Much-loved writer and animation icon Ken Spears has passed away aged 82. The news comes just months after the death of creative partner Joe Ruby. Together they brought the world Scooby-Doo and his ghost-hunting pals.
Introduced in 1969, Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne chased spooks and entertained generations of children on Saturday mornings. The villains were typically human wrongdoers pretending to be spirits. An oft-quoted line from the series is “I’d have gotten away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids!”
The original run was called ‘Scooby Doo, Where Are You!’, complete with super catchy theme tune. Lasting 25 episodes, the initial inspiration came from CBS exec Fred Silverman. He reportedly asked animation giants William Hanna and Joseph Barbera for a show about a band who double as teen detectives.
Spears had worked for Hanna-Barbera since 1959, starting in the sound department. Born in Los Angeles 1938, he had animation on his mind from an early age. His pal’s father was none other than William Hanna.
By the end of the Sixties Spears was on script duties. He and Ruby crossed paths, and the rest is history. Scooby-Doo stalwart Freddy is named after Fred Silverman. Scooby himself was originally called “Too Much” and took the form of a sheepdog! His name was taken from ‘Strangers In The Night’, the Frank Sinatra classic.
When the end product finally emerged, the creators weren’t hopeful. “It was up against ‘The Hardy Boys’ on NBC and we thought we’d get clobbered in the ratings” Spears told website Scooby Addicts.
Ruby and Spears needn’t have worried. The franchise continues to this day, with animated series, comic books, games and live action movies. The intrepid investigators met Batman and Robin, and even Sherlock Holmes. They even have their own food stuff – those legendary Scooby Snacks!
This year computer-animated film ‘Scoob!’ received a limited release owing to the pandemic. Series veteran and well-known voice artist Frank Welker played the title role, with Will Forte as Shaggy, Zac Efron as Fred, Gina Rodriguez as Velma and Amanda Seyfried as Daphne.
‘Scoob!’ also brought in other Hanna Barbera characters, such as Dick Dastardly and Captain Caveman. Ken Keong took the role of Dynomutt the Dog Wonder, another creation of Joe Ruby and Ken Spears.
Spears and partner maintained their association with the Mystery Machine over the years. The format has remained largely the same, though the characters have been tweaked and new elements added. According to the Scooby Addicts interview, Ken and Joe were not fans of Scooby’s punchy little nephew Scrappy-Doo.
In 1977 Ruby-Spears Productions opened for business. As well as Scoob and the gang, other output included ‘The Plastic Man Comedy-Adventure Hour’ (1979 – 81), ‘Mister T’ (1983 – 86) and most notably ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks’ throughout the Eighties.
Spears was nominated for a Daytime Emmy four times. He passed away due to complications with Lewy body dementia. In a statement published by Variety, Kevin Spears paid tribute to his father’s “wit, his story-telling, his loyalty to family, and his strong work ethic”.
As reported by Variety, his sons are Kevin and Chris. Brothers and sisters are Victor, Steven, Sharon and Sue Ellen. Spears had 8 grandchildren and great grandchildren!
The official Scooby-Doo Instagram account writes: “Thank you, Ken Spears, for co-creating a classic animated series that continues to impact generations.”
Sam Register, president of Warner Bros, said: “You cannot find a screen in the world that has not played a version of Scooby-Doo. We continue to be inspired by his work at Warner Bros.”
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Ken Spears helped shape the landscape of family entertainment in a unique way. His line-drawn creations were brought to life with love and care. They’ll be enjoyed for many more generations to come. RIP.