Thursday, July 27, 2017

June Foray, 1917-2017

with my husband Frank DeCaro and
voiceover legend June Foray at a party
in Beverly Hills for the Archive of
American Television.
June 4, 2007.
It was in 2001, when I was assigned to write a TV Guide tribute to the then-recently departed animation giant William Hanna, when I first got to meet June Foray, herself perhaps the giant in the field of voiceover acting.

During our phone interview, June delighted me with snippets from her amazing career -- lines from the Warner Brothers cartoons' Witch Hazel and Granny, from Rocky of Rocky & Bullwinkle, from Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  A Massachusetts native, Foray ended up with a
Hollywood career that spanned seven decades, working well into her late nineties.

Foray died yesterday in Los Angeles, just two months short of her 100th birthday.  In celebration of her long and storied career -- she even once provided barks for little Ricky's dog Fred on I Love Lucy! -- below is a chunk of our interview from 16 years ago.  At the time, June was 83, and still in huge demand as an actor.  She talks lovingly and at length about Bill Hanna -- because that was the purpose for our interview.  But along the way, June provided a glimpse into her own amazing life.

I started my career in radio, and was put under contract at Capitol Records, and that’s how Disney heard about me.  I did a cat in Cinderella.  I had also done a witch character for Disney, in a short called “Trick or Treat.”  Chuck Jones loved the witch I did, and the next thing I knew I was called over to MGM where Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were working under producer Fred Quimby.  So I did a Tom and Jerry called “The Flying Sorceress.”
 They were two charming young men, creative, really symbolic of everything that animation stands for.  The writing was good – Bill Hanna did a lot of it, and he was most empathetic to all creatures, whether they were human or anthropomorphic.  So I did several works for them, and that was before they of course had their own company.
 Then I think they opened Hanna Barbera in about 1958.  They of course had the first nighttime series, and that was The Flintstones.  And Jay Ward was very upset about that, because we had started recording Rocky and His Friends in 1959 and Jay had hoped that his would be the first nighttime series, but Hanna Barbera beat them.  Joe and Bill were so original in their thinking, as you can see – their characters are lasting creatures and their series just keep going ona nd on and on – on Cartoon Network, on Nickelodeon.

Bill was a very thoughtful man with a wonderful personality.  Just a couple of years before he died, he wrote another thing as a witch for me – he never forgot.  He was most kind to everybody who worked with him, I understand – the animators, the writers.  He was certainly an ideologically correct man.  Everything was for the good, and there was nothing evil in his characters.

He had suffered so many ailments physically – at first it didn’t impair him at all, and he would travel, go to Australia.  I think they had a studio there.  He was very valiant in his progression of what he wanted to do, and what he felt that he had to do for animation.  And of course Joe was quite a promoter.  I think Joe did most of the PR, and Bill did most of the writing.  Joe occasionally in the beginning would direct the actors.  Bill was always behind the scenes.  It was Joe who was more forthcoming as far as his appearances were concerned.  Bill was sort of in the background, but he was phenomenal, really, in his thinking.  He was gentle and kind – I know everybody I talk to who has worked with him, writers and animators, feel that there was just this synthesis of a producer.  Here was a man who was creative in his writing and his animating, and yet he was business wise, which has really paid off, because of course Ted Turner bought Hanna Barbera and then of course AOL bought Warner’s.

Over the years, I did Jokey Smurf for about eight years, with Gordon Hunt as the voice director.  Bill never showed up at any of the recordings, but you knew his presence was there.  I was in A Man Called Flintstone.  I did Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas, which I can still do, and it’s altogether different from the low voices I usually do, so you might not know it was the same person.  I do Granny in the “Tweety and Sylvester” cartoons, and we recently recorded some fun parodies:  3 with me as “Judge Granny,” a parody of Judge Judy, and two takeoffs of Survivor, where they finally kicked Granny off the island.
In designing their characters, I’m sure many writers for animation do take on the proportions and the look of the actors who play them.  I’m not sure if Bill Hanna did that or not, but I know that Disney did, and I know that Chuck Jones did, in a lot of the things that I did for them.  In fact, I have a marvelous drawing that Chuck Jones did of me once, because I started when I was very young.  Chuck drew a picture of me, he’s at the drawing board, and it’s a pic of me naked, looking like Witch Hazel looked in the end of the short, when she became beautiful after drinking the wrong cup of tea.
At home, I have a rubber doormat of Witch Hazel with Bugs Bunny..  But I have it framed – I would never use it as a doormat!  I have all kinds of Granny items with Tweety and Sylvester, and of Witch Hazel.  I don’t know where they are, though, at the moment – which is a shame!
I’ve been on Entertainment Tonight and Showbiz Today and a lot of shows, but it’s amazing to me how many people ask for my autograph.  They recognize me, and not just from my voice – it just astounds me.  In fact, yesterday I went to the Motion Picture Hospital for a mammogram, and was sitting in the waiting room and chatting with a lady I’d never met before.  She asked me what I do, and a man next to me said, “Oh my God, you’re June Foray – you made my week!”  I ended up entertaining the whole waiting room with the he different voices I knew.  Even the nurse asked for my autograph.

-- June Foray, December 6, 2001 

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