Saturday, 23 March 2019

Uncle Johnny

A number of cartoon voice actors are still unknown because even in the 1960s, some producers weren’t putting credits on their animated shorts.

One of them was Johnny Coons, who spent the bulk of his career in radio and television in Chicago. It was there he worked on a cartoon and puppet show called Uncle Mistletoe with a cartoonist named Sam Singer. Coons provided all the voices. Singer would take “Florence the Pen” and sketch two drawings. Two cameras would then switch back and forth between the drawings, making it look like they were moving! No doubt such cheesy, ultra-low budget “animation” inspired Singer when he went to California, set up cartoon operations and produced some of the most deadly bad TV animation in history. Coons hosted several children’s shows in the 1950s, both local and national, from Chicago.

Before we get to Coons’ animation career, let’s give you some of his background. He had been in radio in Chicago for several years when this story was published in the Jackson (Tennessee) Sun on April 4, 1948. There is no byline.
Johnny Coons Plays Clipper King On ‘Sky King’ Show
Although he grew up in a medical atmosphere and his family thought he would be a doctor, Johnny Coons never had any doubts in his mind that he would be anything but an actor. His father is a surgeon in Lebanon, Ind., one brother is an interne and another is completing medical school. Proof that appearing in the colorful make-believe world of stage and radio rather than in the colorless mask and gown of the operating theater was the right choice for Johnny, can be seen by looking through his scrapbook. However. Johnny did not turn his back entirely on the medical profession for he married a nurse.
Since Oct. 28. 1946, he has been portraying Clipper King in WTJS-ABC's juvenile dramatic show. Sky King, heard from 5:30 to 6:00 p.m., on alternate days with Jack Armstrong. His past radio stints have included important roles in Bachelor's Children, Captain Midnight and Vic and Sade in which he had four roles—Marvin Sprawl, Smelly Clark, Orville Wheeney and L. J. Gertner.
This Indiana boy began his professional career after graduating from high school. His family had him enrolled in pre-medical school at Wabash College but he never got there. Instead he went to New York City to Alviene Dramatic Academy for a year. Then he joined a vaudeville outfit as a magician for a year. After one season of touring throughout the Midwest, he returned to Broadway to appear in "Bright Honor" and later in stock companies in Winthrop. Maine, and Bay Shore. Long Island. He was offered a role in the "Dead End" touring company and for half a year was a Dead End Kid. The tour brought him to Los Angeles and he remained there for several years doing movies for Columbia and Selznick International.
From movies Johnny moved into radio and soon was doing dramatic stints on network programs originating in the film capital. Johnny decided to return to the midwest radio capital because he specialized in juvenile roles and parts calling for trick voices. He felt Chicago radio had more to offer him. Now he's content to remain in the Windy City permanently.
The Coons' apartment on the Near North Side is his hobby, he says. He did all the decorating himself and selected the modern furniture for it. "There's alwavs something to be done around the place and I enjoy being my own carpenter-electrician-plumber." Mr. and Mrs. Coons are not night clubbers. They prefer to do their entertaining at home, quietly. Besides, this gives Johnny a chance to demonstrate some of the feats of legerdemain which he performed on the stage.
Although he sold his equipment (valued at $5,000) several years ago, he is able to baffle and entertain still without using rabbits, trick tables and hats. Last summer Johnny had reason to be grateful that he was surrounded by members of the medical profession. He fractured a wrist on a picnic and had a local doctor take care of it. Weeks later it was found that the bone had been incorrectly set. Johnny returned home to his father who removed part of the bone and reset it. Johnny's nurse-wife took care of him and the arm afterwards, changing the dressings and tending it for the next several weeks.
There is only one aversion which this actor admits having. He hates to wear ties. He favors casual clothes and except on strictly formal occasions is never seen wearing a tie. He would like to operate a men's haberdashery store but says that as long as he's in radio he wouldn't have the time. With the experience and background this Coons lad has. it is doubtful if radio will ever give him the opportunity of opening his store.
Coons left Chicago for Hollywood in late 1959. He worked on a number of cartoon series. Larry Wolters reported in the Chicago Tribune of October 1, 1960 that “Mister Magoo, voiced by Jim Backus, has added some new voices. Johnny Coons of Chicago TV has become the voice of Presley, and James Nugent is Beatnik Magoo.” Coons was represented by Charles Stern, the agent for June Foray and Paul Frees among others, and made money in the mid-‘60s voicing national commercials. He also hosted a couple of different children’s shows on KHJ-TV before returning to Chicago in 1969.

Another endeavour of Coons’ involved a toy for young children. He was interviewed by a number of newspapers about it, and his opinion of the fantasy/adventure cartoons on Saturday mornings at the time. The interviews also revealed another UPA cartoon he voiced. This is from the Baltimore Sun, October 29, 1968.
Supplies Voices Comments For Little Hen
By SHERBOURNE EVERETT

REMEMBER the role of Clipper in the radio show, “Sky King”? Or the character Panhandle Pete in a children's television show? Or Mumbles in the televised cartoon Dick Tracy or the Italian baby in a spaghetti commercial?
These are only a few of the several hundred characters that owe their voices to Johnny Coons, voice impersonator. And for about 30 years Mr. Coons, has portrayed old men, young boys, cartoon personalities and others in radio soap operas and dramas, children's shows, movies, television series and commercials.
Talking Puzzle
More recently Mr. Coons is projecting his voice into a talking puzzle for children 3 to 7 years old in the roles of a tugboat, a fire chief, an air-plane, Humpty Dumpty and some farm animals, and it is an undertaking that he is very enthusiastic about.
Mr. Coons' career began in New York city theater and then skipped across country to the West Coast and radio in the Thirties. When television started becoming popular, Mr. Coons went on the air with a puppet show. “There were fifteen characters that I provided voices for,” he said. “And since many of them were on stage at the same time, they were difficult to keep track of. I used a lot of colored pencils in those days.”
Stood On Table
Then Mr. Coons appeared in front of the camera instead of behind it for a change. Panhandle Pete was the character he portrayed—in miniature. Through trick photography Mr. Coons was made Lilliputian in size, and he stood on a table to talk to Jennifer, the other half of the cast. Still appearing as himself, Mr. Coons emceed the “Uncle Johnny Coons Show,” in which, wearing a derby, he entertained children for several years.
“Anything with children is great,” Mr. Coons remarked. “But I think they are missing the boat on children's shows today. It's not comedy; it's high adventure, if you will, violent adventure.”
Strictly Americana
Having been in the children's field for about 25 years, Mr. Coons feels he knows what youngsters would like—and he has an idea for a show that is "stri[c]tly Americana."
“There is a lot to see and learn about in this country, because every state is interested. We could photograph some of these really interesting places, and if the program was presented in the right way and at the right level . . .” he proposed.
And even in this age when children are said to grow up faster than they did a decade or so ago, Mr. Coons believes that a show like this could succeed. “I think very young children, say 3 to 8 years old, haven’t changed in that they could be led the same route as we were. Let them learn about the birds and bees as birds and bees in the sense of nature,” he added.
He would also like to see the return of the emcee as a personal character, a role that is missing on most children's programs today.
In the talking puzzles, Mr. Coons provides the role of the “missing emcee.” Each puzzle begins with a short introduction and then the tugboat (fire, chief, airplane, etc.) describes its job—Mr. Coon's voice in both cases. “It's a simple, basic thing that children have liked for years,” he stated, perhaps even giving some philos[o]phy on his ambitions.
Coons died in 1975; sadly, his son died two days later in his father’s home after flying from Hawaii for his father’s funeral.

In you’re wondering what Coons sounded like, listen to this children’s record. The voice should sound somewhat familiar.



We mentioned Coons played Presley on the TV Magoo cartoons. He used a W.C. Fields voice but you can recognise it as Coons. You needn’t sit through the full cartoon.



What else did he voice?

Well, there are no voice credits but it would seem he was Bozo the Clown for Larry Harmon Productions. You can hear him starting at the 0:27 mark. The introduction is from the throat of the mighty Paul Frees. Again, feel free not to subject yourself to the entire cartoon.



And, finally, one more.

Sam Singer apparently hired his old co-worker from Chicago to voice Salty the Parrot in the first go-around of the Sinbad, Jr. cartoons. (Evidently Singer had some problems and production was taken over by Hanna-Barbera who re-cast all the parts). It sure sounds like Coons doing an old-timer voice. The dialogue starts at the 0:38 mark. Compare it to the way he sounds on the children’s record and see what you think.

3 comments:

  1. Apparently, Coons also did voices for Cambria, specifically their wretched Three Stooges cartoons, but I'm not sure which voices he did there. If that's true, wouldn't surprise me if he turned up in "Fathom" and "Space Angel", too.

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  2. Space Mouse! Johnny Coons was the voice of Space Mouse in his one and only Walter Lantz cartoon.

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  3. Wow..sdidn't know he did those...interestinly, he might've also worked at WB and Hanna-Barbera... (as for Sam Singer, I'll take that over the "Filmation
    " type stuff, when it comes to the premise....always liked the Sinbad and Courageous Cats, Bob "Batman" Kane created that!~

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