The appearance of a new year is always cause for looking forward to what life has in store for us, and what we will make of it. However, for this article, I thought I might take a look back instead. Way back.
I am a voice actor. More specifically, I am a character voice actor. I do my share of narration, and commercial work, but characters have always been my forte. I have often said, “It all started at Disneyland”. Attractions like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Adventure Thru Inner Space were visually amazing journeys. It was the voices, however, in those attractions that really piqued my interest. Big, bold, saturated voices that perfectly matched the characters from which they emanated. My experiences at the park, along with the fine folks at Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbara animation sealed my fate. Eventually, I would have to become a voice actor.
It has always been important for me to acknowledge and honor the amazingly talented actors who came before me, the talent that created this craft during the Golden Age. Until recently, voice actors were mostly invisible, their names were not known to the audiences who applauded their work. The job of a voice actor is to do your part in making the character believable, perhaps even famous. The fame of character, not the actor, is the most important consideration. That being said, the quality work of a voice actor deserves its own praise as well.
Many times a student of mine will perform a great classic character voice from vintage animation. Too often though, when I ask them where the voice came from, they do not know. Simply saying they heard it “somewhere”.
Certainly folks in the business, and most in the general public know the name Mel Blanc, and rightfully so. Mel was a supremely talented ‘voice man’. But who outside the craft know names like Daws Butler, Verna Felton, Walter Tetly, Eleanor Audley, Paul Frees, Sterling Holloway, June Forey, Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and on and on. Not as well known as Mel Blanc perhaps (due to Mel’s screen credit), but all equally as prolific and talented. These folks were the pioneers in our craft, and they set the bar very high.
The characters that so many of us grew up with were the product of many talented artisans. An animated character is the child of many fathers and mothers. Artists, writers, directors, producers, and yes, voice actors. Real people whose talent and skill gave ‘life’ to so many iconic personalities. Yet too many of them have been forgotten. In fact, sometimes we attribute the credit to the wrong person. New voices being performed may be variations on voices that were done years before by another actor. For example, Foghorn Leghorn. Most folks remember this great character from the vintage Warner Brothers cartoons. Some folks might even know that Mel Blanc provided the voice. But did you know it was not an original voice? That voice belonged to a character named Senator Claghorn, done years before by Kenny Delmar on the Fred Allen radio show, and perhaps Kenny ‘borrowed’ it from someone else. This, of course does not diminish the great performance by Mel or Kenny. It’s just important to give credit where it is due.
I hope this short look back has given some of you the inspiration to explore and research more about the early days of our chosen craft. On the wall of my home studio you will find many black and white photos of some of these talents. Every day, they give me inspiration, and remind me that I have a big responsibility to attempt to carry on their legacy. To honor their contribution, by doing my best on every project I am associated with. All my best to each and every one of you as you continue on your journey in this wonderful and unique craft.
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