Last night, I went to the "June Foray Celebration" that was held at the Motion Picture Academy in honor of the voice-actor legend who passed away recently at the age of 99, after a remarkable 80-year career. She was still working up to a few years ago and won her first Emmy at the age of 95, for playing a witch (she played LOTS of witches, most notably Witch Hazel for Warner Bros. cartoons) in an episode of Garfield that Mark Evanier wrote and voice-directed. Mark served as the host last night and was one of the event's producers, along with Jerry Beck, Bob Bergen, Howard Green and Tom Sito, to give full credit.
The Academy Theater was so jammed -- and it's a very big theater -- that standing in line to get in was never a certainty. Eventually it started 20 minutes late, but it was thoroughly worth the wait.
Among some of the highlights, that I recall --
Of course footage of her as 'Rocky the Flying Squirrel,' her iconic role. And footage of June as both 'Natasha' and 'Nell' on Rocky and His Friends. And her scene as 'Cindy Lu Who' in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. And a scene of her as Grandmother Fa in Mulan. (She also played another famous grandmother, Tweety's owner, 'Granny' not to mention Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella, and 'Jokey Smurf'...sorry, that was a digression, and I could go on a really long time with the list, so let me continue with the evening...)
There was a wonderful Stan Freberg sketch that was a parody of Dragnet called, "Little Blue Riding Hood" (only the color has been changed to protect the innocent) that was such a huge hit recording in 1953 that Freberg, June and Dawes Butler -- the voice of 'Huckleberry Hound' among much more) were brought onto The Ed Sullivan Show to recreate it. The event's producers showed the Sullivan video.
(June did a lot of work for Freberg over the years, including his classic Stan Freberg presents The United States of America album. I met her a couple of times, the first by chance at a film industry event, but on the second occasion I knew she'd be there, so I brought along a hilarious 8-minute promotional 45 RPM record she had done with Freberg 30 years earlier for, of all things, a swimsuit company, Rose Marie Reid. She was stunned to see it, and happily signed the record's label -- which I subsequently asked Freberg to sign, as well, several years later.)
Nancy Cartwright -- the voice of 'Bart Simpson' -- told about some lovely memories of being friends with June and working together on The Simpsons.
They had footage of June winning her Emmy at the Daytime Emmy Awards (which had not been telecast), and also showed her receiving a second Emmy, the Governor's Award, which she was presented with later during a Primetime broadcast. Mark told a great story about accompanying her to that first event. He's written about it on his site, and I can't do it justice, so I won't try. But the point of it comes at the end of that evening when Mark (a large 6'3") and June (a small 4'11) were leaving and neared the rope-line jammed with a mass of fans hoping to see their favorite soap opera stars, making it very difficult to get away. The female emcee didn't have a clue who they were and asked Mark, rather than the tiny 95-year-old woman, if he had won an Emmy, "No, she did," he said, pointing to June and explaining she was the voice of 'Rocky the Flying Squirrel. This evoked the response, "You're shitting me!" When the emcee turned to announce this to the crowd, there was so much awe that they split apart to let June pass. And as Mark and June were walking through, a young girl -- who clearly had done a very quick search of June's credits on her cell phone -- cried out, "She was 'Cindy Lu Who'.". There's much more to the story, but that's the center.
They also had a very entertaining sequence with film of her two famous "doll" moments. The first was a Mattel ad from the early 1960s for their doll, Chatty Cathy, for which June did the voice. And likely as a result of that, June was hired to be the voice of 'Talky Tina,' a malevolent doll in an episode of The Twilight Zone, titled "Living Doll." They showed an edited-down footage of the battle with the overbearing Telly Savalas.
The producers even tracked down a couple of on-camera acting appearances by June, including one on the sitcom Green Acres, where she played a switchboard telephone operator who wasn't especially adept at connecting people. And the other was very early sketch with Johnny Carson from his pre-Tonight Show program, The Johnny Carson Show.
At the end of the evening, there was a lovely moment when 18 women came on stage for a group photo with a picture of June in the center, each of whom spoke briefly about either working with June or how she influenced and inspired them to become voice actors. And after all the introductions, the final actress was brought out, winner of that year's voiceover actress award -- Lily Tomlin. She gave a warm and charming speech about working with June and knowing her and what she meant to to profession.
There were speeches by the daughter of Jay Ward whose company created Rocky and Bullwinkle, and some words by the daughter of Chuck Jones, who directed so many of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, both of whom talked about how June Foray wasn't just a actor for their fathers, but became almost a part of the family. And some stories from animation historian Jerry Beck. The evening came to a close with a Tom and Jerry cartoon where June played -- of course -- a witch. As well as playing the owner of the cat, Tom. Hey, you wouldn't think June Foray would do just one voice now, would you?
Hat's off to all the producers who put together such a well-done, affectionate evening, to a full Academy theater.
And here is that "Little Blue Riding Hood" sketch from The Ed Sullivan Show.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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