Tiny Mae Questal's gift for mimicry has spanned a unique 25-year career. In addition to supplying the voices of the cartoon characters on CBS-TB's Winky Dink and You, Mae Questel also doubles as a comedienne on camera. Here's she's seen as a Cockney lady.
Imitation, often wrongly described as the sincerest form of flattery, has been an intagral part of show business for years. In days gone by, practically every amateur night show had some hopeful on it. Who gave his or her impression of the stars of the era. In most instances the aspiring mimic's performance was far from flattering, if not downright uncomplimentary, because of a complete lack of talent. And with his exit into the wings, the audience and show business figuratively breathed a sign of welcome relief.
There were, however, extremely rare occasions when one of these amateurs was touched with the proverbial sprinkling of stardust - a girl like diminutive Mae Questel who won a contest in the RKO Fordham Theatre in New York City a quarter of a century ago.
In the intervening years her gift of mimicry has earned for her bounty somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. No one will argue that that's living on the wrong side of the tracks. Should the reader in his teens or early twenties, he might well be asking who Mae Questel is, for she occupies a unique spot in the entertainment world.
Dad will remember her as the best known imitator of the Boop-Boop-A-Doop girl, Helen Kane in the early 1930s, and his younger offsring will recognise her voice today as that of Winky Dink the pixyish cartoon character of CBS-TV's popular kiddie show Winky Dink and You.
Between those two periods, the red-blonde, five-foot-two Miss Questel portrayed a versatile, childlike voice and an impish air into one of the most offbeat careers ever to be recorded.
"I've used my voice in many different roles in vaudeville, in films on radio and on television," Mae recalled during lunch the other day in New York. "If you asked me how many roles, I couldn't tell you, All I know is that I can hear myself on TV every day in the old cartoons put on for the youngsters. Sometimes I'm Betty Boop, or Olive Oyl or Casper the Friendly Ghost. At other times I may be the voice of a baby, a dog, a parrot, a duck, an owl, a lion, a monkey or some character who speaks with a French, Polish, German or Spanish dialect."
Started at 5. Mae explained that ability to imitate people, animals and anything else you might mention goes back to her childgood. At the age of give she was giving impressions at benefits.
"My father, who was in the embroidery business and my mother was a frustrated singer and dialectian were all for it. They sent me to an ellocution teacher and after some study I had recitations at Town Hall."
When Mae graduated from Morris High School, N.Y.C she told her parents she wanted to go on the stage and they objected. Shortly after, when she married they felt that she would forget about a theatrical career. "But I didn't," Mae smiled.
"Just two months after my wedding, I entered the Helen Kane contest and won first prize."
Mae turned professional and did a comedy and singing act with material written by Don and Frank Loesser. "While working in vaudeville," she said, "I heard that there was an audition for a girl to supply the voice of Betty Boop in a cartoon series. I applied and won the job."
Popeye Too. Her sucess as Betty Boop led to many other cartoon jobs. To prove her versatality on one assignment in addition to the voice of Olive Oyl, she did the role of Popeye when the actor hired for the role developed larngitis during rehearsal.
"People think that because my natural voice if high-pitched," Mae explained, "I can't do an imitation that calls for a deep, heavy number." Mae demonstrated with a drog-like croak that sounded as if it came right out a Florida swamp.
Mae went on to explain that one of the things she was most proud of in her career was a series of classical records she did with Fredric March and Burgess Meredith.
"These are used in schools and universities around the nation," she added, "But I still think Betty Boop and Olive Oyl are dolls."