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The Magic Behind the Voices

The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who's Who of Cartoon Voice Actors

Copyright Date: 2004
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    The Magic Behind the Voices
    Book Description:

    The Magic Behind the Voicesis a fascinating package of biographies, anecdotes, credit listings, and photographs of the actors who have created the unmistakable voices for some of the most popular and enduring animated characters of all time.

    Drawn from dozens of personal interviews, the book features a unique look at thirty-nine of the hidden artists of show business. Often as amusing as the characters they portray, voice actors are charming, resilient people-many from humble beginnings-who have led colorful lives in pursuit of success.Beavis and ButtheadandKing of the Hill'sMike Judge was an engineer for a weapons contractor turned self-taught animator and voice actor. Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) was a small town Ohio girl who became the star protégé of Daws Butler-most famous for Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and Quick Draw McGraw. Mickey Mouse (Wayne Allwine) and Minnie Mouse (Russi Taylor) are a real-life husband-and-wife team. Spanning many studios and production companies, this book captures the spirit of fun that bubbles from those who create the voices of favorite animated characters.

    In the earliest days of cartoons, voice actors were seldom credited for their work. A little more than a decade ago, even the Screen Actors Guild did not consider voice actors to be real actors, and the only voice actor known to the general public was Mel Blanc. Now, Oscar-winning celebrities clamor to guest star on animated television shows and features.

    Despite the crushing turnouts at signings for shows such asAnimaniacs,The Simpsons, andSpongeBob Squarepants, most voice actors continue to work in relative anonymity.The Magic Behind the Voicesfeatures personal interviews and concise biographical details, parting the curtain to reveal creators of many of the most beloved cartoon voices.

    Tim Lawson is a freelance writer and filmmaker who lives in Galesburg, Illinois.

    Alisa Persons is a freelance writer, artist, animator, and filmmaker, who lives in Superior, Wisconsin.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-516-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-2)

    Since the beginning of animation, of the hundreds of people who traditionally worked on cartoons, usually it was only the executives or the directors who were given screen credit, leaving the general public none the wiser. Although it has been noted that a good vocal performance can save a mediocre cartoon or even elevate a good cartoon to a great one, especially when the animation is very limited, there are many reasons why producers were motivated from the very start to keep the voice actors anonymous.

    In spite of the fact that animation is now often discussed as an art...


      (pp. 5-11)

      Successful and acclaimed actor, writer, and voice director Charlie Adler concedes that his first encounter with the Hollywood animation voice-over scene was not exactly love at first sight. In the mid-1980s, after a national stage tour ofTorch Song Trilogy,in which he replaced Harvey Fierstein (for whom he is a natural sound-alike), The New York actor had settled on the West Coast to live his dream of getting a TV series, thinking, “They are just going to love me in California!” Although he laughs that it “wasn’t the case,” Adler was hired forThe Redd Foxx Showonly to...

      (pp. 12-18)

      Long before Robin Williams or Jim Carrey made their marks upon the world of entertainment, there was another rubber-faced, frenetic comedian whose versatility in voice-overs and improvisation helped define the era of children’s television in the medium’s embryonic stage.

      Dayton Allen will probably be remembered most for the roles he played on the groundbreaking children’s showHowdy Doodyin the 1940s and ’50s, but cartoon fanatics remember Allen not only as the voices of the smart-mouthed, trouble-making magpies Heckle and Jeckle and the slow-witted crime fighter Deputy Dawg in the Terrytoons shorts of the 1960s, but also asMilton the...

      (pp. 19-22)

      In the beginning—at least of the Disney corporate empire—was Mickey Mouse. Although Walt Disney made two Mickey Mouse silent cartoons—1928’sPlane Crazy,inspired by Charles Lindbergh’s trip across the Atlantic, andGallopin’ Gaucho—it was with 1928’s Depression-era sound cartoonSteamboat Williethat Disney would have his first commercial success. Although the company he founded has had many multi-million-dollar features and projects since then, it is still known as the “house the mouse built” due to the momentum created by its first animated achievement. And, of course, the third incarnation of the mouse, Wayne Allwine, owes his...

      (pp. 23-34)

      From the early days of radio, Jackson Beck’s deep, rich baritone voice could be heard instructing people to “Look, up in the sky” as the narrator theSupermanseries, and heard as well all over the dial on popular comedies and dramas of the time. In animation, as Popeye’s nemesis, Bluto, he inexplicably fought the spinach-eating sailor time and again for the affections of the woman who has been noted by many to be the most “repulsive” personality in animation history. But, fifty years later, Beck, was still hard at work. As the spokesman on national campaigns for clients as...

      (pp. 35-44)

      Mary Kay Bergman’s voice-over credits are as diverse as those of any actor in the business, from the sweetness of Snow White (whom she officially took over in 1989 from Adriana Caselotti, who had done the voice from its inception) and various other down-home, wholesome Disney characters to the depraved world ofSouth Park.On the ground-breaking Trey Parker-Matt Stone series, Bergman provided the voices for almost all of the female characters, including Wendy Testaburger, Shelly Marsh, Principal Victoria, Mayor McDaniels, and all of the main characters’ mothers, including Mrs. Cartman, whom Bergman described as a “perfect, sweet, cookie-baking, hermaphrodite...

      (pp. 45-72)

      The world-famous alter ego of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweety, Yosemite Sam, Mr. Spacely, and Barney Rubble, among so many others, was a thoughtful and reserved person whose co-workers sometimes described as not at all like the joking cut-up fromThe Jack Benny Showor his stage personality from numerous other TV or radio programs. Melvin Jerome Blank was born on May 30, 1908, in San Francisco; his family subsequently moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. That afforded a head start for the future stellar voice-actor as the ethnic diversity of the region encouraged him...

      (pp. 73-94)

      During his lifetime, Charles Dawson “Daws” Butler exemplified the standards for professionalism to which all who have followed in his path have aspired. He was an incredibly gifted actor, a prolific writer, a focused teacher, and a devoted husband and father. Although Butler never reached the level of public recognition of his contemporary Mel Blanc, it would be very difficult to find his equal in humility and generosity. With characters ranging from Chilly Willy to Huckleberry Hound, from Yogi Bear to Cap’n Crunch, peers and fans alike agree that Daws Butler was arguably the greatest talent in the history of...

      (pp. 95-103)

      Most viewers would never suspect one of the best and most popular comedies of all time begins its life in trailer 746—an anonymous drab brown oblong building on the Fox lot. It is 10:00 A.M. and the cast ofThe Simpsonsis crowded around a twenty-foot oak conference table for the first read-through of a new script, while excited observers—staff and a lucky visitors—line the periphery. Scattered laughter is heard over noisy conversation as they flip through the pages, some highlighting their parts, appropriately enough, in yellow.

      The director calls for quiet; then begins the table read...

      (pp. 104-109)

      Adriana Caselotti remembers the day she auditioned for the original role ofSnow Whitein 1935. Frank Churchill, the musical director, handed the eighteen-year-old a manuscript of “Someday My Prince Will Come.” “He said to me, ‘Now, little girl, I’m going to the piano and play a melody for you a couple of times so that maybe you can sing it.’ Well, he never made it to the piano. I started singing ‘Someday My Prince Will Come,’ and he said ‘Oh my God! The kid reads music.’ He couldn’t believe it. He was sold on me before we even started.”...

      (pp. 110-118)

      It is odd that Homer Simpson, the cartoon character that is almost universally considered to be the world’s biggest dolt exemplified, seems to have so deftly caught the admiration of academia. Homer’s catchphrase “D’oh!” was recently inducted into theOxford Dictionary of Quotations.In 1999,Timemagazine declaredThe Simpsonsthe best television show in history, while guest stars have included paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, artist Jasper Johns, and poet laureate Robert Pinsky. Revered physicist Steven Hawking even bragged to the press about how much he liked his guest-starring stint on the show, especially pleased that he “got to have...

      (pp. 119-122)

      He is Gumby, dammit! Well, not exactly—the creator of Gumby, more properly, voices only his horse, Pokey, but Art Clokey is undoubtedly the king of the green clay empire. To Clokey’s amusement, there has been much speculation about the origins and meaning of one of the most exotic and ubiquitous claymation figures ever created. While the name is derived from “gumbo,” a term for wet southern soil, he laughingly dismisses the more outlandish urban legends about Gumby having Satanic origins or, conversely, being modeled after Krishna or Jesus. Although Clokey does not discourage the notion that Gumby’s asymmetrical head...

      (pp. 123-130)

      Townsend Coleman, whose upbeat voice is heard nightly announcing promos for NBC’s late night talk shows and “must-see comedies,” spent the better part of the 1990s encountering more than a few strange adventures in animation. As the voice of the slightly off-center superhero “the Tick,” Coleman found, one holiday evening during the time of the show’s production, that the bizarre aspect of cartoon work did not necessarily end in the studio. In a Burbank toy store to pick up some last-minute Christmas gifts, Coleman happened to spot a thirty-something couple in the crowd, tightly clutching Tick dolls under each arm....

      (pp. 131-133)

      There’s no need to fear, Wally Cox is here! The man who would be Underdog was born in Detroit on December 6, 1924, and spent a relatively quiet Midwestern childhood. But, in the introduction to his 1961 book of childhood remembrances,My Life as a Small Boy,Cox said he knew clearly what he wanted to be when he grew up: “I wanted to be a squared-jawed detective who flew airplanes and caught criminals by swinging through the trees, using only his superior musculature, his keen Bowie knife, and his pet lion.”

      His reality turned out to be just about...

      (pp. 134-143)

      By many people’s standards, Jim Cummings started a little late as an actor. The prolific voice-over artist who has since done more characters than almost anyone else—as well as having the honor of being the voice of this generation’s Winnie the Pooh and Tasmanian Devil—did not get started until his mid-forties. But he may owe some of his inspiration to a blessing from “the Master,” Mel Blanc. This came about through “Ralph,” a friend of his whom he described as a “Broadway Danny Rose” kind of agent: “He was a great guy. He was a quadriplegic veteran from...

    • E. G. DAILY
      (pp. 144-148)

      Extra Good? Extremely Gracious? Easy Going? Perhaps she is all of that and more, but no matter what the “E. G.” literally stands for, the exceptionally gifted Daily has consistently juggled three high-profile careers—actress, pop singer, and cartoon voice-over artist. The children of the 1980s may remember her as Dottie, Peewee Herman’s long-suffering girlfriend inPeewee’s Big Adventure,or perhaps they sang along with her songs from theScarfaceorBreakfast Clubsoundtracks. Over the past decade, while she still acts on camera and has an active recording career, the next generation will probably know her best as “Buttercup”...

      (pp. 149-152)

      There has been no small amount of speculation about what became of Nicole Jaffe, who starred as nerdy intellectual Velma Dinkley on the originalScooby-Doo, Where Are You?series. Although the popular cartoon actress never did another animated show since leaving the tremendously successful series in 1974, none of the many criminals she helped to “unmask” over the years got revenge on the smartest of the “meddling kids.” In fact, the actress, who now goes by her married name, Nicole David, is still very much a part of show business. But now she works behind the scenes as a highly...

      (pp. 153-163)

      She is, without a doubt, the First Lady of Animation. It is difficult not to seem overly profuse when describing June Foray and her work; but to simply impress it is not necessary to do any more than rattle off a list of credits, achievements, and awards she has amassed over her decades-long career. A pioneer of the animation industry, Foray has been recognized for not just giving voice to her characters, but for the way she endows them with a personality and depth using a robust voice that projects from her diminutive frame.

      Describing her parents as “artistic and...

      (pp. 164-175)

      The flamboyant Paul Frees made it clear that he never did “retakes;” he did “encores.” Certainly the most complex character in animation, Frees was lauded as “brilliant” by peers and friends for his talent and faultless ear and, almost in the same breath, was criticized as “impossible,” “arrogant,” and something of an eccentric. There can be no doubt that with his outlandish dress sense, which included wearing firearms to recording sessions, and a dangerous evening pastime of assisting the Los Angeles Police Department on drug raids, Frees’ exotic biography rivals the plot of any cartoon he ever voiced.

      The man...

      (pp. 176-180)

      His voice is one of the most instantly recognizable voices in the world — once it is heard, it is indelibly etched on the mind of the listener. While aficionados of older films may recognize Sterling Holloway as the tall, lanky, red-headed soda jerk, messenger, and country bumpkin of the films of the 1930s and ’40s; more than a decade after his passing, millions of viewers continue to be charmed by his distinctive velvety rasp that graces both Disney cartoon heroes and villains. In his voice lies the elusive Cheshire Cat inAlice in Wonderland,the quiet menace of Kaa, the...

      (pp. 181-189)

      When Mike Judge finished his first Beavis and Butt-head film,Frog Baseball,he deemed it “the stupidest piece of junk [he] ever made.” After screening the film for his friends and family, he said the reaction ranged from mild revulsion to amused disgust. At times, Judge has been so unsure of his work that he once considered leaving his name off the credits to spare his mother and older family members the embarrassment. But rarely has success so stunningly defied expectations as it has for the self-taught animator. By 1998, he was ranked number sixteen on theForbeslist of...

      (pp. 190-196)

      As the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants, Tom Kenny now lives a life of his childhood fantasies from a time when he and his brother “lived and breathed” cartoons. He was obsessed with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and what he jokingly calls Hanna-Barbera’s “total con-man characters” in the form of Yogi Bear, the picnic basket thief; Snagglepuss, the out-of-work actor looking for a free meal, and Top Cat, who lives “in an alley with his friends running from the cops,” which may have been questionable role models for more impressionable viewers. But Kenny’s journey into his world of...

      (pp. 197-204)

      In the late 1980s, the Nickelodeon cable channel was conceived by parent company Viacom to provide quality children’s programming. Its stated mission at the time of its inception was that the network would provide material that was suitable for kids, their parents, and even “nervous PTA members.” It is ironic, then, that one of its first successful original cartoon series became much more than the simple entertainment for which the network’s executives may have originally bargained. Through John Kricfalusi’s subversive, scatological, and absurdist classicRen & Stimpyhe and his company Spumco almost single-handedly attempted to bring the art form...

      (pp. 205-216)

      Maurice LaMarche, most famous as the voice of the megalomaniacal lab mouse, the Brain, in Steven Spielberg’sPinky and the Brain,was a “painfully shy child who would escape into cartoons to shed his inhibitions.” Making his way through the Toronto school system, LaMarche discovered he could do different voices. He would often walk to school mimicking his favorite Warner Bros. cartoon characters. That, of course, brought derisive laughter from his classmates.

      “Unfortunately, I didn’t know the difference between laughing with me and laughing at me. I thought as long as I was getting laughs, it was okay.” Eventually, his...

      (pp. 217-222)

      Norma Macmillan has spent much of her career playing naïve, nonthreatening characters, such as the misunderstood Casper, the friendly ghost not able to “scare up” any friends; the hapless Sweet Polly Purebred from theUnderdogseries, who “couldn’t go out for coffee and doughnuts without being kidnapped” (as Hal Erickson quips in his bookTelevision Cartoon Shows); or Davey Hanson fromDavey and Goliath,who, despite his Christian upbringing, had a knack for finding trouble around every turn. Television junkies in the 1980s will also most likely remember Norma Macmillan as Aunt Martha, the sweet half of an elderly duo...

      (pp. 223-230)

      As the lyrics of the theme song state, take “six drops of the essence of terror, five drops of sinister sauce,” and too much of “a tincture of tenderness,” and the result is “Milton the Monster.” Take away the essence of terror and sinister sauce, and you get Milton’s alter ego, Robert McFadden.

      McFadden, the voice of the lovable monster, was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, on January 19, 1923, and spent much of his youth hanging out in movie houses with his father. McFadden recalled, “My father used to sing with the silent movies. They would have a pianist,...

      (pp. 231-246)

      Popeye, the ever popular squinty-eyed, muscle-bound, spinach-eating sailor man first appeared playing a secondary character to regulars Olive Oyl and then-boyfriend Ham in a popular newspaper comic strip called “Thimble Theater.” The brainchild of Elzie Crisler Segar, he was created for a single appearance in 1929; however, by 1933 he remained so popular that the Fleischer studio acquired the rights for an animated version. When he made his appearance, it was yet again as a supporting character, this time to Betty Boop in the aptly titled shortPopeye the Sailor.But, it was only when Fleischer animator Jack Mercer was...

      (pp. 247-258)

      Ventriloquist, soldier, “Scooby-Doo”—Don Messick’s long climb up the career ladder culminated in the voice of the world’s most famous animated dog. Although it’s been over thirty-five years since it was originally produced,Scooby-Doois more popular than ever, airing twenty-three times a week in the United States and broadcast in forty-five other countries, and with two live-action feature adaptations. Messick, who became a cartoon icon doing characters likeThe Jetsonsdog Astro, Boo Boo and Ranger Smith onYogi Bear,Pixie ofPixie & Dixie,Dr. Quest onJonny Quest,and Papa Smurf onThe Smurfs,is considered almost...

      (pp. 259-264)

      “Meet Fred Flintstone. . . . ” Well, almost. In 1959, George O’Hanlon auditioned for Joe Barbera to provide the voice of Hanna-Barbera’s latest cartoon star, Fred Flintstone. However, one of the show’s sponsors decided he did not like his voice, and O’Hanlon did not get the job. Scores of other actors competed for the role, which was eventually given to veteran radio star Alan Reed. That might have been the end of O’Hanlon’s chances for animation greatness, but in this case, opportunity knocked twice. The success ofThe Flintstonesinspired Hanna-Barbera to create a series in 1962 revolving around...

      (pp. 265-274)

      Rob Paulsen is shocked, but in a good way. Paulsen, who has become one of the most versatile and popular contemporary animation voice actors, could never have predicted that thousands would wait patiently for hours just for his autograph as hundreds of others were turned away. But, such was the case for the 1994 publicity tour forAnimaniacs.Paulsen, who played Warner Brother Yakko on the popular series, went on the road with co-stars Jess Harnell (Wakko) and Tress MacNeille (Dot) expecting “twenty or thirty hard-core toon fans,” only to be mobbed at Warner Bros. stores in shopping malls around...

      (pp. 275-283)

      It is ironic that the voice actor for animation’s first screen siren, Betty Boop, narrowly avoided the retiring life of a prim and proper teacher. The great pioneer voice actor who helped shape the profession of modern animation voice-acting was born in 1909, during the last vestiges of the Victorian era, when respectable young ladies would have never been allowed into a career as “vulgar” as show business. Although Questel displayed a talent for performing early, her parents and grandparents reportedly discouraged her aspirations to become a professional.

      Consequently, Questel decided to go into teaching, until she unwittingly began a...

      (pp. 284-290)

      What do a craps game and a warehouse full of rotting pralines have to do with Fred Flintstone? Plenty. If not for an unbearably hot New York summer, which spoiled a large inventory of pralines, Alan Reed might never have taken the role of Fred Flintstone; “Yabba Dabba Doo” would not exist as part of the cartoon lexicon. The evolution of Fred Flintstone was brought about by a career that spanned many mediums and several interesting twists of fate.

      Alan Reed was born Teddy Bergman in New York City on August 20, 1907. Growing up, he had an insatiable thirst...

      (pp. 291-295)

      Although Chris Sarandon is a classically trained stage player who is best known for his on-camera work in such top-grossing films asDog Day Afternoon, The Princess Bride, Child’s Playand as the lead, vampire Jerry Dandrige inFright Night,in 1993 the star of stage and screen made an auspicious debut into animation with one of the most charming performances ever to grace the art as the voice of Jack Skellington—the romantic lead of Tim Burton’s 1993 classicThe Nightmare before Christmas.

      Like Jack’s venture in Christmastown, Sarandon’s first experience with animation was an amazing journey into another...

      (pp. 296-301)

      He may be forever associated first and foremost as the man who provided the nasal baritone for the obtuse moose “Bullwinkle,” but Scott was not just a top-of-line voice talent who supplied the vocal life to a diverse group of characters, including Mr. Peabody, Dudley Do-Right, George of the Jungle, Super Chicken, and Tom Slick. The former animator and story man has justifiably been described as the “soul” of Jay Ward productions, not only voicing Ward’s characters but eventually assuming the mantle as head writer and co-producer for his partner and close friend.

      Born William John Scott on August 2,1920,...

      (pp. 302-309)

      For Kath Soucie there was never any childhood angst over “What am I going to do? What am I going to be?” She loved Lucy! “When you’re little, in school, we all had to make career notebooks every year about what we wanted to do, and I wanted to be Lucy when I grew up.” Commenting that the comedienne was a “bit of a cartoon” herself, Soucie may have incorporated some of that sensibility in her cartoon characters, but her image is that of a polished professional—well-spoken and collected, except for a boisterous laugh that occasionally breaks her composure....

      (pp. 310-315)

      Jean Yonder Pyl’s work onThe Flintstoneswas an extreme case of life imitating art. Already playing the part of Wilma, when it came to casting for the first cartoon baby ever born in an animated series, Vender Pyl immediately volunteered. As she was quoted on the Cartoon Network website in 1995, “I’m not usually that bold, but I wanted to do Pebbles. I wanted just the right voice for that cute face.”

      Vander Pyl, who claimed she always shared a “kinship” with her sensible yet sardonic cartoon persona, was also pregnant during the recording, although she shared the good...

      (pp. 316-321)

      Janet Waldo, the voice of the perpetually perky young women of animation—Judy Jetson, Josie ofJosie and the Pussycats,and Penelope Pitstop—was born with the desire to act. However, the actress from Yakama Valley, Washington, had her heart set on a Broadway theatrical career until it was diverted to Hollywood instead, by way of Bing Crosby.

      Given Waldo’s heritage, it is surprising that she did not become a musician. Although her parents were not career performers, she says her mother had a beautiful singing voice, and as a little girl she would wake in the midnight hours to...

      (pp. 322-335)

      “Do you hear the frog?”Well, if you heard this from an educational toy as a child just learning your ABCs, then the first voice actor you probably remember is Frank Welker. In addition to countless credits in cartoons and live-action, his vocal talents can also be found on many of the educational toys generations of children have grown up with, such as Mattel’s “See and Say Clock” and “The Farmer Says.” Not many people realize that cartoon legend Welker is the person responsible for teaching them that“The cow says, ‘Mooooooo.’”

      Actor, musician, stand-up comedian, and voice-over legend, Welker...

      (pp. 336-342)

      If there is anyone worthy to succeed the mantle of Mel Blanc, one of the top contenders would have to be Billy West, the actor who is now voicing some of Blanc’s most popular characters. In addition to his dead-on impressions, West has been all over the dial with an astonishing diversity of characterizations, including Ren & Stimpy, many ofFuturama’sleads—Philip Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, and Zapp Brannigan—and advertising staples like the current Cherrio’s Honeybee and the red M & M, whom he has tried to play as “a candy-covered Leonardo DiCaprio.”

      Although West is blessed...

      (pp. 343-351)

      The most impressive aspect of Paul Winchell’s career is not that he has become one of the country’s most respected ventriloquists or one of the earliest television stars or the fact that he provided the voice forWinnie the Pooh’sTigger, Dick Dastardly, or Gargamel onThe Smurfs.These accomplishments pale in comparison to his efforts in the field of medicine as the co-creator of an early version of the artificial heart. But in reaching his impressive achievements in his three major interests—theater, medicine, and art—he had to quell some personal demons, in the process, coming to terms...

    (pp. 352-356)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 357-367)