RIP

Jan Hooks, Saturday Night Live alumna and voice of Apu’s wife Manjula on The Simpsons, died Thursday at the age of 57. According to news reports, she had been suffering from an unspecified illness.

At HitFix, TV reviewer Alan Sepinwall praises her tenure at Saturday Night Live, characterizing her as a “glue guy” who never got her due:

On a show that so often prizes big performances, preferably in characters that can be repeated over and over and over (like [Rob] Schneider’s copy machine guy), the quiet consistency of a Hooks didn’t stand out as much… [b]ut like [Phil] Hartman, she gave it her all in every sketch, whether as the straight woman or the comic centerpiece.

For just six episodes of The Simpsons, Hooks played Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon, betrothed wife of Apu and mother of their eight children (Anoop, Gheet, Nabendu, Poonam, Pria, Sandeep, Sashi, and Uma), beginning with 1997’s “The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons” and ending with 2002’s “Large Marge.” The role was taken over by regular cast member Tress MacNeille, who had originally voiced a younger Manjula in 1996’s “Much Apu About Nothing” and filled in whenever Hooks was unavailable. Manjula was not exactly a breakout character, but Hooks imbued in her a sense of quiet dignity that, like her performances on Saturday Night Live, went largely unnoticed.

RIP

Marcia Wallace, the voice of Mrs. Krabappel, died of pneumonia complications Friday night at the age of 70.

Once a student teacher in Iowa, Wallace moved to New York in 1964 and got her start in show business typing scripts. She eventually worked her way up to regular appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, which caught the attention of CBS founder Bill Paley, who personally demanded she be given a role on The Bob Newhart Show in 1972. For six seasons (and a 1994 episode of Murphy Brown), Wallace played the smart-mouthed and lovelorn secretary Carol Kester, a role that made her a star. Afterwards, she became a regular on various game shows, including Hollywood Squares. In the late 1980s she became a voice actress for cartoons including Darkwing Duck, Captain Planet, and The Simpsons. She was also a stage actress in a number of regional productions, including a starring role in An Almost Perfect Person.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, Wallace became an activist for breast cancer awareness and a motivational speaker. She lost her husband of six years, Dennis Hawley, to pancreatic cancer in 1992, leaving her to raise their adopted son alone. She wrote about her ordeals in her 2004 memoir, Don’t Look Back, We’re Not Going That Way:

Ten years ago, I was a devastated widow with a little kid, a house that was ready to be foreclosed, and a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of debts. Now all that’s paid off and my house is secure. And I’m opening up to new possibilities. Who knows what’s around the corner? I feel ready to find out. You know me, hon, I’m a scrappy gal. And I’m not looking back… ’cause I’m not going that way.

For 25 seasons, Marcia Wallace played Edna Krabappel, Bart Simpson’s acerbic chain-smoking fourth grade teacher. Openly disdainful of her students, Krabappel was a exquisite personification of an uncaring public school system, and her caustic “ha!” became a trademark. She dated Principal Skinner a while, and in recent seasons married Ned Flanders. Wallace won an Emmy in 1992 for her performance in the episode “Bart the Lover.”

Technically a recurring guest star, Wallace is the third cast member of the The Simpsons to pass away, following Doris Grau (Lunchlady Doris) in 1995 and Phil Hartman (Lionel Hutz, Troy McClure) in 1998. As with Hartman’s characters, Mrs. Krabappel’s “irreplaceable character” will be retired, according to showrunner Al Jean:

Before her death Wallace “recorded several lines which will appear in upcoming shows,” Jean said. “But I don’t intend to have anyone else play Mrs. Krabappel. I think Bart will get a new teacher and Ned Flanders will be a widower again.”

Simpsons staffers have been expressing their sympathies. Jean told the Los Angeles Times that she was “sweet, funny, not at all pretentious […] and just a wonderful person to be around.” Co-star Yeardley Smith tweeted “Heaven is now a much funnier place b/c of you, Marcia.” Director David Silverman drew a tribute sketch.

Wallace has a small role in the upcoming film Muffin Top: A Love Story, scheduled for release next year.

[Deadline, TMZ, MarciaWallace.com, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times]

CULT LIFESTYLE

leaderNancy Cartwright, voice of Bart Simpson and a prominent member of the Church of Scientology, appeared before a legislative hearing at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield (!) to stress that her Scientology-inspired character-education program is totally secular and should be taught to schoolchildren.

The Illinois School Code requires “character education,” defined as “the teaching of respect, responsibility, fairness, [etc.]” to be taught in schools. A House Resolution filed by Rep. Daniel Burke (D-Chicago), recommended several programs and clubs that satisfy that requirement, including Cartwright’s “Good Choices” program, of which the bill specifically “encourages its use and the use of similar programs by educators, coaches, mentors, and other community service leaders.”

Cartwright freely admits “Good Choices” is based on “The Way to Happiness,” a 1980 self-helf booklet by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which teaches important lessons like “Do Not Murder” (precept 8) and “Don’t Do Anything Illegal” (precept 9). While Hubbard’s tract is advertised as non-religious, Newsweek noted that it “uses key words and concepts taken directly from Scientology’s religious lexicon.” Cartwright is a big promoter of the booklet; through her charity, she distributed a million copies of it to the San Fernando Valley in 2007.

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ROCK BOTTOM

joanna!!!!!Popular songstress and harpy Joanna Newsom is reportedly appearing in an upcoming Simpsons episode. It’s being described as a “guest appearance,” but I have reason to believe this is merely a smokescreen for the real truth: the producers are secretly bringing in Newsom to replace Yeardley Smith as the voice of Lisa Simpson.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: hey, the Yeardster’s voiced America’s favorite starfish-haired feminist for nearly 25 years! They’re not just going to throw her under the bus! Well, let’s take a look at the evidence:

FACT: Newsom’s voice is often compared to that of Lisa Simpson’s.

FACT: The voice actors are not getting any younger.

Just look at what happened to Frank Welker, who used to voice the dog: the producers discovered Dan Castelleneta could voice the dog just as good, so they gave Frankie the boot. Could history repeat itself again when Newsom comes in to record what she believes is a cameo? Let’s say, hypothetically, a director slides her a script and asks her, just for funsies, to read some of Lisa’s lines. And what if, that night, the producers get together, in secret, and compare her vocal track with Smith’s… and decide Newsom’s is better?

If I were Yeardley Smith, I’d be looking over my shoulder at all times. And I were Joanna Newsom, I’d leave the harp at home, in order to prevent any Nancy Kerrigan-type shenanigans… Developing… [TwentyFourBit ]

UPDATE (10/20/2010): IN THE NEWS has successfully shamed the producers from going through with their plan, and Joanna Newsom’s cameo is definitely not happening. Yeardley Smith, you’re welcome. [Pitchfork]

VOICE BOX

According to a “blind item” over at the reputable-sounding BlindGossip.com, a “bratty actress” on a TV show wanted more money than her fellow cast members, which made TENSIONS SIMMER. Then they REACHED ONE HUNDRED DEGREES CELSIUS when she “used her character to promote an organization with which she is associated.” Now things are all awkward, so she tries to avoid working with her fellow actors whenever she can, and the producers are totally cool with this.

The general consensus in the comments section of both this site and the one over at Gawker (and really, who better to trust than people who post in comment sections on blogs?) is that the actress in question is Nancy Cartwright, voice of TV’s Bart Simpson. You might remember her from such controversies as that time last year when she used Bart’s voice on some robo-calls to promote the Church of Scientology, which would definitely fulfill the “promote an organization” part of the criteria. Other points to consider: the use of the adjective “bratty” (Bart is an anagram for brat, which is one of the fun facts that are obligated to appear in every article about The Simpsons), it’s really easy to avoid fellow cast members if you’re a voice actor (in fact, Maggie Roswell avoids coming into the recording studio altogether by doing all her lines from Colorado), the actors all got a pay raise somewhat recently, and there’s a stupid little doodle of a yellow-skinned lady-pacman. THE PIECES ALL FIT, except for the part where it mentions a “set” which musta been thrown in there to throw us off the scent.

Or it could be Pauley Perrette or something, who knows. [BlindGossip.com]

VOICE BOX

for your considerationHuffington Post blogger Harry Shearer was once again hosed by the TV gods, who failed to nominate him for a prestigious “Emmy” orange blimp award in the category of “Best Voice-Talkin’ Guy.” Shearer, voice of Mr. Burns, Smithers, Lenny, and Principal Skinner, among others, has only been nominated in that category once (in 2009) and is the only regular Simpsons cast member to have not won it (the others somehow all won in 1992, WTF?). Dan Castalleneta (Homer), Hank Azaria (Moe), and Anne Hathaway (the princess in that godawful 20th anniversary episode) are nominated this year along with Seth Green, Dave Foley, and Coach McGuirk. [Los Angeles Times]

CULT LIFESTYLE

Nancy Cartwright, voice of TV’s Bart Simpson, has not always been especially vocal about her membership in the always-controversial Church of Scientology. Her autobiography makes no reference to it, nor does her website. Although she’s done a few publicity events for it (one ad in the LA Weekly offered a chance to “Meet the Voice of Bart Simpson At The Scientology Center!”), she has not advocated for the Church in a big way – she didn’t preach the virtues of Xenu while doing publicity for The Simpsons Movie, nor has she tried to plug Dianetics while doing DVD audio commentary. Unlike some of the bigger Scientologist celebrities, she does not lecture Matt Lauer on psychiatry (Tom Cruise), star in movies based on books by L. Ron Hubbard (John Travolta), or leave a show when they make one too many jokes about the religion (Issac Hayes). Last year, however, she donated $10 million to Scientology – twice her annual Simpsons salary and nearly five times more than that deadbeat Tom Cruise – a story which raised a few eyebrows, but generally flew under the radar. A couple days ago, however, audio of Cartwright doing a “robo-call” for some Scientology event was uploaded to the Internet. The story has gotten a lot of attention, garnering more than 2,700 “diggs” on Digg, which is apparently a lot in Internet metrics (?).

Cartwright opens the call with “Hey, man, this is Bart Simpson!” before quickly resorting to her normal voice and saying “Just kidding… this is Nancy Cartwright!” She then announces that she is now “auditing on New OTVIII” (??) and wants to share her “many wins” with you (????). At this point, it doesn’t really seem all that different from getting a robo-call from Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson telling you about how cool Barack Obama is, except it’s for a religion. But Catwright lapses back into her Bart voice several times in the call, laughing and saying, “It’s going to be a blast, man!” in the same voice that used to shill for Butterfinger bars, blurring the line between Nancy Cartwright, real-life person, and Bart Simpson, fictional cartoon character. You can hear it for yourself here, assuming the YouTube of the audio hasn’t been taken down.

A lot of questions arise: does Bart want me to get my thetans checked or just Nancy? When has Bart ever advocated for anything other than eating his shorts, anyway? Legal issues aside (technically, Fox owns the voices of the characters, which came to light when Dan Castelleneta got in trouble for introducing comedian Paul Krassner on his album “Irony Lives!”), is it ethical for voice actors to use an iconic cartoon character in such a way? Should celebrities use their fame to promote their belief system? Does Cartwright ever use her Bart voice to prank call bars?

VOICE BOX

The cast of The Simpsons finally got around to renegotiating their contracts, thus putting an end to the pay dispute that threatened to tear apart humanity and resulted in at least thirty artists losing their jobs while production was halted. Dan Castellenta (Homer), Julie Kavner (Marge), Nancy Cartwright (Bart), Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Hank Azaria (Maggie), and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns) will now each get $500,000 $400,000 per episode, an increase from $360,000, to donate to Scientology. Ironically, this pay increase comes at a time when viewership has dwindled by nearly fifty percent over the past five years. Aye carumba! [telegraph.co.uk]