In Loving Memory
Billie Armstrong Brosch - Hayes was named after her great uncle Bill Armstrong. She may be best known for her portrayal of "Witchiepoo" on the television series H.R. Pufnstuf.
She was born in the town of Du Quoin in southern Illinois. Her mother, Marie Brosch (nee) Armstrong, was Assistant Relief Administrator who tirelessly championed for the underprivileged and impoverished. Charles Brosch, her father, was a coal strip miner and head of the miners union in that area. He was known for his charisma as a union leader who fought for the rights and benefits of the miners and for widow's pensions.
Billie's career as an entertainer began at the age of nine when she was dancing professionally in local nightclubs. During high school she joined the 14 piece orchestra of Vince Genovese which played regionally. While still in her teens she performed her solo act in Chicago and throughout the midwest before moving to New York.
At a chance encounter in New York Billie was urged to go to an audition. She went not knowing who or what she was auditioning for. Already a seasoned nightclub performer she danced and sang routines she had choreographed. In the dark and otherwise empty theatre there were only a few people seated. Billie first heard a chuckle then laughter. It was the legendary J.J. Shubert. He cast her in principle roles in three of his renown roadshow operettas: Student Prince, The Merry Widow and Blossom Time.
Soon after she was in the New York revue What's New with Paul Lynde which played from Boston's Copley Plaza to the fabled Shamrock Hotel in Houston. Billie's first Broadway appearance was in Leonard Sillman's New Faces. She then joined the Broadway cast of Li'l Abner as "Mammy Yokum" reprising the role in the Paramount film. Later, as "Minnie Fay" she toured with the national company of Hello Dolly! starring Betty Grable. Moving to Los Angeles she was in numerous television productions including playing the street-wise international spy "O'Reilly" on General Hospital, also performing voice roles for animated series and Disney.
It was during Li'l Abner Billie adopted the love of her life, Tina, one of a litter of puppies who was sheltered in the basement of the St. James Theatre. Her love for animals led her to the rescue of stray and abandoned pets and to be vegetarian.
She is survived by her niece Nancy (Steve) Powers, her nephews Tom (Beverly) Brosch, Louie (Debbie) Brosch, Guy Brosch, great nieces and nephews her Chicago family: Joanni, Michael, Stefanie Kric, treasured friends and beloved pets.
Thoughts and memories can be shared at Billie Hayes: A Celebration! on Facebook.
Billie was also the President of Pet Hope, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to the care and placement of abandoned animals.
Pet Hope will continue Billie's legacy of caring for animals. If you would like to make a donation in Billie's honor, please use the link below.