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Topher's Breakfast Cereal Character Guide

Vocal Talent

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We are happy to present small profiles of the vocal talent behind your favorite cereal characters.

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Because they usually were not credited, the performers who provided the voices for animated commercial characters usually remained relatively anonymous. Only in recent years have some of them (such as Thurl "Tony the Tiger" Ravenscroft) been rescued from their obscurity to receive the belated recognition they deserve.

Robie Lester
Profile By Tim Hollis
Robie Lester One of the busiest voices in the Kellogg's commercials of the 1960s belonged to Robie Lester. She was first heard as both of Toucan Sam's infant nephews, in the days when Sam himself was being played by Mel Blanc. She was also one of the two battling Smackin' Brothers for Sugar Smacks; since the two were practically identical, it is difficult to describe which one was Robie, but for the most part she was the more aggressive one. It was Robie who belted out the commercials' jingle, "Honey on the outside, sugar on the inside, smackin' sweet puffs of wheat..." (It is believed that a lady named Chris Allen was the more passive brother.) Another continuing series of spots, this time for Raisin Bran, starred Daws Butler as the sun and Robie as the talking grapes who constantly put him in his place (SUN: "I'm a grape!" GRAPE: "No, you're the sun!").
Her Kellogg's work represented only a small portion of Robie's career. Somewhat unusually for such a versatile voice actor, she initially drew attention as a singer instead. Although she possessed a remarkably powerful singing voice, Robie soon found that girl singers were a dime a dozen in Hollywood, so she soon discovered that her main selling point could be that she sang but also performed character roles (sometimes combining the two, as with the Sugar Smacks jingle above).

By the early 1960s Robie had hooked up with the Disney studios, where she was heard on literally dozens of that company's children's records. Anyone who was a child at the time would have had some of the "Disneyland Story Reader" records, on which Robie read the story and acted out all the parts while the listening child followed along in the accompanying booklet. She also worked for other cartoon studios, playing the role of Polly Plum in THE FUNNY COMPANY series, among others.

One of her most famous and lasting roles was as Miss Jessica, the schoolteacher who becomes Mrs. Kris Kringle in the 1970 Rankin-Bass special SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN. Anyone who wonders just what her true singing was like can get ample evidence from her performance of "My World Is Beginning Today" in that show. That same year, she dubbed the singing for the decidedly non-musical Eva Gabor in Disney's animated feature THE ARISTOCATS.

In the early 1970s, while still a very young woman, Robie developed some health problems that forced her to drop out of the voice field. She did return to Disney to once again substitute for Eva Gabor's singing in THE RESCUERS, but otherwise occupied her time with writing stories and songs and tending to family life.
She was certain that her career had been long forgotten when a fan searched her out in early 2001, and she suddenly became aware that her body of work was far from worthless!

Robie has now emerged from her long, reluctant retirement and was recently heard in an episode of the syndicated radio series ADVENTURES IN ODYSSEY. She is currently gearing up to get back into business, so even if Kellogg's does not revive any of her former characters, we should all be listening for her distinctive voice again soon!

[Editor's Note: Sadly, Robie Lester passed away on June 14, 2005, at age 75].
Robie Lester

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Dal McKennon
Profile By Tim Hollis
Dal McKennon 1965The name Dal (or Dallas) McKennon should be very familiar to anyone who has read cartoon voice credits or children's record labels for the last 50 years. He has been involved in more different television and theatrical cartoon series than even he can count, but early in his career he helped establish the voices for some of the best-known Kellogg's cereal characters.
Dal arrived in Hollywood from his home state of Oregon in 1952, and his seemingly bottomless voice box was soon keeping him busy. According to Dal, he was the first actor to growl out the dialogue for Tony the Tiger in his very earliest animated appearances. "But I found out that doing that voice was ruining my throat," he says now, "and since I wanted to be able to keep working, I gave it up and recommended that Thurl Ravenscroft do it... and he has, all the way up until today!"

(For the record, Thurl Ravenscroft denies this story and says that Tony never had any voice other than his. Until someone discovers film or video of the early 1950s animated Kellogg's commercials, this battle of the two Tonys may never be settled.)

Dal could also be heard as Snap, Crackle, and Pop, and as the earliest talking version of Corny (or Cornelius), the Corn Flakes rooster. Once again, by the 1960s these roles had been assumed by other performers; eventually Hanna-Barbera voice legends Daws Butler and Don Messick split the Rice Krispies trio among themselves, and former radio/movie/TV comic Andy Devine played Corny in a memorable (and expensive) series that combined live action with animation.

Dal's work for Kellogg's soon gave way to the rest of his career, which beginning around 1955 was spent largely with the Walter Lantz studio. This worked fine for Kellogg's, though, since for a time the cereal company sponsored the Woody Woodpecker Show on TV and Lantz produced a number of commercials with his star bird promoting the products. Lantz's wife, Grace Stafford, continued to be Woody's voice, of course, but Dal was there on hand to supply any additional dialogue that might be needed.

In the 1960s, Dal could be heard in wildly varying cartoon series, both the famous and obscure varieties. Some former children may remember him as the private eye Q. T. Hush (and also every other voice in that low-budget series). Those who came of age later in the decade would remember the Archie cartoons from the Filmation studio, in which Dal was not only Archie but Mr. Weatherby the principal, Coach Cleats, and the gang mascot, Hot Dog, who muttered thoughts to himself not unlike Snoopy.

Around the same time, he also developed a relationship with the Art Clokey studio and became the voice of Gumby, a role he continues to play today. When, in the summer of 2001, the ABC network commissioned Clokey to produce a series of "bumpers" featuring Gumby, to be shown during station breaks, Dal was once again at the microphone to loan his voice to the "little green slab of clay."
Dal McKennonThere isn't anywhere near enough room here to go into detail about Dal's work for the Walt Disney studio. He could be heard as multiple characters in LADY AND THE TRAMP, SLEEPING BEAUTY, 101 DALMATIANS, THE JUNGLE BOOK, MARY POPPINS, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, and the list goes on and on. He was also featured on many of the LP's released under the Disneyland Records label, playing everyone from Rabbit and Gopher in the Winnie the Pooh albums to the Scarecrow of Oz and other characters from L. Frank Baum's classic books. Unlike many voice actors, he also made quite a number of on-screen TV and movie appearances as well, most notably spending several seasons as the grizzled tavern keeper Cincinnatus on Fess Parker's DANIEL BOONE series.
Dal's work as the Kellogg's characters may have been far overshadowed by his later projects, but he certainly has not forgotten about it himself. We should all remember that someone had to be first when establishing voices for these formerly two-dimensional cereal box decorations, and it is hard to say what Kellogg's spots of today would sound like if it had not been for pioneers such as Dal!

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About the Author
Tim Hollis is an author from Birmingham, Alabama. Check out Amazon.com for his books Dixie Before Disney : 100 Years of Roadside Fun and Hi There, Boys and Girls : America's Local Children's TV Programs. He is also the Executive Secretary of an old-time radio organization, the National Lum and Abner Society. Their annual convention is held each June in Mena, Arkansas, with guests from the world of radio and animated cartoon voices. For more information, e-mail Tim Hollis.

Old-time Radio Convention
Tim Hollis is also in charge of an old-time radio convention that is held in Mena, Arkansas each June, and Dal McKennon is one of the featured guests for 2002. Activities begin at 5 pm on Friday, June 14 and continue all day Saturday, June 15. There is no registration fee or any other charge for attending. (This is the 18th annual convention of an old-time radio organization, the National Lum and Abner Society).

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Greg Berg
Profile
Honey Drop In the early 1980's, Greg began a professional career as a character actor/voice talent. He sought out the best coaches and plowed into the business. Among his first notable jobs... was being asked by animator Mike Lah what the voice of a "Honey Drop" would sound like. Greg says, "Growing up watching the incredibly influential, voice character genius, (and later to be one of my coaches) Daws Butler, I related to his "sweet" personality and recorded a sample of a smooth smiley voice".
Mike Lah and the advertisers involved loved it and he was hired as the voice of the "Honey Drop" for Golden Grahams cereal. The commercial ran for a couple or a few years, then one day he was told a new advertising agency had taken over and the character wasn't going to talk. It happens - Daws Butler was even eventually axed as the Capn' Crunch voice, but he turned that into about a 25 year run.

Also in the early 1980's the Golden Graham people (another General Mills cereal) needed a voice of an owl for Crispy Wheats and Raisins - which Greg provided. "That I don't think turned into a regular character, for whatever reason?" Occasionally, when Greg mentions he was the Honey Drop, "people often mistaken that character for the Cheerios Honey Bee which has run (with different people supplying that voice)".

Greg went on to provide voices for highly recognizable other characters in animation including the jokester Baby Fozzie Bear and Baby Scooter on "Jim Hensons' Muppet Babies" for 9 years (and 12 years of reruns), Kikkoman the animated spokesman for Kikkoman Teriyaki Sauces, and various unnamed character voices on "The Simpsons".


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Vocal Talent Links
Cast of Jay Ward Cartoons.A list of the voice actors known to have worked on Jay Ward cartoons, courtesy of the Frostbite Falls Page.
Voice Chasers.One of the leading online destinations for information searches related to voice acting.

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