Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Birthday Bash Bear

That fine animator Will Finn was lamenting the other day that Yogi Bear is less popular these days than some of the other classic Hanna-Barbera characters, since Yogi’s his favourite.

How does he think poor Huckleberry Hound feels?

Huck was the star of the show in 1958 that really put Hanna-Barbera in the public view. Huck became a fad on college campuses and elsewhere, culminating with an Emmy win in 1960. But the squeaky wheel gets the grease, to coin a cliché. Featured player Yogi Bear was more brash, more larger-than-life than Huck and, when Warren Foster arrived in 1959 to write for him, was given a codified, definitive format (Boo Boo was made a regular, Ranger Smith replaced generic rangers, Jellystone Park was made a permanent setting). Yogi pretty much eclipsed the gentle, easy-going blue dog who had a different occupation and antagonist every week. When 1961 rolled around, Huck wasn’t the Hanna-Barbera character with his own half-hour-long birthday episode. Yogi Bear was.

That birthday episode took up all three segments of the Yogi half-hour, with Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle giving up their own seven-minute cartoons on the show to appear in an all-star finale that included all the “Kelloggs” Hanna-Barbera characters. That wasn’t the only thing different. The birthday bash was the product of a huge publicity campaign that involved television stations, newspapers, the sponsoring cereal company, and comic books, no doubt coordinated by Screen Gems publicity guru Ed Justin (the man who came up with the Huckleberry Hound presidential run a year earlier). We’re written about it before, but here’s a piece from the Oakland Tribune of October 1, 1961 to give you an idea of the incredible amount of coordination that had to take place to pull it off.
‘Smartest Bear’ Has Birthday Tomorrow
Back in 1958, when the Huckleberry Hound Show came onto the television scene, one of the characters was a mischievous bear with a penchant for picnic baskets. Now three years later, the bear is a TV star and will be feted by all his television friends and 100 live fans at a party tomorrow night at the studios of station KTVU, Channel 2.
The prankish bruin with the rhyming diction who was born in 1958 was Yogi Bear. He proved to be so popular with youngsters and adults alike that he soon became the star of his own show, called, appropriately enough, the Yogi Bear Show.
Besides acquainting youngsters with a mythical, Jellystone Park and the techniques of filching picnic baskets, Yogi has also added to their vocabulary such expressions as "Hey, hey!" and "I'm smarter than the average bear!"
In the year since Yogi became a star in his own right, he has dominated the "children's hour" on station KTVU, Channel 2, every Monday at 6.30 p.m. At times he has even surpassed the popularity of Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw, also seen on Channel 2. Coincidentally, or perhaps not too coincidentally, all three shows are produced by the creative team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Not content with success as a television star, Yogi also invaded the newspaper field. In February of this year, he became a member of the Tribune Sunday Comics family, so the admirers of this "smarter- than-the-average'' bear get twice as much of his mirthful antics.
Naturally, a success story like Yogi’s deserves a reward. Tomorrow, all his friends get together to wish Yogi a "Happy Birthday." And where Yogi’s concerned, that could develop into some pretty humorous events, Tribune readers will remember that, two weeks ago, Yogi had a party in the Sunday comics. The television shenanigans should be just as mirthful.
To help Yogi’s television party become a big success, The Tribune and station KTVU sponsored a Yogi Bear Coloring Contest for Yogi fans 10 years of age and younger. The 100 best artists will be guests at the studio party tomorrow. There win be cake and soft drinks, and each young artist will get a book of children's stories, a box of candy and a statutte [sic] of Yogi or one of his friends. Names of the winners appear today in the main news section." All entrants received a gaily-colored certificate with pictures of Yogi and his friends.
Yogi, Huck and Quick Draw proved so successful for their creators, that Hanna and Barbera have produced another cartoon show. Other producers have gotten onto the bandwagon, too, with the result that kids—and adults —win have about 10 televised cartoon shows to pick from this season.
Other television stations were convinced by Justin (and likely with an assist from Leo Burnett, Kellogg’s ad agency) to throw similar in-studio bashes. This was during an era we will likely never see again, an era where there were such things as live hosts for kids’ after-school, in-house programming, likely the most creative and funniest local shows that appeared on TV sets in the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Within a few years, Hanna-Barbera got out of the co-op late-afternoon TV business (shows like The Flintstones were syndicated by Screen Gems without commercial attachments) but plunged into Saturday mornings, turning it into a gold mine for the company. Yogi was revived for several different series and specials, inferior to anything put together in the ‘50s by the likes of George Nicholas and Ed Love, Dan Gordon and Charlie Shows, Bob Gentle and Monty. Of course, these were for network airing, at a time when everyone cow-towed to do-gooder groups, so the studio had to deal with limitations that didn’t exist in the Kellogg’s days.

Maybe Yogi, and by extension, Huck, aren’t in the rarefied realm of popularity as, say, a clumsy Great Dane or a caveman with a Water Buffalo hat. But the pic-a-nic stealing park bear is still well-liked and known by several generations today, and that’s a quite an accomplishment for a character that’s almost 60 years old.


  1. Nice post on the Birthday special. Living in Roseburg, Oregon we got KTVU via cable TV in the late 60's. After Huck and Yogi originally aired, the station never ran their cartoons again.

  2. 60 YEARS OF YOGI BEAR (1958-2018)!

  3. I'm not quite sure why Will Finn would think that Yogi is less popular nowadays than other HB characters. After all, it was Yogi who was awarded a big-budget movie a few years back, and there's been talk of a sequel. Yogi's my favourite HB character too, born the same year as myself. (He's managed to stay in better shape though.)

  4. Further proof of Yogi's popularity circa 1961 can be found in the "Dennis the Menace" TV series, in which Jay North as Dennis mentions in several episodes of Season Three and Season Four that Yogi Bear is his favorite cartoon character.

    I have mentioned before that this birthday celebration continued when the birthday show was repeated on afternoon showings well into the mid-60's. The local stores would have giveaways consisting of coloring contest pages of Yogi Bear in conjunction with the broadcast, plus colorful party hats, noisemakers, and paper tablecloths if memory serves, and it would get prominent mention in the newspapers so that kids wouldn't miss it when it aired. This was going on as late as 1965 or 1966. I remember the birthday show airing at least twice if not more during this period, each occasion including all of the accompanying hype.

    Television was still a novelty in the 60's, and it's hard to comprehend today how extremely exciting a special television event was back in those days, such as a birthday party for Yogi Bear, to name only one. It was a great time to be a kid!

    1. The DENNIS THE MENACE sitcom was produced by Columbia/Screen Gems, which also distributed the YOGI BEAR SHOW and all other H-B shows made before 1966. So that was probably a not-so-subliminal plug by DENNIS' writers.

    2. Very good point, and they both shared the same stock cues pre-1960s (but then anyone could use those..):) Happy 60h Yogi (b ut I don't care for the later post-1962 attempts, except the space age Galaxy Goofups - almost anything else was overlong tv movies or shows.)

    3. Hans Christian Brando27 April 2018 at 18:36

      Yogi and Huck and Fred and Barney also feature prominently in the 1963 movie "Bye-Bye Birdie," back when product placement was relatively unheard-of. But after all, it was a Columbia movie directed by George Sidney, who bankrolled HB Enterprises.

  5. I remember even as a 4-year-old thinking there was something .... slicker ... about how Yogi's show was being turned out than either the Huck or Quick Draw shows had been. Obviously, the studio was treading new ground in 1958 and was way more comfortable with the formula by 1961 of not just the characters themselves, but the process of making limited animation cartoons for television.

    Didn't mean I didn't enjoy Yogi's new show, or the birthday party. I just remember even then thinking the cartoons he did for Huck's show were overall better than the ones he was doing for his own show (and as it turned out, it was a sign of things to come for the studio, where the more work there was the less care could be put into each individual show, and the non-network efforts were the first ones to start suffering).

  6. Hans Christian Brando27 April 2018 at 18:31

    I don't know about y'all, but I rather prefer Yogi before Warren Foster came along and saddled him with a formula (not to mention that anal-retentive Ranger Smith).

  7. Some sort of “softening” would seem to be a necessary part of moving from a “supporting player” to becoming a “star character”!

    And, the grouchy old bear from “Slumber Party Smarty” and conniver from “Tally-Ho-Ho-Ho” and others, though funnier than in any of the 1961 cartoons, would never have carried a show of his own – or made a movie with needless character redesign and more needless musical numbers!

    Such an evolution occurred with characters as diverse as Donald Duck’s Uncle Scrooge, Lost in Space’s Dr. Zachary Smith, and DC Comics’ Lobo!

    To one degree or another, all shed their rougher edges for greater stardom… as did Yogi Bear!