Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Wally Burr (voice director/Atom)

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.” Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

How did you get the job on Super Friends? 

I was an ad agency producer on commercials for Leo Burnett Company in Chicago. Transferred to the West Coast. Did lot of stuff with H-B with characters on packages. Got to know Bill Hanna very well. One day we went to lunch and he said I’d like to hire you. I couldn’t sell H-B characters for ads—they wanted full rather than limited animation. I finally said, “You’ve seen me direct—I’d like to do that on your shows.” I got switched to that [even though] my credentials were not in animation.

I didn’t like Joe. I felt he was a sociopath. He did things like fire his secretary when he was in Rome. He didn’t know he was doing it which I think is the very modern model of a sociopath. Joe did not have any sense of humanity. Popular guy—people would say “What a personality!”—but in terms in dealing with the human side, he just didn’t understand it. Six or seven years later, Joe said, “Get rid of Burr.” Bill hired me and Joe fired me. I still have very bad business dreams [about being a meeting and not prepared for it]. Bill knew how to make things, Joe knew how to sell them.

How familiar with the characters were you before you got the job?

I wasn’t a comic fan. I didn’t find it as a barrier—didn’t have to be steeped in it. The spirit and mythos existed and it wasn’t difficult to get on it. The writers were the ones responsible for translating from comics to animation. I believe writers are the gold in our business. Rest of us are meddlers. I don’t say that to schmooze you—they’re the ones that should get the big bucks and usually do.

What was it like portraying the Atom?

Super Friends was a fun show. Most of the heroes were straight and fairly articulate. I started a subterranean thing to make it more camp. I saw it more as a comedy derived from the ‘60s Batman TV show. The actors in cast enjoyed spoofing the whole genre. I don’t know if it annoyed Joe or if he even knew it was happening. I felt I was the one who gave it that. I did [Atom] because I wanted to get into SAG so I requested [to do it]. The actors on show were making more money than I was as director. I had done professional performance as an announcer.

Wally in 1973

I thought to communicate with big guys, Atom had to project. I saw a clip on YouTube of me and Wonder Woman and said “My god, that’s hokey, beyond camp, just silly.” The voices start the characters and the animators work from that. Andrea Romano is a talented lady. I’ve known her a long time.

How long did it take you to record one episode?

SAG has a specification—four hours for a cartoon for one paycheck. It’s called a session fee.

Of the episodes you were on, do you have a favorite?

When you’re in production, the continuity of shows becomes a montage. I can’t remember a single episode of practically any show I’ve ever done.

Were there any you ended up being disappointed with?

I would say many but not for lack of talent or effort. The craft gets diffused because so many people are working on it. There was a lot of pressure to get footage out.

How much interaction did you have with the writers?

Joe wanted them to just get the show done. Talking with the writers was not a luxury [we had]. “Leave the writers alone; just go do your show.” But I wanted more time to ask more questions of the writers.

How much time, if any, did you spend with the other voice actors when you weren’t working?

Very little. On Super Friends, we did have Danny Dark, who was also a prominent announcer around town. He would host a party at which we’d [stage] a satirical takeoff sketch based on the scripts at his home—i.e. make jokes about relationships between Batman and Robin. We would socialize on that show more than others, now that you mention it. I have one photo someplace, saw it couple years ago. I think I rented a Superman costume. Had Danny climbing into the costume in the hallway. Got my ass booted for spending unnecessary money on photographers and people to cart around a phone booth.

Were any voice actors like—or completely unlike—their characters?

Olan Soule was tall, nerdy-looking guy. Looked like Ichabod Crane, not a bit like Batman. Had a lot of false teeth that would click so we’d have to redo takes.

Casey Kasem was a great person to work with. I’ve heard tapes of him taking off on production people but he would also take time to talk with people about how to get into voice business. I haven’t seen him in years now but he was one of my best friends.

Frank Welker—other directors have said you can’t do a show without him.

Danny Dark was fun. He’s gone now. He’d get into Italian tenor with “up, up, and away.”

Ted Knight was kind of a fun guy. After he got an Emmy for the pompous news announcer (in real life, he was not pompous at all), he would say no one talks that way (in oversized voice). He stayed on till he felt he didn’t need cartoon money.

Still in touch with Bill Woodson. He sounded just like Ted Knight. I had lunch with Mr. Woodson a couple weeks ago. He’s still as sparky as he ever was. He’s generally in good health. I think his son drives him. We’ve kept in touch, nothing to do with Super Friends. He says I gave him his first gig in animation.

I cast Shannon Farnon. She was a very attractive women and had been doing live roles in TV for a while. Her agent suggested her for Wonder Woman. I said take off the shirtwaist and imagine putting on some leotard and hands on hips and telling us what to do and she got it. They kicked her off because someone wanted to put his girlfriend in show.

[Writer] Jeff Scott was a terribly talented guy.

Do you ever get e-mails from SF fans?

Yeah, but not as much as I get communication from Transformers and G.I. Joe fans—just because there were more shows.

What are you doing these days?

I’m kinda half-assed retired. I am looking for and doing some game voice work as a director. The people making video games are not familiar with that end of the business at all. Don’t know how to work with actors or cast or speak to them. They’re doing it badly. But when they see my gray hair…I’ve lived a rich and long life.

I went into Normandy on D-4 (fourth day) with an army reconnaissance unit. I was commissioned two days after I turned 18. I’m very capable and very quick and with it but the gray hair is off-putting. I’m still having a great difficulty getting my foot in the door.

Do you have children, and if so, ages?

I have a son, 53, a successful building contractor. Would never have gotten into show biz. He’s a residential contractor in Olympia. Daughter married and divorced, living with boyfriend in Portland, Oregon. They both had children. My daughter’s son is a teacher in LA. My son’s son was [inducted into] Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Washington. My daughter’s son (the teacher) married (another teacher) two years ago and they have a child [so I have] a great-grandchild.

1/30/21 addendum: I learned only this month that Wally passed away on 7/9/17.


Anonymous said...

Wally Burr is very spiteful. Of Bill Hanna, of Dan Gilvezan, and he never tells the story of the strike of 1987 the way it was...just the way it was in Burr's brain...never admitted that his directorial skills were not suitable

Anonymous said...

he also has his own recording studio called Wally Burr recordings

Anonymous said...

The Burr directing method was basically, make them repeat they way he said it.

Anonymous said...

It's awful, the way Burr insults and pisses Joseph Barbera,...very disgusting, how does he know whether or not Barbera fired anyone while he was in Italy, Joe Barbera was a good man and a great contributor to the animation industry worldwide (along with William Hanna of course)

Anonymous said...

Burr is an enigma and a pop culture phenomenon.

Georgi said...

Wally Burr is one of the reasons we love ''Super Friends'', ''G.I. Joe'' and ''Transformers''.

ACcountryFan said...

Wally Burr, based on this interview, doesn't strike me as someone that was congenial or polite. He comes off blunt and to the point, well, to his point of view I suppose. His name is on numerous Hanna-Barbera animated programs as Voice Director so if Joe Barbera was truly displeased with the vocal performances or had problems with Wally Burr, personally, I don't think Burr would have lasted that long in that position. Burr mentions Andrea Romano but there's no reference to another important figure in the studio's Voice Director history: Gordon Hunt. There's not a whole lot of information, whether it be positive or negative, surrounding his 20 years at Hanna-Barbera (1974-1994).