June Foray, cartoon voice, dies at 99

Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of the many characters voiced by June Foray

June Foray, a cartoon voice for decades, has died at 99, according to an obituary posted by Variety.

Her many credits include Rocky and Bullwinkle, where she voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel and villain Natasha Fatale.

She was also a voice on Warner Bros. cartoons for characters such as Granny and Witch Hazel. Foray eventually got on-screen credits on those cartoons.

Foray also did “bumpers” for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. telling viewers the show would be return after station identification and to stay tuned for previews of the next week’s episode. One of her bumper recordings was included in a home video release of the series. And she was the voice of Talking Tina, a killer doll in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

June Foray (1917-2017)

“She was, of course, the premier female voice talent of her era,” Mark Evanier, a television and comic book writer wrote of Foray on his blog.

“I don’t know who the runner-up was but whoever it was, she was in a distant second in terms of hours logged voicing cartoons and commercials, dubbing movies, doing narration, appearing on radio shows and records…even providing the voice for talking dolls,” Evanier wrote.

The writer called Foray “a talented workaholic who for decades, drove into Hollywood every weekday early in the morning and went from recording session to recording session until well after dark.”

Foray died less than two months short of what would have been her 100th birthday.

UPDATE: Here’s an excerpt of an interview June Foray did for the Archive of American Television.

Fritz Weaver, dependable character actor, dies at 90

Fritz Weaver's title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver’s title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver, a versatile character in television and movies, has died at 90, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

The Times’ obituary led with how Weaver won he won a Tony award and that he played a German doctor slain by the Nazis in the 1978 mini-series Holocaust.

Weaver’s career extended from the 1950s into the 21st century. It included performances in a number of 1960s spy shows, including the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The Vulcan Affair, or its movie version, To Trap a Spy) and multiple episodes of Mission: Impossible. He also appeared in the pilot to Magnum: PI, which had a story line involving international intrigue.

The actor’s non-spy television appearances included two episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Weaver’s film appearances included 1964’s Fail Safe, as an Air Force officer who cracks under pressure, and Black Sunday, a 1977 John Frankenheimer-directed movie about terrorists who attempt an attack at the Super Bowl.

While Weaver never became a star, he found steady work on film and the stage. What follows is a clip of Weaver in a third-season episode of The FBI, where he played a member of a spy ring.

Happy (belated) 99th birthday, June Foray

Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of the many characters voiced by June Foray

Natasha Fatale from Rocky and Bullwinkle, one of the many characters voiced by June Foray

We would be remiss if we didn’t note that Sept. 18 was the 99th birthday of June Foray, the greatest living cartoon voice.

Her many credits include voicing Rocky, the Flying Squirrel, as well as Natasha Fatale. Natasha was half of the villainous pair of Boris and Natasha, who kept trying to do in Rocky and Bullwinkle the Moose in 1960s cartoons produced by Jay Ward. (Ward’s producing partner, Bill Scott (1920-85), was the voice of Bullwinkle.)

She was a voice on many Warner Bros. cartoons (Granny, Witch Hazel). It took a while but she eventually got an on-screen credit on the cartoons.

Of course, Foray also got voice over jobs on live-action programs. She did the “bumpers” on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. informing viewers the show would resume “after station identification.” She was the voice of Talking Tina, a creepy doll in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Writer Mark Evanier of The News From ME blog has a tribute you can read by CLICKING HERE.

Burt Reynolds at 80: the (could-have-been) Bond

Burt Reynolds and the cast of Hooper in the film's final scene

Burt Reynolds at the end of Hooper (1978)

Feb. 11 was the 80th birthday of Burt Reynolds. For a time, in the very early 1970s, some (such as director Guy Hamilton) thought he could have been a good James Bond.

That wasn’t meant to be, but the actor’s milestone birthday is worthy of a pause for reflection.

Reynolds was a better actor than a lot of his critics gave him credit for. At the same time, for a long time, Reynolds was quoted as acknowledging that he accepted some roles because it would be fun, rather than stretching his acting chops.

Regardless, Reynolds worked his way up. For a time in the early 1960s, he was a supporting player on Gunsmoke as Quint Asper, a half-Indian blacksmith in Dodge City. Reynolds also had a memorable guest appearance on The Twilight Zone, where he played a pompous actor, doing a spot-on impersonation of Marlon Brando.

Reynolds later became the lead actor in police dramas such as Hawk and Dan August.

The latter, which aired during the 1970-71 season on ABC, was a turning point. Not because it was successful, but because Reynolds took a copy of the show’s “blooper reel” with him on talk shows. (See the book Quinn Martin, Producer for more details.) For the first time, audiences could see what his colleagues already knew — Reynolds had a sense of humor.

Reynolds could be serious when he wanted to, such as the 1971 movie Deliverance. But, for some (such as the Spy Commander), one of his best performances — where drama and comedy were required — was 1978’s Hooper.

In that Hal Needham-directed film, Reynolds played the lead stunt man on a James Bond-like movie being directed by an “A” list movie director (Robert Klein). The latter character was based on Peter Bogdanovich, who directed 1976’s Nickelodeon, a film where Reynolds worked as an actor and Needham as stunt coordinator.

In 1978, it was inconceivable that an “A” list director would ever do a Bond movie. So, in some ways, Hooper was a sort-of preview of the Sam Mendes-directed 007 films of the 21st century.

Anyway, here’s a hearty happy birthday for Burt Reynolds.

The man who assembled the ‘QM Players’

John Conwell's title card in a second-season episode of 12 O'Clock High.

John Conwell’s title card in a second-season episode of 12 O’Clock High.

One of an occasional series about unsung heroes of television.

In the 1960s and ’70s, shows produced at QM Productions had the feel of a repertory theater as many of the same guest stars appeared on various Quinn Martin shows.

As noted in the book Quinn Martin, Producer, there was an even nick name for this: the “QM Players.” The informal group consisted of performers such as Leslie Nielsen (star of the first QM series, The New Breed), Peter Mark Richman, Louise Latham, Jessica Walter, J.D. Cannon, Lynda Day George, Bradford Dillman and many others.

The QM executive responsible for this was John Conwell, who headed the company’s casting operation. He was a former actor, appearing in such productions as The Twilight Zone pilot, Where Is Everybody? and as a guest star in a Ray Milland series, Markham.

Conwell moved from in front of the camera to behind it, including the fourth season of The Twilight Zone, when the show aired in a one-hour format. He became part of QM Productions with that company’s second series, The Fugitive.

For most of his time at QM, however, Conwell’s titles in QM show credits didn’t really give the audience an idea of what he did.

Conwell was initially credited as “assistant to producer,” then “assistant to the executive producer.” Finally, by 1977, he was credited as “in charge of talent.”

In any case, Conwell became one of producer Quinn Martin’s key lieutenants. Martin paid more for guest stars ($5,000 for a one-hour episode compared with a going rate of $2,500). So that helped raise the interest of performers to be on QM shows.

Still, it was Conwell who ran the QM casting operation, which also had casting directors for individual series. That may help to explain why actors kept coming back.

Conwell even stayed at the company after Martin’s departure following the sale of QM Productions to Taft Broadcasting. He died in 1994 at the age of 72.

The Twilight Zone’s spy story

John Van Dreelan and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

John Van Dreelen and Martin Landau in The Jeopardy Room

The Twilight Zone, more than a half century after it ended its original run on CBS, remains fondly remembered — an example of how television can be imaginative and thought provoking.

It also, in its final season, deviated from its usual fare of science fiction and fantasy to present a spy story.

The Jeopardy Room, which originally aired April 17, 1964, is essentially a two-man play for television.

On the one side, we have Major Ivan Kuchenko (Martin Landau), a Soviet military officer who served 12 years of hard time in Siberia. He wants to defect to the West. Despite his long imprisonment, he still has information that would be of value to the West.

On the other side, there is Commissar Vassiloff (John Van Dreelen). He has tortured Kuchenko in the past. Moreover, Vassiloff fancies himself as the last of the “imaginative” executioners. Vassiloff has been assigned to kill Kuchenko to make sure he doesn’t reach the West. But Vassiloff wants to do it with style.

In Act I, the two opponents meet in a dingy hotel room Kuchenko is renting. Vassiloff gets the better of him, tricking Kuchenko into drinking drugged wine. Vassiloff drinks first but has developed an immunity to the drug through constant use.

In Act II, Kuchenko awakes in the same room. Vassiloff has planted a fatal booby trap in a common object. Kuchenko has three hours to find it. If the would-be defector tries to get away, he’ll be shot by a thug accompanying Vassiloff.

The booby trap is in the room’s telephone. Kuchenko almost bites but figures it out. Eventually, he manages to get out before Vassioff’s thug can kill him. A bit later, Vassiloff and his flunky are in the room. Vassiloff is determined to get Kuchenko in “the next city.” Just then, the phone rings and Vassiloff’s (not too bright) lackey picks up the receiver, setting off an explosion.

At a telephone booth in an airport we see Kuchenko being told by an operator that the call has been disconnected. “That is all right, operator,” he says. “I have reached them.”

While not the best for what the series had to offer, The Jeopardy Room shows that writer-creator Rod Serling still had plenty in the creative tank despite five years of exhaustive television production on The Twilight Zone. The final season of The Twilight Zone consisted of 36 episodes. On broadcast networks today, 22 or 23 episodes is a full season.

Landau is a sympathetic hero. But Serling and director Richard Donner give Van Dreelen a springboard to chew the scenery. We say this admiringly. It’s a great performance by an old pro.

Van Dreelen would be a villain in a number of 1960s television shows. He makes the most of his part here, even smoking a cigarette in a long cigarette holder. Interestingly, Van Dreelen and Donner would be reunited a few months later, working together in two first-season episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Espionage was not The Twilight Zone’s wheel house. You could argue the ending is a little too pat (you’d think Vassiloff would have the flunky disarm the bomb in the telephone before coming in). Still, this episode was a great change of pace for a classic series.

Trivia: If you see this episode in syndication today (like on the evening of April 23 on MeTV), you’ll see a blurred image on the lower left of the end titles. Originally, there was a pack of cigarettes there because of a sponsor during the show’s run in the 1963-64 season.

Salute to two character actors familiar to TV spy fans

For those who were fans of 1960s spy shows, there were some familiar faces you just could not get away from. Heroes need villains and some character actors got plenty of work as a result.

Two such actors were Alfred Ryder (1916-1995) and John Van Dreelen (1922-1992).

Ryder showed up in four episodes of Mission: Impossible, two of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., once in It Takes a Thief and twice in The Wild, Wild West. Van Dreelen appeared twice on The Man From U.N.C.L.E., twice on The Wild, Wild West, once on Mission: Impossible, once on I Spy, twice on The Blue Light (the short lived World War II spy series), and even once in The Twilight Zone as an Eastern Bloc spy.

In 1966, they appeared together in an espionage-themed episode of The FBI. Ryder actually got to play a sympathetic role of an Israeli Nazi hunter while Van Dreelen was a former Nazi now spying for the Soviets. Van Dreelen often played Nazis and Nazi-types, ironic because, according to his imdb.com bio, he escaped a Nazi concentration camp by disguising himself as a Nazi officer.

Here’s the start and the end. On the second video, the image remains frozen for about a minute before resuming.