Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Hurray For Foray

In 1940, there wasn’t an awful lot on television. There were no networks. The FCC still hadn’t figured a standard broadcast transmission signal or frequencies. Yet, on Wednesday, April 6, 1940, there was an hour-long (live, of course) variety show on W6AXO in Los Angeles. Just about all the acts are long forgotten. They included the Lee Sisters, Barron and Blair, and hosts Hugh Brundage and Bill Gordon.

Oh, and at the end of the first half, an actress performed a monologue called Lady Tilbury Entertaining With Hay Fever.

Her name was June Foray.

She was entertaining people before that primitive TV appearance. As a review of that show in Billboard pointed out, she was a regular on KECA radio with her kid stories. The review also claimed she “is a definite personality for tele.” I imagine it wasn’t thinking of her career being more off-camera rather than on.

We think of June as being a top cartoon and commercial actress, and her work on radio and records with Stan Freberg. We think of her, Twilight Zone excepted, in comedy. We don’t think of her an evil fire-cult leader. But that’s what she was in the feature film Sabaka. The movie was a mess. It was originally titled Gunga Ram but RKO complained in September 1952 that was too close to its Gunga Din. So the title was changed to The Hindu and whole new sequences were quickly written, included all the ones involving Foray. The movie is actually available on YouTube for the morbidly curious. Here’s how Harrison’s Reports of January 29, 1955 reviewed the film.
"Sabaka" with Boris Karloff, Nino Marcel, Reginald Denny and Victor Jory
(United Artists, February; time, 81 min.)
Produced in India and photographed in an unidentified color (prints are by Technicolor) [it was shot in Eastman Color], this is a rather amateurish program adventure melodrama that may get by with the youngsters and uncritical adults. Its story about a young elephant boy's efforts to avenge the murder of his sister by a fanatical cult of fire-worshippers is juvenile, but it is actionful, and the scenes of wild animals stampeding through a forest fire are impressive. The proceedings, however, are not easy to follow, and most of the time one is in doubt as to what is going on. Boris Karloff, Reginald Denny and Victor Jory are the only members of the cast who are known to American audiences, but their roles are comparatively brief even though they are starred. The color photography is only fair at best; much of it is fuzzy: —
Nino Marcel, a courageous young elephant trainer in India, loses his sister and brother-in-law when they are burned to death in a forest fire started by June Foray, High Priestess of a maniacal cult of fire-worshippers, and Victor Jory, her ruthless aide. The young mahout swears vengeance against the murderers and he sets out to break up the cult. But the Maharajah of Bakore, with whom he was on friendly terms, disbelieves the boy's story, and Boris Karloff, the Maharajah's general, opposes the young man on the grounds that he is interfering with military matters. The boy manages to capture the High Priestess and one of her followers, but they protest that they are merely entertainers. The maharajah censures the lad and releases them. Determined to prove that he was right, the boy follows the High Priestess into the jungle and eventually comes upon her as she and her cult perform their strange rites before a huge idol, named Sabaka. The priestess orders him to be seized and burned alive, but with the help of two pets — an elephant and a tiger, the lad gains his freedom, brings about the Priestess' death and puts an end to the cult by destroying the idol. This feat restores him to the good graces of his ruler.
It was written, produced and directed by Frank Ferrin. Harmless for the family.
Her work with Freberg made her a natural for comedy commercials. Broadcasting magazine of February 25, 1963 outlines an interesting series of spots.
Tongue-in-cheek spots selling staid ‘Times’ on West Coast
The newspaper strike has deprived New Yorkers of their daily newspapers, but the Western edition of the New York Times is flourishing, thanks in part to a radio campaign which began mid-January in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The one -minute spots, created by Carson/Roberts, Los Angeles, are currently broadcast by KNX and KFI Los Angeles; KNBR, KCBS and KGO San Francisco in an initial 13 –week subscription campaign.
Most of the spots are based on the adventures of Mr. Peebles, the mailman, who delivers the New York Times to Western subscribers. Typical is his conversation with Mrs. Dumont, who is so anxious to get her Times that she kisses him when he hands it to her with the rest of her mail. When she raves about all the New York Times' "world-famous columnists like James Reston and Arthur Krock and Sulzberger and Taubman and, oh, just everybody." The postman asks which is her favorite.
"Well," she says hesitatingly, "I like Taubman on the theatre. But Rupert's favorite is James Reston."
"Rupert?," asks Mr. Peebles, "I thought your husband's name was Cyril."
"It is," she responds.
"So who's Rupert?"
"My prize mynah bird."
"You mean . . . ?"
"Yes. I line Rupert's cage with the New York Times, Reston's column facing up."
"You mean to say you use the most distinguished newspaper in the world to line a mynah bird's cage?"
"That's right. But when that bird talks—you listen!"
In another of the spots, a little girl amazes Postman Peebles by telling him that the New York Times he is delivering is not for her mother, but for herself. "What's so strange?," she asks. "After all I'm six years old . . . Can I help it if I dig James Reston and Arthur Krock?"
The embarrassed postman replies: "Certainly not, but I thought little girls just liked to play with dolls," and the little girl says: "We do," and shows him her talking doll. "Does she say 'I love you' and 'Go bye bye?,' " he asks.
She snaps back: "Are you kidding? Listen—."
There is the sound of a doll ring pull and the doll's voice says "Shall we discuss the Congo situation?" "You see," the little girl explains, "she reads the New York Times too."
Ah, but you want to read something about cartoons. Here’s a syndicated column that appeared in papers starting around July 1, 1962. Around this time, June got some big exposure in an Arthur Godfrey special on strange voice occupations. She seems content to have left behind roles like the high priestess of the Sabaka cult.
Actress Has No Face

HOLLYWOOD — We were sitting in a booth at the Hollywood Brown Derby with the most sought-after actress in town June Foray. The petite redhead, despite the fact that she commands a six figure salary every year and is heard oftener on TV and radio than any other actress, is also unrecognized wherever she goes. Across the way, two youngsters were getting autographs from Hugh O'Brian.
On an impulse, we shouted to the youngsters: “How would you like to meet ‘Rocky the Squirrel’?”
“Where, where?” they yelled, but when we pointed to June, they walked away, convinced they had been the victims of a prank.
“That's the story of my life,” June said, for indeed she was the voice of “Rocky” and also “Natasha” in the “Bullwinkle Show.” It's a Hollywood axiom that whenever a peculiar “voice” is needed, June gets the first call.
There's hardly a cartoon company in Hollywood that doesn't utilize her services. Hardly a cartoon has come out of Walt Disney without June's voice in it and, aside from “Bullwinkle,” she has been on the weekly payroll of “Woody Woodpecker” and “Bugs Bunny.”
ADD THE FACT that her off-camera voice is heard currently in over two dozen filmed commercials and there isn't a day or night you can escape hearing her on TV. In Hollywood, she is known as “the girl with over 500 voices.”
“The girl with 500 voices and no face,” she corrected. "I'd been doing voice characterizations since I was a child. I started as a professional at the age of 12 on a radio station in Springfield, Mass. My versatility with voices just came naturally without premeditated design or training.
“My burning ambition was to become an actress. When I was old enough I came to Hollywood. I got a few acting jobs right away and started getting them steadily. But when they found I could do crying babies, cat voices, and even invent plausible voices for non-speaking animals and rodents, they never let me act again. But I worked every day, every week, for three times the money I would have made as an actress.
“FOR QUITE some time, I felt sorry for myself because I had none of the acclaim other professional actors get. But one day, I was called to use my voice for an actress who'd gotten laryngitis. I do a lot of that now. Then I realized that I was paid twice as much for just four hours work as that well-known actress was paid for a week."
“‘June,’ I said to myself, ‘you're a vain nut. Here you've been working steadily every week since 1944. The actresses who sign autographs and take all the bows would give their right arm to be in your shoes.’ That's what I said to myself and I straightened out. I still get an envious twinge now and then, but I just remind myself that being faceless is my fortune.
“I've worked as many as three different shows in one day. What other actress can do that? I never have to worry about the public getting tired of me. If one of my voices wears thin, I still have 500 others!”
Just then, the two youngsters who had walked away returned and said: “If you’re ‘Rocky,’ prove it.” Without betraying a single facial muscle, June lifted her voice into the familiar squeaky falsetto of the famous squirrel. Seeing June’s radiant reaction to the awed and now-convinced youngsters, it occurred to us that no one, no matter how financially secure, can learn to live with anonymity and like it!
It would be pointless to list all the great things in show business that June Foray has done. I’d get comments like “You forgot....” Even she’s forgotten some of them; there have been so many. You can read some in this post and this post and this post. Read great stories on Mark Evanier’s site; I’ll bet you he has one today.

She was one of the greats.


  1. Besides Twilight ZOne other non-comedy shows June has done are those least favorites of a lot of us, the 1980s SMurfs cartoons. Anyway, thanks for the post..(amusingly, of the Warners ones, I always felt 1958's Bird in a Bonnett, sounded most like a quintissential one due to the stock music..roleyes)

  2. However June played the rare funny smurf, the regular Jokey Smurf, who, te rare time I glanced at the showm ALWAYS had something explosivbe for Papa Smruf. And I jut read on the sister blog, Yowp, that she passed away (folowing Janet Waldo last year..) Congrts in heaven,m almost being 100 (like Mitch Miller, also associaiton with Hanna-barbera and other cartoons, who passed in 2010 clo0se to 100)!

  3. I think it was in "Sabaka" that June had the most face-time of all her live-action roles. The film did have an episodic feel to it (an early Hollywood-Bollywood collaboration) and since it featured the Gunga Ram character from "Smilin' Ed's Gang" aka "Andy's Gang," perhaps the script was cobbled from segments intended for the TV show?