Saturday 25 June 2011

Snooper and Blabber — Baby Rattled

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Irish Cop – Daws Butler; Rich Guy, Baby Pants Pinkie – Doug Young.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin; Phil Green; Spencer Moore; Geordie Hormel.
Production No: Quick Draw McGraw M-001, Production J-14.
First Aired: week of Sept. 28, 1959 (rerun, week of March 28, 1960)
Plot: Snooper and Blabber chase a pearl-necklace-stealing crook disguised as a baby.

Mike Maltese must have adored the Our Gang short Free Eats (1932). It centred around a little jewel-thieving crook who tried to avoid being caught by dressing up like a baby. Maltese used the premise at least three times. He had Bugs Bunny tangle with Baby Face Finster in Baby Buggy Bugs (1954). He then brought the idea with him to Hanna-Barbera and dumped variations on it in two Snooper and Blabber cartoons: this cartoon, the first Snooper to air, and the start of Masquerader Raider later the same season.

He must have thought the premise was funny in and of itself because there’s not a lot to augment it in this cartoon. There’s a bit of silly wordplay and enough quirks to make it likeable, but there’s also a lot of running (the cartoon’s plot inclusively ends with it) and a cop (Irish, of course) who’s so unbelievably stupid, he doesn’t realise the baby is a criminal, even after getting shot in the face with a gun. It just seems like not a lot really happens.

Snooper’s detective business was either doing well and respected, or poor off and ridiculed, depending on the need of the cartoon. In this one, it’s doing so well, Snooper has a snazzy Bickenbach model sports car, which we see in the establishing shot in front of a brick, Tudor mansion. Maltese uses one of his standard word-gags—he puts adjectives into the dialogue that no one would ever use in real life. The unnamed rich guy doesn’t tell the detectives he’s hired them to guard his mansion. He’s hired them to guard his “elegant, expensive mansion.” I wonder if Maltese didn’t intend the character to be somewhat English, in the manner of the frightfully wealthy gent in the Snooper adventure Gopher Goofers later that season. The rich man talks about a “fortnit” and Snoop bids farewell with “a couple of pip pips.” But Doug Young doesn’t really provide an accent of any kind, though he was capable of doing it. The biggest gag:

Blab: Gee, that’s a small suitcase for such a rich man, Snoop.
Snoop: Suitcase, nuttin. That’s his wallet.

Snooper and Blabber’s main task is to guard the Maharajah Gooch pearl, which happens to be the target of jewel thief Baby Pants Pinkie, who is watching the mansion from his 1959 Bickenbach (The Car With No Doors!) as the rich guy leaves. “Those private eyes are in for a surprise,” says Baby Pants (Maltese came down with a case of Charlie Shows rhyming disease, it seems). He gets into his baby disguise and deposits himself on the doorstep as Snooper is making sand-a-wiches. Here’s where Ken Muse just had to shrug at the time and cost restrictions of limited animation. The doorway is at an angle but Muse doesn’t have Blabber going outside in perspective. The mouse is on a cycle, left to right across the screen. Incidentally, Maltese invokes Cartoon Rule No. 645: “All cartoon crooks disguised as babies must smoke a cigar.” Of course, Blab misses the cigar.

Blab: Snoop! It’s a b-b-baby!
Snoop (from the kitchen): A what-by?

The note reads on the baby basket reads “Please take care of my little Muggsy I’m going to the races an’ will pick him up later!” A similar rough-house vocabulary note is found in Baby Buggy Bunny.

Snoop thinks the gun that falls out of the “heavy little tyke” is a rattle. Nice timing as the “baby” flips over 180 degrees then back to retrieve and hide the gun. There’s also a subtle bit of animation. Baby Pants starts bawling and gives a little bawl at the end and looks at Snoop to see if he’s buying the baby act.

Maltese tosses in a character-casually-defies-gravity gag as Baby Pants goes to blow up the safe containing the Maharajah Gooch pearl (actually a string of pearls). Stupid Blab, naturally, thinks the “baby” is being playful when he asks “Got a match, copper?” He doesn’t catch on it’s Baby Pants until the crook runs away and stops to show off his disguise.


Snoop (chasing Baby Pants): Stop in the name of the Private Eye Prep!

The cartoon’s more than half over already and the rest of time is spent getting tangled up with the stupid Irish cop who thinks Snooper and Blabber are bothering a real baby. The best (and about the only) gag is when Baby Pants jumps on the cop’s lap and switches his bonnet for the cop’s cap. Snoop is behind them with a baseball bat. A bush is blocking his view of everything except the head with the bonnet. “Go to sleep, my little goo-goo baby!” paraphrases Snoop, as he whops the officer on the head.

Finally, Snoop gets the pearls back. “And remember, crime hardly ever pays,” he exhorts to the criminal. But, no. The officer whops him with a billy-club and gives the pearls back to the “baby.” He doesn’t catch on to the fact it’s Baby Pants Pinkie until the “child” drives up to him, asks for a light for a cigar and drives away.

The cartoon ends with the officer running after the crook (past the same trees nine times), with Snooper and Blabber handcuffed to him, flying in the air behind.

The sound cutter, for whatever reason, decided to use a lot of music that’s normally found on The Huckleberry Hound Show. I wonder if different cutters were assigned to each show and they switched off for this one cartoon. One of them was Warner Leighton, who came to Hanna-Barbera from Dudley Films. Another was Joe Ruby, who as most readers like know, joined H-B’s Ken Spears to form their own studio in the ‘70s.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Curtin)
0:25 - TC-436 SHINING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Snooper and Blabber with rich guy, rich guy drives away, pan to Baby Pants’ car.
1:21 - ZR-94 CHASE (Hormel) – Baby Pants in car, changes.
1:46 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Blab watches TV, Baby Pants on porch, inside home, crawls away.
3:02 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Baby Pants climbs up fireplace, blows up safe.
3:45 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Blab looks out window, “Gotcha Baby Pants.”
4:03 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Snooper shakes “baby,” clobbered by officer, Baby Pants shoots officer.
4:51 - fast circus chase music (Shaindlin) – Baby Pants runs, jumps on officer.
5:28 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Scene on park bench.
6:07 - LAF-6-16 Sportscope-like march (Shaindlin) – Baby Pants runs, captured in garbage can.
6:17 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Snoop reaches into garbage can, clubbed by officer, Baby Pants drives off, “So, what else is new?”
6:57 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Officer chases after Baby Pants.
7:09 - Snooper and Blabber End Title theme (Curtin).

Friday 24 June 2011

Don, Bob, Tex and Scooby

Here’s the final part of the biography on Don Messick from “The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors” by Tim Lawson and Alisa Persons. You can find large chunks of the book on the web without much trouble and read about some of your other favourite veteran cartoon actors. If you see a copy in your local bookstore, get it.

The story ignores Messick’s work on Spunky and Tadpole, just as well perhaps, but it doesn’t mention a venture involving Messick, Bob Clampett and others around the time the Hanna-Barbera studio was getting off the ground. It was reported in an edition of Boxoffice magazine at the time but I didn’t make a note of when and can’t find the reference now.

At a time when desperation forced him to resort to selling his blood, Messick’s fortune turned for the better. While he was in New York, actress Joan Gardiner recommended him to her employer, legendary animator Bob Clampett. “She told him that she knew this guy who could do voices, was a ventriloquist, and who could do puppets. Well, I had never done hand puppets before, but they [the producers] paid my way back to Hollywood, and so for six years I was under contract to Bob Clampett. He had developed Beany and Cecil and was developing other shows, including Buffalo Billy. It was a half-hour Sunday afternoon live children's puppet show, adventures in the Wild West-type of thing starring Buffalo Billy and his aunt, Ima Hag. So, for six months I practiced in his garage while he tried one contact and then another to get this show on the air. It finally did go on the air in 1949 or 1950 in New York. . . . Again, I was back in New York!”
Thirteen weeks later that show had ended, as well as, apparently, his association with its producer. “Bob Clampett dropped me, but I think he sort of kicked himself for having dropped my contract.” Messick went back to the other coast for yet another puppet show; after which, Clampett promptly rehired him to work for the next five years. Besides acting, this stint with Clampett also included the duties of writer and production coordinator on the new live children’s adventure puppet productions. Included were the revamped Adventures of Buffalo Billy, The Willy the Wolf Show, and Thunderbolt the Wondercolt, in which he also had a chance to do some on-camera acting.
Messick’s cartoon career finally began when friend Daws Butler put in a good word for him. “It’s due to Daws that I got my first cartoon job. It was back in the ‘50s, and Tex Avery was looking for a voice. Daws recommended me to Tex while he was at MGM doing the Droopy the Dog theatrical cartoons. The actor who regularly did the voice of Droopy was not available for some reason or other and they needed to get this cartoon completed, so I wound up doing the voice of Droopy on two of the cartoons. Daws was certainly generous with sharing his professional contacts with me as well as just being a great, good friend. I certainly owe Daws, if not for my start in show business, then for the opportunity to grab onto the next rung of the ladder.”
His success solidified in 1957 when William Hanna and Joe Barbera decided that Messick and Butler should have the honor of breaking new ground with them. “Daws and I were the first voice men with the first series that Bill and Joe did on their own when they left MGM; that was, of course, Ruff and Reddy. I was the voice of Ruff, Professor Gizmo, and the narrator.”
The series became a hit. From then on Messick was offered part after part at the studio and eventually came to see Hanna-Barbera as a second home. “My association with Hanna-Barbera has been over twenty-seven years long. I’ve worked with them on something every year since they formed their own company.” In that time, he enjoyed the Hanna-Barbera approach of recording as an ensemble cast, a practice he was familiar with from the old radio programs. He stated that his ambition was always not to just do funny voices for a paycheck, but to approach it as a serious actor. During the course of his series, he took pride in letting his characters evolve and, subsequently, refining them along with his craft.
“Well, I think there is always something of me, of Don Messick, involved inside the character that I do because, basically, I am not an impersonator. That’s the way a lot of people who do voices develop them, and that’s usually what the producers want. They say, ‘We want such and such a type.’ So, it’s pretty much an acting job for me. The development of a character comes from inside my imagination and expresses itself outwardly, hoping that it conforms pretty much to what the producers had in mind and adding a little bit more to it. Daws was always complimentary about my work in saying that a lot of the other people who do similar things to what I do lack the warmth in the character that I seem to project.”
Messick was especially fond of some of his most popular characters. “Boo Boo Bear was kind of special and one of my favorites because he was such a simple na├»ve little guy, and in a sense Yogi Bear’s conscience, because he would always strive to steer him away from his incorrigible acts of stealing ‘pic-i-nic’ baskets. There’s something warm and friendly and nice about Boo Boo. Then there’s Muttley. He was always complaining about Dick Dastardly. One of my favorite shows was Dastardly and Muttley and Their Flying Machines.”
If pressed for an all-time favorite, Messick picked the most famous of Hanna-Barbera creations—Scooby-Doo. Messick helped create the character and performed the voice for the first twenty-two years that Scooby-Doo shows were in production. When asked about the cartoon canine’s enduring popularity, Messick was thoughtful: “I think kids identify with the human characters on Scooby-Doo, and bringing with that humanism into Scooby himself makes them further identify with the dog. I mean, everybody loves dogs. And, I think we all project our own personalities onto our pets. Scooby with his vulnerability is a lot like us. We are not all the bravest people in the world.
We all have our own hang-ups, and Scooby’s hang right out there up front! He’s cowardly; yet he always seems to come out on top in spite of himself.”
Finding the voice for Scrappy-Doo, Scooby’s nephew, became a little more complicated than expected. “When Scrappy was first introduced, they auditioned several people, and they offered it to another actor, but they finally ended up using me. I think we were doing sixteen episodes that season. ‘Long about the fourteenth, Joe Barbera and the ABC producer decided they didn’t like my Scrappy, so they had Lenny Weinrib (of H. R. Puffenstuff fame) do it. And he had to re-do everything that I’d already recorded, which meant that he had to ‘loop’ them, which is longer and more complicated. Well, it went on the air that way with Lennie Weinrib’s kind of Jerry Lewis mean little kid voice. Then the network decided they didn’t like that. ‘We prefer Don Messick.’ So I didn’t redo them, but I started with the next season’s shows.” Of course, being network executives, first they had to reaudition Messick to make sure that he was really what they wanted.
He also found work on Jonny Quest, the second actor to portray Dr. Benton Quest, opposite Tim Matheson as Jonny and Mike Road as Race Bannon. “They started out with John Stephenson, who did six of twenty-six [shows]. They decided to change the voice, have a different actor do it because they found a conflict between John’s voice and the voice of Mike Road. So they got me to do it. I also did Atom Ant for the last six or eight episodes [after Howard Morris].”
One of the highlights of Messick’s career was his time spent as Bamm-Bamm, Arnold, the paper boy, and various other characters on The Flintstones, a show he concisely describes as “one big pun well done.” Among the talent he had the honor of working with was one of his childhood idols, Alan Reed, who voiced Fred Flintstone. “I remember Alan Reed when I was a child, listening to the Fred Allen show. He did various characters on many, many radio shows. . . . He seemed to genuinely enjoy the character things I did. He and Mel [Blanc] would be sitting back and I’d glance up, out of the corner of my eye, when I was doing something. They’d be looking at each other and kind of nodding affirmatively, which made me feel good because they were ahead of me and I looked up to them.”
Certainly, judging by the continual interest in characters like Scooby- Doo, Astro, and Boo Boo Bear, Messick’s peers are not the only admirers of his work. Hanna-Barbera was especially grateful that for all that Messick struggled through at the beginning of his career, he never felt like giving up on showbiz. “I have felt that maybe I should get a steady job as a staff announcer at a radio station. But usually when such an opportunity would present itself, something else would come up to pull me away from going that route.”
Sadly, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Don Messick passed away on October 24, 1997, at the age of seventy-one, of a stroke. While Messick had respected Joe Barbera as a “perfectionist” and a “tough” director to work for at times, Barbera may have given Messick the most flattering tribute when summing up his work and that of his former partner, Daws Butler. “Daws and Don Messick—it was like a goldmine with those two guys. Between them, they could do almost every voice you could think of.”
Messick was grateful for his professional success, but he also recognized greater and lasting value to society in his life’s work in animation. “We need escapism. I think the world takes itself too seriously. There are so many serious things to think about and deal with. It’s nice to have a release, a departure, something that gets us away from the worries of the day, to help us not take ourselves too seriously and deflate our egos, if at all possible. I think that cartoons poke fun at our pomposity and our stuffiness, and so it helps us place a different perspective on some of our real-life situations. If it does nothing else but make us laugh, that in itself is therapeutic, healthy, and good.”

You can read an earlier post about Don’s life and career HERE.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Don Messick, the Next Edgar Bergen

Comparisons involving cartoon voice actors invariably start with Mel Blanc. Mel was the greatest, and that isn’t being said because of some nostalgic whimsy based on his ubiquitous presence on TV during childhood. His comic acting range was amazing.

Don Messick reminds me very much of the Mel Blanc of network radio, with one difference. Mel starred on his own show which, frankly, was a waste of a top cast. But he really shone as an A-list, regular supporting player for Jack Benny, Judy Canova, Al Pearce, Al Jolson, Burns and Allen and so on. Don was the more-than-capable support of Daws Butler in the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and continued showing his versatility time and time again through the 1960s when Daws was relegated, mainly, to voicing his old characters in commercials and on records. The difference between Don and the radio Mel Blanc was Don played a starring character that became an all-time monster success (Scooby-Doo).

If you troll the internet, you can find parts of a great book published in 2004 called “The Magic Behind the Voices: A Who’s Who of Cartoon Voice Actors” by Tim Lawson and Alisa Persons. I don’t know whether it’s in print any more, but anyone interested in the life stories of some of cartoon-dom’s famous voices should get it. There’s a chapter on-line about Don Messick (and, with a little guessing of words, you can fill in the missing paragraphs). We’ve presented a post on Don M’s life-story before, but here’s something from Tim and Alisa revealing his pre-animation career.

Ventriloquist, soldier, “Scooby-Doo” — Don Messick’s long climb up the career ladder culminated in the voice of the world’s most famous animated dog. Although it’s been over thirty-five years since it was originally produced, Scooby-Doo is more popular than ever, airing twenty-three times a week in the United States and broadcast in forty-five other countries, and with two live-action feature adaptations. Messick, who became a cartoon icon doing characters like The Jetsons dog Astro, Boo Boo and Ranger Smith on Yogi Bear, Pixie of Pixie & Dixie, Dr. Quest on Jonny Quest, and Papa Smurf on The Smurfs, is considered almost as much a cornerstone of Hanna-Barbera as its famous founders.
In the 1930s, the twelve-year-old “country hick kid back in Maryland” discovered that his first love was radio, which he listened to during the summertime for seventeen or eighteen hours per day. Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen were his favorites, so, naturally, he couldn’t resist the ad in Popular Science whose copy screamed, “Boys, throw your voice!” “When my voice changed, I discovered its flexibility, so it seemed to me that the most logical thing was to learn ventriloquism. I still remember the ad, which showed a picture of a man with a trunk on his back and a voice coming out of the trunk and a kid off on the side snickering because he’s throwing his voice into the trunk. I knew I had to try it.” After spending a quarter on the ventriloquism kit, Messick found that he couldn’t make the mouthpiece work, but the instruction book was instrumental in developing his ventriloquist act. “I was a rather shy, introverted kind of kid, smaller than most for my age, and was picked on and teased a lot by my peers, so it was a surprise when all of a sudden I turned to doing my own radio show when I was fifteen.”
“I had appeared on a [radio] talent show in Salisbury and I won first prize on that broadcast. And that led to my being called upon by the station, which acted as a talent agency. When an organization like the Lions or the Elks would be seeking entertainment, they would call the radio station, which had a roster of singers and various kinds of comedic talents. So, I started appearing and making five dollars here and seven dollars there all around the area, and that led to my first weekly radio program-a fifteen-minute thing on Monday nights on WBOC in Salisbury. I played the harmonica. I did about two harmonica duets with an organ and interspersed that with dialogue that I wrote for my characters.”
Over the two-year period that Messick did the program, he gradually dropped the harmonica and went to strictly writing and performing a one-man situation comedy show. For those wondering what style his comedy was in those days, the answer is an emphatic “CORNY! I bought a lot of joke books and thumbed through them, and depending on the little situation that I was writing, I would incorporate some of those. I also studied books on radio and production, so I was self-taught in that respect.” Messick also gained valuable experience by learning from his mistakes.
Coming into WBOC early one evening with his ventriloquist dummy Kentworth DeForrest, Messick wanted to practice his routine that was to air at 7:30 that night. “I was sitting at the piano, and I was just playing MMM bump bump. . . MMM bump bump, and Kentworth was singing ‘Shortnin’ Bread.’ There was a network newscast, by Fulton Lewis Jr., that was being fed out of Washington, D.C., on the Mutual Radio Network. This was before the pre-taped commercial days, so they had to break away from Washington for a local commercial. There was a woman announcer, which in those days was rare, but, because all the male announcers had been drafted, they were down to using women. So, she was waiting at the broadcast desk for the red light to come on and the engineer to give her the cue to read a commercial for the Wyconico Garage. I was sitting there banging on the piano, when all of a sudden I had this strange feeling come over me. I looked across at the control booth and the engineer was staring back at me with a strange look on his face, and the lady announcer had her head down on the desk in front of the microphone, doubled over in hysterics. I realized what the listeners at home must have heard was Fulton Lewis Jr. saying, ‘And now, here’s your announcer.; Then the next thing they heard was a high-pitched voice singing, ‘Three little children lying in bed, one of them sick and the other most dead.’ The lady announcer tried to gain control of herself and she choked her way through the commercial. I was terribly embarrassed. I thought I would certainly be thrown out of the place bodily, but that didn’t happen. I don’t think we ever did get back to Fulton Lewis Jr. for his goodnight from Washington.”
After high school, Messick put the mortification of the experience behind him and moved to Baltimore to study acting. “I think I had pretty good timing right from the time I started performing, because of listening to the radio [performances of] Jack Benny and Jim Jorden, Fibber McGee and Molly, people like that. You can’t listen to hours and hours of that sort of thing without some of it rubbing off. But I entered a small dramatic school, no longer in existence, run by one man. He had been a Broadway actor and a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York. His name was William Ramsey Streett. We were known as the ‘Streett Players.’ Going to that school further developed my timing and delivery and helped me get rid of my down-home Eastern Shore accent.”
“One of the productions I starred in was Night Must Fall, which is a murder mystery. I played the lead—Danny, a psychopathic, homicidal maniac. That was one of my favorites. I also appeared in Arsenic and Old Lace, in which I played Dr. Einstein with a Peter Lorre-type voice. At the time I didn’t know a movie was going to be made, and Peter Lorre was going to be doing the part of Dr. Einstein in the movie! We did George Washington Slept Here and The Man Who Came to Dinner. I preferred playing character roles.”
Unfortunately, World War II disrupted many plans, among them, Messick’s burgeoning acting career. “I was drafted in January of 1945. I was put into basic training in a special division of the infantry, the message center. When I had written that I did radio work, they, in their infinite wisdom, assumed that it was technical radio. So they figured I could learn Morse code and operate the ‘Tick-Tick’ thing. Well, needless to say, I wasn’t very good at that, but it was better than being a basic rifleman trainee.”
If the army did nothing else for Messick, it brought him to the West Coast. “They put me on a troop train again and shipped me to California—Fort Ord. That’s the first time I saw California. I was then eighteen years old, and I fell in love with it. By then I was with Special Services, which was the entertainment branch of the infantry, and I took my ventriloquist dummy that I had renamed ‘Woody’ DeForrest with me. My mother had made him a uniform and we started entertaining almost right from day one. Woody got me out of a lot of dirty detail while in the service.”
It was during one of these shows that Messick was faced with a performer’s worst nightmare. Inexplicably, his entire audience suddenly stood up and walked out leaving a bewildered Messick staring at an empty hall. “In the middle of the act, I started hearing a shuffling of chairs and the guys started getting up. I finished my act as hastily as I could and dashed offstage into the wings. I asked the MC what was happening and he says, ‘Well, can't you smell it?’ I had a serious sinus problem at that time so I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Skunk.’ The ventilation ducts were open to the outside and a skunk had crawled into the shaft and let loose. The stench was filling the entire auditorium in the middle of my act.”
After about a year and a half in the military, Messick received his discharge in 1946 and decided to take his chances in Hollywood. “I got into a thing that was sponsored by the radio actors’ union, which was then known as AFRA, the American Federation of Radio Artists, not AFTRA [changed in 1952 to include television actors]. It was a workshop kind of thing which met a couple of times a week, and we recorded half-hour radio dramas. The man who headed up the workshop was named Robert Light, who was the head of the Southern California Broadcasters Association. Robert Light was friendly with Paula Stone, a well-known actress at the time. She and her husband were connected with the workshop and developed a fifteen-minute radio show for RCA Victor called The Raggedy Ann Show, based on the dolls. I was Raggedy Andy. That was my first continuing radio series, and it ran for thirty-nine weeks.”
When the show was ended by a musician’s strike, there seemed to be no work in Los Angeles to be found. “I went on the road for a while in the Midwest, playing theaters and doing my ventriloquist act. I then dumped myself in New York, where I had a few starving months, and made the rounds of producers’ offices. I performed over the weekends either up in the Catskills or over in New Jersey in second-rate supper clubs.”

Read part two HERE.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Huckleberry Hound — Huck the Giant Killer

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Dick Lundy; Layout – Tony Rivera; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story – Warren Foster; Story Direction – Alex Lovy; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huck, Giant – Daws Butler; Narrator, Cuckoo – Don Messick.
Music: Geordie Hormel, Jack Shaindlin; Bill Loose; John Seely; Spencer Moore; Raoul Kraushaar.
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-033, Production E-90.
First aired: week of November 30, 1959 (repeat week of June 20, 1960).
Plot: Huck is hired to dispose a mediaeval giant.

You’ve got to love Hanna-Barbera cartoon license. It enables Quick Draw McGraw to drive a jeep, even though his cartoons are supposed to be set in the Old West. And it enables Huckleberry Hound to have a 1920s telephone in mediaeval England. Oh, well. As Tex Avery approximately said “Anything’s possible in one of these here cartoon pictures.”

This cartoon has my favourite version of Huck. He’s an average guy, not the moron he was miscast in several other second season cartoons. He just plugs along, confiding in (and telling jokes to) the audience as he wanders deeper into the plot. Warren Foster’s sense of the absurd, a funny throwaway gag and an ending out of nowhere are highlights here.

The man who was arguably Walter Lantz’s best director (except maybe to Shamus Culhane fans) animates this cartoon and Dick Lundy didn’t have to pick up his pencil right away. For the first 22 seconds, all we see is camerawork over two background drawings. It sets up the plot that Huck Hound is a giant killer in Merrie Olde England. Huck’s talking to a potential customer on the aforementioned anachronistic aural communication device.

Huck: Giant over Shopshire [sic] way? Crushed the barn and made off with the cattle? Well, I mean, that’s the usual pattern. Their M.O. cards all read the same.

Fortunately, it’s a one-headed giant, not a two- or three-headed variety, therefore Huck easily can fit in the job. After singing part of a chorus of that mediaeval favourite ‘Clementine,’ Huck understatedly points out “Giants always leave some subtle indication that enables an experienced tracker” to find them. In this case, it’s huge footprints nobody could miss, leading to “the old Schultz place” (I’d like to think he means “Schulz”, but you can hear the “t” pronounced).

Here’s the throwaway gag. Huck follows the direction on the sign “Blow Horn For Admittance.” He gets covered in pink goo. “Hmm. These kids stick their bubble gum in the darndest places,” he tells us.

Huck keeps up his steady patter to the view. He yells at the door to the giant’s castle: “Alright, Shortie, open the door,” then turns to us and adds “I calls this giant ‘shortie.’ ‘Cause, uh, that’s kind of a gag sayin’ we got in the trade.” Here’s Bob Gentle’s background. The camera pans over it after Huck peeks through the door.

It turns out the giant is sleeping or “paralysed with fear” in Huck’s mind. The gags:

The snoozing giant reacts to Huck clobbering him on the head by crunching him with a fly-swatter.
Giant falls chasing Huck because of a rope tied to his leg. Clobberings have no effect. Giant: “Fee fo fi found. I smell a Huckleberry Hound.” Huck, to viewers: “That’s giant-talk. Silly, isn’t it?”
Huck hides in cuckoo clock from giant (somehow, the rope got removed), pops out at the stroke of two (though the clock reads ‘1’ and doesn’t chime). Clobberings have no effect. The fun part is Huck strangling the cuckoo bird, who is yelling “Let me go.”
The old shell game as Huck hides under cup (plot filler, no jokes) then Huck skating on top of a cake. Huck, joking to viewers: “This slippery icin’ reminds me of the old mill pond in winter. I used to do figure eights the hard way. Two fours.” He skates right into the giant’s mouth. There’s no gag line as he forces his way out.

Finally, Huck inventively quells the giant by clobbering his foot, then slingshotting a reducing pill into the giant’s mouth while he screams in pain. Cartoon reducing pills always provide instant results. The giant shrinks with a little popping sound effect and two sets of different-sized lines (on twos) over his head. Huck tells the giant to run along and figure out what happened. Huck to viewers: “Say! You notice that ‘shortie’ name kindly fits now.”

And Huck sings ‘Clementine’ as he walks right to left, the same background rolling past him three times. “Another day, another giant,” he casually tells us.

All the music works well enough in this cartoon. When the giant shrinks, the sound cutter uses part of a series of bassoon elements lumped together in one cue. I haven’t been able to determine if the instrumental of ‘Clementine’ Huck sings overtop is stock music or something Hoyt Curtin arranged for underscore use. It is not listed on the cartoon cue sheet.

0:00 - Huck Sub Main Title theme (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows).
0:14 - ZR-103 PERIOD MAIN TITLE (Hormel) – Pan over countryside and Huck’s door.
0:35 - C-3 DOMESTIC CHILDREN (Loose) – Huck on phone.
1:12 - Clementine (trad.) – Huck walks and sings, spots footprints.
1:17 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Camera follows footprints, gum gag, pan of castle interior.
2:14 - L-80 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck walking in castle, fly swatter gag.
3:15 - 7-MR-183 creepy trumpet reverb music (Kraushaar) – Huck points out rope tied to giant.
3:31 - 8-MR-337 creepy trumpet reverb music (Kraushaar) – "Oh, Shorty!", Giant falls down.
4:04 - LAF-4-6 PIXIE PRANKS (Shaindlin) – Bops giant on head, runs away, giant runs to cuckoo clock.
4:40 - L-75 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck and bird come out of clock, shell game, Huck lands on ice.
5:33 - LAF-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) – Skating scene, Huck pops out of giant’s mouth.
5:55 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck behind chair leg, shoots pill into giant.
6:27 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Giant shrinks.
6:32 - ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) – “Well, that did it,” “Another day, another giant.”
6:49 - Clementine (trad.) – Huck walks and sings.
6:59 - Huckleberry Hound sub-end title theme (Curtin).

Thursday 16 June 2011

Fun With Layouts and Storyboards

There are many animation fans, I suspect, who like preparation artwork for cartoons as much as the cartoons themselves. Model sheets, storyboard panels, layout drawings, pencil reels, they’re all fun to look at and compare with the finished cartoon.

A couple of readers directed me to an on-line sale of some of these that were created by artists at Hanna-Barbera Studios and I thought I’d pass on some.

First up are three layout drawings from The Flintstones. I don’t know about the first two but the third was used in ‘Monster Fred’ (1964). The first and second are signed by Dick Bickenbach (and the second by Bob Singer, ex Warners BG man) so it may be safe to assume he drew it, though the writing above looks like Walt Clinton’s.

Next comes part of a storyboard from ‘The Social Climbers’ (1961), written by Warren Foster, who drew his own boards. It’s interesting to compare this to the finished cartoon; whoever did layouts didn’t stick to the way Foster set up the scenes. The first scene of the cartoon, incidentally, was animated by Don Patterson.

Here are three pairs of storyboard panels that were apparently used to pitch the show to advertisers. Two are from ‘The Snorkasaurus Hunter’ cartoon, the other is from ‘The Swimming Pool,’ the first Flintstones to be put into production. The character designs are closer to the Ed Benedict originals. The sketches are more polished than Foster’s work; I suspect they were drawn by Dan Gordon, who Joe Barbera said was involved in doing the first boards.

This still of what looks like the Hanna-Barbera projection room was used in something, only I didn’t make a note of what it was in.

The auction had several model sheets and my favourite is this one of Mr. Jinks, initialled by Dick Bickenbach and dated May 1960. Jinks, in the hands of a good animator, could be pretty expressive, even in limited animation. I love the drawing of him playing the drums. I wonder if it was to be used in a Kellogg’s commercial. The three-quarters-from-behind drawing must be unique.

There are a bunch more of these I’ll post later.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Pixie and Dixie — Nice Mice

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows, Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Pixie, Kitten – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks – Daws Butler.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin, Geordie Hormel.
Production: Huckleberry Hound Show K-022, Production E-53.
First Aired: week of February 23, 1959 (rerun, week of August 24, 1959).
Plot: Pixie and Dixie care for an orphan kitten.

You don’t have to look over too many feet of old film to find something from an old Tom and Jerry short at work in each of the Pixie and Dixie cartoons released in the first season, and Nice Mice is no exception. Jerry Mouse took in all kinds of animals—including a milk-hungry little mouse in The Milky Waif" (1946). And Mammy Two-Shoes agreed to (temporarily) take in three kittens in Triplet Trouble (1952). Combine the two ideas and we now have the basis of the plot of this cartoon.

In another way, this is the exact opposite of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, at least the ones made near last half of the ‘40s and into the start of the ‘50s. They were full of frantic chases and bashings that paused; the change of pace would allow the characters to show emotions by reacting (Jerry would look puzzled or trepiditious, Tom would be frightened or maniacal, and so on). Pixie and Dixie cartoons have a few chases because they’re easy to do in cycle animation but they don’t have the budget for the realisation takes and expressions of a Tom or Jerry, so the slow parts of the cartoon are instead filled with dialogue. And Charlie Shows’ dialogue can be a mixed bag. Some of it is clever, some merely advances the plot, some is redundant or pads for time. All three kinds are found in this cartoon, along with some familiar gags and a fairly leisurely pace. And we get one of those cute Dick Bickenbach little animal designs which even grouchy Jinks likes after seven minutes of limited animation.

Well, the opening dialogue seems in search of a punch line. It’s bed time in the mouse hole. Dixie complains that “somebody’s gotta wind the clock and somebody’s gotta lock the door...and you know who that somebody is.” You’d expect some kind of comeback from Pixie, especially since he’s impatiently drumming his fingers on the bed. But there isn’t one. Instead, Dixie instantly stops complaining and jumps into the next line about “putting the cat out.” It’s a good line but it doesn’t quite fit in with the griping.

The conversation is interrupted by the sound of car stopping. I can’t help but think in the MGM days, Bick would have laid out a lovely countryside, a car twisting over rolling hills along a road in perspective into the foreground, with urgent, building music by Scott Bradley. Instead we have a static shot of background drawing of a fence and the roof of a car behind it with Bill Loose’s for-all-occasions xylophone toodling along.

A canvas bag is tossed into the yard. “Maybe it’s a million dollars,” speculates Dixie. “We’ll be rich millionaires!” “That’s the best kind,” helpfully adds Pixie. No, it’s not a million dollars. “It’s a cat! Scat!” rhymes Dixie. The kitty dashes after them into their hole and after the kitten starts crying when Dixie insists “Back in the sack, Jack”, the mice agree to let him stay. There’s a cute little bit when Dixie wonders what kitten eats, Pixie responds with “Same as other cats. Mice.” and Dixie jumps on Pixie in fear. At least they’re trying to get some personality out of the mice who, realistically, lag far behind Jinks in that category.

Dixie makes off with Jinks’ dish of cream after the musty old gag of lifting up the cat’s eyelid to see “asleep” written on it. Charlie Shows gets in a nice pun as the meece walks past him. “That dish of cream looked kind of familiar. Actually, uh, it looked more like vanishing cream.” Then come a bunch of mismatched shots; I’d be interested in hearing if Muse animated his footage in any particular order, or did close-ups at once, medium shots at once, and so on. Jinks has his right hand on Dixie’s tail. Cut to a close-up. The right hand is against the cat’s cheek. Cut back to the medium shot. The right hand is on the ground. How does it get from one place to the other without moving?

Anyway, Jinks doesn’t believe Dixie’s story about feeding another cat. Dixie runs safely with the dish into the hole after bopping Jinks. I like how Muse changes the colour of the outline of Dixie’s feet to grey from black during the little run-in-the-air cycle. I suppose it helps accentuate the speed by using a less solid colour. Once in the hole, another Charlie Shows rhyme: “Real cream. A kitten’s dream.” Jinks reaches in, grabs the dish, and then curls up with it against a wall and goes back to sleep.

The meeces cleverly hide a hose under a carpet and run it into Jinks’ dish. The kitten’s at the other end sucking on the nippled hose like a baby bottle. The gag here is the kitten’s head inflates like a balloon when Jinks wakes up and gets revenge by blowing into the hose. Dixie gets a good line: “That cream sure is fattening.” Then Pixie adds, unfunnily and unnecessarily, “Gee. What a fat cat.” The kitten exhales, blowing the meece upside down against the wall. Pixie: “Man, what hit us?” Dixie: “Hurricane Kitty, that’s what.” Where’s Warren Foster when you need him?

The dependable old “saw holes in the floor from below” bit gets trotted out next. A hole is sawed under Jinks, who is holding onto the cream dish for safekeeping. Dixie is hiding behind a ventilation grate in the wall and pops out to grab the dish just before Jinks plummets. (“I see a saw, sawin’” is Shows’ play-on-words he puts in Jinks’ mouth this time).

Since Ken Muse is working on this cartoon, we can expect a long period of cycle footage and Ken doesn’t disappoint. There’s over 13 seconds of nothing but the kitten licking the cream except for three drawings (on twos) of the grate being lifted up. Jinks grabs the kitty and is about to throw it into the night but is overcome when the little animal licks his face. “Uncle” Jinks then offers to fix him up “with a snappy snack.” Dixie observes “A cat that likes cats cain’t be all bad.” The iris closes and we never see the kitten ever again. Perhaps he went out to play with Jinks Junior, who also appeared in only one cartoon.

Don Messick has a little dialogue gag in this cartoon he used every once in a while. The kitten only says “meow”—except when Jinks asks him if he’s hungry. Then he gives out with a string of “meows” and ends with a quick “yeah.” Yowp did the same thing in Duck in Luck when Yogi asks him a question.

The music’s all familiar, with ‘Toboggan Run’ making an appearance during the chase scene. There are a few spots where the music beds run out and the next cue doesn’t start until a change in the shot.

0:00 - Pixie and Dixie (instr.) (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) - Main titles.
0:27 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Pixie and Dixie in mouse hole, kitten pops head out of bag.
1:12 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Pixie and Dixie run, kitten licks Dixie.
1:45 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - “That’s no ferocious feline...”, Jinks opens eyes.
3:05 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - “Actually, it looked more like vanishing cream,” Dixie bops Jinks.
3:50 - ZR 47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) - Dixie runs in mid-air, kitten slurps cream.
4:09 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Jinks reaches in hole, hose in dish, Pixie and Dixie run from inflated-head kitten.
5:30 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Pixie and Dixie against wall, Jinks falls through floor, grabs kitten, goes to front porch.
6:42 - LAF-21-3 RECESS (Shaindlin) - Kitten licks Jinks, Pixie and Dixie stand near mouse hole entrance.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie (Hanna-Barbera, Curtin, Shows) - End Titles.