Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Detroit's Movie Maven--Bill Kennedy


Detroit Free Press TV Channel Guide print advertisement from the 1970s.

Every Baby-Boomer from Detroit and Windsor remembers who gave us our extensive Hollywood movie education--Bill Kennedy. Bill started announcing on the radio professionally in the 1930s at WWJ - The Detroit News station. His deep voice resonated over the air waves.

In 1940, he embarked on a movie career and signed a contract with Warner Brothers Studios where he worked from 1941 until 1955. Bill had the voice but not the face. He didn't emote well on screen, so he was relegated to a series of flat supporting roles. He played mainly cops, bad guys, radio announcers (no stretch for Bill), newspaper men, and swindlers. In all, Bill Kennedy has 103 film credits.

In the post World War Two era, Kennedy appeared on numerous B-Western television shows including The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and The Gene Autry Show. Kennedy always spoke kindly of Gene Autry. Bill was over six feet tall and many of Hollywood's leading men were short and didn't like doing fight scenes with him. Gene Autry was short, but always had a job for Bill when he needed it. Autry told him once, "I like beating up bad guys on screen who are bigger than me."

Bill Kennedy playing a newscaster in a Superman episode.

What many of us in Detroit know that most people don't is Bill's was the voice behind the opening credits of  The Adventures of Superman--one of the most iconic introductions in television history. Bill received a one-time check for $350. He regretted not asking for screen credit which might have benefited his career. The show has been continuously running in syndication since 1952. A link to the Superman program opening is below.

In 1956, Bill Kennedy returned to the Detroit area to host an afternoon movie program called Bill Kennedy's Showtime, for CKLW-TV across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. The show became a big hit. Bill talked about his jaded experiences in Hollywood's heyday and how he worked with many of the top stars. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic wit won the loyalty of viewers. He had an avuncular, self-deprecating manner--especially if talking about a film he was in. If the movie was bad, he would tell his audience.

The show opened with a tight shot on a picture of a woman smoking a cigarette with Bill's theme song Just in Time playing in the background. The photograph was from a magazine. I can see the model in my mind's eye with her elbows on a table and a smoldering cigarette in her right hand. Bill chose Just In Time for his theme song because his professional life was at a low point when he got the job with CKLW.


Bill wearing a hat to cover up his hair transplant surgery.
In 1969, Bill took his show to WKBD which broadcast out of Southfield, Michigan. The show remained essentially the same with a title change to Bill Kennedy at the Movies. Bill would interview celebrities when they were in Detroit and he took on-air phone calls which were sometimes more interesting than the movies. I enjoyed the live TV commercial pitches of Abe Schroe for his furniture upholstery business.

Abe and Bill always had lively repartee like they knew each other well outside of work. These two got along so well on air that it strikes me Bill was probably part-owner or an investor in Artistic Upholstery. Bill would take a break and Abe would go into his pitch. Nobody else made live commercials on Bill's show--not Ollie Fretter--not even Mr. Belvedere (Detroit inside joke).

In 1983, Bill retired to Palm Beach, Florida. He died of emphysema on January 27, 1997, at the age of eighty-eight. Rest in peace "young, old-timer."

The Adventures of Superman introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2l4bz1FT8U

Bill Kennedy's theme song Just In Time by Frank Sinatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIcQ26arWAs