Wednesday, 14 April 2010

New Stars of the Cartoon World

It’s no wonder adults flocked to see the humour of an unflappable blue dog and his cohorts on The Huckleberry Hound Show. In the show’s first season, story after story in newspapers across the U.S. marvelled at how kids weren’t the only ones watching. The reason? All you have to do is look at any TV highlights column that ran next to the stories.

I’ll get to a syndicated piece published April 5, 1959 in a second. But, first, let’s look at the plot summaries from some of the long-running sitcoms that ran that week.

Grandpa has diet troubles.
Rivalry is renewed after an old classmate visits.
Trouble over a big fish.
Grampa’s surprise party plans backfire (a different TV grampa than the first example).
Ricky has girl trouble.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch a police officer hound with a funny accent get conned by a robber pretending to be the Masked Hornet than any of those tired old plots. Okay, I’d be watching if the episode of December Bride involved Verna Felton hiding or manoeuvring a big fish. Verna Felton is just plain funny.

Regardless, people loved Huck’s light parody and simple fun in those gentler days when television was new but most of the cartoons and sitcom ideas on it were old. Here’s more proof from the Chicago Daily News syndication service. The picture appeared with the story in the Toledo Blade:

Children’s Show . . . A TV Sleeper
Huckleberry Hound Clicks With Adult Viewers, Too

CHICAGO (CDN)—One of the sleepers of the television season is a cartoon series ostensibly designed for children, Huckleberry Hound (Ch. 13 at 6:30 p.m., Thursdays).
A sleeper is a television program that creeps onto the air without much fanfare and turns into a bit after a few performances.
The new Alcoa Presents series of fantasy shows on Tuesday nights is an example. 77 Sunset Strip began the season with ho-hum ratings but has gained strength.
The Three Stooges still has TV officials shaking their heads in disbelief at the unexpected success achieved by reruns of the ancient comedies.
* * *
HUCKLEBERRY Hound is like that. The show, consisting of three cartoons each program, has done quite well ratingwise.
There are more than a few parents who insist, in a slightly patronizing manner, that they watch Huckleberry Hound most weeks “because the kids are watching, you know.”
Judging from the imitations of some of the cartoon’s characters heard around business offices, I suspect that most of the parents are watching because they like it, too.
* * *
I’VE HEARD more than one dignified advertising executive yell across an office to a cohort:
“I hate you meeces to pieces!”
This is one of the lines of Jinks, a bewildered, determined cat who competes with two happy mice (the meeces) named Dixie and Pixie.
Jinks talks with a modified beatnik and bop slang. Hit by a falling tree or a crashing rock, he’ll blink his eyes and say:
“Like tell me now. Like what happened?”
* * *
THE SECOND of the cartoons features Yogi Bear, an Art Carney type character who wears a Joe College porkpie hat while ambling his way through “Jellystone Park.”
Yogi, who ends every sentence on a rising inflection and who smiles throughout the chaos that besets him, likes to talk to the TV audience.
He smuggled a stray elephant out of a secret exit in the back of a cave one night, turned to the camera and said:
“You’ve got to admit. I’m smarter than the average bear.”
Later, threatened by some zoo keepers, Yogi grinned and countered with, “You dare to threaten government property?”
* * *
HUCKLEBERRY Hound is a sincere hound who talks in a dragging twang straight from the Tennessee hills. He can pronounce “you” with three syllables. Other dogs on the program go “bark, bark, bark” when they appear.
One of Huck’s most recent antagonists was a termite that sang, “buzz, buzz, buzz-deebuzzbuzz” in a deep bass voice. Huck never did “terminate that termite.”
And there was the time . . I give up, these things are impossible to explain.
Ever try to explain a Tom and Jerry movie cartoon to a friend? That’s the way it is with Huckleberry Hound.
As the saying goes, you’ve got to be there.

And, you know, in looking at the TV highlights column of newspapers today, with airhead manufactured “real” people, dragged-out competition shows set up like soap operas, and steady streams of network-annointed political pundits yelling at each other, I’ll take Huck matching wits with a termite over other programming, even today. Considering what’s on now, I’d settle for Verna Felton hiding a fish in her housecoat for that matter.


  1. Terrific post! You might also note that not only prime time, but daytime and afternoon hours were choked with even older sitcoms ("My Little Margie," "Life of Reilly," "Our Miss Brooks" and of course Lucy and Ricky) that were running DAILY. "Huckleberry Hound" truly was an oasis of wit.

  2. The 1950s sitcoms were still anchored in the (non-visual) medium of traditional radio comedies, which meant that other than a few standout shows like "I Love Lucy", the visual gags and pacing could be painfully s-l-o-w.

    As dumb as some of the 60s sitcoms could be, they did take advantage of the visual medium better than their 50s counterparts. So for a small notch period between about 1958-61, the fact that Hanna-Barbera's work was both visual -- even with the limited animation -- and had the freedom of animation to create their own little worlds every six minutes gave "Huckleberry Hound" and other shows that followed in syndication and prime-time over the next couple of years far less of the feeling of being paced in concrete that many of the live-action comedies of the same period suffered from. (I'd even go as far as to say the success of the H-B cartoons in the late 50s opened the gates for the less reality-based sitcoms of the 1960s, though someone like Paul Henning was already experimenting with unreality as a source of comedy in the final few seasons of the Burns & Allen Show.)

  3. While I don't apologize for the fact that I would rather watch " Ozzie & Harriet "( No matter how insipid ), " Jack Benny ", " Burns & Allen ", " Private Secretary/Ann Southern " , " Pete & Gladys " and others from their ilk any day of the week over the shows that are being passed for " Classic TV " on a certain major network( There's a run on sentence-HA!), I agree with the above posts. Huck was an oasis of wit. Plus, as I have stated in former posts, Huck was just plain likable. Mister Everyman. A different occupation in most episodes. Whether it was getting a " Kitty Cat " down from a tree, or delivering the mail against a dog bent of biting him..we rooted for him to succeed. I never grow tired of the original Huck. He's like an old friend.

  4. They were so popular that all three shows ran
    decades in local syndication. I remember Yogi
    and Quick draw Mcgraw airing way until 1982
    on kttv 11 in Southern California.

  5. Errol, I don't want to get off-topic with a discussion of sitcoms. I don't like the contrived hokeyness in most radio sitcoms and, as JL mentioned, those shows simply moved over to TV (I don't consider Benny a sitcom and Burns & Allen isn't quite one. It's interesting the unhokey Harris/Faye Show never went to TV). But nothwithstanding the pleasant characteristics of Huck and Yogi, their "satire", as it kept being called, was far more biting that any '50s sitcom I can think of. Of course, cartoons had a different story structure as they weren't 24 or so minutes long.

    Michael mentioned daytime hours but they were still filled in 1959 with the same thing they were in network radio days .. soap operas, game or stunt shows and homemaker chats. And kids shows after school. Syndication of old sitcoms doesn't seem to have happened until the early 60s; there wouldn't have been sitcoms to syndicate before that because the medium was so new.

    JL raises an interesting theory. I don't know whether it's entirely true. Huck et al were marketed to children and were in children's programming time-slots. Bewitched, Jeannie, Hillbillies, etc. were definitely geared to an adult audience, though kids watched. And Mr. Ed was really a re-hashed Francis so its origins could argueably be said to pre-date Huck. Still, it's an interesting conjecture.

  6. Verna Felton & Frank Nelson and other radio-born actors of course could create ANY "visual" situation just with their voice--I can imagine Miss Felton with a fish in her mouth..[he Spumco guys probaly would know how to ILLUSTRATE such a concept].

    The only things the HB shows and the sitcoms had was a lot of the same stock music..

    BTW I do like some of the "cute" shows of the 50s and 60s once in a while..