It was late in the great character actor's career, and Mark Evanier tells the story:
It was one of the hottest days in L.A. history and, as is usual for auditions, we were running way behind. Still, it was an exciting day: There are dozens of wonderfully-talented actors and actresses in Hollywood who do cartoon voices and we had some of the best coming in to try out.
The producer and I ran the auditions at the recording studio. I'd go out to the lobby, where we usually had a half-dozen auditioners waiting, and call for the next person like a nurse telling someone in the waiting room that the doctor was ready to see them. I'd explain the role to the actor, we'd put them in the booth at the microphone, give them a chance to read the script aloud a few times to "warm up" and then we'd roll tape.
I will never, as long as I live, forget summoning Frank Nelson. He was sitting in the recording studio's lobby, absently paging through a magazine older than he was, surrounded by young actors who didn't know who he was. I stepped into the lobby and said, "Mr. Nelson?"
And he turned towards me — so help me — and went, "Yessssss?" Just like on the Benny show.
I broke into laughter and the other auditioners — the younger actors sitting in chairs around him — suddenly recognized him and they all broke into applause. I have never seen another actor get applause from his peers in the waiting room.
I escorted Mr. Nelson into the recording studio, explained the role ("Try to sound like Frank Nelson") and then I walked him into the booth and put him in front of the microphone.
The producer was sitting in the next room, next to the engineer. As I returned to his side, we could hear Frank Nelson over the speakers, reading the audition script aloud, warming up. We weren't rolling tape yet but, even warming up, it was obvious that Nelson was perfect for the role. ...
He smiled and thanked me. ... We chatted for a few minutes and he asked me, confidentially, what his agent could ask for in terms of money.
Usually, these specials paid union scale, which most folks consider decent pay for a cartoon voiceover job. Few actors ever get more. I remembered the embarrassed look on our producer's face and told Nelson, "Try for double scale. I'll see that you get it." (Well, it wasn't my money...)
Talk of double scale delighted him...not so much for the cash, I'm sure, as the prestige. And he got it.