This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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Welcome Foolish Mortals - The Life and Voices of Paul Frees (Revised Edition)
(From Radio Recall, February 2014)
By Ben Ohmart
Bear Manor Media (2013)
356 pgs. Softback $ 29.95
Order: 580-252-3547 or
Review by John C. Abbott © 2014
Anyone who was alive between 1945 and 1985, and who was not locked away in a cave, was exposed to the voice of Paul Frees (1920-1985). In "Welcome Foolish Mortals", Ben Ohmart delves behind the scenes, decade by decade, to show us how our ears were treated to the voice of a man who, in his last years, was called "The Voice of God".
Ben admits that writing a definitive book on the "Master of Voices" was a daunting task, but it is one well undertaken. The reader will come away with not only a mind-boggling amount of information meant to tickle the fancies of any old time radio fan, movie buff, cartoon aficionado or student of television advertising. The reader will also watch the inner workings of a complex and talented man.
Solomon Hersh Frees, who started entertaining as "Buddy Green" at the age of 14, and then later as Paul Frees, was one of the most prolific voice artists of the 20th century. Frees' radio credits (as listed in the book) run 16 pages.
His cartoon credits, film credits, films and documentaries, movie trailers, TV shows, records, commercials, awards and paintings take up another 21 pages. Fans of 1960's television will recognize him as the voice of Boris Badenov, or possibly as the voice of Professor Ludwig von Drake, or as the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Oh, and let's not forget the voice of the ghost-host of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland and Disney World.
But Ben helps us to view the man who was a talented painter, a gourmet cook, a writer and movie producer/director, an under-cover narcotics agent and, as it turns out, a collector of wives. Such is the complexity of the man. Paul Frees was one of those voice artists who could walk into a studio, be given a script and nail the role assigned to him with little or no preparation. His vocal range (four octaves) and versatility was such that he could literally carry on a conversation with himself and never use the same voice twice. But yet, as Ben helps us appreciate by using interviews from Frees' friends, relatives and fellow artists, there was more to Paul Frees than we will ever know.
Even those who knew him will admit that they never really knew Paul Frees. It does not help that Paul Frees did not document much about himself, leaving unanswered many questions about his life - like what did he really do while working for the Department of Justice - or was that just another "voice" Frees used to play a role of his own devising?
"Welcome Foolish Mortals" takes the career of Paul Frees and organizes it by decade, starting with his early life and World War II service and ending with his untimely death in 1986 - a death by his own hand. The book includes many interviews with Frees' son, wives and close friends. Along the way, we see the exploits of a man who was the master of his craft, a man who could be anyone and proved it many times, often by replacing the voice of actors like Orson Welles, Peter Lorre and Tashiro Mifune in the movies. Paul was reportedly told by Humphrey Bogart that he (Paul) "sounded more like me than I do"!
There is no doubt that the reader will come away wanting more, but there is so much that is not known. But Ben has done an admirable job of not only documenting the known voice work, but also providing insight into a man who was the life of the party, but did not really enjoy being around people.
"Welcome Foolish Mortals" contains a forward written by June Foray, another voice legend, and an afterward by Australian voice actor Keith Scott. Both essays provide insight into Frees' as a man - and what a man. The book is also filled with many pictures and promotional materials relating to Frees' career.
One thing that everyone can take away from "Welcome Foolish Mortals" is a phrase that Frees had taped to his desk: "Life is not a dress rehearsal". Even though Frees was the consummate clown, and was always "on", when it came to business (personal or professional), everything Frees did was the real thing. "Welcome Foolish Mortals" is well worth the read. But there is a note of caution; reading the book will leave the reader wanting. more! I know that I am going to add all the OTR programs I have with Frees' voice to my daily listening.
"Welcome Foolish Mortals" is available from Bear Manor Media and other internet book sources. The reviewer is the author of "The Who is Johnny Dollar Matter" a trilogy published by BearManor Media, and is a regular contributor to Radio Recall.