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

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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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  • Great article Jim thanks for sharing so nice to see some of these well known voice actors give up there time to help such a good cause.And I really apreciate the article because its something that these talented people do that we never get to hear about.Also coming from the UK I'd just like to wish you and all your American readers a Happy Thanksgiving
  • We hear so much negativity when it comes to the "suits" behind every big, and sometimes not so big companies, that it's great to know these same pencil pushers within the animation community (at least) can look the other way where terminal children are involved.

    Thank you for reminding us of this worthwhile cause.  It's just sad that some membes of this Board seem to HAVE to be reminded, and that they don't "get" the very point to the article, or apairnetly the Holiday itself.

    What were you saying about "Good Will Toword Men"?

    (And you'll notice I use my own, real name.)
  • askmike1 said:
    "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. "
    And 4), um....maybe he was going on vacation for the holiday?  9_9
  • I want to thank Jimiscrazy for his additional comments about the dedicated seaonal work of voluntEARS, I also want to thank Jim Hill for his reminder of the wonderful work Famous Fone Friends provides.  Both topics are perfect for this Thanksgiving Holiday.

    I plan on making several large donations this season and Fone Friends will be among them.

    I hope everyone has a happy holiday season,
    Curt Brown
  • Just ban Jimiscrazy Jim.  We don't want to hear from him anymore....  Thanks for your wonderful, frequently updated site.  Wouldn't mind if you got rid of the irritating popups though.  I'd be glad to pay a bit for a popup free version.  
  • Well, hey, at least this fire in the comments section prove that there's some good community base here to counter the bad, right?

    As to giving time to promote the Famous Fone Friends instead of the Disney VoluntEARS, I'm guessing we all know about the VoluntEARS since we're all goobs anyway, right? I think this was a great article (rehashed or not) because many of us obviously DIDN'T know about Famous Fone Friends, and especially because the main focus of it wasn't on Disney voice actors doing good, but rather a Nickelodeon character.

    So yeah... To those who choose to chastize this article: suck it up, shut up, and have a happy Thanksgiving. There are kids dying in hospitals who are waiting for a call from Angelica during dinner.
  • datbates said:
    "Just ban Jimiscrazy Jim.  We don't want to hear from him anymore...."
    Judging from the screenname and the posts, think JIC caught the wave back during the Cars Wars when he thought he was buddying up with the rest of us for the kicks of it, and now just doesn't know when to adjust his material--
    He's STILL trying to do August posts because he thought they'd all get a laugh months later, and, well, it's November now, and we're trying to heal..."Hey, c'mon, why the tough crowd?--Ba-bing!"
  • No need to ban me -- I'm done.

    I am not on the "August Bandwagon" still, and the "jimiscrazy" name has nothing to do with Jim Hill, it's a reference to something else, but no point explaining it to anyone here.

    Enjoy the site everyone.  I'll be busy getting my insider information directly from the source.
  • Oh, and one more thing -- considering that I was aware of a Jim Hill article from 5 years ago on Laughing Place, you'd think that maybe I've been around as long, if not longer than most of the other people on this board.  When the Cars debacle was happening, all I requested was for Jim to simply state his position on Cars -- I shut up when he did.  I didn't care if he called it a failure or not -- I only wanted to see where his bias was.
  • >>I'll be busy getting my insider information directly from the source.<<

    Walt Disney himself!

    But seriously, will you be starting your own website?
  • PingBack from http://cartoons.ezyinfo.net/blog/52/cartoon-characters-quiz-1-free-quiz-questions-trivia-quiz/

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