A petition has been created asking the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to honor voice actor June Foray with an honorary Oscar in advance of her 100th birthday, to be presented at the 89th Academy Awards in 2017. Please sign it here.
When it comes to contemporary voice actors there are a staggering number of individuals providing their vocal talents to numerous films and TV shows. The field is filled with those who are primarily devoted to that craft and others who perform that function alongside regular live acting and performing gigs. The former includes Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy”) and Hank Azaria (“The Simpsons”), while the latter boasts the likes of Amy Poehler (“Inside Out”) and Kevin Hart (“The Secret Life of Pets”) — to name a very, very few.
There are legends in this field who are no longer with us today, Mel Blanc (who voiced Bugs Bunny and many other Warner Bros. cartoon characters) being one of the standouts. But there is one who turned 99 on September 18: June Foray.
June is best known as the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, as exemplified in the title of her book “Did You Grow Up with Me, Too?” (Click here to purchase.) Many of us can answer a resounding “yes” to the question in the book’s title, and point to “Rocky and His Friends” as the cartoon series that shaped our sense of humor as kids. That program broke the wall between character and viewer which could be appreciated regardless of how old — or young — you were.
There were few cartoons if any from that era that would have the audacity to have the characters argue with the show’s narrator (William Conrad), or inadvertently upset celebrities when punning on their names — including most famously a plot that centered on a hat called the Kerwood Derby, which incensed its subject (“Candid Camera” announcer Durward Kirby) to the point of sending show producer Jay Ward a cease and desist letter.
While any voice actor would welcome being identified with a single iconic cartoon character like Rocky, one has to look no further than the book’s forward by film historian Leonard Maltin for an indication of June Foray’s legacy. In it Maltin recounts that at an Oscar Nominees’ luncheon in 2007 he asked director Martin Scorsese who amongst the dozens of luminaries was Scorsese excited to meet there: “He smiled and said, “June Foray!”
Early in her career there were forays (pun not intended, but appropriate) as an actor in stage and film but she found success as a voice actor. In her autobiography June calls out the high points in here career, and what follows are notable but only scratch the surface of her incredible career.
June Foray worked with many other animation legends, including Mel Blanc and Chuck Jones at Warner Bros. One of the animated shorts where she and Blanc were both involved was “Broomstick Bunny,” a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1956 where June voiced Witch Hazel.
Ironically June had provided the voice work for a character by that same name in a Donald Duck short from 1952 titled “Trick or Treat.” Not many performers could boast voicing the same character for competing studios Warner Bros and Disney.
In 1959, Mattel created Chatty Cathy, a doll that would “talk” when a string located in her back was pulled. June was commissioned by the toy maker to record a number of the different phrases that Cathy would say (like “I love You,” and “Let’s play house”).
A few years later June Foray would provide voices for a very different kind of doll. The 1963 episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled “Living Doll” centered around a similar but sinister toy named “Talky Tina.” June must have had fun knowing the absurdity of being the voice for both the real, sweet doll, and the fictional evil one who wanted her stepfather dead (portrayed by Telly Savalas).
Of course, June will always be identified first and foremost with that plucky squirrel Rocky. Jay Ward’s cartoons may have been primitive compared to the classic movie shorts that preceded it, but there is no denying that for what was supposed to be a kiddie show the groundbreaking program captured the hearts and funny bones of countless fans.
Rocky, sidekick Bullwinkle the Moose, and “a host of others” (as deadpanned by Bill Conrad in the show’s original intro) would mangle the English language, cultural icons, cartoon conventions, movie serials, children’s’ literature, political disputers, and even many more idioms, all to the delight of both adults and kids.
June’s book demonstrates that her show business career as a performer is as varied as it is long. She was Jerry Lewis’ go-to performer for looping sessions on his movies. She performed with satirist Stan Freberg on many of his recordings. She worked with designer Saul Bass on short subjects that he created. She joined the Motion Picture Academy’s board of governors, rallying for a Best Animated Feature Oscar years before one was actually created. She has still been active in recent years, providing voice work for Disney’s “Mulan,” among others.
It’s astounding that June Foray is still with us as of this writing, and hopefully will be able to celebrate her 100th birthday next year. But what is equally astounding is that she has not received an honor as prestigious as an honorary Oscar for her achievements over her long career.
This is why a petition has been created asking the Board of Governors for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The 89th Academy Awards ceremony is only a few months away. Please sign the petition to show that you agree that it’s not only time June has been recognized for her work, but that it’s also long overdue — too long. It would be a great early 100th birthday present from her fans including those in the entertainment industry.
Can this be successful? Rocky himself might be incredulous. But you never know, and someone who knows him best might be right…
“But Bullwinkle, that trick never works.”
“Rocky, this time for sure…”
Sign the petition here.
©2016 Mike Tiano. All Rights Reserved.
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