Saturday 28 December 2013

They Talk For Cartoons

The great names of cartoon voice work in the Golden Age of Theatrical Animation, for the most part, came from radio, at least once radio developed sufficiently. Walt Disney and his successors as Mickey Mouse, and Jack Mercer as Popeye, may be the biggest exceptions. Many people made lucrative careers out of travelling from network to network, appearing in the supporting casts of several different radio shows in a week. But it seems they were always looking to squeeze in one more show, one more pay cheque. So they advertised in radio trade magazines.

I’ll post a few of their box ads. Note that I am not attempting to do every actor in every cartoon with a full biography and a complete lists of all their work; this is just stuff I came across. I’m also including a few TV voice people and a couple of photos that have been sitting in my computer. I suspect readers of this blog know who these people are anyway so a long commentary is unnecessary.

I think Mel Blanc can be pretty much classified as the top theatrical cartoon voice actor of all time. The top photo is from 1950, so you get an idea what he felt were his top radio roles then. The second photo is from 1964 after he and Warners Bros.’ Johnny Burton set up a production company. Burton bowed out and Mel carried on. The bottom is a publicity shot from 1975 when Mel hit the talk show circuit to tell the same stories and demonstrate the same voices. I think he did the “English horse” on Carson, Merv, etc. more than he ever did on Jack Benny’s radio show.

Everyone’s so used to the chubby version of Arthur Q. Bryan that the version on the right is a little surprising. That picture was from 1932 in New York; just about all the radio shows produced on the West Coast then were for local consumption and displaced when the stars slowly moved west. The ad on the left is from when Bryan was well into his Elmer Fudd days, 1952.
The gossip mag Radio and Television Mirror of August 1940 revealed Bryan was 150 pounds when he started in radio in 1924, singing for free. He became an announcer in 1929, came to Hollywood in 1936 on a visit and stayed. At the time of publication, he weighed 241 pounds.

How does that Sesame Street song go? “One of these things is not like the other.” I wouldn’t put Johnny Coons in the same league as June Foray and Paul Frees, two of the funniest and cleverest voice actors ever. Coons had been a children’s host show in Chicago who surfaced in the early ‘60s doing parts on those wretched Dick Tracy TV cartoons.

To the right is Superman’s announcer and one of the mainstays of Famous/Paramount Studios (and, no, IMDB, he did not voice Perry White in “The Arctic Giant”). Beck did tons of commercials, too. I didn’t make a note but I suspect the photo is from the mid-to-late ‘40s.

The Man of Steel was played by Bud Collyer, who voiced him on radio and later in Filmation TV cartoons. You may know him best as the original host of “To Tell the Truth.”

Poor Cecil Roy. Every fan of Famous cartoons know who Mae Questel is. Many have never heard of the studio’s other major actress of the ‘40s. It’s appropriate she has a boy’s first name because she played a boy—Casper the Friendly Ghost, among other roles. She was based in Chicago before coming to New York and cartoon non-fame.

To the right is, of course, Herman the Mouse and Top Cat (and Shorty, for you masochists). This glossy of Arnold Stang is from 1954 when he moved from insulting Milton Berle on radio to insulting him on TV.

Someone had to shout “Dickie Moe!” over and over again while their character’s mouth didn’t move. That someone was Allen Swift, a top commercial announcer in New York in the ‘50s. Gene Deitch used him in the odd Tom and Jerry series produced in the early ‘60s. I first noticed Swift on Underdog as the wonderfully evil Simon Bar Sinister. Oh, speaking of Underdog, there he is to the right. Wally Cox was known in show biz circles for not being anything like his Mr. Peepers character. The picture is from 1953.

Two mainstays of the cartoon world. The first publicity shot is of the incredibly talented Sara Berner, who took over as the main female adult voice at Warner Bros. from Elvia Allman in the late ‘30s and voiced cartoons into the early ‘40s. She made the rounds of many of the studios, including Disney and MGM. The photo is from 1950, before she finally got her own short-lived radio show which the writers couldn’t decide was a comedy or a mystery. Below her is Droopy. Bill Thompson got a fair chunk of cartoon mileage out of his Wallace Wimple voice from Fibber McGee and Molly, adjusting it slightly for Tex Avery at MGM and J. Audubon Woodlore at Disney. The photo is from 1964. I believe he’d retired from cartoons by then; he did Touché Turtle and a few voices at Hanna-Barbera after being unable to consistently do the role of Fred Flintstone.

Poor Hans Conried. Even his own ad misspells his name. This is from 1950, long before his marvellous performances as Snidely Whiplash for Jay Ward. Hans loved John Barrymore and if you listen to any of Barrymore’s radio work in the early ‘40s, you’ll be surprised just how close Conried’s over-the-top Whiplash is to The Great Profile. Conried did theatrical work on “Peter Pan” and “Johann Mouse” (with a rare screen credit), but also appears a cat taxidermist in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon “Woody Dines Out” opposite Bugs Hardaway, whose acting was never compared to Barrymore’s.

The last voice of Andy Panda belonged Walter Tetley. He had been a child actor on the Fred Allen radio show in the mid ‘30s but his best-known radio work was on “The Great Gildersleeve” and “The Phil Harris/Alice Faye Show.” He later went on to voice Mr. Peabody’s boy, Sherman, and dragged out a Scottish burr he used on radio for the UPA short “Georgie and the Dragon” (As a youngster, Tetley wore highland garb and impersonated Harry Lauder on stage. He once made an appearance at the Highland Games in Vancouver).

Appearing with Fred Allen the same time as Tetley was Lionel Stander. And, like Tetley, he worked for Walter Lantz. He was the voice of Buzz Buzzard up until “Drooler’s Delight,” when the studio shut down. After it reopened in 1950, Buzz was eventually voiced by Dal McKennon. Stander had great menace to his version of Buzz. He ran afoul of the Blacklist in the early ‘50s; a transcript of his defiant testimony to the farcical House Unamerican Activities Committee can be found on-line.

TV’s other moustachioed, melodrama-evoking bad guy cartoon was Dick Dastardly, played by ventriloquist Paul Winchell. You can’t otherwise compare Winchell and Conried. They were two completely different talents and Winchell had challenges in life he had to conquer. Disney gave him a good living, for a while anyway.

Bud Hiestand was another radio guy; in fact, he was Mel Blanc’s announcer. He also narrated a number of cartoons for the John Sutherland studio that were released by MGM, such as “Why Play Leap Frog?” “Going Places,” “Make Mine Freedom” and “Meet King Joe.”

This is the lovely Julie Bennett, 1950, about a decade before surfacing at Hanna-Barbera as Cindy Bear. She, too, appeared on radio before jumping to television. She was a particular favourite of Jack Webb. Her voice appears on a handful of Warner Bros. and MGM cartoons.

A few more TV voices. Howie Morris’ first voice at Hanna-Barbera was Jet Screamer on the The Jetsons. His career at the studio got derailed when he told Joe Barbera to do something to himself. The ad is from around the time he appeared with Sid Caesar. If you haven’t seen Howie as Uncle Goopy, you’re missing one of the funniest performances in TV history.

Okay, I’m posting these two solely because I think they’re great and I had ads for them sitting around. They both appeared in the Rankin-Bass “Frosty the Snowman” TV special that probably still gets run every year. De Wolfe’s picture is from 1946, just after he got out of the service. Durante is from 1958 which is a year before Doug Young was hired to imitate him in the Augie Doggie cartoons. Cartoons had been stealing Durante’s voice for 25 years by then.

Durante starred in radio, but someone like Mel Blanc just couldn’t get up there. Mel’s talents landed him his own show in 1946 but unlike other supporting players, like Hal Peary, he was unable to translate it into stardom. He was handed an ill-fitting sitcom playing yet another sincere young bumbler with a cookie-cutter girl-friend and would-be father-in-law. Radio had too many of those. But he was an amazing actor if you examine his performances closely. He talked about his many roles in this Associated Press interview that was published February 7, 1946. No mention of Jack Benny’s famous Maxwell for some reason. And it seems he had to learn 943 voices after 1946.

HOLLYWOOD — Mel Blanc, owner of one of the most-heard voices in America, is an unassuming chap you might, take for the manager of a prosperous shoe store.
He’s the voice of brash, carrot-champing Bugs Bunny (“What’s up, Doc?”) and stuttering Porky Pig (“th-th-that’s all, folks!”) in screen cartoons.
On the radio he’s Jack Benny's shrieking, whistling parrot.
He’s Pedro (“Pardon me for talking in your face, senorita") on the Judy Canova radio show; the miserable Happy Postman (“Keep smiling”) with Burns and Allen, and Private Snafu, of the silly laugh, for Bob Hope.
From reliable grapevine connections I learn that his 57 voices and sounds earn this former $15-a-week Portland, Ore., radio comic a yearly salary equal to the President’s.
* * *
Mel demonstrated them for me over the clatter of surrounding silverware and conversation in a booth at the Brown Derby. He’s 37, soft-spoken, likable and dark-complexioned with a black mustache and thinning black hair.
“The parrot squawk is an intake” — Mel rasps a sucked-in breath over his vocal chords—“and awhistle.”
His arm jerked an imaginary brake and his shriek of sliding tires was so realistic I waited for the crash of headlights and fender.
Pumping the palms of his hands together and singing nasally, he sounded like an electric organ breathlessly playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Melvin Jerome Blanc, a merchant’s son, started impersonations as a boy in his native San Francisco: a Jewish grocerywoman, a Japanese vegetable dealer (“How about some rettis and sair-er-ee?”).
A wine-drooling beach-comber who begged a handout at Blanc’s seashore home a few months ago unwittingly suggested the droopy Happy Postman.
* * *
Mel is on five top network shows.
For Benny he is Detective Flanagan, the train caller (“Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga”), a French violin teacher and a telegram boy.
With Abbott and Costello he is slightly inebriated Scotty Brown.
He seemed proudest of the fact that the cartoon, “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips,” for which he supplied all the voices, has been stored for posterity in the Library of Congress.
He’s allergic to carrots, by the way—spits them out as fast as he chews them when doing Bugs Bunny.


  1. Howard Morris did some work on Cartoon Network's "Cow & Chicken" - his voice is easily recognizable!

  2. IIRC, Morris' first work for cartoons was actually for Gene Deitch, in 1961's "Munro". Thanks to King Features opting to use west coast voice talent on their made-for-TV cartoons (done mainly on the East Coast of the U.S. and Australia and Eastern Europe), Morris turned up in those shorts, the pilots for which were done between his work for Deitch and his H-B debut.

  3. Glad to see pictures of so many..and especially thanks for putting Wally Cox, Hans Conried, Billy De Wolfe and Jimmy Durante, the last two in (as Yowp mentions) "Frosty".. De Wolfe, like Conried and Winchell played yet another iconic mustachioed cartoon villain, in the specialTHE character Billy's known for in cartoons, Professor Hinkle, with the standard fussy diction with Durante narrating, not to mention Jackie Vernon as Frosty. Howard Morris and Allan Melvin worked together quite a lot, first on those King Features cartoons that J.Lee mentions, then Hanna-Barbera then for Filmation after Morris left H-B (for being replaced by Don Messick on the 1966 Alice in Wonderland record due to whatever reason (not an isolated incident in kiddie records, needless to say as observed with other HB records and Golden Records earlier in the Yowp blog)

    Jim Backus and Frank Nelson would be other additions.

    (Not to mention my voice in the Gumbys, Dallas McKennon..)

  4. Indeed, Mel Blanc is the one of the best known voice actors in the world. You can hear his voice to this day.

    1. I hear it right now-- no, that's Paul Frees. Something about delirious demons ripe with the fruits of desire.

  5. Bud Collyer is on the old Superman movies from the 1940's. You can buy it on DVD in almost any store.