Monday, December 18, 2000

Bart Simpson's secrets revealed

        Aye Carumba! Bart Simpson has written a book.

        Or should I say, the voice of Bart Simpson, Kettering native Nancy Cartwright, has written a book.

        “I realized answering my fan mail that people had lots of interest in The Simpsons and couldn't get enough,” Ms. Cartwright says.

        My Life As A 10-Year-Old (Hyperion; $19.95) takes lovers of the Fox Network animated hit behind the lines of the cartoon. She tells how episodes are made and reveals gossipy details about the hundreds of guest stars who have provided voices for TV's longest-running current comedy.

        Ever since Ms. Cartwright was Bart's age (10), she wanted to be a professional voice talent. She did a voice for Ken Warren's WING-AM show during the summer of 1977, a year before she transferred from Ohio University to UCLA to be near Hollywood.

        Her big break came in 1987, when she went to audition for brainy Lisa Simpson — and won the role of her bratty younger brother instead.

        The description of Bart's personality touched a nerve: Devious, underachieving, school-hating, irreverent, clever.

        “He came to me instantly. I never had a doubt or another choice. I never considered that the voice I had chosen for him might be wrong,” says the actress, who has also done voices for the Rugrats, Pound Puppies, Goof Troop, Dink the Little Dinosaur and God, the Devil and Bob.

        She did a boy's voice for creator Matt Groening. He cracked up and exclaimed: “That's it! That's Bart.”

        “I was handed the job on the spot,” she recalls.


        The 1976 Fairmont West High School graduate quickly contributed to Bart's lexicon. “Eat my shorts,” one of Bart's catchphrases, came from her high school marching band chant.

        “It was a phrase that started somewhere between my trumpet section and the drum squad, and it became synonymous with the band,” says the fortysomething mother of two.

Cartoon beginnings
               The Simpsons existed as brief cartoons during Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show for two seasons, before premiering as a half-hour animated series on Jan. 14, 1990.

        In 14 years as Bart (including Tracey Ullman), Ms. Cartwright has amassed a huge fan base. She was mobbed during book signings in England last month. Michael Jackson and Meryl Streep have asked for her autograph.

        Her book reveals that Mr. Jackson produced the novelty song, “Do the Bartman” from The Simpsons Sings the Blues album in 1990. (He wasn't credited on the album because he was under contract to another record label.) He also sang the “Lisa, It's Your Birthday” duet with Bart.

        “That was him, but they could never say it,” she says. (Don't have a cow, man!)

        Fans will relish her tales about the nearly 300 celebrities who have given their voices to the cartoon. Her favorites: Kirk Douglas, Ms. Streep, Ernest Borgnine, Mel Gibson, Mickey Rooney, Phil Hartman and Elizabeth Taylor. (Some of the guest stars taped their parts when the cast wasn't around.)

        “I would have loved to have been there with Johnny Carson, or Bette Midler or Sting,” she says. And she would have gladly gone to England to record Paul McCartney. (She was in England on her book tour last month when 'NSync taped an episode for next year.)

        In Bart's life span, she has married and had two children, Lucy, 11, and Jack, 9. “My son is very Bart-like in his antics, but I don't let him get away with it, like Bart does,” she says.

        And Ms. Cartwright expects to be playing with her 10-year-old inner child for many more years.

        “There's no end in sight,” she says. “Our contracts are up, and they want to negotiate another deal with us (actors). Everybody wants to do it.”

Wonderful writing
               The Simpsons have remained one of TV's funniest shows because of the brilliant writing, animation, music and the fact that the characters never age, unlike The Cosby Show kids. She still laughs out loud reading a new script at her kitchen table, even though writers and producers have changed through the years.

        “It is conceiveably the best-written show in television,” she says. “And with animation, you can make them any age — backwards or forwards. Or they stay the same age. There's a stability to our show that other (live-action) shows don't have.”

        Among her favorite episodes are the lavish musical parodies, the “Shari Bobbins” spoof of Mary Poppins and A Streetcar Named Marge.

        “The musicians and animators are truly the unsung heros of the show. And (composer) Alf Clausen is a genius. He can make it sound so close to "Spoonful of Sugar,' but not be sued,” she says.

        Watch it, dude!

        Several years ago, Ms. Cartwright formed a production company to prepare for life after Bart. Her Happy House Productions has been preparing some animated projects and a sports entertainment Web site.

        Whenever The Simpsons TV show ends, she expects the dysfunctional family to move into feature films, like Fox's The X-Files and Nickelodeon's Rugrats.

        “There definitely will be one (movie) some day,” she says. “There is such an incredible audience in 100 countries around the world. It would really be huge.”

        Cool, man.



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