Animation History
February 10, 2020 posted by Keith Scott

“Hello All You Happy Tax Payers”: Tex Avery’s Voice Stock Company

When we think of Tex Avery’s cartoons, his soundtracks don’t instantly spring to mind. Avery’s films are by far the most famous examples of unexpected, FAST visual gags and off-the-wall animated insanity in the history of the medium, and today, forty years after his passing and sixty five years since his last theatrical short he is still revered by cartoon buffs of all ages as a totally unique talent.

With vintage cartoons now popping up on YouTube, and in shelf copies on DVD or Blu-ray, generations of younger cartoon enthusiasts are now able to study classic era geniuses like Avery in microscopic detail, in a way unknown to we first generation chroniclers.

Once the newer fans become truly familiar with these directors’ works, inevitable questions arise about just how they were made: who animated that scene, who did all the background art, how were they gagged, and so on. Next people then ask about the audio…the dialogue, music and sound effects.

Avery might have seemed a total visual savant at first glance, but a careful listen to his soundtracks reveals his painstaking approach to comedy, built frame by crazy frame.

Tex’s tracks, like everything else in his canon of comedy, were funny in and of themselves.

With the imminent release of the new Warner Bros. Blu-ray collection containing nineteen of Avery’s MGM classics I felt that the cartoon buff community might like some information about his stock company of voices.

(Note: I’ve been researching this topic for thirty years and there are still gaps in my knowledge, so please don’t think I’m the font of all cartoon voice info. There are holes due to a frustrating lack of original MGM documents.)

As we know, Tex was the first to boost Mel Blanc to vocal stardom when he was directing at the Leon Schlesinger studio. From the spring of 1937, when Blanc became the improved voice of Porky Pig and at the same time the embryonic Daffy Duck speechifier, and up through 1940 when Mel and Tex crafted the voice for the great Bugs Bunny, they were a terrific creative match. Blanc’s crazy voices, vocal effects, hiccups and unmatched zany yells suited Avery’s deliberately over-the-top parodic style to a tee.

But when Tex departed the Warner studio in May 1941, Mel Blanc had just signed his exclusive agreement with Leon. For cartoons, Mel had to forego all the competing work he had been doing in abundance at Universal, Columbia, Paramount and MGM.

And so, Tex had to find new voices at Metro, the studio he ultimately landed at in the fall of ‘41.

Avery was a highly particular creative talent, a true one-off. His innate penchant for placing laughs above all else bred a lifelong comic’s insecurity in him, despite his often-astonishing results.

Tex Avery

He had the nervously perfectionist streak common to all original thinkers. This extended from his habit of changing layouts to his constant worrying about the timing of his animation, to his unmatched gags and his uniquely funny soundtracks. He believed strongly that exactly the right voices and sound effects were critical to the comic impact of his films. Fred MacAlpin, head of sound for Metro cartoons, recalled Avery always liked exaggeration in his sound effects. He also liked them loud, such as a musical saw vibration to indicate a body being hit or shattering glass for some poor schnook at the end of a fall.

While Tex’s MGM cartoons were as outrageously funny as the best of the Warners, his dialogue was often merely functional. Spare, short lines linking his wacky visual universe, but not quotable the way much of the Looney Tunes dialogue could be. Droopy would today be the only one well remembered for his fourth wall greetings to the audience (“You know what? I’m happy.”)

Bill Thompson and Elvia Allman

He had been auditioning freelance voices for years, and at MGM, where the budgets were appreciably higher, Tex was able to get some seasoned radio people. And while he couldn’t use Mel, he made sure at first to hire several top voice talents from his earlier Warner days, fine artists he knew could deliver for his special brand of comedy. Avery was always after a certain delivery and sought top voice talents, several of whom got their first breaks on one of his gigs (Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick). These actors worked hard for him. Avery could be infamous for his sessions where he would often get them to yell and scream until they were hoarse, and as various people noted – animator Mike Lah, writer Heck Allen and actor Daws Butler – he was customarily compelled to request a ton of takes.

And so, let’s examine these forgotten people in the order of the cartoons’ appearance on the new Blu-ray, starting with one of Avery’s greatest.

Frank Graham (The Wolf)

RED HOT RIDING HOOD

Frank Graham does the opening kiddie-storyteller and gives us the first appearance of his famous gravel-voiced Wolf character, who morphs into a Charles Boyer when attempting to seduce Red. He even throws in the nightclub MC and cab driver voices. Graham was a busy CBS radio announcer who was also a skilled actor, one of the first to be nicknamed “Man of a Thousand Voices.” He had been doing a nightly quarter hour radio series for a couple of years starting in 1939 called Nightcap Yarns, in which he played all the roles in each entry…one night a week was Western story night, another night featured a comedy story, and so on. Graham had by this stage built up a large range of accents and character types to impress any radio or cartoon director at auditions.

[Footnote: To be accurate, Frank Tashlin was the first director to use Graham’s talents at the Screen Gems cartoon studio, then Bob Clampett nabbed him for his Warner cartoon HORTON HATCHES THE EGG, after which Friz Freleng used him narrating FONEY FABLES where he first used his Wolf voice. But Tex Avery got the best animation performances out of Graham, using him over and over.]

Frank Graham was already familiar to Fred MacAlpin in the MGM cartoon sound department, because he had narrated the Tom & Jerry NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Tex acknowledged that Frank Graham required virtually no coaching and always considered him a class act.

Connie Russell, singing voice of “Red”

But what’s fascinating about the track of this cartoon is that two people voice the wolf! Tex was always after an audience jolt, and in this case it’s a sound jolt, not a visual one.…The wolf’s voice suddenly changes from intimate Boyer to goofball (“What’s yer answer to that, Babe?”) simply for comic effect. Tex knew who he wanted for the alter ego: the young actor-impressionist Kent Rogers had done some fine mimicry for Avery in HOLLYWOOD STEPS OUT and was the voice of Willoughby the dog in THE HECKLING HARE, Tex’s penultimate Bugs Bunny cartoon for Schlesinger.

Red herself has three distinct voices as well. Her speaking roles (child Red Riding Hood and adult Red Hot a la Kate Hepburn) is voice artist Sara Berner, a premier female character voice in the 1940s. She had been in several of Tex’s spot gag cartoons at Warners and was – like Kent Rogers – a fine mimic. She also doubles as the cigarette girls. Red’s singing voice was another matter.

The MGM music department was the biggest in Hollywood and its vocal arrangers had access to every singer in town. When Tex requested a sexy vocal for Red’s big number, “Oh, Daddy” he was rewarded with Connie Russell, a young singer of renown who had signed an MGM contract in 1940 (see her in Lady Be Good). Her sultry singing combined with the marvellous Preston Blair dance animation was one of the most striking moments in all the cartoons of 1942.

The budget extended to hiring Elvia Allman as Red’s lovelorn Grandma, and again Avery had full confidence. He knew Ms Allman was an expert radio comedienne and would need no direction. He had earlier used her in such WB cartoons as LITTLE RED WALKING HOOD and CINDERELLA MEETS FELLA. It was this, just his third MGM release, which took Avery to the pinnacle of Cartoon fame.


WHO KILLED WHO?

This terrific genre-buster opens and closes with still another comic innovation, a live-action bookend using the veteran character player Robert Emmett O’Connor in a send up of MGM’s own Crime Does Not Pay shorts.

Kent Rogers

The atmospheric cartoon features the return of Avery’s old Warner voice man Billy Bletcher as the basso-voiced and super-loud detective, who is in turn a visual caricature of actor Fred Kelsey (known for scores of burly cop movie roles including comedies like THE LAUREL-HARDY MURDER CASE and the Three Stooges’ IF A BODY MEETS A BODY). Sara Berner and Kent Rogers appear again, she as the Brooklyn cuckoo clock and maid, with Rogers offering a fine imitation of English comedian Richard Haydn’s Edwin Carp character as “The Victim,” plus a Red Skelton voice – highly familiar to audiences of this era from Skelton’s hugely popular radio series – as what else, a “red skeleton.” And he even adds a Jerry Colonna imitation (“Ah yes, quite a bunch of us…”). Finally, he does Santa Claus saying, “Hey, Doc…can’t ya read?” That “Doc” appellation is a true Avery signature as we know, and we can almost hear Avery demonstrating the line before Rogers voices it. The cartoon boasts a uniquely eerie music score which was provided by Bernard Katz, veteran radio musician playing a Novachord and mysterioso organ. And how’s this for trivia: Bernard Katz was Mel Blanc’s cousin.


WHATS BUZZIN’ BUZZARD?

Here’s the cartoon that Tex’s boss Fred Quimby found highly distasteful. The first buzzard is old friend Kent Rogers again, this time doing a great Leo Gorcey Dead End Kids imitation. He also does the voice yelling, “Send down one hamburger.” The second buzzard with the funny Jimmy Durante gruff is unconfirmed. I have my suspicions about who it is, but no actual proof. The final announcer is NBC newscaster John Wald who had been the identical radio voice in some MGM features that year, including Skelton’s Whistling in Dixie. He hammers home the wartime food shortage gag.


BATTY BASEBALL

John Wald, who we just heard at the end of the cannibalistic Buzzard opus, opens this cartoon with his baseball announcer voice by employing a vocal trick many radio commentators had developed back in that time: the ability to talk very quickly but clearly. In the National Radio Artists casting directories of the period there was even a category called Fast Talkers. This cartoon is an example of Avery’s penchant for limited dialogue depending on throwaway gag situations. And the sound effects are a treat. Fred MacAlpin knew Tex loved odd sounds so instead of a standard baseball hitting noise he substituted a .22 caliber gun shot. At first, he worried that maybe it was too silly, but Tex told him, “That’s great!”

We can hear Pinto Colvig, the great voice of Disney’s Goofy, doing two lines as the pitcher McGrip (“Good joke!” and “I got it!!!”). Also heard is comic actor Jerry Mann who was then on staff at Metro for gags and voices between his stage engagements. He does the loudmouth yelling “Kill the Umpire,” and the catcher’s endless “That’s the old pepper.” The first gruff ballplayer voice we hear (“How about the MGM titles??”) is a radio actor named Wally Maher who adds the fastidiously effete and neat umpire’s voice. We will meet him again soon in the starring role for one of Tex’s oddest characters, Screwy Squirrel.


Sara Berner

THE HICK CHICK

Kent Rogers, Avery’s mimic of choice had tragically died in the service by the time this cartoon’s dialogue was ready for recording. It is essentially a take-off of Red Skelton’s famous Clem Kadiddlehopper radio character, even adding Red’s radio girlfriend Sara Dew (or Daisy as played in the cartoon by Sara Berner, who goes from cowgirl voice to Katharine Hepburn depending on her male partner, and she doubles as the Mae West maternity nurse). The angry bull is Frank Graham reprising his gruff Wolf voice, and he also plays the Charles Boyer villain. Sadly, I can’t confirm the identity of the impersonator hired by Tex who does such a nice job of the Skelton “Lem” voice (this same impressionist was heard in the Screen Gems cartoon HOT FOOTLIGHTS the previous year). The square dance background was recorded for Tex by the well-known Pickard Family country swing group, with dad Obediah Pickard as genuine dance caller. In the cartoon they are topically billed as Spike Bones & his Chicky Slickers.


BAD LUCK BLACKIE

Tex is the real star of this cartoon doing his patented guttural belly laugh, first heard as a walrus in the old Warner cartoon THE PENGUIN PARADE. He does the sadistic chortling for the mean old bulldog who eventually gets his. Blackie the cat is another of those gruff-edged tough guys, supplied by radio character expert Patrick McGeehan.


GARDEN GOPHER

Occasionally Tex did a cartoon that didn’t need dialogue, relying instead on striking sound effects. In this one we hear assorted gulps and belches, while the gopher’s chatter is a sped and reversed dialogue track. Avery admitted to a real affection for comic sound effects and had a good relationship with Jim Faris of the MGM sound department. Listen for a re-used recording of Sara Berner’s laughing effect at one point, as Spike is being tickled.


THE PEACHY COBBLER
The elf shoe manufacturing gags are almost a throwback to mid-30s cartoons, but always with Avery touches throughout, although here they are necessarily gentler. An early theatrical cartoon credit for the famous voice artist Daws Butler (his sixth gig for Tex). He sets it up as an old storyteller and adds the Geppeto-esque shoemaker voice. Avery had first used Daws as the suave city wolf in LITTLE RURAL RIDING HOOD, a cartoon classic which doesn’t appear in this set. (Note to each reader: please buy one or two copies of this Blu-ray Tex Avery set so that it sells big-time, and WB will have to produce more in this series!! We need a Tex sign at this point, with the words, “Pretty blatant plug, huh?”)


SYMPHONY IN SLANG

John Brown

In this famous Avery cartoon the wordplay is everything. And here Tex, the long-time radio comedy fan, once again went after a big-time supporting air-comedian, John Brown. Born in England, raised in Australia, but indubitably a product of Manhattan, Brown was a seasoned radio stooge for huge stars like Jack Benny & Fred Allen. Avery used him here doing his Thorny voice, the neighbour pal of Ozzie in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. He also does St. Peter the heavenly gatekeeper and Noah Webster, a voice which resembles Brown’s sepulchral Digger O’Dell, the “friendly undertaker” from The Life of Riley.


SCREWBALL SQUIRREL

Wally Maher – voice of Screwy Squirrel

Here is a cartoon for the true Avery-holics. Wally Maher was one of the stalwarts of Hollywood radio, a fine and mostly anonymous artist who played a million hoods and cops equally well in comedies or dramas. One of his strangest creations was this bratty voice with the adenoidal sniff, which actor Tommy Riggs decided to use as the slightly unhinged boyfriend Wilbur on his Tommy Riggs & Betty Lou Show. It is a perfect fit for this anti-cute cartoon star, a voice that Avery admitted came first before he even had a character ready. He just wanted to use the voice after it got such huge laughs on radio. I believe it’s Maher also doing the falsetto cutesy Sammy Squirrel.

The identity of the voice for poor maligned mutt Meathead is not confirmed although I have suspected for years it is gag man Cal Howard, Tex’s old crony from his early days with Walter Lantz. Cal Howard was at MGM at the time, at first under Fred Quimby’s employ as a story man, then with big-time producer Arthur Freed as apprentice to comedy writer Wilkie Mahoney. Howard had earlier done a few odd voices for Schlesinger and Fleischer. Normally I wouldn’t name an unconfirmed voice, but recently one of the best of the new generation of cartoon historians, Devon Baxter, made the same connection. Why? Because we had both heard the revival of this Meathead voice a few years later at Screen Gems in the 1945-46 era when Howard was their main gag man, and who Bob Clampett confirmed did voices there. Meathead’s voice is heard nowhere else in the history of animated cartoons but these two venues, and in the first Screwy cartoons, the canine’s voice is instantly the funniest of all the many brain-dead dumb dogs of cartoon-dom. [Interestingly, Tex tired of the Screwy character rather quickly and seemed a little embarrassed about him in his later years.]


THE SCREWY TRUANT

Wally Maher is back as Screwy and as annoyingly obnoxious as before. This time though Meathead is spoken by Pinto Colvig, who was freelancing as a gagman, song writer and voice at Metro and Disney. Pat McGeehan is the gruff wolf.


BIG HEEL-WATHA

For this entry Avery was able to employ four of the West Coast’s top radio talents. They were Wally Maher as Screwy, Frank Graham doubling as the narrator and Chief Rain-in-Face, Sara Berner as Minnie-Hot-cha who finally speaks like Mae West, and Bill Thompson as Heel-watha doing his patented Wallace Wimple voice from radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly. This was Thompson’s last cartoon recording for a while as he was due to serve in World War II in the U.S. Navy. While he was away, it is generally thought that Avery filled in for him as the Droopy voice in a few other cartoons. Tex’s writer Heck Allen hinted as much in a couple of interviews.


LONESOME LENNY

This frantic cartoon marked Wally Maher’s final appearance as Screwy Squirrel (he doubles as the pet store owner). Sara Berner plays the snooty customer, in an imitation of one of those screwball comedy heiresses like Mary Boland. But the real star of this cartoon is Tex himself reprising his fine Lon Chaney, Jr. voice imitation from the movie Of Mice and Men. That film and especially Chaney’s performance had inspired Tex mightily back in 1939 to create Willoughby the dog (and to supply his voice) in the Warner cartoons THE CRACKPOT QUAIL and OF FOX AND HOUNDS.


Dick Nelson

HOUND HUNTERS

Tex again offers a dumb voice variation of his Willoughby/Lenny voice for Junior, the larger member of the George & Junior partnership. Actor-mimic Dick Nelson, who worked mainly in cartoons for Walter Lantz, spoke for the smaller George. The voice he used was a Flatbush dialect, an impression of the character Archie the manager from radio’s long-running comedy hit Duffy’s Tavern, which Nelson had already parodied a year before in Warner’s HUSH MY MOUSE.


RED HOT RANGERS

Nelson and Tex team again to voice this amusing duo, battling the animated flame to end all animated flames.


DUMB-HOUNDED

Here is the first appearance of the deceptively mush-mouthed basset hound Droopy, although he wasn’t officially named as Droopy until 1949’s SENOR DROOPY (slated – we fervently hope – for a future collection?). This mild dog was arguably Tex’s most famous MGM cartoon star, although fans of the Wolf, Red and Screwy may agree to disagree. Avery told his biographer Joe Adamson that it was inspired by Bill Thompson’s henpecked Wallace Wimple voice from the Fibber McGee and Molly program, but Thompson had to vary the voice a bit for Droopy. The dog sounds slower and sadder (his Heel-watha voice is more like the radio Wimple). Frank Graham is heard as the Mayor at the end and of course reprises his marvellous Wolf voice yet again, this time in a non-lecherous, more criminal guise.


Pat McGeehan (left) with Red Skelton

WAGS TO RICHES

Bill Thompson was back from his war service but was unable to record the Droopy voice for this cartoon due to a scheduling conflict. Tex asked Daws Butler if he could do it, and Daws in turn recommended a ventriloquist-cum-actor he had met at a radio school in 1947. His name was Don Messick and as we all know, he and Daws went on to cartoon immortality some eight years later when Hanna & Barbera truly kickstarted the whole TV cartoon business with RUFF & REDDY.

The sonorous opening voice of the lawyer is Pat McGeehan, a fine radio talent who was the multi-voice male stock company for Red Skelton’s long running radio show, and who also worked as a straight announcer and stentorian narrator. Here McGeehan doubles as the Irish dog catcher. Tex does Spike’s barks and chesty laughs, which Messick lifted years later for Hanna-Barbera’s chuckling dogs like Muttley. And when Spike falls from an open window, the terrified scream is reused from one heard in many Tom & Jerry cartoons and which was done by the one and only Bill Hanna himself.


Don Messick (fill-in Droopy)

THE CHUMP CHAMP

Messick subs as Droopy again, filling in for Thompson (whose voice is heard in an old “Hello” which Avery cut in). Daws Butler is virtually every other voice: Announcer, Spike, the phony Fortune Teller and even the Queen of Sports, but Frank Graham is also heard saying, “And now the final event…” [This was an extra line recorded at a different session.]


DAREDEVIL DROOPY
The final cartoon in this collection has fizzy-voiced Bill Thompson back in the role he created and was born for. Tex does Spike’s woofs and “Tim – BER” again, and the cartoon also features an actor as the Circus Man. Could this be Shep Menken, whom Avery said he used in cartoons? (It sounds a bit like Freberg, but Tex swore he didn’t recall using him even though Freberg had been in on auditions.)

Avery’s deep catalog is only just beginning to be mined in this Blu-ray release so we must all cross our fingers and hope the series continues. Avery was one of the single most important contributors to the theatrical cartoon. He certainly has his detractors, those who find his work simply too wild and zany, but they are outvoted by the millions who love Avery’s daring and ground-breaking comedy and who just can’t get enough.


Sources: CBS & NBC Program Information; the great Ned Comstock at USC who sourced some fine MGM music department records for me; Margaret Herrick AMPAS Library; Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Radio Life collection; Thousand Oaks Library radio script archives; Joe Adamson’s seminal book Tex Avery King of Cartoons, the fine Moondance TCM documentary (1988); correspondence with Jerry Brewer, Robert Bruce, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Chuck Jones, June Foray, Paul Frees; Card file indices at the Billy Rose Theatre Collection (Lincoln Center); information via Michael Barrier, Milton Gray, the late Hames Ware, Graham Webb, Devon Baxter. And my radio show collector network, especially Ken Greenwald, Ron Barnett, Skip Craig and Don Aston.

Thanks always to the inestimable Jerry Beck for this fine forum.

© Copyright KEITH SCOTT: Feb 1, 2020

30 Comments

  • Superb, well laid-out post.

  • Fantastic article, and yes, I await my copy of the first volume of TEX AVERY’S SCREWBALL CLASSICS, VOL. 1 and *WILL* see it through to the delicious end!

    MGM was not the first place that Tex thought to use other voices sometimes remaining a mystery. At Warner Brothers, he proved that Mel Blanc, although credited as such, was *NOT* the only voice over talent on the various soundtracks. In fact, I wondered if the voice of Egghead in cartoons like “CINDERELLA MEETS FELLA” and “BELIEVE IT OR ELSE”followed Tex to MGM. Tex knew just what voices worked to even enhance the character or the comedy; note the yodeling of Egghead in “A FUED THERE WAS” or, reverting back to MGM, a bit of music that still remains a mystery, the singing “red” character in “WILD AND WOLFY”, seemingly taken from an old country western record…or was it recorded specially for this short? I wonder if the recording still exists somewhere in those dusty vaults at Warner Brothers or what is left of MGM. This cartoon will no doubt appear on a second volume of SCREWBALL CLASSICS as it is perhaps Tex’s favorite and best sendup of the western gunslinger pictures.

    And, of course, a principal player in these Avery cartoons, like all MGM cartoons, are the lush scores by Scott Bradley. He musts have stressed a bit as to how to keep up with Tex Avery’s speedy gags. “LONESOME LENNY” is perhaps the best example on this first volume of how he kept up well with Avery’s timing. Another will be “ONE HAM’S FAMILY”, a cartoon that I remember oddly enough only being shown once or twice on TV when I was a kid in front of that black and white TV watching what I realized were black and white prints being run even into the age of color TV sets on our ABC affiliate.

    One could say that Bradley and Avery balanced each other out in the SCREWY SQUIRREL gruesome finale, but “ONE HAM’S FAMILY” is a great cartoon for startling gags, with the Mean Wittwe Kid caricature inspired by the character from Red Skelton radio days “heckling you people out there” by scraping a piece of chalk across the blackboard and winking “Oh I sure is a mean wittwe kid, ain’t I?” I cracked up when I was reminded of this at a Tex Avery animation festival in the 1980’s and it was one of the MGM classics shown by Leonard Maltin at his famed New School animation history nights.

    Bradley hardly misses a beat here as the cartoon opens with narration by Kent Rogers (please feel free to correct me, should I be mistaken) setting up the story. This cartoon surely must have inspired similar parodies later to come from Warner Brothers, and Tex himself tried to do this at Warner Brothers with varying results, but the frenetic pace of this cartoon amps up the possibilities when it comes to both scoring and sound effects.

    • Hi Kevin– Thanks forthe nice words.
      You’re right, it is Kent Rogers in ONE HAM’S FAMILY narrating the opening, as well as doing the Mean Widdle Kid and the Gildersleeve wolf. And in WILD AND WOOLFY it is Ann Pickard singing especially for the cartoon. As for Tex taking voices with him from WB to MGM, they would be Kent, Billy Bletcher, Sara Berner and Elvia Allman. Egghead was mostly Dave Weber doing the Joe Penner version of Egghead, but he was drafted and didn’t work for Tex at Metro.

  • Excellent article, Keith. I swore I read somewhere Tex did Santa in “Who Killed Who?” but I’ll defer to your judgment.

    • Thanks, Thad. No, I am now so familiar with Rogers’s voice that I can tell. But it sounds like him imitating Tex’s direction. Also sounds like one of his voices in Lantz’s THE HAMS THAT COULDN’T BE CURED from memory, but softer.

    • I heard that did voiced Santa in Walter Lantz’s 1935 TOYLAND PREMIERE. Is this correct?
      Because to me, it sounds like Billy Bletcher.

  • So it IS Tex who voices Lonesome Lenny, some sources said it was him, but others suggested that it was Dick Nelson who was also capable of that type of voice.

    And while Connie Russell was the singing voice of Red in RED HOT RIDING HOOD, she was later replaced by Imogene Lynn for singing voice in SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA and LITTLE RURAL RIDING HOOD. In the latter, the speaking voice is done by Colleen Collins – who later was one of two women who voiced JOT THE DOT.

    • Thanks. It’s definitley Tex, who told his own biographer Joe Adamson he was Lenny and Junior. I don’t think Connie Russell was replaced by Imogene Lynn, so much as the music contractor at MGM recommending Ms Lynn when the recording was needed. (I have seen one record showing a few other singers were auditioned). In LITTLE RURAL Tex just re-used Ms Lynn’s track from SWING SHIFT CINDERELLA. (Colleen Collins was imitating Judy Canova from her hayseed radio character.)

    • No it wasn’t Billy Bletcher as Santa in TOYLAND PREMIERE, nor was it Tex. It was a bass baritone singer names Allan Watson.

  • Such a magnificent post, thanks a lot!

  • “Avery’s deep catalog is only just beginning to be mined in this Blu-ray release so we must all cross our fingers and hope the series continues.”

    Oh I don’t think you’ll have to worry about that. 😉

    See for yourself, the Blu-ray has already proven to be a big seller. 🙂

    Anyway, wonderful, WONDERFUL info Keith! Very useful. 🙂

  • A-very good post! Get it? A-very? Avery? Oh, never mind. But if I could construct a replica of the wolf’s hand-cranked applause machine, I would be spinning its handle wildly in appreciation.

    When I was twelve I discovered that my transistor radio could pick up the audio signal from a couple of TV stations. Thus I didn’t have to miss out on my Saturday morning cartoons while on camping trips. Best of all was listening to those cartoons without dialogue (Roadrunner, Pink Panther), and letting the music and sound effects alone tell the story and stimulate the imagination. It would be worthwhile to examine Tex Avery’s cartoons in this way, for the reasons you’ve cited above. But to turn my eyes away from Red while watching “Red Hot Riding Hood” — no. This I cannot do. It’s not possible. HAROOOOOO!!!!!!!

  • I’ve always thought Bill Scott did the hayseed chicken of THE HICK CHICK. Nothing to go on but a noticeable similarity to Scott’s voice for Bullwinkle. I think of Scott whenever I watch this curious cartoon.

    • Hi Frank…yes, I hear the similarity you can detect, but it’s another. And Bill Scott himself told me his first cartoon job as a voice and not a writer was a Pete Hothead entry at UPA. (When Tex did this cartoon Scott wasn’t a performer but a full-time assistant cartoonist based at FMPU, then to Warner Bros. as a staff story man). THE HICK CHICK probably seems curious to most viewers today, unless you’ve listened to a lot of Skelton’s 1940s radio shows, as there are references to characters and catchphrases.

  • Great article, Keith! Do you think that Fred MacAlpin was the SFX guy who came up with the idea to use a bullet ricochet sound for a fast character exit, or a fast run past the camera in MGM cartoons? This effect was first used in early Tom and Jerry cartoons, such as “The Bodyguard”, and used a lot by Tex for all kinds of fast zips and “takes”. I was thinking that if MacAlpin suggested a .22 caliber shot gun for a ball and bat sound effect in “Batty Baseball”, that maybe he would have been the one to introduce other gun sounds like a bullet ricochet in to the cartoon effects canon. Bill and Joe of course carried a lot of the MGM effects with them to H-B Enterprises when they went in to business for themselves. Sound effects libraries often ID the bullet sounds as “H-B Ricos”.

    • Thanks for the nice comment, Mark. I once read an interview with MacAlpin and he spoke of being responsible for many zany MGM effects for the several years he was there (1934-49). He and his two assistants did all Tex’s 1940s cartoons, as well as Bill & Joe’s.

  • Considering the highly anticipated release of the long-overdue DVD, the phrase might be tweaked a bit to “Hello, all you happy Tex payers.” A welcome reminder that once upon a time animation was Tex Avery and not the tech slavery it is today.

  • What a wonderful post. Now if we could get Keith to write a post like this for every cartoon short ever made…what a history we would have. Bless you Keith Scott for giving these players their due!

  • Thanks for posting. It’s nice to finally see pix of the voice actors, especially Frank Graham. Did you know Graham provided the “voice” of The Crimson Ghost” in the Republic Pictures serial trailer? In the actual serial itself actor Stan Jolley was the voice.

    • Thanks for that info, Ken.

  • I had no idea that John Brown grew up in Australia! His scenes as the friendly undertaker Digby O’Dell in the radio comedy “The Life of Riley” were my favourite part of the show. (Riley: “You’ve been in this business a long time, Digger. I’ll bet if all your customers were laid out end to end —” Digger: “They are!”) Brown also played Riley’s neighbour and fellow Brooklynite Gillis.

    Do you know of any other work he did in animation?

    Well, cheerio! I’d better be “shoveling off”!

    • Paul, he spent some time in Melbourne before his family moved to New York City. Brown was in a Disney Goofy short (A KNIGHT FOR A DAY), and he narrated UPA’s THE UNCORN IN THE GARDEN. Worked again for Tex in DIXIELAND DROOPY.

  • Great article, Keith! I commend you fo your dedication in researching little documented actors of animation!

    I strongly believe Tex Avery was doing voice work as early as the Universal years, on top of animating, sketching gags and ghost directing, sadly I have no concrete proof of it. 1934’s “Ye Happy Pilgrims” lets us hear a scream that in my ears sounded too much like Tex’s voice to not make any connection when Oswald’s friend notices he’s been pacing up a couple trees, but of course I’ll be happy to defer to your judgement. Here’s the incriminating evidence https://youtu.be/F9I_L55S3go?t=254

    • Yes, I also hear Avery in various early Lantz cartoons. And Tex himself owned up to it in a 1933 article (he said he was one of the voices for Oswald). Thanks for the note.

  • Where were you in 1982 when I ran my Tex Avery program in college?!? Other than Tex’s contributions, I had no voice info whatsoever! But seriously, I have been waiting almost 40 years for this article. Can’t wait until King Size Canary comes out: I just love to know who did the “Ohh, I’ve been sick!” line.l Thank you

    • That same line was also used in “Slap Happy Lion” (both 1947). Joking about children deformed by polio — yep, Tex went there.

    • Charles, it was Sara Berner who recorded the “Well….I’ve been sick” line for a small crocodile in SLAP HAPPY LION. Tex had the sound department lift the recording and reuse it in his next cartoon, KING SIZE CANARY.

  • Was the Durante buzzard in “What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard” voiced by Harry E. Lang? Because when I was watching “The Cat that Hated People,” which also featured a Durante soundalike cat that was also voiced by Lang, it drew to my conclusion that Lang did the voice for the buzzard since it sounded close to that.

    • I disagree it’s Harry Lang, sorry. That guess I think came from Graham Webb’s incorrect information in his McFarland Encyclopedia (2000) ad possibly repeated on IMDb (I haven’t checked because it’s cartoon voice attributions are so often wrong). I am very familiar with Lang’s voice and I believe the Durante imitation to be another actor that I am not naming until I’m more sure. It is the same actor, however, from THE CAT THAT HATED PEOPLE, you had that right!

  • Exquisite and very enlightening piece, Keith! Being an auteur, Avery’s comedic timing and visual shtick has been lauded a hundredfold by fans and scholars alike (and rightly so). But reading your analysis for the vocal performances and sound featured in Tex’s MGM cartoons was a real breath of fresh air and further testament to Avery’s creative genius!

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