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.
'Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning' Exhibit at Rockwell Museum is Yabba Dabba Doo Worthy
[EDITOR'S NOTE: An article on an interview with world-class animator/Hanna-Barbera toy collector David Nimitz, who provided the museum every toy for the exhibit, also is on Unreal TV.]
Children of the '60s and the '70s (and other lovers of Saturday morning cartoons) must raise a bowl of tasty sugar-laden cereal that comprises the delicious part of a delicious nutritious breakfast in tribute to Norman Rockwell Museum curator Jesse Kowalski.
This former exhibitionist at the Andy Warhol Museum bringing both his curatorial talent and his love for the Scooby gang and the 1,000s of other Hanna-Barbera creations to Stockbridge, Mass. is why your not-so-humble reviewer and 1,000s of others who have uttered "yabba dabba doo" at least once in their lives have had the privilege of seeing "Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning" at the Rockwell Museum. Having Kowalski guide me through the exhibit was like personally seeing Willy Wonka show off his chocolate factory.
The copious information that Kowalski shared included that the exhibit has been incredibly popular. He noted that it set a record for Fall shows and blew an exhibit of the work of comic book artist Alex Ross "out of the water."
One Scooby-worthy mystery that Kowalski cannot solve is why the late-'50s H-B cat-and dog series "Ruff and Ready" is a "lost" treasure. The historic significance of this first television effort by "Tom and Jerry" creators Hanna and Barbera includes it being the first Saturday morning show that is all cartoons, rather than a primarily live-action series in which a flesh-and-blood host incorporates cartoons that begin life as theatrical shorts in the program. Speculation regarding "Ruff" not achieving the same status as later H-B offerings is that our animation gods use this show to work out the kinks that their classics lack.
Alas, the exhibit tour did not end with owning the 100s of drawings, animation cels, video clips, and case-smashing worthy vintage merch. that comprises the exhibit. The exhibit catalog, which has reprints of much of the aforementioned art and photos of the aforementioned collectibles, is a nice consolation prize. Buying Funko-style toys of Daphne and Velma of "Scooby" fame when exiting through the gift shop is another highlight.
Folks who have not visited the exhibit have until May 29, 2017 to do so. Parents of K-12 kids particularly have the option of making this an April vacation week activity that the whole family truly can enjoy,
The exhibit fulfills the same ideal as a documentary film in that it equally entertains and informs. The scope extends from the early days of this 60-year partnership/friendship to the near present. Highlights are early rejected sketches of the Flintstones and other classic characters and concepts, such as "Josie and the Pussycats 1,000,000 BC," that never see the light of day.
Awesome verification that your not-so-humble reviewer is in sync with the exhibit is writing the caption for the below image of "The Flintstones" preceding Kowalski telling the tale of a female reporter who responds on seeing it in a pre-exhibit promotional campaign that it deplorably depicts whom your not-so-humble reviewer calls "sexy Wilma." Kowalski states that his respectful response to the real-life Lois Lane includes asking her to consider that this image is from the relative caveman period of the early '60s compared to the more enlightened "Jetsons" era in which we live.
Another highlight of the show (and a Herculean labor of love by Kowalski) is an interactive touch-screen exhibit with a homepage display of thumbnails of 96 HB characters. Touching a small image opens a page that allows you to read about that character, see video clips with him or her, and listen to related sound effects.
Light-hearted personal disappointment regarding not seeing Goober the disappearing dog of the Scooby clone "Goober and the Ghostchasers" prompted Kowalski to good-naturedly share that he was told to pick 96 characters. He and I both understood that that limitation precluded including the favorite HB creation of every visitor.
An underlying theme of the exhibit that is awesome for folks who suffer from the current big studio practice of producing films that blatantly sacrifice art for commerce is that Hanna and Barbera maintain both quality and the bottom line. The primary technique is the cost-saving practice of limited animation that the exhibit describes. An obvious element of this is the oft-repeating backgrounds on "Flintstones" and other Hanna-Barbera productions.
The audience additionally sees how Hanna-Barbera are true pioneers of television and how they successfully adapt to changing regulatory and cultural environments. This explains how "talking animal" Hanna-Barbera offerings lead to superhero and other action-adventure shows, which leads to animated versions of prime-time hits, which evolve into series such as "The Flintstones Kids" and "A Pup Named Scooby-Doo." (Nimitz began his animation career as a 17 year-old intern on "Pup.") You also will learn how the combination of governmental and consumer influence ultimately kill off Saturday morning cartoons.
Kowalski further proves his entitlement to induction in the Fanboy Hall of Fame in sharing at the end of our sadly less than three-hour tour that he will continue curating animation exhibits for the Rockwell museum. His reasoning that these shows further the objective of the institution to educate the general public about the legendary The Saturday Evening Post illustrator for whom the museum exists makes sense.
The statements of Kowalski that he wants to keep classic cartoons and other animation in pop culture (and that many young visitors do not know about Scooby-Doo) endears him to the heart of your not-so-humble reviewer. Readers of early manifestos know that Unreal TV owes its existence to larger sites rejecting coverage of "TV Land shows" that does not generate enough income to satisfy the suits. The specific founding principles of this boutique site include keeping Lucy Ricardo and Ralph Kramden in the public consciousness.
On a larger level, it is nice to learn that Hanna and Barbera are guys with whom you would want to share a mug of cocoa while watching their creations do the things that endear these men to all of us.
Feeling incredibly achy and tense in the wake of Super Storm Stella and of not getting an annual February thaw-out trip recently drove your not-so-humble reviewer to an overnight stay at the uber-fantabulous Wentworth by the Sea hotel just outside Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The true blessing and the curse of staying there is that one night never is enough.
This grand hotel, which dates back to 1874, is a prime example of expertly renovated resorts of the era that include the Mount Washington Hotel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It evokes equally strong thoughts of the Stanley Hotel in Colorado that is the inspiration for the Stephen King horror novel, film, and mini-series "The Shining."
This vibe provided a sort-of-a-homecoming in the form of thoughts related to a college-era summer working at the Mount Washington and living in the staff housing on the top floor of the hotel. The Mount Washington currently uses that space for storage, and the Wentworth converted the comparable area into guest accommodations.
The Wentworth staff provided the proverbial friendly and courteous service that enhances stays such as this. Front Office Manager Kathleen deserves special praise for her mad hotel skills that rival those of ideal hospitality industry executive Christine Francis of the '80s Aaron Spelling anthology drama series "Hotel."
The facade of the Wentworth and the elegant classic-style hallways prompted copious "Shining" jokes. Favorites included reporting guilt regarding declining the offer of identically dressed twin girls to play and complaining about a young boy riding his Big Wheel up and down the corridor.
The following photo of the hall allows you to judge the accuracy of the above statement.
The aforementioned style of the Wentworth is one-half of the conclusion that it is a mullet hotel in that it has pristine vintage elegance in the public areas and is upscale spatastic in both the guest rooms and the actual spa that is a perfect example of the restorative centers that many luxury resorts offer as a means to keep their doors open.
Although a tight schedule prevented enjoying spa services, two swims in the pool pictured below were nice substitutes. The water being the perfect temperature and the chlorine level being equally wonderful made these extended exercise sessions (followed by a soak in the whirlpool) special.
The professionals to whom a former roommate referred to as interior desecrators did an awesome job extending the luxury spa facet of the hotel to the guest accommodations. Entering a Grand King Suite, which features fully separate living room and bedroom areas with identically spatabulous bathrooms off of each, impresses luxury-travel veterans and should floor folks who typically patronize mid-range lodging facilities.
The image below is of the living room with a working gas fireplace and a marble bar area with real highball glasses and a stainless-steel mini-fridge. Relaxing there with episodes of the Disney Channel teencom "Liv and Maddie"after a tasty brick-oven pizza dinner in Portsmouth was a perfect end of a memorable day.
The equally desirable bedroom pictured below had the same "just right" Goldilocks quality as the rest of the suite. The good folks at the Wentworth magically found a mattress that was neither too firm nor too soft. That, along with the spa decor of the room, provided my best sleep in a long time; the aforementioned aches and tension were gone the next morning.
The massage rainfall shower head in the marble shower was another treat that allowed feeling rejuvenated at the end of bathing. An amusing element of this was initially being unhappy with the mid-sized towels hanging by the shower. They were larger than a typical hand towel and quite a bit smaller than an average bath towel but did the job. Finding good-sized bath towels in the cabinet under the sink solved the mystery and enhanced a second shower later in the stay.
The only negative aspect of the visit was being so comfortable in the spa-quality robe that almost ended up in my suitcase that I did not want to leave. Missing my kitty and being concerned about reports of an impending snow storm were the primary motives were checking out of the first (but not the last) stay at the Wentworth.