Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Not-Quite-Duckpin Duck

Daws Butler and Don Messick provided almost all of the voices for Hanna-Barbera cartoons during the first two years of the studio’s life. One notable exception was someone who provided a speciality voice—nightclub comedian Red Coffey or Coffee (he used both spellings through the 1950s and finally settled on the double-e ending).

Coffey found his way into cartoons when he was hired to voice a duckling for MGM’s Tom and Jerry series. His first cartoon was apparently Little Quacker, released to theatres at the start of 1950. Evidently Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera loved the pathetic duck character, as he flew over to H-B about a year after MGM shut down its cartoon operations and was cast in an early Yogi Bear cartoon, Slumber Party Smarty (1958), on the Huckleberry Hound Show. A few more H-B cartoon appearances followed. But when the duck went through a bit of a makeover and emerged as Yakky Doodle in 1961, Jimmy Weldon provided his voice (though Coffey voiced in him in a few of the mini-cartoons that aired during the Yogi Bear Show).

We cobbled together some information about Coffey in this post. We’ve got a side-bar on him, courtesy of this piece in the Los Angeles Times of April 26, 1959. He seems to be trying out jokes for his act more than anything.

A few people have written in over the years saying they worked with Coffey and his wife and he was a pleasant enough chap. He comes across that way in this story. Sorry the picture isn’t of better quality.

Red Coffee Bowls for Laughs and Strikes Up High Averages

There is hilarity in the bowling sport because of one of its participants. The participant is Red Coffee.
“As a little boy I took up the game. Now that I’m a grownup, the game is taking me.”
Coffee, a night club entertainer, averaged 184 at Van Nuys Bowl, 1856 at Tarzana and 187 at Kirkwoods in leagues this season. “I averaged best on the scales. For a penny a throw, I hit 235 every time.”
Coming back from a strike during practice at Monterey Park Lanes, he said, “I finally got the ball working, now I’m unemployed.”
‘Terrific Ball’
Coffee likes to talk about his game. “I throw such a terrific ball, the termites get nervous.”
Red is teamed with his songster Jerry Wallace and has played from here to Las Vegas to Buffalo, N.Y. “I take my bowling ball wherever I go. I went bowling with a girl in Detroit. She had a smile like the 7-10 split.”
Coffee, also an accomplished voice effects man for movie cartoons, can tell you about rough lane conditions he has been up against. “These alleys I played in Buffalo were so slick, Sonja Henie was settin’ pins. This pair I hit in Oshkosh were slow enough to make Step ‘N’ Fetch It look like Jesse Owens.”
Tossed 300
Red was born in Arkansas City, Kan., but grew up in Cushing, Okla., where he tossed a 300 game. “You got to watch out in Cushing. They have fast gutters there.”
Coffee, who invaded Southern France in a parachute during the war, likes pot game and tournament action. “I don’t win much. An ant with a double hernia carried away what I won in my last tournament.”
Coffee’s trademarks on a bowling lane are his tan baseball cap and hanging shirttail.

Coffey and his wife Karen formed a revue in the 1960s and took it on the road. You can read reviews from Variety from 1970 (left) and 1972 (right) and will notice that he pulled out his version of the duck voice. As best as I can tell, he only got screen credit at Hanna-Barbera for a Loopy de Loop cartoon he worked on.

Long-time readers here will know I’m not a fan of the duck character, but writers Mike Maltese and Tony Benedict did their best to tone down most of the things I don’t like about him. The duck voice talent is a different story, though I personally like Jimmy Weldon’s duck voice better than Coffey’s. All the voice talents in those early days at Hanna-Barbera deserve a bit of recognition today, and that includes 300-bowling comic Red Coffey.


  1. Very nice surprise, Yowp.

    Steve C

  2. I'm assuming Coffey also did voice work in 1950 for Avery, in "Ventriloquist Cat", when the cat's using the device to throw his voice to fool Spike. No voice credits, of course, but the 'Meows' sound a lot like his duck voice.

    1. J.L., I understand from Keith Scott that it's not Coffey. I thought it was Harry Lang, who did a duck voice, I don't believe that's correct, either.

    2. Someone wrote on imdb that it's Clarence Nash, obviously, this person didn't realize that Disney would have been hesitant to loan Clarence Nash's services to MGM studio.

  3. Thanks Yowp. Great post on Coffee. He does deserve some recognition.I'm glad you've done the same for Doug Young and others. Was recently listening to a current children's radio program and Jimmy Weldon was mentioned as one of the many voices. The broadcast was about two years old.

  4. For me, glad to see Coffee get some representation on this blog, also glad to see Detroit and the northern suburb of Hazel Park represented here too.