Monday, 18 September 2017

Portraying Wacky Old Ladies

Today would have, well, should have, been June Foray’s 100th birthday. Posts in celebration were banked for this blog and Tralfaz some months ago. It was not to be. June died last July. However, we’ll put up the posts nonetheless to remember her wonderful voice work, most of which you were likely never exposed to.

June recorded countless commercials over her career; trade magazines claimed she was the busiest voiceover actress in Hollywood. She recorded for at least three different banks, as well as Sears, Ford and, well, a list would be pointless. She looped dialogue in films. And, of course, she was heard in who-knows-how-many cartoons, the first of which was The Unbearable Bear at Warners, recorded in 1942, for which, studio records show, she was paid $25 (Keith Scott’s tireless research found that).

Her first job at Hanna-Barbera was with a more bearable bear—Yogi—in Bear on a Picnic (early 1959). Evidently Bill Hanna and/or Joe Barbera didn’t want Don Messick playing a woman’s role in falsetto as had been done a number of times at the studio. Foray had recorded voice tracks at MGM when Hanna and Barbera were directing there in the mid-‘50s. She went on to a number of other parts and series at H-B we won’t try to mention.

This story has nothing to do with Hanna-Barbera. It’s the earliest article I can find on June’s career. It’s in the July 1, 1945 edition of Radio Life, a Los Angeles based radio magazine. She was very busy even back then.

She Never Says “No!”
June Foray’s Policy Is Never to Say No to Producer’s Wanting Strange or Unusual Voices; She Can Do ‘em All

WHEN tiny, 4' 11 ", 100 lb. June Foray steps to the microphone (quite often she uses "Little Beaver's" on "Red Ryder") an audience smiles approvingly. "Isn't she cute?" they whisper.
Suddenly they may be shocked into stunned silence. For from this dainty little figure might come the sound of a hoarse kiss (which is pretty ghastly) or on the more subdued side, hiccups, sniffles or screams.
Whenever a producer wants the impossible performed on his radio show, he sends for June. "Can you do such and such ?" he asks. "Yes," answers June.
"But how do you know you can do it ?" we asked the little actress while having tea with her.
"I don't," she confessed. "But I never say no or I never experiment. I just do it."
Sound effects aren't June's only talent. She is just as well-known for her wacky old ladies, dialects and very-moving dramatic performances. She recently did a "straight" part on Norman Corwin's Special V-E Day show.
Did School Program
In 1936 she made her debut on radio by reading poetry. Then followed three years as "Lady Make Believe," a program which was piped directly into Los Angeles City schools. June wrote the program herself.
Today she has nine regular shows including "Sherlock Holmes," "Holly wood Mystery Time," "Red Ryder,” "Which Is Which," "That's A Good Idea," "Romance of' the Ranchos,” and "This Is My Story."
Married to an Army officer, who is in Texas at present, June occupies an apartment in Hollywood. She possesses an unlimited amount of energy and divides her time between what she calls "politics" (she's an active member of the Hollywood Democratic Committee) and her duties as a member of the AFRA board. That isn't all. Since June of 1942 she has regularly been making camp show appearances.
Being such an active person, she admits that although she doesn't follow a schedule, she writes notes to herself. They all start "Dear June" and end with "Love, June." She follows them religiously.
She likes keeping house. Her family lives nearby and so she has little time to be lonely. At home she wears shorts—or nothing at all. She drives a 1937 Chevvy. She likes portraying wacky old ladies and thinks the most unusual thing she does is the little boy on the Gallen-Kamp commercial.
In Movies
Because of her unlimited knowledge of sound effects and dialects, she is in demand for a lot of work for motion pictures. She was the baby cry in Paramount's "Dr. Wassell." In the forthcoming "Kitty" she hiccoughs for Paulette Goddard.
Once she was to do whooping coughs for a screen child. Having no idea what the coughs sounded like she received special permission to visit a hospital ward and listen to them. “They were the most wracking sounds I'd ever heard,” she recalled, “and I nearly wrecked my throat perfecting them.”
Once they had been perfected and "dubbed" into the sound track, the producer and director found them so unpleasant to the ear that they cut them out and gave the child diphtheria instead. "All in a day's work," June observed.


  1. The Unbearable Bear was one of the few times Sniffles *didn't* get on my nerves. So many elements working together. Wife Bear sleeping with the rolling pin, talking in her sleep about what she's going to do to her free loading, partying all night husband when he gets home, the fox attempting to rob the house, and telling Sniffles he's Robin Hood. And lastly, husband bear showing up drunk, trying not to wake his wife. Even Carl Stalling's brilliant use of " My Mama Done Told Me " every time the wife bear started to sleep walk through the house. Everybody trying to avoid each other, winding up in a total free for all. Some funny gags, and good voice work my Mel and June. I was also hoping she would have make it to 100.

  2. RIP, June Foray. May God have you in his glory.

  3. P.S. Nothing wrong with mentioning June's role as Jokey Smurf in my book. Though the H-B studio was well past the apogee of its creativity by that point, "The Smurfs" is a classic comic book franchise dating back to the 1950s. And the H-B series from the 1980s was quite endearing and funny, too -- it was easily the best thing to come out of H-B in quite a long while.

    1. Jokey was one of the only great and funny characters b y then Both his practical jokes and June;s jokes made him at least worth the wait.:-)

  4. Bea Benederet's higher-up position in the pecking order of radio actresses doing cartoon voices seemed to keep June as only an occasional visitor to the Warner Bros. studio until after the 3-D shutdown and Bea's TV demands after Burns & Allen went to film (and the show went from bi-weekly to 39 weeks a year). By that time, Foray already was being employed by both MGM and Disney, even though they never came up with as memorable characters as Granny and the WB Witch Hazel (FWIW, I prefer June's take on Hazel over Bea's and Benaderet's voice for Granny over Foray's, though both work quite nicely).

    1. I haven't had time to check if it happened when Bea stopped voicing, but Jones brought in Marian Richman until her early death in 1956 at 33.