Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Selling Birthdays and Corn Flakes

It’s one thing to come up with loveable cartoons characters, and it’s another to package them into a programme that sponsors and stations want to pick up (and kids want to watch). But it’s yet another to have the skills to promote them. The folks at Hanna-Barbera found people with those skills in a real hurry not long after their studio opened in 1957.

Sure, the company began with the deals you might expect—for comic books, toys and records. And it grew from there. But a couple of promotions from the pre-Flintstone era at the studio (which is the focus of this blog, though we stray a bit) are admirable considering the coordination that was involved in pulling them off. One was Huckleberry Hound’s presidential run in 1960 (which combined comic books, cereal offers and personal appearances). The other is the Yogi Bear birthday party of 1961.

Yogi’s a great example of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. He was louder and brasher than the calm, somewhat naïve Huck, and pretty soon eclipsed the hound in the studio’s star system. So while he and Huck (and Mr. Jinks and the meeces, for that matter) all celebrated their birthdays on the same date—they all debuted together on TV—Yogi got the party. And the promotional people were adept enough to work out a plan to involve newspapers and television stations in their campaign; by then the Yogi Sunday comic strip was running.

Here’s a good example from the Oakland Tribune of September 3, 1961. The Yogi art accompanying the Tribune obviously came from the studio but it’s only based on a scene in the Yogi birthday cartoon, not from the actual cartoon itself (which is available on DVD but shorn of credits).

Yogi Bear Birthday Near; Enter His Coloring Contest
Hey, kids! Yogi Bear is having a birthday.
You can help celebrate it by entering an exciting Yogi Bear Coloring Contest.
Get out your crayons, pencils and paints. There are goody good goodies in store for you if you can come up with the liveliest color scheme and for the “smarter-than-average” bear.
Yogi himself, flying high with a handful of balloons, (he may be the first bear in space), is pictured in today’s issue of The Tribune.
Yogi Bear Coloring Contest entry blanks will appear again in the Sept. 6th, 8th and 10th issues. Clip yours, color it any scheme you choose and send it in with your name, age and address to contest headquarters, P.O. Box 836, Oakland 4.
If you’re age 10 and under, you can win a trip to Yogi’s birthday party. The party marks Yogi’s first year in the Tribune and on KTVU, Channel 2. Both are sponsoring the contest The youngsters selected as the 100 best artists will be guests of KTVU on Oct. 2.
A host of lesser prizes is offered, everything from candy to statuettes of our hero Yogi and his friends, Baba Looey, Quick Draw McGraw, Huckleberry Hound and many others.
There are books of favorite children’s stories, too.
Every boy and girl who enters will receive a gaily colored certificate with pictures of Yogi and all his friends on it.
Awards will be given in three age groups—age 6 years and under, ages 7 and 8, and ages 9 and 10. Entries will be judged on beauty, imagination in coloring, neatness and originality.
No fair! You can’t make Yogi bigger than he is in the panel. You have to color him right on the newspaper picture.
You can enter as many coloring panels as you want to but have to color them yourself.
And if you’re long on determination but short on inspiration, you can get ideas from the Yogi Bear comic strip in the Sunday Tribune or tune Channel 2 every Monday at 6:30 p.m. to watch Yogi and company in action.

Television stations on the “Kellogg’s Network” were encouraged (through Kellogg advertising dollars) to have their local kids show host put on a special early evening Yogi birthday party programme in connection with the Yogi Bear birthday cartoon, with youngins in the studio audience. Not all were tied in with a colouring contest; there was a make-a-birthday-card contest in some cities. How many stations took part, I don’t know, but one in Alaska solicited kids to drop in.

The fun didn’t stop with television and newspapers, either, thanks to those clever promotional wizards. If you happened to be at Pomeroy’s Department Store in Reading, Pennsylvania at noon on October 5, 1961, you could have met Huck, Quick Draw and Baba Looey in person opening the new toy department—and celebrating Yogi’s birthday. Yogi, presumably, was tuckered out from all the nation-wide birthday bashes and couldn’t make it. And, as we mentioned on the blog in this post, the Yogi newspaper comic was enlisted to promote the birthday, though not the ancillary events surrounding it.

Since Kellogg’s was tied into it, there were box ads in newspapers trumpeting the following: “Look for Yogi's special birthday packages of Kellogg's Corn Flakes for how to get your FREE Yogi Bear Birthday Dell Comic.” You won’t be surprised to hear a box top was involved. It must have taken a huge effort to put all the elements of the promotion together. The folks who did it (I suspect Kellogg’s ad agency, Leo Burnett, had a hand in it) couldn’t have been more facile.

The Yogi birthday party cartoon was unique. It took up all three segments of the half-hour show. Hanna-Barbera already had experience with half-hour comedies on “The Flintstones” and the new “Top Cat” series. The Yogi story (by Warren Foster, I presume) has echoes of “The Flintstones” with punny characters that very gently lampoon Fred Astaire (voice by Doug Young), Bobby Darin (it sounds like Duke Mitchell provides the voice; the swingin’ cat Darin stand-in does everything but sing “Listen to the Rockin’ Bird”) and Liberace (voice by Don Messick). While it’s nowhere close to my favourite Yogi show, it proved the bear had enough personality to carry more than a seven-minute short—something Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera likely kept in the back of their mind when they decided to make a feature film. The character who really built the H-B empire, a blue dog from the Carolinas, would have to wait until 1988 for his shot at feature stardom, and then in the lesser world of TV movies. Perhaps he deserved better but that’s show biz.


  1. I mailed away for the Dell comic (Natch!).

    But, I never saw the Birthday show, until the 1988 Yogi Bear syndicated series (and what a surprise THAT was, to see a “Golden Age H-B show” for the first time in ’88!) -- and, of course, the later DVD.

    I do not recall that show as part of the original run… though I was below age seven at the time, and memories are expected to be faulty.

    If it ran, it must not have run regularly over the years of the show’s original run (to about 1967?) If it ran during or after 1964, I’d remember it far more vividly… so I don’t think it did.

    Do any of the New Yorkers who visit here recall if the Birthday Party show originally ran on WPIX 11? I sure don’t remember it doing so.

  2. I don't remember it running on WPIX, either, but even in my cloudy recollections from my pre-kindergarten years, I already had a sense there was just something not quite right with the latest season of Yogi cartoons, now that he had his own show. So I may just have blotted any airing on Ch. 11 out of my memory.

    In retrospect, it's easy to see how the tinkering with Yogi's personality between 1958 and 1961 made him a more favored pitchbear for Kellogg's than Huck. His laconic style could only be tweaked so much -- Daws could make him sound like a happy hound, but he was still a laid-back reactive character, sort of H-B's version of Porky Pig.

    Yogi, on the other hand, had lost his grumpier traits from Season 1, and was now a chipper, upbeat rogue with lovable rhyming tendencies (Charles Shows' main bequeath to the Hanna-Barbera studio). Happy-go-lucky Yogi was more the type of character the folks in Battle Creek and Chicago wanted to have selling OKs and Corn Flakes to the kids, so the birthday party promotion coming on top of the success of his own show makes sense on its own terms, even if long-term, it helped make Yogi a less appealing character.

  3. Joe, I wish I could give you a definitive answer. I can only find it in TV listings for Oct. 1961 and no time afterward. If it was designed as part of a promotional tie-in, I can see why.

  4. J Lee, you were one of the folks I was counting on for some input. Your lack of remembrance of this show is in line with mine.

    Yowp, if anyone could have located a listing of its airing in New York, it would be you.

    While three peoples’ research ‘n’ recollections are certainly not enough to make it official, I’m left with my original feeling that, although WPIX New York was the syndication home of all things H-B (from Huck to Peter Potamus), they might not have run the Birthday show.

    The way my memory works is that, if it were only run once, I would have remembered it all the more. Not the specific details necessarily, but that it DID EXIST, and why was it that I never saw it again? In addition, I had the comic (though it was of a different plot entirely – that would also have made a good 30-60 minute show) to bolster any memories of a “seen once and never again” Yogi Bear Show.

    Beyond my personal lack of recollection, it seems as if this were only run ONCE, for the promotional occasion. Again, if it were in the regular rotation, I would remember it; in the same general way I remember other such cartoons that I’ve not seen in decades – by their sheer repetition.

    Even for whatever backing Kellogg’s might have provided, it seems odd that H-B would produce this thing for a single run – when their model was based on endless repetition. And, if it WERE run only once, that it didn’t become as “lost” as so many of the interstitial bits and individualized credits for many of their shows.

  5. The show ran in Seattle sometime around '64 to '66 when I was just starting in school. I know it was in the local TV listings, unlike most reruns, because my parents told me to watch for this particular show on such and such a day.

    I remember being thrilled by seeing all of Yogi's friends assembled to wish him a happy birthday. I also loved the moment when he blew out the candles and invited viewers to keep the party going at home. My parents brought out a copy of the comic book, which someone had bought for me when I was much too young to read it, and thus I had a souvenir of sorts after the program was over...although as Joe has pointed out, the plot of the comic version was decidedly different from the TV show.

    There was also some promotion regarding the special, because I definitely recall a coloring contest in conjuction with the show. In Seattle, the local TV stations put out weekly newsletters which were available in grocery stores and they featured tie-ins to the kids' and family programming for the given week--pictures to color and enter in contests, puzzles to solve, articles about programs and people in upcoming broadcasts, etc. Nobody else remembers these publications, but I remember them vividly. One of these may have had a Yogi Bear birthday coloring contest, or it may have been in the local paper--or both.

    I also recall something about the feature film "Hey There It's Yogi Bear," which may have been connected to the rebroadcast of this special.

    But, yes, it definitely did run again in the mid 60's...and I think I saw it one or two times after that, before it disappeared.

  6. Thanks, SC. It doesn't stick in my mind at all, but we are talking 50 years ago.

    KING ran Yogi when his own show debuted. Here is the Hanna-Barbera selection we had locally in October 1961.

    Mon. 6p Yogi, KING 5
    Mon. 7p Flintstones, CHAN 8
    Mon. 730p Top Cat, CHAN 8
    Tue. 5p Quick Draw, KVOS 12
    Wed. 530p Huck, CBUT 2, CHEK 6
    Wed. 6p Quick Draw, KING 5
    Wed. 830p Top Cat, KOMO 4
    Thu. 5p Yogi, KVOS 12
    Thu. 6p Huck, KING 5
    Fri. 830p Flintstones, KOMO 4

    For some reason, channel 12 doesn't have Huck listed but I know the station ran it in the Kellogg's days.

  7. Joe, the reason I can't make a definitive statement on it being rebroadcast is many newspapers simply listed the name of non prime-time shows with no highlights, especially in reruns.
    I don't have access to any NYC papers, except in microfilm at the library and I don't know how far back their Times selection goes.

  8. When Scarecrow reminds us that, at the end of the show, Yogi invites viewers to “…keep the party going at home”, I now understand that local channels probably had something going for the promotion, which they very likely cut back to. When I finally saw the show in more recent years, I always thought that was an odd way to end it. Now, things click into place!

    But, at odds with his experience, I can definitively state that the Yogi Birthday Show did not run in New York during 1964-1966, because my memory of that period is quite clear.

    Related note: One thing I distinctly remember, and have never seen again, was in the original 1964 run of the Magilla Gorilla cartoon when Ogee runs away from home because she cannot have a gorilla for a pet (…was it “Come Back Little Magilla”?), she boards a bus – and on the back of the bus was an ad for “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear”! It was never there afterward. It’s not in the current Boomerang prints, to my knowledge, and it is not on the DVD. It’s just another of those things that one distinctly recalls, yet no one else can remember seeing. I’d imagine H-B was not above adding a cel for that image to promote the film, and removing it later.

    Yowp, thanks for checking the various listings (as you always do so well). I can only guess that this was some sort of an “opt-in” situation for local stations and / or communities, and (pending any hard information to the contrary) that New York City may have not chosen to “opt-in”.

    I can recall those early days when TV Guide listed the individual cartoon segment titles for the Huck, Quick Draw, and Yogi shows. Apparently, newspapers did so as well.

    So, perhaps my final question, to Scarecrow and to others who have actually seen it in “Ye Olden Days”, is: Was it part of the regular run of The Yogi Bear Show, or broadcast as a stand-alone special in some other time slot?

    This thread has certainly shed additional light on what seemed to me to be a true H-B oddity. Thank you for that!

  9. My memory is that it was part of the regular run of the Yogi Bear Show, it's just that this particular broadcast was featured and highlighted through the media as a "not to be missed" special occasion. (Unlike today, when TV listings don't even list any info about a rerun episode that is broadcast.)

    There was similar hoopla and extra promotion for the annual Woody Woodpecker Show broadcast at Hallowe'en of "Spook-a-Nanny."

    I remember that Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Woody Woodpecker shared the same time slot for several years and alternated days throughout the week. I remember, now that Yowp has pointed it out, that it was on KING 5. There were two local kids' show hosts for KING in those days--Stan Boreson in the afternoons and Wunda Wunda at noon. Stan Boreson likely promoted the Yogi special, as I believe his show aired right before the cartoons started in the afternoons. He may have had a follow-up spot right after the birthday special as an additional promotion.

    (Appropo of nothing, I would also like to mention that Ruth Prins, who played Wunda Wunda, was my kindergarten teacher--and she once gave us a tour of her TV studio. Those were heady times for a small child.)

  10. SC, the Oct. 2, 1961 KING listings don't show an additional programme, just the usual line-up (which, I suppose, was subject to change). At that time, Burns and Allen preceded Yogi. Boreson was on before George and Gracie. A 15-minute report of some kind followed the 6-6:30 p.m. cartoon.
    My dad built me a Wunda Wunda house (front only), complete with door and windows that opened. Ruth Prins was wonderful. They'll never make shows like that again.

  11. Funny, that I recall the promotion for the Woody Woodpecker “Spook-a-Nanny” show as a special occasion on WPIX 11 – and I guess some new ‘60s Lantz TV animation and Daws Butler vocals DID make it special. That ran in the “regular” Woody time slot – which alternated evenings, at 7 PM, with Huck and Yogi – here too. It’s nice that we have both those specials on DVD to enjoy.

    Look closely on Walter Lantz’s desk, in that one, and you’ll see some then-current Gold Key Comics!

    You guys are making me wish I’d seen Wunda Wunda, and I’d never even heard of her before this thread.