The actress who gave cartoon characters a voice
June Foray 1917–2017
June Foray was a virtuoso of cartoon voices. During her 85-year career, the actress used her malleable vocal chords to give life to scores of beloved characters on TV and in film. She was the voice of Rocky the flying squirrel and his arch-foe Natasha Fatale on The Bullwinkle Show, Cindy Lou Who in 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the cackling Witch Hazel and kindly Granny—owner of Sylvester and Tweety—in the Looney Tunes shorts. Foray was often compared to her Looney Tunes colleague Mel Blanc, the voice behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. But many thought that comparison understated her prodigious talents. “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc,” Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones once said. “Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”
Foray was born in Springfield, Mass., to an engineer and his wife. The family went to movies and plays, said the Los Angeles Times, “and young June would come home and impersonate everybody.” She set her eyes on acting at age 6 and was “performing on radio programs in her hometown” by 12. After her family moved to Los Angeles in the ’30s, the teenage Foray wrote and acted all the parts in her own radio show and was soon doing voiceovers for movies. Her big break came when Walt Disney hired Foray “to create feline sounds for Lucifer the Cat” for 1950’s Cinderella. But it was The Bullwinkle Show, which debuted on TV in 1959 under the title Rocky and His Friends, “that launched Foray to enduring acclaim,” said The Washington Post. She said she initially thought a show about a squirrel and a moose was “a real cockeyed idea.” But her take on Rocky, who Foray said she portrayed as “an all-American squirrel Boy Scout,” helped make the cartoon a hit.
The show was canceled in 1964, but Foray remained in demand for her “myriad voice talents,” said Variety. She was Ursula in 1967’s George of the Jungle, Aunt May Parker in Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981–83), and had various roles on DuckTales, The Simpsons, and Family Guy. She stuck to the script, but the sound of each character was drawn from her imagination. “I think it’s an intuition that you have,” she said of voice acting, “that you can crawl into someone’s mind.” ■