Wednesday 30 September 2015

Happy 55th Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty

Fred Flintstone is a good guy underneath, despite his bluster, pig-headedness and other faults. Barney Rubble is a good-natured, loyal friend. Both of those things remained constant through various incarnations of the Flintstones. That’s why the Bedrockers have survived for so long and are still popular today.

The internet is one big calendar. It loves birthdays, anniversaries, death-iversaries. Today marks 55 years since the Flintstones made history in becoming the first prime-time, made-for-TV cartoon series. (No, that’s not Ubba Ubba from Ruff and Reddy making a guest appearance in the ad you see. It’s Fred, Jr. who was dropped from the show in development around the time the name “Flagstones” was changed to “Flintstones.” Someone evidently didn’t tell whoever supplied newspaper ads for ABC affiliates because this appeared in a number of papers).

The Flintstones initially suffered from its advance hype. It was pushed and pushed in interviews as an “adult” show. Critics expected something more sophisticated than what it saw, they anticipated a cartoon full of pointed satire on modern day life. That wasn’t what they got. The reviewers weren’t generally happy. Besides the storyline of the debut cartoon, “The Flintstone Flyer,” the laugh track and the animation also came in for criticism (reviewers may have thought prime-time would bring about higher budgets to pay for rendering closer to what Uncle Walt was showing off on his Sunday evening show. You can read the “inked disaster” review from the New York Times and other printed lashings HERE). In fact, this blog has been around so long, we’ve “anniversaried” the show plenty. Read some thoughts about the Flintstones HERE. The critic for the Yonkers Herald Statesman wasn’t altogether negative, but didn’t appear to have a high opinion of TV sitcoms themselves:

It’s a bit too much like an animated “Honeymooners,” but your previewer will guarantee you at least five solid laughs and that’s way above average. You’ll love the bowling scene, the way the paper is delivered, and the neighbor’s flying machine.
Daily Variety generally reviewed all the major new TV shows every fall. In fact, it had reviewed the Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw shows favourably days after their debuts in the late ’50s. So here’s what the Show Biz Bible had to say about the Flintstones debut. The original closing animation with credits was removed when the show went into syndication in 1966, but Variety of October 3, 1960 has preserved some of the names that were originally on the screen.
(Fri., 8:30-9 p.m., ABC-TV)
Filmed by Hanna & Barbera for Miles Labs. Producers-directors, Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna; written by Joe Barbera, Mike Maltese, Dan Gordon; animator, Carlo Vinci; camera, Frank Paiker, Roy Wade; layout, Walt Clinton; editor, Joseph Ruby; Music, Hoyt Curtin; production Supervisor, Howard Hanson.
Voices: Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benadaret, Mel Blanc.
Animated animals are more fun than animated people. At least that’s the way it is with the assorted animals and people that pop out of television’s most creative and productive cartoonery, Hanna & Barbera. “The Flintstones,” a “people” program and first of the company’s series aimed specifically at the adult audience, proved a disappointment in its ABC bow.
Paradoxically, “The Flintstones” seems less adult than “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw,” H&B’s two remarkably clever and consistently enjoyable programs supposedly ticketed for children but equally, if not more, appealing to young adults. “Flintstones,” in keeping with the overworked current vogue, is a family comedy about two couples living in the Stone Age. There is irascible Fred Flintstone and his wife, Wilma, and easygoing Barney Rubble and spouse, Betty. The relationship of the couples, notably the men, is reminiscent of “The Honeymooners,” notably Gleason and Carney. In essence, it is a satire on modern suburban life, but in the opener it didn’t come across.
There is a laugh track, a negative factor not present in “Huck Hound” and “Quick Draw.” Apparently adults need to be advised when to chuckle, whereas children are bright enough to draw their own conclusions. Character voices are neatly conveyed by Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Benadaret and Mel Blanc. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna share the producer-director shots. Tube.
Weekly Variety went into further detail in its review of the show in its edition of October 10, 1960:
With Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Bea Bendaret [sic], Mel Blanc, others
Producers - Directors: Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna
Writers: Barbera, Mike Maltese, Dan Gordon
30 Mins., Fri., 8:30 p.m.
ABC-TV (film)
(Wade, Wm. Esty)
Out of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon shop, which has turned out such tv winners as "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw," comes the first animated series for "adult" tv with a regular cast of characters and running story line.
On paper and perhaps on the drawing board as well, "The Flintstones" looked like a shoo-in for ABC, particularly in view of the H-B track record for satire and sophistication in their cartoon fare. But a shoo-in it’s not—it will draw sizeable audiences for a start because of its novelty value and because there’s a reasonable quota of laughs in the-show, but on the basis of the first episode it doesn’t seem to have the qualities that make for staying power.
"Flintstones" is billed as a satire on suburban living, and it has the trimmings. Set in the cave-man era, its characters nonetheless live like modern suburbanites with all the latest conveniences, except that the settings and props are made out of prehistoric materials. The idea is good—it sharpens the eye for the more absurd aspects of "modern conveniences," and it enables the viewer to look at modern life from a fresh viewpoint. Unfortunately, though. Hanna & Barbera failed to take advantage of this. There were some fine sight gags, to be sure, but no satire at all, nothing to point up anything silly in modern life.
But that’s a minor matter. The main trouble with "The Flintstones" is the Flintstones, the title characters. The key to success in any situation comedy — and any cartoon series, for that matter—is that the leading characters must be likable. The Flintstones aren’t. Fred Flintstone (voice by Alan Reed) is a noisy, boastful bore, with nary a good quality to be seen. His wife (Jean Vander Pyl) is altogether a colorless character. The other regulars are their next-door-neighbors, voices by Mel Blanc and Bea Benadaret. But he’s portrayed as a stupid dolt of whom Flintstone is always taking advantage, and she’s rather dull.
As a consequence, there isn’t much for the viewer here in terms of regular tune-in except the occasional novelty of cartoon comedy, but one-dimensional comedy in the script sense at that. Fred Flintstone isn’t going to garner the kind of popularity that H-B’s Huck Hound or Yogi Bear have occasioned, since he’s not a particularly likable kind of guy. Nor is Barney Rubble, the neighbor, though he’s got a better chance.
Opening storyline was a routine sort of affair, with the men feigning injuries to get out of going to the opera so they could sneak off to bowl instead, then getting back home ahead of the wives, The stanza had its funny moments, and some of the animated props were amusing, but the entire script was pretty rudimentary, and as for the satire, it just wasn’t in evidence.
"Flintstones" is not only disappointing in itself, but because it’s a pioneer effort that could have opened the door to more animated comedy and perhaps more satire with it (a cartoon is so impersonal that it can use satire where ordinary comedy would hesitate). Someday, perhaps an adult cartoon series will make its way onto the networks, out "Flintstones," based on the preem offering, doesn’t qualify. Chan.
The critics did have some points, but audiences didn’t care. They quickly embraced the characters and the situations and the show was in the Nielsen Top 20 by November. It even spawned a 45 on the singles chart, but the studio itself had nothing to with it. More on that in a moment.

As for Hanna-Barbera itself, the studio seemingly could do no wrong. Weekly Variety, December 7, 1960:

Hanna-Barbera’s Billings Mounting
That Hanna-Barbera, Screen Gems marriage continues on its prosperous course. Kellogg’s, via Leo Burnett, has inked for another season of “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw.” Season of ‘61-‘62 Will find three Hanna-Barbera shows in national spot, with Kellogg’s picking up the tab. The third is “Yogi Bear,” which makes its debut next month as separate series.
SG also is looking for a renewal of Hanna-Barbera’s “Flintstones” next season on ABC-TV. Show, doing fine in the rating meter for the current season, has picked up another six episodes via exercising of options, with the web and sponsors now committed to 32 episodes for the season, instead of 26.
“Yogi Bear” national spot series prior to its January debut also had the number of episodes committed increased from 26 to 32.
The trades had predicted before The Flintstones debuted that if it became a hit, copycats would follow. It did and they did. Of course, you know ABC picked up Top Cat for the following fall. Weekly Variety, in one of a number of articles focusing on TV cartoons, revealed in its March 15, 1961 issue that CBS had picked up Alvin and the Chipmunks and Sy Gomberg’s The Shrimp, Don Quinn had come out of retirement to work with Bob Clampett on an animated The Edgar Bergen Show, Calvin and the Colonel had been added to the ABC schedule, while Bill Cooper Associates with shopping around Simpson and Delaney, a Jay Ward show, while California National Productions was looking for buyers for Sir Wellington Bones and a Bob and Ray show lending their voices for spoof narrations of old movies. Interestingly, there was no mention of the Bullwinkle Show, which also appeared in fall 1962. Two weeks earlier, the paper reported Disney turned down the idea of an animated sitcom for NBC.

The craze over cartoons ended quickly. Weekly Variety reported on October 18, 1962 the new shows (Calvin, Alvin, Top Cat) were taking a beating in the ratings but the networks had committed 26 episodes of each because of high production costs and then one set of reruns to try to recoup their investment. However, the Flintstones sailed onward, with critics now in the Bedrock family’s corner.

Perhaps the most interesting story of the Flintstones first season involved a union dispute. From Variety, April 5, 1961:

IATSE, NABET In Jurisdictional Tussle Over Screen Gems Robot
Chicago, April 4. — What’s the union for robots? That's what WBKB here has to find out before it can use one for "personal appearances" this week.
Station is confronted with a new jurisdictional dispute between NABET and IATSE over who's to operate the remote controls, an engineer or a stagehand. The robot in question is one developed by Screen Gems to promote ABC-TV’s “Flintstones.” It's a 300-pound mechanical replica of the character, Fred Flintstone.
“Real Life” cartoon will tour the ABC-TV affils after making its debut on the Chi station.
Fred Flintstone was entertaining off-camera as well, but Hanna-Barbera saved the idea of a robot for another series.

Ah, we mentioned a 45 on the charts. In January 1961, Capitol Records released “Goodnight Mrs. Flintstone” by the Piltdown Men. Behind the song were Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga of the Four Preps. The band was a seven-piece studio group featuring a couple of saxes (alto and baritone?), piano, electric guitar, electric bass and drums. It was an under two-minute instrumental that owes a lot to “Red River Valley” and “Good Night Ladies.” No, the song never appeared on the TV show. It’s actually pretty tame but Billboard reported on March 27 it was No 13 on the British charts. Listen to it below.

Saturday 26 September 2015

King-Size Surprise Storyboard

Stories, gags and even voices from old MGM cartoons popped up at Hanna-Barbera in the early days. A good example is the Pixie and Dixie cartoon King-Size Surprise (1958-59 season) which owed a lot to the Tom and Jerry short The Bodyguard (1944). We reviewed the cartoon way back in this post. Now, through the courtesy of Mark Kausler, friend to all friends of cartoons, we present the storyboard for this cartoon.

Dan Gordon drew this board and his version of Jinks is a lot of fun. The expressions are really good, and they gave layout artist Walt Clinton and animator Lew Marshall a lot to work with. To be honest, I like some of his sketches more than what Marshall put on the screen.

A reader asked me about the red vs. black drawings on these storyboards. Mark kindly answered:

These are all drawn in pencil, not ink. The red is Colerase colored pencil, used to rough in drawings by animators, then the graphite lines are put down over the colored ones when the drawings are tightened up. Sometimes Dan Gordon would leave just the red roughs on the page, (like the Masking For Trouble board) maybe he felt that the red lines were strong enough in those cases. He even HAND-DREW the panel borders! No pre-printed storyboard sheets at H-B! These are all done on 12 field animation paper, if you notice the punch at the top.
Let’s check out the board. Below are Marshall’s finished drawings of panels 6 and 7. Gordon’s Jinks has rounder eyes and I like the slight open-mouth giggle better.

Charlie Shows is responsible for the dialogue. Whether he provided the dialogue here or for the finished cartoon or both, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s not the same here as in the cartoon. This is what’s in the cartoon from panels 6 to 10:

Dixie: Yeah. He’s always pickin’ on us.
Jinks chuckles
Pixie: But the worm has turned. No more runnin’ from old Jinks. We gotta fight back.
Dixie: Yeah, Pixie. Two against one. We oughta clobber that cat.
Jinks: Eh, like, uh, boo to you two!
Pixie and Dixie: It’s Jinks! Scram!
Was the extra dialogue put in to pad for time? Could be.

By the way, in panel 17, Jinks uses the word “mices.” In the cartoon, he calls them “mousies.” He didn’t use the word “meeces” consistently in the first season.

Shows was seemingly unable to resist any opportunity for rhymes, no matter who the character is. Panel 33 in the actual cartoon goes “Operation Dog Tag in the bag.” After Shows left and Warren Foster arrived in 1959, the rhymes were restricted to Yogi Bear.

When panel 49 hit the screen, Clinton (or whoever) changed the shot to leave out the mice and the little swirling bubbles around Jinks’ head. The dialogue: “Wow, now! Shee! Tuh, I’ve never been in a earthquake before.” Dixie’s line Panel 50 is lifted from Cass Daley’s radio catchphrase “I did it and I’m glad.” But the cartoon ends us with the line “We did it and I’m glad we did it.”

See the teeth in panel 56? Marshall keeps them when he animates the scene around panel 60. The dog’s first appears in three frames before impact. Panel 65 has a better line in the cartoon. Observed Jinks: “So that’s the scoop-arooni, eh?” I believe Scoop-arooni is the San Francisco Ice Cream Treat.

Marshall’s rendering of 77 and 78. See how close he is to Gordon’s work.

Bob Gentle is the background artist. Compare Gordon’s panels 86 and 90 to Gentle’s work in the cartoon.

The cartoon ends with Jinks saying, “Uh, like King-Size says, ‘You hollerin’ and I’ll keep a-comin’!” then chortling instead of what’s in the panels (the scene fades instead of irising out).

The meece run cycle that ends things is six drawings on twos. We’ve slowed down the cycle a little bit from what’s in the cartoon.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Balmy Swami With Ruff and Reddy

There are some kind, generous people on the internet who have gone to great trouble to provide the world with free stuff. For example, Tom Tryniski runs a wonderful but misnamed site called Old Fulton New York Post Cards which has scans of many newspapers and has been one of the places where I’ve found old columns and feature stories transcribed here. It’s been so helpful.

Another great site is Comic Book Plus, where someone has posted an overwhelming number of old comics. Among them are a number of Dell and Gold Key editions featuring the Hanna-Barbera characters. All for free! I can’t imagine the time it took to scan and upload them.

I’m going to borrow from the site to reprint a portion of Ruff and Reddy No. 4, dated January to March 1960. A Ruff and Reddy fan, I’m not. For someone who grew up on Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Fleischer Popeyes (not to mention Huck and Quick Draw), Ruff and Reddy was just too tame by comparison. It felt like a show for kids younger than I was. Today, I can appreciate the voice work, Fernando Montealegre’s neat backgrounds in the first two Chapters and the Capitol Hi-Q “D” series stock cues, but the series still doesn’t do anything for me. But some of you reading here like Ruff and Reddy and since the show will, unfortunately, never be given a home video release, this comic book story will have to suffice.

The format fits Ruff and Reddy pretty well. Each of their continuing adventures is very much like a comic book story in length and tone. And this one reminds me of the second Ruff and Reddy cartoon series story which starts off in a ship and then suddenly makes a turn and the characters are in Africa dealing with a different bad guy in the second half.

The characters are very well rendered in the black-and-white one-pager. I should have guessed they were by Harvey Eisenberg.

If you want to read the full comic, feel free to click on the Comic Book Plus site.

Saturday 19 September 2015

Snagglepuss in Legal Eagle Lion

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Jack Carr, Layout – Lance Nolley; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Written by Mike Maltese; Story Director – Art Davis; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, Judge with horse, Fowler Means, jurors – Daws Butler; Ornery Cuss, jurors – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-60. (first Snagglepuss of 1961-62 season).
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.

Only the hammy Snagglepuss could build himself into such a ridiculous situation that he not only becomes the presiding judge in the trial of a Western bank robber, he assumes the identities of almost everyone else needed for a court hearing. In the end he becomes his own worst enemy. And the terminology of the legal system was something perfect for writer Mike Maltese to play around with.

In order to don all those roles, Snagglepuss does a lot of zipping around. That means a lot of brush lines. The painting department at the Hanna-Barbera studio kept busy on this cartoon. Some examples...

The animator in this cartoon is veteran Jack Carr. He was born in Manhattan on June 23, 1901 to James J. and Alice (Boland) Carr. He began his career drawing comic strips for the New York Globe before going into the animation business in 1924. According to his obit in the Los Angeles Times, he worked on the silent Felix the Cat shorts. Carr got a job with the Mintz studio and moved West with it in 1930. He jumped from Mintz to Lantz to Warners in a few short years and purportedly was the voice of Buddy in the Warners cartoons (Variety noted in 1936 he was doing cartoon “vocal effects”). By the end of the decade, Carr began a long career at MGM, much of it apparently as an assistant animator as he was only credited on screen in the mid ‘40s in the George Gordon unit and toward the end of the studio’s life in the later ‘50s. Somewhere along the way, he had a spell at Disney. In November 1967, Weekly Variety reported Carr became first employee in 10-year history of Hanna-Barbera Prods. to retire under Motion Picture Pension Fund. Carr died in Los Angeles on August 3, 1974.

Carr uses the same kind of mouth movements as Ken Muse. You can see the characters have a little half row of upper teeth and a small tongue that flips around. But there’s something about it I just can’t explain that’s different than Muse’s work.

Snagglepuss emotes forth with one of his soliloquys. The situation is this. Bank robber Fowler Means and his crooked lawyer Ornery Cuss have used their guns to intimidate everyone to get out of town, thus stopping Means’ trial (“sudden lead poisonin’,” Means calls it). Included is the circuit judge, who takes refuge from the flying bullets in Snagglepuss’ cave. Sayeth the mountain lion:

Who slammeth my door and disturbeth my slumber? Mayhap an errant breeze, mayhap. (Looks down). But ho! Beneath my sleepin’ pad, a pair of boots belongin’ to a sneakin’ cad. Come out! Emerge, even!
More dialogue from this sequence.
Judge: Don’t shoot! I’m the circuit judge.
Snag: A short circuit judge.
Judge: It can get mighty dangerous out there dispensin’ justice.
Snag: Ah! If I were judge, no criminal the law would smudge.
Judge: Why not? You could take my place and split the fee.
Snag: It would be an honour to be a “your honour.”
Maltese pulls a beautiful pun. Snagglepuss is sworn in, goes into town and introduces himself to Means and his lawyer. “I’m the new circuit judge,” he declares. “Have robe, will gavel.”

Judge Snagglepuss now conjures a stream-of-consciousness routine where he invents people needed for the trial to proceed, baffling Means and Cuss in the process. He quickly becomes the prosecuting attorney who, needing a witness, instantly becomes Zelda Scrubbinbrush, the cleaning lady at the bank (Daws Butler uses his Tilly Schimmelstone voice from the Flintstones episode “The Little White Lie” as a great comic tuba cue plays in the background). No sooner does “she” smash an umbrella on the head of Cuss when he objects to the testimony, than Snagglepuss turns into Zelda’s nephew, Wild Bill Hickory Stick, “the fastest draw in the West...or East, even!”

A great sequence follows where Means tries to insult Hickory Stick into a gunfight, but Snagglepuss keeps finding excuses not to do draw a gun. “And I’ll bet she makes terrible apple pan dowdy,” growls Means. “Cain’t draw on that,” replies Snagglepuss. “Most obnoxious apple pan dowdy in the West.”

The two bad guys approach Snagglepuss from either side. Maltese now tosses in one of those fast-talking situation changes he’d pull off in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He starts giving instructions like the two are dueling and they follow along, They catch on. Suddenly, Snagglepuss resumes being the judge and orders Means from his court, not realising what he just did until he returns to the stand in the next scene. Snagglepuss decides to become the accused, who is convicted by the jury, all duplicates of Means, then returns to the bench and sentences himself to 99 years. The cartoon ends with Snagglepuss bolting from the courthouse and running along Dick Thomas’ Western plain, with rose-coloured buttes and yellow and orange dirt. Carr’s run cycle is pretty basic. Six drawings, one for each frame. Means’ feet are in the exact same position during a run cycle earlier in the cartoon. Unfortunately, I can’t create an endless cycle for you. The background begins repeating after the 16th drawing. Six doesn’t go into 16 evenly.

That background is in the opening scene (the sign is on an overlay). Thomas has another desert scenario in the background when the judge runs into Snagglepuss’ cave (on two overlays). The horse disappears from the cartoon after the first shot.

As you might expect, there’s a “Heavens to Murgatroid!” as well as a “Heaves to Habeas Corpus!” and three “Exit, stage left”s.

Art Davis is the story editor, Lance Nolley is the layout artist. There are only four characters in the cartoon (other than the identical jurors); Don Messick is Ornery Cuss while Butler plays Snagglepuss, the judge and Means.

Production R-60.
Camera: Norm Stainback.
Filmed: July 20, 1961.