Daws Butler and Don Messick were the backbone of the body of voice artists in the first Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Actually, the first year that H-B Enterprises was in operation, they were the whole body, handling all the characters in Ruff and Reddy, though Lucille Bliss has revealed she was up for the role of Ruff and got screwed out of it.
When The Huckleberry Hound Show debuted in 1958, Daws and Don provided just about all the voices. Comedian Red Coffey was brought in to do his duck voice in a few. June Foray makes on appearance in a Yogi Bear cartoon. Ginny Tyler, who worked for Disney on children’s records, provides an annoyed housewife camper’s voice in a couple of other Yogis (at least it sounds like her). And a French accent is being faked in the Pixie and Dixie cartoon ‘The Mark of the Mouse’ by someone whose identity has escaped experts like Mark Evanier and Earl Kress.
The reasons for such a small stable would seem obvious. Theatricals didn’t employ more than a few actors in a short. And Daws and Don were terrific. Joe Barbera put it this way: “...it was like a gold mine with those two guys. Between them, they could do almost every voice you could think of.” Who needs anyone else, right?
Well, apparently there was another reason. One that Barbera outlined in a story to the United Press International wire service; this ran in a newspaper dated July 13, 1959.
Want To Crash Hollywood?
Use Your Head—And Voice
By DOUGLAS DILTZ
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—A tip to those who want to crash Hollywood: The art of voice characterization offers a much better chance in the movie capital these days than the body beautiful.
Some of the most prosperous and highly-rated actors have hit the jackpot through their vocal impersonations. Most of these specialists, with the notable exception of Jim Backus (“Mr. Magoo,” etc.) live in a delightful world of almost complete anonymity, yet earn salaries that dwarf those of many glamorized personalities.
Artists like Daws Butler, Don Messick, June Foray and Patty Chapman [sic] can name their terms—the demand for their services is so acute.
According to Joseph Barbera, of the TV cartoon-producing company of Hanna and Barbera, there is a dearth of voice actors in Hollywood. The reason for the demand stems from a new surge in television cartoon production, not only in TV cartoon shows, but also for cartoon commercials.
For such TV cartoon shows as “Ruff and Ready” [sic] and “Huckleberry Hound,” there are more than 110 speaking characters. The voice specialist sounds off as many as 10 to 15 different characters for these cartoons.
Hanna and Barbera says it is always on the lookout for potential stars who have a repertoire of voices completely unlike anyone else’s. And, it won’t make any difference if you’re not pretty.
A dearth of voice actors? Like the hundreds, many of whom were amazingly versatile, who populated network radio only a few years before this news story was written? Call me Yowp the Sceptic, but it seems unlikely there was a “dearth of voice actors” in 1959. I say it ain’t so, Joe. Especially since Hanna-Barbera soon hired top radio character actors Alan Reed, Bill Thompson, Bea Benaderet, Janet Waldo and Penny Singleton. Oh, and some fellow named Blanc. Can’t remember the first name.
One thing is clear—the studio added artists as it added cartoons and voice artists were no exception, dearth or not. When The Quick Draw McGraw Show aired in 1959, several new actors came on board. Some lasted longer than others.
• Peter Leeds, best known for narration and foil duties with Stan Freberg, narrated ‘Scat, Scout, Scat’ and vanished for good.
• Los Angeles children’s TV star Vance Colvig appeared on ‘Bad Guys Disguise’ and disappeared until the following year when Barbera needed someone to say “Ain’t that cute” about a duck. Neither displayed much vocal flexiblity, surprising given Colvig’s pedigree.
• Elliot Field, a disc jockey who had arrived in Los Angeles from a radio station in Texas, was the original voice of Blabber Mouse before Butler took the role after four cartoons. He later came back to do guest voices on ‘The Flintstones’ before his radio career took him to Detroit.
Barbera lucked out with several other actors.
• Hal Smith, pre-Otis Campbell (the town drunk on Andy Griffith), lent his voice to a bunch of incidental characters for both the Quick Draw and Huckleberry Hound shows, then stayed with Hanna-Barbera through the ‘60s. Warners used him as Elmer Fudd after Arthur Q. Bryan died and he seems willing to accept work on the lamest of cartoons (like Filmation’s ‘Rod Rocket’ and Ken Snyder’s ‘Funny Company’ educationals).
• Julie Bennett, who also worked briefly for Warner Bros. and Jay Ward, made a couple of appearances as Sagebrush Sal on Quick Draw before claiming the role of Cindy Bear a year later.
• Jean Vander Pyl, the radio voice of Margaret Anderson on ‘Father Knows Best’, got most of the female roles, with some accents that would become familiar to viewers of Hanna-Barbera through the ‘60s.
But the only new regular voice actor on the Quick Draw show was a radio announcer and actor named Doug Young, who managed an amazing feat—he mimicked Jimmy Durante, keeping Durante’s humour but not overpowering you with the impression. You could watch Doggie Daddy and think of him as Doggie Daddy, not someone doing Durante. He added relaxed warmth to the voice and the role.
The surprising thing that you may not realise is when you watch the earliest cartoons on The Quick Draw McGraw Show, Don Messick is nowhere to be found. Why? That’s a mystery. Certainly no one at Hanna-Barbera could have been dissatisfied with him. It could be Don was busy with—CRINGE ALERT—the egregious ‘Bucky and Pepito’. Or maybe Barbara wanted to go with a bit of a different sound; certainly he did with the background music on the Quick Draw series. Whatever the reason, things seems to have changed about mid-season as Don’s familiar narration and incidental voices returned to add to his body of work as he and Daws Butler played off each other to delight cartoon lovers.
Good thing, too. After all, a body does need a backbone.
Yowp note: If you’ve never heard of Pattee Chapman in the wire story she, among other things, worked with Stan Freberg on the radio show ‘That’s Rich.’ Isn’t there always a Freberg connection?