Thursday, 12 July 2018

Don Messick Holds Off the Competition

Here’s a Boo Boo take from Scooter Looter (first aired in 1959). Bill Hanna holds the second drawing for four frames. We’ve skipped a few frames. The animator is Carlo Vinci.

Boo Boo, as you likely know, was voiced by Don Messick, who was the number two voice man (out of two) at Hanna-Barbera at the time. Daws Butler got most of the starring roles at the studio pre-1960—Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Mr. Jinks, Quick Draw McGraw, Super Snooper. Messick contented himself with Ruff and one of the meeces; Boo Boo wasn’t a regular character in the first season (1958-59) of Yogi Bear cartoons (and Ranger Smith wasn’t invented until the 1959-60 season).

Yet Don M. had staying power. He provided major and incidental character voices through the 1960s, including on Hanna-Barbera’s non-comedy series, then won the role of a clumsy Great Dane who many exposit is the studio’s most popular creation of all time. In the 1980s, he co-starred on The Smurfs, perhaps H-B’s biggest Saturday morning success of the decade, before veering into Warner Bros.’ so-called “Silver Age,” voicing Hamton in Tiny Toons Adventures. Alas, by this time Daws had passed away.

Messick’s career paralleled Butler’s after World War Two. Both had series on radio. Both worked for Bob Clampett in the 1950s days of televised puppet shows. Both voiced MGM cartoon characters. And both were commercial voices.

By 1978, things had changed at Hanna-Barbera. The voice department wasn’t a two-man operation any more. Things had changed in commercial voice-over work, too. In the early days of TV, advertising was deemed beneath the dignity of most actors. But then they looked at the cash windfall commercials paid. Money wins over dignity every time.

Here’s Messick talking about in an article in Backstage by Robert Goldrich, dated September 8, 1978.

Nearly 130 voice actors are working for Hanna Barbera Productions this season. By contrast, 10 years ago the studio only hired about 20. “The networks want more characters in the cartoons,” explained Art Scott, VP and recording director of many H-B programs. “While years ago the average program had five characters who could be voice by two people, Hanna-Barbera is now producing shows like ‘Challenge of the Superfriends,’ which has a regular cast of 19, plus many incidental characters.”
Yet while the market for cartoon voices is on the rise, major star personalities are making gains in another long time vehicle for voice actors—namely commercials.
Business Week recently noted that the number of TV spots featuring celebrities has jumped from one in five to one in three in the past five years, and this trend has undoubtedly seeped into the voiceover industry. ...
Yet there are some firmly entrenched voice actors who remain unscathed by this inundation of well-known stars. One is Don Messick, cartoon voice of Boo Boo Bear, Scooby-Doo, Mumbly, Astro on the Jetsons, Bam Bam of the Flintstones, and an assortment of other characters too numerous to mention. Don’s recent spot credits include the voices of Lava Soap’s “Wise Old Towel,” Kelloggs Rice Crispies Crackle of “Snap, Crackle & Pop” fame, a cat for Purina’s Special Dinners, and an owl for Green Giant’s Nibblets Corn.
“I see major accounts out to get the best of both worlds,” Messick explained. “For instance Kelloggs is using Dick Cavett’s voice on some radio commercials but they are continuing the highly successful ‘Snap, Crackle & Pop.’ Animated commercials are as effective as ever and thus there is still a market for the voice characterizations artists like myself can provide. For me, the creative challenge is that it is more difficult to establish such a voice in a 30-second spot than it is in a series of cartoons.”
Pointing out another difference, Messick noted that cartoons put more of a strain on the voice than commercial work. For instance, Don has done as many as seven voices for one Laff Olympics cartoon. This is a common practice. It’s economical for the studio to have the actor do several voices. The cartoon pay scale is set up so that actors are paid a fixed rate for providing one to three voices. There is a higher rate for four to six voices, and so on. Thus even if the actor is doing three voices, he is paid the same rate as someone doing one voice.
Don M. expanded his career as time went on. Unlike Daws Butler, or even Mel Blanc for that matter, he appeared on camera in a weekly role in a sitcom. His career could have taken a different turn, but The Duck Factory didn’t jell and was cancelled. He was cast in re-enactments of old radio shows on a Los Angeles station. He narrated stage productions of “Peter and the Wolf.” And he even toured parts of the U.S. with animation exhibitions, demonstrating some of his famous voices and talking about his life in cartoons.

As you can see, he continued to accumulate all kinds of credits and was in great demand. His career ended only because of his health. He suddenly retired one day and then died of natural causes at the age of 71 in 1997. Hanna-Barbera took out a full-page ad in Variety in his honour, a drawing by Iwao Takamoto of Shaggy and Scooby-Doo bowing their heads. He brought to life almost innumerable characters for the studio, including a dog that only said “Yowp” and a small ursine friend who was run down by an out-of-control Jellystone Park scooter.


  1. ABout that Shag/Scoob death page: Of course if two certain Jellystone Park bears, a gunslinging rabbit named Ricochet, Bamm Bamm, and other Messick had voiced were there, it would be much better. Shaggy was Casey Kasem, not Don! LOL. SC Anyway, very good article.SC

  2. I used to watch The Duck Factory just to see Don Messick. A young Jim Carry was also on that show. Thanks for the tribute to Don, Yowp.

  3. I have just the first episode of " The Duck Factory " on an old VHS tape. Don and Jack Gilford were the highlights of that short lived series. Wally Wooster, who would cross the line of reality and go into his character voices for no apparent reason. As he gives the eulogy of his former employer, he does it in the voice of " The Duck ". Don showed he had the chops to be in front of the camera, too. You just can't do too many tributes to Don Messick.

  4. Another key to Don’s longevity was his ability to do “straight, authoritarian” voices like cops and sheriffs, or professors like Dr. Quest, and “special-effects voices” like on The Herculoids, Dino-Boy, and things like “The Kooky-Space Spook”. I called the latter effect his “Throat-Bobbing Voice”!

    Add these to his stock array of “funny” and “cute” voices and you had an amazing talent!

  5. Often episodes of "The Duck Factory" appear on-line and I have watched them just to see Don Messick. There is one episode in which Frank Welker guest stars as a rival of Wally (Don Messick). In another episode titled 'The Annies' Bill Scott is prominently featured as emcee while there's a brief appearance by June Foray. Unfortunately there's not a lot of video footage floating around on-line of Don Messick performing a lot of his characters. I would love to have seen him on-camera vocally performing Klunk, for example, the character from "Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines". Don did a lot of narration, too, in those early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Speaking of "Challenge of the Super Friends" (1978) Don provided the voice for the Scarecrow and was the second voice of Sinestro...replacing Vic Perrin.