Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Hanna-Barbera is Ready (and Reddy)

Hanna-Barbera might not have become a huge cartoon empire if Sam Singer had been competent.

Back in the ‘50s, unlike some of the other movie studios, Columbia Pictures wasn’t afraid of television grabbing its audience from theatres. It saw large dollar signs instead. Columbia revived its Screen Gems name and pasted it onto a TV distribution subsidiary.

In 1956, the studio had shows like Jungle Jim, The Patti Page Show and Celebrity Playhouse on the air, but no doubt the studio saw the huge windfall the AAP cartoon packages were netting in syndication, and wanted a piece of the animation action.

That’s where Singer comes in.

His Tempi-Toons Company came up with a cartoon series made especially for television called “Pow Wow the Indian Boy.” In January 1957, a deal was struck for Screen Gems to distribute them to stations in 11 western American states. The problem was, as Joe Barbera recalled, the Pow Wow cartoons “looked like hell.” Screen Gems wasn’t happy with it.

Columbia had a theatrical distribution deal with UPA. Why not distribute UPA TV cartoons, too? Screen Gems officials had a look in March at a pilot film for Danny Day of the Knights, which UPA proposed as a one-a-day cliff-hanger serial for television aired over 26 weeks. The company wasn’t happy with that, either.

In the meantime, MGM was about to close its cartoon department and some of Barbera’s staff were working on a concept called Ruff and Reddy with the idea of selling it to TV. Barbera and Bill Hanna set up H-B Enterprises in July and began shopping around the dog and cat adventure serial. Their partner, George Sidney, head of the Motion Pictures Directors Association, got them an appointment at Screen Gems. Despite some opposition from Columbia boss Harry Cohn (Barbera recalled he thought a pencil test was a finished cartoon), the two companies inked a deal and Ruff and Reddy debuted on NBC on Saturday morning, December 14, 1957.

From that humble beginning emerged the TV cartoon powerhouse of Hanna-Barbera.

Saturday morning TV, in 1957, was a dumping ground. It was filled with old theatrical cartoons and filmed live action reruns aimed at kids. It’s a wonder Ruff and Reddy got noticed. However, syndicated columnist Stephen Scheuer found the show and wrote about it not too many weeks after it debuted. We’ve found another column about the show from the Tampa Bay Times of January 5, 1958. There’s no mention of Hanna or Barbera, or Screen Gems, and no byline, so I presume the copy was messaged from an NBC news release.

Big Cheeses In Cartoonland
THEY used to say it was impossible to produce cartoons for TV. It was too expensive and it took too long. But TV has done the impossible again.
"Ruff and Reddy," a new cartoon program produced specifically for TV, has started on WFLA-TV (NBC) 10:30 a.m., Saturdays. The highlight of the half-hour snow is the "Ruff and Reddy" four-minute serial made in the cliff-hanger style. In the first 13 episodes (NBC will play two per program) the two heroes, cunning cat end a drowsy dog, are kidnapped by a flying saucer and taken to the planet of Muni-Mula (spell it backwards).
ONLY A HANDFUL of cartoon characters have ever created specially for TV. Ruff and Reddy follow the short trail of Crusader Rabbit, Tom Terrific, Pow Wow and Bert and Harry. The last pair, of course, was created for commercials rather than programs. And, as a matter of fact, the high cost of animation has mainly confined new TV cartoon production to commercials.
There are now almost 3,000 cartoons playing on TV stations, virtually all of them produced originally for theatres. About 900 of them were produced in the silent era and had music and sound effects added for TV airings.
There's a popular impression that the animated cartoon originated from the pen of Walt Disney back around 1930. The fact is that cartoons were already being shown in theatres when Walt was a kid. Animators such as Bray, Van Buren, Max Fleischer and Paul Terry were turning our [out] cartoons before 1920.
True, when Disney created Mickey, the mouse became the big cheese of cartoonland. During World War II, the cartoon's instructional genius was developed to the full for the armed forces training films.
After the War, new and streamlined animation systems were perfected by UPA and other cartoonists. It's these new techniques that make possible new cartoon production for TV.
LAST SPRING production plans were announced for about half a dozen new cartoon programs, but the only one to reach the light of the TV screen this season is "Ruff and Reddy," which is thus, if not rough, unquestionably ready, as well as being right up to the minute with its household pets taking off for outer space.
A year later, Hanna-Barbera was at it with a far more ambitious series, the half-hour Huckleberry Hound Show, which was boosted by loving critics and put the studio on a path to expansion.

Someone will mention it if I don’t, but Sam Singer went on to produce Sinbad, Jr. cartoons for American International Television. Something apparently went haywire, as Hanna-Barbera was hired to finish up the series (even the most untrained eye and ear should notice the different between each studio’s work).

Ruff and Reddy had two shots on the NBC schedule, ending in fall 1964, before the individual cartoons went into syndication (the network show included a human host and an old Columbia theatrical cartoon). We’ve found listings for R&R into 1973.

I’m afraid I’m not a fan of the series. Ruff and Reddy’s target audience was clearly pre-teen, with the cartoons written to wrap up the young viewer in the adventure. Hanna-Barbera’s syndicated series of the ’50s were out-and-out comedies and aimed at everyone. They strike me as more mature. Still, R&R has some good background art by Fernando Montealegre, the Capitol Hi-Q Library is used well, and you get to hear Don Messick and Daws Butler at work. And the Hanna-Barbera studio may never have gotten off the ground without it. With a little indirect help from Sam Singer.

8 comments:

  1. R&R was the first cartoon i remember watching when i was little, which is one of the reasons i have a fondness for it.
    thank you so much for the article.
    i hope that this series will eventually see its way to dvd release.

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  2. Wasn't R&R a rejiggering of Crusader Rabbit, which Hanna was to do without Barbera before Creston laid claim to the rabbit and Rags?

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    1. It's hard to say. About all we know at this point is a copyright was filed on Ruff and Reddy (as literary works) in 1956, but whether they were the same characters as the HB show the following year is unclear. I don't know what the timeline is but Hanna and Mike Lah may have been working on both simultaneously.
      The whole idea of Hanna producing TV cartoons separately while he was a producer at MGM is interesting and I wish there was more background about it. Hanna, to the best of my knowledge, never spoke about it. I don't know if Lah ever did.

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  3. My memories of " Ruff N Reddy " are pretty blurry. Most of that was eclipsed by Huck and Yogi in those early years. I really didn't get a chance to mentally synthesize that series until I was an adult and found it at " Blockbuster Video " in the late 1980's. Ruff and Reddy, The Flintstones, and a few others were released as a " Bill and Joe's Picks " series on VHS. Hearing Daws do his pre-Huck Huck/Wolf voice was amusing, and all of Don's work, also. Plus the Hi-Q library is always entertaining, and very nostalgic.

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  4. I totally agree that the animated cliffhanger series was "perfected" by Jay Ward, but RUFF AND REDDY has its charm, and I like most of H/B's outer space cartoons, even though Don Messick's "noises" to represent other worldly beings, in this case, can be as grating as his SCOOBY DOO character had become in the late 1960's and onwards. Things got better with HUCKLEBERRY HOUND and QUICK DRAWA MCGRAW and, as I've said so many times on these forums, I hope that all rights issues can be untied and figured around or out so we can finally see all this stuff on DVD and blu-ray. The one series I still actually like for all its absurdity is COURAGEOUS CAT AND MINUTE MOUSE. I'd only seen this Sam Singer series as grainy qualisity shorts on local TV, along with classic MGM cartoons, but I wonder whether actual masters of these things still exist. A&E Home Video released them all in a four-disk set, and I'm sure you can find most of them on You Tube in blocks of 10 or 12, but these are clearly film prints. Are original masters even an option anymore?

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  5. While we wait for the RUFF & REDDY cartoons to be issued as a DVD set, I hope everyone has noticed that Warner Archive has released the unedited/corrected credits version of JONNY QUEST, as well as WALLY GATOR, announced the LIPPY THE LION set for July, and so, can TOUCHE TURTLE be far behind? By my calculation, this leaves only R&R, the remainder of HUCK, and QUICK DRAW McGRAW, once that pesky music rights thing gets cleared up. Since the first volume of HUCK remains for sale, and for $5 less than any of the MOD collections they've issued since, what royalty rate are they paying for that that would be so prohibitive that they couldn't afford the same for these three collections (especially since that at some point in all three of their runs, all the Capitol music was replaced by Hoyt Curtin music)? And frankly, they could charge whatever they want, since these MOD releases don't HAVE to be produced in any quantity at all. I just feel like they'll do it eventually--and I'd like it to be sooner rather than later.

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    1. Have the ORIGINAL credits actually been restored for JONNY QUEST! If so, I will buy that again. Please let me know for certain. Thank you!

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    2. I think that's what Mike wrote. I also enjoyed R&R.

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