most of my life. I remember when I first encountered Rocky and
Bullwinkle in their first season on TV, and falling under the spell of
Jay Ward's sharply-written, wonderfully performed cartoons.
What I can't remember is when I learned that the same woman
who provided the voice of Rocky also acted as Natasha, Nell, and a
host of other characters on the series, including the gravely-voiced
fairy godmother who was patterned after character actress Marjorie
Main. But as a diehard cartoon fan, it didn't take me long to memorize
the names of the actors in the show's credits (fleeting though
"Around the same time I became enamored of Stan Freberg's
comedy records, including such hit singles as "St. George and the
Dragonet" and classic albums like Stan Freberg Presents the United
States of America. The rich, colorful voices on those records became
permanently ingrained in my consciousness, and in time I connected
the dots and realized that June, Paul Frees, and Daws Butler
were the same people I heard on so many cartoon soundtracks."
- Leonard Maltin, from his Foreword
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Very early in this charming autobiography by June Foray is a photo snapped in Hollywood in 2000. In the image, the peerless voice artist strikes a pose with a friend at her recently unveiled star on the Walk of Fame. Well, how could June Foray not have a star there? After all, she is Rocket J. Squirrel, Nell Fenwick, Witch Hazel, Granny, Natasha Fatale, and Cindy Lou Who, Betty Rubble (in The Flagstones pilot), Chatty Cathy--even Bridey Hammerschlaugen, for Pete's sake.
Without even knowing it, TV fiends have enjoyed June's vocalizations on Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, The Smurfs, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends (June was Aunt May), and many others. She's done voice acting for major features, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Looney Tunes Back in Action, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Mulan. And just in case her tonsils might fall out of fighting trim, she's looped dialogue for such pictures as The Secret of Santa Vittoria, Bells Are Ringing (for Judy Holliday), The Only Game in Town, and The Hospital (for Diana Rigg!).
That's a fat resume for somebody who, when she was barely old enough to go to school, amused herself by barking at the dogs in her Springfield, Massachusetts neighborhood, and by doing voice impressions of Edna Mae Oliver, Una O'Connor, and other character actresses of the day. Even as a kid, she was drawn to unique voices with comic overtones.
June wanted to be an actress. Her mother had other ideas. As June relates it, good fortune smiled down, giving her pneumonia that ended her dance-recital career, and a broken finger that stopped the agony of piano lessons. A backyard accident that climaxed with a badly broken tooth didn't affected June's speech, so fortune was still smiling in her direction.
Her precocious voice talents landed her a job on local radio at age 15. A summer vacation in Los Angeles led to roles at the famed Pasadena Playhouse. She landed gigs at L.A. radio stations. June was just a kid, but she already was working hard at her craft.
The notion of "work" is a thread that runs through the book like a helpful arrow on a road map. June's gifts may strike us as being fully realized from the beginning, as if she always had them and the vocalizations just poured out, without effort or practice. We might think that, but we'd be wrong. From the beginning of her career, June realized that talent wasn't enough. So she made numberless phone calls to inquire about jobs. She went to Central Casting and found work as an extra. She wrote and performed a one-woman show in a small theater that she rented herself. During World War II, while still very young, June wrote, produced, and acted in patriotic radio plays. At the famed Hollywood Canteen, she took the stage to entertain soldiers.
By the early 1950s, the popularity of comic and dramatic radio was on the wane. Propitiously for June, cartoon animation was still going strong--and stampeding into television--at just about that time. She did her first animated cartoon, Chuck Jones's Broomstick Bunny (as Witch Hazel) in 1956. The WB works, plus her association with Stan Freberg and Daws Butler ("St. George and the Dragonet," a top-selling record that spoofed Dragnet), brought her to the attention of cartoon producer Jay Ward, who was readying something for TV he wanted to call Rocky and His Friends. And the rest, moose and squirrel fans, is animation history. Is any other character in animation as animated as Rocket J. Squirrel? He's peppy, he's positive, he's the all-American, uh, rodent. He's a brilliant creation. June kept busy with Rocky, Nell, Natasha, and other Jay Ward characters, sharing mic time with such giants of the business as Bill Scott, Paul Frees, Charlie Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, and William Conrad--all of whom helped make Rocky and Bullwinkle a much-loved cartoon milestone.
June's innate sense of loyalty reveals itself in her cheery praise of friends and co-workers. She was dazzled by Jay Ward, Bill Scott, and the rest of the Rocky bunch; she became a fierce admirer of Santa Vittoria producer Stanley Kramer; she was mad for Paul Frees and Chuck Jones, and developed a splendid friendship with Jerry Lewis (they did a record together, "The Puppy Dog's Dream," and June looped dialogue for many of Jerry's pictures). She wants us to know about the talent and kindness of these people and others.
Most poignantly, June writes of her husband--a ruggedly good-looking writer-producer named Hobart Donavan--with love, affection, and respect. Although hardly love at first sight as far as Donavan was concerned (he practically ignored June during their first meeting), the pair married ten years later. This, folks, was love and devotion, the real deal. Mr. Donavan has been gone now for more than 30 years, which makes June's high regard for him all the more affecting.
The book has its share of solid industry-insider stuff. June unhesitatingly relates hilarious tales of dumb producers, and because she's long been active on the Motion Picture Academy's Board of Governors, you'll learn something about industry structure and politics.
June also has been a tireless advocate for domestic and international recognition of the contribution of cartoon animation to the motion picture arts. She's determined, and pretty tough, too.
Finally, there's one point that is mainly irrelevant to June's career but that's worth mentioning nonetheless: She looks precisely as you might imagine. She is petite and shapely, with ash blonde hair, wide, sparkling eyes, and a broad, engaging smile. She is perilously cute. Hokey smoke, what a doll!
And what a talent.
June's 95th Birthday Party on September 16, 2012! With Fred Frees to June's right, and Rose Marie at the end of the table:
Listen to a June Foray audio interview by clicking here.