Wednesday 31 July 2019

Two Chats With Don Messick

What’s the connection between the Jetsons and Soupy Sales? Let Don Messick tell you.

Messick was, of course, the voice of Astro on the series. The voice was borrowed a few years later for another dog character. So how can two characters have the same voice? Let Don Messick tell you.

The Asbury Park Press conducted a full page interview with Messick for its May 15, 1994 entertainment/lifestyle section; it was part of a push for the Flintstones movie coming out. Don M. was, more or less, handed sidekick roles when he was hired by the brand-new H-B Enterprises in 1957 but he had a long career at the studio, and elsewhere in animation. This story gives a lovely summary of his work at the studio to date, as well as a mention of his puppet work.

Not long after this interview, Messick suddenly retired. His health deteriorated and he passed away in 1997.

How many of the following unmistakably-Don Messick voices would you recognize? Bamm-Bamm. Scooby Doo. Astro. Boo Boo. Ranger Smith. Muttley. Precious Pupp. Ricochet Rabbit. Dr. Quest. Bandit. Pixie. Ruff. Hoppy. Mr. Twiddle from "Wally Gator." Multi-Man from "The Impossibles." And, from "The Herculoids," Gleep, Gloop and Zok.
Voice wizard Messick, 67, has done characterizations for more than 100 series, in episodes numbering more than 4,000.
Messick — who won an Annie from the International Animated Film Society in 1990 — does not "catalog his many voice characterizations in any way. "Most of it is in my head," the actor tells SECTION X over the phone from Santa Barbera. "I don't catalog them in writing or by com puter or anything else. I just pull it out when the character is called for."
Born in Buffalo, raised in rural Maryland, Messick worked up a ventriloquist act at 13 after receiving a dummy for Christmas. "That interested me, when my voice changed," Messick says in announcer-perfect tones. "I discovered its flexibility."
Messick soon won a radio contest, which led to a weekly radio sitcom, "Dynamic DeForrest the Diligent," for which he did all voice characterizations. After a stint in the Army, he landed the radio role of Raggedy Andy on "The Raggedy Ann Show," in 1946. Radio led to television, which led to his association with kiddie show producer Bob Clampett.
Recalls Messick, "I'd been working under contract to Bob, who had several live television puppet shows, which were as near to a cartoon as you could get. We'd move from set to set — three sets with different backgrounds — and create all of the action. This wasn't just a thing like 'Punch and Judy.' It was expensive to produce.
"But that era was coming to an end, because it was cheaper for independent stations to buy or rent old theatrical cartoons — such as the 'Popeyes' and so on — and hire just one person to be the emcee of the afternoon kiddie shows, instead of doing what we were doing."
(Years later, in 1962, Clampett created "Beany and Cecil," providing the voice of Cecil).
No longer under contract, Messick began to call on various film studios in an attempt to scrounge up free-lance work. One studio Messick happened to visit was MGM, "little knowing that at about that time, MGM was closing down its cartoon department, because they figured cartoons were too expensive to create for television."
Heading up MGM's cartoon department at the time were William Hanna and Joseph Barbara, who were themselves about to make the leap to television and — fortuitously for Messick — were soliciting voice actors.
"They were talking to people such as Daws Butler," Messick says of the late actor who created the distinctive voices of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and many more. "And then I came along. I had known Daws since about 1944. So, it turned out that Daws and I became the first two voice men for Hanna-Barbera Productions."
The year was 1957. The show was "Ruff and Reddy."
"At the time, Hanna and Barbera began depending much more heavily on voice characterizations, rather than a lot of action," Messick explains. "So, that's why there was such simplicity in those early series, such as the 'Yogi Bears,' the 'Huckleberrys,' etc.
"Actually, I like them. When I see those old ones, there is a charm, I think, in the simplicity, the backgrounds. And the characters come through, in spite of the lack of rapid animation."
Messick has done voices for just about every Hanna-Barbera series produced, including the 1960-66 series "The Flintstones." At first, Messick had one recurring "Flintstones" role, that of Arnold, the paperboy who always got the best of Fred.
Messick also supplied voices for most of the unnamed, one-shot characters that typified a "Flintstones" episode: the cops, the bystanders, the little animals that doubled as appliances, etc.
" I was on just about every episode," Messick recalls, "being kind of a roving fielder, you might say." That situation would change by 1963.
"They were planning for Pebbles to make her appearance on the show," Messick recalls. "On one of the 'Flintstones' sessions, Joe Barbera said to me, 'Don, you can do baby voices, can't you?' I said, 'Oh, sure.' Of course, I'd already been doing the high voices, like Ruff on 'Ruff and Reddy' and Pixie mouse on the 'Huckleberry Hound' series.
"So, Joe said, 'Well, we want Pebbles to have a playmate. So, we thought the next-door neighbors — Barney and Betty Rubble — would adopt a little boy, and he would become Pebbles' playmate.'
"So, it turned out to be this super-strong little guy. Joe described the character, that he's carrying this club, and playfully — because he doesn't know his own strength — he would, maybe, pick his dad up and swing him around, going, 'Bam! Bam!' "
(Messick adds Bamm-Bamm-style baby gibberish).
"That's how it was born. Joe just gave me the idea the character, and and I just ad-libbed an audition right then and there."
Messick says of the late Alan Reed, who created the role of Fred Flintstone: "He was not one of those actors who always had to be the center of attention, always 'on.' Alan was a very down-to-earth person. He came up through the radio ranks. He was very warm and very lovable, kind of like a big teddy bear. But, still, he didn't lord his talent or importance over anybody."
It seems that every character Messick has created over the years has an anecdote to go with it. Take, for instance, Boo Boo, sidekick to "Yogi Bear" (1961-63).
"They wanted a kind of naive, friendly little guy who was a contrast to the big, sort of clown, Yogi, bluffing his way through Jellystone Park," Messick explains. "So, as Daws would often say, 'Boo Boo was Yogi's conscience.' Boo Boo would chide Yogi. (In character) 'You'd better not do that — Mr. Ranger wouldn't like it.'
"In the beginning, Joe Barbera wanted kind of a nasally voice for Boo Boo, so some of the earlier episodes have that. I didn't like the voice that way. So, gradually, as the series went on, I eased out of the stuffed-up-nose, into more of a back-of-the-throat."
What of Astro, the playful family pooch on "The Jetsons" (1962-67)?
"Astro preceded Scooby Doo," Messick says. "I had to come up with what I call 'growl talk.' The words were there. Joe liked things starting with R's, for the dogs especially. He got that from watching Soupy Sales. He (Sales) had an offscreen dog; all you would see was the paw, and he talked with 'R' talk.
"So, Joe decided that Astro should have that kind of attitude. (In character) 'Rello, Rorge! I ruv roo, Rorge!' "But then along came Scooby Doo, my favorite voice. So then, when we were doing later 'Jetsons' episodes, I had to pitch Astro a little bit higher. Because, Scooby had the 'growl talk,' though his was more of a barrel-chested thing."
(Here, Messick launches into an impromptu scene as both Astro and Scooby Doo — what a treat!)
And speaking of dogs, what about Bandit of "Jonny Quest" fame (1964-65)? Bandit never spoke (not even "growl talk"), yet Messick supplied his "voice."
"In the earliest 'Jonny Quests,' they used a recorded, real-dog bark," Messick recalls, "which, to me, sounded tinny, and less like a real dog than I could have done. But I did the whimpering and the panting. "Then, later, we reprised the series. We did 13 more episodes to add to the original 26, to make a better syndication package. This time, I did all of the barking for Bandit, which was more of a high-pitched bark."
(Messick barks, whimpers and pants).
"But Bandit didn't talk. He was not a talking dog because the 'Jonny Quest' series was one in which only the humans talked.
"Sort of like real life most of the time."

Now, a real treat. Here’s an interview with Don M. from a local TV show. My thanks to Mark Christiansen for spotting this. Messick shows off his ventriloquism talents while one of the hosts doesn’t know his Smurfs (I imagine a production aide heard about it afterward). Even one of the guests starts asking questions in this far-too-brief interview. I wish he had done more of these.

Saturday 27 July 2019

Explaining Cats

Hanna-Barbera made good copy in 1961. The proof is in a search through newspapers as Arnie Carr’s PR department successfully pushed the studio’s newest series, Top Cat. Editor after editor opened up a full page of valuable space to promote the show. Quotes from Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna and/or the show’s stars, accompanied by what must have been a large stack of stills, filled space. In addition, some papers featured a picture of T.C. on the front page of their entertainment pullout section.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. The studio was on a roll. Critics loved The Huckleberry Hound Show when it debuted in 1958. The Quick Draw McGraw Show got positive ink in 1959 for its gentle satire of TV programming trends. The Flintstones was greeted with mixed reviews in 1960, but quickly became a hit with audiences. Audiences couldn’t get enough Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Well, actually, they could. Top Cat turned out to be a prime-time failure. Its elements simply didn’t add up to attract a big enough audience. I’ve mentioned before I’ve never warmed to the series, though I love Hoyt Curtin’s tracking library and think T.C. was Arnold Stang’s best cartoon role. But let’s set that aside and bring you a couple of newspaper stories.

Story one was published November 11, 1961. The writer was syndicated; by whom, I don’t know. Interestingly, of the half dozen or so versions of this story I’ve read, each of them has a different publicity photo with it. The second story is from the Pittsburgh Press of December 3, 1961. I’m a little miffed with it because it omits John Stephenson in its profiles of the voice actors. It’s not as if he was obscure; in the 1950s he had been a regular on the sitcom The People’s Choice and hosted Bold Journey for a time. Stephenson began his Hanna-Barbera career with The Flintstones and was the studio’s go-to guy for starring, supporting and utility roles for more than 30 years. The funny thing in the second story is the writer evidently couldn’t make out all the theme song lyrics so he omits one line (all Curtin had to do was change the notes to fit the syllabic emphasis and there never would have been confusion).

'Top Cat' Keeps Things Swinging On Officer Dibble's Alley Beat

HOLLYWOOD—There's an alley somewhere in the heart of New York that's been swinging since September 27. That was the debut date of Hanna-Barbera's Top Cat," Wednesday night cartoon series on ABC-TV. And the alley is the home of T.C. and his rowdy band of fellow felines.
T.C., as he is affectionately called by his friends and cartoon cohorts, heads a quintet of TV's wackiest characters.
There are rotund Benny the Ball, T.C.'s sidekick who's a little slow but far from stupid; Choo Choo, an eager ball of fire with spinning wheels that take him nowhere; Spook, a pseudo-intellectual who's more often in orbit than not; The Brain, so named because of his almost complete lack of thinking power; and Fancy-Fancy, a feline fop who's great with the girls.
THE CLAN'S favorite target is Officer Dibble, the cop on the alley beat who is kept thoroughly confused but undaunted by their adventures.
Top Cat, himself, is a dyed-in-the-wool con man with a heart of gold. His spinning mind, glib tongue and out-of-this-world imagination are dedicated to one proposition to raise the living standard of his fellow cats. He's an opportunist and nimbly aggressive but he'd never hurt anyone.
"Top Cat and his pals live in a New York alley, but it's not a depressing alley," said Joe Barbera. T.C. has seen to it that it has all the comforts that a well-adjusted cat needs. There's a telephone on a nearby pole that's officially for police use only, but T.C. doesn't let this discourage him from making free and frequent use of it.
The lively group gets nourishment, with little effort, from bottle of milk left on neighborhood doorsteps.
"T.C. lives in a magnificent ash can, but when bad weather makes the ash can uncomfortable, he and the group congregate in the basement of a nearby delicatessen.
"Always anxious to improve their minds, the cat sextet studies the newspapers tossed on doorsteps."
WHEN ASKED why they chose alley cats as the heroes of their new half-hour series, Bill Hanna replied, "It's simple. Cats have a lot of personality on which we can capitalize. Stray alley cats, in particular have real living problems with which we feel viewers can easily identify. They're going to understand the gang's struggle for survival and they're going to enjoy the fun they have with their freedom."
Top Cat is a 'doer' and somewhat of a conniver, but he's wonderfully good-hearted.
"All his pals admire T.C.," continued Bill. "His word is law. He's not really a dictatorial leader—his clan is strictly democratic—but a breakdown of the voting would show that Top Cat has 50 per cent of the voting power."
"Even Officer Dibble loves T.C., down deep in his lawman's heart," added Joe Barbera. "Officer Dibble and T.C. are constantly engaged in a battle of wits, and the battles get pretty spicey sometimes.
"Dibble is no fool, nor is T.C. It's easy to see that both of them really love this brain trust battle.
"Arnold Stang, who supplies the voice of Top Cat, refuses to look on cocky T.C. as a cat. "He's a person, one with whom everyone can identify," said Stang.
"HE'S MY IDEA of a perfect television hero," Stang continued. "Viewers will think they know someone just like him, and the chances are they do. It becomes pretty personal at times.
"Take Top Cat's running battle With Officer Dibble. People are bound to love this because T.C., in a completely inoffensive way, flouts the authority that Dibble represents. "T.C. knows that he has to conform, but he, like many of us, would like to break away from the confines of conformity once in a while. He walks a fine line; T.C. never breaks the law, but he manages to make life pretty hectic for the law enforcer.
"You cant help but admire that canny intuition of his. Dibble has many Achilles heels, and T.C. has found most of them."
With Stang's enthusiasm for his role in "Top Cat," and his previous role in the animated series, "Herman the Mouse," the question may arise, "Are you man, cat or mouse?" At the moment, Stang might have a little trouble answering.
Maurice Gosfield, well-known for his role of Doberman in the Sergeant Bilko Show, provides the voice of T.C.'s chief confrere, Benny the ball.
"Frankly, I prefer Benny to Doberman," said Gosfield. "Benny is smarter. That chubby little character has become a real person to me. From now on, every time I go to New York I'm going to expect to see those cats in some alley."
"Benny is a combination aide-de-camp and conscience to Top Cat. Sure, he's somewhat of a dolt, but he always manages to be down-to-earth enough to ask logical questions."
Choo Choo (voice by Marvin Kaplan) is the eager beaver of the group. He's the errand-runner who is so eager that he usually dashes off on a mission without waiting to hear what it is. Spook (Leo De Lyon) is a four-legged beatnik who is trying very hard to be an intellectual. But he can't quite hide his foolishness.
THE BRAIN, also voiced by De Lyon, is described by Leo as "a sort of Nebish of the streets the outdoor-type Nebish. "He's not too bright, but his is an unusual type of stupidity. He knows he's stupid, but he's always in there pitchin'."
Fancy-Fancy (John Stephenson) is the ladies' man of the alley set. He's proud of his irresistible charms, but this is his only asset. Everyone knows that an alley wouldn't be as exciting without at least one lover-type cat.
Allen Jenkins is the voice of Officer Dibble, the upholder of law and order in the alley. This takes him into fascinating side trips in the realm of imaginative cat schemes. "Working with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera in this series is great," said Jenkins. "I'm proud to be a part of it. Just imagine the built-in audience the series has.
"Out of approximately 170 million people, there must be at least 150 million cat lovers. Now, that's what I call a receptive group. I find that I'm taking the role of Dibble pretty seriously because it's Dibble's responsibility to uphold the two-legged end of the battle of wits.
"I look forward to seeing what new schemes T.C. is going to think up next."

The Men Behind The Voices
By Fred Remington
Press TV-Radio Editor
Top Cat—the most effectual
Top Cat—whose intellectual
Close friends get to call him T. C.
Top Cat—the indisputable
Leader of the gang.
He's the boss, he's the king
But above everything
He's the most tip top
Top Cat.
Yes, he's the boss, he's the king.
But above everything
He's the most tip top
Top Cat.
Top Cat!

WITH THIS swinging theme music, each Wednesday evening at 8:30 (Channel 4) 'Top Cat," one of this TV season's crop of animated cartoon series, makes its appearance.
Like several other cartoon series, "Top Cat" is more of a radio show with pictures than it is a TV program. The voices make it. The pictures, while often inventive, are supplemental.
As with other cartoon series, both in and out of the prolific Hanna-Barbera stable, the voices of "Top Cat" are arrestingly familiar. There is a more than casual touch of Phil Silver's Sgt. Ernie Bilko to the jaunty, angle-man tones of "Top Cat."
(More tantalizing still, however, are the voices in the "Bullwinkle" series on Sunday nights, a production of the colorful Jay Ward studios. The voices are fleetingly, hauntingly familiar, but whom do they remind you of? Red Skelton, among others?)
With the upsurge in popularity of animation series, voice actors have come back into their own to an extent they have not enjoyed since the days of radio drama. Needless to say it also has been a godsend to artists specializing in animation techniques.
Here are the men who provide the voices for the "Top Cat" characters.
Arnold Stang—The voice of TC (Top Cat) has been in show business ever since he mailed a penny post card from his home in Chelsea, Mass., to the Horn and Hardart Radio Hour on a New York radio station, seeking an audition. The audition was granted and Arnold, wheezy and raspy, recited Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." He hadn't got beyond, "Once upon a midnight dreary. . . ." before the producers realized they had found a rare radio voice. He was on virtually every big radio hour and was in a number of Broadway shows. His one serious role was as Sparrow in the Frank Sinatra picture, "Man with the Golden Arm." He met his wife, JoAnne, when she interviewed him for the late and lamented Brooklyn Eagle, for which she was a reporter. They have two children, David and Deborah.
Allen Jenkins—The voice of Officer Dibble traveled widely as a youth from Staten Island, where he was born, to Brooklyn, to Nyack and finally into Manhattan. This accounts for the ripe New Yorkese which he has brought to his movie and TV roles. His involvement in a series about cats is fortuitous, for he is a devoted cat-lover. Divorced, he lives alone at Malibu Beach, Calif., his only companion being a 23-pound cat named Smiley.
Maurice Gosfield—The alley in which "Top Cat" makes his residence is, Gosfield asserts, "maybe 44th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues because it's not too far from Broadway but still the right area for a neighborhood cop like Officer Dibble." Gosfield, remembered as Private Doberman in Bilko's platoon, is the voice of Benny the Ball. He started in radio thirty years ago.
Marvin Kaplan—The voice of Choo Choo is a protege of Katherine Hepburn, who was struck by him when she saw him perform in a community theater in Los Angelas [sic]. She got him a part in the movie, "Adam's Rib." He did several other movies before switching to TV in the "Meet Millie" series.
Leo De Lyon—Leo is two characters, Brain and Spook. His music teacher in New Jersey discovered in his early childhood that he had perfect pitch. He studied music and his career was suspended by a long tour of submarine service in World War II. After service he worked up a vocal act—he can sing as either a high soprano or a baritone. He believes he may be the only man alive who can hum one tune while simultaneously whistling a completely different one. (If you think that's easy to do, try it.)

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Scooter Looter Cycle

Scooter Looter is one of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons that’s chock-full of short cuts and the kind of cartoon that never would have been made the following season.

It was produced in the first year (1958-59) when Charlie Shows was entrusted to write dialogue for the cartoons. There are some shorts where whole stretches go without it. When Warren Foster was hired to replace him, Foster not only got a writer credit, he filled cartoons with words.

In Scooter Looter, large portions of the cartoon feature nothing but Yogi riding a scooter, at times pushing a button on a horn, as he moves in cycle animation through Jellystone Park. He’s not saying a thing.

One of Carlo Vinci’s cycles is in three drawings, animated on two frames each, as Yogi and the scooter zip past Art Lozzi’s trees in the background. It takes 12 frames to get back to the start of the trees creating an endless cycle. Yogi’s head is on a separate cel.

There are several head-shake cycles in the cartoon; one is used at least twice. Another one involving Ranger Mack uses four drawings, one per frame. Carlo only animates the head. (Ranger Smith had not been invented yet).

And there are other scenes where the camera focuses on a background drawing for about two seconds of film with no animation; just the music of Jack Shaindlin or Geordie Hormel playing. H-B saved cash on that kind of easy footage. Lozzi’s background art is quite enjoyable; you can see it in our review of the cartoon in this post.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Fewer Drawings, More Gimmicks

Adult humour today isn’t what it was 60 years ago.

Today, “adult” humour brings to mind a lot of sexual references and crudity. In other words, the stuff 12 year old boys sniggered at 60 years ago because it was “forbidden.” 12 year olds, the last I checked, are not adults.

60 years ago, adult humour covered a different swath but, simply, it was funny or amusing material aimed at the grown-up crowd, not kids.

The Flintstones was constantly advertised in the lead-up to its debut in 1960 as an “adult” cartoon series. Some critics complained after the first episode that the show was no more adult than Huckleberry Hound, which they all loved. No less than Joe Barbera switched gears and then explained in print that it wasn’t an adult show; that was just a publicity thing.

Huck’s name came up in a number of articles dealing with the impending arrival of the Modern Stone Age Family. Here’s one from the Arizona Daily Star of August 26, 1960. There always seems to be something that makes me sit up and think “WHAT?!” when I read some claim by Bill Hanna or Joe Barbera. In this article, it’s a note that Hanna-Barbera spent two years to cast the show. That means the two were working on The Flintstones before the Huck show debuted. I don’t buy it.

This is the second article where I’ve seen Barbera gripe about the original designs of the characters looking like something from animated commercials, which tended to be a lot more stylised. Ed Benedict once claimed Barbera hated stylised cartoons, meaning he had to tone down his designs for The Flintstones.

'Huckleberry Hound' Fans Will Flip Over 'Flintstones'
Situation Comedy Goes To Stone Age

Star Staff Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Aug. 25—They're going back to the Stone Age to provide what many person In Hollywood think is a big step forward in television.
If that isn't confusing enough, try this: A nighttime situation comedy series of CARTOON characters.
Sophisticates that go mad over "Huckleberry Hound" will probably go berserk when they see "The Flintstones," the adult cartoon series that dawns Sept. 30 on ABC-TV (Channel 9).
The cautious middle-of-the-roaders in the vineyards here say this new concept in evening entertainment will be a smash or the biggest flop in the industry.
Hanna and Barbera Productions, which enlightened TV with "Huckleberry Hound," "Ruff 'N' Ready" [sic] and "Quick Draw McGraw," is taking the big step.
Three years ago Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, cartoon creators of "Tom and Jerry," saw movie cartooning hit a low as all the major studios were cutting back or discontinuing cartoon departments. After 20 years at MGM, the two went out on their own and became giants in what was then a dying industry.
The Emmy Award winning "Huckleberry Hound," ostensibly for kids, is a sample of their craftsmanship. The program prompted the Navy to name an island after it near the South Pole. Schools such as Ohio State used it as a homecoming theme and the fan mail included a plea from six scientists at White Sands to schedule the program later In the day so they could see it regularly.
"The Flintstones" may be the answer to the scientists' dilemma. If you don't think so, a brief conversation with Joe Barbera erases all doubts.
A suave super salesman, who looks more like the leading man type than a cartoonist, Barbera explains "The Flintstones" as a fun-provoking satire on modern life. Fred and Wilma Flintstone have the same problems that the avenge couple experiences. Their Stone Age location gives wider range to the comedy.
Fred works at a dino (dinosaur-powered crane) operator. He and his neighbor, Barney Rubble, belong to the YCMA (Young Cave Men's Assn.).
Creation of the series has taken several years, including two years to cast voices. "We had to create a set of new stars and come up with something new and began drawing characters, but they were all lukewarm. They looked like (animated) TV commercials until we put them in (Stone Age) skins.
"Take a cartoon car," Barbera said. "It's nothing, but when it's prehistoric, it has something." The Flintstone's piano will, naturally, be called a "Stoneway."
"Fred will even have an electric razor," he said. "It's a clam shell that closes over a bee. Then it starts to go buzzzzzz." Barbera held an imaginary razor to his cheek.
An example of the sight gags is a shot of Fred and Wilma on the freeway near their city of Bedrock. A car goes by with a lizard pushing it. Fred says: "Look there's one of those new cars with the engine in the back."
When Hanna and Barbera first tried to sell TV on the idea of cartoons, those in the know scoffed at the idea because cartooning had proved to be too expensive.
Barbera will agree that cartoons had gotten to the place where they were like motion pictures or live persons. Every movement was shown and it took "zillions" of drawings.
The team of H & B eliminated a lot of these superfluous drawings, substituted partial drawings and quickened the pace in scenes.
An example Barbera cited in explaining the reduction in drawings, is that of a person in a room. Instead of making a number of drawings to show the man walking into the door, there's a cut shot to the face as he walks, then a cut back to the full view showing the man at the door. The drawings showing his every movement as he crossed the room to the door are eliminated, but the fact that he gets to the door is easily and quickly conveyed.

To be honest, I prefer the Huck show over The Flintstones. Granted, the voice casting was excellent (until Bea Benedaret was let go) and some of the talking animals were really good. Dino could be funny. But the series went downhill in the third season in my estimation; I’ve gone through the reasons before on this blog so there’s no need to repeat them all. Huck and his gang were pleasantly amusing or funny most of the time. They were likeable characters; even Mr. Jinks you couldn’t hate despite picking on Pixie and Dixie. Kids knew it. Adults knew it, too. The Huck show is still adult humour as far as I’m concerned.

Wednesday 17 July 2019

Buy Huck, Buy Often!

H-B Enterprises (Hanna-Barbera Productions by August 1959) didn’t waste any time pushing its brand-new characters in front of the public by means other than animated cartoons. We’ve documented toys, games, dolls, Hallowe’en costumes; all kinds of things (and that doesn’t include comic books and records) after The Huckleberry Hound Show debuted in September 1958. In fact, Huck and Mr. Jinks were featured on the cover of the March 1960 edition of Toys and Novelties magazine. The industry knew they were marketing major domos.

We have another little collection here, mostly from 60 years ago.

Some time ago, we posted this birthday paper plate set from Futura, sold in 1959. This wasn’t the only one the company manufactured.

The biggest disappointment, naturally, is Kapow is now in the lower right-hand corner replacing everyone’s favourite loveable, one-word dog. Pfft. I was in three cartoons. He was in one. Li’l Tom Tom is also added, as Cousin Tex has been tossed out, too. Still included are Iggy and Ziggy the crows, the mosquito that annoyed Huck in Skeeter Trouble and Iddy Biddy Buddy, who later became Yakky Doodle.

Let’s see what else we can find....

Multiple Products of New York 11, New York didn’t know how to spell Mr. Jinks’ name (neither did Bill Hanna in his autobiography, but I digress), but it featured the stars of the Huck show on a drawing set. Just turn the wheel on the side to bring up the character you want in the window, then draw funny stuff on him with the powder pencil. I presume the powder wiped off. This is also from 1959.

These place mats are from the early ‘60s, manufacturer unknown. Yes, Quick Draw is pulling a wagon like a, um, a horse. I don’t know what company made them. Who doesn’t love blue cacti?

May we have a moment of silence for Transogram? The company made all kinds of toys and games you could find in department stores in the 1960s before going bankrupt in 1971. They all featured a little cartoon character with a crown named Transy. Some had the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or the Parents Magazine guarantee seal, which were almost ubiquitous on children’s products way-back-when.

Transogram got licenses from Hanna-Barbera for a bunch of things. Below is a Juggle Roll game from 1959 or 1960. It’s fairly straight-forward. I can imagine kids getting bored with it after a while, but don’t they with all games? In addition to the star characters on the Huck show, there are also Boo Boo and Li’l Tom Tom. Notice the beams are made of sturdy masonite!

The Estelle Toy Co. of Victor, N.Y. came up with Silly Sun Pix in 1964. It came out with a Magilla Gorilla set, a Flintstones set and a Huck set. It looks like you combined different strips of film to create your own version of the Hanna-Barbera characters and used sunlight or a lamp to view them.

From 1959 comes Karbon Kopee from Wonder-Art of Boston. You could trace on top of panel cartoons of Huck, Jinks, the meeces, Yogi and Boo Boo to create your own carbon copy. Or is that Karbon Kopee? No paints! I wonder if you got a carbon-y mess from this toy. A real movie, free inside? Kind of. You could create a flip book by cutting on the dotted lines around drawings of a hula-hooping Huck.

The Su-Prize Cup was manufactured in 1960 by Ideas, Inc. of Des Moines. This one features Huck; there was a Mr. Jinks one, too. This was for recalcitrant children. Say they don’t want to drink their milk. You place a coin inside the cup, fill it with milk, and when they drink it all, the coin pops out of the bottom.

If you want a closer look at these pictures, you can click on them.

Saturday 13 July 2019

The Voice Man We All Loved

For a while, it seems like it was impossible to turn on a television set on any given day and not hear Daws Butler. Even in the pre-home video, pre-specialised cable channel days, Hanna-Barbera or Warner Bros. or Jay Ward cartoons were on the air somewhere. Of course, you’d only hear Daws. You wouldn’t see him.

Daws seems to have shied away from being on-camera. In the ‘50s, he appeared on rare occasion on Pantomime Quiz. That was during a time when anybody on radio was expected to make the transition to television. But 40 years ago, he consented to go in front of the camera.

Here’s an unbylined blurb from the Fond Du Lac Commonwealth Reporter of October 12, 1979. This had to be written from some kind of news release because I’ve found Daws’ quote at the end in no fewer than three newspaper stories in three different years. I didn’t see this special so I can’t tell you if it was any good, but I’ve always cringed when TV stars never associated with animated cartoons suddenly pop up as a “host.” “What are they doing there?” I’d always ask myself. After all, would Walt Disney emcee a retrospective on My Favorite Martian?

He's the voice behind Yogi Bear
Huckleberry Hound can't say a word, Yogi Bear is speechless, Quick Draw McGraw has absolutely nothing to say, and Augie Doggie is mute unless Daws Butler is around.
The shy, diminutive 5'2" Butler is a little man with a very big voice, indeed. It is Daws Butler's voice, personality, comedic sense and innate acting ability that has enlivened the popular animated characters of Yogi and his cartoon cohorts, as well as such pen-and-ink performers as Blabber Mouse, Peter Potamus, Super Snoop and Cap 'n Crunch, plus scores of others.
For more than 20 years since William Hanna and Joseph Barbera founded Hanna-Barbera, their highly successful animated production company, Daws Butler has been widely heard but seldom seen in his special world of artistic fantasy. He makes a rare on-camera appearance when he joins host Bill Bixby in a behind-the-scenes visit to the Hanna-Barbera cartoon kingdom on "Yabba Dabba Doo 2," live-action and animated special to be broadcasted Friday on the CBS Television Network.
Being known only as a voice, throughout a professional career that has spanned nearly four decades in radio and in motion pictures and television animation, could cause an ego problem for most performers, but Butler is philosophic about his lack of visibility.
"I've always considered myself a complete actor, he says. "I become the character in expression, gesture and physical action when I am supplying the voices."
Daws was quoted further in a 1982 piece promoting Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper:
In the early stages of development of cartoon personalities, Butler works closely with the animators, who incorporate his facial features into their drawings. Butler creates characterizations; the artists translate them into pictures.
"There was a time in my early career," Butler admits, "when I resented the prospect of going through life known only as Yogi Bear. I got over the resentment long ago. After all, Yogi is still a star, long after hundreds of others have faded away.
"And he needs me," adds the actor. “To Yogi Bear, at least, I am indispensable. That's a nice feeling.”
The Daws Butler PR Machine was pretty busy 40 years ago. Here’s another story about him, again unbylined, published in several newspapers starting around October 21, 1979. I like how Daws did the voice of a Ford on a show sponsored by Chrysler.
Daws Butler Is A Man Of A Hundred Voices
HOLLYWOOD—Chicago couldn't always tell the difference between Daws Butler and the engine of a cold Model T.
That unique confusion pushed Butler into a 40-year career that has seen the diminutive character actor give voice to some of the most famous cartoon creatures in the world of animation, including Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, and Huckleberry Hound. His vocal artistry will again be on display when he "speaks for" Raggedy Andy in the upcoming animated Halloween special, "Raggedy Ann & Andy in the Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile," Wednesday, Oct. 31 on the CBS Television Network.
A shy youngster who was ill at ease in large groups, Butler took public-speaking lessons to buoy his self-confidence and "graduated" to doing impressions (from his own written material) in amateur contests around his native Chicago. In spite of a repertoire that was limited to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rudy Vallee and the aforementioned Model T, he began to win some prizes and a modest following. Then, he formed an act with two other amateur contest veterans. As The Three Short Waves, they specialized in impressions of radio personalities and movie greats.
Butler served in the U.S. Naval Reserve intelligence branch for four years during World War II and then brought his family to Hollywood, where he broke into radio, working as a dramatic actor and capitalizing on his versatility at "doubling" a variety of voices.
In 1948, Butler starred with Stan Freberg in the West Coast's first television puppet show, the multi-Emmy winning "Time for Beany." Also with Freberg, he co-wrote and co-voiced comedy records, including "St. George and the Dragonet," the first comedy recording to sell more than one million copies. Butler's voice has been "behind" hundreds of radio and animated television commercials, and he created the vocal characters for many world-famous stars out of the animation production houses of Hanna-Barbera, Jay Ward and other companies.
Butler conducts an actor's workshop in his home and at several adult schools in the Los Angeles area, sharing his expertise on acting, in general, and the special art of dialect and voice characterization, in particular.
There was more of Daws on television that year. Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear was broadcast on a number of stations. And there was Daws on the radio, too. He and other fine actors were hired for Sears Radio Theatre, a series evoking memories of drama on the old networks. Unfortunately, the old networks had affiliates which broadcast these kinds of shows. Sears couldn’t clear enough air time to make the show profitable.

It’s impossible for me to put in words how much I’ve admired and enjoyed Daws’ work over the years. He finally got the tribute he deserved in the documentary Daws Butler: Voice Magician which you should be able to watch below.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Flintstones Weekend Comics, July 1970

Dino gets a showcase in the comics this month 49 years ago. Three of the four comics are house-bound, the last moves to the golf course.

We’ve mentioned before that Mr. Slate was not Fred’s boss in the comics for reasons, I suppose, have been lost to time.

Barney and Betty get the month off.

Three of the comics have the same Flintstones logo, while the fourth has the name hanging down on a sign.

July 5, 1970.

July 12, 1970.

July 19, 1970.

July 26, 1970.

Saturday 6 July 2019

More Costly Than Dobie Gillis

“Adult cartoon” was a sales pitch bandied about in 1960 as The Flintstones was about to debut. And it only made sense.

Animated cartoons were something found in kiddie matinees at theatres and on children’s shows on daytime TV. If you want to broaden your demographic, then you’d better say your cartoon series isn’t just for the youngsters.

Granted, The Flintstones featured a plot about having a baby and made gentle fun of suburban living. But it wasn’t over the heads of kid viewers, any more than old Warner cartoons about Bugs dressing as a woman to fool Elmer Fudd. They flocked to the show. And it’s the kids of the 1960s that still fondly remember the series today.
Reviews after the first show were mixed. You’ll recall the “inked disaster” quote from the New York Times and (legitimate) complaints about the superfluous sitcom laugh track. However, the Pittsburgh Press liked the show and looked past the debut to the second show, noting kids had already decided it was something they wanted to watch. This appeared in the edition of October 7, 1960.

'Flintstones': TV's Costliest Half Hour
$65,000 Per Week

If any of the season's new TV shows can be called a sure-fire success on the basis of only one exposure, it would be "The Flintstones."
It made its first appearance last Friday night. It appears to have been widely viewed and favorably talked about by the people who make or break most TV offerings, the young. When a show wins acceptance among the youngsters, it's in.
We'll be getting our second look at this "adult cartoon series" tonight (Channels 4 and 10, 8:30) so here's a little background on it:
There is a general belief that a cartoon show is cheaper to produce than one with live actors. This is not so. "The Flintstones" is the most expensive regularly scheduled half hour show ever offered on television. The ABC network pays the Hanna Barbera Enterprises $65,000 for each "Flintstones" episode.
This is in contrast to the $36,000-$39,000 per half hour for films such as "Dobie Gillis," "Alcoa Presents," and "The Tom Ewell Show." Half-hours with big name stars like "General Electric Theater" and "My Three Sons" run around $50,000, where "Leave It To Beaver" comes in for $30,000.
"The Flintstones" is the latest cartoon series of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, whose "Huckleberry Hound" won an Emmy this year. They also created "Tom and Jerry," "Ruff and Ready" [sic] and "Quick Draw McGraw." They are veterans of 20 years at MGM, which tried unsuccessfully to match Walt Disney's success with animated motion pictures. MGM ultimately threw in the sponge, and Hanna and Barbera struck out on their own.
They presently employ 150 people, many of them former associates from the MGM animation studios.
"It is said we are doing for television what Disney did for pictures," Joe Barbera said one day recently. "Disney started a family of cartoon characters, like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, who became almost national institutions."
Hanna and Barbera plan to pull Yogi Bear out of the "Huckleberry Hound" cartoon and develop a series with him as its central character. They also have in the works a 75-minute animated feature for theaters starring Yogi.
They see "The Flintstones" as a more adult show than their previous creations.
"We feel the sight is for kids and the sound is for adults," Joe explained. "We were a year casting this show, only instead of interviewing live people, we interviewed drawings."
Joe is a lean man with curly dark hair and flashing white teeth. He is handsomer than most leading men and looks about 27. Then he knocks you off your chair by referring casually to his grandchildren.
"I married young," he explains.
Among the people providing voices for the Hanna-Barbera animations are Mel Blanc, who has been the voice of Woody Woodpecker, Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny, and Daws Butler. Daws' salary and bonuses from Hanna-Barbera last year totaled $80,000.
Hanna and Barbera have greatly streamlined the animation process brought to such brilliant perfection by Walt Disney. So painstaking is Disney that for his big hits like "Snow White" and "Cinderella" he has had live actors and actresses play the parts, then translated the films to animation.
A "Flintstones" episode represents around 8000 individual drawings for the half hour of film. A Disney half hour would use at least 17,000 drawings, to achieve the marvelously graceful movements of characters, or of leaves turning gently in the breeze that are the Disney trademarks.
This is why Disney cartoons have to go into theaters before they come to TV. No sponsor could handle their original cost.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, July 1970

We don’t generally see too many other bears in Jellystone Park. Boo Boo, yes. Maybe the occasional rival for Yogi. (My favourite is the hammy bears at the start of the animated “Be My Guest Pest” in the first season of the Huck show). But we get a couple of comics with bear extras in the month of July 1970.

I’m really believin’ Yogi gets even. Okay, Yogi doesn’t have one of those hokey rhymes in the July 5th comic, but Yogi gets his revenge on a practical joker. Cigars? Firecrackers? Great things to have in a national park, Chuck.

Yogi’s French is très magnifique in the July 12th comic, which has a nice punch-line. His French is better than when he caused an international incident of “fillet mignonnies” in “A Bear Pair,” Warren Foster’s light satire on diplomacy. Incidental character bears are chowing down on unidentified berries in this comic.

“Refrig”?! Who says “refrig”? Yogi does in the July 19th comic. Anyway, the Baydos only have themselves to blame for Yogi snipping out parts of the carpet. If they had told him where the diapers were, it wouldn’t have happened. I like the silhouette panel with the fox trotting along on all fours.

More bears chowing down on berries in the July 26th comic. Except Yogi, naturally, which is the punchline here. Excellent perspective on the final panel.

Click on any of the comics to make them bigger.