Maurice LaMarche (Pasha the Peddler) Special
The following appeared in the Toronto Star. The citation is Salem, Rob (2003-03-10). "Actor finds his voice -- and others". The Toronto Star.
Actor finds his voice- and others
When Maurice LaMarche and I were kids, growing up in North Toronto, we spent an inordinate amount of our after-school hours glued to the TV set, watching cartoons.
For most kids, this would constitute wasted youth.
For us, it was vocation preparation. Not that we knew it at the time.
But I grew up to be a critic, reviewing TV shows, cartoons included.
And Maurice, well, he grew up to be one. A cartoon, that is. In fact, many cartoons.
My now L.A.-based childhood chum boasts an astoundingly extensive resume that includes the Orson Wellesian tones of that megalomaniac mouse from Pinky And The Brain, and almost all of Hollywood as the celebrity voice-master of the cult cartoon, The Critic.
And he is one of only three voice actors ever to have professionally portrayed either of those animated icons, Popeye and Fred Flintstone.
The uniquely specific Flintstone impression is the basis of the most hilarious episode of a new, adult-oriented retro cartoon, Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, in which an obscure old 1960s superhero is re-invented as the defender of other legally compromised 'toons- in this case, the Flintstone patriarch, re-imagined as a fur-clad Tony Soprano (the parodied Sopranos opening sequence may be the funniest few minutes of TV that I have seen all year).
"That was incredibly cool," LaMarche enthuses. "The producers of Birdman are just so hip. They said, 'We want the Alan Reed (version of) Fred Flintstone.' Nothing against Henry Cordon (the Canadian who inherited the character from originator Reed). But it was important to them that it be Reed's, with an extra layer of menace added on, like in the old crime movies he also appeared in."
The first six episodes of Harvey Birdman began their Canadian run last week, airing on Teletoon Friday nights at 10, with more instalments on the way.
"We're doing more now," assures LaMarche, who also voices another obscure Hanna-Barbera hero in the series, Apache Chief, as well as an old favourite, Yogi Bear.
In addition to Birdman's hometown debut, LaMarche will be all over Toronto video-store racks this month with the much-anticipated DVD release of the entire first season of the now-defunct Futurama, on which he also voiced several characters.
Are reports of the cartoon's demise premature?
"I don't know," allows LaMarche. "There are still people holding out some hope for an 11th-hour, 59th-minute rescue.
"Matt (Groening) is still in there, pitching. You know, The Critic got rescued by another network (from ABC to Fox). So anything's possible, I guess."
Though LaMarche did not participate in this initial DVD edition, he has already contributed to the commentary on the next.
"It was just like a great party," he describes. "We all got together, ordered in great food, and sat around in chairs in a recording studio, watching the episodes. Except that most of the time, we weren't even watching."
Maurice LaMarche has been described as "perhaps the best sound-alike artist in the business."
He is certainly one of the busiest. His extensive credit list also includes major and recurring roles on Inspector Gadget, Batman: The Animated Adventures, The Tick, The Incredible Hulk, Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, Yogi & Company, Dennis The Menace, The Real Ghostbusters, The Real Adventures Of Jonny Quest, Johnny Bravo, Dilbert and the commercial voice of Fruit Loops' Toucan Sam. To name just a few.
"It's weird," says LaMarche. "Only in voice-over could somebody have a resume that long, with that much stuff on it, and still be living in a three-bedroom house in Sherman Oaks. We are definitely two decimal points to the right of other performers who work as much as we do. That's the value of a face. And yet- and I'm not saying this to toot my own horn- I think that voice-over people are among the most talented people in the business."
LaMarche left Toronto in the early '80s with other plans in mind. "I tripped sideways into this," he laughs. "I was a stand-up comic. I was doing The Comedy Store, I was opening for Rodney Dangerfield.
"One night the voice-over agent for William Morris was in the audience- this was in 1984, and they had just started up the department. And she said, 'You could do this.' And I'm thinking, 'Well, what I really want is my own sitcom.' This is what I'm saying in my head. What I said to her was, 'Yes. Thank you very much.'
"And then I got my first series, which was Inspector Gadget. And I was like, 'Wait a second ... I get to sit in a chair. I don't have to memorize anything. I read words into a microphone. And then, when they yell 'Cut!,' I get to hang around and listen to Don Adams tell half-hour stories about Get Smart! This is the best frickin' job in the world!'
"And that isn't even the best part. The best part comes months later, when you get to sit back and hear what you know is your own voice coming out of the flapping lips of a two-dimensional cartoon character. That is simply the best high there is. At that moment, you become truly magical."
And sometimes he gets to hear his voice come from the flapping lips of real, flesh-and-blood actors- for which he very rarely gets credit.
"For example," he adds, "and this was a weird one, I had to match Chuck Barris' voice for The Gong Show Movie- there was a lot of filthy language that had to be cleaned up for TV."
And then there was his proudest uncredited moment, dubbing over Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of Orson Welles in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.
"Burton is an animator by background, and, it turns out, a big fan of Pinky & The Brain. And D'Onofrio had made an odd choice. I mean, he was flawless in the physicalization- it's scary how much he looks like Orson Welles. But he chose to affect this sort of thin, reedy, effete-sounding ... I don't know why he chose that.
"But when Burton heard it in the dailies, he apparently said, 'Get me The Brain.'"
Maurice LaMarche left Toronto in the early '80s to make it as a comedian in Los Angeles. Now, he is one of the busiest voice-over artists in the business. Maurice LaMarche voices several characters, including the Apache Chief in Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, in which an obscure old 1960s superhero is re-invented as the defender of other legally compromised 'toons.