There was once a horrendous period in television animation when studios were seemingly shamed into turning entertainment into propaganda. It wasn’t good enough to have a character make the kids laugh. The character had to “teach” something. Thus you had a bastardised Yogi Bear taking animals on an ark as cartoons pounded into children messages against crime, hate and pollution. All of which, as we know, have been eliminated thanks to them and similar cartoons, and those children have grown into adulthood where they now watch, and even create, today’s fine educational programming, stuff like Jersey Shore.
Of course, Yogi originally embodied an occasional “crime doesn’t pay” message which was subtly woven into the entertainment (subtle isn’t good enough for not-so-subtle social activists). And he also seems to have mixed entertainment with a fun message about fitness in a 1963 project.
‘Wake Up America’ was an LP pressed in 1963 by Colpix Records, the arm of Columbia Pictures that released songs and musical material from the artists signed to its films and TV shows. So along with Paul Peterson of The Donna Reed Show, you got Hanna-Barbera characters. The title sounds like something from a ranting political podcast, but Billboard magazine of September 7, 1963, describes it thus, in giving it a Specialty Special Medit label.
Here’s an interesting, and slightly unexpected package, which blends the message of the popular “physical fitness” theme with the appeal of the Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon characters, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw in a combination of musical and narrative which adds a comic and appealing touch to the seriousness of the warning. Yogi Bear appears prominently on the cover somewhat in the didactic attitude of Smokey Bear.
What’s more unexpected is Daws Butler is not providing the voices of the characters he created. Instead, they’re done by Chuck McCann, who’s best known to a certain generation for playing the happy “Hi, guy!” guy in the Right Guard TV commercials. Chuck had a long and funny children’s television career in New York City and, some years later, had a connection with Hanna-Barbera; he was on The CB Bears and fondly remembers voicing the Schmoo. But, in 1963, he seems like an unusual choice.
Some time ago, I sent Chuck a note asking how the job came about but he never responded. The best I can do is paraphrase something from his web site that the gig was done in New York and, for whatever reason, and Daws couldn’t go there. New York was the home of actor Gil Mack who had been voicing the H-B characters on Golden Records but, I presume, Mack couldn’t do it for contractual reasons.
Normally, this would be the part of the blog where I’d link to the record. But I don’t have it. And Chuck’s web site—which is here, by the way, doesn’t have his Flash players coded properly so if he’s got clips there, they won’t play (there’s a lovely, enjoyable white rectangle where the player should be , though). So, instead, I’m going to link to another message from Yogi that I remember from when I was a kid. It’s not exactly subtle, but it’s entertaining. The animation’s pretty good for television (Mike Kazaleh reveals who did it in the comments) and the PSA feels right having not only the voices of Daws and Don Messick, but Hoyt Curtin’s familiar cues from the mid-‘60s cartoons.