What some consider the ultimate Jetsons episode is the one I liked the least when it first aired on September 30, 1962—A Date With Jet Screamer. As an almost six year old, I couldn’t understand why Judy was nuts over some singer. And, worse still, the cartoon got interrupted. I wanted to see Astro saying “Right, Rorge.” Or Uniblab being a sleazy executive. Or Cogswell making fun of Spacely. Or some invention of the future screwing up. Instead, the plot came to a complete halt for a song with some drawings that had nothing to do with the main characters.
Little did I realise the cartoon wasn’t designed for the going-on-six demographic.
The animation style and concept is a rarity for Hanna-Barbera. While I still don’t understand why girls go nuts over teenaged singers, I can watch the animation of what amounts to a cartoon music video and appreciate the work that went into it. It may be Howie Morris’ finest H-B acting job. And Jerry Eisenberg was a part of it, along with someone you wouldn’t expect to find at Hanna-Barbera. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Four animators did all the work in the first couple of years at Hanna-Barbera—Mike Lah, Ken Muse, Lew Marshall and Carlo Vinci, all from MGM. After the MGM studio shut down in early 1957, Marshall got a job in May at Animation, Inc., a commercial house. H-B was getting into business about that time. Lew had a lengthy career at the studio. I asked Jerry about him.
Jerry: Yeah, he became a story director at Hanna-Barbera and did storyboards, and associate producing, like Alex Lovy did.
Yowp: You say that when the studio started, Lew and some others were promised a piece of the action?
Jerry: Well, I was talking to Lew one day, this was years ago, and he told me when they were at the Chaplin Studio, that’s where Hanna-Barbera started there on La Brea—Charlie Chaplin had built a studio once and they were leasing part of it and they were also renting space several blocks down for the ink and paint department—but Lew said “Hanna came into my room one day and he took the waste basket, turned it upside down and sat down,” I guess they didn’t have any guest chairs, “And he said ‘Hey, Lew, if you and the other guys’ (meaning Bick, Monty and whoever the core group was that started out with them) he said ‘Listen, if you guys stick with us and we make a success and stay in business, well, we’d like you guys to share in a couple of points.’” Which was nice of him to say that, but he didn’t keep his word. I don’t like that. He didn’t have to say that. But I just figure ‘shame on him’ because, you know, he died, I’m sure he had more than a few hundred million dollars in his estate and what if he had a few million less? Big deal. Those things bother me, you know. If I give my word to someone, I keep it. I didn’t like that about Hanna. I don’t know why the guys didn’t get together and call him on that back then.
Yowp: I guess probably because they didn’t have anything in writing.
Jerry: Yeah, but they could have almost threatened a walkout. Hollywood has always done business with a handshake, so it was like on that level. Like my father, he wasn’t business-like when he gave Joe that idea that became The Flintstones. I mean, if he had been more business-minded and really smart, since Alan [Dinehart] was there as a witness, he could have said “You know, Joe, I’ve got an idea that might help you but what’s in it for me? I’d like to get a finder’s fee or maybe something.” Because he [Joe] never mentioned it to me when he was alive. It was his ego, I guess. I said to Alan “You know, he should have sent my father a cheque, maybe $25,000 after they sold the show.” And Alan said “Bullsht! He should have sent him $250,000.” But, it’s a shame, you know. That disappointed me about Joe. But I still liked him. I guess I always preferred him to Hanna.
Yowp: Was Joe difficult to work for?
Jerry: No, not, Joe. Hanna was bit difficult. At first, I would negotiate with him, like if I wanted a raise. And that wasn’t very good, so I was so glad when I didn’t have to deal with him any more when Joe really made the layout department his department.
Yowp: I gather Schipek handled the production end of things as opposed to the business end.
Jerry: That’s right. Bill Schipek became the production manager after Howard Hanson left. And Howard wasn’t treated that well and he goes back to the MGM days. He worked with Bill and Joe at MGM.
Yowp: So what exactly did those guys do?
Jerry: Production Managers? They would keep track of where everyone was, they’d have to deal with the animators, the layout men, or the department heads. They would be responsible for making up a production schedule so to speak and giving everybody the dates when stuff is due. And also coordinating with the camera department and ink and paint. Any kind of production they would be manager-ing.
Yowp: So would they decide which animators would work on a series or a cartoon?
Jerry: No. That went through Nick Nichols. And, later on, Nick had some of the animators helping him with the supervision, like Ray Patterson and maybe Jerry Hathcock, who came over from Disney. It’s like in layout. When they formalised the department and asked Iwao if he’d be the supervisor, but then there were, you might say, sub-supervisors. I was supervising a couple of shows or so in layout. Because one the studio really started growing big, you just can’t have one person to the managing.
Nichols came over from Disney and when I started full-time, I think Nick was already there.
Yowp: Can you give some memories of Alex Lovy?
Jerry: We loved the work he did. His storyboards were the most fun. Well, also Tony Benedict, who also drew his scripts, he had a funny style. Alex’s style was so fluid, like my father, his stuff really flowed. And the way he would draw some of the characters was funnier than the model sheets. And he was just a funny person. He would come around and joke around with us, and he was just nice to be around. Very, very talented. And he could draw with both hands.
Yowp: Did he draw storyboards with both hands?
Jerry: He could. I don’t know if he did it at the same time. He goes back to the days in New York. I don’t know if he worked with Joe Barbera, like my father did in New York, but they must have all known each other.
Yowp: Did you work closely with guys like Kenny Muse or Carlo Vinci?
Jerry: Not really, that I can recall. It wasn’t set up like that. They would maybe have to confer with Nick or Bill Hanna or even Joe Barbera sometimes on a timing question. I guess later on when I got into producing and stuff with Ruby and Spears, sometimes we’d have to talk to the director and ask him to tighten up some of the timing or make something happen quicker. Timing is so important. You know, Friz Freleng was a master of timing. Oh, his stuff was so good. It really makes a difference.
Yowp: Was there any particular background artist you preferred working with, as opposed to another?
Jerry: Naw, there were a lot of good ones. I loved Monty’s [Fernando Montealegre] work. And Art Lozzi. Monty did beautiful work. He was quite talented. He was working in background [at MGM] with Bob Gentle. Actually, he used to take photographs. He’d come over to my in-between room and take photographs of me. And one day I walked into his room and Jack Nicholson was sitting on a stool and Monty was taking some portraits of him. And I never asked Monty later on to show me the photos.
Yowp: Was Monty later drawing portraits from them?
Jerry: Not paintings. Just photo portraits. He would give us 8 by 10 enlargements. He’d give me three different poses, you might say. It’s a nice souvenir but I never saw the ones he did of Jack or anyone else.
Yowp: Virgil Ross’ name is on an Augie Doggie cartoon [Let’s Duck Out]. But was he still in Freleng’s unit at Warner’s at the time? I’m presume he would have been working on a freelance basis.
Jerry: Yeah, probably. Another man in Friz’ unit was Art Davis [later an animator and story director at Hanna-Barbera]. He was a nice man and very talented. And Friz had a great layout man. Hawley Pratt. A funny thing about him. Our in-between room [at Warners], the bull-pen, was next to his office. And every once in awhile, he’d sneeze. And as soon as he’d sneeze, he’d give out this huge yell and wake up the whole studio.
I know that Friz had Yosemite Sam designed and his personality after himself. He seemed like Yosemite Sam. He would even talk like him sometimes. Of course, Tweety Bird, he had his daughter Sybil in mind. He had two daughters. Sybil, I think was the first one.
We had a young guy that came in [to Warners] after Mike [Maltese] left. A young writer [from] Peterson Publications. He did a lot of car magazines, Carl Kohler, he worked with us at the studio as a writer and, in fact, he got Willie and me to do a little freelance work. We did some comic book work for Peterson, it was called CarToons.
Yowp: He did a Huckleberry Hound cartoon, too.
Jerry: I don’t remember if he worked in with us at Hanna-Barbera. I just knew him at Warner Bros. I knew him. He was a nice guy. He was fun to be around.
Yowp: Were there a lot of guys, like Kohler, or Manny Perez, that Hanna-Barbera brought in just to freelance?
Jerry: Probably. Gosh, I remember by 1970, when we were doing the Superfriends, the studio got so busy. Boy, Joe sold a lot of shows. The previous year, we were averaging 1,200 feet of animation per week. All of a sudden, it went to 5,000 or so. So that’s what caused Bill Hanna to have to go out of the country looking for help. There weren’t enough people here. That’s when he started with Japan and, of course, it went to Korea and the Phillipines, and places like that, Australia. [Later], Disney bought it. My complaint was, years later, by the ’80s and ‘90s, there was too much management and middle-management. Hanna-Barbera used to run a very tight ship. You didn’t have a ton of vice-presidents. Then you’d have people under them. And everybody had to have an assistant. I felt there should have been runaway management sometimes, not so much runaway production.
Hanna ran a tight ship because he was kind of a tightwad. He probably didn’t want to spend the extra money. You know, a lot of us used to do stuff ourselves that maybe today they use a secretary or another assistant to do. A lot of featherbedding goes on.
Yowp: Let me ask about your dad. I don’t recall seeing his name on any cartoons. Did he get any credits anywhere?
Jerry: When he worked in New York, he started as an inker. I used to watch him ink his comics. When he was doing the Tom and Jerry comic books he used to do everything in the beginning. He would draw it, ink it and letter it. And, oh, he was so good and so facile with a brush. Then, he got into in-betweening in New York and then assistant animation. But then when Joe Barbera came out to the West Coast and when he and Bill formed a unit at MGM, he kept in touch with my father and the way I heard it was he asked “Harvey, why don’t you come out and work with us here at MGM?” That’s probably when my father started in layout unless he was already doing some layout in New York.
He worked in the same room with Joe. And Irv Spence was there. They used to have more fun. My mother said my father came home one day with just his jacket and pants on. His shirt had been ripped off. They did wild things over there.
Irv was working next door to my father and Joe. They used to play tricks on each other. They’d do things like, water balloons. They’d suspend a balloon over a desk and drop it on someone. And so Irv, the way I heard it, Joe was telling me this, he had all these empty film cans stacked up on his animation desk and they were attached to a string that went to the door. So if somebody started opening the door to try to pull a prank on them, it would knock over the film cans. It was like his burglar alarm. So what my father and Joe did was they figured out where Irv was sitting on the other side of the wall. They must have done some measuring when he wasn’t there. They drilled a couple of holes in the wall. So when Irv came back from lunch, and he set up his alarm system with the cans and everything, and he sat down and he starts working, Joe and my father got these two straws and they would get a mouthful of water, and they’d stick the straws in the hole and blow the water on Irv. And when they did that, they heard this big crashing sound of the film cans falling. Stuff like that. I haven’t heard too many other stories.
Yowp: Did stuff like that happen at Hanna-Barbera, or was it pretty much nose-to-the-grindstone?
Jerry: A little of both. What we did to have fun, there was always a lot of gag cartoons being drawn. That’s another unique thing about the animation business. At all the studios they would do gag cartoons of each other. And of the bosses. Guys used to do Disney. Or Joe and Bill. Like Iwao Takamoto. He did so many gag cartoons, mostly of him and me. You know, I guess I was giving him a lot of material. His sense of humour really came out in those gag cartoons. He was such a great artist. Boy, could he draw. And I saved them all. They’re just beautiful. I always thought it would be nice some day if we could publish a book on stuff like that, the stuff they did at Disney’s, MGM, Warners and Hanna-Barbera, for instance. Tony [Benedict] once did one of me playing basketball and then he had all this written stuff saying, you know, ‘Jerry Eisenberg would average 24.3 cheeseburgers per game.’ I was a pretty big eater in those days.
Yowp: You’ve just reminded me of a story about you in a Yogi Bear costume, helping Joe Barbera get the Banana Splits on the air [in 1968].
Jerry: When we were developing the Splits, at some point, for some reason, the sponsors, Kellogg’s was interested, and the network didn’t quite understand [it]. I remember designing the Banana Splits and he would show them the design, saying “These are going to be made into costumes and we’re going to have people wearing the costumes.” Because it was really a live-action show. Joe was going to go back to Chicago to the Leo Burnett agency and the people from Kellogg’s were going to fly over from Michigan, and I don’t know if there was any network people there, but Joe had me go back with him. He wanted me to wear this Yogi Bear suit. It wasn’t one of the Banana Splits designs but it was just to show them the idea of the show. So I flew back with him and I had to do some lettering and some stuff, anyway. And the night before, we rehearsed. Joe’s agent Cy Fischer was there at the hotel and the plan was the next day we were going to use this conference room and I was going to be waiting in a smaller room just off the conference room and Joe was going to start making his pitch. At a certain point, I would enter, I’d open the door and came out in the Yogi Bear suit. And it was almost like a light bulb would go over everybody’s head, they got it. And, so, Joe had me to like a little ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ dance with him, like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby used to do. He told me “Just walk around the room and sort of ad-lib.” I would touch somebody on the shoulder, this and that. Somebody told me they remember me sitting on somebody’s lap. I don’t remember that. But there was one empty chair at the end of the table where Joe was. It was left there on purpose. So I took a seat. And I’m sitting there, and I cross my legs. And Joe is continuing with his pitch. Then after a couple of minutes, he stops and looks at me and says “Aw, you can leave now.” So I get up, act kind of huffy, and I put my hands on my hips and stalk off. And they love it! In fact, Cy Fischer told me that sitting next to him was maybe the head of Kellogg’s or something and the guy passes him and note and he said ‘You’ve got a show’ or something like that. They wanted to sponsor it.
Yowp: Was the Banana Splits always in development as a live action show?
Jerry: That’s right. I had to design costumes for people to wear. It was never intended to be animation.
Yowp: Was this a case of Joe coming down and saying “I’m looking for a costume-type show” or was that something you pitched to him?
Jerry: No, I didn’t pitch it. He came to us with it. I don’t know where the initial idea came from. It could have come from him, it could have come from one of his writers. Maybe someone at the network, even. It’s funny, I never thought to question it. I could have said “Hey, Joe” or “Mr. B., whose idea was that, how did that develop?” None of us seemed to care about that.
Yowp: That brings up something else. Did you call Joe by his first name?
Jerry: No. I always called him Mr. B. Of course, one time, he used to call me “Geraldine” once in a while. I’d carry on and put on kind of a fey act. And one time I called him “Josephine.” He didn’t seem to mind. He was always Mr. B. It didn’t seem right [using his first name only]. For the older guys that were in his age bracket, that would be okay.
Yowp: I’m backing up in time a bit because I never got a chance to ask about The Jetsons. I’m presuming the main characters were designed before you got involved. Did you design any of the secondary characters?
Jerry: I remember trying to design the main characters, actually. Sometimes, it would be a blend. I know Iwao designed Astro the dog. And I think one or two of the other characters might have been ultimatedly designed by Bick. Or maybe Ed Benedict was involved.
Yowp: And Bobe Cannon worked on The Jetsons.
Jerry: In fact, Joe brought him in to help on a song sequence, the only song that was done in the whole Jetsons series. And I was lucky. Joe assigned me to work with Bobe and to lay out the sequence. Bobe was such a nice person and so talented. I think the song was called ‘Eep-Opp-Ork.’ And then, years later when I was back at Hanna-Barbera in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, I did a cartoon cel for their merchandising division on that song. It felt kind of fun. I designed the sequence back in ’62 and then I got to do this cel which did very well.
Yowp: Guys like Bobe, the artists at Hanna-Barbera had great careers either at Disney or Warners or MGM where they’re doing full animation on some of the greatest cartoons ever. But, now, they’re in a situation where there’s no time or budget for that kind of creativity. They’re doing a lot of eye-blinks and walk cycles. Were they bitter or resentful about that?
Jerry: I don’t remember any conversations about them about it. They could have. The animation was so simple and limited but, you know, over the years it became full animation again. I never thought that would happen.
Yowp: There was fuller animation on the Yogi Bear feature [Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear, 1964]. You worked on that.
Jerry: I did. Iwao and I worked with Joe on one of the song sequences, The St. Louis Bears. We had to design them. And that was fun because, I remember coming up with some almost like gag writing. I’m not like a “writer” writer but I can come up with gag ideas and it was fun laying out that sequence and designing it. It was mostly Iwao and I on that one.
Yowp: I gather on something like that, you’d be given a bit more time to play around.
Jerry: Yeah, and I forget what else we did on the feature. I’m pretty sure Iwao designed the dog that became Muttley. I think he had a lot to do with designing Cindy Bear, unless she was designed for the comic books.
Yowp: She was in a couple of the shorts.
Jerry: Then Iwao just polished her up. He was so good. He worked 16 years at Disney and he was the key assistant to probably what may be their greatest animator, Milt Kahl.
Coming up...some final words