Tuesday 19 September 2023

Voices and a Margrock

It is quite possible Hanna-Barbera’s silent partner wasn’t so silent in 1963.

When H-B Enterprises started in 1957, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera weren’t the only ones behind the studio. The two had a connection with George Sidney dating to when he directed Anchor’s Aweigh (1945), which featured animated scenes with their Tom and Jerry. In 1957, Sidney was the head of the Directors Guild of America, and he agreed to invest in the new company and take an executive title. Not only that, he is credited with making the arrangements to connect Hanna and Barbera with Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary Screen Gems.

Sidney remained in the background while he continued his directing career, cashing out when Taft Broadcasting bought Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1967.

But, along the way, a funny thing happened.

Sidney became infatuated with a young dancer and actress named Ann-Margret. George Burns had added her to his act. Sidney saw her, shoved her into his movie production of Bye Bye Birdie (1963) and thanks to a re-write of the script, put a lot of the focus on her.

Now we get to connect some dots. Sidney’s Birdie was distributed by Columbia. Sidney’s H-B series The Flintstones was distributed by Screen Gems. What better way for Sidney to get more publicity for his movie star than by having her guest-star on The Flintstones?

Okay, I don’t know if that’s the way it went down. But it’s fun to consider.

On April 9, 1963, Daily Variety’s Army Archerd reported her signing for the fourth season debut episode as Pebbles’ babysitter. A release by ABC or Screen Gems hit newspapers by late May, advertising “She will sing two songs, one a lullaby, the other an upbeat pop number.”

I must admit I’ve never been infected with Ann-Margrock Fever. Some people like babysitters tugging at the heart with a sticky-sweet lullabye to a little girl, but it’s not the kind of plot I’m into.

The season debut (on most ABC stations) was September 19. Not coincidentally, in an ABC promotional tie-in, Fred appeared on the Jimmy Dean show an hour and a half later.

Here’s Variety’s review of Production P-103, published September 25:

With Alan Reed, Jean Vander Pyl, Mel Blanc, Bea Benaderet, others;
Producers-Directors: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera
Writers: R. Allen Saffian, Harvey Bullock
30 Mins., Thurs.; 7:30 p.m.
ABC-TV (film)
Now in its fourth season, "The Flintstones" has the unique distinction of being the lone survivor of several animated cartoon series aimed at an adult level. Among programs in this category that have failed to click are "The Jetsons," a situation comedy set in the 21st century, and "The Boing Boing Show," based on a newspaper cartoon character [Yowp note: It wasn’t. It was a character created by Dr. Seuss].
While the stone age era originally may have been a somewhat bizarre setting to place characters who mouth contemporary things, the satirical creation of the Hanna-Barbera cartoonery has not become almost as much a part of tv viewing as the news and weather report.
Calling 'em a household word wouldn't be too far off for a merchandising offshoot has put "Flintstone" glasses on lotsa kitchen shelves.
For the seasonal preem Thursday (19) writers R. Allen Saffian and Harvey Bullock came up with an amusing bit which caricatured singer Ann-Margret. She arrived in Bedrock (that's where the Flintstones live) to appear in a tv special dedicating Bedrock Bowl.
But before the "special" went on she wound up as a babysitter for the Flintstones' offspring and later managed to get Fred Flintstone and neighbor Barney Bubble [sic] on the show with her in an oldtime vaude strawhat & cane terp routine. It sounds rather silly, but nevertheless it all added up to the kind of material that Flintstone fans thrive upon.
Ann-Margret, who supplied her own off-screen voice, also warbled a couple tunes—“The Littlest Lamb” and "Ain't Gonna Be Your Love No More" which provided a lively musical fillip. Alan Reed again is the voice of noisy Fred Flintstone, Jean Vander Pyl continues as his wife while the bungling Barney Rubble is depicted by Mel Blanc, per usual.
"The Flintstones" are off to another solid season and don't have to drill to bedrock to find someone to pick up the tab. For among the bankrollers are everything from Skippy Peanut Butter to Welch's Grape Juice. Gilb.

Despite the mention of Benaderet, her name is not in the credits in the fourth season. Is Joe Barbera trying to tell her something?

An irony is the “old-time” dancing routine was done to a neutral Hoyt Curtin cue heard on the cartoon from the future—The Jetsons. Despite the presence of Carlo Vinci and Don Patterson, the animation isn’t terribly interesting. Margrock is infected much of the time with Hanna-Barbera-itis—her body is rigid while her head moves a bit. (I wonder if the Margrock dance moves were copied from Ann-Margret's swivel-hip routine on the 1962 Oscar telecast, which she told the Atlanta Constitution in 1963 was the turning point of her career).

And how’s this for dialogue?

Ann – Thank you so much, Mr....
Fred – Flintstone, miss. Fred Flintstone. And this is my partner, Barney Rubble.
Barney – Hi.
Laugh Track – familiar sounding guffaws.

Yeah, some real funny stuff there, Mr. L. Track. There are a few talking animals-as-appliances to amuse us. Actually, the funniest comment comes from the sponsor of the Margrock show (played by John Stephenson) who sniffs that his mother sang “The Littlest Lamb” to him when he was young. That was some accomplishment, since the song was written by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera with Joyce Goodwin and copyrighted on Sept. 9, 1963. The other song, “Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool No More,” was written by Brice Coefield and Gary Pipkin and published by Screen Gems-Columbia Music, according to the cue sheet for the cartoon.

The popular press apparently had apparently decided Fred and Pebbly-Poo were passe. I’ve found no newspaper reviews of the episode, not even after a rebroadcast on June 16, 1964.

However—and this is the real purpose of this post—two months after the start of the 1963-64 season, the Tennesseean featured the Flintstones (sans Margrock) on the front of its entertainment magazine with the headline “Flintstones Begin Fourth Smashing Season.” Why a cover story article is using the future tense two months after something started, I don’t know. But this was published on November 17, 1963 and we hear what the stars felt about being on a hit show while it was still on the air.

Flintstones Enter Their 4th Year
WITH THE hayseed growing amongst the "diachronda" in Beverly Hills, the German army surrendering all over again for a new generation, and doctors flashing their scalpels and libidos into millions of living rooms, Hanna-Barbera's "Flintstones" will enter its fourth year on television.
Hanna Barbera's animated satire of life in the stone age (Thursdays, 6:30 p.m., Color. Ch. 8.) has proven a smash not only in America but throughout the world as well. It is currently playing in over 42 countries.
One of the little known aspects of the show is the marked effect it has had on its real life stars. Alan Reed, Bea Benadaret, Mel Blanc, and Jean Vander Pyl.
"I just completed a trip to various parts of the country," states Alan Reed, the burley voice of Fred Flintstone, "and because people recognized my voice and realized it was Fred, I really had some wonderfully warm experiences."
Close to Public
"In all the years I was doing radio, my voice was never as familiar to the public as it is now with the ‘Flintstones.’ It's a good feeling to know that you are that close to the public."
Bea Benedaret [sic], the voice of Betty Rubble, says, "There's no doubt that being the voice of Betty Rubble has brought added excitement to my life.
"All my friends, both professional and non-professional, feel very personally and unusually interested in the fact that I am doing the part.
"I am very proud to be doing the series," she said.
Fred Flintstone's ever-lovin' spouse, Wilma, portrayed by Jean Vander Pyl, has this to say:
"I think the most gratifying reaction I get to doing the voice of Wilma Flintstone is the delightful prestige that goes along with it. As opposed to doing most other shows, this is not only unique but virtually unheard of. It's a real joy. It doesn't matter about all the other characters I've done throughout the years.
Other Members
Rounding out the cast, the versatile Mel Blanc, who essays Barney Rubble on the show, stated:
"Being the voice of Barney Rubble in the Flintstones has been one of the most fun things I have ever done. Mostly because of the reaction I get from my fans and from the public in general. They love Barney and consequently they love me. That's nice.
"I have yet to talk to anyone who is not familiar with the series, and that's mighty unusual these days for television, now that people are getting a little more choosey.
"I had this exciting popularity driven home to me when I was in the hospital after my automobile accident.
[“]The mail I got was fantastic, and most of it came from those who were sorry to know that Barney Rubble had been injured.
"I found that Barney had a good many friends, and that's a gratifying reaction to an actor who never appears on the screen. Let's face it. The 'Flintstones' are practically a national institution."

Time certainly bore out Blanc’s claim. There have been all kinds of spin-offs, sequels and specials—and a live-action feature film—that kept the Modern Stone Age family in the public consciousness, though these days it’s more nostalgic or cereal related. As for Ann-Margret, she’s still with us, but I can’t help but think every obituary will refer to her appearance with Fred and Barney. Perhaps thanks to George Sidney.

Monday 11 September 2023

H-B Podcast

A Hanna-Barbera podcast?

Well, it had to happen some time. No, I have nothing to do with it; I really have neither the time nor inclination to put one together.

But you're in luck. Greg Erhbar does have the time, and he's begun one.

Greg has a wonderful breadth of knowledge about children's records, including the ones featuring the Hanna-Barbera characters and the Hanna-Barbera record label. He also has a real interest Bill and Joe's cartoon studio. He'll be discussing this with various guests. Greg takes great care to strive for accuracy.

You can check out the 'casts by clicking on this link.

This reminds me that some years ago, Rick Greene sent me scans of some Golden Record covers for H-B songs cut in New York City. Here are four of them:

For contractural reasons, Daws Butler and Don Messick could not appear on the Golden Records (and Earl Kress told me that Daws hated to fly to New York anyway), so people like radio actor Gil Mack were hired to impersonate the characters. Greg likes his work better than I do. Mack was very versatile on radio but as Mr. Jinks, he's cringing at best. You can find a whole bunch of those songs in this dusty old post.