Fairy Voices. One of the things that made the early Disney animated features so memorable was the careful selection of voices for the characters. The voices for the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather in the Disney animated feature Sleeping Beauty (1959) were quite distinctive.
Flora was described in an early outline as “the matriarch type, large and dominating…talks with a great deal of authority, is the practical one of the Good Fairies—the ‘Doc’ type.” Verna Felton was selected who had previously provided the voice of the matriarch elephant in Dumbo, the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella and The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland among many other Disney voice roles.
Merryweather was seen as a more child-like character who was naïve and buoyant and similar to Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but “with a streak of good sense”. Barbara Luddy—who voiced the role of Lady in Lady and the Tramp, Kanga in the Winnie the Pooh shorts, the Mother Church Mouse in Robin Hood, and other was selected.
Fauna proved to be a challenge. Her description in an early outlines was “A little bit nitwitted… jumps at conclusions and goes off on the wrong track… not quite with it.” That description resulted in the storymen comparing the character to a character on the old Bob Hope radio show, Vera Vague, who was a busybody. Eventually, they selected Barbara Jo Allen who had played the part on the radio show.
She based the character on a woman she had seen delivering a PTA literature lecture in a confused manner. The character she created was so popular that she eventually adopted the character name as her professional name and appeared in many radio shows and movies. She also provided the voice of the Scullery Maid in The Sword in the Stone and Goliath II’s mother in the Woolie Reitherman directed Disney short about the midget elephant.
Virgil Partch Remembers Disney. In a 1967 issue of Orange County Illustrated, cartoonist Virgil Partch (known for his comic strip “Big George”) was asked for his memories of Walt Disney who had passed away in December 1966. Partch used his essay to acknowledge by name some of the many outstanding people he knew during his time at Disney.
In addition, he stated, “The only thing that Walter Disney and I had in common was that early in our careers both of us had a mouse which visited our respective drawing desks. In Kansas City, Walt fed his mouse. In Los Angeles, I clobbered mine. Maybe Los Angeles mice aren’t as cute as Missouri mice.
“Walt is gone now and since in the four and one half years I worked for him (Partch left during the 1941 strike), I only met him once. I’ll let those better informed handle the man and his career. In the two and a half years I spent in the (Hyperion) hodge-podge of buildings, barns and bungalows, I became thoroughly familiar with every nook and cranny—and with practically everyone but Walt.
“We moved to the new studio in Burbank near the end of 1939, but somehow the hard red brick four-story building didn’t have the warm character of the old mouse factory. Most of us from those days have long since left Disney’s employ but the company seems to struggle on without us and is doing rather well, I hear.”
The Birth of the Banana Splits. Jerry Eisenberg is an incredible talent who spent time working at Hanna-Barbera and later Ruby-Spears Productions as a producer and character designer. He was one of the designers for the characters of The Banana Splits.
To help sell that series, Joe Barbera took Eisenberg with him back to Chicago to pitch the idea to the sponsors. Since the costumes had not yet been made by Sid and Marty Krofft, Barbera had Eisenberg dress up in a Yogi Bear costume.
Barbera had Eisenberg hide in a side room as Barbera began his pitch. The two had rehearsed the night before in a hotel room so Eisenberg in the Yogi costume came out and did a little dance, sat on the lap of the sponsor and interacted with others at the table. At one point during all of this, H-B agent Cy Fisher was handed a note that said, “You’ve got a show!”
The Wisdom of Seibert. Producer Fred Seibert (From 1992 until 1996, he was the last president of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio) told the New York Post on October 23, 2006: “The way cartoons were made surprised me most about the cartoon industry when I started. Over the years, writers and executives became the decision makers, not the artists. That didn’t make sense to me so when I began in the business, I went to all the great cartoonists, the ones who invented Tom and Jerry and The Flintstones and I asked how they worked back in the day. They drew out stories with other artist friends and those became the cartoons. When I set out to bring this process back, people thought I was crazy. And they still do. But it’s the way we do things.”
How Barbera Did It. To prevent lay-offs at Hanna-Barbera, animation producer Joe Barbera would try to sell just about anything to provide work for his staff. One time he went over to NBC when Fred Silverman was in charge.
He was accompanied by artist Iwao Takamoto. Barbera had three ideas to pitch and he knew Silverman would take at least one of them. One was a rip-off of the television police show ChiPs about motorcycle cops. Another was a rip-off of the television show Charlie’s Angels about beautiful women who used to be police officers solving crimes. The third was a revival of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Despite Barbera’s persistence and enthusiasm, Silverman was just not interested in any of them. Barbera kept coming up with variations on the concepts, sending Takamoto off to draw concept art for the new versions to try to convince the network head.
Finally, Silverman ended up buying “Casper and the Angels” (1979) about two beautiful motorcycle space policewomen who worked with Casper that combined elements from all three initial pitches.
As they were leaving the pitch meeting, Barbera turned to Takamoto and said, “I guess we can tell everybody that there won’t be any lay-offs this season.”