Bye, Bye, Yogi. A Colpix record album jacket (1961) with the huge face of Yogi Bear is propped up on the leg of a chair in the scene (pictured above) of Columbia’s Bye Bye Birdie (1963) during the “Telephone Hour” musical number. A girl is laying on the carpet listening to records while talking on the phone and obviously has the soundtrack album on the turntable. The record featured four soundtracks voiced by Daws Butler and Don Messick. Of course, this was a little bit of cross promotion since Columbia Pictures’ Screen Gems television division was syndicating The Yogi Bear Show at the time and Birdie director George Sidney was an original partner with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera in their new animation studio. To reinforce the connection, when Ann-Margaret sings “How Lovely To Be A Woman” there is a multi-colored yellow and blue stuffed Yogi doll on the chair in her bedroom and Fred Flinstone and Barney figures on her dresser.
Smurfy Beginnings. In Aspen, Colorado in 1979, television executive Fred Silverman was with his daughter shopping and she wanted him to buy her a Smurf doll. Silverman approached Hanna-Barbera to come up with a series based on the characters. “Fred told me we ought to try it. When I looked at it, one exec wanted to make them all different colors, which I thought was about as necessary as a hole in my head. A lot of other people were sneering at the whole concept, but Fred hung in there. Of course, it became the hit that turned NBC around. It shows that you just don’t know what the hit’s going to be,” said Joe Barbera in 1996.
Live Long and Prosper. The issue of longevity of animated cartoon characters was addressed in a New York Times piece from February 13, 1936. Bosley Crowther, writing about the growing animation industry, interviewed Sam Buchwald of the Fleischer Studio’s management team.
“But an interesting thing about it [the animation industry] says Mr. Buchwald is the way that ‘the familiar cartoon characters rise, have their day of great popularity, and then wane just as real stars do. Although Disney doesn’t say much about it, his lovable Mickey, greatest animated character of all time, is definitely on the way out. And where are Koko the Clown, Mutt and Jeff and other of those favorites of a bygone era?
“Popeye and Betty Boop (the latter an original film creation and the other a recruit from the newspaper comic strips) have been doing quite well for about six years, but it takes imagination to keep them alive. Betty Boop is constantly undergoing imperceptible changes in size, hair, dress and such and is paradoxically growing younger in appearance,’ Mr. Buchwald confesses. But after all why shouldn’t she? The essence of the animated cartoon’s charm – the universality of its appeal – undoubtedly lies in its accomplishment of the utterly impossible.”
Acting For Animators. “The main thing that Walt wanted in animation was acting. As opposed to action. You can imagine a guy on the stage. Instead of just doing his lines, he uses his body and expressions to show the audience what he’s thinking. That’s the ‘illusion’ of life. Starting back with ‘Plane Crazy’ (1928), Walt recognized the importance of the acting, the characters. He was the first producer to recognize that. So by the time, the rest of us came along and did ‘Snow White’ (1937) and ‘Pinocchio’ (1940) and all those, that was the primary thing that made a Disney picture stand out, and still is,” commented Disney Legend Ollie Johnston at an art gallery signing in 1995.
Disappearing Live Action. “When working on ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’, some of the less experienced animators felt they needed more live action reference. No one knew how to do a feature or animate as well as Walt wanted. One night someone had a 16mm camera, and we all played dwarves, acting out Happy, Grumpy, Sleepy and the rest of them. It was all very ridiculous. The next day the film mysteriously disappeared and was never seen again,” remembered Disney Legend Frank Thomas at an art gallery signing in 1995.
Production Necessities. “Disney had some blockbusters and everyone began announcing animated features. What wasn’t being announced was where were they getting the talent to create these animated features? The fact you ship it abroad to Korea or Taiwan doesn’t fill the creative hole. It only takes care of the production necessities,” said Joe Barbera in 1996.
Betty of the Jungle. In 1995, animation producer, writer and creator Bill Kopp (“Eek! The Cat”) was pitching “Betty of the Jungle” that Kopp described as a sexy “George of the Jungle”. The series was not directly inspired by pin-up model Betty Page although the character was a brunette but co-producer Steve Holland (who admitted to be a fan of Page) said “we just liked her name”. Fox, which had first right of refusal, passed on the series, and Kopp was hoping to make it an adult-oriented animated feature film. “Somebody’s going to come along at some point and give somebody a whole bunch of money to do a project like ‘Betty’ and it’s going to kick the door open. We’ve got to stop pretending that cartoons are (just) for kids, and once we get over that kind of prejudice, then a lot more stuff will start to happen,” stated Kopp.
Cool World. In 1994, animator Ralph Bakshi discussed his original script for “Cool World” (1992). “I wanted to do a horror film. I went to work (writing a script) and Paramount bought it. The original concept was that a live-action character gets into the cartoon world and goes to bed with this girl who wanted to be real. And they had a baby and the baby happened in thirty seconds. The whole thing was about the father and son relationship. It really was a strange story. I think it was a potentially good film.” Paramount came up with their own script and while originally the film was to be “R” rated, during the two years of production, Brandon Tartikoff replaced Frank Mancuso Sr. as head of production and days away from Bakshi finishing the film, he was told that it had to be “PG-13” instead.