Scarlett Stahl: A Visit with a Goofy Guy Named Bill Farmer
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As originally printed in the June 2006 edition of the Disneyana Fan Club’s Fantasyline Express newsletter
This is Bill Farmer's 25th Anniversary as Goofy and since Goofy was created in 1932, this is Goofy's 80th Anniversary. The Disneyana Fan Club will be hosting a dinner for Ryman Arts on Thursday evening, July 19, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Garden Grove/Anaheim entitled "Goofy's Anniversary Party Dinner." Bill Farmer has graciously agreed to do a Goofy Anniversary skit for the attendees to raise money for Ryman Arts. There will be many celebrity guest hosts at the tables, so mark the date on your calendars and plan on attending the celebration.
Bill Farmer and family at home with his Disney Legend award
When I met Bill Farmer (also known as Goofy) at the Annie Awards (which honor achievements in animation), I immediately asked for an interview. Bill was kind enough to agree to an interview a few months later at his home in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.
Bill is an attractive, older boy-next-door type with sandy hair, a rugged appearance and an engaging and disarming smile, which immediately put me at ease. For those who like the late-night movies as I do, he reminds you of the perennial boy next door, Sonny Tufts.
Needless to say, with his voice talents it was a fun interview. When I asked if he was the official voice of Goofy, he said, “Yup, that be me.”
Bill was born on November 14 in Pratt, Kansas, the second child in his family; he has an older sister. As Bill says, “This was tornado country.” His parents were both of English and Welsh descent. Bill has been trying to trace his roots.
No one in Bill’s family was in show business. His father ran a department store with his brothers and sisters. Later, he went to work for an irrigation company. Sadly, he passed away when he was just 54 years old.
As a kid, Bill loved Saturday morning cartoons and would practice doing the voices. That made him a big hit with friends, especially during junior high and high school. In fact, he became known for his talent and was recruited to appear in pep assemblies every Friday before the football game. The cheerleaders would perform, and then Bill would come out and imitate John Wayne, saying phrases like, “Let’s get out there and beat that team.” This was his hobby.
At the University of Kansas his major was Broadcast Journalism, However, during parties at his Sigma Chi fraternity, his frat brothers would call for him to perform when the band took a break. So he began writing some material and developed a comedy routine.
After college, he planned on getting a radio job in Pratt. However, his local doctor had another patient who worked for the magician Mark Wilson and referred Bill to him. Wilson had a company that sent puppet shows into schools around the country. Bill had never worked with puppets, but he was told that it was a taped show and went to Los Angeles for the interview – only to be sent immediately to New York!
The puppet show was free to the schools. Its theme was safety, and Burger King was the sponsor. At that time, Bill only worked the puppets and used an audiotape – he didn’t do any voices of his own. After the show, he would go out and show the kids the puppets and then do some of his voices. Not only did he book the show, perform the show and hand out Burger King cards, he also drove the truck through all five boroughs of New York City and through southern Connecticut.
His territory included some rough areas of Brooklyn and Harlem, and no one told him that his predecessor had been mugged and hurt pretty badly. However, Bill was lucky and escaped unharmed. He worked six months in the New York area, then six months in Houston before he moved to Dallas.
After one and a half years, he became tired of traveling and went to work for a small radio station in Bonham, Texas, north of Dallas. He sold time, wrote commercials, read news and did just about everything. He later moved to another station in Frederick, Oklahoma, that was owned by the same man.
While working there, he studied and received a degree in electronics and became chief engineer. He received a first class FCC license to work a transmitter and electrical details. Then he went back to Dallas and took a class for five hours a night to learn more about electronics. He earned a technician degree (equivalent to AA degree in electronics) at the Elkins Institute of Technology.
He wanted to get back into radio but couldn’t find a well-paying job, so he went back to work in electronics instead. For a couple of years, he fixed computers.
For fun he went to a comedy club and signed up to spend a few weeks performing a five-minute routine he’d written. He got a great response, and kept going back and kept getting even better.
Before long, he was asked if he’d like to perform at some other clubs in Houston and then began traveling as a standup comic.
He had just met Jennifer, his wife-to-be, in a singles class at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church. The year they were married, they were just one of 28 class couples to get married.
Bill was still doing electronics work from midnight to 8 am so he could do commercials and act during the day. He had signed with an agent and was also traveling as a stand-up comic.
He quit his job the day before his wedding, which just thrilled Jennifer’s parents. Her father said, “He’s becoming a comedian! Why doesn’t he become a trash man, like something decent?” Of course, her father later changed his turn.
Eventually, his agent suggested Bill go to Hollywood and give himself a couple of years to see if he could get a job doing voices for animation. Jennifer wrote a lot of agents and set up appointments for a visit to Hollywood in 1986.
Four agents wanted to represent Bill, so he moved out to stay with Jennifer’s cousin until he could get his own apartment.
Four months after he got to Hollywood, Bill’s agent asked if he could voice any of the Disney characters. Bill could do a pretty good Mickey and a good Goofy, but not Donald.
At that time, Disney sometimes had four or five different people doing one character’s voice. When Michael Eisner became the CEO, he wanted audiences to always hear the same voice.
There was a big audition in Hollywood, so Bill listened to the tapes and did a recording. Disney hired him to voice Goofy in January, 1987, and he’s been voicing Goofy ever since.
He only worked about once a month at first, but then it became steady work and Jennifer joined him in California that May. They now have one son, Austin, who is a good drummer and has his own agent. Jennifer is a script supervisor and has directed a couple of films, one of which was a made-for-television movie called “Pumpkin Man.”
But Bill has been so busy that he hasn’t really been able to do much else. As he said, “Balancing a career and a family can be difficult,” and he has wanted to be home with his son.
In addition to Goofy, Bill has done several other Disney voices, including Pluto, Horace Horsecollar, Practical Pig (of The Three Little Pigs), and Sleepy.
He performed 20 different voices of ghosts and characters of the CD-ROM game based on “The Haunted Mansion.” He has done background voices in many other Disney films, including Beauty and the Beast, Hercules, A Bug’s Life, The Emperor’s New Groove, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, Toy Story 2, and the Buzz Lightyear feature. He also does voice work for the theme parks, such as for “Mickey’s Philharmagic.”
At Warner Brothers he worked on Space Jam, as well as performed some of the characters originally voiced by Mel Blanc, such as Sylvester and Yosemite Sam.
Of course, Goofy is his favorite.
Bill does his own audition tapes at this home studio and just submits them. After a friend asked him who did his demo tapes, and Bill admitted that he did them himself, he started doing them for other people, too. He consults with others on how to do on-camera and voiceover demo tapes and produces them in his own studio; he’s now done more than 150.
Photography, videography, and recording are his hobbies, but he makes a living out of them, too. He said that stand-up comedy is the best training as you are either funny – or you aren’t. He has volunteered to help with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and will call kids who want to talk with Goofy over the phone. He said that doing Goofy is a dream come true, and advises, “Keep following your dreams, ‘cause all this stuff can come true.”
-- Posted February 24, 2012
-- Text and Picture by Scarlett Stahl