Voice Over Actor, "Haunted Mansion Holiday Ghost Host"
Corey Burton may be best known to the public at large as the voice of "Old Navy," but Mansion fans know him best for his dead-on interpretation of Paul Frees' "Ghost Host" voice in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Holiday. Brandon Champlin spoke with Burton for DoomBuggies.com.
Brandon Champlin: I would first like to say what a privilege it is to interview a man of so many voices.
Corey Burton: And many of them say it is their pleasure.
I would like to find out what was it like to be part of one of America's favorite dark rides, "The Haunted Mansion," and especially to be the attraction's "Ghost Host"?
It is a great honor, but a frightening benchmark to 'live up to'. I didn't really think I'd be the one to do the actual recording, as there are others who naturally posses the magical Frees sound and great talent; but circumstances came together suddenly, and I found myself in the unique position of creating my own vocal illusion of the Master's greatest narration in this clever tribute to the classic Mansion.
Could you list some of your Disney credits?
There are 30 years worth (you can check my website for a more complete listing), but to name a few: "Moliere" in ATLANTIS, "Cap'n Hook" in RETURN TO NEVERLAND, "General Knowledge" in WDW's CRANIUM COMMAND, "Gruffi & Toadie" in GUMMI BEARS, "Dale" in CHIP'N'DALE's RESCUE RANGERS, Narrator of several 'MAKING OF...' Features for DISNEY HOME VIDEO as well as the WDW EXPLORER CD-ROM, and on and on...
Were you Disney's first choice as the Ghost Host?
Well, I'm not sure you could say I was actually 'chosen' - it was more a matter of being 'called-in' (as one of Disney's regular utility voice guys) to do a demo track for the proposed holiday show. I think Bruce Healey had a hunch that I'd end up on the final recording, as he surprised us with the complete script when I arrived for what I thought would be a brief audition/demo track, to be used in developing the actual show.
How did they (Disney) go about recording you?
It was all done in one long session.... sitting in a chair; I'd listen to the original Frees recording which coincided with the section I was reading, and then I did the new lines keeping in mind the "music" of the original as a guidepost for the tonality and pacing.
How many times did it take to get the finished spiels?
Generally 2 to 3 takes per section, sometimes up to 5 or so; and then an additional complete run-through of the entire show, top to bottom. There were also a few alternate lines, and the additional queue-area bits.
Were there any special processes that they used while recording to make you sound more like Paul Frees?
Most importantly, we used a vintage RCA ribbon mic - most likely the very same one used by Paul Frees for the actual attraction. These microphones are indeed magical, and I beg to use them whenever appropriate, as they bring out all the best qualities inherent in character voices. The track was then brilliantly equalized and compressed by recording engineer Randy Koppinger, employing programs to digitally emulate the specific sound processors Disney used in those days; constantly comparing the results with the original tracks until the overall sound and 'texture' was indistinguishable from the 'classic.' Even the reverb was carefully matched to simulate the ancient Fairchild Spring Reverberation device used by Disney from the late 1930's through the early '80s.
Where did the recording sessions take place?
Disney Character Voices studio.
Regarding the new Doom Buggy spiel to keep your arms, legs, and other appendages inside the car at all times - why didn't you do it?
It is against my principles to mess with any great masterpiece of art; and no matter how convincing an illusion I might come up with, side by side with the original it would still sound 'bogus'. I also felt that this new spiel was entirely unnecessary, in light of the Mansion's outstanding safety record over all these years. After all, doesn't "...remain quietly seated at all times..." expressly imply all of the added information anyway? Be that as it may, I still believe that the company's requirements to comply with new government standards can be implemented differently in the attraction, without touching the original classic narration. And I hope that will happen before too long.
What is your reaction when you are considered the "new" Ghost Host?
Hogwash! Flattering though it may be, the Ghost Host IS Paul Harcourt Frees, Now and For All Time. I'm proud to play a part in this delightful tribute to our beloved Mansion, to have crafted an illusion which emulates the work of a true vocal genius; but that's all it is. By comparison, a good artisan could create a perfectly accurate rendition of Mona Lisa in a different painting or artwork, but would never be considered the genius that Da Vinci was, nor could that recreation ever rightly be called "The Mona Lisa."
If and when Walt Disney World decides to install Haunted Mansion Holiday, would you be willing to do added lines for their extra scenes (the Library and Music Room)?
Sure. ...As long as the same group of people is involved.
What made you interested in taking the role of Ghost Host for "Holiday"?
Actually, I wasn't: It's terrifying to be asked to recreate a masterpiece. It so easily could have 'sucked.'
If you were approached to do voice overs for other rides, would you do them?
Sure. Providing that I felt confident in my ability to do a decent job with them.
When an event for the opening of Haunted Mansion Holiday, would you be interested in being one of the panel members in their discussions?
I'm really not sure... If asked to, I might consider it. It depends...
When did you first hear your voice in the installed show Haunted Mansion Holiday?
Christmas Day, 2001.
Has Haunted Mansion always been a favorite of yours? Any scene in particular?
More than that, it has been the single greatest inspiration in my life. Upon my first childhood visit, I vowed that I would one day meet the man who possessed that most remarkable voice I'd ever heard, and that I would somehow make a career doing voices myself. It also gave me an appreciation of great writing, showmanship, sound recording and music, illusion, engineering, art and architecture, the supernatural... The whole thing was simply "Perfection Itself" to me, and I couldn't imagine people creating anything that could top it. ...I'm still waiting.
Last but not least - do you enjoy being the Ghost Host? What was your most favorite experience from this all?
As I've said, I cannot consider myself to be the rightful owner of the title "Ghost Host", but am glad to have created an impression of the character that doesn't suck. And my favorite experience was the honor of working again with Bruce Healey (a modern-day genius), and that my work has been considered a quality component of this fine piece of entertainment, which respects the original, magnificent Haunted Mansion.
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