One Cold December Morning I ran into Barnes and Nobles one cold December morning to get the gist of who Nancy Cartwright, the voice behind Bart Simpson, really was. I found the book, My Life As a 10-Year-Old Boy, in the T.V. section of the store-I didn’t even know there was a T.V. section. I settled into a cozy chair away from everyone and began reading.
The introduction began, “It is a Saturday morning in 1986. I am in my bed, in my jammies, eating a big bowl of Cap’n Crunch.” Already I liked this woman.
She continued on that she is watching three of her favorite cartoons, Galaxy High, My Little Pony and Friends and the Snorks, because she is in all three of them. I was hooked.
I sat reading for another two hours-sometimes laughing to myself, sometimes out loud and finally crying real tears on this book, which destroyed my evil plan to just read enough to get by without having to buy it.
My Life As A 10-Year-Old-Boy outlines Nancy’s journey as an actress from humble home-town beginnings in Kettering, Ohio to her life in “Springfield,” as well as behind the scenes Simpsons tidbits, the art of animation and celebrity encounters.
Shortly thereafter, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy over the phone. Talking with her, I was surprised by how easily she shifted from her speaking voice into the mischievous laugh she’s so well known for and then back again.
“You’re in Dayton, Ohio right now?” she excitedly asks. At my “yes” she then comes back with a Homer-esque “Woo-Hoo” followed by Bart saying, “Dayton Rocks, Man, cool.”
Nancy explained that she misses Dayton for its change of seasons, as well as what she considers to be actual neighborhoods. She misses block parties and can’t wait to get back here to talk with all of her old classmates at her 25th Kettering-Fairmont High School Reunion in August.
The scoop, the poop, the skinny
Nancy had a fairly normal childhood watching The Jetsons, her favorite cartoon, on Saturday mornings and playing in the marching band. In fact, she could’ve been me, or any other girl growing up in the suburbs, except that she was being cast as boys in summer theater productions.
Like most kids, she honed her acting skills on her parents, convincing her mother that her fingers couldn’t stretch quite far enough to play the flute. She was then suited with the instrument of her choice, a trumpet. Fourth grade brought her into the world of speech competition and though she started small, competing against basically one other girl in her class, she won. And she kept on winning and began doing theater and eventually asked her parents if she could be transferred from parochial school to Kettering public schools so that she could be on the speech team.
As a voice-over artist, Nancy was trained by one of the best-Daws Butler. He was the voice of characters such as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick-Draw McGraw, Baba-Looey, Elroy, Cogswell, Hair Bear, Augie Doggie, Cap’n Crunch and more. Cartwright got Butler’s number from a Warner Brothers rep visiting WING-AM when she was working there in high school. (Can you imagine? These days you can’t even send a CD to someone in the business without consent).
Surprisingly, Nancy began corresponding with Butler who would send her scripts. She would tape herself reading them and send them back. He would send a critique of her performance along with another script. This went on through her sophomore year at O.U. when, with her parents full-support, she decided to transfer to UCLA to work with Butler full-time.
She gives Butler credit for jumpstarting her career–once there, he helped her record a demo, took her to Hannah-Barbera Studios to a reading where she ended up meeting people that would directly impact her future in the business.
Her career began with a bang doing shows like Fame and Empty Nest, as well as movies on ABC. She’s played countless other animated creatures in such things as Glo-Friends, Pinky and the Brain, Pink Panther, she was even voiced a shoe in Roger Rabbit. She has also done some major films including: The Twilight Zone, and Godzilla. And In 1996, she won the prestigious Drama-logue Award by playing a variety of characters in the one-woman play she co-wrote, In Search of Fellini.
Though she feels she was destined to play the role Bart Simpson, she’s played the feminine role as well. She was cast as Gloria in the Richey Rich cartoon, Pistol on Goof Troop (I always loved that name), and the daughter (I believe) on the extremely short-lived God, The Devil and Bob. But playing boys is how she is most well known.
But playing boys is how she is most well known. Nancy plays the infamous Bart, as well as four additional boys on The Simpsons: Kearney, Nelson (Ha Ha), Ralph Wiggum (“My cat’s breath smells like cat food”), and Todd Flanders.
Most everyone on cast does several characters and jumps in to help out with the non-regulars that show up from time to time. Occasionally, one of the sketch artists will show up during a reading and sketch a character. “It usually only happens when they are having trouble developing a new character,” explains Nancy, “but it’s great.”
In her book, Nancy explains that she was the only person to even audition for the role of the 10 year-old, devious, school-hating, under-achiever, but creator, Matt Groening, knew instantly that he was hearing Bart, and hired her on the spot. The Simpsons is now in year twelve and there is talk of The Simpsons movie, but I didn’t know that when I talked to Nancy, so I don’t have any more interesting tid-bits for you. Sorry.
Being a stage, film and animation veteran, Nancy seems un-phased by the popularity of the characters she plays. She says that although Bart is one of the most well known “people” on the planet, even being recognized in TIME Magazine as one of the top 100 artists and entertainers of the 20th century, she goes virtually unrecognized.
“Actually when I was writing the book, I looked at it going, the very thing that makes what I do so unique is that I can be this international icon, well, the voice of this international icon…and nobody knows it.”
“So are you recognized more now that the book has come out?” I ask.
She replied, “Here I am blowing it with my face on the cover so that people will recognize me. But actually it hasn’t changed at all. I still have exactly what I thought I would have because it’s not my face that’s in your living room at 8pm on Sunday night. It’s Bart.”
The book has done well selling around 65,000 copies at the end of 2000. And when we talked, she was getting ready to hit the road again. The book tour, so far has taken her to well, Dayton, but also New York, London, Scotland, Ireland, Los Angeles, Portland and Las Vegas.
“I don’t think that the book is just for Simpsons fans. It comes from the viewpoint of a 43-year-old woman who’s married and has two kids. Struggling, being a mom and having a career-a career of a 10-year-old boy-I get to be a kid!”
The book, by the way, is good. It’s easy to read, humorous, poetic at times and extremely inspiring. I highly recommend it.
Happy House Productions
Since The Simpsons is such a finely tuned machine, the voice-over artists only spend about six hours a week actually working on the show, which leaves plenty of time for other projects. So Nancy isn’t relying on her voice talent alone for future security, she has started a production company, though she admits that it is really more of a development company. It is aptly titled, Happy House Productions. Nancy says that she currently has several projects in the works.
“…I’m working on a feature-length epic-it’s a very dramatic piece. I’ve been to Africa a couple of times to do research on it…to Ghana.” The animated story is set in a different time period, back when America and England made a trade route with Africa for slaves. “…We’re shopping it and it’s looking very good,” she explains. The company is also working on projects for television-”we’ve got this one show called Geek House and it’s the perfect prime-time, very edgy, kind of Animal House meets Revenge of the Nerds.”
An Internet project called Sports Blast is also in the works. Nancy explains that there’s a rather impressive group on the board. “…Top people in the music and entertainment industry -lots of voice-over experts whose names wouldn’t mean a whole lot to you, but if I said it was Pinky and the Brain, Wacko and Yacko, 101 Dalmatian puppies…Isaac Hayes … Even William Meyer, the marketing genius behind Earthlink is on board.
Nancy says the site will be launched as soon as they have the funding in place. They are also searching for animators and flash site creators-go to www.happyhouse.com
“I’ve got seven staff–this is what I do in my day and I just got another gig, another voice-over job for a pilot.” Nancy says that she will always want to continue doing voices-”I don’t want to just separate myself from it-that was my beginning…”
She has done some mentoring but felt that she wanted to take a different approach in passing the torch. Happy House Productions gives her the ability to hire up-and-coming talent and even those actors/actresses who’ve been around for a long time and haven’t gotten their “big break” yet.
In addition, Nancy volunteers with several different organizations to help change the lives of others. Famous Fone Friends allows her to bring cheer to sick/bedridden children by calling them on the phone as Bart. Some on-camera actors such as Jay Leno, Rosie O’Donnell, Ben Savage participate, as well as the voices of Roger Rabbit, Pinky and Phil and Lil (Rugrats).
But as Nancy says, “…When I share the voice with people, I don’t do it for my own amusement, although that is one of the benefits of it, but that I brighten somebody else up for a second in their life and that’s what gives me joy. There’s a reality there and there’s a real affinity for Bart Simpson so we have this common bond. Just for a small moment in our lives we can share that and make the day a little bit better.
” Also, she tells me, “My husband and I…also founded a school in Ghana where we also have a tutorial program. While I was there I bonded with this princess of this village. She and I became SISTAHS…Princess Asie Ocanasey is her name. She introduced me to some of the elders in the villages. I saw the slave dungeons, did ceremonial dances, ate the food and kind of immersed myself for several weeks when I was there. I actually went back twice.” The school is the Neko-tech Learning Center, which provides computer technology training to the citizens of Ghana.
Nancy has done voices for animation, acted on television, the stage and the big screen, written and starred in her own one- woman play, written her biography…what’s left?
“Well,” she says, “I guess I’ve got another book in me, I think I’m going to be doing a children’s book. I have the character in mind but I don’t have the story,” Nancy explains. “And another thing you can expect from me is more involvement in the Dayton Boys and Girls club.”
When she was in Dayton for the book signing, she visited the facility, spent time with the kids and did a public service announcement for television.
“I want to stay in touch with them because I think it’s an amazing facility. I think it’s a great program that keeps kids busy and occupied after school and productive and I’m totally into that.”
Having researched animation for the book, she’s also interested in doing an inspirational speaking event in the future at one of the local colleges.
“I feel very blessed with my life,” she says. “I’m doing exactly what I really love to do the most and I have so much freedom to contribute in society. That’s what I really, really, really love to do is change people’s lives. Like doing Bart’s voice, or going to Africa or working with under-privileged children and through my church or other community betterment groups.”