The Archive is sad to report the death of Lucille Bilss, who passed away on Thursday, November 8th at the age of 96. Bliss was a voiceover artist, best known for voicing “Smurfette” on the animated hit, The Smurfs. Bliss was also the voice of one of the wicked stepsisters, “Anastasia” in the Disney movie Cinderella, the voice of early television’s Crusader Rabbit, and of “Ms. Bitters” on the Nickelodeon series, Invader Zim.
Below are some selections from Lucille Bliss’ 2005 Archive Interview:
On recording Cinderella:
I played the part of “Anastasia,” the redhead. “Oh your Grace, I’d love to dance. Cinderella!” She was a raucous Brooklyn-ese gal. I was the stepsister part. It was more of a comedy part. Every morning Walt Disney himself would come in and talk to us. And we were working on records. Walt Disney was the last producer to go to tape. Everybody else was on tape, but Walt always said, “the quality of acetate is far superior to the quality of tape and I care about the quality.” He said, “you have to be very careful. Rehearse and know your parts because if you make a mistake, everybody has to do the part over again.” You cannot edit an acetate record. You can clip tape but not that. Winston Hibler coached us and we rehearsed and then we did it. We did very well. We had very few take overs. Very well. Walt Disney also came back and said, “every evening I take all the records down to my suite and I listen to you. I listen to your voices every night in your parts and if there’s any suggestions or anything, your director Winston Hibler will tell you the next day. And they were very careful about our diet. We had a dietician and we ate only certain foods, like vegetables and fruit. Nothing greasy and nothing that would upset the vocal chords. One wonderful thing that Mr. Disney did say was, “Lucille has a gift for ad libs, and if she comes up with some funny little sounds, I want them recorded because we can use them. So you have to stay after, Lucille. When the session is over when everybody goes you stay and we rehearse.”
On auditioning for Crusader Rabbit:
They told me about the rabbit and they told me what kind of voice we had. They didn’t tell me what kind, they asked me what kind of a voice was I going to use for it. I said, “okay” and he said, “let’s do it.” So we did it. I didn’t hear anything, but then a few, I don’t know, weeks later or something they said I had the Rabbit.
On how she lost the role of “Elroy” on The Jetsons:
The Jetsons came along and everything was going wonderful. They loved me. But… who was the director on that? Oh God. He was the son of this movie actor. I can’t think… it may come to me before the end of the show. I never thought of bringing it up so I didn’t think of it. But he said to me, “they think you’re a little boy, Lucy. Madison Avenue wanted a real little boy and we sent your tape in and we called you Little Lou Bliss. L-O-U, Little Lou Bliss. You should see the letters. They’re all crazy about this apple-cheeked little 6 year old boy, little Lou Bliss. But you must never, ever, ever divulge your name. You’ll lose your job.” “My God,” I said. “I’ll never divulge. I’ll never go to New York anyway for the show, but I won’t divulge. Not to my best friend.” So, what happened is Myles (my agent) said, “what the hell is this Little Lou Bliss crap?” He says, “you’ve made your name as Lucille Bliss. What are they doing to you calling you Little Lou Bliss? He’s going to get big and famous and who the hell is he? It’s you. That can’t go on.” I said, “Myles, please, Myles, just leave it alone. I’ll lose my job.” “Ah, you won’t lose your job.” “Yes,” I said, “I will. I heard it from the director himself. He said it must be a secret and Hanna-Barbera’s keeping it a secret. Don’t tell them, please.” He said, “no, that’s ridiculous.” I said, “Myles, I want to work. I don’t want to lose the series. I got a lead in it, for God sakes, leave it alone.” He didn’t. He went to Hanna-Barbera and said, “first of all she gets more money. Secondly, I want to see Lucille Bliss on there.” I got the pink slip two weeks later. It broke my heart.
On getting the role of “Smurfette” on The Smurfs:
The agent said you can go on an audition at Hanna-Barbera. They’re looking for a new character. So when I went there, they didn’t have a picture, nothing. They described her a little bit, and they said, “how do you think she’d be?” And you had to answer questions. What kind of a person she’d be and so forth. I did what I could and then I got a callback and I said to my agent, “I got a callback.” I remember the agent said, “yeah but there’s only one female character in it so don’t hold your breath.” Well I said, “I’m going to do the same thing again. I don’t care. I did it once and they liked it; I’m going to do it twice.” Cause I believed in her. This time they had moods. They wondered how she was happy. How she’d be scared. No pictures yet. How she would be angry and so forth and so on. Then came the third audition. This time they had a little picture, kind of. “What do you think she’d sound like? Tell us what she’d say or what she’d do under different conditions.” So we did that and that’s how I got it.
She felt so real to me. ‘Cause I created her voice so I could feel her emotions. It may sound strange, but it’s true. If you do something for a long time and you created it, you begin to feel the emotion. We have to think like the character and talk like the character, and it takes over. That’s what I tell my students, too. You must lose yourself if you want to be successful in animation and be the character. Then if they don’t like what you’re doing, it’s the character and you can change it. But if it’s you, you go home brokenhearted, “oh my God, why did I goof up?”
On Invader Zim:
Johnen Vasquez created this series of an alien character who tries to get into Earth and destroy Earth. It’s Invader Zim and the people up there don’t like him either so they say, “yeah, you can go down to Earth. Try to do things, because they say it’s a rotten place, you can’t do anything else, send him down there.” It’s crazy, it’s funny, very modernistic drawings; the drawings are fantastic. I play “Ms. Bitters”, the mean schoolteacher and she’s mean and talks to kids like this, “What’s the matter with you? You’re late again.” You know what I mean? Ooh, horrible person. But a far cry for me. I don’t usually do it with parts, but I enjoyed it.
On her proudest achievement:
It’s hard to say. I must say because it’s my favorite character, the two, “Smurfette” and “Crusader Rabbit.” Because after all, Crusader was the first national animated cartoon. He was the crusader in more ways than one. He was the first one to crack the national animation field. That was way back in 1949 or ’50, and the first one. And “Smurfette” because I love the character, I do. She was on for 10 years. But I love her.
On how she’d like to be remembered:
God, I never thought of that. How would I like to be remembered? As a nice and also as a famous person. Because I have never done any mean… I’m not the best Pollyanna, please. But I’ve never knifed anybody, taken false credits, or done something to hurt someone. Never. Because somehow I have that feeling that when you go upstairs, if you go upstairs, something that goes around comes around.
Watch Lucille Bliss’ full Archive interview.