Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Jetsons and Seattle

The similarity between The Jetsons and The Flintstones is obvious—both cartoons took “today’s” world and moved it in time. But The Jetsons had another similarity that was more evident at the time the show was first broadcast in 1962—the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

Both looked into life in the 21st Century and both showcased futuristic contraptions. And both had the Space Needle. Well, as a five-year-old watching the show’s premiere (on a Seattle station), it looked like the Space Needle to me. And it evidently did to others, for Joe Barbera addressed the similarity in interviews as he hit the circuit plugging his soon-to-be-aired cartoon show, which turns 50 this Sunday.

Let’s give you two examples. First, this newspaper syndicate column of August 23, 1962, where the writer seems more enamoured of Barbera’s performance than the cartoon.

The Wonderful World of 2062
HOLLYWOOD—Joe Barbera is a man who has looked closely into the world of 2062, and he reports that it’s not bad at all.
We’ll all be trim and happy, we’ll live to be 125 and we’ll be complaining about a 3-hour-day, 3-day-week work schedule. Mothers on damp mornings will spray a rain-coat on their children and say, “Don’t forget to peel it off when you get to school.” Ashes from your cigaret will never touch the carpet because ash trays will emerge from nowhere (choong!) and then vanish (toing!).
Barbera’s non-stop monologues, punctuated with choings and toings throughout, are the talk of an enthusiast. And why not? He is a natty ex-cartoonist from Brooklyn, who, with an ex-structural engineer from New Mexico named Bill Hanna, created the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons at MGM 25 years ago. Five years ago, they formed Hanna-Barbera Productions and have since come up with such bread-winners as “The Flintstones”, “Huckleberry Hound”, “Yogi Bear” and “Quick Draw McGraw”. Mr. Barbera is doing nicely.
All this futuristic chatter arises from the fact that Hanna-Barbera will unleash a new cartoon series, “The Jetsons”, on ABC-TV Sunday nights right after dinner, beginning Sept. 23. In his Hollywood studio office, Joe Barbera is surrounded with the wonders of the world of 2062.
“The people won’t be two-headed,” he says, flipping out the words like a card shark dealing. “They’ll be just like us, talk like us. “We’ve settled on a family of five—George and Jane Jetson, their teen-age girl, Judy, and their eight-year-old boy, Elroy, and their dog. Astro. Elroy and Astro have antennae, so they can be summoned right away.
“Their appurtenances are way-out. We’ve got them going around in a bubble capsule car, and here the Seattle Fair came up with a Bubbleator. We’ve got moving sidewalks and now there’s a moving walk. We’ve got ‘em living in the Sky Pad Apartments—dwelling units on top of needles—and now Seattle’s got a needle.
“The Jetsons send the kids off to school in a pneumatic tube. When P.S. 85 sends the wrong kid home at three, Jane Jetson just pushes a button and pffft! the kid’s gone and she gets her own back. One day, Elroy tells her his class is going off on a field trip — they’ll be studying the Siberian salt mines. His mother says, ‘That’s nice. Now don't fight with the little Russian boys.’
“We’ve got an instant hair-do thing that comes down over Jane’s head and, too-choo, she’s got a permanent. And a cement mold that builds instant buildings —dee-uh-lump! dee-uh-lump! — floor by floor. “We’ve got a vacuum cleaner that comes out, finds the dirt, zupp! eats it up and moves back into the wall. In one story, we’ve got somebody spilling a drink, the vacuum slurps it up and gets cockeyed.
“JUDY WINS a date with a pop singer, named Jet Screamer and they go off to the Spaceburger to do the ‘Solar Swivel.’ It’s a heck of a song. Howie Morris did it for us. Listen.” It was quite a song all right, and rather ear-splitting. “Frank Sinatra, we understand, may be interested in doing a recording.
“Oh, yeah, the maid. We’ve got a maid named Rosie the Robot. She’s a bit broken-down. She says, ‘Yes, ma’am, beep-beep.’ You could say she’s a Hazel out-Hazeling a Hazel. Marx is doing Rosie now as a remote-control toy. In fact, the toy outfits are moving in like frantic.”
Mr. Barbera was still going on about a robot football game, a cook-out on the moon, a Peek-a-Boo Prober Pill which gives an instant physical examination and a visit to the showcase of Molecular Motors when I slipped away for a thirst quencher. I found a bunch of robots standing around the Hanna-Barbera water cooler having a break.

Barbera is implying that the studio’s artists came up with the Space Needle before the people at the Seattle World’s Fair did. While it’s true artwork had to have been developed before the show was sold to ABC in early 1962, pictures and concept drawings of the Space Needle were around, too; for example, the Associated Press offered a feature story in April 1961 complete with drawings of the Tower of the 21st Century.

Barbera makes the implication again in this United Press International story that appeared in newspapers beginning September 25, 1962, a few days after the show debuted.

UPI Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, purveyors of television’s most successful cartoon shows, are launching still another animated series for adult viewers.
After the blazing success of “The Flintstones,” the partners decided that if a stone age family could enliven the nation’s living rooms a family projected a century into the future might be even more amusing.
Thus, “The Jetsons,” a 2062 clan of the space age.
They live in a sky pad apartment with adjustable levels. In order to escape rain or fog they press a button and their quarters rise thousands of feet above the bad weather.
Everything is super gadgeted. Mrs. Jetson has a seeing eye vacuum cleaner which operates on its own whenever a speck of dust appears. And sometimes it sweeps dirt under the rug.
Trouble Staying Ahead
Unlike “The Flintstones,” the new show is not based on a feuding neighbor policy. It is more like “Father Knows Best” and “I Love Lucy.”
“We’ve taken today’s family and moved them 100 years in the future,” Barbera said. “Their problems are the same we find today, but their solutions are more complicated.
“Our biggest trouble with the series is keeping it far enough ahead of actual scientific discovery to perpetuate the feeling of the way out future. We come up with an idea only to find out that science is already producing the product.
“For instance, we had to discard six months work with future jet air cars when the Seattle World’s Fair had similar models on display.”
In establishing characters that would strike the public fancy the Hanna Barbera crew came up with no fewer than 1,600 experimental drawings of George Jetson. Almost as much time was devoted to his wife Jane; daughter, Judy; son, Elroy, and a lovable mutt named Astro.
Woman Are Human
“As we discovered in the ‘Flintstones,’ the man must be humorous, but the woman even in a cartoon must be human,” Barbera said.
“Each week it will be a different member of the family who finds himself in the starring role. Even Astro has his own starring segments.”
Barbera, a handsome dynamic man, was reminded that last year was calamitous for cartoon shows. Many started. Few finished.
“That is partly explained by a shortage of talented cartoonists,” he explained. “Some of the older ones have retired and there haven’t been many youngsters to take their places.
“We’re trying to develop cartoonists here on the job, training young people as we go along.
“We have three men who do nothing but sit around thinking up new and far out ideas for ‘The Jetsons.’ They have to think fast to stay ahead of the scientists.”

As a side note, it’s perhaps significant in the Scott column that Barbera’s excuse for the failure of the previous year’s prime-time cartoons—which would have included Hanna-Barbera’s Top Cat—had nothing to do with funny animals, like he said in previous interviews. No, it was due to a lack of artists. Mustn’t run down a commodity like Top Cat, salesman Barbera must have realised.

Interestingly, Barbera mentioned a completely different origin for the Sky Pad Apartments in later interviews. He told Scott Moore of the Washington Post in 1999 that they were based on remnants of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. “I saw round buildings kind of on a pedestal…I decided to add hydraulics to the pedestal so you could lift the apartment above the smog of clouds into the fresh, clean air,” he related. Nary a mention of designers like Iwao Takamoto or Jerry Eisenberg or Willie Ito, let alone Seattle.

Almost 50 years later, the Space Needle still defines the Seattle skyline and attracts carloads of astonished visitors, and The Jetsons continues to be a landmark of futurism in pop culture. If you’re interested in seeing the 21st Century as seen by the Seattle Fair, including the popular Bubbleator, click on the cover of this book and browse. Sorry, you won
t find Rosie.


  1. Growing up on the east coast -- and with access to free passes to the 1964-65 New York World's Fair (which meant lots of demands to mom and dad for trips there), I always noticed the similarity between The Jetsons apartment, and the towers of the New York State Pavilion.

    Joe Barbera might not have been able to claim the Space Needle as borrowing from his show -- it does take time to plan something like that -- but he's got a better case for the NYS towers riffing off his artists' conceptions (though, as with the Seattle World's Fair, the groundbreaking in New York occurred well in advance -- in this case April, 1960, 2 1/2 years before The Jetsons hit the airwaves, so the town design also may have pre-dated the show).

  2. I always wondered why some of the Jetsons' buildings are apparently free-floating in space while others are atop tall poles that must be anchored to something... somewhere. Are their bases on the earth, miles and miles below? Or at some point before 2062, did the earth explode into multicolored confetti, as implied in the opening? Didn't Joe Barbera know people would be asking these things halfway between the year the show debuted and the year it depicted? Huh?