The Walter Lantz Cartune Encyclopedia is proud to present the following interview conducted in April 2003 by our former co-webmaster Thad Komorowski with the late actor and classic cartoon voice artist Dal McKennon (1919-2009). McKennon provided the voices of such Lantz cartoon characters as Buzz Buzzard, Inspector Willoughby, Dapper Denver Dooley, Champ, Paw, Professor Grossenfibber, many of Woody Woodpecker's adversaries, and dozens of other various characters.
1. How did you get the job doing voices for Walter Lantz's cartoons?
It was because I got my start on the last show of Fibber McGee and Molly, because I was recommended by one of their top stars, having recognized me working as an engineer in the Universal Studios. Walter Lantz heard him say it because the speaker was right over my head as I was recording it. Being an assistant engineer, pulling hair off the acetate disks got me my first job in the industry. Walter was my stepping stone out of which I became acquainted with an animator at Disney. But always, no matter what the call was from any studio. A call from Walter Lantz would be NUMBER ONE on my list. With or without the mighty Paul Frees (chuckles).
Tex Avery's Legend of Rockabye Point
2. Were all the actors present when a Lantz cartoon soundtrack was recorded?
Usually, if I were doing all the voices, and that would be it. Several times I would do all the voices in one cartoon. As in- Tex Avery's Rockabye Point. Always with Walter, as the producer; and Grace Stafford, his wife; (as Woody); were present. Paul Smith and Laverne Harding were the top animator/directors of the day. Laverne and Paul would always be present at a recording session. Plus the engineer, whose name escapes me.
Or were they recorded separately?
Usually, mine would be with Gracie and Walter et al. Depending on the script, June Foray, Daws Butler, Nancy Wible or various voice personalities might be working that day, too. Mine would be basically Buzz Buzzard, but often a corny hillbilly character or a queasy professor-type; and any kid voice or animal sound effects, squeaky doors, etc.... I think also from these characters, I was also introduced by Walter to Paul Henning (producer of Beverly Hillbillies), but most importantly by Walter to George Pal, animator/director; TOP stop frame animator in the business. Both Walter and George lost their homes to fires on Mullholland Drive, and all their memorabilia (precious).
Laverne Harding and I were in business on a character called Skinny Bones Jones. She, the animator/director/artist with my characters and scripts. Respected by her peers as the top female animator in the industry. Our engineer was also tops in his line, having been with Marconi, when the first transmission was made on the east coast. Indicating that Walter Lantz knew how to pick the top talent in his cartoons, in not only scripts and voices, but his creativity started many of our present-day animators and directors in the industry. Working with these precious people, gave me another example of Walter's desire for me to use his expression "pass it on".
3. Did you ever ad-lib any of your characters' lines?
Oh, many times. Many of the vocal effects. And Walter would say "Leave it in!", exactly the same as George Pal did in Seven Faces of Dr. Lao.
Buzz Buzzard from Bunco Busters
4. Did you ever have to fill in for any other voice actors?
Many times they couldn't make it. A Britisher (whose name I don't recall) and Paul Frees. Pinch-hitted for him.
5. Which cartoon character was your favorite to voice?
Buzz Buzzard. I think it was because it was the first of all that Walter needed a voice, and someone who had been doing it before, either moved away or passed away. Using the same basic voice as my Tony the Tiger for Walt Disney. (I was the voice of the original Tony).
Prof. Grossenfibber (a.k.a. Prof. Dingledong)
6. Who did you NOT enjoy playing the role of?
I did not enjoy being the straight narrator. Varieties of voices was my contribution.
Another example of the wide variety of dialects Walter would throw at me; was Prof. Grossenfibber. Many's the time in doing New Yorkers, I would have a tendency to delve into a slight Yiddish interpretation. Walter would always stop me, and make it more Jewish than Yiddish; because he didn't want to offend his Jewish friends. (Or any other actors as well as myself.) He was always concerned about his fellow people. He always called me Del. He was Italian.
7. Who was your favorite cartoon star in general?
Having started in the industry with a non-descript character named Q T Hush, which was not managed properly, and disappeared. I think of all characters, were those Walt Disney used to ask me to do. Probably because they were more universally recognized for the popularity they were designed for.
8. What was your favorite cartoon that you provided a voice in?
I think my favorite was Rockabye Point, because it was designed for me to do all the voices. Then also, I want to mention Walter once created a special cartoon [Woodpecker from Mars] with me in the image of my CBS National character Space Man Captain Jet. I felt the honor of being selected for that.
Woody heckles TV host, Captain Zoom (a caricature of McKennon as Captain Jet), in Woodpecker From Mars.
9. Did you enjoy your time at the Walter Lantz studio?
Always. Every split second of it.
10. If an opportunity at another Hollywood cartoon studio came up, would you take it?
Yes. If I could have some control of what I was asked to do.
11. What was it like working with Walter Lantz and the rest?
Every call would be another highlight in my Hollywood life. Receiving special cartoons of Woody on cells, which to this day are my pride and joy. Every Christmas, a card from Walter and Gracie. Even in the cartoon style; still made the event the prime cartoon studio I worked with. Y'see, I got more individual attention there than with Disney or another studio I worked with. Threw different voices at each other. It was a fun time. Not a work time.
12. Were you friends with any of the people who worked at Warner Bros., MGM, etc.?
Yes, personal friends at UPA (Mr. Magoo), Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, Art Clokey (of Gumby fame), and some of the characters that I created with Walter have stayed with me through my life. Such as the kind of voice I used as in the vocal range I later continues with the voice of Gumby, and Goliath (of Davey & Goliath).