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).

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