Monday, December 15, 2014

Benny Hill...a 90 year anniversary...

I couldn't let 2014 go by without making mention of the 90th anniversary year of Benny Hill's birth. Born in January 1924 and passing away in April 1992, Benny Hill became one of the biggest comedy icon's of all-time (in my opinion). Originally rooted in verbal comedy and parody, seek out the black and white episodes Benny did for the BBC in the early part of his television career. Those episodes appear in a series called Benny Hill: The Lost Years. I have the VHS release...I don't have the DVD counterpart.

Benny's humor after leaving the BBC eventually became much more slapstick and pantomime, a move that guaranteed his programs to be universal given the elimination of a language barrier. Those programs became a hallmark of the Thames Television-era. Those programs (several specials broadcast throughout the year) were packed with bizarre poems, elaborate song and dance segments, all styles of comedy (both spoken and visual), and a fondness for theatrical staging created a Vaudeville-era showcase and a throwback to traditional comedy during a time when younger English comedians were embracing a so-called modern style of humor. Benny's age at the time of his first Thames production in 1969 was 45 and as the following decade opens we reach the mid 1970s and Benny's television specials are remaining enormously popular. After 10 years at Thames (1979) and numerous one-hour comedy specials, a decision is made to syndicate Benny's programs for American audiences.

In America the Benny Hill programs aired as half hour clip-filled presentations of sketches that originated during the first 10 years of the Thames TV association. The series ran in late night time-slots (or early morning time-slots, just before sunrise) on hundreds of local television stations in America. The hodgepodge look of the clip-filled series and the fact that Benny's age changes dramatically from sketch to sketch added to the uniqueness and appeal. Those at Thames TV and even Benny himself are quoted as being in disbelief that the programs attracted such a strong audience and fan base in America...but once the series became a smash hit in syndication in America it was like the floodgates opened up and from 1979 onward Benny Hill seemed to rule international humor...even though he'd been a big hit on British television since the 1960s. Yes, if you're keeping track, the year that Benny's sketches came to America in 1979 he was 55 years old. As I mentioned earlier, due to the American aired episodes being a compilation package, his age fluctuated 5-10 years within a single half-hour episode.

All the while Benny's sketches were entertaining millions of Americans and millions in Europe and millions of television viewers all over the world, he continued doing his usual sporadic television specials for Thames TV each year. Every year the half hour syndicated programs in America often gained new material annually as current sketches from then-recent Benny Hill specials continued to be woven into episodes that featured older sketches. By the mid 1980's the syndicated episodes looked even more distinct and by then Benny had turned 60 (in 1984). It is during the 1980's that the famous, or infamous, Hill's Angels made their debut. The Hill's Angels are the name of the group of women that appeared in many song-and-dance routines (often with Benny playing the part of the bum, the loser, or the easily excited spectator...typically all three rolled into one!). The name, Hill's Angels, has sort of retroactively come to identify all the beautiful women/models that appeared on his programs over the decades even though the name itself never came into being until the 1980's.

The Angels also played heavily in the sped-up silent sketches...a filmed segment that appeared on all the Thames TV episodes...and often it consisted of Benny and his familiar co-stars (Henry McGee, Jackie Wright, Bob Todd). A typical presentation starts out calmly and eventually works itself into a frenzied display of sight gags. It's in these sped-up presentations that one of the most memorable sight gags became immensely popular and referred to by many viewers as "the slapping of the head of the little bald guy".

The sped-up presentations make generous use of camera tricks (called under-cranking) and those appear at various moments in any number of episodes. In the closing segments of his programs, often a sped-up gag reel, the action is played under the saxophone solo of Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" as Benny eventually is chased by everybody he meets as the credits roll.

As the 1980's progressed, more and more younger comics were starting to come out of the woodwork and many of them had a much different style of comedy. In the mid-late '80s several British comedians seemingly took it upon themselves to launch into anti-Benny Hill tirades. Feminists received a much louder voice and the language-stifling unofficial censorship policy, popularly known as political correctness, played a part in Benny's eventual cancellation at Thames TV in 1989.

By that time Benny had started to incorporate a lot of cute humor into the sketches...lots of children become part of the sped-up sketches...and in typical fashion Benny allowed the other people in the comedy sketches to come out as the winner. As mentioned earlier, Benny usually always played the bum, the loser, the fall guy, the bad luck charm. In any comical sketch in which Benny seemed to be coming out on top of a situation, something always happened to change his fate. If he happened to be a pirate and stumbled upon a chest...he'd visually relish the idea of being rich...only to open the chest and find a sign that read "It's Lonely In Here!" and he'd make one of his famous comical expressions at the camera, start crying, and the scene would cut to something else. Another sight gag one might see is of Benny spraying deodorant under his arms and then suddenly noticing huge paint spots in his arm pits...often leading to this classic facial expression...


Silent movies were a huge inspiration to him and that's evident right from the start of his television career. He was the recipient of a prestigious Charlie Chaplin award in 1991. In the BBC era Benny often presented films from a fictional character named J. Arthur Clinker, billed as "the fastest film maker". Benny's straight-man in the BBC telecasts was Jeremy Hawk (a role later taken up by Henry McGee during the Thames TV era).

I research a lot and a couple of years ago I came across several articles originally printed in British newspapers that featured younger comedians making disparaging remarks about Benny's style of comedy and it's "old-fashioned" look. The thing that baffled me is the idea of a comic viciously attacking another comic. Isn't it kind of an unwritten rule that comics are all in it together...creating laughter? Unless there are 2 comedians engaging in a mock-feud (like Fred Allen and Jack Benny), it seems kind of crude for one comedian to bash another on the merits of what's funny. Humor is subjective...thankfully.

After the cancellation of the Thames TV contract in 1989, Benny's syndicated television programs in America eventually came to an end even though a couple of local stations in my area continued to air repeats of the clip-fests into the early 1990s. A local ABC station in Columbus aired the program in the overnight hours (late Saturday, early Sunday) opposite the last half hour of Saturday Night Live on NBC. Another station aired the program at an even later time-slot on Sunday mornings. Benny's fame in America led to a 1991 television special taped in New York. It's official name is Benny Hill's World Tour: New York. It was filmed/taped on-location in the spring of 1990 but it aired early in 1991 on the USA cable channel. It became the first and only hour long Benny Hill television special to originate outside of England.

It was going to be part of a "World Tour" series but only the New York special became a reality...his health played a deciding factor in the non-materialization of the other proposed specials (I touch on that later in the blog).

The television special proves that he was in top comic form...and there are several video clips of sketches from the 1991 television special on YouTube. One of the funniest is the Rap Song...



In the meantime, one of the hallmarks of burlesque and early stage comedy in general is the female impersonation by men. Modern audiences think "female impersonations" and perhaps instantly think of people described as Drag Queens. Centuries ago men dressed up as women for laughs and females often played the part of young boys (even today, a lot of young boys on cartoons are often voiced by females). It's almost impossible for people today to rationalize this kind of humor. Those that have no knowledge of burlesque humor (particularly Victorian burlesque of the 19th century) and therefore have a lack of understanding of it's comical value are typically confused or at a loss for words. Some people ignorantly proclaim that comics that dressed up as women must be closet homosexuals or something. I hardly suspect Milton Berle, for example, to have been a closet homosexual. He dressed up in female attire plenty of times for comic effect. The cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, famously put on dresses, lipstick, and heavy mascara in many attempts to ridicule Elmer Fudd's befuddled dopiness and apparent shyness around females.

Look up Victorian burlesque or read up on English music hall comedy and you'll immediately notice Benny Hill's biggest inspiration. He not only played the roles of Princesses and Queens but also of Kings, Dukes, Princes, and court jesters.

In February 1992 Benny Hill had a mild heart attack. Reports state he refused to change his eating habits or his lifestyle...and eventually this led to his death at the age of 68 in April 1992. It's been reported that on the very day he died a contract arrived in the mail for even more television specials. One can assume that these specials would've aired throughout 1992 and into 1993 and possibly beyond that point in time but as it turned out only the New York program surfaced in early 1991. After his death millions of people obviously mourned it...fans, friends, and extended family members alike. It's not a secret that Benny passed away in the midst of social controversies surrounding his brand of humor and many believe the cancellation of his Thames TV contract played a factor in his death considering that the television specials were "his life" and once he had "nothing to live for" he started to lose the desire to carry on. The New York television special doesn't play into that narrative, though. I've seen bits of the 1991 special and I didn't see a man torn apart or in misery...to my eyes it was the usual Benny Hill up on the screen...making faces, rolling his eyes, dancing and prancing around, and delivering one joke after another. In the 20+ years after his death the home video and later, the DVD market, became commercial avenues for Benny's legacy. The VHS home videos featured comedy sketches, at random, from the Thames TV specials that Benny did during the latter half of the '70s and into the '80s. The DVD series, titled Complete and Unadulterated, contained actual full length programs from Benny's earliest years on Thames TV. The actual programs themselves featured a mix of previously filmed sketches, live sketch performances, singing, and dancing...including Benny coming onto the stage at the beginning and talking to the audience. As mentioned, the half hour edited programs that aired in America starting in 1979 contained none of the monologues, singers, or other trappings of a variety program. The syndicated programs that aired in America contained one sketch after the other after the other...maybe featuring a comical patter song from Benny, too, to break up the sketch formula...but that's it. The full length episodes are a revelation to those only familiar with the edited half hour clip-fests that aired on American television stations for more than 10 years.

Enjoy the pictorial salute...I start things off displaying one of those A&E DVD releases of the Benny Hill program...in the image at the bottom right I display the VHS tapes of his BBC programs. Those episodes are all in black and white. Located on one of those tapes is a hilarious parody of "Bonanza" titled Bo-Peep. Benny, thanks to camera tricks, plays the parts of Ben Cartwright, Little Joe, and Hoss. Patricia Hayes, one of Benny's earliest supporting players, plays the part of Bo-Peep. She accuses the sons of stealing her sheep. In yet another sketch during the BBC era Benny does an exaggerated spoof of Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones. 

In another sketch found on one of the VHS tapes Benny parodies television commercials (one of his favorite routines) and in a sped-up film by fictional J. Arthur Clinker we're all treated to a surreal and bizarre film spoofing melodrama's and action-adventure films. The film is made so fast that there's misplaced edits, strange camera angles, problems with the film's speed (jumping from slow motion to uptempo, back and fourth). During a crucial moment in the story, Benny's character attempts to pour out his feelings but his dialogue skips due to the unnecessary editing. As stated, J. Arthur Clinker truly is the fastest film maker in the world. In the first picture in the bottom row, that VHS tape consists of another J. Arthur Clinker 'masterpiece'. This time around it's from one of the Thames TV episodes and it features Benny as a love-struck passenger on a ship. Nicholas Parsons appears as Benny's rival. In this sketch there's a hysterical scene where the line "why didn't you tell me you were a second class passenger?" is shot and re-shot multiple times...each successive take is performed in a much slower tempo than before. If you look close enough, during one of the last slow takes of the phrase, you'll see Benny struggling not to break out laughing.

In some of the collages, as you can see, I posted images of myself next to Benny. On my Facebook page I have an image of myself saluting, as Benny Hill, and I recently took the image and placed it side by side with an image of Benny saluting in the same manner. Some of the collage site's special features enabled me to be somewhat creative but I didn't explore each and every special effect available. Up next is a series of collage's that I put together recently. There's one that I deliberately put together to spotlight the burlesque side of his comedy and the female impressions. I didn't come across any suitable pictures of any of his supporting players in drag although I've got video of sketches that have Jackie Wright all dressed up in high heels and a long wig and one unforgettable sketch featuring Henry McGee in a blue dress, pearl ear rings and matching necklace, and donning a tight curly wig.

This is by no means a complete representation of Benny Hill's female impersonations. At various moments in his programs, both on the BBC and for Thames TV, he often impersonated movie actresses and political figures. Some of the usual targets happened to be Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, and Mae West. In the four pictures to the left, Benny is dressed up as non-celebrities. Often the females happened to be nags or holier-than-thou...or scheming gold-diggers. In his series of commercial parodies he often played the part of the housewife demonstrating numerous items found in the kitchen, laundry, or the bathroom. One of the BBC sketches featured Benny as both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and later as Mae West and W.C. Fields. Much later, during the Thames TV era, Benny brought back his impression of Mae West and W.C. Fields many more times in comical encounters. As far as the female vocals it typically depended on the kind of female. Most of the nagging wives had a high pitched, irritated voice. The snooty females all had a similar vocalization that played into that type...complete with haughty laughter and an arrogant demeanor about themselves and others. The larger picture seems to come from a soap opera spoof...and in those sketches Benny played the females as overly dramatic and prone to breaking into tears very easily. In that larger image the character looks as if she's thinking of some sort of scheme to either break up a relationship or enter into one. The image at the top left appears as if Benny applied the snooty/aristocratic vocalization to that character.

I don't have any information as to the year this picture happened to originate but based on the light colored shirt and his hair I'd say this is from an interview session he did at some point in 1990 or 1991. There's a VHS tape titled Benny Hill: The World's Favorite Clown, which surfaced in 1991. I have the VHS tape and I also have it on DVD. It's a special bonus feature on one of the A&E releases. There's another documentary on Benny that also makes an appearance as a bonus feature on another A&E disc. That particular documentary originally aired as part of A&E's Biography series, hosted by Peter Graves. The official title of that episode is called Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy. In each documentary surviving supporting players and behind the scenes people give their thoughts on Benny and near the end of each documentary the supporting players offer their feelings on the shabby treatment his career received at the end of his life by television critics (ironically those that lived in England) and the accusations his humor obtained by a host of younger comics in England at the time. Benny, himself, takes part in the 1991 documentary and offers his thoughts of Thames TV ending his contract. He doesn't say anything too harsh but others do. In addition to those documentaries (both of them I strongly recommend) and in addition to the DVDs, there's also several books on the market about Benny. I personally do not have any of those books...I've not come across any review that has convinced me that any of the available books are accurate and lovingly written. I refuse to purchase anything that puts Benny in a negative light.

Let's all mug for the camera, shall we?? I don't necessarily like the idea of being approached by somebody (Benny) whose carrying a syringe. He didn't numb my mouth...the syringe is just for looks I found out. It appears as if the same thing happened to that poor woman (Benny)...she couldn't even tolerate the canned pasta on her table. You can click the smaller collage's for a bigger view. Did Benny Hill have any recurring characters? For those that might be wondering...the answer is yes! In addition to the previously mentioned fastest film-maker, J. Arthur Clinker. Benny also had a long-running character by the name of Fred Scuttle. This character is typically the one that did the backhanded salute across the forehead but the gesture soon started to make it's way onto any sketch regardless of character but it's Scuttle that I happened to see do the gesture the most often during his introductions. Scuttle is often in the sped-up silent sketches, too. Another character is Chow Mein. This character, a parody of the Chinese, often mangled the English language and exchanged in confrontational conversations (most often with Henry McGee). Typically Chow Mein grows frustrated by McGee's inquisitive nature and his habit of repeating everything back to the viewers. This causes Chow to growl in irritated cadence: "why must you repeat e'erything..." followed by the most popular catchphrase, "you stoopid iriot" (English translation: "you stupid idiot!"). Sometimes another supporting player, Bob Todd, appears along side Benny as a character named Cookie Boy (a cook at one of Chow Mein's fictional restaurants). Another long running character, Ted Tingle, often appeared as a storyteller and a poet...delivering poems and patter song with a thick Cockney accent.

I hope more and more people discover Benny Hill as time goes by. Thanks to the internet it's easy to search for his comedy and seek out others that enjoyed his humor for the sheer happiness it brought. To over-think and over-analyze Benny's style of humor is doing a disservice to it's intention. It's not hard hitting, satiric humor in the same category of those that are in the David Frost tradition. Benny's humor allows one to embrace their inner silliness and laugh at life's experiences and see the absurdity in a lot of everyday situations. In his own kind of way he was a trailblazer...he's one of the first British comics to explore television's capabilities. Benny may have been the only British comic of his generation to embrace television and not look at it in a scornful manner (as film and stage comics tended to do).

Simply put, Benny's humor will last as long as people enjoy laughing.

Benny Hill: 1924-1992

Monday, September 15, 2014

Scooby-Doo and John Stephenson, Too...

Hello all...this is part 3 of my Scooby blog series spotlighting the 45th anniversary (1969-present) of the franchise. I posted part 2 earlier this morning and I posted the initial entry (referred to as part 1) back in March of this year.

This particular entry simply shines the light on the various characters that were voiced by John Stephenson during the program's various incarnations...imagery from the first 8 years, specifically (1969-1978). I created 8 collage's of John Stephenson's characters and I'm going to post them as a salute to his contributions to the Scooby franchise. You can click on each collage and see the bigger image. I'll be sharing 8 collage's...this should be interesting...

In this collage of 9 pictures, they originate from the first 2 seasons of the program. The character names are Elias Kingston, Uncle Stuart, Mr. Sims, Mano Tiki Tia, The Creeper, Redbeard the Pirate, the Magnus Butler, C.L. Magnus, and The Ghost Clown. As I've mentioned in previous Scooby blogs, many of the episodes had titles filled with alliteration and rhyming. Those 9 characters come from the following episodes: What The Hex Going On?; A Tiki Scare is No Fair; Jeepers, It's the Creeper; Go Away Ghost Ship; and Bedlam in the Big Top. The Kingston Manor, depicted in What the Hex Going On?, appears in the opening credits of the first season...it's also referred to as the black castle with the bats flying around. Also, scenes from that episode appear more times in the opening sequence of the first season than the other episodes. It's also worth pointing out, since this is a John Stephenson character salute blog entry, that his first roles in the Scooby cartoons occurred on the What the Hex Going On? episode.The Magnus Butler is one of several characterizations from Stephenson vocally based on Boris Karloff.

In this collage of 6 pictures I took a look at some of the characters that John voiced in the 1972-1974 series, The New Scooby Doo Movies. The 2 at the top of the collage come from the episode "The Frickert Fracas" (guest starring Jonathan Winters as himself and Maude Frickert). John voiced the characters Simon Shakely and Vernon Crow. In the third box there's the farmer character from the episode "The Ghost of the Red Baron" (guest starring The Three Stooges). It's one of the only characters John voiced in the Scooby cartoons that comes close to sounding like his most famous character, Mr. Slate (from The Flintstones). The fourth picture is Hans Eitherwise, a German-American ski instructor in the episode guest starring Laurel and Hardy, "The Ghost of Big Foot". The bottom 2 sinister looking cut-throats are Morgan and Winslow from the episode "The Loch Ness Mess" (guest starring The Harlem Globetrotters). John, as Winslow, does an impression of Titus Moody (a character from Fred Allen's radio programs and Pepperidge Farm television commercials played by Parker Fennelly).

These 8 images represent characters voiced by John Stephenson during the mid-late '70s episodes, roughly 1976-1978. The big image is that of a Coast Guard employee that appears near the end of the episode "Scooby-Doo, Where's the Crew?". Off to the right are Mr. Wells, Mr. Speck, The Specter, Elwood Crane, The Demon Shark, a Customs Agent, and Avery Queen. Mr. Wells, the Demon Shark, and the Customs Agent all come from the episode "There's a Demon Shark in the Foggy Dark". In that episode John roars and growls as the Demon Shark and speaks in a gravelly voice for Mr. Wells. Elwood Crane comes from the episode "The Headless Horseman of Halloween". In the episode he's referred to as Cousin Elwood. John also voiced the Headless Horseman character but I didn't post an image of him...these collage's aren't meant to be a career defining project...just a sampling of his character roles through the various Scooby episodes. Scooby-Dum makes an appearance in that episode...and Janet Waldo voices one of the guest characters, Beth Crane. The Specter and Mr. Speck come from the episode "High Rise Hair Raiser". Avery Queen comes from the episode "The Ghost of the Bad Humor Man".

A five picture collage reveals characters largely stemming from 1976 and 1978. The creepy character in blue is Dr. Tooksbury from the episode "The Harum Scarum Sanitarium". John also provides the voice of a Canadian Mountie at the end of that episode. In the episode Scooby and the gang must solve a mystery surrounding a sanitarium and the legend of a ghostly doctor that's come back to haunt the area. Next to him is Officer Grizzly, a hard of hearing night watchman at the Ice Cream factory in "The Ghost of the Bad Humor Man". As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Stephenson also voiced the owner of the Ice Cream factory, Avery Queen. Below those characters are Zarko and Merlin from the episode "Scared a Lot in Camelot". Zarko appears near the beginning of the episode performing a magic act. Shaggy and Scooby become volunteers from the audience to participate in a magic act. The act backfires thanks to the terrified duo thinking they were really going to be cut in half...Zarko's laughed off the stage (the gang make a run for the exit in the process). Merlin appears throughout the remainder of the episode as he haunts the castle of Shaggy's uncle, Shagworthy. The larger picture is that of the leader of a gang of zombies and witch doctors (Mamba Wamba) in the pop music-inspired episode, "Mamba Wamba and the Voodoo Hoodoo". Scooby and the gang visit friends of theirs who have become rock music stars. The group perform a song about voodoo and are soon being chased by the ghost of Mamba Wamba and his henchman who are after a parchment...the real mystery is explained, of course, at episode's end.

In this collage of John Stephenson characters there's Mayor Dudley, Mr. Doherty, Mr. Prentice, The Rambling Ghost, and Mr. Grumper. These characters appear in the 1976 episodes "The 10,000 Volt Ghost", "High Rise Hair Raiser", "The Ghost That Sacked the Quarterback", and "The Spirits of '76". On a personal note, "The Ghost That Sacked the Quarterback" happened to originally air on December 4, 1976 (2 days after I was born!). In that episode the gang solves the mystery of a haunted football team and the legend of The Rambling Ghost. The team's owner is Mr. Prentice. Coinciding with America's Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, Scooby and the gang encounter ghosts at The Smithsonian Institution in form of Bendict Arnold, Major Andre, and William Demont. John voices the ill-tempered Mr. Grumper, one of the security guards. John voices a Federal Agent near the end of the episode. Mayor Dudley is John's more humorous characterization compared to the other characters. I should say the mayor comes across lighthearted. As is the case in many Scooby episodes things are not exactly as they seem.

The Red Baron, from "The Ghost of the Red Baron", appears first in this collage. The character, along with a farmer, were voiced by John Stephenson. The episode features The Three Stooges. Next to the Red Baron is the dapper Sam Crenshaw from the episode "The Frightened Hound meets Demons Underground". The bearded Albert Tross is another Stephenson-voiced character from that same episode. The irritated Mr. Dilly, co-owner of The Dilly Dally Dolly Company, appears in the episode "The No Faced Zombie Case" as does the next character in the collage, the police Lieutenant (another character similar in vocal tone to his Mr. Slate characterization). The character in the blue coat and red shirt is the Captain in "Scooby-Doo, Where's the Crew?". That was John's main character in the episode...at the end he gave voice to the rescuing officer from the Coast Guard that I mentioned earlier. 

For this seven image collage I decided to mix things up more and include an image of John Stephenson himself...from the 1950's. The six characters come from episodes that originally aired during 1976-1978. Captain Eddie, The Ghost of Juan Carlos, Uncle Leon, and the Vampire Ghost are the characters that appear on the left. The 2 characters off to the right are Professor Salari and an Indian leader, Red Harron. Captain Eddie and the Ghost of Juan Carlos (one of John's most maniacal roles in the series) come from the episode "Don't Go Near the Fortress of Fear". Professor Salari, the curator of a local museum, appears in the episode "A Menace in Venice". Red Harron appears in "Watch Out! The Willawaw!!". The Vampire ghost and Uncle Leon appear in "Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats". In that episode, also co-starring Scooby-Dum, Scooby and the gang investigate the family legend of their friend, Lisa. It seems her late grandfather and members of the family (including her uncle) have kept a secret from her...members of the family have been known to turn into vampires!!

Lastly, I made this collage. If you notice I also included another black and white photo of John...this time laughing. The characters mostly come from 1976-1977. On the top there's back to back Viking characters, then there's Mr. Bohannon. In the second row there's a nameless pilot and next to him, from a different episode, another pilot by the name of Luis. Samson the Strongman concludes the animated character collage. The vikings come from "The Curse of Viking Lake". Mr. Bohannon comes from "Hang In There, Scooby-Doo". The nameless pilot comes from "Scooby's Night with a Snow Beast Fright". Luis comes from "Jeepers, It's the Jaguaro!". John also provided the guttural moans for the Jaguaro creature and I assume electronic enhancing created the shrilling effect (you'll hear what I mean once you see that particular episode). Samson the Strongman appears at the beginning of 1969's "Bedlam in the Big Top". As a side note, John does a great impression of Sydney Greenstreet's characterization of Nero Wolfe for the Mr. Bohannon character.

As I pointed out earlier these collages and this blog post aren't meant to be a career retrospective...just a glimpse at some of the characters John Stephenson gave voice to during his years associated with Scooby-Doo. These do not include characters from other cartoon programs, of course, or the characters he did on the Laff-a-Lympics episodes (even though the series was billed as Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics). Since that series deviated from the mystery solving concept I excluded his many vocal contributions on Laff-a-Lympics (he voiced several Really Rottens members and did a Paul Lynde impression as Mildew Wolf).

If you're interested I'd highly encourage you all to purchase the various DVD releases of the Scooby series to hear the vocalizations of John Stephenson and the other voice artists that contributed to the overall success of the franchise. Here are links to some of the DVD projects...

Scooby Doo First and Second Season DVD

Scooby Doo and Dynomutt

Scooby Doo DVD 1978 episodes

The Best of the Scooby Doo Movies

The link I call 'Scooby Doo and Dynomutt' takes you to a DVD consisting of the episodes that aired during the 1976-1977 season of the Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Adventure Hour. I mentioned some of the episodes that featured a John Stephenson vocal characterization but I didn't get into the episodes of Dynomutt that have a Stephenson vocalization. The episodes feature their syndicated opening titles...meaning that each cartoon program airs back to back and has it's own opening and closing sequence. Some of the fans voiced their outrage at the time of the DVD's release because the episodes didn't feature the official opening sequence of the hour long series (which would have one opening and closing sequence per episode) and instead the company utilized the opening and closing sequences from the syndicated airings of each cartoon program. Regardless of the outrage from some...the episodes are intact and that's all that's important for a lot of us. It's that 1976-1977 season that contained Stephenson episodes such as "High Rise Hair Raiser", "The No Face Zombie Case", "The Spirits of '76"...

The link referring to the 1978 episodes takes you to a 2-disc release billed as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Season Three. Technically there isn't a season three of that series. The company that released the DVD took the 16 half hour episodes from 1978 that originally aired during the Saturday morning programs, Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics and Scooby's All-Stars, and issued those episodes as 'Season Three'. The 16 episodes found on the DVD utilize the opening sequence of The Scooby-Doo Show (it's the opening that features Scooby water skiing and having his ski's eaten by a hungry shark). It's anyone's guess as to why the 8 half hour episodes from 1977, which also follow the formula from the first 2 seasons, hadn't been released on DVD. Those, technically, could've been marketed as 'Season Three' and the 16 episodes from 1978 as 'Season Four'. The episodes "The Curse of Viking Lake", "Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats", and "Hang In There, Scooby-Doo" that I mentioned earlier due to John Stephenson's vocal involvement originally aired in 1977 but haven't been released on DVD yet.

Scooby-Doo and 45 Years, Too...part 2...

Earlier this year I published a blog about the Scooby franchise turning 45 this year. This past Saturday (September 13, 2014) was the exact date that Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? made it's premiere on Saturday morning television...45 years to the day!

It aired on CBS-TV for 2 seasons (1969-1971) and then in reruns for another season. The gang returned in all-new episodes for the 1972-1973 season, titled The New Scooby-Doo Movies. These episodes ran roughly 45 minutes (an hour including commercials). This is the version that has the gang meeting celebrities, both fictional and non-fictional. This incarnation ran 2 seasons also (1972-1974). After 2 seasons of Saturday morning reruns on CBS, the network soon dropped the series.

According to commentary from Fred Silverman from various interviews he's given about Scooby, once CBS dropped the series he picked it up for the ABC Saturday morning schedule. Fred Silverman had been instrumental at CBS in bringing Scooby to television in the first place...and how ironic that after moving to ABC he'd be instrumental in bringing the character back to the spotlight once more in a new series in the fall of 1976. In that series Scooby shared top billing with a new character, Dynomutt (a/k/a Dog Wonder) on an hour long series called The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Adventure Hour. Dynomutt ineptly solved crime with his super-serious, super hero partner/master, Blue Falcon.

In the meantime, Scooby would remain an ABC staple for the rest of it's Saturday morning network run (not counting cable-TV and off-network syndicated reruns) until the removal of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo from the ABC Saturday morning line-up in the early '90s. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo had ended production of new episodes in 1991 (after having debuted in 1988). Since the mid '90s Scooby reruns have aired on various cable-TV networks and beginning in the late '90s direct-to-video Scooby animated movies started appearing for retail purchase. All new half hour television episodes returned in 2002 in the appropriately named What's New, Scooby-Doo? and that series remained in production through 2005.

A live action theatrical series of films based on the Scooby franchise became financially popular...coexisting with the direct-to-video animated movies and the TV series that aired in the latter half of the 2000s. In 2010 a more adult/romantic fan-fiction interpretation of the characters took center stage in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. That series ran another 3 seasons (it's final episodes airing in 2013). The erratic scheduling of this series caused hat would have been a 2-season series to stretch into 3 seasons. There are 52 episodes of this incarnation (26 for season one, 26 for season two). However, Cartoon Network aired the show erratically and placed it on several hiatuses...causing significant air-date gaps (there would be a period of several months sandwiched between the airing of episodes). The final first-run episodes that aired in 2013 had actually been produced as early as 2011/2012.

Since the end of that series and the 45th anniversary date of Scooby's debut this past Saturday, the franchise lost one of it's legendary vocalists, Casey Kasem. From the debut of the series in 1969 through 1991 and once again from 2002 until 2005, Casey voiced the character of Shaggy Rogers (the most popular character on the series aside from Scooby himself). While it's a fact that Casey didn't voice Shaggy during the final two incarnations of the series (Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated) and previously had left the role in the mid '90s during the direct-to-video animated film era (Scott Innes, among several others, took over the role in the interim), Casey nonetheless remained strongly connected to the franchise. Casey returned to the role of Shaggy in 2002 and retired from the role after What's New, Scooby-Doo? ended production. He had a recurring role as Shaggy's uncle, Dr. Albert Shaggleford, in Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006-2008), transmitting messages/clues to Shaggy and Scooby while he was on the run.

It's interesting to point out that in several episodes throughout the history of the series there have been rich relatives of Shaggy appear and ultimately be the focal point of a mystery. My guess is because Shaggy is suppose to represent a beatnik/hippie and be turned off by material possessions, what better way to invoke comical irony than to have Shaggy come from a long line of millionaires?!?

One of the earliest episodes to feature a rich uncle of Shaggy's is "The Loch Ness Mess", a 1972 episode guest starring The Harlem Globetrotters. In the episode the gang meet up with the Globetrotters while driving through the New England countryside and they all make their way to the mansion of Shaggy's uncle, Nathaniel, and are ultimately caught up in a mystery involving a sea serpent and the ghosts of Paul Revere and his 2 partners in crime. In a 1976 episode the gang visits another rich uncle of Shaggy's, appropriately named Shagworthy. He's also described as an eccentric millionaire that had a castle imported from England to the United States stone by stone. He's gone missing and is ultimately found by Scooby and the gang. This mystery is played out in the episode "Scared a lot in Camelot" (the villains are The Black Knight and Merlin).

In the Mystery Incorporated series Casey voiced Shaggy's father, Colton Rogers, in several episodes. Casey retired from the entertainment business not long after that series and of course, as you all should know by now, he passed away several months ago at the age of 82.

The voice cast throughout the history of the Scooby series is rather large and prolific.

The original voice of Scooby, Don Messick, passed away in 1997. He had been the voice of Scooby since 1969 and he remained the voice of Scooby through the end of A Pup Named Scooby Doo in 1991.

As previously mentioned, Casey Kasem passed away this past June and he had been the voice of Shaggy the longest (1969-1991, 1995, 1997, 2002-2009).

Frank Welker's voiced the teenaged Fred since 1969. The only animated depiction of Fred that hasn't been voiced by Frank is the child version of the character on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Frank became the official voice of Scooby beginning in 2002...a role he continues to play.

Prior to 2002, Scooby had been voiced in animated cartoons by Scott Innes starting in 1998 (Don Messick retired in 1996 following a career ending stroke). After Frank took over as Scooby in 2002, Scott continued to voice Scooby in a series of video games through 2006. Scott had also been the voice of Shaggy following Casey's departure from the role in the mid-late '90s. Scott voiced Shaggy in video game releases through 2009. Shaggy's current voice actor is Matthew Lillard (2010-present).

The female half of the gang, Daphne and Velma, don't have as many voice actresses in their history so it won't be as confusing/convoluted as the previous paragraph might appear to some.

Daphne's voice originally was supplied by an actress named Stefanianna Christopherson during the program's first season (1969-1970). Heather North became the second voice actress of Daphne in 1970 and she held this role on various Scooby incarnations through the early 1980's. She returned to the role in 2 direct-to-video Scooby animated movies in 2003: Scooby-Doo! and the Legend of the Vampire and Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico. Kellie Martin voiced the child Daphne in A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Mary Kay Bergman voiced Daphne in direct-to-video animated movies from 1997-2000 and her replacement, Grey DeLisle, has voiced Daphne ever since.

Velma's original voice actress is Nicole Jaffe (1969-1974). Pat Stevens became the second voice of Velma in the mid '70s (1976-1979). After this, Velma's appearances (as well as Fred and Daphne) became sporadic. Velma's next voice actress happened to be Marla Frumpkin for brief, non-recurring appearances through 1984. The child version of Velma on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was voiced by Christina Lange. B.J. Ward became the next voice actress associated with Velma. She voiced the character in the string of direct-to-video animated movies in the late '90s (1997-2001). Mindy Cohn (Natalie from the 1979-1988 sitcom, The Facts of Life) became the next voice of Velma in 2002. She's been the voice ever since.

Aside from those that gave voice to Scooby and the four teenagers there have been other voice artists that have contributed to the franchise...one in particular, John Stephenson. I'll spotlight his contributions on the next Scooby 45th anniversary blog entry that I post later today...be on the look-out for it!!