Review by KC Carlson
In preparation for watching this excellent idea for a cartoon set, I made sure I went to bed the night before wearing my footie pajamas (the ones with the penguins), got up really really early, trudged downstairs with my blanket and pillow in the dark to spread out on the floor in front of the TV, made myself a big bowl of cereal (Rats! No Fruit Loops or Cocoa Krispies!) — making sure to bring the box and milk for seconds (or thirds) — and settled in for a full Saturday morning of solid cartoon fun, over five hours’ worth, spread over two DVDs.
Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1960s Volume 1 was actually a whole lot of fun and highly recommended for all you grown-up kids who remember the concept of Saturday morning cartoons very well. And it will be fun for your kids, too, as long as you share it with them, because there’s occasionally an un-PC moment and a few cartoons that some parents might think are a mite too violent for some kids.
If I could nitpick for just a moment … in a more perfect world, where various corporations might be able to cooperate on a fun project like this, I would have hoped for a few non-Warner owned shows, just to make it a more rounded package. Jay Ward’s great shows (Rocky and Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, and the long-missing Hoppity Hooper) would have been fun. As would a little Underdog or Go-Go Gophers (sadly not very PC), or some obscurities like Milton the Monster or Cool McCool or The Mighty Heroes, or even some oldies like Mighty Mouse or Casper or The Alvin Show (with Clyde Crashcup — yeah!) or even the long-missing first HB show Ruff and Ready! And I would have started off with just a little bit of of non-cartoon Captain Kangaroo (or at least Tom Terrific or Lariat Sam — which I haven’t seen in forever!).
And, I realize that this is probably ridiculous, but wouldn’t it have been cool to include a few (not too many) actual vintage commercials from the era, especially the cartoony ones like Captain Crunch or Sugar Crisps (go Sugar Bear!) or Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes (“They’re GRRRREAT!”) or even Maypo? Or ads for classic toys: G.I. Joe, Barbie, Hot Wheels or games or Cracker Jacks or Funny Face drink mix or… well, you get the idea.
Not that every thing here isn’t great — mostly, it is — but what fun it would have been to have the total Saturday kid package! Ah, impossible dreams!
Anyway, one last caveat for the animation collector before we get rolling. There’s an on-screen disclaimer that some of the material isn’t quite up to snuff quality-wise. Not everything here has been remastered, and some elements like lead-ins to cartoons may be missing (or may not — my memory isn’t that good). There are a couple of things here that have a little dirt, or some dubious sound. I don’t think there’s much — and what there is isn’t too distracting — but I tend to fall on the side of rather seeing something (even if not perfect) than nothing at all. But if you are the type who is bothered by these kinds of imperfections, you might want to give this a pass, rather than spending the rest of your days complaining about it. It’s just not the type of project that’s worth spending a ton of money over getting remastered (but when it comes to Complete Season sets — that’s another matter!)
So, for all the rest of you, off we go!
The Origins of Saturday Morning Cartoons
How did Saturday morning cartoons work? Well, close your eyes and imagine a pre-cable world where only three broadcast networks existed. (And if you lived in certain rural areas of the country, you might have only been able to receive one or two stations!) Because there were so few stations, all the networks had to design daily programming schedules able to suit everybody and programs designed for certain specialty groups (kids, housewives, sports fans, etc.) all had to co-exist with each other. So programmers had to figure out when the best times were to reach these specialty groups. Housewives enjoyed soap operas, so those were quickly organized into daytime programming (when husbands were away working) and preferably in the afternoons so that the wives could kick back and relax a little with their “stories” after completing the daily wifely duties. Sports programming usually took place on the weekends (or were time delayed) when sports fans (mostly men) were available to watch. And some bright programmer realized that Saturday mornings were useless for programming for adults (who probably wanted to sleep in anyway), so why not devote that time especially for kids? And thus, Saturday mornings became the place where TV fulfilled that most important role of video baby-sitter (keeping junior and sis occupied long enough for the parents to grab a few extra winks… or something… before staggering awake after a tough week).
At first, Saturday morning was the haven for such live-action entertainment such as puppets or clowns or cartoonists or singers or dancers or pie-throwers or whatever one could think of to entertain the kids. And cowboys. And aviators. And more puppets. Occasionally, there was the rare cartoon show, but they were all recycled theatrical cartoons — didn’t matter to us! We hadn’t seen ‘em before, most likely. Eventually, somebody (Hanna and Barbera) realized that there was going to be a need for new cartoons for TV, and if one could figure out how to animate them cheaply, they would rule Saturday mornings. That’s how Bill and Joe got to be the Kings of Saturday mornings.
Hanna-Barbera: The Kings of Saturday Morning
It’s probably no surprise that about 90% of the stuff here is from the Hanna-Barbera studios. HB were, after all, the Kings of TV cartoons (as well as the limited animation that was a financial necessity to make shows on TV budgets). HB was well known for a lot of things — great design and layout, top-of-the-line voice acting, fantastic sound effects, superb writing (at least in the early days), and the uncanny ability to come up with dozens of memorable characters. It’s really no secret that HB had a tendency to “borrow” concepts from elsewhere, or to base a character’s voice and personality on an existing actor or comedian. (I’ll talk about a few below). It’s also no surprise that many of the great HB vocal artists were also talented character actors who pop up from time to time in TV shows or movies. Hanna Barbera characters are popular and well-known around the world — even if many of them are over 50 years old.
It’s also kind of surprising how many of the cartoon shows on Saturday Morning Cartoons (SMC) didn’t actually originate on Saturday mornings at all! Many of the earliest HB successes started off in prime time, including The Flintstones, Top Cat, The Jetsons, and Jonny Quest. Usually shown on weekday afternoons or early evenings, just before prime time, HB’s earliest successes were first shown in syndication, including Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear. But all of these shows eventually found their way to Saturday mornings — a couple of which actually ran for a decade or more.
The first syndicated HB program, Huckleberry Hound, was widely thought to be based on Andy Griffith, but that is denied by Huck’s voice actor Daws Butler, who had been using the voice since the late 1940s. Its first spinoff was Yogi Bear, said to be based on the mannerisms of actor Art Carney from his Ed Norton character from The Honeymooners. Neither of these shows appear on this collection.
The Flintstones and The Jetsons both do, however. “The Happy Household” is from The Flintstones‘ second season (episode 23) and “Rosie the Robot” is the very first episode of The Jetsons. And If I have to explain either of these two shows to you, other than to say the The Flintstones is The Honeymooners set in prehistoric times or that The Jetsons is a futuristic version of Blondie — going so far as to snag the actress who played Blondie in the movie series, Penny Singleton, to voice Jane Jetson — then I’m going to be really depressed. They are both really excellent and hugely popular shows.
Funny Animals Rule!
Like The Flintstones and The Jetsons before it, Top Cat was based on a popular TV show of the time, although the setting was changed. The popular Phil Silvers Show (also known as You’ll Never Get Rich or colloquially as Sgt. Bilko) began in 1955 and was the source of many of the concepts behind Top Cat, including the source for one of the character’s voices. Maurice Gosfield, who played Pvt. Doberman on the Bilko show, also played the similar character of Benny the Ball on Top Cat. Additionally, another Bilko actor, Allan Melvin, went on to voice several HB characters, most notably Magilla Gorilla.
Top Cat premiered in prime time in 1961 where it ran for one season (30 episodes) on ABC. It was then bumped to Saturday mornings in 1962, also on ABC, where it ran, on and off, for several years on various networks and in syndication. No additional new episodes were ever made.
Top Cat (known as T.C. to his friends) was the leader of a scruffy band of alley cats living in the fictional Hoagy’s Alley (read Hogan’s Alley) in the Bowery area of New York City. His gang consisted of second banana Benny the Ball (Gosfield), second-in-command, Choo-Choo (Marvin Kaplin in a Woody Allen imitation), ladies man Fancy-Fancy (John Stephenson, “doing” Cary Grant), the seen but seldom heard Spook (Leo deLyon), and the ironically named Brain (also deLyon). These cats were generally put through the paces by smooth talking Top Cat (Arnold Stang sounding remarkably like Phil Silvers) and his get-rich-quick schemes, many of which were foiled by the the neighborhood beat cop, Officer Dibble (Allen Jenkins). Not one of HB’s biggest successes, Top Cat still has a legion of fans, and the show is still remembered fondly by many for its intelligent scripts and its swingin’ theme song. Top Cat was a major success in comic books as the series had long runs with both Dell/Gold Key and Charlton in the 60s and 70s.
The entire Top Cat series — all 30 episodes — is also available on a four-disc DVD set.
The Quick Draw McGraw Show, which debuted on TV in 1959, though still popular in fan circles — mostly because of the fine and funny scripts of Michael Maltese, best known as the writer on dozens of Chuck Jones-directed shorts, such as What’s Opera Doc? and Duck Dodgers, for Warner Brothers studios — seems to have gotten slightly lost in the shuffle. A few years back, Warners had announced that Quick Draw would join his peers Huck and Yogi on DVD, but the plan was abruptly canceled, reportedly due to missing or poor quality film elements. (Or was it that sales were somewhat lackluster on the early HB sets, unless your name was Flintstone or Scooby-Doo?) Either way, it’s really good to see a couple of episodes of Quick Draw on this disc, one featuring Snuffles and the other featuring El Kabong. The latter is the subject of an excellent Special Feature on the disc: The Good, The Bad and the El Kabong. After its syndication run, Quick Draw and his pals moved to Saturday mornings on CBS beginning in 1963, where they ran until 1966.
While Huck and Yogi were funny, Quick Draw McGraw was fall-down funny. He was easily one of the dumbest characters in HB-land, perhaps due to all those gunshots to the face (and perhaps another reason why classic Quick Draw isn’t shown so much today). His burro buddy Baba Looey is actually the brains of the operation, which is something the PC police fail to take into account when they condemn Baba Looey (voiced by Daws Butler) for being a racist caricature, based on his accent (he pronounces Quick Draw “Queekstraw” and wears a sombrero). Quick Draw (also Daws Butler) has a funny speech pattern, too, a long drawl as pointed out in his catchphrase “Now hoooooold on thar, Baba Looey! I’ll do the thinnin’ around here, and doooon’t you forget e-it!” Quick Draw also had a tendency to break long, complicated words down into syllables, as in “de-tec-a-tive”.
What made Quick Draw different was that he had a super-heroish (kinda) alter ego of El Kabong — an obvious parody of Zorro — with a mask and a cape and… well, not a sword, but a guitar which he would smash over villains’ heads with that classic sound effect and his battle cry of “Kaboooonggg!” (I often wonder if this is where Pete Townshend first got the idea of guitar smashing…) The funniest thing about El Kabong (and there was plenty to choose from) was after he saved the beautiful young maiden, El Kabong would always remove his mask to get his reward of a kiss, only to have the maiden run away screaming after realizing that her hero is actually — a horse! Since the entire feature is a parody of the dozens of Western shows on TV at the time, it’s kinda magical that this cowboy hero is actually a horse! And on occasion in the cartoons, he was shown riding into to town on a horse.
The other notable character in the Quick Draw cartoons was Snuffles, the first in a very long line of anthropomorphic HB snarky cartoon dogs. He also pre-dates the occasional delirious ecstasy of receiving a doggie bis-kitt from Quick Draw (he won’t work without one) just like a certain Scooby-Doo a decade later with the infamous Scooby Snacks.
One of the companion series on The Quick Draw McGraw Show was the very sweet Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy series about a father and son. Augie (Daws Butler) was the rambunctious son who loved his “dear old Dad” but caused trouble nonetheless. Doggie Daddy (voice by Doug Young with a pretty good Jimmy Durante impression) was the put-upon dad, who when Augie did something wrong, would just shake his head and say “Augie, my son, my son.” Later, after Augie would correct his mistake, Dad would beam with pride and say “Dat’s my boy who did dat.” The series was cute but repetitive and is probably best known for introducing some other HB “stars”: Snagglepuss the lion and Yakky Doodle, the diminutive duck. Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy were probably based on an off-shoot of Hanna and Barbera’s old Tom and Jerry shorts, the Father/Son team of bulldogs Spike & Tyke.
Snooper and Blabber, on the other hand were Tom and Jerry — after they learned to get along and got their detective licenses. Super Snooper and Blabbermouse (both voiced by Daws Butler) wore cartoon trenchcoats and fedoras, talked in clipped sentences (like the guys on Dragnet, of which this was a parody) and solved crimes, often in amazing locales. One of their adventures on the DVD is set on another planet. Snagglepuss also guested here, as did an early version of Hardy Har Har, the morose hyena. I still have a HB record album (Monster Shindig) with an unusual team-up: Snooper and Blabber with The Gruesomes from The Flintstones show (how long do monsters live anyway?) as well as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man. It features the classic songs “Monster Shindig” and “The Monster Jerk.” It’s the grooviest! I also have their James Bomb record album.
The Magilla Gorilla Show (like its companion series, Peter Potamus) first debuted in syndication in 1964 and later moved to ABC on Saturday mornings in 1966, before being moved to Sunday afternoons for its final 1967-68 season. Both Magilla Gorilla and Peter Potamus were sponsored by the Ideal Toy Company (listen for the not-so-subtle references to “Ideal” in both theme songs), and both shows had a number of toy tie-ins and other ephemera. These were the first cartoon shows pre-designed with merchandise tie-ins.
Magilla Gorilla was a very memorable concept and big success for HB in its day, but it hasn’t aged well, possibly because of its somewhat cloying sentimentality. Magilla (voiced by Allan Melvin) is a more-or-less permanent fixture in Mr. Pebbles’ Pet shop, much to Pebbles’ (initially Howard Morris, later Don Messick) chagrin because the the huge but good-natured gorilla is literally eating up most of the store’s profits! In his desperation to rid himself of the giant appetite, Pebbles’ asking price for Magilla is now a low, low 2Ã‚Â¢. And the big ape does get frequently sold, usually to criminals looking for a big dumb guy to assist in robberies, or ad agencies looking for a mascot for their new product (“Our car is so simple even a gorilla can operate it”). Typically, something goes wrong, and Magilla is returned to the shop by the end of the episode, where he utters his forlorn catchphrase “We’ll try again next week.” In the episode shown here, Magilla ends up on a local football team.
There was one regular customer who really wanted to buy Magilla for good — a sweet little girl named Ogee (“Oh, Gee!”) (voiced by Jean VanderPyl, sounding amazingly like a three-year-old girl). Try as she might, Ogee could not afford Magilla, no matter how inexpensive he got, but it didn’t matter anyway — her parents would not let her purchase the big ape. Every week, in the catchy and memorable theme song, Ogee would hopefully ask “How much Is that gorilla in the window?” a call-back to the old Patti Page hit song “(How Much Is That) Doggie in the Window” from 1953.
Punkin’ Puss & Mushmouse was a hillbilly cat and mouse series, which allowed Hanna and Barbera to revisit many of the concepts from their old Tom and Jerry theatrical days, except here Punkin’ Puss (Allen Melvin) kept trying to shoot Mushmouth (Howard Morris) with his shotgun. Wonder why this one didn’t last long on Saturday morning… HB would have greater success with hillbillies later on.
Ricochet Rabbit & Droop-a-Long, on the other hand, was a a true cult classic with a great catch phrase, “Bing, bing, BING! Ricochet Rabbit!” uttered by the hyperkenitic rabbit (voiced by Don Messick) whenever… oh, hell, he said it all of the time! Ricochet was also known for using trick bullets that would usually stop in mid-flight and eject something ridiculous, like giant mallets (Holy Anime!), or just simply explode. But the real star of these cartoons was Ricochet’s deputy Droop-a-Long Coyote (voiced by Mel Blanc). One of the funniest HB sidekicks, Droop-a-Long was the slowest animal on the planet, and when he attempted Ricochet’s bouncing tricks, he generally just ending up crashing through windows. His gun fired bullets that only moved in slow motion, and in a great running gag, Droop-a-Long could not make coffee to save his life — his coffee was generally so thick it took forever to flow out of the pot, and then you had to cut it with scissors!
Like several of the early HB characters, Ricochet first debuted in somebody else’s cartoon — in this case, a 1963 episode of Touché Turtle. Ricochet’s cartoon series later moved to The Peter Potamus Show (swapping places with Breezly and Sneezely) when the show moved to ABC in 1966. Apparently there are alternate versions of the Intros and End credits for both shows, featuring the back-up characters, due to the swap.
Magilla Gorilla: The Complete Series is available as a four-disc DVD set with 23 complete episodes, including Mushmouse & Punkin’ Puss and Ricochet Rabbit, plus eight additional Magilla Gorilla cartoons, but incredibly not the original opening and closing credits (with the famous theme song). Also, the episodes are not remastered. Buyer beware. For the record, the original syndicated opening and closing with the theme song (and Ricochet and Droop-a-Long) is included on this Saturday Morning Cartoons set.
The Peter Potamus Show first debuted in syndication in September 1964 and later moved to Sunday mornings on ABC in 1966 where it ran until the 1967-1968 season. The show never actually appeared on Saturday mornings, unless a local station placed it there during its syndication run. Peter Potamus (voiced by Daws Butler, mimicking comedian Joe E. Brown) is a large purple hippopotamus who always dressed in a white safari jacket and yellow pith helmet. He was an explorer and inventor until later in life when he became a lawyer for the famous cartoon law firm of Sebben & Sebben with his colleague Harvey T. Birdman. Later, he became the spokes-hippo and mascot for the Pizza Potamus restaurant chain.
Among Peter’s inventions were his “magic” flying balloon (which was tethered to a boat), in which he and his long-suffering monkey companion So-So (voiced by Don Messick), a former postal worker, travel the world together. The duo’s adventures were not restricted by time or space due to another of Peter’s inventions, the Peter Potamus Time and Space Machine, which was installed in the balloon and apparently allowed travel to fictional worlds, including fairy-tale and mythical realms. Another gimmick in the Potamus arsenal wasn’t an invention at all — The Hippo Hurricane Holler (actually Peter bellowing as loud as possible) could get Peter and So-So out of any jam, as well as propel the balloon boat across the skies. Peter’s series is cheerful and fun. He never really achieved the star quality of many of HB’s characters, but he is a beloved cult star to many HB fans.
Breezley and Sneezely was a largely forgotten (and largely unfunny) back-up in the show about a polar bear (Breezley, voiced by Howard Morris) and a green (?) seal (Sneezely, voiced by Mel Blanc, with his familiar sickly/sneezy voice) and Breezley’s ongoing attempts to sneak into the local army base to get cold medicine for Sneezely. They actually made 24 episodes of this. It originally appeared on The Magilla Gorilla Show, but it was moved to Peter’s show when it debuted on ABC in 1966.
Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey, better known as the Three Goofy Guards, were dressed like Musketeers but acted more like the slapstick Keystone Kops. It was great fun to the average eight-year-old (especially when they shouted their names when going into “battle”), but not quite as much fun now as it was then. One thing I didn’t catch as a kid: The King who employed the guards ran his castle like a modern day office, including a sarcastic secretary and passing comments about “the girls in the office” by the guards. This cartoon was also one of HB’s first blatant uses of recycling their character designs — Yippee (voiced by Doug Young) looked vaguely like Huckleberry Hound, Yappee (Hal Smith) looked a lot like Dum Dum (Touché Turtle’s buddy), and Yahooey (Daws Butler) looked very much like a dog version of Boo Boo Bear (Yogi Bear’s pal). Amusingly, the three guards were usually depicted in the order of their names. I bet they practiced that.
Super-Heroes and Super-Spies
Two 1965 HB shows began the transition from funny animals to adventure cartoons. Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel were both still humor-based animal cartoons with an element of adventure (super-hero for Atom Ant, spy intrigue for Secret Squirrel). Both shows have a shared history and development and occasionally ran together as a hour-long block on NBC (the network’s first HB shows since the first HB show — Ruff and Ready — in 1957), but on the DVD they are dealt with as separate shows, so, so will I.
Atom Ant (voiced by Howard Morris) was a super-hero operating out of his “secret headquarters” — an anthill in the countryside. While he was waiting to be summoned to a case, he usually spent his time working out on his exercise equipment or reading Atom Ant comic books. He could fly at superspeed and had tremendous strength. And since he was ant-sized, HB neatly sidestepped the whole violence issue here, as from afar, it looked like the bad guy was just tripping and falling down a lot. In reality, Atom Ant was pummeling him by grabbing him by the foot and smashing him back and forth into the ground. It’s pretty much a one-joke series, albeit a pretty funny joke.
Precious Pupp was loosely based on the Tweety Bird concept of being an innocent victim who delighted in torturing the torturer. Precious (voiced by Don Messick as sort of a proto-Muttley) was a dog in the care of Granny Sweet (Janet Waldo), an eccentric, rich, and swingin’ old lady who rode around on a motorcycle (even to drive-in theaters! Some swinger!), surfed, and occasionally drag raced (like The Little Old Lady From Pasadena from the Jan & Dean song). That’s it, that’s pretty much all the jokes right here.
The Hillbilly Bears was the best of the three, another lost HB cult classic, loosely based on the Beverly Hillbillies (except for that “movin’ to Beverly “part — they stayed pretty close to the Ozarks). The Hillbilly family consists of Paw Rugg (“voiced” by Henry Corden), Maw Rugg (Jean VanderPyl in a brilliant deadpan delivery), teenage daughter Floral (also VanderPyl), and her much younger brother Shag (Don Messick). Paw’s “voice” credit is in quotes because he only spoke in a incomprehensible comical mumble. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Shag’s sole function in the cartoon is to be Paw’s interpreter. (In later episodes you could actually understand a few words here and there.) The series is incredibly politically incorrect, but Paw’s drawl is one of the funniest unintelligible cartoon voices since Donald Duck. I didn’t have much in common with my Dad, but he did watch cartoons with me, and the Hillbilly Bears (and Rocky and Bullwinkle and Tom and Jerry) were his favorites. He could not stop laughing when Paw was mumblin’.
The series’ best episode “Do the Bear” is its last. Paw accidentally becomes a rock ‘n roll sensation (and check out those HB “babes” in the hiphuggers). This episode was so good, it was later expanded into a full-length children’s album, which I loved so much, it no longer has any grooves left on it. Not long ago, waiting in vain for a DVD release, I TiVoed and recorded all the Hillbilly Bears cartoons and made my own DVD! Classic!
Secret Squirrel was the best cartoon in his show, an odd combination of elements from both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the very popular James Bond films. Also known as “Agent 000″, Secret (voiced by Mel Blanc) took his orders from his superior Double-Q (Paul Frees) in the International Sneaky Service. Assisted by the fez-wearing Morocco Mole (also Frees, “doing” actor Peter Lorre), the duo often took on the evil Yellow Pinkie and Hy-Spy (both also by Frees). The series was so popular and memorable that the term “secret squirrel” has entered the lexicon of federal law enforcement as slang for Secret Service agents. The character was also revived in 1993 as a back-up feature for 2 Stupid Dogs, now called Super-Secret Secret Squirrel.
Paul Frees (busy man!) also did the voice for Squiddly Diddly, one of Secret Squirrel’s back-ups. Squiddly was, of course a cartoon squid (but he looked like an octopus) that walked upright like a man. Squiddly seemed to want to be human and do things like watch TV and hang around with Chief Winchley (John Stephenson) who ran the Bubbleland (think SeaWorld) park where Squiddly lived and performed (he was a multi-instrumentalist musician) when he wasn’t trying to escape, which was pretty much all the time. A pleasant enough cartoon, but without really a point of view. HB would do a better zoo-like setting later on.
Sadly,Winsome Witch wasn’t much better. Winnie Witch (voiced by Jean VanderPyl) was a pretty ugly, inept, and clumsy witch (she looks vaguely like Mad Madame Mim from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone), but she had a heart of gold. She usually hung around in the woods, interacting with fairy tale-like characters and trying to do good deeds, but she usually just made thing worse. Her magic words were “Ippity Pippity — Pow!” Unfortunately, they couldn’t make this cheerful but bland cartoon series go away sooner than it did. And what little kid actually understood what “winsome” meant anyway! I thought it was the first part of “winsome loosesome” until someone finally slapped me in the noggin!
In 1966, HB was seemingly done with funny animals, but not quite done with the “funny” yet. Their last transitional show before going full-bore into action adventure was the hybrid Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, featuring the former as a mostly adventure cartoon and the latter as a funny (although satire would be a better term) cartoon, lampooning both super-heroes and rock ‘n’ roll.
Frankenstein Jr. didn’t really have much to do with the classic Frankenstein’s Monster story, other than a very large protagonist and the concept that he was “built”. Frankenstein Jr. actually had more to do with the growing “giant robot” genre taking hold in other parts of the world — most notably, Japan, with their US-imported Gigantor series (also 1966) which in turn is based on the anime version of the Tetsujin 28-go manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama from 1956.
The 30-foot-tall robot Frankeinstein Jr. (Ted Cassidy aka Lurch from The Addams Family) was built by Professor Conroy (John Stephenson aka the original Dr. Benton Quest) for his son Buzz (voiced by the very adult Dick Beals, who specialized in “little kid” voices like Ralph Phillips and Davey from Davey and Goliath). Buzz and Frankie shared many, mostly serious, adventures together fighting crime. Buzz controlled the robot, who had super-powers including flight, superstrength, and the ability to shoot power beams out of his fingers, as well as the catch-phrase “Alakazoom!” The series was totally monster-riffic!
I didn’t care much for Frankie (never been a giant robot fan, I guess), but I loved The Impossibles because not only were they like comic book super-heroes, but they were also rock-and-roll musicians! So it was like if the Beatles (who also had their own cartoon show) were the Justice League!!! Not really — their powers were pretty lame. Coil Man (Hal Smith) could turn himself into a powerful coil spring (Boing!), Fluid Man (Paul Frees) could turn himself completely into fluid, using the ability to duck down any drain and into the plumbing. (Yuk! How could he see down there? And how did he manage to not come up through toilets?) And Multi-Man (Don Messick) could make multiple duplicates of himself, which was visually really cool and he had his own awesome sound effect, but the power itself was kind of doofy. The show had a great graphic-heavy design-y title sequence to it, and it was narrated (like the Impossible episodes themselves) by Paul Frees, doing his best Orson Welles voice!
The music was pretty bubblegum, which was okay with me, but I think they only had about six different songs which cycled throughout the series. I was majorly bummed when some Impossibles tracks weren’t included in my much loved (and now sadly out-of-print) Hanna-Barbera’s Pic-a-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics CD box set of HB theme songs, incidental music, and sound effects. C’mon, Rhino Handmade! How about a Hanna Barbera Rocks! CD (or at least downloads) of classic Impossibles, Jet Screamer, Hardy Boys, Butch Cassidy, Chan Clan, Cattanooga Cats, Neptunes, and other great lost HB bubblegum!
The Impossibles characters never had any real names; they just called each other Coily, Multi, and Flooie. Awe-inspiring! And as Johanna pointed out: “Wait a minute! The band is named The Impossibles, and the heroes are called The Impossibles!? How did anyone not figure that out?!” But the creators were paying attention to some details: the bass player (Coily) was left-handed — just like Paul McCartney!! Other fun facts: Their catchphrase/war cry: “Rally Ho!” (How British!) It’s reported in various places that The Impossibles were originally called The Incredibles during pre-production. All of The Impossibles episodes are named after the villains they met. Also, unlike many of the other early HB characters, they never re-appeared in subsequent “gang” shows (like Yogi’s Gang or Laff-A-Lympics), but their powers were recycled when the Harlem Globetrotters gained superpowers in their 1979 HB cartoon series.
The series was a forerunner of things to come, paving the way for the Archies to hit Saturday morning (in 1967) and by the late 1960s, after all the adventure shows were pretty much run outta Dodge by angry parents’ groups, I think every HB had a rock band, or a dog, or both. (There was even a rock band made up of dogs — The Beagles in 1966 — and don’t even get me started about The Evolution Revolution!)
The SMC DVD includes a great all-new Special Feature about the show on Disc 2. It’s called Monster Rock: The Adventures of Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles.
1966 was also the year of HB’s first straight adventure series (although there were some minor comic elements). Space Ghost and Dino Boy, created and designed by the now-legendary Alex Toth, came roaring out of the HB studios and helped to elevate what TV cartoons could become, although it would take a long time and a few battles would be lost along the way.
It is often quite difficult to watch the original Space Ghost adventure after what was done with the character to deconstruct him in latter-day Cartoon Channel series Space Ghost Coast to Coast and Cartoon Planet (both favorites of mine!). But after achieving the proper frame of mind and reclaiming the child within, it’s hard to deny the inherent greatness displayed here (and in subsequent Toth-designed shows).
Space Ghost is, at its core, a pretty basic concept: Space Ghost (voiced by the impeccable and perfectly-cast Gary Owens, later know as the announcer on Laugh-In) is an intergalactic law enforcement officer, patrolling space with his teenage twin wards Jan (Ginny Tyler) and Jayce (Tim Matheson aka Jonny Quest and much later “Otter” in Animal House). Comic relief is provided by the space monkey Blip, voiced by Don Messick, the “Frank Welker” (animal voice specialist) of the early HB era. Aided by the latest in cool gadgets — his Power Bands can emit energy, freeze, force, heat, magnetic, pile-driver, and stun rays — and at a touch of a button on his belt, he can turn invisible as well. His way-cool spaceship, The Phantom Cruiser, is also totally tricked out and can turn invisible as well (duh!). And while Batman has a Batcave, Space Ghost has a whole frikkin’ Planet! The Ghost Planet!
Toth’s designs are brilliant. Who would think that a guy dressed completely in white tights could look cool? But Toth’s design with the flowing golden cape, black hood, and crimson belt and gauntlets is amazingly cool — and doubly great while in flight! The ship, the kids — even the monkey! — are all perfect.
Realizing that Space Ghost was too powerful for any single foe, in the second season the producers and writers teamed up the six most dangerous foes: Zorak, Brak, Moltar, Metallus, Spider-Woman (formerly The Black Widow), and Creature King — known collectively as the Council of Doom — and they all took on Space Ghost. Luckily, he had plenty of friends to lend a hand (and all coincidentally had brand new CBS shows as well). Aided by the Herculoids, Mighty Mightor, Shazzan, and Moby Dick, the good guys eventually won, but it took them six episodes to do it! The crossover was the first of its kind for Saturday morning cartoons and kids all over went crazy watching it!
The second feature, Dino Boy, hasn’t really stood the test of time. It’s the story of a young boy named Todd (voiced by Johnny Carson — no, not that one), who, when his parent’s plane begins to crash, parachutes into a South American valley where time has stopped and dinosaurs and cavemen still exist. He is saved from a saber-tooth tiger by a caveman named Ugh (Mike Road) who really doesn’t talk all that much and his pet dinosaur Bronto (Don Messick). Despite being created and designed by Alex Toth, there was a certain sameness to many of the episodes and when Space Ghost came back for a second season, Dino Boy didn’t come back with him.
Space Ghost and Dino Boy: The Complete Series (including the complete “Council of Doom” crossover) is available on a double-sided two-disc DVD set, with a Special Feature: Simplicity: The Life and Art of Alex Toth.
All Toth, All the Time!
Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles and Space Ghost and Dino Boy were so popular that Hanna Barbera had six different action-adventure shows on for the 1967-1968 season, spread across all three networks. CBS had The Herculoids, Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor, and Shazzan, as well as the returning Frankenstein Jr. and Space Ghost. NBC had Birdman and the Galaxy Trio and Samson and Goliath and ABC had Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four, which was produced by HB. Only the Herculoids are represented on SMC, so that’s the only one we’ll discuss here, but it should be noted that the Alex Toth created and designed Birdman and the Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series is available on a double-sided two-disc DVD set.
The Herculoids, yet another series created and designed by Alex Toth, featured a humanoid nuclear family: the father, Zandor (voiced by Mike Road); the mother, Tarra (Virginia Gregg); and their son, Dorno (originally Ted Eccles). Together they lived and worked with five alien beings or “creatures” who are the heart of the Herculoids: Igoo (Mike Road, although some sources say Ted Cassidy) a giant rock-like ape with tremendous strength and extremely dense skin, which made him near-invunerable. Tundro (Mike Road) is a ten-legged, four-horned rhino-like beast who could shoot explosive rocks from his cannon-horn. His legs seem very short but were seemingly extendable. He had natural armor-like plating instead of skin, and his invulnerable head could spin at great speed, allowing him to drill through solid rock. And despite his size and density, Tundro could jump tremendous distances. Occasionally, the humanoid family members would “ride” Tundro for transportation. Zok (Mike Road) was a huge green flying dragon-like being who could fire laser blasts out of his eyes and tail. Zok could also breathe fire, survive in space, and even was capable of interstellar travel. He could seemingly negate energy blasts with his eyes, often called a nega-beam. He also provided transportation for the team, especially Tarra and Dorno.
Finally, Gloop and Gleep were two protoplasmic beings, capable of both shapeshifting as well as being extremely pliable (like Silly Putty). They would often form parachutes for the others. They could also divide themselves into multiple selves, although each “self” was smaller than the original. Their pliable bodies were excellent for stopping laser blasts and energy beams, and they often protected the others. They had a weird “gurgling” form of communication (provided by Don Messick). Gloop was larger than Gleep, who seemed to be the younger of the two and often teamed with young Dorno. I often suspected that Gloop and Gleep were parent and child, although there was never any evidence of that, nor even if any of the Herculoids were indeed male or female, if that was indeed applicable in this alien situation. Although it did appear from time to time that Igoo had a “crush” on Tarra. It was also hard to determine exactly what the relationship was between the Herculoids and the humanoid family. Occasionally, they acted like pets or servants to the family, and at other times they were treated as equals or partners.
The SMC also includes a Bonus Feature: The Herculoids: First Family of Planet Quasar which will tell you all about the team and more about Alex Toth.
All I really know about the Herculoids was that they were the coolest thing on Saturday morning when I was 11. They also have my vote for the next HB season set on DVD, followed closely by Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles and Quick Draw McGraw, even if they still can’t find all the elements. Something is still better than nothing in my book.
And the Rest…
Which brings us to the 2 non-HB shows on this DVD collection. I had never seen (or even heard of) Marine Boy. Johanna had seen it as a child growing up in England and was initially excited about seeing it again. Marine Boy was apparently one of the first Japanese anime cartoons to be dubbed and syndicated to America. (At least I think it was syndicated — there’s very little documentation about the series that seems reliable and I could not find any information that this show appeared on any network, much less ever appeared on Saturday morning. I think it appears on this DVD set mostly because Warner’s currently owns the rights to it, since it was once part of the Seven Arts Television group that eventually became part of the vast Warner holdings.)
Marine Boy was a young boy who could breathe underwater with the aid of “oxy-gum”. Once underwater, he was befriended by a playful white dolphin named Splasher and a bare-chested mermaid girl named Neptina whose supposed special power was the ability to see the future (although I think that her real special power was the magical ability to keep her long flowing hair strategically covering her breasts, even underwater! Did this show actually air on American TV? In the Sixties?). There were some other actual humans in the show, but I tuned out before I really cared to find out who they were. Johanna’s reaction, five minutes in: “Please turn this off. This is terrible!” Somehow I made it all the way through, but my brain was empty by the end.
And here’s your Marine Boy trivia: the voice of Marine Boy, Neptina, and Cli Cli (who?) was Corinne Orr, the voice of Trixie in Speed Racer. And apparently I own a CD (The Wondermints’ Bali) that features snippets of the Marine Boy theme during the CD’s long fade-out. Who knew?
The other non-HB show here is The Porky Pig Show, one of several anthology shows to feature the classic Warner Brothers cartoon shows on Saturday morning over the years. It ran on ABC from 1964 to 1967, first on Saturday morning and finally on late Sunday afternoons. Each episode aired three classic WB cartoons with the tops and tails edited off. There was no new animation except for a new opening and closing title sequence. The three cartoons shown here are “Often An Orphan,” starring Porky; “Mice Follies,” a Honeymousers cartoon; and “The Super Snooper” starring Daffy Duck. An interesting curiosity, but not really essential. Although it’s good to see some of the Warner stars represented here.
Whatever Happened to Saturday Morning?
With the advent of cable and literally hundreds of stations — some of which, like Cartoon Network and Boomerang and Disney XD (formerly Toon Disney), show cartoons 24/7 — it sorta crushed the uniqueness out of Saturday Morning Cartoons. With cartoons now running all the time, Saturday morning was just not that special a time for cartoons. Plus, nowadays, many kids are out of the house on Saturday mornings, with organized sports events, playdates, and other family outings. Saturday Morning Cartoons still exist, but they have to share time with morning news shows, and much of the content has become much more educational or subdued. It’s around, but not quite the same.
The 70s: Also Available!
Also out is Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s Volume 1. It’s a two-disc DVD set with the following shows:
- The Jetsons: “Space Car” (episode 4)
- Batman: “The Pest” (1st episode) and Tarzan: “Tarzan and the Colossus of Zome” (Season 2, Ep. 3) from Filmation’s Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour.
- Hong Kong Phooey: “Car Thieves” and “Zoo Story” (both from 1st episode)
- Goober and the Ghost Chasers: “Assignment Ahab Apparition” (1st episode)
- Speed Buggy: “Speed Buggy Went That-A-Way” (1st episode)
- Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch: “Double Cross Country,” “The Infiltrator,” and “The Stunt Show” (all from the 2nd episode)
- Yogi’s Gang: “Greedy Genie” (2nd episode)
- Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan: “Scotland Yard” (16th & final episode)
- Roman Holidays: “Double Date” (1st episode)
- Josie and the Pussycats: “The Nemo’s a No-No Affair”(1st episode) (labeled incorrectly on the DVD menu as an episode of Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space)
- The New Scooby-Doo Movies: “The Ghostly Creep From the Deep” (episode 12) guest-starring tHe Harlem Globetrotters
- The Funky Phantom: “I’ll Haunt You Later” (episode 3)
- Special Features:
“Solving Crimes the Chan Clan Way”
“Heavens To Betsy Ross: The Spirit of Funky Phantom”
and 2 Saturday Morning Wake-Up Calls: disc previews w/Gary Owens
I don’t really have much to say about them because 1) the 70s wasn’t really my decade for watching cartoons as I was in high school and college by then and 2) time and history haven’t always treated these series very well. I was secretly hoping for some Laff-A-Lympics or Captain Caveman episodes, but it was not to be, at least this time. But hey, nostalgia is what you make of it, and if you grew up watching these shows, you’re probably going to love this set!
Oh, by the way, my wife Johanna actually has the footie pajamas with the penguins on them.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the studio.)