The Voice Of Mr. Owl In The Tootsie Pop Commercial Is More Familiar Than You Realized

There are a few great mysteries of childhood. Can you dig a hole so deep that it goes all the way through the Earth until you wind up in China? Is it possible to hold your breath for so long that you pass out? Does the light in the fridge actually go off when you close the door?

While many of these questions come from a place of childhood innocence, one of the greatest was implanted in generations of children's minds, not by curiosity, but by an ad agency, according to History Daily. The ad they created was for Tootsie Pops and has been aired for decades at different lengths, but in the 30-second version, a child — who was voiced by Buddy Foster, Jodie Foster's older brother (via MeTV) — first asks a turtle the famous question: "How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?" 

The turtle doesn't know and tells the kid to go ask Mr. Owl, a wise glasses-and-mortarboard-wearing owl (the mortarboard is very important because it reminds the viewer that owls are smart). Mr. Owl offers to try to solve the mystery, but after just three licks, he can't control his urge to chomp through the candy coating into the delightful Tootsie Roll center. Despite its status as a cultural touchstone, many people fail to realize that the man behind the voice of Mr. Owl has voiced many other well-known characters.

Paul Winchell was the voice of Mr. Owl

According to Lemelson MIT, Paul Winchell grew up in New York City in the 1920s. His real name was Paul Wilchen, according to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was a shy kid and had a stutter, which makes it surprising that he discovered ventriloquism. Winchell was inspired to pick up a dummy after listening to ventriloquist Edgar Bergen yuck it up with his wooden sidekick, Charlie McCarthy (interestingly, this was a radio show, and while it doesn't seem like ventriloquism would play on the radio, apparently it worked). Soon, Winchell was mastering ventriloquism using dummies he had built himself — a pair of skills that foreshadowed the two wildly different fields he went on to become known in. 

One of Winchell's first breaks was when he won an episode of "Major Bowes and the Original Amateur Hour" where he performed his ventriloquism act. His success continued when he started appearing on a bunch of TV shows — including "The Ed Sullivan Show," per MeTV — including his own show with his dummy Jerry Mahoney called "The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show" which featured celebrity guests like Peter Lorre and even counted Carol Burnett as a regular cast member in the role of Jerry Mahoney's girlfriend.

Winchell picked up lots of voice work

Winchell continued to appear on live action series, like "The Brady Bunch," "The Lucy Show," and "The Beverly Hillbillies" (via Academy of Television Arts & Sciences). Given that ventriloquism requires a high amount of vocal control, Winchell eventually became a sought-after voice actor. In the 1960s, Winchell was enlisted to voice characters for Hanna-Barbera and wound up lending his voice to characters in cartoon classics like Dr. Input from "The Jetsons" and Dick Dastardly from "Wacky Racers" (via Behind The Voice Actors). 

In 1987, he also took over the role of another Hanna-Barbera villain, Dread Baron, which was essentially Dick Dastardly with a different hat, in the series "Yogi Bear and the Magical Flight of the Spruce Goose." Winchell also voiced "The Smurfs" adversary Gargamel in the 1980s.

Disney also turned to Winchell for some voice work too. In 1968, Winchell took on one of his most well-known roles, that of Tigger in "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day," and he remained the voice of Tigger until 1999. During that time, he voiced the character in cartoons, films, on records (even earning a Grammy for the song "The Most Wonderful Things About Tiggers"), and even theme park attractions. Winchell's final turn as Tigger came when he recorded the lines for Walt Disney World's "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" ride, per AllEars.

Paul WInchell was also an accomplished inventor

Of course, Winchell, also landed some commercial work, most notably as Tootsie Pop's Mr. Owl, but he has another claim to fame that is far less known than his voice acting credits. According to Lemelson MIT, Winchell was a man of varied interests, was a Doctor of Acupuncture, and even worked as a medical hypnotist. In the 1950s, Winchell met Dr. Henry Heimlich who invented the Heimlich maneuver. The two became friends. At one point, Heimlich invited Winchell to sit in on and observe several surgeries. This experience gave Winchell an idea, which led him to invent an artificial heart that keeps a patient's blood pumping while they undergo surgery. Winchell designed a prototype and received a patent for it in the early 1960s. He later donated the patent to a team that took those ideas and eventually developed the first implanted artificial heart, known as the Jarvik-7.

Winchell was a prolific inventor and beyond his original artificial heart patent, he also held patents for a wide range of inventions, including a disposable razor and a flameless lighter. Winchell also came up with an idea for a way to combat world hunger by devising a process that farmed tilapia which he called, fittingly enough, "The Tilapia Project."