The birthday of the great Alan Reed was last week and the Flintstones’ will arrive on Blu-ray in October, so let’s take a Spin through some lesser-known Disney-Reed recordings.
Walt Disney’s TALES OF JIMINY CRICKET
Narrated by Cliff Edwards
Introduced by Paul Frees
Encyclopedia Britannica Films / Cathedral Films (12” 33 rpm LPs with Filmstrip / Mono)
Released 1959-1960. Producer: James K. Friedrich, D.D., I.H.D. Director: James L. Tyler.
Walt Disney’s 1955 classic Lady and the Tramp marked the first time that actor Alan Reed was heard in an animated feature, as Boris the Russian Wolfhound in the memorable dog pound sequence (his cartoon voice debut was the Goofy short Teachers are People (1951), followed by Goofy’s Two Weeks’ Vacation). And before Walt decided on Ed Wynn and Jerry Colonna as the Mad Hatter and March Hare for Alice in Wonderland (1951) among the actors who auditioned were Reed and another radio veteran, John Brown (Digger O’Dell and Jim Gillis of The Life of Riley among others):
Reed is most celebrated in animation as the original voice of Fred Flintstone and as a Hanna-Barbera icon in general, there were a handful of Disney recordings that form a delightfully coincidental connection between the two studios.Years before the Walt Disney Educational Media Company (WDEMCO) was established, various producers would license Disney characters and stories for schools and various organizations. Cathedral Films was an independent production company that began in 1939, specializing in inspirational features, shorts and serials for schools, churches and TV. They employed Hollywood talent such as Lee J. Cobb, journalist Lowell Thomas and Leave it to Beaver’s Hugh Beaumont for their projects.
Along with such educational supply firms as McGraw-Hill and Xerox Films, Cathedral produced very popular filmstrip sets. A very popular alternative to 16mm movies, these usually took the form of boxed sets with die-cut cardboard insets to hold small 35mm filmstrip canisters with records providing the soundtracks and teaching guides on top or underneath. The first Tales of Jiminy Cricket series was available in collections of six stories each, based primarily on Disney short cartoons. A box included six stories on three red vinyl LP records, six filmstrips and a four-page “master guide” for each story. At the end of every story, Jiminy Cricket mentions a discussion point that suggests further interaction among the participants after the film.
Encyclopedia Britannica purchased the Tales of Jiminy Cricket recordings from Cathedral Records, who produced them, and presumably the license from Disney. The packaging was changed though Cathedral is still listed on the labels as the producer. Britannica reorganized them into eight-story sets with eight filmstrips and four black vinyl records each, marketing them to primary grade schools. Teachers could use the guides to work the themes and discussions into their classroom lesson plans. This was one of the media precursors to the way today’s teachers can effectively use video, computer programs and online learning.
The records featured a “stock company” of great animation voice actors. In addition to Cliff Edwards’ narration of the stories, Paul Frees is heard at the top of each tale as well as in several roles. Disney Legend Ginny Tyler (who we just discussed in the recent Alice in Wonderland Spin) is heard in most of the recordings, and Alan Reed alternated with another Lady and the Tramp cast member, Dal McKennon.
Each frame on the filmstrip was a different image, fed through the projector and cranked one by one in front of the lens to a screen for the group to watch. A harp arpeggio on the record told the operator of the filmstrip projector when to turn to the next picture (and to be designated the filmstrip operator was quite a coveted task). The Jiminy records offered a variety of pleasant harp signals to reduce the repetition to enhance the listening experience.
Some of Reed’s performances are represented below, as they were released only a year or so before The Flintstones premiered on ABC-TV as the first animated primetime series in history (and the longest-running after The Simpsons).
Hanna-Barbera afficionados will immediately recognize the background music as the same melodies they heard on early Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and related cartoons. The cues were plentiful on The Donna Reed Show and many other live-action TV series of the era as well. It comes from the legendary Capitol Hi-Q production music library. Fellow historian Don Yowp provides a wide variety of these priceless cues as well as fascinating history at his excellent website.
YABBA DABBA DOO! THE ALAN REED STORY
By Alan Reed and Ben Ohmart
Performed by Alan Reed, Jr.
Bill Marx as Fred Allen
Commentary by Joe Bevilaqua
Blackstone Publishing / Waterlogg Productions ISBN #978-1482930832. Five Compact Discs.
Released October 1, 2013. Produced by Joe Bevilaqua. (Also sold in book form.)
Available at Amazon.
Like the Gravelberry Pie King, Alan Reed gets the royal treatment in this multi-disc set that is much more than an audio book. To quote some Peter Pan Records ad copy, it’s “a full-fledged musical and dramatic production” with rare interviews, vintage clips, background music and superb narration by Reed’s son, who has an impressive acting resumé of his own. Here is one of the chapters to hear as a sample.
Dozens of fascinating facts, anecdotes and surprising details abound as Reed’s life is chronicled from stage and radio to movies, television and animation, all in his own words. Here are just two little discoveries: he did not instantly come up with “Yabba Dabba Doo!” during a Flintstones session, but asked Joe Barbera ahead of time if he could come up with a catch phrase and worked on it diligently for several days before mentioning the phrase during the session. Barbera then approved it on the spot.
One other little gem—and very timely, too—is this witty 1956 radio sketch by Stan Freberg featuring Reed, Daws Butler, June Foray, Bill Thompson and other radio greats in a spoof of political conventions.