Toon Zone News Interviews Shannon Farnon, the "Super Friends" Wonder Woman
An accomplished actress with a vast scope of work in commercials, film and television, Shannon Farnon is best known for creating the voice of Wonder Woman on Super Friends. Many a reader of the Wonder Woman and Justice League comic books in the 1970s and 1980s no doubt heard Shannon’s voice in their heads as they perused the speech and thought balloons of the Amazing Amazon. One such reader is Toon Zone News’ Xum Yukinori, who conducted this exclusive interview with Shannon as she talks about her experience working on the Super Friends show, and breathing life into one of comicdom’s most iconic characters.
TOON ZONE NEWS: Let’s begin with what first interested you to become an actress.
Shannon Farnon: Well, I came at that naturally. My entire family is in the entertainment business. My father [Brian Farnon] was one of those rare people who was never without a job as a full orchestra leader and arranger. [He's] 97 years old and just retired from Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe. My mother [Rita Oehmen] was an actress in the late 1930s for a couple of years and she was also a signing comedian. She and her brother [Eddy] had a vaudeville act when they were very young. Both of my sisters were in the business. One [Charmian Carr] was in a film that turned out to be quite a classic, The Sound of Music — she played Liesl. Now she does a whole lot of sing-a-longs when she has the time — where they “follow the bouncing ball.” They fill the Hollywood Bowl every July. And my little sister, Darleen Carr, was also a successful actress.
So I was a natural. In high school, I started doing the theater arts class and I just knew that’s what I wanted to do from then on. I went to Valley College in the San Fernando Valley and started working on commercial spots [a few years later.] I was a very big fish in a little pond there. Enjoyed it. Loved it. I always loved it. I have always made the statement, “If we got a dollar and a quarter an hour for our work, we who love it still would do it.”
TZN: What made you pursue a career in voice-over work?
FARNON: I always wanted to do it all, and I’ve been blessed to be able to do a lot of it. The voice-over work always appealed to me. I decided that it was something I wanted to do, thinking ahead to the business aspect of it. When I decided to have children, what a great job it would be to have, because it didn’t make any difference what you looked like. (Laughter.) So I had a voice-over tape made and my agent started to represent me in that arena.
And I have to be honest, [the voice-over arena] is a very tight circle of people. [At the time,] 75% of it were men — and that’s probably still true to this day — and only 25% were women. It took me three years, long past my pregnancy, to actually break into it. I started doing voice-overs in commercial spots. I always loved to play around with voices, but little did I ever dream I would be doing something like cartoon work.
TZN: How did the role of Wonder Woman on the Super Friends show come to you?
FARNON: I was doing an on-camera commercial for Flintstone vitamins with Wally Burr, a director in town, and he liked my work. It just so happens that he was asked to direct [the recording of] this new up-and-coming idea at Hanna-Barbera called Super Friends. I don’t know why — I was playing a mother in a vitamin commercial (laughter) — but he thought of me and asked, “Would you be interested in auditioning for this [show]?”
And I said, not knowing exactly what it entailed, “Sure, I’m always willing to audition.”
TZN: So you didn’t know it was for the role of Wonder Woman at the time?
FARNON: Not until we started talking more. And [when I knew,] I said, “Wonder Woman? That’s every girl’s dream to play Wonder Woman!” (Laughter.)
TZN: So you were familiar with the Wonder Woman character from the comic books.
FARNON: Oh, of course. I grew up when comic books were what [children] read. Remember, I’m old enough to have not had television until I was ten or eleven, I forget the age. (Laughter.)
TZN: That’s right. Comic books were a big thing in the 40s and 50s.
TZN: You of course grew up with a different Flash and Green Lantern in your comic books (from the Justice Society) than the ones who were on your show (from the Justice League).
FARNON: Yes, of course. But close. Same powers, but different people.
TZN: How did you initially approach the portrayal of Wonder Woman?
FARNON: At the audition, [Wally Burr and I] played with ideas in the studio, and I said “What do we do with her?” And he said, “Well, how do you see her?” I replied, “Well, she’s an Amazon. She’s a super-human.” And he said, “All right, so take off your shirtwaist dress, put your boots on, and let me hear that.” (Laughter.) And that’s how we started. I would slip into the feminine voice on occasion, and good ol’ Wally would say, “Get that shirtwaist dress off!” (Laughter.)
TZN: Not literally, of course.
FARNON: (Laughter.) No, no, not literally! No!
TZN: We just needed to clarify that.
FARNON: Yes, indeed.
TZN: How much of Shannon Farnon was Wonder Woman?
FARNON: Well, I always considered myself a strong woman. I have a lot of abilities in life, a lot of various interests, a lot of strengths. And I am very human, too. It just seemed natural to use that inner strength, or imagination of my strength, in that role. It didn’t feel all that big a leap to me. [The role was] certainly different than anything I’ve ever done. But it was very comfortable. And the fact that no one else had created her before [on television at that time], I didn’t have to be concerned with any other image.
TZN: That’s a good point. The only time Wonder Woman appeared on TV before Super Friends was a one-time guest appearance on The Brady Kids, but there wasn’t much characterization to that role.
FARNON: And then of course, Lynda Carter did her on television after me. She should have taken some of my strengths into her role. (Laughter.)
TZN: Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman kept getting knocked out a lot, didn’t she? And she got tied up a lot, but I’m not going to go there…
TZN: Except to say that had happened a lot in the comics as you well know.
TZN: It happened a lot less on the Super Friends though.
FARNON: Which is a good thing. And very few people ever died on Super Friends. (Sarcastically) I don’t know if you ever noticed that. (Laughter.)
TZN: And characters that did die turned out to be android duplicates…
FARNON: Right. (Laughter.)
TZN: Going back to the audition, it sounded like you were a cinch to win the role.
FARNON: I did not know that at the time. I don’t know who else auditioned for this part. It was not the style of the company to have us all waiting in the lobby together. But it’s always nice when the director wants you — which was what happened years later when I lost [the role].
TZN: We’ll go into that later too, if you don’t mind.
FARNON: No, not at all.
TZN: First, let’s talk about your initial experience working on the show. Super Friends debuted in 1973. You did your first recording in…
TZN: Really? Given that 30-minute super-hero cartoons that used painted cels took about a year to produce in the 1990s, I would’ve thought an hour-long super-hero action program in the 1970s would take more time, not less.
FARNON: You remember that the animation [on Super Friends] was not that extensive. Of course animation has flowered and blossomed since then.
TZN: That is true. Though compared to Marvel super-hero cartoons in the 1960s that tended to use still frames, I think the animation on Super Friends was fairly impressive for its time.
FARNON: I wouldn’t know. You would have to be the judge of that, because I didn’t grow up watching cartoons. I watched Howdy Doody and Mickey Mouse Club.
TZN: But you did watch the Super Friends on TV when the animation was done and aired?
FARNON: I did.
TZN: Was it close to what you envisioned in your mind at the time of recording?
FARNON: It was. I was happy with it. And apparently everybody else was too. I was astounded that people can pick up the voice and know that [Wonder Woman] was me, because I never did any other role using that type of voice.
TZN: At least not before Super Friends. Soon after, you portrayed Kim Butler in The Valley of the Dinosaurs, who sounded a bit like “the Wonder Woman next door.”
FARNON: Do you think so? Of course, Kim did wear the shirtwaist dress. (Laughter.) But I was hoping to have a vocal distinction between the two characters.
TZN: Oh, there was a definite distinction in terms of characterization.
FARNON: Well, that’s good. Thank you.
TZN: So Super Friends and Valley of the Dinosaurs were essentially the only cartoon series you were a part of?
FARNON: Yes. And Challenge of the Super Friends, of course.
TZN: Of course. The show appeared to go through a different incarnation with each season. Starting with the first, the “Wendy and Marvin/Misguided Antagonists” season; then the “Wonder Twins” seasons; the Challenge year with the Legion of Doom; the “Worlds Greatest Super Friends,” with story plots mostly based off of literary tales; followed by three seasons of team-up shorts…
FARNON: They were “trying to get their audience,” you know. You got to tweak the show just a little bit.
TZN: Do you have a favorite “era” of the show?
FARNON: I don’t. It was all so enjoyable. I have certain memories of the show, where I would be doing a guest part as well as Wonder Woman, like a French scientist or someone who was really different. I couldn’t possibly tell you an episode name…
TZN: And I wouldn’t expect you to, given your immense body of voice-over work. And it has been 35 years.
FARNON: Yes it has. Anyway, I learned that that same paycheck to do a major character in a cartoon series gives [the network] two more voices in every show. So I had this fabulous opportunity to let loose with accents and ages and skills and animals. I always loved doing more. It was just a wonderful training ground.
And working with such talented people was a joy. You know, we had new people coming in all the time on the show. We worked in a very large studio. And often there were more people in front of microphones than there were anywhere else in the room.
TZN: So you were sharing mikes?
FARNON: Often. We shared mikes whenever that was possible, just simply moving in and out according to the timing of the rehearsal.
TZN: Oh, right… so you wouldn’t bump heads.
FARNON: Right. (Laughter.)
TZN: You mentioned the Challenge of the Super Friends season by name, and that season seems to be the most popular among fans — probably because one, it most represented the source materials with villains ripped from the comic pages, and two, there were no teen sidekicks and funny animals…
FARNON: Yes. All of a sudden we were “a cast of thousands.” (Laughter.) But I do miss those people [who did the sidekicks and animals], because they provided an awful lot of humor. The humor of Michael Bell and Frank Welker would just blow you right out of the room. It was often a wonder that we ever got through a recording.
TZN: (Laughter.) I’ve heard a story about that.
FARNON: Oh, my. (Laughter.)
TZN: From Michael Bell at least in an interview. He seemed to be pretty lewd, from what I understand.
FARNON: Oh, he was hysterical. “Lewd” is a good word, but funny-lewd, you know. Some people just aren’t funny when they do that. But Michael is just such a clever, clever man. And of course when we had guests like Gary Owens, he was just outrageous (laughter). So lots of laughter and lots of great memories.
TZN: I definitely want to ask you about those memories of your co-stars later. But first, on the subject of the different eras of the Super Friends show, I noticed that your Wonder Woman voice was changing from season to season. After the 1973 season, you used a deeper, more husky tone in the All-New Super Friends Hour, which lightened a little in Challenge of the Super Friends, and then a softer, more tender portrayal later on.
FARNON: Well, it’s nice that you noticed that, because we were constantly playing with it. Her character was never locked in. She was quite androgynous when we first started out. We created her as being “one of the guys” in a sense. The networks used to come back and say, “Well, let’s make her more feminine!” (Laughter.) So as time went on, we softened her up a little, and did various things with her. But we kept her strong, kept her “super.”
TZN: I thought she was fairly “feminine” in the first season.
FARNON: Well, I did too. But, you know, [the network folks] had to do something for their paycheck. So they always gave their input, and we just played with it.
TZN: On the show, your character experienced rather bizarre situations. For example, in one episode (“Gulliver’s Gigantic Goof”) Wonder Woman was shrunk to two inches in height and nearly drowned in a bowl of milk. In another (“Alien Mummy”), she was transformed into a gold statue. Things like that.
FARNON: “Just another day in the office…” (Laughter.)
TZN: I must say you made it all sound fairly believable. I mean, in the milk situation, Birdman would grunt a bit and spout something like, (melodramatic) “Must act fast before I drown.” But you sounded like you were actually struggling to stay afloat.
FARNON: (Laughter.) Well, I do try to make it real.
TZN: That reminds me, the writing style of Super Friends and other cartoons at the time didn’t allow for much character range. I mean, it’s been argued that most of the characters on Super Friends are pretty much interchangeable…
FARNON: (Laughter.) I said “androgynous,” didn’t I?
TZN: Well, I wasn’t including Wonder Woman in the mix. (Laughter.)
FARNON: (Laughter.) No, you’re right. [The other Super Friends] are [interchangeable]. They are.
TZN: However, unlike other superhero shows like Birdman and Space Ghost where characters seemed to only talk melodramatically to each other, I noticed that the Super Friends had a genuine rapport.
FARNON: Oh, yes, we were buds. That’s how we assumed the “foursome” worked in the comics themselves. I don’t know that to be true, but I made that assumption at the time, that we were there for each other above all the others.
TZN: It was a good assumption. It definitely made it more believable. You and your fellow actors all stepped up to the plate to pull that off.
FARNON: Oh, we all loved what we were doing. And it was important that the children that were going to watch us, believed us.
TZN: I also have to say that in the other episode where your character is changed into a gold statue, you made it sound like it really hurt.
FARNON: (Laughter.) Good. Because I’m sure it would have. But anytime we got too realistic, we were reminded [by the directors] that we were doing a cartoon.
FARNON: Mm hmm.
TZN: So you couldn’t make it “too real.”
TZN: Earlier, you were talking about how you loved to play other roles on the show. And there was an episode (“Universe of Evil”) where you played an evil Wonder Woman from a parallel universe…
FARNON: Oh, yes.
TZN: …and another (“Around the World in 80 Riddles”) where the Riddler regresses Wonder Woman’s mind to that of a two-year-old. Those departures in character must have seemed like a welcome break.
FARNON: All of that was. I really admired the writers for being as inventive as they were. I mean, talking about “letting it all go”! (Laughter.) They really were inventive.
TZN: Looking back on these “inventive situations,” a lot of the ones your character went through seem pretty ridiculous.
FARNON: Oh, yes.
TZN: Was there ever a time when you looked at a Super Friends script and said, “My character is doing WHAT?!”
FARNON: All the time. I mean, when was the last time you almost drowned in milk? (Laughter.) We would just read through the script at the table and just laugh. And then we’ll say, “Okay, now we have to make it real.”
TZN: There are some people that are wondering what the writers were “on” when they came up with some stories, I’m sure.
FARNON: I told you we laughed a lot. (Laughter.) But you know, we rarely met a writer. We saw the people in the booth, and the wonderful man who runs the board. And our [recording] director, which would occasionally change for various reasons. But we rarely met a writer. We rarely met an animator. It’s a shame how we’re so unconnected. It’s one of the sad notes that I see in [the animation] business in general.
TZN: I think the same is still true today. Though you’ll occasionally have a director who’s also a writer…
FARNON: Yes, and there was a lot of times where we the actors all pitched in to rewrite the script. I would find something that either didn’t work or would be incorrect English, which I would not allow because of the children who were watching. Just little things, really.
TZN: Like, Wonder Woman would never say “ain’t”.
FARNON: Oh, never ever ever, no. And they never used the clay thing very much. Wonder Woman was supposed to be able to mold things out of clay [in the comics].
TZN: I noticed she hardly used her bracelets.
FARNON: That’s right. I had all of these powers that were just wasted.
TZN: Well, people couldn’t fire bullets on the show.
FARNON: Yes, of course.
TZN: Wonder Woman deflected ray-beams a couple of times, but that’s it.
TZN: Now let’s talk about your Super Friends co-stars. Norman Alden’s website has a photograph of the cast on the day of the first recording session…
FARNON: Yes, I have a photo in my hallway of that. We look like a motley looking crew. (Laughter.)
TZN: I read somewhere that Norman made a comment about the cast — along the lines of, “We didn’t look like heroes…”
FARNON: Nope. (Laughter.) Especially Olan Soule, who did Batman. He was a much older man.
TZN: What’s interesting is that, in the particular photograph on Norman Alden’s site, the entire cast is doing the peace sign, except for Olan — the most “mature-looking” of the group — who is actually holding up his middle finger…
FARNON: (Laughter.) We were a very fun bunch, I’ll tell you. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.
TZN: Can you share any humorous stories or bloopers from a Super Friends recording session?
FARNON: I could if I remembered them. I remember the general feeling of [the actors] being hysterical half the time. And the kind of humor I perhaps give out and share is a little bit more irony and more subtle than the people I worked with. But they really did have us all in stitches.
TZN: Maybe you can share some of your most fondest memories working with each of your fellow actors on the show…
FARNON: Let’s give it a shot. I’ll tell you what I can recall without bending your ear too much. You call out a name and I’ll throw it.
TZN: Let’s start with Danny Dark (Superman).
FARNON: Danny was a stalwart. He was our anchor. It was very sad that Danny died so young. He also had a humorous side, but he was not the “cut-up artist” that others were. He was just always there, you kind of knew that you could go to Danny when you needed something. And his voice. He was fantastic. He used the technique of holding his hand over his ear, you know, to hear how he would sound. He’s done a tremendous amount of voice work.
TZN: What I liked about his portrayal of Superman, that other actors lack, is that he actually sounded like someone who grew up in Kansas.
FARNON: (Laughter.) He would love to hear that. His voice is Superman as far as I’m concerned.
TZN: Olan Soule (Batman).
FARNON: Olan was a gem. He had a crush on me, I think, though we had a great discrepancy in age. Prior to doing Super Friends, I found myself cast opposite Olan in a Home Savings and Loan commercial as his wife. I was really surprised. Either I am looking older than I thought (laughter), or they had a different idea of this husband-and-wife thing.
TZN: “In this ad, we are targeting middle-aged men who rob the cradle…”
FARNON: Yes. (Laughter.) But Olan and I became great friends. We stayed in touch. I visited him a couple of times in the hospital years later. He was a darling, darling man. And also a major talent in his day when he was in Chicago. He was the kind that had to have a cab waiting as he went from one voice job to another.
TZN: Casey Kasem (Robin).
FARNON: Casey is another wonderful man. I knew him and his wife and children at the time. He has since divorced and remarried and I know them as well. They are very active in Lebanese charity groups. [He is a] very talented young man and was a very successful person then with his top-40 show. I never dreamed he would be doing Robin. I mean, I don’t know how people cast us [for these roles] or why. But he was a joy to work with.
TZN: Norman Alden (Aquaman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man).
FARNON: Norman was a wonderful man and a fine actor. I have worked with Norman on camera [prior to Super Friends], so I already knew him and had great respect for him. Norman is just a doll.
TZN: Sherry Alberoni (Wendy).
FARNON: Sherry is a sweet gal. I enjoyed working with her. [Sherry] was very briefly a Mousketeer. I’ve since seen her in a show with my good friend Lonnie Burr, an original Mouseketeer. They were doing a show at Disneyland. I’ve also seen her once or twice through the years. She’s still a bubbly little girl just like she was on [Super Friends].
TZN: Frank Welker (Marvin, Wonderdog).
FARNON: Frank’s a great talent. Just listening to Frank… he can do a dozen ducks at a time and things like that.
TZN: Sometimes literally ducks.
FARNON: Literally ducks. He is a great talent. Working with Frank is a whole lesson in voice-over work.
TZN: His range can be pretty intimidating.
FARNON: Whoa-ho. Yeah. [The directors] would say “Give it to Frank!” As far as I know, he’s still going strong.
TZN: He’s doing Curious George for PBS now, as the title character.
FARNON: Oh, I am not surprised. He’s delightful. No one deserves great success more than Frank.
TZN: Ted Knight (Narrator [season one], Flash [season one]).
FARNON: He had wonderful humor, which came across loud and clear on his Mary Tyler Moore gig. [He was] a very humble man. He was the type of actor who would say his line and then say as an aside to you, “Did that sound good to you?” He was such a gentle, gentle man. It was very sad when he passed away.
Ted set the style for the narration of the show. When Bill Woodson took over, he handled it the way Ted had done the part.
TZN: Right, although Woodson seemed to add his own mark by pronouncing “Super Friends” as “See-YOO-per Friends.”
FARNON: Did he? Oh, yes. I suppose he did.
TZN: The melodramatic narration was very much like a radio drama. In fact, there was so much play-by-play from the narrator and the characters that you could know what was going on just be listening to the soundtrack.
FARNON: Oh, absolutely.
TZN: Now cartoons tend to show more and say less.
FARNON: Well, there is more animation involved.
TZN: True, but the animation was good enough in the 1970s that Wonder Woman didn’t have to say what she was going to do before she did it.
FARNON: That’s true. (Laughter.)
TZN: And that’s not a criticism of the writing, by the way. That was the writing style of cartoon shows at the time.
TZN: Going back to your co-star memories, there was John Stephenson (Colonel Wilcox).
FARNON: John was a very good actor, and a very sophisticated man. Very friendly, but not aggressively friendly, you know? Not a “can you top this?” type of person. I remember him well.
TZN: Michael Bell (Zan).
FARNON: Michael is the “end-all.” (Laughter.) He has a streak in him that is so “bad boy”. And he’s charming. His wife is charming. Michael was more fun than a barrel of monkeys. He is a monkey. There is no question.
TZN: He did play Gleek on the show.
FARNON: He would do anything for a character. He would stretch himself as far as he had to.
TZN: Let’s talk about Marlene Aragon, who played Wonder Woman’s archnemesis, the Cheetah.
FARNON: [Marlene is] very talented, and a very nice woman. I’m not sure if she is still working or not. She was fun to work with. Very comfortable to work with. Not there all the time. As I said, lots of people would just come “in and out.”
TZN: And when you were working together, you both were pretty much confrontational in character.
FARNON: Uh huh. It was fun to have that juxtaposition.
TZN: Right. The prior seasons didn’t really have that. Challenge of the Super Friends was really the first time the show had real villains, not just misguided scientists. And you could actually threaten somebody.
FARNON: (Laughter.) Yes. And [the villains] could probably destroy you because they were also super-people.
TZN: Not “kill” you, just “destroy” you.
FARNON: That’s right, you never get hurt. Can. Not. Get. hurt. (Laughter.)
TZN: Are there other Super Friends co-stars that I didn’t mention?
FARNON: I remember them all for various reasons, often by their voice. Stanley Ralph Ross [Grodd], whoo, what a voice — an amazing voice. And working with Don Messick [Scarecrow, Captain Cold, Sinestro], he’s like an institution in the voice-over business. Most of these people have been doing it forever. Jack Angel [Flash, Hawkman, Samurai] is a love, a real love.
TZN: Has portraying Wonder Woman affected your life outside the recording studio? I recall reading about how Danny Dark and Norman Alden would get requests from people on the street to “do their voices”…
FARNON: That happens to me to this day. I get an awful lot of fan mail still, regarding Wonder Woman. It’s always astounded me that [my performance] made such an impression on people. Often fans will reference other work I’ve done — but to me it’s pretty apparent that they looked it up [on the Internet] and have not necessarily seen it — but the thing that they see and cling to is Wonder Woman.
TZN: Well, it’s the role they are most familiar with and were most likely exposed to.
FARNON: Yes. And of course, my children wanted to share me with their friends. “Mom, say something in Wonder Woman.”
TZN: (Laughter.) Like it’s a different language.
FARNON: Yes, it is. Of course. No one else walks around saying, (in Wonder Woman) “Great Hera!” (Laughter.) Kids love that. I’ve done a lot of celebrity appearances for the Special Olympics, and those children just loved the whole idea of Wonder Woman. They didn’t see me, Shannon Farnon. They saw Wonder Woman.
TZN: You were wearing regular clothes, of course.
FARNON: (Laughter.) Yes, I was! But once you are introduced, they transfer. They are just, “Oh, wow. Wonder Woman. It’s Wonder Woman.” They didn’t even care who I was. They just wanted me to sign autographs as “Wonder Woman.” It’s wonderful. I even have a little plaque in my kitchen that says, “Wonder Woman works here.”
TZN: That’s neat. It’s also great that Wonder Woman has created a fan following for you.
FARNON: And isn’t it interesting how many people have moved with [cartoons] well into their adult lives? I usually don’t get fan mail from children, though occasionally I get the fan mail that says “I’d like a photo for my son, too.”
TZN: There has been a bit of fan uproar over how you lost the Wonder Woman role when the Super Friends was coming back as The Legendary Super Powers Show. Can you tell us a bit about that?
FARNON: Yes. I got this call to go in and “audition” for the role. I thought my agent was just pulling my leg. You know, when you do a role for 10 years, you are not expecting that call, to say the least.
TZN: So you heard the Super Friends was coming back for a new season.
FARNON: Oh, yes.
TZN: And you expected to just “show up for work.”
FARNON: Well, yeah. You would assume, as did everyone else who did the show for 10 years, the people who were the four main characters. But I got that call, and I said, “You’re kidding me.”
(Mimicking her agent) “No, apparently the network wants to see you and some other people.”
And I said, “Why don’t they just listen to me [on the show], I’ve got ten years of it.”
(Mimicking her agent) “Well, that’s what they’d like.”
So I went in to audition for the role. And I asked the director [at the audition], “What did [the network] say they would like to hear Wonder Woman do? How would they like to see her changed?” And she said, “Oh, you just do what you think you should do with [the role].”
TZN: Even though you have been changing the character somewhat from year to year.
FARNON: Well, yeah. I said, “Well, you mean you just want me to do it the way I’ve been doing it?” And she said, “Yes, you just do what you think.” So I read the copy and left.
The [recording] director that was hired to do the show was Gordon Hunt. He was — and as far as I know, still is — with B.J. Ward. He was with her at the time. [B.J. Ward] is a very talented woman, more than capable for any voice-over work. She just has a huge history of voice-over work. And she got the part. It’s that simple.
(Xum’s note: It was discovered that while B.J. Ward may have been initially selected for the role of Wonder Woman for the Legendary Super Powers Show season, the role was given to Constance Cawlfield, most likely due to a network decision. B.J. Ward was awarded the Wonder Woman role the following year when the show changed to The Super Powers Team.)
TZN: Was Gordon Hunt at the audition?
FARNON: No. (Pause.) I just tucked my tail between my legs and said “Okay, that’s now history.”
TZN: That’s a shame, really.
FARNON: It is. And of course, the people that I have worked with [on the show] called me one by one. They just felt terrible. I felt that it’s a shame because there wasn’t a really good reason to [recast the role]. Because the people who watched these cartoons had nothing to do with the network, and they know who Wonder Woman is. When the [Cartoon Network] promos [in the 1990s] were going to be done, they [asked me] to do them.
TZN: Well, as I understand it, Cartoon Network actually went to B.J. Ward first (according to an interview in Back Issue #5). Her reply was along the lines of, “You know, Shannon Farnon is still alive and kicking…”
FARNON: Well, that’s really nice of her. I loved doing that. It was a lot of fun to do those promos. I was so sorry to see those go away. I said, “Oh can’t we do a series like this?” (Laughter.)
TZN: What was the recording experience like, voicing for those promos?
FARNON: It wasn’t done at Hanna Barbera, we did them with phone patches. But it was a joy. [Norman Alden, Gary Owens, Michael Bell, and I] had experience working with each other and, of course, we had all “talked to the man on the phone” quite often. Occasionally we would be working by ourselves due to scheduling conflicts instead of working together.
TZN: That’s right. You would all be standing together during the Super Friends recording sessions.
FARNON: Oh, yes. Unless something happened; You got a job or schedule conflict you couldn’t avoid. And then they would bring you in [separately] and you would just do [your lines].
TZN: Did that ever happen to you?
FARNON: Yes. They were very accommodating.
TZN: Well, even separately the characters in the CN promos all still managed to maintain the “Super Friends rapport.”
FARNON: Oh, yes. Of course. That’s what acting is.
TZN: The tone of the promos would vary from the semi-serious (The “Boys club? It’s not about being a woman.” monologue) to the hilarious (meeting the PowerPuff Girls or locking the keys in the invisible jet). Do you have a favorite?
FARNON: I love the “Popcorn” one. [Wonder Woman, Zan, Blue Falcon, Birdman, and Zandor of the Herculoids sit in a movie theater, debating how to get popcorn and drinks in melodramatic superhero dialogue.] It’s just so silly.
TZN: Right. (Mimicking Zan) “And those opening credits are rolling… and fast.”
FARNON: (Laughs.) I wonder how many of the kids actually got that.
TZN: I don’t know, but I’m sure all of their parents were laughing.
FARNON: Oh, yes. It was very adult humor — it wasn’t directed at the children — which made it even more fun.
TZN: I liked how they reprised the Popcorn promo idea in a different scenario where you are all on an airplane. (Mimicking Blue Falcon) “And this in-flight magazine is no match for that paperback book!”
FARNON: (Laughter.) They were so silly. Just great stuff.
TZN: I think your Wonder Woman was more melodramatic in those promos then on the Super Friends.
FARNON: Oh, yes. It had to be “bigger than life” because they would have never made [the promo] if it wasn’t.
TZN: It’s great that you and the others didn’t take yourselves too seriously.
FARNON: No. My goodness gracious, no. I let that show go when it was gone. I mean, I feel like I have lived lives since then. Not just live life, but lives. And part of what we need to do in life is to let things go.
TZN: That’s good to hear. I know of a few fans that wanted to take up a collection so they could hire you to voice all of the Wonder Woman lines from the last two seasons…
FARNON: (Laughter.) Send them a kiss from me. I’d hug every one of those fans who appreciated who Wonder Woman was.
TZN: So, as an actress, did you feel like you had “said everything there was to say” with the Wonder Woman character?
FARNON: Oh heavens, no. But does any actress? I didn’t get the part that could have moved me further up in my career. And there a lot of things I never done. But I never did look backwards. You go home, do the laundry, make dinner, and then get on to the next interview. You don’t go back, you just go forward.
TZN: Do you have any advice for aspiring voice actors and actresses?
FARNON: Oh, I do. Get as much training as you possibly can and then let all that go and just let yourself expand with it. You need to have a really great desire to stay with it to break through because there is a definitive group. And once they find you, and know you’re talented and can do the job, you can work forever. One of the guests on [Super Friends] was Nancy Cartwright, the little gal who plays Bart on The Simpsons. She started out with a tiny guest role on our show and was grateful to be there. Then off she went.
TZN: She played various kid characters, I take it.
FARNON: You know, I don’t recall. But I would assume that.
TZN: I’m just guessing. I remember during the All-New Super Friends Hour there were various PSA segments where the Super Friends would be teaching kids to write the emergency numbers down…
FARNON: I thought that was a wonderful idea.
TZN: …or make sure you eat breakfast so you would be able to outrun a bear.
FARNON: Yes, we all like to outrun bears. (Laughter.)
TZN: (Laughter.) I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.
FARNON: Oh, don’t apologize. [Super Friends] has been a wonderful experience. It was wonderful sharing it with you. I’ve always enjoyed talking about such a unique area of acting. I mean, how often do we get to pretend so completely? That’s what this is. There’s nothing like doing voices for cartoons to take you into make-believe land.
TZN: Do you miss it?
FARNON: I do. I don’t linger or think about it often, but yes, I do miss it because it’s such a full experience. And part of its fullness is working with these wonderfully talented people. So in that arena, I miss it.
But, you know, I was never motivated enough to hone my skills and push that part of it. I had a voice-over tape, but I did not have a cartoon voice-over tape. Nor did I ever produce one.
TZN: So you had no interest in pursuing other cartoon series? I know you had plenty of voice-over work at the time.
FARNON: I did have plenty of work, which is part of why I didn’t do it. And the other part is that I’ve been spoiled rotten. I’ve had these [opportunities] come to me. Now, granted, I was prepared, but I did have them come to me out of the ethers. It slows you down in the area of motivation, so any newcomer needs to be reminded that motivation is essential. You’ve got to keep going with it; you can’t wait for it to come to you. As I said, [the roles] came to me until things started to wane as the years went by — and I just let that happen. I had a huge life outside of my work, and still do. So I did not maintain that focus, and that’s critical if you really want to fly [in voice acting].
And networking is essential. And I give that to everybody who wants to listen to me: Network. I did none of that. And in any business, regardless of what it is, people want to work with people they know. It’s a comfort zone.
TZN: As someone who grew up on Super Friends, let me thank you for the honor and pleasure to talk with you about your experiences on the show.
FARNON: You are quite welcome. It was delightful talking with you.
TZN: Are there any current projects, voice or live-action, that you would like to plug before I let you go?
FARNON: I do a lot of things gratis. I’m [currently] doing [film] narration for a wonderful esoteric website called “Ponder on This.” I’ve also done some student films just because I like to help students out. I’ve mentored young people. I’ve glided very nicely into a position of being able to offer my talent and often gratis. It’s a nice position to be in helping other people. It’s my way of trying to make an impression on the planet.
Looping is another thing I absolutely love to do. I’ve looped entire roles for women [in movies and television series] that looked good on screen but didn’t quite cut it vocally. And there are auditions coming up. You know, we just keep going. We actors just keep acting.
Of course, I’m at the time of life where I get to do what I want to do. Lots of tennis. Lots of salsa dancing. Whatever I want to do.
TZN: I’m sure we all look forward to that time of our lives. I, for one, am envious.
FARNON: Good. That will keep you going forward, and finish what you are doing.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Samantha Weisman at Kazarian/Spenser/Ruskin & Associates for helping him set up the interview and Rob Gordon of Rob’s Super Friends Fan Page and Will Rodgers and his Ultimate Super Friends Episode Guide for providing extensive sources for research. You can catch Shannon Farnon’s performance as Wonder Woman on various Super Friends DVDs, including the latest, Super Friends: The Lost Episodes, which will be available in stores on August 11, 2009.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that B.J. Ward “allegedly portrayed Wonder Twin Jayna (uncredited) during the Legendary season.” It has since been confirmed that Ward was never Jayna in any season of Super Friends.