Quite unfairly, I’ve always considered the New York Times to believe itself to be above aggregating pages with agate about such mundane things as animated cartoons on television. A failed second act of a Cole Porter remounting on Broadway, yes. The misstep of a former ingenue in making a comeback in a turgid cinematic melodrama, most definitely. But a pair of meece gracelessly running past the same lamp over and over? Surely not!
Ah, but embarrassingly incorrect am I. For in the August 28, 1960 edition, next to a profile on the multi-talented Polly Bergen, the venerable Times published the following feature story about the Hanna-Barbera studio. It would have been nice if “The Newspaper of Record” has spelled native New Yorker Joe Barbera’s name correctly. And a few other things.
Though North Carolineans may take issue with some of Warren Foster’s opinions, the last line sums up why the early H-B cartoons are appealing, even after all these years.
ANIMATED, YES—FRANTIC, NO
By MURRAY SCHUMACH
THOSE who would seek out the lair of that great avenger of injustice, “The Purple Pumpernickel,” will have to come to Hollywood. For it is here that Huckleberry Hound puts on such disguises as member of the French Foreign Legion, American fireman, London bobby, international veterinarian trying to extract a lion’s aching tooth.
Since this hero’s voice is always the same soothing Tennessee mountain talk, and his speeches are forever those of the same amiable mongrel, an estimated 16,000,000 Americans are satisfied to look for him eagerly on some 200 television stations on the half-hour program known as “Huckleberry Hound.” It appears Thursdays at 6:30 P.M. on New York’s Channel 11.
The true home of Huckleberry Hound, however, is in a maze of corridors of three loosely connected buildings here, where Charlie Chaplin once made silent films. Huddled over drawing boards, the artists of William Hanna and Joseph Barberra [sic] put the good humor into Hucklberry’s [sic] rubbery face; flatten the pork-pie hat on Yogi Bear’s head; adjust the tie on Boo-Boo, the bear cub; plant the pompous smirk on Jinx [sic], the cat, and the mischief in the eyes of his tormentors, Dixie and Pixie, the mice.
Though all these characters are but cartoons, their sponsors of nearly three years obviously find them more alive than most performers of the Westerns, private eyes, situation comedies and panel shows that fill most of television.
The atmosphere of the Huckleberry Hound residence is appropriately zany. Since all offices are cluttered, with doors either wide open or nonexistent, it is difficult to tell which are the offices of the bosses. Grown men will be down on their knees as though in a dice game. Actually they are examining a series of comic-strip panels known as a story board.
Mssrs. Barberra and Hanna are proud of the informality of their enterprise and resent the “factory” to describe their incessant output of television cartoons by the 150 employes [sic] who do, in addition to “Huckleberry Hound,” “Ruff N Ready [sic],” “Quick Draw McGraw” and “The Flintstones,” which will make its debut this fall.
“We have no time clocks here,” said Mr. Barberra. “We have no closed doors and nobody makes appointments. They come in when they want and they leave when they want. All they make is money—and cartoons.”
Mr. Barberra vows that this Bohemian atmosphere will not change when, in the near future, the Huckleberry Hound workshop moves into a new air-conditioned building with its own dining room and kitchen. He and Mr. Hanna did a twenty-year stretch in a movie factory called Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where they created a world-famous cartoon about a cat and a mouse called “Tom and Jerry.”
Mr. Barberra, who wrote the first twenty-six installments of “Huckleberry Hound,” recalls that when he first proposed the introduction of this character, one serious objection was raised. One of the sponsor’s representatives was afraid that the name of the hero was a bit too long for a television screen.
The present author of the scripts is Warren Foster, a mild-mannered man, who worked on Bugs Bunny cartoons for twenty years and has a fondness for his creatures that transcends their employment record.
“I think of Huck as human,” he said. “He is a sort of Tennessee-type guy who never gets mad no matter how much he is outraged. He is the fall-guy, and a large part of his humor is the way he shrugs off his misfortunes. To Huck nobody is really bad.”
Yogi Bear, the incurable filcher of picnic baskets from visitors to Jellystone Park poses two problems.
Since he is “bright in a stupid sort of way,” his adventures must show ingenuity as well as blunders. Second, there is the problem of what to do about the morality of thievery.
“So we let him get his picnic basket—and then we get him punished.”
Mr. Foster is happy about the philosophical quality of the mice, Dixie and Pixie, toward the cat, Mr. Jinx. “The mice make allowances for the occasional attacks on them by Jinx. They understand he is not evil. He is just a cat and he can’t help being himself. They are disillusioned each time the cat’s thin veneer of civilization cracks. The important thing in these stories is to keep out the rough stuff and mayhem.”
One rule is applied to all the creations of the “Huckleberry Hound” series: all animals must have something around the neck—a tie, a collar, a scarf. This is not for good manners or cuteness, but because the neck camouflage makes it unnecessary to worry about whether the neck of a particular character looks the same each time it is drawn.
The motto of the House of Huckleberry is that children can understand a great deal more than adults realize. No script is “written down” to the child’s level. The show is not afraid to use puns. Thus, when Yogi Bear was punished for stealing a witch’s broom and riding around on it, stealing picnic lunches, he said:
“They lowered the broom on me.”
Some connoisseurs of cartoon shorts think Huckleberry Hound and his friends have done the business a good turn.
“Disney’s trend was more and more toward beautiful art,” says Mr. Foster. “Huck and the others have restored cartoons to caricature and fun.”