Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Saturday Morning Memories
By Howard Lee
I have been an animation fan all my life now that I am reaching my 50’s I have started to look back on all the cartoons that gave me real joy. Here are just some of the cartoons and creators that I have watched over the years from my old B&W television to my Youtube account. I just want to say thank you all for the hours of joy you gave me “That’s All Folks”.
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera are the undisputed kings of not only Saturday morning cartoons but TV cartoons of all time. They started at MGM creating one of the longest running cartoons in history Tom and Jerry.
After MGM closed the studio they had no where to go so they started Hanna-Barbera Studios. Their first cartoon Ruff and Ready became an instant hit. That was followed up by an unbroken string of hit cartoons like Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and Quickdraw MacDraw.
But that was only the beginning in the 1960’s Hanna-Barbera created pure classic cartoon gold with a take of on “The Honeymooners” called “The Flintstones” that was the first cartoon to debut on Primetime television and became one of the top rated show unheard of for a cartoon. A feat only matched by “The Simpsons”.
With the Flintstones now a hit on Primetime TV Hanna-Barbera followed them with “The Jetsons” and an action-adventure cartoon about the adventures of a young boy called “Jonny Quest”. But it is still Saturday mornings where we really see the World of Hanna Barbera shine.
Their action-adventure shows have been what Saturday mornings are made of with heroes like Mightor, Birdman, Frankenstein Jr., The Heculoids, and the one and only Space Ghost. Hanna-Barbera put the bang in Saturday mornings that made kids like me wake up at 6:00 am in the morning and stayed glued to the TV all morning long.
Even today these cartoons are still the standard that all cartoons are judged no other studio can make that claim. I have my own memories of watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons and very special memory of meeting Joe Barbera at Circle Art Galley in Chicago in the 1980’s at that meeting I got to talk him about all his characters and then I got the honor of signing along with him an animation cell featuring of all of the his creations only because I could name all of them that surprised not only Joe Barbera, but everyone at the gallery. That was a great moment of my life one I will always remember.
When the Warner Bros. opened their animation studios it was to go against the powerhouse Disney Studios and to create characters to complete with the popularity of Mickey Mouse and co. The Warner’s though they would get the happy family friendly characters like Disney, but luckily for us they got the zany and wacky characters like, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and that rascally rabbit Bugs Bunny.
These characters where created by animators Bob Clampett, Friz Freeling, Tex Avery, and Chuck Jones. They along with voice master Mel Blanc gave us cartoons that have delighted audiences for over 70 years. While at times the Warner Bros. where not pleased with the characters that came out of their studios at times.
Luckily they didn’t look too closely at what the guys where doing so many cartoons wasn’t what the Warner’s wanted got through. Like “Robin Daffy” a take off “The Adventures of Robin Hood” produced by the Warner Bros. and Opera takes off like “What an Opera Doc” and “Rabbit of Seville”.
Of course the Warner Bros. did take credit when “Knighty Night Bugs” won and Oscar for best animated cartoon. But all good and funny things must come to an end and the Loony Tunes studio was closed. But that did not stop the fun. When TV came along the Loony Tunes found a new home and came back to delight children with the cartoons their parents watched years earlier. The New Loony Tunes came out after that and now they are some of the most watched cartoons all over the world.
Personally I loved Lonny Tunes I find them funnier than any other cartoons. My favorite characters are not Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck but minor characters like Marvin the Martian and The three Bears by Chuck Jones.
Speaking of Chuck Jones I got to spend time with him at a Circle Art Gallery showing of his work in Chicago in the 1980’s. He talked about his time at the Loony Tunes and how many of the Loony Tunes characters where created. Loony Tunes are still some of best and funniest characters ever and will live on as long as children young and old need to laugh.
When it comes to animation Filmation should not exist according to owner Lou Scheimer [I just made him one of my Facebook Friends] for their first series The Adventures of Superman they had no writers, actors, and no animators. In fact they didn’t know how to do animation for TV something they did not tell DC Comics when they gave them the rights.
Of course DC was furious with them when found out what Filmation did but since the show was a hit DC let them have the rights to other DC characters including Batman, Aqua man and the member of the Justice League.
Filmation then got other comic book characters like Archie and not created a hit cartoon but a number one song called “Sugar, Sugar”. Filmation also brought back classic heroes Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, and Tarzan. Filmation also created their own characters like He-man, and She-Ra. Filmation did branch out into movies but the less said about that is the better. Still Filmation has created some of the best Saturday morning cartoons that should have never existed.
What can you say about Jay Ward if any animator could be called a political satirist it was Jay Ward. Even thought is first cartoon Crusader Rabbit was not a very political his next cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle was. They took a poke at government agencies like the CIA, the military, and congress. In episode after episode Rocky and Bullwinkle had to work with the most inept people in the government like Capt. Peter “Wrong way” Peach fuzz the head of the CIA. Who always got it wrong but it somehow came out right.
Since this was in the height the cold war Rocky and Bullwinkle was being chased by two foreign spies Boris and Natasha who tried to stop them from completing their zany missions. Along with Rocky and Bullwinkle Jay Ward created a bunch of wild characters like Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Professor Peabody and Sherman, George of the Jungle, Hopptiy Hooper, and Super Chicken.
Jay Ward also took many of world’s favorite fairy tales and turned them upside down with “Fractured Fairy Tales” Jay Ward also had working with him writer Bill Scott who was the voice of Bullwinkle, Professor Peabody, and many other characters and June Foray who was the female version of Mel Blanc. June Foray was the voice of Rocky, Natasha, plus other female voices.
Last but not least Paul Freeze was the voice of Boris and actor William Conrad was the narrator of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. Conrad at times even became part of the show. Even today the Rocky and Bullwinkle can still make fun of politics cause as we all know the only thing changes in Washington are the names.
I got the pleasure of meeting June Foray and Bill Scott in Chicago at a special showing of rocky and Bullwinkle at the Chicago Film Festival in the 80’s. June was really great, but Bill Scott was down right scary when it came to voices, not only did he do Bullwinkle, but he also did Mr. Peabody and Boris. Scott also talked about how he and Jay Ward came up with some of the ideas for the show and how sometimes they got in trouble with sponsors, censors and sometimes other actors, like the episode about the Kerwood Derby they got in trouble with actor Derwood Kirby but knowing Jay Ward I didn’t think he cared.
Saturday Morning Anime
In the 1960’s along with all of the great American animation came a new style of animation from Japan called Anime. Anime drew from early U.S. animators like Walt Disney for body styles and Max Fleisher’s Betty Boop for the big eyes that are still a part of Anime today. The first of these anime series to become not only a hit in the U.S. but around the world was Astro Boy the story of a boy who was brought back to life as a super robot by a grieving Father.
After Astro boy was a success in the U.S. other Anime characters start showing up on American television and have become Saturday morning classics like Gigantor, 8th Man, Kimba the White Lion, and Speed Racer. I watched all of these anime shows on my B&W in the 60’s and still love watching them today. It was these early anime shows that gave me my love for anime now.
Two of the shows that really became worldwide classics are Astro Boy that has been running strong on TV and in Manga and recently was a major CGI movie. Then there is Speed Racer like Astro Boy became a classic that is still popular today and was recently made into a major motion picture by the creators of “The Matrix”. Saturday Morning Anime started the anime craze that has grown over the years that has lead to anime conventions all around the U.S. Today’s popular anime series like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, and Bleach all owe their popularity in the U.S. to these early anime shows.
The World of Gerry Anderson
5…,4…,3…2…,1… Thunderbirds are Go!! Those opening words are from one of the most action pack shows on British Television Thunderbirds, by producer Gerry Anderson. Gerry Anderson didn’t start out to produce children’s shows but when Torchy the Battery Boy using puppet became a hit in the U.K. Anderson then when on to create other puppet shows like Four Feather Falls and Supercar.
Then Gerry Anderson and his team of special effects wizards that included Derek Meddings who created special effects that paved they way for Star Wars, Star Trek and the James Bond films. Created a new style of puppets called Supermarionation with series called “Fireball XL5” this was only the beginning Anderson when on to create Sci-fi series Stingray, Capt. Scarlet and the Mysterions, Joe 90, and Secret Service.
But Gerry Anderson best and greatest series is still Thunderbirds when that series came to the U.S. it change how puppets where scene on television. Today Gerry Anderson and his Supermarionation team are still considered the masters of Special Effects. While Gerry Anderson show are not cartoons I watched on T.V. every Saturday afternoon in Chicago during the 60’s and even became a fan of British television because of Gerry Anderson show since that time I been a fan of British shows like Doctor Who, The Avengers, the Prisoner, and The Saint. I am such a fan of British television now that I help write book for all the show I have mentioned and still love British television today because of Gerry Anderson.
And the rest…….Saturday Morning Cartoons
There are some cartoons that from studios are not as well known as Hanna-Barbera, Loony Tunes, or Filmation but are still considered a Saturday Morning classic. These shows include shows like Marvel Superheroes, The Mighty Hercules, and Space Angel. These shows were a bit quirky and didn’t have the best animation and the like the Marvel Superheroes that was just bits and pieces of actual comic books and Space Angel that used human lips under the animated characters. Still we watched them and loved them so much that today they are the guilty pleasures of our Saturday Morning memories. Come on you know it true we all love them. My guilty pleasure was Tom of T.H.U.M.B. Just don’t tell anyone.
Owner of Tomatovision TV the place where comic books, Anime, Old School Cartoons, Video games, British TV, and toys of all kinds meet to please fans of all kinds.
Howard can be contacted at