The Bootleg Files: Hokey Wolf

BOOTLEG FILES 806: “Hokey Wolf” (a short series of Hanna-Barbera cartoons from 1960-1961).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Two episodes were included in a DVD release.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It fell through the cracks.

Probably not.

During the early 1960s, the Hanna-Barbera animation studio flooded television viewers with a surplus amount of cartoon mischief that quickly became incorporated into the popular culture. Creations including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, Top Cat and The Jetsons gained instant iconic status.

However, not every Hanna-Barbera creation resonated with viewers. One of the more interesting misfires was Hokey Wolf, a character that headlined 28 cartoons running about seven minutes each before being dropped into obscurity. The problem with Hokey Wolf was strictly presentational – the character had elements that worked in other Hanna-Barbera creations, but strangely never quite clicked within its own persona.

Hokey Wolf was a lupine version of Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko character, with voice actor Daws Butler doing a so-so imitation of Silvers’ con artist persona. He was paired with Ding-a-Ling, a diminutive wolf who spoke in a childlike voice that was meant to epitomize youth and innocence – some online sources claim that voice actor Doug Young was trying to mimic comedian Buddy Hackett, but I can’t detect any similarity to the rotund funnyman’s distinctive speech in that character.

The premise of the Hokey Wolf cartoons was predictable: Hokey was constantly in predator mode trying to scheme someone out of a prized possession – usually an uncommonly delicious meal or a comfortable shelter – with the unsuspecting prey quickly become wise to the con and ultimately turning the tables. Ding-a-Ling served as Hokey’s sidekick, offering naïve asides to the viewers about Hokey’s alleged prowess while ultimately sharing in the chaotic retribution generated by Hokey’s mischief.

The Hokey Wolf character was introduced in the third season of “The Huckleberry Hound Show” that aired in syndication during the 1960-1961 television season. The character was intended to replace the Yogi Bear cartoons that were part of “The Huckleberry Hound Show” mix – Yogi Bear and his short sidekick Boo-Boo became so popular that they spun off into their own series.

Perhaps that is where the Hokey Wolf character never truly clicked – this was strictly a poor man’s version of Yogi Bear, complete with the undersized and over-trusting sidekick. But whereas Yogi Bear was a charming rascal trying to subvert the dreary rules of his Jellystone National Park to purloin some tempting “pic-a-nic” baskets despite Boo-Boo’s vain attempts at being his conscience – “The ranger isn’t going to like this, Yogi!” – Hokey Wolf was just a chiseler out to make trouble while Ding-a-Ling was his bland acolyte along for the ride.

Indeed, the Hokey Wolf cartoons are just not that funny. Daws Butler’s voice acting goes into overdrive to capture the frenetic scheming of Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko, but the scams being pulled – stealing eggs from a hen house, tricking the Three Little Pigs from their brick home, getting free helpings from a wagon train’s chuck wagon, getting a free suite with room service at a swanky hotel – seem petty and the foes that Hokey encounters are mostly a dull bunch.

And while no one ever accused 1960s-era Hanna-Barbera of sophisticated animation, the Hokey Wolf cartoon are particularly dreary in their visual style. Ding-a-Ling is particularly bizarre with a tough-guy wardrobe – derby, turtleneck, vest and sleeveless turtleneck shirt – that doesn’t fit his acquiescent personality. Hokey, with a boater’s hat and oversized collar with a small bowtie, wasn’t particularly interesting to observe.

After churning out 28 episodes, Hanna-Barbera realized that Hokey Wolf was not a viable character and dropped him from its roster. A more invigorating spoof of Phil Silvers’ Sgt. Bilko occurred with the series “Top Cat,” which benefited from a wider ensemble of characters and better writing.

Hokey Wolf and Ding-a-Ling would turn up in a few Hanna-Barbera productions from the 1970s through the early 1990s that included the round-up of the studio’s creations. Two of their cartoons, “Tricks and Treats” and “Castle Hassle,” were included on the DVD “Hanna-Barbera 25 Cartoon Collection” that was issued as part of The Best of Warner Bros. collection series.

A few Hokey Wolf cartoons that played on the Boomerang cable network can be found on YouTube, along with a rare breakfast cereal commercial where Hokey fails to trick Huckleberry Hound out of his meal. However, Hokey Wolf’s obscurity is probably well deserved.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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