Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Yogi Bear, Public Servant

There was once a horrendous period in television animation when studios were seemingly shamed into turning entertainment into propaganda. It wasn’t good enough to have a character make the kids laugh. The character had to “teach” something. Thus you had a bastardised Yogi Bear taking animals on an ark as cartoons pounded into children messages against crime, hate and pollution. All of which, as we know, have been eliminated thanks to them and similar cartoons, and those children have grown into adulthood where they now watch, and even create, today’s fine educational programming, stuff like Jersey Shore.

Of course, Yogi originally embodied an occasional “crime doesn’t pay” message which was subtly woven into the entertainment (subtle isn’t good enough for not-so-subtle social activists). And he also seems to have mixed entertainment with a fun message about fitness in a 1963 project.

‘Wake Up America’ was an LP pressed in 1963 by Colpix Records, the arm of Columbia Pictures that released songs and musical material from the artists signed to its films and TV shows. So along with Paul Peterson of The Donna Reed Show, you got Hanna-Barbera characters. The title sounds like something from a ranting political podcast, but Billboard magazine of September 7, 1963, describes it thus, in giving it a Specialty Special Medit label.

Here’s an interesting, and slightly unexpected package, which blends the message of the popular “physical fitness” theme with the appeal of the Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon characters, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw in a combination of musical and narrative which adds a comic and appealing touch to the seriousness of the warning. Yogi Bear appears prominently on the cover somewhat in the didactic attitude of Smokey Bear.

What’s more unexpected is Daws Butler is not providing the voices of the characters he created. Instead, they’re done by Chuck McCann, who’s best known to a certain generation for playing the happy “Hi, guy!” guy in the Right Guard TV commercials. Chuck had a long and funny children’s television career in New York City and, some years later, had a connection with Hanna-Barbera; he was on The CB Bears and fondly remembers voicing the Schmoo. But, in 1963, he seems like an unusual choice.

Some time ago, I sent Chuck a note asking how the job came about but he never responded. The best I can do is paraphrase something from his web site that the gig was done in New York and, for whatever reason, and Daws couldn’t go there. New York was the home of actor Gil Mack who had been voicing the H-B characters on Golden Records but, I presume, Mack couldn’t do it for contractual reasons.

Normally, this would be the part of the blog where I’d link to the record. But I don’t have it. And Chuck’s web site—which is
here, by the way, doesn’t have his Flash players coded properly so if he’s got clips there, they won’t play (there’s a lovely, enjoyable white rectangle where the player should be , though). So, instead, I’m going to link to another message from Yogi that I remember from when I was a kid. It’s not exactly subtle, but it’s entertaining. The animation’s pretty good for television (Mike Kazaleh reveals who did it in the comments) and the PSA feels right having not only the voices of Daws and Don Messick, but Hoyt Curtin’s familiar cues from the mid-‘60s cartoons.


  1. Thanks goodness, by the time all the social engineering was going on with my beloved childhood cartoon characters, aka " Yogi's Ark " and the like, I was grown and was busy pursuing a career. I totally missed out on that era. Tried to watch one of those on a recent " Bommerang " broadcast and didn't make it through fifteen minutes before changing the channel. The Yogi we all knew and loved would have been downing pies, cakes, sandwiches, and other pic-a-nic goodies as he joined Paul Peterson in telling kids to " Get physically Fit "Ha!

  2. No, it wasn't the Yogi Bear that we knew, but for someone who loves the H-B characters, it was just a joy to see them back on TV.

    I wanted to comment on the picture for the record cover. That is the most rectangular record cover I have ever seen. Was it a round record album? The jacket size says otherwise.

  3. That Yogi anti-smoking ad was animated by the wonderful Irv Spence.

    Here's a link to another Yogi anti-smoking spot from 1980 animated by Gerard Baldwin...

  4. My problem at Chuck's site wasn't the white boxes, it was the links started playing before you even clicked on them.

    WPIX was showing the Huck/Quick-Draw/Yogi cartoons at the time Chuck was working at the station, so that might be one of the reasons he was picked (along with his fairly deep voice) to handle Yogi, though his show was never really associated with the H-B characters. And I just want to get this point in after 46 years -- the Chuck McCann Show was better when it was on Ch. 11 than when it was on Ch. 5, because he had access to the N.Y. Daily News' stable of comic strip characters. Chuck dressed up as Little Orphan Annie (with real buttons for eyes) was one of the most memorable things about 1950s-60s NYC kids shows, right up there with Soupy Sales and his green stuff removal instructions for the kiddies in the audience.

  5. I've always remmebered that 1968 commercial, even the year...and that something out of Fleischer or Ren and Stimpy, or some silent, very unusual for H-B [go to the END of that ad]..."his little boo boo head"..:) Thanks for posting that! Steve

  6. Steve, I also vividly remember that psa when it played on the television stations in the Viginia Beach area. Especially the coughing head bouncing away-Ha!!

  7. 7/29/12 wrote:
    This LP & The "Hey There It's Yogi Bear" movie sountrack must have been the final albums for H-B in their five-year deal with Colpix Records & Stu Phillips. The HBR label was not too far on the horizon afterwards. Too bad there wasn't a TV special of "Yogi Bear-Wake Up America" complete with Screen Gems' "dancing sticks" logo. That would have been interesting-another lost oppertunity for H-B & Screen Gems.