Thursday 29 June 2017

But It Looks Like Snuffles

Imagine your disappointment when your dad goes to the trouble and expense of buying a record featuring your favourite Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters only to discover it tries to pawn off a fake as the real thing.

That’s what would have happened to kids some 55-or-so years ago.

Hanna-Barbera or Columbia’s Screen Gems worked out a deal with New York City-based Golden Records to release discs featuring the studio’s theme songs, sung by the characters themselves. The only problem was, someone else was voicing the characters. You see, H-B had a deal with a Columbia record subsidiary and it released albums with Daws Butler, Don Messick, et al. Golden had to settle for New York-based imitators—and some of the impressions were not all that good. (I still like the arrangement of the little combo doing the Wally Gator theme, though).

However, one thing that was good about these Golden efforts was the sleeve the 45s (and 78s!) came in. Whether they were designed at H-B, I don’t, but the characters look pretty good. Reader Rick Greene sent scans of his collection and we’re pleased to pass them along.

Long-time readers will know we’ve found and posted dubs of some of the themes and filler songs from the people at Golden. You can hear them HERE, HERE, and the Yogi Christmas ones HERE.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Fishing For Bear

A friend posted a note the other day about the late Emmy-winning cartoon writer Earl Kress, and how Earl is missed every day. As much as a tired pun that it is, I second the emotion.

Earl’s been gone for six years. Whenever I watch one of the DVDs of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, or listen to those Rhino CDs of Hanna-Barbera theme songs and background music, I think of Earl’s untiring efforts to find the cartoons and tunes he loved that he wanted others who loved them to see and hear.

It wasn’t an easy task. It wasn’t like Earl could walk into a vault and view pristine 16 millimetre films of complete, half-hour Huckleberry Hound shows. He soon learned a lot of the bumpers—the little cartoons between the cartoons—couldn’t be found. No one seemed to know where they were (the Quick Draw bumpers were particularly difficult to try to locate). Although I never asked him, I assumed Earl then went to collector friends of his to see if they had anything. That’s why, at least it’s my guess, if you watch some of the bumpers on the Huck DVD some of them will have come from murky video tapes of black-and-white dubs.

Here are frames from one example. It’s a stay-tuned-for-the-next-cartoon teaser. It’s not really laugh-out-loud funny, but is gently humorous. Huck is fishing. I think the frames are self-explanatory.

Note Yogi’s fingers. Ah, those classic, old-time animators.

You think Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera liked Jackie Gleason, or what? Look at Yogi in Gleason’s “And Away we go!” position.

There are two places in this bumper where Huck quickly turns his head to the sides when talking, then jerks it back to face the camera. He never did this in the full cartoons on his show, just in these brief ones. Same with Yogi’s head being in profile as you see above. Mike Kazaleh, unless I misinterpreted what he told me, says that Phil Duncan was responsible for these. Mike knows Duncan’s work about as well as anyone. Unless he was hired briefly by Hanna-Barbera in 1958, Duncan would have had to animated this on a freelance basis. He never received credit on a cartoon that season.

These little cast get-together cartoons were always a fun part of the Huck, Quick Draw and Yogi shows, and really helped enhance the characters, as far as I’m concerned. I’m so pleased collectors hung onto copies of them and Earl was able to track them down for fans to enjoy. I’m personally humbled that someone of Earl’s calibre and reputation in the industry took the time to chat with a complete stranger like me about the cartoons he loved.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Flintstones Weekend Comics, June 1967

Fred’s dad Pops (who still looks like a leprechaun to me, even though he says “thutty” like a Scotsman) makes two appearances in the Flintstones’ comics from 50 years ago this month.

The June 11th comic has a self-contained gag in the first row. I’m not really sure what Dino finds so funny in it. Barney’s got a change in clothes and attitude in the June 18th comic.

Betty is nowhere to be found.

June 4, 1967

June 11, 1967

June 18, 1967

June 25, 1967

Our best wishes and thanks to Richard Holliss for supplying the colour versions from his collection. You can enlarge each comic with a click.

Saturday 17 June 2017

It's Not About the Cartoons

Here I was, a kid bounding out of bed early Saturday morning to park myself in front of the TV to watch cartoons, thinking it was all about funny characters doing and saying things I could laugh at.

How wrong I was.

It was all about money.

To the right you see an ad in Women’s Wear Daily telling you, Mr. and Mrs. American Clothing Manufacturer, that you can buy up the rights to make Winnie Witch pyjamas or Squiddly Diddley slippers and watch the profits roll in. Winnie who? Squiddly what? Yes, it’s true, the cartoons haven’t even debuted yet, but look at the Bill and Joe track record!

My innocence and naivety wants to believe that when Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were stupidly punted from MGM amidst financial and corporate turmoil in 1957, their sole reason to create cartoons was to create entertainment. But by 1965, Barbera himself admitted that wasn’t case. “We ask ourselves, would you want to take this character-to-be as a stuffed toy? If not, out it goes.” (It begs the question, who would want a stuffed ant? But let us move on).

1965 also marked a change at Hanna-Barbera. Previously, it had made cartoons for family viewing in the early evening hours, and then in prime time. Now, it was concentrating strictly on children’s programming by providing new product (dare I call it that?) for Saturday mornings. It was a natural and logic extension of the studio’s reason for existing. Originally, it provided new, made-for-TV cartoons in an era where stations showed old theatricals. Before 1965, almost all cartoons on Saturday mornings were old theatricals or reruns (Linus the Lionhearted from Ed Graham being a notable exception). Now Hanna-Barbera would make new, made-for-TV cartoons for that time period. Hanna-Barbera was wildly successful in the early evening hours. It became, arguably, even more wildly successful in Saturday mornings, bouncing old filmed shows like Fury and puppet programmes off the air.

When Magilla Gorilla was about to air, H-B had teased kids with an almost prime-time special which, in essence, was a half-hour ad for the show (as the show was syndicated, stations picking it up aired the special whenever convenient). In 1965, the studio did it again to push its coming Secret Squirrel and Atom Ant shows. The special was quickly sold to Kellogg and Mattel, then plunked into a Sunday 6:30 p.m. time slot on NBC. Alas, kids in the Eastern time zone missed the first 25 minutes because a golf match ran long. Nonetheless, they dutifully parked themselves in front of their TVs on Saturday, October 2nd at 9:30 a.m. (8:30, Central time) to watch the debut of Hanna-Barbera’s latest starring characters.

H-B was still fine in 1965 as far as critics were concerned, thanks to the fun Huck Hound, Quick Draw and Yogi Bear shows, and the popularity of the Flintstones. No less a critic than Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times heaped praise on the studio in this piece the paper’s syndicate disseminated on its wire. A version of it originally appeared in the Times on May 5th that year (the ad below appeared in the Times; similar drawings showed up in other papers).

A Factory of Geniuses
Flicker Cartoons Improve With Age

By Charles Champlin.

LOS ANGELES—Some scholar probably will drive up in a buggy and tell me that the animated cartoon was invented in Mesopotamia in the year 7 B.C. and that there are cave drawings of a cartoon character named Hippy Hamster with big ears and pie-slice eyes, from whom the whole genre descended. Nevertheless, the animated cartoon seems to me to be the equivalent in the visual arts of jazz in the music field as a distinctive and indigenous American contribution to the world scene.
Unlike many youthful enthusiasms which have had to be left behind in Nostagliaville, like Buck Jones serials, Ralston straight-shooter pins and penny candy you don’t have to pick up with tweezers, the animated cartoon continues to flourish.
In fact, the argument here is that, nostalgia be damned, the cartoon is one of those rare beasts that has improved with age. It has lost its saccharine, hearts-and-flowers quality and become so hip and switched-on that it has all the characteristics of an electric train set—ostensibly for the kiddies, but it’s the grown-ups who are rolling on the floor.
Television inaugurated the golden age, and for one TV season it looked as if the cartoons would drown in their own success. Operating on the familiar adage that “if it works, copy it,” the networks in 1961 went so cartoon-happy that there was talk of animating the Huntley-Brinkley report. there was, as you’ll remember, the Alvin Show, and there was Calvin and the Colonel, and there were Bullwinkle and Top Cat and the Flintstones and the whole Hanna-Barbera menagerie that really unleashed it all in 1957.
It was too good to last, or rather it was not quite good enough to last as a prime-time caper, and some of the cells went dead. Bullwinkle, which I think history will regard as the Krazy Kat of televised cartoons, survives in re-run but no new ones are being made although the Jay Ward-Bill Scott team has other shows in preparation.
The winners and still champs, survivors of the debacle that threatened to over-compensate and (a favorite showbiz habit) wipe out the good along with the bad, are Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna. And what winners.
Somebody has called them “baby sitters to the world,” and it’s got to be true. Something like 335 million people in 55 countries watch the HB product every week.
There’s a Yogi Bear feature film in the works and an hour-long “Alice in Wonderland” special for ABC-TV. There’ll shortly be a slew of Hanna-Barbera label records featuring the various characters. Plans are afoot to make Yogi Bear a disc jockey.
Next fall, by present plan, there’ll be not less than 18 Hanna-Barbera half-hours a week on television, and it is very possible that Hanna-Barbera will be competing with itself on all three networks on Saturday mornings.
Their moated and be-fountained fun factory in Hollywood keeps 250 geniuses off the streets, and there Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel are taking shape for NBC for the fall.
One sizable room at the factory is crammed floor to ceiling with samples of tie-in merchandise, and at that, this trove represents only 5 per cent of the available itemage. It ranges from the usual books and toys to sheets, window shades and a Japanese Yogi Bear lunch bucket which is about the size of a paperback edition of “The Good Earth” and is segmented for fish and rice.
When I stopped in at the factory, Joe Barbera was talking to one of the writers who works at home (Seattle, as it happens) but was in for the day . . . “Flies across the field and knocks down the trees, chonk, chonk, chonk!” the writer was saying. “Right, right, right,” said Joe.
“We figure our audience starts at 4,” he was saying later. “By then the kids have the strength to turn on the set and change channels. And they’re so smart then, so discriminating. You can’t fool around with them or give them the fairy tale stuff.
“Here you see two guys running like mad to keep abreast of their interests. You never get old in our business. You can’t. You’ve got to be on top of the times. And not just for kids, either. I’m on a screaming campaign to make the point that cartoons are not just for kids. They’re for everybody.”
Bill Hanna and Joe have their own research and development staff, dreaming up characters and premises for two and three seasons hence. The basic test is simple.
Says Barbera, “We ask ourselves, would you want to take this character-to-be as a stuffed toy? If not, out it goes. Even our villains have to be friendly.”
The boys have had some clangers. Tests showed that “the Jetsons” should’ve been bigger than the Flintstones, but it sank in the wrong time-slots. And their beautifully drawn, carefully researched cartoon venture “Johnny Quest” [sic] has lost them more than $500,000. On the other hand, every cartoon they’ve made is still showing somewhere, and they’ll likely go on forever.
At their best, the cartoons of this golden age have fled the never-never world and settled in at right now—a thinly disguises right now with paws instead of hands and with whisker, antlers or tails. They’ve substituted the wisecracker for the nutcracker and they make a running, jumping commentary on all us comic citizens of right now.
I liked Secret Squirrel. Some of the gadgets were contrived, but Paul Frees’ voice work was terrific. And six minutes, once a week was just the right amount of time to be able to stomach Precious Pupp. The rest of the cartoons? Yawn to blecch, even when viewed with the maudlin mask of nostalgia. Sorry, I’ll take Huck and Quick Draw. They’re still entertaining. And what’s that, Joe? You’re green-lighting Space Ghost because he’ll make a great action figure? That’s the cartoon biz, I guess.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

Jinks in the Comics

It isn’t often you see Mr. Jinks interact with humans in animated cartoons—a couple with a butler, one with a warehouse manager, and one with an off-screen female owner come to mind—but comic books and strips went off in their own direction.

Here are Mr. Jinks and the miserable meeces—and Professor McHerring—in a Dell Comic with a cover date of May-July 1962. Jinksy is drawn very attractively here.

Here’s a pantomime single-pager from the same issue. This must be a different artist; Jinks is much more angular here (and why is he the wrong colour?). The meeces have huge pupils in this comic. The backgrounds are pretty sparse.

Click on any of the pages to make them bigger.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Snagglepuss in Cloak and Stagger

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation - Hicks Lokey, Layout - Dan Noonan, Backgrounds - Neenah Maxwell, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director - Art Davis, Titles - Art Goble, Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snagglepuss, Pathos, Porthole, Guard - Daws Butler; King, Queen, Ye Mailman, Aromas - Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-48 (19th of 24 Snagglepuss cartoons in 1961)
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Snagglepuss joins the Three Musketeers, who play a trick on him.

Snagglepuss was a good, flexible character, one who could be appropriately dropped into a variety of situations. He appeared in several cartoons as a gallant protector of women (Lila). He and Major Minor made cartoons around hunting scenarios. There was one cartoon where he was deposited into the Wild West. And anything related to theatrics worked for Snagglepuss. You could plunk him into any plot that, conceivably, could be enacted on stage, especially if it could over-acted. So it is that Mike Maltese used the Three Musketeers in this cartoon as a starting point and then piled on the ridiculousness.

Any resemblance between this cartoon and Dumas’ novel is purely non-existent. Maltese gives the musketeers the names “Pathos,” “Aromas” (as in “aroma”) and “Porthole.” And Snagglepuss wishes to join the bored trio after passing a musketeer correspondence course. Snagglepuss isn’t an altogether inept musketeer, though he misses two attempts to grab a chandelier to swing on (“Odds bodkins. It worked for every other hero,” he says after crashing to the ground). When the musketeers tell Snagglepuss the king is really a spy, the mountain lion does a pretty good job of dispatching him, jabbing him with a sword, tossing him in a lake, bouncing him on the carpet and crashing on top of him when His Majesty is on the throne. (Pun: “Next time, I'll make mince-spy out of ya.”)

When Snagglepuss realises he’s been had, he exits (“with egg on my face, stage left”), with inappropriate sounds of rifles heard as cannon balls are fired at him, but returns in the final sequence to rejoin the surprised musketeers by hiding in a barrel. It’s all a matter of money. “After all, those musketeer lessons cost a buck and a half,” he tells us, ensuring his gets something for what he’s paid for.

Incidentally, Don Messick plays both the king and queen. He gives the king his Professor Gizmo voice (based on Bill Thompson’s Wallace Wimple) and the queen his falsetto heard in a number of first season cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound Show (1958-59).

Yes, Maltese puts “Heavens to Murgatroyd” onto the dialogue sheet. And we get other typical Snagglepuss lines and catchphrases:

● Hark! The mailman hath cometh! Oh, hearts of joy!
● (reading the correspondence course manual) “B. A musketeer is devil-may-care.” (to himself) I’m devil-may-care. Ha, ha! Ho, ho! ‘Tis I, Snagglepuss. Hot buttered sasparilla for everybody!
● (again reading the correspondence course manual) “Did you pass your final exam?” (to audience) With flyin’ colours. An ‘A’ student, even.
● Say, listen. That’s what a musketeer is for. Five, even.
● Yoicks! And yikes, even! It’s the spy!
● Exit, swashbucklin’ all the way. Or is it buckswashlin’? Oh, well.
● Exit, to get decorated, stage right.

And this bit of Maltese-esque dialogue:

Guard: Halt. Who goes there?
Snag: A jolly musketeer. To see the king, even. Ha ha ha. Ho ho!
Guard: Enter jolly musketeer. And wipe your feet.

Veteran Hicks Lokey is the animator. I can’t think of anything remarkable he did in this short, although I’m a little amused by mismatched shots. Here are consecutive frames. The king is only in the window in the close-up.

Ex Disney artist Dan Noonah handled the layouts. Either he or Maltese might have been responsible for this interesting framing of Snagglepuss.

Backgrounds are by Neenah Maxwell. This one with the purple trees (actually, we’re only showing a portion of the background) got a lot of work. Snagglepuss passed by the trees four times in medium-long shot, then the coach passed by four times in a close shot, then Snagglepuss passed by again another four times in a close shot.

Two similar backgrounds but in reverse.

Other background art:

The sound cutter didn’t pick anything out of the ordinary for music, despite the 18th century setting (the mailman is “ye mailman”). The cues are all fairly familiar.