Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ed Murrow Versus Huckleberry Hound

Edward R. Murrow is arguably the most respected radio and television journalist in history. Charles Collingwood was arguably the most dashing. Yet, combined, they were no match for a blue cartoon dog from North Carolina.

The Pasadena Independent of April 29, 1960 warned viewers in the Los Angeles area in its daily TV listings:


Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein tonight pre-empts Huckleberry Hound—and Pixie and Dixie, the mice, Dinky Dalton, the desperado, and Yogi Bear. He also pulls his rank, in the 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. time period on Channel 2, on “Dick Powell Presents,” which is no loss.

Huck was cancelled that evening by KNXT for CBS’ hour-long interview of Monty by Murrow and Collingwood on the recent world war and global unrest, chopped down from a whopping six hours. Even though viewers were warned, it seems complaints poured in everywhere. The only Monty people wanted to see was Fernando Montealegre or, at least, his background art behind Huck moseying along.

The Los Angeles Times of May 10, 1959 devoted the cover story of its weekend TV magazine to Huck. Its editorial offices were among the places deafened with ringing phones, demanding to know about The Disappearance of Huckleberry Hound by people who don’t know the meaning of the phrase “check your local listings.” Sorry I don’t have the cover picture discussed in the story (I’m sure some blog reader must have it in their collection), but I do have the story, thanks to some help from Mark Kausler.

“The Huckleberry Hound Show” was an unbelievably enormous success when it first went on the air in 1958. Critics of the day loved it and were astounded with the large numbers of adults who agreed. And watched.


PERSONALITY
Bon Vivant Huckleberry Is a Humanitarian Dog
By JEAN McMURPHY
“What happened to Huckleberry Hound? He wasn’t on last night. They haven’t taken him off the air, have they?” The lady-like voice on the phone was breathless, a little frantic.
“No, I explained, “Huck was pre-empted by an Edward R. Murrow interview last night. But he will be back next week, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., on Channel 2.
“Thank goodness,” the voice said. “Now maybe this office can get back to work.”
“Back to work?”
“Yes, no one around here has done any work today. Our entire sales force, 15 men, have been standing around talking wondering what happened to Huck. We were worried. Now that we know he’ll be back. maybe we can get some work done. Thanks.” And she was gone.
Noble Causes
This particular call was one of many we received when Huck failed to make his usual weekly appearance. Why all the hullabaloo over Huck? Why all the adult interest in a cartoon character, the star of a children’s show? One look at the TV Times’ cover should be enough to tell you. Huckleberry is no ordinary hound dog. Even in his studied cover pose, Huck’s personality shines through.
Since his first TV appearance last October, Huck has done much to further canine relations, to elevate the status of hound dogs everywhere. But don’t get the idea that Huck leads a dog’s life. None of this back-yard kennel-lounging for him. Far from it.
Huck is a bachelor, a bon vivant and a humanitarian. He’s an expert skier, enjoys big game hunting and even has tried his paw at bullfighting and rescuing damsels in distress Professionally, he emcees his own cartoon show and stars in at least one of its segments every week.
He shares the bill with characters like Yogi Bear and his pint-sized side kick, BooBoo, along with a pair of talkative mice, Pixie and Dixie, who wage a constant battle against a tricky adversary Jinx the cat [sic].
Perhaps the most unique thing about Huck and his crew is their dialogue The drawings are excellent, the music is great, but the conversation is really in a class by itself. Huck speaks with a slight Southern drawl, loves colloquial expressions a la Andy Griffith. Yogi, the bumbling hero of Jellystone National Park, sounds like Art Carney in his Ed Norton period and likes to converse in rhymed couplets. Dixie of the mouse team, like Huck, speaks with a decided accent.
It’s difficult to believe that Huck and his pals are cartoons the work of animators and artists. Specifically they are the brain children of two of Hollywood’s most versatile cartoonists, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who have worked together for more than 20 years and are responsible for the famous Tom and Jerry movie cartoons.
Now the boys find in Huck a full-time job. The first full-length half-hour cartoon made specifically for television, Huckleberry Hound has helped Bill and Joe develop a new TV cartoon technique.
“Now we look at the old stuff for movies, and it seems overdone,” Joe said. “On TV it’s a matter of planned animation. We find that by careful cutting and planning we can get the same effect with 2,000 pictures that we used to get with 20,000.
“This doesn’t mean we are lowering our standards. People seem to like our new characters and the simple backgrounds. We use top talent. Some of our people (they have a staff of 150) have been with us for 20 years. They are all tops in the field.
“We have an open door policy here. And the staff can come and see us about anything, any time. It’s our way of keeping in touch with all phases of the operation.”
Bill and Joe reported that after Huck was born a cereal company requested a new cartoon personality. They already had the name, Huckleberry Hound, liked the sound of it, knew the importance of its alliterative value. After an all-night character sketching session, the character took form.
If you haven’t met Huck yet, you’re in for a treat. Try him Tuesday. That is, if you can find space in front of the set between junior and his father.

About the only thing surprising in the article is the reference to Huck as a bullfighter. Huck had only been on part of one season, yet his one bullfighting cartoon, “Bullfighter Huck,” wasn’t on the air until the 1961-62 season. The writer was mixing it up with Yogi’s “Big Bad Bully,” a first season cartoon.

One needn’t think hard to imagine Edward R. Murrow’s reaction to people who wanted Huckleberry Hound instead what amounted to an hour-long pontification about world military affairs and the Cold War. He told the RTNDA in Chicago in a famous speech in October 1958:


If there are any historians about 50 or 100 years from now and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will find their records in black and white, or color, evidence of decadence, escapism, and insulation from the realities of the world which we live.

You will find only fleeting and spasmodic references to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live.


Lest it be said the inestimable Mr. Murrow is being taken out of context, the speech also included (italics mine):

I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live.

Perhaps that means in between raising angst levels, TV should have a place for a blue cartoon hound, too. Even Ed Murrow liked to smile once in a while.

2 comments:

  1. And so it goes, right up to this day when it comes to the bemoaning of the idea that people don't pay attention to what other people think is important.

    We all feel that way at some point in time, and the profusion of channels now would irk Murrow and others even more in terms of diverting attention from the important (Edward R. probably wouldn't be happy with most of the shows on the cable news channels, though he was willing to do "Person to Person" fluff to keep his other efforts alive). The period from 1947-58 was one where television was just filling out its slate for three networks, all of which were learning on the fly what did and what didn't attract viewers, and it was the 'polishing' of what type of shows did best that annoyed Murrow, Newton Minnow and others during that period. The row of Huckleberry Hound's preemption would just be one more fingernail for them on the chalkboard.

    My only surprise is that in the nation's No. 2 market, which by 1958 had all of its VHF stations in place, none of L.A.'s four independent channels outbid the CBS station for Huck. Over on the other coast, you didn't have the same conflict, since the independents where gobbling up all the new made-for-TV cartoons, including WPIX as the prime home for H-B's syndicated fare between 1958 and 1966.

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  2. Cartoons always beat politics. Murrow should have understood that this was a time when the people were over worrying about the Cold War and communism infiltrations in the US (which thank goodness never happened) people were looking for something that brought joy and happiness to their hearts. You sure don't watch a debate when you wanna cheer up, huh.

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