Saturday, 30 July 2011

Huckleberry Hound — Fireman Huck

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Vera Hanson; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huckleberry Hound – Daws Butler; Phone caller, dog, kitten – Don Messick.
First aired: week of December 8, 1959 (rerun week of June 8, 1960).
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin; Spencer Moore.
Plot: Fireman Huckleberry Hound is sent on assignment to rescue a kitten from a tree but ends up in the same predicament.

Hanna-Barbera got a lot of mileage out of an idea, and the studio first tried it in this cartoon with Huckleberry Hound’s antagonist. Granted, the white dog with the reversed ears only appeared in two more cartoons (A Bully Dog and Nuts Over Mutts) before vanishing forever. In fact, he’s not even important enough in the H-B galaxy to have a name. But he had a voice. Okay, he had a wheeze. And Joe Barbera borrowed it for other characters and milked it for years. This cartoon marks the first time a dog that snickered to the audience every time another character got bashed around.

Sure, Tex Avery used the idea earlier—stealing from Tex wasn’t rare in cartoonland—but various writers and producers at Hanna-Barbera knew a good concept when they had it, and made it practically iconic through sheer repetition. Muttley is probably the best-known character to be given the snickering trait; you can read more in this old blog post.

Huck is a fireman in this one, a role he repeated in Huck and Ladder (1961). The cartoon features a cute kitten design by Bick Bickenbach. And it moves along at the usual leisurely pace of Huck’s first season cartoons when Charlie Shows was working on them. In other words, there could have been more gags. I’m surprised there isn’t one with fireman Huck getting zapped trying to rescue the cat from atop a power pole; I’ve read a couple of newspaper stories where that actually happened to a fireman. No mention of snickering dogs reacting, though.

Well, there is one oddity if you stop to think about it. “To handle dogs, you got to be smarter than a dog,” Huck tells us. But wait a minute. Huck is a dog.

Reader Barry Grauman points out that Barbera borrowed from himself as well, as there are a number of plot elements from the 1941 MGM cartoon Officer Pooch in this one. That was one of shorts Barbera and Bill Hanna made before producer Fred Quimby changed his mind and decided the two should only make Tom and Jerry cartoons. Significantly, the dog picking on the dog/human in that cartoon only barks. He doesn’t snicker. But it does have the power line gag.

Huck opens the cartoon watering a very green front lawn of a home next to the fire hall. The phone rings. A woman says a dog has chased her cat up a tree. Huck’s fire engine drives past the same house four times to arrive at its destination. Huck shames the dog away from the tree. The pooch crawls away behind a home, whimpering to upper piano key-like sounds, then swoops his evilly-grinning head back into the scene. The footage gets re-used a couple of times.

Friendly fireman Huck tries to grab the cat. The cat reacts as one might expect. I like how Ken Muse makes the claw bigger on impact. Huck lands on his head at the bottom of the tree. He, of course, isn’t bothered. “Like I said—poor, l’il-ol,’ frightened thang” is his reaction. And then the shot cuts to the dog, giving out what eventually became a very lucrative snicker (in three drawings) for voice artist Don Messick.

The dog occasionally forms words with the guttural sound that Messick gave Astro and Scooby-Doo but doesn’t start each word with an ‘r’ like those two. We get to hear that in the next scene when Huck saws down the branch the cat is on to bring him to safety (“There’s more than one way to skin a cat” is the filler dialogue Shows comes up with for Huck). “On your mark, get set, go!” the dog says to himself as he zooms toward the cat and chases it up the side of a house. The gag is dog realises where is in, remembers there’s a law of gravity and plummets (off camera) to the ground. Cue Huck’s pointing and Ken Muse’s crawling animation.

Now Huck has to get the cat off the roof of the house. He rips the recalcitrant kitten from its claw-hold on the shingles. The force sends the two toward the ground. “Lucky for me, cats always lands on their feets.” The crash is off camera. Cut back to Huck on the ground holding the cat. “Except this cat.” Muttley The dog snickers. Ken Muse, take some time off. We’ll get ink and paint to use the drawings from the last snicker.

Ken gets even more time off as the “On your mark, get set, go!” animation is screened again, this time before the dog chases the kitten (with Huck now holding its tail and being pulled through the air) up the side of the house. The cat and Huck slide back down. The dog on the ground barks. Up go the cat and Huck again. “Shucks. I lost ma cat tay-ull” says Huck as he loses his grip and falls. “Uh, oh” says the dog. Huck lands on top of him. Time for the crawling animation again and for Ken to relax some more.

In fact, the start of the next scene with Huck climbing the ladder to the roof of the house is re-used, too. The gag—the dog sneaks through a basement window. Huck plucks the cat from the shingles (Messick emits an exclamatory “meow” here) and tells it to “un-lax.” The dog screws that up by popping his head from the chimney and barking, frightening the pair much like Frisky Puppy used to do to Claude Cat in Warners cartoons. All that’s left of Huck and the kitten are smears and what looks like markings in red crayon.

The pair land in a garbage can. “That done it, kitty. I got my dandruff up,” says the finally annoyed Huck. He decides to “learn that dog a thing or three” by rapping him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. Don’t worry, Ken. You don’t have to waste your time drawing any of that. It’ll happen off camera with nothing but dialogue over 13 seconds of a static background shot of the side of a house we’ve been seeing all during the cartoon (the house is actually on a cel on top). The best part is the cat-like “Uh oh” Messick puts in the kitten’s mouth when he hears the dog getting angry about being swatted and Huck yelling for help.

Perhaps predictably, the cartoon ends with both Huck and the kitten meowing for help after running up the side of the house to escape the chasing dog. “Shuckins,” Huck says to the cat, “Ain’t nobody going to hear a poor, little ol’ ‘meow’ like that. You needs help.” No doubt fine readers to the blog can name cartoons with similar “trapped animal” endings.

So it’s not one of Huck’s strongest cartoons but it’s pleasant enough. What would help is something that wouldn’t have cut into the budget—stronger reaction lines for Huck to crack to the camera like the Avery Southern wolf character he’s based on (the “Like I said, poor, li’l ol...” comment to the audience isn’t even made directly to the camera; Bick has Huck laid out at an angle).

But Joe loved that snicker and loved putting it in a dog. He did it again that season in Huck’s Barbecue Hound, which aired on the week of January 26, 1959. The difference is that dog (a brown colour) only snickered once, at the end of the cartoon.

H-B cartoons generally ended with a bang musically. Some of the early ones faded out the stock tunes and that’s what happens here. Bill Loose and John Seely’s ‘Eccentric Comedy’ just noodles along and kind of stops when the cartoon does. The barking/chasing scenes use the two Jack Shaindlin pieces that were favoured in the first season Huck cartoons—‘On the Run’ and (my favourite) ‘Toboggan Run’). The crawling-into-the-house drawings get a chunk of one of Spencer Moore’s cues that was used by the studio as an effect. And I don’t know the source of the electric organ ‘Clementine’ played in this and other cartoons, whether it’s from a music library or Hoyt Curtin did it himself.

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound sub main title theme (Curtin).
0:28 - CLEMENTINE (trad. arr. Curtin?) - Huck waters lawn, talks on phone, pulls us to house.
1:15 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Shot of dog, cat swipes at Huck, snicker.
2:32 - TC 432 HOLLY DAY (Loose-Seely) - Ladder goes up to get cat, cat toddles away.
3:15 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - Dog “on your mark”, chases cat up house, realises he’s on house.
3:30 - no music - Dog lands on ground.
3:35 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) - Huck says “bad dog”, Huck and cat land on ground, “On your mark, get set.”
4:34 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) - “Go!”, Huck stops on side of home.
4:58 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Huck and cat slide down home, Huck lands on dog, Huck on roof with cat, Huck and cat drop into garbage can.
5:39 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) - Dog tippy-toes into basement.
6:10 - TC 432 HOLLY DAY (Loose-Seely) - Garbage can shot, thwap, dog growls.
6:36 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) - Huck yells help, cat runs, dogs slides and stops at house.
6:49 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) - Dog barks, Huck and cat meow.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).


  1. The plot is very similar to Joe Barbera's story for "Officer Pooch", a cartoon he and Bill directed for MGM in 1941.

  2. Thanks. I've never seen that one before.

  3. I have never stopped loving that fact that Huck, the " Human " dog, had to deal with " Dog " dogs on more than one occasion. Yes, while Don was allowed to " Muttley " out a few lines in " Fireman Huck ", and as Yowp mentioned " Barbecue Hound " Well Done!!" ( mutley type laugh )",to a much lessor extent, it was the whole Goofy taking Pluto out for a walk senario. Huck was so much a " Mister Everyman ", and on the whole, so likable, that we just never questioned it. And, I still don't. Oh yes, " Postman Panic " where Huck is a Postman running from and getting bitten by....a dog. You are right. Bill and Joe did get a lot of mileage out of that routine. Ha!

  4. That dog also appeared in the final Huck episode, where Huck's a TV repairman.

  5. The dog in the final Huck cartoon is a bulldog with a huge head. The two aren’t constructed the same at all.

  6. Okay, thanks. I'd gotten my dogs in the Huck cartoons mixed up.:)