Thursday, September 20, 2012

How I Pissed Off June Foray

I love June Foray.  With her versatile voice work on so many legendary cartoon characters - Rocky the Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Witch Hazel, Tweety's Granny - she is one of the last of my childhood idols still around.  I've been lucky enough to work with her twice.  The second time, I really pissed her off.

I was directing a Fractured Fairy Tales short for Universal called The Phox, the Box, & the Lox, from a lost script by the late Bill Scott, writer for the original series (and voice actor!).  It would run before the Dudley Do-Right live action feature.  June was the last survivor of the original cast, and I was thrilled to get to work with her again, having had such a great time recording her on my short Redux Riding Hood.  I even padded her part a bit.

Just as Jay Ward had done in his day, we recorded the voices in an ensemble.  The voice actors sat in the recording room together and ran through the script like a radio show. Keith Scott was amazing.  He's a Jay Ward expert who can do many of the voices spot-on.  When I asked for a Phil Silvers-type of voice for the Phox, Keith asked, "Do you want Bill Scott's Silvers or Daws Butler's Silvers?"  He then proceeded to give me a sample of both men's versions of Phil Silvers - as astounding as it is geeky.  June was set to do the Milk Maiden character in her Brooklyn voice.  She told me she did that voice for all the damsels and princesses in the Fractured Fairy Tales back in the '60's.  She got no argument from me.  She's June!

We all had a great deal of fun, though I immediately noticed a big problem:  June's Brooklyn voice had a lot of gravel in it.  The truth of the matter was, she sounded old when doing this voice. She was 79 at the time and could not be expected to sound like a 16 year old milk maiden from Brooklyn.  So here was my dilemna: how do I tell her to do a different voice in front of the ensemble cast without embarrassing one of my idols?  She would surely want to know why.  What could I say - you sound too old?  I couldn't do it.  So I stuck my head in the sand and hoped we could fix it in editorial.

Sound editor Mike Gollum tried every trick available in 1999 technology to make the Milk Maid sound young.  He knocked off about forty years, but she still sounded too old for the character.  I thought maybe it would grown on me, maybe I was just too close to it and the track would work.  Then my boss, Tom Ruzicka, told me I had to dump June.

"NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!" I shouted, inexplicably in slo-motion, "June is the only surviving member of the original cast!  We CAN"T dump her!"  I pounded my head on Tom's desk until he relented.

"Okay, okay!" Tom said, "But you'll have to re-record her immediately.  If we (the mucky-mucks) don't like it, we recast."

The next morning, June was back at the recording studio.  She was professional, but NOT happy.  "Who sets up a recording session for 9AM?"  She said, like that was an ungodly hour.

""Uhhh, that's my fault."  I told June, sheepishly. I was surprisingly intimidated by this tiny woman.  I hemmed and hawed about our tight schedule and apologized like an amateur.  Keith Scott had returned to do some pick-up lines and explained to me the whole "being in good voice" thing, and how hard it was to be in good voice first thing in the morning.

Then June said, "Why am I here? I thought you liked what I did last time."  She may as well have stabbed me in the heart.  I felt sick.

I felt even sicker as I heard this bullshit come out of my mouth,  "Well, I did like it.  But one of the executives doesn't like the Brooklyn accent."

June looked hurt, "But I did that voice for ALL the Fractured Fairy Tales.  ALL of them."

"I know.  But these executives.....they don't care."  Now THAT"S the truth!

June shook her head, got in the booth and gave us her 'sweet' voice.  She was done in minutes.  I gave her almost no direction, and I think she was happy about that.  She came out of the booth in a much more jovial mood.  I thanked her, apologized again, and groveled like Boris Badenov to Fearless Leader.

Her 'sweet' voice, though not as funny as the Brooklyn voice, sounded young enough to satisfy the mucky-mucks.  In hindsight, I wish I had redesigned the Milk Maid to look older, more worldly; like she'd already had a few husbands and was looking for a new sugar daddy.  Then I could have used the Brooklyn voice.  That would have been much funnier.  Damn!  Why didn't I think of that in 1999?  I was too busy freaking out, I guess.

I've seen and spoken to June a few times times then, and she's always been super kind, never mentioning that early morning session.  Her 95th birthday was this week.  It's great to still have a childhood hero around.  And I'm still sorry I pissed her off.



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jamie. This kind of stuff is a lot more typical of the directing experience than the glamorous stories. Directors catch hell from everyone.

  2. I got into huge trouble in a recording session with Gary Oldman on the ill-fated "Quest For Camelot" back in 1996. But that's a story for another post --- Alex