The Simpsons Folder
Life imitating Bart
Sep 18, 2004, By VINAY MENON
Voice of most mischievous member of Simpson clan takes her act to Toronto for a one-woman show
Nancy Cartwright is two people. And they’re both coming to Toronto.
The first is a 44-year-old woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, a voice actor, philanthropist and proud mother who lives in Los Angeles and could pass unnoticed on any crowded street.
In the surreal universe of animation, you see, Cartwright has breathed life and voice into one of the most famous characters in television history: Bart Simpson.
And while Bart, her mischievous, two-dimensional alter ego, has been lavished with international acclaim, it’s now Cartwright’s turn to slip from the shadows of anonymity and into the spotlight.
“This is where I get a chance to be a celebrity,” she says, on the line from her office at The Simpsons, Fox’s long-running hit show. “I get to fly in to Toronto and be famous for the day! Then I get to go back to my normal life in Los Angeles. How cool!”
On Oct. 16, Cartwright brings her one-woman show — My Life As a Ten-Year-Old Boy — to town for its North American premiere. Tickets go on sale today for two shows at the John Bassett Theatre.
“I take you on a romp through Springfield through my eyes,” Cartwright says. “I tell stories, I tell anecdotes. Hopefully I make you laugh, I make you cry. I talk about working with celebrities. I tell you what it’s like being an anonymous celebrity.”
In short: “I take you to Springfield via Dayton.”
That’s the Ohio city where Cartwright was raised, the fourth of six children, a pixie-haired, attention-seeking kid with a unique voice who, ironically, first entertained the idea of making a living as a cartoon when she was 10 — the same age as her inner demon.
“When I look back at my goals as a teenager and what I wanted to do, it wasn’t to be a star,” she says. “I wanted to do voices. It had nothing to do with celebrity status or money.”
The feeling intensified as the years passed. In the fall of 1978, Cartwright left Dayton for California. Within a decade, the young overachiever would contort her vocal cords and adjust her pitch, giving birth to TV’s most celebrated underachiever.
“My intention was so strong to do animation, to do voices, to get on a hit show,” she explains. “There was no way I wasn’t going to be the voice of Bart.”
On Tuesday, March 13, 1987, Cartwright climbed into her ’84 Prelude, popped Rick James’ “She’s A Super Freak” into the tape deck. She cruised through the Hollywood Hills for an audition. She had received a call from her agent. Fox was looking for voice actors for “bumpers,” 30-second animated shorts, to be used on The Tracey Ullman Show, a sketch comedy.
She arrived to read for the part of Lisa Simpson, Bart’s melancholy and brainy sister. But, upon reading Bart’s character description — “Age: 10. Personality: Devious, underachieving, school-hating, irreverent, clever” — Cartwright was intrigued.
“I happened to score big time,” she says. “I was at the right place at the right time and I was ready. The stars must have been lined up because I was totally ready for it to happen.”
Cartwright had already worked on eight syndicated series, including The Snorks, Galaxy High, and My Little Pony and Friends. But that afternoon, when she opened her mouth and Bart came tumbling out, her life would never be the same.
As she describes in her best-selling book (same title as the stage show), her Bart left Matt Groening, The Simpsons’ creator, grinning and convinced.
“That’s it!” he exclaimed. “That’s Bart!”
The Simpsons, which debuted as a Christmas special in 1989 and a prime-time series in January 1990, revolutionized TV with its endearing characters and brilliant, subversive writing. The show, which starts its new season in November and is now seen in more than 60 countries, is the longest-running prime-time animated series in history. It has won 18 Emmy Awards and had an impact on every aspect of popular culture.
At the centre of this swirling madness, then and now, stands Bart Simpson.
“I sometimes feel like I’m overexposed but the idea of anonymous celebrity really holds true,” says Cartwright, who also provides the voices of Ralph Wiggum, Nelson Muntz, and the Flanders brothers. “I think it will hold true for the rest of my life. It’s not my image. It’s Bart’s image.”
Still, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“The benefits are that I get my privacy,” she says. “When I go out, people are not pointing their fingers and whispering to their friends. They are not coming up to me and shoving napkins in my face while I’m taking a bite of hamburger or chateaubriand or something.”
After recently performing 23 shows in Edinburgh, Cartwright is excited about her Toronto shows next month.
“I think people are curious, especially outside of the United States. Coming to something like this is a way to get personal with the show they love. When people admire something, they want some of it.”
Fans will certainly get a chance to have some of it. On Oct. 16, Animation Connection, a studio-authorized gallery based in Toronto, is also presenting a trade show where more than 250 original Simpsons drawings, paintings, and cels will be on sale.
Despite contract disputes, increased competition from other animated shows, and recent complaining from one cast member (Harry Shearer) about the show’s creative decline, The Simpsons remains a force to be reckoned with.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t go 20 years,” Cartwright enthuses.
“I think it’s Simpsons forever!”