Bill Kennedy at the Movies

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Heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Louis, with Kennedy in 1961.

Last summer, were pleased to receive approximately 150 photos from the grandniece of popular Detroit movie host, Bill Kennedy.   The photos were from Kennedy’s personal collection and had previously been displayed on the walls of his home office/study in Florida.  As museum staff members browsed through the collection, the photos of movie stars and celebrities brought back many memories of Detroit’s own Hollywood insider and his weekday afternoon showings of old movies in the 1960’s-1970’s.

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Actor Kirk Douglas and Kennedy in 1961.

Willard A. Kennedy was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, on June 27, 1908, and began his media career in Cleveland in 1935 as a radio sports announcer.  A year later, he became a Hollywood commentator at WWJ Radio in Detroit and continued that work until 1940.  An acting career was calling, so he decided to move to Hollywood.  For the next 13 years, he found roles as minor characters in a variety of movies, but never found the leading man role that would truly launch his acting career.  In 1953, he came back to Detroit and had a short run on WWJ TV as Your Hollywood Host.  He returned to Hollywood in 1954-55 for a second try in acting, but that did not work out so he came back to Detroit in 1956.  Shortly after his return, he found his niche at CKLW (Channel 9, Windsor) as the movie host for Bill Kennedy’s Showtime.  The popular show ran until 1969 when Kennedy moved to WKBD (Channel 50, Southfield) and he continued in the same role as the movie host for Bill Kennedy at the Movies.  He remained at WKBD until his retirement in 1983.

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Actor Clint Eastwood with Kennedy in 1971.

Although he never achieved Hollywood stardom, he had worked with many of the well-known film stars of the 1930’s-1950’s.  In addition, since childhood, he had collected Hollywood memorabilia and autographed photos.  He continued to add to his collection during his Hollywood days and had accumulated nearly 300,000 photos in his “Fabulous Files.”  (He later donated this collection to the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1987.)  His inside knowledge about the business provided many background stories which captivated his audiences for nearly three decades.  During show breaks, he offered his personal memories of Hollywood along with show business news, movie trivia, phone calls from viewers, and interviews with stars/celebrities.

A sampling of some of the stars and celebrities that Kennedy interviewed over the years included:

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Bill Kennedy spent his retirement years in Palm Beach, Florida, where he died on January 27, 1997.

30 thoughts on “Bill Kennedy at the Movies

  1. Do many taped interviews or his commentary and or intros to films he aired exist? Only a couple appear on youtube……

    • Unfortunately, we don’t have any in our collection. I believe most of CKLW’s holdings went to the main CBC offices in Ottawa, and I’m not sure about the whereabouts of WKBD’s archives.

      • I remember watching movies with my dad. Shirley Temple being my favorite! Saturday afternoons with Bill Kennedy and my dad. Miss you both!

  2. I watched many films on his program. He had insight into Hollywood and his comments about whatever film he had were on the money. I used to watch the black and white portable tv out in the garage, and often the films were b&w too. Great memories of our family at my Grandparents house watching Bill Kennedy at the movies!

  3. Pingback: Bill Kennedy at the Movies – Detroit Life
  4. He was a part of my childhood through college. He was hilarious. I loved hearing the inside scoop. A great Detroit personality.

  5. Does anyone remember and/or have info about his red Thunderbird? A ’58, I believe? I thought I remember him saying that some high school auto shop was to restore it, but they screwed it all up. Anyone? Bueller?

  6. I enjoyed his program as a young man from 1977-1983. I learned to enjoy those old black and white movies from the 1930’s-1950’s, which led me to the discovery of film noir. It was from his show I’ve been a lifelong fan of older movies. Thanks.

  7. I grew up watching him in the 70s when visiting my grandfather. We’d watch the movies. I wish I could find a list of the movies he showed. There’s one in particular that stays in my mind. It was a murder mystery who climax takes place in the hospital. The killer is lurking about while the private eye is checking around the surgery room. There’s a skylight and lots of atmospheric shadows. But I’ve never been able to figure out what movie this was.

  8. Every now and then you would see Bill in his porthole T-Bird tooling around in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe where he lived. We watched his show every Sunday that we could followed by Mary Morgan with her little dog Liebchen.

  9. Hi! This is Bill Kennedy’s grandson, Michael Kennedy, writing from Lake Tahoe. Just an edit my Grandfather would want you to make regarding his bio: he retired and lived in Palm Beach, FL (not West Palm Beach). If you’ve ever been there you’d understand there’s a big difference. Bill got annoyed that writers often got this wrong. I don’t blame him. It may sound silly, but I know he’d like his bio to be updated with this fact. Thank You!

    • Hi Michael, my mom watched your grandfather all the time. When he was on Channel 9 in Canada my parents and brothers and sister was on his show in the 60’s. Just a question I know it’s a long shot but is there any archives of his shows back than? He gave my twin brother a few pictures as a souvenir :). I don’t remember being on the show (I’m thinking we were 5-6 years old at the time) but would love to see the clip. I know it’s a real long shot but thought I would ask. Thanks for your time. Tina

  10. Grew up watching Bill. Later, as a broadcaster myself, we became very good friends. I interviewed Bill many times from his retirement home in Palm Beach. He was always cordial and such fun. He had many wonderful, first hand stories from his days in Hollywood. Just a great character and a terrific friend.

  11. Hello Wayne – Bill (my grandfather) was the best storyteller I ever knew. He inspired me at a young age to work on my storytelling skills. Loved the way he interviewed too. Glad to hear your fond memories. Thank you!

    Michael

  12. I was on the Bill Kennedy show in 1956 being interviewed with my bird Skippy. I was in 2nd grade. I’m guessing on the year but I would love to see the tape but not sure how to get it. My name was Linda Thomas

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