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Daws Butler Biography

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Birth Name: Daws Butler

Born Charles Dawson Butler on Nov. 16, 1916 in Toledo, OH, Daws Butler was raised in Oak Park, Chicago, IL by his parents, Charles Allen and Ruth Butler. Though he aspired to be a cartoonist, Butler discovered that he had a natural talent for mimicry and unusual voices, and used that skill to overcome his shyness by entering local talent contests. The positive response to his impressions of President Franklin D. Roosevelt or a Model T engine starting on a cold morning convinced him to pursue a career in show business. He left high school at the end of his senior year to perform in Chicago nightclubs as part of an act with two other impersonators called "The Three Short Waves," so named because of the participants' average height of five feet, two inches.

After serving two years in the Navy during World War II, Butler began his professional voice-acting career in 1948 with an animated short for Screen Gems. He soon followed this with a series of roles for animator Tex Avery at MGM, including the Oscar-nominated "Legend of Rockabye Point" (1955) for producer Walter Lantz. In 1949, he co-starred with Stan Freberg in "Time for Beany," a puppet show created by former "Looney Tunes" animator Bob Clampett, who later reused the characters for his animated series "Beany and Cecil" (ABC, 1962). Butler and Freberg voiced and operated the puppets, frequently deviating from the scripts in flights of improvisational fancy that won not only two Emmys but also a dedicated viewership that counted Albert Einstein and Frank Zappa among its number. After leaving the series in 1952, Butler collaborated with Freberg on a number of his popular comedy recordings, most notably "St. George and the Dragonet" (1953), a parody of "Dragnet" (NBC, 1951-59, 1967-1970) that reached No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. However, Butler struggled to regain his footing in the animation world following his tenure with Freberg.

The popularity of "Beany and Cecil" earmarked him as a puppeteer, which was out of fashion with networks in the early 1950s. After writing over 100 letters of inquiry to various studios, Butler was hired by producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera to provide voices for their vast array of animated television series and shorts. Among the dozens of characters brought to life by Butler were such iconic Hanna-Barbera figures as Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, the hapless Mr. Jinks and Dixie the mouse on "Pixie and Dixie" (syndicated, 1958-1961), Wally Gator and Scooby-Dum, the featherbrained cousin to Scooby-Doo on "The Scooby-Doo Show" (ABC, 1976-1978). Many of Butler's voices were inspired by actors: Yogi Bear was a sound-alike for Art Carney's Ed Norton on "The Honeymooners" (CBS, 1955-56), while Snagglepuss so resembled the voice of Bert Lahr that the actor filed a lawsuit after the character was used in commercials for Kellogg's cereal in the 1960s. Wally Gator was based on the fruity delivery of radio comic Ed Wynn, while the scheming Hokey Wolf was Butler's take on Phil Silvers. In several cases, Butler drew inspiration from his own life, most notably in the case of Huckleberry Hound, whose syrupy drawl was modeled after a North Carolina neighbor of his wife, Myrtis.

In the 1960s, Butler added Elroy Jetson of "The Jetsons" (ABC, 1962-63) to his growing list of vocal performances, as well as the advertising icons Cap'n Crunch and Quisp, whose commercials were directed by Jay Ward of "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," for which Daws provided the voice of Aesop's inquisitive son in the "Aesop & Son" segments. Butler also briefly performed as Barney Rubble on "The Flintstones" (ABC, 1960-65) when actor Mel Blanc was unable to work after a car accident; Butler had previously voiced the role, along with Fred Flintstone, in the series' unaired pilot, titled "The Flagstones," in 1959. He also gave his sole performances in a Walt Disney animated feature when he voiced a turtle and penguin in "Mary Poppins" (1964), although he was uncredited for his work.

Butler continued to voice his best-known Hanna-Barbera characters throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as well as a host of lesser roles and occasional forays into other projects, most notably Chuck Jones' "The Phantom Tollbooth" (1970). During this period, he also operated an acting workshop for voice actors that counted Nancy Cartwright, the future voice of Bart Simpson on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ) among its many graduates. Butler gave a tour-de-force sendoff for his classic Hanna-Barbera roles in the made-for-TV animated feature "The Good, the Bad and Huckleberry Hound" (syndicated, 1988), for which he voiced the titular role, as well as Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss and Quick Draw McGraw, among many others. That same year, Butler died of a heart attack on May 18, 1988. His characters were briefly assumed by his protégé, veteran voice actor Greg Burson, before his own untimely death in 2008, and then by a multitude of vocal talents.

By Paul Gaita