William Lee Johnson was born on 24 Oct 1910 in Kansas, the son of Rose (McDonald) Johnson. His father died when he was very young. The 1920 census finds him living with his grandmother, Mary E McDonald, in Alma, Kansas. He graduated from Alma High School in 1927.
On 12 Sep 1927, he entered K-State initially studying Agriculture, but changing to the General Science course of study in 1930. He last attended in 1930.
He lived at the Phi Beta Sigma Chapter House, 1020 Colorado, while attending school.
Due largely to the efforts of William Johnson and Santos Swancy, who wrote and produced their entry, "Something Spooky," Phi Beta Sigma won the top prize of $15 at the annual Aggie Orpheum in 1929. Additionally, the Marshall-Wareham theatres' management chose the Phi Beta Sigma act as one of three given the opportunity to perform at the Wareham Theatre for three shows. The following year, the Manhattan theatre chose William Johnson for the lead role in their production of Emperor Jones.
"The previous year Sigma had won the Aggie Orpheum, in which I had once appeared, largely through the efforts of one William Johnson, a natural actor and comedian who so impressed the department of speech that a production of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones had been scheduled to showcase his talents. However, Johnson did not return that fall. Somebody got the bright idea I could enact the role, so I read the part and was tentatively drafted. Fortunately for the future of dramatics at Kansas State, Bill Johnson returned the second semester before rehearsals began, and I accepted a minor part, that of Lem the Native Chief.
"However, I did let Bill talk me into acting in a play he was to direct and produce as an assignment for a course in drama. He chose The Man Who Died at 12 O'Clock by Paul Green, and I agreed to take the main role."
Livin' the Blues, pg. 172
Very little is known about his life from this point onward. The only fact discovered so far is that in Sep 1939 he was married and living in Cleveland, Ohio.
A William Johnson, born 24 Oct 1910, whose social security number was issued in Ohio, died in Sep 1973 in Baltimore, Maryland. This may be the same William Johnson.
K-State Directory, 1927-1929
Royal Purple, 1930
1920 Census: Kansas - Wabaunsee county - Alma - District 141
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 05 Mar 1929: "Orpheum prize to spooky act"
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 21 Feb 1930: "Johnson plays Emperor Jones"
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 04 Mar 1930: "Play cast puts final touches on production"
Kansas State Collegian (Manhattan, Kansas) 11 Mar 1930: "Johnson makes Emperor Jones powerful role"
Alma Signal (Alma, Kansas) 14 Sep 1939