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William Andrew Jones (February 18, 1907 – March 5, 1974), better known as Billy De Wolfe, was an American character actor. He was active in films from the mid-1940s until his death in 1974. De Wolfe's closeted homosexuality has been discussed by John Gielgud, author David Kaufman, and The Advocate.
Born William Andrew Jones in the Wollaston neighborhood of Quincy, Massachusetts, DeWolfe was the son of a Welsh bookbinder who encouraged him to become a Baptist minister. Instead, Billy developed an interest in the theatre. He found work as an usher before becoming a dancer with the Jimmy O'Connor Band. It was at this point that he changed his last name initially to De Wolf (the e was added later) which was the last name of the manager of the Massachusetts theatre where he worked. In 1925, De Wolfe landed chorus boy spots in the Broadway musicals Artists and Models and The Cocoanuts. He went on to tour Europe with a dance team for most of the 1930s, appearing in a London revue called "Revels in Rhythm" and "danced before royalty on nine continents." At some point during World War II, he served in the United States Navy until he was discharged for medical reasons in 1944. He signed with Paramount Pictures in 1943 and became a reliable comedian. His pencil-mustached and often pompous character contrasted humorously with the films' romantic leads. His best-known role of his Paramount tenure is probably the ham actor-turned-silent movie villain in the 1947 fictionalized Pearl White biography The Perils of Pauline. De Wolfe became known for his portrayal of fussy, petty men ("Never touch!," he would say imperiously whenever someone accosted him physically). The New York Times review of his 1948 film Isn't It Romantic? strongly criticized the way the other actors' material limited their performances, contrasting their performances with his: "But Mr. De Wolfe is nothing daunted. He rips up the place with great delight. The material is at his mercy. Likewise the scenery. And he chews it to bits." He was a good friend of Doris Day until his death, from the time of their meeting during the filming of Tea for Two (1950), also appearing with Day in Lullaby of Broadway the following year. After his Paramount contract lapsed, DeWolfe returned to the stage. He appeared in the revue John Murray Anderson's Almanac in 1953 and 1954, and starred in the last edition of the Ziegfeld Follies, in 1957. He appeared regularly in guest roles on television, including the first two episodes of NBC's The Imogene Coca Show. He portrayed Mr. Jarvis on CBS's The Doris Day Show, and co-starred with Larry Storch in a short-lived TV sitcom, The Queen and I. He often appeared on talk shows and in TV commercials, doing his "Mrs. Murgatroyd" drag routine. Wearing a hat and a shawl (but still sporting his mustache), DeWolfe (as old maid Phoebe Murgatroyd) would claim to be an expert on romance and answered questions from the lovelorn. Generations of TV viewers know Billy DeWolfe only by his voice: his is the voice of the inept magician Professor Hinkle in the 1969 Christmas special Frosty the Snowman. DeWolfe gave the role his usual fussy diction: "Mess-y, mess-y, mess-y! Sill-y, sill-y, sill-y! Bus-y, bus-y, bus-y!" In 1967–68 (one season, 26 episodes), he co-starred with Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell in the TV sitcom Good Morning World as Roland Hutton, the fussy manager at a radio station where David Lewis and Larry Clarke (Baker and Schell) are co-hosts. In 1972, DeWolfe was scheduled to return to Broadway portraying Madame Lucy in the musical revival of Irene starring Debbie Reynolds, Monte Markham, Ruth Warrick, and Patsy Kelly. However, during the early stages of rehearsals, DeWolfe learned that he was ill with cancer and was replaced by George S. Irving. Later that year, he recorded a vocal track for the New York cast album of Free to Be... You and Me, starring Marlo Thomas, reprising the role in the animated ABC Television special filmed a year later. The TV show aired on March 11, 1974, six days after his death. De Wolfe died just after his 67th birthday, from lung cancer, on March 5, 1974, at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he had been hospitalized since February 26.
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