Welcome to ‘Voices from the Screen’. In this new section of HeadStuff’s animation coverage, our writer Joseph Learoyd will celebrate the careers of famous voice actors.
Franklin Wendell Welker was born in 1946, Denver, Colorado. Since the 1960s, following his transition from stand-up comedy to voice acting, Welker has given his voice to a whole host of beloved characters, making him one of the most well-known voice actors of all time. Where might you recognise this voice from? Well, let’s take a deep dive into the prolific career of one man who helped define the sounds of so many cartoon classics.
Frank Welker’s first major voice role, considered to be his breakthrough, was as Scooby Doo’s Fred Jones, a voice that he has done since 1969 in every incarnation of the mystery-solving team (with the exception of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, which featured a much younger Fred, and Scoob! from 2020). Within the golden era of Hanna-Barbera, Welker worked on not only Scooby-Doo (who’s titular character Welker has also voiced since 2002) but also a variety of Scooby-Doo cash ins, like Jabberjaw and Dynomutt.
As the years passed, Welker would continue to work on a variety of animated films and series, becoming well known not just for his character voices, but also for his ability to add vocalisations to non-human characters: Futurama’s Nibbler; Pegasus in Disney’s 1997 hit, Hercules; Curious George in the animated series of the same name; multiple Smurfs, including Azrael from 2011’s film adaptation; Brain in the Inspector Gadget animated series; Goddard in Nickelodeon’s Jimmy Neutron; Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters; Abu in Aladdin; and the titular characters from Tom & Jerry Kids to name but a few highlights.
That brings me to The Transformers (1984–1987), a series that without Frank Welker would have lost a number of voices. Welker was the voice of Megatron in the 1980’s “Generation 1” cartoon, as well as voicing characters such as Frenzy, Ratbat and Soundwave. He then went on to voice several characters in Michael Bay’s Transformers blockbuster franchise. Welker finally came full circle to Megatron when he reprised the villainous Decepticon’s voice in the fifth installment of the film series, Transformers: The Last Knight, in 2017, using a more sinister version of the voice.
It has to be mentioned that Frank Welker has added voices to live action as well as animation and visual effects. In one of his earliest roles, Welker voiced Cujo in the Stephen King adaptation of the same name. He went on to appear in many live action films, often providing the voices for animatronics, puppets and suited actors, including roles in Gremlins, Tremors and Independence Day.
Welker would appear on screen, too, one of his most notable appearances was as Matt Damon’s father in Steven Soderbergh The Informant! – and in The Computer wore Tennis Shoes from 1969, a film that at one point was played at ad nauseam on Irish television. Although most known for playing Fred in Scooby-Doo, Frank Welker has contributed to video games, direct to DVD films, animated features, commercials, theme park voice overs, television series and live action, all while managing to make tonnes of characters easily recognisable and distinguishable.
In conclusion, we need to look at how voice actors are credited. It is far too common for celebrities to be cast in big budget animated features. Far too often we see proven voice actors fall by the wayside because they aren’t a household name. Although Frank Welker is by no means unknown, it is such a shame that few people know the sheer joy he has put into the hearts of audiences everywhere.