Wednesday, 30 October 2019

The Second Buzz Buzzard

It was a case of cartoons imitating life.

There was a children’s TV show character in Los Angeles in the middle 1950s called Captain Jet. One of his catchphrases was “Zoom!” In a 1956 Walter Lantz cartoon, there’s a children’s TV show character named Captain Zoom. Captain Jet was played by Dal McKennon. Captain Zoom was played by Dal McKennon.

When Lantz resumed production in the early 1950s, his characters didn’t speak. This allowed Lantz to release cartoons overseas without the added expense of dubbing in foreign languages. But eventually, Woody and the rest began talking again. Lantz eventually settled on a regular corps of actors and one of them was McKennon. He took on many of the villain roles, such as Buzz Buzzard, originally voiced by blacklisted actor Lionel Stander in the ‘40s, as well as the not-quite-all-there Professor Dingledorfer, who had the same over-the-top stage German accent that Dennis Day used occasionally on the Jack Benny radio show.

McKennon was a Sunday school teacher at the First Methodist Church in North Hollywood. He had been a teenaged actor back home in Oregon and decided to try his luck in California. He picked up roles on and off camera. ‘60s kids probably know him best for his Dick Crenna-as-Walter Boynton impression as the star of the various Archie cartoon shows made by Filmation.

He did a lot of work for both Walt Lantz and Walt Disney. I haven’t found a newspaper piece about his work for Lantz, but he talks about Disney in this unbylined story that likely came from Buena Vista’s PR people. It was in the Ottawa Citizen, February 1, 1964.
Dal McKennon always in demand
Clever and gifted Dal McKennon belongs to that small pool of talent on the Hollywood scene who are part actor and part sound effects, but who are always in demand, on or off camera. In Walt Disney's comedy-fantasy, "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones," Dal makes one of his on-screen appearances as a dimwitted detective, hopelessly confused by the weird and wacky experiments of a student boy wonder, played by Tommy Kirk.
Imitating all barnyard and jungle wild life sounds are his particular specialties, and on cue he can give his impression of a roaring-prehistoric monster. He has a wide range of characterizations, from yokels to heavies, with or without accents, that he can whip up at the drop of a contract.
Walt Disney gave Dal his first assignment in 1951 when he moved from Portland, Oregon to the greener acting fields of Los Angeles. A cartoon, "Pigs Is Pigs," was in production and Walt was looking for a good grunt and squealer. Dal pulled off the first project so well that he was kept busy on other short subjects, and the full-length animated features, "Lady and the Tramp" and "101 Dalmatians," in which his voice went to the cartoon dogs.
At sixteen, Dal was doing character voices and sound effects for Radio Station KLBM in his hometown of LaGrande, Oregon. This led to a children's radio show in Portland called "Mr. Buttons." And thousands of Los Angeles children and their parents knew him on television for three years as "Captain Jet."
Dal did all the animated voices in the movie "Tom Thumb" and many of those in "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" film. He was also responsible for all the canine sounds in the live-action feature, "Dog of Flanders."
His recent on-camera picture credits are "The Birds," "Son of Flubber," "Twilight of Honor," "The Wheeler Dealers," "7 Faces of Dr. Lao," and Disney's spring release, "A Tiger Walks."
In the last year Dal had the dubious distinction of appearing in eight television shows in the part of a barn burner. But his six girls and two boys would rather think of him as that tall, lean funny man who can crow like a rooster.
In color by Technicolor, "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" stars Kirk and Annette and co-stars Leon Ames and Stuart Erwin. It was directed by Robert Stevenson for Walt Disney. Ron Miller co-produced from a screenplay by Tom and Helen August. Buena Vista releases.
McKennon and Lantz’s connection went beyond cartoons. McKennon leased space at the Lantz studio in 1957 with the idea of shooting new Captain Zoom quarter-hours for syndication. Apparently McKennon gave up the idea as he went back to children’s TV in 1958 as Mr. Funny Buttons on KTLA.

The most unusual story about McKennon is likely this one from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin of June 27, 1958.
Clicking Juice Can May Click On Mainland Television Show
Dal McKennon, a Los Angeles television performer, is the owner of a most unusual can of Dole pineapple-grapefruit juice.
The can ticks, McKennon discovered after purchasing it.
His curiosity aroused, McKennon had the strange can examined, by X-ray. The examination showed the can contained nothing but juice. A geiger counter proved the can wasn't unusually radioactive.
McKennon finally took the can to the California Institute of Technology where the staff explained. A rare set of circumstances accounts for the ticking, McKennon was told.
In canning the juice, through a freakish coincidence, a perfect equilibrium between the inside vacuum of the can and the outside air pressure was created. The tick is caused by a shallow, quarter-sized dent which moves back and forth of its own accord. The action produces the ticking sound just as a child's ticking toy does. McKennon intends to show the can on a Los Angeles television show, according to Hawaiian Pineapple Company, which makes Dole products.
Hapco is trying to buy the rare can from McKennon.
Most pictures of McKennon later in life make him look like an unmade bed. It was partly for a variety of historic roles he took on, including a Johnny Appleseed series he put together for a PBS station back home in Oregon.

He had an incredibly prolific career, far beyond a few cartoon voices and appearances on TV Westerns. There’s a web page devoted to him here.

It’s sad in a way that the most recognition he got outside his home state was in his obituary in the Los Angeles Times picked up by a number of other newspapers. He died in 2009, just shy of his 90th birthday.

4 comments:

  1. Very solid and dependable. Beside his tons, and I mean tons of cartoon voice overs, I enjoyed his character " Cincinnatus " opposite Fess Parker in " Daniel Boone ". Very well rounded prolific voice and live action actor.

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  2. He was at Warners, as a handful of voices, such as Speedy Gonzales's more unsual nemesis, the "Tortilla FLaps" buzzard, and, at WB thru MGM, i.e. Jones's in "Cat and Dupli-cat" w/Tom and Jerry, and of course he played me, Pokey, at Clokey studios..(rhyumes). Of course he wasn't at every studio, certainly not in Trans-Lux/Joe Oriolo Felix (all roles went to the equally amusing and gifted Jack Mercer, plus, it was produced back east anyway), Terrytoons (same reason),and back on the west coast I doubt he was at Hanna-Barbera or Bob CLampett, or DePatie-Freleng..he did work for Warners, Disney, etc.as live aciton character actor.

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  3. Such wonderful information about Dal McKennon! The National Lum and Abner Society was twice entertained by him at our 2002 and 2003 NLAS Conventions. And let's not forget he was the voice of Gumby more times than any other voice actor.

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  4. He was a favorite of Sam Singer as well.

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