June Foray, Voice of ‘Bullwinkle Show’s’ Natasha and Rocky, Dies at 99

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock
Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

June Foray, the voice of “The Rocky and  Bullwinkle Show’s” Rocky the Flying Squirrel and his nemesis Natasha Fatale of Boris and Natasha fame in the early 1960s and a key figure in the animation industry, died Thursday. She was 99.

Her close friend Dave Nimitz, confirmed her death on Facebook, writing “With a heavy heart again I want to let you all know that we lost our little June today at 99 years old.”

Foray was also the voice behind Looney Tunes’ Witch Hazel, Nell from “Dudley Do-Right,” Granny in the “Tweety and Sylvester” cartoons and Cindy Lou Who in Chuck Jones’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” among hundreds of others.

The first lady of voice acting, one of the original members of animation organization ASIFA-Hollywood and founder of the annual Annie Awards, was also instrumental in the creation of the Oscars’ animated feature category.

“We are all saddened by the news of June’s passing,” said ASIFA-Hollywood executive director Frank Gladstone, who noted that she would have celebrated her 100th birthday in September. “Although it didn’t come as a shock, it has really taken us back a bit.”

Gladstone noted her instrumental role in starting the Annie Awards. “It was part of her legacy and a testament to her enduring love for animation and the animation industry.”

Said ASIFA president Jerry Beck: “On behalf of ASIFA-Hollywood, of which June was a founder, we are mourning the passing of animation’s best friend. She has touched so many lives: with her voice that of so many classic cartoon character, her efforts to create ASIFA, to maintain the Academy’s Oscar for Best Animated Short and her leadership in crafting the category of Best Animated Feature. She was one of a kind. A trailblazer, a great talent and a truly wonderful person. We will never forget her.”

Recently elected Academy board member and animation veteran Tom Sito said of Foray: “She was a mainstay of the animation community in Hollywood and the queen of voice talent.”

Foray continued to work late in life, reprising her role as Rocky in director Gary Trousdale’s short “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” released by DreamWorks Animation in 2014. In a 2013 interview with Variety, Foray said: “I’m still going. It keeps you thinking young. My body is old, but I think the same as I did when I was 20 years old.”

Foray is credited with coming up with the idea for the Annie Awards, which started out as a dinner honoring the year’s best in animation in 1972, and she presided over what has become a gala event in the animation industry every year since. The Annies created a juried award named for Foray in 1995 that honors individuals who have made significant or benevolent contributions to the art and industry of animation, and she was its first recipient.

Foray told Variety that she had been working in the animation business for about 20 years before the group that would eventually become ASIFA-Hollywood casually came to be. “We never did anything. Sometimes we’d have lunch together and call each other on the phone,” she said. Foray was a founding member of what was then called ASIFA West Coast in the early 1960s with fellow animation professionals Les Goldman, Bill Littlejohn, Ward Kimball, John Wilson, Carl Bell and Herbert Kasower.

In the early 1970s Foray pitched the idea for an awards show. “I was thinking that there were the Grammys, the Tonys, the Oscars, but nobody recognizes animation,” Foray said. So she suggested the board host a dinner, and though other board members said no one would show up to such an event, they rented space in the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the San Fernando Valley to honor animation pioneers Max and Dave Fleischer. “And 400 people showed up,” boasted Foray.

A longtime cheerleader for the animation industry, Foray lobbied for many years to have animated films recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “I was on the board of governors for 26 years and I tried for 20 years” to convince the Academy to have a category for animated features, she told Variety. Finally the Academy created the category in 2001, and DreamWorks Animation’s “Shrek” won the first Oscar for animated feature. Afterward, Foray said, “Jeffrey Katzenberg called me to thank me because he was aware of what I had done.”

Though not a superstar in the traditional sense, Foray had an impressive list of fans, as Leonard Maltin relayed in his forward to Foray’s 2009 autobiography “Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?” He wrote: “When I was fortunate enough to attend the Oscar nominees’ luncheon in 2007, I asked director Martin Scorsese who he was excited to have met that day, among the hundred-or-so contenders and Academy guests. He smiled and said, ‘June Foray.’”

Foray was born June Lucille Forer in Springfield, Mass., and she was doing vocal work in local radio dramas by the time she was 12. She continued working in radio after her family moved to Los Angeles after she graduated from high school, following her dream of becoming an actress. She even had her own “Lady Make Believe” radio show that showcased her vocal talents, and she appeared regularly on network shows such as “Lux Radio Theater” and “The Jimmy Durante Show.”

She met her future husband, writer and director Hobart Donavan, while working on “Smilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown Show,” then moved on to work with Steve Allen on morning radio show “Smile Time,” in which she’d play “everyone and everything. It was there that I perfected my Spanish accent and where my booming Marjorie Main-type voice got a good workout,” she recalled in her autobiography.

After “Smile Time,” Foray found work with Capitol Records, where she recorded many children’s albums and where she first met and worked with Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, with whom she recorded several comedy records, including “Dragnet” parody “St. George and the Dragonet.” Later she was a regular cast member of “The Stan Freberg Show” on CBS Radio.

Foray got her start in the animation business when someone from the Walt Disney studio called her to ask if she could do the voice of a cat. “Well, I could do anything,” recalled Foray in an interview with Variety. “So he hired me as Lucifer the cat in ‘Cinderella,’ and then I started to work for Disney.” Much of her work for Disney was uncredited, including work as a mermaid and squaw in “Peter Pan.” But she starred as the voice of Hazel the Witch in the 1952 Donald Duck short “Trick or Treat,” using a voice that would later morph into “Looney Tunes” character Witch Hazel. She would often say that she voiced a long litany of cartoon witches, many of them named Hazel.

About the same time, the 1950s, Foray worked on a series of cartoons by such animation pioneers as Tex Avery and Walter Lantz. For Warner Bros., she became Granny in the “Tweety and Sylvester” cartoons and Alice Crumden in the cartoon parody of “The Honeymooners,” “The Honey-Mousers.” At Warner Bros. she met Chuck Jones, for whom she worked on several “Looney Tunes” cartoons, starting with “Broom-Stick Bunny” in 1956. She would later star as Cindy Lou Who in Jones’ cartoon adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

She also voiced Mother Magoo in the “Mister Magoo” series.

But her greatest fame came with Jay Ward’s satirical “Rocky and His Friends,” which would later become “The Bullwinkle Show,” eventually known collectively as “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” which ran from 1959 through 1964. Foray did most of the female voices for the show, including the voice of Russian villain Natasha Fatale, as well as that of Rocket J. Squirrel. She also voiced characters for other Jay Ward cartoons, such as “Dudley Do-Right” (Nell Fenwick), “George of the Jungle” (Jane) and “Tom Slick” (Marigold).

It wasn’t only in animation that Foray got to use her myriad vocal talents. She voiced the demonic doll Talky Tina in “The Twilight Zone” episode entitled “Living Doll” in 1963.

Despite her prolific career, she had to wait until 2012 for an Emmy nomination; she went on to win a Daytime Emmy for her performance as Mrs. Cauldron on Cartoon Network’s “The Garfield Show.”

A documentary about her life, “The One and Only June Foray,” was produced in 2013.

Foray was married to Bernard Barondess from 1941 to 1945. She was married to Donavan from 1954 until his death in 1976.

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  1. David Reno says:

    Dear Variety:

    I have tried, without success to read all 49 Comments.

    I wonder if there would be an interest in a June Foray archives in Springfield’s Public Library, or does one exist?

    David Reno

  2. Warren Jones says:

    As a Southern California native/resident, and a long-time member of the Old Time Radio group “SPERDVAC” I (like a lot of other folks) had that pleasure to meet June over the years when she would show up for their annual convention.
    Not content to just attend, she would sometimes take part in and Old Time Radio re-creation or two, or perhaps as a panel guest?
    One of my greatest memories of a SPERDVAC convention was when I was asked to play the Announcer on an episode of “Suspense” called “Mission Completed” that originally starred James Stewart (with Paul Frees as the Announcer).
    And yes, you guessed it, June was a part of that re-creation that also included Chuck McCann, Dick Beals, Robert Easton, Susan Silo, Jack Grinnage, and a few others.

    No pressure, right? :)

    I am very thankful to my friends for asking me to do it, and the sound guy that gave me a treasured CD of the performance.

    Perhaps the best part was June walking up to the table where we all were going to do the “table read” and pulling up a chair on my immediate right. Pretty heady stuff to a then 45 year old, massive cartoon voice fan.

    Warren

  3. poetus108 says:

    June became a friend about 15 years ago and invited me over to her modest house in Valley to talk. She loved poetry (I read and gave her some of mine) and was quite literate. She was much smarter than the characters she created, and very, very sweet. I last saw her on her 98th birthday, when I presented her with flowers and a card. She seemed quite alone, and that memory, coupled with those from my childhood, make this a very bittersweet moment. But millions will remember her with joy, including me, and that is a legacy very few can claim. Rest in peace, June. You done good.

  4. Stan Bowery says:

    Thank you June for all the wonderful memories.

  5. Alan Dvorkis says:

    I saw both June Foray and Bill Scott when they were doing an anniversary tour of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Almost 30 years later, it is an evening that still resonates. June remains a huge part of all childrens lives, both young and old. RIP

  6. A huge loss. I got to meet June in the 1980s when I was working on the Humboldt Film Festival and she was a judge. She was a really fine human being.

  7. Earl Scooter says:

    What a marvelous and wonderful life she led.RIP JUNE😔🙏

  8. She will always be a part of our lives, and our memories. Rest in peace, June Foray.

  9. A.R. says:

    Saturday mornings, parents still in bed, I have my chocolate milk and Captain Crunch and my cartoons. Both June and Mel were very much a part of my childhood. As an adult, I hear them in my head and can still smile. They are a part of me now. We’ll miss you Rocky.

  10. Bill Thomson says:

    Indeed I did grow up with her. But instead of grieving at the loss of such a wonderful talent, I’m going to celebrate her life by watching the cartoons she made so funny and entertaining. She was so versatile. From Talky Tina in Twilight Zone to Granny in Sylvester and Tweety cartoons, the lady could flat out do anything. RIP Dear June, and thank you so very much for all the laughter.

  11. Cherie Reese says:

    I was so sure she was the little girl in twilight zone (orig) because she then sounded just like Rocky. The TZ episode was about a brother n sister who dove into a pool ending in another dimension with other kids and a kind “grandmother” who took care of them.

  12. Another Poster says:

    Looking at June Foray’s resume at IMDB is long and memorable; one iconic character after another.
    Rest in peace dear legendary, voice actor. One of the greatest in the history of her profession.

  13. jamzm says:

    Thanks for the laughs, lady. Say Hi to Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Greenjeans and Mel Blanc. And may the recycled you be better than ever.

  14. Wow. Did not know June did Natashia and Granny of Tweetie Bird etc. She was just amazing. Reading all she has done is fabulous. R.I.P. June you will be missed.

  15. Michael Boyce says:

    She also was Bunny in the W-B”Bunny & Claude” Cartoon,opposite Mel Blanc! Rip,June.

  16. Tiara Brown says:

    Goodbye and Thank you for making Rocky, Natasha and all the rest of those characters worth remembering from our years of childhood

  17. MerryMarjie says:

    She must have been the busiest woman in Hollywood! She was the voice of absolutely EVERYTHING! Dear June, we’ll miss you so. Love, Your Adoring Audience.

  18. Vickie says:

    Thank you making my childhood more fun on Saturday mornings!!! RIP Ms June…

  19. Alex Meyer says:

    RIP. She was a icon.

  20. JR says:

    I’m happy to own a copy of that 2014 short. It was a genuine joy to see all those classic characters come to life again (in glorious 3D no less!) And June’s work didn’t miss a beat…you’d never know it was 50 years later. Always hoped there’d be a follow-up but at least we have this. Thank you June!

  21. Jack Howard says:

    The family of Cal Howard wishes to extend our sympathy. The whole animation industry has lost a “giant” in our little June.

  22. J. David Reno says:

    In times of passage, I am reminded of a line said by Johathan Winters in one of his few straight roles.

    In A Game of Pool, Jack Klugman plays a pool champion frustrated because the all time champion Fats Brown played by Winters is dead. He would give anything to play him.

    When Winters playing Brown appears, Klugman astounded says, ” But your…

    “Dead?”, Winters says. “Not really. As long as people say your name, you don’t really die. As long as people talk about you, you continue. A legend doesn’t die just because the man does.”

    June’s body is gone. Her body of work will continue as long as there is film, video tape and an audience.

    See you in the next world Natasha.

    David Reno,
    A Bostonian

  23. Lief Jon Lowe says:

    Condolences to family and loved ones… She was the voice of the best “cold war” political satire bar none. As a child in the sixties I never missed a chance to check in and I honestly believe that it was formative of my views concerning politics. That’s powerful and is well appreciated.

  24. Paul Giarniero says:

    So many voices have been silenced today. :( Rest in Peace.

  25. paul kirkpatrick says:

    😢 so sad, rip sweet lady and thanks for making my childhood awesome!

  26. Peter Guerin says:

    We have definitely lost a legend in the animation business. RIP :-(

  27. KB says:

    Oh June, your voice was practically the soundtrack of my childhood. I grew up listening to your voice in all of my favourite cartoons. So sad that you’re gone, but happy that you got to share your golden voice with the entire world. May you rest in peace sweet lady. I’ll watch all of my favourite cartoons in your memory.

    • Georgianne Lakatos says:

      So sorry to hear of the passing of such a talented woman. She was such a great part of my childhood even though I didn’t know it at the time. Thanks for the memories.

  28. Carmen Sp5 says:

    Rest in peace June,thank you for all the memories

  29. Carlton says:

    Her legacy will always entertain.

  30. gail says:

    so much talent in one person. I am glad to see her many acomplishments acknowledged.

    • Bebe Young says:

      Paul Frees often worked with June and when she moved to New York in in the late 40;s I took her job in Hollywood playing opposite him as 4 vegetable voices weekly on the Ona Munson radio show. I am 90 year old retired radio actress, Bebe Young. Sag-Aftra member since 1945

      • michaelprestage says:

        Bebe, many thanks for posting that memory of June, Paul and yourself. I’ve been a lifelong fan of them both. Aside from all the hard work and many hours you put in, those must’ve been some great times! Sadly, since the industry began the trend of replacing gifted voice-actors with homogenized Hollywood stars and celebrities, the craft hasn’t been the same since.

  31. *Sigh* there goes another of those legends I didn’t get to meet. She was one of the last of the legendary voice over artists. She would have become a centenarian this year. She was the female Mel Blanc. She must be in Heaven up there with Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg. R.I.P. June Foray, thanks for all the good times. There will never be another legend like you. :'( <3

  32. I grew up watching her work, she was a real talent and the Rocky and Bullwinkle show remains the best animated show ever made. She will be missed. :(

  33. BillUSA says:

    My heartfelt condolences to her family from an oldie who grew up entertained due to her work and that of her associates. God bless you and thank you.

  34. 99 is a VERY good run for anyone. If you can live that long and keep your wits, great!
    Otherwise, living much past 80 and losing your mind is no fun for anyone.

    Gotta love a performer who can do psychotic voices so well!
    And let’s face it, the best voices in animation are the psychotic and eccentric voices and she did both very well.
    Did you HEAR the way she did that doll’s voice in that episode of “Twilight Zone?” The creepiest voices are usually the most saccharine (sweet) voices!

    There’s no need to call her a “female Mel Blanc” or say the reverse as one badly recalled Chuck Jones quote posted online said.
    That’s insulting to her memory…
    She was unique and a trailblazer.
    Leave it at that.
    That’s the best compliment I think you can give an entertainer!

  35. Matty says:

    Such sad news. What an amazing woman.

  36. Walter Lipman says:

    A beloved portion of my childhood has departed. We will never see the like of June Foray again, but we will hear her, always.

  37. Phillip Ayling says:

    RIP…we were graced for so many years by a truly amazing talent.

  38. Robert Short says:

    And known to U.N.C.L.E. fans as the network voice that said…….. “Our Man from UNCLE will return after station identification”.

  39. Jim says:

    There was no “Jane” in George of the Jungle. There was “Ursula” or “Fella.”

    • Rand Miller says:

      Glad someone said it. No Jane! An Amazingly talented artist. 99 years – who could ask or more. I grew up with her voice!!!!

  40. Martin says:

    So many wonderful characters have just gone silent. When Bullwinkle next tries to pull a rabbit out of his hat, no one will be there to tell him, ” But that trick never works.” 😢

  41. MS says:

    “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray”

    – Chuck Jones

    An amazing actress, RIP

  42. R.I.P., June Foray. She was “The Lady of a Thousand Voices” – from Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha, Granny Neptune, & a lot of other voices. She will be missed. :'(

  43. Dom says:

    RIP June. I was lucky enough to have grown up with Rocky and Bullwinkle, Stan Freberg and Daws butler. Truly talented people that just don’t seem to exist anymore. Thanks for the memories.

  44. joe says:

    if you haven’t heard of june foray then it’s your loss all our loss now that she’s gone rip

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