June Foray: A Legacy
by Michael Mallory
June Foray’s professional career began in 1930 and culminated in 2014, when she reprised for the last time her signature role of Rocky, the Flying Squirrel, in the theatrical short Rocky & Bullwinkle. June was not simply performer with elastic vocal cords. She was a brilliant actress who could convey the subtlest…or, if called for, the most comically broad…emotions through her voice alone. Beginning in radio in her native Springfield, Massachusetts, at the age of twelve, June continued her career after relocating, with her family, to Los Angeles in the mid-1930s.
She appeared on national network programs and even had her own show, Lady Make Believe, in which she not only starred but also wrote. Her work on radio led to her being hired by Capitol Records for children’s albums, which in turn brought her to the attention of animation producers.
While June appears to have dabbled in cartoon work during the 1940s (even she could not remember all her credits), she always cited her performance as Lucifer the Cat in Disney’s Cinderella (1950) as her first animation job. At Disney she established one of her signature roles, Witch Hazel, in the 1952 short Trick or Treat, and reprise the character for both MGM and Warner Bros. In the 1955 Warner Bros. cartoon This is a Life? she began another signature role, that of Granny.
As busy as she was with animation during the 1950s, June still did occasional on-camera work in television and had a thriving career as a voice replacement artist in film and TV, looping the dialogue for other actresses who had either too heavy an accent or too thin a talent. On disc, she was a regular in Stan Freberg’s satiric comedy albums, and she even lent her voice to talking toys, notably Mattel’s “Chatty Cathy.” That gig would ultimately lead to one of her most notable roles, that of the maliciously evil doll “Talky Tina” in a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone, which remains perhaps the finest vocal performance of all time.
Starting in 1959, June Foray and animation would become inseparable. Jay Ward’s groundbreaking series Rocky and His Friends, which was powered in part by her nuanced performance as the plucky Rocket J. Squirrel, offered her toon immortality. June would go on to become the entire female cast for every Ward cartoon show from then on.
It was around this time that she also became a champion of the art form of animation itself, through her early membership in ASIFA-Hollywood. She would serve as a board member, the chapter’s president (from 1973 to 1979), and continued for decades as a participant of ASIFA activities. June opened her home not only to ASIFA-Hollywood functions, but to foreign animators who needed a place to stay on a visit to Los Angeles. When animation could not come to Hollywood, she went to it, traversing the globe to attend film festivals, becoming America’s chief ambassador of animation.
No one ever gave back more to their industry of choice than June, who taught voice acting at UCLA, mentored young actors, supported and cheered artists from all nations, and championed the art form from her position as a governor of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her gift for friendship encircled the planet. She loved the animation industry, and at loved her back. In recognition of her talents and immense contributions to animation, ASIFA-Hollywood in 1995 created the June Foray Award for significant, benevolent, or charitable impact on the art and industry of animation. It was only fitting that June herself was the first recipient. In 2000, she was recognized by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Like other voice actresses who still played children well after retirement age, June was coy about her own age for most of her career. Only in 2007, through a gala birthday celebration, did she admit to being 90 years old. Not only did she confirm it, she expressed relief at no longer having to fib! In 2012, at the age of 94, she won an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Series, becoming the oldest Emmy nominee––and winner––in history.
It is impossible to overstate the impact this tiny, formidable lady with a towering talent and intellect, an indomitable spirit, and unparalleled generosity had on the animation industry. The legacy of June Foray will loom large for another century, at least.