Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Art of Voice Acting

The greatest actor in cartoons was Mel Blanc. He could do almost anything, including have his characters imitate each other. Instead of Daffy Duck adopting Bugs Bunny’s voice, he sounds like Daffy trying to mimic Bugs. That’s sheer brilliance.

My favourite actor in television cartoons is Daws Butler. He starred in all the great pre-1960 Hanna-Barbera series, which mainly relied on dialogue to entertain people. Daws came up with some great voices and, being a writer as well as an actor, could add things to the words provided by Charlie Shows, Mike Maltese and Warren Foster.

Daws’ cartoon career, according to historian Keith Scott, began with a Columbia cartoon Short Snorts on Sports before he was hired by Tex Avery at MGM. His voice could be heard at the Walter Lantz studio, which gave him his first screen credit, as well as innumerable animated commercials in the 1950s. His career on A Time For Beany and with Stan Freberg has been well documented.

The New York Daily News had a chance to interview Butler (it only made reference to Blanc) at the height of his career. As an added bonus, it spoke with Tommy Morrison, the story director at the Terrytoons studio in New Rochelle. The article even included a picture (which we, unfortunately, can’t reproduce). He talks about voice work, taking credit for Mighty Mouse with no mention of the character’s singing voice, Roy Halee, or any of the actors freelancing at the studio, such as Lionel Wilson and Allen Swift, or people like Dayton Allen, Arthur Kaye or even Doug Moye, who originated some of his characters. Perhaps he did say something and it was edited out, as Morrison is barely quoted in the article.

It was published October 18, 1959.

Heard but not seen
The men who provide the voices for TV's cartoon characters are stars in their own right

In the world of TV where anonymity is a fate worse than radio, there is a group of men, numbering not more than 10, that thrives on being unknown. Daws Butler, Mel Blanc and Tom Morrison rank foremost in this select clique. Rarely, if ever, seen on television, ignored by celebrity seekers as they walk along the street, these gents nevertheless are quietly getting rich supplying the voices for some of today's popular TV cartoon characters.
One such character, Huckleberry Hound, is now being seen on 175 stations, including New York's Wpix. Millions chuckle at the antics of the hound, but few realize that the syrupy drawl emanating from the Southern bowwow comes from Daws Butler's pipes. Butler also does Dinky and Jenks [sic] on the show as well as Quick Draw McGraw for another series. So popular has Huck Hound become that the University of Washington recently held a "Huck Hound Day" on the campus, and 11,000 joined his fan club. Southern Methodist University in Dallas also will dedicate a day to the pooch, and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth will follow suit.
Although Huck Hound is now a TV favorite, Butler has yet to make his first appearance on the medium. "I've never had much interest in being seen." says Butler. "Besides, voice work is lucrative and you don't burn out as quickly as the performer constantly seen live."
However, the 42-year-old native of Chicago knows what it's like to be in front of an audience. He was part of a night club act called the "Three Short Waves," which enjoyed more than moderate success before the war.
In the 25 years he has practiced his specialized art, Butler has done more than 1,000 different characters, including many voices behind cartoon favorites on commercials.
"You need a background of comedy to do voice characterizations," says magic-larynxed Butler. "Each character has a personality of its own; each has its own humor value. You must have the knack of giving life to the drawings."
But even when you have the knack, voice and experience, it still is arduous work to create a top-flight cartoon. The usual procedure is for all concerned to meet at the recording studio. Joe Barbera, the co-producer, then takes out a story board, which is nothing more than a sheet of paper divided into squares to represent frames of film. The dialogue is written underneath the squares, which contain the drawings. It is estimated that it takes over 90 separate drawings to create a laugh movement. A total of 10,000 individual drawing frames make up a half hour of cartoon enjoyment.
Barbera takes the parts of all the characters, telling Butler and the other voice men how he wants the cartoon characters to sound.
Butler, a man with a middle baritone, tries it once, twice, sometimes as many as 15 times until everyone concerned is happy. Barbera then retires to the control room as they run through a scene.
More or less the same tactics are used at other studios for the initial approach to cartoon making. At Terrytoons, Tom Morrison holds sway as a "50-year-old Mighty Mouse," as he describes himself. His voice characterization of the little cheese snatcher brings laughter to many a youngster watching the Mighty Mouse Playhouse on CBS every Saturday morning.
Flexible-voiced Morrison also speaks for such cartoon characters as Dinky Duck, the Terry Bears, Gandy Goose and Sour Puss, as well as serving as story supervisor at the studio. "If you have the voice range, you can do them all." says Morrison. Though Morrison, like Butler, has never appeared before the TV camera, he may become more widely known as the Mighty Mouse voice through an album just issued by RCA-Victor called "Terrytoon TV Cartoon Time." But Morrison really doesn't care who knows he's Mighty Mouse as long as they make the check out correctly to him.
Mel Blanc, Mr. Bugs Bunny himself, also doesn't give two carrots whether he's recognized or not. "People recognize my voice," says the multi-toned Blanc, "and, that's the important thing to me." He has appeared on TV a few times, mostly as a comic on the Jack Benny show. But mainly he's heard as Bugs on Fred Scott's wnew-tv show.
One executive in the cartoon-making business can only speak of Blanc with awe. "He has an iron voice," says the exec. "One minute he's doing Bugs, and the next he's barking like a dog. It's simple for him to change volume. Another marvelous thing about Mel is the way he reads a drawing. One time and it's usually 99 per cent correct. All in all, a funny guy and an A-1 technician."
Due in no small measure to the voice experts, the appeal of cartoons seems to be getting stronger all the time. There's more production of comical strips for TV than ever before. As Daws Butler explains it: "Adults can see the off-beat humor in a cartoon, as Huckleberry Hound for instance. They appreciate the fun in the dialogue and the different nuances. The kids go for action."
As an afterthought, Butler adds: "Maybe the attraction of TV cartoons today can be explained in that viewers don't get as tired of cartoons as they do of people." END

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