Monday, 8 October 2012

That Oh-So-Merry, Chuckleberry

What is a Chuckleberry, anyway?

Hanna-Barbera theme songs are difficult to decipher at the best of times—I was happy to discover others couldn’t figure out the words to “Meet the Flintstones” and “Top Cat” either—but I, as a young viewer, pretty well figured out the lyrics to Huck’s opening and closing theme. However, I admit I don’t know whether “Chuckleberry” was a lame attempt by Bill Hanna to find a rhyme for “Huckleberry” or if such a thing exists.

Such a problem didn’t bother that noted musical group The Scarlet Combo. They recorded a non-lyric version of the Huck theme, released on the Spin and Zin-a-Spin labels in 1961.

Who is The Scarlet Combo, you ask?

A pretty good question. About all I can tell is they were a band out of Kentucky, apparently fronted by a guy named Jimmy Wayne, as he sings “That’s the Way the Mop Flops” (written by Charles R. Holt) on the other side of the 45. That song doesn’t contain the word “Chuckleberry,” either. Why the tunes were released on two labels that were seemingly the same is your guess, as is the fate of the band.

Whether the instrumental Huck theme got regional airplay, I don’t know, but it didn’t chart nationally. However, someone has graciously uploaded it onto the internet so you can hear it. No one will mistake this for Hoyt Curtin’s arrangement. It’s kind of a surf guitar-meets-cha cha. The most intriguing thing is the absence of Curtin’s name on the label. It’s an indisputable fact he co-wrote the song. If I had to guess, I’d say it’d have to do with the fact that Curtin was a member of BMI, not ASCAP. The label lists the ASCAP publisher and composers. Perhaps Curtin only got credit if the song was used in broadcast media.

We can’t tell you when Huck first appeared on Ed Benedict’s drawing board at Hanna-Barbera but we have a pretty good idea when, at least, a pilot show had been produced and sold. William Ewald’s television column out of New York for United Press International revealed on June 24, 1958: “ ‘Huckleberry Hound,’ an original half-hour cartoon series, has been bought by a cereal company for full showing—no network has been picked yet.” Interestingly, six weeks earlier, syndicated columnist Steven H. Scheuer wrote: “Hanna and Barbera would like an early evening spot to catch the adults, too, but they’re too busy turning out the cartoons to have any time to sit back and dream about ideal time spots.” Perhaps Bill and Joe were playing a game of semantics because it seems improbable Huck wasn’t in development when Scheuer’s story made the papers on May 11, 1958.

While HB Enterprises signed a five-year deal with NBC in 1957 to broadcast “Ruff and Reddy,” Huck never ended up on the network. Why? Again, it’s a matter of speculation. But it very well could have been that “early evening” idea Hanna mentioned in the interview with Scheuer. Because that’s what they worked out with the ad agency for their sponsor who, as it turned out, had decided to start looking for non-network properties.

There are wonderful archival sites on the internet with radio, movie and TV industry publications, yours for viewing if you stumble upon them. I’ve stumbled upon a site which has old editions of Broadcasting Magazine. The edition of June 30, 1958 goes into the background of the blurb in Ewald’s UPI column. Here are the pertinent parts:

• Cereal company to shift money from ABC-TV to spot
• Budget to allow $7-7.5 million for time and talent

Leo Burnett Co. will start seeking spot tv availabilities for Kellogg Co. in the next fortnight, armed with a $7-7.5 million budget for time and talent.
The agency officially announced Kellogg’s decision last week to shift its monies from ABC-TV for a similar schedule of half-hour children’s shows in an estimated 170 markets next September. Chicago station representatives were plainly elated over the cereal-maker’s decision and acceptance of a discount formula for bulk program time purchase involving a “program contribution” technique . . .
The decision was dictated, the agency reported, “by a desire for complete flexibility in the replacement of this segment of the Kellogg broadcasting activity.” . . .
A newcomer to the Kellogg stable is Huckleberry Hound, described by John Mitchell, vice president of Screen Gems, as the first all-animated half-hour produced specifically for television. The all-cartoon series was produced for Screen Gems by H-B Enterprises. Others slated for the fall spot schedule are Woody Woodpecker, Superman and Wild Bill Hickok—the last-named perhaps running twice weekly in some markets.

In other words, it was cheaper for Kellogg’s to barter a half hour on local stations than to buy network time. And the cereal company’s decision seems sudden. It had agreed only a month early to go with a half-hour (5 to 5:30 p.m., weekdays) on ABC running Woody, Wild Bill and two different live-action shows. That’s right. In May, Huck wasn’t in Kellogg’s plan. In June, he was.

Very little was said in the popular press about Huck’s pending debut. The earliest story I’ve found was likely a Screen Gems or Leo Burnett handout. It’s in the Cumberland Times, August 3, 1958.

‘Strictly TV’ All-Animated Cartoon Due
In its fourth new national sale for next fall, Screen Gems has sold the first all-animated half-hour program to be produces specifically for television. Titled “Huckleberry Hound," this precedent breaking new show was bought by a cereal company.
Huckleberry Hound will be produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, producers of Screen Gems’ “Ruff and Reddy” cartoon series and multi-Oscar winners for their “Tom and Jerry” theatrical cartoons.
The cartoon character Huckleberry Hound will serve as emcee of the three segments of the half-hour show. Huck himself will be be the hero of the first segment; Yogi Bear will be hero of the second, and Pixie and Dixie will be heroes of the third. Previous cartoon shows on TV have consisted at least partly of theatrical cartoons or live action. “Huckleberry Hound” will be the first half-hour TV show consisting entirely of made-for-TV animation.

The Howdy Hound Dog Clown made his debut on Monday, September 29, 1958 on, among other stations, WLW-I (internet sources that give a different premiere date are, to be polite, incorrect). Huck was the runaway success out of the four shows that Kellogg’s put in early-evening syndication. When Broadcaster announced in September, 1959 that The Quick Draw McGraw Show had been picked up by Kellogg’s, it gave American station tallies for each of the four shows—Huck, 165; Superman and Wild Bill Hickok, 98; Woody, 100. That’s right. Huck was more popular than the Man of Steel.

Hanna-Barbera evidently liked Broadcasting magazine, or at least felt it was an effective way of shilling the studio’s product to the industry. The studio took out full-page (sometimes two-page ads) in the ‘60s and there were a number of stories about its operations through the decade from a business point of view (including the sale to Taft Broadcasting). The scans of the ads aren’t 100% but we’ll pass on a few in the coming days. And at least one story about a neglected studio voice artist from that decade. But, unfortunately, we have been unable to glean from any of it the elusive definition of a Chuckleberry.


  1. I always wondered why the singers were imploring us to "Get yourself all set/ to dump your TV set/ for Huckleberry Hound". Seemed like a self-defeating request, though I suppose nowadays it could be taken as asking you to view the show on your laptop or portable digital device.

    Kellogg's success with the H-B shows in syndication, and the loss of revenue for ABC (which really needed it at the time) could also explain why the network jumped on board the animation bandwagon over the next couple of years, and got the other two major cereal makers (Post and General Mills) to tag along.

    1. It wasn't "dump your TV set," It was TUNE UP your TV set. I always understood that. ABC's pick up of ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS in 1950, sponsored by General Mills certainly was motivated by the Leo Burnett/Kellogg's syndication concept. Post was not sponsoring any all animated cartoon shows on ABC as I recall. They went to CBS with LINUS THE LIONHEARTED five years later.

  2. Kinda thought that it was a play on chuckles and Hucklebrry. You will laugh with Huckleberry. Also surprised that people didn't get the "courtesy of Fred's two feet" wasn't it obvious he was driving the car while they sung it.

  3. They should bring it back on Boomerang, Huckleberry Hound Show is much more more greater than Puppy in My Pocket, Boomerang standarts are down.

  4. I didn't get it, Anon. For one thing "courtesy" is accented on the 1st syllable, not the 3rd like in the song. I thought the words were "friends compete."
    I don't know whether it's the diction, or the mixing, or the chords, but it's not easy picking out the lyrics in the HB themes, save 'The Jetsons,' which only has 11 words.

    1. I think I got it pretty early, too. "friends compete", ha, looks like your subconscious was well indoctrinated already with bourgeois values, eh Yowp?

      I read you were going to retire your blogs over on johnkstuff, and while I'm no great HB fanatic, and by all lights a schmuck,I hope you'll leave them up as a document and resource for all and sundry. A superb site.

    2. Not at all, Kirk. Fred's "competition" generally stayed away from material goods and mainly involved two things: a) Fred wanted to prove that he was right and others were wrong, or b) He tried to put on over on Wilma or some other cast member (perhaps he should have sang "Solidarity Forever" while trying to best Mr. Slate).
      The cartoons generally made fun of the bourgeoisie. The few times Fred tried to up his station in life (and reject his friends in the process), the folk amongst the upper crust were revealed to be shallow and insincere. By cartoon's end, Fred happily returned to the Land of the Prehistoric Proletariat.
      As for the blogs, the Tralfaz blog has three months worth of daily posts uploaded and on hold. This one has a bunch of posts on automatic-timer as well. But finding time work on this blog is difficult and the new Blogger set-up now requires me to take extra steps to perform simple tasks. It's not as user-friendly as the old system.
      Thank you for your kind comment. This site isn't deep or very academic in tone; it's designed for the casual fan to pop in and browse at leisure.

  5. J.Lee, thanks for saying an interpreteration of the lyrics, I didn't even know once that a TV set was mentioned, but I thought that the Randy Van Horne singers were crooning "get your teeth be set", as if telling us Kellogs9r)'s eating young 'uns to go burhs our teeth (another story..)...

    Yowp, right on about the lyrics n many HB cartoons being hard to understand!Steve

  6. I also thought the Flintstones lyric was "friends compete".

    I thought the Huckleberry Hound lyric was "don't let yourself forget, clean up your TV set" or it could have just been "turn on your TV set". I agree about the HB lyrics being hard to catch--they were sung rapidly by a chorus and often used uncommon words, or at least used them in an uncommon positioning within the line, so that syllables were accented differently.

    The term "chuckleberry" was used on the cover of the first three Gold Key comics issues of Huckleberry Hound, which were subtitled "Chuckleberry Tales." The stories included characters from the whole stable of HB characters, not exclusively those on Huck's show. No further definition of the word was ever given, as far as I can tell.

  7. If you’re keeping any sort of tally, I didn’t get one or two parts of Top Cat and, of course, the infamous line in The Flintstones theme. But, I did get everything in Huckleberry Hound! Or, at last I THINK I did.

    Never mind that, they were still the best themes on TV – along with “This Is It” from The Bugs Bunny Show. And THAT had an indecipherable moment or two as well.

    I wrote those off, as I did with many jokes in Looney Tunes – and even some in early H-B – as something I’ll probably “get” when I’m older.

  8. My wife and I both thought it was "To nuck your TV set". We figured that was something to do with the rabit ears.

  9. On the three stooges shorts, Moe sometimes called Curly "Chucklehead." This is a word that dates back to the 18th century! I don't know if there is such a thing as a Chuckleberry, so maybe it is a nonce word. It is hard to rhyme much of anything with Huckleberry, but I'll try:
    "He crossed by ferry, the estuary, Huckleberry Hound!" You see having Huck take a ferry boat would spoil the whole circus motif!