By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"The son of the celebrated Swing Era Bandleader, recognized as the Father of Western Swing, BOB WILLS JR.'s larger than life exploits should make rich movie material," reads the biography. "Born in Donie, Texas, a tiny hamlet in Freestone County, like the sons of many celebrated men, BOB JR. felt the need to make his own mark on the world and has pursued many paths to this end."
The bio chronicles a history spent as a professional boxer, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, a bandleader in Fort Worth, a candidate for a seat in the Senate, a bit-part actor in dozens of unknown films (Ben and Genoich and Caldonia DC, to name two). He claims to have been named the Entertainer of the Year in 1982 by something called the Hollywood Appreciation Society; a year earlier, he says he was elected by the National Federation of Music Clubs, another organization of dubious origin, as an Outstanding Composer.
He also claims to be a member of the Texas Music Hall of Fame, though such an entity doesn't exist. There is a tentative opening date for a Hall of Fame in Johnson City set for October, in something called the Feed Mill Complex, but various delays and insurance problems have held up the opening. Furthermore, Charles Trois, who is currently in charge of the items to be placed in the Hall of Fame, says he has never heard of Bob Wills Jr.
"I mean, I've heard of Bob Wills," Trois says.
For her part, publicist Holly Williams dismisses the Wills family's charges as "ridiculous," maintaining her client is the real deal.
"We go through this once every five years," she says. "The reason this comes up is because he's the illegitimate son of Bob Wills and an embarrassment to the family. It's the two sisters that are upset because they're not making money for this, and they want to make trouble. It's ridiculous. It's not like he owes them anything. He's the most generous man. His life is a story everybody wants to do, and for them to do this after family members pass away is ludicrous."
For a lawyer, Moton Holt does not build a convincing case for his client. When asked point-blank whether he believes his client is the son of Bob Wills, he does not say yes or no. He will only say that Wills Jr. believes it, which is good enough for him.
"And I'll tell ya what," Holt says, "he really believes it."
Holt first met Wills Jr. in the early 1980s, around the time Wills Jr. claims he was discharged from the Air Force. They were introduced at a place called the Cauliflower Alley Club in Hollywood, the kind of place that catered to former wrestlers and ex-boxers and anonymous actors who played in B-grade movies. It was, as Holt describes it, a social club for losers and never-weres--"a Damon Runyon kind of thing," he calls it, giving the group a certain kind of pathetic dignity.
Holt says he was introduced to Wills Jr. through Mike Mazurki, a character actor who had bit parts in such films as Some Like It Hot, Four For Texas, and the 1955 John Wayne high-seas epic Blood Alley. At the time, Wills Jr. was trying to tour California with a swing band called the Western Playboys, and attempting to establish his own career as a character actor.
Holt recalls he was skeptical of Wills Jr.'s claims of being the son of Bob Wills, primarily because the two men looked nothing alike. The only thing they have in common when it comes to appearance is the fact both have two eyes, two ears, a nose, and a mouth.
"I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, and Wills and Hank Williams were heroes of ours when I was a kid," Holt says. "I asked [Bob Jr.] about the lack of physical similarities, and he said around the eyes and around the facial features, they're the same. I never took out a magnifying glass to compare, but that was his answer. But if he didn't inherit his father's slimness, he didn't inherit his musical ability, either."
Still, Holt shrugs, he had "no reason to believe Bob one way or the other."
"I didn't think it was important," he says now. "But when I was in Hollywood, I met enough screwballs to be skeptical. I met one who said he was the illegitimate son of John Barrymore. Peter Lorre has one running around there says he's his son. Bob was the one person that really rang true...
"The guy really believes it. In those times I went along with it, not because of any retainer or monetary basis. For all practical purposes I thought Wills was tel-ling the truth, for whatever that mattered. If someone in his past led him through the primrose path, they did a good job of it."
Holt, for his part, has never seen his client's birth certificate be-cause, he says, Thorne told him all the records were destroyed in a Freestone County Court-house fire. (The only fire in the courthouse occurred in 1896.) Holt says Thorne changed his name to Bob Wills Jr. because Wills' legitimate sons--"Wills Jr.'s brothers," as Holt says--told him to. That way, if he was going to go around saying he was the son of Bob Wills, he wouldn't embarrass the family by having a different last name. The family didn't want a "hint of scandal," Holt says, and so Thorne had his name legally changed.