Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hanna-Barbera, By Hedda

Want to appear in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon? Then write two glowing pieces about Bill, Joe and their successful studio.

Okay, maybe that isn’t why Hedda Hopper appeared in cartoon-form in the TV special Alice in Wonderland (she recorded her lines in July 1965; the cartoon aired in March 1966, after Hedda’s death). But it looks like she succumbed to the charms (or badgering) of Arnie Carr and the H-B public relations department and devoted space in her column for a ‘gee-ain’t-they-great?’ piece in 1960 and 1963. Arnie hit the jackpot in the latter. Hedda’s weekday column consisted of little items about this-and-that in show biz. On weekends, she devoted her entire thousand-plus words to one topic.

The Hanna-Barbera feature ran on the weekend of July 13-14, 1963 (at least in some subscribing papers. A few published an old one on Paul Burke instead for some reason).

Columns about the studio generally stuck pretty much to the same themes—how Bill and Joe overcame being fired at MGM (the words “Tom and Jerry” and “Oscars” are generally thrown in) and how much people around the world really want their product, either on TV or in stores. Bob Thomas of the Associated Press had written one of those less than a month before Hedda’s column; Arnie’s weekly calls to the Tinseltown typewriter set evidently paid off.

But the columns sometimes went above and beyond that. Hedda’s reveals H-B was looking at runaway production (ie. saving money by making cartoons outside the U.S.) in the early ‘60s. And it includes Joe’s really bad prediction about daughter Jayne.

Looking at Hollywood
Hanna and Barbera: They Live in Enchanted World of Fantasy

BILL HANNA is tall, blue-eyed, calm, and deliberate; Joe Barbera has dark eyes, is volatile and quick of speech and gesture. Together they spell dynamite. Five years ago, they started their own company, Hanna-Barbera productions. Now, each week, 330 million people in 42 countries see The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Top Cat, Ruff and Reddy, Touche Turtle, Lippy the Lion and Wally Gator. In addition to television series Hanna-Barbera produces motion produces motion pictures and newspaper cartoons.
HANNA and Barbera have been asked to open production studios in Italy, Japan, England, Spain, and Denmark. After a thorough look-see at what was offered, the boys settled for home base and a new Hollywood studio.
“WE WENT to Tokyo and visited two studios; we listened to their propositions and inspected their facilities,” Joe said. After looking at their art work, we knew we could do a better job here. They have wonderful craftsmen but they lack definition of character, and in actual animation they lack the subtlety of timing that our artists have developed.
Bill added: “A man came from Copenhagen with films to show us. Italy made us an offer and we sent one of our men there to investigate. Each time the thing zeroed out. Italian work is excellent but it takes them six months to do what we do in a week. So we’ve put all our eggs in the local basket. We employ 250 people, release our TV shows through Screen Gems, our theatrical film through Columbia. We also make industrial films and TV commercials and have a tremendous sale of by-products from our screen characters. Greatest thing in our partnership is the sharing of responsibility; if one of us has to go away, we always know someone vitally concerned is on the spot.”
This partnership dates back to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1937 when the pair got an idea for a cartoon, “Tom and Jerry,” the story of a bungling cat and a mischievous rat. They did 125 adventures and won seven Academy awards. No human star has ever gotten more than two or three. Then M-G-M officials decided they were making as much money from re-issues as they were with new ones. They called the cartoon department, told them to stop making “Tom and Jerry” and fire everybody. Hanna and Barbera were out on an economic wave, but were still under contract; they asked for release and got it.
THERE’S a family feeling about their setup. Both have their daughters working for them as painters and inkers. When I suggested they were raising their own executives, it got a hearty laugh: “I’m afraid there isn’t an executive in the lot,” said Joe. They admit they’ve had differences of opinion, but they say they always manage to come to a final agreement, however.
THEY’RE not sparing in praise of co-workers, will tell you that Ray Gilbert did five of the best songs they’ve ever heard for feature-length cartoon starring Yogi Bear. “One,” said Bill, “is ‘Whet Your Whistle and Whistle Your Way Back Home.’ We’re calling the picture ‘Whistle Your Way Back Home.’ We’d like to get either Dean Martin or Robert Goulet to sing the songs. The interpretation will largely depend on who does it.” Mel Blanc is something of an institution with them. His crying voice of Hardy-Har-Har, the sad hyena in “Lippy the Lion” is being imitated by kids all over "O gee, O gosh, we can’t do that!” Mel also does Barney Rubble in ‘The Flintstones,’ and a half dozen other voices that run through the series.
For a full year after Blanc’s auto accident, the show was done from his bedroom, where he lay in a cast from neck to heels.
When Alan Reed, the voice of Fred Flintstone, had a cataract operation, he worked up to 20 minutes before hospital time and was back on the job in four weeks. The boys made this possible by recording ahead and working around him while he was gone. “He’s in his fourth year of Flintstone,” Bill said. “He tours the country in a leopard skin—he is Flintstone. Before the operation his eyes got so bad we bought a typewriter with huge print and ultimately had to get a sign writer to print letters an inch high so he could read scripts.”
More than a million Flintstone dolls have been sold. One day the phone rang and a voice said, “Wilma Flintstone is going to have a baby; how can we get the date and the picture?” Joe said: “I think we can take care of it. Where do you want it mailed?” The man said, “Copenhagen”; he was calling from there. When they had a contest to guess the weight of Pebbles, it drew 650,000 replies. Hanna-Barbera does an 80 million dollar gross in merchandising and licensing with different manufacturers for Huckleberry Hound pajamas, Yogi Bear bedspreads, drapes for children’s rooms, etc.
The films are dubbed in foreign languages for overseas use. I asked, “What about Russia?” They said, “No, but we understand the Russians are seeing our stuff. They get The Flintstones from broadcasts in Finland. And when we found out Russia was giving their films to Thailand free, we made our films available to the Thais without charge and they’re running out stuff about five hours a day there. They have only one small TV station and can’t afford to pay so we let them have films to offset the Russians.”
Their promotional stunts include an electronic Fred Flintstone that weighs 300 pounds; “We sent it to Scandinavia, and 25,000 people were at the airport for its arrival,” Bill said. “The tape recorder inside is turned on in whatever language we wish. He’s now making his first appearance in Tokyo.”
BILL HANNA was born in Melrose, New Mexico, and studied journalism in college. His first job in Hollywood was as a structural engineer on the Pantages theater. His first knowledge of cartooning came when he was errand boy for Leon Schlessinger [sic]. Joe Barbera is a New Yorker, a guy who doodled incessantly when he was an accountant for a bank. He’d peddle the doodles during his lunch hour and when Collier’s magazine bought one of his cartoons, he quit banking to become a sketch artist.
They’ll do live action films next, have a property, “Father Was a Robot,” which they consider very funny and fine family entertainment. “Dr. Iben Browning, a top scientist from Palo Alto and White Sands, wants to build our robot for us, incorporating a lot of things robots will do in the future,” Joe said. “He says they already have things beyond what we’re writing about—a robot that knows the difference between a sheet and a blanket when making a bed, and a robot that can register pain and will react.”
Hanna and Barbera are proud of their new plant; people who live near it tell them it is the next best thing to having a park. They landscaped it, put in a lot of pine trees and have five fountains in front. “We hope people will money into them like they do in Rome.”

I don’t know about you, but if Alan Reed was appearing in my town in a leopard skin, I’d buy tickets.

We’ve mentioned ‘Father Was a Robot’ before. Barbera was still talking about it in June the following year, but shooting never got under way as planned that October. Then Broadcasting Magazine, in 1965, revealed it was supposed to be on the schedule for 1966-67 and would be developed by Bernard Fain and Al Ruddy, who came up with Hogan’s Heroes. For whatever reason, it never made it to air.

If you’re interested in Hedda’s 1960 column on Hanna-Barbera, you can find it here. And, if you hunt around on the internet, you can probably find her cartoon form, changing hats in front of a baffled Alice in a scene, we suspect, wasn’t from the pen of Lewis Carroll.


  1. Good thing she gave Bill and Joe a glowing review. Back in the day, Hedda and her " rival " Louella Parsons could make or break many a Hollywood career. Of course by this time, it was a different ball game

  2. Excellent article, who'd ever though Hedda Hopper would do a cartoon voice, and as a hatter.:) This came out fifteen years after Disney's classic version.

  3. Hedda was also very good friends with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz....otherwise, why else would they have invited her to appear in the "I LOVE LUCY" episode "The Hedda Hopper Story" in 1955? And asked for her return, two years later, as a special guest on their first "LUCILLE BALL-DESI ARNAZ SHOW" special, "Lucy Goes to Havana"? {Actually, Hedda appeared only in the original 75 minute version of that episode; when it was repeated on "THE LUCY-DESI COMEDY HOUR", the "establishing" scenes at the beginning and end (including Hedda's) were eliminated, with new narration by Desi to make it compatible with the other hour-long episodes}