Daws Butler grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and originally wanted to be a cartoonist. He began his career in show business during the Depression, winning amateur contests at neighborhood theaters by doing impressions of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ruby Vallee, and a Model T Ford. He teamed with two other young men to form an act called "The Three Short Waves"; they did impressions of radio personalities. The act played night clubs and supper clubs throughout the Midwest. After service in the Naval Reserve during World War II, Butler moved to California and picked up radio parts on such network broadcasts as "Suspense" and "The Whistler" before spending five years teamed with Stan Freberg doing voices, handling puppets and writing for Bob Clampett's "Time for Beany" daily live television series. He also co-wrote and voiced many of Stan Freberg's greatest comedy records. He went on to write and voice countless television and radio commercials and voice now-classic characters for Tex Avery, Hanna-Barbera, Walter Lantz, Jay Ward and others. The successful characters he voiced are staggering in number: Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Baba Looey, Mr. Jinx, Dixie, Super Snooper, Blabbermouse, Augie Doggie, Snagglepuss, Hokey Wolf, Fibber Fox, Loop de Loop, Wally Gator, Lippy Lion, Peter Potamous, Chilly Willy, Elroy Jetson, Mr. Cogswell, Henry Orbit, Cap'n Crunch, Hair Bear, and on and on...
As if Daws's successes in the world of acting and writing were not enough, he also was a superb teacher, conducting a weekly workshop for actors and writers. I was blessed to have studied with Daws Butler for over 12 years. He taught me nearly everything I know about acting. So that I may pass some of it on to others, I have compiled here for the first time a collection of Daws Butler's thoughts on acting and his career.
What follows was transcribed from my personal archive of audio taped conversations I had with Daws between 1975 and 1988. In addition, I have interspersed one conversation Daws had with Milt Gray. The first half of this collection focuses on Daws's career. In the second half, Daws "teaches" the art of voice acting and demonstrates technique. Since what follows was transcribed from audio tapes, I have marked in italics any sections in which Daws was speaking in a character voice or dialect.
Daws Butler's Start as an Actor
I never really thought of it as doing voices. When I was a kid, when I was in high school, I was very shy, very inhibited, withdrawn. And I was sort of a playground clown. I was a funny guy for the guys. Afraid of the girls. But they looked at me as being somewhat of a comic and I was doing little impersonations. I wasn't even aware of the fact that I was doing impersonations. I was just taking off people who were very prominent on radio and the guys got a kick out of it and laughed and it alleviated some of my shyness. But it didn't help me when I was in school because I was really too embarrassed to get up and give aural recitations and I lost a lot of credits that way. So I sort of just stumbled into acting or doing voices I think to get the attention of my peers. I was short. I was at that time probably very aware of my size. I haven't been since I broke through... through my talents but I like to write and I was very good. That was my first love really, writing and drawing, doing cartoons. I wanted to be a cartoonist when I grew up. And I was writing poetry and funny little sketches when I was in grammar school. The acting came much later.
His First Big Break
It was kind of strange because I really had no desire to be in show business. As I said I wanted to be a cartoonist or I wanted to get into writing. But I had gone into amateur contests in Chicago to force myself to get in front of people... not just to make them laugh, that was nice, that was the dividend, but just to see if I could get in front of people without being frightened. And when I heard the first couple of laughs all the little fears just fell away and really in my element, an element that I was to know and to nurture for the rest of my life. I really dug it, in thirty seconds I was home.
The Beginning of a Career
I went to see Johnny Burton at Warner Brothers Cartoons, when it used to be on Sunset Boulevard, just a block east of Gower. I walked into his office one day, just cold -- because I'd seen cartoons, and I thought it'd be a kick; I'd never done any. This was about 1946, or maybe '47, somewhere in there. I auditioned right in the front of him, at the desk, and did about 25 different characters, every dialect and character I could think of. He seemed impressed; he said, "Gee, that's great, but Mel does everything. But I tell you what -- why don't you call a guy at MGM named Tex Avery, and tell him that I suggested you go out there and see him." I didn't even know who the hell Tex Avery was. I knew who Mel Blanc was; that was about it. And barely that, because I hadn't seen that many movies when I was in the service, and Mel hadn't started that many years before.
I did go out to see Tex at MGM. He entered a little studio theater, and I went into what they had for a control room -- it was like a storeroom, with stuff piled all over. He sat in the theater, and I got on mike, and I must have worked for 40 minutes, doing everything I could think of. I was ad-libbing. Four or five different types of English characters -- Scotch, Irish, cockney, Russian, Polish, Southern, old men, little kids. When I came out he seemed suitably impressed, and the next morning I got a call for a cartoon. I wasn't even a member of AFTRA, which covered radio. So I called up the Screen Actors Guild, and said I had a firm commitment for a job, and went down and paid my dues, or whatever, and went out to see Tex, on the big recording stage at MGM, and did my first cartoon.
Working with Tex Avery
Tex loved my Southern voice, and tried for a year to come up with a character for it. He finally did; it was a wolf who looked very menacing, and he played with the three little Droopys. We may have had only six lines in the whole cartoon, but each one was a blockbuster. It was like Three Little Pigs, and you see the wolf start out at the beginning with the net, and the car with "dogcatcher" on the back , and a mean look on his face; and you've seen the little (Droopys) before, and they've built there little house, and (the wolf) goes up to the house, and pounds on the door- just pounds, no voice, no dialogue as yet- and finally he's pounding with a battering ram, shoots cannon balls against it- nothing. His first line- and it was (in a voice) different from Huck, (although) Huck was an outgoing of that- was, "Man, I wanna tell you somethin' right now, that thar's a well-built doghouse." They were going to make a whole series of "wolf" cartoons but then MGM (the cartoon studio) went under.
Tex was a marvelous guy to learn the business with. He was the first brilliant (director) I ever worked for, and he's such a fussy man. This was before they had tape, and everybody was afraid of wasting film, so he would rehearse me, until I wouldn't have any voice left. There would be yells- he loved yells. I don't know if he invented the gag, but he sure used it a lot, where the guy hits his thumb with a hammer or something, then looks up and it says, "Hospital Zone- Quiet," and he runs over hill and dale, into the distance, and goes YEOWW! A yell is a yell, and I do pretty good yells, but he would have me do about eight of these, then he'd say, "Gee, that's close." Then he'd say, "Well, let's lay one down," then we'd do one on the film. Then he would always throw in a couple himself, just for protection.
Tex would always rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. (The film on which the dialogue was recorded) should have been running all the time; then you could have gone back and gotten some beautiful readings. Like with the wolf, each time I'd do it would have a different flavor.
Bill Thompson had done Droopy, and done it very well, (but) he was in New York, or was out of town, or wasn't available when they wanted to do something, and so Tex said, "Do you know anybody who can do a voice like that? Could you do it?" I said, "I could hold my cheeks, and could approximate it, but I do know a guy who can do it very well, and his name is Don Messick." I'd meet Don at one of the radio schools. Don went out and did Droopy's voice, and they liked it, so Don just took over and did the Droopys whenever they had them. He did other characters for Tex, and I think Bill and Joe used him. When it came time for Hanna and Barbera to leave MGM, they called me, and they called Don Messick, because we were what I call thinking, inventive actors. They called us to do a show they were planning called Ruff and Ready.
(The Ruff and Ready segments) were three and a half or four-minute cartoons, interspersed with a couple of old Columbia cartoons- the Fox and the Crow, things like that. Bill and Joe wanted to get their own cartoons, because they weren't too fond of the available old timers, and thought they could better them. So, they came up with the idea of Huckleberry Hound, who was based on my Southern character.
An Art Carney dog I had done a couple of times for Bill and Joe became Yogi Bear; of course, I went far beyond Art Carney- the extended vowels, the expansiveness, exuberance, diaphragm control, ebullience, and the bigness, the massiveness of a bear. Another voice, a nebbish type thing, became Mr. Jinks, and Pixie and Dixie were Don and I. That started the ball rolling, except that Kellogg got wind of this. We were doing Rough and Ready for Post Cereals and Ready was a dog, with a Southern accent, as was Huckleberry Hound. Kellogg wanted to make a star of Huck so there was a kind of a tiff between the two cereal companies. It finally ended up where Post just bowed out of the picture, and Kellogg became the giant.
Working with Joe Barbera
I've always loved Jinks; whereas a lot of people might like Yogi Bear, just because he was a bigger character. But to me Yogi is a good example of a "cartoony" character.
I don't consider Joe Barbera a flexible director; he had preconceived ideas which I would mimic- but there was no bone or marrow- I felt like an automaton. I remember in the early days of Yogi Bear, I had a lot of the Art Carney cadence which I gradually eliminated. Joe would say, "No, keep the Carney rhythm." I figure, why? That's a rhythmic pattern- it's not my conception of Yogi. A guy could conceivably talk like that, but it's pretty remote. When I do a character- it grows- it has a life of its own. I would do it his way, then I'd see the cartoon, and it'd be embarrassing; it (would be) the same thing (i.e. the same rhythm) over and over. Now it gets away for Art Carney, it has become Yogi Bear, it's a new character. It was suggested by Art Carney. But Joe was trying to hold right to the cadence. He wanted a "voice". I wanted a character. And he didn't understand Jinks at all; so that was great. He didn't know how to direct me with ole Jinksy.
Great Writing Makes the Difference
We did cartoons for five years, with three shows, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear Show, and The Quick Draw McGraw Show. They were (in) prime time; they had big audiences. There was sharp writing; Mike Maltese was writing them and Warren Foster, the old Warner Bros. guys. Don and I were really funny, well-developed character actors, because they had to depend about 80 percent on the voice; there was no animation, really. It was a very affluent time, and, to me, the Golden Age of limited animation, because of the good writing, the good voices, and what animation was affordable.
Then Jay Ward came along about the same time, with Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop and Son, with Charlie Ruggles and Edward Everett Horton; and those were classics. Bill Scott was writing, and Allen Burns, who's the producer of the Mary Tyler Moore show. We would break up, just on our cold readings.
I don't think there's any relationships in cartoons anymore. Yogi and Boo Boo loved each other. Quick Draw and Baba Looey had a affection. I like to feel a relationship between characters where they care about each other. Things that they say aren't just gag lines like in many of the sitcoms I see where they are joke-joke-joke but where they have some validity. The joke comes off of something in their relationship. Mike Maltese and Warren Foster, two of the giants... and Charlie Shows... Lloyd Turner... great cartoon writers. Lloyd Turner worked on a lot of the Jay Ward things. Chris Hayward, another very good writer. Allan Burns, the producer of the Mary Tyler Moore show, was one of the writers of "Fractured Fairy Tales" and "Aesop and Son" and "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and so on. You know, terrific writers. Good dialogue. Good meaningful dialogue. It went somewhere. It meant something. Uh, I feel that the early Snagglepusses, which Mike Maltese wrote. "Heavens to Mergatroids! He wrote 'em so good even! He loved me, as a character, I mean. He was a character witness!" Mike couldn't write an unfunny script. In fact, he used to like his stuff so much that Don Messick and I would go in to see what we were going to record that day and Mike would always read the scripts (LAUGHS) over first. Because he liked to hear himself doing it. He loved to do Snagglepuss as much as I did.
How the Industry Has Changed
It was so beautiful the way it used to be. Like, Tex would call me out, and he'd say, "This is the character," then you'd go over and do it. You didn't have 30 people to audition with, to get the part (as is common today). With Bill and Joe the same way. Maybe they'd call you the day before, and you'd see the script, and you'd do it the next morning, or something like that. You might start out on a little character, and the director would say, "How would that sound if it was just a little bit textured?" And you'd start talking with your lips, and get a textured sound. "How about if his voice kind of breaks, what would that do?" But you built it, you've constructed it right there, with (the director's) ideas, and yours, and hit or miss, maybe you come up with something.
Now, when you read for something, normally you do a couple of readings, and that's it. But if you could be there five more minutes, you might come up with exactly the thing that they want. Sometimes I blame the writing, where the writing isn't good enough even to give the production supervisor an idea of what he's looking for. He doesn't know; he may hear it. You get a guy like Sterling Holloway to come in and read something, you've got Sterling Holloway; that's going to be it. You're not going to get a dialect (or any other variations). But when you've got a talented versatile actor, there are so many ways you can go. Now I give you two or three readings and let it go at that. There was a time when I was so anxious to show what I could do, I just got them confused.
Daws, the Teacher
I want my students to learn to a certain extent by doing what I do. There's nothing wrong with that. In other words, I started out as an impersonator and I learned to be an actor by observing very, very carefully what the stars did. And when I say "stars" I don't mean "movie stars"... I mean "actors" like Paul Muni and Edward G. Robinson and George Arliss. Comedians like Jack Oakey, Joe E. Brown, Ned Sparks, Charlie Butterworth (who I later confiscated for Cap'n Crunch). But this is the way I learned. I studied there body action, how they moved, the structure of their face. If I could assume the structure of their face, they voice would follow, and in many many many many cases it did. So my theories were sound. The things I'm teaching in my workshop now, I was doing as of kid of 17 and 18 years ago, more years than I like to remember. I didn't realize it then. I was just lucking out. I just had this natural ability and I thank God for it. I take credit for polishing it, for making it better, but basically He just gave me a hell of sense of observation.
What's Important to a Voice Actor
The voice means nothing. The voice is nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Lionel Barrymore years ago said something which I heard as a kid and I never forgot. He said that the voice to an actor is incidental. It's what he does with the voice, the thought, the word shaping, the believability of the voice. I don't think there is any limit to the number of characters I could do, but I am subject to the writer. The things that I write for myself or for my workshop... (LAUGHS) I have to audition just like everybody else even though I wrote it. because when I put the lines down I have to interpret what I said and what I'm driving at and in many cases I'll find meanings after going through a script three or four times that I wasn't even aware of the first time. Just because I wrote it, doesn't mean I know that character inside and out; I don't. I keep finding new truths, new values.
I would say the thing you want to work for in characters is subtlety, and phrasing and timing and believability. I have a thing that I say with my workshop, about, I want you to understand the words, I want you to taste the words, I want you to love the words. Because the words are important, but they are only words. You leave them on the paper and you take the thoughts and put them in your mind and then you as an actor, recreate them, as if the thoughts had suddenly occurred to you. It's Stanislofskyian concept.
Daws on Dialects
If I was doing a British character, I do not hurry on from one word to another, or a phrase. Sometimes I'll use an "illesion". You must feel the new word come in as if you're thinking it.
If you are doing a character like a French man, there is a rhythm, a music that should go with it, not just imitating some Frenchman that you heard, whether it's Maurice Chevalier or Charles Bolier or whoever, there is a rhythm, there is a something. You will sound more French in your dialect than a man that comes over here from France and learns to speak our language. He picks up our cadence. That's the first thing a foreign person does. They pick up our rhythm. The average American rhythm, especially the Midwest or the East is pretty deadly. It just goes ahead on a monotone. Whereas the Europeans, the Continentals, the English go up and down on the scale; their not afraid to do it. There not afraid of abusing or hurting their masculine image.
(AS A FRENCHMAN) Say, I was to do a Frenchman, I would say anything that comes to my mind. I phrase. I would say everything that comes to my mind, da da da...it's like a triplet...there is something about them, the way they taste the words.
(CHANGE TO ITALIAN) Which is very different from say, Italian. Which is more like… when I talk to you, I want you to understand that is important to express myself. To say to you, with this little "stop" you don't say... "Hey what'sa matta wit you? Donta tell me whatta you going to do!" No, that's not it. That's a cartoon of an Italian.
(CHANGE TO IRISH ACCENT) And if you are doing an Irish accent, you don't over do it. You've got certain sounds, certain sOunds, sOunds. You almost feel the word inside your mouth like it is like a little pear. I say I feel certain sOunds and I'm sort of feeling the roof of me mouth is a little rounder than when I'm doing American talk. And there is a rhythm and a music to it, and I go up in the head tone, you see… and I come back to a sort of a, what you would call it?…a sub-tone, like in a clarinet. So you can talk down deep, and then you can raise your voice when you get excited… but the hard thing is done with the tongue. The tongue is very active in the Irish. The jaw doesn't move too much, not the jaw, but the jAW. I tink I'm going to tAlk to somebody, I tink, not I think. They don't put the tongue between the teeth. I tink I'll talk to that person, pErson. so there is a plosive on the "E" pErson.
(switch to German accent) If you are doing German, there is also a wonderful up and down cadences. And you talk very much in the front of the mouth.
(SWITCH TO MEXICAN) If you are doing Mexican, you don't say "I TEENK… I do THEES. I DO THAAAT"… sounds like Mel Blanc. What your doing when your doing the Mexican is being very soft. You talk very much in the front of the mouth the nerve endings on the lips are very sensitive and you use the tongue. Very much in the roof of the mouth. And you say the cadences and the sounds very much like this, I'm not paying attention to the words I'm using, this is not important. What I'm trying to tell you is words and the sound, this is the way the Mexican says.
There are interesting similarities in dialects too, like the Japanese, they do things like the Italians do. (SPEAKS WITH JAPANESE ACCENT) I musa talk in a little triplets, ana hurry up ana stop and spread vowels once in a while. You see whad I mean? But this a very much in the front of the mouth. You almost put your teeth on your lower lip, and this a make it difficult for you to say certain sounds, like a "L". You say "Aw"… much a more simple.
Men Acting as Woman and Children
(CHANGE TO HIGH VOICE) But a lot of people when they do a women characters, they have a tendency to ride on a tone. But I do a character, an English actress. Her name is Dame Edith Evans. A woman doesn't have a natural falsetto. It is very difficult for some women to do a falsetto. Dame Edith would come the closest and yet I'm exaggerating her. You probably have seen her in many English movies. But she talks something like "Uh, yes, I am Dame Edith Evans and I am trying to do a feminine character now. But I am getting certain highs and certain lows… because there is a masculine quality in the way she speaks. But that is how you might do a woman.
Now to do a younger woman (IN A TINY SOFT HIGH VOICE) you have to use very, very little voice, and you have to carry the sound as if it is coming from behind your eyes. Which is ridiculous because it is coming from your throat. (GOES UP EVEN HIGHER IN HIS VOICE) And that would be the way you would do a little girl also. But you see, you talk as if you are at the very top f your vocal cords.
And when you do a little boy... (IN A YOUNG BOY'S VOICE) you have to talk in the upper part of your register; it's not a falsetto; it's really true voice. But you gotta, you know, "think" like a kid does and their not usually too secure. And um, they don't know exactly what they are going to say.
When you do an old man you don't just do a sort of a Gabby Hayes type thing. You have to feel whether he is wearing false teeth, whether his mental processes are not what they used to be and he can't remember things. But a lot of it is mainly when a person gets very old they can't remember things and they have to keep grasping at ideas. There is a calcification of his jaw, because he didn't have the best diet when he was growing up. He might have grown up in a poor situation. The tongue is not as active as it was.
(AS AN OLD MAN) So when you do an older fella, and he is ...uh... eh... trying to... uh er ah... think… what he's going to say...it's a kind of eluding him... because, uh.. his thinking process are not as lucid... as they were... say, twenty years ago or even two years ago. Badly fitting plates in his mouth which give a hollow sound and he doesn't have the breath control that he did when he was younger, so... he has to suck in more breath and he squeezes out the words..... and sometimes is unable to finish a sentence... (BREATHS)... without taking in another breath.
When you are doing an emotionally concerned person, who maybe has some bad news. His diaphragm collapses. He feels phlegm rising in his throat. He feels the tear ducks in his sinuses aching as if tears are going to flow. He can not control his diaphragm. His speech comes out in little jerks and patterns. When a child cries, that's what happens with them. (AS A LITTLE KID) When a little kid cries... I... I... I didn't ...do it... my sister... did it... I didn't really do at all. Or if it's an older person, he'll say, (IN HIS NORMAL VOICE, BUT HOLDING BACK TEARS) Well um... what happened was... I was uh... just standing by the side of the road and I was pitching horseshoes... with my friend... uh... I uh... I didn't notice... I didn't notice the little dog... being around at all.. .and I uh... I let fly with the horse shoe... and uh...it hit him right in the head... and killed him on the spot. And I know it's your dog... and I'm awfully sorry... because I love animals... and all I can do is apologize.
So that's the kind of an exaggerated idea of what I'm telling you, but they have to be motivated by your body. You can't just do a thing with good breath control all the way through, and say "This is an old man; this is a lady; this is a little kid; this is a girl; this is a woman." It has to be motivated by the body. A woman has much shorter vocal cords than we do; that's why their voice is higher, a child the same way. So you got to make that same thing in your voice and by doing a littler voice you use less of your own bottom, very little of your chest quality, for instance.
Playing Multiple Roles
I like to do parts myself. I like to do Quick Draw and Baba Looey, because I can control the timing between then myself. When I direct comedy... when I have young actors working for me... that are in the craft, in the trade, but that have a lot to learn about the basics... I direct them. I tell them when to pause and how to make a thing more important. For instance, something like this, even with Quick Draw and Baba Looey as an example: Q: Howdy, I am Quick Draw McGraw, the world's fastest gun and dooooon't you forgit it! B: And I am Baba Looey, his sides-kicks. Q: I'll do the thinin' around here! B: Uh, Draw? Q: Yeh? B: I din't say nothin' about thinin'. Q: Uh, well, what did you say? B: I jus' said I am Baba Looey, your sideskicks. Q: Oh. Uh, well, then what I said was a misnomer. B: A what? Q: A misnomer. B: I don't know her. Q: Know who? B: Miss Nomer. Q: N, Baba Looey! Uh, (LAUGHS) I'm getting to cerebral B: Well, Quicks Draw, all I want to say is I'm friend and you are my favorite sheriff. (SOFT, BUT CLOSE TO THE MIKE) He's the only sheriff I know. Q: (OFF MIKE) What was that? B: Um, you're the favorite sheriff I know! Q: Oh, well, yeh, I guess that's true. (LAUGHS) I'm the only sheriff you know. B: Oh yeh, I never thought of that! Q: Well, think of it. B: I thought you said YOU was going to do the thinin'? Q: Uh... yeh. (LAUGHS) Well, that's right.
Another aspect of two characters, just two characters, not ones I'm known for, that's you'd recognize, but just two little guys talking: HIGH VOICE: Hi ya, h-how are ya, how-how-how are you, how are ya, ya-ya-how are ya, how ya feel, ya feel OK, uh, wa-wa-how are ya? DEEP VOICE: Uh, yeh, I feel OK. I'm uh just sitting here, you know, and uh I gotta leave very quickly though. I have an appointment. HIGH: You have an appointment? DEEP: Yeh, I have an appointment. (PAUSE) HIGH: You going to tell me who the appointment is with? DEEP: Well, it's wit' my dentist. HIGH: Oh... yeh. DEEP: Yeh, my dentist, you know, is a midget. HIGH: What? DEEP: I say my dentist is a midget. HIGH: You got a midget dentist? DEEP: Uh, yeh. (BEAT) A little disconcerting you might say. he knees in my lap when he's fixing my teeth. Takes all the crease outta my pants. (LAUGHS) I can't even read a magazine.
Well, that's a relationship between two characters. And you get the interest of one to the other. You want to do a lot of pausing, introspection. Have one character say a line and let the other one ponder it a little bit before he has a rejoinder.
When you're doing a routine, you've got to remember to frustrate an audience is to please an audience. Hold away the strongest word of a sentence that has the punch line. Make them wait for it. Make them hunger for it. Make them wait for the enjoyment that laughter can give them, the release.
For instances, I'll tell you a little story that I think it is good example of timing: This little Jewish woman, she's about eighty years old and she's walking down the beach in Santa Monica and she's got her little grandson by the hand and she's shuffling along and she's very arthritic... and all of a sudden a big wave comes in and just pulls him right out to sea... and she falls down on her knees and she says: (IN JEWISH WOMAN'S VOICE) Oh mine God! Don' take mine grandson! Dat's de apple of mine eye! (CRIES) Don' take mine grandson! I couldn't face his mother an' father when I go home with out him! Dey trusted me! My son is a rabbi and his prays in the temple everyday! "I" pray in the temple! I will go on my knees for the rest of mine life!... if you just bring back mine little grandson!
And a big wave comes up and deposits him on the beach again. And she picks him up tenderly in her arms and she looks up toward the sky and she says:
He had a hat!!!
Now this is better visually because when I do this I act out like the little old Jewish grandmother and I have a look on my face when I look up, before I say the punch-line, as if I'm going to say:
Tank you God! Tank you for bringing back mine grandson. But instead of that, the joke is that I look up with this beautiful look AND the pause and I say:
He had a hat!!! See, all acting is music. And, if you do a character which is a middle European, there is a way that you taste the words. You see. You don't say: "there is a way that you taste the words." It becomes much more believable to ME if you say... there is a way that you taste the words. You make the words very much a part of your own particular... uh... psyche. These words belong to YOU, no one else. It's the way YOU say them that makes them important a-a-and believable, you see. A-a-an-and that is short of a... uh don't worry if if if if if you, if you stumble a little bit or stutter or stammer. That becomes a part of the person you're doing who very frenetic, very nervous, not sure of his, uuuh, English language and the words that he's saying some-some-sometimes he's SEARCHING for the... ub-ub-ub-ub-the proper... uh word, you seeeeeee. (SIGHS)
Daws on Impressions
If you do an impression it doesn't have to be very broad. With Peter Lorre, for example, you don't have to really go that far, or do that much. The thing to do with Peter Lorre is this feeling of excitement; that's more important than what you do with your voice. It's a very frenetic, nervous character, who is looking over his shoulder as he talks. And he wants to be sure that no one is going to hurt him; if anybody gets hurt, he's the one does the hurting.
And if you do a character like a John Wayne, not even an imitation but just that cadence:
Well, ya gotta get the feelin' not only of uh how he talks but the chest quality as somethin' insid-a him. And you go up and down in soma the phrases. Phrases. (UP INFLECTION) And then ya shorta jus' chop it up. But the jaw is doin' all the work in a case like this. The lips aren't doing a heck of a lot. It's the jaw goin' up and down gettin' that sort of a momatanous quality that uh ya do when ya caricature John Wayne.
(SWITCHING FROM JOHN WAYNE TO JACK BENNY) Jello again, this is Jag Benny! Now Jag Benny is a VERY good person to impersonate. Person to impersonate? He's a delightful thing to say. Gee Dennis, I thought you were going to SING, but if you're not going to sing, well, DON'T! I mean Don Wilson'll be here any in minute. Now, I'm not really doing as good a Jag Benny as Rich Little or some of the others, but I'm getting the JUICES of the way Jag Benny talks. Ya see what I mean? It's PHRASES and TRIPLETS and I say "PHRASES"...
It's like the word goes out; it's an expulsion of sound. Dennis! Whatta ya talkin' about? Don Wilson is the fattest guy I EVER saw. He's a delightful person but he's very FAT.
Subtlety and Tempo
(IN A SOFT BRITISH) You can do a very quiet Englishman with a great feeling of narration... (BREATHS) and thoughtfulness. Try to get the feeling when you do a character that you're thinking. (BEAT) Sometimes... it can be by dwelling on a particular word. Like I said "sometimes". Sometimes... you think of something and you SAY it. Then of course...
... there the fast-talking character where he says:
Now listen I walked in here the utter day I talked t' dis girlfriend a mine you know she's very short. Well I'm very short too you know but I mean I'm taller 'en her and I where de elevator shoes so it's not too noticeable. (UP) Lotta people think I'm taller 'em her. I'm not really taller 'em her. (VOICE GETS HIGH PITCHED) I'm abou' the same size you know but very very short. BUT if "she" wore elevator shoes and "I" wore elevator shoes then dey would think we were both short because we'd be the same size you know.
And I'm talkin' very fast but I'm also doing things like I'm spreadin' vowels once in a while and I'm doin' an illesion. You know, an "illesion". I'm not talkin' in the same tempo. What you don't wanna do when you do a fast talker is it all an equal emphasis... like...
(VERY FAST WITH NO EMPHASIS) I walk down to talk to this guy he's a very nice guy but I don't think he likes me as much as I like him you know what I mean because he he he always say n-n-nasty things and I never say nasty things to him...
(BACK TO MORE CHANGE OF TEMPO) ... so it's more fun if you get a little nit of legato once in a while. He's a fast-talkin' guy see... and ya stay in the chest tone once in a while; den you go up in the nose like this ... 'cause when I person gets excited their voice goes up... and that's what happens naturally... and that's what you wanna do with acting. And try to stay away from doing throaty voices because they're very hard on your voice and they're difficult for ME to do, and if I kept it up, it would make me cough. (SWITCHES TO DEEP THROATY VOICE) You don't wanna get into the throat all the time or do something that's controlled 'cause its hard to get change of pace out of that.
(BACK TO HIGH FULL TEMPO VOICE) So I what I want you t'do is uh when when you're doin' a New Yorker or a character like dat ya-you're not too uh pa-cikalar abou' how ya sayin' sounds, how ya sayin' sounds. Ya wanna make it artic-a-late so people'll know what you're talkin' about but uh you slurrrr.
Doing the Classic Characters
(IN QUICK DRAW VOICE) Quick Draw Mc Graw is a dope character. "Howdy, I am Quick Draw Mc Graw"... and its very hard palletted... and I am sort of keeping my jaw very tight and making the jaw do was little work there is to be done. In other words, the tongue inside of my mouth is doing a lot of articulating and basically the lips are doing most of it really. "I am Quick Draw Mc Graw"...
(IN HIS NORMAL VOICE, BUT TIGHT JAWED) And I'm forcing out the articulation. If I was just talking naturally as Daws Butler, that's the way I'd be doing it, so the lips and the nerve-endings are doing all of the hard work, all of the "journeyman acting". The jaw is being held in almost a half opened position and that's it.
(IN HUCK VOICE) With Huckleberry Hound, I'm doing a Southern character. I mean that's what Huck is. He's based on all (awl) the Southern people I saw in my life. But I say he's based on all (awl), and I just have a loop going through that three letter word "all". It's not a dipthong, all (awl)… it's almost a diphthong… all… I did (Di-d)… that's a dipthong. The Southerners use them quite a bit. For instance, I have gag for Huck where he says… and this is supposed to be believable… it's something that he feels… he's a self-effacing little dog; he doesn't like to hurt anybody or hurt their feelings… so he says, "Now when I was a little old puppy dog, my Moma always gave me grits. Well now, I like grits a little bit, just a little bit. There is no mark on a ruler small enough to show how much I like grits, but I like grits, a little bit. With the Southern, you kno-Ow. You jus' kinda slur along and say words but you wanna be absolutely certain everybody kno-Ows what you're sayin', see. Everybody kno-Ows, kno-Ows... that's a dipthong... it is too... it's a dipthong.
(IN YOGI VOICE) Yea-eah-eah! That's a dipthong! Yogi Bear is a lot of diaphram and ya get a big feeling of uh tone control in the chest... because he's a big animal... he's a BEAR! Ya get a big sound. Yea-eah-eah! I'm smarter than the average bear! And you say "aaaverage... aaaa..." You feel all that sound in your chest. And you diaphramis controlling it to let it out as much as you want.
(IN SNAGGLEPUSS VOICE) Snagglepuss, the same way! Diaphramic contro-wol!
By Joe Bevilacqua