“Jonny Quest” was great. And still is.
I was seven years old when the show debuted 50 years ago tonight. I was not an action-adventure fan (and I’m still not), but I was a cartoon fan, so I tuned in. Each week, I was gripped by the suspenseful and intense stories, augmented and enhanced by beautiful layouts and designs, and the unmatched musical work of Hoyt Curtin. The Quest cues were his finest hour. He used a minimum of 22 pieces to play his short compositions and the film cutters did an incredible job matching them to the action. My sister, who was six, became terrified during the Anubis episode and ran out of the front room, yelling she would never watch the show again. That’s how good “Jonny Quest” was.
Just like the Fleischer studio artists went from animating the Stone Age cartoon series to Superman in the early ‘40s, Hanna-Barbera artists made a graphic left turn from “The Flintstones” to “Jonny Quest.” They certainly were capable; a number of them had worked on “Sleeping Beauty” and other features for Walt Disney, including the four animators credited on the debut episode. Here’s part of the Daily Variety review from September 21, 1964:
JONNY QUEST (Mystery of the Lizard Men) Fri., 7:30 p.m., ABC-TV, filmed by Hanna Barbera. Co-producer, directors, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera; teleplay, Hanna, Barbera, Douglas Wildey, Alex Lovy; film editor, Warner Leighton; animators, Edwin Aardal, Ed Parks, Hugh Fraser, Harvey Toombs. Cast: Voices of Tim Matthieson, John Stephenson, Mike Road, Vic Perrin, Nestor Paiva, Doug Young. [Don Messick was also credited; Variety missed it].
For the young uns who dream of high adventure when they're not turning up their transistors, this new item out of the Hanna-Barbera cartoonery should thrill their little hearts. It's not a cartoon, as such, but the kind of strip that runs in the funnies section, so-called. Joe Barbera describes it as “staged animation, illustrative rather than cartoon style and a brand new style for tv.” So be it and it should give H-B another perennial as companion piece to “The Flintstones.”
Jonny (of the title) is the son of an American scientist, who goes along on his hazardous missions. They run afoul of all manner of evil-doers but manage to survive their ordeals. In the opener they were beset by lizardmen, who wreck ships with a laser beam to thwart efforts of scientists to man a moonshot.
Every week will be a different locale but with the same brand of derring-do.
As a side-note, the same issue of Variety noted Alex Lovy had his name on the credits of another series that made its debut the same week—“The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.”
The trade paper trumpeted on September 29th that Joe Barbera was heading to Chicago and New York to promote the show. As a result, we find this review in the Dover Daily Reporter of October 24th:
Escapism In Cartoon Series
JONNY QUEST: It's Not Kid Show, Producer Says
By Harold Stern
NEW YORK - Joseph Barbara, who along with William Hanna created and produced "Jonny Quest" and myriad other TV animation series, has an argument that sounds plausible. I just don't buy it.
"We've never made a kid show," he insisted. "There is no such thing as a kid in television any more. After the age of 4, it's a critical audience. Don't forget, these children have been seeing reruns of 'Sergeant Bilko' and 'The Honeymooners.' They won't go for anything childish. They demand sharp, adult entertainment. Jonny Quest plays to an adult audience."
"I was reared on Zane Grey, 'Tom Swift' and the like," he said. "Then all of a sudden, it vanished. It was replaced by sick books and stories. What our series does is try to return to the true adventure story.
"Our shows don't involve fighting 2-headed monsters. Our stories are based on fact. People can identify with our adventures. The show travels all over the world and we put a lot of research into guaranteeing the authenticity of costume and locale. We don't go into space science. We're interested in romantic, escapist stories, not brutally violent shows. Brutality is the easy way out. We don't dispose of our villains that way.
"We try not to date our shows with weapons and equipment in our series on projects either barely in use or still on the drawing board. Our shows contain such things as one-man subs, snow skimmers, hovercraft, flying belts, hydrafoils, vertical takeoff planes, etc. The whole emphasis of our studio has become adventure."
That's a lot of adventure. Hanna-Barbera Productions has a total of 13 animated series currently seen on television, 9 of them repeats. There are 4 new series in the works, plus a cartoon feature based on their "Flintstones" series.
Though their success has been in the field of animation, Hanna-Barbera isn't stopping there. There are 3 live-action feature films planned, "Mr. Mysterious," "Park Avenue Indians" and "Father Was a Robot." In addition, the studio is working on 2 live-action series, an hour-long adventure series and a half-hour comedy.
Considering Hanna-Barbera's rate of growth in the some 7 years it has been in existence, there's no reason to assume that all the contemplated projects won't materialize. Prior to going out on their own, Hanna and Barbera turned out about 48 minutes of animation a year for MGM, with a staff of about 150.
Today, in their own studios, they have a staff of 320 turning out over 90 hours of animation a year.
"Our staff consists of 320 temperaments," Barbera said, "so we don't dare impose the usual restrictions on them. They don't punch time clocks, they can work at whatever hours they like. We're not a factory. We don't do piece work. We're a creative organization and we get our best results from letting our people work as they think best."
“Based on fact,” Joe? You mean like the walking, revenge-seeking mummy? And there weren’t violent deaths? Oh, right. They weren’t violent because they happened off camera.
Barbera had more to say. This was in the syndicated TV Key column. Take note, back-story fetishists. There was no Mrs. Quest because there wasn’t a need for one. Isn’t that good enough?
Escapism In Cartoon Series
By CHARLES WITBECK
HOLLYWOOD — Two of the finest noses in town for sniffing taste trends at the box office belong to those indefatigable cartoon makers, Hanna and Barbera who have added a touch of James Bond escapism to their new kids' show, "Jonny Quest," on Friday nights.
The men, pushing to keep cartoons on the air, are willing to change styles, increase animation or slow it down, anything to keep H & B in the TV business.
Very little has been left out of the "Jonny Quest" storyline about an 11-year-old son of an American scientist; his best friend, a Hindu named Hadji, and Jonny's bodyguard and tutor, Roger "Race" Bannon, Bandit a dog and the Persian Peddler. Plots take the cast underwater where fish heartbeats may be listened to, or there can be chases in outer space, a fling down the Amazon or an expedition to freezing Tibet.
He has taken a bold step though and eliminated Mom.
"We couldn't put Mother in the series," says Joe, "then we'd be domestic again and Mother would be in the kitchen making sandwiches. We decided to get completely away from those homey scenes where even the dogs are obedient. Life isn't like that."
Angles For Adults
Barbera won't pretend his shows have much connection with realism, particularly this year when escapism is the password. Neither will he write off the so-called adult audience when it comes to cartoons.
"I'm on a one-man crusade," says Joe, "to stop this misconception that cartoons are only for kids. We're writing for grownups, too. People are still loath to admit they look at cartoons. Take the Flintstones. I'll stack that cartoon show against any situation comedy."
Barbera likes the sense of balance given "Jonny Quest." "Do you realize we have by-passed mad scientists and two-headed monsters. Why you won't even see a moon missile on the show. We'll stick fairly close to the truth."
No mad scientists, Joe? Yeah, Doctor Zin was perfectly sane. Okay, maybe Mr. B. has us on a technicality because Dr. Zin may not have been a scientist; just a freelance power-hungry guy who was a little anti-social.
Initially, the network wasn’t really quite sure where to put Jonny. Variety reported on January 29, 1964 the series had been moved back a half hour from a planned 7:30 p.m. slot on Sundays, but Broadcasting of February 3rd reported it would air at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, opposite “Rawhide” on CBS and “International Showtime on NBC.” General Mills turned down a sponsorship (Variety, Jan. 29) but the series was eventually picked up by B.F. Goodrich, Pepsi-Cola and Proctor & Gamble (Broadcasting, Sept. 7). For what appears to have been a brief period in April 1964, the show was being called “Jonny Quest: File 037” but someone wisely thought better of it.
The 26-city Trendex numbers (Broadcasting, Sept. 28) show that Jonny won his time slot in the season opener, though it should be mentioned ABC was the only network that wasn’t broadcasting summer reruns and not all 26 markets may have been included. Things changed the following week. The Arbitron Report showed “Jonny Quest” wasn’t even in the top 50 and was last in its time slot. And the following week, it settled in second place, well behind “Rawhide.” However, TVQ’s second October report reported that Jonny was tied for ninth in viewers 6 to 11 years of age (my sister notwithstanding), while Fred, Barney and Dino were fifth.
And it was “three strikes, you’re out” at Hanna-Barbera. It whiffed with “Top Cat,” “The Jetsons” and now “Jonny Quest.” The studio didn’t get another shot at prime time until 1970 when it remade “The Flintstones” into “Where’s Huddles?” (CBS plunked “Huddles” into the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday slot in July and August where it became the second highest-rated summer series. It went into summer repeats the following year before disappearing for good). In 1967, Jonny followed T.C. and George Jetson into the world of 6 to 11 year old viewers—Saturday mornings—and remained on the air for three seasons worth of reruns despite being named in a report that “CBS network prexy Tom Dawson asked for suggestions on modifying the grotesque and the violent in the web's cartoon spread” (Variety, July 24, 1968). And like “The Jetsons,” there was still so much demand for “Jonny Quest” that it was reworked and brought back with new episodes in the ‘80s.
There’s a wonderful site that every fan of the show should visit. Click here. Craig Fuqua and Lyle Blosser have done a wonderful job and it’s got more information about Jonny Quest than you may ever want to know. And you can watch a great labour of love below—a documentary on the show and how it was made.