Saturday 20 November 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Somebody’s Lion

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Dick Lundy; Layout – Sam Weiss; Backgrounds – Joe Montell; Story – Warren Foster; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice cast: Announcer, Director, Elephant – Don Messick; Huck, Leroy – Daws Butler.
First Aired: week of October 26, 1959.
Plot: Huck tells a TV adventure show how he captured Leroy the Lion.

Jack Benny ran into an assortment of odd characters on his radio show, but none stuck out more than John L.C. Sivoney, the slow-thinking sweepstakes ticket-winner whose goofy, redundant rambles were punctuated with a building, wheezy laugh or bawl. Jack broke up. The audience howled. And Jackie Gleason remembered, because he borrowed the character for his TV show, stuck him in a bar with a tender named Joe and created Crazy Guggenheim.

Crazy was played by a man named Frank Fontaine, who witnessed first-hand how one’s character can overwhelm and typecast an actor. Fontaine could do more than act as if his thoughts were fighting a frozen brain and tongue. He was an accomplished impressionist—his first break was on the amateur portion of Fred Allen’s radio show in the mid ‘30s doing imitations—and evidently got tired of doing virtually the same low-IQ, asthma-laugh routine week after week on the Gleason show. The story goes Gleason unexpectedly heard him singing in his dressing room and decided to put him on the show crooning old-time songs in his normal voice. It’s reminiscent of how Jim Nabors wanted to show the world he wasn’t some half-wit hayseed but instead could burst into a stirring baritone version of The Impossible Dream. People seem to have viewed Fontaine’s singing as a kind of a curiosity. But they loved Crazy.

And so did the people at Warners cartoons. Bob McKimson and Tedd Pierce came up with Rabbit’s Kin (1951), where they handed his voice to Stan Freberg and put it in the throat of an incredibly stupid mountain lion named Pete Puma. You’d have sworn there were a whole series of Pete Puma cartoons in the ‘50s because everyone remembers him. But there was just this one, re-run over and over. Later, Friz Freleng would borrow the same voice and stick it in an alley cat named Sam in the Sylvester-Tweety short Mouse and Garden (1960). Sam was voiced by Freberg’s friend and cohort Daws Butler.

But that wasn’t the only time Daws did the voice, and Warners wasn’t the only cartoon studio which borrowed it. Hanna-Barbera remembered Fontaine, too, and Daws inserted his version of the voice into a king-of-beasts adversary for Huckleberry Hound in Lion-Hearted Huck, a first season cartoon written by Charlie Shows. When Warren Foster arrived to write the second season, he dragged the lion out of retirement, gave him a name, added a cynical edge and created Somebody’s Lion.

I love the opening of this cartoon. I don’t mean the pan of the jungle, although it’s nice. What’s great is Foster’s sense of observation. Huck is on an atyptical 1950s interview show about daring adventures, yet Foster’s already noticed that even the most daring adventurers can come across as stiff in the phoney world of television. And phoney it is. For all of Huck’s interview responses to the chatty host are completely scripted as he struggles badly to read them off a cue card. So there you have Foster’s commentary about television, one of many he injected into stories over the years at Hanna-Barbera. To add to the satire, Huck continues to glance back and forth from the camera to the cue cards, even leaning over to get a better look. Daws Butler contributes with a halting delivery, wonderful in its obviousness.

On top of that, the director sounds completely bored and his pre-show countdown is stuck at “two” while a production assistant constantly puts Huck’s pith helmet back in place because it keeps dropping over the hound’s eyes.

Watching all this on TV in his cave (the entrance is decorated with a gold plaque with a crown) is Leroy. Huck reveals (in his normal delivery; the cue card joke’s over, son) that after the show, he’s going to hunt Leroy again—and has a surprise for him.

Leroy: That fu-nny, fu-nny hunter. I love westerns. But a good comedian kills me.

The wheezing, inhaling Fontaine laugh follows. The inhaling is in six drawings, with the timing between them varying. Leroy loses his whiskers along the way. I’ve slowed them down so you can take a look at how Lundy did it, as least in this part of the cartoon. There are five more times (not all drawn the same way) where we see the laugh and several more times when we just hear it.

What’s the surprise? “Huntin’ him, Maharajah-style,” Huck confides to us as he rides an elephant that goes up and down behind the bushes so his legs don’t have to be animated. Leroy loosens the buckle on the seat holding Huck atop the elephant. Huck slides underneath and hangs upside down for a conversation. Leroy asks for “the usual elephant hunting license.” Unlike most cartoon characters, Huck does and whips it out for inspection.

So the gags can now begin. Huck shoots Leroy in the tail, which he puts out on a tree like a cigarette butt (“He’s one of the good ones,” Leroy observes in one of Foster’s favourite lines). The lion responds with the old mechanical mouse bit (used by Foster in Sahara Hare). Huck expects the trick and informs us his elephant isn’t afraid of mice. Afraid you’re wrong, Huck. The elephant, with the hound aboard, climbs a tree and hangs onto a branch. The elephant’s weight does the expected. “You know somethin’?” Huck says to us after popping his head up from under beast on the ground, “That’s a right heavy elephant.”

Leroy gets the worst of it now. First, he surreptitiously empties Huck’s six shooter, counting the bullets to make sure he has all of them, then pretends to be a midway target (with an appropriate wind-up mechanical sound effect) asking Huck to shoot him. He does. “A seven shooter. What won’t they think of next?” the chortling lion comments.

Huck puts out a sign. ‘Lions Club Meets Today Behind Rock.’ Leroy peers behind the rock. “I got a hunch I shouldn’t ask the next question,” the lions tells the audience before asking where the Lion’s Club is. “Right here!” cries Huck. Pow he goes with a club.

The final gag has a lot of padding for dialogue but it involves an old cartoon gag—Leroy hides a cannon inside a box camera and convinces Huck to have his picture taken. We all know what’ll happen next. Leroy accidentally turns the camera around and shoots himself. We don’t see it happen, of course, because that takes a lot of drawings. Instead, the black blanket (or whatever it’s called) that covers Leroy moves, the camera (shooting the cartoon, not the one Leroy is using) shakes and wisps of smoke rise above the blanket.

Back we are at the TV studio watching Huck “Well, I see you finally did it,” the off-camera host joyously exclaims, “You caught Leroy.” How did he do it? Leroy tells us in his own words. “What’s to tell?” hyucks the lion, wearing a paper bag over his head to hide the gunshot injury. “He was just lucky, I guess.” And we get a wheezy inhaled laugh for a final time.

Frank Fontaine’s career had yet to hit its heights, but Leroy’s was finished. Warren Foster seems to have given a bunch of antagonists from the Charlie Shows cartoons— the dog next door, Pierre, Chief Crazy Coyote, Leroy—a try then went off in his own direction. As for Fontaine, he went on to fame with Gleason, gave his wife labour pains on eleven occasions and had friends bail him out when his home was seized in a $450,000 tax dispute with the U.S. government. On the night of August 4, 1978, he walked off stage after his fourth encore in a benefit in Spokane for the Fraternal Order of Eagles, collapsed, and died of a heart attack. He was 58. And after all those years of others doing his duncey voice in cartoons, Frank was about to do it himself. He had been working on a pilot for a TV cartoon show called ‘Happy House’ at the time of his death.

It’s interesting to see Lundy has drawn both Huck and Leroy with half of one eye-lid closed in portions of the cartoon.

Lots of Spencer Moore music here, including one of a number of bassoon effects in L-1158. Huck “dum-dee-dums” ‘My Darling Clementine’ twice in the cartoon over the stock music. The last cue from Jack Shaindlin starts with a fast march, then a trombone going up five notes and back down in an octave, like a scale, but the sound cutter just uses the first part and the stab at the end. And we get that ‘march of the hiccuping squirrels’ muted trumpet music of Shaindlin’s that I haven’t been able to identify.

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound sub-main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:13 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Geordie Hormel) – Pan across jungle and TV truck.
0:26 - TC-432 LIGHT MOVEMENT/HOLLY DAY (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Huck in studio.
1:14 - TC-301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – Leroy’s cave entrance, Leroy watches TV.
1:45 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Huck on elephant, “That lion must’ve gone into hidin’”
2:39 - LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Conversation under elephant, Leroy shot, mouse zips toward elephant.
3:54 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Elephant scared by mouse; lands on ground on top of Huck.
4:05 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – “You know somethin’” line.
4:11 - L-1139 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Leroy grabs gun, empties it of bullets; Huck shoots him.
4:49 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “What won’t they think of next?”
4:56 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Lions Club scene.
5:45 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Picture-taking scene.
6:32 - LAF-74-4 fast circus sports ‘scale’ music (Shaindlin) – Huck in studio, Leroy has bag on head.
6:59 - Huckleberry Hound sub-end title (Curtin).


  1. Frank probably hit his height in the early-mid 60s on "The Jackie Gleason Show" during his "American Scene Magazine Period", which roughly translated into, "Jackie doesn't want to do so many damn Honeymooners skits anymore and would rather live in Miami". Joe the Bartender, with Fontaine, was one of the many secondary characters Jackie had that got more play in the 1962-66 period, until the decision was made to start redoing the old Honeymooners plots as musicals, and Crazy began seeing less airtime.

    Sam the cat debuted for Freleng in 1959's "Trick or Tweet", which was also one of the final cartoons Foster did for Friz before his departure for Hanna-Barbera. So finding a ready-made character there to use the Fontaine gags with was probably an easy script for Warren to churn out ("Mouse and Garden" has no story credit, but the release times out to the period when Maltese had just left the studio).

    Foster also found it funny before this to have a character produce a ridiculous license from out of the blue -- it was the running gag for Porky in McKimson's 1950 "Boobs in the Woods", with Warren taking it to its most absurd extremes.

  2. Wow! Imagine my surprise to know Frank Fontaine did voicework on toons. I will admit here and now that I have 5 of his albums. I also remember seeing him on the Lowell (Michigan) Showboat where he announced the Happy House program idea. His schtik as Crazy can still be seen on Youtube.
    RadioWizard (jack)

  3. Nice work by Dick Lundy, but I have to say that I don't really care for Huck's uneven eyelids. It gives Huck an unflattering dopey look.

    Fontaine's and Nabors' surprise singing voices may have been pre-dated by Tennessee Ernie Ford, whose baritone may have come as a surprise to those only familiar with his 'Cousin Ernie' character.

  4. One of your best cartoon reviews! Great attention to what is funny and what makes it work.

    I was a big Frank Fontaine fan as a kid, and would actually be called upon on holidays by my dad on holidays to do my Crazy Guggenheim impression: "Hiya, Joe. Hiya Mr. Donahee."

  5. That would fun to hear, T.R. I saw reruns of Gleason's show in 1984 and thought that Daws Butler was playing Crazy Guggenheim until I saw
    the credits and the Beck and Friedwald WB Cartoons book, which was already published in 1981, and saw the "Rabbit's Kin" entry and the Frank Fontaine ref. [This was still before I had found that STAN FREBERG, not Daws or Fontaine-EEEEE!-voiced P.Puma.]

    Steve C.

  6. I'm probably in the minority, but I always thought this second Leroy cartoon paled next to the first. Leroy's whole facial elongation thing and goofy eyelids didn't make it funnier or more enjoyable to me – they were kind of a distraction. Plus, I liked the spirit of the first one better - it's more of a simple, classic Huck versus likable adversary battle. Plus the end gag here is mildly disturbing - wonder what's under the bag? Ugh!

  7. I'm surprised that the cartoon didn't go out with something along the lines of Huck finally "bagged" the lion!

  8. i too was a big frank fontaine fan as a kid....and for those of you that don't remember...he voiced the cow from the pillsbury "moo juice" far as i know that was his only voice over work.

  9. Scott, Yowp: Fontaine was also slated to voice a "Jungle Book" rhino for Disney but it was as wild as the Louis Prima Ape, and followed it to boot, swo Walt literally, cut it out. [Jim Hill's site used to have this listed.]

    By the time he was slated to do a cartoon, as Yowp listed, it would have been probaly on a banal Sat AM cartoon [Billy Bletcher was going to do Plasticman, Mark Evanier says on his site, but he died in 1979 at 85-1/2...Plasticman, though was almost somewhat funny with its type of hero.]

    J.Lee, Friz Freleng didn't just use that wind up mouse in "Sahara Hare" [the first LT cartoon with the 1955-1963 theme], but in "Tweety's Circus, too!

    Yowp, with Frank Fontaine's mimcry, he could have done many cartoon voices, ironic but fortunate that he went his own way first with that dumb voice then the natural baritone singing one!

    Original era Gumby Blog
    Take two and don't call me in the morning.

  10. Dan: It's ironic that we get to see the full extent of the gunshot damage inflicted on 'moving target' Leroy earlier in the cartoon, but his later, self-inflicted injury is apparently too gruesome to show. Or maybe it's because Leroy didn't want to be seen on TV looking like that. Never mind that most cartoon characters completely recover from any explosion or gunshot injuries by the next scene, at the latest. Such is the hypocrisy of cartoon license.

  11. Daws also used his Fontaine imitation, or a variation of it, as a wolf in at least two Woody Woodpecker cartoons made during the Sid Marcus era. That's where the oft-repeated phrase "That was a STOOPID thing ta do!" comes from. This 'stoopid' voice turned up in many Jay Ward cartoons as well.

  12. Frank Fontaine's hometown was in Winchester, Mass. where I work. People still talk about him and his family these many years later.

    It was a pleasant surprise to find Freberg returning to voice both Pete Puma and Junyer Bear on Tiny Toons 40 years later.

  13. Part of what has always made that ending work for me is that it’s open to interpretation whether Leroy is covering his gunshot wounds with the bag, or if he’s just too ashamed to be seen after being (as is noted) “bagged” by Huck!

    I also LOVE the fact that Leroy actually stops to say “I got a hunch I shouldn’t ask the next question” before compulsively going through with the “Lion’s Club” gag.

    It shows that he KNOWS what’s going to happen... but he CAN’T HELP HIMSELF, and must take the gag to its conclusion, regardless of the consequences!

    What wonderful writing by Foster, turning an old situation to new advantage!

  14. I Can See A Bit of Carlo Vinci's Earmarks in this, too. And When i First saw this cartoon, i thought LaVerne Harding did the Animation for this short, Until Now, Thank You Mark Christiansen, for confirming the Correct animator credit for this cartoon.


  15. The voices of Pete Puma, Leroy the Lion and Sam the Cat are the most hilarious voices (even tho done by different dudes) in cartoon history!!!

  16. Not quite, Josh. Daws is the voice of Sam the Cat. But Mel Blanc's contact at Warners stated he got exclusive credit so Daws isn't mentioned.