Sunday 28 February 2010

As Current As the Average Bear

Cartoon characters supposedly live forever but, realistically, they last so long as they achieve fame with each succeeding generation. That generally comes through exposure. Generally.

The cartoons I watched as a child aren’t ubiquitous on television as they were a generation or two ago, but the best of them are still known and loved. That includes some of the characters developed by Joe and Bill and their crew when they first went into television in the late 1950s.

If there’s any doubt, read the personal experience of one Mark Evanier, perhaps forever connected with Garfield the Cat, television version. Mark relates, on his blog, a recent trip to an elementary school. We’ll include the relevant portion:

I was telling them how when I was their age, I’d watch cartoons on TV or read comic books of the characters I saw on TV...and then I’d teach myself to draw those characters. One of the kids asked me what the first one was — and while I’m not sure it was, I said, “This one.” Then I turned to the whiteboard on which I was drawing and began sketching a Yogi Bear...about as well as I did when I was seven, I might add. As I started, I thought, “I wonder if they'll even know who this is.” Yogi’s not seen on Cartoon Network. He’s on Boomerang a lot but I don't know how many homes get that...and there are no comic books.

Well, I needn’t have worried. I was halfway through the drawing and everyone was screaming out, “Yogi Bear! Yogi Bear!” He was one of everyone’s favorite characters.

Yogi has a well-defined, likeable personality and was brought to life by talented people. He’s still popular with young ones, despite not very much exposure. It’s a shame a whole season of his cartoons (and those of Huckleberry Hound and Pixie and Dixie) are sitting somewhere other than on DVD for fans of all ages to enjoy.

Do a search on the internet and you’ll find the occasional news story mentioning Yogi, Huck and Quick Draw McGraw, not always within the context of cartoons, but using them as cultural icons for comparison. Obviously the writers (and their readers) are at an age where they understand the cultural reference. It looks like another generation, or at least some members of it, will too.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Augie Doggie — Crow Cronies

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall; Layout – Walt Clinton; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Augie, Crow – Daws Butler; Doggie Daddy – Doug Young.
First Aired: February 2, 1960 (BCDB).
Plot: Doggie Daddy is outwitted by a faking crow.

If you’re going to draw on a concept for a comedy cartoon story, you can’t go wrong borrowing from ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner’ about an overbearing house guest who invites himself to stay at someone’s home, takes it over and fakes illness to stay put. It worked for Bugs Bunny (minus the illness part) in the really funny The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (1942). That cartoon was written by Mike Maltese, who pulled the concept out of his memory vault when he arrived at Hanna-Barbera and needed plots, and used it as the basis for this cartoon.

That’s about where the resemblance with the original Kaufman and Hart play ends. Instead of the pompous, self-centred Sheridan Whiteside, Maltese uses a smart-aleck crow as his antagonist. Smart aleck crows seemed to pop up with some regularity in the animated world. Columbia built a hit-and-miss series around one in the 1940s. Buzzy at Famous Studios was a little different; his goal was self-preservation through extreme violence. As a kid, I always though Heckle and Jeckle were crows. I’d never seen a magpie. But I had seen a crow. And they looked like crows. There were one-shots like the one in Warner’s Corn Plastered (1951). Closer to our current subject, Huckleberry Hound found himself taking on a pair of wisecracking crows in his first season.

Maltese has a nice little structure here. The crow is in complete control. He turns the na├»ve Augie against the befuddled Daddy through con-artistry, so Daddy’s got to get rid of the crow but not upset Augie. Finally Daddy gets wise and accomplishes his goal—all for naught, as we get a surprise at the end.

Another good decision was to give the crow Doggie Daddy’s voice. Well, it’s not quite the same. It’s like Daws Butler’s impression of Doggie Daddy. Daws keeps his pitch down and stays there more than Young does, but still manages to get lots of expression.

The imitation is referred to at the start of the cartoon when Daddy remarks to himself he wants to enjoy the sunny day in his hammock with a glass of lemonade. “Obviously, this character speaks my language,” remarks the overhearing crow, who zips down from a tree, invites himself to share the hammock and starts mimicking Daddy.

Daddy: Oh, Augie!
Crow: Oh, Augie!
Daddy: Bring me another lemonade.
Crow: Make that two lemonades.
Daddy: What do you know? A double echo.

After more similar dialogue, Daddy realises he’s not dealing with an echo but “a lemonade-drinkin’ crow” and tries bashing him with a stick. Then we get a bit that’s pure Warner Bros. and typically Maltese. The crow informs Daddy there’s a good reason to keep him around. He can dance. And he does. It’s a variation on Daffy’s “I’m just slopping over with talent” bit from Duck Soup to Nuts (1944) written by Tedd Pierce who may have been co-writing with Maltese about this time (Warners wasn’t issuing full credits as yet). Animator Gordon Sheehan remarked to historian Mike Barrier that when Maltese was at Fleischer’s, he would go into a tap dance. That’s just what the crow does with a woodblock emphasizing the steps. The crow brags he can do imitations. So, he does Yogi Bear (pretty easy when the voice of Yogi is playing the crow).

Daddy now sets up the premise of the cartoon with a pun. “Okay, then. Let’s play baseball. And you be a dodger.” Daddy throws a stick at him and hits the tree. But Augie thinks Daddy’s hit the crow and berates him (after running past the same tree seven times).

The crow overhears the misunderstanding and realises he can take advantage of the situation, hamming up a death scene to the sound of a silent movie house piano. Daddy insists the crow “is only shammin’” But Augie believes the sick crow act and decides he should stay and be nursed back to health. Now the crow starts snapping his fingers (a crow has fingers?) and barking orders, demanding his lemonade.

The next scene has Augie reading ‘The Three Bears’ to the hammock-ensconced crow while Daddy’s rocking him. The crow doesn’t like the story. Daddy stops rocking the hammock and demands action. Facetiously, Daddy rolls him up in the hammock. The crow zips over to Augie and pulls his con-job. “He’s out to get me. Don’t let him clobber me.” Augie demands an apology. Daddy refuses. The crow has another trick. He agrees to leave and asks Daddy to shake his hand (a crow has a hand?). Daddy doesn’t even touch him but the crow goes into another ham act.

Crow: Oh, my arm! He ta-wisted my little arm. It was a judo cut. I knew it. I’ll never fly again. I’m ruined!

Augie swallows the act again and Daddy again tries to convince his son the crow is a fraud artist. They’re interrupted by the crow demanding a lemonade refill. Daddy comes up with a plan. He’ll get him a lemonade refill all right. That’s the cue for the old spiked-drink gag. Evidently, the crow has watched cartoons, too. “If there’s one thing I’m suspicious of,” the crow tells Augie, “it’s a dear, old dad that wants to be buddies.” Daddy isn’t the malicious type, so there’s no poison involved. Just red pepper, chili powder, mustard, hot sauce, some powder “...and a load of lemon pits.” (the crow had demanded no pits).

The crow’s ready. He tells Daddy to give the drink to Augie. Daddy can’t do that, of course. So he drinks it himself. But the gag has an odd finish. There’s no fire or changing colours or shooting into the sky. Daddy simply holds the drink in his cheeks and jumps into a well. That’s it. Maltese was a strong writer and you’d think he’d come up with something better than that.

Finally, Daddy disguises himself as a saw-carrying Dr. Chirp who has come to examine the “sick, sick crow.” Maltese slips in a pun when Daddy tells the audience about the crow “You gotta out-fox ’em. Get it?” and winks.

Daddy: And from the looks of you, we’ll have to operate right away.
Crow: Hold it. I’ve never been sick. I’ve never felt better in my life. Ooop!
Daddy: Ah ha!

The crow realises what he’s said but it’s too late. Daddy shakes his head to whip off the disguise, and the crow zips out of the scene. Dear ol’ dad throws a brick at him as “a bon voy-a-gee present.” The crow disappears in a tree, the brick follows him and there’s a standard Hanna-Barbera clunk sound effect. Then the surprise comes as dozens of crows drop from the tree, landing on the ground and yell in pain. The falling is a cycle on ones to make it look like more crows are dropping quickly.

The end gag has Augie and Daddy running with trays full of lemonade to the “injured” birds resting on the hammock.

Some of the music is a little odd in this and doesn’t fit what’s happening on screen. A good example is during the tap-dancing sequence; Jack Shaindlin’s ‘Mad Rush’ beds are hardly dance music, but we get Victor Lamont’s arrangement of ‘Winter Tales’ on a tinkly piano and that solo trombone faux melodrama piece that are just perfect for the “death” scene. The Harry Bluestone-Emil Cadkin piece now known as ‘Stealthy Mouse’ is too disjointed the emphasize the “ta-wisted my little arm” sequence, but builds perfects when Daddy builds the spiked drink.

I still don’t know the identity of the short piece of woodwind music that generally starts with a C, goes up an octave and settles at F-sharp for a half-note (there’s are some introduction bars but are rarely heard in cartoons). It’s maybe one of a dozen Augie cues I can’t trace.

0:00 - Augie Doggie main title theme (Curtin)
0:25 - GR-65 BUSH BABY (Green) - Crow on hammock with Daddy.
1:25 - LFU-117-2 MAD RUSH No 2 (Shaindlin) - Daddy shoos crow off hammock, crow shows off, Augie calls him “crow-beating dad.”
2:20 - SF-? WINTER TALES (arr. Vic Lamont) - Crow death scene.
2:38 - sad trombone music (?) - “Don't let him beat me.”
3:00 - CB-89A ROMANTIC JAUNT (Bluestone-Cadkin) - Daddy agrees to care for crow, fairy tale reading, “save me.”
4:00 - CB-85A STEALTHY MOUSE (Bluestone-Cadkin) - Daddy won't apologise, crow fakes hand injury, lemonade scene.
5:48 - C-C-F# short light underscore (?) - Daddy jumps in well, crow doctor scene, crows fall from tree.
6:56 - vaudeville up-scale music (Shaindlin) - Crows in hammock get lemonade.
7:09 - Augie Doggie end title theme (Curtin).

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Another Perspective on the Decline of H-B Animation

Not too many days ago, having read a post on John Kricfalusi’s blog, I jumped in the WABAC machine (if I may mix my TV animation for a moment), and leisurely journeyed through the Saturday morning TV cartoons of the 1960s and early ‘70s, explaining why I stopped viewing them. My perspective is that of an anxious fan in the pyjamaed pre-teen and teenaged years. It’s the only perspective I have because I haven’t seen much of the cartoons for about 40 years.

That period of animation isn’t the focus of this blog but my thoughts were a bit long for the comment section of John’s site, so I put them here.

Readers weighed in for a nice little discussion and I thought it had wound up, but then I got an e-mail. Someone else had thoughts on the subject that were a little long for the comment section here, so he wrote me with what he had to say.

His perspective is different than mine. I was a viewer. He was one of the people who hoped to entertain viewers through art, movement and humour. So I’m putting up this e-mail by ‘loopydloop’ (with his permission) so he can offer his feelings from the vantage point of being employed by Hanna-Barbera. (He’s responsible for the text only; I added the screen caps).

A Long Comment From Me
By loopydloop
The discussion about the downfall of the H & B Cartoons is extremely interesting, as are many of the topics and discussion brought up on the YOWP Blog. I will admit, here, that I am a 50 year old product of the early Hanna Barbera years and have a great affinity for those wonderful cartoons, warts and all. You see, even as a small child in the early 1960s I could tell the difference between the Hanna Barbera cartoons and the classic cartoons from MGM, Disney, Warner Brothers, etc. I even knew the difference in the quality of animation in the title sequences and commercials from H & B in comparison to their main shows and certainly the difference between Ludwig Von Drake compared to other television animation. But I didn't care. There was just something appealing about the Hanna Barbera shows of that time that really captivated me and does so to this day. Sadly, as I grew older, the quality of the Hanna Barbera cartoon continued to degenerate to the point where each new "Super Saturday" preview on the networks brought more and more horror to the small screen. Eventually, they lost me. I just couldn't watch any more and didn't until, in the early 1980s, I began to actually work on the stuff.

As I read down the column of blog comments, there were many well thought out posts about the sad slide in the quality of the Hanna Barbera product, but no one really touched upon two important factors, from the late 1960s to the 1980s, that I feel contributed to H & B's, (and other studios) decline.

The first blow to Hanna Barbera studios was, ironically, the same factor that lead to it's success, the demand for more and more programming. This demand, though profitable for the studio, caused greater production and a need for more animators and other artists. The experienced animators and artists (Ed Benedict, Dick Bickenbach, Walter Clinton, Carlo Vinci, Lew Marshall, Don Patterson, Irv Spence, Ken Muse, Mike Lah, etc. etc.) who had followed Bill and Joe over from MGM, and the later influx of cast off animators, (Hicks Lokey, Dick Lundy, Hugh Frasier, Harvey Toombs, Bill Keil, Hal Ambro, etc.) who also went over to H & B after the big layoff at Disney in 1960 (at the wrap of Dalmatians) were just spread too thin. So, assistant animators, the majority of whom had no full animation experience, were soon promoted to animator and animation began becoming less imaginative and more formulaic as time and talent battled to produce the sheer volume of animated material needed to feed the ravenous appetite of television. Factor in the aging process of the 1930s and 40s animators, now in their declining years, and the boring, repetitive work that television animation came to be and you can certainly see why things went downhill fast! But that wasn't all.

The second big blow to the Hanna Barbera cartoon was when Bill and Joe started sending animation overseas in the 1970s to have it done more cheaply by animators who, due to cultural, language, and animation style differences (though I'm sure they tried their best), could not compete with the experts that once graced the discs at Hanna Barbara. At first, only the animation was being sent out of the country, but increasingly, other departments followed suit, and soon whole shows were being done by foreign artists. There were still shows such as "Help, It's the Hair Bear Bunch" being done "in house" by experienced animators, but even the lack luster concept, quality and writing of that show eclipses it's contemporaries from overseas such as "Funky Phantom" and the like.

So, ultimately, I feel that it was greed, the sheer volume of work and the lack of training for the younger artists that ultimately brought down the quality of television animation, which brings up another point I wished to address from a professional perspective, and that would be the comments made by one person, above, about the age of the viewer influencing the era of Hanna Barbera cartoons they enjoy. This may be partially true, but the cold hard fact is that the cartoons that came out of Hanna Barbera in the 1970s and 1980s were really dreadful on every level. They were blandly conceived, terribly written and horribly produced and, furthermore, nearly everyone involved in the making of those show knew it. The writers knew it. The voice talent knew it. The animators knew it. A young assistant just starting out (like me) knew it. Even Bill and Joe knew it. In fact, the only people that didn't seem to know it were the poor innocent children this dreck was perpetrated on.

To this same commenter, I would like to add that it is absurd to think, even for a moment, that Hanna and/or Barbera had any desire whatsoever to keep the employees in the U. S. working, at least not by the 1970s. The truth is, Bill and Joe didn't even own the company by this time. Their loyalty was now to the shareholders of TAFT and the bottom line. To that end, they couldn't ship the stuff overseas fast enough, even over the loud protests, lawsuits and bitter strikes brought up by the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Local 839 to stop the wholesale selling out of the work to cheap foreign labor before the term "outsourcing" was even coined. Hanna Barbera was also the first studio to start using computerized painting systems in the 1980s, which directly resulted in the lay off of the majority of what was left of the ink and paint department since they had long since sent most of that labor overseas anyway. So, with all due respect to that commentator who felt that the studio just wanted to keep people employed, I just have to say.... Are you kidding?

Yes, it's happened before, it's happening now, and it will most likely happen again. It's simply human nature. Animation that starts out as a labor of love, often falls prey to greed and outrageous profit and then goes down the tube in the form of a sweatshop, cranking out crap at supersonic speed for children too ignorant or innocent to know the bill of goods they are being sold. The good news is that each new generation brings about a new crop of young artists who really care about animation, those dedicated to making things better and to bringing quality back to screens everywhere, large and small. So I put my hope in them. I teach the strong foundations of animation that I was taught by the masters themselves and I hope that this new generation of artists will keep the torch burning for another generation. The promoters and the corporations and the greedy will always be there, feeding upon the art form and then leaving the carnage of their avarice behind. But, then, so will the artists and the historians and the fans who will quietly pick up the pieces, remembering and cherishing what animation was, imagining what what it can be and nurturing it back to life for a future generations to discover and enjoy.

Thanks, loopydloop, for putting down your thoughts.

I can’t help but wonder if the original H-B artists considered their work uncreative drudgery, considering they went from beautifully flowing and expressive animation to minimal, basic movement. If so, they should have felt some satisfaction that they helped to create some enjoyable cartoons and likeable characters that overcame the limitations of television budgets. For a while. Though I admit that’s a personal opinion. To each his own. If the bankrupt cartoons of the ‘70s and ‘80s provided entertainment to someone—and, judging by comments elsewhere on the web, they did—then their animators should at least accept that as a bit of satisfaction for their work over a generation ago.

Yowp Note: Since this post went up, Greg C. has sent me his own essay on the subject. So I have added that below:

Hanna-Barbera in the 1970's
By Greg C.

It's too bad loopydloop's bubble was burst by working for Hanna-Barbera, but in defense of H-B, a business is a business. Profit is what the company makes on revenues over expenses to be able to put back into the business to keep the business going. Without profit, the business cannot survive; it's that simple.

I did not understand all of this business jargon growing up while watching the same cartoons as loopydloop, but as I grew older I realized that there is a big difference between theatrical animation (or full animation) and TV animation (or limited animation). They are two different styles of animation that have to be looked at independently and not in congruence with each other and they come with two very different business models.

I have studied all aspects of television since I was a little kid - scheduling, programs, types of shows, program blocking, genres, etc. Limited animation is made to feed the TV module. It has to be done cheaply and efficiently in order to meet the demand by the networks and to be supported by advertising revenue. There is nothing artistic about this model at all. All TV shows are funded much cheaper than theatrical motion pictures. The budgets are much, much smaller for television and the product has to be churned out quick and fast. Everyone is working on a deadline.

TV programs are bought either by networks or syndicators and they recoup their financial investment through advertising. Usually, when an episode will first air, the cost of the advertising pays for the cost of that first broadcast; there is no profit for running an episode only once. It is when the episodes are repeated that the network starts to make some money on the program. If the network can sell it to a cable network or syndicator, then they are really rolling in the dough. When the show is sold like this, not only does the network prosper from repeats but the studio does as well.

If a studio can sell a show directly into syndication, then they can cut out the middleman (the network) and generate more profit for themselves. However, the financial burden is now on the studio and they have to not only sell the show to a syndicator but they also have to sell it to sponsors and local TV stations to generate revenue to pay for the show. There is more financial risk this way for the studio, but if they can get a hit (Huckleberry Hound, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Oprah Winfrey), then the studio can make lots of money.

When Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear first showed up, H-B had a sponsor in Kellogg’s and sold these shows into syndication. These cartoons did very well, but H-B was limited in the amount of work that they could produce because they only had one customer, syndication. However, when the networks started to ask for shows, that’s when H-B started to really take off. More customers mean more demand and more work. The Flintstones, the Jetsons, Jonny Quest and Top Cat were all sold to ABC for primetime, but three of these shows only lasted one season. Top Cat and the Jetsons did not bring about the ratings success like the Flintstones did so they were cancelled. Jonny Quest was mildly successful, but it was too expensive to make so it was dropped.

Around this same time, network television really started to take off in the late 1950’s and 1960’s and syndication was a dying format; it would start to resuscitate in the early 1980’s when cable programming came along. It was much cheaper for local TV stations to air first run programs from networks than it was to have to purchase shows out of their own pocket. Saturday mornings started to be the target of the networks for children’s programming. So, with three dropped shows in primetime programming and with the syndication market drying up for a period of time, Hanna-Barbera had to find a way for their business to survive. Bill and Joe saw the handwriting on the wall and in order for their business to survive they made two major decisions. They decided to sell their business to Taft Broadcasting and to start targeting their shows to the Saturday morning crowd.

I am not privy to any special information but I wouldn’t be surprised if part of their decision to sell the studio came from partly from desperation. Just ten years before in 1956, Bill and Joe were out of work because of layoffs at M-G-M and if the TV animation market was drying up, by selling the business they could pocket millions and retire. If TV animation continued to survive, then they could still be employed. Like I said, this is speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this was part of their motivation for selling H-B Productions.

When Saturday mornings opened up to new animated shows, the business model went off the charts and production soared. The networks were able to purchase shows for a fair price, but they also kept the number of episodes ordered to around seventeen. This way, they could repeat the same episode three to four times in a year and make even more money from the programming. The animation studios could also make good money for each repeat of their programs. Primetime episodes generally aired only twice a year but on Saturdays the number of repeats meant good profit margins for everyone.

However, thanks to Jonny Quest being in reruns on NBC on Saturday mornings, parental groups stepped in and demanded less violence and more educational programming for children. The networks did not want to lose their cash cow on Saturdays, so they agreed to cater to the parental groups and provide entertaining but also educational programming. The networks hired psychologists to monitor each and every show on their schedule to make sure that it was falling into these parental parameters. The animated studios had to acquiesce if they wanted to stay in business.

As it turns out, Hanna-Barbera provided the most programming on network television in the 1970’s and 1980’s. H-B could meet the demand for episodes that the networks requested and they were able to deliver the product at an affordable price. I totally understand why people complain that when they got to a certain age that they could not watch H-B shows any more. The viewer realized that it wasn’t geared towards their age group and then they turned off the TV. H-B turned out shows that were made to meet the target age group that the networks requested; it was never meant for the general population. Also, H-B was a business and if the studio did not get work, then it would go out of business, plain and simple.

Animation in the movies and in television was never made for the sake of art. It was always made to bring in revenue to help keep the studio afloat. When the cost of making movies went up in the 1950’s along with the advent of television, the studios decided to start making cuts and animation was one of the biggest cuts that they made. Animators turned to television to continue to be employed but also in order to stay in business; and to stay in business they had to make money. Profit is what the business makes to be able to put back into the business to make it stay in business. There is nothing wrong with profit. It is the driving machine that is keeping studios in business today.

Monday 22 February 2010

Pebbles’ First Words — “Buy Me!”

She’s only a baby, but she’s 47 years old today.

February 22, 1963 marks the much-heralded birth of Pebbles Flintstone. The blessed event was much-heralded because Hanna-Barbera’s P.R. people made sure it was. Newspaper stories surfaced a month before the broadcast telling all and sundry the sex and name of Fred and Wilma’s child. It was all part of a huge marketing campaign not only to build TV ratings but to reap a cash windfall from the sale of dolls, thanks to the studio’s deal with Ideal Toys.

They didn’t waste any time, either. To the right, you see a newspaper box ad published on the very same day as the birth broadcast. See the ad that day. Watch the show that night. Buy the doll tomorrow.

I can take or leave Pebbles. When memorable Flintstones episodes come to my mind, she’s not in them or at the centre of them. She’s in one that has always annoyed me—the one where she and Bamm Bamm sprout voices and croon that insipid “sunshine” song. But, in a way, Hanna-Barbera unconsciously commented on their own series in the episode where characters want to get away from Fred as he obsesses over showing off endless home movies of his child. Viewers would prefer to get away from the new, domestic, doting-daddy Fred and go back to the grumpy one bashing Barney over the head with some steaks.

Pebbles’ impending arrival wasn’t universally welcomed by the critics. Associated Press writer Hal Humphrey wasn’t terribly impressed, becoming an early eye-roller at all-too-obvious attempts to work “rock” or “stone” into every name and striking a blow at the noise from the H-B media machine. This story ran in papers starting January 11, 1963.

Introducing: Pebbles

HOLLYWOOD—(AP)—It’s difficult for me to get steamed up one way or the other about the successful Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon shows, “Flintstones” and “Jetsons.” It isn’t anything against cartoons per se. I’m a sucker for “Magoo,” and Bugs Bunny’s cynical attitude amuses me. Dudley Do Right (out of “Bullwinkle”) is one of my favorite TV characters. My indifference toward Fred Flintstone and George Jetson is certainly no fault of the energetic and bulldoggish Arnie Carr, who is the publicity man for Hanna-Barbera Productions.
“You can’t spend your whole life having fun writing negative columns,” admonished Arnie during one of his weekly phone visits the other day. “Do something positive.”
“Like what?” I made the mistake of replying.
“Like writing a column about Pebbles Flintstone.”
“And who is Pebbles Flintstone?”
“Fred and Wilma’s new baby. On the Jan. 25 show, Wilma told Fred she was going to have a baby. On Feb. 22, Pebbles is born. It will be the biggest birth on TV since Lucy’s baby—bigger even! Don’t tell me you’re against family life?” cried Arnie.
TO FORESTALL what smelled like a blackmail attempt here, I hastened to reaffirm my allegiance to family life of all kinds. I also, however, told Arnie that I didn’t feel whimsical enough to interview a cartoon character.
“You interviewed those three chimps on the ‘Hathaways’ show last season,” replied Arnie, reproachfully.
“True,” I said, “but at least they were three-dimensional. At times, in fact, I’d say they acted more alert than some so-called human actors I’ve been interviewing.”
“Do you realize that the Flintstones are so popular in Sweden that a soft drink called ‘Flinta’ sold five million bottles in one week?” said Arnie, in a quick change of strategy.
“What will they think of next!”
“AND DO YOU KNOW that ‘Flintstone-San’ is the No. 1 show in Tokyo and that ‘Senor Flintstone’ is in 12 South American countries?”
“I’ll make a note of that.”
“You’re fighting me,” Arnie warned. “I’m trying to give you an upbeat column, which you need brother. Now how about ‘The Jetsons?’ Do you realize this show is running neck and neck with Disney and ‘Dennis the Menace’ on Sunday nights?”
“Not according to the last Nielsen I saw.”
“That must have been the national Nielsen, but ‘Jetsons’ is ahead on the Nielsen 30 city rating. Incidentally, did I tell you that the CBS station in Milwaukee is running ‘Best of Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear’ against ‘Ben Casey’?"
“ARE YOU GOING to tell me Huck and Yogi repeats are beating out Ben Casey?”
“Look. I admit I haven’t seen the latest Nielsen, but I’ve heard. Anyway, how about getting back to Pebbles Flintstone? She will be born in Rock-A-Pedic hospital, and the doctor’s name is Sprock—get it?—Sp-ROCK. Cute, huh?”
“I suppose the kid also will have a bone in her hair instead of a ribbon, and her rattle will be filled with little rocks.”
“How did you know that?” asked Arnie, incredulously.
“One of those crazy hunches, that’s all.”
“Yeah, but I’ll bet you couldn’t guess what kind of diapers she’ll wear.”
“I give up.”
“Leopard skin diapers—funny?”
“Fairly funny,” I said.
“Okay, then how about that column?"
“I’m afraid not, Arnie. Leopard skin diapers aren’t that funny.
“Don't make it a firm no. I’ll think of something else and call you next week. You need an upbeat column.”

Maybe it’s my sense of irony, but when I read Carr’s words, I picture the kind of shrill Hollywood type they used to make fun of on The Flintstones.

While Humphrey was neither bearish or bullish about the show’s coming attraction, a columnist for the rival wire service didn’t shy away from pointing out there was more to little Pebbly-poo that just a cartoon character. This is from papers of the Monday after the pre-his-STORK-ick event (Hmm. Carr’s corn must be infectious).

Flintstones are parents of baby girl
UPI Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) – Parenthood by a pair of television stars generally rates as news of a sort; therefore it should be noted that Fred and Wilma Flintstone had a baby last Friday night.
Fred and Wilma are the stone age cartoon answer to the old Desi Arnaz-Lucille Ball family situation comedy.
And like Desi and Lucy, the Flintstones incorporated the birth of their child, Pebbles, into the show. Here the parallel ceases.
Desi and Lucy had a real baby off-screen in addition to becoming parents on their long-running show.
Because the Flintstones have no off-screen lives, they must content themselves with Pebbles and spokesman Joe Barbera of Hanna-Barbera productions who dreamed up Fred, Wilma and all.
Followers of the Flintstones may be surprised to learn that Pebbles almost was born a boy instead of a girl.
Chip off Fred
“We wanted a boy,” Barbera said, “A chip off old Fred.
“So we put our 200 artists to work drawing babies. And out of thousands of drawings we fell in love with one of a little girl with a bone through her hair. It was the work of Gene Hazleton.
“The baby was so cute we knew we’d have to change our plans and bless Fred and Wilma with a little girl instead of a boy.”
At first Barbera and partner Bill Hanna considered twins, discarding the notion when they realized two babies would double the amount of work (and expense) of the weekly show.
Television being what it is, the news that the Flintstones would have a girl instead of a boy flicked the panic button.
“All the people in the New York agency, Screen Gems and the ABC-TV network were terribly upset. They weren’t expecting a girl.
“The brass was so shook up that 31 executives flew out here to Hollywood for a big pow-wow about changing the sex of the baby,” Barbera reported with a grin.
“They finally were convinced the world wouldn’t end and we went ahead with Little Pebbles.”
A National Institution
Already the machinery is underway to make Pebbles a national institution. Some half-million plastic Pebbles dolls are rolling off the assembly lines and a national video contest is in the works.
On March 8 both Hanna and Barbera will appear (live) on the show to announce the winner of the contest to guess Pebbles’ weight at birth. Barbera said the prize will be a trip around the world and $2,000 cash. [Yowp note: the winner was a butcher from Florida]
“The Flintstones,” now in its third year, already has been renewed for next season which means viewers will be seeing a great deal of Pebbles.
“We thought we’d gone about far as we could with the two couples (including neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble) and their zany problems,” said Barbera.
“With the addition of Pebbles we’ll explore the domestic side of life with the Flintstones.”

And indeed they did. Until they ran out of ideas again and someone decided an intelligent space alien was a good addition. But by then, revised designs, Fred’s emasculation, the sudden voice change in Betty, the addition of a lame kangaroo character and the obvious infatuation Joe and/or Bill had for The Addams Family had taken a lot of life out of the show. Whether it’s fair to blame Pebbles for the start of the down-slide, we’ll leave up to you. But there’s no doubt people loved her. 650,000 entries in a contest to guess the weight of something that has no real body mass shows it. And, I suppose, a birthday post does, too.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Yogi Bear — Nowhere Bear

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ed Love; Layout – Ed Benedict; Backgrounds - Bob Gentle; Story – Warren Foster; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Story Direction – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Narrator, Ranger Smith, Boo Boo – Don Messick; Yogi, Superintendent – Daws Butler.
First aired: Week of December 21, 1959.
Plot: After faking being hypnotised by Ranger Smith, Yogi hypnotises Boo Boo into thinking he’s a bird.

Many thanks to reader Scott for a TV bugless title card.

One of the things that happened after Warren Foster arrived at Hanna-Barbera was to marry Yogi Bear to a formula. In the first season of the Huckleberry Hound Show, Yogi roamed freely. He wasn’t always in Jellystone Park, he didn’t need Boo-Boo as an accoutrement and he didn’t utter the word “pic-a-nic” until the 19th cartoon. Rarely did he set out to put one over on a ranger, and whatever rangers appeared had different names (if any) and different designs in just about every cartoon.

Foster was hired to write the second season of the Huck show after Charlie Shows left. It was at that time that the all-blackout-gag and kiddie-rescuing versions of Yogi were tossed out. A decision was made to, more or less, create a permanent formula based on the first season’s Yogi Bear’s Big Break—Yogi tries to outwit a ranger at Jellystone, with Boo-Boo glued to him as a conscience/sidekick, though it took several funny cartoons to get there. And it was decided to give Yogi only one nemesis who viewers could become familiar with. Foster grabbed the name of one of the rangers from the previous year—Smith—and Don Messick settled on a voice. But it took a little time to come up with a design and this cartoon is proof. Nowhere does Ranger Smith look as odd as he does in this cartoon.

It’s a fun design, more so than one with the permanent five-o’clock-shadow which every Hanna-Barbera human seemed to grow. So, naturally, it had to be created by none other than Ed Benedict. And this Ranger Smith is animated with goofy-looking overbite expressions with individual teeth. So, naturally, the man at the light board had to be Ed Love, the former Disneyite later responsible for many commercials animated at Hanna-Barbera, and a stellar animator for Bob Clampett in his abortive attempt at a series at Republic (It’s a Grand Old Nag), Tex Avery’s unit at MGM, and at Lantz during its best period (mid-late ‘40s). This was Love’s first Yogi cartoon and the only one he animated in the 1959-60 season. Love drew the ranger in a more conventional style later so it would seem he was following Benedict’s layouts closely.

This is really a cartoon in two halves and the first one sets up the second one (Foster’s earlier Lullabye-Bye Bear is written the same way). The first half involves hypnosis and the second half features a variety of almost black-out gags to undo the result of the first half. The cartoon starts with cars and trailers leaving the park.

Narrator: As the tourist season comes to a close at Jellystone Park, the hard-working rangers relax by reading or pursuing some hobby.

The shot dissolves to Ranger Smith’s office with the phone ringing and Smith telling Bill (Hanna?) on the other end he’s been reading his do-it-yourself hypnotism book. He needs someone to practise on. The unheard Bill suggests using a park bear.

So Smith shouts to Yogi, who’s sleeping in his cave with Boo Boo. Yogi reports to the ranger’s office and Foster shows his sense of irony:

Smith: You’re getting sleepy. Sleeepy. Sleeeepyyy.
Yogi: You get me out of bed to tell me this?

The hypnotic attempt is augmented by a change from Bill Loose’s happy music to a flute and strings piece by Spencer Moore’s ghost writer. Yogi spots the hypnotism book on the ranger’s desk and decides to play along. There’s a colour error. Someone forgot to change Yogi’s muzzle to a tan colour for a few frames. It happens later in the cartoon as well.

The clever Yogi manages to finagle a piece of chocolate cake out of the ranger (“might help the acoustics”) before being able to “hear” his orders, though it’s munched on off-camera as we get a three-second hold shot of the ranger watching. “You are now a dog,” commands the ranger, and Yogi barks as the music segues into that echoey, creepy tune that pops up on the second-season Huck Show cartoons. The music reverts to more Bill Loose happy melody music when Yogi reverts back. It’s probably one of the best uses of music changes that H-B got out of its stock libraries.

Yogi toddles back to his cave and decides to try the “hypno-tizzicle stuff” on Boo Boo for laughs. I like how he tells the snoring Boo Boo “You’re getting sleepy” when the little bear is already asleep.

Here’s a great example of Love’s style of dialogue animation in medium shot. Instead of a Lew Marshall-style two-position head-bob, Love will use three or four different head positions and moves the mouth around a bit off-centre on the face; Yogi’s muzzle is big enough to take advantage of it. And Yogi (and Ranger Smith) sometimes talk through their teeth; other times, the mouth is open to varying degrees. On top of that, Love doesn’t always animate on twos. He’s following Daws’ delivery and, in this scene, he tosses in some threes and a few ones because characters don’t talk in an even, mechanical cadence. Ed’s getting the most out of limited animation.

At first, it doesn’t seem Yogi’s suggestion “You are a bird” has done anything—unless Yogi hears tweeting, sees Boo Boo flapping his arms atop the bed and then flying out the cave entrance.

“That’s ridiculous, Bill. I don’t care how people saw it. Bears don’t fly,” says Smith into the phone. Naturally, that’s the moment he spots Boo Boo flying in the background. Yogi and the ranger then track down the airborne bear “before the Commissioner hears about this” and watch as Boo Boo flies into a cliff and falls into a nest on a jutting piece of the face. That snaps him out of his hypnotic state so he’s a bear and can’t fly any more.

The rest of the cartoon is taken up with gags to rescue Boo Boo. The first one has the ranger on a teeter-board and Yogi adopt a station wagon. Yogi jumps on one end of the plank, the ranger sails up and gets unexpectedly stopped by an abutment. Smith lands back on the board and the laws of gravity send Yogi up and head-first through the roof of the station wagon.

Next gag has the Ranger atop the cliff lowering Yogi on a fishing line. But the bear’s “heavier than a sack of a cement” and Smith can’t control the line. Yogi zips past Boo Boo and crashes to the bottom. Then the ranger puts Yogi in a home-made ejector seat to send him skyward but blows up the bear instead. “Hmm. Needs a little work yet.”

Finally, Smith attaches balloons to Yogi to allow him to float up and rescue Boo Boo. It’s a success. But no one worked out how the bears were to get back down. “Oh, no,” groans the ranger. A phone on a tree starts ringing. It’s the Superintendent (what happened to the Commissioner?) telling him “there are two bears floating over the park.” The ranger starts crying as the camera fades.

Whoever did the sound cutting on this cartoon (the credits never say who it is, but my guess is Greg Watson) has the music running seamlessly in several places, despite the fact it is the work of different composers. All the regular stock composers are here, including Phil Green, a rarity for Yogi. I still haven’t been able to identify the creepy wa-wa echoey horn music.

0:00 - Yogi Bear Sub Main Title theme (Hoyt Curtin)
0:13 - C-14 DOMESTIC LIGHT (Loose) – Ranger Smith on phone, Yogi goes to ranger station.
1:23 - L-80 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Spencer Moore) – Ranger tries to hypnotise Yogi; Yogi catches on.
1:51 - GR-259 AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER (Green) – Yogi snores, eats cake.
2:18 - creepy reverb trumpet music (Raoul Kraushaar?) – Yogi pretends to be a dog; snaps out of it.
2:32 - C-3 DOMESTIC CHILDREN (Loose) – Yogi hypnotises Boo Boo; Boo Boo out of cave.
3:45 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Boo Boo flies away.
3:58 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – “I don’t care...Bears don’t fly.”
4:01 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-John Seely) – Yogi runs into ranger’s office, Yogi and Smith look through binoculars.
4:37 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Boo Boo flies into cliff, lands in nest, Smith and Yogi run cycle.
4:57 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Yogi jumps on plank.
5:05 - fast circus ‘scale’ music (Jack Shaindlin) – Ranger bashes head, Yogi lands in station wagon, fishing line gag, Ejector seat gag.
6:00 - TC-204A WISTFUL COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “Needs a little work”, Smith releases Yogi.
6:19 - LICKITY SPLIT (Shaindlin) – Yogi floats up, Yogi and Boo Boo float away, Superintendent calls Smith.
6:58 - Yogi Bear Sub End Title theme (Curtin)

Saturday 13 February 2010

A Little More About Doug Young

You recall we were wishing a happy birthday to Doug Young, the voice of Doggie Daddy, on the blog earlier this week and mentioned a rare interview Doug gave on Shokus Internet Radio a couple of years ago. Incidentally, check out Shokus’ weekly list of programmes. If you’re of a certain age, there should be something to delight you.

I missed the interview at the time and you won’t find it on their site but reader Greg Ehrbar has come to the rescue by passing on what Doug had to say to Stu Shostak and his guests, Mark Evanier and Earl Kress.

It’s a shame the interview was so short and didn’t talk about his childhood or go in depth about into his radio career. But he did discuss how he got in—and out—of cartoons.

Anyway, let’s pass on some snips from the interview. About the Golden Days of Radio:

I really got in kinda late. I was one of those guys who was in the Army.
It’s too bad Doug himself switched the subject at that point. But, as mentioned earlier, since he appeared on the syndicated and transcribed The Anderson Family around 1947, “Army” must mean World War Two, which would make it unlikely he was born in 1931. In fact, if you click here you can see Doug’s Army enlistment file which has him born considerably before 1931.

Doug lauds Daws Butler as “my hero” (isn’t he everybody’s?) and explains how Daws got him into Hanna-Barbera.

Daws was with me when we used to make the rounds looking for radio work, radio dramas. I was driving a truck, you know, and ran into him at a book store. I had a little delay. He said “What are you doing?” I told him. He says “Forget it.” Come to my place. We’re going to make a tape, take you out to H-B and that’s it ... he went out and we did an audition and Joe Barbera liked it.

Actually, myself and a guy named Peter Leeds who used to be on the Bob Hope Show a lot, and quite a good actor, and I just happened to luck out, and they seemed to like my punctuation [sic] better than his. In fact, it was early in the morning, about 8 o’clock we had to go out to the studio and audition for this. ...

They liked the way I did the Durante thing [Barbera told him they needed someone that sounded like Jimmy Durante]. I tried to keep a lot of warmth in it because he was one of my favourite comedians of that era. And he just exuded that kind of openness and warmth and everything so I tried to get that into the voice.
Mark Evanier has explained to me the two were auditioning for Doggie Daddy.

Leeds, for the uninitiated, also has a Daws Butler connection as the two of them appeared on Stan Freberg’s CBS radio show and Capitol comedy albums. Leeds’ career at Hanna-Barbara consisted of an opening narration on Quick Draw McGraw’s Scat, Scout, Scat as a narrator and that was it. It seems odd he’d do just one cartoon; Mark informs me Leeds cut other audio tracks for H-B that were not used. Cartoon voice historian Keith Scott mentions Leeds did at least one theatrical Magoo cartoon, Safety Spin (1953). Keith also related a story about Leeds at a commercial audition that I don’t know I’m at liberty to pass on (it’s not dirty or derogatory, but it was in a private e-mail).

Doug outlines a typical recording session for one cartoon:

It was just like doing a radio show, you sit around and go through the script, assign the parts Joe would, and then we’d go to the mike and do it, and they would animate from the voice track, of course ... It took probably a couple of hours before we got it all ironed out. ... [They would use the first take] 80 or 90% of the time.
As mentioned in the birthday post, Doug seems to have provided incidental characters in the Hanna-Barbera cartoons until 1966 and then just disappears. He explains that he had personal problems, including with his marriage.

I just had to get away from it. I intended to come up here [the Pacific Northwest] just for a little bit, but I decided to change my whole lifestyle, so I stayed with some good real friends in Salem, Oregon and I changed my whole situation around. And I loved the Northwest so I’m still here, remarried and happy as can be.
There’s a little more on the interview, but that sums up most of what Doug had to say about his work at Hanna-Barbera. The other thing that’s striking is his comment about the one thing that’s changed since he voiced cartoons is the money. He says he got something like $100 an episode while the cast of The Simpsons are millionaires. But he’s not rueful, wistful or resentful about it. He tells how he admires them.

In the end, Doug Young comes across as a friendly, warm guy. So it seems there’s not only a lot of Jimmy Durante in Doggie Daddy, there’s a lot of Doug Young, too.