Sunday 23 July 2023

Making The First Flintstones

“How long did it take to animate a Hanna-Barbera cartoon?”

That question has been put to the Yowp blog before. I could say “How should I know? I’m a cartoon dog,” but that answer is neither satisfactory nor altogether true.

Layout artist Bob Givens, who said he and Mike Maltese left Warner Bros. for H-B together in November 1958, recalled that Ken Muse was the fastest animator at the studio and could complete a 6 ½ minute cartoon (Huck, Yogi, etc.) in a week.

What about the half-hour shows, like The Flintstones or Jonny Quest? Well, we have a partial answer thanks to the late Earl Kress and his trusty filing cabinet.

Earl made copies of production records in the H-B file for the first dozen or so episodes of The Flintstones. These are invaluable as the episodes for the first two seasons had their closing animation removed in the 1960s and the same set of credits from one episode spliced onto the end of all of them. (As a kid, I was miffed. The voice credits said “Hal Smith – John Stephenson” and I knew they weren’t heard on some of the shows). When the DVDs were released, Earl oversaw new gang credits over the original animation (minus sponsor credits) so they were closer to how the shows originally aired.

More interesting, perhaps, are the dates (not always complete) about how long each show spent in layout and animation. These credits are not on DVD, either.

Unlike episodes in the fifth and sixth seasons, only one person animated each half hour. Unfortunately, the sheets don’t name any assistants; the studio had them, as a Variety story of Oct. 20, 1960 related how Bob Carr had been promoted from assistant to full animator.

You can click on each of these sheets to read them better. Regular readers here should know who the animators and other artists are who are recorded in these production logs, so I’ll skip commenting about them.

You’ll see it took about six weeks to animate each of the first two episodes put into production. Normally, the voice track is recorded first and then the animator goes to work. That isn’t the case here. It could very well be because the first few tracks were scrapped and the parts of Fred and Barney re-cast. Hal Smith related he was Barney opposite Bill Thompson’s Fred and Thompson (known better as the voice of Droopy at MGM) couldn’t maintain the growly voice that Barbera wanted for the character. (Barbera also wrote in his autobiography that Mel Blanc was not available when the show was first cast).

The animation checker for P-1 is Janet Gusdavison. A photo in the Mike Barrier collection shows she was at UPA in 1948. She can be found in the City Directory for Miami in 1941, so I presume she was working at the Fleischer studio then. She died in 1998.

The cameraman is Frank Paiker, who went back to the silent days in New York and the sound editor is Warner Leighton, who came to H-B from live action after time in the military. He was a Beverly Hills High School grad who died in 2005.

Emil Carle is the animation checker on P-2. He also animated a Pixie and Dixie cartoon. More about him in this post. Roy Wade was responsible for some of the camera work; he had been a cameraman at MGM and happened to be Bill Hanna’s wife’s brother. The sound editor is Joe Ruby, who should need no introduction, especially to fans of a cartoon Great Dane he co-created (make that “Rate Rane”).

P-2, “The Flintstone Flyer,” was the debut episode on Sept. 30, 1960. P-1, “The Swimming Pool,” was the third episode to air on Oct. 14, 1960.

By episodes three and four, the animators are working after the track is recorded.

The checker on P-4 is Annie Lee Holm, whose obit on IMDB says she started her cartoon career with Walt Disney. She died at age 61 in 1986.

Cameraman Vic Shank was a World War Two vet who worked for Austenal Labs in Chicago. In 1969, he was employed by a sports car dealership but the next year, he was the head of Animated Film Service, a film distribution company. He died in 1974. Sound editor Greg Watson had been with Hanna and Barbera at MGM under Jim Faris.

P-3, “The Prowler,” was the 14th episode to air on Dec. 30, 1960, while P-4, “The Baby Sitters,” was the 7th on November 11, 1960.

The voice cast list for P-5 is incomplete. Bill Thompson supplies his Wallace Wimple/Droopy voice as Mr. Slate. No, not the Slate who’s Fred’s boss. This one puts up his kids as collateral so he can buy a pop-up toaster (from the Buddy Buddy jewelry store run by Frank Nelson).

Remarkably, Don Patterson animated both P-4 and P-5 at the same time. It took about seven weeks.

The checker on P-5 in Pat Helmuth. A story in the Monrovia News-Post in 1980 indicates she studied at the Art Institute in Chicago before moving to California, and worked for the Disney studio. She opened her own shop in 1963 and made pottery as well as painted in acrylics. The sound editor on the cartoon is Don Douglas. He has the distinction of working on the last Warner Bros. cartoon, the Cool Cat epic Injun Trouble, which employed Bob Givens as its layout artist.

P-5, “The Engagement Ring,” was the ninth episode to air on Nov. 25, 1960 while Production P-6, “No Help Wanted,” was episode four, airing on Oct. 21, 1960.

P-8 should actually read “The Drive-In.” It aired Dec. 23, 1960, the 13th episode. P-7, “At the Races,” was the eighth episode, appearing on ABC stations on Nov. 18, 1960. It was written by Syd Zelinka, a radio writer for Groucho Marx and the team of Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore, who moved into television to work for Jackie Gleason (both on The Honeymooners and on his variety show) and Phil Silvers on Bilko. He died in 1981.

P-9 is the first cartoon where Jerry Mann provided voices for Hanna-Barbera. He was an impressionist and comedian who showed up on a number of Tom and Jerry cartoons in the 1940s. The cast list doesn’t indicate that Duke Mitchell sang as Fred Flintstone. And what is it with Hanna-Barbera characters and drums? Barney plays the drums in this cartoon and “The Swimming Pool.” Benny the Ball pounds a pail with drum sticks in Top Cat. Then George Jetson plays a drum kit in the Jet Screamer episode.

It took Ken Muse seven weeks to animate this episode. My guess is he was working on the Kellogg’s shows at the same time.

P-10 has Fred turned into the snooty Frederick, where Alan Reed digs his Falstaff Openshaw voice from the Fred Allen radio show out of retirement. Howard McNear uses his quirky Floyd the barber voice from The Andy Griffith Show on this cartoon as the doctor.

P-9, “Hot Lips Hannigan,” was the second episode to air on Oct. 7, 1960, while P-10, “The Split Personality,” was show number 5, airing on October 28th. I cannot explain why both were “approved” (or by whom) after the dates they aired.

Yes, Production 11 is the one where Dino talks like Phil Silvers, though you’ll notice the voice list calls the character “Snork.” I’ve always wondered if Jerry Mann auditioned for the Silvers-inspired lead in Top Cat months later (Arnold Stang was the third choice). This may have been the first Warren Foster-Mike Maltese team-up; they didn’t write together at Warners.

P-11, “The Snorkasaurus Hunter,” was the 18th episode to air on Jan. 27, 1961, while P-12, “Hollyrock, Here I Come,” appeared on Dec. 2, 1960, as the tenth episode.

Nancy Russell provides several voices in P-13. A wild guess is she is the Nancy Guild Russell in the 1950 census for Santa Monica whose occupation is “motion picture actress.” She appeared in a Life magazine article in 1945, was signed by 20th Century Fox, then married fellow contract player Charlie Russell in 1947 (they divorced 2 1/2 years later). She was 73 when she died of emphysema in 1999. You can read a little bit about Bob Hopkins of P-14 in this post, which also gives you a link to some things about Jerry Mann.

“The Girls’ Night Out,” was Production 13 but the fifteen show broadcast on Jan. 6, 1961. P-14, “The Monster From the Tar Pits,” aired on Nov. 4, 1960, as episode six.

John Stephenson’s long career at Hanna-Barbera began with Production 15. Eventually, when the series settled down to give Fred a regular boss, Stephenson was given the role. He had a fine career in front of the camera on sitcoms, as a narrator, as a commercial announcer on radio and TV, and even appeared on early television in Chicago while in university.

Norm Stainback shot some of the cels for this cartoon. He was born in Arkansas. In 1940, he was employed in Burbank by the company that makes Jergen’s Lotion. Ten years later he was a lab technician for a film developer in the Los Angeles area. He died in Dallas in 1984.

P-15, “The Golf Champion,” aired Dec. 9, 1960, the eleventh episode of the series. P-16, “The Sweepstakes Ticket,” was the twelfth show and aired the following week.

A new name pops up as the sound editor on P-17. Hank Gotzenberg later worked on the Grantray-Lawrence Spiderman cartoons and for Chuck Jones Productions. He served in Guam with the U.S. Marines and had worked at Lockheed Aircraft when he enlisted in 1941. The 1950 Census reports he was divorced, unemployed since at least 1948 and living with his parents. He died at Long Beach in 1978, age 58.

Earl didn’t have a sheet for P-18 “The Hot Piano,” animated by George Nicholas and written by Mike Maltese, known mainly for the cops singing “Happy Anniversary” (Earl does have a dub of the recording session for the song from Aug. 28, 1960). P-19 is the last one I received from his collection. Don Patterson must have been pretty busy at the time as it took him more than two months to finish animating it.

Arthur Phillips made his H-B writing debut on P-19, and his name appears on many more in the series. He had written for Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton on TV, and on films in the ‘40s. He died in 1990.

P-17, “The Hypnotist,” was the 20th episode to be broadcast on Feb. 10, 1961 while P-19, “The Big Bank Robbery,” was the 17th show, airing on Jan. 20, 1961.

Since you’ve read this far, let’s pass along some cues (from a cassette) from Earl. The titles listed below are what’s on the actual recording sheets. No date is listed, but the hand-writing is the same as cues recorded on June 10, 1960. The names are what Hoyt Curtin gave them.












Wednesday 12 July 2023

Farewell, Jimmy Weldon

Time continues to take its inevitable toll on the remaining star voices of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The voice of Yakky Doodle, Jimmy Weldon, has died at the age of 99.

I never had the chance to speak with Mr. Weldon, but all accounts leave the impression he was a kind man who enjoyed entertaining and enjoyed life.

Yakky began life at MGM, when Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were looking for third characters to play off Tom and Jerry. They came up an orphan duck and cast him in Little Quacker (released in early 1950). Despite his annoying self-pity, Bill and Joe liked him and put him in eight cartoons. When the MGM studio closed in 1957, the two created H-B Enterprises with director George Sidney. The Huckleberry Hound Show was being developed in 1958, and secondary characters (capable of being marketed) were in need. Barbera came up with a similar duck and put him in two Yogi Bear cartoons (one where he foiled that noble, intelligent hunting dog, Yowp). The following year, he appeared opposite Pixie & Dixie/Mr. Jinks, Snooper & Blabber and Augie Doggie (in three cartoons).

Hanna-Barbera signed a deal in fall 1960 to develop a show around Yogi Bear, and one segment was handed over to the duck, who was re-designed and given a new name (H-B marketing had been calling him “Biddy Buddy”). Starting at MGM, the duck was voiced by nightclub comedian Red Coffey, and there is at least one between-the-cartoons short where Coffey voices Yakky. But Coffey didn’t take on the role permanently, likely because he was touring the U.S. in "Hellzapoppin'," so Weldon was hired by Barbera in what Weldon called “the most important thing that ever happened to my career.” He was working on television in Fresno and used to fly to Hanna-Barbera for voice sessions. In his own plane!

Yakky benefited from several things, not the least of which was Weldon’s performances coupled with writer Mike Maltese’s downplaying of the “poor, poor me” aspect of the character. Weldon’s Yakky was generally cheerful, sincere and a dedicated friend. These characteristics seem to describe Weldon himself. He made a career later in life as a motivational speaker. This story from the Newhall Signal of Feb. 3, 1992 gives you a bit of insight into Jimmy Weldon.

Weldon energizes seniors’ motivation
Signal staff writer
NEWHALL — With a flashy smile and a high-energy presentation style, Jimmy Weldon appeared before a group of about 50 seniors last Tuesday like a colorized version of an old black-and-white television favorite.
A motivator, speaker, comedian and actor, Weldon, 68, is perhaps best known for the numerous children's shows of the 1950s he starred in with his duck mascot, Webster Webfoot. But Tuesday, he brought a message of motivation to the audience assembled in the multipurpose room of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.
Frequently addressing the crowd by name and gesticulating his every word, the speaker imbued the 55-plus set with confidence and encouragement in a stirring, often funny, presentation.
"You are the most important person on this earth," he told the seniors. "It's up to us to give the young people today something to live for."
To Weldon, there is no such thing as retirement. Only what "I used to do and this is what I do now." There is also no such thing as time, only spending time and spending it wisely.
Experience is "just what a guy gets when he no longer needs it"—a lesson well-learned after a youth accident with a lawn mower severed part of his finger.
Weldon spoke of his life experiences from Oklahoma radio show personality to television sitcom star, frequently interjecting adages of heartfelt advice.
"This computer," he said, pointing to his head, "works like the land. I tell young people be careful what you plant up here because it's going to come back to you."
Weldon knew at the age of 7 he would end up in Hollywood one day. It was the day he saw his first motion picture, "Ten Nights in a Bar Room."
A scruffy youth from Chickasha, Okla., he didn't have any special talent other than a voice that he practiced and practiced until he sounded like Donald Duck. Nevertheless, he was determined that voice would buy his ticket to movies.
His brothers laughed at him and his seventh-grade teacher even sent him to the corner when he answered her in "duck voice."
But he persisted, and his efforts paid off when Hollywood started buying into his talent. Eventually, the voice incarnated into Webster Webfoot, a blue-capped, enormous-eyed, yellow-billed duck.
He said he was once asked to speak before a crowd of doctors by a physician intrigued by the idea of a man making a living as a "duck."
Weldon explains in his memoirs, "Go Get 'Em Tiger," how he pulled Webster out of his suitcase and told the 150 doctors and their wives, "this is the little guy I hope will take me to Hollywood one day."
Indeed it did. Fifty years later, Weldon once again pulled his mascot out of that suitcase before the Santa Clarita seniors, but this time with a few memories to share of his experiences in radio, television and movies.
The Webster Webfoot Show, the longest running television show in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, launched a career that would send him to Los Angeles, New York, Fresno and back to Los Angeles.
His career spanned 41 years, taking him to the British Broadcasting Corp., the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and the NBC network show, "Funny Boners."
The producers of the hit television show, "Yogi Bear," fashioned Yogi's sidekick, "Yakky Doodle," after Webster Webfoot.
As a youth, his small part in one of the "Our Gang" movies cowered in the shadows of a movie role he later co-starred in with Ronald Coleman [sic] of the hit TV show, "Halls of Ivy."
But it wasn't the movie and television show credits, the introductions to famous people nor the rounds of golf with celebrities that formed the message he has since taken on the road. It was the lessons learned from the underlying factors that helped motivate him along his career journey, he said.
In large letters, Weldon scrawled the word "motivation" on a blackboard, inserting a slash between the “v” and “a” and adding a “c” to the latter part of the word to form "action."
Goals are not enough to realize your dreams, Weldon said. A goal must be followed by a plan, a desire, confidence, determination and a positive attitude.
As parents and grandparents, he told the seniors, "you can plant the seed with young people" and find new purpose in your own lives.
"Don't lose the enthusiasm," he implored. "We're the same ones we were when we were little. We're just a little older."

As for the “Donald Duck” aspect of his voice, Weldon amusingly recounted to interviewer Stu Shostak that Clarence Nash, the voice of Donald, wasn’t happy about it. (Nash never worked for Hanna-Barbera, no matter what the internet may say). He said he and the other actors in each Yakky cartoon worked together in a studio with Barbera directing on the other side of the glass in the control room, gesturing how he wanted the lines read, and reacting whether they were voiced the way he wanted.

Weldon would have turned 100 on September 23rd. His words about living, live on. And, here and there, so do Yakky’s cartoons where he gets the better of Alfie Gator and Fibber Fox, yells for Chopper, and screeches an off-key version of "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay."

Note: As someone has asked me this, the last pre-1961 Hanna-Barbera actor who is still alive is Elliot Field, who was Blabber Mouse and some incidental characters in the first few episodes of the Quick Draw McGraw show.