William Smithers
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Early Years

Pony ride (Elizabeth, NJ)


William Smithers was born of father Marion Wilkinson  Smithers and mother Marion Thompson Smithers in Richmond, VA, July 10, 1927. He attended William Fox Elementary School.

At nine he moved with his parents to Elizabeth, NJ, going to the Robert Morris Elementary, Alexander Hamilton Junior High and Thomas Jefferson High Schools. In 6th grade, he played the Mayor of London in Around the World In An Airship, and in 9th grade at Hamilton, he played the lead in the school operetta in the same production with Phyllis Kirkgaard who later became MGM film star Phyllis Kirk. In high school, Bill and Phyllis appeared together in Stage Door.

In World War II, Germany was defeated in May, 1945, but the war with Japan was still on when he graduated from high school in June of that year. Bill joined the Navy's radio technician program with rating of Seaman 1st Class. In August, after atomic bombs had been dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the war ended. He was assigned to the Naval Separation Center in Long Beach, Long Island and was discharged in 1946.

He first attended college at Hampden-Sydney, VA. There he joined the drama club and played Prince Sirki in Death Takes A Holiday, Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner and Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. He became newscaster and disk jockey at a radio station in nearby Farmville, VA and produced his own weekly jazz program using records from his personal collection.

Thomas Jefferson in "The Common Glory" [1947]

In the summer following his freshman year, he won the leading role of Thomas Jefferson in the first presentation of Paul Green's "symphonic drama" The Common Glory, produced in the open-air amphitheater at Williamsburg, VA. New York Times drama critic Brooks Atkinson called him "worth encouraging."

Now seriously considering a profession as an actor, he transferred in his junior year to Catholic University in Washington, D.C., whose drama department had a national reputation. There he played Gloucester in King Lear and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Other students at C.U. in those years were Ed McMahon, later to be Johnny Carson's "sidekick" on the "Tonight Show," and actor Philip Bosco.

In other summers of his college years, he appeared with stock companies in Eaglesmere, PA (under the leadership of Northwestern University's Alvina Krause) and Rochester, NY, playing, among other roles, Marchbanks in Candida, Ragnar in The Master Builder, and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice. A fellow actor at Eagelsmere was Hank McKinney, later to become film star Jeffrey Hunter.