- click here for part one – https://voices2go.com/2019/03/19/everybody-should-have-an-uncle-willie-part-one/
One of the biggest reasons I hit it off so well in the studio with producers and directors is my Imagination. I’ve even had writers create something with one of my voice characters in mind. I sometimes wonder why that sense of imagination isn’t commonplace. And then I wonder where kids get their imaginations now…if they have any.
My parents fostered mine and gave it plenty of room to grow. But it was my mom’s younger brother (he let us call him “Willie” instead of Bill) who gave it a sharper focus, and made it the launchpad into a career, even before he knew he was doing it for me.
Treasures From an Accidental Time Capsule
It was there in a stack of battered comic books left behind in grandma’s house, including the original Captain Marvel. It was there in the old 78rpm records of Spike Jones & His City Slickers he must’ve listened to as well.
Mom and dad would take the family to the drive-in movies once in awhile, but I think Willie was the only one brave enough to take me to a Kiddie Matinee at the local theatre. We were probably the only ones there who actually came to see the picture (“The Lone Ranger“), and I can still remember my usually cheerful uncle’s sour reaction as we went home: “That’s the LAST time I go to an indoor movie!”
Can’t Find One? Can’t Afford One? Make One!
Aside from the boost into Radio and Production, Willie (and Joyce) always seemed to be able to create something fun out of practically nothing. This was no more evident than in their annual Halloween decorations. Inspired by our mutual fascination with the Disney parks and audio animatronics, he’d rig up simple effects like a piece of fishing line running from a hidden motor to the base of a rocking chair, or use an old 4-track tape cartridge to feature my thunderstorm sound effects loop, with inaudible pulses on an alternate track to make a light fixture flash just before the sound of the thunder. He rigged up a dummy in a “coffin” to rise up on cue (thanks to an old motor and armature from a washing machine), and had Joyce out front scouting the neighborhood kids as they came up. She’d quietly feed him their names so that the dummy could greet them by name, his spooky voice coming from an old speaker in the thing’s chest, while Willie and his microphone hid just out of sight.
In our worlds, cardboard and string, magic markers and paint, masking tape and makeshift electronics were literally the “stuff that dreams were made of”.
The Family That PLAYS Together…
And the creativity didn’t end with Willie and Joyce. Their kids shared with me as well. Debbie and her little brother Richie let me use their voices as little kids in an ill-fated six part audio series I did on Old Time Radio called “The Radio Museum“. Both Deb and Richie have families of their own now.
Of course, I didn’t get to visit much after I moved to North Carolina, but that never affected the “fan club” treatment I got from Willie and Joyce (my brother Lee and I almost ran their names together when we talked about them, as if they were one person). They’d sit and listen to tapes of my best radio commercials, or watch my clips from local tv, even when the immediate family had lost interest.
I’m so grateful Willie was still around when I landed those movie gigs with Jim Henson’s Muppets as a literal “hired hand”. I think he and Joyce were even more proud of me than my parents or my wife…at least they showed it more openly.
I’m pretty sure Willie knew how much I appreciated everything he did for me and my eventual career in radio, tv, film, and voiceovers. But he also gave me one last thing…my hatred of cigarettes. See, Willie was a Marlboro Man, and I can’t ever remember him without a cigarette in his hand unless he was playing guitar or handling a soldering gun. Those things put him in the ground, many years ago – way too early. And I was too far away and too broke to make it back for his funeral.
Joyce has continued their legacy of love, laughs and imagination with her own offspring, their kids, and is the youngest grandmother (or is that great-grandmother) I know.
Fortunately, Willie left me with a lot of his creative spirit to remember him by, plus his ability to make something cool out of practically nothing. It never occurred to me until later in life that not everyone is as lucky as I was. Really…if you didn’t get an “Uncle Willie” in your family…you wuz robbed!
–over and out–