Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jonny Quest

“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.

20 comments:

  1. It would be interesting to know how much of Joe's story was true as far as the conception of the show either through the studio or through ABC, and how much was due to an attempt to jump on the twin bandwagons of the successful start-up of the James Bond series in 1962 -- which was awash in the concept of futuristic gadgets -- and the arrival of anime on U.S. shores in 1963, with the successful syndication of "Astro Boy". That show also proved that animated adventures with comedy relief could drawn an audience among the nation's youth, and as future efforts showed, one thing Joe Barbera was great at was spotting a trend or two elsewhere and then adapting or mixing them as needed to provide a network story pitch for their studio.

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  2. Oh Yes!! Jonny Quest played for keeps, from the beginning heavy tromboned theme all the way to the rare " Screen Gems-Dancing sticks Logo ". I was another seven year old who was there.. I loved it. All the gadgets, the fast hydrofoil that would rise about burning oil slicks. This series also allowed Hoyt Curtain to shine like he never had before. He was right in his element. Even after fourty six years, when I hear that unforgettable signature Hoyt Curtain score with the horn stabs, then the heavy drum beat, followed by the frenzy of screaming horns, no matter what cartoon it's being played in, I still think of the mummy in " The Curse Of Anubis ". Talk about " Branding ". I think to so many of us in that era, Jonny Quest was everything...cool. Great blog, Yowp.

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  3. I've never really been much of a fan of JQ. I happened across Curtain's cues for the show on a newsgroup a while back. Need any of those, Yowp?

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  4. Perhaps it's just studio PR, but I recall being told that the series was incredibly expensive to produce, and that while the network would have renewed it for a second year, HB realized they couldn't afford to produce the show at a deficit, so they pulled it. Has anybody else hear this story? My info came from HB veterans.

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  5. Very amusing is the statement about "no violence". Viewing QUEST reruns on Boomerang, it's actually quite shocking how violent it IS for 1964. Not the slapstick comic violence of a boulder falling on Fred Flintstone, Mushmouse blasting Punkin' Puss with his own rifle, or the three goofy guards colliding with each other. Rather, quite 'realistic'- i.e., fatal violence: the bad guys screaming off-camera in presumed agony when the alligators attack; a disguised gargoyle shot dead (but bloodlessly) onscreen; innumerable villians' occupied vehicles or labs going up in the studio's most vivid explosion sound effect.

    It's rather surprising that all three networks carried the reruns on their Saturday AM schedules well into the eighties, while old theatrical WB cartoons were edited to remove gunshots.

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  6. Kevin, no, I've got a bunch of Curtin's cues from a couple of different places.

    Howard, I guess the network censors thought you couldn't imitate being devoured by a crocodile, but a kid could imitate taking his dad's gun and shooting someone like Daffy Duck in 'Rabbit Seasoning.'

    Anon, I've looked for contemporary stories about why the show went off the air. The few I've found simply relate the foregone conclusion that it was going to be cancelled. Bill Hanna never explained it in his book; he said they had the budget for it and credits "Joe Barbera's compelling sales presentation to the network" for the cash flow. However, Iwao relates in his book that Bill Hanna crunched the cost numbers, took them to ABC and the network took a pass on a second season.

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  7. Except for THE FLINTSTONES, which was not only a huge ratings success and merchandising bonanza, ABC didn't have much patience with the prime-time cartoon series it carried in the sixties. TOP CAT, THE JETSONS and JONNY QUEST were all cancelled after one season, and all became rerun staples on Saturday AM, syndication and cable. There were even Jetson and Quest series revivals decades later which enhanced the nostalgic appeal of the original series.

    QUEST'S high budget, which is quite visible when viewing the episodes 46 years later, may have spelled the series' demise since it wasn't pulling in big ratings anyway. I wonder if there were any complaints to sponsors or the network about its content. Not so much for the series' high death toll, but the frequent use of heavily ethnic villians. They were necessary for the stories and generally were not presented in a stereotypical manner. But such material would never have passed muster a few years later.

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  8. The other problem for Jonny Quest was that even when the switch was made, it didn't mesh with the shows that were around it -- half-hour comedies on both Thursday and Friday nights. It might have worked better if the network had bumped it back to run later in the evening, before a show like "Twelve O'Clock High" than in front of "The Addams Family" or "The Farmer's Daughter", but ABC was in the habit of airing their animated shows in the early 1960s during the opening hour of their nightly prime-time lineups, when kids were more likely to be around the TV, and so that's the treatment Jonny got, even though the tone was far different from H-B's other three half-hour comedies and the networks other previous ones, The Bugs Bunny Show and Calivn & The Colonel.

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  9. Howard, I do remember when ABC Saturday ran " Shadow Of The Condor " in 1969, they showed the entire dog fight between he and Race. But, when the condor flies into the Baron's plane, you saw the Baron cover his eyes, then the crash into the mountain side was completely cut. The scene skipped right to Dr. Quest's final lines. I remember it was a really bad edit. Yet, I remember seeing the Baron earlier in the same episode slapping his servant around for information. I'm not sure what the Network guidelines were for editing violence in those days.

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  10. In the Oxnard Press-Courier piece, there's mention of "brilliantly hired illustrative drawings" which were the seed for Jonny Quest. I don't know about those, but I do know that veteran comics artist Alex Toth was responsible for the model sheets on that series. Could it be that Toth was the brilliant hire as well? In any case, it gives one pause to reconsider the concept and graphic style after all these years of H-B once again hitting on an original idea and then turning it into a formula to be copied and repeated ad nauseum.

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  11. Bawb, legendary comic artist/illustrator Doug Wildey was responsible for most of the look and feel of Jonny Quest. Toth was responsible for later HB superhero/adventures series such as Space Ghost, Hurculoids, Mighty Mighty and many others.

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  12. I've went on the JQ site, and yes, it IS a fantastic read [but not quite as fantastic as watching the show!]

    Looking at the voice credits, one notices a lot of unusual surprises
    DANNY BRAVO [can't find anything on this actor] as regular Hadji

    J.PAT O'MALLEY [Disney regular]
    KEYE LUKE [movies's and radio's Number One son in "Charlie Chan", and the voice of the later, rather forgettable but still somehat unsual H-B version, partially produced in Australia]
    NESTOR PAIVIA [longtime dialect genius sought after such for gifts by many movie and radio producers]
    CATHY LEWIS ["My Friend Irma"'s [later HB "Where's Huddles" costar Marie Wilson]'s best freind "Jane Stacey"[as "Jade" and a few others]
    plus these regulars
    DAWS BUTLER [surprising, given this was a serious type show]
    JANET WALDO [suprsingly only one epside, and as young adult women charaters]

    Plus soon to be HB regular, and already established radio and UPA cartoon regular MARVIN MILLER. ANd a few others I didn't recognize due to their being long obscure radio character actors
    [All of this was from the Johnny Quest site Yowp links to above.]
    Thanks:)

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  13. Something I've always pondered regarding a second season of JQ is whether the show would have continued to use that beautiful cel inking, or be done in Xerox as H-B started using in '65. You can take a look at the '80's revival to see what that would have looked like. No thanks.

    top cat james

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  14. Doug Wiley is responsible for "Quest," not Alex Toth. :-)

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  15. Bawb, Iwao Takamoto said it was Doug Wildey who came to H-B with the designs for the Jack Armstrong project that begat Jonny Quest. Iwao was there; I have no doubt his memory was accurate.

    Steve, the first episode also featured Doug Young. Like Daws, no one thinks of him in serious roles. Or Don Messick. Typecasting seems to have come to actors with the advent of television; it wasn't uncommon in radio for top actors to do comedy and drama (Cathy and husband Elliot Lewis are excellent examples). And I guess you're thinking of Vic Perrin. He did a lot of dramatic character work on radio.

    TC James, I'm personally not a fan of the xerographic look. I wonder if some of the later series might have looked a little better without it.

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  16. I always wondered why John Stephenson was replaced by Don Messick in the role of Dr. Quest after a few episodes? Anybody know? :-)

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  17. Supposedly Stephenson's rendition of Benton was too similar to Mike Road's rendition of Race. So more of a contrast was needed in voices to differentiate the characters.

    In response to earlier discussion, Don Messick proved to be VERY effective at straight, serious roles.

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  18. Great to read that Yowp love the JQ. I agree that Quest is Hoyt Curtin's best work. I picked up a CD on ebay years ago called Incidental Themes from Jonny Quest that contains all of his superb music from this and subsequent HB adventure shows. However, the best way to get your Jonny music fix is through Earl Kress' excellent suite on his More Hanna Barbera Classics CD in the Pic-A-Nic Basket.
    Rick Greene

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  19. Howard & Yowp:
    Good point about raidfo actors doing equally comedy and drama...not to mention that Messick's ranger was a more straight-forward character in Yogi.

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  20. It's rather dismaying to read that promo piece and not see one mention ot DOUG WILDEY, who created the show. I was a huge fan of his for many years, before I ever heard his name and found out who he was.

    Similarly, I loved Alex Toth's work in the animation field, but for decades never had a clue who he was or how many shows he'd worked on. Ironically, apart from "BRAVO FOR ADVENTURE", his comics work never did anything for me. Toth DID work on JONNY QUEST, by the way-- I've SEEN the character sheets. But he was a hired hand, not the creator. When Toth passed away, one of his friends needlessly took the time to denigrate Wildey's work in favor of Toth's. Bad form.

    In later reruns, HB had Doug Wildey's SIGNATURE (not just name!) REMOVED from the end credits.

    In reruns in the 70's, the show was CUT TO RIBBONS. The entire first half of the opening credits (with all that shooting) were missing. In "THE CURSE OF ANUBIS", EVERY SINGLE SHOT feature the mummy was MISSING!! I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP!! Having seen it when it was first-run, I wondered at first if I was seeing some obscure "sequel" or something. In the late 80s, when the show turned up on USA Network, it was once again UNCUT. But in the 70's, several ENTIRE EPISODES were never run at all-- they were too nasty even to edit! (The island with the research station and the monsters, the one with the "invisible" monster, etc.)

    Totally agree, JQ was Hoyt Curtin's FINEST work. Someone sent me a copy of the JQ score, all Curtin's music. Getting that CD was a dream come true! I recently put together an "ACTION HEROES" comp, and included 3 JQ tracks on it.

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