Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Jerry Eisenberg, Part Four, Jonny Quest, Scooby

Ideas for TV shows and movies get abandoned all the time. Financing falls through. People become unavailable. And cartoons are no different. MGM halted production on a number of cartoons; you can see the list of them on Thad Komorowski’s site. Tex Avery once explained you could only go so far with a story sometimes and have to shelve it.

Hanna-Barbara put together proposals that never got sold or shows that somehow never made it to air. One of the most interesting ones was revealed several weeks before The Flintstones made their debut. At first glance, it wouldn’t seem Hanna-Barbera was involved, but layout man Jerry Eisenberg says it was. And he was. Here’s a story from mid-September 1961.

Marx Trio To Be ‘Stars’ Of New Series
© 1961 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK—Doll-like figures constructed to resemble Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx will be the stars of a proposed animated film series entitled “The Three Marx Brothers.” The figures will be made by Tri-Cinemation, Inc., a company recently acquired by Screen Gems, Inc., television film producer.
Screen Gems said it had reached agreement with the Marx brothers for them to be represented visually by what it called life-like figures. The sound track of the films will carry voices similar to-those of the brothers—all except Harpo, who will just whistle.
Screen Gems said the stop-motion filming technique would be employed to give movement to the figures. “The Three Marx Brothers” is contemplated as a half-hour weekly network production for the fall of 1962.

Several attempts to get the Marx Brothers into cartoons were announced. In 1963, Erskine Johnson’s column tells of a feature “How The West Was Lost.” And in 1965, Filmation worked out a deal for 156, five-and-a-half minute TV shorts. All of them were derailed.

We’ll find out about other failed ideas in a moment. But, first, Jerry Eisenberg has some words about the studio’s first action-adventure cartoon in 1964.

Yowp: You worked on Jonny Quest.

Jerry: Yeah, I remember Iwao and I helping to develop it with other people. We also laid out some of the episodes. Iwao and myself did the character layouts and the rough backgrounds and we had a guy named Lew Ott who cleaned up the backgrounds. He was a very good artist. He did beautiful background work.

Yowp: How different is it to lay out a cartoon like that as opposed to a comedy like The Flintstones?

Jerry: I don’t know. It probably took a little longer with the realistic characters. We were pretty much used to doing the silly characters. That’s always been my favourite, but I like doing the adventure stuff once in a while. It’s a nice change.

Yowp: Was there a fair amount of interaction with Doug Wildey on layouts?

Jerry: Well, I don’t remember too much. I remember Doug. I remember meeting him when he first came to the studio. It [the concept work on Jonny Quest] started at the old building. Joe called me up to his room and introduced me to him. I mean, I really didn’t know who he was at that time. Evidently he’s the guy who pretty much created the Jonny Quest idea. We were doing something about Jack Armstrong. I wish I would have asked more questions to find out how Jack Armstrong became Jonny Quest. Doug was a volatile guy. I remember starting to walk out of our cubicle one day. He came walking down the hall like he could kill somebody, he was so mad. I don’t know what it was. He was probably coming from Barbera’s office. It might have had something to do with credits. Maybe he felt he wasn’t getting enough credit or money or whatever. I never questioned anybody about that.

Yowp: At that point, you were in the new building. How many guys would be working in layout? Were you in your own room or were the layout guys all together?

Jerry: Iwao and I shared a cubicle, sometimes with a third person. Like on Jonny Quest, Lew was in there with us. Other times it was just the two of us. Then, later on, Iwao ended up being the supervisor of the layout department and we moved down towards the end of the hallway and we each had our own cubicle.

Yowp: How did that go over, having Iwao taking over? Because there were layout guys who had been there a lot longer, someone like Bick.

Jerry: I don’t think Bick was interested in doing that much supervision, basically, because he was older. Bick was sort of like the layout supervisor when I started there. Iwao and I actually started there the same week full-time, though I had freelanced for Hanna-Barbera for a couple of years with Ken Harris; we would make commercials for them.
I think Bick just didn’t have the energy any more. By the time Iwao got into supervising, I would say it was like maybe 1965 or something
[Bick would have been 58] and we doing quite a bit more work then than we were in 1961.

Yowp: You were mentioning you spent six months in layout and six months in development. When did that happen?

Jerry: I know when I first started there helping on, Joe wanted to do something with the Marx Brothers and he asked me if I would do a presentation storyboard which I worked on. But I don’t remember working for six months in ’61. Maybe in ’63, ’64, it started becoming more and more like that, we started doing more work. More development and selling more stuff.

Yowp: Did you end up working on the Abbott and Costello cartoons?

Jerry: I remember them but I don’t remember if I worked on any of them in production or not. I don’t think I did.

Yowp: So which were the cartoons that you developed?

Jerry: A lot of the stuff, of course, didn’t sell, but some of the things we helped develop sold, like Jonny Quest, Squiddly Diddly, Secret Squirrel. There was [sic] a few characters I created when I was there. I once brought some drawings to Joe with a hippopotamus, put a pith helmet on him and a safari coat. He liked it, so he said “Let’s develop it.” We got some writers involved. That’s what became Peter Potamus. I don’t know who came up with the name but there used to be a disc jockey on the radio called Peter Potter in those days. It’s like with Yogi Bear was like Yogi Berra, the baseball player.

Yowp: When you’re working in development, it is a matter of sitting around and batting around ideas then bringing in Joe to explain what you’ve got?

Jerry: I went to him with these drawings. Actually, I was taking a break and I was looking through an old comic book, it was called Wash Tubbs. Are you familiar with Buzz Sawyer or Captain Easy?

Yowp: Buzz, yes.

Jerry: Wash Tubbs was like a sidekick and there was a jungle scene and this hippo was coming out of the bushes, not a cartooney hippo, just a hippo. And I thought “Hey. We’ve got Wally Gator, we’ve dogs, we’ve got Quick Draw McGraw. Nobody’s done a hippo. So that gave me an idea, let’s do a hippo. Joe liked it, so it became a show.
Then during that same period I started thinking about another idea, doing teenagers. Nobody was doing teenagers, like surfers, hot rods, cute girls, the malt shop and everything, so I made a bunch of drawings, took those to Joe, but he didn’t spark to that so to speak. And I wasn’t pushy about it. I was in such awe of him in those days. So nothing happened with that. But two or three years later, Filmation came out with The Archies, based on the comic book, which was a teenage show. Then Joe was interested in doing teenagers. But he might have had the chance to have the first teenaged show if he would have sparked to it a bit.

Yowp: So it sounds like what happened was you came up with concepts, like a squirrel that was a secret agent, and you’d take it to Joe and he’d decide what to do.

Jerry: Yeah, I only did it with those two things. Later on, are you familiar with Ricochet Rabbit?

Yowp: Yes.

Jerry: Well, no, not that show. Excuse me. There was a show that I designed called Blastoff Buzzard. And when we first developed it, Joe wanted the buzzard to chase, it was like a Tom and Jerry thing, he wanted him chasing a rabbit. And, again, he’d come back from a network meeting, “Ah, they’re not interested in it.” So I started thinking “Well, what else lives in the desert? What else could the buzzard chase?” So, I was thinking of a lizard, a turtle, and I thought “A snake!” So I just designed a snake and I put a football helmet on him and the network liked it. Joe came back and he said “Oh, they bought it. They liked the snake.” So that was my contribution to that.

Yowp: Were there other things in development where you thought “It was a great idea. Gee, I wish they had bought it?”

Jerry: I remember one time Iwao and I were developing a thing based on that movie Cat Ballou. We were really enjoying it and having a lot of fun with it but it didn’t get sold. Joe had a cute elephant character called Fumbo Jumbo but he never could sell that.
He did sell something I had a lot of fun designing with wacky airplanes. I think it was called Stop the Pigeon [the working title for Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines]. It had Dick Dastardly in it from Wacky Races. I designed about seven of those cars. I really like designing cars, things that would be animatable, almost. They weren’t alive, but. In fact, the next year he [Joe Barbera] said “Let’s do Wacky Submarines and that was fun. I really enjoyed that. But it didn’t sell. I think it could still be viable today, I don’t know.

Yowp: So, on Wacky Races, did you design the characters in addition to the cars?

Jerry: Yes. I think we had about ten. I remember Corny Cole designed, there was a professor [Pat Pending] with a funny-looking vehicle like a boat. Iwao designed Penelope Pitstop and her car. And I think he did the Red Baron [Red Max], I remember he used to think I did it but I know that was his. And then there was some guy named Don Peters, who Iwao knew from his days at Disney, he was a designer. And he got Don to do some freelance help, and he designed that car that Dick Dastardly had, it looked like a Captain Nemo-type car, you know, like a submarine. I think I did about seven of them. I remember when I did the Bouldermobile, I did one caveman and then Joe came back, either him or the writers, and they said “Let’s do two cavemen,” so we did two cavemen.

Yowp: And then it was the following year they did the Flying Machine cartoons.

Jerry: I loved doing some of those wacky airplanes. Some would maybe have six wings or ten wings and all kinds of armament.

Yowp: Did you do the characters on that series, too?

Jerry: Yeah. Dick Dastardly was already designed. I think Iwao designed Muttley, he was done for the Yogi Bear feature in ’63, called Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear but I remember designing the three guys who worked with Dick Dastardly. I can’t remember their names. I think one was called Klunk. They were like his pilots. Almost like the Three Stooges, but they weren’t mean spirited or anything.

Yowp: You said Joe would pitch to the networks and they’d say “No, we’re not really looking for that.” How much influence did the networks have toward the end of the ‘60s in what you developed?

Jerry: When Fred Silverman first came on the scene, I first met him in 1965, he would be very involved. He had a lot of input. He was very creative himself. He was responsible for a lot of the Scooby Doo thing. He’s the one who came up with the name. And he decided to make the dog and Shaggy the stars.
It was great to work with him. You know, of all the network executives, even when he became president of NBC, he would still read Saturday morning scripts. We always felt he had a respect for the cartoonists. He liked cartoonists and cartoons and he was a fan. I kind of miss working with him.

Yowp: The original Scooby concept, before Fred modified it somewhat, who put that together?

Jerry: I wasn’t involved in the early meeting. I remember helping to develop the show with some of the other guys. Well, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears had a lot to do with the initial creative development, and Barbera, and Silverman. Iwao, of course, designed Scooby Doo. And he helped design some of the other characters. I think I helped on Shaggy. I don’t remember doing anything on the dog. I can’t find any rough drawings, I may not even have tried to design Scooby. I just can’t remember why. I didn’t work on production once it got sold because I was busy supervising some other shows.

Yowp: So you were supervising layout?

Jerry: Yeah, I would have maybe two different series, sometimes three, and keep track of everything. I was doing some layout work myself but mostly supervising. Iwao was doing some of that. I don’t know who else. We had a lot of shows.

Yowp: Did things change at the company a lot from a creative standpoint when Bill and Joe sold to Taft?

Jerry: Well, no, they stayed on for quite a few years after that. The sale was in ’68. I remember that’s when we met the Taft people. They came out and had kind of like a party out in the parking lot. And everybody got to meet them.
The sale was supposed to happen in 1967 but there was an article in the trade paper, the widow of Harry Cohn, who was the head of Columbia Studios, they had private stock in Hanna-Barbera. I think Harry owned a certain amount of stock and, of course, Bill and Joe, and their silent partner was that film director.

Yowp: George Sidney.

Jerry: What I read was Bill Hanna, at some point, had bought the shares that Mrs. Cohn had, the widow of Harry Cohn. And he, or his people, represented to her that “this is what the stock is worth.” But, then, when the sale was announced in ’67, from what I read, they were selling the studio for $25,000,000. And, evidently, Mrs. Cohn’s attorneys figured out that, oh, Bill Hanna really low-balled her, and so they filed suit on her behalf and that held up the sale for about a year, till that was settled.

Yowp: Let’s go back to the animation for a bit. Who was the best animator at interpreting the character layouts? Were some better than others?

Jerry: Oh, I’m sure. Maybe there wasn’t a big, vast difference. I think most of the animators that Bill had were just fine.

Yowp: There wasn’t a case where you’d look afterward and go “No, that isn’t what I wanted.”

Jerry: I don’t recall. Everybody had a model sheet to follow but you could still see differences if you inspected the individual scenes, but I don’t think the general public would notice something like that.

Yowp: Let me mention a few names and get your impressions. What about Walt Clinton?

Jerry: I don’t know much about Walt. I can’t remember where he came from.

Yowp: He had been in Tex’s unit at MGM.

Jerry: Okay. Just a nice man. He was one of the older guys. Some of us younger guys, we used to call them the “senior schticks.” We always had this banter going back and forth.

Yowp: Walt’s wife’s name was Wilma. Was that how Wilma Flintstone got her name?

Jerry: I really don’t know. It’s possible, I guess. Walt was working there when they were developing The Flintstones.

Yowp: It’s difficult finding information about some of the artists. In newspaper stories at the time, you read about Bill and Joe but none of the artists.

Jerry: It wasn’t as anonymous as, say, Disney. On the Disney comic books, my father and a lot of the guys couldn’t have their name up there. It always had to be Walt Disney.

Yowp: Did not having a credit bother your dad, or did he accept it as the way of the business?

Jerry: I don’t remember him saying anything. There were some comics that allowed their artists to have a name. Some of the men who worked with us, I would see their names in comics. Like Moe Gollub, Dan Noonan. They did comics for, evidently, not Disney comics or MGM comics.

Yowp: Another layout guy was Tony Rivera. He came over from Disney and did a lot of shorts.

Jerry: I knew him but not that well. I don’t think I ever worked directly with him myself.

Yowp: Let’s talk about Mike Maltese, because he’s really my hero and his humour really carried the short cartoons, he and Warren Foster.

Jerry: He was magnificent because once he left Warners, Chuck’s cartoons weren’t quite the same because they didn’t have Mike’s input. He was brilliant. What a funny person. And a nice person. God, I really miss him. Very talented. Same for Warren Foster and Tedd Pierce.

Yowp: I gather from his time at Warners that he’d bring everyone in to run through the storyboards and he’d act out the whole thing and ham it up quite a bit.

Jerry: I may not have seen it. I guess being an assistant animator [at Warner Bros.], I wouldn’t be in on those kind of meetings.

Yowp: What about Hanna-Barbera? Did you work closer with him there?

Jerry: Well, we’d see each other. When I arrived at Hanna-Barbera, I have a feeling Mike worked a lot at home in those days. I don’t remember if he had an office. It was such a small studio at Cahuenga before they built the other building. Mike lived up in the hills there off of Barham which was right next to Universal Studios. We were right in that area, so he was so close to home. I think I socialised with him more at Warner Bros. because he had his office there and we had the greatest coffee break times.

Yowp: But I imagine a bunch of you would end up going to the bar after work.

Jerry: Yeah, once in awhile, I’d join in. There was a place near NBC called The Nightcap. They had other places like the Smoke House [not far from Hanna-Barbera] and Sorrentino’s and once in awhile I’d join some of the animators and others for a drink after work. And I was a bachelor. Of course, I don’t know if I was 21 at first, but I’ve always passed for 21.

Yowp: Back to people. You were talking about Gene Hazelton overseeing the comic strips. Did he parcel out work to your dad, did your dad work under him, how did that work?

Jerry: Well, he would parcel the stuff out. Gene, you could say, was a story editor on the comic strips. I don’t know if he wrote any of them but he would do the rough storyboards and that’s what he’d give to my father who’d do up the whole panel. I guess Gene was just coordinating the strips. At that time, I don’t think he was working for Hanna-Barbera. He worked at home, also.

Yowp: It seems like a lot of guys worked from home before they moved to the new building because Art Lozzi was saying they could fit in about 35 employees and that was it.

Jerry: Yeah. Well, they were renting space up the street. It was almost like a motel-type thing. There were all these different bungaloes, or little units, and a lot of the animators were up there. Us layout guys were mostly at the main building because, like I say, we were Joe’s department. Nobody had some windows except the film-cutting department, they had a glass door that went from the outside into the department. But Joe and Bill, none of us had windows. It was like a bunker.

Part Five.. how Lew Marshall got ripped off.


  1. Awesome awesome read.... this was my childhood man !!

    Thanks so much !

  2. Interesting that Jerry is very complimentary of Fred Silverman, who I had been led to believe was more like the other network officials of the late 60s and 1970 in charge of Saturday morning programming, in terms of either not caring about the cartoons or forcing wrong-headed ideas on the studios.

  3. On teenagers and other trens in cartoons--Boy, was that one idea done wrong!!!! It was pretty late in 60s..more flower power and hippies...and very little individual characters by themselves..in fact that would be a great topic to come of itself.."The gang's all here" or "let's join the gang", about group cartoons.[Worked for the early prime time shows, even Top Cat, though..but that was early 60s when more indivdual appearances counted].

    Imagine what could have been.

    No Judy Jetson spinoff [the 80s Jetsons actually showed a handful of such, and of course she's the focus of supposingly the first, "A Date with Jet Screamer"], or such.

    Enjoyed seeing the recollections from Jerry E. [I gotta admit I liked Inch High, the 70s Get Smart like show he did, which credits him for design, from 1973, but those were few and far between. I forgot who designed "Wait till your Father gets home". "Jokebook" could be a topic for a future post." Those comments on Wacky Racers planes were interesting, and more fun than the show itself [though I do have a kiind of soft spot for the Penelope Pitstop show in a way..]

    PS Yowp, you really should have more of those hover-captions like Scooby-Doo "saying,", ah, readers, "Lloyd Vaughan, this ain't Jones's unit" :) . I miss those captions on your weekend cartoon review pictures - like Snooper in "Bearly Able" "Saying" "Joe, How come I'm not dressed.." or long time ago over "Produced and Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera" Ruff and Reddy type title card "When Bill and Joe actually made funny cartoons.".

    Looking forward to the next part.:)