2017-07-27 06:01:47 UTC
June Foray, Voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Dies at 99
9:53 PM PDT 7/26/2017
by Cheryl Cheng, Duane Byrge
The legendary voiceover star played hundreds of other characters, including Natasha Fatale, Tweety’s owner Granny, Cindy Lou Who, Nell Fenwick and Wheezy Weasel.
June Foray, the famed “first lady of voice actors” whose repertoire of characters include Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Pottsylvanian spy Natasha Fatale, Tweety Bird’s owner Granny and a sinister talking doll, has died. She was 99.
Foray, who worked alongside such animated legends as Mel Blanc, Chuck Jones, Stan Freberg and Jay Ward during her unseen yet spectacular eight-decade career, died Wednesday according to close friend Dave Nimitz who posted a notice of her passing on Facebook.
Versatile in her intonations and cadence, Foray provided voices for an incredible range of characters, including the killer Talky Tina doll in the 1963 “Living Doll” installment of The Twilight Zone, an episode said to be inspired by Mattel’s enormously popular pull-string Chatty Cathy doll (she provided the voice for that, too).
Foray voiced Betty Rubble in The Flintstones pilot (when the family was known as the Flagstones) and was Peter Parker’s Aunt May in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. When little Ricky brought home a puppy on a 1957 episode of I Love Lucy, she voiced the dog. And speaking of pooches, she worked with Jerry Lewis on his “The Puppy Dog Dream” record in the 1950s.
Foray played the milkmaid on Fractured Fairy Tales, Lena the Hyena and the chain-smoking Wheezy Weasel in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Jokey Smurf and Mrs. Sourberry in the 1980s TV show The Smurfs.
The petite Foray specialized in old ladies and grandmothers: Granny and Witch Hazel in Looney Toons cartoons, Grandma Fa in Mulan (1998) and Grammi Gummi in TV’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. For The Simpsons, she voiced the elderly woman who worked at the Baby Buggy Bumper Babysitting Service.
“I was performing witches and grandmothers before I was old enough to be a grandmother,” she once said.
In 2012, Foray won a Daytime Emmy for The Garfield Show, in which she played Mrs. Cauldron, a cartoon character who described herself as “your friendly neighborhood old lady, who might be a witch.”
She received a Grammy Award in 1968 for voicing Cindy Lou Who for the 1966 TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas and was the recipient of the Television Academy’s Governors Award in 2013.
She brought home four Annie Awards, including one that “recognizes those who have made a significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation.” That is called the June Foray Award.
When asked in a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television to name her favorite cartoon character, she said: “I love the [Rocky and] Bullwinkle show because it’s so mordantly witty. … But I love everything I do with all of the parts that I do because there’s a little bit of me in all of them.
“We all have anger and jealousy and love and hope in our natures. We try to communicate that vocally with just sketches that you see on the screen and make it come alive and make it human.”
Foray was born Sept. 18, 1917, in Springfield, Mass. “I had wanted to be on the stage,” she once said, “but the radio intrigued me even at 12, so when I was 15, I had the hubris to go to the [local] radio station and say, ‘Look, I’m a good actress and I can do all these parts. Will you let me join your drama group?’ And they did.”
She became a regular player on WBZA, and by 17, had landed roles on such programs as The Jimmy Durante Show and Lux Radio Theatre. She played Junie the Girlfriend on Steve Allen’s Smile Time, performed opposite Red Skelton and worked with the legendary Freberg on his eponymous CBS Radio show.
“Radio was the greatest training ground. You had to be very quick and you had to be very versatile … and you were surrounded by such wonderful actors,” she said.
In the 1940s, Foray started working on cartoons. Producer Jerry Fairbanks had her voice animals for the shorts “Speaking of Animals.” She also worked with Freberg on such audio recordings as his Dragnet satire “St. George and the Dragonet,” voicing Little Blue Riding Hood. Recording children’s records for Capitol led to her first big-screen job in animation, for the 1950 Disney film Cinderella.
“Someone at Disney heard one of the records and called me in to do the sounds of Lucifer the Cat,” she said.
The creators of the Rocky and Bullwinkle characters reached out to Foray in the late 1950s.
“My agent called and said there is a man named Jay Ward who wants to meet you for lunch,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “He has an idea for a TV show. I said, ‘Why not?’ … [Jay] and Bill Scott [head writer and voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose] started telling me about this idea they had about a moose and a squirrel. I thought it was a cockeyed idea, but after the second martini, I thought it was wonderful.
“A week later we did a demo, and then I forgot about it. Then about a year later my agent called and said, 'Remember those guys that you had lunch with that had the idea of a moose and a squirrel? They are ready to go.' ”
Foray then voiced Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha (Boris Badenov’s comrade) for TV’s Rocky and His Friends, which debuted in 1959.
“I didn’t see any model sheet of Rocky or Natasha,” she recalled, “and I said to Jay, ‘Well, how do you want Rocky to sound?’ And he said, ‘Just an all-American boy.’ So I made him an all-American squirrel. And I said, ‘What do I do about Natasha?’ And he said, ‘Well, she and Boris come from [the fictional country of] Pottsylvania. They don’t come from Russia, so don’t make her Russian. Make her sort of continental.’ So that’s what I did. And she turned out fine.”
She reprised Rocky for such contemporary cartoons as Family Guy, voicing the rodent in the 2001 episode “The Thin White Line.” And she was back as the flying squirrel (and the cartoon version of Natasha) on the big screen in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000).
Foray also did voices for other Ward-produced programs, including The Dudley Do-Right Show (as Nell Fenwick, the Canadian Mountie’s girlfriend) and George of the Jungle.
In 2009, she published an autobiography, Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?
Reflecting on the state of animation a few years ago, she said: “A lot of it has become more crude. I think we’re living in a Beavis and Butt-head society at the present time. Maybe it’s for adults, but being an older person, I’m used to more sensitivity or more clean humor. Things are different now. But I love animation, and I’m for the preservation and the promoting of it.”
Foray was married to Hobart Donavan, the head writer on radio’s The Buster Brown Program. He died in 1976.
Reflecting on her long career, Foray said, “I’d rather do voiceovers. You don’t have to memorize lines, you can be in your slacks or jeans and work for two hours and make a couple of thousand bucks and go home and play with your dogs. It’s really wonderful. I love it.”
From pop culture blogger Mark Evanier:
June Foray, R.I.P.
Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 9:20 PM.
June Foray died this morning, just 54 days shy of what would have been her 100th birthday. This was not unexpected. I saw her just six weeks ago and she was very small and very frail and just about ready to go. Her sister had died not long before and her brother-in-law died shortly after that visit.
She was, of course, the premier female voice talent of her era. I don't know who the runner-up was but whoever it was, she was in a distant second in terms of hours logged voicing cartoons and commercials, dubbing movies, doing narration, appearing on radio shows and records…even providing the voice for talking dolls. A few years ago when Earl Kress and I assisted her with her autobiography, we foolishly thought we could whip up a near-complete list of everything she'd done. Not in this world possible. I know more of June's credits than most people and I'd be surprised if I know 10% of it.
She was Rocky the Flying Squirrel. She was Natasha Fatale. She was Nell Fenwick. She was Jokey Smurf. She was Cindy Lou Who. She was Granny, owner of Tweety. She was Witch Hazel. She was Chatty Cathy. She was thousands of others.
Most of all, she was June Foray, a talented workaholic who for decades, drove into Hollywood every weekday early in the morning and went from recording session to recording session until well after dark. Everyone hired her because was always on time, always professional and what she did was always good. It was her good friend, director Chuck Jones who said, "June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray."
June Foray was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on September 18, 1917. The talent she exhibited at an early age was encouraged by her parents and by age 12, she was appearing on local radio dramas playing children's parts. By 15, she was working steadily on a wide array of series and was playing roles that were often older — much older than she was.
When she finally graduated high school, her family moved to Los Angeles, California so that June could break into national radio, which she did in no time. A short list of the programs on which she was heard would include The Cavalcade of America, A Date With Judy, Sherlock Holmes (with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce), Mayor of the Town (with Lionel Barrymore), The Whistler, The Billie Burke Show, The Rudy Vallee Show, Stars Over Hollywood, The Al Pearce Show, This is My Best (with Orson Welles), Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge, Baby Snooks (with Fanny Brice), Dr. Christian (with Jean Hersholt), I Deal in Crime (with Bill Gargan), Jack Haley’s Sealtest Village Store, Glamour Manor (with Kenny Baker), Phone Again Finnegan (with Stu Erwin), The Charlie McCarthy Show (with Edgar Bergen), The Dick Haymes Show, Fibber McGee and Molly, The Bob Hope Show, The Penny Singleton Show, Presenting Charles Boyer, Tex Williams’s All-Star Western Theater, Red Ryder, The Screen Directors’ Playhouse, The Screen Guild Theatre, The Lux Radio Theater, The Great Gildersleeve, My Favorite Husband (with Lucille Ball), Richard Diamond: Private Detective (with Dick Powell), and Martin Kane, Private Eye. She was a regular on the popular comedy series, Smile Time, which introduced her longtime friend Steve Allen to much of America.
When television came along, June was there with roles on Johnny Carson's first TV series, Carson's Cellar, and dozens of other programs including Andy's Gang, where she worked with the man she'd soon marry, Hobart Donavan. They were married until his death in 1976.
Experts disagree as to when June did her first animation work. She usually cites the role of the cat Lucifer in Disney's Cinderella (1950) and she did much work for Mr. Disney, both in front of the microphone and also posing occasionally as a model to aid the animators. In 1955, she began voicing dozens of characters for Warner Brothers cartoons and then in 1959 came Rocky and His Friends, the show on which she first played Rocky the Flying Squirrel. In fact, she not only voiced the plucky squirrel but most of the female (and even a few male) voices for the many cartoon shows produced by Jay Ward.
June was in fact heard in the cartoons of every major animation producer located on the West Coast for years, including MGM, UPA, Walter Lantz and Hanna-Barbera. She continued to work in animation well into her nineties and in 2012 won her first Emmy Award for her role as Mrs. Cauldron, a witch seen around the world on The Garfield Show. Some claim that victory made her the oldest performer to ever win an Emmy. She was later awarded an honorary one.
Her voice was also heard on hundreds of live-action TV shows, including Baretta, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., Green Acres and The Twilight Zone. For the latter, she was the voice of "Talking Tina" in a memorable episode that called for June to play the evil side of the popular talking doll she voiced for Mattel Toys, Chatty Cathy. She has been heard (but not seen) in dozens of motion pictures including Jaws, Bells Are Ringing, The Hospital and The Comic.
June was active in the film community, having founded the Los Angeles chapter of Association Internationale du Film d'Animation (the International Animated Film Association) and serving multiple terms on the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was also a wonderful lady and someone I loved dearly. A lot of us are going to spend the rest of our lives bragging unashamedly that we got to know and/or work with June Foray.
Home | TV | Obituaries
June Foray, Voice of ‘Bullwinkle Show’s’ Natasha and Rocky, Dies at 99
June Foray, the voice of “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’s” Rocky the Flying Squirrel and his nemesis Natasha Fatale of Boris and Natasha fame in the early 1960s and a key figure in the animation industry, died Thursday. She was 99.
Her close friend Dave Nimitz, confirmed her death on Facebook, writing “With a heavy heart again I want to let you all know that we lost our little June today at 99 years old.”
Foray was also the voice behind Looney Tunes’ Witch Hazel, Nell from “Dudley Do-Right,” Granny in the “Tweety and Sylvester” cartoons and Cindy Lou Who in Chuck Jones’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” among hundreds of others.
\The first lady of voice acting, one of the original members of animation organization ASIFA-Hollywood and founder of the annual Annie Awards, was also instrumental in the creation of the Oscars’ animated feature category.
“We are all saddened by the news of June’s passing,” said ASIFA-Hollywood executive director Frank Gladstone, who noted that she would have celebrated her 100th birthday in September. “Although it didn’t come as a shock, it has really taken us back a bit.”
Gladstone noted her instrumental role in starting the Annie Awards. “It was part of her legacy and a testament to her enduring love for animation and the animation industry.”
Said ASIFA president Jerry Beck: “On behalf of ASIFA-Hollywood, of which June was a founder, we are mourning the passing of animation’s best friend. She has touched so many lives: with her voice that of so many classic cartoon character, her efforts to create ASIFA, to maintain the Academy’s Oscar for Best Animated Short and her leadership in crafting the category of Best Animated Feature. She was one of a kind. A trailblazer, a great talent and a truly wonderful person. We will never forget her.”
Recently elected Academy board member and animation veteran Tom Sito said of Foray: “She was a mainstay of the animation community in Hollywood and the queen of voice talent.”
Foray continued to work late in life, reprising her role as Rocky in director Gary Trousdale’s short “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” released by DreamWorks Animation in 2014. In a 2013 interview with Variety, Foray said: “I’m still going. It keeps you thinking young. My body is old, but I think the same as I did when I was 20 years old.”
Foray is credited with coming up with the idea for the Annie Awards, which started out as a dinner honoring the year’s best in animation in 1972, and she presided over what has become a gala event in the animation industry every year since. The Annies created a juried award named for Foray in 1995 that honors individuals who have made significant or benevolent contributions to the art and industry of animation, and she was its first recipient.
Foray told Variety that she had been working in the animation business for about 20 years before the group that would eventually become ASIFA-Hollywood casually came to be. “We never did anything. Sometimes we’d have lunch together and call each other on the phone,” she said. Foray was a founding member of what was then called ASIFA West Coast in the early 1960s with fellow animation professionals Les Goldman, Bill Littlejohn, Ward Kimball, John Wilson, Carl Bell and Herbert Kasower.
In the early 1970s Foray pitched the idea for an awards show. “I was thinking that there were the Grammys, the Tonys, the Oscars, but nobody recognizes animation,” Foray said. So she suggested the board host a dinner, and though other board members said no one would show up to such an event, they rented space in the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the San Fernando Valley to honor animation pioneers Max and Dave Fleischer. “And 400 people showed up,” boasted Foray.
A longtime cheerleader for the animation industry, Foray lobbied for many years to have animated films recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “I was on the board of governors for 26 years and I tried for 20 years” to convince the Academy to have a category for animated features, she told Variety. Finally the Academy created the category in 2001, and DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” won the first Oscar for animated feature. Afterward, Foray said, “Jeffrey Katzenberg called me to thank me because he was aware of what I had done.”
Though not a superstar in the traditional sense, Foray had an impressive list of fans, as Leonard Maltin relayed in his forward to Foray’s 2009 autobiography “Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?” He wrote: “When I was fortunate enough to attend the Oscar nominees’ luncheon in 2007, I asked director Martin Scorsese who he was excited to have met that day, among the hundred-or-so contenders and Academy guests. He smiled and said, ‘June Foray.’”
Foray was born June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Mass., and she was doing vocal work in local radio dramas by the time she was 12. She continued working in radio after her family moved to Los Angeles after she graduated from high school, following her dream of becoming an actress. She even had her own “Lady Make Believe” radio show that showcased her vocal talents, and she appeared regularly on network shows such as “Lux Radio Theater” and “The Jimmy Durante Show.”
She met her future husband, writer and director Hobart Donavan, while working on “Smilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown Show,” then moved on to work with Steve Allen on morning radio show “Smile Time,” in which she’d play “everyone and everything. It was there that I perfected my Spanish accent and where my booming Marjorie Main-type voice got a good workout,” she recalled in her autobiography.
After “Smile Time,” Foray found work with Capitol Records, where she recorded many children’s albums and where she first met and worked with Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, with whom she recorded several comedy records, including “Dragnet” parody “St. George and the Dragonet.” Later she was a regular cast member of “The Stan Freberg Show” on CBS Radio.
Foray got her start in the animation business when someone from the Walt Disney studio called her to ask if she could do the voice of a cat. “Well, I could do anything,” recalled Foray in an interview with Variety. “So he hired me as Lucifer the cat in ‘Cinderella,’ and then I started to work for Disney.” Much of her work for Disney was uncredited, including work as a mermaid and squaw in “Peter Pan.” But she starred as the voice of Hazel the Witch in the 1952 Donald Duck short “Trick or Treat,” using a voice that would later morph into “Looney Tunes” character Witch Hazel. She would often say that she voiced a long litany of cartoon witches, many of them named Hazel.
About the same time, the 1950s, Foray worked on a series of cartoons by such animation pioneers as Tex Avery and Walter Lantz. For Warner Bros., she became Granny in the “Tweety and Sylvester” cartoons and Alice Crumden in the cartoon parody of “The Honeymooners,” “The Honey-Mousers.” At Warner Bros. she met Chuck Jones, for whom she worked on several “Looney Tunes” cartoons, starting with “Broom-Stick Bunny” in 1956. She would later star as Cindy Lou Who in Jones’ cartoon adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
She also voiced Mother Magoo in the “Mister Magoo” series.
But her greatest fame came with Jay Ward’s satirical “Rocky and His Friends,” which would later become “The Bullwinkle Show,” eventually known collectively as “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which ran from 1959 through 1964. Foray did most of the female voices for the show, including the voice of Russian villain Natasha Fatale, as well as that of Rocket J. Squirrel. She also voiced characters for other Jay Ward cartoons, such as “Dudley Do-Right” (Nell Fenwick), “George of the Jungle” (Jane) and “Tom Slick” (Marigold).
It wasn’t only in animation that Foray got to use her myriad vocal talents. She voiced the demonic doll Talky Tina in “The Twilight Zone” episode entitled “Living Doll” in 1963.
Despite her prolific career, she had to wait until 2012 for an Emmy nomination; she went on to win a Daytime Emmy for her performance as Mrs. Cauldron on Cartoon Network’s “The Garfield Show.”
A documentary about her life, “The One and Only June Foray,” was produced in 2013.
Foray was married to Bernard Barondess from 1941 to 1945. She was married to Donavan from 1954 until his death in 1976.