“You gotta have a gimmick,” the burlesque stripper belted out to the future Gypsy Rose Lee in a famous musical once. And that motto seems to have driven the P.R. department at 3400 Cahuenga Boulevard.
Hanna-Barbera’s first marketing gimmick was the made-exclusively-for-TV cartoon. Lots of press followed. Then the first prime-time cartoon. Lots of press followed. But then the Bill and Joe Media Machine stalled a little. The Jetsons was an invert of The Flintstones. Top Cat? Another prime time cartoon with roots in an old sitcom. Nothing new to report. But then the studio came up with another marketing gimmick—the first high adventure cartoon.
Jonny Quest is a little off the beaten path of the purpose of this blog, which is to look at the comparatively neglected 1950s TV cartoons of Hanna-Barbera. And there’s a great web site completely devoted to Jonny in his various incarnations (only the first one counts), plus a fabulous documentary on YouTube outlining the history and making of the show. But I came across a couple of the aforementioned full-page newspaper features, and thought I’d pass them on. Besides, it’s my blog. So, nyah.
Well, there’s another reason. I love Jonny Quest. I was seven years old when it debuted on channel 4 and we watched it every week. By “we”, I mean “me.” My six-year-old sister was so scared watching the final scene in the Anubis episode when the mummy is walking zombie-like toward the bad guy, she couldn’t watch it any more (yes, I still remember that 46 years later). The Herculoids, she could watch. Jonny Quest, she couldn’t. I’ve never been one with even a remote interest in super heroes or action/adventure stuff, but Jonny Quest was a spellbinding show with stories that kept you watching to see what would happen, a bit of comic relief to break the tension, and characters with realistic traits. It was all held together by Hoyt Curtin’s effective and evocative music. Bleak, foreboding, urgent, triumphant, his cues for Jonny Quest were his finest work. They enhanced what you saw on the screen like all good scores today.
Our first stop is the Press-Courier of Oxnard, California. This was in the paper of August 22, 1964. It’s, more or less, a full-page ad. These drawings accompanied the story. Maybe it’s me, but Jonny’s proportions looking a little off.
High Adventure in Cartoon TV Series
By EDGAR PENTON
The flames of high-adventure entertainment, currently at the ember stage, will be fanned into full blaze when Hanna-Barbera Productions debuts its “Jonny Quest” series over ABC-TV beginning Friday, September 18, at 7:30 p.m.
“Jonny Quest” is the product of over two years of research by Hanna-Barbera artists.
Not only does the Quest series bring up-to-date adventure to television for the first time, it also brings an art style, never seen before in animation.
The style is illustrative rather than cartoon art and every attempt has been made to make “Jonny Quest” visually attractive and exciting.
* * *
YOUNG JONNY (11 years) is the son of Dr. Benton Quest, one of the three top scientists in the world. Because of the nature of Dr. Quest’s work and his importance to the scientific world and mankind in general, Roger “Race” Bannon has been assigned by Intelligence I as a permanent bodyguard for the Quests. He is also a tutor and friend to Jonny, who travels with his father at all times. Haji [sic], an Indian boy adopted by Dr. Quest, and Jonny’s dog Bandit, complete the Quest family album.
With the Quest entry, Hanna-Barbera chalks up several firsts. Most certainly, there has never been anything like “Jonny Quest” on television. In radio’s heyday, adventure shows were listened to with fantastic loyalty and anticipation.
The same fervor held true for the comic strip adventure series.
On radio, the mind’s eye look over and the listener’s imagination was stimulated and transported to the four corners of the world.
Today, on television, the scope and geography of stories is limited. It is financially impossible to take cameras all over the world to recreate locales.
However, via the pen-and-ink magic of artists, viewers will join Jonny Quest as he travels to the North Pole, Tibet, the Sargasso Sea area, India and wherever else their adventures lead them.
* * *
THE STORY behind the scenes of “Jonny Quest” is as exciting as the series itself. The idea actually came from some brilliantly hired illustrative drawings which Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera thought were visually stimulating.
“We somehow wanted to breathe life into those drawings,” says Bill Hanna. “So we developed the idea of animating the characters in a lifelike manner and at the same time making the stories adventuresome and contemporary.”
One of the most interesting aspects about “Jonny Quest” is that the stories are based on fad or possible fact.
Joe Barbera says, “There will be no mad scientists running around ready to blow up the earth with a secret bomb; no monsters from other planets.
“Nothing out of the realm of the believable will happen to the Quests.”
They have taken the harder route to create adventure for today’s children and adults.
“Not only is there no challenge to copying an airplane already in use, but kids are sharp these days and when a plane has been junked, they know it.
“And since we base our series on up-to-the-second stories, we design our own plane—based on the actual aircraft but with a more futuristic look.
“This keeps us one step ahead of our astute audience and make the Quest series even more believable,” says Bill Hanna.
* * *
EXCITEMENT ABOUT the “Jonny Quest” series has permeated the entire studio from the writing and story-boarding through the animating, inking, painting and photographing.
Throughout the studio, famous for its satirical, whimsical, ingenious characters such as “The Flintstones,” Yogi Bear or Magilla Gorilla, writers and artists are busy delving into books on the history of costumes, weapons, planes, boats, science, and world geography in order to come up with original—but accurate—costumes, backgrounds or “inventions,” as well as plots and clever escape ideas.
Although “Jonny Quest” is high adventure, which always means the presence of villains, there will be no violence. Villains will be disposed of in imaginative, clever ways, rather than violent, the creators emphasize.
“It’s easy to whip out a gun and shoot a villain,” says Joe Barbera. “It’s much more difficult and challenging to find unique escape methods.
“Some of our tricks will remind the adults in our audience of the old Doug Fairbanks Sr. methods, which always had a touch of humor about them.
“We are doing the same type of creative thinking in the Quest series. For example, in one episode, we have Haji do the Indian rope trick in order to free ‘Race,’ who is held captive in a room that couldn’t be reached any other way.
“We even have him slide back down the rope. An audience will accept a certain amount of ‘poetic license’ just for the thrill of it. But we never go too far.”
* * *
“IN ONE QUEST sequence,” Bill Hanna continues, “Race rescues Dr. Quest from hostile natives by masquerading as the feared ‘water god’ who lives at the bottom of the ocean.
“To achieve the disguise, Race uses a red berry to dye his body and with the aid of a snorkel swims near the shore.
“When he ‘arises’ at the proper moment, the natives run in terror. In another Quest story, a giant bird flies in front of the villains’ plane, disrupting their hot pursuit of the Quests.”
Whatever rescue or escape method employed by Hanna-Barbera, they have tried to achieve a balance between documentary reality and creative adventure.
All the stories could happen and the producers underscore the “could.”
The stories could be carried on the front pages of next week’s because “Jonny Quest” has to be one giant step ahead all the time.
“A whole new generation of kids and adults who have memories of adventure entertainment is a ready-made audience for ‘Jonny Quest,’” points out Barbera.
* * *
“WE’RE GLAD we can introduce today’s youngsters to the pure type of adventure stories we grew up on,” Bill Hanna continues.
“After all,” Joe interjects, “adventure has a universal appeal. Its appeal is worldwide and knows no age barrier.
“Until now, our kids have not been exposed to this particular type of pure, clean adventure. We are glad to be the first to introduce them to it on television.
“It’s a thrill for us to work on this series, and it’s bound to be a thrill for children and adults to watch.”
It may be that Hanna-Barbera have at long last found out how to bring the color, intrigue and excitement of the Arabian Nights and the flying carpet—(a slow way to go these day) right into the jet age.
“Jonny Quest” may well be the “carpet” for today’s children and adults.
The series had been on the air for a few months when the Independent-Press-Telegram of Long Beach, Ca., published this on Sunday, January 3, 1965:
BERT’S EYE VIEW
‘Jonny Quest’ Combines Scientific Knowledge with Adventure
By BERT RESNIK
TV and Radio Editor
When Joe Barbera claims his new series, “Jonny Quest,” is designed for everybody, he admits there could be a few exceptions.
He’s not sure about those members of the viewing audience who are under four years old.
“But after a child is four years old,” said Barbera, “you better have sharp, intelligent entertainment or they’ll pass you right by.
“At four, they turn on the dial and they’re exposed to reruns of Lucy and Bilko, brilliant satire.
“We cannot have little beetles and elves dancing around on mushrooms and expect to get viewers.”
* * * *
WHAT BARBERA and his partner, Bill Hanna, have come up with in “Jonny Quest,” ABC-TV’s Thursday night COLOR series, is not satire.
It is action-adventure.
It is action adventure that looks futuristic but actually is within the basis of fact.
“We cram into these adventures basic scientific knowledge,” said Barbera.
He likes to think of “Jonny Quest” as a balance between documentary reality and creative adventure.
What viewers think is also important to Barbera.
When he wants opinions along those lines, he asks teenagers. Teenagers’ opinions have more value than adults, he feels, because the youngsters “come right out and let you know.”
His most valued opinion came from a teenager who said:
“Yes, I saw ‘Jonny Quest.’ It’s pretty good. I got to admit it.”
* * * *
BARBERA himself is so pleased with the new style of the series — illustrative rather than cartoon — that he has planned four new series based on the same type of art.
The company, Hanna-Barbera Productions, currently has 13 half-hour series on the air every week.
It is hoping to add an hour show and four half-hour programs next season.
It is a company, incidentally, that has no time clocks and no memos.
People report to work more or less when they want to start, excepting for such personnel as switchboard operators.
The doors to the bosses’ offices are always open and no appointments are set for conferences.
People just barge in and out.
Astonishingly, it succeeds.
Barbera feels a principal reason is that his creative people don’t feel hamstrung.
“Yet they know it is important that they turn the work out,” he said. “And that they do.”
So much for the praise. The media plaudits turned into a media death-watch. TV writer Richard K. Doan pointed out in his column of January 7 the networks were making changes:
At ABC, “The Flintstones,” Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (EST), and “Jonny Quest,” Fridays at the same hour, will be switched to try to salvage the former show, now bucking CBS’s popular “Munsters.”
“Jonny Quest” is probably headed for the cancellation bone pile.
Mr. Doan was right. The Munsters was more appealing to Jonny’s target audience than Jonny was, and by March, Hanna-Barbera was told the show wouldn’t be picked up for a second season. So Jonny picked up his P.F. Flyers and after a bit of a break from dealing with crazed German barons, Poho and the Yeti, he returned to television on Saturday mornings in fall 1967.
And ABC’s programming strategy worked. The Flintstones was saved for another couple of seasons, though Hanna-Barbera tried to keep the ratings afloat in the final year with the Great Gazoo. Because, you know, you’ve gotta have a gimmick.