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Versatility in Voice : Linda Gary Breaths Life Into Characters With Off-Camera Acting

March 12, 1987|ELLIE KAHN and TIM EVANS | Ellie Kahn and Tim Evans are Los Angeles free-lance writers

She doesn't look like She-Ra, Princess of Power, but she is--or at least she's the princess' voice.

Linda Gary, 43, of North Hollywood also is the voice of Potato-Head Kid, Top Cat's Bag Lady and Ranch-Style Beans. Often, during any given program, she's more than one voice--a dulcet-tone princess or a cackling witch.

"Linda is one of the most versatile and talented ladies in the voice field in L.A.," said Erika Scheimer, who casts and directs for Filmation of Canoga Park, a major producer of cartoons. "So if we need someone really versatile, she's the person we call."

During one studio session, to get the feel of being a witch, Gary shriveled her 5-foot-9 frame into a wizened, sputtering, spitting, evil creature with a gravel voice.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 19, 1987 Valley Edition View Part 5 Page 5 Column 4 View Desk 3 inches; 76 words Type of Material: Correction
In a March 12 article, voice actor Linda Gary was incorrectly reported to be the voice of cartoon character She-Ra: Princess of Power, in the show of that name. In fact voice actor Melendy Britt is the voice of She-Ra, Adora, Castaspella, Catra and Mermista. Gary is the voice of Madame Razz, Scorpia, Glimmer and Shadow Weaver in the same series. In the cartoon series "He-Man--Masters of the Universe," Gary is the voice of Tee-La, Evil-Lyn, Sorceress and Queen Marlena. Also, Gary's husband was incorrectly identified. He is Chuck Howerton.

"You have to have some empathy with the character you're playing to make them real," she said. "When you're doing a character, especially a cartoon, your body has to move, your face has to move, you have to contort yourself into what that character is doing."

It was Gary's height that first took her into voice acting. "Height is a problem for actresses, unless you're really beautiful or unless you're really a character type. I was in-between. So there was never a lot of work for me," she said.

Gary's first jobs were dubbing Italian films when she and her husband, fellow actor Chuck Howard, landed in Rome with no money in their pockets after traveling around Europe for five months.

"In Rome, there was a nucleus of American actors who dubbed films," Gary said. "We both began to get work right away. Six or seven people would cover all the parts in one film. So I was playing not only the young lead and the heroine, but I was the mother, the grandmother and the child."

It was good training, didn't count for much when Gary and Howard returned home in 1974 and tried to find work in Hollywood.

"We had to start from scratch," Gary said.

Two people helped Gary out at this point: Daws Butler, who created the voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and a dozen more cartoon figures, and Mel Welles, a director, producer and actor who created the role of "Mushnik" in the original, cult film version of director Roger Corman's "Little Shop of Horrors" made in 1960. Welles also helps train voice actors.

Gary studied with Butler for a year, long after she ran out of money for lessons.

"When I got my first national voice job, I just sent Daws the check," Gary said. "He believed in me, and I really have him to thank for my career."

As for Welles, he had helped find dubbing jobs for Gary and Howard in Europe years before. When Gary got discouraged after returning to the United States, Welles encouraged her to stick with it and "get up and do it."

Recently, Welles called her to do an on-camera role.

"I told him, 'Don't use me. You know I have no ability in that.' And he just said, 'I'll see you on the set tomorrow' and hung up," Gary said. "So I had to do it." Now Gary's face, as well as her voice, is on several national commercials, including a Sine-Off ad in which she plays a sergeant in a take-off on a scene from the movie "Private Benjamin."

But she prefers voice-over work because of its variety.

"It gives me more opportunity to play different characters that I wouldn't ordinarily be cast for, such as a Gracie Allen character or an old woman or a witch. Or a short, cute pixie," she said.

She said actors have "a freedom in voice-over that you wouldn't have on camera. First of all, no one really knows who you are, so you have more room to experiment."

Gary said she feels closer to the producers and directors in voice work than on-camera work. They know what they want from voice actors, so jobs are done quickly.

As for Howard, he's moved out from behind the microphone and soon will be seen in the television movie "Nutcracker" with Lee Remick.

The couple's daughters, ages 11 and 13, also occasionally do voice-over or on-camera acting.

Gary said her children are her worst critics--"far worse than any director," she said

"They'll hear me practicing and they'll say, 'You know, Mom, I don't really believe that.' " But, she said, "When other kids ask them for my autograph, they're flattered."

Matches Voice to Character

Gary said she usually gets scripts ahead of time and develops a voice to go with the characters she is to speak for.

"Sometimes when you see the character you realize, 'Uh-oh. This voice isn't going to work.' So you have to reconsider your thinking and come up with something else quickly." Gary practices in her "private studio"--her car. "I have cassettes of accents and of different characters."

In her spare time, Gary is a counselor at a non-sectarian crisis counseling center affiliated with Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood.

"I started this to help others, but I've learned a lot about myself and a lot about other people. And this, in turn, helps my work," she said. "We all deal with certain neuroses every day. And that has a lot to do with the things you do to create a character. It's subtext. What your character wants and what she's communicating are sometimes two different things."

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