Bam! Bam! Bamm Bamm!
Donald Messick was born September 7, 1926 in Buffalo, New York. The Great Depression sent Don's father (and the family) along the East Coast for jobs, with stops in Baltimore, Annapolis, and eventually, Nanticoke, Maryland.
Messick's talent manifested itself early on, when he was caught talking in his sleep - in three different voices. He began performing a ventriloquist show for friends and neighbors. When a local radio station manager caught Don's show, he hired the then 15-year-old boy for a weekly program. From there, Don's fame grew and grew. He eventually went to work in Baltimore at WCAO, although he had a minor setback with his nasal Maryland accent.
Sadly, Don's father was killed in an on the job accident when he was only 18. That same year, Don was drafted into the Army, where he was assigned to Special Services entertaining troops stateside, alongside fellow ventriloquist Don Knotts. After the Army, Don continued to work his ventriloquist act throughout the country, eventually settling down in Los Angeles. There, he worked with Bob Clampett to produce an all-live puppet show. However, as television grew in popularity, cartoons became a much cheaper source of entertainment for children, and Don's puppet show was scrapped.
You know what? I'm happy.
Eager for work, Don approached MGM in 1954 about getting a job at their animation studios. Fellow voice personality Daws Butler had passed his name on the incomparable animation director Tex Avery, who was looking for a replacement for Bill Thompson's Droopy (after Thompson had split to work for Walt Disney). Messick got the job on his first audition. He continued to work in various roles and, of course, that sad dog for 3 years.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera left MGM to create their own animation studio in 1957, hoping to sell their product to television stations. They remembered Messick and his uncanny knack for creating distinct likeable characters using only his voice. Hiring him and Daws Butler, Hanna-Barbera set to work on its first series, "Ruff and Reddy." Messick provided the voices of both Ruff and Professor Gizmo. The show was a success, and Messick began receiving roles left and right from the studio.
I don't think that's a good idea, Yogi.
The Golden Years
During the early years of Hanna-Barbera, when they produced mainly theatrical shorts and mishmash shows with shorts from otherwise unrelated characters, Messick proved to be an able workhorse: he provided the voices for, among others:
By 1960, Hanna-Barbera had gotten brave, making a 30-minute animated primetime series loosely based on the then successful "The Honeymooners" show. "The Flintstones" was an instant success, remaining the longest running primetime cartoon in history for nearly 40 years. In 1962, to counteract the prehistoric setting of the Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera created "The Jetsons." Messick was hired to play the Jetson's lovable pet dog Astro as well as George's co-working computer console R.U.D.I..
In 1963, Messick was successfully integrated into the Flintstones with the birth of Bamm Bamm Rubble. Although he had only one line in the entire duration of the show, it was a memorable one indeed. In 1964, Messick was assigned the role of Dr. Benton Quest on the more mature series Johnny Quest. His other major voice at the time for Hanna-Barbera was on their split cartoon "Moby Dick," where he played a friend of Moby (a much friendlier whale in the hands of H-B) named Scooby Seal. Little did Messick know his barklike intonations for the character would shortly thereafter inspire one of the most beloved Great Danes in American history.
Rooby Rooby Roo!
In 1969, Hanna-Barbera decided to embrace the flower power culture by creating a mystery show revolving around some hip youths and their dog. When casting the dog, they first went to Daws Butler, but he instead suggested they get Messick's seal voice. They reluctantly accepted, and Scooby-Doo was born.
Over the next 22 years, Messick played Scooby in a variety of shows: from the original "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" series to the "New Scooby Doo Movies" to the meta-cartoon "Laff-A-Lympics," where Messick also recreated his roles as Dixie, Boo Boo and Atom Ant. Messick's ability to add a genuine dog perspective to his character with notable human foibles proved invaluable in the show's success. Later, Messick was given the opportunity to put his one-man conversational skills as a ventriloquist to use when he was given the voice of Scooby's nephew Scrappy-Doo in 1975.
Muttley's unforgettable laugh
When not performing as Scooby, Messick continued to serve as a staple of Hanna-Barbera cartoons:
At this time Messick also made an uncredited appearance as the circus announcer in the lauded Bond flick Diamonds are Forever and played many small roles in the animated version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. By 1980, Hanna-Barbera was ready to move on to a new cartoon. A Belgian toymaker had caused a sensation in Europe with a new creation: tiny blue wood-elves each with distinct personalities. Quickly work was begun on a series to bring them to America.
Run, my little smurfs!
Messick provided several voices for "The Smurfs," including most famously The Man In Red, Papa Smurf (he also did Sleepy Smurf, Dreamy Smurf, and Gargamel's vicious cat Azrael). Not satisfied with his already legendary performances, Messick continued taking on roles, giving life to Scavenger and Ratchet on "Transformers" and Officer Growler on "The Get Along Gang."
One of Messick's more interesting roles was a live-action one: that of Wally Wooster, a disgruntled and crotchety voiceover actor on the show "Duck Factory" about a low-budget animation studio. The show is most noted for the first television role of a young Jim Carrey, but Messick's on-camera vocal contortions are a delight to behold even today.
Messick added one more notable role to his prestigious career in 1990, when he took on Hamton J. Pig for the ambitious reworking of Looney Toons, known as "Tiny Toons." He stayed on the role until it ended. During this time, he continued to reprise his roles as Scooby, Papa Smurf, Boo Boo, and others for a number of TV movies, shorts, and new series.
Don Messick, the legendary voice actor, unexpectedly passed away October 24, 1997 of a stroke. It's hard to name a Hanna-Barbera short or series that Messick didn't appear on. All in all he provided over 100 voices to the studio throughout the years.
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