Boomers Lose a Giant Voice of Their Cartoon Youth

Word came this week of the passing of June Foray, a true giant in the world of cartoon voices. She was 99 years old, but forever young in the hearts and minds of boomers everywhere. Boomers may not have recognized her face — or her name — but surely knew her many voices.

Born in 1917, Ms. Foray began doing voice work by age 12 for local radio dramas in Springfield, Massachusetts. From the 1920s through the ’50s she voiced characters on a multitude of radio shows, including The Jimmy Durante Show and Smile Time with Steve Allen. She recorded several children’s albums with Capitol Records, where she met Stan Freeburg, and went on to record several comedy albums with Freeburg before appearing on The Stan Freeburg Show on radio (1957-58).

Her “foray” into animation began when she was called by Walt Disney Studios to voice a cat character, and was hired to voice Lucifer the cat in Cinderella (1950). That’s when boomers started getting acquainted with her many voices. She continued to work for Disney in uncredited roles until 1952, when she voiced Hazel the witch for a Donald Duck Trick or Treat short. Witch Hazel then became a regular character on Looney Tunes, starting with a Bugs Bunny episode in 1956. She was the voice of Granny — the owner of Tweety bird — on Sylvester and Tweety cartoons from 1955 to 2013.

Her credits sound like a Who’s Who of top boomer cartoons, films and TV shows, including vocal performances in Tom and Jerry cartoons (1965), The Road Runner as various characters (1966), George of the Jungle (1967), The Pink Panther Show (1969) and hundreds more that boomers would recognize. In 1966 her voice was uncredited in the How the Grinch Stole Christmas! TV special. She even appeared in person on popular TV shows of the boomer era, including 12 O’Clock High (1965), It’s About Time (1966), and Green Acres (1967), and lent her voice to many more, including Bewitched (1966), Lost in Space (1967) and hundreds of other shows and animations up to 2014.

Yet for Mister Boomer, her work on the many iterations of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-70) were what made him a big fan. Among those famous voices were Rocky (Rocket J. Squirrel), Rocky’s nemesis Natasha Fatale, and Nell in Dudley Do-Right. She also appeared as numerous characters in Fractured Fairy Tales, another reason all the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon shows are at the top of the list for Mister B. Witty dialogue and puns galore, delivered by classic cartoon voice artists like June Foray, Daws Butler, Hans Conried and a host of others, had Mister Boomer’s family tuning in to laugh every week. The show was second only to The Road Runner for Mister B’s father. His mother preferred June Foray’s Granny.

June Foray is credited with the idea for the Annie Awards to honor the year’s best animations. The first Annies were given out at a dinner in1972. She was the the strongest proponent of creating a category for animation at the Academy Awards, and after twenty years of lobbying, saw the first Oscars for animation awarded in 2001 (Shrek won that year). Mister Boomer expects a memorable send-off by the Academy for Ms. Foray next year.

It’s hard to imagine cartoons of the boomer era without some of the giants of the medium, and June Foray was among the very best. What memories do you have of June Foray characters, boomers?

Holy Schnikies, Batman is Gone!

Our boomer flags were lowered to half staff this week with the passing of Adam West. He was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington, but for boomers, he was and always will be, Batman.

Anderson’s mother moved him to Seattle after divorcing his father when he was 14, but he went back to Walla Walla after high school to attend Whitman College. After graduating with a degree in literature, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a radio DJ, before doing post-graduate studies at Stanford University.

When he was drafted into the Army, he worked as an announcer for American Forces Network television and was part of a team tasked to create TV studios for the military, first in California, then in New Jersey.

After leaving the army in 1954, an old friend from Walla Walla, Carl Hebenstreit, suggested he move to Hawaii. There, Hebenstreit was hosting a local children’s TV series called The Kini Popo Show with a chimpanzee as his co-host. Anderson got his first acting job when he signed on as a sidekick, and later replaced Hebenstreit as the host. He had never studied acting.

The same year he worked in Hawaii, he appeared in a series of roles on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. His first movie role arrived in 1957’s Voodoo Island, though his role was uncredited. After moving to Los Angeles in 1959 he changed his name to Adam West and quickly landed a contract with Warner Bros. There, he appeared in his first credited film, The Young Philadelphians (1959,) along with Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Brian Keith and Robert Vaughn. A series of Western roles followed, and a slew of television appearances that reads like a Who’s Who of popular boomer TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Maverick, The Outer Limits, Petticoat Junction and The Virginian, to name a few.

As a spokesperson for Nestle’s Quik in 1965, he had more than 70 roles to his credit. Casting agents saw him in a commercial and he became Bruce Wayne/Batman on the Batman television series (1966-68). His campy, deadpan delivery as Batman was the perfect nonsense to appear in a cultural landscape that was increasingly chaotic. The Generation Gap was widening between early boomers and their parents’ generation as the Vietnam War escalated to produce the beginning of the protest movement.

Mister Boomer was a teenager when the series began. He enjoyed the pun-filled dialogue, big star appearances and the tongue-in-cheek nod to comic books with OOF! BLAM! and POW! spinning onto the screen during the inevitable fight sequences. It would be a decade later before Mister Boomer saw the show in color, at which time he saw that the brightness of the colorful sets were clearly designed with comic books in mind. His whole family enjoyed watching Batman, but it was his sister who would walk around the house singing, Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da…Batman!

There may not be a boomer anywhere who didn’t enjoy some portion of what was clearly a ridiculous portrayal of the Dark Knight. Right from the start the show brought in big stars as villains; Burgess Meredith was the Penguin, Cesar Romero was the Joker, Frank Gorshin was the Riddler, Vincent Price was Egghead, and Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman. By the second season stars asked to be on the show. The list of stars looking to act alongside Adam West is long and impressive. (See Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … Guest Star!)

After the show ended in 1968, West was typecast and could not find work. It was two years before he was able to land a role on TV’s The Big Valley. After that he picked up where he left off before becoming Batman, making more than 80 appearances on TV shows and in movies. Boomers recognized his later cartoon voiceover work in SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and The Family Guy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OCHnVjQrsRY

Adam West had an accomplished career in movies and television without his role as Batman, but would boomers everywhere remember his name and mourn his passing as they are now if he didn’t don those ill-fitting tights?

What roles do you remember Adam West in, boomers? Were you a fan of the Batman series?