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Cover Story

Dick Beals, March 16, 1927- May 29, 2012

Voice actor didn’t let his diminutive stature keep him from making a big impact

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With few exceptions, voice actors are those unsung personalities we've heard throughout our lives and can instantly place – even if we can't name them. From the lilting falsetto of Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio) to the sonorous basso profundo of Thurl Ravenscroft (voice of Tony the Tiger and singer of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch"), these unforgettable voices embed themselves in our consciousness, though we seldom put a face to them.

One of those voices belonged to Dick Beals, who died May 29 at a nursing home in Vista, Calif. Due to a glandular problem, Beals never went through puberty, topping out at 4 feet and 7 inches in height and about 70 pounds. His whole adult life, he had the voicebox of a 10-year-old child, and – much like Walter Tetley, voice of Sherman on The Bullwinkle Show – he became a busy voice actor. Of course, Beals was much busier than Tetley, working on hundreds of commercials, performing for such animation studios as Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros. and Disney, and voicing a host of animated characters, most notably Speedy Alka-Seltzer in scores of commercials spanning decades.

Richard Lee Beals was born in Detroit in 1927, into a family of Christian Scientists. Though he weighed in at 9.5 pounds at birth, by the time he was a year old, it became obvious he wasn't growing as quickly as an infant should. He would later write of his parents that "they were beginning to realize they were faced with bringing up a child that would be small – really small – and they didn't have the slightest idea of how to handle it."

Though short in stature, the young Beals loved to perform. In 1930, as a kindergarten student, Beals became the mascot of the local high school football team in the suburb where he lived. By age 7, he was admitted to the varsity cheerleading squad.

One summer day, he and his mother were exiting Hudson's department store in downtown Detroit when she ran into an old high-school chum who was surprised to learn that the apparent 4-year-old with her was actually 8. The man, a director at Detroit's busy Jam Handy Picture Studios, recognized the appeal of working with a child who looked like a toddler but could follow directions intelligently. Soon, Beals was a working actor, specializing in playing tykes for Jam Handy, Wilding Studios and Ross Roy.

Later, working his way through Michigan State University to study radio, he approached the station manager about becoming an on-air announcer. Instead, Beals was offered a gig playing the role of a 10-year-old boy on a radio show.

Word of Beals' talents got around quickly. Soon, he was on a bus from Lansing to Detroit's WXYZ, where a handful of big radio shows were being produced for broadcast throughout North America. After appearing once on a Quaker Oats commercial there – perched atop an old ammo box to reach the ceiling-mounted microphone – he landed work on Challenge of the Yukon, The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet.

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