See What Famous Cartoon Voices Looked Like In Real Life [UPDATED]

Chalk this up to personal prejudice, but I find professional cartoon voice actors today almost universally unbearable. On more than one occasion, their shrill and abrasive performances have rendered an animated TV series impossible for me to watch. This dissonant quality of contemporary cartoon voices extends across nearly every animation studio and network, which leads me to suspect that some type of ingrained industry-wide belief has evolved over the years amongst casting directors, actors, and TV show directors that a cartoon voice must be caricatured and “wacky” at any cost.

By contrast, I find cartoon voice acting from the Golden Age of theatrical and TV animation (1930s to 1960s) to be almost uniformly excellent. These actors are much funnier to listen to while also exhibiting more rigorous performance-oriented discipline. This first generation of voice actors created cartoon characters that had a warm, believable, and dare I say it, human quality.

It should be no surprise that these early voice actors were also skilled as live performers, something that can’t be said for most of today’s full-time voice actors. Most Golden Age voice actors enjoyed extensive careers in film, TV and radio, quite often as character actors. The proof can be found in the following three-part series of YouTube videos created by Ray Mujica that shows rare clips of famous cartoon voice actors in live-action roles. The actors and actresses who are featured in this video series include:

  • Mae Questel (Betty Boop, Olive Oyl)
  • Billy Bletcher (Peg-Leg Pete, Spike the Bulldog)
  • Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson)
  • Alan Reed (Fred Flintstone)
  • Arthur Q. Byran (Elmer Fudd)
  • Bill Thompson (Droopy)
  • George O’Hanlon (George Jetson)
  • Hans Conried (Snidely Whiplash)
  • Bea Benaderet (Betty Rubble)
  • Arnold Stang (Top Cat)

It’s a delightful way to spend half an hour.

Part three isn’t embeddable for whatever reason, but HERE IT IS.


[UPDATE]: Reader Eric Graf points out that there are two other parts to this series:


  • http://fluffyandmervin.com/ Debbie

    I hate to be nitpicky, but Janet Waldo was the voice of Judy Jetson, not Janet Jetson. I will agree, though, that they all were (and are) wonderful and (more often than not) believable performers, many of whom haven’t quite gotten the same sort of attention that Mel Blanc, Daws Butler and Stan Freeberg have, but are just as memorable and talented. While he’s not listed here, I’d also include Jack Mercer to that list, who gave Popeye the Sailor a very warm and human voice which really brought him to life.

  • http://whataboutthad.com Thad Komorowski

    Part three has a glaring error. The titular character of THE HUNGRY GOAT is voiced by Gilbert Mack, not Arnold Stang. Stang didn’t do voices until the studio relocated to New York (starting with MOVING AWEIGH). Too bad a bit more effort wasn’t put in. It’s not like Stang didn’t do voices in many other Famous cartoons. And if a case is going to be made against the entire modern voiceover industry, Stan Freberg and Daws Butler probably should have been included in this retrospective, whoever they are.

    • MP

      Remember those old Encyclopedia Brittanica commercials? He’s the omniscient voice talking to the kid (his real life son). I just found that out a few days ago.

  • High Minded Civilian

    To the list of Amid’s mortal enemies, we can bafflingly add every single voice actor in existence who isn’t dead.

    • Mac

      Do you really not understand the specificity of what he’s talking about or are you just pretending he’s as simplistic and broad as you are? You could argue the merits of that aesthetic, but why mischaracterize his clear point?

    • axolotl

      Amid’s constant trolling is what keeps me coming back…

  • Gerard de Souza

    I think we have our share of great voices today. Like yesterday they are voice actors with “actor” being the operative word.
    Bad voices are bad because the individuals have an underlying assumption that cartoons are grating or shrill, so they grate or shrill.
    I saw a local interview with Candy Milo a few years ago and she said great voice actors are also great singers. She had a good point when I thought of it. The great ones know their range even for speaking; the bad ones don’t.
    But there are alot of great voice actors today (Just not always the big name actors).

  • http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog Michael Sporn

    Voices today are instructed to SCREAM their parts. No animtion character seems to talk anymore, they scream. It was something I protested in making ALL of my films. I didn’t indulge in the scream; the characters in my films talked like humans that they were – and this included Arnold Stang when he worked for me. I had more than one supervising producer argue with me over the years in their attempt to get more “life” into the performances. Yet all the tracks I produced were works that I am proud of.

    • Shazbot

      Bless you, Mr. Sporn.

  • EHH

    All I have to say about that critique on modern voice actors is this: Anybody here listen to “Talkin’ Toons with Rob Paulsen?”

    • EHH

      As for Voice Actors in Live Action Roles, I practically cheered when I saw Sterling Holloway do a bit part as a delivery boy in “Gold Diggers of 33″.

  • Brian O.

    “It should be no surprise that these early voice actors were also skilled as live performers, something that can’t be said for most of today’s full-time voice actors. Most Golden Age voice actors enjoyed extensive careers in film, TV and radio, quite often as character actors.”

    We still have live-action actors doing cartoon voices today so in the strictest regard that hasn’t changed from the past. The fundamental difference between now and then is that many of today’s actors are pretty faces with empty heads and meager vocal skills.

    • AM

      I always liked David Jason’s work at Cosgrove-Hall in the 80s and early 90s. He’s a very famous face on UK TV but can do a great range of voices too. Funny man.

    • John A

      This is so true. How many young actors voices today are even worth immitating? Actors during the Golden Years of Hollywood were identifiable by thier distinct voices as well as their famous faces.

  • http://www.toasterguy.com Aaron

    I like seeing these guys and gals – but I think the slam against modern cartoon voiceover artists is unnecessary. There are loads of talented people in the industry today. There are not so good people, too, but there’s so much more content being produced now that you’re bound to have a few bad apples. Doesn’t mean they spoil the whole bunch.

    I mean, you can enjoy and appreciate older stuff without hating on new stuff.

  • Eric Graf
  • Ronnie

    …Apparently, Amid has not watched anything with voice-acting by Rob Paulsen, Billy West, Jess Harnell, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, John DiMaggio, Jeff Bennett, or, to abridge this list, any VA who worked on the Spielberg Four, Futurama, and/or Gargoyles.

    • Glen

      I have. They’re loud, grating, and obnoxious…with little to no acting ability. Granted, this may be how they’re being directed…but since most voice directors have little experience in animation–it’s easier to understand.

      • Doug

        Honestly? All of them are loud, grating and obnoxious? I would put Billy West (for one) on the list of great voice actors of all time. He’s a great student of the Hollywood and is a gymnast with his vocal chords. Incredible. I think in our effort to bring homage to the past, we also tend to disrespect what is happening in the present.

  • Marvin O

    Cartoon voiceover artists being instructed to scream every line caught fire at Hanna-Barbera during the 1970s and spread from there. Some professional ‘voice teachers’ still advocate this approach, which has permeated the industry. The reason for this tack may have been that, as the written material went south during an animation dark age, it was thought that the only way to tell a bad joke is to tell it loud. This ancient adage predates Vaudeville, yet some still hold it as gospel. Certain people will condemn Amid for his observation but the proof lies in listening to what was and what is.

  • http://joelbrinkerhoff.blogspot.com/ joel brinkerhoff

    Feature animated films still use screen actors for their range of acting ability and the quality of voice. In the early days of TV there were no ‘voice actors’ so the same actors transitioning from stage and movies to TV were available for early TV animation. I don’t know when the campy over the top vocalizing became the norm for TV animation but it seems appropriate for the hyper performances and ugly character design of what’s being done today. It seems if it isn’t ugly, loud and annoying, they feel no one will watch.

  • Ken Layton

    Many of the old voice actors got their skills from stage acting and radio where they learned how to use and “project” their voices correctly as well as hone their timing. They had to use their heads to think about how certain characters would act and sound like. They learned to get a range of voices they could draw upon to create different characters.They had voices that sounded “cartoony” and usually did so without screaming. The only modern voice actors I like today are Seth MacFarlane and Billy West.

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      Ken – I agree with you on Seth MacFarlane, and Billy West (when he’s directed properly). I also think the voice acting on The Simpsons is top-notch and shouldn’t be lumped into my broad generalization above.

  • Gray64

    Just as a point, I can’t take seriously any criticism that can essentially be summed up as “everyone in this field today sucks.” That says more about the critic than it does about anything that exists in objective reality.
    No love for Jim Cummings, Rob Paulsen, John DiMaggio, or Gray DeLisle? Or Billy West, who has the uncanny ability to sound nothing at all like himself (most voice actors –classic and contemporary–can be identified even when in character; some of Billy West’s roles, you’d never know it was him until you read the credits).
    Seriously, you can’t honor the greats of the past without slamming those working today?

    • Crystal

      Agreed . . . and what does Amid mean by screaming? Are characters not supposed to scream when they’re in danger or under high stress? Because Regular Show is generally quiet unless the characters are in peril. I don’t think stuff like Adventure Time, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Motorcity or plenty of others are like that. I’ve seen characters in old theatrical cartoons scream in those situations. I find this article pretty damn insulting to the people Gray64 just named such as Tom Kenny, Tara Strong or Kevin Michael Richardson. And a lot of modern VAs HAVE a lot of range and DO get to do “serious” acting such as Sym-Bionic Titan, superhero cartoons and The Legend of Korra. Heck, while Dee Bradley Baker often does cartoony stuff, he did a fantastic serious monologue towards the end of the latter. I thought most modern VAs are amazing because they CAN do “screaming” as well as other things.

      As for movies . . . I don’t get how celebrities used to sell the product who don’t do VO on a regular basis are better voice actors than actual voice actors.

  • Shazbot

    I agree 99% with Amid. The worst offenders of the “SCREAM REAL LOUD” generation of voice actors are whoever do the voices for Cosmo and Wanda of the Fairly Oddparents. No nuances, no warmth, no personality, are emitted whatsoever by the “actors” for those two characters. Just loud, annoying screaming. You could substitute an air raid siren and a screeching microphone and get the same effect. No actual “acting” is involved whatsoever.

    However, there are good voice actors who come close to the artistry of past greats. I nominate Billy West and Maurice LeMarche for that honor. Their vocal range and their acting abilities are simply superb. They are a happy exception to the current rule. One can only hope that future generations of voice actors take their cues from THEM, and from their gifted predecessors, and not learn bad acting from the offenders already mentioned (and unfortunately, there are others who mysteriously also still get work…gah).

    • Gray64

      Therein lies some of the issue, I think. Is the “screaming delivery” the fault of the actor, or the fault of the voice director directing the actor, the fault of the cartoon’s director, or the fault of the producer? Or the fault of the writer(s) whose script calls for a screaming delivery? Darren Norris and Susanne Blakesley (the voices of Cosmo and Wanda, and, incidentally, Mr. and Mrs. Turner on Fairly Oddparents) have scores of voice acting credits to their names, and not all of them, not even most of them, are screamers. Both actors are capable of a wide range of performances, and one can only assume that the performances they give are only what their directors ask for.

  • James Madison

    I like the Golden Era voices too. I do like the voice casting for shows such as the DC Animated Universe (Batman, Superman The Justice League) and Gargoyles.

    The Golden Era voices had a charm, artistry and appeal that is missing, most noticeably in feature films.

    Good post!

  • http://okgrillo.blogspot.com Oscar Grillo

    Hans Conried =Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan

  • http://s1.zetaboards.com/Conceptual_Evolution/index/ truteal

    “It should be no surprise that these early voice actors were also skilled as live performers, something that can’t be said for most of today’s full-time voice actors.”

    I think it’s because since the late 80s, animation has become so profitable, that most voice actors can survive on voice acting alone and don’t need to do regular acting.

  • Eddie Miller

    While I adore the classic voice actors you mentioned, the idea that nearly all current voice actors are ‘shrill and abrasive’ and this extends ‘across nearly every animation studio and network’ is preposterous. We are living in a golden age of voice acting. Listen to any of Rob Paulsen’s great podcasts, are his guests abrasive and shrill? Hardly! The only thing missing from this article was the author telling the kids to get off his lawn!

  • http://jazzsaints.blogspot.com Cha Cha

    I find it interesting that Billy Bletcher started his career as a silent comic, but later became better known as a cartoon voice actor.

  • rebecca

    you know, for people on a animation website you all sure love to dole out the hate on professionals in the industry. I think that they style has changed over time but to so quickly descend into “wah wah this generation sucks in the industry” is truly mind blowing. I think you should all be ashamed. Animation and voice acting is an art form and should be appreciated on many levels. If i wanted to read a bunch of troll level comments I’d go to 9gag or somewhere. Get it together.

  • Jeff Kurtti

    The training grounds of the vaudeville stage and radio mean that these actors were well-trained technically–they knew how to best use their pipes–well-versed in a broad range of voice “types” and accents, and skilled in the nuance of bringing character to the invisible.

    Wayne Allwine’s voicing of Mickey Mouse for thirty years alongside Russi Taylor as Minnie was responsible for having kept those characters nuanced and on-character over many media. Wayne in particular brought a kind of musicality to Mickey that he had never had before, but which has become an expected component of his personality now.

    • Erik

      Yeah, Wayne Allwine was the Mickey of our generation and easily one of the best; he brings his trademark optimism and makes it believable, playful, and even snarky at times.

  • Alan Kaplan

    To give credit were credit is due, these videos were put together by my friend Ray Mujica. I’m sure he’ll be happy to find out you guys enjoyed them.

    • http://www.amidamidi.com Amid Amidi

      Thanks! I’ve added his name into the post. It’s a unique series of videos and thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

  • Bob Nelson

    I remember Mae Questel appearing in the “Oedipus Wrecks” segment (dir. by Woody Allen) of the
    short film trilogy “New York Stories”

    • John A

      She also sang a song in “Zelig” in her Betty Boop voice.

  • KingKrab

    Sadly, Amid is correct.

    Having worked in this part of the industry for a number of years, I found it was tiresome the same voice actors (as nice as they are) were being used. Unfortunately, we’re pining for an era that will never happen again… back then, we were limited with what we could watch, competition made it so only the very best should be used. Now we have too many choices for our viewing pleasure. And the powers that be freak out because they don’t want to be responsible in casting a new and unique voice. They end up choosing the “safe bet”. I invite everyone to flip on any cartoon channel and close their eyes and listen. Besides the lame dialogue, you’ll hear nothing but shouts and shrills, surfer talk, perfect pronunciation, and sorry-ass interpretations of the most current celebrities.

    All that said, the combo of indie internet shorts and creator driven shows are steering this all in a better direction. We’re staring to see that modern audiences want variety and not just what a few talentless execs are telling us what to like.

    • Gray64

      William Hanna once admitted that he and Joe Barbera approved pretty much every cartoon pitch that came across their desks, regardless of quality, in order to keep their people working (having come up during the Great Depression, this was important to them). Bill Hanna went on to say that HB could get away with this because, in those days, HB was one of a very limited number of animation providers for the three networks’ Saturday Morning blocks. The viewers and the networks both had very limited choices, so they’d show what the providers gave ‘em, and if the audiences didn’t like it, the providers would just pitch something else next season. So I don’t think limited choices leads to quality.

  • TheDirtyVicar

    Wonderful! You can also see Howard Morris (Atom Ant) on Sid Caesar’s Show and the Andy Griffith Show, and Allan Melvin (Magilla Gorilla) on Bilko, the Brady Bunch and All in the Family. Maurice Gosfield (Benny the Ball) is also featured on Bilko. Allen Jenkins (Officer Dibble) appears with James Cagney in Jimmy the Gent, among many other precode WB films. I don’t know of any onscreen appearance by Daws Butler, unfortunately. In the clip with Kenny Delmar, Joe E. Brown appears briefly. He was Daws’ inspiration for Lippy the Lion and Peter Potamus.

  • Frank Opinion

    Frank Welker is a voice acting god and has lots of live action roles to his name, as well. He started in the ’60s and still is prolific today.

  • Crystal

    Does this “warmth” comment imply that VAs are “incapable” of bringing warmth to their characters? Because I think of many modern ones who do/come off that way.

    It’s actually these types of posts that make me come to hate older things (since people who like them seem to crap all over later things, like a bunch of bullies), which I find depressing.

  • http://fluffyandmervin.com/ Debbie

    Speaking only for myself, I never implied that there weren’t any good voice actors around today. My intention with my comment regarding “warmth” was never to “crap all over later things”, but on the other hand, I don’t like to see the good stuff of the past shoved aside, either. If something is good, regardless of when it was made, then by all means, promote, enjoy and treasure it.

  • AM

    Hal Smith! At last! Always wondered who did the voice of that vet in The Flintstones. Now I know. He did it twice.

  • AM

    I should make it clear I was also refering to Howard McNear in my last comment about the Flintstonian vet.

  • tvismylife

    In part 2 I’m pretty sure that George O’Hanlon is the guy under the ladder at the very end of that clip, not the guy answering the door.

  • Dan

    I love Arnold Stang as Top Cat, but I’d like to give a shout out to Phil Harris. (Baloo, Little John, Thomas O’Malley,etc.) He was a successful band leader in the 30′s and 40′s among other things. Here’s a clip of him hamming it up with Dean Martin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktL0vsO-8rQ