Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Welcome Foolish Mortals-The Life of Paul Frees" Book Review...

Welcome, Foolish Mortals the Life and Voices of Paul Frees (Revised Edition):Amazon:Books

Welcome, Foolish Mortals - The Life and Voices of Paul Frees (Revised Edition) by Ben Ohmart, BearManor Media, 356 pages.
Welcome, Foolish Mortals the Life and Voices of Paul Fre...
Amazon Welcome, Foolish Mortals the Life and Voices of Paul Frees (Revised Edition)
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The Ghost Host speaks to us through the extensive research and writing of Ben Ohmart.  This review is split into two parts: the book itself and the subject of the book.

First, we have the book itself.  This is an updated and revised version of Paul Frees's biography and includes additional material since its initial release about a decade ago.  This edition is packed with details which is both good and bad.  It serves well as a source book for documentation, but readability suffers as a result.  This work is self-published by the operator of BearManor Media and would have benefited greatly from streamlining by an editor.

Verbatim passages from the author's interviews with friends and family of Paul Frees along with lengthy correspondences interrupt the chronology.  This drags down the pacing of what was a hectic life.  Also, for a book entitled with Paul Frees's famous line as the Ghost Host from the Haunted Mansion spiel, the amount of Disney-related material is surprisingly limited.  The Disneyland performances are not detailed until page 163 although roles such as Ludwig von Drake, the narrator in Donald in Mathmagic Land and his rare, on-screen appearance in The Shaggy Dog are mentioned earlier. The author states in the introduction that he dropped the idea of entitling the biography The Voice of God "fearing religious reprisals." Perhaps, Ben Ohmart felt zealots would ignore the subtitle.

Ludwig Von Drake  … and his voice. Yes, that’s Paul Frees, voice of radio, TV, cartoons, and the
 Haunted Mansion. 
Ludwig von Drake and Paul Frees

Second, we have the subject of the book.  Roger J. Corless, in a statement often misattributed to comedian George Carlin observed, "Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over my body."  Paul Frees may have fallen into this trap.  It is difficult to say.  Even with all the details in the book, he took certain secrets like his work with the Department of Justice to the grave.  This compartmentalization is mentioned several times by interviewees and the author.  For instance, Paul Frees was a stage name for Solomon Hersh Frees, but it was not his first pseudonym.  Before this, he went by Buddy Green possibly to avoid anti-Semitic prejudice.  Yet, even though he had a Jewish heritage, he joined the Church of Religious Science.

Most of the chapters focus on his work which is one of the most prolific in all of entertainment.  The author acknowledges that Boris Badenov from the Bullwinkle cartoons is most likely his most beloved character, but the Ghost Host is right up there too.

Boris Badenov

In most productions, he was not the lead character.  Paul Frees enjoyed the anonymity of performing behind the scenes.  He could and did frequent upscale LA restaurants without being harassed for autographs and photos.  He consoled himself with the staggering amount of money he made.  An actor could have lived well on the value of the Pillsbury Doughboy account alone.  

Poppin' Fresh

His list of credits occupies 37 pages.  The Disney attractions were Adventure Thru Inner-Space ("Magnification!"), Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (narration), Pirates of the Caribbean ("Dead men tell mo tales" etc.),  Haunted Mansion, and background for Main Street USA.  He was Santa Claus in several Christmas specials, but not in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.  That was Mickey Rooney, but Paul Frees was the villainous Burgermeister Meisterburger.  Along with Poppin' Fresh, he was also Froot Loops' Toucan Sam.

Burgermeister Meisterburger
Burgermeister Meisterburger

Toucan Sam

But, he tried and failed to buy overall happiness.  There were fancy cars, huge homes, state-of-the-art entertainment systems, flashy jewelry, custom-tailored clothes... and a series of wives.  His first wife died of an uncontrolled infection just shy of her 21st birthday.  Then, he married and divorced an alcoholic.  Wife #3, an actress, was repeatedly sought for consolation when he later married and divorced a Vegas showgirl, a recording studio crew member and a Rankin/Bass employee.  He was estranged from that last wife was planning to marry a former Marin County Sheriff's Department worker when they had a falling out. He overdosed on prescription medication soon after.

Overall, the biography is good, but not great.  It is best read in several segments because trying to plow through the dry, dense parts can be tedious.  Is it good to have in a collection Disney-related material?  Yes, but one has to keep in mind that that section only represents a tiny fraction of Paul Frees's prodigious output.

- Jeff C.

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