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