If Daws Butler lived in the very large shadow of Mel Blanc, then Don Messick lived in the very large shadow of Daws.
A few different generations know who Mel is, not only because he voiced some of the most famous and funny animated characters of the 20th century, but due to his memory. He remembered an old vaudeville adage—billing is everything. He made sure his name showed up before the action even began in Warner Bros. cartoons and no other actor’s did (on The Bugs Bunny Show on TV, he got his own, exclusive title card with a spotlight around the lettering). Mel appeared on camera on some memorable Jack Benny shows. And Mel was a pretty aggressive self-promoter, too, and thus you can find old TV clips of him and a book talking about his career. His version of it anyway.
Daws’ name isn’t as well-known to the general public—he really seems to have shunned the spotlight—but his talent for mimicry and enthusiastic acting style has rightfully won him legions of lovers among the clamourous cartoon cogniscenti.
And that brings us to Don. When Hanna-Barbera got into the TV cartoon business in 1957, Don and Daws were their entire cast. And so it remained, with a rare exception, when Huckleberry Hound debuted a year later. But Daws got the fun starring-roles while Don’s main roles were secondary: straight-sounding characters—narrators, Ranger Smith and Boo-Boo mainly. His only titular character was Pixie but, even then, Daws as Mr. Jinks was the real star of those cartoons. On top of that, cartoon writer-producer Mark Evanier revealed that Daws got a certain fee. Everyone else (Don) got scale.
Even in work for other studios, Daws came out better than Don. Daws provided some funny, very familiar voices for the beloved Jay Ward cartoon shows and on commercials, while Don was the only highlight of the wretched and forgotten and wretched Spunky and Tadpole series. Oh, did I mention it was wretched?
But Don was not underrated to Joe Barbera and he consistently proved his value to Hanna-Barbera year in and year out. He played both meek husband and battle-axe wife in a great Yogi Bear cartoon called Be My Guest, Pest. His vaudevillean tête-à-têtes as Major Minor with Snagglepuss really added to the silliness of that series. In 1962, he provided comic relief fun in his best part to date as Astro on The Jetsons; for a change, he got the over-the-top character while Daws got the more down-to-earth role as Elroy. Starring roles in minor cartoons like Ricochet Rabbit and Precious Pupp (as a snickering dog) followed, and so did a prize prime-time gig as Jonny Quest’s father, a character someone like Daws Butler would never have been asked to try, though he was thoroughly capable of doing straight voices.
Soon Don got what might be two of his best-known roles. His snicker was put in a new dog and Muttley basically stole the show on Wacky Races (1968). Then a pinch of Astro’s voice was used as Don was handed the starring role in Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969), for some reason one of the most popular characters ever to come out of the Hanna-Barbera studios. Daws, meanwhile, was over at Walter Lantz trying overcome circumstances beyond his control to make Chilly Willy even remotely watchable.
Fortunately, the ’80s brought a flood of interest in anything to do with animation that had been popular on TV a generation earlier. Thus, several profiles of Don made their way into the popular press. Associated Press writer Jerry Buck (as opposed to Jerry Beck) put this one together which was printed in papers starting February 27, 1985.
Don Messick: man with many voices
LOS ANGELES (AP) — You may not know Don Messick’s face, but it's unlikely you've missed his many voices.
In the world of voices, Messick is a superstar. He’s done hundreds of commercials (he’s the voice of Snap for Rice Krispies) and he’s created the voices in more than 3,000 television cartoon episodes.
He’s the voice of Papa Smurf on The Smurfs. He's the voice of “Scooby Doo,” Bamm-Bamm on The Flintstones, Astro the Dog in The Jetsons, Crunch in The Mighty Orbots and Pupooch in Pawpaws.
“When my voice changed when I was 13, I discovered its flexibility,” said Messick. “I became a ventriloquist. That was during the era of Charlie McCarthy. I started entertaining at rural affairs on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where I grew up.
“When I was 15 I got my own weekly radio show on the station in Salisbury. I wrote and played all the parts. After high school, I moved to Baltimore and lived with my grandmother while I went to acting school. I learned how bad I was and how much technique I needed to learn.”
Messick worked at the time with a dummy named Woody DeForest, which he got for $15 from a mail order house in St. Joseph, Mo.
In 1945, at the age of 18, he was drafted into the Army and sent to the West Coast. Woody went along, complete with uniform made by Messick’s mother.
“When I got out of the Army I headed for Hollywood,” he said. “I was in a workshop for veterans, run by Bob Light, and through him I got my first job as the voice of Raggedy Andy on The Raggedy Ann Show.”
Messick worked through the days of live television as the voice on various puppet shows. Oddly enough, it was the release of the movie studios’ backlog of animated cartoons that put him out of a job. And it was the voice of new cartoon shows that he found his fortune.
He met William Hanna and Joseph Barbera just as they were leaving MGM to set up their own cartoon studio. “I'm still on a day player contract, but I’ve worked every year for them for the past 26 years,” Messick said.
Messick now lives in Santa Barbara, where he has a studio in his home and frequently records there. He sometimes walks his dog on Butterfly Beach, where he occasionally runs into another famous resident, Robert Mitchum. “We talk about dogs,” he said. “He has no idea who I am.”
Messick’s face has appeared recently on television, but it was typecasting. He was Wally Wooster, the man who did the cartoon voices, on NBC’s The Duck Factory.
“They wanted someone who kind of fit the description of the character and could do voices,” he said.
Wally’s most memorable moment came in the first show when he gave the eulogy for an animator and kept slipping into the voice of cartoon character Dippy Duck, “Wally was never quite sure whether he was Wally or Dippy Duck,” Messick said.
Messick commutes to work in Los Angeles. His wife, Helen, operates an herb shop in Northern California. They see each other on weekends. “We've lived apart since 1967. It works,” he said. “She's happy doing her thing and she prefers Northern California.”
He has been doing the voice of “Scooby Doo” for 16 years on ABC Saturday mornings. The Jetsons, an ABC prime-time cartoon in 1962-63, is still seen in reruns and is coming back for more original shows.
Another cartoon that's being brought back for more original shows is Yogi Bear and all the gang at Jellystone National Park. Messick is the voice of Boo-Boo. In the new episodes, Yogi and his friends will leave the park.
Messick also is the voice of various insects on Raid commercials and does voices for Quaker Oats, Hasbro Toys, Jeno’s Frozen Pizza, Green Giant and Coleco Toys. He also did the cartoon voices for dream sequences on 9 to 5 and “grunting” for the movie Outland.
The Raggedy Ann Show was a standard-fare kids radio show, meaning it ran 15 minutes and was broadcast in the late afternoon (three times a week). Its flagship station was KHJ Los Angeles. Billboard of November 29, 1947 had a story about the show and it was really quite ingenious. RCA Victor was the sponsor and used it to sell children’s records. Paula Stone played Paula, the owner of a record shop. Raggedy Ann and Andy stepped out of the pages of a book (where’s Bob Clampett to take credit?!) and started talking with Paula, who would then spin a kid’s fairy tale record for them—a record which just happened to be made by RCA Victor. Of course, only part of the record was heard, with the announcer urging kids to hear the rest by buying it at their local record store. Gee Gee Pearson was Ann and Don was Andy “playing supporting roles in high-pitched voices, adding a novel effect.” Billboard reviewed the show because the idea was to syndicate it nationally via platters.
Don may be gone, but his voice is still with us in some great old cartoons (and some that aren’t so great; don’t blame Don). Don’s dummy Woody is still with us, too. Read about him here.
A smaller version of the photo at the top of this post can be found on Mark Evanier’s POV Online site. No finer and more poignant personal remembrance of Don can come than that from Mark’s keyboard here.