Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Hanna-Barbera Story, 1960

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera spent several decades polishing the tale of how their studio rose to fame. The story sounded a lot better over time as details got a bit of a make-over.

Here’s a feature piece by Larry Wolters of the Chicago Tribune of November 13, 1960. That was still in the “Wonderful Huck” period of the studio. Hanna-Barbera cartoons were lauded everywhere. They weren’t the old theatricals that critics were tired of (ironically, those were the cartoons where Hanna and Barbera got a lot of their gags and situations). And they compared pretty well, humour-wise, to live-action comedy shows on TV at the time (can anyone really sit through ‘I Married Joan?’).

Anyway, here’s the article with some poor photocopies of two of the four pictures that went with it. I’ll make a couple of observations below.


YOGI BEAR and HUCKLEBERRY
Channel 9's Cartoon Rascals Are the Rage at Yale, the South Pole, and at Home

RECENTLY a telephone conversation between a grandfather and his 5 year old grandson ended abruptly with these words: “I can't talk anymore now, gramps, Huckleberry Hound is on.”
Huckleberry Hound and his friend Yogi Bear and another TV cartoon show Quick Draw McGraw are causing parents to race their offspring to the best viewing spot in front of the set to follow the adventures of these amusing channel 9 characters.
A poll at Yale university last season proved them to be the most popular TV characters at this Ivy league institution. A learned society at Pasadena asked that the shows be shifted to a later hour so the membership could watch.
In two short years Huck and Quick Draw have become famous in far-flung outposts of the world. Down in the Antarctic’s Bellinghausen sea sits a tiny island that bears the name of Huckleberry Hound. It was named by the crew of the United States coast guard icebreaker Glacier who love the noble hearted pooch with the look of a bloodhound and a voice not unlike that of the drawling Andy Griffith.
The show is also a hit in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. Syndicated on some 180 American stations, these creations of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have become just about the most beloved cartoon characters since Disney invented Mickey Mouse.
Huck’s friends include Mr. Jinks, a method acting cat; Yogi, a porkpie wearing bruin who reminds you of Art Carney. Huck is a sort of canine Robin Hood. Once he took out after a tyrant who refused to permit his subjects to pay their taxes with credit cards. This and other good works so endeared him to the Hull (England) Jazz and Cycling society that it changed its name to the Huckleberry Hound club.
Huck’s friends don’t go in for such complicated social reforms as he does. Yogi Bear and his small bear buddy, Boo-Boo, live in Jellystone park, a national preserve, where they try to cadge food from tourists. Mr. Jinx [sic], a masochistic cat, has a lot of misadventures with Pixie and Dixie, two roguish mice.
Quick Draw McGraw, just as popular as Huck, is the hero of another western but no ordinary western. He’s a horse. And his adventures are not child’s play. He’s more adult than any adult western.
Others who help enliven his adventures are Bobba Looey [sic], a Mexican burro with a heart of gold who sounds like Desi Arnaz; Shagglepuss [sic], a playful lion with a Bert Lahr inflection; Snooper, a cat duplicate of Ed (Archie) Gardner; Blabber, probably the first mouse to work in cahoots with a pussy; Augie Doggie, a potential juvenile delinquent dog; Augie’s dad with a voice like Jimmy Durante’s, and a goat whose voice and romantic outlook are similar to those of Maurice Chevalier.
Hanna and Barbera used to do the Tom and Jerry animated cartoon series at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They lost their jobs after a 20 year stint. They turned out more than 125 cartoons while in the movies and won seven academy awards for the studio. Hanna works as the idea man, Barbera as the cartoonist.
In three years Hanna and Barbera Productions has become the nation’s largest cartoon factory. Besides Huck and Quick Draw they have Ruff and Reddy, and a new one called The Flintstones, a TV cartoon series for adults. It’s a gentle satire on a stone age couple forced to live in current times with Paleolithic problems.
Oddly enough, neither Hanna nor Barbera began their careers as artists. Bill, born in Melrose N. M., spent his school years studying engineering and journalism. After college he joined a firm in California and acted as a structural engineer for the building of the Pantages theater in Hollywood where he later was to receive those Academy awards.
Hanna’s engineering efforts did not last long and he joined Leon Schlessinger’s [sic] cartoon company.
Joe Barbera was born in New York City and attended the American Institute of Banking. After graduation he went to work for a trust company as an accountant. He did more doodling and dreaming, however, then checking up on accounts and started submitting cartoons to leading magazines.
Some of them were accepted so he left the world of finance. In 1937 he joined M-G-M as a story man. Hanna became an animator.
Leaving M-G-M proved the biggest break in their lives. The motion picture business was at an all-time low in 1957 so they asked for and got a release from their contracts. Shortly thereafter M-G-M discontinued cartoon production.
Armed with some new ideas and revolutionary techniques for producing animated cartoons for TV they made the rounds of various ad agencies and production companies. They were met with the same answers everywhere: “It can’t be done. Good animation is too expensive, limited animation too shoddy.”
But on July 7, 1957, Screen Gems decided to take a chance on them. Their new concepts caught on quickly. Their first one was Ruff and Reddy, a story about a frisky cat and a dimwitted dog. Huck arrived a year later and Quick Draw in 1959.
Perhaps one reason why Hanna and Barbera’s shows are so successful is that they’ve gone back to the primary objective of cartooning—to caricature and satire. However, they don’t labor the satire. As one intellectual put it: “You can almost hate children for liking Huckleberry so much. He’s too good for them.” That was the case, too, with Burr Tillstrom and Kukla and Ollie.

It’s interesting that Bill and/or Joe claim they got let out of their contracts before the studio closed. In later years, both made it appear they were callously tossed out on the street and used their last pennies to save their career and create an entire industry—which makes for a better story.

The article mentions a whole list of characters and ends with a no-name goat. He appeared as a gag toward the end of the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon ‘Lamb Chopped.’ Perhaps significant is the mention of Snagglepuss (Wolters really should have checked his spelling), who didn’t have his own cartoon series and wasn’t even a regular character. But, obviously, he made an impression—the early Snagglepuss was arguably a better character than the later version—and no doubt Bill and Joe kept that in mind when looking for two other stars to round out the Yogi Bear Show that debuted only two months later.

Perhaps it’s because the story dealt with television, there’s no mention of the Loopy De Loop theatrical cartoons being made by Hanna-Barbera.

The brief mention of The Flintstones is a foreshadowing of a real change at the studio. In a way, The Flintstones were Hanna-Barbera’s equivalent of Snow White for Disney. Before Snow, all the attention was paid to Disney’s shorts, which were endlessly praised. After, they became the poor step-sister to feature production. So, too, at Hanna-Barbera, that after the debut of The Flintstones, attention was shifted to the studio’s prime-time efforts. No one talked about Huck and Quick Draw, who were relegated to reruns. They deserved a lot better. That’s why this blog is here.

12 comments:

  1. Yowp, you've got a good point here about how the beginning of the Flintstones proved to be the end of stardom for Huck and Quick Draw, but not Yogi. I have always wondered why these two H-B stars were never given another show of their own later on. I know that a lot of the H-B material in the 70's and 80's was not that good, but with their business model they should have run these two characters into the ground with ad nauseum different types of shows. For example, "Huck Hound, Private Detective", a show for Saturdays with Huck as a private detective solving a different case each week. Or "Quick Draw's Wild West Show" with Quick Draw and Baba touring the old west meeting up with famous outlaws and heroes.

    I know some of my premises are cringe-worthy, but they are indicative of what H-B did with Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones. Why didn't they do the same with Huck and Quick Draw? Maybe their lack of overkill with these characters is for the best because they can be remembered for their original shows only. However, I still love "The Good, The Bad and Huckleberry Hound." It was a good movie for a great star who deserved it.

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  2. Even as a yute in single-digits, I could tell there was something cheaper about "The New Hanna-Babera Cartoon Show" with Wally, Touche and Lippy when it showed up in the fall of '62. No bridging animation, no unique music, not even an opening and closing segment. Add to that the fact I figured out a while later they weren't going to be making new cartoons for the Huck, Quick Draw or Yogi shows, and that's when you could tell that the studio's interest had shifted away from the short cartoons and towards the half-hour network stuff.

    (And, yea, watching "I Married Joan" really makes you appreciate Lucille Ball's talent at balancing 'comedically screwball" with 'cloyingly obnoxious'. If they had changed the name to "I Murdered Joan" and just had Jim Backus starring solo, it would have been far more enjoyable.)

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  3. I would alter the title to "Huckleberry Hound, Private Eye", plus have Huck solving mysteries all over the HB universe. He would be helping everyone from Yogi, Quick Draw & Top Cat to Space Ghost and The Herculoids. Maybe even help out the likes of "Bobba" Looey and "Shagglepuss". :P Satirical, maybe, but this absolutely would NOT be an Adult Swim show! Bizarre, yes, but who knows? It might be interesting.

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  4. "The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Show" was never the name of the series. They were three independent cartoons produced for syndication. There was never an opening and closing title segment, because it was never a half-hour show.

    From Wikipedia:

    The title The New Hanna-Barbera Cartoon series was an off-screen promotional title to distinguish this series from other packages of Hanna-Barbera cartoons (such as Ruff and Reddy, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear) available at the time. For example, WGN-Chanel 9 in Chicago ran the three segments in a half-hour timeslot under the name Wally Gator. In New York, WPIX-TV originally used the segments for a local series, Cartoon Zoo, featuring Milt Moss as host and "Zookeeper", with life-sized cutouts of the characters in "cages" as a backdrop.

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  5. I too remember the time when Huck, Yogi and their ilk made way for the half hour H-B shows, and new characters like Wally Gator, Lippy, etc. In my opinion it was the end of a special period. I have always had a special place in my heart and mind for the early years of Hanna-Barbera. Diamonds in the rough. You know, nothing to lose, everything to lose, just go for it. Yes, some of those shorts were diamonds, others missed the mark. Still, I prefer them. Greg, I bought a copy of " The Good, The Bad, and Huckleberry Hound " for my oldest son back in 1989. Bittersweet, because the year of it's production, 1988, Daws took his final bow. The industry would never be the same. As for " I Married Joan "... Loved Jim Backus and I DID enjoy Hal Smith's occasional appearances. Yowp, I'm glad you have this blog.

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  6. Anon --

    I know that there was no official title of the show. The point was the series was apparently cobbled together as the three other shows were winding down (the first copyrights are 1961, while the last of the Huck, Yogi and Quick Draw cartoons sport 1962 copyright dates). WPIX in New York aired the cartoons as a 30-minute show at 5:30 p.m. hoping to repeat the success of the earlier series, but there was far less care in putting the thing together, because syndicated ratings weren't as important to the studio as the prime-time shows in 1961.

    Bill & Joe's focus in '61 was more towards The Flintstones and Top Cat on ABC and preparing The Jetsons to present to the network for green-lighting for the 62-63 season. The new shorts were now the low men on the H-B totem pole. That would change a bit by late 1963, after the studio was down to just one prime-time series and the Saturday morning stuff had yet to arrive. H-B did put more effort into Magilla Gorilla than they had with TNHBCS, and the first 5-10 episodes were pretty decent, before things started trending downhill (and the less said about The Peter Potamous Show, the better).

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  7. Errol:

    I remember very well the day that Daws Butler passed away. I was working at KFLY/KEJO Radio in Corvallis, OR. The news at the top of the hour on May 16th featured audio clips of Huckleberry Hound and sometimes Yogi Bear. ABC News started the report with "The voice of Huckleberry Hound is silent." No mention of Yogi Bear. I had just seen "The Good, The Bad and Huckleberry Hound" for the first time the weekend before Daws' passing. I remember reading a news story at the time that stated that H-B held a 30th birthday party for Huck and showed his TV movie in April for the party. Daws Butler was there, according to the news item. I was thrilled that the Huck movie was a great way for Daws to leave as a legacy because his voice work in that movie was great.

    Consequently, I have been listening to some old H-B Records lately. If you get an opportunity to get "Doggie Daddy Tells Augie Doggie the Story of Pinocchio" do it. Janet Waldo and Doug Young are on the record but the rest of the voices are all Daws Butler. It is a great performance by this extraordinary voice talent.

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  8. [A la Doggie Daddy a la Jimmy Durante]
    Hot cha cha, Umbriago, Greg, Doug Young might have been on there [and I remember Janet Waldo as the Blue Fairy] but it's Daws as Doggie Daddy as well as others. [I had that record, too.]Great article, Yowp.

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  9. I can absolutely confirm this portion of the comments by “Anonymous”:

    “In New York, WPIX-TV originally used the segments for a local series, Cartoon Zoo, featuring Milt Moss as host and "Zookeeper", with life-sized cutouts of the characters in "cages" as a backdrop.”

    “Cartoon Zoo” is THE title I still remember as the umbrella for the Wally, Touché, and Lippy series. Warner’s “Saturday Morning Cartoons 1960s Volume Two” DVD set called it “The Wally Gator Show”. As a kid in New York, I never knew of a “Wally Gator Show” – nor can I recall these cartoons being on Saturday Morning! Though, during its first year, the Wednesday evening “Peter Potamus Show” was repeated late Saturday afternoons.

    “Zookeeper Milt Moss” was the latest of the breed of “Host with Occupations” on WPIX, which included “Captain Jack McCarthy” (Popeye), and “Officer Joe Bolton” (The Three Stooges and UPA’s Dick Tracy).

    I guess modern American society began its long, slow disintegration when, one day, ‘PIX presented “Beachcomber Bill Berry” – who didn’t exhibit an admirable profession we young ‘uns could grow up to emulate!

    Funny how, even in my “single digit years”, I had enough awareness to think it odd that a Hanna-Barbera cartoon would ever need a human host. Huck, Quick Draw, and Yogi didn’t need ‘em!

    I even had a promotional photo of Mr. Moss standing in front of the “caged” cutout of Wally! Long ago lost to the years, alas!

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  10. Joe, et al, somewhere in the bowels of the blog are notes for a post on the "New Cartoon Show." The cartoons were run individually in the Seattle area. Stations in other cities turned them into a half hour show. Interestingly, TV listings aren't consistent. Some call it the Lippy the Lion show, others name it after Wally, others after Touché.
    Whether H-B originally wanted the show to be a half-hour Kellogg's-sponsored effort, I don't know, but the format gave stations a lot more flexibility than something like Yogi. But the cartoons are clearly a step down from Yogi or Quick Draw.

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  11. WGN-9 here in Chicago had the bulk of the early H-B cartoons up till about the late 1980s when they disappeared from local stations and went to cable network USA for their Cartoon Express program. From that point on, a lot of the shorts were shown sans the credits,

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  12. KDAL-TV in Duluth, MN (later KDLH) had Wally, Lippy, and Touche. They were at the time a B/W-only station, and along with the H-B series; they bought from Screen Gems the Charles Mintz Krazy Kats and Van Beuren Aesop's Fables and Tom and Jerry. All these were thrown into a no-frills late afternoon half-hour; and when it was time for the next show, the last cartoon was simply switched off in progress! I learned years later that when the station moved to its new color studios, the B/W cartoon prints were tossed in the trash bin.

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