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.