Howard Morris: The Hamlet of Animation

After learning about Your Show of Shows and the stars of the show, I turned my attention to the cast members. Carl Reiner and Howard Morris were the two actors who were most involved with the skits. Reiner had a long and successful career, and we’ll look at his life in more detail later, but today I would like to concentrate on Howard Morris. 

Howard Morris Theatre Credits and Profile
Photo: abouttheartist.com

Most people recognize Morris as Ernest T Bass from The Andy Griffith Show. While I have a great appreciation for the series and the well-written scripts and delightful characters of Mayberry, I was never a big fan of Ernest T or the Darling family. They seemed to be a bit too over the top for me and diminished the reality of Mayberry.

J. Mark Powell on Twitter: "Howard Morris, better known as Mayberry's  rock-throwing Ernest T. Bass on @AndyGriffithShw, was born 101 years ago  today.… https://t.co/AwvE2WMBvR"
Ernest T Bass Photo: twitter.com

So, when I began to learn more about Morris who first became known to television fans for his work on Your Show of Shows, I was amazed at how versatile an actor he was and how much he accomplished during his career. 

Howard Morris was born in The Bronx in 1919. He later received a scholarship to attend New York University as a drama major, planning to work as a classically trained Shakespeare actor. During WWII he became first sergeant in the US Army Special Services unit. The group was based in Honolulu and entertained troops throughout the Pacific. Maurice Evans (who played Samantha’s father on Bewitched among other roles); Carl Reiner (whom we all know and love); and Werner Klemperer (Col Klink on Hogan’s Heroes) were all part of this unit.

In 1945 he married Mary Helen McGowan. While they were married until 1958; he had four other marriages during his life.

When Morris got the offer to appear in Sid Caesar’s new show, he was able to work with Reiner again. This was his first television or movie appearance, but it would not be his last.

Howard Morris - Net Worth, Bio, Wife, Children, Death, Biography - Famous  People Today
With Reiner and Caeser Photo: famouspeopletoday.com

One of the sketches from the show was a take on This is Your Life, the Ralph Edwards show. Morris said it was his favorite skit from the series. David Margolick wrote in the New Yorker in 2014 that “Though the competition is stiff, many feel that this sketch is the funniest that Your Show of Shows ever did . . . that night nearly sixty years ago, the show produced what is probably the longest and loudest burst of laughter—genuine laughter, neither piped in nor prompted—in the history of television.”

Morris moved to Hollywood in 1961. In the 1960s he began his multi-talented career of television actor, movie actor, director, and animation voice-over star. Unbelievably, he would rely on the quartet of skills the rest of his professional life, excelling in all of them.

Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) on The Lucy Show - Sitcoms Online Photo  Galleries
On The Lucy Show Photo: sitcomsonline.com

As a television actor, he appeared in a variety of series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, Love American Style, The Bob Newhart Show, Fantasy Island, Trapper John MD, The Love Boat, and Murder She Wrote.

Although he is known for his role of Ernest T Bass on The Andy Griffith Show, he was only made five appearances as that character on the show. Aaron Rubens sent him the script that introduced Ernest to Morris to look over and “fix.” Morris fell in love with the character. He said the show had a terrific cast, and they were wonderful people to work with. He said fans loved Ernest because he did whatever he felt like doing including spontaneously bad behavior choices that everyone wanted to make.

As a movie star, he appeared in several films throughout the sixties, seventies, and eighties. Some of the highlights were The Nutty Professor; With Six You Get Eggroll; High Anxiety; The History of the World, Part I; and Splash.

On The Many Faces (and Voices) of Howard Morris – (Travalanche)
Photo: travalanche.com

Not content with just acting in films, Morris became interested in directing early in his career. He began his directing career in the sixties and continued through the eighties. His first directing job was on The Bill Dana Show. He was very busy in the sixties and seventies, directing episodes of Gomer Pyle, USMC; The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Andy Griffith Show; The Patty Duke Show; the pilot of Get Smart; Bewitched; Love American Style; Hogan’s Heroes, and The Love Boat among others. He also directed for the big screen. You’ll see directing credits in his name for Who’s Minding the Mint?, With Six You Get Eggroll, and Don’t Drink the Water.

During an interview with the television academy, he said he loved directing Hogan’s Heroes. Robert Clary became one of his best friends for life. He also loved Klemperer. He said working on With Six You Get Eggroll was a wonderful experience. He said Doris Day just had a natural talent, and Brian Keith was a great guy. He felt being an actor allowed him to be a better director. He understood what the process was for the cast and was able to help them. He knew he could not teach them to act.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for a classically trained Shakespeare actor is that he had the most success in the animation world. I could not begin to list all his credits here, or you would still be reading next week when the new blog comes out. Beginning with Krazy Kat in 1962, he would go on to provide voices for more than fifty series. You will hear his voice in The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Mr. Magoo, The Magilla Gorilla Show, The Atom Ant Show, Duck Tales, a variety of Archie series, and Garfield and Friends.

Howard Morris voiced more than 100 characters on The Flintstones
Photo: metv.com

In a Television Academy interview, he admitted that he accepted voice-over work because he needed the money. It also appealed to him because you did not have to worry about wardrobe or make-up. He said the actors sat in the room together recording the show at the same time which allowed them to relate to each other better than today when everyone records by himself.

In 1962, he married Dolores Wylie and they were together until 1977. I read several sources that listed him being married five times but could not find confirmation of the other marriages, although one cite mentioned two other spouses, Judith and Kathleen and noted that he was married to one of his spouses twice. They all ended in divorce.

In 2005 Morris died from congestive heart failure. Carl Reiner was one of the people who gave a eulogy at his funeral.

The Andy Griffith Show" My Fair Ernest T. Bass (TV Episode 1964) - IMDb
Photo: imdb.com

Howard Morris had a very long and prolific career. About the only genre he did not act in was Shakespearean drama, which is what he trained for. I was curious about whether he enjoyed his comedic career, or if he was disappointed that he did not work more in drama.

During his Television Academy interview, when asked what advice he would give someone thinking about entering the acting or directing profession, he replied “to avoid it and shun every opportunity because it was too hard.” He certainly deserves to be remembered for more than being Ernest T Bass even though he is a much-loved character. Morris said he would like to be remembered as a guy that was able to reveal certain things of humor and reality to the public and for his great gratitude for the fans who have always been there.” Well said. And, well done.

Today We Take a Peek at the Future by Looking at the Past

Building on the popularity of The Flintstones, in 1962 ABC and Hanna-Barbera decided to debut another new animation show aimed at adults. Instead of the prehistoric past, this show would be set in the far-off future. It aired Sunday nights.  It was also the first show on ABC to air in color. It was The Jetsons. The Flintstones had been recorded in color, but the first two years it aired in black and white. However, it was up to the affiliates to decide if they wanted to broadcast both of these shows in color or black and white. Often they chose black and white because only 3% of the population had color televisions in 1962 which increased to 50% by 1972.

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Hoyt Curtin created the theme song. This show featured the typical 1950s sitcom plots. It was adult oriented and used a laugh track.

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The Jetsons live in Orbit City in the Skypad Apartments, high in the sky. George is a family man.  George is not Fred Flintstone.  However, he does get into many predicaments like Fred, and his boss fires him often.  George works for Spacely Space Sprockets, and his boss is Cosmo Spacely. Their competitor is Mr. Cogswell who runs Cogswell Cogs. Mr. Spacely is easily angered and hard to work for. He and George were childhood friends. George’s work computer was RUDI – Referential Universal Differential Indexer.  He has a human personality. George was voiced by George O’Hanlon. Mr. Spacely was voiced by Mel Blanc.

 

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George is married to Jane, a homemaker like Wilma.  Jane is a member of the Galaxy Women’s Historical Society.  Her favorite store is Mooning Dales.  Penny Singleton, the original Blondie of the movies, plays Jane.

 

They have two children, Judy, a 16-year-old, who attends Orbit High School and Elroy, 6, who attends the Little Dipper School.  Judy likes clothes, boys, and her diary, much like teens in the 1960s.  Elroy is quiet, easy going, and highly intelligent, and he studies space history, astrophysics, and star geometry. Janet Waldo was the voice of Judy, while Daws Butler provided the voices of Elroy and Spencer Cogswell.

 

Rosie is their robot maid and Astro is their dog. Rosie is an outdated robot, but the family loves her. She performs all the housework and does some parenting of Elroy. Surprisingly, Rosie was only in 2 of the 24 episodes that aired in 1962. Astro precedes Scooby Doo but talks like him and looks very much like a gray Scooby. Jean Vander Pyl and Don Messick from The Flintstones take on the voices of Rosie and Astro.

 

Two other characters who make appearances are George’s eccentric grandfather, Montague Jetson voiced by Howard Morris.  Stella/Petunia Spacely, Cosmo’s wife, is overbearing and snobby and she was voiced by Jean Vander Pyl.

 

In 1963, Morey Amsterdam and Pat Carroll sued H-B for breach of contract.  Apparently, they were signed to a 24-episode contract to voice George and Jane.  They were guaranteed $500 per episode. According to the network, they had to be replaced because of sponsor conflicts with their other shows, The Dick Van Dyke Show and Make Room for Daddy. I believe the suit was dropped; however, I couldn’t find proof of that.

 

The show did not get very good ratings.  Part of the problem was that so many people were watching it in black and white. Another problem is that it was up against Car 54, Where Are You and, ironically, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. After the first year, the network moved it to Saturday morning. In 1985, 41 episodes were made and 10 additional shows were created in 1987. It’s hard to believe, but those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s watched the same 24 episodes over and over since new ones weren’t made for 23 years after the debut.

Although it was only on the air in prime time for one year, marketing certainly did not suffer.  Many Jetson toys, games, and figures were sold.

 

The Jetsons endorsed Electrasol, Tums, and Radio Shack. Many comic books were based on the series. Gold Key printed 36 from 1963-1970, Charlton created 20 between 1970-1973, Harvey published 5 in 1992-1993, and Archie Comics produced 17 from 1995-1996.

In addition, two tv films, a tv special, and a movie were created.

The show was on Boomerang from 2000-2014 and again from 2016-2017. It was aired on The Cartoon Network from 1992-2004 and again in 2012. It is available now on Comcast’s video-on-demand service.

 

Many of the inventions the Jetsons used are currently being produced today. A flying car will most likely debut in 2018. There are several start-up companies developing jetpacks to allow people to fly. Robot butlers exist at some hotels (Japan and California). Holograms have existed for a few years. 3-D printers can make food, and our current drones are similar to the pods the Jetsons used. Smart watches were also shown on the series; in one episode a student in Elroy’s class watches a Flintstones episode on his watch instead of paying attention to the teacher. Although The Jetsons was set in 2062, they featured moving walkways and smart homes which we have used for some time.

 

What is so surprising about The Jetsons is its current popularity.  A Jetson big-screen film is in the works and, in August of 2017, ABC ordered a live-action sitcom of The Jetsons. It will be interesting to see if they rely on the same technology used in 1962 on the show or if they project into our future.

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While many of the popular shows from the early 1960s are only remembered by baby boomers, The Flintstones and The Jetsons are still well known to kids of every generation. They have truly survived the test of time. By this time next year, The Jetsons could once again be a hit television show. Like the Bewitched-I Dream of Jeannie debate, or the Mary Ann vs Ginger question, most people prefer watching the past or the future.  I am in The Jetsons camp, but enjoy watching Fred and Wilma from time to time also.  Next week we’ll look at my favorite adult animation show, and no, it’s not The Simpsons.