Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Two Tales of Don Messick

When you think of TV producers, Don Messick’s name likely doesn’t come to mind. Sure, he must have played several over the course of his career at Hanna-Barbera, but he actually co-owned a production house at one time.

The business was the brain-child of one Robert Emerson Clampett. Bob Clampett is, of course, known partly for directing some wild theatrical cartoons at Warners Bros. But he also got into the TV business as early as 1944, in a failed and premature venture with someone named Patrick Michael Cunning to develop cartoons for TV. He finally did it about 16 years later when he opened Snowball, Inc. and made Beany and Cecil cartoons. Snowball had a short life and Clampett had to bring in his brother-in-law (see
Animation World Magazine, October 1999) to keep the studio afloat financially. Clampett’s biggest success in the ‘50s came with the Beany and Cecil puppet show. He developed a couple of other puppet shows for KTLA in Los Angeles that were syndicated in other U.S. cities. But he also tried another puppet venture and he convinced Don Messick to invest in it. Messick had been working for Clampett on a KTTV morning show in 1956; on one edition in February, Clampett introduced Messick as a hypnotist regressing a puppet to its former life in a spoof of the Bridey Murphy case. Broadcasting magazine announced in its issue of April 30, 1956.

Clampett Starts New Firm To Produce Commercials BOB CLAMPETT, producer of Time for Beany and other shows starring puppet and cartoon characters including "Cecil, the Seasick Sea Serpent," has announced his entry into the field of radio and tv commercials. Following formation of his new producing and distributing organization, Clampet-toon Commercials, Inc., Mr. Clampett revealed he has developed a new process of producing puppet commercials for tv in a fraction of the time required by the various animated cartoon drawing systems. Mr. Clampett said he will utilize the new process in production of commercials for national advertisers, using a number of newly- created characters and voices in addition to those already developed. Three of his key "Beany" staff, Don Messick, Walker Edmiston and Bill Oberlin, are associated with him as stockholders and vice presidents of the new firm. John R. Jacobs, Hollywood attorney, will serve as business manager. A nationwide sales organization is being set up under the head of Chris Haywood, distributor of tv films.

Whether the company ever produced anything or whether Messick got any return on his investment is a question lost to the ages. Suffice it to say, Messick never worked for Clampett again.

No, Don Messick is best known as a voice actor, one who fortunately got a little bit of national press recognition during the later years of his career when, frankly, the cartoons he worked on didn’t measure up to Yogi Bear or Quick Draw McGraw (even the Yogi of the ‘80s didn’t measure up to the Yogi of the ‘50s).

Here’s one of several feature newspaper stories I’ve found; this was published by the Utica Sunday Observer-Dispatch on June 30, 1985. If I had to pick a favourite voice of Messick’s (besides Yowp, of course), it wouldn’t be the ones he picked.

His voice is very smurfy
Gannett News Service

Recognize these lines?
“Yogi, Mister Ranger isn't going to like this!”
“Let’s all have a Smurfy day.”
The next question is harder. Who spoke those lines?
Nearly everyone has seen his work, yet no one knows who he is.
Don Messick, one of Hollywood’s leading voice characterization artists, has been creating the personalities of cartoon characters for more than 30 years. He has been the voice behind the role of Boo Boo Bear and Mister Ranger, Astro of the “Jetsons,” Scooby Doo and most recently the blue-skinned, pint-sized Aesop, Papa Smurf.
Messick smurfed into Cincinnati recently as part of the 1985 Colonel Sanders Memorial March of Dimes Campaign. The fund drive is to help children with birth defects, and in support of clinical research. As part of a 10-city tour, he also will be entertaining hospital children. Theater and stage shows were the early training ground for Messick, whose cartoon career included one of the earliest Hanna-Barbera shows, "Ruff and Ready.” [sic] He was the voice of Ruff.
He has appeared in more than 3,000 cartoon episodes but he admits he has a particular fondness for two of his characters.
“For different reasons, I think Scooby Doo and Papa Smurf (are my favorites). I’ve gotten letters from youngsters who, when they have a personal problem that they can’t solve, will go up to their rooms, cry or whatever and ask themselves — ‘Now what would Papa Smurf do?’”
After three decades in the industry, Messick’s voice still is in demand. He is the voice of Snap, in the Kellogg’s Snap, Crackle and Pop Rice Crispies commercials. He has noticed a change in cartoons: some he feels are too violent. But that, he said, is only a reflection of our society.
“Children have been playing with toy soldiers and ray guns ever since I can remember ... It’s to be expected, it’s so popular in the movie theaters.”
The golden age of radio was a strong influence for Messick; it is one of the tools he uses to create his voices. “Those radio stars were my idols; it was such a pleasure to sit back and imagine; the mind was such a screen for the imagination then.”
His current role as the popular Papa Smurf will be joined next fall with the return of an old role, that of Astro. Messick said Hanna-Barbera has just finished the filming of 56 new episodes of “The Jetsons” featuring the original cast of 20 years ago. He will be part of the coming Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera.
Married 32 years, Messick and his wife have a son, 29, and live on the California beach, 90 miles from Hollywood. They have a dog, Dina, and Merrick notes he has played a number of dog characters.
“It’s so nice to have a dog to come home to,” he said. “You don’t have to put up any pretenses with a dog.”

It’s nice to see Don M. doing something for young viewers off the screen as well as on.

Actually, there’s one other thing that doesn’t come to mind when you think of Don Messick: the ballet. No, he didn’t dance. But we’ll have something on that in a future post.


  1. Thanks for the blog on one of my all time favorites. A great voice talent, and just plain nice guy. Interesting to read Don had some other " pokers in the fire " so to speak. So typical of him to help children. Voice actor Bob Bergen once wrote me that Don was a incredible talent with a very sweet spirit.

  2. Wonder if Don and Daws shared any Clampett stories during their H-B recording sessions?