Appearances by cartoon characters on award shows are usually a welcome sight. It’s something to break the monotony of maudlin back-slapping, thank-yous that turn into a phone book reading, comedy bits that try too hard and categories viewers don’t care about.
Someone had to be the first cartoon character to appear on a televised award ceremony, and that somebody was Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear. It happened 50 years ago this week, on May 16, 1961 (in a 10 p.m. tape-delayed broadcast on the West Coast to satisfy sponsors). Yes, the Emmys took place in May way-back-when. 25 awards in 90 minutes, too. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, take note.
There’s a good reason Huck and Yogi were picked, and not just because Huck was an Emmy-winner the previous Year, and Yogi getting a huge push from ubiquitous TV sponsor Kellogg’s. The Hanna-Barbera shows were known for their gentle satire, especially of television’s western, detective and household sitcoms. And television decided to satirise itself on the 13th annual Emmy Awards. A story in the Williamson Daily News of May 13 reveals some routines that sound not so bad on paper.
Lorne Greene and Dan Blocker, who play a scene from their “Bonanza” series as it would be performed in the United States, England and Japan.
Richard Boone, who will deliver a soliloquy on television, and Robert Stack [of The Untouchables], with a surprise interview; Lola Albright, Amanda Blake and Dorothy Provine, singing a parody on single girls who are always left behind.
Art Linkletter will discuss with children their view of television, and Mitch Miller will do a musical commentary on television.
Martin Miller and George Maharis, stars of “Route 66,” will appear in a filmed sketch dramatizing the growth of TV across the nation and will show how the famous cross-country highway brought them to Hollywood and the “Emmy” show.
For the first time in “Emmy” history, an animated cartoon will be integrated into the program. Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound, internationally famous TV cartoon stars, will be featured in a specially created animated film.
Yogi will present for the first time his own invention—an electronic prognosticator. Huck will assist Yogi in pushing the many buttons on the device which if operated correctly, will produce the “ideal” television show and star.
Unfortunately, you could just smell the disaster brewing, and not because of the inevitable stereotype of Hoss in yellowface saying “Honoloable Uncle Ben, prease.” As the ad reveals, the show was hosted by Joey Bishop in New York and Dick Powell in Hollywood. The dual locations were a compromise due a war of egos between the Academy’s chapters on the east and west coasts. The dispute made it onto the air, with the Unfunniest Rat Packer snipping on the air that he was, or wasn’t, getting the same share of camera time as Powell, who was a big-time independent TV producer by 1961.
Reviewers panned the broadcast (“Comments were witless,” summed up Fred Danzig of UPI), and the selections, proving not an awful lot has changed in television. However, Yogi got kudos from the Miami News:
Emmies for honesty should have gone to...Yogi Bear. Yogi asked his infallible Niel-Trende-Tron audience rating machine for a picture of everybody’s favorite TV star, and it spewed out a picture of Yogi, of course. “This is an advantage when you build your own Niel-Trende-Tron,” commented Yogi.
Here’s a question I hope someone reading can answer: does the footage of this cartoon exist anywhere? Drawings, maybe? Has anyone seen it? I can picture it being like one of those little cartoons-between-the-cartoons on the Huck show, which were just as enjoyable as the regular cartoons. In fact, the animation is a lot fuller and rubberier than in many of the first cartoons.