Dallas McKennon dies at 89; actor gave voice to many animated characters
By Claire Noland
Jul 18, 2009 | 12:00 AM
Dallas McKennon, an exuberant character actor and voice actor who helped enliven Gumby, Archie Andrews, Buzz Buzzard and many other animated characters, has died. He was 89.
McKennon, who played the tavern keeper Cincinnatus on the 1960s TV series "Daniel Boone" and dozens of other codgers on film and television, died Tuesday of age-related causes at the Willapa Harbor Care Center in Raymond, Wash., according to his daughter Barbara Porter.
A tall, gangly actor with an unruly beard, McKennon was easily identifiable on-screen, but he could bend his voice in endless variations to bring personality to a host of sound roles. Stop-motion pioneer Art Clokey used McKennon for the high-pitched tones of the green animated clay figure Gumby, and Woody Woodpecker cartoon creator Walter Lantz chose McKennon for Woody's nemesis, Buzz Buzzard. McKennon also provided the teenager voice for Archie Andrews, and he recorded characters for the Walt Disney films "Lady and the Tramp," "Mary Poppins" and "101 Dalmatians," among others.
At Disney theme parks, McKennon's distinctive voice warns riders on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to hang on to their hats and glasses because "this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!" And at Disney's Epcot, when the animatronic Ben Franklin speaks in the "American Adventure" exhibit, it's actually McKennon doing the talking.
"He was an entertainer," Will Ryan, a friend and fellow voice actor, told The Times on Friday. "There was something of the 6-year-old in him, no matter what his age was. . . .
"He had a gift for mimicry, but there's that spirit behind it. . . . It wasn't so much that he could do different voices, but that he could enthusiastically do different personalities."
Sometimes called Dal, McKennon had been imitating sounds since he was a youngster in rural northeast Oregon.
He was born July 19, 1919, in La Grande, Ore. When he was a child, his mother died unexpectedly and McKennon was sent to live with an aunt and an uncle on a farm. He became fascinated by the animals there.
"Besides doing the chores," McKennon told the Lake Oswego (Ore.) Review a number of years ago, "I'd go out in the barnyard and see if I could imitate the animals. I learned to do dogs and most of the animal sounds."
He enrolled in a drama class in high school and took his talent for creating different voices and sounds to the local radio station, earning money by recording commercials.
He briefly attended the University of Washington before serving in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, stationed in Alaska.
McKennon returned to Oregon after the war and found a job hosting a live children's show on Portland radio station KGW, playing Mr. Buttons.
After landing a bit part in "Bend of the River," a 1952 James Stewart western filmed in Oregon, McKennon headed to Los Angeles. Besides lining up voice work, he played Captain Jet and introduced cartoons on "Space Funnies," a children's program that aired on KNXT-TV in the mid-1950s.
He had small parts in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 suspense film "The Birds" and the 1967 Elvis Presley vehicle "Clambake."
He also had bad-guy roles in a string of TV and movie westerns including "Gunsmoke," "The Virginian," "Wagon Train" and "Bonanza."
"I specialized in barn burnings," he once told an interviewer.
In 1968, McKennon and his wife, Betty, whom he had married in Portland in 1942, decided to move their family of eight children back to Oregon. They settled in Cannon Beach, and he commuted to Los Angeles for acting and voice jobs.
McKennon's wife of 66 years survives him, as do his children: daughters Dalene Lackaff of Woolwich, Maine, Barbara Porter and Linda Strozyk, both of Raymond, Wash., Gayle McKennon of Hyannis, Mass., Tamara Rock of South Bend, Wash., and Wendy McKennon of North Bend, Ore; and sons Jerald McKennon of Tualatin, Ore., and Steven McKennon of Newberg, Ore. He is also survived by 21 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.