History of Hanna-Barbera: "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour"

Updated on August 26, 2019

The concept of a show starring a costumed character would become popular during the 1970s thanks to the efforts of Sid and Marty Krofft, who created such series as H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. However, in 1968, networks were uncertain about such an unproven idea. But thanks to a special set of circumstances, the show that started the trend would be born from not just the talents of the Krofft brothers, but Hanna-Barbera, a cereal company, and several musicians. That show would be The Banana Splits.

The Banana Splits Adventure Hour

Airdates
Network
Studio
September 7, 1968 – September 5, 1970
NBC
Hanna-Barbera

The Banana Splits actually began life under the title of “The Banana Bunch”, and resulted as part of an opportunity presented to Hanna-Barbera by the Leo Burnett Agency in Chicago. The agency had just struck a deal with Kellogg’s to sponsor an entire weekly hour of programming on NBC, but still needed the content, so they began asking various studios for pitches. Knowing that nearly all the pitches would most likely be cartoons, Hanna-Barbera set out to do something really different to stand out from the pack, choosing to make characters similar to their in-house style except, instead of being animated, they’d be live-action costumed characters with real people in the suits.

It was the use of a person in a Yogi Bear costume that sold executives on the Banana Splits idea. (Pictured are costumes from ~2010, not vintage 1960s costumes.)
It was the use of a person in a Yogi Bear costume that sold executives on the Banana Splits idea. (Pictured are costumes from ~2010, not vintage 1960s costumes.)

At first, Hanna-Barbera made their pitch showed the concept art to Leo Burnett and NBC, but found it difficult to get them to understand it would be a live-action show and not animated. The deciding factor would be their pitch to Kellogg’s, and determined to sell the show, Joe Barbera made an eleventh hour decision to present the pitch to them with a costumed character in the room. There were no costumes made at this point, but Barbera knew that they had a Yogi Bear costume which had been used for promotional appearances, and he knew that Kellogg’s was familiar with Yogi as they had previously sponsored that series, so it’d be a familiar face to put to this unfamiliar idea. So the night before the pitch, he had the Yogi Bear costume quickly flown over from California to Chicago, arriving just six hours before the meeting.

Feegle on a box of Honey Smacks.
Feegle on a box of Honey Smacks.

It was that quick thinking which helped ensure the show was picked up, as Barbera would later recall that the Kellogg’s chairman was falling asleep during the actual pitch portion of the presentation. But as soon as the costumed Yogi Bear walked into the room, it instantly caught everyone’s attention, including the chairman’s, in a positive way. One final hiccup did present itself shortly after the show was picked up, when it was discovered that the name “The Banana Bunch” was already taken by a book written by a Scottish author who wasn’t willing to let them use the name. The name was swiftly changed to “The Banana Splits”, but not before Kellogg’s had put the name “The Banana Bunch” on 1.25 million cereal boxes, all of which had to be destroyed and reprinted.

Snorky, Feegle, Drooper, and Bingo
Snorky, Feegle, Drooper, and Bingo

The live-action segments of the show drew much of its inspiration from the sketch comedy show Laugh-In, which had premiered on NBC earlier that same year, borrowing its rapid-fire comedic timing and sight gags; The Banana Splits themselves would actually make an appearance on a season 2 episode of Laugh-In. It also borrowed from the format of another NBC series, The Monkees, which had featured musical sequences. Likewise, the unifying thread tying the Banana Splits characters together would be that they were a band of four members in a club.

The Banana Splits and the Sour Grape Bunch
The Banana Splits and the Sour Grape Bunch

They consisted of guitarist Feegle the Beagle (voiced by Paul Winchell), drummer Bingo the Ape (Daws Butler), Drooper the Lion (Allan Melvin) on bass, and Snorky the Elephant (who only spoke in honks) on keyboards. Each week they’d meet at their clubhouse, joined by a talking cuckoo clock, a moose head named Banana Vac, and Goofy Gopher. Together, they’d get into comedic antics, sometimes encountering their rivals, the Sour Grape Bunch (consisting of five girls, all named Charley).

The Banana Splits driving in their Banana Buggies.
The Banana Splits driving in their Banana Buggies.

During the first season, all the outdoor scenes were filmed on-location at Six Flags Over Texas, and would often see the characters interacting with the rides there. They’d also often drive around in their Banana Buggies, modified all-terrain Amphicat vehicles; Joe Barbera was inspired to include these after seeing them demonstrated on the Johnny Carson incarnation of The Tonight Show. He got official permission from the company that produced them, Mobility Unlimited Inc., to include them in the show.

The theme song “The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)” was written by Kellogg’s jingle writer N.B. Winkless Jr., who also wrote the “Snap, Crackle, Pop” jingle for Rice Krispies cereal. Thanks to the catchiness of the song, it has gone on to appear on many lists of the best TV theme songs ever, been covered several times, and even peaked at #96 on Billboard’s Top 100. Other musicians who contributed to The Banana Splits included Jimmy Radcliffe, Barry White, Joey Levine, and Ricky Lancelotti, among others.

The costumes were designed by Sid and Marty Krofft, some of their first television work.
The costumes were designed by Sid and Marty Krofft, some of their first television work.

The costumes proved to arguably be the most difficult part for Hanna-Barbera, as it was, again, unlike anything they or anyone else had done on TV before. For that task, they got Sid and Marty Krofft, a duo who would later become their own driving force in the children’s television market. As Sid Krofft once told Film Threat magazine in 1993, "We were the only ones - including Disney - putting people inside of suits at the time. No one had ever heard of that." The colorful costumed characters would eventually open the door for the Krofft brothers to produce their own show for NBC in 1969, H.R. Pufnstuf, which was launched with a one hour special hosted by the Banana Splits.

Filling out the rest of the hour were several different segments, both animated and live-action.
Filling out the rest of the hour were several different segments, both animated and live-action.

"...And Friends"

Of course, the segments involving the costumed characters were only one portion of the “Adventure Hour”, acting as wraparounds. In-between the skits and music videos, there were four different segments filling out the hour.

The Arabian Knights
The Arabian Knights

First was “Arabian Knights”; It tells the adventures of a heroic band of freedom fighters in Persia led by Turhan, prince of Baghdad (voiced by Jay North, best known as the start of the original Dennis the Menace). Together with his cousin Princess Nida (voiced by puppeteer Shari Lewis), muscle man Raseem the Strong (Frank Gerstle), the jolly Fariik the Magician (John Stephenson), the shapeshifting Bez the Beast (Henry Corden), and Zazuum the Donkey (Don Messick), they formed a group known as the Arabian Knights. Their goal, to take back Persia from the clutches of the evil Bakaar the Black Sultan. It was much like other action cartoons Hanna-Barbera were producing around that time, such as similarly Arabian-themed “Shazzan”, though with a more comedic and non-violent tone to conform to the growing negative backlash towards action cartoons.

The Three Musketeers, character sheet by Alex Toth.
The Three Musketeers, character sheet by Alex Toth.

Likewise was “The Three Musketeers”, telling new stories involving the classical heroes and their fights to protect the royal family of France. This segment starred Jonathan Harris as Athos, Barney Phillips as Porthos, Don Messick as Aramis and King Louis XIV, and Bruce Watson as D'Artagnian. It should be noted that, similar to other Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the time, each of these animated segments during the Banana Splits show had comic book artist Alex Toth onboard as character designer, and his distinct style is most apparent during this segment.

The Banana Splits wraparounds ended up not being the only part of the show produced in live-action, with the third segment being “Danger Island”. Filmed over seven weeks and produced essentially like a three hour film directed by Richard Donner (best known now for the 1978 “Superman” film; Donner also directed the first season Banana Splits wraparounds), it was split into 36 serialized segments for TV, each ending with a cliffhanger. It centered around a trio of explorers (Professor Irwin Hayden (Frank Aletter), his daughter Leslie Hayden (Ronne Troup), and archeologist Lincoln Simmons (Jan-Michael Vincent)) as they travel through a chain of island searching for the lost city of Tobanya. Along the way, they’re joined by shipwrecked merchant mariner Elihu Morgan (Rockne Tarkington) and his sidekick Chongo (Kim Kahana), and face off against cannibals and pirates who are also after the treasures contained in Tobanya.

Micro Ventures, art by Alex Toth.
Micro Ventures, art by Alex Toth.

Lastly, there was “Micro Ventures”, a segment seen very infrequently with only four installments produced. It acted as educational material, showing the adventures of Professor Carter (Don Messick) and his children Mike (Tommy Cook) and Jill (Patsy Garrett), as they used an invention of his to shrink in size and explore the world on a smaller scale. Subjects included learning about ant colonies, life inside a pond, what lives in a backyard, or in the desert. Inevitably, while tiny, something would attack them, whether it be an ant, a hawk, a cat, or a gila monster.

Snorky changed appearance between season 1 (left) and season 2 (right).
Snorky changed appearance between season 1 (left) and season 2 (right).

Doin' the Banana Split All These Years

“The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” was a hit for NBC, and continued on into a second season in 1969. This brought some changes, the most noticeable being a change to Snorky, who changed from his initially wooly mammoth-esque appearance in season 1 to a more smooth appearance (more akin to an elephant) in season 2. The outdoor filming location also changed, switching to the Coney Island theme park in Cincinnati, Ohio. Lastly, “The Three Musketeers” was dropped, being replaced with “Hillbilly Bears”, a segment from 1965“Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel Show”.

The series added "and Friends" to the title in syndication, shortening the show to half an hour and including other cartoons.
The series added "and Friends" to the title in syndication, shortening the show to half an hour and including other cartoons.

While the show only lasted two seasons on NBC, it had a lengthy life in syndication, albeit in a shortened half-hour form under the name The Banana Splits and Friends Show. In this incarnation, all references to Kellogg’s were removed and primarily the first season wraparounds were used. Segments were also added and removed, with other segments from “Atom Ant/Secret Squirrel” included, as well as “The Adventures of Gulliver” and “The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, two series that had aired separately in syndication a few years earlier.

While also appearing in traditional live-action, the Banana Splits took on a more animated form in 1972's "The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park".
While also appearing in traditional live-action, the Banana Splits took on a more animated form in 1972's "The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park".

They even received an hour long TV movie titled The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park, which aired on Thanksgiving weekend in 1972. Now tour guides at an amusement park (this time being filmed at Kings Island in Cincinnati), they set out to rescue a young girl named Susie who is kidnapped by an evil witch from an animated dimension. The film was one of seven films produced by Hanna-Barbera for “The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie”, a programming slot which aired a different animated TV movie each week (several of which spun off into new series).

In an unlikely team-up, the Banana Splits crossed over with DC's Suicide Squad in 2017.
In an unlikely team-up, the Banana Splits crossed over with DC's Suicide Squad in 2017.

In more recent years, the Banana Splits have seen a few attempts at a revival. 2008 saw Warner Bros. revive them with several new comedy shorts airing on Cartoon Network, as well as a soundtrack of new songs and park appearances at Hard Rock Park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with a special area called “Banana Splitsville”. In 2017, as part of a series of crossovers between DC and Hanna-Barbera characters, the Banana Splits teamed up with the Suicide Squad for a one issue special. Most recently, the franchise took a much darker turn with an R-rated horror titled The Banana Splits Movie, recasting the characters as killer animatronics. The film was released on home media in August 2019, with a TV airing on SyFy later in the year.

In an even more unexpected turn of events, the Banana Splits starred in their own horror movie in 2019.
In an even more unexpected turn of events, the Banana Splits starred in their own horror movie in 2019.

Despite these revivals, however, nothing has been able to touch the original show, still beloved by those who grew up with it over 50 years later.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, reelrundown.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://reelrundown.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)