In 1937, Friz Freleng, the renowned cartoonist and winner of multiple Academy Awards, had the idea to create a good-natured old lady for her “Little Red Walking Hood” cartoon.
The cartoon was a spoof of the European fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood,” so the story needed a kind elderly woman. Freleng’s character was an excellent inclusion: this 19th-century-type old woman with tiny spectacles, a blue dress, and a gray bun first appeared on screen the very same year.
Featuring in many Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation, she came to be known as Granny—the sweet, caring protector to one of the most beloved cartoon characters, Tweety Bird.
Over time, Granny went through some design changes and different background stories, and at the end finally settled in the role most of us are used seeing her in, as the unmarried owner of Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, and Hector the Bulldog. She first appeared as such in 1950’s “Canary Row,” interrupting Sylvester in his chase after Tweety through Granny’s house. She threw him out saying, “Yeah that’ll teach ya! Next time I’ll give you what for!” to which Tweety famously added, “Bad ol’ puddy tat!”
Later on, the bad ol’ puddy tat would earn himself the right to live at Granny’s house. As for Granny herself, she would earn the right to a name, Emma Webster, and from 1953 onwards, the right to be portrayed by the angelic voice of June Foray.
When first introduced in “Canary Row,” it was Bea Benaderet, the original voice of Betty Rubble from the first four seasons of The Flintstones, who lent Granny her voice. Foray took over in 1953.
Her first official voicing is believed to be in “Red Riding Hoodwinked,” directed by Friz Freleng, although like many other voice actors (except Mel Blanc), she was not credited in the cartoon. Released on Oct. 29, 1955, Granny found herself once again in another adaptation of the “Little Red Riding Hood” children’s story, except now slightly modernized in appearance.
Instead of the old horse and buggy transportation method, she got a new Tin Lizzie (Ford Model T) to drive herself around, a job as a nurse or a bus driver, and a lot other small quirks that really gave her character. As a cherry on top, Foray lent her voice to this reenvisioned version of Granny, in the company of Mel Blanc, who did the voice acting for all of the other characters in the cartoon, including Sylvester and Tweety.
From then on, Foray became a voice acting legend, on par with Blanc. She is the voice behind the lines such as “Oooh, one of these days… POW! Right in the kisser!” in “Red Riding Hoodwinked” (1955), and “I’m a 90-year old woman. Get your mind out of the gutter,” voiced in Looney Tunes almost 60 years later.
In the 1940s, Foray experimented in the film industry as well, acting in some live-action movies and dubbing other ones. However, she preferred to be involved in the animated sphere and as a result developed her career as a voice actor in that field. For Disney, she was Lucifer in Cinderella, a mermaid in Peter Pan, and Witch Hazel in Donald Duck’s Trick or Treat, while simultaneously acting in Hanna-Barbera’s Tom and Jerry, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, The Jetsons, and The Flintstones.
Nevertheless, despite all the arrangements she had elsewhere, Foray never ceased to lend her voice for Granny, or work for Warner Bros. She collaborated frequently with Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones, who recognized her talents at the very start and insisted that she be the voice behind their characters. Over the years she actually grew into the role of Granny.
In 2012, at age 94, she became the oldest person to win an Emmy. Today, the 99-year-old Foray is still doing what she knows best, voice acting. She portrays Granny, among other things, and after all this time she must have spoken every known word and phrase from the English vocabulary a granny could say.
Chuck Jones himself is reported to have said on one occasion, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc, Mel Blanc was the male June Foray,” and that says quite a bit.