Friday, July 7, 2017

H-B Number 60 to H-B

The New York Times published a column of short blurbs from Hollywood on July 6, 1957. One of them read:
George Sidney, director-producer, will serve as the president of H.B. Enterprises, a cartoon film producing company formed in association with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The company will open offices next week at the Kling Studios to make cartoon movies for theatres, television and commercial purposes.
The Mssrs. Hanna and Barbera were responsible for the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer.
Mr. Sidney currently is associated with Columbia Pictures in theatrical film production through his company, George Sidney Productions.
Similar stories appeared in the trade press at the same time. H.B. Enterprises was incorporated on July 7, 1957. From this modest, inauspicious beginning sprung a multi-billion-dollar TV cartoon empire. So it is we wish a Happy 60th Birthday to Hanna-Barbera.

While even non-cartoon fans know who Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera are, they weren’t the big names when their studio was formed, despite all the Oscars and their surnames on the company entrance. George Sidney was the big player. At the time, he was president of the Directors Guild of America. He had a lot of weight in Hollywood. And, more importantly, he had access to cash, because Hanna and Barbera didn’t have quite enough, even after home mortgages, to set up their own company. Sidney was a silent investor. And, more importantly, he set up the deal with his contacts at Columbia that got Hanna-Barbera’s first series, Ruff and Reddy, made. Dick Bickenbach recalled to historian Mike Barrier that the series was already being worked on during the last week the Hanna-Barbera unit was still employed at MGM, though the characters had been copyright the previous year through a company called Shield Productions, co-owned by Hanna, his brother-in-law Mike Lah, and Dan Driscoll, who redrew backgrounds so old Tex Avery cartoons could be released in CinemaScope.

The blog has published almost every story we’ve been able to find about the studio from the pre-Flintstones days; Charles Witbeck wrote what was likely the first piece, an excellent one, in early 1958. But to celebrate the anniversary, let’s post another from the early years to give you an idea of the studio creation and expansion. This is from Newsday of March 4, 1960. By this time, Hanna-Barbera had achieved incredible success with The Huckleberry Hound Show, thanks to ex-MGM artists like Fernando Montealegre (left). It had a huge impact. Critics and parents loved it because it subtly funny and not old and “violent” like theatrical cartoons dominating television at the time. It won an Emmy. And it made money, money, money. Pretty soon, other studios started hawking TV cartoons. Hanna-Barbera was the foundation behind television animation today.

TV Cartoons Animate Business
By Ben Kubasik

Newsday Entertainment Editor
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck had better watch out. For they are getting more than their share of competition from animated cartoon figures such as “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw.”
The latter two Johnnies-come-lately are animated cartoon commodities made especially for television. And already they are big business in the toy and novelty fields as well as in comic books. Perhaps the most surprising quality about “Huckleberry Hound” and “Quick Draw McGraw” is that necessity—combined with imagination, of course—was the source of their invention.
The birth of the two TV cartoon figures began less than five years ago when two of Hollywood’s top animated cartoon producers found themselves without jobs. The two men—William Hanna and Joseph Barbera—had won seven Oscars during 20 years at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer where they produced that studio’s successful “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.
“The studio went on an economy drive,” recalled Barbera, “and since our old ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons were doing well at theaters, they decided they did not need any new ones. So one little call from some faceless executive put Bill and me out of work. Producing cartoons is a rather specialized business so we had no idea what we were going to do after the studio laid us off.”
Hanna and Barbera investigated the possibility of doing cartoons for television but were discouraged by everyone in the industry. “Everybody told us television would be impossible because it eats up more material than could possibly be created in the field of animation,” he said. “We had a huge staff at MGM for our ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons, but all we ever turned out there was 50 minutes of cartoons a year, which is not even the equivalent of two half-hour television shows.”
Even so, the animated cartoon business was all Hanna and Barbera really knew about. And they were convinced that television, despite what they were told about its hazards, offered the most promises. They were the only two men in their company (Hanna-Barbera Productions) when they first started knocking on studio doors. Screen Gems, a TV film producing organization, was first to welcome their ideas and sold one series, “Ruff and Reddy,” to NBC starting in December, 1957. That show still is on the air (Saturdays, 10:30 AM).
As a result of that success, Hanna and Barbera were able to expand their staff and concentrate on still more ideas. That’s when they came up with “Huckleberry Hound: and then “Quick Draw McGraw,” seen locally over WPIX (Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:30 PM).
To turn out their animated cartoons for TV, Hanna and Barbera today have over 200 technicians and cartoonists. And they are hiring even more people for a new prime time animated series, “The Flagstones,” which will deal with how a modern family might have lived during pre-historic times. The series is due on ABC in the fall.
“Before we started doing animated cartoons especially for television,” said Barbera, “a major cartoon-producing firm was asked to survey the idea of doing series such as ours for television and flatly said it would be impossible. I sometimes wonder how we’re able to do it ourselves. At the most, we used to turn out eight ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoons as year while we were with M-G-M. Now, we’re turning out up to 200 cartoons a year for television.”
There are no short cuts in animation, said Barbera. “But ‘Tom and Jerry’ never achieved fame as fast as our television cartoon characters. Television exposure is fantastic—because of the millions upon millions of people who see our shows week in and week out. People saw our occasional ‘Tom and Jerry’ shorts only when they went to movies. They can see ‘Huckleberry Hound’ and ‘Quick Draw McGraw’ regularly—which accounts for their phenomenal success on the air and in toys and comic books.”
As you can see above, Hanna-Barbera took the next step in its growth in 1960 with a move into prime time. Despite some initial pans, The Flintstones became a hit. Copycats followed. The 1961 prime-time schedule saw a number of other brand-new animated series. They failed. So did H-B’s efforts to duplicate the success of The Flintstones; Top Cat, The Jetsons and Jonny Quest were all cancelled after one season. Hanna-Barbera had to turn away from prime time and look elsewhere.

That elsewhere was Saturday mornings.

In the 1950s, Saturday mornings on the networks were the province of test patterns, puppet shows and a few filmed shows. Cartoon reruns began taking up more and more of the time. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera asked themselves “Why not new cartoon shows for Saturday morning?” They weren’t the first to do it—much like their Ruff and Reddy wasn’t the first serialised, narrated TV cartoon show—but the great success in 1965 of the spoofing Secret Squirrel and Atom Ant shows begat more copycats and kickstarted the hugely profitable Saturday morning cartoon industry.

Those profits created a time bomb.

The TV cartoon creators began to turn away from comedy and move into action-adventure. Space Ghost and The Herculoids are fondly remembered by many who were kids back them. Their parents were horrified. Such violence! Nanny groups had been around with their noses in the air chiding networks since the radio days. They moved into television; one group in the mid-‘50s even criticised clean-living Roy Rogers because—gasp!—he carried a gun. The groups were given ink in newspapers and media trade publications and forgotten. The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 resulted in a quick federal task force which concluded that kids imitate the violence they see on TV. That gave the nanny groups a huge amount of fuel to pressure the networks to get rid of “violent” cartoons, demanding children be educated on Saturday mornings instead.

For the first time, people in large numbers were criticising the Hanna-Barbera shows.

Everyone got into the Saturday morning bashing game. “Kidvid trash” is what Variety called the programming. The networks and sponsors were worried about those huge profits vanishing. They gave in.

Hanna-Barbera reacted as well. By now it had new owners, and Taft Enterprises wasn’t about to jeopardise what it hoped would be a cash cow. A call was placed to writer Mike Maltese to come back and write funny cartoons again. For fall of 1968, the studio produced Wacky Races (and The Banana Splits Adventure Hour). The following year, it added Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop and The Cattanooga Cats. Oh, and another show about a scared Great Dane and some meddling kids. Can’t recall the name of it. But it arguably became Hanna-Barbera’s biggest success.

No matter. “Drivel Replaces Sat. AM Mayhem,” sniffed Barbare Delatiner (or her headline writer) of Newsday. “TV: More of the Same,” yawned “J.G.” of the New York Times. The latter particularly went overboard in the rhetoric department, suggesting children were so stupid, they couldn’t tell the difference between the war in Vietnam and “make-believe cartoon mayhem.”

Let’s catch up again with Joe Barbera in this feature story from the Scripps-Howard News Service of November 5, 1972. Hanna-Barbera had tried prime-time again, this time ripping off The Flintstones and putting the characters in football drag in Where’s Huddles?. Now the studio wanted to get a foot in the door using the new prime-time access rules. Despite Barbera’s claims, their newest cartoon used the conservative/liberal, father/son-in-law dynamic of All in the Family as the basis. Barbera was a great salesman and he sells his studio nicely in this story, raising good points in the process.

Entertain vs. Teach
Bill, Joe and the Saturday Morning Furor
By RICHARD K. SHULL

“When kids go to school all week, on Saturday they shouldn’t have to go to school again on TV...learning to count or to roll a ball of string,” Joe Barbera said. “I know when I was a kid, I never missed a Saturday serial at the theater.”
Barbera, whose name usually is seen hyphenated behind the name of his partner of 35 years, Bill Hanna, understandably gets upset these days with the continuing furor over the state of children’s programs on TV.
Hanna-Barbera Studios is the single largest supplier of those Saturday and Sunday morning shows on the commercial networks. The H-B cartoon characters are tied in with cereals, and the H-B “Flintstones” characters also pitch a line of kiddie vitamins—“Abba dabba doo, they’re good for you.”
So when the Boston moms, officially known as Action for Children’s Television (ACT), launched an attack on that noisome, hard-sell segment of the TV dial known as children’s programming, it came as a dagger aimed at the vitals of the Hanna-Barbera empire.
Barbera is neither embarrassed nor ashamed of which his cartoon shop has created. And Lord knows, he has ample evidence of his own good instincts—he’s president of the Huntingdon and Greek Theaters in Los Angeles and plays a key role in the prestigious programs presented there.
He has shows to which he points with pride. For instance, the recent “Last of the Curlews” special on ABC, a beautifully-animated ecology feature for children. Or the soon-to-be released theatrical animated feature version of the children’s classic, “Charlotte’s Web.”
Even in the Saturday morning idiom, he’s been responsible for long-playing characters such as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. And currently on BC, the “Sealab 2020” cartoon series is a scientifically factual series based on an underwater city 50 years from now.
On the negative side, H-B has had its share of the superviolent cartoons with superheroes tangling with superinsidious villains. And there’s the matter of the Flintstones vitamins, which he tends to pass off quickly. “I took horrible-tasting stuff by the teaspoon when I was a kid. Are pills shaped like familiar characters so bad?”
Barbera said he has been invited to participate in many of the profusion of panels and seminars on children’s programming in recent months, but has categorically declined.
“Nothing I say could change their minds,” he said. “They’d destroy me, if I said what I believe; that I don’t want to educate, I want to entertain.
“Last year George Heinneman (NBC’s vice president for children’s programming) gave them what they wanted and it was a disaster for NBC. Millions went down the drain last year in educational shows on Saturday morning.
“I had a Bible story project and luckily it didn’t sell. I’d have lost. And I couldn’t do it according to the Bible and stay within TV’s rules.”
“He went on to say, “I agree. Take the violence out of the kid shows. But the shows have to be funny if you want anyone to watch.”
“We watch it very carefully, but in attempting to please everyone, we may wind up with no individual expression.”
This season, Hanna-Barbera branch into another division of TV with their “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home,” a show designed for syndication in prime time under the FCC “access rule.”
The show was instantly labelled by many who saw it as a cartoon version of “All in the Family.” It drew some howls of protest when its premiere episode centered on a misunderstanding in which the family thought the father character had spent the night in a motel with a female client.
Barbera insists that episode wasn’t typical, nor does his cartoon center on any Archie Bunker type. “He’s an old-fashioned father image who says things all parents should be saying to their kids. Our father loves the mother. And the mother is not a kook. And the father is not a screaming stoop,” he said. “We’re handling a lot of subject matter in the show. Watch. You’ll see,” he added.
Barbera’s Bible idea waited until the home video market was invented. He pushed it along—apparently against the instincts of Bill Hanna—and it proved to be a success.

Meanwhile, back on Saturday mornings, Hanna-Barbera followed the trends. There were propaganda shows where Yogi Bear told kids not to pollute. There were cartoons based on toys. There was a kiddie version of the Flintstones. There were teenaged mall-rat versions of the funny animals of the original H-B successes. Unlike the originals, these were kids-only shows. I suppose they all came into being because they tested well.

By the 1980s, there was a huge boon to cartoons in general with the creation of cable television channels in the United States which showed nothing but animation. That’s part of the reason Hanna-Barbera remained a very valuable property, even though its new owner in 1987, Great American Communication Co., was having money troubles. On August 29, 1991, Turner Broadcasting System signed a letter of intent to purchase the “animation entertainment assets and businesses” of Hanna-Barbera Productions. The deal was finalised in December. One day later, Turner axed 115 Hanna-Barbera employees, 92 of them in North America. By now, the studio employed dedicated artists and other staff members who had grown up with and loved the early Hanna-Barbera characters.

Merry Christmas from Ted Turner.

Bill Hanna died in 2001. Joe Barbera followed five years later. But their characters carry on. Your family can still pull in to a Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. There’s talk of a live-action Jetsons movie. And the folks at Warner continue to release DVDs of the studio’s cartoon series although, sigh, we will never see a Quick Draw McGraw Show on home video.

In other words, people still enjoy and laugh at the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons. You do, too, or you wouldn’t be here. And I’m sure you’re wishing a happy birthday to the great studio built by Joe and Bill, their employees, and those fine cartoon characters.


14 comments:

  1. Could you elaborate on the Quick Draw McGraw comment for me. Why won't they be released on home video (dvd)? You may have written about it on a previous post, but I don't recall it.

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  2. It's essentially a music rights issuemail. The owners of the cartoons and the owners of the canned music used in said cartoons are unable to see eye-to-eye.

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    1. Ah, I see. That may yet be sorted out though. The 1966 TV Batmobile was out of bounds for years until the different companies who owned copyright of the show (or aspects of it) eventually sorted out their differences. That's why Mattel were able to release their version, followed by other toymakers.

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    2. ANd it's hard to ascertain who even wrote some..the major credit for it goes to John Seely of Capitol but...the very fast paced string laden (first used in 1958's Meeces/Jink "Little Birdmouse" in the Hanna-Barbera world), George Hormel-credited "ZR 48 Fast Movement"(alpha numeric "Models" for thesebeing a way of life for the composers) originated in the Fox librayr as "Water Skis":, though at least THE name credited, John Seely (the Ray Kroc of stock music, perhaps, or the Steve Jobs or Marc Zuckerberg, in terms of being the top and thus most known) and Bill Loose get credit, while that was a rare reversal. Loose and Seely often even paid a celebrity--David Rose, to write music, for the usual non-credit (analogous to voices in WB and UPA cartoons waiving their credit, in WB to Mel Blanc, and in UPA, to Jim Backus or Marvin Miller depending on the cartons) as was just per the case. Many Jack Shaindlin (another uncrediter supposed writer), who was actually kind of a "visitor" as he was his own library (go to April 2010, on this blog "The Incomplete Cartoon Shaindlin"), hired other writers, hired many writers, so it's a compl,icated thing. Then music off of old 1940s Walter Lantz cartoons (scores by Darrell Calker and even the later, semi-waning 1950s Clarence Wheeler ones), wound up there. Even a whole score of Lantz's 1945 "Chew Chew Baby" wound up, in Bob Clampett's 1961 Beany and Cecil "Cecil meets Cecilia"=and it is standard issue to hear the early, 1940s Woody theme in Beany cartoons.:) Much like Paramount/Famous/Harvey Winston Sharples scores wound up elsewhere.. HOWEVER..WB Carl Stalling or MGM Scott Bradley cues NEVER wind up in eatch other or other studios's scores...:)! Hopefully that dug deeper into the matter...SC

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    3. Thanks for that, very interesting. I suppose if there happened to be enough demand for the cartoons and money to be made, it might be worth HB's while giving them a new musical score and avoiding any issues over the rights.

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    4. From what I understand, in the first few series, the sound effects and music are on one track. The effects would have to be replicated as well and that may just be too much bother for the financial return. And that's if the separate voice tracks still exist and are able to be used.

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  3. A happy 60th birthday to the best animation studios there ever was.:)

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  4. The Richard K. Shull article is about the best contemporary piece I've read on the demise of Saturday morning TV. Networks were overreacting to a special interest group, much to the displeasure of the affiliates and the advertisers. Broadcasting companies united in their hatred of the clampdown. Note that the Shull piece was syndicated via Scripps-Howard, a corporate cross-town rival to Taft. The world headquarters for both companies were a cab ride apart.

    Useless trivia: "Wait Till Your Father..." aired on the Taft flagship station WKRC in the prime time access slot. Even at nine years-old, I knew it was All In The Family Lite. Then again, so was The Barkleys, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, etc...

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    1. Steve, thanks for your insight. The proximity of the Taft HQ to Scripps-Howard didn't dawn on me until you mentioned it.
      Barbera was all too ready to defend his cartoons in print; I've run across a few other feature stories that I should have saved but the focus of the blog is from a time period before all that became necessary.
      I thought "All in the Family," at the outset anyway, was brilliant. "Father" was just plain old uninteresting. I'm pretty sure I turned it off the two times I tried watching it.

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    2. I personally enjoyed it..with Playboy's Marty Murphy designing it (he'd worked for many other cartoons), thus giving it a unique look..Tom Bosley and Joanie Gerber played the main roles.:)SC

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  5. William Hanna & Joseph Barbera: the eternal kings of animation.

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  6. What puzzles me about this music argument is that other live-action series which share the same music cues have been issued without any problems at all, some now at bargain prices. I was watching THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN this morning and heard several distinctive Capitol library cues (and this includes the theme!) which wound up in HUCK or YOGI cartoons; six months' worth of strike-era '50s Warner Bros. cartoons feature the same H-B music, and other Screen Gems and Universal shows (DONNA REED, DENNIS THE MENACE (again, including the theme song), LEAVE IT TO BEAVER) do too, yet they're all on DVD. Even the first season of THE FLINTSTONES (if I recall correctly) used at least some canned music. Other studios are apparently not as fearful of mass lawsuits from long-deceased composers trying to claim rights. What makes the situation for HUCKLEBERRY HOUND, QUICK DRAW McGRAW and RUFF & REDDY so different--other than a convenient excuse for WB to issue ever other obscure (and awful) H-B series before they even consider them? If this were a legit excuse, we'd have seen the TOUCHE/WALLY/LIPPY collection by now--and LOOPY DE LOOP, which used the Capitol music on the earliest entries in the series, wouldn't exist. (I haven't watched the DVD yet, having seem them recently enough on Boomerang, but I haven't heard that they replaced any of the music.) Heck, if it's a matter of money, Warner Archive could simply issue HUCK Volume 2 and QUICK DRAW McGRAW for the outrageous prices ($50-60 a volume) they've issued the likes of the Warner '50s westerns and drama series and the MGM live-action shows. I think it's more likely that the work it would entail to attempt to assemble more complete episodes than they've got at the moment is the stumbling block, and they're waiting till they've used up the cheaper projects before committing money to these three series. But I'm pretty confident that they will--eventually--appear, probably in the next few years, since they know they have a rapidly aging audience at the moment which won't exist for very much longer.

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    1. LOOPY had Capitol's music..? At least the earliest were the earliest to use Curtin cues (largely familiar later from the Flinsatones, incuding what became the 1962 Rockenspiel jingle.) As for the 1958 theatrical WB carotons, somehow theatricals aren't covered.....Othjerwise all of your poins I agree with..)

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    2. PS As for the "Flintstones", only the 1960 first episode in its 1959 pilot identity as "The Flagstones" used the tock music (swimming pool scene, this was the "Swimming Pool" one..it inlcudes that famous "Wilma-in-a-umbrella-for a table" scene (as a result of freaking out at Barney Rubble in a scuba outfit!) The estates, NOT the composers, were the plaintiffs in any sits. BTW Don Fedderson Productions "My Three Sons" (the pre-William Demarest ones; i.e., the William Frawley ons., also the pre-Barry Livingston, ones with Tim Consaidinem, inn B&W rather than color, on ABC rather than CBS,) were released by Paramount Home Video about ten years ago with redoine music, apparently the original tracks being added...but Shout! Factory released the Screen ge,s Dennis/Donna shows with their original ones. And as a final note, Cleassic Media released the Clokey Gumby shorts, where I;m found trotting around to evocative stock cues...with the original cues..:)SC

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