Wednesday 31 August 2011

Mike Maltese and The Legend of El Kabong

So just how do you come up with a new cartoon character?

Not being a cartoonist, I don’t have the definitive answer. Long-time cartoon writer Mike Maltese once pointed out “no one can take the credit for the finished product.” And Maltese ought to know, though he lived into a time when some people decided taking credit wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Still, cartoons have to start somewhere. It’s pretty safe to say that, in many cases, it’s in the head of a writer whose charge is to come up with a story that’ll fill seven minutes of screen time. And in the case of the idea of the inept masked hero El Kabong, that writer was Mike Maltese.

Cartoon writers are generally anonymous people. So it’s certainly a surprise to go way-back-when and find them being interviewed about the work of the Hanna-Barbera studio. I’d like to think it was because of the respect Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had for Maltese and Warren Foster when they were hired from Warner Bros., though one could cynically suggest that mentioning the two in interviews and letting them to talk to the press gave Joe and Bill a chance to trade off on the popularity of the Warners cartoons.

We’ve posted one old interview with Maltese given shortly after his arrival at Hanna-Barbera HERE. I’ve found another from the St. Joseph News-Press of October 31, 1959, probably the earliest interview he gave anyone outside a studio newsletter. It looks to be either a re-write of a studio hand-out or a syndicated piece, though I haven’t found it anywhere else and it’s unbylined. It was published a little over a week before El Kabong made his debut and Maltese explains how he came up with the idea, and a little about himself.

New Style in Masked Avengers
Out of the past, out of the annals of show business, comes a dark figure. The masked marvel rides again . . . and again . . . and again.
This time, when the mysterious stranger lifts his mask at the final fade out, who will be under it but Quick Draw McGraw, the newest sensation of Western TV, host and hero of the half-hour cartoon series that’s now seen each Wednesday evening at 6 on ABC-TV [sic].
“I had to put in a Zorro-type character,” explained gray-haired dignified Mike Maltese, writer of the Quick Draw McGraw series. “But I wanted him to have his own special gimmick, no sword, no bull whip, something different and all his won. Never mind how, but I finally decided to give him a guitar. With a swish and a flourish,” said Maltese demonstrating saber technique, “he’d clobber the bad guys over the noggin with a guitar.”
The masked marvel has been haunting Maltese ever since he began studying the entertainment industry, 35 years ago at the RKO Colonial on Manhattan’s upper west side. Every Saturday, Maltese and his young friends would congregate at the local theater to study all ancient forms of theater, including two features, a cartoon, travelog, two serials, community sing and prizes.
“And almost every Saturday, there’d be a masked marvel on the screen,” Maltese recalled. “By the end of the 12th chapter, we couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. The bets among the kids were running high as the sun went down behind the mountain, and the heroine looked up at the mysterious stranger and said, (falsetto) ‘But, but, who are you?’ You’d see the mask twitch a little, so you’d know he was about to speak. Then suddenly a shot rang out, he’d fall, and cut. Darn it, you’d have to come back another week to find out.”
“So who was it?” Maltese was asked.
“It turned out to be her father, who disappeared in the first episode.”
After giving Quick Draw the mask and guitar, the professional Maltese began scratching his head for a Spanish-sounding name for the mysterious stranger.
“In a cartoon storyboard, whenever you have one of the characters getting bashed over the noodle, you know how you script in the sound effect? You write ‘KABONG’. So that’s what I decided to call him: El Kabong.
When the sponsors saw the Quick Draw McGraw spoof on El Kabong, they had Maltese write the masked wonder into four more episodes.

For the record, there were four El Kabong cartoons in the first season, three in the second and three (of the six Quick Draws made) in the final season. And while a sponsor may have been partially responsible for willing cartoons into being, a sponsor can’t force people to like them. That’s a collaborative effort, a cartoon writer once intimated. But a new cartoon character has to start with an idea. And you can credit the idea for the ridiculous and funny El Kabong to one ridiculous and funny Mike Maltese.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Quick Draw McGraw — Bull-Leave Me

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Animation – Dick Lundy; Layout – ?; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas?; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Direction – Alex Lovy; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson (no credits).
Voice Cast: Narrator, Gaucho, Don Town – Don Messick; Quick Draw, Baba Looey – Daws Butler; El Screwbullito – Doug Young.
Music: Jack Shaindlin, Phil Green, Harry Bluestone/Emil Cadkin, unknown.
Production: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-024, Production J-71.
First Aired: week of March 7, 1960 (repeat, week of September 5, 1960)
Plot: Quick Draw searches for a prize bull in Argentina.

If you’re going to borrow a cup of sugar, you might as well borrow the best if you can. So, if you’re going to borrow a cup of ideas from old cartoons, why borrow crappy ideas? Borrow from the best. And you can’t get a lot better than Tex Avery.

This cartoon features some familiar sights and sounds that Tex may not have originated, but they’ll bring to your mind a few of his cartoons. Quick Draw McGraw takes on a bull. Yes, many directors had bullfighting cartoons; writer Mike Maltese worked on Bully For Bugs (1952) and story director Alex Lovy had a hand in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon The Hollywood Matador (1942). But this isn’t just any bull. It’s a smart-ass bull. If I have to explain to you what smart-ass characters Tex developed, you really shouldn’t be reading this blog. But it’s not just any smart-ass bull. It’s a chuckling smart-ass bull. I’ll spare you a list of cartoons where Avery featured a loud, large chortling character (my favourite is 1940’s The Bear’s Tale), but point out one of them was a bull in Señor Droopy, released in 1949.
(See footnote at the bottom of the post).

One of the gags has Quick Draw lured not once, but twice, off a cliff by the bull, akin to the fox and Willoughby the stupid dog in Tex’s Of Fox and Hounds (1940). In that one, the fox comments on the action to the camera. Here, Baba Looey does it. And the final gag’s a variation on a Tex favourite found in The Cat That Hated People (1948) and The Chump Champ (1950).

The man who handled the Avery unit while Tex was on a medical leave was Dick Lundy, and he’s the animator in this cartoon. There isn’t a lot of animating in perspective in Hanna-Barbera cartoons—it’s easier moving them stage left and right—but Lundy does it a couple of times here. One is in the first scene, when the gaucho is trying to capture El Screwbullito by throwing his bolas. The bull casually pulls out a baseball bat and thwacks back the bolas. See how the barrel of the bat is expanded as it pokes toward the camera.

One thing the scene doesn’t have is Tex’s pace, certainly not the kind he was known for at MGM in the ‘50s. There wouldn’t have been any shot of the bolos flying through the air, the bull wouldn’t have waited two seconds before dragging out the bat nor waited another couple before swinging it. Throw-swing-end result-reaction, enough for the eye to register and get it, then on to the next gag. “Give me an opening and a closing and thirty gags and I'll make you a cartoon”, Tex once said. Of course, he didn’t have to grind out as many cartoons in a year as the folks at the Hanna-Barbera studio. That task fell on Mike Maltese, someone who could pack 30 gags in a cartoon as well, but had to settle for fewer because of the realities of television animation. After all, he wrote 78 stories in nine months.

Still, Maltese has come up with a funny cartoon. Borrowing then reworking Avery helps, but he adds his own touches, too. My favourite is the “inquisition” routine, much like he did in The Treasure of El Kabong and Chopping Spree, where Quick Draw answers with groaner puns when questioned about his qualifications. It comes at the outset of the cartoon. The narrator sets up the location (the Argentina pampas) and introduces the gaucho who can’t catch El Screwbullito before the scene switches to the ranch of Don Town. His gauchos turn and run when asked to bring in El Screwbullito, so he sends for “The World’s Greatest Cowboy, Quick Draw McGraw.” Does Quick Draw know his way around the pampas? Our hero zips off-stage and returns in a gaucho outfit. After some bogus Latin-evoking language, Don Town expresses his doubt that Quick Draw is qualified. Let the questioning begin. It’s Maltese at his pun-groaner best.

Don: Okay. What is a gaucho?
Quick Draw: A gaucho is one of the Marx Brothers.
Don: What is the Andes?
Quick Draw: It’s the other half of ‘Amos and.’
Don: What is a bolo?
Quick Draw: It’s something you keep goldfish in. Like ‘bolo goldfish.’
Don (crying): Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Quick Draw: Let’s face it. You’re stuck with me.
Baba: Ees sad. But I thin’ that’s true.

Of course, Quick Draw and Baba are correct, enabling the cartoon to continue. The scene cuts to a jeep, wherein Quick Draw tells Baba to keep his “peels eyed.” They pass the bull, hitching a ride. Much like Elmer Fudd didn’t recognise a wabbit in Tex’s A Wild Hare (1940), Quick Draw doesn’t clue in that he’s just picked up El Screwbullito. The bull pulls Quick Draw’s hat over his eyes (Quick Draw doesn’t guess that it’s “Wosemawy Wane” like the blinded Elmer in A Wild Hare) and jumps to safety before the jeep crashes into a huge rock.

Lundy tries more perspective in the next scene. The bull is chuckling in a three-quarters rear view. Quick Draw runs at him diagonally from the distance but suddenly bashes against something and falls to the ground. The camera pulls back to reveal Quick Draw ran into a pane of glass.

Now an oldie but a goodie. Quick Draw is sent over a cliff twice by asking directions of a poncho and hat covered “stranger” who is really the bull in disguise. The doorway frame at the edge of the cliff is reminiscent of something Maltese put into a Roadrunner cartoon.

Next, Quick Draw tries using a red cape to lure El Screwbullito into charging toward him. There’s a boulder behind the cape. Instead, the bull sends the rock flying into the air. It lands on Quick Draw. No “Oooh, that smarts!” We get some “ouch” and “ooch” instead.

The final gag has Quick Draw charging at the bull with huge horns tied to the front of his jeep. The frightened bull runs toward a corral entrance, grabs a set of big mounted horns, and runs at Quick Draw. The collision breaks up Quick Draw and the jeep into little pieces that collapse on the ground. El Screwbullito points and chuckles until he realises something is wrong. Then he breaks up into little pieces and collapses. Baba Looey’s tag line: “That’s Quickstraw for you. When the chips are down, he goes all to pieces. But I like him.” Thus ends Quick Draw’s sole appearance in Argentina.

The Argentine setting inspired Bill Hanna to spring for the use of three Spanish-flavoured specialty cues. They’re not with the Latin American cues in the original Capitol Hi-Q reel X-4 (Capitol later replaced it with Christmas music). I suspect they’re cues from the Sam Fox library. And there are a couple of common Shaindlin pieces heard in this cartoon I don’t have, either.

There’s also a snippet of music when the bull charges at Quick Draw standing next to the boulder. The sound effects and vocals are so loud, it’s tough to tell what it is. I can make out two notes. I’m going with Bill Loose and John Seely’s TC-215A found in the Hi-Q ‘D’ series, as it has those two notes about two-thirds of the way into the music.

0:00 - Quick Draw McGraw Sub Main Title theme (Curtin).
0:14 - Latin string music (?) – Pan across pampas.
0:26 - Latin samba music (?) – Gaucho chasing bull scene.
1:30 - Latin strings and reeds (?) – Don Town’s gauchos run away, “Cowards! Pigeons!”
2:01 - GR-85 THE BRAVEST WOODEN SOLDIER BRIDGE No 1 (Green) – “Chickens!”, Quick Draw and Baba skid into scene.
2:18 - CRAZY GOOF (Shaindlin) – Quick Draw and Don Town dialogue.
3:17 - GR-248 STREETS OF THE CITY (Green) – Hitchhiker scene, Quick Draw runs into glass.
4:13 - CAPERS (Shaindlin) – Bull chuckles, Quick Draw runs off cliff and crashes.
4:42 - CB-83A MR TIPPY TOES (Cadkin-Bluestone) – Bull in serape chuckles, Quick Draw over cliff again, Quick Draw waves red cape.
5:39 - TC-215A CHASE-MEDIUM (Loose-Seely) – Bull charges, rock goes up, lands of Quick Draw.
5:49 - GR-87 SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD (Green) – “Quickstraw, what happened?”, Quick Draw starts jeep.
6:19 - fast circus chase music (Shaindlin) – Quick Draw drives off, collision, Quick Draw and bull crack up.
6:50 - LAF-6-16 Sportscope-ish (Shaindlin) – Baba Looey talks to audience.
6:57 - Quick Draw Sub End Title theme (Curtin).

Yowp note: Hanna-Barbera was working on a theatrical project soon after this cartoon was made, and it involved a bull. Hedda Hopper revealed in her column of April 26, 1960: Hanna and Barbera are doing animation on two sequences of “Pepe;” one a dream sequence where Cantinflas on horseback fights windmills, while in the other he fights the bull.

The studio got involved because the movie was released by Columbia, which bankrolled Hanna-Barbera at the outset, and produced and directed by George Sidney, the first president of H-B Enterprises. Columbia seems to have poured all kinds of money into this elaborate musical comedy that drowns you in great star cameos. But the grating and ubiquitous Cantinflas arouses more cringes than sympathy, the plot is really dumb, and the few neat ideas (eg. a parody of West Side Story’s choreography) are better on paper than in execution.

Perhaps there were so many stars, there was no room for poor Bill and Joe. While a bullfight opens the movie, there’s no cartoon element (at least in the version of the movie I saw). The only animation is when little squares fall together to form the film title in the opening, and again when they spell “The End.” So this could very well be a lost theatrical project for Hanna-Barbera.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

A Word From Our Sponsor, Top Cat

Hanna-Barbera characters hawked food, vitamins, cigarettes and fire safety (perhaps the last two cancel each other). No doubt you’ve seen those commercials over the years. But there are some you haven’t seen—if you live in North America.

The Royal Bank of Scotland employed Top Cat and his gang in its television ad campaign in 1983. Someone has posted several of the spots on-line. The ads were animated at Hanna-Barbera. Best of all, they feature the voices of Arnold Stang and Marvin Kaplan, and someone doing Benny and Officer Dibble who I should be able to name. The originals, Maurice Gosfield (1964) and Allen Jenkins (1974) were dead when these ads were produced. As a bonus, they’re backed with the familiar music of Hoyt Curtin. In fact, in a couple of the ads, it sounds like the music’s going to launch into the Kellogg’s jingle. There’s a laugh track to add a retro feeling.

I have no idea who the animator or director was on these, but here they are:

The Bank of Scotland offered its own Top Cat stuff, too—a piggy kitty bank. Made of real plastic! Click to enlarge.

T.C. wasn’t the only Hanna-Barbera character shilling in the U.K. So were the Flintstones in this spot for an insurance company. Mark Christiansen animated a couple of scenes on this and Scott Jeralds did the character layouts and storyboard. See Scott’s note in the comment section.

The animation goes by a little quickly at times for me but the characters look great and I would have loved to have seen Fred’s car squash and stretch like this in the original cartoons. Whoever is doing the dying Flintmobile is evoking a bit of Mel Blanc as Jack Benny’s recalcitrantly-starting Maxwell.

If anyone has any additional insight about the spots, especially if they worked on these, please post it in the comment section.

Yowp thanks Chris S. for providing the links.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Today’s Hanna-Barbera Newsreel

If the popular press is any indication, the Flintstones must be the most popular invention of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. There have been a bunch of TV series, endless appearances on cereal commercials, several movies and, of course, recent talk of a Seth MacFarlane version. And references continue to crop up in news stories.

Here’s a cool one that goes back a month but has only recently been noticed by fans on Facebook. Someone has built a Flintstones car. Here’s what the InAutoNews web site has to say:

A completely functional version of the world famous Fred Flintstone’s car is on sale on the internet.
The fanaticism has no limits when it comes to cars as it is best demonstrated by this fully functional replica of Fred Flintstone’s car which is on sale.
Even though we don’t exactly know all of the car’s features, we can see that wood appears to be the main “ingredient”.
According to the person who is selling the vehicle, the car has a 1.6 liter petrol engine and it “ran” for about 80.000 km, even though it was produced this year.
The car is a two-seater which can be ideal for cruising in warm climate on the coast. You will definitely attract all eyes on you.
If you have been convinced in buying Fred Flintstone’s car you should know that it isn’t expensive. In fact it is quite cheap. Like 2.200 euros cheap.

You can see the Flintmobile photo gallery HERE.

I’m not sure if the car has any brakes, but apparently it doesn’t need them, if you go by another news story from a couple of days ago. Someone made the Lighter Side columns by trying to stop his car with his feet just like you-know-who. One wire service story reads as follows (Warren Foster’s puns won’t make you cringe as much as the opening line):

DETROIT, Aug. 19 (Reuters) — It was a yabba dabba don’t that caused a bam bam, bam bam.
A 24-year-old man was arrested near Detroit this week after he tried to stop his pickup truck by dragging his feet—and ran into four other vehicles.
Police in Roseville, Michigan, say the driver resorted to the unconventional technique, pioneered by Fred Flintstone, the accident-prone lead character in the popular 1960s cartoon “The Flintstones,” after he discovered his truck’s brakes had failed but decided to go ahead and use the vehicle anyway.
The man’s desperate and unsuccessful efforts to stop the truck were captured on the video camera of the patrol car that ultimately pulled him over.
The driver, who police declined to identify because he has not yet been arraigned, was arrested on accusations of reckless driving and driving with a suspended license. His truck has been impounded.
No one was seriously injured in the four minor collisions.
Roseville Deputy Police Chief James Berlin said in a statement the man would be arraigned next month, when he would have an opportunity to “explain his moronic decision-making.”

We only hope this guy isn’t next to us at a drive-in restaurant. We know what’ll happen to his car there. By the way, aren’t drive-in restaurants kind of a Stone Age concept these days?

And, naturally, the whole thing is on video, thanks to another wire service.

The Flintstones came up in one other story over the last week. Britain’s Sun tabloid has breathlessly revealed that no less a personage than Simon Cowell watches the Bedrock bunch every morning. He’s told GQ magazine why: “It just puts me in a good mood. It’s less depressing than watching the news.”

Watching The Flintstones is normal, if not laudable, but there are some other of Mr. Cowell’s habits which are decidedly bone-chillingly creepy a tad unusual. If you dare, you can read them HERE. Some may suggest a fitting Flintstone tribute for Simon would be for the guy in Michigan to drive toward him and try to stop the car like Fred.

News stories that refer to the Flintstones show up once in a while. Same with Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound. But it’s rare that TV’s funniest cat (note to Mark Evanier: for you, this reads “TV’s funniest cat that doesn’t eat lasagna”) and his prey should be referred to obliquely in the popular press. It’s happened. And in no less venerable a place than the New York Times crossword puzzle earlier this month.

A chap named James Lim concocted the puzzle below and must be a fan of Mr. Jinks. We’ve included the clue and have given you great assistance in guessing the answer.

See? Who says those puzzles are hard?

The people at the Times say it’s the first time the word ‘meeces’ has ever been used in its crossword puzzle. It didn’t even happen 50 years ago when Pixie and Dixie were seen weekly in first-run television. And this proves once and for all that Jinks’ grammar was correct all along and “meeces” is the plural form of “meece.”

Oh, if you’d like to see the whole puzzle, click HERE.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Augie Doggie — Ro-Butler

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Animation – Ken Muse; Layout - Dick Bickenbach?; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story – Mike Maltese; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Doggie Daddy – Doug Young; Augie Doggie – Daws Butler; Robot – no voice.
Music: Hecky Krasnow; Phil Green; Jack Shaindlin; Harry Bluestone/Emil Cadkin.
First aired: week of February 1, 1960 (rerun, week of August 1, 1960).
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show No. M-019, Production J-48.
Plot: A robot servant Augie builds for his dad on Father’s Day doesn’t work as Daddy hoped.

Do robots ever work properly in cartoons? A sampling going back to the early 1930s would indicate either “no” or “too well.” Mike Maltese knew that, and could point to the experience of Hubie and Bertie in House Hunting Mice (1947) that he wrote for Chuck Jones at Warners.* In this cartoon, Maltese has decided to marry the concept of a robot that follows orders to the letter, a Father’s Day gone awry (he had experience with that in the great 1951 cartoon A Bear For Punishment) and the enthusiastic boy-genius version of Augie Doggie. Unlike Maltese’s Super-Genius, Wile E. Coyote, the invention doesn’t backfire on the inventor, but on Dear Old Dad.

The cartoon starts off with Augie hammering the robot together in the basement (the one seen in Cat Happy Pappy) and Daddy in bed sleeping. Daddy talks in his sleep, too, and mutters “Get in the roundhouse, mouse. The cat can’t corner you there,” leaving it up to us all to figure out what his dream is all about. The robot tries to wake Daddy and startles him into jumping into the light fixture in the ceiling. There’s a shot that’s supposed to be from Daddy’s viewpoint but the angle strikes me as being too low. Daddy agrees to allow the mechanical man to be his Father’s Day butler.

The rest of the consists mainly of a series of sight gags, based on the robot taking everything Daddy says literally. Let’s go through them.

● Let me have a couple of lumps. We all know where this gag’s going. Daddy wants it for his coffee. The robot bashes him on the head with a coffee pot.

● Toast. Daddy says “give to me straight.” So the robot shoves the toaster straight in Daddy’s mouth. His ears pop up like toast. Cleverest gag in the cartoon.

● Morning bath. The robot grabs Daddy by the neck and throw him in the tub. Everything goes fine until Daddy says “How about hanging me out to dry?” Cut to Daddy hanging from the clothes line by his ears.

● Morning paper and cigar. The “alu-minium val-let” brings them. Daddy orders “First, the cigar, then the paper, then light it.” The robot shoves the cigar in Daddy’s mouth, then the newspaper to encase it, then puts a match to it. Flames flash up and dear old dad is left with a charred stick extended from his mouth (remarkably, his face isn’t touched). “I mean first the cigar, then the paper, then. The robot reversed the order of insertion with the same end result. Daddy has a squarish flat head here, like Huck Hound in some early cartoons.

● Get the dust pan and the broom. Daddy changes his mind about firing the “lachry-mose ro-butler” and gives him a final order to “get rid of the mess in this room here.” The robot decides that means Daddy, and picks him up with the dust pan before dropping in a garbage can outside.

● Let me have that broom and dust pan. Before Daddy can get out the word “pan,” the robot brings the broom down on him, and smashes the remote control at the same time. That means the robot has to repeat the order over and over until Augie can get a new control box. It’s remarkable, and perhaps a bit unsettling depending on how you look at it, that Daddy is smiling as he’s getting bashed. “Take your time, son,” he says. “After all, how many fathers are lucky enough to get a butler on Father’s Day?” Hmm. The robot is obviously not the major invention here. Augie must have created a battery that never goes dead.

Only six background tunes have been used by the sound cutter in this one. They’re pretty well timed to end when a scene does. Afraid I don’t have names for a couple of the Jack Shaindlin tunes.

0:00 - Augie Doggie Main Title theme (Curtin).
0:05 - THE HAPPY COBBLER (Krasnow) – Daddy sleeping, Augie builds robot, pushes button.
1:11 - ASININE (Shaindlin) – Augie orders robot to get Daddy breakfast, Daddy jumps into light fixture.
2:20 - jaunty bassoon and skipping strings (Shaindlin) – Daddy gets lumps, toast, bath, dries off.
3:55 - EM-107 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Green) – Cigar/Paper gag.
5:06 - CB-89A ROMANTIC JAUNT (Cadkin-Bluestone) – Dustpan scene.
6:06 - fast circus chase music (Shaindlin) – Smashed control box, robot chases Dad.
6:49 - Augie Doggie End Title theme (Curtin).

* House Hunting Mice owes a little something in plot to Jones’ earlier Dog Gone Modern (1939), written by Rich Hogan.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

His Girl Elroy

The first few Hanna-Barbera prime-time shows beloved by fans would sound a lot different if some of the original casting decisions had been carved in, um, Flintstone. (I’m allowed one bad pun. It’s my blog, after all). Bill Thompson and Hal Smith as Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Michael O’Shea as Top Cat. Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll as George and Jane Jetson. All of them did voice tracks that were later scrapped, with footage that was presumably re-animated, because the roles were given to the people we associate with them today.

There was one other change as well. Lucille Bliss, best known for her role as Smurfette in the original Smurfs cartoon series, was hired to play the part of Elroy Jetson. Five years ago, Lucille sat down with the Archive of American Television to discuss her career. We transcribed part of her interview about how she was manoeuvred out of Ruff and Reddy here. We promised then we’d get around to giving you her story about her short life as the youngest Jetson. Here’s what she told the Academy about her hiring and firing.

A heartbreaker, okay? I worked for six weeks on The Jetsons. I was Elroy. And the shows were done and everything. And I had Miles Auer, who was the best agent at that time, and Miles, I liked him very much, was Daws Butler’s agent. Daws was a dear friend of mine and we worked together so much. Daws drove me around when I first came down here [from San Francisco] to help me; I’d go on auditions with him so that I’d get acquainted. And then he said “You ought to have my agent.” And my agent talked to me and heard what I did, he said “I’ll take you immediately. I don’t take usually other people. I have Daws but I’ll take you.” [Yowp note: Auer was also Stan Freberg’s agent].

So Jetsons came along and everything was going wonderful and they loved me. But—who was the director on that?—he was the son of this movie actor [Alan Dinehart]...he said to me “They think you’re a little boy, Lucille. Madison Avenue wanted a real little boy and we sent your tape in. And we called you Little Lou Bliss. L-o-u, Lou Bliss. And you should see the letters, they are crazy about this apple-cheeked little six-year-old boy, Little Lou Bliss. But you must never, ever, ever, divulge your name. You’ll lose your job.”

“My, God,” I said, “I’ll never divulge it, I’ll never go to New York anyway for the show, anyway, but I’ll never divulge it. Not to my best friend.” So, what happened is, Miles said “What the hell is this ‘Little Lou Bliss’ crap?” He said “You’ve made your name as ‘Lucille Bliss,’ what are they doing to you, calling you ‘Little Lou Bliss?’ He’s going to get big and famous and who the hell is he? It’s you. That can’t go on.”

I said, “Miles, please, Miles, Miles, Miles, just leave it alone, I’ll lose my job.” “Aw, you won’t lose your—” “Yes,” I said, “I will. I heard it from the director himself. He said it must be a secret, Hanna-Barbera’s keeping it a secret. Don’t tell them, please.” He said “No, that’s ridiculous.” I said “Miles, I want to work, I don’t want to lose the series. I got a lead in it, for God’s sakes leave it alone.”

He didn’t. He went to Hanna-Barbera and said “First of all, she gets more money. Secondly, I want to see ‘Lucille Bliss’ on there.” I got the pink slip two weeks later. And it broke my heart. And they couldn’t find an Elroy so they started with Billy Barty. And that didn’t work. And then they started with somebody else and that didn’t—oh!—I think Morey Amsterdam even read for it, don’t quote me, but I think he did. That didn’t work. But then they got Daws Butler. And the only thing they could do is, he couldn’t be six years old, he had to be nine years old because Daws couldn’t get that young so they had to make him older. And I got the pink slip. And I went to pieces. I really did. I’d think “You know, you can take so many disappointments in one career.” And then, my God, there was, of course, my disappointments turned out good but, still, I lost the one with Bergen, I lost that one, I lost another one, and now comes this one. And this would have been a big series and I was furious. So, maybe I did the wrong thing, but I let Miles go. ...

Six weeks of shows I had done. They had to destroy it. That didn’t make Joe Barbera very happy. And I tried to tell him “Well, I fired the agent, what can I do?” And he says “Well, now they know that it’s not a little boy. So that’s the end.”

The story is an interesting one but it leaves a bunch of questions. How did Alan Dinehart and/or Joe Barbera think no one would learn the identity of Elroy’s voice actor? Certainly something like that couldn’t be kept secret, I suspect not even by Hanna-Barbera’s vaunted and busy publicity machine. And if Madison Avenue was so intent on a little boy, why would the wonderful (but somewhat older than nine) Daws Butler be acceptable to agencies but not Lucille Bliss? And what about the fact that three years later, Lucille had no problem being billed as “Lou Bliss.” Take a look at this title card from her next H-B endeavour, the best-forgotten Space Kidettes (1965).

To sidetrack a bit, this wasn’t the first time she and Janet Waldo worked together. Kind of. The two did a cerebral palsy telethon in June 1952 that was broadcast on KGO-TV, San Francisco. Janet was in Los Angeles with stars like Cliff Arquette (Charley Weaver), while Lucille was in the City by the Bay along with host Jack Webb and guests such as “the vivacious Dorita” (now there’s a study in contrasts).

Lucille was “Auntie Lou” on KRON-TV, San Francisco, in 1951. The spelling of her alter ego seems to have varied depending on the newspaper reporting. The Hayward Daily Review had this little profile of Lucille in its Video Notes column by T.R. Temple of August 13, 1952. The picture you see is from the paper and indicates it is Lucille and not someone attempting Joan Crawford on stage at Finnochio’s.

Lucille Bliss, who is known to several thousand kids as Aunty Lu, is one of those studies in contradictions.
When she was a teen-ager in radio (not so long ago), she was usually cast in adult roles. Now that she’s reached the voting age, she often plays a little girl—or boy.
Just to keep the thing interesting, she got a part in Edgar Bergen’s show in Hollywood — but performed it in San Francisco. She also won a role in Disney’s Cinderella through a Bay Area audition—and played it in Hollywood.
Was she Cinderella? Wrong again. Disney liked her voice as “Anastasia,” the nasty old stepsister, so gentle Lucille wound up as a villain. She also continued in this part for the RCA record album of the tale.
Newspaper writers are always looking for a twist on the familiar, but actually Miss Bliss has one of those open, blameless faces that really goes with an innocent character.
She loves children, and kids, being sensitive, respond to her.
You can watch this unrehearsed psychology at work on her program every Thursday when KRON-TV puts on her “Happy Birthday To You.”
Miss Bliss has no eccentricities. She is not a stage personality, and seems completely unspoiled by success. Which in itself is something unique in this crass world.
For aspiring young actresses, Lucille has this advice: appear on an audition. Everything came easier after she got up the nerve to make an appointment some 12 years ago with a San Francisco station.
Mind you, success didn’t come rapidly, but at least the studios knew who she was, and would phone her now and then for bit parts.
What does she do between “Birthday” programs? Makes regular trips to the Disney studios. Her most famous “voice” was that of a character named Crusader Rabbit, heard on TV stations all over the country.
It seems a bit strange to make a career of imitating little furry animals’ voices — but then, no more strange than hunting for paradoxes in normal, healthy people.

Back to the interview, now. Lucille’s memory about Morey Amsterdam being in voice sessions is certainly bang-on. We’ve mentioned Morey was the original voice of George Jetson. You can read more here.

She goes on about how losing the role started to affect her health, and then she turned things around again. Certainly she was busy in the months ahead as she recorded ‘Peter Cottontail’ for Disneyland Records (released in 1963).

If you’re wondering how Lucille would have sounded as Elroy Jetson, you can get a bit of an idea by going to the interview here. The portion about The Jetsons starts at 5:12. Granted, Lucille was 90 when she talked to the Academy—she’s 95 now—but you can get a flavour of what Elroy could have sounded like.

A Yowp P.S.: Lucille told Jeff Kisseloff in The Box, An Oral History of Television, 1920-1961 (Viking Press, 1995) “I also did ‘Tom and Jerry’ and ‘Droopy’ cartoons.” If anyone knows more about that, please post a comment. I’m at a loss to figure out which specific cartoons she voiced for MGM.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Yogi Bear — Prize Fight Fright

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Yogi, Champ, Straw Hat Photographer, Sportscaster, Reporter – Daws Butler; Boo Boo, Manager, Fedora Photographer, Reporter – Don Messick.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin.
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-021, Production E-49.
First Aired: week of February 16, 1959.
Plot: Yogi decides to be a sparring partner to the Champ to get some free food.

In 1927, Jack Dempsey trekked to the San Rafael Mountains north of Los Angeles to train for a match against Gene Tunney for the heavyweight championship. In 1957, Archie Moore trekked to the mountain country of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park east of San Diego to train in the hope of a match against Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship. So it was in 1959, a heavyweight boxing champ trekked to mountainous Jellystone Park to train. And lose his title to Yogi Bear in the process.

This Yogi adventure offers the occasional good line, one nice pose and a cute twist ending. And the following:

● The oddest looking profile view of Boo Boo. Ken Muse has drawn Yogi’s friend with little cheek lumps for some reason. The excited Boo Boo doesn’t run; he walks briskly to get Yogi out of the bed in his cave with news the “world’s champeen” is in Jellystone.

● Boo Boo’s rare “you’re a @$#%*& idiot” look. Yogi misreads the Champ’s training camp sign as “Barbecue and Pic-a-nic Tonight.” Boo Boo briefly shows what he really thinks of Yogi’s “smarter than the average” intellect before quickly resuming the happy mien we come to associate with him. He helpfully reads another sign which allows the cartoon to continue—“Wanted, Sparring Partners. Good Pay. Free Meals.” The food is what Yogi’s after.

● A semi-familiar cartoon voice. Cut to the Champ and his manager. The Champ has a busted nose and the manager is shaped like a missile. But Don Messick seems to have been inspired by Ned Sparks, the crabby guy who provided comic relief in Warners musicals in the ‘30s, and got parodied in a bunch of cartoons in that decade. Messick uses the same cadence and inflection as Sparks for the manager’s voice, without the crabby dialogue. Yogi offers his services as a sparring partner. “Ain’t you a little roly-poly,” asks the Champ, punctuating his question with a sock to the cut. Yogi’s eyes roll (with appropriate sound effects). “Hee hee hee. I did not feel nothin’,” claims the bear, as he falls backwards.

● Charlie Shows’ rhyme time. “He hit me low with a sneak blow,” the prone Yogi tells Boo Boo.

● How’d he change jackets? In each shot until now, the manager was wearing a pin-striped jacket. Not surprising, considering the character was in the same position against the same background and Ken Muse only moved his mouth. But in this cut from Yogi on the ground to the Champ and his manager, the manager’s jacket is solid blue.

● Familiar cartoon bit. Yogi goes into training. Can’t do more than two push-ups. “I’m skippin’ the rope skippin’.” He cons Boo Boo into jumping rope and lifting a log as a weight while he rests against a rock. Haven’t we seen something like this somewhere? “You in shape yet, Yogi?” the tired Boo Boo asks. Yogi shows his strength by lifting the rock over his head. It crashes on top of him.

● Charlie Shows’ rhyme time, again. Says Boo Boo to his buddy under the boulder: “Yogi, you’re in the pink. I think.”

● The character with two voices. The manager comes up with a publicity gimmick—let the Champ fight Yogi for photographers (“Glad I thought of it,” says the Champ). The photographer with the straw hat at ringside says one line like Daws Butler, but the next one like Don Messick. Seems the other photographer was supposed to have the second line.

● Best line of the cartoon. Boo Boo rings the bell because the Champ keeps punching Yogi in the face and the back of the head (Muse’s cycle animation causes no ill effects, no even an “ouch”). Boo Boo pushes Yogi to the corner and waves a towel in front of him.

Boo Boo: How come you didn’t move a muscle, Yogi?
Yogi: I got to warm up, don’t I?
Boo Boo: Oh.
Yogi: I got the Champ scared, Boo Boo.
Boo Boo: Scared?
Yogi: Scared he might murder me, Boo Boo.

The bell rings. Now is the climax of the cartoon. Yogi feebly raises his arm. “Never lead with your right. Never, never,” advises the Champ. He knocks down Yogi’s gloved right first, which does a windmill and bops the Champ on the head. He’s out cold. The manager reacts with a flying hat and cigar take. The hat leaps up and rocks back and forth in two drawings, the cigar does a 360 in six drawings on ones.

● Goofy take and surprise ending. The last scene opens with a shot of newspapers. Naturally, newspapers publish an extra every time a bear knocks out the world champion. Cut to a sportscaster (wearing a Walter Winchell-esque fedora) reading the story. Gotta love the ash tray on the desk. Back in Jellystone, Yogi demonstrates to the assembled reporters (in silhouette) how he beat the Champ. He asks Boo Boo to raise a fist. Boo Boo obliges. And knocks out Yogi. The three-drawing Yogi quiver may be the silliest thing Muse did at Hanna-Barbera. “Does that make me the new world’s champeen?” grins Boo Boo, who laughs as the iris closes. Jack Dempsey and Archie Moore, beware!

If you had to pick the quintessential Yogi Bear stock music, it’s probably the Bill Loose/John Seely music (né David Rose music) you’ll hear in this cartoon.

0:00 - Yogi Bear Sub Main Title (Hanna-Barbera-Shows-Curtin)
0:14 - no music – Boo Boo walks into Yogi’s cave, talks to Yogi.
0:37 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Boo Boo runs from cave, bears read signs, Champ punches bag. “No! Yes!”
1:53 - no music – Yogi and Champ talk, Yogi punched in stomach, falls out.
2:09 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Yogi on ground, push-up scene, Boo Boo skips rope.
3:23 - no music – Boo Boo lifts log.
3:40 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Yogi goes to lift rock, Champ and manager talk, photographers take shots.
4:58 - no music – “How about some action shots?” “ public.”
5:03 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Champ punches Yogi, Boo Boo rings bell, Yogi rests, Yogi back in ring, “Naaah.”
6:01 - no music – “Never lead with your right,” Champ knocked out, photos taken.
6:18 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Newspaper, Yogi talks to media, Boo Boo knocks out Yogi.
6:58 - Yogi Bear Sub End Title end theme (Hanna-Barbera-Shows-Curtin).