A classic Hanna-Barbera character gives a stellar performance in a surprisingly faithful retelling of Baum’s original Wizard of Oz.
SNAGGLEPUSS TELLS THE STORY OF THE WIZARD OF OZ
Starring Daws Butler as Snagglepuss
Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series HLP-2026 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1965 / 41 minutes); Reissued as Columbia Special Products P-13904 (1977).
Condensed Version: Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series CS-7034 (7” 45 RPM / 1965 / 12 minutes); Reissued as Columbia Special Products P-13909, P5-13934 (1977).
Executive Producers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera. Writer/Director: Charles Shows. Music: Hoyt Curtin, Ted Nichols (Library). 35MM Editor: Milton Krear. Art Direction: Harvard Pennington. Cover Design: Willie Ito. Cover Art: Ron Dias. Hand Lettering: Robert B. Schaefer
Voices: Daws Butler (Ed Sullivan, Snagglepuss, Munchkins, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, Guardian of the Gate, Wizard, Winged Monkey Captain); Janet Waldo (Dorothy, Wicked Witch of the West, Aunt Em); Leo DeLyon, Danny Hutton, Al Capps, Ron Hicklin, Stan Farber (The Hanna-Barbera Singers).
Songs: “Snagglepuss,” “If I Only Had a Brain,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Wicked Witch,” “The Land of Oz” by Lynn Bryson and Peggy Shows.
There were three ways in which the Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series records presented classic literature and fairy tales: the H-B characters found themselves somehow immersed in circumstances similar to those of the stories’ protagonists, they spun them as groovy spoofs, or they told them in a straightforward manner.Snagglepuss Tells the Story of The Wizard of Oz falls into the third category. Not only does it balance the tone of the narrative with the comedy of the character, it also is one of the most faithful audio adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s book. The Snagglepuss script includes details that other versions traditionally leave out, particularly the feats of courage, heart and brain offered by the Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodman and Scarecrow on the way to Emerald City and through the Winkie country. And it directly states an important point for kids—that Dorothy’s three friends already had what they thought they were lacking—without diverting it with symbolism, which was the case in the book and even in the MGM movie.
No Hanna-Barbera Record captures the essence of one of its characters better than this one. You may not “laugh until you ache,” as the album’s title song suggests, but the scripts winds itself seamlessly between the funny as the dramatic. Snagglepuss turns out to be genuinely fine “actor,” conveying a true sense of gravity for the tense, uncertain moments in the story as well as the comedy.
Tailor-made gags, asides and wordplay pop up throughout the script, making one wonder whether Butler contributed more than a few of them to Charles Shows’ script. Just a few samples include:
“…the unfunny, funnel-shaped cyclone lifted the tiny house into the air, watusi-ed it around and around, and slowly lifted it into the sky, like a giant balloon even! If you can imagine a square balloon. Heavens to Morpheus!”
“So they walked up to a big, green gate and rang a green bell. A tiny guard appeared, dressed in—what else? Purple. Fooled ya, didn’t I?”
And if a funny line works, why not do it twice?
On the LP, this is heard on both Side One and Side Two…
“Dorothy couldn’t believe her eyes. She thought her eyes were tellin’ lies! Fibs, even!”
Snagglepuss’ (Butler’s) unique pronunciation of certain words has influenced me to this day. I usually say, “ree-zull-ize” instead of “realize,” “cas-tull” rather than “castle” and “whis-tull” in place of “whistle.”
Daws Butler plays every male role in the entire story, “casting” his impressions of Frank (Crazy Guggenheim) Fontaine for the Scarecrow, Jimmy Stewart for the Tin Woodman, Ed Wynn for the Cowardly Lion, Charlie Ruggles to the Wizard and—funniest of all—Ned Sparks as the Guardian of the Gate.As many a cartoon fan knows, Snagglepuss himself is a tribute to Bert Lahr—an impersonation that resulted in a legally imposed “disclaimer” on Kellogg’s Snagglepuss TV spots. That could also be why the front cover of just this album and the Doggie Daddy “Pinocchio” LP list Butler as the starring voice (Daddy being an impression of Jimmy Durante).
Janet Waldo co-stars as Dorothy and Aunt Em, but her standout performance is the Wicked Witch of the West. As she told Stu Shostak of stusshow.com, she grew to enjoy voice acting so much, every opportunity to stretch was a joy. As the Witch (sounding sort of like Marjorie Main mixed with Maudie Prickett) Waldo gets a rare opportunity to chew the scenery—and must have had a blast.
The H-B stock background music was selected to superb effect from The Flintstones, The Yogi Bear Show, Quick Draw McGraw, Jonny Quest and others, but mostly from The Jetsons. You can just picture Elroy’s space toy flying around the room before Astro swallows it.
The five “Hanna-Barbera Singers” songs are among the best in the Cartoon Series. Sure, two of them are derivative of songs from the 1939 MGM film, but they’re quite listenable. “If I Only Had a Brain” is not the same song you heard Ray Bolger sing in the movie, but it is noteworthy because it’s sung by Leo DeLyon, who voiced Brain and Spook on Top Cat.
Though cute, “The Wizard of Oz” song is too innocuous to fit its placement on the album, because it comes at a point in the story when the Wizard is still in scary mode. The album comes to a dreamlike close with “The Land of Oz,” the first time a string section was heard on an HBR Cartoon Series record.
The cover by Willie Ito and Ron Dias may not reflect the final script (since it was created before the recording sessions and from limited input), but it’s nothing short of spectacular nonetheless, with a weightless Yellow Brick Road suggesting the Unwinding Road in H-B’s Alice in Wonderland and a gleaming Emerald City straight out of The Jetsons.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“HBR Wizard of Oz”
This is the condensed 45 RPM edition of the album. I felt compelled to add on the introduction with Butler’s Ed Sullivan and the conclusion with Waldo’s Aunt Em. Judging from the edits, this was cut after the production was completed rather than from separate voice, sound effects and music elements re-mixed for the shorter version.
Songs from SNAGGLEPUSS TELLS THE STORY OF THE WIZARD OF OZ
Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series CS-7040 (7” 45 RPM / 1965 / 9 minutes)
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Blob/The Wicked Witch”
HBR’s answer to “Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead,” the catchy “Wicked Witch” song has a Kingston Trio style with a opening that is startlingly similar to Bacharach/David’s “The Blob.”
THE WIZARD OF OZ
The Hanky Pank Players (aka Happy Time Chorus, Mr. Pickwick Players)
Cricket Records CR-37 (1959, Mono, 32 minutes); Happy Time Records HT-1033 (1963, Mono, 32 minutes); Mr. Pickwick Records SPC-5109 (1974, Stereo, 35 minutes) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP)
Executive Producer: Cy Leslie. Producer/Musical Director: Ralph Stein. Writers: Sid Frank, Ralph Stein. Cover Art: Norman Bridwell.
Performers: Jerry Roberts (Narrator); James Dukas (Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, Wizard); Jane Connors, Bill Anders, Jack Mitchell, Bill Heyer, Candy Anderson.
Songs: “The Cyclone Song,” “The Emerald City,” “Thank You Song” by Sid Frank and Ralph Stein. “Follow the Yellow Brick Road / Off to See the Wizard,” “Ding! Dong! The Witch is Dead,” “Over the Rainbow” (SPC-5109 only) by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen.
Ralph Stein and Sid Frank wrote and produced quite a few lighthearted recordings of children’s stories for various Pickwick and Golden records. This one of was a steady seller for decades—a knowingly humorous, yet fairly faithful vision of the Baum book. There is one sequence that does not appear in any Baum book at all, in which the Cowardly Lion defeats “Crockabears,” creatures with heads like crocodiles and bodies like bears.
This is one of a handful of records from the 1960’s with cover art by Norman Bridwell, creator of Clifford, the Big Red Dog and The Witch Next Door. His style is unmistakable—Dorothy even bears a striking resemblance to Clifford’s friend Emily Elizabeth.
Two songs from the MGM film were included in the three issues of the album, with “Over the Rainbow” added for the third release. The remaining songs are pleasant, amusing and fit the jaunty, unpretentious proceedings.
The cast of New York actors and vocalists includes the versatile James Dukas, veteran of thousands of commercials, recordings and stage work. A Ralph Stein favorite, Dukas was hired for countless records from the ‘50s to the ‘70s. The original voice of Count Chocula, Dukas plays many roles with expertise.
Stein (or the recording engineer) also used the novel idea of a backwards echo to add creepiness to the Wizard’s voice. Though this was likely not the first time this was done, it’s worth pointing out that The Beatles (or George Martin) employed a somewhat similar technique many years later for “Revolution 9”. (No, I’m not suggesting that John bought the Happy Time “Oz” album for Yoko after browsing the budget record bins at Woolie’s).
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Real Housewives of Emerald City”
Some of the performances on the Cricket/Happy Time/Mr. Pickwick version of The Wizard of Oz are, shall we say, more “adroit” than others, so much so that some sequences are have a comical effect beyond what is in the script. Listen to Dorothy take on the Wicked Witch in a fight to the death.