J. Frank Willis collection

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J. Frank Willis collection

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    Reference code

    2005.010.1, Subfonds 1

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    • 1872-1986, predominant 1916-1970 (Creation)
      Willis, James Frank, 1909-1969

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    Physical description

    54 cm of textual records and graphic material

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    Name of creator


    Biographical history

    James Frank Willis (known as "Frank"), the older brother of Austin Willis, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on 15 May 1909 to Alexander and Emma Willis. He was educated at King's College School before taking up a four-year placement to study art in New Year. It was during his time that Frank begin to work as an actor and a radio announcer.

    He returned to Halifax in 1929 and opened an art studio, and continued to work as an actor and broadcaster. In 1933 he was hired by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC, later the CBC) as the Maritime regional representative. It was around then that his radio program "Atlantic Nocturne" (later "Nocturne") debuted; the program would run on CBC radio for 30 years.

    He came to national and international prominence as a broadcaster in April 1936, during the Moose River Mine disaster (where three men were trapped in a mine about 100 km outside of Halifax). Frank made half hour reports almost without break over a 95 hour period during the rescue effort. In the end he recorded 99 broadcasts, which were broadcast to 650 radio stations across Canada, and picked up internationally (e.g. by the BBC) as well. Frank's reporting is cited as the first example of around the clock 24 hour radio coverage of a breaking news story.

    After this, Frank continued his career with the CBC, and participated in an exchange with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1938. Shortly after returning to Canada he was transferred to Toronto, where he continued to work for the CBC as a senior producer and broadcaster. During this time he was involved in many radio productions including: "The White Empire", "Comrades in Arms", "Carry on Canada", "The Quiet Victory", "The Johnny Home Show", and "Flanders' Fields".

    In his later career, Frank moved onto television as well, and was the host (from 1958-1963) of the public affairs show, "Close-Up", as well as the host of "Question Mark" and "Horizon".

    In his personal life, Frank was married to Gladys Winchcombe, and was an avid sailor. He died of a heart attack on 26 October 1969.

    Custodial history

    Scope and content

    Subfonds consists of material relating to the professional and personal life. Includes material depicting Frank's personal life (mainly photographs, as well as childhood memorabilia), correspondence regarding professional (especially regarding Frank's time at the CBC) and legal matters, various professional photographs (e.g., headshoots), awards, scripts, and other documents.

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    Series and file arrangement created by Ern Dick has been maintained.

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