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BehindtheVoiceActors.com
BehindtheVoiceActors.com

Chris Latta, voice of Starscream and Cobra Commander

BehindtheVoiceActors.com
BehindtheVoiceActors.com

Children of the 1980s know few voices better than that of Chris Latta, who played the roles of both Starscream and Cobra Commander. (That’s like ninety percent of a Reagan-era childhood right there.) Latta, who was sometimes credited as Christopher Collins, was a voice, stage, and screen actor who died in 1994. Here are a few things you might not have known about him.

He knew both ends of the social strata in Springfield.

In the third episode of The Simpsons, Homer is fired from the nuclear power plant and becomes a social crusader. After successfully petitioning for a stop sign and, later, speed bumps, he takes on the plant. It’s here that we first meet Mr. Burns, the plant’s devious billionaire owner. To mollify the people of Springfield, Mr. Burns offers Homer a new job as plant safety inspector. Excellent.

Chris Latta was the first voice of Mr. Burns. Notably, he was also the first voice of Moe Syzlak, the local bartender. (Yes, he of the Flaming Moe!) Latta’s voice track for Moe was later swapped for that of Hank Azaria, though his work in that episode as host of America's Most Armed and Dangerous remains for all posterity.

Latta left the show early on to pursue his standup career.

He was a standup comic.

Latta began a career in standup comedy in Boston in the 1970s. He was a better standup comic than he was a poker player. According to the Los Angeles Times, he once had to play the same club in Boston for eight months to pay off a gambling debt. He said of comedy, "If you're an engineer and you've been a good engineer for a while, people don't say, 'Well, prove to us you're an engineer,' Comedy means starting from zero every time. The audience sits sedately and hopes to be amazed... Every time I go up on stage I find out if I'm funny again."

In 1990, he won the San Francisco International Stand-Up Comedy Competition.

He’s in the Transformers hall of fame.

You already know that on the cartoon The Transformers, he was the iconic voice of Starscream, the malevolent and duplicitous Decepticon lieutenant. You might not know that he was also the voice of Wheeljack and Sparkplug (Spike’s dad). In 2012, Hasbro inducted him posthumously into the Transformers Hall of Fame, which is an actual thing.

(In a bit of bonus trivia, Latta voiced an arms dealer named Old Snake in an episode of The Transformers that took place in the year 2006. It’s hinted that Old Snake, whose face is concealed throughout the episode, once led a massive terrorist organization. At the show’s end, Old Snake eludes capture and muses of his defeated, arrested client, “They simply don't make terrorists like they used to.” He then attempts a rally cry of “Cobra!” but breaks into a coughing fit.)

He was Cobra Commander. Really.

While Starscream never quite took leadership of the Decepticons (but for a few minutes during a coronation ceremony), Chris Latta did lead an evil army into battle. On the cartoon G.I. Joe, he voiced Cobra Commander, leader of Cobra, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

This identity once spilled over into real life. (Well, realer life—am I right, Joe fans?) Latta said in an interview that he was called into the office of his son’s school guidance counselor. The school official was alarmed that Latta’s son kept saying that his father was Cobra Commander. “Well?” asked the counselor. “Doesn't that concern you?”

“But I am,” replied Chris Latta.

He was once a Klingon. Qa’plaH!

In an episode of Seinfeld, Latta played the role of a thug on the New York subway. In a bit of a meatier role, he played a homeless man on Mr. Belvedere. (Yes, Mr. Belvedere, who is definitely dead.) He was on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he played a Klingon starship captain. Latta was also on the superior Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Save your hate mail, Picardophiles.) For those keeping track, this means there is a direct link between Transformers, The Simpsons, G.I. Joe, Seinfeld, Star Trek, and Mr. Belvedere. It’s a miracle that the universe hasn’t divided by zero.

Top image courtesy of BehindtheVoiceActors.com.

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British Film Institute
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Pop Culture
Where to Watch Over 300 British Animated Films for Free Online
British Film Institute
British Film Institute

The history of animation doesn’t begin and end with studios in Japan and the U.S. Artists in the UK have been drawing and sculpting cartoons for over a century, and now some of the best examples of the medium to come out of the country are available to view for free online.

As It’s Nice That reports, the British Film Institute has uploaded over 300 films to the new archive on BFI player. Dubbed "Animated Britain," the expansive collection includes hand-drawn and stop motion animation and many distinct styles in between. Viewers will find ads, documentaries, films for children, and films for adults dating from 1904 to the 21st century. Episodes of classic cartoons like SuperTed and Clangers as well as obscure clips that are hard to find elsewhere are represented.

The archive description reads:

“Through its own weird alchemy, animation can bring our wildest imaginings to life, and yet it can also be a powerful tool for exploring our everyday reality. Silly, surreal, sweet or caustic, this dizzyingly diverse selection showcases British animation's unique contribution to the art form, and offers a history ripe for rediscovery.”

This institution’s project marks their start of a whole year dedicated to animation. UK residents can stream the selected films for free at BFI player, or check out their rental offerings for more British animated classics.

[h/t It’s Nice That]

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Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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You Can Still Visit This Forgotten Flintstones Theme Park in Arizona
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Amy Meredith, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Like many pop culture institutions of the 20th century, Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones hasn’t been relegated to just one medium. The animated cast of America's favorite modern Stone Age family sold cigarettes, starred in a live-action 1994 film, and inspired all sorts of merchandise, including video games and lunchboxes. In 1972, it also got the theme park treatment.

Bedrock City, located 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon in Williams, Arizona, was the brainchild of Linda and Francis Speckels, a married couple who bought the property and turned it into a 6-acre tourist attraction. Concrete houses were built to resemble the Flintstone and Rubble residences and are furnished with props; a large metal slide resembles a brontosaurus, so kids can mimic the show’s famous title credits sequence; and statues of the characters are spread all over the premises. The site also doubles as an RV campground and parking site.

A Flintstones theme park house
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A statue of Bam-Bam at the Flintstones park in Arizona
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A statue of Wilma Flintstone at Bedrock City in Arizona
Matthew Dillon, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it first opened, Bedrock City employed actors to stay in character, but the remote location proved challenging to retain both employees and visitors. Over the past four decades, it's had a steady stream of tourists, but not enough to turn a huge profit. Atlas Obscura reports the attractions are in various stages of disrepair.

Linda Speckels put the property up for sale in 2015 with an asking price of $2 million, but it has yet to sell. One possible hold-up: The new owner would have to negotiate a fresh licensing deal with Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. for the right to continue using the show’s trademarks. (A separate Flintstones park in South Dakota, owned by another member of the Speckels family, was sold and closed in 2015.) With its proximity to the Canyon, the 30 total acres could be converted into almost anything, from a mall to a golf course. For Flintstones enthusiasts, the hope is that the park’s unique attractions won’t be reduced to rubble.

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