Butler was born on November 16, 1916 in Toledo, Ohio, the only child of Charles Allen Butler and Ruth Butler. The family later moved from Ohio to Oak Park, Illinois, where Butler got interested in impersonating people.
In 1935, the future voice master started as an impressionist, entering multiple amateur contests and winning most of them. He had entered them, not with the intention of showing his talent, but as a personal challenge to overcome his shyness, with success. Nonetheless, Butler won professional engagements at vaudeville theaters.
Later, he teamed up with fellow performers Jack Lavin and Willard Ovitz to form the comedy trio The Three Short Waves. The team played in theaters, on radio, and in nightclubs, generating positive reviews from regional critics and audiences. They dissolved their act in 1941, when Daws Butler joined the U.S. Navy as America entered World War II. Some time after, he met his wife Myrtis during a wartime function in North Carolina.
His first voice work for an animated character came in 1948 in the animated short Short Snorts on Sports, which was produced by Screen Gems. That same year at MGM, Tex Avery hired Butler to provide the voice of a British wolf on Little Rural Riding Hood and also to narrate several of his cartoons.
Throughout the late 1940s and mid-1950s, he had roles in many Avery-directed cartoons; the Fox in Out-Foxed, the narrator in The Cuckoo Clock, the Cobbler in The Peachy Cobbler, Mr. Theeves in Droopy's "Double Trouble", Mysto the Magician in Magical Maestro, John the Cab and John the B-29 Bomber in One Cab's Family and Little Johnny Jet, and Maxie in The Legend of Rockabye Point.
Starting with The Three Little Pups, Butler provided the voice for a nameless wolf that spoke in a Southern accent and whistled all the time. This character also appeared in Sheep Wrecked, Billy Boy and many more cartoons. While at MGM, Avery wanted Butler to try to do the voice of Droopy, at a time when Bill Thompson had been unavailable due to radio engagements. Instead, Butler recommended Don Messick, another actor and Butler's lifelong friend, who could imitate Thompson. Thus, Messick voiced Droopy in several shorts.
In 1949, Butler landed a role in a televised puppet show created by former Warner Bros. cartoon director Bob Clampett called Time for Beany. Butler was teamed with Stan Freberg, and together they did all the voices of the puppets. Butler voiced Beany Boy and Captain Huffenpuff. Freberg voiced Cecil and Dishonest John. An entire stable of recurring characters were seen. The show's writers were Charles Shows and Lloyd Turner, Whose dependably funny dialog was still always at the mercy of Butler's and Freberg's ad libs. Time for Beany ran from 1949-54, and won several Emmy Awards.
Butler briefly turned his attention to writing and voicing several TV commercials. In the 1950s, Stan Freberg asked him to help him write comedy skits for his Capitol Records albums. Their first collaboration, "St. George and the Dragon-Net" (based on Dragnet), was the first comedy record to sell over one million copies. Freberg was more of a satirist who did song parodies, but the bulk of his dialogue routines were co-written by and co-starred Butler.
Butler teamed again with Freberg and actress June Foray in a CBS radio series, The Stan Freberg Show, which ran from July to October 1957 as a summer replacement for Jack Benny's program. Freberg's box-set, Tip of the Freberg (Rhino Entertainment, 1999) chronicles every aspect of Freberg's career except the cartoon voice-over work, and it showcases his career with Daws Butler. In Mr. Magoo, the UPA theatrical animated short series for Columbia Pictures, Butler played Magoo's nephew Waldo (also voiced by Jerry Hausner at various times).
Butler provided the voices of many nameless Walter Lantz characters for theatrical shorts later seen on the Woody Woodpecker program. His most notable characters were the penguin Chilly Willy and his sidekick Smedley, a southern-speaking dog (the same voice used for Tex Avery's laid-back wolf character).
In 1957, after MGM had closed down their animation division, producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera quickly formed their own company, and Daws Butler and Don Messick were on hand to provide voices. The first, The Ruff and Reddy Show, with Butler voicing Reddy, set the formula for the rest of the series of cartoons that the two helmed until the mid-1960s. He played the title roles in The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Quick Draw McGraw Show, and The Yogi Bear Show, as well as a variety of other characters.
The characters with voices by Butler from 1957 to 1978 included:"Bring 'Em Back Alive" CliveAesop's Son (in the "Aesop and Son" segment of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show)Fibber Fox and Alfy Gator (of Yakky Doodle)Ali Gator (in two Lantz theatrical shorts)Atom AntAugie DoggieBaba Looey (from Quick Draw McGraw)Barney Rubble (from The Flintstones) (1959–1961; The Flagstones pilot and season two episodes 1, 2, 5, 6, and 9 only)Big GruesomeBingo (of Banana Splits)Brutus the Lion (of The Roman Holidays)Cap'n CrunchCaptain Skyhook (of The Space Kidettes)Chilly WillyCogswellColonel Pot ShotDixie Mouse (of Pixie and Dixie)Elroy JetsonFibber Fox (of Yakky Doodle)Fred Flintstone (1959; The Flagstones pilot only)Gabby Gator (of Woody Woodpecker)Gelationous Giant from The Phantom TollboothGooney the "Gooney Bird" AlbatrossHair Bear (of Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch)Henry OrbitHokey WolfHuckleberry HoundHustle (of The CB Bears)Jonathan Wellington "Mudsy" Muddlemore (of The Funky Phantom)Karlos K. Krinkelbein (from the 1971 animated TV special version of The Cat in the Hat)Lambsy (of "It's the Wolf" on Cattanooga Cats)Lippy the LionLoopy De LoopLouie (from The Dogfather)Maxie the Polar BearMr. Jinks (of Pixie and Dixie)Peter PerfectPeter PotamusPug (from The Dogfather)Quick Draw McGrawQuispRaggedy Andy (in "The Great Santa Claus Caper (1978)")Red MaxReddy the dog (from The Ruff & Reddy Show)Rock SlagRufus RuffcutThe Whether Man, The Senses Taker, The Terrible Trivium and the Gelatinous Giant from The Phantom TollboothSgt. BlastSmedley the dog (from the Chilly Willy cartoons)SnagglepussSuper Snooper and Blabber MouseSpike the Bulldog (of Spike and Tyke) (1949–1957)Stick and Duke (of Posse Impossible)Snoopy (from Snoopy Come Home)Scooby-Dum from The Scooby-Doo Show and Laff-A-Lympics (1976–1978)Undercover ElephantTerrible Trivium from The Phantom TollboothWhether Man from The Phantom TollboothWally GatorWolf (from the Droopy cartoons)Yahooey (from Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey)Yogi Bear
Butler would voice most of these characters for many decades, in both TV shows and in some commercials. The breakfast cereal mascot Cap'n Crunch became an icon of sorts on Saturday morning TV through many commercials produced by Jay Ward. Butler played Cap'n from the 1960s to the 1980s. He based the voice on that of character actor Charles Butterworth. In 1961, while Mel Blanc was recovering from a motor vehicle accident, Daws Butler replaced him to voice Barney Rubble in five episodes of The Flintstones (The Hit Songwriter, Droop-Along Flintstone, Fred Flintstone Woos Again, The Rock Quarry Story, The Little White Lie).
In 1964, Butler was featured as Huckleberry Hound on a 45 RPM record, "Bingo, Ringo," a comedic story combining the Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr and Lorne Greene's hit record "Ringo."
In Wacky Races, Butler provided the voices for a number of the racers, Rock Slag, Big Gruesome, the Red Max, Sgt. Blast, Peter Perfect, and Rufus Ruffcut. He voiced a penguin and a turtle in the movie Mary Poppins, his only known work for Disney. Along with Mel Blanc, Stan Freberg, Paul Frees and June Foray, Butler also provided voices for countless children's records featuring recreations of several successful Disney cartoons and films.
Butler based some of his voices on popular celebrities of the day. Yogi Bear began as an Art Carney impression; Butler had done a similar voice in several of Robert McKimson's films at Warner Brothers and Stan Freberg's comedy record "The Honey-Earthers." However, Butler soon changed Yogi's voice, making it much deeper and more sing-songy, thus making it a more original voice.
Hokey Wolf began as an impression of Phil Silvers, and Snagglepuss as Bert Lahr. In fact, when Snagglepuss began appearing in commercials for Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies in 1961, Lahr threatened to sue Butler for "stealing" his voice. As part of the settlement, the disclaimer "Snagglepuss voice by Daws Butler" was required to appear on each commercial, making him the only voice actor ever to receive one in an animated TV commercial. Butler redesigned these voices, making them his own inventions. Huckleberry Hound was inspired many years earlier, in 1945, by a North Carolina neighbor of Daws' wife's family, and he had in fact been using that voice for a long time, for Avery's laid-back wolf and Lantz' Smedley.
In the 1970s, he was the voice of "Hair Bear" on Help!... It's the Hair Bear Bunch! and a few characters in minor cartoons such as C.B. Bears. On Laff-A-Lympics, Butler was virtually the entire "Yogi Yahooey" team. He also played the title character in The Funky Phantom, as well as Louie and Pug on The Pink Panther Show. In 1977, he guest starred as Captain Numo and his lackey Schultz on the What's New, Mr. Magoo? episode "Secret Agent Magoo".
Butler remained somewhat low-key in the 1970s and 1980s until a revival of The Jetsons and Hanna-Barbera's crossover series Yogi's Treasure Hunt, both in 1985. Also in 1983, he voiced the title character, Wacky WallWalker in Deck the Halls with Wacky Walls.
In 1975, Butler began an acting workshop which spawned such talents as Nancy Cartwright, Corey Burton, Joe Bevilacqua, Bill Farmer, Pat Parris, Tony Pope, Linda Gary, Bob Bergen, Mona Marshall, Sherry Lynn, Joey Camen, writer Earl Kress and many more.
In the year of his death, The Good, the Bad, and Huckleberry Hound was released, a tour-de-force featuring most of his classic early characters.
Daws met and married Myrtis Martin in 1943 while he was in the United States Navy during World War II. . They had four sons, David, Don, Paul and Charles, and remained married until his death in 1988.
Daws Butler died from a heart attack on May 18, 1988. Many of his roles were assumed by Greg Burson, who had been personally trained by Butler until his death.
Daws Butler trained many voice actors including Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Corey Burton (the voice of Dale in Chip 'n' Dale), Bill Farmer (the current voice of Goofy, Pluto, and Horace Horsecollar), Bob Bergen (voice of Porky Pig), Joe Bevilacqua (whom Butler personally taught how to do all of his characters), Greg Burson (voice of Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny), Mona Marshall (voices in South Park), Sherry Lynn and Joey Camen. Butler's voice and scripts were a frequent part of Bevilacqua's now-defunct XM show.
Bevilacqua also wrote Butler's official biography, published by Bear Manor Media. A new book of cartoon scripts written by Daws Butler and Joe Bevilacqua, Uncle Dunkle and Donnie: Fractured Fables, was scheduled for publication in the fall of 2009. A four-volume, 4½-hour audio set of Uncle Dunkle and Donnie was to be released simultaneously with Bevilacqua performing all 97 characters in 35 stories. Butler also trained Hal Rayle, who ultimately determined that his best-known character of Doyle Cleverlobe from Galaxy High School should sound like Elroy Jetson after he finished puberty.The video Daws Butler: Voice Magician is a 1987 documentary of Butler's career from his pre-MGM days on up through his teaming with Freberg in 1949 and the teaming with Don Messick in 1957. It was originally seen as a PBS pledge-drive special.Former Butler protege Joe Bevilacqua used to host a radio series on XM Satellite Radio's Sonic Theater Channel called The Comedy-O-Rama Hour which features a regular segment called What the Butler Wrote: Scenes from the Daws Butler Workshop with rare scripts of Daws performed by his students, including Nancy Cartwright, and rare recordings of Daws himself. Bevilacqua has also co-authored (with Ben Ohmart) the authorized biography book Daws Butler, Characters Actor, and edited the book Scenes for Actors and Voices written by Daws Butler, both published by Bear Manor Media.Butler once appeared as a contestant on Groucho Marx' You Bet Your Life. The studio audience did not recognize him until he began doing Huckleberry Hound's voice. Butler and his partner split the top prize of $10,000.In 1985, Daws Butler was interviewed about his career on Dr. Demento's radio show.