Saturday 28 June 2014

Huckleberry Hound — Jungle Bungle

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ralph Somerville, Layout – Dan Noonan, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Carl Kohler, Story Director – Art Davis, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Narrator, Monkey, Lion, Mother Monkey – Don Messick; Huckleberry Hound – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First aired: week of January 15, 1962.
Plot: Huckleberry Hound explains how to get around in the jungle.

It’s the same old Huck but a couple of different names grace the credits of this cartoon. This is one of a few cartoons animated at Hanna-Barbera by Ralph Somerville. He was born December 6, 1905 in Oskaloosa, Iowa to the Rev. Jay Wilbur and Jessie Meredith (Burdick) Somerville but grew up in Warrensburg, New York. He was the pride of the little town. In 1929, he was on the crew of the steamer Zanthia and his letters to his widowed mother about his voyages in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean were reprinted on the front page of the local paper. How he ended up working for the Fleischer studio in New York is unclear—the paper mentions he worked on “Kitty From Kansas City” and “Millie [sic] the Moocher”—but it reported on November 3, 1932 he was now in Hollywood animating at the Krazy Kat studio—for Walt Disney!

Somerville ended up at Universal later in the decade. In 1938, he married Xenia Beckwith, who was at the MGM cartoon studio at the time. They divorced a few years later when he was a Technical Sergeant stationed in India; she later married animator Ed de Mattia. All three worked at the Hanna-Barbera studio in the early ‘60s. Somerville later was one of many old-timers who animated on the “Spider-Man” series for Grantray-Lawrence before moving on to Filmation. He retired to Weed, California in 1974 and died on February 13, 2000.

Carl Kohler wrote this cartoon and it was apparently his only Hanna-Barbera credit. Whether he was freelancing or very briefly on staff is unclear. Kohler wrote Art Davis’ last cartoon at Warner Bros., “Quackodile Tears,” and Davis is the story director on this cartoon. Kohler was mainly a magazine cartoonist, having co-founded CARtoons in 1959. He also churned out stories for Bozo the Clown cartoons at Larry Harmon’s studio in 1962. Kohler very adeptly captures Huck’s personality in this cartoon. It’s nothing more than a series of spot gags without any kind of climax, but Huck’s chatty and pleasant, and there’s one really off-the-wall gag.

Studio workhorse Dick Thomas painted the backgrounds from Dan Noonan’s layouts. It seems like almost every cartoon that has been reviewed here for the last few months has Thomas’ name on it. Here’s part of the opening background. Quite nice. Too bad in 1961, TV viewers likely saw it only in black and white.

This cartoon has another one of those fun openings where Huck’s just hanging around waiting for the narrator and his camera to arrive. Here’s the opening dialogue over top of one of Hoyt Curtin’s mystery beds. Don Messick begins with mock seriousness.

Narrator: Africa. And into the dark, steaming interior of the equatorial jungle, our roving camera probes, searching for that legendary and mysterious personality Oomba Goomba Doombie Foomba. Which, translated, means “Jungle Huck.”

The camera now stops on Huck up a tree, which gives him a chance to sing “Clementine,” as fans have come to expect. Then he acknowledges the camera and the audience.

Huck: Howdy. Me Jungle Huck. I thought you’d never get here.

This is a spot gag cartoon and anyone who has seen enough cartoons can guess the gag before it happens. For example, Huck swings on a vine. He crashes into a tree.

Huck chops down a tree. Guess where it lands?

There’s an odd scene where Huck saves a little monkey from “a hungry-type lion.” The sound cutter does a great job of juxtaposing Curtin’s cues. There’s a loud, dramatic one when the lion’s chasing the frightened and switches to a little soft-shoe oboe when Huck talks to the audience about what’s going on. Huck saves the monkey but not after grabbing the lion and dropping him (“Tsk, tsk. Right on his face. They’re supposed to land on their feet, you know,” Huck informs us). The monkey is grateful. But when he tells his mother, the big monkey turns Huck into a basketball and shoots him into a tree. Why? Huck saved her kid’s life. “Some day, it just don’t pay to monkey around with good deeds,” Huck tells us as the camera fades out.

The weird scene is when Huck swings right into the mouth of a white rhinoceros (who gulps him down). No trouble. Huck just opens one of the animal’s plates like it was a door. Says Huck: “You’d never believe what goes on inside a rhinocer-oceros.” He never confides in the audience what does go on; it’s on to the next scene.

The next gag involves a native village and a Tarzan yell (which ends with “Y’all”). We never see any natives. It’s cheaper not to draw any. Instead, Huck simply gets trapped by their arrows which come flying into the scene.

The spot gags don’t really stack up to a climax. Huck’s chased by different animals in different scenes; the final one merely involves him running stage left on screen, yelling “Help!” with a tiger in pursuit. Not the strongest way to finish a cartoon.

Somerville reuses some of his drawings. There’s a pose of Huck on a tree holding a kinked vine which appears periodically. And the run cycle of the little monkey appears in a medium shot and a close-up (in both directions; the drawings are over around and inked and painted on the other side).

Curtin’s musical bits and pieces made appearances in a variety of cartoons the same year. His organ version of “Over the Waves” underscores one of Huck’s vine swings. And the final cue is the one where Curtin snatched a few bars of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No 2.”

Thursday 26 June 2014

Flintstone Minus 19

Fred Flintstone survived long after the death of the man who first played him, but there was no better voice actor for him than Alan Reed.

This isn’t a knock at his replacement, who was enjoyable in many TV roles. But Reed’s Fred had a lot of depth and you liked the character in spite of his faults. The series revolved around Fred Flintstone so a strong actor had to play him.

As you probably know, before “The Flintstones” came along Reed was known mainly for his role as the poet Falstaff Openshaw on Fred Allen’s radio show. What’s remarkable is Allen’s show was known mainly for Allen’s Alley, and Falstaff is not a character you think of when the Alley comes to mind. Actually, my favourite line of Reed’s on the show came as a Radio City tour guide who bellowed “That little man with the mildew on him is a vice-president,” something that could only have been written by Allen himself. Reed loved Allen. Louella Parsons once reported that Reed gave up two lucrative films in Hollywood so he could return to New York and resume his work on the Allen show in the 1943-44 season (Allen had returned to radio after a year off due to heart problems that ultimately killed him).

Reed, under his birth name of Teddy Bergmann, worked in radio long before his appearances on the Allen show. He had an interesting past which we’ve mentioned in previous posts. I’ve found another newspaper clipping about him from the
Brooklyn Daily Eagle of November 23, 1941, 19 years before Fred Flintstone. The story is unbylined.

Alan Reed, He’s on Vacation and That Makes Him Pretty Happy
But Again in Theater Guild's New Play He's Badly Dressed

We offer Alan Reed as an alarming example of what can happen if you let your son go to journalism school. Mr. Reed is the gentleman who is presently to burst upon Broadway as the bombastic Italian farmer in “Hope for a Harvest,” the Theater Guild comedy by Sophie Treadwell, which opens at the Guild Theater Wednesday evening, and which presents, in addition to the redoubtable Reed, Mr. and Mrs. Frederic March.
The journalism school where Reed's whacky history starts is Columbia. How he escaped from it nobody knows. But one day he turned up in Oklahoma City, befriended by a candy manufacturer named Ralph Rose. This chocolate bar king dabbled in theatricals. He dabbled a bit too much, however. With a stock company, that included Reed as leading man, he lost his shirt.
And so Mr. Rose, his 12-year-old son and his great and good friend, Mr. Reed, came to New York. They had $600 when they arrived. A bit of dice manipulation (at which Mr. Rose Jr. was said to be proficient) ran it up to $28,000. Whereupon Mr. Reed and the Messrs. Rose started a candy business. Pecan pralines were the staple and the business prospered until hot weather, when the pralines turned what Reed describes as an “interesting gray color, like second-hand oatmeal.”
That was about 1923. Two years later found our Mr. Reed acting in the Glencairn cycle of Eugene O'Neill at the Provincetown Theater. He doesn't remember why. Nor why he became, somewhere along the way from there to here, intercollegiate wrestler (that was at Columbia, but we forgot to mention it at the time), shipping clerk, real estate salesman, gym instructor and newsreel commentator. He also became manager of the Luxor Health Club, which, considering his fondness for sleeping late and Lindy's pastries, doesn't seem to fit.
At any rate, like some other misguided people, he eventually wandered into radio, where he became the No. 1 assistant comic. Cantor, Jolson, Jessel, Burns and Allen, and now Fred Allen—all have had his services. (On Fred A's current program he is Falstaff Openshaw, the Bowery Bard, as well as Clancy the Cop on “Duffy's Tavern.”)
But where he really shines—ethereally speaking—is crime. He sat down one night and, having nothing better to do, totaled his radio-crime career for 1940. During the year, he estimated, he stole slightly more than $12,000,000, killed 37 people, participated in five kidnapings, perpetrated three felonious assaults and made one attempt to pull the badger game. In all of these cases he was convicted, killed by the police in a dark alley, driven to suicide when trapped by his own brutal actions or dispensed with in some satisfying way. Satisfying, at least, to the code of radio morality. v But if he is radio's baddest boy, he is also its busiest. Averaging a total of 25 to 30 radio shows weekly, it is an expensive luxury for Alan Reed to enter a Broadway play, for he has to give up his very lucrative crime-and-comic chores on radio.
But with “Hope for Harvest,” the gentleman is quite willing to forego radio profits in favor of the theater, and for a couple of excellent if unartistic reasons.
“With this job,” Mr. Reed confides gravely, “I am working myself out a nice little vacation, a very nice little vacation. And why? Because here at last is a part I can throw my stomach into.” He patted his facade. Did we mention that there is a good deal of Mr. Reed? Two hundred and thirty pounds at last counting. “Also I can let my hair grow. This is not like the last time. This is not Saroyan.”
He was referring to his last Broadway stint, in the Mad Armenian's play, “Love's Old Sweet Song,” which the Guild produced two seasons ago. In that epic Mr. Reed was the philosophical Greek wrestler, Stylanos Americanos. His hair was cropped to a fuzz and he had to train down to 210.
“Was I healthy? I have never been so healthy. I hope I am never so healthy again. Gym all the time. No Lindy's. No Lindy's pastries. But now—!”
Now Mr. Reed is playing Joe de Lucchi, a middle-aged Italian with plenty of girth and a nice shock of hair. Mr. R. is barely in his thirties and worries because his nice middle-aged makeup never seems to register on photographs. “I look young!” he moans in despair. “I look, you might almost say, juvenile! Always before I have been athletic. For business reasons. Now I can be athletic or I can skip it. So if I feel like it I'll be athletic. Otherwise, no.” Up to now it seems to be no. Except for handball, which Mr. Reed plays with furious enthusiasm, he is taking himself “a nice little vacation.” Of course, he is working a little in “Hope for Harvest,” but he gets such a kick out of the part he doesn't regard it as work. His only complaint about the part is the clothes he has to wear. They are not, says Mr. Reed, very snappy.
“Now here is the situation,” he explained morosely, “I like clothes. You know what I mean? I am fond of them. I have one of the best tailors In New York. I have beautiful suits. I wear them like Esquire. So what happens? One the radio nobody sees me. I get a job on the stage in ‘Love's Old Sweet Song’—and I wear a pair of trunks and the hair on my chest I was born with. So I think—Never mind, next time we'll wear clothes. So what happens? I get into ‘Hope for a Harvest,’ and I wear overalls! Can you win? But outside of that I got no complaints. It's a swell show. I got a swell part. I'm happy.”
So “Hope for a Harvest” has made Mr. Reed happy. He has made the author and the Theater Guild happy. All that remains is for the audience to be happy. Mr. Reed nods knowingly, and says they will be.

Radio was a moderate-sized gold-mine for the small percentage of character actors like Reed who were in constant demand. The death of network radio in the ‘50s reduced a lot of incomes; one regular TV role didn’t equal six regular radio roles. Reed’s first regular TV role—Pasquale on “Life With Luigi” in 1952—quickly ended with re-casting. For the most part, Reed then threw himself into the novelty business until a phone call about a TV cartoon. Once again, Reed played a character who didn’t wear a tailored suit. But, somehow, we don’t think he minded.

Monday 23 June 2014

Flintstones Weekend Comics, June 1964

Even people who aren’t fans of Hanna-Barbera cartoons have no doubt heard the many sound effects the studio developed over its existence. I’ll bet if you read along with the comics below, you can hear them.

Whoever worked on the layouts managed to fit a lot of things to look at, even if they have nothing to do with the main action, but it’s not filler and the panels don’t look crowded. Ironically, I’ve seen comics today that remind you of the early ‘60s Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons—characters locked in the same position in every panel with a flat background.

Alas, 50 years ago this month, poor Baby Puss remains AWOL in the Flintstones Sunday comics. Evidently Betty was busy, too, as she’s not included. And Pebbley-poo has little to do, though I noticed in some of the dailies during this month she was chatting away to the audience via thought balloons.

Here’s an instance where Barney is working with Fred at the quarry. The last panel in the June 7, 1964 comic is fun. Note the almost straight-on version of Wilma in the middle row. And why couldn’t Wilma call a repairman? Why’d she bother Fred with it?

Could that be Gene Hazelton in the second panel of the June 14th comic? Gene eventually had a home next to a golf course in Del Cerra. This comic is probably my favourite of the month, especially the expressions of the animals bashed by Fred’s ball. The lettering in the Barney and angry Fred panel in the last row is a nice change.

Hey, is that Cary Granite now playing at the Bedrock Theatre? Nice use of distance in the last panel of the June 21st comic with a large dinosaur standing behind a mesa.

The lettering and the streamlined pre-historic hot-rods are the best part of the June 28th comic.

As usual, click on each comic to enlarge it.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Yogi Bear — Loco Locomotive

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Warren Foster, Story Direction – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Yogi Bear, Narrator, Engineer Casey, Knock-it-off Kid, Motorcycle Cop, Kids – Daws Butler; Boo Boo, Ranger Smith, Kids – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First Aired: 1961-62 season.
Plot: Yogi defies the Ranger and rides on the Jellystone Park kid train.

Yogi had joyrides in a park helicopter (“The Buzzin’ Bruin”) and on a motor scooter (“Scooter Looter”). So why not a park train?

As far as I’m concerned, the star of this cartoon isn’t Yogi, Ranger Smith or even a choo-choo. It’s Art Lozzi. He’s into his Blue Period here. There were a few cartoons where he used blues in his trees, mountains and clouds. The logs in Mr. Ranger’s cabin are made of green wood. And the clouds hug the mountains with their cool shapes. Check out these. By the way, the door in the ranger’s office is on a cel and the bush in the third drawing is on an overlay.

Here are two backgrounds that were panned. Due to colour changes, I can’t snip together the full drawings from DVD frames but you can see most of them.

This is another one of those cartoons with a desperate Ranger Smith plea “You can do/have anything you want, Yogi, just (fill in the blank).” In this one, the ranger jumps aboard the miniature train that Yogi’s taken for a ride. It stops at the edge of a cliff and starts teetering. That’s when Smith makes his plea. It seems these kinds of cartoons usually end with Yogi eating his reward and rhyming something like “I’m enjoying this feast to say the least. Nyey, hey, hey, hey!”

I’m not going to bother going through this cartoon in detail. You can probably figure it out from the plot summary above. Whether that’s a commentary on the rut the Yogi series fell into, I’ll let you decide. A few of random things.

● Kenny Muse uses silhouette drawings of a car and the runaway train on a freeway overpass. The idea could very well have come from Foster’s story sketches but it’s a welcome change.
● Daws Butler is the narrator. Normally, Don Messick got that chore.
● A boy and girl in one of the open cars are fighting during the long-shot scene of the train during the happy opening narration.
● Ranger Smith tries to be cute by calling out cities like a train conductor. One of the kids on the train has enough of that stupidity. “Aw, knock it off. It’s only a ride around the park,” he interrupts. Good for you, kid.
● Yogi and Boo Boo are sleeping in the same bed. It’s more than Rob and Laura Petrie could do.
● Is that a drum kit making the noise of the train on the tracks?
● It sounds like Daws and Don M. are ad-libbing the kids cheers when Engineer Casey promises to take them around the park again.
● After pulling him off the train, the ranger says: “The rule applies to all the animals. The long-horn sheep. The deer. The antelopes. None of them are allowed on the train, either.” Responds Yogi, still with his feelings hurt: “That’s very democratic and fair, sir.” A talking long-horn sheep character actually might have livened up the series. One with Daws’ Groucho voice preferably.
● Casey sounds like a younger Henry Orbit.
● The obligatory rhyme: “Let’s clickety-clack right down the track.”

The sound cutter realised it’d be pretty stupid to have Hoyt Curtin’s cues play when the train is chugging along at the outset, so there isn’t any music for a good minute and three seconds. The music you will hear is from Loopy De Loop and other short cartoons of the period.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Blabber Mouse Blabs

Everyone interested in this blog, I trust, recognises who this is.

Yes, it’s Blabber Mouse, specifically from his first appearance in “Puss N’ Booty” (1959). But perhaps you don’t know who this is.

It is the voice of Blabber Mouse. And, no, it’s not Daws Butler.

This is a photo of Elliot Field, who was a disc jockey at KFWB radio in Los Angeles from 1958 to 1963. Elliot lent his voice to Blabber and other characters in the first four Snooper and Blabber cartoons (including “Puss N’ Booty”) and can be heard in the first Quick Draw McGraw cartoon as the narrator and Grumbleweed.

Joe Barbera was looking for new voices when the Hanna-Barbera studio was about to launch its second half hour show in syndication for Kellogg’s, the great Quick Draw McGraw Show. Perhaps it was because Don Messick was working on the wretched “Spunky and Tadpole” cartoons and the studio needed new people. Whatever the reason, Mr. Field, Hal Smith, Peter Leeds and Vance Colvig appeared on the Quick Draw show early in the season. Smith stayed, the rest disappeared. Colvig returned a couple of years later to play Chopper in the Yakky Doodle cartoons. Elliot returned as well to lend his voice on “The Flintstones,” most famously as Alvin Brickrock, a parody of Alfred Hitchcock. He had done the same spoofing voice of Hitchcock on his radio show.

Elliot went into radio in the Golden Days of the 1940s, first on CBS as a teenaged performer in Boston, then as a disc jockey in the hyper days of Top 40 radio, and finally in management. Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, he decided to look for outside work (today, that means lucrative commercial voice-overs) and acquired as his agent Miles Auer, who also represented Daws Butler, Don Messick and a pile of cartoon people. Unfortunately, because of the sorry state of the Hanna-Barbera library, almost all of Elliot’s screen credits for the studio were stripped from the films years ago and replaced with gang credits without his name.

Elliot is now 87 years old and, to the great fortune of everyone, has written his autobiography. The only thing wrong with it is it’s all too brief. It features succinct, crystal-clear memories of his youth, when he contracted polio, his career as a rock jock in the pre-Beatles era and his time in cartoons. It’s available for a teeny price on Check it out here.

I make no money from this plug and mention it solely because I have a soft spot for cartoon voice actors and veteran radio people. One thing Elliot doesn’t mention is why he only appeared on five cartoons in the Quick Draw show. We’ll give you the answer. He had an operation in 1959 and was subsequently unavailable. I suspect at that point Joe Barbera handed the role of Blab to Daws, much like Red Coffey was apparently too busy touring to continuing voicing an insufferable duck when it was given its own show and the great Jimmy Weldon was hired. Timing is about as important as talent in landing work.

There are so few of the pre-1960 Hanna-Barbera cartoon voices around—Doug Young was still living in the Seattle area last I heard—so it’s great to see Elliot put his memories on paper. I hope the e-book is a success.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Now a Song From Our Sponsor

A deal between Hanna-Barbera and Kellogg’s resulted in the best-ever seven-minute TV cartoons being put on the air. Ad agency Leo Burnett bought or bartered for a half-hour each weekday on various stations in the U.S. and then handed the stations a complete show of cartoons (or a live-action-adventure). That deal brought us the first runs of the Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear shows. Kellogg’s products were plugged in commercials between the cartoons with Hanna-Barbera characters (and others developed by Burnett) doing the plugging, occasionally assisted by announcer Art Gilmore.

So it is we present this wonderful selection of Kellogg’s jingles uncovered by reader Dan Cunningham.

This is from a not for sale/broadcast/public performance record made in 1965 strictly as a reference recording for the company’s sales staff. It’s called “A Kellogg Concert of Best Cereal Sellers” by the pseudononynous “Philmore Bowls.” The cover features Tony the Tiger conducting an orchestra that includes Quick Draw McGraw and Baba Looey, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss and Yogi Bear.

Alas, none of those Hanna-Barbera characters is featured in the jingles. We do get Mr. Jinks, who is not voiced by Daws Butler (this Jinks sounds closer to Kermit the Frog in tone). We also get Toucan Sam, who is not voiced by Mel Blanc (he was the original voice), Hillbilly Goat, who is not voiced by Howard Morris (for Sugar Stars) and a Tony who’s the best impression of Thurl Ravenscroft I’ve ever heard (if it’s not him). I hate guessing at these things, but the guy doing the around-the-world jingle for Rice Krispies reminds me of Dave Barry.

I’m a sucker for really good ‘60s jingles, and there are great ones here. I’ve always liked “Snap, what a happy sound!” song for Rice Krispies, the Beatles Raisin Bran tune is lots of fun (especially the TV commerical version by Daws Butler and Don Messick) and the song on the disc for Sugar Frosted Flakes has a terrific faux Broadway air with a wonderful arrangement. If you can name who the main voice is on it, let me know. I recognise who it is but can’t pull out the name.

The fifth song, for Kellogg’s Variety Pack, is the quintessential ‘60s jingle, at least in terms of instrumentation. And maybe in terms of sexism. I still don’t understand the lyric “Variety—nice in a wife.”

So have a listen. My thanks to Dan and to Vintage Kiddie Disc, who got this record for less than 50 cents at a thrift market and was kind enough to post it on the internet.

(Yowp update: about two years after this was originally posted, music expert Greg Ehrbar revealed the names of each tune at the fine Cartoon Research blog. This post has been modified to list the real names, though I kind of liked mine better).


2. CORN ROUSER (Corn Flakes)

3. LIVE IT UP (Sugar Frosted Flakes)

4. COUNTERPOINT (Rice Krispies)

5. SPICE OF LIFE (Variety Pack)


7. TONY’S SONG (Sugar Frosted Flakes)

8. FROOT LOOPS SONG (Froot Loops)

9. TRIPLE SNACK (Triple Snack)

10. SNICKETY SNACK (Snack Pack)

11. RAISIN ROCK (Raisin Bran)

12. ROCK ISLAND HENRY (Corn Flakes)

13. LANGUAGES (Rice Krispies)

Sunday 15 June 2014

Farewell, Casey

The adventures of “those meddling kids and that dog” are out of the time-frame of this blog, but an exception must be made to mark the sad demise of Casey Kasem.

Kasem was one of a number of Los Angeles disc jockeys hired by the Hanna-Barbera studio. Elliot Field was the first (the original voice of Blabber Mouse); Gary Owens, Jerry Dexter and Kasem followed. Despite his work in cartoons and films (as you can see to the right), he didn’t really achieve his huge fame until “American Top 40” was syndicated in seemingly every city in North America and broadcast on Armed Forces Radio around the world.

Endless numbers of web and news sites are talking about his passing and there are, no doubt, plenty of fan-art tributes out there. There’s little for me to add, so I’ll just pass on these few notes.

Kasem’s first bit of national fame, outside of the broadcasting trade press, may have come in this little story from United Press International, dated September 16, 1959

CLEVELAND, Ohio (UPI) — Disc jockey Casey Kasem yesterday claimed a record for the longest “on the air” kiss in radio history.
Kasem, 26, of station WJW, said he kissed recording star Diana Trask for 85 seconds during his program last night.

By 1961, Kasem was working 9 p.m. to midnight on KEWB in Oakland (Gary Owens was there at the time). He arrived at KRLA in Los Angeles in July 1963. The Pasadena Star-News of October 9, 1963 reveals he hosted a teen dance party at Duarte Fiesta Day with the Righteous Brothers and the Surf Bunnies headlining; emcee jobs like that weren’t uncommon at one time for rock jocks.

Anyone reading this page is probably familiar with at least the main cartoon roles that Kasem played, so there’s no need for me to go into them. Suffice to say he’ll be remembered for one major role at Hanna-Barbera. The only reason “Scooby Doo” has remained popular for so long is the comic byplay between Don Messick as the less-than-heroic-hero and Kasem as the less-than-heroic human sidekick.

He talked to the New York Times’ Neil Strauss in 2004 about his approach to his radio audiences when he moved on to the next stop. “I just didn’t want to say goodbye,” he revealed. “Every station I was at, I never said goodbye—when I was in Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Oakland, and L.A. I don’t know why.”

Kasem never really said “goodbye” to his fans when he departed this world for his next stop. But as long as his cartoons are on the air, and as long as there are memories of them, it really isn’t “goodbye,” is it? A part of him will still be here.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Pixie and Dixie — Strong Mouse

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Warren Foster, Story Direction – Art Davis, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Pixie, Mack – Don Messick; Mr Jinks, Dixie, Hercules – Daws Butler; Gus, Duke – Doug Young.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First Aired: 1961-62 season.
Plot: Cousin Hercules pretends to be Pixie and roughs up Mr Jinks.

“Ooh, those miserable meeces! They have did it again,” complains Jinks as he pulls a milk bottle out of the fridge and drops it onto the floor. “They have cleaned out all the lactic fluid.” That’s a great little start to this cartoon. Unfortunately, it kind of stalls from here and is maybe amusing at best. Daws Butler puts on a good performance of the nervous Jinks dealing with the fear and intimidation of Gus, the local boss cat. But there isn’t a lot of wit. There is one cute exchange. After strong mouse Cousin Hercules lifts a piano with one hand, we get:

Pixie: Wow! How does he do it?
Dixie: Oh, it’s just leverage and balance. And, of course, Cousin Hercules is strong.
Pixie: I bet that helps.

Parts of the story may remind you of other cartoons. Jinks mistaking the strong cousin for Pixie is much like the climax of “Scaredycat Dog,” where Jinks thinks the strong twin brother is really the timid dog. And the cats shoving Jinks back in the house to deal with “Pixie” has echoes in “Mighty Mite,” where a neighbourhood dog keeps tossing Jinks into his home to deal with a little rooster that beats him to a pulp. I keep thinking the same kind of thing happened in a Sylvester cartoon in the ‘50s. Actually, this plot was pretty much reused in the “Meowtch” episode of Hanna-Barbera’s unsold “Henpecks” series.

Art Davis is the story director. The two hench-cats that peer through the window at Jinks look like something that could have come from a late ‘50s Friz Freleng cartoon at Warners; Davis worked on those.

Both Pixie and Dixie refer to Hercules mouse as “cousin.” Presumably, it means Pixie and Dixie are related, but that’s not the impression that’s left in “Mouse Trapped,” which aired the same season. Continuity wasn’t all that important back then, so Warren Foster just wrote whatever fit the story. The Jinks/Meeces relationship varied depending on the cartoon. Here, it’s pivotal to the plot. The dialogue goes thusly:

Jinks: I’ve been so lenient with you guys, you forget you forget who I am (ceases smiling and glowers). I am the cat! When you see me, you should cringe. Beg for your miserable lives. Tremble in abject-like ter-ror!
The meeces laugh.
Jinks: Ah, boy. What a loose ship I’m runnin’ here. Okay, okay, what’s so amusin’?
Pixie: You can’t fool us, Jinksie.
Dixie: We know you don’t want to be mean to us.
Pixie: Yeah, you like us.
Dixie: Like we like you, Jinksie.
Pixie: You’re the greatest, Jinks!
Jinks: Durn meeces. They’re onto me. They know my weakness. Flattery.

Jinks then apologises for “getting peevish” with them. In this case, he tried using a canister of bug spray (because they “bugged” him) on them. Hey, what suburban home in the ‘60s didn’t have a convenient sprayer filled with DDT?

This whole exchange of friendship is being eyed through the window by Duke and Mack, the enforcers for the heretofore unknown Gus, the head cat in the neighbourhood. The two sandwich Jinks between them and take him to see the—dare I say it?—top cat? Only this top cat doesn’t sound like Phil Silvers. Doug Young is affecting a Humphrey Bogart mumble. Jinks promises to be meaner to the meeces and Gus promises his boys will be watching to make sure he is. In this scene, Jinks has a bullet nose like Hokey Wolf.

Meanwhile, back at the Jinks/Meeces residence, the title character finally arrives halfway through the cartoon. Cousin Hercules is in town with the circus where he does his Strongest-Mouse-in-the-World act, which includes lifting a piano.

Pixie suggests a good-natured trick. Hercules can dress up like him and then lift the piano in front of Jinks, making the cat think Pixie can lift a piano. The rest of the cartoon is pretty well devoid of clever dialogue. It consists of violence gags we don’t even see; they’re almost all off camera. Hercules keeps tossing out the newly-aggressive Jinks out of the house, then does it to Gus’ henchmen when they step in, then finally does it to Gus. The cartoon ends with Hercules explaining the clothing switch, then flipping Jinks one more time as a warning to “to be nice to mice,” even though the cat just wanted to shake hands. Jinks can’t win. “Oh, boy,” he sighs at the camera as the cartoon ends.

There’s no music when Jinks sprays the meeces with DDT and they come out of their hole coughing. But Hoyt Curtin fills the rest of the background. There’s a nice little Shearing-style piano piece when Pixie and Dixie first talk to Hercules. Very Top Cat-ish. Curtin has an interesting musical effect. When Hercules lifts the piano, some arbitrary piano notes are played over the background music.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

Lah-ttle Bird Mouse

There’s no constant talk, talk, talk in “Little Bird Mouse,” one of the earliest Pixie and Dixie cartoons. There are plenty of places where the soundtrack consists of Geordie Hormel’s ‘ZR-48 Fast Movement’ and effects.

Being an early cartoon, it contains one of those Mike Lah animation inserts that Mike Kazaleh mentioned in the comment section of the blog a while ago. Lah’s characters are always expressive, far more than they became in other hands as the seasons wore on.

Here’s one of Lah’s scenes from “Little Bird Mouse” where Jinks gets his throat caught on a line while chasing Dixie. The set-up drawings...

Ring around the rope. A cycle of four drawings on twos.

Then a crash on the ground.

The bulk of the cartoon was drawn by Lew Marshall. Want to see the difference in the way he draws compared to Lah? The first drawing is Marshall, the second is Lah. See how Lah has no front whiskers on Jinks? That way he can move the mouth around on the cat’s face for dialogue without any obstructions.

If I may speculate, this cartoon could have had its genesis in “Bird Mouse,” a Tom and Jerry short that was abandoned when MGM closed its cartoon studio in 1957, as “Little Bird Mouse” is really unlike any other Pixie and Dixie cartoon.