Thursday, December 30, 2010

41 years of Scooby-Doo...

Last summer I wrote about an up-coming new series of Scooby-Doo cartoons that were to hit the airwaves beginning in the fall of 2009. No doubt, over a year later, those familiar with all things Scooby are well aware that the series didn't exactly make it on the air until the fall of 2010. That series, Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc., initially aired in April 2010 but didn't debut on a regular basis until July 2010. The program's home, Cartoon Network, continues to air the entry into the series that's like nothing seen before. In this particular version the familiar concept of solving mysteries is still there but there's a much more realistic approach to each of the characters that was lacking in all versions of the program, except perhaps the original run during 1969-1971. In fact, publicity centered around the idea that this latest series was to be a continuation of the 1969-1971 era when the four teenagers were treated as teenagers instead of as adults in teenage clothing.

In the latest version there's a romantic overtone that was lacking in other versions...and I think this romantic element being inserted into the series is a direct result of the internet culture where people, for whatever reason, romantically link Fred and Daphne as well as Shaggy and Velma. There was always this romantic connection between Fred and Daphne, going back to the original 1969 episodes...what with Fred typically more concerned whenever Daphne would get into trouble or vanish. In an episode from 1976 titled "The Frightened Hound meets Demons Underground" Daphne is taken prisoner by one of the demons. Upon realizing this seconds later, Fred shouts out something like: "Daphne!!?! Quick...we gotta find her!!". So, yes, there was always a subtle hint that Fred and Daphne were boyfriend and girlfriend...but it was never an in-your-face distraction.

This sort of romantic insertion, personally speaking, was always troubling to me because it shown irreverence toward the crux of the series: mystery solving. Those familiar with all the different versions of the series will certainly get a shock when they see Scooby-Doo: Mystery Inc. for the first time...the series has it's great moments, though, but I find the romantic edge a distraction which plays more to a fan-fiction crowd than anything else. I prefer the traditional story of ghosts, monsters, goblins, and other assorted demons terrorizing the area and the teenagers, and Scooby, stumbling onto the mystery and solving it. This isn't to say that there's no mystery solving in the latest I remarked, there's plenty of it...but having the romantic overtone is the equivalent of eating ice cream topped with pencil shavings (something Scooby and Shaggy may find incredibly appetizing). There's an on-going sub-plot in this series where the gang continues to find clues as to the whereabouts of another gang of four mystery solving teenagers and their dog who've long since disappeared.

In a rating scale of 5 stars, with 5 being great, I give the series 4 and a half. If the romantic element would be dropped I'd give it 5 stars.

This is the 11th individual series based on the original Scooby-Doo: Where Are You? concept. As the title of this blog entry suggests this is also the 41st year of Scooby-Doo. Here is a look at the various Scooby-related programs that have been on the air since 1969. This list doesn't include the home video/DVD market which have issued direct-to-video movies regularly since 1998...

1. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?; 1969-1971
2. The New Scooby-Doo Movies; 1972-1973
3. The Scooby-Doo Show; 1976-1978
4. The Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show; 1979-1980**
5. The Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo Show; 1980-1982**
6. The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show/The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries; 1983-1984***
7. The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo; 1985
8. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo; 1988-1991
9. What's New, Scooby-Doo?; 2002-2005
10. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo: Get a Clue!; 2006-2008
11. Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated; 2010-present

**- there were 99 seven minute episodes produced and they aired as part of the package shows, The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show and The Scooby and Scrappy-Doo/Puppy Hour. 34 hour programs {21 of the former, 13 of the latter} were produced altogether. In the second series there was a segment that featured Scrappy-Doo and new characters, Yabba-Doo and Deputy Dusty, solving cases with a western setting.

***- this series featured Scooby, Scrappy, Shaggy, and Daphne. There were 52 eleven minute episodes produced...2 eleven minute episodes aired per half hour...26 half hour episodes were produced altogether, 13 each season. The series went under the name of The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show in 1983 and The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries in 1984.

Frank Welker voices Fred in all of the incarnations of the series except for A Pup Named Scooby-Doo in which the characters were all small kids...even though Casey Kasem returned as Shaggy and Don Messick resumed his role as Scooby for that series. Casey was the voice of Shaggy in all incarnations of the series except Shaggy and Scooby-Doo: Get a Clue! and the latest, Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated. Don Messick was the voice of Scooby in all incarnations of the series through 1991. Don retired in 1996 following a stroke and passed away in 1997 and since then the character had been voiced, first by Scott Innes from 1998-2001, and then by Frank Welker starting in 2002. Innes was also the voice of Shaggy during 1999-2001, prior to Casey returning to the role. The Scott Innes characterizations are found on the various home video/DVD/video game releases since there was no television series in production at the time. Heather North, the second voice of Daphne but the actress who held the position the longest, joined in 1970 and remained with the series on and off through 1997. The original voice of Daphne was an actress with the unique name of Stefanianna Christopherson during the initial 1969-1970 season. Mary Kay Bergman held the role from 1998-2000. The current voice is Grey DeLisle...she took over the role in 2001. Velma has had several voice actresses through the years...most notable are Nicole Jaffe, Pat Stevens, and B.J. Ward. The current voice, since 2002, is Mindy Cohn, the face actress known by millions as Natalie on the 1979-1988 TV series, Facts of Life.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992, Part Six...

This Life in the Kornfield book was released in 1996 and as far as I know it was never re-issued and so the only way an abundance of people were to get this book is if they bought it brand new at the time. It's available on the Amazon marketplace and it may be available on eBay...but it's long been out of print. 2011 will mark the book's 15th would be nice if the book were to get re-released in 2011 and have additional chapters focusing on Sam and the cast's thoughts about the success of the DVD's that Time-Life released in the mid 2000's and the thrill of the show getting a TV Land award a few years addition to the program's re-airing on RFD-TV...exposing the show to yet another generation. This book has a few flaws, though...those who get bent out of shape if a song might be referred to with a slightly different title or if 100% accuracy is a must you may find the book inferior. A slight inaccuracy is mistakenly crediting Gunilla Hutton as being a former cast-member of "Green Acres" instead of "Petticoat Junction". This sort of inaccuracy, though, would only be caught by those who are devoted fans of those two shows or know Gunilla's career history. The general public always mix-up those two shows because they both take place in the same town and have the same ensemble supporting, to all the nit-pickers, cut Sam some slack, okay?

This book contains an episode-by-episode's always been a fascinating part of the book...reading the names of all the celebrities that appeared from 1969 through 1992. This feature has added significance with RFD-TV airing the show in chronological we can see ahead of time when one of our favorite singers are to make an appearance. Last night's rerun on RFD was from 1972 and it featured Jeannie C. Riley and Johnny Bench. That particular episode originally aired February 5, 1972. Looking in the episode breakdown I know that next Sunday night's rerun on January 2, 2011 will feature Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton. The episode originally aired on February 12, 1972 of course.

The Hee-Haw 10th Anniversary celebration took place in 1978 as a 2-hour special that aired separately from it's weekly time-slot. This special was taped at the Opry, with a jam-packed audience, and it featured the cast and a lot of country singers stopping by giving their thoughts and memories of the show in addition to performing their current hits. One of the recurring features of the special was to air earlier clips of the cast prior to their current appearance. Tammy Wynette was saluted in a series of clips that spotlighted her various hair styles. Loretta Lynn appeared via video-tape and discussed her fondness for the show and they aired several clips of her and later she introduced Conway Twitty. All in all it was a fun celebration...and it included exclusive sketches performed live for the audience. They did a 20th Anniversary special in 1988 but for whatever reason it was never issued on DVD. In hindsight Time-Life should have issued the 1978 and 1988 anniversary specials together on one DVD. There were a few serious moments on the special...Grandpa Jones was featured sitting alone with a home made fishing pole discussing the murder of fellow cast-member, Dave "Stringbean" Akeman, which led into a video tribute of Stringbean's contributions to the show. Grandpa and Stringbean were close friends in real life. In another tribute, Buck Owens did a medley of his own hit songs as a salute to Don Rich, the leader of the Buckaroos band and an important figure in Buck's career. Don appeared on Hee-Haw every week as part of the Buckaroos band until his 1974 death at the age of 32.

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Dick Tracy Collection...

This 4-disc DVD set houses all 130 short-subject episodes of The Dick Tracy Show. I purchased this collection earlier this year and have probably watched it 7 or 8 times...well, not in one sitting and not each and every disc. I watched all four of the DVD's sprinkled throughout a week-long span and ever since that time I've often reached for DVD #1 and #3 the most even though DVD #2 and #4 are just as good. There's roughly 30-32 short episodes per DVD. Each and every adventure opens and closes as if it's a full-length half hour cartoon and so you'll find yourself seeing the same opening and closing sequences over 30 times per DVD. One of the things I would have done differently is have an opening at the start of the DVD and then just air each episode back to back to back and not show a "closing sequence" until the final cartoon on the DVD airs. However, that isn't the way it is on this collection.

In this series Dick Tracy doesn't participate too much in the crime solving. Instead, that part of the work is handled by a series of leg men who star in the individual episodes. First up is Hemlock Holmes, a white dog with a Cary Grant voice, who goes about his work with the aid of the bumbling Retouchables. This group of inept police are patterned after the Keystone Cops but have a name based on The Untouchables. Joe Jitsu is a parody of Charlie Chan and often uses his unassuming super-strength to punish his opponents. Go-Go Gomez is a Mexican character who has super speed...sort of like a human depiction of Speedy Gonzales. One of the ironies about Go-Go is even though he has super speed he speaks rather lazily. Heap O'Callory is a bumbling policeman with a voice similar to Andy Devine. Heap is featured on the outside cover of this collection chasing after Flat Top.

A lot of the voices are based on celebrities. Flat Top's voice is based on Peter Lorre. The Brow has a voice similar to James Cagney. B.B. Eyes has a voice similar to Edward G. Robinson. Itchy's voice often comes across sounding like the exaggerated voice made famous by Joe Besser. Once you see an episode with Itchy you'll understand what I mean. Prune Face has a voice similar to Boris Karloff's natural speaking voice. Some of the other villains have the typical dumb-bell voice or the stereotypical gangster voice...those voices can be heard via Oodles, Stooge Villar, The Mole...a French accent is given to Sketch Puree. The voice of Mumbles is hilarious. Some of the voice actors in this series are Everett Sloane as Dick Tracy; Benny Rubin as Joe Jitsu; Paul Frees as Go-Go Gomez and Flat Top; Jerry Hausner as Hemlock Holmes, Itchy, Stooge Villar, etc.; Johnny Coons as Heap O'Callory. Mel Blanc voiced Flat Top and Go-Go Gomez on an infrequent basis.

One disc is devoted almost entirely to adventures featuring Joe Jitsu while another has a majority of Go-Go Gomez adventures. Heap O'Callory isn't featured nearly as much while Hemlock Holmes is confined mostly to the first and second disc. In one of the episodes Hemlock Holmes and the Retouchables have to be rescued by Joe Jitsu...marking one of the rare moments where two of Tracy's underlings are featured in the same episode. The Retouchables are a spoof of The Untouchables but with a comedic twist inspired by the Keystone Kops. One of the running gags is how the Retouchables can never remember their orders. For example: suppose there's a robbery at a shoe store on piper street. Well, the Retouchables in unison would mangle their orders by saying something like "there's a pipe robbery at a shoe story" and another may 'correct' that description by saying "no, there's a pipe store being robbed on shoe street", etc. etc.

I found the cartoons to be completely entertaining...I loved them as a kid/teenager in the early '90s but seeing that I'm a bit older now I get the biggest kick out of the vocal work and the culture references. The banter between Prune Face and Itchy is hilarious as well. "Itchy, STOP that scratching!!" is something of a catchphrase. Another recurring feature is a scene where the cop on patrol can freeze time, typically at a crucial part of the story, in order to call in to Tracy with an update. Typically this feature requires comical commentary from whichever underling is reporting back to Tracy.

If Hemlock Holmes, for example, is about ready to fall into a burning building he'd holler "Hold everything!!!" and then the action would stop and he'd relay to Tracy, via wrist watch radio, the latest happenings by referencing the current situation. Hemlock would say something like: "I'm hot on their trail, Tracy, it's getting hotter each second!". Tracy, going only by the words Hemlock used and unaware of the true danger, would say something like: "Keep cool, Hemlock, I'm on my way...".

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Laff-a-Lympics, Volumes One and Two...

About a year ago I wrote a blog about the soon to be released DVD, Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics. I'd bought Volume One earlier in the year and a few weeks ago I finally got around to purchasing Volume Two of this obscure, though popular, series. I know those who read this may wonder "how can something be popular yet be obscure at the same time?". This sort of thing is common among vintage cartoon series...programs that achieve a level of popularity with an audience but over the course of time it becomes obscure and largely forgotten by the masses...yes, largely forgotten...except by those who have a fondness for the series. This holds true for Laff-a-Lympics. The series ran in the late '70s and would often turn up in reruns at various times in the 1980's. Personally speaking I first saw this program when it aired as part of the USA Network's Cartoon Express on Sunday mornings. I believe this happened to be the late '80s or early '90s at the latest. I've always had what some may classify as off-beat taste and I generally appreciated all forms of cartoons...even at a younger age. When I first saw this series I remember being excited seeing all of these unrelated characters from various cartoon programs featured in an ensemble program. Yogi's Treasure Hunt is another ensemble program that aired in reruns on Cartoon Express around the same time as Laff-a-Lympics.

Laff-a-Lympics focuses on three sets of teams: The Yogi Yahooies, The Scooby-Doobies, and The Really Rottens. Throughout each episode one or two characters from each team would compete in sporting events. The goal was to receive the most points by the end of the episode...and the winner would receive the Laff-a-Lympics gold medal. The hosts of the show were Snagglepuss and Mildew Wolf...each character wore yellow sports jackets to mirror the style of jackets in use by real life ABC-TV sportscasters of that time period. The play-by-play broadcaster heard on every program making commentary on the sporting events was Don Messick.

The Yogi team was comprised mostly of Hanna-Barbera characters that originated in the late '50s and early '60s: Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo, Cindy Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw, Snooper and Blabber, Pixie Mouse, Dixie Mouse, Mr. Jinx, Wally Gator, Augie Doggy and Doggy Daddy, Yakky Doodle, Hokey Wolf...the lone exception was Grape Ape, a character that originated in the mid '70s.

Scooby's team consisted of a collection of what would be considered Hanna-Barbera's more contemporary characters: Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Scooby-Dum, Babu, Captain Caveman, Brenda, Dee Dee, Taffy, Hong Kong Phooey, Speed Buggy, Tinker, Blue Falcon and Dynomutt.

The Rottens consisted of brand new characters, except the team captain, Mumbly. This team was basically used for comical antagonism and conflict...playing tricks and cheating their way to hopeful victory. Mumbly was switched from a good detective to a cheating scoundrel in this series. Originally Mumbly appeared in a series of shorts which later appeared as part of the short-lived Mumbly Cartoon Show. The shorts originally aired on a series known as The Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape/Mumbly Show. In this series Mumbly embarked in crime solving adventures while his human boss, Schnooker, attempted to take the credit for everything. Mumbly's appearance is a dead ringer for Muttley...right down to the speech pattern and snickering laugh. Dread Baron, a new character created for the Rottens team, is said to be a redesign of an earlier character, Dick Dastardly.

The Rottens consisted of Mumbly, Dread Baron, The Great Fondoo, Magic Rabbit, Dinky Dalton, Dirty Dalton, Dastardly Dalton, Mr. Creepley, Mrs. Creepley, Junior Creepley, Orful Octopus, Daisy Mayhem, and Sooey Pig.

A running gag in the series is the constant deduction of points due to cheating...often applied to the Rottens...but there are a few episodes where Yogi Bear cheated and points were taken away. In some episodes where it appeared the Rottens were going to win, cleanly, something would happen to cause them to lose. In one particular episode Daisy Mayhem was on her way to winning an event but one of her team mates, the Great Fondoo, wanted to make sure she won. He cast a spell which backfired...causing Daisy to lose.

Each DVD features 4 half-hour episodes. There are two "on-location" locales per episode. Volume One features the following:

1. The Swiss Alps and Tokyo, Japan
2. Acapulco and England
3. The Sahara Desert and Scotland
4. Florida and China

Volume Two features the following:

1. France and Australia
2. Athens, Greece and the Ozarks
3. Italy and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
4. Egypt and Sherwood Forest

As you can tell, the series was a spoof of The Olympics, ABC's Wide World of Sports and Battle of the Network Stars. At the conclusion of most episodes, announcer Don Messick would parody the kind of narration heard on Wide World of Sports by enthusiastically saying something like: "...tune in next week for the thrills, chills, and all-around exciting spills as we go around the world with our star athletes...".

The voice cast, as you could imagine, was rather large. The Yogi team, however, consisted of just a couple of voice actors. This is due to the multi-talents of Daws Butler, by and large, as well as Don Messick.

Don Messick voiced Boo-Boo and Pixie Mouse while Frank Welker did the voice of Yakky Doodle. Welker was a replacement voice for Jimmy Weldon. Doggy Daddy was voiced by John Stephenson. Grape Ape's voice was performed by Bob Holt. Julie Bennett did the voice of Cindy Bear. Daws Butler did the voices of all of the other characters in the Yogi team: Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Hokey Wolf, Quick Draw McGraw, Mr. Jinx, Dixie Mouse, Snooper and Blabber, Augie Doggy, and Wally Gator.

The voices in the Scooby team were a bit more lengthy as almost every character had it's own voice actor/actress:

Don Messick did the voice of Scooby-Doo. Casey Kasem did the voice of Shaggy. Daws Butler did the voice of Scooby-Dum. Mel Blanc was on hand as the voice of Captain Caveman and Speed Buggy. Frank Welker did the voices of Dynomutt and Tinker. Gary Owens did the voice of Blue Falcon. Joe Besser was the voice of Babu. Scatman Crothers did the voice of Hong Kong Phooey. Laurel Page was the voice of Taffy. Marilyn Schreffler was the voice of Brenda. Vernee Watson was the voice of Dee Dee. Collectively Dee Dee, Taffy, and Brenda were known as The Teen Angels who assisted Captain Caveman at solving mysteries. The Teen Angels, of course, were a parody of Charlie's Angels.

The voices in the Rottens team were more in line with the Yogi team in that only a few voice actors/actresses did the entire cast:

Don Messick did the voices of Mumbly, Mr. Creepley, and Dastardly Dalton. Bob Holt did the voice of Dinky Dalton and Orful Octopus. Daws Butler was the voice of Dirty Dalton. Frank Welker provided the voice effects for Sooey Pig, Junior Creepley, and Magic Rabbit. John Stephenson provided the voices for Dread Baron and The Great Fondoo. Laurel Page was the voice of Mrs. Creepley while Marilyn Schreffler did the voice of Daisy Mayhem.

Last but not least are the hosts. Snagglepuss was voiced by Daws Butler. Mildew Wolf was voiced by John Stephenson. The character of Mildew was originally voiced by Paul Lynde in a series of short subjects titled "It's The Wolf" which aired as part of the Cattanooga Cats program but he was either not available or not interested in reprising the role for Laff-a-Lympics and so the role was given to John Stephenson.

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble make guest appearances demonstrating the art of Lacrosse. Alan Reed voiced Fred Flintstone...reports suggest this was the final time the character was voiced by Reed, who passed away in 1977. Mel Blanc returned to his role as Barney Rubble. In another sporting event Jabberjaw makes a guest appearance as an underwater referee. The character was voiced by Frank Welker. He gave the character a voice based on Curly Howard of The Three Stooges.

I happen to enjoy Laff-a-Lympics and I hope more episodes become available. Some belly-ache that there are only 4 episodes being released on each DVD but the way I see it you can't predict the future. It's hard to tell if more episodes will become available...I hope more episodes are released...but until then the first 8 episodes will have to do. Laff-a-Lympics originally ran for 16 episodes in 1977 during the months of September through December. The official name, as I mentioned at the start of the blog entry, was Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics. In 1978, eight more episodes were produced and aired as Scooby's All-Stars. This gives the Laff-a-Lympics format a total of 24 episodes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Benny Hill Mega-Set gets re-issued...

On October 5th there will be a DVD re-release focusing on Benny Hill. The DVD, previously released in October 2007, will contain 18 disc's and focus on Hill's 20 year career with Thames Television, 1969-1989. I'm very familiar with the comedy and programs of Benny Hill...I don't exactly have a count of how many DVD's and VHS videos of his that I have but I've got quite a few. Several years ago Hill's earliest programs for Thames began to get re-issued in various collections from A&E. I bought a couple of those collections but this "mega set" as it's being called combines all of those DVD releases into one big set. The mega set includes the following individual DVD collections housed in one "mega set":

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Naughty Early Years Set One, 1969-1971

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Naughty Early Years Set Two, 1972-1974

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Naughty Early Years Set Three, 1975-1977

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Hills Angels Years Set Four, 1978-1981

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Hills Angels Years Set Five, 1982-1985

Benny Hill Complete and Unadulterated: The Hills Angels Years Set Six, 1986-1989

Hill's later work is just as funny as his earlier comedy but because reality comes calling a few of his co-stars had passed away or left the program as time went by...leaving some to feel that without certain co-stars the sketches didn't "feel the same". Some like to say his program started to go downhill by the mid 1980's but in all honesty, from doing research, a small percentage of public opinion about his program is what went downhill during this point in time...escalating this problem even more were fresh-faced television critics and up and coming comedians heaping negative criticism toward Hill's program to impressionable, younger audiences.

This facet of Hill's career will obviously be discussed in the bonus features that the megaset includes. One of the bonus features is titled Benny Hill: The World's Favorite Clown. It also includes the A&E Biography episode titled Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy. A&E is the company responsible for this DVD megaset and several other DVD packages of Hill in recent years. In each of the documentary bonus features the rise of Hill is examined...the unexpected success of his programs in America...also examined, of course, is the so-called backlash of his style of humor by the "new generation". The re-release next month features new packaging...and a link to the DVD is below...

Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset

Monday, April 12, 2010

Superfriends: The Lost Episodes...

As most people are aware that frequent this animation blog, I am a fan of the Superfriends series. For those who aren't frequent visitors here, I am referring to the 1970's and early 1980's animated versions of the DC comics superheroes. Today the Superfriends are referred to by their technical name, The Justice League. Once upon a time they were called the Superfriends. As you can see on the DVD cover there is Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, the Wonder Twins and Gleek. Green Lantern fans beware, though, there isn't a lot of him in this series. His biggest impact during the classic era is in the series Challenge of the Superfriends. These lost episodes are considered to be the more obscure episodes in the series because of the lack of repeated play on television. In fact, these 1983 episodes never aired in America until 1995. They aired on a USA Network show called The Superman-Batman Adventures. The series consisted of reruns of the 1960's and 1970's superhero cartoons and on some episodes they'd sprinkle in an early '80s short episode of Superfriends. All of these episodes aired on that USA Network series but even still they're not as familiar to most. This DVD consists of 24 short episodes...8 half hour episodes in all. Each episode contains 3 separate adventures that run roughly seven and a half minutes each.

Here are just some of the stand-out episodes in my opinion from this collection...

Warpland: Superman and Batman are pulled into another dimension where they meet up with an alien race headed up by Super-Frog. The voice of the frog is provided by Frank Welker, giving the super amphibian the same voice he'd provide for Darkseid. The alien's have their headquarters...none other than The Hall of Zoom. Superman is turned into an Eagle while Batman is turned into an actual bat. They battle Super-Frog's forces and once they leave the warp they revert back to their natural selves.

Mxyzptlk's Revenge: This episode features Batman and Superman matching wits with the 5th Dimension prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk. In one memorable scene Superman almost passes out from green bean exposure...Mxyzptlk had placed Superman on a farm where green beans become a substitute for kryptonite. They eventually trick their way out of the 5th Dimension.

Revenge of Doom: This episode begins with a couple of inquisitive workers asking Batman and Robin a lot of questions about the Hall of Doom. The two workers turn out to be Lex Luthor and Solomon Grundy in disguise. Suddenly all members of the Legion of Doom have appeared and we're told that the Legion is back in session. Given this is a 7 and a half minute episode not a lot of the members of the Legion have speaking roles even though they're visibly present. Unlike in the Challenge of the Superfriends series, in this episode the Legion of Doom is captured.

Two Gleeks Are Deadlier Than One: Grodd and Giganta make an appearance in this episode where they kidnap Gleek and replace him with an android duplicate. The android was sent there under the notion that all of the Superfriends would be meeting at the Hall of Justice. One by one evil Gleek zaps the Superfriends into oblivion...but who really ends up with the upper hand? You'll have to watch for yourselves.

Bulgor the Behemoth: Apache Chief gets the most action in this episode where a writer's creation comes to life after a lightning storm...well, I should say, the writer turns into his own creation. It's up to Apache Chief and Superman to put a stop to the destruction and get the creature transformed back into the writer.

The Krypton Syndrome: In this fantasy adventure, Superman is zapped into a time warp where he finds himself near his home planet of Krypton before it exploded. He prevents the explosion of Krypton and saves the lives of millions in the process...but once he returns to his own time he discovers how Earth looks extremely different. He realizes when he saved Krypton from exploding that nobody on Earth knows of a Superman...and therefore his life on Earth never happened. Seeing that the Earth needs a person like 'Superman' to protect it from villains he decides to go back into time again but this time to make sure Krypton explodes.

Prisoners of Sleep: In this adventure, a mysterious floating figure known as Sleep starts a nightmarish reign of terror which soon finds Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman enmeshed in the nightmare world with the possibility of never waking up. Thanks to some mortals, the three Superfriends "wake up" just in time.

Return of the Phantoms: This episode is something of a sequel to an episode entitled Terror from the Phantom Zone that aired in 1978. In this 1983 cartoon, the three Phantom Zone villains named Hull, Romlock, and Logar, escape once again to cause trouble for Superman and the other people on Earth. In the end they're zapped back into the Phantom Zone.

Video Victims: In this quirky episode, Bizarro plays an arcade game which features arcade versions of several Superfriends. The episode starts out on Bizarro World, the square shaped planet where everyone looks like imperfect zombie duplicates of Superman and Lois Lane. Bizarro returns to Earth and immediately creates trouble. The episode also doubled as a mock of video games in general...including a Pac-Man style character.

Those are just the episodes that stand out the most among the others. Brainiac makes an appearance in the Superclones episode. El Dorado and Aquaman are the two victims who are cloned. The two create a world of problems for the Superfriends by telling a court of law that the entire Justice League has turned evil. The real El Dorado and Aquaman free themselves from Brainiac's trap and make their way to the courthouse.

There's also an episode where Superman and Wonder Woman are captured by aliens and forced to play spaceball...this episode is called The Recruiter. It's anyone's guess why the short episodes from 1983 were released first instead of the ones from 1980...but there's no complaints from me...this is a step in the right direction at getting all of the short episodes released on DVD.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992, Part Five

Given that this is the fifth installment of my Hee-Haw blog it shouldn't come to nobody's surprise that I love the show! I can't really give an opinion of it's 24th season in 1992 because I've never really seen it but judging by things I've read through the years it wasn't what the doctor ordered...the overhaul of the show's image and the termination of long-running sketches and cast was a mistake. The thing that made the show was it's well as the corny jokes...also, the energetic banter among the cast and whatever guest stars were on the show that week. When the show debuted in 1969 it was met with a lot of harsh criticism not only from big city television critics but also music critics within country music. The country music industry was wanting to push the label of 'Country and Western' which sounded more marketable. Hee-Haw stood in sharp contrast to that marketing idea because of it's heavy use of haybales, farmer's daughter wardrobes, bib overalls and other rural imagery that pushed the 'Hillbilly' image that the country music big-wigs on Music Row were wanting to distance itself from. The enormous success of the show meant that the program would continue to air; and after it's cancellation by CBS in 1971, it went into first-run syndication and would remain a syndicated program for the rest of it's life-span.

Season One: June 15, 1969 - September 7, 1969
Season Two: December 17, 1969 - April 8, 1970
Season Three: September 15, 1970 - February 23, 1971
Season Four: September 18, 1971 - April 1, 1972
Season Five: September 16, 1972 - March 24, 1973
Season Six: September 15, 1973 - March 23, 1974
Season Seven: September 14, 1974 - March 8, 1975
Season Eight: September 17, 1975 - March 13, 1976
Season Nine: September 18, 1976 - March 26, 1977
Season Ten: September 17, 1977 - March 25, 1978
Season Eleven: September 16, 1978 - March 24, 1979
Season Twelve: September 15, 1979 - March 22, 1980
Season Thirteen: September 13, 1980 - March 21, 1981
Season Fourteen: September 12, 1981 - March 30, 1982
Season Fifteen: September 11, 1982 - March 19, 1983
Season Sixteen: September 17, 1983 - March 17, 1984
Season Seventeen: September 22, 1984 - March 16, 1985
Season Eighteen: September 21, 1985 - March 15, 1986
Season Nineteen: September 20, 1986 - March 28, 1987*
Season Twenty: September 19, 1987 - May 21, 1988**
Season Twenty-One: October 1, 1988 - May 20, 1989**
Season Twenty-Two: September 16, 1989 - March 24, 1990
Season Twenty-Three: September 15, 1990 - February 23, 1991***
Season Twenty-Four: January 4, 1992 - May 30, 1992^^
Season Twenty-Five: September 1992 - April 1993****

*-beginning with the 19th season, Roy Clark was joined each week by a different guest co-host.

**-There were no episodes that aired during the month of March during these production cycles. As a result, the season expanded further into the spring, to make up for the loss of air-dates.

^^-After the rural/backwoods version of the show was canceled in February 1991, the show went on a hiatus while producers/advertisers behind the scenes were plotting a new urban twist to the show. The new citified version of the show began in January 1992, the show's 24th season. The outcry from fans was so severe that the show went out of production in May upon the conclusion of it's 24th season.

***-Roy Clark became the solo host beginning with season 23.

****-This is the clip-filled season known as Hee-Haw Silver to commemorate the program's 25th season in syndication. After this clip-filled program wrapped up in the spring of 1993, reruns began to surface on The Nashville Network for a period of time.

A lot of the reruns that TNN aired were the late 1970's and early 1980's episodes. At one point in time TNN's Saturday night line-up was must-see television: Hee-Haw from 7-8pm; Opry Backstage from 8pm to 8:30pm; The Grand Ole Opry from 8:30pm-9pm; and the Statler Brothers show from 9pm-10pm.

After the reruns left TNN they began to air infrequently on CMT. There was never a serious effort on CMT's part to air the show and as a fan I felt insulted by the way CMT treated the program by not airing it on any consistent basis. TNN eventually ended it's run of country music oriented programming in 2000. It was renamed The National Network and consisted of reruns of mostly 1980's television programs. Later on the network was renamed again to Spike TV.

Hee-Haw currently airs Sunday nights at 8pm eastern on RFD-TV. The episode replays on Monday mornings at 10am eastern. The reruns that air are typically the earliest of episodes from 1969-1971. I've yet to see an episode on RFD-TV from the late '70s or the 1980's. I hope they start to air those episodes, too.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992; part four

Howdy ever'body! Welcome to part four in this Hee-Haw blog series. Part Three was published on this blog many months ago...almost a year ago...where I spotlighted a couple of DVD's that Time-Life had released. Several weeks ago I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my cable provider now carries RFD-TV! This is excellent news because this is the channel that airs Hee-Haw on Sunday nights at 8pm. The show repeats on Monday morning at 10am. I've watched the show at 10am but I don't have that same feeling that I do watching the show in the evening hours...even though the 10am Monday morning airing is a repeat of the 8pm episode the night before. I guess that has to do with all those years watching the show at 7pm back when it was still in production. I do remember catching the show in 1991 during Saturday and, or, Sunday having it air in the daytime isn't unheard of...I just prefer watching it in the evening hours.

The episode that aired tonight, January 31st, featured Loretta Lynn and Bill Anderson as guests. Susan Raye, a regular cast-member and frequent duet partner with Buck Owens, sang a song as did hosts Buck Owens and Roy Clark and twin cast-members Jim and Jon Hager. Loretta sang "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "Secret Love"; Bill Anderson sang "Wild Weekend" and "I Love You, Drops". Susan Raye sang her Top-10 hit, "Willy Jones". The Hagers sang "Looking Out My Backdoor", a Creedence Clearwater Revival hit. The episode originally aired on February 2, 1971.

I have 11 of those Time-Life DVD's of Hee-Haw. I'm holding up 10 of them. An 11th wasn't able to be in the you can see I had a difficult enough time trying to keep them from falling from the I took the 11th DVD from the stack and snapped a picture real quick. Some of those DVD's have two episodes on them and several have just one episode. There is a 5-disc set called A Salute to Hee-Haw that is rather pricey. It's running time is 480 minutes altogether. I was never able to purchase it. It features 4 DVD's with 2 episodes per disc which adds up to 8 episodes and then a 5th disc which features interviews with some of the surviving cast members of the show.

Although I wish I had the 5-DVD release, I'm happy with the DVD's that I have so I'm not complaining...and the fact that I now get RFD-TV where I can see the show each Sunday evening is also a plus!! If I had my way, though, the show would air every weeknight at 7pm and I'd mix the episodes around. One evening have a show from 1970 and the next night have a show from 1984 and then the next night have something from 1972 and then an episode from 1989, etc etc. The 5-DVD collection is sold-out at Amazon and at Wal*Mart's web-site store...and I did a search at Time-Life's web-site and couldn't find any reference to Hee-Haw on their site. I did a product search and it came up empty so they must have stopped offering these DVD's. The 5-DVD set was released in 2006...much of the DVD's were released in 2004, 2005, and certainly doesn't seem like it's been 4 years some cases 6!!

This is the DVD release of the only episode of Hee-Haw that George Strait appeared on. The episode originally aired on November 12, 1983 and at the time Strait was an emerging superstar...having been on the national scene a little over 2 years. In that short span of time he had racked up several consecutive Top-5 hits on his way to a hugely successful career...with over 50 #1 country hits and election into the Country Music Hall of Fame 23 years later in 2006. The Statler Brothers are the other guests on this episode and there have been some consumers upset over what they consider over-kill by the Statler Brothers. Some of the commentary I came across regarding this DVD included anger over how many sketches were centered around the group. I never saw anything wrong with the episode myself. The show's producer, Sam Lovullo, always wanted guests who loved to do the comedy sketches. Some artists shied away from doing too much comedy and they only shown up to sing. So, to my way of thinking, since the Statler Brothers are hilarious and have a comedic side to them, having them appear in the comedy sketches on the show seemed natural so you'll get no complaints from me.

Hee-Haw: 1969-1992.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Tonight Show

The Tonight Show has been in the news A LOT lately given all of the controversy surrounding the lackluster ratings of O'Brien's version of the program and the prime-time Jay Leno program. In a move that is unprecedented for the franchise, NBC will have Jay Leno return to hosting duties on The Tonight Show in March of this year as Conan O'Brien departs the network. O'Brien had been the host of the program since June 1, 2009 and when he became the host he followed in the foot-steps of four comedic titans: Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, and Steve Allen. The benchmark of hosting duties of course will always rest with the late Johnny Carson. He hosted the program for 30 years which means that he was a major comical voice of all the major events in world history for three decades. Although Carson did the show for 30 years others hosted the program before him and of course others hosted the show after him. The successors of Carson are fairly, or unfairly, compared to him even today nearly 18 years after he retired as host.

A run-down, of sorts, of the franchise's hosts...

Steve Allen: September 27, 1954 - January 25, 1957

Ernie Kovacs: October 1, 1956 - January 22, 1957**

Jack Lescoulie: January 28, 1957 - June 21, 1957*

Al Collins: June 24, 1957 - July 26, 1957*

Jack Paar: July 29, 1957 - March 30, 1962

Various hosts: April 2, 1962 - September 28, 1962***

Johnny Carson: October 1, 1962 - May 22, 1992

Jay Leno: May 25, 1992 - May 29, 2009

Conan O'Brien: June 1, 2009 - January 22, 2010

Jay Leno: March 1, 2010 -

As of this writing I have no idea what will air from January 25th through the end of February because O'Brien officially left the network on the twenty-second of January. NBC may repeat episodes of O'Brien's program or air reruns of Leno's older shows until Leno makes his return in March. This makes Leno the first former host to return as the "new" host. I think NBC realizes their mistake of removing Leno from The Tonight Show in the first place.

*- Jack Lescoulie and later, Al Collins, hosted the program when it was a news program called Tonight! America After Dark.

**-Ernie Kovacs hosted the Monday and Tuesday episodes of the program during Steve Allen's final year as host. NBC had wanted Steve to focus more on his Sunday night program opposite Ed Sullivan's CBS program.

***-various celebrities hosted the program after Jack Paar left. Johnny Carson was still under contract with another network and couldn't become the host...and so fill-in hosts presided over the program until October 1, 1962 when Carson took over the show...and remained for 30 years.

Gene Rayburn, later of Match Game fame, was the announcer on Steve Allen's version of the program. Jack Paar used Hugh Downs as an announcer for his version of the program. Ed McMahon was Johnny Carson's announcer for the entire 30 year run. Edd Hall was Jay Leno's announcer from 1992-2004. Hall was replaced by John Melendez for the remainder of Leno's first stint as host. Andy Richter became the announcer for Conan O'Brien's stint as host.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Four

The Golden Collection in my opinion is a fascinating series of DVD's spotlighting the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. I personally own almost all of the volumes that were released. I still need to grab the later volumes and I shall do that one of these days. One of the things that I liked about the series was the extra's. I think I've played and re-played and re-re-played several of those "Behind The Tunes" segments. The history that's presented and the comments from those who were there or those who are part of the cartoon world today are captivating.

Volume Four contains 4 discs.

The critically maligned Bugs Bunny Superstar documentary, from 1975, is broken into two parts on Disc 1 and Disc 2. I happen to like the documentary, if for the only reason, is that I love seeing the clips of the directors/animators from a point in time where their cartoons, although airing on TV for kids, hadn't really experienced the fame and glory that was to come as younger people became more and more fascinated with the whole body of Warner Brothers cartoons and the directors became, in the minds of fans, almost God-like. Orson Welles narrates the documentary. It contains footage of Bob Clampett speaking, often at length, about the characters. Historians and his contemporaries often pointed out that Clampett assumed credit for creating characters that he factually had no creative input on, other than animating or directing the characters. He did create characters. Tweety, for example, was a significant contribution, but the character was redesigned and toned down by Friz Freleng several years later and Tweety became synonymous with Freleng ever since. Freleng teamed Tweety with Sylvester, a character created by Freleng, and a star duo was born.  

Each cartoon director that went through the studio and had any considerable time-span has their 'followers' even today. There's the fans of the wild, zany cartoons epitomized in the works of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Norm McCabe, and Robert McKimson. Frank Tashlin's cartoons have a live-action flavor. I was not familiar with his cartoons due to how they rarely, if ever, played on TV and so I learned quite a lot about him in this Volume...he has a disc all to himself. Later, after I purchased the previous release, Volume 3, I found out even more thanks to the documentary called Tish Tash: The Animated World of Frank Tashlin.

It should be pointed out that I didn't purchase these Golden Collections in numerical order.

Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones are the two directors from the studio that garner the most acclaim and attention and they, too, have their followers. It should also be noted that Freleng's cartoons won the most Academy Awards for Warner Brothers, a total of 4: Tweetie Pie, Speedy Gonzales, Knighty Knight Bugs, and Birds Anonymous.

Friz Freleng gets spotlighted on a documentary called Friz on Film and he, too, has a fan base that prefer cartoons that have razor-sharp timing and music ties. It's a wonderfully done salute to arguably the best director from the Golden Age of Warner Brothers Animation in terms of stats, accolades, and total body of work. Freleng directed just about all the Warner cartoon characters at some point or another with a large percentage of his work concerning Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety and Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, and Speedy Gonzales. Speedy was created by Robert McKimson (who directed the character's debut and some later cartoons of the late '50s and early '60s) but Freleng directed the ones considered by historians to be the most popular. In this documentary, as well as in other extra features that elaborate on Freleng, the creation of Yosemite Sam is almost always discussed. His peers and colleagues routinely state that the character is a complete duplication of the real-life Friz Freleng. His daughter remarks that Friz had red hair in his younger days and that he had a temper and several animators affectionately recall Friz being impatient, fuming, pacing a lot, and anxious during the animation process. Friz himself, in archive footage, laughs about his tyrannical reputation during the production of the cartoons but remarks that he obtained that reputation due to his perfectionism and insisting that the cartoons come across exactly as he envisioned. The character of Sam, by the way, was created as a replacement for Elmer Fudd.  

Chuck Jones, in addition to his many contributions to Warner Brothers cartoons, did a lot of mostly seasonal animation projects and specials away from Warner Brothers from the early '60s through the early '70s that often play on cable television annually to this day and that's probably a big reason why his name is much more recognizable by those outside the audiences of Warner cartoons. He did critically acclaimed work for MGM. The crowning achievement away from Warner Brothers, in hindsight, would be his adaptation of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a story from Dr. Seuss, that plays every year. Jones returned to Warner Brothers in the late '70s and remained a pivotal figure in keeping the the public remembering the Warner Brothers characters as well as providing newer animation projects utilizing the classic characters.

Characters created and, or, associated with Chuck Jones at Warner Brothers are Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, The Road Runner and Coyote, Pepe LePew, Porky Pig, Marvin Martian, Charlie Dog, Witch Hazel, and Sylvester. Jones' depiction of Bugs Bunny is in sharp contrast to the depictions from the other directors. Friz Freleng stayed with the wiseguy, Brooklyn-Bronx mannerisms brought out by Tex Avery's A Wild Hare. Jones depicted Bugs as a calm, minding his own business kind of character who only became a wiseguy or became aggressive once provoked.

Jones introduced the world to the Duck Season/Rabbit Season routine and changed the personality of Daffy from being a free-for-all, zany, looney character into a gigantic egomaniac forever jealous of the popularity enjoyed by Bugs Bunny. The fans who love this depiction have Chuck Jones to thank.

The funny thing is that this characterization of Daffy remained constant...being picked up by the other directors...and today Daffy is known as a greedy, vain, egotistical braggart. In his memorable role as Duck Dodgers, Daffy plays the part of the know-it-all hero scolding and blaming his associates for his own incompetence. This is not the Daffy that intrigued movie audiences of the '30s and '40s...but it's a comical stroke of genius all the same.  

Jones directed three cartoons that are in the National Film Registry: Duck Amuck, One Froggy Evening, and What's Opera, Doc?. Ironically, those three cartoons didn't win any awards during their original releases, but decades of showings on television and the viewer response to those three in particular elevated them above the other cartoons. Three of his theatrical cartoons did win Academy Awards: For Scent-imental Reasons, So Much For So Little, and The Dot and the Line. Jones won an Honorary Academy Award in 1996 for career/lifetime achievement.

One of the things about these Golden Collections is that the work of the directors are on full display and you're able to enjoy the various styles and characterizations associated with specific animators and directors. Until these collections started being released it was next to impossible to see cartoons from Frank Tashlin, for example, or see Norm McCabe's work for the studio. I think the collections certainly have the capability to spotlight the lesser known work that wasn't seen on TV on a constant basis and maybe spawn followings for those directors. Time will tell, though!

The four disc's consist of theme-oriented cartoons:

1. Bugs Bunny Favorites
2. A Dash of Tashlin
3. Speedy Gonzales in a Flash
4. Kitty Korner

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ray Stevens: The ObamaCare Song

The feeling continues to grow as "We The People" climbs into the Top-30 on Amazon's best-selling MP3 list. As far as country music MP3's are concerned it's still among the Top-3. The official web-site of Ray Stevens crashed multiple times on Friday January 8th and a lot of it had to do with increased traffic which as everyone knows causes a web-site to crash. I believe a lot of this increased traffic stems from the television exposure that Ray's music video had in a brief segment on The O'Reilly Factor. I think that the exposure helped to introduce the song to those who aren't as conversant when it comes to social networks like You Tube or Facebook and as a result even more visitors checked out Ray's web-site looking for the ObamaCare information. There's always a risk or a slim chance that an internet hit isn't well known outside the confines of cyber-space. Some people who don't frequent places like You Tube or just don't even pay attention aren't going to know a music video is available. One of the things that this experience has done with "We The People" taking on a life of it's own is that a good 75 to 80% of people weren't even aware that Ray had been active. A lot of people make the statement that they thought he had retired or had died years on one hand it's satisfying to see Ray get a lot of media hype and attention and on the other hand it's ironic to see that a lot of people didn't, on their own, seek Ray's music out and instead are just becoming aware of his presence through the "We The People" song.

There's also a good chance that people who discovered Ray through this song will check out his catalog of music...which dates back to the late 1950's. I think one of the things that's surprising to a lot of people who weren't really into all things Ray Stevens is how serious he actually is. As I mentioned in the earliest blog entries that I wrote, Ray had always wanted to be taken seriously and sing serious songs and love ballads but he had a sense of humor and also wanted to express it occasionally. The thing that happened, as long-time fans already know, is that the love ballads and non-comical songs weren't obtaining the same degree of attention from the buying public. One of the things that may be fascinating for some to learn is that the music critics, both in pop and country, almost always gave Ray's serious side good reviews and they would groan and bellyache whenever he'd issue a comical song or an entire album of comical songs. The exact opposite would occur with the buying public...with the exception of a few non-comical songs from Ray that achieved Top-40 rankings, nearly all of his biggest commercial successes came with the comical material. So it was like the buyers wanted fun and silliness from Ray while the critics wanted the serious, thought-provoking Ray.

Those who are amazed or surprised that Ray has serious opinions and world views perhaps thought that an artist known for light, comical banter doesn't take anything seriously? That's just my guess as to why some out there are shocked or stunned by the song...more stunned that it came from someone like Ray whose branded "safe" or "non-threatening". I think the very idea that the song comes from someone the public would least expect is where the 'novelty' aspect comes from...even though the lyrics are dead-serious. This is where I think the genius of Ray Stevens shines through and it has to do with the song's arrangement and the humorous music video imagery. The arrangement is bouncy and the chorus is catchy while the music video is funny to watch...and something else that's funny...

I've been a fan of Ray's 1974 single, "The Moonlight Special", ever since I first heard the song. It was on a 1983 Greatest Hits tape that RCA issued. The tape came into my possession during the early '90s when I located it at K-Mart. The song is a parody of the Midnight Special TV show which featured Wolfman Jack. I happen to think that the inability of a lot of teenagers and even young adults to laugh at themselves is why the single wasn't as big a hit as I think it should have been. As far as statistics go the single peaked just inside the Top-75 of the pop music chart and I believe it was based upon strength of sales instead of airplay. I did a blog entry about this single and titled it "Anniversary Under the Moonlight". 2009 had marked the single's 35th anniversary. The song itself is broken into three acts and the Sheep Dog acts as presenter/emcee. The Sheep Dog, of course, is the Wolfman Jack parody. Ray's own voice appears throughout singing the chorus of the song...but mostly the song is composed of his impressions of Wolfman Jack and the guests appearing on "The Moonlight Special".

For those who want to hear an R&B, bluesy take on "Indian Love Call" look no further than Ray's version of the song. He recorded it in 1975 and it became a Top-40 country music hit. Surprisingly the single didn't do as well with the pop audiences and that's perhaps because the overall feel of the song didn't mesh with the sound of pop radio at the time...or another reason could be that pop music DJ's didn't like the song altogether, no matter whose singing it. Some songs just seem to have this vibe that causes DJ's or music buyers to freak out and they don't want to hear the song by any artist and perhaps "Indian Love Call" is one of those songs? If that's the case the sentiments don't extend to the pop-standards crowd who loved the first known recording by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald in 1936. Slim Whitman recorded the song in 1952 and his version is often considered the definitive recording because of his yodeling techniques when phrasing some of the lyrics. Ray's version I'd assume was a sleeper hit with country audiences because it doesn't exactly sound 'country' and the origins of the song aren't 'country'. I will make the assumption that a big factor in the song's acceptance had to do with Ray himself and perhaps the country DJ's getting a kick out of Ray's bluesy arrangement.