Review by KC Carlson
Shout! Factory’s Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection is another major archeological animation excavation and reclamation. First airing on CBS from 1963 to 1966, the show was the second major production from Total TeleVision (TTV) and a big stepping stone in quality to their third, Underdog. Shout! Factory’s new collection is a 6-DVD set including all 70 episodes of Tennessee Tuxedo, 38 episodes of The King and Odie, 12 episodes of Tooter Turtle, 35 episodes of The Hunter, and 5 episodes of Klondike Kat — although some of the episodes are not the same as what is listed in the accompanying program guide. (Yes, sadly, there are some technical and quality control issues with this set. I write about this in more depth in the final section below.) For material of this age, however, and considering that the show was never stored properly after the cartoons first aired (and the masters were once thought “lost”), we’re very lucky to get this much. There’s a total of 16 hours of classic television animation on this set, all at a very reasonable price.
The special features lead off with a 26-minute documentary, “Tennessee Tuxedo Never Fails!”, with interviews with TTV creative director and writer Buck Biggers, voice actors Larry Storch and Bradley Bolke, and TTV historian Mark Arnold, who also wrote the set’s accompanying 16-page booklet and was a consultant on the box set. Episode commentaries are provided by all four of the above, plus current voice actor Wally Wingert. Some (but not all — they could not be found) of the short “Riddles” segments from the original network broadcasts of the show are included. Plus, there’s a feature collecting many of the show’s interstitial, credit, and opening sequences, most all from inferior sources because the originals are either long gone or misplaced.
I’ve previously covered the animation history of TTV, as well as a description of the Tooter Turtle and Klondike Cat series, so no need to repeat those here. Also, many original viewers might remember that The World of Commander McBragg was also occasionally a part of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Pals. It was, but all those cartoons have been collected on Shout! Factory’s Underdog collection. Let’s take a look at some other TTV stars.
“Uh… Gee, Tennessee…”
Most young viewers at the time of its original 1963 broadcast (like me) didn’t realize that the Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons were educational. Pretty much every TT cartoon began when TT and his lovable, but dumb, walrus pal Chumley encountered some problem that they couldn’t solve at the Megapolis Zoo where they lived or ran into something when they frequently escaped. So they would visit their pal, a college professor named Phineas J. Whoopee (one of the great cartoon names of all time), a “Man with All the Answers”, who would help them with their questions with the aid of the Three Dimensional Blackboard (or 3DBB for short). This was the 1960s version of the iPad — except expandable to about four by six feet simply by pulling on the edges. I want one of those.
Later, armed with knowledge, TT would always thank the professor by saying, “Phineas J. Whoopee, you’re the greatest!”
Watching these cartoons today — almost 50 years after they were made — adds an entirely new level of comedy (at least for adults), as much of what Mr. Whoopee is teaching is seriously out of date, especially most everything science and technology-related. Today’s parents who are sharing these cartoons with their kids should expect strange looks, odd questions, or a lot of “That’s not right!” from today’s young brainiacs.
Tennessee and Chumley visit the Professor
The characters’ “origin story” is quite odd in that it was actually Chumley that zoo director Stanley Livingston (and his assistant Flunky) wanted, as he was a rare South Pole walrus. Tennessee simply accompanied his friend to the zoo. Something that I had forgotten, that greatly amused me — In the early episodes, Chumley frequently walked around with a big bag labeled “Oysters”, munching on them and talking at the same time. (As if he didn’t have enough trouble being understood…) Tennessee was very strong-minded (and somewhat ego-driven), constantly shouting his catchphrase “Tennessee Tuxedo will not fail!” — usually as he was just about to fail and needed Mr. Whoopee’s help.
Other recurring characters in the cartoons include Tennessee and Chumley’s zoo pals, Yakkety Yak and Baldy the Eagle, as well as Tennessee’s rival Jerboa Jump, a kangaroo rat, and his henchman, the boxing Tiger Tornado. They also ran afoul of a machine gun-toting gangster named Rocky Maninoff, who often referred to them as “bo-bo’s”.
If you loved corny puns and bad humor, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales was your show — starting with the pun in the title. (“Tuxedo and tails”, get it?) It was probably funnier back then, when more people actually wore tuxedos other than for prom. There were a lot more bad jokes on the show, many used as interstitials (show transitions) between the cartoons, and a few of these are also on the DVD.
“Would You Believe…?”
Probably the most memorable thing about Tennessee Tuxedo was his voice, provided by comedian Don Adams shortly before his starring role as Maxwell Smart on Get Smart in 1965. Adams was also another famous animation voice — that of Inspector Gadget. Amazingly, he pretty much used the same voice on all three shows, which Adams claimed was an exaggeration of The Thin Man actor William Powell’s voice. Between these three shows and his popular stand-up (and recording) career, Adams must have set some sort of record for voicing the largest number of memorable catch-phrases in entertainment history. Go-Go-Gadget Catchphrase!
Larry Storch was the other famous voice on Tennessee Tuxedo, voicing Professor Phineas J. Whoopee. Said to be an imitation of actor Frank Morgan (the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz), Storch’s voice for Whoopee sounds nothing like the real Larry, better known as Sgt. Agarn on F-Troop, in films like The Great Race, and dozens of guest appearances on sitcoms, variety shows, and movies. His other animation voices include The Joker (The Batman/Superman Hour) — the first actor to do so — and the near-forgotten Warner Bros. character Cool Cat, star of the very last WB theatrical cartoon in the classic era. Storch is also to “blame” for Cary Grant being associated with the phrase “Judy, Judy, Judy”, something that Grant never said. Storch used the phrase when he impersonated Grant in his stand-up performances.
Chumley the Walrus was voiced by Bradley Bolke (pronounced “Bowl-kee”). He was not the original Chumley voice, as that voice actor was replaced by Bolke after six episodes. He later “looped” his voice into those episodes, but there’s a few places in episode three (“The Lamplighters”) where you can hear the original voice. Bolke’s career as a voice artist was brief, but he also voiced Jangle the Elf in Rankin-Bass’ The Year Without a Santa Claus.
The King and I
The King and Odie continued from the first TTV show, King Leonardo and His Short Subjects (1960). When that show went off the air in 1963, the series continued (as The King and Odie) on Tennessee Tuxedo.
Leonardo was the goodhearted but inept king of Bongo Congo, a small fictional African nation. His mild-mannered, but very effective, assistant was a skunk named Odie Cologne, a bad pun on Eau de Cologne. The King and Odie were surrounded by misguided (or downright bad) folks who caused plenty of trouble and frequently attempted to take over Bongo Congo by overthrowing Leonardo. Primary in this was Leonardo’s ne’re-do-well (and incompetent) brother, Itchy. He was usually referred to as “Itchy Brother” and frequently teamed with a gangster rat named Biggie Rat. (I remember that the “bad” kids in my neighborhood were referred to as “Biggie Rats” for a number of years, even by some parents.) Biggie employed an evil German scientist/ inventor named Professor Messer (German for large knife or sword) and occasionally got help from the flirtatious Carlotta, who just happened to be Odie’s sister.
In the new cartoons produced for the Tennessee Tuxedo show, Biggie Rat and Itchy Brother were employees of Mr. Mad, a mad scientist with a weird echo-y voice and a domineering personality. Even Biggie Rat deferred to him.
As the first TTV cartoon show, King Leonardo established a TTV trend for having voices that were impersonations of popular actors and/or comedians. Jackson Beck (best known for Bluto in the Popeye cartoons, but he also narrated sketches on the early Saturday Night Live) voiced King Leonardo, imitating film actor Eugene Pallette (My Man Godfrey, The Adventures of Robin Hood). Jackson Beck also voiced Biggie Rat as an impersonation of Edgar G. Robinson.
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Interestingly, a number of sources incorrectly indicate that TV actor/producer Sheldon Leonard is the source of Leonardo’s voice. I think this may be due to the fact that Leonard actually performed the title voice in a different, but contemporary, animated show, Linus the Lionhearted. Linus the Lionhearted is often mistaken for a TTV show, as it was also sponsored by ubiquitous cereal manufacturer General Foods’ Post Cereals. In fact, all the characters on the show were based on the characters pictured on the cereal boxes — Sugar Bear/Sugar Crisps, Lovable Truly (a postman)/Alpha Bits, and Linus the Lionhearted/Crispy Critters.
The voice cast on the show was amazing: Besides Leonard, Carl Reiner, Ruth Buzzi, Jonathan Winters, Jesse White (the Maytag repairman), Jerry Stiller and Ann Meara, and veteran voice actor Bob McFadden all provided regular voices. This was one of my favorite shows on Saturday morning at the time — and we will probably never see it again (except on YouTube). In 1969, the FCC decided that characters on cartoon shows shouldn’t also be hawking products (cereal, toys, etc.) on the same show, and Linus the Lionhearted (often said to be the main source for this ruling) disappeared from TV forever.
More trivia: The two male lead characters on The Big Bang Theory (Sheldon and Leonard) are named after Sheldon Leonard as the show’s writers are big fans of his work. Another bar trivia game won! You’re welcome.
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Odie was voiced by frequent TTV voice actor Allen Swift (Riff Raff, Simon Bar Sinister), imitating actor Ronald Coleman. Swift also voiced Itchy Brother, who just sounded itchy.
King Leonardo never achieved the popularity of other TTV shows, mostly because it wasn’t syndicated as much or frequently shown, despite the fact there were a total of 104 different segments produced. Interestingly, it was shown in 2006 for about a year on the now-defunct Black Family Channel (BFC) Kids TV programming block. During its original run, there was an eight-issue comic book series by Dell/Gold Key, and several well-read issues are still in my collection.
One other note about King Leonardo: For its initial run in 1960, it was originally broadcast in black & white, despite being produced in color. By the time Tennessee Tuxedo began airing, there were more color televisions in America, so by then most Saturday morning cartoons were broadcast in color. That’s how old this series is…
The Hunter was a fairly nondescript series of cartoons that originally aired on the King Leonardo show and continued on Tennessee Tuxedo (although I think those episodes were all reruns by then). The Hunter was actually a bloodhound detective, who generally fought an evil fox, cleverly named The Fox. The Hunter also worked for a policeman unfortunately named Officer Flim Flanagan. Really, the only thing this series had going for it was that Kenny Delmar provided the humorous Southern-accented voice of The Hunter, based on Delmar’s radio character Senator Claghorn on the Fred Allen Show, which in turn inspired the creation of Warner Bros.’ popular Foghorn Leghorn character. So, somewhere in Animation Land, The Hunter and Foghorn are first cousins, which I guess makes The Hunter not so bad.
You May Have Problems Adjusting Your Set
Despite the cornucopia of great almost-lost early television animation in Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection, there are some (mostly minor) problems with the set, many of which will be invisible to the average consumer and inconsequential (or acceptable) to those animation fans who know how rare this stuff actually is.
As with the previous Underdog set, some (five) of the listed cartoons are not actually on the set but have been replaced with other cartoons from the same series. After the packaging and booklet were printed, it was discovered that the audio was missing for these cartoons. On-screen disclaimers explain their absence.
Which leads to a few minor quality control issues with the set, in that some animation fans (in reviews at Amazon.com) have indicated that the titles listed on the packaging in some cases are not the same as the actual titles of the cartoons. I’m not so sure about this one, since 1) many of the original title cards for the cartoons are long-missing (cut away and misplaced when the cartoons went into syndication decades ago), and 2) my own research indicates that many reference sources (both online and in print) are also pretty sketchy on details to begin with, especially about TTV shows. So who really knows? Even TTV biographer Mark Arnold doesn’t really know for sure. (He says so in his book Created and Produced by Total TeleVision Productions: The Story of Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo, and the Rest.) Sometimes information gets lost to the mists of time and failing memories.
One episode, “Monster from Another Planet”, on Season 2, Disc 2, is obviously incomplete. It’s shorter than other episodes and cuts off just as Tennessee and Chumley are going to visit Mr. Whoopee, eliminating the last couple minutes of the cartoon. This is a very unfortunate mistake.
Finally, sharp-eyed animation aficionados (also on the Amazon page) are saying that the image-enhancing digital video noise reduction (DVNR) process was used to extremes on this set. This is also probably true, as there is evidence of some blurring and even some black outlines breaking up. DVNR is controversial with many hardcore animation buffs, and situations like this have popped up on other DVD animation collections, most notably the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 2 — for which Warners actually went back and fixed the problem and offered disc exchanges.
Here’s my two cents on this subject: Just because you can achieve perfection with digital technologies like DVD and Blu-ray on new projects, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to get that perfection on material that is 30 to 70 (or more) years old. Let’s be real. If you have millions of dollars to throw at a restoration project as folks like Lucas or Spielberg or Warner Bros. can, you can get close to perfect on older material. But most animation reclamation projects are done by smaller companies (like Shout! Factory) who just don’t have the resources (or subsequent sales — animation fans need to realize that their purchases for quirky “cult” projects like the TTV shows, are indeed “cult” sales — not mass market like Disney features and Warner Bros. go-to characters Bugs Bunny, Tom & Jerry, and Scooby Doo) to actually make animation sets as good as they would like to. Especially when elements are long missing and occasionally have to be pulled from bootleg sources.
To me, having something is infinitely better than having nothing at all. There are still a lot of amazing animation out there that may be “lost” forever because a) it’s not popular enough for mass sales to have it properly restored, or b) can’t be restored enough to perfection to keep the “hardcore” animation fans from complaining about it.
Is there too much DVNR on Tennessee Tuxedo? Probably. But 80-90% of casual fans won’t even notice. They’re just happy that they can now own episodes of a childhood favorite for a reasonable price, in as nice a package as can be presented at this time. One wishes that Shout! Factory would print their packaging after they finalize what’s on the actual discs, but sometimes you can’t have everything.
Much thanks to Shout! Factory for their never-ending goal of resurrecting great old stuff — not just animation, but classic live-action television and forgotten music. I believe their next major vintage animation project (tentatively scheduled for June) is the theatrical UPA Mr. Magoo, now unedited (unlike its previous presentation from another company). And sometimes, they just collect stuff that should be collected. (You should really check out their amazing Ernie Kovacs collection.)
Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales: The Complete Collection is a slightly flawed but essential piece of animation history. Anyone who loves old television cartoons needs to see it. Always remember, Tennessee Tuxedo does not fail!
(The studio provided a review copy.)