Suspended Animation Emergency Backup Column
When he debuted in the syndicated The Huckleberry Hound Show, Huckleberry Hound became an immediate beloved cartoon superstar but just a few years later he had been totally eclipsed by the popularity of his co-star Yogi Bear and relegated in the last decades as a cameo or supporting player in a variety of projects.
The show opened in syndication during the Fall of 1958 near prime time (6:30pm in New York) appearing on different days in different cities and it lasted until 1961.
Huck was one of Hanna-Barbera’s most merchandised stars during his first three years on television. Comics, books, toys, dolls, records, Halloween costumes and more could be found for the blue hound. Due to his association with Kellogg’s he was a regular subject for cereal promotions and giveaways. Huck was featured on the cover of the March 1960 edition of Toys and Novelties magazine.
Laudatory articles on Huck appeared in dozens of magazines (such as TIME and PARENTS) and newspapers (such as The New York Times). It was the first animated show to win an Emmy and it took until 1966 for another animated show to win that award.
In 1960, the show was seen on 207 television stations across the country, which covered more than 90 per cent of the U.S. population. In 1960, there was a massive “Huck for President” campaign with over five million buttons distributed, a comic book themed to the election, a campaign song, banners and more.
The biggest surprise was the discovery that a large percentage of the 16 million viewers were college students and adults. Producer Bill Hanna felt the puns and witty dialog gave Huck a “sophisticated feel.”
Used to the brash, fast-paced cartoon characters of the past, audiences saw a slow talking, slow moving, blue hound dog who walked on two legs and wore a necktie (to help just the head be animated separate from the body) and an appealing design by Dick Bickenbach who also did the first model sheet for Yogi Bear as well.
More a human in dog’s clothing, Huck’s innate kindness, gentleness and honesty made him a lovable character. However, his amicable demeanor did not mean a dull wit.“He is a sort of Tennessee-type guy who never gets mad no matter how much he is outraged. He is the fall guy, and a large part of his humor is the way he shrugs off his misfortunes. To Huck, nobody is really bad,” said Warren Foster, Huck’s writer on the early series.
Hearkening back to Mickey Mouse, Huck is really a true cartoon actor. He could be a mailman, a knight in shining armor, a rocket scientist, a sheriff or the heroic Purple Pumpernickel. More than any other of the Hanna-Barbera creations, he is the consummate toon thespian able to play any role with a casual ease and still retain his personality.
“Because of time and budget,” explained long time Hanna- Barbera producer Art Scott, “we couldn’t use a lot of animation. So we borrowed from radio the concept of using a lot of jokes and satire. The characters created were more like stand up comics than slapstick clowns. That’s why the voices were so important.”“I had been doing the slow-talking, laconic voice for some time at MGM (like Billy Boy),” explained Daws Butler in a 1979 interview. “At one time we were going to do a series with a wolf using the voice. I even used a version of the voice for the big dog in the TV series Hanna-Barbera was already doing.”
One thing that irritated Butler was that some people thought he was imitating comedian Andy Griffith who was doing a similar North Carolina accent. Butler always tried to point out he had been doing the voice for over a decade before people had even heard of Griffith.
“It was the voice that made Huck. Daws had that great voice and it became the character,” said animator and producer Bernie Wolf.
Kellogg’s Cereals, interested for marketing reasons in sponsoring a children’s show, was looking for a suitable animated series. Hanna-Barbera was contacted because it had demonstrated with Ruff and Reddy that they could produce a weekly animated show on a limited budget.
“Planned animation,” explained Barbera. “Take the Disney method—the old movie method. It tried to mirror life. We don’t. We spoof reality but we don’t mirror it. Our characters don’t walk from a scene, they whiz. Movements that took 24 drawings under the old movie system take us four. We just keep the story moving.” It was estimated that roughly 10,000 drawings total were used for the entire half hour.
Instead of simply coming up with some live personality to emcee the show like countless other live hosts of children’s shows, Hanna and Barbera envisioned an animated host who would also do the commercials and transitions. They also thought of three separate segments, making it easier to script and leaving some flexibility to change if either the sponsor or audience disliked a particular segment.
Oddly enough, the only thing Kellogg’s didn’t like was Huckleberry Hound’s name. They thought it was too long for children. But it stuck with the word “huckleberry” referring to his blue color.
In the beginning, Joe Barbera was responsible for writing many of the first Huckleberry Hound sequences. By the second season, Warren Foster had taken over as the primary writer.
Huck joined his other Hanna-Barbera friends as a costume character in a variety of locations. In the early Sixties, he and a costumed Yogi Bear (each costume estimated to cost $700) traveled the country visiting schools and shopping centers.
In the Seventies and Eighties, he became associated with several amusement parks including the Taft parks Kings Island, Kings Dominion and Carolwinds. He also appeared at Southern California’s Marineland, Great America in Northern California and Universal Studios Florida.
The United States Coast Guard ice breaker “Glacier,” named a tiny island “Huckleberry Hound” in the Antarctic’s Bellingshausen Sea.
With the cancellation of his syndicated television series, Huck became a supporting player in other Hanna-Barbera projects.
In 1972, Hanna-Barbera released YOGI’S ARK LARK featuring the popular bruin in an air ship setting sail to help the environment. Huck, once the star, was now along just for the ride with such stars as Snagglepuss, Quick Draw McGraw, Peter Potamus and others. The “movie” proved popular enough to become a series in 1973 but YOGI’s ARK only lasted a year.
After this, Huck became one of the regular costars in a line of series that top-lined Yogi or other new stars. These included SCOOBY’S ALL-STAR LAFF-A-LYMPICS (1977). Huck was part of the Yogi Yahooeys team.
YOGI’S SPACE RACE (1978) featured Huck teamed with the frantic Quack-Up (a Daffy Duck inspired character). The show also had a segment starring THE GALAXY GOOF-UPS. Huck was part of a team, including Yogi, Scare Bear and Quack-Up as a bumbling squad of space policemen.
YOGI’S FIRST CHRISTMAS (1981) was the first of several made for TV features that had Huck as supporting player. The holidays brought another reunion with the half hour YOGI BEAR’S ALL STAR COMEDY CHRISTMAS CAPER (1982). 1985 found Huck as part of THE FUNTASTIC WORLD OF HANNA-BARBERA, a collection of syndicated series on Sunday mornings. Huck not only was one of the costumed characters working the control board between segments, he also appeared in the animated YOGI’S TREASURE HUNT.
The Fall of 1987 saw the launch of “Hanna-Barbera’s Superstars 10.” This was a new series of made-for-TV features starring their classic characters. Huck was co-star in several including YOGI’S GREAT ESCAPE (1987) and YOGI AND THE MAGICAL FLIGHT OF THE SPRUCE GOOSE (1987).
However, Huck did finally get the title role in THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE HUCKLEBERRY (1987). Aided by Yogi Bear, Magilla Gorilla, Quick Draw McGraw and other H-B characters, Huck takes the sheriff’s job in the old West town of Two-Bit.
Huck remained pretty much inactive until 1990 when he was cast in the “Fender Bender 500,” part of the daily syndicated series WAKE, RATTLE & ROLL. The segment featured numerous classic Hanna-Barbera characters (Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla, etc.) in 4×4 races around the world. In 1991, he appeared as a young teenager in Yo, Yogi!
Although he continued to appear in other projects including “guest cameos” on several series, Huckleberry Hound is the classic showbiz story of a top star who was upstaged by one of his supporting players. However, many of us are still fans of the character and hope he may return someday in a starring role worthy of him.