Boy-voicedBillie Mae Richards

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A voice actress, Richards worked in radio dramas in Canada in the 1960s, when radio dramas were still popular there. A U.S. producer went to Canada to find less-expensive voice talent for a stop-motion animated holiday feature based on a popular 1949 Christmas song: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Richards, who had an uncanny ability to speak like a young boy, was cast in the title role — and credited as “Billy Richards”. It has run every year since its 1964 debut, making it the longest-running Christmas TV special. The narrator snowman, actor and folk singer Burl Ives (who died in 1995), was the only one to get continuing residuals for the show, which Richards once said was a “sore subject” for her. In a 2005 interview, Richards said that the 47-minute film is still popular after so many years because whatever Rudolph did, “he’s doing it for a reason.” And then added, “That and Burl Ives, for heaven’s sake.” Richards worked on a number of other projects, including the “Care Bears” movies and TV series, as well as two “Rudolph” sequels. She died September 10 at her home after suffering several strokes. She was 88.

From This is True for 12 September 2010