ANIMATION SPIN
May 19, 2015 posted by

A Spin Special: A “Jonny Quest” Tribute To John Stephenson

The recently passed John Stephenson was a ubiquitous presence on and especially off screen, but nowhere was his impact stronger than at Hanna-Barbera, where one of his most front-and-center roles was as Dr. Benton Quest. Today, a tribute to this consummate actor.

JonnyQuest20KLP

JONNY QUEST in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA
Presented by Hanna-Barbera
Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series HLP-2030 (12” LP / Mono)
Condensed Story: CS-703 (7” 45 RPM)

Released in 1965. Executive Producers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera. Director/Writer: Charles Shows. Music: Hoyt Curtin. Arrangements: Ted Nichols. Underscore/Sound Effects Editor: Milton Krear. Mastering: Joe Leahy, Dave Diller. Art Direction: Harvard Pennington. Layout: Warren Tufts. Cover Art: Warren Tufts, Harvard Pennington. Hand Lettering: Robert Schaefer. Running Time: 28 minutes.
Voices: Tim Mathieson (Jonny); John Stephenson (Dr. Benton Quest); Mike Road (Race Bannon).
Music: “Jonny Quest (Theme)”.

Jonny opens the story much like Choo-Choo did on HBR’s Robin Hood Starring Top Cat, reading the classic book upon which their imminent adventure is based. It was an occcasional plot device in cartoons, e.g., in Warner Bros’ s Windblown Hare (1949), both the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf read their own book). Hanna-Barbera’s most elaborate use of this device was seen in 1966’s Alice in Wonderland, in which Alice had to read the book for homework and, once in Wonderland, found several fourth-wall references.

Jonny and Dr. Quest go into the ocean—not-quite-20,000 leagues—inside a diving bell, and things go terribly wrong. When Race, who had been monitoring the controls, disappears, Jonny and Dr. Quest face losing their oxygen. By side two, we learn that Race was battling a giant squid, or as it is more frequently called on the LP, “That…That Thing!” Things go from bad to worse as Jonny and Dr. Quest watch Race face what might be his final adventure.

JonnyFave45It’s a great album, but it does deal with one special challenge. Action stories can be difficult to pull off in pure audio. Everything has to be described through the dialogue without it seeming forced. For the most part, Charles Shows keeps the story moving enough so the exposition isn’t noticeable. But during the big climax, since most of the dialogue is between Jonny and Dr. Quest, it starts to ping-pong: “What might work?” What do you mean, Dad?” etc.

This is the only Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series LP with an instrumental. Shows and company could have gone with a few of those typical HBR songs (“Jonny Quest, Jonny Quest / When there’s action, he’s the best / Every time he’ll pass the test / woe-woe-woe-woe / Jonny Quest”) You can have hours of fun making these up. The instrumental is none other than one of Hoyt Curtin’s most iconic compositions, this time done with a slower, hard driving tempo á la the James Bond film themes. One wishes that this track was released in stereo—and also that Curtin might have had more participation in Hanna-Barbera’s journey into recordings. Why didn’t they let him do an entire album, for Squiddly’s sake?

The ultimate aspect that makes this album a treasure is that it contains so much of Stephenson and Road. John Stephenson in particular was such a Hanna-Barbera fixture, you’d think he would have done more records for them. The fact that the record business folded as the action cartoons were ramping up must have been one reason.

In addition to H-B’s shortened version of this story released on 45 RPM, another single was also sold with the same art called “Favorite Songs of Jonny Quest”, containing the theme and four other tunes from HBR albums: “Bedrock Rock”, “Top Cat”, “Smokey the Dragon” and “Robin Hood”. Can’t you just picture Jonny, Hadji and Bandit in some exotic adventure setting, taking a break by listening to these “faves” of theirs?

No review of this album would be adequate without acknowledging the cover, one of the most spectacular among all Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series Records. Certainly Buster Crabbe, Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps have nothing on Race Bannon. H-B could have collected some product placement cash if a certain swimsuit logo was added—if there was room—to the garment in question.

Our pal Mark Evanier has a superb blog post about John Stephenson here.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”
Why not listen to the entire album and enjoy all the rock-solid voice acting performances? Note the proliferation of exciting music cues, some heard on other H-B records, but many unique to this one.

9 Comments

  • This album is clearly set in a post-series time frame. Tim Matheson’s Jonny is definitely older, and Hadji has apparently gone back to India. as he is not referenced in the album at all. Jonny’s sense of boyish wonder is still there, but his voice has matured considerably since the series. I’m glad they were able to get Tim Matheson, because his presence adds continuity and makes the album sound “authentic.” And although I got used to Don Messick’s interpretation of Dr. Quest, the early episodes with John Stephenson’s voice provide an interesting alternative. Stephenson does an excellent job with the role in this album. And Mike Road as Race Bannon adds another major link to the original series.

    Though it has very little to do with the Jules Verne story, the frequent references to Verne are a satisfying tribute.

    The instrumental alternate theme song is a real bonus. Though it is different from the TV theme, it sets the right tone for the album–and since we’re getting an older Jonny, it’s appropriate that we get a new theme song.

  • May his memory be eternal!

  • This recording *IS* impressive. Sure wish I knew about these at the time. Despite the lack of a visual, all cast members handled the story quite nicely, easily turning it into a fantastic radio drama. I’ll have to alert my nephew to this; he may enjoy it as much as I did.

  • John Stephonson was also the last surviving original cast member of The Flintstones as George Slate as well as the voice of Hairy Scary and many other characters. He’ll be sorely missed.

  • The instrumental version of the Jonny Quest theme heard here was arranged and played by jazz man Shorty Rogers and his group, “The Giants.” It was also released as a 45 rpm single, HBR-442, which is considered quite a collector’s item. Most of Hanna-Barbera Records’ singles releases were garage-band rock or soul/funk. Very few were connected with their cartoons; this one, a couple Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm releases, and a Scat Man Crothers “cover version” of “What’s A Nice Kid Like You Doing In A Place Like This?” from “Alice in Wonderland” were about it; though Paul Frees made a (recitation?) single for HBR, “Portrait Of A Fool” b/w “A Girl.”

  • That is a very good cover – Warren Tufts also did excellent work on his comic strips “Casey Ruggles” and “Lance.”
    I wonder if Race Bannon was modeled on Shell Scott, Richard Prather’s paperback private eye.

  • One of my favorite albums from Hanna-Barbera Records. Still play it to this day.

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