Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Two Chats With Don Messick

What’s the connection between the Jetsons and Soupy Sales? Let Don Messick tell you.

Messick was, of course, the voice of Astro on the series. The voice was borrowed a few years later for another dog character. So how can two characters have the same voice? Let Don Messick tell you.

The Asbury Park Press conducted a full page interview with Messick for its May 15, 1994 entertainment/lifestyle section; it was part of a push for the Flintstones movie coming out. Don M. was, more or less, handed sidekick roles when he was hired by the brand-new H-B Enterprises in 1957 but he had a long career at the studio, and elsewhere in animation. This story gives a lovely summary of his work at the studio to date, as well as a mention of his puppet work.

Not long after this interview, Messick suddenly retired. His health deteriorated and he passed away in 1997.

How many of the following unmistakably-Don Messick voices would you recognize? Bamm-Bamm. Scooby Doo. Astro. Boo Boo. Ranger Smith. Muttley. Precious Pupp. Ricochet Rabbit. Dr. Quest. Bandit. Pixie. Ruff. Hoppy. Mr. Twiddle from "Wally Gator." Multi-Man from "The Impossibles." And, from "The Herculoids," Gleep, Gloop and Zok.
Voice wizard Messick, 67, has done characterizations for more than 100 series, in episodes numbering more than 4,000.
Messick — who won an Annie from the International Animated Film Society in 1990 — does not "catalog his many voice characterizations in any way. "Most of it is in my head," the actor tells SECTION X over the phone from Santa Barbera. "I don't catalog them in writing or by com puter or anything else. I just pull it out when the character is called for."
Born in Buffalo, raised in rural Maryland, Messick worked up a ventriloquist act at 13 after receiving a dummy for Christmas. "That interested me, when my voice changed," Messick says in announcer-perfect tones. "I discovered its flexibility."
Messick soon won a radio contest, which led to a weekly radio sitcom, "Dynamic DeForrest the Diligent," for which he did all voice characterizations. After a stint in the Army, he landed the radio role of Raggedy Andy on "The Raggedy Ann Show," in 1946. Radio led to television, which led to his association with kiddie show producer Bob Clampett.
Recalls Messick, "I'd been working under contract to Bob, who had several live television puppet shows, which were as near to a cartoon as you could get. We'd move from set to set — three sets with different backgrounds — and create all of the action. This wasn't just a thing like 'Punch and Judy.' It was expensive to produce.
"But that era was coming to an end, because it was cheaper for independent stations to buy or rent old theatrical cartoons — such as the 'Popeyes' and so on — and hire just one person to be the emcee of the afternoon kiddie shows, instead of doing what we were doing."
(Years later, in 1962, Clampett created "Beany and Cecil," providing the voice of Cecil).
No longer under contract, Messick began to call on various film studios in an attempt to scrounge up free-lance work. One studio Messick happened to visit was MGM, "little knowing that at about that time, MGM was closing down its cartoon department, because they figured cartoons were too expensive to create for television."
Heading up MGM's cartoon department at the time were William Hanna and Joseph Barbara, who were themselves about to make the leap to television and — fortuitously for Messick — were soliciting voice actors.
"They were talking to people such as Daws Butler," Messick says of the late actor who created the distinctive voices of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and many more. "And then I came along. I had known Daws since about 1944. So, it turned out that Daws and I became the first two voice men for Hanna-Barbera Productions."
The year was 1957. The show was "Ruff and Reddy."
"At the time, Hanna and Barbera began depending much more heavily on voice characterizations, rather than a lot of action," Messick explains. "So, that's why there was such simplicity in those early series, such as the 'Yogi Bears,' the 'Huckleberrys,' etc.
"Actually, I like them. When I see those old ones, there is a charm, I think, in the simplicity, the backgrounds. And the characters come through, in spite of the lack of rapid animation."
Messick has done voices for just about every Hanna-Barbera series produced, including the 1960-66 series "The Flintstones." At first, Messick had one recurring "Flintstones" role, that of Arnold, the paperboy who always got the best of Fred.
Messick also supplied voices for most of the unnamed, one-shot characters that typified a "Flintstones" episode: the cops, the bystanders, the little animals that doubled as appliances, etc.
" I was on just about every episode," Messick recalls, "being kind of a roving fielder, you might say." That situation would change by 1963.
"They were planning for Pebbles to make her appearance on the show," Messick recalls. "On one of the 'Flintstones' sessions, Joe Barbera said to me, 'Don, you can do baby voices, can't you?' I said, 'Oh, sure.' Of course, I'd already been doing the high voices, like Ruff on 'Ruff and Reddy' and Pixie mouse on the 'Huckleberry Hound' series.
"So, Joe said, 'Well, we want Pebbles to have a playmate. So, we thought the next-door neighbors — Barney and Betty Rubble — would adopt a little boy, and he would become Pebbles' playmate.'
"So, it turned out to be this super-strong little guy. Joe described the character, that he's carrying this club, and playfully — because he doesn't know his own strength — he would, maybe, pick his dad up and swing him around, going, 'Bam! Bam!' "
(Messick adds Bamm-Bamm-style baby gibberish).
"That's how it was born. Joe just gave me the idea the character, and and I just ad-libbed an audition right then and there."
Messick says of the late Alan Reed, who created the role of Fred Flintstone: "He was not one of those actors who always had to be the center of attention, always 'on.' Alan was a very down-to-earth person. He came up through the radio ranks. He was very warm and very lovable, kind of like a big teddy bear. But, still, he didn't lord his talent or importance over anybody."
It seems that every character Messick has created over the years has an anecdote to go with it. Take, for instance, Boo Boo, sidekick to "Yogi Bear" (1961-63).
"They wanted a kind of naive, friendly little guy who was a contrast to the big, sort of clown, Yogi, bluffing his way through Jellystone Park," Messick explains. "So, as Daws would often say, 'Boo Boo was Yogi's conscience.' Boo Boo would chide Yogi. (In character) 'You'd better not do that — Mr. Ranger wouldn't like it.'
"In the beginning, Joe Barbera wanted kind of a nasally voice for Boo Boo, so some of the earlier episodes have that. I didn't like the voice that way. So, gradually, as the series went on, I eased out of the stuffed-up-nose, into more of a back-of-the-throat."
What of Astro, the playful family pooch on "The Jetsons" (1962-67)?
"Astro preceded Scooby Doo," Messick says. "I had to come up with what I call 'growl talk.' The words were there. Joe liked things starting with R's, for the dogs especially. He got that from watching Soupy Sales. He (Sales) had an offscreen dog; all you would see was the paw, and he talked with 'R' talk.
"So, Joe decided that Astro should have that kind of attitude. (In character) 'Rello, Rorge! I ruv roo, Rorge!' "But then along came Scooby Doo, my favorite voice. So then, when we were doing later 'Jetsons' episodes, I had to pitch Astro a little bit higher. Because, Scooby had the 'growl talk,' though his was more of a barrel-chested thing."
(Here, Messick launches into an impromptu scene as both Astro and Scooby Doo — what a treat!)
And speaking of dogs, what about Bandit of "Jonny Quest" fame (1964-65)? Bandit never spoke (not even "growl talk"), yet Messick supplied his "voice."
"In the earliest 'Jonny Quests,' they used a recorded, real-dog bark," Messick recalls, "which, to me, sounded tinny, and less like a real dog than I could have done. But I did the whimpering and the panting. "Then, later, we reprised the series. We did 13 more episodes to add to the original 26, to make a better syndication package. This time, I did all of the barking for Bandit, which was more of a high-pitched bark."
(Messick barks, whimpers and pants).
"But Bandit didn't talk. He was not a talking dog because the 'Jonny Quest' series was one in which only the humans talked.
"Sort of like real life most of the time."

Now, a real treat. Here’s an interview with Don M. from a local TV show. My thanks to Mark Christiansen for spotting this. Messick shows off his ventriloquism talents while one of the hosts doesn’t know his Smurfs (I imagine a production aide heard about it afterward). Even one of the guests starts asking questions in this far-too-brief interview. I wish he had done more of these.


  1. Thanks Yowp!
    I enjoyed both interviews.

    Your Pal,


  2. If a fanfic (at least) features Scooby-Doo being threatened with being "fixed", will Astro (and maybe the Jetsons) come to "Daddy" Scooby's rescue? LOL! XD!

  3. Thanks Yowp. I could watch interviews like this for hours.Don was amazing. Seeing his rich baritone go to " Bam Bam " in a split second showed his speed and talent. I believe being a ventriloquist helped him with those quick changes. Yaphet Kotto almost had a child-like delight watching and listening to Don perform his characters. Lastly, it was great seeing Bill Tush. Bill goes way back to the salad days of the TBS Superstation empire. Back when it was WTCG-17. They ran old movies 24/7.

  4. One could nitpick some of the statements, but some of the oddest are in regard to BEANY & CECIL. (Did Don appear on TIME FOR BEANY, or was he only on the local shows, THUNDERBOLT THE WONDERCOLT, BUFFALO BILLY and WILLY THE WOLF he talked about going from set to set to do?) The writer was clearly not an L.A. resident in the fifties and sixties and couldn't have known the history of the characters, but the sentence "Years later, in 1962, Clampett created "Beany and Cecil," providing the voice of Cecil," is remarkable, because although it's short, it contains no statements of fact, and has three obvious errors. (It was years earlier, the cartoon debuted in 1959, and Clampett never did the voice of Cecil on it--nor did Messick, if you want to read it another way.) Other than the dates Don did Boo Boo on YOGI BEAR, he did get most of his H-B facts correct, though.