Saturday, May 16, 2015

The High-Fallutin’-est

Hanna-Barbera fans have their favourite characters, and yours truly is no exception. You’ve probably figured out from this blog I really love the early cartoon series the best. The writing was clever, the characters likeable, the artwork attractive, the voice casting pretty much perfect and even the stock music set the right mood. (Conversely, I don’t think all these elements were found in the studio’s cartoons later on, and were maddeningly lacking in some, but to each their own).

Picking a favourite character is pretty easy. It’s Quick Draw McGraw.

I’m not a fan of westerns but I enjoy seeing how the Quick Draw series makes fun of western film clichés. Quick Draw himself isn’t an absolute moron and I don’t think his cartoons would have been as fun if he had been. In most cases, he has the right idea of how to go about things but something fails miserably in the execution. Writer Mike Maltese fills up the story with something other than tired chatter. Quick Draw (and virtually every other character) talks to the narrator or the audience. The dialogue features surprising non sequiturs, self-references and corny puns. The series was kept fresh by Quick Draw occasionally assuming the guise of El Kabong, Maltese’s concept of “What if Zorro were inept?” And need I mention the appearances of Snuffles, who carried out the idea of a dog’s enthusiastic love of treats to a ridiculous and somewhat logical conclusion?

The Huckleberry Hound Show was a tough act for Hanna-Barbera to follow. Huck and Yogi were a smash hit and Huck even inspired a fad following in 1958 and 1959. But Hanna-Barbera came up with the idea of parodying TV genres—television was old enough and familiar enough for it to work—and the Quick Draw show won praise from critics and gained a loyal audience. Here’s a story from the Los Angeles Times of November 1, 1959, about five weeks after Quick Draw galloped all the way onto the air.

Quick Draw McGraw Satire Shoots Up Westerns
By DON PAGE
Recently, a careful count revealed there are no less than 29 westerns on television at prime time during the week. That’s saturation, ponder.
Correct this erroneous report. There are actually 30!
The statistician who made the survey neglected to include the rip-roaringest, gol-darnedest western of all, a show that stars the fastest gun alive—especially when he’s a horse.
His name is Quick Draw McGraw, a cartoon hero created by those master animators, Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, who gave you Huckleberry Hound. Quick Draw is on our cover this week.
Each Monday Channel 11 at 7 p.m., lets Quick Draw out of his corral with his friends, who include some of the real pioneers of the Old West.
Quick Draw (a horse, you’ll remember) is possibly the only western hero alive with a burro as a sidekick. His burro, or ponder, goes by the name of Baba Looey and sounds strangely like Desi Arnaz.
The Quick Draw series satirizes the pants off TV’s westerns. And what better way to do it than with a horse as the hero? What could be more fitting? They talk about true-life cowboys with saddlesores, smelling of the open range. Well, Quick Draw has a built-in danger with natural saddlesores.
Quick Draw has a real cast of characters with him—appearing in other segments of Hanna and Barbera’s classic cartoon. There’s the private eye duo of Snooper and Blabber, a cat-and-mouse team. Tomorrow, for example, Snooper and Blabber hunt down Light Fingers Farouk, who is disguised as a dog. Here, too, is wonderful satire.
McGraw is actually designed for adult viewing although the animation pleases the children equally. But the dialogue is delivered with tongue in cheek. Only the big kids understand it fully.
It’s really a break for the adults. Most of ‘em can’t understand the other 29 westerns anyhow.
Just how big of a hit was Quick Draw? This story from the May 11, 1960 edition of Weekly Variety has the answer. You can click on the ratings charts to get a better look at some of the specific numbers.
Kiddie Shows Build Up Unusual Strength in Top 10 Vidpix Survey
Kiddie vidfilm shows are cutting come fancy rating capers, some evidencing a remarkable consistency in market after market.
Checkdown of the ARB-VARIETY charts appearing in this issue, shows "Huckleberry Hound," "Popeye," "Quick Draw McGraw," and "Three Stooges" placing among the top 10 in a multiplicity of markets.
Some of the ratings are imposing. In Seattle-Tacoma, "Huckleberry Hound" copped a 36.6 for its Thursday at 6 p.m. slot on KING. It was number one in the market, followed by "Three Stooges" with a 30.9 on KOMO. In Philadelphia, "Popeye" was the number one syndicated show in the market. The "Popeye" series there is stripped Monday through Saturday from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Cartoons making the top 10 syndicated chart this week were as follows: "Huckleberry Hound," among the top 10 in Seattle-Tacoma, Washington, Pittsburgh, New-Orleans, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Baltimore.
"Popeye" was among the top 10 in the following cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore.
"Quick Draw McGraw," placed among top 10 in following markets: Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta and Baltimore.
"Three Stooges," a non-cartoon kiddie show, placed among the top 10 in the cities surveyed in the following markets: Seattle-Tacoma, San Francisco and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
There are many five-minute cliff-hanger cartoons which are programmed in a general kiddie show.
Such five-minute strips wouldn't show up in the ARB-Variety charts which measure half-hour programs, or shows of greater duration.


The Quick Draw McGraw Show couldn’t have made the marketing department at Hanna-Barbera’s bankroller Screen Gems happier. H-B was only two years old at the time Quick Draw debuted and hadn’t built up a large stable of starring characters it could exploit, so it was forced to fill product catalogues with secondary characters like Li’l Tom Tom, Iggy and Ziggy and Yowp (you may cheer at this point). Now, the studio had six or seven new stars it could turn into toys, comic books, puzzles, games, dolls, etc. etc. etc. and could start phasing out its B-listers like, well, you know who (you may boo at this point). Quick Draw got a lot of attention, even taking part in the Huckleberry Hound presidential campaign of 1960 (see photo from Broadcasting magazine of October 24, 1960 to the right). But Quick Draw never got a newspaper comic like Yogi Bear, or a full-length movie like Yogi Bear, or was turned into a lousy CGI Rodney Dangerfield sound-alike years later like Yogi Bear. Clearly by 1960 Yogi had eclipsed Huck as the studio’s number one star and was soon joined by the Flintstones in the studio’s top echelon. But I’ll still take Quick Draw over all over them. How can you dislike someone who goes around bashing people with an out-of-tune guitar in the name of frontier justice?

14 comments:

  1. Are these ever gonna make it to DVD? I need to see them again!

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    1. Last I heard, Warners was having trouble remastering "The Quick Draw McGraw Show." There are also issues with music copyright ownership. Now, I'm no expert in either remastering or copyright issues, but my sense is that neither of these obstacles are insurmountable. I'm starting to think that the real reason Quick Draw isn't available on DVD is that Warners doesn't want it to be (someone please correct me if I'm mistaken.) It's a crying shame, because as these articles make clear, Quick Draw has the same appeal to both adults and children that Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, and the Flintstones do. With proper marketing, WB would find that it has a real gem in Quick Draw. It should at least air on Boomerang.

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  2. As your title references, Quick Draw also boasted one of the best opening theme songs ever devised by H-B (or anyone else, for that matter). The opening scenes of Quick Draw (a horse) driving a team of horses on a stage coach is bizarrely surreal and sets the tone for the cartoon shorts to follow. But it's those lyrics that stick in my mind--"the hi-falutin-est, fastest shootin'-est cowboy you ever saw."

    He may not have rated his own comic strip, but he did get his own comic book from Dell and later Gold Key--and he did manage a few guest appearances in his friend Yogi's comic strip.

    It's a shame he's not better remembered today. A couple of years ago I made a reference to Quick Draw during an informal conversation with a group of my colleagues (teachers) and I received blank stares. If adults don't remember the character, kids certainly don't have the opportunity to know about him, either. It's time for a Quick Draw revival! Ka-bong!!!

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    1. I'm down with a Quick Draw revival! Let's just hope they don't try to bring it about with "a lousy CGI Rodney Dangerfield sound-alike." That kind of Quick Draw would not be "the hi-falutin-est, fastest shootin'-est cowboy you ever saw."

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  3. I read that Huckleberry is once again running for President. Oh wait...that's Huckabee.

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    1. I like that one...made me laugh out loud.

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  4. "Quick Draw has a real cast of characters with him -- appearing in other segments of Hanna and Barbera's classic cartoon."

    Wow. When a show is referred to as classic just five weeks after its debut, you know it's pure gold. That sentence is probably the highest compliment any producer can receive.

    On another note, is "The Three Stooges" really a "kiddie show?" I've gotten a kick out it for as long as I can remember, but I've never considered it a kids' show, nor heard of anyone doing so.

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    1. Regarding the Three Stooges--remember that the theatrical shorts of the early cinema, both live action and animated, were originally intended for a mainstream audience consisting mostly of adults--but in those days even adult entertainment was generally not inappropriate for kids. Then as the backlog of these old shorts drifted into television, the old cartoons and live action shorts (like the Three Stooges) were used as part of the TV stations' children's programming. I believe it was the frequent reruns of these old theatrical shorts--now aimed at kids--that led to the "reforms" of children's television during the 70's. At that point, the cartoon studios such as H-B were given constraining mandates regarding what was and was not acceptable, and the cartoons became more noticeably bland.

      So the Three Stooges--aside from the animated series--was never intended as a "kiddie show." Just as Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound, and The Flintstones were skewed more toward adults in their earliest incarnations.

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    2. Thanks for your very informative reply. I didn't know the Three Stooges was once shown on kids' blocks.

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  5. Don't forget that Quick Draw's character was very much informed by Red Skelton's "Deadeye". Deadeye was an inept western shootist who usually managed to gun himself in the foot ("Oh, m'foot!") and was the first to do the blowing smoke off the gun and then shooting himself, as Quick Draw emulated. Deadeye was a lot more of a blowhard than Quick Draw and was a coward and a rascal, but it should be remembered that Red Skelton's radio show of the 1940s and 1950s was a great influence on cartoon writing through the early TV era. Deadeye, Clem Kadiddlehopper and the Mean Widdle Kid were absorbed into Quick Draw, Bullwinkle and Junior Pig in Tex Avery's "One Ham's Family" to just mention a few.

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    1. Thanks for the reminder, Mark.
      I've never been a Skelton fan. His radio characters are too far over the top for me, and he leaves me with the impression he's screaming at the audience "Hey, I'm really funny!"

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  6. So many of the things that made me laugh when I was young (and up to today) were written by Michael Maltese. Wish there was a biography on the guy.

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  7. The closest I think we'll come, Robt, is his interview years ago with Joe Adamson. I gather Mike Barrier interview him at length years ago but only snippets of it have made it into print.
    Maltese is my favourite cartoon writer, no question.
    His daughter Brenda passed away a couple of years ago. I understand she inherited her dad's quirky sense of humour.

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  8. Neat article. I love Quick Draw McGraw also.

    I've noticed that you didn't mention Baba Looey. From reading your reviews on the Quick Draw McGraw episodes, I can tell that you don't seem to like him. Why? He's my personal favorite in the show (and of all Hanna Barbera), followed by Quick Draw McGraw.

    He's a great sidekick, I'd like to mention. I just think he needs more appreciation.

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