10 Origins of Popular Cartoon Characters
History has always fascinated me, and I love to find out about ancestry and family trees. Leading on from my previous list, 10 Beatles Songs and the Origins, this sequel reveals the stories behind several popular cartoon characters. This publication was created over a period of six months, using videos, interviews, books and many other sources. The list is not only unique to Listverse but also unique in the whole world, as no book, web page or website has yet provided an all-in-one exclusive source of this information before – that is until now. Thanks very much for reading.
Produced: August 9, 1930 – 7 July, 1939.
Inspiration: Helen Kane (Singer)
Helen Kane became “The Boop Boop a Doop Girl” in 1928 when she sang the scat lyrics “boop-boop-a-doop” in the song “That’s My Weakness Now.” The song was an overnight success, promoting a steady career in music. The following year she made it into the movies, appearing with Ned Sparks and Richard Dix in the now public domain 1929 comedy farce Nothing But the Truth – where audiences had their first glimpse of the shy spoken, squeaky-voiced starlet, complete with hair bow and almost childlike singing voice. “Do Something” was her second number (subsequently cut and now lost) from the movie and it went on to become a nationwide hit. Kane fitted the ‘flapper Girl’ image of the period, the fashion of sporting a Louise Brooks style bob cut and cloche hat with a short skirt and high heels. Flappers were very much the Liberated Women of their time and had a reputation for being bold, determined and unafraid to speak their minds.
In August 1929, a long time animator was also just about to break into the movie business. Max Fleischer had already had a small success with Ko-Ko the clown, and also made educational films before the 1929 creation of Fleischer Studios. He used his own invention, the rotoscope machine, to create the Talkartoon Series of 42 animated cartoons, starting with Noah’s Lark in October 1929. Hot Dog, the third in the series, featured more comedy in the form of the foolhardy and accident prone Bimbo the dog. The success of this character meant the animators were soon designing potential girlfriends. According to the animators, the initial sketch for Betty was a rather plus-sized anthropomorphic French poodle, with long floppy ears and a hair bow. The ears steadily transformed into hoop earrings, and the face became more human-like, until the final design revealed a completely human form (and yet she remained Bimbo the dog’s girlfriend).
The first Betty Boop appeared in the sixth installment of Fleischer’s Talkartoon series, on August 9, 1930, in a cartoon called Dizzy Dishes. Betty was presented as a showgirl and singer, with long legs, rather square face, and characteristically, a slow child-like squeaky voice. The two characters quickly became a notable hit, and it wasn’t long before the flamboyant and outspoken Betty began to outshine Bimbo and star in cartoons of her own. She starred in 111 cartoons between 1930 and 1939, including Minnie the Moocher (1932) featuring songs by Cab Calloway, and Poor Cinderella – her only appearance in color – released August 3rd 1934. She became a self-proclaimed Star and is still very popular today, over 80 years later. Yet from the very beginning it was clear that Betty was not only modeled on Helen Kane (the mannerisms, the songs, the voice), but was a direct one-to-one copy. Mae Questel, who was the first to voice Betty and would go on to voice her in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), was chosen by cartoon producer Max Fleischer because he wanted “a Helen Kane sound-alike for Betty Boop.” Indeed, the name Betty ‘Boop’ might immediately imply a connection between herself and the “Boop Boop a Doop Girl” from just a few years before.
So much so that in May 1932 Helen Kane tried to sue Fleischer Studios and Paramount Pictures for $250,000 for trying to impersonate her. When the case finally got underway during April 1934, Fleischer convinced all six girls that had by now voiced Betty to deny that Betty’s voice was ever an attempt to imitate Helen Kane’s voice. Another testimony said that “Boop Boop a Doop” was not synonymous, and in fact the “Boop Oop a Doop” phrase came long before Helen Kane’s popularity. Paramount Pictures even produced a clip of another singer, Baby Esther, who they said used the same phrase in a song in 1928. Other witnesses were called to say the character was in fact drawn from many influences, most notably Clara Bow – a huge star in Hollywood having recently retired in 1933 after her final movie, Hoop-la. Indeed, in the full color Poor Cinderella released just four months later (after Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame and Betty Boop’s Trial tried to sell a different version of Betty’s story), we see Betty with Clara Bows signature flame red hair rather than plain black – as though the producers were trying to distance themselves from Helen Kane. In the end Kane was unsuccessful in her case to attain money from the Betty Boop character – a character that would go on to last longer then Helen Kane’s career, a character that was obviously based on her, and yet she died without ever receiving a penny from it. What at first started as a light-hearted joke, flattering to Kane ultimately ended up upstaging and replacing her. As for Fleischer, in 1933 he acquired the rights to produce Popeye the Sailor cartoons; a figure who would take over Paramount’s release schedule for the next 25 years.
Produced: March 9, 1935 – March 10, 1956.
Inspiration: Joe Cobb (Actor) as Joe in the “Our Gang” TV Series (1922-1929)
Our Gang (later renamed The Little Rascals) started out as a series of silent comedies made at the Hal Roach studio in Culver City from the early 1920s right up to 1944. The show featured a number of child actors who would regularly get themselves into all kinds of scrapes and then try to get themselves out of them again. The show featured many cast members during its long run, most notably perhaps the character “Alfalfa” as played by Carl Switzer. Joe Cobb first appeared in the group as “Joe” in the short film The Champeen released January 28 1923, and went on to star in 86 episodes in the series; most notably The Big Show (1923), Saturday’s Lesson (the series’ last silent film), and the first talking short Small Talk (released 1929). Joe played the ever smiling yet hapless stereotypical ‘fat kid’, who often sets up gags and missions for the others. Joe’s final appearance came in Lazy Days, released August 15 1929, before he was replaced by his own on-screen brother “Chubby” (played by Normal Chaney) whom Joe himself had introduced to the gang in only the previous episode, Railroadin’ (1929).
During the early 1930s, Leon Schlesinger – who had founded his production company Pacific Title and Art in 1919, had secured a contract to produce the Looney Tunes series for Warner Bros. and was steadily turning out early Looney Tunes episodes featuring “Bosko, a young Negro boy” from their Sunset Boulevard lot at the corner of Van Ness and Fernwood. After 30 episodes in the series it was time for a change, and certainly the cartoon version of a young black boy with his thick Southern Negro dialect had gone out of fashion with theater audiences, who wanted a character less politically eschewed. In 1933, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising left the studio and took their creation Bosko with them, leaving the Depression-hit studio with only the rather bland “Buddy” (whom animator Bob Clampett described as “Bosko in whiteface”) to keep them afloat. Schlesinger asked animator Robert ‘Bob’ Clampett and studio director Friz Freleng to design a new series of characters to fill the gap, and suggested they do a cartoon version of the Our Gang films. In the resulting short, I Haven’t Got a Hat (released March 2, 1935), the cast included: Beans the cat, Oliver Owl, a motherly cow named Mrs. Cud, and a completely unknown Porky Pig in the ‘Joe’ role – whose cameo appearance shone out so much that he instantly replaced Buddy as the studios main star. Tex Avery was quick to capitalize on Porky’s rising success when he was brought in as series producer in 1936, and hastily reused much of the cast from I Haven’t Got a Hat in Gold Diggers of ’49.
Porky’s name came from Friz Freleng, who was reminded of two childhood friends and brothers nicknamed “Porky” and “Piggy” and decided to put the two names together. His trademark stutter actually comes from Joe Dougherty, the first voice actor the studio drafted in to voice Porky. Joe had a very pronounced stutter and forced director Freleng to go through take after take of uncontrollable stuttering. Eventually the studio realized the high production cost of the many hours of wasted material, and replaced Dougherty with Mel Blanc in 1937. By this time the stutter had become so associated with the character that Blanc was asked to use it to create a more precise comedic effect rather than a general overtone. Porky is known to often trip over small words until the character can find a more easily pronounceable substitute, even if that word is much longer and more complicated than the original. Porky’s personality also matured from a rather brainless main character to a quick witted and thoughtful ‘everyman’ sidekick as seen later teamed with Bugs Bunny and then Daffy Duck, before becoming rather more serious and angry towards Sylvester during the 1950s.
Porky’s legacy also continues with his signature line “Th-th-that’s all folks!” heard at the end of the Looney Tunes episodes. This line was originally spoken by a court jester since the early ’30s, and was also spoken by both Bosko and Buddy and even Beans the cat before Porky came along and made it his own. Interestingly, it was the stuttering which seemed to make the line more memorable. Even the Warner Bros. sister series Merrie Melodies (which had always used “So Long, Folks!” to close its short films) changed to the more catchy Porky line in 1936 after opinion polls found most people better associated with it. 1936 was also the year Porky first appeared in color thanks to the brand new three-strip Technicolor process, and the introduction of the now legendary bulls-eye opening and closing title sequences.
Produced: August 30, 1938 – June 16, 1964.
Inspiration: Clark Gable (actor) in It Happened One Night (1934)
Now enjoying a growing financial success with Porky pig, Leon Schlesinger was interested in introducing new characters to their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, starting with Daffy Duck and Elmer “Egg Head” Fudd in 1937. Around this time, Friz Freleng left to join MGM (although he would return two years later) and his replacement as director fell to the inexperienced Cal Dalton. Cals’ original sketch for Happy Wabbit (later Bugs) shows a much less defined character with a longer protruding nose and a fluffy cotton ball tail, and very different from the figure we see today. Happy’s first appearance in Porky’s Hare Hunt, released April 30 1938, saw the now well-established Porky meet a screwball-crazy rabbit in an almost identical plot to Tex Avery’s 1937 cartoon Porky’s Duck Hunt, in which Daffy Duck was introduced. The film was co-directed by Ben ‘Bugs’ Hardaway, who would develop the character with Bob Clampett and Tex Avery over the next few years to perfect the characters look and personality. His high voice and jackhammer laugh was saved for the studios next character Woody Woodpecker, who appeared in 1940, giving the producers a blank slate on which to work with. Avery favored a move away from the hyper manic Daffy persona towards a more relaxed and thoughtful character, with an air of style and able to take everything in his stride – like Clark Gable in It Happened One Night.
A Wild Hare, directed by Tex Avery and released on July 27, 1940, was the result of all the hard work – introducing an almost completely redesigned Bob Clampett character, the newly renamed Bugs Bunny; along with a fully redesigned and fully formed Elmer Fudd. The cartoon was also the first in which Mel Blanc uses what would become Bugs’ standard voice, as well as the first time Bugs uses his catchphrase “What’s up, Doc?” which was a line written by director Tex Avery for this, his first Bugs Bunny short. Avery said he picked up the phrase during his youth in Texas where the term had become incredibly common. According to Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Bob Clampett, Bugs Bunny’s nonchalant carrot-chewing standing position originated in a scene in It Happened One Night as Clark Gable leans on a fence while chewing raw carrots rapidly and talking with his mouth full. Bugs’ fast talking wise-cracking, “know it all” personality also comes from the same movie in which Gable attempts to fast talk his way into Claudette Colbert’s heart. The name ‘Bugs’ was chosen as a reference to the rabbits crazy and obsessive nature. His voice “is an equal mix of Bronx accent and Brooklyn accent” according to Mel Blanc, who developed the voice in line with Gable’s character (who was born in New York), and bugs’ birth place is noted as: Brooklyn, New York in a warren under Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers – born July 27, 1940.
Tex Avery and Chuck Jones would go on to develop the character over many years, and Bugs would gain and lose weight, height, and definition as the years rolled on. His personality – once also modeled on Groucho Marx (Bugs is known to use the line “Of course you realize, this means war!” from the Marx Bros. movie, Duck Soup (1933), and is often seen imitating Groucho), was later toned down to become less “pesky rabbit” and more of an ideas driven character, sending other characters “crazy” rather than the rabbit himself. He starred in 167 theatrical animated shorts for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series until June 1964 when the character was retired, only to appear again in the 1980s and ’90s in several one-off specials, a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and opposite Michael Jordan in Space Jam (1996).
First Produced: February 10, 1940 – August 1, 1958.
Inspiration: World War I / World War II
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were part of Rudolf Ising’s film production unit at the MGM cartoon studios in the late 1930s. MGM hoped to become rivals to the established Leon Schlesinger Productions (under Warner Brothers) and Max Fleischer Studios (with Paramount Pictures) and capitalize on the newly rediscovered interest in animated shorts films. Despite having acquired Friz Freleng from Schlesinger Productions, their first project entitled The Captain and the Kids did very poorly and the studio was forced to streamline the department to save costs. Joseph Barbera, a storywriter and character designer, was paired with William Hanna, a production director, in the hope that working so closely together would prove more cost effective. In their first production meeting, Barbera suggested they try a cat and mouse scenario, and they sketched out the characters they would need to produce Puss Gets The Boot, released February 10, 1940.
In interviews, Joe Barbera later said, “We knew we needed two characters. We thought we needed conflict, and chase and action. And a cat after a mouse seemed like a good, basic thought.” The original story revolved around a blue and white domestic shorthair tabby cat named Jasper in his attempts to catch a house mouse named Jinx, whilst avoiding the African American housemaid Mammy (who would later become Tom’s owner). At this, savage Jasper was seen as a quadruped and had normal cat-like intelligence, contrasting with Jinx who was bipedal and had more human-like intelligence. Between them they would smash things and damage household furniture until the cat was literally throw out, leaving Jerry free to go on as he liked. Yet this seemingly light-hearted match had a dark side in that it was also supposed to boost civilian moral during the Second World War. February 10, 1940 also happened to coincide with the beginning of the Battle of Britain, when German fighters attacked a convoy off the coast of Dover. America wasn’t officially in the war at this stage, although support for the British “Tommys” was strong among Americans. Somehow the cat and mouse story had struck a cord.
Hanna and Barbera, oblivious to this, carried on making new short films such as Gallopin’ Gals (1940) and Officer Pooch (1941) and almost forgot about their cat and mouse characters. That was until Puss Gets The Boot narrowly lost an Academy Award to The Milky Way (1940) – another Rudolph Ising production – for the Best Short Subject: Cartoons of 1941. Skeptics at MGM were immediately silenced, and Fred Quimby, the production manager at the MGM animation studio, quickly pulled the pair off their current projects and commissioned the cat and mouse back into production. The first things to be changed were the characters names. In the book “Tom & Jerry: The Definitive Guide to their Animated Adventures,” Patrick Brion recalls an in-studio competition to name the pair by pulling suggestions from a hat. Animator John Carr won $50 for his suggestion to name them Tom and Jerry. Carr’s suggestion came from two ideas: firstly that a cat should be named Tom because of the association with the tomcat as a breed of cat. Secondly because the war-like antics between the two characters reminded him of the Tommies and Jerries fighting in the First World War – a situation which had recently somehow repeated itself.
The Midnight Snack appeared as their next short on July 19 1941, the same date Winston Churchill launched his “V for Victory” campaign. The characters would go on to appear in four or five short films a year – totaling 114 films by the time the MGM cartoon studio was shut down in 1957, with the last cartoons released in 1958. This resulted in Hanna and Barbera starting their own animation studio (now primarily aimed at low budget television shorts) called Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc. in 1957, although it would be some time before the studio made any money. MGM retained the Tom and Jerry license, and in a controversial twist decided to revive the series in the early 1960s using the Prague-based studio Rembrandt Films, with animator Gene Deitch and produced by company owner William L. Snyder. Czechoslovakia was a highly controversial choice given the fact it lay hidden behind the Iron Curtain, the Cold War was at it’s height, and the Cuban Missile Crisis happened during production. Both Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer were Eastern Europeans, from Warsaw and Minsk respectively.
Produced: August 31, 1946 – June 29, 1963.
Inspiration: Kenny Delmar (Actor) as Senator Beauregard Claghorn
Kenny Delmar first appeared as Senator Beauregard Claghorn on the “Allen’s Alley” segment of NBC Radio’s The Fred Allen Show on October 5, 1945, where he portrayed a blustery and outrageous Southern businessman from Charleston, South Carolina. Claghorn had an obsession with all things ‘South’ and would often joke that the South was better than the North for a variety of different reasons. His catchphrases soon became famous, such as “That’s a joke, son!” and “Pay attention now, boy!” and the Senator would often insert “Ah say” and “That is…” in the middle and at the end of sentences. Claghorn was soon parodied on other shows, including becoming a regular feature on the Jack Benny TV show, and after the Fred Allen Show closed down in 1945 Delmar continued the Claghorn persona appearing in commercials, on two hit records, a movie entitled It’s a Joke, Son! (1947) co-starring Una Merkel as Mrs. Claghorn, and finally in an episode of the Four Star Revue show in 1953. Kenny Delmar faded slowly into obscurity after his Senator Claghorn period and his 1947 movie is now in the Public Domain.
In 1944, Leon Schlesinger sold his studio to Warner Bros. Robert McKimson, who become the head animator in the later ’30s (a role he found quite overwhelming), had initially refused a directorial position by Schlesinger in 1937 considering the position would be far too challenging. The job went to Chuck Jones instead. He changed his mind in 1945 after Frank Tashlin (Director) and Bob Clampett (Animator) departed Warner Bros., forcing the remaining team to merge and struggle on. By this time the studio had largely moved on from Porky, Daffy and Bugs, and a new character ‘Tweety’ was basically all they had. While they continued to develop a cat named Willoughby – who later became Sylvester – the villain for Tweety, they also needed a brand new set of characters to take up the slack. Robert McKimson produced a few sketches for his first directorial project, which revolved around an upstart loudmouth farmyard rooster. The initial character design was refined by Cal Dalton, and the ever popular Mel Blanc came in to do the voice.
According to McKimson, the blabbermouth rooster’s voice originated from two sources: from a hard-of-hearing sheriff character on a radio show called Blue Monday Jamboree from the 1930s, and mainly from Delmar’s’ Claghorn character from the Fred Allen Show – complete with the same puffed-up chest, his walk and his catchphrases. The characters name also comes in two parts, firstly Claghorn was changed to Foghorn to accentuate the fact that the character spoke very directly and very loudly (like Claghorn), and secondly he added “Leghorn” which is a breed of chicken.
Walky Talky Hawky appeared on August 31, 1946 – the first of 28 cartoons to feature the Foghorn Leghorn character until Leghorns retirement with Banty Raids marking his final appearance on June 29, 1963. By this time the designers had created Yosemite Sam, Speedy, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, and these characters were also coming to the end of their production runs, with a brand new Marvin the Martian making his first appearance just four months later. The studio struggled on for three more years until the animation division of Warner Bros. was shut down in late 1966, forcing McKimson to jump ship to join his old associate Friz Freleng and David H. DePatie (who had been a producer at the Warners studio) at the newly launched DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. McKimson returned briefly to Warners when the animation studio was reopened under the ‘Seven Arts’ banner in 1967, until the studio closed down for good on September 20 1969, with Injun Trouble (directed by Robert McKimson) becoming the last Merrie Melodies/Looney Toons cartoon. McKimson chose to return to DePatie-Freleng, where he went on to direct The Pink Panther Show, amongst many other shows, before dying of a heart attack in 1977.
Produced: September 30, 1960 – April 1, 1966.
Inspiration: The Honeymooners TV Show (1955-56)
The Honeymooners was a mid-1950s American sitcom about four oddball characters within a Brooklyn apartment building. The husband Ralph (played by Jackie Gleason) was a bus driver whose madcap schemes to get rich quick often dismayed his wife Alice Kramden (Audrey Meadows), who was always quick to put him down and point out the futility of Ralph’s plans. In an adjacent apartment there lived Ralph’s best fiend Ed, a New York City sewer worker, and his wife Trixie, Alice’s best friend. When Ralph becomes angry and ignores Alice’s advice, he would often say: “One of these days… POW!!! Right in the kisser!” which became a national catchphrase, and the show went on to become a huge success.
Meanwhile, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were still trying to pay the bills at Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc after the split from MGM in 1957. Now deprived of their $600,000 a year ($35,000 per seven minute cartoon) MGM budget, they had taken their art to television – first with The Ruff and Ready Show, and then with The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Quick Draw McGraw Show, with a much less sophisticated line of limited animation and a budget of just $3,000 per five minute cartoon. Despite some quality control issues the studio was increasingly becoming known as the King of Saturday Morning Cartoons, and yet still lacked a mega hit to rival their Tom and Jerry heyday. Joseph Barbera went to work on a number of new character designs, nearly all of which were rejected. Finally he came up with the idea to base a sitcom on two entangled lovers (and their Son, Fred Jnr.) in the same style as The Honeymooners. During an interview Barbera noted: “At that time, The Honeymooners was the most popular show on television. The characters were terrific. That influenced greatly what we did with The Flintstones.” Fred’s personality was to be a combination of Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners and Chester A. Riley from The Life of Riley (also originally played by Jackie Gleason) as the headstrong father figure of the family. Wilma Flintstone was also a direct imitation of Alice Kramdem – complete with patronizing put-downs and a flair for spending Fred’s money. Barney and Betty Rubble were added later and retained much of the ‘best friends’ chemistry from The Honeymooners, and were the foils to the Flintstones. Mel Blanc was chosen to do the voice of Barney.
The show would go through a large number of design changes before the final concept was achieved. Initially the characters were modeled as Hillbillies, Ancient Romans, Pilgrims, and then Native American Indians before they settled on the Stone Age family. Part of the reason for this was because they felt that modern gadgets and gizmos could be easily transferred to the ancient civilization format (e.g. bird’s beaks for cloths pegs, aardvarks as vacuum cleaners) and they could therefore set up a large number of visual gags in this way. The name of the show was originally entitled ‘The Flagstones’ but this was changed to ‘The Gladstones’ due to copyright, and then finally to The Flintstones. Late in pre-production it was also decided to drop Fred Jnr. from the cast to concentrate more on the lead characters, even though several comic strips featuring Fred Jnr. had already been produced.
Joe Barbera story-boarded a pilot show for the Flintstones and headed off to New York for a grueling eight weeks of living in and out of suitcases and going over the same audio/visual routine every day. As he would play-act the scenes and take on all the characters voices, Barbera was often asked to present the show as a cheap form of light entertainment for the potential backers – even though none of whom wanted to buy the show. After pitching for seven weeks and six days, sometimes with as many as five pitches per day, Barbera was on the verge of exhaustion and was ready to give up and head back to California to dump the whole idea. His last pitch happened at 9am on a gray morning in his hotel room, where Leonard Goldenson and Oliver Treyz from the ABC Television Network bought the show in just 15mins. Joe Barbera later said he would wake up in cold sweats even many years later knowing this was the day that saved Hanna-Barbera.
The first episode of The Flintstones aired at 8pm on Friday September 30th, 1960. The next day, Variety called it “A Pen and Ink Disaster” and critics were quick to condemn the concept. Nevertheless, the Flintstones broke new ground in every way and this eventually forced the critics to relent. Six years later the ‘disaster’ was still going. The first two seasons were co-sponsored by Winston cigarettes and the characters appeared in several black and white television commercials for Winston – practically the only cartoon characters ever to smoke and promote smoking on screen. The Flintstones was the first American animated show to depict two people of the opposite sex sleeping together in one bed, the first animated show to last longer than two seasons, and the first to show a pregnancy when Wilma became pregnant in the episode “The Surprise” (Jan 25, 1963) and a birth (Peddles Flintstone) in “Dress Rehearsal” (Feb 22, 1963). The producers later revived the Fred Jnr. concept and came up with Barney and Betty’s adopted child Bamm-Bamm with “Little Bamm-Bamm” (aired October 3rd, 1963) – which was also episode #100.
Produced: September 14, 1968 – January 4, 1969.
Inspiration: The Great Race (1965).
The Great Race was a slapstick comedy film starring a screwball Jack Lemmon, a dry Tony Curtis, and a plucky Natalie Wood, and directed by Blake Edwards, who had already scored highly with Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and just recently The Pink Panther (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964). The story tells of a race from New York to Paris – the long way – and features the crazy antics of Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) and his sidekick Maximilian ‘Max’ Meen (Peter Falk) in their customized black convertible ‘The Hannibal Twin-8,’ as they attempt to overtake The Great Leslie (Tony Curtis) in the ‘Leslie Special’ using every means necessary. It isn’t long before the other drivers find themselves sabotaged out of the race, leaving the bumbling heroes going at it head-to-head (even shoulder to shoulder), until a crazy Russian decides to spoil all their fun.
After The Flintstones, Hanna and Barbera went back to the drawing board to find new inspiration. They found their muse with the successful adaptations of The Impossibles (1966), The Herculoids (1967), and Marvel Comics’ heroes The Fantastic Four (1967) before reaching back into the archives to pull up their notes on The Great Race. Many conceptual designs had been made of a possible ‘Wacky Races’ project, and by 1968 these plans were almost complete. The main characters remained unchanged from the movie – the villain Dick Dastardly and his sidekick Muttley were carbon copies of Fate and Meen, with Dastardly wearing the same long blue duster overcoat with top hat and driving goggles, a handlebar mustache, and driving an almost identical black ‘rocket nosed’ car now called ‘The Mean Machine 00’ (The Double Zero) – which featured similar gadgetry. Muttley also sported the same hat and goggles as Peter Falk in the original. Dastardly retained many of Lemmon’s catchphrases as Prof. Fate, such as “Drat, drat, and double drat!,” “Curses, foiled again!” and his usual cry of desperation: “Muttley, do something!” Peter Perfect took over the Curtis role in ‘The Turbo Terrific.’ Penelope Pitstop replaced Natalie Wood in the ‘Compact Pussycat’ – a pink car very reminiscent of the White ‘Leslie Special’ – along with The Slag Brothers in ‘The Bouldermobile,’ Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth in ‘The Buzzwagon’ and Sergeant Blast and Private Meekly in ‘The Army Surplus Special’ to replace similar characters from the movie. Daws Butler and Don Messick were brought in to do the male voices, with Paul Winchell as Dastardly and Janet Waldo as Penelope Pitstop.
The show aired in September of 1968 on the CBS Network to a small fanfare, and ran for one season of 17 shows. Penelope Pitstop and the Ant Hill Mob were spun off into their own cartoon series in 1969 titled The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, and in the same year Dastardly and Muttley got their own show called Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines (sometimes mistakenly known as ‘Stop The Pigeon’ after the series working title was changed after the theme music was completed). Both shows ran for two seasons. Then in 1976 The Mumbly Cartoon Show appeared, based identically on Muttley from Wacky Races (and still voiced by Don Messick) but this time seen as a detective and wearing a long trench coat. The following year Dread Baron appeared on the Laff-A-Lympics cartoon, still voiced by Paul Winchell and again looking almost identically to Dick Dastardly except for a few cosmetic changes. Dread Baron and Mumbly would continue to appear over the following years until Dastardly and Muttley briefly returned in the 1985 series Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, only to be strangely replaced again by Dread Baron and Mumbly for the next season. The Slag Brothers from Wacky Races were also updated in 1977 and transformed into Captain Caveman for the Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels series.
It is worth noting that Peter Falk, who appeared as the original inspiration for Muttley/Mumbly would go on to use these same characters to inspire his own creation: Frank Columbo in the hit series ‘Columbo’ (1968-2003). In Columbo, Falk would wear a similar trench coat to Mumbly, walk with the same stoop, drive broken-down old cars, and generally had the same dry satirical style and speech patterns as Mumbly, often muttering words under his breath and talking to himself. In addition, Mumbly and Columbo were both Police Lieutenant Detectives and both had wheezy laughs – in Columbo’s case due to smoking cigars.
Produced: September 13, 1969 – Present.
Inspiration: The Archies TV Series (1968-69)
In 1967, parent-run organizations such as Action for Children’s Television (ACT) began to protest against what they saw as a rising trend towards violence in Saturday morning cartoons. They particularly cited Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as Jonny Quest, Space Ghost and The Herculoids as the main offenders, and put pressure on the studios to replace them. As a result, Hanna-Barbera began 1969 with most of their shows having been canceled, with members of some of these pressure groups having been installed to monitor all subsequent production. Fred Silvermann, the man in charge of children’s programming on CBS, saw a need to revitalize Saturday morning cartoons and commissioned The Archie Show, based on Bob Montana’s teenage humor comic book “Archie,” and was primarily a sitcom about a pop band and their attempts to get recognition in a similar way to The Monkeys’ TV show – which had ceased production only the previous year. The show was a success, and spawned many hit singles such as “Sugar, Sugar” which was the most successful Billboard number-one hit of 1969. The Archies ran from September 14, 1968 to August 30, 1969 and directly lead to: Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (1971-1974) and The Groovie Goolies (1971-1972). The series was created by Filmation, a company which had already achieved a level of success with the Superman cartoons of 1966, and would go on to greater success in the 1980s.
After The Archie Show, Fred Silverman approached William Hanna and Joseph Barbera with the idea of creating a ‘mystery show’ featuring five crazy kids in a teenage rock group and their efforts to solve mysteries and foil crimes. The job of designing the show was handed to story writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears and artist Iwao Takamoto, who’s initial designs were rejected by Silverman who felt the plot was becoming “too scary,” and feared a backlash from the various action groups of the time. To make the concept less scary, Joe Barbera came up with the idea of including a dog as a main character and as a foil for the show – in the same way as Muttley had been used in Wacky Races. The second concept design saw the working title changed to ‘Mysteries Five,’ and featured: Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, Linda’s brother “W.W.” and their dog, a Great Dane named “Too Much” – who were all members of a rock band called Mysteries Five. Still the project was rejected by Silverman, who influenced even more control over the third draft of the concept. Now called Who’s S-S-Scared, and without much of the rock band element, Geoff and Mike were merged into one character named Ronnie, who was later renamed again to Fred Jones at the request of Silverman, who portrayed the dim boyfriend in the show. Kelly was renamed to Daphne Blake, the attractive girlfriend of Fred. Linda was now called Velma Dinkley, the brains of the outfit who would put together the clues. “W.W” was renamed Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and was no longer Velma’s brother, but was now a more hippie-like character to fit the free-thinking feelings of the late 1960s.
By 1969 the concept of the show had moved on to revision #4, and now the designs were almost complete it was time to implement the personalities and attributes of the characters. An inspiration for this came from an earlier CBS show called The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959-1963), where Fred was based on Dobie, Velma on Zelda, Daphne on Thalia, and Shaggy on Maynard, as well as various elements from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. Shaggy and Too Much were developed as cowardly types, with the same capacity to “eat anything, any time” shared by Muttley on Wacky Races. Don Messick was asked to voice Too Much, with legendary radio DJ and entertainer Casey Kasem as the voice of Shaggy, and with Nicole Jaffe providing the voice of Velma Dinkley. Late into final production, and after hearing Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night” (1966) on the studio radio, Fred Silverman fell in love with the “doo-be-doo-be-doo” scat at the end of the song and changed the dogs name to “Scooby-Doo,” and the show’s title to Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! The final product was first aired September 13, 1969 and lasted two seasons on CBS before switching channels for a further nine seasons on ABC, with spin-off shows airing in the 1980s and a revival attempt in the 2000s.
Produced: September 5, 1983 – December 15, 1984.
Inspiration: Conan and Barbarian (Character) (1932-present)
Conan the Barbarian had been a popular fantasy series first written by Robert E. Howard in 1932 and published in Weird Tales magazine. Conan was famous for his large frame and notable muscles, reminiscent of the ‘Superman’ superhero who first appeared in DC comics that same year. Moving on to the late 1970s, Mattel (who had recently turned down an offer from George Lucas to produce action figures for the Star Wars series) wanted a new line of characters to save them from financial ruin. The task fell to Roger Sweet, a lead designer working in Mattel’s Preliminary Design Department, who glued a torso of one of Mattel’s Big Jim figures into an ‘action’ pose and added lots of clay to pad him out. He then had plaster casts made and created three prototypes ready for approval in early 1980. In interviews Sweet later remarked “This was a powerful figure that could be taken anywhere and dropped into any context because he had a generic name: He-Man!” The prototype models depicting He-Man as a soldier, a spaceman and a barbarian, and out of the three concepts the barbarian version was the one chosen. The stage one prototype figure was significantly different from the final result, featuring He-Man with Black hair, a deeply tanned skin and wearing a helmet. Around the same time in 1980, CPI (who owned the license for Conan the Barbarian) began talks to allow Mattel to produce officially licensed Conan The Barbarian figures. The talks would go on for many months, leaving Conan in limbo while He-Man continued to be developed.
In 1981, Tom Kalinske, a manager and designer at Mattel, refined the idea so that He-Man now sported a helmet-less head with blond hair (which was seen to be more friendly than black) and had a much lighter skin. Mattel then hired comic-book writers and artists such as Donald F. Glut and Earl Norem to create the extra characters and the back-story they needed to flesh out the series, and to produce posters, package inlays, box art and mini-comics for distribution with the action figures. In July 1981 CPI granted Mattel the rights to reproduce plastic figures of Conan The Barbarian, but just six months later in January 1982 Mattel requested that the License Agreement be terminated. He-Man appeared in February of 1982 to great success, allowing the “Masters of the Universe” series to become a universally recognized brand. In May 1982 Conan the Barbarian (with Arnold Schwarzenegger) was released to cinemas, at which point CPI attempted to sue Mattel over He-Mans ‘uncanny likeness’ to Conan, a matter not helped by brown-haired prototype versions of He-Man (bearing a strong resemblance to the Conan character) being released by mistake. CPI ultimately lost the case and Mattel retained the rights to He-man.
It was at this point that Filmation Studios were commissioned to produce the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe television series, and were given the basis of a story from which to work. By now He-Man was known as ‘a barbarian from an Eternian tribe,’ who must protect Castle Grayskull from the evil Lord Skeletor who wielded one half of a Magic Power Sword with He-Man owning the other half. When these swords were place together they would form one ‘super’ weapon and he who controlled both weapons would be the master of the Universe. The Filmation designers added several more concepts to the story. He-Man was now ‘Prince Adam’ (son of King Randor and Queen Marlena) and his pet was a cowardly green tiger named Cringer who would turn into an armored steed named Battle Cat by use of magic. Teela was added and was the daughter of the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull and Man-At-Arms (Duncan) was included for a better balance of good and bad characters. Both Mattel and Filmation separately took the final product and pitched the idea to the ABC network, who turned it down, only agreeing to market the product if the producers agreed to give the series away for free in exchange for advertising revenue during syndication (known as barter syndication), allowing the first show to air on September 5, 1983. By 1984 He-Man was being seen on 120 American television stations and in more than 30 countries worldwide. The origin of the franchise still remains a secret, although considering the Conan character was created 50 years before, is a visual replica of He-Man, and that Mattel were working to secure the Conan franchise all along, it is hard to imagine how Conan could not have been the initial seed idea for He-Man. Filmation went on to create She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985-1987), The Original Ghostbusters (1986-1988) and Bravestarr (1987-1988), before the studio closed down in 1988.
Produced: December 17, 1989 – present.
Inspirations: Homer Simpson (Character) in “The Day of the Locust” Book (1939)
and Ken Osmond (Actor) as Eddie Haskell in “Leave it to Beaver” TV Series (1957- 1963)
Life in Hell started in 1977 as a self-published comic book written and produced by Matt Groening and was a story about life in Los Angeles and the things which Groening encountered at school, at work in a succession of seedy jobs, and in his personal love relationships. The series reached the attention of James L. Brooks who commissioned Groening to create ‘bumpers’ (short bridging features) as skits for the Tracey Ullman Show. While waiting in Brooks’ office reception for the interview, Groening sketched out a number of basic designs which would go on to become the basis for The Simpsons. He walked in to the office, presented his 10 minute-old drawings and got the commission.
He named the characters after members of his own family, his father Homer, mother Marge and sister Lisa, and substituted Bart for himself. The inspiration behind Homers mannerisms was much less to do with his Father (who by all accounts was quite an intelligent man) and instead based on (according to Matt Groening himself) the 1939 Nathanael West novel “The Day of the Locust,” which featured a hopelessly clumsy and disaffected “everyman” character named Homer Simpson. Homers middle name ‘J’ is simply the letter J, and is a homage to the ‘J’ in Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocket J. Squirrel from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and its creator Jay Ward. Bart Simpson was named as an anagram of “brat,” and Groening’s older brother Mark produced much of the early inspiration for Bart’s attitude. The character was supposed to follow the typical misbehaving child stereotype with some traits of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn thrown in. In interviews, Matt also states one of the initial ideas for Bart came as he considered: “What would happen if Eddie Haskell [from Leave it to Beaver] got his own show?”
The entire Simpson family was designed so that they would be drawn very quickly, allowing the often tight budget to reach further, and be recognizable in silhouette to that the features were easily recognizable. When designing Homers hair he initially just sketched his initials, ‘M’ for the hairline and ‘G’ for Homers ear – completely expecting the production team to tidy up the hair for the final artwork. They didn’t, and simply traced over Groening’s outlines, so that the Matt Groening initials still remain on the final character to this day. Marge’s hair was based on the iconic Elsa Lanchester hairdo as worn in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and on a similar style worn by Margaret Groening during the 1960s. Lisa’s hair was initially a cluster of hand drawn hairlines, but this was changed to the simpler ‘hexagon hair’ design before the pilot episode. The final character traits came about as a result of the voices and ideas of the voice-over crew, most notably Nancy Cartwright as the voice of Bart and Dan Castellaneta as the voice of Homer.
On April 19, 1987 the first Simpsons short appeared on the Tracey Ullman show, followed by three more seasons, with the first full half-hour series of episodes appearing on December 17, 1989. So far the show is still on the air after 508 episodes and is regarded as the longest running (and debatably the most popular) animation series of all time. In a final twist, in 1992 Tracey Ullman filed a lawsuit against Fox claiming that her show was the source of the series’ massive success. The claim for a portion of the shows profits was rejected and thrown out by the courts.