About the same time on the West Coast, MGM Studios was shutting down its cartoon division. Two of its animators, Bill Hannah and Joe Barbera, left MGM with a vision of how animation could be financially feasible for television. They started their own company and perfected “limited” animation and this assembly line approach would have far-reaching effects on television and on the career of Don Messick. Their first network show was Ruff and Ready in 1957 with Don as Ruff and Daws Butler as Ready.
Don has fond memories of working with Hannah and Barbera. He described them as very affable and easy to work with. Each had his own distinctive gifts and talents. Joe Barbera was more in the creative end while Bill Hannah oversaw the physical part – the actual animation work – and was the overseer of the process. Joe Barbera had a gift for working with the sponsors. He would show them model sketches and do all the voices himself! Don recalls how dramatic and effective this presentation was. Don’s relationship with these two pioneers was to be a pleasant and long-lasting one right up to the recent purchase of their company by media mogul Ted Turner.
Of the many, many voices Don did at Hannah Barbera, he feels that his most memorable voices would be Scooby Doo and Boo-Boo Bear. Recently Don was in Russia and visited the American Embassy. Talking to the children of the embassy families as well as those of the Marines, Scooby Doo and Boo-Boo were the most requested voices. Even the grownups wanted to hear Scooby Doo and Boo-Boo! They seemed to associate with these characters. Don feels children relate to Boo-Boo as the intermediary in an adult world. He recalls Daws Butler saying that Boo-Boo was like Yogi’s conscience. As Don now goes back to watch these cartoons from the early days, he says that he is struck by their simplicity and simple charm.
Recently I asked Don if voices were suggested to him or whether he created them himself. ‘While most of them were self-created, he indicated that there were times when suggestions were made such as in the case of Yogi Bear who sounded like Art Carney; Fred Flintstone who sounded like Jackie Gleason; and Snagglepuss who sounded like Bert Lahr. Then there were other voices such as in The Jetsons that were simple straight-forward characterizations.
It was soon clear that Don could do it all from animals to straight narration to human characters. In Johnny Quest Don was the serious Dr. Quest as well as the mischievous little dog Bandit. He also had a great facility for keeping the voices separate even when he was doing two at the same time such as Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo in animated conversation! He indicated that his start as a ventriloquist aided him immeasurably here. Recently Don did his ventriloquist act on Russian television and at the American Embassy with his original dummy!
Of the many famous voice actors Don has worked with he remembers most fondly his good friend Daws Butler (the voice of Yogi Bear among many others). They had become friends in the 1940s, first meeting at a radio workshop, and made the rounds of studios and advertising agencies together. This friendship led to Don calling Daws during a theatrical performance of Night Must Fall in Hollywood. Daws was brought in to direct the production and, after an actress was fired, was talked into assuming her part as the elderly Mrs. Ramson! The highlight of the performance was at the end of the show when Daws would take off his wig and reveal that this elderly woman had been played all evening by a man! Don also remembers with fondness working with both the great Mel Blanc and Alan Reed. He worked with Blanc on Ricochet Rabbit and with both Blanc and Reed on The Flintstones.
Although Don was principally a voice actor in television cartoons, there was also the occasional loop work in the movies. He came from behind the camera only once – as an actor on television in the short lived TV series The Duck Factory which starred the then-unknown Jim Carrey. This lasted 13 weeks and was about an animation studio Buddy Winkler Productions. Don played Wally Wooster, the voice man for the Studio doing its most famous character Dippy Duck! The late Jack Gilford was also in the show and is remembered as funny and friendly with many great theatre stories.
Don is presently working on a new series, Droopy: Master Detective on the Fox Network. He has also been doing promotion for Ted Turner in England and Russia. Turner will assume the licensing for many of Don’s characters when the copyright expires with Hanna-Barbera. (It was his old friend Daws who suggested him for the part of Droopy many years before!)
Don has also made appearances at animation galleries. The fans line up to see what the voice of Scooby Doo looks like. He has also kept in touch with his fans and even surprised one young blind girl who had written him a fan letter in Braille by going to visit her!
Unseen but not unloved, Don Messick is a million voices out of one charming man!
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Printed in Animator Issue 33 (Summer 1995)