I love Frees. Arguably, his best cartoon work was done at the Jay Ward studio as Boris Badenov. And I’m not a Disney fan but his Ludwig Von Drake is really enjoyable. Ludwig’s voice is practically a musical instrument—loud, soft, high, low. His asides to himself were the best. My favourite Hanna-Barbera role of Frees’ is that of the Greenstreet-and-Bond inspired Yellow Pinkie on “The Secret Squirrel Show” (as a bonus, he tossed in his Eric Blore voice as Double Q, which was almost a carbon copy of Dudley Do-Right’s Inspector Fenwick).
Frees began his Hanna-Barbera career in 1959, voicing a dog with a design that owed something to Snuffles in the Loopy De Loop cartoon “Tale of a Wolf.” His cartoon acting career went back a few more years to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s former employer, MGM. He was the voice of Barney Bear for Dick Lundy in the ‘50s and narrated several cartoons for Tex Avery after Frank Graham died. But there were claims he had been in animation before that.
George McCall commented on films on radio’s “The Old Gold Hour” and “The Kate Smith Summer Show” and decided to put together a touring revue called “Man About Hollywood.” One of the members of the troupe was an impressionist named Buddy Green, a young man who was born Solomon Hersh Frees. Weekly Variety, in its edition of November 20, 1940, remarks about Frees’ act:
Buddy Green, who, according to McCall, imitates the various stars for the Walt Disney cartoons.Frees’ son Fred confirms his dad was not at Disney that far back. But McCall claimed that all members of his revue were unknowns in Hollywood, so a past was invented that, in a delightful irony, proved prophetic.
Green/Frees’ impressions included Paul Muni, Wallace Beery, Ned Sparks, Jean Hersholt, Charles Boyer and Clyde McCoy playing Sugar Blues. He had been touring in 1940 another revue called “Hellzafire” (it was renamed “Funzafire” in 1940; Green himself wasn’t renamed yet) The following year, he landed an emcee job at the Club Fortune in Reno.
Frees’ career at Hanna-Barbera was comparatively short, mainly in the mid to late ‘60s. He moved to Tiberon, California in 1972 and told Back Stage magazine six years later he had given up his cartoon work with the exception of Rankin-Bass specials. So this post doesn’t deal with his work at Hanna-Barbera (sorry to disappoint all you Squiddly Diddley fans). Instead, allow me to re-print a couple of articles involving other parts of his career.
Frees was everywhere at one time. He appeared on radio dramas, television, movies and cartoons. He wrote songs. He directed a movie. He dubbed voices for films. He was Francis the Talking Mule (not on camera). He cut a record album for MGM as various stars, including Clark Gable crooning By The Time I Get To Phoenix. But his big money came from commercial voice overs. Here’s a syndicated column dated March 2, 1963. By that time, Frees had already appeared on the famous Rockenspiel episode of “The Flintstones,” a fairly minor accomplishment.
A Well-Spoken 'Millionaire'
By HANK GRANT
Frees was the voice of the unseen Tipton, but so concerned was the producer (and rightfully so) that the character be shrouded in mystery, his name didn't appear on the credits.
Frees, however, is on the road to becoming a millionaire himself. His is the voice of Walt Disney's Ludwig Van Drake, the only new cartoon character Disney has introduced on TV as a regular star. Dozens of other cartoon series, such as Bullwinkle, utilize the many-faceted Frees voice.
Frees is so flexible, he also dubs in the voices of live action actors, as he once did the narration voice of Jack Webb on Dragnet when Jack had laryngitis. There was also the instance In the "Battle Hymn" movie where a venerable 80-year-old Chinese supporting actor's voice didn't match the wisdom of his role. Frees supplied the voice.
There just weren't enough German-born actors in Hollywood to cast "A Time to Live and a Time to Die," the feature based on post-war Germany, American actors were cast, but in that movie, Frees did 17 different German voices!
Frees' bankroll is also being fattened by the fact producers of filmed TV commercials literally fight for his attention. During a recent commercial film festival in New York, he received nine out of the 37 awards.
Stranger even than Paul's paradoxical pinnacle of power without public glory is the story of how, by freak accident, his career was thrust on him by a kindly fate. It's a press agent's dream. And in Paul's case, it's true!
Prior to action in World War 2, Paul was an insignificant nightclub entertainer. He emerged from the war with a Purple Heart (a leg injury after the Normandy invasion) and a broken heart — his wife died while he was in the service.
"I was drifting, I didn't know what to do," he recalls. "When my morale had hit bottom, I happened to be standing in front of CBS in Hollywood. A radio producer-writer who introduced himself as Ray Buffum stopped to ask me where I got my Purple Heart, noticed my limp, and then asked if I could act. Mine was a doubtful answer, but he asked me into his office, gave me the part of an Australian to read and that was my first 'voice' job — in the regular role of 'Digger Slade' on the 'A Man Called Jordan' radio series.
"Since that time, I've imitated a thousand or more voices, but there's never been a warmer, more compassionate voice than that of the man who didn't need a word from me at a time when I felt like screaming 'Help!' My Purple Heart ribbon did my speaking for me!"
In the late ‘40s, Frees appeared on more radio shows than you’ll really want me to list. But as network radio began to die, Frees changed gears. He decided to become a local evening disc jockey. It was a short career, from September 11 to December 23, 1953 as best as I can discover. The Los Angeles Times wrote about it on October 3rd that year.
Parrot, Squeaking Door, All the Same to Emcee
BY WALTER AMES
Paul, along with the rest of his acting chores, recently decided to try his hand at being a disc jockey. It was one of the few things he hadn't already experimented with and the other day he said he's never had as much fun.
Being a master at dialects, voices and sound effects, Frees finds his radio show an excellent showcase for rehearsing roles. Thus if he has a squeaking door coming up you'll hear him opening doors for most of his guests during the evening.
I mentioned that you might hear a parrot. One of Paul's chores in the past has been to be the parrot on the old Sam Spade series. His toughest assignment was to play a squeaking French door. Ask him to do it some night.
Recently he was confined to Folsom Prison—strictly for business, however, as a featured player in the new flicker, "Riot in Cellblock Eleven." It was a drastic from his imitating roles because, as he says, everything about Folsom "is for keeps."
When Hanna-Barbera got a toe-hold in prime time, it appeared the studio had plans for Frees. A story in Variety of May 31, 1960 stated:
The voices you'll hear on “The Flintstones” are those of Mel Blanc, Alan Reed, Bea Benadaret, Daws Butler, Paul Frees, Bill Thompson and Jean Vanderpyl. Said Hanna, “anyone could live quite comfortably off their residuals.”It turned out neither Frees nor Thompson did a lot on the show. Variety of October 31, 1961 reported on some ambitious expansion plans for the studio, including an hour-long cartoon variety show with an animated emcee. It never came to pass. H-B had better luck with something else mentioned in the story: a new series syndicated through Screen Gems; 156 five-minute cartoons featuring
“Wally Gator,” “Touche Turtle And Dum Dum” and “Lippy The Lion And The Sad Hyenna.”Either Variety got it wrong or the H-B braintrust changed its mind and replaced Thompson and Frees on “Wally Gator” with Daws Butler and Don Messick; both Frees and Butler did an Ed Wynn-ish voice and Frees had already been using it as Captain Peter Peachfuzz on the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. Instead, Frees returned to the studio several years later to work on “Secret Squirrel,” “The Fantastic Four” and several other series.
“Gator” is voiced by Bill Thompson and Paul Frees. Thompson and Alan Reed do “Turtle,” Mel Blanc, “Lippy.”
Frees’ animated shows didn’t get panned often, though you don’t want to ask about my opinion of the Dick Tracy TV cartoons. Variety wasn’t impressed with a 1967 special called Who’s Afraid of Murakami-Wolf. The animation was attacked as not being as slick as Hanna-Barbera’s TV efforts but Frees’ narration came away unscathed.
Frees died of a heart attack on November 2, 1986. But, as always in the animation business, his characters lived on. And as long as corporations think there’s a buck in old cartoons, or as long as fans post them on-line, you’ll always hear Frees somewhere.