Saturday, 21 January 2023

High Hopes For T.C.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had high hopes for Top Cat.

The Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw shows were still attracting audiences in syndication. Both had been nominated for Emmys in 1960—and Huck won. The Flintstones had some critics pouting at the outset, but soon gained an audience. Now, cartoon studios were falling over themselves to put an animated show in prime time. ABC picked up Top Cat.

Considering all that, and the fact the series had plenty of the popular Bilko show mixed into its formula, it shouldn’t lose.

It was likely ABC that set up a junket for entertainment reporters to come to California and find out about its new shows for the fall season. Jim Downing of the Tulsa Tribune was one who took advantage of the freebie and got two columns out of his visit with Joe and Bill as they plugged Top Cat. The first column appeared on June 28, 1961, the next the following day.

It’s a shame the scan of Joe’s drawing of T.C. is poor, but you get the basic idea. The busted hat didn’t make the cut—probably too much pencil mileage involved. And he’s borrowing a sweater from Choo Choo.

FROM TIME to time from now on through the summer I’m going to tell you about the new shows which are scheduled to be introduced on the TV screen next season. I talked with stars and producers of some of them when I was in Hollywood this spring and got a line on a number of them.
You haven’t heard about most of these shows, so I can brag that what you are going to be reading will be real little old scoops on the TV writing gentry.
Let’s start out today with a real scoop. The picture you see here is “Top Cat," star of a coming cartoon series to be seen on ABC-TV this fall.
Joe Barbera, half of the cartoon team of Hanna-Barbera which produces "The Flintstones" among other popular pen-and-ink epics, picked at his lunch at the Tail O'Cock [sic] restaurant—I think that's in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and talked very happily about the success of "Flintstones" and the prospects for "Top Cat.”
"ITS A DAMON RUNYON kind of a yarn,” he explained, rubbing his blue jowls with a talented hand. (He looks pretty much like Fred Flintstone, if you must know.) “Top Cat is the leader of a gang of alley cats and he lives in a garbage can behind a bowling alley. He is trying to improve the standard of living of his pals, see?
“His buddies are Bennie the Ball, Choo-Choo, The Spook, Fancy Fancy and The Brain. He's a real operator—even has a telephone on the pole right by his garbage can. Sometimes his secretary answers it. . .”
“My, my,” I said. “Is he some kind of a nut?”
"WELL, YOU MIGHT SAY SO. He's a kind of an efficiency expert—efficient at conning the general public into supporting him in the style to which he has become accustomed. He— well, here's an example of how he operates: He blows his whistle, see? and times the other cats to see how long it takes ‘em to congregate. No excuses for tardiness."
I said it sounded like he was a Sgt. Bilko type.
“Yeah, that's the idea. In fact, we got one of Bilko's boys— Maurice Gosfield who did the Pvt. Dobermann part— to be the voice of one of the cats. He's Bennie the Brain.” [sic]
So I said that was fascinatin' —but what did Top Cat look like? Barbera took my notebook and scribbled rapidly with a pencil.
"There. That’s what he looks like. That’s the first time we’ve shown him by the way. I guess it’s all right to let you see him now.”
The ABC-TV publicity man who arranged the luncheon-interview was wringing his hands. "We were going to send Jim some nice drawings, glossy prints for good reproduction,” he said. “Later, that is."
“Oh, well, anyway, that's what Top Cat looks like,” said Barbera. "He doesn't have to use this sketch.”
LITTLE DID HE KNOW! MISS an opportunity to reproduce a real Joe Barbera original? From my own note pad? Ha! (I also am treasuring another pair of sketches he made, showing Top Cat’s garbage can-castle.)
Hold your breath until tomorrow and I'll tell you some more about Hanna-Barbera stones factory.

The second column refers to their first studio on Cahuenga, not the one fans would recognise. This was the “window-less bunker,” as layout artist Jerry Eisenberg referred to it. Bill and Joe kept bragging about “no time clocks or memos” but never gave the reason. The bunker was so small, people worked from home. Of course there were no time clocks there.

People are curious about the animating process, so the column gives a brief summary.

My knowledge of Top Cat has huge holes in it, but I don’t recall Barbara Nichols ever voicing a character, though I can see her being cast as Honeydew Mellon. Fans are not helped by the Top Cat DVD having the same end credits spliced onto every cartoon. This is the first time I’ve read that Daws Butler was supposed to voice one of T.C.’s gang. He had been up for the role of Top Cat after Michael O’Shea fizzled out, but Barbera decided Daws was voicing too many lead roles for the studio and hired Arnold Stang, an excellent choice.

BILL HANNA and Joe Barbera produce such pen-and-ink operas as "Ruff and Ready" [sic], "Huckleberry Hound,” “Yogi Bear,” "Quick Draw McGraw” and "The Flintstones” for the panting television public. Now they are working on “Top Cat,” the Bilko-type feline I told you about in Wednesday's column who starts on ABC-TV next season.
These two modest fellows— and they are just that, as nice a pair of guys as you'll ever meet— no longer draw the stuff themselves because they just can’t do that much work. They have a staff of 150 animators, sketch artists, background painters and technicians working like mad to get the strips out. But Bill and Joe still check every detail and either one is capable of filling in anywhere in the production line.
Hanna-Barbera Productions is housed in a couple of one-story buildings sprawled on a hillside at 3501 Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. From the outside the place looks about as impressive as a machine shop.
INSIDE, JOE AND BILL HAVE tiny cluttered, offices and their assistants have even tinier and more cluttered offices. Everything about the place seems miniature after seeing the vast halls of the Disney Studios. Every square foot of space is utilized and everybody works with somebody else's elbow in his ribs. H-B Productions simply has outgrown its quarters, but they're too busy to do anything about it.
"We used to turn out 48 minutes of ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons a year for MGM," said Barbera during a luncheon interview. "Now we do twice as much in a week — with half as many people.”
To do that, Bill and Joe have worked out a system which reduces animation to the simplest elements. Their characters don't breathe, for example. And, usually, if one is talking, nothing else is moving about him. Movement is kept to a minimum, in fact. That makes for fewer drawings, faster production.
I have before me as I write this a complete "cell" of a scene from a Flintstones episode. The background is painted (with ordinary house paint, by the way) on white cardboard. Fred Flintstone is walking along in front of his house. He is in three layers. That is, most of him is painted on one transparent sheet of plastic, but his feet are on a second layer and his mouth is on the top layer. To make him talk, all the work needed is to draw his mouth. For walking, merely his feet change. The background is moved slightly each "frame" to make it appear he is walking past it.
All cartoons are done in color, by the way, on the theory that eventually they will be televised in color and also can be adapted for movie theater showing throughout the world.
At the time I interviewed the boys, they did not know who would be the "voice" of Top Cat.
Now it has been decided to give the job to Arnold Stang.
Voices are important in the cartooning business. Dawes Butler [sic] is a busy man at H-B. He does the voice of Yogi Bear and of Huckleberry Hound and will do The Spook, one of Top Cat's buddies. Alan Jenkins [sic], Maurice Gosfield, Herb Vigran, John Stevenson [sic] and Barbara Nichols will contribute their voices to TC (Top Cat) characters.
THE HOURS KEPT BY and Joe and their methods for getting the job done are considered unorthodox even by Hollywood standards. There are no time clocks or memos. If an animator or artist feels he does his best work by coming in at night and working until dawn, that's fine with them. Through a profit-sharing plan, all the employes share in the H-B success.
With nothing but success ahead of them, Bill Hanna (who looks like Barney Rubble) and Joe Barbera can trace their luck back to Huckleberry Hound who started them on the road to the top in 1958. And above each of their desks is a picture of Huckleberry Hound shaking hands with them. The inscription says, “Thank You Huck.”

Top Cat and the other new prime-time cartoons of 1961 failed to get audiences and several retreated to Saturday morning reruns. Some fans say the series was Hanna-Barbera’s best in prime time. “Best” is always debateable, but T.C. and his gang had staying power, were revived on occasion and are still remembered today.

Wednesday, 14 December 2022

Ruff and Reddy at 65

Who would have thought a dog and cat that barely moved on screen would be the start of a TV empire?

It was on this date, 65 years ago, NBC aired the first Ruff and Reddy Show. It was a rarity, back then, for a Saturday morning. It contained brand-new, never-seen-before cartoons made especially for television.

We’ve written about the series a number of times (see the Topics tree on the right side of this page). To give you a capsule history:

• Rudy Ising claimed he went to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera at MGM in 1955 with the name and “the format” for the cartoon; they were originally Ising’s “Two Little Pups” at MGM. He sued after the series debuted (see The Hollywood Reporter, June 30, 1958).
• Ruff and Reddy were copyrighted on May 25, 1956 by Shield Productions. This was a company co-owned by Hanna without Barbera (see the U.S. Government Catalog of Copyright Entries and Keith Scott’s book The Moose That Roared).
• H-B Enterprises was registered on July 7, 1957 after MGM closed its cartoon studio. Layout artist Dick Bickenbach told historian Mike Barrier the MGM crew was working on Ruff and Reddy just before the closure.
• NBC buys the series from Screen Gems. The Reporter of Nov. 11, 1957 mentions the show will be in colour “with initial episodes taking them to outer space. Two first-run cartoons from the Columbia library will also be included.”

You can read more about all this, and the copyright episode dates in this post.

What was the first show like? We’re fortunate enough to have a review from Billboard’s Charles Sinclair in the issue of December 23, 1957. It also leaves a hint about one of the Columbia/Screen Gems cartoons that aired.

Ruff and Reddy (Net)
Host, Jimmy Blaine. Producers: Fred Hanna [sic], Joe Barbera. Director, Robert Holtgen. Utilizes cartoons, both new product and former theatrical shorts. A Screen Gems Production for NBC-TV. Sustaining.
(NBC-TV, 11-11:30 a.m., EST, Dec. 14)
“Ruff and Reddy is a slicked-up version of the kind of cartoon show which has often pulled high ratings at the local level when assembled by stations out of available cartoon packages. It may well repeat the same performance in its run on NBC-TV’s Saturday morning line-up.
The format was simplicity itself. Jimmy Blaine, complete with blazer jacket emblazoned with Ruff and Reddy characters on the pocket, gave the lead-ins and lead-outs to a pair of Screen Gems cartoons full of the usual slapstick chases, which in turn sandwiched a cliff-hanger cartoon about the adventures of Ruff and Reddy with space pirates.
Moppet dialers may have been pulled at the clincher in the first cartoon, where a seed-guzzling crowd [sic] stopped ruining a roof garden because it was a “Victory Garden,” but it at least firmly dated the cartoon for adults. A pair of contest plugs, involving Revell electric trains and a doll layout, looked for all the world like regular commercials, complete with “hard sell.”
Summed up: “Ruff and Reddy” should have lots for the tots.

The show wasn’t sustaining for long. Billboard of December 16th reported General Foods bought alternate weeks. The odd thing is Ruff and Reddy was opposite Mighty Mouse on CBS, which was also sponsored by General Foods.

The Columbia cartoon referred to in the review matches the description of “Slay It With Flowers,” a 1943 short starring the Fox and Crow.

The National Parent-Teacher didn’t review the show until its November 1959 issue, but seemed fairly positive about it, though the reviewer had trouble grasping the cliff-hanger aspect.

Ruff and Reddy. NBC.
This is a show designed for “children as children,” not as jet pilots, U.S. marshals, or space men. The scenes are those of Wonderland, the characters whimsical and elfin. Now and then some monster rears his fearsome head, but he’s too fantastic to give rise to more than a short, delicious shudder. Even the commercials manage to adapt themselves to the spirit of the entertainment less clumsily than in most shows where this is tried.
Many of the cartoon sequences have a quality of mystery and charm that suggest the famous Arthur Rackham illustrations for children’s books. Others, alas, are humdrum cartoon staples—not by the artist’s choice, we'll wager, and in future we hope this imaginative cartoonist may be given his head.
The characters have a fine time playing tricks with words (“Mr. Tall met Mr. Small in the hall—that’s all”). A child is sure to follow suit with a perseverance that may drive adults to distraction yet can lay a fine foundation for language skill. But we strongly recommend more caution with the word games. Bad English like “Who am I? You know whom,” “float as good as a boat,” and mispronunciations for the sake of punning (‘“genuwine hareloom,” “‘cat-astrophe”) can make impressions that will take years to come unstuck.
These elements are held together, after a fashion, by a host who is seen briefly with two talking birds—telling a riddle, rattling off amusing nonsense, or raptly reciting his commercials. We say “after a fashion” because the components of the show, delectable as they are, are thrown at the viewer in what appears to be utter confusion. It may go something like this: The birdman introduces a cartoon. The cartoon is interrupted by man-and-bird comment, which is interrupted by a commercial. Then we see another—and different—cartoon. Then there's more man-and-bird comment, with a commercial or maybe two commercials. After that we go back to the first cartoon, which is at last completed, though not without interruption by a song or two and another commercial. Perhaps this confusion doesn’t bother children. They may think that’s the way it is in life and art. But shouldn’t they be finding out that there’s such a thing as form—in art, however it may be in life—and that form begins with unity and continuity?
This lack of wholeness Ruff and Reddy shares with many of the children’s shows, especially those that include cartoons. But surely it is one program that can maintain itself on a higher level. It provides more than passive entertainment for children. It is a show that can teach a child to flutter the wings of fancy. Let it teach him to flutter them in rhythm as well as rhyme.

It didn’t take long for Screen Gems’ marketing people to pounce on the show for tie-ins. The Reporter of December 30 said the show “has already been franchised for a number of toy and clothing items on the basis of previews of the films.”

And it didn’t take long for H-B Enterprises to find a new enterprise. Variety of Jan. 22, 1958 mentioned 52 segments of Ruff and Reddy had been completed (the first four adventures of season one) but production had begun a week earlier on 78 segments for a new programme. Talks were underway with Screen Gems on a new series. It was The Huckleberry Hound Show, which racked up favourable reviews, a cult audience (at least in its first year) and an Emmy. Huck, more than Hanna-Barbera’s other drawling dog, gave the studio its major boost.

Now something for you “list” fans out there. Here’s what the Philadelphia Inquirer put in its TV listings for the first run of the first season. No Columbia cartoons are mentioned and there wasn’t a summary every week.

December 14, 1957
(Debut). Kiddies’ cartoon series.

December 21, 1957
Kiddies’ cartoon series.

December 28, 1957
“The Mad Monster of Muni-Mula.” Ruff and Reddy, that crazy cat and dog team, are told by Mr. Big Thinker that he is going to make robots that look like them for his invasion of Earth. “The Hocus Pocus Focus.” When Ruff and his robot-brained pal try to escape, the Thinker orders their return.

January 4, 1958
“Muni-Mula Mix-Up.” When Ruff and Reddy, the dynamic cat and dog, try to escape from the robots on the aluminum planet of Muni-Mula, they are caught by the ever-present Hocus Pocus Focus, which takes them to the Big Thinker, the planet’s leader. The pair, thinking they are sure goners, are surprised when the Big Thinker’s large metal head opens and out pops an unexpected guest.

January 11, 1958
“The Creepy Creature.” Ruff and Reddy, the adventurous cat and dog, held prisoner on the planet Muni-Mula, fall into good luck when they meet Professor Gizmo, who shows them the real master mind of the planet, a mechanical brain. “Surprise in the Skies.” Ruff, Reddy and Professor Gizmo are attacked by the whole Muni-Mula army of robots.

January 18, 1958
“Crowds in the Clouds.” Reddy is accidentally left behind when the adventurous cat-and-dog team, Ruff and Reddy, try to escape from the plant [sic]. Muni-Mula, on Professor Gizmo’s rocket ship. “Reddy’s Space Rescue.” As Reddy falls through Space, Gizmo saves him with his secret weapon.

January 25, 1958
“Rocket Ranger Danger.” After escaping from the aluminum planet, Muni-Mula, Ruff and Reddy, the adventurous cat and dog, and their friend Professor Gizmo, relax in their rocket ship. “African Adventures.” Ruff and Reddy start a new adventure when they agree to help Pinky the pint-size pachyderm, find his mom in Africa.

February 1, 1958
>“Last Trip of the Ghost Ship.” Ruff, Reddy and Pinky the pint-size pachyderm board the ship “Voodoo Queen” headed for Africa. “Irate Pirate.” The trio meet Cross-Bones, the tiny pirate captain who forces them into the brig.

February 8, 1958
“Dynamite Fright.” Ruff, Reddy and Pinky the pint-sized pachyderm escape from the ghost ship’s brig and are thrown into the ocean when the ship blows up. Their raft is attacked by a swordfish. “Marooned in Typhoon Lagoon.” To evade their attacker, Pinky blows a jet of air from his trunk. It propels them to the African shore.

February 15, 1958
“Scarey Harry Safari.” In Africa, Ruff is kidnaped by Harry Safari, the hunter, who uses him for bait. A lion saves him, but in turn is caught in a trap. “Jungle Jitters.” Ruff beats Harry to the trap and saves the lion. Ruff tricks the hunter into giving him his gun. he little cat aims at a rock. But it’s not a rock, it’s Pinky the pint sized pachyderm.

February 22, 1958
“Bungle in the Jungle.” Ruff mistakes Pinky, the elephant, for a rock, but the little elephant is saved when Reddy spoils his friend’s aim. Now it’s Harry Safari’s turn. He takes aim at Pinky, but is scared out of his wits by the friendly lion’s roar. “Miles of Crocodiles.” Ruff, Reddy and Pinky then try to cross a stream by floating some logs. But they’re not logs—they’re crocodiles.

March 1, 1958
“A Creep in the Deep.” Reddy is luckier than Ruff and Pinky the Pint-sized Pachyderm, who are caught on a crocodile-infested river. From a tree, Reddy swings his friends back to shore. “Hot Shot’s Plot.” Harry Safari finally tracks down the trio. He tricks the na├»ve Pinky into luring his mom toward one of Harry’s traps.

March 8, 1958
“The Gloom of Doom.” Pinky, the pint-sized elephant, realizes too late that he is trapping his mother. Ruff, Reddy and the friendly lion rush to her air, but they are soon at the mercy of Harry Safari.

March 15, 1958
“Introduction—Western Adventure.” Ruff and Reddy, the powerhouse cat and dog duo, embark on a western vacation when Reddy wins a limerick contest. They head for the Gran Canyon, but take a wrong turn, and wind up in the spooky ghost town of Gruesom Gulch. “Slight Fright of a Moonlight Night.” After meeting some of the frightening spectres who haunt Gruesome Gulch, Ruff and Reddy head for the sheriff’s office.

March 22, 1958
“Asleep While a Creep Steals Sheep.” Ruff and Reddy, the adventurous cat and dog, meet a long-haired sheep dog with a mystery to unfold. Hijackers have been rustling his flock without leaving tracks. Reddy masquerades as a sheep, hoping to catch the outlaws red-handed, but falls asleep on the job. “Copped By a ‘Copter.” Reddy, disguised as a sheep, is hauled into a helicopter by two desperadoes.

March 29, 1958
“The Two Terrible Twins From Texas.” Reddy, the canine half of the cat and dog team, Ruff and Reddy, has been kidnaped by two fierce outlaws who think he’s a sheep. They discover his identity, and whisk him away in their helicopter before his pal, Ruff, can come to the rescue. “Killer and Diller.” The notorious outlaws, Killer and Diller, dream up a gruesome scheme for getting rid of Reddy. They fly him to Dead Man’s Mine, then send him rolling on his “last ride” in a runaway ore car.

April 5, 1958
“A Friend to the End.” Reddy, the drawling dog, is being hurtled to certain destruction in a runaway ore car, when his pal, Ruff, comes to the rescue. Then they head for the boarded-up shack where rustlers Killer and Diller have hidden the stolen sheep. “Heels on Wheels.” The walls of the old shack slide apart, and the outlaws speed out of the building. Ruff and Reddy decide to follow by helicopter, but there’s one small problem. Reddy, the pilot, has never flown before.

April 12, 1958
“The Whirly Bird Catches the Worm.” The heroic cat and dog team, Ruff and Reddy, use a helicopter to chase a pair of escaping sheep rustlers. When the outlaws stop for a quick lunch, Reddy swoops down on them, parking his ‘copter on the rustlers’ moving truck. “The Boss of Double Cross.” Reddy daring jumps from the helicopter to the roof of the speeding truck, but doesn’t realize there’s a tunnel dead ahead. He’s knocked out cold, and the outlaws make a bee-line for their headquarters, the notorious Double-Cross Ranch.

April 19, 1958
“Ship Shake Sheep.” Ruff and Reddy, searching for a flock of stolen sheep by helicopter, discover the hideout of the sheep-nappers, Killer and Diller. The helicopter is about to crash, but the quick witted sheep band together to spell out a warning to their rescuers. When Ruff and Reddy parachute to the ground, the rustlers are waiting for them. “Rootin’ Tootin’ Shootin’.” Reddy is talked into observing the “code of the west” and shooting it out with a killer. The outlaw reaches for his “12 gun” and gives Reddy a frightening demonstration of plain and fancy shooting.

April 26, 1958
“Hot Lead For a Hot Head.” Reddy, the awkward pooch, prepares to shoot it out with those notorious gunslingers, the Terrible Twins from Texas.

May 3, 1958
“Blunder Down Under.” Ruff and Reddy,” the adventurous cat and dog, dive into the ocean to catch a slippery seal, but encounter a strange metal monstrosity, which rises mechanically out of the sea.

May 10, 1958
“The Late, Late Pieces of Night.” Ruff and Reddy set out to sea on Professor Gizmo’s boat, the S. S. Leadbottom, but a strange submarine follows them all the way. They reach Doubloon Lagoon, and discover a sunken chest filled with pieces of eight. “The Goon of Doubloon Lagoon.” The diving bell, with Ruff and Reddy inside, is captured by mysterious magnetic rays from a phantom submarine. Our heroes are whisked off to Gruesome Grotto, a secret hideaway beneath the sea.

May 17, 1958
“Two Dubs in a Sub.” Ruff and Reddy, the foolhardy cat and dog, are tossed into a cell at “Gruesome Grotto,” the underwater hideaway by a pair of sea going swindlers, Captain Greedy and Salt Water Daffy. Their faithful friend, the seal, attempts to rescue them. “Big Deal with a Small Seal.” Ruff and Reddy, along with Professor Gizmo, are trapped in a cell—and the walls are moving in to crush them. But their pal the seal stops the torture device.

May 24, 1958
“A Real Keen Submarine.” Ruff and Reddy, the happy-go-lucky cat and dog, try to escape from Captain Greedy in the Captain’s own submarine, but Reddy and his slippery pal, the seal, are captured. The seal slides away from Greedy’s clutches, and the chase is on. “No Hope for a Dope on a Periscope.” Reddy is hanging onto the periscope of the submerging sub, but the seal comes to the rescue. He drags the water logged dog to shore just in time to encounter, once again, the giggling pirate, Salt Water Daffy.

May 31, 1958
“Rescue in the Deep Blue.” While Ruff, the feline half of the cat and dog duo, Ruff and Reddy, is forced to help Captain Greedy dig for sunken gold, his partner, Reddy, is held prisoner at Gruesome Grotto. Reddy makes his get-away, but he’s trailed by a dog eating shark. “A Whale of a Tale of a Tail of a Whale.” Reddy and his friend, the seal, come ashore on a small island, which turns out to be a big while. They hitch a whale-back ride to Doubloon Lagoon where Captain Greedy has Ruff doing his dirty work.

June 7, 1958
“Welcome Guest in a Treasure Chest.” Ruff, the spunky cat, thinks his partner, Reddy, the dumpy dog, has been swallowed up in the briny deep and continues to work for the pirate, Captain Greedy. But the shrewd seal, Ruff and Reddy’s slippery pal, has a plan for fooling the evil captain by hiding a sunken chest. “Pot Shots Puts Hot Shots on Hot Spot.” Captain Greedy and Salt Water Daffy steal the S. S. Leadbottom and load it with pirate gold—leaving Ruff and Reddy off on a desert island.

Here are two NBC news releases, one outlining reruns in season one and the other announcing the start of season two. You can click to enlarge them.

The Chicago Tribune published on October 4, 1958, the date of the last show in season one, listed the Columbia cartoon as Carnival Courage (1945).

NBC continued carrying the series for another two seasons, but the number of Ruff and Reddy cartoons was expanded from two to three. One newspaper’s listings for Saturday, October 18, 1958 gives the names of fourth, fifth and sixth episodes of the chickasaurus story, meaning the first three ran to start season two a week earlier. The Columbia cartoons may have disappeared. A network news release dated May 15, 1959 stated broadcasts of The Ruff and Reddy Show would begin in colour on June 6, 1959. It seems that was postponed until June 27th, according to a release dated June 2nd, which bragged about the colours on Jimmy Blaine’s puppets, Jose the toucan and Rhubarb the parrot.

Ruff and Reddy disappeared from the schedule after summer of 1960 but returned for the 1962-63 and 1963-64 seasons. You can read the release from NBC below. Note that Blaine was gone.

The last Ruff and Reddy show on NBC on Saturday mornings appears to have aired on September 26, 1964. The cartoons soon popped up in syndication, judging by TV listings in late 1964, including on KCOP Los Angeles with Bob Adkins as a host. Years later, American readers of a certain age will remember when cable television erupted, the cartoons appeared on Boomerang.

I’ve said a number of times I’m not a fan of the show and don’t recall watching it when I was a kid. Regardless, it does deserve some recognition for historical reasons, as well as some really good background art and music selection, but I imagine it’ll be yet another old H-B series that we won’t be seeing on home video.

Monday, 12 December 2022

The Cat Man

Newspaper cartoonist Feg Murray had a daily syndicated feature where he drew and profiled a celebrity.

Who would have guessed one of his subjects was cartoon writer Mike Maltese?

Here is the drawing from the Brooklyn Citizen of May 15, 1941 when Maltese’s cartoons were released by Warner Bros.

Yes, Ray Katz never directed a cartoon (though he was in charge of contracts for his brother-in-law, Leon Schlesinger, at the time), it’s debatable whether cats were a Maltese speciality, and I suspect he never used a typewriter to write a story, but it’s surprising to see a cartoon writer get recognition. Especially since Maltese didn’t work for Disney, and especially since Maltese had to fight his way into the Schlesinger story department (he related to historian Mike Barrier how Bugs Hardaway and the older writers tried to freeze him out in 1940).

Coincidentally, Variety reported on May 9, 1941 that Schlesinger had signed Maltese to a five-year contract as a story and gag man.

The Cat’s Tale was released March 1, 1941.

Maltese remained at Warners, writing some terrific cartoons for Chuck Jones, until 1953 when the cartoon studio was about to close and he jumped over to Walter Lantz Productions. When Warners re-opened the following year, Jones managed to get Maltese re-hired, and with a $50-a-week raise (“Unheard of,” remarked Mr. Maltese in a 1976 interview). He left for Hanna-Barbera in November 1958 as paisano Joe Barbera offered even more money. In his first year, he wrote all 78 cartoons on the Quick Draw McGraw Show, along with a Huckleberry Hound cartoon and another starring Yogi Bear.

The rest of the story is fairly straight-forward. Maltese worked for Chuck Jones off and on for the rest of his career, finally leaving Hanna-Barbera for good in 1971, indignant over interference by the networks in his stories. His last series for the studio was (I think) Funky Phantom (Didn’t the teenagers in that one own a sand buggy named “Looney Dunes”?).

His pre-Warners career at Fleischer and Jam Handy is related in Barrier’s fine book “Hollywood Cartoons” and Joe Adamson indispensable “Tex Avery: King of Cartoons.”

Maltese remains my favourite cartoon writer. He passed away in Los Angeles on February 22, 1981 at age 73.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

Quick Draw McGraw, the Psychological Release

The first Hanna-Barbera cartoon series were not only hits with viewers, but with critics and even watchdog groups.

A Catholic publication in March 1960 was complimentary about the H-B shows then on the air and quoted Joe Barbera about why he thought the cartoons were appealing.

A non-denominational publication akin to Reader’s Digest republished portions of the story. Here’s what the July 1960 issue of The Family Digest wrote. Note the original name of The Flintstones and the writer’s lack of knowledge of Jay Ward Productions.

Quick on the Draw
Condensed from The Catholic Preview of Entertainment

SOMETIME THIS year, a family known as The Flagstones will make their national television debut, tentatively set for the ABC-TV Network during the prime evening hours. Who are The Flagstones? They are a family of cartoon characters starring in the first full length half-hour animated series designed for adult viewing.
This newest television “first” marks a milestone in the long and successful partnership of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. For more than 20 years these two men have worked together to provide simple, honest and carefree humor for motion picture and television fans through the creation of such cartoon characters as Tom and Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Auggie Doggie and Quick Draw McGraw.
For Hanna and Barbera, The Flagstones complete the progression to more adult, satirical cartoons which began, almost accidentally, with Huckleberry Hound. Huck, as his many fans call him, was created primarily to keep the small fry amused, following in the footsteps of Ruff and Reddy and adventurous dog and cat team, the first H-B TV series for Screen Gems.
But Huck Hound’s hang-dog willingness to accept any herculean task and still come up smiling appealed to adults, who found his attitude admirable in a pass-the-buck age. College students across the nation began showering awards and honors on Huck, and many of them held special Huckleberry Hound Days on campus.
Sensing the value of this adult interest, the show’s sponsor, the Kellogg Company, ordered continuation of the series, which was the first half-hour television series consisting entirely of original cartoons. Hanna and Barbera quickly followed up with Quick Draw McGraw, a three-part series which spoofs television westerns, mysteries and situation comedies. Of course, the antics of McGraw, a gun-toting horse; Snooper and Blabber, cat and mouse detectives; and Auggie Doggie, the mischievous pup, keep the series alive with action the children love. But the adults see and enjoy the satire behind it all.
Now, with The Flagstones, Hanna and Barbera feel they have developed a new form of television entertainment. The series satirizes our way of life by dealing with the problems of a family living in the stone age, problems which could happen today. Mr. Flagstone drives a tractor, only it’s a dinosaur; the family car is made of stone.
“We think the popularity of our shows lies in providing a psychological release for human beings of all ages,” explains Barbera. “No one ever gets hurt despite clobberings and binding situations. We have tried to give the audience characters they can identify with themselves, then follow up with wild antics impossible to duplicate in real life. The adults have all taken to the satire while the children watch the programs for the face value of the action-packed story.”
Hanna and Barbera began working together over 20 years ago amid Hollywood’s famed atmosphere of jealousy, quarrelling and success at any price. They have found the success but have avoided the quarrelling. H-B Productions operates out of the world’s largest cartoon studio (a studio built by Charlie Chaplin) and is the only company turning out new and original cartoons especially for television consumption.
As Barbera puts it, “Everyone in the business predicted we would fall flat on our faces trying to do a half-hour cartoon show each week. Actually, careful planning makes it possible. For example, when the action calls for a character to change his facial expression, we save the body and simply draw another head. This way we use 80 percent fewer drawings to animate the story.”
Teamwork is also evident in the success of H-B Productions. The two men put in about 16 hours each, per day. They employ 150 artists and technicians in a 24-hour, round-the-clock operation.
Coordination, which can be difficult with so large a staff, is actually a simple matter; there are no vague memos, no closed doors, no time clock. Every worker knows his job and does it.
To the uninitiated, the job of “throwing together” a cartoon might seem like child’s play. Actually, the complicated and highly skilled technique boils down to this:
First the story is written, then a story board is made, composed of a number of rough drawings with the dialogue written underneath each square. Next, through the process of trial and error, the voice men develop the sounds for the cartoon characters.
The men begin working under a stop watch, until finally their voices are properly times and recorded. The recording and the story board go to the animators where action is matched to the sound. Scenic backgrounds are drawn, the penciled lines are “inked” in, a painter provides four color over-lays and then the finished drawings in color travel to the photographers. Altogether, 10,000 of these individual drawings are needed for a half-hour program.
The success of H-B Productions indicates that good wholesome laughter is marketable on television. At a time when charges of corruption, excess violence and lack of originality are being hurled at the entertainment industry, William Hanna and Joseph Barbara can be especially proud of their contributions to show business.

Thursday, 27 October 2022

The Life and Times of Yowp

Before he played a cowardly Great Dane that solved mysteries (I’ve forgotten the character’s name, Scrubby or something), and before he portrayed Astro on The Jetsons, what was the first dog Don Messick voiced at Hanna-Barbera?

No, the answer isn’t me! Actually, his first pooch was Woolly the sheep dog on Ruff and Reddy, who first appeared on TV on March 22, 1958.

But forget Woolly. Who’s birthday is it today?

That’s right. Mine. Though judging by George Jetson, fans can just make up their own birthdays for characters and people will swallow it without question so long as it’s on the internet.

It was on this date in 1958 that Foxy Hound-Dog aired on a number of stations where Kellogg’s bought time.

Lew Marshall is the main animator of the cartoon (although the two frames above are by Mike Lah) and he saves Joe and Bill some money by coming up with a few cycles that take up a little more than the first 30 seconds of the cartoon. Here is an endless cycle of my initial run in the cartoon. It takes 32 frames to go from one end of the background to the other. Marshall uses only three drawings; one is used twice to create a four-position cycle, animated on twos.

You’ll notice the inconsistent colour separation. The head/trunk are on one frame, the legs and ears are on separate frames.

The Yowp debut cartoon has a few things old-time animation fans will remember. There’s a variation of the log-over-a-cliff gag that Tex Avery and writer Dave Monahan pulled off in All This And Rabbit Stew (1941). You’ll remember it from other Warners cartoons. I must have seen that, or the Bugs/Elmer version, as I realise my fate. Even with limited animation, Mike Lah draws a nice little expression. Wile E. Coyote could not have done it better. I emit a forlorn “yowp” before plummeting.

The old drag act appears, too. I think this is the only time Yogi did drag. Unlike similar dress-ups by Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker, it isn’t being used to arouse and confuse but merely as a disguise. These two frames are consecutive. Hanna-Barbera was still employing pose-to-pose movement in its animation.

You’ll notice something else. Lah’s animation has my muzzle the same colour as the rest of my body. Marshall’s very is a sporty blue-ish grey. It could be whoever painted the Lah scenes didn’t get the correct colour chart.

There were three Yowp cartoons in all. Duck in Luck first aired on January 26, 1959, where the nemesis was the pre-Yakky Doodle duck, animated by Carlo Vinci. The final appearance came in the second season on Sept. 28, 1959 with Bare Face Bear, animated by Gerard Baldwin. By this time, Warren Foster was the sole writer of the Yogi Bear cartoons and a decision was made to permanently give Yogi (and Boo Boo) a home in Jellystone Park and Ranger Smith as a nemesis. “We’re going in a different direction,” they would say today, as I became unemployed (but that duck later got his own series. Drat!). It’s significant that neither Boo Boo nor Smith are in the final Yowptoon.

During the first year of the Huck Show, Hanna-Barbera marketed its characters, but since there were only five stars (Huck, Yogi, Pixie, Dixie, Jinks), secondary characters were included to round out things. Yes! There were Yowp toys and games at one time. Above is a Knickerbocker Roly Poly Target Game made in 1959. It came with a gun that shot corks and had some kind of tie-in with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

With that, I will wish myself a happy birthday. The blog is pretty much shut down but there are are still a few posts left in storage so we’ll try to get them published.

Saturday, 15 October 2022

Clean Getaway

“What are you doin’ with the soap?” ringmaster Huckleberry Hound asks Pixie and Dixie, in one of those little cartoons between the cartoons.

“It’s for Jinks. He’s chasing us,” says Dixie. We hear Jinks off camera. The meeces, with their elfin eyes, take off with a high step.

Jinks runs into the scene . . .

. . . Slides into the washing machine . . .

. . . And into the wash cycle. Check out some of the drawings of Jinks. Pixie and Dixie just move their mouths and an arm comes up; otherwise, they’re rigid.

The frames come from a 16mm black and white reel courtesy of Steven Hanson’s YouTube channel.