Paul Frees: Smoke and Mirrors

March 2, 2002

I suppose I could have called this sequel to The Incredible Magic of Paul Frees a number of things, besides Smoke and Mirrors. I could have called it The Magic Continues or I could have called it The Magic is NOT Gone. I just really happened to like Smoke and Mirrors; I thought it had a nice ring to it. Though I am not exactly an “ultra” conservative, I do listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio from time to time, because he provokes me to think (whether I agree with him or not). I do have to credit Rush for this title, Smoke and Mirrors; Mr. Limbaugh has used this expression a lot over the years. Probably the most appropos thing, about Smoke and Mirrors, when you talk about Paul Frees……….his magic is anything BUT Smoke and Mirrors. Unlike the magician with the rabbit in the hat (or Bullwinkle with the lion, rhinoceros or Rocky in his hat), Frees’ magic (for me anyway), is truly authentic.

I wanted to touch upon three of his character voices, that I did not say that much about, in The Incredible Magic of Paul Frees: Boris Badenov, Inspector Fenwick (or British characters in general) and Peter Lorre (also known as Morocco Mole, in the Secret Squirrel cartoon from Hanna-Barbera).

Boris Badenov:

Though I have not been as impressed with Paul’s Boris Badenov voice, as I have been with his Ed Wynn and Syndney Greenstreet voices, I must say, after reflecting on this voice, I now realize that Boris Badenov was actually one of his very best voices!! I never really gave the Badenov voice, a whole lot of thought before, because it was so easy to hear that signature Frees’ voice in this characterization. On the other hand, his Russian accent is brilliantly masterful !!

I rented one of the Rocky and Bullwinkle videos, in the last year or so (which Greg, my web partner, had told me about; one of the stores in our area carries them). In one episode I recall Boris laughing in a deep voice, somewhat similar to Syndey Greenstreet (though lacking that characterstic “wackiness” of Sydney’s laugh). Like Sydney, Boris laughed:


Boris’ evil, loud, chortle made me, in turn, laugh so hard, that I rewound the tape, at least twice, to hear Boris emit that sinister chuckle again!!

On another video, I couldn’t help but rewind the tape, and laugh again and again, when Boris said to Natasha:

“Shut your English-dialect mouth!!”

(When they were posing as Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson).

I can’t tell you which duo I liked better, when I was a kid: Rocky and Bullwinkle or Boris and Natasha………that is too many years ago, to recall my preference. I can tell you, as an adult, however, that I now like Boris and Natasha much better (they are simply much funnier).

I also loved whenever Boris co-starred with Bullwinkle on Bullwinkle’s Corners or Mr. Know-It-All. It was always so incredibly funny how Boris tortured the unsuspecting moose, in these little vignettes (and upstaged the star!). My favorite such episode, of these short features, was when Boris did a sketch called “DO SOMETHING TO SOMEBODY QUEEK (QUICK)!!!”——–and of course the “somebody” was always Bullwinkle in every example—–being tortured. Boris put a little spin on the old idea of “doing something FOR somebody” (to make oneself feel better).

As an interesting little aside, one summer, in the early to mid 70s, when my parents took me to Atlantic City, I bought a little Boris Badenov figurine on the Boardwalk. It was malleable, plastic figurine, in which one could move the legs and arms around. I remember trying to find Rocky or Bullwinkle, but Boris was the only Jay Ward character, that the Boardwalk had for sale.

Inspector Fenwick:

I really liked this British-like voice that Paul Frees used for Dudley Do-Right’s Canadian boss. It went so well with that short, gray-haired, mustachioed father of Nell Fenwick. Just like it is hard for me to picture anyone else, besides Alan Reed, voicing Fred Flintstone, it is really hard for me to imagine anyone else, but Paul, voicing Inspector Fenwick. I don’t know why he picked a British voice for an older Canadian man……….I only know that that characterization sounds great!

I heard Paul use this voice a few other times. Sometimes he used it on Peabody’s Improbable History, when he played the role of an English character. I also recall at least one Rankin-Bass holiday special (with claymation or puppets) when Paul was singing in this same voice. That characterization was truly delightful, for a children’s or family’s holiday special.

Peter Lorre (or Morocco Mole):

I guess I liked this voice so much because I always liked listening to that monster, Igor (“Oh, MASTER!!”)!! And we all know that Igor’s voice sounds almost EXACTLY the same as Peter Lorre (probably most famous for his Casablanca and Maltese Falcon roles). There’s no need for me to say anything more, than just “ghoulish Igor” (you get the general idea).

Post Script:

Kind of on a related topic to Peter Lorre: on his solo album, Paul Frees and the Poster People, I personally really loved two other monster voices that Frees did there: his Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff voices……….and Greg Jones, the web guy for our page, agrees with me on his Lugosi (Dracula) voice. It’s quite humorous listening to Dracula singing “The Games People Play”. We have only provided you with a little snippet of that song………..but it’s loaded with “vampire puns”, which are quite humorous for that type of song. If you ever have the chance to hear that song, in its entirity, we are sure that you would agree.

Personally I think I like Boris Karloff singing “The Look of Love”, even better than Dracula’s song. I can’t help but snicker when I hear Frees using Karloff’s voice to sing:

“I can hardly wait to hold you!!……….FEEL MY ARMS AROUND YOU!!”

It’s enough to send a chill up your spine………..or give you a severe case of the creeps!…………..The idea of a monster, like that, “making a play” for an attractive, desirable woman! The mental image is so incredibly ridiculous, that it’s hilarious!!

As a closing thought, perhaps the Paul Frees voice, that best embodies the phrase Smoke and Mirrors, would be Dracula (Lugosi)……………he disappears, in a puff of smoke, into a vampire bat………….and he gazes into a mirror and sees nothing…………..I certainly see something when I gaze into the looking glass that was Paul Frees’ life…………


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