A lot of an actor’s appeal comes from not only what you see, but by what you hear. I’ve always thought Simon had a marvelous voice, and his voice has always been an integral part to his characters. There are some roles where his voice is everything; the Empyrian from The Outer Limits episode “Second Chance” comes to mind. As many have described, if you were going by appearances alone, you would never recognize that the Empyrian is, in fact, the same man who would go on to play Tony Vincenzo. But all you need to do is merely listen, and it soon becomes clear.
Simon’s natural Brooklyn accent has always been very appealing to me; it’s part of what gives Tony Vincenzo his tough exterior, and, at the same time, also lets slip Tony’s softer side, given the right opportunity. Initially, I was surprised to find out that Simon’s Brooklyn accent was, in fact, his natural one; the first time I saw him was in “The Day Smart Turned Chicken” in Get Smart, where his character as the Cowboy had no accent at all. That is the hallmark of a good actor, of course: to be able to work his voice in such a way that the viewer believes it.
Brooklyn is not the only accent that I’ve heard Simon speak in, of course; he was able to work his voice to a number of accents that were believable each and every time—from Stawski’s Jersey accent in The Sand Pebbles to Colonel Vasily’s Russian accent and Alonzo Galezio’s Italian accent in Wagon Train. The accents don’t seem forced at all; they sound natural, as though he had been speaking that way for years. The accent also helps to make the character more endearing; how can anyone not like Alonzo, with his almost boyish enthusiasm and joie de vivre that are so plainly evident in his words alone?
All accents aside, there is the sheer quality of Simon’s voice itself: a strong, golden baritone that exudes an aura of both charm and even reassurance. Yes, reassurance; most of Simon’s characters—the good guys, at least—are the ones you’d want to hide behind if there was something scary out there. I, for one, would have no hesitation in asking Lt. Schrank to be a police escort if I was traversing Manhattan at night. If monsters were crawling around Chicago, I’d sooner stay in the INS building knowing that Tony Vincenzo was holding the fort. Simon’s paternal characters, like Daniel Gorman from Tucker’s Witch and General Moore from Black Sheep Squadron, pretty much live and breathe this aura of security when they speak.
And even some of the villain characters haven’t lost everything in the reassurance department; why else would so many people trust someone like William Poole? It’s because Poole talks with a comforting, sympathetic vibe, cheerfully singing and whistling his signature song, that people are automatically put at ease by his words. As much as I’d hate to admit it, I probably would’ve believed that he was a harmless traveling man like the rest of Virginia City did.
Of course, Simon also used his voice to showcase how disturbing the villain characters could get, as well. Once Poole’s charade is unmasked, his voice turns to a low, almost pseudo-growl before he strikes—and then, later, an all-out roar as he yells at Little Joe. And then there’s Joshua Broom, from the Cimarron Strip episode “The Beast Who Walks Like a Man.” Joshua Broom is a role unlike any other that Simon has played, and it’s his voice (low and gravelly, and he does indeed really growl and roar this time) as much as his appearance (a bizarre combination of Hagrid and Wolverine) that seals the character and makes him utterly unforgettable.
Perhaps another testament to Simon’s wonderful voice is that he has done his share of voiceovers, able to have a presence without actually being seen. No matter what the role or what the accent, it’s always a joy to hear his wonderful golden voice. And it seems so fitting to remember the voice and the man today, on what would’ve been his 96th birthday.
Happy Birthday, Simon. You are greatly missed.