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Voice Over Succession: The Elephant in the Room

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

July 9, 2009

Comments (7)

Passing the torchWhen people in the business of voice over retire or pass away, they leave a role (or a number of roles) behind them that need to be filled, especially those who record character voices, are the voices of a franchise, or are known for a very specific niche voice over.

Today, we're going to take a look at a few examples of people who have either vacated their posts out of choice or who were called away from their work (and this world), discussing the elephant in the room which is:

Who gets the gig when someone else has gone?

An Observation

I've noticed over the years that whenever someone in a prominent voice over role passes away or resigns their post, people tend to wonder who will take their place.

A few people within the last year fit this description, including the late Don LaFontaine, the late Wayne Allwine, and now, the very much alive Casey Kasem who retired just last weekend at the age of 77.

Don LaFontaine

Known for his signature movie trailer voice, Don was literally the voice of the movies for decades. When we lost him last year on Labor Day (September 1, 2008), an enormous void opened up, both on an emotional level and in his line of work. A pioneer in the field, Don LaFontaine wasn't only the voice who delivered famous lines such as "In a world...", he also was the person who helped to pen those lines in the 1960s when he worked in advertising and production.

People were deeply affected by his passing because Don made himself so accessible to the voice over community, made impressions on those he worked with, and had a talent that was only matched by his generosity.

Soon after he died, quite unexpectedly following a short illness and complications due to a medical procedure, people started talking, quietly, but still talking, about who might take Don's place. We needed the opportunity to grieve his loss and celebrate his life before one could even think about discussing the inevitable.

At the time, it felt disrespectful to address the topic, but all the same, the question was asked.

Wayne Allwine

Although you may not have known his name, you knew him as the charming vocal embodiment of Mickey Mouse. Our community lost Wayne just a couple of months ago from complications of diabetes. His wife, Russi Taylor, is most fittingly the voice of Minnie Mouse. The two met in studio over twenty years ago and it was love at first sight.

Upon news of his death, The New York Times published a feature article about him and his life, focusing in on the fact that the voice of Mickey Mouse had died. What a thing for the world to hear! Mickey Mouse is such a symbolic figure. Wayne was the third person to give voice to Mickey Mouse. The first voice of Mickey was Walt Disney himself and the second voice of Mickey was performed by Jimmy MacDonald.

While people again started to talk about who might be the next Mickey Mouse and where auditions may be held to choose a new voice actor for the role, word was getting around that there was likely someone else waiting in the wings if such a thing should happen, hushing the whispers until the next Mickey Mouse voice talent is made known.

Succession Plans

Something we might be overlooking is the possibility of a succession plan, and I say this because people who are not directly involved with what is going on often have less information at their disposal to draw upon which may help to explain why the question of "who's going to take their place?" is raised following the retirement or passing away of an individual.

In business, government and even the monarchy, there are people designated as heirs and or successors prior to a person's departure should the incumbent not be able to continue. I think we'll find that the same may be true for voice acting.

Take Walt Disney (d. 1966). He chose to stop recording as Mickey Mouse in 1947 and the role was given to Jimmy MacDonald.

Voices of Mickey Mouse (years shown in duration of time as Mickey's voice):

Walt Disney (1928-1947)
Jimmy MacDonald (1947-1977)
Wayne Allwine (1977-2009)

Casey Kasem

As we know, Saturday July 4th, 2009 marked the end of Casey Kasem's broadcast radio career as the host of America's Top 10. Who will replace Casey Kasem? Does Kasem need a replacement? All kinds of questions are asked at times like these where something is unknown or when we're in a period of transition.

If we look at what has happened before with shows Casey Kasem has retired from, we get a better idea of what may happen now. Two of his other shows were passed on to his successor, Ryan Seacrest, so it is quite possible that Seacrest may also inherit America's Top 10.

Do you have anything to add to what you just read?

Do you know anything more about the succession process in general? Maybe you have found yourself in a position where you were named a successor or perhaps you yourself gave over the reins to someone new.

How early is too early to talk about who's going to voice a role next?

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic.

Best wishes,

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/James Steidl

Related Topics: Casey Kasem, Disney, Don LaFontaine, New York, post-mortem, radio, voice overs, Walt Disney, Wayne Allwine


Comments


    Hi Stephanie,

    It's a tricky one, and no one wants to be an ambulance chaser (at least, I hope not!) But perhaps we should also see it from the point of view of the voice seeker, who still needs their job voiced and may have decided that they want a certain actor for the job.

    A good example of this happened here in the UK a couple of years ago when Patrick Allen died. Pat was the voice of many projects, with an amazing list of credits to his name and a very distinctive style. In his last years he became very well known for voicing promos and continuity links for E4, one of the entertainment channels here, and when he left they weren't ready to just change their style overnight. Another voiceover stepped in with a very passable impression and the channel were happy. Was it the right thing to do? It's an interesting moral question, but if the talent in question hadn't, I'm sure there'd have been a line of people queueing up to offer their own services, and I know of at least one other VO who now markets his impression of "The E4 Guy" (I can even do one myself…) So much of what we do is competition in a fierce marketplace.

    Like it or not, market forces will always mean that the mourning period is shorter than we'd like. We also need to see our business as a professional business that can - in the best showbusiness tradition - carry on regardless, for the greater good of the final product and the client. The show must go on, after all, and the talent who hangs up their headphones - either for retirement or for that great sound booth in the sky - leaves a gap in the market, which the market will always try to fill.

    In short, I believe you should always do what best fits your own moral code and ethics and be authentic to your own self. If you're going to jump into dead men's shoes then do make sure you do it in the right spirit and with due deference. And don't be surprised if someone's already there when you catch up with the ambulance.

    Posted by:

      To offer a different perspective, I would say that iconic characters like Mickey Mouse are a different animal than a VO style such as "In A World".

      There may not be a need for anyone to fill the shoes for an iconic VO Style. It may just be time for the market to change, and transition to another style entirely.

      Take for example the old style of commercial delivery. It's almost never heard, except in jest or small markets. Why? The accepted style has changed.

      As a side note, I have a good friend, Glenn Moreshower who teaches the "5 Stages of Fame" in his lectures. Let's use the name "Fernando" as an example:
      Stage 1) Who is Fernando?
      Stage 2) Get me Fernando!
      Stage 3) Get me someone like Fernando.
      Stage 4) Get me a younger Fernando.
      Stage 5) Who is Fernando?

      It's always good to remember that styles change, and although some make a living off of one style, most of us need to have a more varied approach to survive.

      Maybe the question has no answer, and it's just time to move on...

      Posted by:

        I'd have to say this as a long shot and it will probably never happen.
        I'd want to be handed the torch by the great Billy West. The guy is a phenomenal character actor that I've known about since Ren and Stimpy and is still going strong today. He's still pretty young. Between him and Phil Lamarr, they did practically all of the male voices on Futurama.

        But on the off chance that he ever came down to Cape May, NJ and we met I would hope that I could show him my character talents and train under him, eventually taking over for any roles he couldn't perform because he does so many.

        I would definitely want to be Billy West's successor.

        Posted by:

          Timely article Stephanie. Today's the anniversary of the passing of Mel Blanc. In my opinion, Bob Bergen is a wonderful successor as the current voice of "Porky Pig".
          That said, nobody in my mind set the bar higher than Mel for the sheer number and creativity of character voices he could do.
          Thanks for listening,
          Bobbin Beam- Voice Actress

          Posted by:

            Stephanie:

            With the expected rush of artists aiming to fill the voids left by these icons, it would be well to remind us all of the dignity and respect due all our predecessors. They not only laid the tracks to success in our business, they were and are our mentors, as well. Although these prominent people may not have seen it that way, your comments have brought to light a most poignant and necessary view of the relationships built through the mutual sharing of information and ideas sought by the novice, demonstrated by the experienced, and nurtured by the leaders in our community. I may be preaching to the choir, but I believe that in all our endeavors, whatever segment of the business in which we are involved, we should all remember where we came from, what we are doing to further our goals, where we may be going, and equally as important, who led us and are still leading us there. Thanks, Stephanie, for turning on the light in a sometimes darkened room.

            --Jay Elliot--

            Posted by:
            • Jay Elliot
            • July 13, 2009 10:31 AM

              I wonder who's waiting in the shadows of russi taylor for minnie mouse.

              Posted by:
              • mango
              • August 8, 2010 10:58 PM

                I think the new voice for Mickey mouse is great, and for Minnie mouse im glad she is still going but if there is ever auditions for her part ill give it try. also have a video if you want to check it out.

                Posted by:
                • Hope
                • August 9, 2013 6:20 AM

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