Tuesday, March 22, 2011



†Born Billy Mae Dinsmore, Billie Mae Richards began preparing for an entertainment career from the very outset of her life in 1921, making her first appearances on hometown Toronto, Ontario stages within a few years of learning how to walk. "I took dancing lessons from the time I was two," she is quoted as saying, "I was Toronto's version of Shirley Temple.”
In addition to singing and dancing, Billie played accordion and piano. With the commencement of WWII, Billie decided to separate herself from her unchosen acting profession by enrolling in the military. But her respite was brief; upon joining the Navy, she was immediately asked to audition for their show!

The ensuing show, called Meet The Navy, was a huge production which played throughout Canada during the war years. After serving as a petty officer in the Navy, Billie studied at the Academy Of Radio Arts in Toronto.

She soon established her trademark role, that of a little boy. In her words, "They heard my voice, and [that was] it. I never did any girl characters from then on. I don't think I was given the name Billie for nothing. My father had wanted a boy."

Once this type of character was established as her specialty, the CBC began to bill her as Billy Richards, with no further publicity for who she was, to hide her gender. Her performances were so believable that no one caught on. For many years, Billie played a variety of children on the radio, often doing several shows a day. Her most famous role was “the Kid” from “Jake and the Kid.” Combining the personality of a child with the perspective of an adult, Billie became one of the foremost actors of children.

The range of her radio characterizations widened over the years (in such shows as This Was My Father, What Makes Sammy Run, Colored Buttons, My Friend Ned, and† Echo Of No Return) but all of them remained within the boundaries of childhood. Billie is best known to American audiences for voicing Rudolph in the Rankin-Bass special, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Richards' other performances in Rankin-Bass productions included Willie McBean and his Magic Machine, The King Kong Show, The Smokey Bear Show and The Daydreamer. She also appeared in the original Spider-Man television series, and for a change, voiced all the FEMALE characters in The Undersea Adventures of Captain Nemo.
Billie was married to musician Bill Richards, and their daughter Judi Richards is a successful pop singer and songwriter.

Billie’s credits include hundreds of radio performances, dozens of animated voiceovers and countless stage performances, supplemented with TV appearances, commercials, and movies. Her career spanned from 20s vaudeville through 90s horror, including on-camera roles in Maniac Mansion, My Secret Identity, War of the Worlds and The Hidden Room. She appeared in Pennies from Heaven and had a bit part in the 1998 horror film Bram Stoker's Shadow Builder, in which her character was attacked with an axe by Paul Soles (who had played Hermey the elf in the original Rudolph special), and the 2001 short Bluehair.

On September 10, 2010, Billie Mae Richards died in her sleep, at age 88. According to her daughter, Cyndi Richards Jamieson, Billie Mae passed away peacefully, in her home.
Her gifts will continue to brighten the lives of generations to come, as long as Rudolph lives on. For if the greatest fame comes from creating characters so believable that the actor vanishes behind them, and the greatest fortune is an audience that grows with the generations, then Billie Mae Richards led the sleigh. In a career that has been anything but dull, that may be the most glowing tribute of all.

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