Animator Recalls Beatles Saturday Morning Cartoons, ‘Yellow Submarine'

Ron Campbell helped animate The Beatles cartoons and 'Yellow Submarine'

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WASHINGTON — Ron Campbell’s animation career was in full swing in 1964, with cartoon credits including Beetle Bailey and Krazy Kat, when the phone rang in the middle of the night.

“It was (producer) Al Brodax — he said ‘Ron, we’d like you to direct The Beatles TV cartoon show,'” said Campbell. “I said ‘that’s great, Al, but beetles make terrible characters for children’s cartoons, insects are awful.”

Brodax informed Campbell he was referring to the British pop sensations, who days earlier had performed on The Ed Sullivan Show, in front of an estimated 73 million Americans.

“I had heard their music on the radio, but not listening very closely,” Campbell recalled.

Within weeks, the cartoon series was in production.

“Al would send scripts, model sheets, the voice track, and the music track,” said Campbell. “I would do the storyboard, hire the necessary staff, monitor the work, and see that the production went smoothly all the way through.”

The weekly 18-minutes episodes, which aired in a 30-minute time slot on ABC, generally included two Beatles songs.

“Apart from (the music), their involvement in the show was absolute zero,” said Campbell.

Two voice actors portrayed the four band members.

Paul Frees, who had been the voice of Boris Badenov in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” series, was John and George. Lance Percival did the voices of Paul and Ringo.

Initially, the band didn’t like the cartoons.

“All I heard was hearsay,” said Campbell. “John was heard to have said ‘Oh, that’s Flintstones shit,’ not realizing how good The Flintstones actually were.”

Ironically, Campbell went on to play a role in The Flintstones series, too.

The show was a ratings success, and ran for four seasons.

Eventually, Broadax asked Campbell to help animate the 1968 animated comedy film, based on the music of The Beatles.

“I sent back pencil drawings, the studio in London did the ink and paint, shot them, and slipped the scenes into the film,” Campbell said.

Unlike earlier Beatles films — “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Help!” — John, Paul, George, and Ringo had little interest in participating in the movie.

“When they the film, they were quite surprised — I think they were expecting a low-budget production, like we were doing with the Saturday morning cartoon,” Campbell said. “Far from it, it was a very beautifully designed film.”

Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr made a cameo at the end of the movie.

“I guess they really liked it, as they decided to make an appearance at the end of the film, which was very good for the film,” Campbell said.

When he retired from the cartoon business, he decided to paint scenes from films he’s worked on, including The Smurfs, Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons.

Friday through Sunday, Campbell’s work will be on display, and for sale, at ArtInsights Animation and Film Gallery, in the Reston Town Center.

“I get to meet the audience that used to watch the cartoons I helped make, and sell my paintings,” Campbell said.

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