Daws Butler stood in front of many microphones over the years, in nightclubs and in cartoon, television, radio and recording studios. He obviously had to do it for the first time, and that first time was on January 11, 1935.
Daws was born in Toledo on November 16, 1916. His family moved to Oak Park, Illinois between August and December of 1921; his father originally worked as a special representative for Biggs Bros., a real estate company. Daws honed his considerable talents through his school years. We’re fortunate the local paper in Oak Park had a school column, and that column reported on the activities of one of its students, Charles Dawson Butler.
Here’s a little news item from the column of January 17, 1935. While Daws started out as an impersonator, he didn’t do one human voice in his debut.
And now it appears that another local boy has made good in the big city. Dawson Butler made his radio debut Friday evening over WGN [Chicago] on an amateur program. Artist Butler imitated a saw sawing wood, a steamboat whistle, and a flivver starting in cold weather with such perfection that many of his listeners accused him of taking saws, steamboats, and flivvers down to the studio with him. Mr. Butler’s only regret is the fact that there isn’t such a great future in these noises. Despite this handicap, we predict he will go far.
The broadcast seems to have helped open the door for his first professional work. The paper has several stories about Daws’ fledgling amateur activities. Let’s jump past them to a full-fledged news story about Daws published November 21, 1935, with the accompanying photo.
Dawson Butler “Getting to Top” With Imitations
A Horatio Alger story now in the making is the story of Dawson Butler, eighteen-year old villager, who lives at 441 North Lombard. As young as he is, he has a long list of entertainment credits in his book of accomplishments, and with his imitations and impersonations of radio and screen stars is well along the way to that elusive place called “the top.”
Dawson, who attends Oak Park high school, is versatile there, his activities including cartooning for the Trapeze and contributions to the Tabula, the latter work giving him practice in writing his own script, as he does for all his own appearances. Some of his favorite impersonations are Winchell, Bernie, George Arliss, Edward G. Robinson, W.C. Fields, Stephin Fetchit, Charles Butterworth, Joe Brown and that favorite of everybody, Schnozzle Durante.
Those who have seen him declare “he’s got what it takes” and he’s destined to go places.
But here’s his story: Dawson made his first appearance about a year ago at WGN on Quin Ryan’s amateur show. In the spring he followed his initial success by winning the amateur contest at the Walkathon contest in Maywood and topped this during the late summer by winning contests at the Sherman and also at Harry’s New York Cabaret where he received a two weeks’ engagement.
Last month he appeared at the Edgewater Beach hotel for two weeks as a result of their amateur auditions. First prize in this contest went to an Oak Park girl, Miss Jane McEvilly of 618 Harrison, who attends Trinity high school.
While this young masculine star was appearing at the College Inn during one of George Olson’s amateur nights, a representative of one of the loop booking offices signed him for work at the new Pierre. This night club, formally called Pierre’s Continental Casino, one of the most exclusive of Chicago’s after dark spots, opened recently in a blaze of brilliance, attended by the city’s four-hundred.
Dawson was guest artist on Monday night, November 11, on the Midnight Fliers program at the Blackhawk, thus adding another appearance to his list, and starting on December 14, this clever showman will start a week’s engagement at the state and Lake theatre.
Daws hooked up with a couple of other young men and they formed a group of impersonators (apparently much like Hollywood’s “Radio Rogues”). “The Three Short Waves” were performing in Chicago by December 1935, They were still together on March 4, 1937 when the Oak Leaves reported on Daws for a final time. This story got his age wrong and seems to have misspelled the name of the third wave.
Young Mimic Is Home After Tour with Club Revue
Dawson Butler of 423 Wisconsin has returned home after a five month tour with Paul Choice’s “Kit Kat Klub Revue.” With Jack Lavin and Willard Orvity of Chicago, he took part in an act of impersonations entitled “The Three Short Waves.” Mr. Butler wrote the material for the act which is a comedy and novelty feature, and the revue played in cities and towns throughout New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois.
A year ago, Mr. Butler, Mr. Lavin and Mrs. Orvity [sic] gave their show in Chicago, at the Edgewater Beach hotel, the Congress, the Blackhawk and Harry’s New York Bar.
Among the famous people Mr. Butler imitates are W.C. Fields, Jack Oakie, Ned Sparks, Joe E. Brown, Charles Laughton, Lionel Barrymore, Stepin Fetchit, President Roosevelt, Fred Allen, Walter Winchell, Bob Burns and Ben Bernie.
Mr. Butler is seventeen years old and before joining the vaudeville unit attended Oak Park high school. At school he drew cartoons for the Trapeze.
He is also a composer of novelty songs and writes both the words and music. It is a hobby which he hopes to turn into a life work.
I can’t any references to the Waves past 1937. There may be a reason for that. An Associated Press story dated March 29, 1939 mentions that a 20-year-old Jack Lavin of Chicago, who was entertaining in a bar in Grand Forks, North Dakota, was charged with grand larceny after he and another man were accused of taking $40 from a woman who was in their act. Whether there could have been two young Jack Lavins from Chicago entertaining in clubs in the late ‘30s is hard to say, but it’s easy to assume they’re one and the same and the Waves had broken up by then. I can find absolutely nothing about Willard Ovitz, as I gather his name is spelled.
It’s interesting to note Daws’ repertoire of impressions, and how he banked them for use years later by animated characters. He did a Joe E. Brown-type voice at Hanna-Barbera for both Peter Potamus and Lippy the Lion. His Durante popped out of Spike the dog’s mouth at MGM. Charlie Butterworth somewhat suspiciously sounds like Cap’n Crunch. Daws’ Fields impression was re-worked into the forgettable Merlin the Magic Mouse at Warners. And he put his great Fred Allen voice in one cartoon, Huckleberry Hound’s “Skeeter Trouble” (1958). Daws matches Allen’s inflections so well that it’s a shame he never used the voice again; he was a lot better than the weak Ollie O’Toole or Peter Lind Hayes who did fake Allens on Jack Benny’s radio show from time to time.
Countless numbers of people have entered amateur contests over the years—in vaudeville houses, on radio, in nightclubs and on television. Only a tiny percentage went on to much bigger things. Cartoon and comedy fans can be thankful one was Daws Butler.