Peter Fernandez: Industry Loses an Unsung Hero
Author: Bob Johnson
On Thursday July 15, 2010, the television and movie industry lost one of its truly unsung heroes. Peter Fernandez passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 83. Although fans of international films and TV know his name and his contributions, Hollywood as a whole has passed over a little-known industry that made it possible to import many foreign efforts that we would have never otherwise seen.
The dubbing of international product was a thankless chore and an underpaid one in the 1960s and 1970s. However, Peter Fernandez was a tireless pioneer and turned out some of the most memorable and highest quality dub tracks of a generation.
Fans of Japanese animation, Godzilla, Ultraman, Gamera, Space Giants, spaghetti westerns, kung-fu cinema, as well as films from France and other non-English speaking countries have heard Peter’s voice and voice direction literally hundreds of times. He has touched our ears from a wide variety of different directions!
The names he coined on series such as SPEED RACER, the lines he wrote and sometimes spoke in Toho films, the accents you couldn’t quite pinpoint, the staccato delivery, the rapid dialog. All of it trademarks of his work and ingrained in our subconscious forever.
Peter’s work has seldom been matched in quality. He is the benchmark fans point to whenever a film is being dubbed and it is a mark that is very hard to reach.
For a complete overview of his work and career, as well as a look at this very special person from our collective pasts, please refer to our recent interview with Peter.
Personally, I met Peter back in 1999, when I was organizing a panel on classic Japanese animation for G-Fest in Burbank, California. On the panel were Peter, Corinne Orr (voice of Trixie and Spritle, as well as many female characters from Peter’s works), Fred Ladd (Producer of ASTROBOY, GIGANTOR and KIMBA THE WHITE LION and the person who brought Peter in to script and voice those series) and William Winckler (who brought TEKKAMAN to the US, produced independent films and is currently working on a huge project to be announced here soon). Peter was every bit a gentleman and very generous with his time where the fans were concerned.
At one point he invited myself and a group of friends (including Keith Aiken and Damon Foster) up to his room to sit down and chat with him and Corinne. Sitting there was amazing and as we talked it was like Speed Racer and Trixie were sitting in the room conversing with us. A very surreal experience…
We kept in touch through the phone and email over the years and he provided quotes and information on various articles I worked on over the years, culminating in the interview here at SciFi Japan.
He will be greatly missed and his passing is a great loss to all of us that enjoy international cinema.
Friends and Fans Remember Peter Fernandez…
He had a distinctive voice we’ll always remember (whether it seemed to come out of the mouth of Speed Racer, The Monkey King or Akira Kubo), and, better yet, he could come up with all these OTHER distinctive voices we’ll always remember. I was surprised when he told me he also did the voice of Racer X. At a time when countless Asian films were hastily dubbed by BBC’s Ted Thomas (and Vaughan Savidge) and other second-rate British/Australian dubbers in Hong Kong, often with inferior (“But still”) results, Peter Fernandez created a much better product. He, like Corinne Orr and Billie Lou Watt, would watch the film-prints in loops, over-and-over, until they got the voices timed as realistically as possible.
His passing was also sad for me personally, having hung out with him so many times. If I’m not mistaken, he was the first celebrity I interviewed on stage (at an L.A. convention), and I was inexperienced and nervous. I told him I was uneasy about this last-minute interview (I was a fill-in for somebody else), but he gave me re-assuring words and inspired me to be creative and have fun with the presentation. I enjoyed organizing the panel, and have therefore been amusing & annoying convention audiences ever since! Thank you for the inspiration, Mr. Fernandez!
-Damon Foster (Oriental Cinema)
When I think back to what it was like watching Japanese sci-fi/fantasy movies during the 1970s, back when my Detroit area market was limited to three VHF channels (plus CBC out of Windsor, Ontario) and three on UHF, I can boil down what seared into my sub-consciousness into three basic categories. First, and most obviously, all those spectacular scenes of destruction, Godzilla and Rodan and Gamera and Girara wading through Tokyo, Osaka, and occasionally, even places like New York and Paris. Second was the music of Akira Ifukube and Masaru Sato. During the decade or so gap between about the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, when those movies were vanishing from commercial television (anyone remember the U.S. version of MAJIN, THE HIDEOUS IDOL?) and before they started appearing on VHS videotape, my friends and I could still hum some of those great Ifukube marches, note-for-note.
But equally important, the third component, was that voice — for years and years we had no idea who the heck it was, but that voice, who turned up again and again. SPEED RACER, GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER, GIGANTOR. That weird halting yet agreeable delivery, like the slightly nerdy Asian kid who lived next door yet, not quite that, either. When the Japanese monster kid generation grew up they tracked him down and discovered he was the multi-faceted Peter Fernandez, a man as gentle, modest, and low-key as Speed Racer himself.
I haven’t seen most the U.S. versions of the movies Fernandez dubbed for quite a long time, 15 years or more, but that voice. It’s rattling around my brain right now. That I’ll never forget.
-Stuart Galbraith IV (Japanese Cinema)
I had the great pleasure of first meeting Peter Fernandez at G-Fest 1999 in Burbank, California. Talk about a wonderful, fan-friendly guy. He must have got asked dozens of times to talk in the voice of Speed Racer and always happily obliged. Toho fans owe special thanks to him for his remarkable work at Titra Studios dubbing Godzilla and other tokusatsu pictures in the 1960s. Mr. Fernandez and company spent extra time and care to make quality work and produce dubs that are now legendary and far surpass their international counterparts. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to meet him a few more times over the following couple years at the Asian Fantasy Film Expo and Chiller Theatre. He was a true gentleman and a legendary voice. Godspeed, Peter.
-John “Dutch” DeSentis
I grew up watching Japanese monster films and animated television shows, never thinking about the voice artists who, emoting in English, gave fresh life to the nondescript characters, nor the individual who had the difficult job of writing dialog needed to synch with the mouth movements of Japanese actors. It was only later I became aware that Peter Hernandez was the person behind the ‘American-izing’ of so much of the media I loved, and that this multi-talented voice artist and writer had a career stretching back into radio drama and broadway as well, which surely aided him in doing superior work in such a difficult field. Realizing that he is one of the reasons I fell in love with the science fiction and fantasy films from Japan, I offer Mr. Fernandez my eternal gratitude.
-Greg Shoemaker (Japanese Fantasy Film Journal)
Meeting Peter Fernandez in LA in 1999 was a thrill. Although his dubbing on SPEED RACER is his lasting mark, it is his work on Godzilla that remains dearest to me. I still consider those dubs to be some of the finest of their kind around. I shudder to think how I would have reacted to Godzilla had I first seen them with those vastly inferior Toho international dubs that are going around these days.
I still recall sitting down with Peter one night in LA for a get-to-know-you chat. For starters, I asked him where he was from.
“New York,” Peter answered.
“Cool. Me too. Where about?”
“Upstate, in a place called Pomona located in Rockland County. I live with my wife Noel.”
“Pomona… Noel… Noel Smith?” I responded somewhat stunned.
A wide smile spread across Peter’s face. “You know my wife?” He asked.
As unbelievable as it seemed, it was true. Digging deeper, it turned out that Peter and his wife Noel were friends with my mom and dad back in the late 1960s /early 1970s. More than that, we used to go to their home for weekend lunches.
Peter and Noel lived in a lovely home that was set in front of a large pond, which the ten-year old me thought was the coolest thing ever. While the adults would sit and talk their talk, I was obsessed with trying to catch one of the giant bullfrogs croaking in the waters of Peter’s pond.
Coincidentally, Peter lived next door to legendary actor Burgess Meredith. I don’t believe my mom was aware of the details of Peter’s work in voice acting, otherwise she would have said something, but the first time we met Burgess she pulled me aside and said, ‘That’s the Penguin!’ But with no top hat or monocle, it was hard to make the connection. He was just an old guy sitting in a fold out chair enjoying lunch with the rest of us.
In LA, Peter was extremely cheerful and kind to everyone he came in contact with. Meeting him there thirty years later was certainly unexpected. But it’s those little coincidences that help bring life full circle. Best of all, upon realizing who that man with the cool home was from my childhood, I am now able to boast to my friends that not only did I grow up watching SPEED RACER, but I used to try to catch frogs in his pond too!
For more information on Peter Fernandez, please refer to James Long’s extensive coverage of SPEED RACER on SciFi Japan.