Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Daws Butler, Man of Voices

“Man of/with a thousand voices” is a cliché that’s been applied to all kinds of folks over the years. Mel Blanc comes to mind first, but it’s also been a tag that publicists and newspaper writers have pasted on Allen Swift, Billy Bletcher, Rufe Davis and Harry Foster Welch (who is barely known today as the war-time voice of Popeye).

Oh, and Daws Butler, too.

Even people who don’t like early Hanna-Barbera cartoons (as shocking as that sounds) have favourable words for Charles Dawson Butler. As well they should. Daws never gave a bad performance despite, on occasion, not being given the best material to deal with (especially as time wore on into the ‘70s). And who doesn’t love the word-twists Daws tossed into his delivery? Credit Daws for adding to the vernacular the universally-known adjective/noun “pic-a-nic.”

It’s always a treat to find Daws getting a bit of recognition in the popular press way-back-when, though some writers had a hard time figuring out he didn’t have an “e” in his first name. Stories about cartoon voice actors, prior to The Flintstones, almost begin and end with Mel Blanc (having your name show up in cartoon credits on TV daily has its advantages). But with the success of The Huckleberry Hound Show, Daws got an occasional mention, too. Here’s an unbylined piece from the San Antonio Light, dated February 8, 1959.

the man with a thousand voices
THE next voice you hear might very well be that of Daws Butler, the man with a thousand voices.
Since 1935, Butler has been imitating voices. As a vocal impersonator he has fooled the sharpest ears in the country. Since the advent of television, he has been the voices of over 200 commercial cartoon characters.
Today he runs riot on two popular cartoon shows, “Ruff and Reddy” and “Huckleberry Hound.”
On the NBC network program, “Ruff and Reddy,” Butler is not only the cartoon character voice of “Reddy” hut also that of Harry Safari, Killer Diller and Pinkie the Elephant..
On “Huckleberry Hound,” Daws is the voice of Huck, Yogi Bear, Mr. Jinks and Dixie.
Who is this man? How did he develop this genius for voices?
Daws says it all began when as a youngster he discovered that he was uncomfortably shy and retiring:
“I decided to combat this shyness by a self-inflicted therapy. While in high school at 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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Rudy Vallee. The therapy worked and I found it easier to b« extroverted.”
While running from one amateur contest to another, he teamed up with two other youngsters doing the same kind of an act. They decided to become professionals and obtained their first engagement at the Black Hawk restaurant in Chicago.
“I was now in show business. My real ambition, however, was to be a cartoonist and commercial artist. Hut the, bookings continued and before I knew it, I found myself a professional entertainer,” Daws continues.
ALTHOUGH he forced himself to become an extrovert, he admits that he is happiest when doing a voice which gives him complete anonymity.
“I guess I compromised with my natural shyness by becoming adept in a field of show business which would offer me complete anonymity and still give the satisfaction of solid accomplishment.”
During the heyday of radio, Daws began studying voices. At one time he played an entire drama by himself, being all the voices in the story.
During World War II, he spent four years in Naval Intelligence. When he was honorably discharged from the service, Daws headed for California where he picked up his career.
In 1948, Daws joined Stan Freberg and the two starred in the west coast’s first TV puppet show for children, “Time for Beany.” The show ran for five years and won for Butler and Freberg several coveted “Emmys.”
“We manipulated the puppets, did all the voices, and ad libbed like crazy, driving the camera director to distraction, trying to find the ‘new lines’ that never appeared on his script.”
HE next collaborated with Freberg on a phonograph record which sold over 1,000,000 copies. It was “St. George and the Dragnet.”
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.
He enjoys doing the cartoon characters for “Ruff and Reddy” and “Huckleberry Hound” best of all.
“Although I never realized my ambition to become a cartoonist, 90 per cent of my work is with them, so my original ambition was half-realized at that.”

The story isn’t quite correct with respect to Daws’ animation career. He may have been first hired at the Columbia studio for the cartoon Short Snorts on Sports (1948). He was given work by the great Tex Avery, who had been using people like Frank Graham, Harry Lang and Wally Maher to provide voices. Avery needed someone to do a Ronald Colman voice for Out-Foxed (released 1949, the voice track could have been cut up to two years earlier) and, somehow, Daws’ abilities as a mimic came to his attention. Daws supplied the same voice in the marvellous Little Rural Riding Hood and, soon, Lang and Maher disappeared and Daws got a fair chunk of work in MGM cartoons until the studio closed in 1957. People reading here likely know Daws’ Huckleberry Hound voice is modified from the one he gave the laconic wolf in Avery’s Billy Boy (released 1954). His first cartoon screen credit came at the Walter Lantz studio (originally working again with Avery) before he was given top spot on Hanna-Barbera voice roster.

It’s really tough picking a favourite Daws Butler voice from the ‘50s. They’re all fun. Best of all, you can hear that Yogi, Huck, Quick Draw are all distinctive characters, not just some guy changing his pitch and intonation. Daws didn’t have just one little kid voice—he had several. Augie Doggie and Elroy Jetson don’t sound the same. Daws may not have had a thousand voices, but considering how many smiles and laughs he gave us with the ones he had, who’s counting?


  1. It's fun to listen to some of the Freberg radio shows when XM airs them and run into a number of Daws' cartoon voices from the opposite direction of how people contemporaneously would have discovered them (radio and records first, followed by their use on the H-B and Jay Ward shows; anyone born after 1952 or so would have had the voices burned into their brains from the cartoons, and then discovered them later on the radio broadcasts and records).

  2. Funny you should mention it, JL. I've got a clipping from about the same time from one of those newspaper 'TV answer' columns from a reader asking if Stan Freberg did the voices of Yogi and Huck.

  3. Have one of the Freberg albums. Great bits and a superb cast. You're right. Daws never gave a bad performance. Maybe lack luster material, but many times he was even able to bring out a diamond in that.

  4. Wow...thanks for some background info on a cartoon icon... great stuff. Wasn't Time for Beany the origins of Beany and Cecil, or am I thinking of another early puppet show ?

  5. "though some writers had a hard time figuring out he didn’t have an “e” in his first name"

    Funny you mention that, even in the screen credits there have been problems with his name being misspelled. The 1970s "Cat in the Hat" special from DFE, for example, credits Daws Butler as "Dawes" (he voiced the fish)

  6. Yikes. And I thought H-B misspelling Red Coffey's name was bad.

    There's one newspaper story I found which not only mentions "Dawes Butler", it also refers to "Paul Freeze."

    Marty, yes, "Time For Beany" was Clampett's puppet show starring Daws and Stan Freberg. It left the air but Clampett reworked it several years later into a cartoon show. Art Scott and Willie Ito, both later at H-B, worked on it.

  7. Yes, I can confirm what Brubaker wrote. My youngest son has an old VHS of that 1970's " Cat In The Hat " special. It says " DAWES ". As Mr. Jinx would say " Sheesh!!"

    1. Not sure if that was part of your joke, but it's Mr. Jinks, not Jinx! I can sympathise. My wife and I get our names mispelt a lot - her forename and my surname. Sometimes both at once.

  8. Daws was the best of the best! A true master. And a very sweet man. I have a tape I taped off TV titled "Daws Butler Voice Magician" which really showcased his amazing talent.

  9. Words are not enough to describe this remarcable individual. What was his first role in an animated feature. It was at MGM but what was the name of the short, someone wrote that it was "What's Buzzing Buzzard", however that was made in 1943 while he was in the army.

  10. Hi, Anon. Daws was nowhere near Hollywood when he was in the Army. His first work was after the war. And there isn't any voice in "What's Buzzin' Buzzard" that sounds like him.
    A lot of people have gone on web sites with their guesses, treating them like fact. And their guesses end up getting copied and pasted elsewhere.