Friday, December 11, 2009

Cartoon Character Actors-The Letters-1988

In mid-1988, the interest in classic cartoons was at a peak due to the much-anticipated release of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? with its first ever cross-studio teaming of characters. It was during that year that I developed the idea for a book on voice actors to be entitled CARTOON CHARACTER ACTORS-THE MEN AND WOMEN BEHIND YOUR FAVORITE ANIMATED STARS. I bought a book on how to write a proposal and found the name of an editor at Crown who had done a pop culture book I admired earlier that year. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again my proposal, all on an old-fashioned typewriter with correcting tape! I have at least three complete variations on the proposal here and several incomplete. This, of course, does not even count the copy I sent out eventually!

I knew I would have to interview some of the legendary voice actors, most of whom were still with us at that time but how to get hold of them? I noticed that the name Andrea Romano was on a lot of the newer cartoons from Hanna-Barbera so I got the bright idea to write a dozen letters...and send them all to Andrea Romano. It made sense. As a director she obviously knew and worked with these folks! So I wrote her a cover letter and sent off individual interview requests explaining the project (with SASE of course!) and waited to hear something from either Andrea or Crown.

Unfortunately, the first thing I heard, just a few days after I sent off the package to H-B, was notice of the death of the great Daws Butler, one of my all-time favorite cartoon voices! Soon after that, though, I was heartened to hear from my hand-picked editor and she liked my book idea! She suggested some changes and offered some other ideas, most of which I liked but all of which I incorporated since, as a first-time author, I figured I should listen to my editor. We exchanged several letters and spoke on the phone once or twice and I was convinced Crown would go for the idea. She wanted to see something written before committing, though, so I spent most of my waking hours doing research (which, in those already ancient days, meant hanging out at the Public Library and digging through back issue animation mags in comic shops!)

In the meantime, letters from my cartoon idols started drifting in. Henry (Fred Flintstone) Corden, Jean (Wilma) VanderPyl, June (Rocky the Flying Squirrel) Foray, Janet (Judy Jetson) Waldo, Don (Scooby Doo) Messick , Daws Butler....wait a sec! Daws Butler? Apparently my letter arrived only days after his death and his widow kindly wrote me a bit about Daws and included some clippings and a bio sheet. I was shocked that she would take the time but very appreciative.

That was the year I flew out to San Diego in July to take one of June Foray's voiceover seminars. I recorded it for posterity and afterwards spoke briefly with her about my hopefully-upcoming book. (Who knew all these years later I would be involved with her autobiography? But that's another story already told.)

Then, literally as I was setting up specific telephone interview times, came the final blow. My project may not have been officially contracted but my wonderful editor had nursed me along for months by that point but then one day she was gone. I was told that her position was eliminated during one of the incestuous mergers that happen so often in publishing. In this case, Random House absorbed Crown. As my book was not actually on anyone's roster except that of someone now no longer present, they had no idea it existed. I sent them another proposal, this time with my guarantees of interviews and sample chapters on Jim Backus and Ross Bagdasarian that I had polished and repolished. I was informed that several similar books (which really weren't at all similar) had performed poorly for them so they would be passing on CARTOON CHARACTER ACTORS.

I spent the next six months racking up rejection slips from every other publisher I could find who might in the least be interested in that type of book. Outside of one from Pomegranate Press signed personally from its owner, DARK SHADOWS actress Kathryn Leigh Scott, these were NOT fun. I hated opening my mail.

Soon enough I moved on to another project which then became my first professional sale--my article on PUSSYCAT in AMAZING HEROES. Then another book idea, YOU'RE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR LAST PICTURE (now appearing as one of my blogs at long last) was researched, nurtured and shot down endlessly. A few more small articles appeared by me but I was disheartened and gave up on the idea of a book.
In the years since, after writing about this project online, there were a few nibbles from a small publisher about a revival. The problem was that so many of the classic folks had since passed. The industry had changed completely and a whole new generation of brilliant cartoon character actors was now on top--Rob Paulsen, Joe Alaskey, Maurice LeMarche, Billy West, Gregg Berger, Bob Bergen and a dozen more! They were all great and deserved a book but my book, as originally conceived, just wasn't it. Thus, I'm left with lots of notes, files, memories and a handful of letters and notes like the three seen here by some of my favorite cartoon character actors. Janet Waldo is, in fact, a Facebook friend. Maybe if I show her this I can still get her promised interview!


  1. This might be one of the most fascinating posts you've ever done! I've always wondered about the stories behind the voices of so many of my favorite cartoon characters. So many of them have very interesting stories. It's awesome that you got personal mementos from some of these legends before they passed on.

    Everytime one of the greats passes away, I'm always on "emotional standby" for when I'm first going to hear the new voice of a character. I think they've done a wonderful job with Fred and Wilma, but I'm still bracing myself for the first glimpse of the new Mickey Mouse. I think there was a new guy who did a few lines in the last Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Special...but I'm not sure.

    Anywho...hopefuly you can scan and publish more of your letters from some of these cartoon greats!

  2. I would love to read the chapters you did complete on Jim Backus and Ross Bagdasarian! Two greats in my book!

  3. I should have mentioned to newer readers that I actually ran a version (probably an early draft) of the Ross Bagdasarian article here two years ago, scanned from the original pages! Not sure I still have the Jim Backus one. Imay have sent off my only copies of that one. In those pre-copier/scanner days, it was sometimes cost-prohibitive to get things copied at ten cents a page (I used the Public Library) so I just kept retyping and, by habit, rewriting every time!