“What are we going to do tonight Brain?”
“Same thing we do every night Pinky – Try to take over the world.”
If those two lines stir even the faintest hint of nostalgia, then you’re in for a treat. Actor Rob Paulsen, who voiced Pinky (among many, many other cartoon characters), has written a memoir: Voice Lessons: How a Couple of Ninja Turtles, Pinky, and an Animaniac Saved My Life.
The book details not only the rise of his career but the battle with throat cancer that could have ended it (not to mention his life.) We spoke with Mr. Paulsen back in August of this year and he was an incredibly funny, warm, optimistic person and his book is much the same.
The novel uses Paulsen’s cancer diagnosis as a framing story. Voice Lessons begins with Paulsen talking to himself (or rather to Pinky) and coming to terms with the news. After sitting with the reality of having a life threatening illness the novel steps back. Taking a more contemplative turn, Voice Lessons looks back over Paulsen’s life and his foray into acting. Which started off, interestingly enough, as a foray into music.
Young Dumb and Full of… Artistic Yearnings
Anyone familiar with Paulsen’s work knows the man can sing. He can often be found belting out the theme from Animaniacs or Yakko’s World at conventions around the globe. So, knowing he started off wanting to be a singer isn’t that surprising, but it makes for great storytelling. Paulsen’s pursuit of a music career takes him from opening for Bob Seger to traveling as a part of church theater group. But it doesn’t take him where he wants to go. There is a feeling of restless uncertainty that is palpable in the first part of the book. Paulsen’s Michigan upbringing is far from tragic, nor is it idyllic. It’s very …normal. And therein lies the charm of Voice Lessons.
If you are looking for a tell all book about the seedy underbelly of Hollywood, or the excessive party antics of actors; this is not the book for you. That isn’t to say Paulsen is some boy scout painting a world of innocent glitz and glamour either. It’s just not that sort of book. It has more in common with the words of Studs Terkel than Jerry Springer.
A Different Look At Hollywood
Voice Lessons gives great insight into the life of a working stiff in Hollywood. Instead of sensational stories of debauchery and madness, we see how legends are truly born: step by step, with hard work and determination. The accomplishment here is that it is never boring. Despite a total lack of gossip, greed, or gratuitous sex and violence Voice Lessons is a compelling read.
Wonderful anecdotes are woven together to create a larger picture of a real career in entertainment. As an enormous fan of Phil Hartman I loved reading about he and Paulsen before Hartman’s days on SNL. Here we get a glimpse not of the comedic giant who dominated the 90’s, but of a hard working, talented kid, trying to get any gig he can. See Also: Mel Brooks, Ninja Turtles, G.I.-Joe, etc, etc, etc. The amount of influential works and talented individuals Paulsen has worked with in his career is staggering.
But it is far from just a long list of name dropping. Paulsen has an overarching tale. Each anecdote furthers the story along. And it’s a story worth listening to. At its heart Voice Lessons is a non didactic guide to success. Paulsen advocates kindness, hard work, and grace. And let’s face it: when not one, but two bonafide ninja turtles gives you life advice – you listen.
Our Verdict: This is an easy recommendation. Rob Paulsen’s Voice Lessons… is a funny, heart-warming, fascinating look at life long career in Hollywood. It is an easy read that flows wonderfully and is packed with fun, enjoyable anecdotes. If Hollywood history, the craft of film-making, or cartoons in general are your jam – this book is a must read.
You can hear our interview with Rob Paulsen here.