Kathie Lee Gifford starred in a kooky 1970s Hanna-Barbera show that never aired
The Funny World of Fred and Bunni was one of many failed pilots from the studio in the 1970s.
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Image: The Everett Collection
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera are best known for bringing us beloved animated characters like Yogi Bear and Barney Rubble. The studio also broke barriers when it brought cartoons to primetime television, beginning with The Flintstones in 1960. But Hanna-Barbera dabbled in live-action programs, too.
The Saturday morning kings filmed series like Danger Island, Korg: 70,000 B.C. and Mystery Island (mysterious, dangerous islands are big with kids) to kick off weekends in the Sixties and Seventies. Hanna-Barbera crafted several adult-themed live-action shows for primetime, as well.
In the spring of 1978, the studio offered a variety show called The Hanna-Barbera Happy Hour. Maybe you caught one of its five episodes if you were a big NBC loyalist at the time.
Hanna-Barbera experimented with several other live-action pilots. Those you never saw. Because they never made it to air.
Rita Wilson, future wife of Tom Hanks, starred in The Beach Girls (1977). Sergeant T.K. Yu (1979) cast regular Tonight Show guest Johnny Yune as an action hero in a crime drama. Speaking of The Tonight Show, Ed McMahon partnered with Georgia Engel of The Mary Tyler Moore Show to host a series pitting America vs. The World (1979). All of them failed to become series.
Perhaps the wackiest of the batch was The Funny World of Fred and Bunni. The titular "Fred" was not Flintstone, rather Travalena, a singer-comedian known for his impressions of Beatles members, Elvis and Frank Sinatra.
The producers modeled Funny World after the routine of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. The song-and-banter duo lit up stages from the Atlantic to Las Vegas throughout the 1950s, performing standards like "That Old Black Magic." Prima and Smith eventually married.
John Travalena, on the other hand, would not partner with a spouse. Hanna-Barbera teamed him with a toon. The visionary mind of Iwao Takamoto, the artist who designed characters for Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, The Jetsons and Wacky Races, handled the creation of Bunni.
In his memoir, My Life with a Thousand Characters, Takamoto described Bunni as "a sexy young woman, who in the context of the show was supposed to be Fred's conscious." High-concept (and likely high-budget) stuff.
A young actress named Kathie Johnson landed the job of voicing Bunni. The relative newcomer was married to Paul Johnson at the time. Later, she married New York Giants great Frank Gifford. That's why you know her now as Kathie Lee Gifford.
While Gifford did not get to see her Bunni come to life for long, she soon got a gig on another show that could only exist in the 1970s — Hee Haw Honeys. This spin-off of the corn-pone comedy show was a "musical sitcom" set in a truck stop, and welcomed guests like the legendary Loretta Lynn.
They really don't make television like they used to.