News of the passing of yet another beloved figure reaches us today. Voice-over actor Peter Fernandez, whose stentorian tones were best known from his work as voice director on the American version of the Speed Racer cartoon series, died Thursday at his home in Pomona after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 83. Fernandez also co-wrote many of the scripts for the American version of the show as well as the familiar theme show ("Here he comes/Here comes Speed Racer/He's a demon on wheels...") Fernandez spent a good part of his later years addressing fans of the cartoon series and various conventions and was a welcome presence wherever he went in this capacity.
But outside his original work from the series, I’ll cherish most Fernandez’ appearance in the Wachowski Brothers’ 2008 movie, in which he appears on camera near the beginning as one of the many race announcers tracking the action when Speed goes up against the legacy of his brother Rex at the Thunderhead Raceway. Amidst all the multinational raving and clucking of tongues that the announcers offer up, Fernandez’s homespun demeanor cuts through the noise long enough to provide the juice on Rex’s back story and also to remind us of the unique, familiar timbre of his voice. That voice roots us squarely in the tradition of the original cartoon while at the same time the Wachowskis work their own magic to stake their own claim to a piece of that tradition. When he finally intones, “Folks, I knew Rex Racer, and if he’s up there somewhere watching this race, you can bet your ass he’s damn proud of his little brother,” Fernandez puts the finishing touch on what is effectively his blessing on the movie. For many reasons it’s sad/annoying that Speed Racer never got its due when it was released, and for Fernandez it must have been more than a little disappointing. I just hope that he closed his eyes this week convinced of the quality of spirit and cinematic achievement that the movie represents, and happy that he was asked to be a small but integral part of it.