Question: What do The Jetsons, Top Cat, and The Flintstones have in common – besides producers Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera?
Answer: Animation writer/storyboard artist Tony Benedict – and in anticipation of the January 8th live interview with Tony on Stu’s Show, here’s a look at vintage cartoon records with Mr. Benedict’s distinctive touch.
THE HILLBILLY BEARS in HILLBILLY SHINDIG
Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series HLP-2044 (12” LP / Mono)
Released in 1965. Executive Producers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera. Producer/Director: Charles Shows. Story: Tony Benedict. Adaptation: Charles Shows. Songs: Tony Benedict, Ted Nichols, Stan Farber, Charles Shows, Peggy Shows. Music: Hoyt Curtin. Editor: Tony Milch. Engineer: Richard Olsen. Mastering: Joe Leahy, Dave Diller. Cover Art: Richard Khim. Hand Lettering: Robert Schaefer. Running Time: 39 minutes.
Voices: Henry Corden (Paw Rugg, “Darrryl Baby” Mogul, Chief Dinwiddy, Opening Narrator); Jean Vander Pyl (Maw Rugg, Airline Announcer, Flight Attendant); Daws Butler (“Flack Baby” Fletcher, Watusi á Go-Go M.C., Ed Sullivan, Newsboy); The Hanna-Barbera Singers (including Al Capps, Ron Hicklin, Stan Farber)
Songs: “Do The Bear,” “The Hillbilly Bears,” Paw Rugg,” “Hillbilly Shindig,” “Monster Shindig” (excerpt).
Background Music Sources: The Jetsons, The Magilla Gorilla Show, The Flintstones, Jonny Quest.
All six cartoon segments from The Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show were made into Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series records in 1965, clearly part of the plan to release records as new cartoons were introduced. If only this had continued! These records were among the label’s best (with the possible exception of Squiddly Diddly’s Surfin’ Surfari, which I wish would have been a story album instead of a collection of surfing tunes).
“Hillbilly Shindig” was the HBR album most closely tied to a specific TV cartoon episode. In the animated version, “Do The Bear” makes Paw Rugg a pop superstar with a new sound. Screaming fans chase him until he returns home, only to find that dopey Claude Hopper is going to woo Floral Rugg with “Do The Bear.” Paw angrily goes after Claude for the trademark H-B “chase-to-fade” ending.
The record expands on the seven-minute cartoon, but does not mention Floral Rugg even though she appears on the album cover (which is the same art as the TV title card, which continues to thrill me). Jean Vander Pyl could have done Floral’s voice, but only three bears seem to exist on the vinyl version. Since it seems slightly padded anyway to fill out the album, the script could have accommodated Floral.
But that’s one of several oversights and examples of “Gilligan’s Law” in the HBR version, delightful as it is. A few examples: Flack Fletcher calls Paw’s movie debut “Hollywood Shindig” instead of “Hillbilly Shindig” and Maw explains that Paw doesn’t like to hear the word “work,” even though Maw says it herself.
Though it presents a complete story, the album divides in two, as is the case with many HBR’s. On Side One, Paw is “discovered” by Hollywood publicist “Flack Baby” Fletcher and producer Darrryl Baby” Mogul (“Did they spell my name right, Flack Baby?” “With three ‘r’s,’ Darrryl Baby!”). Paw wows the crowd at the “Watusi á Go-Go” and then hits it big on The Ed Sullivan Show. On Side Two, several months have passed and Paw’s a superstar, but he suddenly disappears just before shooting begins on his first movie.
The one-liners come thick and fast. Once Paw becomes a star, Flack Baby says, “We’ll give him the big build up! I’ll get him a Beatle wig, I’ll have him seen with all the big name stars in Hollywood, like Sinatra, Elvis and…Yogi Bear!” There’s some low comedy, too: after finding out he’d eaten possum gizzards, Darrryl Baby is forced to make a hasty exit. This could also be the first children’s record in which a character vomits, albeit “off-mike.”
The signature song, “Do the Bear” by Tony Benedict and Ted Nichols, is heard twice in its original soundtrack form. It’s performed a third time by The Hanna-Barbera Singers, whose other three songs—like many others on HBR Cartoon Series albums—aren’t directly related to the story context.
Overall, the album is fun-filled HBR gold—a playful spoof of show business and the still-prevalent “flavor of the month” pop star syndrome. It sounds as if the creative team who made this record was having a good time.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Hillbilly Hi-Test” & “Do The Bear”
Occasionally H-B editors Tony Milch or Milton Krear would put together a wild medley of sound effects for HBR that I would play for my friends to dazzle them or work them into a school play. This chain of effects is possibly the lengthiest of its kind in the entire of HBR line. The other segment closes the album, in which Paw is filming his big music movie extravaganza, singing his hit song.
SANTA AND THE THREE BEARS
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Sunset (Liberty) Records SUS-5325 (12” LP / Stereo)
Reissue: Mr. Pickwick Records SPC-1501 (12” LP / Stereo)
RECORD ALBUM CREDITS
Released in 1970. Writer/Producer/Director: Tony Benedict. Musical Direction: Joe Leahy. Vocalist: Jeannie Sheffield (Vocalist); Running Time: 35 minutes.
A Tony Benedict Production in Association with Key Industries, Ltd. Canada, in cooperation with the U.S. Forestry Service. Producer/Director: Tony Benedict. Associate Producer: James Kernoodle. Screenplay: Tony Benedict. Vocalist: Joyce Taylor. Art Direction: Walt Peregoy. Animators: Bill Hutten, Tony Love, Volus Jones. Assistant Animators: Eva Scheider, Judy Drake, Sylvia Mattinson, Janice Stocks, Lenore Wood, Linda Gionet, Cindy Beck. Layout: Jane Takamoto (Baer), Stan Green. Editor: Milton Krear. Distributors: Keith T. Smith/Modern Sound Pictures, Pirates World/Cinetron Pictures.
Voices: Hal Smith (Ranger, Santa Claus); Jean Vander Pyl (Nana Bear); Bobby Riha (Chinook); Annette Ferra (Christina Ferra-Gilmore) (Nakomi);
Songs: “Wintertime,” “The World of Toy People,” The Wonder of Christmas Time,” “Sleepytime Song.”
Instrumental: “Christmas Toy Overture.”
Santa and the Three Bears, to me anyway, is an animated film with an intriguing—and still enigmatic—history. Was it made over a period of time by freelancing Hanna-Barbera staffers? Was it planned as a half-hour TV special expanded to an hour with songs, but instead released to theaters?
You may have seen this film any number of ways: at a weekend movie matinee, on local TV, a cable channel or low-budget home video. When I lived in South Florida, Santa and the Three Bears was a “four-walled” theatrical release. This was a ubiquitous and very profitable way to market and distribute low-budget features in the ‘70s. A distributor would take a movie like Billy Jack, The Wilderness Family, Challenge to Be Free (and perhaps even Journey Back to Oz), rent a number of theaters in a target area and blitz local TV with trailers. For years, holiday matinees of Santa and the Three Bears would be constantly advertised in my area.
This method goes back to 1959, when canny film producer K. Gordon Murray dubbed a Mexican film called Santa Claus and made a fortune for many years afterward, prompting other minor moguls in New York and Florida to do the same. Most of these films were West German or Mexican. There were even soundtrack albums for the films released by Childhood Productions with narration by children’s TV host (and “Sally Rogers” boyfriend) Paul Tripp and songs by Anne and Milton (Macy’s Parade and The Gong Show) DeLugg.
South Florida entrepreneur (and “sexploitation” producer) Barry Mahon also got into the game with children’s films, concerts and other releases under his Cinetron banner. When the short-lived theme park Pirates World opened, Mahon filmed concerts and low-budget features there (including the hysterically horrible Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny).
All this led to Mahon acquiring Santa and the Three Bears and bookmarking it with live-action segments that promoted Pirates World and Fort Lauderdale park Ocean World. After titles proclaim “Pirates World Presents,” this cut of the film opens with the thematic oxymoron of dolphin shows and a family visiting Ocean World. As they enjoy lunch, an actor playing a former Yellowstone Park ranger recalls an adventure he had years ago. The animated film plays, then we’re back to Ocean World and more shots of dolphin shows as “The Wonder Of Christmas Time” plays, then footage of Pirates World! I have been puzzled about it ever since.
Another, more accessible version of Santa and the Three Bears also had live-action segments featuring Hal Smith, the voice of the Ranger himself, introducing the story to two children. The end credits in this version surely were the originals as they resembled H-B credits and of course, were dolphin-free.
Tony Benedict said this about the film:
“It’s original title was “A Yellowstone Christmas”. It has screened in movie theaters all around the world, on American and international television. Long before that it’s story began with rejection by all three Major TV networks. Several other distributors declined.
“I took it to Warner Bros. They felt it would do well as a Saturday and Sunday weekend children’s release. They asked me to add extra footage to bring it to feature film length. I added more music and titles with live action wrap around short bits front and back but when I brought it back to Warner’s I learned that the studio had been sold. The new owners had no interest in the film. I was out again trying to find a new distributor.
“Following multiple new rejections one opportunity arose. Shelly Schermer operated a small distribution company that specialized in children films and soft corn porn. It was the only offer I had so we made a deal. Shelly re titled the film as SANTA AND THE THREE BEARS and booked it in more than one hundred movie theaters on Saturday and Sunday for a matinee weekends release Thanksgiving Day through Christmas in 1970. At fifty and twenty five cents a ticket is racked up half a million dollars in it’s first year. Precious little of that money found it’s way back to me.”
Benedict posted the original 27-minute version online, click here.
The simple, gentle story involves only four characters. Two little bears (one voiced by Bobby Riha of H-B’s Jack and the Beanstalk special, another clue that the film might have been made around 1967) learn about Christmas from the Ranger and want to see Santa. Their mother can’t get them to hibernate unless they see Santa, so the Ranger dresses up. But then the REAL… oops, don’t want to spoil it! The film is very much like a cozy children’s picture book.
My guess is that Santa and the Three Bears was intended for TV. The rights were sold to movie distributors, who trumped up a way to pad it for theatrical release. Then the rights lapsed and it became one of those films that show up as a dollar DVD or as part of a public domain DVD collection.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Wintertime” & “The Wonder of Christmas Time”
The first song is one of three written by Tony Benedict and Joe Leahy for the film. It was also used in the local TV spots to promote the matinees. For some reason, Jeannie Sheffield sings on the record and Joyce Taylor does the solos in the film (it may have been a budgetary thing because Taylor was a more well-known Hollywood actress-singer than Sheffield. Next, listen to the beautiful “Wonder of Christmas Time” (written by DePatie-Freleng and Man Called Flintstone composer Doug Goodwin) and imagine how bizarre it would seem heard over footage of leaping dolphins at the now-defunct Ocean World.