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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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In 1952, 25-year-old Beals headed west to Hollywood, armed with lists of every radio producer he needed to pester for work. He started pounding the pavement. Every day, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Beals knocked on doors at studios all over town, sneaking past guards, dodging secretaries and buttonholing producers in their offices. Soon, word got around about this stubborn, short, child-voiced performer from Detroit who was determined to hand his 3-by-5 card to everybody of importance in radio.

And it paid off. Radio directors, often frustrated by child actors, their fussbudget stage mothers and the special requirements attendant upon working with them, were delighted to let the adult Beals fill the roles of children on now-forgotten but then-popular shows such as The Railroad Hour, Dr. Christian, Lux Radio Theater and Fibber McGee and Molly.

But what catapulted Beals into solid success as a voice actor was his role as Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the tablet-topped animated character that appeared in hundreds of TV commercials from 1954 to 1964. That high-pitched, cheerful, youthful, clearly enunciated voice singing "plop, plop, fizz, fizz" made Beals a mint. Even better, the gig opened the door to more animation voice work – especially important at a time when radio theater was dying off. The earnings allowed him to buy a lot high above the Los Angeles basin with a view of the Hollywood Hills. The success also enabled Beals to pursue his love of flying, for which he used custom-made shoes to operate a plane's pedals. Flying to distant airports in California and calling in, Beals' voice sometimes compelled a somewhat concerned tower chief to ask the age of the pilot.

The animation voice work kept rolling in during the 1960s. Beals was the original voice of Gumby, and for several years the voice of Davey Hansen in Davey and Goliath (both shows created by Art Clokey, another Detroit native). He also voiced Yank, Doodle and Dan in Roger Ramjet, Buzzer Bell and Shrinking Violet in The Funny Company and several child characters on The Flintstones.

But Beals began to find new challenges in the late 1960s. As the decade grew troubled in the United States, that clean-cut, middle-American, chipper, golly-gosh voice of his seemed to belong to another generation. For instance, when characters from Charles Schulz's Peanuts were being animated for television's Charlie Brown specials, the creator wanted the guileless voices of real children. Beals later said it was "the first sign of the impending change in the industry."

With the times changing, Beals put his energy into other pursuits. He went on to found an advertising agency, coach Little League, become a motivational speaker and even buy his own airplane. Throughout it all, he maintained his religious faith and believed that God would provide him with the proper guidance and open doors for him. He said, "I never did see me as small. God gave me a perfectly shaped, well-coordinated body. My approach has been to be as big as I had to be to achieve the goals I set for myself."

Among those goals, voice acting was never far away. Beals continued to do voice work into his 70s. Unlike the late '60s, when Beals' chirpy cadence seemed old hat, the ironic generation of the late 1980s and early 1990s found a new way to appreciate the archetypes of the 1950s – with a knowing wink. And Beals was there to capitalize on it. For instance, when they were casting for the animated Addams Family series in the early 1990s, almost 300 boys tried out for the role of N.J. Normanmeyer, but Beals got the part – at age 65.

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