It began with Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. Scooby-Doo helped, too.
The year was 1977 and Andy Heyward was in his early 20s working his first real job. Never mind that the job consisted entirely of sweeping out a warehouse and getting his boss sandwiches at the nearby deli. His boss was Joseph Barbera who with William Hanna was essentially the entire cartoon industry at the time. The Flintstones, Jetsons, Tom and Jerry, the list goes on and on. And in Hollywood, if you can handle a broom better than anyone else and order a sandwich for your boss with just the right amount of mustard, mayo, crushed pickles or any other desire, you get noticed.
Working up a zillion pitches helps too, even if none of them gets past the secretary. It means you will be ready when that rare moment arrives and for a brief second it is your opinion, not how you handle a dustbin, that matters.
As Mr. Heyward told it on a sunny afternoon at his home in Katama overlooking the Edgartown harbor, one year Mr. Barbera sold more shows than he could handle himself. “He had the entire Saturday morning of CBS, the entire Saturday morning of NBC, the entire Saturday morning of ABC,” Mr. Heyward said. “He grabbed me that year and said, okay kid, you’re going to work with me this year.”
Working with was a bit of an exaggeration. “He would come in and dictate the script to me,” Mr. Heyward continued. “This is what we’re going to do. Take Yogi and he will go here and Boo Boo will go there and he would tell the whole story and say put it together and I’ll see you on Friday. I’d come back on Friday and talk him through the script and he’d say it’s all wrong. No, no let me tell you how it’s supposed to be and he’d give me a completely different story.”
But soon Mr. Heyward got in sync with his inner Boo Boo. The first series he wrote himself was Yogi’s All Star Laugh Olympics, “a battle of all the Hanna-Barbera stars in animated sports events.” He never looked back, writing scripts for Scooby-Doo, Muttley, Snagglepuss, and many of the other cartoon characters on the Hanna-Barbera slate. He stayed with the company for five years and then moved out on his own. The first series he created with his new company was The Littles which was bought by SQuire Rushnell, who at that time was running Saturday morning television for ABC — the two men recently became re-acquainted as residents of Edgartown after a nearly 30-year hiatus. Mr. Heyward would go on to create such iconic animated series as Inspector Gadget and Carmen Sandiego.
Today, as a writer and producer of projects with his wife Amy, Mr. Heyward, 64, is still motivated by entertaining children. But the projects he creates now almost all come under the heading of “content with a purpose.”
In 1990 he teamed up with Ted Turner to produce Captain Planet.
“Ted Turner had an idea that he was going to save the environment by starting with kids and teaching them environmental lessons and the way to do it was with an environmental superhero,” Mr. Heyward said. “So he had this idea called Captain Planet. He kind of threw it out there in Hollywood and I was fortunate and got the gig. I could regale you with Ted Turner stories for years because he is so larger than life. He would call me at 6 a.m. and say Andy, I’m here in Los Angeles and we just lost 12,000 acres of the rain forest in the last six minutes, you guys have to go faster â¨. . . I’m going to call my friend Gorbachev up. They’ve got the Red Army, they’ve got nothing to do anymore, were going to get them involved in this.”
A more recent series was the result of a marital interception.
During his injured season a few years ago, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady came up with an idea for an animated series to promote health and exercise. His manager called Mr. Heyward to pitch him the idea.
“Amy is from Boston so I said okay, do you want to meet Tom Brady and she was already in the car,” Mr. Heyward said. “So we drive to his house and I didn’t know who Gisele [Mr. Brady’s supermodel wife] was at the time. We get to the house and this woman answers the door, she has no makeup on, she’s in a sweatsuit, she’s very plain and she has this little baby in her arms and she opens the door and she kisses us on the cheek and says can I get you a latte or something. I say to Amy, don’t you think it’s a little familiar for the nanny to be kissing us and Amy says, you dummy, that’s Gisele.” Before Mr. Brady had made it downstairs, he had lost a bit of speed due to the injury, Gisele had pitched her idea of supermodel by day, superhero protector of the environment by night and Tom was once again on the sidelines.
This summer Amy and Andy published a book with Warren Buffet entitled the Secret Millionaires Club, a companion to their series of the same name. The show features Mr. Buffet, doing his own vocal work, advising a group of kids as they embark on financial adventures. The show does not try to teach kids how to read a balance sheet or even get rich. Rather, it imparts life lessons.
“Warren is kind of like Mark Twain, very witty and very wise,” Mr. Heyward said. “He just wants to provide some of the lessons he has learned in his life and if it serves them in business as well, that would be wonderful.”
The show has an annual contest called Grow Your Own Business Challenge, beginning in October, which Vineyard kids can take part in.
“It’s kind of like a science fair but for businesses,” Amy Heyward said. “We have thousands of kids from all over the country enter and then we bring the finalists to Omaha and they present to Warren.”
“Last year it was in over a hundred thousand third through sixth grade classrooms,” Mr. Heyward said.
Essentially, kids think up a business idea, either by themselves or in a group, as part of a school project or on their own, and present what they plan to do or, in some cases, show how the business actually fared.
“We’ve done two and are getting ready to start the third one,” Mrs. Heyward said. “We usually start it in October and then accept entries until January. And then we have a whole judging panel comprised of teachers and people who run youth groups and people from business. And then we whittle it down and bring the top proposals to Omaha.”
Mr. Buffet was so impressed with the top contenders the past two years that he gave the students and their teachers 10 shares of Berkshire Hathaway stock each — trading these days at about $115 a share.
To get involved, go to the website smclearnandearn.com.
The Heywards live in Los Angeles but spend about four months each year living and working on the Vineyard, Andy focusing on the creative aspects of the company and Amy, who was once the director of global marketing for McDonalds, on the business side of things. The couple met while discussing Happy Meal promotions.
They were introduced to the Island by Walter Cronkite who played the voice of Benjamin Franklin for their series Liberty’s Kids. That series told the story of the American Revolution through a group of kids who were apprentices to Benjamin Franklin. At first they couldn’t get anyone in Hollywood interested in doing voiceovers for the series. All the talent agencies told the Heywards that stars didn’t do animation. But once Mr. Cronkite came on board, everyone wanted to be a part of it, including Michael Douglas and Liam Neeson.
“Sylvester Stallone played Paul Revere,” Mr. Heyward added. “Yo, the British are coming. He did a great job. He came to the recording session and he had done so much scholarly research he knew everything there was to know about Paul Revere. He wanted to recreate the ride, too.”
When asked what has made him so successful as a writer and producer of animated shows for kids, both Mr. and Mrs. Heyward don’t hesitate.
“Because I’m very immature,” Mr. Heyward said.
“He’s a kid,” agreed Mrs. Heyward.
And indeed there is a childlike glee about Mr. Heyward. In their kitchen, directly over the breakfast table, is the Wheel of Dare. The spinning wheel contains some 30 or so dares written by kids who have visited the house, everything from You Have to Jump in the Pool Now, to You Have to Make a Prank Phone Call. The Wheel of Dare is used often.
And out back is an observatory with a telescope able to see four billion light years away. It is also the place Mr. Heyward puts on shows for kids. The observatory moves and shakes while Mr. Heyward tells stories and imparts facts about stars and space, often dressed as Darth Vader while the Bee Gees play in the background or Walter Cronkite narrates the landing on the moon. Mr. Heyward puts a bit of fear and wonder into the moment by setting the stage, literally, for an alien invasion. There is a landing pad nearby where an alien sits in a lounge chair. The space creature appears to have landed at the Wharf Pub first, though, as it looks a bit down and out, asleep with an empty wine bottle by its side. Space travel can be so stressful.
Immaturity, although perhaps essential to the business of knowing how to entertain kids, is just part of the puzzle, though. The main ingredient Mr. Heyward seems to have retained from never growing old is an infectious optimism. Life, in all its wonder, is just too magical to tarnish with negativity. That and the old credo everyone learns at kindergarten circle time but somewhere along the way most forget. Every stranger is just another friendship waiting to happen.