Voice acting legend June Foray died today at age 99. The news was confirmed on Facebook by a family friend, Dave Nimitz.
She was one of the leading voice actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood theatrical animation, and later transitioned to television series, commercials, movie dubbing, and narration, with a career that lasted into the current decade. Among the hundreds of cartoon characters she brought to life, her iconic roles included Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Witch Hazel and Granny in the Looney Tunes theatrical shorts, Nell Fenwick in The Dudley Do-Right Show, Ursula in George of the Jungle, Lucifer the cat in Disney’s Cinderella, Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Ma Beagle and Magica De Spell in Ducktales, and Grammi Gummi in Adventures of the Gummi Bears.
Her prolific body of work as a voice actor often drew comparisons to her colleague Mel Blanc, but animation director Chuck Jones set the record straight once when he said, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”
The longevity and range of June Foray’s career in animation is legendary, but what also shouldn’t be overlooked is her tireless and selfless boosterism of the animation art form. She was one of the founders of ASIFA-Hollywood, and when she was president of the organization in the 1970s, she started the Annie Awards, an event that will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year.
Further, the reason the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has an animated feature Oscar category is due in no small part to her decades-long lobbying effort. She was on the Academy’s board of governors for 26 years, and spent the majority of those years pushing to have the Academy recognize feature animation, which they finally did in 2001.
Foray advocated for animation to be taken seriously as an art form long before such thoughts had entered mainstream consciousness. “Animation has come out of its adolescence,” she told The Los Angeles Times back in 1965. “It has grown into a medium for adults…Along with this is the fact that animation has become an art form. It has become an industry filled with people who at one time would have become painters, sculptors, writers for other fields. Animation once was considered a stepchild of the motion picture industry. It has become an industry in its own right.”
This year, as we get set to begin our annual coverage of awards season, it’s worth remembering that a big reason we even have so much attention directed toward animation nowadays is due to the efforts of a single remarkable woman, the one and only June Foray.