Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gentle Backgrounds

Hanna-Barbera had three background artists after the studio opened in 1957, one veteran and two relative newcomers to animation. The veteran was Bob Gentle who, like Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, worked at the MGM cartoon studio for the entirety of its 20-year life, excepting military service.

Bob Gentle was one of a number of artists who married someone else in the animation industry and later had a child who ended up in the industry as well. The child in question is Drew Gentle.

Today, Drew lives far from Hollywood in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. I stumbled across a story in his local paper about an exhibition of his art. You can read it HERE. But allow me to quote portions of it because it has a little bit of biographical information about his father and talks about the Hanna-Barbera studio in the pre-Taft days.

[Drew] Gentle's career as an artist started in 1965 when he was 17 years old. He had just graduated from high school and was thinking "I don't have to be anywhere on Monday" when his father ask[ed], "Do you want to come to the studio and be my assistant?"
So Drew went to work the next Monday at Hanna-Barbara, where his father, Bob Gentle, was an artist. His take-home pay that summer was $70, Drew recalled, but the environment was incredibly rich.
"I was working with people who had worked in the golden age of animation, the '30s, '40s and into the '50s," he said.
Both of his parents had worked on the first feature-length animated movie, "Snow White" in the '30s for Disney, who pulled in artists from other studios when the financial backers threatened to close it down if it wasn't finished. Bob Gentle, who was a reconnaisance map maker for the Allied advance after D-Day, had worked with Bill Hanna before the war, including producing art for the "Tom and Jerry" cartoon movie shorts shown in theaters.
The first series Drew Gentle worked on was "The Herculoids," he recalled, one of the action cartoons H-B was producing in the 1960s. He also remembers working on "Birdman" and "Thundarr." By the time he was working on "Quick Draw McGraw," censorship had caught up with children's programming.
"They took away his gun," Drew said. "We weren't allowed to draw his gun."
Drew recalled that his father used sponges to create the stones of the caves for the studio's prime-time hit, "The Flintstones."
Drew's mother, Jane Parmele, who once dated Tex Avery and Bill Hanna, grew up in Hollywood and met Bob Gentle in art school.
We’ve never posted a profile of Bob Gentle here, so let’s do it now.

Robert Mac Gentle was born in Norfolk, Nebraska on February 15, 1914 to Burton Coe Gentle and Frances Davenport. His father was later deputy assessor for the County of Los Angeles. The Gentles arrived in Los Angeles around 1927. Bob attended the Otis Institute of Art in 1933, then eventually got a job at the Harman-Ising studio. When MGM dumped Harman-Ising and started making its own cartoons in 1937, Gentle made the jump to the new operation and ended up handling backgrounds for the Hanna-Barbera unit when it was formed a couple of years later.

He enlisted in the military on January 23, 1941 and by April he was in an army uniform along with Metro artists Paul Fanning, Tom Ray and Sam Dawson. Gentle married Jane Virginia Parmele on December 13, 1943 while both were in the service. She was a widow, having married in 1938 (as a matter of record, both Hanna and Avery tied the knot with their wives in 1936). So it would appear by Drew’s account that Gentle did not work on MGM cartoons during the war years, which would explain why veteran Ernie Smythe was the background artist on the first Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon “Yankee Doodle Mouse” (1943). When Gentle returned to the studio is unclear.
Variety reported on February 6, 1946:
‘Slap-Happy Lion’ newest Metro Star
Fred Quimby returned yesterday from New York after a two-week business trip to confer with Metro officials and attend sales meetings. Quimby announced formation of a new cartoon unit at the studio, which will turn out “Slap-Happy Lion” inkers. Tex Avery is the director and personnel includes Bob Bently, George Crenshaw, Gil Turner, Bud Crabe, P. D. Eller, Johnnie Johnson and Bob Gentle.
One wonders how accurate the story is as Avery already had a unit. Johnson was Avery’s background artist at Warners and followed him to MGM. Gentle did end up back in the Hanna-Barbara unit. When Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera opened their own studio in 1957, he made the jump again, working on all the early TV cartoon series. There appears to have been a bit of a gap in the mid-‘70s, but Gentle’s name can be found on the credits of the studio’s TV cartoons up to “The Flintstone Kids” (1986). He died on January 24, 1988.

We’ve featured some reconstructed long backgrounds of Gentle’s on the site over the years. Let’s repost a few from the first season of the Huck show.

“Tricky Trapper,” layout by Walt Clinton.

“Sir Huckleberry Hound,” layout by Walt Clinton.

“Jiggers...It’s Jinks,” layout by Ed Benedict.

“Sheep-Shape Sheepherder,” layout by Dick Bickenbach.

And, for comparison, here’s one from the MGM Cinemascope theatrical “Down Beat Bear,” layout by Dick Bickenbach, released in 1956. You can click on it to make it bigger.

Gentle’s backgrounds were conservative compared to the work of Art Lozzi and Fernando Montealegre at Hanna-Barbera. But, just as he did at MGM, he provided effective settings for the characters to do to entertain us. And by doing that, he helped entertain us, too.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Augie Doggie — Party Pooper Pop

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Harry Holt, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Lew Marshall, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Doggie Daddy – Doug Young, Augie Doggie, Harold – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-044, Production J-129.
First Aired: 1961-62 season.
Plot: Doggie Daddy tries to teach Augie how to be fun at parties.

Here’s a cartoon with a great premise that, unfortunately, is victimised by being trapped by the confines of television animation. If Hanna-Barbera was producing, say, a dozen shorts a year, Mike Maltese would have had time to come up with punchier observations by Augie Doggie as his dad miserably fails at being an entertainer. And, of course, if budgets were in the theatrical range, someone like Ken Harris could have done a hilarious job of Daddy’s vaudevillian soft-shoe. But the studio had neither the time nor money, so it did what it could.

Harry Holt is the animator on this one. Holt had been living in Portland in 1936 when he visited his mother in Los Angeles and, pretty much on a whim, applied at the Disney studio. There he stayed for 20 years. He worked in Chicago from 1956-60 (for Leo Burnett, perhaps?) and then came back to the West Coast for a job at Hanna-Barbera. He died in Florida in 2004 at the age of 93. You can read more about his life here.

Holt animates Doggie Daddy with lots of head wagging and nodding and even a Dick Lundy-like snout roll at one point. A few times, he has Daddy look at the camera almost straight on. H-B’s animators tended to avoid doing it. Here are four drawings from a stunned reaction. Daddy has thick eyebrows in this cartoon, too.

Doggie Daddy was kind of an animated Ozzie Nelson. “Ozzie and Harriet” was on the air for years. Ozzie was always able to support his family but he never went to work. Doggie Daddy doesn’t seem to have a job. In many cartoons, he’s sitting in a lounge chair reading a newspaper. At least in this cartoon, we know that Daddy did have a job at one time. He reveals he was in vaudeville. Considering his material, we suspect he didn’t play the big time. I can’t help but think besides Ozzie, there’s a little bit of Mike Maltese in this cartoon. Maltese could do a soft shoe dance and seems to have had a pining for performing at the Palace.

The lounge chair in this cartoon is supplied by Monty, who didn’t work on a whole lot of short cartoons in 1961-62. I don’t have credits handy, but I imagine he was spending his time on “The Flintstones” and “Top Cat.” Monty also seems to have loved oval throw rugs in the Daddy residence.

There’s rare interaction between Augie and a human child in this cartoons (“TV or Not TV,” for example, featured a humanised puppy as a neighbour). Here’s Tony Rivera’s design.

The Augie in this cartoon is the boy genius version, who would rather continue his boy genius studies in solitude and avoid the other neighbourhood kids, partly because he doesn’t fit in with them. Today, he’s rechecking Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. “I do believe I caught old Albert in a slight error,” he tells “na├»ve dad.” His Monty-designed bedroom doesn’t have an “H-B” pennant this time.

Daddy forces Augie to go to the party next door and then reminisces about his own days as young party-goer. They were genteel affairs, apparently, as Daddy recalls how he bowed for the ladies. That’s Augie’s cue to walk in blindfolded and stab Daddy in the butt (off-camera) with a tail from a pin-the-tail-on the donkey game.

Daddy now decides to help Augie fit in with the other kids, so he gives him a riddle to tell the kids: “What has four eyes and but cannot see. The answer is Miss-Eye-Sippi.” Augie isn’t laughing. “The joke is based on a play on words, which makes it a childish pun,” he says. One wonders if Maltese was once told that at a story meeting. “I got a thousand of ‘em. A thousand of ‘em,” the Durante-like Daddy tells us (Durante’s line on radio was “I got a million of ‘em”). Augie returns with his head down.

Daddy: Did you forget the funny joke?
Augie: I wish I had, father of old vaudeville days.
Daddy: Ya mean ya told it?
Augie: I mean I told it and I laid a great big egg.
Daddy: Well, maybe it was over their pointy little heads.
Augie: Oh, no, they got it. But the new generation with their pointy little heads also have very sharp brains.

Interestingly, Augie’s comment reflects Joe Barbera’s feelings in interviews about why kids got “adult” jokes in Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Undaunted, Daddy decides to teach Augie his old vaudeville routine to try on the kids, complete with his rickety-tick fancy dance. Maltese hands Daddy what may be the oldest one-liner in vaudeville—“Folks, on my way to de tee-a-ter, a panhandler stopped me and he said he hadn’t had a bite in a week. So, I bit him!” (“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” reacts Augie). “Go lay ‘em in the aisles,” Daddy tells him. “Why fight it?” Augie shrugs. He returns with Daddy’s straw hat broken over his head. “Another egg, my disappointed father. Rickety-tick and all.”

Finally, dear old dad gives Augie the best advice—be yourself. Augie is. And he’s a hit, showing off the workings of a rocket to the kids next door. A rather nice ending to a well-rounded cartoon. I can’t help but think if this were “Yogi’s Gang” or some such ‘70s cartoon dreck, the “be yourself” message would be unsubtly and didactically hammered into viewers in the least entertaining manner possible.

Daddy ends the cartoon with a Durante catchphrase paraphrase: “Dat’s my boy of tomorrow who said dat today!”

Hoyt Curtin’s version of “While Strolling Through the Park One Day” makes an appearance during Daddy’s vaudeville routine. It’s preceded by an organ cue that I don’t believe was used too often.

With this review, we bid farewell to Augie and dear old dad. All 45 cartoons made in the series have been reviewed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Skeeter Trouble Shakes

Carlo Vinci loved using an old trick from the silent animation days. He’d register emotion by alternating two different drawings of a character, one drawn normally, and the other in a jagged form with line around it. The drawings are then alternated.

You can see it in various spots in “Skeeter Trouble,” where Huckleberry Hound’s camping trip to the country turns into a losing battle with a mosquito. In the Huck cartoon, the drawings are on twos.

Here are some examples. I’ve slowed down the animation so you can see the drawings a little better.

The mosquito (after changing his stinging) stabs the sleeping Huck in the nose. The hound’s reaction.

It turns out the mosquito loves repellant and is eating it, despite claims of the narration. A Huck head shake.

Huck has (he thinks) killed the pesky mosquito and kicks him out of the cabin. The mosquito summons an army of his buddies. Huck hears a loud sound of multiple buzzes outside.

Huck thinks he’s stopped the mosquitoes from getting inside by nailing their stingers to the door. The mosquitoes rip off the door.

This is a nice little cartoon. Hanna-Barbera cartoons are known today for their seemingly non-stop talk. But in the first season of the Huck show, there’s a lot less character dialogue and more sight gags; Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna spent years with mute characters, after all. Even in limited animation, you know what Huck and the mosquito are thinking, thanks to the fine work of Carlo Vinci.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Snooper and Blabber — Person to Prison

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey, Layout – Jerry Eisenberg, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, George – Daws Butler; Warden, Quick Change Quentin – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First Aired: 1962.
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-043, Production J-134.
Plot: Snooper and Blabber try to stop Quick Change Quentin from escaping from Sing Song Prison.

If you want a good idea of how Mike Maltese’s mind worked, you can find it during the plot of this cartoon. Most cartoon writers would have a quick change artist turn into another person, or maybe an animal like a dog or a horse. Maltese has a quick change artist turn into a piece of rope. And it’s accepted as perfectly normal by the other characters. Maltese, at his best, could come up with something really off-the-wall like that.

This was the 45th and final Snooper and Blabber cartoon put into production. Maltese brings back Quick Change Quentin from the first season’s “Masquerader Raider,” though Jerry Eisenberg’s design for him is quite different than the one in the original cartoon (this is the second of two Snooper and Blabbers that Eisenberg worked on). And Maltese revisits the idea of Blab being promoted to a full-fledged detective by Snooper, as in “Eenie, Genie, Minie, Mo!” though he’s a lot less successful in this cartoon than that one.

The story in brief: Blab is promoted by Snooper, the two are called to stop Quick Change Quentin from breaking out of Sing Song Prison. Quentin disguises himself as a guard, a piece of rope, and then the Warden. The fake warden and real one are together. Snoop lets Blab pick the right one. Blab lets the disguised Quentin go free. For screwing up, the detectives are behind bars for 30 years. Iris out.

Some random musings about this one...
● There’s no shot of an office door or window with a private eyeball on it.
● Snoop doesn’t yell “Halt in the name of the Private Eye (fill-in-silly-name)!” at the criminal this time. We do get “Stop in the limb of the law!”
● Quentin has the higher pitch voice that Don Messick gave to a bunch of bad guys, like Norton South in the Quick Draw McGraw series.
● Snooper and Blabber run past the same gated door eight times, then nine times when chasing Quentin after he changes back from George the guard.
● What’s the history of comic/cartoon characters shouting a catchphrase before doing something? Was it Bud Collyer’s Superman saying “Up, up and away”? Here, Quentin exclaims “Kazoots!” before each quick change. He didn’t do that in his first appearance two years earlier.
● Quentin takes on the Warden’s voice (by Daws Butler) when he changes into the Warden. But when he changes into George the Guard, he keeps his own voice.
● Snooper and Blabber are both carrying, and firing, guns in this cartoon. Offhand, I don’t recall if Snooper was ever armed in another cartoon.
● The title is a play on the Edward R. Murrow TV show “Person to Person.”
● Another TV reference: Snoop looks at both wardens and says “Will the real warden please stand up?” Unless you know that’s from the game show “To Tell the Truth,” the instruction from host Bud Collyer to separate a real person from two imposters, you’d think it was odd because both wardens are standing (I promise this will be the last Bud Collyer reference today).
● Dialogue: Snoop – “Stop, Quick Change, or it’s solitary refinement for ya!” Quick Change – “These guys are harder to shake than wet salt.”
● More Dialogue: Blab, when first he sees Quentin – “That crook! He should be arrested!”
● Confusion about the criminal charge. Snooper – “What is it, Blab?” Blab – “A 708. Let’s go, Snoop.” Snooper – “Whaddya mean ‘Let’s go’? A ‘708’ is an elderly Boy Scout trapped in a pup tent in Mesopotamia.” Blab – “I’m sorry, Snoop. I mean a 709.” Snooper – “Rumour of a jail break at Sing Song Prison, eh? Oooh, that’s different. Now, let’s go!” (If there’s a “Mesopotamia” reference in an H-B cartoon, you can probably bet Maltese wrote it).
● In the post on the previous Quentin appearance, we showed you some of the drawings of how animator La Verne Harding got Quentin to change from one guise to the next. Hicks Lokey did it the same way in this cartoon—with a swirl of lines, one character disappearing and the other appearing.

● Blab finishes the cartoon as any prisoner would—playing “Red River Valley” on the harmonica. Snoop asks “Do ya think you’ll ever learn to play that thing?” Actually, Blab’s playing it very well. No doubt it’s one of Hoyt Curtin’s session musicians who was called in.

As for the rest of the music, you’ll recognise one of the fast urban chase cues from “Top Cat” when Quentin first appears in the cartoon. When Snoop and Blab start chasing Quentin, there’s a Flintstones cue that was used in “Dino Goes Hollywood” when Fred excitedly cries to Wilma that Dino has come home. The closing bit of music is a Flintstones cue called “Button” or “Extro.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Mightor, Quick Draw and a Pair of Rangers

Time to clean out the old computer and post sundry Hanna-Barbera-related pictures corralled from various parts of the internet over the last few years. My apologies if any of these are yours and I haven’t credited you. Ardent fans have likely seen these posted elsewhere but it’s nice to look at them again. You can click on any of them to make them bigger.

I can’t say that I watched ‘The Mighty Mightor.’ It debuted at 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning in fall 1967 as part of a show called ‘Moby Dick.’ The idea of a crime-fighter whale (weren’t there “teen companions” on that one?) would have been too ridiculous even for 10-year-old me. I see the competition on the tube where I lived were ‘The Beatles,’ ‘Top Cat’ and ‘Spider Man.’ I probably watched ‘The Beatles’ if anything (‘George of the Jungle’ was the lead-in), though during baseball season, Dad took over the TV.

The drawing above is by Alex Toth and the date gives you an idea when the show may have been put into production.

My favourite H-B cartoon. I’ve rummaged through my head trying to think of an episode where Quick Draw was on roller skates. I can’t think of one off-hand, and the production number has me baffled (the Quick Draw show cartoons all started with “J”). Note: See the answer in the comment section.

Lovely drawing of El Kabong. My less-than-educated guess is it was for promotional purposes.

This sheet by Dick Bickenbach is dated almost ten months before “The Quick Draw McGraw Show” debuted. The show was in production by December 16, 1958, as that’s when Daily Variety reported production on it would be halted over the holidays.

A cel from the closing animation for “The Quick Draw McGraw Show.” There’s cycle animation of the characters riding the stagecoach but none of it contains a drawing where Baba has his feet together and Quick Draw’s whip has two loops under his hand. The closest I can find in the closing animation is when the stagecoach emerges from its little side-journey and rejoins the galloping horses that are supposed to be pulling it.

Two sheets of Ranger Smith. The top one is from after “The Yogi Bear Show” went on the air. The second one is from 1963, so I gather it’s for the Yogi Bear movie. The design hews closer to what Gene Hazelton et al were using in the Yogi Bear newspaper comics. It’s initialled by Alex Lovy.

Layout of Reddy. He seemed to have his fists up in a bunch of episodes, so I can’t guess which one this is from.

Yogi and Cindy have procreated in this 1962 drawing. If anyone knows the origin of this drawing, let me know.

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted this story sketch before. It’s from one of the cartoons-between-the-cartoons on “The Huckleberry Hound Show.”

More artwork from a cartoon-between-the-cartoons on “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” as best as I can tell.

And this neat drawing is by Gene Hazelton. Gene loved golf and lived adjacent to a golf course. Gene ended up being in charge of the Hanna-Barbera comic strips syndicated by McClatchy. He had worked with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera at MGM (and Tex Avery as well) and also spent time in the 1940s at Disney and Warner Bros. Gene was respected and admired by his co-workers. Bravo for Gene.

There are probably a few more wayward drawings buried in old files. I’ll try to post them when I get a chance.