Saturday 25 December 2021

Jean Vander Pyl

Jean Vander Pyl has a connection to Christmas.

She (her voice, to be specific) was one of the stars of the seasonal film “Santa and the Three Bears,” released independently to theatres in 1970. It was the brainchild of Hanna-Barbera writer Tony Benedict, who pitched it to Joe Barbera. If any company should have come up with an animated half-hour Christmas special that could run on TV every year, you’d think it would be Hanna-Barbera. But Mr. B. didn’t like the story and took a pass on it, so Tony went through some insane circumstances to get it into theatres.

This post, though, is about Jean Vander Pyl.

The four leading actors on “The Flintstones” all came out of radio, but Vander Pyl was the least prominent. Alan Reed co-starred on his own show in the early ‘30s and was a stooge on others. Bea Benaderet was one of the most sought-after secondary players on radio comedies on the West Coast and then appeared on television each week through the ‘50s with George Burns and Gracie Allen. I don’t have to tell you about Mel Blanc.

Vander Pyl appeared in a few top-level shows—surprisingly, one was “Amos ‘n’ Andy”—and was also one of countless anonymous commercial voices. Here’s a United Press article from November 9, 1949 that suggests she was pitching Arrid deodorant when she wasn’t taking up roles. (The Hollywood Reporter ad below is from 1947).

She Wants To Be More than "Half Safe"
HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 3 (U.P.)— Radio actress Jean VanderPyl, who swears that's the way to spell it, comes up with one of the most unusual complaints in Hollywood or anywhere else, for that matter. She's too successful.
Miss VanderP. is the lithe-tongued, dulcet-voiced lassie who beseeches her audience not to be "half safe."
That and 800 other chores for network moguls ranging from playing an ingenue to one of Macbeth's three witches have boosted her to a spot where her career interferes with her vocational ambitions.
"I just want to be in the movies," she says.
During the 12 long, yearning years she has been on the air, Jean says, she almost would have given her dulcet voice for a chance under the arcs.
It looked like waiting would pay off recently when producer George Mosko cast her in an important role in "Champagne for Caesar."
"I was ecstatic," she recalls. "I leaped at the chance, and leap is the right word. "I was so excited I jumped and fell all over director Dick Whorf."
Miss VanderPyl says she soon landed in gloom, however, because the "important role" turned out to be a "voice."
This young lady from Memphis plays a mysterious voice that takes part in a highly-charged scene with Ronald Colman in a soap tycoon's waiting room.
"I give him that double-syrup inflection which just oozes as it comes out," she says. "But unfortunately I won't see me."
So Jean, listed in the radio casting directory as "girl with sexy voice," faces the day when shell again bury her pretty self in a radio studio.
"I just wish," she comments plaintively, "I could show the world more of Jean VanderPyl than the vocal chords."

Perhaps Vander Pyl’s biggest radio role came as the mom on “Father Knows Best;” the Cincinnati Enquirer called her hiring “A change for the better.” She didn’t make the transition to television when the show appeared there and I don’t know why. This story in the Greenville News of October 18, 1951 talks about how she got it; the last sentence from a similar version in another paper.

Jean VanderPyl Natural In Part
Jean VanderPyl, lovely young actress who has just taken the leading feminine role of "Margaret Anderson", on WFBC's Father Knows Best." (9-9:30 p. m., Thursdays), is more than convinced that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
When Dorothy Lovett, who has been portraying the mother of "Father's" lively brood on the Thursday evening comedy-drama, found that she had laryngitis and wouldn’t be able to appear on the show, she suggested Jean Vander Pyl as a replacement, because Jean's voice quality is similar to hers. It was a last-minute emergency, and when Director Murray Bolen of "Father Knows Best," got in touch with Jean, an hour before program time the evening of the show, she was busy putting her youngsters to bed. Jean managed to dress, get from the San Fernando Valley to NBC's Radio City in Hollywood and have the script in her hand by the middle of dress rehearsal. The result was that she went on the air in the key feminine role opposite star Robert Young without having even having read the script completely through.
However, Jean's spur-of-the-moment interpretations of Margaret Anderson so impressed the program’s sponsors that she has been signed to portray her on the show regularly. Jean VanderPyl's reaction is that Margaret really should be an easy role for her to portray. Margaret Anderson was supposedly married at 17 and had her first child at 18; Jean was married at 18, and had her first younger at 19. Margaret has three offspring, one of whom is named Kathleen; Jean has three, also, and one is Kathleen! And a recent Father Knows Best script which revolves around Mother’s birthday falls on the day before Miss VanderPyl’s own birthday.

We should pass along something about “The Flintstones.” This feature story is from the Tampa Tribune of May 18, 1986.


Tribune Staff Writer
Oh, those "Stones" they just keep rolling along.
When Fred and Wilma celebrate their 25th year in show business this week, it should be a memorable event. It could rank right up there with that day in 1969 when, upon reaching the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong repeated Fred's immortal words, "Yabba dabba doo!"
With that simple phrase, Armstrong confirmed Frederick F. Flintstone's place in our hearts and minds. Armstrong didn't have to explain; we knew what he meant.
Fred and Wilma. They're as much a part of our culture as Mickey and Minnie or Dagwood and Blondie.
But for baby-boomers, it may come as a mild shock that 25 years have passed since "The Flintstones" debuted in prime time on network television.
From 1960 to 1966, Fred and Wilma Flintstone romped through 166 half-hour adventures and earned their place forever in our cultural history.
Set in the Stone Age town of Bedrock, "The Flintstones" was a parody of modern sub urban life.
Modeled after Jackie Gleason's "The Honeymooners," the show featured a loudmouthed caveman, Fred, and his long-suffering wife, Wilma. Their next-door neighbors were Barney and Betty Rubble, the Ed and Trixie Norton of cartoons.
Fred, who operated a dinosaur-powered crane at the Rock Head & Quarry Cave Construction Co., was a hopeless social climber, a poor slob who usually blundered his way into trouble.
In addition to the situations, the series included a lot of Stone Age sight gags, such as Wilma's Stoneway piano, a hi-fi on which Fred played his "rock" music (a long-beaked bird served as the needle), Wilma's vacuum cleaner (a baby elephant) and Fred's garbage disposal (a famished buzzard-type bird stashed under the sink). The Flintstones' car was a foot-powered steam roller that flattened out the rocky roads.
"The Flintstones" was one of the first made-for-adult TV cartoons; and it lasted longer than any other prime-time cartoon series.
The original episodes still are playing around the world.
(Locally, "The Flintstones" reruns air weekdays at 7:30 a.m. on WTOG, Channel 44.)
The originals played on NBC [sic], but it is CBS that is paying tribute to this minor classic.
At 8 p.m. Tuesday, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Vanna White (from "The Wheel of Fortune") take us on a musical trip down memory lane.
In addition to a "Flintstones" music video, we'll hear from the series' creator, Joseph Barbera, and a few other animated characters, such as Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Quick Draw McGraw.
Also included is a film clip from Sting's movie "Bring on the Night" in which Sting's band performs the classic "Flintstones" theme song.
Animator Barbera will explain how he and his partner, William Hanna, built a cartoon empire on the success of Fred and Wilma. He also will give the little-known origin of "Yabba dabba doo!"
"I haven't seen it yet, but I had to do Wilma again," said actress Jean Vander Pyl, who has been the voice of Wilma Flintstone for 25 years.
In a recent telephone interview from her San Clemente, Calif., home, Vander Pyl talked about her long-running role.
"I've done other things, including a 20-year career in radio before 'The Flintstones,' and there was some acting on television, but nothing has been as durable or lasted as long as Wilma," Vander Pyl said.
"It was one of the few cartoons that dealt with adult situations. This was a family show with lots of gags that went over the kids' heads, but the adults loved it. These were characters adults could identify with," she said.
Vander Pyl recalled that "The Flintstones" was created for prime time after Hanna and Barbera discovered that 60 percent of adult viewing audience in the 1950s had been watching their afternoon cartoon series "Huckleberry Hound."
Barbera has said in previous interviews that Warren Foster and Mike Maltese, the original writers on "The Flintstones," were masters of satire. They enjoyed creating the Stone Age gags. There were puns on names, too. Over the years, Fred and Wilma entertained numerous guests including Ann-Margrock, Perry Masonary, Ed Sullystone, Cary Granite and Gina Lollobrickida.
"There was a lot of satire in 'Huckleberry Hound' that the writers put in to amuse themselves," Vander Pyl said. "They helped develop the adult audience for the later 'Flintstone' episodes."
She said the shows were situation comedies in animated form.
"And those of us who did the voices were actors, not just voices," she said. "The show used a formula that had been very successful with 'The Honeymooners,' and Fred was very much like Ralph Kramden," she added.
Vander Pyl, who played the original Margaret Anderson on the radio version of "Father Knows Best," said the cast was like a family and had fun with their roles.
The animation was not completed until the actors had read their parts. "People always asked which comes first—the voices or the pictures? The voices come first," she said.
Vander Pyl modeled her Wilma after the flat, nasal sound of Audrey Meadows' Alice Kramden.
The late Alan Reed was the original Fred Flintstone. He was succeeded by Henry Corden.
Veteran cartoon voice creator Mel Blanc played Barney Rubble and the family pet, Dino.
Another veteran of cartoons, Don Messick, provided numerous voices, including Arnold, the paperboy, and many of the Flintstones' prehistoric appliances.
"I also did the voice of the baby, Pebbles, that was added in the later seasons," Vander Pyl said. "My good friend, Bea Benaderet, who worked on 'Petticoat Junction,' was the voice of Betty Rubble. So, we were real friends off stage, too."
Betty also was played by Gerry Johnson and Gay Autterson.
Originally, the Flintstones had only a baby brontosaurus, Dino.
But, in 1962, they had a baby, Pebbles. Their neighbors, the Rubbles, soon adopted a son, Bamm-Bamm, the strongest baby in the world.
In 1967-68, Hanna and Barbera produced a feature-length cartoon film with a spy theme, "The Man Called Flintstone."
In 1971, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm were seen as teen-agers in their own series on Saturday mornings. Sally Struthers and Jay North ("Dennis the Menace") supplied the voices.
More than a decade later, NBC ordered two hour-long specials, "A Flintstone Christmas" and "Flintstones' Little League."
NBC then ordered new half-hour episodes in 1979 with "The New Fred and Barney Show." Wilma and Betty also were featured in another series, "Captain Caveman."
This fall, yet another series of Flintstone cartoons will be added to the Saturday morning lineup. In "The Flintstone Kids" we'll see Fred and Wilma as toddlers. Vander Pyl won't be doing a baby Wilma voice, however.
"It does seem like every few years, I get called back into the role," she said. "There was talk of a 'Miami Vice' clone with Fred and Barney as policemen, and I've been doing Wilma in commercials."
"Part of the charm was that it wasn't too cartoony. Fred and Wilma seemed like real characters," she said.
"My favorite line is still from the opening show, where Fred comes out on the front lawn, and Arnold the news boy calls out, 'Here's your paper, Mr. Flintstone,' and he tosses out a stone slab that knocks Fred flat. And Fred says, 'I hate the Sunday paper.'
"I still crack up when I see it," she said. "I think other adults howled, too. They knew Sunday papers are like that, and they appreciated the humor, while the kids just laughed at Fred getting knocked down. Slapstick and satire—it was a good combination."

As you likely know, this blog is retired. We’ve been through all the early syndicated Hanna-Barbera that have interested me. However, this post was sitting around Santa Yowp’s bag for some time and has now been delivered.

If you’d like to read more about Jean Vander Pyl, you can check out this post, or go to her name in the TOPICS column and click there.

Monday 11 October 2021

Unmatched Pilgrim

Grim Pilgrim is, in a way, a Thanksgiving cartoon, as Huckleberry Hound makes peace with an American Indian stereotype—and the turkey they both want to eat—as they all sit down to dinner at the end.

It’s Thanksgiving in Canada today. Canada doesn’t have any pilgrims but there are turkeys in grocery stores or ovens, so we’re marking the occasion with this brief post about the Huck cartoon. You can read a full review of it in this post.

The animator is Ken Muse, who turned out footage faster than anyone at Hanna-Barbera. I’m not an animator and I’m not quite sure how Muse worked, but I get the impression he didn’t make each extreme in consecutive order from start to finish. My uneducated guess is he drew long shots and then went back and did closer shots.

Sometimes, the positions of the characters don’t match when the director cuts from a close shot to a longer one. Here’s an example from Grim Pilgrim. The two frame grabs below are consecutive.

At times, this kind of thing can be really jarring. It’s not so bad here, perhaps because the Geordie Hormel stock music in the background binds the scenes together, or because there’s no change in animators.

You’ll notice the native’s head is a slightly different colour than the rest of his body. Muse animates the head, the rest of body is held on a cel.

I really like the background being panned at the start. The colours are a bit off on this clipped together version. The credits say Dick Thomas painted this. He had arrived at the studio after being laid off at Disney. Before that, he spent many years at Warner Bros., first with Bob Clampett and later settling in with Bob McKimson.

This was the first Huck cartoon put into production in the 1959-60 season. Mike Maltese wrote the first two cartoons of the Huckleberry Hound Show (the other was Yogi Bear’s Lullabye-Bye Bear) until Warren Foster was hired after his gig on Rhapsody of Steel with John Sutherland Productions.

It was also the first Hanna-Barbera cartoon voiced by Hal Smith; a newspaper story earlier in the year said that Joe Barbera was looking for additional voice talent. Smith said he was the first voice of Barney Rubble but when Bill Thompson had problems handling Fred Flintstone’s voice, the two parts were recast (Joe Barbera once said Mel Blanc wasn’t available at first). Despite that, Smith went on to a long career at Hanna-Barbera and turned up at other studios, too.

Anyway, I give Thanksgiving greetings to Canadians and to non-Canadians willing to accept them, and suggest you mark the day watching at least one Huckleberry Hound cartoon.

Sunday 3 October 2021

On Location With Mike Maltese and Warren Foster

One afternoon in the 1960s, little me was talking to my mother, and I decided to inject some Quick Draw McGraw vocabulary into the conversation. My mother scowled.

“It’s ‘sheep,’ not ‘sheeps’,” she chastised me.

Before I could say anything, my father responded, “He heard that in cartoons. He’s not serious. He knows better.”

My father evidently knew my sense of humour far better than my mother. (And, yes, I did know better).

If I had to analyse where I got my sense of humour, one of the influences would be Mike Maltese. He’s my favourite cartoon writer. He wrote loads of great cartoons at Warner Bros., and then jumped at the chance for more money at Hanna-Barbera in 1958. He was responsible for all 78 cartoons in the first season of The Quick Draw McGraw Show (1959-60) and wrote two cartoons for The Huckleberry Hound Show until Warren Foster arrived a few months later and took over. Maltese’s name was the one that stood out because I wanted to know who wrote the funny cartoons.

Any time I see an interview with him, or contemporary newspaper stories about him (he died in 1981) it’s always a treat. Columnist John Crosby interviewed him and you can read that post here. I’ve found another newspaper piece. The Oak Leaf, the paper of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland, published a front page story about a visit by Mike. And Warren Foster. Better still, there’s a picture of them! I think the only other pictures I’ve seen of them are in animation history books or studio newsletters. There are several other people in the photo who cartoon fans should know.

Here’s the article from January 8, 1960. I wonder how many of these sojourns were made by Hanna-Barbera staffers.

Jeannie Wilson’s Hollywood Artists Here for Ninth Annual “Operation”
It was mid-December, and here and there throughout the compound people were grouped about artists and models, who appeared to be equally eager to make a success of their work. Other groups watched cartoonists turning out their favorite characters as fast as you could say “Quick Draw McGraw.”
It was Jeannie Wilson’s ninth annual visit to Oak Knoll, and this time her "Operation Art for the Armed Forces" included nine other artists of who happily gave two days of their valuable time and talent to cheer both patients and staff.
A special feature of this year’s visit was the showing of an hour-long cartoon—the popular TV feature, “Huckleberry Hound,” by Warren Foster and Mike Maltese. Mr. Foster is a writer, ideas man, and producer for “Huckleberry Hound” and “Yogi Bear,” and Mr. Maltese produces and directs “Quick Draw” and “Dixie and Pixie.” In addition to showing the film, the two TV cartoon men—sent by Bill Hanna of Hanna, Barbera Productions—explained how the cartoons are animated and distributed several hundred original “cells” used in filming their cartoon features. Each was in full color, attractively matted, and of course autographed by Yogi, Quick Draw McGraw, and others.
Returning artists who have been here enough times to know their way around the compound were Johnny Johnson [sic], MGM portrait artist and background man for MGM’s Tom and Jerry cartoons; Benjamin Duer, nationally-known artist, illustrator, and teacher; and Bill Mahood, portrait artist, who was here for the seventh time and still recalls how faint he became the first time he tried to paint the portrait of an admiral!
First-timers were Maurene McCulley (daughter of the creator of Zorro), whose brush technique won acclaim at a recent “one-man” show at the Hollywood Woman’s Club; Ben Shenkman, who has done portraits and caricatures for Disney and MGM and is now with UPA; Phil Duncan, formerly of Disney and MGM Studios, now owner of TV Cartoon Products and doing UPA cartoons; and Fred Crippen, Magoo artist.
Mrs. Wilson, who recruits the artists from her long list, started the art project 16 years ago and has boosted servicemen’s morale from coast to coast and in Korea.

Johnsen was Tex Avery’s background man at Warners and then MGM. Shenkman drew caricatures at Columbia and then Warners, later surfacing at Hanna-Barbera. Phil Duncan animated some of the mini-cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound Show on a freelance basis, while Crippen left UPA to operate Pantomime Pictures, which made some fine, stylish animated commercials.

The photos accompanied the article.

Since we’re talking about Mike Maltese, here’s a squib from the trade publication, The Ross Report, giving a capsule of information about the The Flintstones. Maltese co-wrote the first episode that aired, “The Flintstone Flyer” (it was not the first cartoon produced) but the bulk of the writing in the first year was done by Warren Foster.

There are several others things interesting here. Distributor Screen Gems doesn’t warrant a mention.

None of the secondary voices mentioned appeared on that first episode. Incidentally, Variety of May 31, 1960 mentioned that Daws Butler, Bill Thompson and Paul Frees had joined the four regular actors.

Hanna-Barbera was indeed in Hollywood, at the Kling studio at 1416 N. La Brea Avenue, but moved on August 1, 1960 to a window-less, cinder block building at 3501 Cahuenga while the Flintstones was in early production. Here's the building as it looks at the time of this post:

The Flintstones didn’t run on the full ABC network. I haven’t checked to see how many affiliates the company had but, by comparison, The Real McCoys began the 1960-61 season on 169 stations, My Three Sons was on 165, while The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was picked up by only 136 stations and Alcoa Presents could muster only 116 stations.

And, no, Winstons wasn’t the only sponsor and, yes, cigarette companies spent tons of money advertising on family shows, first on radio and then television (until the ads were banned). Everyone connected with The Flintstones constantly beat the drum that it was an “adult cartoon.”

Maltese left in 1963 to work for Chuck Jones at MGM on a revived Tom and Jerry, returned in a couple of years, and quit Hanna-Barbera again in 1971 because of network interference in his stories. He wrote comic book stories, teamed again with Jones (who apparently threw out his story for a Duck Dodgers sequel).

Layout artist Maurice Noble once wrote: “We were so fortunate to have Mike Maltese, who had a ‘pixie’ quality—by this I mean a twinkle in his eye, a wonderful sense of humor, and a zany slant on things. Full of ideas.”

Cartoon fans were fortunate, too.

Wednesday 29 September 2021

The Huck Birthday Express

Children loved it. Teenagers went nuts for it. Adults watched it. Even critics thought it was entertaining. And it began appearing on TV screens 63 years ago today.

The Huckleberry Hound Show was syndicated across North America by Kellogg’s ad agency Leo Burnett, buying half-hour early evening timeslots where available. That meant not all stations that picked up Huck were airing it on Monday, September 29, 1958. The station in Kellogg’s home office (aka Battle Creek, Michigan) was one that did. In Los Angeles, the show was on Tuesdays. In Chicago, it was on Wednesdays. In New York and many other cities, it was on Thursdays.

Sorry, Ruff and Reddy, but the Huck show was the one upon which Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera built their empire. They started with four animators—Ken Muse, Lew Marshall, Carlo Vinci, with Mike Lah freelancing—though it appears Phil Duncan and Ed Love were brought in to do little cartoons between the cartoons in the first season. There were opening and closing pieces with all the main characters on the show interacting, with Huck finishing things by urging us to watch for the next Huckleberry Hound Show.

For the record, the first cartoons aired (not produced) were Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie, Cousin Tex and Yogi Bear's Big Break (with Boo Boo).

Some time ago, Stu Shostak sent a dub of Huck show that was on 16mm and transferred to VHS. It was an episode in French. I’ll post a few frames. You’ll have to live with scratches on the print. I don't know which year this appeared.

Engineer Huck introduces the others riding the "Huckleberry Hound Express" train: Yogi Bear, guest conductors Dixie and Pixie, and Mr. Jinks (“bringing up the rear”) in the caboose.

Dixie decides to “pull the pin on that silly grin” and get rid of Jinksie.

“Hey! I'm loose in the caboose!” Some expressions and then “Wait for me!”

Ah, the old tunnel gag.

Never fret, kids. We’re invited back again for more cartoons with Huckleberry Houuuuuuund!

Huckleberry Hound had the same appeal as his direct predecessor—Tex Avery’s southern wolf in the MGM cartoon Billy Boy, where nothing ruffled him, no matter what happened. Yogi Bear wears Ed Norton’s get-up, the same as Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s Down Beat Bear at MGM. Pixie and Dixie are catalysts who got a few good lines from writer Charlie Shows in the first season. Mr. Jinks is the star of the segment, and his voice is borrowed from Stan Freberg’s parody of mumbling method actors in his Capitol record “Sh-Boom.”

Yogi became the biggest star of the lot, but I still like the casual Huck as he takes on all comers, including crooks, a TV set, a mosquito, potato and weinerschnitzel monsters and, of course, dogs that act like dogs.

You can read more about the 60th Huckiversary in this post.

Monday 27 September 2021

Let's Party With T.C.

What were Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera doing the night Top Cat debuted 60 years ago?

Watching TV, what else?

And so were members of the Hanna-Barbera staff and sundry actors, as detailed in this story in the Pittsburgh Press of October 2, 1961. The series aired beginning September 27th.

The story focuses on the money the studio tied up in the series, hoping to reap profits in all kinds of merchandise. And there were potential BIG profits.

The New Steve Allen Show premiered immediately preceding T.C. I have not been able to discovered what the “animated insert” was that caught the attention of the H-B staff.

Animated Cartoon ‘Top Cat’ Watched Intensely By 160

$800,000 Investment Spells Reason For Their Interest
By FRED REMINGTON, Press TV-Radio Editor
HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 2—There was something strange and ironic about 160 prosperous, well-dressed adults watching an animated comic strip with silent, fierce intensity.
They were members of the Hanna-Barbera organization, gathered to watch the television debut of their newest property, "Top Cat." For its first appearance they had taken over the Tahitian restaurant on Ventura Boulevard. It's a spectacular place, visible for miles up and down the San Fernando Valley by the great flaming torches which mark its entrance.
The intense preoccupation of these people with an animated cartoon becomes understandable, though, when you consider the finances involved.
“We have $800,000 in this thing before the public has ever set eyes on it,” said Bill Hanna, one of the partners in this fantastically successful firm of animators.
"We are irrevocably committed to making thirty of them at $68,000 a half hour," said his partner, Joe Barbera.
Hanna-Barbera merchandise—Yogi Bear dolls, Flintstone paint sets, etc—last year grossed 43 million dollars. The cartoons are seen in 38 countries by an estimated 300 million people.
This week the Hanna Barbera offices here received, a fan letter on "The Flint-stones"—now also a comic strip in The Press—which they cherish. It was from a viewer in Russia who watches 'The Flintstones" on a TV channel in Helsinki, Finland. The English was faltering, but the Russian got across the idea that like many other people he digs “The Flintstones.”
"I wonder if we've got 'em saying 'Yabba-dabba-doo' in Russian," mused Joe Barbera.
Present for the "Top Cat" kickoff were most of the actors who provide the voices: Arnold Stang who is the title character, a breezy Runyon-esque Manhattan alley cat; Maurice Gosfield who is another of the cats.
The "Top Cat" party had gotten underway at 6 p. m. and was swinging pretty well by air time at 8:30. There was one brief interval during the Steve Allen show, which preceded it, when stillness fell over the room.
This was when Allen introduced a brief cartoon segment on his show. This was a New York-done animation and the California animators of Hanna-Barbera rushed to the room's many TV sets to inspect it.
One kept his face not three inches from the screen during the brief cartoon insert on the Allen show.
"Brush work is kind of rough," he said to a colleague. "But the jokes are good." The other nodded in agreement.
But when "Top Cat" came on absolute hush fell over the room. The lights were lowered. It was like curtain time at a Broadway opening or the first pitch of a World Series.
When it was over there was wild applause. People shook hands with one another, "You got another winner, Joe," someone told Barbera.
"Thanks," he said gratefully. “I like it. You like it. Now if the public just likes it. . .”

By the way, there was a little confusion at the time about the first episode that aired. The ad above lists "The $1,000,000 Derby" (animated by Ken Muse) and that is what Variety reviewed two days later. But there were a few ads with a drawing from "Top Cat Falls in Love" in some papers. It actually aired October 18th. I can only guess the network made a late switch. I don’t know what the production order was.

Top Cat showed up on the 1961-62 prime time schedule along with a host of other new animated series. Networks thought they’d have another Flintstones-like success on their hands. They didn’t. The prime-time animation fad died, though Hanna-Barbera convinced ABC to give it a go the following season with a show just like The Flintstones—except in reverse. It would be set in the future, not the past. It was cancelled before the TV year was up.

But Top Cat was only a failure in prime time. The same 30 episodes were run over and over again for years. It’s never been among my favourite H-B shows, but it has a great cast and wonderful background music by Hoyt Curtin and his session men.

Saturday 18 September 2021

Promoting Top Cat With Arnold Stang

Top Cat had a top cast.

Marvin Kaplan (Meet Millie) and John Stephenson (The People’s Choice, Bold Venture) had both worked on television series. Leo DeLyon appeared in nightclubs. And since Top Cat was meant to invoke memories of Phil Silvers’ quick-talking Sgt. Bilko, who better to cast as the main sidekick than Maurice Gosfield, who performed the same function on Bilko as Pvt. Doberman.

Casting T.C. himself was a bit of a challenge. Film actor Michael O’Shea was tried out but couldn’t handle the dialogue. You can read more in this post. Daws Butler was tried out but he was already doing a Silvers-like voice as Hokey Wolf. Finally, Arnold Stang won the part.

By 1961, when Top Cat first aired, Stang had distinguished himself on radio, television and film (live action and cartoon). And like many stars, he was pushed out onto a publicity tour for his show. During a stop in his hometown of New York City, the Daily News talked to him about the series, his career, the Hanna-Barbera studio, and cats. It was published November 12, 1961.

Arnold Stang Likes Doing Voice of ‘Top Cat’ on TV

Appearances are deceptive. There's Arnold Stang, for example. For years you've laughed at him; you've thought of him as such a funny, helpless, lovable dope, a pint-sized schlemiel. But you've been wrong. He's really a very smart fellow.
Arnold proved that emphatically, when as a pupil in our town's Townsend Harris High School he won a gold medal for the highest state-wide scholastic average. He also gave evidence of his capabilities through successful appearances on radio shows, among them those of Joe Penner, Henry Morgan and Orson Welles, plus many hilarious TV stints with Ed Sullivan, Perry Como and other stars.
The distraught, squeaky voiced, rabbit-like youth with horn-rimmed glasses seen on television bore no resemblance to the serious, sedate man who sat beside me in the Beverly Hills Trader Vic restaurant. There, amidst the Polynesian surroundings, he told me why after many years of appearing as Arnold Stang, he had consented to become a mere voice, that of the title role in the new cartoon series. "Top Cat" (ABC-TV, Wednesdays, 8:30 to 9 P.M.).
Accepts Challenge
Speaking in low, well-modulated tones, he said simply: "It's a challenge and I've accepted it."
"But aren't you doing what most actors hate to do—eliminating your personal identification?" I asked.
Arnold, a mere five-foot-three and weighing only 103 pounds, squinted his brown eyes and answered: "Although I've been starred and featured, I've never tried to have a show of my own. Doing a series before the TV cameras is the surest way of eliminating yourself.
"Just look at the list of comedians who used to be on the air week after week, years ago—Wally Cox, George Gobel, Henry Morgan and others. They were consumed by television. Jack Benny and Red Skelton are about the only survivors.
Real Characters
"As for 'Top Cat,' in my opinion, it's not only a highly amusing animated feature but it presents characters who are just as real as a show in which people appear before the cameras."
"But the fact is that the audience only hears your voice." I said. "They don't see Arnold Stang." "That's where the challenge comes in," he answered. "Just through my words I have to create a three-dimensional cat out of a one-dimensional picture.
Good Radio Actors
"And believe me, you've got to be a good actor to do that. But come to think of it, that's what performers and sound men had to do all the time in radio. Nothing on the air was ever as funny as some of those sound effects on the old Jack Benny and Fibber McGee and Molly shows."
"How does a fellow act the role of a cat in one of these cartoons ?" I wanted to know.
"It's quite a job." Arnold explained. "But the firm of Hanna and Barbera, who created ‘Top Cat,’ are geniuses when it comes to producing animated cartoons. You know what they did with ‘The Flintstones’ and ‘Huckleberry Hound.’ So they've worked out a good system for their live actors.
‘Story Board’
“First of all, there's a 'story board.’ It's a sheet of paper containing about 30 frames of pictures. These represent the key incidents of the action. While looking at this, we actors have a script of the dialogue; in this way we can visualize the scenes in which our lines are spoken.
"This takes place in a recording studio. We read the script and our words are taped. We convey character through our tones. For example, as Top Cat, I have a low, throaty voice, one that suggests a lovable con man."
"Now that you play a feline, are you fond of cats?" I asked.
"Oh, I like 'em; but I can take ‘em or leave ‘em," Arnold told me. "I've always owned dogs; but some of my best friends have cats."
Cats Aren't Villains
"Why is it that cats are so often portrayed as villains?"
"I don't think they are anymore," he said. "Today, most persons regard cats as very intelligent animals, strong-minded, determined and independent. Why, even such a virile fellow as the late Ernest Hemingway was fond of them.
"Incidentally, this is not the first time I've been associated with an animal. In one show I was the voice of a gorilla, and some years ago, I appeared in an NBC color special, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’ in which, believe it or not, I portrayed the giant. And that production had an animal ballet. And guess who played the hind half of a cow? None other than Jason Robards Jr!"
Audience Laughed
The son of an attorney, and the nephew of a man who at one time headed a New York City school district, Arnold was born in Chelsea, Mass. Sept. 28, 1923. Many years ago, he sent from there a postcard to the famous Children's Hour radio show asking for an audition. Getting an affirmative response, he appeared garbed in knickers and wearing glasses, to give a serious reading of Poe's poem, “The Raven.” But his voice was changing at the time. "No sooner had I read the opening line than the audience roared. From that time on, although a serious youngster, I was tabbed as a comedian," Arnold recalled.
Soon he was on radio as a regular with Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen and Milton Berle. He created what is now known as the "Stang type" of characterization in "Duffy's Tavern" and the "Easy Aces" series. When TV came, Arnold made a hit as Francis, the stagehand, in the Berle shows.
A 'Serious' Actor
Arnold also appeared in many Broadway plays including "Sailor, Beware," and not long ago scored as a serious actor with his moving portrayal of Sparrow in the movie, "The Man With the Golden Arm." His success in that role was one of the highlights of Arnold's life. For despite the laughs he evokes, like most comedians, he has always wanted to be a "serious" actor.
"As a matter of fact, I'm a serious guy," he said. And always a student, he might have added. That's why, after his family had moved to New York, he was able to win that scholastic honor at Townsend Harris High.
Lives on Coast
Following years of shuttling between New York and Hollywood, Arnold, his wife, Jo Anne, and their two children, David, 10, and Deborah, 9, have finally moved to the Coast. There they bought a house in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles which, unfortunately, was destroyed by fire last week.
Stang, unlike some stars, has a special fondness for the press. He said: "My wife once worked for the Sunday section of The News and I met her the first time when she came to interview me for the now-gone Brooklyn Eagle."

Stang was one of a number of actors who fudged about their age, likely to get younger roles in radio in the ‘30s and ‘40s. He was five years older than he let on.

Screen Gems tried a different kind of publicity tour involving Stang before Top Cat aired. Here’s a description from Variety, Sept. 27, 1961.

A Screen Gems Primer On How to Promote A Cartoon ('Top Cat')
ABC-TV is preeming "Top Cat" tonight (Wed.), but there was a problem originally of how to promote the cartoon series via one of tv's traditional pre-preem road tours to warm up local audiences.
Screen Gems, the outfit that sold "Cat" to the web, solved the touring problem. SG flack chief Gene Plotknik, giving his show the edge over the three other cartoon series preeming this fall, got producer Hanna-Barabera [sic] to have Arnold Stang and Maurice Gosfield, the show's main voices, prerecord five-minutes of banter with local tv emcees. Gosfield and Stang ask the questions and spaces are left on the disk for answers, which any local performer can answer.
That accounts for the voice part of promo. As for "bodies," Plotnik got Eaves to turn out costume replicas of the cartoon characters involved, Top Cat and his pal Benny the Ball, which are being bicycled around to ABC affils in special containers. Costumes have been worn by office boys and flack gals at the local station level, who have gestured, mimed and danced to the words of Stang and Gosfield.
The "Cat" has played nine major markets since Aug. 15.
Main trouble? Plotnik says that there were no press interviews as on other promo tours. "With the press these days," he says, "you can't get down the answers in advance."

Despite the fine cast, which also included veteran Warner Bros. character actor Allen Jenkins, and an effective music library by Hoyt Curtin, the show didn’t survive. Daily Variety reported less than two months after Top Cat debuted that ABC was negotiating for a revival of The Rebel to replace the cartoon series in mid-season. That didn’t happen, but ABC announced reruns would appear on Saturday mornings the following year (Variety, March 14, 1962).

Fans will argue the show was just as popular as H-B’s other prime time animated half hours, and they might have a point. Reruns showed up on small screens season after season, first on regular TV then cable; a flash-animated movie was released in 2011; an “origin story” computer-animated film came out to major yawns several years later; and he’s one of the characters in the Jellystone! streaming series.

Arnold Stang is no longer with us (Leo De Lyon is apparently the only cast member who is) but you can always pull out home video with the 30 episodes and enjoy him one more time.

Saturday 21 August 2021

Before Chopper

Voices! We need voices!

That was the cry at the newly-founded H-B Enterprises in 1957. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera went out and found two men who could create just about any voice that was needed in their cartoons—Daws Butler and Don Messick. Eventually, the studio had a number of actors who could fill all kinds of roles; Hal Smith, Mel Blanc, Paul Frees and John Stephenson come to mind.

It’s odd, then, that the studio would hire a man who really only did one voice. We don’t mean Jimmy Weldon, as his Yakky Doodle was a specialty voice. We mean the man who played Yakky’s cohort, Vance Colvig, Jr.

With rare exception, the son of Pinto Colvig voiced the growly Chopper. Odder still was that Vance Colvig was capable of doing all kinds of voices. I don’t know why Joe Barbera didn’t bring him in more often. Perhaps he was just too busy. By 1961, when Yakky first appeared on TV, Vance was on KTLA daily as Bozo the Clown.

He worked on one cartoon at Hanna-Barbera before the Yakky series got underway. The Quick Draw McGraw Show was coming on the air in 1959 and Barbera was on the hunt for new voices. Colvig played Tombstone Jones and narrated “Bad Guys Disguise,” the second Quick Draw cartoon that aired.

Here’s a profile (and photo via ABC) of him from the May 18, 1947 issue of Radio Life, a truly wonderful publication which published feature stories on all kinds of people working in radio in Los Angeles. It gives you an idea of the talent he had, and Hanna-Barbera could have used.

What Makes a Gag Man
By Betty Hammer
THE first time we met Vance Colvig, he blew into a restaurant where we were lunching, grabbed a waitress, waltzed the her down narrow aisle between the tables, barked like a dog, told her he was burning with mad desire for her, sat down and ordered a cup of coffee. A friend introduced us. Vance leered like Dracula, grabbed our arm, twisted it around his neck and shouted, "Leave me alone, I tell you," and, turning to the other diners, "She's crazy about me—won't leave me alone!"
By the time his coffee arrived and the waitress had nimbly eluded his clutches, we learned that, naturally, Vance was a gag man and radio actor, that his father was Pinto Colvig, gag man and radio actor; and that he always entered restaurants that way. Then, taking a spoon, he dipped it in and out of his coffee, holding the handle with both hands in the manner of a man rowing a boat and bassoed, "Ai yoock neeyem, Ai yoock neeyem," in a pretty good rendition of the "Volga Boatman." He borrowed a cigarette from us with the words, "No, thank you—never touch 'em," pretended to pound it into his forehead, pulled it out of his ear, stuck it under his lower lip, struck a match and made as if to light his nose. "Been smoking all my life and they never hurt me a bit," he exclaimed as he banged his knee reflex, rose in the air about two feet and emitted a cloud of smoke and a wheeze that sounded like a ship tearing away from its moorings. We learned that he always relaxed with coffee and a cigarette that way.
Calmed Down?
Since that first meeting, we've gotten to know Vance rather well and he no longer goes through quite such an elaborate routine. Now he merely bites us on the neck, tells us we have "dan-n-n-ncing eyes" and begs us to fly with him to San Luis Obispo.
Is Vance Colvig like this because he is a gag writer—or is he a gag writer because he's like this? We're inclined to think the latter. Many a gag man is a pretty Gloomy Gus who saves his humor for a paying job. Vance throws away many a hilarious routine on a group of strangers waiting at a bus stop, merely because he feels like entertaining anyone and everyone—occasionally even when they don't want to be entertained, but that's one of the hazards of the profession.
Or maybe it's inherited. His pop, Pinto, is a well-known cartoonist, gag man and the voice behind many a weird radio and cartoon effect. When producers call Colvig senior for a part he is unable to take because of a previous commitment, he usually refers them to Colvig junior and keeps the work in the family. Recently, the two worked together on the Frank Morgan show as the voice of "Baldy" the sheep dog (Pinto) and 'Filbert" the gopher (Vance)—and in the Capitol record album, "Bozo and His Rocket Ship."
Vance has done the gags for Tom Breneman's "Breakfast in Hollywood" program for the past four years and has contributed laugh lines to the Jack Kirkwood show, Mel Blanc program, Kay Kyser's "College," and "Bride and Groom," in addition to his free-lance work. He has barked for Asta, the dog in the "Thin Man" pictures, done voices for George Pal Puppetoons, played a pig on "Gildersleeve," a dog on the Dinah Shore show, a rooster on the Sinatra show and Japanese villains on "Pacific Story," among many other strange roles.
"I got my first part when I was six months old," he told us when we asked about his career. "It was a movie for Herbert Hoover's relief mission to Belgium during the last war and it showed a poor little starving Belgian baby as contrasted with a laughing, fat, healthy American baby. I was the laughing, fat, healthy American baby." Kid roles in movies followed and Vance supplied juvenile laughs in "Mickey McGuire" and "Buster Brown" comedies.
Can't Tell How Come
How do you get to be a gag man? "I only wish I knew," is Vance's answer. Every time Breneman mentions Vance's name on the air, he receives letters from people who want to become gag men too. It makes him unhappy, because he'd like to be able to say the magic words that lead to radio, but he just doesn't know what they are.
If you who are reading this are incipient gag men, you'll say, "All right then, how did he get started?" And the not-very-glamorous answer is—working in the parking lot at NBC. He started button-holing passing comedians and selling them gags as the poor fellows rushed to rehearsals. It was Kay Kyser who finally decided that the little guy who kept the boys in the parking lot and the big time comedians laughing with his gags and antics might do the same for a nationwide audience. That's how one gag man latched on to radio and that's the only way Vance knows about.
Of course Los Angeles City College helped. Our hero took radio and dramatics courses and graced the casts of "Merry Wives of Windsor," "Romeo and Juliet" and Gilbert and Sullivan's "Gondoliers" ("I played the title role—along with eleven other guys"). He also appeared in a collegiate musical, "Zis Boom Bah!" which was so professional it was booked into the Orpheum Theater and did a bit of touring. Movie star Jeanne Crain was an obscure cast member. Glamorous threesome on the campus in those days was Vance, Donna Reed and Alexis Smith! Vance further informed us that prior to his college days, radio prof Jerry Blunt had turned out such radio talent as writer True Boardman, Elliott Lewis, and Mary Shipp, who is more widely known on the air as "Lady Esther"!
Gives Parties
Vance lives in a fascinating little house perched dangerously high up in the Hollywood hills. His front room contains shelves of books and records and a collection of original ceramics made by a prominent local artist. From the hillside he has gathered bamboo stalks and fashioned them into shades for his windows and porch. He enjoys doing his own cooking and he'll make you a wonderful cup of coffee by grinding the beans in an old- fashioned coffee grinder. He holds an almost permanent open house and is always happy to welcome a friend (or ten) to sit and trade gags for an evening. He has a party almost every Saturday night and the phone rings constantly with calls which usually say, "Vance, I'm coming up tonight but I'm with five other people, and ..." "Swell! Bring 'em up," is the usual answer. Ill-assorted or congenial, he sets them all to playing "Indications," a particularly noisy game with intellectual overtones. Everyone becomes loud and friendly. Once Vance found Fred Beck in one of his Saturday night groups, but can't remember how he got there.
He likes screwball comedy the best and particularly enjoys writing for comedians of that type. His love of music and literature encompasses all types of the two expressions. He is a superb pantomimist and enjoys that particular talent in others. He has boundless enthusiasm and is tremendously encouraging to any expression of talent. His constant companion is a slightly insane red cocker spaniel called O'Malley in honor of the fairy godfather in the "Barnaby" comic strip. O'Malley, according to Vance, loves to chase and retrieve sticks, though he plays on a hillside abounding in rabbits. "If I throw a stick into the bush, O'Malley goes after it, out jumps a rabbit, and O'Malley happily reappears with his stick. Should I try throwing rabbits?" queries Colvig.

Colvig moved on after Hanna-Barbera to appear on camera in movies and TV shows. He played a number of characters at Knott’s Berry Farm in southern California. He died March 4, 1991, losing a battle with cancer (as did too many other cartoon actors). He rated a six-paragraph obituary on the Associated Press wire. It mentioned his father’s most famous cartoon character. It didn’t mention his.

Saturday 7 August 2021

A Few Frames of Huck and the Gang

One of the fun parts about the Hanna-Barbera shows for Kellogg’s was the little cartoons in between the cartoons. Various characters got to interact and promote the next cartoon. It was special back in the ‘60s; today there endless cross-overs, mash-ups and artificial “universes.”

Originally, it was cut-and-dried. The various shows had certain characters, though it appears The Yogi Bear Show was rushed into production and not all cartoons were ready when it debuted on January 30, 1961 (the same held true for Yogi’s replacement, Hokey Wolf, on The Huckleberry Hound Show; he finally appeared on the week of March 13, 1961, according to TV listings of the day).

Things started changing in the 1966-67 TV season. Mattel purchased licensing rights to the Huck show from Screen Gems and worked out a rather convoluted co-op ad agreement with Kellogg’s that meant Mattel ads on the Kellogg’s-sponsored Yogi Bear and Woody Woodpecker shows. It would appear, based on a story in Television Age of April 24, 1967, the individual cartoons were made available to stations as well.

But the half-hour Huck show carried on in one form or another into the 1970s and ‘80s. Reader Austin Kelly points out a 16mm reel of the show is being sold on eBay. The unusual thing is it does not contain a Huck cartoon. It has reruns of shorts starring Yogi Bear, Hokey Wolf and Yakky Doodle.

This mean the opening/closing animation had to change. The original from 1958 featured an assortment of Kellogg’s cereal mascots, eg. Tony the Tiger. It was reanimated to include Yakky and Hokey. It would appear the lettering card was re-used from the original closing.

Instead of Tony Junior getting his head bashed leaving the circus tent, Yakky gets the honour. Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.

There’s not a lot I can remember about these re-worked Huck mini-cartoons. The Kellogg’s rooster still appeared, even if Huck’s door is not in a circus tent any more.

Unfortunately, these frame-grabs from the mini-cartoons are a little ho-hum. Hanna-Barbera and/or Screen Gems didn’t seem to care that Pixie and Dixie weren’t in this cartoon; I couldn’t tell you if they were in the re-worked series.

Oh, the character on the Hokey Wolf title card below isn’t Yowp. It’s 1961 and Hanna-Barbera is already borrowing from itself. In the actual cartoon, some of the dog’s poses look like they came from Snuffles. While the hunter is English like Yowp’s owner, Daws Butler gave him a little faster delivery.

How many of these mini-cartoons are in the Hanna-Barbera archives is, I imagine, anyone’s guess. And I still hold out no hope we’ll ever see future volumes of Huckleberry Hound Show DVDs, including the ones featuring Hokey Wolf and the frames you see above.