Weird Al Yankovic Publishes Kids’ Book

02.03.2011

Image courtesy HarperCollinsChildrens.com

Pop music parody king and three-time Grammy winner Weird Al Yankovic published his first children’s book on February 1st, When I Grow Up. Publisher HarperCollins describes the book thusly:

Billy’s classmates may have never considered careers in snail training or sumo wrestling before, but by the time the exuberant eight-year-old is done cataloging his dream jobs, they just might share his belief in unlimited potential!

Virtuoso wordplay, irresistible rhythm, and laugh-out-loud humor abound in the first picture book by the one and only “Weird Al” Yankovic. This unbridled celebration of creativity and possibility invites readers of all ages to consider afresh what they want to be when they grow up.

The book has received critical acclaim from comedian/actor Patton Oswalt (Ratatouille, Robotomy, WordGirl), who called the book “wonderful” via Twitter.

And if you don’t care for Oswalt’s opinion, Seth Green (Robot Chicken, Family Guy) says via Twitter that Al’s book is “great…for story-time reading!”

Granted, Seth Green has no experience in parenting to make him an authority on kids’ books, and Patton Oswalt isn’t one most would look to for recommending good books for kids either.

So would it help if Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich gave this glowing review of the book?

Have a kid? Need a book to read with said kid? @alyankovic just wrote one, and it’s great!

And here’s Al narrating an excerpt of his book via YouTube:

(You can download the entire audiobook on iTunes for $1.99.)

Weird Al’s also doing a book signing tour during February 2011, and new dates keep being added to the schedule at WEIRDAL.COM. Current schedule (courtesy of Yank Blog):

Feb 12 – Los Angeles, CA – Barnes & Noble (at the Grove) 2:00pm
Feb 13 – Van Nuys, CA – Costco 1:00pm
Feb 15 – Irvine, CA – A Whale of a Tale 4:00pm
Feb 18 – Naperville, IL – Anderson’s Bookshop 7:00pm

And here are some recent interview links with Al discussing his book:

– Naperville Sun Times: Yankovic book tour to visit NCC

– CNN: What happened when Weird Al grew up

– IndyStyle.TV: Weird Al Yankovic (video interview)

– MyFoxBoston.com: Weird Al Yankovic Interview (video)

– CelebrityBabyScoop.com: Weird Al Yankovic: “Family is my first priority.”

– Stuff.Co.NZ: The Weird Al Yankovic Interview

– ThePageTurn.com: My Favorite Teacher, by Al Yankovic

– iTunes Podcast – English, Baby!: Grow Up – Weird Al Yankovic (Select episode #3.)

– HarperCollins: Q&A with Weird Al Yankovic (PDF file)

– FaceCulture video interview:

Additional source: World of Weird Al Yankovic

~ Craig “Voiceroy” Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News
(and lifelong Weird Al fan/”close personal friend”)

Weird Al Yankovic and Craig "Voiceroy" Crumpton at the 2004 San Diego Comic-Con. (Demotivator caption by Steve Helling.)


Sesame Street’s Joey Mazzarino Creates an Anthem

10.19.2010

This article was originally published 10.19.2010 and has since been updated with new content. Please scroll down for the most recent additions.

ABC World News has a story on a Sesame Street video promoting self-esteem and self-acceptance which has gone viral since its October 4th release. The video features an unnamed “Anything Muppet” character singing “I Love My Hair,” which is being hailed as “an anthem for black women.”

Joey Mazzarino photo courtesy SesameStreet.org

Sesame Street head writer Joey Mazzarino (who also performs recurring characters Papa Bear, Murray Monster, Stinky the Stinkweed, and Elephant) says he was inspired by his adopted daughter Segi to write the song:

“She’s like my little muse,” Mazzarino said.

As Mazzarino and his wife watched their daughter grow, he noticed a change when she started playing with Barbies. Segi started saying negative things about herself and her own hair.

“She was going through this phase where she really wanted like the long, blonde hair. … She would look at Barbies and really want the hair.”

Mazzarino [who also helped to design the Muppet character] decided to help his daughter and other young girls appreciate their beauty.

“I just want kids to know their hair is beautiful,” Mazzarino said. “I just hope little kids, little girls see this and really feel positive and great about themselves.”

ABC’s video interview with Mazzarino also reveals that Kevin Clash — performer for Elmo as well as a writer and producer for the show — had a hand in crafting the performance:

Chauncey Johnson photo courtesy stagedoordesigns.com

The singing voice belongs to Broadway star Chantylla “Chauncey” Johnson (The Color Purple, The Lion King).

Mazzarino adds that he has been “amazed” and “overwhelmed” by the public response to the video. But the most important reaction came from his daughter, who was “jumping up and down and dancing” when she saw it. “She really loved it,” says Mazzarino, “And she loves her hair now.”

The full video is available on SesameStreet.org, or you can watch it below via Sesame Street’s official Youtube channel:

Update: 10.19.2010, 7:00 PMThe Huffington Post has a related interview with Mazzarino. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: Where did the concept of the “I Love My Hair” sketch come from?

Mazzarino: I have a five year old and she’s African American. My wife and I are both white. When she was four we were going through stuff with her hair where she wanted have hair that was straight. I tried to say to her, “Your hair’s great. It’s so beautiful and you can do so many things with it.” I thought it was a problem unique to us because we were white parents and she saw us everyday. Then Chris Rock’s movie Good Hair came out and I realized it’s not just about being raised by white parents. It’s an issue for a lot of little girls.

Q: Are your surprised by the reactions of this sketch on the internet?

Mazzarino: I got a call from a state senator’s office the other day and the woman I spoke to was one of his deputy’s secretaries. She said, “I’m an older African American woman and I started to cry when I saw it.” You know you write this stuff in a dark room by yourself. I just wrote it hoping my kid would be happy with who she was. The fact that it touched not only kids but adults makes me feel great.

Q: Do you think people will be surprised that you’re white and wrote this song?

Mazzarino: I hope not because I really want the song to be about the message and not me. If they do, I hope it doesn’t affect their feelings of the song because it really comes from a place of love for my daughter.

Update: 10.20.2010 — Via The Muppet Mindset, CNN.com has posted a video interview with Mazzarino.

Update: 10.22.2010New York Magazine’s Vulture blog has an interview with Mazzarino discussing the popularity of Sesame Street’s videos, his “I Love My Hair” song, and the controversy over Katy Perry’s duet with Elmo.

Elsewhere, Mazzarino discusses the song on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Mazzarino also tells The Associated Press (via USAToday.com), “I really want to sit down with the writers and figure out what we can do with [the ‘Anything Muppet’ character] and give her a name, and really expand her out.”

Additional sources: Muppet Wiki; This Black Sistas Page; Stylist.com; StageDoorDesigns.com

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News


Put A Little Looney In Your GPS

09.24.2010

This makes the fourth in our series covering official celebrity/character voices for TomTom navigational devices… Homer Simpson, Darth Vader, Yoda and now… Looney Tunes!

Joe Alaskey at the premiere of 'Looney Tunes: Back in Action' (11/09/2003). Photo credit: exposay.com / Lee Roth / RothStock

First offered are Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, performed by Joe Alaskey (Tiny Toon Adventures, Duck Dodgers).

Here’s the official press release, courtesy of BusinessWire.com:

For Immediate Release

Warner Bros. Looney Tunes™ characters bring their animated antics to TomTom!

~ The classic voices of Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Sylvester and Pepé Le Pew star on TomTom devices ~

CONCORD, Mass.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–TomTom draws on the rich heritage of Looney Tunes’ animated superstars! In association with Warner Bros. Consumer Products and VoiceSkins.com, TomTom brings the classic Looney Tunes voices to TomTom navigation devices for the very first time.

“Say doc, after 600 yards stay in the right lane. What’s this rabbit’s foot doin’ in the glove box?”

Beginning today with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, the launch of Warner Bros.’ dazzling galaxy of classic cartoon greats will continue throughout the Autumn of 2010 – with Daffy Duck and Sylvester launching in October, and Pepé Le Pew coming to TomTom device screens in November.

Bugs Bunny, the most popular cartoon character ever, guides you in his trademark laconic way with wise-cracks aplenty. Just make sure you’ve got enough carrots to keep your hungry co-pilot focused on the navigation! As well as the sounds of much carrot munching, the Bugs Bunny voice also features the iconic Looney Tunes theme, entertaining sound effects and original incidental music overlaid on the navigation commands to provide that iconic Looney Tunes shorts feel. Bugs makes driving more fun with lines such as, “Say doc, after 600 yards stay in the right lane. What’s this rabbit’s foot doin’ in the glove box?”

[Video demo of TomTom Bugs Bunny in action]

Yosemite Sam, the greatest, the toughest, rip-roarin’-est, hombre that ever packed a six-shooter and a map navigates with characteristic growls and threats like: “Sharp left, ya humpbacked muley. Then go straight on. This ve-hicle ain’t big enough for the two of us!”

“We are excited to launch these Looney Tunes voices exclusively for TomTom devices. By offering these fun personalities, our drivers will not only enjoy the best directions, but they will also have fun along the way,” said Tom Murray, senior vice president market development at TomTom, Inc. “We hope that drivers and passengers of all ages can enjoy the rich heritage of these classic voices during their everyday journeys.”

“TomTom is a global leader in personal navigation and what better way to travel than with a little help from some of the world’s most beloved characters,” said Karen McTier, executive vice president, domestic licensing and worldwide marketing, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. “The Looney Tunes will make any journey more entertaining with their irreverence and fun-loving nature.”

TomTom customers will also be able to download free of charge various official warning alert sounds voiced by Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, along with free start up screen wallpapers.

To celebrate the release of the voices, TomTom is launching a hilarious viral video treat featuring the Looney Tunes classic characters, and their agent, “negotiating” a deal to bring their voices to TomTom.

All Looney Tunes voices will be available in English. The Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam voices are available for download immediately for $12.95.

To hear clips of the voices – and to find out more about them – visit www.tomtom.com/looneytunes

All Looney Tunes voices are performed by Emmy award-winning voice actor, Joe Alaskey.

About Warner Bros. Consumer Products

Warner Bros. Consumer Products, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, is one of the leading licensing and retail merchandising organizations in the world.

About TomTom N.V.

TomTom N.V. (AEX: TOM2) is the world’s leading provider of location and navigation solutions. Headquartered in the Netherlands it employs over 3000 employees worldwide. More than 40 million people daily use its solutions, be it in the form of dedicated portable navigation devices (PNDs), in- dash car systems or tracking and tracing solutions for fleet management. In addition, hundreds of millions of people use TomTom’s digital maps on the internet or mobile phone.

In 2009, TomTom reported €1.5 billion in revenues and a €340 million net cash flow from operating activities. More information about TomTom can be found on www.TomTom.com.

About VoiceSkins.com & Locutio Voice Technologies

Founded in 2004, Locutio Voice Technologies is the world’s foremost developer of real celebrity and premium branded voice content for in-car GPS. Working with vocal greats like Lucas Film/Star Wars, Fox/Simpsons, Warner Bros./Looney Tunes and Snoop Dogg, Locutio’s VoiceSkins make every journey a truly fun event, delivering real in-car infotainment!

VoiceSkins.com currently offers the original Homer Simpson voice for sale, recorded by Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Snoop Dogg, the official Star Wars voices and now the classic Looney Tunes characters. More high-profile branded celebrity voice content is set to be launched throughout Q4 2010. See www.VoiceSkins.com (and their official YouTube Channel) and www.Locutio.co.uk for further details.

LOONEY TUNES and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

#############################

And here are some bonus videos to showcase Joe Alaskey’s tremendous talent as an impressionist:

– Joe Alaskey on The David Letterman Show, circa 1987 (this video currently has over 908 thousand views on YouTube):

– Joe Alaskey performing a series of impressions on Comedy Tonight (circa 1985-ish):

– Local FOX affiliate interviews Joe in a promo for the very short-lived Tiny Toons spinoff The Plucky Duck Show (circa 1992):

– Joe Alaskey performs as Daffy, Marvin, Yosemite Sam and Bugs with the West Coast Symphony in Santa Barbara, CA (Feb 2004):

– Joe Alaskey interview and street chat with fans (Oct. 2008):.

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News


‘Sesame Street’ Katy Perry/Elmo Duet Video Deemed “Too Racy”

09.23.2010

The New York Daily News is reporting that a video of pop star Katy Perry singing a spoof of her hit “Hot N Cold” with Elmo (performed by Kevin Clash) has been deemed “too racy” and subsequently pulled from Sesame Street‘s official YouTube Channel.

Kevin Clash with Elmo. Image courtesy SesameStreet.org.

The video, released exclusively on the web September 20th, apparently received too many negative comments and complaints about Perry’s wardrobe, which consisted of “a low-cut yellow-green heart-shaped dress, a sheer piece of material covering her ample cleavage.”

The show’s producers have issued the following statement:

In light of the feedback we’ve received on the Katy Perry music video which was released on You Tube only, we have decided we will not air the segment on the television broadcast of Sesame Street, which is aimed at preschoolers. Katy Perry fans will still be able to view the video on You Tube.

We will not be linking directly to any video here on the blog (just to avoid potential broken links); however, dozens of YouTubers are (naturally) scrambling to get traffic off the controversy and publicity. Just do a YouTube.com search for: Katy Perry Elmo and you’re sure to find it.

In a bit of ironically related news, The Hollywood Reporter has an exclusive preview video from Sesame Street’s upcoming 41st season with a parody of the very adult, violent and graphic HBO series True Blood. Sesame Street (and Jim Henson productions in general) has never shied from spoofing pop culture even at the risk of alienating their core demographic from the joke. But like the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) innuendo in classic Looney Tunes cartoons, there are some gags and references on Sesame Street that parents will laugh at but kids won’t understand until adulthood.

I don’t believe I can encode the video via WordPress, so here’s a direct link:

http://video.hollywoodreporter.com/services/player/bcpid6555681001?bctid=614605996001

Sesame Street has other preview segments for their 41st season on their official YouTube Channel, including celebrity guests Jason Bateman, Chris O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes and Colin Farrel, and two others which I must share here:

– Oprah Winfrey providing voiceover for an animated spoof of herself and her own show:

– Joseph “Run” Simmons (of famed hip-hop group Run-DMC) and Kevin Clash as Elmo as Steven Tyler performing a parody of “Walk This Way”:

And here’s a bonus video we linked to recently (for those who don’t follow us on Facebook or Twitter): Kevin Clash and Elmo visit Baltimore:

~ Craig Crumpton
Publisher, Voice Actors in the News

Additional source: Blastr.com


Jess Harnell’s Last Show at House of Blues

09.22.2010

Jess Harnell’s band Rock Sugar performed their last show as the house band at the House of Blues of Sunset Strip on Monday, Septmeber 20th.

The band and their passionate fans hope to get the contract renewed and are asking everyone to write to Malia Rummell at maliarummell(a)livenation.com showing support for the band.

This is; however, not the final concert for Rock Sugar as they have October 2010 concerts scheduled in New Mexico and future dates in development. You can find out more about the band through their official pages on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter (@rocksugarband) and ROCKSUGARBAND.COM.

Here are some recent videos featuring the band via YouTube, including two from their farewell performance at the House of Blues:

~ Ashley Trayder
Staff, Voice Actors in the News


Happy Birthday, June Foray!

09.18.2010

June Foray in an undated publicity photo.

Voice Actors in the News would like to wish a very happy birthday to “The First Lady of Cartoon Voicing” — June Foray — born September 18th, 1917.

June Foray with fellow Looney Tunes character voicers Maurice LaMarche and Bob Bergen at VOICE 2010. Photo courtesy Dave Nimitz.

For cartoon voice actor fans, June needs no introduction. With more than 300 credits listed on The Internet Movie Database, her most notable roles are… well, all of them, but the most widely-known characters she’s voiced are Granny and Witch Hazel in classic Looney Tunes cartoons, Rocky and Natasha in Rocky & Bullwinkle, Magica De Spell and Ma Beagle in Disney’s DuckTales, and Jokey Smurf in The Smurfs.

June Foray, Dave Nimitz and Ginger. Photo courtesy Dave Nimitz.

And as we’ve reported here a few times, there’s a June Foray documentary forthcoming, which according to the official site is currently in post-production. (A new trailer was added on August 5th, 2010.)

There’s also the Smurf Justice for June Foray campaign which needs the continued support of all her fans and a great deal more media exposure if it’s going to be successful:

There’s also more than 40 links, interviews and video related to June that I collected via June’s category at The Open Directory Project. And I’ll probably be adding more to it over the next week. One link in particular that’s highly recommended is The Archive of American Television’s 2-hour video interview with June from 2008. Here’s part 1 via YouTube:

Additionally, animation artist Dave Nimitz, who has been close friends with June for ages (and who also donated personal photos for this article), has home videos with June on his official YouTube Channel, and many, many photos featuring June on his Flickr photostream.

Voice Actors in the News staffer Doreen Mulman also has a tribute to June on her blog, including an image Dave Nimitz created for June in honor of her birthday.

Cover image for June Foray's autobiography courtesy of BearManorMedia.com.

Lastly (but certainly not leastly), June’s autobiography Did You Grow Up With Me Too? is available through her official site, JUNEFORAY.COM. Mark Evanier stated via NewsFromME.com in February 2010:

[We] will soon be closing down her site and it will no longer be possible to order signed copies from there. But I like you so I’m giving you what may be your final opportunity. If you want a copy autographed by the legend herself — the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha, Tweety’s owner Granny, Nell Fenwick, Jokey Smurf and so many more — go there now and order one…or more. And don’t come crawling to me when you finally decide you need one and they’re no longer available.

Mark hasn’t followed up on this since, and the site does appear to still have copies available. But if for some reason they’re sold out, you can still purchase the book through the publisher: BEARMANORMEDIA.COM.

June Foray and Bob Bergen at VOICE 2010. Photo courtesy Dave Nimitz.

June’s character voices have been entertaining me since I was a toddler. I hope to finally get a chance to meet her so I can tell her in person how much I admire and appreciate her work, and how much it influenced me to pursue a career as a performer.

And from myself and the staff here at Voice Actors in the News, we wish you a very happy birthday, June.

Actress June Foray arrives for the 2009 Governors Awards at the Grand Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood, California on November 14, 2009. Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images.


Sesame Street’s Leslie Carrara-Rudolph Live Show & Archive Interview

09.16.2010

Image courtesy Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and The Center for Puppetry Arts

Sesame Street performer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby-Cadabby) is performing “Wake Up Your Weird With Lolly & Leslie” at The Center for Puppetry Arts in downtown Atlanta, GA from September 16-26, 2010.

Here’s the show description from puppet.org:

WAKE UP YOUR WEIRD WITH LOLLY & LESLIE
By Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Los Angeles, CA
2010-11 Family Series

Performances Thursday – Sunday through September 26

From the Emmy nominated performer of Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby!

Discover your own unique creative gifts with Sesame Street Puppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph and her friend Lolly! Together with her other puppet friends, Leslie will help the young and young at heart “wake up their weird” with this interactive performance-style workshop using puppets, storytelling, live music, improvisations, art, and movement. Explore the power of the voice, the body, and the imagination as the three main resources for “spreading joy.”

Tickets are available via PUPPET.ORG.

The Center for Puppetry Arts hosted the following Twitter interview @CtrPuppetryArts with Leslie on September 15th between 2 and 3 pm (EST).

Fans were asked in advance to submit their questions via Twitter by tagging them with #LeslieChat.

Thanks to @CtrPuppetryArts for permission to host the archive of the interview here on Voice Actors in the News.

Moderator @CtrPuppetryArts and fan-submitted questions are in italics, with Leslie’s answers in bold.

===============================

30 minutes until our Twitter Chat with Sesame Street performer, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph.

Hi Puppet Fans! Leslie will be joining us soon. Going to get started in just a few minutes!

For those you who might not know, Leslie is here in Atlanta to present her new puppet show, “Wake Up Your Weird!”

She is also the Emmy nominated performer of Sesame Street’s Abby Cadabby!!

Welcome, Leslie! Thank you so much for joining us today!

Before we get to questions– What else should our followers know about you?

They should know that I just ate a Varsity hamburger and slawdog and a homemade pumpkin chocolate cookie.

They should know that I’m from Northern California, and am mostly based in NY, but still have a place in Glendale (Southern CA).

My husband, Paul Rudolph, got a job on Sesame Street as the vocal director, so he lives in NY with me & our deaf & blind bishon.

Q#1 What is your routine to combat puppeteer shoulder?

A: Stretching, push-ups (to be physically even). My right arm is steel and left can turn to veal! And swimming!

Q#2 What was your career path before Sesame Street? Was performing on Sesame Street always a dream/goal of yours?

A: My dream was to be the ultimate entertainer for kids & to have my own kids show one day.

A: (con’t) I even designed my own major to do it!

A: I wanted to work with kids at risk. My goal was to be a special ed teacher and to perform!

Thanks, @katiecofield for that question!

Q#3 What kind candy does Lolly plan on sampling while in Atlanta? Did the Comedy Beaver join her on this trip?

A: Every kind of candy! She’s upset we skipped Cracker Barrel. Check out her [Facebook] fan page– Lolly Lardpop.

A: Yes to the Comedy Beaver!

Q#4: Leslie, what is your favorite part of your job?

A: My point of view. I have the best seat in the house when it comes to watching the children’s faces and how they react!

Q#5 As a performer for kids’ shows as well as grown-up fare, how do you define “adult entertainment? Can’t “adult” be clean too?

A: My puppets don’t swear or have to be sexual to be funny.

A: My adult entertainment is in respect to politics or social issues that aren’t aimed at children.

A: When I was in Stuffed and UnStrung, the Henson improv group, I often struggled with some of the content. The audience improv requests were too blue at times for my taste.

Thanks to @larabron, @ToasterBoy, @cpillsbury, @smittygirl for your questions! Keep ’em coming!

*Pause* Leslie just had to take a call from Elmo.

RT @ToasterBoy: Can you explain the significance of Karen (Red Fraggle) Prell’s shoes as they relate to your career?

A: Her boots were given to me on the very first day of shooting on the Muppet show, so I could be tall enough next to Frank Oz.

RT @lekogirl: @CtrPuppetryArts Do you construct any other puppets on the side for personal projects?

A: All of them at first! Then when I can afford it I have a real builder do it.

A: Except for Lolly– she’s complaining that she isn’t getting any upgrades

RT @mekidd5: @CtrPuppetryArts Leslie, what is your favorite part of what must be a VERY interesting workday?!

A: Too many favorites! At Sesame Street, the whole family, guests, and the children from Make A Wish.

Q: Can you tell us more about “Wake Up Your Weird”?

A: Wake Up Your Weird is an interactive performance style / workshop that focuses on the voice, the body, and the imagination!

Wow! So many questions! We have time for about 2 more!

RT @smittygirl: @CtrPuppetryArts Any particular performers who inspired you to be a puppeteer?

A: The Muppets, of course! And, Wayland Flowers was brilliant. If Madame and Lambchop had a baby, it would be Lolly!

@lekogirl Are you a builder or a performer?

RT @lekogirl: @CtrPuppetryArts Any words of wisdom for puppetry students?

A: Whatever aspect of puppetry you are doing, always make it about your heart or passion.

If you just say that it’s going to be part of your life, the rest will follow!

Well, that concludes our Twitter interview! Thank you, Leslie, for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us today!

A big thanks to everyone who participated and listened in!

=================================

As a bonus, here are a series of videos recorded in Atlanta featuring the adventures of Lolly Lardpop (as performed by Leslie) courtesy of her official Facebook fan page:

UPDATE: 9.24.2010 — The Marquee Episode Continues…

AccessAtlanta also has a review of Leslie’s live show.

Visit Leslie’s official site at LeslieCarrara-Rudolph.com and be sure to bookmark PUPPET.ORG to keep up with The Center for Puppetry Arts’ recent and upcoming shows, screenings, museum exhibits and other events. They currently have three (THREE!) long-term museum displays related to the work of Jim Henson which are a heartily recommended must-see for all Muppets fans.


Original Kermit Muppet Donated to Smithsonian

08.26.2010

For Immediate Release

Kermit the Frog Comes Home to Washington

Sam and Friends Characters Donated to the National Museum of American History

August 25, 2010

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History accepted 10 characters from Sam and Friends from Jane Henson, on behalf of the Jim Henson family, in a special donation ceremony.

Sam and Friends debuted on local Washington, D.C., station WRC-TV in 1955 launching what would become a global phenomenon—the Muppets. The show featured a host of unique characters, including the original Kermit the Frog, who was more of a lizard-like creature, constructed with ping pong ball eyes and green felt from a coat discarded by Jim Henson’s mother. This version of Kermit does not have his signature collar, and his feet are rounded.

“Jim Henson embodied the innovation and ingenuity that is inherent in American culture,” said Brent D. Glass, director of the museum. “Beyond the entertainment value Henson’s creations provided, his work helped educate and inform his audiences, an influence that continues today.”

'Sam and Friends' Smithsonian archive collection (image courtesy newsdesk.si.edu)

Joining Kermit on display at the museum this fall are other characters from Sam and Friends, including Pierre the French Rat, Henson’s oldest surviving puppet, first drawn in 1954 as part of a comic strip for his high school yearbook; Yorick, a purple skull who was a precursor to hungry monsters like Cookie Monster, made of papier-mâché; Mushmellon, whose wide face and grouchy eyes bear a distinct resemblance to Oscar the Grouch; and Sam, the main character who never spoke but lip-synced to popular music and comedy records of the time.

Henson saw enormous potential for puppets on TV and he came up with the word Muppet in the mid-1950s. Seemingly a combination of puppet and marionette, Henson insisted that he chose the term simply because he liked the way it sounded. Central to the design of a Muppet is the construction of the face—creating a pattern with the eyes, nose and mouth called “the magic triangle”—which establishes a point of focus that helps to bring the puppet to life in the eye of a video camera and to the viewers watching at home.

“It is wonderful that Sam and Friends should find themselves back here in Washington, D.C., where they first appeared,” said Jane Henson, Henson’s wife. “And now they get to greet old friends and meet new ones at the newly renovated and exciting National Museum of American History.”

[Associated Press video]

From the early beginnings of Sam and Friends—of which only a few episodes survive—the Muppets went on to evolve and achieve worldwide popularity. The Muppet Show was introduced in 1976 and reached 235 million viewers in more than 100 countries. The series won three Emmys during its five-year run as well as spawning feature-films like The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets take Manhattan. Muppets is a registered trademark of The Muppets Studio LLC Ltd.

The Kermit the Frog that is already in the museum’s collection was first loaned in 1979, in celebration of Sesame Street’s 10th anniversary. In 1994, Jim Henson Productions designated Kermit as a gift, making him a permanent fixture in the museum’s performance collections.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).

For more information about the life and work of Jim Henson, visit The Jim Henson Legacy website: www.jimhensonlegacy.org

CNN.com also has a feature article (with photo) from this event.


Voice Actor Spotlight: Jay Jennings

08.17.2010

Jay Jennings was mentored by Daws Butler, who felt Jay had the talent to do many of the classic Hanna-Barbera voices “spot on.” A meeting with Hanna-Barbera executives in Studio City was arranged so Daws could vouch for Jay’s talent, but before the meeting could take place Daws passed away and none of what he had hoped for Jay transpired. Unfortunately, Jay doesn’t have any photographs of himself with Daws, because they always went straight to work at Daws’ home studio in his garage and never posed for one.

Jay with Steve Allen

Jay Jennings’ speaking voice has been compared to a young Orson Welles, so to say he has been blessed vocally would be an understatement. Jay’s voice-over jobs have mostly been indie work: college radio station IDs, commercials, public service announcements, narrations, some horror movie trailers, and of course, his cartoon voices.

Jay is also a celebrity impressionist and has been fortunate enough throughout his career to be have been trained by two legendary entertainers: Frank Gorshin (The Riddler on the ’60s cult classic, Batman) and Steve Allen. Jay Jennings is now a film director and L.A. historian, and still does voiceovers. He is also known as “The Knott’s Guy” having written two books about Southern California’s oldest theme park, Knott’s Berry Farm.

Voice Actors in the News is pleased to present an interview with Jennings conducted by blog staffer Doreen Mulman:

DM: How old were you when you developed an interest in doing voices?

JJ: My love for doing voices probably started when I was very young. I instantly felt a connection to all the cartoons I watched on Saturday mornings such as Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Bullwinkle, Daffy Duck, and Tom Slick, to name but a few. I always tried to impersonate them during the week and at school. I also loved TV variety shows of the early 1970’s where voices and impressions were on display, such as The Jonathan Winters Show, The Red Skelton Show, and The Kopykats.

Interestingly enough, one of the first record albums I ever listened to was Rich Little’s Broadway, where I first learned to impersonate the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and President Nixon. As I got older and my voice matured, I was able to mimic voices and mannerisms by watching a lot of old movies on TV and listening to impressionists like Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, Will Jordan, Fred Travalena, and George Kirby.

DM: How did you meet Daws Butler?

JJ: My mother, who once worked for the head of the William Morris Agency, was always on the look-out for agents and mentors to help me hone my acting and voice talent. She called in a few favors and arranged an initial meeting with Daws Butler at his studio in 1982. In fact, he was the first person to tell me that my speaking voice sounded very much like a young Orson Welles (on the radio).

During that first meeting, I was in complete awe knowing I was in the presence of the man whose cartoon voices I grew up with. He asked me if I did anything special with my voice. I replied, “Matter of fact, I can do most of your voices.” He replied, “Oh really? Well, let’s see what you can do.” With that, I rattled off my versions of Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf, Super Snooper, Mr. Jinx, and a few others. Daws grinned and said, “You know something, Jay? You have a great ear. I’d like to train you to make them even better.” So over the next five years, I was mentored by Daws to carry on his cartoon voice legacy after he retired. I’d say we had about twenty sessions in his studio. It was definitely magical.

In 1987, while Daws and I were preparing for an upcoming meeting at Hanna-Barbera headquarters in Studio City, California, Daws’ health took a turn for the worse and he passed away less than a year later, so we never got to meet with Hanna-Barbera’s head of voice talent. I then turned my sights mostly to filmmaking, as my voicework kind of took a backseat over the next 20 years.

Listen to Jay’s Hanna-Barbera Voice Reel:

DM: Were your sessions with Daws one-on-one or were other students of his (such as Nancy Cartwright) present?

JJ: My sessions with Daws were all one-on-one, which Daws decided after our first meeting. He was very impressed with the fact that I could do a lot of his cartoon voices before ever being trained by him, so his goal was to help me perfect them and to excel in reading cartoon and commercial “copy” for auditions and future voice jobs.

DM: Was Daws a fun person to be with? Considering his profession one might expect him to be a bit of an imp with a silly sense of humor, or did you find him to be more serious individual? Are there any anecdotes of your times with him that might illustrate?

JJ: Daws, to me, was like a gentle grandfather figure, whose laugh was very childlike and innocent. He was serious when you were trying to read copy or learn something new and we would repeat it over and over until I got it right. “He would say, “No, try that again with more enthusiasm. Good, now try it again while breathing out slowly.” Daws knew every technique in the book when it came to teaching acting, voices, and breathing properly while recording in the studio, which by the way, was my favorite part of our sessions, going into the recording booth and making magic with our voices.

By far, the most memorable session that we had in his studio was the time Daws suggested that we both take turns performing all the classic Hanna-Barbera voices as if we were at a big Hollywood party, commenting on the food and scenery. In essence, I would imitate Quickdraw McGraw, Lippy the Lion, and Snagglepuss, while Daws would answer back as Yogi Bear, Wally Gator, and Elroy Jetson. Unfortunately, I never asked Daws for a copy of this recording since I was too blown away at the time to realize the significance of this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration.

DM: Could you describe some of the teaching techniques Daws Butler, Frank Gorshin, and Steve Allen used when you were being mentored?

JJ: The main thing Daws pressed upon me during our sessions together, no matter what vocal technique we were working on, was to have correct pronunciation, cadence, and the right vocal audio level, not to mention, to have proper lip, mouth and teeth manipulation, which in turn, would make it easier to perform certain voices (i.e. an old man, a little boy, a British aristocrat, a gangster, or an Old West sheriff).

Jay with Frank Gorshin

I met Frank Gorshin at an autograph show in Hollywood, California in the early 2000’s. He took a liking to me after I told him I was a big fan and a celebrity impressionist myself. During our half dozen meetings, Frank taught me the importance of facial expressions and contorting my face and lips when doing an impression. Frank was an extremely nice and cordial man.

I met Steve Allen in 1990 while I was hosting a cable TV show in Beverly Hills. In the three meetings we had, Steve taught me the importance of sketch comedy and how to be generally funny, and how to make an audience laugh. He said, “You must always have a punch line that knocks the audience dead with laughter, otherwise you’ll simply drown, which is a comedian’s worst nightmare.”

DM: Which celebrities do you like to impersonate?

JJ: My favorite celebrities to impersonate are obviously the classic stars of yesteryear, such as Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Vincent Price, George Burns, Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan, Charles Bronson, George C. Scott, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, and countless others.

DM: What physical preparation do you find helps your throat/tongue/vocal cords to duplicate voices best? For example, warm/cold liquids, lemon, honey, gargling, clearing your sinuses, etc.

JJ: Before every voice session with Daws, he would offer me some hot chocolate to soothe my throat and voice and I’ve stuck with that vocal preparation ever since. If hot cocoa isn’t available, I find that hot tea with honey works very well.

DM: Are you still interested in a career in voice-overs?

JJ: I’ve been a film director since 1989 and it’s basically what I’m known for. I’ve made a name for myself in the amusement park genre by writing two books about Knott’s Berry Farm. With that said, it’s safe to say that I’ve never stopped working on my voice over endeavors, as I still perform the occasional narration, movie trailer, radio spot, and cartoon voice, always making myself available if called upon.

Watch Jay in a TV Appearance about Knott’s Berry Farm:

Thank you for your time and use of your photographs, Jay.  Voice Actors in the News wishes you much success in all that you do.

~ Doreen Mulman, Staff Contributor
Voice Actors in the News

Jay Jennings may be contacted at: jenningsfilms@gmail.com


Gus Johnson Voicing Madden NFL 11

07.27.2010

Video of IGN’s Nate Ahearn in the booth recording with sports announcer Gus Johnson, who is the new voice for Madden NFL 11 (releases August 10, 2010):