Sunday, 19 July 2009

Dal McKennon, Voice of Many Cartoons, Passes On

Dal McKennon, perhaps best known as innkeeper Cincinnatus on the Sixties show Daniel Boone and the voice of Gumby, passed on July 14. He was 89 years old.

Dal McKennon was born Dallas McKennon (under which he was sometimes billed) in La Grande, Oregon on July 19, 1919. He was a young child when his mother died and he was sent to a farm to live with an uncle and aunt. It was on the farm that he first started mastering the imitation of voices, practising imitating the animals there. While in high school he enrolled in drama classes. He was still in high school when his talent for voices led him to work at a local radio station. He attended the University of Washington for at time, before serving in the Army Signal Corps during World War II. He was stationed in Alaska.

Dal McKennon's first voice work was in the Walter Lantz cartoon Pigeon Patrol in 1942, where he provided the voice for Homer Pigeon. McKennon became one of Latz's favourite voice actors, voicing Buzz Buzzard, Wally Walrus, Homer Pigeon, Dapper Denver Dooley, and many incidental voices. Chances are extremely good that if one has seen a Woody Woodpecker or a Chilly Willy cartoon, then he has heard Dallas McKennon. Dal McKennon's talents were not used by Walter Lantz alone. He also provided the voice for the legendary comic strip characters Tintin and Professor Calculus in the movies De krab met de gulden scharen, De schat van scharlaken rackham, and Het geval Zonnebloem, all released in 1959. His vocal talents were also used by Disney, on such films as Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.

Dal McKennon received his best known role in 1959 when he became the voice of Gumby. Created by Art Clokey, the clay animation character had debuted on The Howdy Doody Show in 1956 and received his own show in 1957. In the beginning female actors (including Norma MacMillan, beat known as Sweet Polly Purebred on Underdog) voiced Gumby, along with Dick Beals (the voice of Speedy Alka-Seltzer). In 1959 Dal McKennon took over as the voice of Gumby, providing the clay figure's voice until the series ended in 1964. He would provide the voice for Gumby in the Eighties series Gumby Adventures, which debuted in 1988, as well as the voice of Gumby in The Puppetoon Movie (released in 1987). Ultimately, Dal McKennon became the actor most identified with the role.

In the early Fifties Dal McKennon created and hosted his own local children's show, Space Funnies, which aired on KNXT-TV (now KCBS) in Los Angeles. On the show McKennon played the host Captain Jet. He made his live action, feature film debut playing a miner in Bend of the River, released in 1952. His national television debut was a guest appearance the following year on Dragnet. He would have small roles in Good Day for a Hanging, Let No Man Write My Epitaph, Twist Around the Clock, Son of Flubber, The Wheeler Dealers, The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, Clambake, The Cat from Outer Space, Hot Lead and Cold Feet, and Frozen Assets. He would have larger roles in House of the Damned and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. He guest starred on such TV shows as The Tall Man, The Untouchables, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, The Rifleman, My Favorite Martian, Wagon Train, The Andy Griffith Show, and Bonanza. McKennon's most famous live action role may be that of Cincinnatus on Daniel Boone. Cincinnatus was a bit of a jack of all trades, filling the role of comic relief, innkeeper, doctor, fisherman, hunter, storekeeper, and trapper in the small village of Boonesborough.

Although he appeared in many live action movies and TV shows, McKennon's meat and potatoes would remain his voice work in animation. He provided the voice of both Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse on the TV show Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse. He also provided the voice for Q. T Rush in the animated series of the same name. On the various TV shows based on the Archie comic books, he voiced Archie Andrews, Hot Dog, Mr. Weatherbee, Pop, and Mr. Cleats. Starting with The Archie Show, the shows included The Archie Comedy Hour, Archie's Fun House, Archie's TV Funnies, The U.S. of Archie, The New Archie/Sabrina Hour, and Archie's Bang-Shang Lalapalooza Show. He also provided voices for the animated features Oliver Twist, Journey Back to Oz, and The Adventures of Mark Twain.

McKennon did voice work for more than animated feature films and TV shows. He was the voices of various characters in commercials for Kellogg's cereals in the Fifties, including Cornelius the Rooster and Snap, Crackle, and Pop. He also provided the voice for animatronics figures in attractions at Disney's theme parks. Among them are Ben Franklin in The American Adventure, Andrew Jackson in The Hall of Presidents, and Zeke in The Country Bear Jubilee. It is McKennon's voice which gives the safety speech on The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, advising riders to hold onto their hats and glasses.

Although not quite as well known as fellow voice artists Mel Blanc or Alan Reed, there is every reason Dallas McKennon should be. The versatility of his voice can be seen in the range of characters he voiced, from the high pitched tones of Gumby to the lower tones of the Owl in Sleeping Beauty. On the various Archie TV shows alone he played seven different characters. He could be just as versatile as a live action actor. Not only did he play the friendly and funny innkeeper Cincinnatus on Daniel Boone, but several different heavies in Western TV shows (he once joked to an interviewer, "I specialised in barn burnings." Dallas McKennon was both a great voice artist and a great character actor. There is every reason he should be remembered.

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