The Snagglepuss Movie

Below, notes for a shaggy-dog story that’s been kicking around for 9 or 10 years. Basic point is that this talented guy who knows Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera proposes a feature film with one of their characters, and they give him Snagglepuss, because that’s definitely a second-tier figure. So the guy writes a script and works on storyboards but the animated feature just never gets made. Bill and Joe feel bad about it so they give the guy rights to Snagglepuss until 1970, thinking maybe he can use the figure in TV commercials. But the ad agencies aren’t interested, they think Snagglepuss is too much like the Pink Panther, so clients and audiences will wonder why someone would use an imitation Pink Panther instead of the real deal.

Finally our hero has to go to work doing marketing for a fast-food franchisor, and he comes up with the idea of a Snagglepuss Chili Dog chain. He’s got a special way of cutting hot dogs so that when you grill them (or sauté them—he’s the kind of guy who in 1966 was saying sauté) they curl up into a wreath so you can serve them on hamburger buns, and put chili or other fillings in the doughnut-hole! Well he and some investors do set up a few low-budget Snagglepuss locations in Florida, and they do okay. Home of the Round Chili Dog! Only ten cents! Except they have to raise the price to 15c and then 20c. And he makes a couple of animated commercials for this local market. But then one of the franchising groups for Bob’s Big Boy buys out the big investors and replace the revolving Snagglepuss statue with the Big Boy.

And now, the notes from the boneyard:

Adventures of Snagglepuss

Cousin Dave was hands-down the most talented of my relatives. He was also one of the wealthiest, at least when he was young. Taxes and bad investments ate up a lot of his inheritance, and then he blew most of the remainder on an ill-starred animation venture.

This would have been in the early 60s. Dave knew Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, then riding high on the success of The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, et al., and proposed making a feature-length theatrical cartoon starring Snagglepuss.

If you don’t know Snagglepuss, he was a fey pink puma who talked something like Bert Lahr. I think he appeared in a back-segment of Quick-Draw McGraw, the same way Yogi Bear started out as a supporting player on Huckleberry Hound. But Snagglepuss did not have the popularity and break-out potential of Yogi Bear. I’m sure this is why Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera gave Cousin Dave the go-ahead.

I don’t think Dave really knew the character well. He knew about making animated cartoons (mostly for commercials) but didn’t actually watch TV. So he didn’t know how bad a character Snagglepuss was—tiresome enough for seven-minutes, unimaginable for seventy-seven. All Dave knew was that Hanna and Barbera knew their business, and a Hanna-Barbera character was money in the bank.

The Snagglepuss feature was supposed to be a joint venture between Dave’s shop (then consisting of a half-dozen part-timers and freelancers) and Hanna-Barbera. Dave would do the initial writing and storyboarding, and manage the publicity. Hanna-Barbera would provide most of the technical knowledge and gruntwork. That was Dave’s clear understanding, anyway. Apparently it was never agreed to on paper.

After six or eight months Dave brought Joe and Bill the completed storyboards. Six or eight months after that, Dave discovered that Hanna-Barbera hadn’t assigned anyone to the Snagglepuss movie, and the storyboards were just collecting dust. Joe and Bill were apologetic, but said there was just too much work and too few hands. They suggested sending Snagglepuss off to a low-cost animation shop in Mexico. Dave did not like that idea at all, but he was stuck. He decided to try the Mexicans, and when they inevitably screwed up, he would show the pathetic results to Joe and Bill, and Joe and Bill would put their top studio animators on the job.

The Mexicans were even worse than Dave imagined. They took the money (about $1500, I believe) and produced nothing. Dave ran up thousands of dollars’ worth of phone calls to Guadelajara, demanding of the one person there who could speak English why the work hadn’t been done, or hadn’t been sent, or whatever.

Finally the Mexican shop moved or went out of business. Dave complained to Joe and Bill.

“That’s really awful,” said Joe Barbera. “They came highly recommended.”

By now Dave had almost as little interest in the Snagglepuss movie as Joe and Bill, but he had invested a great deal of his own time and money and wanted something to show for it. Joe and Bill were sympathetic, and suggested letting Dave have the rights to the Snagglepuss character for the next few years–say, till 1968. Dave could use him to advertise breakfast cereal, doughnuts, children’s vitamins, whatever. Dave wasn’t overjoyed at this payoff, but he took it, figuring that he would resell the rights quickly and get Snagglepuss out of his life. He leased the character to a chain of southern fast-food drive-ins specializing in chili dogs. For a year or two, travelers from Florida to the Carolinas grew used to seeing a 20-foot pink cat advertising ten-cent chili dogs. Then the chili-dog chain was acquired by one of the Bob’s Big Boy groups, and the Snagglepuss signs were no more. The Big Boy consortium said they weren’t obligated to pay the remainder of the lease.

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