In her next two columns, Nancy Cartwright has a revealing conversation with legendary casting director, voice director and voice actress Andrea Romano.
Andrea Romano has been a staple of TV animation since the '80s, working at Hanna-Barbera and then on the Smurfs, among others, before segueing into the '90s with Batman, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Superman and more; and then, most recently, on Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Superman/Doomsday, Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight and Ben 10: Alien Force.
Nancy Cartwright: So tell me about your beginning -- all the way back to 1981 or '82 at Hanna-Barbera (HB).
Andrea Romano: I grew up in Eastern Long Island in NY and did my undergraduate school at Fredonia NY which is 60 miles SW of Buffalo -- an excellent theater arts school--excellent! I graduated in three years because it's near Buffalo, NY and freezing cold and I wanted to get the heck out of that 40 below temperature! I did my graduate at Rutgers in NJ and didn't finish my graduate degree because I just felt the need to get out of academia and into the professional industry. I was auditioning in Manhattan and working at Capezio, a dance and fashion shop in The Village and I'd take my lunch break, go do an audition, come back to work until 7:00 pm, then go out and do a play at night! When I wasn't doing a play at night I would go do phone sales because you had to just keep trying to make a living in NY. I didn't have two nickels to rub together when I was there!
But it was good phone experience it was good just to use your voice of all things. So then, I always had this feeling that I belonged in Southern California, every time a classmate would come out here for a vacation and come back tan in the middle of winter I just thought I need to go out to California... I only just found out a few years ago that I was conceived in Santa Monica.
NC: So, in other words, you're a native?
AR: Yeah, exactly, so there were always roots here for me. I moved here in 1979, just packed up my life in my mom's attic and came out with one suitcase and $400, which was my entire life savings and I moved to San Diego thinking I would get some theater work. There is very little theater work in San Diego. I was a trained actress but I was also five-feet tall and 200 lbs-- a quite large Italian Jewish actress… not many roles for that. I knew nothing about voice-over. I did a couple of plays down there and then my dear friend, Anthony Barnao, who I had gone to college with at Fredonia, called me up and said, "Hey, I'm at a big talent agency in Los Angeles and they need a voice-over assistant for a couple of weeks while Vanessa Gilbert recovers from a car accident. Can you come up and temp for a little while?" So I came up to Los Angeles and I was there just a few weeks when Vanessa called in and said "I'm not going to come back. It's going to take me a lot longer to recover." So within months they franchised me as an agent at Abrams-Rubaloff, which was a very large talent agency at the time. It had Paul Winchell, Frank Welker, June Foray and Gene Moss -- all these remarkable voice-over actors and every day I would meet these people and my jaw would drop. I was just astounded at their talent and to me, Paul Winchell, from Winchell and Mahoney was just amazing!
NC: Did you make a decision right then?
AR: Well, I liked being on that side of the business. I always had a very practical side that came from my mom of having a job that was somewhat secure and being an actress, regardless of how wonderfully talented you might be, when you finish the gig you are as unemployed as any guy on the street. That was sort of instilled in me at an early age and I thought, "What if I take a job that actually has a salary and an insurance plan and paid vacation that kind of makes me feel a little more confident?" so I took the job and I was the youngest franchised agent in Los Angeles. I just fell into it really well; I liked selling actors as opposed to selling Weekly Reader or TV Guide.
NC: Sure, you had such an affinity for that.
AR: I did, and, of course, back then we were working on reel-to-reel! Tells you how old I am! We would do auditions in the office as most agencies do now too. After I left Abrams-Rubaloff, I went over to an agency called Special Artists, a small boutique agency without even a voice-over department yet. I started their voice-over department and ended up with maybe 100 clients by the time I gotten the department up and running. I would direct all the auditions and that was a chance for me to really get my artistic-side going as well as my business-side. Not only would I audition them, I would do the physical editing with a razor blade and reel-to-reel tape. I wasn't there long and I used to go to some recording sessions at HB because there is no bigger fan of cartoons than I am -- a huge fan since I was child and HB's were my favorites. Every once in a while when one of my clients would be working I would ask can I come sit in on the session and Ginny McSwain, who was the casting director at the time said sure. I met the great Gordon Hunt and I watched some of the recording sessions. I saw a series record called Lucky Luke that was never aired in the United States. It was recorded in English then went to France and was dubbed in French. A huge success over there. The reason I bring this up is the one person I met on that series that was recorded here was Paul Ruebens, a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman, which is so cool because I just worked with him last week and I was reminding him that I used to go to those sessions.
After a couple of months or so Ginny McSwain called me one day and said she was moving on to direct at Marvel and asked if I was interested in auditioning there for the casting director and that I should talk to Gordon Hunt. Absolutely! Gordon and I had a 15 minute meeting and he offered me the job right on the spot.
I went over to HB which was truly the joy of my life. They were doing a bunch of the old HB classics and Daws Butler (who was as tall as I) walked in. Could he have been a sweeter human being? More generous, kind, talented? No. The only reason Daws wasn't as well known as Mel Blanc was that Mel had a publicist. Daws didn't and he had equally as much talent if not more. I'm not saying anything negative about Mel. Mel was stunning, but Daws Butler was remarkable.
Daws walked in and as I shook his hand I said "Mr. Butler, I have to tell you that Huckleberry Hound was my favorite cartoon ever!" And he opened his mouth and spoke to me as Huckleberry Hound and my reaction was bizarre: I burst into tears. I just reverted into a five-year-old-kid in front of the TV in my Dr. Denton footy pajamas with a bowl of cereal thinking about this cartoon and how much this meant to me. My husband asked me not too long ago which my favorite cartoon was and I said Huckleberry Hound. He asked why and it took me a while to think about it and I thought because Huckleberry Hound talked to the camera. He looked and talked right to the camera and I thought he was specifically talking to me, Andrea Romano.
I had the great pleasure of working with these great actors, Daws Butler, Mel Blanc, Don Messic, all the classic Hanna-Barbara actors and we even did a series there called The Jetsons [1985-87]. It wasn't even a remake of the original [1962-63] It was 23 years after the first series was made and when Gordon came to me saying we were going to do this, I said let's try to get the original actors. We got all of them and many of them had been retired.
NC: Did you work with Penny Singletone (Jane Jetson)?
AR: Oh, yes, but Penny had, since the first series aired, gotten dentures and they would click. She had a hard time manipulating her lips and tongue around these dentures to get clear articulation for the cartoon so Daws started teaching her and did private classes with sweet Jane Jetson to teach her how to work with her dentures. For many episodes we recorded all the cast. The bizarre and wonderful end of this story, we were recording "The Jetsons" feature which I thought was going to be so wonderful and there was an executive decision made that broke my heart: to replace sweet Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson) with Tiffany because she was the hot thing at the time. I actually had my name taken off the credits because I didn't want the hate mail that I knew would come, and I still got the hate mail. All I could say is: it wasn't my choice. Of course, Janet Waldo is still alive and can still do the voice today which is the wonderful thing about voice-actors. They can do the voice as long as they can still speak. They can do the voice even if we have to wheel them in which we did for some actors.
George O'Hanlon was recording the feature some of the last bits that we were doing and he had not been well, he had had a second stroke. George said, "Andrea, come over and put your ear next to my head." So I did, and I could actually hear the blood pulsing through his skull I could actually hear every heart beat. I said, "George, how do you hear anything?" He said, "It's really getting hard to hear you guys speak to me." As we got through the session, we never tried to record him longer than an hour because we knew it was taxing. We could see him getting paler and paler and I looked at Gordon, who said, "Let's just stop for today and we'll bring you back in next week when you're feeling better." So we called his wife, Nancy, from the office and suddenly his head just pitched forward onto her chest and I saw this look pass between her and Gordon and I knew that something very bad had just happened. Instantly called 911 and the paramedics were at Hanna-Barbara in three minutes to whisk him away to the hospital. We followed him in our car but he had died. They put him on life support in the ambulance but George O'Hanlon really died in the recording session doing what he loved.
NC: Oh my word…
AR: So we went to the hospital and the doctor came out after examining him and said he's gone and Nancy O'Hanlon, God bless her, really had her spiritual stuff together and said, "Please let him go. We talked about this. We knew that this was going to happen one day…there is no reason to keep him on." Isn't that the coolest way to go?
Nancy Cartwright is best known as the voice of spiky-headed Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. She has voiced dozens of cartoon characters in a career that has spanned more than 20 years. Currently, she can be heard as the voice of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat on Disney's Kim Possible and Todd Daring in Disney's The Replacements. To learn more about Nancy's career, listen to her audio book My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy