Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charlie Douglas...

I couldn't let 2011 slip by without making mention of Charlie Douglas. A lot of you blog readers probably won't know who he is but some might...depending on where you live. Charlie, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day this year, was a famed disc jockey from the late '50s through the mid '90s. Aside from the career in radio he also became equally popular for his comedic stories. Charlie's biggest impact on radio came on WWL radio in Louisiana as the star of an all-night truckers show titled "The Road Gang". He was at the helm of this radio program from 1970 until 1983...from WWL he made his way up North to Nashville's WSM and remained on their airwaves through 1995. I first heard of Charlie Douglas by way of Jerry Clower! I have all of Clower's main comedy albums from his first one in 1971 on through his final one in 1998. It's on a 1975 comedy album from Clower titled Live At Picayune where you'll hear Charlie bring out Jerry Clower to thunderous applause. So, yes, a 1975 comedy album from Jerry Clower is where I first heard the name and heard the voice of Charlie Douglas!

As luck would have it I was also an avid listener of our own local all-night truckers show...but I knew nothing of Charlie's legendary radio career at the time. One night the local DJ played a comedy record about a bugle and a mule...the actual name of the story is "The Plantin' Bugle". It was rather funny...hysterical in places. Some time later the DJ played the story that for Charlie Douglas was his most requested...the one about the three-hole privy. Each story is lengthy but the build-up is well worth it. It would not be until I got on-line in 2004 that I was able to look up and research Charlie's career and was stunned to find out that he remained on the radio (at WSM) through 1995...I was stunned because it was around that point in time where I first heard of Charlie via the Jerry Clower comedy album. As you can tell, it was sort of ironic that I was just discovering who Charlie was a few years after he had retired from the radio.

You Tube has several of Charlie's comedy stories and eBay and other places have his celebrated comedy album: Me and Dammit Ray - Longtime Friends.

Friday, December 16, 2011

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

Howdy...fresh off of You Tube comes this nearly 7 minute promo piece for Hee-Haw that aired on an Oklahoma news program. The news story inserts clips lifted from the DVD collection I wrote about in Part 12. You will also see footage taken at the Hee-Haw exhibit which runs through the first half of 2012. Most of the clips shown in the video embed below come from the program's first season but toward the end of the embed they feature clips of later seasons, too. The DVD collection is available for purchase at Country Family Reunion's web-site.



RFD-TV is currently airing the 1972-1973 season. During the last several weeks saw the debut of Gordie Tapp's sketch, The Naggers, which featured an uncredited Roni Stoneman. George Lindsey, Gailard Sartain, and Roni Stoneman began making appearances uncredited during this time period. Of course, the reason I use the phrase "uncredited" is because their names weren't called during the familiar opening sequence (where the announcer runs through the cast-list). The Naggers would ultimately turn out to be a long-running sketch that often appeared twice in an episode (one per half hour) and it was still a part of the show for the rest of Roni Stoneman's involvement with the series (through 1991). The sketch was so popular that Gordie and Roni often appeared in-character as Laverne and Ida Lee Nagger during other comedy sketches. Examples being the Justus O'Peace sketch with Archie Campbell where the Naggers often complained to the Judge about their married life, The Kornfield one-liner segment, and in the early '80s the Hee-Haw Honky Tonk sketch. As the series went on The Naggers acquired a son, Elrod, played by cast member Kenny Price. Also, Ida Lee's mother became a frequent presence. The mother was played by Wendy Suites, a member of the show's back-up group, The Nashville Edition.

I'll be purchasing my copy of the Salute to the Kornfield DVD collection, hopefully around the end of this month. The cost, before taxes, is $79.80. The collection comes with 4 DVD discs plus an additional DVD of behind the scenes/backstage excerpts. This salute will eventually air on RFD-TV in 2012 but on-line shoppers can order the program prior to it's national airing.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Classic Cartoons on DVD...

Over the course of the last several months quite a few Hanna-Barbera cartoons of the '60s and '70s have finally saw their release on DVD. The only catch is the discs are DVD-R's but I'm pretty sure the discs will play in any brand name DVD player. I've got some DVD-R discs that play in my DVD player and so I feel confident that there will be no problems.

I haven't placed an order for any of the collections, yet. I'm waiting on the holiday season to pass and then place my order(s) in the new year. However, I may slip in an order next month for one of the collections as an early Christmas present for myself. The collections are for sale at various on-line stores. Amazon is where I purchase things and so that's where the following links will take you...

The Herculoids: This series features the adventures Zandor, Tara, and Dorno who battle a different enemy in each episode. They're aided by Igoo, Tundra, Zok, Gloop, and Gleep. Mike Road and Don Messick provided a bulk of the voices.

Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles: This series deals with a kid named Buzz and a flying robot patterned after the Frankenstein monster. The second segment stars a rock band that doubles as a crime fighting trio. Fluid Man, Multi-Man, and Coil Man each have distinct powers and in many of the episodes there's spoofs of pop culture. Ted Cassidy voices Frankenstein Jr. while Dick Beals voices Buzz. Don Messick, Paul Frees, and Hal Smith voice Multi-Man, Fluid Man, and Coil Man respectively.

Moby Dick and The Mighty Mightor: This series deals with the whale, Moby Dick, acting as a guardian/protector of two kids. Along side this trio is the kid's pet seal, named Scooby! Typically the kids get into trouble and the seal acts as a messenger of sorts...escaping the latest trap and getting Moby to come to the kid's rescue. The Mighty Mightor segments are a lot like another series, Young Samson, although in this series the teenager named Tor uses a club to turn into his alter-ego, Mighty Mightor. In Young Samson the teenager clings his two gold bracelets together.

Jabberjaw: This series from Hanna-Barbera came along during the mid '70s. The previous collections all originate in the mid and late '60s. Unlike the emphasis on realistic science fiction and adventure in the mid '60s cartoons, Jabberjaw is light and patterned after the mystery solving format. Jabberjaw was a shark, who had a voice like Curly from The Three Stooges, and he played drums and doubled as the mascot for the show's teenage rock band, The Neptunes. This group consists of leader, Biff, easily annoyed Shelley, scatterbrained Bubbles, and cowardly Clamhead. Although it's often referred to as a Scooby-Doo clone given the teenage mystery solving format it has much more in common with Josie and the Pussycats. Shelley has similar facial expressions with Alexandra but Clamhead could pass as Shaggy's long-lost brother.

Speed Buggy: In this series we see the adventures of three teenagers and their talking race car, Speed Buggy. The teens this time around are named Mark, Debbie, and Tinker. Michael Bell, a frequent voice on cartoons, is the voice of Mark while face actress Arlene Golonka is Debbie. Phil Luther, Jr. does the voice of Tinker while Mel Blanc is Speed Buggy. In later years Tinker would be voiced by Frank Welker (Laff-a-Lympics, specifically).

Those are just 6 of the DVD releases that have come up for sale during the last several months focusing on classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon series. One of the long-time voice actors at the studio, John Stephenson, can be heard in many of those programs. He was typically cast as villains, policemen, scientists, and sometimes he'd do vocal effects, too. He had a varied career in radio and TV drama as well...I found this clip on You Tube the other day and it's John Stephenson acting in a daytime soap called Morning Star in 1966. John's natural voice will immediately be recognizable to Hanna-Barbera cartoon fans because he used his natural voice a lot in addition to doing celebrity impressions. In the soap he plays the part of Stan Manning and he has a substantial role in this particular episode, too. His scene starts at the 6 minute, 2 second mark:

Monday, November 21, 2011

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

In this particular Hee-Haw blog entry I'm focusing on an upcoming salute to the series that'll air in January 2012 on RFD-TV. The special is titled Salute to the Kornfield...at the moment I have no idea the running time of the special. I can't wait to see it...it'll feature recent interviews with a lot of the surviving cast-members of the show and I imagine there will be a lot of remembrances and memorials/tributes given to those who've passed away.

Before anyone can say "Great...but I don't get RFD-TV!!!" the great news is there's going to be a mammoth DVD collection which will feature the program that airs in January 2012 in addition to footage that didn't make it on the air. The DVD collection will cost a person a little more than $80.00 but it'll be well worth it not only for the interviews and memories but for it's historical value in the years to come.

Information about the DVD collection, which contains 5 discs in all, can be found by clicking the RFD-TV link. 4 discs will be housed in a standard DVD case while the 5th disc called Backstage will be housed in a separate case. You'll see the look and design and the price after you click the above link.

The reruns of the show that air on RFD-TV, in a lot of ways, is responsible for this reunion. Word of mouth and social media have created awareness for the reruns and in a lot of cases the program was discovered by younger audiences, too, who weren't even born when Hee-Haw aired it's last episode in 1992.

The program originally aired on CBS-TV for 2 and a half seasons, 1969-1971, and in syndication for 22 more seasons, 1971-1992. When the show ceased production of new episodes in 1992, at the end of it's 24th season, the program returned later that year as Hee-Haw Silver to commemorate it's 25 seasons on the air. That program was a retrospective series airing flashbacks of older episodes which ran through 1993...concluding it's 25 year run.

I find it thrilling that the program still has such a strong fan-base...but it's not surprising. Practically anything associated with Hee-Haw has turned a profit or helped networks increase their ratings. In the '90s The Nashville Network aired reruns of the show for nearly 5 years straight starting in 1993...months after Hee-Haw Silver concluded it's syndicated run.

One example of it's profitability being the series of Time Life DVD collections spread out over a period of several years. Those DVD's, I think, filled the void left when The Nashville Network abruptly stopped airing the reruns and the DVD releases increased the demand for more episodes. I say the DVD successes eventually led to the program's rerun debut on the RFD-TV network in 2008...where it's been airing ever since. The network is currently airing the 1972-1973 season.

Once again...the reunion of Hee-Haw will air in January 2012 and the DVD counterpart is available for pre-order at the web-link I posted up in the third paragraph.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Paul Winchell...

I wrote a review of Paul's book, Winch, in the spring of 2004. The book is an autobiography and it comes to terms with past experiences, offers forgiveness for earlier mistakes he made in his personal life, and there's what I consider some heavy commentary about the afterlife and other spiritual curiosities. Not to be missed is the description of his feelings while inside a morgue aiding in an autopsy. Prior to purchasing the book I had somewhat of an idea what the book would be about based upon earlier reviews but one never knows until one purchases it for themselves. The only thing I will say is the book is candid and it tells the story of a man who had faults and flaws (just like we all do) but I have seen several reviews balk at the idea that he shouldn't have been so honest or so tell-all. The idea that he shouldn't write a book about his personal demons and what he went through in his life would be like evading reality and so it was necessary to include this information.

This kind of book, filled with one-sided recollections, was bound to create a stir from those who are in the book and the best a lot of us can do is just judge for ourselves. There are many sides to stories...Paul told how he felt, which it's his life story and who are we to say he's right or wrong?

The book is a fascinating story even though it jumps around from decade to decade without a lot of focus on any particular aspect of his career which enables the book to not necessarily be a career-oriented story. There's a lot of recollections about the pressures of show business and how fickle fame can be but this is a life story in every sense of the word in that it deals with his life's experiences and there's a lot of discussion about his trips to see psychiatrists and there's memorable recollections of outright rage and torment stemming from insecurities, paranoia, and his struggles with what I'd consider to be a dominating mother. Those who are wanting to read a career life story of Paul Winchell will just have to wait until someone comes along and writes a book about Paul which focuses on his stage life and voice work in cartoons. I'd be in line to buy such a book if it were to come into print. I grew up hearing his voice long before I knew of his career and his impact on children's programming. Tigger...Gargamel...Dick Dastardly...are what I call the "big 3". I remember watching an episode of Dick Van Dyke on TV and Paul Winchell was a guest star. It was the first time I had seen Winchell on TV. I was born in 1976 and so i'm more familiar with Paul's cartoon work. Anyway, after reading the book I do have a better picture of Paul, the man, but that in no way shape or form makes me not like his work given his life's experiences and mistakes. I still get a kick out of his voice work in animation and seeing his TV clips on-line with his puppet's. As I said at the start, it's a fascinating story...and there are plenty of pictures as well!

Paul Winchell passed away on June 24, 2005 at the age of 82. In one of the most ironic scenarios in all of Hollywood happened the next day on June 25 when John Fielder passed away at the age of 80. Fielder had long been the voice of Piglet on the Winnie the Pooh cartoons. Paul, mentioned earlier, was the voice of Tigger in those same cartoons and it was truly bizarre that the two of them would pass away a day apart from each other. A month earlier, in May 2005, Howard Morris had passed away. In addition to being a face actor and director, Morris was the voice of the Gopher in the Winnie the Pooh cartoons from the beginning through 1988 when he retired from the role.

Monday, August 22, 2011

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

In this on-going series of blogs I've touched upon the fact that 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of Hee-Haw's debut on CBS in 1969. 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of the program's re-launch into syndication. After CBS canceled the series in 1971 it went into first-run syndication later in the year and it remained in first-run syndication for the next 21 years (through May 1992). The follow-up series, Hee-Haw Silver, ran from the fall of 1992 through 1993. If you're familiar with that particular program let me know about it. I'd only heard about it but never saw any of those episodes. I know Roy Clark acted as host and Cathy Baker appeared at the end of each episode to say her signature sign-off line...but I learned of that from reading the Life in the Kornfield book that Sam Lovullo wrote in the mid '90s. I don't think the Hee-Haw Silver series will ever be uploaded onto You Tube or made available on DVD anytime soon...but I'm still interested in seeing the program.

Sunday evening's Hee-Haw episode on RFD-TV featured Connie Smith and Tommy Ambrose as special guests. It was the final episode of the 1971-1972 season (it's first season in syndication). Next Sunday's episode should be episode 1 of the 1972-1973 season or episode 2. I say this because a couple of months ago they aired the first episode of the 1972-1973 season (Ray Stevens and Dizzy Dean were the guests) and so they may skip that and pick up with episode 2. The 1972 season opener, by the way, featured the debuts of cast-members Marianne Gordon, Misty Rowe, Anne Randall, and Gailord Sartain (dressed as a cop). George Lindsey began making infrequent appearances on the program in 1972. He played the Goober character that he'd been playing since 1964 on The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry RFD. Lindsey, however, didn't appear in the opening cast credits of Hee-Haw until several weeks into his run. He'd remain on the series through it's final episode in May 1992 and often appeared at Hee-Haw related functions in the years following it's cancellation. In 1995 he released his life story called Goober in a Nut-Shell and it became a runaway success. Also, it was at this point in time where Lindsey was in the middle of commemorating his 30th anniversary as 'Goober'.

Over the course of the last several weeks during the Hee-Haw reruns on RFD-TV they've been airing commercials that were taped at the recent get-together of the cast. The commercials feature cast-members saying who they are, often standing in front of a replica Hee-Haw prop, and thanking the viewers for watching the reruns.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The 2 Hour Ray Stevens Interview...

On August 1st Ray Stevens was the special guest on WSM radio's Intimate Evenings series hosted by Eddie Stubbs. The show aired for 2 hours and was available for on-line streaming but for those who didn't hear it here's a run down of some of the things that went on...

The show took place at the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

The program opened up with "Jeremiah Peabody's Green and Purple Pills". Eddie introduced Ray and the two of them spoke about the song becoming a chart hit in 1961 with Ray bringing up that he'd been recording and releasing songs for several years prior to his arrival on Mercury Records but none of his releases had reached the national charts until "Jeremiah Peabody" came along. He made mention that his earliest recordings made local radio station charts but didn't break out nationally. Ray spoke of his 1960's single, "Sgt. Preston of the Yukon", and how it led him to write "Jeremiah Peabody" given how the Sgt. Preston single (a novelty song) had racked up more sales than any of his previous releases to that point. Ray, around this time in the interview, also spoke of his desire to get back out on the road much more than he's been lately. A running joke throughout most of the first hour of the program had Ray playing the part of an artist desperate to do any kind of show...constant reminders of how available he is often found their way into the interview.

Eddie, a couple of times throughout the program, remarked on how packed the venue was and that they had to bring in extra chairs to accommodate all of the people who stopped in to hear Ray speak about his experiences in the music industry and hear tidbits about the songs he's written or recorded. Eddie asked Ray about the gospel songs he's recorded and this led into Ray speaking about his dad's favorite song being "Turn Your Radio On". Ray spoke of his days under the guidance of Bill Lowery and about the years he spent working on local radio programs in Georgia with Joe South, Jerry Reed, Billy Joe Royal, and Tommy Roe. Ray spoke of how Nashville has changed so much since the early '60s and commented that the easy-going, open-doors attitude of late '50s and early '60s recording studios is what enabled him to get his foot in the door. Ray remarks that his Sunday school teacher was instrumental in getting him in contact with Bill Lowery.

Ray recounts his first meeting with Ken Nelson, of Capitol Records, in the late '50s. Ray had made a demo recording at some point in 1957 which Lowery sent to Ken Nelson. One thing led to another and Ray found himself with a recording contract on Capitol's subsidiary, Prep Records, when he was still a teenager. Although not mentioned in the interview it was also during this time that it was suggested that Ray use a stage name. His birth name is Harold Ray Ragsdale...but neither "Harold" nor "Ragsdale" in the minds of the promotional department at Capitol had a lot of pizzaz and so the decision was made to have him use his middle name, Ray, and his mother's maiden name, Stevens, and from that moment on he would go by the name 'Ray Stevens'.

The conversation shifts to his modern-day recordings with Eddie remarking how incredible it is that at this point in Ray's career he's still highly active and working on multiple recording projects. Eddie only had to mention the phrase "Obama Budget Plan" and it sent the audience into applause and laughter...for the audience was well aware of the song's content and the music video. Eddie also asked about "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" and this led into Ray speaking of his recent experience with political songs and mentioning his C-PAC appearance several months ago. The audience laughed and cheered during his humorous quips about the current situation in Washington. Eddie played "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" and Ray commented afterward that during the C-PAC event he appeared on a political discussion panel. He remarked that he felt that a good number of the politicians on the panel, in general, perhaps only knew of him by way of the older songs from the '60s and '70s and probably weren't too sure why 'Ray Stevens' was sitting on a political panel discussing such heavy topics as the debt, deficit, and health care. He mentioned that as soon as he started into "The Skies Just Ain't Friendly Anymore" he could feel electricity in the air from the audience...he said that they enjoyed it and got a kick out of it. After speaking a little about the Spirit of '76 Eddie plays "Obama Budget Plan".

Eddie, in all seriousness, asked Ray where he comes up his song ideas...instant laughter from the audience resulted from that question. Eddie plays "It's Me Again, Margaret" and how the song's writer, Paul Craft, had released the song nearly a decade before Ray's more familiar version was recorded. Ray commented on the inclusion of the 'dirty laugh' and he re-created the laugh several times during the conversation surrounding the song. From there Eddie brings up "Misty" and Ray talks about how that recording and it's arrangement came into being. It was during this point in the program that Eddie gave some spotlight on Ray's arranging skills. He marveled at Ray's talents at being able to hear songs play out in his head and know which instrumentation to use and everything else that goes into arranging music. He credits Bill Justis with teaching him how to be a music arranger. Eddie brought up Ray's multi-instrumental talents and the numerous recording sessions for other artists that Ray participated in during the '50s, '60s, and early '70s. Ray said that he used to smoke...but quit in 1969. He also commented that session musicians were paid around $50.00 per session.

Hour 2 kicked off with "Ahab the Arab". Ray gave the history of the song and Eddie commented that during the same recording session as "Ahab the Arab" Ray played on LeRoy Van Dyke's "Walk On By" and Joe Dowell's "Wooden Heart". The recording, according to Ray's recollection, happened in January 1962 and it was released as a single in the spring. Out of the blue Ray mentioned that he was working on a book about his career and life with the help of his songwriting associate, friend, and business partner Buddy Kalb. He didn't give a release date but said that it's in the works!

Eddie named off several of Ray's songs. Eddie and the audience chuckled when he got to "Bridget the Midget the Queen of the Blues". Ray remarked that the single wasn't that big of a hit in America. He felt that it was possibly due to political correctness. It's a possibility because political correctness, in it's earliest stages, was starting to creep into television around the turn of the decade (1970-onward) and as the years went by more and more regulations on what could be seen on TV or heard on the radio became more and more prevalent. Ray, defending the song, commented that he was simply wanting to do a song with the Chipmunk sound effects...this caused laughter from Eddie and the audience...and then Ray commented that it became a big hit in England.

Ray's version of "Oh, Lonesome Me" is played. The conversation then turns to Ray's reputation for zany, comical recordings. Eddie brings up the One For the Road collection and the conversation of travel and being on the road leads to "Hang Up and Drive", a song Ray recorded about people driving and talking on their cell-phones.

Eddie brings up how busy Ray continues to be and this leads into a discussion about Ray's sit-com, We Ain't Dead Yet. The sit-com had a trial run on a former web-page that Ray's people operated called Ray Stevens Backstage. It was a premium web-page and it was up and running for nearly 2 years before it went off-line. Those who were members of this site were able to see a few episodes. I hope a general audience will be able to see the shows one day. They're funny, cute, and unique.

Eddie mentions that Ray won two Grammy awards...one for "Misty" and another for "Everything Is Beautiful". Streaking came up and this led into Ray talking about where the idea of the song came from and how he was able to get a jump on the fad nearly a month before it was all over the national news. "The Streak" was played and by then the program was nearly over. Eddie remarked that the Intimate Evenings series had never featured a performer primarily known for comedy but given that this was something new for the series he wanted Ray to have the honor of being the first comedian to make an appearance should they decide to have other comical entertainers stop by in the future. The show closed with Ray's song, "Thank You", from the We The People collection.

All in all the interview was great! Ray's had a varied career that encompasses just about every aspect of the music business: singing, songwriting, producing, arranging, and session playing. There were some highlights of his career that they didn't get around to discussing such as his You Tube music video successes; his revolutionary home video sales successes in the 1990's; his years in Branson, Missouri and the story behind "Shriner's Convention". I have no idea if the interview will be archived at WSM's web-site or not. I'll check their web-site periodically and see if an audio link becomes available.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Volume Five...

I'm typically several years late when it comes to purchasing the Golden Collection series and this one's no exception. I purchased this a few days ago and it arrived yesterday. Thanks to the availability of Looney Tunes: Spotlight Collection, Vol. 5 I was able, several years ago, to see 30 of the cartoons that are featured in this edition of the Golden Collection. As usual the Golden Collection is more for the cartoon enthusiasts...animation historians...and die-hard fans of the Looney Tunes. The main reason for the Spotlight Collections were to aim at the general audience and aim at those who wouldn't pay more than $20.00 for a DVD collection (although the Golden Collections are well worth the higher price). A lot of the reviews of this DVD I've not read (there's too many) but those that I've skimmed through touch base on just about everything and so I'm not going to do any break downs of too many individual cartoons.

Given that the Golden Collection, this one being no exception, are filled with extra features and mini-documentaries on animators, directors, and the like I watched most of the extra features and bonus material first and that's what this review will mostly be about.

The documentary I watched right away was "Drawn To Life: The Art of Robert McKimson" which is found on disc 2. I watched this first because I wanted to, first of all, see what the animators, historians and fans of the cartoons had to say. I also watched it first because McKimson is like the unheralded giant of classic Warner Brothers cartoons...and many cartoons by McKimson played a lot on ABC-TV's Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show of the '80s and '90s and I was raised on his cartoons every bit as much as I was raised on the cartoons by Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery.

The documentary is a celebration of McKimson's career. He's noted as being one if not the only person employed at Warner Brothers cartoons from it's beginning in the early '30s to it's eventual closing in the late '60s. McKimson and his brothers, Charles and Tom, were natural artists and obviously this enabled them to become animators...and later, as we know, Robert became a director at the studio. Within the documentary, strangely enough, there isn't any archival commentary from McKimson's peers at the studio and there's no verbal recordings of McKimson. There are pictures of him shown (of course!) and there's invaluable commentary from his son, Robert McKimson, Jr., and several others but there's no actual footage of the senior McKimson on camera discussing his career or the characters he known for (Foghorn Leghorn, Barnyard Dog, Prissy, Tasmanian Devil, Hippety Hopper, and Sylvester Junior).

While the documentary on McKimson is a celebration of his work and his talents it wouldn't have been realistic without discussing the sad but true fact that he's largely forgotten and unheralded when compared to Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery. Several historians and cartoon enthusiasts offer their opinion on why that's the case...a lot of it has to do with the fact that McKimson passed away in 1977 before all the nostalgia and enthusiasm for cartoons really started to take off but also, according to some of the commentators, it also had to do with his low-key demeanor. It's a study in extreme ironies: McKimson was a skilled artist, animator, and director who did quite a lot of memorable cartoons but because of his low-key nature and the acclaim put on Friz, Chuck Jones, and the others through the decades it's created a scenario where a director's work is highly memorable albeit the name of the director isn't as well known by comparison. For example...say a couple of people are discussing various Bugs Bunny cartoons. One guy says "oh that was hilarious! let's see now...who directed it? it was either Chuck or Friz....hmmm, oh? it was Robert McKimson? it was a hilarious cartoon!". Other examples can also be used to describe the irony of the "oh, it was Robert McKimson? Hilarious!" realization. After awhile our mythical conversationalists recognize that McKimson directed his fair share of classic cartoons even though his name isn't as lauded as Chuck and Friz.

Another extra is "Once Upon a Looney Tune"...which airs prior to the McKimson documentary on disc 2. In this feature we see the exploration of the zany, irreverent spin on fairy tales which is what's featured on Disc 2 of the collection. There are various spoofs of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears in addition to other fables and fairy tales. It's interesting to note that in the "Once Upon a Looney Tune" feature they air a clip of Coal Black, a parody of Snow White. Those who are die-hard fans of the Looney Tunes know all about Coal Black but it caught me off-guard when I saw the clip pop up on the screen.

Bob Clampett gets his own disc...it's Disc 3. Along side Tex Avery and Robert McKimson, Clampett's cartoons are laugh out loud funny in my opinion. It's often been said that Friz Freleng's cartoons had superior timing and razor sharp music coordination which brought out the humor in almost every cartoon. It's been said that Chuck Jones had superior timing, too, on top of using eye blinks, facial expressions, and word play to bring out the humor in his cartoons...but pretty much everyone who's given commentary about a Looney Tunes cartoon seems to point out Bob Clampett's work as being the looniest of all. Ironically, Clampett received a mini-documentary of his life and career back in the Golden Collection, Volume Two but it took until Volume Five for him to get a disc devoted to his directorial contributions at the studio.

There have been other Clampett cartoons sprinkled throughout Volumes 1 through 4 so it isn't like his work was completely ignored. However, compared to the amount of cartoons directed by Friz and Chuck featured on Volumes 1 through 4, Clampett's contributions pale by comparison. Some say it's because Friz and Chuck were at the studio much longer and made more cartoons therefore more of their contributions are showcased...which makes sense...but then there are those who say that limiting the Clampett cartoons was did intentionally because the irreverence, satire, and all out zaniness clashed with the works of Freleng and Jones.

There are two bonus features on Disc 3...one is all about the "Wacky Warner One Shots". This feature examines quite a lot of the cartoons from Warner Brothers which didn't star any of the popular characters (like Bugs, Porky, Daffy, Sylvester, etc. etc.). The second bonus feature, "Real American Zero: The Adventures of Private SNAFU", looks at Private Snafu...the inept soldier who doesn't do anything right. The training films were designed to teach newly enlisted soldiers how NOT to behave. By watching Snafu do the wrong things and get into a lot of trouble it was teaching soldiers to learn from Snafu's mistakes. The Snafu cartoons were never shown to the general public for obvious reasons. It's fun, though, to see the regular gallery of historians and animators who've contributed to the Golden Collection series speak more R-rated, too. The mini-documentary isn't an all out barrage of cuss words but given that it's all about the Private Snafu cartoons the language is a little bit looser. There are two bonus cartoons of SNAFU adventures and there are three cartoons starring SNAFU's Navy counterpart, Mr. Hook. SNAFU cartoons were made for the U.S. Army while the HOOK cartoons were made for the U.S. Navy.

Disc 1 features cartoons starring either Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. Of course there are several cartoons that feature Bugs and Daffy together outwitting a shared enemy. In "Ali Baba Bunny" the shared enemy is Hasan, the simple minded treasure guard who can't remember the magic phrase 'open Sesame'. The main extra feature on Disc 1 is a Chuck Jones documentary from 2000 called "Extremes and In-Betweens: A Life in Animation". This is the second documentary on Chuck...the first, "Chuck Amuck", was featured on Volume One.

Part 2 of the "Extremes and In-Betweens" documentary is on Disc 2...along with another Chuck Jones spotlight called "A Chuck Jones Tutorial: Tricks of the Cartoon Trade". This was originally a bonus feature on the DVD release of "Extremes and In-Betweens".

This Volume Five nearly completes my collection of the series...I now need to get the final volume, Six, to make it complete.

Disc 4 showcases early cartoons. A bonus extra, "Unsung Maestro's: A Directors Tribute" takes a look at various directors at Warner Brothers who contributed quite a few cartoons for the studio but were never given a lot of spotlight. A lot of the time it was because some of the directors were there prior to the arrival of future super star characters like Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny. The directors of the Looney Tunes in the earliest of years get some spotlight in this feature. One of the more notable cartoons on Disc 4 is "Scrap Happy Daffy" from 1943. It was directed by Frank Tashlin. The first cartoon directed by Tex Avery, "Gold Diggers of '49", is featured on Disc 4. It stars Beans the Cat but many historians say Porky Pig is the real star. The cartoon is also notable for injecting a lot of what would become trademarks of the Warner Brothers cartoons: visual humor, pop-culture references, and general craziness. The cartoon premiered in 1935...several years before Mel Blanc would become the voice of Porky Pig and what we have is original voice, Joe Dougherty, providing the vocals. The cartoon was animated by Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones several years before the two of them would become cartoon directors. Research shows that "Gold Diggers of '49" is the second cartoon to feature Porky Pig.

All in all this is another perfect Golden Collection...some have ripped this collection apart but I have no idea why there's anger and bitterness at all. There was bitterness felt by some about Volume 4 due to several of the disc's concentrating on lesser known characters and highlighting cartoons that lacked a lot of the trademark humor of later cartoons from the studio. One of the disc's on Volume 4 was devoted to Speedy Gonzales which infuriated some but delighted others.

This Volume 5, in my opinion, doesn't feature any cartoon that deviates too much from what Looney Tunes enthusiasts crave. You can't go wrong with a disc devoted to Bob Clampett, neither! On top of this there's the wonderful look at Robert McKimson's work that I wrote of at the top of this review...and then there's the Chuck Jones documentary...and there's three Looney Tunes specials added as extra features on Disc 4: "Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals", "Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales", and "Bugs Bunny's Bustin' Out All Over".

In the latter, from 1980, several new cartoons are added to the lengthy list of theatrical Warner Brothers releases: "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Bunny", "Soup or Sonic", and "Spaced Out Bunny". The "Soup or Sonic" short is a Coyote and Road Runner adventure.

In "Bugs Bunny's Looney Christmas Tales", from 1979, you get three newly animated adventures: "Freeze Frame" is a Coyote and Road Runner adventure while "Bugs Bunny's Christmas Carol" casts Yosemite Sam as Scrooge, Tweety as Tiny Tim, Porky as Bob Cratchit and Bugs portrays a bystander bent on showing Scrooge how to treat people with respect. The third segment of the 1979 special was titled, "The Fright Before Christmas", and it featured Bugs and the Tasmanian Devil.

The "Bugs and Daffy's Carnival of the Animals" is a 1976 prime-time special featuring all new animated segments of Bugs and Daffy competing against the other which further fuels the Bugs vs. Daffy comical feud first explored in the theatrical cartoons. The 1976 special has a bit too much live action/symphony performance for me but the animated sequences are great.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Remembering Mel Blanc...

July 10, 1989 is the day that the world lost Mel Blanc. I'm one of the millions of people who grew up hearing his voice on many cartoons. I never met him in person and have no connection to him or his family but like millions of others we've been impacted by his voice and have laughed at his visual performances. The death of the animation world's most celebrated voice actor not only made national but international news. One of the programs that I remember seeing at some point in the mid '80s when I was around 7 or 8 years old was a Lifetime show called Mother's Day hosted by Joan Lunden. The reason I remember this particular show is because Mel Blanc, of all people, made a guest appearance. In the show he was decked out in a sweatshirt with a picture of Bugs Bunny on the front.

In addition to voicing cartoon characters he also had an equal amount of time playing bit parts and recurring characters on many radio comedies of the '30s and '40s and then when television came along as the country's main choice of entertainment he often shown up in guest starring roles on TV comedies and talk-shows. The radio program with which Mel Blanc is so closely associated is the Jack Benny Program. Mel not only had recurring characters on the radio show but he also brought the characters to television in the '50s and '60s on Jack's television program (1950-1965). One of the characters, Sy, became part of a legendary comedy routine that highlighted the comedic timing of both Mel Blanc and Jack Benny. My grandfather introduced me to Jack Benny's television program...it happened around the mid '80s time period...the reruns were airing on the local PBS stations on Sunday morning. Ever since the mid '80s I've been aware of Jack Benny and Mel Blanc and have long been a fan of Warner Brothers cartoons of which Mel was the primary vocal star.

As others have said and I also agree, Mel Blanc was an actor first and foremost...one that used his expressive voice and entire body in most every performance...but it's the acting that brought everything together.

The vocalizations are what he's known for but it's his acting abilities that enabled those vocalizations to become believable. When you watch a cartoon and hear any number of his characterizations...the funny thing is...the character sounds real. It's one of those things that'll forever puzzle a lot of people. When you hear him as one of the radio characters he played...he sounds exactly like you'd expect his character to sound. Professor LeBlanc, the long-suffering violin teacher of Jack Benny, sounds pretty much the way you'd expect a long-suffering teacher to sound: easily irritable, agitated, sarcastic, and prone to fits of crying and misery. In Professor LeBlanc, Mel could go from misery and angst (during a violin lesson) to absolute joy and happiness (once the violin lesson was over!). Mel provided the voices of not only Professor LeBlanc but he was also heard as Sy the Mexican, Polly the Parrot, Carmichael the Polar Bear, Jack's Maxwell car, and the Train Depot announcer. These were just a few of the well-known characterizations...he provided voices for many nameless characters throughout his involvement in Jack's program from would-be burglars, to repairmen, plumbers, store clerks, and other occupational characters.

Speaking of store clerks...one of Blanc's most hysterical performances every Christmas season for many years was on Jack's program. In many holiday episodes Mel played the part of a nice, courteous store clerk who was driven insane throughout the course of the episode by Jack's annoying habit of changing his mind over what to buy someone for Christmas. Typically a routine would involve Mel having to wrap a gift...then unwrap the gift...wrap the new gift...put it back in the delivery room...then, upon another change of mind from Jack, Mel would have to retrieve the wrapped gift...unwrap it...wrap up the new gift...send it to the delivery room. This gift exchange routine would go on, at various moments, throughout each holiday episode. About mid-way through Mel would lose his temper just a little. By the episode's final exchange Mel would completely lose his mind and turn into a sobbing mess.

Mel turns into a sobbing mess in the clip below...

Mel asks for a Tip in this hilarious clip from one of Jack Benny's television programs. In the clip you'll see Jack, Mel, and Don Wilson (Jack's long-time announcer). I couldn't embed the above video because of the embedding option for it is disabled.

In the video clip below you'll see Jack and Don Wilson discussing the introduction of the show while Mel Blanc comes in about 2 and a half minutes later as a Taxi cab driver. Jokes follow about Mel's character being the owner of a cab service...Blanc then wonders what Jack's profession happens to be. Self-deprecating jokes from Jack as well as jokes from others teasing Jack's "celebrity status" were always prominent on Jack's program. This inquiry from Mel's character prompts Jack to deliver a line that comes off as an ad-lib (based on how Don Wilson and Mel both reacted to it!). You can find quite a few other clips featuring Mel and Jack on You Tube.



Lastly...and I'm not meaning to put a damper on things but a lot of the modern-day depictions of the Looney Tunes characters obviously lack Blanc's vocal touch.

It's one thing to keep the characters in the public eye (which I'm glad that they're doing) but at the same time the characters need to have voice actors who come near-perfect to Blanc's voice. At the present time Bob Bergen and Joe Alaskey are just two that spring to mind that sound similar to how Mel voiced the characters...while Frank Welker does a swell Barney Rubble.

Some of the artists who perform the role of Bugs Bunny put too much emphasis on trying to sound Brooklyn-Bronx and they end up over-doing it or they come off sounding nothing like Bugs Bunny and more like a stereotypical New Yorker.

As you can tell from my comments, I'm guilty of the following as are thousands of other people: Although it's probably unfair to have this kind of opinion but a lot of people judge new Looney Tunes cartoons NOT on the actual storyline but on how close the vocals are to Mel Blanc. Nothing makes a new Looney Tunes cartoon grow on me quicker than if the vocalizations are in the tradition of Mel Blanc. Animators and the musicians can re-create the look and sound of the classic cartoons but, for me, I tend to pay attention to the vocalizations, too. If the vocalizations aren't satisfactory it tends to put a dark cloud over the whole thing.

Mystery resolved: Hopefully this puts an end to the long-held belief that Mel was allergic to carrots. The truth is Mel didn't particularly like carrots unless they were boiled and had a lot of butter or syrup on them. The often told story is Mel had to quickly spit out the carrot that he'd bite into or become sick to his stomach due to some allergic reaction. The reason he'd spit out the carrot is simply to clear his mouth...the last thing you want is to be reading a script and a piece of carrot come up from behind a tooth or wherever and cause a reading to become wasted. People still like to say Mel was allergic to carrots. It's a funny and ironic scenario if it were true but in reality it's just an urban legend and completely, 100 percent false. Mel Blanc was NOT allergic to carrots!

Mel Blanc's son, Noel, often appears on radio programs to discuss animation, old-time radio, and his dad's legacy. He contributed to the various DVD collections that were issued in the middle of last decade (2000-2009) titled The Golden Collection. Each DVD release would feature 4 disc's of Looney Tunes cartoons. Loaded with extra features saw the inclusion of an on-going series titled Behind The Tunes. These installments ran an estimated 5 minutes and they featured clips of a specific cartoon or a profile of a specific character and there would be commentary on-screen by those who participated in the making of the cartoon...or there would be commentary by a relative. Noel Blanc appeared in quite a few of these brief documentaries. In one installment he speaks about Mel's performance and Oscar win for the cartoon "Birds Anonymous" which featured Sylvester trying to give up birds. Technically the producer of a short-subject received the actual award but those who worked on the cartoon rightfully claimed victory, too. Former producer of the Warner Brothers cartoons, Eddie Selzer, willed an Oscar to Mel according to Noel's recollections.

Mel is spoken of with reverence within the various documentary programs in the DVD collections and eventually the collection featured an in-depth look at Mel Blanc's life featuring clips of several of the directors, some of Mel's co-stars, and Noel too. The director's on-screen comments were all taped years before the DVD collections became a reality. Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng are the two who appear on camera with recurring frequency. Robert McKimson is highlighted in a 15 minute documentary; Frank Tashlin gets a documentary; and Bob Clampett has his own documentary, too. Tex Avery is frequently mentioned as is Art Davis.

Speaking of the Oscar...the following cartoons, all featuring Mel as the main voice artist, won an Oscar. I'm listing the actual director of the short-subject because I feel the director had much more creative influence over the cartoon than the producer:

1. Tweetie Pie: 1947 (Friz Freleng)
2. For Scent-imental Reasons: 1949 (Chuck Jones)
3. Speedy Gonzales: 1955 (Friz Freleng)
4. Birds Anonymous: 1957 (Friz Freleng)
5. Knighty-Knight Bugs: 1958 (Friz Freleng)

Mel Blanc's contributions to animation can still be heard. Somewhere in the world the classic Looney Tunes are still airing...if not the Looney Tunes then you're bound to hear his voice on The Flintstones and The Jetsons. Each series airs on the Boomerang channel in America. Mel voiced Barney Rubble and various incidental characters on The Flintstones and Mr. Spacely and other incidental characters on The Jetsons. Boomerang also airs "Wacky Races" and "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop". In the latter, Mel is heard as the Bully Brothers, Yak-Yak, and Chug-a-Boom (recreating the Maxwell vocalizations).

Mel Blanc: May 30, 1908 - July 10, 1989.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Heathcliff...

It's a cute series in places, a laugh out loud series in places, and above all it's fun. I'm speaking of the animated series, Heathcliff. The cartoon series debuted in 1980 but research shows that the character's been around since 1973...as a comic strip. The original series of Heathcliff episodes aired for two seasons, 1980-1981 and 1981-1982. The first episodes aired as Heathcliff and Dingbat. The second season episodes featured Heathcliff sharing top-billing with Marmaduke (another comic strip character) in Heathcliff and Marmaduke. Scatman Crothers performed the theme song. In the first season, much like in the second season, Heathcliff stars in his own segments. The Dingbat segment from season 1 features a trio of bizarre characters: Dingbat, a dog with an accent similar to Bela Lugosi. Spare Rib, a skeleton, and the Jimmy Durante sounding Nobody the jack-o-lantern, rounded out the trio. The official title of the second segment was Dingbat and the Creeps. Altogether there were 25 episodes produced during 1980-1982.

I'm not listing each and every role in the series but here's a brief overview of who voiced who in the 1980-1982 series...

Mel Blanc provided the voice of Heathcliff and Spike in the first 25 episodes. June Foray provided most of the female voices but other female artists like Janet Waldo and Marilyn Shreffler provided voices, too. Frank Welker provided the voice of Dingbat while Don Messick was the voice of Spare Rib and Nobody. Messick, as mentioned, gave the Nobody character a Jimmy Durante kind of voice while his vocalization for Spare Rib was similar to other high-pitched roles that Messick provided in the past: Pixie Mouse, Ruff the Cat, Scrappy-Doo, etc. etc. Paul Winchell provided the voice of Marmaduke and Phil Winslow. Henry Corden was the voice of Clem and Digby.

The 1980-1982 version of the show, airing on ABC-TV, was not broadcast heavily in reruns. I never saw any episodes from the series until You Tube came along! A lot of the reason why the original 25 episodes weren't heavily reran probably had to do with the fact that in 1984 a syndicated version of the series debuted. This 1984 version didn't feature Marmaduke and it replaced the Dingbat and the Creeps segment with a new segment called Catillac Cats. In fact, the syndicated series was referred to as Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats but it was never officially given that name.

This syndicated series contained much of the same style of Heathcliff stories as in the past: Heathcliff either playing pranks on neighborhood businesses, or, annoying the easily annoyed Grandpa Nutmeg; or getting in cat fights with other cats AND dogs who either harassed him or attempted to steal his girlfriend, Sonja, away. The Catillac Cats segment centered around a comical gang of alley cats who hung out in a junkyard. The leader of the pack was Riff-Raff who was more of a con-artist forever dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes. Next in "command" was Hector...a brown cat who was often intimidated by the smaller Riff-Raff but wasn't afraid to verbally assault the roller-skate rhymer, happy-go-lucky white cat Wordsworth or the heavyset purple cat, Mungo. Cleo, a female cat, was depicted as Riff-Raff's girlfriend. Leroy, an easily irritated but also easily confused dog, was the Guard dog of the junkyard.

Hector, Wordsworth, and Cleo were designed with distinct 1980's fashions and although it enabled the series to become dated it nevertheless became one of the memorable aspects of the syndicated version of Heathcliff. Hector wore a headband with an '80s hairstyle...Wordsworth, in addition to always being on roller skates, wore headphones while presumably listening to music on a walk-man (which perhaps explained why he always spoke in rhyme). The actual device was rarely visible but the headphones were always seen. Cleo wore lavender leggings...what was probably an acknowledgement to the exercise craze that seemed to take off in the '80s.

The 1984 syndicated series became a huge hit...it's popularity kept the series in first-run production for four years through 1988. There were 86 episodes produced altogether...compare this to the 25 from it's original run (1980-1982). Upon the conclusion of it's last first-run episode and subsequent reruns the series became a hit all over again on Nickelodeon. The channel aired reruns of the syndicated series for four years, 1989-1993. Afterward, research shows that the reruns aired on The Family Channel for 6 more years, 1993-1999. What this means is the episodes that originally aired in syndication (1984-1988) remained on the air in reruns non-stop for 11 more years. Currently the episodes are airing on the This TV brand of networks and you can watch various episodes on DVD and on You Tube. The early episodes from 1980-1982 can sometimes be found on You Tube.

Mel Blanc provided the voice of Heathcliff in the ABC-TV version and the syndicated version. This character is often cited as being the final original character that Blanc provided a voice to. Much of the '70s and '80s saw Mel Blanc reprising his iconic Looney Tunes roles for television productions or commercials...and he also returned to his role as Barney Rubble in the many Flintstones animated productions and cereal commercials. The Heathcliff series pretty much dominated Blanc's schedule during the decade (1980-1982, 1984-1988). I do not know how many years it took to actually produce the 86 syndicated episodes...the voices are often recorded first and it wouldn't be unusual to have voice actors/actresses do all of their lines weeks before the actual cartoon went into production. Whatever the production schedule was the fact is the cartoons aired for 4 years (1984-1988) and then were reran for 11 more consecutive years. Blanc passed away in 1989...and it made national and international news. His last performances of his Looney Tunes roles came in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. A finished recording of his Mr. Spacely role in The Jetsons upcoming movie made it's debut in 1990. Ironically, Blanc and George O'Hanlon (the voice of George Jetson) both passed away in 1989 during production of the Jetsons movie. O'Hanlon passed away on February 11, 1989 and Blanc passed away on July 10, 1989 (tomorrow marks the 22nd anniversary of that sad day).

Monday, July 4, 2011

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

A few minutes ago I came across a web-site originating from Oklahoma. I discovered that a Hee-Haw exhibit is taking place at the Oklahoma History Center. Those of you are familiar with the area or in the vicinity of Oklahoma City will probably know where the venue is. If not, the information can be found here along with a video clip of Roy Clark, Vince Gill, and Garth Brooks giving their comments on Hee-Haw and it's lasting impact. There's a nice article/write-up about the show and it mentions that although the show's been out of production since 1992 it's continued to find audiences through reruns. It reran on The Nashville Network (TNN) for nearly four years starting in the fall of 1993. Those reruns were a ratings success for the network and it helped promote the stage revival at Opryland Theme Park called Hee-Haw Live which got underway in the summer of 1994.

Upon the conclusion of the closing credits of the television rerun there would typically be a promo for Hee-Haw Live complete with ticket information, address, and phone number. Later, commercials for the future best-selling home video, Hee-Haw Laffs, began airing on TNN. The stage show featured just a small group from the regular cast and a few newcomers performing sketches and routines associated with Hee-Haw. Off the top of my head I think the members of the stage show were Lulu Roman, Grandpa Jones, Gunilla Hutton, George Lindsey, and theme park regular Jason Petty (now known as the definitive Hank Williams, Sr. in various stage productions). It was also around this time, the mid '90s, that the show's producer, Sam Lovullo, released his Life in the Kornfield book. I'll also add that the DVD releases from the middle part of last decade (2004-2006) have also helped introduce the program to multiple generations...especially since a lot of those episodes have turned up on You Tube and other video hosting sites within the last several years. Then a couple of years ago RFD-TV started airing the program...starting with the debut episode in 1969 and moving forward. Last night's episode was from 1972 with Porter and Dolly as special guests.

The Hee-Haw exhibit article states that the exhibit will be on display for exactly a year and so you'll have until sometime in April or May of 2012 to catch the exhibit. I had been watching Hee-Haw clips on You Tube earlier and it inspired me to do a Google news search and that's where I found the story about the Oklahoma City Hee-Haw exhibit. Strangely enough I didn't come across this article in May or June or I would've mentioned it then.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Old-time radio meets the Cartoons...

It had been a few months since I did a You Tube video search for a certain cartoon but nearly 10 minutes ago I was over on You Tube and I decided to look up Toy Town Hall and to my amazement someone had uploaded it. According to the specifics it was uploaded late in March of this year so it's only been around a couple of months. The cartoon originates from 1936 and it's one of those caricature cartoons that I love seeing. The cartoon features a myriad of celebrity caricatures of the time period...a few of them are unfamiliar to me...but most of them I recognize due to one of my earlier hobbies of listening to old-time radio programs of the '30s and '40s and becoming familiar with classic movies.

At the start of the cartoon you'll hear an impression of Ben Bernie on the radio...using a line that's been used in other Warner Brothers cartoons that have caricatured him visually. The cartoon is "hosted" by a caricature of Fred Allen who pops out of a jack-in-the-box. Although the cartoon focused on having celebrities as toys it's ironic that the animators/writers would have Fred Allen as a jack-in-the-box considering his comical feud with Jack Benny. That's perhaps why they decided on caricaturing Fred Allen as a jack-in-the-box, specifically. Allen at the time was the host of Town Hall Tonight...which was the fifth name given to his national radio program following The Linit Bath Club Revue (1932-1933), The Salad Bowl Revue (1933), The Sal Hepatica Revue (1934), and The Hour of Smiles (1934-1935). The show remained under the title of Town Hall Tonight from 1935 through 1939. He hosted a self-titled Fred Allen Show during 1939-1940 and then from 1940 through 1944 he was the host of Texaco Star Theater. On-going battles with hypertension caused him to take nearly a year and a half hiatus in 1944 and he returned in the fall of 1945 with another self-titled program, The Fred Allen Show. This remained on the air through 1949 and after it's final episode in the summer of 1949 Allen never hosted another radio program full-time again.

In the early '50s he was a recurring guest on radio's The Big Show...appearing in nearly 30 episodes out of the 57 that were produced. Allen appeared in early episodes of television game shows...specifically his regular appearances on What's My Line? in the mid '50s. He was a frequent guest on the program for two years and had become popular with it's viewers...so popular that after his death in 1956 the game show mentioned his death on the air and at the end of the show each member of the panel gave their memories of him. Throughout his radio career he was often joined by his wife, Portland Hoffa. She's caricatured in this cartoon...saying her catch-phrase. The caricature you see on the screen below is Eddie Cantor. Modern-day readers who have no knowledge of old-time radio or classic entertainment will have no idea what's taking place in the cartoon and why it's considered funny by a lot of people who have appreciation for radio comedy. Also, modern-day readers keep in mind that Fred Allen and Steve Allen were two different comedians and neither of them were related to each other. I've come across web-sites where people see the name Fred Allen and they immediately think of Steve Allen.

And now that I've given a brief history of Fred Allen enjoy one of the cartoons that put his likeness center-stage...

Monday, June 13, 2011

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

Howdy! There are several clips floating around on-line taken from the same Today Show segment. The particular segment on the morning news program spotlighted a recent get together of various Hee-Haw cast-members. One of the clips feature Buddy Alan while the other two clips feature commentary from Roy Clark and in a separate clip, Mel Tillis. Mel comments about the show and talks about his comedy CD. Since those particular video clips aren't uploaded on You Tube you'll have to Google them. The search phrases to use when surfing the internet are: "Hee-Haw + Today Show" or "Country Memories: The Cast of Hee-Haw Gets Together". More than likely you'll turn up web-sites owned and operated by NBC since that's the network that covered the get together. The reunion was to more than likely to commemorate the anniversary of the show's debut in 1969. The program debuted on June 15, 1969 as a summer replacement series on CBS. The summer episodes were a ratings winner and it was brought back in December 1969 as a mid-season replacement...airing until the spring of 1970. It later returned for one full season on CBS, 1970-1971, before going into syndication for 22 more seasons (1971-1992). In a lot of local markets the show aired in the same time-slot on local CBS stations which meant that a majority of viewers had no idea of the behind the scenes turmoil that went on with the on-again/off-again production cycle and it's cancellation by the network. As I mentioned in previous blog entries...the average viewer continued to watch Hee-Haw every Saturday evening for decades oblivious to the fact that it had become a syndicated series and was no longer financed by the network. (The average viewer of any TV show isn't going to pay attention to such detail!).

By the way...the summer season ran from June through September 1969.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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



According to the one who uploaded the above video this is from the final episode of Hee-Haw which aired on May 30, 1992. I've never seen a complete episode from the last season but in the above video we see a sketch called the Bus Stop. In the background you can hear the familiar banjo playing away and so I assume this was the urbanized version of the Kornfield. Gary Morris, Sweethearts of the Rodeo, and Hal Ketchum were the guests on what turned out to be the final first-run episode of the series. The series that appeared in the fall of 1992 was the "best-of" series called Hee-Haw Silver, which ran through the summer of 1993. In the above video you'll see Roy Clark, Grandpa Jones, Gordie Tapp, Mike Snider, Gary Morris, and several others trade jokes standing on a city street at a "Bus Stop".

In the video below we see a commercial for the Miracle Nose. It features Gary Morris and the Norris Twins. From 1969 through 1986 the program featured the Hagers, twin brothers who performed a lot during the show's earliest days. The arrival of the Norris Twins in 1992 marked the first time since the Hagers that twins were part of the series.



In the video below you'll see the relatively small cast...Roy Clark was the lone host during the show's final two seasons, 1990-1992. Roy had been joined by a different guest co-host each week between the years of 1986 through the spring of 1990. Prior to the fall of 1986 Buck Owens had co-hosted the show with Roy each week. Roy and Buck were the co-hosts from it's debut in 1969 through the spring of 1986.



The videos were uploaded by a fan of Gary Morris. I have no idea if other video from Hee-Haw's final episode exists but I'd like to see an episode from 1992 in it's entirety. As most people who read this blog are aware of I was never able to see the last season of the series because the local TV stations in my area didn't carry the show anymore. The final episodes that I saw were in 1991.

Trivia: What other television landmark came to a close in May 1992?

Answer: The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.

Yes...that's right! The last Tonight Show that Johnny Carson hosted aired on May 22, 1992...which was on a Friday. 8 days later, on May 30th, Hee-Haw ended production of new episodes after a 24 season run.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians!

This DVD contains 8 half-hour episodes. Two of the eight episodes feature split adventures and as a result there are 10 adventures but 8 actual episodes. This installment of Super Friends was much more serious and heavy on character studies...there was no narration, which will be noticed right away. In all of the episodes of the series William Woodson was heard as the narrator...his catchphrase "meanwhile...at the Hall of Justice..." became as synonymous with the series as the superhero's themselves. In this installment, which hit Saturday morning TV in 1985, there was no narration and the Hall of Justice had received a make-over. It now looked like an intergalactic headquarters one might find on a far off planet in the galaxy.

The appearances of the characters were more defined as well...more realistically drawn as compared to their previous look. One important note...the super-hero's were officially calling themselves the Super Powers Team...even the villains who for years had referred to them as "Superfriends" were now calling them the "Super Powers Team".

This review will obviously contain spoilers so don't anyone out there get angry when I reveal surprises and other interesting things that take place within these episodes!

There are several episodes in this 1985 series that are years ahead of their time. In one episode, the brilliant "The Fear", Batman is center stage as is the homicidal villain, Scarecrow, who is played more sinister than he was on Challenge of the Super Friends. New voice actor as well...the previous voice was provided by Don Messick. Cyborg is introduced in the first episode, "The Seeds of Doom", as a reluctant super-hero who ultimately becomes one of the Superfriends by the end of the episode. Lex Luthor appears at the beginning of this episode working the controls of a mechanical spider. He's soon captured and isn't seen for the rest of the episode. The Para-Demons of Apokolips are featured in the series...referred to as Para-Drones.

As you can tell, Darkseid becomes the main recurring villain in this series. Cyborg, by the way, is played in the first few episodes as a renegade of sorts...but he struck up a friendship with Ronald Raymond/Firestorm by the end of the first episode and by the third episode he's completely accepted his new job as a super hero.

"The Fear" tells the story of Batman's origin...it is noted that this episode was the very first time Batman's history was recalled in animated form. In the episode there are appearances by Alfred as well as Commissioner Gordon. In a unique scene we have Batman and Robin, for the first time in the Super Friend series, appearing as their alter ego's: Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. Diana Prince, a/k/a Wonder Woman, makes an appearance at the Wayne Manor. Jonathan Crane, a/k/a Scarecrow, uses fear to control Batman's mind...throughout much of the episode the Super Friends are oblivious to Crane's secret identity. Dick Grayson innocently remarks to Alfred that Batman's acted strange ever since he left Crime Alley. This causes Alfred go drop his dishes...for only he and Bruce know the story of Crime Alley. Bruce reveals the history of Crime Alley and explains that's where his parents were killed...which is ultimately what inspired him to become Batman. Parts of the dialogue in this episode was lifted from a comic book series called The Untold Legend of the Batman.

Darkseid, a God from Apokolips, is the main villain of this series...just as he was in the previous installment in 1984, The Legendary Super Powers Show. In one of the episodes, one of the 12 minute offerings, we have "The Case of the Stolen Super Powers". In that episode we are treated to an appearance by the Penguin and Felix Faust...of course, everyone knows the Penguin is one of Batman's main villains. In the episode Felix uses his black magic to cause Superman to lose his powers. At the start of the episode Felix and Penguin are sharing a jail cell. As Felix casts the spell, Superman's powers leave him, and fly toward the prison. Penguin, sensing possible fame as a super-criminal, leaps in front of Felix and takes the powers for himself. Penguin, with Superman's powers, busts out of jail and flies away. Felix escapes, too, floating to the ground using Penguin's trusty umbrella. Felix vows revenge, summons Phantoms to track down Penguin who'd become a major media celebrity. While back at Felix's hide-out he ultimately causes Superman's powers to vacate Penguin's body. Felix now possesses Superman's powers while Superman, using help from a flying mechanism, enters Felix's cave. Wonder Woman and the rest of the Super Friends arrive. Firestorm uses Felix's newly acquired powers against him and transforms Felix's helmet into Kryptonite. Wonder Woman uses the power of her lasso to force Felix into relinquishing Superman's powers. At long last Superman has his powers restored while Felix and the Penguin are sent back to jail...with the news they'll be sharing the same cell again.

The Joker, Batman's #1 enemy, turns up in the episode "The Wild Cards". The episode starts out with a gang of petty criminals who are seen breaking into a building. Watching from a distance is a mysterious shadow figure who ultimately shows up as Ace claiming to be an admirer of the gang. He offers his help he turns them into the Royal Flush Gang...based upon a group of bandits from the past who dressed up as playing cards. In this gang there's King, Jack, Queen, and Ten. Later, during a battle with the Super Friends, King uses a red heart from a playing card to shoot out red sun energy...causing Superman to get weaker. Firestorm and Wonder Woman are also captured. They set their eyes on Batman and Robin before Ace shows up instructing them to return to the House of Cards.

Ace, a one time member of the original gang in the '60s, is revealed in this episode to be the Joker in disguise. Within the House of Cards there's a device which transforms the Super Friends onto playing cards. Later, thanks to a tracking device Batman planted on the bottom of the one of the flying cards, the rest of the Super Friends arrive at the House of Cards. They soon discover that within the fortress there must be a portal of some kind as Apokolips can be seen when looking outside the windows. Batman remarks that "inside it's Earth and outside it's Apokolips!". For those who don't know, Apokolips is the planet from which Darkseid comes from. After another battle, Ace and the Royal Flush Gang are captured by Batman and Robin. Once captured, Batman reveals that Ace is none other than Joker in disguise. Later, Ten, is about to reveal to Batman how Darkseid's card transformation device works but at the last second Darkseid enters, shoots Ten with his Omega Beams, and releases the captured gang as well as Joker. The Super Friends flee...but are soon captured...or are they? Jack and Batman fight...and later it's revealed that during the battle Batman changed costumes with Jack in an effort to rescue the other Super Friends. Once Batman (as Jack) releases the rest of the Super Friends from the playing cards he reveals how he was able to turn the tables on Jack and sneak into the House of Cards. Joker's consistent mishaps and failures irritates Darkseid to the point where he throws Joker out of Apokolips...with the episode ending with Joker falling out of Darkseid's star-gate into the waiting hands of the Super Friends.

That episode and the other episode I just wrote about "The Case of the Stolen Super Powers", mark the only appearances on the Super Friends series of The Joker and The Penguin. The two villains were missing in all of the other versions of the series.

In "The Darkseid Deception" we're told a story of how Darkseid learns of Steve Trevor, the boyfriend of Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. In the episode Darkseid captures the real Steve Trevor, transforming him into a mindless idiot. Darkseid assumes the identity of Trevor in an attempt to finally have Wonder Woman for his bride and co-ruler of Apokolips. In "Escape from Star City" we're told of a space city that features only two living beings: Moco and his daughter. Moco created Star City to escape Earth and it's destructive ways. Samurai grows puzzled why Moco doesn't want to have any involvement with other human's...he becomes further puzzled why Moco seems easily irritated and distant. It's revealed that Darkseid and company have captured the real Moco and have placed a robot android to take his place. Darkseid has his sights on taking over Star City which in his mind is a perfect location to ultimately take over Earth. The real Moco is rescued while Kalibak destroys Star City...thinking it's what Darkseid wants. Later, we see Darkseid genuinely in shock when he watches Star City fall apart. The scene ends with Deesad and Kalibak looking at Darkseid who apparently had been sitting in the same position for hours...with both of them hoping that Darkseid never finds out who really caused the destruction of Star City.

Brainiac makes an appearance on the episode "Brainchild" about Cyborg being captured and used in Brainiac's experiment. Brainiac created a gigantic commando robot and he implanted Cyborg's mind into it. Superman and Firestorm battle the indestructible robot until it's discovered that the robot still has some of Cyborg's humanity. They use the human side of the robot to cause it to overload and short circuit. Once this occurs Cyborg's mind is returned and he wakes up from suspended animation.

In the bizarre episode, "The Bizarro Super Powers Team", we get to hear William Woodson's voice narrating the opening sequence...telling us about the square planet known as Bizarro World...but he isn't heard again throughout the episode. Bizarro turns several of the hero's into Bizarro's while Mr. Mxyzptlk acts as the teacher who trains the transformed bizarro's into being so-called upstanding citizens. Ironically, Superman doesn't make an appearance in this episode...but at the last minute a bizarro Mxyzptlk is created by Wonder Woman and because everything's backwards when it comes to the Bizarro race Mr. Mxyzptlk's duplicate is referred to as Mr. Kltpzyxm and through a bizarre set of circumstances the real Mxyzptlk is tricked into saying his name backwards and is zapped back to the 5th Dimension. The bizarro version of Mxyzptlk has idea's of turning Bizarro World into a beautiful place, which alarms Bizarro, who voluntarily goes back to his own world to try and save it.

One of the most recalled episodes from fans of this series is the final episode, "The Death of Superman"...which is a wonderful episode! In it, the episode starts up reporting on the news of Superman's death. Darkseid doesn't believe it. The Super Friends send Superman's body off into the sun and make their way to the Fortress of Solitude. Firestorm in the meantime goes into a fit of anger as he was the one with Superman at the time of his death. Later, Firestorm gets into a fight with some of Darkseid's warriors...only to be captured and taken to Apokolips. Darkseid uses a device to force Firestorm to recall the hours leading up to Superman's death. We're told of how the two of them were on a planet where Superman became exposed to kryptonite. Firestorm was unable to get help and as a result Superman died from kryptonite poisoning. Darkseid revealed that he wished that he would have been the person responsible for Superman's demise instead of some freak accident. Later, at the Fortress, Batman and company enter and meet up with one of the various Superman robots that guard the Fortress. They explain Superman's death while the robot reveals that Superman had long been searching for an antidote to kryptonite and that in one of his recent experiments he put himself into a trance. They look at Superman's curious position on one of the computer tapes...which was exactly the same position Firestorm found him. It doesn't take long for several of the Super Friends to make the assumption that Superman's still alive but in a self-induced trance to slow down the effects of the kryptonite exposure! In the end Superman is revealed to be alive...which stuns Darkseid and just about everyone else.

The DVD contains the following episodes:

1. The Seeds of Doom
2. The Ghost Ship / The Bizarro Super Powers Team
3. The Darkseid Deception
4. The Fear
5. Wild Cards
6. Brainchild / The Case of the Stolen Super Powers
7. Escape From Star City
8. The Death of Superman

Monday, May 9, 2011

Look to the Sky...

As a child of the '80s and early '90s I was also into comic books of the era, too. Batman and Superman were at the top of the list for me...I love the Super Friends cartoons as well. I was not familiar with the earlier cartoons of Superman until they were released on a low-budget home video in the early '90s. Those cartoons were the theatrical releases by the Fleischer Studio. I was then acquainted with the George Reeves version of Superman when Nick-at-Nite began to air the television show...around the same time I began hearing the radio version with Bud Collyer that would often show up on NPR and the anthology series, When Radio Was, formerly hosted by Stan Freberg. I was very familiar with the movie version of Superman played by Christopher Reeve. The movies used to air seemingly all the time in the 1980's on HBO and TBS.

In addition to Superman, Bud Collyer was equally noted as a game show host ("To Tell the Truth", "Winner Take All", "Beat the Clock", etc. etc.).

In this DVD we get 36 six minute episodes. I don't necessarily know if each episode runs exactly 6 minutes but I'd say 6 and a half to 7 minutes is the general length per episode. Among the many adventures in this collection quite a few of them are wonderful in their story-telling...one of the adventures that's fine but isn't on the same level as the other episodes is "The Iron Eater". In that episode Superman has to stop a bizarre looking mechanical menace devouring iron all over the world. That episode, as well as "The Imp-Practical Joker" featuring Mr. Mxyzptlk, are more whimsical than anything else.

One of the criticisms of the collection is that the episodes aren't in chronological order. For example, "The Return of Brainiac" is on Disc 1 while "Superman Meets Brainiac" is on Disc 2. As you can tell, the compilers of this collection should've caught the error before the DVD collection was released. Even with the collection not in chronological order at least someone should know, judging by the titles of those two episodes, which one came first. Regardless of this it doesn't take away from the enjoyment you'll get watching the episodes.

In what could be described as a forerunner to the future Legion of Doom makes an appearance as A.P.E. The members of the A.P.E organization are: Lex Luthor, Toyman, Prankster, and the Warlock. In their episode "The Men from A.P.E." we have Luthor as the inventor of a Kryptonic projector which is shot from a light-house. It's beam of kryptonite is capable of aiming at Superman within a mile radius. The villains purposely device schemes that cause Superman to fly near the light-house. "The Tree Men from Arbora" is a tale of a tree creature that consumes gallons of water...ponds, rivers, even the water from a by-stander's car engine. The creature hides in the Redwood Forrest and Superman has to battle him and return him to the Arbora planet.

"Merlin's Magic Marbles" involves Luthor and his assistant, Blinky, obtaining magic marbles from the spirit of Merlin. Toyman, in a later episode, creates a robot version of Superman for criminal use. The episode, "The Two Faces of Superman", is on Disc 2. One of the funnier aspects of the dialogue is when Superman refers to one of the insects in "Insect Raiders" as Buzzy...in another episode, "The Prehistoric Pterodactyls", Superman refers to one of them as Terry Baby. In the Superman history there have been various criminals to use the name, Toyman. The original, Winslow Schott, is who the Toyman in these cartoons is based on. The illustration of him in these cartoons has him with dark hair, a big red bow tie, and just as a side-note the Toyman in these cartoons makes me think of comedian Henry Morgan (most famously known as a regular panelist on the classic game show, "I've Got a Secret").

Something of a mystery to me is the identity of the person providing the voice in the opening sequence saying the line "It's Superman!". We hear Jackson Beck do the narration but then we hear "It's a bird!", "It's a plane!", and then "It's Superman!". The reason I'm curious about who did that particular "It's Superman!" voice-over is because it sounds incredibly like Danny Dark, the man who voiced Superman in the 1970's and 1980's Super Friends episodes. If anyone has any information I'd love to know if it was Danny Dark or someone else.

Given that The New Adventures of Superman originally consisted of three short episodes per half hour (2 of Superman, 1 of Super-Boy) we have all of the Superman episodes that aired on that program. Since there were 2 short adventures of Superman per half hour episode, and there were a total of 18 half hour episodes produced, that's 36 in total.

The Super-Boy episodes aren't included due to legal complications.

To clear up some of the on-going confusion of whether to call this a "complete series" it's important to note that without the Super-Boy segments it isn't a "complete series" but as far as the Superman segments are concerned it's indeed a "complete series" since it has each and every Superman adventure from the first season, 1966-1967. The second season, 1967-1968, aired under the title The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. The third season, 1968-1969, aired as The Batman/Superman Hour.

Each of those Superman adventures in the third season were split up into 2 parts.

The fourth season, 1969-1970, was nothing but reruns from earlier seasons.

Bud Collyer passed away on September 8, 1969 which was the same day an updated version of "To Tell the Truth" began airing with Garry Moore as the host!

Collyer was the voice of Superman/Clark Kent on radio, in theatrical cartoons, and in the made for TV cartoons of the mid to late '60s.

The voice of Lois Lane in these episodes is Joan Alexander...she also provided the voice of Lois on the radio version, too. She became a regular panelist on the 1950's game show, "The Name's the Same", in addition to her being a regular actress on various radio drama's of the time period.

Jack Grimes is the voice of Jimmy Olsen in these cartoons just as he was in the final few years of the Superman radio show.

The show's narrator, Jackson Beck, also provided the voice of Perry White in addition to various incidental characters. Beck was also the narrator and voice of Perry White in the radio version of Superman. Beck's most recognized cartoon voice is that of Bluto/Brutus in the Popeye cartoons produced from 1944 through the 1960's.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Super Friends...They're in the Mail...

After several months of putting it off I finally got around to ordering the DVD's of the first season of the Super Friends. The episodes were released in two separate Volumes last year and those particular DVD's are the only ones missing from my collection. They should arrive in the mail within the week...probably near the weekend. I'd only seen a few of the episodes because back when Boomerang was airing them the channel would stick them on at Midnight and since I work nights I was never home to see the episodes...except on the weekend when I was home. It'll be nice to have all the episodes...from what I read there will be 2 DVD's in each collection with 4 episodes per DVD. There were 16 episodes produced altogether. The series ran 1 season and was ahead of it's time...considered a 'flop' originally. Later in the decade with the emphasis on escapist television drama and a live-action Wonder Woman series it was decided to re-run the 1973 Super Friends episodes which led to the eventual premier of The All-New Super Friends Hour which introduced the world to the Wonder Twins and Gleek (they replaced Wendy and Marvin and their Wonder Dog from season one). The original 1973 series, though, set in motion the overall formula for the remainder of the Super Friends programs that were to air throughout the late '70s and into the mid '80s.

Ted Knight narrated the first season's episodes...at the time, as far as animation fans are concerned, he was closely associated with the Filmation super-hero cartoons of the late '60s that were still airing in reruns on Saturday mornings in the '70s. Knight did the voices of The Joker, Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Simon the Pieman, and Black Manta to name just a few...in addition he was the narrator on those super-hero cartoons. Knight became a huge television star beginning in 1970 with the arrival of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Knight played Ted Baxter on the series from it's debut in 1970 through it's final episode in 1977. It was in 1973 that he was called on to narrate the first season of Super Friends. By this time the adult audiences knew of him as Ted Baxter and I bet a lot of them were unaware of his contributions to children's cartoons.

This was also at a time when TV personalities often downplayed or hid their association with cartoons.

Meanwhile...when the Super Friends series was brought back with new episodes in 1977 (after a 4 year hiatus in production), William Woodson was the new narrator...and he, too, did character voices. Unlike Ted Knight, Woodson's voice roles in the series were in the category of incidental voices...characters that aren't part of the regular cast but are used to help support the storyline in a particular episode. Woodson would remain the narrator from 1977 through 1984. His voice appears in one episode of the series in 1985, ("The Bizarro Super Powers Team"), but in that particular version, (Galactic Guardians), the producers didn't use any narration on the rest of the episodes.

Ted Knight footage is easy to find on-line...videos of him are readily available on You Tube. William Woodson, on the other hand, not so readily available. One video clip, in particular, is a 1962 episode of The Rifleman. In this clip Woodson portrays the Sheriff of Red Creek. The episode aired on April 30, 1962. Woodson's footage begins at the 7 minute, 5 second mark but the bulk of the Woodson footage doesn't kick in until the 9 minute mark. This is where Woodson's character and Rifleman, Chuck Connors, have an intense confrontation.