Saturday 29 July 2017

Baseball Bear

“Fireballer” Yogi indulges in the National Pastime in one of the 20-second vignettes before a cartoon. He urges us to watch his curveball. He tosses it and wonders where it’s gone. He soon finds out. Apparently it travelled around the world.

“Now, that’s what I call a real curveball,” he tells us. And it’s on to the next cartoon.

(I was going to toss a Yogi Berra joke into this post, but that would have been too obvious).

Thursday 27 July 2017

June Foray in Rhyming Verse

Up until 1959, female characters in Hanna-Barbera cartoons were handled by Don Messick or Daws Butler. The two of them could voice anything, meaning the studio didn’t have to use up its budget hiring other actors. But there were rare exceptions. One was Bear on a Picnic (airing the week of February 1, 1959). The mother picnicker is played by a real, honest-to-goodness woman who everyone reading this blog should know—June Foray.

We’ve talked about the early days of June’s career at Hanna-Barbera on the blog several times. Click on the highlighted link to read them. To sum up—she voiced a demo reel for The Flintstones (maybe it was still The Flagstones then) as Betty, but the part in the series went to Bea Benaderet. She did a couple of incidental voices on the series over the years and a part in the feature film The Man Called Flintstone. Maybe her biggest role at H-B was some years later as Jokey Smurf.

I’m sure you know by now June has passed away not too many weeks before what was to be her 100th birthday. As a remembrance, here’s a cute little poem published in the Toronto Star on December 23, 2013. Joseph Hall is the author.

Whose voice gave the Grinch a heart? Well, she's more than 2
(With apologies to Dr. Seuss)

Cindy Lou Who is a lot more than 2.
The voice of the tot from the classic Grinch story
Well she's now 96 and her name is June Foray.

And though decades have passed since her Who-ville connection,
She recalls Cindy Lou with undying affection.
"Oh she's everyone's favourite," Foray says via phone
As she talks from her Woodland, Los Angeles, home.

Her shortest of roles, it was easy to make:
"It was only one line. It was done in one take."
But her plaintive, sweet voicing of the blue-eyed Who girl
Has earned her acclaim from all over the world.

She's got letters from Poland. She's got letters from China.
From India, Holland and North Carolina.
She's got letters from places where people talk Finnish.
"People whom you'd think would never speak English."

In Foray's career she's done dozens of voices,
In cartooning terms they were some of the choicest.
She did Granny for Warner's old Tweety Bird shows.
She was Jokey the Smurf, and Lord only knows.

She was Witch Hazel, Aunt May, and that isn't all.
She voiced Chatty Cathy, the string-pulling doll.
She's done voices she now wracks her puzzler to name.
She was Rocky! Of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame!
Indeed, she's done Rocky again so we hear,
For a DreamWorks production that's coming next year.
But ask for her Cindy and she'll spot-on reply:
"Santy Claus why? Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?"

That's it, her whole Grinch role, that question above
Delivered in tones like the coo of a dove.
It's a line on which untold millions would feast,
Like they would on Who pudding, or slabs of roast beast.

And they've done so now, 47 years running,
For the Christmastime staple that just keeps on humming.
Its popularity simply can't be overstated.
Number One of the Yule shows that TV Guide's rated.

Her line's at a point — in the show's 20-odd minutes —
Where the Grinch's cold cunning is reaching its limits.
He stole all the Who presents and food he could see,
And when Cindy Lou enters, he's stealing the tree.

Boris Karloff, the voice of the Grinch — and narrator —
Says he's fixing the tree . . . and will bring it back later.
Foray knew Karloff, of monster renown,
But when she did the Grinch, he was nowhere around.

"I knew him from radio shows," Foray mentions.
And it's that radio work that drew cartoon attention.
On air at age 12, she soon caught the ear
Of someone named Disney, who said come over here.

Her Disney work wowed a guy named Chuck Jones,
Who directed the best Looney Tunes that you've known.
Jones's work with Bugs Bunny and Porky the Pig
Made him first choice for directing the Dr. Seuss gig.

And when Jones went to seeking a little Who girl,
He contacted Foray to give it a whirl.
Her voices, she says, were instinctive concoctions.
She'd think "what the character is" — and just got 'em.

"Is she young, is she old, is she fat, is she thin?"
The voice would come out and then she would begin.
Those instinctive efforts, which so many hold dear,
Won Foray an honorary Emmy this year.

While she loved all the voices she voiced and created
Her career was mistaken, so Foray has stated.
Her beauty was wasted away from the lens.
She should have done movies, the actress contends.

"I was very attractive," the lady avows.
"Still am, in my old age," June Foray allows.
But you know when the phone's down, at interview's end:
June Foray's delightful — delightful, times 10.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Flintstones Weekend Comics, July 1967

Fred and/or Wilma are pretty much the focus in the Flintstones newspaper comics in the weekend section of the newspapers 50 years ago this month. Dino doesn’t appear and neither does Betty Rubble. But the Flintmobile is in three of the five comics (evidently they got it repaired in time for the last comic). Perhaps they’re doing some summer driving.

There are some fine layouts again. The July 2, 1967 comic features some nice little creatures in the opening panel, while the July 9th has a well-drawn tyrannosaurus. The July 16th comic has a good use of foreground and background in the opening panel, and the July 30th comic draws from campus protests that would grip the U.S. through the Vietnam War.

Richard Holliss supplied the colour versions. You can click on any of them to see them better.

July 2, 1967

July 9, 1967

July 16, 1967

July 23, 1967

July 30, 1967

Saturday 22 July 2017

Yogi Bear's Birthday Party

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera
Starring the Voices of Daws Butler
Co-Starring Voices of Don Messick and Doug Young
Other Voices: Julie Bennett, Duke Mitchell
Musical Director: Hoyt Curtin
Written by Warren Foster
Story Sketch: Harvey Eisenberg
Animation Layouts: Ed Benedict
Animation Supervision: Dick Lundy
Backgrounds: Dick Thomas
Titles: Art Goble
Production Supervision: Howard Hanson
Camera: Frank Paiker, Robert Collis, Charles Flekal
Film Editors: Hank Gotzenberg, Greg Watson
Copyright 1960 by Hanna-Barbera Productions
First Aired: week of October 1, 1961.
No Production Number assigned by Hanna-Barbera.
(Note: The closing credits call the show Yogi Bear's Birthday Party, despite the opening card above).

Whether the Yogi Bear Show could have been successful as a half-hour sitcom with 26 or more episodes a season is really your guess, but Yogi was certainly able to carry a TV cartoon for longer than 6½ minutes, as Yogi Bear’s Birthday Party proved.

For one show only, the Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle cartoons were jettisoned in favour of Yogi taking over the full episode that echoed what happened in real life. In the cartoon, the sponsor threw Yogi a surprise birthday party. In real life, the sponsor bartered time on TV stations to run the Yogi show and urged them to precede or follow the half-hour cartoon with a live, in-studio birthday party with kids, prizes, etc. And stations did. I don’t believe such a thing has been tried since.

Warren Foster’s story isn’t full of big laughs, but is amusing enough and well-constructed with teasers before each commercial break (which would have been for Kellogg’s cereals). Unlike The Flintstones or The Jetsons, Foster can’t rely on gadgets for humour. Instead, he tosses in some pop culture references and even a song lyric. He’s tripped up a bit because of the nature of the cartoon—it’s supposed to be tied in with a real-life TV station’s live birthday party. So he chose to end it with a big production number, with all the H-B characters from the Kellogg’s-sponsored shows (in very thick outlines) together on stage as the camera pulls back.

I like how Foster treats Ranger Smith as self-aware. Generally, the characters do that in the little vignettes where a character will refer to watching the Yogi or Snagglepuss cartoon that’s about to come on. Rarely do they do it during the cartoon. But here we see Ranger Smith answering a phone call and getting annoyed at the declaration there’ll be a Yogi Bear birthday special on TV. Who’s calling? The Ranger gulps. It’s the sponsor. Of the Yogi Bear Show. The one he’s on right now. A situation where someone kisses up to the sponsor strikes me as something Foster would write.

Smith’s jealous of the beary bane of his existence getting the attention from the sponsor, but that’s merely a plot device convenient to the sequence at hand. Smith’s happy and cooperative in the rest of the cartoon.

The Ranger, Boo Boo and Cindy (who has bows on her feet) convince Yogi he’s starring in a half-hour TV special so he won’t discover the special is really a televised birthday party. Daws Butler does a nice job with Yogi’s voice doing an impression of Ed Sullivan (actually Will Jordan’s version of Ed Sullivan). After plugging his special around the park he comes to the realisation he needs lessons on just about everything (He can’t dance because he has two left feet. Cut to a drawing of two left feet). We get a spoof on Fred Astaire’s dance studios), Bobby Darin (with Duke Mitchell doing his swingin’ voice) and the early ’60s Liberace when he still wore evening clothes during his shows. Yogi learns he can’t dance or snap his fingers, bites his tongue when he sings, blows his ear drums when he plays a trumpet and smashes a piano when he tries to carry it out of the studio (“this is the only way I can carry a tune,” he tells Lee).

Cut to the next scene. Yogi’s conscience appears and tells him he’s a no-talent bear. I like how the conscience (a mini Yogi with a halo) calls the bear “sir.” The conscience tells Yogi to get lost and not appear on TV. He takes Smith’s car and drives off. A dragnet of park rangers, dogs and helicopters finally captures Yogi by lowering down a picnic basket. The chase features one of my favourite Curtin piano cues from Top Cat. (It’s “T-10” in Hoyt Curtin’s tracking library, similar to another cue called “T-22 City Streets” that’s on various H-B music CDs released by Rhino Records).

Part of this sequence, I suspect, was animated and recorded later than the rest of the cartoon. I’ve been told, and I can’t remember who said it, that the animators aren’t credited on this half hour because the cartoon was farmed out to a commercial house like Quartet, Playhouse or Grantray-Lawrence. But there’s one portion that’s unmistakably the work of Ken Muse, and the voice track sounds crisper than the rest of the cartoon. It starts when Yogi says “I’m flyin’ through the air with the greatest of ease and ends when the scene of Yogi on top of the helicopter rotor fades.

Yogi is being carried into the TV studio. “I can’t dance, don’t make me! I can’t sing, don’t ask me!” protests the bear. It’s a paraphrase of the lyrics of old Jerome Kern Depression-era song “I Won’t Dance” (coincidentally, Fred Astaire made the song a hit in the film Roberta). The story segues into a spoof of the TV show This is Your Life, in which the album-carrying host asks if the surprised victim recalls voices from the past. Their old friends then walk on stage for a happy reunion. In this case, we get all the featured players on the half-hour H-B shows syndicated shows sponsored by Kellogg’s do walk-ons and put over some short gags of their own (for example, Quick Draw fails during a demonstration of some fancy shootin’). So we see Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Mr. Jinks, Pixie and Dixie, Snooper and Blabber, Snagglepuss (“I’m here, too. Three, even), Hokey Wolf and Dingaling, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Boo Boo and Cindy (carrying Yakky Doodle). They’re all accompanied by their theme songs and catchphrases. There isn’t quite enough room for all of them in the group shot of the stage before the big singing number (did the Randy Horne singers cut the vocal track for this)? And somehow, during the song, Baba Looey found his way onto the stage. Foster, who used to write music before he got into the cartoon business, presumably came up with the lyrics where he kisses up to Kellogg’s by including their slogan “The best to you each day.”

Another pop culture reference: Huck quickly dresses up as Mitch Miller of “Sing Along With Mitch” fame as he leads the kids watching at home and those in TV studios across North America in the Yogi Bear birthday song, helped by Pixie and Dixie displaying the lyrics, and a camera pullback of the stage for a rousing finale. (Fade out for another Kellogg’s commercial break).

Yogi ends the cartoon by telling the kids watching to keep the party going in their hometowns and blowing out the candles on his cake.

As mentioned, I don’t know who animated this cartoon. I like how Yogi gestures in some of the scenes instead of just standing there blinking his eyes and moving his mouth. When he talks about card tricks, he pretends to deal the cards. When he talks about “ticklin’ the ivories,” he pretends to play a piano. When he talks about how he’s going to “leave ‘em laughing,” he takes off his hat and thrusts it into the air like a comic ending his vaudeville act.

Harvey Eisenberg received a story sketch credit for this cartoon. As far as I know, it was the only credit he ever received on one of Hanna-Barbera’s shows. Ed Benedict is the layout artist. Too bad he wasn’t paired with Art Lozzi or Monte because the backgrounds may have been a little more interesting. Dick Thomas turned out all the backgrounds for this half-hour. They’re functional and he tries to decorate them a bit. The evergreens tend to look the same. Oh, well. By 1960, UPA was dying and so was that studio’s graphic influence, perhaps.

Hoyt Curtin wrote the cue library and, presumably, the music for the birthday song heard in this cartoon. An instrumental version is tossed in a couple of times. As was mentioned, there are some Top Cat cues mixed in here.

The guy I feel bad for after watching this is Huckleberry Hound. It was his show in 1958 that grabbed the attention of TV viewers and critics, giving Hanna-Barbera their first mainstream publicity. By 1961, he had become overshadowed by one of his supporting players, who ended up with a newspaper comic, a feature film cartoon and “ran” for President in 1964. Still, nothing ever bothered Huck. And at least he wasn’t put in a CGI/live action junk-fest and voiced by Dan Aykroyd pretending to be Rodney Dangerfield.