These six Disney publicity photos show Barbara Luddy and Larry Roberts, the voices for the title characters in Disney's 1955 film "Lady and the Tramp." Barbara Luddy did other voices for Disney, and even appeared on camera in movies and TV, but Larry Roberts is much more obscure. When I started this page in 2002, there was literally nothing to be found about him on the Internet. The information I've posted here has since propagated to Wikipedia, the IMDb, and other sites. But you read it here first! The following is pieced together from the Disney archives, recollections from Larry Roberts' cousins, and personal research.
(with animator Frank Thomas)
Larry Roberts was born Lawrence Saltzman on September 28, 1926. He was the only child of Robert E. and Mabel (Haber) Saltzman. Larry was a native of Cleveland, Ohio. After Larry's parents divorced, his father moved to Los Angeles. During World War II, Larry served with General Patton's Third Army in France, Germany and Austria. After his military service, Larry went to L.A. on vacation, but stayed there to help organize the Circle Theatre. He performed with this group under the name Larry Salters, appearing in 1947 in the company's debut production of "Ethan Frome" as Jotham Powell. Larry went on to appear in five of the company’s first six productions. Below is a picture of the "Time of Your Life" cast from the book "Remembering Charlie" by Jerry Epstein; Larry is the first seated person from the right. He played the aspiring “hoofer” Harry, a role originated on Broadway by Gene Kelly.
In 1949 Larry went on to create and become part owner of the Players Ring, another prominent Hollywood theatre group of the day. At some point in his onstage career, he was discovered for the role of Tramp in “Lady and the Tramp” when a Disney storyman saw him performing.
Larry was actively involved in providing entertainment for the troops in the Korean War. The image to the left shows Larry with the company of a USO tour in December of 1954; he's the fellow standing on the plane steps in the dark suit wearing the carnation. Below is a picture of Larry, center, in the finale of the 1953 USO show “Hollywood Starlets”.
Larry was a popular guest on many variety shows in the early days of television including "Lights, Camera, Action," "Bandstand Revue," "The All-Star Revue" and several of the Pinky Lee television shows. He also did a stint in Las Vegas as a stand-up comic. Larry’s singing voice was captured on several recordings he made during the fifties with Neely Plumb and his Orchestra on the “Ace-Hi Hits” label. Among his recordings for Ace-Hi were “April in Portugal”, “Big Mamou”, “Tell Me a Story”, and “Wild Horses”. Click the image to the right to hear “April in Portugal”, followed by “Wild Horses”.
Larry retired from show business in the mid to late fifties and returned to Cleveland where he reassumed the last name Salters and went into the ladies' clothing business. He first worked for Bobbie Brooks, Inc., a company founded by his uncle, Maurice Saltzman. Larry started in the warehouse shipping room in Cleveland, and worked his way up to being responsible for the merchandising and designing of the company's sportswear division in New York. He then became a top designer for Russ Togs, another ladies' clothing manufacturer. Below is a July 1968 Newspaper Enterprise Association article about Salters and Russ Togs. Note the ending quote: "I was in show business at first, doing night club work in Hollywood. I even did a picture for Disney called 'The Lady and the Tramp'. I was the voice of the dog. Wouldn't you rather be a designer by comparison?"
Larry died of AIDS-related causes in New York in the North Babylon/Fire Island area on July 17, 1992. He was 65.
"Lady and the Tramp" was re-released in theaters in 1962, and three more times (1972, 1980, and 1986) during Larry's lifetime. He must have been aware of Peggy Lee's winning lawsuit against Disney upon the 1987 release of the film on home video, although there's no record of him considering similar action. But he must have come to realize it was as a dog, not a designer, that he would achieve immortality.