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The Real Unsung Heroes
by Spotlight Mike

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Spike TV 2011 Comic-Con Icon Award Winner

Spike TV 2011 Comic-Con Icon Award Winner

In honor of June Foray receiving the Comic-Con Icon Award during the 2011 Spike TV Scream Awards, this writer would like to laud the efforts of those faceless actors who (literally) breathed life into the most famous faces in our world of entertainment.

For those who are not familiar with that name, perhaps her alter egos may be: Granny of Sylvester and Tweety, Ursula ofGeorge of the Jungle, Natasha Fatale and Rocket J. Squirrel of the self-named series, and a hundred more animated characters that bear her voice.

Ms. Foray is but one of the hundreds of voice actors who have performed in virtual anonymity, receiving only the briefest of credits, if they are even credited at all. Actors, whose names are even more obscure, such as Billy West (Futurama), Maurice Lamarche (Pinky and the Brain), Paul Winchell (Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff, Tigger), and others have given their distinctive voices to entertain TV fans and movie-goers for generations, yet never given the Big Ticket.

Aside from Ms. Foray, another powerhouse voice dominated the Warner Brothers’ sound stages to have a virtual monopoly on the Looney Tunes characters. Melvin Jerome "Mel" Blanc, originally a radio actor, then a featured actor for the Jack Benny Show, was the voice behind virtually every character in the Warner Brothers’ line-up (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, and the Tasmanian
The Voice of Warner Brothers

The Voice of Warner Brothers
), as well as Mr. Spacely of The Jetsons, Barney Rubble, and every modern appliance on The Flintstones, and even the miniature marching bands and rickety jalopies used periodically in Warner Brothers’ shorts. Nerd Trivia: for the Road Runner, the Warner Studios paid Mel Blanc for only one meep! to voice the title character. That single word was doubled (meep-meep!) and looped (duplicated) for every subsequent Road Runner feature. Upon his death in 1989, his son took over the characters until he was replaced by multiple voice actors over the years.

These faceless voice actors, unfortunately, are more and more being relegated to television and minor feature productions. Blockbuster movies today hedge their bets and rely on Star Power to draw in their audiences. Today’s animated features rely on celebrities such as Jack Black (KUNG FU PANDA), Angelina Jolie (SHARK TALE), Michael Myers (SHREK), and Mark Hamil (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm) to entice their audiences. The real voice actors are relegated to background characters, and B-Animated Features, like Tom Kenny (The SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE), Alan Reed (The MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE), and
All Found Their Voice From the man in the Booth

All Found Their Voice From the man in the Booth
Tim Daly (Superman, the Animated Series). As more animated features strive for Blockbuster status, the non-celebrity voice actors becomes an endangered species.

The last category of voice actor are the performers that started in non-celebrity, and through luck or careful career building, created a brand for themselves. Dan Castellaneta took an obscure character from a defunct variety show, and became part of an empire. The voice of Homer Simpson, his universe is populated by Abraham Grampa Simpson, Barney Gumble, Krusty the Clown, Groundskeeper Willie, Mayor Quimby and Hans Moleman, as well as Aladdin's Genie in the subsequent sequels and the TV series, voiced in the Disney feature by Robin Williams. Castellaneta, along with Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer parlayed that side skit feature on The Tracy Ullman Show into the longest-continually-running animated show in history.

A relative newcomer to the voice actor universe, former writer and animator for Hanna-Barbera, Seth MacFarland took his citizens of Quahog and created the most irreverent animated series in prime time. Family Guy, of which MacFarland takes the lion’s share of characters (Peter Griffin, Stewie Griffin, Brian Griffin, and Glenn Quagmire as well as Tom Tucker, his son Jake). Family Guy also has the distinction of being the only show to
The New Kid on the Block

The New Kid on the Block
have been cancelled, only to be renewed after overwhelming reception in syndication on the Cartoon Network, and has been running strong ever since. Two interesting notes: MacFarland spun off the Cleveland Brown character instead of the more popular Quagmire character for his own series, because Cleveland was one of the few major characters not voiced by MacFarland (Cleveland and Herbert the pedophile is voiced by Mike Henry). The second: Quahog, the fictitious town in the world of Family Guy is in reality a unique Rhode Island slur, that means clam shell, or a euphemistic part of a woman’s anatomy. MacFarland also created American Dad, where he voices Stan Smith, the main character and Roger, an alien living with the family. MacFarland is currently the world's highest paid television writer.

These faceless actors, some a little less faceless than others, have been the soul of the animated entertainment industry, where the universe they create is unique unto itself, making us laugh, cry, and gasp, solely on the performance of the spoken word. It is radio, with pictures.

Congratulations again to June Foray, who has given us many years of laughter and entertainment, and we hope the she will do so for many years to come. To the thousands of faceless voice actors, sitting alone in a closed sound booth, doing what only they can do, it is the hope that these unsung heroes find their personal audience and gain the fame they so richly deserve.


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Jan 16, 2012 5:04 PM
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One of my voice acting heroes: Mel Blanc

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I Could Be Wrong
Every other Wednesday

Until I find my footing, I'd like to vent on the state of today's movies. I will occasionally praise a movie that piques my fancy. But it's a whole lot more fun railing against a person's work who makes more money on a single project than I would make if I lived 500 years. Oh, I will usually make observations on movies rather than films. The difference? Films are critically acclaimed, while movies are just darned good fun.

Other Columns
Other columns by Spotlight Mike:

Adventures in WonderCon

In Praise of the Movie Producer

The Life of a Film Reviewer



All Columns

Spotlight Mike
Born in the Fifties with an extreme phobia for movies in general, I became obsessed with movies when I broke that phobia with the first movie I actually enjoyed, “The Ten Commandments.” I particularly like the kind of movie where you can put your brain on hold. I get enough reality and drama in my everyday life; I refuse to pay someone to subject me to the same.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Spotlight Mike by clicking here.

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