Sunday, 9 October 2011

Rock-a-Bye McGeehan

Any fan of Tex Avery has seen his cartoons over and over again. They can tell you about Preston Blair and Ed Benedict and Heck Allen. But they probably can’t tell who they’re hearing over top of Scott Bradley’s scores.

Well, other than Bill Thompson, as everyone knows he was the main voice of Droopy. And maybe Daws Butler, because of his television work. But Thompson and Butler never got an on-screen credit as MGM. Neither did anyone else on Tex’s cartoons while he was still at the studio.

Tex employed a handful of other radio actors at Metro. Wally Maher was Screwy Squirrel. Frank Graham, who worked at Columbia, Warner Bros. and Disney, is the mouse in ‘King Size Canary.’ John Brown, who was part of Fred Allen’s stock cast and played a couple of characters on ‘The Life of Riley,’ provides voices in ‘Symphony in Slang.’ But there are three who are lesser known—Jack Mather, Harry Lang and Pat McGeehan, all of whom used growly voices for Tex that I still have trouble telling apart.

That’s McGeehan playing the sleepy bear in Avery’s ‘Rock-a-bye Bear’ (1952). He’s also the pound worker in the same cartoon, and voice actor historian Keith Scott has picked him out in another sleep-based cartoon, as the hunter in ‘Doggone Tired’, and it sounds like him reading the will at the opening of ‘Wags to Riches’ (both 1949).

McGeehan has a place in television cartoon history as well. He was one of four adept radio people supplying voices in what was arguably the first cartoon series made for television—‘NBC Comics.’ The show has an interesting genesis in 1947 I’ll have to post about. The network bought it in August 1950 and put it on the air in the 5-5:15 p.m. slot weekdays after Kate Smith starting September 18th. It consisted of four separate three-minute cartoons—‘Kid Champion, ‘Space Barton,’ ‘Danny March’ and ‘Johnny and Mr. Do Good.’ While they were cartoons, there was barely any animation. ‘Billboard’ of August 26, 1950 described it as a new “stop and go technique.” The cartoons apparently used character narration and McGeehan was one of the actors who was heard. If you want to learn a bit more about ‘NBC Comics’, check out Ron Kurer’s great site.

McGeehan was a “featured player” at the Pasadena Community Playhouse, according to Carroll Nye’s column in the Los Angeles Times of May 19, 1936, when he appeared in a drama on KFWB. The New York Times revealed on September 14, 1940 he had been hired to provide voices for George Pal’s ‘Madcap Models’ series of shorts for Paramount. If he’s remembered at all these days, it’s for his work as part of Red Skelton’s radio supporting cast starting in 1946. He and Red were apparently great cronies—McGeehan obviously wasn’t one of his writers—and a syndicated column of December 15, 1960 tells this story about the two and McGeehan’s voice talents.

That’s Show Business
(with caricature by Bill Mac Arthur)
Announcer Patrick McGeehan worked for many years in close association with Red Skelton. Being personal friends as well, Red was able to utilize McGeehan’s unique talent for imitating voices in unorthodox fashion.
Early one evening, Red and Pat learned an important new film they wished to see would be previewed in Pasadena. There wasn’t time to make the showing; from Red's Beverly Hills home.
“Call up, pretend you’re Lionel Barrymore and ask them to hold up the start,” asked Red. “I don’t want to ask it myself. It would sound like I thought I was a big shot or something.”
McGeehan complied, and delighted manager was happy to agree and said would save a special seat for Mr. Barrymore.
When they arrived at the theater, McGeehan found a phone booth called the manager again, and in Lionel’s voice explained he wouldn’t be able to make it after all.
As McGeehan left the phone, he saw Red doubled over with laughter in the lobby. Out front, Lionel Barrymore was being helped by a chauffeur, from the back seat of a black limousine!

The credited animators on ‘Rock-a-Bye Bear’ were Mike Lah, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons. It was Tex Avery’s last cartoon for MGM before taking some time off (Dick Lundy acquired Bob Bentley as a fourth animator when he took over the unit). And, as best as I can tell, it was Patrick McGeehan’s last cartoon appearance. When Avery returned to the studio, he stuck with Butler, Thompson and even himself doing some voice roles. McGeehan went on to work on Art Linkletter’s ‘People Are Funny.’ He died of a cerebral haemorrhage in hospital in Burbank on January 3, 1988.


  1. The pound manager's "polite" voice on the phone actually reminds me a lot of Burgess Meredith, though I assumed Tex had never spent the big bucks to being Mr. Meredith in to handle any of his voice work. So it's nice to know who actually did it (and if you want to hear McGeehan's announcer's voice, here's a 1959 episode of "People Are Funny" where he's billed as "Pat McGeehan" at the end (where you can also find out where Milt Franklyn got his musical riff for the opening titles on "People Are Bunny").

  2. "The Animated Film Encyclopedia" [Graham Webb, 2000] credits McGeehan for "Wearing of the Grin" [1951, WB]. There is also a radio actor named Michael McGeehan that may be the same person. Of coruse Paul Frees [e..g."Farm" and "TV" of Tomorrows]. can be heard in the Tex Avery/MGM universe,too.
    -Steve C.