Thursday, August 18, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Liberty Williams (Wonder Twin Jayna)

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).


Notes I took during my initial phone call with Liberty Williams, now Louise Rodricks:

  • Ultra-sweet and polite: “May I call you Marc?”
  • I explained how she was one of the harder ones to find and she was not surprised by that.
  • Her name “Liberty” came not from the bicentennial as I’d guessed but from a ham sandwich served at a club she performed at in Hawaii. (That was going to be my second guess.) Full story below.
  • She and Mike Bell (Zan) are really funny together.
  • I asked if she’d rather do interview by e-mail or phone and she said phone because it might trigger her memory more.

How did you get the job on Super Friends?

I auditioned for Hanna-Barbera and it was the first time I had gone up for any kind of voice-over. But I had been doing a lot of on-camera sitcoms. I got a call back and got it. It was kind of beginner’s luck in that arena.


Liberty Williams in Tabatha pilot (1977)

Do you remember what they told you about Jayna?

She was the youngest member of the Super Friends and she had a twin. Her power was she could turn into any kind of animal. The twin could turn into any kind of water. They worked for this group of super-beings.

Were you familiar with the other characters before you got the job?

I grew up knowing about Superman and Wonder Woman from comic books.

You wouldn’t describe yourself as a fan, though, right?

I don’t think I thought about it one way or the other. I thought of them as positive characters. But I was never like “Oh my god, if I get this part I’ll be one of the superheroes.” (laughs)

Did you audition with Michael Bell [who played Jayna’s twin brother, Zan]?

We saw each other the first time for the first read. You got the script when you went in. You were standing in a row. Everyone had a music stand and a mike. I stood next to Mike. We had this gesture “Wonder Twin powers, activate!”

Did you do the gesture in person?

You mean as we were recording it?

Yes.

Yes [we did it while recording].

Every time?

I think pretty much every time. I don’t remember exactly. It got your energy up.

Michael Bell and Louise Rodricks, 2011

Jayna was smaller and shapely. I don’t know if they had me before her or her before me. (laughs) Not that we looked identical but there was a certain look about her [that I shared]. I worked with Shannon Farnon. She wouldn’t have been Jayna and I wouldn’t have been Wonder Woman, if they were casting it for live-action TV.


You didn’t get the script till you went in?

That’s what I remember. Because you were reading, you didn’t have to memorize it. Or they may have given them to us the night before.

The Wonder Twins gesture became quite famous. Did the other voice actors get a kick out of it?

I just remember our arms would go up. Everyone was concentrating on their next part so it wasn’t like “Oh my god, those crazy twins are doing it again!”

Did you know Michael Bell beforehand?

Yes. His wife Victoria (Vicki Carroll) and I were two of the original Groundlings in Los Angeles. A lot of famous people have come out of [that group].

But did you know that he was up for the part of your twin?

No. I had no idea. And even when I got cast and went in, I didn’t realize until later that Mike and Casey Kasem [were part of it]—these were pretty well known guys in this part of the profession. At first I didn’t realize I was working with celebrities in their field.

What do you know about the development of the Wonder Twins? (Unlike many of the other characters, they were not in the comics.)

They were like the scouts. All the other heroes were mature. All of them in terms of other cartoons and comics and films and stories had been around for a really long time. Jayna and Zan were developed just for Super Friends. They were brought in to attract the kids.

Do you know anything about how they determined what they’d look like or what their powers were?

I think we were the only ones of the heroes who could transform. I thought Zan’s water power was odd.

Did you contribute any ideas to their characterization and/or suggest animals for Jayna?

No. They had writers for that. It wasn’t the kind of creative process where we would go in and talk up a story. Some things are like that but we weren’t participating in that way. And you were sometimes doing more than one episode at a time.

What challenges were involved in recording SF?

Because it was my first voice-over job, I remember really watching the pros to see how far they stood from the mike, how much they projected, how far they went with their characters. But it wasn’t Shakespeare.

Mike Bell said you guys had a good laugh sometimes.

Yeah. Sometimes choices the voice actors would make with their voices on secondary characters made us laugh. I think it would fun to get the twins together (at a convention). If we were together then it would be fun.

Do you see Mike Bell socially?

Vicki and I are old friends. I saw Vicki at a Groundlings reunion. We run into each other at Whole Foods but we don’t get together for dinner or movies. My family was in New York for seventeen years [and came back to Los Angeles in 2000]. At our age you’ve gotten into your own routine with your children and so on. We’re happy to see each other—we always exchange numbers and say we’ll get together…but never do. (laughs)

Did you spend with the other voice actors when you weren’t working?

No. We were all in different circles, except for Michael Bell’s wife. I knew Michael more than I knew the others.

Which voice actors were you most friendly with on the job?

I would say Michael. And everyone was very cordial. It was different with a sitcom where you’re together much more.

Have you bumped into any of them since then and recognized them?

Michael’s the main one, and Casey.

Do you remember a favorite episode?

All the episodes seem the same. Do you have a favorite?

[I answered]

Do you remember any episodes?

I have a vague feeling of [my character] always being naïve. Between Gleek and Zan and myself, we were always tripping into trouble.

Did you know that the names Zan and Jayna came from Tarzan and Jane?

No. (laughs) But it’s sort of obvious because Tarzan had a monkey and we had Gleek.

(laughing) Did you get fan letters?

I may have but I don’t remember. I could be getting it confused with other shows. I never kept any fan letters, which is unfortunate now. We didn’t know [to save them]! Before the Groundlings I was with a comedy group called the Good Humor Company. We opened for Bobby Darin in Vegas. Some of the cast members of that saved some of the reviews.

I heard about a party or two at Danny Dark’s at which you guys did sketches poking fun at Super Friends. If you were there, what do you remember about that?

I don’t know if I got invited to any of those.

Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. birthday cards signed by cast members, etc.)? Anything with Jayna on it?

No. I just want the costume, okay? I think we should get the costumes. (laughs)

Where did the name “Liberty” come from?

I was working with this comedy group, the Good Humor Company. (I went to NYU School of the Arts and went West in the early ‘70s.) We got invited to Honolulu to work at the Forbidden City Theater. The owner paid for us to come over and rented house for us to live in for a few months. But he didn’t do any promotion to change the image of this theater which was formally a strip club. This was a three-girls, three-guys musical comedy variety show, so we would get ten non-English speaking drunk sailors a night. They were there for one kind of show and we gave them another.

There was a deli [nearby] that had a Liberty Sandwich. We’d smoke weed to get through a show. And one of my group (Joe Denoba, the leader of the Good Humor Company) once got stoned and as a joke introduced me as Liberty Williams because Liberty sounds like a stripper. It turned out that there was a person there to review the show that night, so he wrote my name as Liberty in a good review and it was picked up by the people at Thunderbird Hotel in Vegas, where we went after. [I didn’t plan to keep the name but] they asked if I could go by Liberty because they had already done all their ads with Liberty, and I said why not. (laughs)


Do people still call you that?

Some do. Michael Bell sometimes does. I used it professionally for just a few years. But when I got on to a sitcom called Busting Loose, Adam Arkin (Alan’s son) said if you ever want to go back to your real name you should do it now when you have a show on for more than an episode.

When was the last time you saw a Super Friends episode on TV?

I don’t remember seeing the episodes on TV and my son wasn’t born yet. Are they on DVD? I’d like my son to see them. When I moved to New York [and stopped being Jayna], he was two-and-a-half. They tried to find me for some other event, a finale, but they couldn’t find me.

They should’ve called me!

(laughs)

When was that?

Mike Bell would know.

Was this for the Cartoon Network promos of the 1990s?

That might have been it.

What are you doing these days?

I’ve gotten new head shots. I’m with an agency called Commercial Talent for commercials and voice-overs for commercials (but not cartoons). I’ve gone up for [parts in] video games. I just started this in the last 4-5 months. I’ve started to get callbacks but I haven’t gotten hired yet. When I was younger I would be going out [on] a lot [of auditions] and odds were you’d get one out of 10. Now I’m going out less—maybe 6 times a month.

[Also, in 2011, Liberty launched Green Spoon Chef.]

How much of what you could book now would depend on what you’ve done before?

You can see people’s credits online now. I think it helps to have been in the business before. The agency has to figure out what slot can she fill?

Have any of the casting directors commented on the fact that you were Jayna?

[I didn’t transcribe her answer as she spoke, but she said something to the effect of no, she doesn’t have Super Friends in her credits. I said not only was it a steady gig of eight years, but it’s part of pop culture history and lots of people of a certain age would respond fondly to hearing she was Jayna. She said maybe she will put it back on her résumé.]

You’re sort of a superhero type yourself.


How do you figure?

You sound like a really good dad. You sound wholesome. A noble man.

Thank you. It can be a hard name to live up to! If you have children/grandchildren, how old?

My son John [was born in 1981]. He was diagnosed with ADD. He had difficulty when he was younger [but he’s gotten past that]. He’s a superhero in my eyes. He’s real handsome and has a pretty girlfriend. He’s on his way.

What is he in school for?

He felt like he had lost most of his twenties. He decided to go to the Vidal Sassoon Hair Academy in Santa Monica, but he’s straight. (laughs) He gets a lot of positive attention there [from both beautiful women and gay men]. It turned out to be a brilliant thought. He could be a colorist in a high-end salon and do well [fairly quickly]. He’s got a really good eye for color. They learn the bones and the structure of the face. He’s very coordinated.

What does John think of your time as a superhero?

I’ve done [familiar shows like] Three’s Company and they’ve been rerun a lot. And when his friends find out, they’re like, “Kudos to John.” He just rolls his eyes about his mom. I’m just as nutty now as I was then.

He’s an only child?

When I met my husband, he was a singer-songwriter. He went into business contracting but it got repetitive. An elderly teacher friend told my husband “You could be a doctor” (when we were in our thirties). He decided to do post-grad premed at Columbia. We sold our house in California and I left my career. [I was 36 and] our son was two-and-a-half. We went to New York. My husband worked in a lab at Cornell, then went to New York Medical College. Medical school became our second child. It didn’t seem like there was a reasonable way to have a[n actual] second child.

We lived in a really big loft on 4th Avenue and 10th Street in Greenwich Village. We lived extended family style. We lived the three of us and four other adults. A lot of time they were students who were finishing medical school or law school. It was set up a bit like a boarding house. Everyone had to meet and approve of new people. We screened. That’s how we could afford to live there. We shared a living room and kitchen as common space, one bathroom as common space, and a laundry as common space [and we had some private space]. We had a food jar where everyone put in $10 a week back then [and we took turns] shopping for the staples. As a group we’d decide what the staples were. Everyone had at least an hour a week of cleaning in a certain area. We had a basketball hoop in the inner living room. My son learned to ride his two-wheeler inside because it was big.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?

No.

What did you think when you first heard why I was contacting you?

I thought it was kind of wild. I wasn’t aware that there was this interest. It made me think of that movie Galaxy Quest. It’s a really good movie.

Are you aware of the influence that Super Friends had on the current generation of comic book writers?

No. I’d be interested in knowing.

[I said that between an appearance on Smallville (she knew the show but not that Zan and Jayna had appeared) and the high-demand, limited edition figures at Comic-Con 2009, the Wonder Twins have never been cooler. There’s even talk of a movie.]

That would be so much fun. My estranged husband—we’re very close. When I told him about you, he said, “Oh my god, you never know what will lead to what.”

Next: Marlene Aragon (Cheetah).

8 comments:

RAB said...

I have to confess I didn't see Super Friends very often when I was young...but be darned if these interviews aren't making me a big fan of the cast members today. Bell and Rodricks in particular come across as extremely funny and charming, but really, each one you've spoken with so far has been interesting and worth reading about. Well done!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks RAB! Yes, they are a group of people I'm glad I've gotten to know.

Mel from LA said...

It was fun coming home from work and reading this entire run. Obviously the writers/artists did the heavy lifting, but as someone who saw these episodes "live", it was the actors who were my favorite part. It's amazing u were able to track so many people down. It's too bad Batman and Superman are no longer around to be interviewed, but I did place flowers on Soule's resting place today in honor. I look forward to your new threads as u move on to other shows and movies. Nice work.

hobbyfan said...

Marc:

You just made my day. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Hobbyfan - and you made mine!

Please email me your email to mtn@mtncartoons.com. I want to let you know about more upcoming funness.

Thanks!

Blaine Davis said...

I would love to get a Autographed Picture of Louise Williams-Rodricks.
Can you tell me where can I contact her? I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Blaine, what is your email?

Blainester1 said...

June 12, 2013
Dear Marc,
my email is BlaineDav@aol.com

I would love to get a Autographed Picture of Louise Williams-Rodricks.
I hope to hear from you real soon.
Thank you.

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