A LIFE IN PERFECT SYNC! Corinne Orr on Her Prolific Voice-Acting Career!

Voice actress Corinne Orr. Photo © Corinne Orr.

Corinne Orr is an accomplished voice actress who found fame by lending her voice to such popular anime programs as Speed Racer (1967-68) and Marine Boy (1969-71). But she’s also well-known among Japanese monster movie fans for providing the voices of children in numerous kaiju films. Ms. Orr can be heard voicing young characters in such films as Gammera the Invincible (1965) and Inframan (1975), as well as superhero TV programs like Ultraman (1966-67). Perhaps her most widely known credit is providing the voice of Snuggle the Bear in the Snuggle fabric softener commercials for 18 years. Ms. Orr spoke with Brett Homenick in this 2006 interview about her extensive career in dubbing.

Brett Homenick: First of all, tell me a little about your background, where you grew up, went to school, etc.

Corinne Orr: I grew up in Montreal. I was born in Montreal, but we lived in a little French town called St. Hyacinthe, and at age five moved back to Montreal. I did children’s theater, and I did a show called Chez Helene. It was a kids’ show, and people still remember me in Canada for that show. Then I came to New York, and I didn’t know anybody. I had very limited money. I lived at the Barbizon (Hotel) for Women for a year, and then I started knocking on doors. I was very ambitious, so I really went at it. Those days were different than now, and you could knock on doors. I went into Titra, which means “Title” in French, and they did a lot of movies. I ended up as a slater. I don’t think that position exists anymore because with technology, they’ve eliminated many jobs, including that of a projectionist, who had to wind the loops and play them, and then the actors would do their lines over and over again.

They needed a kid at Titra to do a couple of voices, and I am a multi-voice and can do many different ages and accents and the whole bit. So they started using me as the resident kid, and I was very eager. Then I started doing cartoons because I think Peter (Fernandez) had a cartoon to cast, and of course I could do little boys, so I did two things. Before Titra, I did Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero for Joe Oriolo, and through Peter I did Speed Racer and Marine Boy. It was scary because it was the first job. I was so excited. With Speed Racer, we did 50 episodes, and I think I made like $100 an episode, and boy, did I feel good! After that, I began doing loads of commercials, and I was really hot in the ’80s as a top voice-over. But I’ve done Disney, maybe two or three hundred cartoons, lots of voice narration, and occasional acting jobs in theater along the way.

BH: Now to go back to Titra for a bit, describe the job that you had when you came prior to becoming a voice talent.

CO: It was a darkened studio with heavy velvet drapes. Everybody smoked in those days; I never did. Your eyes would tear, and your clothes would stink and reek of smoke. It was all kind of smoke and coffee. The good part is all the actors would act in this thing; they’d do scenes together. Now they would split up — you go and do your part alone, and then someone else comes in. You never meet anyone in the cast. But in those days, it was great fun. Everyone gathered together, and I enjoyed working there.

You had to watch numbers of takes. You had to say, “Take 1,” “Take 2,” and slate all the takes, like “Scene 40, take 3,” “Scene 40, take 4.” You had to keep exact records of it. It was an intensely concentrated job. It wasn’t what you could relax at for even a second. I think that’s when I first got stomach trouble (laughs) because I was always so agitated, trying to get everything exact. I met a lot of wonderful New York actors there. Most of the people I knew were from Titra, and I learned so much because when you’re working in film, you learn about timing, about editing. When you dub, you’re recreating; you’re not creating, so it’s a whole different technique. I think whatever you learn is positive, so it’s good. I adored the people, and I liked working with them. Most of them were very, very brilliant writers. They really were. So I had a good time.

BH: How did it come about that you became a voice talent at Titra, and also when did you discover just for yourself that you could do different voices?

CO: I was about 13 when I discovered that. My girlfriends and I would read comic books out loud together, and I’d play all the parts. I mean, we’d kill ourselves laughing. One girl had a brother-in-law who needed a commercial to do something — I can’t remember what — and she told him about me. So I started working professionally at 14. I think that came from my training in children’s theater, too. What happened is, my first language was French, and all the kids used to laugh at me for having an accent, so my mother gave me elocution lessons so I would speak properly. From that I got a love of drama, literature, and theater. That’s how it all came to be.

BH: So did you approach Peter Fernandez or another director at Titra and say that you could do those voices?

CO: I don’t know if I approached them. I really don’t know how that happened. We’re all trying to get jobs in theater. Everyone was an actor, so I probably said, “I could do that,” and they said, “Well, I’ll audition you,” and it worked out great. Then I did all the kids because there weren’t many people who could do that.

BH: Exactly. Now talk about dubbing films and cartoons and just say a little about the craft of it.

CO: Now today, with technology, anyone could do it. But then, we had extreme lip sync. When the mouths closed, we called it labials: M, B, P. Fricatives were the Fs. It’s a very exacting, technical thing to learn, to get it to match in a different language, like you’d hold the vowel maybe an extra second or two to make sure that your mouth hit the labial — that’s your mouth closing — and at the exact moment it should. I wasn’t good at it at the beginning. Some people, I think, with a musical background could find it much easier. For me, it was a difficult thing to achieve. I think you concentrated with all your might in order to do it, but as I said, today it’s a whole different ballgame.

BH: What memories do you have about working on some of the Godzilla and Gamera movies?

CO: Oh, those things were great fun! Then I really saw that I was the lead little boy or the lead little kid! Oh, I had such great fun. It was always a dark, dark studio, and you never know day from night if you’re in there. It was always dark, and you come out in the dark, and you never see sunlight. But I enjoyed it. You just worked hard, and those I can do like a breeze. I loved them. I loved doing them. They were great fun. Then the other people all played funny, funny characters, and we were more talented in those days. Now they don’t have the range that we had. We really were a lot better than they are. They just have identifiable voices, but there are many very talented people out there.

We just created fabulous things, and since we were all together, it was a back-forth, back-forth thing that you could do.

BH: Do you have any memories of Ultraman, the TV show?

CO: We did that in a different studio, which I think the building’s been torn down. It was the Loew’s Theatre, and they had a secret passageway — I think the head of it, it’d go from his office to the theater — and so we thought that was very exciting. It was on Broadway and 50th; Titra was on Broadway and 49th, so it was a block away. I think we did Ultraman in there.

BH: At one of your previous convention appearances, you said that Sister Street Fighter was probably your favorite …

CO: Oh, you remembered! It was! I’ll tell you why. When you dubbed, you had to memorize your lines, and if you had three or four difficult lines, boy, did you really have to work hard and remember them in sequence and stretch them to get the labials and really work. But in Sister Street Fighter, I probably had no lines. All I did was grunt and chop! So of course I loved it! I loved it to pieces! I didn’t have to memorize anything. I just would go with the action.

BH: (laughs) Well, what sort of preparation would you do for your roles, when you had a boy’s role versus a female role?

CO: (laughs) I don’t do any preparation. Nothing. It’s all the same. Actually, it’s a creative process, and things just pop out of you that you didn’t even know you had! It’s great fun. I guess that’s what talent’s about, but it’s great, great fun.

BH: So you would just go into the studio and sort of improvise with your voices then?

CO: Yeah.

BH: What was it like to work with Peter Fernandez? How would he direct you?

CO: Peter is a very calm director. He would be very calm. But he was very exacting, and once you got on set, you never fluffed off. You had to do it again till you reached perfection. He was a hard taskmaster, but brilliant. He was extremely brilliant and imaginative, and he could really, really help you.

BH: Do you have any stories about working with famous people? I spoke to Peter Fernandez last week, and he talked about working with Orson Welles.

CO: I worked with Joan Collins. She came in totally prepared and professional. Cyd Charisse, same story; she was beautiful. She came in and worked and did it. Oh, I know! Andreas Voutsinas worked in the Actors Studio, and he decided he would improvise. He was engaged to Jane Fonda at the time, and he wore four wedding rings on his finger.

You would have to say, “I’m going to cross the street,” and you had to do it exact to fit the lips, as I just told you. He would improvise, “I think maybe later, when I cross the street, I’ll have a cup of coffee.” We just stared in bewilderment at each other. Nothing fit, nothing matched. He was off the wall. He was nowhere near it. Finally, the director, Jack Curtis wrote down “steerage,” which is not very nice! We had to redo his entire part because the man did not know how to dub, nor did he want to learn.

We also had a Finnish movie, and this guy came in, very confident. He was a Finnish businessman, and he thought, “Oh, this is nothing. These actors, they’re nothing.” Of course, he couldn’t do it because it’s an exact science. He went out totally destroyed with a new respect for actors, I’m quite sure! We have a lot of Broadway people, and we had some very fine actors. I’m thinking of Tom Klunis. He was wonderful. Half the people at Titra were involved in Broadway shows, but there were a lot of really good actors who could not dub because, as I said, it’s a technical ability. I learned it. Peter was very patient teaching me. You know, he and I are still friends, and it’s 40 years later. We’re still good friends! (laughs) I think that’s great. We are good friends, and we speak very often to each other.

BH: Do you remember how Peter taught you how to do dubbing?

CO: Yeah, he had a machine called the Moviola. Now you have machines that are quite different. I remember he spent a half an hour trying to show me on the machine what to do. I was filled with terror at the beginning. I was so scared. With his patience, I learned on the Moviola. Then we go into the studio, and I can do it. The Moviola was very, very small. It was a tiny thing. The picture was the size of a cell phone. Then you have a big, huge 16mm screen, and it was much easier. So he spent half an hour teaching me.

BH: Do you have any memories of working with, say, Larry Robinson?

CO: Oh, Larry! Yes, I love Larry. I spoke to him yesterday. He was very suave. He would stand at the mike, have a sip of coffee, and record. I thought, “Gee, that’s real good!” So I got to the mike, had a sip of coffee, and choked to death! (laughs) I could not do it. Larry and I had the giggle connection. We worked with so many people, and we would just look at each other and giggle, and that goes on to this day. He too is a close friend of mine. We had so many fun times. You know, we’d play these ridiculous parts, and we’d make silly comments at each other, and that kind of stayed with us. Humor stays with you forever, so it’s kind of glorious.

BH: How about some of the others like Paulette Rubinstein and Terry Van Tell?

CO: Paulette is a serious woman. No humor, not too much humor, but she’s good. But she would throw in more words than the normal person spoke, so you went as fast as you could with her because it was so many extra words she would throw in in the lines. But she was a good director, and a very brilliant woman. Terry was utterly charming, and had a certain quality to her.

There’s this one, Bill Kiehl. He did 72 takes of a line, and I think he went and threw up finally.

BH: (laughs)

CO: What happened with Peter, when you didn’t get a line after eight takes, he would go to a next loop and then later, maybe two hours later, would go back to the one you missed. Sure enough, you’d get it dead-on. This happened time after time. Every actor would blow up on a loop. If you left it alone and came back to it, you could get it perfect. But if you did it over and over and over, it was no hope.

BH: That’s how Terry would direct an actor.

CO: But smiling all the way through!

BH: But smiling all the way through! (laughs)

CO: “Uh-huh. Let’s do take 62, shall we?”

BH: (laughs) So many things happened at Titra, it’s amazing! Before we close it out, is there anything else that you’d like to discuss about dubbing, or your career, or anything else?

CO: Oh, I think I’m the luckiest girl going because I fulfilled my dream. I did all the things that I ever wanted to — a variety of voice-over, I got to act all kinds of wonderful parts, and I worked for Disney. I’m very content. I had a good time of it. I’m still doing it. That’s what the best part is: I’m still working! Not as much, but I’m still working. I do a lot of volunteer work to help actors, and if I know of an actor who’s been out of work, I’ll always try taking him to lunch — an actor or an artist or a dancer — because it’s a hard life. You get so discouraged. You need someone to give you a little lift up every now and again. So I always try to think if I can do that and make someone’s life a little bit better. Then I work on charities for actors. I’m on the council of Episcopal Actors Guild — that’s for people of all faiths and those of none. I’m not even Episcopal. But it’s to help actors, and that’s all that matters. Of course, I volunteer at SAG.

Strangely, cartoons are the things you shouldn’t do with your voice. It’s an exaggeration of people’s voices, but it’s usually bad ones. I’ve done a lot of crazy characters, and a good voice should be from the diaphragm — forward and out, out, out. Maybe you put in your head, your nose, and your chest, and your stomach, and all these things emanate from there. You have to have a good ear, you have to have a good ear to pick up different sounds from different people. I have a dead-on ear, but I can’t sing a note, and same with Peter. Isn’t that fun?

BH: (laughs)

CO: A lot of us, we can do anything vocally, but we can’t musically.

BH: All right, I think that’ll do it for the interview. One thing I wanted to ask you, though, is: Do you have a record of some of the characters that you played in Ultraman or the Godzilla movies, or things like that?

CO: No, I really don’t because I didn’t know that they would go anywhere!

BH: Your voice is pretty distinctive, and it’s easy to pick out, but I just wanted to see if I could get something like a comprehensive list of all the voices you’ve done.

CO: I know I played a little girl in Ultraman. I had one of my most favorite lines that Peter wrote, “I want a spaghetti sandwich!”

BH: (laughs) That was in Ultraman?

CO: Yeah. I played the scientist, the mother, the little girl. In many of them, I played all the women, and even the occasional man. So I played a variety of roles. I always had love scenes with myself, like in this Panda’s Adventures that we did — I played the girl panda and the boy panda. Peter would say to me, “No, no, the girl, not the boy!” I said, “Well, how do you tell the difference?” He said, “She has a pink ribbon.” But the microphone shadow would obliterate the ribbon, and I never knew. So before I’d start, I’d go, “Is it a girl, or is it a boy?” His answer was always the same, “Yes.” (laughs) That’s our standard joke. “Am I playing a girl or a boy?” “Yes!” (laughs)

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