Tuesday, September 14, 2010

5 Early VO Influences

Happy Voice-Over Appreciation Month!

I thought I’d take a moment to showcase five voices that are probably responsible for the paths I’ve taken in life, be it radio or animation. Not that I knew it when I heard them, mind you. Let’s call them ‘early influences.’

Ernie Anderson
His voice was synonymous with ABC television for as long as I can remember. He was the personality of the network, which is the whole point of imaging. He had the voice of God and he made programs like the Love Boat sound like the most exciting show ever! You didn’t hop on board the “Love Boat.” You took a ride on the “Loooooooove Boat!” He almost made it sound dirty, which he claims was his intention in this terrific interview segment.


Wolfman Jack
That deep, raspy voice first came to my attention in a film favorite of mine, George Lucas’s “American Graffiti.” Although he wasn’t onscreen for long, his voice on the radio was as much a character in the movie as any of the young stars. There was a mystery about him. He sounded like a cartoon! What did he look like? Why does he call himself the Wolfman? Was he as hairy as a Werewolf? There’s a lesson in branding for you. I still enjoy his DJ bits on the (killer) soundtrack to this classic coming of age comedy. Jump to the :50 mark in the scene below to watch Wolfman Jack’s cameo with Richard Dreyfus.

Mel Blanc
No surprise here. The Man of a Thousand Voices! He’s on everybody’s list. Bugs Bunny, Barney Rubble, Speed Buggy. I’m sure Mel Blanc was the first animation voice I ever heard, and I’m positive he was the first voice-actor I ever saw in front of the camera. Seeing him onscreen in that famous American Express commercial didn’t break the illusion for me. I knew they were hand-drawn cartoons. But to think all of those voices came out of one man? I just thought he had the coolest job in the world! Apparently many folks felt that way as his requests for autographs jumped significantly as a result of the ad.

James Earl Jones
Another great mystery here. Two or three, in fact. And another George Lucas movie… Star Wars. David Prowse was tall enough to fill out the Darth Vader costume, but a British tenor was not what Lucas had in mind for the voice of filmdom’s most popular villain. He chose the deep, bass tones of James Earl Jones. And when the helmet came off in Return of the Jedi? It was neither of these guys. But “Luke, I am your father” is one of the most (mis)quoted lines in film history (he actually says ‘No. I am your father.’) And then there’s his great speech in “Field of Dreams.” And of course, the ID for CNN.

Rich Little
Rich Little was always on TV when I was growing up. Seemingly able to do an impression of anyone, he even had the targets of his satire laughing (as you’ll see in the clip below). Rich Little had me doing impressions of Rich Little doing impressions of celebrities. And we can still take a lesson from his fearlessness when performing… He’s not afraid to look silly. He commits to the role. And he really becomes the character in posture, mannerisms and facial expressions.

This is by no means a definitive list of my voice-over heroes, nor are they ranked by importance. But when I stop and think about it, they really are my earliest voice-over influences. They provided the catch-phrases of my youth.

Who influenced your VO career?


  1. Except for Wolfman Jack, those are 4 of my early influences as well. I just thought of Jack as a crazy radio personality. True, he had a unique voice, but it wasn't an influence on me.

    I'd also add:

    - Jonathan Winters
    I was amazed by his uncanny skill for improv and split-second characterization.

    - Bill Cosby
    Memorized his comedy albums as a child, and loved his "Fat Albert" cartoon.

    - Stan Freberg
    Memorized his comedy albums in my youth as well, and I remember when I first identified his voice in a Looney Tunes cartoon as being the same guy. It made me feel like I was a genius.

    - Pat Fraley
    I'd been a fan of Pat's cartoon voice work from shows in the 70s and 80s. He was also my first industry contact when I found his home phone number on the internet and called him. He sent me a copy of "Creating Character Voices for Fun & Profit," and without meaning to sound cliche I have to say it literally changed my life.

    - Gary Owens
    Loved his booming baritone voice in any medium, but especially cartoons. His performance gave the "Space Quest" adventure game series a whole 'nother level of entertainment.

    - Daws Butler
    Just a brilliant and incredibly versatile character voice actor.

    - Old Time Radio
    My family didn't have a TV in the house for 8 years when I was a kid, and thankfully it was the same time that Radio Theatre experienced a Golden Age. I was able to listen to classic OTR shows on a local radio station every weekend, in addition to new productions like the Star Wars Radio Dramas and Adventures in Odyssey.

    - The casts of the Jay Ward cartoons, but especially Rocky & Bullwinkle/Fractured Fairy Tales.

    - The cast of "Transformers" - I think was already a voice actor fan when I was pretty young just from my love of cartoons, but it was the performances on Transformers that cemented my lifelong interest in voice actors. Names like Frank Welker, Peter Cullen, Corey Burton and Michael Bell became my heroes, and it led me to pursue a career as a performer and character voice actor.

  2. Voiceroy,

    Thank you for sharing your picks, and your thoughtful comments. All good choices!