I recently had the pleasure to read Bumblebee and Me: Life as a G1 Transformer, the 2011 autobiographical account of Dan Gilvezan and his experiences on the original 1984 Transformers animated series. If you haven’t guessed, Gilvezan played Bumblebee, one of the main characters of the 98-episode-and-a-movie cartoon, and with Transformers currently enjoying perhaps its biggest rise in popularity since the glory days of the mid ’80s, now’s a good time for Gilvezan to recount his many nostalgic anecdotes.
Bumblebee and Me: Life as a G1 Transformer
by Dan Gilvezan
For a little more background, Gilvezan is a professional voice actor (which as we’ve explained, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be), which most likely means you’ve never heard his name but will recognize the sound of his voice once you hear it. Next to Bumblebee, perhaps his most famous role is that of Spider-Man from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. If you’re like me, however, you probably recognize him second-best as Cooler from Pound Puppies (but then, if you’re like me, you probably got beat up a lot). In addition to those long-term parts, he played a slew of memorable one-off guest spots on cartoons, like when he spoofed his own Spider-Man performance in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, playing the character of Bug-Man in two episodes. One of my favorite one-off performances by Gilvezan was as the scheming businessman Paul Smart in the Real Ghostbusters episode, “Robo-Buster” (I found it memorable because it’s one of the few times Mr. Friendly-Voice himself ever played a bad guy).
Or maybe you just remember him as the spokesman for Jack in the Box back in the early 80s:
The Internet never forgets, Dan.
So as you can see, the guy has done a lot of animation voiceover work for the past 30 years and likely has a lot of stories to tell. Bumblebee and Me collects only those stories regarding his time spent on Transformers, so it targets a rather niche demographic (animation enthusiasts interested in the autobiographies of voice actors that aren’t Mel Blanc or June Foray are already a slight population,
but narrow that number down to just the ones who care about Transformers and you’ll get the idea). Still, even if you don’t bill yourself as a hardcore Transformers fan, if you have any interest in the art, business and history of the voice acting industry, Bumblebee and Me should hold some interest for you.
The book is structured into 10 chapters that organize Gilvezan’s three decade-old memories in an easily digestible fashion. There’s a chapter which covers his audition, chapters covering his experiences as the popularity of the series expanded, but my favorite chapter of all was the one collecting his memories and impressions of each member of the cast, one at a time. He talks about the late Scatman Crothers (Jazz) entertaining everyone in the waiting room with his guitar, Frank Welker (Megatron, Soundwave) infuriating the sound technician by flawlessly imitating a feedback noise, and Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) kicking ass on horseback as he dominated the polo fields. Gilvezan paints a vivid picture of the era and the characters, but only gives you a sampling of the many rascally hijinx they shared behind the mic.
It’s not all champagne and strawberries, though, and Gilvezan recounts a few of the more grueling or crest-falling moments in his career as a Transformer. Tales include the six-hour marathon recording sessions at the command of voice director Wally Burr and Gilvezan’s own disappointment when Bumblebee was phased out to make way for new toys in the third season.
What’s nice about this autobiographical account is the sincerity behind it, as there are no pretenses of crafting a dramatic story arc with beginning, middle and end. Gilvezan collects his anecdotes and wistfully dishes them out without any obvious exaggeration for manufactured suspense. It’s a nice peek into an industry that has only come into vogue in the past ten years thanks to the Internet; Gilvezan is a relic of an age where voice actors were intended to be heard and not seen (and barely credited, half the time).
From beginning to end, Bumblebee and Me is only 53 pages of anecdotes. Pages 54 to 80 contain a cast list and an episode guide that more hardcore Transformers fans might find too familiar and less interesting. Less intense fans might appreciate the refresher course, however. All things considering, it’s a quick read and may only take you an hour and a half to complete.
On the other hand, you could pay $3 bucks for the audio book and hear everything narrated by Gilvezan-himself. That’s definitely the better deal.
Really, my grievance with the length is not so much anything to do with “bang for my buck”, but rather that it left me wanting to hear more stories. Bumblebee and Me read more like a selection from a much larger biography and I’d really like to read the rest, someday. Gilvezan has experience penning novels (having published a novel titled “Drowned in the Grenadine”) and is well equipped to collect a more substantial autobiography of the ’80s voice acting scene. It’d be nice if he’d go ahead and do it. As such, Bumblebee and Me is more of a taste than a full spread.
But for Transformers fans with tunnel vision, it’s nothing but the good stuff that appeals directly to you and I can’t think of any reason you’d want to skip it.
Still waiting on that Pound Puppies autobiography, Dan.