Saturday, 1 January 2011

Huckleberry Hound — Lion Tamer Huck

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation and Layout – Mike Lah, Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Dialogue – Charlie Shows; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Narrator, Sick Lion – Don Messick; Huck, Lion – Daws Butler.
First aired: week of March 10, 1959 (rerun, week of Sept. 8, 1959).
Music: Lou De Francesco, David Buttolph, Jack Shaindlin, Bill Loose-John Seely, Spencer Moore, Geordie Hormel.
Plot: Huck demonstrates how to tame a lion.

Mike Lah’s name isn’t found in very many cartoons on the Huck show, understandable considering he was working for Quartet Films during his stay at Hanna-Barbera. The two times he received an animation credit, he also handled the layouts—in this cartoon and in Pie-Pirates, apparently the first Yogi Bear short in production. It’s unclear when Lah worked on this one. His uncredited animation is found in first few cartoons to be aired, but this cartoon was the 24th of the 26 first-season Huck half-hours to be seen.

There’s no animation at all at the start of the cartoon. It’s all camera work and still drawings, held together by Don Messick’s narration. It opens with a shot of the cover of an instructional manual on taming lions. Then we switch to the inside of a lion cage where various taming tools simply appear in the middle of the screen—“A whip. A pistol. A chair. And a fool-hardy, uh, fearless individual.” Huck pops into the picture. “That’s me, folks!” he cheerly exclaims. It sounds like the sound effects accompanying each item were made by hitting different sized glass bottles.

The camera pans to the right and “a ferocious lion” pops in. “That’s me, folks,” says the lion, with Daws using his Ralph Cramden voice. One of my favourite parts of the cartoon is next. “Some beginners prefer to start with a more puny type lion.” The scrawny lion is told to get lost by the big one, so he gets up and walks out of the cartoon. I love his design.

So now Huck teaches us how to be a lion tamer. He shows no fear. From the waist up, anyway.

The lion sharpens his claw on a grindstone and his tooth with a file.

Narrator: Remember, that lion may be just as frightened as you are.
(Lion makes loud roar)
Narrator: Although we sincerely doubt it.

Lah has some nice poses and expressions throughout the cartoon, like when the lion’s hands tremble while in pain after Huck ignores the narration to only lightly whip the animal on the nose. It’s a two-drawing cycle on twos. Here is is slowed down.

He uses three drawings on Huck reacting to the pain he’s inflicted on the lion, then two more as Huck looks at us in reaction.

Huck ignores the narrator’s advice to avoid using a whip and chair on a lion (“king of beast-ses,” as Huck dubs him) while the animal is eating. The lion’s annoyed then just plain pissed off about the whole thing. He smashes the chair on Huck and chases after him. Huck’s angular run reminds me of something you’d see Spike do in one of the flat-style MGM cartoons of the ‘50s, especially the way Huck’s mouth is drawn small, open and downward.

The lion’s annoyed again. “Listen, youuu. Are you going to get tamed?” asks Huck. You can see the answer.

Huck pulls out a pistol and starts firing into the air. Time for one of Charlie Shows’ rhyming words. “Don’t shoot that gun, son!” Ah, but the “li-ron” (as Huck consistently calls lions in various cartoons) is only faking. He grabs the gun, assumes a western drawl and gives him “until sundown to get out of town. Okay, lion-tamer. Start a-runnin’. I’m a-gunnin’.” Huck escapes to a separate cage. “I knowed all the time he was shootin’ blanks,” he confides in us. The old ‘leaking body’ gag follows that we saw in Yogi’s Tally Ho Ho Ho. When was this first used in a cartoon? And why is the water blue?

“Training a lion to overcome his natural fear of fire,” intones the narrator, “is a neat feat. And sometimes a lion tamer, to instil confidence in the animal, has to set an example by leaping through a burning ring of fire.” This sets up the old ‘charred body’ gag Huck brags about his accomplishment when we can see his tail on fire. This being 1958, he doesn’t utter do a Jolson-esque “Mammy!” Notice Lah draws the lion’s eyes together. He also puts together a five-drawing cycle of the fire burning, on twos.

In a couple of places in the dialogue, Charlie Shows has the narrator use the same word or phrase used by a character in the previous scene. That happens in the final bit when Messick starts out: “Most experts agree that teaching a li-ron, uh, lion, to walk a tightrope is the most difficult stunt of them all.” Huck cracks his whip for no reason other than lion tamers are supposed to. The li-ron, uh, lion, borrows a John L.C. Sivoney catchphrase, exclaiming to Huck “you make me so ner-vous.” More nice expressions from Lah. He has both Huck and the lion bite their lower lip when elongating an “f” or a “v.”

The lion gets one of his dizzy spells. Huck can’t run away from the falling lion in time. More poses.

The cartoon ends with a lame bit of dialogue. “It’s just as well,” laughs the lion, “This kid wasn’t going to make it anyhow.” The lion’s been commenting on Huck lack of lion-taming ability throughout the cartoon, and not really all that cleverly. It’s the last gag so Shows should have written a topper. Instead, the line isn’t any stronger than what he said before. This shows you why Warren Foster and Mike Maltese were such better writers. Their dialogue was much punchier and they brought with them from Warners a sense of verbal oddities and ridiculousness when they replaced Shows.

And so we wave goodbye to Mike Lah, as he carried on with his career in award-winning commercial and industrial animation, eventually taking over as company president. And here’s a note about the company from Boxoffice magazine, dated July 21, 1956.

Quartet Films Is Formed By Storyboard Toppers
With the shuttering of Storyboard’s west coast offices, a new TV unit, Quartet Films, headed by top personnel formerly associated with Storyboard, has been organized and will launch operations. It is headed by Arthur Babbitt as president and also comprises Arnold Gillespie, Stan L. Walsh and Les Goldman.

Two cues dominate the soundtrack, both originally from the Sam Fox library. One is a trombone march called ‘Cockeyed Colonel’ written by David Buttolph. It was rarely used after Ruff and Reddy. At the time of this cartoon, Buttolph was employed by Warners Bros. television, for whom he composed the theme for Maverick and provided underscores for The Virginian and Wagon Train. By an odd coincidence, he also wrote the score to the movie My Darling Clementine (1946). Huck hums the song of the same name from the 1:27 to 1:33 mark when he's checking out his fingernails. ‘Cockeyed Colonel’ was copyrighted on May 23, 1935.

The other main cue is heard twice. SF-10 is either ‘Ski Galop’ or ‘Skiing Galop’ and was written by Louis De Francesco, at one time in the ‘30s the general musical director of Sam Fox. He, too, had a long career in film, both features and shorts. Among many accomplishments, he worked until 1940 on the March of Time, which later employed Jack Shaindlin as its musical director. A number of De Francesco cues in the Sam Fox library could easily be mistaken for Shaindlin judging by the arrangements. De Francesco’s connection with cartoon music goes back long before this. Starting in 1913, Sam Fox provided
sheet music for silent film accompaniment. On April 9, 1931, the company copyrighted “incidental music; for news reels, cartoons, pictorial reviews, etc., by Edward Kilenyi, L.E. De Francesco and others.” Eventually, this morphed into a recorded music library and among the Sam Fox composers were Bill Loose and John Seely.

Speaking of Shaindlin, the two standard cues of his used in running scenes, ‘On the Run’ and ‘Toboggan Run,’ are found here. And the sound cutter has used the laughing trombones of Spencer Moore’s ‘L-78’ as a kind of musical effect.

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound sub-main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:25 - medium circus march (Shaindlin) – Narrator sets up cartoon, Huck appears, lion appears.
1:03 - SF-14 THE COCKEYED COLONEL (Buttolph) – Scrawny lion appears, Huck shows no fear.
1:41 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) – Lion’s claws come out, whipped on nose.
2:33 - SF-10 SKI(ING) GALOP (DeFrancesco) – Lion turns and runs after Huck; skids to a stop.
2:48 - TC-301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – “Doggone amateurs!” Lion eats; grabs chair.
3:32 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Lion hits Huck with chair.
3:44 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Lion chases Huck, Huck closes door.
3:48 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck lets lion back into own cage; fires into the air, Lion grabs gun and threatens Huck.
5:01 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Lion twirls gun. Huck runs into cage and closes door.
5:08 - SF-14 COCKEYED COLONEL (Buttolph) – Huck leaks.
5:47 - SF-10 SKI(ING) GALOP (DeFrancesco) – “You cowardly type lion!” Huck leaps, catches on fire, tightrope scene.
7:08 - Huckleberry Hound sub-end title theme (Curtin).


  1. "When was this (‘leaking body’ gag) first used in a cartoon?"

    Well, Hanna-Barbera used it in a Tom and Jerry cartoon "Posse Cat" (1954). Don't know if H/B used it before, but there you go...

  2. Avery used it in Garden Gopher (1950) but it's got to be older than that.

    Thanks, Zartok.

  3. The leaking body gag was also use in Hanna/Barbera's "Hatch Up Your Troubles" and their remake.

  4. Happy New Year, everyone..The medium circus march is of course used in "Boxing Buddy","Mark of the Mouse",and a few others. The leaking body gag was used at Warner Bros., as well, in "A Peck of Trouble" with Dodsworth the Cat [Sheldon Leonard],1953, for instance.

    That puny lion gag is my favorite gag in the short,too.

    The cue in that gag was used in "Price for Mice" when Jinksy puts on a space suit, a later Pixie and Dixie short, and Art Clokey used in a few times in Gumby-"Of Clay and Critters" where it's the final cue [under the scene with Gumby, Pokey & Nopey the little mutt in an enchanted garden],1967, and near the start of "Toy Capers", 1957, in a mechanical toy baseball catcher glove. The cue in that "puny lion" scene, [by David Buttolph as mentioned, he also scored the odd all bird Republic Pcitrues "Bill and Coo",1946] may have also been recorded in 1935 in addition to being copyrighted that year, similiar with the Lou DeFrancesco "Skiing Gallop"[1931],also heard in this. [I'd have listed the composers in some kind of order before the plot myself]. That's also my favorite gag in "Lion Tamer Huck" as well myself.

  5. PS I also love that "scrany lion's design" too..and he almost looks like a real for the water being blue..go out to any ocean!!:)

    I didn't know that "You make so ner-vous" was a John L.C.Sivoney [Frank Fontaine, and a characterization that was NO stranger to cartoons-Huck's or others!] catchphrase---the lion channells Jackie Gleason [which makes it understandable as Fontaine would appear with him from 1962-66 as Crazy Guggenheim] and also Frank Nelson ["Yeee-ehhhhssss?]/.

  6. "Mexican Joyride" is the earliest cartoon I can remember that has the "leaking character" gag, but there's still got to be something before that (possibly by Avery in one of his WB spot gag cartoons).

    IIRC, Shows and "The Cockeyed Colonel" would be reunited over at Larry Harmon Productions, which also used stock music on its early series of Bozo the Clown shorts that Charles was hired to write after leaving Hanna-Barbera.

  7. My favorite Huck cartoon. Love the designs by Lah. I could watch it over and over.

    Wonder who drew the title card. The lion looks a little like Ken Muse...

  8. Funny you should ask, David. One of our fine readers is tracking down the answer and finding out if Lawrence Goble did all the title cards.

  9. Somehow the gag of Huck catching fire always creeped me out. It's also rather unsettling how we see only his crushed hat after the lion falls on him. What happened to Huck? Was he flattened between the lion and the ground? Or driven into a crater in the ground? The lion's statement about Huck "not making it anyway" seems to imply he's (GULP!)- well, you know. One would expect a comically injured Huck to peel himself off the lion or rise from his crater and say something like "right heavy liron there, man."

  10. Never really thought about it, Howard. Cartoon characters come back from certain death all the time. Avery would reduce characters to little piles on occasion.

  11. Yes, but the basic tenet of cartoons is that if you don't see a character for the rest of the cartoon after they're victim of a particularly gruesome incident it's fair to theorize they're deceased. This has happened to Tom several times in the original theatricals.

    I thought "You make me so NERVOUS!" was a Joe Besser imitation.

  12. Always wondered what Lawrence Goble did. He drew one picture and got his name in the credits? Sweet.

  13. Maybe it was a union thing, though Don Foster did title cards at Warners and I don't think he was ever credited. I don't know for sure whether Goble's responsible for the title cards. Someone is checking for me with someone who'd probably has the answer. I know absolutely nothing about Goble. I thought he might have been related to Art, who worked at Warners and MGM, but I've seen his name spelled both "Gobel" and "Goble."

    Goble's credit ended, it seems, when The Flintstones changed their opening/closing and adopted the shadowed lettering.

    Steve C. & Howard, both Sivoney and Crazy Guggenheim used to do the "makes me so nervous" bit. I didn't realise Besser did it, too

  14. Maybe I'm mistaken and "makes me so nervous" is not a Besser catchphrase. The somewhat whiny delivery reminds me of him.

    The title cards for the 1958-61 H-B TV shorts have always been a visual highlight, even when the image shown doesn't always jibe with what's going on in the cartoon itself. A reduction in budget apparently led to their demise in 1962, as the Wally/Lippy/Touche cartoons had one standard title card for each segment. A few early Magilla/Ricochet/Mushmouse cartoons had individual title cards.

  15. Many, if not all of the Huck/Yogi/Pixie and Dixie title cards were drawn by Dick Bickenbach.

  16. Thanks, Mark. I'd still like to learn who Lawrence Goble was, what kind of titles he did, and if it was just calligraphy on the openings/closings of the half hours, what else he did around the studio.

  17. Gee, It's Too Bad that Mike Lah (Another Awesome animator by The Way) Didn't Stay around long enough to Animate on the flintstones, I'd Always Wondered What Fred and Barney Looked Like if Drawn By Lah.


  18. The leaking body was also used in the Tom and Jerry cartoon The Flying Cat (1952). Hatch Up Your Troubles was released in 1949.

  19. And in A Peck o' Trouble (1953) at Warners.

  20. While trying to look good at the beginning of the cartoon, we pan down to huck's legs and they are shaking. Why is that?

  21. Because that's the gag. The narrator says Huck's appearing calm, then the camera drops down below the waist to show Huck's really not calm because his knees are shaking.

  22. Is it me, or this page is "broken?"