Obit by Mark Evanier

Published on Mark’s weblog,, at 12:58 AM on September 19, 2011 and distributed at his memorial service the following Friday…

Earl Kress, R.I.P.

And boy, was that subject line hard to type. We’ve known it was coming for weeks now but it was still hard to type. Just as it’s hard to tell you that a really great fellow named Earl Kress died about thirty minutes ago from the cancer he’d been fighting since earlier this year. He turned sixty last month.

Earl was a writer, an actor, a producer, a puppeteer, a voice artist, an animation historian…and he was very good at all of those endeavors. He hailed from Philadelphia and worked in broadcasting there before relocating to Los Angeles in the mid-seventies to broaden his avenues. Most of his efforts were in animation and he toiled for a time for Disney mostly on story (on The Fox and the Hound, mainly) but occasionally doing voice acting jobs, such as on The Rescuers Down Under. For TV, he wrote for dozens of shows including The Oddball Couple, The Transformers, Taz-Mania, Pound Puppies, Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, The Addams Family, Road Rovers and Baby Looney Tunes. He won two Emmy awards for writing on Pinky and the Brain and several nominations for that show and Animaniacs as well as a Prism Award and an Annie Award, plus he wrote the last Road Runner theatrical short, Little Go Beep. His most recent animation project to be released was the Direct-to-DVD movie, Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes. It’s real good and like everything Earl ever wrote involving classic characters, utterly faithful to its source material.

Other credits? He did scripts for comic books including The Simpsons and DC’s Looney Tunes. He collaborated with me on June Foray’s autobiography and ghosted a book for Yogi Bear, Life is a Pic-a-Nic that was released to tie-in with the recent movie. He produced CDs of vintage Hanna-Barbera music and contributed to the special features of many recent DVD animation releases, especially Top Cat where you can see him interviewing most of the surviving cast members. He did voiceovers for comedy bits on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. He served as an officer in Local 839, the Animation Guild, and was a forceful voice during contract negotiations, particularly about improving the lot of writers. The last few years (excepting this year for obvious reasons), he co-hosted the Cartoon Voice Panels with me at the Comic-Con International.

He handled puppets. In the finale of The Muppet Movie, there’s a shot of darn near every Muppet singing the final lines of the closing song. Next time you see it, see if you can spot Ernie from Sesame Street. The person operating him in that shot is Earl Kress.

As a voice actor, Earl studied with a man he loved dearly, the late/loved Daws Butler. One day, Daws said to him, “There’s a writer I know…I think the two of you would get along.” Daws said much the same thing to me about Earl and he was, of course, right. Daws was always right. Earl and I became fast friends and logged hundreds of hours talking about animation and cartoon history and show business and other shared interests like Soupy Sales, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, The Muppets and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Everything I liked, he liked…and I also liked Earl.

He had many health problems in the time I knew him and at age 38, he underwent a heart transplant. Surgeons installed one that had formerly belonged to a teenage girl and after a rough period, he made a good, solid recovery…though I did try to convince him that any day now, he would begin menstruating. He never believed it, though one time when he came over, he asked if I had any tampons around. Just in case.

It turned out the transplant had a much more serious potential side effect. The doctors warned him before the surgery that a certain medication he had to take to get through the transplant could make him more prone to cancer. As I understand it, this drug is no longer in use but at the time, they had no option but to administer it and Earl understood the risk.

A few months ago, he was complaining of aches in one hip and elsewhere, and tests revealed that he had indeed gotten cancer and that it was spreading fast. At the end of March, one of his kidneys was removed and this was followed by other hospitalizations and treatments. His doctors kept thinking they’d arrested the problem but every few weeks, they’d find it in a new place. In early June, his wonderful wife Denise called and said that a test showed it had reached his brain. Later, it was in his liver and other Earl parts. I wouldn’t wish what that man went through on my worst enemy…and Earl was about as far from my worst enemy as any person could be.

He wasn’t anyone’s enemy. In an industry where jealousy and resentment sometimes seem as prevalent as nitrogen, Earl was utterly undespised. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like the guy. He was smart. He was funny. He had good, honorable motives for every single thing he did.

I try not to make these too personal but with this one, it’s impossible. I have lost enough folks who were close to me that I no longer waste energy wondering why a loved one had to die. They never “have to.” They just do and often you want to treat the cause of death like it’s Gilbert Gottfried after some tragedy and yell “Too Soon” at it. But of course with some individuals, any time is “Too Soon.” If Earl lived to be 105, it would still be “Too Soon” for someone like that to go away.

A memorial service will, I expect, be announced shortly. If there is one and you attend, you might be amazed how many pals Earl had and how every one of them really loved him. I am one of those people and right now, I feel like I lost my best friend.