Daws Butler was born on November 16, 1916 in Toledo, Ohio, the only child of Ruth Butler and Charles Allen Butler. The family later moved from Ohio to Oak Park, Illinois, where Butler got interested in impersonating people. In 1935, the future voice master started as an impressionist, entering multiple amateur contests and winning most of them. He had entered them, not with the intention of showing his talent but as a personal challenge to overcome his shyness, with success. Nonetheless, Butler won professional engagements at vaudeville theaters. Later he teamed up with fellow performers Jack Lavin and Willard Ovitz to form the comedy trio The Three Short Waves. The team played in theaters, radio and nightclubs, generating positive reviews from regional critics and audiences. They dissolved when in 1941, Daws Butler joined the U.S. Navy as America entered World War Two. Some time after, he met his wife Myrtis during a wartime function at North Carolina. His first voice work for an animated character came in 1948 in the animated short Short Snorts on Sports, which was produced by Screen Gems. That same year at MGM, Tex Avery hired Butler to provide the voice of a British wolf on Little Rural Riding Hood and also to narrate several of his cartoons. Throughout the late 1940s and mid-1950s, he had roles in many Avery-directed cartoons; The Fox in Out-Foxed, The Narrator in The Cuckoo Clock, The Cobbler in The Peachy Cobbler, Mr. Theeves in Droopy’s “Double Trouble”, Mysto the Magician in Magical Maestro, John the Cab and John the B-29 Bomber in One Cab’s Family and Little Johnny Jet and Maxie in The Legend of Rockabye Point. Starting with The Three Little Pups, Butler provided the voice for a nameless wolf that spoke in a Southern accent and whistled all the time. This character also appeared in Sheep Wrecked, Billy Boy and many more cartoons. While at MGM, Avery wanted Butler to try to do the voice of Droopy, at a time when Bill Thompson had been unavailable due to radio engagements. Instead, Butler recommended Don Messick, another actor and Butler’s lifelong friend, who could imitate Thompson. Thus Messick voiced Droopy in several shorts.
In 1949, Butler landed a role in a televised puppet show created by former Warner Bros. cartoon director Bob Clampett called Time for Beany. Butler was teamed up with Stan Freberg, and together they did all the voices of the puppets. Butler voiced Beany Boy and Captain Huffenpuff. Freberg voiced Cecil and Dishonest John. An entire stable of recurring characters were seen. The show’s writers were Charles Shows and Lloyd Turner, whose dependably funny dialog was still always at the mercy of Butler’s and Freberg’s ad libs. Time for Beany ran from 1949 to 1954 and won several Emmy Awards. Butler briefly turned his attention to writing and voicing several TV commercials. In the 1950s, Stan Freberg asked him to help him write comedy skits for his Capitol Records albums. Their first collaboration, “St. George and the Dragon-Net” (based on Dragnet), was the first comedy record to sell over one million copies. Freberg was more of a satirist who did song parodies, but the bulk of his dialogue routines were co-written by and co-starred Butler. He teamed up again with Freberg and actress June Foray in a CBS radio series, The Stan Freberg Show, which ran from July to October 1957 as a summer replacement for Jack Benny’s program. Freberg’s box-set, Tip of the Freberg (Rhino Entertainment, 1999) chronicles every aspect of Freberg’s career except the cartoon voice-over work, and it showcases his career with Daws Butler. In Mr. Magoo, the UPA theatrical animated short series for Columbia Pictures, Butler played Magoo’s nephew Waldo (also voiced by Jerry Hausner at various times). He provided the voices of many nameless Walter Lantz characters for theatrical shorts later seen on the Woody Woodpecker program. His most notable characters were the penguin Chilly Willy and his sidekick Smedley, a southern-speaking dog (the same voice used for Tex Avery’s laid-back wolf character).
In 1957, after MGM had closed down their animation division, producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera quickly formed their own company, and Daws Butler and Don Messick were on-hand to provide voices. The first, The Ruff and Reddy Show, with Butler voicing Reddy, set the formula for the rest of the series of cartoons that the two would helm until the mid-1960s. He played the title roles in The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Quick Draw McGraw Show and The Yogi Bear Show, as well as a variety of other characters. In the 1970s, he was the voice of “Hair Bear” on Help!… It’s the Hair Bear Bunch! and a few characters in minor cartoons such as C.B. Bears. On Laff-a-Lympics, Butler was virtually the entire “Yogi Yahooey” team. He also played the title character in The Funky Phantom, as well as Louie and Pug on The Pink Panther Show. Butler remained somewhat low-key in the 1970s and 1980s until a revival of The Jetsons and Hanna-Barbera’s crossover series Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, both in 1985. Also in 1983, he voiced the title character, Wacky WallWalker in Deck the Halls with Wacky Walls. In 1975, Butler began an acting workshop which spawned such talents as Nancy Cartwright, Corey Burton, Joe Bevilacqua, Bill Farmer, Pat Parris, Tony Pope, Linda Gary, Bob Bergen, Mona Marshall, Joey Camen, writer Earl Kress and many more. In the year of his death, The Good, the Bad, and Huckleberry Hound was released, a tour-de-force featuring most of his classic early characters. He was married to Myrtis Martin from 1943 to 1988, whom he had met and married while he was in the United States Navy during World War II. They had four sons, David Butler, Don Butler, Paul Butler and Charles Butler. Butler died from a heart attack on May 18, 1988. Many of his roles were assumed by Greg Burson, who had been personally trained by Butler.
- November, 16, 1916
- Toledo, Ohio
- May, 18, 1988
- Culver City, California
Cause of Death
- heart attack