Remembering June Foray

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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The passing of noted voice artist June Foray on July 26 at the age of 99 (just 54 days short of her 100th birthday) has been accompanied by many obituaries touting her most familiar voice work from Rocky the Flying Squirrel in Rocky and Bullwinkle to Granny in a host of Tweety and Sylvester cartoons to even mentions of her doing Cindy Lou Who in How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Jokey Smurf in Hanna-Barbera's popular Saturday morning animated series.

In her more than 80 years of professional work where she was never unemployed, her career included radio, theatrical shorts, feature films, television, record albums (particularly with satirist Stan Freberg who said, "whatever the age, whatever the accent, June could always do it."), video games, commercials, talking toys, and other media.

She sometimes appeared on camera as well including the role of "Marku Ponjoy," High Priestess of a fire cult, in the film Sabaka (1954) starring Boris Karloff.

With so many accomplishments, it is sometimes easy to forget her contributions to the world of Disney.

When you ride the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at a Disney theme park and hear a worried wife admonishing Mayor Carlos to be brave and not to talk, even though he is being dunked in a well repeatedly by pirates trying to find the location of the town treasure, that's the voice of June Foray telling him not to be "cheeken."

When Lucifer the cat makes threatening sounds to the scared little mice in the animated feature film Cinderella (1950), that's the voice of June Foray in what she always claimed was her first major animation role.

When a frazzled Witch Hazel conjures up incantations to punish Donald Duck for not giving Halloween treats to his three nephews, that's the voice of June Foray, who also did the voice for a Witch Hazel in Warner Brothers' cartoons.

When the mermaids in Peter Pan (1953) lounge seductively on the rocks of Mermaid Lagoon, that's animation based on live-action reference footage of June Foray in a swimsuit who, among other things, was blowing on a shell horn.

"There were three of us," Margaret Kerry who did the live action reference modeling for Tinker Bell told me in an interview. "June Foray and Connie Hilton and me. They tied our legs together, and they had us sliding and slipping all over this built-up area of wooden planks that was supposed to be rocks that we were sitting on. We were in one piece bathing suits on these wood planks with cloth. And we had the most fun. June was always fun and a top professional."


June Foray, Margaret Kerry and Connie Hilton were the live-action reference models for the mermaids in Peter Pan.

When Scrooge McDuck has to fight off the villainous Magicia De Spell in the original Duck Tales television series that's the voice of June Foray as the sorceress.

When Mulan's spunky paternal Grandmother Fa gives her a cricket for luck, that's the voice of June Foray, as well. Marni Nixon did the singing voice for the character as she has for many people including Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood in various films.

Foray has never had to audition for a role, and it was the same with the animated feature Mulan:

"It is my understanding that the producers had to replace someone who was unsatisfactory," she said. "They just called my agent and asked, `Can June be here at such and such a time?' They were so generous. They even sent a limo for me.

"It is the studio's best cartoon epic since The Lion King. It has heart. You have empathy for the characters. Voice work is not about doing funny voices. It is about helping bring a character to life and it is so much easier if you have a good character to begin with to do so.

"I always got to play older women and now I have finally caught up in age to that voice. I was performing old witches and grandmothers before I was old enough to be a grandmother."

The world is much too quiet now with the passing of June Foray, although her many contributions to Disney will continue to live on entertaining generations yet unborn.

Fortunately, she got a chance to catch a small glimpse of how much people loved her when, on December 30, 2016, she was the victim of a fake news story that she had died.

The instant flood of sincere appreciation for all she has done and all the lives she has unselfishly touched in a positive way was overwhelming. She outlived most of her contemporaries and was one of the last survivors from the Golden Age of animation.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to know June Foray and even briefly interview her about her work for Disney.

In June 1992, Foray wrote the foreword for a book I had written that was never published titled Hooked: Peter Pan on Stage and Screen. We had known each other because of our work with ASIFA-Hollywood and I was impressed by her graciousness and enthusiasm in helping out an aspiring book author.

In 1998, I got a chance to interview her on stage at the Animation Celebration at the Disney Institute in Orlando where she was promoting Mulan and even got a chance to do a cold reading with her in front of the audience from an animation script neither of us had previously seen.

One of the most memorable moments of my life was after we finished and she turned to me and in front of the audience said, "You were pretty good. I'm impressed."

Once again, she was gracious and supportive even though she didn't need to be. It was just her nature to be so wonderful and I saw her being unselfishly bolstering of so many people over the years.

She was an intelligent, articulate, talented, passionate, funny, hard working, generous and attractive petite spitfire who seemed ageless.

The title of June Foray's 2009 autobiography was Did You Grow Up With Me Too? She was assisted in sharing the memories of her career by writers Mark Evanier and Earl Kress who, like everyone else, were huge Foray fans.

Actually, not everyone was a Foray fan. She was put on President Nixon's infamous "Enemies List" and was audited by the IRS for nearly a decade for taking a stand on something she believed in. It was just another of the countless interesting anecdotes and events in her long, colorful life.

Millions of people grew up hearing her voice on a huge variety of animated cartoons for just about every animation studio for decades to intriguing ADR work for both men and women. For instance, she voiced several boys playing on the beach in Jaws (1975).

Even though she made on-camera appearances, including several weeks doing comedy sketches on Johnny Carson's Carson's Cellar television program in 1953, she used to joke she liked working off camera where she could earn more money in less time.

In 1960, she provided the voice for Mattel's original popular selling "Chatty Cathy" doll and then, three years later, did the voice of the evil "Talky Tina" doll in an episode of The Twilight Zone ("Living Doll").

Of course, there were her many voices for animation. She worked for just about every studio that ever produced animation.

Born June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 18, 1917, she got into voice-over work at the age of 12, performing in a local radio drama. She moved to Los Angeles at age 17 and quickly established herself as a popular radio actress on national broadcasts. She had never been out of work for more than 80 years.

An article in the Van Nuys News from October 17, 1957 states: "In terms of size, Miss Foray is rather a small package of charming humanity. She is about 5 feet tall and weighs in the neighborhood of 97 pounds, even after her daily luncheon at the Vine St Brown Derby. But she's packed solidly with talent."

She always claimed her first major animation role came in 1950, playing Lucifer the Cat in Walt Disney's 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 in Cinderella," she recalled. "But I never got to meet Walt. Of all the years I worked for Disney, I never met Walt which is one of the saddest things in my life. But I know he must have liked my voice because they kept hiring me. I just have to take comfort that I worked for his studio. That's something."

Old issues of Radio Life magazine state that she did voices for cartoons in the 1940s. One of the earliest was probably The Unbearable Bear (1942) for Chuck Jones where she did the voice of Mrs. Bear. Her mechanically sped up voice can be heard in Walter Lantz's final Oswald the Rabbit cartoon, The Egg Cracker Suite (1943) where she does the voice of Oswald.

I am sure she did others, but I never challenged her story. I am surprised she could remember even a fraction of the many, many cartoons she had done. Even writer Mark Evanier has admitted that he might know only 10 percent of her overall credits, even after knowing her for decades and helping her with her autobiography.

In Disney's animated feature, Peter Pan, she played a mermaid, but did not do the voice. They put her in a bathing suit along with Margaret Kerry and Connie Hilton and filmed them performing on a makeshift wooden set resembling rocks for live-action reference for the animators. She did do the distinctive voice of the Squaw in the film who engages with Wendy.

In the Disney animated short Trick or Treat (1952), a very mean Donald Duck plays tricks on his three nephews, the trick-or-treating Huey, Dewey and Louie, instead of giving them treats. The boys are befriended by a real witch named Witch Hazel (voiced by June Foray) who uses some special spells to pry the treats from a reluctant Donald:

"I enjoyed directing Trick or Treat because I got a chance to work with a different personality. June Foray, who did such a great job as the voice of the witch, still mentions the film to me whenever I see her," said Jack Hannah in an interview I did with him in 1978. Hannah was a huge fan of Foray's and was always sorry they never had another chance to work together.

"I did Witch Hazel as a short at Disney," Foray told me. "She was a very funny character that I created the voice for. Chuck Jones loved it so much that he called me over to Warner Brothers to do her again. I went over there and they said, 'You're going to do Witch Hazel.'

"And I thought, 'how in hell are they going to do that?' Disney owns it and they're so litigious. But we did it," she said. "Chuck just went ahead and did it!" (Broom-Stick Bunny was released in 1956 and Foray was also the physical model for the "beautiful" version of the witch.)

"So I asked him, just a couple of years ago, 'How the heck did you ever do that and get away with it, taking a character out from under Disney's nose?' And he said, 'Because it was an alcohol rub! He didn't own the name!' So Disney couldn't capitalize on that or stop Chuck because it was already a copyrighted name," she said.

She felt that the Disney Studios preferred not to use her for awhile when she became so closely tied with distinctive characters in the Warner Brothers shorts.

In 1987, she did another witch for Disney in the television series DuckTales. She portrayed Magica De Spell and used a similar pseudo-Eastern European accent that she used to do Natasha Fatale, the cohort of sinister Boris Badenov, in the Rocky and Bullwinkle television series. The character was created in 1961 by comic book legend Carl Barks and wanted to steal the first dime that Scrooge McDuck had ever made thinking it contained some magical properties.

June also did Lena Hyena and Wheezy, the chain smoking weasel, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit; Ma Beagle, Mrs. Featherby and Scrooge's mother in DuckTales; Grammi Gummi in Adventures of the Gummi Bears; Mrs. Geef in the theatrical Goofy cartoons; assorted voices, including Lambert's mother, in the animated short Lambert the Sheepish Lion; Ma Tow Truck in Bonkers; Daisy Duck and Grandma Duck on some new material for the Disney weekly television show; the huge Squaw in Peter Pan; and other incidental voices that I have forgotten.

In the 1960s, she became a devoted advocate for the preservation and promotion of animation. She was the leading force of ASIFA-Hollywood, including holding sales of animation cels in her backyard to raise funds for the organization.

She also created the Annie Award (her husband coined the name) and the now-famous award ceremony in 1972. In 1995, ASIFA established the June Foray Award for "individuals who have made a significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation." She was the first recipient.

"I talk about animation, and my career in animation, and the success that animation has finally become. Instead of being second-class citizens in this world of show business, we are now attaining a dignity that should have been affording us many years ago," she stated several years ago.

In 2012, June received her first Emmy nomination and won in the category of Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for her role as Mrs. Cauldron, another witch character, on The Garfield Show. By doing so, she became, at age 94, the oldest entertainer to be nominated for, and to win, an Emmy Award at the time. Just another in the many groundbreaking achievements throughout her career.

On July 7, 2000 a star bearing the name "June Foray" was unveiled on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"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," she said in 2003.

The word "legend" is used very loosely these days, but if anyone deserved that title it was June Foray and she definitely deserves being considered a Disney Legend, as well. While her face might not have been recognizable to most people, her distinctive voices brought images of pencil and ink to memorable life. I wish I could hear what she would have to say about this small tribute to her, but I am grateful she led such a long and interesting life and at least knew how much she was so deeply loved and respected.

 

Comments

  1. By davidgra

    Thanks for reporting this. I somehow missed the news that she had died. I've had great admiration for her ever since I first learned who she was decades ago. The world has lost a great talent.

  2. By OrangeB

    Thank you for this article, Jim! A lovely tribute to an amazing, talented woman. There were many things in it that I did not know and am very glad I now do.

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