Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “Happy birthday, Yowp. Congratulations on your TV debut 52 years ago today.”
But is it a happy birthday?
Forget Marlon Brando and that “could have been a contender” speech in ‘On the Waterfront’. That contender could have been me.
My television career started out with such great promise in the Yogi Bear cartoon ‘Foxy-Hound Dog.’ Sure, Joe Barbera limited me to just one word. But it was a funny word. And I was voiced by Don Messick, one of the most versatile guys in the history of TV cartoons. In part of it, I got to be drawn by one of Tex Avery’s best guys, Mike Lah. They gave me that ‘log over the cliff’ gag that was in all those great Warner Bros. cartoons. It sure looked like my career was all set.
Then they brought me back later that season in ‘Duck in Luck.’ Sure, that’s more than they did with some of the guys Yogi worked with, like Newton Figley from ‘Be My Guest Pest.’ And they gave me the most fun animator Hanna-Barbera had at the time, Carlo Vinci. But I should have known something was up. They paired me with that Little Biddy Buddy. All I saw was some duck plucked off the unemployment line after MGM closed its cartoon studio. I didn’t see that Joe and Bill were testing him for stardom in his own series a couple of years later. Oh, well. At least I can hold my head high that I didn’t have to change my name to “Yakky Doodle.”
That and the studio politics. Yogi got ticked off at me because he thought I bit him too hard in that one scene. Maybe I overdid it a bit, but the ‘50s were a time of method acting. Ask Jinks. He was method acting all the time. And I was told Yogi complained to background artist Vera Hanson, who went to her husband Ollie, the production supervisor, and he went right to Joe and Bill. That sealed it.
Sure, they brought me back next season in ‘Bear Face Bear.’ I was hoping to get one of those funny new animators like George Nicholas or Ed Love. Nah. They gave me to Gerard Baldwin. Nice guy. But he had an odd way of drawing. I didn’t have a neck any more. And you’d think I’d gained 30 pounds. Warren Foster and Alex Lovy tried to calm me down. “You get to say ‘yowp’ a bunch of different ways,” Warren said. “It’s a really funny gag.” “Yeah, I know Joe and Bill used it in ‘Smarty Cat’ at MGM and stole it from Avery’s ‘Ventriloquist Cat’,” Alex told me, “But it’s a real chance to show them you can act.”
For a while, I looked like I was still part of Joe and Bill’s big picture for the studio. They were marketing me like a star. Check out this giant push-out playbook that Woolworth’s was selling at Christmas time in 1960.
I got my own playing card in the 1961 Yogi Bear gin rummy set. I was on rubber stamps, birthday party decorations, lamps, all kinds of stuff.
But then The Flintstones was a hit and that was it. A lot of us little guys got forgotten. Li’l Tom Tom was really bitter. “We helped build this studio,” he used to sigh. “I’m breathin’ your air, kid,” was about all I could say.
But that was it. Roles came and went. I was still at the studio but they went out and hired someone else to hug himself and float into the air in the Quick Draw cartoons. “It’s a speciality act. He’s not taking anyone’s job,” Lew Marshall told me. They even gave him free dog biscuits. And all those wheezy-laugh dogs! Man, they could have given me those parts. I even had the same voice actor. “I can’t do anything about it,” Joe shrugged. “We were told ‘Dastardly and Yowp in Their Flying Machines’ just doesn’t sound right to Fred Silverman’s golden gut.” And don’t get me started on the “We’re-going-in-a-different-direction-with-Scooby” speech I got after telling them at least I could pronounce the letter ‘r’ but they had typecast me with just saying “yowp” over and over.
The trades were just terrible. Looking for dirt everywhere. Everyone knows what they said about Snagglepuss; you still hear it today. Build ‘em up, tear ‘em down, those papers. They once ran a big photo piece on me saying Yowp wasn’t even my name, that it was another example of Joe and Bill reusing stuff from Tom and Jerry, and splashed pictures from a couple of 1948 comics as proof.
They made up a story I had been kicked out of the Moon Mullins strip in 1946.
The worst was when Hanna-Barbera Confidential claimed I was really an old comic that Jimmy Swinnerton had drawn and I had convinced Ed Benedict to give me a makeover to make me look younger for television. Just vicious gossip. Even if it had been true, Ed wouldn’t have done it. “Why bother? I can’t get those damned animators to keep you on model anyway,” he’d have said.
Try to get work after all that. It...oh, just a moment, the phone’s ringing. Hello?.....Oh, hi Yogi. You’re calling to wish me a happy birthday.....You’re reading the blog right now and say it was Iggy and Ziggy who went to Vera? Figures those crows’d be responsible. They loved practical jokes......What? They’re doing what to you?! CGI? Oh, man, that’s awful....Yeah, nice of you to call.....Uh huh, yowp yowp to you, too.
How do you like that? A cartoon icon like Yogi and they’re treating his comeback like he’s a chipmunk or something. Even when you make it real big, the studios are sticking it to you. Maybe it’s not so bad being a little guy in this business after all. And I now have this blog and all you really nice readers to thank for reliving some memories of some really fun old cartoons and their creators and the cool music in them.
Here is part of the cast of the Huckleberry Hound Show in those happy salad days. This sheet was in the George Nicholas collection, though George wasn’t at the studio when this was drawn for the first season. You’ll notice me and the little fox from ‘Foxy-Hound Dog,’ the unnamed funny mosquito from ‘Skeeter Trouble,’ Jinks Junior, Iggy the crow and a great expression on Jinks. Notice how Jinks has the attention of both Yogi and Huck.
One of animation’s fine draftsmen and historians, Mark Kausler, was nice enough to send me a copy of a Yowp sheet with drawings by Bick Bickenbach. You’ll recognise some of the poses from ‘Foxy-Hound Dog,’ including my profile picture.
He re-sent it to me after it disappeared from my files. A pretty nice 52nd birthday present, if you ask me.