Radio Star Album", Chicago: Philco Radio & Television Corp of Illinois, Philco - 1939
  • Booklet: "Don McNeill and the Breakfast Club Celebrate 20 (Y)ears of Corn"
  • Wikipedia article: Bill Thompson (voice actor).

This collection is indexed under the following subject terms.