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‘Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age, 1930-70’ (review)

Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age,
1930-70, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

Written by Keith Scott
Published by Bear Manor Media

 

In the late 1980s, I made a considerable effort to sell a book I wanted to write on cartoon voice actors.

I had read all the articles about how first, before you actually write the book, you query the publisher with a detailed book proposal and outline.

I got lucky right off the bat and found a sympathetic editor at Crown who nursed me along for six months or so with advice and encouragement.

She never committed to anything, wanting to see what I could come up with first as samples. So I established contact with a number of voice actors thanks to Hanna-Barbera’s Andrea Romano. I even flew out West and met June Foray!

By the time I was ready to turn in some sample chapters, however, my wonderful but tentative editor had been bounced in a corporate takeover and my project was cut completely adrift.

There followed a couple of years’ worth of rejection letters from other prospective publishers before I shelved my idea and moved on.

Now comes Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age, 1930-1970, by the estimable Keith Scott.

Keith knows a few things about voices, being himself a notable impressionist. One of his best impressions was Bullwinkle J. Moose, which allowed him to actually act that role from time to time. In another tie to Bullwinkle, Keith Scott wrote what has to be one of the best books ever about the cartoon industry—The Moose That Roared: The Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel, and a Talking Moose. Keith then—not me—was born to write this definitive new look at cartoon voices.

How definitive is it? It’s so definitive that there’s an entire second volume, Cartoon Voices of the Golden Age, Volume 2: The Pioneers of Animation Acting, Studio Filmographies with Voice Credits. Not everyone who reads the first volume will want this one but it is an amazing piece of work! Just as its title says, it goes cartoon by cartoon for every theatrical cartoon studio, listing the voice casts and offering a considerable amount of trivia along the way.

Even more trivia is available in the first volume, though, as Keith, in the course of writing about the animation actors, also gives de facto histories of each of the various cartoon studios from Fleischer and UPA to, naturally, the gold standard, Disney.

It’s all an utterly fascinating read to anyone who has ever given a second thought as to who voiced Mister Magoo or Popeye or the Cheshire Cat and it’s clear that the author has researched numerous sources for his information. There are quotes aplenty from folks who were there at the time, as well as from other pop historians and from various in-print sources. If Keith doesn’t know something, and couldn’t find it, he says as much, and even asks readers to supply any missed info.

As far as what’s there, though, much of it is, as I wrote, definitive. I can quibble with a few small things like the contention that Droopy actor Bill Thompson left acting for the oil industry in 1960. Thompson (no relation) appears on TV’s To Tell the Truth in 1957, already a Union Oil executive. While the book makes it sound as though the actor returned to voice acting only from time to time, he actually continued pretty much straight through on television in various roles including Touche Turtle for Hanna-Barbera and as Disney’s Park Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore.

Bill Thompson, Jim Backus, Hans Conried, Mae Questel, Pinto Colvig, James Baskett, Jack Mercer, Arthur Q. Bryan, and, duh, Mel Blanc, are given extensive coverage as befits their long and diverse careers, but equally covered are the bit part players, the singers, and even some of the sound effects people.

The history of cartoon voice acting is a much bigger and more colorful mosaic than my own long-abandoned project would have covered but Keith Scott has done it justice. This two-volume set will be hard for anyone to top. Hopefully Keith himself will try, as he does here stop at 1970, and with only a little room in the nearly 900 pages of these two particular volumes for television cartoon voices.

Booksteve recommends.

 

NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, Keith Scott is a longtime Facebook friend and has helped me out in the past on a couple of projects of my own.

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