“Let’s go back to your childhood… childhood… childhood…” — The Bonzo Dog Band, 1969, from “Keynsham.”
The world of cartoons certainly has seen tremendous changes over the past 60 years. When I was just a youngster, cartoons barely were being introduced to television.
Supposedly the first regular TV cartoon series was “Barker Bill,” a 15-minute show that appeared weekdays. not counting the feature cartoon every day on the Mickey Mouse Club. It had a catchy circus-style tune that introduced each offering, a tune I later changed the words to say, “Who’s the sleaziest weather man, his name is Dinosaur Bill.”
Terrytoons, later to become a huge player in the market with “Mighty Mouse” and “Tom Terrific,” was the producer of the weekday fare.
It later came up with “Mr. Trouble never hangs around, when he hears this mighty sound. Here I come to save the day. That means that Mighty Mouse is on the way.” Andy Kaufman introduced himself to America with that song.
I changed the lyrics to that one for my old trout fishing buddy, James G. Wasserman: “Mr. Brookie never hangs around, when he hears this mighty sound. Here I come to catch a trout. That means that Fearless Fly is all about.”
But the TV cartoon trend was just beginning, and here’s what I remember most about the genre from my innocent youth:
The Hanna-Barbera empire
This group first made its mark with Tom and Jerry cartoons in the cinema and first struck gold with “Huckleberry Hound” and “Ruff and Ready” in 1957.
“So get yourself all set, turn up for TV set, for Huckleberry Hound.”
“They sometimes have their little spats, even fight like dogs and cats, but when they need each other, that’s when they’re Ruff and Ready.”
I read not long afterward in TV Guide that the Nielson Co. did some research and learned that a significant portion of the audience for Huckleberry Hound strangely was adults. Hanna-Barbera, with plenty of savvy in following the money, cranked out two series geared to adults — “The Flintstones,” a cartoon version of Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners” and “Top Cat,” loosely based on Phil Silvers and “You’ll Never Get Rich.” The Flintstones, still going strong today, even advertised Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty smoking Winston cigarettes.
And let’s not forget “The Jetsons.”
Jay Ward Productions
Easily one of the classiest cartoon producers, the Jay Ward Studios gave us the voices of June Foray and Paul Frees and narration by William Conrad and Edward Everrett Horton.
The most famous series was “Rocky & His Friends,” including Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha, all of which have become icons, not to mention Peabody and Sherman and Fractured Fairy Tales. They were loaded with intelligent adult humor and puns.
Spinoffs were many, including “George of the Jungle,” “Tom Slick” and “Dudley Do-Right.” I still hear Dudley’s theme song at collegiate basketball games.
King Leonardo & His Subjects
I mostly remember the theme song:
“Good King Leonardo, and his enemies. Biggie with his pistol, Itchy with his fleas…
But Odio Cologne steps into the fray. That loyal skunk with skill and spunk comes in to save the day.”
It featured “Tooter and the Wizard,” in which the overreaching Tooter always messed up everything and had to be brought back to reality.
Mel Blanc’s many voices were genius, but these beloved Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and Road Runner cartoons were most famous in their early days as pleasant lead-ins at the movies.
I once had a friend who candidly told me he learned the most about classical music by watching and listening to Bugs Bunny cartoons. Who can forget Bugs doing the Barber of Seville while shaving Elmer Fudd or the sheepdog and the coyote greeting each other at the start of the day to the post-storm tune of Rossini’s William Tell?
Warner Bros. started to make hay on TV in the 1960s — “Overture, curtain lights, this is it, we’ll hit the heights.”
Calvin & the Colonel
Borrowing a page from the Hanna-Barbera school of ripping off popular TV shows, this series was more than loosely based on the the recently-defunct “Amos & Andy” show. It was so heavily weighted by copycat procedures that the voices of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, the radio originals, were used.
“Amos & Andy” was one of my favorite shows in the 1950s and I genuinely though Tim Moore was a comedy genius as The Kingfish. The show was removed in one of the first politically correct edicts ever handed down for television. The show was regarded as racist, though all of the performers said they were grateful to have the work in a racist entertainment industry still struggling to accept Nat King Cole.
These are only a few examples. I am only sharing memories.
Cartoons helped shape some of my views as a child and I learned a few lessons. I am certain my colleague, Walter G. Tarrow, aka The Subterranean, would agree without hestitation.