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.”
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.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.
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.)
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.”