Tuesday 30 September 2014

Blab Book

I mentioned a number of weeks ago that the original voice of Blabber Mouse, Elliot Field, had written his autobiography. Here’s a little note about getting his book on-line (I make no money from this ad). It doesn’t deal a lot with his career at Hanna-Barbera, which was cut short in 1959 by a stay in hospital (he returned later to work on a couple of Flintstones episodes before moving to Detroit). It talks mainly about that era of radio when creative local disc jockeys took over from the Golden Age network shows.

Elliot can be heard as Blab in the cartoons “Puss ‘n’ Booty,” “Switch Witch” (he’s also the witch), “Real Gone Ghosts” and “Desperate Diamond Dimwits.” He also surfaces in the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon “Scary Prairie” (as both the narrator and the bad guy).

L.A. radio pioneer DJ reveals the genesis of Top 40 radio.
In 1958, Elliot Field was earning an unprecedented 31.8 share for his afternoon drive slot on LA’s #1 station. Field, one of the original seven Swingin’ Gentlemen of KFWB, Los Angeles, was there for the introduction of “Color Radio,” working along side other pioneers like Gordon McLendon and Chuck Blore. He has just released his autobiography titled, “Last of the Seven Swingin’ Gentlemen” available in paperback and as a Kindle book on Amazon.
Field also enjoyed a career as an actor and voiceover artist, creating memorable cartoon characters on Hanna-Barbara’s “Quick Draw McGraw” and “The Flintstones,” most famously as the voice of Alvin Brickrock, a spoof on Hitchcock.
An early victim of polio, Elliot has spent his life in leg braces, remaining active (and vertical) through it all. His stories, told in his straightforward voice, with touches of humor, are honest and inspiring. Elliot gives real meaning to the concept of the “last man standing.”
Published by Palm Springs Publishing.
Sold by Amazon Digital Services

Saturday 27 September 2014

Huckleberry Hound — Huck dé Paree

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ken Southworth, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Tony Benedict, Story Director – Lew Marshall, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huckleberry Hound, Narrator, Pierre – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First Aired: week of February 26, 1962.
Production No E-182.
Plot: Gendarme Huck tries to capture bank robber Powerful Pierre.
Title card courtesy of Scott Awley, a Hanna-Barbera artist.

This is the fifth and final cartoon where Huckleberry Hound takes on Pierre. Pierre loses every time, though he brings down his own downfall in this one. And it’s deserved, as Pierre is arrogant and self-satisfied, as opposed to the affable Huck.

The plotline in this one pretty much follows the usual drill. A narrator sets up the plot, Huck goes through a series of failures, commenting to us all along the way, and either wins or loses in the end. One difference this time is Huck doesn’t talk to the narrator.

My favourite bit comes at the end of the cartoon. “Well, that just about wraps up another case,” Huck tells us. “ ‘Cept for this here stolen money. I just got to re-turn it to the right bank. Or was it the left bank?”

The pun here is Huck is in Paris, home of the Left Bank. But anyone who is geographically challenged can still appreciate the silly play on words.

But that’s the end. Let’s go through things in chronological order because, well, it reads better than the original draught of this post which contained random musings in no particular order.

Daws Butler uses his Loopy De Loop voice over Art Lozzi’s background drawings of Paris for about 12 seconds (meaning no animation) and introduces our hero, who is a French police officer in this cartoon. Dropping Huck into Paris gives him a chance to butcher the French language while acting like an expert. “Bon jowr, mon sewers! That’s French-talk for ‘Howdy’,” he tells us in the opening.

Being in Paris evidently inspires Huck to Frenchify the lyrics for his chanson de choix.

Frère Jacques, frère Jacques,
Frere Jacques Clementine!
Frère Jacques, frère Jacques
And her shoes are number nine!

A cute bit is Huck having to remind himself he’s French in this cartoon. He picks up the police phone and says “Officer, uh, I mean Jond-army Huckleberry checkin’ in, sir.” Well, it’s kind of a police phone. Bank robber Pierre comes over and borrows it to talk to Louie at “zee hangout.” How the phone line manages to be connected to the police station, then the hangout, then the police station again is a finer point that writer Tony Benedict doesn’t worry about. It’s one of those cartoon things, I guess.

During this whole scene, Huck doesn’t clue in that the guy with the bag of money who borrowed the phone was Pierre. Nevertheless, he goes to “where most robbers holes up—77 Rue de la Strip.” It even has an awning, though it’s not triangular like the one outside 77 Sunset Strip where “you meet the highbrow and the hipster, the starlet and the phoney tipster” as the theme song says. No, at this 77, you meet Powerful Pierre, as he plays a Bugs-and-Elmer style non-recognition game where Huck reads out the description of Pierre but doesn’t realise that’s who he’s talking to until he gets the bum’s rush out of the place. “Oh, Gar-kon! That’s more French talk meanin’ ‘anybody home?’” Huck tells us.

Huck now tries to capture Pierre. He—
● crashes his bicycle into a door.
● uses his cape as a set of wings but smashes into a flagpole hanging from a building (“I guess this cape was just for looks after all.”)
● gets burned feet when he jumps through the chimney onto the roof into the fireplace below (Pierre lights the fire).
● makes a battering ram out of a log which bounces off Pierre’s stomach and sends him flying back onto the street.
● runs into a door after Pierre closes it.
● lets a rope ladder down from a helicopter to try to get in through a window, but Pierre, leaning out the window, cuts the rope (“Touché! And even Three-ché!” says Pierre in a line worthy of Mike Maltese).

Huck lands in the awning, and Pierre treats him like a tennis ball, swatting him with a racket down to the awning below, and the awning bouncing him, trampoline-style, back up to the window. Unfortunately for Pierre, he missed, Huck lands on him and the two plummet through the awning to the sidewalk below. The next to last scene has Pierre in a jail cell.

Finally, we get a reprise of the revised Clementine song to close the cartoon. Hanna-Barbera was known for short-cuts and there was one that could have been taken at the end, but wasn’t. Daws sang the same lyrics both times. The first version could easily have been used again and Ken Southworth’s animation reused. But because Daws sang the closing version a little differently, Southworth had to animate it differently to fit Daws’ mouth movements (the same repeating background drawing was used, and Huck walks past the same door four times).

I was hoping to snip together Art Lozzi’s streetscape but found the most unusual thing. The end of the background doesn’t match what’s supposed to be the same artwork at the front. You don’t notice because the buildings on the drawing are whizzing by quickly but if you look at these consecutive frames, you’ll see the green building on the left has suddenly developed two red chimneys.

Daws is solo in this cartoon, one of two Hucks this season where he handled all the voices. The music is familiar from both “Top Cat” (a good portion of the underscore) and “The Flintstones.” The cue “Working in the Gravel Pit” (aka “Slate Gravel Co.”) when Huck gets “plumb mad” and runs into the door.

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Family of the Future Still Here Today

It’s a tribute to Hanna-Barbera studio that today, when we refer to the future, we refer to the past as well. Read a newspaper or web story about a technologically advanced home or kitchen gadget or car (especially the flying variety), there will likely be a reference to “The Jetsons.”

It can be argued the stars of “The Jetsons” weren’t the Jetsons at all, but all those gadgets designed to make Life In The Future so much less of a burden. They were beautifully conceived by the designers and layout artists at the studio.

Ah, the gadgets weren’t enough. Nor was the comic relief of Astro or the corporate suck-up Uniblab. The show didn’t resonate with enough parents. It lasted one season in prime time. When it was moved to Saturday mornings in fall 1963, it settled in for seeming endless reruns (the first season, it ran opposite “Mighty Mouse” and “Fireball XL-5,” at least in New York; “Mighty Mouse” and “Fury”, in the Pacific Northwest).

The show debuted 52 years ago today. Here’s what
Daily Variety out of Los Angeles wrote about the season opener in its edition of September 25, 1962. Virtually all the reviews I’ve read are optimistic and positive. This one is by “Helm” and I believe I’ve clipped together the full review.

THE JETSONS (Rosey The Robot) Sun., 7:30-p. m., KABC-TV (Reviewed In Color)
Filmed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera; producers, directors, Hanna and Barbera; associate producer, Alex Lovy; teleplay, Larry Markes; animators, Irv Spence, Don Lusk, Grant Simmons, Ray Patterson; film editor, Joe Ruby.
Cast: Voices of George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Mel Blanc, Jean Vander Pyl.
It's one of the rarities of television that a producing studio, using the same formula, can follow one hit with another. More to the credit of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera that it's a cartoon. Many tried to capitalize on the popularity of H&B's "Flintstones" but none achieved its high estate. By the simple device of looking ahead with The Jetsons, whereas "Flinty" looks back into the Stone Age, they achieved a new delight for the young 'uns and plenty of [parents] looking over their shoulders in this early evening fun show for the tyke monopoly on the home sets.
Into the Space Age a few hundred years hence are propelled the Jetsons, whose family life is so simplified that the press of a button can do a thousand chores. When the whatchamacallit goes on the blink a maid is hired and Rosey the Robot directs traffic when the boss is invited to dinner. Every gimmick to imply speed and the easy life is employed with hilarious effect. For a color cast on ABC-TV for its own and other equipped stations, it was a huge success. The tint was clear and inviting and a big plus or sales of color sets.
Voices of the characters, many doubling from "Flintstones," were perfectly matched and the animation finely drawn. Helm.

Oh, an unoptimistic and negative review? The following day, Weekly Variety had these words (mind you, it sourly spoke about the other shows it reviewed on the same page, too):

Producers-Directors: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera; Writer: Larry Markes; 30 Mins.; Sun., 7: 30 p. m.
With George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Janet Waldo, Daws Butler, Jean Vander Pyl, Mel Blanc, Don Messick.
The cartoon cycle, which took off with the click of "The Flintstones" a couple of years ago, is still rolling fitfully. Although a couple of such series proved to be disappointments last season, ABC-TV is trying again this fall with "The Jetsons," another Hanna-Barbera pen-and-ink creation which is being used for the first ABC color telecasting on the web's o& o's on a limited number of affiliates.
"The Jetsons" can be considered to be the 21st Century descendants of the prehistoric "Flintstones." But beyond electronic and mechanical gadgetry which underpins "The Jetsons" humor, nothing much else is new. In fact, the preem stanza (23) revolved around the oldest situation comedy chestnut known to man: the boss comes to dinner to the home of an employee bucking for a raise. History repeated itself with a monotonous predictability when the upside down cake dessert lands on the boss' head.
Even more important than the absence of a fresh point of view is this cartoon's lack of style. The artistic approach was not ruffled by originality. Among the characters, the Jetson family was as standardized as a cereal box. Only the robot maid, "Rosey," had a glimmer of interest due to the thinly disguised takeoff on "Hazel." At 7: 30 p. m. Sunday nights, this series may succeed in attracting the less critical moppet audiences."

The artwork of the Skypad Apartments you see above is not from the debut; it’s the opening shot (panned up) of “Uniblab,” a tremendous cartoon where we learn that hypocritical, back-stabbing, corporate ladder-climbers in the future won’t be restricted to humankind. Hoyt Curtin came up with some spunky ‘60s electronica over the pan shot. The original credits were ripped off all of the episodes (but one) years ago, so I can’t say who was responsible for the lovely Skypad setting or who did the animation (if I had to guess, I’d say a tamed Carlo Vinci does some work on it). We have some experts reading here who probably can spot the animators miles light-years away. Here’s a Judy exit; each drawing is shot on two frames.

Writer Barry Blitzer beautifully sets up the plot through some memorable office scenes, only to hearken back to them in Uniblab’s alcohol-soaked fall from grace. And if you’re not a fan of Don Messick, listen to his performance as the drunken Uniblab. It’s priceless and couldn’t have been done better by anyone.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Pixie and Dixie — Mouse Trapped

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ken O’Brien, Layout – Lance Nolley, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Warren Foster, Story Director – John Freeman, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Pixie – Don Messick; Dixie, Mr. Jinks – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
First aired: 1962.
Plot: Jinks tries to turn Pixie and Dixie against each other with a mechanical female mouse.

If there’s anyone on “The Huckleberry Hound Show” that strikes me as lacking sexual virility, it’s Pixie and Dixie. Yet here we are to believe that, suddenly, the two meeces are so full of uncontrollable lust for a woman that they’d pound the crap out of each other.

Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Mr. Jinks, sure. He liked to give everyone the impression he was a swaggering cat-about-town. Yogi, perhaps weak from lack of pic-a-nic baskets, had his heart captured by Cindy Bear (Boo Boo strikes me as being on the pre-pubescent side). I can even see Huck as the Southern gentleman, behaving with old-time gentility toward the Fairer Sex. But the meeces? Come on. They barely have a personality to begin with.

Despite that, Warren Foster cooked up a jealous rivalry angle between Pixie and Dixie over a woman in this cartoon and we’re supposed to buy it. In fairness, Foster sets up the plot well, and quickly, during Jinks’ soliloquy in the opening scene.

Jinks: Chee-heh-hee-hee. Those miserable meeces are really going to get it this time. They have been acting too buddy-buddy. And their friendship, you know, is, uh, like sickening. They work together against me. But what I’ll do, uh, I shall divide and conquer them electronically.

He shows off his electronic female mouse, going through a bunch of technical specifications ending with “Which is, uh, pretty good, you know, when you consider, like, I’m only a cat.”

As you can see, you’re supposed to ignore the fact that in other cartoons, Pixie and Dixie are related, not friends. But no one cared too much about the finer points of continuity 50 years ago (for example, if “The Flintstones” was in first run today, fanbois would screech ad infinitum on the internet that Fred’s house address keeps changing). We’ll also ignore it’s a little creepy that Jinks is so impressed with the sexpot he’s created that he tells us “I think I’ll get a cat my size into production.”

Jinks commands the robot mouse through a microphone to do a silent, come-hither act on each of the mice separately.

Pixie: We’ve been good friends a long time, Dixie.
Dixie: We’ll always be good friends, Pixie. Nothin’ will ever come between us.
Pixie (puts out hand): Shake.
Dixie (puts out hand): Buddy!
Pixie: Right, pal. It’s not very often one is fortunate enough to establish such a relationship.
(Dixie sees the girl mouse and his heart becomes aflutter)
Dixie (angrily): Let go of my hand.

The two make up until the robot mouse winks at Pixie and then he goes nuts for her.

Jinks eggs on the growing dispute by sending mash notes (from “Tina”) to each of the mice. They start fighting. The force of the battle knocks the robot mouse head off. The meeces realise they’ve been had, hear Jinks confess to Charlie on the phone about what’s been going on, then use the mike to command the somehow-repaired Tina to pick Jinks up by the tail (what strength!) and bash him to the ground over and over as the cartoon ends.

The high point for me comes as Pixie decides to move to a hole in another room so he can be alone and plot to win over the girl. Daws Butler and Don Messick volley the lines quickly back and forth with phoney sincerity. They give great performances in this cartoon.

Pixie: Well, it’s been fun.
Dixie: Sure was.
Pixie: We’ll see each other around.
Dixie: Sure. We’ll have lunch together some time.
Pixie: Sure. I’ll call ya.
Dixie: Don’t forget.
Pixie: Forget what?
Dixie: To call me.
Pixie: What for?
Dixie: I forget.
Pixie: It doesn’t matter.

Ken O’Brien is the credited animator. He draws a wide mouth on Jinks and even tilts the cat’s head at times like Carlo Vinci. He likes crossing Jinks’ eyes, too.

It’s unclear when this cartoon was made. It is copyright 1962. O’Brien was hired by March 1961 as supervising animator at Arnold Gillespie’s Quartet Films. Dan Gordon left Hanna-Barbera at the same time to work for the company. O’Brien had been at Disney for a number of years and was an animator on some of the most attractive cartoons ever produced by Walter Lantz (with his buddy Fred Moore in the late ‘40s). He animated on the stylish John Sutherland propaganda short “Destination Earth” (1956), and spent some thankless years toiling on such dreck as the TV Magoos (he joined UPA in August 1960) and “He-Man.” He also worked on animatronics in the mid-‘60s at WED and taught at Cal Arts. O’Brien was from Butte, Montana, spent some teenaged years in Seattle and was supporting his widowed mother on a Disney salary by 1940. He died January 17, 1990 at age 84.

Art Lozzi’s talent is absolutely wasted here. All the backgrounds are interiors and much of the action is set against a baseboard.

There’s nothing of note about the underscore cobbled together in this cartoon. They’re the same cues you hear in all the short cartoons produced around this time. Tina has a mechanical sound effect when she’s walking that you should recognise as later belonging that great character on “The Jetsons,” Uniblab, who was about as likely to fall in love as Pixie or Dixie. And it might be funnier than this cartoon if he did.

Thursday 18 September 2014

An 11-Year-Old Turns 50

“Jonny Quest” was great. And still is.

I was seven years old when the show debuted 50 years ago tonight. I was not an action-adventure fan (and I’m still not), but I was a cartoon fan, so I tuned in. Each week, I was gripped by the suspenseful and intense stories, augmented and enhanced by beautiful layouts and designs, and the unmatched musical work of Hoyt Curtin. The Quest cues were his finest hour. He used a minimum of 22 pieces to play his short compositions and the film cutters did an incredible job matching them to the action. My sister, who was six, became terrified during the Anubis episode and ran out of the front room, yelling she would never watch the show again. That’s how good “Jonny Quest” was.

Just like the Fleischer studio artists went from animating the Stone Age cartoon series to Superman in the early ‘40s, Hanna-Barbera artists made a graphic left turn from “The Flintstones” to “Jonny Quest.” They certainly were capable; a number of them had worked on “Sleeping Beauty” and other features for Walt Disney, including the four animators credited on the debut episode. Here’s part of the Daily Variety review from September 21, 1964:

JONNY QUEST (Mystery of the Lizard Men) Fri., 7:30 p.m., ABC-TV, filmed by Hanna Barbera. Co-producer, directors, William Hanna, Joseph Barbera; teleplay, Hanna, Barbera, Douglas Wildey, Alex Lovy; film editor, Warner Leighton; animators, Edwin Aardal, Ed Parks, Hugh Fraser, Harvey Toombs. Cast: Voices of Tim Matthieson, John Stephenson, Mike Road, Vic Perrin, Nestor Paiva, Doug Young. [Don Messick was also credited; Variety missed it].
For the young uns who dream of high adventure when they're not turning up their transistors, this new item out of the Hanna-Barbera cartoonery should thrill their little hearts. It's not a cartoon, as such, but the kind of strip that runs in the funnies section, so-called. Joe Barbera describes it as “staged animation, illustrative rather than cartoon style and a brand new style for tv.” So be it and it should give H-B another perennial as companion piece to “The Flintstones.”
Jonny (of the title) is the son of an American scientist, who goes along on his hazardous missions. They run afoul of all manner of evil-doers but manage to survive their ordeals. In the opener they were beset by lizardmen, who wreck ships with a laser beam to thwart efforts of scientists to man a moonshot. Every week will be a different locale but with the same brand of derring-do.

As a side-note, the same issue of Variety noted Alex Lovy had his name on the credits of another series that made its debut the same week—“The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo.”

The trade paper trumpeted on September 29th that Joe Barbera was heading to Chicago and New York to promote the show. As a result, we find this review in the Dover Daily Reporter of October 24th:

Escapism In Cartoon Series
JONNY QUEST: It's Not Kid Show, Producer Says
By Harold Stern

NEW YORK - Joseph Barbara, who along with William Hanna created and produced "Jonny Quest" and myriad other TV animation series, has an argument that sounds plausible. I just don't buy it.
"We've never made a kid show," he insisted. "There is no such thing as a kid in television any more. After the age of 4, it's a critical audience. Don't forget, these children have been seeing reruns of 'Sergeant Bilko' and 'The Honeymooners.' They won't go for anything childish. They demand sharp, adult entertainment. Jonny Quest plays to an adult audience."
I've watched Jonny Quest and as an adult it doesn't appeal to me. I can understand why kids would watch it, but I see no relation between that series and anything close to adult television. Perhaps the confusion comes from the fact that Barbera is comparing his series to much of what is on nighttime TV. Most of that isn't adult either.
"I was reared on Zane Grey, 'Tom Swift' and the like," he said. "Then all of a sudden, it vanished. It was replaced by sick books and stories. What our series does is try to return to the true adventure story.
"Our shows don't involve fighting 2-headed monsters. Our stories are based on fact. People can identify with our adventures. The show travels all over the world and we put a lot of research into guaranteeing the authenticity of costume and locale. We don't go into space science. We're interested in romantic, escapist stories, not brutally violent shows. Brutality is the easy way out. We don't dispose of our villains that way.
"We try not to date our shows with weapons and equipment in our series on projects either barely in use or still on the drawing board. Our shows contain such things as one-man subs, snow skimmers, hovercraft, flying belts, hydrafoils, vertical takeoff planes, etc. The whole emphasis of our studio has become adventure."
That's a lot of adventure. Hanna-Barbera Productions has a total of 13 animated series currently seen on television, 9 of them repeats. There are 4 new series in the works, plus a cartoon feature based on their "Flintstones" series.
Though their success has been in the field of animation, Hanna-Barbera isn't stopping there. There are 3 live-action feature films planned, "Mr. Mysterious," "Park Avenue Indians" and "Father Was a Robot." In addition, the studio is working on 2 live-action series, an hour-long adventure series and a half-hour comedy.
Considering Hanna-Barbera's rate of growth in the some 7 years it has been in existence, there's no reason to assume that all the contemplated projects won't materialize. Prior to going out on their own, Hanna and Barbera turned out about 48 minutes of animation a year for MGM, with a staff of about 150.
Today, in their own studios, they have a staff of 320 turning out over 90 hours of animation a year.
"Our staff consists of 320 temperaments," Barbera said, "so we don't dare impose the usual restrictions on them. They don't punch time clocks, they can work at whatever hours they like. We're not a factory. We don't do piece work. We're a creative organization and we get our best results from letting our people work as they think best."

“Based on fact,” Joe? You mean like the walking, revenge-seeking mummy? And there weren’t violent deaths? Oh, right. They weren’t violent because they happened off camera.

Barbera had more to say. This was in the syndicated TV Key column. Take note, back-story fetishists. There was no Mrs. Quest because there wasn’t a need for one. Isn’t that good enough?

Escapism In Cartoon Series

HOLLYWOOD — Two of the finest noses in town for sniffing taste trends at the box office belong to those indefatigable cartoon makers, Hanna and Barbera who have added a touch of James Bond escapism to their new kids' show, "Jonny Quest," on Friday nights.
The men, pushing to keep cartoons on the air, are willing to change styles, increase animation or slow it down, anything to keep H & B in the TV business. Very little has been left out of the "Jonny Quest" storyline about an 11-year-old son of an American scientist; his best friend, a Hindu named Hadji, and Jonny's bodyguard and tutor, Roger "Race" Bannon, Bandit a dog and the Persian Peddler. Plots take the cast underwater where fish heartbeats may be listened to, or there can be chases in outer space, a fling down the Amazon or an expedition to freezing Tibet.
Joe Barbera says he won't be cramped in this escapism series.
He has taken a bold step though and eliminated Mom.
"We couldn't put Mother in the series," says Joe, "then we'd be domestic again and Mother would be in the kitchen making sandwiches. We decided to get completely away from those homey scenes where even the dogs are obedient. Life isn't like that."
Angles For Adults
Barbera won't pretend his shows have much connection with realism, particularly this year when escapism is the password. Neither will he write off the so-called adult audience when it comes to cartoons.
"I'm on a one-man crusade," says Joe, "to stop this misconception that cartoons are only for kids. We're writing for grownups, too. People are still loath to admit they look at cartoons. Take the Flintstones. I'll stack that cartoon show against any situation comedy."
Barbera likes the sense of balance given "Jonny Quest." "Do you realize we have by-passed mad scientists and two-headed monsters. Why you won't even see a moon missile on the show. We'll stick fairly close to the truth."

No mad scientists, Joe? Yeah, Doctor Zin was perfectly sane. Okay, maybe Mr. B. has us on a technicality because Dr. Zin may not have been a scientist; just a freelance power-hungry guy who was a little anti-social.

If you’re a fan of the show, you likely know today that Hanna-Barbera was developing a series around the old “Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy” radio programme but dropped the idea; footage drawn for it ended up being used in the “Quest” opening and closing. You can see the revised model sheet of Jonny by Doug Wildey is dated December 1, 1963. In digging through a few trade papers, the earliest reference I can find to the show is in Variety of December 11, 1963 which stated: “Joe Barbara [sic] (of Hanna-B) back from N.Y. where two webs want their contemporary cartoon series-adventure-action.” The sale was soon made. Weekly Variety of December 25, 1963 revealed Screen Gems’ John Mitchell had negotiated a 26-week deal with ABC-TV, mentioning the show by name.

Initially, the network wasn’t really quite sure where to put Jonny. Variety reported on January 29, 1964 the series had been moved back a half hour from a planned 7:30 p.m. slot on Sundays, but Broadcasting of February 3rd reported it would air at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, opposite “Rawhide” on CBS and “International Showtime on NBC.” General Mills turned down a sponsorship (Variety, Jan. 29) but the series was eventually picked up by B.F. Goodrich, Pepsi-Cola and Proctor & Gamble (Broadcasting, Sept. 7). For what appears to have been a brief period in April 1964, the show was being called “Jonny Quest: File 037” but someone wisely thought better of it.

The 26-city Trendex numbers (Broadcasting, Sept. 28) show that Jonny won his time slot in the season opener, though it should be mentioned ABC was the only network that wasn’t broadcasting summer reruns and not all 26 markets may have been included. Things changed the following week. The Arbitron Report showed “Jonny Quest” wasn’t even in the top 50 and was last in its time slot. And the following week, it settled in second place, well behind “Rawhide.” However, TVQ’s second October report reported that Jonny was tied for ninth in viewers 6 to 11 years of age (my sister notwithstanding), while Fred, Barney and Dino were fifth.

“The Flintstones” had an even bigger ratings problem than “Jonny Quest.” Not only was its Stone Age butt being kicked by “The Munsters” on CBS, which was consistently in the Top 20, it was even behind “Daniel Boone” on NBC (one week, it was in third place behind an NBC “Favorite Songs Special”, Broadcasting, Nov. 30, 1964). ABC decided to do something. It decided to sacrifice Jonny for Fred. Variety reported on December 16th that it was flipping the time slots of the two shows to get “The Flintstones” away from “The Munsters” with the hope of renewing it for another season. The plan worked. “The Flintstones” was renewed. “Jonny Quest” was not. Variety listed it (March 12, 1965) as one of ten shows that had been given the “Goldenson guillotine” (Leonard Goldenson ran ABC). Iwao Takamoto wrote in his autobiography that Bill Hanna went to ABC, explained the production costs involved, the network crunched the money numbers it could get through sponsorship and passed on a second season.

And it was “three strikes, you’re out” at Hanna-Barbera. It whiffed with “Top Cat,” “The Jetsons” and now “Jonny Quest.” The studio didn’t get another shot at prime time until 1970 when it remade “The Flintstones” into “Where’s Huddles?” (CBS plunked “Huddles” into the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday slot in July and August where it became the second highest-rated summer series. It went into summer repeats the following year before disappearing for good). In 1967, Jonny followed T.C. and George Jetson into the world of 6 to 11 year old viewers—Saturday mornings—and remained on the air for three seasons worth of reruns despite being named in a report that “CBS network prexy Tom Dawson asked for suggestions on modifying the grotesque and the violent in the web's cartoon spread” (Variety, July 24, 1968). And like “The Jetsons,” there was still so much demand for “Jonny Quest” that it was reworked and brought back with new episodes in the ‘80s.

There’s a wonderful site that every fan of the show should visit. Click here. Craig Fuqua and Lyle Blosser have done a wonderful job and it’s got more information about Jonny Quest than you may ever want to know. And you can watch a great labour of love below—a documentary on the show and how it was made.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Shadow of the Condor

Background, layout artists and cameramen played an important role in setting the right mood for “Jonny Quest.” The layout people came up with different angles to mimic adventure comic strips so it didn’t appear the characters were being filmed looking at them like on a stage. Drawing in perspective would have been expensive and time-consuming, so the camera swooped into (or out of) shots while panning at the same time to simulate additional movement of the action on screen. And the background people had to provide realistic-looking sets; stylised stuff like in the early Huck Hound cartoons just wouldn’t fit.

Fortunately, the studio had some quality background artists who were versatile enough to work in different styles. Bob Gentle was one; look at his settings in the 1940s Tom and Jerry cartoons. The great Paul Julian, a veteran of both Warner Bros. and UPA (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), picked up credits on a pair of episodes. And another was Richard H. Thomas, who came up with some solid backgrounds for Bob McKimson at Warners in the later ‘40s.

We’ve profiled Dick Thomas in this post. But with Jonny’s 50th birthday days away, I thought I’d post some of his background labour from that show. He handled “Shadow of the Condor” all on his own and was tasked with painting a backdrop featuring the top of the Andes, a stone castle and ancient biplanes.

Here are a couple of longer backgrounds that were snipped together. Unfortunately, two are not complete due to colour changes on the DVD frame as drawing is panned.

This particular cartoon also features fine effects animation of wisps of clouds by a presumably uncredited artist. The credited animators were the great George Nicholas, Irv Spence and Lefty Callahan.

We’ll go into the show a bit, thanks to press clippings, on its 50th anniversary.

Saturday 13 September 2014

Quick Draw McGraw — Mine Your Manners

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Bob Bentley, Dick Lundy (uncredited); Layout – Tony Rivera; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Written by Mike Maltese; Story Director – John Freeman; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Quick Draw McGraw, Baba Looey, Snuffles, Jack Pott – Daws Butler; Narrator, skunk, miner, store owner – Don Messick.
First Aired: 1961-62 season.
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-043, Production J-130.
Plot: Quick Draw employs Snuffles to get a skunk out of a mine.

This cartoon appears to have served two purposes. One was to make people laugh. The other was to kiss up to Kellogg’s and its ad agency, Leo Burnett.

Kellogg’s, of course, sponsored “The Quick Draw Show” in its original run in syndication (in the U.S.) and Kellogg’s cereals were plugged in the opening and closing credits, and between the cartoons. Kellogg’s was also the maker of Gro-Pup T-Bone dog biscuits. Is it any coincidence that Quick Draw’s bloodhound Snuffles went into ecstasy over dog biscuits? And of a certain kind with the box featured in the cartoons themselves?

No doubt Kellogg’s was happy to see the free plugs in this cartoon. Quick Draw holds the box in several scenes, and then Baba Looey has to buy a box from a nearby store after the supply runs out.

There are at least two animators on this cartoon. In an earlier post, we went into how the Snuffles ecstasy animation was reused in later cartoons. It originated in “Ali Baba Looey,” a second season cartoon animated by Dick Lundy. The exact same drawings were used in “Dynamite Fright” the following season (the credited animator was Hicks Lokey). In this cartoon, the drawings aren’t reinked exactly the same way but they’re obviously from the same artwork and the same timing is used as in the other two cartoons. Here’s an example. On the left is a frame from this cartoon and on the right is one from “Dynamite Fright.” You’ll see the line under the eyeball isn’t identical, the neck lumps go back to a different place on the collar, the body isn’t positioned at the same angle, among other things. But they must have originated with Lundy’s work, so Lundy should get a credit in my view.

Let’s check out Art Lozzi’s desert background. You can see where the background repeats. The mine is on an overlay.

The whole plot centres around Cartoon Law No. 1256H—namely, “Skunks in cartoons must smell all the time.” Naturally, we all know that skunks only spray when they’re in danger. Otherwise, they waddle around on their merry way, stopping to sniff things. The skunk in this cartoon smiles most of the time and seems quite self-satisfied about being a skunk.

Let’s take you through the story, which begins with Don Messick’s narrator explaining how poor Jack Pott became rich by striking gold which falls on top of him. The gag is the stars he sees after being knocked on the noggin by nuggets turn into dollar signs.

Fast forward many years to when Jack Pott is a rich man—but suddenly thwarted when the skunk trots into his mine and the smell makes everyone run for their lives “and some fresh air.”

Narrator: So, old Jack Pott sent for none other than that famous lawman...er, uh, uhh, ohh, what’s his name? Um...
Quick Draw (displeased): This is terrible embarrassin’.

The rest of the cartoon goes pretty much as you might expect. Pott promises to make Quick Draw a rich man if he gets rid of the skunk. That’s when Snuffles enters the picture. Snuffles gets one biscuit, then two, but can’t handle the skunk smell and demands a third biscuit to perform his job. Quick Draw promises to pay later (Snuffles mutters about Quick Draw being a cheapskate and a welsher) and when it turns out the biscuit box is empty, Snuffles puts the skunk back in the mine. Quick Draw dons a clothespin on his nose and decides to do the job himself. Snuffles is a jerk here. His extremely long arm reaches into the mine grabs the clothespin, and then he rolls the entrance shut and traps Quick Draw (holding his breath) with the smelly skunk. Baba runs to the store, gets another box of biscuits (“it’s a matter of life and breath,” says Baba to the storekeeper). Snuffles lets the blue-in-the-face Quick Draw out of the mine.

Ah, but Snuffles is forgiven for his actions (after all, Quick Draw’s rich because of him), and the cartoon ends with the skunk in a sack being given a dog biscuit and going into Snuffles-like rapture (complete with moaning and floating from mid-air). Baba ends the cartoon: “I like that Quickstraw. He’s got a soft heart—and a head to match.”

Hoyt Curtin wrote some nice little western cues; a jaunty clip-clop with muted trumpet opens the cartoon. There’s a nice medium, lilting cue when Quick Draw McGraw arrives, but it should have been cut when Baba started singing the Quick Draw theme. One of the Top Cat “hurry-in-the-city” cues is used when Baba rushes to and from the store to buy some dog biscuits. The selections are all pretty good. A bassoon laughing cue when Quick Draw’s regaining his breath wasn’t used too often, if I recall. Some Lippy/Wally/Touché cues surface as well, include one every time Snuffles runs into the mine (also heard on the “The Flinstones.”)

Quick Draw says “Hold on thar!” but we don’t get an “I’ll do the thinnin’ around here” or “Oooh! That smarts!” in this cartoon.

This is one of three Quick Draws to have “Hanna-Barbera” on the title card and the only one with script calligraphy.