Wednesday 30 May 2012

The Small Man Who Thought Big

If I were to ask you which Hanna-Barbera voice actor had been a cheerleader, you might guess Janet Waldo. If I were to tell you that same voice actor also did high school football championship play-by-play, you’d probably be stumped.

The correct answer is Dick Beals.

The man with the voice of a child has passed away at the age of 85.

Cartoon fans can probably blurt out a string of his roles—the daydreaming boy Ralph Phillips for Chuck Jones at Warner Bros., Davey Hansen of the stop-motion ‘Davey and Goliath,’ spoiled son Arthur Spacely on ‘The Jetsons’ and, of course, the original Speedy Alka-Seltzer in commercials. There was a time Beals seemed to be everywhere. As a kid, I remember him on ‘The Funny Company’ and on various Hanna-Barbera cartoons, including an elf helping Fred Flintstone fill in for Santa Claus, and whenever a cartoon in the mid-‘60s called for a bratty kid.

Like all the old cartoon voice actors, Richard L. Beals started in radio, though he once revealed he was in a film while in Grade 3 growing up outside Detroit. Beals was a cheerleader at Michigan State starting in his freshman year in 1945. Cheerleading isn’t a great source of income. So he headed to WXYZ Radio in Detroit, known to old-time radio fans as the home of The Lone Ranger. And he landed a job by his sophomore year. He played the Ranger’s nephew for awhile, then headed to the big time for what was left of radio’s glory days.

Beals didn’t get recognition in the popular press during his busy working days. But time brews nostalgia, and years later, a few stories appeared in print about him. Here’s part of one from the Los Angeles Times of May 6, 1980.

The grown-up behind the little boy's voice
ESCONDIDO – Four-foot, six-inch-tall Dick Beals wasn’t all that amused when a talk show emcee once asked him on live television, “Have you always been small?”
But references to his size just seem to go with the territory for Beals, who has been for 28 years the perky-voice of Speedy Alka-Seltzer.
“I went to Michigan State in the ‘40s with the idea of majoring in radio and becoming a sports announcer,” Beals admits. “But the university radio’s station manager told me there weren’t any openings, and got me an audition for the part of 10-year-old Johnny, the lead in ‘Adventures in Music,’ one of the school’s new dramatic radio plays.” Beals got the job, which led to a long career of providing the voices for a pantheon of cartoon and commercial advertising characters.
Children in Hanna-Barbera’s “Flintstones,” Funny Co.’s Roger Ramjet and the early incarnations of Disney Studios’ Huey, Dewey and Louie, Donald Duck’s mischievious nephews, are among the many characters who owe a lot to Beals’ talents. But it was a Speedy Alka-Seltzer who gave Beals his big break into show business.
“I came out to Hollywood from Detroit in 1952 and just started knocking on doors, making call after call,” Beals said. He finally landed a part on “One Man’s Family,” an evening radio soap opera. Intrigued by Beal’s [sic] unique voice, the show’s manager mentioned to him one afternoon that Miles Laboratories had just closed auditions for the voice of its new Alka-Seltzer spokesman, an as-yet unnamed animated cherub who could read commercial lines and sing the praises of the firm’s fizzing tonic. The manager still asked him to come in and do a trial commercial one evening. Beals created his own image of Speedy Alka-Seltzer in his mind, recorded what he considered to be the appropriate speaking and singing voice for the commercial and went home. Four months later he was told he had the job, and Speedy was born.
“Speedy was television’s first character spokesman,” Beals said. “Betty Furness had been plugging Westinghouse products on live television for awhile, but Speedy was the first to use stop-motion animation.
“Radio voices back then did all the cartoon voices, too. We were all doing some four or five jobs at the same time. It was pretty hectic and exciting.
“But you were expected to carry your part perfectly the first time through, and you had to take direction well. If you couldn't accept this, word would get around town—and you just wouldn’t find any work.”
The hectic pace of his business taught Beals discipline, and discipline remains an important part of Beal’s life. “Television was in its infancy when I came out to Hollywood,” he said. “And the standards had to be tough—we were pioneering an industry. But the directors set those standards, and if you couldn’t muster the discipline to do what was expected of you, you were out quickly.
“The veteran actors helped me out a lot, though. We all stuck together. And it helped that in addition to being able to do children’s voices, I was an adult and had a college degree in the business. That meant that directors didn’t have to take a child actor out of school, enforce discipline, contend with the kid’s mother and so on.
“Above all, I've been very fortunate to have good direction.”
Beals never appeared in person on television or in movies, though. “Even my name wasn’t publicized,” he said. “But I was only 25 when I started out, and I couldn’t handle celebrity.”

This piece by the Associated Press dated October 25, 1992 outlines Beals’ philosophy of life.

Beals gives voice to ads, cartoons
Associated Press Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) – Dick Beals is only 4½ feet tall, but he says thinking big landed him “small” parts in thousands of commercials and cartoons.
Beals was the voice of the boyish puppet Speedy Alka-Seltzer in 225 television commercials starting in 1953. He sang, “Oh, I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer Weiner” and played the Campbell soup kids.
Pull the string on a Mattel Inc. doll, and you might hear his voice. He plays children and small animals in cartoons including the Jetsons, Flintstones and Addams Family.
Beals says he never tires of the “little” creatures he tends to play, including chipmunks, teddy bears, squirrels and parrots.
“I enjoy everything I’m asked to do,” he said. “I enjoy the challenge day in and day out.”
Beals says it’s better to be heard than seen.
“I could sit here for three days and no one’s going to come up and say, ‘Hey, didn't you do Speedy or the Campbell Soup Kids?’ he said in an interview in the lobby of a Pittsburgh hotel. “I enjoy the anonymity.”
Beals, 65, weighs about 68 pounds. As a college student, he dreamed of being a sports announcer, but in 1945 a radio station manager advised him to seek the parts of children. He’s been doing it ever since.
He got his break in 1952 when he won the part of Speedy Alka-Seltzer. The popular television and radio ads ran continuously until 1968 and returned several times in the 1970s. The ads ran in some markets last year to mark the 60th anniversary of Alka-Seltzer.
Beals, still a spokesman for Miles Inc., the maker of Alka-Seltzer, perks up when he recalls the Speedy Alka-Seltzer themes.
“Down, down, down the stomach through,” he sings, wide eyed. “Round, round the system too.”
Beals lives in southern California and owns an ad agency. He was in Pittsburgh this past week to speak to college and elementary students, an ad club and Miles employees. The message he brings in his speeches is “Think Big.”
“Set goals, set lofty dreams,” he said. “Surround them with positive thoughts and you'll soon be living those dreams.”

Beals wrote a motivational book in 1992 called “Think Big” and travelled across the U.S. plugging it and the positive attitude he developed in his own life. The local paper in Mt. Carmel, Illinois, wrote several articles advertising his appearance at a Rotary Club award function. This comes from a story published October 21, 1993:

In his book, Beals remembers when he stopped seeing himself as “small.” In 1932, he began kindergarten in Birmingham, Mich. The high school football field was built near his school and he decided to watch practice one day.
Before he knew what had happened, he had become the mascot of the team. “This meant I was allowed in the locker room and the captain would also carry me into the stadium on his shoulders,” Beals says in his book.
Beals describes how he received the most powerful and valuable education as mascot of that football team at age 5.
“I not only learned the game of football and had real heroes, but I learned that size didn’t mean a thing, and from that moment on I never saw myself as small. I saw only the task or the challenge. I knew that what counted was discipline and hard work and dedication to that task,” Beals states in Think Big.
“Most important though was that tremendous need to win. From then on, in everything I did, I had to win. From then on, it was THINK BIG.”

In the mid-‘60s, Beals called high school football on KPPC-FM. It must have sounded a little odd hearing Winky the Elf describe a touchdown run.

There are fewer and fewer old cartoon voice actors around today and it’s sad to hear another one has gone. But from what I can tell, Dick Beals was a quiet, well-liked man who entertained millions, and you can’t leave behind a better reputation.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Snooper and Blabber — Disappearing inc.

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall, Layout – Walt Clinton, Backgrounds - Fernando Montealegre, Story – Mike Maltese, Story Sketches – Dan Gordon, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Reporter 2, Reporter 3, Irish Cop – Daws Butler; Reporter 1, Professor, Phantom – Don Messick
Music: Phil Green, Jack Shaindlin.
First Aired: week of October 26, 1959 (repeat, week of April 25, 1960)
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-5, Production J-13.
Plot: A professor hires Snooper to get back his stolen No Can C invisibility formula.

Mike Maltese had a little formula for writing Hanna-Barbera cartoons when he arrived at the studio at the end of 1958. Mix some puns, catchphrases, butchered words, a bit of cartoon violence and some not-bright heroes who win in the end before something goes wrong. That pretty well describes this cartoon. It’s not hilarious but it’s amusing enough, and helped a great deal by Daws Butler and Don Messick.

In this cartoon, they’re also helped by the puppet show version of ‘Beany and Cecil,’ as the bad guy is a rip-off of villain Dishonest John, right down to the laugh. Messick used the voice as Harry Safari in the first season of ‘Ruff and Reddy’ and then in later Hanna-Barbera cartoons when appropriate (eg. ‘Who is El Kabong?’ as Norton South). Of course, moustachioed evil-doers date back to the silent film era, and the legitimate stage before that, but The Phantom seems to be a direct descendent of D.J. (Doug Young tried his hand at the same voice in the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon ‘Gun Gone Goons.’)

A pun opens the cartoon as reporters question an unnamed professor discoursing on liquids ‘A’ and ‘B,’ a “compound of a lot of scientific jazz” when, mixed together, create an invisibility formula called ‘No Can C.’ The professor warns if the formula “falls into the hands of some villainous, unscrupulous criminal.” Pan over to the window where The Phantom tells the audience he is such a person and “P.S. I am also a low-down snake.” He proves it by his arm becoming snake-like and grabbing the ‘No Can C.’ Unfortunately, the sound-cutter continues to use the meandering Jack Shaindlin tune ‘Pixie Pranks’ during the entire scene instead of switching to something a little more dramatic or urgent when the Professor discovers “I no can see the ‘No Can C’!”

This is another Snooper cartoon that features an eyeball, this time on Snoop’s office door. “Oh, dear me. Oh, dear you. Oh, dear everybody,” wails the Professor, as he hires the detectives to get back his formula. Speaking of formula, Blab spouts off a hero-worship about Snoop, who accepts it immodestly.

This is interrupted by the sound of an explosion. Cut to a shot of the outside of the First National Bank. The Phantom is now invisible and that’s assisted him in breaking in at night when no one is there to see him (This was 1959. I don’t think they had security cameras then, did they? And cartoon/comic bad guys never worried about them anyway). Monte did the backgrounds in this cartoon and you’ll notice the halo around the street lights and around the moon earlier in the cartoon. “Folly that culprit!” catchphrases Snoop.

Now comes a chase, with boxy, tail-finned cars we all knew and loved in the late ‘50s. Monte reuses the background he drew for “Switch Witch” with the fountain and the building with the clock. As far as I know, that was the only other cartoon where it appeared.

Snoop catchphrase: “Stop in the name of the private eye night school!” So the Phantom halts, causing a rear-ender. The invisible Phantom gets out, steals Snoop motor and drives away with it. Snooper and Blabber look really odd in this scene and the following one. It doesn’t look like Lew Marshall’s animation at all. The dialogue doesn’t have the standard Marshall three-position nose-bob. Snoop moves his jaw wide and deep, like Carlo Vinci would do, while Blab jerks his head. Snoop is cross-eyed when talking to the standard-issue Irish cop. The cop jerks his head down to the side when facing the camera during dialogue. The cop has a little lip out when he says the word “no,” like Mike Lah and several others did at MGM. So I can’t tell you who may have animated this. (Note: Mike Kazaleh can. It’s Phil Duncan, formerly of UPA).

Incidentally, the shots in the cop scene don’t match. In close-up, the cop’s head is up. But when he’s listening to Snooper’s story, his head is down.

The Phantom robs a jewellry store. This gives Snoop a chance to say the word “crin-imal.” And for the Phantom to use some good, old-fashioned pun-filled cartoon violence by bashing both Snoop and Blab on the head with a wrench. (“Let me have it,” Snoop says. You know what’ll happen next). Marshall is definitely animating this; the nose-bobs give it away.

It’s “elementar-rary” what happens next. Snoop figures the Phantom will rob the Second National Bank because he’s already robbed the First National. So they set a trap for him. Snoop lays out a trail of money leading into the vault. He uses the Professor’s formula to turn Blab invisible. When the crook goes into the vault, the invisible Blab closes the door on him.

Veteran Snooper and Blabber watchers might think Blab locks himself in the vault, too. But, no! The plan works. Only one problem. How do you get Blab visible again? Well, the Professor’s working on a formula for that. It should be ready in ten years. “What a mess,” Snoop tells the audience. “Now I got an assistant with no visible means of support.” Ah, well. Things are back to normal next week.

The soundtrack is chock-full of your Phil Green regulars. The cutter only uses one short music bed; later cartoons would feature a lot more.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Curtin, Hanna, Barbera).
0:25 - LAF-4-6 PIXIE PRANKS (Shaindlin) – Scene with reporters.
1:51 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Snoop and Professor talk.
2:10 - GR-356 DR QUACK (Green) – Blab blabbers about Snoop, Snoop responds.
2:27 - no music – Blab looks out window, alarm sound effect.
2:31 - EXCITEMENT UNDER DIALOGUE (Shaindlin) – Outside First National Bank, car crash, Snoop and Blab skid up to cop,
3:46 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Dialogue with cop, Jewellry robbery, Snoop and Blab with lumps.
5:03 - GR-248 STREETS OF THE CITY (Green) – Outside Second National Bank, money trail laid, Blab invisible, Snoop zips away.
6:15 - EM131I EERIE (Green) – Camera pans along money, cash collected, vault door slammed.
6:36 - GR-75 POPCORN SHORT BRIDGE No 1 (Green) – Snoop talks to professor, “What’ll I do now, Snoop?”
6:54 - GR-99 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS (Green) – Snoop hands Blab a whistle.
7:08 – Snooper and Blabber End Title theme (Curtin).

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Let’s Watch Huck and Quick Draw

Who doesn’t love the little cartoons between the cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw shows?

Someone has posted a bunch more on the internet that are from a private collection and have never been on home video. I remember a few of them, and at least a couple are animated by Ed Love, with one by Ken Muse.

Joe Ruby and Ken Spears told Stu Shotak on Stu’s Show a couple of weeks ago that their first writing jobs at Hanna-Barbera were on these bumpers. Mark Evanier, on the same show, noted the thrifty Bill Hanna only brought in Daws Butler to do voices to save money, but you’ll hear Doug Young and Don Messick as well.

A couple are edited and a silent, full version of one of them follows.

The second one has the syndicated Yogi opening with the Kellogg’s references deleted.

A big Yowp to Kliph Nesteroff for letting me know about these.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Bob Givens Update

We mentioned last week that former Warners layout artist (and early Bugs Bunny model designer) Bob Givens was in hospital. Cartoon producer and former H-B writer Tony Benedict has had a visit with him this week and says Bob is up and around after his second operation in two months.

Bob's doing just fine and his mind is perfectly sharp at age 94.

Bob moved to Hanna-Barbera in 1958 after laying out cartoons in the McKimson unit in his second stint at Warners, and worked on The Quick Draw McGraw Show for a season.

My thanks to Tony for the update.

Sunday 20 May 2012

Flintstones, Weekend Comics, May 1962

Barney’s busy and we get some Bickenbach-style incidental animals in this roundup of Flintstones cartoons.

The Jetsons were known for their futuristic gadgets, but Fred Flintstone has one in the first Sunday (Saturday in Canada) comic in May 50 years ago. You can buy detectors than can warn you about police radar. Fred has the same thing. It doesn’t work in the May 6th comic, at least the way he hoped. The SNAP drawing of Fred has a George Nicholas-look to it; the wavy mouth was one of his trademarks. I really like the dinosaur family.

Ah, the grouchy Fred and Wilma are back on May 13th. Barney only appears in the top row that papers could drop. The artist (Harvey Eisenberg?) sure made Wilma look like she did in the animated series when she got annoyed.

I can’t find the first panels for the May 20th comic, and this is the most readable version I could find. I love the shaking Fred and Wilma drawing. Even the panel is jagged. And the idea of headphones on a house is wonderfully warped.

Some old favourites show up on May 27th. The Water Buffalo Lodge is here and it has a Stoneway piano. And a mounted water buffalo on the wall in the last panel as an added bit of detail. Nice to see a silhouette panel again. If I recall, Big Looie is an invention for the comic strip.

As usual, you can click on each comic to enlarge it.

Unfortunately, Baby Puss and Dino didn’t make appearances this month. Fortunately, neither did cutesy-poo Amber. We won’t be so lucky next month.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Huckleberry Hound — Ten Pin Alley

Produced by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ed Love; Layout – Ed Benedict; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Story – Warren Foster; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Announcer – Don Messick; Huckleberry Hound, Pierre – Daws Butler.
Music: Jack Shaindlin, Bill Loose/John Seely, Geordie Hormel, Spencer Moore.
First aired: week of Sept. 14, 1959 (repeat, week of May 9, 1960).
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show No. K-027, Production E-71
Plot: Huck takes on Powerful Pierre at the Final, Final, Final of the Bowling Congress.

Poor Huckleberry Hound. Nobody’s pulling for him, not even the narrator in this cartoon, the first written by Warren Foster to be broadcast. They’re all under the spell of Powerful Pierre, even when he blatantly cheats, chuckling “he’d do anything for a laugh.” By contrast, the bowling announcer is dismissive when he introduces our hero:

Announcer: And here’s the challenger, Huckleberry Hound! (muttering) My, he’s a puny one.
Huck: Not really. I’m small, but I’m wiry.

Foster comes up with an okay little cartoon after taking over from the Barbera-Shows writing team. Foster ditched (except for Yogi) the annoying rhyming pairs of words. And while his cartoons seem to rely more on dialogue, there are sight gags as well. Foster’s joined in this cartoon by another recent Warner Bros. defector, Dick Thomas, who drew a nice little background shot (re-used near the ending) to open the cartoon. Had this been Warners, the spotlight beams would have been animated but that’s a bit much for cost-pinching Hanna-Barbera. In fact there’s reused cycle animation a couple of times in this cartoon.

The two Eds worked on this, Ed Benedict and Ed Love. The designs are pretty conventional for a Benedict cartoon, though perhaps that’s because there are only two characters and the bulk of the cartoon takes place in a bowling alley and few background layouts are used. The only thing that remotely reminds me of Benedict is one shot of Powerful Pierre where his eyes look like flattened eggs. It’s a shame he didn’t go for a stylised character, like when he teamed up with Love in ‘Nowhere Bear’ where he designed a really flat version of Ranger Smith. And Benedict liked designing characters with a hump at the back of the head, though Dick Bickenbach did it on occasion. You can see the hump on Pierre.

But you can’t miss Love in this one. His limited animation style for dialogue is all over the place, including the teeth with the curly upper lip. Love moves Huck’s head up and down in at least five different positions. He also has some fine animation of Pierre bowling. He moves with balletic grace when he approaches the line and throws the ball but in between, he rolls his large butt at an angle toward the camera.

The cartoon opens with the announcer setting up the match. Pierre shows us why he’s an “international favourite” and “a great personality” by wiggling his moustache and then his ears in a bit of limited personality animation that the studio would eschew in its short cartoons not much later. Pierre then rolls his ball along his arms and deliberately allows it to land on Huck’s head. The announcer laughs “See what I mean?” So if anyone missed Pierre’s two first-season cartoons, they’ll now know Huck’s the underdog. The announcer has a dismissive tone of voice when he mentions Huck’s name and asks them to pose with the cup. Pierre bashes it on top of Huck’s head. As for Pierre’s sense of humour, Huck says (after finally pulling the cup of his head) he can take it or leave it.

The remaining gags:

► Pierre ties Huck’s fingers in the holes of his bowling ball. Huck bowls. The arm stretches and snaps back, then back and forth some more. Huck is left with a long length of a hose-like arm. “Who could have done such a dirty treek?” laughs Pierre as he pumps Huck’s other arm to bring the two arms back to size. Love engages in a little bit of animation that story directors in future would deem superfluous. The tied fingers in the bowling ball hole stiffen and point up when the arm gets stretched out as far as it can go, three sets of drawings on twos. Love’s trying to get avoid static drawings.

► Love has time to make the drawings as he reuses the animation of Huck bowling in the next scene. You can tell because his fingers are still knotted together in the ball like in the previous scene. Pierre uses his foot to slide back the boards of the lane, creating a hole that Huck’s ball falls through, missing the pins. “Ha, ha, ha. What a devil that Pierre is,” chortles the announcer.

► Pierre bowls a 7-10 split. “Sacre fooey!” No matter, he bowls again (the animation is re-used), this time using a barbell to make the split. Huck starts getting annoyed about it, but the announcer, still overcome by Pierre’s star-power, comments “This is an embarrassing display of poor sportsmanship on the part of the challenger.”

► Pierre offers his “favourite ball” as a peace offering. It’s a trick. It’s an iron ball. Huck bowls again in re-used animation. Pierre pulls the ball back with a magnet. For whatever reason, Pierre puts the magnet in his back pocket. The ball zooms into Pierre and literally bends him out of shape.

► Now comes the final gag, one reminiscent of the ones Foster wrote at Warners when Daffy tried to trick Bugs into doing something but ended up getting frustrated, doing it himself, and getting blasted. Pierre disguises a helium-filled balloon as a bowling ball and puts glue “in zee holes for zee ‘Ucklesberry’s fingers. The idea is Huck will get stuck in the ball and float away. But Huck innocently grabs the wrong ball. “Sacre stupid! Zat is zee wrong ball!” yells Pierre, who puts his own fingers in the glued balloon ball and rises out of the frame. Huck is declared the new champion by forfeit (and he rolls the ball, thanks to reused animation).

The final scene shows a silhouette of Pierre in the night sky floating over some cities. “Flash!” says the announcer. “We have just received a report that the ex-champion is passing over Wichita. We’re going to miss him. He’d do anything for a laugh.” Cut to close-up of Pierre crying, his body shaking. Iris out.

Pierre is apparently airborne for almost two years before he lands in France. He resurfaces as a crook in Huck’ d├ęParee in Huck’s fourth and final season (it’s the cartoon where Huck, when told about a bank robbery, asks “Was that the Left Bank or the Right Bank?”).

The cartoon may be named “Ten Pin Alley” but there’s no Tin Pan Alley music in it. We get the standard stock music, with a few of the beds re-used. One difference between the first and later seasons is the sound cutter tended to use more, and therefore, shorter pieces of background music.

0:00 - THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SONG (Curtin, Hanna, Barbera, Shows) – Opening Titles.
0:06 - ZR-45 METROPOLITAN (Hormel) – Shot of bowling alley, pan across lanes.
0:22 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Huck strolls past balls.
0:35 - LAF-4-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) – Pierre balances ball, Huck conked with ball.
1:08 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck’s eyes roll, pose with cup.
1:52 - ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – Pierre presents ball, ties fingers.
2:30 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck flies with ball, “..such a dirty trick.”
2:46 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Huck with stretched arm, pumped up.
3:00 - TC 202 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Fat goose egg, Huck bowls, Pierre moves floor.
3:31 - TC-301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – Pierre moves back, rolls split.
3:42 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Huck sorry, Pierre makes split, Huck protests, apologises, Pierre hands blue ball to Huck.
4:35 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “It is my favourite,” Huck bowls.
4:48 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Magnet scene.
5:10 - TC-202 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Shot of score sheet, balloon ball, filled, Pierre puts fingers in ball.
6:02 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Pierre floats up, Huck bowls.
6:30 - ZR-45 METROPOLITAN (Hormel) – Pierre passing over Wichita.
6:39 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Close up of Pierre floating.
6:49 - THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SONG (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) – End titles.

Friday 18 May 2012

The Failure That Really Was

Hanna-Barbera produced some enjoyable prime-time series, even though they all turned out to be enjoyed by more people when they moved to Saturday mornings or syndication. And Hanna-Barbera produced some prime-time failures. But one of them is so obscure, only the most ardent fan of the studio might have heard it, let alone seen it. The show is outside the realm of this blog, but I feel a duty to bring it up so its existence is recorded somewhere.

Newspapers in 1982 were giving feature space to Hanna-Barbera for its huge success on Saturday mornings with ‘The Smurfs,’ which garnered an astounding 44 percent of the U.S. television audience in its timeslot. The studio capitalised on that with some prime-time Smurf specials. But buried in the Friday night line-up, seemingly without any advance notice or Joe Barbera’s normal ebullient hype, was something called ‘Jokebook.’ TV Guide listings of April 23, 1982 described it thus:

Hanna-Barbera’s Jokebook, a seven-part series featuring animated humor, begins tonight at 8 PM [Eastern/Pacific] on NBC. Culled from classic cartoons as well as from foreign and student films, the comedy is strung together by such characters as The Nerd, Treeman, and Eve and Adam — and by Presidential drolleries from the witty residents of Mount Rushmore.

The characters were in bridges produced by Harry Love and supervised by Marty Murphy, who had worked on H-B’s ‘Wait Till Your Father Gets Home.’ I don’t know who animated the cartoons, but writer Hal Erickson’s book Television Cartoon Shows lists familiar voice talent: Don Messick, Hal Smith, John Stephenson, Lennie Weinrib, Janet Waldo, Frank Welker, Bob Ogle, Joan Gerber, Ronnie Schell, Marilyn Schreffler and Henry Corden, as well as Joyce Jameson and Sidney Miller.

The show may have had a preview; I found it listed for an Iowa TV station on December 19, 1981. Regardless, “seven-part” turned out to be optimistic. Here are newspaper summaries for each of the shows that aired.

April 23, 1982
Jokebook: A colorful showcase of 19 fast-paced animated vignettes sparked by humor for all ages, an assortment of strange but lovable characters and an Academy Award-winning film titled, “Crunch Bird” are all part of the premiere of this series produced by William Hanna and Joe Barbera.

April 30, 1982
JOKEBOOK – Included: a Mount Rushmore barbershop quartet harmonizes; dissatisfied passengers on the Ark besiege Noah with their complaints; a hung-over damsel in distress gives her dragon slayer an ungrateful heave-ho.

May 7, 1982
JOKEBOOK – Scheduled: An old woman’s electric lawn mower runs amok after two Boy Scouts repair it; a scientist turns his nagging wife into a shrinking violet.

And that was it. Next week, NBC aired “New York, New York” with Liza Minnelli (who has been accused by some of being somewhat cartoonish) and began filling the time slot with movies. It’s not hard to see why. The April 30th “Jokebook” placed dead last in the ratings that week. Not that it had a prayer to begin with. The show aired opposite “The Dukes of Hazzard” on CBS and “Benson” on ABC. Evidently Hanna-Barbera decided if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. A year later, it was producing a “Dukes” cartoon. The less said about it, the better.

It’s a shame “Jokebook” didn’t succeed. Maybe it needed some kind of animated or puppet host to pull the elements together. Maybe it needed a different time slot. Or maybe the concept was just a little ahead of its time. Showcasing student, independent and foreign animated films is something not unheard of today, just not on network television. For that reason, the show deserves to be remembered today.

Late note: Tom Ruegger, who was writing at H-B at the time, explains in the comment section why the show was doomed.

A Yowp thank-you to Barry I. Grauman for inspiring this post.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

The Failures That Really Weren’t

Free nation-wide advertising. You can’t beat it. And that’s what Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were handed by United Press International just before “The Jetsons” debuted in 1962. But there was a little bit more than that.

A guest column with Hanna’s and Barbera’s byline published August 24, 1962 outlined some of the space-age-of-the-future gadgets that would be seen on the coming show. That would have been the most interesting thing to readers back then. But to those of us who have seen “The Jetsons” countless times, the column reveals something else.

Bill and Joe decided “Top Cat” was a failure.

Of course, they didn’t come out directly and say so in the story. After all, “Top Cat” was moving to Saturday mornings and would be sponsored by Marx, so they weren’t about to bash their own cartoon. But the revelation they “learned” something in the previous season can only refer to T.C. All the studio’s other shows had been roaring successes.

Television in Review
Family of Future Is New Creation By Originators of ‘The Flintstones’
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Rick Du Brow is on vacation. Today, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, creators of “The Flintstones” and other notable animated characters on television, tell about their new series — “The Jetsons.”)
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) —This year, when World War II comes charging onto your television tubes during a season which will also find more unemployed actors suddenly working as M.J.’s, a quiet but significant milestone will turn over at Hanna-Barbera studios.
No private eye, no Anzio landing, no brain surgery, no, none of that. Instead, as a sequel to our animated series about a stone-age family, “The Flintstones,” we will modestly present the first family of the future, ABC-TV’s “The Jetsons.” In ultra-dynamic, spectoramic, ever-lovin’ living color, yet.
We learned some important lessons last season: 1) Clever and witty dialogue cannot alone carry a show. There has to be action, and 2) There have to be strong points of identification between the audience and the characters in the show.
“The Jetsons" is the product of over 16 months of extensive research and planning by our talented staff of artists and writers. The feeling around our shop was that the public was intensely interested in what the future held for them in terms of space exploration, better things for better living, etc.
Voila! The birth of the family of the future.
“The Jetsons” live in the sky pads apartment (high-level adjustable living). George Jetson is a hard-working, honest, lovable husband who is devoted to his family, which consists of wife Jane, teen-age daughter Judy, 9-year-old son Elroy and their dog Astro.
George works for Spacely Sprockets Co., which supplies materials to such futuristic corporations as General Rotors. He is the digital control operator — a sort of 21st century office foreman of the completely automated factory.
Jane Jetson, his attractive and spirited wife, solves the every-day problems of cooking and cleaning with a variety of time-saving appliances.
These include a seeing eye vacuum cleaner, a machine with two electronic eyes which seeks out dust, dirt and debris, and consumes it.
Many times, however, when Jane isn’t looking, the vacuum will lift up the rug and sweep it under same.
There is also the foodarackacycle, a dandy gadget to end all dandy gadgets; it stores, processes, prepares and serves food to the Jetson household. Just insert the meal ticket into the machine and out comes your desired meal. Beef Venus, sauteed with onions and mushrooms, cherries galaxy for dessert.
We hope that viewers will join us as we take a peek into the future. We promise them no two headed monsters, no violence, just an honest glimpse of what lies ahead mixed with humor and fantasy.

It turned out “The Jetsons” was as much of a prime-time failure as “Top Cat.” It lasted only one season, easily bested in the ratings by Walt Disney on NBC.

Modern-day commentators keep comparing “The Jetsons” to “Blondie.” Perhaps it’s because of the presence of Penny Singleton on both. But the two don’t have an awful lot in common besides some generalities, as anyone who watched Singleton’s Blondie movies of the ‘40s can probably attest. Not a single newspaper column at the time the show was first aired made the comparison. But many of them do point out the inescapable fact “The Jetsons” had an awful lot in common with “The Flintstones,” one even referring to the show as a “sequel.” Instead of going into the past, it went into the future. Creative inventions worked on the one show, so they were tried on the other. The credits rolled over Fred yelling for his wife because of a pet-caused dilemma outdoors. George did the same. Perhaps viewers felt they had seen it all before, just like they did when Hanna-Barbera attempted to foist “The Roman Holidays” on them.

So George and Jane followed T.C. to Saturday mornings, where kids never tired of the space age fun, and where Bill and Joe decided their true market was. Saturday mornings were slowly taken over by cartoons, many of them made by Hanna-Barbera. Business boomed. The prime time failure wasn’t such a failure after all.

Saturday 12 May 2012

Pixie and Dixie — Pistol Packin’ Pirate

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse (Mike Lah uncredited); Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Frank Tipper; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Pixie – Don Messick; Dixie, Jinks, Pirate – Daws Butler.
Music: Spencer Moore, Bill Loose/John Seely, unknown.
First Aired: week of October 27, 1958.
Production E-4; Huckleberry Hound Show K-005.
Plot: A pirate orders ship’s cat Mr. Jinks to catch Pixie and Dixie.

The Hanna-Barbera studio was never known for its fluid animation but some of the cartoons in the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Show snapped from one pose to the next and the effect was pretty jerky. These were among the earliest-made cartoons when the budgets must have been a little smaller. Some really good examples are ‘Yogi Bear’s Big Break,’ ‘Pie-Pirates’ and this cartoon, which was the first Pixie and Dixie cartoon put into production.

Check out these pairs of consecutive frames. It’s impossible to animate from one to the other without in-betweens—unless you have really limited cash and just have to get the stuff on the screen.

I love how the pirate goes from walking to a sudden run in back-to-back frames. Bill Hanna saves cash.

Another clue this is possibly a really early cartoon is the presence of Frank Tipper as a background artist. Whether Tipper worked on Ruff and Reddy, I don’t know, but his name shows up in only three cartoons on the Huck show. It may have been that he was freelancing. It’s odd seeing Tipper’s name as a background artist. He was a character animator at Walter Lantz and worked on the debut cartoon of Woody Woodpecker in 1940. Not only did he and Alex Lovy both work at Lantz, their wives were sisters. Tipper was working as a cartoonist at least eight years earlier. Frank George Tipper was born on the Isle of Man (England) and his family arrived in the U.S. on April 1, 1921. He spent his teen years in Los Angeles; his father (also named Frank) had a home on Griffith Park Boulevard and was a chauffeur, then worked as mechanic at a Richfield Oil station. Actually, Frank’s father outlived him. Tipper was only 54 when he died in 1963.

Mike Lah steps in with some uncredited animation, something he did on a freelance basis in a number of early cartoons in Huck’s first season. Yet another clue is Daws Butler has pitched Dixie’s voice a little lower than we’re used to, the same as in ‘Little Bird-Mouse.’

The cartoon has a couple of things in common with the Ruff and Reddy cartoons of the year before. The title character in this one has the exact same design (and voice) as Crossbones Jones in the second R & R serial. And, like the R & R adventures, the cartoon makes liberal use of the Bill Loose/John Seely cues from the Capitol Hi-Q library ‘D’ series. They weren’t used all that often on the Huck show because they didn’t always fit the comedy.

Unfortunately, this is a fairly average cartoon. Lots of running, lots of gunfire/explosions, too much contrived rhyming dialogue. And anyone who has seen Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam knows there’ll be a gag about a cannonball sinking the ship. Pixie and Dixie are pretty appealingly drawn in Ken Muse’s scenes, with bandanas (and a piratesque t-shirt on Pixie). And Jinks gets his own cute striped shirt and an eye-patch, which conveniently lifts up on its own whenever he doesn’t need it.

But there’s also some real sloppiness, uncharacteristically in the paint department. Part of Pixie’s bandana becomes transparent in the opening scene and the colour on part of the pirate’s moustache hangs in mid-air in another. There’s also another scene where other blotches of red show up on cells as if ink and paint got the wrong cell numbers.

And there’s at least one animation error, where part of the pirate’s cutlass disappears when the scene cuts away from cycle animation of snoring to the pirate showing the audience he’s not really asleep.

Joe Barbera’s story is pretty basic. The meece want the pirate’s cheese. The pirate orders the sleeping ship’s cat, Jinks, to stop them. Jinks, still being formative, mulls over in his head the correct plural form of “mouse” in response to the pirate (he doesn’t remember if it’s “meeces” or “mooses”). We get two patented Charlie Shows rhymes before Jinks is scared by gunfire in performing his task. Jinks: “But I can’t swim, slim.” Pirate: “Ya lazy sittin’ kitten.”

First, the pirate tries to capture the meece on his own. Jinks gets into the act, trying to slice them with his sabre when they try to escape from the pirate’s quarters. He misses them. But clang! The pirate sticks his head out of the doorway and Jinks conks it (Shows time: “Where’s that fat cat at?”).

Next gag, the meece peer though a knothole into the pirate’s quarters and spot the cheese. They zip in. Jinks rushes into the scene and fires his pistol several times into the hole. Guess who he shoots? The pirate responds by sticking a rifle out the hole at Jinks. The cat makes a quick exit; Muse just draws him as an outline, then brush strokes of colour where he was, all on twos (Shows again: “Look at that crazy cat scat”).

Jinks chases after Pixie and Dixie, right to left. But wait a minute. They look more streamlined. Mike Lah has picked up the scene where Jinks uses a cannon ball as a bowling ball and squashes the meece. You can easily tell its Lah because the drawings are cruder than Muse’s and the characters talk with their mouths moving on the side of their faces. It’s very similar to the way he drew characters at MGM, even in the Tom and Jerry cartoons he worked on in the mid-‘40s. Lah’s characters always looks a little goofier, too.

Lah carries the animation through when the cannon ball starts rolling after the pirate (“A lulu of a boo-boo”) and bounces off the gang plank. The force causes the pirate to bounce along the deck into the hold. Cut to a cycle of the meece running, then we’re back with Muse as Jinks runs after them. The meece light a cannon and push it. It fires on the pirate. The pirate pushes the cannon at the meece (“They’ll get a big bang out of this” is the best Shows can come up with). Dixie flips the barrel toward the pirate, who points it straight up. Up goes the cannon ball. “I don’t fear, captain dear,” says Jinks, grabbing a baseball glove. Naturally, he doesn’t catch the cannon ball, and naturally, the ship goes down.

The finish has Jinks and the pirate in a rowboat. “Well, um, I got rid of the mice, didn’t I?” asks Jinks. No, he didn’t. The camera pans along a string attached to the boat. The other end is held by Dixie. He and Pixie are on a plate, along with the cheese they’re eating. “There’s more’n one way to skin a cat,” says Dixie. Skin a cat? What skinning? Unfortunately, we’ll never find out what Charlie Shows had in mind as the animated adventure is at an end.

The cartoon opens with a medley of oceanic tunes compiled into one cue by Jack Shaindlin. I have not been able to find it or its title. There’s also a short portion of the cartoon with no music, something that was tried in several cartoons during the first season of the Huck show.

0:00 - Pixie and Dixie (Hanna-Barbera-Shows-Curtin) - Main titles.
0:26 - LAF-65-7 seagoing medley (Shaindlin) – sleeping pirate, pan to mouse hole, “Cheesy cheese thieves!”, sleeping Jinks, Jinks threatened, shot of meece.
2:11 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Jinks protests, pirate fires gun, Jinks mimics, pirate chases meece, Jinks hits pirate with cutlass, pan to shot of cheese.
3:34 – no music – Pixie and Dixie talk, zip into hole, Jinks skids into scene.
3:44 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Jinks shoots in hole, rifle pokes out of hole.
4:00 - TC-219A CHASE-MEDIUM (Loose-Seely) – rifle fires at Jinks, “fancy bowling,” pirate bounces along deck.
5:18 - TC-215A CHASE-MEDIUM (Loose-Seely) – Pirate bounces into hold, meece push cannon, cannon ball goes up, comes down.
6:25 - TC-221A HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) – Pirate backpedals, Jinks with catcher’s glove, ship sinks.
6:52 - L-1121 ANIMATION NAUTICAL (Moore) – Rowboat scene.
7:10 - Pixie and Dixie (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) - End titles.