Bill Williams

To those of you who are as enthusiastic about classic TV gems as I am, the name Bill Williams will ring a bell as one of television’s most charming leading men gone frequent guest star.

Career: Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 21, 1915* as Hermann Katt, Bill Williams started his career as a dancer in Vaudeville. Picking up on his expertise as a professional swimmer, he appeared in aquatic underwater shows before he broke into film business. Following army service, he started out working as an extra and played small, often uncredited parts in the mid 1940s before he finally landed a contract with RKO.

As a contract player, he was frequently cast as a budding co-star, opposite Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward or wife Barbara Hale. Bit by bit, he got a chance to show off his talents as the handsome leading man, mostly starring in entertaining B movies from all genres, including Westerns and film noir.

In the 1950s, Bill turned his attention to TV and landed the lead in The Adventures of Kit Carson for a four season run from 1951 to 1954. The show was a great success and turned him into a household name and Western hero, especially idolized by children. In 1957, another TV show followed, Date of the Angels, in which he starred opposite TV darling Betty White. Although promising, entertaining and a lot less strenuous to work on, the show unfortunately did not last longer than a season. In 1960, Bill gave TV another shot as a leading man, putting his efforts into an underwater adventure show called Assignment: Underwater, a program modeled after Sea Hunt.

Apart from working on feature films and TV movies, Bill Williams had successful stints as host and guest star on numerous popular TV programs in the 1960s and 70s, including his wife’s smash hit Perry Mason and family friend Raymond Burr’s follow-up show Ironside. In 1981 then, Bill retired from acting completely and retreated to pursuing his many interests outside of Hollywood.

Characters: Although originally a city boy, Bill Williams was frequently cast as a convincing and handsomely talented cowboy. With his boyish grin, tender eyes and natural athletic charm, he was the perfect ‘good guy’, a true mother-in-law’s dream. He worked hard at doing most of his own stunts, oozed honesty and a down-to-earth mentality. It’s not really a surprise that he memorably worked his way into the hearts of an entire generation of kids when he starred as TV’s Kit Carson. It would be a pity though to remember him for only that.

Not unlike his marvelous wife, Bill is often remembered for his one career-defining role. Now I’m here to ask you to check out more of his work. Go beyond his favorable Western show and check out his other work, feature films and TV guest stardom, either way. You will not regret it, especially if you have a look at the lovely programs and projects he starred in with Mrs. Williams aka Barbara Hale.

Family business: On RKO grounds ca. 1944, Bill Williams met fellow RKO contract player and actress Barbara Hale. According to a Movie Stars Parade article from 1948, they were introduced by acting coach Lillian Albertson, although later articles suggest that they met on the set of West of Pecos which was released in 1945. Either way, Bill and Barbara got married in June 1946 and started working together on a frequent basis.

Together they had two daughters and one son, actor William Katt, born in 1947, 1951 and 1953, and several grandchildren. For the most part, they lived a rather quiet simple life in the San Fernando Valley area, enjoying forty-six years of matrimony until Bill Williams passed away on September 21, 1992 at the age of 77.

Bill and his wife starred side by side in several movies and TV projects, including West of Pecos, A Likely Story, The Clay Pigeon, Young Couples Only, Slim Carter, her TV hit show Perry Mason, Buckskin, Insight, The Giant Spider Invasion and Flight of the Grey Wolf.

Filmography:

1981 Goldie and the Boxer Go to Hollywood (TV movie)
1981 Night of the Zombies
1979 240-Robert (TV series) – Stuntman (1979)
1979 B.J. and the Bear (TV series) – Odyssey of the Shady Truth (1979)
1978 A Fire in the Sky (TV movie)
1974-1976 Police Woman (TV series) – Sarah Who? (1976), The End Game (1974)
1976 69 Minutes
1976 The Quest (TV series) – The Seminole Negro Indian Scouts
1976 Moon Over the Alley
1959-1976 Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color(TV series) – The Flight of the Grey Wolf: Part 1+2 (1976), Chester, Yesterday’s Horse (1973), Gallegher Goes West: Trial by Terror (1967), Gallegher Goes West: Tragedy on the Trail (1967), Texas John Slaughter: The Man from Bitter Creek (1959), Texas John Slaughter: The Slaughter Trail (1959)
1976 Flight of the Grey Wolf (TV movie)
1975 The Giant Spider Invasion
1972-1975 Ironside (TV series) – The Rolling Y (1975), Nightmare Trip (1972)
1968-1974 The F.B.I. (TV series) – The Lost Man (1974), The Runaways (1968)
1973-1974 The Rookies (TV series) – Something Less Than a Man (1974), Get Ryker (1973), Three Hours to Kill (1973)
1974 The Phantom of Hollywood (TV movie)
1971-1974 Adam-12 (TV series) – Routine Patrol: The Drug Store Cowboys (1974), Pick-up (1971)
1973 Emergency! (TV series) – Body Language (1973)
1973 Dusty’s Trail (TV series) – Then There Were Seven (1973)
1973 The Streets of San Francisco (TV series) – The Unicorn (1973)
1973 Chester, Yesterday’s Horse (TV movie)
1973 Gunsmoke (TV series) – Talbot (1973)
1972 O’Hara, U.S. Treasury (TV series) – Operation: Smokescreen (1972)
1971 Primus (TV series) – Trial and Terror (1971)
1971 Scandalous John
1970 Rio Lobo
1970 Marcus Welby, M.D. (TV series) – To Carry the Sun in a Golden Cup (1970)
1969 Insight (TV series) – A Thousand Red Flowers (1969)
1969 Lady Godiva Rides
1964-1969 Lassie (TV series) – The Return Home (1969), A Chance to Live (1969), Lassie and the Buffalo (1966), Climb the Mountain Slowly (1964)
1968 Buckskin
1967 Daniel Boone (TV series) – The Spanish Horse (1967)
1967 Dragnet 1967 (TV series) – The Big Frustration (1967)
1966 Batman (TV series) – Batman Makes the Scenes (1966), Fine Finny Fiends (1966)
1965 Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space
1962-1965 Perry Mason (TV series) – The Case of the 12th Wildcat (1965), The Case of the Murderous Mermaid (1965), The Case of the Bluffing Blast (1963), The Case of the Crippled Cougar (1962)
1965 The Wild Wild West (TV series) – Night of the Casual Killer (1965)
1965 Tickle Me
1965 The Hallelujah Trail
1965 A Letter to Nancy
1964 Rawhide (TV series) – The Lost Herd (1964)
1964 Law of the Lawless
1962 77 Sunset Strip (TV series) – The Snow Job Caper (1962)
1962 Target: The Corruptors (TV series) – Goodbye Children (1962)
1962 Lawman (TV series) – Get Out of Town (1962)
1962 Hawaiian Eye (TV series) – Location Shooting (1962)
1961 The Investigators (TV series) – New Sound for the Blues (1961)
1961 The Sergeant Was a Lady
1960-1961 Assignment: Underwater (TV series) – Bill Greer, 13 episodes
1960 Hell to Eternity
1960 Oklahoma Territory
1959 A Dog’s Best Friend
1959 Laramie (TV series) – Man of God (1959)
1959 Men Into Space (TV series) – Asteroid (1959)
1959 Bachelor Father (TV series) – East Meets West (1959)
1956-1959 The Millionaire (TV series) – Millionaire Martha Halloran (1959), The Kathy Munson Story (1956)
1959 Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (TV series) – The Untouchables: Part 1+2 (1959)
1959 G.E. True Theater (TV series) – The Flying Wife (1959)
1959 Alaska Passage
1958 Yancy Derringer (TV series) – Ticket to Natchez (1958)
1958 Legion of the Doomed
1958 Space Master X-7
1958 M Squad (TV series) – Girl Lost (1958)
1957-1958 Date with the Angels (TV series) – Gus Angel, 33 episodes
1957 Slim Carter
1957 Pawnee
1957 The Storm Rider
1955-1957 Science Fiction Theatre (TV series) – Killer Tree (1957), Jupitron (1956), The Mind Machine (1956), Project 44 (1956), The Hastings Secret (1955)
1957 The Halliday Brand
1956 The Broken Star
1955-1956 Schlitz Playhouse (TV series) – Angels in the Sky (1956), Well of Anger (1955)
1956 The Wild Dakotas
1956 Damon Runyon Theater (TV series) – Miracle Jones (1956)
1955 Hell’s Horizon
1955 The Red Skelton Hour (TV series) – Deadeye vs. the Lone Ranger (1955)
1951-1955 The Adventures of Kit Carson (TV series) – Kit Carson, 103 episodes
1955 Studio 57 (TV series) – Young Couples Only (1955)
1955 Apache Ambush
1955 Wiretapper
1955 Young Couples Only (TV short)
1954 Outlaw’s Daughter
1954 Dragnet (TV series) – The Big Pug (1954)
1954 Racing Blood
1952 Torpedo Alley
1952 Son of Paleface
1952 The Pace That Thrills
1952 The Battle at Apache Pass
1952 Rose of Cimarron
1951 Havana Rose
1951 The Last Outpost
1951 The Bigelow Theatre (TV series) – Make Your Bed (1951)
1951 The Great Missouri Raid
1951  Blue Blood
1950 California Passage
1950 Rookie Fireman
1950 The Cariboo Trail
1950 Operation Haylift
1950 Blue Grass of Kentucky
1949 A Dangerous Profession
1949 Fighting Man of the Plains
1949 The Clay Pigeon
1949 The Stratton Story
1949 A Woman’s Secret
1949 Adventures in Jazz (TV series) – Host
1947 A Likely Story
1946 Till the End of Time
1946 Deadline at Dawn
1945 Sing Your Way Home
1945 Johnny Angel
1945 West of the Pecos
1945 Back to Bataan
1945 The Body Snatcher
1945 Those Endearing Young Charms
1945 Zombies on Broadway
1944 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
1944 He Forgot to Remember (short)
1944 Murder in the Blue Room
1933 King Kong

Availability:

  • DVD: The Adventures of Kit Carson, The Clay Pigeon, Date with the Angels, The Flight of the Grey Wolf, The Giant Spider Invasion, Gunsmoke, Ironside, Perry Mason, West of Pecos, Young Couples Only
  • VHS: Buckskin, The Flight of the Grey Wolf, The Giant Spider Invasion
  • Internet: Insight – A Thousand Red Flowers, Young Couples Only

Personal recommendations (in alphabetical order):

  • The Adventures of Kit Carson, 1951-55
  • Buckskin, 1968
  • The Clay Pigeon, 1949
  • Date with the Angels, 1957-58
  • Insight – A Thousand Red Flowers, 1969
  • A Likely Story, 1947
  • Perry Mason TV series, 1957-66
  • Slim Carter, 1957

Sources for more on Bill Williams:

* Author’s note: Apparently, there’s some confusion about Bill Williams’ date of birth. (Thanks for the mention, Gina!) Wikipedia now lists May 15th as his birthday while imdb still mentions May 21st. As soon as I get confirmation on the validity of one of these dates, you’ll be the first ones to know.

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