Don Messick Interview

Excerpt (c) 1997 Craig Fuqua / Stillwater OK

Sadly Don Messick passed away in October 1997.
Below is an excerpt from an interview
in which Don spoke of his friendship with Daws Butler.

 


NOTE: This interview with Don Messick was conducted in August 1994 for a magazine
story that was commissioned then canceled. Items marked with Xs are usually for
spelling checks that have not been performed to date.

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Don Messick: When I got discharged at Fort XXXX Lewis, I returned to Southern California and made contact with some other Army buddies and I just started making the rounds. Sometimes doing the ventriloquist act and other times -- eventually getting into a workshop for ex-G.I.s -- but who were professional radio people -- acting, writing, announcers and so forth, and that's where I first met Daws Butler in 1947.

Craig Fuqua: What was Daws doing at that time? Was he in cartoons already?

DM: No, no, no, no. Well, I shouldn't say no, because he had done some theatrical cartoons, particularly for Tex Avery at MGM. He was in this workshop for ex-G.I.s and that's where I met him and we became best of friends from that time on, from early 1947 on. We eventually worked together on one thing and another, long before we ever did any cartoon work together.

CF: What kind of projects, were they radio shows?


Daws Butler and Don Messick
in "Night Must Fall"

DM: Well, Daws and I produced a little play for my local church in West Hollywood, "Night Must Fall." First he was directing it and then I had a change of cast. I fired the lady who was doing Mrs. Branson -- she was disturbing the cast by being totally amused by her husband, who's also performing. So I let them both go, not that it made any difference because they weren't getting paid anything. We were debating, "What are we going to do now? Who's going to play Mrs. Branson?" And a mutual friend of ours, an actress, a lady that was good friend of Daws', and I met her later through Daws, she was in the cast and she says, "Daws, why don't you do it?" We were out having a drink after that particular evening, and wondering what to do about the cast. And well, "Maybe I could." So, he wound up, we got a lady's wig from Max Factor, gray-haired wig. He got an old fashioned dress. This was in the sort of a Dame XXX Mae Whitty, because she had done it in the film, and I think also on the stage, in that mode. Until the curtain call, nobody knew that it was a man playing Mrs. Branson. Well, anyway, that's one of my fond memories of Daws.


It's actually due to Daws that I got my Screen Actors Guild card because he recommended me to MGM to Tex Avery. They were looking for somebody to do the Droopy character voice and Daws knew I did that kind of voice. Apparently XXX Bill Thompson was unavailable at that time. He was still living. So anyway ... I did Droopy on a couple of theatricals at MGM and that was the first thing that entitled me to become a full-fledged member of Screen Actors Guild. It was due to Daws's recommendation. From then on, we continued to be the closest of friends and at the advent of television cartoons, one of the pioneers in that area being Hanna-Barbera after MGM in its infinite wisdom decided there was no future for cartoons in television. Too expensive to produce. But Bill and Joe came up with a method of short-cutting and doing what was then known as limited animation. Looking at some of those even today on reruns such as on Cartoon Express USA Network on cable -- those old ones to me, they hold up. There's a certain simplicity about them, which to me is beautiful. The backgrounds don't get in the way of the foreground, the characters. Bill and Joe put the emphasis on voice characterization, one reason being due to limited animation, that the character had to be strong to carry the impact of the characters. Daws and I worked together on so many of those series.

CF: Which ones do you remember the most?

DM: The very beginning series was Ruff N Reddy; that was Hanna-Barbera's first series on their own, under their own banner, Hanna-Barbera productions, and Daws and I were their first two voice men.

CF: Were you Ruff or Reddy?

DM: I was Ruff and Professor Gizmo, and Daws was Reddy. We both of us did all the characters, so there would usually be half a dozen characters in each episode that we'd be doing. It continued on, one series after another, many of them featuring, starring Daws, such as Yogi Bear, which was a spin-off from the Huckleberry Hound show.

CF: You were Ranger Smith, weren't you?

DM: Yes, I was Boo-Boo Bear and Ranger Smith. On the Huckleberry Hound series there was a segment known as Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks. I was Pixie Mouse, Daws was Dixie and Mr. Jinks.

NOTE: From this point on, the interview turned completely to Don's career.

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