There’s no doubt about it. Daws Butler was the backbone of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio.
The Huckleberry Hound Show was an instant success in 1958, and from it the studio grew and prospered. Daws performed all the major characters, infusing them with likability and good cheer.
In a way, Daws was his characters. “Likability” and “good cheer” might be used to describe him. Everyone liked Daws Butler. He gave up his time to help others who wanted to follow his career path. He lived his life quietly. He was a nice man off the screen, and a funny man on the screen. He was one of the reasons—maybe the main one—I looked forward to “tuning up” the TV set to watch Huckleberry Hound and those other early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I can’t think of what they would have been like without him.
Daws would turn 100 years old if he were with us today. Let’s mark the day with a couple of newspaper clippings. The first is from the Atlanta Journal Constitution of March 16, 1959. It may be the earliest recognition of Daws’ work. There’s no byline, so it may have been provided by the studio. The second is a combination of stories in the Los Angeles Times of October 10 and 24, 1976. The Times piece includes quotes by Stan Freberg. He and Daws worked together through the 1950s until Freberg moved into stardom on his own (and then advertising) and Daws got work at Hanna-Barbera. Freberg rightfully points out the voices Daws did for H-B—including Huck and Mr. Jinks—had made earlier appearances on records, on radio or on animated TV commercials. And while Daws may not have been hired at Warner Bros. after auditioning for Johnny Burton, a few years later he did begin to provide voices for cartoons for the studio.
No Temperament on This Show
There’s one studio in Hollywood which doesn’t have to worry about temperamental actors.
Producers at this studio simply wipe the frowns off an actor’s face with a bottle of ink eradicator.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera are the producers in this company which turns out the howlingly funny “Huckleberry Hound” and “Ruff and Reddy” cartoons for TV. Their “Tom and Jerry” cartoon comedies have long been favorites with motion picture audiences.
As creators of the comedies they make sure their cartoon progeny are happy and zany characters who have only one aim—to entertain and make people happy.
Obviously their characters make people—old people and young people—happy. Because Huckleberry Hound, the central character in the TV cartoon series of that name, is one of the biggest stars on television. He’s the biggest, that is, if you can judge his popularity by the fan mail he gets.
LOVEABLE HUCK gets huge stacks of mail each week from throughout the United States, Canada, England and Mexico. Second only to him in the fan mail department is Yogi Bear, another of the stars in the 30-minute cartoon show.
The bulk of the mail does not come from the youngsters, either, Hanna points out. Many of the letters request photographs of the stars. They come from the small fry and from grown-ups alike, sure proof of the family popularity of the sagacious pooch.
While the happy faces of the cartoon animals are responsible in a large measure for the popularity of the shows, Hanna recognizes that the happy voices play a big part in the “happiness” of the shows.
THE STORY of how Daws began impersonating various voices is almost as intriguing as the stories contained in the cartoons.
Daws says it all began when, as a younger, he discovered that he was uncomfortably shy and retiring.
“I decided to combat this shyness with a self-inflicted therapy,” says Daws. “While in high school in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, I forced myself to appear before groups at amateur contests. My repertoire at the time consisted of a Ford starting on a cold day, President Roosevelt and Rudy Vallee. The theory worked and I found it easier to be extroverted.”
But although he forced himself to become an extrovert, he admits that he is happiest when doing a voice which gives him complete anonymity.
Many record fans might not know it but Daws collaborated with Stan Freberg on a phonograph record which sold more than one million copies. It was “St. George and the Dragnet.” [sic]
It was after the success of this popular recording that Daws moved into the field of animation, writing and voicing many of the cartoon commercial messages.
FOR MANY CHARACTERS
Can't Place the Face, but the Voice Is Sure Familiar
BY KENNETH FANUCCHI
Times Staff Writer
It is one of the injustices of cartoon history that most of its great voices are anonymous men and women.
Credits inevitably are given to the producer-director, frequently the animator, set designer, story developer, layout man, but seldom the man whose voice gives the character his distinctiveness.
Of all the well-known cartoon voices, there is Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, et al) and . . . who else? "That's about it," says Daws Butler. "Mel's the only one who has gotten screen credit consistently. I've never known why. It's just one of the practices of the industry.
"I ask my students who is Daws Butler and, of course, they don't know," Butler said. "Then I mention Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear."
And Quick-Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Blabber Mouse, Peter Potamus, Lippy Lion, Super Snooper, Augie Doggie, Loppy-de-Loop, Funky Phantom, Baba Looey and Cap'n Crunch, to name a few.
Stan Freberg, Butler's friend of a quarter century, former collaborator and a cartoon voice himself, thinks the lack of credit is particularly shameful in Butler's case.
"You have to realize that Hanna-Barbera worked backward from characterizations that Daws created to come up with Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear," he said.
"He was those characters long before they ever hit the screen. Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear were walking, talking, visual adaptations of what he did for years."
It is equally impossible to detect in him any bitterness connected with the lack of recognition.
"I never really was bothered by it," he said in the Beverly Hills home he has owned since 1950. "You just accepted the fact about the only one who was going to get credit consistently was Mel Blanc.
"If I had an ego problem, it was early on in my career when I was known only as a voice. I felt I shouldn't have to go through life as Huckleberry Hound. But, then, I thought I shouldn't be ashamed of being known as Huckleberry Hound, either.
"I've felt I was always a full actor. I do the characters physically when I am supplying the voices. In the early stages of developing the characters, I worked with the animators, who incorporated my voice and facial expressions into the character.
"I'm proud of the fact that on any date there are three or four of my characters on television. Sometimes I watch them. I think they're still good."
Butler, at 59, is by no means retired. As Cap'n Crunch, he has the second longest characterization in television (17 years, compared to Thurl Ravenscroft's Tony the Tiger, 20 years). He also is Pop on the Snap, Crackle and Pop commercial and the voice, again uncredited, on other cartoons.
But he is branching out into teaching, a field that gives him enormous pleasure. He teaches an acting class Monday nights at the Beverly Hills Adult School and, starting Tuesday, Oct. 12, launches a course, "The Spoken Word: Using the Voice in Speech and Action," at Loyola Marymount University, Westchester. It will run through Dec. 14 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. He also conducts private workshops in a studio behind his home.
"It dawned on me a few years ago that I have been acting all my life, he said. "All life to me is an impersonation, anyway. So, I thought, why not make it easier on the younger people on the way up? Maybe, I can give them some shortcuts in the business. I know I could have used them when I was starting out."
That would be in Oak Park, Ill, where Butler was a shy, retiring youth who wanted a career as an artist or writer but got sidetracked into show business.
"From the beginning, I was a sand-lot comic," he said. "I had a knack of making my friends laugh, but I was terribly shy around strangers and large groups.
"To overcome my inhibitions, I forced myself to audition in night clubs in Chicago on Saturdays. I did up to 65 impersonations of Fred Allen, George Arliss, Paul Muni, Charles Laughton, Ronald Coleman, even Charlie McCarthy, and it was a traumatic experience. But I knew I had to do it. It was therapy to me."
Butler earned a few bucks in this way, when he was in high school and after he was graduated. While going this painful route, he met two other guys in the same boat, Jack Lavin and Willard Owitz, and they formed an act called "The Short Waves." Butler is 5-2, the others about the same height.
The group worked Chicago hotels like the Edgewater Beach and Palmer House and supper clubs like the Black Hawk Restaurant until World War II broke up the act.
Butler was in naval intelligence during the war, Lavin was killed in Borneo while there with a USO troupe and Owitz toured war areas as a member of an acting group.
Owitz decided after the war he didn't want to continue in show business and moved to Denver, where he is a bank executive.
"Willard never really had the desire to make show business a career," Butler said. "He and his wife occasionally appear in amateur theater productions. That satisfies him. We keep in touch."
"My mother had bronchitis and I figured the climate here would be good for her," Butler said. "As for me, I wanted to enroll in art school on the G.I. Bill. But all the good ones were filled.
"On my father's suggestion, I enrolled instead in a radio school, which no longer exists, at Fairfax Ave. and Wilshire Blvd. From then on, nothing but good things started to happen."
Barely into the school, Butler read for a radio part in the offices of McCann-Erickson, the advertising company, and got it. The man who gave it to him was Neil Reagan, brother of the former governor.
"He didn't realize it at the time, but getting that part meant everything to me," Butler said. "It was 'Dr. Christian,' a series based on the doctor who delivered the Dionne quintuplets.
"With that job, on national radio, incidentally, I got a credit, was able to join the union and go on to other jobs in radio.
"The ironic thing, in the context of how my career developed, is that all the parts I got were serious. I wanted to do comedy but the closest I got to it was generating a laugh in a serious show.
"It turned out to be a break for me, because it gave me versatility and depth as an actor, something lacking in so many people who want to do voices for cartoons today. They are a voice, and nothing else."
After about a year of doing radio, Butler decided to try to break into the cartoon business and went to probably the worst imaginable place, Warner Bros.
"I admired Mel Blanc and set up an audition there with Johnny Burton, who was in charge of cartoons at Warners," Butler said. "He told me, after the audition, that I was great, but Blanc did all their voices. Burton, did, however, recommend him to Tex Avery, who was animation director for MGM. After another audition, Avery hired him to do voices for cartoons he was producing and also occasionally on a series that was being started by two young animators, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. The series? "Tom and Jerry."
Catching on at MGM and making the Hanna-Barbera connection is seen by Butler as one of the great breaks in his professional life."
At the time, I didn't know what a break it was," Butler said. "Had I got the job at Warners, it's doubtful if there would have been a Huckleberry Hound or Yogi Bear. Certainly, I would not have been involved in them."
But they came later in 1958, to be exact when MGM shut down its animation department, forcing Hanna and Barbera to form their own company. Out of that union came Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick-Draw McGraw, the latter two spinoffs from the first.
"Norman Lear had nothing on us," Butler laughed. "Yogi and McGraw were our Maude and the Jeffersons."
This was roughly between 1958 and 1964, described by Butler as his golden age and peak earning years.
But one of Butler's fondest efforts occured long before that, in 1948, when television was a mere infant.
Bill Clampett [sic], a television producer, came to Butler with an idea for a puppet series about a little boy and, among other characters, a sea serpent. Clampett's idea was to put the show on live.
"I was to be the voice of the little boy," Butler said. "We needed a voice for the sea serpent. It turned out to be Stan Freberg."
The concept developed, but all of the networks and all but one local station turned it down. Claus Landsberg, one of the most imaginative television owners, bought "A Time for Beanie," for KTLA.
For five years, two of them at KTTV, Beanie, Cecil, Capt. Huffen-puff and a bewildering number of other characters cavorted on the Los Angeles television screen five nights a week, 52 weeks a year.
"The animation was so real, people always thought the show was filmed. The setup was marvelous for Daws. Being short, he could move around the set without any problem. I'm over six feet and got a permanent crick in the back. I was hunched over for five years."
The show was the beginning of a long and productive association between Butler and Freberg. They did commercials, comedy sketches for radio and produced one of the first comedy records to sell a million copies, "St. George and the Dragonet," based loosely on a hit series of the time, "Dragnet."
It was an odd, but complementary relationship, Butter, the retiring, warm comic, and Freberg, the wild, far out satirist.
"He is a funny, funny man," says Butler. "Collaboration is difficult, but we were always on the same wave length. What I didn't have, he gave me, what he didn't have, I gave him. He's just a brilliant guy."
Freberg is equally laudatory about Butler and even a bit guilty that he got more publicity out of the relationship than his partner.
“Here I was, pushy and overbearing,” Freberg said. “I was the extrovert, getting all the publicity I could. Daws has always been retiring, never willing to push himself.
“The fact that he doesn’t crave publicity in a business that feeds on it says a lot about him as a man. You cannot dislike Daws. You can get a feel for him in the characters he created. They are warm and compassionate.
“He is an incredibly talented man, whose humor is both subtle and profound. He has done some of the great work in this business. I think he could do a lot more if he would push himself. But that’s not his way.”
Daws’ birthday is being marked today by one of his former acting students, Joe Bevilacqua. One of a number of books he co-wrote, Daws Butler Characters Actor, is available today from Blackstone Audio, with Joe providing narration and doing his take on the characters you loved to hear Daws do. If there’s anyone on the internet who shows his love for Daws Butler and respect for Daws’ work, it’s Joe. I can’t find a link to the audio book, but Joe has a trove of Daws’ memorability on-line that you should really check out. You can find it by clicking here.
Writer-voice director-etc. Mark Evanier knew Daws Butler as well as anyone. He wrote my favourite story about him. We’ve linked to it before, but let’s do it again. Click here.