April 18, 2015

HISTORY OF YOGI THE BEAR

Ranger Smith, Yogi, Cindy and Boo Boo.





            Shortly after the founding of Hanna-Barbera Productions, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera created their first half-hour TV cartoon: The Huckleberry Hound Show. Barbera travelled to Chicago to pitch the series, for which no art had yet been drawn, to Kellogg’s cereal executives. The show centered around a blue dog (Daws Butler) with a Southern drawl who engaged in a variety of activities and professions in every episode. However, as Hanna and Barbera’s background was in theatrical shorts, the series bore that influence in that instead of one singular episode to fill the entire timeslot, the show featured three short segments.


The original look for Yogi.

            Huck was joined by Pixie & Dixie and Mr. Jinks, a cartoon about mice children Pixie (Don Messick) and Dixie (Butler, also using a Southern accent) who were chased daily by cat Mr. Jinks (Butler impersonating Marlon Brando) in a less-violent version of Hanna and Barbera’s Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts. The other segment was filled by, at pitch time, was just a concept without any characters ready at all. It also became the breakout success of the entire show. That segment was Yogi Bear.


Yogi and Boo Boo make off with the goods.

            Yogi (Butler, impersonating Art Carney’s Ed Norton character from The Honeymooners) was a carefree resident of the fictional Jellystone Park (a play on Yellowstone), who wore a hat and a necktie (whose function was to separate Yogi’s head and body, reducing the amount of animation needed when the character talked). His sidekick was a smaller bear named Boo Boo (Messick), who wore a bowtie and usually tried (and failed) to be the voice of reason to counter Yogi’s antics. And those antics? Trying to relieve park visitors of their “pic-a-nic” baskets in any way possible, or to try and leave the park on a day trip for some adventure. His main opposition came from dutiful park ranger, Ranger Smith (Messick), whose design evolved several times in his earliest appearances, who tried to keep Yogi in line with park rules and regulations. But, with Yogi being “smarter than the av-er-age bear,” Yogi never failed to try and match wits with Smith, no matter how many times he was caught.


The stars of The Yogi Bear Show.

            After two seasons, Yogi and friends became the breakout stars of the show, warranting getting their own spin-off. The Yogi Bear Show premiered in 1961, leaving Yogi’s void on Huckleberry filled by Hokey Wolf (Butler impersonating Phil Silvers) and his own sidekick Ding-A-Ling Wolf (Doug Young impersonating Buddy Hackett). Like its parent show, Yogi featured two supporting segments. The first was the pink lion Snagglepuss (Butler impersonating Bert Lahr) from The Quick Draw McGraw Show, who spent his time trying to make his meager accommodations more hospitable while avoiding hunter Major Minor (Messick). The other was Yakky Doodle (Jimmy Weldon in a manner similar to Disney’s Donald Duck), a yellow and green duckling who was protected by his friend, bulldog Chopper (Vance Colvig impersonating Wallace Beery), from predators Fibber Fox (Butler impersonating Shelley Berman) and Alfy Gator (Butler impersonating Alfred Hitchcock).


Listen to Ranger Smith, you don't want to get filled up on Yogi goodness yet.

Yogi’s popularity continued to grow. In 1960, The Ivy Three released a song called “Yogi” which was sung in a voice similar to Yogi’s. In 1964, Yogi received his first animated feature by Columbia Pictures, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!, which elevated Yogi’s girlfriend Cindy Bear (Julie Bennett) who was introduced in Yogi, to a more prominent status. In 1968, various segments from both Yogi and Huckleberry were repackaged in the syndicated Yogi Bear & Friends. In 1969, Yogi’s name and image was licensed to a chain of parks called Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts, as well as a chain of chicken restaurants (only one of which currently remains open). But, in 1972, Yogi finally made the leap to Saturday mornings…

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