Monday 31 December 2018

Don Lusk

The last surviving animator on The Jetsons’ debut cartoon in 1962 has passed away. Don Lusk was 105.

We know he worked on the “Rosey the Robot” episode because his name is preserved in the cartoon’s review in Daily Variety (whether the frame to the right is Lusk’s, I don’t know). Expert Howard Fein says he also animated on one of my favourite Jetsons, “Elroy’s TV Show.”

Lusk was born in California on October 28, 1913, the second son of Percy Knox and Louise Opie (Ross) Lusk. His father was from Brooklyn and his mother from Canada. His father died when he was young, his mother remarried and was left a widow again. Don was supporting his mother and grandmother while at Disney in 1940, pulling down $3,900 a year. One of his assistants at Disney was Gene Hazelton, who later ran the comic strip department at Hanna-Barbera.

He left Disney to work on shorts at the Walter Lantz studio in the early ‘60s before his stop at Hanna-Barbera. Without getting into an endless list of credits, we’ll simply say he animated on both H-B features of the mid-‘60s—Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear and A Man Called Flintstone.

There are so few veterans of the early days at Hanna-Barbera still around; background artist Sam Clayberger, who worked on some of the first Huckleberry Hound cartoons, died earlier this year, as did Gerard Baldwin, who animated several cartoons on the Huck and Quick Draw shows in 1959 before he left to work for Jay Ward.

Our sympathies go to the Lusk family.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Boss Cat

Is it true that Top Cat was really known as Boss Cat when it first aired in England? The answer: yes.

At the time the cartoon series was made, there was a brand of kitty food in the U.K. known as “Top Cat.” The BBC, in an attempt to avoid any hint of commercialism, changed the show’s name to The Boss Cat (and later omitted the article). To the right you see the TV listings for June 13, 1962, which was perhaps when the series made its debut.

This begs the question about how the Auntie aired the cartoon. Was the voice track altered with “Top Cat” removed and a voice edited in saying “Boss Cat?” What about the theme song and the opening and closing titles?

As ridiculous as it sounds, the soundtrack was left intact. Kid audiences were apparently supposed to deal with the confusion by bearing the old British stiff upper lip. The credits were dealt with by having a title card jarringly edited into Ken Muse’s animation.

One English critic was not going to put up with the BBC’s foolishness. Here’s a portion of the television column from The Spectator of December 21, 1962 dealing with, in part, the Hanna-Barbera prime time shows.


‘TOP CAT’ has returned, an even which clearly has more importance for television’s largest audience than any of the high-toned experiments in drama or education on either channel. Non-human heroes continue to have the edge over mere people among the youngest viewers, and I regularly confirm this old discovery by sitting with my back to the screen and watching my sample audience during the children’s programmes.
‘Top Cat’ interests me strangely too. (The BBC retitles the show Boss Cat, for reasons which I have not discovered.) It seems we aren’t going to have any more Bilko, but the immortal sergeant lives on in this two-dimensional moggie, which doesn’t only speak with Bilko’s voice but has the Bilko character precisely duplicated, including the cunning, the idiot lechery, the gambling fever and the loyal suckers gathered round him.
Is it possible that this represents a Trend? Even the best human series wears out in time...But you never have any trouble, personal-releations-wise, with line drawing....
The case of the Flintstones is not really so different. Barney and his mates are, if I may use the phrase very loosely, original creations. But take away the prehistoric gimmick and all you’ve got left is a perfectly ordinary old-fashioned domestic situation comedy, a Lucy-Joan-Jeannie amalgam. Thus form of entertainment, with human beings, died of inanition over five years ago, but the cartoon reincarnation isn’t only durable, it has capture an intellectual audience which would never have wasted a moment on live Lucy.
As an old cheap gag-writer I find the Flintstones wearisome, and I feel I ought to disapprove of them in principle, as I disapprove of ‘Top Cat.’ All the same, I find myself watching both programmes with a puzzled interest if they catch my eye. I too am a sucker.
Incidentally, Top Cat had unexpected competition on ITV Border Television, which served the area along the England-Scotland boundary. John Holmstrom wrote in the British publication New Statesman in its issue of April 3, 1964, referring to children’s television:
The most entertaining things just now – and it’s a sad reflection on our native talent – are the American animal cartoons. Boss Cat (BBC) is great fun, but A-R’s 5.25 Friday session is richer, featuring Quick Draw McGraw (Eccles-voiced horse sheriff), Snooper and Blabber (imperturbable cat-and-mouse sleuthing partnership) and Auggie Doggie (sneaky pip with moralising Pa). The scripts are splendidly outrageous parodies of favourite Hollywood styles. It’s superb for adults, and kids, missing some of the side-swipes, rightly relish the puns and slapstick.
The BBC put out Boss Cat in August 1967; the show was the network’s third-ranked children’s programme at the time with an audience of 2.4 million (number one, incidentally, was Dr. Who). The series returned, as Boss Cat, to the beeb four years later. In the meantime, the series began airing in November 1969 on R.T.E. in Ireland as Top Cat; certainly the Irish weren’t about to let some Englishmen tell them how to air a TV show. The BBC seems to have continued using Boss Cat as late as 1989, according to listings in The Guardian. However, from what I gather from reader Andrew Morrice, the term fell into disuse some time ago.

One other Top Cat-related note: animation historian Jerry Beck recently told webtv host Stu Shostak that Warner Home Video is putting out Jonny Quest on Blu-ray with the correct closing titles. He says depending on sales, Warner may release “single-season, Hanna-Barbera prime-time series” on Blu-ray as well. Does this mean “Where’s Huddles?” No. Does this mean “Wait ‘Til Your Father Gets Home”? No. That doesn’t leave an awful lot, except for The Jetsons and, yes, Top Cat. Could they be next? Jerry’s not hinting but, and I have absolutely no clue, but as Mr. Kitzel used to say on the Al Pearce radio show, “Hmmmm, could be.....”

Tuesday 25 December 2018

How Hoyt Curtin Made Music

Hoyt Curtin may have made as big an impact on Hanna-Barbera cartoons in the early 1960s as anyone else at the studio.

Curtin began writing libraries of underscore music for various series in 1960 but had composed theme songs for the company since its first show, Ruff and Reddy, debuted in 1957. All the great music for Jonny Quest, Top Cat, The Jetsons and The Flintstones was all the product of Curtin and his arranger. Later, things changed as the workload got bigger, and Curtin contracted others to compose for him.

Film Score Monthly profiled Curtin’s work at Hanna-Barbera in its February 2001 issue; he had been dead for only two months. A portion of what’s a very long article is transcribed below.

It seems to be a Christmas tradition here on the Yowp blog to include music in our posts of the 25th of December. I’ve posted a number of Curtin cues that aren’t available elsewhere. I don’t have many good ones left but you’ll find them sprinkled in between paragraphs. I haven’t tried to embed a music player; simply click on the title and it should come up in your computer’s player.

Cue V-311

Working with Hoyt Curtin at Hanna-Barbera
By Jeff Bond

When Hoyt Curtin died in December of last year, the world lost a cultural icon. But the composer of such instantly recognizable TV show themes as Jonny Quest, The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Magilla Gorilla was largely unknown to audiences. The fact that he was often listed as a music supervisor on the various Hanna-Barbera cartoon series he worked on — making it unclear whether or not he had actually composed music on the shows — didn't help matters. Curtin did, in fact, Curtin did, in fact, compose most of the themes and a great deal of the music for Hanna-Barbera cartoons at the end of the 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Over the years he also pulled into his orbit other composers, musical directors, producers and a veteran group of musicians to assist him in supplying music for Hanna-Barbera's massive factory of animation.
Curtin's training for the world of cartoon theme songs couldn't have been more effective: He came from the world of commercial jingles, eventually becoming perhaps the most successful West Coast producer of catchy advertising songs.

Cue J-203

Trained to boil down the appeal of a product in 30 seconds, Curtin applied his knack for simple yet indelible melodies to his first cartoon for for Hanna-Barbera, 1957's Ruff and Reddy. He went on to provide themes and music for cartoons like The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958), Top Cat (1961), Wally Gator (1962), Magilla Gorilla (1964), Peter Potamus (1964), Yogi Bear (1964), Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles (1966), The Banana Splits Adventure Hour (1968), Wacky Races (1968), The Cattanooga Cats (1969), Perils of Penelope Pitstop (1969) and Hong Kong Phooey (1974).
After a period of semi-retirement, Curtin did music supervision and themes for The Smurfs (1981) and other Hanna-Barbera series. During that period, Curtin worked with such composers as Ron Jones (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Family Guy), John Debney (Spy Kids, Heartbreakers), Mark Wolfram (Piercing the Celluloid Veil: An Orchestral Odyssey), Steve Taylor (Tiny Toon Adventures), John Massari (Killer Klowns From Outer Space, The Ray Bradbury Theatre) and Tom Worrall (The Tom and Jerry Kids Show, The Wild Women of Chastity Gulch) among others. For some of these composers, working with Hoyt Curtin was their first major gig. And while they generally did not receive screen credit for their work, the job turned out to be an invaluable training ground for future composing [employment].
Some of the composers knew Curtin's reputation and pursued him for the job, while others just knew they might be able to get a job writing cartoon music. "I was familiar with the shows, but I didn't make the connection between Hoyt and the shows," Ron Jones admits. "I was new to the business, but when you watch all that you don't really pick up all the names. You pick up all the bigger names and Hoyt's kind of goes right by you."

Cue J-209A

A Tireless Creator
John Debney was one who was familiar with Curtin's work. "Hoyt was like a Mike Post," Debney says, relating Curtin to the man who has written countless familiar TV themes and acted as a music supervisor and brand name for their background scores. "You know who he is and you know what he's done — and I worked for Mike Post, too.
Hoyt had been around a long long time by the early 1980s, and by that time he had really retired. I certainly knew who he was." Ron Jones became one of the mainstays for Curtin in the early 1980s. "I worked on more than a hundred different series with Hoyt," Jones says. "I worked on The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, The Trolkins, Richie Rich, Pound Puppies — the list goes on and on. My resume is so ridiculous with all the listings that people have told me to actually delete stuff — it's like two single-spaced pages of Hanna-Barbera credit. And they're all network shows. The first season I worked for Hoyt, I got a break and went home and was watching TV on a Saturday morning, and I had shows on ABC, CBS and NBC simultaneously."

Cue V-323

Jones was attending a professional arranging school and doing copying to make ends meet when he saw the opportunity to get into animation. "The copyist copied all of Hanna-Barbera's stuff, and I looked at it and thought, I could do that," Jones says. "So I asked if I could deliver it. I cornered Hoyt Curtin and he gave me a shot." At the time Curtin was working with producer Paul DeKorte at Group Four Studios. "At Group Four he'd be on a break and I asked if I could hang out and I'd be asking him little questions. And over a period of sitting there watching I told him I'd been taking film scoring and orchestration and that I understood all this," Jones recalls. "I didn't know that everything was scored with storyboards and cassette-slugged dialogue. He told me to come back next Tuesday, and I came back next Tuesday... and he said to come back next Thursday, and I came back next Thursday... and he told me to come back next Tuesday. The third time, he said, 'Let me go out to my office.' And his office was his Lincoln Continental in the parking lot. He handed me some storyboards and a tape and said, 'Here you go.'"

Cue J-263

Scoring by Numbers
Jones quickly discovered that scoring Hanna-Barbera animation involved more work on the composer's part than he'd anticipated. "I got home, and the storyboards from Hanna-Barbera are very cryptic," he notes. "You don't really understand what's going on. I was used to film footage but this was ridiculous. The storyboard would say six feet of somebody swishing by, and then it would go to the next panel and it would say the dialogue, and there was no continuous accounting for that time. So I realized I had to take a stopwatch and time that and add up the footage and make this huge map. It took me about four days to figure out how to do that."
Mark Wolfram found the key to entering the world of Hanna-Barbera literally at his feet. "I sent Paul DeKorte a letter at one point and on my demonstration tape I put an example of a commercial I had done for a sneaker called Snorks, which just happened to be a Hanna-Barbera character at the time," Wolfram remembers. "It sat on a shelf for a year and eventually Hoyt heard it and called me up. Hoyt said we should meet, and we had a nice breakfast at Smokey Joe's on Riverside and Coldwater. He filled me in on his career about his early days as one of the biggest jingle guys on the West Coast, and he asked if I wanted to go to work for Hanna-Barbera. At the time Curtin and his crew were working on an updated version of Jonny Quest, the classic adventure series that had aired in prime time in the '60s.
"The first thing I did was three or four episodes of Jonny Quest," Wolfram says. "It was kind of adventure music. There were more modern effects around the edges than in the '60s version, some synth drums just for some touches. Obviously at that point we were using EVI or EWI [a woodwind synthesizer] rather than three or four woodwind players, but that was really the only concession to contemporary."
Wolfram was faced with the same working approach Jones and the other composers met. "We basically had to be our own music editors and make our own cue sheets and from that you try and hit as best you could," he explains. "But you didn't want to get too specific because everything would be used for the library, so you tried to serve the episode as best you could but still keep it broad enough to have multiple uses."

Cue J-267

Cartoons Are a Funny Business
John Debney likewise fell into the working routine quickly, sharing scoring duties on individual cartoon episodes with the other composers. "There could be anywhere from three to four of us," he says. "Someone would get four minutes and I'd get three or Ron Jones would get three, and once you had done it for him a number of times and knew what his vocabulary was and knew the kind of endings you had to do, it was very specific the way Hanna-Barbera did it. They were librarying this music and they would use it on other shows, so every few bars you'd have to put a hole in the music because they could take that and cut to another piece of music. It was very formulaic, but it was really fascinating and I learned a lot by doing it."
The sheer volume of music that needed to be produced made a major impact on most of the composers. "I would try to do a minimum of 20 pages a day and during the summer I'd end up working six or seven days a week, so it would be 130 pages of finished score every week," Jones recalls. "Mostly you'd get an act to work on, the whole act or sometimes a whole show. Or sometimes it would just be generic themes, like 'Can you write a bunch of chases? Can you write a bunch of dialogue cues?' because once they had a few shows scored they'd track it. That came in handy when I did Duck Tales because when I got there, they said, 'How can you score nine shows and track a hundred of them?' and I said, 'Watch.' They'd say, 'Why did you do that Arabian cue?' and 'Why did you do that other and I'd say, 'Look, trust me, you're gonna need that.' All that training really allowed me to envision what needed to be done."
Jones developed his own system for keeping track of exactly what show he was working on at any given time. "You keep a notebook or a manila folder and put the themes in there," he recalls. "They'd be right there next to the piano, and I'd say 'What show are we doing?' and then any shows I'd make up themes [for] I'd put them there too so there'd be a folder with dialogue themes, one with Hoyt's themes, one with my themes and so on."
Though Curtin was only writing bits and pieces and providing show themes by the 1980s, Debney notes that Curtin's work during his first decade or so with Hanna-Barbera was far more extensive and involved a long-standing collaboration William Hanna, a founding partner of the animation factory with Joseph Barbera.

Cue J-278

"I was told by Paul DeKorte that Hoyt used to write most of the music himself," Debney explains. "I got to know Bill Hanna really well too, and Bill would really work with Hoyt on those themes and write lyrics for them even though you might never hear the lyrics. Bill was a musician and an old-school guy and he knew how to read animation charts. He's have storyboarded things for a two minute main title or theme and he'd actually time it out.
Debney notes the Curtin's background in jazz was invaluable both to his jingle work and his fashioning of some of television's snappiest theme songs. "Hoyt was a jazzer," Debney says. "He was a keyboard player for one of the big bands and he was in the service. That's why his music sounds the way it does, he always loved those jazz chords, and they're fabulous."

Cue V-325

Even in the '80s when Curtin wasn't writing most of the music, he conducted all the scoring sessions with a group of veteran players with whom he had long-standing relationships. "Hoyt conducted everything and Paul DeKorte was in the booth," Jones says. "Before MIDI stuff came in, he and Paul DeKorte budgeted things so they could have a pretty good-sized band, but we did The Smurfs with six violins and a little band, and it was all take-downs of Berlioz and Rachmaninoff and Beethoven. The Smurfs gig was about how many classical themes can you use, because the Smurfs were these little characters they did in Europe and they tracked it all with classical music." Paul DeKorte was also a talented singer who sang on and contracted vocals for all of Curtin's sessions. "As far as musicians, I recall Gene Cipriano on woodwinds, Frank Capp and Steve Schaeffer on drums, Jerry Hey, Chuck Findley, Rick Baptist and Charlie King on trumpets. Lloyd Ulleate on trombone, Tommy Johnson on tuba and bass trombone, Vince DeRosa on horn, Clark Gassman on keyboards and Chet Record on percussion," Jones says. "The concert master on violin was Sid Sharp."

Cue JW-11

The Boys in the Band
Jones says he learned a great deal of his craft just by talking to Curtin's team members. "We had the best players on earth and that's how I'd learn," the composer says. "I'd write for them, and then I'd talk to Tommy Johnson and say, 'What did you think of my tuba part?' And he'd say he liked this part and maybe I could do this other part better. Or I'd go sit with Chet Record who was the percussionist, who had to play like a million instruments, and I'd say, 'How do you get from the timpani over to the xylophone in time?' and he'd say 'I draw these arrows.' It was like a master orchestration class. I'd work with Lalo Schifrin on these French orchestration books, and then I'd go practice what I learned in terms of transparency and amplitude and intensity with all that writing each week. It was really a school unlike anything I've ever seen. The players were all great sight readers. They all loved the work. He made it fun and musically interesting."
According to the composers, Curtain made the job interesting in other ways as well. "Hoyt used to do certain things," Debney laughs. "I'd finish my allotment for the week, maybe 10 minutes of music, and he'd always call me on a Sunday night as I was getting ready to sit down for dinner and say "Hey, Big John!" You think you could squeeze out another two or three minutes of Pound Puppies? I always knew he'd call, too, because Hoyt always intended to do some writing himself at that time, but somehow he never got around to it.
Curtin also reportedly had his own idiosyncratic ideas about Los Angeles geography. "He'd always say, 'John, can you come out and meet me halfway?' I lived in Burbank and he lived in Westwood, and 'halfway' would somehow always mean about three minutes from his house," Debney recalls. "But he knew it, he was just a character."

Cue JW-2

Ron Jones points out that Curtin had to try to keep his home life and professional life separate. "His wife thought that music was dirty," Jones says. "That somehow it was the red light district. Hoyt wasn't allowed to keep any musical instruments in the house. He kept a beat-up upright piano, where every third note didn't work, in his hall closet. But he had perfect pitch so he wrote everything from perfect pitch. We'd be at Denny's or Jack's Deli, and he would take the napkin, flip it over, write out the clef and say, 'Here's the bad guy theme' or 'Here's the Smurf lick,' then you'd take the boards and that's what you had to go by."
Debney found himself dealing with Curtin's legacy years later when he wrote the score to the feature-length animated version of The Jetsons. "When I did Jetsons: The Movie, I was in a room with a bunch of suits, and I had gotten the job to score the movie, and it wasn't a great movie but it was a movie," Debney recalls. "They were in this meeting and they went, 'Now what are we gonna do for the main title?' And they all look at me. And I said, 'I think we should do the Jetsons" theme.' And they were like, 'I don't know if we really want to do that. I mean, we do have Tiffany.' They were actually proud of that! I said, 'I really think we should do the theme. I mean I'll use a bigger orchestra and fill it out a bit more, but I think we should stay true to it because when people are in a darkened theater, when this thing comes on, they're going to cheer.' I said, 'If you really want that cheer, you're going to have to play the theme.' They were really fighting me on it. And when I went to the screening and they played the theme, people clapped."

Cue JW-232

The Undying Spirit of Adventure
Debney says he's even seen Curtin's effect on live-action directors who grew up listening to the composer's themes. "When I got called in to work on Spy Kids I was sitting with Robert Rodriguez and talking, and Rodriguez said, 'Maybe we could have kind of a Jonny Quest theme,' and my eyes lit up and so did his. He went over to his computer and he had the Jonny Quest theme on it. He said he used to listen to that while he was writing Spy Kids."
Debney still carries a flame for Curtin's themes. "For my money I think that Hoyt was completely under-appreciated for what he's done," the composer says. "The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Jonny Quest. . .plus there are ones that you don't talk about but you'd remember if you heard them, like Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator, and all that stuff we grew up on. It's so great and so catchy.
"Hoyt was a great communicator," says Ron Jones. "His themes are like perestroika—where one word means an entire paragraph. In English we don't have a word for it so I would say in music it's the musical equivalent of direct communication. He would always tell me to keep it simple and that there's a main thing and another thing and that's it—there's nothing else. I never heard anyone else say that except Lalo Schifrin. He would emphasize a lot of melody and then say, 'What else is left?' I try to be in that mold."

Cue P-88

For Mark Wolfram, Curtin's joy in his work made the most lasting impact. "This is a guy who really loved what he did. There were problems on sessions. Things didn't always go the way he wanted to, and he'd have to make some changes. But most of the time this was a guy who was just having a great time. All the musicians felt the same way."
And for a man who could write music that sent chills down the spine (like Jonny Quest) or simply make the viewer bust out into laughter. Curtin's personal sensibility couldn't have been more appropriate. "He truly was loved, and he was just hilariously funny," John Debney says. "The beauty of Hoyt was that he took the music seriously but he had a great time doing it. He kept it light, and the musicians loved him."

Cue V-303

Since it is Christmas Day, let me extend my thanks to you for reading this blog over the years and wish you a peaceful and healthy 2019. Here’s a great Dick Bickenbach festive season sketch of the Hanna-Barbera stars of 1958 from the collection of Bill Wray.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Santa and the Stone Age

If you’re going to buy the fact that people in the Stone Age celebrate Christmas, you might as well jump in and buy the fact that the Sphinx, the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa date from the Stone Age, too. Because we see all that in “Christmas Flintstone.”

The show aired as a regular episode of The Flintstones on Christmas Day 1964 (the first time the show aired on a Friday night after swapping spots with Jonny Quest). It was repeated on Christmas Eve 1965, so we can only presume ABC and Screen Gems intended this to be an annual thing. Of course, 1965-66 was the final network season for the show.

It’s evident that Hanna-Barbera pumped more money into this episode than usual. There are a couple of original songs by John McCarthy. There are a few imaginative overhead layouts, something Hanna-Barbera rarely engaged in. And despite the anachronisms, a few plot holes, inconsistencies in the names of Santa’s elves, and the non-presence of Bea Benaderet, the episode has its charms. Alan Reed gives a fine performance (his off-key singing suits Fred’s character, to be honest), the background artwork is top-notch and the songs are kind of cute. And Barney’s mantra of “good will to your fellow man” is appropriate but not strident.

Warren Foster’s plot involves Fred Flintstone, fill-in department store Santa, filling in for the real Santa Claus who can’t make his Christmas Eve delivery because of a bad cold. Fred jumps in Santa’s sleigh and pours toys out of a huge bag that are swallowed up by chimneys. No need to animate Fred going in and out of houses; some cycle animation of falling parcels and toys does the trick. The cartoon makes good use of silhouettes as Fred drops presents upon various places in the world. The presents include Pebbles dolls. Ideal Toys needs their product placement!

The Flintstones was starting to run on fumes by season five, but this episode is a pleasant half-hour that is worth watching at Yuletide time.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Flintstones Comics, December 1970

It’s remarkable! Infants in the Stone Age know future U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew! And they know there are such things as Spiro Agnew watches (my fuzzy memory seems to recall there was such a thing before Agnew’s political demise).

At least, such is the case in the Stone Age of the Flintstones.

Here’s what Gene Hazelton and his crew put together in the Sunday comics on this month in 1970. Pops appears on December 6th, Barney and Dino on the 13th, and Fred takes the Christmas comic of December 20th off. He returns on December 27th with a new-fangled remote control (at least our TV sets in the ‘60s never had one). The kids singing in the first panel of the Christmas comic look more like they came from Rankin-Bass than Hanna-Barbera.

Click on each comic to enlarge it. The colour comic comes from the collection of Richard Holliss.

December 6, 1970

December 13, 1970

December 20, 1970

December 27, 1970

Saturday 15 December 2018

Jean Vander Pyl Looks Back

For the first two years of its life, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio relied almost entirely on Daws Butler and Don Messick to provide voices for all its characters. The exceptions were rare. By 1959 the studio was looking to expand its talent roster, and also to hire a woman to handle the female roles instead of using Messick in falsetto.

That’s when Jean Vander Pyl was hired.

Vander Pyl came from radio. She wasn’t in the top echelon of female supporting players like Bea Benaderet or Shirley Mitchell, but she had a steady enough career. Because of that, she didn’t get a lot of attention. That changed years later, when Hanna-Barbera cartoons became nostalgic and Vander Pyl was still around to voice her old characters.

From what I’ve heard she was a friendly, down-to-earth and level-headed person, and a good friend, so it’s nice to see her getting some publicity.

This story appeared in the Asbury Park Press of May 29, 1994. Other than misremembering which character was her first—Hanna Barbera had a bunch who were inspired by the Addams Family, so that’s understandable—she gives an interesting take on her career, including her most famous role.

Vander Pyl died on April 10, 1999 at the age of 79.


"I was never very bold about telling actors off or telling directors what I wanted," says a familiar voice over the phone from California. "You just didn't do that in those days. But there were two times in my life that I did."
Jean Vander Pyl is reminiscing about her audition for "The Flintstones" in 1960. Present were Bea Benaderet, an old friend from her radio days, and animator Joseph Barbara, who would decide which of these two women should play Wilma Flintstone and which should play Betty Rubble.
Continues Vander Pyl: "When Bea and I read, it was the funniest thing. We read back and forth, this way and that way. And finally Joe said, 'OK — who wants to be Wilma and who wants to be Betty?' "
Vander Pyl lets out a laugh. "It was so informal in those days, so much more relaxed. Today, they would never do such a thing!
"So I said, 'Oh, I want to be Wilma!' I felt a real closeness to that character. Bea said, 'That's fine with me.' So that's actually the way it was cast."
The only other time in her long career that Vander Pyl "mouthed off" would come three years later.
When we heard there was going to be a baby on the show, she says, "we were excited. The minute I heard that, I thought, 'Oh, I want to do that baby!' Sure enough, the first time it was in the script — the birth of Pebbles — (Barbera) said, 'Now, who's going to do the baby here?'
"The minute those words were out of his mouth, I said, 'I want to do the baby! She's Wilma's baby and she should sound like Wilma!' "
If you're only going to speak up for yourself twice in your career, Vander Pyl apparently picked the two right moments.
As the creator of the voices of the voices of Wilma (which she still performs to this day) and baby Pebbles, Vander Pyl has been heard for 34 years in 86 countries. She is the only surviving member from the original cast of the 1960-66 animated series The Flintstones, on which is based the feature starring John Goodman which opened Friday.
Before doing voice characterizations for television, Vander Pyl worked in radio for 20 years, "in the early, early days, when radio was like television now. "For radio people," the actress says, "if you couldn't do more than one character in a show, you didn't work. So, cartoons were a natural for radio people."
Vander Pyl first worked for William Hanna and Barbera — the animators who created "The Flintstones" — in the late '50s, just when the need for original cartoons produced specifically for the medium of television was becoming more and more apparent.
"It was the big change, and television demanded it," Vander Pyl recalls.
"At that time, they were using the old 'Betty Boops,' the old 'Popeyes' — all the stuff that had already been done. Then (Hanna and Barbera) came up with this new method of producing cartoons quickly.
"They were credited with being the first people to be able to make cartoons fast enough for television, because television ate them up so hard."
Vander Pyl's first role for Hanna-Barbera was as Mrs. Creeply in a "Snooper and Blabbermouth" episode.
"She looked very much like the mother in "The Addams Family,' " Vander Pyl recalls. " So I thought, 'What can I do?' I fiddled with it and came up with — in my own way of thinking, as actors do — half-Katharine Hepburn and half-Talullah Bankhead, if you can imagine."
By 1960, buoyed by the success of such cartoons as "Ruff and Ready," [sic] "Yogi Bear" and "Huckleberry Hound," Hanna-Barbera set about producing what would become the first-ever prime time animated series in television history. As such, the series had to appeal to adults as well as children — which is why a certain live-action sitcom was used as a prototype.
"They showed us the cartoon, and then Mr. Barbera explained to us what it was like," Vander Pyl recalls. "He said, 'It's sort of like "The Honeymooners." ' And that was the tipoff to what type of voices they wanted. So, all four of us had a pattern that we were lead into.
"I did sort of an impression of Audrey Meadows, who played the wife on 'The Honeymooners,' which was that New York, nasal kind of thing."
Vander Pyl slips into a perfect Meadows impression. " 'Oh, Ralph! How many times do I have to tell you!' All up in the nose.
"So when we all first started, we all ended up doing almost-impressions of those four. But then, after we got the parts and the show was on, I remember Joe saying to me, 'Jean, that's a little too nasal. Let's cut down on the nasal.' But I would slip into it, because we had done several shows that way. So it became half me and half the original Wilma."
Vander Pyl says that the chemistry among the first Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty was no accident.
"The interesting thing is that Bea Benaderet, Mel Blanc (Barney), Alan Reed (Fred) and myself were all from radio," Vander Pyl says. "I think the success of the show had a great deal to do with the chemistry of that whole cast. All four of us had worked together on and off for 20 years. So when we were put together in the show, it was not like new people. We were old friends.
"Bea was one of my best friends before we ever even started. I used to take my little girl over to visit her. We used to sit in the sun around her pool back in the early days. I'm talking about the '40s, when our kids were little. These same children are now 52.
"I loved Alan. Al was one of my favorite people. He was kind of like Fred. He was a very warm, big, gentle man when you saw him, but bombastic, too. Like Fred."
Following the cancellation of "The Flintstones" in 1966, Vander Pyl continued to do voices for Hanna-Barbera: Rosie on "The Jetsons" ("she's so much fun to do"), Winnie Witch, Ogee on "Magilla Gorilla," Ma Bear on "The Hillbilly Bears" and Blutessa (Bluto's sister) on "Popeye." But Wilma never strayed too far from Vander Pyl's repertoire. She continues to speak for Wilma through all of the various "Flintstones" spinoffs, such as "Pebbles and Bamm- Bamm" (1971-76), "The Flintstones Kids" (1986-89), "The New Fred and Barney Show" (1989) and many others. And Vander Pyl plays Mrs. Feldspar, Fred's third-grade teacher, in Amblin Entertainment's new "Flintstones" feature.
But Vander Pyl found the two most recent animated "Flintstones" spinoffs — last year's TV movies "I Yabba Dabba Doo!" and "Hollyrock-a-Bye-Baby" (in which Pebbles gets married and has a baby, respectively) — particularly satisfying.
"It was the most gratifying thing to do those two movies," Vander Pyl says. "It has been wonderful for me, and I'll tell you why. When I was young, I wanted to be a famous, dramatic actress, right? Katharine Cornell. Helen Hayes, the first lady of the theater. My only disappointment — though I'd worked through the years and had a wonderful career — was that I was anonymous. I wasn't recognized on the street.
"But that was OK, because I really ended up having the best of both worlds. If I wanted to appear famous, I could just tell people I was Wilma Flintstone. But I didn't have to suffer through some of the hard part that stars, really, have to go through today, where they can't go to a restaurant without being besieged. "When I meet people today of all ages, they say 'I grew up with you.' I've had so many people come up to me and say that.
"And the most charming and touching thing is that so many of the baby boomers were latch-key kids, and I've had people say, 'You were my mommy and daddy. I came home every afternoon after school and watched you.'
"I've had people thank me for all the years of pleasure and fun. I've never thought of myself as having that kind of effect. It's so gratifying to me now. I think, 'Gee whiz — maybe I did do something after all.'
"So it has been very gratifying, but mostly it made me feel good that maybe we made a portion of the children of this last century feel good about something and enjoy something. "And laugh."

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Scary Prairie Town

How’s this for work? There were 78 cartoons in the first season of the Quick Draw McGraw Show in 1959-60. That’s in addition to the (I think) 39 cartoons that had to be made the same year for the Huckleberry Hound Show. And Hanna-Barbera was still working on Ruff and Reddy for Saturday mornings, albeit only on the last two adventures.

The studio had three main background artists the year before—Bob Gentle, Fernando Montealegre and Art Lozzi. Gentle was the veteran; he had been with Harman-Ising before there was an MGM cartoon studio in 1937, having studied at the Otis Art Institute in the early '30s. Dick Thomas and Joe Montell joined the three in 1959 but even with five artists, Hanna-Barbera had plenty of work for all of them.

The studio generally didn’t re-use backgrounds in different cartoons (there’s one streetscape that appears in several early Snooper and Blabber cartoons) but it had to make shortcuts to meet deadlines. Here’s an example from the first Quick Draw McGraw cartoon put into production, Scary Prairie (J-1).

The cartoon opens with a not-so-scary prairie as narrator Elliot Field sets up the story.

Like probably all cartoon studios, Hanna-Barbera used cels as overlays on a background painting. In the shot above, the pinkish-white part of the desert is on an overlay. This allows something to be animated between it and the background painting. It also allows the background painting to be used elsewhere in the cartoon, not only saving work, but the artwork won’t look as repetitious.

Here’s a recreation of the second scene. You can see the same long background painting with the mountains is used, but there are overlays with buildings, a thirsty horse (whose tail is animated), and animated Westerners on the right (only the heads move). My guess is the layout artist was Dick Bickenbach, who would have created the characters.

To save work (ie. time and money), the streetscape background returns at the end of the cartoon as Quick Draw McGraw, in a gag that writer Mike Maltese borrowed from Drip-Along Daffy he wrote at Warner Bros., cleans up the one-horse town. You’ll note the thirsty horse overlay has been removed.

Credit title cards were shot (by Norm Stainback, I suspect) for the individual cartoons at the time they were made, but I don’t believe they were used until the cartoons went into syndication. Even then, many of the Quick Draws exist without credits, so it’s only my wild guess that Bob Gentle was the background artist in this cartoon. I’d have to study the backgrounds a little more.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, or perhaps someone at Kellogg’s ad agency, Leo Burnett, didn’t feel this was a strong enough cartoon to kick off the series, though Maltese makes fun of almost every Western movie cliché. Instead, Lamb Chopped (J-11), the sixth or seventh Quick Draw in the production line, was the debut cartoon. It featured the bad-guy orange version of Snagglepuss and is a pretty funny cartoon.

Once again, I make my plaintive sigh that the Quick Draw series won’t be released on home video. The late Earl Kress said production elements (bumpers and such things) were missing or in poor condition when he went looking for them years ago and, then, a deal couldn’t be reached with the rights-holders of some of the background music, which had reverted from Capitol Records to the composers or their estates. I suppose I should never say “never,” but...

P.S.: When the blog started, I used other websites to supply the dates the early H-B cartoons first aired. A few years later, after doing my own research through newspapers, I discovered the other sites (which never gave sources) were not always correct. This blog had the wrong air date for this cartoon and has been fixed. Other early blog entries will have to be fixed when I find the time.

Saturday 8 December 2018

Bankrolling an Emmy

Syndicated television in the 1950s had some fairly popular shows. Highway Patrol and Sea Hunt come to mind. But the first syndicated show to win an Emmy was the Huckleberry Hound Show in 1960. It was the first time a cartoon show had won. Mind you, it was nominated in a category that didn’t before then—“Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Children's Programming.”

What was even better for the people behind Huck is the other Hanna-Barbera syndicated half-hour show, Quick Draw McGraw, was nominated as well. (Huck was also nominated but lost in 1961).

Both shows were sponsored by Kellogg’s of Battle Creek, Michigan. If you were around back then, you can probably still sing the Kellogg’s jingle. The Battle Creek Enquirer had an interesting take on the Emmy win. Here’s the paper’s story from June 22, 1960, two days after the award was handed out.

Huck, Yogi Share Emmy
Kellogg Co. Picked a Winner

A television cartoon show, bought sight unseen by the Kellogg Co. two years ago on the basis of an idea, came through Monday night to win TVs highest award in its field the most outstanding children's show of the past season.
An Emmy was presented "To Huckleberry Hound Outstanding achievement in the field of children's programming."
HUCK IS SEEN on 207 television stations across the country, which covers more than 90 per cent of the U.S. population. It was the first show of its type to win the award, with time purchased on individual stations rather than transmitted by a network.
Huck also was the first cartoon show created especially for television, rather than being adapted from motion picture cartoons, newspaper comic strips, or other media. It has been on the air since September, 1958.
KELLOGG EXECUTIVES had never seen a Huckleberry Hound cartoon show when they signed a contract in 1958 to sponsor the series. No one had seen one—none of the animated cartoons had been drawn.
Huck's creators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, brought their idea for the show to Kellogg's advertising agency, Leo Burnett Co., Inc. The agency in turn interested company officials.
The Kellogg men looked over proposed scripts and drawings of the characters, then decided to buy the idea. That was early in 1958.
A considerable investment—no amount has been revealed—was needed to build up a backlog of shows in advance of the first release. A Kellogg official said the cost of a half-hour Huck show is about the same as the cost of obtaining talent for a top-flight half-hour evening TV show.
THERE ARE no live characters on the show, usually including the commercials, which are presented by the animated stars. Each half-hour-show consists of three segments, starring separate characters. The stars are Huck, the hound with the southern drawl; Yogi Bear, a park dweller with a penchant for speaking in rhyme; and Jinks the Cat, who "hates you meeses—Pixie and Dixie—to pieces."
Huck and Yogi, particularly, have become popular personalities across the country. Last fall, they were the theme of homecomings at Ohio State University and Washington State University, and made "personal" appearances men dressed in $700 costumes depicting the characters. Both also appeared last year in Battle Creek's Centennial Parade.
TWO OTHER HONORS fell to Kellogg TV personalities Monday night. Quick Draw McGraw, another Kellogg show produced by Hanna and Barbera, was a runner-up for the "best children's show Emmy." And Jim Conway, who does the cereal firm's live commercials, was voted "Best of all the salesmen" by his fellow TV workers in Chicago. Conway was in Battle Creek last fall to emcee the United Fund's campaign kickoff.
Unless you want to count Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, it wasn’t until 1966 when a cartoon won an Emmy again; it went to A Charlie Brown Christmas. Of course, by then, Hanna-Barbera had built a lucrative empire on Saturday mornings. It wasn’t until Daytime Emmys were given out in 1983 that Hanna-Barbera got its second “Outstanding Children’s Entertainment Series” Emmy for The Smurfs. And by a nice coincidence, named with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera was Gerard Baldwin, who had animated Yowp (okay, and Yogi Bear) 26 years earlier on the Huck series that gave the studio its first Emmy award.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, December 1970

No Christmas comic for Yogi Bear in December 1970. Gene Hazelton and his crew could probably have tossed in a whole pile of cutesy animals into it if they had wanted to draw one. We find them in other comics this month. Boo Boo makes a very brief appearance.

December 6:Women in comics and cartoons are fickle. Ask Olive Oyl. In this case, ask Cindy Bear. You’ll recall in “A Wooin’ Bruin” (1962) how Cindy couldn’t make up her mind between Yogi and Bruno. Well, here we have the same thing. Look at the weary look the Wise Owl gives the reader in the second panel. Note Yogi in silhouette in the third row.

December 13: Does anyone use the word “ecology” any more? This is as about as message-y a comic you’ll get out of Yogi Bear, showing people humans can be unthinking lemmings when it comes to hot-button issues and sloganism. Hey, fish in the third panel, it’s been more than 40 years. Nothing’s changed. The final panel has an observational bird.

December 20: Ecology returns, taking a back-seat to a pun as the punch-line. A few hyper open-mouths in this comic.

December 27: We get an observational squirrel in the final panel, and a number of other talking animals. Apparently a bunch of stuff happened before the comic started, as Yogi was rough-housing with the kid. Yeah, there were helicopter parents back then. This colour comic comes from the collection of Richard Holliss in the U.K.

Click on any comic to make it bigger.

Saturday 1 December 2018

What's in a Name-Rock?

The writers of the The Flintstones could come up with clever puns on names. Eventually, they got lame, just arbitrarily adding “stone” or “rock” to a name. I mean, “Jimmy O’Neillstone?” “Shinrock”? I was nine at the time and could do better than that.

Here are a couple of stories about Flintstone names. They’re not bylined, so my guess is they came right from the office of publicity mogul Arnie Carr at Hanna-Barbera. They use some of the same wording. That line about “butcher, baker and pizza-pie maker” shows up yet again. The first story was printed in the Montgomery Alabama Journal of July 14, 1961 and the second in the Boston Globe of the following October 22nd.
Note the credit given to Mike Maltese and Warren Foster.

Funny Names Dreamed Up For Flintstone People
Whoever dreams up the names on "The Flintstones," the animated cartoon series on ABC-TV Friday nights, has a delightful sense of whimsy. Various characters bear the tags of familiar people and places with just enough of a twist to make it amusing.
For instance, what better name for a movie actor from the community of Hollyrock than Gary Granite. Or a dance instructor who answers to Arthur Quarry. Both of those citizens are as solid as a rock.
In various "Flintstone" episodes viewers also get to meet such people (?) as Pebble Bleach, an attractive blonde; Rock Pile, a way-out actor on thespian if you prefer. Then there's Boulder Dan, who owns a poolroom, and Perry Masontry, an attorney.
Still others include Professor Rockymoto, a judo instructor; Perry Gunnite, a private eye; Rocky Gibralter, a prizefighter; Morris Mortar, an insurance agent; Malcolm Quartz, a grocer and Benjamin Boulder, a business executive.
Principal writers of "The Flintstones" are Warren Foster and Mike Maltese. They work very closely with producers Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna and presumably all four fertile minds get the credit for dreaming up the funny names.
When you remember that "The Flintstones" are set in the Stone Age the names take on even more laughable impact.
These characters along with the principals, Fred and Wilma Flintstone and Barney and Betty Rubble have made the series one of the most successful on the television scene. Recently, it was selected by TV editors across the country in Fame's annual poll as "the most unique new program."

Birth of “The Flintstones”
Last year at this time about the biggest hit among the new entries on TV was “The Flintstones,” animated cartoon series seen on Ch 7 Friday nights at 8:30. Its immediate success prompted a rash of similar cartoon programs to be put on the market for this Fall season. And now we have them by the score.
“The Flintstones” give a satirical picture of family life in suburbia as it might have been in prehistoric times. Fred and Wilma Flintstone live at Bedrock in Cobblestone County. Their newspaper is the Daily Slate. They take their laundry to the Rock-O-Mat. They play Stoneway pianos. They live in split-level caves.
Bedrock has its butcher, baker and pizza-pie maker and drive-in restaurant. It has its funny names, too. Various characters bear the tags of familiar people with just enough of a twist to be amusing.
There’s Gary Granite, actor; Perry Masontry, attorney; Rocky Gilbralter, prizefighter; Perry Gunnite, private eye and Professor Rockymoto, a judo instructor, to name a few.
Creators of the series are Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. They were pleasantly surprised to learn that their characters “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw,” primarily children’s shows, had a large adult following.
“We decided to try a cartoon series geared to adult viewers,” said Joe, a youngish man in his 40’s who could easily be taken for a film star. “We started thinking about a family situation comedy cartoon series.
“Bill and I tried out something like six different families, in modern contemporary times and settings, but they somehow didn’t fit the bill. Then one day, sitting around the shop with a group of our animators, we hit on the idea of taking an average, everyday couple, happily married, with the normal trials and tribulations of everyday living, and setting them in a Stone Age era and background.
“We drew our couple in a modern car. No laugh. But when we set the couple in a caveman car (thatched-top convertible with stone wheels and tree branch fins) we all laughed at the drawing.
“Then we tried a regular guy at the piano. No laughs. But when we put the same guy in caveman attire, in a cave dwelling, plunking away at a stone piano, again the whole group roared.
“Before long, we were playing a game with everybody tossing in suggestions. Another example—give a man a telephone to answer. No laugh. But give a caveman in the form of a ram’s horn, and again there’s laughter.”
Joe and Bill approached Screen Gems with the idea and it clicked with them. Joe had to interest advertising agencies in the cartoon, speaking something like five to six times a day. Needless to say, he sold the series.

I always thought the name was “Perry Masonary.” “Cobblestone County” seems to have been mentioned more in publicity than on the show. And was there a “Rock-o-mat”? Or “split-level caves” (all of them seem to be on one level, with the same picture appearing on the wall five or six times, depending on how long Fred is running).

I don’t know if I can pick a favourite pun name; a lot of them make me wince. But perhaps one comes to your mind.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

High Wire Huck Part 2

The high wire breaks that Yogi Bear, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks are on high above the circus crowd. Huckleberry Hound’s top hat twirls before he jumps to the rescue.

I like the Huck head multiples. If you look closely, you’ll see the drawing of Huck with Jinks riding over him isn’t quite identical with the one of Yogi riding over him.

Huck swoops to safety. Almost.

Once again, these are really attractive drawings. More effort and expense was put into the intro bumpers than the cartoons themselves. How nice they (or some of them) got preserved on home video.