Austin Willis fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

Austin Willis fonds

General material designation

  • Textual record
  • Graphic material
  • Moving images

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Level of description

Fonds

Reference code

2005.010.1

Edition area

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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area

Date(s)

  • 1862-2005, predominant 1916-2005 (Creation)
    Creator
    Willis, Austin, 1917-2004

Physical description area

Physical description

1.85 m of textual records and graphic material
20 videocassettes
6 audio cassettes
6 compact discs
3 U-Matic videocassttes
2 audio discs
2 audio reels
2 DAT audio tapes
1 USB key
Various objects and aretfacts

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Archival description area

Name of creator

(1917-2004)

Biographical history

Austin Willis (born Alexander Austin Willis) was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 30 September 1917 to Alexander and Emma Willis, and was the younger brother of J. Frank Willis. He was educated at King's College School in Windsor, Nova Scotia.

After graduating, Willis worked as a newspaper reporter for the Halifax Herald, as well as a freelance actor in radio and local stock companies. In 1939, he started working with the CBC in Toronto as a radio announcer. He continued this work during the war years, hosting programs such as the "Victory Loan Hour", and "Music by Percy Faith". He also joined the Royal Canadian Navy, where he served as a Lieutenant in Naval Information, and worked as a war correspondent.

After the war he continued his work as an actor and broadcaster. During this time he starred in several Canadian films including: "Bush Pilot" (1947), "The Sins of the Fathers" (1949), "Hudson's Bay' (1952), "One Plus One" (1961), and "Ten Girls Ago" (1962). As well, Austin and his prematurely grey hair became a well-known presence on Canadian television, and during this period he starred in hundreds of comedies, dramas, variety shows, and adventure programmes during the 1950s and 1960s. Among them were "Space Command" (a CBC science-fiction show which also starred William Shatner and James Doohan), and "Seaway" (1965-1966).

During the 1960s, Austin was also featured in various theatrical productions, including "Man and Boy" (which ran on Broadway), various American television shows, and International films (including a memorable appearance in "Goldfinger" as the card player who, with help from James Bond, beats Goldfinger). In the 1970s, Austin returned to Canada and the CBC where he hosted a panel show, "This is the Law", which ran between 1971 and 1976.

In later years Austin was honoured as a Member of the Order of Canada (2002), and received an Honorary Doctorate from Saint Mary's University (2002). He also pursued a project of immense personal importance interviewing Canadian veterans as part of the "Comrades in Arms" project.

Austin was married twice, first to actress Kate Reid (between 1953 and 1962), with whom he had two children (Reid and Robin), and again in 1984 until his death to Gwen Laforty. He died on 4 April 2004.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of material relating to the personal and professional life of Austin Willis. The fonds covers his early life in Toronto, his time working for the CBC (radio and television), and various film projects (for instance "Bush Pilot" and "Goldfinger"). The fonds consists of various material, including correspondence, scripts, news clippings, sound recordings (either of performances or interviews with Willis), promotional material relating to productions involving Willis, and other documents. The fonds also contains a sousfonds relating to the personal and professional life of Willis's older brother, James Frank Willis.

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

Material donated to the Saint Mary's University Archives by archivist Ern Dick.

Arrangement

Arrangement largely follows organization imposed by Ern Dick.

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