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Actor and writer Peter Fernandez, 83, dies; brought 'Speed Racer' to U.S.

Peter Fernandez adapted
Peter Fernandez adapted "Speed Racer" from Japanese animation. (David Larks/associated Press)
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By Valerie J. Nelson
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peter Fernandez, 83, who helped introduce the United States to Japanese animation in the 1960s by adapting the series "Speed Racer" for American audiences, died July 15 of cancer at his home in Pomona, N.Y.

Mr. Fernandez, a voice actor who was also a writer and producer, gave voice to fast-talking action hero Speed Racer and wrote the English lyrics to the catchy theme song that can still cause many now-grown fans to bust out a line from the chorus: "Go, Speed Racer, go!"

A former child actor who had worked in radio, Mr. Fernandez was specializing in English dubbing of foreign films and animation when he was asked to adapt "Speed Racer," which first appeared in Japan as "Mach Go Go Go."

"The only instructions I had was to 'Americanize it,' which meant I could name all the characters and write the dialogue the way I wanted," he told the Houston Chronicle in 2008.

The 52-episode series debuted in 1967 and featured voice-overs by Mr. Fernandez and three other actors who took Speed Racer and friends on adventures in the Mach 5 super-car.

Naming the characters was the most fun, Mr. Fernandez often said. He called villains Cruncher Block and Guts Buster, and he delighted in writing such lines as "The secret film was filmed secretly."

Mr. Fernandez was born Jan. 29, 1927, in New York City. When his father's import-export business failed during the Depression, he started modeling at 7 to bring in money.

As a teenager he appeared in several Broadway shows, including Lillian Hellman's "Watch on the Rhine" (1941). During World War II, he served in the Army and was assigned to the Pentagon, where he worked in communications, his wife, Noel, said.

After the war, he sold stories to pulp magazines and acted in radio, television and film. The Los Angeles Times called Mr. Fernandez a "new-found film star" in 1949 after he appeared in the movie "City Across the River" with Tony Curtis.

In the 1960s, Mr. Fernandez segued into dubbing and wrote scripts for two animated Japanese imports, "Astro Boy" and "Gigantor," which led to "Speed Racer."

The series experienced renewed popularity when it aired on MTV in the 1990s. In the 2008 live-action film "Speed Racer," Mr. Fernandez had a cameo as a radio announcer. He continued to work as a voice actor and director until about a year ago.

Prone to exclaiming "jeepers" in interviews, the kindly Mr. Fernandez would try to explain the enduring popularity of "Speed Racer" by pointing to children's fascination with cars and the show's emphasis on Speed's family relationships.

He also admitted that he "always tried to get across a subtle message of some kind about decency or fair play."

In addition to Noel, whom he married in 1978, he is survived by three children; a brother; a sister; and nine grandchildren.

-- Los Angeles Times

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