Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Lion, a Swingin' Gator and a Rabbit That Became a Turtle

They had the same artists and writers as Huck and Quick Draw and Yogi Bear. They had the same music. Even the character designs looked fairly familiar. But Lippy the Lion, Touché Turtle and Wally Gator just didn’t have the same charm as the Hanna-Barbera cartoons that had come before. And they weren’t as funny, either.

Oh, there were the occasional nice quips. And the usual fine voice work that the studio was known for. But the cartoons themselves weren’t much more than pleasant little fillers. As a young cartoon fan, I’d make sure I’d never miss Quick Draw McGraw when he was on. I didn’t care if I missed Dum Dum running into a tree. The characters were okay but didn’t have the personality that their forefathers did.

Hanna-Barbera always seemed to be brimming with cartoon ideas. It had partnered with Kellogg’s (and the Leo Burnett agency) to produce half hour shows, first starring Huck, then Quick Draw, then Yogi, for syndication. The studio’s next syndication venture was one without a sponsor tied to it. Not a lot has been documented about it, so I’ll go through snippets of stories in chronological order from a couple of the trade papers.

A brief preface—for ages, portions of the internet have insisted the Lippy/Wally/Touché troika was known as “The New Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Show.” I have yet to find a single instance where that moniker was used to describe the cartoons. The cartoons aren’t even a show per se.

The first mention is in
Variety of October 20, 1960, which outlines a bunch of new projects, including the Yogi Bear show and a Yogi Bear movie. And it mentions some short cartoons:

H-B has just concluded a deal with Screen Gems for production of 104 five-minute segments for syndication. “All our shows have been planned for syndication,” [Joe] Barbera explained, “but so far all have been bought by single sponsors.”
Emphasizing the new five-minute shows definitely will be syndicated, Barbera revealed they will encompass two separate series, one starring “Lippy the Lion” and “Hardy Har Har” and the other starring “Hairbrain Hare” and “Dum Dum,” all of them new H-B creations.

The story leaves some questions unanswered. Was it the intention to work the two series into half hour vehicles, like Huck, with other characters? And did H-B pitch them to Kellogg’s before deciding to syndicate them unsponsored through Screen Gems?

There were certainly serious plans for Hairbrain. A story about Hanna-Barbera in Life magazine a month after the Variety blurb contained a number of photos of a story conference for both Hairbrain and Lippy (who was wearing a king’s crown, like LeRoy the lion in the old Huckleberry Hound cartoons), and shots of concept drawings of Hairbrain on the floor of Joe Barbera’s office with Barbera and Dan Gordon looking at them. Well, it may be Hairbrain. The drawing right between Barbara and Gordon is labelled (the version posted may be impossible to read) “Hairbreath Hare.” You can click to enlarge them.

For the record, the players at the story meeting above are, left to right, Dan Gordon, Alan Dinehart, Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna, Howard Hanson (below Hanna), Mike Maltese, Warren Foster (crouched behind Maltese) and Alex Lovy. And it may be tough to see on the office photo but at the far left, there’s a drawing of Quick Draw McGraw riding what may be Baba Looey. One of the other photos has a better view of some of the drawings. I’ve blown it up as best as I can.

What a neat variety of designs. Some definitely look like Ed Benedict’s. What’s interesting is two of the drawings are of turtles; one at the bottom looks exactly like Touché. Was he the original Dum Dum? Or was he a third character in the series (like, say, Fibber Fox in “Yakky Doodle”)? Ah, well. There are always questions. In any event, a sword-wielding, plume-hatted rabbit was replaced with a sword-wielding, plume-hatted turtle. Writer Tony Benedict tells me he believes the idea of a heroic rabbit was merely filed away for a few years and emerged as Ricochet Rabbit.

The other characters in the Variety story above were in limbo while the studio figured out what to do next (and became busy with something called “Top Cat”). Finally, the studio was ready, almost a year later. Here’s Variety from October 31, 1961 (note the date on the model sheet to the right).

Hanna & Barbera Slate 3 More Cartoon Strips For Screen Gems
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have set three new animated cartoons for syndication through Screen Gems, with 156 five-minute shows being developed around “Wally Gator,” “Touche Turtle And Dum Dum” and “Lippy The Lion And The Sad Hyenna.” “Gator” is voiced by Bill Thompson and Paul Frees.

Frees, of course, never starred on any of these cartoons. Knowing Frees’ cache of voices, it’s altogether possible he was cast as Wally, but the voice might have been a little too close to Captain Peachfuzz on the Bullwinkle cartoons.

Now it was time to make the cartoons, and get out and sell them to stations. Weekly Variety blurbed on January 31, 1962 that the budget for the three series was $1,500,000 and they would likely be sold on a station-by-station basis, especially in cities with three or more stations, though it mentioned the possibility of regional sales. Variety reported on August 15th that $1,900,000 had been set aside for the 156 cartoons. Compare that to $2,000,000 for 26 “Flintstones” and the same for 24 “Jetsons,” and $140,000 for 12 Loopy De Loops. Broadcasting magazine published the trade ads you see below; the first four pages were taken out on January 29, 1962.

Broadcasting reported on March 12, 1962 that the first sales of what it called Hanna-Barbera Five-Minute Cartoons had been made to seven stations, the biggest being WPIX in New York. Variety of May 9th stated Westinghouse stations in San Francisco, Boston and Baltimore had picked them up. Variety had this to say on June 21st about a sale to a Los Angeles station.

175G Hanna-Barbera Sale Made To KCOP
KCOP will expend $175,000 for unlimited runs of three new all-color cartoon shorts from Hanna- Barbera. Original asking price was $2,600 per title but understood KCOP paid around $1,200. Titles are “Touche Turtle,” “Lippy The Lion” and “Wally Gator.”

Finally, on August 24th, Variety announced:

KCOP Early-Birding With New H-B Cartoons
KCOP will open the station earlier Monday morning to preview three new Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Starting at 7:30 a.m., the three five-minute color featurettes will be shown for the first time on tv. They are “Touche Turtle,” “Wally the Gator” and “Lippy the Lion.” Beginning Sept. 2, they will be seen as a weekly strip at 6:30 p.m.

Variety got the date wrong. The cartoons debuted in colour on September 3, 1962 on the Beachcomber Bill show (competing against cartoons on two other channels). That can be considered the birth date of Lippy, Wally and the rest, unless you would rather use the KCOP preview date of August 27th. By October 31, Variety reported the cartoons had been sold to 51 stations.

The one unfortunate thing about the cartoons is the cartoons were aired without any credits. From Variety we learn that veteran Frank Paiker did the camera work and Greg Watson was the film editor, but you need to be familiar with animation styles to pick out the artists and use educated guesses to determine who wrote what. The cartoons are average at best, but their creators should get their due.

By the way, the Lippy theme song is another one that suffers from Hanna-Barbera Indecipherable Lyric disease. I had no idea the words were “the most loveable, laughable looneys by far” until listening to a version done by the singers on Golden LP-90, released in 1962 (the Randy Horne Singers belted out the version opening each cartoon). I’ve posted their versions of the three theme songs before, but I’ll post them again. You know that Hoyt Curtin composed them, but Jim Timmens did the arrangements on these. Even though they’re a little barren instrumentally compared to what you’re used to hearing, I really like this version of the Wally Gator theme with a piano, trumpet and guitar. It’s a shame the musicians didn’t cut loose—I mean, if a song’s going to be about a swingin’ alligator, it should swing—but it is a kids’ record after all.





  1. The concept of a quixotic bunny would seem to be a bit too similar to Crusader Rabbit. That might have been one factor in the species switch.

  2. I wonder if they also decided that Bill Thompson's pedantic Wallace Wimple voice better fit a turtle character than a rabbit (not that Touche ever was portrayed to be as slow as Droopy or as round as Ranger Woodlore, but it's not a voice you'd associate with a rapidly-moving character, which is how Avery used it for comedy purposes by having Droopy suddenly spring into action at the end of several of his cartoons).

  3. That's interesting how Paul Frees was initially cast as Wally. Frees did a few incidental voices for H-B during the 1961-62 season on isolated episodes of THE FLINTSTONES and TOP CAT- and did guest in at least one Gator short. Frees would become a regular voice presence at the studio from 1965-68.

    Considering the sole use of older, 1960-61 Curtin score in all three 'new segments', I was surprised to learn they premiered in fall 1962- the same year as THE JETSONS. It was a standard practice at H-B for a new series to feature a new set of cues, and existing series to pick up on them as well (such as TOP CAT score being heard in the last few shorts with Yogi, Huck, Quick Draw, etc.). But the Gator/Turtle/Lion trilogy- with a couple of very rare exceptions in the Touche shorts- never used any JETSON underscore. But FLINTSTONE episodes made later in the 1962-63 season did.

  4. The career and life of Paul Frees are equally extraordinary. I read somewhere that there was character Rocky the Dog on Pixie and Dixie, that was going to be played by Frees, but nothing ever became of that idea His only regular roles for HB are Squiddly Diddly, Fluid-Man and the Chief on ''The Impossibles'', Morocco Mole on ''Secret Squirrel'' and, pretty sure he was Claude Hopper on ''Hillbilly Bears''. Not to mention the villain in ''The Man Called Flintstone''.
    However, his career at Hanna-Barbera ceased after the 1960s (as did Doug Young's). After that, Frees primarily worked for Disney, Rankin-Bass, as well as performing ADR work for films and narration for trailers. The people I've heard talk about him, June Foray, Doug Young, Corey Burton, his son Fred Frees, have pointed out even though he had his demons, Paul Frees was a very warm person.

    P.S. That may be him playing the doctor and assistant Bernie on Top Cat's "Space Monkey".

  5. Hi, Anon. A guy I worked with years ago knew Paul and said he was a pretty nice guy and very quick.
    I imagine Joe Barbera decided there was no point in bringing in another actor for Rocky. Don Messick ended up doing him. Or perhaps Frees was considered for a time because Messick wasn't available and then became available again.
    The doctor in "Space Monkey" is Herb Vigran. I should know who the assistant is but I've blanked out on a name. It sounds a bit like Dave Willock but it's not. There's Ken Muse animation all over the place.

  6. With TOP CAT episodes lacking specific episode end credits, some of the more unfamiliar voices are hard to identify. Vigran and Herschel Bernardi appeared in a number of later episodes, including "Space Monkey". Vigran's voice is very recognizable, but not the assistant. So maybe he was Bernardi, or Maurice Gosfield, who was said to be very versatile.

    And yes, "Space Monkey" was animated in its entirety by Muse. About half of the 30 TOP CAT episodes had only one animator.

    1. This is where my fuzzy, aged memory tries to work again, Howard. I'm pretty sure TV Guide included the guest voices in its programme listings during the first run. It'd be nice if an archived collection of issues was on-line somewhere.

  7. Paul Frees can be heard on these two Flintstones:
    Season 1's "The Babysitters" as Barney's only boss
    Season 2's "The Happy Housewife" as the southern accent Rockenspiel producer and the narrator when the test pattern appears cancelling Wilma's show!

    Frees even turned up at WB in a Gravy Train ad and in the Incredible Mr.Limpet as Don Knott's "bestie", Mr.Crusty the Hermit Crab (using a variation on the Rockenspiel producer's voice-same as Snuffy Smith and the Bozo ringermaster elsewhere).Frees himself on Ward's "Super Chicken" as Fred and as some dialogue as "Rocky"'s Wrong Way Peachfuzz is a splendid Ed Wynn (as in Daws's Wally voice) in his own right,too.SC

  8. In New York, the "package" intiially aired on WPIX-TV {Channel 11} as "CARTOON ZOO", a daily series featuring comedian Milt Moss as the "Zookeeper", on a set with cardboard cutouts of Wally, Lippy and Touche in "cages".