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Dick Beals dies at 85; voice of Speedy Alka-Seltzer

Dick Beals, a voice actor best known for injecting youthful enthusiasm into the character of Speedy Alka-Seltzer in mid-20th century television commercials for the pain remedy, has died. He was 85.

Beals, whose radio and television career spanned seven decades, died Tuesday at Vista Gardens Memory Care in Vista, said his friend Peter Gorman.

"He was one of the great voice actors of all time," Ron Simon, curator of TV and radio at the Paley Center for Media, told The Times on Wednesday. "He was one of those anonymous people who pioneered what animation would become today."

Beals' notable stop-motion animation roles included originating the voice of the title character in the late 1950s in "The Gumby Show." He was also the voice of the first Davey in the early 1960s for the television series "Davey and Goliath," a show "that meant a lot to many people," Simon said.

As the result of a glandular condition, Beals stood 4 feet 6 inches tall, weighed less than 70 pounds and possessed a voice that hadn't changed since grade school.

His childlike voice became his lifelong calling card after the manager of the radio station at what is now Michigan State University steered Beals — then a student with broadcasting aspirations — toward radio dramas in the 1940s.

He was first heard in such shows as "The Lone Ranger" and "The Green Hornet," which were recorded at a Detroit radio station, and later on "Dragnet" and "Gunsmoke."

After moving to Hollywood in 1952, Beals was asked to read for the part of Speedy Alka-Seltzer, a slightly goofy, animated sprite who wore an Alka-Seltzer tablet as a hat while another tablet formed his body.

With Beals reciting commercial lines and singing the fizzy tablet's praises, the character was featured in more than 200 commercials that aired from 1954 to 1964. The ad campaign is considered "one of the classics of all time," Simon said.

Commercials became Beals' main source of work, and his vocal talents were featured in more than 3,000 of them, The Times reported in 1992. He was an unseen pitchman for Oscar Mayer, Campbell's Soup, Bob's Big Boy and many others.

"I'm the voice of little babies to 15-year-olds. In cartoons, I have also been the voice of all kinds of animals — parrots, chipmunks, birds, rabbits, you name it," Beals said in 1992.

Between 1955 and 2005, Beals performed in at least 25 television projects. He voiced the sidekicks Yank and Dan in the 1965 animated series "Roger Ramjet" and was heard on the soundtrack singing with Gene Kelly in the 1967 NBC television special "Jack and the Beanstalk."

"So many people experienced his great voice but, unfortunately, did not know his name," Simon said. "His unique voice really helped make animation in the 1950s and 1960s."

Nearly 300 boys tried out for the role of N.J. Normanmeyer in the early 1990s animated series "The Addams Family," but Beals nabbed the part when he was 65.

"Once directors found there was a college graduate who could do children's voices, they didn't have to call those nutty mothers anymore and ask them to get Junior to do the part," Beals told the Lansing, Mich., State Journal in 2007. "I could do any voice, boy or girl."

Richard Beals was born March 16, 1927, in Detroit and was the middle child of three brothers. He has no immediate survivors.

As a child, he was too small to play sports so started cheerleading for his local high school at age 7. At Michigan State, he was a member of the cheerleading squad and earned his bachelor's degree in 1949.

Seeking a small-town existence, Beals moved in 1970 from the Los Angeles area to Escondido, where he opened an ad agency, coached Little League and served as a high school sports announcer.

A private pilot, he often commuted to Los Angeles for work in his own plane.

Later in life, he was a motivational speaker who turned to his 1992 autobiography to inspire audiences. He called his book "Think Big."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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