Wednesday 24 January 2018

The Non-TV World of Hanna-Barbera

Which 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon starred Jim Backus?

Give up? The answer is Mr. Leaf.

You don’t recall Mr. Leaf? That wouldn’t be surprising. That’s because it never appeared on TV (to the best of my knowledge). It was one of the films made by Hanna-Barbera’s newly-organised industrial unit.

You may remember when the company was first formed in July 1957, it announced plans to animate commercials and industrial films; no sense in limiting yourself when you’re looking for that first contract. But it doesn’t appear the studio really got into industrials until it was ready to move into its studio at 3400 Cahuenga. Variety reported on April 23, 1963 that Arthur Pierson had “joined the company as associate producer of its entertainment product, and head of its industrial films division.”

Hanna-Barbera had grown to a position of not only being able to make animated industrials but live action ones; you may have read stories on the blog from this time period about how the studio wanted to move into live action. It ran into a bit of bad luck right away. Variety reported on May 17, 1963: “Construction begins Monday on sets for Hanna - Barbera industrial documentary ‘The Story Of Dr. Lister’ and for ‘Death Valley Days’ teleseries at the studio.” The studio in question happened to be the Producers Studio on Melrose near Van Ness. The day before the story, the Polar Palace ice arena next to the studio burned to the ground. Four sound stages were partly damaged and had to be constructed. Then Army Archerd reported in his column of November 14th that “Hanna-Barbera's initial live action lensing in their new building started with a bang — an electrical explosion sending one gaffer to the hospital. The film, ‘Here Comes A Star’ features both Hanna and Barbera as ‘live’ actors. The film was a half-hour commercial for the coming Magilla Gorilla show.

Those were mere hiccoughs. The show went on. Here’s a short blurb from Business Screen Magazine of April 30, 1964.

Notable Business Films Are Produced by Hanna-Barbera
Known throughout the world for its animated cartoon features and TV characters, (Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound and The Jetsons), Hanna-Barbera Productions of Hollywood entered the field of industrial film production less than a year ago, creating both animation and live-action subjects for leading American companies.
A biographical, all live-action film for Warner-Lambert Pharmaceutical, The Story of Dr. Lister, is a noteworthy example. Made in association with Film Counselors and directed by Arthur Pierson, the film had a distinguished cast which included Richard Ney, Wanda Hendrix, John Hoyt, Sean McGlory, John Archer and Lloyd Bochner.
The studio followed with Of Mutual Interest, covering the subject of mutual funds, with a cast headed by Donald Woods. An all-animation featurette for the National Association of Tobacco Distributors told the story of that industry in Mr. Leaf. With Jim Backus doing the voice of "Mr. Leaf," the film was premiered in Miami on April 4.
One of the company's TV sponsors, Ideal Toy Company, also sponsored a combination live-action half hour film to introduce the character of Magilla Gorilla to television audiences. George Fenneman acted as the host of this film.
The National Association of Tobacco Distributors appears to have liked Bill and Joe. It came back to them again, this time for a live-action film. From Back Stage, July 30, 1965:
Hanna-Barbera Inks Paige For Tobacco Film
Robert Paige has been signed by Hanna-Barbera to the lead in “Mind Your Own Business,” a live-action film being produced by J-B industrial film division for the National Association of Tobacco Distributors.
Also named for cast are Herbert Anderson, Alice Backes, Robert Karnes, Ellen McCown, Hal Smith, Jerry Hausner, William Leslie, Anne Bellamy, Gregg Morris, John Goddard and Rance Howard.
Arthur Pierson acts as producer-director, Lothrop Worth is cameraman, and Raoul Pagel is production manager on the color film.
I realise some readers dote on lists and filmographies, but I’ll only point out it made sense to cast H-B voice artist Smith in its live-action films considering all the live action work he did.

By the start of 1965, Ross Sutherland, brother of industrial film studio head John Sutherland, was brought in to beat the bushes for business. Hired to oversee the animation on these industrials was Carl Urbano, who had worked with Bill and Joe at MGM in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. Besides his solid animation credentials, Urbano spent perhaps 15 years at John Sutherland Productions as one of the two staff directors.

An ad in Business Screen in 1965 includes two other industrials, Of Mutual Interest for the Investment Company Institute, and Your Voice Is Showing for General Telephone & Electronics. Films made circa the 1966-68 period include Another Language (AT&T), Wings of Tomorrow (Boeing), Time for Decision (American Cancer Society), The Incredible Voyage of Mark O’Gulliver (U.S. Chamber of Commerce), Advertising 1967 (Anheuser Busch), More Than Ever Before (American Heart Assn.) and Yogi Bear, Fred Flintstone (American Cancer Society).

Time For Decision was animated and an Oscar nominee in 1967; Business Screen reveals it was premiered in Jacksonville, Florida on January 5th. Syndicated columnist Bob Considine reported two weeks later: “The wealthy Shwayder family of Denver, luggage manufacturers, contributed $52,000 to the A.C.S. after seeing a preview of the film, to provide 1,300 prints to be shown at cancer drive rallies later in the year.” Another report stated the 16-minute short cost $92,000 to make. Photos from its production may be in this post. It may seem odd that Hanna-Barbera made films for the tobacco industry and anti-smoking films for the Cancer Society. Not at all. Business is business.

Unfortunately, many industrial films are not available for viewing on-line. I’d love to see Backus’ Mr Leaf. However, Business Screen comes to the rescue when it comes to the O’Gulliver film. This anti-big government propaganda short is something Sutherland would have done in the ‘50s. The article was published in March 1967.

A Humorous Parable on the Problem of BIG Government
U. S. Chamber of Commerce Pictures a Congressman's Visit to "Animalia"

THE Government of the United States is the biggest entity in the country today. It is the biggest employer. Biggest borrower. Biggest lender. It is the biggest landowner, the biggest tenant. It is the greatest single customer of this country's industrial production. It is the biggest in almost everything — and it is getting bigger all the time.
Starting with these ominous facts, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, in association with Hanna-Barbera Studios, has produced an immensely amusing, but highly-significant film. The film's story takes the form of a humorous parable, in which a mythical U. S. Congressman, Mark O'Gulliver, becomes shopwrecked on a remote Pacific isle — among a community of hilarious animals whose society, unfortunately, is all too similar to our own. For in trying to find his way back to civilization, Mark O'Gulliver encounters all the frustrations, the obstacles, indeed, the paralysis which results from stuffy bureaucracy.
Serious Note Beneath a Light Approach
The 25-minute color film, an animated cartoon titled The Incredible Voyage of Mark O’Gulliver, is most entertaining. The animation is superb and the animal-characters are delightful. But, for all its humor and wit, the film poses some ominous questions about Big Government.
As originally conceived, our society was to embrace a range of interests so vast that no one interest or branch of government could become the dominant power. This concept was embodied in our system of checks and balances, as everyone knows.
But times have changed, and the composition of government has changed also. The administrative tasks of government have become so immense that a gigantic bureaucracy has grown up within the past fifty years.
Now, a bureaucracy possesses certain features which automatically make it a hazard. First of all, a bureaucracy is hierarchy — a pyramid of authority, with power transferred from the pinnacle down toward the broader base. Second, all activities are governed by fixed, written rules. And finally people are hired to perform certain specialized functions which are impersonal and supposed to lie outside the political realm. All of this leads to inflexibility.
The hazards of this kind of organization are vividly portrayed in the film. We see, for instance, how government by the true legislative process has become eroded with government by bureaucratic fiat. And the film illustrates other pitfalls inherent in big government: decision-making reduced to thoughtless routine; the self-perpetuation of bureaucratic inertia.
Where to Obtain a Print of This Film
The film may be used by local chambers of commerce, business groups, trade associations, schools, unions, church and civic groups interested in public affairs. It has been cleared for television showings.
Prints and full information may be had from the Audio-Visual Department of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, 1615 H St.. N. W.. Washington. D. C. 20006. Film rental charges are $10 for three days, or the film may be purchased for $150.

Thanks to the internet, the best-known Hanna-Barbera industrial is likely Advertising 1967, made for staff at Anheuser-Busch to inform them of the coming year’s sales campaign. Jean Vander Pyl was evidently unavailable so someone else voiced Wilma, while Gerry Mohr, who later played Reed Richards in the H-B version of The Fantastic Four, is the narrator. It promotes the idea that drinking a beer is like being stroked on the head by a woman’s hand. I’m pretty sure Carlo Vinci was one of the animators; someone mentioned to me once about Jerry Hathcock working on it but I really don’t know.

Now if only Mr. Leaf turns up some day.


  1. How do 1964 and 1965 ads show Taft as the owner when they didn't purchase them until 1966 or 7? Has that date been wrong all this time

    1. The ads mentioning Taft are from later.

  2. Time For Decision was animated and an Oscar nominee in 1967...

    In what category? I searched the nominees for animated and live-action shorts, and documentary shorts and features, and could find no mention of it.

    In regards to the backgrounds and character design, that "...Mark O'Gulliver" production looks more like it came from Ed Graham's studio than H-B's.

    1. Looks like the best way you can see any of this is here...

      Apparently clips from Mark O'Gulliver were combined with a few other random stuff so you'll have to skip around to see it, but I had hoped someone stuck the film at the archive but apparently not!

  3. Didn't they also produce a number of filmstrips for school related to health issues?

  4. That’s an incredible find for dedicated comic book fans, as the drawings of the convict and football players were done (…and SIGNED, if you look closely) by Jack Manning, an artist with a distinctive style who did Gold Key comic books for…

    Wacky Races

    Road Runner

    …And what I feel was a memorable run on Mickey Mouse, among many other things!

  5. Probably the documentary The Story of Dr. Lister refers itself to the Listerine bucal antisseptic (which's nowadays manufactured by Johnson & Johnson).

  6. The 1977 Telefilm The Gathering was one of HB's rare forays into live action.

    1. And "Hardcase," a western with Clint Walker.

  7. One H-B industrial I recall from the '70s was about a boat thief called Wiley Boatnapp (voiced by Alan Reed, I think).

  8. I see the Univ. of California-Berkeley has a copy of The Incredible Voyage of Mark O'Gulliver on file!

    1. Checking the title, it looks like some TV stations in the 70's had aired it as well.

  9. Charming wolf design in the ninth frame of the O'Gulliver production. I don't think we ever saw them again (while we did the hippo and rabbit designs). Actually, they don't look like H-B characters, but I can't figure what they do remind me of -- Colonel Kit Coyote? Subjects of Linus the Lionhearted? Aesop & Son fables?

    1. Probably, it seemed like that particular look we were seeing during the 60's.