Friday, September 8, 2017

Don Messick on camera...

Hello all...there are several video clips on YouTube that feature the late Don Messick on camera. There have been uploads of the sitcom, "The Duck Factory", which Don co-starred in as Wally Wooster. There's a clip of him and Daws Butler performing primarily as Boo Boo and Yogi Bear (plus Ranger Smith)...and then there's a video clip I came across yesterday while searching YouTube. Don's birthday happened to be yesterday (born September 7, 1926) and so I did some video searching. I came across this video clip (uploaded a couple of weeks ago) from 1982 (I think). Don mentions a couple of times that he'd been working for Hanna-Barbera for 25 years and given that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera started their studio in 1957 that means the video clip is from 1982...or possibly early 1983. The video is an interview which lasts a little over 8 minutes.

If you're a dedicated fan of classic cartoons and are familiar with Don Messick's work you'll definitely get a kick out of seeing him perform some characters on-camera. The figurine of the Smurf character in the screen shot is Jokey Smurf (a character June Foray gave voice to) that the interviewer mistook for Papa Smurf. Remember...the interviewers aren't necessarily what you'd call die hard fans of cartoons...but they gave Don a grand opportunity to display his incredible vocal talents. I wish he would've performed the voice of Klunk on camera...I'd love to have seen Don's facial contortions as he spoke in that character's voice. If you're not familiar you'll have to look up video clips of a cartoon called "Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines". Don voices Muttley, Zilly, and Klunk in addition to providing the opening narration which sets the scene. Klunk has a very distinctive vocalization.

Don Messick: September 7, 1926 - October 24, 1997.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

June Foray: 1917-2017

A couple of days ago the news broke that June Foray had died at the age of 99. Since the news broke there have been hundreds of on-line tributes to her career in the voice-over field. I gave her a nickname that probably others have given to her as well, Voice Acting Goddess, and she's totally and completely deserving of the title. Is she the first lady of voice acting? Some may argue that she is...certainly she's the most famous and had the longest lasting career of her contemporaries Mae Questel and Janet Waldo...but some may bestow such a lofty title on Mae given that her career as the voice of Betty Boop dates back to the early '30s and it wasn't until the early '50s that June began to make a powerful mark in animation voice overs....hitting her stride in the mid '50s and beyond with a host of vocal performances in theatrically released cartoons. A lot of her earlier voice work happened to be for Disney and MGM. She had a lengthy career on radio that shouldn't be over-looked. A series she wrote, created, and hosted titled Lady Make Believe aired for a couple of years (1937-1939). The big break in radio came later in 1944 when she was chosen to be among the ensemble cast of a comedy program hosted by Ed McConnell. Smilin' Ed's Gang happened to be the show's title but many on-line sources cite the program under the title of The Buster Brown Program (the sponsor happened to be a shoe company named Buster Brown). Concurrently, 1947-1949, June appeared in a lot of comedy routines on a series titled Smile Time, hosted by future television comedy pioneer Steve Allen. June continued to pop up on various radio programs (comedy and drama) throughout the '50s...and this included the famed 1957 series, The Stan Freberg Show. By this point in time June had established herself as a top voice artist in animated cartoons. She had racked up a number of credits for Disney and MGM.

Some of her famed roles for those studios included Lucifer the Cat in 1950's Cinderella and several characters in Goofy and Donald Duck cartoons...and in one of those Donald Duck cartoons, 1952's "Trick or Treat", she portrayed a character named Witch Hazel (not to be confused with another character by that name...more on that, later...); she gave voice to a couple of characters named Mary in the MGM cartoons "One Cab's Family" (1952) and "Little Johnny Jet" (1953), both directed by Tex Avery. In 1955 she gave voice to the Warner Brothers character, Granny, for the first time. She replaced original voice artist, Bea Benaderet. The cartoon in which June makes her Granny debut is 1955's "Red Riding Hoodwinked" (directed by Friz Freleng; starring Sylvester and Tweety). Her next vocal appearance as Granny arrived later that same year in Friz Freleng's "This Is a Life?". In this cartoon Granny played the part of an audience member becoming increasingly disgusted/irritated with Daffy's obnoxious comments and opinions about Bugs Bunny and in a recurring visual gag she hits Daffy on the head with her umbrella several times to get him to be quiet. In the cartoon Bugs is being given the star treatment in a spoof of This Is Your Life. The following year, 1956, Warner Brothers released the Chuck Jones directed cartoon, "Broom-Stick Bunny". In this cartoon June takes over the role of Witch Hazel. The character had previously appeared in Chuck's "Bewitched Bunny" (1954) voiced by Bea Benaderet. June originally turned down the role of the Chuck Jones character of Witch Hazel because she felt he stole it from Disney. She'd voice the Chuck Jones character in three cartoons: "Broom-Stick Bunny" (1956), "A Witch's Tangled Hare" (1959); and "A-Haunting We Will Go" (1966) although the final appearance happened to be in a cartoon directed by Robert McKimson. June would next voice Witch Hazel in an episode of the Duck Dodgers series in 2003.

The same year that she took over the role of Witch Hazel (1956) she originated the roles of Knothead and Splinter in the Woody Woodpecker series. This series was released through Universal Studios, directed by Paul J. Smith, and produced by Walter Lantz. Knothead and Splinter are the niece and nephew of star character, Woody, and they're usually creating mischief...often appearing to be too smart for the villain of the episode. She voiced the siblings during all of their theatrical appearances...their first being "Get Lost" in 1956. 

1959 is a pivotal year in June's career as it marked the first time she voiced a starring character in an animated series. By this point in her career she had provided voices for dozens of cartoons from a group of iconic studios: Warner Brothers, Disney, MGM, and Universal; and she displayed her vocalizations in a string of comedy recordings by Stan Freberg (and she became one of the cast members of his 1957 radio show). In 1958, with made for TV cartoons being a product of the not too distant future, she was selected to voice the role of a male squirrel named Rocky for the Jay Ward studio. The series never made it to air until a year later, 1959, on ABC. The program broke ground in the area of cartoon humor. So many puns, one-liners, satire, and self-awareness by the characters flew over many of the children's heads no doubt but older children and young adults (and even older adults) watched the show. The program, "Rocky and His Friends", debuted on November 19, 1959. The show was ahead of it's time. It happened to be the shared creation of Jay Ward, key writer and voice actor, Bill Scott, and Alex Anderson. June was assigned the roles of Rocky and the Russian spy, Natasha; she also provided vocals for Nell Fenwick in a supporting segment, Dudley Dorite of the Mounties. Her co-stars in the Dudley Dorite segments were Bill Scott as Dorite, Paul Frees as Inspector Fenwick, and Hans Conried as the villain, Snidley Whiplash. She lent her voice to the other supporting segments, too: Peabody's Improbable History, Aesop and Son, and Fractured Fairy Tales. In the latter segment June and Daws Butler starred in the majority of installments. June often portrayed the fairy Godmothers or Princess characters...and many times the good or evil witches depending on the story...and Daws portrayed all of the male characters...sometimes Paul Frees would also contribute in this segment.

In time the series changed networks and title. Jumping from ABC to NBC in 1961 the series became "The Bullwinkle Show" with only slight differences. June later added the roles of Ursula and Marigold to her growing list of characters. Ursula was the mate of George, a Tarzan-like character, in Jay Ward's "George of the Jungle". In a supporting segment, Tom Slick, June voiced Tom's girlfriend, Marigold. The oddity in these characters is that, vocally, they're the same as Dudley Dorite and Nell Fenwick and yet it's not something that you actually think of when you watch the cartoons. The show is still funny but at the same time you love hearing those voices...and Jay Ward knew that.

In an interview June gave in 1987 for a Daws Butler documentary she commented that both she and Daws had performed the same voices several times for multiple characters in one session. She remarked that they recorded 5 episodes of Fractured Fairy Tales a night and they brought it to Jay's attention that she did a voice similar to Marjorie Main in 2 episodes and that Daws did his Charles Butterworth impression on several episodes in the session. After inquiring if Jay would like them to re-record the lines with different voices so there wouldn't be a feeling of sameness Jay replied that he wanted those voices. You can't fault him for that. As I watch the DVD of Season 2 of "Rocky and Bullwinkle" it never enters my mind that there's a voice similar to another character...I'm too busy grinning, giggling, or laughing to even care to notice. The same is true for Jay's other main series, "George of the Jungle".

There is another series, "Fractured Flickers", which a lot of the Jay Ward fans rate pretty high but I'm not as familiar with it because it didn't play on TV much, if at all, during my childhood (the '80s and early '90s). It's a live-action series hosted by Hans Conried in which footage of old movies (mostly silent films) are played with re-dubbed, comically-infused dialogue from June, Paul Frees, and Bill Scott. Here's an episode...June can be heard in the first re-dubbed presentation. Paul is the narrator.

June's autobiography, Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?, which you see in the photo above arrived nearly 50 years after the debut of "Rocky and His Friends". The book hit in 2009. I wrote a review of it back then and posted it on Amazon's website in addition to posting the review here on my blog. She never received any industry awards (speaking of Oscar or Emmy recognition) at the time of the book's release but several years later, in 2012, she received her first Emmy trophy at the Daytime Emmy Awards. She won for her role as Mrs. Cauldron in the CGI "The Garfield Show". At the time of her win she was 94. Speaking of industry accolades...she was instrumental in getting animation included in several awards organizations. In 1988 she received the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award (given out during The Eisner Awards). In 1995 the organization she created in 1972, The Annie Awards, began awarding The June Foray Award. The Oscars began recognizing animated feature films on a more consistent basis starting in 2001...and a lot of that had to do with June's behind the scenes efforts at getting the Academy Awards to consider animated films in the same light as live-action films. There's drama and comedy in live-action films and there's animated films that are either dramatic or what's the difference? In both cases you have actors (on-screen or voice-over) and you have characters (live-action or animated). In 2013 she received the Governor's Award at the Creative Arts Emmy gala. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards spotlight mostly non-traditional categories which rarely get spotlighted on the televised Prime Time Emmy Awards.

In the collage to the left are just a few of the hundreds of animated characters that June gave voice to. I attempted to single out the various animation studios that she provided voices for. This of course is meant as a tribute collage but by no means is it definitive. I hadn't even mentioned, until now, her work for Rankin/Bass or her iconic role as Cindy Lou Who in the Chuck Jones classic, How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In the 1980s she gave voice to Jokey Smurf and Mother Nature in "The Smurfs" and Aunt May in "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends" cartoon. So don't let this memorial blog completely satisfy you...I encourage all of you to seek out her career and delve into it and find out so many other aspects of her contributions to animation that I hadn't even touched upon. The best way to do that is to purchase her autobiography (obviously!) but also visit YouTube or Amazon and see all of the available on-line cartoons that she lent her voice to. Her two enduring characters are Granny and Rocky. She voiced Granny the longest...from the theatrical cartoons of the '50s and '60s to the various made for TV cartoon specials and later television productions from Warner Brothers: "The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries" (1995-2000), "Baby Looney Tunes" (2001-2003; 2004-2006), and "The Looney Tunes Show" (2011-2014; recurring character). Ma Beagle is a character that appeared on the Disney series, "DuckTales", as did Magica De Spell (she's the duck character in the first panel of the collage). Ma Beagle, located in panel seven, and the short tempered Grammi Gummi, located in panel nine, were both given June's Marjorie Main voice. Marjorie, for those that don't know, portrayed Ma Kettle in a string of comedy movies. Knothead and Splinter are in panel 6. The Chuck Jones version of Witch Hazel is in panel 2. Granny can be found in panels 3 and 8. When June took over as Granny in 1955 the character appeared in that kind of physical design. Later, the animators returned the character to her more familiar design seen in panel 8. In panel 4 it's Rocky the flying squirrel. In the center of the collage is a publicity photo of June at a recording studio which I opened the memorial blog post with.

June was involved in a car accident sometime in 2015...and although she survived you could say it ended her prolific, legendary career. She never lent her voice to any animated program or video game after 2014. Her voice lives on, though, in numerous animated programs and video games. How many people, I wonder, learned through her obituary that she was the voice of Talky Tina in one of the famed episodes of "The Twilight Zone"? I knew of that fact for years but many others are probably finding it out and probably rushed to YouTube to see if they could find the episode. It's an episode titled Living Doll and it stars Telly Savalas. It originally aired November 1, 1963.

June Foray was born June Forer on September 18, 1917 and died of cardiac arrest at the age of 99 on July 26, 2017.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Sam Lovullo: 9/30/28 - 1/3/17

The passing of television producer Sam Lovullo back on January 3rd of this year (age 88) is something that I couldn't compose a blog entry about because of the impact he indirectly had on my own upbringing and life through a certain television program. I'm not going to say that his death impacted me in the way it did those that personally knew him (those in the entertainment business and his own family) but it was something I didn't want to write much about. If you're familiar with my blog entries about Hee Haw then you'll know how much I loved that program and how it was must-see television every Saturday, and later, Sunday, during the weekends in which I'd spend with my grandparents. Eventually I'd stop spending the weekends with them but I continued to watch Hee Haw any chance I could get at my own house (I have several siblings, two of them older than I, so a lot of the time I didn't "control" the second TV...but the times that I did I made it a point to catch Hee Haw!). Just this past Sunday night (June 11th) the episode of Hee Haw that aired on RFD-TV guest starred Bobby Goldsboro and The Oak Ridge Boys (from October 1978).

Born on September 30, 1928 Sam Lovullo became identified for most of his adult life as the driving force behind Hee Haw and as a result of being such a driving force it caused me to appreciate him even more. He didn't come off as a cynic or the kind of producer that distanced himself from the program's that carried his name. In Sam Lovullo I saw a television producer who was just as enthusiastic and a fan of the program as the viewers happened to be. In other words he wasn't a turn-off. Lovullo wrote about his professional career (with some backstage offerings added in) with the help of another author, Marc Eliot, in a book published in 1996 titled Life in the Kornfield: My 25 Years at Hee Haw.

The career of Sam Lovullo is often traced back to the CBS variety series, The Jonathan Winters Show, which aired for 2 seasons, 1967-1969. Several key people associated with Hee Haw were also involved in Jonathan Winter's program. Key people? None other than Hee Haw creators John Aylesworth and Frank Peppiatt. Lovullo happened to be an associate producer of Jonathan's program. In interviews and in the 1996 book, Lovullo stated that the ratings in the Southern states spiked whenever country music artists appeared on Jonathan's program and eventually this rating fact and the popularity of Laugh-In inspired the creation of Hee Haw in 1969. It hit the air this week on CBS in 1969 (actual debut being June 15, 1969). Sam Lovullo was not only the producer but he was also the casting director. This assignment gave him an even more hands-on approach to the show as it was Lovullo in charge of picking and choosing who was going to be part of the show's main cast (including the co-hosts, Buck Owens and Roy Clark).

The show had a summer run and after which it then went on hiatus. It returned later in the year as a mid-season replacement and was canceled once more in early 1970. Eventually, however, CBS picked the show up once more and added it to their 1970-1971 line-up. It was canceled one final time by CBS after the end of the 1970-1971 television season.

Not wanting to see the series end (and certain unemployment for almost all of it's staff...including the cast) Lovullo, more than anybody else connected with the show, believed the show could thrive in syndication...offering the show to local affiliates across the country to program during the local access time slot. The FCC had mandated that a certain time of the day were to be turned over to local affiliates to air local programming (Prime Time Access Rule) rather than every channel being consumed by national/network programming. This rule, instituted in 1970, aided the syndicated market in a big way...and first-run syndication broadcasts eventually became just as profitable and just as attractive to sponsors as network broadcasts. Interestingly, this FCC rule was repealed in 1996, the year Sam's Life in the Kornfield book hit the stores.

As history shows, Sam Lovullo remained a vital part of Hee Haw and he remained it's driving force throughout it's entire 22 years in syndication (1971-1993). The 1992-1993 season, however, was a compilation series of sketches and music performances to celebrate the program's Silver Anniversary. The final first-run episode of Hee Haw aired on May 30, 1992.

In addition to The Jonathan Winters Show and Hee Haw, Sam Lovullo produced several variety programs in his career. A majority of those were one-time specials rather than a series. One of those one-time specials starred John Wayne...the 1970 NBC special, Swing Out, Sweet Land. Lovullo happened to be the associate producer, technically. It was filled to the brim with all kinds of celebrities from all time periods...and those celebrities mostly all portrayed historical figures from all different time periods...and you can watch it on YouTube. Roy Clark is on the special as a banjo player for Andrew Jackson's inaugural ball.

Yet the most notable of Sam's non-Hee Haw efforts, which happened to be a weekly series, is Nashville Palace. The program aired in the early 1980s and it featured a lot of cross-over with the stars of Hee Haw but the Palace was a conventional variety series. In fact, Roy Clark hosted the first episode of Nashville Palace (airing October 24, 1981). The Palace series happened to be one of the last regularly scheduled, country music-oriented, variety programs on network television for more than a decade. It also aired prior to the 1983 launch of cable television's The Nashville Network, also known as TNN (1983-2000). Reruns of Hee Haw would air on TNN for four years (1993-1997).

From 2009 until 2011 Sam was the President of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters organization. 

The Oklahoma Historical Society put together a salute to Hee Haw in 2014 (the 45th anniversary of it's 1969 debut) and a video retrospective/documentary was also put together. You can see that video by clicking HERE. As you could imagine Sam Lovullo is featured several times throughout the video clip.

TVLEGENDS, a YouTube channel, has a 10-part interview with Sam Lovullo. Some, if not all, of the segments have extremely low volume, you may need to adjust your device's volume. You can see part 1 by clicking HERE. You can access the rest of the clips once you're over on YouTube.

This book is something that I highly recommend. Although I do not think it is in print anymore it never hurts to check on-line auction sites. I purchased this book when it was 'hot off the presses' in 1996. At the time of the book's release Hee Haw had been airing in reruns on The Nashville Network since 1993 and Time Life had been offering a VHS called Hee Haw Laffs. TNN originally aired their reruns of Hee Haw on Saturday night at 7pm Eastern and they would re-air at 10pm. By the time the book hit the stores TNN had re-arranged it's Saturday night line-up and Hee Haw no longer aired at 7pm but it remained in the 10pm slot following The Statler Brothers Show. The Opryland Theme Park had also began staging a live production of the hour program called Hee Haw Live which featured recreations of sketches, characters, and imagery on a sound stage at the Opryland park. If I remember correctly the half hour program was broken into 2 segments: 30 minutes of comedy and 30 minutes of serious performances of country and gospel music. I think this production lasted a couple of seasons. Several of the show's longtime cast members (Lulu Roman, Grandpa Jones, George Lindsey, and Gunilla Hutton) appeared in this Opryland production in addition to several newcomers (one of them a guy named Jason Petty...who later became extremely popular as Hank Williams in the Lost Highway production). In the book Sam tells the story behind Hee Haw and it's massive popularity in first run syndication. A cast-member and selected guest star section is featured as is an exhaustive break-down of the behind the scenes crew. A lot of the information from the book is also covered in those TVLEGENDS YouTube video clips I earlier mentioned.