Did an Abbott and Costello movie provide the template for Scooby Doo’s mystery stories?

The early 70’s cartoon show Scooby Doo, Where Are You! was a big part of my childhood entertainment. I never tired of its tried and tested story template:

Scooby and his 4 friends would be passing through a town; they encounter a supernatural phenomenon and decide to investigate, during which they individually or collectively have encounters with the ghost/ creature/ monster; they eventually use their collective ingenuity to reveal that the phenomenon was a hoax being used to hide some sort of criminal enterprise. Each of the 5 characters played a clearly defined role – Fred was handsome and heroic, Velma was the nerdy, intelligent type, Daphne was…well, just good looking and would end up frequently in a damsel-in-distress situation, Shaggy and Scooby mostly just wanted to eat a lot and stay clear of danger, although Scooby saved the day on most occasions through some inadvertent act of bravery.

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This formula worked so well that Scooby Doo became an iconic character for Hanna-Barbera productions and the CBS network, staying on screen for another 30 odd years through spin-offs, movies, reruns, crossovers and reboots.

Earlier this week, I was catching up on another one of my childhood favorites, the comedy duo of Abbott and Costello. I had seen a couple of their movies as a kid and was a big fan of the 5 minute Abbott and Costello cartoons (Hanna-Barbera produced 156 of these short cartoons in the late 60’s after Costello’s death) After re-watching one of their biggest hits Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, I decided to check out some films of theirs that I hadn’t yet seen; the first one that I picked was another comedy-horror film, 1941’s highly regarded Hold That Ghost.

Half way through Hold That Ghost, it suddenly struck me that I was watching a virtual template of a Scooby Doo episode – Five acquaintances are stuck on a rainy night in a house that appeared to be haunted…a dead body that appeared and disappeared, hidden rooms and closets, spooky sounds, etc. But most of all, the characters themselves seemed to closely mirror the 5 friends from Scooby Doo…Abbott and Costello were clearly the Shaggy and Scooby duo, Richard Carlson (extreme left) is the ‘Fred’ equivalent as heroic, handsome and intelligent Dr. Jackson, comedic actress Joan Davis (2nd from right) is the ‘Velma’ character – intelligent but not particularly brave, Evelyn Ankers (2nd from left) was the pretty damsel-in-distress, the ‘Daphne’ character.

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I found it almost uncanny how well this movie seemed to be the template for the Scooby Doo show, although strangely I have not found a single online reference or acknowledgement of the similarities in characters and plot devices. Given that Hanna-Barbera would have researched all the A & C movies in detail while producing those 5 minute shorts in 1967-68, it is not unthinkable that Hold That Ghost would have influenced both the narrative and character templates of Scooby Doo, Where Are You! just a year later. This would have been a much tougher stunt to pull in today’s age of corporate lawyers and IP rights protection!

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