Brett Rogers on Don Messick
On October 24, 1997, the animation industry lost a treasure. Don Messick's entertainment career spanned seven decades, with forty years of voice work in animation. Messick performed in over 100 animated programs, providing voices for some of the most beloved cartoon characters on television, including Astro and Rudy on "The Jetsons," Bamm Bamm on "The Flintstones," Boo Boo and Ranger Smith on "Yogi Bear and Friends," Dr. Benton Quest and Bandit on "The Adventures of Jonny Quest," Ricochet Rabbit on "Magilla Gorilla," Papa Smurf on "The Smurfs," and his most famous role, Scooby Doo, in countless formats.
desire to entertain began in modest surroundings. Following his birth in
the youthful Messick attended elementary school and adjusted to his new
surroundings, he spent much of his leisure time listening to the radio.
grew up being a fan of radio shows like 'Fibber McGee and Molly,' 'Jack Benny,'
and later 'The Great Gildersleeve,'" Messick fondly recalled.
the time he reached age 13, Messick was performing a ventriloquist act for
audiences in rural areas of the
got me started doing different voices... I never did impersonations. I just
developed my own characters, having discovered the versatility of my vocal
years later, the 15-year-old Messick performed in front of the program manager
and chief announcer at WBOC in
Messick explained, "It was a little sit-com built around my main ventriloquist puppet character and some other characters I introduced. It was a one-man show. I wrote the script and did all the voices and half of the sound effects manually… I studied books on radio writing and how to bring radio to life with sound effects [and] music."
came naturally to Messick, who moved back to Baltimore to be trained as an
actor after graduating from high school at age 16. "I never had mike
fright. I was always fond of performing at the microphone and in front of a
live audience, too."
lived with his maternal grandparents on
drive to perform as a professional radio actor took a rough turn, however, when
intonations of his
to the acting school quickly got me out of it. We didn't work on my dropping an
accent, but it just happened. I can't even duplicate it now."
just as Messick's professional radio career was beginning to take shape, his
father was killed in an accident while working at the
after, the 18-year-old Messick faced yet another life-changing event as he was
drafted into the Army. He departed from
spent 20 months in the Army, where his talent for entertaining was quickly
recognized. He was assigned to Special Services, where he had the opportunity
to perform for troops stationed across the
fond memories I have of being in the Army [are of] meeting other performers and
doing shows with them in the soldier's clubs. We'd go off base and do shows for
local clubs like Lions or Elks, and we were paid for that. It was a nice little
sideline to supplement my Army monthly stipend," Messick remembered.
War II ended before Messick saw any overseas duty. After his discharge from
Messick was performing in
in his early twenties, Messick returned to the East Coast, where he traveled
with another ventriloquist act through small towns across upstate
was my starving period," Messick confessed. But before poverty could drive
him out of the entertainment business, Messick got a call from Bob Clampett,
who was producing a live puppet show in
recalled, "The show was 'Time for Beany', which was all over the country
on television. I didn't get on the Beany show, but [Clampett] was starting up
another production, so he brought me back to
signed a six-year contract to work in live puppet shows, but programs that
featured cartoons adapted from old film libraries were quickly supplanting such
than staff an entire puppet show, "It was cheaper for the local stations
to hire one person to be the host of shows such as that," Messick
When his contract expired, Messick followed the trend. "I started going to the major animation studios such as MGM and Warner Bros. to introduce myself to them, because I was under contract and unable to freelance for six years. It was like starting all over again."
was during that time that Messick met William Hanna and Joseph Barbera at MGM.
"I didn't know at that time that MGM was about to close its animation
production. MGM couldn't see any future in cartoons for television. It was too
Hanna and Barbera left MGM to start their own animation studio, they remembered
Messick. In 1957, "Ruff and Reddy," their first made-for-television
animated program, debuted. Messick and Daws Butler were hired to perform every
voice on "Ruff and Reddy". Messick provided the voices for Ruff and
Professor Gizmo, while
"They [Hanna and Barbera] asked me
if I knew Daws Butler, and I said 'Yes, he's my best friend, I've known him for
years,'" Messick recalled. "I first met him when he and I were in a
radio acting workshop in
was responsible for getting me a Screen Actors Guild card. He introduced me to
Tex Avery at MGM, who was the producer of the early theatrical Droopys. Bill
Thompson was not available for some reason and they were in the midst of
producing one of the theatrical cartoons with Droopy. Daws told Avery I did a similar
type of voice to the Wallace Wimple that Bill Thompson did on the Fibber McGee
show, so I was hired."
continued, "In that theatrical, there was a bull out in the pasture and he
was charging up to the rail where Droopy was sitting. Droopy looks at it and
then turns to the camera and says, [in character] 'Y'know what? They think he's
a mad bull… and he is too!'"
In 1958, "The
Huckleberry Hound Show" aired, in which Messick and
and Barbera went on to conquer the realm of television cartoons, powered by
their simplistic, inexpensive style of limited animation. Messick remained a
crucial part of the studio's voice talent corps, providing voices for dozens of
Reflecting on the time
he spent with Hanna-Barbera, Messick said, "In the earlier days of limited
animation, because of that process, Joe and Bill wanted to depend heavily on
the voice of the character to bring it to life because the animation was so
restricted. That's where Daws and I shined, I guess you might say. That's the
reason that those characters developed with such realism and warmth. They have
a genuine charm to them despite the limited backgrounds and so forth. The
concentration [was] on the characters, their spoken personalities."
In 1969, Messick was cast in what
would become his favorite role: Scooby Doo. He very was proud of his
contribution to the Scooby's run of 22 years on television. As Scooby Doo was
refined, Messick developed an affinity for Scooby as a character, not just
another acting role.
"Everyone seems to like him," Messick said, "He's got human foibles. He gets into problems, but he always lands on his feet. It always works out for him."
Scrappy Doo was added to the show, Messick had the opportunity to perform two
roles that frequently conversed with each other, an exercise he delighted in.
been a forte of mine to be able to do so many different voices back and forth,
talking to each other frequently. It all goes back to my one-man radio show in
Messick's career kept
going strong through the 1970s and 80s, landing memorable voices such as Papa
Smurf and even a live television role with a young Jim Carrey on "The Duck
Factory". On that program, Messick played—what else —a cartoon voice actor
named Wally Wooster. While many of his characters from years past still enjoyed
popularity on television, Messick continued performing until 1996. Among his
recent roles were the voice of Hamton Pig on "Tiny Toons" and an
unforgettable appearance on "Freakazoid!" as Dr. Vernon Danger in a
spoof of Jonny Quest.
the end of his career, Messick had grown from an eager young boy with a
ventriloquist dummy into a respected industry favorite. He was soft-spoken and
humble, quick to credit his colleagues for his success: "I've always been
very grateful to people such as Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera and Daws Butler.
There have been so many people I've enjoyed working for and with. I've been
Don Messick was a remarkable actor whose dedication to his craft and to his fans will not be soon forgotten. We are fortunate in having the opportunity to enjoy the legacy he leaves behind.
-- Brett Rogers
Parts of this text are adapted from an article of mine in Maryland Magazine’s November 2005 issue entitled, “Don Messick: An Animated Entertainer.”
Article text and page © Brett D. Rogers. Please do not copy or distribute article without permission.
Images are property of their respective owners. No right to images is implied by their inclusion herein.