Aberdeen native literally gives voice to charactersABERDEEN — Ever since he was a youngster in Aberdeen, Brian Cummings has found a way to use his voice to his benefit.
By: Scott Waltman , The Aberdeen American News
ABERDEEN — Ever since he was a youngster in Aberdeen, Brian Cummings has found a way to use his voice to his benefit.
In his youth, it ingratiated him to classmates, entertained neighbors, kept him out of trouble and provided an admitted nerd a way to make bullies chuckle and, as a result, escape their wrath.
And in adulthood, it’s helped him pay the bills.
Cummings said he discovered early in life that his impressions were a hit and that he had a knack for funny and entertaining voices. Now 64, the 1966 Central High School graduate has parlayed his voice into a career in radio and voice acting. He left Aberdeen in the late 1960s for a radio gig in Sioux Falls and made a couple of other stops, mostly on the Great Plains, before moving to the Los Angeles area in the mid-1970s. Now he and his wife, Carla, are settling into a new home near Denver. They have eight children, one of whom still lives at home.
Growing up in Aberdeen, Cummings was involved in drama and took a liking to music. He said the fine arts have a way of drawing in students who might not be considered terribly popular in high school. There might have been, he said, an instance or two when classmates noticed him talking to himself as he practiced his voices.
“Voice people were the world’s first geeks before there were techno geeks,” he said.
As a junior in high school, he responded to an advertisement seeking a college student to do some weekend work at KSDN radio. He got the job, perhaps because the station believed that by hiring a local high school kid, it could get six years of service out of him as opposed to four years by hiring at freshman at what was then called Northern State College, he said.
Ultimately, Cummings moved on after a few years. Later, when he headed to California, his hopes were that some comedy and radio work would lead to a television situation comedy. Instead, as the 1970s came to a close, Cummings found himself doing less radio, especially less live radio, and more voice acting.
By the early 1980s, he was starting to do a fair amount of credited voice work, including voicing President Richard Nixon in the 1980 film “Where the Buffalo Roam,” a semi-autobiographical movie on the life of Hunter S. Thompson in which Bill Murray played the gonzo journalist.
Most of Cummings’ work, though, has been for animated movies, cartoons and video games. He was the voice of Doofus Drake in “DuckTales,” Dr. Mindbender in “G.I. Joe: The Movie” and the “G.I. Joe” TV series and Papa Q. Bear in “The Berenstain Bears.” He was Stove in the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” He also voiced multiple characters for the TV shows “2 Stupid Dogs” and “The California Raisin Show.” Work on the shows “Wuzzles,” “The Jetsons,” “Snorks,” “Rugrats,” “Garfield and Friends,” “Animaniacs” and “Batman” are also among his credits. And he did voice work for two episodes of “Saturday Night Live” in the early 2000s.
There have been some close calls with parts in what turned out to be very successful movies in Cummings’ career. For instance, he said, he voiced the character Iago for the film “Aladdin,” but producers decided that they wanted an edgier sound and hired Gilbert Gottfried for the part. And he did significant voice work for the 1992 movie “Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest” before producers landed Robin Williams at the last minute to voice the character Cummings was working on. Cummings is still credited in the movie, though.
Nowadays, the makers of animated movies have grown infatuated with hiring celebrities and actors to do voices in animated films, Cummings said. He understands the appeal, but said the trend cuts into the roles available to voice actors.
“They are so enamored with celebrities that they want celebs for even small roles,” he said.
Through the years, Cummings has worked with a host of celebrities, including while he was still in the radio industry. Before his time in California, Cummings worked at a radio station in Nashville where the weatherman was Pat Sajak and Oprah Winfrey was a young reporter.
For all the shoulder rubbing, though, Cummings said one of the highlights of his career was meeting and becoming friends with a voice actor most folks likely haven’t heard of. Cummings said Daws Butler, best known for his work with Hanna-Barbera cartoons, served as his mentor. Butler voiced characters like Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw.