Sunday 28 May 2023

Musical Magilla

As a cartoon show, Magilla Gorilla was a great merchandising opportunity.

Hanna-Barbera already had a marketing deal in place with the Ideal Toy Corp., which inflicted Pebbles Flintstone on television viewers (girl dolls sell better than boy dolls, claimed Ideal, so “Fred Jr.” remained on the drawing board). In August 1963, Ideal decided to invest $30 million over five years to sponsor four animated series in more than 150 cities. By October 7, Broadcasting magazine announced the first would be Magilla Gorilla and Friends. It had a little girl named Ogee (more girl dolls) and occasionally featured a dachshund (perfect for plush dog toy sales).

A half hour promotional film called Here Comes a Star was filmed at the Hanna-Barbera studio for airing on stations that would be broadcasting Magilla in January 1964. Young Me liked the promo. I got to see Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera and the outside of the shining new H-B studio on Cahuenga. And a real staff meeting to come up with ideas for the show! (Writer Tony Benedict, one of the people in the scene, admitted to me it was all scripted. And unfortunate alcoholic Dan Gordon is slurring his lines). But the cartoon show itself reeked of familiarity and it became the first H-B show I stopped watching.

Why a gorilla, you ask? Bill and Joe weren’t going to say “because Ideal can sell Magilla-in-a-boxes and Magilla pull-string talking dolls.” So the studio (I suspect that was the source) came up with this news release that papers could publish and drop in the call letters, date and time of the local Magilla affiliate. The Cincinnati Post published this on Dec. 28, 1963.

Magilla to Remove Chilla From Image of Bad Gorilla
Gorillas have a virile, vigorous and violent public image.
The way they shake the bars in the zoo denotes great strength. The memory of King Kong climbing the Empire State Building to swat airplanes like flies conjures up phenomenal animal power. Even Tarzan gulped a little when the great apes thumped their chests.
BUT IF ANYONE feels like wagering a bunch of bananas, it's a good bet that a gorilla by the name of Magilla is going to be tomorrow’s lovable TV glamor boy.
Magilla Gorilla is the hero of a new cartoon series that begins the week of Jan. 13. It will be carried by WCPO-TV.
Magilla is the creation of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the hottest team in the animated cartoon business, and if anybody can make a gorilla lovable, they can. Cavemen had a rotten reputation for hundreds of years. Then Hanna and Barbera Productions created "The Flintstone,” and the public couldn’t get enough of them.
Besides “The Flintstones," Hanna and Barbera have created “Yogi Bear," “Huckleberry Hound," “Quick Draw McGraw" and “Top Cat."
MAGILLA GORILLA, as millions of children soon will learn, is a resident of Peebles Pet Shop, which would dearly love to sell him, or even give him away.
Each week poor Magilla will bravely embark on another adventure that somehow backfires. He makes an excellent pro-football player in one episode, until a member of the opposing team bribes him with a banana and he is taken back to the pet shop in disgrace.
Another adventure finds Magilla in the Army (assigned to guerrilla warfare, of course), and the less said about his behavior when he is sent aloft in the nose cone of a rocket, the better.
To Hanna and Barbera, it doesn't seem at all strange to have settled on a gorilla as a hero.
“IF YOU TRY a cartoon story today with tiny elves dancing and singing in child-like voices while leaves float away into the water and bunnies hop about with twitchy noses, you're lost," they explain. “Children will tolerate such foolishness but they won’t accept it. They’ve seen too many pointless, aimless pretties that insulted their intelligence. In the area of comedy, today’s child has a taste as sharp as his parents."
Magilla Gorilla will headline the half-hour weekly show, but the program also will feature two other regular segments, one involving a western sheriff called Ricochet Rabbit and his faithful deputy, Droop-Along Coyote, and the other recounting the running feud between a hillbilly cat and mouse, Punkin’ Puss and Mushmouse.
Magilla will make his debut at 6 p. m. Wednesday, Jan. 15 over Ch 9.

Now, let’s get to the real point of the post.

The late Earl Kress, I suspect while helping put together the Rhino Records Hanna-Barbera music discs years ago, dubbed (onto cassette) all kinds of cues by Hoyt Curtin written for the studio’s shows in the first half of the ‘60s. There’s an inch-high (get it?) stack of sheets from various music sessions, stating when and where they recorded, and some of them indicating the takes were not to be part of Curtin’s library. One session has the musicians guided through the Magilla theme. At almost 18 minutes, it’s a little repetitive, but it may be interesting to hear how a session went. And you may like to hear how the arrangements sounded without vocals over top.

The only musician identified is a drummer named Irving. Curtin can be heard in the background. Incidentally, the series’ credits say the theme was by Nelson Brock.

And here’s part of a voice session from October 8, 1963 with the unmistakeable voice of Joe Barbera trying to get what he wants out of Allan Melvin, who played Magilla, for a sponsored intro to the show. Joe isn’t terribly diplomatic. At one point, he tells Melvin he’s “completely out of character” and orders him to punch the sponsor’s name—IDEAL Toys.

Magilla lasted 31 episodes, with Mr. Peebles’ voice changing to Don Messick after Howie Morris told Barbera to go do something with himself.

There’s some cool stuff on this tape. Unfortunately Earl didn’t dub off all the master tapes (it would have taken forever) because there were cues written and recorded on Jan. 22, 1966 for Toing Tiger and The Suburbans (aka The Neighbors), and a main title theme with vocal for Hillbilly Hawk. None of them ever aired and Earl doesn’t appear to have copied them. But we’ll have another post here down the road with music you should remember.