Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Cartoon Voice Acting Changed

Daws Butler never really stopped working until he died in 1988. If he wasn’t providing voiceovers, he was providing help and encouragement to the generation of voice actors that would follow him.

Daws’ heyday was the 1950s. The decade was bookended with A Time For Beany on one end and Rocky and his Friends on the other. In between were comedy records and radio shows with Stan Freberg, cartoon commercial work and, as we know, starring roles in just about every Hanna-Barbera series. Daws didn’t get a lot of starring work after 1960; Joe Barbera wanted to expand the studio’s voice repertory company and not rely on a handful of actors, so others were brought in. But he did his old characters when they were needed and originated a few new voices (some of which sounded similar to his old ones).

Best of all, Daws lived to see some recognition in the popular press for the great entertainment he provided. Here’s a feature story from the Associated Press that appeared in newspapers starting November 20, 1978. TV cartoons simply weren’t as good as they had been for a variety of reasons, and Daws reflects a bit on that.

Huckleberry Voice Stays In Hiding
AP Television Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Daws Butler has been on TV 30 years. But viewers never see him acting in a show. Then who is he? Try Huckleberry Hound. And Yogi Bear. And Quick-Draw McGraw. And Capt. Crunch.
He's the voice of those cartoon stars of Saturday kid shows. Old kids now posing as adults heard him in the great Jay Ward cartoon era, in "Fractured Fairy Tales," "Aesop's Fables" and "Superchicken."
This man of several hundred voices currently has 15 playing in four Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows Saturday on all three networks. And he has another one coming at night to CBS on Thursday, Nov. 30.
It's for Andy in a holiday special, "Raggedy Ann and Andy in the Great Santa Claus Caper."
Butler, 62, a small, merry-faced man born in Toledo, Ohio and raised in Oak Park, Ill., doesn't regret he's never seen on his shows.
"I think maybe I was smart," he laughs." You're not typed this way. My whole bit is multi-voice. Of course, I tend to get confused by my own voice."
Daws never set out to speak funny. He wanted to write funny, inspired by such masters as Robert Benchley, H. Allen Smith, Frank Sullivan and Fred Allen, whose works fill his library today.
He's authored funny commercials, dialogue for a voice workshop he runs and, in the 1950s, co-wrote one of the first comedy record hits, "St. George and the Dragonet," with satirist Stan Freburg [sic].
But his voice, in that "Dragnet" spoof, remains his chief asset, though when at mikeside he also tries to do what he calls "writing on your feet." No, it doesn't mean his scripts have laces. It means he improvises, ad-libs and generally tries to make the character he's doing sound unique and spontaneous.
Butler, who began his career as an impressionist, was in radio after World War II with serious roles on such shows as "The Whistler" and "Dr. Christian." He started cartoon voicing at MGM later on.
He began in TV with Freburg in 1948 at KTLA here, in an Emmy-winning local puppet program "Time for Beany," which in its five years gained a show-biz reputation as a very hip kind of Punch and Judy show.
"It was full of Hollywood in-jokes," he recalled with a grin, full of sophisticated craziness that also marked "Fractured Fairy Tales" and the early Hanna-Barbera shows he did 10 years later.
There was a lot of freedom then to improvise, to experiment, he said, "because television was new and we were the people who had the answers. And they came to us and we gave the answers."
In effect, the inmates ran the asylum. Now, he said, a bit sadly, the advertising agencies and networks seem to want things tidy, carefully controlled and pasteurized. The unpredictable is a no-no.
Talent still abounds, he said, "but they're not allowed to do as much as they're capable of doing. It's the straightening out of the (cartoon) characters, of everything being so planned now.
"The excitement to me was having it happen in the studios. You were adding something to the product, putting something in the stew, and made it better." He seemed momentarily gloomy. His face brightened when it was suggested humor and satire seem to flourish when they seem most endangered. "Come to think of it, I'm doing dialect in a new show," he said. Although ethnic groups in the past have griped about the use of various dialects, he said he never uses dialect to make fun of anyone. "I always do it with love, but dialect has been taboo for about five years. So maybe we are getting our sense of humor back." He beamed. "Who knows, we could be in for a Renaissance."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Yowp, Great blog on one of the all time greats. I remember reading an article in 1986 where Daws decried the direction cartoons were going. Not only being totally white washed, but parent's groups having " Cap'n Crunch's " sword removed because it was...gasp..a weapon. He also said that he couldn't take his talent with him, so he was passing on the art to a new generation of voice actors with his workshops. Students Bob Bergen and Nancy Cartwright were among many to have successful careers. He is, and will always be sorely missed. But then, all the voice greats that worked in his era are missed.