Saturday 13 April 2024

Mr. Jinks vs Dog

Hanna-Barbera cartoons have been tarnished with a reputation of little real animation, with a lot of eye blinks and maybe an arm and mouth moving, the rest of the character left on one cel, frame after frame after frame.

I won’t comment about the later cartoons. Going back to the beginning, the first Ruff and Reddy cartoon in 1957 barely had any animation, but it wasn’t as static as Crusader Rabbit. When the Huckleberry Hound Show debuted in 1958, some of the cartoons featured characters that simply popped from pose to pose without any fluidity.

In Huck’s second season, additional artists had been hired and the animation was treated like you would find in a theatrical cartoon. Not often, but it happened. Characters would move in full, sometimes one drawing to a frame. At the same time, director Bill Hanna and his animators would try to get some emotion out of the characters without resorting to a lot of talk (that would change soon).

Here’s an example from the Pixie and Dixie cartoon Hi-Fido, which aired at the start of the 1958-59 TV season. Warren Foster’s plot is simple. The meeces try to drive Mr. Jinks nuts by making the sound of a barking dog through a microphone, meaning the cat can hear a dog, but not see one.

Jinks catches on to what’s happening. But the plot turns and a stray bulldog strolls into the yard and then up to Jinksie in the house.

The animator is Manny Perez, formerly of Warner Bros. and, I suspect, working freelance on this cartoon. He employs several drawings, animated on twos, to shift Jinks’ weight from one foot to the other, and lean on the dog. Note that Jinks is drawn in full in each frame. There’s no cheating here.

Mr. Jinks lies to the meeces he was hip to their scheme, and that he “knewwww there was no dog around the house.” Jinks then chuckles about the situation. Here, Perez limits the animation to Jinks’ head in three movements. The cat then looks at the dog and continues to chuckle (the exposure sheet may have screwed up as there is no movement as Jinks laughs).

Then he realises there IS a dog. The drawing below is held for at least 16 frames to establish what’s happening.

The dialogue switches from a chuckle, to a nervous laugh, to crying as the cat expects the dog to maul him.

These are some of the crying drawings. Only the head is animated. No two drawings are used in consecutive frames.

This is where the famous H-B eye-blinks come in. That’s the only animation as the basic pose is held for about 60 frames, or roughly 2 1/2 seconds.

The shock drawing and the back-up-to-the-wall are held for two frames each.

The dog moves in and barks at Jinks. I won’t post them all but Perez uses three barking drawings, with the entire dog moving as in full animation. A Jack Shaindlin cue runs out and a Spencer Moore cue takes over in the background.

You’ll notice the lovely colour on these frames, even though there’s some digital fuzz. It would appear these cartoons were restored either for cable television or for the non-existent second volume DVD set of the Huckleberry Hound Show.

Saturday 9 March 2024

Hanna-Barbera's Caricaturist

I think you know who these guys are.

Caricatures appeared periodically at Hanna-Barbera, especially on The Flintstones; we don't need to name them. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were caricatured, too. The Color It Happy pilot of the late '60s comes to mind. So does another would-be show from '70s called Duffy's Dozen, where Bill and Joe voiced their characters. They were drawn by the same man who signed the drawing above. It was an assistant animator named Ben Shenkman (the art came from the May 1970 edition of Hollywood Studio Magazine.

Shenkman was a native New Yorker, born July 3, 1913. We can thank film historian Donald Crafton for some biographical material he wrote for the January 1993 issue of Film History in an article entitled “The View From Termite Terrace: Caricature and Parody in Warner Bros Animation.”
Shenkman’s career can be seen as typical for the industry. In the late 1920s he was working as an office boy at Columbia in New York. He aspired to be a cartoonist and one of his sketches of the manager was published in the Columbia Beacon. The boss introduced Shenkman to Max Fleischer, whose animation studio was nearby, and he joined the ink-and-paint staff. He was soon laid off and returned to Columbia, but this time in Charles Mintz’s cartoon unit. Mintz moved Krazy Kat production to Hollywood in 1930 and invited 16-year old Shenkman to join as an in-betweener, a job he accepted and held for nine years. But his talent as a caricaturist was well-known, and he was in demand as a designer of greeting cards, invitations and occasional publicity drawings. Friz Freleng, recently returned to Schlesinger’s from a stint at MGM in mid-April, 1939, know about Shenkman by way of his friend at Columbia, Art Davis, and invited him to work on Malibu Beach Party.

The cartoon was released in 1940. It was a parody of the Jack Benny radio show, with Benny inviting movie stars (Gable, Garbo, Raft, Bette Davis and so on). Crafton goes on:

Schlesinger had an agreement that Benny would have the right to approve the drawings and the film and Mary Livingston[e], in fact, did insist that the caricaturist ‘do something about the nose’ before filming commenced. [Livingstone was so snout-sensitive, she had a nose job]. The stars’ studio photographs provided the basis for the sketches. Shenkman recalls that the principal’s voices were recorded by the stars themselves, but some of the others might have been impersonated. [If that was the case, the sound wasn’t used. KFWB’s Jack Lescoulie provides the voice of Benny].
The success of his caricatures led to Shenkman’s being hired by the studio in March 1940 as an animation assistant. [Tex] Avery had been working on Hollywood Steps Out well before Freleng’s film was released, and immediately engaged Shenkman to do caricatures. Avery took him and a background artist [Johnny Johnsen] to Ciro’s to make notes and sketches of the décor and guests. Schlesinger probably had obtained permission from the restaurant. Shenkman made about fifty model sheets of celebrities which the animators adapted for head size, perspective rendering and, of course, movement. Parts of the action were rotoscoped. In the scenes where Clark Gable and a mysterious lady do a Rhumba, Shenkman was filmed dancing with Mildred (Dixie) Mankemeyer, fiancée of [animator] Paul Smith.
Both these films have a bit of documentary quality about them, derived in no small part from Shenkman’s hard-edged ‘photographic’ style caricatures.
He enlisted in the army on Dec. 31, 1942 and was discharged on Dec. 16, 1944.

When Shenkman left Warners is difficult to say. Webb credits him with the Peter Lorre caricature in Birth of a Notion (1947). The page to the left comes a Los Angeles Times magazine. Shenkman painted all the art for his son’s bedroom, but the short article that goes with it only calls him an “artist” and does not say where he was working. The 1950 Census return lists his occupation as “cartoonist, movie.”

He gained a connection with Hanna and Barbera when he moved to the MGM cartoon studio. He is responsible for a drawing of a group of artists at the studio in 1956; the staff members have been identified by H-B background artist Art Lozzi. There is a grey-scale version of this drawing in Martha Sigall’s wonderful book on her career in animation, but this comes from the Cartoon Research website.

Here’s more of Shenkman’s work. This must have been done on a freelance basis as it appeared in the Sunday magazine of the Boston Globe on Oct. 22, 1961. That's a good-looking Bugs.

We’ve posted a bit about Shenkman on the Yowp blog before. He took part in the ninth annual “Operation Art for the Armed Forces” in mid-December 1961 at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oakland. Taking part were Hanna-Barbera writers Mike Maltese and Warren Foster, who showed some cartoons from the Huckleberry Hound Show and gave away cels; Johnny Johnson, Tex Avery’s background painter dating back to the Warner Bros. days; Phil Duncan, who had his own studio called TV Cartoon Products and freelanced for Hanna-Barbera; and Fred Crippen, the UPA artist who later created Roger Ramjet.

The story gives a bit of background, though I caution that other "facts" contained in it aren't quite correct. It says Shenkman "has done portraits and caricatures for Disney and MGM and is now with UPA." I don't know about his Disney connection, but Keith Scott's essential The Moose That Roared has his name on the list of the early Rocky and Bullwinkle animation was that done in Hollywood.

This picture of Shenkman with his drawing of Bill and Joe dates from 1967, according to a commenter on this blog some years ago.

Shenkman seemed to like the volunteer gig for the armed forces. Here is a December 1966 photo from "Operation Art For the Armed Forces." Second left in the top row is Jerry Eisenberg, layout man at Hanna-Barbera. I hope you've read his interview on this blog. Jerry, as you have read, pitched series ideas to Joe Barbera and the article in The Oak Leaf mentions he was working on the Yogi Bear Sunday comics. Background artist Janet Brown is next to him. Also shown are two H-B animators, Larry Silverman and Bill Carney. Silverman's career went back to the silent days and he's better known for his work on the East Coast, mainly at Terrytoons, though his name shows up on a 1933 Harman-Ising cartoon, Wake Up the Gypsy For Me, for Warner Bros.

Shenkman was back a year later. He is at the lower left. At the top left is another well-known Hanna-Barbera artist, background painter Dick Thomas, who started at Warners in the late '30s. Murray McClelland was also employed at Hanna-Barbera at the time, and at the top far right is 84-year-old Johnny Johnsen, who seems to have retired from MGM before Hanna and Barbera set up their own studio in 1957.

We've found one other story about a Shenkman caricature event. It was in a Los Angeles suburb in 1964. Also taking part in it was Art Leonardi, the ex-Warners animator who rose through the ranks at DePatie-Freleng.

Again, it's unclear when Shenkman left Hanna-Barbera. Harvey Deneroff, a fine historian with animation in his family, spoke to Shenkman and says he later worked at Filmation, DePatie-Freleng and for Ralph Bakshi. His credits include Archie’s Funhouse, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Coonskin, Wizards and Hey Good Lookin’.

Shenkman died in Los Angeles on April 14, 1996.

Saturday 10 February 2024

Super Bowl Bear

Since it is the Super Bowl weekend (at least if you’re reading this at the time it was posted), let us look at the work of Carlo Vinci in Yogi Bear’s football opus. Rah Rah Bear (1959).

Here’s a graceful run cycle by Carlo. Yogi lopes across the football field, waving his arm and turning his head toward the crowd. 12 drawings. They are shot one frame apiece.

Here’s how the cycle looks slowed down. Background by Bob Gentle.

“It’s a touchdown!” yells the play-by-play announcer (Don Messick). Notice Yogi and the helicopter go in front of the goal posts.

It would have made a neat shot if they went between the posts (with the one in the foreground having to be put on a separate cel) but the chopper’s too big.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera explained to syndicated columnist Charles Witbeck how this cartoon came about:
“You know that Yogi and Huckleberry Hound don’t just belong to the kids,” Hanna continued. Grown-ups know about our animal friends.
“An example. In late November we had a special story on Yogi Bear and the Chicago Bears pro football team. When the Bears heard about it, they were delighted. George Halas, coach and owner, said we could do anything we wanted. “We first got the idea,” Barbera said, “when I saw a headline in late September on the sports pages. It went something like ‘Giants to Clobber Bears.’ I saw a football story with Yogi reading the headline and saying: ‘Us bears have got to stick together.’ So Yogi goes back and helps the burly bears win. It’s kinda cute.”
Barbera never let facts get in the way of one of his stories. The Giants never played the Bears in 1959. Or even 1958. However, the Chicago Cardinals under Jim Lee Howell opened their 1958 season on September 28th with a 37-7 home-field loss to the New York Giants. Considering the cartoon was on TV a little less than two months later, even with Hanna-Barbera’s hurried production schedule, it’s doubtful the cartoon could have been inspired so soon.

Before the era of theme parks, Hanna-Barbera’s star characters appeared in person—thanks to large costumes—starting around September 1958—at various places, including football stadiums. So it was that Honest Ed Justin booked “Yogi” to appear in Chicago at a game between the Bears and 49ers on November 15th (the Bears won, 14-3). Not coincidentally, Rah Rah Bear aired in Chicago ten days later.

Rah Rah Bear made another appearance—on record. In July 1961, Colpix released “Here Comes Huckleberry Hound” with “soundtracks” from four cartoons, including Rah Rah Bear. Huck was used as a narrator to link scenes and the original stock music from the cartoon isn’t heard.

Speaking of Yogi and football, one of the players on the 1960 Xavier University Musketeers in Cincinnati, Dick Buechler, was nicknamed Yogi Bear. It was because he was as fierce as a bear and had nothing to do with pic-a-nic baskets. (After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in 1963, Buechler was stationed at the air field of the Naval Auxiliary in Milton, Florida).

One other Yogi-football connection can be found in the pages of the Star News-Vanguard of Sept. 30, 1961, where the coach of Hamilton High used an offensive formation against the Culver City Centaurs called “Yogi Bear.” From what I can tell from the story, it involved throwing to the quarterback in the clear. The plan was tried several times and failed miserably.

Evidently head coach Frank Cullom was not smarter than the average bear.

Saturday 3 February 2024

Quick Draw McGraw on Blu-ray

Are we ever, EVER, going to see The Quick Draw McGraw Show on any kind of home video format?

I get asked that a lot.

Let’s hear from someone who should have an answer.

First, the background.

A wonderful man named Earl Kress had been hired to help get Hanna-Barbera’s early half-hours out on DVD. In 2005, the first season of The Huckleberry Hound Show was released. Earl had searched through the studio’s records, finding things he said they didn’t know they had. He found cue sheets, episode guides, footage lists for opening credits, even footage itself; all kinds of great things.

Unfortunately, Huck didn’t sell as well as was hoped. But Quick Draw was put on the list for release.

Then the project went nowhere.

At the time, Earl told readers of the Golden Age Cartoon forum that the half-hour shows were not intact that he could find (in colour, anyway), some of the bridges could not be found, and some of the footage was not in the best condition.

But the main problem was music rights.

When the Hanna-Barbera studio opened in 1957, the most inexpensive way to include background music in a film was to license a stock music library. Hanna-Barbera signed television deals for two very popular ones—the Langlois Filmusic library, “composed” by Jack Shaindlin, and the Capitol Hi-Q library, created in 1956 from the works of numerous composers, but updated by Capitol record every year. Ruff and Reddy cartoons used these libraries. So did three of the four seasons of The Huckleberry Hound Show and two of the three seasons of The Quick Draw McGraw Show. (Afterwards, Hoyt Curtin was hired by Hanna-Barbera to compose cartoon cues that belonged to the studio).

When the Huckleberry Hound DVD was released in 2005, Capitol still had rights to the stock music and a deal was struck to clear it for home video use. That soon changed. The music, as Earl explained, had reverted to the composers or their heirs, and trying to get it approved for DVD was thwarted by demands from two estates. He rather forlornly expressed the feeling the odds were against Quick Draw cartoons—at least the ones with the Shaindlin and Capitol music—ever being released on home video.

We’re getting close to 20 years later. There’s still no Quick Draw home video, excepting a small number of cartoons with Curtin’s cues on compilation discs.

Enter George Feltenstein.

Among animation fans, George is best-known for his years with the Warner Home Archive, overseeing releases of various Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. Hanna-Barbera now falls under his company’s eye. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read a promotional puff piece about some H-B series or specials I think are really lame and yelled “What about Quick Draw!?!”

George has answered that question in an interview with music expert-turned-author Greg Ehrbar.

You can hear the full interview here. Here’s what Mr. F. told Greg.
“What we face with music clearance on television programming is pretty horrific. Thankfully, most Hanna-Barbera productions don’t have music clearance issues, thanks to the late, great Hoyt Curtin. His work-for-hire compositions that were so unforgettable, those are not a problem. It’s when something else was introduced from outside the bubble, that’s where things get complicated.

“Of course, the early years when they didn’t have work-for-hire compositions in the very, very early shows; for example, that’s why there’s no Ruff and Reddy DVD.

“Well, we would like to change that, and we’re now finding ways to make some of those things happen. You take everything a step at a time. I don’t give up easily. [...]

“I still will pursue the projects I would like to see. All four seasons of Huckleberry Hound. I would like to see Quick Draw McGraw. I’d like to see New Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. But, in the meantime, we have such a gold mine of treasures that are clear, that are ready for release, or that can be made ready for release, and that’s the direction we’re taking right now.”
So George’s attitude is “never say ‘never’.” But it’s more of a hope than anything else. There’s no indication from him anything has actually been done about Quick Draw (or Huck), or whether he has to convince management to agree to demands of the stock music rights holders (which was done for the Warner Bros.’ “Seely Six” cartoons from 1958) as the decision certainly wouldn’t be his alone. But those two fine series ARE on his wish list and he’s pledging to work to get them out. Just not now. For now, we can expect to see Blu-rays of cartoons from the ‘80s. Well, I guess someone likes them.

In the meantime, you’ll have to continue to enjoy Quick Draw McGraw bootlegs, as slightly murky and defaced with TV bugs as they are.

Incidentally, this should be a good year for early Hanna-Barbera fans when it comes to books. Greg has written Hanna-Barbera: The Recorded History. Greg certainly is the right person to write this, as he knows more about H-B Records, Colpix and the Golden Records that featured Hanna-Barbera characters than anyone I can think of. And there’s a bit on music used in the actual cartoons.

And Kevin Sandler and Tyler Williams have written Hanna and Barbera: Conversations, which should be out in May. I intend to talk to Kevin and post the interview here as we get closer to the publication date. When it comes to the early days of the studio, there are fewer and fewer people around to converse with. I had the great pleasure of chatting with layout man Jerry Eisenberg and writer Tony Benedict some time ago, as well as retired KFWB disc jockey Elliot Field, who provided voices for the studio in 1959 before moving to Detroit. I’m looking forward to both books.

Oh, and a fruitful conclusion to George Feltenstein’s idea to let us all see Quick Draw McGraw in his pristine glory.

By the way, George, if you’re reading and would like send me scans of Quick Draw cue sheets, I’ll happily accept them.

P.S.: People also ask me about the status of this blog. I honestly don’t have time to write a lot now. I’m on to other things in real life. However, I have put together a number of posts and there’ll be something once a month for the next number of months, the same as last year, but the blog is pretty much retired.