Frank Welker: Master of Many Voices
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One of many of Welker's appearances (right) on the Merv Griffin Show. (left to right) Merv Griffin, astrologer Joyce Jillson and comedian Martin Mull. Courtesy of Frank Welker and Merv Griffin Productions.

"A lot of times, they'll cast you in a role, and the directors will direct you into a box. They'll say, 'Do a little of Paul Lynde. Now let's take that away and let's put in a little bit of Humphrey Bogart. Now, add that character you did four years ago in that show for me where you read the dog. O.K., now let's take this and take that --' and pretty soon, your tongue is tied behind your back, and you try to do the best you can. You don't have a lot of latitude with the character because it's not from your heart."

An exception would be Fall-Apart Rabbit, the stunt character Welker voiced in Bonkers.

"I really liked that character for Disney. It was really easy to do. It was from my heart. Ginny McSwain [the voice director] latched onto that; she let me go and have fun."

"But I would say, the best and easiest way to audition is to go strictly by instinct and be able to ad-lib a little bit, and not be tied totally to the script."

Welker then points to a bothersome flaw in the auditioning process, in that sometimes a director can give too much direction.

"The less direction you get on auditions, then you have your own initial instincts working for you. If you lose the job, then it's your own fault. Then you feel better than if you lose the job based on too much interpretation or input. When the director on the audition directs me the way he wants it, then, it's really their interpretation that's being judged. I could lose the job based on that audition because it's really their interpretation, not mine."

During recording sessions, Welker has to evaluate how close he has to stick to the scripts, and how much freedom he has to ad-lib, or embellish his character.

"In the early days, Joe Barbera hired me a lot -- not because he felt I was such a great voice guy -- but because he thought I was funny. He was really being perceptive in the people he hired, because my readings weren't quite as good as some of the polished guys. But I think he liked that I would bring him this weird stuff, and he liked that I would ad-lib," Welker says.

"Joe told us a story where he was directing Alan Reed, doing Fred Flintstone. In a recording session he ad-libbed, he said, 'Yabba-Dabba-Do!' And somebody said, 'No, that's not in the script.'

"Alan said [pensively], 'Oh, is it okay that I say that?'

"Joe said [enthusiastically], 'Gee, yeah. That's good. Go ahead and use it.' That's become one of the biggest, most identifiable phrases of all time. So Joe was perceptive about that."

Welker reiterates, "I like having the freedom to move around in your character, and ad-lib. Part of the fun process of acting is putting in what we call 'handles.' If you put a 'handle' like, 'G'duh-huh!' and then do your line.

"Some directors don't want you to change a word in the script. I don't know what the writer's feelings are because they're not there all of the time; sometimes they are, but most writers like you to ad-lib as long as you don't change the meaning or the joke, unless you 'better' the joke. That's fun for actors to do. Actors like to play and be kids. Usually when people are happy and acting goofy and silly, you're going to get some pretty funny performances."

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