Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yogi, Christmas and Who?

THE BEGINNING

The hole dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Yowp had not a moment to think about stopping himself before he found himself falling down a very deep well. Down, down, down. Suddenly, thump! Down he came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves and the fall was over.

“I feel as if I’m in that cartoon where Janet Waldo played Alice,” mused Yowp. “Today, they’d probably get a celebrity voice. What silliness!”

Just then he heard something splashing about in a pool and soon made out it was a mouse.

“O Mouse,” forlornly asked Yowp in a low, trembling voice. “I do wish I knew where I was.”

“You’re in the Hanna-Barbera Alternate Universe Wonderland,” stated the Mouse matter-of-factly. “All your favourite cartoons are here. Huck and Yogi and Quick Draw, directed by Tex Avery.

“Tex Avery!” Yowp cried in knowing disbelief. “But Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were responsible. Tex was in a different unit at MGM....”

“Ahem!” said the Mouse with an important air, “All the world but you knows otherwise. I suppose you’ll be saying they never cavorted in the same cartoon with Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

Yowp was beside himself with puzzlement. “Of course they didn’t. Casper was produced by Famous Studios in New York and...”

The conversation was suddenly interrupted. “Wake up, Yowp,” shouted the English hunter. “Why, what a long sleep you’ve had.”

“Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” replied Yowp, and he told of all those strange things about Hanna-Barbera cartoons he had heard.

The Hunter stiffened in astonishment. “I say, that’s not an alternate universe at all. It really happened.”

THE END


Yes, cartoons fans, if you had told me Quick Draw was in the same cartoon as Casper and that one of the men responsible was the King of Cartoons, Tex Avery, and that there’s singing, and that it’s set at Christmas-time, I would have thought you were as nutty as a Mad Hatter.

But it really did happen.

The mid-‘60s were a golden time for animated half-hour television Christmas specials, thanks mainly to Bill Melendez, Chuck Jones and the folks at Rankin-Bass. People looked forward to seeing them once a year. But the networks realised there was money to be made (“a Green Christmas,” Stan Freberg might remark) so the tube was eventually over-saturated with cartoon Christmas specials. It seemed like everyone had to make one, much like every singer today has to release a Christmas CD.

I’m not really the person to voice an opinion on this. You can guess what it is. For one thing, Casper’s less appealing than three-year-old egg nog (I added the past-expiry date because there are people who actually like egg nog). And I’ve explained on the blog before how, with few exceptions, I gave up on new television cartoons in the early ‘70s because they were more annoying than entertaining or, worse, the characters had become network-mandated pale (dare I say “ghostly pale?”) copies of the originals. This explains why I had no idea this special existed or that Hanna-Barbera had even licensed Casper. But they did for a 26-episode series in the 1979-80 season called Casper and the Angels. Somewhere along the way, someone got an idea to toss in Casper and his H-B-created TV friend, Hairy Scarey, in a Christmas special.

Summaries in TV listings at the time all pointed out that a 20-something Quick Draw fan from the early ‘60s wasn’t the target audience. It was designed for “tots.” Of course, that was one of the problems with the studio’s output to me. The H-B characters featured in this one originally appealed to children AND adults, but as the studio moved into the realm of Saturday morning cartoons, it pumped out strictly kid stuff. That’s the Saturday morning demography. No adults wanted. Or smart kids with adult sensibilities, apparently.

Few newspapers bothered to review the special. The Deseret News in Salt Lake City did before a repeat performance in 1981:

Any parent who inflicts this dud on a kid should be arrested for child abuse. Horrible animation and terrible Casper voice (it's not the one in the original Casper the Friendly Ghost cartoons).
It opens with a bunch of your TV favourites in Huck’s jalopy, like the one in the original series closing, singing some kind of commercial jingle-type Christmas song. There’s a problem right off the top. The vocals are by a mixed chorus. There are no female characters in the car, but there are women’s voices singing. Then we cut to Casper making out his list, then floating into a bedroom to get some sleep. We see Hairy Scarey snoring. The laugh track laughs. Apparently, sleeping is a gag. John Stephenson supplies Hairy’s voice, which sounds like either Ed Wynn or Joe Besser, depending on the line.

I’m afraid I skipped through just about all the rest of the cartoon, mainly to get screen grabs and to hear Daws Butler, Hal Smith and Don Messick (whose voice sounds a little higher in spots, like it did on those ‘70s ‘New Yogi’ cartoons). I watched the end credits because I’m always curious what old-time animation people worked on stuff like this. And there it is. The man who brought the world ‘King-Size Canary,’ ‘Thugs With Dirty Mugs’, ‘Little Rural Riding Hood,’ Screwy Squirrel and Droopy.


When you think of animated “musical sequences,” you think of Friz Freleng or maybe Dick Lundy. Tex’s name doesn’t exactly come to mind, does it? But I wonder if he had something to do with the stretchy-squashy animation in this little scene. Is that Dixie in drag, or his little-known sister, Trixie?


Sadly, Tex was just about at the end of the line. He was dead eight months after this special aired in a story that should be familiar to his fans. It’s related in, among other places, Bill Hanna’s autobiography.

Some bits about some of the others who worked on this (and, no, these are not attempts at complete biographies):

Chuck Couch shared an office with Avery at Hanna-Barbera which had ‘Welcome to Sun City’ posted on the door (note to youngsters reading: Sun City is, or was, a community for retired people in Arizona). Couch had been an assistant animator and writer at Disney, ended up at Walter Lantz in the early ’40s, and opened his own commercial studio in the 1950s.

Couch co-wrote for Alex Lovy at Lantz, and Lovy’s the producer of this cartoon. Lovy’s animation career dated back to the ‘30s. A Lantz animator trivia note: Alex Lovy and Frank Tipper’s wives were sisters. Lovy was hired at H-B some time in 1959. Don Sheppard handled story direction; he arrived to do layouts when Yogi got his own show in 1961. The director was Carl Urbano, who worked with Hanna and Barbera almost 40 years earlier at MGM and later directed for John Sutherland Productions.

Aside from Hoyt Curtin, who’s forsaken the brassy arrangements he loved so much, the rest of the names are really unfamiliar. I imagine if they were animation newcomers, it would have been a treat for them to work with Tex and some of the old characters.

This was the first Hanna-Barbera Christmas special with Yogi, Augie Doggie, Snagglepuss, et al. but it wasn’t the last. The following year, the studio ditched Casper but kept some of the songs, added some guy with a skunkskin hat and put together Yogi’s First Christmas. There had been A Flintstone Christmas before all this (1977) and then someone got the bright idea to mash all the characters in yet another special in 1982. Mark Evanier wrote it, and told this story about it on his web site in 2001:

December twenty-something, the show aired, completed at the last possible moment. The animation was passable, several of my favorite jokes were missing and, for some reason, the word "Hanukkah," spoken once by Snagglepuss, was bleeped.
I'm not kidding. I'd had Snagglepuss say, "Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! Happy Hanukkah, even" and they bleeped "Hanukkah," like it's a dirty word or something. (Still don't believe me? The show's out on VHS and Lasersdisc — Yogi Bear's All-Star Christmas Caper — and it's bleeped on the tape, too. I could never find out who was responsible. Hanna-Barbera said CBS did it and CBS blamed Hanna-Barbera.)
Bleeping “Hanukkah”?! Sounds like something out of a Hanna-Barbera Alternate Universe. Or maybe Lewis Carroll. But it really happened, too. Curiouser and curiouser is the world of television animation.

Note: Charles Brubaker points out in the comments the animation was done in Australia, while Marc Greisinger mentions Mark Evanier has updated the story on his site, revealing CBS objected to “Hanukkah.”

18 comments:

  1. During the 70s and 80s, Hanna-Barbera managed to pick up the rights to animated properties previously under ownership to other studios. Their financially (if not critically) successful rendition of Popeye for CBS's Saturday AM lineuo in 1978 apparently led to their acquisition of fellow Famous/Paramount denizen Casper the following year.

    Sometime in late 1979 someone at NBC's and/or H-B's brain trust got the brilliant idea to team their 'new' Saturday AM star Casper with some of the classic H-B characters who had already appeared in numerous recent revival series. To say this was an awkward teaming is a vast understatement. Awkward is not an adequate term to use for the prospect of a Butler-voiced H-B character address The Friendly Ghost by name.

    And Casper's regular 1979-80 Saturday AM show was a single-season failure. Wonder why?

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Big Three networks had a tendency in the late 70s-mid 80s to air prime-time specials (usually of a seasonal basis) starring classic animated characters and/or those appearing in their concurrent Saturday AM shows. Scooby-Doo, the Flintstones, the Smurfs, Pac-Man and the classic H-B gang were showcased in this way. So too were the Warner Brothers gang and the reincarnated Chipmunks.

    So this special was an extremely misguided example of the subgenre. But some syndication executives must have thought enough of teamed H-B characters in a Christmassy atmosphere to result in the following year's two-hour YOGI'S FIRST CHRISTMAS. Both specials relied heavily on the ear-worm song "Coming Up Christmas Time" (probably a Paul DeKorte original), which in now way could believably emit from the windpipes of Yogi, Huck, Quick Draw, Snagglepuss et al.

    Mark Evanier's YOGI'S ALL-STAR CHRISTMAS CAPER, aired on CBS two years beyond, fared much better. The many cameos helped, as did a generally irreverent attitude. There was even a reappearance of some 1961-vintage Hoyt Curtin score!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Check out today's POV by Evanier. He goes into greater detail of how the special was made (quickly) and who is really responsible for the censorship.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Unfortunately I'm very well aware of this special's existence. I used to see it all the time in the shelves of rental video stores and eventually I watched it at one point.

    The special's writer, Bob Ogle, apparently got his start sometime in the early 1960s, writing on the made-for-TV "Mr. Magoo" and "Dick Tracy" cartoons. He later worked on several of the Chuck Jones-produced "Tom and Jerry", then worked at various other places.

    The names of layout and animation artists in the credits suggests that this was produced at Hanna-Barbera's Australian studio (Hanna-Barbera Pty. Ltd.). That may explain why you are not familiar with most of the names.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This special will be much better with more squash-and-stretch and without Casper, but it's like the executives don't seem to understand this.

    This special was aired as far i remember in CBC in the mid-90's at 4 O'clock or something. I remember watching also the superior Pink Panther Christmas special but then being a tradition to ran in Teletoon Canada for years now.

    Frustrating to see Hannukah bleeping like it's a curse word. Naturally, kids are more educate today but in same time diss their own culture and origins than the older generations.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Chris, I think Ogle was at Disney in the '50s alongside a pile of others who ended up at H-B.
    Iwao's book mentions Ogle liked to have a libation or two on occasion.

    Marc, thanks for the note. The two posts are coincidental; this one has been in the can since the weekend when I stumbled on the cartoon by accident looking for something else.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Bob Ogle goes back aways further than that. He has early 1940s roots at Disney too, working as an assistant director with Paul Satterfield on Fanatsia and Bambi.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Yeah, I know about these shows. That Capser special used to come on the 'Teletoon Retro' late night block for years, and I managed to catht it a few times, to my ultimate displeasure. It's stupid.

    I've never yet seen "Yogi's first christmas" in it's entirnety yet, but I've seen the way it worked it's way into holiday-oriented programming over the years as well.

    Those Autralians were not too good at making cartoons, but they never really made anything that required better talent.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Casper and the Angels" is a perfect example of how a network executive bungled a sales pitch and created an ink and paint disaster. This series, as it was produced and aired was never created by Hanna-Barbera for a series. It came about after Joe Barbera had a sales meeting with the head of NBC daytime. HB did have a deal with Harvey Comics to exploit the Casper character. They also -- as was very popular at the time -- have a few pitch boards prepared for animated versions of "CHiPS" and a "Charlie's Angels-type show. Margaret Loesch told the story much funnier that I am trying to write here, at Joe Barbera's memorial service. It was the NBC executive that combined the three ideas into one series and told JB that if they developed that series, she'd buy it. The rest is history. Unfortunately, this scenario happens more often than not. It's a shame that HB gets the blame when all they were trying is to keep the studio doors open. On the other hand, there was quite a bit of schlock coming from 3400 Cahuenga Boulevard during this period. As much as I LOVE the studio, the clunkers (in my opinion anyway) came from this time period.

    Casper's voice, by the way, was provided by Julie McWhirter Dees. I agree it's a pale comparison to Norma McMillan and others that voiced the character before her. She also voiced the animated "Jeannie" in the series of the same name, and Bubbles in "Jabberjaw" (a Gracie Allen rip-off).

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks for the insight, Anon. It may be even worse today in that there's now a whole generation that's grown up with a system that entertainment can only be created through market research and focus groups. So we get stuff like a reality show about rehabbing celebrity vampires.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I own this special. It's okay. The Yogi special that Mark Evanier wrote, "Yogi's All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper" is the best of the three Yogi Christmas specials.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think it's difficult for anyone to write a feature length treatment for characters that were developed and created for a series of shorts. Expanding them into 90 minutes always seemed like watering down the ketchup to me. The three telefilms that HB created for their Superstars 10 series of TV movies in the late 80s are a perfect example of this. Talented writers just couldn't pull it off. Plus, I think the theme of one of them (the Spruce Goose?? Really??) was a dreadful idea in the first place. Even Daws Butler couldn't pull that one out of the trash.

    Scott :-)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Bob Ogle also wrote some great Disney comic books for Gold Key (Western Publishing) in the mid-sixties – uncredited, of course, around the same time he was writing Tom and Jerry shorts for Chuck Jones. He wrote some Donald Ducks and the earliest adventures of Super Goof, among others.

    Of course, there were also the Dick Tracy and Mister Magoo TV cartoons for UPA, and the original 1968 Archie series for Filmation. That’s a guy I’d like to have known more about.

    Yowp, funny you should have such an odd dream in this post – because the Yogi Bear CGI film seems to have had a similar effect on MY sleeping hours. But, instead of a nightmare, it was a funny and unusually vivid dream.

    If you care to check it out, a recap is at my Blog:

    http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/really-strange-dream.html

    Funny thing is, this REALLY WAS my dream. It sounds made-up to spoof Yogi and Hitchcock, but it was the real deal, just as I experienced it.

    Hope you find it as amusing as I did.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hanna-Barbera seemed to get off on recyling characters and songs in this special...in "Yogi's First Christmas" songs go bakc as far back as 1971!

    I saw this when it first aired and my teenage ears heard a freakin' laugh track. Too bad I guess I was the only smart teenage watcher of these, reayd to change channells and NOT looking forward to my cartoon counterparts in Scooby type showss.LOL.

    PS Character design is assigned to one Don Morgan----apparently it wasn't Iwao Takamoto using a pseudonym?

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have never heard of Iwao using a pseudonym, and I worked with the guy for almost 15 years. Don Morgan did a lot of designing while at HB. :-)

    I have to say though, that the credits are not always right. I have seen names on the character design credits that had nothing to do with the designing.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Steve, I remember Morgan's name from the Jones Tom and Jerrys.

    I've always been curious what character design would be involved for characters that are already established. Would it involve size comparisons? Or just some poses to send overseas to the animators?

    ReplyDelete
  17. There's still designing to do if there are extra characters (Santa, etc.) or if the main characters get costumes (hats, gloves, etc.) Plus, sometimes the props are thrown in under character design. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Ah...good point on Morgan, Yowp. I thereby stand corrected.

    ReplyDelete