Thursday, July 2, 2009

All this and Wally Gator

During the late 1980's into the early 1990's part of my daily habit was watching the USA Cartoon Express. The marathon cartoon series at one time was a once a week program, airing on Sunday mornings beginning usually at 7am and going until noon. 5 or 6 hours of back-to-back cartoons which were mostly Hanna-Barbera or Ruby-Spears productions. Later, the Cartoon Express became a daily program...airing at first during the 6-7pm hour but then shifting to a 6-7am hour. The daily version being only an hour meant just two half-hour cartoons were aired. All of these shifts in schedule and cartoon line-up changes ultimately ended that show's run in 1996. The program had began in 1982...reaching it's peak in the late '80s and early '90s prior to Ted Turner buying the Hanna-Barbera library and shifting 90% of the cartoons to his new Cartoon Network. One of those Hanna-Barbera cartoons was a series called Wally Gator. This cartoon originally aired in 1962-1963 and 52 episodes were produced. Daws Butler provided the voice of Wally, doing an impression of Ed Wynn. The zoo keeper, Mr Twiddle, was voiced by Don Messick. The other one-shot characters were voiced by Daws and Don, too. Wally was depicted as a pampered alligator who loved life in the zoo but boredom usually sets in and he escapes...by episode's end he's running back to the zoo. It aired under the umbrella title The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series. Each episode consisted of three short segments which was a trademark of Hanna-Barbera made for TV cartoons.

Along side the Wally cartoons you had a self-titled cartoon starring two characters named Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har. The voice for Lippy was Daws Butler, doing an impression of Joe E. Brown. Lippy was a con-artist, always looking for quick way to make money at almost any cost. Daws would use this voice again for a different character, Peter Potamus. Mel Blanc was the voice of Hardy Har Har, a pessimistic hyena in spite of his name. Daws and Mel would voice any other character written into the episode...or sometimes, Don Messick would play a role. A lot of the female characters in many of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons during this era were voiced by either Jean Vanderpyl or Janet Waldo.

The third segment featured in the series featured two swashbucklers by the name of Touché Turtle and Dum-Dum. They fought on the same side of the law, though. Touché Turtle was up-standing, well-meaning, and heroic while his partner, Dum-Dum, was as his name implied: dumb. Bill Thompson gave this turtle character the same voice he gave Droopy. Alan Reed was on hand as Dum-Dum. It was never really explained why this series didn't feature Daws Butler or Don Messick in the lead roles. Each segment contained 52 episodes. So, in the years/decades to come, there were plenty of short-subject cartoons to fill Saturday mornings with. Doing the math that's 52 + 52 + 52 and that equals 156 short-subject cartoons produced in a season's time.

Moving on...in the 1970's Hanna-Barbera ended this practice and focused on half-hour programs, 22 minutes minus commercials. Often, these half-hour's would contain at least 16 separate episodes airing once a week...and that would be the norm throughout the decade. A lot of their late 1960's and 1970's cartoon shows featured no more than the standard 16 episodes a piece and those were re-ran continuously for at least a decade. Everyone whose a fan of older cartoons knows how Speed Buggy, for example, only consisted of 16 episodes. The original network, CBS, aired the show for two years, 1973-1975. 16 episodes...plus the re-run cycle...that's 32 air-dates for the show. What happened is, CBS aired the series but then kept repeating the same episodes for an additional season. It was on the CBS line-up from September 1973 until August 1975. Then ABC and NBC aired the 16 episodes. According to research, ABC aired the cartoon for a few months in early 1976 and then NBC picked it up and aired it on their schedule during 1976-1977. In the 1980's it moved to the USA Network's Cartoon Express, the show that I started this blog entry writing about.

I know it sounds mind-boggling...but those 16 episodes of Speed Buggy got a lot of mileage.

The Jetsons hold the record, though, for longest running cartoon series with the fewest episodes. That series by Hanna-Barbera began in prime-time in 1962 on ABC and originally 24 episodes were produced. These 24 episodes would be re-ran continuously on Saturday morning...up until 1985 when all-new episodes started airing. 23 years worth of repeats of the same 24 episodes {1962-1985}. Amazingly, 23 years later, all of the original voice actors/actresses were on hand to reprise their roles. Original voice cast: George O'Hanlon, Penny Singleton, Daws Butler, Janet Waldo, Don Messick, Mel Blanc, and Jean Vanderpyl were joined by other voice actors like John Stephenson, Frank Welker, Julie McWhirter, Hamilton Camp, and others.

There were 21 additional episodes produced in 1985...bringing the total of episodes altogether: 65. These episodes aired along side the 1960's version...and then 10 more new episodes were produced in 1987...bringing the grand total to 75 episodes...a much better total than 24.

I want to touch upon, just briefly, the huge celebrities and famous people who passed away during the month of June. David Carradine's mysterious death happened on June 3rd. Later in the month long-time TV personality Ed McMahon passed away on June 23rd. Now, what happened afterward is something I've never witnessed before and I'll probably never witness it again. On June 25th two legendary figures passed away on the same day. Early in the day Farrah Fawcett was reported to have died. The media and news programs aired their tribute's to her and then the news broke that Michael Jackson had died...and he was 50. This isn't all...on June 27th news breaks that 1950's sitcom star, Gale Storm, died...and then a day later, on June 28th, news breaks that commercial pitchmen Billy Mays has died at the age of 50 and on the same day news breaks that impersonator/voice actor, Fred Travalena, died after a battle with cancer.

Gale Storm was a weekly fixture on TV for eight years, 1952-1960, starring in two back-to-back comedy shows: My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show. Obviously, a lot of female comics during this era are over-shadowed by Lucille Ball but Gale Storm was one of the few, along with Eve Arden and Gracie Allen, to enjoy popular careers along side Lucy. Unfortunately, Gale's two sitcom's weren't heavily syndicated in their repeat cycle as other programs were and this caused less familiarity as the years went by.

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Fred Travalena had a career that paralleled Rich Little. The two of them were known for their impressions. Fred often used heavier make-up to visually look like the character he was impersonating. As with Rich Little, the two impressionists couldn't break out into the contemporary scene...their impressions were of celebrities and singer's of a different time period enjoyed more by those like myself who have interest in the past. Also, their impressions were enjoyed more by those who are old enough to remember the celebrities that either Fred or Rich were impersonating. Fred did a brilliant Humphrey Bogart impression and he used this on the cartoon series, Shirt Tales, in the 1980's. The character he gave voice to was Bogey, obviously named after Bogart. Fred also voiced several characters on the Smurfs and other 1980's cartoons. His legacy, aside from his impressions, was his many appearances on TV game shows and talk-shows showcasing his impressions. I saw him numerous times on game shows...also, he sang...but it's the impressions and voice-over work that brought him fame. In 1972 he was part of a group called the Kopycats on The ABC Comedy Hour. Among the other impressionists in this group were Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, George Kirby, and others.

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