WHEN THERE'S A WILL
by A. Ross Eckler
Word Ways, August 1996
The May 1996 Word Ways described the results of a National Public Radio competition of December 1995 in which listeners were challenged to write grammatical and understandable sentences containing the same word four or more times in succession. The largest number of entries involved the use of the word "will".
The minimum requirement of four consecutive wills was quite easy to achieve, usually taking the form of a testator and a legatee named Will and Will Jr., as in
Will Will will Will his yacht?
To add a fifth will, listeners sometimes placed a subordinate clause ending with will at the beginning of the sentence, as in
Feeling good will, Will will will Will, his cousin, everything.
Collectors of famous wills (such as one by Will Shakespeare) can will them to others:
What will show how much affection Will had for Will?
The will Will will will Will will: Will will will Will Will Shakespeare's will!
But perhaps the cleverest one received was the following story by Willis White:
Welcome back, everybody, to All Legal Things Considered here on the Courtroom Radio Network where, as we like to say, you get all the excitement of hours of mind-numbing scientific testimony without the added distraction of pictures. We'll be going shortly to Williamsburg, Virginia for the live presentation of the videotaped last will and testament of William Williams, one of America's most cherished cartoonists for nearly 50 years. As most of you probably already know, Williams, who died last week at the age of 73, never made known, even to his family, his wishes for the future of his comic strip empire. His company, Will Will Inc., though privately owned, is thought to be worth some 70 million dollars.
Mr. Williams got his start in cartooning in 1945 after his return from active military duty in Europe. While being treated at a VA hospital in southern Virginia, Williams and other patients in the Maximum Security Psychological Exhaustion and Combat Stress Studies Department were encouraged to write songs and stories or paint pictures as a method of relieving tension. Williams began to draw a comic strip he called ' Private Slaughter, Psycho Soldier'. Far from helping him deal with stress, the exercise seemed to make Mr. Williams more high-strung, irritable and indeed dangerous. Fourteen months later, showing little progress despite intensive psychiatric therapy, Williams was transferred to the Electro-Convulsive Treatment Center where, just six weeks later, staff doctors described him as 'a whole new man. Really completely different and new'.
The following year, after an honorable discharge from the U.S.Army, he wrote and starred in an off-Broadway musical comedy revue called 'Cannon Fodder follies'. The show was very well received and for many years afterward was a staple of the USO circuit. The show's most popular character, Pvt. Will Will, was of course based strongly on William Williams himself. Pvt. Will soon became the focal point of his own comic strip--Will Will, a humorous chronicle of the misadventures of a hapless buck private during World War II.
From 1948 to the present, the strip has had only one production break, a seven-month hiatus in 1972 which came at the end of a long, bitter and ultimately futile series of lawsuits filed by Williams against Mort Walker, the cartoonist of Beetle Bailey fame, alleging, as Williams put it, 'theft of intellectual property'.
Williams brought the strip back in November 1972 after a leave of absence spent in Sarasota, Florida at the Gentle Breezes Center for Rest, Relaxation and Electro-Convulsive Therapy. According to fans and critics alike, the strip was better than ever.
Still stinging from his legal reverses, Williams decided to incorporate himself. He filed for copyright and trademark protection for all names and likenesses of his comic characters, even down to Will Will's favorite catchphrase 'Roger, Will-Will-Wilco'. He even went so far as to legally change his name from William Williams to Will Will in order to further the appearance of a 'legally unassailable unity between comic strip and creator.'
Though the strip continued to be as strong and popular as ever, Will's personal behavior had progressed from zealous protection of his creation to what some termed a 'paranoid delusion' that Mort Walker was plotting to end Will's long run as one of our country's favorite entertainers. It was for this reason that even Will's beloved son, Will Williams, was never made a partner in his father's business, despite being a loyal helper with the strip for 28 years and even, since 1984, doing all the principal artwork.
This is why there is such trepidation before today's proceedings--the adorable dogface we all chuckle at over breakfast may soon be no more. We can only pray that the strip will be allowed to continue, hopefully under the able leadership of Mr. Will's dutiful son, Will. Indeed, there is one question on everyone's lips as we await the presentation of the Will Will will--Will Will Will will Will 'Will Will'? We'll see...
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