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Will Ryan Interview

I sat like a kid in a candy store as I listened to Will Ryan walk me through his experiences working with and befriending some of the entertainment industry's most famous personalities. If you are below middleage, you probably won't recognize some of the names and Will, if you are reading this, I am not commenting on your age! If you are younger, you will know him as the voice of Eugene Meltsner from Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey. I invite you to walk with me down memory lane with one of Hollywood's most personable actors and musicians.
Will Ryan's interest in acting developed as a child growing up in Cleveland Ohio. "I started taking acting classes when I was eight or nine years old. It was my parent's idea and it was fine with me. It's funny because out here in Los Angeles, I had a few friends who were child actors such as Johnnie Crawford. (Rifleman, an original Mousekateer)."
Ryan says he recalls once writing to Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald Duck. He asked Nash for an autographed photo. Years later, Ryan wrote a song for the man (Nash) that he calls 'Ducky'. "I also wrote to Mel Blanc who I became friends with in later years. Evidently I was interested in that (voice acting)," he says. As time went on, Ryan says he became intrigued with the people that he met who were voice actors.
"I was working more in comedy and music as part of the duo Willio and Phillio. We did some albums for Disneyland Records (Donald Duck) and I did some crazy voices on them." One thing led to another and Ryan soon found himself providing the voices for a Mickey Mouse film that was in the works. He says that eventually he found himself working on more Disney films and decided it was time to hire an agent.
Let's jump ahead for a few minutes so we don't lose the under thirty crowd. Back in the eighties, Ryan was doing some work for the Disney Channel's production Welcome to Pooh Corner. Paul Winchell was not available to do the voice of Tigger so Ryan who was already doing the voice for Rabbit stepped up to the plate. As fate would have it his good friend Hal Smith, better known for his role as Otis on The Andy Griffith Show, was filling in for the ill Stuart Holloway who normally provided the voices of Stirling and Owl. 
Ryan said, "I remember one day Hal came in and said, 'I had a meeting with some guy and he's a doctor. He wants to do a radio series. He seems like a smart guy. He wants to do at least 2,000 episodes. He wants me to play the main character.' Hal knew how much I loved radio. I said, 'Wow Hal that's great, congratulations.' That is the first I ever heard of some guy named Jim Dobson."
That was the last that Ryan heard about the new radio program until one day he was getting a voice tape duplicated.  "The (sound) engineer asked me if I minded him making a copy. He said he wanted to give it to someone who was working on a radio show. (He told me) they were looking for some people. I said that would be fine," says Ryan.  At this point the voice actor had no idea what show the engineer was referring to.  "He called me and said they would like to use you. They are recording on such and such a date at this location. I said great. I went out (to the studio) and there was Hal Smith. It was this show called Adventures in Odyssey. I realized this was the show that Hal had been telling me about. Then a little while later, another friend of ours, Katie Leigh, was on the show as well. Katie is Connie Kendall. Connie and Eugene worked for Mr Whitaker who was played by Hal Smith."
If you haven't been following Adventures in Odyssey during the past year, the character of Eugene has now returned home. Various rumors abounded whether Eugene was at college, traveling or hiding from people who wanted to kidnap and brainwash him. 
The voice behind Eugene is not only a talented voice actor but a gifted musician and producer as well. Among other projects he produced the 2005 Eugene Sings! Christmas a delightful children's album based on the radio program. Over the years, Ryan has written songs for Patti Labelle and jazz vocalist Diane Schuur (Count Bassie). He has also written for his friend sixties pop star Joanie Summers who inspired a generation of teen girls to sing "Johnny Get Angry." Over the years Ryan, has performed with symphony orchestras in New Orleans, Cleveland and the City of Angels. 
It was fascinating to learn as I spoke with Will Ryan that I was talking to a man who had hobnobbed with some of the heroes from my childhood (and adult childhood) years. Who else do you know that can say he is personal friends with Garfield the Cat (the late Lorenzo Music)? He worked with and played in a band with Bullwinkle and Dudley DOoright of the Mounties (Bill Scott). Music was also the co-creator of the Bob Newhart show and created the Rhoda TV show. In fact he was also the voice for Carleton The Doorman. 
Ryan counts Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as his friends. How much better can it get for a future southerner like me? In real life of course the actor is Fess Parker someone whom Ryan confesses deep admiration for. He remains fascinated that Parker and Gene Autry were able to walk away from show business, reinvent their lives and continue to prosper.
Paul Winchell was another individual who inspired Ryan. He said, "Paul was known to one generation as the voice of Tigger. In some circles he was known as the developer of the artificial heart, while to others he was Dick Dastardly, the villain in the Smurfs. Earlier generations knew him as Paul Winchell (the ventriloquist) of Jerry Mahoney fame.  He was a star of three or four networks before I was born. He spoke seven languages. I was with him when we would meet people from Japan, Spain, Italy or France and he would love nothing more than to engage them in conversation just to keep him sharp. He was a deep thinking guy." 
Ryan told me he likes the productions of Pixar Films (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo) because they remind him of the quality films that made Walt Disney a household name.
Will Ryan has left us with a legacy of fictional characters that include his work in; The Land Before Time (Petrie), The Little Mermaid (Seahorse), Thumbelina (Hero), House of Mouse (Willie the Giant), Looney Tunes: Back In Action (Pappa Bear), Alice Through the Looking Glass (The Paper Man) and An American Tail (Digit).
In a world that seems preoccupied with celebrities and often casts them as the voices in today's animation films we often forget that people like Will Ryan and his good friend Katie Leigh are reminders of an almost lost craft. They are the people who for generations before we had high powered technology brought our fantasies to life and spurred our imaginations to wonder what could be. 

By Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved

Joe Montague is an internationally published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18. All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague. 


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