Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had any inate talent. You know, like the ability to sing in perfect pitch, pitch a ball 100 mph, or convince people you should be in charge of anything. If I could have any such inborn knack for something, I would want to have a funny voice. Not an annoying voice, but an interesting one… like the gently raspy Sterling Holloway, best known as the voice of Winnie the Pooh, or the thrillingly bassy pipes of Thurl Ravenscroft (who’s awesome name I also covet). He’s the one who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and not, as many believe, its narrator, Boris Karloff) and “No Dogs Allowed” in Snoopy Come Home. Or how about the mousy tenor of Muppeteer Jerry Nelson, who could sound like a baby frog and still belt out a lovely song? He is the voice of Robin on the Muppets and Emmett Otter. There was an era when instead of packing animated specials with superstar cameos, the field had their own stars, people who could create memorable characters through voice alone.
Yeah, I’d like to do that. It’s a good gig if you can get it. A friend once bought me Nancy Cartwright’s autobiography because I’m a Simpsons fan — that show has an amazing range of voice talent. Nancy is Bart, and more importantly, Ralph Wiggum. Not to mention Nelson Muntz, meaning her “ha ha” is second only to Dan Castalenta’s “D’oh!” for having become part of the collective conciousness. I was lukewarm about the book until I read it, and actually quite enjoyed it, though jealous of her lifestyle — a few hours work a week, low pressure acting, and you still worm your way into the hearts of millions.
It’s not just funny voices, I guess, and not just cartoon and puppet voices. I’ve seen an entire metrodome fall into hushed and teary silence as they remembered Bob Casey, who never swung a bat or even called a game, but became a local legend just for announcing “NOoooooo smoking in the metrodome!” and announcing the player’s names with a booming reverence (his “Kiiiiiirby Puckett!” will be long remembered). He was the voice of the Twins, they say, and he gave them a great booming voice, too.
Writers talk about voice in a metaphorical sense. For example, today I watched M.T. Anderson give an online reading and chat, and heard his stuff aloud for the first time. It struck me how different and unique his narrative “voices” are, from the sullen and uneloquently eloquent teenagers of Feed to the articulate, hypereducated Octavian Nothing. It’s not the same, though, is it? I mean, he sounded like a bookish guy named Tobin no matter what he was reading. He’s a great writer, but he doesn’t have a thing on Frank Oz.