Wednesday 27 January 2010

Meet George Jetson — The Other One

Two generations have grown up with The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Top Cat, so it’s hard to think of them as looking or sounding any different than they do today. However, you’ve read on this blog about how Michael O’Shay was to portray Top Cat, and how Bill Thompson and Hal Smith were the original Fred and Barney (with June Foray as Betty). Surely not all the early half-hour shows were plagued with voice casting problems, right? George O’Hanlon and Penny Singleton were perfect and therefore the first selections to play the leads in The Jetsons, right?

Nope. Afraid not.

Once again, Joe Barbera or Hanna-Barbera producer Alan Dinehart hired two well-known television actors with no experience in animation, only to shove them out the door and pick the people we know best in the roles.

So who was the first choice to star as George Jetson?

Would you believe Buddy Sorrell?

As incredible as it may seem, it’s true. Here’s a syndicated TV column, dated May 18, 1962:

Starring “voices” for the new “The Jetsons” animated cartoon series, now signed for Sunday nights on ABC-TV, will be Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll. Since they will be required to work only one day a week, Morey will continue as a regular on the Dick Van Dyke Show and Pat hopes to do the same on the Danny Thomas Show.

One has to wonder why Amsterdam would audition for a cartoon, setting aside the money aspect. Mel Cooley may have had more hair follicles than the Van Dyke Show had ratings when it first went on the air, so maybe Amsterdam wanted a regular back-up gig. And one has to wonder what vision Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had of George Jetson at this point. Besides his Cooley-baiting banana role as Buddy on Van Dyke, Amsterdam was known to audiences as a fast-talking nightclub club comic, radio game show panellist, and a variety show host in the days when television variety owed a lot to baggy-pants vaudeville acts. None of that seems to describe George Jetson. But, as anyone following the personal lives of “celebrities” today knows, what you see on camera isn’t usually what they’re like in real life.

A couple of days before Amsterdam’s signing for The Jetsons was announced, the Evening Sentinel in Holland, New York revealed the comic was coming to town, and gave a bit of his background thusly:

Morey Amsterdam Heads Saturday Variety Show
Morey Amsterdam has been a night club owner, concert cellist, writer and director, song recording artist, stage performer, orchestra side man, radio and television director, producer and star.
On radio and television, he established somewhat of a record with the amount of shows on which he starred. He began his professional career as a cello player then switched to gags. At one point in his career, he was doing so many shows a week the late Fred Allen was prompted to remark: “The only thing we can turn on in our house without getting Morey Amsterdam is the water faucet.”
He was born in Chicago Dec. 14, 1912, and his family moved to San Francisco when his father Max Amsterdam, first violinist for the Chicago Opera, joined the Symphony Orchestra there. Amsterdam was encouraged to study the cello and his proficiency with the instrument has proved invaluable as a comedy prop as well as a source of relaxation.
During World War II, he wrote material for stars who went on camp shows and then for two years worked the USO circuit himself, covering South America, China, India and Burma.
Describing his diverse activities, Amsterdam says, “I’m a song writer when my songs are sung, a gag writer when people use my jokes and a comedian when people laugh.” But proof of his popularity is evidenced by the fact that his radio and tv shows have always enjoyed high ratings.
Although his professional life is almost hyper-active, he still finds time to spend with his family. He is married to Kay Patrick, a professional model. Their son, Gregory, is beginning to follow in his father’s footsteps — much to Amsterdam’s delight.
Aside from his family, and professional interests, Amsterdam has only one real hobby. He is an avid photography fan and has every gadget known to a shutterbug. He neither smokes or drinks and his excellent taste in clothes was acknowledged by the Custom Tailors Guild which listed him among the 10 best dressed men in America.

It’s telling, perhaps, nowhere in the story is any mention of his TV show that is undisputeably one of the classics of television history.

It certainly would have been a different kind of Jetsons if Amsterdam had been cast with fellow Van Dyke wisecracker Rose Marie (and Carl Reiner as an Alan Brady-esque Mr. Spacely), but H-B picked Carroll, who had won an Emmy for Caesar’s Hour and was doing an awful lot of television at that time. Walter Ames’ column in the Los Angeles Times of June 27, 1954 reveals she had been writing and producing shows as a Civilian-Actress-Technician working for the United States Army, was a grad of local little theatre groups and then secretary to the head of the CBS sound department in Los Angeles, who encouraged her to go into comedy. And it seems Amsterdam and Carroll were a bit of a team at one point, as we witness in Janet Kern’s column in the Milwaukee Sentinel of June 23, 1960:

Morey Amsterdam...has more irons in the TV fires at the moment than majority stockholders in the networks...Amsterdam and comedian Pat Carroll are considering a revival of the great old radio show “Vox Pop.”

But the casting of Amsterdam and Carroll as Mr. and Mrs. Jetson didn’t last long. Less than two weeks after the news broke, a follow-up column of June 1, 1962 disclosed:

Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll have been forced off as “voice” stars of ABC’s new animated “The Jetsons” cartoon series. Too many sponsor conflicts, what with Morey being a regular on the Dick Van Dyke Show and Pat likewise on the Danny Thomas Show.
It didn’t take too long to re-cast the show. A newspaper clipping of June 29, 1962 has everything in its place:

New Animated Series Scheduled
The four principal voices of ABC-TV’s new animated series, “The Jetsons,” to be telecast in full color next fall, have been cast with George O’Hanlon signed to speak for George Jetson, Penny Singleton (“Blondie” in the old film series) as the voice of his wife Jane, Janet Waldo as their teenage daughter Judy, and Daws Butler as Elroy, the kid brother.
“The Jetsons,” a family situation comedy set a century or so in the future, is a creation of Hanna-Barbera Productions, creators of “The Flintstones” and “Top Cat.”

Considering Barbera has compared The Jetsons to the Blondie, it would seem only natural to hire the radio and movie actress who portrayed her. Ironically, O’Hanlon got the role after losing an audition for another role that had been re-cast—Fred Flintstone.

But this wasn’t the end of either Amsterdam or Carroll when it came to The Jetsons, as we see in a wire story the following year:

Cartoon Firm Sued by Two
LOS ANGELES, April 12—(UPI)—Actress Pat Carroll and comedian Morey Amsterdam filed $27,600 suit Friday claiming breach of their contract to do voice characterizations for a television cartoon series.
Miss Carroll and Amsterdam contended in their superior court suit that they entered into a contract last April 28 with Hanna-Barbera Productions to do voice characterizations for the “Jetsons” and were to receive $500 a segment—with a guarantee of 24 segments for 1962-63.
Both said the defendant, Hanna-Barbera, failed to use them for the voice work.

I haven’t been able to find if the case was settled out of court. But reader Bill Mullins found this wire story in the Oxnard Press-Courier, dated Jan. 25, 1965:

TV firm sued
LOS ANGELES (AP)—Comedian Morey Amsterdam and actress Pat Carroll are seeking $12,000 each from Hanna-Barbera Productions, charging the firm signed them to provide the voices for an animated television show called “The Jetsons”—but used their services only once, not 24 times as called for in their contracts.
The case went to trial Tuesday, Amsterdam and Miss Carroll said their contracts called for them to get $500 each for each of the shows, planned for the 1962-63 season.

This wasn’t the end of either Amsterdam or Carroll in the animation business, either. Amsterdam picked up and went over to UPA where he appeared in Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol and as a narrator in Gay Purr-ee (both 1962). And Carroll’s husky voice attempted to lend some class to such (fill in your own description) as A Pup Named Scooby Doo and Pound Puppies. She was also appropriately cast in a couple of Garfield specials and then got to play a bad-guy role when Disney tabbed her for Ursula in The Little Mermaid cash machine.

Amsterdam died of a heart attack in 1996, still acting to the end. Carroll remains with us, having traded quips with Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game, portrayed Shakespeare’s Falstaff and Gertrude Stein on stage, but never getting a chance to belt out ‘Bill Spacely Won’t You Please Come Home?’ Both brought lots of laughs for decades, both worked on TV productions Sheldon Leonard (Amsterdam on a show with a couple named ‘Helper’ and Carroll on a show with a couple named ‘Halper’) and both find themselves sharing a footnote in the 21st Century about a cartoon set in the 21st Century.


  1. I have always had the highest admiration for Pat Carroll and Morey Amsterdam. I grew up watching Pat on TV and game shows for years. Morey's many, many irons in the fire as a gag writer, Disc Jockey and his writing the lyrics to " Rum & Coca Cola ", and Andrews Sisters hit. But looking back, I couldn't imagine anyone but O'Hanlon and Singleton in those roles. The sound of O'Hanlon's " Mr. Everybody " voice and Singleton's bright, perky voice fit those least to me they did. Just as I couldn't see or should I say hear anyone but, Reed, Blanc, Vander Pyl and Benaderet in their Flintstone roles. I'm glad it all worked out the way it did. Morey will forever be ingrained in the hearts of many, as " Buddy Sorrell ".

  2. When Amsterdam was in negotiations on "The Jetsons", the future of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" was still very much up in the air -- the story goes that Sheldon Leonard had to travel to Cincinnati to get Proctor & Gamble to help him lobby CBS to keep the show on for the 1962-63 season. So Morey was probably covering his bases when he made the deal with Hanna-Barbera.

  3. J.L., yeah, it was mentioned in Center Square, The Paul Lynde Story that Lorillard had agreed to sponsor a Lynde sitcom in the Van Dyke timeslot until Leonard did a sell job and kept his show on the air.

    1. Wow...Lynde might have replaced his BYE BYE BIRDIE co-star on the small screen.

  4. That's J.L. and Yowp. During the " salad days " of "Nick At Nite ", they used to run little vinettes narrated by Bill St. James called; " Our Television Heritage ". They went on to say that Sheldon Leonard almost single handedly saved the Van Dyke show from being a one season memory. But, that's all I'll say. Don't want to stray from the Hanna-Barbera connection to this board.

  5. Pat Caroll played Miep Gies in "Freedoom Writers", a rae excellent role for her...the less of her 80s and 90s animaiton work IMO, the better. But she was great earlier. And of coruse Sheldon Leonard had them in "Dick Van Dyke" [Morey Amsterdam] and "Danny Thomas" [Pat Carroll]. She was the bad guy in the puppy excrement [ahem] called Pound Puppies...when I saw Buddy Sorrell, my mind was a blank reading the name, then I read down and remembered the actor and the name..and at the time of Jetsons Morey did do voices for the then current UPA Gay Puree [historically infamous now as "that production that got Chuck Jones fired for moonlightling"].

    Thanks for that hread..and I know who Daws replaced as Elroy, I'll just guess Janet Waldo was the only one planned for the role of Judy, or maybe all FOUR were not the first choices..I read where Michael O'Shea, cast originally as Top Cat as mentioned elsehwere in this blog, was up for George Jetson. And ironically as you mention, Yowp, George, along with Hal Smith and Daws Butler were up for Fred Flintstone and even wrote a few episodes of the Flintstones, notably a couple of the Gazoo ones in 1965-66.

  6. The role model for George Jetson was Wilbur Post from Mister Ed. Surprised they din't try to get Alan Young to audition. Jetson even looked like the Wilbur Post character.

  7. Wow...Lynde might have replaced his BYE BYE BIRDIE co-star on the small screen.