Saturday 28 January 2017

Composing For the Flintstones

Hoyt Curtin, mused the late Earl Kress, “made the biggest impact on cartoon music since Carl Stalling...he is responsible for changing from a classical music sound to a big band flavor.” And Earl should know as he, with great delight, had access to the master music library at Hanna-Barbera when he helped compile CDs of the studio’s themes and incidental music for release by Rhino a number of years ago.

Not a lot seems to have been written in depth about Curtin—I’d love to find an interview he did in the September 1992 edition of Film Score Monthly—but what we’ve found, we’ve posted here. And another story has surfaced during a search; it’s from the Boston Globe, May 28, 1961. There’s no byline so it may have been a handout from H-B public relations man Arnie Carr.

I’ve never really thought about what Curtin mentions in the article. For one thing, the Flintstones’ music ended up on other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, so it’s not character-specific. I have noticed he wrote “B” underscore themes—on The Flintstones, it was the melody that later became the theme song; on The Jetsons, it’s a tune that was later adapted as the theme for Josie and the Pussycats. There are variations on each of the melodies—bridges, tags and so on—the same kind of thing you’ll find in the Capitol Hi-Q and other stock music libraries.

Perhaps Curtin was following the example of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s previous composer. As animator and historian Mark Kausler points out, Tom and Jerry each had their own little theme composed by Scott Bradley going back to their first cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot (1940). Sergei Prokofiev did the same thing with his symphony Peter and the Wolf.

It should be mentioned Curtin didn’t actually win the Emmy for Huck; the series won it.

Music Lovers, Be Seated
Do you detect the Wagnerian motif in the cartoon series, “The Flintstones”?
Musicman Hoyt Curtin, 38, put it in. As musical director for the cartoon favorite, Curtin believes this is the first time in any TV series that the Wagnerian approach has been applied so extensively to a score.
“For the devout, this is known as theming the characters. In other words, each main character has his own theme. This is them orchestrated and handled to fit the situation as it occurs. Each theme is woven into the musical pattern as a character identifying tag,” says Curtin.
The characters in the ABC cartoon strip include Wilma and Fred Flintstone and Betty and Barney Rubble. Each week they cavort through a series of hilarious adventures in Stone Age suburbia. Bea Benadaret [sic] and Mel Blanc, top entertainers in their own right, provide the voices for Betty and Barney. Jean Vander Pyl and Alan Reed are the voices behind Wilma and Fred.
“The old ‘Dum-de-dum-dum’ theme of Dragnet and the Wyatt Earp music used some of the same technique,” Curtin commented. “But there is a tendency these days to score TV shows even closer to the main characters. This may be common practice in the near future,” he added.
Curtin works 60 hours a week at this sort of thing—applying music to characters. He has won an Emmy for “Huckleberry Hound” and an Oscar for “Magoo Flew.” Twenty-two bandmen are used for the music work on “The Flintstones.” Some have come from the hot jazz cliques, such as Buddy Cole, Nick Fatool and Pete Candoli. “We seek brightness in sound,” says Curtin, who received a Master’s Degree in composition at the University of Southern California in 1947.
For the men in the show—Fred and Barney—the dominant instrument is a bass clarinet.
For the women—Wilma and Betty—it’s woodwinds.
Picking the music and instrument to fit the character and situation of a Flintstone episode can be trying at time.
“After all, you have to figure out what kind of music does a cave man play? We decided it couldn’t be progressive jazz and not the sound of the 20’s, or Glenn Miller. Anything dates is out,” concluded Curtin.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

Well, Don't That Beat All

Huckleberry Hound won some and lost some. But he sure got bashed around a spell in them early days, as he might tell us.

In his first appearance on the air in Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie, Officer Huck kind of captures an escaped gorilla, but it’s more like the gorilla captures him after a continual clobbering. In his what was apparently his second outing, Lion-Hearted Huck, African Hunter Huck gets abused by a practical joker lion until the end of the cartoon. The lion steals the engine out of Huck’s jeep and guffaws to himself about it. But when Huck starts the jeep, the disembodied engine unexpectedly starts and takes off through the air with the surprised and now-frightened lion riding it. Huck is calm about the whole thing, as he has been during pretty much the whole cartoon. “Well, don’t that beat all,” he says to himself, then turns to the TV audience and observes “That there lion’ll do anythin’ for a laugh.” (The music in the background is Jack Shaindlin’s “On the Run,” heard in many of the early Huck cartoons).

Hanna-Barbera had cycle animation galore. Let’s recreate Ken Muse’s animation of the lion riding the motor in an endless loop. There are 16 frames (a foot) of drawings before the lion reaches the same tree, though Muse uses only three drawings in the cycle, so it’s not quite as it appears in the actual cartoon. It’s also a little slower.

The raves for the Huckleberry Hound Show started coming in almost as soon as it aired. The series had made a solo appearance on tuned-up TV sets in the Los Angeles area when Barbara Cox wrote in the Times of October 5, 1958:

With the notable exception of Channel 2’s new-as-autumn Huckleberry Hound, any rundown of what’s new in children’s TV should really read “what’s old” . . . I’m pasting my own personal seal of approval right now on Huckleberry Hound, latest addition to the animated animal crowd. Frankly, I’m absolutely smitten. Freshness in music, voices, dialogue and characters—take a look Tuesday night at 6:30!
This cartoon apparently debuted starting the week of Monday, October 6th and was repeated the week of Monday, April 6, 1959. It was quite some time ago that we reviewed this cartoon. You can read it in this post.

Saturday 21 January 2017

Snagglepuss in Rent and Rave

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Jack Ozark, Layout – Tony Rivera, Backgrounds – Neenah Maxwell, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Art Davis, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss – Daws Butler; Lila – Jean Vander Pyl; Announcer – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-78 (sixth of eight in 1961-62 season).
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss rents his home for some extra money, but his tenant is the constantly-demanding Lila.

Snagglepuss met up with the domineering mountain lioness Lila in three cartoons. They’re all pretty good. Unlike the other two, Lila isn’t attempting to land Snagglepuss as a husband in this one, nor is she as calculating. She’s just plain old bossy and self-absorbed. (She’s also a yellow colour in this cartoon instead of a shade of purple-pink). As in her debut cartoon, Spring Hits a Snag, she launches into a crying routine after Snagglepuss has had enough of her constant harping and tells her to shut up. Snagglepuss backs down. But only temporarily. He finally unleashes a torrent of tap water in her face (in reused animation), cuts away the annex to his home and happily floats down river on it. He’s seen the end of her at the end of the cartoon (well, until the next cartoon).

This cartoon was animated by Jack Ozark, who has a really odd way of drawing Snagglepuss at times. Ozark’s animation career began in 1932 at the Fleischer studio in New York. He arrived at Hanna-Barbera in 1961; he had spent the previous year animating Q.T. Hush cartoons for Animation Associates and then on the Dick Tracy TV animated series. He worked for several years at Hanna-Barbera before moving on to Filmation around 1966.

Here, Snagglepuss’ snout is thinner and longer than usual.

Snagglepuss has an inwardly curved forehead.

In some scenes, Snag has slanted oval eyes.

A head-shake scene leaves Snagglepuss with an oversized head.

And there are scenes where his eyes are a little farther apart than others. Carlo Vinci spaced eyes apart like this, too.

He also had Snagglepuss bending from the waist during dialogue in a number of places in the cartoon. Perhaps that was indicated on Tony Rivera’s layouts.

Shots from scene to scene didn’t always match in Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Here’s an example, though it’s not as bad as I’ve seen in some cartoons. These are consecutive frames. Snagglepuss should have the same mouth position.

There are places in the cartoons where Ozark is animating on ones, but the animation’s not altogether fluid. He also gives Snagglepuss a few hand gestures (in one scene, Snag wiggles his fingers in a little cycle).

There’s always some fun dialogue in a Snagglepuss cartoon. In this one, our hero has a conversation with his radio after lamenting he doesn’t have enough money for a South Seas vacation.

Radio: Friend, are you feeling a little pinched? Would a little money ease the pain? That extra cash for those little extra things you’ve always wanted, hmmm?
Snagglepuss: Yes! Yes!
Radio: For a vacation. A new car. 500 pounds of putty.
Snagglepuss: How’s about a South Seas cruise?
Radio: Yes, even a South Seas cruise.
Snagglepuss: How do I get the money? How do I get the ditto?
Radio: By simply letting us build another room on your home. Then all you have to do is sit back and collect the rent.
Snagglepuss: I get it. Then I stand up and use the money for a South Seas cruise.
Radio (angrily): Not until you pay us $10,000 for building you the room.
Snagglepuss: Nothin’ doin’! (turns off radio) I’ll build my own room and thereby eliminate the middle man, little man.
Snagglepuss fits in his usual catchphrases and variations thereon (“Heavens to Hilton! It’s a tenant!” ... “Heavens to rental unit! I’ve been duplexed! Evacuated, even!” ... “I take leave of the landlord biz. Exit, to the rental unit, stage left.”), as well as puns (“She’s undoubted-tedly a school teacher. Or some such intellectual careerist. I can tell by the cut of her giblets.”)

Hoyt Curtin’s music should be familiar to those weened on H-B cartoons in 1961. The sound cutter finds a place for the Lippy the Lion/Touche Turtle running music when Snagglepuss is forced to lift and cart a piano around while Lila can’t make up her mind where to put it (“Heavens to slipped discs!”). A lot of the music is recognisable from the Flintstones; the Fred-working-in-the-quarry cue pops up when Snagglepuss is fixing the faucet.

Finally, another cycle. Eye pupil drawings 1, 2, 3, 2 create a take.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Flintstones Weekend Comics, January 1967

Gene Hazelton or someone writing stories for Hanna-Barbera newspaper comics must have had rock-and-rolling nieces in mind. A Yogi Bear comic 50 years ago this month features one, and so does a Flintstones. We get golf in a couple, garbage in a couple and Fred drives four out of the five plots. Dino makes one incidental appearance and that’s in the opening panel of the January 1st comic. Barney shows up once and Betty not at all. The colour versions are courtesy of Richard Holliss.

January 1, 1967.

January 8, 1967. I like how wild dinosaurs stand around in the first panel, second row.

January 15, 1967. Nothing like a triceratops snow plow.

January 22, 1967.

January 29, 1967. Patty?! Shouldn’t her name be Rock-elle or Stone-ella or something like that?

Saturday 14 January 2017

A Date With Jet Screamer, Part 2

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera evidently wanted to make the Jetsons episode A Date With Jet Screamer a special cartoon. The episode comes to a complete stop for a one-minute, 45-second song. Instead of cycle animation of Screamer singing and cuts to various shots of the audience screaming or snapping fingers, the studio brought in Bobe Cannon to work on a special sequence of images, some abstract, to be shown during much of the song.

Cannon’s animation career began at Warner Bros. where he was eventually put into the new Tex Avery unit in 1936. But his best-known work was at UPA, where he won an Oscar for Gerald McBoing Boing and directed some lesser cartoons featuring children.

Hanna-Barbera had many competent, veteran artists—even some from Disney—so Cannon’s hiring for one cartoon is puzzling. However, he ended up working with layout artist Jerry Eisenberg to create a sequence that’s likely unique in the studio’s life.

Frame grabs don’t give you anywhere near the full effect of the animation. The sequence opens with some symbols representing guitar playing with the lyrics moving across the screen, growing and shrinking.

Jet and Judy fly behind some kind of odd space fence and then meet “a man with a funny, funny face” whose body changes into the song lyrics.

“Come on, fly with me!” sings Jet. He sails from frame bottom to top with blue, star and planet-filled space in the distance.

Howard Morris voices Jet Screamer in his first job for Hanna-Barbera (his first cartoon work may have been in a public service short called Stop Driving Us Crazy!, made in 1959 and released in early 1960). Morris’ hiring is interesting. Joe Barbera didn’t go with a young, rock-and-roll sounding guy or even Duke Mitchell, who sang for Fred Flintstone during the 1960-61 season of The Flintstones. At the time, Morris was known mainly for over-the-top performances as part of Sid Caesar’s cast (his work on The Andy Griffith Show came the season after The Jetsons left prime time). Whatever reasoning resulted in his hiring, it’s hard to think of anyone else voicing Jet Screamer.

Monty painted the backgrounds from Dick Bickenbach’s layouts. Dan Gordon is credited with story direction. Neither Cannon’s nor Eisenberg’s names are in the credits, which is a crime.

These young people are going into a lounge where Jet Screamer is performing live but the shot at the end of the song shows them all on a couch watching a big screen TV. Maybe this is a spill-over room or something.

This is a cloud that George (animated by Carlo Vinci) hides behind.

How’s this for a futuristic piano?

Judy’s expression. Hey, in the future, they still have newspaper photographers with little “press” tickets in their hats while taking pictures with flash cameras. Ret-ro!

A Date With Jet Screamer was the second Jetsons show to air, on September 30, 1962. Variety reported “a major upset” in the ratings, with the show winning the 7:30 p.m. time slot. It had an 18.9 share compared to 16.9 for the first half of Disney on NBC and 15.9 for the season premiere of Dennis the Menace on CBS. All those numbers are comparatively small. Compare them to Bonanza’s 31 audience number later in the evening. As it turned out, cartoon-loving kids aside, viewers already had one modern-family-in-different-era show and didn’t want another. By the end of the season, Uncle Walt’s wonderful world won the ratings war, and George, Jane, Judy and Elroy were dispatched to Saturday morning reruns. Despite some initial promise, and good work by Bobe Cannon, Jet Screamer would scream in prime time no longer.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Growing and Selling a Cartoon Studio

It’s fascinating to see how the Hanna-Barbera studio tried to turn its disadvantages into selling points using public relations via the press.

To hear Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and PR whiz Arnie Carr tell it, there was no difference between the wonderful violence animation by Irv Spence in a Tom and Jerry cartoon and a shot of a background painting of Mr. Jinks’ living room while Frank Paiker shakes the camera.

I suppose in a way they were right. Both scenes got laughs. But I can think of plenty of occasions watching old H-B cartoons and thinking how much better something would have played in full animation. Especially as the 1960s wore on.

The term “planned animation” the studio insisted on using was more PR. All animation is planned. But “planned” sounds better than “limited.”

Here’s a studio profile published in the Christian Science Monitor’s “Hollywood Letter” column of October 18, 1960. The studio history was now including the “underdog” factor, how it tried and tried and tried and tried to get someone to get someone to look at its TV cartoons when the fact was George Sidney, head of the Directors Guild of America, hooked up Hanna and Barbera with Columbia Pictures. Sidney invested in H-B Enterprises at the very start and was an officer of the company until it was sold to Taft, but his name seems to have vanished from newspaper stories on the studio as time progressed.

200 characters? Well, including fine secondary characters like Yowp (and why shouldn’t you?) and everyone else who ever appeared, I guess the number is as good as any. And “less dialogue”? Hanna-Barbera cartoons practically became nothing but dialogue, dependent on the great voice work of Daws Butler, Don Messick and a number of others. You’ll find a lot more character chatter once Warren Foster and Mike Maltese arrived than when Barbera, Dan Gordon and Charlie Shows were putting together stories for Huck and Yogi in 1958 (admittedly, the studio’s first series, Ruff and Reddy, was pretty wordy). Fortunately, Maltese and Foster were more than adept at funny dialogue and they somehow coped with the insane amount of story work they were required to do. And the article is right. The early Hanna-Barbera characters “captured the imagination” and their cartoons still amuse people today.

You’ll notice the reference to “Hairbreath Hare.” Ol’ Hairy became two characters. First, he morphed into a turtle named Touché. But one of his proposed designs was pulled out of a file a few years later and used for Ricochet Rabbit. Whether the other prime-time show referred to in the article was Top Cat, I don’t know. The studio seemed to have a lot of concepts being batted around, a number of which never reached the screen.

Home-Screen Animation Keeps Artists Doodling
By John C. Waugh

Huckleberry Hound is more than just a television star and a lovable, maddeningly mild-mannered Tennessee hillbilly dog. He’s a minor revolution.
And so is Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw and Auggie Dog and Boo-Boo the bear cub. And so are the Flintstones, those stone-age suburbanites who live in Bedrock.
This cast of TV cartoon characters has triggered a revolution in animated cartooning such as the entertainment world hasn’t seen since Walt Disney.
In only three years’ time Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the originators of Huckleberry, Quick Draw, Yogi, and all the rest, have breathed new life into animation.
Three years ago no new animated cartoons at all were being made for television. It was considered too painstaking and costly. Major theatrical studios were laying off their cartoon staffs, and Walt Disney, the pioneer of the animated cartoon, was devoting nearly all his talents to real-life dramas, true-life dramas, and Disneyland.
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who created and for 20 years produced the famous “Tom and Jerry” cartoon features for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, became casualties of the major studio layoffs.
Jobless, but armed with a raft of ideas and a precious cartoon technique developed out of two decades of experience, they headed for television. Producer after producer told them it couldn’t be done, that good animation is too expensive and anything less was too junky.
Mssrs. Hanna and Barbera finally sold Screen Gems on their ideas and overnight Hanna-Barbera Productions was formed, the first company ever to set up specifically to provide new cartoon material strictly for TV.
Now Huckleberry Hound leads a colorful parade of more than 200 cartoon characters weekly across the nation’s television screens. All spring from the deft pens and comic minds of Hanna-Barbera cartoonists. The company now employs over 50 per cent of the top cartoonists on the West Coast. And they produce more cartoons in two weeks than the major studios used to produce in a year.
They have fashioned their revolution in cartoonery with a new technique that is really as old as the art of animation itself. It is called “planned animation.” By caricature, by careful planning with more story, less dialogue, more close-ups, and less extraneous matter (sheaves of falling leaves, for instance), Hanna-Barbera cartoonists are able to eliminate 80 per cent of the drawing and still maintain high quality.
A tumble by Yogi Bear down the stairs, for example, is not shown, but merely mirrored on the face of a wincing Boo-Boo.
“We make 1,700 drawings instead of 17,000 for a sequence,” explains Mr. Barbera, “and we don’t lose a thing, not a thing.”
There’s no doubt they save time and money. A half-hour cartoon drawn the old way would have cost $200,000 at least. By planned animation, known what to cut and what not to cut, Hanna-Barbera produces the same thing at a third of the cost and in half the time. Even at that it still takes about seven months to whip up a half-hour cartoon such as “The Flintstones.”
Hanna-Barbera now produces three half-hour shows a week for television: “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw” during the daylight hours, and the family-oriented situation cartoon, “The Flintstones,” for prime nighttime viewing (Fridays from 8:30 to 9 p.m. on NBC-TV).
And others are coming. Yogi Bear, longtime second fiddle to Huck, will soon star in his own half-hour show. And Hanna-Barbera is mapping still another half-hour show for prime-time family viewing.
In 1961, two five-minute syndicated shows will take to the air. One is “Hardy-Har-Har,” all about a sad hyena, and the other is the adventures of “Hairbreath Hare,” a swashbuckling rabbit.
These cartoon characters, oblivious of the revolution they represent, go about weekly charming an estimated 40,000,000 viewers, young and old. Huck, Yogi, and Quick Draw have captured the American imagination in a manner that Disney characters did two decades ago.

Saturday 7 January 2017

Yakky Doodle in Horse Collared

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey, Layout – Lance Nolley, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Paul Sommer, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Farmer, Charlie, Hunter, Circus Barker, TV director, Indians, Announcer – Daws Butler; Yakky Doodle – Jimmy Weldon.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-22.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Yakky protects an old horse that a farmer wants to put out to pasture.

Does Yakky Doodle have a split personality?

In some cartoons, he’s helpless, naïve, even ignorant, and would surely be eaten or shot to death if Chopper didn’t come along to help him. But there are other cartoons where he’s the aware one, suddenly developing wits to save others around him.

This is one of those cartoons.

In this case, the poor character in need of assistance is a “kinda beat up looking old horse” as he’s referred to throughout the cartoon; Mike Maltese is big on repeating strings of adjectives. The gag ideas in the cartoon are fine but Maltese could have used some stronger dialogue to punch up things as too many scenes just fade out after a weak punchline. Yakky hides Charlie Horse under water, in a tree (the branch Charlie’s clinging to falls down and he lands on a farmer in animation reused later), dresses him as a moose (who unexpectedly learns it’s moose hunting season), disguises him as a wooden merry-go-round horse (smoke from the farmer’s pipe makes him sneeze) and finally gallops him into the filming of a TV western. Charlie is mistaken shot in the butt with arrows (real) by Indian braves (actors). His painful dance (the arrows mysteriously vanish) impresses the movie’s director and the cartoon ends with Charlie repeating it on the farmer’s television, having been signed to a contract as Yakky Doodle Buckaroodle and his wonder horse Flashie. (Exclaims the director: “Wow!! That is the best horsin’ rider like I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen several).

Normally, the layout artist designed the incidental characters in H-B cartoons in the early days but Lance Nolley simply borrowed the horse design from the Augie Doggie cartoon Horse Fathers (1961) and changed his colour from blue to white (the horse has pretty much the same personality as Roscoe in Horse Fathers).

The cartoon got a lot of use of the one background drawing of rolling block of red and orange with sticks of trees, accompanied by a fence. Charlie rides past a large tree in it seven times in one scene and ten in another. The colour technique is nice. Neenah Maxwell is responsible. She was the daughter of Max Maxwell, the production manager at the MGM cartoon studio, and niece of Howard Hanson, the assistant production manager at MGM and the production supervisor at Hanna-Barbera when it opened.

A couple of other backgrounds. It’s a shame these cartoons were in black-and-white for years; people wouldn’t have seen the purple trees.

Veteran Hicks Lokey got the animation assignment on this one. Here’s how he zips Charlie off screen when moose hunters start firing at him.

Among the Hoyt Curtin cues in this cartoon are his take on The Arkansas Traveler; A Hunting We Will Go; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star; The William Tell Overture and Over the Waves. The rest of the music is recognisable from the Loopy de Loop and other short cartoons around this time. The Western theme at the end was used in the final season of the Quick Draw McGraw Show

Other than Yakky, Daws Butler handles the characters. He digs out his Ed Sullivan voice for the TV announcer. The farmer, as you can see to the right, owns a generic brand television set.