Friday 25 December 2020

No Time Clocks

Joe Barbera seems to have had an obsession with time-clocks.

Maybe he had a bad encounter with one at MGM or Van Beuren. Whatever the case, he mentioned in a number of interviews about the time he was promoting that new TV show The Flintstones that Hanna-Barbera did not have time clocks.

Well, of course they didn’t. They had people working from home in 1960. How were those people going to punch a studio time-clock?

Ol’ Joe was a master story-teller, on the screen at MGM and his own studio, and in print. Here’s a New York Daily News story from December 4, 1960. Joe has already begun the “we were underdogs” stories about the studio. They make for good newspaper copy.

One note: by the time this article saw print, Hanna-Barbera Productions had already moved to the window-less bunker at 3501 Cahuenga at Broadlawn where they resided for several years until the building we’re all familiar with was built. And, from what I understand, it didn’t have time clocks, either.

Here’s a Hollywood Success Story
Three Years Ago, Two Cartoonists Were Jobless, But Now Their TV Films Earn Millions

Three years ago, two Hollywood cartoonists, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, were out of jobs and their prospects slimmer than those of a beginner challenging Charles H. Goren to a bridge game. Today, they head the world's biggest cartoon production company, with four series on the air, bringing an income of $3,500,000 a year from TV and $20,000,000 annually from merchandising sales.
The phenomenal rise of these artists-businessmen—a modern version of those antique Horatio Alger tales—has been marked by the creation of the Emmy-winning "Huckleberry Hound" (seen on WPIX, Thursdays, 6:30 P. M.), "Ruff ‘n’ Reddy," "Quick Draw McGraw" and their newest entry, "The Flintstones." The latter, telecast over ABC-TV, Friday nights at 8:30, has been hailed by both critics and public as one of the few innovations television has given us during this season. It is the first half-hour cartoon situation comedy series, depicting in terms of action tinged with satire the adventures of a Stone-Age family.
They Were Down
Fred Flintstone works as a dino (a dinosaur-powered crane) operator. His mate is a typical housewife. Their best friends are neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble. Both husbands bet on dinosaur races and are enthusiastic members of the YMCA, the Young Men's Cave Association. Although the couple live during primitive times, through their words and actions, they manage to comment wittily on the foibles of today.
I wanted to learn how it was possible for two workers in Hollywood's never-never land to achieve so much-within the span of only 36 months. So Joe Barbera, a former New Yorker, had dinner with me in the movie capital's swank Four Trees Restaurant and told his story.
"My partner, Bill Hanna, and I were really down three years ago," he said. "We were working at MGM where we had created those popular Tom and Jerry cat-and-mouse cartoons. Then, suddenly, in 1957, that company decided to discontinue the production of all such features. Movie business was at an alltime low.
"I can tell you we were terribly discouraged. So I applied for a job with Walt Disney and was turned down. We didn't know it at the time, but these setbacks gave us the biggest breaks of our lives.
Time and Money-Saver
"You see, we had devised an entirely new method of producing cartoons for the movies and TV. It's called 'planned animation' and it's both a tremendous time and money-saver.
"So we drew up a memo outlining our system and sent it to MGM. But we never heard from them, just as Disney failed to answer my letter."
"What did you do then?" I asked.
"Well, we wore out shoe leather calling on film companies, advertising agencies and sponsors with our new idea but everywhere we were turned down. 'Your idea is impractical," we were told. "To put on a cartoon situation comedy series would require good animation; good animation is too expensive, and your method calling for limited animation is too shoddy.' "
But finally on July 7, 1957, one TV film producing outfit, Screen Gems, decided to take a chance on the two young men. So their firm, Hanna-Barbera Productions, was born. That year, over NBC-TV, their first series, "Ruff ‘n’ Reddy," the story of a frisky cat and dim-witted dog, went on the air. That began a story of success seldom equalled in the history of Hollywood.
"But just what is your new method? What is this 'planned animation'?" I asked.
"It too technical for the average reader to understand," said Barbera, "but, basically, it involves making fewer drawings for a filmed cartoon. For example, when we did the first ‘Tom and Jerry’ at MGM, we made only 1,400 drawings instead of 17,000 which would have been required under the usual system. The cost was only $200 instead of $20,000.
Only Two-Man Team
"This method would enable a movie studio to turn out 52 half-hour features in only nine months against only 48 minutes of cartoons during an entire year, if old methods were used.
"Bill Hanna and I are the only two-man team in the film industry. We do every phase of the work. It would require 12 to 21 persons employing other systems to equal what the pair of us achieve."
Bill and Joe practice their craft at their plant, made up of three old buildings once used by Charlie Chaplin for his silent films. It is, at first glance, a disorderly place, a collection of offices, some without doors, through which men and women wander seemingly without aim.
"We now have 150 employes," Barbera told me. "Some work some at home. We have no time clocks; we issue no memos; Bill and I are always at home to employes who wish to consult us . . . and we have a profit sharing plan, in addition to paying the highest salaries in the industry."
Barbera promised that the same pleasant conditions would prevail when their studio moves soon into a new plant. "You see, having had a tough struggle myself, I have an appreciation of what people trying to make a living are up against."
Oddly enough, neither Hanna nor Barbera started as artists. The former, born in Melrose, N. M., came to Hollywood as a structural engineer and then finally drifted to a movie company.
Orchard St. Boy
Barbera, born on Orchard St. on New York's lower East Side, March 24, 1911, grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended Erasmus Hall High School. He took a course in banking, studied at Pratt Institute and in Manhattan’s Art Students League. For a while he worked as an accountant for the Irving Trust Co.
And while there, he began sending cartoons to magazines, many of which sold. Then he heeded the call of Hollywood, finally landing at MGM, where he teamed up with Hanna.
"Although I was sidetracked for a while, I really made up my mind to become a cartoonist when I was 19 years old," he told me. "One memorable day, long ago, at the Roxy Theatre in New York, I saw a Disney cartoon.
"Believe it or not, it impressed me so much that I collapsed. So the next day I wrote a letter to Disney, telling him I wanted to be a cartoonist; but never heard from him. I was terribly disappointed and that is why, whenever possible, I try to encourage young people."
Some Advice
"Speaking of the young ones, how can they break into cartooning today?" I asked.
"First of all, they should take a good course," Barbera said. "Then, they should draw, draw and keep on drawing. Next, they should apply for a job. And remember: Never take 'no' for an answer. Make a pest of yourself. One guy did this to me and just the other day I hired him."
"How much can a good film cartoonist make?" I wanted to know.
"A top animator or artist can get $500 a week. The average one earns about $225," said Barbera. "During the last few years the film cartooning business has declined. And today we are desperate for talent."

Addendum: Bryce Malek saw the time clock note and passes along this memo from Mr. H and Mr. B.

Sunday 22 November 2020

Turning The Meeces Around

The anonymous artists called on to use dry brush during innumerable exit scenes at Hanna-Barbera did a marvellous job.

Here’s part of a scene from Rapid Robot, a 1959 Pixie and Dixie cartoon. Jinks tells the meeces he now has an assistant to chase them. Then they spot the robot cat off camera and hug each other for support.

This is a neat drawing. I don’t know if the director or the layout artist or the animator would indicate the positions, the multiples and the grey lines, but it would take a bit of time to ink this, far more than just an eye blink on a static character drawing like the studio started doing.

More dry-brush.

The other three drawings are on twos. This is held for four frames.

And the meeces zip out of the scene.

Besides the Little Roquefort-like ears in the last drawing being a give-away, if you’ve been around the blog for some time, you’ll recognise this as the work of former Terrytooner Carlo Vinci. He loved diving exits, and his marks are all over this cartoon, such as the wide mouth on Jinks’ during dialogue and angular leg/foot positions. Warren Foster’s story ends with a mangled cat/dog robot chasing everyone else up a tree. We reviewed the cartoon some years ago in this post from a less-clean copy.

Monday 16 November 2020

How Daws Does It

Daws Butler is still with us, in a way, even though he’s been gone physically for 32 years. You can pull out a DVD of one of his cartoons and enjoy his work. His recordings with Stan Freberg (commercials, radio, 45s) are on various websites. It’s still pretty easy to get a smile from Daws.

He was born 104 years ago today and as a little tribute, here’s an interview he gave the Detroit Free Press on June 18, 1964. The article is supposed to be a plug for the coming Yogi Bear movie but the writer seems to have found Butler’s voice work for Hanna-Barbera a more interesting topic.

I’m a little surprised Daws wasn’t high on Super Snooper. Granted he was pretty dependent on Archie of radio’s Duffy’s Tavern (he told producer Mark Evanier there was a good helping of Tom D’Andrea in the voice), but I liked the Snooper and Blabber cartoons. I’m at a loss picking a voice Daws did that I don’t like. If there is one, it would be the last one mentioned in the article below. I preferred Chilly Willy as a pantomime character instead of sounding like a squeaky toy.

'Hello, Yogi Bear Speaking . . .'
Free Press Staff Writer

The phone rang, and it was Yogi Bear calling from Hollywood. Not only that. It was Huckleberry Hound. And it was Quick-Draw Mc-Graw. And Babalooey and Mr. Jinks and Dixie the meese (the singular of meeses) and Super Snooper and Blabbermouse. And lots of others.
And, mainly, it was this fellow you probably never heard of, named Daws Butler, who is the voice of all those other guys you probably have heard of. And heard. Because they have been starring on television for a long time now.
So long, in fact, that this fellow Yogi Bear has gone into the movies. The first one is "Hey There, It's Yogi Bear," a sort of transparent title, and it is going to be in Detroit starting next Wednesday.
But don't go away. The movie isn't all Daws Butler talked about. (Not that he didn't mention that it is a pretty schmaltzy venture, in the Disney vein, with a great villain a really evil dog. He mentioned that, all right.)
BUTLER TALKED — like Yogi, Huck, Dixie, Quick0Draw and the rest. His greeting, "Hi, this is Yogi Bear," delighted the operator, who went away giggling. After that, he only did characters by request. Left to his own way, he merely talks like Daws Butler, which is a friendly voice with a touch of Mr. Jinks lurking somewhere in the background.
Maybe it's a coincidence, but Jinks is his favorite character: "Because there is a drollness to him. You can do a lot of things with words — abuse them or elongate them, it's almost like blank verse and Jinks has more sides to his character.
"Yogi, for instances has a sing-songy way of talking. There's almost a triplet in Yogi's sing-song. There's very little variation. Huckleberry Hound, it turned out, is another favorite of Butler's. On the other hand, he's never been particularly enamored of doing Super Snooper. "I've certainly never gone into the studio and said, 'Oh, boy, another Super Snooper script.' "
"But it isn't characters like Jinks who catch the public's fancy. It's always the upbeat characters like Yogi, Huck, and Snagglepuss . . . and Quick-Draw."
HOW DOES one get to be a Yogi-Huck-Jinks-Etc? "Back in high school, I was bashful. I used to make myself get up on the stage and do things. I worked up a routine where I imitated President Roosevelt and Rudy Vallee. Doing the sound effects of a model-T Ford was the top of my act."
After that, he went into radio, playing heavies and heroes almost without stopping for breath taking two or three roles In the same show.
And how do you go about creating a voice for a character never heard nor seen before?
"I WORK closely with the cartoonists. They show me a character, like Yogi, looking big and brash, and I try to sound the way I think the character would sound. Right now we're making Peter Potamus talk. I see this big hippo with a big mouth and I shape my mouth like his and I talk like this."
Clearly, it was Peter Potamus himself.
Butler was born in Toledo in 1916, grew up In Oak Park, Ill. He and his wife Myrtis live with their four boys (David, 20; Donald, 17; Paul, 14, and Charles 10) in Beverly Hills.
Our telephone conversation had to end of course. Butler had a recording session coming up. He had to see a man (Walter Lantz) about a dog (named Smedley) and a penguin (Chilly-Willy). It's all in his line of work.

Daws’ career encompassed more than Hanna-Barbera, or even cartoons (MGM, Warner Bros.). He wrote and voiced TV commercials. He played puppeteer on Time For Beany. He recorded children’s records for Capitol. One of his records was turned into the Mel-O-Toon “Peppy Possum.” You can see it below. The other voice belongs to Billy Bletcher. These cartoons were produced by Art Scott, who moved on to Hanna-Barbera in the early ‘60s.

Tuesday 10 November 2020

Ken Spears

They were partners in animation for years—and they died about three months apart.

Ken Spears passed away last Friday of lewy body dementia at the age of 82.

We mentioned in our post about Joe Ruby the two met at Hanna-Barbera about the time the studio was expanding into prime time. They were sound cutters to begin with and then wrote some of those little cartoons-between-the-cartoons on the Kellogg’s syndicated shows while Mike Maltese and Warren Foster busied themselves with bigger things. You can read more in the Ruby post below.

“The usually silent Spears” is how columnist Vernon Scott referred to him in a 1984 article. But we’ve found a story where he did all the talking about a TV special he and Ruby brought to the small screen. It’s little off-topic for this blog, but you might find it of interest. And the blog has pretty much been put to bed anyway. The special was produced by Larry Huber.

This appeared in papers starting December 11, 1987. The special mentioned was on-line at last check but things get pulled so often, I won’t link to it; you can search for it on the web.

Animator/director Scott Shaw sent me a succinct note saying “He was a really nice man.” That’s an epitaph anyone would like to have.

Spears brings his cartoons to TV series
By Mike Hughes
Gannett News Service

On a day like this, Ken Spears was glad that most of his cats are cartoons.
“A cartoon cat will do whatever you say. It will jump off a cliff, spin like a propeller, flatten like a pancake. It has a wonderful attitude. But a real one? “A cat has to be the toughest animal to train in the world,” Spears groaned. “It's so independent that it only does what it feels like.”
As half the Ruby-Spears cartoon team, he's always had a grip on his characters. He could even give orders to Thundarr the Barbarian and to Rambo the semi-civilized.
But he entered new territory with "A Mouse, A Mystery and Me," a pilot film that runs at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC.
The "Mouse" (played by Donald ' O'Connor) is a cartoon; the "Me" (played by newcomer Darcy Marta) isn't. She's a teen-aged author who gets all the credit for solving crimes and writing books, while he does the thinking. The result is sort of a kiddie "Remington Steele."
This idea of putting a cartoon character in a real setting is new for a TV series and keeps the special-effects people busy. “There are no limits to what the character can do,” Spears said. “We have him landing on a pillow, typing on a keyboard, you name it.”
The actors "reacted" to a character who would be added later, but the feline scenes were another matter. “That cat was a nightmare . . . We had to get him to chase after something that essentially wasn't there.”
The big scene involved a chase through a department store. "We'd set off the little fire engine and he'd go about two steps and then run the other way . . . We were there until 4 in the morning.”
Then why bother? Why not just stay in the whim-free comforts of cartoon-land? “We're trying to stay at the edge. We're trying to stay ahead of the trends.” That's almost a necessity as the cartoon business changes wildly.
Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were editors for the Hanna-Barbera firm before starting Ruby-Spears a decade ago. Their first big success was "Thundarr," which led to a string of muscular cartoons.
But Hanna-Barbera countered with the Smurfs and a deluge of cuteness followed, almost driving Ruby-Spears out of business. The company recovered with "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and a string of syndicated cartoons of the sweaty sort, including "Rambo" and "Chuck Norris."
But that trend also died. With nothing left but Alvin, Ruby-Spears needs a fresh direction.
Movies have been mixing cartoons and live people for six decades, but no TV series has done it. “This would be a real breakthrough,” Spears says.
Ruby worked out the design for the lead character and Spears raves. “He's a warm, loveable, cute, spunky little mouse who's been very well designed.”
And unlike other stars or cats, he does exactly what you tell him to do.

Wednesday 30 September 2020

The Stone Age Starts In 1960

The real TV money is in prime time, thought John Mitchell at Screen Gems. So he approached Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera to come up with a cartoon show for night-time viewing.

All kinds of stories have popped up around the creation of The Flintstones, but it cannot be denied the show made its debut 60 years ago today and continues to be an evergreen for its owners.

Like the song in the musical “Gypsy” goes, you gotta have a gimmick. Somebody came with a gimmick for The Flintstones—it was to be the first “adult” prime time show. That seems to have given some critics the idea it would be sophisticated like a New Yorker comic, and when it didn’t turn out that way, Barbera flatly admitted to at least one reporter at the time that the “adult” idea was a publicity stunt.

In later years, Barbera bristled when comparisons were made between The Flintstones and The Honeymooners series that aired several years earlier. “Did The Honeymooners have a Stoneway piano?” Barbera rhetorically queried. He had a point. The Flintstones had some elements familiar to Honeymooners viewers—mainly a loudmouth, blue-collar know-it-all—but the suburban setting and the various animalised gadgets made it appear different enough. That’s even though the studio hired people who had written Honeymooners episodes (pretty soon, Tony Benedict was called in to add cartoon gags because none of the writers had worked in animation).

Reworking ideas, however lightly, came easy to Bill and Joe. They time-flipped The Flintstones into The Jetsons, put it in football garb to become Where’s Huddles? then transported it into another era as The Roman Holidays.

The series started out with the hoary battle-of-the-sexes concept before it borrowed from I Love Lucy and Wilma had a baby (a girl at the behest of Ideal Toys; Hanna-Barbera and Screen Gems weren’t going to waste that kind of merchandising opportunity). For good measure, the studio borrowed Dennis Day’s mother from the Jack Benny show to be Wilma’s mother. I’m among the people who think the show started its descent at that point. The decision to fire Bea Benaderet and then add a space alien were reflected in the show’s ratings. The Flintstones made it into a sixth season simply because its time period was swapped with Jonny Quest to give it a chance at better numbers.

Along the way, Hanna-Barbera realised there was big TV money outside of prime-time—in the virtually untapped Saturday morning time frame. It had mainly been a dumping ground for used cartoons and old black-and-white filmed series until Hanna-Barbera came up with shows inexpensive enough to air in that period. The comedies like Secret Squirrel were amusing enough for some kids and the action-adventure series like The Herculoids proved attractive to boys. Hanna-Barbera started minting money pretty quickly. And that’s where new incarnations of The Flintstones appeared.

Let’s go back to the series’ debut. First is a story from the St Louis Globe-Democrat of September 2, 1960. Its entertainment writer went on a junket to Los Angeles and caught some kind of PR presentation on The Flintstones. A lot of this stuff was in early publicity for the series, such as “Cobblestone County” and the play on the “YMCA” name that didn’t really become part of the series.

‘Huck Hound’ Creators Ready New Series

TV-Radio Editor.

When Friday, Sept. 30 rolls around, television fans will have their first opportunity to see a new series on ABC-TV called “The Flintstones.” It is, in my opinion, one of the brightest new program prospects to come down the TV pike since “Playhouse 90” was in its heyday.
“The Flintstones” will be television's first animated cartoon series devised for written for and produced for adults. A satire on modem family living created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, the two entrepreneurs who brought to TV such hit cartoon programs as the Emmy-award winning Huckleberry Hound series, Quick Draw McGraw and Ruff ‘n’ Reddy.
“As a matter of fact,” said Mr. Barbera when I visited their plant in Hollywood, “this ‘Flintstones’ series is really an extension of Huckleberry Hound. We pulled so many letters from adult fans of ‘Huck’ that we decided to turn out an animated series strictly for the grownups.”
Just what is this “Flintstones” show like? Let's take a look at the fact sheet.
First of all, remember it is an animated cartoon show. If you've ever seen Hanna and Barbera's Huckleberry Hound, you are familiar with their technique. “The Flintstones” will depict the trials and tribulations of a suburban couple named Fred and Wilma Flintstone. They have problems, ambitions and hopes, just like you. There is just one catch—the Flintstones live in the ‘Stone Age.’
Their home is a “split-level” cave in the city of Bedrock, county seat of Cobblestone County. Other than being Stone Age folks, they are perfectly normal suburbanites. They have newspapers, freeways, TV, telephones, cars and so on. Mr. Flintstone works as a dino (dinosaur-powered) crane operator tor the Rock Head Cave Construction Company. He belongs to the YCMA (Young Cave Man's Association), they attend dinosaur races together and they have nextdoor neighbors, Betty and Barney Rubble.
But wait until you see some of their Stone Age versions of modern devices that make our lives more pleasurable.
For instance, Flintstone family sing-feats are held around their Stoneway" piano (as depicted on the cover page of this section).
Fred has an electric shaver—a clam shell with a bee buzzing around inside. They read the Bedrock Bugle chiseled stone slab. They have cigarette lighters—two twigs rub together at the flick of a finger—and dozens of other Stone Age counterparts of modern gismos that are just as wild and weird.
The word, out in Hollywood, is that “The Flintstones” will bring a flood of animated shows to the home screens if the series rings the rating bell with viewers. And it is just such a possibility that wreathes the faces of Hanna and Barbera with happy grins.
Theirs is a fabulous success story.
At the present, they are bossing the biggest animated cartoon studio in existence. They employ over 200 people—writers, artists, animators, actors, actresses and various film technicians. Their organization has outgrown its present Hollywood quarters, so new and much lusher studios are abuilding.
It is also an almost unbelievable success story, especially when one considers that Hanna and Barbara were unemployed cartoonists just three years ago.
Sacked during an economy purge by the MGM Studio after 18 years of producing “Tom and Jerry" cartoons for movie theaters. A couple of animated characters that also sprang from their active imaginations, by the way, and won seven Oscars for MGM during the 18 years they headed cartoon production for the lot.
“We submitted some of the ideas we are now using on TV to MGM many years ago,” says Joe Barbara, “but they wouldn't buy. It was a break that they didn't. The red tape that ties up cartoon production at a movie studio would have killed our operation.
At MGM your ideas for a cartoon went to the executive producer who would then mull it over or six weeks. Did that sort of stuff hold up production? Well, at top capacity we were able to turn out only eight six-minute ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons in our best year. Hanna and Barbera Productions in 1960 will shoot 52 half-hour TV programs—13 Hucks, 13 Quick Draws and 26 Flintstones."
“On top of that,” interjects Bill Hanna, “we’ve got more offers to do animated commercials than we can handle. Especially since ‘Huck’ won that Emmy.
“We've created a monster that's going to devour us from the standpoint of work. It takes 12,000 individual drawings (called cells) to fill one half-hour TV show. The work of 150 artists, lay-out men, editors, inkers and painters.
“And it is difficult to get these talented people,” he continues, “even though we pay top wages (up to $350 per week) and bonuses ($100 for a one-minute story idea) to anyone in the plant.”
Is there a moral to their story?"
“Sure there is,” says Barbera with a grin. “Raise your children to be animators, artists or inkers. If ‘Flintstones’ is a hit we'll need 10 times the manpower we’ve got with us now.”
After the series debuted, some complained about the ABC-mandated laugh track, while others didn’t appreciate Carlo Vinci’s thick ink-line or the lumpy character design. There were opinions that Huckleberry Hound was a better show; I certainly enjoy Huck more than the Flintstones. But viewers liked it and just as Pete Rahn predicted, it sparked a rash of animated prime-time series the following year (none of them finding a prime time audience).

Rahn wrote a couple of more times about the series. Here’s his “I-told-you-so” from December 19, 1960.

‘Flintstones’ Top-Rated TV Status
TV-Radio Editor.

A paragraph buried at the bottom of a page in a recent edition of Variety informs that “The Flintstones” comedy series (ABC and Ch. 2 at 7:30 p.m.) is riding up among the top 20 TV shows on the national Nielsen ratings.
Well, now, that is certainly a pleasant surprise. Especially in view of the fact that this columnist was numbered in a small group of hardy souls who went out on a limb early last fall with a prediction that “The Flintstones" would be a hit. That's the way this TV reporting game is played you know. When we call one right—take a bow. But when we miss a turn with the slippery crystal ball, we do our darndest to melt into the jeering crowd in the bleachers.
Seriously, if any show among the carload of newcomers to TV this season deserves continuing attention from viewers that show is “The Flintstones.” That tribute isn't offered because we consider the series the greatest piece of comedy entertainment ever to grace the home screen. It is satisfying to see the program up among the rating leaders simply because it is the first new comedy show idea to come down the TV pike since “I Love Lucy.”
For the uninitiated, “The Flintstones” program is an animated cartoon series tailored for the adult audience. A gently amusing burlesque of modern family life, the action is set in a Stone Age suburbia and the main players are four cartoon characters named Fred and Wilma Flintstone and Betty and Barney Rubble. “The Flintstones” episodes are turned out by the Hanna-Barbera Studios in Hollywood. Same production outfit, by the way, that pioneered several other cartoon shows for television, among them “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw.”
When the Hanna-Barbera company first announced last fall that it had sold an animated cartoon program for adults to ABC they were, as usual, immediately confronted with the industry doubters who predicted that the show would flop.
“You can catch the sand box set with cartoons,” went the reasoning, “but nowadays the big, big adult audience demands TV fare wrapped in a western or whodunit package. And comedy, by all means, must stick to the tried-and-true TV family yardstick. One mother (good looking and intelligent), one father (handsome but boobish), two children (one boy, one girl) but both extraordinarily precocious.
“The Flintstones” series was a monetary gamble that has paid handsomely for ABC-TV and the Hanna-Barbera studios. Its rating success will undoubtedly encourage others among the people who produce shows experiment with new or unique entertainment ideas for television.
Rahn had praised the show in print again on October 17, 1960, mentioning its inspiration from Honeymooners plots and deciding any fan of Ralph and Ed will enjoy Fred and Barney. He revealed the thought of his nine-year-old daughter Nancy: “ ‘The Flintstones’ really funny, dad, because it has all those silly machines made from rocks and stuff. Did you see the ‘stupid’ (no greater compliment) wheels on their car?”

Pete spent 47 years as a radio and TV critic, was a local Emmy winner and was awarded a place in the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2015, so he must have known his stuff. We don’t know if Nancy (who’ll be married 50 years this year, by the way) still watches The Flintstones but plenty of other boomers do. They’ll be rewarded with a BluRay release. And as the Modern Stone Age Family (with a dial phone!) continues to appear in new forms every once in a while, it is, perhaps, gaining new generations of fans, too. We’ll bet John Mitchell never thought of that.

Saturday 19 September 2020

The Voice Called Flintstone

You know the voice of Fred Flintstone today—all because of pralines.

The main cast of The Flintstones were hardly neophytes when it came to acting without being seen on camera. All four had acted on top radio shows. Bea Benaderet’s career went all the way back to the mid-1920s in San Francisco. Jean Vander Pyl was the mother in Father Knows Best (she did not get the television role) and played characters on Amos ‘n’ Andy (and not sounding like something out of a minstrel show). Mel Blanc’s radio career is probably well enough known that all I need to mention is he began in local radio in the late ‘20s.

And that brings us to Alan Reed.

The Man Called Flintstone also acted on radio as far back as the 1920s when he wasn’t even Alan Reed yet. While he had funny voices inside his larynx, Reed wasn’t a “funny voice” on The Flintstones. He showed his great skill displaying a gamut of emotions that you wouldn’t find in your average, seven-minute cartoon short. His dialects may have been considered a little over-the-top for 1960 but for a cartoon comedy, they could still fit. And he revived a few voices he did on radio, especially that of Falstaff Openshaw, the high-brow poet on The Fred Allen Show as snooty alter ego “Frederick” in the first season. (Reed’s Flintstone voice can be heard on Allen’s show on occasion; you keep waiting for him to say “Just a rock-pickin’ minute”).

Reed’s fine acting made Fred Flintstone seem far more real than it would have under someone else. Remarkable in that Reed was not the first choice; Bill Thompson actually recorded some soundtracks as Fred but had to bow out because he couldn’t keep his voice as growly as the part demanded.

Let’s look back at Reed’s pre-Flintstone career. First up is an article (and photo) from the September 1933 edition of Radio Stars magazine. That’s followed up by a story in the Evening Independent of Massillon, Ohio from November 30, 1960; it certainly must be one of the first profiles of Reed after The Flintstones went on the air.

Ted Bergman is the Lon Chaney of the air
TED BERGMAN, the stuttering racketeer, Bolshevik, barking dog or what have you, in the [Hellman’s] Musical Grocery Store on the NBC chain is the Lon Chaney of the kilocycles. Give him any role you wish. He takes them as they come.
Since 1928, Ted has played a thousand and twelve different characters. And those parts included everything from a gangster on the Crime Hour to the romantic lover on the Pages of Romance program. Twenty-two dialects, including the Scandinavian, are at his command, so he feels at home in any crowd.
He's played as many as seven parts in one broadcast, using different dialects for each part. Such a talent comes in handy. Once there were only two people in a detective scene; Ted and another actor who was playing the part of his father. They were both Irishmen with a brogue so thick you could spread it with a knife. As the crisis of the scene approached, the other actor fainted dead away, leaving Ted soloing before the mike. Did he get all hot and bothered? He did not! Ted immediately picked up the other fellow's lines and finished out the scene, playing both parts, and nobody outside the studio knew the difference.
In addition to the roles he has created himself, Ted has appeared with Eddie Cantor, Rudy Vallee, Stoopnagle and Budd, Jane Cowl and many others. Do you remember on the Chase & Sanborn hour when Rubinoff started talking back to Eddie Cantor? Well, that was Ted talking for Rubinoff. Coming down in the elevator after the show Rubinoff said, "You did noble, Ted, but what am I going to say next week?"
There are other things Ted can do. When he was a student at Columbia University in 1923, he was the inter-collegiate wrestling champion in the heavyweight division.
Only once has he really been embarrassed. That was when he was playing with Jane Cowl in a radio version of the famous drama. "Within the Law." Everything was going along smoothly until Miss Cowl stopped right in the middle of the broadcast to ask for a drink of water. Ted got it for her, but he surely stepped fast.
With a fellow like Ted Bergman, in the case of the Musical Grocery Store (9 p.m. Fridays, EDST), you needn't be surprised to find anything from a Chinese laundryman to an English duke in the script. And if you hear some weird sound effects that you never heard before, the chances are at least fifty-fifty that it's Ted.

TV-Radio News Bits

In singling out Alan Reed's voice as the perfect "Flintstone sound," producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were confirming the judgment of many previous TV, radio, stage and motion picture producers.
Fred Flintstone is a lovable jerk, and for years producers have been buttonholing Alan to portray – among other things – lovable jerks. Fred is the caveman "hero" of ABC-TV's series The Flintstones, TV's animated cartoon comedy show.
Alan was born Teddy Bergman in New York City. As a kid he was bookish and so scholarly that he managed to graduate from Manhattan's Washington high school while still under age for Columbia university – his goal.
AS A LARK, he spent the imposed interim studying drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
While at Columbia, where he majored in journalism, he won the eastern intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling title and performed in the annual varsity show. He was spotted in the latter event by Ralph Rose, an Oklahoma candy tycoon, and he immediately dropped out of school and went to Oklahoma City to star in a stock company for which Rose was the bank roller.
Then (1927) the following occurred in relatively rapid order: Rose went broke and he had to dissolve the stock company; he and Alan returned to New York, pooled their meager funds to enter a crap game and won $2,400 enough to launch a whole candy company.
Business boomed for them briefly, but then one day a large inventory of pecan pralines turned from an appetizing tan color to a ghastly white that was unmarketable, their creditor closed in, they were busted again. Reed went back to acting.
During the summers of 1929 through 1930 he was social director, entertainment producer and actor at the Copake Country club, an upstate New York resort. Among the writers creating original plays and revues for him there were the later-to-be-famous actors and playwrights Moss Hart, Herman Wouk and Allen Boretz. MEANWHILE, and for the ensuing two decades, he devoted himself to radio, first in New York, then, after 1943, in Hollywood.
His career in this field flourished, and he frequently worked in as many as 35 broadcasts a week. There was hardly a single comedy or dramatic series in the heyday of radio that he did not appear in.
His most familiar roles included Falstaff, the Poet of Allen's Alley on "The Fred Allen Show” for 10 years, the voice of Rubinoff, the violinist and musical director (who "was afraid to speak") of "The Eddie Cantor Show" for five years; the original Daddy to Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks; Finnigan (a classic lovable jerk) and Clancy the cop on “Duffy’s Tavern” and Pasquale on “Life With Luigi.”
He was also featured at various times with such radio stars as Jimmy Durante, Tallulah Bankhead and Bob Hope. He also starred once in his own show – “The Blubber Bergman Show,” and during this period took part in a number of New York stage productions, as well as comedy.
He went to Hollywood on a 20th Century-Fox movie contract, and has since appeared in more than 50 films in all types of roles. They include “Viva, Zapata,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Desperate Hours.”
With the advent of television he continued performing in roles which included TV versions of his “Duffy’s Tavern” and “Luigi” radio parts.

If you look in the column on the right, you can see a link to other stories here on the blog about Alan Reed, including his decision to open a business because acting parts pretty much dried up until The Flintstones came along. Years later, Reed was not dismissive of being a cartoon star. Far from it. Fred Flintstone’s continued appearance on TV commercials gave Reed a comfortable life. More so, we suspect, he would have if those pecan pralines kept their tan.

Thursday 27 August 2020

Joe Ruby

His first credits at Hanna-Barbera were as a film editor. You see one to the right from the “Elroy’s Mob” episode of The Jetsons. And if the screen credits still existed, you would see his name on the debut episodes of The Flintstones and Top Cat.

Joe Ruby has died at the age of 87.

A film editor is someone who splices sound effects and music into the soundtrack of a cartoon. That’s what Ruby was hired to do when he arrived at the studio around 1959, joining a team including Greg Watson, who was part of the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM, and Warner Leighton. But he wanted to be a writer, so he was also entrusted with coming up with some of the ideas for the little cartoons that were between the cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear shows, along with another chap named Ken Spears.

I suspect anyone reading this knows that Ruby and Spears ran up a huge pile of credits at Hanna-Barbera and then at their own studio that they set up in 1977. Perhaps their lasting legacy was the creation of one of animation’s biggest franchises starring a cowardly Great Dane (originally named “Too Much,” according to Ruby) and some meddling teenagers solving mysteries. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted on CBS in 1969 and continues to appear in some way, shape or form more than 50 years later.

Spears once told writer John Culhane in 1969: “Joe and I have adapted. We can write adventure or go funny. We’ve just finished 17 ‘Penelope Pitstops.’ Actually, the traps in ‘Penelope’ are more violent than anything we had in Gulliver—but in comedy you can take it with a grain of salt. If it’s adventure, you accept it as real, even though it’s a cartoon.”

Ruby seems to have been interviewed only rarely. He faced reporters in 1986 while trying to explain his studio’s animated Rambo mini-series would not have anyone get hurt and John Rambo would actually help earthquake victims and children in need.

You can find a fine remembrance of Joe Ruby from someone who actually knew him, producer/artist Mark Evanier, on his web site.

Saturday 8 August 2020

Astro By Nicholas

If you’ve visited our sister blog, Tralfaz, you’ve seen the masthead with the Jetsons’ Astro (né Tralfaz) on a circular dog-walk treadmill. It comes from Millionaire Astro and is one of a pile of scenes drawn by one of my favourite Hanna-Barbera animators, George Nicholas.

Nicholas arrived at the studio from Disney where he had worked on shorts. Before that he was an animator for Walter Lantz.

The original H-B animators could be pretty distinctive and came up with some funny poses. Unfortunately, as the studio added more and more work, the animation got more and more lacklustre. Still, Nicholas did his best. He loved beady-eyed, wavy-mouth expressions and you can see it in this cartoon.

I haven’t determined how much he animated—I’m not good at picking out H-B animators after about 1960—George Goepper and Bill Keil also handled scenes in this cartoon. But let’s look at part of the last third.

First up, Astro runs into a park, begging Elroy to save him from the dog catcher. Nicholas liked drawing cashew shapes for partially closed eyes. And he goes in for bending the muzzle and flopping down an ear to add to the expression.

Astro is shocked in court.

A defeated Astro is taken away by J.P. Gottrockets, who has been awarded the dog by a Jury-Vac (Gottrockets must be a futuristic J.P. Gottrocks from The Flintstones.

Astro’s expression after learning he will, here forth, be known as Tralfaz.

Here he is on the dog walk.

An in-between of him upset that he’s not at home with the Jetsons.

And angrily chasing Gottrockets.

You can read more about George Nicholas in this post.

As for the name Tralfaz, it had been imported by Mike Maltese from the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. The word had been used there, but dated back even further to Cliff Nazarro’s double-talk act. Read more here and in this follow-up post.

Astro, was more or less, created by Tony Benedict. Iwao Takamoto designed the dog first, then Tony jumped in to create stories for him and give him his personality. Tony was also the creator of Alfie Gator in the Yakky Doodle cartoons and had a hand in the evolution of Hairbrain Hare to Touché Turtle (Hanna-Barbera was never a place to waste ideas so Hairbrain was the basis for Ricochet Rabbit). Tony worked on the last of the Huckleberry Hound cartoons and is still with us. He has a book coming out which we’ll let you know about in good time.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Hanna-Barbera Birthday Did-You-Knows

63 years ago today, some forms were signed by George Sidney, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera creating what eventually became the biggest TV cartoon operation in the world.

This is the birthday of H-B Enterprises, the original corporate name for Hanna-Barbera.

Sidney was more than a silent partner. Besides being the president of the Directors Guild of America at the time, he helped broker the deal with Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems division to produce the studio’s first effort—Ruff and Reddy in 1957. It was a rarity at the time—a new cartoon show on Saturday mornings (some of the cartoons were old Columbia theatricals). H-B went on sign with Kellogg’s to put The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Quick Draw McGraw Show in syndication. Both were nominated for Emmys in 1960 and Huck won.

By this time, Hanna-Barbera had inked a contract with ABC to provide it with an animated series in prime time, The Flintstones.

This old blog has been put out to pasture but I have decided to post some trivia as a way to mark the day the studio started.

We mentioned the Emmys. The awards show resulted in a special broadcast of the Huck show. Kellogg’s, it seems, put up the cash to buy the 5:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday time slot on June 5, 1960 and took out ads urging members of the Television Academy to tune in. The Los Angeles Times called it “a special show” in its TV listings that day but it doesn’t reveal whether it was a broadcast put together with references to the Emmys or new cartoon footage.

The year after Huck’s Emmy win, he and Yogi Bear became the first animated characters to appear on an Emmy telecast. They starred in a little sketch making fun of how Neilsen ratings were tabulated. We wrote about it in this post. The broadcast was on May 16, 1961. But there was an earlier special appearance by the pair on TV. The Hollywood Reporter of February 14, 1961 revealed:

Three of TV’s top animated stars—Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw—will join the rapidly increasing list of “human” stars appearing on Sunday’s “Stop Arthritis Telethon” over KTTV, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Three special sequences featuring the Hanna-Barbera characters will be shown during a children’s section of the telethon.
Oh, if only the animation were discovered wherever what’s left of the studio’s archives are.

Hanna-Barbera’s TV cartoons aren’t exactly known for Disney-like fluid animation. Yet they were treated like Disney and other theatrical shorts on occasion. The Hollywood Reporter of May 23, 1960: “A segment of Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Huckleberry Hound’ TV series will represent the U.S. in the Journees du Cinema d’Animation festival in Paris, June 1-Aug. 15.” The trade paper dutifully reported on June 2nd: “Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Huckleberry Hound,’ U.S. entry in the Journess du Cinema film-animation festival in Paris, has won three gold medals in the following categories: (1) most original cartoon characters, (2) best original story, (3) best animation.”

We’ve had a few posts here about Hanna-Barbera on record. Greg Ehrbar is the undisputed expert on this subject and you can read his fine and detailed research at Jerry Beck’s web site. Originally, H-B characters appeared on Colpix Records (short for Columbia Pictures). Hanna-Barbera later started its own label but simultaneously, the studio signed a deal with New York-based Golden Records. Unfortunately, Daws Butler and Don Messick were signed to an exclusive contract with Colpix so the Golden Records had to do with phoney baloney imitations of the characters. Frankly, some are pretty lousy. You can listen to some of them with the otherwise fine actor Gil Mack in this post.

There’s a reason Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera put up with the not-so-soundalike versions. As Fred Flintstone once put it: “Do-re-mi-money.” Here’s the Hollywood Reporter again, from November 16, 1961:

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have been awarded a gold record from A.A. Records, Inc., producers of Golden Records, “in recognition of the sale of over 1,500,000 Golden Records featuring their Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear” characters. Hanna-Barbera’s latest record release by Golden Records is “Songs of the Flintstones,” featuring the voices of The Flintstones, Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet.
Evidently, some kids had more of a tin ear than I did as a child, or a larger tolerance level.

One thing Hanna-Barbera had in common with Disney—besides some employees who worked for both—was a belief that there was a ton of money to be made in licensed marketing. Screen Gems had a whole department devoted to it led by “Honest” Ed Justin. I’d have to go back through the pages of the blog to see when it began, but the Knickerbocker stuffed toys you see to the right date from 1959. (Humpf! Li’l Tom-Tom was acceptable but Yowp wasn’t. Humpf again, I say). Huck was coloured red, but as stations at the time were broadcasting the series in black and white, it likely didn’t look strange. You can click on the picture for a better view.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to Hanna-Barbera. Just think of the countless hours of entertainment that wouldn’t exist if Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and George Sidney hadn’t put their cash together and jump into the new field of cartoons especially for television.

Thursday 30 April 2020

Musings About Muse

The cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear shows were, as layout artist Bob Givens recalled, 500 feet (without titles, I presume). He also recalled Ken Muse was the footage king. Muse would animate a whole cartoon in one week, 100 feet a day. Compare that to 35 feet a week at Fleischers, and that was considered a high figure.

Muse had been animating Mickey Mouse at Disney before he went over to MGM. He did some terrific work there; his animation of the hoity-toity Tom approaching and sitting down at the piano in Cat Concerto and the bee attack reaction on Tom in Tee for Two are excellent. Certainly he didn’t dash out that footage. But at Hanna-Barbera, rarely was his posing or animation expressive. For television, he relied on short cuts which began to epitomise the studio.

Here are some examples from the Pixie and Dixie cartoon Mouse Nappers (1959). First, we have a walk cycle animated on twos (each drawing is shot twice). Neither cycles nor animating on twos were unusual in the theatrical days. But in this case, director Bill Hanna has the background move very slightly behind each camera shot, enhancing the feeling of movement when the drawing is actually static. The arm, head and mice are rigid, only the body moves.

There are whole scenes at Hanna-Barbera consisting of several dozen frames where characters that are immobile except for eye blinks and very slight mouth movements. All dialogue is done off camera. This is a good footage eater because nothing is really happening. It’s also why Daws Butler and Don Messick were so important to the early cartoons. Their voices had to carry these scenes.

Here’s a dialogue example. Jinks doesn’t move. The only thing that changes are a few mouth positions that Muse uses over again for various vowels and consonants. You’ll notice the two-part upper lip. Muse drew his characters like that at MGM, too.

To make Jink look less static, our old friend the eye blink returns. Muse has open, half-open and closed positions only. The half-open is shot on twos.

As a side note, animator Mike Lah slid the mouth around a character’s face in odd geometrical shapes. His characters didn’t look as sophisticated as Muse’s but he animated extreme drawings which are far more funny to look at than these.

Here’s a six-drawing run cycle. See the curved greyish lines above the legs? Muse does this because the body shapes are on separate cels from the legs. The three body cels are reused to match how the legs are lifted on the left and right side of the meece bodies. Body position 1 is used in drawings 1 and 4, body position 2 in drawings 2 and 5, and body position 3 in drawings 3 and 6. Something difficult to tell below is the meeces are higher in the frame in some shots than others, enhancing the movement.

It’s an awkward description but I hope you get my point.

When you’re churning out footage, niceties such as having the characters in the same position when a shot changes from close to medium are tossed out. That takes planning. Planning takes time. Time slows down the footage count. Here are two examples. These are consecutive frames. The backgrounds don’t even match.

This is one of 66 cartoons made in the first season of the Huck show. Muse animated 29 of them (with assistance by Lah on some). I understand he was paid by the foot, so you can’t blame him for trying to maximise his footage. But, and it’s an age-old lament, you can’t help but wonder how much better the cartoons might have looked if there had been more time to work on them. On the other hand, kids, teenagers and adults laughed at them anyway and made the Huck show a brief, Emmy-winning, cult favourite through the late ‘50s.