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.