• 2 October 1913
  •  St. Louis, Missouri, USA

William Ching


6'2" blond, Ivy-League-handsome William Ching was just as skilled in the vocal as he was in the acting department but he purposely shied away from the musical film genre in fear of harming his career as a dramatic actor. Had he thought otherwise, the actor might have enjoyed the musical baritone career of a Nelson Eddy, Gordon MacRae, Howard Keel or Dan Dailey. Nevertheless, while full-out stardom proved quite elusive, he did find a modicum of post-war acting work on film and TV for nearly a decade and a half before he abandoned his career and moved successfully into real estate. Born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 2, 1913, he was christened William Brooks Ching and came from a strong English background. Studying voice as a teen, he earned jobs out of high school in theatre stock shows before gaining valuable experience as a member of a light opera company in Memphis, Tennessee. His career was then interrupted by WWII after enlisting in the Coast Guard. Following military service, Ching regrouped and found work singing on radio in San Francisco. Spotted by a talent agent, he was brought into the Hollywood fold as a newly-signed Universal contract player. Because his Asian-sounding surname confused audiences, the studio re-named him "William Brooks" and, when not appearing unbilled in such films as Song of Scheherazade (1947) and the Abbott & Costello comedy Buck Privates Come Home (1947), was identified as such in two of his earliest films -- the multi-chaptered cliffhanger The Mysterious Mr. M (1946) and the western The Michigan Kid (1947) starring Jon Hall in the title role. Ching, however, was very protective of his family name and insisted on returning to it, figuring that when he established a firmer reputation with audiences, the problem would fade away. The studio reluctantly consented but the "problem" didn't go away. Primarily handed bland but brawny bit parts, Ching was generally unhappy with his minor standing at Universal and turned to the Broadway stage for fulfillment after a so-so featured role in the studio's Abbott & Costello comedy vehicle The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947). Cast in one of the top male roles in the lesser known Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "Allegro" in October of 1947 (their third collaboration after "Carousel" and "Oklahoma!"), the New York show, in which Bill introduced the song "A Fellow Needs a Girl," earned mixed reviews but still managed an eight-month run. Finding some breaks in NY with live TV roles and with his own radio show, Ching eventually returned to films in 1950 when he was cast in a deceptively villainous role in the film noir classic _D.O.A. (1950) starring Edmond O'Brien. His optimism did not last long when he was then given a very minor role in another film noir piece, the Humphrey Bogart starrer In a Lonely Place (1950). Republic Studios saved the day when they signed the actor up, albeit for featured roles in "B" westerns and war dramas. During this period he backed up Bill Elliott in The Showdown (1950), John Carroll and Vera Ralston in both Surrender (1950) and Belle Le Grand (1951), Rod Cameron in both Oh! Susanna (1951) and The Sea Hornet (1951) and 'Wendell Corey and Vera Ralston again in The Wild Blue Yonder (1951). In these (and later) films he was usually typecast in "other man" roles or as a staunch military man. Finally, Republic had the sense to make use of Ching's strong singing voice by casting him as the lead in its musical crime melodrama Bal Tabarin (1952) wherein he took second billing opposite operatic soprano Muriel Lawrence. Unfortunately the musical, which figured in the historic Parisian nightclub in its plot, was not released by MGM or a highly comparable studio so it came and went without much fanfare. As a result, Ching's reward was that Republic dropped him. While the actor did appear in another musical, MGM's Give a Girl a Break (1953) starring Gower Champion and then-wife Marge Champion, his was only a minor role and he was given no songs to solo on. MGM did, however, cast the actor in what became arguably his cinematic career highlight, the Tracy/Hepburn vehicle Pat and Mike (1952) as Katharine Hepburn's arrogant husband-to-be. Fourth billed (behind Aldo Ray), Ching would not find an important role in a quality film like this again. Trying to keep the momentum of his ever-stalling career going, Ching began to include TV assignments, alternately switching between them and film parts. TV proved a stronger medium for his playing of handsome leading men types. He was afforded the opportunity to guest opposite such lovelies as Joan Crawford, Jane Wyman, Laraine Day, Jane Greer, Gale Storm, Marjorie Lord, and others in both dramatic and lightly comedic appearances. In 1955 he enjoyed a minor, recurring part as a physical education teacher who briefly catches the attention of teacher Eve Arden in the popular Our Miss Brooks (1952) series. In the mid-1950's the twice-married father of two (from his second wife's first marriage) was forced to focus more and more on selling real estate to make ends meet. Finishing his film career uneventfully with the horror opus My World Dies Screaming (1958) and Escort West (1959) (the latter billed as "Bill Ching" far below star Victor Mature), the actor phased out his career altogether and fully retired in 1959. Bill and his family remained in the Southern California area where he continued to thrive as a realtor. Ching died on July 1, 1989, in Tustin, California of congestive heart failure and was buried at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.