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June Foray, the famed “first lady of voice actors” whose repertoire of characters include Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Pottsylvanian spy Natasha Fatale, Tweety Bird’s owner Granny and a sinister talking doll, has died. She was 99.
Foray, who worked alongside such animated legends as Mel Blanc, Chuck Jones, Stan Freberg and Jay Ward during her unseen yet spectacular eight-decade career, died Wednesday according to close friend Dave Nimitz who posted a notice of her passing on Facebook.
Versatile in her intonations and cadence, Foray provided voices for an incredible range of characters, including the killer Talky Tina doll in the 1963 “Living Doll” installment of The Twilight Zone, an episode said to be inspired by Mattel’s enormously popular pull-string Chatty Cathy doll (she provided the voice for that, too).
Foray voiced Betty Rubble in The Flintstones pilot (when the family was known as the Flagstones) and was Peter Parker’s Aunt May in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. When little Ricky brought home a puppy on a 1957 episode of I Love Lucy, she voiced the dog. And speaking of pooches, she worked with Jerry Lewis on his “The Puppy Dog Dream” record in the 1950s.
Foray played the milkmaid on Fractured Fairy Tales, Lena the Hyena and the chain-smoking Wheezy Weasel in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and Jokey Smurf and Mrs. Sourberry in the 1980s TV show The Smurfs.
The petite Foray specialized in old ladies and grandmothers: Granny and Witch Hazel in Looney Toons cartoons, Grandma Fa in Mulan (1998) and Grammi Gummi in TV’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. For The Simpsons, she voiced the elderly woman who worked at the Baby Buggy Bumper Babysitting Service.
“I was performing witches and grandmothers before I was old enough to be a grandmother,” she once said.
In 2012, Foray won a Daytime Emmy for The Garfield Show, in which she played Mrs. Cauldron, a cartoon character who described herself as “your friendly neighborhood old lady, who might be a witch.”
She received a Grammy Award in 1968 for voicing Cindy Lou Who for the 1966 TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas and was the recipient of the Television Academy’s Governors Award in 2013.
She brought home four Annie Awards, including one that “recognizes those who have made a significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation.” That is called the June Foray Award.
When asked in a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television to name her favorite cartoon character, she said: “I love the [Rocky and] Bullwinkle show because it’s so mordantly witty. … But 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.”
Foray was born Sept. 18, 1917, in Springfield, Mass. “I had wanted to be on the stage,” she once said, “but the radio intrigued me even at 12, so when I was 15, I had the hubris to go to the [local] radio station and say, ‘Look, I’m a good actress and I can do all these parts. Will you let me join your drama group?’ And they did.”
She became a regular player on WBZA, and by 17, had landed roles on such programs as The Jimmy Durante Show and Lux Radio Theatre. She played Junie the Girlfriend on Steve Allen’s Smile Time, performed opposite Red Skelton and worked with the legendary Freberg on his eponymous CBS Radio show.
“Radio was the greatest training ground. You had to be very quick and you had to be very versatile … and you were surrounded by such wonderful actors,” she said.
In the 1940s, Foray started working on cartoons. Producer Jerry Fairbanks had her voice animals for the shorts “Speaking of Animals.” She also worked with Freberg on such audio recordings as his Dragnet satire “St. George and the Dragonet,” voicing Little Blue Riding Hood. Recording children’s records for Capitol led to her first big-screen job in animation, for the 1950 Disney film Cinderella.
“Someone at Disney heard one of the records and called me in to do the sounds of Lucifer the Cat,” she said.
The creators of the Rocky and Bullwinkle characters reached out to Foray in the late 1950s.
“My agent called and said there is a man named Jay Ward who wants to meet you for lunch,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “He has an idea for a TV show. I said, ‘Why not?’ … [Jay] and Bill Scott [head writer and voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose] started telling me about this idea they had about a moose and a squirrel. I thought it was a cockeyed idea, but after the second martini, I thought it was wonderful.
“A week later we did a demo, and then I forgot about it. Then about a year later my agent called and said, ‘Remember those guys that you had lunch with that had the idea of a moose and a squirrel? They are ready to go.’ ”
Foray then voiced Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha (Boris Badenov’s comrade) for TV’s Rocky and His Friends, which debuted in 1959.
“I didn’t see any model sheet of Rocky or Natasha,” she recalled, “and I said to Jay, ‘Well, how do you want Rocky to sound?’ And he said, ‘Just an all-American boy.’ So I made him an all-American squirrel. And I said, ‘What do I do about Natasha?’ And he said, ‘Well, she and Boris come from [the fictional country of] Pottsylvania. They don’t come from Russia, so don’t make her Russian. Make her sort of continental.’ So that’s what I did. And she turned out fine.”
She reprised Rocky for such contemporary cartoons as Family Guy, voicing the rodent in the 2001 episode “The Thin White Line.” And she was back as the flying squirrel (and the cartoon version of Natasha) on the big screen in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000).
Foray also did voices for other Ward-produced programs, including The Dudley Do-Right Show (as Nell Fenwick, the Canadian Mountie’s girlfriend) and George of the Jungle.
In 2009, she published an autobiography, Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?
Reflecting on the state of animation a few years ago, she said: “A lot of it has become more crude. I think we’re living in a Beavis and Butt-head society at the present time. Maybe it’s for adults, but being an older person, I’m used to more sensitivity or more clean humor. Things are different now. But I love animation, and I’m for the preservation and the promoting of it.”
Foray was married to Hobart Donavan, the head writer on radio’s The Buster Brown Program. He died in 1976.
Reflecting on her long career, Foray said, “I’d rather do voiceovers. You don’t have to memorize lines, you can be in your slacks or jeans and work for two hours and make a couple of thousand bucks and go home and play with your dogs. It’s really wonderful. I love it.”
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