Thursday, 14 December 2017

Ruff and Reddy Turn 60

60 years ago today, the first handiwork of the Hanna-Barbera studio beamed into homes via television. It was the debut of Ruff and Reddy. And the series almost didn’t get made.

Hanna-Barbera Enterprises officially formed on July 7, 1957. H-B President George Sidney, the head of the Directors Guild of America, picked up the phone and within weeks, the company had worked out a deal with Columbia Pictures on the strength of a storyboard. Bill Hanna wrote in his autobiography that it cost 20% of the company but, in return, the Columbia’s Screen Gems TV operation gave H-B an option to produce five five-minute cartoons, the first two for $2,700, the second two for $2,800 and the fifth for $3,000.

Hanna wrote more about production methods and such, but omitted a tale of how it almost all got away. Joe Barbera, known for his flair for the dramatic, outlined what he remembered in his book. Columbia head Harry Cohn called to get a first-hand progress report on Ruff and Reddy. A pencil test of one of the cartoons was screened for him. Cohn’s comment to Screen Gems sales head John Mitchell about Hanna and Barbera: “Get rid of ‘em.” Cohn, having coped with Columbia’s own troubled cartoon studio in the ‘40s, the ups and downs of dealing with UPA in the ‘50s and then with cut-rate cartoon producer Sam Singer earlier in the year, wanted no part of Hanna and Barbera’s dog and cat.

But Barbera recalled: “We were destined to be saved by the slimmest of threads. A man in New York named Roger Muir, who had a children's TV show on NBC, heard about ‘Ruff and Reddy’ and wanted to use the cartoons much as we had originally planned—as bookends between which the hoary theatricals would be run. Muir’s offer kept us alive, and Screen Gems went ahead with the deal.”

A deal with NBC wasn’t announced until a New York Times story of November 11th (trade papers had similar stories within days) so you’ll have to figure out the timeline, unless Barbera was stretching the truth a bit.

It seems insane that a network could sign a Saturday morning show in November and begin airing it in December but that’s the way things worked back then. Saturday daytime programming in 1957 was filler. NBC didn’t even sign on until 10 a.m., CBS signed on at 9 a.m., and ABC didn’t start network programming until 7:30 p.m. In fact, none of the networks had any regular programming between 2 and 7:30! (at least on the East Coast).

So it was that Ruff and Reddy debuted in glorious black and white on December 14, 1957 at 10:30 a.m. (9 a.m. in Los Angeles) on a revamped Saturday daytime line-up on NBC (it offered three hours of programming until 1 p.m.). General Foods, which was already sponsoring Mighty Mouse on CBS during the same time slot, picked up alternate weeks of sponsorship on Ruff and Reddy, meaning the network filled ad time with NBC promos every other week during its first season. How Saturday mornings have changed.

Ruff and Reddy wasn’t just Ruff and Reddy. There was a person, Jimmy Blaine, who did schtick. And two old theatrical cartoons from Columbia’s Screen Gems studio were aired. I haven’t been able to find which two cartoons were on the first episode, but the first two Ruff and Reddy episodes were “Planet Pirates” and “Night Flight Fright.” Let’s look at the very first one. Unfortunately, the R&R series has never been restored and put on home video, and I doubt it ever will be, so you’ll have to pardon the fuzzy frame grabs.

Screen credit was never given on the Ruff and Reddy cartoons, but we do know Charlie Shows, Dick Bickenbach and Howard Hanson were employed at H-B Enterprises on Day One. So it’s safe to assume Bickenbach did the layouts on the first episode, Shows provided dialogue (the alliteration and rhyming gives it away) and Hanson handled the production schedule. Who animated those first two cartoons? It’s very tough to say because, besides mouth movements, there’s extremely little animation. Whoever did this 13-part adventure has the teeth filling the entire mouth in solid white during some of the dialogue. As for the backgrounds, my wild guess is Fernando Montealegre painted them (nice sponge-work on the trees and clouds). And, of course, the voices were provided by Daws Butler and Don Messick.

“Planet Pirates” opens with Reddy reading the “Daily Screech” which tells us about a “saucer shaped ship sighted by sheepherder.” The lounging Ruff has to explain to Reddy what a UFO is. No matter, Reddy is ready for “those flyin’ saucer fellers” with a space helmet and water pistol he won on Captain Comet’s TV show poetry contest.

The dialogue is interrupted by a news bulletin from a TV inside the house, with the announcer (Daws Butler) stating rumours of mysterious flying objects and a saucer-shaped ship are untrue.

Cut to a space ship moving left across a background drawing. Now we hear Don Messick’s narrator for the first time. “Well, I don’t like to argue, but,” he says calmly, “that’s no bicycle streaking through the skies right now. In fact, if I wasn’t afraid of being laughed at, I’d say that was a flying saucer.”

Hanna cuts to a close-up of the saucer (it’s still a cell sliding over a background), then to the “creepy creatures” from another planet “spying on our world.” Note the colour separation on their bodies. One of the aliens starts talking to the other, with that wavering voice that Messick used on The Herculoids and other shows. (He must have moved his tongue inside his mouth a lot to get that voice).

“According to my interplanetary dictionary,” continues the narrator, “these space men have come to Earth to find two typical Earth people to take back to their planet.” Yes, you can guess who they pick up on their viewer. Cut to Reddy, who promises to disintegrate any spacemen who come around and shoots his water gun for good measure. He and Ruff fall asleep then a ray lifts them both into the space ship. Again, there’s no animation, just characters on a cel slid upward. I really like the angles on some of the layouts. You rarely see this even in the Huck series a year later. Too bad.

Cut to a shot of space over Earth. “And away they go!” says our quiet narrator. “But where is this mystery ship taking our friends? And why?” The narrator plugs the next episode, followed by the end tag music.

Hanna-Barbera paid for the use of the Capitol Hi-Q library for this series, but only two cues are used. The first one was only used once outside Ruff and Reddy (on the third Pixie and Dixie cartoon), while the second may sound familiar from B-grade ‘50s science fiction films.

0:00 – Ruff and Reddy Sub Main Title theme (Hoyt Curtin)
0:06 – TC 304A FOX TROT (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Ruff reads paper, squirts gun, “There’s no such animal as a flyin’ saucer.”
1:15 – No Music – TV newsman broadcasts, Ruff pleased with the news.
1:38 – L-1203 EERIE HEAVY ECHO (Spencer Moore) – Saucer flies around, Ruff and Reddy kidnapped, saucer zooms away from Earth.
3:35 – Ruff and Reddy Sub End Title theme (Curtin).

You can more about Ruff and Reddy’s creation in this post, this post, this post and even this post.


  1. Good O'l Harry Cohn. I was able to talk to actress Dorothy Hart back in the early 90's, and she had some interesting stories about her time at Columbia Pictures and after their first meeting, wasn't a fan Mr. Cohn at all. I think Maureen O'Hara was the only performer who had kind words for the man. The eyes on the aliens are similar to the eyes on the alien that gives Officer Huck such a hard time in " Cop and Saucer ".

  2. By sheer coinkydink, I read issue #2 of DC Comics' Ruff & Reddy miniseries last night. Nothing like filling up on nightmare fuel before hitting the hay.

  3. Happy birthday to my second favorite Hanna-Barbera duo (seriously, these guys get no love and these anniversary pages are the only noteworthy thing about them on the web, so...god bless you Yowp!). Their recent DC Hanna-Barbera Beyond comic is pretty good..

    1. I must admit I'm not a fan of the series. Maybe it's because of the format or the stories. Ruff and Reddy are much better in the comics I've read than on TV.

    2. To Pelayo Flecha: That famous cat and mouse duo..

    3. Cat and mouse duo? You don't mean Punkin' Puss and & Mushmouse, do you?

      Just kidding. I know you're talking about Tom and Jerry. :)

      It's funny: I used to consider Tom and Jerry Hanna-Barbera characters, but as I learned more over the years about the history of animation, thanks in large part to reading this blog, I've come to think of Tom and Jerry as MGM characters, not H-B characters, though they were of course created by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.

  4. The soundtrack used in Ruff & Reddy was recorded by EMI (nowadays belonging to Universal Music)/Capitol Records.

  5. Why you believe RUFF AND REDDY will never be issued on DVD must have to do with the Capitol Library thing, something which hasn't prevented Warner Home Video from releasing ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (which uses many cues heard in H-B cartoons). Since USA aired most of the series in the '90s when they had the rights (I have most of it on tape), we know the cartoons themselves are still around. Even if there's no hue and cry for it, I still can't believe that Warner wouldn't love to release something they could brand "the very first Hanna-Barbera TV series." And as I've said before, I love the series and find Shows' writing (if, indeed, he wrote them all) to be every bit as witty and entertaining as the Maltese and Foster (et al.) cartoons from later H-B series. So count me in as a potential customer, not only because of its historical importance but because I'd actually love to watch it again.

    1. As Earl Kress told me years ago, sales on the Huck DVD were way below expectations. If Warners can't sell the old Huck shows, they're not going to pump money into Ruff and Reddy. They'll put out Foofur or other 80s stuff that requires virtually no outlay.
      Whether "many" cues were used on Superman or anything else isn't the issue. It's specific cues that are, none of which I've heard on Superman (certainly not before 1956 as Hi-Q didn't exist then). Some rights holders saw huge $$$$ because a big corporation was involved and wanted more money than Warners was willing to pay.

    2. "As Earl Kress told me years ago, sales on the Huck DVD were way below expectations. If Warners can't sell the old Huck shows, they're not going to pump money into Ruff and Reddy."

      Well, that's a shame. I wonder if the poor sales of the Huck DVD have to do with a lack of advertising. Now, I don't know this for a fact. I wasn't on the classic cartoon blogosphere back in the early 2000s when the Huck DVD was released, and, as I said here years ago (when I was commenting under my real name, Sergio Goncalves), I didn't grow up on practically any H-B cartoons (I'm currently 26 years old), but discovered them later in life and have become a big fan. I say this to explain that when the Huck DVD was released I had absolutely no knowledge of its existence. But I already was a huge Looney Tunes fan back then. My parents bought me some of the Looney Tunes DVDs that were released in 2003. My point is that on those DVDs I don't recall seeing any advertising for the Huck DVD or any H-B DVD (except for an ad for some
      then-new direct-to-video movie starting that Great Dane whose name escapes me).

    3. Nor do I recall seeing any ads for classic Hanna-Barbera DVDs on television. Though I can't claim to have been a fan of H-B in those years, I was by then a budding classic animation enthusiast, and knew of the *existence* of several classic H-B properties, like the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, etc. So ads for the Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection would not have escaped my notice.

      As to cues, I wonder if Warner Archive would consider releasing classic H-B cartoons such as Huck and Quick Draw with Hoyt Curtin cues *instead* of the Capitol Hi-Q cues they don't have the rights to. Obviously, this would not be an ideal solution. Yet it appeals to me. I mean, I'd much rather have Quick Draw McGraw on DVD with the wrong cues than no Quick Draw McGraw on DVD at all. And, as Thad Komorowski (in)famously pointed out a few months ago, it's not as if Warner Archive is averse to using the wrong soundtracks on its animation DVDs. Surely, what I've proposed here as a possible solution for Quick Draw is far less of an abomination than what Warner Archive *actually did* with its recent black and white Porky Pig DVD.

    4. Sérgio,

      This Great Dane is very, very known as Scooby-Doo and those meddling kids (Norville "Shaggy" Rogers, Fred Jones, Daphne Blake & Velma Dinkley).

    5. I know, Rodnei. It’s just a running gag among some commenters on this blog (sometimes including me), in which we purposely don’t say the name of Scooby-Doo, because Yowp doesn’t like Scooby-Doo. Sometimes Yowp does this himself in his blog posts. Now, I myself like Scooby-Doo. I just think it’s funny to not say his name, or to pretend not to remember his name, since Scooby-Doo is by far the most popular and well-known Hanna-Barbera character today. Já agora, desejo-lhe um Feliz Natal e um Próspero Ano Novo. 🤠🇵🇹🇧🇷

  6. In addition to your comments about the angles on the layouts and the background painting by "Monty" Montealegre, notice also the occasional use of air brushing. For such a low budget, they put in a bit more effort than what was the norm in the cartoons made for the Huck Hound series that followed shortly afterward.

  7. Well, of course, I'm not the expert on the soundtracks you are, and I will bow to your assessment of that. However, nowadays, with LOOPY DE LOOP and the likes of PETER POTAMUS, ATOM ANT and SECRET SQUIRREL (much less detritus from the '70s and '80s) having been issued on manufacture-on-demand media, it's obvious that the audience doesn't have to be large for any H-B series to still be profitable for the studio, since there's no distribution involved nor sales thresholds to be reached. As I said, from the episodes aired in the '90s, it's clear that the cartoons still exist and they looked fine to me--and since one of the pluses for the studios using MOD is that they don't actually clear anything up for release--so it would simply entail the price of slapping them onto however many discs it would take for the series, slapping together cover and label art, and releasing them to online sellers like Amazon and Deep Discount--then I expect the sole stumbling block preventing this from happening IS the music rights, and there's no way that either of the two alternatives (paying for the music or dubbing Hoyt Curtin music in to cover them up--if it's even possible to separate the music from the voices on those old mono soundtracks) could be chosen without costing them money. Maybe we could crowd-source the funds for them...for this, and, even more crucially, QUICK DRAW McGRAW, and the second volume of HUCK.

    Hey, I'm not getting any younger here.

    1. The only way that the music can be "re-dubbed" would be if the original vocal and SEFX tracks exist. It is unknown from our outside position to know how many of the original elements exist. This is the problem with having produced so much product. It required great organization in storage, and Hanna-Barbera did not have a well organized archive.

  8. Stranger that Post (General Foods) sponsored a Columbia-Screen Gems released HB show, instead of Kellogg's!(Very strange irony, even more that Post/GF became (1971,) HB's permanent cereal tie in