Philip Proctor has been a tentacled monster, juvenile delinquent, intoxicated monkey, talking seahorse and king among Smurfs. This week, he’s a native son paying a visit.
An actor who found early fame as a member of The Firesign Theatre comedy troupe, Proctor was born in Goshen. He returns to the Maple City for a Goshen College Performing Arts Series concert Friday.
Together with the Grammy Award-winning Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Proctor will stage a multimedia show based on Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.” He’ll portray a variety of characters in the tale.
Proctor will be easy to spot onstage Friday. That’s a change of sorts for a performer more often heard than seen.
The short list of Proctor’s TV and movie roles includes voice work in “Rugrats,” “Monsters, Inc.” (he was Charlie the assistant), “Finding Nemo” (Bob the seahorse) and Eddie Murphy’s “Dr. Doolittle” flicks (drunken French monkey). He was also the announcer on “Big Brother” for three years.
“’Previously, on ‘Big Brother 3’...,’” Proctor intoned in a recent phone interview with The News.
Long before he was a voice heard on a reality TV program, though, Proctor was a boy on a bicycle.
Maple City roots
Proctor claims Irish and Amish ancestry. To learn more about his family, he suggests, pick up a book titled “Rosanna of the Amish.” His great-uncle, Joseph W. Yoder, is the author.
In Proctor’s family, people could sing and harmonize and loved to tell jokes. Proctor says he was born with an ability to mimic the sounds he heard. From an early age he could sing, and he picks up languages easily.
A Goshenite by birth, Proctor mostly lived out east during his formative years. He attended Allen-Stevenson elementary school in New York, performing in school productions of Gilbert and Sullivan shows. He later received a bachelor of arts degree in drama from Yale.
Until his teen years, though, Proctor spent most of his summers in Goshen with his grandparents, George and Hazel Yoder. They lived in a “big, old, beautiful brick house that’s still there” along Fifth Street, he said.
Proctor said he has fond memories of his time here.
“I grew up on a bike in Goshen,” he said, “so I probably know the alleys better than I know the main streets.”
Getting his start
Later on, Proctor earned accolades for his onstage work, including a Theatre World Award for his efforts in “The Amorous Flea.” Figuratively speaking, another of his career stepping stones was made of soap.
“I had a pretty good run,” he said of his role as a juvenile delinquent on the soap opera “The Edge of Night.” “I was on for six months or something like that.”
Proctor recalled the show’s producers excitedly telling him they’d developed a storyline for his character.
“I said, ‘Oh, great! That’s great,’” he noted. “They said, ‘You’re going to be murdered.’”
They also assured Proctor his character would “come back” in the trial scenes. Looking back, Proctor describes his “Edge of Night” period as a kick-start to his career.
Proctor’s professional life reached another plateau as a result of a westward trek that found him hanging out with Peter Fonda.
Fonda was doing research on the revolutionary youth movement for a film that turned out to be “Easy Rider,” Proctor said, and one day they joined a protest on the Los Angeles Sunset Strip. There, Proctor spotted a newspaper that included a picture of his East Coast acquaintance Peter Bergman, who was working in radio.
The two reconnected, ultimately becoming half of the four-person Firesign Theatre.
Firesign Theatre was a topical-surreal comedy cocktail. The group’s name was a nod toward the members’ astrological “fire” signs. It’s also a riff on FDR’s “Fireside Chats,” as well as the “Age of Aquarius” when the Theatre gained notice for its radio and album projects.
“We discovered that we had an affinity to improvise comedy together, very easily, like playing jazz,” Proctor said of the Firesigners, who garnered three Grammy nominations. He also said the Firesign members could do everything themselves — the voices, the music, producing the records.
“We had the opportunity to go into the studio and play, experiment, until we found the right tone, the right thing we wanted,” he said.
Through Firesign, Proctor learned he could create different characters. And when he “went commercial” and began auditioning for cartoon characters, radio ads, voice-overs, etc., he could draw on that creative experience.
Behind the scenes
Proctor became King Gerard on “The Smurfs,” after which he landed guest spots on other Saturday morning cartoons. His resume has come to include a vocal presence on the big screen, too.
“It’s not always appearing on camera,” Proctor said of the entertainment world. “There are all other kinds of ways of making an interesting living in this business, being unseen.”
Proctor pointed out that he’ll appear on screen in the soon-to-be-released indie film “Window of Opportunity.” He plays an accountant. This week, he’ll be seen in the flesh at Goshen College.
Proctor’s “Don Quixote” gig originally belonged to John Cleese of film and Monty Python fame. Cleese and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet had a hit with “Quixote,” but Cleese had to bow out to embark on his “Alimony Tour.” The role — several, actually — is now Proctor’s.
“You get an opportunity to see a crazy guy like me becoming all these different characters right before your eyes,” he said of the “Quixote” experience.
In addition to onstage multi-tasking, Proctor plans to revisit part of his past while he’s in town.
He intends to stop by that brick house on Fifth Street where he spent many summers. His childhood friend Robert Riddle will be a guest at the GC show, and Proctor said his cousin Betsy (Muir) and her husband Mike Kastro of Goshen will be in attendance, too. They’re set to see a show Proctor is delighted to provide.
“I never dreamed I’d have an opportunity to perform in my own hometown through this particular venue,” he said. Proctor said he looks forward to bringing joy and laughter to the auditorium.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” he said.