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.


  1. I don't understand what he means by "out of character". Sounds fine to me, I knew the show well as a kid.

    1. It sounds fine to me, Ginger. Joe was a lot more demanding than I was back in the 70s and 80s when I did voice recording sessions.

    2. I know what you mean, Yowp. I have also done many voice over sessions . Some character stuff. Many directors wanting a certain inflection or nuance to a word, but Joe was pretty demanding. I also remember the story about Howard Morris basically telling Joe " What he can do ". With all the ' vocal fry " these days, Joe would probably jump out a window.

  2. As Walt Disney once said, "Why make monkeys funny and human, when they already are." Of course the Disney studio made an orangutan funny with King Louie, but who's counting. Magilla's cartoons are strangely paced, they feel very slow in comparison to H-B's earlier TV cartoons. I always liked Ricochet Rabbit and Droop-A-Long the best out of the three segments, at least Richochet moved fast. What other monkey or gorilla cartoon characters were big hits, Meany, Miny and Mo?

  3. I thought this would be about Making with the Magilla..Loved (and still do) Punkin Puss/Mushmouse, the hillbillly Tom/Jerry.:)

  4. As for other gorilla characters, years after Magilla, HELP! IT'S THE HAIR BEAR BUNCH and HEY! IT'S THE KING featured recurring ape characters, and of course, there was THE GREAT GRAPE APE, all of whom would qualify as gorillas. But they were all after Magilla. H-B was always looking for new species to base characters on, after beginning with dogs, cats, mice, a horse, and a burro, resorting to ants and squids soon after using a wolf, fox, mountain lion. turtle, African lion, hyena and alligator a year or two earlier, and would offer a hippo, monkey, polar bear, seal, squirrel, mole, a lamb, an elephant, and whatever Bingo is supposed to be (a gorilla?), shortly after this. Had two of the unmade series mentioned above been picked up, we'd have seen a tiger and a hawk added to that list.

    I suspect that I'd have more affection for Magilla if he'd been voiced by Daws Butler. Ricochet is Don Messick, and besides his appealing design, simply places him in the H-B "family" category, so I loved that third of the series largely for that reason, besides it being a QUICK DRAW spin-off of sorts (as Scooter Rabbit).

    Don, have I asked previously if you had any idea how "Toing" was supposed to be pronounced--"tooing," "towing," or as onomatopoeia, "twoing" (like "twang")? I suspect there's a pun involved in this somehow, but I'm blanking on what it might be under any of these choices. The model sheets make him look like a standard-issue tiger with a cap and a tie being pursued by a hunter on an elephant, but how that relates to the name, I can't fathom. Not having any idea what his backstory beyond that was supposed to be puts us at a disadvantage.

    Also, if "Hillbilly Hawk" was recorded right AFTER the Magilla session, I'm wondering if we can infer that it was eventually replaced by Punkin Puss and Mushmouse? The problem with that theory is that, only a year later, the Hillbilly Bears arise on the ATOM ANT SHOW, stretching the very tired-by-then inherent comedy of drawling, slow-thinking rural southern types to the breaking point. As BEVERLY HILLBILLIES was #1 in the ratings in 1963, this makes some sense, but I never got the idea that the company was that desperate for ideas that they'd go there for three separate series.

    And speaking of model sheets, do they exist for either Hillbilly Hawk or The Suburbans? I have copies of designs for The Henpecks, The Jaguars, The Incredibles, Mayka Boo Boo, Hunter, and Toing, but both are new ones to me, the latter under either of its names. If not, do you know whether The Suburbans was supposed to feature human or animal characters?

    Lastly, you mention that there were supposed to be four Ideal-sponsored H-B cartoons. MAGILLA and PETER POTAMUS were obviously the first two--any idea of what the other two were meant to be? The only syndicated '63-'68 H-B series after PETER were SPACE KIDETTES and SAMSON & GOLIATH (both General Mills), plus SINBAD JR. (after the Sam Singer first season), LAUREL & HARDY and ABBOTT & COSTELLO (which I don't believe were sponsored/bartered, though the Wikipedia pages are so ludicrously full of easily checked errors of fact and erroneous assumptions that it's really hard to tell). Might the Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel shows have been developed for Ideal, then sold to NBC instead? Seems like someone must have pulled out of the deal well before the contracted five years.

    1. All of this is hard to say. As for the last, I am reminded how HB had a ten-year deal with NBC that put Ruff 'n' Reddy on the air--then nothing else.
      I know nothing about these shows. All I have is track lists from recording sessions (and some tapes were dubs from other tapes for which I don't have track lists). Denise asked me if I'd like Earl's music records. Unfortunately the one thing I was looking for wasn't among the data.
      I figured Toing would be pronounced like Boing (as in McBoing Boing). If I had known about these proposals earlier, I would have asked Jerry Eisenberg as he sat in on development meetings.

    2. I thought Space Kidettes and Young Samson were NBC shows, not syndicated. Am I misremembering?

  5. Toing sounds like Cool Cat from Warner Bros. doesn't he? Tiger with a cap, pursued by a hunter on an elephant. The animation in the Cool Cat cartoons has a lot of H/B tropes, slightly better animated. Fascinating stuff!

    1. And H-B sound FX,too.


    2. Yes Mark, it does appear that Alex Lovy, who may well have been some part of the Toing Tiger concept, recycled the designs for Cool Cat. The model sheets are by Iwao Takamoto and Jerry Eisenberg, but Lovy may have been the layout artist on the storyboards or even the writer-creator. Obviously, if H-B never released it, it wouldn't have violated anyone's copyright.

      Thanks, Don, for answering my questions. Forgive me--I thought that perhaps I'd forgotten one of your previous posts that I've read over the past ten+ years that mentioned the unreleased projects mentioned here. My fascination for what might have been goes back to the '80s, when I wrote about 150 pages of a book on unbought TV pilots before someone trumped me before I could submit it by issuing a book that covered the exact same ground. I always wondered if there were any H-B cartoon pilots that were never aired which actually got all the way to film. I know that in the instances of Clampett's BEANY & CECIL and Hal Seeger's MILTON THE MONSTER, unsold pilot shorts were aired as part of their runs, but I don't recall any instances where this happened with any H-B series (though the trio of Braxton Bear cartoons in the LOOPY DE LOOP series come awfully close). But even discovering new "classic-era" H-B characters (especially funny animals) is something I'll never tire of discovering, whether it's Harebrain Hare or Toing Tiger or even unpurchased Alex Toth-era super-heroes, in model sheet form or even just the concept stage. So I'm just grateful to be able to add two new ones to my still rather short list!

      Does anybody know of any others I may have missed?

  6. Irving is most likely Irv Cottler, one of the session titans Hoyt loved using on his scores.

  7. Yes, they were NBC shows, but they were fully sponsored by General Mills, like many network series through the fifties and sixties. I can't recall if the ABC runs of MAGILLA and PETER POTAMUS in '66-'67 retained their Ideal sponsorship after their initial syndicated runs ended in 1965, nor can I recall if QUICK DRAW McGRAW retained its Kellogg's sponsorship when CBS picked it up in 1963-66, though it probably did. But in each case, their initial production was financed by those sponsors who had their name on the programs through their original runs. Unsponsored series were called sustaining programs, which was true of all the other CBS and NBC H-B series from 1965 onward, which had multiple sponsors, as networks took the responsibility for selling commercial time.

    1. Interesting for the time that two competing cereal makers sponsored the same time! Steve C

  8. Do I have permission to be "that guy" and ask if you have any more music from Magilla Gorilla?

    I know you probably don't, but I figured I'd take the opportunity now to ask if there IS anything instead of leaping to the whole "Please share more" thing.

    1. No, Michael, I don't have any cues at all from the show. I think the Rhino CDs a number of years back had a good portion of what was written for the show.

    2. May I also have the permission to be "that guy" and ask if every Flintstone cue has been released. If not, why?

  9. Alexandra Rutt15 June 2023 at 14:20

    Hey I just wanted to say that i'm a huge fan of your blog. You've helped preserve so much obscure animation history and you should be very proud. You've also given me a better appreciation for the early HB cartoons (which i mostly ignored as a kid in favor of Scooby and Wacky Races). Just amazing stuff and i'm glad you're still kicking.

  10. Out of curiosity, do the recording logs say anything about any cues being made for a Flintstones project that never materalized?
    There's a batch of Curtin cues he wrote for something Flintstones-related early on that I have to imagine were scored for some unmade project, considering how they feel like they were scored for certain scenes (the cue you've dubbed the "March of the 10 Little Flintstones", the Hitchcock pastiche used as a theme for Alfie Gator and a good chunk of the "mystery" underscore heard in "Cluck and Dagger" are several examples from this session), possibly made to accompany a storyboard of some kind.

  11. Sorry to have missed most of the life of the blog (my loss!) but I wanted to thank you profusely for posting that pristine tape of the band session. Rather than finding it repetitive, I thrilled to hear Hoyt and the boys pursue that magic take of the end title, complete with the E-flat on top. Irv (Cottler?) in particular is killing it, and Hoyt seems to be having a blast.