Writing about aviation in the television era is, to say the least, a bit daunting. (It may require that I fly in on a Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless.) By this time, commercial aviation had become commonplace, was the regular subject of major ad campaigns in print and over the airwaves, and was being accepted as the new high-speed substitute for rail or bus. It was, however, not without risks of occasional and well-publicized crashes. (I personally recall as a child tales of a Lockheed L-199 Electra whose tail broke off in flight, with all on board killed. Shortly thereafter, from an observation deck at Logan International Airport, I observed a group of nuns boarding such a plane, and could not help thinking they were one a one-way trip to meet their maker.) Thus, appearances of aircraft in cartoons became commonplace, as routine as appearances of trains in cartoons of the ‘30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, as a simple way to get from point A to point B, often adding no particular humor or situations to the films in which they appear. Comprehensive coverage of all such appearances would be both overwhelming and largely pointless for our survey of the development of gags and stories deriving from such craft. So instead, we’ll attempt to focus on selected highlights and high points, when an aircraft meant something to a plot or to a funny or recurring gag situation, for a brief potpourri of favorites, or in some instances, infamous, uses of winged wonders in small screen cartoons, and in straggler theatrical shorts and big-screen features which appeared alongside of them.
We’ll also take a different approach than strict chronological to conserve time on research, and my own brain power, and instead attempt to present an overview studio-by-studio of air-minded output of significance. A natural starting point for such a review is the studio which essentially made TV cartoons a viable and profitable mega-industry while other small studios were floundering and faltering. As Yogi Bear might say, “Who else?” – Hanna-Barbera.
Aerial acrobatics would figure early into H-B product, providing recurring cliffhangers for their first TV venture Ruff and Reddy. In their first serial arc, Planet Pirates, the cat and dog duo are abducted by robotic aliens from the planet Muni-Mula (that’s Aluminum spelled backwards). Held captive inside the metal planet, their moves are observed by a flying eyeball camera supported by helicopter blade, known as the Hocus Pocus Focus. They make a getaway from the planet in a rocket ship provided by one Professor Gizmo (another prisoner from Earth, hailing from Mount Cucamonga). But Reddy misses the flight when he has to get out to give the rocket a start-up push. He is pursued by the Muni-Mula troops, and ducks into a hangar where legions of the robots are taking off upwards into space as the planet’s air force, by means of “copter caps”- beanies with helicopter propellers on top. (Of course, such prop caps had prior animation connections, receiving wide popularity in former animator Bob Clampett’s famous Time For Beany puppet show, and had appeared at least once in cartoon form, in a random gag in Tex Avery’s Drag-a-Long Droopy, where a Western wolf’s Stetson is reduced by bullet barrage down to a propeller beanie.) Reddy acquires one of the caps from a supply shelf, and takes off once the robots have left. Ruff and Gizmo, returning for Reddy, elude the robot fliers, but spot Reddy as a lone straggler lagging behind, mistaking him for one of the robots. They draw a bead on him with a large gun, and shoot his prop off. Reddy falls like a stone, but Ruff and Gizmo discover their mistake, and use a second gun loaded with a plunger to grab hold of Reddy’s rear, then reel him in with an attached rope. The robot flying squad returns on patrol, but Gizmo produces a secret weapon – launching a surprise package strung to a parachute, with a label reading “Do Not Open Until Christmas”. Knowing the robots to be “Nosey ones”, Gizmo watches as they cluster around the mystery package – then BOOM, as an explosion rocks them from a $5.00 firecracker inside left over from the Fourth of July. Their copter cap straps are shattered, and the air force is quickly placed in Reddy’s former position – out of commission, while only the caps remain hovering in air.Hanna and Barbera quickly established a decided preference for use of helicopters over planes, featuring the whirling vehicles in numerous of their early productions. This decision was likely a conscious move in the development of “limited animation”. A plane could not be easily drawn in a few frames and really look like something moving, as the body would remain motionless while only jet exhaust could be affordably drawn behind the engines. Adding streaks or speed lines would cost more money – prohibitive in early animation. Moreover, cockpit windows tended to be smaller on a plane, not allowing for ready view of characters within. A helicopter, on the other hand, could seem to be exhibiting greater movement, despite leaving its body motionless, by use of the large whirling prop above, which could be effectively animated in a repeating cycle of three to four cels. Its large glass semi-dome cockpit also allowed for a more panoramic view and greater visibility of the characters – also conducive to better camera work and more effective use of character poses. Thus, in the second Ruff and Reddy story arc, “Westward Ho Ho Ho”, our heroes and a sheepdog they are trying to assist in locating a rustled flock of sheep discover a plot whereby sheep are stolen at night with the use of a metal claw device lowered from a helicopter. (A bit of a dumb plot, as nobody figures upon the sound of the whirling blades arousing anybody below.) As the Western outlaws Killer and Diller make off with a truck loaded with the stolen lambs, they leave behind their helicopter in a boarded-up warehouse in a ghost town. Our heroes find it, and commandeer it to pursue the rustlers. Reddy of course knows nothing about flying, but gets the craft aloft on sheer dumb luck – with the caveat that his take-off has the machine flying upside down. He soon adjusts to get the ground back where it belongs, and a chase over the desert is on. Reddy drops from a rope ladder onto the bandits’ moving truck, and when one of the Texas twins pops out a roof hatch to investigate the thud, Reddy grabs his six-shooter and gets the drop on him. Unfortunately, Reddy is facing in the opposite direction from the truck’s progress, and fails to see a low tunnel approaching. The bandit ducks back inside, while Reddy gets clobbered by the tunnel archway. Ruff and the sheepdog descend to pick up the woozy Reddy, while the bandits exit out the other end of the tunnel and disappear into a box canyon hideout, shielded from view by a sliding boulder. When our heroes get their copter aloft again, they are no longer able to spot the truck, now concealed in the crooks’ compound. However, one of the stolen sheep, hearing the approaching helicopter, whispers commands to the flock, and surprisingly possess the knowledge of how to spell. The sheep shape themselves into a formation which from overhead spells the word “Help”. Our heroes spy the message, and are about to close in, when their gas gauge spells E-M-P-T-Y. The engine stops, and the craft begins to fall. By now, the bandits below have spotted the aerial intruders. “I wouldn’t mind them crashing”, says the meaner brother Killer, “Bit it’s our helicopter.” “The dopes. Don’t they know about the safety button?”, asks Diller. What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em”, responds Killer, “It’ll kill ‘em!” But the wise little lamb is listening in, and with a few more whispers to the flock, the sheep rapidly change formation, to spell in succession the words, “Push Button”. With only one button left on the dashboard Reddy hasn’t pressed, the boys take their chance and push – causing the copter to sprout a giant parachute, bringing them in for a soft landing.
Killer and Diller’s helicopter would figure into the series once again, in a second-season arc, “Egg Yeggs” dealing with the prehistoric Chicken-Hearted Chickasaurus. In a land that time forgot, the villains use the copter for various aerial assaults on the giant prehistoric bird, as well as descent into its world via an extinct volcano crater. Settling for newly-laid eggs instead of the bird, the villains use the copter for a raid in the bird’s nest, but face an aerial counter-attack by the Chickasaurus and Reddy hanging underneath her by means of a rope. Reddy performs an aerial drop that clobbers the villains, preventing their escape, and all ends happily, with one of the new eggs as a museum attraction, not likely to hatch for another million years.
An early Yogi Bear installment from The Huckleberry Hound Show would prove one of the funniest uses of a helicopter by the studio. The Buzzin’ Bear (12/22/58) has Yogi and Boo Boo investigating the park rangers’ new whirlybird, while its pilot takes a brief break from patrol. Yogi stands on a mounting step on the side of the aircraft, and curiously peers inside “Sure got a lot of gadgets in here”, he observes. “Better beat it, Yogi, before the rangers’ see ya”, says Boo Boo. “Unlax, Boob. Ol’ Yogi, the Ace of Space is controllin’ the controls.” The curious bear pulls back and forth on the control stick, and soon hits the wrong button, sending the craft aloft. “YOGI”, screams Boo Boo. “Okay, okay, I’ll get out”, responds Yogi. “No! DON’T get out!” yells a panicked Boo Boo, with Yogi now several hundred feet in the air. “Make up your mind, Boo Boo”, calls back a puzzled Yogi, stepping out of the cockpit. The bear falls with a holler, but saves himself by grabbing onto one of the copter’s wheels, then darting back into the cockpit. Below, the pilot and another ranger (who coincidentally, happen to be name Bill and Joe, after the studio’s founders) react with shock at the copter being swiped by – a bear? One of them grabs a microphone, and radios the copter, in an attempt to talk Yogi down.
“Grasp the control stick. Now push forward – – gently.” Yogi pushes – all the way. “No, no! Pull back on the stick!” Yogi performs a low-flying buzz of the rangers, missing them by inches, causing them to hit the deck. He has now u-turned, and is headed straight up. Another instruction to push forward again, easy. Yogi again overdoes it, and dives straight for the forest trees. “This is it. I’m gonna crash!”, the frightened bear howls. A tearful Boo Boo wishes him farewell over the microphone – but then asks a surprising question. “Can I have your pogo stick?” Yogi smashes through the trees – but comes out of the thick growth, still flying “the hard way – upside down.” His propeller blade slices off the rangers’ hats, cuts trees faster than Paul Bunyan, and dissects the ranger station in two. Boo Boo persists in asking for the pogo stick, while Yogi insists “No! You cannot have my pogo stick.” One of the rangers lassos the copter’s wheel in attempt to stop it, but just gets dragged along for the ride. He smashes into a tree, knocking out a section of the trunk, which he displaces, as the remainder of the tree above him squashes him into a squatty shape. “Just call me shorty”, he comments. Now Yogi returns, flying sideways, sawing through the rangers jeep, dividing it into neat halves. The copter loops uncontrollably, while Yogi states he must be having one of his dizzy spells. A passing vulture is scalped of its feathers by the whirlybird’s blades. The copter levels off, but is flying too low, and disappears into a train tunnel. A speeding passenger train emerges from the tunnel, but no sign of the bear or copter. “Poor bear. He didn’t have a chance”, says Bill. “Yeah, we gotta get ourselves a new bear” responds Joe. However, they are both proved wrong, as the peak of the mountain above the tunnel begins to rumble. Out pops Yogi, having bored an exit through the mountaintop. “Stand by for a crash”, says Bill, as Yogi heads straight for a cliff-face. Grinding sounds are heard, sending shivers down the rangers’ spines, as they “can’t bear” to look. When they do, an amazing sight meets their eyes, prompting a moan of “Oh no!” Yogi’s propeller has carved a stone likeness of himself in the cliff face, a la Mount Rushmore. Finally, the engine stalls, as the copter runs out of gas. A poorly-executed series of shots seems to have the copter drifting down in slow motion, yet the rangers encourage Yogi to jump out, at normal falling speed. (If the copter can merely drift, wouldn’t he be safer inside?) But Yogi follows instructions to don a parachute, and takes the leap of faith. “Pull the cord”, shout the rangers. But Yogi develops a case of stage fright, becomes petrified, and ignores all instruction, staying rigid without moving a muscle. He crashes into the ground, waist deep in a crater of his own creation. Boo Boo runs up to him. “Pull the cord, Yogi.” The scene ends with the old but true gag of the useless cord pull, draping the silk over Yogi and Boo Boo, for the fade out.
Notably, the previous film would serve as the inspiration for the closing credit sequence of the spinoff series, The Yogi Bear Show. Yogi has once again acquired a ranger’s helicopter, and begins the credits sequence by pulling behind the craft advertising banners for the sponsor Kellogg’s. He then puts the copter to more practical use – lowering a rope ladder, so he can climb down and filch a picnic basket off a table on the fly. But with no one at the controls, there is no way to adjust for Yogi’s low altitude, and the ladder crashes Yogi face first into a tree. Recovering from the stun, Yogi races to catch up with the hanging ladder, carrying his ill-gotten gains. He succeeds in climbing back into the cockpit, and is about to bite into a tasty sandwich, when he sees the gas gauge reading empty. Yogi again slips into his parachute. Meanwhile the copter falls – at normal speed this time. Being already at low altitude, the copter doesn’t have far to fall, and bounces on its wheels onto the ground before Yogi can even get the door of the aircraft open. Yogi jumps – headfirst onto solid ground. His chute opens to cover him, and Yogi looks up at the camera from under the silk, with an expression denoting the question, “What happened?”A helicopter would also play a transportation role in 1964’s feature debut for the series, Hey, There, It’s Yogi Bear (6/3/64). On a crossed-up cross-country chase to rescue Cindy (who thought she was following Yogi), the three bears somehow find themselves misrouted into the heart of New York City. They elude police, and spend the night on the high girders of a skyscraper under construction. Ranger Smith finally learns their whereabouts through a national TV hookup, where they are headline news on the daily report. He flies out to make a rescue in the park helicopter. Though the bears are anxious to be taken home, Yogi, detecting the ranger’s desperation to get them home without harm to keep the reputation of the park clear, decides to engage in a little wheeling and dealing. He offers a bargain to return – if the “Do Not Feed the Bears” signs go. “No deal” responds Smith. Yogi pushes his luck, faking a fainting spell, but bounces back trampoline-style to his perch off an object below, while the panicked ranger, who can’t bear to watch, concedes to the deal. Then Yogi slips, and falls for real. He somehow catches his claws into an extension off the side of the structure, but is too afraid to open his eyes, and shouts for help as he dangles there. Turning his megaphone away from the bear’s direction to mask the location of the sound, Smith states he’ll help – on condition of “no deals”. Yogi concedes – “Just get me down.” “All right Yogi – step down.” “Step down?” questions the bear, finally opening his eyes – to discover he is hanging only three inches above the pavement. He sheepishly admits Smith is smarter than the average ranger. Smith and the three bears fly back toward Jellystone, as the inevitable call cones in from the Park Commissioner. “This is it”, groans Smith. But instead of a chewing out or firing, the commissioner notes his demonstration of devotion to duty, love of animals – and “promotes” his rank (in a continuity error that just seems to have Smith retain the same rank of Chief Ranger he has always held). The group end the film with a happy finale song, “Whistle Your Way Back Home”, as the helicopter, for possibly the only time in the series history, moves in realistic perspective in a bobbing, swaying dance to the music, off into the sunset, for the fade out.
Further recurrent helicopter use would be made by The Quick Draw McGraw Show’s resident detectives, Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse, on various cases, none of which individually merit considerable write-up. Whirlybirds were definitely a favorite trend for the staff writers.
The Flintstones is notable not only for several aerial episodes, but for both beginning and ending its run with shows involving flying. The classic premiere, The Flintstone Flyer (9/30/60), finds neighbor Barney hammering away at a new invention – a two-seater open-air flying machine, which looks like a primitive cross between gyroscope and egg beater, with helicopter-type blade, and a three-gear system of cranks and pedals to power the rotation by manual effort. The device is probably the best-animated of the studio’s early flying contraptions, because of its attention to gear-spinning detail – considerably more costly than prior budgets had permitted. Fred, whose hammock slumber is disturbed by the hammering, marches over to give Barney a konk on the noggin. Bit once he discovers the purpose of Barney’s invention, he becomes intrigued – then wants in on the production. While its inventor had thought to call it the “Barneycopter”, self-appointed president of the corporation Fred Christens the craft “The Flintstone Flyer” – a name he guarantees has more sales appeal. However, the President insists on a solo hop of the invention himself. While lightweight Barney was easily able to get the device aloft, Fred is another matter. “You’re too fat, Fred”. Barney shouts. “Details, details”, says Fred casually, ignoring all warning. Without gaining altitude, Fred and the aircraft dive over a cliff and down into the canyon below with a crash.
Fred is next seen with a bandaged head, sulking in his living room, with the partnership dissolved. Barney announces he has salvaged the wreckage, but Fred wants nothing further to do with the project. However, Barney wonders if Fred will be able to make tonight’s bowling tournament in his bandaged condition. Bump on the head or no, Fed vows not to disappoint the team, and will bowl “Bloody, but unbound”. All seems in order for the big night, until Wilma also asks Fred if he can make it – for tonight’s opera! She reminds him that Barney had purchased the tickets for the four of them months ago – something which the boys had forgotten completely. How to be in two places at once? The boys realize the girls will never let them dodge the evening out – so come up with a plan to fool them. That evening, Fred feigns a dizzy fit and fainting spell, which Barney claims must be the after-effects of the crash. Barney generously offers to stay home and nurse his sick friend back to health. Though the girls feel guilty, they’re already dressed for the formal occasion, so follow Barney’s suggestion to go to the opera without the boys. But as soon as the coast is clear, the boys grab the bowling balls, and try out Barney’s redesigned copter which has “added king size flippers, so it can carry a heavy load – even a fat one.” Fred adds the touch of flapping his arms in the front seat, and the device works like a charm. They make the bowling tournament, and have a hot night – until a familiar pair of faces is seen in a phone booth at the doorway to the alley. The wives have taken the opportunity to call home during intermission at a pay phone, and are getting no answer. They glance into the lanes, and spot two familiar silhouettes, one fat, one short. Suspecting they have been duped, the wives march in, intent on clobbering their spouses with their loaded handbags. The deliver the blows, but receive a surprise. Fast-thinking Fred has grabbed bristles off a sweeping broom, which he and Barney have applied to themselves as fake moustaches. They also fake Germanic accents, and engage in a comedic rant of criticism of wives who would greet their husbands with, “Hello dear. POW!” The embarrassed wives exit in a hurry, hardly believing that two sets of characters could be so much alike. But they vow that one set of characters better be home when they get there, and leave the performance early to find out why they could get no answer at home. Fred and Barney realize it’s time for them to exit, too – to beat the wives back to the house, via “the overland route”. They outrace the wives while keeping out of their line of vision, and are back in place at bed and bedside when the wives enter. Wilma swears to Betty she’ll never mistrust her husband again, and Betty admits they’ve acted like a couple of shrews. “Yah, dat’s for sure”, ad-libs Barney, who has forgotten to remove his fake moustache, and returns reflexively to his fake Germanic dialect. “It WAS them” say the girls to each other in unison, while Fred can only say to Barney, “You DOPE!” The bowling balls fly, this time pitched by the wives at their husbands heads, and Fred and Barney retreat to the flying machine. A fast takeoff, and they are, for the moment, out of the wives’ reach. Six hours later, in the wee smalls of the morning, the boys are still aloft, with Barney nearly exhausted of pumping power, while the girls kill time in the back yard in a game of gin rummy. “It won’t be long now. Barney’s running out of gas”, notes Wilma. With a vengeful tone in her voice, Betty responds, “It’ll be nice to have them back.”
Barney and Fred apparently forgot to patent their invention – as it waas only a matter of a handful of episodes before all of Bedrock seemed to have winged conveyances available for transportation upon a moment and an airline ticket’s notice. In Hollyrock, Here I Come (12/2/60), we see our first glimpse of Bedrock Airport, where passenger flight to Hollyrock is via a giant plane constructed from a fuselage carved from the trunk of an entire tree, and powered by four pterodactyls on the wings. Variants of such airliners would pop up throughout the series, and also in the post-series feature production, The Man Called Flintstone (8/3/66).
Fred’s Flying Lesson (1/1/65) has Fred trying to move “up” in the world, when he wins a free flying lesson in a Water Buffalo prize raffle, and likes his lesson from a glamorous female instructor enough that he aspires to continue training to earn a pilot’s license, in hopes of providing a higher standard of living for Wilma and Pebbles. The training plane is a twin seater log with canvas wing, and double tandem bicycle pedals underneath to propel the prop. Of course, given the potential for jealousy from Wilma if the identity of his instructor is found out, he attempts to keep the whole thing hush-hush until he solos. Only Barney is in on the secret, and stows away in the instructor’s seat to give Fred moral support on his big day. Things, however, go awry when a dodo bird decides to use the upper wing of Fred’s plane for a roosting place. Efforts to dump the bird off result in Fred’s flight path veering far off course, into restricted military air space. Barney tries to throw an anchoring boulder at the bird, but drops the rock, right upon the control room of the base’s radar station. The general in charge orders retaliatory fire. A cola billboard descends into the ground, revealing behind it three wooly mammoths who act as anti-aircraft guns, flinging boulders back at the plane with their trunks. Another larger boulder is pulled away from atop a deep bunker, inside which rise two giraffes, with a large rubber slingshot strung between their necks. They pull the sling taught, launching a high-speed pterodactyl who zooms at the plane like a missile, veering in direction to follow the plane’s trail. Fred does some fancy maneuvering to dodge two passes by the bird missile, then pulls on a lever, thinking he will put the plane into a dive to get out of the restricted area. Instead, he triggers an ejector seat, and though he drifts safely to Earth with a parachute, unwittingly leaves Barney alone above, without knowledge of how to fly the machine. The girls, barbecuing below on Fred’s pretense that they were visiting the airport for a picnic, see Fred come in for a landing, and some explaining will be necessary. But no time for that, with Barney at risk. Fred dashes to the airport control tower, and becomes a hero by talking Barney down. “Keep your nose up”, he instructs. Barney responds in unknowingly dumb fashion by pointing his own sniffer into the air. Despite the misunderstanding, Barney cuts the engine on instruction just before running out of runway, and lands the plane upright on its tail, unhurt. Fred’s instructor informs the girls how Fred was trying to make a career move to make the family proud of him, and Wilma forgives Fred with the info that she’s proud of him just as he is. Both Fred and Barney swear they’ve had it with flying, and vow to keep their feet on the ground. The same might not be said for the families’ younger generation, as the episode ends with Bamm Bamm impressing Pebbles by circling her with arms outstretched as wings, imitating the sounds and moves of a plane to her delight.
The Story of Rocky’s Raiders (4/1/66) wraps up the original series run of the modern stone age-family, in a tale that isn’t so modern, but flashes back to Stone WWI, via a diary discovered in the attic written by Fred’s grandfather, Lt. Rockbottom K. Flintstone, an ace pilot of the conflict. He is ably assisted in his exploits by Lt. Reggie Vanderock (played in flashback by Barney). The story also includes cameo for a brown-haired version of Betty as a café waitress/member of the resistance, and for Wilma with a heavy Greta Garbo type accent as international spy Matta Harrock. A new villain is added for the role of Baron Von Rickenrock, who is holding Matta Harrock for questioning behind enemy lines. A CIA operative sends the boys on a dangerous mission to free her, while Betty’s counterpart pleads for Reggie not to go. Reggie thinks the “poor kid” really has it bad for him – when in fact all she wants him to do is pay the café check. The plane the boys are provided with features a pusher prop behind the tail, run on bicycle power provided by Reggie, while “Rocky” Fred steers and operates a machine gun which works by pouring stone pebbles through a hand-crack mechanism in the manner of a meat grinder, to shoot them out the gun muzzle. In the enemy airdrome, Matta Harrock resists interrogation – an easy task, when she can’t even remember what government’s secrets she is supposed to conceal, as she’s been hired by all of them. An aerial dogfight looks like a dress rehearsal for “Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines” (to be discussed next week), with Rocky putting his plane into a climb just in time to allow planes approaching from the front and rear to collide headfirst into each other. But Rocky’s plane also receives battle damage, and falls apart in mid-air, leaving our heroes temporarily stranded in a tree. A running gag has Rocky portrayed as an expert at reading maps – so much so that he can locate the position of trains, hay wagons, etc. in convenient locations to provide alternate transportation, down to the precise second. The hide-and seek chase carries on for the allotted half-hour – then reaches an abrupt end, as Grandpa’s diary breaks off without the story being completed. As the Flintstones ponder the reason for this, Grandpa himself (now an elderly version of Fred) arrives for his visit. Everyone asks why he never finished writing the story. “Haven’t had time”, Grandpa insists – and the reason why is swiftly revealed, as a line of pebble shot shoots across the front yard. In the skies flies an elderly Baron Von Rickenrock, still in a biplane, and still pursuing Rocky. “He found me again”, shouts Rocky, and calls for his maps and more ammunition, as an elderly Reggie appears with a slingshot and sack of pebbles for anti-aircraft fire. The World War is recreated in the front yard, to the families’ disbelief, while Fred laughs and states it just goes to show that anything is possible.
You can view this episode on B98.tv
The Flintstones’ historical opposite, The Jetsons, is memorable for its use of flying cars that seem to be a cross between plane and saucer. It is never established in the series precisely what the power source is for these vehicles – as we never see them gas up at a filling station. Are they nuclear? Or self-contained with solar power? They’re definitely not electric, as they never require a charge. So perhaps the studio “has some ‘splainin’ to do” before we can truly treat these inventions of the future as viable.
A highly inconsistant sub-theme of the series, however, dealt with adapting the power of flight to use by individuals, without the need for the space car. In most episodes, it seemed like this problem had been tackled long ago, with characters wearing jet packs on rocket belts, in not-so-far extension of present day technology. But perhaps these rocket jobs produced a little too much of a “hot seat” for the average user, so Spaceley Sprockets and Cogswell Cogs spend considerable time and finances in attempting to develop the “new product” of means of flight that doesn’t require rocket fuel.
Among such episodes was The Flying Suit (11/4/62) – Though we’ve never seen George wear anything but his white shirt under normal circumstances, it turns out he owns an old red suit which he keeps in the closet, and is in good need of a dry cleaning. Coincidentally, Cogswell Cogs is developing a thought-controlled flying suit, in exactly the same style. A mix-up at the cleaners provides Jetson’s suit to Cogswell, and Cogswell’s to Jetson. Elroy’s also been inventing, with what he believes to be anti-gravity pills. While the pills are in fact useless, he gets dad to try one – just as George is slipping on the suit back from the cleaners. Whoosh! Before you know it, George is sailing around the room, and out the window, free as a bird and zooming anywhere at his thought’s whim. He attributes his power to Elroy’s pills, and shows off the invention to Spaceley, receiving the expected promise of a vice-presidency. Meanwhile, Cogswell and his assistant Harlan attend a scheduled demonstration of the suit – but Harlan just can’t get off the ground – not even when Cogswell physically tosses him off the building. Harlan returns to the dry cleaners to tidy the suit up after suffering repeated crashes. The cleaner recognizes the suit as Jetson’s after he leaves, and travels to the Jetsons’ apartment to correct the mistake. George switches suits, never suspecting that it was the suit that had given him flying powers, then tries out Elroy’s latest batch of anti-gravity pills. The pills are a whopping flop, and George nearly falls out the apartment window. He reports to Spaceley’s board meeting, but can’t get Spaceley to understand that the pills no longer work – until Spaceley himself nearly breaks his neck trying to demonstrate the pills himself. The two conclude that the formula was a fluke, and probably will never be capable of duplication again. But Spaceley discovers he’s no worse off than Cogswell’s failed project (which he knew nothing about), and the two moguls both carry on to drive each other out of business another day. Meanwhile, the Cogswell suit returns from the cleaners, and disgusted Cogswell tells Harlan to throw it out the window. A passing tramp far below on the Earth’s surface picks it up and tries it for size, and by merely stating Jackie Gleason’s by-line “And away we go”, becomes airborne. Having no explanation for this, he contently accepts this development, and decides to fly South for the winter. He passes George on the commute flying home, and George can only conclude he should see a doctor, as he feels sick, sick SICK.
Nearly the same premise was duplicated in Astro’s Top Secret (12/9/62), where Astro suddenly develops the power to fly by swallowing Elroy’s toy space car, and George’s manipulation of Astro by the car’s remote control box is misinterpreted by snooping Harlan as a top secret project in anti-gravity devices. Astro is dognapped, and interrogated in Cogswell’s office for the secret. He won’t talk, until a date with an attractive French poodle is offered – but his blabbing is all in dog barks, and reveals nothing of use to Cogswell. Just as Cogswell is about to concede his fate to Spaceley, the toy car is knocked out of Astro’s tummy, and the secret is revealed. Cogswell scoffs at what he believes is Spaceley’s cheap trick, but Astro meanwhile manages to swallow a computer device loaded with scads of vocal tracks of high tech information. Spaceley thinks George’s real project was to develop the dog into a genius, after hearing the learned knowledge emitting from Astro’s lips, and another vice-presidency is offered. When George is finally informed by Elroy of the swallowed computer, he reacts by rounding up the family to take them out to dinner – figuring they might as well live it up now, as this will be the shortest vice presidency in history.
Astro’s Top Secret can be viewed for free on B98.tv
When the Flintstones’ series run ended, Jonny Quest was just beginning. Jonny would mark a change in direction and a new style for the studio, moving into its first action-adventure mode, which would carry the studio through several lean years in the later part of the decade. Most notably, Jonny and family were the first in the H-B stable of characters to become “Jet setters”, travelling around the globe in a cool private jet plane. After all, it just wouldn’t have seemed stylish for Benton Quest to be arriving at scenes of exotic danger in a Ranger Smith helicopter, now would it?
We’ll deal with a few later efforts of Hanna-Barbera next time, then cover some of the more minor studios of the early days of TV.