I’ll bet you can’t. The two are wedded together in the musical memories of several generations. Doesn’t everyone recognise the theme to The Flintstones?
In the ‘50s, Curtin was just another freelance composer, picking up work where he could find it; commercials, B movies, cartoons, it didn’t matter. But, as luck would have it, Curtin wrote music for a beer commercial being made at the MGM cartoon studio where Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were producing. That led to work composing theme songs when Hanna and Barbera struck out on their own and then being hired in 1959 (he was the in-house composer for the Raphael G. Wolff studio at the time) to compile a cue library for Loopy de Loop theatrical cartoons. Then came The Flintstones in 1960 (a company called Animation Associates had him write cues for its Q.T. Hush cartoons), followed by Top Cat, The Jetsons, Magilla Gorilla and Jonny Quest.
When Hanna-Barbera set up shop in 1957, it began licensing cues from at least three stock music libraries—Capitol Hi-Q, Langlois Filmusic and the Sam Fox Variety library—as background sound for its cartoons; Curtin was hired to write themes, then several variations to use as bumper underscores only. But television was growing enough and becoming profitable enough for firms to be able to pay for their own, specific musical bridges, buttons and so on. That’s the direction Hanna-Barbera went in. The process didn’t change. Curtin didn’t score to the action like Carl Stalling at Warner Bros. Instead, his compositions, just like the ones in the Hi-Q library, set a mood. Sound editors like Greg Watson or Joe Ruby picked from amongst the reels upon reels of his cues to find something appropriate to the atmosphere on screen.
It seems odd that this blog has been around six years without devoting a post to Mr. Curtin. It’s because there are so many other places on line where you can easily find biographical material. There isn’t much for us to say. But I’ve found a couple of old news stories that may be able to add to the collective knowledge about him.
First, a story from the weekly edition of Variety from December 9, 1964. Basically, it tells how Curtin hit the jackpot thanks to commercials. Oh, a cartoon studio helped his bank balance, too.
Curtin Scores Bonanza As Teleblurb Cleffer And Cartoon MaestroCurtin died on December 3, 2000. This was among the remembrances written a few days later.
Los Angeles, Dec. 8.
Hoyt Curtin, the Hanna-Barbera music director who scores the 13 tv animated series, also has 136 teleblurbs currently airing. He estimates this adds up to two hours and 16 minutes of music daily. Naturally, his income has risen astronomically and he claims 75% of it is derived from blurb cleffing, which he prefers doing. And why not? Approximately 10% of total production budget on average 58-second blurb is allotted the musical director—or 10% of $30,000, according to Curtin.
With union scale running $31.50 per hour for tooter and $63 per hour for batoneer, the musical director who does his own conducting (and Curtin does) stands to pocket at least $1,000 on a single assignment. During Harry James' Kleenex blurb, which Curtin scored, he was allotted better than 20% of cost.
Curtin used a minimum of 22 pieces in scoring each of the following H-B shows; "The Flintstones," "Johnny Quest," [sic] "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "Touche Turtle," "Quick Draw McGraw," "Lippy The Lion," "Wally Gator," "Top Cat," "The Jetsons," "Magilla Gorilla," "Peter Potamus" and "Ruff 'N' Reddy."
Ideally, In blurb scoring, "the music and spot are one entity," says Curtin, who gained immediate recognition in 1950-'51 when he scored the early Magoo cartoons.
Appreciation; The Unsung Composer; Hoyt Curtin Put The Tune in 'ToonsCurtin’s best work was on Jonny Quest, my favourite work of his was on Top Cat (a show I’m lukewarm at best about) but his Flintstones cues are fun, too. And you need to hear his version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” in the clear to appreciate how much his horns smoked (was Pete Candoli in there?). Some of Curtin’s cartoon recordings found their way onto CDs released 20-or-so years ago by Rhino Records. The late Earl Kress went on a musical spelunking job trying to find material for the release. I asked him why more of Curtin’s Flintstones music hadn’t been put on disc because he had said there was plenty of it in the studio’s archives. He explained many of the cues were quite short and an album featuring a series quick of instrumentals wouldn’t really work; he felt Rhino had released the most memorable of Curtin’s little tunes. (Personally, I thought a CD of nothing but Jonny Quest cues could have been a big seller; I forgot what Earl mentioned when we discussed it).
Hank Stuever, Washington Post Staff Writer [December 12, 2000]
Hoyt Curtin, who wrote more than 400 pieces of music for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's manic cartoon factory, was the unheralded master of Saturday morning's musical cacophony.
The clangs and crashes and stick-in-the-bucket rattles of the composer's distinctive jazz riffs are burned subconsciously into the sugared brains of three generations of kids: Fred Flintstone slides down a dinosaur tail to the sound of Curtin's hyped-up horn section--"Flintstones/ Meet the Flintstones/ They're the modern Stone Age family . . . "
The world can hum that. Musicians still record it.
Curtin, who died last week in California at age 78 after a long illness, was the king of the TV cartoon theme song, those 30 crucial seconds for a jingle to scream Hey, kids, don't touch that dial! Like most songwriters in Hollywood in the 1950s, Curtin labored in a particular kind of jangly schlock, where everything rhymed and bounced and had to be catchy.
But it was also the incidental music--the little bits of complex and miraculous improv that went with the cartoons, adding up over three decades--that was a large part of his unknown genius. What is the music of poor Fred's damaged hubris after dropping a bowling rock on his toe? What is the music of Jonny Quest scuba-diving into a school of sharks?
Curtin gave us that frenetic assault of strings that accompanied George Jetson through all that utopian sky-borne traffic between Spacely Sprockets and home. When the Scooby-Doo gang pulls up to a haunted house in their Mystery Machine van, we know, thanks to him, what the groovy-spooky mood is, and what that sounds like.
Curtin had a long relationship with Hanna-Barbera, from the late '50s to 1992, almost all of it on an episode-by-episode basis. The studio would call him up and give him the gist of a new batch of cartoons: A bear wearing a porkpie hat lives in the woods and steals picnic baskets. ("Yogi Bear is smarter than the [beat] average bear / Yogi Bear is always in the [beat] ranger's hair.") A hillbilly dog with a bow tie has strange adventures. ("That oh-so-merry / Chuckleberry / Huckleberry How-wowwww-und.")
Curtin would write the songs, hire the musicians, book the studio time, conduct the orchestras.
As legend has it, he put the "Flintstones" theme together in a couple of collaborative phone calls with Bill Hanna in late 1959. He worked fast because that's how the cartoon factory worked. At Hanna-Barbera's peak, in the early 1970s, Curtin wrote original music for 10 new cartoons in one season. They paid him per show, and he would be dropping in music cues even as the drawings were being assembled by Korean artists.
At the time, critical grown-ups lamented the decline of the cartoon. Saturday morning TV was nowhere near the quality, they said, of the cinema shorts of the 1930s and '40s. In a way they were right.
It would be years before any of this would take on a post-boomer cachet. When Rhino Records reissued Curtin's work in 1995, he was semi-retired, living about an hour northwest of Los Angeles, at the end of a pretty cul-de-sac.
He had invented a successful brand of underground lawn sprinklers. Fascinated by computer-generated sounds, he had converted his grown son's bedroom into a synthesizer studio. He was also working on his own brand of correspondence course for budding musicians--learn how to write songs the Hoyt Curtin way.
A music historian who produced the Rhino series literally had to peel the soundtracks off the original celluloid films to get adequate masters of Curtin's themes and background music--no one had bothered to keep them after the shows were produced. There is, as far as anyone knows, no existing master for his most famous piece, the "Flintstones" theme.
I went to meet Curtin in 1995, thinking his life would make a story. (It didn't.) He told me I could come, but warned me that he wasn't very interesting. Unlike some artists who realize that they've inadvertently created pop-culture legends, Curtin wasn't trying to get credit or back pay.
He served on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. He studied music at the University of Southern California on the GI Bill and dreamed of writing scores for motion pictures. He settled for commercial jingles. His work on "Mr. Magoo" theater shorts in 1953 led to his association with Hanna-Barbera. The first cartoon they did together was "Ruff and Reddy."
Among the last of Curtin's jobs was the music for "The Smurfs," ending in the early '90s. By then, his sound had strayed. It was less jazzy, too childlike. "It feels good not to be doing it anymore," he said to me then.
We drove a few blocks to his country club and had lunch. He laughed a lot. He peppered his sentences with a jazzy "man" tacked on at the end. He said "soitenly," instead of "certainly," like a cartoon character would.
I produced a photocopied picture of him in the early 1960s, conducting an orchestra. Judging from the number of violins, he guessed it was a session for "The Jetsons."
"Very difficult to play," he said of that piece. "That's not anything you can jam on unless you play fiddle like Itzhak Perlman, man. Those fiddle parts were fingerbusters!"
As it happened, Curtin heard Perlman play "The Flintstones" once in concert. He heard his music everywhere. Punk bands interpreted it. Among professional trombone players, "Jonny Quest" is still a measure of one's skill. It has six flat notes, produced at full slide.
We spent part of the afternoon upstairs in his music room. Curtin played all my favorite cartoon songs on his keyboard. The ones he could remember, anyway. ("We've gotta gorilla for sale / Magilla Gorilla for sale," we sang.)
When he couldn't remember them, he'd say, "How'd that one go? Remind me."
He was also right: Nobody wanted to buy my article about him. "Everybody knows the music," he said. "Nobody knows the guy who wrote it."
Earl said he discovered when he researched the Flintstones cues, the bulk of them were not named like a song, they were similar to how Hi-Q would have a Bill Loose composition labelled “C-19.” I never asked him about the significance of the number, whether it indicated a session number or something like that. So here are some random cues with their numeric titles. You’ll hear what sounds like some cassette tape hiss. They may be running a touch off-speed. Cue 8-10 is the one used when Dino does his impromptu high-step and juggling audition in “Dino Goes Hollyrock.”
And while we’re on the topic of cartoon music, we’d like to give you a heads-up that there’ll be a special broadcast about the subject on Stu’s Show this coming Wednesday at 4 p.m. Pacific time. You’ll want to tune in. His guests are Jerry Beck, who knows just about everything there is to know about theatrical cartoons, and Greg Erhbar, one of the most knowledgeable people you’ll find in the area of children’s records and their cartoon connections. You can expect them to touch on the careers of theatrical greats like Stalling, Bradley and Timberg and hopefully one of the unsung great early ‘30s composers—Van Beuren’s Gene Rodemich. And I imagine they’ll fit in a word or two about the stock music writers you’ve read about and heard here (cue Jack Shaindlin’s “Toboggan Run”)—and that undisputed master of the TV cartoon composition, Hoyt Curtin.