There was a time before celebrities had indistinct and uninteresting voices (i.e., today) when anyone could do a passable and instantly-recognisable impression of some well-known show biz figure at will. Cagney, Robinson, Durante, Jolson. Later, it was Shatner, Lynde, Seinfeld. Cartoon characters, too. At least, if they kept it to a catchphrase.
One ventures into dangerous territory if one endeavours to spout more than a few words as John Wayne or Yogi Bear. The longer one talks, the easier it is to lose the voice and start sounding like a semi-detectable, eyeroll-inducing, quasi-impersonation. And that’s perhaps something the casting director at Golden Records should have considered.
Golden Records was a New York-based company that put out seemingly endless numbers of children’s discs in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s featuring storybook characters or favourite cartoon stars. The early Hanna-Barbera stars were no exception. Unfortunately, there was a problem. The voices of those characters—Daws Butler and Don Messick—apparently were signed to exclusive kiddie record deals with other companies, so Golden had to make do with its small company of New York actors pretending to be Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and even some of the more obscure characters like Major Minor.
Maybe for a few words, the actors could have pulled it off. For a whole song? As they say in New York—Fawggedabouddit. Some of the results were shockingly inept.
It’s unfortunate because it wasn’t the fault of the voice actors. They certainly had talent; they never would have been hired to begin with in a very competitive environment if they hadn’t. It’s just their talent didn’t include the ability to competently mimic Daws and Don’s cartoon creations.
Golden hired radio actors Gil Mack and Frank Milano to be their male voices. In 1961, the success of the newly-aired Yogi Bear Show prompted Golden to release a children’s LP Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s Songs of Yogi Bear and All His Pals. And the lot fell on Milano to replicate the voices of a fair portion of the Hanna-Barbera menagerie. The best part of the album is the cover. Some of Milano’s work is painful, to be charitable.
But before you judge for yourself, let’s read a little about what Milano could do. And he could do a lot. His radio credits include Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense and X Minus One. Two columnists devoted their space to Milano’s special gifts. The first was syndicated by the New York Tribune on June 22, 1952.
Out Of The Air
By JOHN CROSBY
Meet Frank Milano—A Most Versatile Actor
One of the most highly specialized actors around is a man named Frank Milano.
You probably never heard of him, but you’ve certainly heard him. Among the roles he has played (in voice only) are a mouse, a goose, frogs (several of them, them, which shows real talent), a puppy singing “The Star Spangled Banner”, a fish with a high-pitched laugh, a psychopathic motorboat—I’m not making this up, Mannie. He played a psychopathic motorboat—a jet-propelled spoon, an auto starter with a rundown battery, a talking eagle, a talking owl, a stallion fighting a wild boar and a coyote fighting a collie.
ALL GREAT and, in their way difficult roles. However, his best known part—you must have heard this—was the snap, crackle and pop he did for Rice Crispies. Milano took over the chore when Rice Crispies was on the fringe of desperation. They’d tried everything to get their vaunted snapping and crackling on the air. They even, for heaven’s sake, held a bowl of cereal in front of a mike and poured milk on it. Didn’t sound right, as any fool could have told them. Years ago a sound effects man who had tried every possible device to create a sound like clashing swords struck on the unlikely scheme of clashing swords together. This is the last time anything so simple has worked out.
Finally the ad agency decided to create three cartoon characters named Snap, Crackle and Pop. Milano played all three roles, conceivably his greatest.
His particular artistry has stirred his press agent, Eddie Jaffe, into transports of prose not heard in these parts since, as the saying goes, sliced bread.
“Can we fail to do else but salute a man who in a single record album has had to be the voices of a dog, a cat, a lamb, a robin, a goose, two frogs, a horse and four pigs?” inquires Jaffe on an ascending note of esteem.
“Mr. Milano is a gentleman in love with sound. He is stirred to the excitement of a hole-in-one or winning a Pulitzer Prize when he successfully licks the challenge of projecting a lion’s roar or doing a convincing talking eagle.
“His work proves there is imagination and adventure left even in those of us who spend our waking hours in the shadows of the drug store. What adjectives can you find to describe a man who spends hours of his life so he can become a walking encyclopedia of automobile sounds—anything from a Model T to a fire engine? Without Milano, where would the director be who wanted the sound of a dying horse or a humor-loving omnibus—a lovelorn orangutan or an automobile starter with a rundown battery?”
Where indeed? Probably back in Pocono.
MILANO STARTED to be a legitimate actor with aspirations toward Hamlet and that sort of nonsense before he got into his present line of work.
But the going was rough and jobs were not numerous. There were only a few animal imitators around and Milano was encouraged to specialize. He’s very glad he did. “I wouldn’t act a straight line now for anything—even if I still could.”
In the old days of radio, Milano was called whenever they needed animals. Now he works regularly on two shows—the Bobby Benson radio show and the Rootie Kazootie TV puppet show. On the Benson show he’s Bobby’s horse, dog and a skunk (a sort of kissing noise.) On Rootie Kazootie, he not only makes the sound but manipulates two characters—Galapoochie Pup and Poison Zoomack, the villain.
You mustn’t think he has a clear field in this line of work. Milano makes children’s records for RCA Victor twice a year as little Nipper the Pup (who is supposed to be the RCA Victor Trademark dog.) He won the part over 100 other applicants.
Milano started making animal sounds when he was 4 or 5 years old, walking in the woods with his father.
Now he owns his own farm in Hillsdale, N. Y., where he converses with woodchucks and chipmunks. The woodchuck sound is a sort of hollow, knocking sound caused by the animals chomping their jaws together.
Milano was chomping one day, outside his house, when a woodchuck came racing through the grass. Suddenly the beast found he was racing toward Milano, not another woodchuck. He stood paralyzed until Milano stopped chomping. Then he fled. You can get only so close to woodchucks.
And here’s an Associated Press column, dated March 21, 1953.
Frank Milano Can Imitate Anything But Tinkle of Bell
By HAL BOYLE
NEW YORK (AP)—Frank Milano is perhaps the only man in the world who can make a sound like a flying saucer.
“It takes off with a strange whistling, whining noise, like this—OO-OOO-OOO-OOOO—then it becomes supersonic, and you can’t hear it,” he said.
Milano is firmly convinced flying saucers do exist, they are not of this planet, and it is high time us Earth people came to terms with them.
“They are not hallucinations,” he insisted. “I have seen one myself, and my wife has seen several.”
Frank’s ability to imitate the sound of a flying saucer stems from a highly educated set of vocal chords that earn him $35,000 to $50,000 a year. He is one of the nation’s few professional animal imitators and vocal effects artists.
Milano, a pleasant, mild-mannered ex-actor, drifted into his specialty by accident. But today radio and television would be hard put to do without him. He does the voice effects for half a dozen programs, ranging from a pup on the Rootie Kazootie show to a live parrot on the Bill Goodwin show.
“I can imitate anything from a cricket to a roaring lion,” Frank said. “I’ve been a gorilla, an elephant, a burro, Rip Van Winkle’s dog, and even a mosquito.”
He has also been the voice of a motor boat with a sense of humor, a wayward bus, a jet- propelled spoon, and an automobile starter with a rundown battery. Oh, yes, he also was a Rice Krispie for a while. His “snap, crackle and pop” performance in that role is, of course, now a part of theatrical history—like Hamlet.
Likes Gadget Stuff
“I like imitating mechanical gadgets,” Frank said, “Right row I’m playing the part of a washing machine — chug, chug, gluggle, gluggle, gluggle. I can also make a sound like a squadron of talking airplanes, but none of the airlines will buy it for a commercial. They say it's too frightening.”
The animals he hates most to imitate are bears. Scratches his vocal chords.
“Animal battles— two stallions fighting it out, or a mountain lion fighting a horse—are hard on my throat, too,” he said. “I guess I like to do dogs best. There are only two kinds of dog barks really — big dog barks and little dog barks.
“Dogs have been very important in my career. Some day I’d like to retire and raise them. I owe them a lot.”
Can’t Imitate Bell
Frank takes his art seriously, goes to endless lengths to be certain his sounds are realistic. His toughest assignment was to imitate a talking eagle.
“I haunted the zoo for days, but the eagles wouldn’t talk, although I tried 300 different sounds on them trying to get them to answer,” he said. “Finally, during a trip to the country, I heard a couple of eagles screeching at night. I got out of bed and screeched back at them until I had the sound down pat.”
All great artists have their sorrows, and Frank has his. There is one sound he has never been able to imitate.
“I can’t tinkle like a bell,” he said. “I have tried and tried, but I can’t make it. So far as I know nobody can. If you could vocalize like a bell—well, you’d really have something, wouldn’t you?”
In reading these stories, if you’re a fan of old-time radio people, you can’t help but feel bad that Milano so badly misses the mark as an impersonator of Vance Colvig, let alone Daws Butler. However, I’ll let you judge for yourself.
We get songs, so to speak, and a Loopy fairy tale. The best tune is the stripped-down combo that chirps out the Yogi Bear Show theme song. None of the rest of the songs come from any of the TV shows and were concocted especially for the record company. If you can listen to them all, and all the way through, you’ve done more than I could.
YOGI BEAR THEME
CASANOVA OF THE CAVE SET
THE CUTIE OF THE CAVE SET
THE SNAGGLEPUSS MARCH
EXIT STAGE RIGHT
SNOOPER AND BLABBER
LIKE A DUCK
ALFY GATOR THE ALLIGATOR
YOGI BEAR PRESENTS CINDY BEAR
INTRODUCING LOOPY DE LOOP
LOOPY DE LOOP MEETS RED RIDING HOOD
Setting aside his unfortunate attempt at emulating Alfie Gator, Milano did have some actual cartoon voice experience. Mark Arnold, author of The Story of Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and the Rest, says Milano performed some incidental voices for Total Television. And in an ironic tit for tat, Milano’s “Hamlet” roles—as Snap, Crackle and Pop—were taken over by the
main character actors at Hanna-Barbera: Daws Butler and Don Messick.
If the VoiceChasers web site is correct, this album was close to Frank Milano’s last work. He died in New York on December 15, 1962, age 64, leaving his dogs, owls, woodchucks and psycho motorboats to lesser talents.
And although the album cover is silent, Billboard magazine of the day revealed the identity of the woman lending a drawl to Cindy Bear on this LP. She had a bit of experience in the world of cartoon characters herself, having played Casper the Friendly Ghost and on Little Audrey and Little Lulu shorts for Famous Studios. She’s none other than Cecil Roy.