Saturday 25 February 2017

The Jetsons – Elroy’s Pal

About all “Elroy’s Pal” is missing is an ending where George Reeves says “And they call ME Superman.”

You’ll recall the I Love Lucy episode where the TV Superman (Reeves) was supposed to show up at the Ricardo home to meet Little Ricky, and when he couldn’t, Lucy dressed up as an incompetent version of Superman. But then the real TV Superman changed his mind and went so he wouldn’t disappoint the child. (The episode ended with the line quoted above). Well, that’s pretty much the storyline of this Jetsons episode which aired about six years later.

It also owes a lot—an awful lot, in fact—to the Augie Doggie episode “Fan Clubbed” (1960). Both cartoons involve a catchphrasing TV space hero that couldn’t show up to greet his little fan. Both have dad going to the TV station (with a shot of a background drawing of the station). Both have dad discover the hero is too sick to show up at the kid’s home. Both have dad dressing up as the hero and bollixing up the impersonation. Both even have the line “That’s my boy who said that!” (Okay, “Fan Clubbed” may not, but we all know Doggie Daddy said it often enough).

The whole idea of a costumed space hero that could fly or do other kinds of Superman-type stuff was pretty much an anachronism when this episode aired in the U.S. on December 16, 1962. Nimbus the Great is based on characters found in shows like Captain Video or Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, which had been off the air for a number of years. You can trace their lineage back another 20-plus years to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Pretty soon, Star Trek would change the nature of space adventure shows.

There’s another ancient reference in this cartoon, one I doubt any kids got in 1962. There’s a line about something going out with “high button space shoes.” What kid would know what high button shoes were? Jack Benny and other radio comedians were doing gags in the 1930s about them being old-fashioned then. The story in this cartoon was written by Walter Black, who penned a ton of stuff in the ‘60s and came out of radio.

Black was born Walter Bloch on April 13, 1916 in Munich, Germany, the son of American-born painter Albert Bloch. After graduating in 1936 from the University of Kansas, where he did a bit of acting, he served three years in the Pacific with the 13th U.S. Army Air Force. He went to New York after the war where he co-authored the musical comedies “The Man Who Stole Sixth Avenue” and “Mother Was a Halfback” (neither of which made it to the stage) and continued to act. In 1953, he co-created, co-wrote and won a National Laugh Foundation award for the best radio sitcom for My Son Jeep and was active with the Writers Guild of America when in New York in the 1950s. Black, incidentally, appeared in at least one episode of a DuMont network show called Captain Video.
He died in Lawrence, Kansas on June 8, 1990.

Added to the story is a gentle spoof on cereal box-top premiums (again, something that went back to radio days) and stuff that could be found on the backs of cereal boxes. Some cereal companies had cardboard records you could actually play. Elroy’s favourite cereal, Moonies, has a TV set. The televised Nimbus’ hands go outside the screen to hand it to Elroy to show him (a switch on another old gag, but a fun one nonetheless). Moonies are a parody themselves of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. They don’t snap, crackle and pop but they do make a lot of noise.

The most fun in this cartoon is for freeze framers, thanks to animator Hugh Fraser, who had spent the better part of the 1940s and ‘50s at Disney. Fraser had a particular way of stretching the head in takes. You can see it in this sneeze drawing.

Some more of Nimbus’ sneezing. Some of these drawings were exposed on two frames, others on one.

Carlo Vinci animates in this cartoon as well. Here are a couple of exit drawings of George Jetson that are pure Vinci.

I will not venture a guess about other animators on this cartoon.

● Running gag when characters see Nimbus: “No offence, but you look bigger on TV.” “Everybody does.”
● On fleeting television fame: “I’m the fifth Nimbus on the program in the last two years. Anybody can be Nimbus. It’s all in the costume.”
● And on how not everything in the future will be perfect: “We’ve conquered space, but we still haven’t learned to prevent the common cold.”

This must be one of the few Jetsons episodes which features a sequence of George at the office but Mr. Spacely is nowhere to be found.

Daws Butler gets to play opposite himself in one act where Elroy and Henry Orbit sit down to eat cereal. Janet Waldo doesn’t have much to do as Judy but she lends a voice to George’s secretary, Miss Asteroid. Howie Morris is the guest voice here, playing Nimbus, Elroy’s Nimbus playmate Willie Lightyear, as well as George’s conscience, one of those small representations of a character that you find in cartoons floating near a character’s head or sitting on their shoulder (usually, there’s a devilish counterpart, but not in this cartoon).

The Jetsons’ home interiors are always great. It’s a shame the credits were removed from the cartoons when they went into syndication in the ‘80s. Here are a couple. Oh, how I wish the background drawings survived.

My favourite invention in this cartoon is the spray that creates a plaid cushion for a lounge chair. Another button-pressing gizmo brings down a mechanical claw from the ceiling and carts someone elsewhere in the home (it was supposed to nab Elroy but gets George by mistake, since future tech never works in the Jetsons’ home). Snail mail still exists, except it’s delivered by a mailman in an airborne car. And the Jetsons sleep in separate beds (Whew! Morality is saved) but joined by the same headboard.

Overall, the cartoon’s pleasant, but all too familiar. Wholesale regurgitating of ideas had become a Hanna-Barbera fixture by 1962, to the studio’s detriment.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Popular Huck

In 1959-60, there were all kinds of newspaper stories talking about the popularity of The Huckleberry Hound Show, and all the crazy things it spawned, like the name of an island in the Antarctic and a club in England.

Here’s a short piece from the New York Herald Tribune of August 21, 1960. Huck was close to starting his third season by that point. There’s no byline, but there is a plug for The Flintstones and the Huck presidential campaign, which was a huge, coordinated publicity push that we’ve talked about in several posts, including this one.

There are some puzzling things in this story. Huck nearsighted? And “Hideous Huck?” I think that and the reference to TV bowling marathons come from the little cartoons between the cartoons, though Huck did star in “Ten Pin Alley” (1959).

Huckleberry Hound – top dog with the small fry
It’s not every mythical, blue-eyed dog that has a real island or a British jazz society named after him. But these—and a raft of other tributes—have befallen perhaps the most famous cartoon canine since Pluto the Pup. Huckleberry Hound is the name, and this most engaging creature can be seen locally via WPIX, Thursdays, 6:30 p.m., enjoying the top-rating in its time slot. (It is, according to Variety’s weekly Pulse figures, the top-rated non-network show across the nation.)
Recently, “Huck” won an Emmy as the best children’s show on TV, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This inimitable pup has as nearly as many adult fans as he does small fry, a fact which is readily understandable when one analyzes the show and looks into its delightful satiric undertones.
Just what—or who—is Huckleberry Hound? A tenacious hound with an ingratiated manner and a Southern drawl. The show contains three segments; Huck—who also has a hand in the amusing commercials—appears in the first. The second stars Yogi Bear, a genial slow-thinker, leading citizen of Jellystone National Park, and the third features Mr. Jinks, method-actor “cool” cat who consorts with “meeces” (mice), Pixie and Dixie.
The show’s forte, and most appealing to adults, is fiendish glee in kidding some of TV’s favorite clich├ęs. For example, witness Lonesome Huck, laziest gun west of Dodge City. And Officer Huck: He covers the big city. He’s a cop. He’s nearsighted. Three-Finger Huck: He stars on a half dozen TV bowling marathons. Hideous Huck, host of Horror Haven.
Huckleberry Hound is the pet creation of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who used to do the award-winning Tom & Jerry cartoons for MGM. They now have their own company, and besides “Huck,” produce TV’s Ruff & Reddy (Saturdays, NBC) and Quick Draw McGraw, a bumbling, gunslinging horse, (Tuesdays, WPIX). In the words for Fall viewing via ABC: The Flintstones, first adult situation comedy in cartoon form.
This far, colleges, societies, symphony orchestras and military units have gotten on the Huckleberry Hound bandwagon. He is the mascot of any number of organizations, the darling of a host of fan clubs who shout his praises throughout the country. At present, Huck is ostensibly running for the Presidency, and even has a Golden Records album out to that effect, together with some five million campaign buttons on tap.
One thing is certain: Huck will garner a lot of votes.

The blue hound didn’t end up in the White House. But about two weeks after the story you just read, the Trib reported that Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw were two of the top five sellers in board games made by Milton Bradley. It seems people voted for Huck with their wallets.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Snagglepuss – Knights and Daze

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation - La Verne Harding; Layout - Tony Rivera, Backgrounds - Bob Gentle; Written by Mike Maltese, Story Direction - Paul Sommer, Titles - Art Goble, Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, Stormy Knight, Tour Guide, Knights - Daws Butler; Tourist, King Arthur, Sir Round - Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-34.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss is told he can become a Knight of the Round Table if he can bring back the sword belonging to the Stormy Knight.

“Then I shall Mildred forth. Or is it Sally forth? Or July 4th, even?”

Plays on words like that are a Mike Maltese specialty. And he had to rely on them in this cartoon because there are not many gags. It takes half the cartoon just for Snagglepuss the Lionhearted to set off on his quest to try to vanquish the Stormy Knight. That doesn’t leave much time for gags.

The first is the weakest. Stormy uses a magnet to pick up Snagglepuss by the armour and then drop him to the ground. Next, he pretends to be a “travelling roundelay” in the best gag of the cartoon. I particularly like the marotte with the Snagglepuss head on it. A joust (“Joust a minute,” Maltese has the nerve to put into Snagglepuss’ mouth) follows, then a sword fight, where Snagglepuss reveals to King Arthur in the final scene that he’s in possession of the Knight’s sword (“What do you think this is?” he asks the king, pointing to the sword puncturing his butt, “A shiskabob?”).

Maltese was the author of Rabbit Hood, in which he fills the cartoon with really funny pseudo-Elizabethan English. He’s at it again in this cartoon because, to be honest, dialogue has to carry it. La Verne Harding’s animation isn’t the least bit distinctive. Perhaps Snagglepuss’ best piece of verbal virtuosity comes as the sword fight is about to begin: “Think I'm scared, huh? Think I'll show the yellow crumpet and run for zounds, eh? Well, I got a trusty sword, too. I still owe six and thruppence on it.” And in disguise as the jester trying to bluff his way into the Knight’s castle: “Why doth a partridge cross the drawbridge?" (After getting inside:) Who cares? I got a better story. Dramatic, even.”

The Stormy Knight uses weather metaphors in his exclamations, including “Buckets around in thunder! What churl doth knock at me castle door?” “By lightning and partly cloudy! This dolt must be dispensed with forthwith” and “By fog and smog!”

Snagglepuss lets out with three “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”s as well as variations on his usual catch-phrases, including, but not limited to a fare-thee-well with:

“Exit, rattlin’ all the way, stage right!”
“Exit, odd-bodkins-ing all the way, stage left!”
“Hold it. Hold it! Stop, even.”
“Heavens to Guinevere!”
“But where, prithee, doth the Stormy Knight dwelleth? Liveth, even?”

Maltese’s story is pretty well constructed. It starts in the present with a guide offering a tour of King Arthur’s castle (Daws Butler, playing the tour guide, doesn’t break down “castle” into two syllables, but we do get his “once-st” for “once”). A tourists asks about the pillows next to Arthur’s chair and then the rest of the cartoon is in flashback, ending with the sword-in-butt gag (Maltese then leaves the viewer to assume the connection between that and the pillows). As soon as I saw the drawing of the tourist with the jaw line dropping down from the nose, I thought “Tony Rivera.” Sure enough, Rivera is in the credits as the layout artist who designed the incidental characters.

Bob Gentle handled the backgrounds. Here are a few drawings.

Hoyt Curtin’s version of “London Bridge” is heard in the opening scenes of the castle. You’ll hear some Flintstones underscore music (some with a bassoon or contrabassoon) on the soundtrack as well.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

Flintstones Weekend Comics, February 1967

For reasons I still don’t understand, Fred Flintstone’s boss in the newspaper comics was not Mr. Slate. 50 years ago this month, he was employed at a quarry by a Mr. Rockly, who seems to have been a little snooty but nonetheless had a better relationship with Fred than Slate ever did.

The comic of February 26th (25th in Canadian newspapers) may remind you of Tex Avery’s Symphony in Slang. Pebbles takes what she hears from her daddy literally, and conjures up all kinds of things. No, it doesn’t end with “Sabretooth cat got your tongue?” but there is a black sabretooth cat crossing Fred’s path in the February 5th comic.

February 5, 1967.

February 12, 1967.

February 19, 1967.

February 26, 1967.

Thanks to Richard Holliss for sending the colour versions from his archive.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Aw. An H-B Valentine

Valentine’s Day isn’t an occasion I mark, but many people do. And greeting card companies are there to take advantage of it.

Here are a couple for those of you who get all romantic and lovey (as opposed to Lovy). Why Bamm-Bamm is serenading Dino is best left unanswered. Same with Yogi and a flying fish.

More Valentines in this old post. I don’t know how old they are.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Mr Jinks in Have a Ball

Mr. Jinks may have said “I hate meeces to pieces” in the little cartoons between the cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound Show than he did in the main cartoons. That’s how this bumper ends.

In the opening scene, Jinks actually wiggles the bowling ball in his hand when he talks to Huck, which is a nice little touch. In the next scene, Dixie telegraphs to the audience what’s going to happen, telling the mute Pixie (no sense in paying Don Messick to voice something when you don’t have to) that sometime before the action appeared on screen, he put glue in Jinks’ bowling ball.

As you might expect, the crash isn’t seen. The camera simply shakes over a background drawing and there’s a cut.

The animation of the bowling ball toss is on twos. I like how Jinks simply turns into a fox head and brush strokes.

The drawing of Jinks in the last frame reminds me of John Boersma’s work but I don’t know who animated this.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Snooper and Blabber in Gopher Trap

Snooper and Blabber tangled (and lost miserably) with a gopher in Gopher Goofers. But it wasn;t the only time.

Here are the story panels from one of the mini-cartoons that preceded (and introduced) a Snooper and Blabber cartoon on the Quick Draw McGraw Show. It seems like very few drawings for 20 seconds of screen time.

There's no identification of the storyboard artist. The drawings come an animation auction house. You can check out what they have HERE.

Sunday 5 February 2017

Yogi Bear, the Newspaper Star

Hanna-Barbera found a unique way to promote the Yogi Bear Show—with a comic strip.

Today marks the 56th anniversary of Yogi appearing in the weekend papers, six days after his TV show began airing across North America. The New York Herald Tribune reported on January 9, 1961:

Yogi Bear, the popular TV cartoon character, goes into the Sunday newspapers on Feb. 5. The McNaught Syndicate has lined up eighty newspapers, including the New York Herald Tribune, for the start of the Yogi Bear comic strip. The strip, in color, will be laid out for a half or third page. For the past two-and-a-half years, Yogi has been a featured played in the Emmy-winning “Huckleberry Hound” animated series. At the end of this month, Yogi will begin heading up his own show. It will be sponsored by Kellogg’s through Leo Burnett.

What did that first comic look like? You can see it below. The plot is borrowed from the TV episode “Do or Diet” (1960).

The signatures of Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and Gene Hazelton, who was in charge of the studios newspaper comic output, were signed years after this was published.

When did the comic finish its run? I really don’t know, though I have some editions from 1971. If someone has the answer, leave a note.

Saturday 4 February 2017

Yakky Doodle in Witch Duck-Ter

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation - Don Towsley, Layout - Noel Tucker, Backgrounds - Dick Thomas, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director - John Freeman, Titles - Art Goble, Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Yakky Doodle, green duck - Jimmy Weldon; Chopper - Vance Colvig, Witch - Jean Vander Pyl.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-79 (fifth of eight in 1961-62 season)
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: A witch tries to eat Yakky for her birthday dinner.

Vaudeville comedians got a lot of mileage out of jokes. They'd take a gag and "switch" it by changing the characters or location or whatever.

In animated cartoons, writers switched old gags or plots to make them seem a little different. Hanna-Barbera cartoons got to be awfully familiar after a while. Mike Maltese even switched from himself in this one.

Things start out with a witch brewing a birthday stew, but instead of a rabbit's clavicle (Broom-Stick Bunny, 1956) she needs "one small talking duck." So the witch goes out to look for one. "Like my old friend Snagglepuss says, 'Exit, stage right!'" After rejecting a non-talking green and blue duck (and 96 others), she comes across Yakky Doodle and cons him into going back to her ramshackle house and have a "nice hot bath" in the stew pot (Snow Business with Sylvester and Tweety by Warren Foster, 1951). Chopper comes to the rescue wearing disguises (Bewitched Bunny, 1954) of Hansel and Gretel which don't fool the witch in the slightest. The witch decides he's a potential meal and calls him a "smorgas boy" (Bewitched Bunny again). However, things end happily. Chopper and Yakky escape but take pity on the sobbing witch and return to her home with a birthday cake. Yakky laughs to end the cartoon (later used in virtually any episode of Scooby Doo).

Of course, some of these ideas pre-date the Warners cartoons mentioned above. It seems to me there was at least one cartoon (at another studio) with a recipe calling for "fresh crow meat."

Don Towsley is the animator in this cartoon. He has the witch staring directly at the viewer when she talks to the audience.

There's one scene where the witch supposedly bashes Chopper with her broom. He screams in pain, but the broom never touches him. It goes behind him to the floor.

Here are some brushwork examples during exits.

There are lots of background repeats in this cartoon. The witch chases Chopper past the same windows in the house seven times in one scene, then flies with Yakky past the aforementioned windows 12 times in another scene. The backgrounds are by Dick Thomas. Check out his establishing shot at the start.

And the ratty home.

Jean Vander Pyl uses her standard witch voice in this. Hoyt Curtin's music should be familiar; there's a xylophone chase theme heard from 5:22 to 6:10 that you'll recognise from The Flintstones.