Sunday 30 September 2018

Yabba-Dabba Birthday

If nothing else, The Flintstones sure got hyped before the show debuted on this date 58 years ago.

A look at a number of newspapers in 1960 shows not only a line or two in the “TV Hilites” columns but articles on the impending series with publicity photos on the side. ADULT! SATIRIC! Those were the two words being pushed by ABC, Screen Gems and Hanna-Barbera. In other words, dear readers, this isn’t kiddie programme. It turned out not to be the best publicity strategy. People tuning in for the first time saw a plot that could have come from an old radio sitcom, a drawing style that wasn’t as sophisticated as the average animated commercial and “satire” that was little more than punny transformations of modern suburbia into pre-historic clichés. Still, once people got past that and accepted what was on the screen, they liked what they were viewing. I still give a great deal of credit to Alan Reed’s performances. The show was centred around Fred Flintstone and Reed put so much into him, you accepted him as a real character.

We’ve marked the Flintstone debut a number of times on the blog (go to back to 2010 for a bunch of 50th anniversary posts), so we’ll only do so briefly today. First is a United Press International column that about appeared about a month before the show did.

TV Cavemen Set to Rock Detective-Cowboy Rating

HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 28 (UPI) — Television's detectives and cowboys get some competition from cavemen this season when a gang of prehistoric suburbanites come plodding onto the screen.
APPROPRIATELY titled "The Flintstones," the peek at one of history's first families is an animated cartoon show, brainchild of Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna. The cavemen debut Sept 30 (on ABC).
Barbera and Hanna, Emmy award winners who produced "Huckleberry Hound" and "Quick Draw McGraw," will have their cavemen facing problems of the everyday family, like baby sitters.
"We'll have Fred and Wilma Flintstone with their pals Betty and Barney Rubble," Barbera said. "They'll live in the town of Bedrock, 250 feet below sea level. "Fred Flintstone works for a construction company whose slogan is 'feel secure, own your own cave.' And, like many families, Fred has a convertible, only it's got stone wheels."
FLINTSTONE, IN some ways an early day Fibber McGee, is a typical joiner holding membership in "The Young Cavemen's Association" and for a night out, he heads for the Rocadero Tilton."
Barbera realizes the problems he faces, with his series and says, "there has been no luck with humans in animated cartoons.
"We looked at many characters and they all resembled commercials," he explained. "But, the minute we put caveman costumes on them, the characters looked very humorous. They're a spoof on human beings.
"For instance, Fred doesn't put a cat out at night, his pet is a sabertoothed tiger. And the fire engine is a dinosaur with ladders on his side."
HANNA AND Barbera decided to go into a situation comedy series after ratings indicated that the big percentage of audience who watch "Huck," "Quick Draw" and their "Yogi Bear" were adults.
Response to the wispy characters have been such that the cartoonists are faced with a personal appearance problem.
It's easy to haul a Marilyn Monroe or a Clark Gable around the country for the fans to see, but try that with a bear.
"People all over the nation want to see our characters," Barbera said. "So, we've beep taking them out on the road. You'd be surprised at the crowds wanting their autographs."
"Huck," "Quick Draw" and "Yogi" are mobbed by fans wherever they go and the producers have figured out a way to humanize their characters.
"It's arranged for three fellows to be at the airport when we arrive at a city," Barbera said. "They come aboard the plane and dress up like the characters."
Jack Gould of the New York Times infamously called the show “an inked disaster.” I suppose in terms of what he was expecting, it was. Here’s a bit of a different take from Jack Cluett of Women’s Day magazine in its October 1960 edition. A number of articles mentioned Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw, treating them as the gold standard of television cartoons. It’s a bit hard for us to understand here in the future how popular those shows were with everyone in the late ‘50s.

Cluett lifts wording right off an ABC/Screen Gems news release; I don’t know how many times I’ve read that “butcher, baker, pizza-pie maker” line.

New animated cartoon is set in stone age suburbia.
On Friday, September 30th, at 8:30 P.M. (EDT) over ABC-TV, you can see television’s first attempt to replace the comedy antics of live comedians with an animated cartoon series. The new program, created by the producers of Quick Draw McGraw, Ruff ‘N Reddy and Huckleberry Hound, is called The Flintstones.
Basically, the story is about Fred and Wilma Flintstone, an average couple with one big difference—they live in the Stone Age. Their neighbors are Barney and Betty Rubble. Fred and Wilma enjoy all the advantages of modern-day existence. They live in a split-level cave. They drive a convertible with log fins, stone wheels and a thatched-roof top. Their town is called Bedrock and it has its butcher, baker and pizza-pie maker along with a gasoline station, drive-in theater and a daily paper chiseled on stone slabs.
The prehistoric telephone is a ram’s horn with a dial system. Fred trims his hedge by manipulating the legs of a bird, scissors fashion, with the sharp beat acting as steel cutting blades. Fred works as a steam shovel operator for the Rock Head and Quarry Construction Company, his machine is a dinosaur with levers. Betty Rubble and Wilma Flintstone face the many decisions that plague the suburban housewife of today, including what to cook for supper: Brontosaurus cutlets, soft-boiled dodo eggs or lizard gizzards. They even take soiled skins to the local rock-O-mat for laundering.
Bearing in mind that producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have recently seen their Huckleberry Hound receive an Emmy for the best in children’s programming, it is understandable why they are tossing The Flintstones into the adult comedy sweepstakes. But, in my opinion, it was a mistake to tag this series as “television’s first adult animated cartoon.” Actually it’s no more adult than Donald Duck even though it may contain a few more sophisticated touches. There’s no question but what the grownups will get a chuckle out of the gadgetry with a stone age flair, but these gags alone can’t hope to sustain laughs week after week.
The high point of The Flintstones, to my way of thinking, is the voices of the characters. Wilma sounds just like Audrey Meadows and is done by Jean Vander Pyl. Alan Reed does the voice of Fred, the inimitable Mel Blanc speaks for Barney Rubble and Bea Benaderet voices Betty Rubble. They are all extremely good. Indeed, the voices I heard at the preview were much better than the situations. A fast pace is an absolute must in animation even when your setting is a stone age swimming pool.
If the Mssrs. Hanna and Barbera find, after a couple of weeks of The Flintstones, that their “children’s” Huckleberry Hound has a higher rating than their “adult” newcomer, maybe they’ll forget all about the age of the viewers and concentrate on producing a funny cartoon series. If they do this, I’ll guarantee that everyone in my house from 8 to 60 will be right there watching.
As Cluett suggested, The Flintstones evolved. You can only do talking animal gadget jokes for so long. Hanna and Barbera had to find new gimmicks every year. Thus we got a baby girl, then a baby boy, then a hopperoo, then an alien with Ray Walston antennae. The show had run out of steam so much by season five that it took a schedule change to keep it on the air for another year and keep Flintstones merchandise in stores.

The Flintstones sparked a huge copycat trend of prime-time animated shows in 1961, which died in 1962 when none of the new shows garnered an audience (until, in some cases, they were moved to Saturday mornings, the dumping group of used cartoons at the time).

The series is not my favourite amongst Hanna-Barbera half-hours, but there are still enough pleasant and even funny episodes (“Dino Goes Hollyrock” is still tops for me) the make the show worth watching after all these years. In many ways, it still stands up.

Saturday 29 September 2018

The Biggest Show in Town is 60

60 years ago today, at 6 p.m., viewers of WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Michigan—also serving Battle Creek, home of Kellogg cereals—could tune up their TV set and watch a brand-new show. You could see it for the first time at the same time on WATE-TV in Knoxville and WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia, or a half hour later on WLW-I in Indianapolis. Viewers of WTAE in Pittsburgh could pull it in at 7:30 p.m.

They would have been watching the debut of The Huckleberry Hound Show.

Huck’s importance in television history shouldn’t be downplayed. The show proved that a full half-hour of animation could be done on a TV budget, it could be both entertaining and critically acclaimed, and it could be extremely lucrative. Huck, as far as I’m concerned, sparked the TV animation industry. The show was not only the first cartoon to win an Emmy (in 1960), it was also the first syndicated series to do it.

For young viewers like me, the show was fun. It had a theme song you could sing along to (whether you got all the lyrics right was immaterial), the story situations were amusing, the characters had funny voices and interacted well in little cartoons before the cartoons, and catch-phrases added a feeling of familiarity. Oh, and you could count the number of times the same background whizzed past.

Kellogg’s originally sponsored the show around dinner-time, which had been kid time on network radio a few years earlier. Curious parents watched to see what their youngsters were viewing. They could laugh or smile at the cartoons, too; the show was mature enough so it wasn’t strictly for children. Pretty soon word got out to critics. Charles Witbeck may have been the first syndicated columnist to notice H. Hound and friends, but here’s part of Harold A. Nichols’ column in the Rochester Democrat of January 11, 1959 that shows you the word-of-mouth Huck was getting. (No, Ruff and Reddy were never on the Huck show. I suspect the writer mis-read a Screen Gems news release).

THE WORD is in from Menlo Place, where Children's Book Reviewer Frank Dostal's family and some other pleasant people live: Keep an eye on Huckleberry Hound, one of the cutest shows on TV.
Huck Hound, as he's listed for purposes of brevity in our logs, shows up once a week, 6 p.m. Friday on Channel 10. It's not the most convenient time of the week, what with weekend grocery buying and dashing to the bank to beat the closing of the vaults.
But for televiewers who can spare a half hour it’s a Friday fillip. The show, they tell us, reminds of Burr Tillstrom and Kukla and Ollie (Oliver J. Dragon, that is) at their best.
Huckleberry Hound's delightful company of characters includes Yogi Bear, Ruff, Reddy, Jinks, Pixie and Dixie. Occasionally some featured players will come along, Dinky Dalton, Judo Jack and the Fat Knight, who holds the Fair Damsel in Hassle Castle.
All these are developed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who produced and directed Tom and Jerry, the Oscar winners. Their readings remind of such screen stalwarts as Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando, Jack Webb and Andy Griffith.
Huckleberry Hound is produced by Screen Gems, a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. H.H. is a favorite with the children. Grownups enjoy the characters and the satire in the sketches.
This post was going to look at why critics and parents groups liked the Huck show, but we’ll save that for another time. Let’s make this more of a celebration instead. I’ve mentioned before I really dislike lists and really dislike declarations of “best” cartoons. But I’m breaking my own rule. These aren’t the “best” or even “favourite” Huckleberry Hound cartoons, but ten that come to my mind that I like.

Dragon Slayer Huck (December 15, 1958).
Huck is sent by a little king to slay a purple dragon. We get a guy selling a map to the dragon’s home, and even the dragon himself hawking souvenir toy replicas of himself (and pennants). The two end up friends at the end because the dragon can’t bear to see Huck marry the king’s ugly daughter. Daws Butler plays both Huck and the dragon, who has a Jackie Gleason-type voice. Dialogue by Charlie Shows.

Lion-Hearted Huck (October 6, 1958).
A lion who laughs wheezily at his own humour gets his comeuppance at the end, as one of his practical jokes on Huck backfires. As usual, nothing bothers Huck, as he calmly comments to us after each time he’s abused. He lets out with a bad pun that you can’t help but like; when LeRoy disguises his footprints with hen tracks, our hero says “Maybe this lion is chicken.” Points for some nice jungle backgrounds by Fernando Montealegre. Daws Butler plays both Huck and the lion, whose voice owes a bit to comic Frank Fontaine’s John L.C. Sivoney character. Dialogue by Charlie Shows.

Little Red Riding Huck (March 16, 1959).
Huck lands in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood which ends with a cop coming to arrest him because he’s butted into the story. “Okay, let’s take it from the top and do the whole bit over again,” the wolf tells grandma and Red. There are funny scenes as Huck uses disguises to try to get into grandma’s house, and when a college geek selling magazines gets thwopped with the wolf’s broom. The wolf has Daws’ Jackie Gleason voice. Art Lozzi provides some attractive huge-toadstools-in-the-woodland backgrounds. Dialogue by Charlie Shows.

The Tough Little Termite (March 23, 1959).
This is tough. The choices, not the termite. I could pick several other cartoons from the first season that are really enjoyable, but I’m going with this one because I love the termite. He’s designed by Ed Benedict. He has that jaunty little buzza-buzza tune he sings through the cartoon. And he eats everything in sight, including—gasp!!!—Huck’s television set cabinet. After the audience sees the damage, Bill Hanna cuts to Huck saying “Oh, well. It wasn’t working anyhow.” Don Messick is the termite. Dialogue by Charlie Shows.

Nottingham and Yeggs (November 23, 1959).
There are some great lines in this second season cartoon (Narrator: “For food, poor Robin would steal into the forest to set snares. But even the lowly animals would sneer at lowly Robin.” Rabbit: “Sneer, sneer, sneer, sneeeer.”), a cat doing a Jackie Gleason impression, a pop culture reference to a soap and Merrie Men who go “Yuk, yuk, yuk, yuk,” when told to yuk it up. Huck preys on the rich, so when he becomes rich, someone preys on him the same way. Story by Warren Foster.

Spud Dud (September 26, 1960).
A megalomaniacal potato wants to rule the world! The only one who can stop him is science genius Huckleberry Hound (who also makes a great chocolate sody). King Spud goes on a rampage after urging his fellow tubers to join him in revolution but instead they sit there like a sack of potatoes. Huck has a good chat with Mr. Narrator through the cartoon. The ending is a classic: the evil potato turns into potato chips raining from the sky when the rocket he’s in blows up. Don Messick is the narrator and the potato. This cartoon opened the third season of the Huck show. Warren Foster wrote the story.

The Unmasked Avenger (January 21, 1961).
This Scarlet Pimpernel-inspired cartoon comments about 1960s consumerism (despite being set vaguely in the Middle Ages). The townsfolk are told by the evil Lord their taxes are going to go up but what really gets them angry is when they cannot pay by credit card. When Huck, as the Perpil Pumpernickle (he’s a bad speller), vanquishes the Lord and gives the citizens bags of cash, they’re confused. They only get excited when he tells them they’re like credit cards. Huck promises them new roads, free schools and old age pensions but when he declares it means more taxes, they turn angry. The erstwhile hero is run off by the masked Blue Bouncer, who shouts “Down with everything!” Story by Warren Foster.

Science Friction (April 2, 1961).
Horror!! A scientist has turned a giant stuffed wiener schnitzel into a crazed monster. Just that premise makes this a fun cartoon, along with some dry, understated dialogue one expects from Englishmen which makes up for some not-so-strong gags. Don Messick must have had a good time screeching the monster schnitzel’s out-of-control laughter. Dick Thomas sets the mood nicely with excellent background art. Warren Foster wrote the story.

Cluck and Dagger (March 27, 1961).
This one drops Huck into the role of a U.S. government agent and clichés are piled on clichés. “They call you the man with a thousand faces,” the narrator says to Huck. It’s a spy cartoon, so naturally we think he’s talking about a disguise. Instead, Huck demonstrates a goofy face. The best line may be delivered by narrator Don Messick when Huck tells him information about his agency is classified and then pulls out a classified phone book (“Ain’t that a knee-slapper?” asks Huck. The narrator rather wearily replies: “I get it.”). The cartoon ends with a pack of spies, all wearing identical trench coats and sunglasses, failing to steal Huck’s briefcase on the Rutabaga Express. Story by Warren Foster.

The Scrubby Brush Man (1961-62 season).
The Fuller Brush people get a gentle nudging in this parody written by Tony Benedict in Huck’s final season (Warren Foster was busy with The Flintstones). Huck fails in every attempt to make a sale to a guy with anger management problems. During one attempt, Huck is ironically smashed with a brush (“That’s what we call in the trade ‘the brush off’,” he chuckles to the audience). The one personal downside: the Capitol Hi-Q and Langlois Filmusic libraries used in the first three seasons were replaced with Hoyt Curtin’s tunes heard in almost all H-B shorts in the 1961-62 season.

Yes, I know it’s Yogi Bear’s, Mr. Jinks’ and Pixie and Dixie’s birthdays and we’re pretty much ignoring them, but you don’t want to keep reading, do you? Wouldn’t you rather watch Huck tackle a snickering, steak-stealing dog or run from a not-so-fair damsel locked in a castle? We’ll leave you to pull out some Huckleberry Hound Show cartoons, or find them on line, and enjoy this historic day in Hanna-Barbera, and TV cartoon, history.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Flintstones Weekend Comics, October 1970

Fred Flintstone, mighty hunter and golfer. Those are two of the subjects of the Flintstones’ weekend comics this month in 1970.

Pops makes appearances in the first two comics. No Betty. No Dino. The second comic has a lovely frustrated creature mounted on the wall in the last panel. And the last comic has a real Stone Age concept where you dial a phone for the correct time.

The colour versions are courtesy of Richard Holliss and his collection.

September 6, 1970.

September 13, 1970.

September 20, 1970.

September 27, 1970.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Impressions of Daws

You can’t give one solitary person credit for the huge success of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons, but you have to wonder if they would have been as successful without actor Daws Butler.

Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear couldn’t rely on the comedic acting that animators like Ken Harris and Virgil Ross brought to the great Warner Bros. cartoons. They had to depend more on words to get laughs. And Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were fortunate enough to hire Daws, who could add a lot to the words he was given.

Daws didn’t start out as a cartoon voice. He was an impressionist, part of a group called The Three Short Waves based in Chicago that did impersonations of various show biz favourites. (A December 1935 story in the Chicago Tribune reported they were appearing at the Blackhawk Café as well as on WGN Mardi Gras). The group broke up, Daws ended up in the military and after World War Two, decided to seek his fortune in Hollywood. He soon got work not only in radio but in cartoons, mainly supplying (uncredited) voices for Tex Avery in his great shorts for MGM.

Daws finally found some measure of fame working opposite Stan Freberg in the puppet show “A Time For Beany,” then with Freberg in various radio, record and commercial endeavours. That brings us to 1957 when ex-MGMers Hanna and Barbera picked him to co-star on their first quasi-cartoon series “Ruff and Reddy” (the show also included a live action host and one old Columbia cartoon). Daws’ obituary in the Los Angeles Times quotes Barbera on the start of the H-B studio:

"Here comes Daws, this little man, and he's so filled with enthusiasm. He helped find the voices for our two original characters, Ruff and Ready [sic], and then when I told him we were going to do a laid back-dog and needed a Southern accent, he gave us versions of dialects for each of the Southern states.
"He was so knowledgeable in the way that he spoke them-one for nearly each state-it helped shape what became Huckleberry Hound. What always amazed me was that his own speaking voice was not inspiring at all . . . kind of non-descriptive. But then he'd do all those wonderful dialects and just fire us all up."
Mimicry helped a great deal with Daws’ early voices. He took some kind of characteristic of a famous voice and changed it a bit to create a whole new character. Comparisons are made between Art Carney and Yogi Bear. Clearly, Carney’s Ed Norton was an inspiration for Yogi (his clothes help provide that impression, too), but if you listen to the two voices, they’re definitely not the same.

What’s really cool is if you hear TV commercial voice-overs Daws did in the mid-‘50s, you’ll hear voices that popped up later in either Hanna-Barbera or Jay Ward cartoons. (Incidentally, the first cartoon producer to give Daws a screen credit was Walter Lantz in 1956 in “After the Ball”).

Let’s back up to February 9, 1951. TV-Radio Life did a cute, brief photo shoot Daws, where he shows his impressions of some of the famous. It’s a shame the picture scans are pretty low resolution.

How to Be an Impersonator
Want to Do a Charles Laughton or an Edward G. Robinson for Your Friends? Daws "Beany" Butler Shows You How
Monday through Friday, 6:30 p.m. KTLA, KFMB-TV
WANT TO learn how to do impersonations in one easy lesson? The man who can show you how is known to TV fans as the voice of "Beany" on KTLA's "Time for Beany."
Daws Butler has a theory that almost anyone with average common sense can do workable impersonations by following a few simple instructions. The main rule is to get your face into some sort of reasonable facsimile of the person you're trying to be. This automatically makes your voice come out of the same mechanical bone and muscle set-up and you're bound to get a pretty good carbon copy.
In posing for the pictures on this page, Daws used only two simple props for his impersonations of George Arliss, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson and Charlie McCarthy . .. a monocle and a felt hat.
Daws himself was a radio character actor before turning to television and made good use of his "acting is impersonating" theory.
He started with a night-club act in the Middle West about fifteen years ago and never did much with radio until after the war.
Prior to the war he had been a toy and novelty manufacturer in Chicago, selling to Woolworth's and other big chains.
Now he's much in demand at Disney studios, and at Warner Brothers for "Merrie Melodies" and other cartoon productions. In between all his other activities he makes phonograph records for children, with a partner, Marian Richman. Some of the record scripts Daws writes as well as performs.
He's an accomplished cartoonist and some years ago did a series for Radio -Television Life.
During the war, Daws served in Naval Intelligence and after getting out of the service moved to California. He lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, Myrtis, and three children, David, seven; Donnie, four; and Paul, seven months.

By every account, Daws was a caring, generous person in addition to being an accomplished comic actor. He’s been gone for 30 years but still entertains through old cartoons today.

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Hanna-Barbera's Wonderful World of Colours

The original Hanna-Barbera occasionally had colour problems—even though the shows were broadcast in black and white.

The problem involved the reason you’ve heard for the old H-B characters having collars or bow ties. It made it easier to allow a head to move on one set of cels while the body was held on another cel. Otherwise, the animated part were on cels overlaid on other cels. Painting was a problem because you would end up with, say, a brown Yogi Bear body part on top of another brown Yogi body part. Two browns piled on each other would result in a different shade of brown, so the painter would have to be told to use a different shade of brown on the overlay.

Of course, the studio was churning out cartoons so there were times the colours didn’t match and the animation checker didn’t catch it. Here are a couple of examples from the 1958 Yogi cartoon The Brave Little Brave.

You can also easily see where the overlay ended.

The drawings above are by Ken Muse. This is another cartoon where a sequence in mid-cartoon was picked up by Mike Lah. He liked the google-eyed look on Yogi.

Lah’s animation is simple but you can’t mistake the expressions. Here’s Yogi shot by Li’l Tom Tom’s arrow. Sharp teeth a specialty (Lah drew the same kind of teeth under Tex Avery at MGM).

Lah also loved characters running in place with their arms extended.

In one scene, an arrow ricochets into a tree and through a hole in the trunk, puncturing Yogi’s butt (another favourite gag by Joe Barbera). Lah emphasises the pain by having the hair on the back of Yogi’s head stand on end.

I’ve mentioned before how much I like Lah’s work at Hanna-Barbera. He was busy with commercial work at the same time and soon was dedicating his time at Quartet Films, which he took over in the 1960s.

Saturday 15 September 2018

Pint Size Surprise for the Guys

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera may have been kicked out of MGM, but they didn’t let ideas from the studio’s cartoon division go to waste. When they set up their own studio, they borrowed from their own shorts (an annoying duck), from Tex Avery’s unit (a slow character with a North Carolina drawl) and even from Dick Lundy’s unit (which was really Avery’s while Tex was getting his head together).

Barney Bear starred in a Lundy-directed cartoon called Half-Pint Palomino (released in 1953), where our hero and his kind-of-useless burro go hunting for a miniature horse. Barbera took the idea and spun it into a Ruff and Reddy adventure called “Scary Tale of a Canyon Trail.” It was copyright September 15, 1957 and was evidently supposed to be sixth and last serial to be broadcast in the 1957-58 season. However, the first five adventures were repeated and it didn’t air until the start of the next season. The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests this episode was broadcast on November 15, 1958. (By the way, there were only two Ruff and Reddy cartoons per show, not three. Ignore fan-written webpedias which claim otherwise).

The story sketches for the third segment (G-3) are up for sale on Howard Lowery’s site. They start with sketch 13. All but the first cartoon in the segment used a recap at the start to sum up the story so far; I imagine that’s what the 12 missing drawings were in this case. They’re Dan Gordon’s work (as best as I can tell). I love Dan Gordon. His drawings are more appealing than the ones you see in the actual cartoon. You will notice the panels contain dialogue, camera directions and instructions to re-use material from earlier. What’s the significance of the blue pencil? I don’t know. However, a scene 30 has been added and the scene numbers are revised in blue. “BG Card” means a solid, one-colour background.

The story involves Ruff and Reddy corralling Pee Wee in the Grand Canyon but getting beaten to it by Harry Safari (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dishonest John in the “Time For Beany” puppet series). The evil Harry wants the kidnapped Pee Wee to abuse in his circus for profit, but the teeny horse is rescued by Ruff, Reddy and Poco Loco after our heroes are alerted by Pee Wee’s mother. Yes, I know Ruff and Reddy were alerted about kidnapped Pinky the Elephant by the pachyderm’s mother in an earlier episode with Harry Safari. I told you Hanna and Barbera borrowed a lot.

Lew Marshall was the animator of the adventure and the dialogue was provided by Charlie Shows. I’m not a Ruff and Reddy fan but I do like Monty’s circus backgrounds and the human designs by Ed Benedict.

We will never, ever, see Ruff and Reddy on DVD so these nice Dan Gordon sketches will have to suffice.

Oh, and thanks to Devon Baxter for the alert about this storyboard.

Thursday 13 September 2018

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, September 1970

Bill Hanna was a huge supporter of the Boy Scouts (of America) his entire life, so you have to wonder whether it’s a coincidence—or CONSPIRACY!!!!—that Cub Scouts appeared periodically in the Yogi Bear weekend comic strips.

They did 50 years ago this month and again 48 years ago this month.

Richard Holliss has, once again, kindly dug into his archive to let you read Yogi’s adventures. Unfortunately, he has only one comic from September 1968. He’s passed along all of them for September 1970, though the paper they came from only used a red colour (and out of register on one of them). Boo Boo shows up only once and we get one of those natives that seem to live on a reserve at Jellystone Park. At least the little Indian boy doesn’t talk like a stereotype, though the end gag in the comic is one.

September 22, 1968: For shame, Bill. One of your Scouts aiding and abetting crime! This is another comic where I can hear Dick Beals’ voice coming out of the forlorn little boy. The top row has an amusing self-contained gag and the bottom panel is nicely composed. The Yogi comics made good use of layers of depth.

September 6, 1970: Setting aside the sign-up propaganda and the annoying mis-colouring, I like Yogi’s expression at the end. Ranger Smith has huge eyes in that last panel in the second row.

September 13, 1970: The carving panel in the previous comic was pretty nice and there are two good long panels in this one. Again, look how Gene Hazelton’s layout (I’m presuming he did the original sketch) uses foreground, background and the distance in between. Yogi skips the rhymes this time. That had better not be junk food Mrs. Smith is giving to that little deer.

September 20, 1970: About all I’ll remark is, coincidentally, Hanna-Barbera’s long-gestating We’ll Take Manhattan finally aired in 1967 (it was a live-action show with Dwayne Hickman about the island being reclaimed by natives).

September 27, 1970: “Ecology” is one of those 1960s/70s words. Who uses it today? Ranger Smith effects one of those George Nicholas squiggle-mouths in the end gag. Mrs. Smith has decided to change her hair colour. Ranger Smith is “Bill” again. He seems to alternate between “Bill” and “Joe.”

You can click on any of the comics to blow them up.

Sunday 9 September 2018

Hanna-Barbera's Music Man

At the age of eight in 1931, he gave a piano recital with fellow students of the Ingalls-Bishop studios in San Bernadino. By the time he was in high school in 1939, he was fronting his own band (with a vocalist). And in 1957, he was living in Los Angeles when he got a phone call asking if he might be able to compose a theme song for a new TV show called Ruff and Reddy.

He might. And he did. With that, Hoyt Curtin began a long association with the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio, composing theme songs that fans can sing even today.

Curtin would have turned 96 today (he died in 2000). He was involved with music all his life, with a bit of a time-out for baseball (he was a left-handed pitcher on his high school team) and the war (his oldest brother was killed in the South Pacific), at least judging by the pages of the San Bernadino Sun. There are numerous stories through the 1930s of Curtin playing piano, singing, giving narratives and then performing with his own orchestra.

Whether Curtin had composed any music by that time isn’t revealed, but he was certainly in the film business by the end of the ‘40s, a few years before he was hired to provide scores for cartoons at UPA. Here’s the Sun of February 2, 1948. It’s unfortunate the paper doesn’t seem to have published a picture of him.

Hoyt Curtin's Music Wins Acclaim in L.A.
S.B. Man Completing Studies for Master's Degree at U.S.C.

Hoyt S. Curtin, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank M. Curtin, 782 Twenty-third street, has received acclaim in Los Angeles music circles for two outstanding contributions in the music field.
The first was a program of his original compositions presented as a partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of master of music from the University of Southern California, where he has been engaged in graduate work for the past year. He expects to receive his degree in June.
The recital was given Jan. 9 in Hancock hall at the University and attended by prominent musical artists of Southern California.
The following week, a premiere showing of a motion picture, “Music from the Mountain,” featuring music composed by Mr. Curtin, among other graduate students studying composition for motion pictures under Miklos Rozsa, well-known film composer.
The film depicts the new school of music and arts at Idyllwild plans for which are well-advanced. This premiere was also shown at Hancock hall with many of the trustees and advisors, who include Dennis Morgan, Jean Hersholt, Dr. Max Krone, Jose Iturbi and Yehudi Menuhin in attendance.
Mr. Curtin, graduated from San Bernardino High school in 1940, was active in the music department. He studied with Rowena Bishop, San Bernardino piano instructor, and attended Valley college for a year before enrolling in the accelerated war course at U.S.C.
Following his discharge from the Navy, in which he served two and one half years as a lieutenant (j.g.) and was wounded at Okinawa, he returned to his studies at U. S. C.
Mr. Curtin also has written music for many commercial and educational films, including, “The Best Policy” and “And Now to Live.”
We’ve told the story on the blog before that Bill Hanna liked a musical composition of Curtin’s for a Schlitz commercial (whether the commercial was made at MGM before its cartoon studio closed is unclear), and hired him to write the Ruff and Reddy opening/closing theme. Every year, Hanna-Barbera came out with a new show and every year, Curtin would compose the theme (and variations for any bridging cartoons): Huckleberry Hound in 1958, Quick Draw McGraw in 1959, The Flintstones in 1960, Top Cat and Yogi Bear in 1961, The Jetsons (and a new Flintstones theme) in 1962.

For the first few years of the studio’s life, Hanna-Barbera followed the custom of most TV shows—it got background music from production libraries. When the studio and Columbia Pictures worked out a deal for the Loopy De Loop theatrical cartoon series in 1959, Curtin was asked to write his own music cue library for it. For The Flintstones, he again wrote a whole series of cues. By 1961, Hanna-Barbera phased out the Capitol Hi-Q and Langlois Filmusic libraries for all its cartoons and strictly went with Curtin.

Curtin’s work on the half-hour shows was great. The Jonny Quest underscores may have been the most effective ever created for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series, and I personally love the Gershwin-esque urban cues he composed for Top Cat. But I still prefer hearing Phil Green’s or Jack Shaindlin’s music behind the seven-minute comedy adventures on the Quick Draw and Huck shows over the sparsely-orchestrated cartoony music of Curtin.

Here’s a short piece on Curtin from Back Stage, a trade paper, published June 9, 1978. I thought we had posted this before, but apparently not. It gives you an idea how, as Hanna-Barbera grew, his business grew, too.

Hoyt Curtin hasn’t found anyone to dispute his claim to being the man who writes more TV program music than anyone else in the business. And there aren’t likely to be any challengers at the rate he goes.
Through this company, Soundtrack Music, Curtin creates the music for up to seven hours of programming a week for the Saturday morning airwaves of all three networks, ranging from shows like ABC’s “Scooby Doo” to NBC’s “Godzilla.” Reason behind this prolific output is that Curtin is music director for the big supplier of children’s programming, Hanna-Barbera.
The flow of music from one source is the result of a 10 year association between Hoyt and the Hanna-Barbera organization. Both Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera acknowledge Curtin’s musical contributions to the success of the myriad of cartoons and features that have come out of the company’s Cahuenga Blvd. ink and paint pots.
Hoyt says “With the growing cost of animation both Bill and Joe realize the importance of music to achieve the excitement they want in their product. It’s a great feeling to have that attitude coming from the top.”
Curtin uses up to 45 musicians per session. He averages four sessions per week, three hours in length. With cartoons using “wall-to-wall” music, he needs to get 20 minutes of music per session. This 80 minutes-plus of original music a week is all scored to a storyboard. Music and film go into the editing room at the same time so Curtin seldom sees his picture until it airs.
Curtin draws heavily on the talents of Jack Stern, his chief arranger, as well as a group of other talented people. Coordinating for Hanna-Barbera is Paul DeKorte, H-B’s music producer.
With the ever increasing production at Hanna-Barbera now encompassing features and television specials, there’s virtually no letup in the schedule. One major non-TV project for Hoyt and the studio has been the production of the classic children’s story “Heide.” Film has 18 major production numbers and features the voices of, among other stars, Sammy Davis Jr. and Lorne Green [sic]. There are also four ABC-TV After School Specials and four primetime “Flintstone” specials.
How does Curtin feel about the continuing challenge to produce week in and week out? He said, “I take it one project at a time. It’s really such a kick though to have such a vast outlet for your work.”
Hanna-Barbara rundown for the 1978-79 TV season with scores by Soundtrack Music include: ABC-TV: “Scooby-Doo”, “Captain Caveman”, “Superfriends”, “War of the Superheroes”, and “Laff-A-Lympics”. NBC-TV: “Yogi’s Space Race” and “The Godzilla Power Hours”, CBS-TV: “The Popeye Show” and “Big Dog”.
Incidentally, Curtin wasn’t exclusively employed by Hanna-Barbera; in fact, he never signed a contract with the studio until January 1985 (according to Variety of the day). His name is found on the end credits for the Beany and Cecil and Linus the Lionhearted cartoon series (though both used stock music in their underscores).

As time went along, things changed at Hanna-Barbera and it’s reflected in the music. Curtin’s first scores had a jazzy, brassy flavour. But rock and roll took over the charts in the ‘60s. Bye-bye hot trumpets. By the time the ‘80s rolled around, real instruments were packed away in favour of a single keyboard that could quasi-mimic anything. And Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons changed from ones made for a family audience (like the old theatrical shorts) to kiddie stuff. What’s better to your ears, the Jonny Quest theme or the insipid opening to The Smurfs?

Anyway, even though Mr. Curtin is no longer with us, you can celebrate his day today by pulling out and listening to some of his great music from those early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. If your flash player plug-in works, you can find some on this blog.

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Layout Lance and Hanna-Barbera Perfection

You may be wondering what the drawing to the left has to do with Hanna-Barbera cartoons. It was published in 1930 in the New York Herald Tribune. At that time, while Bill Hanna was sweeping up the Harman-Ising studio and Joe Barbera was trying to break out of a banking career and into magazine cartooning, their future layout artist Lance Nolley was gainfully employed as a newspaper cartoonist.

Nolley wasn’t one of the original layout men when Hanna-Barbera Enterprises formed in July 1957. He arrived at the studio several years later. By that time, Nolley had plenty of experience (and screen credit) at the Walt Disney studio, starting just after Snow White debuted. He and a number of Disney-ites left for Hanna-Barbera after completing Sleeping Beauty at the end of the 1950s.

I don’t need to tell you there’s a huge difference between cartoon acting in a Disney cartoon and a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. At their new place of employment, the ex-Disney animators weren’t—and couldn’t due to time and budgets—able to use their full skills to make careful and intricate movement to add to a character’s personality. In layout, H-B wasn’t big on overhead or moving perspective scenes. The camera shoots toward “the stage,” and variation is effected by the shot being either long, medium, or close (or a combination, say medium-close).

How frustrating was it for Disney people to go from full animation to the just-the-basics style at Hanna-Barbera? Nolley was asked that question once. We’ll get to it in just a minute.

Nolley must have made an impression on his co-workers at Hanna-Barbera. At least, when Jerry Eisenberg and Tony Benedict talk about people they worked with at the old cinder block bunker studio on Cahuenga (not the lovely building fans associate with H-B), Nolley’s name comes up early in the conversation. They both instantly refer to the fact he was from Texas.

Census information about Nolley is elusive before 1940. Who knows why. Lansing Ballard Nolley was born March 30, 1902. Census data about his early years is elusive; his mother died when he was 4. However, at the time he was employed by the News Herald, Nolley landed a gig at the Associated Press drawing political cartoons. The Salamanca Republican-Press was one the papers that picked up his daily panel. It wrote on March 14, 1930:

Nolley possesses a rich background of experience for his task. As a staff cartoonist for metropolitan newspapers, he has become known to newspaper readers in many sections of the country.
An inherited urge to draw led Nolley to seek education and training in this field immediately upon completing schooling in Dallas, Texas, where he was born. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute for several years and supplemented this training with work under specialist instructors in cartooning.
Drawing Was Father’s Hobby
Returning to Dallas, he joined the art department of the News and later became staff cartoonist of the Austin (Texas) American. Seeking added experience in larger cities, he again went to Chicago and worked for several newspapers. From Chicago he went to New York, and for the past year has been drawing illustrative cartons for the New York Herald-Tribune.
Nolley is the son of N. W. Nolley, who was for many years secretary of the Dallas Cotton Exchange and a well-known figure in the South. Nolley, Sr., was intensely interested in cartooning, which was his prime hobby. When the son displayed the same tendencies, they were encouraged to the exclusion of any other profession.
The Depression dried up his AP and Herald Tribune work, so he hightailed it back to Dallas where he received an offer to work for Disney in 1937.

For years and years and years, Disney got pretty much all the attention when it comes to theatrical animation. There’s no end of it. Books are still being written about the studio. We’re fortunate that among them are verbal reminiscences compiled by people like Didier Ghez. Don Peri is another one who talked to retired Disney employees, and among the people he interviewed for his book “Working With Disney” was Lance Nolley. He talked to Nolley about his days at Hanna-Barbera, and the difference between working with fully-animated cartoons and the pose/gag style H-B developed for TV. Interestingly, his World War Two enlistment card in 1942 stated he was working for Walter Lantz, but he doesn’t mention that below.

LN: I worked with them [Disney] up to I think about 1960 and went over to Hanna-Barbera on The Flintstones. I stayed there about ten years, and then I retired. I’d had enough. But you know, I went back there last December [1977] and worked for six months at Hanna-Barbera. They don’t do The Flintstones there any more. It was all sent overseas to Australia. I worked on those, what we’d call adventure pictures, like Godzilla, Captain Caveman and the Teenager [sic], Scooby Doo. I worked on those sorts of things. And finally I’ll tell you, that’s such doggone hard work. It was really hard and tedious. It took a lot of concentration, I just had to give it up and go back to playing golf.

DP: When you went from Disney to Hanna-Barbera, was that quite a contrast?
LN: Yes, it was. Every studio works a little differently, but basically, it all has to go through the same—more or less—process of story to layout to animation. I worked in layout with a chap named Richard Bickenbach. That’s quite a name, but he was a fine man and a great artist. He’s retired now. So I had good training. If you can draw, basically you can handle it.

DP: But as far as say the attitude towards the films or degree or perfectionism, was there a big difference between Disney and Hanna-Barbera?
LN: Yes, some, but Joe Barbera was a perfectionist. You had to please Joe in your layout. Bill Hanna handled all of the animation, the whole bit, and Joe handled story and layout. But if we had a particular question in layout concerning the design say of a prehistoric automobile, we’d go to Joe, and he’d work very closely with us. He was a very fine designer himself, and he had a great story mind. No question about it.

DP: The reason I ask about Hanna-Barbera is that they are often regarded as somewhat of a factory-type operation, or at least not of the same quality as Disney. I was wondering if you found it to be that way.
LN: No, they try for perfection, as close as they can, but they have a tremendous program, a tremendous program. It is an insatiable appetite, this animation at H and B. You simply can’t fill it up. There is always a demand for more artists, and frankly, all of the key artists, key animators at Hanna-Barbera, were Disney-trained men. All of them. There’s Volus Jones, Bill Kyle [Keil], and a number of other fellows who were Disney-trained and they grew up in that thing. So actually, pressure will bother anybody, but it will bother a Disney man less, because he’s been through it all those years. It was a transition, I’ll tell you.

DP: It wasn’t necessarily going from good to bad or anything like that?
LN: No, no, because, you see, actually Hanna and Barbera are the two men who kept us all in the cartoon business by cutting down costs. Now on Sleeping Beauty, there is some animation in that picture that costs as high as two hundred dollars a foot, and that’s prohibitive with the average studio. Walt Disney, the Disney people, always had enough money that they could experiment and get perfection. No other studio had that kind of money that they could spend months or years perfecting a character or perfecting a story.

DP: I guess Hanna-Barbera was under more pressure with television schedules—
LN: Yes. After the animation and the in-betweens are done, then it reverts back to the same system as any other studio—Disney and all the rest of them—of ink and paint, background painting. Background painters at Hanna-Barbera develop their own style, and of course, on The Flintstones it was a prehistoric approach. Actually it was fun to work on. It was a lot of fun to draw that stuff.

DP: I think The Flintstones was pretty clever.
LN: Yes. There was one man besides Joe Barbera, a fellow named Dan Gordon, who designed The Flintstones characters and a lot of the backgrounds, the different props, and so forth. He was a very clever man.
Nolley died February 28, 1991 in Woodland Hills, California. Variety didn’t mention any children or his marriages, but revealed he was survived by a sister. Interestingly, the same edition of the paper has an obit for Vance Colvig, the voice of Chopper, who died March 4th. The two of them “worked” together on four Yakky Doodle cartoons.

As you can see in the interview, some may have turned up their noses at “illustrated radio,” but there was at least one ex-Disney artist who worked with limited animation that did not. And, as best as I can tell, that echoes the feelings of many, many former Hanna-Barbera employees who were proud to work at the studio.