Thursday, 27 August 2020

Joe Ruby

His first credits at Hanna-Barbera were as a film editor. You see one to the right from the “Elroy’s Mob” episode of The Jetsons. And if the screen credits still existed, you would see his name on the debut episodes of The Flintstones and Top Cat.

Joe Ruby has died at the age of 87.

A film editor is someone who splices sound effects and music into the soundtrack of a cartoon. That’s what Ruby was hired to do when he arrived at the studio around 1959, joining a team including Greg Watson, who was part of the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM, and Warner Leighton. But he wanted to be a writer, so he was also entrusted with coming up with some of the ideas for the little cartoons that were between the cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear shows, along with another chap named Ken Spears.

I suspect anyone reading this knows that Ruby and Spears ran up a huge pile of credits at Hanna-Barbera and then at their own studio that they set up in 1977. Perhaps their lasting legacy was the creation of one of animation’s biggest franchises starring a cowardly Great Dane (originally named “Too Much,” according to Ruby) and some meddling teenagers solving mysteries. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted on CBS in 1969 and continues to appear in some way, shape or form more than 50 years later.

Spears once told writer John Culhane in 1969: “Joe and I have adapted. We can write adventure or go funny. We’ve just finished 17 ‘Penelope Pitstops.’ Actually, the traps in ‘Penelope’ are more violent than anything we had in Gulliver—but in comedy you can take it with a grain of salt. If it’s adventure, you accept it as real, even though it’s a cartoon.”

Ruby seems to have been interviewed only rarely. He faced reporters in 1986 while trying to explain his studio’s animated Rambo mini-series would not have anyone get hurt and John Rambo would actually help earthquake victims and children in need.

You can find a fine remembrance of Joe Ruby from someone who actually knew him, producer/artist Mark Evanier, on his web site.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Astro By Nicholas

If you’ve visited our sister blog, Tralfaz, you’ve seen the masthead with the Jetsons’ Astro (né Tralfaz) on a circular dog-walk treadmill. It comes from Millionaire Astro and is one of a pile of scenes drawn by one of my favourite Hanna-Barbera animators, George Nicholas.

Nicholas arrived at the studio from Disney where he had worked on shorts. Before that he was an animator for Walter Lantz.

The original H-B animators could be pretty distinctive and came up with some funny poses. Unfortunately, as the studio added more and more work, the animation got more and more lacklustre. Still, Nicholas did his best. He loved beady-eyed, wavy-mouth expressions and you can see it in this cartoon.

I haven’t determined how much he animated—I’m not good at picking out H-B animators after about 1960—George Goepper and Bill Keil also handled scenes in this cartoon. But let’s look at part of the last third.

First up, Astro runs into a park, begging Elroy to save him from the dog catcher. Nicholas liked drawing cashew shapes for partially closed eyes. And he goes in for bending the muzzle and flopping down an ear to add to the expression.

Astro is shocked in court.

A defeated Astro is taken away by J.P. Gottrockets, who has been awarded the dog by a Jury-Vac (Gottrockets must be a futuristic J.P. Gottrocks from The Flintstones.

Astro’s expression after learning he will, here forth, be known as Tralfaz.

Here he is on the dog walk.

An in-between of him upset that he’s not at home with the Jetsons.

And angrily chasing Gottrockets.

You can read more about George Nicholas in this post.

As for the name Tralfaz, it had been imported by Mike Maltese from the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. The word had been used there, but dated back even further to Cliff Nazarro’s double-talk act. Read more here and in this follow-up post.

Astro, was more or less, created by Tony Benedict. Iwao Takamoto designed the dog first, then Tony jumped in to create stories for him and give him his personality. Tony was also the creator of Alfie Gator in the Yakky Doodle cartoons and had a hand in the evolution of Hairbrain Hare to Touché Turtle (Hanna-Barbera was never a place to waste ideas so Hairbrain was the basis for Ricochet Rabbit). Tony worked on the last of the Huckleberry Hound cartoons and is still with us. He has a book coming out which we’ll let you know about in good time.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Hanna-Barbera Birthday Did-You-Knows

63 years ago today, some forms were signed by George Sidney, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera creating what eventually became the biggest TV cartoon operation in the world.

This is the birthday of H-B Enterprises, the original corporate name for Hanna-Barbera.

Sidney was more than a silent partner. Besides being the president of the Directors Guild of America at the time, he helped broker the deal with Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems division to produce the studio’s first effort—Ruff and Reddy in 1957. It was a rarity at the time—a new cartoon show on Saturday mornings (some of the cartoons were old Columbia theatricals). H-B went on sign with Kellogg’s to put The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Quick Draw McGraw Show in syndication. Both were nominated for Emmys in 1960 and Huck won.

By this time, Hanna-Barbera had inked a contract with ABC to provide it with an animated series in prime time, The Flintstones.

This old blog has been put out to pasture but I have decided to post some trivia as a way to mark the day the studio started.

We mentioned the Emmys. The awards show resulted in a special broadcast of the Huck show. Kellogg’s, it seems, put up the cash to buy the 5:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday time slot on June 5, 1960 and took out ads urging members of the Television Academy to tune in. The Los Angeles Times called it “a special show” in its TV listings that day but it doesn’t reveal whether it was a broadcast put together with references to the Emmys or new cartoon footage.

The year after Huck’s Emmy win, he and Yogi Bear became the first animated characters to appear on an Emmy telecast. They starred in a little sketch making fun of how Neilsen ratings were tabulated. We wrote about it in this post. The broadcast was on May 16, 1961. But there was an earlier special appearance by the pair on TV. The Hollywood Reporter of February 14, 1961 revealed:

Three of TV’s top animated stars—Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw—will join the rapidly increasing list of “human” stars appearing on Sunday’s “Stop Arthritis Telethon” over KTTV, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Three special sequences featuring the Hanna-Barbera characters will be shown during a children’s section of the telethon.
Oh, if only the animation were discovered wherever what’s left of the studio’s archives are.

Hanna-Barbera’s TV cartoons aren’t exactly known for Disney-like fluid animation. Yet they were treated like Disney and other theatrical shorts on occasion. The Hollywood Reporter of May 23, 1960: “A segment of Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Huckleberry Hound’ TV series will represent the U.S. in the Journees du Cinema d’Animation festival in Paris, June 1-Aug. 15.” The trade paper dutifully reported on June 2nd: “Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Huckleberry Hound,’ U.S. entry in the Journess du Cinema film-animation festival in Paris, has won three gold medals in the following categories: (1) most original cartoon characters, (2) best original story, (3) best animation.”

We’ve had a few posts here about Hanna-Barbera on record. Greg Ehrbar is the undisputed expert on this subject and you can read his fine and detailed research at Jerry Beck’s web site. Originally, H-B characters appeared on Colpix Records (short for Columbia Pictures). Hanna-Barbera later started its own label but simultaneously, the studio signed a deal with New York-based Golden Records. Unfortunately, Daws Butler and Don Messick were signed to an exclusive contract with Colpix so the Golden Records had to do with phoney baloney imitations of the characters. Frankly, some are pretty lousy. You can listen to some of them with the otherwise fine actor Gil Mack in this post.

There’s a reason Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera put up with the not-so-soundalike versions. As Fred Flintstone once put it: “Do-re-mi-money.” Here’s the Hollywood Reporter again, from November 16, 1961:

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have been awarded a gold record from A.A. Records, Inc., producers of Golden Records, “in recognition of the sale of over 1,500,000 Golden Records featuring their Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear” characters. Hanna-Barbera’s latest record release by Golden Records is “Songs of the Flintstones,” featuring the voices of The Flintstones, Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet.
Evidently, some kids had more of a tin ear than I did as a child, or a larger tolerance level.

One thing Hanna-Barbera had in common with Disney—besides some employees who worked for both—was a belief that there was a ton of money to be made in licensed marketing. Screen Gems had a whole department devoted to it led by “Honest” Ed Justin. I’d have to go back through the pages of the blog to see when it began, but the Knickerbocker stuffed toys you see to the right date from 1959. (Humpf! Li’l Tom-Tom was acceptable but Yowp wasn’t. Humpf again, I say). Huck was coloured red, but as stations at the time were broadcasting the series in black and white, it likely didn’t look strange. You can click on the picture for a better view.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to Hanna-Barbera. Just think of the countless hours of entertainment that wouldn’t exist if Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and George Sidney hadn’t put their cash together and jump into the new field of cartoons especially for television.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Musings About Muse

The cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear shows were, as layout artist Bob Givens recalled, 500 feet (without titles, I presume). He also recalled Ken Muse was the footage king. Muse would animate a whole cartoon in one week, 100 feet a day. Compare that to 35 feet a week at Fleischers, and that was considered a high figure.

Muse had been animating Mickey Mouse at Disney before he went over to MGM. He did some terrific work there; his animation of the hoity-toity Tom approaching and sitting down at the piano in Cat Concerto and the bee attack reaction on Tom in Tee for Two are excellent. Certainly he didn’t dash out that footage. But at Hanna-Barbera, rarely was his posing or animation expressive. For television, he relied on short cuts which began to epitomise the studio.

Here are some examples from the Pixie and Dixie cartoon Mouse Nappers (1959). First, we have a walk cycle animated on twos (each drawing is shot twice). Neither cycles nor animating on twos were unusual in the theatrical days. But in this case, director Bill Hanna has the background move very slightly behind each camera shot, enhancing the feeling of movement when the drawing is actually static. The arm, head and mice are rigid, only the body moves.

There are whole scenes at Hanna-Barbera consisting of several dozen frames where characters that are immobile except for eye blinks and very slight mouth movements. All dialogue is done off camera. This is a good footage eater because nothing is really happening. It’s also why Daws Butler and Don Messick were so important to the early cartoons. Their voices had to carry these scenes.

Here’s a dialogue example. Jinks doesn’t move. The only thing that changes are a few mouth positions that Muse uses over again for various vowels and consonants. You’ll notice the two-part upper lip. Muse drew his characters like that at MGM, too.

To make Jink look less static, our old friend the eye blink returns. Muse has open, half-open and closed positions only. The half-open is shot on twos.

As a side note, animator Mike Lah slid the mouth around a character’s face in odd geometrical shapes. His characters didn’t look as sophisticated as Muse’s but he animated extreme drawings which are far more funny to look at than these.

Here’s a six-drawing run cycle. See the curved greyish lines above the legs? Muse does this because the body shapes are on separate cels from the legs. The three body cels are reused to match how the legs are lifted on the left and right side of the meece bodies. Body position 1 is used in drawings 1 and 4, body position 2 in drawings 2 and 5, and body position 3 in drawings 3 and 6. Something difficult to tell below is the meeces are higher in the frame in some shots than others, enhancing the movement.

It’s an awkward description but I hope you get my point.

When you’re churning out footage, niceties such as having the characters in the same position when a shot changes from close to medium are tossed out. That takes planning. Planning takes time. Time slows down the footage count. Here are two examples. These are consecutive frames. The backgrounds don’t even match.

This is one of 66 cartoons made in the first season of the Huck show. Muse animated 29 of them (with assistance by Lah on some). I understand he was paid by the foot, so you can’t blame him for trying to maximise his footage. But, and it’s an age-old lament, you can’t help but wonder how much better the cartoons might have looked if there had been more time to work on them. On the other hand, kids, teenagers and adults laughed at them anyway and made the Huck show a brief, Emmy-winning, cult favourite through the late ‘50s.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Yogi Bear Becomes a Star

Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle can thank Hank Saperstein for the boost in their careers.

In June 1960, a deal was being firmed up between Kellogg’s and Saperstein’s UPA. Variety reported on August 10th the two had a seven-year pact that would see $3,000,000 spent in the first year to put a half-hour Mr. Magoo show on 150 stations, the same as the cereal maker did with the Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw shows for Hanna-Barbera.

But then Saperstein pulled out. He thought he could get a better financial deal going it alone. And Hanna-Barbera was ready. Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter told readers in their October 12th editions that Kellogg’s had agreed to sponsor a half-hour Yogi Bear show on 130 stations starting in January 1961, and Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle would augment the new series.

Yogi’s jump to stardom should not have been a surprise. Yogi was slowly but surely taking the spotlight away from Huck as H-B’s main starring character in syndication. The studio had already decided to make Yogi, not Huck, the star of its first feature film. Yogi was appearing in person (actually, someone in an outfit) at department stores, fairs, and so on. There was plenty of Yogi merchandise in stores and he was on a cereal box. On top of that, Huck didn’t get a syndicated newspaper strip in 1961; Yogi did. And another indicator—in October, Yogi was named chairman of the 1960-61 fund raising drive of the Radio-Television-Recording and Advertising Charities of Hollywood. (What he actually did, I don’t know).

As for Yakky, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had plunked the duck in Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM, then brought him over to their own studio as an occasional character in more than a half dozen cartoons. He was ready for his own series (the only problem was his voice actor, Red Coffey, was on tour, so Barbera hired Los Angeles kids host Jimmy Weldon). And Snagglepuss had appeared on the Quick Draw McGraw show a number of times as an orange antagonist. He was clever with funny dialogue (George Nicholas did a fine job animating him) so he had real possibilities for his own segment.

The Yogi Bear Show began showing up in syndication on the week of January 30, 1961. Not all the cartoons were ready, so some were borrowed from the Quick Draw show for several weeks. Yogi continued to appear on the Huck show until the replacement Hokey Wolf cartoons were set to air.

Hanna-Barbera’s PR guru Arnie Carr started plugging away, working the media to get some ink. Hal Humphrey wrote a pre-debut column, while UPI’s Fred Danzig and Jack Gaver both banged out reviews. I’ve found another story from the Copley News Service, published January 28, 1961.

Smarter Than Average
Extrovert Yogi Bear Syndicated Across US


Copley News Service
HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 27— As his loyal followers always knew it would, being smarter than the average bear has at last paid off in tangible rewards for that blustering furry extrovert known to television as Yogi Bear. Forthwith, amid a fanfare from the trumpets, The Yogi Bear Show is syndicated across the land. This freshly spawned cartoon series evolved logically and inevitably out of Huckleberry Hound the show in which Yogi Bear has played second fiddle for the last 2½ years. Now he has emerged from the wings, a full-fledged bear-type star.
At Hanna-Barbera Productions— headed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara, two enterprisingly creative talents responsible not only for Yogi Bear and Hucklebery Hound, but Ruff n’ Reddy, Quick Draw McGraw and the Flintstones as well— the feeling had persisted for some time that Yogi Rear was ripe for bigger things. "Consider this," said Bill Hanna, a stocky onetime engineer now the partner in a booming $10,000,000 cartoon corporation, "Huckleberry Hound" had an island in the Antarctic named for him and he was tapped as mascot of the Marching and Jazz Society in Hull England.
"BUT BRITAIN’S ENTRY in a recent International model plane race was named Yogi Bear. And a wing of our Strategic Air Command picked Yogi for its mascot. "Also consider this," put in Joe Barbera, the darkly handsome partner who once worked in a bank and despised every minute of it, "when Huckleberry Hound ran for president last year— he didn't do badly in certain animal precincts, by the way— who was his campaign manager? Yogi Bear."
In common with most creative brains in the animated cartoon dodge, Hanna and Barbera are— well, free souls, blithe nose-thumbers at conventional procedure. For example, interoffice memos are expressly forbidden in their studios.
"If a man dreams up an idea he can barge right into our office," explained Barbera, adding pointedly that no such easygoing policy prevailed in their days at M-G-M. "By the time a producer there had got your memo and sent back his memo and you finally were permitted into the hallowed sanctum of his office, you'd forgotten what you wanted to say in the first place. So, no memos."
FOR SOME 20 YEARS, Hanna and Barbera were teamed at M-G M where their fertile imaginations gave birth to the cat and mouse cartoon series, Tom and Jerry, which brought the studio seven Academy Awards. In 1957 they turned to television writing continually expanding success story, with the new Yogi Bear show being the latest chapter.
There are times when Yogi's fans imperturbably criss-cross the thin stand dividing fancy and reality. Not long ago in a gesture of appreciation, Yogi Bear was awarded a certificate by the superintendent of Yellowstone Park— not Ranger Smith, but the actual superintendent in the real Yellowstone Park— for being “an upstanding example for bears all over the world.”
However, in his notation, the superintendent saw fit to add slyly: "But I'm sure glad that Yogi Bear doesn't live fulltime in my park."

There were things to like on The Yogi Bear Show. Hanna-Barbera always seemed to come up with enjoyable openings and closings for its series. Yogi was no exception. I’ve always liked how Yogi drove the ranger’s jeep into the Kellogg’s billboard. Mike Maltese gave Snagglepuss some lovely twists of phrases; of course, Daws Butler’s voice work was outstanding as usual. Yakky had reasonably solid comic villains in Fibber Fox, who spent most of his time talking to the home viewer, and Alfie Gator, who parodied the format of the Alfred Hitchcock TV show introductions and conclusions in a pretty amusing way, courtesy of writer Tony Benedict. (It must have been daunting to be a young guy trying to keep up swimming in the same writing waters as Maltese and Warren Foster, two of the all-time greats).

Still, the starring Yogi jettisoned the spot gags and sight gags of the earlier Huck show Yogi. Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons were starting to become dialogue heavy, with characters standing around, with mouths moving on rigid bodies while a character being spoken to blinked his/her eyes to break the monotony. How much more interesting visually they would have been if Mike Lah (concentrating on commercials at Quartet) and Carlo Vinci (moved over to The Flintstones) were still animating the cartoons like they did when Yogi was still with Huck.

We all know that H-B characters ran past the same tree or lamp over and over and over again. Here’s an endless loop from the Yogi show. It’s from Whistle-Stop and Go, a Yakky cartoon animated by Columbia and Warner Bros. veteran Art Davis. It takes 16 frames for Dick Thomas’s background to repeat, with Fibber on an eight-frame run cycle. What I didn’t notice until I put this together is Davis slightly animates Fibber’s whiskers and top hair strands. That kind of thing would have been skipped in the later “faster, cheaper” years.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Julie Bennett

She was a favourite of Jack Webb in Dragnet. She turned up on I Love a Mystery and co-starred in Grand Central Station and Whispering Streets on radio. And in November 1955, The Hollywood Reporter revealed she had made the acquaintance of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who signed her as “Mrs. Q” for the Tom and Jerry cartoon Tom’s Photo Finish.

Evidently, the cartoon producers liked her. When they got their own studio, they signed her to be the voice of Cindy Bear.

Now, actress Julie Bennett has been claimed by complications of Covid-19. She died on March 31st at age 88.

Bennett acted in cartoons through the 1980s and then pretty much disappeared. Various sources have revealed what happened. She changed her name to Marianne Daniels and became a personal manager.

Her third cousin has written stating her father was Beverly Hills realtor George Gordon Bennett and her mother’s name was Harriet. Her grandmother was Isabella "Bella" Block Abels. The four of them moved from Lake George, N.Y. to Los Angeles in October 1932 several months after Julie was born on January 24th. Her father changed the family name upon arrival in California. The 1930 U.S. Census reveals Belle Abels living with her daughter Harriet and son-in-law George S(amuel) Israel; the family was in the restaurant business. The ship’s manifest documenting their arrival on the West Coast shows that Julie’s name was Barbera. They returned to the Lake George for several years as that is where the 1940 Census puts them.

Her first voice for the Hanna-Barbera studio was not Cindy, though that was her biggest role for the studio, considering she appeared in the feature film Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear. To the best of my knowledge, the first time she worked for the studio was in the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon Masking For Trouble (1959) as Sagebrush Sal. Prior to that, Daws Butler or Don Messick did almost all the female voices in falsetto. Barbera was looking for new actors when the studio expanded to put Quick Draw on the air, and among the hires were Bennett and Jean Vander Pyl.

Cindy’s voice owed something to Shirley Mitchell’s Leila Ransome on The Great Gildersleeve; I think both characters used the phrase “I do declare!” (Mitchell admitted she borrowed her Southern belle accent from Una Merkel).

Bennett worked for other cartoon studios as well. She provided a few voices for Warner Bros. and filled in for June Foray at the Jay Ward studio on the “Fractured Fairy Tale” cartoons. She turned up at UPA as well.

I hate to do a tally, but it appears Elliot Field is the only voice actor left from the pre-Flintstones days (1960); Jimmy Weldon came on board as Yakky Doodle in cartoons that aired starting in 1961.

She began acting in 1947 at the Oliver Hinsdell Studio of Dramatic Art in Hollywood and quickly went into radio. You can read a few old posts about Miss Bennett by clicking here.

My thanks to reader Luu Hoang for alerting me to the media reports about this, and my sincere sympathies go to her friends.