Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Pageant of Daws Butler

Could the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio have started out so successfully without Daws Butler?

Daws was entrusted with almost all of H-B’s starring characters over the first three years of the studio’s life. They couldn’t have been in better hands, er, mouths.

Daws didn’t do funny voices. He did voices of characters that said funny things. And, arguably, they may not have been funny if they came from the mouths of other actors. With maybe a rare exception, Daws always knew how to read what was put in front of him. And he could augment it to make it even more amusing.

Hanna-Barbera’s original half-hour syndicated series were instant hits. People started wondering who it was that was playing Huckleberry Hound, or Yogi Bear, or Quick Draw McGraw. Magazines and newspaper wire services started writing about him.

Here’s a portion of a story which ran in Pageant magazine in 1962. It’s only a portion because it was being sold on eBay, and the seller only posted a portion. But I’m putting it up because this may have been the first time Daws talked about doing the characters. And the article was accompanied by drawings of Daws’ characters, and Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. I’m sorry they’re so fuzzy but that’s the way they came off eBay and as the article was being sold, it’s understandable the scans aren't very high resolution. The Daws drawing doesn’t look all that much like Daws to me, to be honest. If anyone has a complete or better copy of this they have scanned and would like to e-mail me, I’d be happy to receive it and repost so everyone can see it.


THE TV STAR YOU’LL NEVER SEE ON TV
An original script by JANE ARDMORE with animation by BILL HANNA and JOE BARBERA.

THE MAN who reaches more people than any other star on television is Daws Butler.
Never heard of him?
Well, 70 to 80 million people tune in on him weekly. He’s a 45-year-old, small-sized man with a large-sized voice, an expressive face, a puckish sense of humor and a built-in geniality.
Give up?
Daws Butler is the man behind the voices of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Quick Draw McGraw--three of the drollest cartoon-show heroes America’s ever had.
“Huck” is a canine Don Quixote; Yogi is a smarter than “av-er-age” bear and the Number One citizen of Jellystone Park; Quick Draw is the slowest horse in the West.
But these characters do not make up all of Daws Butler’s repertoire: He also dubs the voices of such creatures as Dixie, a precocious “meece”; Mr. Jinx [sic], a “stupidspicious” cat; Baba Looey, Quick Draw’s indispensable side-kick; Super Snooper, a far out feline private eye; and Blabber, his gullible aide, Auggie Doggie, a mischievous pup; Snagglepuss, a flamboyant lion; Hokey Wolf, a fast-dealing wolf; Elroy, boy-of-the-future in the new Jetsons series; and many other incidental cartoon comics in various TV episodes.
So convincing is Butler in these roles that fan mail pours in to these wacky animals by the thousands. Originally, the parts of Hokey, Snagglepuss, and Yogi were minor until

Yowp note: at this point, the article likely goes into how Hokey and Snagglepuss ended up with their own series and Yogi got his own show. And it then went into Daws’ childhood in Chicago, his nightclub act there in the 1930s with the Three Short Waves, his military service, his discharge after World War Two and thence his decision to go west and seek work in radio.

for Hollywood. But it was tough going there in 1945. There were plenty of radio shows on which he would double in brass as a Western Union messenger, a Chinese cook, an aged panhandler, and a nervous newsboy. The tide began to turn with a successful voice-part in a popular children’s show called Time for Beany.
Then Daws met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, creators of the Tom and Jerry cartoons for MGM studios.
The association has proved profitable for all. Aside from Wally Gator, two other new shows already are in the works for local-station viewing: Lippy the Lion and Touché Turtle. And Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear are now being seen in 35 foreign countries dubbed (not by Daws) in French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Japanese. Quick Draw, too, is seen in 14 countries.
And for Daws Butler? Over the years, he has lost his shyness—and gained a salary reportedly in the over $100,000 a year class.
As he explains his successful characterizations, “The quickest way to establish a voice is not to just think of how it’ll sound, but what personality it will convey. For Huckleberry, we wanted a comfortable voice. That’s why Joe and Bill sent for me. They remembered a voice I’d used some years before.
“I love what we finally settled on for Huck’s accent; it’s like music—just right for a character who’s interested in everything, a friendly, unsophisticated homespun character who sees no evil, hears no evil, and is always on the brink of disaster. Let someone try to murder Huck; he’ll just think ‘That fella’s got a right good sense of humor, I guess. Just hope nobody gets hurt.’
“For Huck, I use close to my own normal voice register, a middle baritone. For Hokey Wolf, on the same show, I switch to an upper baritone—a head tone for a fast-talking operator who dazzles you with his bridgework. Mr. Jinx, also on the same show, calls for my lowest register and not much push. This cat is pretty limited, reminiscent of the sort of actor who enrolls in a New York method school and comes out with the sweat shirt but no talent. And for Dixie, one of the ‘meece’ in the episode, I used my highest tenor—nasal, wistful, and innocent.”
As he reads the lines, Daws changes physically. His movements, his gestures are totally in character. He feels for each of these animals, and, in the process, some of his own inherent human shyness carries over to endear them to his audience.
Daws loves comedy, loves music, and often thinks out a characterization while listening to a Bach toccata or fugue. He has a warmth for every character, even for heavies, and as he thinks his lines it’s with—he says—a “smiling feeling.”
It tickles him that he’s helped contribute something to the relaxation of adults, and, even more, the relaxation of children, whom he feels have been short-changed on the entertainment front. Daws never plays down. He doesn’t have to. Hanna-Barbera cartoons are devised not for children but for people. As Butler puts it, “We can’t stand intelligence not living up to its responsibility.”
With additional new characters added to his repertoire this fall, Daws will be living up to his responsibility. And he’ll always be looking for the switch. Like Snagglepuss, he begs to differ; he’s a differ-begger.
Daws Butler hopes to spend the rest of his life being heard and not seen.

It’s a little sad reading this story to realise that Daws’ starring days, at least when it came to new roles, were in the past. Hanna-Barbera was about to change the face of Saturday morning TV with series after series of first-run, made-for-kids cartoons. Daws Butler didn’t star as Secret Squirrel or Atom Ant. Or even Squiddly Diddley. Or in the super hero/futuristic shows that came along a few years later. Nor he was a lead in Scooby Doo, the studio’s next monster hit. Other than borrowing from himself to play the Funky Phantom, Daws had to be content with revivals of his old characters in reconfigured new series.

One of the things you’ll come away with reading this article is that Daws Butler was a genuine, friendly, unassuming man. And that’s the impression I get from anybody who knew him. He was generous and helpful. He was a true friend. And through his cartoons and other voice work, I’d like to think that part of him is still with us today.

2 comments:

  1. Yowp, you really nailed it on the last two paragraphs. As I've said before. Bob Bergen, the current voice of " Porky Pig " was a student of Daws'. He told me that they would meet at his house. Daws was really big on technique, writing, and improvisation. He was known to take his students to clubs in order to watch stand up routines. Sometimes he would write on a piece of paper, then pass it down a table of 15, requiring each student to read it a different way. I've heard more than one graduate say how much they still miss Daws. He was the real deal. Mentor, teacher and friend.

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  2. During the Hanna-Barbera's post-1965 period, Daws Butler was more involved with the Universal Pictures/Walter Lantz theatrical shorts, voicing characters as Chilly Willy and Smedley.
    His return in Hanna-Barbera occurred in 1968, with Wacky Racers, where he voiced several characters on this series (among them, Peter Perfect). Afterwards, he voiced Lambsy in It's the Wolf!, one of the segments of the Cattanooga Cats show (1969); Hair Bear in Heyyy! It's the Hair Bear Bunch (1971); Jonathan "Mudsy" Muddlemore in The Funky Phantom (1971); Brutus (the Holidays' pet lion) in The Roman Holidays (1972), and so on.

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