Thursday, 14 December 2017

Ruff and Reddy Turn 50

50 years ago today, the first handiwork of the Hanna-Barbera studio beamed into homes via television. It was the debut of Ruff and Reddy. And the series almost didn’t get made.

Hanna-Barbera Enterprises officially formed on July 7, 1957. H-B President George Sidney, the head of the Directors Guild of America, picked up the phone and within weeks, the company had worked out a deal with Columbia Pictures on the strength of a storyboard. Bill Hanna wrote in his autobiography that it cost 20% of the company but, in return, the Columbia’s Screen Gems TV operation gave H-B an option to produce five five-minute cartoons, the first two for $2,700, the second two for $2,800 and the fifth for $3,000.

Hanna wrote more about production methods and such, but omitted a tale of how it almost all got away. Joe Barbera, known for his flair for the dramatic, outlined what he remembered in his book. Columbia head Harry Cohn called to get a first-hand progress report on Ruff and Reddy. A pencil test of one of the cartoons was screened for him. Cohn’s comment to Screen Gems sales head John Mitchell about Hanna and Barbera: “Get rid of ‘em.” Cohn, having coped with Columbia’s own troubled cartoon studio in the ‘40s, the ups and downs of dealing with UPA in the ‘50s and then with cut-rate cartoon producer Sam Singer earlier in the year, wanted no part of Hanna and Barbera’s dog and cat.

But Barbera recalled: “We were destined to be saved by the slimmest of threads. A man in New York named Roger Muir, who had a children's TV show on NBC, heard about ‘Ruff and Reddy’ and wanted to use the cartoons much as we had originally planned—as bookends between which the hoary theatricals would be run. Muir’s offer kept us alive, and Screen Gems went ahead with the deal.”

A deal with NBC wasn’t announced until a New York Times story of November 11th (trade papers had similar stories within days) so you’ll have to figure out the timeline, unless Barbera was stretching the truth a bit.

It seems insane that a network could sign a Saturday morning show in November and begin airing it in December but that’s the way things worked back then. Saturday daytime programming in 1957 was filler. NBC didn’t even sign on until 10 a.m., CBS signed on at 9 a.m., and ABC didn’t start network programming until 7:30 p.m. In fact, none of the networks had any regular programming between 2 and 7:30! (at least on the East Coast).

So it was that Ruff and Reddy debuted in glorious black and white on December 14, 1957 at 10:30 a.m. (9 a.m. in Los Angeles) on a revamped Saturday daytime line-up on NBC (it offered three hours of programming until 1 p.m.). General Foods, which was already sponsoring Mighty Mouse on CBS during the same time slot, picked up alternate weeks of sponsorship on Ruff and Reddy, meaning the network filled ad time with NBC promos every other week during its first season. How Saturday mornings have changed.

Ruff and Reddy wasn’t just Ruff and Reddy. There was a person, Jimmy Blaine, who did schtick. And two old theatrical cartoons from Columbia’s Screen Gems studio were aired. I haven’t been able to find which two cartoons were on the first episode, but the first two Ruff and Reddy episodes were “Planet Pirates” and “Night Flight Fright.” Let’s look at the very first one. Unfortunately, the R&R series has never been restored and put on home video, and I doubt it ever will be, so you’ll have to pardon the fuzzy frame grabs.

Screen credit was never given on the Ruff and Reddy cartoons, but we do know Charlie Shows, Dick Bickenbach and Howard Hanson were employed at H-B Enterprises on Day One. So it’s safe to assume Bickenbach did the layouts on the first episode, Shows provided dialogue (the alliteration and rhyming gives it away) and Hanson handled the production schedule. Who animated those first two cartoons? It’s very tough to say because, besides mouth movements, there’s extremely little animation. Whoever did this 13-part adventure has the teeth filling the entire mouth in solid white during some of the dialogue. As for the backgrounds, my wild guess is Fernando Montealegre painted them (nice sponge-work on the trees and clouds). And, of course, the voices were provided by Daws Butler and Don Messick.

“Planet Pirates” opens with Ruff reading the “Daily Screech” which tells us about a “saucer shaped ship sighted by sheepherder.” The lounging Reddy has to explain to Ruff what a UFO is. No matter, Reddy is ready for “those flyin’ saucer fellers” with a space helmet and water pistol he won on Captain Comet’s TV show poetry contest.

The dialogue is interrupted by a news bulletin from a TV inside the house, with the announcer (Daws Butler) stating rumours of mysterious flying objects and a saucer-shaped ship are untrue.

Cut to a space ship moving left across a background drawing. Now we hear Don Messick’s narrator for the first time. “Well, I don’t like to argue, but,” he says calmly, “that’s no bicycle streaking through the skies right now. In fact, if I wasn’t afraid of being laughed at, I’d say that was a flying saucer.”

Hanna cuts to a close-up of the saucer (it’s still a cell sliding over a background), then to the “creepy creatures” from another planet “spying on our world.” Note the colour separation on their bodies. One of the aliens starts talking to the other, with that wavering voice that Messick used on The Herculoids and other shows. (He must have moved his tongue inside his mouth a lot to get that voice).

“According to my interplanetary dictionary,” continues the narrator, “these space men have come to Earth to find two typical Earth people to take back to their planet.” Yes, you can guess who they pick up on their viewer. Cut to Reddy, who promises to disintegrate any spacemen who come around and shoots his water gun for good measure. He and Ruff fall asleep then a ray lifts them both into the space ship. Again, there’s no animation, just characters on a cel slid upward. I really like the angles on some of the layouts. You rarely see this even in the Huck series a year later. Too bad.

Cut to a shot of space over Earth. “And away they go!” says our quiet narrator. “But where is this mystery ship taking our friends? And why?” The narrator plugs the next episode, followed by the end tag music.

Hanna-Barbera paid for the use of the Capitol Hi-Q library for this series, but only two cues are used. The first one was only used once outside Ruff and Reddy (on the third Pixie and Dixie cartoon), while the second may sound familiar from B-grade ‘50s science fiction films.

0:00 – Ruff and Reddy Sub Main Title theme (Hoyt Curtin)
0:06 – TC 304A FOX TROT (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Ruff reads paper, squirts gun, “There’s no such animal as a flyin’ saucer.”
1:15 – No Music – TV newsman broadcasts, Ruff pleased with the news.
1:38 – L-1203 EERIE HEAVY ECHO (Spencer Moore) – Saucer flies around, Ruff and Reddy kidnapped, saucer zooms away from Earth.
3:35 – Ruff and Reddy Sub End Title theme (Curtin).

You can more about Ruff and Reddy’s creation in this post, this post, this post and even this post.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Snagglepuss in Fight Fright

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Bob Carr, Layout – Jack Huber, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Lew Marshall, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, Crowd – Daws Butler; K.O. Kangy, Barker, Referee, Crowd – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-66 (aired in last episode of season). Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss agrees to fight a boxing kangaroo.

Let’s see...what Warner Bros. cartoons did Mike Maltese draw from for this one?

1. A giant mouse is actually a kangaroo (any Sylvester vs Hippety Hopper short),
2. Riding an imaginary bicycle in the boxing ring (Porky and Daffy),
3. Boxer asking if something violent is illegal, demonstrating it on someone and then the ref saying it’s not allowed (To Duck or Not to Duck),
4. Failing at something, then trying it again, listing each step as it happens (Robin Hood Daffy).

Snagglepuss starts this cartoon bopped with baseballs as a target in a circus midway booth. He ends it that same way after deciding it’s safer than being bashed by a boxing kangaroo like in the rest of the cartoon. I kept thinking Snagglepuss would turn to the camera at the end and say “It’s a living,” but Maltese avoided borrowing that idea from the old Warners’ story chest.

(If you’re new here, Maltese worked for Warner Bros., mostly as a storyman, starting in May 1937 and left for Hanna-Barbera in November 1958, though he moved over to the Walter Lantz studio for around a year beginning in mid-1953).

Mercifully, Maltese only uses the “giant mouse” bit as bait, and briefly, instead of beating it into the ground like in a Warners cartoon.

Let’s quickly go through the story. As mentioned earlier, Snagglepuss has his head stuck through a hole in a ball-toss booth at a county fair circus. He only “took this job on a trial basis. Temporary, even.” But he’s had enough of having his snoot crushed by baseballs, so he exits and runs past the same pink-striped tent five times.

Meanwhile, in another tent, the scene cuts to a boxing ring announcer/promoter. The champ has run out on his fight with K.O. Kangy, the boxing kangaroo. Messick uses the worst Australian accent for the promoter while the kangaroo has that wavering voice he generally gave to aliens. The promoter cons the job-seeking Snagglepuss (“I happen to be financially embarrassed. Mortified, even...I’m a diamond setter. A gold smelter. A ruby polisher. And I scale fishes...I have initiative, brains, also sweet breads, ambition, and I’ve been vaccinated”) by offering a job boxing (“Boxing what? Oranges? Kumquats? Goquats, even?”) a “mouse from Australia” for $10, though he warns him the mouse is rather large. “Heavens to Lilliput! How large can a mouse get?” asks Snagglepuss. He quickly finds out.

He has trouble before the fight even starts, getting tied up in the ropes (“Don’t think the Boxin’ Commission ain’t gonna hear about this”), and spouting more typical lines such as “Heavens to giant economy size!” and referring to “Marquis of Queensborough Bridge” rules. K.O. asks if he can squeeze Snagglepuss’ nose or stomp on him. The answer’s “no.” But that doesn’t stop him from demonstrating before he hears it.

The bell rings. Snagglepuss looks confident as he says his game plan to himself. “Spar, spar. Hmm. Hmmm. Fake with your right. Fake with your left. Sucker him into an openin’ and then...” Snagglepuss gets punched in the face. He goes through the routine again, except he blocks the punch (“I haven’t lost my cunning’. Sneaky, even”). But K.O. tricks him and it’s wham again. Next, Snagglepuss tries his “marble-izing propeller punch” where his fist turns into a propeller. But it sends Snagglepuss up and then down as he drills a hole in the mat.

After being kicked into the ropes (with a rubber band sound effect) several times, Snagglepuss beats “a strategic retreat” on his bicycle. An invisible one. Maltese wastes a real chance for comedy, unless it was cut out by Lew Marshall after the story stage. He treats the gag as a throwaway. Snagglepuss just cycles out of the scene. He could have done all kinds of different things (especially as the bike is invisible, it can’t be animated) but that was the end of the gag.

After Snagglepuss is mushed into a heap in a pail (K.O. is revolted when he throws it out), our hero exists stage left and we find him back getting hit by baseballs in cycle animation to end the cartoon.

Actually, animator Bob Carr gets a bit of a footage break. His cycle of K.O. bouncing up and down and back and forth gets used several times.

Art Lozzi is the background artist. His work is pretty simple in this cartoon.

Hoyt Curtin’s calliope (I suspect it’s actually an organ) version of “Man on the Flying Trapeze” opens the cartoon and during the scene where Snagglepuss is sproinged against the ropes, there’s a sax, doo-wop style rock-and-roll riff.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, December 1967

Chickens. Puppies. Zebras. Mice. Grumbling Bears. Yes, they’re all in the Yogi Bear newspaper comics 50 years ago this month, along with Santa Yogi.

Okay, maybe not chickens. It’s a peacock, Sorry this December 3rd comic isn’t in colour or a better scan. I’ve looked and this is the best version I can find. Little Kevin the Boy Scout has been replaced by little Jennie the Girl Scout in this comic. Even Farmer Harold is fed up with Yogi’s bad puns. Nice expression on the bear in that second-row panel, though.

Interesting design on the lumpy little dog in the December 10th comic. Ranger Smith only appears in this comic this month. He’s named “Bill” this time. I don’t understand how the Ranger doesn’t trust Yogi but he’s agreeable to let him take off with the family pet. And why doesn’t Mrs. Ranger know how much a clipping costs so she doesn’t short-change Yogi? Hasn’t she taken him for a clipping before. Yogi keeps it down to one rhyme in this comic.

The Girl Scouts are back with a neat little collection of animals in the December 17th comic. I like the giraffe layout as well as the Yogi expression at the end.

A very nice silhouette panel is among the highlights of the comic published Christmas Eve day 1967. The end panel is a bit of a groaner gag. That’s the clearest Malt Mix I’ve ever seen.

The panels with the bear family in the December 31st comic were in the top row of the three-row version (and not at all in the two-row version) and don’t have anything to do with the rest of the cartoon. You can tell they’re real bears because they’re not wearing clothing. The gag in this one didn’t really do anything for me.

You’ll notice Boo Boo doesn’t appear at all this month.

Thanks to Richard Holliss for sending copies of the colour comics.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Giving Credit

I sure miss Earl Kress.

Earl, if you don’t know, was a writer for Hanna-Barbera and other cartoon studios. He loved old cartoons and was a great student of them. He probably knew more about the early H-B cartoons than anyone else at the time of his death. The same with the Capitol Hi-Q and Langlois Filmmusic libraries that he researched so music from the Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw shows could be released on CD by Rhino (in the end, he could only get nine cues by Phil Green cleared and never did find a clean copy of his favourite Langlois cue by Jack Shaindlin because the owners didn’t have one). I could go on and on about his work on DVDs but we’ll take a pass on that for a moment.

Earl was gracious enough to carry on e-mail and forum conversations with many people, myself included. At the end, I had no idea how sick he was but he was still volunteering to hunt around his home office looking for information he couldn’t recall off the top of his head.

The other day, Earl’s widow Denise sent me a parcel with papers that have been sitting in the office since Earl passed away in 2011. One thing I’m happy to receive is a photocopy of files from Leo Burnett (Kellogg’s agency) with production information about the Huck and Yogi shows; I imagine Earl got this when the Huck and Yogi DVDs were being assembled. There are also selected pages of cue sheets for The Flintstones; again, I believe Earl was trying to get information about specific songs used on the show; he has pages which list “The Car Hop Song” and “Bedrock Twitch,” for example.

To the right is a page which I post for a couple of reasons. You’ll notice three things. One is there is absolutely no mention of Hoyt Curtin. With Hanna and Barbera listed as the composers, they get the royalties. Period. I can’t help but wonder if something changed contractually after this; you’ll find Curtin’s name included in compositions if you check out the current BMI catalogue.

Another thing is Earl has used a pen to notate “Main Title” as “Rise and Shine.” It’s obvious the cue wasn’t called “Rise and Shine” until some time after it was composed; it was called “Main Title” when the series began in 1960. It could very well be, though I don’t know, that when a vocal version of the cue was released on Golden Records in October 1961 (along with “Meet the Flintstones”) that lyrics and a new name were written then. But, again, I don’t know. Bill Hanna’s autobiography recalls that Curtin wrote the music first and he wrote the lyrics to match it, but whether he’s talking about “Rise and Shine” or “Meet the Flintstones” (which was used starting in the third season in 1962), he’s not clear. Hanna makes no mention of a change in theme songs.

Earl tried to get to the bottom of the change. Heres what he wrote in 2009:

Hoyt Curtin told me that it was Bill Hanna's decision to switch to the new theme song. And here's where even the people that were there can have memory lapses. He said it was because Bill decided he wanted a song with lyrics. However, "Rise and Shine" also has lyrics. I think it was because "Meet the Flintstones" was a better introduction to the show, in the same way that "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" tells the whole backstory of "The Beverly Hillbillies". I believe that's why the theme song was changed.
As to why it never appeared in the syndication package... again, it was Bill Hanna's decision. In those days, 16mm films were "bicycled" (an industry term) around to the various local stations. They didn't each keep a complete set of prints on hand. It would have been too costly and taken up too much space. Hanna knew that because of this delivery system, the shows would never air in order again and he felt it would be too jarring if the theme song kept switching back and forth from day to day, so he had the original stripped off and used "Meet the Flintstones" exclusively. It had nothing to do with the sponsor plugs, since, as everyone has now seen, generic versions exist (in color) without the sponsor billboards. The openings with the sponsors in them only exist in black & white.
By the way, it was me that found the color opening and closing. Turner people said it didn't exist and even went so far as to colorize the "Rise and Shine" main title until I turned them up. I knew they had to exist because Pat Ventura had the original exposure sheets to them and there were different versions clearly labeled on them, including a generic one.
The other thing of note on the sheet above is that Curtin didn’t assign names to instrumental cues at all. You’ll see they’re simple labelled “File #” (As a side note, the cue sheet for P-140 “Surfin’ Fred” lists two separate cues “Wax Up Your Boards” and “Surf’s Up” by Phil Sloan and Steve Barri, who were—are you surprised?—on the music staff at Screen Gems. The cues are both variations on “Surfin’ Craze,” the “Surfin’ USA” knock-off heard on the cartoon).

It’s with a great deal of trepidation I post the document to the right because there are people who will want hijack this post into a discussion about the song or cartoon in question. No comments, please. The songs in the memo about “No Biz Like Show Biz” were both released on Hanna-Barbera Records, sung by “Pebbles” and “Bamm-Bamm” (aka Rebecca and Ricky Page).

Let’s turn our attention to something a little more pleasant and, in a moment, bring in Earl Kress to answer a question a number of readers have asked. When The Flintstones changed themes in 1962, the opening and closing title animation was completely redone. When the show went into syndication in 1966, the original animation was stripped from the first two seasons of the show and the newer animation was substituted. Unfortunately, the credits from the originals disappeared with the old animation, and one set of credits from a later episode was used for all cartoons from the first two seasons.

At the time The Flintstones was being assembled for laser disc release in 1997, Earl dug through the H-B archives, found some lovely opening/closing animation that accompanied the original “Rise and Shine” theme, had gang credits superimposed and attached it all to the first two seasons’ worth of cartoons. It was nice to see the 1960 animation in colour but, unfortunately, the original credits for each show were unable to be re-created. However, occasionally, one of the original 16mm Flintstones films which has everything, including commercials and credits, appears. Such is the case for the first season episode P-20 “Arthur Quarry’s Dance Class.” So we now know, officially, who worked on the cartoon; the fans-make-it-up websites are maddeningly wrong (and unsourced) a lot of the time. About the re-assembled credits, Earl wrote:

The original credits were show specific and changed each week. We couldn't find those in color, but we did find the "textless" end credits and made up one set that incorporated as many names as we had at that time. (I culled many of the names from those existing network prints...)
Before we get to the credits, announcer Bill Baldwin reminds us that the Flintstones are brought to you by a certain product that Alan Reed sings off-key about; I wonder if smoking ruined his singing voice. Anyway, you know the scene. Ken Muse animates Fred getting locked out of the house after he tries to put Baby Puss out for the night. There are several cuts to a flashing sponsor sign. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna alternated whose name went first on the credits; it was Barbera’s turn this time.

If you have the DVDs with the re-created titles, you’ll notice something else. The billboard in the foreground with the flashing Winston is missing. And the little scene with the mouth-less sleeping Wilma is also missing. The original has the animation of Bedrock fade into the scene from the commercial.

The question has been raised a number of times: why does Wilma have no mouth? Was this intentional? Was it accidental? Earl may be with us no longer, but he did provide an answer about the mouth-less scene when the DVDs came out.
“This actually never aired this way, because they only ever aired the version that had the sponsor plug in it. So this generic version was filmed but never used.”
And Earl further speculated in an old message board post:
"That animation doesn't exist in the B & W sponsor version. That part was animated to take up the space where the sponsor plug would have been. My guess is, because the color version was never seen in the original or syndicated run, it wasn't worth the expense to go back and fix it."
However, I’m not so certain that Earl is correct. He would be if he’s talking about the United States. But The Flintstones aired in foreign countries, Canada being one of them. For example in 1961, the show aired Sunday afternoons at 5 on Channel 10 in London, Ontario. It would not have been sponsored by Winstons as American cigarettes were not (and I don’t believe are today) sold in Canada. So there would have to be a different ending. My memory doesn’t go back far enough about The Flintstones, but I do recall the CBC had a different ending to the Huckleberry Hound Show with a theme that wasn’t quite the same as the Kellogg’s references were all deleted. So it could be that the animation you see on DVD aired in Canada or Great Britain or Australia or some other place. It’s a shame Earl isn’t around to talk about it. I miss him. But it was kind and generous of Denise Kress to send some of Earl’s files to me. In a way, it’s a little like he’s still here and helping us learn more.