DAWS BUTLER CHARACTERS ACTOR

by Ben Ohmart & Joe Bevilacqua

BearManor Media

978-1-59393-015-8

292pp/$24.95/November 2004

Daws Butler Characters ActorCover by Lorie Kellogg & Joe Bevilacqua

Reviewed by Steven H Silver


Daws Butlerís name might not be as well-known as Mel Blanc or June Forayís, but his role in the history of film animation is just as important as either of those luminaries. In Daws Butler Characters Actor, Ben Ohmart and Joe Bevilacqua trace Butlerís life and career from its earliest days as an impressionist through his providing the voices for Beany, Huckleberry Hound, Chilly Willy, and Elroy Jetson.

As depicted in the book, Butlerís career can be divided into three sections. The first section had Butler touring, sometimes alone, other times with Jack Lavin and Willard Ovitz, throughout the Midwest, perfecting their act and abilities. The act broke up, partly due to World War II, and the second portion of Butlerís career, in which he was supported by his wife, Myrtis, focused on his success as a voice actor, working with Stan Freberg, Hanna-Barbera, and Warner Brothers. Eventually, jobs dried up and Butler started a third career teaching other actors how to provide voices for animated characters, his students including author Bevilacqua and Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson.

The authors spend quite a bit of time throughout the book discussing Butlerís technique. Through his work as an impersonator early in his career, Butler perfected certain archetypes of voices. Once he became a voice actor, he would start with one of the archetypes and build on it to create the specific voice that suited the character he was providing the voice for. Butler was adamant that he wasnít performing voices, but that he was performing characters through the use of voices.

. While the reader gets a good feel for Daws Butler-the voice actor, Daws Butler-the human is less well defined in the book. Ohmart and Bevilacqua paint his lifeís history with broad strokes, although once he settles down in Hollywood they seem to lose interest until Butler is successful and has a full family, who almost seem like an afterthought in the book. The book also has a problem with repetition. They cover Butlerís approach to his career and craft multiple times, without really saying anything new about it, which may be indicative of the way Butler did look at his career, but that isnít entirely clear.

One of Butlerís early partners was Stan Freberg, and Butler and Freberg are shown working together closely on Time for Beany, ďSt. George and the Dragonet,Ē and the short-lived Stan Freberg Show. There are implications that the two had a falling out, or possibly just were never close outside of work, again, it isnít clear from the book what happened or why. Butler was quoted as noting years later that there was a distance between him and Freberg.

The publicís perception of Butler is mostly based on the numerous characters he voiced over his career, but the book makes it clear that he surprised himself by getting satisfaction out of training the next generation of character voice actors. Ohmart and Bevilacqua spend a good deal of time talking about the teaching techniques Butler used, especially references to the scripts he worked out, which form the bases of another book by Bevilacqua. During this period, the authors also spend a little more time looking at Butlerís relationships with his sons and his students.

Daw Butler Characters Actor isnít quite as satisfying a book as it could be. It introduces the man, but doesnít delve into who he was, it talks about the way he built his career, but other actors, producers, and directors seem to move through, helping him, but never quite making an impression on him outside the booth. Filled with photos of Butler, the reader does get to see the man behind the voices, and as the book is read, the wisps of sounds of the various characters created by Butler float through the readerís head.


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