Billy Bletcher, standing 5′ 2″, was known as the little guy with the big voice, who, ironically, started his film career during the silent era.
Billy’s show business career began in 1913 at the age of 19 in vaudeville, and within a year, he went to work for Vitagraph Studios in Brooklyn where he both acted and directed. Two years later, he met his wife, Arline Harriett Roberts with whom he would stay married until the day he died in 1979.
In 1917, he took his wife westward to Hollywood where he started with smaller production companies, such as the Christie Film Company, writing and acting in shorts, and then moved on to larger and larger companies, such as the Fox Film Corporation where he did a few cowboy movies, one with Tom Mix, playing the comedic element. Then onto larger companies, such as Warner Brothers, RKO, Columbia, and Paramount where he had mostly bit parts, but got experience working with the likes of The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers. But it was in Mack Sennett’s comedy troupe where he started getting recognition doing two-reelers, and his biggest break came when Hal Roach studios pared him with Billy Gilbert and his career took off. Because pictures now had sound, directors and studios everywhere were clamoring for his deep, rich voice.
Mack Sennett and Hal Roach put Bletcher in shorts with W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy and he even played Spanky’s father in the Little Rascals series, but it was Disney who made Bletcher a star.
Pinto Colvig, the original voice of Goofy and Pluto, told Bletcher that Disney needed a big, blustering voice to “huff and puff and blow your house in,” so he tried out, got the job, and within a very short time, Disney had him doing a session a week in the sound booth, sometimes doing two and three voices. His voice got so famous that when he auditioned to do the voice of one of the seven dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Walt Disney took him aside and told him, “Billy, your voice is heard so much in all of these singles that I make, I don’t think I’d want to use you as one of the Seven Dwarfs.” Bletcher admits that because his voice was so low and resonant, the characters he got to play were usually the “heavies” (bad guys). And as a heavy his voice became too recognizable for him to get a role in a feature length Disney production, with one exception: he did get a minor role in Dumbo as the voice of one of the clowns.
As a voice actor, he could go anywhere and soon found himself working for Leon Schlesinger at Warner Brothers, but never got credit for his work since Mel Blanc had it in his contract that he’d be the sole credit for voice characterizations. And at that time there were only a dozen or so actors doing voicework that the jobs were plentiful. He worked for Disney, Warner, and at MGM he did the voice of the Captain in the Captain and the Kids cartoons.
In the fifties, he did several characters on the Lone Ranger radio program, but before that he did what’s known in the business as ADR (automated dialogue replacement) work, with his old pal Pinto Colvig. In The Wizard of Oz (1939), their voices were substituted for a few of the munchkins.
All in all, Bletcher worked on just over 450 films spanning nearly 60 years, his last film being a made-for-TV version of Li’l Abner (1971) in which he played Pappy Yokum. He passed away 13 years later at the age of 84.