Monday, July 20, 2009

The Dog that Snickers in the TV Flickers

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera weren’t above borrowing—especially from themselves—when coming up with new characters. But as time marches on, it becomes fuzzy in the minds of new viewers who came first.

Say the words “snickering dog” and the response you’ll likely get is “Muttley.” He first appeared in Wacky Races, which began its broadcast life on Saturday mornings in 1968. It was one of the last Hanna-Barbera shows I really enjoyed, mainly because of the voice work, and the fact I liked the movie The Great Race. And breaking out into stardom were Dick Dastardly and Muttley, who ended up with their own vastly ho-hum cartoon later. Dastardly was Hanna-Barbera’s less funny version of Snidley Whiplash while Muttley was Hanna-Barbera’s version of, well, a bunch of Hanna-Barbera characters.

It was only a few years earlier (1965) on the Atom Ant Show that the best segment featured a character named Precious Pupp. Precious would loudly bark, which would surprise a robber, postman or other antagonist into getting bashed, and then snicker in a close-up. Muttley did the same thing. Sometimes, Precious would do a rassen-frassen-rattle-dattle mumbling-swear routine that Muttley expropriated, too. Ah, but none of this originated with Precious Pupp.

While the bark-scare routine was lifted from the Frisky Puppy-Claude Cat cartoons that Mike Maltese wrote for Chuck Jones at Warners, Joe and Bill borrowed from themselves for the snickering Pupp. The earliest instance I can find is in ‘Fireman Huck’, which first appeared on December 11, 1958. Maybe because this is written by Charlie Shows, the concept is a little different. The dog begins to snicker not because of anything he’s done, but because the “poor, li’l old, frightened” kitten Huck’s trying to rescue bares its claws, swipes and Huck lands on his head.

The wheezy laugh came from the larynx of Don Messick, whose financial planner probably came to appreciate it as much as cartoon fans.

Shows brought the evil snickering back in ‘Barbecue Hound’, released on January 26, 1959. Unlike the previous dog, or the later Precious, this one only snickers once, at the end of the cartoon as it fades out.

In a newspaper story here, Joe Barbera mentioned Kellogg’s liked certain incidental characters and wanted them to make return appearances in case they could be marketable. So Huck again tangled with Iggy and Ziggy the crows, Powerful Pierre and Leroy the Lion. And a nameless dog with the wheezy laugh was brought back, too, to complicate Huck’s life in:
Postman Panic, aired February 26, 1959 (written by Charlie Shows).
A Bully Dog, aired November 2, 1959 (written by Warren Foster).
Nuts Over Mutts, possibly aired October 2, 1960 (written by Warren Foster).
Two for Tee Vee, possibly aired October 13, 1961 (written by Tony Benedict).

It would seem odd, given the obvious love that Hanna and Barbera had for the idea of a snickering dog, that the next major canine characters in their cartoons went in a different direction. Snuffles on Quick Draw McGraw, merely leaped into ecstasy over dog biscuits (and occasionally grumbled under his breath, something H-B repeated with Precious Pupp) while the Jetsons’ Astro pronounced all his words starting with an ‘r’ (something H-B repeated with an unfortunately far more durable character named Scooby Doo).

But there was at least one other snickering character in the early H-B cartoons, and it wasn’t a dog. It was the wildcat in the Augie Doggie cartoon ‘Cat Happy Pappy’, released December 26, 1959. Mike Maltese wrote this cartoon and uses the snickering differently and logically. Augie tries to defend his dad’s honour by telling the cat to put up his dukes, and the cat raspily snickers at the absurdity of it.

There have been other similar-sounding animals since. There was a one-shot watchdog on The Flintstones named Buzzsaw in the first season’s ‘The Golf Champion’ (1960). It was the only cartoon written that year by Syd Zelinka, who was a live action writer from The Honeymooners. One can speculate that Warren Foster, who wrote the majority of Flinstones episodes that year, added the snickering gag. Even more Muttley-esque was Mugger, the bad guy pet/sidekick in Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear! (1964).

Other snickerers were regular characters. Hanna-Barbera paid Dan De Carlo to rip off his own drawing style to rip off Filmation’s wretched Archie and invent the somewhat-less-wretched Josie and the Pussycats, featuring a snickering Sebastian the cat. Then a few years later, someone, somewhere came up with something called Mumbly. But he isn’t Muttley, he .. um .. er.. just sounds like him and almost looks like him! Yeah, that’s the ticket!

There may have been others, but by this time, Hanna-Barbera cartoons became completely unwatchable for me. Viewing the animation credits for something like Mumbly with names like Carlo Vinci, Ed Benedict, Dick Thompson and Dave Tendlar just makes me sad. Many of those artists did fine work for Warners, M.G.M., Fleischer, Lantz, even Disney. Some provided enjoyable characters when H-B was starting out, a time when Huck took on a dog with a wheezing laugh in a show that gave at least one generation of young cartoon fans lasting memories.

And that’s nothing to snicker at.

Update from Yowp: It’s been pointed out to me that Hanna-Barbera may have borrowed the evil snickering from the brilliant Tex Avery and one of his finest M.G.M. creations—‘Bad Luck Blackie’, (released January 22, 1949). The cartoon begins with the laughing dog (who snickers only once) being cruel to a desperate, defenceless kitten running terrified from him, and ends with the kitten becoming the evil snickerer with the desperate, defenceless dog running terrified into the sunset. Avery used it later that year in ‘Wags to Riches’ when Spike decides to kill Droopy to get his fortune (in a skunk-transformation gag, yet), and again in ‘Daredevil Droopy’ (1951) when Spike bends a rifle before handing it to Droopy.

And due to popular demand, you can listen to the snicker here. It’s a Muttley version, but it’s the same.

4 comments:

  1. Excellent write-up, mate. Interesting and fun. Thanks.

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  2. You had the snickering dog in Hey There It's Yogi Bear, too

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8JBW2l2kok

    2:26 in

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  3. Mark, I also want to say that this "evil snicker" was done by Mrs. Rogers' pet bird in The Real Ghostbusters episode "Mrs. Rogers' Neighborhood."
    Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqUUEiJi8E4

    ReplyDelete