History of Hanna-Barbera: 'Magilla Gorilla' and 'Peter Potamus' - The First Toyetic Cartoons
Looking at the history of television animation, it’d be hard to ignore a trend that took root throughout the 80s and has only begun to diminish in recent years, where toy companies dominated and guided the direction of many cartoons. While this amount of power for the toy companies really only came about in the 80s, its origins of toy companies directly working with animation studios originates from a show that made its debut in early 1964.
The Magilla Gorilla Show
January 14, 1964 – December 25, 1965
The series was "The Magilla Gorilla Show", which was a collaboration with company Ideal Toys. Whereas previous cartoons had merchandise which was created as a result of the success of their popularity, Magilla Gorilla had a line of merchandise already prepared to be distributed once the show debuted.
The Magilla Gorilla Show was another of Hanna-Barbera’s package series, a format now well established since The Huckleberry Hound Show over five years earlier. Like those before, it consisted of three segments.
The titular segment of the program, Magilla Gorilla is about (of course) a gorilla who has lived in a pet shop run by Mr. Peebles for a long time, long enough to be drastically marked down. Each episode would open with a new person purchasing Magilla for a task, ranging from being a football player, a thief, in a zoo, a circus attraction, a science experiment, or even a secret agent. Inevitably though, he always messes it up, and is returned to the pet shop by the end of the episode, with Mr. Peebles reassuring Magilla with the phrase “We’ll try again next week”.
The only one who ever seemed to want Magilla was a young girl named Ogee, who appears in the intro asking “how much is that gorilla in the window?”, and tried multiple times throughout the series to adopt him. But she’s always forced to return him by her parents. On the subject of the theme song, a subtle nod to the show’s sponsor Ideal Toys was inserted into its lyrics, as he’s described as “really ideal”.
Magilla Gorilla was voiced by Allan Melvin, an actor frequently seen in sitcoms during the 60s and 70s. Ogee was voiced by Jean Vandere Pyl, best known as Wilma Flintstone and Rosie the Robot. Mr. Peebles was initially voiced by Howard Morris, who was a frequent voice actor for Hanna-Barbera at the time, but (allegedly) a disagreement behind the scenes led to most of his roles being recast. In the second season, Peebles was voiced by Don Messick.
Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse
Cats and mice trying to outsmart the other was not a new thing for Hanna-Barbera, between their first major creation, Tom & Jerry, and a segment on the Huckleberry Hound Show, “Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks”. “Punkin’ Puss and Mushmouse”, the second segment of Magilla Gorilla, was another of these, with the twist this time being that the cat and mouse are hillbillies. Much like Tom & Jerry as well, occasionally one of Mushmouse’s family members would make a visit, becoming a further foil to Punkin’ Puss’s attempts to shoot Mushmouse.
Like Magilla Gorilla, this segment saw Allan Melvin and Howard Morris voicing Punkin’ Puss and Mushmouse respectively.
Ricochet Rabbit and Droop-a-Long
For the third segment of the show, Hanna-Barbera turned to a character who had made his debut on another cartoon the previous year. In an episode of Touche Turtle (part of “The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series”) titled “Rapid Rabbit”, Touche Turtle was called upon by a farmer to stop a rabbit named Ricochet from stealing carrots. The character was, in turn, based on an earlier concept for Touche Turtle, when he was envisioned as a rabbit named “Hairbrain Hare”. Hanna-Barbera seemed to like this character, resulting in him gaining a segment on The Magilla Gorilla Show.
Putting the rabbit in a wild west setting, Ricochet was reimagined as the sheriff of a town called “Hoop ‘n’ Holler”. With his super speed, he’d bounce off the walls shouting “ping, ping, ping”, while facing off against the bad guys. Along with his speed, he had trick bullets (similar to the trick arrows used by DC’s Green Arrow), which could do special things like hit the bad guys with mallets. Ricochet also had a sidekick in his deputy, Droop-a-Long Coyote, who contrasted with him by being slow and clumsy, right down to having bullets which moved in slow motion.
Ricochet Rabbit was voiced by Hanna-Barbera regular Don Messick. Droop-a-Long, on the other hand, was played by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc; In this role, he did an impersonation of actor Ken Curtis, who played Festus Haggen on long-running western Gunsmoke.
As mentioned before, the series was a pioneer in that it had a line of merchandise right out of the gate from Ideal Toys. Popular toys in this line included a hand puppet, a musical wagon with “Magilla Gorilla for sale” on the side, and a target barrel game.
Magilla even featured in advertisements for Ideal Toys at the time, solidifying the partnership between the toy company and Hanna-Barbera. The partnership was successful enough that it was extended to the studio’s next production.
The Peter Potamus Show
September 16, 1964 – October 23, 1966
Debuting with a similar toyline to Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus was another series with a three segment structure, and was typically paired with Magilla Gorilla in syndication.
The titular segment of this program saw the adventures of the explorer Peter Potamus and his money sidekick So-So. Together in their hot air balloon, the two traveled around the world and through time, exploring everything inbetween. When facing off against a dangerous foe, Peter would take a deep breath and let out his patented “Hippo Hurricane Holler” to blow them away.
Peter Potamus was voiced by Daws Butler, doing an impersonation of comedian Joe E. Brown, while So-So was voiced by Don Messick.
Breezly and Sneezly
The middle segment, much like “Punkin’ Puss & Mushmouse” recycled elements of Tom & Jerry, “Breezly & Sneezly” was a lot like Yogi Bear. It was about a tall polar bear named Breezly Bruin (Howard Morris) and his short sidekick, Sneezly Seal (Mel Blanc), living near an arctic Army outpost named Camp Frostbite where they constantly try to outwit the camp’s leader, Colonel Fuzzby (John Stephenson). The only real twist on the Yogi Bear formula is perhaps Sneezly’s defining character trait: As his name suggests, Sneezly had a habit of letting out sneezes that would send anything in front of him flying.
Notably also about this segment was that, while it was initially part of the Peter Potamus Show, it is also classified as a Magilla Gorilla Show segment. During 1965, Breezly & Sneezly swapped with Ricochet Rabbit (which moved to Peter Potamus), and aired a second batch of episodes there. This would become a tactic Hanna-Barbera occasionally used with their cartoons in syndication, interchanging segments between shows.
Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey
Rounding out the show was a segment inspired by the Three Musketeers, except as dogs. Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey, together known as the Goofy Guards, working for (and making life difficult for) their king.
Yippee was voiced by Doug Young (who previously voice Doggie Daddy in Quick Draw McGraw), Yappee and the King were voiced by Hal Smith (voice of Goliath on “Davey & Goliath”), and Yahooey was voiced by Daws Butler (voice of Huckleberry Hound). So it’s safe to say there was likely some consideration over casting the voices of other cartoon dogs.
An "Ideal" Legacy
Both “The Magilla Gorilla Show” and “The Peter Potamus Show” ran in syndication between 1964 and 1966. In 1966, ABC picked up the broadcast rights, airing Magilla Gorilla on Saturday mornings and Peter Potamus on Sundays, helping to boost their recognition. By 1973, the title characters (plus Punkin’ Puss, Mushmouse, Ricochet Rabbit, and Droop-a-Long) appeared alongside several other Hanna-Barbera animals in the series “Yogi’s Gang”, and continued to make cameo appearances in several subsequent series. Peter Potamus even became a recurring character on the Adult Swim series “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law”.
While it seemed like a simple sponsorship deal at the time, the deal struck between Hanna-Barbera and Ideal Toys would set a precedent in years to come. While it wasn’t prominent during the 70s, by the 80s toy deals like this would become commonplace for most cartoons. It could be said that beloved cartoon/toyline hybrids like He-Man, Thundercats, and the Transformers have at least some thanks to be given to that hat-wearing gorilla sitting in a pet shop window.