Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Huckleberry Hound and Others in Pictures

Let us now climb the creaking old steps to the virtual storage trunk in the Yowp cyber-attic to leisurely sift through fond memories of Hanna-Barbera past. In other words, I stole these images from internet sites and am re-posting them. Somehow, I like the wording of the first sentence better than the second.



We have regular readers who joined the Huck Hound Club way-back-when. Some of you even kept your membership card and managed to prevent your mom from throwing out other stuff that Huck’s headquarters sent to you. This application form for the Huck Club from 1961 came from the back of a Gold Key comic. Look what you got for 15 cents! Decorate your clubhouse! (Can an offer be any more suburban than that?). Offer not available in Canada.



Here’s a full-page ad from Weekly Variety, April 27, 1960. I suspect this is celebrating The Huckleberry Hound Show’s Emmy nomination (it won that June for Outstanding Children’s Program). What’s somewhat amazing is Huck never got a bad review; at least I haven’t been able to find one. The critics loved the show. You can read some of their comments in the ad. Too bad the blue on Huck is faded.



Did Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera conceive of Baywatch long before it aired? Could this be darling Clementine? Whatever the case, the photo is from the collection of cartoonist and Chicago historian Jim Engle. Any origins before that are unclear.



Someone decided to go out on Hallowe’en as Huck or is modelling the latest in bank robber fashion. Is that a ‘54 Pontiac in the car port? I’m guessing this photo is from the later ‘60s, being in colour and all. Someone posted it on Twitter.



Decisions, decision. Should I go with the Oven ready Cornish style roasting chicken for dinner, or the Polish smoked Kielbassi? And what’s the difference between “Cornish” and “Cornish-style?” The fact Huck is holding a box of his sponsor’s product and he’s very much on-model tells me the artwork didn’t come from someone on the staff of the Lorain Journal. This is from 1962. You may pause a moment and sob about the difference in price compared to today.



Another trade ad, this one from Television Age, March 7, 1960. It’s pushing ABC’s fall line-up. We post it because buried in the list of shows is The Flagstones. There aren’t many contemporary references to The Flintstones under its original name, and few ads. This is one of them. I thought I had saved a newspaper story I found with artwork that included a drawing of Fred Junior (no, this was not for a comic book, it was for the series) but I can’t find it amongst my megabytes of files. Grrr.
Boy, ABC sure had some failures in ‘60, didn’t it?



This needs no introduction.



We’ve been posting some of the Flintstones dailies from the Chicago Tribune. Evidently, Fred and Barney were part of the 1960s round of the Great Chicago Newspaper Wars as they appeared in a different paper at one time. This is courtesy of Scott Awley, who was a character designer late in the life of H-B and has a terrific collection of artwork used to pitch some of the studio’s series. The year is unknown. Nice prehistoric mushroom next to Fred.



Here’s an ABC publicity photo for Top Cat, specifically for the episode “Top Cat Falls in Love.” Oh, to have a full collection of stills for the four Hanna-Barbera prime-time shows on the network.



Finally, we save the best to last. It’s a Huckleberry Hound lamp from 1960. Yes, the 10-inch plastic red Huck is a little disconcerting but the best part is, naturally, the lamp shade. Look at the second picture and see who’s on it. Hey, there’s no name next to me like everyone else!

You can click on any of the pictures to enlarge them. We now close the virtual storage trunk and allow it to gather dust until the next visit to the cyber attic.

Raise the Curtin Tonight

Just a reminder you can hear about Hoyt Curtin and other cartoon composers on Stu’s Show today at 4 p.m. Pacific time. Stu Shostak’s guests are Jerry Beck, who knows more about cartoons than probably anyone, and Greg Ehrbar, who has an amazing breadth of knowledge about music and animation (especially kids’ records). Both are friendly and love sharing what they’ve learned with fans. If you have time to listen, I’m sure you’ll learn something and have fun.

The only unfortunate thing is they’ll never cover all the ground they’ll want to. They could spend three hours on Carl Stalling alone and not get to everything. But Stu has promised an awful lot of work has gone into the show (finding Winston Sharples music in the clear seems to have been a challenge), so it’ll be worth your time to listen.

Click right here to go to Stu’s site.

On the subject of Curtin, an excellent piece about his work on The Jetsons was written several years ago in the book Music in Science Fiction Television. But authors Rebecca Coyle and Alex Mesker postulated that Curtin’s jazzy/big band scores were directly linked from MGM’s Scott Bradley through MGM director Bill Hanna, and I don’t know whether that’s true. It reminds me of one those “cartoon connections” that fanbois use and invent their own facts, eg: A) June Foray voiced Warners cartoons, B) That’s a woman’s voice in that Warner’s cartoon so C) It must be June Foray—even though it’s actually Marian Richman. Bradley used music appropriate to the raucousness and chases of the Tom and Jerry series; in the 1940s, that would have meant loud, big band orchestral horns (and that was only one of his many musical tricks). There’s no evidence I’ve seen that Hanna told Curtin to use that kind of music for the far more sedate Flintstones (or bland Loopy De Loop). Curtin himself once said Hanna’s directive, at least for the Ruff and Reddy series, was “Go write a tune and send it to us as fast as you can.” The decision seems to have been left up to Curtin about the type of music and arrangements to employ. But a Bradley connection is an interesting theory.

And here are a few more unreleased Curtin cues from 1960 you may recognise.

CUE 1-9








CUE 1-11








CUE 1-16








CUE 1-35








CUE 1-47








Saturday, May 23, 2015

Everybody Knows The Music

Imagine what Hoyt Curtin’s career would have been like if there had been no Hanna-Barbera. Or what Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the ‘60s would have sounded like if there had been no Hoyt Curtin.

I’ll bet you can’t. The two are wedded together in the musical memories of several generations. Doesn’t everyone recognise the theme to The Flintstones?

In the ‘50s, Curtin was just another freelance composer, picking up work where he could find it; commercials, B movies, cartoons, it didn’t matter. But, as luck would have it, Curtin wrote music for a beer commercial being made at the MGM cartoon studio where Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were producing. That led to work composing theme songs when Hanna and Barbera struck out on their own and then being hired in 1959 (he was the in-house composer for the Raphael G. Wolff studio at the time) to compile a cue library for Loopy de Loop theatrical cartoons. Then came The Flintstones in 1960 (a company called Animation Associates had him write cues for its Q.T. Hush cartoons), followed by Top Cat, The Jetsons, Magilla Gorilla and Jonny Quest.

When Hanna-Barbera set up shop in 1957, it began licensing cues from at least three stock music libraries—Capitol Hi-Q, Langlois Filmusic and the Sam Fox Variety library—as background sound for its cartoons; Curtin was hired to write themes, then several variations to use as bumper underscores only. But television was growing enough and becoming profitable enough for firms to be able to pay for their own, specific musical bridges, buttons and so on. That’s the direction Hanna-Barbera went in. The process didn’t change. Curtin didn’t score to the action like Carl Stalling at Warner Bros. Instead, his compositions, just like the ones in the Hi-Q library, set a mood. Sound editors like Greg Watson or Joe Ruby picked from amongst the reels upon reels of his cues to find something appropriate to the atmosphere on screen.

Bill Hanna has a reputation in some circles of being penurious, but he didn’t skimp when it came to music. Curtin wasn’t given a tacky three-piece combo to work with. He brought in top session musicians, more than 20 pieces. His scores and arrangements ran the gamut but he’s praised mainly for big band/jazz-inspired tunes, especially when it came to his theme songs.

It seems odd that this blog has been around six years without devoting a post to Mr. Curtin. It’s because there are so many other places on line where you can easily find biographical material. There isn’t much for us to say. But I’ve found a couple of old news stories that may be able to add to the collective knowledge about him.

First, a story from the weekly edition of Variety from December 9, 1964. Basically, it tells how Curtin hit the jackpot thanks to commercials. Oh, a cartoon studio helped his bank balance, too.


Curtin Scores Bonanza As Teleblurb Cleffer And Cartoon Maestro
Los Angeles, Dec. 8.
Hoyt Curtin, the Hanna-Barbera music director who scores the 13 tv animated series, also has 136 teleblurbs currently airing. He estimates this adds up to two hours and 16 minutes of music daily. Naturally, his income has risen astronomically and he claims 75% of it is derived from blurb cleffing, which he prefers doing. And why not? Approximately 10% of total production budget on average 58-second blurb is allotted the musical director—or 10% of $30,000, according to Curtin.
With union scale running $31.50 per hour for tooter and $63 per hour for batoneer, the musical director who does his own conducting (and Curtin does) stands to pocket at least $1,000 on a single assignment. During Harry James' Kleenex blurb, which Curtin scored, he was allotted better than 20% of cost.
Curtin used a minimum of 22 pieces in scoring each of the following H-B shows; "The Flintstones," "Johnny Quest," [sic] "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "Touche Turtle," "Quick Draw McGraw," "Lippy The Lion," "Wally Gator," "Top Cat," "The Jetsons," "Magilla Gorilla," "Peter Potamus" and "Ruff 'N' Reddy."
Ideally, In blurb scoring, "the music and spot are one entity," says Curtin, who gained immediate recognition in 1950-'51 when he scored the early Magoo cartoons.
Curtin died on December 3, 2000. This was among the remembrances written a few days later.
Appreciation; The Unsung Composer; Hoyt Curtin Put The Tune in 'Toons
Hank Stuever, Washington Post Staff Writer [December 12, 2000]
Hoyt Curtin, who wrote more than 400 pieces of music for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's manic cartoon factory, was the unheralded master of Saturday morning's musical cacophony.
The clangs and crashes and stick-in-the-bucket rattles of the composer's distinctive jazz riffs are burned subconsciously into the sugared brains of three generations of kids: Fred Flintstone slides down a dinosaur tail to the sound of Curtin's hyped-up horn section--"Flintstones/ Meet the Flintstones/ They're the modern Stone Age family . . . "
The world can hum that. Musicians still record it.
Curtin, who died last week in California at age 78 after a long illness, was the king of the TV cartoon theme song, those 30 crucial seconds for a jingle to scream Hey, kids, don't touch that dial! Like most songwriters in Hollywood in the 1950s, Curtin labored in a particular kind of jangly schlock, where everything rhymed and bounced and had to be catchy.
But it was also the incidental music--the little bits of complex and miraculous improv that went with the cartoons, adding up over three decades--that was a large part of his unknown genius. What is the music of poor Fred's damaged hubris after dropping a bowling rock on his toe? What is the music of Jonny Quest scuba-diving into a school of sharks?
Curtin gave us that frenetic assault of strings that accompanied George Jetson through all that utopian sky-borne traffic between Spacely Sprockets and home. When the Scooby-Doo gang pulls up to a haunted house in their Mystery Machine van, we know, thanks to him, what the groovy-spooky mood is, and what that sounds like.
Curtin had a long relationship with Hanna-Barbera, from the late '50s to 1992, almost all of it on an episode-by-episode basis. The studio would call him up and give him the gist of a new batch of cartoons: A bear wearing a porkpie hat lives in the woods and steals picnic baskets. ("Yogi Bear is smarter than the [beat] average bear / Yogi Bear is always in the [beat] ranger's hair.") A hillbilly dog with a bow tie has strange adventures. ("That oh-so-merry / Chuckleberry / Huckleberry How-wowwww-und.")
Curtin would write the songs, hire the musicians, book the studio time, conduct the orchestras.
As legend has it, he put the "Flintstones" theme together in a couple of collaborative phone calls with Bill Hanna in late 1959. He worked fast because that's how the cartoon factory worked. At Hanna-Barbera's peak, in the early 1970s, Curtin wrote original music for 10 new cartoons in one season. They paid him per show, and he would be dropping in music cues even as the drawings were being assembled by Korean artists.
At the time, critical grown-ups lamented the decline of the cartoon. Saturday morning TV was nowhere near the quality, they said, of the cinema shorts of the 1930s and '40s. In a way they were right.
It would be years before any of this would take on a post-boomer cachet. When Rhino Records reissued Curtin's work in 1995, he was semi-retired, living about an hour northwest of Los Angeles, at the end of a pretty cul-de-sac.
He had invented a successful brand of underground lawn sprinklers. Fascinated by computer-generated sounds, he had converted his grown son's bedroom into a synthesizer studio. He was also working on his own brand of correspondence course for budding musicians--learn how to write songs the Hoyt Curtin way.
A music historian who produced the Rhino series literally had to peel the soundtracks off the original celluloid films to get adequate masters of Curtin's themes and background music--no one had bothered to keep them after the shows were produced. There is, as far as anyone knows, no existing master for his most famous piece, the "Flintstones" theme.
I went to meet Curtin in 1995, thinking his life would make a story. (It didn't.) He told me I could come, but warned me that he wasn't very interesting. Unlike some artists who realize that they've inadvertently created pop-culture legends, Curtin wasn't trying to get credit or back pay.
He served on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. He studied music at the University of Southern California on the GI Bill and dreamed of writing scores for motion pictures. He settled for commercial jingles. His work on "Mr. Magoo" theater shorts in 1953 led to his association with Hanna-Barbera. The first cartoon they did together was "Ruff and Reddy."
Among the last of Curtin's jobs was the music for "The Smurfs," ending in the early '90s. By then, his sound had strayed. It was less jazzy, too childlike. "It feels good not to be doing it anymore," he said to me then.
We drove a few blocks to his country club and had lunch. He laughed a lot. He peppered his sentences with a jazzy "man" tacked on at the end. He said "soitenly," instead of "certainly," like a cartoon character would.
I produced a photocopied picture of him in the early 1960s, conducting an orchestra. Judging from the number of violins, he guessed it was a session for "The Jetsons."
"Very difficult to play," he said of that piece. "That's not anything you can jam on unless you play fiddle like Itzhak Perlman, man. Those fiddle parts were fingerbusters!"
As it happened, Curtin heard Perlman play "The Flintstones" once in concert. He heard his music everywhere. Punk bands interpreted it. Among professional trombone players, "Jonny Quest" is still a measure of one's skill. It has six flat notes, produced at full slide.
We spent part of the afternoon upstairs in his music room. Curtin played all my favorite cartoon songs on his keyboard. The ones he could remember, anyway. ("We've gotta gorilla for sale / Magilla Gorilla for sale," we sang.)
When he couldn't remember them, he'd say, "How'd that one go? Remind me."
He was also right: Nobody wanted to buy my article about him. "Everybody knows the music," he said. "Nobody knows the guy who wrote it."
Curtin’s best work was on Jonny Quest, my favourite work of his was on Top Cat (a show I’m lukewarm at best about) but his Flintstones cues are fun, too. And you need to hear his version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” in the clear to appreciate how much his horns smoked (was Pete Candoli in there?). Some of Curtin’s cartoon recordings found their way onto CDs released 20-or-so years ago by Rhino Records. The late Earl Kress went on a musical spelunking job trying to find material for the release. I asked him why more of Curtin’s Flintstones music hadn’t been put on disc because he had said there was plenty of it in the studio’s archives. He explained many of the cues were quite short and an album featuring a series quick of instrumentals wouldn’t really work; he felt Rhino had released the most memorable of Curtin’s little tunes. (Personally, I thought a CD of nothing but Jonny Quest cues could have been a big seller; I forgot what Earl mentioned when we discussed it).

Earl said he discovered when he researched the Flintstones cues, the bulk of them were not named like a song, they were similar to how Hi-Q would have a Bill Loose composition labelled “C-19.” I never asked him about the significance of the number, whether it indicated a session number or something like that. So here are some random cues with their numeric titles. You’ll hear what sounds like some cassette tape hiss. They may be running a touch off-speed. Cue 8-10 is the one used when Dino does his impromptu high-step and juggling audition in “Dino Goes Hollyrock.”


CUE 6-1








CUE 6-2








CUE 6-4








CUE 6-6








CUE 6-9








CUE 6-10








CUE 6-14








CUE 6-15








CUE 6-16








CUE 6-27








CUE 8-4








CUE 8-6








CUE 8-7








CUE 8-8








CUE 8-9








CUE 8-10








CUE 8-11








And while we’re on the topic of cartoon music, we’d like to give you a heads-up that there’ll be a special broadcast about the subject on Stu’s Show this coming Wednesday at 4 p.m. Pacific time. You’ll want to tune in. His guests are Jerry Beck, who knows just about everything there is to know about theatrical cartoons, and Greg Erhbar, one of the most knowledgeable people you’ll find in the area of children’s records and their cartoon connections. You can expect them to touch on the careers of theatrical greats like Stalling, Bradley and Timberg and hopefully one of the unsung great early ‘30s composers—Van Beuren’s Gene Rodemich. And I imagine they’ll fit in a word or two about the stock music writers you’ve read about and heard here (cue Jack Shaindlin’s “Toboggan Run”)—and that undisputed master of the TV cartoon composition, Hoyt Curtin.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Story of Stang

Arnold Stang was no stranger to voice acting, cartoon or otherwise, when either Joe Barbera or Alan Dinehart decided the guy they hired as Top Cat just wasn’t right and someone else was needed. (Dinehart was the voice director on the show). In the early ‘40s, he subtracted a few years off his age and won auditions for a variety of juvenile roles on network radio before graduating to The Henry Morgan Show as the somewhat apathetic Gerard. As for cartoons, he played Popeye’s accident-prone buddy Shorty in a few shorts before he and Sid Raymond co-starred in the long-running Herman and Katnip series released by Paramount, uncredited the whole time.

People only familiar with his work on Top Cat may not be aware of the busy career Stang had in the ‘40s and ’50s. So here he is talking about it to the Philadelphia Inquirer of April 29, 1962. About six weeks earlier, it was announced the show was leaving prime-time and going into Saturday morning reruns.


'The Arnold Stang-Type', In Person
By HARRY HARRIS

ARNOLD STANG is a walking, talking zoo. Currently furnishing the voice of the title tabby in "Top Cat," ABC's animated comic strip Wednesdays at 8:30 P. M. (Channel 6), he has impersonated a Noah's Arkful of non-humans.
For some five years he was Hoiman the mouse in a "Funday Funnies" cartoon series. He was Aristotle, the philosophic turtle, in Ray Bolger's "Washington Square," speaking for a look-alike Bil Baird puppet. He has also portrayed Jasper, a 900-pound gorilla.
"Jasper was on radio," he told us with deceptive mildness (although he's now earning a weekly stipend purring like a cat, he can, when launched on a favorite topic, rotor like a lion). "I couldn't play a 900-pound gorilla on television very convincingly. I only weigh 103."
On records he's been cast as the White Rabbit in "Alice in Wonderland," an elephant who couldn't remember, a seal who didn't want to eat with his flippers and a merry-go-round horse tired of going round and round ("He wanted to go up and down for a change?). He has narrated "Peter and the Wolf" and "Ferdinand the Bull."
He played the title role in radio's "Eager Beaver," but he wasn't a beaver—"just a young fellow with a lot of ginger," and he won critical praise for his serious movie acting as the non-bird Sparrow in "The Man with the Golden Arm."
Also, he's continually being likened—because of his size (5'4) and the popping eyes behind the horn-rimmed specs—to chipmunk and owl.
The Bilko-like T. C. in "Top Cat" (Stang resents the comparison, growling, "You might just as well say Aldous Huxley is like me because he wears glasses!") marks his first stint as a cat.
"Of course," he adds, "the character doesn't think of himself as a cat. He thinks of himself as a very intelligent person."
Stang was tapped for the assignment after a long list of "names" had auditioned and first Daws Butler, whose voice is used in many of the other Hanna-Barbera cartoon shows, and then Michael O'Shea had been selected.
"They had made five episodes with Daws and then five with O'Shea," Stang reports, "but they weren't satisfied. When they decided to use me, they discarded the earlier animation. They felt I brought a new quality to the part, a sort of seedy grandeur, a shabby aristocracy.
"So they changed and redrew the character. Instead of a torn hat, he wore a straw with an Ivy League band. Instead of old clothes, he was given a colored weskit and an old school tie, so that he achieved a kind of shabby sophistication."
Although T C. doesn't look like Stang, he has acquired gestures and mannerisms usually associated with what Arnold terms disparagingly "an Arnold Stang thing." "There is an 'Arnold Stang type'," he concedes.
"I have a collection of scripts, a 15-foot shelf, from shows I've never done in. which a character is described as 'Arnold Stang type.' In many cases they're far away from my conception, but the phrase has become part of television and radio show business language.
"I'm usually thought of in terms of Gerard, the part I played with Henry Morgan, or of Francis, with Milton Berle, but they weren't at all alike. Gerard was soft-spoken, introverted, quite naive, but with a native sophistication. Francis was a loud, extroverted cynic.
"One's talk was just monosyllabic. The other used the jargon of Broadway. You can't get characters any farther apart.
"Depending on the show, the 'Arnold Stang' character is usually Gerard or Francis.
I'm often called in for these parts and in each case have a definite conception of how I should play it. Often it's opposite what other people had in mind. "I try to stay as far away from any one type as I can. I have never considered myself a comic or a second banana. I have always been an actor. I always do character lines, never jokes. I analyze every show, and I prepare the same way for comedy or tragedy. I have carefully diversified my efforts.
"Comic or serious, I have no preference. If I had my 'druthers, I'd divide my time between the serious and the light.
"Whatever I'm doing currently, I enjoy. I enjoy being a working member of show business. I like everything, even panel shows. They're very stimulating."
His greatest impact on the public, he believes, came from his association with Berle, but he considers his best comedy efforts his work on Morgan's radio and TV shows.
"I see Henry whenever I can," he says. "He's a brilliant man, though like many gifted men a difficult guy to get to know. He's well-read, intelligent, a fine judge of comedy and a helluva performer. Limiting him to sitting on a panel is a terrible waste."
Other favorites of Stang, who considers himself "a good audience, but not a loud one. for comedians; I can appreciate, but I don't guffaw," are Red Skelton, Jonathan Winters and Art Carney.
If "Arnold Stang type" has entered the show biz lexicon, many a word or phrase Stang introduced during extended engagements with Morgan, Berle, Perry Como, Ed Sullivan, "December Bride" (he played the then-unseen Gladys' brother Marvin) and other programs have become popular parlance.
Samples: "Hoo-hah!" "What's to like?" "Big deal!" "Oh, I'm dying!"
"One of the biggest yocks I ever got," he recalls, "was from an ad lib on Morgan's radio show—my first 'Ikkhh!'
"On the Berle show 'chip-chip-chip' stopped the show cold, and I had to use it from then on. I even had fan clubs that called themselves the Three Chip Clubs, I used 'You're sick!' with Berle on radio, and suddenly "sick' was all over and Frank Sinatra was taking out 'Sick, Sick, Sick' ads."
The former Seymour in "The Goldbergs" and Harold Harcleroad in "Duffy's Tavern" once won a "best actor" award for portraying a halfwit murderer in Ring Lardner's "Haircut." He's pleased that his "Top Cat" working schedule allows him time to accept outside movie and TV jobs, including "Wagon Train," "Bonanza" and "Checkmate" stints.
Now 38, Massachusetts-born Stang [Yowp note, he was actually 43 and born in New York] has been a performer ever since he auditioned for New York's "Children's Hour" with a serious reading of Poe's "The Raven." His voice was changing, everybody roared and he was offered comedy parts.
"My wife," he notes, "says I've been discovered more times than cures for the common cold. First I was discovered as a kid and had parts in three pictures and a lead on Broadway.
"Suddenly I was discovered as another thing, as if I were just out of bed. There was a lot of radio, and I don't think there's been a time that I wasn't involved in television in some way.
"I remember an experimental NBC show in 1936 with Hildegarde as m.c. I did a dramatic vignette with Gertrude Berg and George Tobias. Every 15 minutes they would stop the show and put on a spiral pattern—so the audience could rest its eyes. People thought then that constant looking at a TV screen might strain their eyes."
Arnold lives in California with his wife Joanne, a former newspaperwoman who came to interview him, and their two children, David, 11, and Deborah, 10. Do the kids find him funny?
"I suppose they've been amused at one time or another," says Stang, "but as a rule they take me very seriously!"

You may be reading about Michael O’Shea as Top Cat for the first time. What happened? Read about it at this post from 2009. As for Daws, I suspect the reason he didn’t end up with the role was because of a comment that Joe Barbera made in the ‘60s (it appears on this blog somewhere) that Daws was responsible for too many of the studio’s main characters.

Here’s a gallery of some publicity shots for Stang; some of them may have been posted here before. The one in the top left was used in 1941 when he was on The Goldbergs. The artist’s rendering was found in trade ads in 1943 and the one next to it is from 1954.



It’s Stang as Juliet to Red Skelton’s Romeo in a Skelton TV show from April 2, 1957.



T.C. never did appeared in drag on his show, but if it had carried on for a few more seasons, you never know. If it was good enough for Fred and Barney...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

John Stephenson

For years, cartoons came and went in the production line at Hanna-Barbera, but John Stephenson was always there, lending his voice to comic and not-so-comic characters.

John Stephenson died last night at the age of 91, according to his son Roger. He had been in a care home and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for some time.

He was just as comfortable in front of the camera as in front of a microphone. He has a long list of credits on live-action shows, some in regular roles, and probably a longer list in cartoons. He graduated from radio to television with ease and was the first person who appeared on camera when “I Love Lucy” debuted in 1951 (Stephenson was the commercial pitch-man).

For someone who failed an audition with Hanna-Barbera, he sure had a long career there.

Stephenson had all kinds of roles at the studio but his most famous one is, arguably, Mr. Slate on “The Flintstones.” In the photo above, you see him hovering over Mel Blanc (and blocking Alan Reed) as Joe Barbera goes over the story with the Flintstones’ voice cast (the bald guy in the back is Associate Producer Alan Dinehart).

Stephenson was from Kenosha, about 40 or so miles from Milwaukee, where the Journal felt he was local enough to profile in a feature article published February 13, 1963. This was after his first regular cartoon role as Fancy-Fancy on “Top Cat” had gone into Saturday morning reruns and well before he cropped up on seemingly every “Scooby-Doo” episode as a stumped law enforcement guy or a disguised villain who would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids and... well, you know the line.

The article sums up Stephenson’s entertainment career, and has a surprise about the role at Hanna-Barbera he didn’t get.


Seldom Seen, Often Heard
Ex-Kenoshan With Versatile Vocal Cords Provides Voices for the Cartoon Characters You See on TV
By J.D. SPIRO
Journal Special Correspondence
Hollywood, Calif.—In Hollywood’s TV cartoon workshops, one of the major tasks is to find the right voices for the characters that pop out of the inkwells. Since not only features and shorts but also an increasing number of commercials employ these unseen performers, there is a growing need for them, and the opportunities are attracting more and more actors with vocal versatility.
Among the better known and highly regarded members of this group is John Stephenson, 39, from Kenosha, Wis., who finds working in this field more rewarding and exciting than anything he ever did in his previous show business experience.
“It has been keeping me so busy,” he said, “that from a dollar and cents point of view I can no longer afford to make motion pictures.”
In ‘The Flintstones’
Stephenson has been the voice of innumerable characters in such shows at “The Flintstones,” “Top Cat” and others. “The Flintstones,” he said, “was my first animated series. I auditioned for both Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble when they were still on the drawing boards. But I ended up doing various other roles, such as Garry Granite, Perry Gunnite, Boss Slate, Mrs. Slate, Joe Rockhead and more.”
In “Top Cat,” Stephenson, besides doing other parts, has a starring vocal role as Fancy-Fancy, the ladies man of the back alley set.
“I tried to make him come across as a kind of Brooklyn Cary Grant,” he explained.
In the cartoon studios, Stephenson is known for his creativeness and his broad range. Where dialects are needed he can do English, French, German, Italian and Russian besides the typical accents of the different sections of the United States. He also has a talent for trick voices.
Champ in Oratory
“Sometimes in the animated cartoon field,” he said, “I also do impersonations of widely known people. For these I often audition on the phone. The other day a producer called up and wanted to know whether I could impersonate W.C. Fields. I replied by doing it for him while we were talking.”
Stephenson, whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Stephenson, now live at 1029 E. Idaho st., Milwaukee, first became interested in acting while attending Kenosha high school and studying speech under John Davies, who encouraged him to give it a try. In his senior year (1941) he became Wisconsin state champion in oratory and dramatic declamation in the National Forensic league competitions. He was runnerup when the various state winners met at Terre Haute, Ind.
The next fall, Stephenson entered Ripon college, where he was active in campus drama. His intention then, however, was to become a lawyer, and after finishing at Ripon, to take a law course at the University of Wisconsin. After Pearl Harbor, World War II interrupted his studies and he became a radio operator and gunner in the air corps. By the time he got out of uniform he had decided to be an actor. Because of this change of plans, he took a course in speech and drama at Northwestern university, and he began his professional career in Chicago radio while still a student.
In 1948, with only three months to go before getting his M.A. degree, Stephenson came to Hollywood for a visit. Here he fell in with some actors he had worked with in Chicago. They encouraged him to try his luck in Hollywood radio. It proved so promising he decided to stay. He appeared in “It’s Always Sunday,” and played the title role in another, “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
After Hollywood television began to flourish in the early 1950’s Stephenson turned to it not only as an actor but also as an announcer and host-narrator. He did his first announcing with “I Love Lucy.” Later he played a continuing role in “People’s Choice,” starring Jackie Cooper—the part of Roger Crutcher, a rival for the affections of Pat Breslin. Following a year with Cooper, he became host-narrator of “Bold Journey,” then returned to acting in various shows.
Does Commercials
Stephenson also appears, or is heard as an off camera voice, in many TV commercials. Recently he went to Detroit to do one for the Ford Motor Co., intended for use in connection with the Leonard Bernstein-New York Philharmonic specials, and he filmed two others for Ford here.
“The one in Detroit, which we did at the Dearborn testing grounds,” he said, “was only two minutes long but it took a week to shoot.”
In TV, Stephenson also speaks for Bell & Howell in their specials and is heard in a number of other commercials. Besides his radio and TV roles, he has done six movies, the latest “Spartacus.”
With his wife, Jean, and two children, Roger, 5, and Katie, 2, the former Wisconsin actor lives in the Woodland Hills district of the San Fernando Valley.

Once Stephenson landed at Hanna-Barbera, Joe Barbera, Alan Dinehart, Gordon Hunt and the other recording directors wouldn’t let him go. It seems like he provided voices for just about every H-B series for the next couple of decades (the original “Jetsons” being a notable exception). 30-plus years after his arrival, his rumbling yell of “Flint-stone!” from the mouth of Mr Slate was still being recorded for soundtracks, this time for TV movies of the Modern Stone Age Family.

We offer our condolences to his family. I’m sure his countless fans do, too.

The High-Fallutin’-est

Hanna-Barbera fans have their favourite characters, and yours truly is no exception. You’ve probably figured out from this blog I really love the early cartoon series the best. The writing was clever, the characters likeable, the artwork attractive, the voice casting pretty much perfect and even the stock music set the right mood. (Conversely, I don’t think all these elements were found in the studio’s cartoons later on, and were maddeningly lacking in some, but to each their own).

Picking a favourite character is pretty easy. It’s Quick Draw McGraw.

I’m not a fan of westerns but I enjoy seeing how the Quick Draw series makes fun of western film clichés. Quick Draw himself isn’t an absolute moron and I don’t think his cartoons would have been as fun if he had been. In most cases, he has the right idea of how to go about things but something fails miserably in the execution. Writer Mike Maltese fills up the story with something other than tired chatter. Quick Draw (and virtually every other character) talks to the narrator or the audience. The dialogue features surprising non sequiturs, self-references and corny puns. The series was kept fresh by Quick Draw occasionally assuming the guise of El Kabong, Maltese’s concept of “What if Zorro were inept?” And need I mention the appearances of Snuffles, who carried out the idea of a dog’s enthusiastic love of treats to a ridiculous and somewhat logical conclusion?

The Huckleberry Hound Show was a tough act for Hanna-Barbera to follow. Huck and Yogi were a smash hit and Huck even inspired a fad following in 1958 and 1959. But Hanna-Barbera came up with the idea of parodying TV genres—television was old enough and familiar enough for it to work—and the Quick Draw show won praise from critics and gained a loyal audience. Here’s a story from the Los Angeles Times of November 1, 1959, about five weeks after Quick Draw galloped all the way onto the air.

Quick Draw McGraw Satire Shoots Up Westerns
By DON PAGE
Recently, a careful count revealed there are no less than 29 westerns on television at prime time during the week. That’s saturation, ponder.
Correct this erroneous report. There are actually 30!
The statistician who made the survey neglected to include the rip-roaringest, gol-darnedest western of all, a show that stars the fastest gun alive—especially when he’s a horse.
His name is Quick Draw McGraw, a cartoon hero created by those master animators, Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, who gave you Huckleberry Hound. Quick Draw is on our cover this week.
Each Monday Channel 11 at 7 p.m., lets Quick Draw out of his corral with his friends, who include some of the real pioneers of the Old West.
Quick Draw (a horse, you’ll remember) is possibly the only western hero alive with a burro as a sidekick. His burro, or ponder, goes by the name of Baba Looey and sounds strangely like Desi Arnaz.
The Quick Draw series satirizes the pants off TV’s westerns. And what better way to do it than with a horse as the hero? What could be more fitting? They talk about true-life cowboys with saddlesores, smelling of the open range. Well, Quick Draw has a built-in danger with natural saddlesores.
Quick Draw has a real cast of characters with him—appearing in other segments of Hanna and Barbera’s classic cartoon. There’s the private eye duo of Snooper and Blabber, a cat-and-mouse team. Tomorrow, for example, Snooper and Blabber hunt down Light Fingers Farouk, who is disguised as a dog. Here, too, is wonderful satire.
McGraw is actually designed for adult viewing although the animation pleases the children equally. But the dialogue is delivered with tongue in cheek. Only the big kids understand it fully.
It’s really a break for the adults. Most of ‘em can’t understand the other 29 westerns anyhow.
Just how big of a hit was Quick Draw? This story from the May 11, 1960 edition of Weekly Variety has the answer. You can click on the ratings charts to get a better look at some of the specific numbers.
Kiddie Shows Build Up Unusual Strength in Top 10 Vidpix Survey
Kiddie vidfilm shows are cutting come fancy rating capers, some evidencing a remarkable consistency in market after market.
Checkdown of the ARB-VARIETY charts appearing in this issue, shows "Huckleberry Hound," "Popeye," "Quick Draw McGraw," and "Three Stooges" placing among the top 10 in a multiplicity of markets.
Some of the ratings are imposing. In Seattle-Tacoma, "Huckleberry Hound" copped a 36.6 for its Thursday at 6 p.m. slot on KING. It was number one in the market, followed by "Three Stooges" with a 30.9 on KOMO. In Philadelphia, "Popeye" was the number one syndicated show in the market. The "Popeye" series there is stripped Monday through Saturday from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Cartoons making the top 10 syndicated chart this week were as follows: "Huckleberry Hound," among the top 10 in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, Pittsburgh, New-Orleans, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Baltimore.
"Popeye" was among the top 10 in the following cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore.
"Quick Draw McGraw," placed among top 10 in following markets: Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta and Baltimore.
"Three Stooges," a non-cartoon kiddie show, placed among the top 10 in the cities surveyed in the following markets: Seattle-Tacoma, San Francisco and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
There are many five-minute cliff-hanger cartoons which are programmed in a general kiddie show.
Such five-minute strips wouldn't show up in the ARB-Variety charts which measure half-hour programs, or shows of greater duration.


The Quick Draw McGraw Show couldn’t have made the marketing department at Hanna-Barbera’s bankroller Screen Gems happier. H-B was only two years old at the time Quick Draw debuted and hadn’t built up a large stable of starring characters it could exploit, so it was forced to fill product catalogues with secondary characters like Li’l Tom Tom, Iggy and Ziggy and Yowp (you may cheer at this point). Now, the studio had six or seven new stars it could turn into toys, comic books, puzzles, games, dolls, etc. etc. etc. and could start phasing out its B-listers like, well, you know who (you may boo at this point). Quick Draw got a lot of attention, even taking part in the Huckleberry Hound presidential campaign of 1960 (see photo from Broadcasting magazine of October 24, 1960 to the right). But Quick Draw never got a newspaper comic like Yogi Bear, or a full-length movie like Yogi Bear, or was turned into a lousy CGI Rodney Dangerfield sound-alike years later like Yogi Bear. Clearly by 1960 Yogi had eclipsed Huck as the studio’s number one star and was soon joined by the Flintstones in the studio’s top echelon. But I’ll still take Quick Draw over all over them. How can you dislike someone who goes around bashing people with an out-of-tune guitar in the name of frontier justice?