Wednesday 29 March 2017

A Cry For Something New

Was Jonny Quest a success?

I’d say so, even though it didn’t become the prime-time juggernaut that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera hoped it would. In fact, when it looked certain that the show wouldn’ t rack up huge numbers, let alone win its time-slot, it was switched on the schedule with The Flintstones to give the Modern Stone Age Family (and the huge amount of accompanying merchandise, vitamins and so on) a fighting chance at another season (The plan worked).

But Jonny Quest was a success not only because it lived on in Saturday morning cartoon rerun land, but it eventually spawned new sequel cartoons a few decades later and even recently was reborn with an unfortunate team-up with a decidedly unrealistic cat and mouse.

Joe Barbera was not only a top sketch artist and clever gag writer, he became someone who was tops at pitching and selling cartoon series to skittish and bandwagon-jumping network people. And he was pretty good at selling the sold series to columnists always looking for a way to fill space.

Here’s Joe chatting with the Gettysburg Times in a story published on October 24, 1964; Quest had debuted five weeks earlier. Joe shrewdly pushed Hanna-Barbera when he plugged the company’s cartoons to reporters; a constant positive image in the media could be helpful when he had to go back to the networks with more animated product for them to buy. And the writer is correct in her assessment at the end of the story. Whether people like limited animation or not, the studio kept a lot of people employed who would have been out of work when the Golden Age of cartoons petered out.

“Johnny Quest,” [sic] Which Bowed In Color In September Is Pronounced A Sure Success; Barbera Production

“In ‘Jonny Quest’ we have to design planes that are possible, but slightly ahead of what’s really because equipment evolves so fast. And you can’t tell children that last year’s yet is next year’s. They won’t believe it.” They also won’t buy it . . . and it was the licensing and franchising of “Jonny Quest” that had brought the soft-spoken, Brooklyn-born Joseph Barbera back East for a quickie New York visit
And you don’t need more proof than that that “Jonny” which bowed in color in September on ABC (Fridays, 7:30 p.m.) is a sure success. But as Barbera spread a circle of prints from “Jonny Quest” around him you felt that mattered so much, he kept talking, thinking in terms of series’ values and audience acceptance. “We’re really using a whole new technique in ‘Quest.’ It’s illustration, and cartooning. We brought some of the best illustrators from around the country for this one.
“Of course the others are doing fine, too. Oh, you like ‘The Flintstones’? So do I.”
“But the story in ‘Quest’ did seem to cry for something new. We have a leading scientist much sought after for consultation and sought out, naturally, by enemies. That’s why the government assigns Race (isn’t he handsome) as a permanent bodyguard. There there’s the doctor’s son, 13-year-old Jonny and his adopted son, Haji [sic], who’s from India. We went one-third over our expected budget research enough to make sure our backgrounds are authentic. Now we can travel around the world as no live company could possibly afford to do . . . and with the good art work you should feel you’re there.”
Barbera is one-half of the seven-year corporate miracle that is Hanna-Barbera Productions.
In 1937 [sic] Bill Hanna chucked the engineering and journalism he’d studied for to do something more creative, like being idea man and director for animated cartoons. Joe Barbera chucked the banking and accounting for which he’d studied to draw magazine cartoons. MGM saw him as a animator-writer, team him with Hanna and together they created “Tom and Jerry,” turned off some 125 episodes and won seven Oscars by 1937 [sic] when, after two decades in the same shop and with growing families, they got their pink slips. MGM was getting out of the animated field.
On went the Bill and our thinking caps. What came out as a goal was television. Back to MGM they went with “the big idea.” Wouldn’t MGM like to consider the new medium? MGM would not.
“So we decided to go into business for ourselves.” The Screen Gems TV subsidiary of Columbia Pictures sensed a hot idea and went along with financing and distribution phase.
The work space was nil, the staff numbered three, but the enthusiasm was boundless, and in a short time out came a 15-minute [sic] show “Ruff and Reddy,” still seen in many parts of the world.
“Well, you see, there was really a need for something new, fresh animations, especially for television. Reruns of old — usually very old — theater cartoons was pretty much it when we got in,” Barbera explains.
“And the more we got into it, the more we found innovations to simply production and add interest.”
Barbera reached for another photo.
“This is the new building. Isn’t it a honey?
“We turn off as much production here in a week as we did at MGM in a year . . . and with no time clocks, no memos and a minimum of supervision. Our units work out the details themselves.
“Do I draw any more?” He smiled. Well, only to the extent that I’ll show an artist what I might have in mind, rather than try to tell him . . . but otherwise it’s up to a unit to do its own work.”
“Unit,” that seems to be the Hanna-Barbera modern invention to outstrip anything that’s being designed in “Quest.” “You see we feel it’s up to creative people to determine their own working hours. Each unit determines its own deadlines, by what time one phase of a job has to be finished so another can proceed. Everybody works hard, but at times of personal choosing, and it proves to be the times when they produce fastest and best.”
And the “fastest and best” dossier now totals — with this season’s “Jonny Quest” — 13 series in seven years! (“The Flintstones,” “Huckleberry Hound,” “Yogi Bear,” “Quick Draw McGraw,” “Touche Turtle,” among others).
And as for Barbera, “Well I never sleep anyway, but it’s worse right now on a trip.” There’s one irony, though. Barbera who turned his back on looking for the creative life has to pay more and more attention to finance. By now some 500 manufacturers produce some 2,500 consumer products with likeness off H-B characters which have grossed something like 120 million dollars. And the Hanna-Barbera share of the take requires an informed eye!
Still he’s taking it all in stride. “Remember it’s the stores that count” . . . and if MGM hadn’t handed out those pink slips to two guys seven years ago, well who knows where 300 other guys might, or might not, be working today.

Saturday 25 March 2017

Huckleberry Hound in To the Moon!

Huckleberry Hound is going to be the first hound to blast off to the moon, he tells us, in this little cartoon-between-the-cartoons on The Huckleberry Hound Show.

You can see some of Huck’s mouth positions when he says “hound.” In the bumpers, he always raised his head as Daws Butler made a baying-like sound.

Some nice poses on Yogi as he scoots into the frame. Is Ed Love the animator here? His work is much more fluid than it was in the cartoons.

Huck didn’t quite make it to his destination. (Well, he only said he was going to “blast off” to the moon. He didn’t promise to get there.) But he wouldn’t miss the next Yogi Bear cartoon for the moon.

From the moon to the White House. This is a 1960 TV ad that was tied into Huck’s presidential (aka publicity) campaign that year.

We’ll have another Huck bumper next month.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Why We Love Huckleberry Hound

Today’s letter comes from Mrs. S.K., who writes:
I felt rather guilty about enjoying Huckleberry Hound so much until I read your article in TeleVue. My husband and I liked the explanation given by the professor as to the reason so many adults enjoy the program. We would like to know how we can become members of the Huckleberry Hound fan club.
Well, actually, the letter didn’t arrive today. It arrived at the office of the Washington Evening Star and was published August 21, 1960. Mrs. S.K. wrote in response to a cover story in the paper’s “TeleVue” section of July 31, 1960.

Huck made history that year by winning an Emmy, the first animated programme and the first syndicated show to do so. (The show was nominated next year but lost). It gave the Star’s TV writer, a Huck fan, a chance to do an article about Huck, his friends and Hanna-Barbera in general, no doubt assisted by a publicity handout from Arnie Carr at H-B.

The writer looks at Huck’s appeal, and part of it goes back to the character Huck is descended from—the casual, “Jubilo”-whistling, southern wolf voiced by Daws Butler and created by Tex Avery for MGM in the early 1950s. Avery once remarked something to the extent that all kinds of violent things would happen to the wolf, but he’d respond with something the audience least expected—a casual remark. (Avery remembered even MGM producer Fred Quimby thought the wolf was funny, a rare compliment). But unlike the wolf, Huck was a protagonist, not an antagonist. He was friendly and likeable, undeserving of bad things; people pulled for him.

Oddly, the article refers to Time For Beany as a cartoon. As you likely know, it was a puppet show. Incidentally, there was another connection between Huck and Beany. Writer Charlie Shows supplied material for both characters. The story refers to Hanna-Barbera’s new studio. It’s not the one at 3400 Cahuenga that everyone associates with the company. It was the little windowless concrete block that was a little further up the boulevard that H-B used after the Kling Studio on La Brea which, incidentally, turned 100 this year (construction began at the behest of owner Charlie Chaplin in November 1917).

Maybe the most interesting thing, especially to those of us who have watched the over-produced Emmy shows as of late, is the reaction when Huck won.

I’ve included a sidebar, along with poor photocopies of microfilmed images, that went with the story.

‘Disrespect for Reality’

Star TV Critic
When the Emmy for the best children’s show was awarded to Huckleberry Hound, two men trotting out blithely to accept it and a hush seemed to fall over the distinguished audience.
Now it may have been that the stars in attendance in Hollywood, being adults, were momentarily struck dumb by the title of a show they had never watched. As a paid-up, grown-up member of the Huckleberry Hound fan club, however, I prefer to think that the silence was due to the fact that the audience confidently expected Huck to gallop on stage, say a few scintillating words (which were needed) and gallop off, the Emmy between his ever-lovin’ fangs.
This is not a children’s show—not really. They love it, but so do their parents.
You’d have to go back, almost, to Time for Beany, a cartoon show that was popular on TV in the early ‘50s, to find a series which combined in the drawings, an appeal to the little folk, and in the story and fresh dialogue, a lure for their elders.
During one of those monthly collection drives in suburbia for charity, one woman said happily, as she stopped by one home—
“I haven’t missed but a few minutes of Huckleberry Hound. Every house I’ve visited on the block had the show turned on!”
(WTTG—5, which runs the show on Thursday at 7 p.m., is hereby given permission to quote the above.)
Who are the men who accepted the Emmy for Huck?
You ought to know them—for if you’ve been to the movies in the last 20 years, you’ve applauded their cartoon efforts. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, Huckleberry’s creators, are the men responsible for those amusing Tom and Jerry shorts.
And when the bottom fell out of the movie business, they moved over to TV.
Actually Joe and Bill have a hard time convincing anyone that they could complete successfully in the electronic medium with the champ Emmy collector, Walt Disney.
Especially since full animation was prohibitively costly.
What Joe and Bill pitched, in fact, was planned animation as opposed to full animation, a technique which relies strongly on story and dialogue and utilizes only about 10,000 drawings per half hour as opposed to the 40,000 which would be needed for a fully animated subject.
In three years, Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc., zoomed from nowhere to an Emmy. They now employ 175 people, will open new studios in Hollywood next month, and will be represented by their fourth show, The Flintstones, on ABC-TV this fall.
“Each character,” Barbera explains, “must have a unique personality—like Huckleberry. He’s slow-moving, but nothing fazes him. He takes on bank-robbers, dragons and amorous cocker spaniels with the same steady determination.”
In one cartoon, he fell head first from the top of a skyscraper.
“That,” he drawled, as he hit the ground with a mighty thud, “was a purty big building.”
Seriously, Barbera feels that is this “disrespect for reality” that lends an animated cartoon its charm.
Huckleberry’s pals, if you’ve never watched, include Yogi Bear, who continually tries to find peace and quiet in a landscaped bedlam called Jellystone National Park, and Mr. Jinks, a tomcat whose vocal inflections give evidence of his training at a “modern” acting school.
Daws Butler, a graduate of Time for Beany and a former colleague of Stan Freberg’s, is the voice of Huckleberry, Yogi, Mr. Jinks, the little mouse, “Dixie,” and other characters.
Why is Huck so popular? A university professor attempted to explain:
“Huck is put upon, embarrassed, taken advantage of and thrust into horrendous situations—but he never seems to mind. Perhaps Huck represents something that appeals to the basic needs of most people. He’s like a good tonic in a time when one is sorely needed.”

Oft-Honored Hound
The Emmy award to Huckleberry Hound wasn’t the first award or honour achieved by this cartoon series. The list includes:
Huck Hound Day at the University of Washington. Eleven thousand students joined his fan club.
Initiation into the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity at UCLA. His portrait hangs over the fireplace.
A poker parlor in Gardenia, Calif., broke up a pot-limit game so the employes could watch Huck on TV.
Employes of an aircraft plan adopted him as a mascot.
A SAC bomber is adorned with his visage.
A bill was introduced in a Western State legislature to rename a 50-acre woodland tract into Huckleberry Hound State Park.

Saturday 18 March 2017

G.I. Jetson

Attention! Look at the picture on the right. It’s Fred Flintstone!

Actually, it’s not. It’s an incidental character in The Jetsons episode “G.I. Jetson.” But Hanna-Barbera was borrowing an awful lot from itself by the time this cartoon was made in 1962 (it aired early the following year). There’s a character who sounds like Huckleberry Hound. We get the gag where George Jetson presses the wrong button and dresses as Jane to the amusement of the laugh track. And writer Barry Blitzer re-uses much of his own plot from the earlier Uniblab cartoon.

Uniblab, if you’ve forgotten, was a humanoid computer brain hired by Cosmo Spacely (over Jetson) to be the manager his office. In this cartoon, Spacely hires him (over Jetson) to be the Sergeant of the Space Guard Reserve which he and Jetson are in. Once again, Uniblab conducts some shady, illegal gambling (marked playing cards of the future give off a hi-fi signal). George again mouths off to him about Spacely as Uniblab captures it on a microphone (the difference is there’s a camera broadcasting it to Spacely). Again, Henry comes to the rescue by screwing with Uniblab’s innards (a wrong battery this time instead of high-alcohol oil). And, one more time, Uniblab’s out of control when Spacely has the robot/computer show off for the higher-ups. The original Uniblab cartoon is pretty funny. This is just a stale carbon copy—or whatever they have in the future instead of carbon copies.

Just to back up a bit, Blitzer’s story opens with George having a nightmare about Spacely being Satan. After being woken up, the Western Universe boy comes flying to the Jetsons’ apartment with a Tele-Tape (in a 1960s reel of tape). George thinks it may be something telling him he won the Venus Sweepstakes. Nope. It’s a World War Two-like “Greetings” announcement that he has to report for two weeks of training (“Your number came up, but it isn’t the sweepstakes,” observes Elroy). The Visi-phone rings and it turns out to be Spacely in uniform on the other end, telling him he’ll be Jetson’s commanding officer in the reserve. About half-way through the cartoon, Spacely introduces Uniblab and the plot carries on.

You might be wondering why Spacely would bring in the robot, considering how that caused a disaster in the climax of the previous cartoon, and why Jetson would be so loose-lipped about Spacely around Uniblab, as the mechanical man snitched on him to his boss last time. Wonder all you like. I can’t answer those questions, any more than why Hades is “up there” instead of down below.

The people making this episode would have been pretty familiar with radio comedies on the air during World War Two that burst forth with military gags, comments about K.P., dense commanding officers, lousy food, ill-fitting uniforms and so on. We get a sequence of them here, with future-age sight gags added. A guy who can’t read the chart for the Eye Test is declared rejected by a computer voice (Mel Blanc), ejected into a rocket and sent away. A dope who can’t pass the I.Q. test—he pounds a round peg into a square hole—is deemed officer material. The “uniform” gag is on Henry; the clothing machine doesn’t dress him properly (none of them ever seem to work on The Jetsons). Add an army hair-cut gag, popularised after Elvis Presley’s induction into the U.S. military in 1958.

As for the K.P. gags, basically they’re a switch on some standard Jetsons futuristic routines. Robots or machines do everything; all humans do is press a button and complain about how it’s too much work. And potatoes aren’t peeled. They’re pills, so they’re smashed.

The reserve training takes place at Camp Nebula. Naturally, it’s not on the ground; it floats in the atmosphere. Here’s the background drawing cobbled together from various frames.

I have no idea who the background artist or the layout man were in this cartoon, thanks to credits that were removed 30 years ago for syndication. Here are an interior and the design of the Space Guard transport ship. Red is an unusual colour for the show (note the mobile hanging), though it’s quite appropriate in George’s Hell/dream sequence. Some affiliates broadcast the series in colour.

The regular voice cast is augmented by Don Messick as Astro, Uniblab and Colonel Countdown, and Mel Blanc as Spacely and a bunch of other voices. Blanc may have the best line in the cartoon as General McMissile complains that Uniblab “cost the government millions, enough for two officers clubs.” Blanc shows why he was the best in the business. He plays Spacely and the general. Both are authoritative characters who yell a lot, but he found two different voices for them (the general has a slight accent as well). Janet Waldo gets to play a Visi-phone operator and I detect Howard Morris in two lines as the Visi-phone voice in the kitchen patrol building.

Besides a play on Western Union, there’s one other pop culture reference in this cartoon. George screams for help from Elliot Nesteroid, a spoof on the main character on The Untouchables which, coincidentally, was airing on Tuesday nights on ABC at the time The Jetsons were in prime-time on the same network.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Flintstones Weekend Comics, March 1967

Attention people who obsess over the Flintstones celebrating Christmas: they celebrate Easter, too! You know, death of Jesus, long after the Stone Age, that sort of thing? Hurry! Complain all over the internet about it!

The Easter cartoon is in the Flintstones weekend newspaper comic of March 26, 1967. The anonymous writer makes an Easter Bunny/Playboy bunny reference as his end gag. As you can see below, Fred is wearing a secret agent hat while “Pops” looks like a leprechaun with beard.

You can the rest of the month’s half-pagers below. One story features a tramp (Mel Blanc voice, perhaps?) and another with a door-to-door salesmen (I hear Howie Morris). The March 5th comic has Gene Hazelton experimenting with no backgrounds, similar in a way to coloured cards in medium shots of Hanna-Barbera characters in the early animated cartoons.

My thanks again to Richard Holliss for supplying these from his archive.

March 5, 1967.

March 12, 1967.

March 19, 1967.

March 26, 1967.

Saturday 11 March 2017

Snagglepuss in Twice Shy

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation - Phil Duncan, Layout - Jack Huber, Backgrounds - Bob Gentle, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director - Paul Sommer, Titles - Art Goble, Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Major, Sir Clyde, Charlie's Buddy, Dog Owner, Singinging Adventurer - Don Messick; Snagglepuss, Adventurer, Charlie, Dog, Singing Adventurer - Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-39.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss is freed by the Major's identical twin brother but keeps getting recaptured by the Major.

Confusion over identical twins was nothing unusual in a Snagglepuss cartoon. Mike Maltese used the plot device in One Two Many, when Lila couldn't figure out there was both a Snagglepuss and his scheming twin Snaggletooth. This time, Snagglepuss is on the receiving end, as Major Minor has an identical twin, one who abhors his brother's big-game hunting ways. Snagglepuss naturally mixes up the two of them until they both appear at the end of the cartoon (Lila never had such luck).

"Major! Celebration over already?" asks Snagglepuss when he sees the twin brother. Naturally, all Sir Clyde had to do was say "I'm not the Major," which would seem to be a logical response. But then we wouldn't have a cartoon, would we?

Maltese always tosses in punny dialogue between Snagglepuss and the Major and this one is no exception.

Major (to fellow adventurers): And, as he tried to escape, I raised my gun, and shot him where the Ubangi bends. Or was it where the jungle meets the sea?
Snagglepuss: Neether neither. Or eether either, Major. It was where the thigh bone ends, and where the shinbone meets the knee.

Incidentally, the Ubangi River does have a wide bend.

The plot is pretty straight forward, but my favourite moment in the cartoon has nothing to do with it. Major Minor has finally caught Snagglepuss and exhibits him in a cage at the Adventurers' Club (note the colour changes in the light effect in the centre of the frame). The adventurers throw a celebratory bash for him ("with dinner, a sing-along, and all that happy-type jazz"). Meanwhile, Sir Clyde lands in his yacht, and is determined to reform his brother of hunting. "I believe all animals should be freed and unfettered," he declares to an inquistive newspaper reporter. Just then he sees a dog on a leash. Clyde snips the leash with a pair of scissors. "You're free, doggie! Run, run, run!" "Whatever for?" snaps the annoyed dog, who jumps into his owner's arms. "I have a good thing going for me right here."

The rest of the cartoon is more amusing than funny. Sir Clyde keeps freeing Snagglepuss, who crashes the Major's party (on one occasion, enjoying his favourite dessert—kumquats jubilee), and the Major keeps caging him. Finally, Snagglepuss tries to run away from both and eventually realises there are two of them. ("Heavens to Murgatroyd! I've been playing with a pair of jokers!"). Clyde tells the Major grandpapa will cut him off ("without a crumpet") if he hunts any more wild game, so the Major reluctantly frees Snagglepuss. But Clyde agrees to stroke the Major's ego by taking a picture of the mighty hunter standing atop his prey (with the only animation being eye blinks) for about 36 frames. "This kind of shootin' I go for. Enjoy, even," Snagglepuss tells the TV audience at home as the iris closes to end the cartoon.

We get all of Snagglepuss’ catchphrases, including "Exit, droolin’ all the way, stage left" as he zips off camera to enjoy the banquet festivities.

Phil Duncan animated this cartoon. I presume he was hired on a freelance basis as he was employed at Playhouse Pictures around this time. Mike Kazaleh has mentioned Duncan animated the famous Winston spot on The Flintstones and was responsible for some of the first Huckleberry Hound cartoons-between-the-cartoons in the 1958-59 season (they’re rubbery with stretched mouth movements, and in full animation). The drawings aren’t as distinctive in this cartoon. Jack Huber handled layouts. An interesting one—unless it was on Maltese’s storyboard—was a shot of Snagglepuss with the adventurers in the foreground in silhouette. Silhouettes weren’t common in H-B cartoons. John Edward Huber was born in Chicago on May 6, 1914 and was employed at Disney by 1940. He died in Costa Mesa, California on May 12, 1998.

Bob Gentle’s backgrounds aren’t really showcased in this cartoon. His interiors for the Adventurers Club have plenty of Ionic pillars. There’s one establishing shot of the exterior of the Club used a couple of times.

Hoyt Curtin’s stock cues work well in this cartoon. None of them really stand out, and they’ll be familiar to Hanna-Barbera fans.