Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tony Benedict, Cartoon Writer and Astro’s Dad

What a real treat it is for Tony Benedict to have stopped by the blog and linked to a wonderful little video he’s put together of his years at Hanna-Barbera. He put the URL in a comment but let’s bring it up front and centre on its own post. There’s even some live action footage of guys like Carlo Vinci, Art Lozzi and Alex Lovy.

A lot of the drawings and photos come from Tony’s web site. They’re fabulous. If you haven’t been to Tony’s site, go HERE.

I’ll stand corrected, but I believe Tony got the first Hanna-Barbera writing credit that didn’t belong to Mike Maltese or Warren Foster (Charlie Shows credited was for dialogue).

I was hoping Tony would consent to an interview I could post here about his time at Hanna-Barbera, but he’s saving material for a book. However, he did an interview a couple of years ago with Tee Bosustow (whose father Steve was born in Victoria, B.C., also the one-time home of Verna Felton). Tony started at Disney in August, 1956, moved to UPA at age 21 in 1959 and then on to Hanna-Barbera. He relates how he worked up something with Phil Babbitt, who was also writing at UPA:
He and I submitted a script to Hanna-Barbera, which was just starting on The Flintstones. So, we sold that one. And then they hired me because I could also draw.

So I went to work at Hanna-Barbera with Mike Maltese and Warren Foster. And we were the only writers there for, like, three years. And that was great fun too, because, again, there was no oversight...they wanted to get these pictures out and on the air as quickly as possible. And the networks were not paying a great deal of attention to it, because animation was no big deal, you know, back in 1959 or ‘60. But they were apparently inexpensive compared to their other shows. So we would crank ‘em out as quickly as we can and they pretty much arrived on the air the way we wrote them.

But then, things, of course, changed, and the shows were doing so well, and advertisers got more interested and then, of course, they had a lot of other great ideas to help the shows along. It began to change and then after six years at Hanna-Barbera working on writing, storyboarding, Flintstones, Jetsons, and I would do bridges for some of the other shows—Yogi Bear and Huck—and I also did a lot of scripts for their shorts.

Astro in The Jetsons. Now there was a char[acter]. Now I wrote the first Astro, you know, so I feel in a way that character belongs to me, although I know so many people have claimed credit to creating it, but in the sense that as far as design goes, I’m sure that’s so, but the first story and the character itself...that Astro character looks a lot like Ed Benedict’s style...but Gene Hazelton was involved, and many people had their finger in it, it’s hard to say.

And, no, Tony’s not related to Ed.

‘The Coming of Astro’ was the fourth cartoon in the series and, as Tony mentions, the premiere of my favourite Jetsons character (though Uniblab is a close second). Tony also wrote ‘Millionaire Astro’ where the world learns that the dog’s real name is Tralfaz (Yeccchh). You can read about the likely origin of the word by clicking on THIS blog post.

Tony seems to have been given the thankless job, on his arrival at Hanna-Barbera, of doing something with my least-favourite early Hanna-Barbera character, the woe-is-me, I-don’t-have-a-mamma Yakky Doodle. He’s credited on several of them, including ‘Shrunken Headache’ (“I don’t recognise a face, but the sneer is unforgettable,” the great Fibber Fox says to Chopper). A pretty stellar group of veterans worked on that one, as Carlo and Dick Thomas go back to the ‘30s and Artie Davis to the 1920s (I know nothing about the mysterious Lawrence Goble). Working with that kind of group must have been a bit intimidating to someone in his early 20s. And, of course, guys in the writers room like Foster, Maltese and Lovy had been around animation for a long time, too.

Unfortunately, the Huck shows after season one are not on DVD and television copies of most of the other seasons are absent of any credits, so Tony’s name can’t be found on them.

If you’ve got the right version of Flash player, you can hear the full interview

Note: this interview is no longer available.


  1. Daws Butler gave me and Corey Burton a few of his large "business cards" way back in 1973. You've probably seen it - it is the one featuring a caricature of Daws and all the many H-B characters for which he had given voice. Plus the Kelloggs "Sun" (for Raisin-Bran commercials). When I asked him who drew the card he smiled a big smile and said "Tony Benedict." (Keith Scott)

  2. Thats a pretty neat video! Judging by the presence of Don Lusk, it's probably from after 1963 or so. It's good to finally see Bill Keil.

  3. I loved the "how to draw your own Tony Benedict".

  4. Quite wonderful...and it strikes me funny that these guys all look like they're working for NASA. Cartoonists wearing ties to work -- sheesh! People had style in those days.

  5. Thanks for the great article. I used to live in Studio City in 1999, so would pass their studio on Cahuenga Blvd.West all the time. It's nice to see that not all of the artists wore horn rim glasses, white shirts and thin ties as was the early sixties style.

  6. Enjoyable little video. Thanks for getting that and putting it on here.

  7. Interesting bio. It's amazing to see that Mr. Benedict broke into the animation business at the tender age of 18.

    I have to agree that Yakky is a very irritating character, as is Chopper. But the series is enlivened by Fibber Fox and the four episodes with Alfy Gator, all of which were written by Benedict. (Surprisingly, more than half of the Yakky episodes were written by Maltese, two by Foster, and the rest by Benedict.) Most kids who watched the cartoons in syndication probably missed the Hitchcock reference, but they're still quite enjoyable.

    Along with Astro, Cogswell is another enjoyable JETSON supporting character whose best moments were scripted by Benedict.

  8. Since the duck obviously was beloved by Joe and/or Bill from his formative Tom & Jerry days, you can just say Tony made the best out of a bad situation, since if the boss assigns you at age 22 to come up with stories for an annoying character, you come up with stories for an annoying character.

    (And going in the other direction, Benedict's Astro was one of the best things about "The Jetsons", especially the voice, which of course Hanna-Barbera would then bastardize six years later as part of one of the most annoying series ever, "Scooby Doo, Where Are You?")

  9. Yeah, "Scooby-Doo" is SO annoying. Thank GOD the series and character were giant flops!!!! (Yes, that's sarcasm.)

    I believe that the design of Astro was one of the first characters designed at HB by Iwao Takamoto after he arrived from Disney. "The Jetsons" is one of my favorite cartoons produced by HB. The design elements, from the backgrounds to the everyday gadgets are so incredibly clever, both in written form and visually. I remember Iwao telling me stories of how they came up with all of it, and the research they did. Unfortunately, when they did the new episodes in the mid 80s, they just didn't have the talent to pull it off. They pale in comparison.

  10. Anon --

    1.) Sarcasm over Scooby actually being a non-bastardized good character, or sarcasm that he's lasted this long? Basically he's Astro and Snuffles crushed together, taking two good supporting characters and making them into one tralfazzian lead character.

    2.) Takamoto's designs, once he began imprinting his own 'look' onto the characters and stopped mirroring the earlier Ed Benedict-derived design, certainly is what most people associate with Hanna-Barbera after about 1966 or so. And compared to the earlier period, that's not a good thing, since the lack of 'cartooniness' in the designs is one of the aspects of why the studio's work from the late 60s through the end of the 1980s was so deadly.

  11. Deadly? You're entitled to your opinion. For the record, I vehemently disagree. And I'll leave it at that.

  12. J Lee's comments make me quite sad and upset. There are many of us that worked for Hanna-Barbera and put our blood sweat and tears into producing the best programs we could. Did we always succeed? Hell, no. Most of the time interference from network executives can be blamed. Other times, I think the writing may have been weak. Sending the animation overseas is always problematic. But nobody -- NOBODY sets out to produce a crappy cartoon. And I think the people that worked at, and loved being at Hanna-Barbera for all these years deserve a bit more respect than to have our work considered "deadly." Iwao Takamoto did more for HB than most other artists and his talent, in my opinion was incomparable. I challenge some of you couch potato critics to put your best artwork up against his worst - if he has any. I guarantee you, you could learn more from one of his sketches than in any art class.

    Based on many comments I have read on this blog from the owner and readers, I can see this isn't the place for me. I considered Iwao to be a friend, and the greatest teacher I ever had.

  13. JL, fortunately, the writers finally moved Yakky away from the "poor me" aspect he went through (starting with his various Red Coffey-voiced predecessors) and gave the comedy lines to the villains.

    I've always liked Fibber Fox. Daws' voice was great and Mike Maltese could usually find something for him to say. And I always liked how Alfie would take a break then welcome the viewers back in the next scene.

  14. Sorry, the "put up your artwork" challenge doesn't wash. I don't need to know how to cook to tell if I don't like taste of something. The same holds true with any creative industry. I don't need to know how to sing to know if I like or dislike a record. Or how to make a TV show to be able to like or dislike what I see on the screen.

    Why is it no one is called a "couch potato critic" when they like something?

    I have elucidated the reasons I like or dislike things. Not everyone will agree. There are non-readers who insist there is absolutely no value in anything done by the Hanna-Barbera studio. I obviously disagree with them and not for some "childhood nostalgia" reason. But they're entitled to their opinion.

    With that, comments on this post are now concluded. The intention was to pay a small tribute to the work of Tony Benedict at Hanna-Barbera and let people see some of the fine artists and others who worked there in that era of the early and mid 1960s.

  15. Fine artists? I thought they were deadly?

  16. Yowp --

    Agreed that the villains in the Yakky series were among the most memorable of the early H-B cartoons, to the point it was a letdown when either Fibber wasn't there or the cartoon didn't open with Alfie's silhouette.

  17. Anon, you're responding to my comment about artists of the early to mid '60s by referring to someone else's comments about cartoons from the late '60s to 1989.

    This thread is closed.