Though few may have known her name or her face, millions of children — or anybody who was a child as far into the past as the late ’50s — knew the voice of June Foray. The legendary voice actress passed away on Thursday at the age of 99. Foray’s close friend, Dave Nimitz, made the announcement via Facebook saying, “With a heavy heart again I want to let you all know that we lost our little June today at 99 years old.”
Foray, born June Lucille Forer before taking her stage name, worked in the film and animation industry for over 80 years. During that time she voiced an astonishing number and range of characters — which remain ingrained in American pop culture to this day.
To wit: Rocket (Rocky) J. Squirrel and Natasha Fatale of the animated “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Cindy Lou Who in the original animated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” Jokey Smurf of “The Smurfs,” and Emma Webster (aka Granny of the Sylvester & Tweety cartoons) — a character she voiced almost exclusively for a staggering 59 years beginning in 1955 and ending only in 2014, when Foray herself was 96 years old.
Though these are some of her most famous and recognizable roles, she provided voices for many other smaller roles, too, such as Nell from “Dudley Do-Right,” Magica De Spell of Disney’s “Donald Duck,” Lucifer the Cat in “Cinderella,” and a near-uncountable number of others.
People familiar with TV animation and the Looney Tunes cartoons in particular might be reminded of Mel Blanc, known as “the man of 1,000 voices,” who performed a staggering number of animated Warner Bros. characters. Foray has been compared to Blanc, though her friend and employer, Chuck Jones, has on occasion set the record straight, saying, according to a 2000 issue of Animation World Magazine, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.”
The two even worked together from time to time, with Blanc notably providing the voice for Tweety Bird alongside Foray’s Granny until his death in 1989.
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It was undoubtedly June Foray’s love of animation that kept her in the industry for so long, and perhaps one of the reasons she never moved very far into the territory of live action despite an obvious knack for acting. Maybe if she had, the world would remember more of her face and name — but that would have been an enormous loss to the welfare of animation in media and art. She joined AISFA-Hollywood, an American offshoot of the International Animated Film Society, shortly after its founding in 1957 and remained an instrumental lifetime member.
She also started the Annie Awards as the first official award ceremony that honored animated films, a tradition that is now approaching its 45th year. After sitting on the board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for 26 years, she was able to convince the board to establish the Academy Award category for animated films in 2001. The award category recently saw its 16th year.
Though we certainly have her to thank for her voices in so many of the shows we grew up watching, her most lasting contribution may have been in her commitment to elevate her industry and craft. Pixar films have been nominated for the best animated feature 10 times — and have won eight of those times.
It’s hard to imagine Pixar would be where it is today without Foray’s initial legwork.
So let’s give a final salute to the woman we probably never saw — and if we did see her, we probably didn’t recognize her. But we’ve almost certainly heard her speak. Over a career lasting longer than the average lifetime, Foray produced a staggering amount of work. With any luck, her voice will echo for generations to come as parents pass down the cherished films of their childhood to their own children. Today, one thing is certain: She will be missed by those who love her, whether they knew her by name or not.
(photo credit, article image: Alan Light, Flickr)