Saturday, 22 September 2018

Impressions of Daws

You can’t give one solitary person credit for the huge success of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but you have to wonder if they would have been as successful without actor Daws Butler.

Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear couldn’t rely on the comedic acting that animators like Ken Harris and Virgil Ross brought to the great Warner Bros. cartoons. They had to depend more on words to get laughs. And Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were fortunate enough to hire Daws, who could add a lot to the words he was given.

Daws didn’t start out as a cartoon voice. He was an impressionist, part of a group called The Three Short Waves based in Chicago that did impersonations of various show biz favourites. (A December 1935 story in the Chicago Tribune reported they were appearing at the Blackhawk Café as well as on WGN Mardi Gras). The group broke up, Daws ended up in the military and after World War Two, decided to seek his fortune in Hollywood. He soon got work not only in radio but in cartoons, mainly supplying (uncredited) voices for Tex Avery in his great shorts for MGM.

Daws finally found some measure of fame working opposite Stan Freberg in the puppet show “A Time For Beany,” then with Freberg in various radio, record and commercial endeavours. That brings us to 1957 when ex-MGMers Hanna and Barbera picked him to co-star on their first quasi-cartoon series “Ruff and Reddy” (the show also included a live action host and one old Columbia cartoon). Daws’ obituary in the Los Angeles Times quotes Barbera on the start of the H-B studio:

"Here comes Daws, this little man, and he's so filled with enthusiasm. He helped find the voices for our two original characters, Ruff and Ready [sic], and then when I told him we were going to do a laid back-dog and needed a Southern accent, he gave us versions of dialects for each of the Southern states.
"He was so knowledgeable in the way that he spoke them-one for nearly each state-it helped shape what became Huckleberry Hound. What always amazed me was that his own speaking voice was not inspiring at all . . . kind of non-descriptive. But then he'd do all those wonderful dialects and just fire us all up."
Mimicry helped a great deal with Daws’ early voices. He took some kind of characteristic of a famous voice and changed it a bit to create a whole new character. Comparisons are made between Art Carney and Yogi Bear. Clearly, Carney’s Ed Norton was an inspiration for Yogi (his clothes help provide that impression, too), but if you listen to the two voices, they’re definitely not the same.

What’s really cool is if you hear TV commercial voice-overs Daws did in the mid-‘50s, you’ll hear voices that popped up later in either Hanna-Barbera or Jay Ward cartoons. (Incidentally, the first cartoon producer to give Daws a screen credit was Walter Lantz in 1956 in “After the Ball”).

Let’s back up to February 9, 1951. TV-Radio Life did a cute, brief photo shoot Daws, where he shows his impressions of some of the famous. It’s a shame the picture scans are pretty low resolution.

How to Be an Impersonator
Want to Do a Charles Laughton or an Edward G. Robinson for Your Friends? Daws "Beany" Butler Shows You How
Monday through Friday, 6:30 p.m. KTLA, KFMB-TV
WANT TO learn how to do impersonations in one easy lesson? The man who can show you how is known to TV fans as the voice of "Beany" on KTLA's "Time for Beany."
Daws Butler has a theory that almost anyone with average common sense can do workable impersonations by following a few simple instructions. The main rule is to get your face into some sort of reasonable facsimile of the person you're trying to be. This automatically makes your voice come out of the same mechanical bone and muscle set-up and you're bound to get a pretty good carbon copy.
In posing for the pictures on this page, Daws used only two simple props for his impersonations of George Arliss, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson and Charlie McCarthy . .. a monocle and a felt hat.
Daws himself was a radio character actor before turning to television and made good use of his "acting is impersonating" theory.
He started with a night-club act in the Middle West about fifteen years ago and never did much with radio until after the war.
Prior to the war he had been a toy and novelty manufacturer in Chicago, selling to Woolworth's and other big chains.
Now he's much in demand at Disney studios, and at Warner Brothers for "Merrie Melodies" and other cartoon productions. In between all his other activities he makes phonograph records for children, with a partner, Marian Richman. Some of the record scripts Daws writes as well as performs.
He's an accomplished cartoonist and some years ago did a series for Radio -Television Life.
During the war, Daws served in Naval Intelligence and after getting out of the service moved to California. He lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Myrtis, and three children, David, seven; Donnie, four; and Paul, seven months.

By every account, Daws was a caring, generous person in addition to being an accomplished comic actor. He’s been gone for 30 years but still entertains through old cartoons today.


  1. Of course, Huckleberry Hound, and Elroy Jetson/Beany/Augie Doggie weren't impressions at all but wonderful ORIGINAL voices..(Wonder what Mel Blanc and Don Messick thought ogf someone doing impressions..:)) If I were to imitate would be those 30s-40s actors Daws mentions: Eddie Robinson. Charles Laughton. Charlie McCarthy (Edgar Bergen, of course!). George Arliss. The fact that they were already legends helped a's a lot more fun today for us fanboys to imitate thoser I did note the comments that Daws (to his credit) did his own in Hanna-Barbera and WB cartoons Frank Fontaine..the deeper voice, the hee-hee-heeeee! laugh an expansion. Yogi, as you've said, isn't exactly Art Carney,either.:) Also,m a handful opf stars did like Daws's impressions..

  2. It took Daws until 1967 to get a voice credit in a Warner Bros. cartoon, when Alex Lovy hired him for the first Merlin the Magic Mouse effort (after which he would be replaced by Larry Storch for the remainder of that series).

    1. Actually, a 1950s Armed Forces short, "Drafty, Isn't It?" was..bnut it wasn't a mainstream audience theatrical. (Courtesy Dave Mackey, his 1989 CompuServe posting; I saw that information in 1995 when I first went on there..)

  3. So many of the classic voice actors had many talents. Musicians,artists/illustrators, ventriloquists, well rounded folks. From a voice actor I've talked to, Daws, like Mel, would actually try assume the look of the character he was voicing in the booth. He, like his peers is sorely missed.

  4. Daws is a great impressionists. While different we can't deny that Yogi Bear originated as an impression of Art Carney, which Daws did in The Honey-Mousers and The Flagstones.