Saturday, July 22, 2017

Yogi Bear's Birthday Party

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera
Starring the Voices of Daws Butler
Co-Starring Voices of Don Messick and Doug Young
Other Voices: Julie Bennett, Duke Mitchell
Musical Director: Hoyt Curtin
Written by Warren Foster
Story Sketch: Harvey Eisenberg
Animation Layouts: Ed Benedict
Animation Supervision: Dick Lundy
Backgrounds: Dick Thomas
Titles: Art Goble
Production Supervision: Howard Hanson
Camera: Frank Paiker, Robert Collis, Charles Flekal
Film Editors: Hank Gotzenberg, Greg Watson
Copyright 1960 by Hanna-Barbera Productions
First Aired: week of October 1, 1961.
(Note: The closing credits call the show Yogi Bear's Birthday Party, despite the opening card above).

Whether the Yogi Bear Show could have been successful as a half-hour sitcom with 26 or more episodes a season is really your guess, but Yogi was certainly able to carry a TV cartoon for longer than 6½ minutes, as Yogi Bear’s Birthday Party proved.

For one show only, the Snagglepuss and Yakky Doodle cartoons were jettisoned in favour of Yogi taking over the full episode that echoed what happened in real life. In the cartoon, the sponsor threw Yogi a surprise birthday party. In real life, the sponsor bartered time on TV stations to run the Yogi show and urged them to precede or follow the half-hour cartoon with a live, in-studio birthday party with kids, prizes, etc. And stations did. I don’t believe such a thing has been tried since.

Warren Foster’s story isn’t full of big laughs, but is amusing enough and well-constructed with teasers before each commercial break (which would have been for Kellogg’s cereals). Unlike The Flintstones or The Jetsons, Foster can’t rely on gadgets for humour. Instead, he tosses in some pop culture references and even a song lyric. He’s tripped up a bit because of the nature of the cartoon—it’s supposed to be tied in with a real-life TV station’s live birthday party. So he chose to end it with a big production number, with all the H-B characters from the Kellogg’s-sponsored shows (in very thick outlines) together on stage as the camera pulls back.

I like how Foster treats Ranger Smith as self-aware. Generally, the characters do that in the little vignettes where a character will refer to watching the Yogi or Snagglepuss cartoon that’s about to come on. Rarely do they do it during the cartoon. But here we see Ranger Smith answering a phone call and getting annoyed at the declaration there’ll be a Yogi Bear birthday special on TV. Who’s calling? The Ranger gulps. It’s the sponsor. Of the Yogi Bear Show. The one he’s on right now. A situation where someone kisses up to the sponsor strikes me as something Foster would write.

Smith’s jealous of the beary bane of his existence getting the attention from the sponsor, but that’s merely a plot device convenient to the sequence at hand. Smith’s happy and cooperative in the rest of the cartoon.

The Ranger, Boo Boo and Cindy (who has bows on her feet) convince Yogi he’s starring in a half-hour TV special so he won’t discover the special is really a televised birthday party. Daws Butler does a nice job with Yogi’s voice doing an impression of Ed Sullivan (actually Will Jordan’s version of Ed Sullivan). After plugging his special around the park he comes to the realisation he needs lessons on just about everything (He can’t dance because he has two left feet. Cut to a drawing of two left feet). We get a spoof on Fred Astaire (though it was Arthur Murray who had dance studios), Bobby Darin (with Duke Mitchell doing his swingin’ voice) and the early ’60s Liberace when he still wore evening clothes during his shows. Yogi learns he can’t dance or snap his fingers, bites his tongue when he sings, blows his ear drums when he plays a trumpet and smashes a piano when he tries to carry it out of the studio (“this is the only way I can carry a tune,” he tells Lee).

Cut to the next scene. Yogi’s conscience appears and tells him he’s a no-talent bear. I like how the conscience (a mini Yogi with a halo) calls the bear “sir.” The conscience tells Yogi to get lost and not appear on TV. He takes Smith’s car and drives off. A dragnet of park rangers, dogs and helicopters finally captures Yogi by lowering down a picnic basket. The chase features one of my favourite Curtin piano cues from Top Cat. (It’s “T-10” in Hoyt Curtin’s tracking library, similar to another cue called “T-22 City Streets” that’s on various H-B music CDs released by Rhino Records).

Part of this sequence, I suspect, was animated and recorded later than the rest of the cartoon. I’ve been told, and I can’t remember who said it, that the animators aren’t credited on this half hour because the cartoon was farmed out to a commercial house like Quartet, Playhouse or Grantray-Lawrence. But there’s one portion that’s unmistakably the work of Ken Muse, and the voice track sounds crisper than the rest of the cartoon. It starts when Yogi says “I’m flyin’ through the air with the greatest of ease and ends when the scene of Yogi on top of the helicopter rotor fades.

Yogi is being carried into the TV studio. “I can’t dance, don’t make me! I can’t sing, don’t ask me!” protests the bear. It’s a paraphrase of the lyrics of old Jerome Kern Depression-era song “I Won’t Dance” (coincidentally, Fred Astaire made the song a hit in the film Roberta). The story segues into a spoof of the TV show This is Your Life, in which the album-carrying host asks if the surprised victim recalls voices from the past. Their old friends then walk on stage for a happy reunion. In this case, we get all the featured players on the half-hour H-B shows syndicated shows sponsored by Kellogg’s do walk-ons and put over some short gags of their own (for example, Quick Draw fails during a demonstration of some fancy shootin’). So we see Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Mr. Jinks, Pixie and Dixie, Snooper and Blabber, Snagglepuss (“I’m here, too. Three, even), Hokey Wolf and Dingaling, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, Boo Boo and Cindy (carrying Yakky Doodle). They’re all accompanied by their theme songs and catchphrases. There isn’t quite enough room for all of them in the group shot of the stage before the big singing number (did the Randy Horne singers cut the vocal track for this)? And somehow, during the song, Baba Looey found his way onto the stage. Foster, who used to write music before he got into the cartoon business, presumably came up with the lyrics where he kisses up to Kellogg’s by including their slogan “The best to you each day.”

Another pop culture reference: Huck quickly dresses up as Mitch Miller of “Sing Along With Mitch” fame as he leads the kids watching at home and those in TV studios across North America in the Yogi Bear birthday song, helped by Pixie and Dixie displaying the lyrics, and a camera pullback of the stage for a rousing finale. (Fade out for another Kellogg’s commercial break).

Yogi ends the cartoon by telling the kids watching to keep the party going in their hometowns and blowing out the candles on his cake.

As mentioned, I don’t know who animated this cartoon. I like how Yogi gestures in some of the scenes instead of just standing there blinking his eyes and moving his mouth. When he talks about card tricks, he pretends to deal the cards. When he talks about “ticklin’ the ivories,” he pretends to play a piano. When he talks about how he’s going to “leave ‘em laughing,” he takes off his hat and thrusts it into the air like a comic ending his vaudeville act.

Harvey Eisenberg received a story sketch credit for this cartoon. As far as I know, it was the only credit he ever received on one of Hanna-Barbera’s shows. Ed Benedict is the layout artist. Too bad he wasn’t paired with Art Lozzi or Monte because the backgrounds may have been a little more interesting. Dick Thomas turned out all the backgrounds for this half-hour. They’re functional and he tries to decorate them a bit. The evergreens tend to look the same. Oh, well. By 1960, UPA was dying and so was that studio’s graphic influence, perhaps.

Hoyt Curtin wrote the cue library and, presumably, the music for the birthday song heard in this cartoon. An instrumental version is tossed in a couple of times. As was mentioned, there are some Top Cat cues mixed in here.

The guy I feel bad for after watching this is Huckleberry Hound. It was his show in 1958 that grabbed the attention of TV viewers and critics, giving Hanna-Barbera their first mainstream publicity. By 1961, he had become overshadowed by one of his supporting players, who ended up with a newspaper comic, a feature film cartoon and “ran” for President in 1964. Still, nothing ever bothered Huck. And at least he wasn’t put in a CGI/live action junk-fest and voiced by Dan Aykroyd pretending to be Rodney Dangerfield.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Ruff Stone

Joe Barbera was a man of many talents. He was quick sketch artist and an able story man. He was a super salesman of the studio’s product (he could sell a network on a cartoon series even when he didn’t know exactly what he was pitching). And he was praised by actors as being an excellent voice director, though he could be tough.

And he seems to have had a great deal of patience.

Reels of early Hanna-Barbera voice sessions (they were recorded on Ampex tape machines) may be buried somewhere, so about the best we can do to give you an idea of what they were like is pass along this story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 9, 1960.

Alan Dinehart was hired in April 1960 as an Associate Producer of the Flintstones. He had been an actor and a writer, so it’s no surprise he did a little bit of uncredited voice work on the series. Jerry Mann had met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera at MGM in the ‘40s where he supplied voices on a few of the Tom and Jerry cartoons that needed them. His acting career went back to his childhood in the early 1920s; he performed a solo act at the pinnacle of vaudeville, the Palace in New York, in 1925. You can read more about him in this post.

With Arf and Aroo-o-o

JOE BARBERA, curly haired, handsomely tanned, studied the control booth dials, glanced admiringly at the cartoon sketches in his hand and waved a finger at six actors under glass in a Sunset Blvd. recording studio. With calm precision, the actors stepped to three hanging microphones and, in concert, delivered intensely:
“Arf, arf, arf . . .”
“Ruff, ruff, ruff . . .”
“Bowwow, bowwow, bowwow . . .”
“Yeep-yeep, yeep-yeep, yeep-yeep . . .”
“Woof, woof, woof . . .”
“Ar oo-o-o-o, ar oo-o-o-o, ar oo-o-o-o . . .”
Barbera's finger flicked impatiently. The doggie din died.
“I can see,” Barbera said dryly, “none of you ever were in a dog pound.”
● ● ●
IT WAS 11 p. m. To an uninitiated observer it appeared to be the place where Hollywood actors bark off their daily frustrations. But Barbera and his six reasonably human actors had been penned in the small glass-walled studio for nearly four hours recording another episode of the new television series railed “The Flintstones.”
“The Flintstones” is widely ballyhooed as television's first cartoon series for adults. Each episode costs $65,000 to make, nothing: to bark at. You’ll see it Friday at 8:30 p. m. on WTAE, Channel 4, starting Sept. 30.
Each half hour cartoon will tell a tale of Fred and Wilma Flintstone, their neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble, both typical couples—with one difference. They live in the Stone Age. It's sort of "I Love Lucy" with dinosaurs.
● ● ●
ALAN REED and Jean Vander Pyl supply the Flintstones’ voices. The neighbors are Bea Benaderet, a veteran of the "Burns and Allen" show, and Mel Blanc, best known for his crunchy “What's Up, Doc!” greeting as Bugs Bunny.
The show comes from the Joe Barbera-Bill Hanna animation factory which also manufactures "Huckleberry Hound."
The two couples, plus actors Alan Dinehart and Jerry Mann, were in the soundproof studio making the sound track. Barbera was directing. He ordered another round of barking (the plot had something to do with Barney’s being hypnotized into thinking he was a dog and his landing in the pound).
“Seems like we have less dogs this time,” said Barbera, puzzled. More barking.
“Okay (Barbera, now perturbed) who was that fourth dog from the end?”
“ARE THESE all male male dogs?” interrupted Miss Vanderl Pyl, a jolly redhead.
“I don’t know if they let them mix in dog catcher wagons,” mused Barbera.”We don't want any lady dogs.”
“Surely,” said Miss Benaderet, mildly, “you can use a couple of bitches?”
Barbera let the suggestion slide. Miss Pyl, giggling, persisted doggedly:
“Could one be a French poodle?”
● ● ●
BLANC, SPEAKING for two dogs and the pound keeper in addition to his regular role, broke up in the middle of a bark. “What’s the matter?” said Barbera.
Gazing at the clock, Blanc panted, “I’m stir crazy.”
Barbera kept at them. More barking, accompanied by Barbera’s hounding. (“You’re a little, too frantic . . . you sound too hysterical”). He warned Blanc not to sound too old a dog catcher and the dour little man snapped back, “What’s wrong with an old dog catcher?”
● ● ●
AN AD AGENCY man wandered in the control booth. He announced he had found an elephant needed for a commercial film at a farm in the San Fernando Valley. “We drove up the dirt road to a steel gate which hail this huge sign, ‘Beware of Dog,’” he said, slinking his head over the vagaries of Hollywood life, “and not ten feet away was an . . an . . elephant.”
Soberly, Barbera looked up from his script and dials and said, “Did it bark?”
● ● ●
THE FINAL LINK of the script was reached. Barney, supposedly cured of his dogginess, picks up a package in his mouth and trots off. Blanc delivered the effect by talking with, his thumb in his mouth.
Barbera played back the line over the loudspeaker. Then he directed, “I want that last line with a little less finger.”
He got it. The session was over. Another "Flintstones" was born.
● ● ●
ON THE way out, a visitor hesitantly asked Miss Benaderet:
“Don’t you feel odd barking and all this foolishness . . . ?”
“Oh, no, silly,” she said, “It’s wonderful, Just like the old radio days.”
The visiting newsmen proceeded to walk up Sunset Blvd. Meanwhile, Miss Benaderet climbed into her cream colored Caddie and roared off.
Silly? Cadillac? There seemed to be but one answer:
Arf, ruff, bowwow, yeep yeep, woof and aroo-o-o-o-o.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Jetsons – Dude Planet

Can someone explain this to me? Why is Jane Jetson, who’s been married to her husband for years, misses and loves him terribly but, at the same time, is so completely untrusting of him that she’s certain he’s fooling around on her?

Doesn’t she know him better than that after all those years?

What a tired old sitcom staple the “jealous wife” is. But writer Walter Black drags it out to put a wrinkle in the plot of “Dude Planet,” the second-last Jetsons episode to air in first-run.

Black, however, anticipates carpal tunnel syndrome caused by too much keyboard bashing in the first part of the cartoon when the snarky Jane is forced by George to visit Dr. McGravity. The difference is Jane’s fingers are tied up in knots from all that button-pressing that’ll happen in homes of the future. Black also anticipates computerised doctor’s exams, though McGravity’s equipment looks a little cumbersome.

There’s now a flashback as Jane relates her woes. Either technology in the future doesn’t work or the Jetsons live in the worst-managed apartment of all time. The retracto bed runs amok and the food machine uncontrollable spits out Venusian toast. Dr. McGravity recommends rest at a getaway dude planet.

Doctor: You like horses?
Jane: I don’t know any.
Jane takes a Bubble cab to a travel agent, who recommends the Beta Bar Ranch on Beta 3. Naturally, everything there is robotic. She invites a hitherto never seen friend of hers named Helen, who is all worn out because her husband commutes from Tahiti to New York every day. Jean Vander Pyl would have been ideal for the role but someone else was cast. The original credits have been chopped off the version of the cartoon in circulation, but Mike Kazaleh says Helen is played by Joan Gardner, whose voice appeared in Gay Purree and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol around this time (she also worked opposite Don Messick in her husband’s animated TV opus, Spunky and Tadpole).

On to Act Two, where George, Judy and Elroy are home alone not sure how to work any of the household gadgets, which don’t work properly anyway. The robo-vacuum cleaner sucks up the Jetsons’ cat in its only appearance in the series (a small, kittenish version appears in the closing animation, as you likely know). The cat emerges around a white cloud and sneezes the dust away (Mike points out George Goepper is the animator). The food-omat captures George and the only way he can get out is being run through the wash cycle and the ironer (food of the future is ironed?), the window washer and, finally, the burnt toast ejector.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (Black resisted the chance to use that cliché), Jane and Helen ride some mechanical horses before being told of the wonders of the Beta Bar (the best gag is the cowpokes coughing while a smokey barbecue sizzles). The stagecoach is, naturally, pulled by a robotic longhorn. And Don Messick breaks into a yodelling falsetto as the Singing Vagabond Cowboy, crooning futuristic lyrics to “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” (rockets, comets and jets are included). Despite all this, Jane misses George. And George misses Jane.

Jane and Helen take in a bucking bronco event before ordering drinks from a drone (talking in Messick’s Uniblab voice) and taking in the Venus Kid failing in an attempt at bulldogging. Jane still pines for George and calls him. I like how the Visiphone taps him to wake him up. George Nicholas animates this part of the cartoon; the beady, pop-out eyes give that away. Helen may have the best line of the cartoon during a John-and-Marsha parody.

George: Jane.
Jane: George.
George: Jane.
Jane: George.
George: Jane.
Jane: George.
Helen (turning to camera): Now that’s what I call racy dialogue.
George doesn’t want Jane to worry, so he pretends he’s partying. That brings about the aforementioned tired story line where Jane works herself to think George is screwing around “with some slinky siren...and I’ll bet she’s a blonde”—even imagining the scene as she cuts short her vacation.
Blonde: My! What fascinating eyes you have, George.
George: Ha. Ha, ha. Well, I just use them for lookin’.
Blonde: Mmmm. Lovely hair.
George: It keeps my head from slipping off the pillow at night.
Jane goes to punch the siren but smashes the Beta 3 car driver on top of the head instead.

Anyway, to wrap up the story, Jane gets home and won’t talk to George, but Henry gets them wrapped up tightly in the now-repaired retracto bed and all is forgiven.

I don’t know who the background artist is. Here are some captured drawings. Interestingly, there’s no shot of the Skypad Apartments in this cartoon, even though much of the action is set there.

Besides Messick and Gardner, Hal Smith adds some voices as well.

Mike Kazaleh points out Bill Keil also animated parts of this episode. I sure wish the original credits had been restored to the cartoons when they were put on DVD.