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


Daws Butler News Round-Up

11.15.2009

Catching up on some recent news items related to the late-great Daws Butler:

– From Sun-Times Media:

The Geneva History Center this month hosted a World War II USO dance, reminiscent of the days when young servicemen and women would find respite from the war with a night of entertainment.

“The beauty of this event is that people decided to stay with the theme and they are all so proud, as they should be,” said Margaret Selakovich, an educator at the Geneva History Center.

People came in 1940s-era attire and danced to wartime favorites.

The History Center’s executive director, David Oberg, carried a golf club in homage to Bob Hope and read a letter published in a Geneva newspaper from Daws Butler, who served in the Navy in World War II.

“[Daws] was hilarious and his one-line comments were something you would hear at a Bob Hope USO Show,” Oberg said.

– Daws’ vocal protegé Joe Bevilacqua (aka Joe Bev) will be hosting a live taping of his Cartoon Carnival radio show on Monday, November 16th from 7-9PM at the Glendale Library Auditorium in Glendale, CA.

Here are the details from Joe’s site — JOEBEV.com:

MONDAY, Nov. 16th, 7 – 9pm
Cartoon Carnival Live Event
Come be part of a live taping of Joe Bev’s radio show, meet in-person: Joe Bev, June Foray (the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel); Bill Marx (son of Harpo); writer-historian [and voice director] Mark Evanier; writer-voice actor Earl Kress; voice-actor Gregg Berger; TV personality Bob Mills, and buy an autographed copy of Joe’s Uncle Dunkle book, and June and Bill’s autobiographies. 10% percentage of the book sales go to ASIFA Hollywood.
Glendale Library Auditorium
222 E. Harvard St. Glendale, CA 91205
Admission is FREE. No reservations are required.

I have some friends planning to be there, so I hope to have links to share afterwards with photos and video of the event.

Joe Bev also recently published Unkle Dunkle and Donnie — “a collection of imaginative, never-before-released cartoon scripts by Butler, who also worked on the classic 1960s Jay Ward ‘Fractured Fairy Tales’ and ‘Aesop and Sons’ animated cartoons.”

Unkle Dunkle can be purchased through Bear Manor Media, and according to JoeBev.com an audio companion (featuring Joe performing nearly 100 character voices!) was scheduled to be released November 15th, but as of this writing the ordering details are not yet available on the site.

However, BearManorMedia.com does have a list of their upcoming audio book releases which includes a few other titles narrated by voice actors Joe Bev and Lorie Kellogg.

Joe’s Cartoon Carnival radio show can be heard Sunday-Saturday on Shokus Internet Radio from 6-7 PM (ET).

And if you don’t own it already, you should order Daws Butler: Characters Actor from Bear Manor Media, written by Ben Ohmart and Joe Bev with foreward by Nancy Cartwright (voice of Bart Simpson).

Warner Archive will release Yogi’s First Christmas on Tuesday, Nov. 17th exclusively through their website at wbshop.com. It features the voices of Daws Butler (as Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Augie Doggie), Don Messick (as Boo Boo, Ranger Smith, Herman the Hermit), John Stephenson (as Doggie Daddy, Mr. Dingwell), Janet Waldo (as Cindy Bear, Mrs. Sophie Throckmorton), Marilyn Schreffler (as Snively) and Hal Smith (as Otto the Chef, Santa Claus).

TVShowsOnDVD.com reports that Warner Home Video will release Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics: Volume 1 on January 19th, 2010. The DVD will include four episodes featuring the voices of Daws Butler, Don Messick, Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Casey Kasem, Gary Owens, Bob Holt, Scatman Crothers, Marylin Schreffler, John Stephenson, and Frank Welker.

A bonus episode of Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get A Clue will also be included.


Sometimes Other People Blog About Voice Actors Too

08.21.2009

Monkey Goggles blogger Geoff Carter highlights the work of Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Corey Burton, June Foray, Jim Cummings, Paul Frees, Frank Welker, and others. He promises a follow-up is forthcoming.

Update: 12.20.2009 — Carter fulfills his promise, as promised.

[Thanks to voice actor webmistress extraordinaire Doreen for the heads-up via Facebook.]


Joe Bevilacqua Hosting New Show on Shokus Internet Radio

08.20.2009

Cartoon Carnival image courtesy PR-Inside.com.

Cartoon Carnival image courtesy PR-Inside.com.


For Immediate Release:

JOE BEVILACQUA (JOE BEV) RETURNS TO THE AIRWAVES WITH THE FIRST RADIO CARTOON SHOW EVER – CARTOON CARNIVAL!

As the protege of cartoon voice legend Daws Butler (Yogi Bear), the veteran award-winning broadcaster (NPR, XM Radio) Joe Bevilacqua is no stranger to the cartoon world. Joe Bev even co-authored his mentor’s authorized biography, “Daws Butler, Characters Actor”, available at BearManorMedia.Com.

From Mel Blanc to June Foray, from Disney to Hanna-Barbera, “Cartoon Carnival” is a lively hour of rare and classic cartoon audio, children’s records, cartoon music and sound effects, new radio cartoons, interviews and mini-documentaries about the wonderful world of animation.

“Cartoon Carnival” with Joe Bev premieres on Shokus Internet Radio — ShokusRadio.com — September 7, 2009 (Labor Day). The show will run seven days a week from 3 to 4 pm (PST), 5 to 6 pm (CT), 6 to 7 pm (EST).

“We are delighted to be welcoming Joe Bev and his terrific ‘Cartoon Carnival’ program to Shokus Internet Radio. Joe is an extremely talented guy and his show is a perfect fit for our radio station, which caters primarily to the baby boomer generation. The listeners are going to immediately embrace Joe’s personality and his knowledge of the classic days of film and television animation. ‘Cartoon Carnival’ will be an instant hit.” – Stuart Shostak, Owner/Program Director, Shokus Internet Radio

Just in the first show, listeners will be treated to:

– A Tribute to Joe Barbera, featuring Leonard Maltin, Hanna-Barbera cartoon clips and Joe Bev’s interview with Barbera.

– Voice Lessons from Daws Butler, the very first tape Butler ever sent Joe Bev in 1976.

– A never-before heard Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear cartoon.

– A live performance of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” featuring the original voice of Rocky and Natasha, June Foray.

– Mel Blanc’s demo tape… and more!

For more Joe Bev, check out JoeBev.Com.

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ShokusRadio.com is now offering previous broadcasts on CD for $4.95 each. Past interviewees (available for puchase on CD) include voice director Mark Evanier, animation writer/voice actor Earl Kress, Janet Waldo (The Jetsons), author/voice actor Keith Scott, Eddie Carroll (voice of Jiminy Cricket), Ronnie Schell (Grim & Evil, Megas XLR, Yo Yogi!), and Jimmy Weldon (The Yogi Bear Show).

And just to give you an idea how entertaining Shokus’ interviews are (and why you should consider purchasing them), here’s one from February 2009 with Chuck McCann (The Powerpuff Girls, DuckTales) discussing how he came to meet Stan Laurel: