Thursday, 19 March 2015

Fun With Frees

Paul Frees was one of a kind. Paul Frees was larger than life. Clichés, yes, but both statements are true.

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
Hollywood — The name Paul Frees means nothing to over 100,000,000 TV viewers who call quickly tell you that John Beresford Tipton was the unseen TV millionaire who had his emmisary delivering weekly $1,000,000 checks to unsuspecting beneficiaries.
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

If you happen to be tuned into KECA radio some evening after 11 pm and suddenly hear a familiar parrot talking to you, don't run for the nearest psychiatrist. It's only Paul Frees.
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.”
“Gator” is voiced by Bill Thompson and Paul Frees. Thompson and Alan Reed do “Turtle,” Mel Blanc, “Lippy.”
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.

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.

17 comments:

  1. Frees' voices did take a side trip to New York (and Prague) in 1963-64, even if he didn't, while providing the voices for Paramount and Gene Dietch's Snuffy Smith and Krazy Kat cartoons as part of the King Features syndication package.

    Frees even pulled out his Ludwig Von Drake voice for this particular short, animated by Jim Tyer (which, given the limited animation Paramount was putting into their TV shorts, makes you wish Tyer and Frees had gotten together about a decade earlier, when the budgets were higher and Jim really could have gone to town with Paul's vocal work)

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  2. I always loved the range in that man's voice. From deep and booming in one part to the high pitched Poppin' Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy in the next. So many sitcoms featured his voice as an announcer when the radio would be turned on. The earliest on camera work I remember him in, was Dr. Vorhees in RKO's, " The Thing From Another World ". He did a little of everything.

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  3. Yeah, Errol, he did so many things, it's pointless trying to list them. I ran into more than one story which said, at one point, he made more money doing voice-overs than anyone else.

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  4. He also voiced several characters in the Universal/Walter Lantz theatrical cartoon shorts, such as Charlie Beary in The Beary's Family Album, Champ The Bulldog in the Doc & Champ shorts; as he also voiced Wally Walrus in two Chilly Willy shorts from 1961 (both directed by the Disney disciple Jack Hannah).

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  5. Leave us not forget Frees' extensive and varied work in the HBR records series. My personal favorites are "Monster Shindig" and his replacement of Daws Butler as Mr. Jinks on the "Cinderella" album. He out-Dawses Daws on those albums in my humble opinion, but his take on Huckleberry Hound for the "Uncle Remus" album wasn't quite so fortuitous--although if they had to replace Daws for that one, they went with the best voice artist they could have picked for the job. His voice is also heard on the Secret Squirrel album and a few others. His album work powerfully (and comedically) demonstrates his range and versatility.

    Paul Frees' voice always added a touch of class, even when the animation itself wasn't much to write home about. Somehow just hearing his voice on the soundtrack makes a production seem that much more polished and lends a big-budget feel to a low-budget effort. He was one of the all-time greats along with Mel Blanc, June Foray, Daws Butler, and Don Messick.

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  6. 1965-'66:
    FREES: "'I DREAM OF JEANNIE'! Brought to you by........L&M cigarettes. 'Come on over, to the L&M side'. Come on over.....'Just for the taste of it'." And, on other weeks--- "LARK! The filter cigarette, that tastes 'Richly Rewarding, Uncommonly Smooth'. 'There is NOTHING--like a Lark'!"

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    1. He also was the narrator over the opening titles of the earliest Season 1 episodes, which showed clips from the pilot instead of the familiar animated opening.

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  7. Paul Frees' acting skills have always been out-of-this-universe. His Boris Badenov is phenomenal. Squidly Diddly was extremely funny. If he played a Texan, that was always smart casting. But, to me his greatest achievement will forever be Tex Avery's MGM spectacular short ''Cellbound''. He did ALL OF THE VOICES.

    An interesting piece of information that escapes everybody, although there are plenty of reliable sources to back it up, is that Paul Frees was hired as a secret agent by the FBI to help them cracked down on drug dealing. The department used his skills as an impressionist to get in touch with the dealers, and one book cites he was allowed to come along to drug raids.-Georgi

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  8. He also was at Warner Brothers, in a major role in "The Incredible Mr.Limpet" as the title Don Knotts fish's "bestie", Crusty the Hermit Crab, doing my favorite voice of his, the same on used as Snuffy Smith, the "Southern Colonel" voice.

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  9. He also voiced one of my favorite superheroes: DePatie-Freleng's Super President. I know I'm in the very small minority on this one, but I truly enjoy Super President cartoons. Super President's resilience is a reminder for me to carry on despite any personal problems. In hindsight, that cartoon was clearly not going to be successful in the middle of the Vietnam War, but I think it was ahead of its time. Wish whoever owns the rights to it would release it on DVD and revive it.

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  10. I think Paul Frees did some voice work in THE MAN CALLED FLINTSTONE.

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    1. He was the voice of the villain The Green Goose.

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  11. He did do some voices for the Hanna-Barbera unit while he was at MGM, like the title character in "Jerry's Cousin", Jerry in blackface in "His Mouse Friday", the radio announcer in "The Missing Mouse", and the narrator of "Blue Cat Blues".

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  12. 3/23/15
    RobGems.ca wrote:
    My earliest memories of Paul Frees was as a baby when I first saw "Bullwinkle", "The Wonderful World Of Color/Disney" (as "Ludwig Von Drake), and the numerous Rankin & Bass Holliday specials (where he voiced Santa Claus in "Frosty The Snowman" and The Burgermeister Miesterburger in "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." Later on I saw re-runs of the Al Brodax/King Features Syndicate cartoon "The Beatles" and noticed Frees did the voices of both John Lennon and George Harrison, as well as other characters on that show (of course, the real John & George's speaking voices sounded nothing like Paul Frees'.) Mr. Frees also did his "John Lennon" voice on the 1965-66 H-B cartoon series "Secret Squirrel" as the harassed boss that acted exasperated whenever Secret did something clumsy. As for the "I Dream Of Jeannie" announcing, this I didn't get to hear until the early 1990's, when Nick At Night Cable station re-ran all the 1965-67 B&W episodes. For decades, all I've seen were the more common Living Color versions of "Jeannie" that originally aired from 1967-70. Finally, as a child, I always thought that Tom & Jerry's "Blue Cat Blues"(1956) was one of the worst Tom & Jerry cartoons in the duo's 75-pus year history. The cat & mouse were planning to commit double suicide at the end by way of getting run over by an oncoming train after being dumped by unfaithful girlfriends. This is a very frightening thing to show young children under the age of 12, and today the shock of a suicide to a beloved cartoon duo i still chilling whenever I see it (yes, Boomerang does re-run this cartoon at times; it's not okay to show any T&J cartoons with "Mammy Two-Shoes" as a main supporting character,but it's okay to show a cat & mouse waiting for their demise by an oncoming train. Censors and politicians are so weird.)

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  13. The parents of Paul Frees were Abraham and Sarah (Cohen) Frees. Abraham Frees was born in Latvia, Russian Empire and Sarah (Cohen) Frees was born in Poland, Russian Empire. Here is the list of the wives of Paul Frees:
    Beverly T Marlow, Jeri J Cole, Patrice Redwine, Joyce Schultz, Kleda June Hansen, and Annelle McCloud.

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  14. Paul Frees had two children: Frederic William Ernest Frees and Sabrina S. (Frees) Perrin-Nolen. Frederic is born on July 21, 1953 in Los Angeles County, California to Paul and Joyce (Schultz) Frees, while Sabrina S. (Frees) Perrin-Nolen is born on June 10, 1963 in Los Angeles County, California to Paul and Patrice (Redwine) Frees. Paul had siblings: David, Samuel (he passed away in infancy), Emanuel Frees, and Rose (Frees) Ginsburg. His son, Frederic is a very successful voice actor. Joyce (Schultz) Frees, also known as Joy Terry Frees had passed away on November 14, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.

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  15. I've gotten to hear plenty of Frees' radio work; he starred in "The Green Lama" (based on the pulp and comic book hero), and "The Black Book." On an episode of the radio "Gunsmoke," Howard McNear was unavailable to play Doc, so Frees pinch-hit for him, trying a bit too hard to imitate McNear. And of course Paul was the go-to guy for shows dependent on dialects, like "Dangerous Assignment" - in one episode he played a Russian agent who sounded just like Boris Badenov.

    Frees did three voice-overs in an "Untouchables" episode, as a train conductor, a radio news announcer, and FDR.

    A versatile performer indeed, but his voice was distinctive no matter the characterization or dialect, like seeing an actor's face under his makeup.

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