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June Foray dies; voice actress behind Rocky the Flying Squirrel and scores of other characters

Rocky the Flying Squirrel and his nemesis Natasha Fatale sparred on “The Bullwinkle Show.”

Cindy Lou Who cooed to the Grinch, Witch Hazel cackled, and Granny scolded Sylvester and Tweety in the Looney Tunes shorts.

Behind these and myriad other animated characters was the same voice actress.

June Foray, who stretched, bent and manipulated her vocal chords in radio programs, film soundtracks and TV cartoons for decades, died Wednesday. She was believed to be 99.

Dave Nimitz, a close friend of Foray’s, confirmed her death on Facebook, saying, “With a heavy heart again I want to let you all know that we lost our little June today at 99 years old.”

No cause of death was announced.

Still working well into her 90s, Foray was honored by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with a Governors Award in 2013. She received a Daytime Emmy the previous year for “The Garfield Show.”

Besides working as a voice-over artist, Foray helped establish the Hollywood branch of the International Animated Film Society and its Annie Awards given annually since 1972 to honor contributions made to the art of animation. She received several awards from the organization.

The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood honored Foray with a statement on its website Thursday morning.

“June touched so many lives with not only her classic animation voice work but also her efforts to maintain the Motion Picture Academy’s Best Animated Short Oscar, her leadership in crafting the Academy’s Best Animated Feature category and, of course, her guidance as one of the founders of ASIFA-Hollywood, including her very singular creation, the Annie Awards,” the statement read. “She was one of a kind. A trail blazer, a great talent and a truly wonderful person.”

Foray also dubbed feature-film dialogue and provided the voice for the original Chatty Cathy doll that was introduced by Mattel in 1959 -- as well as the ominous Talky Tina toy doll that Telly Savalas tried to destroy in a 1963 episode of “The Twilight Zone.”

“I’m all mouth,” Foray jokingly told The Times in 1965.

She was said to be born June Forer on Sept. 18, 1917, in Springfield, Mass., though she hid her true age well. She was the middle of three children of Maurice and Ida Forer. The family went to movies, plays and opera, and young June “would come home and impersonate everybody,” she told The Times in 2000. At 6, she decided she wanted to become an actress, began studying with a drama coach and, by the time she was 12, was performing on radio programs in her hometown.

She moved to Los Angeles with her family in the early 1930s and through the ’50s worked in the radio companies of such shows as “Lux Theatre,” Steve Allen’s “Smile Time,” “Smilin’ Ed’s Buster Brown Gang” and “The Stan Freberg Show.”

During that time she also dubbed dialogue and provided off-camera voices for films and recorded children’s records with Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, and comedy albums with Freberg.

Walt Disney opened new doors when he hired Foray to create feline sounds for Lucifer the Cat in the 1950 animated feature “Cinderella.” She served as mermaid and Indian maiden model for animators drawing “Peter Pan,” and she first voiced Witch Hazel in a Disney short before reprising the role many times over for Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes cartoons.

Foray, who stood less than 5 feet tall, voiced dozens of other female characters at Warner Bros., and she often tapped her imagination for inspiration.

“If you were lucky, you got to see a drawing,” she said in a 2013 interview with the television academy. “More often they would give you a one-word description ... mean ... sweet ... old ... fragile.”

It was Jay Ward, the creator of “Crusader Rabbit,” who supplied Foray with the classic cartoon characters that would bring her lasting fame. In the late 1950s, Ward and writer Bill Scott were knocking around ideas for an animated television show featuring a moose and a flying squirrel engaged in satirical spy escapades and witty, sophisticated dialogue.

“Rocky and His Friends” first aired on weekday afternoons in 1959. It was called “The Bullwinkle Show” when it moved to prime time in 1961 and later when it became a Saturday morning cartoon staple.

Foray played the parts of Rocket J. Squirrel and Natasha Fatale of Pottsylvania in the main story line of the series, Nell Fenwick in the Dudley Do-Right segments and a host of others in “Fractured Fairy Tales” and assorted cartoon snippets.

“Jay said he wanted Rocky to sound like a plain little boy but with a very knowledgeable sound, so I did an all-American squirrel Boy Scout,” she recalled, explaining how she approached her best-known character.

“I still think about the characters and sketches,” Foray said in a 1988 interview with The Times, “and how many times I had to say ‘rubber baby buggy bumpers.’ “

Foray was never at a loss for work. Her numerous TV parts included Jokey Smurf in “The Smurfs,” Cindy Lou Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and various voices on “The Flintstones,” “The Chipmunks,” “The Jetsons,” “DuckTales,” “Adventures of the Gummi Bears,” “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” She had roles in dozens of feature films, among them Disney’s “Mulan” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

In the 1974 film “Jaws,” she provided the voices of children on the beach, and on “I Love Lucy” she mimicked a barking dog. Her voice could also be heard on hundreds of TV commercials. She even had a few on-screen roles, including a telephone operator on “Green Acres.”

“I love every character I’ve done because there’s a little bit of me in everything I’ve done,” Foray said in a 2012 interview with her hometown newspaper, the Republican of Springfield, Mass.

Noland is a former Times staff writer. Times staff writer Nardine Saad contributed to this report.

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A previous version of this article gave Rocky the Flying Squirrel's full name as Rocky J. Squirrel. It is Rocket J. Squirrel.

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