Daws Butler, who for three decades carried on the conversations of such diverse cartoon characters as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound and of Beany, television's beloved boy puppet, died Wednesday night at Cedars Sinai Medical Center. He was 71 and died of a heart attack.
A spokesman for Hanna-Barbera Productions, where Butler had been prime studio communicator for three decades, said the publicly invisible but highly respected actor had suffered a stroke and been battling pneumonia in the last few months.
Unlike even character actors who are occasionally recognized while standing in line at supermarkets, Butler labored in anonymity throughout his life, standing in front of microphones in recording studios and conjuring up the varied voices of Yogi, Quick-Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Cap'n Crunch, Augie Doggie, Lippy Lion, Blabbber Mouse and Peter Potamus.
Helped Develop Characters
Joseph Barbera, co-founder with William Hanna of the famed animation studios, said Butler did not just provide the sound but contributed to the development of the characters whose voice he would become.
Barbera recalled the time when he and his partner had first set up shop on La Brea Avenue where the old Charlie Chaplin studios had been. "Here comes Daws, this little man, and he's so filled with enthusiasm. He helped find the voices for our two original characters, Ruff and Ready, and then when I told him we were going to do a laid back-dog and needed a Southern accent, he gave us versions of dialects for each of the Southern states.
"He was so knowledgeable in the way that he spoke them--one for nearly each state--it helped shape what became Huckleberry Hound. What always amazed me was that his own speaking voice was not inspiring at all . . . kind of non-descriptive. But then he'd do all those wonderful dialects and just fire us all up."
Shy as a Boy
Charles Dawson Butler was raised in Oak Park, Ill., a self-described shy boy who had wanted to be an artist or writer.
But "I had a knack for making my friends laugh," he said in a 1976 interview with The Times. To overcome his shyness and to please his friends he auditioned for night clubs in the Chicago area, doing impersonations of Fred Allen, Ronald Colman and "the dummy, Charlie McCarthy."
With two other diminutive friends (Butler was 5 feet, 2 inches tall) he formed a group called "The Three Short Waves," and they played clubs before World War II broke up the act.
After Navy service, he and his bride and first-born son came to Southern California with his parents, and Butler auditioned for a role on the old "Dr. Christian" radio series.
In 1948, he began a lifelong friendship with Stan Freberg, who was to hire him for Freberg's short-lived radio variety show in 1957.
Played Opposite Sea Serpent
He had met Freberg through TV producer Bob Clampett, who wanted Butler to portray a little boy opposite a sea serpent in a live puppet show.
The result was "Time for Beany," which ran daily for five years on Los Angeles TV stations KTLA and KTTV. The soft-spoken Butler was the boy with the propeller-hat and the brash Freberg the voice of the opinionated Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent. Their ad libs became legendary.
Butler, who is survived by his wife, Myrtis, four sons and two grandchildren, also made records with Freberg, among them "St. George and the Dragonet," a thinly veiled parody of the "Dragnet" radio and TV series.
A longtime admirer of Mel (Bugs Bunny) Blanc, Butler next decided to try the cartoon field. He was hired by legendary animation director Tex Avery at MGM. There he met and went to work for Hanna and Barbera on their old "Tom and Jerry" series.
When MGM shut down its animation department in the late 1950s, Hanna and Barbera formed their own company and from that union came Huckleberry, Yogi, Baba-Looey, Undercover Elephant and other members of the rapidly burgeoning cartoon family.
Butler also worked for Jay Ward on Ward's "Fractured Fairy Tales" with Edward Everett Horton as narrator and "Aesop and Son" with Charlie Ruggles. For the Quaker Oats Co. he was the voice of Cap'n Crunch, while for Kellogs he was Snap of the Snap-Crackle-Pop Rice Crispies trio.
In his spare time, the once shy boy who had been awkward in front of groups lectured would-be actors attending his workshops; more than 300 studied with him in the last decade alone.
Asked if had ever regretted toiling behind the scenes while other actors could point pridefully to their names on billboards, Butler paused and then said no.
"If I had an ego problem it was early on in my career. . . . I felt I shouldn't have to go through life as Huckleberry Hound. But then, (later) I thought I shouldn't be ashamed of being known as Huckleberry Hound either."
A funeral service is scheduled Saturday at 10 a.m. at Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills with burial to follow at Holy Cross Cemetery.