Super 70's and 80's: Michael Bell, Voice of Wonder Twin ZanA tv interview article by: Marc Tyler Nobleman
To bridge the gap between his book Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman (which made the front page of USA Today) and his upcoming book on Batman/Bill Finger (set for a 2012 release), author Marc Tyler Nobleman found and interviewed 100 "lost" stars of superhero/cartoon entertainment of the '70s and '80s -- from the pimp in Superman: The Movie to the voice actors of both Wonder Twins (Jayna had been MIA for decades) to the original singer of the Scooby-Doo theme.
The interviews are sometimes hilarious and often poignant; many of these people have not been interviewed before and had no idea they have fans. Nobleman also compiled many previously unpublished "then and now" photos and rare documents and mementos from various private collections.
Starting today and continuing for the next several Wednesdays, Comics Bulletin will be presenting select interviews from the series, the complete set of which can be read on Marc’s blog. This week, we’re featuring Marc’s chat with Michael Bell, the voice of Wonder Twin Zan (and Riddler and Gleek)!
Marc Tyler Nobleman: How did you get the job on Super Friends?
Michael Bell: I auditioned like all the other actors. When that didn’t work, I told them I was Bill Hanna’s illegitimate son. I was hired the next day.
Nobleman: How long did you have the job?
Bell: I can’t recall. I think a couple of years. I was stoned most of the time.
Nobleman: Please tell me you’re serious.
Bell: Well, I once recorded Smurfs hung-over as a result of eating a whole loaf of cake (unbeknownst to me) laced with marijuana the night before. Went to work to sing “La la la la la la” wearing dark glasses. Don’t know how I got through the day.
Nobleman: How familiar with the characters were you before you got the job?
Bell: As a kid, I was a comicaholic. I was very familiar with all the superheroes and villains except for Zan, Gleek, and Joe Barbera.
Nobleman: Which episodes/years were you on SF?
Bell: You probably know better than me. The only years I am familiar with are those that mark my physical emergence into manhood and the cost of Kleenex.
Nobleman: How long did it take you to record one episode?
Bell: It took us a few minutes to record and several hours to stop laughing.
Nobleman: What challenges were involved in recording SF?
Bell: Once I recall being attacked by my mike, but realized I was stepping on the base which caused it to tilt at me. I was in therapy for years as a result.
Nobleman: How did working on SF compare to other animated series you worked on? What has been your favorite series to be a part of?
Bell: I was sooo busy running from one series to another, I am unable to compare. As I look back, it all seems like an amazing dream.
Nobleman: Of the episodes you were on, do you have a favorite?
Bell: I loved playing the Riddler. I can’t recall the episode.
Nobleman: Were there any you ended up being disappointed with?
Bell: How could I be disappointed? I was doing what I loved to do. However, I was disappointed in the coffee.
Nobleman: How much interaction did you have with the writers?
Bell: Not a great deal. Truthfully, I thought I wrote it. Writers? Huh?
Nobleman: How much time, if any, did you spend with the other voice actors when you weren’t working?
Bell: We all slept together. I am still going to a dermatologist because of it.
Nobleman: Which voice actors were you most friendly with?
Bell: Frank [Welker], Jack [Angel], Shannon [Farnon], and the late, great Danny Dark.
Nobleman: Any interesting stories about the voice actors?
Bell: Nothing comes to mind. They were a pretty dull lot. No personalities at all. Very depressing. Brought me down.
Nobleman: Were any voice actors like -- or completely unlike -- their characters?
Bell: Shannon would jump off a chair every now and then ask the guys if they wanted to arm wrestle and Jack would ask her what the island of Sappho was like and do they allow men?
Nobleman: Did you ever get letters from fans, and if so, do you still have any?
Bell: I get letters from fans now. About several thousand a day. Most of them ask for money.
Nobleman: Do you still have any of your original SF scripts?
Bell: Used to but not any longer. I have a trillion Smurfs scripts, a couple of Jonny Quests and several Rugrats… and an original Star Trek. I think I also have a porno version of The Smurfs. Wonder where that is?
Nobleman: Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, etc.)?
Bell: I have Shannon’s chair. I sleep with it.
Nobleman: Was there ever a SF cast and crew party of any kind?
Bell: Are you kidding? We had a huge going-away party. There were nut cups, some Cheez Whiz, and a package of Fizzies and Pop Rocks for everyone. We all dressed in our costumes and Jack Angel came out of a cake.
Okay, no party. Everything just ended. Doors closed and poof…all gone!
I was the last voice recorded at the studio…umpteen years later. It was for a promo for something. I was Zan. FOOOORM OF KAKA!
Nobleman: How aware are you of the influence that SF had on the current generation of comic book writers?
Bell: Not aware at all. I live in a cave in Griffith Park and don’t get out much except to kill.
Nobleman: There’s a huge heap of writers (i.e. me) and artists working today who were coming of age with Super Friends and many cite that. Many incorporate stuff from the show into the comics. They even made Wonder Twins action figures. I assume you don’t want them.
Bell: I love Zan and Jayna. They are so metrosexual. If you have any action figures that are anatomically correct, I want them.
Nobleman: When was the last time you watched one of your SF episodes?
Bell: I watch them every night… in the dark… remembering those days when I was a contender.
Nobleman: What about Plastic Man [whom Michael voiced in his eponymous series]? How did that compare to SF?
Bell: Easy! I didn’t have to break the door down when I forgot my key -- I just became my key.
Nobleman: Any funny stories in recording PM?
Bell: If you mean why did we have a closed set, it was because I would only work naked. I learned that at Actor’s Studio. Very helpful.
Nobleman: What are you doing these days?
Bell: I nap a lot. Also, when I am called by my agent (who also ushers at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre), I audition for minor roles in series and usually lose out to former celebs like Erik Estrada, Lee Majors, or Richard Simmons.
[laughed then pressed for an alternate answer]
I occasionally direct graphic motion comics. Did one called Sparks. You can find it on the web. Worked on BOOM! Studios’s Irredeemable with many wonderful actors including David Sobolov, Gregg Berger, Loren Lester, John Cygon, Susan Savage, Shane Sweet, Justin Shankerow, Lynnanne Zager, Kent McCord, Vyvan Pham, Wil Wheaton, and a host of others. I love directing. Wish I did more.
Nobleman: Are you still voice acting?
Bell: Whenever I get the call.
Nobleman: Do you have children/grandchildren?
Bell: I have a child. She is an actress. She is not only gorgeous, she is a major talent. [Ashley Bell, who got rave reviews for her performance in The Last Exorcism]
Nobleman: What does she think of your time as a superhero?
Bell: She knows I am not a superhero because she is the one that carries in the Christmas tree all by herself. She is stronger and faster than me. I should have had her when I was 20 instead of 47. However, I can shout louder than her, so there!
Nobleman: Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?
Bell: Over 400 others. No one has ever heard from them again.
[laughed then pressed for an alternate answer]
Fangoria is one. I can’t recall the Internet ones.
Nobleman: Have you ever participated (i.e. signed autographs) at a comic convention?
Bell: I went to one in August in New York and then another one in Birmingham, England in 2011… if my legs and spleen hold out.
Nobleman: Can you suggest any other people (other writers, producers, directors, cast) who were involved with SF that I could try to interview?
Bell: Just the parking lot attendant, and he is in prison.
Nobleman: Anything else about the experience I didn’t cover that you’d like to add?
Bell: I am available for work. However, since the new Smurfs film was cast with celebs, my outlook is bleak. I am going to take a nap now. Leave me alone.
Nobleman: I assume you’d be game for an in-person cast reunion? I’m sure we could arrange for a cot so you wouldn’t miss any naps.
Bell: A reunion would be fun. Hope you have large supply of Depends.
NOTE: On 7/19/11 in Los Angeles, I had the honor of helping to reunite Michael and Liberty Williams (Jayna). Michael elaborated on his “last voice recorded” comment above. He told us both that the last recording done at Hanna-Barbera (before Warner Bros. absorbed it in 2001) was a Wonder Twins promo (which featured another voice actor as Jayna because they were unable to locate Liberty).