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A Howie Morris Story

In 1966, Hanna-Barbera produced a prime-time animated special that for some reason has not been rerun much since then, nor has it ever been released on home video. It should be, because I recall Alice in Wonderland or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This? as a pretty good little story. It took the famous Lewis Carroll tale, updated it and put it into Hanna-Barbera style. There were some nice songs by the team of Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, who are today better known for writing the tunes for Bye Bye Birdie, Applause and many other shows. (One wonders if there was any connection between them doing this job and the fact that George Sidney, who directed the movie of Bye Bye Birdie, was then on the Hanna-Barbera Board of Directors). Bill "Jose Jiminez" Dana worked on the script and cast Jose as the White Knight.

The voice of Alice was provided by veteran radio/animation actress Janet Waldo, and it's worth noting that if they made this show today, there's no way Janet Waldo would have gotten the job. The lead voice would be by Britney Spears or Paris Hilton or someone else who was "hot" in some other venue. Actually, even then the trend to "celebrity voices" was starting. Sammy Davis Jr played the Cheshire Cat and in addition to Mr. Dana voicing his character, Zsa Zsa Gabor played the Queen of Hearts and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper had a cameo. The rest of the cast included folks who were otherwise in the H-B voice talent pool: Daws Butler, Don Messick, Harvey Korman, Allan Melvin…and Howie Morris as The White Rabbit. Howie had been on almost every Hanna-Barbera show in recent years, including The Jetsons, Atom Ant and The Flintstones.

(And speaking of Flintstones, there were two animated cameo guests in Alice: Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble showed up to perform one musical number. Alan Reed and Mel Blanc supplied their voices but the recently-deceased Henry Corden provided Fred's singing voice.)

Anyway, the Howie Morris story: Howie recorded his part in the special and a few weeks later, he was scheduled to come in and record another version of the voice track, this one to form a record album that H-B Records (the studio's own label) would release around the time the special aired. The entire thing had to be redone for the LP because (a) Sammy Davis was under contract to another record company so his voice couldn't be used and (b) some dialogue had to be changed so the story could be followed without the visuals. Scatman Crothers was hired to assume the role of the Cheshire Cat and a few other parts were changed. But Howie was supposed to repeat his role.

Unfortunately, Howie had a schedule conflict the day the record was supposed to be recorded. He was directing Hogan's Heroes or playing Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show or something else…but it was a problem. He probably could have squeezed in the H-B recording on that date but it would have been an enormous inconvenience, and made for a very exhausting workday. His agent so informed the studio and it was agreed that Howie would be recorded on another day, apart from the other actors. This was a fairly common practice, and Howie was told that they were willing to make the accommodation since he was so good and since he had frequently juggled around his schedule when they needed him. Then, for reasons unknown, someone at the studio changed their mind about Waiting for Morris and the day they recorded the album, they had Don Messick perform the role of the White Rabbit.

Shortly after, Howie was in the studio to record something else and he innocently inquired when they wanted him to do the White Rabbit material for the record. Joe Barbera told him that it wouldn't be necessary; that Messick had already done it. Howie was angry. Words were exchanged with Mr. Barbera explaining that they couldn't wait for him and Mr. Morris explaining that he could have been there if someone hadn't assured him the recording could be done later. Tempers flared and Howie finally told Joe Barbera, "Go fuck yourself!" And he walked out of the building…and out of Hanna-Barbera forever, he thought.

Howie did not work for Hanna-Barbera again for years. Messick took over some of his roles, like Mr. Peebles the pet shop owner on Magilla Gorilla, as well as the voice of Atom Ant. Howie worked for Filmation Studios, where he played numerous roles, including Jughead, on the various Archie cartoon shows. In fact, he was on most of the Filmation shows for years, and also worked for Disney voicing Gopher in the Winnie the Pooh featurettes, and for other studios. Then one day, Hanna-Barbera called again.

When Howie told this story, he always said the job was for the Jetsons revival, which was done in 1985…but he'd worked for them again a few years before that. In 1979, for instance, Hanna-Barbera produced a live-action TV special called The Legends of the Superheroes with various actors playing DC comic book characters. Howie, in a fit of apt casting, played Dr. Sivana, the arch-enemy of Captain Marvel.

Whatever it was, there came a day when Howie returned to the H-B Studios for the first time in more than a decade. He was very nervous about running into Joe Barbera, fearing there would be some sort of angry confrontation. He got through his business without encountering J.B. and then, just as he was turning to leave, he looked down a hallway and saw the handsome figure of Joseph Barbera coming his way. "Howie," he heard Barbera call out. Howie froze in fear…but Barbera came up to him, gave him a big hug and told him how happy he was to see him again after all those years.

"You're not going to throw me out?" he asked Joe.

"Of course not, Howie. Why would I throw you out?"

Howie stammered, "Well…the last time I was here, I told you to go fuck yourself."

Barbera grinned and said, "I took your advice."