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Monday, October 09, 2006

"Ghost Host" Paul Frees to receive prestigious posthumous Disney Legends Award

Our own inimitable Paul "Ghost Host" Frees has been named one of this year's Disney Legends.

Corey Burton, who does a fantastic Frees imitation for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, has said that recreating his version of the Frees' Ghost Host character "was a great honor, but a frightening benchmark to live up to."

Frees joins 11 other honorees this year. The full list includes:

* Renowned singer and songwriter Sir Elton John;
* ABC News anchor Peter Jennings;
* Actors Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran (Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog, Swiss
Family Robinson, Mickey Mouse Club);
* Actors Tim Considine and David Stollery (The Adventures of Spin and
Marty);
* Actress Ginny Tyler (Mickey Mouse Club)
* Disney and Pixar animation story artist Joe Ranft;
* Voice actor Paul Frees (Haunted Mansion, Ludwig Von Drake);
* Disney Imagineer Don Edgren (Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space
Mountain);
* Animation background artist Al Dempster;
* Founder of Walt Disney Records, Jimmy Johnson

Of course you know and love Frees from the Mansion, but do you know what other projects he accomplished throughout his life? Read what the Disney Legends bio says about our Ghost Host:

PAUL FREES * Television, Film & Parks

During his lengthy career, "the voice of actor Paul Frees was not so much ubiquitous as inescapable," says film historian Hal Erickson. "It was literally impossible during the 1960s and most of the 1970s to turn on the TV on any given night and not hear the ineluctable Mr. Frees."

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.

Gifted with an amazing ear and versatile voice from an early age, Frees' early radio career was cut short when he was drafted during World War II. He was wounded in action at Normandy on D-Day and returned to the U.S. for a year of recuperation. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute under the G.I. Bill, but his first wife's failing health forced him to drop out and return to radio work.

He was the star of The Player, a syndicated anthology series in which he played all the roles. He appeared frequently on such Hollywood radio series as Escape, Suspense, Gunsmoke, Crime Classics and The Green Lama.

Frees began working in films in 1948, sometimes as an on-screen actor, but most often utilizing his chameleonic voice acting ability. When Chill Wills was unavailable to provide the talking mule's voice for Francis in the Haunted House (1956), Frees replaced him, recreating Wills's drawl; when Tony Curtis's "Josephine" in Some Like It Hot required a more melodious falsetto, Frees was able to supply it.

Frees was often called upon in the 1950s and 1960s to "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. Whenever Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune appeared in an English-language film like Grand Prix (1966) or Midway (1976), he would insist that his heavily-accented voice be "looped" by Frees -- Mifune claimed that Frees "sounds more like me than I do."

He was a regular presence in Jay Ward cartoons, providing the voices of Boris Badenov, and Inspector Fenwick (in Dudley Do-Right), among many others. He spent major parts of his career working with at least nine of the major animation production companies of the 20th century: The Walt Disney Studios, Walter Lantz Studio, UPA, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, MGM, DePatie-Freleng, Jay Ward, and Rankin-Bass Productions.

Frees began working for Disney dubbing voices for television and features, including narration for the "Man in Space" series (1954), "From Aesop to Hans Christian Andersen" (1955), the "Boys of the Western Sea" serial (1956-57), "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca" (1958), Tonka (1958), "Tales of Texas John Slaughter" (1958), The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), "Moochie of Pop Warner Football" (1960), The Ballad of Hector, the Stowaway Dog (1964), and The Monkey's Uncle (1965). For The Ugly Dachshund (1966) he looped the voice of "Eddie" entirely, since actor Richard Wessel had passed away after the completion of principal photography.

Most famously, Frees comic Germanic accent and free-wheeling improvisational ability brought personality and popularity to Donald Duck's nutty Uncle, Professor Ludwig Von Drake, who was introduced on "An Adventure in Color" (1961) and subsequently became a frequent host of the Sunday night television institution, as well as a star of Disneyland Records.

For the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, Frees was the sonorous narrator of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln pre-show at the Illinois Pavilion. For Disneyland, he provided the dramatic "you are there" narration for Adventure Thru Inner Space. Some of his most memorable voice performances are still playing today at Disney Parks: Frees is the "Ghost Host" in the Haunted Mansion, and many of the varied Pirates of the Caribbean.

Frees was active until his death from heart failure on November 2, 1986, in Tiburon, California. He was 66 years old.

RIP, Paul.

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