Paul Soles - The Original Spiderman
Tobey Maguire may be swinging through a theater near you this summer, but for fans of old cartoons and the silver age of comic books, Paul Soles will be the one saving damsels in distress and capturing crooks on the small screen this June when Spider-Man: The '67 Collection DVD boxed set hits the stands. While he managed to string together an impressive career, many people still hold a special place in their hearts for Soles's early roles. Legions of fans will recognize him as the voice behind Hermey in Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, Bruce Banner in the 1966 Hulk cartoon, and of course, Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the original Spider-Man.
I had a chance to talk with Soles about the release of the entire Spider-Man cartoon series on DVD and the fond memories he has about recording the show…
DVDTalk: The new Spider-Man DVD set allows modern audiences to enjoy the original cartoon series in all of its glory. But animation has come a long way since the show first aired in the late 1960s. Do you think this Spider-Man series will appeal to modern audiences?
Paul Soles: Indeed. The way they've cleaned up and mastered this series, it's almost a brand new series. It just looks great. If you see it on an old VHS, it's pretty claggy. But now, it looks almost like it was made yesterday.
One of the charms I always thought of the original series was that it wasn't quite the sophisticated animation of a Warner Bros or MGM cartoon from the '30s, '40s, and '50s, like Bugs Bunny and things. Those were brilliant animations. This is pretty simple, but it's that kind of rough-hewn animation that I think made it distinctive from other cartoons, and maybe it was part of the charm and why people glogged onto it so fast and for so long.
DVDTalk: Who do you see as the target audience for the DVD set? Kids, or more of the older generation who saw the show when they were kids?
Paul Soles: You know, I can't answer that. I'm 73 years old and a little old for comic books. [laughs] But any of us who were on that series are really just amazed that people have been hooked into it for so long and we know that 2nd and 3rd generations of people are watching it. Fathers who are in their 30s and 40s are showing it to their kids, and so it goes on.
There's a parallel in that with Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, in which I had a part. As Rudolf celebrates 40 years, very close to the amount of Spider-Man, we're just blown away at how many people have made this a regular part of their Christmas and of their lives. It's very flattering because, in a way, it makes you a part of history.
DVDTalk: Definitely. I know I still watch Rudolph and I'm 32.
Paul Soles: It's amazing. It's just astounding. And you talk about fairly primitive animation-that stop motion animation of Rudolph was not exactly the most sophisticated in the world, but it works.
DVDTalk: How do you think this Spider-Man series fits in with all of the modern, digital animation such as Shrek?
Paul Soles: Well, I don't think they're competitive. [laughing] People now expect these sophisticated digital effects in the feature, whether it's Spider-Man or any of the other new ones. But I think the appeal of the Spider-Man thing is what you hinted at earlier: it's nostalgia. It's a part of their past. The very fact that we're still relatively new in the age of being able to have in your own hand, in your own home, the ability to play-when you want to-a set of DVDs, for a guy like me, the idea that you can have these things without having to go to the video store or record them off the TV or whatever, and that it's part of your past and you can pass it along to your children, is very appealing.
When I was in my 30s, when we were doing this, there was a studio crewman at the TV station where I was working who was very into film. There was a very serious network of fans who would buy and sell 16 millimeter prints of feature films. Now, they were a couple hundred bucks for one of them. Back then that was a fair whack of money. But the beauty of it, as we've just been talking, is that here you have these films and you didn't have to go to the theater for them. You could sort of own a bit of film history. Gone With the Wind or any of the ones that had been dubbed. And they were fragile because they were film, not tape, and it was a remarkable sort of underground fan club for these things.
Well, today, they're infinitely more sophisticated, easily manipulated, easily acquired, easily stored, and you don't have great big 2-foot wide reels of film or projectors to show them. Today, it's just your TV or computer. It's a marvelous medium.
DVDTalk: It's a great way to get this type of art to the masses.
Paul Soles: Exactly. Exactly.
DVDTalk: Let's switch gears a little bit here. You've had a wide range of roles in your career. You've done Shakespeare, you've played Einstein, you've been in action films and comedies. Looking back, how does Spider-Man fit in? Do you see it as less serious as some of the other things you've done?
Paul Soles: I don't think any acting job would be taken by most actors as anything but seriously. The purpose of the actor, the function of the actor, whether it be Shakespeare or Spider-Man, is to render the character honestly, that is, believably, and honor the intention of the writer. To realize what the writer had in mind in telling the story, whether you're doing comedy or tragedy. You've got to portray a character as real, as believable.
There was a famous English actress who said the audience will give you one minute to convince them that you are who you claim you are. After that, the audience will relax and go along with you. But if you don't convince them of that within that first minute, it doesn't matter what you do for the rest of the play. They'll turn you off or they'll walk out.
But to follow up on your very good question, in a sense you're asking what sort of medium do I like. It's one of those things where if you've never known it, you don't miss it. If you've never had champagne, you won't miss it if you don't get it. But having experienced all of them, I wouldn't want to have not done cartoons.
DVDTalk: So, then, how fun was it?
Paul Soles: Pure fun.
DVDTalk: Well, what was the process like for you when you were recording?
Paul Soles: Well, you were called to say they were recording at the studio at 10:00 or whatever. I don't think we ever started before 10:00. I don't think most actors start before then. [laughing] Maybe it's the producers who don't want to get up before 10:00. [laughs] Anyway, you show up at 10:00, you're given the script, you look it over, you mark it with whatever little hieroglyphics are right for you and let you say to yourself, "I want to take a breath here" or "pause there" or "put lots of emphasis on that word" or whatever. Then you sit down at a table and almost immediately you go right to the mic and start laying them down. I don't think we ever needed more than two or three takes on any section before it was gone.
Mind you, this is after we had got going on it for awhile. It wasn't as though we had to think up new voices. Although, a lot of people who played villains played several villains. I played a villain myself. The director of the series played a villain.
DVDTalk: Oh yeah? I didn't know that.
Paul Soles: Oh yeah. So, you know, you try out, "Well, does the Scorpion sound like this?" or "Does the Vulture sound like that?" or Lizard or Elektro or whatever. And you try it out and the director says, "Yeah, you gave A, B, C. I'll take C." And that's what you do. The point I'm making is that in casting these actors, the director knows that he's got a person who can get it fast and deliver it quickly too, because time is money.
DVDTalk: You were in a lot of different Marvel cartoons: Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man. Can you give me an idea on how you started working with Marvel and their cartoons?
Paul Soles: Well, it wasn't so much Marvel. The director who cast us all was here in Toronto. The projects were brought to him. So how they were brought to him, in a sense, was not anything we ever got involved in. The job was A, B, or C, and in you came. The only decision was did you want to do it or not. Of course, as with a lot of things, if you didn't, there were 15,000 people who would. Or wanted to. Which was fine.
But it wasn't so much that we were working with this studio or that book or whatever. It was a voice job that presented its own challenge to the actor. Can I be this character? Will that be fun? And am I free?
DVDTalk: It sounds like you were having lots of fun. When you were talking about the different voices for different characters, it sounded like you were having a good time. Was that a fun aspect of the job?
Paul Soles: [using a deeper voice] Now for children of all ages! For kids from 8 to 80. [normal voice] I don't think you ever lose, or you shouldn't ever lose, your sense of childishness. That is wonder and delight, magic and fantasy. If you ever lose that, I don't care how old you are, you might as well be dead.
A few years ago I was lucky to be cast in what was to have been a feature film of the stage shows of Doug Henning, the magician. He was a brilliant, brilliant magician. Young, and right in the modern time. We were in this magic show and we had to sign this waver that we would not reveal the techniques used for these tricks. I have to tell you that half way through the shooting of the film, I could've seen how every trick was done. But after half way through, I said, "No. No, I don't want to know anymore. I don't want to know how that's done." Now, there is one illusion that a lot of people do but Henning did very quickly and very beautifully, that sometimes I say to myself, you know, I really wish I'd found out how that one was done. But in a way, I'm not.
And it's all part of the question you asked. You want to retain something of the kid in you. Which is really nothing more than the sense of discovery, of wonder. You only have to go out at a nice sunset or go into the country or up by a lake to appreciate the grandeur of anything of nature. That's a good reason to get up everyday.
DVDTalk: I think you mentioned that you didn't read comic books…
Paul Soles: Oh, I read comic books like every other kid. Just not after I was about 12.
DVDTalk: For the show, then, did you have to do any research on Spider-Man or Peter Parker?
Paul Soles: No. Remember, the comic books had only come out about three years earlier. And it took a year for Spider-Man to really catch on. And it caught on to the surprise of [Stan] Lee and the people at Marvel. So there wasn't an awful lot of research to go through. Now, we all remembered the super heroes of our childhood. Now, mine were Superman of course, and Captain Marvel, a big hero who wore a red suit with a bolt of lightening on his chest and coined the phrase "Shazam."
But then you got the comic books as much for the stuff they were selling. You know, ventriloquism stuff, magic powders, little whoopee cushions, all that junk and stuff, which I'm presuming they still do. [laughs]
DVDTalk: Yeah, comics seem to tie in well with marketing products.
Paul Soles: Oh, yeah, that was always there. It's been there for 50 years.
DVDTalk: Have you seen the new Spider-Man movies?
Paul Soles: Well, I certainly saw the first one and I'm looking forward to the second. Absolutely. I really enjoyed the first one. I thought Sam Raimi, in choosing the way he wanted to go…you know the struggles he had with trying to get the studios? He said this is the way I'm going to do it. I want Tobey [Maquire] and that's how it's going to be. It took the studios a while to say okay.
DVDTalk: I'm definitely glad he stuck to his guns. Everything worked great.
Paul Soles: Yeah, but the guns he stuck to were dependable, good guns that worked. He was faithful to the whole ethic of the character and the story that Stan Lee had created for him. And I think Raimi's instincts were dead on in honoring that. And that's why it's endured for so many years.
DVDTalk: One last question. If you had to name any one thing, what was your favorite aspect of being the voice of Spider-Man?
Paul Soles: The fact that I get a call from you. [laughs] But if you read between the lines there, I mean, the fact that it has endured and people are happily associated me with it, what else could you want? That's real immortality.
- James W. Powell
Fans of Paul Soles should keep an eye out for his Web site, wallopinwebsnappers.com, which appears for the first time on June 30, 2004.