Thursday, 9 April 2015

Here Comes a Star or Six

It’s a brilliant marketing concept if you think about it. A half-hour show, funded by one sponsor, that’s a commercial for a half-hour show funded by the same sponsor. That’s what Hanna-Barbera worked out when it came to Magilla Gorilla.

Magilla likely went into development around August 1963. That’s when Broadcasting magazine reported (August 26th) that Ideal had announced it would spend about $30,000,000 over five years to sponsor four animated cartoon shows on a 52-week basis, and that Hanna-Barbera would create the shows (Screen Gems was signed to distribute them). The names of the shows weren’t revealed at the time, but presumably Joe Barbera had to pitch something to Ideal. Variety revealed something about that half-hour commercial in its edition of Tuesday, November 19, 1963.

Toy Company Sponsors Hanna-Barbera Spec
Ideal Toy Co. has bought a half-hour entertainment - documentary, “The Magic World Of Hanna-Barbera,” planning to air the spec on 182 stations via Ideal's national syndication network in December. Show will deal with how a cartoon is made. George Fenneman is host-narrator, and Arthur Pierson will direct. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera will produce.
The special got a name change before it aired on the “Ideal Network” in late December; for whatever reason, it was re-monikered “Here Comes a Star.” (In another stellar marketing move, the special was also shown in children’s hospitals across the U.S. Critics were invited to attend these hospital previews to see the reaction of children to Magilla, according to the Los Angeles Times of January 10, 1964).

Of the names listed in the Variety blurb, there was really one person who might be considered a star. It wasn’t Hanna and Barbera. It wasn’t Art Pierson, who was a TV and movie director who started out as a juvenile actor in the late ‘20s; you’ll see his name in the credits of “The Flintstones” as a story supervisor. It was George Fenneman, best known as the announcer/straight man on the great radio and TV show “You Bet Your Life.” Fenneman (and Hanna-Barbera’s John Stephenson, for a time) also announced on “Dragnet.” But he wasn’t the star in the title, either. It was Magilla.

At least they were identified on camera or in the credits. As Variety intimated, the commercial was swathed in the clothing of a quasi-documentary on how TV cartoons were made. As the camera made its way around the studio, employees popped up in complete anonymity. You should recognise one below.

Yes, it’s young Tony Benedict sitting next to Dalton Sandifer (another writer) in a completely staged story meeting. If you’ve seen the special, you’ll notice Lew Marshall and Alex Lovy on the left side of the table with Dan Gordon standing up looking at a picture of Magilla on the wall. Tony was gracious enough to identify the other people with him in the scene, so I asked him if he could give the names of others who appeared on the special. And he quickly sent back some notes.

Here are three great layout men, Willie Ito, Jerry Eisenberg and Dick Bickenbach. I probably don’t have to go into the background of these men if you’re a regular reader. Willie had been an assistant animator at Warners and went to work for Bob Clampett’s Snowball, Inc. in 1961 before shuffling off to Hanna-Barbera. Highlights of Jerry’s lengthy career can be found in an interview he gave on this blog. Bick replaced Jerry’s dad Harvey doing layouts for the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM starting in 1946. He was one of the original employees of H-B Enterprises in 1957 and reworked many of Ed Benedict’s characters into model sheets for the animators. Willie and Jerry are still with us, well respected in the industry.

This is Guyla Avery, billed in the special as Joe Barbera’s secretary. Iwao Takamoto recalled in his autobiography how Bill Hanna would ignore the intercom system put in to reach her and just yell out his door. The former Guyla Alleman was born in Kansas in 1927. Her second husband was H-B designer Alex Toth. She died in 1985.

Here are Jerry Hathcock and Nick Nichols. The two of them had worked at Disney, and Hathcock had also animated at MGM at the time Hanna and Barbera were coming up with Tom and Jerry.

Checking out this colour chart are, left to right, Jayne Barbera, Howard Hanson, Robert Greutert and an unidentified woman. Barbera was related to you-know-who and went on to a long career at her dad’s studio, culminating with the title “executive in charge of production.” We’ve profiled Howard Hanson before; he was an assistant animator at MGM and eventually became assistant production manager there below Max Maxwell. He was H-B’s first production manager from 1957 through most of the ‘60s. Roberta Greutert started as a painter at MGM in 1938 and became the assistant ink and paint supervisor under Art Goble there. The two ended up at H-B, where she ran the ink and paint department when the studio opened until retiring in September 1971. She was born in Tennessee in 1914 and died in 2007. Greutert was the name of her first husband (Henry Greutert, Jr. was a sculptor who worked on the main lot at MGM on films like “The Wizard of Oz”). Her married name at the time of her death was Marshall (as in Lew).

Tony’s stumped on who this is.

The first shot pans over to the second one. In the foreground you see background artist Ron Dias and in the background, Fernando Montealegre. That’s in the second shot. Ron recently passed away. Monte did great work in those early seasons at Hanna-Barbera; he had worked at MGM and eventually was credited with backgrounds in the Mike Lah unit just before the studio closed.

Here’s Warner Leighton. I believe Leighton and Greg Watson (who had been at MGM) were the studio’s original film editors. Leighton had worked in live action prior to going to Hanna-Barbera; he began his career as sound editor on the first Cinerama production “South Seas Adventure.” He was born in 1930 and died in California in 2005. His middle name was “Elvon,” which was his father’s and grandfather’s name.

I didn’t ask Tony about these four shots. Joe Barbera’s in the first shot and I don’t want to take a chance and guess that’s Doug Wildey he’s talking with. “Jonny Quest” was just about sold to ABC at the time this special was produced. The second shot is of the control room recording the sound for cartoons (in the special, dialogue of Allan Melvin and Doug Young was added in post-production; stand-ins with their backs to the camera are used). As for the bottom photo, it’s a little dark, but my guess would be that’s Frank Paiker controlling the camera. Paiker’s animation career went back to the late ‘20s in New York and he spent the ‘30s with the Fleischers.

And you know who these two are.

Variety reported on December 23, 1963 that the studio had budgeted $4,200,000 for the Magilla and Peter Potamus shows; Potamus came later. The figure seems like a misquote. By comparison, “The Flintstones” were budgeted at $1,450,000 while Quest (called “high adventure series”) was earmarked at only $1,300,000.

Magilla was popular, if you want to believe the numbers in the February 1964 trade ad to the right. And he got the Hollywood Hype treatment. Magilla ran for president against Yogi Bear and, like there had been during Huckleberry Hound’s bid for the White House in 1960, there were buttons, a nominating convention (at a zoo), a Gold Key comic book and, well, I guess some people liked it. Not me.

“Magilla Gorilla” was the first Hanna-Barbera TV show I stopped watching. There are a bunch of reasons the series didn’t appeal to me, but it’s through no fault of the people who worked on it, many of them the same people who brought the world Quick Draw McGraw and Snagglepuss, both of whom were stronger characters than Magilla. The show struck me as copying too much of what I had seen (done better) in earlier Hanna-Barbera series. But to each his own. Variety’s Helm, in a review on January 20, 1964, called the debut show “another winner,” so what do I know?

In the writing credits for the first Magilla (preserved in the aforementioned Variety review) are Warren Foster, Sandy Sandifer and the man who helped with this post, Tony Benedict. My thanks to Tony for this and all the great work he did at Hanna-Barbera.


  1. Even though these pictures were " set ups " for the film being shot, it is great seeing the studio and the " Day to Day " life at H-B. While we know so many of these faces, I still enjoy to seeing all the others, ie, secretary, film cutters, layout artists, sound recorder/board ops. Get to match the faces with a few other names we see every now and then. Great stuff!!

  2. In later years, from what I understand, Maggie Roberts was Joe Barbera's secretary, who was usually the one I talked to in conversation with her telephonically. Admittedly, she had a rather deadpan sort of wit as much as intimate knowledge of Mr. Barbera's ways and wiles.

    Right to the end of Mr. Barbera's life.

  3. As far as I can tell, the gentleman sitting behind the console in this picture is editor Tony Milch, whom you can see at 4:14 in a The Last Cartoonery" edit that Tony Benedict put together.

    Tony Milch was also a recording engineer and editor on a number of HB records, and to my knowledge, also the guy who created the Jetsons' car sound effects.

  4. Great article. Thanks you very much, YOWP.

  5. Dalton Sandifer was my uncle. Everybody knew him as Sandy though. We have stories for days about him. Especially about when he worked at Hanna-Barbera. Oh my!

  6. this is so cool! that's my dad - warner leighton. i practically lived at h-b when i was a kid. i totally remember guyla. she would watch my sister and me when we were there. and we would get to watch all the cartoons in an awesome screening room - oh the memories flooding back!!