Saturday, April 29, 2017

Gerry Johnson

Dumping the wonderful Janet Waldo in favour of singer Tiffany in The Jetsons Movie has to rank at the top of the boneheaded voice casting decisions at Hanna-Barbera. But there’s another that isn’t far behind.

Bea Benaderet was replaced as Betty Rubble by Gerry Johnson.

(Note in the comments that H-B doesn’t appear to have had much of a choice in Ms. Waldo’s case).

Mrs. Johnson may have been a very nice person but her voice was too squeally for me as Betty. On top of that, Bea had a long career dating back to the ‘20s and was a top supporting actress on radio and then television. She brought a pleasant, humorous quality to Betty’s voice.

Not a lot has been written about Gerry Johnson because about the only thing she’s known for is being the second Mrs. Rubble. When the series ended in 1966, her career ended. She didn’t return to the role when the Pebbles and Bamm Bamm Show (stop blowing that whistle!) debuted five years later. But she had been acting for more than two decades, as an amateur and a professional, and was a pioneer in post-war television.

It was front page news in the Grand Prairie Daily News of Grand Prairie, Texas when word spread that Gerry Johnson was coming to town. It’s hard to decipher the story through OCR errors, but here’s what I can make out from the March 1, 1953 edition:

TV Star to Comment March 9 On Fashions and Models
Gerry Johnson, pretty, vivacious star of KRLD-TV's "Variety Fair" in Dallas, will be the style commentator of the fifth annual Grand Prairie Teen fashion show on stage at the new high school auditorium Monday night, March 9. Mrs. Johnson consented to handle the show for The Texan after a number of other prospective commentators were studied, and The Texan feels it is fortunate in obtaining the services of so popular an artist.
She majored in speech and drama at the Leland Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif., where she was also a student of the ballet.
Plans call for a dress rehearsal next Saturday evening. It is set for about 5:45 p.m., as soon as Mrs. Johnson can come out from her TV Variety Fair. Mrs. Johnson was especially enthusiastic for the fashion show, and will bring more popular comments than even the Von Sheridan show in 1952. Mrs. Johnson plans to interview each model to bring a personal touch to the show.
In addition to this inimitable rising star on the TV horizon, The Texan will have two or three entertainers also and possible a trio of vocalists in an intermission about midway of the show.
Adding a patriotic flavor to the show will be Lt. Anne Bean, Grand Prairie woman marine, who will exhibit the newest uniforms for women marines. About three uniforms will he shown, probably in one of the intermission acts.
Mrs. Johnson was the subject of a swell write-up in the March issue of Radio-TV Mirror. Her background is natural for her present show which exploits the famous guests interviewed daily on her Variety Fair. Guests are interviewed to their advantage instead of the conductor of a show, who usually "hogs" the conversation. Almost every "name" in the entertainment world who comes to Dallas winds up on Mrs. Johnson's show, and her friendliness and poise brings out the best in her guest star for the day.
However, she came by her talents naturally. A drama student since the age of six, she began her study at Madame Gordon's School for Girls in Los Angeles, where she won every drama contest. In Beverly Hills High, she won every competition in stage work and went on to win the California Shakespearean [missing words]. Martin Flavin, playwright, chose her also for his play, "Blue Jeans." She has appeared at the Biltmore, Belasco and other famous theatres in California, and was the Russian ballerina in "Bachelor Women," and portrayed the tense dramatic role of Olivia in "Might Must Fall."
Wife of Warren Johnson, public relations director for Taylor Publishing, Gerry is green-eyed and has dark brown hair. "I'm not the type to live for a career," she told The Texan. "When my husband decided to come to Dallas, I started packing."
Parents of two children, Larry and Sherry, the Johnsons live in Preston Hills, at 6222 Rex. KRLD discovered her, she said, about two years ago "and hence Variety Fair."


Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any story about her in the Radio-TV Mirror at any time in the first six monthly issues of 1953. But the piece above gave me enough clues to go through some other publications and records and piece things together.

Geraldine Adelaide Schreiber was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on April 4, 1918 to Oscar Randolph and Geraldine (Crummy) Schreiber. Her father was the general manager for a publishing company. By 1930, the family was in Los Angeles and young Gerry was occasionally appearing in the social columns. The Los Angeles Times noted her performance in “Blue Jeans” in its edition of Feb. 22, 1938. She married Warren Martin Johnson on June 21, 1941 in Los Angeles. Her appearance in “Bachelor Women” (under the name Geraldine Johnson) was reviewed in October 1946 in several publications.

KRLD TV in Dallas signed on in December 1949. By the following October, Gerry was hosting the station’s “Vanity Fair.” She also involved with a puppet show for kids. After five years, Johnson was given her notice her show was going off the air and she headed to New York to hunt for acting work. She returned to Texas and appeared in several plays, then landed a role in My Dog, Buddy (1960), a low-budget film produced by radio mogul Gordon McLendon. By March 1961, she headed home to Los Angeles where she was hired to do interviews on KNXT’s “Panorama Pacific” show.

Johnson toured with Mickey Rooney in summer of ‘63 in Tunnel of Love, then was signed in the fall for roles in A Day in Court and a pilot for ABC called The Not Very News Reel starring Louis Nye.

Variety reported on March 27, 1963 that Johnson had left KNXT to do voice work at Hanna-Barbera, but I couldn’t tell you what she actually did for the studio for the first year. The trade paper announced on March 5, 1964: “‘Petticoat Junction’ chores forced Bea Benaderet to depart as ‘Betty Rubble’ in the ‘Flintstones’ — Gerry Johnson takes over the vocal role in the new segs.”

But that isn’t quite what happened. People who were around Hanna-Barbera at the time say that Bea stopped being called in for voice sessions and when she wondered why, she was told that Johnson had her job. Mel Blanc, in particular, was reportedly angry about the change as he and Bea had worked together for over 20 years, especially on the Jack Benny radio show. Why was the change made? I’m afraid we’ll never really know. But Bea Benaderet was well respected in the industry and no doubt the “Petticoat Junction” story was circulated to save some ill feelings.

Johnson performed some stage work after The Flintstones went off the air, but her name vanishes from newspapers after that. She died in Los Angeles on January 24, 1990.

31 comments:

  1. Gerry Johnson simply did not exhibit the comedic talents of Bea Benaderet and, as a result, Betty became a lifeless Stepford-Stone wife, replaced by aliens pod-person, and no longer a vital part of the Flintstones cast.

    If Bea were going to be replaced, for whatever the reason, was there not another voice that could carry the comedy forward? Perhaps Betty was sacrificed to the direction of adding more and more characters – Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, The Gruesomes, Hoppy, Gazoo – and, since The Flintstones was no longer a company of four (plus Dino and maybe Mr. Slate), Betty’s strong comedic presence was no longer deemed necessary.

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  2. Betty became a nag and a scold after Johnson took over - and that overly-chirpy infliction she gave the character didn't help any. There's also the matter of the unnecessary re-design with those strange Cleopatra eyes, making Betty even more unappealing. Totally insufferable.

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    1. No she haven't become a nag and I like the fact betty was always more attractive than wilma.

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  3. Thanks, Yowp, for this excellent, informative article. It must have taken you a long time to do the research for it.

    I just have one question:

    "Dumping the wonderful Janet Waldo in favour of singer Tiffany in The Jetsons Movie has to rank at the top of the boneheaded voice casting decisions at Hanna-Barbera."

    But wasn't that Universal's decision, and not Hanna-Barbera's?

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    1. HC, it seems to depend on who you talk to. I know that Joe Barbera apologised to her (on more than one occasion, I understand) for removing her voice from the film.

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    2. Both Kris Zimmerman, Andrea Romano and the late Gordon Hunt claim they were devastated when Janet Waldo was replaced. It does make sense that Tiffany's agent (and/or record label) would nag H-B to give their rising star both vocal and dialogue duties. As for what Bill and Joe could do about it - They knew that selling the company was a bad idea. Remember back in 1963 when H-B kept James Darren's vocals, but erased his dialogue on ''Surfin Fred'' and replaced him with Lennie Weinrib?

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  4. The case of Tiffany and Gerry Johnson shows replacing someone went far beyond just cashing in on fame, since Johnson wasn;'t famous like Tiffany but wasn't any better (it didn't help that Tiffany wasn't an old-time radio star lie Janet was so the situation would not at all be helped by casting any younger person even a Ren and Stimpy or Rugrats future,er,pun, voice anymore..even casting Waldo's fellow radio actors, whether June Foray, or Dinah Shore or Doris Day would be unfair, just as Gerry Johnson, a non-celeb, yet from the same era as Bea Benaderet, or anyone else was an unneeded replacement. Or, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. ) To me it wasn't so much Gerry's voice, which didn't help, but just that Benederet was still available. However, either she may have been more busier, under contract now to Pettiocat's producer Filmways ("This has been a Filmways Presentaiton Dahlink") or, as Ive read, Joe Barbera had Bea under contract...SC

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    1. ...and once Bea left for Filmways Studios and CBS Barbera might have felt the contract was breached..same if Alan Reed left...

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    2. It goes deeper than that. When Howie Morris (briefly) parted ways with H-B, he was replaced on both ''Magilla Gorilla'' and ''Atom Ant'' by H-B icon Don Messick. When Arnold Stang couldn't reprise his role of Top Cat on ''Yogi's Ark Lark'', he was replaced by Daws Butler. Choosing an unknown like Gerry Johnson to replace Bea is strange. As Tracy Lord said in the film ''Philadelphia Story "I think it's more than that. I thinks it's paranoic".

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  5. Could it be that ABC didn't want to promote the star of a CBS series by having her name in the credits of their show? These network rivalries used to be more important to them in those days (the days that actors appearing on talk shows were only plugged as being in shows on "another network" didn't end that long ago). There's also the less-likely possibility of Benederet actually not having been available for recording because of a conflict with PETTICOAT JUNCTION's shooting schedule--or perhaps they anticipated that this COULD happen because of her participation (during the previous season) in THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES. If she had been unavailable for even one session for that reason as a supporting/recurring character on the latter show, how would it work with her as the star of the former? I could see Barbera's logic there, IF that had ever happened, since most H-B shows were recorded radio-style, with all of the cast in the studio at one time.

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    1. Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll were originally announced as the voices of George and Jane Jetson. Both actors were on CBS sitcoms, while Jetsons was an ABC show. Don't know if that was behind the decision, but it's possible. Or maybe it was a sponsor decision.

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    2. That's been my theory as well. I notice that Bea Benaderet's name disappeared from the credits all during Season Four, while she was still a strong presence on "The Flintstones." I suspect as you suggest there was undocumented pressure from the networks not to use the star from a CBS show in the credits of an ABC show. Note also that Season Four provided Betty with some of her strongest roles to date--with the arrival of Bamm-Bamm and with the episode "Old Lady Betty" which traded on Bea's talent for playing little old ladies. It's as though the "real" Betty was being given her swan song. The second Betty never took center stage.

      But to be fair, Gerry Johnson was not horrible as Betty, it's just that she didn't have the kind of distinctive vocal quality that Bea had. As a child, I noticed right away that Betty's voice was different in the Fifth Season. My parents did not notice the change at all. (This makes me suspect that many of the viewing audience at the time may have scarcely noticed the change, which might explain why the H-B folks felt comfortable about making it--after all, in them there days, a cartoon voice was a cartoon voice, and there were essentially no forums like this one to discuss phenomena of this nature.) But Gerry Johnson did seem to be making an effort to be as appealing as possible in the role. She had a very tough act to follow, and probably nobody could have lived up to the gold standard set by Bea Benaderet.

      By the by, that congratulatory box showcasing Mrs. Johnson as the voice of Betty is nicely laid out with the cartoon head shot positioned like the live head shot.

      I'm glad to finally get some info about Gerry Johnson, because as I said the change was jarring to say the least at the time.

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    3. You may be correct..it may be the reason Frank Nelson didn't show on the Jetsons's "Las Venus" as that desk clerk based n him and Don Messick did,for instance: Nelson was on the TV "Jack benny Show" just as he'd been on radio, and CBS broadcast those while the Flintstones was ABC.SC (whew, probaly longest thread now..)

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  6. I think Mike's "less-likely" scenario is not only more-likely but probable.

    From what I can determine, Bea was replaced on THE FLINTSTONES because Bill and Joe didn't want the hassle of trying to work around her PETTICOAT JUNCTION shooting schedule. They had reason to believe it would have meant recording her separately (which they didn't want to do) or scheduling sessions for everyone only when she would have been available, which was very limiting. Mel Blanc had many other commitments but it was manageable to work around them. Bea's would have been much more limiting...and what would happen if Blanc wasn't available when she was?

    As for Tiffany and the JETSONS movie, I was at Don Messick's retirement party when Joe Barbera made a serious apology to Janet in front of almost every voice actor alive who'd done a lot of work for H-B for that, and later Joe elaborated on the situation to Janet and a few of us.

    His position was simple: Universal would not green-light the JETSONS movie for production if Tiffany didn't do the songs, and Tiffany's agents insisted she would not do the songs if she did not do Judy's speaking voice. He said he tried many ways around this but it pretty much came down to the fact that there would have been no movie if he'd insisted on keeping Janet's voice in there. I can't say that that is not true.

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    1. Mark, thanks so much for your note. Your contributions and clarifications are always welcome.

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    2. I think Mark is 100% correct - Bea's last Flintstones episode was broadcast 12 March of 1964 (Operation Switchover), BUT the soundtracks for Flinstones episodes were recorded months in advance. Petticoat Junction premiered 24 September 1963 on CBS. Bea was under contract to Filmways to appear in a limited number of The Beverly Hillbillies episodes, but TBH was such a massive hit they gave its creator Paul Henning carte blanche to create other shows without pilots - hence Petticoat and Green Acres. All of the Flintstones cast, like the Rocky and Bullwinkle cast, were radio vets and used to recording as a cast in order to bounce and feed off each other. Series television really gave Bea only one day a week off from September through May of 1963, 1964, 1965, etc. Table read, rehearse, rehearse, rewrites, rehearse, blocking, camera run through, master shots, reaction shots, reshoots, dialog loops, etc. For 38 weeks straight! I'm hoping H&B saw Bea's opportunity to be the star of the show for a change and were gracious enough to let her out of her contract, rather than "dumping" her.

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    3. I actually worked on the JETSONS movie for producer Gil Iverson, and he told me the same thing: Universal threatened to pull the plug if they didn't use Tiffany for both the songs and the dialogue. He was not happy about it. Gil also told me about George O'Hanlon basically dropping dead in the studio while re-recording some of his lines, which was an awful experience for everybody involved.

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  7. Johnson did have another bit of work within the Screen Gems orbit while working on "The Flintstones", when she guest starred in a 1964 episode of "Bewitched" (with Bill Daly playing her husband and Billy Mumy as their son).

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    1. That's right J Lee. A favorite Bewitched Christmas episode of many. " A Vision Of Sugar Plums ". Watched it just last week.

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  8. I actually asked Jean VanderPyl about Gerry Johnson back in the mid 1990s. Brace yourselves...this is what she said. It had nothing to do with Bea's shooting schedule on "Petticoat Junction". There were still several "Flintstones" soundtracks to be recorded for the 1963-64 season after Bea started production on her sitcom and they all worked out just fine. What happened was this: Barbera, divorced at the time, started DATING Gerry Johnson and gave her the role after both she and Bea's voices (along with Janet's, ironically) were all together in the "Son of Rockzilla" episode at the end of season 4, when Joe was satisfied with the incidental work Gerry had done for that episode. So that's the only episode that had both Bea and Gerry together. Jean called Bea after the first track for season 5 was recorded and asked her why she didn't come back. Surprised, she said she had been waiting and waiting and waiting for a call to do "Flintstones" again and never got it. Jean's call was the first she had heard about them going back into production, so nobody at H-B had the decency to tell her. I then asked Jean what she thought of Gerry's portrayal of Betty. She rolled her eyes and said that she was no Bea, and that she drove Mel nuts. She wouldn't elaborate on that, but I assume it had something to do with her timing and delivery not being anything like Bea's and not giving Blanc anything to bounce off of. Jean told me that Gerry and Joe broke up about a year or so after "Flintstones" ended in prime time, hence the end of her career and the start of the generic, non-descript future voices of Betty Rubble forever after.

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    1. Stu Shostak Thank you for this, Mr. Shostak. I think we all knew, but were afraid to say it out loud. It makes perfect sense. When Howie Morris briefly left H-B, he was replaced by Don Messick. Doug Young was replaced in the role of Doggie Daddy by John Stephenson. And Bea was replaced by the relatively unknown Gerry Johnson.

      I gather they broke up after she recorded her lines for ''The Man Called Flintstone''.

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    2. The tracks for "The Man Called Flintstone" were recorded near the start of season 6 because of the lead time they needed to animate, so they were long done by the time they recorded the last episode tracks of the weekly series. I think I also read somewhere that the feature was supposed to come out well before the summer of 1966 to try to generate a season 7 renewal by way of polnting to box office receipts, but production issues delayed its release while reruns were still on ABC after its cancellation.

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    3. I've long wondered if there had ever been serious consideration for a 7th season. The final episode, "The Story of Rocky's Raiders" seems to go in a whole different direction from anything that had previously been done, and I wonder if it was actually written for Season Seven but then put into production when it was known that Season Six would be the last. If that were the case, would there have been more stories about Grandpa Flintstone and Stone War One with the "fab four" doing double-duty as characters in Grandpa's memoirs? I've never read any commentary on the episode, so I've just done a lot of speculating about it on my own. I'd love to know what a projected Season Seven would have looked like.

      It's interesting to learn that the soundtrack "TMCF" was already in the can by the time the final Flintstones shows aired in prime time.

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    4. Well, (already pushing the reply count to the twenty-response mark!), I can say that a couple of things.

      By the time of the last several, the "Rocky's Raiders" and "My Fair Freddy", very few of the main characters other than the foursome (Wilma, Fred, Barney, and Betty) were used.

      Also, that "Rocky's" struck me as an attempt to do a Stone age take a la "Casablanca" on a World War I love story (with World War II being the equivalent for "Casablanca" itself..war breeds romance...)

      Finally that one was next to last in the important way, as in next to last produced, with "My Fair freddy" being the absolute last through and through in production. The babies were almost out of the picture.

      btw the third to last in production and broadcast, before respectively, "MFF" and "TSoRR", "Dripper", the obvious "Flipper" parody and one of Doug Young's last animation jobs, doing the Jimmy Durante'/Doggie Daddy voice, of course being centered around a family outing to the aquarium, had the babies and pets.

      That one's a way to do a truly good job (referring to "Dripper", third to last), of using the suprise who donme it that would be redone as the main go-to ending of "Scooby-Doo, Where are you" in its over 65,000,000 incarnaitons with few exceptions).

      Getting back to the actual final one, "My Fair Freddy" (next to "The Story of Rocky's Raiders" in broadcast; shown between "Dripper" and "The Story of Rocky's Raiders") said bye to Gazoo, Joe Rockhead and Dino.


      On the "Man called Flintstone", background music from it and the same (1966) year's "Alice in Wonderland" starring Janet Waldo and Sammy Davis,Jr., was the origin for background music for the "Abbott and Costello Show
      ","Space Kiddettes","Laurel and hardy',etc.,etc. It must have been recorded before the final FLitnstones since some of it were in the final Flintstones shows (scored by Ted Nichols).

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    5. If I recall correctly when Earl Kress showed me the original production schedule for the last year, "The Story of Rocky's Raiders" was actually recorded and produced around mid season and held back to the end (why I don't know - maybe because it wasn't that great of an episode; it's always been one of my least favorites. "My Fair Freddy" was definitely the last episode recorded and when you think about it, it did sort of wrap up everything - Gazoo did a good deed, Fred makes that statement that people are the same wherever and whenever, etc. It's almost as if they knew way back when that track was recorded that it was going to be the end, although the other thing Jean VanderPyl told me during that same "Gerry Johnson" conversation was that they all thought they WERE coming back for another year. In fact, she told me that Joe pitched the show for NBC to pick it up, but they declined. They were really lucky that ABC picked up a season 6 because they got clobbered by "The Munsters" on Thursday nights during the 5th year. "Jonny Quest" was tanking on Fridays, so at mid season, ABC flip-flopped the series so "The Flintstones" could get a shot at a sixth season. "Quest" of course died at the end of its first year and was super-clobbered by "The Munsters". So we were "Flintstones-less" with new episodes until CBS bought "Pebbles and Bamm Bamm" for the fall of 1971 for Saturday mornings. Sadly, Fred, Wilma, Barney, and the practically invisible because she was so dull Betty were brushed aside as secondary characters on that one with only a few lines each per show. That's the series where Wilma (at least to me) always sounded like the treble was all the way up on the microphone she used for every episode to the point where she nearly sounded like she phoned her lines in.

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    6. BTW, they also held back an episode during season 3. "Fred's Surprise Party" was the last track they recorded and produced prior to the Pebbles story arc. They wanted to get going with that on the air ASAP so they postponed the "Surprise Party" episode until the end. "Swedish Visitors" was the last one produced for 1962-63. "The Surprise Party" has absolutely no mention of Pebbles in it at all, even though the previous 8 or 9 shows either had Wilma pregnant or heavily involved Pebbles in the plots.

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    7. Ah! That explains Pebbles' absence!

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    8. That's why she never did the Pebbles and Bamm Bamm show and this was the switch over to Gay Hartwig-Autterson who sounds nothing like the betty I've known in the original series, but I grow up hearing her voice for years up until the B.J. ward era

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  9. I find Stu's comments re: TMCF's recording schedule and release interesting because I remember this tidbit from Yowp via "Flintstones Weekend Comics, August 1966" 8/24/16 -

    Variety announced on January 26, 1966 the film was going into production. It must have been rushed; it was revealed by the trade paper at the end of March that Paul Frees had been signed to do voice work, and the voice track is usually done even before any animation is started.

    Now, does "production" also entail voice work? If so, did the cast begin recording around December/January, or the beginning of the season, as Stu stated? Did Paul Frees record his lines separately or with the cast? If production only lasted seven months or so, what were the "issues" postponing the release? Or did work begin mid/late '65, and the official announcement was delayed for whatever reason until January?

    *Whew* Where's Perry Gunite when you need him?


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    1. It's also interesting to note that the film was Paul Frees' last role for Hanna-Barbera. He did do voices on ''Shazzan'', ''The Banana Splits'', ''Arabian Knights'', but he left the company by the early 1970s. Frees exclusively worked for Rankin-Bass or Depatie-Freleng untill his death.

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  10. Gerry Johnson:
    May her memory be eternal!

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