April 14, 1998
by Gary James
Here is the voice that launched a thousand characters including Lena Hyena in Roger Rabbit, Fairy Queen in Thumbelina, Ma Beagle in Ducktales, Grammi Gummi Granny in the Sylvester and Tweety mysteries, Mama Brickolini for Lego Land, Grandma Fa in The Legend of Fa Mulan.
But, most people identify her as the voice of Rocky, the flying squirrel, Natasha, Nell, fairy godmothers, witches, and princesses on Bullwinkle and Ursula -- George of the Jungle.
T.V. shows such as Entertainment Tonight, Extra, Show Biz Today, Joan Rivers, Maury Povich, Robin Leach, CBS, NBC, and ABC have all done profiles of her.
Because of her fame as a voice actress and her long-standing love for animation, she has been invited to speak on this art form all over the world -- Russia, France, Croatia, Japan, England, Australia, New Zealand, and of course all across North America.
We're pleased to present a rather unique interview, with a rather unique individual, Ms. June Foray.
Q: June, at what age did you discover you could throw your voice or come up
with different sounding character voices?
A: When I was about six. My mother and father were artistic people. My mother was a singer and a pianist. They enjoyed the opera and the theater and movies. And so they would take us kids to all of the wonderful functions at the Bijou Theater in Springfield, Massachusetts. I wanted to be a stage actress. Then I could come home and impersonate all these people I had seen in the movies. I was an omnivorous reader as well. So, I memorized a lot of classics. The little old lady that I do actually with Tweety and Sylvester, I memorized lines from "The Old Woman Shows Her Medals." It's a play by James M. Barri. Oh my goodness, I just did so many impersonations of stars, and read Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde and "The Importance of Being Ernest." It was a very exciting life.
Q: There really is no type of training for what you do is there? You just do it.
A: Well, I think it's inherent in you, when you're born. However, my mother and father finally did hire some wonderful teachers. At 12 years old, the best teacher I had Mrs. Larson said, "I can't teach you anymore, you're much more versatile than I." But, she had a radio show and so I was on her radio show when I was 12. Then when I was 15 I became a professional actress, in radio.
Q: You were born in what city?
A: Springfield, Massachusetts.
Q: And you made your way to Los Angeles eventually?
A: My mother and father came to Los Angeles.
Q: You got work in radio there?
A: Yes, and I started writing children's stories as well when I as 19, 20 and 21. As a matter of fact, five of them are out on radio cassette right now. "Tall and Small Tales" by June Foray. I narrate and I wrote them. They were charming, innocent fantasy stories, that I wrote when I was very young.
Q: This is a brand new release?
A: Yes. It's out at Borders bookshops. It's also on the Internet. I had recorded six for Ted Turner and they sent me a $10,00 advance, however, the option ran out because Time-Warner bought Turner, and most of the people there were let go, because of the new organization. So, I own them again and can keep the $10,000. (Laughs) I have some people who might be interested in animating some of them or publish them as books instead of simply audio cassettes.
Q: Since you are billed as star of stage, t.v. and film, what t.v. shows
and movies did you appear in?
A: I'd been on camera with Johnny Carson. I did 13 weeks with Johnny Carson.
Q: What did you do with him?
A: We just did a marvelous variety show. That's before he became The Tonite Show host. It was called Carson's Cellar. I was on it every week, doing funny bits and solo bits, and crazy commercial. It was fun doing that. The last thing I did on camera was Green Acres. I played a little Mexican girl in that. I was very funny.
Q: Can you name some of the stars you met in radio in the 1940's?
A: Oh, Vincent Price, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Jimmy Durante, Danny Thomas.
Q: What do you think of the Beavis and Butthead show? I'm talking about their
characters and voices.
A: You're putting me on the spot.
A: I thought their movie was great. I was surprised. I was amazed. The movie had a good story line. The animation was good. So, I can't criticize them for that.
Q: Now, I would've thought it was a man doing the voice of Rocky, not a woman.
A: I know.
Q: Just as I would've thought it was a man doing the voice of Bart Simpson,
not a woman. How does the selection process work? Did both men and women
audition for this voice part of Rocky?
A: No, I had already been working at Disney and Warner Bros. doing a multiplicity of voices. Jay Ward and Bill Scott had this wonderful idea of a moose and a squirrel. My agent called and said, "Have you ever heard of Jay Ward?" and I said "no." He said, "Well, he wants to take you to lunch." So I met Bill and Jay at a restaurant on La Cienega Blvd that is no longer in existence. However, Jay know precisely whom he wanted. He didn't want anybody else. So, nobody ever auditioned for Jay. He just said, "I want June Foray." He knew precisely what he wanted.
Q: I would imagine that it's a pretty crowded field today.
A: Yes. Everybody wants to do voice-overs. It pays well. Of course, there are innumerable series on now of animation. Unfortunately, some of the stars are coming in. I don't care anymore, although I'm still working. But, some of the people that's all they do is voice overs. They don't have the background of the years that I've had. They've got to build up to that. Then, the stars who are making a lot of money on camera are coming in and doing some of the voices. And, I feel sad about that.
Q: How long of a day did you have to put in when you were doing the Rocky
and Bullwinkle Show?
A: Oh, we didn't spend over 2 hours recording because we would do 5 segments in a night or late afternoon. Jay wanted to keep his office hours in the daytime, so we usually recorded about 5 or 6, and we just stayed for 2 hours. We would do 5 Bullwinkles in one session, or 5 Fractured Fairy Tales. Or 5 Dudley Do-Rights. You know they were only 3 minutes and 10 seconds or 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Most of the time was taken up kidding around and laughing and having a good time. And then Jay would say, "Well, I guess we better start recording." And so, it didn't take us very long.
Q: Are you surprised that the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show didn't enjoy a
longer t.v. run? It was quite popular even in the beginning, wasn't it?
A: Yes. It was amazing that it didn't become a cult the way it is now. But, people who were young and listening to it, are listening to it again, realizing the sophistication and the brilliance of the writing. It was a happy marriage between the concept and the writing and the acting. The animation of course was extremely simple.
Q: Are you receiving royalties from the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show?
A: No. It was a buy-out. We didn't realize at the time it would be like this, otherwise we wouldn't have sold it out. It was a buy-out for six plays, and that was it. My God, it's so popular, it's even going into Europe. I got fan mail from Germany! It's incredible.
Q: You travel all over the world lecturing. What do you talk about?
A: 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.
Gary James files his interviews from Syracuse, NY.