Amazing Heroes #95 -- Doug Wildey Interview
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Can you go through the creation
process of Jonny Quest? Now, Hanna-Barbera had found a way to get The Flinstones
on prime-time TV, on ABC. What happened next that inspired them to try Jonny Quest?
I was looking for a job. I was
coming from another studio where I'd worked for about 12 or 14 weeks under Alex
Toth, on a thing called Space Angel. I had applied to Universal (which was called
something else at the time) as sort of a storyboard/production designer. Stanley
Kramer's office got interested in my stuff, so I figured, rather than move back
to Arizona, where my family lives, maybe I could latch onto Stanley Kramer. Hanna-Barbera
was up the street from there, so I simply crossed the street, went up to Hanna-Barbera,
and said, "Look, I'm an artist" and so forth. A couple of people there had read
some of my comic strips and comic books, so they said, "Come in and see [Joe] Barbera."
The following day, or maybe even the same day, Barbera called me up and said "Can
you design, in your style, a show: Jack Armstrong?"
This is the radio character, right?
Right. I said "Yeah." So I storyboarded
one, wrote some dialogue, wrote a little script, and then I did a kind of a presentation,
showing a little continuity, a little color, and what the characters looked like.
I worked on that thing for I guess three months, and listened to tapes of guys auditioning
for a whole day.
Now that I think of it -- and I never honestly thought about it before -- you had
almost the Jonny Quest setup in Jack Armstrong. It had Jack Armstrong, a young guy,
about 17, Uncle -- Frank or Uncle Jack, I'm not sure -- a sidekick, and a girl,
and they went around having adventures.
Again, referring to Jonny Quest, it was a sort of global adventure type of thing,
so I put them in Africa. I wanted to get into science, so I read Popular Science,
Popular Mechanics, Science Digest, all that stuff, trying to project what would
be happening 10 years hence.
By the way, that's how Jonny Quest was set up. We figured it might run for years,
so I wanted to keep it current for ten years. As it worked out, the things I came
up with were all out my head, other than projections from Scientific American and
the like. We had one show where they went to the South Pole. I needed a vehicle,
so I invented a thing which I called a "snowskimmer." Now in retrospect, why didn't
I think of "snowmobile"? A simple thing like that, right? There was no snowmobile
at the time, so I patterned the thing after those swamp buggies in Louisiana that
had the big propeller on the back and would go stomping through the water -- they're
nice visual things anyway. That's what I came up with, this vehicle that would ride
on the snow, and I called it a snowskimmer. I was projecting okay? Now, of course,
snowmobiles are everyday things.
I would read about things like hydrofoils. I had hydrofoils only because I thought
America, with all its waterways, would be inundated by hydrofoils like they are
with snowmobiles. I had a hovercraft.
The hovercraft that natives were throwing
spears at in the credits.
Right. That is all stuff we did for Jack
Armstrong none of that was from Jonny Quest. Now, the rights to Jack Armstrong were
owned by someone, and Hanna-Barbera, I presume, after watching what I had been doing
on lack Armstrong said "Why do we need Jack Armstrong?"
Why license it? Why not just create something
you could own?
At which point Barbera came and said,
"Can you create a show for us?" And I said "Yeah!" and went home and wrote Jonny
Quest that night -- which was not that tough.
Well, not after all the research you'd
Not just that. I had a lot to draw on.
I drew on Jackie Cooper's movies, his relationship to, let us say, George Raft or
Wallace Beery -- that type of relationship. I drew upon some of the Frankie Darrow
movies -- there's a name you never heard. Frankie Darrow was always the misunderstood
kid --still a good guy, but nobody understood him. But he worked with a male lead
in most cases; I had him to draw from.
And then of course I had, let's face it, Terry and the Pirates. Not only do I think
Caniff is still the greatest storyteller in the business, but after I worked for
him and got to know the guy ... I mean, they say imitation is the sincerest form
of flattery [laughs]. So drawing upon all of those, it was not all that tough.
The Barbera influence was felt there because he had gone to see a movie called Dr.
No and wanted to get in stuff like "007"-- numbers. Which we included, by the way,
in the first Jonny Quest. It was called "Jonny Quest File 037" or something. We
dropped that later; it didn't work. But that was his father's code name as he worked
for the government as a scientist and that kind of thing. That influence was felt.
The actual putting together of the kid and his father and the bodyguard was no big
thing. Couple of hours' work and I had the outline. And I believe the following
day I wrote the first premise, which was the Sargasso Sea. I wanted a mysterious
element. The Sargasso Sea exists -- not quite as strongly as I had it -- but it
was at one time called the Sea of Dead Ships, or whatever the heck it was. It seemed
like a good setting for adventure. And then of course I wanted a real plausible
adventure -- if you could call it plausible -- in the sense that things were being
manipulated by real people. It wasn't really happening and it had to be explained
at the end. This is the part of some of the writing that I didn't like -- where
they'd come in with the Monster-of the-week type of thing, mostly rip-offs.
So, I used elements I had seen before -- somebody once said there are seven basic
plots in writing and seven only. Nobody ever comes up with a totally original type
of thing. I also firmly believe that complexity has no place in almost any kind
of entertainment other than these snowjob mechanical-type movies. Things that I
personally don't like. I tried to avoid things like that. I talk to people about
2001 and they.do these rave numbers on 2001, but outside of a nice recording of
the "Blue Danube" waltz I didn't see much in that movie. It was complex. Later,
I read that the director left off the entire narrative written by the novelist to
go over all the things that were happening; he felt it might be better if he just
dropped the narrative track, and he did. And so the audience would form all their
own conclusions and come out of the picture babbling about whether they've got the
right idea of what's going on. But frankly, it went right over my head. I don't
like pictures that are based on mechanical things.
Science fiction, in most cases, I don't like. The ones that I do like -- the original
Thing, the movie, was super. Because here were human beings trapped in a place where
you were fearful for them. And you knew they could die and it was a hell of a good
movie. Star Wars left me dead. I'm supposed to be a great visual guy, and all that
stuff, but I've got to tell you, none of those Star Wars pictures did anything for
me. Outside of sitting there marveling at the technical effects, the people were
absolute cardboard. They were less real than Jonny Quest characters, in my book.
Pictures like From the Earth to the Moon. Those kind of films just did nothing for
me at all. They were nice mechanical models moving around and sunlight and shadow
and space and that type of thing. I've always considered that a crashing bore. Give
me a young girl in an old dark house and I'll give you a picture [laughs]. A frame
of reference. Or even in a science fiction vein. I don't know what you'd call, for
instance, Quest for Fire but I thought that was superb. And again we're into simplicity.
There was no complexity there. This was probably the simplest story that could be
told in a movie. The theme was so simple it was unbelievable. Basically, creating
fire and having a baby at the end of the picture. And yet the picture worked in
every way for me. I guess you could call that science fiction. I'm not sure what
genre you'd call it.
What I tried to concentrate on were the characters and the relationships between
the characters, not just talking heads. By and large it seems to me that the show
worked as a whole only because of the way the relationships between the characters
themselves worked, and their relationships to other characters -- incidentals, villains,
The philosophy that I had behind Jonny Quest was: practically everyone who has ever
seen Gunga Din remembers scenes from it just as clearly now as when they saw it.
Television doesn't work that way. Nobody remembers scenes from television. It goes
in your head, zap, there's a commercial, zap, the next show is on; it just goes
right through. You retain a very small percentage of anything that you see on television
with any kind of excitement level. I wanted to do something they would remember.
And it has worked that way: There are people now, who are 35 and 40 years old, who
stagger up and say, "Jonny Quest -- I remember ..." and then they actually go on
to describe a scene, movement by movement. That was the biggest kick that I got
out of Jonny Quest -- that sense of timelessness.
Looking at those photocopies I remember
a lot of the characters and the episodes.
But they don't mean much if they are
not put together in the context of a show, which they haven't been at all in the
shows I've worked on recently. The last two shows I've been responsible for are
Godzilla and Jana of the Jungle. There wasn't enough attention given to the writers.
I did some re-writing myself on occasion to keep the things alive, but they didn't
have the same kind of ... integrity I guess you would call it, writing integrity
that Jonny Quest did -- I guess because Jonny Quest was the first show of its type
on network: the first animated adventure show.
Shows like this, when they're listed in TV Guide or written up in newspaper articles,
are simply called cartoons, but I don't call them that. The pure cartoons, which
everybody loves, the old Bugs-Bunny-and-Sylvester cartoons, were masterpieces of
their type. They were pure cartoons. I don't like to put the two together.
Which we did in Jonny Quest, actually, because Bandit was a cartoon dog. A guy named
Dick Bickenbach designed the dog. Prior to the designing of the dog Joe Barbera
and I had talked about a pet for Jonny, and somehow a dog didn't seem all that adventurous
to me. I happen to like dog shows, Lassie and whatever, but they'd pretty much been
done. Lassie had been a TV show and a series of movies. I believe Bandit was a suggestion
on the part of a toy manufacturer to get a saleable stuffed toy. Because I had designed
a whole gang of other pets for Jonny.
Other than dogs.
I had a small white cheetah and a monkey.
Of course I liked the idea of the monkey, only because of the story possibilities
-- what a monkey could do that a dog couldn't do realistically. I thought that would
work a little better. But the dog is the thing we went with. Bickenbach did a nice
job, but he was a Flintstone-type of designer. Somehow the dog worked, though I
thought it was probably the weakest part of the show from that standpoint.
Bandit seemed to be used for comic relief.
Yeah, I tried to keep him working as
comic relief so he wouldn't look so much like a prop thrown in to lighten things
up. But it worked. Oddly enough, if you talk to people who are not fans but are
simply in the 40-year-old age bracket, they will always remember the dog -- what
it looked like and what its name was. So it was an identifiable character in the
show and I guess you can't argue with something like that. But if a monkey or whatever
had been in there, the same people would probably have remembered that pet.
This is something that has never been publicized before. I was not all that crazy
about the dog. As a matter of fact, I was rather volatile about the dog. I couldn't
see any way to make it work on a reasonably intelligent level with a kid where the
dog gets in trouble and the kid comes along to save the dog. I just couldn't buy
Lassie killed that.
And Hadji. We worked it out, not all
that cleverly, that Hadji was supposed to be a child of the street in India and
he saved Race's life from an assassin who threw a knife at him. Then Hadji the poor
child of the street was picked up and adopted by our group, became part of the cast.
People later have asked, if he was a child of the street, where did he get all this
magic knowledge and all these nice suits? I pass; I don't know.
I've got pictures here of Hadji the child of the street, in a turban and a loin
cloth, which is nice if you are in your own environment but somehow I couldn't see
him traveling around with this group with just his loin cloth. It just didn't work.
It was one of those things where you figure no matter what kind of cartoon or animated
show this is it simply won't wash so I simply re-costumed him.
I wanted a minority character who would work other than just a black kid from the
ghetto, which was the usual-thing. Which brings us to the other thing through the
years I've gone to the networks or productions studios with various show ideas.
I had one with an Indian kid and an Eagle which was a period piece where this Indian
kid worked with the U.S. cavalry and would have been kind of a showy thing and a
little tough to make but the idea was the kid would hold the bow, hold onto the
bowstrings and the eagle would grab the bow and fly the kid from place to place.
It was a little kid [laughs] and not too heavy. But it was a big eagle [laughs].
Anyway the phrase that stands out in my mind from the network people that I talked
to it was flat "Indians don't go!" Period. I translated this to mean that there
is not that much interest in Indians -- which to me is a complete surprise because
I thought regardless of what the character was, if the character did interesting
things, that would do it. But the word was, "Indians don't go" so the show never
got anyplace. It was called "Little Bow" and he had contact with bears and outlaws
and the whole schtick.
And based on that, I guess there were some objections to Hadji. I had heard this
but I couldn't pin it down as to who said what or how official it was but I felt
there was enough disparity between these two kids who were roughly the same age-rather
than have two twins or two kid who came from the same lifestyle.
I figured Hadji would work better. The magic he could perform I believe was a little
overdone. I did a bunch of promotional stuff on Hadji once I had the character incorporated
into the cast. Then we did the old rope trick where he climbed up the rope. The
cobras. That stuff I figured, okay, I'll go that far. I let him crawl up a rope
no one is holding. However, it went a little too far with the disappearing act that
was in show #2 or #3 with the mummy where he jumps from one water jug to another.
Which we later saw in Mr. Spielberg's film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. We also saw
the snake pit in Raiders. Maybe that's why I liked that picture so much -- I was
saying, "Boy what great writing ... wait a minute, I wrote that."
Spielberg's the right age to have been
heavily influenced by Jonny Quest.
And also Mr. Lucas. In fact, when this
article comes out I'd like to send a copy to each of these guys.
The serial thing -- I was always hooked on serials when I was a kid going to black-and-white
movies in the local theater. For 15 cents, you would see two features, a trailer
and a serial. I tried to incorporate the serial approach to Jonny Quest in that
yes, it was bigger than life, yes, it can't actually happen, but if it's done properly
you'll believe it. That was the philosophy behind it. There is a line that I never
like to go beyond, because it goes from semi-believable high-adventure to straight-out
garbage. When scripts would come in I would read the material. There where things
I would simply cross out when the writer had overstepped the bounds. The first writers
were cartoon writers and at the beginning nobody in the studio -- the writers or
the animators or the layout people, none of them -- understood exactly how this
show was to be projected. Later they got some heavyweight writers that came in out
of live action and novels and they understood it, so it wasn't quite as tough.
Who was doing the writing? You had control
over script approval.
I hesitate to use the word "control."
If there was a script that came in that I didn't like I would make it known and
it would be changed. In that way I had control. However, in many instances myself
and Barbera, or Barbera and the writer, would work together and one way or another
it would be straightened out, at which point if I had a storyboard that I felt could
be jazzed up from a visual standpoint and still keep the flavor of the writing I
would do it, there was also some control there.
When a situation happened in the show I would simply, as I did with a comic strip
or a comic book or whatever, sit back for a moment and say "Am I going to buy this
thing?" And if I don't buy it, that's it. I think in today's Saturday morning television
no one cares whether or not an audience has any particular intelligence. I had a
horror of an eight-year old kid sitting in front of Jonny Quest and going, "Gee,
that's terrible." I didn't actually talk to the man personally, but I understand
Rod Serling liked Jonny Quest very much -- perhaps it was the writing style. Once
I would hear a few things like this it certainly didn't hurt anything because I
was taking a lot of shots at the beginning. A lot. I was just doing the thing that
I had been doing my whole life, and yet I was in a studio where nobody had done
The other thing was that early in the game, after Jonny Quest was sold, they had
a problem getting sponsors.
It was brand-new and had never been tried.
It was not the Flintstones; it was not anything that anyone had ever seen before.
At that time sponsors were not exactly lined up knocking on the door. As.a matter
of fact that show went on the air with two or three sustaining sponsors for three
or four weeks.
Do you remember who those sponsors were?
I can remember some of them. Skippy Peanut
Butter, various toothpastes, the brand of which I forget. I was told they were having
trouble getting sponsors, which is not exactly a hilarious way to get a show off
the ground. I think it strengthened in its eighth or tenth week. The show had a
reasonably good appeal.
Only because a parent that was watching the show with his kid wouldn't be super-bored
by it. At least from what I've been told later, people used to sit there with their
parents and their parents at least put up with it. I don't know if they were all
that thrilled, but they hung in there with the kid and didn't seem bored or put
What I wanted was a moving comic strip, with the blacks and the shadows. If you
look at the show you can see certain parts where I got mixed-up working with the
animators. But when you get a whole studio full of people working on a show -- Hanna-Barbera
had two shows on the air, the Flintstones and Jonny Quest, and with a huge studio
and a whole gang of people working on it there is no way you can control everything.
Things just slip on by.
When I did the pilot film to sell the show, I'd written the sequence and set it
up dramatically and even indicated where I wanted the music. At that point I had
the best animator in Hollywood, a guy named Irv Spence, and in that sequence the
shadows were carried through. Later, of course in some cases they were added and
in some cases they were dropped.
How was the writing on Jonny Quest assigned?
Joe Barbera was basically the guy who
contacted the writers, talked to them about the show, gave them the flavor, gave
them my drawings. And in many cases, I'd work up characters for every show and give
them to the actors.
So they could see what the characters
Yeah. Voice actors are incredible. I
never had a problem working with an actor.
You want to run through the cast?
Tim Matheson was Jonny Quest. I don't
remember Hadji. Don Messick finally assumed the role of Dr, Quest; John Stephenson
did Dr. Quest first.
I have always gone with actors that were instantly recognizable and still were not
all that deep -- that seem to be guys having fun. My favorite was [Clark] Gable,
who always seemed to be playing a part. He wasn't really a believable guy in that
sense, yet Gable playing something became believable only because you knew you were
watching Gable. He had an almost sardonic, throwaway approach to his lines. That's
what I wanted for Race Bannon: bigger-than-life dialogue. In the pilot, "Sargasso
Sea," the kid's in trouble, frogmen are jumping on him, Race Bannon is swinging
down from a rope, and the line that I originally wrote was, "Hang on kid! Here comes
the cavalry to the rescue!" It wasn't included -- that was Barbera's choice. It
was "Hang on, Jonny, I'm coming" or something. It's simply the way two people see
how a piece of dialogue would work. It was a disagreement and the loser of course
was me, because this guy owns the studio. No big deal. I listened to a lot of different
guys. All of them were good; finally Mike Roads seemed to be the guy that somehow
had that approach -- that light touch and still made it believable.
Seems to me that I remember as a child
that Race's voice seemed to pop up in a lot of other cartoons at the time.
As a matter of fact, he also popped up
in Jonny Quest, as other voices. In most cases on an animated show we take what
was called a multiple voice actor. "Multiple" meaning under the union rules one
actor could give you three voices for whatever the agreed-upon, going rate is for
actors for a day. Theoretically when you get an actor you can get his body in the
studio for recording for eight hours, which of course is ridiculous because you
can get the whole show recorded in an hour with lots of people working. But the
theory is, you can actually have them there for eight hours and you can get three
voices from them.
When a script comes in, the writer has somebody in a crowd someplace saying, "Hey,
look at that." As a producer, I always have the choice: do I need this line? Because
if I do I'll either go in and do it myself or I will then pay an actor double rates
to say one line. In most cases the line isn't needed, and I could work a story with
a visual in drawing a background with a movement and have no dialogue and it would
still work fine.
Did you ever do any of the voices yourself?
Yes, but not on Jonny Quest. A lot of
work was done on the writing, a lot of work was done on the dialogue, and, of course,
a great, great deal was done on the relationship and the models, the characters.
I've learned a lot since. I've done 26 Godzillas, 26 Jonny Quests, 13 Jana of the
Jungle and 13 Planet of the Apes. And each one is, of course, like anything else,
a learning process.
That was a show I liked which no one in the world ever saw -- Return to the Planet
of the Apes. The writing there was good. I wrote 13 premises which they linked up
as a saga; it was a bad idea and it will never happen again. The reason for that
is when shows go into syndication they are not necessarily put on the air in order.
They are just haphazardly thrown on the air. If you have a cliffhanger kind of saga
and they put on show number six the audience is totally bewildered as to what has
happened before. So that was the end of that. As far as I know it was the only one
that was ever done that way. I originally took the Fox films and simply expanded
from the movies I had already seen and worked a whole show on the things the audiences
were already familiar with. I expected more out of that show than ever happened
with it. As far as I know it has never been repeated in America or at least on any
kind of network. I can't quite figure it because it wasn't a bad show.
The Jonny Quest thing had a certain thread of continuity to it in that we established
that Jonny lived in Palm Beach, Fla., and then when he travels we would end the
show at some point perhaps in the country where the adventure finished but the audience
had established where he had come from and assumed then that he had gone back there.
We didn't start every show there but once you establish in an audience's mind certain
things they tend to accept that.
I never got into background. I've been asked "Where is Jonny's mother?" I never
gave it a thought. If I walk down the street and see a kid and his father I accept
that fact. I don't say, "Where is the mother?" However, to kids that watched Jonny
Quest when they were eight years old who are now 30 years old it might mean something.
Their inclination seems to be that they want to know all about Jonny's mother and
All we were trying to do is make a piece of entertainment. Rounding out a character
that much I don't find very appealing. I don't think you need to get into that much
background material on a character. If the characters are established at the beginning
-- this is who they are and this is what they do -- that was good enough for me.
So what became of Jack Armstrong?
I never heard again about the Jack Armstrong
thing. My assumption -- and it has proved out, obviously -- is that they had a product
that they felt would work and just didn't need Jack Armstrong. Why did they have
to pay for Jack Armstrong? Most of the time, now, these studios license characters,
by the way. They don't create their own product, although they'd like to create
their own product.
I was a model man and storyboard man on Mr. T. There's a character that licenses
out. They pay Mr. T for the licensing. And the same thing with Rambo, which they're
doing now. Actually, I think I could've made 65 half-hour Rambo pictures that would've
had some entertainment plus sell toys. But I just couldn't see 65 half-hours of
Rambo blowing people away with his machine gun.
Where did the name Jonny Quest come from?
I can give you the dope on all the names.
I originally named the show The Saga of Chip Balloo It was a working title, I wasn't
really serious, but that was it for the beginning.
As everybody in the illustrative cartoon business has done, I once tried an automobile
comic strip. Because this whole country runs on the automobile economy, right? I
know at least five other cartoonists -- I can't name them all any more, but I think
they include Leonard Starr, Mel Kiefer, Frank Frazetta -- who all tried something
with an automotive background. In my case, my guy was sort of an automobile designer.
He raced cars. He had this glamorous European background, and raced on American
tracks. I called him Stretch Bannon. I liked the name Stretch Bannon. Then, later
on, I tried another strip about a writer-artist team that traveled the world getting
into adventures. The name was Race Dunhill. So I put the Race and the Bannon together
and that's where Race Bannon came from.
We started to think about names and got serious. So, I thought, where do you get
names? The L.A. phone book. Went through the L.A. phone book and finally Quest hit
me. "Quest" has an adventure sound to it.
I'll tell ya something that hasn't been said before. Screen Gems backed this series.
They were a partner with Hanna-Barbera financially. I didn't know they were going
to get into it creatively, but once the deal was set a guy came over from Screen
Gems and proceeded to tell me his idea of how Jonny Quest was going to work. I'm
not sure whether this was a suggestion or an order or whatever, but I just simply
flipped out. I could not believe it, after all this work had gone into it. This
guy had ideas like: "Okay, they're trapped down in this hole, see. It's a hundred
feet deep:' I was following him, so far: place your character in jeopardy and get
him out. This guy says, "Jonny reaches in his pocket and takes out this little ladder,
see, and unreels it and they all run up the ladder." [laughs] Then he says, "By
the way, I like the name Race but I don't like Quest. Let's call the show Race Chase."
I just couldn't believe it. Barbera's in the office and I used every four letter
word that I ever thought possible about his ideas. I figured this is about the time
I'm gonna get canned. Anyway, somehow it worked out.
Screen Gems eventually backed off or
this guy came around ... ?
I don't recall exactly. Somehow this
meeting, if you can call it that, ended. I don't believe anybody ever mentioned
this again. I'm sure I didn't bring it up. We'd get into howling, screaming matches
later on, but that was just general creative things where people don't agree. But
this thing was totally out of the blue. I had no idea anybody would take this thing
and change it. Maybe the guy wasn't serious. To this day, I'm not sure what the
hell his motivation was. That's one of the things I had forgotten about until discussing
it with you. It's amazing how your memory gets jogged.
At that time, by the way, John Kennedy was assassinated. As the show goes into New
York -- selling the show and working out the contracts and whatnot. So there was
a couple of weeks hold up before we really got back on track again.
So, I pulled "Quest" out of the L.A. phone book. And Joe contributed Jonny without
the "h" -- in other words, Jonathan. I liked that. It worked well in the title:
the letters kind of came together. And that was acceptable to all hands.
The monsters that were appearing in the show were largely, at the beginning, due
to me, thinking, "Well, maybe we can pump this thing up:' And monsters are okay
but I still wanted monsters that had some sort of Machiavellian hand behind them
or somewhere there's a greater gain on the part of the villain. The Dr. Zin thing
was always kind of a cheap shot in a way because comic books for thousands of centuries
had the mad guy that wants to control the world. Yet, it's still not all that totally
unbelievable to me, even now. Because there are still people out there some place
that want to do that. So I felt, okay, it's a little weak but I think by and large
it oughta play if we don't milk it to death.
I felt we did that with the dog. We milked the dog too much. Once you use an easy
ploy, one writer sees the other writer's stuff and says, "He did it. Why can't I
do it?" And then you'd get innumerable scripts where the dog gets into trouble,
the kid tries to save the dog and we're back on the same number again. So, I would
put in monsters there and then I realized we were getting awfully heavy on monsters.
We can't make each show nothing but a monster. I wanted a little love interest so
I finally got Race to kiss the girl in one. I liked that one, too, because the animator
came down and said, "I'm not sure how we're going to do this." [laughs] So I made
With Hanna-Barbera doing two shows that
were so different in style, what was it like working with the animators? There had
to have been some carry-over; the guys had to be working on more than one show.
As I said, that was the tough part in
the beginning. It was not only with the animation, it was with the music and it
was with the writing. Everything had to be coordinated. We would get a script in
where the writer, who had written many live-actions, now thinks he's writing for
a cartoon studio. So he changes his style of writing. One guy came in with a sequence
with Jonny Quest and his jet-powered swim fins. [laughs] I looked at it and he says,
"Well, isn't that the type of thing you're doing? You went into this thing with
the hovercraft ..." I said yes, but jet-powered swim fins is beyond the line. It's
unacceptable. You can't do that. I took the guy's idea and incorporated it into
hydrofoil water skis. I'm not sure whether or not it would work, but somehow, to
me, it was believable, whereas jet-powered swim fins were not. It's that line where
you say no.
Then another guy came in and said, "We've got this jungle thing going and they're
out there searching for this lost city with the vines -- I've got a great gimmick
for how they find the place. I said, "What's that?" He said, "The bird comes down.
A talking bird." And the dialogue he had written for the script was, "Come this
way, fellow adventurers. This is the way to the lost city." This is said by the
bird [laughs]. Again, this is beyond the line. I will not accept a talking bird.
Tweety and Sylvester, all these cartoons, they talk and the audience accepts 'em.
In this kind of show, the audience will not accept it. That's all. Therefore you
draw the line.
So I lived in fear of scripts -- once the show starts and the machine starts running,
oh, that stuff piles up. And everybody's hurrying. You've gotta make airdates and
the pressure's on. A couple of these scripts I'm not gonna see and they're gonna
go through and boy are we gonna be in trouble. Because I've got a whole realistic
adventure attitude. And all of a sudden in comes something that's incongruous, that
again back to my eight-year old kid sitting there and the kid says, "Bullshit" and
tunes into an I Love Lucy re-run.
Did any of the scripts get through that
Lots of 'em. Lots of 'em. But in the
main the writing was first class, compared to anything else I've ever worked on.
With the exception of Planet of the Apes, where I thought the writing was good.
And I've gotta tell you that the best writing was done by the network guy that bought
the show. He would write the stuff after a while. We had a problem on Planet of
the Apes with a writer the studio owner had made a deal with and given seven scripts,
in writing, that he could do. As it turns out, once the network guy felt that he
could write this stuff and get it back to me faster than have the writer pound out
something else he didn't like, he did it. In many cases it worked fine. It was one
of those things that isn't good, because you're saddled with. Of course, you've
got a producer who's already laid out the money for these scripts and he isn't about
to say forget it, rewrite 'em. He wants his money's worth.
On Quest, the Bandit sequences often
seemed to have been done separately from the rest of the show.
One thing I stress highly when I'm working
with board people, people who do boards with me, is that it's an acceptably contrived
motion picture illusion to do things in cutaways. Therefore, in the Bandit sequences,
as much as possible, after a quick shot of Bandit in the group, in someone's arms
or in his pocket, I would then cut away to a line of dialogue said by someone else,
and then when we got back to Bandit, Bandit was no longer with the group, he was
by himself. The Bandit stuff was shot separately.
I can give you a scene in a show, my favorite show, "Shadow of the Condor." Bandit's
running along in this courtyard, and the condor swoops down and picks him up and
drops him into a pond. This is easily handled by the cartoon guys, the guys who
can draw funny dogs, because it's Bandit, he's in motion, and there's no one else
in the scene. If any so-called "funny-dog" type artist had trouble with the condor,
then one of the layout artists, who can draw realistically, would work that condor,
we could bring him down on a vertical panel, and the dog would take care of itself.
I was working on titles that I wanted to use as main titles, and one thing and another
happened, various pressures from all sides, long hours, the thing just fell through,
so I guess the animation department selected stock animation and included them in
those titles -- where they're riding the plane and Jonny turns his head and the
dog turns his head and someone else does something else, which I didn't like at
all. That was stock at the time and they used it. I didn't care for that. But it
was a title, it was put together, it was there, and they used it. Now the end titles,
which were taken out of the Jack Armstrong footage we had, seemed okay, it seemed
a little more in line with adventure thinking, let's say, than the other. But Bandit
was included, by the way; in those titles, he was on somebody's lap.
I think he was just sitting there looking
out the window.
Yeah. It would work. It didn't work all
that well, but I'd use a cutaway at all times.
The realistic stuff was a little tougher, even when Irv started on the thing. The
sequence on the Sargasso Sea, as they rose up out of the water, I noticed that the
heads were too big, almost like Flintstone things. So I said, "Look, Irv," and I
drew the water line and then drew the rest of the bodies to fit the heads that he
had animated and then it worked. It just gets real tough to explain in the beginning.
I also understand that some of the guys
that you had working on Quest were hired over to do things like celebrity faces
for The Flintstones, like Ann-Margret?
Just me, as far as I know, and I just
did Ann-Margret. They came up with this thing about Ann-Margret kicking off the
new Flintstones series, singing a lullaby to the Flintstones baby. So working from
stills of Ann-Margret -- I got several different poses, a complete head turnaround
-- that I could handle. But I couldn't handle the rest of it to save my life, because
it was a big head, little body, Flintstones style, and this baby in her arms. I
labored over that thing, I spent eight or nine hours just trying to put the baby
into her arms, but every time I made it look like it was real, and the arms, everything
didn't work. So I finally took the Ann-Margret head, dropped a little square in
with a pencil, wrote "baby" on it, and handed her off. I believe, to that same Dick
Bickenbach, who managed to handle it fine. So they incorporated my artwork on the
head and some other guy handled that whole other thing.
The reverse was true with Jonny Quest. These guys were used to drawing cartoon type
characters, and they'd come in and they were at a loss. They couldn't handle adventure
stuff. Boy, did I get calls at night! From guys who somehow thought that they were
failures simply because they couldn't handle something like this, which of course
was crazy, because I hastened to tell them that, "Look, pal, I tried, I gave it
my best shot, and I didn't know what the hell to do. They once assigned me this
whole sequence, and I sat down and I couldn't handle it. Finally, I just wrote "I
cannot handle this" on the drawings, in large black thick letters done with felt
tip pen, and signed my name. A reasonably well-drawn face, in illustration style,
But these guys would keep saying, "I'm not really that much up on anatomy. I haven't
had anatomy in quite a while. I can't seem to handle I mean, the artwork doesn't
look right." And I'd look at it and say, "Yeah, it sure doesn't look right. It doesn't
work." In the beginning I was the only straight man in the entire organization that
could draw a reasonably decent looking human figure. Then as we added to them, the
heavy hitters came in ...
Warren [Tufts] and Alex [Toth] ...
Warren and Alex, people of their stripe,
there was no problem. You could get a group scene of seven people sitting around
an office at an angle with props and the whole thing and it would work out beautifully.
(going through artwork). Is this the
monkey that was intended to be the pet?
No, this is a cartoon monkey; unacceptable.
See the one I gave you? That's a real monkey. You dig? The cartoon monkey was done
presumably for a show. There's no show number on it and it wasn't used, so it was
evidently not in a show. It was one of those that was prepped and not used.
You told me you used rotoscoping on the
credits for Quest. Did you actually wind up using rotoscoping in the show itself?
Yes, there was a little. We took the
smallest guy in the studio, whose name I won't mention, and put him on a treadmill
and ran him. It was in the titles. When people are running through the jungle with
the drums and the jazz theme.
The music in Quest was very distinctive.
It was excellent. The music to me is
most important. All cartoon or animated adventure shows have wall-to-wall music
-- the music never stops. What I wanted for the Jonny Quest theme music to do was
the same job that other shows' music had done. On Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and
on and on, you could remember the music. When you heard that music it signaled when
the show was going on the air. What I wanted was heavy drums -- jazz drums. They
put out a record, by the way, "The jazz theme from Jonny Quest." Hoyt Curtin was
the musical director and did a fine job.
Music was a big problem at the beginning, though. I was doing an exciting dramatic
show and would see some of the footage that was shot and then the music would come
in a little like Little Red Riding Hood -- very innocuous music. I had a scene where
Jonny comes up out of cabin on an old ship and is standing there with his back to
the audience and this huge hand comes onto the foreground and grabs the wood and
water drips down off the hand ... and the music was wimpy instead of having a sting.
The music can make a scene or kill it. But we got that straightened out. This was
drama so we hit the drama. If we had Bandit playing with a bone in the desert the
other music worked fine. But the "cues" were there and once the music cutter understood
it, we got it worked out, just like the layout guys understood how important it
was to have dramatic poses of people.
Did someone compose new music every week
for the show?
No, the way it works is that the composer
composes a song. He'll compose an original -- however long he wants it to run. Then
he will, out of his own composition, furnish the producer with "cues," which are
bars of music -- some quiet, some strong -- so that the music cutter can take what
he thinks is appropriate for the scene and drop that onto the track.
If you ask anybody, about Jonny Quest,
the one everyone remembers, the pterodactyl, or rather the pteranodon, and the guy
in the wheelchair.
I don't know, every time I get into this
stuff, they all mention another one.
Really? Maybe the ones people remember
are the ones that the stations showed the most in syndication. Was it the studio's
idea, or was it in your contract -- yours is the only name that appears as a signature
in the final credits.
See, I came out of comic strips, and
you put bylines on them. My assumption was that this was the way television worked.
I went in and talked to them, and they didn't like that idea no-how! So we went
around and around, and finally they said, "What sort of a credit are you looking
for?," And I said, "Program created by ... " All of a sudden, it was, "You didn't
create this show," and we finally arrived on "Based on an idea created by" and that
was my credit. Barbera had seen some of the comic strips and figured maybe it would
be nice if I put it in natural byline form and that's where it wound up.
At least one third of the comic books that I've done -- probably more --I never
signed. First of all, actually, I was a little ashamed of working in the business.
I thought it was a crummy, trashy, non-literate business.
Sometimes it is.
Well, I felt that way when I was working
in it. If I were at a cocktail party or something and some guy would say, "What
do you do," I would make up some story but I would not tell him I did comic books.
Later on, when I developed characters of my own -- the first one was the Outlaw
Kid. I didn't create the Outlaw Kid in the sense that some guy hadn't written the
script. I think Start Lee wrote it, and yet it was just a thing where they said,
"Here's the Outlaw Kid," it didn't describe who he was or anything, and the writing
was terrible. And all I did was take every cornball singing cowboy movie that I'd
ever seen and take one piece of equipment off each of these cowboys and put them
on the guy. So I took Roy Rogers' pants, those tight circus pants with the thing
down the side, and those hand-tooled cowboy boots that Powell wore, then I put a
football jersey on him with wide shoulders, and I can't remember the guy who always
wore the black hat, and then I added the poncho and the hatband and I gave him the
fancy flashy gunbelt with all the carving on it [laughs] because I didn't think
that thing was going to last. I did "The Outlaw Kid" for three years, one a month.
And of course when I came into other stuff like "Eddie Race" and "Ambler" and "Rio"
those were all mine, no writer, just mine.
That kind of a setup exists all over. If a writer comes in and says, "We've got
a guy named "Tank Zilch, there's my idea," it's written already. Tank Zilch, right?
But the artist, the designer that gets it, works weeks, maybe, and comes up with
something which then is called "Tank Zilch." The writer never said, "Well, he's
got a big square head and he wears plaid suits and he's got six toes sticking out"
He doesn't do that. The writer just says, "Tank Zilch, he's a big rugged character,"
and then the guy takes it from there. And all of a sudden, the writer "created"
Which gets you into the Jack Kirby thing. He's got a legit gripe. Okay, sure, some
writer, Stan Lee, says this character jumps all over buildings, or he smashes through
walls, that's it; and then Kirby comes up with this whole visual thing. Did he create
it or not? It's a chicken-or-egg thing.
You would think that somehow today's writers would look at stuff like "The Outlaw
Kid," some of this really terribly-written stuff, and improve it. And yet, I read
this stuff in the comic books today, and I can't see a damn improvement! I don't
get that. Could you explain that?
The only way I can explain it is that
the audience hasn't changed and all of the people that are behind the money are
saying, "Well, this is what the kids have always liked, this is what we have to
give them or we'll go broke."
What I question is, "What the kids have
I agree a hundred percent. There's one
question I wanted to ask you. Was there ever any discussion about the violence in
Jonny Quest, at the time or later?
Later, of course. Later, it was a sleet
storm. At the time, I've gotta say -- actually, I left the Jonny Quest show before
the show was completed. Throughout this industry I've been outright fired at least
five times by various people, and inevitably called back by the same people. And
I've resigned formally in writing four times, and just walked the hell out and quit
five times. I don't by any means hold the record for this sort of thing.
The first eight or ten shows, I was so heavily involved in it I wouldn't even think
of someone saying, "Hey, isn't this too violent?" At that time there was no talk
on the part of any network person. I had never actually met a network person during
Nobody from ABC came down to talk to
Now, you've got to remember that I came
in out of the comic strips. I was in an animation studio and felt, "This is my bag,
this is what I do, I tell stories in pictures; sometimes the pictures move, sometimes
they stand still, but there's no difference in my book."
They had a guy there, a studio publicity flack, and most of the time he was on the
phone -- it seemed like the phone grew out of the guy's ear. He wore blue suede
shoes and they were always up on his desk when you passed his office, that was his
pose, leaned back in his chair, phone glued to his ear, blue suede shoes up on the
desk. It never occurred to me to ask who the guy was or anything. I didn't know
what his function was.
But one day be came in, with his cigar, into my office, and self-importantly said,
"Wear a suit and tie tomorrow." I said, "My first question is, Who are you?" He
said, "Look, I handle all of the worldwide publicity for Hanna-Barbera studios and
its products" and he really did a number to impress. I was impressed, I was. I was
the new boy here, I didn't know, maybe this was the way things were done. "The bureau
chief from Life magazine is coming out tomorrow to interview you and we're going
to set aside the afternoon to see that they get plenty of material for Life magazine."
Would you believe I bought this? "Life magazine?!" "Yeah, you know, this is a whole
new process. What do you call this process, Doug?" I said, "What do you mean, what
process?" "Well, we've got to have a name for this. What can we call it? Super-vision?"
They've got to have a name for animation, now, for this guy, ostensibly from Life
magazine. I said, "Gee, I don't know:' "Write down a few suggestions for me, I've
gotta make phone calls" and he left. This is going to warrant seven pages in Life
magazine, right [laughs]?
We were going to have illustrations. He says, "What we're going to do, you know
that thing you're working on now" -- the frogman sequence -- we can set up a tank,
see, fill it with water, have all these divers go down there, and you can sit there
and draw their pictures." And I said, "I don't think these guys are going to buy
that. I came out of the newspapers, and these are very hard-bitten guys, they don't
buy that kind of stuff. Let me get this straight, we're going to have a tank ..."
''Yeah, yeah, we get the guy in a frog mask, see, and then we get the Life photographer
and you can sit there like they're posing, see." And I said, "I've got to tell you,
I don't want to get in trouble here or anything, but I think this is the worst idea
I've ever heard in my life."
And he says, "Well, Jeez, you don't have
to get uppity about it." And then he started to back up and I realized that whoever
this guy is, this wasn't going to get crucial. So we came up with "Marvelmation"
and a couple of other stupid names, you know, a "brand-new process developed by
Hanna-Barbera." It's not a new process, it was done much better by other studios,
Max Fleischer in the '30s with his rotoscope and that type of thing, but this guy
was trying to get an "angle." He talked like a reporter in old Warner Bros. pictures.
The only thing he didn't wear was the hat band with the press card stuck in it.
By the way, three weeks later, he was gone. Maybe someone caught on to him, I don't
know. He just kind of disappeared. All 4' 11" of him, with the blue suede shoes.
But I, like a jerk, got the.suit and tie, came in, and I'm waiting for the life
guy to show up. No Life guy showed up. Neither did the guy with the blue suede shoes!
He had other business that day. And that was the end of it.
Which is your favorite Jonny Quest show?
My own particular show, the one that
I like the best, not just because I wrote it or get a split-screen credit on it,
was the "Shadow of the Condor" about a Nazi, an ex-World War I pilot. As you know,
we did a lot of Nazis in Jonny Quest; Nazis make great heavies, let's face it, that's
what they are there for.
I went into that heavily only because Warren Tufts was into airplanes -- as a matter
of fact, that's what killed him. He was building his own airplane, he got in it,
the wind turned it over, smacked him against a rock and he died. On a few occasions,
he would say "Hey, let's go over to my yard and work on the plane." He was always
building this plane in his backyard. First of all I don't like physical work of
that type and secondly I had better things to do so I never did help him build his
airplane. Anyway, he was well into airplanes he worked with Irv Spence and Lefty
Callahan, two of the animators on the thing. Warren basically taught them how to
fly airplanes just on that one episode and I designed characters -- a manservant
named Julio and the German guy, and they were supposed to put on this exhibition
of flying and...
And it turned into a dogfight right?
Except that Race's guns were firing blanks.
That was my big "stinger" there. I really got into that one. I wrote a little bit
more than actually appeared in the show. I had this guy who had looted part of Europe
and had paintings and jewelry up in the thing, just to give it a little more bulk
of a story. As it turned out it worked pretty well, and I think that's probably
my favorite show. I probably had more into it writing-wise than some of the others.
I was instrumental in 10 or 12 of them.
You know, the control of a show like this is very, very important. Now they don't
look at it that way. Now they're mostly toy shows and they're done to promote products
and so forth and nobody is really super interested in story or entertainment all
that much, I don't think.
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