Bill Farmer is 'Goofy' for fun and profit

May 04, 1995|By Brian McTavish | Brian McTavish,Kansas City Star

Bill Farmer isn't goofy just in Kansas anymore.

The native of Pratt, Kan., who graduated from the University of Kansas, stars as the voice of Goofy in Walt Disney's animated feature "A Goofy Movie."

Not that Mr. Farmer, a stand-up comic and impressionist, doesn't warmly recall his hometown 80 miles west of Wichita. It certainly did wonders for his chameleonic voice.

"I did all sorts of voices," Mr. Farmer said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "When I got old enough to drive we'd go through Sonic and push the little button and I'd order: 'Send out a scotch and soda!' "

The voice wasn't his own, but that of W. C. Fields. Other times he could be John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart or Walter Brennan.

"They'd look at me very strangely," Mr. Farmer said. "That's kind of how I got started, really."

At age 10 he was already turning heads by mimicking Goofy, the slow-witted but friendly everyman in Disney's stable of animated animal characters.

"I remember when I was a kid I'd sit on my dad's lap on Sunday night and watch 'Disney's Wonderful World of Color' and see Goofy," Mr. Farmer said. "I always loved Goofy. But, boy, I never thought I'd get a chance to do him professionally."

Mr. Farmer got his shot in late 1986, when a Disney cattle call drew him and hundreds of other voice actors competing for a handful of classic cartoon roles. He has since become the Goofy voice.

"At the time they had four or five Mickeys, four or five Goofys," Mr. Farmer said. "Whoever could kind of do it, and was available, did it. But with the advent of the Disney Channel, [Disney CEO Michael] Eisner wanted consistency in the voices."

For more than a year after winning the part, Mr. Farmer tried to do Goofy as close as possible to Pinto Colvig, the character's creator and original voice beginning in the 1930s. Eventually his own Goofy-isms emerged.

"You don't want to lose the classic Goof, but you also have to put your own personality into the character," Mr. Farmer said. "It has to become yours after a while, rather than it just being an impression.

"I probably do the laugh somewhat differently than Pinto did. I add a little crack to his voice once in a while, kind of a little hiccup."

Mr. Farmer wasn't anticipating becoming part of movie history when he graduated with a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas in 1975. Still, he was always good at entertaining.

"At KU, I don't know if he ever talked in his real voice," said Diane Yeager, Mr. Farmer's sister, now a teacher.

After college, Mr. Farmer worked as a disc jockey at several Midwest radio stations before letting his creative side take wing as a stand-up comic in 1982. But, after getting his Goofy gig, Mr. Farmer quit full-time stand-up.

"Every week it seemed like they [Disney] would call me and say, 'Well, we need you tomorrow.' And I didn't want to give them a chance to use anyone else. So I made myself available by quitting the road. I still perform at clubs around [L.A.]."

Besides his Disney work, Mr. Farmer has done incidental voice work in such films as "The Flintstones" and the airline movie version of "Ed Wood," for which he substituted clean language for actor Bill Murray's sometimes off-color remarks.

"A Goofy Movie," Goofy's first feature, has grossed $21 million in its first three weeks of release. And it's allowed Mr. Farmer to flesh out his character more than he was able to in the 78 episodes of Disney's animated TV sitcom, "Goof Troop."

"It started more as a spin-off from the cartoon series," Mr. Farmer said. "But they saw what they had along the way. And they rewrote a lot and added scenes and turned it into a nice little movie."

In the movie Goofy shows an unprecedented emotional range in attempting to understand his rebellious teen-age son Max.

"They didn't want it to be 90 minutes of Goofy falling down," Mr. Farmer said. "You've got to have a lot more substance than that. They wanted to do a natural story. And since Goofy had a son in 'Goof Troop,' it evolved into just a real nice father-son thing."

The longer Mr. Farmer stays with the floppy-eared character, the goofier he feels.

"People accuse me of being like Goofy," he said. "I am very good natured and kind of easygoing. And, sometimes, I get the Goofy curse and really goof things up."

At such times, has Goofy's voice ever slipped out?

"I've been tempted," Mr. Farmer said. "If I can have my wits about me, next time I get stopped for a speeding ticket I want to be able to just say: 'Ahyuck, forgive me officer! I'm Goofy!" I'd like to see if that would work."

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