Friday, June 20, 2014

From one voice actor to another: Remembering the great legacy of Casey Kasem, by Will Rodgers

"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

That was the famous sign-off for legendary radio personality Casey Kasem, who sadly passed away at the age of 82 after a long battle with both dementia and Parkinson's disease. Kasem left this world on Sunday, June 15, 2014. He was among the last of the all-time radio greats and for many years was the host of America's Top 40 Countdown. When he retired in 2009, he handed the reins over to Ryan Seacrest.

While Casey Kasem's top claim to fame was in the world of radio, he was also an accomplished voice actor. If you were a child watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, his voice was definitely heard on many cartoon shows, whether it be by Filmation, Hanna Barbera, or Sunbow Animation. Also during those days, when studios operated on limited budgets and voice actors consisted of three or four people in the cast, each voice actor would voice several characters as well as the main role they were playing. As for the characters he played, there were quite a number of them. If Dick Clark was the world's oldest teenager, then Casey Kasem was the ageless teenage voice since most if not all of the characters he's played were teenagers. So it's hard to believe he was 82 when he passed.

I recall that Casey Kasem was the voice of the Autobot Cliffjumper in the "Transformers" animated series by Marvel/Sunbow in 1984. By that time, his voice was very distinguishable. He also portrayed Mark in "Battle of the Planets." A series I never saw, but I recall people mentioning it after his passing.

Kasem was Alexander in the 1970 cartoon series "Josie and the Pussycats." While I never saw this Hanna-Barbera series, I have seen the episode of the "New Scooby Doo Movies" where Scooby and the gang met up with the female rock group. If I can recall, Alexander was the Shaggy of that series.

Coming down to the two voice roles I know him for best, I must say "Zoinks!" for my next tribute. My second favorite voice he played is the role that everybody knows him best of all, Shaggy on "Scooby-Doo." (Or Norville Shaggy Rogers.) Shaggy is the owner and sidekick of Scooby-Doo and has been on all incarnations of the show. However, Casey Kasem voiced over Shaggy from 1969 to 1985 on Saturday mornings, and on "A Pup Named Scooby Doo." Beyond that, Kasem only voiced over Shaggy on a couple of direct-to-DVD movies and was the voice of Shaggy's father from time to time. Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby-Doo, had passed away some time ago, and now Kasem is gone, too. The girls, Daphne and Velma, are interchangeable and various women have voiced them over, which leaves Frank Welker, who is still the voice of Fred (Freddie) Jones (and is now the voice of Scooby-Doo).

Kasem will be sorely missed since he originated the beatnik character of Shaggy. It's interesting to note that Shaggy at one time would eat anything and everything. When Casey Kasem was a vegetarian, it was written into the modern animated series and movies that Shaggy is a vegetarian, too.


"Holy departing voice guys! So long, old pal. We'll never forget you."

Casey Kasem can also be remembered for bringing an iconic teenage superhero to life in the form of animation, Robin, the Boy Wonder. In an interview with Starlog magazine in 2004, Kasem revealed that Robin was his very first voiceover gig. While Superman was first animated by Fleischer Studios in 1941, it was the fledgling Filmation Studios who first animated Batman in 1968 as part of the "Batman/Superman Hour." While Ted Knight narrated the cartoons and voiced over Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and the villains, and the late Olan Soule was the first to voice over Batman, it was Casey Kasem who first voiced over Robin as well as voicing over various other male characters. He even donned an Irish accent and voiced over Chief O'Hara, as well. While Shaggy is his best known voice gig, Robin gets my vote for second best remembered role.

In 1970, he and Soule voiced over Batman and Robin on a few PSAs that Filmation made for "Sesame Street." In 1972, Kasem played both Shaggy and Robin when the Dynamic Duo guest appeared in two episodes of the "New Scooby Doo Movies" in the episodes "The Dynamic Scooby Doo Affair" and the "Caped Crusader Caper." Olan Soule reprised his Batman role and Ted Knight was already part of that voice cast, voicing various characters. In 1973, all three of them would become part of the "Super Friends" by Hanna-Barbera. Ted Knight narrated this one version only. And Olan Soule portrayed Batman on the "Super Friends" until Adam West took over the role in 1984 on "Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show." However, Casey Kasem loyally stayed with the role of Robin throughout all the "Super Friends" incarnations from 1973-1985. Kasem voiced over Robin one more time on a Cartoon Network promo, which has Robin hanging out with other cartoon sidekicks. He still sounded good in the role.

There are two kinds of Batman fans. There are those who like the Dark Knight and prefer Batman to be a loner. The other category are Batman and Robin fans, which I am one of. While most of the Robin haters look down upon the Boy Wonder as a scrawny little kid or a queezy little punk or a brat in a bright red and green costume, Casey Kasem portrayed a Robin who was a very intelligent, competent teenager or college kid who I thought was super cool, and Kasem's performance commanded respect. While I have enjoyed the performances of Burt Ward, Chris O'Donnell, and Loren Lester as the Dick Grayson version of Robin, it was primarily Casey Kasem who has made me a proud Robin fan.

So if you are a fan of the "Adventures of Batman" by Filmation, Shaggy on all the incarnations of "Scooby-Doo," Robin on the "Super Friends," Alexander on "Josie and the Pussycats," Mark on "Battle of the Planets," Cliffjumper on the "Transformers," or musicwise, if you were a longtime fan of America's Top 40 Countdown, then Casey Kasem will be truly missed by all his fans. In fact, Kasem was one of the reasons I went into radio and am pursuing a career as a voice actor.

Farewell, Casey Kasem. You will be missed. and again, as Casey used to sign off his radio show, "Keep you feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Will "The Voice Man" Rodgers, who has been called "The Voice of Hazzard County" by members of the "Dukes of Hazzard" cast, is also the author of the BRBTV guides to the "Superman" and "Justice League" animated series.

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