Fans of "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," "Scooby-Doo" and the scads of other Hanna-Barbera classic animated shows can relate to the not-so-youthful exuberance of your not-so-humble reviewer on recently visiting (and writing about) "Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning," which is open through May 2 2017, at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Exhibit curator extraordinaire Jesse Kowalski inviting me to interview animator/vintage HB toy collector David Nimitz, who loaned 300 of the 4,000 items in his collection to "Architects," made me extraordinarily more ecstatic than the average bear.
Nimitz stating that his favorite HB shows included the "sweet ones" such as "Yogi's Gang" and "The Flintstones Kids" further illustrated his kind and gentle nature. Learning that he is the live-in caretaker for a 99 year-old friend (and delights in surprising her with HB toys that he finds at swap meets) fully makes the rest of us look like dirt.
Examples of the dedication of Nimitz to the exhibit included an offhand remark that he bought a "Speed Buggy" board game to supplement the small amount of merchandise from that (Unreal TV reviewed) series in his museum displays. He further spoke of the incredible effort that he devoted to those cases and expressed his disappointment that a Scooby-Doo bank could not be included because it was too tall for the available enclosure.
One of countless highlights of the nearly two-hour telephone conversation with Nimitz a few days later was his stating regarding the 18 months that Kowalski devoted to creating "Architects" that "he really put his heart into it, and it shows." An even more apt way of stating this is that Kowalski and Nimitz are the true dynamic duo of the HB universe, which includes "The Superfriends."
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Nimitz further demonstrated his deep love for HB in discussing his introduction to animation. He shared his excitement of being a 17 year-old intern on "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo" after years of riding his bicycle to the HB studio and rummaging through the trash for discarded animation drawings and cels during his younger days.
His numerous subsequent projects included the films "Space Jam" and the cult classic "The Iron Giant."
Mother Knows Best
An advance apology to Nimitz for asking the same questions that he has answered 1,000s of time resulted in discovering the origin story of this righteous dude. The first trite inquiry related to asking when the collecting habit of Nimitz evolved from amassing cool stuff to becoming a vocation.
He initially and generally stated that "It just has always been there since I was about five." He added that "my mother was really into it because I was into it." Learning next that Mrs. Nimitz began packing away the toys to protect them from young David earns this mother of the century the gratitude of "Architects" visitors who get to see the museum-heist worthy contributions of her boy to the exhibit.
Nimitz next discussed that he did not become the literally museum-quality collector that HB fans know and love today until his 30s. His stating that that was when he began going into the garage of his mother to get his toys was highly relatable to memories of the numerous times that the parents of your not-so-humble reviewer told him that he could keep a few items and must toss the rest.
The awesomeness of this coolest mom in the neighborhood extended beyond her lovingly storing the aforementioned treasures for two decades; she had been adding to the collection by attending swap meets on her own.
Nimitz also shared a tale of an even more awesome milestone in his collection. He stated that the secretary of recently deceased Joe Barbera gave Nimitz a huge box of HB toys in 2008. He noted that that bonanza prompted him to inventory his collection.
Nimitz subsequently noting that "it took a life time to realize the destiny of these toys" demands an enthusiastic "Amen, Brother."
The Holy Grail of Collectibles
The next trite inquiry related to asking about the Holy Grail of collectibles. Nimitz stated he currently was into a line of Mexican vinyl figures, and that "nothing really gets me like old old Scooby stuff from the late '60s and '70s." On a more general note, he stated that many collectors looking for the same toys hindered efforts to acquire coveted items.
One that has eluded Nimitz for years and would drive lesser collectors stark raving mad was having every character in the Italian Mini Flexy "Jetsons" collection except Elroy. An odd note regarding this line (which "Architects" includes) is that the doll for the patriarch of this space-age nuclear family is identified as Chico, rather than George, Jetson.
Nimitz further shared regarding that series that "Astro is very hard to get [from any line] because everyone loves him so much." He stated on a related note that "without Astro, there would not have been Scooby-Doo."
Nimitz was unsure of the exact reason for the "Chico" error but noted regarding other anomalies that "the weirder the better," and "the cooler the toy." One of numerous examples was a doll of tow-headed Barney Rubble having green hair. Nimitz explained regarding errors of that nature that toy companies had to work off black-and-white versions of "The Flintstones" and other cartoons of that era and made their best guesses regarding colors.
To Box or not to Box, That is the Question
The rote questioning continued with asking Nimitz for his opinion regarding the age-old question of whether it is best to keep a toy in its box or take it out and use if for its original purpose. His reply was "I'm all for the boxes; boxes of older stuff often are worth more than toys." He went on to describe a find that was in its packaging as "a double score." That logic included that that packaging typically had characters on it.
This wisdom included that one never knew when one would need to sell a toy to pay the bills.
The conversation turning to the Cartoon Network era of television animation included discussing Seth MacFarlane, who arguably is the Howard Stern of primetime cartoons. The discussion of the work of MacFarlane on CN series such as "Dexter's Laboratory" and "Johnny Bravo" included your not-so-humble reviewer opining that the proposed MacFarlane reboot of "The Flintstones" would have been deplorable. Fears included crude lesbian jokes regarding the Wilma/Betty relationship and Fred being a clone of the crass Peter Griffin of "Family Guy."
Nimitz politely but strongly defended MacFarlane. The most ringing endorsement was that "the core of Seth is that he is a Hanna-Barbera kid; I know that for a fact." Nimitz stated as well that MacFarlane realized that the Flintstones characters were so beloved that anyone who attempted a reboot would be incur tremendous scorn.
Learning of Mariana Trench depth of love that Nimitz has for his collection and the shows with which that treasure is associated required asking about his plans for his legacy to continue. He responded that his ideal would be to purchase the "Flintstones" themed campground/RV park/diner/gift shop Bedrock City near the Grand Canyon and turn it into a museum that would display his 4,000 and growing items. He noted that a spontaneous road trip there several years after he last visited the park has led to making that journey an annual pilgrimage.
You Oughtta Write a Book
The conversation then shifted to Nimitz discussing a book on which he was working; it was a catalog of his collection that organized his toys by the company that made them and the year that they were produced.
Nimitz pointed out that his method made more sense than the approach of others who organized comparable books by character of series, rather than by product line. He expressed the opinion of HB fans everywhere in noting that we wanted to see everything that was in a collection on the same page.
Exit Stage Left
The exhaustive chat with Nimitz and the stab at sharing all of his insights in this post require wrapping things up with sincere thanks to Nimitz and his mother for preserving such an enormous portion of '60s and '70s pop culture. Nimitz deserves additional thoughts for being so kind and generous regarding discussing this labor of love.