If you were a girl or a burgeoning homo growing up in the mid-'80s, chances are you couldn't get enough of the beautiful blond cartoon ass-kicker known as She-Ra. First introduced in March 1985 in the animated feature film, He-Man and She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword (She-Ra [aka Princess Adora] is He-Man's [aka [Prince Adam's] twin sister), She-Ra was soon after given her own spin-off television series, She-Ra: Princess of Power, which began airing in September 1985.
To celebrate She-Ra's 25th anniversary, Mattel and Classic Media are rolling out commemorative programs.'Mattel will release collectibles on www.MattyCollector.com throughout the year, including a She-Ra action figure and Classic Media is releasing the entire She-Ra series on DVD as well as making episodes from the first season available on iTunes and Hulu.
We caught up with the voice of She-Ra and Princess Adora -- as well as many other characters, including Batgirl -- Melendy Britt. An actress, voice-over coach, and horse lover, Britt chatted with us about She-Ra as a feminist, She-Ra's transgender angle, and why the superhero was such an icon for the gay community.
Out: How did you get into doing cartoon voice work?
Melendy Britt: Back in the '70s there was a very small group of people that actually did animation voice-overs. It was a very special field. I already had a voice-over agent and if you could do characters -- most of the people back then that I knew had been actors and I came from a background of theater. I grew up in Houston and I received a scholarship to the Alley Theatre and I studied the classics and all of that. It was a background that I had that really [made voice-overs] very easy for me to get into. So much of the on-camera stuff that I did out here was really superficial and because I was pretty I always got to play either the good wife or the bad woman and that was about the extent of the roles. I don't think She-Ra was the first animation series I did but She-Ra was really special because I went into the agency and was asked to audition, but I also had to go over to the studio and meet with Lou [Scheimer] and the other producer, Arthur Nadel, because they were so committed to making this character very, very special. To me it felt it was a really special deal, and it turned out to be one.
Were you familiar with He-Man before you went into the audition?
No. No. Not really. Because my children were girls and they were already kind of grown by that point and the series was for smaller kids. But of course they told me about it and they told me about what She-Ra was going to be and I went 'Oh yeaaah!' [laughs].
What drew you to the She-Ra character?
When I went in for the interview we sat down and Lou is such a dear man and such a man of integrity and he wanted her to be a role model for young girls. Because there really weren't that many around in cartoons at that time and a superhero -- I guess you're taking on a big project to be a superhero. And that's what drew me to it. Who wouldn't want to be a superhero?
Do you see parts of yourself in She-Ra?
One of the strange things is that She-Ra has the powers of nature. She could speak with animals and strangely enough, [laughs] I've always thought that I could.
Yeah. It's very strange. I was riding horses at the time and I went Oh, my God! How weird! There were lots of things that drew me to her. She had that part of herself like every woman has -- the young girl who is innocent and really doesn't know much about the world but then when she has to draw on these incredible super powers to face challenges in life, then she can, and usually does turn into a She-Ra [laughs].
Did you have any creative input? You said that you loved horses -- did they already have She-Ra's horse, Swift Wind, as a character on the show?
No. Unfortunately -- or maybe fortunately for the show? -- I didn't have much input into what was happening. But as I said, that particular show, and Filmation itself, the studio, that was a very family-oriented and close studio. And I know behind-the-scenes they were always collaborating with one another to get a fantastic product. I do remember I was asked to go to Mattel when they were going to bring out the action figures and I thought Wow, why do they want me to go? And it's because they wanted me to really be a part of it. And then when I saw it I thought I think that looks like me' [laughs].
Well, me when I was younger. It was very strange [laughs].
Did you collect the dolls?
No. Golly, I wish I could say I took better care of the ones I had. I have She-Ra and I have Swift Wind and I have Catra. I didn't get any of the others because I had no idea that the series was going to be as popular as it was later on and because my children weren't that interested in it. I just thought Whatever. And I was working an awful lot then, too.
Was there one particular moment when you thought This show is really a hit?
I used to go to New York at least twice a year for work and I'd stay with a friend of mine who had two young boys. One was 3 or 4 and one was 6 or 7. And she had told them, 'Boys, She-Ra is coming.' And I walked into her house, it was a brownstone in New York and there was a stairway up to the first floor, and here at the top of the stairway was this little 4'year-old boy and he had a sword in his hand and it was apparently He-Man's sword [laughs] and he stared at me. He was totally mesmerized and wouldn't move. And his mom said, 'Come on down the stairs, Cam!' and he finally came down and you could see him blush and he ran over to his mother and he said, 'Mom! That's not She-Ra!' And she said 'Why? It is!' and he said 'No! She-Ra's hair is much, much yellower!' [laughs]. It was precious.
And then his brother had a birthday party and so I had to go to the skating rink and do the 'For the honor of Grayskull' [invocation] and all these little kids there had their mouths open and I thought Oh God, she's a hit! Also, when I found out that a nuclear physicist, who was a friend of a friend, took off time from work to watch the show I thought This is bizarre! This is just bizarre! [Laughs]
Earlier you were talking about how when She-Ra came out there weren't many other female superheroes like her --
Right. There weren't any like her.
Right. She was really revolutionary in some ways. Did you realize at the time how radical of a character she was?
No. Not at all. But I did begin to realize we had a very special series when the epilogues at the end gave these morals for children to relate to. I thought that was very special.
Did you -- or do you -- consider She-Ra to be a feminist?
It's very interesting. I think I was always the kind of feminist that was just beginning to happen in the '70s. I was not a Gloria Steinem but I was a woman -- I was born with talents and I was also born pretty -- well, not born pretty, but I made myself pretty --
No! Really! In theater you learn how to do that. And so it was a kind of feminism that was not the aggressive feminism that had to occur at that time. But I think She-Ra was a precursor to what may become an incredible woman today or tomorrow.
Which makes me think of this little bit of trivia that I read about how the show wasn't allowed to show combat between two people -- She-Ra could only really attack robots.
I was thinking back to when I was a kid and the cartoons that I had or I was able to watch, and some of them were very violent and I didn't like it -- I really didn't like it. I guess boys did? Or some boys did? But I didn't. I remember when I first met my husband he wanted me to play this game with him. He said, 'What do you do if you run into a wall?' and I said, 'You climb it.' And he said, 'What do you do if you run into a bear? Do you kill it? Or what do you do?' And I said, 'You talk to it. And you convince it it's better not to kill you.' [Laughs] But I think those are very human qualities and I don't know that they have a gender. I think they're intellectual qualities.
When I was growing up my brothers and I loved He-Man, but I was really obsessed with She-Ra. And I know a lot of other gay men feel the same way. Why do you think She-Ra had such an appeal for us?
I was speaking to a friend of mine whose friend is gay and he just found out that I was She-Ra and she said that he was like, 'I can't believe it! I can't believe it!' And I said to her, 'Find out from him what I [She-Ra] meant to him.' And she said 'Well, when he would watch the cartoon, he didn't know at that time that he was gay, all he knew was that he liked the way she approached things and it didn't really have a gender to him. He thought she was very pretty but the things that she did -- because she was able to do them with a nonviolent approach -- that's what he liked. And somehow it spoke to him. And that's what I mean about the show being transgender. It speaks from the heart and it speaks from the head. That's what I think. And I just did the voice but I have to give myself a little credit for that because I've been told at times from authors from different projects that I've done that an author can write the words but you have to bring the character to life. Watching some of the episodes of She-Ra this weekend -- I hadn't watched them in 25 years -- but for She-Ra I could hear and bring myself back to that time and I remember feeling those things and really meaning them. And a lot of time with the wit too -- I love that. One of my favorite lines was 'Does anyone around here know how to treat a lady?' [Laughs] There was some funny, funny things in that show that I really enjoyed.
Last year I interviewed Samantha Newark, who was the voice of Jem from Jem and the Holograms, and we chatted about how when a character has a secret identity, as both She-Ra and Jem do, it's easy for queer people to identify with them. There's something about being a young queer person and seeing this character that has something hidden inside of them that makes them special -- that's really appealing.
Strangely enough -- or sadly enough -- not only with gay people but with so many people I've heard from, there are parts of themselves they had to hide from their parents because they didn't approve of it or whatever. A person's individuality maybe sometimes has to be hidden because you have to be very careful to whom you speak. And I think children are very aware of that.
I do, too. I don't think people always give kids enough credit.
No, not at all. Not at all. They're so much smarter than we think they are.
They're re-releasing the She-Ra episodes on DVD, but I think that kids have changed a lot in the last 25 years. Do you think She-Ra will appeal to today's younger generation?
Oh, I hope you're not right about that. How do you mean that "they've changed"?
I guess I'm kind of scared of -- and scared for -- kids today. When I was growing up I was such a dork and I was so innocent compared to a lot of kids out there now. I just feel like they grow up so much more quickly than we did in the '80s. With She-Ra, the show's message seems very innocent compared to a lot of what's out there now and I wonder if it's too innocent for kids.
I don't know. I think that kids have been traumatized -- literally traumatized -- and I think it's important that we do put things in front of them that do bring a different perspective. Because there might be that one moment when something isn't working and they're looking for another answer. A fan created a website a few years ago and she would send me emails from people who would say that they let their children watch the series. Granted as they got older they didn't want to watch it, they wanted to do other things and they were really bombarded with other sorts of media. But if you can just put one spot in there where they might connect with something, someone will connect -- whether it's everyone, I don't know. But someone will connect.
How plugged into the She-Ra fan community are you? Do you go to the conventions?
I haven't ever been to the Comic-Cons. I think a few years ago I was asked to go but it didn't work out. I do have a girl who was a fan of She-Ra who started a fan site and subsequently she's had like four kids, so she hasn't had much time to do anything [laughs] but now she's got it back up again and she's going to accept more emails and I'll get those and I'll keep in touch with those people because I'm very grateful. It's so nice to have been a part of it.
What else have you been up to lately?
I still do voice-overs for commercials and animations, and I teach and coach some voice-over students. I call myself semiretired because I haven't done any on-camera in at least 10 years and I'm not even looking for a theatrical agent, which I probably should have, but I just didn't do it. I just want a simpler and more creative life and I find the business has changed so much that there are times when I would walk into a place and my heart would start pounding because the vibration was so frenetic. It's not something that I want to get into. I still rode horses until just this year, but I did something to my back. I'm hoping to get back into that as soon as I can.