Monday, October 3, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Superman” (1988 Ruby-Spears cartoon)—Beau Weaver (Superman), part 2 of 2

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Beau Weaver, part 1 of 2.

Now, in conclusion: one more story with two lessons.

When I finally produced an animation demo that my agent liked, I waited. And waited. Nothing. I sent out demos, promotional postcards, and muffin baskets to animation casting directors. No bites.

I got a call from my grey-haired mother back in Austin, Texas. I shared my frustrations. She said, “Why, honey, you should write to those fellows at Hanna-Barbera and remind them about that letter you wrote them when you were eight.”

See, my grandmother got me started writing letters to famous people as soon as I could write on my own. I wrote to astronauts, senators, actor Ed “Kookie” Burns of 77 Sunset Strip…and I got letters back from most of them. In 1960, when The Flintstones premiered in primetime on ABC, I became enamored of it and learned to draw a decent Fred Flintstone. So I wrote to Mr. Bill Hanna and Mr. Joe Barbera, the show’s creators.

The letter went something like this: “Hello, I am a third grader in Oklahoma, and as you can see, I can draw Fred Flintstone. Can you use me?”

Amazingly, I got a kind reply, probably written by some secretary over their signatures. It explained that, no, they could not use an eight-year-old in Oklahoma to help animate the show, but that I showed talent and initiative, and if, when I grew up, I became a professional illustrator and happened to live in Southern California, by all means contact them. And there was a line about believing in yourself and going for your dreams. Very nice.

So Mom continues: “Why don’t you just call them up and remind them about that letter.” Mom. Mom. Sigh. No, you don’t understand. This is big-time Hollywood out here. We are represented by talent agents; we don’t go calling up producers about letters they received from children decades ago. That’s just ridiculous. Forget it.

However, after a few more months of no response, I thought, “Oh, what the hell.” So I wrote: “Dear Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera: You could not possibly remember this, but as a child I wrote to you with my scrawled drawing of Fred Flintstone, offering to go to work for you from my home in Oklahoma. Kindly, you wrote back and suggested that if I became a commercial artist when I grew up, I should look you up. Well, as it happens, I am a professional voice-over talent living in Los Angeles and I thought I would see if that offer still stands. I have not been able to make any inroads with your casting people and my mother thought I should ask you if you would be willing to let me audition for any roles you have coming up. Sorry to have bothered you… Sincerely, etc. I mailed the letter and promptly forgot about it.

About three weeks later, I got a call from one of the partners of the talent agency that represented me. This was the top guy, not an in-the trenches agent. “Beau…,” he began, tentatively, “…I have a booking here for you for next week…for a general audition at Hanna Barbera.” I was over the moon! “That’s fantastic” I shouted. “Well, yes, I suppose it is,” he continued, “but I am a little unclear as to how this came to be. Hanna-Barbera has not done general auditions for actors in a very long time. And if they started doing them again, we might typically be given four or five slots, and frankly, Beau, you would not be one of the first actors that would come to mind. Or the fifteenth. Be that as it may, they only seem to want to see one actor…um, you.” “Well,” I said, “I guess they just appreciate talent over there at Hanna-Barbera!’

Over the next few days I practiced the audition material I had assembled in Sue Blu’s animation workshop and excitedly made my way to the famous HB studios on Cahuenga in Universal City. I was greeted by animation director Gordon Hunt, who graciously put me at ease right away. In retrospect, I am quite certain that my little audition was mediocre at best. But, amazingly, a few days later, my agent called me with a real live SAG booking from Hanna-Barbera! It was for a small part on the series Flintstone Kids—a show about Fred and Wilma and the gang as children. My role, barely more than an incidental, was kid Betty’s older brother, Brick Bricker.

Soon thereafter, my animation career started to take off with roles on Transformers, The Visionaries, a Jetsons TV-movie, and finally, my dream come true: Superman.

The two lessons from this story:

1) Use whatever you have.
2) Listen to your mother.

Today, most of my work is in television promos, trailers and television campaigns for feature films, and narrating documentary series for cable networks. I am the announcer on CBS’s entertainment news show The Insider and the syndicated CBS daily medical talk show The Doctors. I am the narrator on National Geographic’s Known Universe, Animal Planet’s Weird, True & Freaky and Discovery Channel’s American Loggers. I am frequently heard on radio and television commercials.

I am booked back-to-back from my home studios in the Ojai Valley and in Los Angeles and am not able to do the all-day recording sessions that animation often requires. I was one of the early technical pioneers of the system which makes voice over work possible from remote locations. This is a good example of what can happen when you are willing to become an empty vessel and to open yourself to something outside of what you already know.

Other roles? My next favorite roll was as Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic) in the 1995 Fantastic Four. Stan Lee himself came to many of the sessions, and as is his Hitchcockian custom, made cameo voice appearances in several episodes.

I was also fortunate to work on Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, created for CBS by visionary madman Ralph Bakshi. What an experience. Ralph would scream at the actors and sometimes throw away the script and have us ad-lib an ending. John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren and Stimpy, was part of the animation team. Bakshi was a real trip! CBS had no idea what they had signed up for.

I am married and have three grown daughters from a previous marriage; they have given me eight grandchildren so far.

The daughters and grandchildren are nonplussed by hearing me on television and in movie theaters. It seems normal to them.

This is much more than you asked for, I know. A couple of other questions, I may have missed. No, I have never been to a convention, but would enjoy going if invited.

One last story: My oldest daughter Susannah was being picked up by her carpool on the way to kindergarten. Her schoolmate Jeff’s mom was driving. As she hopped into the front seat, she [heard a radio] commercial. “So is that your dad?” she asked Jeff. “No…?” he asked in a puzzled tone, “why?” Susannah said, “Well…it’s your car.”

My daughter thought everyone’s daddy’s voice came out of the dashboards of their cars. That was normal for her.

It has not been easy being my child. But I set aside money early on to pay for the therapy. So it’s okay.

Next: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!

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