Early life and career
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 1934, 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 narrate several of his cartoons. Throughout the decade, 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 then told Avery about Don Messick, another voice actor and Butler's lifelong friend, who could imitate Thompson. Thus Messick voiced Droopy on 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. It was the basis for the cartoon Beany and Cecil. In Mr. Magoo, the UPA theatrical animated short series for Columbia Pictures, Butler voiced the part of Magoo's nephew Waldo (also voiced by Jerry Hausner at various times). Butler briefly turned his attention to TV commercials, although he quickly moved to providing the voice to many nameless Walter Lantz characters for theatrical shorts later seen on the Woody Woodpecker program. His notable character was the penguin "Chilly Willy" and his sidekick, the southern-speaking dog Smedley (the same voice used for Tex Avery's laid-back wolf character). Also in the 1950s, Stan Freberg asked Butler 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 "talking" routines were co-written by, and co-starred, Daws Butler. Butler also teamed up again with Freberg and cartoon 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 1957, when MGM 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 & Reddy Show where Butler voiced Reddy, set the formula for the rest of the series of cartoons that the two would helm until the mid-1960s.
Butler based some of his voices on popular celebrities of the day. Yogi Bear began as an Art Carney impression; Butler had done a similar voice in several of Robert McKimson's films at Warner Brothers and Stan Freberg's comedy record "The Honey-Earthers." However, Butler soon changed Yogi's voice, making it much deeper and more sing-songy, thus making it a more original voice. Hokey Wolf began as an impression of Phil Silvers, and Snagglepuss as Bert Lahr. In fact, when Snagglepuss began appearing in commercials for Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies in 1961, Lahr threatened to sue Butler for "stealing" his voice. As part of the settlement, the disclaimer "Snagglepuss voice by Daws Butler" was required to appear on each commercial, making him the only voice actor ever to receive one in an animated TV commercial. Again, Butler redesigned these voices, making them his own inventions. Huckleberry Hound was inspired many years earlier, in 1945, by a North Carolina neighbor of Daws' wife's family, and he had in fact been using that voice for a long time, for Avery's laid-back wolf and Lantz's Smedley.
Butler remained somewhat low-key in the 1970s and 1980s, until a 1985 revival of The Jetsons. Also in 1983, he voiced the title character, Wacky WallWalker in Deck the Halls with Wacky Walls. In 1975, Butler began an acting workshop that spawned such talents as Nancy Cartwright (The Simpsons), Corey Burton (Old Navy, Disney), and Joe Bevilacqua (NPR). 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.
Personal life and death
He was married to Myrtis Martin from the 1940s 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.
Daws Butler trained many voice actors including Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Corey Burton (the voice of Dale in Chip 'n' Dale), Bill Farmer (the current voice of Goofy, Pluto, and Horace Horsecollar), Bob Bergen (voice of Porky Pig), Joe Bevilacqua (whom Butler personally taught how to do all of his characters), and Greg Burson (voice of Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny). Butler's voice and scripts were a frequent part of Bevilacqua's now-defunct XM show. Bevilacqua also wrote Butler's official biography, published by Bear Manor Media. A new book of cartoon scripts written by Daws Butler and Joe Bevilacqua, Uncle Dunkle and Donnie: Fractured Fables, was scheduled for publication in the fall of 2009. A four-volume, 4½-hour audio set of Uncle Dunkle and Donnie was to be released simultaneously with Bevilacqua performing all 97 characters in 35 stories. Butler also trained Hal Rayle, who ultimately determined that his best-known character of Doyle Cleverlobe from Galaxy High School should sound like Elroy Jetson after he finished puberty.