If you were a kid who woke up on a Saturday morning back in the day, still in pajamas enjoying a bowl of milk and cereal, cartoons were usually the first thing to appear on the weekend to-do list over chores and sometimes church. And chances are that some, if not all of those cartoons had a voice who was either a main, a supporter or a small cameo before Stan Lee made it a popular meme. Even off the camera, that person would share their passion for their job like the stories told around a knight’s table after slaying a dragon. That was the power of the first leading lady of voice artists, June Foray.
Throughout her 70 plus year career as a voice actress, she never kept her talent exclusive while jumping from one animation studio to another: Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward Productions, nothing was sacred except for all the fun stories that could entertain for hours. She voiced so many characters that it would take half her life just to list them all, which is why at the end of this article will be a collage of a number of memorable characters that left an impact on me and many children who, despite having grown into adults, still continue to watch animation both old and new. However it’s in her interviews that made her an extremely humble. Every time she was on camera, she spun tales of how wonderful it was to work with comedic giants like Paul Frees and Bill Scott or the wonders of how a couple martinis convinced her to take the role of an acrobatically aerial, if somewhat moose-impatient, mammal. Though some will see it as just recording lines with other actors, she could market her memories as if she was traveling to another planet or discovering a new species
For those who’ve never heard of her yet still have, in her early years she was best known as Rocky the flying squirrel, Nell Fenwick and Natasha Fatale in The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show. At the same time her gentile nature and insanity would morph into their own personalities, playing both Granny and Witch Hazel in the Looney Tunes franchise since the beginning. After the Termite Terrace group was disbanded in the 60’s, Foray still lent her vocals to projects of legendary animator, Chuck Jones. These included Mother Wolf in The Jungle Book, which took a more faithful approach than the Disney film, Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Jane Kangaroo in Horton Hears a Who. Later down the road, she earned her blue card as the misbehaving, Jokey Smurf in Hanna-Barbera’s TV adaptation of the Peyo comic strip. Yet not even old age would stop her from continuing her streak of dedication to art when the Disney Afternoon dawned on a new generation. As Grammi Gummy in The Adventures of the Gummi Bears, she was stalwart as the glue who kept the gummi bear clan together in times of danger, along with the secret recipe of gummi berry juice. While in Ducktales, she portrayed not one, but two villains in an already bizarre rogue’s gallery. The mother of the largest crime family in Duckburg, Ma Beagle, and the malicious mallard of necromancy, Magica De Spell, a role she would later reprise one final time in the video game Ducktales Remastered alongside the late Alan Young.
Her love for animation surpassed her vocal chords, eventually leading her to be the founder of the Annie Awards, which recognizes the accomplishments in the animation industry much like the Oscars to the film industry. In a tongue and cheek move, The June Foray Award was one of the three honorary categories to include her name alongside Winsor McCay and Ub Iwerks. Not even Rodger Bumpass, the voice of Squidward felt an inch of jealousy when he lost an Emmy to her back in 2012. To quote Bumpass in a 2012 article from The Signal, “There wasn’t really a competition because one of the other nominees is June Foray, and she is royalty in the animation world…So I’m happy to lose to June Foray.” Bumpass wasn’t the only one to hold her in such high regard as Chuck Jones ranked her higher than the man of 1000 voices himself, Mel Blanc when he said, “June Foray isn’t the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”
With so much behind her belt on and off camera for almost a century, it’s completely saddening to lose her just two months before she was able to celebrate her 100th birthday. It’s not often that someone comes around more than once in a lifetime and is able to bring their gift to multiple generations at every possible opportunity. But what she has left behind is a great example about how you can bring out the right emotions for any character before or after they’re animated, how to let your personality co-exist with your work life to benefit everyone around you as a human being, and how to take life by the horns so that years later you can look back and say, “I don’t regret anything and would do it again if there ever was a second chance”. Farewell, June Foray, and thank you for your dedication that resulted in so many fond memories that could only last a lifetime. We will never forget you and your larger than life spirit.
The Voices of June Foray