Taking a page from one of my favorite blogs, Yowp: Stuff About Early Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, I thought I would start presenting various odds and ends I have dug up while combing through various online newspaper archives. I have come across a few odd, interesting (to me, at least) and forgotten footnotes in Looney Tunes history. For instance, did you know of Bugs Bunny's failed attempt to break into the themed-restaurant business in the early 1980's (a la Chuck E. Cheese)? Neither did I.
From December 4, 1983:
Restaurants serve up Mel Blanc characters
By Vernon Scott
United Press International
HOLLYWOOD --- If your town doesn't have a Gadgets restaurant, chances are it will within the next year or two, offering an entirely new entertainment program along with steaks, hamburgers and pizzas.
Gadgets is a newly designed national franchise outfit involving Warner Bros. and other corporations with plans for a string of 150 eateries around the country.
So far only Springfield, Ohio and Baltimore have Gadgets in full operation.
What distinguishes Gadgets from other chain restaurants, Howard Johnson for instance, is the entertainment factor.
Diners at Gadgets will see a completely automated 20-minute show every half hour or so featuring 8-foot robots with pre-recorded dialogue and songs.
But the robots are very special and familiar characters indeed: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Tweety Bird and Sylvester, Henery Hawk, Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil and other wackos from the Warner Bros. cartoon factory.
Those who have visited Disneyland are familiar with the autoanimatronics shows featured in the "America Sings" attractions at both theme parks. Gadgets' figures and shows might be compared to them.
The dialogue and music, including close harmony, were recorded by Mel Blanc, who has given voice to movie and TV animated cartoons for more than 45 years.
"Every restaurant will have 50 different entertainment programs, so there won't be a lot of repetition," Blanc said the other day.
What happened? I won't post the full text here (you can find it via this link), but an article the following July in Nation's Restaurant News painted a much less rosy picture about the Gadgets chain. There was behind-the-scene turmoil and high costs were rapidly killing the few existing locations.
Because of high development costs and demographics, Gadgets has altered its original concept of combining the ambience of an eating places and lounge for young adults with a family restaurant that features robotic cartoon characters on a stage. The new concept, Gadgets Cafe, is smaller and does not have the Looney Tunes show. Executives say the original concept will be used primarily as a growth vehicle overseas.
The cafe concept was rolled out because of space limitations, investment costs and demographics. Some locations were just not large enough to contain the separate dining rooms that feature the stage shows. And in some markets the demographic base was not families with young children--the prime market for the dinner with Looney Tunes--but young adults who preferred a bar atmosphere with current music.
Even in the full-sized Gadgets units, the stage shows have been reduced in frequency to just two to three hours a day. This indicates the trend away from robotics in Gadgets as well as in other restaurant chains.
Gadgets began growing at a time when the interest in computerized animated shows in restaurants was going strong. Most of the companies that were doing well were pizza chains like Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theater and Showbiz Pizza Place, which have suffered great financial difficulties since then.
A search of the web didn't turn up anything else on Gadgets. No blurry photos of the giant robotic Looney Tunes characters, no fuzzy childhood memories posted on nostalgia-themed blogs. It sounds like they really put Mel to work on this idea, and it's a shame that a treasure-trove of audio of Blanc as the LT characters is now probably lost to the ages. If anyone has any more information, photos, etc of this short-lived venture leave us a comment or shoot us an e-mail at looneyblog ---at--- yahoo [dot] com.