This Case is Not Yet Rated

Let’s say you’re watching a film trailer before a movie at the theater (man, we miss going to the movies) or maybe you saw a trailer ad on YouTube. Every movie trailer, whether red-band or green, has at least one thing in common: a rating. Or, the promise that it will get a rating. 

We all know them well: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17, Unrated, or not-yet-rated. But, where do these ratings come from, and how did they come to be? What do these ratings really mean in terms of what is or isn’t appropriate for specific audiences? 

Censorship is a big part of film history and the movie-making process. Although the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) does not censor films, many would argue that it is their ratings that determine the success of a film at the box office or whether a film will get marketed at all. The rating process is notoriously mysterious, and the people involved are generally anonymous. Because of this, many filmmakers have voiced their frustration with the process and the power that the ratings have over the film industry. 

Today we will take a look at the history of cinema censorship, and the creation of the current MPAA rating system. This Case is Not Yet Rated 

PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD

  • In 1915, the Supreme Court ruled that films were not protected under free speech. They saw the movie making business as just that–a business. This ruling allowed the state of Ohio to create a censorship board with the ability to ban any film from being shown in their state.
    • Ohio was not the first state to create a censorship board, but this ruling made the practice more popular. Soon, local censors existed all over the US, and no film was safe from their scrutiny. 
  • The public outcry against indecency in films only increased in the early 1920’s with  scandals from real film actors. Most famously, a scandal involving silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. 
    • He was charged with manslaughter in the death of Virginia Rappe, a 25-year-old actress that died of a ruptured bladder at one of his parties.
    • This party also included alcohol during Prohibition, which had just passed in 1920
  • This outcry led to even more censorship, and Hollywood needed to come up with a standardized way of of censoring themselves while cleaning up their reputation.
  • So, in 1922 the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) was formed by major production studios.
    • The MPPDA, which would eventually be known as the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) appointed Will Hays as its first director.
      • Hays was a well-known politician, the former postmaster general, and an elder in the Presbyterian church.
    • After 1922, general film guidelines existed, but they were mostly optional and usually followed only after local censor boards would ban certain movies in their cities. For example, the film “Baby Face” (1933) was re-edited to have a new ending after it was banned in several cities.
    • Hays developed a system of “Dont’s” and “Be Carefuls” based on the complaints of local censoring boards, and as silent films gave way to talkies, Will Hays helped write a new set of guidelines for the changing medium.
      • This became known as The Motion Picture Production Code, or more commonly, The Hays Code
        • Although the MPAA is most well-known for its rating system, it’s important to note that it also helps studios distribute their films, advises them on taxes, and creates a public relations program for the film industry.

THE HAYS CODE

  • The Hays Code was published in 1930, but not enforced until 1934.
    • This is why films made between 1927 and 1934 are considered “Pre-code Hollywood,” as filmmakers got away with more jokes, adult themes, promiscuity, and violence.
  • It cited the introduction of sound in film as one of its main reasons for film censorship.
    • The code reads, “The advent of sound on the motion picture screen brought new problems of self-discipline and regulation to the motion picture industry. Sound unlocked a vast amount of dramatic material, which for the first time could be effectively presented on the screen.”
  • Here is the link to the code so that you can read it for yourself, but it gave a detailed list of what was considered suitable on screen.
  • Some of the outdated rules for the Hays Code are:
    • To not include the depiction of childbirth as painful
    • No kissing that lasts more than three seconds or is too lustful
    • To not have romantic partners without at least one leg on the floor in a love scene
    • No depictions of surgical operations
    • No ridicule of clergy
    • No pity for criminal activity
    • No “toilet gags”
  • In 1934, the Production Code Administration (PCA) required the studios that agreed to the code (most major studios in Hollywood) to submit scripts and final prints of films. If the film passed the standards, it got the PCA seal of approval that ran in the opening credits of the film. If it didn’t pass, it was barred from wide release. 
    • Major studios owned the theater chains that showed films, and because most (if not all) major studios agreed to the code, any rejected film could not be shown in a mainstream theater.
      • Of course, independent theaters might give it a go, but there is very little profit. 
    • If a producer’s film was rejected, they could appeal to the MPPDA board or make required edits. Remember–these were the practices of a censorship organization. 
      • Filmmakers rarely won appeals, and films were often re-edited and sometimes re-named to follow the standards of the Hays code.

MPAA RATING SYSTEM ESTABLISHMENT

  • In 1966 Jack Valenti became the leader of the MPPDA (which was soon renamed to MPAA) in Washington DC.
    • In the first two years of becoming President of the MPAA he was able to rally several different groups to support his idea for a voluntary ratings system. 
      • These groups were; actors, studio heads, Hollywood trade unions, politicians, and religious groups. 
      • Despite the Hays code only being about 36 years old, it seemed hopelessly outdated.
    • This change was certainly needed, as the legality of film censorship had changed a lot since 1930.
      • For example, film studios were no longer the owners of the mainstream movie theater chains that showed their films thanks to a 1948 supreme court ruling.
      • Four years later in 1952, the supreme court overturned its 1915 ruling, and determined that films were in fact protected under free speech.
        • The ruling stated, “It cannot be doubted that motion pictures are a significant medium for the communication of ideas.”
      • This meant that local censor boards were being phased out, making the PCA-enforced Hays code the main form of film censorship.
        • However, the PCA didn’t have the same power as it had once before. In the mid 1950’s, they famously banned the film, “The Moon is Blue.” 
        • Because of that 1948 decision, the director was able to use an independent distributor, which then was able to show the film in more theaters than any Non-PCA-approved film of the past.
  • In 1968 Jack Valenti established the MPAA rating system. (It has now been 52 years since the establishment.)
    • He did this in concurrence with the National Association of Theatre Owners.
      • Valenti was also concerned that the local censor boards would revitalize after another supreme court ruling stated that states can adjust the definition of obscenity for films, and thought that a self-policing system would appease audiences.
    • In 2004 Valenti said “One, the First Amendment reigns. Freedom of speech. Freedom of content. The director is free to make any movie he wants to make and not have to cut a millimeter of it. But freedom without responsibility is anarchy. The director will know he can do that, but some of his films may be restricted from viewing by children. Now I thought that was a balancing of the moral compact.” 
      • Instead of censoring the directors and their films, the MPAA system is designed to alert the public to what is in the movie. Ideally the movie-goer then has the chance to see the film based on their own discretion.
      • It’s worth noting that many of the people that argued for film censorship in the 1960’s were also in favor of prohibition in 1920.
    • Jack Valenti marketed his ratings as a public service, and convinced major newspapers to distribute information about the new ratings and what they meant.
    • The ratings were meant to evolve with the times, film-making, and with current parent opinions.
      • The initial ratings were: G for general audiences, M for mature audiences (though all ages admitted), R for viewers 16 years of age or older, and X for no child under 17.
      • Eventually the M rating became PG for Parental Guidance, the R age was raised to 17, and, in 1984, the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating. 
        • This came about when Stephen Spielberg, in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, showed the removal of a heart during a human sacrifice scene. This angered a lot of parents when the movie was supposed to be rated PG. After talking about it with Spielberg, Jack Valenti created the PG-13 rating.
      • The next big change came when pornographic films began using the X-rating in their branding and marketing, so the NC-17 rating began as a result in 1990. 
      • Along with NC-17 as a rating, the MPAA also began to use “descriptors.” They were originally only used for the R rating but have since expanded and are now used on the others as well. An example of this is when it says “Violence, Language, and frightening images.”
        • In 2007 smoking warnings were added to these descriptors.
      • In 1999 after the horrific Columbine Shooting members of the public, many of them parents, turned to movie violence as an issue. 
        • To combat these fears and “protect” the youth, NATO and President Clinton came up with the plan to have movie theaters check identification to enter an R-rated movie. This has continued on and in recent years The Federal Trade Commission has enlisted secret shoppers in order to discover whether or not theaters are keeping up with the enforcement of an ID check. 
  • The Current Chairman and CEO of the MPAA is Charles H. Rivkin (He used to work for the Jim Henson company!!! He was a former president and CEO.)
    • In a special 50th anniversary report he states: “We could point to many factors behind the ratings’ success. But the clearest one of all comes directly from its founding mission: to maintain the trust and confidence of American parents.”
    • “It should come as no surprise, in a diverse country like ours, that we have heard voices and views from all sides. We are well aware we have our share of detractors and that ratings are inherently imperfect. Some consider us overly permissive; others insist we are prudes. After rating nearly 30,000 films in 50 years, the overwhelming majority of which are accepted by filmmakers and the public without controversy, I believe we tend to get it right.”

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT THE MPAA PROCESS OF RATING/ WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE

  • The ratings are determined by the Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) as part of the MPAA.
    • It was established as a means to protect the first amendment, filmmakers rights, and the creative process.
    • According to the MPAA, CARA is a group of 8-13 people unaffiliated with the movie industry, who have children between the ages of 5 and 17.
  • In their 50th Anniversary report, the MPAA said that “The rating board’s job is to reflect standards, not set them. While raters adhere to general guidelines to determine a movie rating, as parents’ opinions on sex, profanity, and violence evolve throughout the years, the board’s ratings have adjusted to reflect those changing views.
  • CARA is notoriously secretive, and the members of its board are not known to the public. It has been compared to the CIA in terms of upholding the anonymity of its members and the ratings process.
    • The only public member is the board’s chair, who is Kelly McMahon who took over for Joan Graves after 3 decades in the position.
      • This is the only film rating system that does not disclose who its rating people are–an issue that has been met with a lot of criticism from filmmakers.
      • A report released by the MPAA in 2018 gave this information: Although the names of a few senior raters are publicly known, the majority of the board continues to operate in anonymity in order to insulate the decision-making process from outside influence. The MPAA said the rating board is composed of eight to 13 raters who are parents. With the exception of senior raters, members must have children ages 5 to 15 when they join, and must leave when their children reach 21. They can serve as long as seven years.
    • In an “All Things Considered” interview with NPR, Joan Graves said that the chair looks for board members that “[are] sensible and that can reflect standards rather than want to set them.”
      • She then went on to say that every time she got a complaint about a movie rating, she would mark where the person lived and how old their children were–she said that parents in the south tend to care more about blasphemy, Midwestern parents tend to challenge sexual content, and parents on the coasts in major cities will complain about film violence.
    • The 2005 documentary, “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” explains some of the criteria for specific ratings: 
      • G: No nudity, no sex, no drugs. Violence must be cartoonish and minimal; there may be language that goes beyond polite conversation.
      • PG: Strong language like shit and damn, brief nudity, slight violence.
      • PG-13: Shit can be used more frequently, and only one instance of the word Fuck–as along as it does not refer to the act of having sex.
      • R: Sexual themes, frank sex talk, sexualized nudity, tough language and tough violence.
      • NC-17: Sex in any position besides missionary, oral sex with females, anal sex, fetishes, and “aberrational behavior.” 
        • The documentary also found that four times as many films received an NC-17 rating for sexual violations over violence.
        • Although experts that work with at-risk youth and the surgeon general have voiced opposition to how violence is portrayed in popular PG-13 films, the ratings board has no behavioral experts to weigh in on the possible repercussions of depicted violence.
          • Much of the criticism isn’t about realistic violence, but the no-blood violence of a PG-13 film. Some argue that depicting violence without consequence could be more harmful than showing young audiences stories of realistic bloodshed
    • Having your film rated is technically voluntary, however many theaters will not show a film that is “unrated.”
    • Although Jack Valenti always insisted that a film’s rating did not affect how much money a movie made, box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian states that a PG-13 and R rating could be the difference between a million and tens of millions of dollars.
      • Joan Graves even discussed this further in her “All Things Considered” interview, saying that studios would often have a director sign a contract saying that they would make a PG-13 film. Directors would work with MPAA and CARA before finishing the film to figure out how to tell stories without getting an R rating.
    • The MPAA doesn’t have any published rules governing the decisions behind their ratings, but when a filmmaker doesn’t agree with a rating, they have two options.
      • They can either appeal, OR change the movie based on notes from the ratings board. 
        • HMM, sound familiar?? Remember: this is NOT a censorship organization. 
        • No appeal has ever been filmed or recorded, but directors say that they are not allowed to argue for precedent. For example, if your film was rated R for a scene similar to that of a previous film that got PG-13, you will not be allowed to bring this up.
      • In “This Film is Not Yet Rated,” filmmaker Matt Stone accused the MPAA of favoring major studios over independent ones. For example, he says that when he got an NC-17 rating for an independent film, he was told that he couldn’t receive notes on how to change it, as that would be censorship. But, when he made the South Park movie with Paramount, he was given a list of suggestions on how to avoid the NC-17 rating.
      • What is so wrong with an NC-17 rating? Well, the MPAA won’t help you distribute the film, most theaters won’t show it, and some major retailers like Wal-Mart, won’t sell it. It could be a financial death sentence for your film. 
    • Eighth Grade
      • In 2018, the studio A-24 released the film “Eighth Grade” with an R-rating. Many were critical of the decision, as actual eighth graders could not see the film. The main reason for the R rating was language–fuck is said 5 times.
      • Due to this, 50 theaters across the US participated in a no-rating-enforced screening. This isn’t the first time a theater has released a film without a rating so that younger viewers can see it, but it was notable because AMC, Regal, and Cinemark participated as well.

MPAA AND NETFLIX

  • In 2006 Netflix produced the documentary “This Film is Not Yet Rated” with the BBC.
  • However, Netflix would end up joining the MPAA the same year that their film Roma was nominated for Oscars.
    • They are now, according to an Indie Wire article by Steve Greene, yet another “major entertainment entity to become a dues-paying member to the organization.” 
    • They made history by becoming the first streaming service to do so. 
    • Tom Brueggemann from IndieWire said,“The MPAA consists of companies who pursue profits from making feature films, and Netflix wouldn’t be joining them if it didn’t want the same. But this new member tells us that all companies want to supplement what theaters have to offer.”

In a 2012 Entertainment weekly article there were some suggestions on how this system could be fixed. These were some of their suggestions:

  • Focus on the content advisories and not the ratings.
    • The rating system should be taken with a grain of salt. These are not gods or even film experts. Pay attention to why a movie was given a certain rating before you decide to go see it or to let your child see it.
  • End the R-rating for the use of just one word.
    • It’s incredibly arbitrary that the inclusion of one word more than once results in an R rating. When the Hays code was outdated, movie guidelines got a much-needed revision. The MPAA rating system claims to adapt to the times and changing social mores of our society. This is one aspect that feels archaic. 
  • Reform the board itself.
    • Add more experts on child psychology–the board has clergy, why not have scientists as well? 
    • Make the system more transparent, and allow filmmakers to quote precedent while making their appeals; this would require formal decisions by the board that are known to the public, but why not?
      • Maybe we should treat unrated films as if they aren’t so taboo–how about we release them as the director wanted and then we can watch and decide for ourselves? 

The main takeaway is that the system is a guide. It is not the end-all-be-all of whether a film is appropriate or not. Sometimes you will agree, sometimes you won’t–but see the movie yourself if you’re concerned about your child watching. 

SOURCES:

The Muppet Case

In the mid 1950’s, a young man obsessed with television was about to get a degree in set design,  when he saw an ad in a newspaper. It was from the local TV station, looking for performers for a new show. They were looking specifically for puppeteers, and although he knew nothing about that, he got a couple books from the library and created his own puppets for the audition. The man was Jim Henson, and even though the show he auditioned for was short-lived, it set him on the path of changing the puppet medium, and television, forever. 

But this episode isn’t about Jim Henson (don’t worry, we’ll get there). Today, we’re taking a specific look at one of his most well-known and beloved creations: The Muppet Show. The Muppet show aired from 1976 to 1981, five seasons of perfect insanity and uninhibited joy. It followed Kermit, a hapless producer and host of a weekly variety show, and the rest of the Muppets as they put together a live performance with a special guest. The show followed back-stage hijinks, and even included commentary from Statler and Waldorf, grumpy critics from the upper balcony. 

The show became more popular than anyone could have imagined, and the appeal of The Muppets continues today. So, it’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to learn about the Muppets on the BCD tonight!The Muppet Case 

JIM HENSON’S EARLIER WORK

  • Back in the 1950’s, an 18-year-old Jim Henson put together an old felt coat and two halves of a ping-pong ball. Placing his hand inside, he brought his creation to life: a charismatic monster named Kermit. He would use the puppet on a local TV station’s 5-minute time slot between the evening news and the Tonight Show. It was called, “Sam and Friends.” 
  • Along with his future wife, Jane Nebel, Jim had been working on various shows on the local TV station in the Washington, DC area. His creations, that he started to call Muppets, essentially changed the game for puppeteering, and he was given his own program with more freedom. 
    • Up to this point, puppets weren’t considered a versatile medium. They were often rigid, made of wood or plastic, and while they appeared on various children’s programming, they were not commonly used in adult entertainment.
      • Jim Henson changed this by building new types of puppets with various materials. They were more flexible, and easy to manipulate. They also had a lot of character, as he constantly used new technology to give his creations movable features and expressions
    • While working on the show, Jim hired Jerry Juhl, a puppeteer and friend of future Muppet performer Frank Oz. Juhl was Henson’s first employee, and he even filled in for Jane on the final season of Sam and Friends.
  • Juhl moved to New York with Jim and Jane to help them put together their team of puppeteers, and he began to work as a freelance writer in the late 1960’s. He also followed Jim to Sesame street in 1969 as a performer and writer.
  • Eventually Juhl moved to California to pursue writing further, and would help with Jim Henson’s projects from afar. 
  • This relationship is incredibly important, as Juhl was vital to the creation of the Muppet show and the signature humor of the Muppet characters.

THE MAKING OF THE MUPPET SHOW

One of the pseudo pilots- The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence
  • In 1969, audiences everywhere met the lovable and unique Muppet Characters through the widely distributed Sesame Street. Although the show gave his characters exposure, Henson was afraid that he was becoming typecast as a children’s entertainer. 
    • Although the content that Jim and Jane created wasn’t inherently for children, the public eye saw puppets as a means of entertaining children. Popular children’s shows like Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody often used puppets, which cemented this mentality. 
    • The creatures Henson created were brightly colored, and had a friendly look that attracted younger audiences. But, he believed his Muppets were for all ages, as the characters themselves have a wide range of ages.
  • To attempt to get out of this, he began to play with the concept of a more adult oriented program. Two television specials were produced for ABC and are pseudo pilots for The Muppet Show. They were The Muppets Valentine Show (1974) and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence (1975). At the time, neither of the two specials were ordered to series. 
    • The Valentine Show was written by Jerry Juhl, while Sex and Violence was not. Juhl’s writing voice was now a signature part of Jim Henson’s work, and the Muppets were not as successful without it. 
    • One great thing that came from Sex and Violence was the introduction of Statler and Waldorf, who became staples on The Muppet Show.
  • After the prime-time access rule was enacted, networks were able to shift their 7:30-8pm time slot to their affiliates. This helped convince CBS to consider airing some of Jim Henson’s show proposals, though he would have to go across the pond in order for him to get a green-lit series.
  • Luckily for Henson, British TV station ATV was interested in having his creations appear in a weekly show. He would have to move production to London, and Henson called his best writer Jerry Juhl to come on and develop the show. The station allowed Henson to hire Juhl, but they would not give him the head writer role, as they were looking for a more established comedian, and they hired Jack Burns.
    • The team met to develop the concept of the show, and they would pull elements from both specials. One of these ideas was the “show within a show” format, with a human guest that the characters can play off of.
    • This meant that Jim Henson’s manager Bernie Brillstein would have to find celebrities willing to travel to the UK and appear on the show. This was difficult in the beginning, but once the show became popular, celebrities were calling him!
      • With his team in the UK, Jim filmed two pilot episodes that they attempted to sell to US networks.
  • Meanwhile, the Muppets were featured during the first 1975-76 season of Saturday Night Live. Although they lasted for only that one season on Saturday Night Live, Henson and his team learned a great deal from being involved in the show’s production. They gained knowledge about adapting the current affairs of the world as well as quickly creating a television episode within a seven-day period. Henson also gained friendships with many celebrities through his work on SNL that were later able to be guests on The Muppet Show. 
    • This experience also helped Henson and his team to figure out the personalities of the Muppet characters and how they could be used on their own show.
  • Because Jim had been using the characters for TV appearances for almost 20 years already, he had well-set ideas for them and knew where they could fit in the show. All of the pieces were coming together.
    • Jim Henson chose one of his most well-known puppets, Kermit, to be the host of The Muppet Show. Kermit was originally a character that had trouble finding his footing. He seemed rough and a little rude, often criticizing other characters and frequently yelling. Placing the character as a frustrated stage manager really changed the context of his personality and made him a much more relatable character–someone who just wants things to go right. 
  • After leaving SNL, the creators were able to focus more on the show. They made huge improvements on the characters, based on the notes from the networks that did not want to buy The Muppet Show. The team went back to London and set up a studio to make the endless amounts of puppets needed. 
    • The next episode was far more successful, and the actors started to understand their characters. It also introduced Scooter! 
    • Each episode improved on the last, an incredible feat. Being able to adapt is what made Jim Henson and the Muppet performers so special, and it’s how the show lasted as long as it did.
    • There were cases of violence on the show, but Jim Henson was generally against any kind of TV violence, but the beauty of using puppets meant that viewers always knew that no one was getting hurt.
  • The Muppet Show first aired in September of 1976. By Christmas of the same year, the series saw around 14 million viewers on Sunday evenings in the UK. In January 1977, over 100 countries had either acquired the series or were making offers. 

SHOW PRODUCTION

  • The show had multiple writers. Jerry Juhl, who was appointed head writer for season 2, conveyed that there is a lot of freedom in writing a show like this. He said you can write down any insane fantasy you can think of on paper and there are people standing by to make it happen. 
  • Episodes were typically written a couple months before recording.
    • The other writers included: 
      • Don Hinkley
      • David Odell who began working with them first in the Muppet Movie.
      • Chris Langham
        • He was the only English writer and Jim Henson said  that he had an off the wall sense of humor.
  • The crew would start building sets about 5-6 weeks before they were needed on the show.
  • The Workshop was where the puppets were created and oftentimes they would spring ideas on the builders at the last minute.
    • In order to have multiple puppets throughout the series with different personalities they created The Whatnots. These puppets had blank faces that you could add features like eyes, noses, mouths and wigs in order to give character and personality. They had a variety of sizes, colors, etc for the features and they were typically attached via tape or pins.
    • Most, if not almost all, of the characters did not exist below the waist meaning they didn’t have legs. The trick was convincing the audience that there was a whole world for them and that they have their own reality. 
  • Stages of events leading up to a show
    • The first day was a script read-through and music rehearsal for vocals.
    • The Second day they would record the band and vocals.
    • Next they were in the studio rehearsing and videotaping the action.
    • Each episode of course had its own set of problems or hurdles to jump over.
    • They typically spent about three days shooting everything for the week’s episode. Sometimes a seemingly small number like, The Viking number (In the Navy), can take an entire day to perfect for an episode.
  • Philip Casson and Peter Harris were television directors that switched back and forth between weeks and would control the final product of what the audience sees on the television. They acted as regular television directors, but also dealt with the special problems that arise with working with puppets.
    • Richard Holloway would be the in-between for these two directors and those that were controlling the puppets. 
    • In order for the actors to see what the audience would see, there were monitors all around on the ground. They needed to make sure that every actor was looking at a monitor in order for them to fully understand the world that they were creating.

THE MUPPET PERFORMERS

  • The stars of the Muppets were of course those that controlled the Muppets. These performers became known as a Muppeteer. This term simply means a puppeteer for the Muppets. They each manipulate the puppets, provide voices, and bring a life, attitude, and character to the diverse characters.
    • The term Muppeteer derives from a portmanteau of “Muppet” and “Puppeteer”. This term has been used as early as the 1960’s in order to help promote Muppet projects. 
    • However, according to Brian Jay Jones, author of 2013’s Jim Henson: The Biography, Henson was not a big fan of the term. His entry reads:
      • “There was one term that Jim expressly would not allow to be used to describe his performers—and that was the word Muppeteer. While the media and others would use the term freely to describe Jim’s occupation, Jim thought it was just a bit too gimmicky. In 1984, when the Apple computer company sent Jim a mock-up of a page from its annual report proudly hailing Jim as an Apple user and listing his occupation as “Muppeteer,” Jim scratched darkly through the term and wrote “Muppet performer” beneath it. He was a performer or a puppeteer, not a Muppeteer.”
  • Many of the performers acted as many characters throughout the show. 
    • The men behind the Muppets had pros and cons of not being the seen stars. On one hand they weren’t recognized, so they could shop in peace. On the other hand they were not recognized, so they were not seen as famous. 
    • Jim Henson himself performed as the voices of Kermit, Rowlf, Waldorf, and even the “Mahna Mahna” singer.
      • Mahna Mahna originally appeared on Sesame Street! 
      • Jim Henson saw himself as Kermit. They were both trying to hold together a bunch of crazies.
    • Frank Oz voiced Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Snowths, and T.R Rooster.
      • Jim Henson said that he credits Frank Oz with one of the reasons that the Muppet Show is so funny. 
        • Frank Oz was such a big part of the show.
        • He was such a great performer, which was his absolute best attribute.
    • Richard Hunt voiced Scooter, Statler, Wayne, and in some cases, Miss Piggy, as well as Miss Piggy’s Dancing Partner.
    • Dave Goelz voiced Gonzo, Muppy, Miss Kitty, and Zoot
      • He was encouraged to perform by Jim Henson, and didn’t necessarily believe in his own ability. This made Gonzo seem a little quiet and childish, as Goelz was a shy performer. 
      • Gonzo developed to be a complex character that has a sensitive quality to him that other Muppets lack.
    • All of these performers would also voice many more minor or one off characters, along with additional voices from Jerry Nelson, Louise Gold, Steve Whitmire, and Kathryn Mullen.

GUEST STARS

  • After 5 seasons and 120 episodes, The Muppet Show never repeated a guest. According to manager Bernie Brillstein, celebrities contacted the show and asked to come on!
  • The initial contact with a guest is a phone call, where they find out information about the guest and figure out how to play to their strengths.
  • David Lazer the Executive Producer would be the one to guide each guest star through the week. 
  • Some of their most popular guests were: 
    • Julie Andrews 
    • John Denver
    • Gene Kelley
    • Elton John
    • Dom Deluise
    • Bob Hope
    • Steve Martin
    • Carol Burnett
    • John Cleese

RECEPTION

  • The Muppet Show was an unprecedented piece of television, because no other prime-time show had attempted to make its main characters puppets. It allowed both adults and children to come together and was more popular that anyone could have imagined. 
    • Jim Henson was thrilled with the success, but he couldn’t shake the fear that audiences saw the Muppets as children’s characters.
      • Network executives were seemingly the only ones who saw it this way.
    • It left such an impact that there have been several movies and shows since. Some classics are: The Muppet Movie, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Treasure Island.
  • The show was well received and was given awards, even early on!
    • 1977 the British Academy Television Award for Best Entertainment Programme
    • 1978 British Academy Television Award for Most Original Programme/Series
    • 1978 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy-Variety Or Music Program
    • 1979 The Peabody Award
    • 1979/1980 WGA Award for Best Variety Series or Special: Musical or Comedy – Television
    • 1980 The Raven Award
    • 1981 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing – Variety Series- to Jerry Juhl

It has been 44 years now since The Muppet Show first aired and we are still seeing its influence and characters today. On the Disney+ streaming service they have even put out a new series titled Muppets Now which is labeled as an improvisational comedy based on the franchise.

SOURCES:

The Case of June Foray

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In the late 1920’s, a new type of job was created in Hollywood. The era of silver screen silence was ending, and actors were introducing their voices to audiences everywhere. With the invention of talking pictures came the need for more and more animated and live-action film. Studios began hiring men and women as the disembodied voices of Hollywood, and they were known as the “ghost stars”.

Some of these stars were singers, just starting their careers before becoming well-known and fully-fledged talent. Others were actors transitioning from radio. Most of this army of audio would go uncredited, and are still unnamed today. 

Out of these voices, a talented young woman stood out. Her name was June, and despite her small frame, she would become a giant of the voice acting world. Throughout her stunning 85-year career, June Foray became known as The First Lady of Animated Voicing. Audiences heard her growl, chirp, and sing. She was old, young, a woman and a man all at once. Her career started when voice acting was brand new, and she dedicated her life to the profession.

Today is a special day because we get to talk about one of our heroes. Have you ever watched granny in Looney Tunes? How about Rocky and Bullwinkle? Have you seen Mulan, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, or Cinderella? If you said yes to any of those, you have heard June Foray.  The Case of June Foray 

EARLY LIFE

  • June Lucille Forer was born on September 18th, 1917 in Springfield, MA to Ida and Maurice Forer. 
    • Maurice was of Russian ancestry, and Ida was French Canadian
  • June always referred to her parents as supportive people, so when she announced at the age of 6 that she wanted to be a performer, her mother enrolled her in dance lessons
    • Apparently a performer named Eleanor Powell was born in her hometown, and Ida thought that enrolling June in dance class would help her become a dancer in Hollywood
    • Well to her relief, June caught pneumonia and had to stop dancing lessons. So, her mother enrolled her in piano (which June also hated.)
    • June broke a finger playing baseball with her brother Bertram, and had to also quit piano (again to her relief.)
  • June knew she wanted to be an actress. She knew it when she would go to the theatre with her family and come home doing impressions of the actors. She knew when her mother would have her perform in front of her bridge club. Ever since she was old enough to understand the concept of a job, she wanted her job to be acting. But, what kind of acting? Well that would come later. 
    • When June finally told her mother that an actress was her chosen profession, her mother supported that too. June’s parents hired acting teachers to help her learn the craft.
    • One of these teachers had a radio show, and even though June had imagined herself as a stage actress, the idea of acting on the radio sounded interesting to her. 
  • When a 12-year-old June provided the voice of an elderly woman in a radio program in 1929, her 85-year-long career as a voice actress began!
    • She later said that the voice she did then was similar to the one she created for Granny in the Looney Tunes!
  • In her Television Academy interview, June remembered confronting the radio station and asking to join their group of actors for radio programs. Much to her joy and surprise, they agreed. 
    • Her time in Massachusetts radio was short-lived, as June’s parents decided to move to California when she was in her late teens. Even though she was already doing radio at that time June still believed that she would be acting on the stage. Because of her move to Hollywood, she continued voice work and never looked back.
  • At age 15, June started writing children’s stories for the radio. When she moved to California, she would go to radio stations and ask to be on the air for free, so she could read the stories that she wrote and play all the parts. She called herself, “Lady Make-Believe.” 
    • They introduced children to classic literary characters and encouraged them to read. Eventually, she was able to turn the stories into audio books, but there were over 300 stories and many of them were never recorded. 
    • It was on the air for about three years, and it went through the school system so children could hear it during classes.

FIRST PROJECTS

  • While June Foray has done many voices, there were a lot of times when she was not credited. Since then many people have come to appreciate, love, and know how special and important she was in the animation world. 
    • No one truly knows for certain when June Foray began branching out from radio to film and TV. It may have been as early as the 1930’s, but because she was uncredited, like most voice actors at the time, we can’t be sure. Her first credit on IMDB is a Looney Tunes short called, “Daffy’s Southern Exposure.” She played a character named Carmen Miranda alongside Mel Blanc and Billy Bletcher.
  • The Egg Cracker Suite (1943) and The Unbearable Bear (1943) were also some of her early works. In the Egg Cracker Suite she is the voice of Oswald the lucky rabbit which was mechanically sped up. The Unbearable Bear was directed by Chuck Jones. June Foray was the voice for Mrs. Bear and several other various voices.
    • At this time June was about 26 years old.
    • Around this time, June started writing scripts for the office of civilian defense during WWII.
    • June provided sounds for a live-action series of shorts called, “Speaking of Animals” throughout the 1940’s, and in the 1950’s she began working for Looney Tunes.
    • These roles led to what she and everyone else would refer to as her first major animation role. It was the 1950 classic Cinderella.
      • “Someone at Disney heard one of the many children’s records I had done for Capitol and called me in to do the sounds of Lucifer the Cat,” recalled June. “But I never got to meet Walt.”
    • Her next Disney credit would be for the short, “Trick or Treat” in 1952, as the character Witch Hazel. 
      • You might remember that she voiced another character of the same name for Looney Tunes! She did this voice first, however, and Disney’s witch Hazel did not last long after a few short films.
    • In 1953, June voiced a mermaid in Disney’s Peter Pan
      • What is interesting about this credit is that she was not only the voice of one of the mermaids but also a reference model along with Margaret Kerry and Connie Hilton. They wore their swimsuits, had their legs tied together, and slid around on wood planks with cloth that were built up to create a makeshift rock above water. 
      • She also did the voice for one of the Squaw characters
    • Besides the various animal sounds and bit parts that June performed for The Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, her most famous voice was that of Granny. June was not the first person to voice granny, but she took over around 1955 and continued to voice the character for the next 50 years, and even appeared in the film Space Jam. 
      • June was not the only actor not credited for Looney Tunes shorts. I have found from multiple sources that Mel Blanc had it in his contract that he would be the only person credited for voicing the Looney Tune characters. 
      • “There were never any credits for voices. Walter Lantz was the first one who ever gave actors credit. And now that I think about it, and I look back and see these films I think ‘Who did this? Who did that? I wonder who did it?’ And I think everybody else feels the same way, and it’s a shame. All the in-betweeners, the animators, the directors, the writers, everybody got credit, but the actors didn’t. I guess we weren’t that important. Except we were.”
      • As audiences noticed how prolific June Foray was, they started to call her the female Mel Blanc. Director Chuck Jones was quoted saying, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.” It’s a remark that was even included in her obituary. 

BIGGEST ROLES

  • Rocky the Squirrel 1959
    • In the late 1950’s, June was invited to lunch with the producer Jay Ward. He asked her to voice a character for an upcoming project about a Squirrel and a Moose. It would be an animated satire, and June initially thought that the idea sounded a little crazy. 
      • In interviews she would tell the story of the lunch, and remember the fact that the producers were drinking martinis. June could not believe that they would be drinking alcohol at lunchtime. After they convinced her to have a drink with them, the idea of the show sounded a lot more appealing to her. 
    • Rocky the squirrel is without a doubt the number one role for June Foray. It’s her masterpiece, the peak of her talent. Rocky was a character that everyone loved, an all-american flying squirrel and lovable companion to the bumbling Bullwinkle.
      • Rocky and Bullwinkle is a show that has stood the test of time, and it was even made into a film in 1999. At the time, June was the only living member of the original cast, and she returned to play Rocky again. Rocky was, fittingly, her last performance as well for a DreamWorks reboot in 2014. She was 96 at the time. 
    • Natasha Fatale
      • Many fans of The Bullwinkle Show remember Boris and Natasha as vaguely Russian characters, but June Foray specifically gave Natasha a more broad continental accent, as the characters were not from Russia but Pottslevania.
    • Sherman
      • Sherman was Peabody’s companion in the Wayback machine and were counted among Rocky and Bullwinkle’s friends.
      • June also played various parts for the Fractured Fairy Tales series, and was the most prominent female voice on the program.
    • “It was like going to a party every time we had a recording session. There was no drinks, no alcohol, no donning of lampshades. But everybody ragged each other. We told jokes and Jay Ward the producer would join in, and he would say, ‘Well OK, let’s start recording.'”
  • Chatty Cathy 1959
    • June was approached by the popular CBS series, “The Twilight Zone” to voice a pivotal character in a 1963 episode called, “Living Doll.”
    • In this terrifying episode, June lent her voice to “Talky Tina” a living doll that terrorizes a young girl’s stepfather
    • This was an example of art imitating life, as June was specifically chosen for the role because she voiced Chatty Kathy, an incredibly popular doll from 1959.
  • Cindy Lou-Who in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas 1966
    • She had one line, but she was the only character beside the Grinch to speak 
  • Various voices in Frosty the Snowman 1969 but most notably she did the voice-over of the little girl Karen.
  • Raggedy Ann in the tv short the Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile 1979
  • Grammi Gummi in Adventures of the Gummi Bears 1985
  • Magica in Ducktales 1987
  • Queen Tabitha 1994 in Thumbelina 
  • Grandmother Fa 1998 in Mulan
  • Mrs. Cauldron from The Garfield Show 2009
    • For this role, June Foray won her first Emmy at age 94. At the time, she was the oldest person to win an emmy

AWARDS

  • June Foray was so influential that not only did she receive awards she helped to develop one of the biggest organizations that champions the art of animation and its creators. ASIFA- Hollywood is the International Animated Film Association located in Los Angeles California. In order to secure funds to begin this non-profit organization June Foray would go so far as to sell animation cels in her own backyard.
    • The first award that she created with the help of her husband (who came up with the name) was the Annie Award. The first recipients were Max and Dave Fleischer for their creation of Betty Boop, Popeye, Olive Oyl, and their technique of rotoscoping.
  • In 1982 she was awarded the Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • In 1995 ASIFA-Hollywood instituted the June Foray Award which would of course be awarded to her first. It recognizes people who have positively impacted the art and industry of animation.
  • 1997 and 1998 she was the Winner of an Annie Award, both for voicing Granny in The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries tv show.
  • In June of the year 2000 she was awarded a Hollywood Walk of Fame star.
  • Her first Emmy was received in 2012 for voicing Mrs. Cauldron on The Garfield Show.
  • 2013 Governor’s Award at the Primetime Emmy Awards recognizing her achievements as an individual.
  • 2014 Behind The Voice Actors Award for best female vocal performance in a tv series (supporting role). This was awarded for her voice of Granny in 2011’s The Looney Tunes Show.There are prominent voice actors today, but chances are, there will never be another voice as versatile and prolific as June Foray. We’ve talked before about films hiring celebrity voices for characters, and this was June’s take on the issue: 

When asked about celebrities being cast over voice actors June said “We are all doing supplementary parts while Cameron Diaz is getting paid $10 million. The stars receive millions of dollars for doing voices for animated films, and then there is the poor actor who has to struggle to make at least $15,000 a year just to keep his benefits. A lot of the young people–wonderful, good, solid voice actors–have families and are buying homes, and work is bad for them. Frankly, I don’t think simply because a star’s name is on it that is going to sell the film if it’s not good. You get big stars doing live-action films, and if it’s a flop, their appearance doesn’t alter the basic outcome.”

QUOTES: 

“I used to lie about my age because I don’t look it and I don’t sound it and I’m still working. And when I was 60 I looked like 35 or 40. And so I’ve always lied about my age. But some son of a gun put it on a computer. I don’t know how he got it.”

In her Television Academy interview she said, “I love everything I do with all of the parts that I do because there’s a little bit of me in all of them. We all have anger and jealousy and love and hope in our natures. We try to communicate that vocally with just sketches that you see on the screen and make it come alive and make it human. That’s what I enjoy doing.”


When voice acting was new, it wasn’t glamorous. But June Foray entered the profession with all her heart, and brought joy to countless lives. June Foray wanted to be a voice actor. She did it without credit, she did it (sometimes) without pay. June Foray was a master of her craft, and her talent was unparalleled. She dedicated 85 years of her life to bringing joy to animation, and for that we will be forever grateful.

SOURCES:

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004931/

https://annieawards.org/juried-awards/june-foray/biography-june-foray

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jul/30/june-foray-obituary

https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/June_Foray

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-03-26-va-15563-story.html

https://tralfaz.blogspot.com/2013/08/they-never-got-credit.html

https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2012/09/27/voice-june-foray

https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/interviews/june-foray

https://www.mouseplanet.com/11851/Remembering_June_Foray

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0004931/bio