April 18, 2013
Earlier this week I had the rare opportunity to meet with archivists from Warner Brothers and got a peek at their archive of Jetsons material. As you can imagine, I was in paleofuture nerd heaven.
I shot a segment here in L.A. with “CBS Sunday Morning” (airing
this Sunday April 28th) about the impact of “The Jetsons” on the way that we think about the future in the year 2013. We touched on my recently wrapped project that looked at all 24 episodes of the original series and, aside from being a nervous mess, I think the interview went well! Afterward I was able to travel up to Burbank where Lee Cowan spoke with Sam Register from Warner Brothers animation. They looked at storyboards and talked about some of the tech from the show—some of which has been realized, with many more (as regular Paleofuture readers know) still a fantasy here in the 21st century.
The archivists were kind enough to let me snap a few pictures.
“The Jetsons” TV show was produced by legendary animation studio Hanna-Barbera but its library became part of Turner Broadcasting in 1991 and then became part of Warner Animation when Turner was purchased by Time Warner in 1996.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Warner Brothers archive doesn’t include a single animation cel from the original 1962-63 series (though they had some from the 1980s). As the archivists explained to me, the cels weren’t seen as something worth holding on to after an episode was finished. I suppose since the individual cels weren’t considered to be part of the final product, saving cels must’ve seemed to those midcentury animators at Hanna-Barbera like the equivalent to saving mere tools (like, say pencils).
One archivist explained that in the early 1960s many animation studios even had cel washers that would clean paint completely off the cels when a production was finished because the studios saw the plastic as more valuable than preservation. He said that it wasn’t until Disney started selling the animation cels for dirt cheap in the Disneyland park (maybe $7 a pop) that anyone realized there might be a market for these things after a cartoon or movie was finished.
I took a few photos of sketches from the archive (the most fascinating being the early sketch, below, of Judy looking rather sedate and conservatively dressed), but you can see even more if you tune in to “CBS Sunday Morning” on
April 21st! April 28th!
March 29, 2013
This is the last in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The final episode of the first season (and only season until a mid-1980s revival) of “The Jetsons” originally aired on March 17, 1963, and was titled “Elroy’s Mob.”
In the opening sequence of each episode of “The Jetsons” we see young Elroy dropped off at the Little Dipper School. Down he goes, dropped from the family car in his little bubble top flying saucer; his purple and green lunchbox in hand. Despite this, viewers of the show don’t get many peeks at what education in the future is supposed to look like. All of that changes in the last episode. Here the story revolves around Elroy’s performance in school and a bratty little kid named Kenny Countdown. It’s report card day (or report tape, this being the retrofuture and all) and the obnoxious Kenny swaps Elroy’s report tape (which has all A’s) for his own (which not only has four D’s and an F, but also an H).
Elroy brings his report tape home and naturally gets in trouble for getting such low marks. The confusion and anger are settled after Kenny’s dad makes him call the Jetsons on their videophone and explain himself. But by then the damage had been done. Elroy ran away from home with his dog Astro and proceeded to get mixed up with some common criminals. (Based on the last 24 episodes of the Jetsons you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that maybe 50 percent of people in the year 2063 are mobsters, bank robbers and thieves.)
All of this trouble with the boys’ report tapes starts in the classroom, where Elroy’s teacher is passing out the tapes. According to little Elroy: “And eight trillion to the third power times the nuclear hypotenuse equals the total sum of the triganomic syndrome divided by the supersonic equation.” Elroy’s teacher, Ms. Brainmocker, praises little Elroy for his correct answer (perhaps gibberish is rewarded in the future?). But we have reason to believe that maybe Elroy’s answer isn’t correct. You see, his teacher is having a tough day because she’s malfunctioning. Because Ms. Brainmocker is a robot.
Aside from the vicious fights over racial segregation in our nation’s schools, one of the most pressing educational concerns of the 1950s and ’60s was that the flood of Baby Boomers entering school would bring the system to its knees. New schools were being built at an incredibly rapid pace all across the country, but there just didn’t seem to be enough teachers to go around. Were robot teachers and increased classroom automation the answers to alleviating this stress?
As Lawrence Derthick told the Associated press in 1959, the stresses of the baby boom would only get worse in coming years with more kids being born and entering school and the number of teachers unable to keep pace with this population explosion: “1959-60 will be the 15th consecutive year in which enrollment has increased. He added this trend, with attendant problems such as the teacher shortage, is likely to continue for many years.”
Other than the Jetsons, what visions of robot teachers and so-called automated learning were being promised for the school of the future?
Arthur Radebaugh‘s classic futuristic comic strip “Closer Than We Think” (1958-63) looked at the idea of automation in the classroom. Movies, “mechanical tabulating machines” and teachers instructing by videophone were all envisioned for the classroom of tomorrow. Each child sits in front of a console which has a screen displaying equations, multiple colored buttons and what looks like maybe a video camera or microphone mounted on the top-center of the desk.
From the May 25, 1958 edition of “Closer Than We Think”:
Tomorrow’s schools will be more crowded; teachers will be correspondingly fewer. Plans for a push-button school have already been proposed by Dr. Simon Ramo, science faculty member at California Institute of Technology. Teaching would be by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines. Pupils would record attendance and answer questions by pushing buttons. Special machines would be “geared” for each individual student so he could advance as rapidly as his abilities warranted. Progress records, also kept by machine, would be periodically reviewed by skilled teachers, and personal help would be available when necessary.
But visions of automated classrooms and robot teachers weren’t exactly comforting predictions to many Americans. The idea of robot teachers in the classroom was so prevalent in the late 1950s (and so abhorrent to some) that the National Education Association had to assure Americans that new technology had the potential to improve education in the U.S., not destroy it.
In the August 24, 1960 Oakland Tribune the headline read “NEA Allays Parent Fears on Robot Teacher”:
How’d you like to have your child taught by a robot?
With the recent splurge of articles on teaching machines, computers and electronic marvels, the average mother may feel that her young child will feel more like a technician than a student this fall.
Not so, reassures the National Education Association. The NEA says it is true that teaching machines are on their way into the modern classroom and today’s youngsters will have a lot more mechanical aids than his parents.
But the emphasis will still be on aid — not primary instruction. In fact, the teaching machine is expected to make teaching more personal, rather than less.
In recent years, teachers have been working with large classes and there has been little time for individual attention. It is believed that the machines will free them from many time-consuming routine tasks and increase the hours they can spend with the pupil and his parents.
The article went on to cite a recent survey showing that there were at least 25 different teaching machines in use in classrooms around the United States. The piece also listed the numerous advantages, including instant feedback to the student about whether their answers were correct and the ability to move at one’s own pace without holding up (or feeling like you’re being held up by) the other students in a class.
The year after this episode first aired, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair featured an “automated schoolmarm” at the Hall of Education. The desks and chairs were incredibly modern in design and included plastic molded chairs, a staple of mid-1960s futurism.
From the Official Souvenir Book: “The Autotutor, a U.S. Industries teaching machine, is tried out by visitors to the Hall of Education. It can even teach workers to use other automated machines.”
The December 5, 1965 edition of Athelstan Spilhaus‘s comic strip “Our New Age,” people reading the Sunday paper learned about humans’ ability to understand faster speech. This “compressed speech” was illustrated in the last panel of the strip as something that could easily be delivered by robot teacher of the future.
“Compressed speech” will help communications: from talking with pilots to teaching reading. Future school children may hear their lessons at twice the rate and understand them better!
Fast-talking humanoid robots have yet to enter the classroom, but as I’ve said before, we have another 50 years before we reach 2063.
The Jetson family and the Flintstone family would cross paths in the 1980s but there was also a joking nod to the connection between these two families in this episode. The “billionth rerun” of “The Flintstones” is showing on Kenny Countdown’s TV-watch. “How many times have I told you, no TV in the classroom! What do you have to say for yourself?” the robot teacher asks.
In keeping with its conservative leanings, viewers in 1963 are at least assured of one thing — that it doesn’t matter how much well-meaning tech you introduce into a school, kids of the future are still going to goof off.
March 25, 2013
This is the 23rd in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 23rd episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on March 3, 1963 and was titled “Dude Planet.”
In the year 2063, the people in the Jetsons’ universe work just a few hours a day. When they’re hungry, they just push a button or two and out pops a fully-formed, nutritious meal. Trips to distant planets are commonplace for a middle class family of four. And humanoid robots see to their every earthly need.
But despite all this, the Jetsons are depressed.
Not all of the time, mind you. They have fun playing sports, watching TV, going out to eat, and enjoying a cigarette with their martinis. But no matter how good things may seem for the Jetson family, the show assures us that life in the future will still be a grind. The futuristic machine that magically makes breakfast will undoubtedly break. Your boss at the sprocket factory will still hound you for not working to his satisfaction. The rich and powerful will still use the legal system to their advantage.
What then is a 21st century human to do? How are we to cope with the overwhelming stresses of modern life in the future? We find that the answer for people like Jane Jetson is to retreat into a world of cultural nostalgia.
In the 23rd episode of “The Jetsons,” Jane isn’t feeling well. Life is a drag. Everything makes her irritable and her frustration with the repetition of life in the 21st century manifests itself in lashing out at the people she loves the most.
Jane goes to the doctor (at her husband’s insistence) and the doctor proceeds to run a bunch of tests. Jane tells the doctor about the stresses and general monotony of her life: “every day it’s the same thing, and every morning it’s the same thing,” she begins to explain in what sound like Nine Inch Nails lyrics. The doctor’s diagnosis is that she has buttonitis. “You need a rest,” the doctor tells Jane. “Get away from all those buttons.”
So Jane takes the doctor’s advice and decides to get away from it all. She visits a travel agency (remember those?) and books a trip to a dude ranch — a place where futuristic cityfolk can get away from the pressures of modern life and play cowboy.
It’s perhaps notable that Jane doesn’t visit a dude ranch on Earth. Instead, the travel agent tells her to visit the Beat Bar Ranch on the Beta III Dude Planet. “It’s like a page out of the old West,” the travel agent explains.
The fact that there’s apparently no suitable dude ranch on Earth could be a hint that Jetsonian technological development and rapid growth had long since swallowed any semblance of the rustic outdoors that Americans had known at midcentury. The postwar period of growth, with its insatiable thirst for suburban homes, new schools, bigger airports, and more highways was concerning conservationists of the early 1960s. Many believed that this growth meant that the days of outdoor recreation in America were numbered.
In 1962 (the year before this episode aired) a report was delivered to Congress and President Kennedy outlining the future of outdoor recreation in America. The report highlighted this postwar concern about how once-rural land was being allocated — with highways, schools and subdivisions on one side, and open spaces and unpolluted water on the other.
Decade by decade, the expanding population has achieved more leisure time, more money to spend, and better travel facilities; and it has sought more and better opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. But the public has also demanded more of other things. In the years following World War II, this process greatly accelerated as an eager Nation, released from wartime restrictions, needed millions of new acres for subdivisions, industrial sites, highways, schools, and airports. The resources for outdoor recreation — shoreline, green acres, open space, and unpolluted waters — diminished in the face of demands for more of everything else.
In the world of the Jetsons, outdoor recreation is relegated to distant planets. But at least this romanticized version of the “Old West” is still at your disposal.
The dude ranch is filled with people who we assume are in the same boat as Jane — mentally exhausted and feeling generally disconnected from any sense of personal fulfillment. Their quest to achieve happiness in the 21st century is thwarted by an evolving standard of comfort. Viewers of the show are warned that questions about the meaning of life and one’s self-worth hang over mid-21st century humanity just as they did in the 20th.
Jane heads to Beta Bar Ranch with her friend Helen but neither really seem to be enjoying themselves. It would seem that this escape into a world of nostalgia is no solution to their problems. They try their best to relax and take in the sights (like a cowboy doing his best to wrestle a robotic bull to the ground, and a robot cowboy emerging from a jukebox for a quick dance) but it’s no use. Jane simply misses her husband George too much. On top of that, she’s also jealous of the imaginary party he was throwing when they talked over the videophone.
Jane finds that reveling in nostalgia hasn’t helped her boredom with the tedium of life. Without saying as much, we assume that she resolves to simply put up with the more depressing aspects of life in the future. Happiness is at home, even when it’s not.
Today we often romanticize the past in similar ways as Jane. However, having a lot of money obviously helps one realize her dreams in playing Old West. Billionaire Bill Koch (the lesser known of the three brothers Koch) is currently building his own 50-building old west town on his 420 acre ranch in Colorado, complete with a 22,000 square foot mansion. The town will house Koch’s collection of Old West memorabilia, including a gun owned by Jesse James, Sitting Bull’s rifle, and a photograph of Billy the Kidd that he bought at auction for $2.3 million in 2011.
But 50 years hence it’s unlikely that any real-life Jane Jetsons will be able to get away from it all at Koch’s version of the Old West. Koch has said that he has no plans to make any of it open to the public.
March 20, 2013
This is the 22nd in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 22nd episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on February 24, 1963, and was titled “Private Property.”
Like many that would come before it, this episode of “The Jetsons” centers around the business rivalry between Mr. Spacely and Mr. Cogswell. However, a short scene from the episode featuring Judy and Jane is far more interesting for our purposes than two middle-aged cartoon men yelling at each other about where their property lines begin and end.
Jane and George have tickets to go to a play titled My Space Lady, a reference to the 1950s Broadway musical hit My Fair Lady. In order to determine what to wear to the play, Judy employs a rather Jetsonian method of trying on clothes.
“What are you wearing to the show tonight, Mother?” Judy asks.
“Well, Judy I can’t make up my mind,” Jane replies.
Judy suggests turning on the “dress selector” in order to find an appropriate outfit for the show.
“Oh we need the facsimile image! It’s the second button from the top, Judy.”
A screen descends from the ceiling in front of Jane and Judy pushes a button to turn on the dress selector projection machine. But when it comes to dresses Jane has is very discerning. “No, not this one, early Galaxy simply isn’t in vogue this season,” she says.
Another dress is projected onto her body. “Ooh, isn’t that a Christian Di-Orbit, mother?” Judy asks in a 21st century nod to mid-20th century French fashion designer Christian Dior.
“Yes, but I wore it at the ballet last month,” Jane replies.
With yet another switch, Jane decides on a dress with the projected image moving along with her arms in perfect synchronization.
In the 1993 AT&T concept video “Connections” we see a similar scenario play out as the one that would precede it by 30 years on “The Jetsons.” In this case, a woman and her daughter are shopping for a wedding dress. The daughter visits her mom at work and they proceed to “go shopping” by dialing in to Colton’s National Bridal Service.
The service asks the daughter to authorize her electronic mannequin, which brings up an animated avatar of her in a simple white tunic and heels. They can then flip through the different possibilities in wedding dresses, customizing features as they see fit while being able to see what it looks like on her body.
Here in the year 2013, we seem ever closer to that Jetsonian vision of choosing outfits. A number of clothing websites now let you “try on” clothes in a virtual fitting room, while shopping malls are also installing machines that allow you to find your size by way of sizing kiosks. Yesterday I walked down to Culver City’s Westfield mall and tried out their Me-Ality sizing machine.
I began by giving the attendant working the booth my name, birthdate, zip code, and email. Stepping into the booth feels a bit like the TSA’s backscatter “naked” x-ray machines, though the young woman working there assured me theirs is different (read: less cancer-causing?) technology. After a 10-second scan (again, which feels exactly like an airport backscatter scan with its swoopy arm buzzing in front of me) I exit the booth and am shown a computer screen which lists various types of clothing. Touching each button category (jeans, sweaters, etc) brings up stores that may have clothes in my size.
As the Huffington Post notes, the free clothes sizing scan from Me-Ality comes at a cost. Not only is your information shared with retailers, Me-Ality also sells all of the data to researchers and marketers, since it “collects information about the precise heights, weights and body mass indexes of the shoppers who use it, from which it can also determine health risk factors.”
As far as we can tell, Jane Jetson never had her body mass index, email and zip code sold to market research folk. But welcome to the retail future.
March 14, 2013
This is the 21st in a 24-part series looking at every episode of “The Jetsons” TV show from the original 1962-63 season.
The 21st episode of “The Jetsons” originally aired on February 17, 1963 and was titled “TV or Not TV.”
Much like both “Elroy’s Pal,” and “Elroy’s TV Show,” this episode ostensibly gives viewers another look behind the scenes of television production. George and Astro are involved in a misunderstanding (isn’t that always the way?) where they think they’ve witnessed a robbery. In fact, it was just a TV shoot for “Naked Planet,” a spoof on the late 1950s ABC show “Naked City.” Thinking that mobsters want to snuff him out, George goes into hiding with Astro at Mr. Spacely’s vacation home in the woods.
That vacation home – Mr. Spacely’s “old fishing cabin” — is one of my favorite examples of Jetsonian architecture. Probably because the building bears a striking resemblance to the villain Vandamm ‘s hide-out in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 film North By Northwest.
Sadly, the home in North by Northwest is not a real house that you can visit, but was instead built on an MGM set.
Both the Jetsons version and the Hitchcock version have the signature of midcentury hyper-modernism or, as it came to be known, Googie: dramatic sloping roofs, plenty of glass, steel, maybe a little plastic, and some stone when you wanted a touch of that comfortable earthy flair.
Danny Graydon, author of The Jetsons: The Official Guide to the Cartoon Classic, has deemed the look “mid-21st century modern” — a play on the term “midcentury modern,” back when the century in question happened to be the 20th.
The architecture from “The Jetsons” clearly takes cues from architects who worked in the midcentury modern/Googie style, like John Lautner and Oscar Niemeyer. Jetsonian architecture also seems to draw from the work of Charles Schridde in his series of ads for Motorola in the early 1960s which ran in the Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine.
But as I pointed out in my post about Googie architecture from last year, the artists and animators working on “The Jetsons” didn’t really need to leave their own backyards for inspiration. The Hanna-Barbera Studio which produced “The Jetsons” was in Hollywood and in the late 1950s and early 1960s buildings all across Los Angeles had that mid-20th century modern look that would become identified as Jetsonian.
The people working at Hanna-Barbera could find inspiration at Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in Anaheim, dozens of Googie coffee shops in Southern California, and maybe the most iconic Googie building in L.A. (if only for its visibility to tourists), the Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport.
Another building which clearly inspired the architecture of the Jetsons universe was the Chemosphere. Designed by John Lautner and built in 1960, the home looks like it could take off into the sky like a flying saucer at any moment. The Chemosphere sits in the Hollywood Hills and has been an incredibly popular shooting location for films and TV shows that need a futuristic feel — including a 1964 episode of “The Outer Limits” set in the 21st century.
The architecture of the Jetsons is a reflection of the future, but even more so a reflection of that late-1950s and early 1960s Space Age design we so associate with the golden age of futurism. Well, someone’s golden age.
And just as we’ve seen mention of the Jetsons become a kind of shorthand way to talk about the technology of past futures, so too has “that Jetsons look” eclipsed Googie as the descriptor of choice for people talking about architecture from the futures that never were. People may think you’re saying Google, when you mean Googie. But fifty years after its debut, there’s no mistaking the Jetsons landscape.