February 21, 2011

Voice Actor - Allen Swift

Allen Swift, perhaps the most versatile of the old guard New York-based voice actors, he passed away nearly a year ago at the age of 86. Swift was probably best known for his work on Howdy Doody, Underdog and King Leonardo, and numerous Rankin/Bass specials, but his long career encompassed countless commercials, records, theatrical shorts, and live-action dubbing.

Swift was born Ira Stadlen in 1924 but took his professional name from his two favorite satrists, radio wit Fred Allen and Gulliver's Travels author Jonathan Swift. A versatile dialectician and impressionist, Swift's earliest voice work was on the live puppet series Howdy Doody in 1949, replacing Dayton Allen. Swift played nearly all the puppet characters, including the ill-tempered mayor Phineas J. Bluster; incompetent detective Inspector John J. Fadoozle; salty sea captain Windy Scuttlebutt; and, for a time, the voice of Howdy Doody himself, while host "Buffalo Bob" Smith was ill. He also appeared on-camera on the series, in such roles as a French painter.

Swift continued his association with kiddie programs, providing the voices of assorted fish and the title character on the puppet series Diver Dan, and viewers growing up in New York recall him as "Captain" Allen Swift, hosting a block of Popeye cartoons on local station WPIX TV. This led to Swift playing himself and Popeye on records and filling in for Jack Mercer in occasional commercials.

His major cartoon voice work was in the 1960s, as one of the mainstays of Total Television's TV output. On King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, Swift played Odie Cologne (in a subdued Ronald Colman impression), the oafish Itchy Brother, and the hapless Tooter Turtle (“Help, Mr. Wizard!”) On Underdog, Swift played most of the villains, notably the mad scientist Simon Bar Sinister (in a gleeful Lionel Barrymore imitation), the gangster Riff Raff, and an assortment of alien invaders.

In commercials, Swift gave voice to a variety of spokescharacters, such as the Frito Bandito (though the main voice was Mel Blanc), a peanut in M&M ads, and the original 1970s, animated incarnation of the Burger King. He was also heard in Clio Award-winning TV and radio spots for products as varied as Nair, Pan American Airways, and French's Dog Gravy. In political TV ads, he announced the presidential campaigns for Adlai Stevenson and Eugene McCarthy. As of 1968, it was reported that he had 400 different radio and TV commercial voice-overs playing and that his total exceeded 20,000.

Animator Gene Deitch used Swift's voice in nearly all of his projects, including the shorts at Terrytoons (as Clint Clobber and Gaston LeCrayon) and a series of rather odd Tom and Jerry shorts (as Tom's owner and all other voices), as well as one-shot projects and later TV fare. In feature films, Swift looped the voice of General Dwight D. Eisenhower to an on-camera impersonator in the classic live action war film The Longest Day and played one of the toys in Richard Williams' Raggedy Ann and Andy. For Rankin/Bass, Swift supplied more than half of the voices in Mad Monster Party?, including Dracula, the Invisible Man (a Sydney Greenstreet voice), and Felix Flanken (sounding like Jimmy Stewart) and played Gadzooks the bear in The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town, plus six other specials. More recently, Swift supplied guest voices on Courage the Cowardly Dog and was working as recently as 2007, mostly doing narration and ADR for TV documentaries.

Swift's other work included TV guest spots on the likes of Kate and Allie and more recently Law & Order. He is survived by his son, Broadway actor Lewis J. Stadlen.

Listen to one of Allen Swift's Burger King commercials:

(via Cartoon Brew; additional source, "A Man with a Thousand Voices" by Jerry Buck, 1968 Associated Press article)

1 comment:

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