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Toon Tuesday: Cartoon characters connect with seriously ill children through Famous Fone Friends

Jim Hill

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Toon Tuesday: Cartoon characters connect with seriously ill children through Famous Fone Friends

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I was just watching the news. And they had on another one of those stories about Black Friday. You know, the day after Thanksgiving? Which is supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year.

Anyway ... This reporter was going on and on about the sales that the big boxes will be holding this Friday. How some of these stores will actually be opening their doors at 6 a.m. in order to accomodate shoppers. Who -- in some cases -- are already camped out by their entrances, dressed in parkas & sleeping in folding chairs. That's how anxious these idiots are to get their hands on the hottest new toy and/or the latest personal electronics gadget.

Me? I just hate how people give lip service to the whole "Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men" concept this time of year, but then not practice what they preach. Don't believe me? Then drive out to your local mall this coming weekend and cruise around the parking lot. And just see how much "Goodwill toward Men" you experience as you try & fight for a parking spot.

It's at times like this -- when everything seems to be so crass & so commercial -- that I'm so glad that there are organizations out there like Famous Fone Friends. This is a non-profit that's run by people who clearly have their heads on straight. They're not out to do something impossible -- like try and save the world. They just want to make a few sick kids happy.

What? You're never heard of the Famous Fone Friends? Well, given that this organization likes to operate below the radar, deliberately avoiding most publicity, I guess I can understand why you've never heard of these guys.

Well, perhaps you've heard about how a seriously ill child -- clear out of the blue -- got a phone call from a celebrity or their favorite cartoon character. Well, that's what the folks at Famous Fone Friends do. Help the friends, family and medical staff treating these children make the proper connections. So that these kids -- amid all the horrors of hospitalization -- can have a few moments of happiness by chatting with a famous friend.

I guess it wouldn't surprise you to learn that a lot of folks who work for the Walt Disney Company have played a very active role in Famous Fone Friends ever since the organization started making arrangements for calls like this back in 1986. Among the people who have happily contributed their time & talents are voice actors Wayne Allwine (the official voice of Mickey Mouse), Russi Taylor (the official voice of Minnie), Bill Farmer (the official voice of Goofy & Pluto) and Tony Anselmo (the official voice of Donald Duck).

I should point out here that these folks donate all of their services to Famous Fone Friends. They don't get paid a single cent to talk with seriously ill children. These talented performers do this all on their own time, out of the goodness of their hearts.

What's even more remarkable is that the Walt Disney Company -- renown for its iron-fisted control over its characters -- tends to look the other way whenever these folks make these phone calls. In spite of its overly aggressive image, the Disney corporation doesn't insist on being compensated for the use of Mickey, Minnie et al in this particular situation. If it's really being done to entertain a seriously ill child, then the Mouse doesn't want a dime.

Who'd have thought it? The suits that run the Walt Disney Company actually do have hearts.

By the way, if a sick child isn't necessarily a Mickey & Co. fan, that's okay. There's lots of other talented performers who voice Disney characters who happily donate their services to Famous Fone Friends. Among these are Scott Weinger (the official voice of the title character from "Aladdin"), Linda Larkin (the official voice of Princess Jasmine from "Aladdin"), Paige O'Hara (the official voice of Belle from "Beauty & the Beast"), Jodie Benson (the official voice of Ariel from "The Little Mermaid"), Jim Cummings (the official voice of Winnie the Pooh) and Robin Williams (the voice of the Genie from "Aladdin").

So what is a seriously ill child isn't a Disney fan? No problem. The vocal talents behind the industry's other top toons also take part in Famous Fone Friends. Among them are Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Jess Harnell & Rob Paulsen (the voices of Yakko & Wacko Warner from "Animaniacs") as well as June Foray (the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel).

Celebrities and sports figures also gladly lend their voices to Famous Fone Friends. Among the performers who have -- totally out of the spotlight -- taken time out of their busy schedules to entertain ill children are actors John Stamos, Henry Winkler, Courtney Cox and Mark Harmon, talkmeisters Jay Leno and Rosie O'Donnell as well as athletes Karl Malone, Joe Montana and Scott Hamilton.

So what do these people say to the kids? Well, each individual performer approaches his Famous Fone Friends duty in a different way. For example, Robin Williams once had such a great time talking with a hospitalized child on the phone that he invited the kid out to his home to play pool. The late Jim Varney (AKA Ernest P. Worell) used to love to dress up in his character's costume, then barge into a seriously ill child's room carrying a tool kit and a ladder. Pretending to be the hospital janitor, Varney would create all sorts of havoc (as well as lots of laughter for that sick kid) as Ernest labored to change a light bulb.

Personally, this is the part of all this Famous Fone Friends experience that fascinates me: What must it be like for one of these athletes or performers to reach out and try to make a meaningful connection with a seriously ill child?

To answer this question, the nice folks at Famous Fone Friends put me in touch with Cheryl Chase -- best known as the voice of the adorably obnoxious Angelica Pickles on Nickelodeon's popular animated series, "Rugrats." Cheryl -- in sharp contrast to the five year old terror she regularly provides vocals for -- turned out to be a terribly sweet young woman who just sort of backed into her Famous Fone Friends gig.

"Someone contacted my agent, saying that they'd gotten a request for Angelica to talk with this kid," Chase explained. "I thought it would just be a one time thing. Little did I know that my character would wind up talking with six or seven sick children every couple of months."

Cheryl -- though a soft spoken person while off-stage -- clearly takes pride with her involvement with Famous Fone Friends. Though even she seems surprised at how popular her abrasive character is with children in hospitals around the country.

"I don't soften up Angelica at all when I talk with these kids. I just pretend that she's always been their somewhat bossy friend. And the kids just love it," Chase continued. "They seem to get a real kick out of what a fireball Angelica is in the phone."

Even so, Cheryl sometimes has to psych herself to make these calls. Making one of these Famous Fone Friends calls can be a pretty emotional and physically draining experience for a performer.

"I remember this one little girl. Denise, I think her name was. Five years old with some sort of immune system problem," Chase remembered. "I got on the phone with her, figuring that I'd end up carrying the conversation. But Denise totally took over."

This little chatterbox immediately started telling Angelica/Cheryl about all the things that they had in common. How they both loved dolls and hated broccoli. In fact, Denise was so happy that Angelica had called her that she decided to entertain her favorite cartoon character by singing her a song.

So here's Cheryl Chase -- quietly choking up at her end of the phone -- totally blown away by this sick five year old girl that she's supposed to be entertaining who's now belting out a song for Angelica from her hospital bed.

"Okay. Now you sing a song, Angelica," said Denise. Wiping away her tears, Chase did just that.

The folks who work with Famous Fone Friends have hundreds of stories like this. Sweet little sick kids who are just so thrilled to get a phone call from the real Ariel. The real Mickey Mouse. The real Angelica.

So why did I bring this particular story up today? Famous Fone Friends is a non-profit organization that regularly receives requests for these sorts of phone calls from over 300 hospitals across the United States and Canada. And everyone who works for this amazing outfit is a volunteer. More to the point, this service is entirely funded by donations.

So -- this coming Friday -- you could blow all of your dough on those early sales at the mall. Or you could give some of your cash to an organization that could actually do something worthwhile with that money. Which is make a sick child happy.

It's your choice.

Famous Fone Friends is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization that provides bright moments in the lives of children who are hospitalized or home-bound due to serious illness or injury. Celebrities telephone these children to talk about hobbies, friends, school and other subjects of interest. Famous Fone Friends can be an actor, athlete or musician – even Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob or Bart Simpson.

If you know a hospitalized child who would like a call from his/her favorite animated character or TV star or athlete, call Famous Fone Friends at 1-310-204-5683 or e-mail [email protected] for more information.

If you'd just like to make a donation to this very worthwhile organization, please drop a note to this address:

Famous Fone Friends
9101 Sawyer Street
Los Angeles, CA 90035

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  • Jim, I really hope that you're not counting this as your article today.  You could have written about Disney VoluntEARs or something and thrown some love to the unsung heroes of Disney who will be feeding the homeless Wednesday night all around the United States.  But no, you're rehashing something you've already written about.  Woo hoo... (heavy sarcasm)...

    YAY -- rich people can afford to call kids while those who aren't rich will actually be working for free.  I appreciate the difference that this can make in a child's life, but I'm (again) irked that you'd use this same article you'd already written and that you'd also ignore a much larger aspect of Disney's (and the other entertainment companies') ways of helping those who are less fortunate.

    I certainly hope I'm not offending anyone as I really do feel for those who receive the calls :)
  • "Who'd have thought it? The suits that run the Walt Disney Company actually do have hearts."  lol.  just lol.

    " Cheryl Chase -- best known as the voice of the adorably obnoxious Angelica Pickles on Nickelodeon's popular animated series, "Rugrats.""
    At first, I read that as Chevy Chase...I was about to tell my husband that Chevy Chase voiced Angelica...glad I read it again ;-)

    jimiscrazy, I think it's a nice thing that Jim wrote this article.  It's a heartwarming story on a mighty cold morning.  Even if it is the only article of the day, even if one of us makes a donation, Jim did a great thing by writing this article.  It's is the season of giving, after all.  Way to go, Jim!

  • Why would there be a problem in reminding people of this organization? It seems a worthy cause and worth our attention, and I'm sure the VoluntEARs will be discussed soon enough. Why do so many people want to dictate the direction of Jim Hill's articles? Start your own website, get your own contacts, collect your own news, start your own forum, and then see what a drag some people are.
  • WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE? Seriously in all my years on the net rarely can I remember a website with such a poisonous, nasty, small minded community like this one. I have been reading this sight for about eight months now and have not posted before because of how turned off I have been by the so called community that claims to represent this site. These days I almost never bother to read the comments because of how nasty and small minded become. Many days they have helped ruin a story I otherwise loved and I simply no longer could tolerate it. I thought at least with this wonderful and touching story about an organization I had never heard of before that we would get no negative, flaming comments. But no how quickly I was shown to be wrong and for me at least this is my breaking point. I have to respond now or else I will start ripping out my hair in frustration.

    jimiscrazy your complaints about this story lack any substance and border on personal attacks on a man who quite frankly I'm not even sure why keeps doing what he does. It  seems like all he gets in response is crap is like you. If you don't like his stories, if you don't like this site, if you don't agree with anything he does than please GO THE FRAK AWAY and leave it to those of us who do. Nobody says you have to enjoy everything Jim writes and if you want to intelligently discuss why, I will gladly listen and respond in kind. Post like yours above however in no way constitute intelligent discussion. It is trolling plain and simple and I wish to god that you would stop it.

    Jim in the likely event that I don't post again for long time I just wanted to say my family and I love your website and greatly appreciate all the hard work you put into it. Obviously I would love for you to finish some of your in progress series but I understand all to well the twisting and curving path the writing process can sometimes take. I for one am thrilled to learn about Famous Fone Friends and you can bet I will be adding them to my donation list. This just another in a long line of fascinating articles that let me learn more about an industry and (at least creatively) a business I love. Thank you again for all the great stories and hard work. Try not to let the small minded idiots get you down.
  • PingBack from http://www.streetrat.net/2006/11/21/phone-calls-from-al-jas-or-genie/
  • Oh, the gaul, Jimiscrazy.  What a snotty, self-centered comment.  "Ohh, I don't get any update on the business or history today, waaaaah."  This isn't your website.  And Jim has more frequent updates than almost any other Disney-themed site; you can't expect all of them to knock your socks off (though I quite enjoyed this one.)  

    And you complain that he could have addressed VoluntEars?  He has addressed that in the past, as well.  Both topics would have been repeat performances.  But who cares?  When discussing a topic like Disney, you're going to have to repeat yourself now and then.

    Any cause that makes sick children smile deserves to be lauded.  And charities are always in dire need of funds (even if the voices are working for free, the organizers are not.)

    Thank you for the article, Jim.  It was interesting, and inspiring.
  • I totally agree with StorytellerSJK about the poor community spirit on Jim Hill Media.  Although I have my own screenname here as does everyone else, the problem with venom and spite on any internet community chat site is Anonymity.

    Most people wouldn't think of writing these spite filled comments if they had to actually attach their full, real name to the comments rather than behind some made-up SN.

    Take each comment with a grain of salt.  It's easier to be a Disney armchair critic when you're hiding behind some stupid name.    
    Case in point.  --->    - DizneeProfitEar.
  • Jim, thank you for this great article. As we approach this time of craziness, it is nice to be reminded of the good that happens. I think it is so great that all these voice performers will take time to truly make a difference by brightening these children's day. And I also find it great that Disney (and these other companies) are also embracing the goodwill. It is organizations like this (along with similar ones like VoluntEARS, Make a Wish, etc) that really shine this time of year.
  • Hi everyone,

    While I appreciate your opinion of how I feel about what Jim wrote today, I do not appreciate the way I've been villified by all of you.

    I have no intention of starting my own site, as I have interests that conflict with that, and also, I may or may occasionally make sure information is passed along to Jim, take that as you may.

    I am frustrated that Jim has rehashed an article that he previously wrote without expanding upon it.  Maybe he could have written a few stories from Wayne, Russi, et al.

    This site is simply people hiding behind stupid names, as most of Jim's sources are anonymous, so please don't criticize me for that.

    I appreciate that Jim wants to show a charitable side to the performers who work FOR Disney as performers, but I'd appreciate sometimes showing the "grunts" get their due, as well.  Or maybe an in-depth article into broader initiatives that Disney supports.

    So, please, I'm not attacking Jim on a personal level.  I enjoy reading his site, but I'm disappointed with today's article.  Simple as that.  Jim can't win them all, but I think that criticism and discussion are welcome and that's why this forum is here for us.
  • What a wonderful, heartwarming story! Thanks, Jim, for posting this - I'd never heard of Famous Fone Friends. As a kid I would have freaked over getting a phone call from Mickey Mouse! What a terrific idea. (And I'm not surprised so many kids like Angelica from Rugrats, as bossy as she is. She's a take-charge type of kid, like Bart Simpson, and a lot of kids dig that kind of personality). And I especially liked the story about Jim Varney. He must have been an incredibly nice guy. Thanks again, Jim, this story really brightened my day.
  • If you don't want to be vilified, don't be vile. Your post was just inane, crass, and selfish, and made moreso by trashing an article with a generous intent. Criticism isn't about heavy sarcasm, and you write like you should already know that. This is the first such article Jim Hill has posted for the season, and you know he'll post more, so really it sounds like you are just complaining to read your own insensitivity. Your mock surprise at everyone's response lacks sincerity, too. Try tempering your next post with common sense, please.
  • Too bad all of these sick kids will not know how to spell the word PHONE  :)
  • I'm going to go ahead and do what I feel that Jim should have done, but did not:

    During this time of year, many families have a hard time enjoying themselves.  You see, they have children with terminal illnesses, they are impoverished, and many, many other things.

    In the past, I wrote this article at Laughing Place:

    Rather than present it in its entirety here, why don't you click on over there and read it.

    Also, here's a story from Nancy Cartwright's site about the organization:

    And finally, if you personally are interested in participating this year in making a difference then I'd suggest you head on over to the Disney VoluntEARs site:


    Disney Cast Members can volunteer to go out and help others in the community.  Sometimes this is very touching, seeing as many Cast Members at Disney's theme parks struggle themselves to make it through the holidays -- it really shows the spirit of these people.

    If you are or know of a Cast Member, why don't you sign-up (or sign-up through that CM friend) for a VoluntEAR event this year and really make a difference!
  • 1) As others have said, if you don't want to be vilified, don't be vile. To start with, don't bash an article that talks about an organization that helps sick children.

    2) So what, Jim wrote about it before. What you fail to mention is that he last wrote it five and a half years ago over at LaughingPlace.com. I'm willing to bet that only a handful of people here read that article.

    3) Yes, criticism is welcome on the boards (often too much), but who in their right mind criticizes an article about an organization that helps sick children? And of course, I'm sure your username "JimIsCrazy" isn't helping you much on that front either.
  • Waaah, JimIsCrazy feels vilified. What the heck did you expect for making an ill-considered comment like the one that begins this thread?? Your heart may in fact be in the right place, JIC, but clearly the majority here interpreted your comments as bilious and spiteful. The burden of communication is on the communicatOR, so if you're feeling all misunderstood it's truly your own fault. Any reasonable person of average or better intelligence would have made the same misinterpretaion of your thoughts based on the way you wrote them down.
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