Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Jetsons! ( Three Parts!)

Okay, everyone… Sing along with me:  Meet George Jetson.   His boy, Elroy.  Daughter Judy.  Jane, his wife. 

Wow!  I don’t know what producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera paid composer Hoyt Curtin for the lyrics of this theme, but he certainly got the better of the deal.  ELEVEN WORDS… and only “boy” and “Elroy” manage to rhyme!  

Despite one of the simplest sets of TV theme lyrics this side of the one-word BATMAN TV theme (…unless one chooses to count the prefix “Na-na-na-na-nana-na-na, Na-na-na-na-nana-na-na…Batman!” as a long series of words), THE JETSONS theme has, nevertheless, become a classic.  
Combined with its visual of George dropping off Elroy, Judy, and Jane at their respective destinations, from his bubble-domed, flying space car, the song DOES introduce the principal characters, and efficiently communicates everything you need to know in order to begin enjoying the show.  Jane’s trademark moment, in which she takes George’s entire wallet, rather than the few dollars he offers her for a shopping jaunt, is one that universally hits home for any married – or, especially divorced – man! 

And, so it is that we honor THE JETSONS, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the show’s debut for the 1962-1963 television season, with what was our fortieth anniversary tribute from my (now retired) APA and fanzine column The Issue At Hand # 62 from 2002.  …Waste Not, Want Not, when it comes to feeding the Blog-beast, I always say!    

THE JETSONS was an important early influence on my life.  One that convinced me to “Look toward the future”, because it will be great!  For the next several years, television series would follow with similar themes – VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1964), LOST IN SPACE (1965), STAR TREK (1966) – contributing to the mindset that had young me spending a large portion of my life looking forward to the year 2000 and the coming of the 21 st Century.  Anyone else feel as let down by what actually happened as I do?   Just askin’. 

…Then again, we DO have this Blog to bring us joy, so maybe things turned out okay after all. 

Following the earlier success of THE FLINTSTONES, THE JETSONS opened on ABC, Sunday evening, September 23, 1962.  Where the “Modern Stone Age Family” was clearly patterned after Jackie Gleason’s THE HONEYMOONERS, and Hanna-Barbera’s second prime time animated effort, TOP CAT was based on Phil Silvers’ SERGEANT BILKO, THE JETSONS had a slightly more obscure media-predecessor as its primary influence. 

This was the BLONDIE series of movie comedies, starring Penny Singleton (more at THIS LINK) and Arthur Lake as Blondie and Dagwood.  More subtle and less recognizable than the Gleason and Silvers influences, to be sure, but deliberate to the point of casting Ms. Singleton as the voice of Jane Jetson.  Thankfully, George O’ Hanlon’s voice for George Jetson was far less whiny and annoying than Mr. Lake’s Dagwood. 

O’Hanlon’s long period starring as the put-upon “Joe McDoakes”, in a hilarious series of comedy shorts for Warner Bros. – alas, now forgotten, prepared him well for the role of similarly put-upon George Jetson.  Indeed, Joe McDoakes was for the ‘40s and ‘50s the exact counterpart of the future Mr. Jetson. 

Other, more familiar, cartoon voice actors, applied their talents to the rest of the JETSONS cast.  Janet Waldo as Judy.  Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble) as George’s mean ol’ boss Mr. Spacely.  Daws Butler (Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw Mc Graw) as Elroy, Handyman Henry Orbit, and Mr. Spacely’s business rival Mr. Cogswell.  Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma Flintstone) as Rosey the Robot Maid.  Don Messick (Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith) would round out the cast as the Jetson family dog, Astro.  

 Alas, Hanna and Barbera were unable to again catch that FLINTSTONES lightning in their shiny new, twenty-first century, synthi-perma-plastic bottle. THE JETSONS would be cancelled after one season, and last air in Sunday prime time on September 08, 1963.  Though a new, imaginative series called MY FAVORITE MARTIAN would debut in three weeks -- and Sunday night stalwart ED SULLIVAN would seemingly ALWAYS be there -- for me, the night would somehow be “less special”, until VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA would sail Sunday-ward (…from Monday evening) in 1965.

But, don’t shed too many techno-tears for THE JETSONS.  The series quickly became a staple of the then-budding Saturday morning cartoon blocks, along with other former ABC prime time animated series THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW, TOP CAT, and BEANY AND CECIL. After two decades (!),THE JETSONS would also become a top program in weekday afternoon syndication, prompting Hanna-Barbera to produce several more seasons of the show between 1985 and 1987.  Remarkably, the original voice cast was still ready and available for duty.  The great advantage to being a cartoon, I suppose, is that the players looked as if they hardly aged a day!  
Back to the 1985 Future!
NEXT:  We’ll look at The Jetsons, as presented in Gold Key Comics.  …Say, didn’t they have a fiftieth anniversary too? 

Page down or CLICK HERE for that!

And, you can find more on The Jetsons at YOWP!  Be sure to go there and HERE too! 


Yowp said...

Curtin didn't write the lyrics. They were by Bill Hanna.
Curtin explained he wrote the theme like he did the earlier ones. Hanna gave him the lyrics on the phone and he'd come up with music.

Joe Torcivia said...

Thanks, Yowp! …That must have been a very short phone call!

Thinking back to a feature I think might have been on the Magilla Gorilla DVD, I’m certain you are correct. Hanna wrote the lyrics.

Well, they were FUNCTIONAL, I’ll give him that… Though certainly not up to “Yogi Bear is smarter than the ave-rage bear / Yogi Bear is al-ways in the Ranger’s hair… etc.”

Anyone reading this, check out Yowp’s Blog. There’s none better, when it comes to the early Hanna-Barbera stuff!

…Maybe, one day, I’ll write some (barely) “functional” theme song lyrics to illustrate that!

joecab said...

How many other theme songs consisited of Bill (and was it ever Joe?) throwing some words at Hoyt and expecting him to make some magic?

I can just picture it now...

"Hey Hoyt! Listen I've got the lyrics finished for Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch! Have you got a pencil? car horn, car horn, car horn, car horn, car horn, car horn, car horn, car horn..."

Joe Torcivia said...


That line alone was funnier than H-B’s entire output for the decade surrounding “Wheelie” and the like!

“Help! Help! Here Come the Bears…” By then, they NEEDED “Help!” …And badly!

Though, I’ll make an exception for Hong Kong Phooey… Not so much the SHOW, but the theme song!

joecab said...

Speaking of which, here's something I drew recent in Draw Something

Joe Torcivia said...

And, hey… That’s better than anything published by Charlton!

Anonymous said...

Those "Behind the 8 Ball" shorts are mostly forgotten now, but they do turn up occasionally on TCM. And sometimes people old enough to remember them will use "Joe McDoakes" as a metaphor for a loser.

Joe Torcivia said...

Honestly, Anon, I have never seen one of those on TV… ever.

It was something I was aware of, just from knowing George O’ Hanlon’s past credits.

But, it wasn’t until this DVD set (link below), that I’d finally seen one.

Turns out, I thought it was one of the best! I’ve seen many more since then, thanks to the Warner Archives “Joe Mc Doakes Collection”, and love the series. Clearly, this was the inspiration for George Jetson.

There are so many “program components” of the movie-going experience included on DVDs, back when WHV did “Warner Night at the Movies”, that I’ve gotten to see for the first time. I often wonder how many of them have ever been broadcast on television. I guess more recent venues, like TCM, might naturally present them, but they didn’t have any sort of presence on broadcast TV in my formative years – when almost anything would turn up somewhere.

Beyond the cartoons, which will live on forever in their own right, I can’t imagine where the other fillers would have appeared. Certain series, such as The Three Stooges and Our Gang / The Little Rascals, relegated to kiddie hours in TV’s earlier days (…and taking on a “life of their own” because of that), being notable exceptions.

The best examples of the DVD format, featuring such past treasures, have certainly been an education for me.