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April 26, 2024 posted by Michael Lyons

Bear-ly Science Fiction: Looking Back at “Yogi’s Space Race”

Next week is “Star Wars Day” (May the 4th be with you!). When George Lucas’s seminal science fiction film debuted in 1977, no one could have predicted that Star Wars would not only eventually have its own day but also be ubiquitous in our pop culture and lexicon, spawning multiple sequels, prequels, sidequels, animated series and streaming shows, just to name a few.

When Star Wars first came out, it set off a seismic charge with practically everyone in Hollywood eager to hop on the bandwagon (or rocket, as it were). This led to the creation of multiple television shows (Battlestar Galactica), TV characters (Mork), and animated series created to capitalize on the late 70s “Star Wars craze” quickly. Many of these series seemed to take “craze” literally.

One of the most offbeat was Yogi’s Space Race. For this, Hanna-Barbera took a cue from the paradigm of their successful show, Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics, which debuted on ABC in 1977.

Yogi’s Space Race is one of the textbook examples of what it took, and still takes, to get a project on the screen,” explains Greg Ehrbar, author of Hanna-Barbera: The Recorded History and host of The Funtastic World of Hanna and Barbera podcast.

“The pitch is so classic, it’s often parodied. Something like: ‘Okay, NBC execs, you want a show with a bunch of classic characters and some new ones that are like the stuff that kids seem to like nowadays—so we put them in space like Star Wars, with a bunch of crazy spaceships like Wacky Races, with one craft piloted by Laverne and Shirley types. Oh, and Jaws is still hot, so we’ll throw Jabberjaw in there. Want another space comedy? Okay, some favorites are nutty space officer recruits with a Joe Flynn-type commander. Kids love disco? We’ll have the writers figure out how to get them into a disco somehow in each show.’”

This model was a ninety-minute block show with a race/competition segment featuring various Hanna-Barbera characters. Other portions featuring characters from the race/competition on separate adventures and storylines were wrapped around this.

Pencil drawing of The Phantom Phink and Sinister Sludge

The centerpiece of Yogi’s Space Race was the titular competition. Looking for a way to meld the Star Wars science-fiction popularity of the time with the Hanna-Barbera universe, the section of the show featured HB’s “smarter than the average bear” and other familiar characters, competing against each other and racing through the galaxy, each on an outlandishly designed spaceship.

Yogi (Daws Butler) is teamed up with a new character, Scare Bear, a furry, little, skittish bear (voiced by Joe Besser, known for The Three Stooges and The Abbott and Costello Show) in a globe-shaped spaceship. Huckleberry Hound (Butler) is with another new character, an absent-minded duck named Quack-Up (Mel Blanc), in a spacecraft equipped with a second-story patio, where Huck sits on a lounge chair.

Jabberjaw (Frank Welker), the giant shark with a voice inspired by The Three Stooges’ Curly, returns, riding in a spaceship with Buford (also Welker), a slow-moving hound dog. Their spaceship is equipped with a treadmill, where Jabberjaw hangs a raccoon on a stick to get Buford moving and power their ship.

They’re joined in the race by other new characters, Nugget Nose (Welker), the ghost of a gold miner, and two dude ranch employees, Wendy (Marilyn Schreffler) and Rita (Pat Parris), and a character who is both the hero and the villain of Space Race (both voiced by Welker). That was Captain Good, the prototypical, good-looking superhero, who rides in his hot rod-looking spaceship with his sidekick, Clean Cat. However, every so often, Captain Good and Clean Cat transform into the villainous Phantom Phink and his dog, Sinister Sludge. Much like Dick Dastardly and Mutley, the two are obsessed with cheating and winning Space Race.

“Captain Good is a throwback to Sylvester Sneakly and The Hooded Claw in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop,” Greg says. “The concept of an evil villain in the guise of a benevolent friend goes back to silent films like 1928’s The Blackbird with Lon Chaney, Sr. Frank Welker does a stunning job at both extremes of the characters.”

Making all of this so exciting for audiences at home was the booming, iconic voice of Gary Owens as the narrator. “In a show filled with the outlandish, one of the oddest things is that Gary Owens has no idea that Captain Good and Phantom Phink are the same person, and he’s supposedly watching the race with us,” added Greg. “Of course, it would ruin the premise if he did. But that’s one of those ‘don’t try to make sense of it, just enjoy it’ thing about H-B shows of this era that we enjoyed as kids and puzzle over as adults.”

A number of the newer characters in the Space Race segment had separate episodes of their own that were part of the show. The Buford Files (the title inspired by James Garner’s live-action The Rockford Files) focused on the bloodhound who may be lazy but has a nose for solving mysteries in the Fenokee Swamp area and does so with two teens, Cindy Mae and Woody. There’s also the flustered Sheriff Muletrain Pettigrew (Henry Corden) and his Deputy, Goofer McGee (Roger Peltz). The former is seemingly inspired by Jackie Gleason’s Buford T. Justice from Smokey and the Bandit and the latter by Jim Nabors’ Gomer Pyle.

Another segment, The Galloping Ghost, focused on the prospector ghost, Nugget Nose, and the two dude ranch cowgirls, Wendy and Rita, and the misadventures and mysteries that they encounter.

There was also Galaxy Goof-Ups, where Yogi and Huck were partnered with Scare Bear and Quack-Up as bungling outer-space lawmen who continuously frustrate their commanding officer, Captain Snerdly (John Stephenson).

The fun of watching Yogi’s Space Race was how creatively off-kilter it was – the sight of Yogi, this character with his green pork pie hat, who we had come to know so well, careening through space in a spaceship, or the oversized, comedic shark Jabberjaw, jammed into a spacecraft, were just some of the many juxtapositions that were more than enough to keep kids watching.

As were the ingenious storylines, such as one in which the Space Racers race through a planet inhabited by classic monsters, like Dracula and the Mummy. That episode even features a cameo by Hanna-Barbera’s Frankenstein, Jr, one of several H-B characters who made cameo appearances on the series.

The writers also peppered in clever dialogue, much of it given to Owens as the narrator. “Today’s Space Race features a super-keeno, groovy, big adjective prize!” he declared at the start of one episode. “The prize section is my favorite part of Yogi’s Space Race,” adds Greg. “This is the kind of satire Hanna-Barbera did quite well, going back to the ‘Sassie’ and ‘The Prize is Priced’ sequences on The Flintstones. I’m glad the network, sponsors, and perhaps the pressure groups gave them some leeway rather than a comment like ‘Kids won’t get that!’”

There were also some different artistic choices made in Yogi’s Space Race, such as a sequence in Galaxy Goof-Ups that takes place in a disco and features animation that is surreal with a capital “S” (all of it to a re-make of the song “Eep Opp Ork Ah-ah,” from The Jetsons).

Yogi’s Space Race employed a knowing tone in its segments as if all involved knew just how askew this was. The show involved a number of Hanna-Barbera’s legendary artists, including Iwao Takamoto, Ed Benedict, Alex Lovy, and Willie Ito.

Yogi’s Space Race debuted on NBC on September 9, 1978, and ran until December 2, of that same year.

Not all who grew up with the show were fans. In their book, Saturday Morning Fever: Growing Up with Cartoon Culture, the authors, brothers Timothy and Kevin Burke, wrote of shows like Laff-A-Lympics and Space Race: “We suppose that for anyone who really loved Hanna-Barbera’s various late fifties animal characters, these shows were sort of the ultimate team up. As far as we’re concerned, most of those characters were interchangeable: putting 20 of them together on one show was like Dawn of the Stepford Cartoons.”

But, for many others, even a bizarre bouillabaisse like Yogi’s Space Race serves as an entertaining, nostalgia-fueled 70’s time-capsule of once-and-still-popular culture like sci-fi, disco, and Saturday morning cartoons rolled into one.

19 Comments

  • To be honest, I’m a bit surprised you didn’t talk about “Battle of the Planets”, the English adaption of the classic anime, “Gatchaman” instead of a series that is not loved.

    And I admit a disco wasn’t a good idea for a public hang-out for Yogi and his space police force- it should’ve been an arcade.

  • Yogi Bear has always been my favorite non-Disney cartoon character.

    I have tried my level best to like Yogi’s Space Race and Yogi’s Galaxy Goofups – then, over the years, and on YouTube when episodes drop for a short time.

    And each time I find myself wriggling, and my mind starts wandering.

    Frustratingly is that I like Yogi’s Treasure Hunt from the 80’s for all its faults – and that was animated by Wang, whereas these were done in the USA.

    I continue to enjoy virtually all of the Hanna Barbera shows of the 70’s to varying degrees, and maybe one day I’ll see the light.

    And yes, when George and Warner Archives eventually release the series, I’ll buy the discs.

  • Presumably Boo-Boo pulled a Vivian Vance and said “I’m out of here.”

  • Quack-Up absent-minded? Aw, c’mon!! He was a DAFFY rip-off thru and thru! They even got Blanc to do the voice…

    • Well, it was better of doing a knock-off there during this time than using the real thing (unlike what happened at Filmation).

  • The account of the series pitch to NBC executives explains so much about the state of kids’ TV in the ’70s and much of the ’80s. I never got into this series as a kid because it was just too much; even now, reading about it makes me think of the original WWII military meaning of the term “blivet”: ten pounds of manure in a five-pound bag. This being HB, I’m sure there are individual facets that are professionally-done, or even good (voicework tends to remain good even during this period of HB’s history, and the designs look pretty fun if not always practical), but I can’t see the disparate pieces coming together into a satisfying whole. Still, I’m sure the series has its fans, and I hope they get an opportunity for a good-quality home video release someday.

    • I liked it. but I was eight years old at the time. I liked just about ANY cartoon show — especially if it was set in outer space!

  • The disco sequences are worth seeking out, if a person has never seen any of the show. For their time capsule qualities most of all.

  • I was in college at the time and therefore didn’t have much time for television, but on those rare Saturday mornings when I didn’t have to study or work, I enjoyed watching “Yogi’s Space Race”. This was mainly because I found it gratifying that Yogi Bear was still considered a viable character by the late 70s and early 80s. The quality of the show was about what I had come to expect for HB product by that date, so it didn’t trouble me.

    The “Galaxy Goof-Ups” aired as a segment on the “New Yogi Bear Show” of the late 80s, alternating with episodes of “Yogi’s Gang” and episodes consisting of classic Yogi Bear short cartoons with occasional new ones thrown in. It certainly provided an offbeat premise for Yogi and Huckleberry and occasionally produced some rich parodies of space stories and also celebrity voices, I recall one princess character who was obviously based on Katherine Hepburn and it was quite an amusing episode. Of course Quack Up was like Daffy Duck, but that was part of the fun of it. In those pre-Roger Rabbit days there was no mingling of characters from various studios, so this was about the only way to bring Daffy alongside of Yogi and Huckleberry, by giving him a different name and design.

    I for one regret that the series ain’t been released on home video. I would consider it worth another watch.

  • Here is a rare case of Hanna-Barbera characters simultaneously appearing on multiple Saturday Morning network schedules in 1978-79. Whereas Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound flitted thru the galaxies on Yogi’s Space Race on NBC, they also competed on Earth in hilarious Challenge Of The Network Stars-type sports on rival ABC’s Scooby’s All-Stars!

  • I found Goof-Ups to be quite meh, but Space Race is definitely great, funny, entertaining material. If only they gave the legendary Mel Blanc more lines in the main headline as Quack-Up (the crazy duck that takes orders literally who was teamed up with Huckleberry Hound).

    • I agree that “Space Race” was more interesting. What was the most unique is that the bad guys occasionally won the race (under their good personas, of course).

      • The Phantom Phink did win as himself, though; I remember he won as said persona in the “Borealis Triangle” episode.

  • For those who don’t know, this show and Galaxy Goof-Ups have been restored and ready for a DVD release.

    The restored episodes air on Boomerang (the channel, the streaming app has them unrestored), and the DVD release is…

    • Not counting the music shows (Quick Draw McGraw, Cattanooga Cats etc), the independents (Sinbad, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello) and the Columbia properties (Jeannie, Partridge Family 2200AD);

      All of the pre 1975 Hanna Barbera complete series have been released with the exception of Adventures Of Gulliver, These Are the Days and the remaining Wait Until Your Father Gets Home episodes..

      With Colt 45 and The Alaskans unexpectedly getting their first release, I am not surprised they will try and fill holes in the late 70’s releases in the future.

      • Whoops –
        I also forgot Touche Turtle (which I seem to recall has behind the scenes problems)

        • Also overlooked The Fantastic Four.

  • I loved the GALAXY GOOF UPS part,especially as it was the ONLY intentionally funny Yogi and co.show unlike the more serious Christmas specials like YOGI’s FIRST CHRISTMAS only several years latyer.Joe Besser got to do a character (whose name would later, retroactively, sound like a rejecct from THE CARE BEARS), and Quack Up was a daffy Daffy like what hadn’t been seen since the mid 1940s!

    Yeah,I remember the Katharine Hepburn princess one..one of the Tacky Cat episodes.

    Steve C.

  • I prefer the original yogi bear cartoons and yogis treasure hunt to this show. Also the fender bender 500 is a good racing show with yogi and boo boo, plus huck, top cat, and wally gator competing against dastardly and muttley. My favorite Hanna Barbera character is Mr. Jinks.

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