Monday, August 8, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Bill Callaway (Aquaman 2, Bizarro)

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

Bill responded to my list of questions with a conversational e-mail, so rather than break it down into Q&A format, I will just run it as he sent it, with the usual small tweaks for clarity.

I can’t begin to tell you how great those Hanna-Barbera years were for me. In my career I’ve gotten to work with many of the great comics and actors that peopled Hollywood in the late 20th century. Many names you may not know, but rest assured, they were the heavyweights, people like Hamilton Camp, Alan Oppenheimer, Julie Dees, Janet Waldo, Frank Welker, June Foray, Danny Goldman, and many more, and lots you do know like Hans Conreid, Albert Brooks, Paul Winchell, Gary Owens, JoAnne Worley, Jim Backus, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Jonathan Winters, Gene Wilder, Brenda Vaccarro, and on and on...and one thing I’ve learned, acting is a lot of fun! And cartoon acting is especially exhilarating!

The way I got started at Hanna-Barbera is an odd and unlikely tale, but true. I was in an acting workshop at the time, my focus being stage and film work. Another actor in the class, Bruce Watson, and I were working on a scene. I had a recording setup, was fascinated with recording in general and voices and characters in particular, and had just finished making a joke tape of commercials that could never be aired when Bruce came over to rehearse our scene.

On a break, I said, “Hey Bruce—check out my joke commercial tape.” We listened and he said, “Hey Bill, I just got hired as casting director at Hanna-Barbera. Can I take this tape over?”

Joe Barbera was at my first audition, for the part of Square Bear from the [1971 cartoon] Help!...It’s the Hair Bear Bunch. He heard something he wanted and really worked with me to solidify the character. I got the part, and thus it began, getting to work a thousand cartoons with a thousand great performers! Personally I wanted to be Steve McQueen, but I kinda went more toward Charlie the Owl [of New Zoo Revue] or Professor Keenbean [of Richie Rich]. Such are the amusements of life. I feel blessed.

Super Friends was a hoot! I was Aquaman, the kindest, gentlest superhero of the bunch. I’m not sure if I knew about Aquaman before the fact, but probably, as I always loved comics and comic books. A recently fan sent me an Aquaman comic book from that period to sign, and I thought the stories were cosmic and the artwork really great.

The style [of that time] might be described as “over the top” in a lot of instances. I was always amazed at how huge a performance Danny Dark gave as Superman, but it was mythic and good, like the Lone Ranger was on radio.

I enjoyed Aquaman; he was one right-thinking dude. But I especially enjoyed playing Bizarro, who was a messed-up Superman from another dimension with a Frankenstein thing going on. The shows were a joy to record. Generally a one-hour show was done in about two hours. We’d read it once, and then record it. The animation was done to what we had recorded, rather than the other way around, where the actors sync to pre-drawn material. This way is time consuming for performers, but still fun and challenging, and I used to do a fair amount of this, usually looping movies or overseas animation.

And yes, I got letters from young ladies. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink! I wondered if they were 25 and gorgeous. I imagine the way it went was studio to agent to me.

One of the reasons I had such a pleasant career was because of my agent Steve Tisherman, who is a great guy and a pleasure to work with. He never argued; if I said turn down a job I didn’t want to do he turned it down, no problem. I was actually his very first client, the first actor he met on his first day at the William Morris Agency. He later went on his own and I stayed with him.

I haven’t kept up with anybody I can think of from the Super Friends era.

As to my family, I have a daughter in Tucson and a granddaughter who’s studying acting at USC. Not much is ever said about my work, so I have no idea if they’ve even seen any. My daughter never took an interest in acting, but yes, my granddaughter Amanda is fiercely good and studying hard. But somehow, we talk about life, acting, but never about actual jobs unless I bring it up. I just don’t think your family cares much about what you do, it’s who you are that’s of more interest.

Lately I’ve been energizing my long languishing on-camera career, as I think a difficult goal is a good idea in your later years, as it keeps you striving. My personal goals involve becoming superhealthy and of use to family, friends, and society. [The promo image he sent me was labeled with a goal:
To be an action star at 80.]

[I complimented him on the verve with which he shared his memories and suggested he write a book]

I don’t think I’ll be writing a book any time soon, as I imagine the life of a writer to be more difficult and demanding than most lives. But we all have our challenges.

Next: Wally Burr (Atom).

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