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Arts & Entertainment

Happy 95th birthday to June Foray, whose talents make animation expert Charles Solomon hear voices

June Foray and comic strip letterer Shel Dorf at Chuck Jones studio in Los Angeles, 1978.
June Foray and comic strip letterer Shel Dorf at Chuck Jones studio in Los Angeles, 1978.
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You can meet June Foray in person, and wish her a happy birthday, AND get in cheaper if you bring her some flowers! There's a public party for her at The Coffee Gallery in Altadena on Thursday, September 27. Will Ryan and the Cactus County Cowboys will be there, too! Check the link below to hear their exclusive Off-Ramp performance of "Rhythm Rides the Range.")

I knew June Foray before I ever met her. I knew Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Dudley Do-Right’s adoring Nell Fenwick. George of the Jungle’s patient wife Ursula. The Bronx Princess in Stan Freberg’s Making America Great album. And Witch Hazel in Chuck Jones’ Broomstick Bunny. And I knew countless other animals, princesses, wizards, newsboys and other characters who would have been mute without Junes’ talents.

The more I learned about animation the more I realized what made June such a great voice actress was not that she could do so many voices, but that she was first and foremost a great actress. When she read a line, you believed it. Witch Hazel was really so worried she might become pretty she’d mistake Bugs Bunny in his Halloween costume for a real witch — one she could ask for ugly tips. You understood Rocky’s skepticism about Boris’ Badenov’s latest scheme — and Natasha’s concern that it wasn’t going to work -- again. June understood the importance of an inflection, a stressed word or a pause when she delivered a line. Even a cartoon squirrel has thoughts and emotions: June understood them and how to make them feel real to an audience.

And she understood how to be understated. Chuck Jones used to say that after working with an actress as polished as June, he lost all patience with performers who overacted behind the mike and wanted to yell, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

When I began writing about animation, June was one of the first people to make me feel like a welcome member of the artistic community. I learned she served as an ambassador of good will for the medium, doing voices for fans, speaking at festivals and giving parties so visiting artists could meet Southern California animators. I used to joke that if a flying saucer landed, I could just say I knew June Foray and the Little Green Men would happily beep that she’d spoken at their animation festival on Saturn.

I also discovered that June was an intelligent, well-read woman, and an outspoken liberal who made Nixon’s enemies list for helping to organize the Meat Boycott.

Years later, I take pleasure in knowing the real June as well as the many characters she brought to life on the screen. Happy 95th June, and many happy returns!