Paul Frees is a person you may have never heard of but you definitely know the animated characters he has voiced. Unlike Mel Blanc who had an exclusivity contract with WB for most of his career, Frees worked with almost every major animation studio and producer of the 20th century, including WB, Disney, MGM, Walter Lantz, George Pal, UPA, Jay Ward, Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freleng, Rankin/Bass, Filmation and Ruby-Spears.
Born in Chicago, Illinois in 1920, Frees had an unusually wide vocal range that had four different octaves, including the basso profundo (the lowest bass range), so he was a phenomenal impressionist, which he demonstrated on stage as a vaudeville performer in the 1930s under the name Buddy Green.
He shifted to radio in 1942 performing in various roles in such shows as the CBS radio drama Suspense (where he was not only the announcer but the voice behind miscellaneous characters like Frankenstein’s monster), Escape, The Green Lama (based on the 1940s pulp magazine hero and for which Frees played the lead role), Gunsmoke, Crime Classics and Fibber McGee and Molly.
He was also called in regularly to re-loop and dub the voices of screen actors who were unable to do ADR, often without screen credit. Some of the actors he doubled for include Toshiro Mifune in Midway, Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot and Humphrey Bogart in The Harder They Fall. In addition to movies his voice could be heard in many popular TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, I Dream of Jeannie, Hawaii Five-O and Knight Rider as KITT’s rival KARR. And occasionally he was seen on screen, such as in Get Smart and Wonder Woman.
Disney fans will recognize Frees as the voice behind various Disney films, shows and theme park attractions. Any Disneyland or Walt Disney World visitors who have seen The Haunted Mansion will have heard Frees as the unseen host of that ride, and he also voiced the auctioneer in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The iconic “Dead men tell no tales” was voiced by Frees as well.
He was not only the narrator of the 1959 film The Shaggy Dog but he played a psychiatrist in the movie too, although primarily it was just the radio impressionist’s voice being heard in films like The Absent-Minded Professor and Donald in Mathmagic Land, and perhaps most famously as the voice of Donald Duck’s uncle Ludwig Von Drake in Disney’s anthology television series which was known as The Wonderful World of Color during the character’s debut in 1961.
In addition to Ludwig Von Drake, Paul Frees has voiced dozens of other animated characters. Here are some you may know.
Cousin Muscles (Tom and Jerry)
Dirty Dawson (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)
Barnyard Horse (Mary Poppins)
Meowrice (Gay Purr-ee)
Mabruk (The Last Unicorn)
Boris Badenov (Rocky and Bullwinkle)
Captain “Wrongway” Peachfuzz (Rocky and Bullwinkle)
Inspector Fenwick (Rocky and Bullwinkle)
Ape (George of the Jungle)
Baron Otto Matic (George of the Jungle)
Fred (George of the Jungle)
Morocco Mole (The Secret Squirrel Show)
Squiddly Diddly (The Secret Squirrel Show)
Fluid-Man (Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles)
John Lennon and George Harrison (The Beatles)
The Thing (Fantastic Four)
Santa Claus (Frosty the Snowman)
Jack Frost (Frosty’s Winter Wonderland)
Burgermeister Meisterburger (Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town)
Eon the Terrible (Rudolph’s Shiny New Year)
Father Winter (Jack Frost)
Bombur (The Hobbit)
He has also voiced minor and side characters in Tex Avery cartoons and cartoon shorts in the Woody Woodpecker, Mister Magoo and Loopy De Loop series as well as episodes of The Flintstones, Top Cat and Space Ghost.
Hope this article has helped you appreciate this underrated actor.