Saturday 8 June 2024

Dear Old Dad

Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy had several forefathers that were combined into a pleasant cartoon series.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera partly borrowed from themselves, as they had a father-son dog team in a number of Spike and Tyke cartoons they produced for MGM in the mid-‘50s. But they were borrowing even then, as the real origin comes from the Jimmy Durante-Garry Moore radio show. Old vaudevillian Durante always referred to young comedian Moore as “Junior” and proudly exclaimed “Dat’s my boy who said dat!” Younger fans may not know both Spike and Doggie Daddy took on Durante’s voice and delivery, the former from Daws Butler and the latter from former radio actor-turned-trucker Doug Young. (Butler said he recommended Young because he was worried about the effect doing the raspy voice would have on him).

Augie had a bit of Sylvester, Jr. in him, lamenting “dear old dad’s” behaviour. The Augie series was written by Mike Maltese, who didn’t write for Sylvester, Jr., but was at Warner Bros. when the cartoons were made. (It's been pointed out Maltese wrote Goldimouse and the Three Cats, released a year and several months after he left Warners. The slurping kitten was developed a decade earlier in the Bob McKimson unit by Warren Foster).

And the other influence is Maltese himself. Joe Barbera noted in 1959 that Maltese named all the characters. After “Arf and Arf” was rejected, Maltese named Augie for an in-law. And in most of the cartoons, Maltese used the basic formula he put into Wile E. Coyote at Warners—Doggie Daddy’s best efforts and intentions end in unexpected failure. Daddy also comments to the audience an awful lot. Baba Looey does it, too, and so do Blabbermouse and Fibber Fox, also Maltese creations. The idea certainly helps keep the audience engaged with what’s on the screen.

The Hanna-Barbera cartoons relied on dialogue a lot more once Maltese arrived in late 1958 (Foster joined him several months later from John Sutherland Productions) but there are occasionally some good takes. My favourite is by Dick Lundy in Million-Dollar Robbery (1959). Here’s one from the great George Nicholas, who gave Fred Flintstone some fine expressions. This is from Peck O' Trouble (1960), when Augie's presence startles tax cal-cu-culatin' dad. Whether Hanna timed it this way, or Nicholas used some judgment on his own, or both, I don’t know, but the first drawing is held for roughly 24 frames. The others are shot on twos or threes.

You’ll have to forgive the Italian TV bug on the frames, but these are the nicest ones I can find for the cartoon. It’s evident the Augie cartoons were restored at one time, compared to the washed-out versions with the Boomerang bug that may still be on-line somewhere.

Nicholas’ work is easy to spot here. At times, the characters have the beady eyes and big floppy tongues you see in his animation at H-B. There’s a bit of animation where Doggie Daddy stops running, but his long ears keep going and then fall to the side of his head, as in full animation.

There’s even a favourite Tex Avery bit in this cartoon, where Augie races outside onto a knoll away from the house to make a noise so he doesn’t disturb his dad inside. It’s the same kind of gag Avery used in The Legend of Rock-a-bye Point for Walter Lantz. That cartoon gave Maltese a story credit but it’s likely Tex came up with the gag, since he used it at MGM.

Hanna and/or Barbera once said the Augie Doggie series was a spoof of ‘50s sitcoms, but I can’t think of any (that lasted, anyway) involving a single father, other than Bachelor Father with John Forsythe. In drama, there was The Rifleman, and later, I guess you could put Flipper in that classification, but the star wasn’t human.

There’s a moment in another cartoon, High and Flighty, where Doggie Daddy gets emotional, thinking he’s lost his son forever. Despite the hammy music in the background, the scene is treated straight and shows the bond between the two.

The Augie series could get a little out there at times. Outer space was still a big thing in the late ‘50s, so dear old dad deals with a Martian baby in his home, and Augie and Daddy take a trip to Mars to hunt a rabbit with Bugs Bunny-like wiles (and Augie, for good measure, puts his hand to his head and says “Oh, for the shame of it!” like a certain Warner Bros.’ junior cat). The characters remained popular, and appeared in various later Hanna-Barbera “gang” series, with John Stephenson taking over Daddy’s voice after Young moved to Oregon in 1966.

Bob Givens laid out at least five Augie cartoons after he arrived from Warner Bros. in late 1958. He said the Augies and other early Hanna-Barbera cartoons “were kind of fun to do.” And they’re generally still fun to watch. And, after all, who’s going to disagree with the guy who designed the first real Bugs Bunny for Tex Avery?