Saturday, 23 May 2015

Everybody Knows The Music

Imagine what Hoyt Curtin’s career would have been like if there had been no Hanna-Barbera. Or what Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the ‘60s would have sounded like if there had been no Hoyt Curtin.

I’ll bet you can’t. The two are wedded together in the musical memories of several generations. Doesn’t everyone recognise the theme to The Flintstones?

In the ‘50s, Curtin was just another freelance composer, picking up work where he could find it; commercials, B movies, cartoons, it didn’t matter. But, as luck would have it, Curtin wrote music for a beer commercial being made at the MGM cartoon studio where Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were producing. That led to work composing theme songs when Hanna and Barbera struck out on their own and then being hired in 1959 (he was the in-house composer for the Raphael G. Wolff studio at the time) to compile a cue library for Loopy de Loop theatrical cartoons. Then came The Flintstones in 1960 (a company called Animation Associates had him write cues for its Q.T. Hush cartoons), followed by Top Cat, The Jetsons, Magilla Gorilla and Jonny Quest.

When Hanna-Barbera set up shop in 1957, it began licensing cues from at least three stock music libraries—Capitol Hi-Q, Langlois Filmusic and the Sam Fox Variety library—as background sound for its cartoons; Curtin was hired to write themes, then several variations to use as bumper underscores only. But television was growing enough and becoming profitable enough for firms to be able to pay for their own, specific musical bridges, buttons and so on. That’s the direction Hanna-Barbera went in. The process didn’t change. Curtin didn’t score to the action like Carl Stalling at Warner Bros. Instead, his compositions, just like the ones in the Hi-Q library, set a mood. Sound editors like Greg Watson or Joe Ruby picked from amongst the reels upon reels of his cues to find something appropriate to the atmosphere on screen.

Bill Hanna has a reputation in some circles of being penurious, but he didn’t skimp when it came to music. Curtin wasn’t given a tacky three-piece combo to work with. He brought in top session musicians, more than 20 pieces. His scores and arrangements ran the gamut but he’s praised mainly for big band/jazz-inspired tunes, especially when it came to his theme songs.

It seems odd that this blog has been around six years without devoting a post to Mr. Curtin. It’s because there are so many other places on line where you can easily find biographical material. There isn’t much for us to say. But I’ve found a couple of old news stories that may be able to add to the collective knowledge about him.

First, a story from the weekly edition of Variety from December 9, 1964. Basically, it tells how Curtin hit the jackpot thanks to commercials. Oh, a cartoon studio helped his bank balance, too.

Curtin Scores Bonanza As Teleblurb Cleffer And Cartoon Maestro
Los Angeles, Dec. 8.
Hoyt Curtin, the Hanna-Barbera music director who scores the 13 tv animated series, also has 136 teleblurbs currently airing. He estimates this adds up to two hours and 16 minutes of music daily. Naturally, his income has risen astronomically and he claims 75% of it is derived from blurb cleffing, which he prefers doing. And why not? Approximately 10% of total production budget on average 58-second blurb is allotted the musical director—or 10% of $30,000, according to Curtin.
With union scale running $31.50 per hour for tooter and $63 per hour for batoneer, the musical director who does his own conducting (and Curtin does) stands to pocket at least $1,000 on a single assignment. During Harry James' Kleenex blurb, which Curtin scored, he was allotted better than 20% of cost.
Curtin used a minimum of 22 pieces in scoring each of the following H-B shows; "The Flintstones," "Johnny Quest," [sic] "Huckleberry Hound," "Yogi Bear," "Touche Turtle," "Quick Draw McGraw," "Lippy The Lion," "Wally Gator," "Top Cat," "The Jetsons," "Magilla Gorilla," "Peter Potamus" and "Ruff 'N' Reddy."
Ideally, In blurb scoring, "the music and spot are one entity," says Curtin, who gained immediate recognition in 1950-'51 when he scored the early Magoo cartoons.
Curtin died on December 3, 2000. This was among the remembrances written a few days later.
Appreciation; The Unsung Composer; Hoyt Curtin Put The Tune in 'Toons
Hank Stuever, Washington Post Staff Writer [December 12, 2000]
Hoyt Curtin, who wrote more than 400 pieces of music for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's manic cartoon factory, was the unheralded master of Saturday morning's musical cacophony.
The clangs and crashes and stick-in-the-bucket rattles of the composer's distinctive jazz riffs are burned subconsciously into the sugared brains of three generations of kids: Fred Flintstone slides down a dinosaur tail to the sound of Curtin's hyped-up horn section--"Flintstones/ Meet the Flintstones/ They're the modern Stone Age family . . . "
The world can hum that. Musicians still record it.
Curtin, who died last week in California at age 78 after a long illness, was the king of the TV cartoon theme song, those 30 crucial seconds for a jingle to scream Hey, kids, don't touch that dial! Like most songwriters in Hollywood in the 1950s, Curtin labored in a particular kind of jangly schlock, where everything rhymed and bounced and had to be catchy.
But it was also the incidental music--the little bits of complex and miraculous improv that went with the cartoons, adding up over three decades--that was a large part of his unknown genius. What is the music of poor Fred's damaged hubris after dropping a bowling rock on his toe? What is the music of Jonny Quest scuba-diving into a school of sharks?
Curtin gave us that frenetic assault of strings that accompanied George Jetson through all that utopian sky-borne traffic between Spacely Sprockets and home. When the Scooby-Doo gang pulls up to a haunted house in their Mystery Machine van, we know, thanks to him, what the groovy-spooky mood is, and what that sounds like.
Curtin had a long relationship with Hanna-Barbera, from the late '50s to 1992, almost all of it on an episode-by-episode basis. The studio would call him up and give him the gist of a new batch of cartoons: A bear wearing a porkpie hat lives in the woods and steals picnic baskets. ("Yogi Bear is smarter than the [beat] average bear / Yogi Bear is always in the [beat] ranger's hair.") A hillbilly dog with a bow tie has strange adventures. ("That oh-so-merry / Chuckleberry / Huckleberry How-wowwww-und.")
Curtin would write the songs, hire the musicians, book the studio time, conduct the orchestras.
As legend has it, he put the "Flintstones" theme together in a couple of collaborative phone calls with Bill Hanna in late 1959. He worked fast because that's how the cartoon factory worked. At Hanna-Barbera's peak, in the early 1970s, Curtin wrote original music for 10 new cartoons in one season. They paid him per show, and he would be dropping in music cues even as the drawings were being assembled by Korean artists.
At the time, critical grown-ups lamented the decline of the cartoon. Saturday morning TV was nowhere near the quality, they said, of the cinema shorts of the 1930s and '40s. In a way they were right.
It would be years before any of this would take on a post-boomer cachet. When Rhino Records reissued Curtin's work in 1995, he was semi-retired, living about an hour northwest of Los Angeles, at the end of a pretty cul-de-sac.
He had invented a successful brand of underground lawn sprinklers. Fascinated by computer-generated sounds, he had converted his grown son's bedroom into a synthesizer studio. He was also working on his own brand of correspondence course for budding musicians--learn how to write songs the Hoyt Curtin way.
A music historian who produced the Rhino series literally had to peel the soundtracks off the original celluloid films to get adequate masters of Curtin's themes and background music--no one had bothered to keep them after the shows were produced. There is, as far as anyone knows, no existing master for his most famous piece, the "Flintstones" theme.
I went to meet Curtin in 1995, thinking his life would make a story. (It didn't.) He told me I could come, but warned me that he wasn't very interesting. Unlike some artists who realize that they've inadvertently created pop-culture legends, Curtin wasn't trying to get credit or back pay.
He served on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. He studied music at the University of Southern California on the GI Bill and dreamed of writing scores for motion pictures. He settled for commercial jingles. His work on "Mr. Magoo" theater shorts in 1953 led to his association with Hanna-Barbera. The first cartoon they did together was "Ruff and Reddy."
Among the last of Curtin's jobs was the music for "The Smurfs," ending in the early '90s. By then, his sound had strayed. It was less jazzy, too childlike. "It feels good not to be doing it anymore," he said to me then.
We drove a few blocks to his country club and had lunch. He laughed a lot. He peppered his sentences with a jazzy "man" tacked on at the end. He said "soitenly," instead of "certainly," like a cartoon character would.
I produced a photocopied picture of him in the early 1960s, conducting an orchestra. Judging from the number of violins, he guessed it was a session for "The Jetsons."
"Very difficult to play," he said of that piece. "That's not anything you can jam on unless you play fiddle like Itzhak Perlman, man. Those fiddle parts were fingerbusters!"
As it happened, Curtin heard Perlman play "The Flintstones" once in concert. He heard his music everywhere. Punk bands interpreted it. Among professional trombone players, "Jonny Quest" is still a measure of one's skill. It has six flat notes, produced at full slide.
We spent part of the afternoon upstairs in his music room. Curtin played all my favorite cartoon songs on his keyboard. The ones he could remember, anyway. ("We've gotta gorilla for sale / Magilla Gorilla for sale," we sang.)
When he couldn't remember them, he'd say, "How'd that one go? Remind me."
He was also right: Nobody wanted to buy my article about him. "Everybody knows the music," he said. "Nobody knows the guy who wrote it."
Curtin’s best work was on Jonny Quest, my favourite work of his was on Top Cat (a show I’m lukewarm at best about) but his Flintstones cues are fun, too. And you need to hear his version of “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” in the clear to appreciate how much his horns smoked (was Pete Candoli in there?). Some of Curtin’s cartoon recordings found their way onto CDs released 20-or-so years ago by Rhino Records. The late Earl Kress went on a musical spelunking job trying to find material for the release. I asked him why more of Curtin’s Flintstones music hadn’t been put on disc because he had said there was plenty of it in the studio’s archives. He explained many of the cues were quite short and an album featuring a series quick of instrumentals wouldn’t really work; he felt Rhino had released the most memorable of Curtin’s little tunes. (Personally, I thought a CD of nothing but Jonny Quest cues could have been a big seller; I forgot what Earl mentioned when we discussed it).

Earl said he discovered when he researched the Flintstones cues, the bulk of them were not named like a song, they were similar to how Hi-Q would have a Bill Loose composition labelled “C-19.” I never asked him about the significance of the number, whether it indicated a session number or something like that. So here are some random cues with their numeric titles. You’ll hear what sounds like some cassette tape hiss. They may be running a touch off-speed. Cue 8-10 is the one used when Dino does his impromptu high-step and juggling audition in “Dino Goes Hollyrock.”

CUE 6-1

CUE 6-2

CUE 6-4

CUE 6-6

CUE 6-9

CUE 6-10

CUE 6-14

CUE 6-15

CUE 6-16

CUE 6-27

CUE 8-4

CUE 8-6

CUE 8-7

CUE 8-8

CUE 8-9

CUE 8-10

CUE 8-11

And while we’re on the topic of cartoon music, we’d like to give you a heads-up that there’ll be a special broadcast about the subject on Stu’s Show this coming Wednesday at 4 p.m. Pacific time. You’ll want to tune in. His guests are Jerry Beck, who knows just about everything there is to know about theatrical cartoons, and Greg Erhbar, one of the most knowledgeable people you’ll find in the area of children’s records and their cartoon connections. You can expect them to touch on the careers of theatrical greats like Stalling, Bradley and Timberg and hopefully one of the unsung great early ‘30s composers—Van Beuren’s Gene Rodemich. And I imagine they’ll fit in a word or two about the stock music writers you’ve read about and heard here (cue Jack Shaindlin’s “Toboggan Run”)—and that undisputed master of the TV cartoon composition, Hoyt Curtin.


  1. Flintstones' cues very appropriate for "The Long, Long Weekend". Thanks, Yowp.

  2. "As legend has it, he put the "Flintstones" theme together in a couple of collaborative phone calls with Bill Hanna in late 1959."

    That would be the original theme song (not the famous one), I presume?

    "Among the last of Curtin's jobs was the music for "The Smurfs," ending in the early '90s. By then, his sound had strayed. It was less jazzy, too childlike."

    Interesting. I wouldn't say that. The Smurfs theme song is more childlike than most other H-B themes because it is a more childlike show than most other H-B shows. I think the Smurfs theme song is very good in light of the nature of the cartoon it was made for.

    Indeed, I've always considered many of the later H-B themes to be underrated. Two of my favorite themes from the 70s are the themes for "Sealab 2020" and "Valley of the Dinosaurs." While these shows can be rather bland at times (Chuck Jones's "illustrated radio" sneer comes to mind) and are certainly not as good as the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, their theme songs are still magical, in my opinion. To the best of my knowledge, they are not available on any kind of audio media, sadly. Does anyone know whether Hoyt Curtin or Ted Nichols composed the "Sealab" and "Valley" themes?

    Sealab 2020 Theme:

    Valley of the Dinosaurs Intro and Closing:

    1. Sergio, yes, I presume the original theme is what's being meant. But it's pretty evident just by watching the cartoons that Curtin wrote both "Rise and Shine" and "(Meet) The Flintstones" in 1959-60 as numerous variations of both are them are found in the cue library he created for the series.

    2. Sergio,

      Hoyt Curtin is definitely credited with both these theme songs. Ted Nichols was gone in 1971.


  3. During 1964 when the first quoted article came out Curtin was writing cues for "Linus the Lionhearted", outside HB, produced for General Foods/Post by one-series studio Ed Graham Productions while his own HB cues were, of course, still owned by Hanna-Barbera and Screen Gems, and HB at the time then hired their next regular composer, Ted Nichols..! But then a few yhearas later Curtin was back, joining Nichols...and of course Curtin worked also out Hanna-Barbera at various times on other shows.....

    All this courtesy of a clay horse who galloped with Gumby to the tunes of the Capitol, Langlois, and Sam Fox music libraries...

    1. Steve, I believe Curtin wrote some music for Linus' second season. A stock library is used for the first season. I don't know which one it is; I'm not familiar with the CBS E-Z cue library but I wonder if it's that one as it contains music that Ed Graham's business partners, Bob and Ray, used on their CBS radio show in the late '50s.
      Nichols, incidentally, was associate prof. of music at Cal State while working as H-B's music director.

    2. Yes, I know that, the Rory Raccoon/Claudius Crow cartoon like "Rest Cured" had the "Ren and Stimpy" cue by Van Phillips "Merry as a Grig" played through out..and it';s by all means NOT Hoyt Curtin music for the "Lovable Truly" ones....though "Sugar Bear" and the all-star bumpers ("The Company") certainly used Curtin cues.....and of course only that second season of new episodes had Curtin's cues (credited also on the rerun "cereal pitch" closing..) the first season HAS no Curtin credit, though Johnny Mann got a special musical material cred,.Steve

    3. Hey Yowp and Pokey. From what I have read over the years, The CBS E-Z cue Library contained a majority of cues CBS used from the 1950s through the fall of 1965 for CBS Television produced comedies, drama, and science fiction. That Library has cues from Bernard Herrmann, Fred Steiner, Jerry Goldsmith, Nathan Van Cleave, Bill Lava...just to name a few. Cues heard in everything from Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, Rawhide and even the 1964-65 season of Gilligan's Island. I know cues from this library were used on The CBS Radio Mystery Theater with EG Marshall in the 1970s. There was a rumor that it was donated to one of the California Universities. But, that may be just a rumor.

    4. What about some Cue music from Magilla Gorilla Show?

    5. Cue 8-9 was used during a frantic chase in "Motorcycle Magilla".

  4. 8-9 is used in the "No Biz like Show Biz" during the dangerous highway/freeway chase (Yowp's least fave, the Pebbles and Bamm Bamm "Sunshine" one.), the guys and the babies leave Wilma, Betty and Beatles manager Brian Epstein-ish Eppy Brianstone during the night as Fred's nightmare's about to come to an end...some surreal tunnel traffic animation in that one after Fred and Barney wind up off the interchange..)


    8-10 was used in the early "Flintstones" episode "Hollyrock Here I come" when the Bilko-ish producer of "The Frogmouth' pulls a "Person to Bunny"/Bugs Bunny on Fred for being a tad too brash and domineering, the "500,.000,000 people's eyes will all be on you bit', inducing a little stage right, then at the season of that season's "The Hypnotist" at the end after Barney's doggy hypnotic trance is over and he and Fred are returning then we see Wilma and Betty, and Wilma says "Days like THESE I'll NEVER find out the truth.."

    (I'd forgotten that 8-10 was used as late as the "Hollyrock" one.)

    Coincidentally, both those last two using their vaudeville type cue also guest-starred the obscure Jerry Mann (as Phil Silvers in "Hollyrock" and Ed Wynn as Mezmo in "Hypnotist) who was the subject of an earlier blog post.

  5. Many of these cues were not available on the 'Pic-A-Nic' Basket cd released nearly 20 years ago. Great to hear them again!~ Thanks Yowp, for sharing!!

  6. Actually, Yowp, I'm curious.. recently I was watching the animated version of 'Around the World in 80 Days,' noticing it possessed some very familiar musical cues. Did Hoyt Curtin ever do the music for that production?

  7. The soundtrack for Boomerang's first Flintstones bumpers was heavily influenced by cue 6-4. It might even use some of the same music.

  8. Fang, I remember HB did an "Around the World" series in the late '60s. Offhand, I imagine Ted Nichols was responsible for the music.
    Nichols, according to Billboard of April 10, 1965 had been "recently hired" to assist Curtin on Jonny Quest and "will work exclusively on music for TV properties." Evidently, Curtin had other duties to take care of. Nichols stayed until 1972; several trades that year mention a contract signed with Curtin's Soundtrack Music Inc. to provide all music.
    There was a cartoon "Around the World in 80 Days" that came out a few years later. I don't know much about it as I channel surfed past it and never really watched it.

    1. I believe you're alluding to the Around the World in 79 Days segment of the Cattanooga Cats package made for ABC in the 1969-70 season, which was a loose retelling of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days.

  9. Mike Tiefenbacher26 May 2015 at 08:14

    I subscribed to weekly VARIETY for four or five years in the late '70s/early '80s, and even at that late date they were still inventing phrases like "skein" (for network) and "ankles" (for getting out of a contract) just because they could. I love "teleblurb cleffer" and intend to try to work it into my daily conversation.

    Curtin's '70s and '80s work suffered mightily by under-staffed musical combos and when he went to syntheziser exclusively his stuff went from merely irritating to unlistenable (though, to be fair, most H-B stuff from that period is unwatchable as well). You really appreciate how good the '50s/'60s work is when it's not there. And even if nobody in the "real" jazz world is about to admit it, he was quite influential, even if it was subsconsciously; I work at Walmart, and on their Christmas compilation of instore music there's a jazz Christmas song that turns up regularly which I will swear winds up "sampling" (as the kids now like to call plagiarizing) the TOP CAT theme at the end. I too consider the JONNY QUEST theme as his best work, and right behind it is THE JETSONS: both amazingly orchestrated and exciting in a way that most TV themes are not--yet they're both catchy at the same time. It's harder to appreciate the ones with lyrics in the same way, but (for at least that first decade) to our generation, those theme songs stood up to anything prime time had to offer when it came to being memorable...though, of course, it didn't hurt to be associated with the cartoons we loved so much.

  10. "Around the WOrld in 80 Days" from 1972 was a very odd and oddly funny retelling whose major distinction was the ineptly villainous, and villainously inept, Mister Fix, who kept talking to himself as if he were two guys, from the original Jules Verne book, and also had typical HB type humor, the same Aussie company who worked on HB's 1971 "Funky Phantom" and Janet Waldo as a very funny English character, the book's "Belinda Maze".

    It was, however, not by fact the animators and company were solely the ones responsible, though the house music composer worked on "Phantom" and did the same catchy theme..John Sangster. Studio was Air Programs Internaitonal. Total TV writer Chester Stover wrote the stories..

    I'll let other fill in the blanks but this is an off topic continuation of the above two posts..:)SC

  11. Mike Tiefenbacher26 May 2015 at 08:50

    On a lot of these cues, in addition to the obvious dixieland and modern jazz influences, I also hear a lot of Spike Jones (on the blaring trumpets and honking baritones, most notably)--as well as (of all people) Lawrence Welk, who, no matter what you think of him, did a lot of fine records in the mid '50s (maybe it's Curtin's use of the glockenspiel?). My absolute favorite is 8-7's variation on the "emergency" cue, which suddenly breaks into a Mancini-esque jazz break! It's just absolutely nuts, in the very best way.

  12. Hoyt Curtin:
    May his memory be eternal!

  13. Cue 8-4 will be eternally known as the 'Fred and Barney In Trouble/Frantic Chase' cue, although it was also used very effectively in the Yogi short "Loco Locomotive". Cute 8-7 was also commonly used for chase/crisis scenes, although as presented here it's constantly interrupted by other, more rarely heard score associated with Flintstone or Top Cat characters in jazz clubs.

    Cue 8-9 is another marvelous chase theme that I associate not so much with THE FLINTSTONES (though it was used a few times) as every time Magilla Gorilla starts riding a motor vehicle he shouldn't.

    1. 8-4 ended both that Yogi short and the Season 5 Flintstones "Dr.Sinister"!

      It and 8-9 were very effective for one of the most hotly debatle Pebbles/Bamm Bamm episodes, Season 6's premiere, "No Biz Like Show Biz" (the one Yowp regards as his least favorite due to the cutesey "Sunshine Song") and also in Season 2's Flintstones "The Sweepstakes Ticket".SC

  14. Oh my God! I've been searching for such cues for a VERY LONG time. Could you by any chance delights us with cues from shows such as "Dastardly and Muttley in their flying machines" or "Scooby Doo Where Are YOU!"? They are rarer than gold on the web, nowhere to buy them.

    1. I'm afraid, Anon, I don't have any Ted Nichols music.

  15. I remember hearing cue 8-7 from the Flintstones episode "Surfin' Fred" and the Loopy De Loop cartoon "Bear Hug".

    Do you have any other cues you've not shared yet? I remember a set number of cues I heard on Lippy the Lion cartoons, which I believe originated from the Loopy De Loop underscore, but the melodies I remember never appeared on the Hanna-Barbera Pic-a-Nic Basket CD set.

  16. I think the tracks are broken; I can't seem to access them.

  17. They work fine for me. It must be a browser plug-in problem.