Thursday, 22 February 2018

Pebbly Poo, Age 55

Today marks the day, 55 years ago, The Flintstones changed. What had been a situation comedy revolving around grumpy Fred Flintstone and his relationship with his wife and neighbours suddenly veered in a different direction. A baby was added to the permanent cast. Fred’s character, in my estimation, softened in many of the episodes.

The birth wasn’t altogether a case of the show imitating I Love Lucy in an effort to garner a ratings boost. The impetus came, not for entertainment value, but from a company looking to sell girl dolls. Ideal Toys basically told Hanna-Barbera to throw out any idea of having a Fred, Jr. (something that was part of the series’ original Flagstones concept, with the boy designed by Ed Benedict) and have a girl instead (designed by the great Gene Hazelton). There’s a cut in it for you, of course, Joe and Bill. Money was talking. Hanna-Barbera didn’t need to listen long.

I’ve talked before about how I’m not a big fan of Pebbles, so there’s no point in treading that ground. Instead, cast your eyes upon this story from the King Features Syndicate from the day of Pebbles’ birth, February 22, 1963. Yes, the columnist gets her name wrong throughout. Maybe the most interesting thing in the story is that the studio, not willing to waste any creative idea, considered dredging up the “Flagstones” name. As a side note, Joe Barbera mentions that business for the studio has dropped off. No doubt that was due to the failure of Top Cat and The Jetsons in prime time. After three consecutive seasons (1960, 1961 and 1962) managing to make a sale to the networks, no one was biting in 1963. And, as it turned out, Pebbles didn’t help declining ratings for The Flintstones in 1964.

‘Pebble’ Arrives to Keep Flintstones Off the Rocks

HOLLYWOOD — Television is truly a wonder. Wilma Flintstone has been pregnant only five weeks, yet tonight, Washington's Birthday, Wilma is going to give birth to a child in color, on ABC's "The Flintstones."
The kid has been planned for almost 10 months, and Joe Barbera, co-creator, wonders if it's been worth all the trouble, because he and Bill Hanna are bushed. Artists went to work first, and most had boys in mind, because boy's names like Rock would fit better with Flintstone.
However, girl babies looked cuter, and cuteness is the key, so boys were out. After 500 sketches or so, one stood out, a cute little girl with a bow in her hair.
"Then we had to name her," said Joe, "and we came up with handles like Flagstone Flintstone."
Flagstone didn't have quite the right ring to it, but the direction seemed right.
A Name Develops
In dialogue Hanna and Barbera had Barney Rubble saying to Fred: "Boy, she's a chip off the old block." Fred tops it with, "It's more like a pebble off the old Flintstone," and there was the name — Pebble Flintstone.
As soon as Pebble had been labeled the toy world went into orbit. Sketches of the girl were sent to a certain toy manufacturer, and officers hopped a plane west to tie up this merchandising item.
Pebble Flintstone is going to give the Friday night cartoon series a shot in the arm, and it expects to do the same in the toy world. You'll soon see turtle strollers, rock cradles, dinosaur high chairs, turtle shell basinettes and leopard skin diapers.
There will be Pebble baby dolls of all sizes, the cuddly type to hold and bigger stand-up dolls. And you can't leave out coloring books!
Hanna and Barbera have all sorts of exploitation stunts going too. All women who have babies during the half-hour Flintstones tonight, and the estimate runs around 216 babies, will receive a $25 government bond and a Pebble Flintstone doll. The big, big contest "involves guessing the weight of Pebble at birth. The weight guessing contest closed Feb. 15th and the winner, the first one who guesses correctly, as pulled out of a bin, wins a round-the-world trip for two. As of two weeks ago H & B had not decided Pebble's initial weigh-in, so hot tips were phonies.
Staff Clobbered
Neither have the two men overlooked any publicity gimmick for spreading the news about Pebble. Both are family men, and both look worn. "Having real kids of your own is easier." they say. The Pebble birth has clobbered the whole H & B staff.
Joe Barbera was particularly impressed with the efficiency of the toy manufacturers. First came wax models from the cartoon sketches, then arms, head and eyes were interchanged among the models to narrow it down to the right look for the doll.
"It works." says Joe. "The best doll was made. She's so cute and cuddly I think even teen-agers will want her."
The TV animated cartoons
Business has dropped off a good deal of late because of its initial high cost plus the deluge of cartoons on the market at one time, but H & B are waging a fight to survive and Pebble is just one weapon. Joe says the company has a new way of cutting costs to stay in the market, by cutting down" on the number of drawings, standardizing a closeup, a medium shot and a faraway shot.
"We're reorganizing our thinking cost-wise," he says. "We moved so fast we forgot about watching costs in some areas."
With the squeeze on, Joe and Bill are going to fight. "We've learned lessons — like an 8:30 spot is just too late for animated cartoons," says Joe. "If we can get a show on at 7 p.m. we get the kids and hold the set. The grownups have to join in. I don't think the animated cartoon business is through. Kids will always want to see new cartoons. They won't live on reruns alone."

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Flintstones Weekend Comics, February 1968

It’s Wilma 2 Fred 0 in the Sunday newspaper comics 50 years ago this month, though Fred actually suffers three defeats. The fourth comic features Fred’s niece. Barney makes a brief appearance this month, Betty and Dino are nowhere to be found.

My sources for these comics has almost dried up, so I can not find a full version of the February 4th comic. Why Wilma is being snarky in absentia, I haven’t the faintest idea. I suppose we’re supposed to think of Fred as a demanding, thoughtless husband, which he certainly could be in the first season of the cartoon series. By this time, the series had been off prime time for more than a season and Fred had become a little calmer.

Wilma’s playing semantics in the February 11th comic. “I didn’t say a word,” my butt. She was just tapping her foot in time to some music. Yeah, that’s it. The snowfall we saw in the previous week’s comic is still here; check out the little shrub in the penultimate panel.

Richard Holliss has, thankfully, the last two comics of the month in his collection and passed them along. February 18th has Wilma being sarcastic when all poor Fred is doing is trying to save money after hearing from other people (“they say” in the opening dialogue) about how little this place charges. If he was forcing Wilma to eat a tough steak, I could see where he’d deserve abuse. We still have snowy climes in Bedrock in this comic.

The February 25th comic ends with a commentary on the shallowness of teenagers. A guy’s unfit because he can’t dance. Even though he’s trying hard by bringing a dance chart with him. For a change, Fred isn’t grumping about the music teenagers are listening to. I love the question mark over the head of the record needle bird when Wilma talks about “be-rock.” Wilma’s subtly funny in this. Her Swingsville/Daddy-O vocabulary is at least ten years out of date, showing how out-of-touch adults are in the teenaged world. It’s that Generation Gap we used to talk about way back then (in the ‘60s, not the Stone Age).

Next month, Pebbles is a jerk, and Dino makes a return appearance in a funny comic.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Buckswashling Bear

“Do not fear! It is I, Yogi Beer, er Bear!” our hero declares in one of those mini-cartoons at the start of an episode of The Yogi Bear Show. He tells us he’s “in search of some swashbucklin’ good deeds to do.”

The first one is to rescue Yakky Doodle who is stuck at the top of a castle. Yakky, in this case, is not played by Jimmy Weldon. It’s Red Coffey who voiced the pre-Yakky ducks, first at MGM, then at Hanna-Barbera. I don’t know the circumstances behind Weldon’s hiring so I can’t tell you if Coffey originally played Yakky and then couldn’t carry on or if Weldon was away and Coffey was brought in for a voice session (he recorded several bumpers).

Anyway, Yogi lassoes one of the merlons on top of the castle to scale himself up and make the rescue. The stone comes off and bounces off his head.

Cut to the next scene with an unmatching shot of Snagglepuss bouncing on a trampoline. He manages to grab Yakky but crashes through the trampoline. No, I don’t know why Yakky can’t just fly down from the castle. He’s not the brightest duck sometimes.

The rescuing done, Yogi engages in swordplay with a suit of armour, which falls apart. The mace the armour was holding conks Yogi on the head. “Next time, I shall try a more human-type guy.” Yogi now urges us to watch a cartoon.

Art Lozzi appears to have painted the backgrounds on this mini-cartoon.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Bill and Joe and Yogi

Huckleberry Hound may have been the star of the The Huckleberry Hound Show but after two years on the air, it became apparent to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera that Yogi Bear was a stronger character. In 1960, even before Yogi was given his own TV show, Hanna-Barbera announced Yogi would star in the studio’s first feature film, Whistle Your Way Back Home. The title was changed in December 1963 to Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear and the movie was finally released on June 1, 1964.

(Yes, there was a long gestation period for the feature film, which was originally planned to be released in 1961. I don’t know the reason why there was a delay. It could have simply been a lack of available cash. Or artists; the studio was busy with two prime time shows in 1961 and 1962).

We don’t know what Huck felt about the film, but the National League of Decency gave it an A-1 rating, its best. Film Daily gave it two pluses, its highest. Young me, however, was a wet blanket. I liked the fuller animation (yes, I did notice) but wasn’t interested in a love interest story line and wanted some of the songs to hurry up and end. If the plot had involved, say, Yogi being chased around the world by Ranger Smith because of a misunderstanding and some villain character getting in the way, I might have been more interested.

Amidst all the drum beating for the movie came this story offered to members of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. It was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 14, 1964 and bears Hanna and Barbera’s byline. I doubt they actually wrote it but a number of the thoughts contained in it were certainly given in interviews by the pair. There’s a put-down of the cutie-pie kind of Disney and Harman-Ising type shorts that hadn’t been made in several decades. There’s more talk about sophistication of the kid audience. The comment about the lack of satire in cartoons is a little amusing. Had Joe Barbera not heard of Jay Ward? And wasn’t TV in 1964 drowning in old Warner Bros. cartoons that made fun of all kinds of things—some of which were written by the same people now employed at Hanna-Barbera?

The story reminds me that in the 1960s, the word “holocaust” generally referred to a fire. The meaning’s been forever changed.

Oh, you are not seeing things. Yogi has no feet in the publicity photo below that accompanied the story.
Jellystone's Yogi Finds Bear Market in Movie Debut

Special to The Inquirer
Following in the footsteps of James Garner and Steve McQueen, yet another star is making the transition from TV to motion pictures. His name—Yogi Bear, first and foremost citizen of Jellystone National Park.
In our first full-length motion picture, "Hey There, It's Yogi Bear," Yogi demonstrates the qualities which make him so rare a bear. He successfully pits his wits against his friendly adversary, Ranger Smith; makes daring raids on Jellystone National Park's picnic areas; and shows tender feelings toward his ever lovin' friend, Cindy Bear.
Yogi likes the role very much. As he puts it, "it's a great part with lots of heart. I play myself—brave, darling and smart!"
During the five years he has starred on television, Yogi, we gratefully and amazingly have observed, has become the darling of nearly everyone. His antics have attracted a large and loyal audience from a variety of professions and intellectual levels. He appeals to students and scientists alike.
Watching the adventures of Yogi and his sidekick, Boo Boo, adults and children find they can identify with positive or negative qualities, if they so desire. Yogi, like most humans, is a study in grays. He's alternately lazy and industrious, brave, and cowardly, brash and lovable.
If there is an underlying philosophy about our cartoon, it is to project warmth and good feeling. We satirize lots of things Hollywood, cars, television and even our own animated commercials but we don't see anything funny in violence and sin. Even our villains are nice guys.
We've never tried to educate or preach to children. We've just tried to entertain them. To accomplish that, we feel you need all the talent and instinct you can find. You have to forget a child's audience and think of them as small adults.
Today's children don't go for the too-sweet, soft approach. That's yesterday. If you try a cartoon story today with tiny elves dancing and singing in child-like voices while leaves float into the water and bunnies hop about with twitchy noses—you're lost. It's too soft. Children will tolerate but they won't accept it They've seen too many pointless, aimless pretties that have insulted their intelligence. In the area of comedy, today's child has a taste as sharp as his parents.
From the day a youngster can turn a TV dial, he takes on a wide area of information, something inconceivable to an earlier generation. He's exposed to so much satire. Today's children grow up viewing Hope and Benny, Caesar, Silvers, Lucy, Berle, Skelton and Lewis. A child's taste in drama differs from an adult's but his taste in humor and certainly in cartoons parallels adults. And in cartoons, satire is exactly what's been lacking.
Love for fantasy has no age limit. We'd all like to fly, to travel back in time or defeat a bully twice our size. Cartoons should provide humor and fantasy for the audience and still retain a believability.
We feel that Yogi best exemplifies the contemporary cartoon here. He is a far cry from the sweet teddy bear of the nursery years and his vocabulary matches his "smarter than the bear" personality.
Yogi doesn't talk down to his audience. He just talks, using big words and small words to describe or define. It's not uncommon for Yogi to describe a fire as a "veritable holocaust" or use such words as churlish, reverberate or exorbitant. Contrasted with his sing-song voice and uncultured way of speaking, Yogi's speech has become an identifiable trait.
The evolution of Yogi from TV to motion pictures has come about through the efforts of our staff of artists, writers, animators, and film editors.
When asked by an advertising man where the new Yogi bear is now living, one of our writers recently quipped, "talent scouts may search the forests primeval high and low for Yogi, but they won't succeed. The inimitable, irrepressible Yogi now resides at Schwab's drugstore."
Here are some nice cards publicising the movie spotted on e-Bay.

There was a Gold Key comic book by the great Harvey Eisenberg in conjunction with the film, the Sunday Yogi newspaper comic made reference to it over the course of several weeks and there was a Golden Book with attractive illustrations by Mel Crawford. A soundtrack of the Ray Gilbert and Doug Goodwin songs was released as well. (I’m happy to report Mr. Goodwin is still around and apparently still writing music).

And to the right you can see a picture of the Oz Theatre, in Fremont, Michigan, I believe, showing the film in August 1964 as a float passes by the local Moose Hall. The theatre, like many others, no longer exists. The film was rated G. How things have changed. Last year, a theatre in Roanoke, Virginia showed the movie and rated it PG. “May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.” Either we children in 1964 were a hardier lot or something’s really messed up with the world today.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

High Wire Huck

The best animation in the Huckleberry Hound Show can be found in the little cartoons between the main cartoons in the first season. They involve a circus setting, and start with the Kellogg’s rooster dropping down from above and knocking on a door.

Here are some expressive drawings from one of them. Have you ever seen Dixie so excited?

Jinksie, of course.

Pixie is excited, too. The meeces were never this emotional in their own cartoons.

And here are a few frames of Yogi, slightly raising his head. I didn’t count the number of head positions but there must be at least a dozen. Here are a few. I wish Yogi looked this good in his own cartoons, but I suspect money was pumped into these bumpers to make them as attractive as possible. Even his hat moves a bit.

This is a recreated pan shot, left to right. Sorry for the mismatched colours.

The animation of the rooster is really good. There’s actually follow-through on Cornelius’ comb as he looks around wondering where Huck is after knocking on his door. Not all of the action is animated on twos, meaning the rooster darts around peering around for Huck. It’s unfortunate I can’t show the animation here, but it’s great that the bumper survived in the Hanna-Barbera archives when others did not and is available on DVD.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, February 1968

Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw dropped into Jellystone Park 50 years ago this month in the Sunday comics. Ah, Jellystone! The only national park with a mad scientist’s castle in it. Well, maybe we can safely assume he’s not in Jellystone in that particular comic.

What sound do you make when you fall? Apparently, it’s “FAM!” and “THONK!” Yogi proves he is smarter than the average bear in the final panel of the February 4th comic. But “scholar” and “hauler”? Yipe. (The log hawler, by the way, is from the Acme company whose devices worked).

The layout of the February 11th comic is just great. Huck, Quick Draw, a brown Snagglepuss and Baba Looey all make a guest appearance. Look in the first two panels how they’re in the foreground and an angry mob is in shadow (one blue, one white) behind them. In the second row, Quick Draw and the rest are in silhouette in the background while the mob is in a different colour even further back. Excellent design in the final panel. One thing we don’t have to worry about today is a TV antenna picking up interference.

The laughing fish and the steaming Yogi in the final panel on February 18th are good. Cindy makes a cameo appearance. There’s a bird sitting on the snowy title in the opening panel, probably sticking around from last month’s comics.

“Stop that pigeon! Stop that pigeon!” Okay, the pilot isn’t exactly Dick Dastardly in the February 25th comic (he hadn’t been invented yet anyway) but he looks like a distant relative. Yogi stops the plane instead of a pigeon in the ironic final panel.

Richard Holliss supplied the colour comics; click on each to make it bigger. We’ll have all colour next month.