If I were to ask you which Hanna-Barbera voice actor had been a cheerleader, you might guess Janet Waldo. If I were to tell you that same voice actor also did high school football championship play-by-play, you’d probably be stumped.
The correct answer is Dick Beals.
The man with the voice of a child has passed away at the age of 85.
Cartoon fans can probably blurt out a string of his roles—the daydreaming boy Ralph Phillips for Chuck Jones at Warner Bros., Davey Hansen of the stop-motion ‘Davey and Goliath,’ spoiled son Arthur Spacely on ‘The Jetsons’ and, of course, the original Speedy Alka-Seltzer in commercials. There was a time Beals seemed to be everywhere. As a kid, I remember him on ‘The Funny Company’ and on various Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including an elf helping Fred Flintstone fill in for Santa Claus, and whenever a cartoon in the mid-‘60s called for a bratty kid.
Like all the old cartoon voice actors, Richard L. Beals started in radio, though he once revealed he was in a film while in Grade 3 growing up outside Detroit. Beals was a cheerleader at Michigan State starting in his freshman year in 1945. Cheerleading isn’t a great source of income. So he headed to WXYZ Radio in Detroit, known to old-time radio fans as the home of The Lone Ranger. And he landed a job by his sophomore year. He played the Ranger’s nephew for awhile, then headed to the big time for what was left of radio’s glory days.
Beals didn’t get recognition in the popular press during his busy working days. But time brews nostalgia, and years later, a few stories appeared in print about him. Here’s part of one from the Los Angeles Times of May 6, 1980.
The grown-up behind the little boy's voice
By C. DOUGLAS COX
ESCONDIDO – Four-foot, six-inch-tall Dick Beals wasn’t all that amused when a talk show emcee once asked him on live television, “Have you always been small?”
But references to his size just seem to go with the territory for Beals, who has been for 28 years the perky-voice of Speedy Alka-Seltzer.
“I went to Michigan State in the ‘40s with the idea of majoring in radio and becoming a sports announcer,” Beals admits. “But the university radio’s station manager told me there weren’t any openings, and got me an audition for the part of 10-year-old Johnny, the lead in ‘Adventures in Music,’ one of the school’s new dramatic radio plays.” Beals got the job, which led to a long career of providing the voices for a pantheon of cartoon and commercial advertising characters.
Children in Hanna-Barbera’s “Flintstones,” Funny Co.’s Roger Ramjet and the early incarnations of Disney Studios’ Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald Duck’s mischievious nephews, are among the many characters who owe a lot to Beals’ talents. But it was a Speedy Alka-Seltzer who gave Beals his big break into show business.
“I came out to Hollywood from Detroit in 1952 and just started knocking on doors, making call after call,” Beals said. He finally landed a part on “One Man’s Family,” an evening radio soap opera. Intrigued by Beal’s [sic] unique voice, the show’s manager mentioned to him one afternoon that Miles Laboratories had just closed auditions for the voice of its new Alka-Seltzer spokesman, an as-yet unnamed animated cherub who could read commercial lines and sing the praises of the firm’s fizzing tonic. The manager still asked him to come in and do a trial commercial one evening. Beals created his own image of Speedy Alka-Seltzer in his mind, recorded what he considered to be the appropriate speaking and singing voice for the commercial and went home. Four months later he was told he had the job, and Speedy was born.
“Speedy was television’s first character spokesman,” Beals said. “Betty Furness had been plugging Westinghouse products on live television for awhile, but Speedy was the first to use stop-motion animation.
“Radio voices back then did all the cartoon voices, too. We were all doing some four or five jobs at the same time. It was pretty hectic and exciting.
“But you were expected to carry your part perfectly the first time through, and you had to take direction well. If you couldn't accept this, word would get around town—and you just wouldn’t find any work.”
The hectic pace of his business taught Beals discipline, and discipline remains an important part of Beal’s life. “Television was in its infancy when I came out to Hollywood,” he said. “And the standards had to be tough—we were pioneering an industry. But the directors set those standards, and if you couldn’t muster the discipline to do what was expected of you, you were out quickly.
“The veteran actors helped me out a lot, though. We all stuck together. And it helped that in addition to being able to do children’s voices, I was an adult and had a college degree in the business. That meant that directors didn’t have to take a child actor out of school, enforce discipline, contend with the kid’s mother and so on.
“Above all, I've been very fortunate to have good direction.”
Beals never appeared in person on television or in movies, though. “Even my name wasn’t publicized,” he said. “But I was only 25 when I started out, and I couldn’t handle celebrity.”
This piece by the Associated Press dated October 25, 1992 outlines Beals’ philosophy of life.
Beals gives voice to ads, cartoons
By CATHERINE DRESSIER
Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Dick Beals is only 4½ feet tall, but he says thinking big landed him “small” parts in thousands of commercials and cartoons.
Beals was the voice of the boyish puppet Speedy Alka-Seltzer in 225 television commercials starting in 1953. He sang, “Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer Weiner” and played the Campbell soup kids.
Pull the string on a Mattel Inc. doll, and you might hear his voice. He plays children and small animals in cartoons including the Jetsons, Flintstones and Addams Family.
Beals says he never tires of the “little” creatures he tends to play, including chipmunks, teddy bears, squirrels and parrots.
“I enjoy everything I’m asked to do,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge day in and day out.”
Beals says it’s better to be heard than seen.
“I could sit here for three days and no one’s going to come up and say, ‘Hey, didn't you do Speedy or the Campbell Soup Kids?’ he said in an interview in the lobby of a Pittsburgh hotel. “I enjoy the anonymity.”
Beals, 65, weighs about 68 pounds. As a college student, he dreamed of being a sports announcer, but in 1945 a radio station manager advised him to seek the parts of children. He’s been doing it ever since.
He got his break in 1952 when he won the part of Speedy Alka-Seltzer. The popular television and radio ads ran continuously until 1968 and returned several times in the 1970s. The ads ran in some markets last year to mark the 60th anniversary of Alka-Seltzer.
Beals, still a spokesman for Miles Inc., the maker of Alka-Seltzer, perks up when he recalls the Speedy Alka-Seltzer themes.
“Down, down, down the stomach through,” he sings, wide eyed. “Round, round the system too.”
Beals lives in southern California and owns an ad agency. He was in Pittsburgh this past week to speak to college and elementary students, an ad club and Miles employees. The message he brings in his speeches is “Think Big.”
“Set goals, set lofty dreams,” he said. “Surround them with positive thoughts and you'll soon be living those dreams.”
Beals wrote a motivational book in 1992 called “Think Big” and travelled across the U.S. plugging it and the positive attitude he developed in his own life. The local paper in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, wrote several articles advertising his appearance at a Rotary Club award function. This comes from a story published October 21, 1993:
In his book, Beals remembers when he stopped seeing himself as “small.” In 1932, he began kindergarten in Birmingham, Mich. The high school football field was built near his school and he decided to watch practice one day.
Before he knew what had happened, he had become the mascot of the team. “This meant I was allowed in the locker room and the captain would also carry me into the stadium on his shoulders,” Beals says in his book.
Beals describes how he received the most powerful and valuable education as mascot of that football team at age 5.
“I not only learned the game of football and had real heroes, but I learned that size didn’t mean a thing, and from that moment on I never saw myself as small. I saw only the task or the challenge. I knew that what counted was discipline and hard work and dedication to that task,” Beals states in Think Big.
“Most important though was that tremendous need to win. From then on, in everything I did, I had to win. From then on, it was THINK BIG.”
In the mid-‘60s, Beals called high school football on KPPC-FM. It must have sounded a little odd hearing Winky the Elf describe a touchdown run.
There are fewer and fewer old cartoon voice actors around today and it’s sad to hear another one has gone. But from what I can tell, Dick Beals was a quiet, well-liked man who entertained millions, and you can’t leave behind a better reputation.