Monday, July 11, 2016

One reason there were so few women in classic cartoons

I always assumed it was because the knockabout humor played better with male characters, but animation authority Mark Evanier points out an additional economic motive.

Once upon a time, voice actors working under the Screen Actors Guild contract were paid by the session. The actor received a flat fee for the cartoon whether he did one voice or twenty. Most of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons had a cast of two: Daws Butler and Don Messick did the Pixie & Dixie cartoons. The Secret Squirrel cartoons were voiced by Paul Frees and Mel Blanc. The Atom Ant cartoons were Howie Morris and Allan Melvin until Howie quit H-B, at which time they became Don Messick and Allan Melvin. Once in a while, they'd spring for a guest voice — usually a woman — but the writers were told not to write in too many female parts so that wasn't necessary. (There are early H-B cartoons where small female roles were voiced by men.)

Most cartoons were done with small casts. The Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons were voiced by June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, William Conrad and no one else. I don't think there's a single other actor in any of them…and in some, some of those folks play five or six roles.

In '68, the S.A.G. contract was changed to limit the number of voices one actor could do for one fee. The math changed over the years but it pretty much came down to three voices per session fee per actor. Before, if a cartoon called for twelve speaking parts, you could have Daws and Don each do six and it cost you two session fees. After '68, you were going to have to pay four session fees…so you could pay Daws and Don each two fees per session or for the same money, you could bring in four actors. In most cases then, they would hire four actors.

This made things better for the kind of actor — like Hans Conried or Gary Owens — who couldn't do multiple roles. A voice actor no longer had to be like Blanc, Butler, Messick or Frees — guys who could do a couple hundred different voices. It also increased the opportunities for women since it led to shows having more female characters. And it even led to some of the multi-voiced guys making more money. I wrote a CBS Storybreak once which had a ton of tiny roles and we decided that we didn't want to bring in a parade of voice actors to each do 1-3 lines. It was easier to have Frank Welker do them all so that day, Frank — who was in the studio for about 90 minutes — played twenty characters and was paid for seven sessions.

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