Wednesday, 10 February 2016

People Are Sick of People

How many feature newspaper stories do you see today about the big names in cartoon voice acting?


And it was just as rare 60-or-so years ago. More improbably, too. Today, kids of at three generations have watched cartoons on the home screen. Animation scholars, historians and even fans have written about them in volume. Back in the 1950s, adults didn’t take cartoons all that seriously. They were considered filler on TV and in theatres, and exclusively for children.

That changed thanks to Hanna-Barbera. Critics peered at The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958. They liked it. It was new, amusing, not too brash, and (importantly) fit for adults to enjoy. Columnists didn’t write for children, but they did write for adults, and since Huck and Yogi were fit for adults, stories about the cartoons appeared in print. And it was inevitable that someone, some time, would come up with the idea to write about the star of the show.

Here’s a piece from columnist Leo Guild of the Philadelphia Inquirer of July 10, 1961 about Daws Butler. It’s debateable whether Daws was the greatest cartoon voice actor in television—some will vote for Paul Frees, and that’s difficult to argue against—but Daws is certainly my favourite. It’s not just because he was the man behind many of my favourite TV cartoon characters, but listening to how he used his voice shows a real master at work. He makes it sound easy. And, better still, the people who I’ve spoken to who knew Daws report no one ever had a bad thing to say about him. He was a nice man, a caring man, generous with his time. Incidentally, Joe Bevilacqua still has his tribute site to Daws on line that you can view HERE.

A Look at TV
Cartoon Voice Likes Obscurity
I'M RICH and nobody knows me," chortles Daws Butler, who's the voice behind most of the characters in three Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, "Yogi Bear," "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw."
Butler hates to be recognized, so he's delighted that his audio only activities bring him lots of loot, but little fan fuss. Reportedly one of the highest paid entertainers in TV, he is never seen on home screens.
He's reluctant to discuss his earnings — one estimate of the fees earned by top "voices" is $1000 per show — but admits they're sizable.
"Yes," he says, "I make a lot of money, because cartoons are suddenly popular on TV. I think people are sick of people. Audiences want to escape to cartoon characters in a world where no one is hurt, insulted or unhappy, and nothing is taken seriously."
Father of four sons and hundreds of distinctive voices, Butler uses the hundreds to keep the four entertained.
He has a strong respect for the capabilities of the human voice.
"A voice," he says, "can have pathos, romance, pity — many emotions. But mostly a voice can be funny. Hanna-Barbera like gentle satire in their cartoons and, with the right inflections, that's what I give them."
"Bill Hanna or Joe Barbera or an animator comes up with an idea for a character and I think up a voice for him to fit.
"If it's an extrovert like Yogi, I give him a lot of breath, so he comes off big.
"No matter what I dream up, the character has to be warm and friendly. That's the one rule about cartoon characters. Even a Yogi, who's a conceited fellow, must have charm."
Daws got his training for his voice work as an impersonator in vaudeville in the early 40s.
"Today I do a complete half show in an hour. And I usually do four a day.
"I don't get a script until I come into the recording studio. I look over the storyboards so I get the sense of it.
"It's seldom done perfectly the first time. Either something is too fast, not loud enough, too slow or the voice is wrong. That part is re-recorded."
Money isn't everything, says Daws.
"It loses meaning after a while.
But it gives me freedom and the chance to turn down jobs I don't think are worthy. I write and do the voice for many commercials. Some commercials are so bad that no matter what the money, I turn them down.
"Writing commercials is my hobby, and I work hard at it for my fun."
Which is his favorite character?
"Yogi," says Daws. "He's real to me. Sometimes it gives me the shudders, he's so real!"
Daws may have thought people were sick of people (at least on TV), but I don’t think it can be disputed that anyone got sick of Daws Butler. You can still listen to him today and laugh.


  1. A true talent that will be missed.

  2. I was so lucky to have met him. He was listed in the phone book and I called him. My family took a trip out to Hollywood on a vacation and he invited us to his home. I went to his studio located behind his house. He made me a tape of commercials and readings for me which arrived at our house as soon as we got back home. We had many conversations over the years. I can not find the tape. It has to be somewhere. If I ever find it, I'll be sure to rip it and share it. Thanks for the nice article. I can hear his voice as I read it.

  3. Daws reports: "Audiences want to escape to cartoon characters in a world where no one is hurt, insulted or unhappy, and nothing is taken seriously."

    Isn't hurt, insulted, and unhappy what most of these cartoons are about? Characters get whacked with frying pans, squashed flat as pancakes, chased, beaten, bitten, shot at, bullied, threatened, intimidated, and verbally put down on a pretty regular basis. And "nothing is taken seriously" may be true for the audience, but part of the humor is that the characters take their cartoon selves so doggone seriously that it becomes amusing.

    I get what Daws was trying to say--that the cartoons offer harmless fun where comedy flows freely and any tragedies aren't major, but the way he stated it makes me wonder how many of these cartoons he actually watched.

    Fortunately this was long before the era when an H-B cartoon invariably ended with one character making a lame commentary on the recent action and the rest laughing politely (never hysterically)to a fade-out. It's precisely what Daws was saying WASN'T there that made the early H-B cartoons so hilarious. That, and the excellent voice work with Daws Butler and Don Messick leading the pack.

  4. Daws' voices were always a little 'warmer' that Paul Frees' ones, IMHO. The characters Butler hit home with were more likeable, while Paul's best voices had a little bit more edge on them, which may by why he could transition over into the more serious-toned cartoons of the mid-1960s easier.

    1. Spot-on comment! I would agree with your analysis of the difference between Butler and Frees. Thanks for putting it so well.

  5. Very good article..Yowp. Butler and D.Messick were there--before prime time laugh tracked cartoons, before that cerrtain not so-Great Dane that we don't talk about here with Messick's Astro acccent, before Hoyt Curtin being promoted to total composer and musical director (still back when Capitol and the other libraries were still used 1957-c.1960), before the other actors...::)

  6. That's what I loved about Daws. He was an incredible voice actor, a quiet family man who loved what he did. He was never comfortable playing the PR game. A voice actor I know told me that Mel was at ease in front of hundreds of soldiers at USO shows, doing radio with Benny to a packed studio audience, or just holding court somewhere. Daws was just as happy in a booth behind his mic. He also went on to tell me how much Daws is still missed. That is true.