Sunday, May 07, 2006
In the mid 1970s, the Disney voice recording stage didn't look like the picture to the right. Not even close. The Mouse House was still using 1940s technology... In fact, they were using the same sound board they had most likely used when "Dumbo" was recorded: a lacquered wooden desk built into the wall under the big glass sound engineer's window, a couple of big knobs and a meter in the middle of the varnished wood. (Elliot Gould complained bitterly about this ancient gear when he came in one day to loop lines for a live-action Disney picture he was then making. Shortly thereafter, the recording equipment was -- finally -- updated.) But none of the actors that the animation crew worked with complained about the ancient technology. They just rolled in in the morning, went through sequence boards with Woolie Reitherman, or later, with Art Stevens, Ted Berman, and Rick Rich (the directors who succeeded Woolfgang R.) and got down to work. Script pages would be stapled to cardboard to prevent rattling. Writer Larry Clemmons, who by the time I got there was serving as Woolie's dialogue co-director, was out with the actors while Reitherman stayed in the booth. When we had adult actors, Larry would read the other part(s) to cue them. When we had kid actors, Larry coached and prodded line readings out of them. I always marveled at the nuanced dialogue Larry could wheedle out of an eight-year-old actor. (I always figured it came from his decade in radio.) Larry would never run out of patience or get testy. If some youngster kept giving a flat interpretation, Larry would say: "That's pretty good, Bobby, but you're more excited here. Lift your voice at the start, like this..." and he would render a pitch perfect reading of the line that the kid could imitate. Ninety percent of the time, Larry was able to pull out stuff that Woolie liked. One long morning session on "The Fox and the Hound" with the child-actor principles recording random situational dialogue inspired Frank Thomas to go off with it and gnead all the randomness into a great sequence where the young Fox and Hound first meet. It was some of the early animation for the film. Dialogue and animation were still in the picture when "The Fox and the Hound" was released, a couple of years after Larry and Frank had retired. As for the adult actors, there were a lot of good ones in the years I worked there. Mickey Rooney could give energetic line readings hour after hour and then go to lunchwith you and talk a couple more (all you had to do was sit there and listen.) Kurt Russell was the total professional As I THINK I said before, he came in late in the picture and read almost the whole part of the Hound in maybe two days (sporting an Elvis-in-the-military haircut, since he was making an Elvis Presley mini-series at the time.) If I remember right, he nailed the dialogue with a minimum of takes, and almost all of it ended up being used. Barry Ingham, a British actor, came in to read at a "Basil of Baker Street" cattle call and was so far ahead of everyone else that he got the part of Basil without any more auditions. Ingham was amazing. If a director asked for a hundred different takes on a single line, he would give a hundred different shadings. One line, I sh*t you not, he was asked to read a total of 200 times (not all at once, the director kept circling back to it). He delivered 200 variations. That's what a couple of decades with the Royal Shakespeare Company will do for an actor.
Posted by Steve Hulett at 6:09 PM