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.