Thursday 30 September 2010

The Flintstones’ 50th Birthday

50 years ago today, people first parked themselves in front of the TV set to watch The Flintstones. And they’ve been doing it ever since.

I caught most of the seasons in first-run and then every weekday through the latter part of the 1960s in syndication. To explain what I liked about the show, I have to explain what I didn’t like about the show.

The worst episode was when Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm unexpectedly sprouted voices and constantly sang an annoying and insipid song. As the episode unfolded, I couldn’t believe what I was watching. The fact it turned out to be a dream struck me, age nine or so, as an outrageous attempt to screw with my head and add sense to a nonsensical idea.

And that anomaly speaks to the reason about why The Flintstones has been popular all these years. The characters are believable.

They behave in a way we all recognise. Who doesn’t know at least a toned-down version of a loud guy who thinks he has all the answers but, at the same time, has a softer side he doesn’t like showing? Or a friend who’s happy-go-lucky, if not a little goofy? Or an enthusiastic pet that seems to take on human qualities? Crappy work-days, lack of money, trying to find time for simple recreation, being wide-eyed at Hollywood hype, raising a kid. The Flintstones treated them with humour and occasional lampoonery. Viewers understood, empathised and believed.

Yes, we all know no one ever used talking mastodons as kitchen hoses. But that’s believable, too. The show follows a certain logic—it’s set in the Stone Age, so what else would they use? So we’re willing to accept a talking bird as an intercom or a little tyrannosaurus as a lawnmower. And an extra element has been added. They act almost as a Greek chorus, talking to us about the previous dialogue or their lot in life, much like Warner Bros. cartoon characters making weary or silly (but always pertinent) asides to the audience.

And for young viewers like me, there was an added bonus. The Flintstones reinforced our belief adults sometimes did a lot of really stupid things. Kids wouldn’t do them. That meant we were smarter.

To pull it all together, Joe Barbera put together a stellar cast of actors—Alan Reed, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl and Bea Benadaret, ably assisted by Don Messick, John Stephenson, Hal Smith and a bunch of others, including radio’s incomparable battle-axe, Verna Felton.

You’ve read the rippings the critics gave the show after its first broadcast. Let’s jump ahead of October 4, 1963. No less than Brooks Atkinson of The New York Times, the paper that called The Flintstones “an inked disaster” in Jack Gould’s column three years earlier, praised the show and elucidated his reasons far better than I have. I can only wonder what Gould must have thought of his co-workers’ words.

Cartoon Flintstones Possess Freshness Rarely Found in Acted TV Comedy
SINCE Actors Equity has co-existed with animated cartoons through most of its history, it has taken no official action against “The Flintstones,” now in its fourth season on American Broadcasting Company television.
But the comedians’ section of Equity might consider a suit on grounds of unfair competition. No actor could duplicate the exuberant frenzy of Fred Flintstone, the Stone Age extrovert whose combination of bullheadedness and blundering—both in an excessive degree—is the weekly topic of a remarkably fresh cartoon. “Barney, you know I never have any trouble sleeping,” Fred once gloomily observed to his pint-size buddy. “It’s when I am awake that my troubles begin.” Fred is a rugged individualist with a feeble brain-bone.
If the cartoon elements could be scientifically analyzed, they would probably emerge as a version of the familiar big-man, little-man comedy—Mutt and Jeff, Bert and Harry Piel, etc. But William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who invented the characters in 1960, lifted their cartoon out of mediocrity by setting it in the Stone Age. It is pure fantasy in the genre of “Alice in Wonderland.” Although the Flintstones, and their next-door neighbors, the Rubbles, lead modern lives with modern equipment, they are Stone Age people who have domesticated Stone Age animals and birds to perform the household chores.
AS A CRANE operator in the Rock Head and Quarry Construction Company, situated in Bedrock, Fred drives a patient dinosaur. The current introduction to the program pictures Fred sliding joyously down the back of the dinosaur when the whistle blows and yelling “ya-ba-ba-ba-doo,” which is his theme cry. The family pet in the home cave is a young dinosaur that obeys Fred’s “Down, boy” literally by knocking Fred down and smothering him with kisses.
A starving buzzard under the sink is the garbage disposal, and an elephant’s trunk is the kitchen faucet; a lizard with sharp teeth is the can opener; a mastodon with an evil look is the vacuum cleaner; a bitter crow with a sharp beak is the needle on the hi-fi set; a pterodactyl with gnashing teeth and a mean disposition is the lawn mower.
During the last season, “The Flintstones” lost some of its original enthusiasm for the fantastic setting. It has become increasingly preoccupied with domestic affairs, like the birth of a bland, self-contained daughter, Pebbles, to Fred and Wilma (Isn’t Pebbles rather large for her age?) But the original genius of the cartoon was the comic ingenuity with which it played variations on the incongruous, inventive and humorous background of the Stone Age.
The traditional business of cartoons is to explore the battle between the sexes. After losing one round to Wilma recently, Fred said: "Why doesn't someone invent something but women for us to marry?" Both Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble are more sophisticated than their husbands and take appropriate action in defense of their prerogatives when necessary. There is nothing mean about any of them. But an ominous drop of sentimentality intruded on domestic dissonance the other day. After Fred had worn himself out trying to look after the baby and the house simultaneously, Wilma said: “Fred, you are the dearest bungler in the world.” This expression of mawkish affection in a cartoon is wholly untraditional.
A sentimental cartoon is a contradiction in terms. It is getting close to the stuff that human beings act. On the drawing board, Fred and Barney are outside human scale. Everything they do is excessive. In their Stone Age model T they bounce through a grotesque landscape with superhuman speed and utility. At the meetings of the Order of Water Buffaloes they luxuriate superhuman gusto. Thanks to raciness of the cartoon medium, they are worth a hundred of the standard comedies, and they make actors look inept and anxious.

ABC got six prime-time seasons out of the Bedrock gang and that was a little too long. Anyone who has watched TV situation comedies—and I had seen plenty of them before reaching my teenage years—knows when a show has run out of ideas or originality. That’s what happened with The Flintstones. The Rubbles got a pet and a child. The show did that already. The Gruesomes? Too much of a direct copy; anyone could come up with that. Darrin and Samantha Stevens. In the Stone Age? And as cartoons? The Great Gazoo. Can’t the principal characters carry the plot any more? What show needs an unlikable twerp?

Sorry, but stuff like that hurt the crux of the series’ popularity—its believability.

Normally, missteps like that would kill a show. However, it seems to me there was still enough good to overcome the bad in the old episodes that were rerun endlessly so that the Bedrock gang was still entertaining to millions as the years rolled on.

But The Flintstones is more than a cartoon and more than a cash cow through commercial tie-ins. It’s become a cultural reference point. The show, the characters, even the situations still come up in every day life. Stone Age references generally invoke the name of the show. So did a recent news story about a foot-powered car. A strong football player recently got tagged with a nickname belonging to a boy Bedrock tyke born long before he was. The Flintstones aren’t alone in this. Read any story about flying cars or futuristic homes and you’ll see the word “Jetsons” somewhere. News items about hungry or friendly bears include “Yogi” or “pic-a-nic” (Daws Butler’s contribution to the vernacular). Even Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw are still used as comparative examples to people or events because they are known and liked. Their lasting popularity is proof of the skill of the many creative people at Hanna-Barbera through the ‘50s and into the ‘60s to overcome the artistic limitations imposed by television on time and money to create lasting entertainment and fun, believable characters.

Like many of you, I’ve been watching The Flintstones for as long as I can remember. It’s not my favourite Hanna-Barbera show, but the best episodes are still engaging and funny, 50 years later. And you can believe that.

Here are a few news stories you can check out. The first talks about Google’s salute to Hanna-Barbera’s biggest success of the ’60s with a special masthead today. Animation writer Harry McCracken has pointed out Bamm-Bamm’s severed head is on the roof.

A blog on The Toronto Star has a humorous look at what we’ve learned from The Flintstones in 50 years. Apparently, people in Toronto must have humour because the writer states she likes Gazoo. That’s a hot one!

Agence France Presse has a nice summary of 50 years of Life in Bedrock (en Anglais).

Try your hand at a Flintstones Quiz, courtesy of Stony Browntosaurus at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Want your own Flintstones car? Some guy has actually designed one.

And here’s a site that links to four Flintstone flash games you can play.

Oh, yes, what would the Yowp blog be without cartoon music?

You want background music? Here’s 18-plus minutes of Hoyt Curtin’s incidental music from the seasons before that god-awful compressed crap from Magilla Gorilla inflicted the soundtrack. Lots of bassoons and tubas to provide an earthy sound.

Remember the party music in the first produced cartoon, ‘The Swimming Pool’? You can hear it below, along with some other cool jazzy music. It’s the best stuff Curtin wrote for Fred and Barney. The trumpet playing is wild. Pete Candoli, I’ll bet.

And from Wonderland Records LP-285 is an original cast recording of the second Flintstones theme that the world knows and loves, with an extra chorus and a few different words. Everyone’s singing in character, though Bea Benaderet is actually sing/speaking, despite the fact she sang on stage and when she began in radio in the ‘20s. Alan Reed struggles a bit. Have a listen and have a gay old time. You know what we mean.

Finally, let us dedicate this post to Warren Foster. You all know Foster’s background. He ran a music school in New York City then got a job with the Fleischer studio. Mike Maltese recommended him to (likely) Bob Clampett and Foster travelled west to the Warner Bros. studio where he and Maltese wrote some of the funniest cartoons ever made. The two were lured to Hanna-Barbera and adapted nicely to the limits of TV animation. Foster maintained a little cynical streak toward show business and marriage which fit in nicely at H-B. I believe he’s with Alan Dinehart in the photo you see here, with one of his fine storyboards in the background. Maltese may be my favourite writer, but it was Foster’s workhorse efforts that helped ensure The Flintstones were a hit.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Inked Disaster

There’s a good reason The Flintstones were panned after their debut. It’s called “perspective.”

It seems impossible to anyone today that such a thing could have happened. But our perspective is not that of TV reviewers the day after the show first aired 50 years ago this Thursday. For one thing, people today have seen the same 166 episodes constantly aired over and over—on a daily basis for many of those years. We’ve grown to love the characters, the theme song and the funny little unhappy living gadgets that turned the show into a huge money-maker for Hanna-Barbera and its later owners. None of that was available to TV critic tuning in on September 30, 1960. All he or she had was the ability to compare that one episode starring unfamiliar characters to television that had aired up to that point, and to the pre-show hype.

And the first episode doesn’t live up to the hype.

Endlessly came the drumbeat from the H-B advertising machine that The Flintstones was different. It was adult, adult, adult! Full of social satire on suburbia! The first episode that aired was ‘The Flintstone Flyer.’ Anyone expecting veiled commentary on modern day marriage or daily life would have been sadly disappointed. The cartoon opened with a clip from later in the show where the gag is a bowling ball splitting apart, like the way cars split apart in chase scenes in silent film comedies. The opening’s the best part, where a city scene is transposed to the Stone Age, but it’s something that had been done by the Fleischers in cartoons 20 years earlier. Then the rest of the first ten minutes is a fat unknown guy yelling at a smaller unknown guy, though we get a cute gag remarking on the huge size of Sunday newspapers.

At that point, critics must have thought about the funny lines spouted by Quick Draw McGraw and the weary, subservient husbands on ‘Papa Yogi’ and wondered why this show wasn’t doing any of that.

Of course, people got to know the characters and the show took off. But it seems to have taken a bit of time. Joe Barbera recollected Daily Variety called it “an inked disaster.” He was half-right. It was really the New York Times. Here’s what columnist Jack Gould wrote on October 1, 1960:

One of the innovations announced for the current season was a half-hour situation comedy to be done in the format of an animated cartoon. With so many sponsors making witty use of drawings—indeed some of the commercials have been more amusing than the shows—the prospect of such an entertainment series was both enticing and overdue.
Last night the event finally came to pass; “The Flintstones,” conceived by the young men who won assorted prizes for “Huckleberry Hound,” made its debut at 8:30 on Channel 7. Regrettably, the verdict can not be pleasant; the show was an inked disaster.
The producers, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, have concocted two married couples, the Flintstones and the Rubbles, and put them down in the town of Bedrock. The masculine figures are notably unattractive, coarse and gruff, and the woman nondescript. The speaking voices assigned to the four characters are not very tasteful.
Where it was presumed a Stone Age perspective would be applied to civilization’s contemporary foibles, the thirty-minute cartoon turned out to be an extremely heavy-handed and labored effort. The humor was of the boff-and-sock genre, nothing light or subtle. The story was about how the men wanted to go to a bowling alley and the women wanted to go to the opera; much of the action merely suggested the Three Stooges’ capering on an easel.
The cartoon was accompanied by intrusive canned laughter to alert the home audience to the appropriate moments for reaction. The injection of such a mundane touch played complete hob with any sense of illusion or make-believe. So did the commercials in which the cartoon characters served as pitchmen for vitamins.

But he wasn’t the only one unhappy with the show. Cynthia Lowry, the AP radio-television columnist, called it “ham-handed” (Oct. 19, 1960). Donald Kirkley of the Baltimore Sun disliked the series so much, he panned it twice, first explaining it was “far below” expectations on October 14, then offering these thoughts on October 20, 1960:

Another good idea gone wrong is The Flintstones (WJZ Fridays). An animated cartoon about adults living in the Stone Age could be comical and has possibilities for satire. This offering concocted by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, authors of Huckleberry Hound, missed the target by a mile. The trouble is in the writing and the characterizations. Close your eyes and you’d think this was just another suburban family comedy and not a very good one inhabited by unpleasantly uncouth people. Watching them ride in helicopters made of egg beaters, automobiles hewn from logs and bowling with rocks is incongruous rather than funny.

Columnist Jay Fredericks opined (October 30, 1960):

SPEAKING of good laughs, there are damn few good or bad ones in a new television series, “The Flintstones.”
I was solemnly assured by a local television official a couple of months ago that “The Flintstones” would be (a) hilarious and (b) THE show of the season. It is neither.
For those of you who have been lucky enough to escape, “The Flintstones" is an animated cartoon about two stone-age couples who have all the troubles of our suburban society.
The series was created by the same people who originated “Huckleberry Hound,” and, for this reason, I was willing to hope that the first effort was not typical of the whole series — that somehow, it had just got off to a weak start.
Unfortunately, this isn’t so. The whole series is weak. “The Flintstones” is just another unfunny, predictable situation comedy, the only difference being that the characters are drawn rather than being living, breathing actors.

And the AP’s movie-TV writer Bob Thomas wrote in papers of November 11 about how lousy television viewing was overall on Friday night. Before he ripped The Twilight Zone (!) came the opinion:

“The Flintstones” offered some hope of escaping the crushing routine on Friday night. After all, it was a cartoon with the amusing premise of a modern view of the Stone Age. Alas, it was simply another domestic farce and no funnier than “December Bride.” Plus which it had an inane laugh track. Canned laughter for cartoons! What next?

Even fans today aren’t all that keen about the laugh track. But don’t blame Hanna-Barbera for it, as we learn from this column by the Times-Mirror Syndicate, dated October 9, 1960.

‘Flintstones’ Has Built-in Laughter
To give you an idea how unsure of itself the TV industry is, we now are witnessing laugh tracks being attached to animated cartoons.
Kids and adults have been sitting in living rooms watching old “Popeyes” and the TV-born “Huckleberry Hound” and laughing it up big all by themselves. That happy day is about to end.
On the ABC network on Friday 8.30 p.m., is a now cartoon series called “The Flintstones.” It comes at a prime evening hour so that both parents and kids can view it each week. It also comes with a built-in laugh track.
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, creators of “Huck Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw,” weren’t sure they had heard right when told to put a laugh track on their newest baby, “The Flintstones.”
“I guess you’d have to say we were flabbergasted,” says Hanna. “It simply never occurred to us that laughs were something which had to be added.”
Bill Dozier of Screen Gems, Inc., distributors and partners in “The Flintstones,” explained to the naïve Messrs. Hanna and Barbera that the show is a situation comedy for adults, and that all situation comedies for adults come equipped with laugh tracks.
Hanna and Barbera got their next shock when a fellow by the name of Charles Douglas came calling with his portable laugh machine.
Charlie’s machine looks something like a miniature piano or organ. When he rattles the keys, it plays a wide variety of human laughs which Charlie has recorded on tape at Elks’ conventions, carnival fun-houses and old Martin & Lewis radio shows.
During a run-through of “The Flintstones” in the studio, Charlie plays a medley of laughs on his “piano,” and they are duly recorded on a sound track to match what is hoped will be the spots where a live audience will laugh at seeing the half-hour cartoon.
“We threw out the first two laugh tracks ourselves,” says Joe Barbera. “They were too heavy, and just didn’t work. Now we have a much lighter track, which we hope the audience will be aware of only subconsciously.”
“You know,” says Hanna, “it is a funny thing, but ‘The Flintstones’ was bought by ABC and the sponsors when they discovered adults were watching and enjoying ‘Huck Hound’ and ‘Quick Draw McGraw.’ But after buying for adults, they now are worried about whether adults will like the cartoon series. How do you figure it?"
I found the first episode of “The Flintstones” only mildly funny. I’m sure that one of the reasons it didn't seem to measure up to other Hanna-Barbera shows was due to all of the “expert” distilling this first show had to go through.
If the creators can get off in a corner by themselves, subsequent episodes are almost bound to improve.

But not all reviews were bad. The show got a boost from a column syndicated in a pile of small-town papers around November 6, 1960, though it sounds like the writer was working from studio PR handouts. I constantly read about “Cobblestone County” as if it were an important part of the show and I don’t remember the reference at all.

‘The Flintstones’ Spoofs Suburbia’
Comedy On Rocks Gains Viewer Nod As Most Distinctive
Hollywood Correspondent
Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — There’s rock-and-roll and Rock Hudson and people at bars ordering Scotch and bourbon on the rocks. There are charges that U. S. diplomacy is on the rocks, there’s soup on the rocks and now there is a TV show on the rocks.
More than one situation comedy will be thrown on the rocks by fans before the season is over, I suspect, and you probably have been muttering all along that many a TV producer has rocks in the head.
But with “The Flintstones” on ABC every Friday night it appears to be success on the rocks. There’s another way to have rocks in the head—the way two cheerful fellows named Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara have ‘em.
Veteran animated cartoon producers, Bill and Joe and their geologic cerebrations launched “The Flintstones” as the year’s most distinctive comedy ideas.
The half-hour show, entirely in animation, is about a modern suburban family in the Stone Age —and almost everything is on the rocks from the characters to the dialogue, as the plots kid both suburbia and the Stone Age.
It's amazing how much fun and nonsense these light-headed cartoonists are putting on the rocks.
Fred Flintstone and his family own a genuine “Stoneway” piano and a hi-fi set which plays grooved discs of rock. The needle is a sharp-beaked bind that comments acidly on the music.
Fred is a subscriber to the Daily Slate, a newspaper chiseled on a stone slab. The big circulation problem of the Daily Slate is its Sunday edition, because no subscriber is strong enough to pick it up.
One episode has the Flintstones departing for Hollyrock, the town where prehistoric movies are made. They check in at the Rockadero Hilton and meet stars like Gary Granite and Rock Pile.
In the same geological vein, virtually all of the characters have stony names. There’s Joe Rockhead, chief of the Bedrock Fire Department in Cobblestone County; Perry Gunnite, a detective so tough that his favorite drink is rocks on the rocks (he drinks it by the quartz); Mr. Granite, foreman of the Rockhead and Quarry Cave Construction Co. where Fred Flintstone works. The firm’s motto is “Own Your Own Cave and Feel Secure.”
Even the music is along the same lines.
“I don’t know what we would have done without rock-and-roll,” Barbera laughs. “If it didn’t exist, we might have had to invent it.”
Even the voice of a sports commentator on the series was made to fit the rocky mood.
“We made him sound like Andy Devine,” Hanna laughs. “You know—gravelly.”
Putting puns on the rocks for the show is a creative brain trust which includes Joe and Bill, associate producer Allan Dinehart; story director Alex Lovy and writers Warren Foster and Mike Maltese. It’s a serious business with them.
Brainstorming polylithic parodies keeps the midnight oil burning.
Oil on the rocks, of course.

Serious business, indeed. The Flintstones became the company’s biggest success, both on the tube and on the balance sheet through endless commercial tie-ins. But I can’t help but think one wire service columnist had the best perspective looking back on the show in 1961 after it had been on a few months.

TV Reviewer Not Impressed With ‘Flintstones’ Series
New York, Jan. 25 (UPI) — The great TV hoax of this season, in my book, is “The Flintstones.”
It was a happy occasion last year when ABC-TV announced that the 1960-61 season would be enlivened with an “adult-aimed situation comedy in animated cartoon form . . . a satire on modern suburban life.” The handout referred to “The Flintstones,” a prime time entry off the drawing boards of the Hanna-Barbera Studios, producers of the great “Huckleberry Hound” series.
The prospect of an adult cartoon series was something to which I looked forward with pleasure. Well, “The Flintstones” came and conquered. The show caught on. It won awards as “most unique new program,” of all things. Millions of adults tune it in.
But it’s not the show it purported to be.
As I watch the show, off and on—in the words of the TV knob—I find myself wondering when it will begin to be an “adult-aimed . . . satire on modern suburban life.”
The other day I saw this quote from Joe Barbera, one of the creators of “The Flintstones:” “We never said Flintstones would be adult. That was all part of a publicity buildup ... Nowhere in the format did we promise people an animated New Yorker magazine.”
In short, we’ve been had. While the great awakening has made my disappointment easier to bear, it would effect [sic] the youngsters. They did it. And I dig “Huckleberry Hound,” which is more adult and more satirical, even though it’s billed as a “kiddy show.”

The disappointing thing in the review is not Danzig’s conclusion, but the barefaced BS of Joe Barbera. He certainly did say the show would be “adult”; you can find a reprint on this blog of the newspaper story where he did it. To write it off as mere publicity is disingenuous at best. His Flintstones pre-debut interview barrage wasn’t the only time Barbera shovelled it high for the sake of getting people to watch his shows. He even played the “not for kids” card again when pushing Jonny Quest before it aired in 1964.

In reading Danzig’s review, you can understand why critics were initially disappointed. However, viewers ignored, saw through, or forgot the PR hype and came to like the show. In a 50th birthday post, we’ll explain why.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Art Gilmore 1912-2010

In a world before Don LaFontaine was King of the Movie Trailers came only one man. One man from Tacoma. One man with a voice.

That man was Art Gilmore.

Many of us first heard Art’s tones over the top of a Bill Loose music bed from the Capitol Hi-Q library (C-95B Documentary Legato Underscore) as he urged listeners or viewers to write for a free booklet to a box number in Pasadena and tune in again to ‘The World Tomorrow.’

But Art had an amazingly prolific career in broadcasting and acting long before that. He began on radio as a singer on KVI in 1934. Before LaFontaine, he was the King of the Movie Trailers. He wasn’t in all of them, but it sure seemed he was. From Rear Window to any number of cheesy science fiction/horror or beach party movies through the ‘50s into the ‘60s. But unlike LaFontaine, Art Gilmore was known for much more than telling people what starts Friday at a theatre near you. He appeared on camera in the original Dragnet. He was the narrator on the Joe McDoakes series of shorts for Warner Bros. He was the announcer for top radio shows like Dr. Christian, Lux Radio Theatre, Amos ‘n’ Andy. And for Red Skelton on television. None of this even touches on his industrial film narration. Or his leadership of the American Federation of Radio Artists. Or his work with the Red Cross. Or with the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters Association. Or the announcing award named for him by Alpha Epsilon Rho at Washington State University.

Or his connection to a certain blue hound.

Below are the end titles for the first Huckleberry Hound Show. The voice you hear belongs to Art Gilmore.

I’ve wondered if Art was on the Huck show at the behest of the sponsor. He did commercials for Kellogg’s. Here’s a fun one with Art and the wonderful Thurl Ravenscroft (Hal Smith is Tony, Jr). Anyone know if Hanna-Barbera did the animation? Ed Love maybe?

Art was a quiet, religious man by all accounts, married to the same woman for 72 years. I’ve always enjoyed his work and I hope I’ve given you a little taste of his connection to the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

They Drew the Flintstones

Since the Flintstones and the Rubbles turn 50 on Thursday, perhaps it’s fitting to look at some of the people who brought them to life.

Bill Hanna told the story about how story artist Dan Gordon was trying to come up with a gimmick for a half-hour sitcom cartoon with no luck when he was inspired to sketch two cavemen and a record player using a bird’s beak for a needle. Ed Benedict got involved to do some concept and character drawings, Bick Bickenbach fit in somewhere and then Gordon put together the first storyboard.

Remarkably, most of the first season shows for The Flintstones were churned out by only one animator. That first season still maintains a bit of individual style as each artist got used to the characters. Carlo Vinci and Ken Muse had been with Hanna and Barbera at MGM and came over when the studio opened in 1957. When it expanded in 1959 to be able to handle not only Huckleberry Hound, but the new Quick Draw McGraw Show, the Loopy DeLoop theatricals and a little commercial business, more animators were added to the staff. Don Patterson came over from Walter Lantz, George Nicholas arrived from Disney. Ed Love and Dick Lundy appeared in the credits as well. The following year, Bill Keil moved over from Disney.

It’s really hard to pick a favourite.

Carlo’s distinctive style is pretty easy to spot because you can see the same things in Yogi cartoons of the late ‘50s. Carlo loved to stretch characters horizontally before they dove out of a scene. With Fat Freddie, that ain’t easy. If you spot a row of thick teeth, with the tooth lines not going all the way down, that’s Carlo. His head movements are angular, almost jerking side-to-side in three quarters view. Carlo was big on angles with characters bending every which way (especially their fingers and arms). You can see below how Carlo has Fred’s butt in the air and angles aplenty.

Nicholas animated my favourite Flintstones cartoon, when Dino learns that television is a nothing but a sham land after he lands a part on his favourite show, ‘Sassie.’ Nicholas plants big floppy tongues and big mouths on Fred and Barney (and Yogi), and had teeny little pupils to register shock, sometimes with a thick, wavy mouth line.

Ed’s stuff is a little difficult to tell in single drawings, but he loved drawing two or three teeth taking up a mouth. The remarkable thing about Ed is his movement. He’ll draw a head in three-quarters view in seven different positions, from low to high. He may move an eyebrow in one drawing, and hold it in the next to move something else. His cycle animation isn’t always on twos; he’ll vary it so the timing isn’t the same.

Ed didn’t use teeth as often when drawing mouths on Fred and Barney as he did on Huck or Mr. Jinks. Instead, he had an odd wave-shape to the upper lip and the mouth had a dip to it. You can see what I mean below.

Patterson’s got a group of fans that laud him over all others. Many of the things he does reminds me of other artists. His characters bite their lip on the “f” sound. So do Ed Love’s but Patterson doesn’t move the head around or display teeth as much as Ed. Don will also draw a wavy line for a mouth like George Nicholas. Patterson also likes drawing the eyes together; Mike Lah occasionally did the same thing during his time at Hanna-Barbera. But Patterson always comes up with funny takes that no one else uses. Why Lantz kept Paul Smith over him, I’ll never know.

Something else Patterson did was draw closed eyes with the top and bottom lids almost like triangles, though they were a little more rounded on The Flintstones than in Yogi cartoons.

Lundy was one of Disney’s top guys in the mid ‘30s. He had the best-ever unit assembled at Lantz when he directed there in the mid to late ‘40s, then worked with tremendous animators at MGM a couple of years later (no less than Tex Avery’s unit). But I can’t find a lot that’s distinctive about his work at Hanna-Barbera. I’ve noticed on several H-B cartoons, including the Flintstones, his character’s pupils are bigger than others drew them.

Ken Muse’s stuff is easy to pick out as he has a thin half-row of teeth below the upper lip and a little tongue that moves up and down in the mouth. He drew Spike that way in the MGM cartoons and carried on that way for the first few years of the Hanna-Barbera studio. He seems to have been entrusted with the opening and closing animation of a bunch of series, including The Flintstones; see Fred’s teeth in the credits above. At least one other H-B animator drew characters with Muse teeth; you can see it starting in the shorts in the early ‘60s.

I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about Bill Keil’s style. He didn’t work on the first two seasons of Huck or the first season of Quick Draw and those are the cartoons I’m most familiar with. Much like Hugh Fraser ended up working with Carlo Vinci, Keil was generally paired off during his work on the half-hour cartoons. Before arriving at H-B, he was responsible for ‘Barbecue For Two’ (1960), one of the King Features TV Popeyes that is fondly remembered by some.

Many other animators came later—La Verne Harding, Bob Carr, Don Williams, even Virgil Ross—but these are the men who carried the show through its baby season to eventual success and history.

Yowp note: my sincere thanks to everyone who added insight about the animators in the comments section. Your insight is of benefit to everybody reading here.

Saturday 25 September 2010

Quick Draw McGraw — El Kabong Strikes Again

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Walt Clinton; Backgrounds – Joe Montell; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Quick Draw, Baba Looey, Miner 2, Sweating Señor, Bull – Daws Butler; Narrator, Don Chillada Lookalike, Miner 1, Terrible Tabasco – Don Messick; Señorita – Jean Vander Pyl.
First aired: December 21, 1959.
Plot: Quick Draw, as El Kabong, tries to vanquish the Terrible Tabasco to save a señorita.

There’s something satisfying about cartoon characters that know they’re in a cartoon and who let the audience know it, too. Tex Avery brilliantly used the device in dialogue (stopping play in Batty Baseball) and sight gags (the unexpected ‘Technicolor Ends Here’ gag in Lucky Ducky). And, more than any other H-B character, Quick Draw McGraw reminds the audience that they’re an audience. Generally, he and Baba Looey spend part of each cartoon talking to the people on the other side of the TV set, but he’s a little more direct in this one.

One of my favourite Mike Maltese lines comes in this cartoon when Quick Draw, hearing a damsel in distress, exclaims “El Kabong strikes again!” then, in an aside to us all, confidentially adds “Notice how neatly that works into the title of the picture?” Maltese is really the star of this cartoon, as he tosses in enough silly dialogue and corn to make this sequel another fun Quick Draw outing.

The first El Kabong cartoon featured a rhyming story-teller, and Maltese does the same thing here.

In the town of El Pueblo, so the story is told
The people were bilked by a villain bold.
Then a champion arrived to right the wrong.
He was known far and wide as El Kabong.

El Kabong graciously turns to the camera and says “Howdy” to us. Then he lands with a thud on the table of someone who suspiciously looks and sounds like Don Chillada from the previous cartoon. Except he’s not the real villain of this piece. He exists to set up a cartoon-reference gag.

Bad Guy: It’s El Kabong!
Quick Draw: You were expecting maybe Huckleberry Hound?

At this point, the bad guy gets smashed with a guitar in typical Kabong fashion. What’s interesting here is he has blue irises. I can’t think of too many H-B characters at that time with anything more than pupils and whites.

The narrator continues, as we see shots of stereotypes. And one’s smoking!

For a while, the people prospered as they worked in the mine.
In Pueblo, the sun never failed to shine.
Then fickle fate inflicted a fiendish fiasco,
In the form of the tyrant, The Terrible Tabasco!

The poetry gets interrupted for a couple of gags featuring townspeople. One’s a silly one where two miners are each returning the $10 they owe each other. A thick row of teeth equals Carlo Vinci animating. And Walt Clinton and Joe Montell come up with a great sunny, late afternoon background drawing. I love the shades of light reds and browns, and the angular cacti in the foreground.

Tabasco is holding a señorita captive. His demand is 10,000 pestardos by tomorrow or she will have to marry him.

Señorita: Oh, you brute! You monster! You thing! In that order.


Señorita: Oh, you villain! Haven’t you done enough harm to this town?
Tabasco: No, there must be something else I can steal.

The señorita screams for El Kabong. We now fade to Quick Draw playing his guitar as an unimpressed Baba Looey listens, just like in the first cartoon.

Ohhhhh, I haven’t slept for 20 days.
I should look an awful sight.
But it doesn’t bother me at a bit,
‘Cause I always sleep at night.

Quick Draw hears the señorita and after the confidential observation to the audience about the title of the cartoon, he ducks behind a rock to change into his “dashing El Kabong outfit.” And just like in the first cartoon, and in Super Rabbit (1944) that Maltese may have co-written for Chuck Jones, he changes into the wrong costume. However, that is soon rectified and El Kabong grabs a rope from somewhere and swings to the bandito’s hideout. His landing isn’t exactly three-point.

Tabasco gets a quick kabonging and rushes from the scene in his horse-drawn coach (with ‘TT’ on the side) to avoid more guitar violence. The inventive El Kabong finds a way around that (left). Kabong lands on the roof of the carriage and engages in a sword-fight unlike anything seen in a Doug Fairbanks Zorro picture. Tabasco seems to sprout multiple sword-bearing arms, prompting El Kabong to remark “I must be duelling with an octopus.” One sword pops up through a trap door in the roof and stabs El Kabong in the butt. This gives him a chance to say “Oooh. That smarts!” (Catchphrase 1).

The cartoon shifts a bit. The señorita (with lavender-coloured eyelids) laments she needs 10,000 pestardos. El Kabong replies “All I have is a buck-35 and half a green stamp.” But Baba Looey points to a convenient sign. Now comes a hoary old gag.

Señorita: You are going to fight a bull for me, El Kabong?
El Kabong: I am?
Señorita: I knew you would!

This gives him a chance to say “Hold on thar!” (Catchphrase 2). All Maltese has to do is fit in the “thinnin’” catchphrase and we’ve got a trifecta.

So Baba Looey shoves the less-than-fearless El Kabong into the bull ring and after a bit of chasing (and a pencil sharpener gag), Baba hands the guitar to our hero, who sings the off-key ditty we heard at the start of the cartoon. The bull reacts as you might expect.

Tabasco attempt to escape with a chest containing the 10,000 pestardos, but a well-placed kabong takes care of that. Tabasco drops the loot and runs off.

Señorita: Thank you, El Kabong. And may I see the handsome face behind the mask of my hero El Kabong?
El Kabong: Well, it is kind of handsome in a wretched sort of way.

And Quick Draw is right. The señorita looks, screams and runs away, returning briefly to grab the chest of cash.

Quick Draw: What’s wrong with her, Baba?
Baba: I thin’ maybe El Kabong strikes out again.

This was the second of four El Kabong cartoons that aired in the 1959-60 season. What’s interesting is this cartoon re-ran on March 13, 1961 and was followed in consecutive weeks by El Kabong, Jr. and El Kabong Meets El Kazing. Evidently, the folks at Hanna-Barbera eventually decided El Kabong was more of a hit than Quick Draw himself (in the show’s 1961-62 third season, half the new cartoons featured El Kabong).

By the way—what is a pestardo?

Something really unusual is heard in the soundtrack to the cartoon. Hoyt Curtin’s underscores weren’t being used yet but the sound-cutter has inserted a goodly portion of Curtin’s Quick Draw theme song in this one. It’s used when Quick Draw is introduced, which makes it a great choice. I suspect it was designed to be used in the bumpers between cartoons.

The rest of the music is all library stuff, mostly by Jack Shaindlin. I’m guessing the harmonica version of ‘Oh Susanna’ at the outset comes from the Capitol Hi-Q ‘X’ series. The last snippet under part of Quick Draw’s last line and the rest of the cartoon is the same piece used to close the first El Kabong cartoon.

0:00 - Quick Draw sub main title theme (Curtin).
0:24 - Oh Susanna (trad.) – Pan over village, bad guy at table is kabongged.
0:56 - GR-99 THE DIDDLECOMB HUNT (Phil Green) – Miners, Tabasco raises eyebrows.
1:18 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Señorita and Tabasco scene.
2:01 - Quick Draw ‘20 Days’ song (Maltese) – Quick Draw sings.
2:15 - (THAT’S) QUICK DRAW McGRAW (Curtin) – Señorita yells, Quick Draw in clown costume; changes to El Kabong costume.
2:52 - fast show biz music (Shaindlin) – Señorita yells, El Kabong bangs against post.
3:06 - CRAZY GOOF (Shaindlin) – El Kabong and Tabasco scene.
3:34 - tick-tock/flute music (Shaindlin) – Tabasco in carriage, sword fight on roof, El Kabong in cactus.
4:10 - sad trombone music (Shaindlin) – Señorita tells tale of woe, Baba points to poster.
4:26 - GR-96 BY JIMINY! IT’S JUMBO (Green) – El Kabong reads poster, conned into fighting bull.
4:56 - PG-171 PERIOD FANFARE (Green) – El Kabong shoved into ring, bull charges.
5:09 - fast show biz music (Shaindlin) – Bull chases El Kabong.
5:40 - LAF-6-16 Sportscope-ish (Shaindlin) – Pencil sharpener, El Kabong gets guitar, bull slides to stop.
6:07 - Quick Draw ‘20 Days’ song (Maltese) – Quick Draw sings.
6:21 - MAD RUSH No. 2 (Shaindlin) – Bulls runs away, Tabasco runs away.
6:41 - CRAZY GOOF (Shaindlin) – Señorita thanks El Kabong, runs away, “What’s wrong with her, Baba?”
7:02 - unknown (Shaindlin) – Baba closing line.
7:09 - Quick Draw McGraw sub-end title theme (Curtin).