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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Yogi Bear

A few days ago, the Tuesday Timeline flashed back to 1989, where we took a look back on the life and times of legendary voice actor, Mel Blanc, who passed away that year.  As it happens, today’s blog entry is loosely tied to that Tuesday Timeline entry. 

Do you remember how I talked about how Mel Blanc was involved in a car accident in 1961 which almost killed him?  He was comatose for an extended period of time and only came out of the coma when a doctor asked “Bugs Bunny” how he was feeling.  Although Mel survived the crash, his road to full recovery was a long one.  At the time, Blanc was voicing the role of Barney Rubble on “The Flintstones”, and in some cases, he actually recorded his lines straight from his hospital bed.

But right around the time the accident occurred, another voice actor took over the role in place of Blanc for a few episodes.

That voice belonged to Charles Dawson “Daws” Butler. 

Now, Daws Butler ended up doing hundreds of voices during his career.  Before his death in 1988, Butler managed to voice several iconic characters.  He was the original voice of cereal mascots Cap’n Crunch and Quisp.  He voiced the character of Scooby-Dum.  He gave Elroy Jetson a voice.  He assumed the role of Aesop’s Son in the popular segments from Rocky & Bullwinkle.  And if you’ve ever seen the show “Quick Draw McGraw”, Daws gave Baba Looey his voice.

However, if I could choose one role that made Daws Butler a real star, it would probably be this classic cartoon.

Well, actually, I suppose I should say a trio of roles, as Daws Butler managed to voice three major characters in this show.  Two of these voices were that of Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss.  And, both of these characters had appeared alongside Butler’s most famous voice.

Today, we’re going to visit the fictional world of Jellystone Park, where the famous Yogi Bear resides.’s Yogi Berra.

Ah, yes.  This is Yogi Bear, smarter than the average bear, and the subject for this blog entry.

Yogi Bear was just one of the many cartoon characters that were created by the team of Joseph Hanna and William Barbera.  And Yogi Bear was designed in such a way that the animation process was made less difficult.  Because Yogi Bear was drawn with a collar, animators could keep Yogi’s body static, only having to animate his head and facial features.  This cut down the amount of frames needed to complete a seven-minute episode by almost 70%!

But there’s a lot more to this bear than just a lime green hat and tie.  Yogi Bear was actually designed after another pop culture icon. 

If you ever wondered why Yogi Bear seemed to sound like Ed Norton from “The Honeymooners”, it was absolutely intentional, as Daws Butler voiced the character as an impersonation of Art Carney, who played Ed Norton.  After all, Yogi Bear was sort of designed the same as Ed Norton.  It did make sense. 

And would you believe that Yogi Bear was originally intended as a SECONDARY character?  It’s true!  Yogi Bear made his first appearance way back in 1958, when he appeared as a character on “The Huckleberry Hound Show”.  A supporting character.

However, while most supporting characters are often pushed to the background for most of the season, only brought out for an occasional line or two, it became clear that the bear with a fondness for pic-a-nic baskets soon overshadowed the very character whose show he appeared on.  Yogi was popular, and the kids loved him.  They loved him so much that just three years later, he was given his own television show.

Debuting in syndication on January 30, 1961, the stories of Yogi Bear were all surprisingly the same plot retold in thirty-three different ways.  Seriously, the show only filmed 33 episodes, and each episode featured Yogi Bear roaming around Jellystone Park, swiping picnic baskets filled with yummy goodies from unsuspecting people.  But, despite the show’s repetitive nature, it had a rather lengthy run on television.  It ran a total of twenty-seven years in syndication, finally ending its run on December 29, months after Daws Butler passed away.

There were others who lived in the park besides Yogi.  Obviously, Yogi had to have some sort of antagonist to stop him in his quest to steal enough picnic baskets to hibernate for a decade and a half.  In this show, it was Ranger Smith (voiced by future Scooby-Doo voice artist Don Messick).  Ranger Smith is constantly annoyed by Yogi’s kleptomania, and he tries everything he can to stop him.  Of course, he would never really admit it, but he does have a bit of a soft spot for the bear.  In fact, one could actually call them “frenemies”.  Certainly when Yogi is causing mischief, Ranger Smith is none too pleased.  But if either one ends up in danger or trouble, the other one will do everything he can to save the other one from harm’s way.

Then there’s Yogi’s best friend, a little bear named Boo-Boo (also voiced by Don Messick).  Now, Boo-Boo seems to play the role of Yogi’s conscience.  He is often the one who tries to talk Yogi out of stealing the baskets and causing grief to Ranger Smith (which in turn forges an unlikely friendship between Boo-Boo and Ranger Smith).  Of course, Yogi never really learned the lesson of “let your conscience be your guide”, and usually ignored the warnings of his friend.  But, you have to give the little guy some credit for trying!

And then there’s Yogi’s girlfriend Cindy Bear, a girl who carries a parasol and speaks with a distinct Southern accent.  She cares for Yogi very much, but like Boo-Boo is also annoyed by Yogi’s tricks and schemes.

That’s about all that I have to say about Yogi Bear the cartoon.  However, there have been several Yogi Bear spinoffs that have stemmed from the original program.  These are;

-      The 1964 feature film “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!”, released by Columbia Pictures.

-      The 1972 television special “Yogi’s Ark Lark”.

-      The 1973-1974 series “Yogi’s Gang”.

-      “Yogi’s Space Race” from 1978.

-      The made for television movie “Yogi’s First Christmas”, released in 1980.

-      “Yogi’s Treasure Hunt”, which aired between 1985 and 1988.

-      “Yo, Yogi!”, a juniorization re-telling of the classic cartoon which ran from 1991-1992.

-      A live-action/CGI film “Yogi Bear” starring Dan Aykroyd, Justin Timberlake, Anna Faris, and Tom Cavanagh, released in theatres on December 17, 2010.

With all of these television series and movies, I think it’s a safe bet to say that Yogi Bear will be around for some time.  And although Daws Butler is no longer with us, Yogi has since been voiced by Greg Burson (who died in 2008), and Jeff Bergman in various commercials.

But Daws Butler was the best Yogi...and I’m sure he would be proud to know that his voice still lives on forever.

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