|Mark Hamill voiced Corey in the |
Hanna-Barbera cartoon Jeannie
How the animated series Jeannie introduced children to Mark Hamill
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.
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 |
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.”
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
|Corey (Mark Hamill) and Jeannie|
(Julie McWhirter) in Jeannie
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.