Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Daws Tells How It’s Done

There are occasions on the internet when people venture into that foolhardy of game of “Who’s Better—Daws Butler or Mel Blanc?”

It’s a silly question. Both worked in radio. Both voiced cartoons. Both dealt with Bob Clampett in some way.

But both did things the other didn’t and I’d rather not make a comparative qualitative value judgement on each of their other accomplishments. Daws was a writer, a puppeteer (a reluctant one, perhaps), and shared the “how” behind his technical adeptness with many others due to a sense of joy and love. At least, that’s the impression I get. I never had a chance to meet him. Suffice it to say, Daws was more than just a man with funny voices.

Mel, of course, worked on many of the top radio comedy/variety shows and voiced some of the best-loved cartoon characters in history. People at the time knew about it, not only because of Mel’s exclusive billing at Schlesinger (later Warner Bros.) but because of contemporary newspaper pieces, especially at the time he got his eponymous radio show (“second-banana-makes-good” is always a good, if not obvious, angle for a story).

Daws came a little bit later, but also saw a share of syndicated ink. First, it was because of his connection with Stan Freberg, who became an overnight comedy record sensation, and then due to Huckleberry Hound, who became an overnight TV cartoon sensation (“just-who-is-this-guy” is also a good, if not obvious, angle for a story, too).

The Freberg stories are a bit out of the realm of this blog, but I’ve got a small bunch about Daws. I’ll save some for later posts, but we’ll start with this one from AP writer Hal Humphrey, and appeared in papers of January 23, 1961. It’s interesting in that it goes into the “how” of his voice work and voice sessions with Joe Barbera. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is nowhere in the story will you find the words “Art Carney.”

If You Hear Voices, Chances Are They’ll All Belong To Daws Butler

HOLLYWOOD—It was only a matter of time before Yogi Bear got his own TV show. The kid has a barrel of talent, and his work on the Huckleberry Hound Show was bound to set him up for the big break.
The Yogi Bear Show begins next week on 160 of the country’s TV stations, replacing Woody Woodpecker, and, as some nut once said, “That’s show biz.”
I went to the Hanna-Barbera studios to interview Yogi before he gets all wrapped up in his new starring vehicle. When talking to Yogi, one discovers himself talking also to Huck Hound, Mr. Jinks, Quick-Draw McGraw, Baba Looey, Super Snooper, Blabbermouse, Augie Doggie, Snagglepuss and Sniffles [Yowp note: I think Humphrey means ‘Snuffles’].
A short, modest fellow by the name of Daws Butler not only does the voices for the abovementioned stars, but has a repertoire of assorted “extra” voices which numbers around 300.
It is a routine day for Daws to sit closeted in a sound studio recording dialogue tracks for three or four hours. These tracks are then played by the animators, who draw the characters and action to match the voices.
DAWS WILL READ and record the dialogue of as many as six or seven characters in one seven-minute cartoon. As he takes on the voice of each, he assumes many of the physical gyrations and movements which he mentally attributes to each “actor.”
When doing Yogi, for example, Daws throws out his chest and gesticulates like any normal cartoon bear.
“I’m not really a Method actor,” says Daws with a sly grin, “but Yogi speaks with a kind of elongation of the vowels, and this calls for diaphragm control. I do it better by standing up and making like a guy with a big chest expansion.”
When Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who head up Hollywood’s most successful cartoon factory, dream up a new character for any of their TV properties, Daws will go home, set up his own tape machine and record a series of voices.
BARBERA WILL listen to these the next day.
“I want this bulldog dumb, but not that dumb,” he may say, and Daws changes his vocal range to boost the dog’s IQ.
Besides Daws, the studio has Don Messick (Boo Boo Bear), Doug Young (Doggie Daddy) and Jean Van der Pyle (feminine characters) doing voices. Daws, however, carries the big load, and last year he animal-talked his way into about $150,000 with the Hanna-Barbara enterprises.
In addition to that income, Daws earns several other little nest eggs by doing voices for such TV commercials as the “Snowdrift” man and others.
He doesn’t consider himself an actor, and although he lives well in Beverly Hills with his wife and four boys, Daws is not the ostentatious or Hollywood type. He never has hired a press agent to trumpet his accomplishments.
“IN MY NAIVE way,” says Daws, “I always believed that publicity would come naturally as a sort of reward for honest work performed. Needless to say, I’ve bought the Brooklyn Bridge three times and am dickering for it again right now.”
When he comes home at night to the wife and four sons, Daws says he feels like any carpenter (“Better say ‘a good carpenter,’ huh?”).
His earnings will go up now that Yogi Bear is hosting his own show, because Daws also works like a carpenter—by the day. He prefers not to be under contract. He can be more independent, he says, and can pick his work wherever he likes.
LIKE HIS ex-partner, Stan Freberg, who used to work with him on TV’s old Time for Beany puppet show, Daws is a clever creator of commercials for TV and radio. He gets a fancy fee from ad agencies for just sitting in a two-hour session while they pick his brains.
The session is taped, so if they want anything else from Daws, the flag on the meter goes down again.
How does Daws get this way?
He graduated from cartooning in his home town, Chicago, then tried night clubs with comedy and impersonations. When he hit Hollywood, radio discovered Daws and his assortment of voices and dialects. It was just a short leap from there to cartoon voices and a home in Beverly Hills.

Maybe it’s significant that Daws’ show replaced Mel Blanc (original voice of Woody). On the other hand, Daws worked on the Woody and other Lantz cartoons starting in the 1950s, so he also replaced himself. So, in a way, we can say Daws and Mel are equal. At least in one aspect. And we can probably stop there and leave it at that and enjoy the work the two of them have left for generations of cartoon lovers.


  1. I agree you can't rally choose one over the other. Comparing them is apples/oranges. I will say, however that the characters that Daws created are my favorite. Hmmm. Did I just choose? LOL!

  2. From the people I have talked to over the years that knew Daws or took his class, this is what I walked away with. He didn't crave the spotlight. Wasn't into P.R. He was really into the acting technique and loved nuturing that in his students. He was comfortable all day in a recording booth, rather than being in front of large crowds. Of course, if duty called, he could do it. He knew he couldn't take his talent with him, so he gladly mentored others in his craft. A loving husband to Myrtis and dad to Chas. One voice actor I know says after twenty years, he still misses Daws, very much.

  3. I got to know Daws. He was listed in the phone book, the 1st time I met him. I was in college and we were trying to talk to a long distance celebrity. He did many voices for our little group. My family went out to L.A. on a vacation and we got to stop by and meet him. We continued our little friendship and he advised me on my voices, as at that time I wanted to be a cartoon voice artist. He always called me buddy. I treasure these memories. Now if I could only find the tape he sent me containing many of his commercials and scenes.

  4. Comparing Daws Butler to Mel Blanc is very ridiculous and pointless. Both did many voices for many cartoons, and even worked together on a few of them, especially at HB. It's like comparing Chuck Jones to Bob Clampett. Two completely different people working in the same field who both had great ideas about how animation should work. You've hit the nail right on the head.

    Did you ever get to meet Blanc himself since you got the chance to know Daws Butler personally?