Hairy History

Speaking of Hanna-Barbera as one of us was: Our pal Greg Ehbrar has a nice piece up at Cartoon Research about Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch, a 1971 Saturday morning cartoon that represented one of the better shows of that period. It was another in the unending series of H-B programs about one or more animal characters sneaking out a place of imprisonment — a zoo, a park, an aquarium, etc. In this case, it was three bears in a zoo and their leader, Hair Bear — the one with the Phil Spector hair-do — was voiced by Daws Butler. Not every Hanna-Barbera show with Daws Butler in it was good but most of the good ones had Daws Butler in them.

I haven't seen one since…well, probably since '71. But I remember liking it, kinda, mostly for the voices. Greg writes…

The hapless villains are zoo keeper Eustace P. Peevly, voiced by Mr. Slate/Dr. Quest voice veteran John Stephenson. You'll notice that his performance is a little less extreme in the first episode. It became more of a Joe Flynn type thereafter (perhaps Flynn commanded a high salary, having just had a substantial supporting role in 1969's number one film, The Love Bug, as well as other Disney comedies).

I think I have the answer to this mystery. A few years later, Joe Barbera told me that they'd based the character on Joe Flynn and planned to cast Joe Flynn. Then they brought him in to audition and decided that Joe Flynn didn't sound enough like Joe Flynn. That's not as bizarre as it may sound. Sometimes, a great character actor is a function of voice plus visual and when you take away the visual, the voice isn't as special as you thought. That happened on several cartoon shows that got the idea of casting Don Knotts. He just wasn't as wonderful when you couldn't see him.

Joe Flynn did have at least one animation voice gig — as the voice of King Vitaman, the guy on the box of the cereal of the same name. Ward's company produced those commercials and here's a link to watch one of them, also with Daws Butler. As funny as Flynn was on TV shows like McHale's Navy, I don't think he was great in those commercials.