Monday, 26 September 2011

Don’t Point That Thing at Daws

Blogging can take an awful lot of time, and I suspect that’s why a blog that I enjoyed reading went silent several years ago. The blog belonged to cartoon writer Earl Kress, who passed away a week ago today.

Plenty of people who worked in the Golden Age of Cartoons were still in animation when Earl started in the business and I’d love to have read what he knew about them, or what they told him about working at MGM, Warners, Lantz or Fleischer. Earl talked a bit about it on his blog.

His blog’s URL has been taken over and now defaults to a new location,
Earl (you can click on the name to get there). We’re being promised Earl’s stories and I’m looking forward to reading them.

However, I’m scooping the website by re-printing one of Earl’s tiny tales about television’s greatest voice actor, Daws Butler. Some people are tempted to play a “who’s better” game involving Daws and Mel Blanc, which is kind of like comparing the ’27 Yankees with the ’78 Yankees. They were both great teams, but they played under different conditions in different eras. Mel had a 15-year head-start on Daws in network radio and rode that to fame, along with an exclusive voice credit at Schlesinger and Warners that put his name on the screen for more than 25 years (and then several times a day on television decades afterward). Daws got in on the last good decade of theatricals, didn’t voice any real high-profile film characters and had his name absent (thanks, Mel) from his work at Warners in the ‘50s (he did get credit at Lantz and UPA).

Mel’s face got known by appearing periodically on the Jack Benny TV show; he had slowly become almost a weekly supporting player on the Benny radio show by the late ‘40s. Daws was on live action TV, too, probably more than Mel, but he was hidden very uncomfortably behind a set with his upright arm manipulating various puppets on Beanie and Cecil.

Daws had his big chances to appear on camera. Once was on that American Express commercial shot years ago—by Mel Blanc. Earl related a story about it on his blog on June 14, 2006 that I had never heard before; certainly it was never mentioned in Mel’s autobiography. Here’s Earl:

They originally wanted this commercial to be both Mel Blanc and Daws Butler together on an airplane. Between the two of them, they’ve done the voices for more major characters than the whole rest of the industry put together. But Daws turned them down. Some of his students (Daws used to run a voice workshop), myself included, tried to talk Daws into doing the commercial. It was one day’s work. He still refused. He said there was too much sitting around on film sets and he just didn’t want to do it. Plus, he would have had to fly to another city to shoot it. The producers of Barney Miller, one of Daws’ favorite shows, also wanted him to do a part and he turned them down, too. And that one was shot right here in Hollywood. It’s too bad. Daws was such a great actor, it’s too bad he didn’t get some of the recognition that Mel got by being on shows like Jack Benny and doing the AMEX commercial.

We can hope other little nuggets like this about the actors, writers, animators and producers of cartoons will soon pour (if nuggets could, in fact, pour) from Earl’s tribute spot.

There’s only one thing wrong with the site. Mark Evanier has graciously termed your Yowping scribe an “animation historian.” While I’m interested in the medium’s past (certainly far more so than the present), my knowledge is lacking in far too many areas to enable me to be legitimately labelled an “historian,” certainly in comparison to the published authors on cartoons who I’m sure you’ve read.

Well, there is something else wrong with the site. Earl isn’t here to share his stories with us any more. But I hope this is the next best thing.

1 comment:

  1. I too, have heard the story about Daws being offered a part in the " Amex " television commercial. I once read that Daws was in some ways,a shy man who really enjoyed being behind the mic,or the puppet stage,and not much on playing the P.R. game. Was a big fan of " Barney Miller ". Would have LOVED seeing Daws play off that great ensemble cast. Too bad. Could have beens....Should have beens... Would have beens. Oh well, in the end, I don't think Daws had that many real regrets.