Yogi Bear may have lived in Jellystone Park, but he was born in Toledo.
The Late Daws Butler, a Glass City native, was the man behind the original voice of Yogi — revived recently by Dan Aykroyd in a 3-D film — as well as a host of other cartoon icons, including Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, and Cap'n Crunch.
"He's really one of the premiere voice artists for television cartoons," said Jeff Lenburg, author of The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons, Third Edition. "The characters that he voiced have lived on because of him. ... Really, the characters would have been nothing without the voice.
"He left behind a tremendous body of work that many actors wish they could have left behind," Lenburg said.
Not that the general public knew, since Butler conducted his art in relative anonymity, hidden from public view behind animated cels. He liked it that way, according to his son, Charles, of Beverly Hills, Calif.
"He never wanted to be in the limelight," he said.
Born Nov. 16, 1916 in Toledo, Daws Butler moved to Illinois while he was young. Even so, his hometown left its mark.
"Toledo was always used as a comic foil in a lot of the early stuff that he would do with [voice and recording artist] Stan Freberg," Charles Butler said.
He recalls one record, "Christmas Dragnet", about a character who doesn't believe in Santa and a host of other things, including the Easter Bunny. When he's asked, "How about Toledo?" the character responds: "I ain't made up my mind yet about Toledo." (By the end, he still hasn't.)
At first, Daws Butler — officially Charles Dawson Butler — wanted to be a cartoonist, but eventually he found himself at clubs doing impressions. Following his naval service during World War II, Daws Butler got involved with radio and later took part with Freberg in the Emmy-winning television puppet show Time for Beany. The two also made comedy records.
A shy, small man standing only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, Daws Butler made his biggest mark, though, in cartoons. He got his start doing animation voice work for Tex Avery at MGM. When its animation department shut down in 1957 and Hanna-Barbera rose from its ashes, Daws Butler became a legend.
He was the voice behind Elroy Jetson, Quick Draw McGraw, Mr. Jinks, Baba Looey, and many more characters. (A complete list is available on his website, dawsbutler.com.)
Those who knew him remember Daws Butler having strong feelings about the artistry of his work.
"If you were talking to him right now he would say, ‘My boy, it's not the voices; it's the characters,'" Charles Butler said. "You would see him physically get into these characters. They weren't just a voice. He shaped his body physically. When he did Yogi, he would puff up his chest. He did physical things to his body in order to get the character voice that you're hearing."
Listen closely and you'll also hear characters based on real people. Yogi is a variation of Art Carney from The Honeymooners. Cap'n Crunch has his roots in actor Charles Butterworth.
"He actually chose physical people and just tweaked it a little bit," Charles Butler said.
‘A nice man'
Daws Butler's importance to the cartoon industry can't be overstated, as it goes beyond his work behind a microphone. The father of four mentored hundreds of others over the years, holding workshops at his home that drew the likes of Nancy Cartright, now the voice of Bart Simpson.
Among those who attended was Joe Bevilacqua, of Napanoch, N.Y., who has co-written a biography about the voice artist and also does voice work. He remembers writing to Daws Butler as a teenager and providing a tape of his own voices. In response — after some prodding and back and forth — he got more than he expected: a half-hour recording from the veteran on how to do the voices of Yogi Bear and other characters.
"He was just amazing," Bevilacqua said. "Plus, he was a nice man."
From the workshops, Bevilacqua said he learned that "voice acting is real acting and that you use your body. What Daws learned, which very few stage or film actors learn, is that the body dictates the voice."
Even though Alyson Stoner, 17, is too young to have had a chance to attend those workshops, the Toledo native understands this challenge. An on-screen actress in such movies as Camp Rock and its sequel, she has done voice work for characters in the Disney Channel's animated series Phineas and Ferb and other projects.
"I love that you're given the character and it's up to you to communicate the entire storyline using solely your voice," she said.
Daws Butler knew all about that. And while so much in the industry has changed since he died of a heart attack at the age of 71, his creations continue to live on and to be introduced to new generations of children.
Which brings up the issue of the new Yogi Bear movie. Charles Butler hasn't seen it yet but he intends to at some point. He has no expectation that it will be like his dad's work and that's OK. At least some of the press associated with the film is bringing his father's legacy out of the shadows, he said.
"The fact that both Justin Timberlake [the new voice of Yogi's sidekick, Boo-Boo] and Dan Aykroyd mentioned dad's name in a positive way is all I need," he said.