Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Press Handouts

Cartoon studios have publicity departments. Arnie Carr was in charge of the one at Hanna-Barbera starting in August 1959; that’s Arnie next to Fred Flintstone in a Life magazine photo. He badgered newspaper writers. Hal Humphrey of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner wrote about it on more than one occasion in columns we’ve transcribed HERE and HERE. He organised publicity stunts; when Top Cat aired, Carr tried to get the attention of entertainment columnists by sending them garbage cans. And he and his staff also seem to have churned out news releases. In a time-honoured Hollywood tradition, they were written like newspaper copy so papers could simply dump them into columns of type verbatim. Voila! Instant entertainment story! A stock photo might accompany the release; one newspaper published a third of a page of nothing but captioned artwork of Wilma with living kitchen gadgets. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. And that was the idea.

The Binghamton Press seems to have relied on Arnie to help fill space. Here are a number of stories the paper published that are pretty obvious in their origin from the Carr PR department. Parts of the first story were from an all-purpose studio release. I’ve seen some of the same lines used in articles when a paper announced it was picking up the Yogi comic strip for its Sunday editions, including the misspelling of "Van Beuren."

This was published September 3, 1960.
Yogi's Papas On Top of Heap It Couldn't Be Done?
NEW YORK — Three years ago, cartoonist William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were unemployed and their prospects were approximately nil.
Today, the creators of Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear have grown to be one of the largest cartoon producing companies in the world.
Oddly enough, neither Hanna nor Barbera began his career as cartoonist or artist. Bill Hanna, born in Melrose, N. M., studied engineering and journalism. After college, he joined a California firm as a structural engineer for the building of the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.
Ending engineering aspirations, Hanna joined Leon Schlessinger's [sic] cartoon company, with duties, as he explains them, "to run for coffee, clean cartoon cells, sweep up the place, and drown my bosses with story ideas."
Joe Barbera was born in New York City. After graduation from the American Institute of Banking, he started as an accountant for New York's Irving Trust Company.
An inveterate doodler and dreamer, he began submitting cartoons to the leading magazines. He made his first sale to Collier's, then soon became a regular contributor to the leading magazines.
After a short deliberation, Barbera decided on a career of cartooning. Later he joined Van Buren Associates as a sketch artist.
In 1937, Hanna was hired by MGM as a director and storyman and Barbera was employed by MGM as an animator and writer.
Working side by side, they developed an idea for a new and different cartoon series. They presented the idea to MGM executives and were told to develop it and put it on film.
The result: The birth of a world famous cat and mouse, namely "Tom and Jerry," and the emergence of a bright, new cartooning team.
In their 20 years at MGM they turned out over 125 "Tom and Jerry" adventures, which won seven Academy Awards for MGM. In 1957, with the motion picture business at an all-time low, the team asked for and received a release from their contract. Shortly, MGM discontinued cartoon production.
Leaving MGM proved to be the biggest break of their lives.
Armed with several revolutionary techniques and ideas for producing cartoons for television, the team made the rounds of advertising agencies and film producing companies. They met the same answer everywhere: "It can't be done. Good animation is too expensive, limited animation too shoddy." On July 7, 1957, Screen Gems decided to take a chance on the two young men and Hanna and Barbera Productions were born. Planned animation, as Hanna and Barbera call their new concept, caught on quickly. ABC-TV purchased "The Flintstones," a satire on an exurbanite family in the Stone Age.
Hanna is married and resides in North Hollywood with his wife, Violet, and their two children, Bonnie Jean and David. Barbera and his wife, Dorothy, live in West Los Angeles with their three children, Lynn, Jane and Neal.
This next story was published January 14, 1961. The Yogi Bear half-show show was about to debut. What a coincidence!
TV stars are always requested to aid worthy causes so it is not surprising to learn that an official of the U. S. Department of the Interior working at Yellowstone Park has sent an SOS to Yogi Bear.
Yogi, the popular Bear on the Huckleberry Hound cartoon show, has been such a sensation with the youngsters that he is getting his own series. When the letter arrived from Yellowstone, Yogi's creators, Hanna-Barbera, feared that it was a request to mate him with a female version of Smoky the Bear and produce a smoky Yogi.
But the Park officer merely wanted Yogi to come to Yellowstone and give a few classroom lectures to his fellow bears on how to behave with the tourists. Some of them, obviously, inspired by Yogi's success, are becoming too friendly and want to be taken home as pets.
Yogi has been granted permission to go to Yellowstone and Hanna-Barbera, generous to a fault, have told him he may keep any fees he earns with this extracurricular activity.
Next, we pick up the paper of March 11, 1962. I found this one in a couple of papers. Carr knew the value of a short release in case a paper had a little space to fill; there were also one-liners that papers used back in the days of “fillers,” little factoids needed to complete a column of text.
No Automation For Animation
The use of electronic machinery in modern industry greatly reduces personnel while increasing production.
At Hanna-Barbera's TV Cartoon Production Studio in Studio City, Ca., the opposite seems to be true.
The reason, of course, is that at Hanna-Barbera they make only animated cartoons, which require hand crafts which automation experts cannot duplicate. An animated episode in a series such as the Fllntstones calls for the services of 215 persons who create, animate and process 30,000 individual drawings. It is a painstaking procedure taking five months to complete a single half-hour show.
This one is from May 19, 1962.
'Miracles' Accomplished
Company executives suffering from the ache of labor-management problems, instead of reaching for the aspirin, might well pay a visit to the Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon studio in Studio City.
"In terms of work, what we are doing is impossible," Joe Barbera says. "At MGM, for example, we turned out a total of 48 minutes ot cartoon film a year. We now turn out more than that in one week. Recently one of our artists said to me, 'Joe, do you realize how much work we're doing here?' I said, don't tell me. I don't want to think about it. I'm scared to death."
However, this production miracle is accomplished in the warm harmonious atmosphere of a big happy family. All concerned have as much fun as the Flintstones, ABC-TV's popular animated series, which is among their productions.
Our next stop is June 2, 1962.
Animated Flintstones Now World Travelers
It's Flintstone-san in Japan, Senor Flintstone in South America and 'Freddie, old chap' among the British.
No matter where you go these days, you won't lose track of Hanna-Barbera's The Flintstones, Stone age emissaries to the 20th century.
The animated cartoon series is presently seen in more than 25 countries by a weekly audience estimated by 100,000,000 viewers, according to producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
Dubbed in Japanese, the series is "okii, okii, okii, (big, big, big) in Nippon where stars Fred and Wilma Flintstone and neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble have risen to great fame, according to an enthusiastic spokesman for the sponsoring soy sauce firm.
In Merrie Olde England, where Freddie Flintstone clubs have sprung up in pubs and universities and even in Her Majesty's Regiments, the cartoon show has maintained a spot in the top 10 since it bowed there some eight months ago.
London is headquarters for the Flintstone Appreciation Society of Great Britain and the British Jazz and Cycling Club has made free-wheeling Freddie its official mascot.
Fan letters have been received from as far away as Finland and the Virgin Islands—in many languages—with more expected after "The Flintstones" is dubbed in French and German for showing next fall.
Closer to home, the Students Union of Acadia University at Wolfville, Nova Scotia, has used The Flintstones as the theme of two successive winter carnivals. At Langton, Ontario, Canada, a bowling team sports Flintstone cartoon insignias on uniforms.
And in the United States, the show has become such popular Friday night all-family fare for an estimated 40,000,000 viewer audience via ABC-TV and Channel 12 that top entertainers such as Bob Hope use Fred Flintstone jokes.
Hanna and Barbera are thrilled at the reaction to their show:
"We believe that good clean humor is an international language. If you make cartoons honestly to project warmth and good feeling while gently spoofing basic situations, these situations are as understandable in Rhodesia as they are in Kalamazoo."
And, finally, a story from the Albany Times-Union of February 16, 1963. Whether this came from Carr, or merchandising guru Honest Ed Justin’s staff, or somewhere else, I don’t know. The style is a little different than the others.
If you could have seen some of the whacky mail sent out in the past by the Hanna-Barbera folks who produce the cartooned "The Flintstones," you wouldn't be surprised at the gimmick they're now using to bolster or continue interest in their Stone Age characters.
It's a "Guess-the-Weight" contest for the forthcoming Flintstone baby and, according to the publicity men, more than 50,000 entries have been received at the contest headquarters, P. O. Box 2121, New York City. Prizes are a $20,000 cash award and a two-ticket trip around the world by air.
Some of the reaction has been as strange as some of the producers' ideas. One person wrote in: "Fred Flintstone couldn't possibly have a baby smaller than 13 pounds since he weighed that much when he was born," and explained the writer was actually Fred's long-lost mother!
And already gifts are being sent for the baby—a Minneapolis bowling club sent a real bowling ball, inscribed: "Since your daddy, Fred Flintstone, constantly promotes bowling, may this be your fondest hobby." Another gift was a tiny fur mackinaw from Green Bay, Wis., where the thermometer had recently dropped to 50 degrees below zero.
There were more of these kinds of news releases masquerading as stories as time went on. I’ve spotted some for the Alice and the Jack and the Beanstalk specials. Carr moved on. He opened his own company and co-produced a TV show starring Mr. Blackwell (experience with a sabre-tooth tiger’s claws may have helped Carr with that one) and in 1968 became the PR flack for the breakaway African country of Biafra.

Whether Carr and his staff really helped Hanna-Barbera perhaps can be debated. But they certainly got the studio some publicity, and that couldn’t hurt.

1 comment:

  1. There are a couple of unusual things about the September 3 story:

    "They presented the idea to MGM executives and were told to develop it and put it on film.
    The result: The birth of a world famous cat and mouse, namely "Tom and Jerry," and the emergence of a bright, new cartooning team.
    In their 20 years at MGM they turned out over 125 "Tom and Jerry" adventures, which won seven Academy Awards for MGM. In 1957, with the motion picture business at an all-time low, the team asked for and received a release from their contract. Shortly, MGM discontinued cartoon production."

    First, I had always heard that MGM was initially resistant to the idea of Tom and Jerry, on the grounds that there were already enough cat-and-mouse cartoons out there, and that the series only became a series (as opposed to a one-shot cartoon) after "Puss Gets the Boot" proved very popular with theatre-owners.

    Now, this story doesn't say that wasn't the case, of course. It may be that there simply wasn't enough space for that detail this time.

    Still, MGM's initial reaction to "Puss Gets the Boot" always puzzled me. Since I've never the opportunity to ask this question of anyone before, let me take this chance to ask it here and now: What cat-and-mouse cartoons were there, exactly, before Tom and Jerry? I can think of a number of cat-and-mouse cartoons that came after Tom and Jerry, of course. But before???

    I can't think of any.

    Either Tom and Jerry was such a phenomenal success that it all but erased its predecessors in the cat-and-mouse genre from public consciousness, or the story about MGM's initial resistance to Tom and Jerry is apocryphal.

    Could it be the latter?

    Second, and downright bizarre, is this sentence: "In 1957, with the motion picture business at an all-time low, the team asked for and received a release from their contract."

    I never, ever, ever heard this version of the story before. All my life, I have heard that Bill and Joe were fired by MGM, by virtue of MGM closing its animation division. But this story is claiming something very different: that Bill and Joe left MGM of their own volition.

    Why would a studio-approved story say that? It rather undermines the H-B success story that every reader of this blog probably knows by heart, doesn't it?

    More to the point, what's the truth? Did MGM close its animation division, leaving Bill and Joe unemployed (however briefly)? Or did Bill and Joe themselves leave, with MGM closing down its animation division shortly thereafter?

    The latter scenario would seem to make some sense, in light of Bill Hanna having his own company that was for a short time set to make new Crusader Rabbit cartoons, and in light of the fact that the concept that would become Ruff and Reddy was being fleshed out months before MGM announced that it was going to be closing its animation division.