Saturday, October 8, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!”—Danny Janssen, producer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” (including list of interviewees).
What’s your background?

I come from a family of ten children. I don’t remember my parents arguing a single time. I’ve buried most of my family. There are four left. I’m the youngest. The oldest has been dead for years. If she was alive, she’d been 95. My oldest brother is 93 years old. He’s still alive. They left me with all kinds of wonderful, warm memories.

My background is quite different than anyone you’ve run into. I’d compare myself to Clive Davis or Billy Rose. He was a business guy who did music. In 1971, I made $11 million dollars and only $1.5 million of it was from music.

I was a master teacher in Chicago and California, which means I taught other people to teach. That’s as high as you can go without being a principal. The last year I was teaching school I was paying far more in taxes than I was earning.

I was a really good athlete. I was asked to play pro football in Canada. I’m too small for that.

We did 14 [TV] series. There was a time when I believe we were number one in all four time slots [on Saturday morning] and then we went on to do The Partridge Family, which was number one for five consecutive years. I have an honorary doctorate and it was given to me for some of the work that we’re talking about but other work, too.

What was your role on Scooby-Doo?

We wrote all the songs and produced them. I was the head producer.

1973 (from BMI Magazine)

How old were you at the time?

I was in my twenties. I think 27.

What was your business besides music?

A partner and I owned 23,000 acres of land in California.

How did you get involved with Scooby?

They asked me do the show. I wrote things like [sings] “C’mon, Get Happy” [for The Partridge Family]. You know it. There was a show called Josie and the Pussycats. I interviewed 68 girls and I picked three of them to be the main ones. One was Patrice Holloway; she [co-]wrote [sings] “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.” She was black. And no one had ever used a black person [for animation]. My dad was a minister. I was taught everybody is equal. I didn’t notice she was black. She was the best singer. Another girl picked by me you know as Cheryl Ladd. The third singer was operatic. Austin [Roberts] would know her name. He paid more attention to the women. [laughs]

When I picked Patrice, Hanna and Barbera called me down to the office. I didn’t need the money. I was a multi-millionaire before I walked in there. I was in my twenties. I might have had more money than either of them. They said good news and bad news: We’re going do the show but we can’t use Patrice because she’s black. I said I can’t do that because it’s against my religion. I can’t tell Patrice she can’t do it because she’s black. About three weeks later they called me down. I said, “You got a new show?” They said, “No, we’re going do Josie and the Pussycats.” I said, “Don’t do that to me. I won’t do it unless Patrice does it. Just paint the storyboard black.”

Did Patrice know what you did on her behalf?

Obviously, they were all there. I’m the one who didn’t realize what I was doing. I was just doing my job.

I mean did she know you threatened to walk off the project unless they hired her?

I don’t think Patrice knew I refused to work on the show unless she was hired. [Back to Scooby-Doo], I came down to do the first segment of Josie and I couldn’t get a place to park more than 2-3 blocks from the studio. I go in there and Elvis and all these others had sent over their bands. And the guy who was the fifth Beatle. Billy Preston. [NOTE: I didn’t get the connection between this last anecdote and the Josie story, but I left it in because it’s cool in and of itself.]

They liked Josie so much they wanted to do Scooby-Doo.

When we did Scooby, my friend who became the president of the union Local 44—we grew up together—he said I got a kid I want you to meet. His name’s Austin Roberts. He said Austin has a good commercial voice. He ended up singing the theme. Austin and I kind of rewrote that whole song for them. I don’t want to make fun of them but Hoyt Curtin and those guys wrote it. [NOTE: The songwriters of the original theme were David Mook and Ben Raleigh, though Hoyt Curtin wrote other Hanna-Barbera themes, including a later Scooby-Doo one.] It was a little flat. We were more commercial writers and gave that to them.

What did you think about the concept?

I enjoyed Scooby. I brought Austin in. I enjoyed children. The only thing I didn’t like—the dog. I wanted a more talkative dog. They had a bird that gets killed in the segment. I said let the bird go on. That became the Road Runner. [NOTE: I didn’t get the bird reference and Road Runner debuted in 1949; perhaps he was mixing up stories?]

You know why I did Scooby-Doo? You’ll never guess.


I had an awful lot of fun teaching kids. When I was going to leave teaching, 40 years ago, the principal of my school said I should also be a principal. I said I can’t. He said, “Will you promise me you won’t forget the children? You’re so good with them.” Every year ever since, I’ve done something for kids including series like Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby-Doo and The Partridge Family.

Do you have children?

I never could have children because I got hurt playing football. People [would say], “That must be great having all those gold records.” But then people said, “What are you doing for Christmas?”

What were [Scooby-Doo theme co-writers] David Mook and Ben Raleigh like?

Who was David Mook? I’ve heard the name David Mook, maybe from Austin. [NOTE: I told Danny who they were and he didn’t remember them but most likely because their paths never crossed; David and Ben had written the song before Danny became involved with the show.]

Did you also work with Larry Marks [who sang the theme for the first season]?

I don’t know Larry Marks.

Why was the theme rerecorded for season 2?

We were better. I don’t remember Larry Marks. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. I always thought the year we came there was the first year they did it, until you just said it. Part of it’s just my attitude. You got to believe in yourself. [NOTE: He then clarified that he means no disrespect to Larry Marks, whose version of the theme he was not familiar with.]

Did you have a favorite of those songs?

Not honestly, no. I have 478 songs out there. It’s hard for me to remember.

What are you doing these days?

It’s hard for me to explain to you in a minute or two so I won’t really try, but there’s been an industry trying to be built for the last 12 years and I’ve been watching it. It involves holograms and billboards. They asked me to help them build this Canadian corporation and I said I will if I can stay home. Once in a while I’ll go down to the studio. We do experimental things at malls. They do digital signage in the malls and the advertisers are concerned because they want guarantees of the exposure they’ll get a month.

So it’s a digital way to track or count customers in a mall?

Not track them. Not count them.

I’m not clear on just what you mean. Can you say what industry?

I don’t care to. I can tell you [when] we’re far enough along. The only people right now who can compete with us are guys like Steven Spielberg and he’s not looking to do it. I told [my business partners] I’d help build this company if they’d just leave me alone. [laughs]

I take care of a gal, Sheri, who used to be married to a guy in Supertramp. I traveled for almost two years with her husband. He was divorced from Sheri. They’d married way too young, at 17. They had a cute little boy. Now he looks Tom Cruise. The boy really liked me. He’d been living with his dad. He wanted me to meet his mother. I said alright. In 1992, at the restaurant at the Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, right when I was [walking to her table] to meet her, and I don’t remember this, I went into a coma for 11 days. It was a full-fledged heart attack. I actually died. Sheri got a fireman and policeman to give me mouth-to-mouth because 911 couldn’t get there in time. She saved me. She came to the hospital every day. She took care of me. She paid my bills. [Then] she came down with multiple sclerosis. We spent $40,000 to redo a room in my house for her. I’ve taken care of her for [the past] 18 years. She’s 58 now. She’s been bedridden for 6 years. She can’t walk anymore. She’s a friend, not my wife.

[NOTE: We had a side talk about this in which I said how touching I found both of their actions.]

What was your reaction when you heard why I was contacting you?

I didn’t think anything. Scooby-Doo to me is like playing football when I was a kid. I enjoyed it [but it was not a defining moment for me]. Our beach house was in the middle of [homes of] Ryan O’Neal, Bob Dylan, others. My ex-wife used to throw parties [when I got] gold records. There’d be over 100 people there. She was well-liked. [Meanwhile] I’d be in the back room working on something else. I was never a social guy. I got a letter from Lastrada [Entertainment] about you. Sometimes it takes me a year to get to things. [NOTE: Lastrada was one of the companies I had contacted to try to reach Danny, though ultimately I got to him another way.]

Have you been contacted before for an interview about Scooby?

No. My biggest fear is you say something to somebody and it comes in backwards. Somebody wrote I was the first to bring blacks into animation. But I wasn’t a fighter. I liked Hanna and Barbera. I just had a different philosophy of life.

Have you heard from Scooby fans?

People occasionally want me to meet their kids for having done Scooby. When I got the honorary doctorate…I hate giving a speech. I look in the mirror and say, “Did you do all those things?” Truth: I didn’t do any of them. God did them through me.

From which university did you receive the doctorate?

One of the Concordias. In St. Paul, Minnesota. I spoke at the graduation in 1995 [May 27]. When I [was a student] there, it was just a small school. I went there for junior college. I went on to another school. I wanted to learn music.

Do you have any personal notes, letters, contract, etc. related to your Scooby work?

My next statement is going to come back to haunt me. [Scooby-Doo] just wasn’t a big enough deal to me. I did it because I loved kids. I never realized they’d be sending me money 41 years later. I’m sure there’s stuff out in the garage. All kinds of articles.

Are you still in touch with any of the people you worked with in music in the early 1970s, like Patrice Holloway or the Partridge Family cast?

Not even with Austin Roberts and I gave him his first gold record. [laughs] But he calls me and I return his calls.

How are you feeling these days?

My heart stopped and I died in 1992. I have an enlarged heart. My religion would not let me get a heart transplant or take any medication. The last operation I had was on January 10, 2000. Most people didn’t make it through the operation but I’m still here. I exercise every day.

[I asked for a “then” and “now” photo and later, after he’d sent them, he said the following]

I never let anyone take a picture of me. There’s a personal reason for that. I was brought up with a lot of Mafia guys. I didn’t want them to know what I was doing. When a friend heard I was sending you photos, he said “Boy, have you changed!”

Danny Janssen now

Anything you’d like to add?

In 1970, Bobby Engemann—[onetime] lead singer of The Letterman and one of the nicest guys I ever met—said I was one of a group of only 10 people who had written more than one gold record by himself. It’s been a really fun life. A line I wrote for the closing of a Christmas show was the most meaningful thing I ever wrote: “I wish people all around the world would have as much as me.”

Next: Rose Marie Mook and Nick Mook, widow and son of theme co-writer David Mook.


normajean39 said...

Hi Danny,

You're looking very well. Sorry to read of your health issues, but you seem to have weathered them well.

We met during the summer of '58 and had great fun for a brief time. You were teaching school and launching your career in music. I was a student at Concordia R.F. Those days seem to be a life-time ago.

Best wishes for continued success and good health.

Norma Bragenzer Speckhard

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr Jassen,

I always have known you as Mr Jassen since you were my teacher in the 4th grade at Haynes Street School in the West Valley back in 1967. You also taught my older brother and sister, Bob and Ann. You were by far the best teacher I ever had! I can still remember you playing "Waltzing Matilda" on your Zither! Bravo for your stand with Hannah Barbera and insisting the best person for the job was chosen!! When I read that I got goose bumps!

Thank you for what you gave us!

David Goodell

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

How lovely, David and Norma. I've passed on both of your messages to Danny. What a testament to him that you both have a fond memory of him AND took the time to share it. Come on get happy indeed.

David said...

Hi Mr. Jansen,

I'm Bob and Carol Hanneman's son. You look well and they are both doing great! He still talks about visiting you in LA back in the day..Kind regards,

ruhypnotized said...


I will always fondly remember our times together at the Penthouse and out at restaurants. I lost track of you when you moved to Westlake, and I moved back to Boston to care for my Mom till she passed...I live in Las Vegas now. Hope they will pass this on to you...Would love to get an e-mail from you and Myrna...Happiest of Holidays to you...

Richard Anthony (Sullo)

James Cressey said...

Hi Danny could you be talking about Something's wrong with me performed by Austin Roberts that you co wrote with Bobby Hart?

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Janssen,
I have the plack you made for me on my office wall. I only new you as a person who needed my help in the hotel restaurant in 1992. I'm very pleased to have come across this post and see that you are doing well. I am also pleased to read that you are lending such help to others who need assistance. This is what being a Good American is about!
God Bless you!

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Janssen,
I have the plack you made for me on my office wall. I only new you as a person who needed my help in the hotel restaurant in 1992. I'm very pleased to have come across this post and see that you are doing well. I am also pleased to read that you are lending such help to others who need assistance. This is what being a Good American is about!
God Bless you!

goplad1 said...

Hi Danny,

I found an acetate record of the song "Road Runner" that was used in two episodes of Josie & The Pussycats. This version, however, sounds like young children singing the song. The disc has no labels so I cannot identify who is singing. Do you have any idea who this might be? I'd appreciate your input.
Doug Leftwich

pauline lomas said...

Hi Danny, Not sure how I found this post but glad to see you are still going strong.... We had a year together in Hollywood....The penthouse, the limousine, chauffeur... You gave me glamour and fun times...... You producing PJ and Bobby..... I went on to work with Clint and Meryl on Bridges of Madison County.... I was the voice of Alicia masters in the fantastic four series.... 1995.......I came back to the UK and Spain.... Have written 2 books..... About my journey with breast cancer.... I was very moved to hear how you care for the friend with Ms..... Life brings it's challenges alright.... And I guess we are the survivors after all.... Much happiness and good health Pauline

Curt Voelkel said...

Heh Danny I was the keyboard player for Bill Nash in Houston. When I met you, you were kind enough to ask me if I would like to record a Stevie Wonder song you heard me play and sing. I think I gracefully said "I ain't touching that!"...haha...wish you well!

Unknown said...

Hello Danny- I'm Art Ahlschwede's youngest daughter. I hope you are doing well. My parent's were always so appreciative of hearing from you. And they loved their visits with you when they were in California.

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