Video Archive: Willow River’s Bill Cooper on ‘To Tell the Truth’

“Wild” Bill Cooper, the outlaw snowmobile adventurer from Willow River, was a guest on the CBS television game show To Tell the Truth roughly 50 years ago.

William Cooper led two major snowmobile expeditions in the early 1970s — one from Willow River to Anchorage, Alaska; the other from Forrest Lake to the northern tip of Greenland in 1972 and ’73. Later that decade he was on the U.S. Marshals’ list of 15 most-wanted criminals. He had been convicted of importing large quantities of marijuana from Mexico, but he disappeared before his sentencing and was never found.

Cooper’s story was recounted in the June 2006 issue of Minnesota Monthly magazine and became the subject of the award-winning 2011 documentary Wild Bill’s Run.

The date the episode of the game show aired is not known, but the Trans-World Snowmobile Expedition is referenced and that trip resumed on Feb. 19, 1973, so the show must have been shot prior to then. The first guest on the program was Lois Owings, a department store Santa Claus, which host Garry Moore mentions is “timely,” but later notes that on some stations the show is “somewhat delayed.” Therefore, it seems like a logical guess that the show was shot before Christmas 1972 and aired in January 1973.

The concept of the show is that four celebrity panelists are presented with three contestants and must identify which is the real person whose unusual life has been described by the host. The real character and the two imposters answer questions to help the panelists determine which one they think is legitimate. The show’s name comes from the stipulation that the real character must tell the truth, while the imposters are asked to lie.

The celebrity panelists on this episode are Peggy Cass, Bill Cullen, Kitty Carlisle and Nipsey Russell.

About a month after the episode aired, Cooper and his fellow adventurers boarded a supply plane in Minneapolis and flew to Devon Island in Canada — the largest uninhabited island in the world — to resume their incredible snowmobile expedition. When they arrived they discovered that marauding polar bears had ransacked their snowmobiles. They had to erect a tent and repair the machines before getting started.

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