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.