Wednesday, August 17, 2011

His Girl Elroy

The first few Hanna-Barbera prime-time shows beloved by fans would sound a lot different if some of the original casting decisions had been carved in, um, Flintstone. (I’m allowed one bad pun. It’s my blog, after all). Bill Thompson and Hal Smith as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Michael O’Shea as Top Cat. Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll as George and Jane Jetson. All of them did voice tracks that were later scrapped, with footage that was presumably re-animated, because the roles were given to the people we associate with them today.

There was one other change as well. Lucille Bliss, best known for her role as Smurfette in the original Smurfs cartoon series, was hired to play the part of Elroy Jetson. Five years ago, Lucille sat down with the Archive of American Television to discuss her career. We transcribed part of her interview about how she was manoeuvred out of Ruff and Reddy here. We promised then we’d get around to giving you her story about her short life as the youngest Jetson. Here’s what she told the Academy about her hiring and firing.


A heartbreaker, okay? I worked for six weeks on The Jetsons. I was Elroy. And the shows were done and everything. And I had Miles Auer, who was the best agent at that time, and Miles, I liked him very much, was Daws Butler’s agent. Daws was a dear friend of mine and we worked together so much. Daws drove me around when I first came down here [from San Francisco] to help me; I’d go on auditions with him so that I’d get acquainted. And then he said “You ought to have my agent.” And my agent talked to me and heard what I did, he said “I’ll take you immediately. I don’t take usually other people. I have Daws but I’ll take you.” [Yowp note: Auer was also Stan Freberg’s agent].

So Jetsons came along and everything was going wonderful and they loved me. But—who was the director on that?—he was the son of this movie actor [Alan Dinehart]...he said to me “They think you’re a little boy, Lucille. Madison Avenue wanted a real little boy and we sent your tape in. And we called you Little Lou Bliss. L-o-u, Lou Bliss. And you should see the letters, they are crazy about this apple-cheeked little six-year-old boy, Little Lou Bliss. But you must never, ever, ever, divulge your name. You’ll lose your job.”

“My, God,” I said, “I’ll never divulge it, I’ll never go to New York anyway for the show, anyway, but I’ll never divulge it. Not to my best friend.” So, what happened is, Miles said “What the hell is this ‘Little Lou Bliss’ crap?” He said “You’ve made your name as ‘Lucille Bliss,’ what are they doing to you, calling you ‘Little Lou Bliss?’ He’s going to get big and famous and who the hell is he? It’s you. That can’t go on.”

I said, “Miles, please, Miles, Miles, Miles, just leave it alone, I’ll lose my job.” “Aw, you won’t lose your—” “Yes,” I said, “I will. I heard it from the director himself. He said it must be a secret, Hanna-Barbera’s keeping it a secret. Don’t tell them, please.” He said “No, that’s ridiculous.” I said “Miles, I want to work, I don’t want to lose the series. I got a lead in it, for God’s sakes leave it alone.”

He didn’t. He went to Hanna-Barbera and said “First of all, she gets more money. Secondly, I want to see ‘Lucille Bliss’ on there.” I got the pink slip two weeks later. And it broke my heart. And they couldn’t find an Elroy so they started with Billy Barty. And that didn’t work. And then they started with somebody else and that didn’t—oh!—I think Morey Amsterdam even read for it, don’t quote me, but I think he did. That didn’t work. But then they got Daws Butler. And the only thing they could do is, he couldn’t be six years old, he had to be nine years old because Daws couldn’t get that young so they had to make him older. And I got the pink slip. And I went to pieces. I really did. I’d think “You know, you can take so many disappointments in one career.” And then, my God, there was, of course, my disappointments turned out good but, still, I lost the one with Bergen, I lost that one, I lost another one, and now comes this one. And this would have been a big series and I was furious. So, maybe I did the wrong thing, but I let Miles go. ...

Six weeks of shows I had done. They had to destroy it. That didn’t make Joe Barbera very happy. And I tried to tell him “Well, I fired the agent, what can I do?” And he says “Well, now they know that it’s not a little boy. So that’s the end.”

The story is an interesting one but it leaves a bunch of questions. How did Alan Dinehart and/or Joe Barbera think no one would learn the identity of Elroy’s voice actor? Certainly something like that couldn’t be kept secret, I suspect not even by Hanna-Barbera’s vaunted and busy publicity machine. And if Madison Avenue was so intent on a little boy, why would the wonderful (but somewhat older than nine) Daws Butler be acceptable to agencies but not Lucille Bliss? And what about the fact that three years later, Lucille had no problem being billed as “Lou Bliss.” Take a look at this title card from her next H-B endeavour, the best-forgotten Space Kidettes (1965).



To sidetrack a bit, this wasn’t the first time she and Janet Waldo worked together. Kind of. The two did a cerebral palsy telethon in June 1952 that was broadcast on KGO-TV, San Francisco. Janet was in Los Angeles with stars like Cliff Arquette (Charley Weaver), while Lucille was in the City by the Bay along with host Jack Webb and guests such as “the vivacious Dorita” (now there’s a study in contrasts).

Lucille was “Auntie Lou” on KRON-TV, San Francisco, in 1951. The spelling of her alter ego seems to have varied depending on the newspaper reporting. The Hayward Daily Review had this little profile of Lucille in its Video Notes column by T.R. Temple of August 13, 1952. The picture you see is from the paper and indicates it is Lucille and not someone attempting Joan Crawford on stage at Finnochio’s.


Lucille Bliss, who is known to several thousand kids as Aunty Lu, is one of those studies in contradictions.
When she was a teen-ager in radio (not so long ago), she was usually cast in adult roles. Now that she’s reached the voting age, she often plays a little girl—or boy.
Just to keep the thing interesting, she got a part in Edgar Bergen’s show in Hollywood — but performed it in San Francisco. She also won a role in Disney’s Cinderella through a Bay Area audition—and played it in Hollywood.
Was she Cinderella? Wrong again. Disney liked her voice as “Anastasia,” the nasty old stepsister, so gentle Lucille wound up as a villain. She also continued in this part for the RCA record album of the tale.
NO STORY
Newspaper writers are always looking for a twist on the familiar, but actually Miss Bliss has one of those open, blameless faces that really goes with an innocent character.
She loves children, and kids, being sensitive, respond to her.
You can watch this unrehearsed psychology at work on her program every Thursday when KRON-TV puts on her “Happy Birthday To You.”
Miss Bliss has no eccentricities. She is not a stage personality, and seems completely unspoiled by success. Which in itself is something unique in this crass world.
HOW TO GET ON TV
For aspiring young actresses, Lucille has this advice: appear on an audition. Everything came easier after she got up the nerve to make an appointment some 12 years ago with a San Francisco station.
Mind you, success didn’t come rapidly, but at least the studios knew who she was, and would phone her now and then for bit parts.
What does she do between “Birthday” programs? Makes regular trips to the Disney studios. Her most famous “voice” was that of a character named Crusader Rabbit, heard on TV stations all over the country.
It seems a bit strange to make a career of imitating little furry animals’ voices — but then, no more strange than hunting for paradoxes in normal, healthy people.

Back to the interview, now. Lucille’s memory about Morey Amsterdam being in voice sessions is certainly bang-on. We’ve mentioned Morey was the original voice of George Jetson. You can read more here.

She goes on about how losing the role started to affect her health, and then she turned things around again. Certainly she was busy in the months ahead as she recorded ‘Peter Cottontail’ for Disneyland Records (released in 1963).

If you’re wondering how Lucille would have sounded as Elroy Jetson, you can get a bit of an idea by going to the interview here. The portion about The Jetsons starts at 5:12. Granted, Lucille was 90 when she talked to the Academy—she’s 95 now—but you can get a flavour of what Elroy could have sounded like.


A Yowp P.S.: Lucille told Jeff Kisseloff in The Box, An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961 (Viking Press, 1995) “I also did ‘Tom and Jerry’ and ‘Droopy’ cartoons.” If anyone knows more about that, please post a comment. I’m at a loss to figure out which specific cartoons she voiced for MGM.

8 comments:

  1. About Lucy Bliss at MGM... She has a couple of lines in "Droopy Leprechaun".

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  2. That's gotta be Bliss as Tuffy in "Robin Hoodwinked".

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  3. The 1957-58 time period for those voices would also jibe with the time line for her work at Warners, voicing the little girl in Freleng's "A Waggly Tale".

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  4. Morey Amsterdam as George Jetson...I can't hear it...!!

    Another great post, Yowp!!

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  5. I wonder why that Lucille Bliss was uncredited for her voice work on "Cinderella" as Anastasia. Did she refuse screen credit or something?

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  6. Personally, "The Smurfs" doesn't have the appeal of the comic version (said, along with Asterix, Tin Tin and some others, to be a fine Belgian export.). Plus, we're leaving out Miss Bliss's greatest and first animation acheivement--Crusader Rabbit!! [The Jay Ward B&W 1940s one, of courxe, funded by Jerry Fairbanks of ephermal; fkilm fame, not the later one that Yowp's earlier article mentioned, in the link above, the one that TV Spots, Inc., did, the one whose heartlesss producer, who shall be UNNAMED, replaced Lucille with for GeGe Pearson.)


    PS C.M.Sobieniak, Agreed with you...S.Hartley: I have the Cinderelle movie..was she unbilled for that role?

    Crusadin' out!

    Steve C.

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  7. Thanks, Mike. I'd never seen that cartoon until just now. Sounds like her rasping away as the leprechaun. Love Ed Benedict's paddy wagon guys at the end. But that story from Hammy Homer. Yikes. Dreadful and conventional.

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