The team is joined by Guest Kats Rosie Burbidge, Stephen Jones, Mathilde Pavis, and Eibhlin Vardy, and by InternKats Verónica Rodríguez Arguijo, Hayleigh Bosher, Tian Lu and Cecilia Sbrolli.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

In memoriam of June Foray: the greatest screen voice whom you probably never heard of, but likely heard


For Kat readers who love animated films, last week was especially tough. We lost Lucifer, being the cat from the movie Cinderella, Wheezy Weasel and Lena Hyena from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, Betty Rubble from “The Flintstones”, Daisey Duck and Grandma Duck, Jokey Smurf, Nell Fenwick, being the girlfriend of Mountie, Dudley Do-Right, the deadly doll from the iconic Twilight Zone episode (“My name is Talky Tina, and I am going to kill you”), the Emmy Award- winning Mrs. Cauldron from The Garfield Show and, perhaps, most notably, both Rocket J. Squirrel, better known as Rocky the flying squirrel, and his ever-conniving foe, Natasha Fatale, both from “Rocky and his Friends” (later known as the “Bullwinkle Show”). Sadly, the list goes on.

Behind these, and other characters in more than 300 productions, was June Foray, the most famous voice in the entertainment world whom you probably never heard of. Ms. Foray (born June Lucille Forer, in Springfield, Massachusetts) died in Los Angeles on July 26th at the age of 99. In the words of The New York Times, Ms. Foray “cackled, chirped, and sometimes sang her way through” myriad roles, overwhelmingly in animated productions, “often playing several parts at once with quick shifts of accent, dialect and personality.” (A list of voice-over characters played by Ms. Foray here.)

At the age of 12, Ms. Foray’s voice was first broadcast in a local radio program, and by the age of 15, she already had a steady fare of regular radio work. She had her own radio show in the late 1930’s. Even before the end of the 1940’s, she had taken part in radio shows with such legends as Danny Thomas, Steve Allen, and Jimmy Durante. [Merpel says to those Kat readers for whom these names are not familiar: “Go ahead and read about them, each of whom was a legend in entertainment world, in the accompanying links.”]

But for many, especially of this Kat’s generation, her crowning achievement was with Rocky and his Friends (1959-1964). At a time when the Cold War was front and center, the characters of Natasha and her colleague, Boris Badenov, became cultural icons and, in an odd way, helped to humanize the conflict that enabled us to even find humor regarding our Cold War enemies. As The New York Times observed about the program, “[n]o pun was too awful, no malaprop too shameless.” One need only think about Rocky’s famous line— “If you can’t believe what you read in the comic books, what can you believe.” For Kat readers who have never encountered Rocky, Natasha and the rest of these characters, you get the idea.

This Kat had no notion at the time that the same person served as the voice for both Rocky and Natasha, the male squirrel with the aviator helmet, and the stylish Russian female spy. Even today, when one thinks about the series, he remains in awe that Ms. Foray managed to create the voices for not one, but two, of the most classic characters in animated programming.

Despite the accolades and success that Ms. Foray enjoyed during her life, there was a bitter side as well. She frequently found herself being compared with Mel Blanc, the entertainer also legendary for his voice-over for numerous animated characters. But Mr. Blanc is well-known by name. Part of the reason was the practice of not crediting her voice contributions, especially in her earlier years. Most notably, The New York Times reported, while Ms. Foray was the voice for numerous Warner Brothers characters, she did not receive any credits, which were reserved for Mr. Blanc. How unfair that was can be summarized in the words of Chuck Jones, a well-known animator who knew them both and who
championed adding Ms. Foray to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

“June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”
This Kat cannot resist one legal rumination. To what extent were the hundreds of voice creations by Ms. Foray legally protected? He thinks of the U.S. case in the 1980’s, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recognized protectable rights in the voice of actress and entertainer Bette_Midler as part of her identity and persona. But in Ms. Foray's situation, there was no single June Foray voice; each was connected with a different character. Assuming that a third-party did not imitate her voice-over in connection with specific programmatic contents, but merely the more general mannerisms of a given character, can we say that here, as well, her identify and persona enjoyed protection. Such a conclusion seems a legal stretch for this Kat. Readers’ thoughts are welcome.

2 comments:

Howard Knopf said...

RIP Marni Dixon - 1930 - 2016 - a singing stand in of operatic capability for Audrey Hepburn, Nathlie Wood, Marilyn Monroe, Deborah Kerr etc.

Sorry, Neil, but IMHO she was the greatest of them all.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/jul/25/marni-nixon-singer-dies-aged-86

Best

Howard

Anonymous said...

I thought Jane Barbe was the real holder of that title, but it turns out she hardly ever stood before a camera, at least according to IMDB.

You know her. You old network.)

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