14 October 2023

I Recapped the Meddling So You Don't Have To

My last two October slots delved into Shirley Jackson's A Haunting at Hill House and We Have Always Lived at the Castle. For this Halloween season, let's really go creeps and crawls. Let's talk Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

Scoob is everywhere these days. He's on Max and Tubi. He's in the cookie aisle, the t-shirt rack, the toy section. It's hard to remember that Scoob only got started as 25 Saturday morning episodes, in 1969 and 1970. The show was a hit, and Hanna-Barbera immediately set about expanding the franchise concept. Nothing clicks or brings the style like the original Scoob, though. 

Scoob almost didn't get started at all. The Hanna-Barbera writers pitched CBS the original concept as The Mysteries Five, inspired by the 1940s I Love a Mystery radio serial and Enid Blyton's Famous Five kid stories. That first pitch had a five-person Archies-style traveling rock group that solved supernatural-related mysteries. Their bongo-playing sheepdog was named Too Much.

It didn't fly. Neither did a second pass, Who's S-S-Scared?, floated after the fifth character, "Geoff," was cut to streamline the gang. Ah, Geoff, we never knew ya. Anyway, CBS thought the mock-ups were too scary. The execs already had a snoot-full of parent groups complaining that cartoons were too violent.

It was the third try that sold, with no rock band angle and Scooby-Doo as the dog. CBS exec Fred Silverman took the name from Frank Sinatra's scat closer to "Strangers in the Night," after hearing it on a red-eye flight to a production meeting. As things happened, "Fred" also replaced "Ronnie" as the leader guy. All four of this final gang were borrowed straight off Dobie Gillis

Original Scoob was in re-runs by when my Saturday mornings came around. I consider it a virtue that I've never outgrown this kind of good fun. And Scoob has something for the adult side, a surprisingly gothic vibe if you delve past those chase scene gags and improvised traps. Walter Peregoy, the Disney vet behind 101 Dalmatians, designed gorgeously bleak background paintings, blurred reality studies of fog and shadow and desolate places, in sharp juxtaposition to the gang's bright colors. Those hallway chase scenes pop because the place feels legit haunted. Even Velma is often creeped out that this ghost might be real. 

This is a crime blog, so let's talk the crimes in Original Scoob. Glorious, goofball crimes. Behind each supposed monster was the inevitable family treasure, land swindle, or hoax to scare away meddlers. Sometimes, the motive was just old-fashioned revenge. And each scheme was needlessly extravagant. Pay off a few locals, already. Why draw inevitable attention with the supernatural hoo-hah? 

In that spirit, I've analyzed Original Scoob's 25 monster hoaxes so that you don't have to.  

Meta-capers emerge. In classic Scoob, there's something of value in play or rumored to be nearby. Bluestone the Great, a washed-up magician, concocted a ghost scare while he searched Vasquez Castle for pirate treasure. No one else seemed to have the least interest in that lonely island, but hey, Bluestone does Bluestone. 

A lot of plain criming goes on in Original Scoob. The gang breaks up an art forgery operation (the Black Knight, aka Mr. Wickles the curator), counterfeiters (the Puppet Master, aka Mr. Pietro the theatre owner), a jewel theft ring (the Snow Ghost, aka Mr. Greenway the Inn owner and an appreciated hat tip to Sidney Greenstreet), and sheep rustlers (the Ghost Werewolf, aka, well, a sheep rustler). 

Yes, many of these monster-fakers are organized. How a crime organization decided on a cover so hard to maintain and so sure to draw curiosity need not be explained in the Scoobyverse. Still, no wonder they don't get away with it. 

But some of these schemes are downright clever, stuff you might see in crime fiction. Zeb and Zeke pose as a witch and zombie while they search the swamps for an armored car score they'd ditched there. Professor Wayne poses as a caveman to steal the rights to cutting-edge technology. Hank Buds the caretaker faked being the Miner Forty-Niner to scare the schlub of a ghost town owner into missing out on an undiscovered oil claim. 

The Scoob writers pulled a few nice switcheroos. The descendent of Dr. Jekyll confesses to the gang he might or might not be turning into a new Mr. Hyde, but it's head-casing. Jekyll dresses up as Hyde the jewel thief after he's failed at honest science. In a tweak of the formula, the gang and a phantom chase each other around a mansion over some lost family jewels. The phantom, though, turns out to be the rightful owner there looking for his property. Those knocking noises have been the other fake ghost we forgot was in Scene One. He's the real crook after those jewels.

There are a few proper ghost stories. Stewart Weatherby poses as the ghost of neighbor Elias Kingston to cheat Daphne's friend out of a fortune. The plot comes with spooky graveyards and disembodied voices and strange disappearances. 

Perhaps the most traditional ghost story hides inside one of the silliest episodes. The gang heads to bayou country--Southern goth--to collect Scoob's surprise inheritance from Colonel Beauregard. The Colonel's whole family has come for their shares, but the will has a catch: Whoever can survive the night in the haunted mansion gets the Colonel's money. Sure enough, family members start disappearing one-by-one.

Well, none of them were ghosts. 25 hoaxes out of 25 cases. Scoob and The Haunting Of Hill House have an overlay here. Way different audiences and methods, sure, but both explore how human minds can cope with the supernatural. Such things aren't even supernatural. Jackson's ghosts at Hill House were as much part of a natural order as you and I. We just don't have a scientific explanation for ghosts--yet. 

Dobie Gillis, AP 1960
In Scoob, that explanation comes and is pretty mundane. Hauntings are smoke and mirrors. 

Then again, Scoob and Shaggy did come across talking skulls and floating sandwiches that remain unconnected to the caper solution. Maybe the supernatural does exist in Original Scoob. Fine if so. Jackson would agree that humans do commit worse sins in this world than ghosts. 

Which is pretty deep, sure. You can ruin things through analysis. Not Scoob, though. Original Scoob's embrace of goofball makes it impervious to overthinking. The Rube Goldberg stuff and Scooby Snack bribes and those extravagant capers are pure fun, and those shadowy backdrops are pure art. There are a lot worse ways to spend October than to fire up Scoob and the gang. 


  1. I never was into Scoob, but hey... On the other hand I've read EVERYTHING by Shirley Jackson. And while she could and did scare the living crap out of you, (SPOILER ALERT!) it was always the toxic human mind that was working its will in the world. Who needs the devil (see her "The Devil in Salem Village") when you have people?

    1. Jackson's monsters were everyday people -- anybody had it in them.

  2. I meant "Witchcraft in Salem Village" by Shirley Jackson.

  3. Bob, my teen crime book Crime Club is indeed an homage to Scooby! Right down to two dogs (a frankenpoodle and a pug) who help solve the crime. I'm not sure kids who read it would see the comparison, but I'm sure you would. It's one of my top-sellers. And yes - these cartoons were just plain fun - I can enjoy them now too!


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