"Boris"... Why Always "Boris"?
December 10, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Do you know this man? You may not recognize his face, but his voice --and oh, what a voice -- is probably buried somewhere in your childhood memories of American television. Paul Frees was Boris Badenov, The Pillsbury Dough Boy, Burgermeister Meisterburger, The Haunted Mansion's Ghost Host, Toucan Sam, K.A.R.R., Morocco Mole, and ...

Do you remember him in these holiday classics?
* "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" (1970), as Burgermeister Meisterburger
* "Frosty the Snowman" (1969), as Santa Claus and the Traffic Cop
* "Frosty's Winter Wonderland" (1975), as Jack Frost
* "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962), as The Stage Director, Fezziwig, and others
* "The Little Drummer Boy" (1968), as Aaron's father; the Magi
* "Jack Frost" (1979), as Kubla Kraus and Father Winter
* "Rudolph's Shiny New Year" (1976), as Eon the Terrible (3:55)
* This page includes his work on Rankin/Bass holiday specials

Or maybe you recall him from Disney?
* Disneyland's Haunted Mansion, as the Ghost Host (outtakes)
* "Donald in Mathemagic Land" (1959), as the Pi creature and as the Spirit of Adventure (narrator)
* A lovely remembrance
* More on his voice work for Disney
From the ads?
* Kellogg's Froot Loops, as Toucan Sam
* The Pillsbury Dough Boy (1960s-1986), aka Poppin' Fresh
* Tootsie Roll Pops, in this 1969 commercial: How many licks does it take, Mr. Fox?
Maybe you remember him as the narrator of "Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America" (1961)?
* Parts 1 and 2
* Parts 3, 4, 5 and 6
* Parts 7, 8 and 9
* Parts 10 and 11
Or from (just a few of) his other performances?
* "The Hobbit" (1977), as Bombur
* "Knight Rider," as K.A.R.R.
* "The Last Unicorn" (1982), as Mabruk, The Cat, and The Living Tree
* "Fantastic Four" (1967), as The Thing/Ben Grimm
* "Paul Frees and the Poster People" (covering "Mama Told Me Not to Come" while impersonating W.C Fields and "The Look of Love" while impersonating Boris Karloff)
* Voice dubbing for a number of actors, including Orson Welles, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Bela Lugosi, Toshiro Mifune and Tony Curtis (in "Some Like It Hot")
* "Bradbury 13," as the host of "The Ravine" (and many other episodes of the series)
Perhaps you heard him in "George of the Jungle" (1967), as the narrator (7:15 and on; and as Ape, and multiple other characters), "The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show" (1965), as Morocco Mole, or in "Francis in the Haunted House" (1956), playing Francis the Talking Mule (1:10)?

Or maybe, and finally, you remember the Jay Ward favorite's star turn in "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" as the narrator for Dudley Do-Right and -- of course and always -- as Pottsylvania's favorite son, Boris Badenov.

If you're interested in knowing more about Frees, a fuller list of his work is available here. Even more fun facts. A letter from a friend. He was also the subject of a biography, "Welcome Foolish Mortals...The Life and Voices of Paul Frees."

In memory of Paul Frees (June 22, 1920 - November 2, 1986), the original Man of a Thousand Voices. But especially for Boris. Always Boris.
posted by MonkeyToes (29 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
That voice...where have I heard that voice?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:30 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Boris Badenov and Burgermeister Meisterburger? Well of course I should have known they were the same guy!
posted by wenestvedt at 9:35 AM on December 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also, that "Momma Told Me not to Come" cover is bizarre.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another interesting fact about Paul Frees is that Elvis Presley arranged his famous meeting with Richard Nixon to get a narcotics agent badge, because he was jealous of Paul Frees' badge.
posted by jonp72 at 9:38 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

He also voiced Captain Peter "Wrongway" Peachfuzz.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pretty much the voice of my childhood, along with June Foray and Daws Butler.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's also his album, Paul Frees and the Poster People, which is a collection of contemporary "now sound" hits from 1970 sung in the voices of Bela Lugosi, W.C. Fields, and other old movie stars.
posted by jonp72 at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2012

A very early appearance was his Peter Lorre imitation (starting at 1:30) on Spike Jones' rendition of "My Old Flame."
posted by Longtime Listener at 9:46 AM on December 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Fantastic post!

He also contributed to an early orchestral/narrative sort of version of Frank Zappa's The World's Greatest Sinner (long video of an entire album, but the track in question is at the beginning.)
posted by usonian at 10:08 AM on December 10, 2012

I've heard him doing a "voice on the radio" in more than one MST3K movie.
posted by gubo at 10:27 AM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amazing post. Wonderful to learn more about Paul Frees. Thank you MonkeyToes.
posted by nickyskye at 10:47 AM on December 10, 2012

Thanks to him I can never say "moose", "squirrel" or "moose and squirrel" in my normal voice. I just can't. I just hope I never have a job interview where those words might come up.
posted by tommasz at 10:56 AM on December 10, 2012 [7 favorites]

Maybe you remember him as the narrator of "Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America" (1961)?

That's where I mostly remember him. God, what a great album.
posted by grubi at 11:17 AM on December 10, 2012

Here's another, later, photograph of Paul Frees. Until this post, I don't think I can recall ever seeing a picture of him, but his voice was unforgettable, even when it was buried under some character.
posted by briank at 11:25 AM on December 10, 2012

Ha, we just watched Santa Claus is Coming to Town the other night, and it makes perfect sense that Burgermeister Meisterburger (such a great character) is Boris Badenov, just German instead of Russian.
posted by emjaybee at 11:30 AM on December 10, 2012

I love it when he trips up on those Ghost Host sessions: "The happy haunts are received a faldric namjitch..."
posted by anazgnos at 11:49 AM on December 10, 2012

I just watched the KARR episodes of Knight Rider on Netflix last week. The 80s were a magical time.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 12:38 PM on December 10, 2012

He was also the opening narrator and played the role of an on-site reporter in The War of the Worlds.
posted by SPrintF at 1:11 PM on December 10, 2012

Pretty much the voice of my childhood, along with June Foray and Daws Butler.

Throw in Mel Blanc and Don Messick and ya got yourself a full house!
posted by fairmettle at 2:00 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

It always blew me away that Frees did the voices of Boris Badenov AND Poppin' Fresh the Pillsbury Doughboy. The vocal range that required!

I still have a vinyl copy of his "Poster People" album, and to offer an inadequate excuse, the racist version of "Let It Be" was him doing "Warner Oland in the character of Charlie Chan". Oland (and a couple other actors) were Caucasians doing the "great Oriental detective" in the original movies (although some young Chinese actors got their first breaks as his sons). It was classic Hollywood racism, and Frees, who did all kinds of dialects, couldn't find a famous enough real Chinese actor to imitate.

It always was a funny trope in Rocky & Bullwinkle that Boris Badenov, with his Russian dialect, reported to Fearless Leader, with a German dialect.

And since I grew up watching Moose & Squirrel and jotting down names from the credits, it must be noted that Bill Scott only got one credit as Co-Executive Producer with Jay Ward, when he should've gotten several, including for head writer and for the voices of Bullwinkle and Dudley DoRight (and later, George of the Jungle, Superchicken and Tom Swift). As a result, Paul Frees was the top-listed voice actor and millions (including myself in my youth) thought he was doing the Moose too. Still, he did plenty...

Of course Frees narrated the movie version of "War of the Worlds". His most demanded celebrity voice was that of Orson Welles (not included in the "Poster People" album because he was limiting himself to dead celebrities and Orson was still alive and kicking... and complaining whenever Frees did his voice). Also of note, after Frees' passing, the go-to-guy for Orson Wellesian voicing is Maurice LaMarche, and yes, his "Brain" on Pinky and the Brain is 99% Welles.

Of the full house fairmettle mentioned, only June Foray (recently) is still around and making voices. They were, collectively, a generation of versatile voice artists. There's a documentary coming out next year, "I Know That Voice" that promises to show the faces behind nearly every cartoon voice out there today. You'll find several there with multiple voices, but I can't think of any one as versatile as Paul Frees was (Boris Badenov AND Poppin' Fresh?!?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:19 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Boris Badenov and Burgermeister Meisterburger? Well of course I should have known they were the same guy!

Yes, exactly! But it had not occurred to me. I've known "that guy's" voice for so long, and yet never put it together, never knew the name and work behind the characters. This post came together because I heard "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" and "Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America" within a short span of time, and then saw that scene in "The Wire" where a reticent Ukrainian complains that Americans call him Boris, always Boris. A memory of "Rocky and Bullwinkle," even now, out of Baltimore. So I went looking, and I'm delighted to finally put a name and a face to "that voice."
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:13 PM on December 10, 2012

Great post! Paul Frees maybe hasn't gotten quite as much attention over the years as Foray, Blanc or Butler, but he was a terrific talent who was just as versatile as his better known peers.

Regarding the re-purposing of celebrity impressions as cartoon voices, IIRC, Frees' Morocco Mole was basically a version of Peter Lorre, similar to the way Maurice LaMarche's voice for the Brain is derived from Orson Welles. As Longtime Listener points out, Frees had had that voice in his bag o' tricks for many years.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 5:44 PM on December 10, 2012

Boris Badenov taught me English!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:36 PM on December 10, 2012

This countdown is one of my ringtones, though I've never seen the show ever.

He got a great cadence going, there!
posted by droplet at 8:40 PM on December 10, 2012

Maurice LaMarche's voice for the Brain is derived from Orson Welles.

Which inspired the following Orson Welles parody...
posted by jonp72 at 9:16 PM on December 10, 2012

He also provided the speaking AND singing voice of Meowrice in UPA's 1960's animated feature "Gay Purr-ee..."
posted by Quasimike at 11:54 PM on December 10, 2012

Thank you for this amazing post on such a versatile voice! I never put together that he was both Burgermeister and Frosty's Santa (a much more loveable Santa than judgy Rudolph-Santa) AND Jack Frost.

And for years whenever loved ones get grumpy about Christmas I'd trot out the Burgermeister's "A Yo-YO?" to cheer them up.

I'm forwarding this to about 18 people now.
posted by kimberussell at 4:18 AM on December 11, 2012

No thread on Boris Badenov is complete without a link to Akim Tamiroff, who was the inspiration for Boris' voice. I saw "The Great McGinty" only a couple months ago, and he was terrific! And who could forget him in "Touch of Evil."
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:21 PM on December 12, 2012

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