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June Foray

  • Birthplace: Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Birthday: September 17
Date of passing: 
July 26, 2017

June Foray has been called "The First Lady of Cartoon Voices," and it was director Chuck Jones who said, "June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray." For over sixty years, Ms. Foray was the most prolific, oft-heard voice in animation, to say nothing of her constant work before and since in radio, commercials, film dubbing and narration.

June Foray has been called "The First Lady of Cartoon Voices," and it was director Chuck Jones who said, "June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray." For over sixty years, Ms. Foray was the most prolific, oft-heard voice in animation, to say nothing of her constant work before and since in radio, commercials, film dubbing and narration.

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 graduated from high school, her family moved to Los Angeles, California so Foray could break into national radio, which she did in no time. A short list of the programs on which she was heard included 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, Foray 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 would soon marry, Hobart Donavan. They were married until his death in 1976.

Experts disagree as to when Foray did her first animation work. She usually cited 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 — including Granny, the owner of Tweety and Sylvester — for Warner Bros. 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. She played Natasha Fatale, the comely sidekick of super-spy Boris Badenov, and when Rocky and his friend Bullwinkle went to primetime on NBC, she played Nell Fenwick, love interest to the intrepid mountie, Dudley-Do-Right.

Foray 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. For H-B, she would later be a featured player on The Smurfs. And though she had but two lines in it, people will never forget her role as Cindy Lou Who in the Chuck Jones TV special adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. She continues to work in animation and in 2012 won her first Emmy Award for her role as Mrs. Cauldon, a witch seen around the world on The Garfield Show. Some claim that victory made her the oldest performer to ever win an Emmy.

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 Foray 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.

Foray 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.

Her autobiography was titled Did You Grow Up With Me, Too? She lived in Woodland Hills, California, in a big house full of fan mail from all around the world.

Hear June Foray talk about her remarkable career in this exclusive interview with the Archive of American Television.

Foray died on July 26, 2017, in Los Angeles. She was 99.

When she was honored with the Television Academy's Governors Award in 2013, the following tribute appeared in the program distributed at the Emmy Awards ceremonies:

June Foray has a voice that’s been heard ’round the world. To the professionals in the animation industry, she is the ultimate pro who could capture a character’s voice with ease; to her legions of fans, she is an artist beyond compare.

The Television Academy’s Board of Governors bestows the prestigious Governors Award to voiceover artist June Foray, in recognition of her invaluable contribution to the animation industry. Over the course of a career that spans nearly seventy years, Foray has provided the voices for such unforgettable characters as Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale (The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle), Witch Hazel (Looney Tunes), Cindy Lou Who (How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), Lucifer the Cat (Cinderella), Jokey Smurf (The Smurfs) and Granny (Sylvester & Tweety), among many others.

Her ambition to perform emerged at the age of six. When she told her parents, they hired an elocution teacher to help her with speaking and memorization. By the time Foray was seventeen, the teacher was amazed by her vocal abilities. “She told me she thought I would be famous one day,” Foray says.

While still a teenager, Foray created, wrote and performed her own radio program — Lady Make Believe — but soon segued into voiceover work with such icons of the field as Mel Blanc (who voiced Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and many others) and animators Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng.

Always immaculately dressed and ready to interpret a new voice, Foray says her main ambition was to just keep working. “I was always doing all these crazy voices,” she says, “and, in those days, they were most likely to hire the people they knew could do the job.”

It was the early days of animation, in both television and film, and often Foray would not be given much direction when voicing a new character. “If you were lucky, you got to see a drawing,” she says. “More often they would give you a one-word description… mean… sweet… old… fragile.”

For Granny, the white-haired dumpling of a woman who owned Tweety Bird, Foray says she adopted a sweet old lady voice. In 1956, the voice was a stretch; today, at ninety-five, it’s a better fit. In 2011 she voiced Granny in The Looney Tunes Show on Cartoon Network.

One of her most famous characters, Rocky the Squirrel, came about during a martini lunch in 1957 with animator/producer Jay Ward. “He had an idea for a TV show about a moose and a squirrel,” Foray says. “It sounded kind of crazy. After the second martini, it sounded like a terrific idea.”

She would also provide the accented voice for villainess Natasha Fatale, who, with her accomplice Boris Badenov (voiced by Paul Frees), was usually thwarted by Rocky and Bullwinkle (voiced by Bill Scott).

In addition to her extensive portfolio of animation, Foray provided the (often un-credited) background voice work for shows such as I Love Lucy (she was the incessantly barking pooch on the episode “Little Ricky Gets a Dog”) and such films as Jaws (she provided the background screams of people on the beach). On the creepier side, she was the voice of the murderous Talky Tina doll in the 1963 “Living Doll” episode of The Twilight Zone.

In the 1960s she helped found both the Hollywood chapter of ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film D’Animation) and its annual Annie Awards, animation’s highest honor (Foray has won four). In 2000 she was given a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and, in 2012, she won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work on The Garfield Show.

“I never thought I’d be a voiceover artist,” she says. “But it’s always been fun.”

Her advice for young actors looking to break in?

“Be talented.”

 

 

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AWARDS & NOMINATIONS

1 Wins1 Nominations

Governors Award - 2013

  • Winner
  • June Foray, as The First Lady of Cartoon Voices

Photos

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