Knight Rider
Knight Rider Actor
Paul Frees
Name Solomon Hersh "Paul" Frees
Birth Date June 22, 1920
Death Date November 2, 1986
Location Tiburon, California

Paul Frees (June 22, 1920 - November 2, 1986) was an American voice actor and character actor.


Born Solomon Hersh Frees in Chicago, he began his acting career in 1942, and remained active for over forty years. During this time, he was involved in more than 250 films, cartoons, and TV appearances; like many voice actors, his appearances were often uncredited.

Frees' early radio career was cut short when he was drafted into World War II where he was at Normandy on D-Day. He was wounded in action and was returned to the United States for a year of recuperation. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute under the G.I. Bill. His first wife's failing health forced him to drop out and return to radio work. He appeared frequently on such Hollywood radio series, including Escape, playing lead roles and alternating with William Conrad as the opening voice, Suspense as the opening announcer in the late 1940s, and parts on Gunsmoke and Crime Classics. One of his few starring roles in this medium was as Jethro Dumont in the 1949 series The Green Lama, as well as a syndicated anthology series The Player, in which Frees narrated and played all of the parts.

Frees was often called upon in the 1950s and 1960s to "re-loop" the dialogue of other actors, often to correct for foreign accents, lack of English proficiency, or poor line readings by non-professionals. These dubs extended from a few lines to entire roles. This can be noticed rather clearly in the film Midway where Frees reads for Toshiro Mifune's performance as Admiral Yamamoto. Frees also dubbed the entire role of Eddie in the Disney film The Ugly Dachshund, replacing actor Dick Wessel, who had died of a sudden heart attack after completion of principal photography.

Unlike many voice actors who did most of their work for one studio, Frees spent much of his career working with at least nine of the major animation production companies of the 20th century: Walt Disney Studios, Walter Lantz Studios, UPA, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, MGM Studios, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, Jay Ward Productions and Rankin/Bass.

Frees was active until his sudden death at 66 from heart failure on November 2, 1986. He was living in Tiburon, California at the time. His ashes were scattered at sea.

There had been homages to him done by voice actor Corey Burton who happened to have matched the voices he used for some characters.

Career highlights


Some of Paul Frees' most memorable voices were for various Disney projects. Frees voiced Disney's Professor Ludwig Von Drake in eighteen episodes of the Disney anthology television series,[1] beginning with the first episode of the newly-renamed Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color on September 24, 1961. The character also appeared on many Disneyland Records. Von Drake's introductory cartoon, An Adventure in Color, featured The Spectrum Song, sung by Frees as Von Drake. A different Frees recording of this song appeared on a children's record, and was later reissued on CD.[2]

Frees narrated a number of Disney cartoons, including the Disney educational short film Donald in Mathmagic Land. This short originally aired in the same television episode as Von Drake's first appearance.

Frees also provided voices for numerous characters at Disney parks, including the unseen "Ghost Host" in the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and several audio-animatronic pirates, including the Auctioneer, in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Disney eventually issued limited edition compact discs commemorating the two rides, featuring outtakes and unused audio tracks by Frees and others. Frees also provided narration for the Tomorrowland attraction Adventure Thru Innerspace (1967-1985). Audio clips from the attractions in Frees' distinctive voice have even appeared in fireworks shows at Disneyland. A computer-animated singing bust in Frees' likeness appeared in the 2003 film The Haunted Mansion as an homage. Similarly, audio recordings of Frees from the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction can be heard in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End in a homage to the ride. Frees also had a small live action role for Disney in the 1959 film The Shaggy Dog, playing Dr. Galvin, a military psychiatrist who attempts to understand why Mr. Daniels believes a shaggy dog can uncover a spy ring.

His other Disney credits, most of them narration for segments of the Disney anthology television series, include the following:

  • The "Man in Space" series of shows (TV, 1954)
  • From Aesop to Hans Christian Andersen (TV, 1955)
  • The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca (TV miniseries, 1958)
  • Tales of Texas John Slaughter (TV miniseries, 1958)
  • The Shaggy Dog (film, 1959)
  • The Absent-Minded Professor (film, 1961)
  • Moochie of Pop Warner Football (TV, 1960)
  • The Monkey's Uncle (film, 1965)

For his contributions to the Disney legacy, Frees was honored posthumously as a Disney Legend on October 9, 2006.[3]

Jay Ward Productions

Frees was a regular presence in Jay Ward cartoons, providing the voices of Boris Badenov, Inspector Fenwick (from Dudley Do-Right), Ape in George of the Jungle and the Hoppity Hooper narrator, among numerous others.


Frees is well-remembered for many characters in Rankin/Bass cartoons and stop-motion animated TV specials, including the central villain Burgermeister Meisterburger and his assistant Grimsby in Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970). He was also the traffic cop, ticket-taker, and Santa Claus in Frosty the Snowman in 1969. He was several voices, including Eon the Terrible, in Rudolph's Shiny New Year in 1976. In 1968, he appeared as Captain Jones in the Thanksgiving special The Mouse On The Mayflower, and that Christmas he appeared as the father of the Drummer Boy, Ali, and as the three Wise Men in The Little Drummer Boy. He provided the voices for several J. R. R. Tolkien characters (most notably the dwarf Bombur) in Rankin/Bass animated versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King. He also voiced King Haggard's wizard Mabruk in The Last Unicorn and provided several voices for the Jackson Five cartoon series between 1971 and 1973.

Other voice work

Some of Paul's earliest work was voicing many characters in Tex Avery's shorts for MGM Studios such as the recurring wolf character who was previously voiced by Frank Graham, the cat in The Cat Who Hated People, and the mouse in King Size Canary.

Frees voiced all characters, except the lead role, in the US versions of Belvision's The Adventures of Tintin cartoons, based on the books by Hergé. In the 1956 Cinemascope Tom and Jerry (MGM) cartoon, Blue Cat Blues, he was Jerry's voice who narrated the short, he had also voiced Jerry's cousin Muscles in Jerry's Cousin five years earlier.

For the 1962 Christmas special Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, produced by UPA, Paul Frees voiced several characters, including Fezziwig, the Charity Man, two of the opportunists who steal from the dead man (Eyepatch Man and Tall Tophat Man)[4] and Mister Magoo's Broadway theatre director. He subsequently provided numerous voices for further cartoons in the series that followed, The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.

Frees provided the voices of both John Lennon and George Harrison in the 1965 The Beatles cartoon series, and of The Thing in the 1967 series Fantastic Four. He played several roles--narrator, Chief of State, the judges and the bailiff--in the George Lucas / John Korty animated film, Twice Upon a Time.

In TV commercials, he was the voice of the Pillsbury Doughboy, the 7-Up bird Fresh-Up Freddie, Froot Loops spokesbird Toucan Sam (previously voiced by Mel Blanc, later voiced by Maurice LaMarche), and the Little Green Sprout, who called out to the Jolly Green Giant, "Hey, Green Giant, what's new besides ho-ho-ho?"

Frees narrated many live action movies and television series, including Naked City (1958-1963). Frees also provided the voice of the eccentric billionaire John Beresford Tipton, always seated in his chair with his back to the viewer while talking to his employee Michael Anthony (fellow voice-artist Marvin Miller), on the dramatic series The Millionaire. He was the narrator at the beginning of the movie "[The Disorderly Orderly]" starring Jerry Lewis. He also "[looped]" an actors voice in "[The Ladies Man]" also starring Jerry Lewis.

He dubbed many Italian actors in Spaghetti Westerns, most notably Gian Maria Volonte's characters in A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, the alcoholic Union captain (portrayed by Italian actor Aldo Giuffrè) in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and Gabriele Ferzetti's Mr. Morton character in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Frees had a wide range of other roles, usually heard but not seen, and frequently without screen credit. The resonance of his natural voice was similar to that of Orson Welles, and he performed a Welles impression several times. Some highlights of his voice work are as follows:

  • The narrator of the documentary about J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Day After Trinity
  • The Peter Lorre voice in the Spike Jones version of the song My Old Flame. When talking softly, the voice sounds much like Lorre. When the character segués into a manic rant for a few lines, the voice anticipates the Ludwig von Drake characterization.
  • The Orson Welles soundalike narrator in Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America Vol. 1. When Vol. 2 came out after his death, he was replaced by Corey Burton.
  • Another Orson Welles sound-alike as the voice of the aliens in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers
  • Yet again, as an Orson Welles soundalike narrator in the 1967 film The St. Valentines Day Massacre.
  • The uncredited voice of the sentient supercomputer Colossus in the movie Colossus: The Forbin Project.
  • Narrator of the pre-show for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the Illinois Pavilion of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. The exhibit was produced by Disney, and later moved to Disneyland.
  • The shrouded figure of "Death" (another near-Welles characterization) in the Woody Allen movie Love and Death.
  • The narration for the spoof short film Hardware Wars (1977), which was styled as a mock movie trailer.
  • Voice of KARR in "K.I.T.T. vs. K.A.R.R." - a 3rd season episode of Knight Rider.
  • Voice of "Josephine" (the female persona of Tony Curtis' character Joe) in the Billy Wilder film Some Like it Hot.[5]
  • The voice of Dr. Who in the English language version of King Kong Escapes.
  • The voices of "Antoine" and "Alecto" in the English language version of Atoll K (aka Utopia).
  • The voice of the hermit crab "Crusty" in The Incredible Mr. Limpet, a Warner Brothers feature that mixed live action with animation.
  • Intro voice for Bradbury 13, a series of thirteen radio dramas featuring Ray Bradbury short stories, originally produced for National Public Radio by Michael McDonough at Brigham Young University, 1984.
  • Credited with singing "Dark Town Strutters Ball" in the 1971 film The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Other credits

Although Frees is primarily known for his voice work (like Mel Blanc, he was known in the industry as "The Man of a Thousand Voices"), he was also a songwriter and screenwriter, his major work being the little-seen 1960 film The Beatniks, a Reefer Madness-esque screed against the then-rising Beatnik counterculture. In 1992, the film was "riffed" on an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

On rare occasions, Frees appeared on camera in minor roles. He played a scientist in The Thing from Another World, a death-row priest in A Place In The Sun, and French fur trader McMasters in The Big Sky. In Jet Pilot, Frees plays a menacing Soviet officer whose job is to watchdog pilot Janet Leigh, but instead manages to eject himself out of a parked jet, enabling Leigh to rescue John Wayne and fly back to the West. He also had an uncredited role as a war correspondent interviewing George C. Scott as Patton and also as a member of Patton's staff.

More significantly, he played the Orson Welles soundalike radio reporter in The War of the Worlds, where he is seen dictating into a tape recorder as the military prepares the atomic bomb for use against the invading Martians. Memorably, Frees' character says that the recording is being made for "future history...if any." The War of the Worlds producer George Pál put Frees to work again in the 1960 fantasy film Atlantis, the Lost Continent and doing the opening voice-over narration for his 1975 Doc Savage film. Frees provided the apocalyptic voices of the "talking rings" in George Pál's 1960 film The Time Machine, in which he explains the ultimate fate of humanity and the origin of the Morlocks and Eloi.

Further reading

  • Battistini, Pete, "American Top 40 with Casey Kasem (The 1970s).", January 31, 2005. ISBN 1-4184-1070-5. Includes information and photograph of the MGM Records LP "Paul Frees and the Poster People."
  • Frees, Paul, The Writings of Paul Frees. (2004) (Albany: BearManor Media) ISBN 1-59393-011-9
  • Ohmart, Ben. Welcome ... Foolish Mortals - The Life & Voices of Paul Frees. (2004) (Albany: BearManor Media) ISBN 1-59393-004-6. Filled with rare photos & interviews.

External links

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