Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Hanna-Barbera That Never Was

I’ve always wondered if there are more projects in Hollywood that get shelved than those that don’t. I don’t mean pilot films; I’m talking about stuff that makes it to a certain point in production and is stopped indefinitely.

It certainly happened in animation. I’m not going to give a shopping list of concepts here, but suffice it to say Disney had some feature ideas on a burner that got turned off; the Gremlin one comes to mind immediately.

The same thing happened at Hanna-Barbera. Disney’s aborted cartoons (and even Jay Ward’s, thanks to Keith Scott’s book) are well-documented. Hanna-Barbera’s may not be, though newspaper stories reveal a couple of things the studio was working on that somehow disappeared.

One of the Associated Press’ TV-movie columnists referred to one project in this story, dated June 21, 1963. It’s a pretty typical puff piece that was done about then. It seems Joe or Bill always went out of their way to make sure there was a reference Tom and Jerry in every interview (preferably playing the irony angle about their firing by MGM) and that they were making piles of money through world-wide marketing. Buried in the puff piece is word about a feature that never was.

Hanna, Barbera Went Far In Six Years

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—The house that a hound built now rises in modern splendor over the historic Cahuenga Pass, gateway to Hollywood.
Of course, Huckleberry Hound wasn’t the only one who built the new home of Hanna-Barbera Productions. He got help from the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, the Jetsons, Top Cat, Quick Draw McGraw, Touche Turtle, Wally Gator, Lippy Lion and Loopy De Loop.
Quite a crew of house builders. And the saga of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera is quite a success story. Just six years ago they started in business with a writer, animator and cameraman.
Today, 250 people labor in the new Hanna-Barbara plant, the most modern cartoon factory in the World. So far the company has turned out 160 cartoon shorts for television and theatres. Coming up: “Whistle Your Way Back Home.” An animation feature starring the stalwart hound, Huck.
Hanna and Barbera, both 20 year veterans of “Tom and Jerry” at MGM, have had many surprises with their success. Not the least has been the boom of the merchandizing end of their enterprise.
“We never realized how much money there was to be found in character products,” said Hanna in his luxurious new office (his and Barbera’s are separate and equal). “When we were at MGM, we never did much about merchandizing tieups. There were too many executives and lawyers to go through.”
That aspect was not neglected when they went independent. Now their characters adorn products in 44 countries; that’s how far the cartoons are circulated.
“In this country alone, we have 480 licensees who manufacture 2,000 different items,” said Hanna. They include pajamas, rattles, booties, ties, jewelry, comic books, all kinds of toys, wading pools, lamps, bubble bath, etc.
Seven million Huckleberry Hound shoes have been made in Japan. Rugs are made in Belgium. There is a soda pop in Sweden called Flinta, after the Flintstones. We sold a million copies of the Pebbles dollars at $5 a copy.”
What does all this return to Hanna-Barbera?
“Our license fee is five percent of the wholesale price,” said Hanna. “We figure a gross of $50 million in merchandizing this year so that will mean a return of $2 ¼ million. And that is almost pure profit. Except for a little art work, we contribute nothing but the name.
“Merchandizing is already about 25 per cent of the gross profit.”

“Whistle Your Way Back Home” found itself in the soundtrack of a different feature that seems to have taken its place—Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear (1964).

Then, there’s this item in Dick Kleiner’s syndicated column, dated June 30, 1964:

Hanna-Barbera, the geniuses of animated cartoons, are going to try making feature films with live actors next.
Joe Barbara says they’ll either start in the fall with either “Father Was a Robot” or “Mr. Mysterious,” two properties they own and have been working on.
“We’re going to use a storyboard technique,” Barbera says, “just as we do on the cartoons.”

Shooting on “Father was a Robot” was supposed to start in October 1964. Then plans changed. Broadcasting Magazine, in 1965, revealed it was going to be a TV show for the 1966-67 season and developed by Bernard Fain and Al Ruddy, who created Hogan’s Heroes. The second proposed movie was based on the first book by Sid Fleischman, published in 1962. You can read about it here. It sounds like it would make a nice animated feature, even today.

But, in reading a short note in Boxoffice’s edition of May 15, 1965, you’d never know either of those films were ever planned.

Hanna Barbera’s First
HOLLYWOOD—“The Green Goose” will be the first in a series of live-action films by Hanna-Barbera, starting in the first week of August, according to president Joe Barbera. The script is being prepared and casting is underway.

Boxoffice had reported as far back as May 21, 1962 that H-B was going into the live-action business just as soon as its new studio was built.

I don’t know anything more about The Green Goose, other than it’d make a nice name for a pub across from an animation studio.

In a way, I’m glad the Huck cartoon never got made. I’m not entirely convinced Huck could carry a whole feature and still make it feel like a Huckleberry Hound cartoon. Unlike Yogi, who already had a clearly-delineated adversary, conscience and setting that could be built upon, Huck had himself. And that was about it. A whole world would have had to have been created around him to sustain a feature. Huck’s personality would have to be developed beyond that of a pummelled relaxed guy who makes one-liners about what’s just happened to him. What may have emerged as a feature could likely have been much different than what attracted people to Huck’s low-key character in the first place and thus be panned by the audience. Still, it would be interesting to see what kind of story concept was being bandied about and how far the proposal got.


  1. Mike Tiefenbacher24 March 2010 at 03:32

    "Whistle Your Way Back Home" showed up as a song sequence in HEY THERE, IT'S YOGI BEAR, and it was originally supposed to be the title song to that movie, until wiser heads prevailed and decided that it made much better marketing sense to actually mention that Yogi Bear was in the film in the title. Besides, Huck was known to whistle; Yogi rarely did.

    What I've always wanted to know about are the developed-but-killed TV series pitches which H-B must have done throughout(at least) their first ten years of existence--whether they featured spin-off characters along the lines of Yakky, Hokey, Ricochet, or Winnie Witch (seems to me that Bigelow Mouse was being groomed for his own series, for example), a Kellogg's version of LINUS THE LION-HEARED (featuring Tony the Tiger, Sugar Pops Pete and Maxie the Seal), or new animal/occupation variations on their previous series. (This would be before the days of Joe being able to go up to CBS and ABC network execs and agreeing that "Hey, kids love MAUDE--let's do a MAUDE rip-off set in old New Mexico," and then he'd have to go back to his crew and explain why they'd be stuck making unwatchable crap for the next nine or ten months.)

    What's fascinating about this period is that the execs they'd have been pitching to would have been ad execs from Kellogg's, Ideal or whomever else they tried to get full syndication financing from in those days. In essence then, and with even their pre-super-hero series for NBC, it's likely they'd have had far less developmental interference for the content than they had to go through later, given their track record. Here's the puzzler: did H-B take the period between JETSONS/TOUCHE-LIPPY-WALLY and MAGILLA off to do HEY THERE (i.e, the fall '63 season), or did they actually develop a new series which didn't get sold? Friends have speculated that a PIXIE & DIXIE spin-off series might have been planned (just based on the prevailing licensing stuff appearing at that time), matching them with the existent but unaired-on-TV Loopy de Loop cartoons, and filled out with perhaps (your favorite) Mr. & Mrs. J. Evil Scientist or even Cave Kids (from the Dell/Gold Key series)--with Bigelow taking Pixe & Dixie's place over on HUCK. A bigger puzzle: did the studio completely abandon the three-animal-character series format after ATOM ANT-SECRET SQUIRREL, with so many of their animators out of their element on the super-hero series, or did they continue to develop ideas we've never seen which never sold?

    Even with their come-up-with-an-idea, write-us-a-check arrangement with the networks, H-B couldn't always bat a thousand, so they must have had unsold pilot material. But if any of this ever happened, why hasn't any of it ever surfaced?

  2. Mike Tiefenbacher24 March 2010 at 04:02

    "Whistle Your Way Back Home" is a musical sequence in HEY THERE, IT'S YOGI BEAR, and it was originally supposed to be the title song to that movie, until wiser heads prevailed and decided that it made much better marketing sense to actually mention that Yogi Bear was in the film in its title. Besides, Huck was known to whistle; Yogi rarely did.

    What I've always wondered most about were the developed ideas for unsold series that might have occurred in H-B's first decade of existence. Whether pitched to ad execs at Kellogg's or Ideal (or other potential syndication financiers) or network heads in those halcyon, pre-watchdog days, even Joe and Bill couldn't have batted as a thousand. For every sale of a TOP CAT or JETSONS or JONNY QUEST to ABC, there must have been presentations of several times that number as alternatives. And there's an intriguing gap between JETSONS/TOUCHE-LIPPY-WALLY and MAGILLA GORILLA which always made me wonder if H-B had planned a fourth Kellogg's series which didn't get the go-ahead, causing them to go to to Ideal for MAGILLA and PETER. Continuing along the lines of the YOGI series, which contained spin-off characters who'd appeared in previous H-B shorts, speculation is natural that they might have tried spinning off PIXIE & DIXIE series for Kellogg's--just going by the contemporaneous licensing using the characters; this was also the period Pixie, Dixie and Jinks began to appear on Raisin Bran commercials--maybe adding the unaired-on-TV Loopy de Loop series, and perhaps (your favorite) Mr. & Mrs. J. Evil Scientist to the mix--with a Bigelow Mouse series taking P&D's place over on HUCK. And maybe Western Publishing didn't just come up with CAVE KIDS on their own, and the property represented a work-in-development which didn't lead to a series.

    What's most puzzling to me, especially in light of what H-B was producing during the 1966-68 seeasons, is why they would voluntarily abandon the animal-character (or similarly funny-people) format that had made their reputation and which represented the strengths of their veteran staff, in favor of the super-heroes that prevailed at the time. So--realizing that it's incredibly unlikely that any unpurchased, fully animated pilots exist--if a bunch of semi-developed three-character concept pitches were actually created, how come none have ever surfaced after all these years?

  3. Very interesting article! As you've stated, Huck really doesn't have the personality to carry a feature. His 1988 syndicated TV movie THE GOOD, THE BAD AND HUCKLEBERRY HOUND came off rather well due to a sharp script by Tom Ruegger, and did give Huck some conflict (as well as a love interest) to flesh out his personality some. But the movie also featured many of Huck's contemporary H-B characters in cameos or supporting roles, which was de riguer at the time.

    By 1962 Yogi had eclipsed Huck in popularity. Not only that, but Yogi's cartoons had a distinct focus, ambience and regular supporting cast. (Huck's only remotely regular adversaries were Powerful Pierre and 'real' dogs who would chase him and snicker.) These elements were much more conducive for a full-length feature. Despite obvious stretch marks- and lengthy breaks in the action for songs- HEY THERE IT'S YOGI BEAR is surprisingly rich and complex in its story, dialogue and character interaction. At least it comes off that way in its infrequent airings on Boomerang.

  4. Bill Hanna said, "When we were at MGM, we never did much about merchandising tieups. There were too many executives and lawyers to go through." Wow...even back then?

  5. Eventually they did make a Huckleberry Hound TV movie, "The Good, The Bad and Huckleberry Hound" which I haven't seen, so I can't remark on whether it was any good or not.

  6. Howard, trying to construct a time-line with bits and pieces of newspaper copy from the internet is a bit of a challenge. I can't tell when the feature changed from a Huck feature to a Yogi feature. Hedda Hopper mentions the feature in a Sunday column in July 1963 devoted to the studio but I can't access most of it (interestly, it revealed they had investigated moving some operations to Japan or Italy but wouldn't save any money doing it). Boxoffice magazine refers to "Whistle" as a Yogi feature in October, then mentions the title change in the December 16th edition.

    Yogi simply got more exposure than Huck by 1961. He was appearing in newspaper comic sections in January 1961 (52 papers picked up the Sunday strip by 1963). Huck never did.

    Mark, HB was still comparatively small in the early 60s compared to the corporate entities surrounding MGM in the '50s, so I can see what he's saying. But it seems to me that the really huge merchandise tie-in aspect of the business was a by-product of television. As well, shorts really weren't much of a priority for studios so I can see why great amounts of effort would not have been made to set up a whole side-industry to exploit them.

    Mike, I was hoping one of the more knowledgable people about the studio who reads here would have an idea about abandoned concepts. It'd be great to see some characters Ed Benedict worked on that had to be shoved aside for whatever reason. And, yes, I'll take a pass on J. Evil Scientist and his far-too-obvious jokes, though Jean Vander Pyl gets points for doing Tallulah Bankhead.

  7. I totally agree with the statements made about Huck and a full length feature. As stated above, " The Good, The Bad, and The Huckleberry " circa 1988, had a lot of Huck's contemporaries to share screen time with, thus taking the load off his character. Huck was " Mister Everyman ". Seeing seven minutes of him as a Police Officer, Mail Man, Fireman, Farmer, Knight, truant officer, etc, just seem to be sufficient. Even stepping right into a fairy tale with " Red ", the wolf, and grandma seemed fine, but I couldn't see Huck trying to rescue Red for 85 minutes.

  8. Wasn't the Green Goose a character fron "A Man Called Flintstone" movie in '66?

  9. Wow! :) 5 listed replies but 7,with this mIke's appearing twice. Anyway, good comments all.

    Mike, I've wodered if the "bubblegum format" that started to invade MAY have been a spinoff of a "I'll pass" funny animal episode of Magilla Gorilla that was a music video, that IMO overrated "Makin' with the Magilla}...I almost expected Magille to say Groovy and solve mysteries on all fours with the gsng! The early Scooby-Doo/Pebbles [Sorry, Debbie, I know you like that spinoff from 1971, and I'm cool with everyone;s preference here], style shows seem to show a high rating for that Magilla Little Eva beach episode I spoke of, then the Archie/Superhero influence. [For a subgenre that by itselfg it good, its appearnace in carotons at the wrong time in animation's history, tends to be one of the many things that cheapened the cartoons-Archie, Jabberjaw, in which it appeared.]

    Howard, Errol, Good, Bad and the Huckleberry and some of those others like the Top Cat and Judy Jetson 1988 TV movies were amazing better than I thought, and I did enjoy the several 20 minutes I saw of the Huck one. [Deb and other,s if you like Huck and the early character,s it's fascinating to see them out west, with the mighty heros of HB-dom of the late fifties..Quick Draw's in it too.]

    That was part of a series of these such movies--the Jetsons meet the Flintstones, several Yogis, and a Johnny Quest one as well..

    Towp, so that Tallulah Bankhead Jean was imitaitong? Tallulha herslef closed her career in 1966 as a voice herself, iN Rankin/Bass's 1966 Hans Christian Anderson fantasy, combining live action and the trademark puppetry [or, "Animagic" as it's so trademarked], and Tallulah was the Witch's voice in the Little Mermaid part [a lot of Disney voices there with Hayley Mills and Burl IVes there alone.] The "Montster" families got a work out in HB cartoons till the 60s..
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  10. What's most puzzling to me, especially in light of what H-B was producing during the 1966-68 seasons, is why they would voluntarily abandon the animal-character (or similarly funny-people) format that had made their reputation and which represented the strengths of their veteran staff, in favor of the super-heroes that prevailed at the time.

    I don't think it was voluntary, but more a consequence of H-B's move into Saturday morning television. The super hero concept was getting hot even before "Batman" debuted in January of 1966. Even though the Broadway version of "Superman" in 1965 was a failure, the hype around it was huge, and certainly was noticeable several blocks to the northeast in CBS's new Sixth Ave. headquarters, where up-and-coming exec Fred Silverman was in charge of the network's kids programming.

    While Kellogg's success in using Yogi in their cereal marketing may have helped swing H-B away from a Huck feature to one with Yogi, Kellogg's ad people apparently didn't see themselves as creative types when it came to characters and story lines for the cartoons. Fred did -- Michael Maltese related to Joe Adamson in his book on Tex Avery how an (unnamed) network executive who forced Hanna-Barbera to do a Saturday morning series on a crime-fighting super hero whale, and how ex-Warners storyman Jack Miller ended up with an ulcer trying to write the series.

    Once Bill and Joe opted to pitch their shows directly to the networks instead of to ad execs representing sponsors for syndication, they were pretty much stuck dealing with people who thought they were the end-all, be-alls when it came to having their fingers on the pulse of what American wanted in creative entertainment, including, sadly, animated cartoons. And since what they really were good at was identifying a new popular trend and running it into the ground, that's pretty much what the concepts for Hanna-Barbera series for the next 25 years were based on, and eventually did.

    1. It's interesting that Silverman identified superheroes as the next big thing, when his 1965-66 Saturday schedule was overwhelmed by the BEATLES cartoons on ABC.

  11. Yes, the Green Goose was the villian in 'Man Called Flintstone'. He was bent on world domination, and voiced by Harvey Korman.

  12. @Chris Allard
    Yes, that was the name of the villain in that film.

    What they did in that '88 TV movie was the best they could do with Huck as far as I'm concerned, but it is interesting looking back at these early years and see what ideas were being pitched and thrown around during the heyday of the studio.

  13. In his autobio, Joe said they considered doing a spinoff of the Flintstones with a black family: The Blackstones

  14. It's interesting that Silverman identified superheroes as the next big thing, when his 1965-66 Saturday schedule was overwhelmed by the BEATLES cartoons on ABC.