Jack BennyIs it possible to legally perform character voice impressions of celebrities who have died and feature them on a voice over demo that you’ve uploaded to the Internet for promotional purposes?

How does one go about getting permission? Ask the right people and you’ll find out!
Herb Merriweather shares his experience connecting with those involved with the Estate of Jack Benny doing just that.

Ask And You Shall Receive!

By Herb Merriweather
Being a voice actor has proven to be a blessing–and a challenge! There is a lot of information to absorb and put into practice. Tips on production and equipment; vocal techniques and training; copy writing/editing and marketing–each subject demands our attention at the very least and many times some sort of responsive action is needed.
One such subject that slipped beneath MY radar was the responsibility of voice actors to handle impersonations and impressions with extreme care- realizing that the wrong message or representation without permission could bring negative consequences, maybe even legal action.

I have impressions on my web page but I never gave any thought to legal responsibility until I read a Voices.com article by voice actor/attorney Rob Sciglimpaglia (Vox Daily Feb. 12, 2009).
Robs’ insights on ‘Right of Publicity’ laws let me see my Jack Benny/Eddie Anderson impressions as a possible liability-even though it wasn’t being used commercially, it was still available for public scrutiny. Even as both of these radio comedy legends are deceased, their heirs still have the right to decide who uses their “likeness” and how they’re used.

So the idea hit me…maybe there IS a way to get permission to use these likenesses in the forum where they are presented. They’d already been on the page for months so something proactive had to be done. Not knowing how to actually contact anyone connected to the Jack Benny Estate, I started where I could-with the president of the Jack Benny Fan Club, Ms. Laura Leff.

I contacted her through the Official Jack Benny Website and explained that, although I had already used Mr. Benny’s likeness (removed from the page pending results of my action) on my web page, I couldn’t continue using it without permission and could she suggest how to get it. Along with my e-mail I sent a copy of the audio file (impression) in question.
Thirty days later I received this e-mail from Ms. Leff–“…I shared this with the Benny family with the recommendation that they OK it and they are fine with you using it on your resume tape…”

She goes on to say that others are welcome to request permission as well and she encouraged me in my search for the heirs of Eddie Anderson. I’m still waiting for a response from them. “Ask and it shall be given…” seems like an oversimplification of what happened–however–the very humbling act of asking can sometimes open doors and establish relationships that other wise might never have been explored.

By the way… there are so many talented people who can “do” Jack Benny so much better than I ever could, this really ISN’T about the impression. It’s about being diligent in your business practices, learning from others and being flexible enough to adapt to what you’ve learned.
Once again–information gained from Voices.com helped to save the day…and establish a cool new relationship.
God Bless and Happy Voicing!
Herb Merriweather


  1. Thanks for sharing HM!
    Your insight is much appreciated.
    Like hundreds of others, I perform celebrity impressions as well (Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Bogart, Jimmy Durante, need I go on?) and I’m curious…what medium of permission does one attain?
    In writing? Verbal? Email? How does someone know they are not infringing on copyrights?
    Thanks in advance.
    Blair Wilson
    Voiceover Artist

  2. I enjoyed hearing about the process that you followed to attain permission to post your Jack Benny impressions. So interesting to see that his family was involved in the decision. It must have been a thrill to make that kind of connection and I bet it influenced your JB reads to emote even greater authenticity. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for your interest and response, folks. Debbe it was inDEED a huge thrill when I got the e-mail from Ms. Leff. It definitely let me know that the Benny family has a great sense of humor–of course!
    Blair, I am of the opinion that all of the above would be good…however if you want good legal direction on the subject I’d like to point you in the direction of the guy who started all of this–Voice Actor and Attorney Rob Sciglimpaglia at robertpaglia.com.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here