Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Suing Jonny Quest

You wouldn’t think anyone would mistake TV’s first action-adventure cartoon with a show that had human mouths superimposed over inanimate drawings. But someone did.

“Jonny Quest” had problems from the beginning. Variety announced on December 25, 1963 that Screen Gems sales boss John Mitchell negotiated a 26-week deal with ABC for the show, which was described as “a candidate for the Friday night 7:30 period next season (following the departure of the current tenant, ‘77 Sunset Strip’). Series has been bought at $60,000 per copy off the story board as a firm commitment.”

But now ABC had to sell it. Variety reported on January 29, 1964: “With General Mills, which was offered first opportunity to sponsor the series, having turned it down, ABC is looking for other prospects.” ABC had sales problems in general; the April 29th Weekly Variety revealed the network had six shows with no advertising and one with a minute. That was “Jonny Quest.”

Meanwhile, production trundled along. On May 12th, Variety told that Hoyt Curtin had been signed to compose and conduct the show’s theme and incidental music. He used 22 pieces. Not all episodes were completed when “Mystery of the Lizard Men” debuted on September 17th. A week later, Variety listed the writers assigned to the show: Joanna Lee, Walter Black, Herb Finn, Alan Dinehart, Stuart Jerome, Alex Lovy, Frank Rhylick, Beryl Ferguson, W. D. Hamilton, Kin Platt, Tony Benedict, Charles Hoffman and Doug Wildey (Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, Wildey and Lovy got credit for the teleplay of the opener).

Today, fans know that Wildey was the show’s creator. In 1964, all we knew was he was the “Supervising Art Director” in the end credits (with a box around his name, like Milt Caniff). Wildey come from Cambria Studios which produced the least-animated cartoons in history. Double-exposed live-action mouths moved when characters didn’t. And Cambria wasn’t too happy with what it saw in “Jonny Quest.” It called in the corporate lawyers.

Variety published this story on January 26, 1965.

$1,050,000 Piracy Suit Filed Against ‘Jonny Quest’
Cambria Studios Inc. has brought legal action in Superior Court over the Hanna-Barbara tv series, “Jonny Quest,” in which damages totalling $1,050,000 were asked. Named as co-defendants with H-B were Screen Gems and ABC, on charges of plagiarism, misappropriation of trade secrets, inducing breach of contract and false advertising.
Complaint filed by attorney Irwin O. Spiegel alleged that the “Jonny Quest” series uses, copies and appropriates substantial parts and portions of Cambria's “Clutch Cargo” and its pilot film, “Captain Fathom,” including their principal cartoon characters. Defendants, according to complaint, misappropriated Cambria's new, original techniques and know- how in the use of illustration or comic strip art in production of animated films, and that Hanna-Barbera induced former Cambria employes to reveal this confidential information in breach of employment contracts.
Suit also asked for an injunction to prevent further dissemination of allegedly false and misleading statements that Hanna-Barbera are the originators of the use of comic strip art in the animated cartoon medium

Wildey wasn’t the only ex-Cambria employee to move over to Hanna-Barbera. Alex Toth and Warren Tufts joined him and the two worked on a number of series in the ‘60s.

There’s no word in Variety how the suit ended, but it didn’t affect Jonny Quest’s future in the slightest. The show didn’t have one, not in prime time anyway. Not enough people were watching. Jonny, Race and Bandit won their time slot in their series debut, but were last in the Arbitron ratings the following week behind “Rawhide” (CBS) and the memorable “International Showtime” (NBC). Things were even worse for “The Flintstones,” which was getting hammered by “The Munsters” (CBS) with more than three times the audience on the season opener. So a decision was made; Variety reported on December 14th that ABC was switching the the two half-hour cartoons on its schedule. Jonny was sacrificed for Fred and Barney. “The Flintstones” remained on the air next season. “Jonny Quest” was cancelled by mid-March. Incidentally, it was one of only seven night-time shows ABC broadcast in colour, though Variety questioned (February 24th, 1965) whether many stations aired it that way.

But, if I may be allowed an opinion, Jonny was a good show. Fred Silverman at CBS evidently thought so, too, as he bought the rerun rights and put it on the Saturday morning schedule on September 9, 1967. And there it flourished. It later begat “New Adventures” and “Real Adventures,” neither of which resulted in lawsuits by Cambria.

Incidentally, Hanna-Barbera was already in court at the time the Cambria suit was filed, as a trial was getting under way over damages to Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll for being let go as the voices of George and Jane Jetson. And the studio had met up once before with Cambria’s legal representative, Irwin O. Spiegel, in another lawsuit over a half-hour prime-time show. We’ll try to get to that in a future post.

A Yowp addendum: about two years after this post first appeared, historian Jim Korkis asked Margaret Kerry, wife of the founder of Cambria, about the Quest lawsuit. Her response, as reported on the Cartoon Research website:

No, we never sued. We never had the money. We wanted to sue. We were developing this action series with this young boy with red hair. Kay Wright was working with us at the time and he was working at Hanna-Barbera and he told them about the project and the next thing we knew they had hired some of our artists and took some of our concept art. You know that they were sometimes referred to as “Heist and Borrow” in the business.


  1. Never knew there had been a lawsuit...I never did like those (to me) stupid toons with real mouths...only place I've seen that in recent years is the Sponge Bob intro...thankfully for a short duration. As far as Jonny Quest, I was a fan of it, but never liked the Bandit character...at 15 or 16 years old, I guess I wasn't ready for "comic relief." Thanks for the post, Yowp.

  2. Don't tell me that Cambria had previously sued Hanna-Barbera for using limited animation on ''The Flintstones''. That would be nuts.

  3. What was this previous lawsuit that Cambria had filled against HB. i can't find anything about it in the Google newspapers archives.

  4. Thanks for posting this; for many years now I'd been thinking how much JQ owes to CC! Okay, some of the lawsuit was kinda fuzzy, but the similarities are striking: gosh, does this mean that Hadji was invented as an afterthought trying to avoid the lawsuit-- after all he wasn't in the first episode...

  5. And here I thought that the only thing JQ copied was Terry and the Pirates (the thing that, a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids, csan be EASILY imagined as a late 60s-1970s bubblegum group, a kind of remix with a girl named Terry aka Theresa and her male rock band the Pirates, which of course never happened..) Creator Milton Caniff's and HB's series (plural) being similiar's a very well own issue in its own right..BTW This is the first time that I heard of CLUTCH CARGO's creators suing Hanna-Barbera over anything..Cambria and on the (ahem)classic Scooby Doo movies HB would both use animated 3 Stooges..the supporting boy and his dog on that show, Spinner and Paddlefoot with their oddnames..(well, okay. There were myself and Gumby..:)) but see below) and their adventures reminded me of Spunky and his bear Tadpole only they anchored the show (anchored being used in all senses since it really wasn't exciting unless you were a kid..),with the boy with "SP" as the first two letters of his name and a oddly named animal. But I was a once a popular clay horse with a GREEN boy in stop motion, named Gumby..:) Steve

    Thanks for this article and we'll look forward to that NEXT one on the earlier Cambria suit..to Anonymous, Yowp mentions that he'll get to that bridge when he crosses it. These stories, between the reviews on Saturdays of Snooper, Augie, Quick Draw, Yogi, Augie and the Meeces are what make up this blog and what makes it so worth reading.:) And Tralfaz, the sister blog,too.

  6. There aren't nearly as many similarities between Clutch Cargo and Jonny Quest as there are between the Rick Brant stories and Jonny Quest. And yet I never heard of any complaints from the author of Rick Brant.