Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Beer Bear-el

Trouble’s always brewing when Yogi Bear is around. For example, here he is with a pic-a-nic basket climbing up the side of a building.

There’s a particular reason he’s doing that. Reader Greg Gabry points out this is in Jackson, Michigan. Here’s a different view of the building.

We’ve checked. Boo Boo isn’t climbing the wall on the other side. The Ranger wouldn’t like that, you know.

By the way, it appears the Loyal Order of Moose Hall is across the street. We didn’t see Bullwinkle about.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Jetsons – Rosey the Robot

“[B]eyond electronic and mechanical gadgetry which underpins "The Jetsons" humor, nothing much else is new. In fact, the preem stanza (23) revolved around the oldest situation comedy chestnut known to man: the boss comes to dinner to the home of an employee bucking for a raise.”

So opined “Herm” in Weekly Variety after the series debuted on September 23, 1962. Reviews were mixed; many pointed out the series was really The Flintstones shoved into the future, some added it borrowed, like other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, the premise of a live action sitcom—in this case, Hazel. Quite so, at least in this half-hour. The maid saves the day for her family. Jean Vander Pyl later said she used Shirley Booth’s Hazel as the basis for her voice for Rosey.

(At the time, absolutely no comparisons were made to Blondie. This is something invented by some modern-day animation fans based on the fact Penny Singleton, who wasn’t originally cast, played Jane and husband George had an angry boss).

“Herm” has a point. The gadgets are good and some of the humour is a little worn. But despite that, this first half-hour episode is pleasant enough, and even overbearing Spacely has an epiphany to become a nice guy at the end. And “Helm” in Daily Variety mentioned something we take for granted today—the show was broadcast in colour, one of a few on ABC, and proclaimed that aspect of it “a success.” He also praised the voices, calling them “perfectly matched” and the animation “finely drawn.”

The animation credits went to Irv Spence, Ray Patterson, Grant Simmons and Don Lusk. As Patterson and Simmons were still running Grantray-Lawrence, I can only presume some of the animation was contracted out. I don’t know who received the background credits but my guess is Fernando Montealegre was responsible. The interiors are full of crescent shapes, plexiglas panels and bucket seats.

The future, we all felt in 1962, would be a time of labour saving devices on steroids and very short work weeks. Thus Jane complains of all the “work” she does when she pushes a few buttons that make a meal for her or do the vacuuming, ironing, etc. George gripes he pushes off and on buttons five times during his shift.

Gadgets: a flat-screen TV, the transport tube (which sends people to the wrong places), a pop-up toaster bed, a built-in toothbrush, the Foodarackacycle, the VisiPhone and the VisiPhone booth. Somehow, we think technology has passed the last one by.

The plot, as Weekly Variety mentioned, is pretty shopworn. The Foodarackacycle is broken (it made a hot fudge pizza one day). Jane wants a new one. George points out they haven’t paid for the one that replaced the one before the one that just broke down. Ask for a raise, Jane suggests. George goes to work. She gets on the VisiPhone to get advice from her mother. Mom suggests going to a store that has a one-day free trial on a maid.

George decides to ask his boss for a raise. (George starts the referential unisonic digital indexer machine). In the meantime Mr. Spacely discovers his wife Stella is taking part in a “Martians Go Home” rally (whether she opposes invasions or immigrants isn’t clear) so she can’t cook for him tonight. George goes in to ask for the raise, but Spacely cuts him off and invites himself to the Jetsons for dinner.

While all this is going on, Jane is testing out robot maids, first an English one, then a French maid but finally decides on New Yawker Rosey (Jean Vander Pyl gets to test out her accents by playing Mrs. Spacely, Spacely’s secretary, and all the robots).

Rosey proves to be a god-send. She can do just anything, including play sports with Elroy, help Judy with her homework and make a sumptuous dinner. One problem. George thinks his chance for a raise will be blown if Spacely sees they can afford a maid, so he and Jane try to hide her. No luck. She blows the cover. Look at Spacely’s reaction. This may be the biggest take in a Jetsons’ show.

Spacely starts accusing George of all kinds of crap. Rosey hears enough, crowns Spacely with a pipeapple upsidedown cake and tells him off. Then, for the first time, Spacely fires Jetson and storms out. “Some free home demonstration. It didn’t cost a thing. Except my job,” says George. But Rosey decides she must leave because the Jetsons now can’t afford her. Sound editor Joe Ruby plays the Hoyt Curtin sad clarinet cue in the background; it’s the one heard in the episode where George bids farewell to his family before he and Astro take it on the lam. Everything ends well, though. Spacely’s had a change of heart, rehires Jetson, gives him more money and invites himself to dinner again. George spots Rosey at a bus stop, zooms over her and collects her in his space car, and brings her home. It’s the only possible ending. Marx Toys had signed a deal to make Rosey toys; how can they get free advertising on a show for the toy when Rosey’s not on it? (No wonder she’s in the closing credit animation).

Alex Lovy was the story director for this cartoon but I don’t know who handled the layouts. Whoever it was tried to get away from the stare-straight-at-the-stage perspective in almost every Hanna-Barbera cartoon. One scene has a looking-through-the-window perspective. A couple have a character in the foreground talking to a character in the background. And there’s one overhead angle.

23 more Jetsons episodes were made. But the series didn’t get renewed by ABC; we mentioned on the blog some time ago that Joe Barbera was quoted as saying Jane would likely have a baby in the second season. The problem was something that ad agencies were starting to pay attention to—demographics. The series had been sold to three sponsors, two of them (Colgate and Whitehall Labs) were represented by Ted Bates and Co. Bates worked out what was then a unique contract: The Jetsons was required to deliver a minimum of 15 million adults per average commercial minute for the first 26 weeks or Bates’ clients would have to be compensated with commercial time during the show (Colgate was only signed for 26 weeks). It wanted to assure clients the audience for the series wasn’t just kids and teenagers. (Sponsor magazine, May 7, 1962).

The Jetsons didn’t meet the demographic target number. No doubt that scared any potential big-money clients from investing in the show in prime time. So it was The Jetsons moved the following season to reruns on Saturday morning, where advertising air-time was cheaper. Marx Toys quickly picked up sponsorship.

We’ve now reviewed all 24 Jetsons episodes. It’s a hit and miss show but I still like it. The futuristic inventions and settings were pretty creative. Some of the stories were very good; my favourites are probably the first Uniblab episode and when an uninterested Elroy got his own TV show. Astro was a good comic relief character. The voice work was always tops. Hoyt Curtin and his arranger came up with some unique keyboard music. But the animation was pretty tame much of the time and the whole “Vice President Jetson”/“Jetson, you’re fired!” shtick got tiring. I suppose it could have been worse. The show could have added a furry space alien pet and . . . Oh. Yeah.

The fact the characters are still being used today shows The Jetsons are still popular. The critics in 1962 were a little bit wrong. It turns out The Jetsons was more than an inversion of The Flintstones. It was a solid concept that has stood the test of time.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Flintstones Weekend Comics, November 1967

Ever wonder who invented the pizza? Easy. It was Tony Rockolino. Well, according to whoever wrote a Flintstones newspaper comic 50 years ago this month.

And who would have thought that Fred was a real letch when Wilma’s not around? We discover that in this month’s comics as well, brought to you in colour from the archive of Richard Holliss.

Actually, we’re fortunate Richard was able to supply the November 5th comic as you would get the full effect of that great final panel in black and white. The nighttime blue and black in the background highlights the predicament Fred and Barney are in in the foreground. A great use of colour. This is the only time Betty and Barney appear this month.

Oh, that Fred. Uptight over that ‘60s music. Okay, 1,001,960s B.C. music. And music lyrics included “Ooblee, Ahblee.” I guess that’s a Othnielosaurus-era “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” And who would have guessed ABBA was around back then, except their name was spelled a little bit differently. The November 12th comic doesn’t specify what toppings were on the first pizza. Paleolithic Pineapple, I suspect.

Fred displays a keen interest in young women with seven-inch waists in the November 19th comic.

Women drivers! Chuckle, chuckle! The November 26th comic has cameos by Dino, Pebbles and niece Annie in the top row. Note the erupting volcanos in the background of some of the panels. Can you hear this music as Wilma is driving?

Click on any of the comics for enlargement. We’ll see if Santa Claus shows up in the Stone Age again next month.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Snagglepuss in Be My Ghost

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – C.L. Hartman, Layout – Walt Clinton, Backgrounds – Neenah Maxwell, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, Harum – Daws Butler; English Passenger, Scarum – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss is heckled by two ghosts in an old castle.

One of the little bits of business I liked when I first watched Hanna-Barbera cartoons 55-plus years ago were the little ghosts that rolled up like window shades and disappeared. Mike Maltese came up with Harum and Scarum (or is it “Harem” and “Scarem”?) for an early Snooper and Blabber cartoon (Real Gone Ghosts, 1959). He’s brought them back to tangle with Snagglepuss and about the only difference in Scarum is played now by Don Messick instead of Elliot Field.

This cartoon reminds me a bit of a short Maltese wrote at Warner Bros., The Wearin’ of the Grin (released in 1952) where clueless Porky Pig looks for emergency shelter and meets up with two heckling leprechauns. That one was a bit darker, thanks to its “Red Shoes”-like subplot.

Here’s one of the ghost roll-ups. C.L. Hartman is the animator. I like what he does with Snagglepuss’ fingers.

Snagglepuss tries it himself. “Exit, Olde English style, stage left.” He fails. “I guess I’m not olde English stylish enough to do it.”

The ghost aspect enables Maltese to add impossible bits of business and some corn. He digs out the old “walk this way” gag with the ghosts upside down and in the air. “Walk that way?!” he tells us. “If I do, I’d break a clavicle or sump’in.” One of the ghosts invites Snagglepuss to dinner and asks him to carve the chutney venison on his plate. Our hero launches into a version of “A rib or two will do” (to the theme of “A Hunting We Will Go”)—by the way, there’s a really bad music edit when the scene changes—and it turns out he’s carving the other ghost, who pops into visibility to complain then pops out again. (“Heavens to mint sauce!” exclaims Snagglepuss). Then the ghost offers Snagglepuss a hot buttered cider which is invisible. We hear a crash sound. Snagglepuss’ eyes turn to us. “I distinctively heard the tin-kle of breakin’ glass. (looks at his hand) And yet I saw no glass. (looks at audience) But I heard the tin-kle.” Snagglepuss still hasn’t figured out the castle is haunted.

Now the ghosts play some more head games. Scarum comes bounding in, saying “the king approach-eth” and looking for his enemy Sir Guy of Goon. Harum pretends to be the king. Scarum points to Snagglepuss, claiming he is Sir Guy of Goon. The king brings down his axe but Snagglepuss zooms out of the scene before he can be split in half. But he returns. “Say! What are you tryin’ to do? Part my hair down the middle all the way? Ruin the tourist trade? Cause an international inciden-n-n-n-nt? How about it if I went to 10 Downing Street and lodged a complaint? 11 Upping Street, even.” Snagglepuss returns wearing a helmet and carrying an axe, ready to fight. “Marquis of Queensbury Bridge rules, of course...Then let’s have at it. Odds fish, zounds, and all that King Arthur jazzarooni!” The “king” bashes Snagglepuss on the head.

The “n-n-n-n-nt” Daws uses, by the way, is borrowed from vaudeville comedian Benny Rubin. I’m sure others did it as well.

Snagglepuss rushes outside to safety. But, no, Harum and Scarum pop into the scene. “Heaves to Houdini!” How could they do that, enquires our hero. They explain they’re ghosts. Snagglepuss shows that he has spent some time watching Casper cartoons as he exclaims “G-g-g-ghosts?” Snagglepuss runs off, but not before some mismatched shots. These are consecutive frames. There isn’t even a wooden door in the second frame, let alone Snagglepuss’ hands against it.

“Exit, screamin’ in terror, stage right!” Snagglepuss jumps in the ocean he emerged from at the start of the cartoon and starts swimming as the iris closes.

We mentioned before about mismatched shots. There are other examples. Here is one. This is a pair of consecutive frames.

Neenah Maxwell is the background artist. We’ve posted her work from the cartoon before on the blog, but here are some of the frames.

Daws Butler has fun with “Worcestershire” as Snagglepuss, while he gives Harum a kind of Ed Wynn voice he used for Wally Gator. Don Messick’s laugh for Scarum evokes a certain cartoon great dane of later years.