Candid Interview with Disney Superstar: Wheezy
Wheezy in a Nutshell
Wheezy starred in three Disney films that included "Toy Story 2," "Toy Story 3" and the brilliantly scripted, "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins." He also appeared in the Toy Story 3 video game. Along the way, he borrowed the voices of Joe Ranft, Robert Goulet, and Phil LaMarr.
Wheezy started out in Vaudeville in Atlantic City and got his big break introducing burlesque dancers. He was mentored by the late George Burns.
A cute rubber toy with a red bowtie, Wheezy was one of Andy's favorite toys in "Toy Story 2." Andy spent many hours playing with Wheezy and listening to him speak. When something tragic happened to Wheezy's squeaker, Andy's mother said that she would fix it but instead she threw him on a dusty shelf and went into the living room to watch her favorite soap opera, "As the World Turns." The dusty shelf led to Wheezy developing an upper respiratory infection and eventually a chronic case of bronchial asthma. He was called Wheezy because his asthma was so bad that you could hear him wheezing and coughing up phlegm from across the street. He needed to be on a nebulizer but Andy's parents were not able to find a specialist in the area and instead took him to a family practitioner who was basically useless.
Wheezy never married but he had a longtime girlfriend in Burbank named Latisha Johnson. The two met at Denny's when Latisha, his server, recommended the chicken fried steak. They hit it off immediately and were frequently seen at the IKEA cafeteria feasting on Swedish meatballs. They didn't have any children but they raised a toy poodle by the name of Goofy. The two have since broken up but are still Facebook friends. Latisha is currently recovering from a faulty gastric bypass surgery that currently prevents her from eating any more Swedish meatballs.
Wheezy maintains a close relationship with Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and Mr. Potato Head. The first Monday of the month they meet at the Yard House in Oxnard and watch NFL football games while munching on nachos. They participate in a local fantasy football league.
I interviewed Wheezy at Starbucks in Santa Barbara. He was dressed as a plush toy in black, yellow and white. He was wearing his signature red bowtie. Wheezy had an iced Chai Latte with coconut milk while I had a regular Italian roasted coffee with a vanilla macaroon. We sat at a corner table by a window overlooking State Street.
The Early Years
Tell me about your experience with vaudeville?
It was an experience that allowed me the opportunity to perform with such notables as Donald Duck and Goofy. George Burns and Gracie Allen took me under my wing and taught me the business end of things. All I had to do was get George a box of El Producto cigars and he taught me everything he knew.
How did you get your big break at Disney?
Well I met Mickey at a club on the Strip and we discovered that we had a lot in common. We both were black toys and we both came from humble beginnings. I was looking for work at the time and Mickey wanted to know if I was willing to meet with Walt. I jumped at the opportunity to work with the master.
How did that meeting go?
It went well, but not as I expected. We met on Main Street, right next to the Tea Cup ride. I always wanted to work at Disney every since I saw "Steamboat Willy." Walt saw my work in vaudeville and thought I had a future in Hollywood. However, he felt that my future would take a few years to bear fruit.
Did he put you in any of his films?
Not right away. He wanted me to work at his amusement park for a while and see how I got along with human families and other Disney characters. He wasn't the kind of guy who just put you in a feature film. He had to make sure you had what it takes.
What was it like working at the park?
I met a lot of nice people and animals. Snow White was cute. Chip and Dale were really funny. Mickey was always busy shaking hands and playing the drums in the parade. Me and Dumbo got to hang out a lot at the water park. It was a hoot.
The Inside Scoop on "Toy Story"
What was it like working on "Toy Story"?
Amazing. The cast was unbelievable. I loved everyone except for...maybe I shouldn't mention his name.
Please, Wheezy, this is a candid interview.
Okay, I couldn't stand Al McWhiggin. I know I'm not alone in that either. Both Buzz and Woody think he was chicken poop, excuse my French.
Wasn't he a toy collector?
He was a toy collector of the worst kind. He was greedy and he didn't collect toys as a way of preserving them, but collected them solely for a profit. He had these slimy fat fingers and when he touched you, your plush fur stood on end. He was so creepy that I dreaded when he entered the room. I knew if he repaired a wing or fixed a crooked tail, it wasn't because he cared about you; he had an ulterior motive.
Did you have fun with the other cast members outside of the movie set?
Loads of fun. We went to Laguna Beach every weekend. Woody and Buzz were excellent surfers; Mr. Potato Head was afraid of the water. Me and Andy did a lot of body boarding. Afterwards we all got some tacos and a few beers from this cozy seaside shack. Andy always had a non-alcoholic margarita because he was underage....Bo Peep and Woody used to take off by themselves and we wouldn't see them for hours. They came back all rosy-cheeked and smiley. It didn't take a genius to know what they were up to.
Wheezy, it must have been hard to leave your home in Antarctica?
Actually it was not bad. My parents moved to Monmouth, New Jersey when I was a newborn. My father got a job fishing with a nice colony of penguins. I quickly acclimated to the northeast weather, went to school there, and took up dancing and singing as a teenager with my mother's encouragement. I met some like-minded penguin friends to huddle together and to conserve energy during the winters.
When did you start wearing a red bowtie?
When I dressed for the high school prom, I put on a regular black tie but my mother felt that it wasn't flashy enough--she said that I looked "boring." She felt that I needed something that would make me stand out, so she got me a red bowtie.
I bet you looked like a real stud. Who did you go to the prom with?
Daisy Duck. We were just friends. We had a good time, got a little intoxicated, and made a fool out of ourselves on the dance floor.
I know you are very close with the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Angels' Rally Monkey. How did you guys meet?
I met them at Alice and Mark's house in Santa Barbara. Alice was friends with a lot of Disney characters since she worked for Disney for many years. She also was an Angels' fan and utilized the Rally Monkey when the Angels were losing. I was out of work at the time and collecting Disability (chronic asthma) when Alice offered to take me in. That's where I met Doughboy and Rally Monkey. They are a couple of real ball-busters, but I rather not get into that.
I know you love children. Do you ever want to have children of your own?
I have one child in Marlton, New Jersey. I met a woman during a Penguin fundraiser and we had a one-night stand at the Marriott Hotel. She got pregnant and forced me to do a paternity test. As a result, I have been making child support payments ever since. Sometimes I invite my son to stay with us in California for a few weeks. We take him to Disneyland and the Universal Studios. He can't get enough of Space Mountain and he's crazy about In N Out Burgers.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
We cook gluten-free brownies and watch TV. We just got Apple TV and we have a lot of viewing choices. We have HBO Now and we're just finishing up "The Sopranos." "The Game of Thrones" makes Alice nauseous so we're putting that show on hold for awhile. On Mondays during football season, I meet up with my Disney buddies and play fantasy football. I should have never picked up Sam Bradford this year, but I lucked out with Adrian Peterson.
The Meaning Behind the Song
It must have been a wonderful experience singing, "You've Got a Friend in Me."
If it weren't for Robert Goulet I don't think I could have got it done. He was my personal voice coach as well as my voice in the song.
What was Robert Goulet like?
He really is Lancelot. He was amazing. He was a sharp dresser and every bit as debonair as he appeared on the stage. He gave me the courage and confidence that I needed to carry out that song.
You often say that, "You've Got a Friend in Me," has special meaning for you. Can you tell us what the special meaning is?
It reminds me of a very special friend that I had as a chick. My dad bought me a little hamster named Cody. He was very precious. Then one day I found him dead, laying on top of his spinning wheel, as stiff as a board. The veterinarian said that I fed him too many food pellets. But he always looked so hungry.
Any other songs that you are working on that we might see in future Disney movies?
As a matter of fact, I'm working on the song, "Three Little Fishes." My grandmother used to sing me that song when she tucked me in at night. And I always wanted to learn to sing it. I plan on singing it at Sesame Place when I get the lyrics down.
What's Your Favorite Toy Story Character?
Wheezy's Future Plans
What do you plan to do in the future?
I take it a day at a time. I've been living with Alice and Mark in Santa Barbara. If I live in the present moment, the future will take care of itself. In all honesty, I just plan on eating a lot of gluten-free brownies with my two friends, Doughboy and the Rally Monkey. I'm 136 years old in penguin years and I'm under doctor's care for my respiratory issues. I take a lot of medications and have to watch my cholesterol. I'm just happy to be alive.
What do you guys watch on TV?
We watch the Sopranos, House of Cards, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Breaking Bad, and of course--Los Angeles Angel games on TV. When the Angels are behind in the game, the Rally Monkey gets very excited and tries to get us to stand up and cheer. But to tell you the truth, I'm not into baseball--I like football better. Or I might watch some ice-hockey or tennis when Djokovic plays Federer.
Thank you for you time, Wheezy. Is there any last words of wisdom that you'd like to impart to the readers before we go?
Yes, love your neighbor...unless you live next to Cruella de Vil, Maleficent, Shere Khan, or Ursula.
Wheezy took a couple sprays of his inhaler, rubbed his nose against my face, got up from his chair, and slowly waddled out of Starbucks.
About the Interviewer
Mark Tulin lives with his beautiful girlfriend in Santa Barbara where he writes primarily short stories and humor. His specialty is interviewing stuffed animals like teddy bears and penguins. He believes that he can extract what they are feeling and thinking just by their body language. He also believes that stuffed animals make the best pets because they are loyal, quiet and well-behaved. All they need is a loving home and, in Wheezy's case, an endless supply of homemade gluten-free brownies.