Just shy of her 100th birthday, we are mourning the passing of animation’s best friend, June Foray.
June touched so many lives with not only her classic animation voice work but also her efforts to maintain the Motion Picture Academy’s Best Animated Short Oscar, her leadership in crafting the Academy’s Best Animated Feature category and, of course, her guidance as one of the founders of ASIFA-Hollywood, including her very singular creation, the Annie Awards. She was one of a kind. A trail blazer, a great talent and a truly wonderful person.
Born June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Massachusetts, on September 18, 1917, June got into voice-over work at the age of 12, performing in a local radio drama. She moved to Los Angeles at 17 and quickly established herself as a popular radio actress on national broadcasts. She was never out of work for the next eight decades.
According to June her first major animation role came in 1950, playing Lucifer the Cat in Walt Disney’s Cinderella. “Someone at Disney heard one of the many children’s records I had done for Capitol and called me in to do the sounds of Lucifer the Cat,” recalled June. “But I never got to meet Walt.”
Old issues of Radio Life magazine credit her for many cartoon voices in the 1940s. One of the earliest was probably The Unbearable Bear (1942) for Chuck Jones where she did the voice of Mrs. Bear. Her mechanically sped up voice can be heard in Walter Lantz’s final Oswald the Rabbit cartoon, The Egg Cracker Suite (1943) with June as the voice of Oswald.
In Disney’s animated feature, Peter Pan, she played a mermaid, filmed for animation reference on a makeshift set along with Margaret Kerry and Connie Hilton. She also provided the voice of the Squaw character.
June was the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel as well as his nemesis, Natasha Fatale of Boris and Natasha fame, Nell from Dudley Do-Right and just about every other female voice from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. She was behind Looney Tunes’ Witch Hazel, Granny in the Tweety and Sylvester cartoons and Cindy Lou Who in Chuck Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, among hundreds of others.
In the 1960s, she became a devoted advocate for the preservation and promotion of animation. She was one of the the guiding lights in establishing ASIFA-Hollywood. even holding sales of animation cels in her backyard in order to raise funds for the organization.
She also created the Annie Award (her husband, Hobart Donovan, coined the name) and the now famous award ceremony in 1972. June was awarded a Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and, in 1995, ASIFA-Hollywood established the June Foray Award for individuals who have made “a significant and benevolent or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation.” June was the first recipient.
Regarding her work in the industry and particularly for ASIFA, June said, “I talk about animation, and my career in animation, and the success that animation has finally become. Instead of being second class citizens in this world of show business, we are now attaining a dignity that should have been affording us many years ago.”
In 2012, June received an Emmy nomination and won in the category of Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program for her role as Mrs. Cauldron on The Garfield Show. By doing so, she became, at age 94, the oldest entertainer to be nominated for, and to win, an Emmy Award, another in the many groundbreaking career achievements.
In 2000 June was awarded a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I love everything I do, with all of the parts that I do, because there’s a little bit of me in all of them. We all have anger and jealousy and love and hope in our natures. We try to communicate that vocally with just sketches that you see on the screen and make it come alive and make it human. That’s what I enjoy doing”
We miss our beloved June already but are content in the knowledge that she will live on in the hundreds of characters she created, the organization and awards she founded and the industry she fought for and cherished. We will never forget her.
(Jerry Beck and Jim Korkis from Cartoon Research and Terry Flores from Variety contributed to this article.)