It’s been a rough summer for genre fans. Adam West — the first Batman for so many — passed away. We lost George Romero, who made zombies what they are today. Two women who helped make Marvel Comics what it is — Joan Lee and Flo Steinberg — died within weeks of one another. Then last night, as I was going to bed, word broke of the one that — to me — is the harshest blow of all. June Foray died at the age of 99.
Most of you, I think, probably recognized the name as soon as you read it. If you don’t recognize June Foray’s name, though, you certainly know her voice. Or at least one of them, because she had so many.
You may know the voice she used as Rocky the Flying Squirrel in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, or the one she used as Moose and Squirrel’s arch-nemesis, Natasha. If you’re a child of the 80s, you may be more familiar with her as Jokey Smurf. Looney Tunes fans know she spent decades as the kindly old Granny who tolerated Sylvester and Tweety, and may also recognize her as Witch Hazel, who occasionally tormented Bugs Bunny. Drastically different from her turn as Witch Hazel, of course, was her turn as Hazel the Witch, who once tormented Donald Duck on a memorable Halloween. And while we’re on the subject of ducks, Ducktales fans may not remember that she voiced Scrooge’s secretary Mrs. Weatherby, but how could they forget that she was also the nefarious Ma Beagle, or the deliciously evil Magica DeSpell?
And we’ve only scratched the surface here. Her IMDB credits — all 308 of them — cover a span of 71 years and include Disney films stretching from Cinderella to Mulan, TV cartoons including Garfield and Friends, The Simpsons, The Real Ghostbusters, Mr. Magoo, Dudley Do-Right, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, and even work on live-action television including Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Twilight Zone. The characters she voiced are countless: Martha Wilson, Betsy Ross, Grammi Gummi, May Parker, Mother Nature, Mrs. Santa Claus, Pogo Possum, Red Riding Hood, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and, of course, Barbara Streisand.
Like many voice actors, when you know that June Foray is the person behind the character, you can hear the similarities between her voices. They are, after all, the children of the same throat. But at the same time, listen to Rocky and listen to Magica. The acting prowess of this woman was remarkable, and it saddens me somewhat that, compared to the other performers who have recently died, reaction to her passing seems somewhat subdued. Not to cast aspersions on any of the others, but I saw so many people talking about how Adam West was a part of their childhood, and now they’re blinking at the name of the woman who was literally the voice of it.
I think part of the reason is that June Foray, for most of her career, was what you’d call a utility player. She was always there and always great, but she was rarely the star. While Mel Blanc was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and a trillion others, Foray was the Granny who popped in and out of the cartoon or the Witch that Bugs had to outsmart. She wasn’t the main Smurf or the main Ghostbuster. She wasn’t the Grinch, she was Cindy Lou Who. She was Dudley Do-Right’s girlfriend. And except for Rocky her few leading turns — such as Dorothy Gale in the animated series Off to See the Wizard — are in projects that are largely forgotten.
None of this can in any way diminish her talent.
Chuck Jones (who directed so many of those cartoons in which she starred) once corrected someone who described her inadequately as “the female Mel Blanc.” Jones replied, “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”
The animation community, of course, already knows the scale of the giant who has fallen. The rest of the world should know it too. While there will never be a voice like hers again, we fortunately have enough of her work already to last the rest of our lives. Pop some classic cartoons on today, and listen for a while to the voice that made them whole.