Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Presenting Hanna Barbera’s Wacko Wolf

You probably know the Flintstones were, at one point of their lives, the Flagstones. Joe Barbera revealed several names were considered for Yogi Bear—including Bumpkin, Barney and Huckleberry. Even Bill Hanna admitted the cat and mouse team that made him and his partner famous were born Jasper and Jinx. So it seems the biggest purveyors of television animation into the 1970s had trouble coming up with just the right names for characters.

There may be at least one other instance of this, if a story by Jack Gaver of United Press International is correct. This was in his TV notes column of November 6, 1960:

YOGI BEAR has become so popular as a character in the widely syndicated Screen Gems’ “Huckleberry Hound” TV cartoon series that he is being given a program of his own. The Yogi Bear series will be available in January. Two regular members of the cast, who have appeared from time to time in “Huckleberry Hound,” will be Snagglepuss, a lion, and Yakky Doodle, a duck. Yogi will be replaced in “Huckleberry Hound” by Wacko, a wise-cracking wolf.

Wacko Wolf?

Well, we all know that he was named Hokey Wolf. Gaver’s column is the only place I’ve been able to find in my admittedly limited research that he may have had a different original name. Gaver could have been mistaken. Or he could have been confused. There was another animated wolf who appeared in his own cartoons the following fall. There are references to him in the summer of 1961 in several news stories about Larry Harmon, who basically seized control of Bozo the Clown in the mid 1950s and produced television cartoons featuring the character. By 1960, he was sub-contracted to provide some Popeye TV cartoons for King Features. Harmon decided to expand his animated empire with drawn adventures of Laurel and Hardy. But that wasn’t all. Note this syndicated newspaper snippet from August 28, 1961:

Harmon also will continue as Bozo the Clown, adding 104 new cartoon sequences. He also will be the voice for Wacko Wolf, a western desperado.

The Hanna-Barbera influence can be seen pretty clearly in the drawing of Wacko (though it looks like the eyes were done at Gamma Productions). But did Joe and Bill come up with the name first? Or did they back down because of the stern gaze of Harmon’s lawyers?

According to “Hi There, Boys and Girls!: America's Local Children’s TV Shows” by Tim Hollis, Harmon started producing the Bozo cartoons in 1957 and gave the clown some supporting sidekicks, including Wacko Wolf (voiced by Paul Frees). So it could be that Hanna-Barbera quickly had to change their character’s already-taken name.

Or Gaver could have had his facts wrong. At this point, it’s an interesting little mystery that requires a bit more than the talents of Snooper and Blabber to solve.


  1. Larry Harmon actually produced all of his animation in Los Angeles and never used the services of Gamma Animation or any other foreign studio. He did, however, use the services of designer Ed Benedict who came in and streamlined the look of Bozo and Butchy Boy and then designed Wacko Wolf, Super Sniffer, Belinda and so on. Smart move on Harmon's part to hire such a great designer.

  2. And I can add one other strange bit to that. A circa 1960 TV GUIDE article enumerated a pile of "coming soon" television cartoons, and among them it listed "Waco Wolf." Did the wolf live in Texas? Are all people who live in Waco wacko? Or did someone else misunderstand something they heard or saw somewhere else?

    Thanks for plugging the book!

  3. Interesting. That H-B may have changed from " Wacko " to " Hokey ". It may have been a good thing. Larry Harmon was no stanger to the courtroom. After Harmon claimed ownership to Stan and Ollie's likeness( Which is pretty scary) He won a case over Stan Laurel's daughter Lois Laurel Hawes to prevent her and her family from selling or authorizing " Laurel & Hardy " merchandise, or using their image to sell merchandise. That's all a young company like Hanna-Barbera would have needed at the time. By the way " Hi There, Boys and Girl!" A GREAT read. Tim Hollis did his research. I loved how he goes state by state and covers the various morning or afternoon " kid's Hosts ". He covered a few I grew up watching.

  4. Having discovered a few Bozo cartoons via YT, I honestly thought at first that HB really did do some unclassified work, given Benedict's design for Wacko Wolf.

    Then again, crossed facts or not, it's a pretty close coincidence here. Very interesting insight :)

  5. Mark,

    Well, the Ed Benedict connection explains everything. I always figured that Wacko Wolf's design was just "influenced" by H-B.

    The article you mentioned said that Harmon did Wacko's voice. Did Larry Harmon replace Paul Frees or was that a mistake?

  6. Hokey Wolf was also created to replace Yogi Bear in Huck Hound's Show. Hanna Barbera previously Had a Wolf Character Before Hokey, None other Than Loopy De Loop. By the Way Mr Yowp, In terms of Music, Since ya Got the William Loose, Phil Green & Emil Cadkin scores, I Was Wondering If You could do Upload The Hoyt Curtin Scores from Loopy De Loop. Those scores are Great, I Love Them.

    Yours Sincerely, Asim M. Ishak. P.S Larry Harmon also Produced Popeye the Sailor cartoons right after he produced Bozo. I've Yet to see them, I've already seen his popeye though, The Angular designs on those RULE!

  7. There used to be a couple of Bozo episodes with Wacko on Youtube, but they were taken down. He does seem similarly designed to H-B characters of the time. Animators on the 'second series', i.e. 1962 Bozo cartoons included Casey Onaitis and Barney Posner, who would join H-B a couple of years later.

    It would be interesting to speculate whether Wacko would have had Hokey's Phil Silvers-esque voice and con-artist tendencies. Like many second-string H-B stars, Hokey had numerous prototypes in earlier Huck and Yogi cartoons.

  8. The Bozo cartoon also had one other H-B connection: writer Charles Shows. He wrote many Bozo cartoons.

  9. Anon, Hokey or a previous wolf WAS used in Yogi shorts, like "Oinks and Boinks"[try getting a title with that last word on the screen today!]

    "I need to FRUSTRATE myself. You know, like it says in the book!"


    1. Which episode Bozo with Wacko Wolf?

  10. The whole “Wacko / Hokey thing” makes sense to me as described. I do recall there were “two different series” of Bozo cartoons (none of which I’ve seen since the early ‘60s) and it was the second series that added Wacko, Belinda, and probably others.

    What I cannot recall is if Hokey or the second series of Bozo came first. They were really close, as I remember it. The first series of Bozo DID predate Hokey – but Wacko was not part of that.

    Of course, the characters of Hokey and Ding predate Wacko (though they may have been named “Chief” and Shorty”), having first appeared in the Huck cartoon “Sheep-Shape Sheepherder”.

  11. Larry Harmon bought the rights to Bozo the Clown from Capitol Records, who created the character as a recording with read along book package.