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

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