How June Foray ended up voicing two different cartoon characters named Witch Hazel
You probably remember the Looney Tunes version better.
"How would you like to work with Bugs Bunny?" June Foray’s agent asked her in 1954. "Oh my god! Bugs Bunny! I mean, everybody loves him all over the world," Foray recalled saying in an interview with Emmy TV Legends.
"Well, you have a date," her agent said.
When Foray met Bugs Bunny director Chuck Jones, she didn't know exactly what kind of character he had in mind for her to play. It turned out that he wanted to cast Foray for a very specific reason. He wanted her to reimagine a character named Witch Hazel that she had voiced in Disney's Donald Duck cartoons.
"I thought: How can he do that, did he buy the rights from Disney?" Foray said. "How could I play another Witch Hazel?"
It turned out that Disney didn't have the rights to Witch Hazel because medicinal products that used a flower called witch hazel as a primary ingredient had already used the name "Witch Hazel" for various branded items. Disney's version of the character was modeled after a nurse named Hazel employed by Disney who everybody loved, while Jones' character was simply a pun on the plant that many believe powerfully wards off infections.
"Disney couldn't copyright it," Foray said.
To resolve her own internal conflict over the duplication, she created a twist in cartoon history that still confuses some kids who loved both versions of Witch Hazel, the one in Bugs Bunny cartoons and the one in Disney cartoons.
Foray apparently had not noticed that Bugs Bunny had already introduced a version of Witch Hazel voiced by Bea Benaderet in the 1954 short "Bewitched Bunny." Foray became the second voice for the second Witch Hazel with "Broom-Stick Bunny."
To differentiate her Disney Witch Hazel from her Bugs Bunny Witch Hazel, Foray said she gave the Disney character a British accent and the Bugs character an American accent.
"When I did the Witch Hazel for Chuck, I made her very humorous," Foray said. "She wasn't evil at all."
Of the two, Foray said the Bugs Bunny character is the one fans remember best. "People remember that Witch Hazel a little more," Foray said.
The Looney Tunes version of Witch Hazel casts spells to keep herself very ugly, and her wild hair was a funny focal point for fans.
"The hairpins flying," Foray laughed, describing the comedy of the character.
In "Broom-Stick Bunny," Witch Hazel accidentally transforms into a beauty instead of the hag she wants to be, and in this dolled-up form, Foray was surprised to see a reflection of herself on the screen.
"She became beautiful in the end, and she looked very much the way I did, and the way I wore my hair," Foray said. "And I asked Chuck about that, and he said, 'Yes, I modeled her after you when she became beautiful.' So that was very flattering."
After "Broom-Stick Bunny," Foray said she and Jones became "fast friends" and stayed that way over a lifetime of roles. He cast her more than a dozen times in cherished animated classics, including in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! as Cindy Lou Who.
"He's a terrific guy," Foray said, explaining how Jones played a special role in this golden era of animation. "I love Chuck."
"I think Chuck is the intellectual of the animation producers," Foray said, recalling he could recite Socrates at the drop of a hat. "Very witty man."
Of this new version of Witch Hazel that brought the pair of life-long friends together, Foray said, "She's a delightful character."
Do you remember being confused by different characters named Witch Hazel when you were a kid?