I’m going to reveal a secret.
Paul Frees certainly isn’t a secret, or shouldn’t be. You know Frees, even if you don’t know his name. He was a brilliant vocal talent who, like his better-known contemporary Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny, et al.) was called “The Man of A Thousand Voices.” Frees was more versatile than Blanc, however, and more ubiquitous as well. He was the voice of Boris Badenov in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons, as well as the voice of Santa Claus, Jack Frost and dozens of other characters in the Rankin-Bass animated specials that are still shown every Christmas.
Frees did a killer Orson Welles impression that was used is several films, and by Stan Freberg as the narration for his immortal comedy album, “Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America (Part I). He was the voice of both John and George in the Beatles’ animated TV show, and Ludwig Von Drake for Disney. He recorded the “Ghost Host” of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride; indeed, his voice turns up in many rides in the theme parks, including “Pirates of the Caribbean.” In commercials, he was Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Dough Boy; Toucan Sam, the Fruit Loops mascot who sounded like Ronald Coleman for some reason; and Boo Berry, who was a spoof of Peter Lorre. His Peter Lorre imitation had been honed as a member of Spike Jones’ troop of musical maniacs, and his Lorre-rendition of “My Old Flame” is a highlight of “The Best of Spike Jones” album, which I play often to maintain my sense of humor in dark days…
None of that is the secret, however. Continue reading
Marni Nixon died last month at 86, and I have been intending to write about her ever since. An accomplished soprano with perfect pitch and a rare gift for mimicry, Nixon secretly dubbed in the songs for Deborah Kerr as Anna in “The King and I,” Natalie Wood as Maria in “West Side Story” and Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady,” three of the most successful and honored Hollywood adaptations of Broadway musicals. In doing so she was assisting in the perpetration of a fraud on critics and audiences, but one that had, and indeed has, some legitimate ethical arguments, and rationalizations too, to justify it. Why is using a stunt singer any more dishonest than using a stunt man? Isn’t film about making the audience accept illusions in pursuit of art? If an audience member will be more likely to enjoy a film thinking that a major star can really sing, why is it wrong to make it possible for them to believe that, at least for a while?
The reasoning would have more power if long before Marnie did her secret singing Hollywood hadn’t already made a classic musical, “Singin’ in the Rain,” that pronounced the practice fraudulent. Marni Nixon was a real life Cathy Seldon, the Debbie Reynolds contract player forced to supply the singing and speaking voice for a talentless silent film superstar, Lina Lamont, whose real voice would make dogs run for refuge and men claw off their ears, and whose continued status as a money-making asset for the studio depended on making her successful in talkies.
Ironically, even “Singin’ in the Rain” engaged in the same fraud it was ridiculing. Debbie Reynolds was a competent singer, but a richer, more mature voice was needed to match the image of Jean Hagen, the terrific comic actress playing Lina. So when Debbie was shown secretly replacing Lina’s nightmarish singing voice with her own, another singer was secretly used, uncredited, to dub Debbie. Her voice fit Lina perfectly, because the voice put in Debbie’s mouth while she was supposedly putting her voice into Lina’s was the real voice of… Jean Hagen. Continue reading
WHAT did you say?
There is more to discuss, a lot more, regarding what I will now call “The Klosterman Apology,” because it sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel. For now, however, since it is fresh in my jet-lagged mind, I’d like to focus on the inevitable result of declaring certain words and phrases so objectionable, hurtful, uncivil or politically incorrect that extraordinary means are employed to eliminate them. In the case of The Klosterman Apology, the words were “retard” and “retard,” and a Mom with a blog threatened “The Ethicist” from the New York Times magazine with an onslaught of political correctness bullies if he didn’t immediately express his abject contrition for having used these words in a harsh way a decade ago, in another job that didn’t directly involve ethics. Chuck capitulated, gracefully and well. As I will discuss in another post, I don’t think he had much choice. Still, word-banning is an ugly, and ultimately unethical business. Continue reading