Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Billie Hayes Passes On

Billie Hayes, who played Mammy Yokum in Li'l Abner (1959) and Witchiepoo in the Saturday morning show H. R. Pufnstuf, died on April 29 2021 at the age of 96.

Billie Hayes was born Billie Armstrong Brosch on August 5 1924 in Du Quoin, Illinois. She began her career when she was only nine years old, tap dancing in local clubs. It was while she was in high school that she began playing with Vince Genovese's orchestra. Afterwards she toured with her own solo act in Chicago and around the Midwest. Eventually she moved to New York City.

After performing around New York City, Billie Hayes played lead roles in producer J. J. Shubert's roadshow productions of The Student Prince, The Merry Widow, and Blossom Time. She made her debut on Broadway in New Faces of 1956. She replaced Charlotte Rae was Mammy Yokum on Broadway in Li'l Abner. She reprised the role when it was adapted as the 1959 movie.

In the Sixties Billie Hayes guest starred on the TV shows The Monroes and The Monkees. She played Witchiepoo in the single season of H. R. Pufnstuf. She reprised the role in the movie spun off from the TV series, Pufnstuf.

In the Seventies Billie Hayes reprised her role as Mammy Yokum in a television adaptation of the musical Li'l Abner. She guest starred on Bewitched, Donnie and Marie, Wonderbug, Tabitha, and The Krofft Superstar Hour. She reprised her role as Witchiepoo in  The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. She played the regular role of Weenie the Genie in the Saturday morning show Lidsville.

In the Eighties Billie Hayes's career started including a good deal of voice work. She performed additional voices on the television cartoon Trollkins, as well as the series Paw Paws. She was a guest voice on such animated TV series as The Gary Coleman Show, The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries, The Real Ghostbusters, and The Further Adventures of SuperTed. She guest starred on the shows Trapper John, M.D.; Murder, She Wrote; General Hospital; Mathnet, and Square One TV. She appeared in the movie Snowballing (1985) and was one of the voices in the classic Disney animated movie The Black Cauldron (1985).

In the Nineties Billie Hayes regularly provided voices for the animated TV shows Problem Child and The Brothers Flub. She provided guest voices for the animated shows TaleSpin, Darkwing Duck, Bokners, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man, Rugrats, and Johnny Bravo. She provided additional voices for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). In the Naughts she was a guest voice on the animated series The Powerpuff Girls, Teen Titans, Grim & Evil, The Batman, and W.I.T.C.H. She provided a voice for the animated movie Shrek Forever After (2010).  In the Naught she was a guest voice on the animated shows Bubble Guppies and Teen Titans Go!. She was the voice of Mrs. Neederlander on Transformers: Rescue Bots.

Billie Hayes was a wonderful actress. Indeed, she was only in her thirties when she first played Mammy Yokum on Broadway and in the feature film Li'l Abner. For those of you unfamiliar with Li'l Abner, Mammy was well past her thirties. And while I am not familiar with H. R. Pufnstuf (the title character creeped me out as a child), I know from The Paul Lynde Halloween Special she was excellent as Witchiepoo.  Of course, Billie Hayes played more than old hillbilly women and witches. She did well Weenie the Genie, the friend of protagonist Mark (Butch Patrick) on Lidsville. Whether as the ancient hillbilly Maw on The Monkees or a witch on Bewitched, Billie Hayes was a delight to see. Of course, she was also a gifted voice artist, lending her voice to hundreds of hours of cartoons. She was a remarkable character actress who could play a wide array of roles.

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