Thursday, 4 February 2016

Female Voice Artists of Classic Cartoons

For better or worse, the voice artists who provide the voices of cartoon characters have historically worked in anonymity.  When a particular voice artist was well known, it was generally for something other than his or her work in cartoons. A perfect example of this is the late, great Stan Freberg. Famed for his comedy records (such as the classic "St. George and the Dragonet") and later his classic commercials, not many people realise that he got his start as a voice artist for Warner Bros. cartoons and continued to work as a voice artist into the Naughts. A notable exception to this rule was Mel Blanc, whose biggest claim to fame is that he was the voice of many classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters. Of course, it must be pointed out that it was in his contract with Leon Schlesinger Studios (who initially produced cartoons for Warner Bros.) and later Warner Bros. that he receive credit for his work. Unfortunately most voice artists during the Golden Age of Hollywood were not so lucky. More often than not they would go uncredited for their work.

It is perhaps for that reason that there are no women who match Mel Blanc's fame, at least as a voice artist. This is unfortunate, as through the years many women provided voices in the classic theatrical cartoons and later in cartoons made for television. In fact, some of the most famous cartoon characters of all time were obviously voiced by women.

This is particularly true of Fleischer Studios' most famous cartoon character, Betty Boop. Betty Boop made her debut as an anthropomorphic poodle in the 1930 Fleischer Studios short "Dizzy Dishes". In that cartoon she was voiced by Margaret Hines. She would be voiced by Ann Little in her second outing, the 1930 short "Barnacle Bill", while Margaret Hines voiced Betty again in her "Mysterious Mose" (1930). By the time of "Silly Scandals" in 1931 Betty Boop had more or less taken her human form with which everyone is now familiar. She was also voiced for the first time by the woman who would become most identified with the role: Mae Questel.

Mae Questel had begun her career in vaudeville, where she carved out a niche for herself with her impressions of famous singers, including Fanny Brice, Marlene Dietrich, Helen Kane, and Mae West. In fact, she even did impressions of male singers like Eddie Cantor and Maurice Chevalier. Legendary animator Max Fleischer saw her perform and immediately hired her to provide the voice of Betty Boop. While other actresses would occasionally voice Betty Boop, it was Mae Questel who provided the voice of the character in the vast majority of cartoons. In fact, it was Mae Questel who provided the voice of Betty Boop in the feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). At the time Miss Questel was in her Seventies, but she sounded no different than she did when she was in her twenties.

Mae Questel would go onto a very successful career as a voice artist, voicing other characters besides Betty Boop. In fact, she was nearly as famous as the voice of Olive Oyl in the Popeye cartoons as she was the voice of Betty Boop. Mae Questel voiced Olive Oyl in the bulk of Popeye cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios and later Paramount made in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. She also voiced the character of Swee'pea in the Popeye cartoons. When King Features decided to produce a whole new batch of Popeye shorts for television in 1960, it was Mae Questel they hired as the voice of Olive Oyl. Over the years Mae Questel was also the voice of  Little Audrey, as well as the voices of several incidental characters in Fleischer Studios and Paramount cartoons over the years. She died on January 4 1998 at the age of 89.

There was a female voice artist who worked for Warner Bros. who was arguably as famous as Mel Blanc. That having been said, Bea Benaderet's fame was primarily due to her work in radio on such shows as The Jack Benny Program (where she was telephone switchboard operators Gertrude Gearshift and Mabel Flapsaddle) and  The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (where she was the Burns's neighbour Blanche Morton), as well as her work on television on the shows The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction. That having been said, Bea Benaderet was as central to Warner Bros. cartoons as Mel Blanc was. There was a time in the Forties and Fifties when a female character appeared in a Warner Bros. cartoon, chances were very good that she was voiced by Bea Benaderet.

 Unlike Mel Blanc, Bea Benaderet did not voice a large number of famous Warner Bros. cartoon characters. She was the voice of Granny in the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons until June Foray took over the role in 1955. She was also the voice of the hen Miss Prissy in Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. She provided the voice of Witch Hazel in one cartoon.  That having been said, in the Forties and early Fifties she provided the majority of female voices in Warner Bros. cartoons, including Dora Standpipe in "The Dover Boys at Pimento University or The Rivals of Roquefort Hall" (1942) and The Fair Melissa in "The Scarlet Pumpernickel" (1950).

By the mid-Fifties Bea Benaderet was no longer doing voice work for Warner Bros. on a regular basis, perhaps because she was busy with television, appearing as Blanche on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and providing the voice of Getrude the switchboard operator on The Jack Benny Program. She would go on to appear as Pearl Bodine on The Beaverly Hillbillies and to star as Kate Bradley on Petticoat Junction. That having been said, she still did voice work for cartoons. The last short she may have voiced for Warner Bros. (at least going by IMDB) was "Tweet Dreams" in 1959. She provided the voice of Mother Magoo and various incidental voices for the Mister Magoo shorts UPA made for television in 1960, as well as incidental voices for Hanna-Barbera's TV show Top Cat. The most famous cartoon character she ever voiced may well have been her last. Bea Benaderet was the voice of Betty Rubble on The Flintstones throughout its six year run. Sadly, Bea Benaderet died of lung cancer on October 13 1968.

While Bea Benaderet's biggest claims to fame generally fell outside of her voice acting, June Foray's biggest claim to fame is her voice acting. In fact, June Foray could well be the person most famous for voice acting outside of Mel Blanc. It should come as no surprise that she has often been compared to Mel Blanc. In fact, animator Chuck Jones reportedly once said, "June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc, Mel Blanc was the male June Foray." June Foray also has one of the longest career in voice acting ever. Her career spans well over 70 years.

At only 12 years of age June Foray began her career in radio. In the late Thirties she starred in her own show, Lady Make Believe, and went on to make regular appearance on such shows as The Jimmy Durante Show and Lux Radio Theatre. She was the voices of Midnight the Cat and Old Grandie the Piano on The Buster Brown Program in the Forties. She made her debut as a voice artist in animated cartoons in the Walter Lantz short "The Egg Cracker" as the voice of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unlike many voice artists in the Forties and Fifties, who often worked for one studio, June Foray did voices for most of the major animations studios in operation. In the Forties alone she did voice work for MGM, Famous Studios, and Warner Bros. One of her most famous roles was as the voice of the cat Lucifer in Disney's Cinderella (1950).

June Foray continued to work for various animation studios in the Fifties. She did voice work for both MGM and Warner Bros. She was the voice of a mermaid and an American Indian in Disney's Peter Pan (1954) and did work in some of Disney's theatrical shorts as well. She even appeared in a few live action projects including the film Sabaka (1954) and a guest appearance on the TV show Father Knows Best. In 1955 she became the voice of Granny in Warner Bros.' Sylvester and Tweety cartoons. At Warner Bros. she also provided the voices of Witch Hazel, as well as various incidental characters.

Possibly her most famous roles came towards the end of the decade. June Foray voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, and practically every female character on Rocky and His Friends and later The Bullwinkle Show. In fact, June Foray is the only person to have ever voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel. She provided the voice of the character as recently as 2014, for the short "Rocky and Bullwinkle".  June Foray's work with Jay Ward Productions went well beyond Rocky and Bullwinkle. She was also the voice of Nell Fenwick in the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, Ursula on George of the Jungle,  and provided incidental voices for the vast majority of Jay Ward's other cartoons as well.

June Foray continued to be busy with voice work in the Sixties, not only providing voices for Jay Ward Productions and Warner Bros., but also King Features' "Beetle Bailey" cartoons, guest appearances on The Flintstones, and the voice of Dorothy Gale on the TV show Off to See the Wizard. June Foray also provided voices for the classic Rankin/Bass specials The Little Drummer Boy and Frosty the Snowman. She did voice work outside of animation as well. Indeed, her most famous role in the Sixties may have been the voice of the homicidal doll Talky Tina in the classic Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll".

Since the Sixties June Foray has remained busy. She was regularly employed in the Seventies for the many animated specials made during the decade. In the Eighties she provided voices for such TV cartoons as Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends, The Smurfs (as Jokey Smurf), Teen Wolf, DuckTales, and Adventures of the Gummi Bears. In the Nineties she provided voices for Garfield and Friends and The All New Dennis the Menace. And, of course, through the years she had continued to voice Granny in various Sylvester and Tweety cartoons and Rocket J. Squirrel in various Rocky and Bullwinkle projects (including the 2000 feature film The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle). What is more, she is still working. She voiced Granny in The Looney Tunes Show from 2011 to 2013 and, as mentioned earlier, Rocky in the 2014 short "Rocky and Bullwinkle".

There can be no doubt that June Foray's long career is due to the versatility of her voice. Unlike many female voice artists she has not only done female voices throughout her career, but male voice as well. Indeed, the most famous character she ever voiced is male--Rocky the Flying Squirrel. She also voiced Lucifer in Cinderella, Jokey Smurf, and various other male characters. At the same time, however, she can sound very feminine. What is more she can sound like females of any age, from children like Karen in Frosty the Snowman to old women like Granny. She can even sound like evil incarnate, as she did with Talky Tina. Arguably June Foray could be the greatest voice artist of all time.

Unlike Mae Questel, Bea Benaderet, and June Foray, Janet Waldo's most famous voice work would be in television rather than theatrical shorts. In fact, Janet Waldo's earliest screen work would not be in animated cartoons, but in live action feature films. Starting in the late Thirties she began playing bit parts in feature films. In the early Forties she would play opposite Tim Holt in two Westerns. Ultimately, however, her career would take off with radio rather than movies. Her big break came with Lux Radio Theatre. From there she went on to appear on such radio shows as Big TownThe Eddie Bracken ShowOne Man's Family, and Sears Radio Theatre. She had a recurring role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Eventually she received her own shows. She starred in the radio sitcom Young Love, but her biggest claim to radio fame may have been playing the title character in Meet Corliss Archer. So identified with the role was Janet Waldo that when Meet Corliss Archer was adapted to television in 1954, she was offered the lead role (she turned it down and the part went to Ann Baxter).  In the Fifties Janet Waldo did appear on television, guest starring on both I Love Lucy and The Phil Silvers Show. She also had a recurring role on the television version of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

It was in 1962 that Janet Waldo became a voice artist for animated cartoons. In fact, the first cartoon character she voiced may well have been her most famous: Judy Jetson on the TV show The Jetsons. She would once more voice Judy when new episodes of the show were made in 1987. The Jetsons was the beginning of a long relationship Janet Waldo would have with Hanna-Barbera. She was the voice of Granny Sweet on The Atom Ant Show, Penelope Pitstop on both Wacky Races and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, Josie on Josie and the Pussycats, and Hogatha on The Smurfs.  Janet Waldo also worked on Hanna-Barbera's theatrical cartoons, including Loopy De Loop shorts in the Sixties. She has also done a good deal of work outside of Hanna-Barbera. She provided voices for the English version of the French animated feature Fantastic Planet and voices for Battle of the Planets (the Seventies American version of the anime series Science Ninja Team Gatchaman). She was even a guest voice on King of the Hill.  She has continued to do voice work to this day. What is more, she sounds no different now than she did when she was Corliss Archer or Judy Jetson.

Over the years many women provided voices for both classic theatrical cartoons and animated series on television. Joan Gerber, Norma MacMillan, Grace Stafford, Billie Lou Watt, Billie Mae Richards, and yet other women have contributed to classic animated cartoons over the years. Sadly, very few voice artists--male or female--were credited for theatrical cartoons during the Golden Age of Animation. The end result is that they generally do not have the name recognition of live-action actors from the same era. Regardless, the many classic theatrical shorts and animated TV series could not have been made over the years without talented women to provide many of the voices.

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