Kellogg’s said to Hanna-Barbera “We want another half-hour cartoon show.” So, they got one. Thus, 50 years ago today, Yogi Bear picked up his porkpie hat, walked off the set of The Huckleberry Hound Show and onto the set of his own.
Whether it was the sponsor’s idea, or the studio’s, to make Yogi the centrepiece of a cartoon show is anyone’s guess. It doesn’t really matter. Nobody had to look far to find a star. Yogi was already being treated like one in the studio’s merchandising and by the sponsor itself as it introduced new products. The Los Angeles Times revealing the impending arrival of Yogi’s spinoff in its September 4, 1960 edition.
As hard as it is to fathom, there almost wasn’t a Yogi Bear at all. Joe Barbera’s autobiography reveals there was a snag (not a Snagglepuss) after a sponsor was found for the Huck show in 1958:
My elation over the sale was short-lived. After I got back to LA., I received a panicked phone call from Kelloggs.
“We can’t use the bear.” What was I going to say, “No refunds or exchanges”? So all I said was, “Huh?” “Another cereal company has Honey Bear on their box. The industry doesn’t have room for two bears.”
Alas, poor Yogi. Bill and I endured two or three days of hand wringing and had resigned ourselves to coming up with another show for Kelloggs when another phone call came through. The company had decided that Yogi was sufficiently distinct from Honey Bear — who was, after all, only a logo, not a television star — to identify with Kelloggs. The show was on again.
Evidently I’d never win at Jeopardy if the category was ‘Cereals of the 1950s.’ I don’t remember a Honey Bear. I do remember a Sugar Bear who was made into his own TV cartoon a few years later.
When Hanna and Barbera created the Huck show, they borrowed from MGM theatrical cartoons. When they created the Quick Draw show, they borrowed from other TV genres. When they created The Flintstones, they borrowed from Jackie Gleason. When they created the Yogi show, they borrowed from themselves, which soon became an established tradition. For Yogi’s secondary shows, they borrowed an orange, theatrical antagonist from several cartoons, and a self-pitying little duck who bothered Yogi and Doggie Daddy, but whose roots went back to Tom and Jerry at MGM. He even had roots at Warners, for writer Mike Maltese borrowed the concept of a gruff bulldog who is smitten by a little creature from the Marc Antony and Pussyfoot cartoons he wrote for Chuck Jones.
Giving them all a regular series changed them. The original Snagglepuss was a wonderful throwback to the 1940s. He was a lippy opponant, reminiscent of Daffy Duck in his best stage (occasionally vs. Porky Pig), brimming with clever lines and behaviour that was off-the-wall, yet seemed logical. Making Snagglepuss a protagonist took away a lot of the craziness and craftiness. Instead, Maltese added more theatricality and made him the victim far too often (Spring Hits a Snag with the selfish Lila is a good example). He was still a good character, thanks to Maltese’s ear for dialogue, just not quite the same one who parked himself in Doggie Daddy’s home and wouldn’t leave. I’ll avoid any editorialisation on the change of his colour from orange to pink.
Cartoons with Yakky Doodle (né Biddy Buddy) bashed viewers with the same “Ain’t that cute?/Close your eyes, l’il feller” catchphrases out of Chopper every episode but actually improved along the way. Maltese quickly dumped the duck’s pity-party routine and built cartoons around reactions (and comments to the viewers) by Fibber Fox. Tony Benedict was brought in to write and developed Alfy Gator, who cleverly parodied production elements of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, such as the Hitchcock silhouette and the tease before the commercial fade out.
As for Yogi, a decision was made to make him a permanent resident of Jellystone Park with Boo Boo by his side. Solo adventures would be seen in reruns only. No more would he be in narrated spot-gag cartoons fishing for trout, rescuing native children with the help of little animals or being beaten by a New York housewife while pretending to be a rug. And no more generic, anonymous park rangers. Most of Yogi’s cartoons would consist of a psychological battle between the bear and Ranger Smith. It was a smart decision, since those are the Yogi cartoons that are pop culture references to this day, not ones about trying to get across a freeway. But formulas, by nature, can be limiting, and I feel Yogi lost a little something by not being allowed out on his own as he was in Huck’s first season. And, of course, when you have Ranger Smith as an antagonist, you don’t need Yowp as one. Yowp cartoons came to an end.
Something else that seems to have ended was distinctiveness in the artwork. Takes got tamer and layouts were such that the cartoons looked as if they were being performed on a stage. When Yogi got his own cartoons, the pose-to-pose jerkiness of Yogi Bear’s Big Break was gone, but so were overhead views of the ground as in The Buzzin’ Bear and the maniacal laughing Yogi in Lullabye-Bye Bear. New artists came in—all of whom had strong theatrical credentials—but, somehow, the cartoons started looking and moving alike. However, they’re still enjoyable to watch with good personality through dialogue, strong character design and, it should go without saying, top calibre voice work led by Daws Butler and Don Messick. And, occasionally, something interesting would pop up, like the stylised drivers in Yogi in the City.
The Yogi Bear Show was a great success and was loved by critics the same way Huck and Quick Draw were. Here are two reviews. The first one appeared in newspapers of January 31, 1961, the day after the show hit the air in some cities (there were 130 or 160, depending on what source you believe):
Yogi Bear Show Beamed Especially for Adults
BY FRED DANZIG
NEW YORK (UPI) – Since there is no reason for mature men and women to feel self-conscious or apologetic about sitting down to watch an adult television program, I am proud to recommend for your viewing pleasure a brand new series.
The title: “The Yogi Bear Show.”
Unfortunately, this cartoon show has been described in some misinformed brochures as a kiddy show. We all know, of course, that the kids are too busy watching “adult” Westerns, exotic adventure and crime shows to be side-tracked into watching kid stuff.
Yogi Bear, who carries on in the noblest side-of-the-mouth tradition of Art Carney’s monumental contribution to contemporary folklore, Ed Norton, is making his syndicated debut across the nation this week as the star of his own show, thanks to those unselfish cartoon stylists, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, and their worldly agents, Screen Gems.
Yogi has had stardom in his future ever since he made his first appearance in 1958, as a supporting player in the “Huckleberry Hound” series. At last this giant of Jellystone Park has arrived.
Parents who want to watch “The Yogi Bear Show” with their children are warned, however, that the youngsters may interrupt their concentration to ask, “What does Yogi mean by, “exit-stage left?” or “What does he mean by, “Loquacious?” or “What’s a ‘worthy adversary’?” If the kids want to watch, you have two alternatives.
Get them their own TV set or try to convince them they’re too young.
Tell ‘em to go watch “Bonanza” or “Surfside 6” and leave you with Mr. Bear and his associates.
Two days later, another UPI reporter did another rah-rah story. This one focused familiar P.R. ground, the ironic rise to fame of two kids named Bill and Joe who had been kicked to the curb by MGM.
Any Similarity Between...
Yogi Bear’s Batting 1.000
By JACK GAVER
NEW YORK, Feb. 2 (UPI)—If pressed to designate my favorite television actor—and it would be difficult to think of anything less pressing—Yogi Bear would have to get the nod.
So, it comes as welcome news that this featured player on “The Huckleberry Hound” series became a star in his own show, beginning last Monday.
Although Yogi’s program is not a network affair, it has been syndicated so widely through sales to individual stations that the weekly half-hour episodes will be seen almost everywhere.
Yogi is the animated cartoon creation of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who couldn’t get themselves paged in a third-rate hotel three years ago but now constitute one of the most thriving and solvent businesses in the country.
Saved by TV
Television, which helped put them on the skids, has been their salvation. After 20 years of turning out more than 125 “Tom and Jerry” animated cartoons for movie theaters for MGM, the changing movie scene, as a result of the inroads of TV, practicably put cinema short subjects out of business, and Hanna and Barbera were minus jobs.
“Television obviously liked animated cartoons,” Barbera said, “because it had been running repeated repeats of the ones created for movie houses from the year one. People we approached would have liked to have had new material, but the full animation process used for movies cost too much for TV. Neither did they want the crude, inexpensive animation style developed for a few early shows.
“We showed them our concept which is not too costly, yet which provides good animation. In our process, we simply cut out a lot of extra drawing work, and expense, by sticking to essentials.”
“Huckleberry Hounds” got the Hanna-Barbara firm off the ground, then came “Ruff ‘n Reddy” and “Quick Draw McGraw.” At the beginning of this season, the firm made a daring departure from the usual animal characters of cartoon and got their “Flintstones” series about humans on the ABC network. This Stone Age situation comedy which parallels satirically the problems of modern life, has been a big hit.
And now it is “The Yogi Bear Show.”
Yogi talks much like the wonderful Ed Norton character Art Carney created for the old Jackie Gleason “Honeymooners” shows. Carney, by the way, does not provide Yogi’s voice.
To New York Yankees fans the bear’s name and build are a constant reminder of that most likeable of baseball stars, catcher Yogi Berra.
“Any similarity,” Barbera explained, “was pure accident.”
We’ll get back to Joe Barbara’s incredible statement in a moment. But let me point out a couple of things.
It’s a puzzle as to why Yogi’s Show started in January. Considering the mish-mash method in which shows are pulled off and put on the air these days, it’s hard to remember there was a time that television was orderly and followed the trail blazed by network radio—shows debuted in the fall and had summer replacements. In 1966, the third (and, therefore, last) place ABC promoted something it called ‘The Second Season’, an ingenious concept that allowed it to dump shows in January and trot out a pile of replacements (Batman may be the best-known). But at the time Yogi’s show debuted, it wasn’t common to premiere a programme in January. It could be the cartoons simply weren’t ready or perhaps Kellogg’s hadn’t either cleared the television time or was late signing a deal with Hanna-Barbera.
Contrary to “facts” on some internet sites, Yogi did not leave The Huckleberry Hound Show before he got his own. Huck apparently made his third season start on the week of September 26, 1960. From the limited television listings I’ve found, it seems new Yogi cartoons aired on shows when Huck and the Meeces were in reruns and vice-versa. When Yogi left, Hokey Wolf (né Wacko Wolf) took his spot, as Bill and Joe borrowed from themselves to create a tall schemer with a short, more naïve sidekick.
We’ll wrap up our little birthday card to Yogi’s show by going back to Joe’s insistence that the name ‘Yogi Bear’ was a mere happenstance, just remarkably coincidental that it was similar to popular baseball player Yogi Berra. What did Mr. Berra think about this? In this day and age, of course, Mr. Berra’s lawyer would be on the case faster than a failed-rehabbed Hollywood star on a 40-pounder of vodka. Several baseball reporters covering spring training in 1960 noted:
Yogi Berra admitted in Florida that he never heard of the TV cartoon character, Yogi Bear, until his kids discovered the show, when confined to quarters at St. Petersburg [this year]. “My kids love it,” Yogi told writers, “because they say the bear reminds them of their old man.”
As for a lawsuit, Mr. Berra told UPI Entertainment reporter Vernon Scott in a column published on August 13, 1963:
[T]elevision is big enough for both me and Yogi Bear. I was going to sue the Yogi Bear program for using my name, until somebody reminded me Yogi isn’t my real name—it’s Lawrence.
The response is so quintessentially Yogi, it Berras repeating.