Janet played teenager Corliss Archer on radio in the ‘40s and ‘50s. She played teenager Judy Jetson in the ‘60s. And if you heard her in interviews 50 years after that, she sounded exactly the same as both of them.
She wasn’t a teenager during any of that time. Miss Waldo was born in April 1919 (according to the 1920 US Census) in the small Northern Pacific Railway stop of Grandview, Washington and was plucked for stardom off the campus of the University of Washington by none other than Spokane’s Bing Crosby in 1937. It turned out Paramount (Crosby’s studio) had all the ingénues it needed and Janet found work in radio, and then in network TV when it came along.
Historian and interviewer Stu Shostak has passed along word from her family that Janet Waldo died yesterday morning.
As Yogi Bear used to say, she was “one of the good ones.” Every interview I’ve heard her do, she was upbeat. Never negative. That’s even though she was unexpectedly dumped from a Jetsons feature film and replaced by some singer who was hot at the time (and not since). I have yet to see anything bad written about her. She was always kind and friendly to anyone I’ve spoken with.
There isn’t much about her cartoon career that we haven’t posted already. So allow me to pass on a portion of a story from the Los Angeles Times of April 28, 1989.
The recording room is small, and it is stuffy as the six actors gather to do pickup lines for "Jetsons: The Movie." The actors exchange jokes and funny sounds as they settle on their stools, scripts resting on music stands, microphones a whisper away.She didn’t quite play “a typical grandmother.” She played Granny Sweet, the Little-Old-Lady-From-Pasadena-like owner of Precious Pupp, off riding her motorcycle while the dog vanquished bad guys and snickered all the time. A hepped-up suburban granny of the ‘60s and a squealing teenager of the future are just some of the roles we think about as we remember Janet Waldo today.
They are such a happy group, it's like watching a bunch of Smurfs. Janet Waldo, looking more like an elf in green mini-skirt and matching shoes and stockings than the voice of Judy Jetson, sits on one side of the room with Penny Singleton, who plays Jane Jetson.
On the other side are the "boys"—Frank Welker, the voice of Little Grungee; Rob Paulsen, who plays Judy's boyfriend, Apollo Blue; Ronnie Schell, playing robot Rudy 2, and Patric Zimmerman, the new voice of Elroy, Judy's brother.
Paulsen tries out his imitation of Robert Duvall laughing, while Schell tries to match that with the sound of Cary Grant sneezing.
Then as quickly as someone clearing his throat, they are in character and down to business, watching through a large window for a sign from director Gordon Hunt, who is manning the controls in a small sound booth. It seems tense, maybe because this is a movie and not just a half-hour cartoon. Everyone quickly makes room in the booth for animation guru Joe Barbera as he quietly sneaks in.
"Judy Jetson is one of the easiest voices for me to do because it's closest to my natural voice. It's just me being excited," Waldo said.
When the futuristic cartoon series made its debut in 1962, Hanna-Barbera made only 24 episodes. "Little did we dream this would become a cult," Waldo said. The series proved so popular 20 years later that 51 more episodes were made, followed by two TV movies and "Jetsons: The Movie," which is scheduled for Christmas release.
"There was a sense of family on the show, of being together so long," said the slightly built Waldo, dressed in red slacks, red sweater and red boots. "Doing the Jetsons again was like coming home."
Waldo, who won't even hint at her age, grew up in Seattle and "never wanted to be anything but an actress" since age 3. Bing Crosby discovered her at a talent search when she was 13, and she did a few movie spots before getting into radio. She was one of three actresses to star as teen-ager Corliss Archer in the popular radio program, which first aired in 1943. She was also teen-ager Emmy Lou on radio and TV's "The Ozzie and Harriet Show," and Tony Franciosa's secretary, Libby, on the 1964-65 TV comedy "Valentine's Day."
Radio was good to her in another way—it's where she met her husband, playwright Robert E. Lee. He was writing for "Favorite Story"; she was providing the voice for Corliss Archer.
Doing cartoons is "much like doing radio, just with more punch. In cartoons, you have to be a little bit bigger than life," she said. To get a character's voice, sometimes she needs to see a picture or a cartoon. "Then you create the image in your head so you can sound like her."
Breaking into a high, sweet and slightly Southern voice, she talks about Granny Sweet on the cartoon "Precious Pup," then drops it through her nose to demonstrate another favorite character, Hogatha, the incredibly ugly yet amazingly vain witch on "The Smurfs."
"The Perils of Penelope Pitstop" was fun because race car driver Penelope was a woman before her time, a female super-hero in 1969, long before She-Ra flexed her cartoon muscles. And she loved doing the deep, strong voice of Fred Flintstone's battle-ax of a mother-in-law because "it was a real switch from Judy. It's fun to hide behind a large character."
The walls of the book-filled family room in her Encino home are covered with framed posters of plays written by her husband and his partner Jerry Lawrence—"First Monday in October," "Auntie Mame," "Inherit the Wind," "The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail," "The Gang's All Here."
In Waldo's small office are cartoon cels (drawings on celluloid that are used to make cartoons) of some of her characters—Grandma and the ghoulishly glamorous Morticia from the cartoon version of "The Addams Family," lead singer Josie from "Josie and the Pussycats," Alice from a Hanna-Barbera version of "Alice in Wonderland" and, of course, Judy Jetson.
Waldo said she thinks that an acting background is what makes a cartoon actor more than just "a voice technician."
"An actor can play a role from the heart, not just from the neck up. An actor immerses himself in the character. You can tell the difference. I feel truly, deeply concerned when Judy has a problem," she said.
Commenting on how cartoons have changed, she said, "It used to be that cartoons were interesting to adults, as well as children." Now, Waldo complained, they are a bit boring and often too violent and too much like "one big commercial for toys."
"The Jetsons" was "a genuine story about a real family who happens to live in outer space. It stimulated the imagination of the audience and triggered a new vista of ideas and imagination," she said.
Waldo also dubs voices for American and foreign films, imitating everyone from Susan Anton and Sally Field to Aretha Franklin and the late Natalie Wood. If a movie line cannot be clearly heard, or naughty words are taken out for a TV run, voice actors are sometimes used instead of bringing back the star to do these "pickup lines."
With cartoon voices, Waldo plays three types: a typical teen-ager, a typical young mother and a typical secretary. "Eventually," she said with a laugh, "I'll have to be a typical grandmother."
Listen to this interview with Janet about her radio days conducted by John Dunning in 1982.