Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Hunt For Red Coffey

It has been said—and if it hasn’t, allow me to say it—that any information you want to know is out there. All you have to do is find it. In the case of information about cartoon voice actors, that sometimes involves a lot of fruitless searching.

And that brings us to Red Coffey.

Animation history hasn’t been kind to Red. Well, history hasn’t been kind to Red. A two-and-a-half year search for information about him has turned up very little, including what his name really was, when he was born and if he is still with us. But we can trace his career at Hanna-Barbera fairly easily.

Our story starts in the pre H-B studio days on January 7, 1950, the date MGM released the Tom and Jerry cartoon Little Quacker. It featured a noisy little yellow duck whose voice was clearly inspired by Clarence Nash’s Donald over at Disney. MGM didn’t have a huge stable of voice actors; there isn’t much of a need for one when half your cartoons feature characters that don’t talk. So Hanna and Barbera brought in someone new who could provide the appropriate duck sound, and that someone was Red Coffey. Barbera must have loved the duck character because it was brought back again and again until the studio closed seven years later (it also sounds like Coffey doing the “meow, meow” in Tex Avery’s Ventriloquist Cat, but I’ve been told it’s actually Harry Lang).

How Hanna and Barbera found Coffey, or whether he was already known around Hollywood as someone who did duck impressions, is one of those big mysteries I have been unable to solve. But Coffey could do much more than a duck. He was a nightclub comic, and a big enough one in 1950 to land a gig at the original Club Bingo in Las Vegas (the famous Sahara was built on the site in 1952). Through the ‘50s, Coffey was in an act with singer Jerry Wallace. Heres’s a picture of them at the Casbah nightclub (location unknown); Coffey is on the left and Wallace on the right. The two also had nice little solo careers. Wallace found himself with some hits on the country chart in the latter part of the decade and starred in Corn’s-A-Poppin’ (1956), a feature film filled with self-conscious acting and obvious, trite dialogue on a grand scale. Pardon my diversion from Mr. Coffey for a moment to link to the trailer for the movie. It has to be seen to be believed.

Meanwhile, back the ranch—and we do mean “ranch”—Coffey landed a gig on Dude Martin’s TV show on KTTV in Los Angeles, making his debut on July 22, 1953. Martin was the leader of a neat group that ventured into country swing. He later went by the name Steve Martin when he was the station’s programme director and even that wasn’t his real moniker. Coffey’s sojourn on the show was a short one. On September 16, Dude “abandoned the corny and poorly staged slapstick,” as the Long Beach Independent called it, and started loading up on less country-fied acts, like Al Martino.

No matter. Red carried on with his stage partnership with Wallace through the decade. And he made a bit a cash on the side by playing that duck in the MGM cartoons. Then, when Bill and Joe started in business for themselves and began to put together The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958, the self-pitying duck returned—and so did Red Coffey. He turned up in the Yogi Bear cartoons Slumber Party Smarty and Duck in Luck (with a fabulous appearance by Yowp), Pixie and Dixie’s A Wise Quack and Snooper and Blabber’s De-Duck-Tives (as a Trafazian duck, no less). In the Yogi cartoons, he was known as Biddy Buddy or Iddy Biddy Buddy and not only got a marketing push by the studio, he was immortalised in song on a couple of Golden Records for kids (with Gil Mack rendering not very approximate versions of the H-B characters).

When Yogi Bear got so big, it made financial sense to spin him off into his own series, Joe and Bill looked through their company of supporting characters to find a couple to promote into their own shorts. That’s when the pathetic duck was tweaked a bit and turned into Yakky Doodle. But here’s where animation history proved to be unkind to Red Coffey. He wasn’t hired to voice the character. Instead, Joe put the call out to Jimmy Weldon, who began hosting a kids show in Los Angeles starting September 15, 1952. It featured a duck puppet named Webster Webfoot who, in a familiar-sounding story, had a voice clearly inspired by Clarence Nash’s Donald over at Disney. Webster was popular in the ‘50s and beloved today by those who saw him then. He made appearances on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show and even cut a record. Play it below. You can stop it when the inevitable happens and it gets too annoying. This is Yowp in 2021. That audio link is dead. Sorry.

Why did Weldon suddenly come in to play the duck that had been Red Coffey’s role for ten years? The answer could be that Coffey wasn’t available. He spent part of 1960 touring in the Olsen and Johnson show Hellzapoppin’, which is about as far as you can get from either a western act or cartoon ducks (the show featured a drunk/lamp post routine by a guy billed as Ben Dova). However, Coffey did provide his duck voice at H-B a final time in the Loopy De Loop cartoon This is My Ducky Day. Red appeared in the credits. But cartoon history continued to be unkind as his name was misspelled. The misspelling was picked up years later by people compiling information about cartoons and has been disseminated all over the internet (if he was ever credited at the end of the old Huck half-hours, the credits have been lost to history).

The Oxnard Press-Courier of June 16, 1961 reveals a gig at a high school grad (along with other acts) at the Elks Club and bills him as “the voice of Huckleberry Hound.” At this point, the Coffey trail turns cold. I can find no specific references to him after this so it is anyone’s guess whatever happened to him. At one point, some lame comedian on the internet decided to put up one of those joke entries on an Anyone-Can-Post-Anything site and that non-information started making the rounds as if it were undisputable fact. If anyone can share any biographical facts about him, please do. Perhaps animation history can yet be kind to the career of Red Coffey.


  1. Poor Red. Maybe someday, someone will find some additional information on his career. Love to hear what happened to him, or if he is still with us. I, like many, thought that Jimmy Weldon was always the voice of " the duck ", ie " Slumber Party Smarty ", and one of my favorites; " Duck In Luck ", co starring our beloved Yowp. Yet, he gets credit in the newspaper for being the voice " Huck " and " Quick Draw ", which leaves Daws out in the cold..Ha!!! Oh well. Great post.

  2. That Jimmy Weldon record is pure un-popable corn. I still think he was better than Red, though.

    And I don't think Cora Rice deserves to have a balloon.

  3. I, too, always thought it was Weldon – all the way back to MGM! Shows just how much we self-designated “knowledgeable fans” really know! Thanks for the info, Yowp!

  4. Another great thanks to you Mr. Yowp to give us some informations facts outside of the Internet webpages. I'm really sorry that Coffey's career was very cold.

    When you talking about the "Meow" sound in 1950's Ventriloquist Cat, it's certainly him. The cat's voice have a similar voice than the duck in this Tom and Jerry short of that year. I don't have sources to tell you if it's true but i just hoped the MGM animation staff having credits for the voice actors as having other theatrical studios.

  5. Thanks a lot, Yowp.. I had once posted on rec.arts.animation this..Mark Evanier mentioned the same thing you did..I wonder who that announcer in the clip that you posted is....grown cats having Donald Duck sounds in MGM shorts were definitely H.E.Lang. Your adventure with that little duckling was one of the sev eral better ones...Red Coffey is truly lost in many ways..

  6. Joe, Weldon's got a brighter read than Coffey, though Maltese's dialogue may be partly responsible.
    Steve, I'm still lost when it comes to straightening out Lang, Mather, McGeehan and Maher at MGM.
    Errol, I suspect the bio his agent gave up said he did voices on those shows and some print reporter got mixed up.

  7. "Webster was popular in the ‘50s and beloved today by those who saw him then. "
    All of which applied thru 1964-65, at the same time that another obscure (today) ventriloquist, with no H-B ties, another Jimmy, Jimmy Nelson, was pitching "Nestle's Milk Chocolate", if memory serves correct, with his DOG puppet Farfal. Mark Evanier and others can confirm the Weldon puppet's post-50s longegivty, and of course, post-1950s audiences as you've pointed out before, now can enjoy Webster in public appearances as
    motivational speaking".

    There has to be (public doman) 1950s appearances on YouTube and of Webster, huh:)!

  8. This is probably the most information we have on Red Coffey on the 'net so far. There are many cartoon voice actors that we have very little info on (I'm still trying to locate information on Tom Holland, for example).

    Jimmy Wheldon is still around, believe it or not. Here's a video of him from few months back:

  9. Holland did a fair bit of radio work from the west coast in the '40s and '50s. It looks like he was a regular supporting actor on 'Wild Bill Hickok' and made a bunch of appearances on 'Family Theatre', the religious drama show on Mutual.

  10. I played in a show band, in 1973, with Red and his wife Karen. They were billed as Karen and Coffey. The band did dance sets, with 2 shows in between sets. One was a take on the old 'Show Boat', and one was billed as 'The Hot Pants Review'. We had a couple of girls, Rhonda and Robin, singer-dancers, who were great. (I saw Robin a year or so later in New Orleans. She'd kept up with Red and Karen, but I also lost track of her.) They were returning to Vegas for Karen to have surgery, and they asked me to come out to put together a new show. I got sidetracked on Delta Blues, and never made it. I lost track of them after awhile, and have often wished I'd at least kept in touch. They were both great people, and Red taught me much about comedy-I later became a Hillbilly comic myself, for several years. Red taught me a lot about timing, delivery, etc. This is all I know, but if anybody knows more, I'd truly love to know it.
    Benny Bennett
    Pearcy, Arkansas

  11. Also, his name was Coffman. Karen told me the Coffey was his 'stage name'.

  12. Benny, thanks for the little story. They sound like real troupers. I really admire people like that.
    Maybe Red's out there somewhere and will stumble upon this and send an e-mail.

  13. I graduated from high school in 1971. I moved to Memphis and worked at the River Restaurant in the Holiday Inn Rivermont. It was an upscale restaurant supper club. I did lighting and sound. I worked with Red Coffey twice. At the time he was working with his wife Karen. Their act was called "Karen & Coffey's Old Time Revue". It was a mixture of Pop music and Vaudeville. They had a young band with dancing girls who did pop music of the day. {Carol King, James Taylor, 3 Dog Night, ect.} Red and Karen did old time comedy bits. There was always a big part of Yacky Doodle in each show.

    I mentioned when I graduated and moved to Memphis for a reason. In 1971 Elvis had started touring again and was as hot as ever. Isaac Hayes was on his way to winnig the oscar for the sound trac for "Shaft". When I moved there I soon found out that every white person was the best friend of Elvis and every black person was the best friend of Isaac. So when a short little fat guy with red hair started telling me he was the voice of Yacky Doodle? Let's say, I had my doubts. Especially when I could not find the name Coffey regardless of the spelling in any of the credits.

    Now that I've read this article I feel that I must do something.

    If you are still around? I'm sorry I ever doubted you. You have my deepest and most heartfelt apology.

  14. By the way, I found a newspaper article that dates June 20, 1974 that involves Red Coffey:

  15. I had the opportunity in the mid 60's 66-68 to see Karen and Coffey while in Anchorage Alaska. I spent many nights talking with them both, and can honestly say that they were truely two of the most genuine individuals I have ever met. I understand that Red passed away in either 1988 or 1999, and have no information about Karen.

  16. I like my coffee brown, not red.