Monday, July 31, 2017

June in July

Last week, a day I did not want to come ended up coming: June Foray, known as the First Lady of Voice Acting, passed away at 99.

Over a career spanning from roughly the late 1940s until 2014, she voiced many many characters in cartoons, movies, and even an episode or two of the Twilight Zone.

Yes, the infamous Talky Tina was voiced by her, as well as the doll it was based on, Chatty Cathy.

Yeah, I just watched that commercial for the first time and Rod Serling was right to take that damn thing down a peg or two. It's amazing that June was able to voice both dolls, it's seriously the equivalent of...hmm. If My Buddy talked and was voiced by the guy who voiced Chucky? That seems to be the closest thing to that.

It just goes to show just how talented June Foray was, and how limited the acting pool was to women back in the old days. In the Golden Age of Cartoons, if you heard the voice of a woman or a little girl, or even boys, nine times out of ten you were hearing June Foray.

Let's go through some of my favorite roles that she's done.

I'm gonna start with what's probably her most famous roles: Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale from Rocky & Bullwinkle.

I always liked that while Bullwinkle was the most popular character, Rocky always got top billing. I'm actually sad that kids these days don't have much exposure to this brilliant cartoon. Seems like it's down to Youtube and DVDs, just like everything else.

At the dawn of TV, budgets for cartoons were abysmal, but Jay Ward and his crew put all of their talents into the writing and acting, and it definitely showed.

Essentially, Rocky & Bullwinkle go on silly adventures, while Boris and Natasha (spies from a country that was an obvious stand-in for Soviet Russia) try to antagonize them with paper-thin disguises that the heroes always fell for. Three seasons of serialized stories based on dumb premises (a pie recipe was actually a recipe for jet fuel and spies want to steal it, for one) filled with even dumber puns (Wossamatta U, The Ruby Yacht of Omar Kayhem, etc), but they made it work!

Natasha's voice was so iconic, I'm pretty sure that she's what anyone thinks of when they imagine Russian women to sound like. Sultry, husky, and calling everyone "dahlink."

If you ever heard that kind of voice, it was most likely June's. Hell, she used it several times in her career, most notably Magica DeSpell from DuckTales.

Hard to believe that she's actually supposed to be Italian. I seriously hope the creators of the new DuckTales show remembers that.

Also of note that she reprised the role in the DuckTales Remastered video game a few years back with Alan Young, the voice of Scrooge.

They were in their nineties when they recorded their parts, but you know they still brought the goods.

Besides Natasha I pretty much associate that voice with Millicent the rabbit from Rabbit Romeo.

Man, you can just hear that voice just looking at that picture. Like I said above, sultry, husky and Russian. She's definitely one of my favorite obscure cartoon characters. I think she only appeared in this one short?

It was another one of those "character tries to escape an unwanted suitor" cartoons, but this was one of those rare instances where it happened to Bugs Bunny. It's been a while since I've seen it, but it was made during that period of time when this type of woman was the butt of a joke. But those times were dumb, I think she's wonderful, if a little too forward. 

If I remember right, the episode ends with Bugs, ever the gentleman, siccing her on another target. I wanna say Elmer Fudd dressed as a rabbit?

And I can't talk about June Foray and Looney Tunes without talking about Witch Hazel.

Everything about this character is fantastic. Her design, her animation, her personality her cackle. I love the bobby pins that hang around whenever she darts off the screen. This is yet another character that went after Bugs pretty frequently, and one cartoon had her get turned into a rabbit and Bugs decided "eh, why not? Aren't they all witches inside?" Like I said, different times.

Here's a great video of her in action:

And a video of one of my favorite Looney Tunes moments, her laugh duel with Bugs.:

I'm sure I'm not the only one who got into trouble trying to imitate this, especially Bugs' poses. It would explain a lot about my childhood, really.

The innocent-looking grandmother that's secretly evil was an archetype June Foray did so well, and she only got better at it the older she got. Like her turns on Garfield & Friends and The Garfield Show.

A generic witch from Garfield & Friends that wanted to turn Odie into a gerbil.

And Miss Cauldron from The Garfield Show, for which she won her first Emmy. Seriously, it took her that long to win one because everyone assumed she already had one. Writer Mark Evanier realized that she had never been submitted for one, so he did submitted her and she won. So, that award was sort of more for her entire body of work than for The Garfield Show, but it wasn't any less earned.

I could go on about how cheap hand drawn animation comes off a thousand times better than cheap CGI animation, but that's another entry for another time.

One of her longest-known roles was as Granny from Looney Tunes and pretty much any sequel series, like The Looney Tunes Show, and The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries.

But there was one episode of Tiny Toons that she was in that really stood out for me. It was a short called "One Minute Til Three" from "The Best O'Plucky Duck Day." It's not on Youtube, but you can watch it here (but don't tell anyone I showed you this).

Good old weird Kennedy Animation.

The short was fairly simple: It's a minute until school ends for the weekend and Plucky just wants to go home, but class will just. not. end. Granny is the teacher here and she's just so unexpectedly sadistic it just took me by surprise. Kindly old Granny is the one screaming in everyone's faces, giving them insanely hard pop quizzes or else face writing a term paper hundreds of pages long over the weekend. This might've been the one thing that instilled my fear of "term papers" once I got older in school. Seriously, she assigns Hampton a 9,000 page term paper! Could teachers do that?! I was almost relieved that high school and college ALMOST didn't do this. Almost.

I can relate to Plucky, praying to every God imaginable that he isn't called on before the bell rings. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a very good, if not underrated cartoon.

During the later years of her career, she showed up in cartoons pretty much for the sake of having her on, because she's been around for so long and such a legend. Essentially, let's pay tribute to her before she dies.

Like on The Simpsons

The Powerpuff Girls

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack

And even on Rugrats as both a Rocky doppelganger named Blocky

And a woman that's definitely supposed to be Natasha. The Bullwinkle and Boris stand-ins were sadly voiceless.

And finally, I can't leave out Cindy Lou Who from How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

Seriously, I didn't know it was her until a few years ago and now I can't unhear it. It's so good to know that to this day, her voice will be heard in homes long after all of us will be gone.

You will be missed, June Foray.