Just Bill
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Just Bill

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Movies!
 
by Michael Hathaway
Curator, Stafford Co. Museum

One of Stafford County's most famous residents was a white Plymouth Rock rooster named Just Bill. Bill was bred and raised in Lexington, Neb. by C.W. Winkler and sold in 1946 for $100 to Earl H. Kelly (1893-1956) of Stafford, Kansas.

Kelly was a private detective and retired farmer and oil man who exhibited livestock and poultry successfully for more than 40 years. Poultry raising was a hobby, to keep him "from going crazy during the long periods between wheat tending."

According to Poultry Press (March 1952), at a poultry exhibition in Fort Worth, Bill was "acclaimed as one of the greatest specimens of the breed ever produced."

Kelly entered Bill in a grand championship rooster show at Oklahoma State Fair, sponsored by R.K.O. movie studio. Bill won out over hundreds of competitors from 40 states. Actor Wayne Morris was one of the judges.

Bill "came through with flying colors to become the Charles Atlas of all barnyard fowls ... After Bill's victory, the owner was presented with a large trophy and a fat movie contract ..."

Bill became the R.K.O. trademark rooster, crowing in the Warner-Pathe newsreels that played in theaters before the movies.

From a 1947 issue of the Stafford Courier: "A white Plymouth Rock rooster owned by Earl Kelly is breaking into the movies ... He's a natural champion and conducts himself like one in front of poultry breeders, photographers and reporters.

"Bill crows when a rooster should crow and does it so well he is to be the rooster used as the trademark in the Warner-Pathe newsreel. At the request of the show management and photographers, Kelly remained with Bill in Oklahoma City a couple of days after the show ended, for picture taking.

"The rooster goes to Hollywood next week for more movie work. Kelly was offered the trip but says he got enough of the high powered photographers' lights at Oklahoma City. A friend of his in Hollywood is a poultry man and will take care of Bill while the bird is there ..."

As Bill was on his way to Hollywood, Kelly was quoted in the Corpus Christi Caller (Dec. 10, 1947) as saying affectionately, "He doesn't crow often, but when he does, all hell breaks loose! ... I sure hate to see him go, we've been through a lot together."

Bill became so valuable, Kelly insured him for $1,000 with Lloyds of London. He garnered many accolades during his illustrious career. He and Kelly appeared in "Life" magazine. His photo graced the covers of Southwest Poultryman (Jan. 1948) and American Poultryman (March 1952).

His story appeared in newspapers all over including Daily Oklahoman, Long Beach Independent, Denver Post, Dayton Daily News, Poultry Press (PA), Tulsa Tribune, Evening World (Omaha) and Corpus Christi Caller, among others.

Newspaper/magazine clippings, photographs and awards chronicling Bill's career were preserved in a scrapbook by Mrs. Earl (Nell O'Connor) Kelly (1894-1980). It was donated to the Stafford County Museum in 1990 by Jane Helmer (Mrs. Kelly's niece).

(reprinted from Reflections, Vol. 19, #2, Nov. 2001)