Jack Klugman – Richie Fitzgerald is the older brother, co-owner of Sound Associates, one of the big three theater sound supply companies. Richie and his younger brother Peter, were brought up in the theater business by their father Tom Fitzgerald. Richie and Peter both know everybody in the theater business.
When Jack Klugman was recovering from throat surgery which was caused by throat cancer, it was easy to hear that Jack no longer had the same voice. What little of the mechanism of his voice was left after throat surgery, didn’t sound anything like the Klugman voice we had known to love and recognize.
After the surgery, Jack was asked to do a single performance benefit where he and his original “Odd Couple” partner, Tony Randall would perform again together live, and on stage. Jack wanted help with his vocal sound. Jack went to Richie for help. And Richie came to me for the same. Neither had an idea of what could be done.
Digital Equalizers had come out pretty recently. With them an enormous amount of sound quality change could be executed in real-time. And being they would be of the digital type, much less circuit noise would be added no matter how much equalization change was created. In other words the sound could be changed very drastically without adding lots of equipment noise
Jack’s voice was radically different from what it used to be. A reference recording of his new voice was easy to acquire, all I had to do was ask for some. His older pre-surgery voice turned out to easy to acquire too. I went directly to his old TV shows, it wasn’t his acting voice as it was already changed dynamically and tonal balance wise by television recording and subsequent transmission, but it was the voice most of us knew as Jack Klugman. I used the TV sound as his old voice sample.
I captured both voices’ curves into a very accurate spectrum analyzer. A spectrum analyzer was exceptionally good at depicting the differences between sounds. Two different curves were produced; one for his old voice and one from his new voice. Then looking at the decipherable difference in the two sound quality curves, I could construct an equalization curve (a compensating curve to change one sound into another) to change his new voice into his older voice. And given the power of these new digital equalizers, I could change the new voice sound into the old without adding the noise of this severe manipulation a piece of cake, but thought impossible by most at the time.
The whole stage production for this single performance was un-amplified, except for Jack’s voice. Jack’s voice was amplified to make it equally loud to the others’ and in the amplification process, this special collection of digital equalizers was inserted to change his new voice into his old. To make matters more believable, the speaker reproducing Jacks compensation curve was placed just over the actors heads in the cat-walk above the stage. This meant the new voice was in perfect time alignment with his existing voice so the was no discernible delay to the amplification.
It worked like a champ. Except for the few people sitting so close that they could actually hear existing and softer Jack’s new voice, much of the theater thought it was his old voice. I thought it was impressive.
After the show Jack and Richie wanted me to create a stand alone box to create this change. Jack was still a great actor and wanted to act. Nice as Jack was, I still wasn’t going to make changing one voice into another my life’s work, so a stand-alone box needed to be created or I would have to go with him everywhere.
I started looking into yet a better way to do this manipulation. I contacted Disney Imagineering but they weren’t helpful. Yet they must be doing something, the voice of Donald Duck and other characters was already dead. And what was Warner Brothers doing, as Mel Blanc was dead too. I made calls all over the country.
Eventually I found out that a box to do this kind of voice conversion was already made and that box had a lower resolution of accuracy than I wanted. Disney was able to use it with a reasonable resolution. When I started to design something similar, I called everybody all over the country about voice conversion.
Shortly there after one day, I got a phone call from a high ranking military person. Out of the blue I was called by an Air Force Colonel or something. I didn’t pay attention. I don’t remember the exact words but the call went something like this: “Mr. Fox you need to stop making a box to convert one voice into another.” I don’t remember my exact answer either, but it went something like: “What?”, “Who are you? How did you find out what I was making? And why should I stop?”
The call didn’t last long. He didn’t answer my questions. And I didn’t stop. I kept calling all over the place, but now my replies were different. Colleges I had spoken with a few days earlier avoided me. Specialists told me they couldn’t talk to me. I had been closed down.
Then I got a second call from that military guy. “Mr. Fox let me explain. Military aircraft uses voice commands to launch missiles. Each plane has its own sensor to read only the voice of the pilot the plane is assigned too. That way, if someone steals a plane they can’t fire the missiles. If you made a box to replace one voice with another it would defeat our launch safeguard. So we don’t want you to make such a box.”
So how come Disney can do it, said I? The reply was swift. “We allow Disney to do it but not to the highest resolution you want to do.”
I understood, was flabbergasted, and perhaps shocked. I was blocked.
I explained the story to Jack and Richie, and stopped working on the box. I don’t know how much Jack acted again, after that.
A quick end to a good idea.