Saturday, October 10, 2015

Making Kids Safe From Frying Pans

Did kids really hit each other with frying pans after watching cartoons? Some do-gooder group probably thought so. And it’s tough to argue against them when Joe Barbera made the same claim.

In early 1961, Veteran UPI entertainment writer Vernon Scott interviewed Barbera and Bill Hanna in the wake of the success of the Flintstones about the series. The two of them made some statements that, frankly, are either misguided salesmanship or pure bunk on their part. Popeye “didn’t last long in theatres”?? Sorry, Mr. H., but he had a lengthier cinematic life than your own Tom and Jerry at that point. And the public likes limited animation more than full animation? I don’t think so, Mr. B. I suppose it depends how either is used. And by 1961, the action in Hanna-Barbera cartoons had become more lacklustre. You wouldn’t find Yogi Bear as expressive as in the George Nicholas drawing to the right from 1959.

This article was published in papers starting on February 17, 1961.


Animals Make Good Cartoons
By VERNON SCOTT

United Press International
Hollywood — People aren't funny—at least not in animated cartoons.
Through the years Walt Disney and other cartoon producers have employed rabbits, mice, dogs, cats and ducks to evoke laughs.
Then along came Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, originators of "Tom and Jerry," "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear" and "Quick Draw McGraw." They believed televiewers would get a kick out of modern Mr. and Mrs. Suburb dealing with today's problems.
They were dead wrong.
For months they experimented with characters in modern clothes in a typical community — but nothing. Friends yawned, fellow workers fell asleep, nobody laughed.
Then the quiet spoken pair took the same characters, placed them in the stone age, named them "The Flintstones" and found a runaway hit on their hands.
Cavemen are funny. Modern types are a drag, they learned.
"The only other cartoon character in human form that proved successful was Popeye, but he didn't last very long in theaters," said Hanna, a graying, soft-spoken man.
"I'm not even sure Popeye was human," Barbera grinned.
"Disney did well with human characters, but only in dramas, not comedy," Hanna said. "We're delighted that Freddie Flintstone and his friends have made such a hit. The comedy is not the old cartoon slapstick. Most of it is situation stuff and dialogue."
"In the 'Tom and Jerry' days we concentrated on action and violence," Barbera filled in. "Now we have to worry about casting the right voices and coming up with bright dialogue. Kids like it.
"It's good for the kids, too. Instead of imitating the old cartoons and hitting one another with frying pans, they are picking up the humor involved in our stories."
While Hanna and Barbera were working in the MGM cartoon department turning out "Tom and Jerry" they produced 48 minutes of completed cartoons a year. Now, with four half-hour shows a week on TV, the boys are turning out 48 minutes of filmed laughs every seven days.
From an investment of $20,000 the cartoonists have built a million-dollar business and employ 140 technicians.
"Simplification and planning are responsible for our increased output," Barbera said. "We've eliminated several departments found in other animated cartoon studios." "We work in vertical and horizontal planes," Hanna put in. "We avoid depth characteristics as much as possible. This reduces the number of pictures in a five minute segment from 12,000 to 1,200. And the public likes the technique better.
"Cartoons ran into trouble when they became too much like real life images. We had arrived at the point where we actually showed the subject breathing. Cartoons had become poor imitations of the real thing."
"Right," said Barbera. "Now we're back to caricature with emphasis on the story and the character of the people—not action.
"Cartoons became popular originally because there was plenty of movement. But the public is accustomed to movement now and couldn't care less."
What matters more is that the American Broadcasting Co. cares very much indeed about The Flintstones ratings. Fortunately, they are high, and the team of Hanna and Barbera have made history with the first adult cartoon in video annals.

It’s interesting to read the concept of “characters in modern clothes” didn’t work in development, considering one of the influences on the Flintstones was a show starring characters in modern clothes—The Honeymooners. Many of the basic plots in the Flintstones’ first season, like “The Swimming Pool” or “The Golf Champion” could fit just as well in a modern setting. But setting them in a different time period allowed the writers to do transposition gags that enlivened the series (a long-beaked bird as a record player needle, for example) and made it funny.

Oh, and Mr. Barbera, about not using a frying pan weapon in the Flintstones . . .


12 comments:

  1. "The only other cartoon character in human form that proved successful was Popeye..."

    I recall one Quincy Magoo who starred in over fifty theatrical shorts, two of which won Oscars. The omission might have been intentional, as the made-for-TV Magoos had debuted just three months prior to this interview, and were competition for Bill and Joe's programs.

    H & B's statements bring to mind some equally amusing delusional remarks from Lou Scheimer in his book, "Creating the Filmation Generation", in which he repeatedly asserts that kids like morals and repeat stock footage in their cartoons.

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    1. UPA's supporters ironically made the same "No other cartoon studio does humans" claim about Magoo, even though Paramount under both the Fleischers and Famous glutted their cartoons with human characters -- not just Popeye and his group, but Betty, Gabby, Superman, Lulu, Audrey. Even Casper would count as a series involving a human, albeit a dead one (and Wiffle Piffle would count as kind of a human character....)

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    2. Magoo also was the more modern style that became used for TV..SC

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  2. In Scheimer's case, I guess he convinced himself that because millions of kids watched Archie and Fat Albert, they liked endlessly reused cycle animation and preaching.

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  3. Who cares WHAT the characters are? It's WHO they are and what they do that's entertaining.

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  4. Maybe frying pans were Wilma's weapon of choice because years earlier Fred had written her a love poem with the line...."eyes so black...like frying pans." The thought of frying pans must have been embedded in her psyche. Of course, the poem's existence wouldn't be revealed until the later episode "Love Letters on the Rocks." And this particular frying pan is definitely not black like Wilma's eyes.

    But how did she happen to get hold of a frying pan while at the dressmaker's? Did the dressmaker have a spare one that she'd been using to fry a pterodactyl egg for her lunch that day? Or does Wilma just carry a frying pan around with her when she goes shopping? There must be more than rocks (and stone-age money) in her purse.

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  5. "Disney did well with human characters, but only in dramas". What was he referring to? ''Old Yeller''?

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    1. I think he was referring to movies like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.

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  6. I'm pretty sure JB was being facetious (and also marketing what he was making in 1961) when he said kids used to hit each other with frying pans. :)

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  7. What was the name of the episode where Fred was hit by the frying pan?

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