Father of ‘Homer Simpson’ voice actor dead at 99
By MAUREEN O’DONNELL Staff Reporter August 21, 2014 2:26PM
Louis Castellaneta with his late wife Elsie and their son Dan Castellaneta, a voice-actor whose characterizations include Homer Simpson of "The Simpsons."
‘HOMER SIMPSON’ REFLECTS ON HIS DAD
Dan Castellaneta, the actor best known for providing the voice of TV’s Homer Simpson, offers these memories about his father, Louis Castellaneta of Westmont, who died last week at age 99:
“My father was a wonderful, creative and talented man who will leave a big hole in many lives.
“When I did a ventriloquist act for some Boy Scout event, he wrote my routine. It went over big.
“He used to make our costumes for Halloween, and they were always authentic and impressive.
“He and Mom once went to a costume party as an organ grinder and monkey. He was the monkey.
“He once made that Napoleon costume for a costume contest . . . but it was so good he didn’t win first prize because they thought he had rented the costume.
“I remember he was eating a licorice whip and, unbeknownst to him, Trixie [the family dog] was eating the other end.
“When I was very young and he was tucking me in bed, he turned away for a moment and said he had something in his eye. When he turned back, he had two ping-pong balls over his eyes with black dots on them and said, ‘AH, that’s better.’ For a while as a very young kid, I thought that he had the ability to make his eyes like that.
“When I asked him why he rarely went to church with us, he told me it was because he was Jewish. For five years, I thought I was half-Jewish — until one time I brought it up at the dinner table. Mom said, ‘Where did you get that?’ I said, ‘Dad told me.’ She hit him on the arm and said, ‘Lou!’ Obviously, it wasn’t true.
“One New Year’s Eve, at our cousins, he dressed as a hippy, and when a guest knocked on the door, he’d open it a crack and say, ‘Hey, man, did you bring the stuff? That’s OK. Just come in and inhale the air.’
“Whenever he would wake us up in the morning, he’d pipe us awake by imitating the whistle he’d heard in the Navy and then say, ‘Rise and shine. Rise and shine. All hands on deck. Rise and shine, you swabs.’
“Mom said when I was a baby and I was in my cradle, Dad would be sitting in his chair, watching a ball game. When I would cry, he would pull a rope that he had tied to the cradle and rock it without leaving his chair.”
Updated: September 23, 2014 6:28AM
Louis Castellaneta, who raised a creative family that includes son Dan Castellaneta, the voice of countless animated characters including Homer Simpson and Krusty the Clown on TV’s “The Simpsons,” died Friday at his home in Westmont. He was 99.
Mr. Castellaneta, who grew up in Chicago’s Taylor Street neighborhood and with his late wife Elsie raised their family in Oak Park, was a World War II Navy veteran, an animal lover, a painter and lithographer for RR Donnelley.
Dinnertime at Louis and Elsie Castellaneta’s Oak Park home was often rollicking. Mr. Castellaneta loved the humor of Red Skelton, Sid Caesar, Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason. He’d entertain his three kids with funny stories and coin nonsense terms for food.
“He would say, ‘Eat your ‘faranistans,’ ’’ a made-up word that meant carrots, said his daughter, Gina Castellaneta.
Dan Castellaneta said his father was “a wonderful, creative and talented man” — and funny, too.
“When I was very young and he was tucking me in bed, he turned away for a moment and said he had something in his eye,” the son said Thursday. “When he turned back, he had two ping-pong balls over his eyes with black dots on them and said, ‘AH, that’s better.’ For a while as a very young kid, I thought that he had the ability to make his eyes like that.
“When I asked him why he rarely went to church with us, he told me it was because he was Jewish. For five years, I thought I was half-Jewish — until one time I brought it up at the dinner table. Mom said, ‘Where did you get that?’ I said, ‘Dad told me.’ She hit him on the arm and said, ‘Lou!’ Obviously, it wasn’t true.”
He also remembers his dad helping out when he was a Boy Scout: “When I did a ventriloquist act for some Boy Scout event, he wrote my routine. It went over big.”
Mr. Castellaneta, who traced his family roots to Bari, Italy, and the region of Calabria, graduated from Proviso East High School in Maywood. He did artwork and posters for the school, acted in plays and was a member of the wrestling team there. His parents appreciated the arts and took him to the movies.
During World War II, he enlisted in the Navy, where he was a corpsman and was stationed in Okinawa.
He didn’t have to go, because he was the sole support for his mother, said another daughter, Paula Pohlhammer. But he felt strongly about serving his country. He helped provide medical assistance to the Japanese. “He went out of his way to learn Japanese phrases so he could provide comfort in their time of need,” she said
He met Elsie Lagorio when they attended Jack and Jill Dude Ranch in Michigan, where, beside horseback riding, the tenderfoot campers entertained themselves by square-dancing and putting on revues. After watching comics perform in Chicago, Mr. Castellaneta would head to camp with new material. In one skit, he played Groucho Marx.
The Castellanetas bought a home in Oak Park, and he worked for RR Donnelley as a lithographer, correcting colors on prints. In those days, before computers, it was painstaking labor, coloring in tiny dots by hand.
He adored the family mutt, Trixie. When she died, a heartbroken Mr. Castellaneta swore he’d never get another dog. But he spoiled the grandpuppies raised by his kids.
He loved retirement, returning to his painting, taking woodworking classes, traveling with his wife and designing posters for a children’s theater in England.
When he was about 90 years old, he had triple-bypass surgery, then put in the work to come back from that.
“He used to go to the gym with us in his 90s,” his daughter said, “And he used to teach at the Oak Park YMCA. He used to teach senior exercise classes.”
Mr. Castellaneta’s experience during wartime made him “very antiwar,” his daughter said. “He didn’t think that war solved anything.”
His daughter said he once witnessed a Japanese soldier, fearing the approach of U.S. troops and wanting to avoid being taken prisoner, “blow himself up with a grenade.”
She said her parents could often be spotted walking around Oak Park in their matching Simpsons jackets: “They had fun wearing their Simpsons coats.”
“They were proud of us,” said Gina Castellaneta, who co-owns Peter Coombs Photography and stages homes for sale.
Pohlhammer is a marriage and family therapist. Mr. Castellaneta also is survived by two grandsons and a great-granddaughter.
The family is planning a private service.