A gazillion characters were created during the golden era of Saturday morning cartoons, and many of them quickly faded into TV oblivion.
The Barkleys. The CB Bears. The Cattanooga Cats. The Houndcats. Roman Holidays. Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch.
Maybe you remember them. Maybe you don’t.
But there was this one Saturday morning cartoon creation that has proven particularly enduring.
“We knew it couldn’t possibly miss,” Ron Campbell said.
An artist and animator, Campbell was part of the original creative team on a little Saturday morning cartoon that you surely have heard about: “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?”
The spooky-funny show, cool theme song and all, debuted Sept. 13, 1969. And what that means is your favorite monster-hunting, chow-loving Great Dane is turning 50 this year.
Campbell, whose career in animation included work on the Rugrats, the Smurfs, Winnie the Pooh, the Flintstones, the Jetsons and George of the Jungle, tours with his art and visited Tulsa in January for a multiday stay at Grant’s Frames & Gallery. At that time, event publicity focused on his Beatles-related work. He was an animator on “Yellow Submarine” and was the director of a Saturday morning cartoon show about the Beatles.
But if you have a chance to interview someone who was in on the ground floor of creating the Scooby-Doo mythos (Iwao Takamoto, who died in 2007, is credited with the Scooby character design), of course, you have to ask them about it.
“The reason I thought Scooby-Doo couldn’t miss is quite interesting in a way,” Campbell said. “First off, all the teenage characters were sort of loosely based on Archie, the comic book characters that were enormously popular. There was a heroic boy and a beautiful girl and a smart girl, and the characters around Scooby-Doo were that. Jughead was turned into Shaggy.”
And then, expanding on why Scooby-Doo was a can’t-miss venture, Campbell said this:
“Every little kid in the world wants to be a teenager. Every little kid wants to drive around in a van with a group of friends, which they do after they are old enough to drive. And also, with Scooby-Doo, the idea of a gigantic dog that is a scaredy cat is, right there, funny and appealing.”
One more reason: You know how Scooby sort of talks? (Example: “Ruh-roh, Raggy!”) That’s going to strike a chord. Campbell explained.
“A psychologist told us when the show was developed that children learn to speak before they can actually speak,” he said. “They listen to the words. ‘Come here. Sit down. Don’t do that.’
“They learn these words, but when they first say these words, it takes a while to learn to manipulate the tongue and the mouth and the diaphragm and all that. So they vividly remember their efforts to get the words out right. And if Scooby would sort of half-speak and seem to have trouble expressing himself, all children will instinctively sympathize with the character. And when you empathize with a character, you are going to love that character. We knew that Scooby was going to be loved by all children and we made Scooby behave like that and, in that sense, I can say that everybody that loves Scooby-Doo has been manipulated.”
The informative-and-you-should-get-it book “It’s Saturday Morning” by Joe Garner and Michael Ashley delves into the origins of “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” and many other Saturday faves. The book references a Television Academy Foundation interview with Fred Silverman in which the TV executive said then-CBS president Frank Stanton was concerned the show (a scrapped title was “Who’s S-s-scared”) would be too frightening for children.
Aren’t most kids fascinated by creepy creatures?
Campbell said the monsters in “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” weren’t too scary. But they were mysterious. And, spoiler alert, they got unmasked by “meddling” kids.
“Villainous adults are wonderful characters for little children to enjoy,” Campbell said. “How could it fail with all this going for it?”
The original Scooby-Doo series lasted 41 episodes. It was followed by “The New Scooby-Doo Movies,” which launched in 1972 and featured the Mystery Machine’s passengers teaming up with celebrities both fictional (Addams Family, Batman and Robin) and real (Jerry Reed, Don Adams, Tim Conway, Phyllis Diller, Sandy Duncan, Dick Van Dyke, Don Knotts, Mama Cass, Davy Jones, Jonathan Winters, Sonny & Cher).
Then came the “Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour” and “Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics” (an animated version of “Battle of the Network Stars”), and the Scooby train has been ghoul-ing along ever since with television series and TV movies and direct-to-video movies and feature films.
Let’s revisit Campbell’s words about Scooby having Archie roots. Who knew that? I didn’t. I had always heard that Scooby’s human pals were based on characters in the TV series “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” Shaggy is the spitting image of Bob Denver’s beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebs. So Archie?
“Dobie Gillis was based on the same idea,” Campbell said. “These ideas don’t die, ever. Achilles and the ancient Greek myths from Homer just turn into Superman and Batman. It’s the same characters. ‘Alice in Wonderland’? Alice is the same character as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and on and on and on it goes. All these characters are long-ago successful, and all you have to do is repeat them in a slightly different version.”
Other cartoon initiatives tried to mimic Scooby. Among them was 1973’s “Goober and the Ghost Chasers,” which (sound familiar?) featured a group of teens tackling mysteries with the help of their dog, Goober. Not even the Partridge Family, whose members guested in half of the episodes, could save “Goober and the Ghost Chasers” from a vanishing act. Only 16 episodes were made.
Meanwhile, Scooby-Doo is 50. Never mind dog years. He’s eternal.