Of the many immediately singable theme songs from Hanna-Barbera that have seared themselves into our pop culture consciousness, the opening of The Magilla Gorilla Show ranks up there.
With a booming, big band sound, as the sun pops up over Peebles Pet Shop, the show begins with the strains of, “We’ve got a gorilla for sale/Magilla Gorilla for sale..,” and many a memory of childhood immediately resurfaces.
With The Magilla Gorilla Show, which debuted in syndication on January 15, 1964, Hanna-Barbera used a format similar to that used on their shows like Huckleberry Hound, where the half-hour comprised three short-form cartoons.
“Magilla and his friends were introduced in a syndicated half-hour film called Here Comes a Star,” explained fellow Cartoon Research writer, Greg Ehrbar, author of the upcoming Hanna-Barbera: The Recorded History. “It was hosted by George Fenneman, the announcer for Groucho Marx on You Bet Your Life. The film offered an early glimpse into the newly constructed Hanna-Barbera studio, which still stands on Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. There was even mention of their first animated feature, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear.”
The series’ new character lineup included, of course, Magilla Gorilla (voiced by actor Allan Melvin, most famous as Alice’s boyfriend, Sam the butcher, on The Brady Bunch) who lives in the show window of Mr. Peebles pet shop (comedian Howard Morris of Your Show of Shows and The Andy Griffith Show). A cute little girl named Ogee (Jean Vander Pyl, most famous as the voice of Wilma Flintstone) is the only customer who seems to want to adopt Magilla.
As Mr. Peebles is unable to sell Magilla, even after several markdowns, the primate, dressed in his bowler hat, bow tie, suspenders, and shorts, winds up getting into several adventures, including being in the Army, a movie star, and a surfer (where he introduces the oh-so-groovy-60s song, “Makin’ with the Magilla”).
The song resulted in one of the hundreds of Hanna-Barbera recordings Greg describes in his book “It was arranged by Carole King, produced by Gerry Goffin and written by Jack Keller, Ed Justin, and Tony Powers, all at Columbia/Screen Gem’s music organization in New York,” said Greg. “This was the same place that generated songs for Screen Gems TV series like The Donna Reed Show and The Monkees, as well as for countless recording stars—including Little Eva, who had a huge hit with ‘Loco-Motion.’ Her single of ‘Makin’ with the Magilla’ is available to this day on CD and download.”
Another segment of the show was “Ricochet Rabbit and Droop-a-Long,” Western tales about the sheriff of the town Hoop N’ Holler: Ricochet (Don Messick), a fast-moving character who ricocheted from point to point, and introduced himself by making his own sound effects (“Ping! Ping PING!”). The sheriff’s trick bullets were comedic, as well as explosive. Ricochet’s sidekick was Droop-a-Long (Mel Blanc), a slow-moving coyote with his cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes.
The last segment of The Magilla Gorilla Show was “Punkin Puss & Mushmouse,” which was kind of Tom & Jerry meet The Hatfields and the McCoys, as a shotgun-carrying cat named Punkin. Puss (Melvin) always tries to catch a mouse named Mushmouse (Morris).
Those were the three original segments of The Magilla Gorilla Show. However, in later syndication runs, the three segments of the separate Peter Potamus Show (Peter Potamus, Breezly, and Sneezly and Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey) were incorporated into Magilla Gorilla.
When The Magilla Gorilla Show debuted, the sponsor was Ideal Toys, and their name and logo were incorporated not only into the opening and closing animation but into the theme song as well.
When the theme song chorus would sing, “…handsome, elegant, intelligent, sweet – he’s really Ideal!…,” Magilla would inflate a balloon with the Ideal Toys logo on it. After, Magilla would turn on a television with the show’s logo on the screen and announce, “Magilla Gorilla, sponsored by Ideal Toys! They’re wonderful toys! They’re Ideal.” He’d then giggle and say, “Get it?”
A similar Ideal sponsor moment was built into the ending theme of the show, as well. As The Magilla Gorilla Show continued in syndication in later years, the Ideal logo and dialogue were taken out.
Working Ideal into the theme song of the show was the creative work of composer Hoyt Curtin, who with Hanna and Barbera themselves, came up with of Hanna-Barbera’s most popular theme songs, running the eclectic gamut from The Flintstones to Jonny Quest and from Josie and the Pussycats to Super Friends.
In addition to Hoyt Curtin, lots of other legends contributed to The Magilla Gorilla Show. The Story Director was Alex Lovy, who had directed several classic Woody Woodpecker shorts for Walter Lantz and worked for Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. animation. Lovy also directed Hanna-Barbera’s first animated prime-time special, 1966’s Alice in Wonderland, or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?
Members of the Story Team included Tony Benedict, who worked at both Disney and UPA before coming to Hanna-Barbera, contributing to many of their famous shows. There was also Warren Foster, who had started his animation career with the Fleischer Studios in the 1930s.
The Animation Director was Charles A. Nichols, who had worked on several of Disney’s most famous short subjects and features, including as co-director (with Ward Kimball) of the Academy Award-winning Toot, Whistle Plunk, and Boom. With another H-B legend, Iwao Takamoto, Nichols directed the beloved 1973 animated feature, Charlotte’s Web.
The stylish look and layout of Magilla Gorilla came from Iwao Takamoto, who also worked on a number of Disney’s classic features, such as Sleeping Beauty, before contributing to Hanna-Barbera’s celebrated shows in the 60s and 70s.
All this talent on one show led to many clever, standout moments on The Magilla Gorilla Show. Looking to con Mr. Peebles out of some food, Magilla pretends to be depressed at not being purchased by a customer. To make him feel better, Peebles offers him a banana. “One shouldn’t eat when emotionally upset, but I will try to choke it down,” says Magilla.
In the “Good Little Bad Guy” cartoon of Ricochet Rabbit, a villainous bad guy spanks his overgrown adult son for going to school instead of following in the family business of crime; in Punkin Puss and Mushmouse’s “Shot at and Missed,” Mushmouse runs away to Beverly Hills, and Punkin Puss goes there to bring him back. The snooty cat who opens the door declares, “It’s so hard to keep a mouse these days,” and Magilla’s cartoon, “A Star is Bought,” is a sharp send-up of the movie business.
Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, The Magilla Gorilla Show brings to mind a time when Hanna-Barbera seemingly ruled the airwaves, creating characters who would become canon for the studio and icons for fans.
The wonderful earworm of a theme song and all of The Magilla Gorilla Show brings us back to a time when a new animated show on TV was a clarion call for kids to gather in front of their parents’ oversized television set and ask, “How much is that Gorilla in the window?!”