Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Not So Curiouser

They lost with me with the television scene.

I haven’t been nine years old for some time but that’s how old I was when the Hanna-Barbera ‘Alice in Wonderland’ special aired in 1966. I haven’t seen it since then but I distinctly remember some things about it (it’s remarkable what the memory retains). I remember how much I was looking forward to it. And I remember how I was really let down. Right from the first scene.

What was a TV doing in the story? What was the point of deviating from the original storyline? And why were Fred and Barney a caterpillar? It couldn’t have been some Gazoo trick because Gazoo wasn’t there, and the cartoon wasn’t in the Stone Age, anyway. I mean, if you’re going to have Fred and Barney in a cartoon, they should be Fred and Barney, right? And what was with that hipped-up song at the end? It was loud and just didn’t fit. In fact, I didn’t like the compressed-sounding underscore used in the whole cartoon. About the only highlight for me was Janet Waldo because Janet Waldo is wonderful. Even though they wouldn’t let her sing (nine year olds can tell these things).

I only bring up this 46-year-old special because I’ve come across newspaper clippings about it in my Hanna-Barbera travels looking for information about Alex Lovy. Not all H-B fans have the same tastes—there are people who can actually stomach those Abbott and Costello cartoons—so for any of you reading who have fond memories of ‘Alice,’ let me post them.

Lovy was interviewed on a couple of occasions about the cartoon. Here’s one from the National Enterprise Association syndication service, March 26, 1966.

Alex Lovy of Alice in Wonderland Directs the Cartoon With Pencil
HOLLYWOOD — HOW do you direct a cartoon?
There was no shadow of doubt in the mind of TV director Alex Lovy.
“With a pencil,” he said.
The “cartoon” in question is a super-spectacular, an hour-long animated color special called Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This, slated for Wednesday evening March 30 on the ABC-TV network.
Animation is by the team of Hanna-Barbera with a list of voices that sounds like Who’s
Who: Sammy Davis Jr. as the Cheshire Cat, Zsa Zsa Gabor as Queen of Hearts, Howard Morris as the White Rabbit and Bill Dana, as Jose Jimenez, as the White Knight.
Dana also wrote the script, which director Lovy admits is far from the original version. Because they used just the characters from the famous classic, the opening credit will read:
“With apologies to Lewis Carroll.”
But there is no apology from either Lovy or Dana about their version, which they describe as a musical. “My Alice,” says Dana “is a contemporary girl. I wouldn’t want to compete with Lewis Carroll.”
This is Lovy’s explanation of how he directs with a pencil:
“The actors take my direction in their voice interpretations and then I direct with a pencil to the animators. I tell the artists how each person moves. I draw the moves and the artists work them in.”
How important this direction-by-pencil can be is spotlighted by the fact that the hour show required 70,000 individual drawings. The mere words “Good morning, how are you?” from Alice required more than 24 drawings to give the illusion of motion.
An oddity of the production is that at no time did any member of the “voice” cast meet another cast member. All recorded their voices separately in Hollywood with the exception of Sammy Davis Jr. Because he was starring in “Golden Boy” on-Broadway, director Lovy recorded his voice in New York.
Two Voices
Another oddity is that Alice required two voices, the speaking voice of Janet Waldo and the singing voice of Doris Drew Allen.
Dana says his version of “Alice” is not an adaptation but a fantasy. “I wouldn’t do an adaptation because I didn’t regard Alice as a children’s book. It was a satire of ‘in’ jokes for the six close friends for whom Lewis Carroll wrote the story.”

Joe Barbera, who could sell wire hangers to Joan Crawford, was unleashed to do his P.R. magic on the press yet again before the cartoon aired. You can depend on Joe to include in any interview “We won seven Oscars, you know” and “our cartoons aren’t kid programming.” He has the task of trying to spin the cartoon as being new, and that’s good, but old, and that’s good. Contradictory? Ol’ Smoothie doesn’t give people time to come to that realisation as he does his pitch.

This is another syndicated piece, found in newspapers starting March 27, 1966:

TV Set Replaces Looking Glass In Alice Special
HOLLYWOOD — “Curiouser and curiouser!” as Alice would say. There’s a White Rabbit playing guessing games, the hep feline Cheshire Cat, a two-headed caterpillar working in show business, and a hard-boiled egg named Humphrey Dumpty.
Any similarity between these characters and the inhabitants of that Wonderland first encountered by Lewis Carroll’s Alice over a century ago is purely intentional.
They are 1966 versions of the Carroll characters and will be seen in Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This, ABC-TV’s fully animated musical color special airing Wednesday, March 30.
HOW DID they come up with a title like that, a title that had Carroll-philes shaking their heads when it was announced last year?
David Sontag, director of special programs for ABC, had this reply. “The title comes from one of the show tunes sung by Sammy Davis Jr., ‘What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This.’ We liked the song and Sammy’s rendition so well it was decided to incorporate it in the title of the show.
“The appellation, which may well be one of the longest in television history, is an indication of the concept of the show. . . it’s current; a contemporary version written in the style of Lewis Carroll.”
Sammy Davis Jr. voices the Cheshire Cat, a fourth generation feline from Jersey City. Zsa Zsa Gabor, as the Queen of Hearts, manages to get in an occasional “dahlink” in between shouts of “Off with her head!”
Bill Dana, making use of his Jose Jiminez character for the White Knight, carries on his battle with the English language by insisting that the “K” in knight be pronounced.
Howard Morris provides the voice of the “zany” White Rabbit, and the late Hedda Hopper gives voice to a new character, Hedda Hatter, wife of the Mad Hatter, vocally portrayed by Harvey Korman.
Talented young actress Janet Waldo speaks the words of Alice, with Doris Drew Allen performing the heroine’s musical numbers. Daws Butler does double duly by voicing the King of Hearts and the March Hare. Allan Melvin is heard as Humphrey Dumpty.
SPECIAL GUEST stars Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, of the network’s The Flintstones, are voiced by Alan Reed and Mel Blanc. They play, respectively, the front and rear ends of the caterpillar.
Co-producing the special are William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, winners of seven Academy Awards for their animated productions. Screen Gems is associated in the venture.
“This is our first hour-long television venture,” Barbera says.
“It would be impossible to do the complete Carroll story in that time. Without changing the original Carroll concept, we have given our story a line that children today can easily understand and identify with.
“INSTEAD of Alice entering Wonderland by a rabbit hole or through a looking glass, she finds her way into the wonderous kingdom by falling through the screen of the family television set.
“I don’t mean to imply that the special is strictly for the youngsters. The story of Alice is not just another cute kiddie tale. It has a charm and sophistication that appeals to adults as well. In essence, it has all the ingredients to make it fun and entertaining to the entire family.
“To do a successful TV special today you must give the audience something they are familiar with. This we are doing in story and personalities. We believe the show will become a perennial.”
BILL DANA, a top comedy writer but better known to the public as Jose Jiminez, adapted the Carroll classic.
Barbera, speaking of Dana and his script, said, “Bill has done a remarkable job of maintaining the original flavor and feel of the Carroll work. His whimsical and light approach to life and to writing made him a natural choice for the job. That same ‘flibbity-jibbity’ type of dialogue that made ‘Alice’ a part of the language is still there.
“BILL HAS sustained the absurb-but-unspoiled-by-‘common-sense’ outlook of the Carroll characters. Alice is still the polite young lady who never receives a straight answer to any of her questions, and the characters answering her are just as delightfully improbable as ever.”
The production features original music by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, composers of “Bye, Bye, Birdie” and the current Broadway hit, “Golden Boy,” starring Sammy Davis.
In addition to the Sammy Davis title tune, the special has four other original songs:
“Life’s a Game,” sung by the White Rabbit; “I’m Home,” a ballad by Alice; “They’ll Never Split Us Apart,” sung and danced by the two-headed caterpillar, and “Today’s a Wonderful Day,” a duet by Alice and the White Knight.
Lewis Carroll's “Alice” has been entertaining readers, theater and movie audiences for over a century. The adventures of his wonderous heroine has passed into polyglot and in Mother England one can purchase any number of booklets dealing with every facet of the story and its author.
“ALICE” comes to television on her 101st unbirthday.
Alex Lovy, director of the special, discussed some of the technical and statistical aspects of the television version in a recent interview: “From inception to finished show represents better than 18 months work by approximately 125 people, not including performers and musicians. Animation alone required roughly 8000 man hours.”
Asked if any of the animated characters were difficult to create, Lovy answered, “Alice was our biggest problem. There were over 50 drawings of one before we felt we had the right one. It was just the opposite with the Cheshire Cat. The first drawing submitted on him was so well liked by everyone that we stuck with it.
“An interesting thing about this show," continued Alex, “is that only three of the characters will be seen in caricature. These are Bill Dana, Hedda Hopper and Zsa Zsa Gabor.”
LOVY WENT on to explain why caricatures of the three performers were used. “Since we had a hat gag segment in the show where Mrs. Mad Hatter tries on a number of hats, it seemed only natural to use a likeness of Hedda Hopper.
“With Dana it was more than an identification with his already well-known Jose Jiminez character that prompted us to caricaturization. The amazing amount of character and elasticity in Bill’s face made it perfect for the White Knight. I could have had our artists create a cartoon knight, but why bother when we already had the perfect face in the real Bill Dana?
“ZSA ZSA’S caricature was a matter of love,” he added, jokingly.
“When it was learned she was to do the voice of the Queen of Hearts, it wasn’t hard to picture exactly what the character should look like. And the artists working on her likeness enjoyed their work very much.”
Carroll’s original work was described recently by a journalist as a “dream-bible for
children.” A passage from the original “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” best describes ABC-TV’s modern translation.
“. . . and make their young eyes bright with many a strange tale, perhaps even with a dream of Wonderland of long ago. . .”

Finally, let’s hear about all the casting of an H-B regular amongst all those big names. This unbylined story ran in the Sandusky Register on March 30.

Janet Waldo As Alice
“Knowing the character,” one of the principles of acting, paid dividends for actress Janet Waldo when she auditioned for the voice of one of literature’s most wondrous heroines — Alice.
Actors usually study a character after being cast in the role. Janet's advance understanding
of Alice was instrumental in her being selected to voice the title role in ABC-TV’s “Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing In a Place Like This.” The hour-long, animated musical special will be telecast in color Wednesday, March 30, 8-9 p.m. on Ch. 5, 7, 13.
“We tested dozens of young actresses for Alice,” said co-producer Joseph Barbera, “and I was surprised by the answers many gave to questions regarding the character. The majority of them didn’t know who she really was. They were familiar with Lewis Carroll's books, but had their characters confused with those from other well-known stories. Many had never read the books at all.
“Janet not only knew all about Alice, but about the author as well. When she was growing up, reading the Carroll classics was a part of the process.
“I don't want to give the impression that we cast Janet simply because she knew that Alice was a girl who got into some “kooky place” through a mirror. Janet is an extremely talented actress and one of her greatest loves is doing voices,” he continued.
Janet won the reputation of one of America’s most irresistible teen-agers as the star of her own radio and TV series, “Meet Carliss Archer.” [sic]
Since beginning her acting career at Seattle’s Penthouse Theater, Janet has voiced numerous characters, robots and dogs as well as people. In commercials, her voice, sultry and sophisticated, has been heard extolling a cosmetic, or as a frustrated housewife who hasn’t discovered a new time-saving product. A blithe comedienne, she appeared as Tony Franciosa’s secretary on ABC-TV’s “Valentine’s Day,” and as the voice of the teen-age daughter in “The Jetsons.” Recent TV credits include ABC-TV’s “The FBI” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” and “Get Smart.”
“Janet has done voices for Hanna-Barbera Productions before,” said Barbera, “so we were familiar with her talent.
“Because she so thoroughly understood the character, she was able to get the 14-year-old shading and expressions demanded by the part into her voice. Her animated voice brought the mechanical animation to life.”

Ah, that Joe Barbera. Considering how many liberties were taken with the story, what difference would it make if Janet knew more about the original story and Carroll than whoever Joe had on his casting couch? Still, could you find anyone better for the role? Janet had that teenaged girl sound—and, amazingly, still does.

Considering Janet’s work in theatre, it’s surprising a voice double was brought in to do her song. Alan Reed suffered the same fate. His singing voice was Henry Corden, who took over as Fred’s speaking voice as well after Reed died. Mel Blanc, who, like Reed, had sung on network radio and in cartoons, warbled for himself, as did Howie Morris and Bill Dana.






And, as a bonus, here s another story you can click to enlarge and read.


  1. As an 8-year-old watching this, I also felt there was something ... forced ... about the special. I couldn't put my finger on it back then, although by March of '66 I already was wondering what was going on with the latest Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but it was really part of the 60s Hollywood/Vegas style mindset that reveled in celebrity personas and tended to think they were wackier/cleverer than what they really were (though being a prime-time special, this could be as much the fault of the suits at ABC and/or the sponsors at Rexall as it was the H-B staff, since the stories are legion of Joe Barbera being willing to give the people green-lighting the shows or specials whatever their particular flavor of the month was).

    That said, this was not the worst cartoon written by Bill Dana and released in 1966. This was. Yuck.

  2. The special isn't perfect, but it does contain some scenes of good animation, and the character design is terrific. If only as much care had been put into H-B's other big production of that year,"The Man Called Flintstone", which practically screams "rush job" in its every frame.

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    1. I had mentioned once or twice before that Charles SHows wrote the first draft, unless already mentioned, and he said that in an excellent memorir book on Disney in 1979---yes, Shows was truly intelligentnt, but no mention of Bill Dana. The specials end credits don't mention the other voices..Wasn't Janet also Alice's mother, too [Allan Melvin's the fad].

      ANyway, you could do on Tralfaz an article on DePatie-Freleng's "Goldilocks" with Bing Crosby and family and Paul Winchell--insterting stories behind that, and in fact one of GAC's last posts before it closed forever had a thread about that.

      Top Cat James: Good thing you mention "Man Called Flintstone"-that and Alice had the first uses of the later Hanna-Barbera music. There was also the live-action/animation "Jack and the Beanstalk" from that year with Gene Kelly who like Alex Lovy here, got a DIRECTION credit-nothing else but that out and out Direciton credit-the signifance here applying to Lovy--as they were the first besides Hanna and Barbera to recieve general direction credit, instead of the regular "Produced and Directed by" and the team's name either one wayor the other.

      Yeah, Janet is wonderful and she and Howard Morris first showed uyp in HB, I believe in the Jetsons [Morris in Jet Screamer, which may or may not be the first episode]. Morris, though, got replaced by Don Messick in his roles--here, because of schedule, I guess, so he then quit, telling Joe to do an inappropriate and physically impossible feat, and left.

      Sammy Davis Jr., who did the [in my opinion] the fantastic "What's a Nice Kid Like you Doing in a Place like this" theme, had to return to Reprise recods, but then enter a NEW Hanna-Barbera voice actor, Hong Kong Phooey...SCATMAN CROTHERS. [On record.]


  4. I have always wondered if the presence of Fred and Barney as caterpillars was dictated by ABC because the Flintstones aired on that network. I can see an ABC executive dictating to H-B that the special had to contain Fred and Barney to help boost the ratings. Either that or Joe Barbera thought it would be a great cameo for their two biggest stars.

  5. I remember this special very well. My most vivid memory I connect with " Alice " was while we were in class taking a test, the silence was broken by a classmate singing at the top of his lungs: " What's a nice girl like you-a-Doin' in a place like this?". Needless to say, this WAS 1966, and it was follwed by that popular show;" Go stand in the hall till I get there with the paddle". Probably the Sammy Davis Jr. tune was what I remember the most about H-B's " Alice "

  6. I remember this one as well, and definitely knew that they wanted to up[date the Disney version a lot!Steve

  7. I saw this in its original airing too, and it’s been kind of a “holy grail” for me – but one I’d suspect I’d regret purchasing, once I saw it again. I’d imagine most of you feel the same way.