ANIMATION ANECDOTES
February 14, 2014 posted by Jim Korkis

Animation Anecdotes #149

bye-bye-birdie-phone

yogi-colpix-album175Bye, 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.

snow-white-dwarfsDisappearing 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.

10 Comments

  • Again, Blame Paramount for Cool World‘s Failure

  • I remember noticing Smurf toys showing up in stores in the US in the ’70s, even though the characters were as yet unknown here. I was aware of the Smurfs from taking an interest in European comics (thank you, Fred Patten!), and I thought there was a natural appeal here, if only someone would think to bring the Smurfs to the States. Fred Silvermann seems to have had the same idea at the same time from noticing the same thing, only he could do something about it. Unfortunately, something about the original Smurfs was lost in the transfer, and they just seemed like ordinary, dumbed-down kiddie fodder. When I’ve made this point in the past, people assume I think Peyo’s original Belgian Smurf comics were gems of sophisticated humor, which isn’t the case. They were just very good for what they were, which was inventive, ingenious, well done comics for kids.

    • “Fred Silvermann seems to have had the same idea at the same time from noticing the same thing, only he could do something about it. Unfortunately, something about the original Smurfs was lost in the transfer, and they just seemed like ordinary, dumbed-down kiddie fodder. When I’ve made this point in the past, people assume I think Peyo’s original Belgian Smurf comics were gems of sophisticated humor, which isn’t the case. They were just very good for what they were, which was inventive, ingenious, well done comics for kids.”

      I suppose it was hit or miss depending on how history played this out. One one end, it was thankful someone with power had the chance to greenlit this, on the other, it didn’t quite live up to the potential.

      And now, your moment of zen!
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkLaxY31n3M

    • At least Hanna-Barberra did the Smurfs instead of say Filmation. That would be a lot more worse.

  • Slightly off topic, but ALL the records seen in “Bye Bye Birdie” are Colpix releases – probably most of their catalog at the time. There’s a lovely copy of the Marcels’ “Blue Moon” album propped up on the stool by Yogi Bear, and I see at least one Nina Simone LP in the stack on the floor. IIRC, there were at least two copies of “Blue Moon” in this young lady’s collection. Now THAT’S product placement.

    As a tie-in with the movie, Colpix released a compilation of their big teen stars (Shelley Fabares, Paul Petersen, James Darren, and yes, the Marcels) singing songs from the film. Genuine Brill Building stars performing fake Brill Building music. The Marcels do an honestly sincere version of “Honestly Sincere” that blows the original(s) away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPh9QmgxTUc God I love that album!

  • Oh, for pete’s sake, and here I thought (all along) that was a CINDY BEAR Doll in the scene! I luv 50 year old gossip!!!!

  • The “Bye-Bye Birdie” scene would only be the just the first of a few occasions for H-B to cross-promote it’s characters through Colpix/Screen Gems. The most notable instance would of course be the “Bewitched” series. Since the studio produced the opening credits sequence for that series, and had the lead characters appear in animated form on an episode of “The Flintstones”, Joe Barbera, natural-born pitchman that he was, came up with the idea of decorating the setting of Tabitha’s bedroom with stuffed doll versions of their then popular characters like Peter Potamus and Ricochet Rabbit.

    When H-B struck a motion picture deal with Paramount in the 70′s, even before “Charlotte’s Web” was released to theaters, the cross-promotion train continued chugging along through that studio’s marketing braintrust. Family-oriented sitcoms distributed by Paramount, such as “The Partridge Family” and “The Brady Bunch”, would each have at least one episode set on location at Magic Mountain (just previous to their acquisition by the Six Flags franchise), which gave H-B a convenient opportunity to cross-promote, since costumed versions of their characters were present at that theme park (coincidentally, one of two theme parks where exterior scenes for “The Banana Splits” were shot).

  • As for “Cool World”, I’d be curious to know if there were any deleted scenes left on the cutting room floor (including any scenes with unrendered animatics) that would’ve made it to the finished release were it not for the fact that Bakshi wasn’t informed of the ratings stipulation more promptly. And if so, are any of those scenes found on the most recent video release of the film (at this point in time, anyone would be pretty lucky to spot a copy). Milton, if your reading this, can you please shed some light on this?

  • “The Banana Splits” first season was filmed at Six Flags over Texas, the second at Cincinati’s Coney Island (see http://bananasplits.4t.com/faq.html), which moved inland to become King’s Dominion. It was owned by Taft at the time, the then owners of H-B.

    • Actually King’s Dominion is in Virginia. It’s King’s ISLAND in Cincinnati…and it wasn’t just a move of Coney Island which is, in fact, still there today, as is King’s Island.

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