Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Huck Hound For President

When I was a kid, a deliberately dour fellow named Pat Paulsen ran a campaign for the presidency of the United States in 1968. Being a youngster, I thought a phoney (albeit satiric) campaign was something new. After all, I didn’t go back too many more years myself. But I later learned this wasn’t true.

Gracie Allen did it on radio, running on the “Surprise Party” ticket in 1940, even stumping across the country, charging $2.50 for people to attend her “rallies.” Eddie Cantor did it eight years earlier. And cartoon characters did it, too. Pogo first trod the campaign trail in 1952. Popeye and Bluto battled it out for the White House in a theatrical short in 1956. While Gracie did it for publicity, Pogo did it for Walt Kelly to comment on the sleaze of politics and Popeye did it for entertainment. Huckleberry Hound did it for another reason—there was a buck in it.

Huck’s campaign was in the election year 1960 (he didn’t win). And, to quote a former president, “make no mistake,” it was a huge campaign. Gracie Allen had one radio writer, John P. Medbury, coming up with material for her. The blue hound had whole phalanxes of people, carefully orchestrated by the two real money people behind Hanna-Barbera—Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures’ television arm, and Leo Burnett, the ad agency that represented Huck’s exclusive sponsor, Kellogg’s.

Ironically, about the only place Huck didn’t stump for votes was on the very TV cartoons that brought him fame. Remember, this was back in the day when anything that smacked of being dated, like Christmas shows, never aired in syndication lest they be broadcast at the “wrong” time of year. And, I suspect, the idea behind the campaign was to get people to watch the show.

The multi-media effort began almost accidentally. An article in an early August edition of Broadcasting magazine has the story:

Huckleberry Hound’s presidential bandwagon really gets rolling
When a Screen Gems colleague asked Ed Justin last month what was in store for Huckleberry Hound, the merchandising chief ad-libbed, “I think we’ll run him for president.”
Two weeks later the star of the weekly cartoon half-hour on 180 stations had his hat in the ring. By now he stands in a fair way to turn the White House into a dog house on a write-in vote.
Stations rallied enthusiastically to the idea and had campaign promotional material in time for station breaks during Republican convention telecasts. Orders for buttons, picket signs and balloons are still rolling in. Dell Publications this Thursday (Aug. 11) will release a comic book, Huckleberry Hound for President, and Golden Records is distributing a long-play record under the same name and subtitled, “The Making of a Candidate,” or “True Democracy in Action.” It includes campaign songs dating back to 1826 and up to “I Like Ike” and the hound’s own song. These are interwoven with the story of the dog’s candidacy, promoted by the Madison Avenue agency of Wheel, Deal, Spiel & Billings, the nation’s greediest.
One of the early rallies was organized by KHVH-TV Honolulu and the GEM department store there. The crowd out to greet Huckleberry with campaign manager Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw (who is slated for a high State Department post if Huckleberry Hound wins) exceeded that drawn earlier by President Eisenhower and visiting royalty from Japan and lran. Traffic was tied up in the air and on the ground, and the store had to lock its doors when 25,000 had thronged in, according to Ed Justin, assistant campaign manager, when he got back to New York headquarters from the barnstorming.
In Roanoke, Va., WSLS-TV staged a rally at a baseball game. WCCO-TV Minneapolis got out the child vote 10,000 strong when the candidate and his party showed up for the station’s “Aquatennial” water show. Politicians are busy organizing rallies and local conventions in other jurisidictions, with KDKA-TV Pittsburgh, WTOL-TV Toledo, WTVN (TV) Evansville, Ind., and KJEO (TV) Fresno, Calif., announced as early dates on the candidate’s whistle-stop tours.
The campaign is also picking up steam in professional Huckleberrry Hound acts that have been making the amusement-park circuit for some months. These are handled by paid performers, packaged on a regular entertainment fee basis.
If the country goes to the dogs, breakfast food may become the national dish. The canine candidate is sponsored on television by Kellogg through Leo Burnett.

The Toledo affair was quite something, appropriate considering that was the hometown of Huck’s voice, Daws Butler. Sponsor magazine of August 15 gushes how a record 45,000 showed up to nominate Huck, Yogi as vice-president and Quick Draw as Secretary of Defence, though one wonders how many actually came solely for the “political rally.” The WSLS tie-in at the local ballpark on July 26 featured giveaways of presidential buttons and balloons to over 3,000 people. Sponsor also revealed Ed Justin was on his way to London to push Huck. And a costumed Huck and Yogi adorned the Wisconsin State Fair, along with the Three Stooges and Myron Floren.

The print media wasn’t spared. The Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Petersen revealed August 23 in a column entitled ‘Critic Bares Soul, Tells List of Payola Gifts’ that one of his story-inducing freebies was “one Huckleberry Hound for President kit.”

One newspaperman that took a fancy to the campaign was Art Ryon, who seems to have fuelled his light-hearted ‘Ham on Ryon’ columns in the Los Angeles Times with regular trips across the street to his personal booth at the Redwood Room. Interestingly, the Times had been a staunch ally of Richard Nixon until Otis Chander took over as publisher in 1960. Now, Nixon was running for president and a Times columnist was, albeit jokingly, backing someone else. But perhaps for a reason we’ll explain in a moment.

Ryon put down his glass at the Redwood Room long enough to announce the big campaign in his column on August 1, 1960.


HAM ON RYON
Huckleberry for President!
by ART RYON
This is to announce the formation of a new and powerful political party. While the two old parties have their two young candidates, there are dedicated millions of us who are rallying around the standard of the Hero of the Hour—Huckleberry Hound.
“Huckleberry Hound for President.” Although this battle cry is swelling across the breadth of the land, there is much organization work to he done. First, of course, as faithful followers of this filmed Fido, we must find a name for our party. Among the suggestions has been the Let’s Dog It This Year Party. But that lacks dignity. And besides, it would give headline writers fits.
As national chairman I am arranging a rigged convention that will be held some Saturday in October at the Greater Los Angeles Press Club. We do not believe in long campaigns. And we believe that at the moment people have had their fill of conventions. You can deduce from this that when it comes to strategy and timing, we’re right with it, boy. When I say rigged I mean that Huckleberry is a shoo-in for the Top Spot.
The real fight is expected to develop over the Vice Presidential nomination. And, of course, the platform. There are already rumbles from the liberals—most of them little old ladies from North Pasadena—demanding civil rights for cats. Field for the Veep vote is wide open. A movement to draft Yogi Bear has begun. But the backers of Augie Doggie, Quick Draw McGraw and Dixie and Trixie [sic] have launched a “Stop Bear” drive contending he is only a front for the corrupt Jellystone Park machine. Looming as dark horses are Henry Wallace and Thomas E. Dewey.
So far the national networks have not indicated whether they will cover our convention, exciting as it will be. So we may have to struggle along without Cronkite, Daly, Murrow, Huntley and the others. But Dick Moore, president of KTTV and close personal friend of Huckleberry, is enthusiastic about this historic political event and may have it covered live on Channel 11. So we may get Putnam and Welsh [George Putnam and Ben Welsh]. This is fine because, let’s face it, a national political convention just wouldn’t be a national political convention without TV. And if Dick’ll do it, we’ll put on some dandy, well-rehearsed, spontaneous demonstrations ...

It’s no coincidence KTTV is mentioned. The Times held part ownership in it. And it also broadcast The Huckleberry Hound Show. One promotional hand was washing the other in between rounds at the Redwood. Ryon seems to have been a big Huck fan though, evidently, a few too many cocktails blurred his vision while watching Pixie and Dixie.

As for the Golden Record mentioned above, it seems to have been released on the A.A. label. Granville “Sascha” Burland, the creator of the Nutty Squirrels, wrote and produced it, with narration by Kenny Delmar. But despite its cover of kids in Huck masks, and the New York Times advertising it under “Recordings for very youngsters,” Billboard reveals it was “a lampoon on advertising and politics of today”, opening with campaign handlers on Madison Avenue. Doesn’t sound like kid fare. The song “Huckleberry Hound For President” was written by Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and/or Warren Foster and/or Hoyt Curtin (copyright catalogues conflict).

The Dell comic was the work of that fine artist Harvey Eisenberg, Hanna and Barbera’s former layout man at MGM who went into the comic book and comic strip business, drawing the first Yogi Bear newspaper comics. It’s in four colours and features a long story of just about all the major Hanna-Barbera characters of the day making an appearance. Huck can’t find a place to live, but Yogi reads in the paper there’ll soon be a vacancy at the White House. Since only the president of the U.S. can live there, Yogi manages Huck’s campaign to get elected. The story goes off on sidetracks along the way, and borrows wholesale from the TV cartoons Freeway Patrol and Hookey Daze. In the end, Huck decides he doesn’t want to be president and that’s Yogi’s cue to step in.

You’ve seen part of one of the pages a little further up the post. Here are a couple of others, including the final page of the story. FDR loved fishing, Truman’s piano playing was a running gag on radio (and in the 1951 cartoon Droopy’s Good Deed) and Ike was a notorious golfer. Click to enlarge.




Ah, but the candidate of today is the has-been of tomorrow. The next election year was 1964. Yogi had eclipsed Huck as the star of Hanna-Barbera’s short cartoons, so he was the one on the presidential ticket, challenging Magilla Gorilla, whose show lasted in first-run on syndication a mere one year, compared to Huck’s four seasons. Yes, Politics didn’t have Huckleberry Hound to kick around any more. And like everything else, it probably didn’t bother him a bit.

4 comments:

  1. "Huckleberry Hound For President" is probably my most read comic in my collection. It was originally released in 1960 and then republished in 1968 with one of the stories missing. I always thought it would make a great 30 minute TV special or short film.

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  2. Since Daws gave him a North Carolina twang, I assume Huck was running as a Blue Dog Democrat (sorry, I couldn't help myself...)

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  3. At least Magilla was savvy enough to reference lyrics from Little Eva's catchy "Makin' With the Magilla" for use as his campaign slogan.

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  4. One interesting note about the two versions of this comic: When Huck makes his exit speech, the “…I don’t know beans about FISHIN’” 1960 reference (presumably to Franklin D. Roosevelt) is CHANGED to “…I don’t know beans about RANCHIN’”, making it a 1968 reference to Lyndon B. Johnson instead!

    Anyone who might care to, can read my full write-up of “Huckleberry Hound for President” here:

    http://tiahblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/weird-huck-tales-part-1-of-2.html

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