William Bendix was born in New York City (Manhattan, not Brooklyn, as was his character on the Life of Riley) on January 14, 1906. He was related to the German composer, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-47) and was the son of Oscar Bendix, also a musician. After dropping out of high school, he was a batboy for the New York Yankees. He then worked as a grocery story manager. In 1927, he married Theresa Stefanotti. Through her father, he got what was supposed to be a job at a wonderful grocery store in New Jersey. When that didn't work out, he joined the Federal Theater Project, which led him to work on the dramatic stage. He joined the Theater Guild in New York.
When acting in The Time of Your Life, Hollywood producer Hal Roach was in the office and Bill's performance impressed him enough to have him go to Hollywood. Within one year he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in Wake Island (1942), but he didn't win. Although known as a comic actor, he often provided comic relief in serious, heavy dramas.
On radio, Bill had done his first work in the medium back when he was in New York. Once in Los Angeles, he was the star of a situation comedy which began in 1944 called The Life of Riley. Riley was Chester Alan Riley, Sr., who worked at an airplane factory. His wife was Margaret "Peg," played by Paula Winslowe. They had two children, Barbara "Babs" and Chester A. Riley, Jr. Along with such shows as The Aldrich Family, it was one of the first situation comedies which showed life in a more realistic vein.
The program would later move to television with Jackie Gleason in the starring role. He would later leave to do other projects he was doing. By that time, the radio series was cancelled and Bill took over the role in the television series.
Bill continued to work in movies and on television. He always insisted that the stage was his greatest love but received very few offers to act in live stage productions and never did it after arriving in Hollywood.
He often bragged that, as a batboy for the New York Yankees, he got to see Babe Ruth his 100 home runs. In 1948, months before the Babe's death, Bill portrayed his hero in The Babe Ruth Story. Highly fictionalized, it left out things, such as his first marriage, his womanizing, and his drinking. Some events, such as hitting the ball for the sick boy, Johnny Sylvester (which happened in 1926) and the time he pointed to the fence to hit a home run ball, were combined. And the ending was very strange. The whole idea of making this movie was for the Babe to see it while he was alive. Something that is rush released like that is bound to have problems.
A devout Roman Catholic, he was always considered one of the Hollywood "in crowd" when it came to work but spent most of his time away from work with his family. With his wife Theresa, they had a son and a daughter.
And the role of Chester A. Riley, Sr., was his until the series was finally cancelled in 1958.
Bill Bendix died at his home in Los Angeles after suffering from lobar pneumonia on December 14, 1964, at the age of 58. He is buried at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery in the Mission Hills district of L.A.