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Friday, 22 April 2016

Mark Hamill before Star Wars: the Hanna-Barbera series Jeannie


Mark Hamill voiced Corey in the
Hanna-Barbera cartoon Jeannie


How the animated series Jeannie introduced children to Mark Hamill


Back in 1977, which Star Wars performer was the best-known?

It would have been quite an easy question for adults to answer, since it would just have involved a toss-up between Peter Cushing and Sir Alec Guinness. But not so for children.

Alec Guinness, long and distinguished as his career was, would not necessarily have been known by an average ten-year-old in the 1970s. His Oscar for Bridge on the River Kwai, his slew of great Ealing comedies and his distinguished stage experience would have counted for little to a ten-year-old. Certainly, I don’t remember being aware of him at the time I saw Star Wars.

If Guinness brought some critical kudos to the film, Peter Cushing added some genre star power. But while he had plenty of loyal fans, not many of them would have been children. It had been more than a decade since his two film outings as Doctor Who, and his family science fiction movie At the Earth’s Core, released the year before Star Wars, was no blockbuster.

Carrie Fisher was the daughter of Sid Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, but as a child I would have had little idea who they were, and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to see Carrie’s film debut, a tiny role, complete with F-word, opposite Warren Beatty in Shampoo.

Harrison Ford had been acting for almost a decade, but his films – including George Lucas’s American Graffiti and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation – would not have registered with kids.

Mark Hamill around
the time of Jeannie
So, Guinness had his Oscar. Cushing had his fan following. Fisher had her famous parents. Ford had some film experience. But Mark Hamill had something that none of them did. He had done a Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

In the 1970s, the Hanna-Barbera animation studio was pretty much the dominant force in children’s television – and Hamill had been the leading male voice in its series Jeannie, which ran from 1973-74. I can’t say I knew Hamill’s name before Star Wars, but when I read that he had been in Jeannie, I instantly recalled his voice from that show.


Jeannie and Babu in
Hanna-Barbera's Jeannie
Like a few other cartoons of the era, Jeannie was based on a live action show, the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. In Hanna-Barbera’s version, Hamill voiced a surfing teenager called Corey Anders, who discovers a magic lamp, out of which spring the 2,000 year old genie Jeannie (Julie McWhirter) and a bumbling junior genie, Babu (Joe Besser).








Jeannie was never going to make anyone at Walt Disney feel they had been outclassed. It has a lot of the hallmarks of the more mediocre cartoons of the time: animation that sometimes barely moves; laboured comedy; and an annoying laugh track. But it entertained kids like me on Saturday mornings in the 1970s, along with some other almost-forgotten Hanna-Barbera productions such as Speed Buggy and Motormouse and Autocat. In fact, researching this post, I was reminded how funny I used to find the incompetent Babu and his catch phrase “Yapple dapple.”


Corey (Mark Hamill) and Jeannie
(Julie McWhirter) in Jeannie
Jeannie was not necessarily the biggest thing on Hamill’s list of credits before Star Wars. As well as brief roles in The Bill Cosby Show and General Hospital, he had been in a number of TV films, including Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic. And he even gained his first film credit before Star Wars, the Ralph Bakshi animation Wizards. But it was the credit that meant something to a very young audience, and it interestingly prefigures Hamill’s acclaimed post-Star Wars work  as a voice actor.

I don’t know how many people remember Jeannie today. I have a large tome on Hanna-Barbera in which it only rates a mention in a checklist at the end. But few television shows are entirely lost these days, and Jeannie lives on via YouTube. You can see some complete episodes, or just see the title sequence, in which Mark Hamill sings the theme song. Watch it if you dare.





Do you remember watching Jeannie? Where else had you come across the cast of Star Wars before you saw the film? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.




3 comments:

Rory Cobb said...

We went to the movies a lot when I was a kid. I had seen Guinness the year before as the blind butler Bensonmum in Murder by Death, and earlier as Marley's Ghost in a re-release of Scrooge. However he was sans beard and toupee in both those films, so I did not recognize him as Obi Wan. I watched Jeannie when it was on, and loved it (I don't know if I'd feel the same way today), but of course didn't recognize the voice of Mark Hamill.
One actor I was sure was in Star Wars was Roddy McDowall. I was a huge fan of t he Apes movies (they were shown every summer in Chicago on channel 32's 3:30 movie). I was convinced he was the voice of C-3PO (voice, because before I saw the movie, my brother and I were equally convinced 3PO was a marionette, based on the previews). Obviously I was wrong on both counts.
I remember standing outside of the theatre waiting to go in. I asked the usher (who was probably 15) if he knew if Roddy McDowall was in the movie. I couldn't believe when I said he didn't know. You work here don't you, I thought- what do you mean you don't know? Isn't that your job? If I only knew then...

Darren Slade said...

Thanks Rory. Guinness was hilarious in Murder By Death - and he said it was that film's director, Robert Moore, who knew George Lucas's name and urged him to read the script of Star Wars when Guinness was inclined to ignore it. As you say, he looks strikingly different in those films from the way he does in Star Wars.
Like you, I was a big fan of the Apes franchise (especially the TV series) and I can see why you thought Roddy McDowall was the voice of C-3PO. I'd never thought of it before, but there is a certain prissiness which about both performances.
Love the story about you asking the usher about the film. Did you think to yourself: "I know more about movies than this guy; I should work here and see movies for free"?

Anonymous said...

Yes! Exactly!