Saturday, 21 November 2015

Snagglepuss in Spring Hits a Snag

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Southworth, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – John Freeman, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss – Daws Butler; Lila – Jean Vander Pyl.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-69 (second of eight Snagglepuss cartoons in second season, 1961-62).

This blog has been percolating along in a happy way for almost seven years and, in that span, I have managed to avoid a long-standing question about one particular Hanna-Barbera character that has riveted some people for years.

Is Snagglepuss gay?

The assumption by the people who care about this, or have a casual interest even, is the answer is “yes,” because Snagglepuss fits several stereotypes (he’s pink, has a high, breathy voice, and likes the legitimate theatre far too much). However no less of an authority than Joe Barbera weighed on the matter when someone casually brought it up during a story meeting on Johnny Bravo many years after the creation of the Snagglepuss cartoons. Johnny’s creator Van Partible was a witness to the conversation. “Mr. B bluntly said, ‘Snagglepuss wasn’t gay! He was modeled after Bert Lahr who was anything but gay. He beat his wife!’”

Now, Joe Barbera tended to veer a little from the facts in the interests of a good story, but if you want some proof that Mr. B. was correct, you don’t have to look much further than the cartoon “Spring Hits a Snag.”

Mike Maltese came up with a female counterpart for Snagglepuss and put her in three cartoons. “Spring Hits a Snag” was the first. Lila was no Cindy Bear who induced hearts to float out of Yogi Bear. She was a sociopath. And while Snagglepuss didn’t have his eyes bug out of his body or overreact with wild abandon like a Tex Avery character upon seeing a female character (Snagglepuss was too gentlemanly for that, even if Hanna-Barbera favoured that kind of animation, which it didn’t), he obviously had an interest in her. Witness this dialogue, to wit, to woo:

Ah, ‘tis spring again. And the bird is on the wing. Or is it ‘the wing is on the bird?’ No matter. In the spring, a young man’s fancy (rushes away to pick and smell flower) lightly turns to this and that. And those even.
What is “this and that and those”? Well, at this point, Lila runs into the cartoon, avoiding bullets from hunters all the way, stage left.
Lila: Oh, won’t you please save me from the hunter, lest I perish, mortally wounded?
Snag: Fear not, O damsel in distress. For I, Snagglepuss, the chivalrous, shall save you. (looks at audience) It ain’t spring for nothin,’ you know.
Yes, in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love and, in this case, Snagglepuss’ interest turns to Lila. Considering what happens in the cartoon, he would have been better off if his interest involved listening to Judy Garland show-tune soundtrack records with Lyle Lion instead. If Snagglepuss weren’t so refined, he might have emulated Joe Barbera’s story about Bert Lahr.

But he doesn’t. He puts up with Lila’s never-ending stream of verbal abuse once he invites her into his humble home. “Hmm. It is humble, isn’t it? Like early primitive,” remarks the unimpressed Lila, already not appreciating the fact Snagglepuss has given her sanctuary from hunters. She puts down his ratty furniture, then his poetry reading:

Snag: I shall smooth thy pretty brow of care with readin’s from the classics. (opens book) “Ah, ‘tis spring! And I can hear the soft chirpin’ of the crimson-tufted tattersill. To wit, to woo. To woo, to wit.”
Lila: Aw, knock it off.
Snag (surprised): What was that?! Sounded like an angry wildcat, wounded in the clavicle.
Lila: That was me. Shall I say it again with witnesses?
Yeah, you get the idea pretty fast what she’s really like. Even in limited animation, you can tell her opinion of Snagglepuss’ response to her demand for food by cooking an old gnu stew “and casserole, even...sprinkled liberally with chutney chives.”

She pushes him around the whole cartoon, sending him out to get wild berries (“Big deal,” she snarks, obviously not even wanting the berries), then complaining about the noise as he’s getting shot at while picking them off-camera. Later he gets “One berries, wild. Or terribly annoyed” but she gripes she wants new ones, not the ones he picked moments ago. Whenever Snagglepuss finally gets fed up enough to stand up to her, she cries and he slinks back into his polite meekness. Finally, the cartoon ends with Snag braving the hunter’s bullets than the shrewish witch he’s left behind in his cave. And, no, his fancy doesn’t turn to a male mountain lion. So let’s put any more rumours to rest.

The animation’s by Ken Southworth. There’s really jerky walk from the cave in long-ish shot at the start of the cartoon. These are consecutive frames. What’s happened to Snagglepuss’ collar?

Story editor John Freeman or Joe Barbera or someone found an ingenious way to save a bit of time. See how Lila is covering her face when she cries? No need to animate dialogue. Just a few drawings of Lila are used and re-used to have her body jerk around. The second time the same animation is used again, the cels are turned over and painted on the other side. And there’s another scene where Snag just stands there blinking for eight seconds with Jean Vander Pyl’s dialogue off camera.

Catchphrases: “Exit, berry-pickin’ all the way, stage right.” “Exit, ‘til after huntin’ season, stage right.” And, yes, we get a “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”

There aren’t too many Hanna-Barbera cartoons from this era featuring only two characters, but this one of them. Daws Butler and Vander Pyl work well together in this, with Jean digging up a low-class New Yorkish voice that’s different than the one she’d use later for Rosey on The Jetsons.

Cues from The Flintstones and Loopy De Loop find their way into the background and are well selected. The scene where Snagglepuss is henpecked into doing all those chores (with some mouth movements that don’t match the dialogue) is accompanied by music from Top Cat.


  1. As usual, Jean Van der Pyl does a great job voicing Lila. She captures the manipulative nature of Lila perfectly. She had quite a range--Wilma Flintstone, Rosey the Robot, Maw Rugg, winsome Witch, the various feline girlfriends of Top Cat--and always seemed to give the part what it required vocally. She and Daws Butler make a great team in this cartoon.

    I never quite "got" this cartoon as a kid--I wondered why she couldn't be nice to him since he was being nice to her. As an adult, I find it hilarious and insightful. Sadly, there are many, many relationships that turn out exactly like this one...but without the humor and the fun.

  2. There is a tendency especially in the Internet era (which of course is never prone to hyperbolic statements) to assume that any male characters who are/were in the least bit passive/refined are gay. You see the same thing online in places with references to Jack Benny (Jack's walk in its day was lampooned for it's effeminate nature, but only as part of the overall aspect of taking Benny's on stage persona down, in the same way Jack's seeing himself as a ladies' man was a source of comedy). The same dynamic holds with Maltese's characterization of Snaglepuss -- it's easy to tie his voice and mannerisms into saying he's gay, in an era where no one uses euphemisms like 'effeminate' any more.

    (And I agree with Scarecrow that seeing this cartoon as a child, you don't really get why Snag would put up with the abuse, nor why Lila would act that way. It's only when you move towards adulthood that you understand, which is one of the reasons why the early H-B efforts differ from the stuff from at least 1965 onward. Maltese was still working under the old Warner Bros. credo here in writing stories that entertained the people making the cartoons, and those making them knew about dysfunctional male-female audit relationships -- by the mid-60s the stories all had to be written to satisfy the kids in the audience, and usually ended up doing the opposite, because the kids in the audience didn't like being talked down to by their cartoons.)

    1. Jean was doing her impression of Vivian Blaine's "Miss Adelaide" from "Guys and Dolls".

    2. Interesting. I remember seeing this..I thought Lila was Julie Bennett.SC

  3. There is an actress who really reminds me of Lila....Shera Danese.

    Looks like her, and has a similar voice and a bit of a Brooklyn accent. It's quite uncanny.

    She was Peter Falk's wife and appeared in a number of Columbo episodes.

    She is in the episode about the chef-killing restaurant reviewer, "Murder Under Glass" which is available on Netflix, in case you don't have the DVD right beside you, which I do.