Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Late, Great Allen Swift

Allen Swift, who provided the voice for both Simon Barsinister and Riff-Raff on Underdog and many other characters, passed on April 18 at the age of 87.

Allen Swift was born Ira Stadlen on January 16, 1824 in Washington Heights, New York, but was raised in Brooklyn. He attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. He created his stage name by combing the names of two men he admired, Fred Allen and Jonathan Swift. In his late teens Mr. Swift began performing at hotels in the Catskills as a stand up comedian. He also worked on many radio shows. In 1941 he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. Following World War II, he returned to show business. He worked on  Gangbusters and other radio shows. He also resumed his work as a comedian at night clubs.

It was around 1950 that Allen Swift joined the cast of the television version of The Robert Q. Lewis Show. It was in 1953 that Allen Swift joined The Howdy Doody Show. Initially he served as the replacement for Dayton Allen as the voice for the puppets Phineas T. Bluster and Flub-a-Dub, as well as playing Chief Thunderchicken, but after  September 1954 when Buffalo Bob Smith had a heart attack, Mr. Swift found himself voicing Howdy Doody for a year. It was in 1954 that Mr. Swift provided his voice for a cartoon for the first time, the Famous Studios Howdy Doody short "Boo Moon." In 1956 he became the host of The Popeye Show on WPIX-TV, New York, playing Captain Allen Swift. He was host of the show for four years. In 1957 he did his first work for Terrytoons in the short "A Bum Steer." He would go onto voice several of the studio's characters, including Gaston and Clint Clobber. It was also in the Fifties that he began doing voice overs for radio and television commercials. It is estimated Mr. Swift did over 30,000 commercials in his lifetime.

It was in 1960 that Alan Swift did his first work for TTV, providing the voices of Odie Cologne, Itchy Brother, and Tooter Turtle on King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. He would go onto voice various characters on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, Simon Barsinister, Riff-Raff, and many of the villains on The Underdog Show, and Tubby and Scotty on The Beagles. In 1961 he worked on the syndicated puppet show Diver Dan. He also provided voices for many of the cartoons produced by Gene Deitch, including his "Tom and Jerry" cartoons and the feature film Alice of Wonderland in Paris. In 1967 he provided most of the voices for Rankin/Bass's feature film Mad Monster Party.

The Seventies saw Allen Swift do further work for Rankin/Bass, including the specials The Enchanted World of Danny Kaye: The Emperor's New Clothes, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town, and Pinocchio's Christmas. In the Eighties Mr. Swift more or less retired, although into the Naughts he would guest star on such shows as Kate and Allie, The Equalizer, Crime Story, and Law and Order. He appeared in the feature films Seize the Day, A Price Above Rubies, and Safe Men. His last work was providing voice work for an episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog in 2000.

There can be no doubt that Allen Swift was among the greatest voice men of all time. On The Underdog Show alone he voiced such diverse characters as Simon Barsinister, Riff-Raff, and Batty Man, each one with a distinct voice. Indeed, in his work in commercials Allen Swift voiced everything from a toilet plunger in a Draino advert to the Burger King in early Burger King adverts. Although not as well known as Mel Blanc, he was arguably just as skilled, literally a man of a thousand voices.It is for that reason he left behind a plethora of cartoons and commercials bearing his talents.


Aaron said...

Thanks for this sad news Mercurie..would not have found out otherwise.
The Underdog Show was my favorite and I still love it and Riff Raff my favorite villain. Thanks to Mr. Swift and his peers for keeping me happy as a kid then and for the good memories today.
The Underdog theme and the multiple intros rank up there with the best ever. That Show was and is a champion of champions.

Mercurie said...

Allen Swift's passing really hit me. The Underdog Show as also one of my favourites, and Mr. Swift was one of the reasons it was so enjoyable. It was certainly a remarkable show, one of the truly classic television cartoons.