Monday, December 28, 2009

Scooby's Laff-a-Lympics and more

There will be a couple of DVD releases coming in January 2010. One of them is the long-awaited release of "Laff-a-Lympics" onto DVD format by a major company. The plus side is that the episodes are finally being put onto DVD circulation but the down side is, from the looks of it, it'll be a 4-episode per volume collection. There were 16 episodes produced of the series in 1977-1978...and it all adds up to 4 volumes of "Laff-a-Lympics" on DVD containing 4 episodes each. Now, of course, I would have preferred the episodes be released in one complete collection...8 episodes on 2 discs...but that isn't the way it's going to happen. So, what consumers should do, is purchase the first volume that's available for pre-order at Amazon and other on-line stores.

" only contains 4 episodes???!!???!!"

Well, for those who take that approach here's something important you should know. The company that's releasing this Volume One collection is pretty much going to base their follow-up plan based on the success rate of the DVD. What this means is if the first volume of episodes doesn't show any sales success then it'll more than likely cause the company to decide against releasing further episodes. You can't take a wait and see approach or have the opinion of "I'm just going to wait until a proper release comes along" because the on-going release of more episodes of "Laff-a-Lympics" onto DVD will be based on the sales success of this Volume One collection that hits in January 2010. You all can do whatever you want to, of course. I'll more than likely purchase the collection.

In another report on DVD releases pertaining to vintage cartoons we have the news of the upcoming release of the original "Superfriends" with Wendy and Marvin and their dog aiding the Superfriends. This original series wasn't as heavily reran as later episodes featuring the Wonder Twins...I believe at some point earlier this year the original episodes ran late at night on Boomerang. Well, anyway, fans of the series have been hoping for a release of the original episodes for years and in January 2010 they will get their wish. The original run of the series featured Ted Knight as the narrator instead of William Woodson. Also, the original episodes had a much more limited animation style than the series that became more well-known. The DVD will feature 8 episodes and they each ran about 45 minutes in hour when you factor in television commercial interruptions. There were 16 episodes produced of the original series, which was on the air during the 1973-1974 season. As with the "Laff-a-Lympics" release, the plans of following up "Superfriends" with the rest of the episodes will depend on the success of the Volume One collection.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The World Has Stopped Turning...

I wanted to pass along the news that has no doubt been broadcast on radio and TV newscasts, especially those on CBS, that the world has stopped turning for soap opera As The World Turns. Well, officially the world will stop turning on September 17, 2010 which will be almost one year since the cancellation of Guiding Light on September 18, 2009. I wasn't that much of a follower of As The World Turns even though on the daytime schedule here it aired prior to Guiding Light. I knew of some of the characters on ATWT but as far as really connecting with the characters or stories that's where the distance grew. My mom and sisters watched all the CBS soaps back in the 1980's into the early 1990's, particularly during the summer months when we were on summer break. I would catch Guiding Light off and on during that time period and would also watch the show off and on throughout the 1990's and into the 2000's but my big thing in the 1980's were the game shows that used to be all over daytime TV prior to the schedule being took over by court dramas and talk-shows. Of course I also watched cartoons as well. I caught episodes of ATWT long enough to know of the characters Bob Hughes and his wife, a somewhat super-couple named Tom and Margo, Lisa, and the doctor, John Dixon. Barbara is another character I know of. Lisa Brown, of Guiding Light fame, played a character as well. I don't know the character histories or anything as I do Guiding Light but I felt like passing along the news of As The World Turns leaving the air in the fall of 2010. This will end a run of 54 years.

The Best of Mel Blanc: Man of 1,000 Voices...

this 25 song CD from Collector's Choice Music came along in 2005. This is the only Mel Blanc compilation that I own and so I couldn't tell you if it's better than others but with 25 recordings you can't go wrong. One of the over-looked aspects of Mel's career was his music. The material, of course, was aimed primarily at children but at the same time much like the Looney Tunes cartoons playing in theaters there was plenty for adults to laugh at and enjoy. For example, I don't feel that a child could truly understand why "The Missus Wouldn't Approve" is hilarious beyond the sad, trembling voice he uses on the recording. He uses this voice on another recording, "I Tell My Troubles To Joe", a narrative that adults will understand more quicker than kids. This voice was similar to the one he used for The Happy Postman on the Burns and Allen radio show. There are even love songs on here...there is "My Kind of Love" and "I'm In the Mood for Love"...but everything else is on the comical and off-beat side.

One thing a listener will notice right away is the music is typical swing and big-band...sometimes there's a jazz overtone as well. These were the sounds that were considered "popular" prior to the creation of rock music. A few of the songs on this CD reached the Hot 100 in the late 1940's and early 1950's. His albums were primarily aimed at children and at one time he had several albums on the charts. Ironically, though, the more adult-oriented material I wrote of in the previous paragraph were released as singles to keep them separate from the albums that were aimed at kids.

I have the CD cover out of it's case, obviously. The cover is a centerfold where it has quite a few paragraphs from a man named Todd Everett from July 2005. The songs are written in list form and include the songwriter credits. Mel is listed as a co-writer on the song "There's a Hole in the Iron Curtain". Stan Freberg is credited as a co-writer on the song "Money". The songs associated with Mel that are considered the most popular are on the CD: "Woody Woodpecker", "Toot Toot Tootsie", "I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day", "Barney Google", "The Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Beeg", "Yosemite Sam", and "I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat". Some more hilarious recordings on the CD are "Yah Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree", "The E.I.O Song", "The Missus Wouldn't Approve", "Morris", "Money", and "I Tell My Troubles To Joe".

I would also like to use this blog entry to set the record straight about Mel and carrots. There has long been this myth that Mel was allergic to carrots. There is video footage of Mel on the special, Camera Three: The Boys From Termite Terrace, pointing out the fact that he isn't allergic to carrots. He simply doesn't like them...but the only thing that sounded like a carrot was a carrot...and so when recording the lines for Bugs Bunny he'd chew on the carrot and the recording would stop while he spit out the chewed carrot pieces in a bucket and they'd start recording again. This special was filmed at some point in the 1970's and was hosted by John Canemaker. In Mel's 1988 autobiography, That's Not All, Folks, he makes this similar statement again about not being allergic to carrots. Still to this day, 20 years after his death, people on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter, My Space, etc etc all continue to pass on this Mel was allergic to carrots myth as fact and they won't listen if you attempt to correct their mistake. I guess in their minds it's funny to continue saying Mel was allergic to carrots instead of accepting the truth that he wasn't. I know this paragraph won't erase the decades of belief that Mel was allergic to carrots but for those who do happen to stop by and read this blog entry you'll know the truth.

Hubie and Bertie...twice the mice is nice

One of the lesser known character teams in the Looney Tunes family are a couple of mice named Hubie and Bertie. Each mouse changed color and voice in different episodes but what most recall is that Hubie is always depicted as the smart mouse and Bertie is the dumb mouse. The mice are perhaps more popular visually than they are by name because in a few of Chuck Jones' cartoons there were mice characters and their design and look were based on Hubie and Bertie. Now, throughout the final three cartoons of the series, they tormented a neurotic cat named Claude but in their first cartoon they tormented a similar cat in speech pattern and personality but visually different from Claude. The character's all had distinct voices. Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg provided the voices for all of the episodes...but some sources say that an actor named Dick Nelson voiced the role of Bertie in one cartoon short, "Roughly Squeaking", from 1946, and that Freberg voiced Hubie...the mouse often voiced by Mel Blanc. Hubie and Bertie can be seen on the various DVD collections of the Looney Tunes. Their likeness has appeared on other cartoons as well...including cameo appearances on 1990's editions of Warner Brothers cartoons. As I mentioned earlier, the names of Hubie and Bertie may not ring a bell but once you actually see the mice you'll no doubt go "oh, now I remember those mice...". The duo headlined six cartoons:

1. The Aristo-Cat; 1943
2. Roughly Squeaking; 1946
3. House Hunting Mice; 1947
4. Mouse Wreckers; 1949
5. The Hypo-Chondri-Cat; 1950
6. Cheese Chasers; 1951

Mel Blanc's autobiography came along 21 years ago in 1988. It was issued a year before his death and I'd known of the book for years but never had the chance to read it until I came across a copy for sale on eBay about 5 years ago. I've since read the book and continue to read and skim the pages to continually remind myself of things I've read. There are several pictures that appear throughout and there's plenty of backstage gossip and other anecdotes that Mel recalls. There's also a chapter devoted to his career on Jack Benny's radio show called "Me 'n Jack". There's some candid moments in the book where Mel gives his opinions of cartoons now {1988} verses then and what he thinks about those who are dishonest in the radio and cartoon business and want to steal material. And so, people who do come across this book on-line somewhere and purchase it, you'll be in for a nice trip back in time as well as an open and honest look at the present through the eyes and mind of Mel Blanc.

Saturday Night Live: The Tiger Woods skit

Can anyone say "how incredibly stupid are the liberal media?". I'll give anyone five seconds to repeat after me: "how incredibly stupid are the liberal media?". They're so stupid you'll end up making a stupid face like the one I'm wearing in this picture. Yes, they're that stupid! Can everyone make a stupid face like that one? I'll give you five seconds to try and duplicate the face. Anyway...seriously...this latest rant at the media and all things politically correct stems from the Saturday Night Live sketch featuring spoofs of Tiger Woods and his wife in the scandal/saga going on centering around the golfer. Was I offended by what I saw? Of course not! I took the sketch to be a satiric jab at Tiger Woods and how bizarre and strange all of these accusations and facts blending together are. What you have is a story like this centering an athlete, Tiger Woods, who up til now had what some derogatorily refer to as a "clean-cut" image. Now with accusations and what appears to be some sort of mysterious "confession" from Woods himself, the media and the comics are ready to pounce.

It's truly sad, though, to take in a belly full of political correctness and become aware that the Grand Dames of Democratic Discussion, collectively known as The View, charge the sketch with accusations of domestic violence insensitivity. Well, to be fair, not everyone on the panel of that show are rabid liberals...but 95% of the views expressed are liberal or moderate-Democrat. There's not too much conservative championing that goes on, let's put it that way. First of all, I don't find the sketch to be insensitive at all to domestic violence. Sure, domestic violence is an awful thing, but those who cry foul about the sketch need to simply lighten up. If I were a victim of domestic violence would I be ranting and screaming and accusing Saturday Night Live of being insensitive? Maybe...maybe not...but it's a free country...and those who are quote "insensitive" should have freedom of expression and that's what drives me up the wall when it comes to political correctness. It wants to silence other people's views and cause people to think only one way and have no mind of their own or voice of their own. If I'm not mistaken, though, the sketch wasn't cheering domestic violence...if anything the sketch was skewering Tiger Woods.

The domestic violence undertone of the sketch is what set people off...sending the misguided and the humorlessly politically correct advocates into a frenzy. People seem to forget that Tiger was dictating to the police how to behave and stalling and stonewalling until, in my opinion, he had time to plan his strategy and salvage his reputation somewhat. Didn't Tiger put off police questioning for a couple of days? Who else gets that treatment? So, Saturday Night Live in my opinion went after Tiger for his attitude and conduct, the fact that it had a domestic violence theme was unfortunate given how quick people fly off the handle.

So, I want to make it clear, I'm not a champion of domestic violence but if something strikes me as funny, and if a sketch is absurdly over-the-top in it's exaggeration, then I'll laugh. That's just the way it is. It doesn't mean it's okay, in real life, to abuse someone physically or verbally. It's time for some people out there to grab a hold of where reality and fiction meet and learn that there's a difference between exaggeration and realism. As a spokesperson for the show stated, the controversy and topicality of the whole bizarre scenario with the unlikely figure of Tiger Woods at the center of a sex scandal is too irresistible to shrug off.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Help!!! It's The Hair Bear Bunch

Yes, the cartoon series from 1971 will put you in a goofy mood...but let that not distract you all from experiencing the Hair Bear Bunch for yourselves. The series lasted just 16 episodes which was a common practice for Hanna-Barbera in the late '60s on through the 1970's. On more than one occasion networks that aired cartoons on Saturday mornings, which would mean all three networks, were always on the look out for material to program their fall schedules with. Unlike Warner Brothers whose major contribution to Saturday morning television were four decades of theatrical cartoon reruns, Hanna-Barbera was putting out made-for-TV cartoons in quick succession. A lot of Hanna-Barbera's cartoon series seem to have more episodes than actually exist and a large part of this feeling stems from the consistent re-runs. Jabber-Jaw, for example, had only a handful of episodes but they've been re-ran off and on for decades. A lot of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons were spoofs and parodies of pop-culture. JAWS of course was the inspiration for Jabber-Jaw but in order to trump the potential violent over-tone of a cartoon focusing on a shark they gave the title character the sound of Curly from The Three Stooges. Frank Welker mimicked Curly Howard's voice in that series. Critics and fans alike refer to the cartoon as Scooby-Doo underwater because of it's mystery/teenager concept and a talking shark, instead of a talking dog.

So, what was the inspiration behind this 1971 cartoon that focuses on three bears and a couple of zoo keepers? The full title of this series is Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch. The program isn't based on Scooby-Doo, surprisingly enough. Instead, the series is based pretty much on The Phil Silvers Show. Hair Bear, the leader, has the smooth-talking con-artist voice that Daws Butler often gave characters with this personality. Phil Silvers never actually spoke like this but yet the personality of one cooking up schemes in order to get rich quick is so synonymous with Phil Silvers' Sgt Bilko character that it's hard not to make the connection. Hair's two friends are Square Bear and Bubi Bear. Each bear has a distinct voice and personality. Hair being the leader and the brains behind their schemes. Square is the laid-back, almost hippie-like bear with an invisible motorcycle and a huge appetite. Bubi on the other hand is the short bear who talks in gibberish. It's hilarious listening to his gibberish because nobody watching the cartoon understands him but Hair and Square do. Bubi was voiced by Paul Winchell and Square was voiced by Bill Callaway. Several other animals from the Wonderland Zoo stopped by the bears of the gimmicks is that the inside of the cave could transform into a swinging singles pad but if either of the two zoo keepers was spied making their way to the cave then the bears would flip various rock switches in their cave and transform the interior back into a barren, empty cave to hide how comfortable they lived. Peevly ran the zoo as if it were a military base...another connection to Phil Silvers' TV show.

What about those zoo keepers, though?? The head zoo keeper, Mr Peevly, was always peeved about something...taking out his anger on his assistant, Botch. 99% of Peevly's irritation came from Hair Bear. Peevly was always on the quest to expose the bears for hi-jinks but he could never catch them that much...on the rare moments that he had the bears cornered and threatened to ship them off somewhere else, Hair would use blackmail and threaten to go over Peevly's head about a prior incident involving Peevly himself. This often caused Peevly to bellow one of his catch-phrases which went something like "I'll get ya for this, Hair! MARK MY WORDS!!!! ONE OF THESE DAYS..." and he'd go stomping off with Botch tagging along beside him. The zoo keepers were voiced by John Stephenson as Mr. Peevly, doing his Joe Flynn high-nasal impression, and Joe E Ross as Botch. Joe used the voice he was famous for and the "ooh-ooh" catch-phrase he made popular in the 1960's on the sitcom, Car 54, Where Are You? Botch was incredibly stupid and Peevly was short-tempered explosive combination...factor in Peevly's irritations at the Bears and you had a walking time-bomb of anger. Joe Flynn, incidentally, played Captain Binghamton on McHale's Navy and his voice quickly became parodied on cartoons with John Stephenson often providing the vocals. Stephenson would use the Joe Flynn parody voice on other cartoon characters with similar short-tempered personalities.

This series, much like a lot of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, is mostly memorable not for any specific episode but instead for it's theme song and characters. Once a person watches this cartoon series and gets a grasp of what it's all about the individual episode plots don't necessarily tend to stick out as much as it's theme song and the personalities/voices of the characters. I think this is true for a lot of the cartoons of this time period from Hanna-Barbera. There once was a series called Where's Huddles? and if someone with some knowledge of cartoons attempts to cite certain episodes it's almost impossible to do...but yet the person can quote some of it's theme song and tell you what the show was about.

For those interested, the series can be seen on-line at various video hosting web-sites. It also airs on Boomerang.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970's, Volume One!

This DVD collection features 12 cartoons on 2 discs...6 cartoon programs on each DVD. One of the programs is an hour-long and so technically you get 2 cartoons within the 1 hour time-frame. The hour cartoon is The Batman-Tarzan Hour. There are three extra's on the DVD. First we have something called "Saturday Morning Wake-Up Call" which is narrated by Casey Kasem. Mainstream audiences know of him for radio countdown programs while cartoon watchers immediately recognize his voice as Shaggy on Scooby-Doo, Alexander on Josie and the Pussycats, and Robin on Superfriends. The second and third extra are more traditional with interviews and commentary. There is a look at the cartoon series, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, with interviews by Eddie Carroll and Jamie Farr. The two of them describe what it was like writing a cartoon with a lot of interference from the censors and parental control groups. The third extra is a look at the Funky Phantom series with remarks about the series from fans in the cartoon industry and a brief acknowledgment to Daws Butler, the voice of the title character.

The extra's are a bit more irreverent but they aren't blatantly disrespectful to the audience. There is a companion Volume Two of this series and there is a two volume collection of the previous decade, the 1960's. Each collection has similar cover art. Several episodes on the DVD collections can be found on other releases. This DVD set is more or less for the general public and really isn't meant for the avid collector...even though the avid collector will no doubt purchase the series just to have it. The DVD being a sampler means that you're not going to be seeing the same characters over and over as you would in a DVD collection of one cartoon series. I liked all of the cartoons in this set and I was treated to a few I'd never seen before. Roman Holidays is by far the one that stands out because until this DVD came along I'd never seen that cartoon before. I'd also never seen any Tarzan cartoons, either, until now. Here's a list of what's on this DVD:












THE NEW SCOOBY DOO MOVIES {with the Harlem Globe Trotters}


EXTRA FEATURES: Saturday Morning Wake-Up Call; Solving Crimes the Chan-Clan Way; and Heavens To Betsy Ross: The Spirit of the Funky Phantom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Looney Tunes: Back on Cartoon Network

The picture I choose to put into this blog entry is appropriate. It's a picture of me reading Mel Blanc's autobiography, That's Not All, Folks!, published in 1988. Blanc was the primary voice artist on the hundreds of Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons released during the late '30s and throughout the '40s, '50s, and into the '60s. November 30th marked the debut of the official daily showing of Looney Tunes on Cartoon Network. The program airs at 11am Monday-Friday. The re-addition of the Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons marks the first time in almost four years that the theatricals have been shown on a mainstream American television channel. The classic cartoons I believe last aired on Boomerang in America back in 2006...but I could be wrong about that. The last television package to feature the classic theatricals was a program on Boomerang called The Bugs and Daffy Show around that time period.

The theatricals haven't aired on network television in America since 2000 when ABC sold their broadcast rights. ABC had been one of the homes of those theatrical cartoons dating back to 1986. CBS and ABC both aired a string of Warner Brothers cartoon programs throughout the '60s, '70s, and '80s...with ABC gaining exclusive network rights in the mid '80s through 2000. The cable channels owned by Ted Turner, TBS and TNT, joined in the mix in the late '80s and early '90s, airing the classic theatricals.

So, in essence, the theatrical Warner Brothers cartoons were a part of nearly everyone's life at some point for over 60 years...from those who saw the cartoons originally at movie theaters to those who were raised on the reruns that aired on Saturday morning TV for those who discovered the cartoons on TBS or TNT...the exposure of the classic theatricals over the last several years have been limited mostly to the popular Golden Collection and Spotlight Collection series of DVD's.

Looney Tunes...11am...Monday-Friday; Cartoon Network...