Voice acting giant Daws Butler would be 105 today and he’d still be doing voices, teaching and adding joy to the lives around him.
One of the most famous lines in the history of theater is “A handbag?” as spoken by Dame Edith Evans in the classic play The Importance of Being Earnest. Actors have referenced it constantly as a line impossible to duplicate—including Hayley Mills in her recent autobiography, Forever Young —but then, almost anything Dame Edith said could steal an entire production (like her utterance of the words “Thank you” in the 1970 musical film of Scrooge).
From his early days on stage, in radio, commercials, recordings and animation, Daws Butler also took great care in finding the optimum way to craft words and phrases. In the same pantheon as Mel Blanc, June Foray, Paul Frees and their peers, he could make the funny funnier and the ordinary extraordinary.
Here is a prime example of Butler’s magic. In this sequence from the superb 1965 Hanna-Barbera album Atom Ant in Muscle Magic, he plays Chief Mildew and then-president Johnson. But it is in the British delegate role that Daws demonstrates how to turn a simple line into comedy gold. Listen to the way he hits on the word “bombs.” He creates a laugh-out-loud multi-syllabic effect. One can almost see the silly look of the character saying it.
Maybe one of the reasons Daws Butler-whose birthday is today–was such a great actor of voices was because he was a fine writer as well. He loved words and the masterful ways one could “paint a thousand pictures” with them. He also loved people, so much so that he was responsible for major careers that span generations within the animation world, including Don Messick (whom he recommended to Hanna-Barbera for Ruff and Reddy) and Nancy Cartwright (who was one of several fortunate enough to attend the classes at his home.
Despite his public fame and position within the animation community, Butler was not one for aggressive self-promotion. He never hired a publicist as he thought his work would speak for himself. Butler made occasional appearances on TV on such shows as What’s My Line and Truth or Consequences Here he is on You Bet Your Life with Huckleberry Hound Show fan Groucho Marx:
But he was not a self-appointed legend. That did not mean he was not proud of his accomplishments, but he seemed to see them as a result of dedication to his craft. His association with Stan Freberg led to his sharing in a Gold Record for St. George and the Dragonet. ASIFA-Hollywood presented him with a lifetime achievement award. Hanna-Barbera ran an industry ad commemorating the event.
In July 2003, two of his accomplished students, Corey Burton and Joe Bevilacqua, hosted a tribute to Daws Butler at ASIFA Hollywood with guests June Foray and Nancy Cartwright.
Butler was a longtime mentor to Bevilacqua, who became a historian of the actor’s work, compiling hours of original recordings and scripts. Many of these, along with fascinating anecdotes unavailable anywhere else, can be found in Daws Butler: Characters Actor, co-written by Bevilaqua and Ben Ohmart, available in print, ebook or audio.
One is the often misunderstood origin of the Huckleberry Hound voice. It predates Andy Griffith’s fame, as well as MGM and Lantz cartoons. Daws picked up the voice from a neighbor in the hometown of his wife, Myrtis. They would visit and the neighbor would provide homespun, easygoing chat that inspired Butler to carry the voice into animation. Plus he would vary the tone of a particular vocal pattern depending on the character and by geographical region. It has often been pointed out for example, that his “little kid” voice is not identical for Elroy Jetson and Augie Doggie in the inflection and personality. As was the case with other great voice actors, the key was in the acting.
For those of us who were not fortunate enough to have been there with the man himself, Bevilacqua also posted this first-person video by William Simpson of Daws Butler giving a tour of his home workshop:
Since there are so many extremely famous Daws Butler characters, many of which have been also made available on records, this Animation Spin will shed some light on lesser-known discs.
In the late forties, Butler recorded a handful of records for the Belda label, which included read-along “Talking Komics” with the 78-rpm disc. None of these were reissued on 45 or LP. He narrated or played roles depending on the story.
1949’s The Flying Turtle is similar to Disney’s The Flying Mouse (1934), with alterations. Coincidentally, it was also a completely different 1953 Walter Lantz cartoon voiced by Dal McKennon with no connection to the record.
This is Daws Butler’s Belda recording of The Flying Turtle:
Other Daws Butler Belda Talking Komics titles include 1947’s Happy Grasshopper (in which Butler does his Joe E. Brown/Peter Potamus/Lippy the Lion style voice); and 1948’s Chirpy Cricket (in part one and part two). Also for the Talking Komics series, Marvin Miller (who we saluted in this Animation Spin) recorded Lonesome Octopus (1947) and Grumpy Shark (1949).
Here’s another lesser-known item: a short-lived radio comedy called That’s Rich starring Stan Freberg with Daws Butler in the supporting cast. Don Messick also appears in an episode. And fans of Bob McKimson’s 1956 cartoon The Honey Mousers (here’s the TV bridge sequence) might also enjoy Stan Freberg’s 1953 recording of The Honey Earthers.
There are far too many to list. Don Yowp’s excellent website offers this post with some additional gems.
To paraphrase the Disneyland album The Great Composers, “Daws Butler left us rich with the treasure of great performances.”