Billie Hayes was born August 5, 1932 in the small town of DuQuoin, Illinois. She started in show business at 9 years old as a tap dancer in local clubs. She was encouraged but not “pushed” by her parents after she expressed the desire to do so. By the time she was in her teens, Hayes had joined a 14-piece orchestra and was working throughout the Midwest. After performing her own act in Chicago, she was cast in a New York revue which toured the United States and Canada.
Hayes landed a part in a Leonard Sillman Broadway production, “New Faces of 1956”, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It ran for 220 performances between June 14, 1956 and December 22, 1956. One of her songs was “The Greatest Invention”. The producers of the Broadway production of “Li’l Abner” wanted her for the role of Mammy Yokum but the producers of “New Faces” wouldn’t release her from her contract and the part went to Charlotte Rae (best known for playing Mrs. Garrett on the television show The Facts of Life (1979)). Hayes would later succeed Rae in the role and went on to play the part in the 1959 film version and in the 1971 television version, as well.
A fellow cast member in a Las Vegas show in which Hayes was appearing recommended her to Sid Krofft, who was preparing for production for the television show H.R. Pufnstuf. Only two actresses auditioned to play “Witchiepoo”. The first was then an unknown Penny Marshall, but it was felt that she was not right for the part. When Hayes auditioned for the part, she created a maniacal cackle and hopped up on a desk and was given the part on the spot. Hayes also appeared in the next Krofft brothers television show Lidsville (1971) and made other guest appearances on other live-action television shows through the rest of the 1970s and until the mid-1980s when she effectively made the transition to voice acting.
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