Monday, December 22, 2014

Jack Benny at 40...Situations and Conversations... you hear anything? Silence...that's one of the more unusual punchlines in all of comedy. Jack Benny used silence to great advantage...and he also used characterization to great advantage too.

Do you remember the first time you heard of Jack Benny? Are you among those that discovered him in the decades after his death? Did you witness his career first hand and do you remember the time he had a weekly television series? Are you among the age group that remembers hearing Jack Benny on radio each Sunday night at 7? Going further back, do you know of anybody that remembers Jack Benny as a performer in Vaudeville? This week marks something sad in American comedy...something that happened 40 years ago this week on December 26, 1974. That is the day the physical world lost Jack Benny at the age of 80. His television and radio programs, movies, magazine articles and books about him, and a host of documentaries about his life and career have kept him 'alive' in the time since. I became aware of Jack Benny through my grandfather. I used to spend the weekends with my grandparent's and every Sunday morning on the local PBS station my grandfather would be up watching reruns of Jack's program. I'd watch out of curiosity, at first, but even at that young of an age I had some sort of an attachment to classic TV and I still can't easily explain the reason for it.

Do you have a favorite cast member? Excluding it's star, Jack Benny, which other cast member ranks high on your list? Jack had a small regular cast and a large recurring/ensemble cast made up of character actors and actresses. The main cast during much of it's radio run during it's golden period happened to be: Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, and Phil Harris. Some of the ensemble cast included the likes of: Mel Blanc, Frank Nelson, Artie Auerbach, Sam Hearn, Benny Rubin, Verna Felton, Bea Benaderet, Sara Berner, Joseph Kearns, Sheldon Leonard, Barbara Pepper, among others. Phil Harris left the radio cast in 1952 (after 16 seasons) and his spot was taken over by Bob Crosby for the remaining 3 seasons of the radio program. Bob later appeared, infrequently, on Jack's television program. One of his most notable episodes being the one guest starring Humphrey Bogart.

Do you have a favorite comic device? Jack's on-air cheapskate character became so believable that some felt he truly did have a moat, alligators, falling knives, a vault, and a security guard in his basement protecting the fortune. It also helped that Jack embellished and played up this character trait in numerous personal appearances on talk shows and on other comedian's programs (such as Burns and Allen, The Fred Allen Show, and The Red Skelton Show).

In one radio episode it's revealed that Jack loves money so much he kept a stack of Confederate money in his vault just in case there's another Civil War. Jack remarks to himself, as he's eying his millions, that if the South would've won he'd have been a billionaire.

Are you familiar with the running gag of his age being 39? It stopped at 39...and a lot of blogs and other fan-created offerings include "39" somewhere in their tributes and salutes as an in-joke. In my blog title I chose to use "40" because this marks the 40th anniversary of his 1974 death.

Did you know that he really didn't live right next door to Ronald and Benita Colman? On radio the couple made several visits and portrayed themselves as living right next door to Jack...he was always inviting himself to their upper-class dinners or their other high society gatherings. Even on episodes that didn't feature Ronald and Benita, in person, Jack often referred to them as his next door neighbors and counted them among his most loyal friends (comments like that brought in huge laughs due to Jack's obliviousness to the Colman's real feelings.)

As you can tell these are comical situations...requiring the zero use of one-liners or actual joke telling to induce laughter. It's been said that Jack's radio format featured the first known use of the elements that make up a conventional sitcom (an abbreviation for situation comedy).

I have several books about Jack's life and career. The oldest one is the book that his manger, Irving Fein, wrote entitled, Jack Benny: An Intimate Biography, published in 1976...

One of the ironies of life are critics. One of the funniest things, to me, are the consistent criticisms by those that read whatever it happens to be pertaining to Jack Benny and then proceed to criticize some publication for either being overly critical and negative or being glossed over and positive. Such polarizing feelings are largely because of how passionate one happens to be about Jack's career. Having said that it must be brought up that the authors of the books are not exactly movie or television critics. In the case of Irving Fein, he happened to be Jack's manager and therefore his style of storytelling and his recollections are largely going to center around his personal, first-hand experiences dealing with Jack and the Hollywood establishment and his recollections are going to be business-oriented but at the same time relay information about Jack's career, too. The book has a photograph section...and yes, some of the photo's I've not seen become available on-line and so this book continues to be the only place to find some of these images. I wrote a book review in January 2004 on Amazon and if you're interested in reading it here's the LINK. That must have been several weeks or months after I had purchased the book.

After the 1975 book, the second oldest is the book that Joan Benny authored titled Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story. This particular book came along in 1990. I got my hands on a copy much later than that. I got onto the internet for the first time in 2002 and so I arrived to the on-line world nearly 10 years after it's explosion in popularity in the mid-late '90s. One of the first places I became a member of happened to be an on-line auction site. One of the first items I purchased was this 1990 half biography/half memoir. Joan Benny (daughter of Jack and Mary) wrote a majority of this book but it includes pages of memories and recollections from her father...meant for an autobiography that never materialized during Jack's lifetime. The book is entertaining, revealing, and in some places very opinionated. Some of the more intimate among Jack's circle of celebrity friends had some disagreements with some of the depictions of Mary, as seen through Joan's remembrances, and some felt the story didn't do much to bolster Jack's legacy but those familiar with the book all seemed to agree that the greatest parts of the book are the passages from Jack Benny circa the early 1960s. The title comes from Jack's long-running time slot on radio. 

This rare, one of a kind book is something I often mention during moments like this when I salute Jack Benny but I don't believe I've ever posted an image of it on-line before!?! It's been in my possession for probably as long as the other books...since the mid 2000s. This one is a great reference book. It's called Jack Benny: The Radio and Television Work. It's publication year is 1991 and it's by The Museum of Television and Radio. This may not be a book that's entirely appreciated by the masses but it's great for those like myself who like to read about Jack's radio and television appearances and learn about specific air-dates, network affiliation, sponsors, cast line-ups, and guest stars. I snapped a picture of the back of the book, too. On page 128 the famed mock feud with Fred Allen is dissected, nearly episode by episode, starting in the mid '30s and going forward. The book is broken into various sections and segments...presumably each section being written by a member of the Museum at the time of the book's publication. There are fabulous pictures of Jack and the rest of the gang from the radio and television years. The book has a passage from William S. Paley (former CBS President), Robert Batscha (Museum President), and a Foreword by Larry Gelbart (comedy writer primarily known for M*A*S*H).

As a kid the thing that stood out the most for me is that among the Jack Benny cast was Mel Blanc (voice of many cartoon characters...Bugs Bunny being the most popular).

Mel Blanc, in character as Professor LeBlanc, is filled with annoyance and extreme hostility and contempt for Jack's expertise (?) at the violin. Professor LeBlanc and Jack had a signature comic routine built around a violin lesson. In the routine Jack would play a series of notes, half good, and the Professor would sing comical insults about Jack's playing. Here's one I made up...if you are familiar with the melody sing-a-long with LeBlanc: "Tune the strings a little higher -- You're no Heifetz I'm no Liar". Professor LeBlanc is just one of the many characters that Mel Blanc portrayed on Jack's radio and television programs. Aside from the Professor, one of Mel's most famous characters is Sy, a Mexican from Tijuana. In the comic routine Jack and Sy exchanged greetings...actually, Jack did most of the talking while Mel's character delivered one word responses. As usual, Jack played the straight man to Mel's antics. In fact, while known for being a comedic icon, Jack often played the straight man during many of the sketches and monologues. He didn't deliver rapid fire jokes or tell one-liners or delve into topical humor. Jack's humor is rooted in situations and conversations...hmmm, let's see...doesn't the phrase 'Situations and Conversations' sound like a great title for a seminar on Jack Benny??. No? Okay'll remain part of the blog entry's title.

On radio and later, on TV, Mel Blanc made annual appearances during the Christmas episodes. Often cast as a sales clerk, Mel's character at the start of the episode is happy, calm, pleasant, and eager to help any customer. Jack purchases a gift...simple enough...but here's where the comedy comes in: Jack constantly changes his mind over what to buy a cast member for Christmas (usually announcer Don Wilson). Each time he visits Mel he either exchanges a gift for something else or he's forgotten to sign the gift card or he's written something on a gift card that he has since changed his mind about. Each and every time Mel has to catch the delivery man and retrieve the gift, Jack makes his changes, and off it goes to the delivery room once more...ready to be mailed out. Moments later, Jack would make another visit to Mel's counter. Visibly angered and near tears, Mel already prepares himself for Jack's inevitable wish to change something about the gift...and off he goes to the delivery room to try and catch the delivery driver before the truck takes off.

This remains one of several must-see memorials that aired following Jack's death 40 years ago. This one is hosted by Charles Kuralt and it features many appearances of Jack's radio and TV co-stars and peers.

Kelsey Grammer hosted a nice tribute to Jack in 1995...

Jack Benny and Frank Nelson bicker and converse about an upcoming airplane flight. Given that the routine takes place later in the episode, for those that hadn't seen the beginning, you aren't going to get the joke that Frank delivers near the end of his scene...

In the collage below there's Jack and character actor Charlie Cantor. He played various dimwit characters on Jack's radio and television programs; earlier he portrayed Socrates Mulligan in the original version of Allen's Alley on Fred Allen's radio program; most famously portrayed Clifton Finnegan on Duffy's Tavern. In the photo in the top right is Dennis Day (the program's tenor singer). Then it's the program's long-time announcer, Don Wilson, and next to Don is the orchestra leader, Phil Harris. Phil has a second appearance in the bottom row featuring his wife, Alice Faye. Lastly there's Jack and the Colman's reading over a script.

Amidst those highly entertaining figures that became associated with Jack Benny there is one cast member that you couldn't do a salute to Jack Benny without having this person mentioned somewhere...and that person is Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. For pretty much the length of the Jack Benny run on American entertainment, both on radio and on TV from the early 1930s through the early 1970s, Rochester typically had his share of on-air time and later, screen time...often poking fun at his boss' reputation for being cheap and refusing to purchase a modern-day car. Rochester acted as Jack's butler, chauffeur, cook, and tended to the outside chores (gardening, mowing the yard, etc. etc.). I believe Rochester also as in charge of keeping Jack's various pets fed: Carmichael the Polar Bear and Polly the Parrot (both voiced by Mel Blanc) and the alligators in the basement. Rochester always had a comical zinger to deliver and his scenes often ended with those. His exposure increased more and more in the television years as the setting became much more of a traditional, domesticated sitcom. On radio, since the Rochester character worked at Jack's house, he wasn't written to be a part a part of Jack's celebrity world and the only times Rochester would be heard interacting with Dennis Day or Phil Harris, for example, is if they visited Jack's house. The program had a show-within-a-show format. Scenes involving Rochester took place at Jack's house.

"Okay Boss...Pay Up..."
This by no means is meant to be a career retrospective or a life story of Jack Benny. If you are interested in his career, check out the various books that I made mention of and above all else check out the actual radio and television programs that Jack Benny starred in. His radio programs ran on radio for 23 years, 1932-1955. His television programs ran on TV for 15 years, 1950-1965. After this, Jack made several special one hour programs throughout the rest of the decade and into the early part of the 1970s before he became too ill to perform. Notable products attached to his program through the decades: Chevrolet, General Tire, Jell-O, Grape Nuts/Grape Nuts Flakes, Lucky Strike.

Jack Benny died on December 26, 1974 at the age of 80 due to complications from Pancreatic Cancer. He was buried on December 29, 1974...ironically on a Sunday...
Jack Benny: 1894-1974

Monday, December 15, 2014

Benny Hill...a 90 year anniversary...

I couldn't let 2014 go by without making mention of the 90th anniversary year of Benny Hill's birth. Born in January 1924 and passing away in April 1992, Benny Hill became one of the biggest comedy icon's of all-time (in my opinion). Originally rooted in verbal comedy and parody, seek out the black and white episodes Benny did for the BBC in the early part of his television career. Those episodes appear in a series called Benny Hill: The Lost Years. I have the VHS release...I don't have the DVD counterpart.

Benny's humor after leaving the BBC eventually became much more slapstick and pantomime, a move that guaranteed his programs to be universal given the elimination of a language barrier. Those programs became a hallmark of the Thames Television-era. Those programs (several specials broadcast throughout the year) were packed with bizarre poems, elaborate song and dance segments, all styles of comedy (both spoken and visual), and a fondness for theatrical staging created a Vaudeville-era showcase and a throwback to traditional comedy during a time when younger English comedians were embracing a so-called modern style of humor. Benny's age at the time of his first Thames production in 1969 was 45 and as the following decade opens we reach the mid 1970s and Benny's television specials are remaining enormously popular. After 10 years at Thames (1979) and numerous one-hour comedy specials, a decision is made to syndicate Benny's programs for American audiences.

In America the Benny Hill programs aired as half hour clip-filled presentations of sketches that originated during the first 10 years of the Thames TV association. The series ran in late night time-slots (or early morning time-slots, just before sunrise) on hundreds of local television stations in America. The hodgepodge look of the clip-filled series and the fact that Benny's age changes dramatically from sketch to sketch added to the uniqueness and appeal. Those at Thames TV and even Benny himself are quoted as being in disbelief that the programs attracted such a strong audience and fan base in America...but once the series became a smash hit in syndication in America it was like the floodgates opened up and from 1979 onward Benny Hill seemed to rule international humor...even though he'd been a big hit on British television since the 1960s. Yes, if you're keeping track, the year that Benny's sketches came to America in 1979 he was 55 years old. As I mentioned earlier, due to the American aired episodes being a compilation package, his age fluctuated 5-10 years within a single half-hour episode.

All the while Benny's sketches were entertaining millions of Americans and millions in Europe and millions of television viewers all over the world, he continued doing his usual sporadic television specials for Thames TV each year. Every year the half hour syndicated programs in America often gained new material annually as current sketches from then-recent Benny Hill specials continued to be woven into episodes that featured older sketches. By the mid 1980's the syndicated episodes looked even more distinct and by then Benny had turned 60 (in 1984). It is during the 1980's that the famous, or infamous, Hill's Angels made their debut. The Hill's Angels are the name of the group of women that appeared in many song-and-dance routines (often with Benny playing the part of the bum, the loser, or the easily excited spectator...typically all three rolled into one!). The name, Hill's Angels, has sort of retroactively come to identify all the beautiful women/models that appeared on his programs over the decades even though the name itself never came into being until the 1980's.

The Angels also played heavily in the sped-up silent sketches...a filmed segment that appeared on all the Thames TV episodes...and often it consisted of Benny and his familiar co-stars (Henry McGee, Jackie Wright, Bob Todd). A typical presentation starts out calmly and eventually works itself into a frenzied display of sight gags. It's in these sped-up presentations that one of the most memorable sight gags became immensely popular and referred to by many viewers as "the slapping of the head of the little bald guy".

The sped-up presentations make generous use of camera tricks (called under-cranking) and those appear at various moments in any number of episodes. In the closing segments of his programs, often a sped-up gag reel, the action is played under the saxophone solo of Boots Randolph's "Yakety Sax" as Benny eventually is chased by everybody he meets as the credits roll.

As the 1980's progressed, more and more younger comics were starting to come out of the woodwork and many of them had a much different style of comedy. In the mid-late '80s several British comedians seemingly took it upon themselves to launch into anti-Benny Hill tirades. Feminists received a much louder voice and the language-stifling unofficial censorship policy, popularly known as political correctness, played a part in Benny's eventual cancellation at Thames TV in 1989.

By that time Benny had started to incorporate a lot of cute humor into the sketches...lots of children become part of the sped-up sketches...and in typical fashion Benny allowed the other people in the comedy sketches to come out as the winner. As mentioned earlier, Benny usually always played the bum, the loser, the fall guy, the bad luck charm. In any comical sketch in which Benny seemed to be coming out on top of a situation, something always happened to change his fate. If he happened to be a pirate and stumbled upon a chest...he'd visually relish the idea of being rich...only to open the chest and find a sign that read "It's Lonely In Here!" and he'd make one of his famous comical expressions at the camera, start crying, and the scene would cut to something else. Another sight gag one might see is of Benny spraying deodorant under his arms and then suddenly noticing huge paint spots in his arm pits...often leading to this classic facial expression...

Silent movies were a huge inspiration to him and that's evident right from the start of his television career. He was the recipient of a prestigious Charlie Chaplin award in 1991. In the BBC era Benny often presented films from a fictional character named J. Arthur Clinker, billed as "the fastest film maker". Benny's straight-man in the BBC telecasts was Jeremy Hawk (a role later taken up by Henry McGee during the Thames TV era).

I research a lot and a couple of years ago I came across several articles originally printed in British newspapers that featured younger comedians making disparaging remarks about Benny's style of comedy and it's "old-fashioned" look. The thing that baffled me is the idea of a comic viciously attacking another comic. Isn't it kind of an unwritten rule that comics are all in it together...creating laughter? Unless there are 2 comedians engaging in a mock-feud (like Fred Allen and Jack Benny), it seems kind of crude for one comedian to bash another on the merits of what's funny. Humor is subjective...thankfully.

After the cancellation of the Thames TV contract in 1989, Benny's syndicated television programs in America eventually came to an end even though a couple of local stations in my area continued to air repeats of the clip-fests into the early 1990s. A local ABC station in Columbus aired the program in the overnight hours (late Saturday, early Sunday) opposite the last half hour of Saturday Night Live on NBC. Another station aired the program at an even later time-slot on Sunday mornings. Benny's fame in America led to a 1991 television special taped in New York. It's official name is Benny Hill's World Tour: New York. It was filmed/taped on-location in the spring of 1990 but it aired early in 1991 on the USA cable channel. It became the first and only hour long Benny Hill television special to originate outside of England.

It was going to be part of a "World Tour" series but only the New York special became a reality...his health played a deciding factor in the non-materialization of the other proposed specials (I touch on that later in the blog).

The television special proves that he was in top comic form...and there are several video clips of sketches from the 1991 television special on YouTube. One of the funniest is the Rap Song...

In the meantime, one of the hallmarks of burlesque and early stage comedy in general is the female impersonation by men. Modern audiences think "female impersonations" and perhaps instantly think of people described as Drag Queens. Centuries ago men dressed up as women for laughs and females often played the part of young boys (even today, a lot of young boys on cartoons are often voiced by females). It's almost impossible for people today to rationalize this kind of humor. Those that have no knowledge of burlesque humor (particularly Victorian burlesque of the 19th century) and therefore have a lack of understanding of it's comical value are typically confused or at a loss for words. Some people ignorantly proclaim that comics that dressed up as women must be closet homosexuals or something. I hardly suspect Milton Berle, for example, to have been a closet homosexual. He dressed up in female attire plenty of times for comic effect. The cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, famously put on dresses, lipstick, and heavy mascara in many attempts to ridicule Elmer Fudd's befuddled dopiness and apparent shyness around females.

Look up Victorian burlesque or read up on English music hall comedy and you'll immediately notice Benny Hill's biggest inspiration. He not only played the roles of Princesses and Queens but also of Kings, Dukes, Princes, and court jesters.

In February 1992 Benny Hill had a mild heart attack. Reports state he refused to change his eating habits or his lifestyle...and eventually this led to his death at the age of 68 in April 1992. It's been reported that on the very day he died a contract arrived in the mail for even more television specials. One can assume that these specials would've aired throughout 1992 and into 1993 and possibly beyond that point in time but as it turned out only the New York program surfaced in early 1991. After his death millions of people obviously mourned, friends, and extended family members alike. It's not a secret that Benny passed away in the midst of social controversies surrounding his brand of humor and many believe the cancellation of his Thames TV contract played a factor in his death considering that the television specials were "his life" and once he had "nothing to live for" he started to lose the desire to carry on. The New York television special doesn't play into that narrative, though. I've seen bits of the 1991 special and I didn't see a man torn apart or in my eyes it was the usual Benny Hill up on the screen...making faces, rolling his eyes, dancing and prancing around, and delivering one joke after another. In the 20+ years after his death the home video and later, the DVD market, became commercial avenues for Benny's legacy. The VHS home videos featured comedy sketches, at random, from the Thames TV specials that Benny did during the latter half of the '70s and into the '80s. The DVD series, titled Complete and Unadulterated, contained actual full length programs from Benny's earliest years on Thames TV. The actual programs themselves featured a mix of previously filmed sketches, live sketch performances, singing, and dancing...including Benny coming onto the stage at the beginning and talking to the audience. As mentioned, the half hour edited programs that aired in America starting in 1979 contained none of the monologues, singers, or other trappings of a variety program. The syndicated programs that aired in America contained one sketch after the other after the other...maybe featuring a comical patter song from Benny, too, to break up the sketch formula...but that's it. The full length episodes are a revelation to those only familiar with the edited half hour clip-fests that aired on American television stations for more than 10 years.

Enjoy the pictorial salute...I start things off displaying one of those A&E DVD releases of the Benny Hill the image at the bottom right I display the VHS tapes of his BBC programs. Those episodes are all in black and white. Located on one of those tapes is a hilarious parody of "Bonanza" titled Bo-Peep. Benny, thanks to camera tricks, plays the parts of Ben Cartwright, Little Joe, and Hoss. Patricia Hayes, one of Benny's earliest supporting players, plays the part of Bo-Peep. She accuses the sons of stealing her sheep. In yet another sketch during the BBC era Benny does an exaggerated spoof of Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones. 

In another sketch found on one of the VHS tapes Benny parodies television commercials (one of his favorite routines) and in a sped-up film by fictional J. Arthur Clinker we're all treated to a surreal and bizarre film spoofing melodrama's and action-adventure films. The film is made so fast that there's misplaced edits, strange camera angles, problems with the film's speed (jumping from slow motion to uptempo, back and fourth). During a crucial moment in the story, Benny's character attempts to pour out his feelings but his dialogue skips due to the unnecessary editing. As stated, J. Arthur Clinker truly is the fastest film maker in the world. In the first picture in the bottom row, that VHS tape consists of another J. Arthur Clinker 'masterpiece'. This time around it's from one of the Thames TV episodes and it features Benny as a love-struck passenger on a ship. Nicholas Parsons appears as Benny's rival. In this sketch there's a hysterical scene where the line "why didn't you tell me you were a second class passenger?" is shot and re-shot multiple times...each successive take is performed in a much slower tempo than before. If you look close enough, during one of the last slow takes of the phrase, you'll see Benny struggling not to break out laughing.

In some of the collages, as you can see, I posted images of myself next to Benny. On my Facebook page I have an image of myself saluting, as Benny Hill, and I recently took the image and placed it side by side with an image of Benny saluting in the same manner. Some of the collage site's special features enabled me to be somewhat creative but I didn't explore each and every special effect available. Up next is a series of collage's that I put together recently. There's one that I deliberately put together to spotlight the burlesque side of his comedy and the female impressions. I didn't come across any suitable pictures of any of his supporting players in drag although I've got video of sketches that have Jackie Wright all dressed up in high heels and a long wig and one unforgettable sketch featuring Henry McGee in a blue dress, pearl ear rings and matching necklace, and donning a tight curly wig.

This is by no means a complete representation of Benny Hill's female impersonations. At various moments in his programs, both on the BBC and for Thames TV, he often impersonated movie actresses and political figures. Some of the usual targets happened to be Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret Thatcher, and Mae West. In the four pictures to the left, Benny is dressed up as non-celebrities. Often the females happened to be nags or holier-than-thou...or scheming gold-diggers. In his series of commercial parodies he often played the part of the housewife demonstrating numerous items found in the kitchen, laundry, or the bathroom. One of the BBC sketches featured Benny as both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and later as Mae West and W.C. Fields. Much later, during the Thames TV era, Benny brought back his impression of Mae West and W.C. Fields many more times in comical encounters. As far as the female vocals it typically depended on the kind of female. Most of the nagging wives had a high pitched, irritated voice. The snooty females all had a similar vocalization that played into that type...complete with haughty laughter and an arrogant demeanor about themselves and others. The larger picture seems to come from a soap opera spoof...and in those sketches Benny played the females as overly dramatic and prone to breaking into tears very easily. In that larger image the character looks as if she's thinking of some sort of scheme to either break up a relationship or enter into one. The image at the top left appears as if Benny applied the snooty/aristocratic vocalization to that character.

I don't have any information as to the year this picture happened to originate but based on the light colored shirt and his hair I'd say this is from an interview session he did at some point in 1990 or 1991. There's a VHS tape titled Benny Hill: The World's Favorite Clown, which surfaced in 1991. I have the VHS tape and I also have it on DVD. It's a special bonus feature on one of the A&E releases. There's another documentary on Benny that also makes an appearance as a bonus feature on another A&E disc. That particular documentary originally aired as part of A&E's Biography series, hosted by Peter Graves. The official title of that episode is called Benny Hill: Laughter and Controversy. In each documentary surviving supporting players and behind the scenes people give their thoughts on Benny and near the end of each documentary the supporting players offer their feelings on the shabby treatment his career received at the end of his life by television critics (ironically those that lived in England) and the accusations his humor obtained by a host of younger comics in England at the time. Benny, himself, takes part in the 1991 documentary and offers his thoughts of Thames TV ending his contract. He doesn't say anything too harsh but others do. In addition to those documentaries (both of them I strongly recommend) and in addition to the DVDs, there's also several books on the market about Benny. I personally do not have any of those books...I've not come across any review that has convinced me that any of the available books are accurate and lovingly written. I refuse to purchase anything that puts Benny in a negative light.

Let's all mug for the camera, shall we?? I don't necessarily like the idea of being approached by somebody (Benny) whose carrying a syringe. He didn't numb my mouth...the syringe is just for looks I found out. It appears as if the same thing happened to that poor woman (Benny)...she couldn't even tolerate the canned pasta on her table. You can click the smaller collage's for a bigger view. Did Benny Hill have any recurring characters? For those that might be wondering...the answer is yes! In addition to the previously mentioned fastest film-maker, J. Arthur Clinker. Benny also had a long-running character by the name of Fred Scuttle. This character is typically the one that did the backhanded salute across the forehead but the gesture soon started to make it's way onto any sketch regardless of character but it's Scuttle that I happened to see do the gesture the most often during his introductions. Scuttle is often in the sped-up silent sketches, too. Another character is Chow Mein. This character, a parody of the Chinese, often mangled the English language and exchanged in confrontational conversations (most often with Henry McGee). Typically Chow Mein grows frustrated by McGee's inquisitive nature and his habit of repeating everything back to the viewers. This causes Chow to growl in irritated cadence: "why must you repeat e'erything..." followed by the most popular catchphrase, "you stoopid iriot" (English translation: "you stupid idiot!"). Sometimes another supporting player, Bob Todd, appears along side Benny as a character named Cookie Boy (a cook at one of Chow Mein's fictional restaurants). Another long running character, Ted Tingle, often appeared as a storyteller and a poet...delivering poems and patter song with a thick Cockney accent.

I hope more and more people discover Benny Hill as time goes by. Thanks to the internet it's easy to search for his comedy and seek out others that enjoyed his humor for the sheer happiness it brought. To over-think and over-analyze Benny's style of humor is doing a disservice to it's intention. It's not hard hitting, satiric humor in the same category of those that are in the David Frost tradition. Benny's humor allows one to embrace their inner silliness and laugh at life's experiences and see the absurdity in a lot of everyday situations. In his own kind of way he was a trailblazer...he's one of the first British comics to explore television's capabilities. Benny may have been the only British comic of his generation to embrace television and not look at it in a scornful manner (as film and stage comics tended to do).

Simply put, Benny's humor will last as long as people enjoy laughing.

Benny Hill: 1924-1992

Monday, September 15, 2014

Scooby-Doo and John Stephenson, Too...

Hello all...this is part 3 of my Scooby blog series spotlighting the 45th anniversary (1969-present) of the franchise. I posted part 2 earlier this morning and I posted the initial entry (referred to as part 1) back in March of this year.

This particular entry simply shines the light on the various characters that were voiced by John Stephenson during the program's various incarnations...imagery from the first 8 years, specifically (1969-1978). I created 8 collage's of John Stephenson's characters and I'm going to post them as a salute to his contributions to the Scooby franchise. You can click on each collage and see the bigger image. I'll be sharing 8 collage's...this should be interesting...

In this collage of 9 pictures, they originate from the first 2 seasons of the program. The character names are Elias Kingston, Uncle Stuart, Mr. Sims, Mano Tiki Tia, The Creeper, Redbeard the Pirate, the Magnus Butler, C.L. Magnus, and The Ghost Clown. As I've mentioned in previous Scooby blogs, many of the episodes had titles filled with alliteration and rhyming. Those 9 characters come from the following episodes: What The Hex Going On?; A Tiki Scare is No Fair; Jeepers, It's the Creeper; Go Away Ghost Ship; and Bedlam in the Big Top. The Kingston Manor, depicted in What the Hex Going On?, appears in the opening credits of the first's also referred to as the black castle with the bats flying around. Also, scenes from that episode appear more times in the opening sequence of the first season than the other episodes. It's also worth pointing out, since this is a John Stephenson character salute blog entry, that his first roles in the Scooby cartoons occurred on the What the Hex Going On? episode.The Magnus Butler is one of several characterizations from Stephenson vocally based on Boris Karloff.

In this collage of 6 pictures I took a look at some of the characters that John voiced in the 1972-1974 series, The New Scooby Doo Movies. The 2 at the top of the collage come from the episode "The Frickert Fracas" (guest starring Jonathan Winters as himself and Maude Frickert). John voiced the characters Simon Shakely and Vernon Crow. In the third box there's the farmer character from the episode "The Ghost of the Red Baron" (guest starring The Three Stooges). It's one of the only characters John voiced in the Scooby cartoons that comes close to sounding like his most famous character, Mr. Slate (from The Flintstones). The fourth picture is Hans Eitherwise, a German-American ski instructor in the episode guest starring Laurel and Hardy, "The Ghost of Big Foot". The bottom 2 sinister looking cut-throats are Morgan and Winslow from the episode "The Loch Ness Mess" (guest starring The Harlem Globetrotters). John, as Winslow, does an impression of Titus Moody (a character from Fred Allen's radio programs and Pepperidge Farm television commercials played by Parker Fennelly).

These 8 images represent characters voiced by John Stephenson during the mid-late '70s episodes, roughly 1976-1978. The big image is that of a Coast Guard employee that appears near the end of the episode "Scooby-Doo, Where's the Crew?". Off to the right are Mr. Wells, Mr. Speck, The Specter, Elwood Crane, The Demon Shark, a Customs Agent, and Avery Queen. Mr. Wells, the Demon Shark, and the Customs Agent all come from the episode "There's a Demon Shark in the Foggy Dark". In that episode John roars and growls as the Demon Shark and speaks in a gravelly voice for Mr. Wells. Elwood Crane comes from the episode "The Headless Horseman of Halloween". In the episode he's referred to as Cousin Elwood. John also voiced the Headless Horseman character but I didn't post an image of him...these collage's aren't meant to be a career defining project...just a sampling of his character roles through the various Scooby episodes. Scooby-Dum makes an appearance in that episode...and Janet Waldo voices one of the guest characters, Beth Crane. The Specter and Mr. Speck come from the episode "High Rise Hair Raiser". Avery Queen comes from the episode "The Ghost of the Bad Humor Man".

A five picture collage reveals characters largely stemming from 1976 and 1978. The creepy character in blue is Dr. Tooksbury from the episode "The Harum Scarum Sanitarium". John also provides the voice of a Canadian Mountie at the end of that episode. In the episode Scooby and the gang must solve a mystery surrounding a sanitarium and the legend of a ghostly doctor that's come back to haunt the area. Next to him is Officer Grizzly, a hard of hearing night watchman at the Ice Cream factory in "The Ghost of the Bad Humor Man". As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Stephenson also voiced the owner of the Ice Cream factory, Avery Queen. Below those characters are Zarko and Merlin from the episode "Scared a Lot in Camelot". Zarko appears near the beginning of the episode performing a magic act. Shaggy and Scooby become volunteers from the audience to participate in a magic act. The act backfires thanks to the terrified duo thinking they were really going to be cut in half...Zarko's laughed off the stage (the gang make a run for the exit in the process). Merlin appears throughout the remainder of the episode as he haunts the castle of Shaggy's uncle, Shagworthy. The larger picture is that of the leader of a gang of zombies and witch doctors (Mamba Wamba) in the pop music-inspired episode, "Mamba Wamba and the Voodoo Hoodoo". Scooby and the gang visit friends of theirs who have become rock music stars. The group perform a song about voodoo and are soon being chased by the ghost of Mamba Wamba and his henchman who are after a parchment...the real mystery is explained, of course, at episode's end.

In this collage of John Stephenson characters there's Mayor Dudley, Mr. Doherty, Mr. Prentice, The Rambling Ghost, and Mr. Grumper. These characters appear in the 1976 episodes "The 10,000 Volt Ghost", "High Rise Hair Raiser", "The Ghost That Sacked the Quarterback", and "The Spirits of '76". On a personal note, "The Ghost That Sacked the Quarterback" happened to originally air on December 4, 1976 (2 days after I was born!). In that episode the gang solves the mystery of a haunted football team and the legend of The Rambling Ghost. The team's owner is Mr. Prentice. Coinciding with America's Bicentennial celebrations in 1976, Scooby and the gang encounter ghosts at The Smithsonian Institution in form of Bendict Arnold, Major Andre, and William Demont. John voices the ill-tempered Mr. Grumper, one of the security guards. John voices a Federal Agent near the end of the episode. Mayor Dudley is John's more humorous characterization compared to the other characters. I should say the mayor comes across lighthearted. As is the case in many Scooby episodes things are not exactly as they seem.

The Red Baron, from "The Ghost of the Red Baron", appears first in this collage. The character, along with a farmer, were voiced by John Stephenson. The episode features The Three Stooges. Next to the Red Baron is the dapper Sam Crenshaw from the episode "The Frightened Hound meets Demons Underground". The bearded Albert Tross is another Stephenson-voiced character from that same episode. The irritated Mr. Dilly, co-owner of The Dilly Dally Dolly Company, appears in the episode "The No Faced Zombie Case" as does the next character in the collage, the police Lieutenant (another character similar in vocal tone to his Mr. Slate characterization). The character in the blue coat and red shirt is the Captain in "Scooby-Doo, Where's the Crew?". That was John's main character in the the end he gave voice to the rescuing officer from the Coast Guard that I mentioned earlier. 

For this seven image collage I decided to mix things up more and include an image of John Stephenson himself...from the 1950's. The six characters come from episodes that originally aired during 1976-1978. Captain Eddie, The Ghost of Juan Carlos, Uncle Leon, and the Vampire Ghost are the characters that appear on the left. The 2 characters off to the right are Professor Salari and an Indian leader, Red Harron. Captain Eddie and the Ghost of Juan Carlos (one of John's most maniacal roles in the series) come from the episode "Don't Go Near the Fortress of Fear". Professor Salari, the curator of a local museum, appears in the episode "A Menace in Venice". Red Harron appears in "Watch Out! The Willawaw!!". The Vampire ghost and Uncle Leon appear in "Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats". In that episode, also co-starring Scooby-Dum, Scooby and the gang investigate the family legend of their friend, Lisa. It seems her late grandfather and members of the family (including her uncle) have kept a secret from her...members of the family have been known to turn into vampires!!

Lastly, I made this collage. If you notice I also included another black and white photo of John...this time laughing. The characters mostly come from 1976-1977. On the top there's back to back Viking characters, then there's Mr. Bohannon. In the second row there's a nameless pilot and next to him, from a different episode, another pilot by the name of Luis. Samson the Strongman concludes the animated character collage. The vikings come from "The Curse of Viking Lake". Mr. Bohannon comes from "Hang In There, Scooby-Doo". The nameless pilot comes from "Scooby's Night with a Snow Beast Fright". Luis comes from "Jeepers, It's the Jaguaro!". John also provided the guttural moans for the Jaguaro creature and I assume electronic enhancing created the shrilling effect (you'll hear what I mean once you see that particular episode). Samson the Strongman appears at the beginning of 1969's "Bedlam in the Big Top". As a side note, John does a great impression of Sydney Greenstreet's characterization of Nero Wolfe for the Mr. Bohannon character.

As I pointed out earlier these collages and this blog post aren't meant to be a career retrospective...just a glimpse at some of the characters John Stephenson gave voice to during his years associated with Scooby-Doo. These do not include characters from other cartoon programs, of course, or the characters he did on the Laff-a-Lympics episodes (even though the series was billed as Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics). Since that series deviated from the mystery solving concept I excluded his many vocal contributions on Laff-a-Lympics (he voiced several Really Rottens members and did a Paul Lynde impression as Mildew Wolf).

If you're interested I'd highly encourage you all to purchase the various DVD releases of the Scooby series to hear the vocalizations of John Stephenson and the other voice artists that contributed to the overall success of the franchise. Here are links to some of the DVD projects...

Scooby Doo First and Second Season DVD

Scooby Doo and Dynomutt

Scooby Doo DVD 1978 episodes

The Best of the Scooby Doo Movies

The link I call 'Scooby Doo and Dynomutt' takes you to a DVD consisting of the episodes that aired during the 1976-1977 season of the Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Adventure Hour. I mentioned some of the episodes that featured a John Stephenson vocal characterization but I didn't get into the episodes of Dynomutt that have a Stephenson vocalization. The episodes feature their syndicated opening titles...meaning that each cartoon program airs back to back and has it's own opening and closing sequence. Some of the fans voiced their outrage at the time of the DVD's release because the episodes didn't feature the official opening sequence of the hour long series (which would have one opening and closing sequence per episode) and instead the company utilized the opening and closing sequences from the syndicated airings of each cartoon program. Regardless of the outrage from some...the episodes are intact and that's all that's important for a lot of us. It's that 1976-1977 season that contained Stephenson episodes such as "High Rise Hair Raiser", "The No Face Zombie Case", "The Spirits of '76"...

The link referring to the 1978 episodes takes you to a 2-disc release billed as Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Season Three. Technically there isn't a season three of that series. The company that released the DVD took the 16 half hour episodes from 1978 that originally aired during the Saturday morning programs, Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics and Scooby's All-Stars, and issued those episodes as 'Season Three'. The 16 episodes found on the DVD utilize the opening sequence of The Scooby-Doo Show (it's the opening that features Scooby water skiing and having his ski's eaten by a hungry shark). It's anyone's guess as to why the 8 half hour episodes from 1977, which also follow the formula from the first 2 seasons, hadn't been released on DVD. Those, technically, could've been marketed as 'Season Three' and the 16 episodes from 1978 as 'Season Four'. The episodes "The Curse of Viking Lake", "Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats", and "Hang In There, Scooby-Doo" that I mentioned earlier due to John Stephenson's vocal involvement originally aired in 1977 but haven't been released on DVD yet.

Scooby-Doo and 45 Years, Too...part 2...

Earlier this year I published a blog about the Scooby franchise turning 45 this year. This past Saturday (September 13, 2014) was the exact date that Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? made it's premiere on Saturday morning television...45 years to the day!

It aired on CBS-TV for 2 seasons (1969-1971) and then in reruns for another season. The gang returned in all-new episodes for the 1972-1973 season, titled The New Scooby-Doo Movies. These episodes ran roughly 45 minutes (an hour including commercials). This is the version that has the gang meeting celebrities, both fictional and non-fictional. This incarnation ran 2 seasons also (1972-1974). After 2 seasons of Saturday morning reruns on CBS, the network soon dropped the series.

According to commentary from Fred Silverman from various interviews he's given about Scooby, once CBS dropped the series he picked it up for the ABC Saturday morning schedule. Fred Silverman had been instrumental at CBS in bringing Scooby to television in the first place...and how ironic that after moving to ABC he'd be instrumental in bringing the character back to the spotlight once more in a new series in the fall of 1976. In that series Scooby shared top billing with a new character, Dynomutt (a/k/a Dog Wonder) on an hour long series called The Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Adventure Hour. Dynomutt ineptly solved crime with his super-serious, super hero partner/master, Blue Falcon.

In the meantime, Scooby would remain an ABC staple for the rest of it's Saturday morning network run (not counting cable-TV and off-network syndicated reruns) until the removal of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo from the ABC Saturday morning line-up in the early '90s. A Pup Named Scooby-Doo had ended production of new episodes in 1991 (after having debuted in 1988). Since the mid '90s Scooby reruns have aired on various cable-TV networks and beginning in the late '90s direct-to-video Scooby animated movies started appearing for retail purchase. All new half hour television episodes returned in 2002 in the appropriately named What's New, Scooby-Doo? and that series remained in production through 2005.

A live action theatrical series of films based on the Scooby franchise became financially popular...coexisting with the direct-to-video animated movies and the TV series that aired in the latter half of the 2000s. In 2010 a more adult/romantic fan-fiction interpretation of the characters took center stage in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. That series ran another 3 seasons (it's final episodes airing in 2013). The erratic scheduling of this series caused hat would have been a 2-season series to stretch into 3 seasons. There are 52 episodes of this incarnation (26 for season one, 26 for season two). However, Cartoon Network aired the show erratically and placed it on several hiatuses...causing significant air-date gaps (there would be a period of several months sandwiched between the airing of episodes). The final first-run episodes that aired in 2013 had actually been produced as early as 2011/2012.

Since the end of that series and the 45th anniversary date of Scooby's debut this past Saturday, the franchise lost one of it's legendary vocalists, Casey Kasem. From the debut of the series in 1969 through 1991 and once again from 2002 until 2005, Casey voiced the character of Shaggy Rogers (the most popular character on the series aside from Scooby himself). While it's a fact that Casey didn't voice Shaggy during the final two incarnations of the series (Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated) and previously had left the role in the mid '90s during the direct-to-video animated film era (Scott Innes, among several others, took over the role in the interim), Casey nonetheless remained strongly connected to the franchise. Casey returned to the role of Shaggy in 2002 and retired from the role after What's New, Scooby-Doo? ended production. He had a recurring role as Shaggy's uncle, Dr. Albert Shaggleford, in Shaggy and Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! (2006-2008), transmitting messages/clues to Shaggy and Scooby while he was on the run.

It's interesting to point out that in several episodes throughout the history of the series there have been rich relatives of Shaggy appear and ultimately be the focal point of a mystery. My guess is because Shaggy is suppose to represent a beatnik/hippie and be turned off by material possessions, what better way to invoke comical irony than to have Shaggy come from a long line of millionaires?!?

One of the earliest episodes to feature a rich uncle of Shaggy's is "The Loch Ness Mess", a 1972 episode guest starring The Harlem Globetrotters. In the episode the gang meet up with the Globetrotters while driving through the New England countryside and they all make their way to the mansion of Shaggy's uncle, Nathaniel, and are ultimately caught up in a mystery involving a sea serpent and the ghosts of Paul Revere and his 2 partners in crime. In a 1976 episode the gang visits another rich uncle of Shaggy's, appropriately named Shagworthy. He's also described as an eccentric millionaire that had a castle imported from England to the United States stone by stone. He's gone missing and is ultimately found by Scooby and the gang. This mystery is played out in the episode "Scared a lot in Camelot" (the villains are The Black Knight and Merlin).

In the Mystery Incorporated series Casey voiced Shaggy's father, Colton Rogers, in several episodes. Casey retired from the entertainment business not long after that series and of course, as you all should know by now, he passed away several months ago at the age of 82.

The voice cast throughout the history of the Scooby series is rather large and prolific.

The original voice of Scooby, Don Messick, passed away in 1997. He had been the voice of Scooby since 1969 and he remained the voice of Scooby through the end of A Pup Named Scooby Doo in 1991.

As previously mentioned, Casey Kasem passed away this past June and he had been the voice of Shaggy the longest (1969-1991, 1995, 1997, 2002-2009).

Frank Welker's voiced the teenaged Fred since 1969. The only animated depiction of Fred that hasn't been voiced by Frank is the child version of the character on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Frank became the official voice of Scooby beginning in 2002...a role he continues to play.

Prior to 2002, Scooby had been voiced in animated cartoons by Scott Innes starting in 1998 (Don Messick retired in 1996 following a career ending stroke). After Frank took over as Scooby in 2002, Scott continued to voice Scooby in a series of video games through 2006. Scott had also been the voice of Shaggy following Casey's departure from the role in the mid-late '90s. Scott voiced Shaggy in video game releases through 2009. Shaggy's current voice actor is Matthew Lillard (2010-present).

The female half of the gang, Daphne and Velma, don't have as many voice actresses in their history so it won't be as confusing/convoluted as the previous paragraph might appear to some.

Daphne's voice originally was supplied by an actress named Stefanianna Christopherson during the program's first season (1969-1970). Heather North became the second voice actress of Daphne in 1970 and she held this role on various Scooby incarnations through the early 1980's. She returned to the role in 2 direct-to-video Scooby animated movies in 2003: Scooby-Doo! and the Legend of the Vampire and Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico. Kellie Martin voiced the child Daphne in A Pup Named Scooby-Doo. Mary Kay Bergman voiced Daphne in direct-to-video animated movies from 1997-2000 and her replacement, Grey DeLisle, has voiced Daphne ever since.

Velma's original voice actress is Nicole Jaffe (1969-1974). Pat Stevens became the second voice of Velma in the mid '70s (1976-1979). After this, Velma's appearances (as well as Fred and Daphne) became sporadic. Velma's next voice actress happened to be Marla Frumpkin for brief, non-recurring appearances through 1984. The child version of Velma on A Pup Named Scooby-Doo was voiced by Christina Lange. B.J. Ward became the next voice actress associated with Velma. She voiced the character in the string of direct-to-video animated movies in the late '90s (1997-2001). Mindy Cohn (Natalie from the 1979-1988 sitcom, The Facts of Life) became the next voice of Velma in 2002. She's been the voice ever since.

Aside from those that gave voice to Scooby and the four teenagers there have been other voice artists that have contributed to the in particular, John Stephenson. I'll spotlight his contributions on the next Scooby 45th anniversary blog entry that I post later on the look-out for it!!

Monday, August 4, 2014

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

Hello all!! It's been awhile since I've posted a blog about Hee Haw. A big reason for that is because there hasn't been many clips uploaded on YouTube that have inspired me to post a blog...there's been nothing too obscure that's surfaced until now. Since my last blog post about the program I'm no longer receiving RFD-TV. The economy's caused us to downgrade our cable service and so we had to get rid of some of the packages that have additional costs and RFD-TV was part of a premium channel package. Hopefully, at some point, we'll add on the extra expense but for the time being it's not part of our cable line-up.

Enough about that...the main reason for this blog entry has to do with an episode of Hee Haw from September 1989!! In fact, it's the first episode of the 1989-1990 season. A fan of Barbara Mandrell has it on their YouTube channel and being a fan of the program I decided to share it with you all.

Barbara Mandrell, the Gatlin Brothers, T. Graham Brown, and soap opera star Jim DePaiva are the guests. At the time Jim and cast member Misty Rowe were husband and wife (the 2 married in 1986 and divorced in 1995).

The Kornfield segment isn't the same as it used to be. In times past they'd deliver 3 or 4 one-liner jokes in succession with a banjo playing in the background. On the later episodes they'd insert one single Kornfield joke at various times throughout the episode and it didn't include the banjo music in the background. As you'll see in the opening credits they paired the large cast in the introductions. This had become standard procedure in the mid '80s to shorten (?) the length of the cast member introduction. In this particular episode Roni Stoneman is paired with Gailard Sartain in the intro (instead of being paired off with Gordie Tapp...he's paired off with Lulu Roman). Also, Roy didn't wear the traditional bibs and overalls like some of the other cast members continued to do. He still continued to dress unmistakeably 'country' with the blue jeans, t-shirts, and the fashionable large belt buckle...but the hayseed look had disappeared. In one scene you'll see him in a black suit and a tie.

It's almost like the program was taking baby steps (intentionally or accidentally) into becoming the overhaul that surfaced in January 1992 where the Kornfield was gone and everybody dressed in the modern-country fashions instead of the traditional hillbilly attire. The 1989-1990 and 1990-1991 seasons are the final ones where the cast had the hillbilly look and feel (although you can tell from this episode that the 'feel' was fading but it still had a visual presence).

The audio is good and Gary Beatty (the one time voice of TNN) is doing the cast introductions. The video doesn't include the closing credits, though. There's a Tornado watch alert that appears on the lower left hand side of the screen during the first 24 minutes of the program. The time length of the episode is a little more than 45 minutes. The program ran 1 hour, including commercial breaks. 14-15 minutes of ad time for both local and national products and information sounds about I'm assuming this to be a complete episode.  

And now, from September 16, 1989...ENJOY...

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Another John Stephenson video clip...

I'm often on the look for video of voice actor, John Stephenson, and once I come across something I share it. I came across this YouTube video clip the other several of his biographies it makes mention that he hosted an early outdoors series titled Bold Journey. I don't know why I never thought to look up videos of the series until recently but I came across several episodes but only one, so far, did I come across featuring John Stephenson as host and here it is...

Some of the film/audio at the beginning jumps around a little...but it's watchable. John appears on camera introducing that episode's guest and then he appears again near the end after the guest is finished describing his nature film.

I post this because of John's largely obscure early career on TV. He appeared on many episodic television programs of the '50s and '60s...often in dramatic anthology programs and occasionally on sitcoms...but it's often impossible to find the specific episodes of television programs that he actually appeared on. Sometimes one will pop up on-line. If you've seen any of the late '60s episodes of Dragnet, you'll hear John Stephenson's voice often reading the results of the trial.

If you're familiar or a fan at all of a certain cartoon franchise it's impossible to separate that voice from many, many, many Scooby-Doo cartoons (1969-1991). I often cite that series first but he had been providing voices for Hanna-Barbera since at least 1960...that's the year The Flintstones debuted...and John Stephenson voiced Mr. Slate and other authority figures. In the middle part of the '60s he became one of the regular voice artists in the Hanna-Barbera circle providing vocals for authority figures and villains. His natural speaking voice, as you hear in the video clip, is heard often in those cartoons but he would also elevate it into a higher or lower tone (depending on the character's personality) for various other characters. Very seldom did he have 2 characters speaking to one another...unless the vocalizations happened to be drastically different from one another...given the distinction of his natural voice sprinkling through his characterizations.

Most often his characters were interchangeable given their authoritative demeanor.

In one series for Hanna-Barbera in the mid '60s spotlighting characters by the name of Breezly Bruin and Sneezly Seal, Stephenson provided the voice of additional characters but his main role happened to be that of Col. Fusby...always fussing about Breezly's mayhem and rule breaking at a military camp. Howard Morris voiced the Bruin and Mel Blanc, in a cold in the nose vocal, played the Seal. In another series, Squiddly Diddly, Stephenson voiced the perpetually put upon Chief Winchley of the tourist attraction, Bubble Land, and Paul Frees provided the voice of the starring character. One of John Stephenson's truly vicious, evil, snarling, and amoral characters happened to be Captain Leech in the cartoon series, The Adventures of Gulliver. He not only had the distinction of voicing the evil Captain Leech but the scatterbrained King Pomp. There are several episodes of that series on YouTube.

In another series, Arabian Knights, John provided the voice of the comical genie, Fariek, and the evil Bakaar. That animated series is also on YouTube. I'm embedding this one, specifically, due to John Stephenson having some pretty hefty vocal work in this particular episode.

You'll also hear the vocals of Jay North, Sherry Lewis, Henry Corden, Frank Gerstie, Don Messick, and Paul Frees...

Later on, in various Scooby-Doo episodes, John Stephenson demonstrated his skilled mimicry of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Joe Flynn. Still later he did impressions of Paul Lynde (Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics) in the role of co-host, Mildew Wolf. Lynde had originated the vocal performance in an earlier cartoon series (a segment called "It's the Wolf!!" on the Cattanooga Cats series) but he didn't return for the Laff-a-Lympics series. In the same Laff-a-Lympics series, Stephenson did a Jimmy Durante impression...becoming the new voice of Doggy Daddy (a character that Hanna-Barbera originally produced in the early '60s and voiced by Doug Young). Around the same point in time (mid '70s), Stephenson began voicing numerous villains and secondary characters in the Dynomutt, Dog Wonder series. One such villain, The Blimp, allowed Stephenson to do a vocal impression of Alfred Hitchcock.

I hope you all continue to enjoy the marvelous work of the elusive legend, John Stephenson!!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Guiding Light: 1937-2009...Part 10

I don't know how long these classic Guiding Light clips are going to remain on-line...but for now they're available on YouTube. The first clip is an episode from March 4, 1953 and it includes commercials...but these aren't your ordinary 10 or 20 second commercials which are commonplace today...these happen to be longer and much more detailed commercials and there's only one commercial spot per break. This means that there isn't half a dozen or so commercials flashing up on the screen.

For those not familiar with early television or, particularly, traditional daytime drama, these episodes are going to be a bit of a novelty due to the limited physical acting and the dramatic line readings. The episode centers around the Kathy Roberts Grant court trial...she's on trial for murder...

This episode, featuring James Lipton as Dick Grant, is from April 9, 1953...

This is the era of the soap that featured the step-daughter/step-mother rivalry of Kathy and Meta. In those early years Meta Bauer was married to Joe Roberts (Kathy's father). Prior to this, Meta had been married to a man named Ted White. He later turned up dead and, of course, Meta was the prime suspect of murder...and after a lengthy murder trial there was never an outcome. The judge declared the entire thing a mistrial given the unethical behavior and apparent personal vendetta against Meta by the prosecutor.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Casey Kasem: 1932-2014

I held off doing a blog about the death of Casey Kasem due to the fact that there are literally hundreds of thousands and probably millions of blogs out there (both professional and amateur) detailing his life and career and the gossipy final months of his life. I also am not one to follow the gossip and rumor mills of Hollywood but in order to find out some facts about his career I had to search a lot of the Hollywood blog sites and news sites. I knew of his children and of his wife...years earlier I learned 3 of his 4 kids are from a previous marriage. As I've often commented, I am rarely interested in the personal lives of a celebrity and so I rarely read any of the gossip magazines and celebrity story publications. I first heard of Casey Kasem in the 1980's...I had heard his voice for years on Scooby Doo cartoons...but at that point in time I had no idea the names of the people that voiced cartoon characters. I heard a broadcast of one of his American Top-40 radio programs that my sister had been listening to. She told me to come in her room and hear 'this guy' and that he sounded like Shaggy (from Scooby Doo). That is how I learned the name of the voice of hearing Casey on the radio for the first time. 

I later seen Casey on the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon. However, aside from Shaggy, the biggest impact Casey had on my youth came throughout the 1990's. He hosted the annual Nick-at-Nite Rerun Countdown each New Year's Eve for many years. Later, as the Super Friends cartoons started to air in reruns again, I learned that Casey voiced Robin...and in many episodes Casey voiced the Justice League computer. I had assumed that Casey had voiced Robin only once in the Scooby Doo meets Batman special...but little did I know that Casey's involvement in voicing Robin went back the late 1960's! It didn't take me long to figure out that Casey was just as busy voicing cartoon characters as he was on the radio. Years later I discovered that he had once hosted a long running syndicated TV series. It never aired in my area...otherwise I may have found it...but it was called American Top-10. I posted a clip of him hosting the series in my previous blog. It ran for 12 years (1980-1992). In addition to that he also voiced promotional advertisements for NBC-TV's line-up of programming. Ernie Anderson and Danny Dark (the latter the voice of Superman in the Super Friends cartoons) did voice over promo's during the same era.

So, yes, Casey Kasem had his greatest impact on me by way of cartoons. I've long since learned about his vast career in radio and TV and each Saturday and Sunday morning I listen to the classic AT40 countdowns. On Saturday mornings it's AT40 Flashback: The '80s and on Sunday mornings it's AT40 Flashback: The '70s. Since his death on June 15th I don't know if those programs will continue for much longer or if they'll continue to air as a lasting memorial to his radio legacy. I hope they continue to air. Each program aired this past weekend (June 21 and June 22) and if they air this coming weekend I'll make the assumption that the programs are here to stay...for the time being.

Casey Kasem: 1932-2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mystery of the Missing Casey Kasem...

For those that have visited this blog expecting to see commentary from me about the current situation regarding Casey Kasem, I've not posted such comments yet.

I noticed that a blog I wrote a couple years ago about his retirement from radio (July 2009) has gotten several visits and so I'm assuming people have been re-directed there from other sites because of the 'Casey Kasem' headline in that blog post.

You can read that 2009 blog HERE.

I've made some commentary here and there on a couple of social media sites about Casey's ordeal but I hadn't put together a blog post about it until today. Casey's going through a debilitating disease and it's something that's speculated to have been in it's early stages for the last several years. Since the announcement of his medical condition there's been a long, sad, and baffling family feud that's taken place regarding visitation rights for Casey's children, among other things...

You can read about it HERE.

I just happened to come across that article today and since it's the most recent, as of 3pm, I decided to provide a link to it. In other articles I've seen it's long been said he's in the advanced stages of Parkinson's that article above it mentions a different, although similar, disease. Regardless of the actual disease he has, it's seemed to have become secondary to the family feud.

Casey's been "missing" for a couple of days. His children nor a local Judge have any information on his location. Rumors are spreading like fire in a windstorm.

It's almost like a Scooby-Doo episode.

There's a mystery as to his whereabouts and at some point today there's suppose to be a missing person's report filed and according to the article it'll get the FBI involved. Like all of you, I'm curious about Casey's whereabouts and hope there's some sort of information given that'll satisfy everyone.

A brief synopsis of his entertainment career:

Casey Kasem had a long career in radio, locally, before becoming the nationally recognized host of radio's American Top-40 in 1970. A year earlier he began his career as the voice of Shaggy in the Scooby-Doo cartoons. Even before the arrival of Shaggy in 1969 came the role of Robin in The Adventures of Batman, an animated series from the Filmation studio in the late '60s.

These cartoon adventures will be released on DVD in their entirety on June 3, 2014.

Each Batman and Robin adventure lasted roughly 13 minutes during Season 1 (2 segments lasting around 6 and a half minutes each) and for Season 2 the adventures had been reduced to 6 and a half minutes and as you could tell that called for some super quick detective work and criminal catching!! 34 individual installments were produced altogether (17 episodes per season). These short episodes aired alongside Superman in an hour long series called The Batman/Superman Hour. It's the first animated series to feature Batman and Robin. Olan Soule voiced Batman and Casey Kasem voiced Robin. The 34 segments aired originally from September 1968 through January 1969. Casey voiced Robin on various projects until 1985. In Josie and the Pussycats, Casey voiced Alexander Cabbott, III. Casey later gave voice to several Transformers characters in the 1980's series and provided voice-overs for NBC-TV.

In addition to radio and cartoons, Casey had a long running television series that aired for more than 10 years in syndication. The series, America's Top-10, spotlighted the Top-10 of various weekly album and singles charts and inserted music videos (if available) of recent hit songs from the Top-10. It's on this TV series that the visual image of Casey has long since been immortalized and playfully mimicked by impressionists of the era. You can find a lot of clips of Casey from his TV series on You Tube. It began in 1980 and lasted until the early '90s. 

Also, each year, Casey counted down the top 25 reruns of the year on Nick-at-Nite.

The Nick-at-Nite Rerun Countdown originally began on the last day of December in 1989 and it played the top 25 reruns from 25 to 1 as determined by a popularity call-in vote from viewers. The #1 rerun of the year would then kick off the brand new year at Midnight. The only catch was...the TV series obviously had to be a part of the current line-up and it had to have been an episode that had aired in the last 12 months.

As the years went by the marathon was broken into several individual specials rather than presented as a single 20+ hour event. The title changed at some point to Classic TV Countdown and it was spread out over a series of nights with the last remaining reruns airing in the hours leading up to Midnight. Casey was on hand every single year from 1989 through 1998. One of the highlights happened to be the special guest celebrities that might drop by...and given the New Year's Eve concept the guests would appear drunk or slightly intoxicated while being 'interviewed' by the stern and serious mannered Casey.

An edited clip of America's Top-10 is featured below. The person that uploaded it edited out the music performances. I decided on this one because it's one of his last installments plus it aired on April 18, 1992. That date may not be important to a lot of people but April 18th is my brother's birth date and I got a kick out of seeing the music and movies in the Top-10 for the week ending April 18, 1992. I shown him the clip several years ago.

The sound needs fixing,'s not too adjust your speakers...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Scooby Doo and 45 Years, Too...

Scooby Doo, you're hitting 45 this year...and some of the celebration's started early for just recently in DVD format you've been paired up with various personalities from the wrestling world.

Scooby IS turning 45 this year. His debut on television occurred on September 13, 1969 in a series titled Scooby Doo, Where Are You?. A lot of the character traits, catchphrases, and basic formula is established in this series which ran on CBS in first run production from September 1969 through January 1971 for a total of 25 episodes. The series returned in the fall of 1972 in an hour long format titled The New Scooby Doo Movies. It's in these hour long episodes that introduced the famed team-up format of Scooby and the gang (Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne) meeting famous celebrities and solving various mysteries. One of the peculiarities of the series is the inclusion of several celebrities that had passed away by 1972 or had been out of the public eye for at least 5 years. I'm referring to the episodes that had Scooby and the gang meeting Laurel and Hardy and in a couple of episodes the gang meet The Three Stooges (Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe). There were 16 episodes aired during the 1972-1973 season and 8 more that aired during an abbreviated 1973-1974 half season. The rest of the season was filled out with reruns of the 24 episodes. The original half hour series (1969-1971) continued to air in reruns on CBS, too. These 49 episodes continued to air in reruns on Saturday mornings on CBS until the first half of 1976. After CBS canceled the series and removed it from it's line-up, Fred Silverman at ABC (formerly at CBS and responsible for Scooby's debut on CBS in 1969) jumped on the program and bought it rather immediately (this is according to his own words in a Scooby documentary you can see on-line). I've embedded the video clip here...narrated by Gary Owens and featuring a lot of behind the scenes information from producers and creative talents associated with the series...

The video clip leads into the creation of Scooby's debut series on ABC in the fall of 1976 titled The Scooby Doo/Dynomutt Hour and how the series continued it's Saturday morning popularity as the years went by. There were 16 episodes produced during the 1976-1977 season. Scooby's cousin, also referred to as his brother, Scooby Dum, made his debut on this series and appeared in 2 episodes: "The Gruesome Game of the Gator Ghoul" and "The Headless Horseman of Halloween". Dynomutt (also referred to as Dog Wonder) ran as a separate series within the hour long format but in several episodes Scooby and the gang made cross-over appearances to help Dynomutt and his human side-kick, Blue Falcon, solve a baffling mystery. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt's base of operations is called Big City. The Scooby series by this time began to add more characters and incorporate more and more "ghosts of the week". ABC launched the ambitious 2-hour program, Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics, to the 1977-1978 line-up. The series featured 5 half hour programs: Laff-a-Lympics, Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, further adventures of Blue Falcon and Dynomutt (Eight 2-part episodes running 11 minutes each...equaling 4 half hour episodes total), a brand new half hour Scooby adventure (featuring additional episodes guest starring Scooby-Dum and in one episode, "The Chiller Diller Movie Thriller", the introduction of their cousin, Scooby-Dee; 8 episodes altogether), and reruns of the original CBS Scooby series filled out the 2-hour programming block.

In the fall of 1978 the current ABC series got re-titled to Scooby's All-Stars. The programming block was reduced from 2-hours to 90 minutes. It removed reruns of the CBS run of Scooby and the Dynomutt/Blue Falcon series and in it's place added brand new episodes of Laff-a-Lympics and Captain Caveman. All new Scooby episodes continued to air that season, too...a total of 16 episodes aired throughout the 1978-1979 season. Those 16 episodes later surfaced on DVD as Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Season Three!.

The 8 Scooby episodes that aired during the 1977-1978 season that I mentioned earlier (the episodes guest starring Scooby Dum, Scooby Dee, and featuring the obligatory parade of ghosts and goblins) have never been released on DVD (not to my knowledge).

You may be able to find these 8 episodes on-line but I've never seen them become available on a commercially released DVD in their complete form:

1. The Curse of Viking Lake; September 1977

2. Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats; September 1977

3. Hang In There, Scooby Doo; September 1977

4. The Chiller Diller Movie Thriller; October 1977

5. The Spooky Case of the Grand Prix Race; October 1977

6. The Ozark Witch Switch; October 1977

7. Creepy Cruise; October 1977

8. The Creepy Heap from the Deep; October 1977

As if you all didn't realize, a lot of Scooby episode titles from each series from 1969 to the present are filled with alliteration and rhyming. Following the 1978-1979 season, Scooby returned in a dramatically overhauled program titled Scooby and Scrappy Doo. This series aired first run episodes from September 22, 1979 until January 5, 1980. The focal point relied heavily on Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy and less on Fred, Daphne, and Velma. Scooby had been on the air for 10 years at that point in time and the introduction of Scrappy, like him or not, gave the franchise the jolt that it needed and his involvement brought in a lot of new viewers for the series, too. Upon the introduction and success that Scrappy provided the franchise it shouldn't come to no surprise that further episodes would come to focus exclusively on the comic trio of Scooby, Shaggy, and Scrappy and that's exactly what happened as the new decade began. The 1980-1981 season got underway in November (due to a voice actor strike) and the new Scooby series this time seen him receive second billing, sharing a title with Richie Rich. The Richie Rich/Scooby Doo Show as it's officially called, featured 13 half hour Scooby episodes during 1980-1981. The length of each episode also seen severe cuts. Each half hour consisted of three 7 minute comic adventures (a total of 39 seven minute shorts). Seven additional half hour episodes aired during 1981-1982, in the same 3 short episode per half hour format, giving the series 21 seven minute episodes...bringing the overall total to 60. The program returned under a different title for the 1982-1983 season, The Scooby and Scrappy Doo/Puppy Hour. 33 seven minute shorts aired during this season...bringing the grand total number of episodes produced during the 1980-1983 time span to 99. In that season every third 7 minute short per half hour starred only Scrappy and featured to new characters, Deputy Dusty and the Texan canine, Yabba-Doo (explained to be one of Scrappy's other Uncles).

Scooby returned to ABC's fall line-up in 1983 under The New Scooby and Scrappy Doo Show. This series (and that title) remained for 13 half hour episodes. Daphne, not seen since 1979, returned as a regular and became the 'leader', in a sense. She joined Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy in adventures that featured real ghosts and phantoms (rather than ordinary people in disguise). Fred and Velma appear infrequently.

Here's the intro that appeared during the 1983-1984 season (airing from September 10, 1983 until December 10, 1983)...

Here's the intro that appeared during the 1984-1985 season (September 8, 1984 until December 1, 1984) after the title had been changed to The New Scooby Doo Mysteries...the monster dance is the most memorable thing about the intro, obviously...

Upon the conclusion of this series, ABC brought it back in the fall of 1985 as The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo. This series, running exactly 13 episodes, featured Scooby, Shaggy, Scrappy, and Daphne joined by a con-artist/good guy named Flim Flam who travel the globe searching 13 ghosts that Scooby and Shaggy mistakenly set free. Vincent Price co-stars as the voice of Vincent van Ghoul, the mysterious sorcerer/magician that keeps track and offers help in spirit form to guide Scooby and pals on their journey. The intro features narration from van Ghoul and explains the premise of the series. The villains of the series, in addition to the monsters, are dimwit ghosts named Bogel and Weerd. The fictional Amulet of Ish Kabibble is a recurring artifact mentioned throughout the series. It ran from September 7, 1985 to December 7, 1985...and in reruns through 1986. This series ultimately became the final incarnation of Scooby, in adult form, on network television. Reruns of all various incarnations of Scooby had continued to air in syndication since 1980 in addition to the new episodes that aired weekly on ABC each season. ABC canceled the series following the 1985-1986 season...but that wasn't the end...

The popularity of The Muppet Babies had spawned, by the mid '80s, several inspirations...the most notable being The Flintstone Kids. ABC brought back Scooby and the gang in 1988 as A Pup Named Scooby Doo...complete with 30 half hour episodes and an entirely different take on the franchise. The animation was patterned after the famed styles of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett (exaggerated physical expressions and fast-paced movement). The first episode debuted on September 10, 1988 and the last first run episode aired on August 17, 1991. This is rather misleading, though, because the series aired in weekly fashion consistently from September 1988 through November 1989. A total of 21 half hour episodes were produced and aired in that time frame. The series returned with new episodes in September 1990 but only four were produced. 2 episodes aired in September 1990 and 1 new episode aired in both October and November 1990...accompanied by reruns from the first season. The last 5 episodes, bringing the series to 30 half hour episodes in total, aired in August 1991.

So, you can see, this series had an erratic schedule during 1990-1991 as only 9 first run episodes were produced altogether. ABC continued to air this program in reruns through the 1992-1993 season and after that point in time the Scooby franchise left network TV and moved to cable TV exclusively.

Reruns of the various incarnations of Scooby appeared on USA Network, TBS, and later Cartoon Network and much later, Boomerang (all of this spanning the years 1993-2002). After a series of direct-to-video Scooby movies had been released starting in the mid '90s and moving forward, their on-going successes and a live-action adaptation caused the Scooby series to be revived as a weekly Saturday morning cartoon series once more in 2002. What's New, Scooby Doo? aired on the cable channel The WB from 2002 until 2005. It marked the first time since 1984 that all four teenagers and Scooby appeared together in teenage form solving a mystery. The series also contained an element of self-parody...something that's been becoming ever more prominent with each subsequent Scooby series ever since. It ran from September 2002 through April 2005 with a final, single first run episode airing more than a year later in July 2006. 42 episodes were produced.

Scooby, as mentioned, made his debut on the big screen in live-action form in June 2002. Scooby appeared in animatronic/CGI form but the human cast members were live action actors/actresses. The film went on to make more than $275,000,000 at the box office. It was followed by a sequel in 2004 and a prequel in 2009. The 2004 film grossed more than $181,000,000 at the box office. An otherwise huge hit but because it's compared to the 2002 box office totals it's considered "a failure" (it's mind boggling to me, too. Such an astronomical figure like that is considered a failure...geesh!).

The 2009 prequel aired on Cartoon Network...bringing in an audience number of more than 6 million! A fourth live-action incarnation appeared in 2010 and drew more than 5 million viewers. I should list the titles of these live-action films: Scooby Doo (2002), Scooby Doo: Monsters Unleashed (2004), Scooby Doo! The Mystery Begins (2009), and Scooby Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster (2010).  As all of that as playing out, a new animated Scooby series debuted in 2006 and modeled after the live-action character designs. Scooby appeared in animated form based on his appearance in the live-action films. The series, Shaggy and Scooby Doo Get a Clue!, ran for 26 episodes during September 2006 through March 2008 on The CW cable channel. Each season consisted of 13 half hour episodes. The series included a villain called Dr. Phibes (the name based on a character appearing in a couple of horror films starring Vincent Price).

Upon the releases of the most recent live action Scooby film in 2010, Scooby returned to a more traditional animated appearance in the soap opera-like Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated. The series ran on Cartoon Network and aired for 56 half hour episodes during a highly erratic schedule. It had numerous hiatuses where the program wouldn't air for months on end, only to resurface on the schedule, before vanishing after a couple of months. These on and off erratic airings persisted during the program's entire existence and the 56 half hour cliff-hanger episodes were spread out over 3 seasons (2010-2013). In fact, the 56 episodes aired between April 5, 2010 and April 5, 2013. To date that is the last weekly Scooby series to air.

The voice cast remained somewhat consistent throughout 1969-1991 as far as Scooby and Shaggy are concerned. Don Messick voiced Scooby from the 1969 debut on through the final episode of "A Pup Named Scooby Doo" in 1991. Casey Kasem voiced Shaggy throughout that time period, too, and would go on to portray the character in direct-to-home video Scooby cartoons through 1997. He stepped away from the role for nearly 5 years...returning in 2002. In his absence, Scott Innes voiced Shaggy and also voiced Scooby after Don Messick suffered a career ending stroke in 1996. Scott portrayed Scooby and Shaggy throughout the rest of the '90s and into the early 2000s. As mentioned, Casey returned as Shaggy in 2002 for the What's New, Scooby Doo? series. He portrayed Shaggy for the last time in 2009. Since then, Scott Menville and Matthew Lillard have voiced the character. The latter portrayed Shaggy in several of the live-action movies and so he was already familiar with the characteristics and speech patterns. At the start of the 2002 Scooby series, Scooby's voice was taken over by Frank Welker. Frank's been the voice of Fred on the Scooby series since it's 1969 debut...the only time Frank hasn't voiced Fred happened in A Pup Named Scooby Doo...for the child version of Fred, an actor by the name of Carl Steven took over for that series.

Frank, like the late Don Messick, is a voice specialist. Frank is cast in just as many human character roles as he is monsters, animals, and creatures of all species. Frank became the voice of Scooby in 2002 and continues to this very day. He also continues to voice Fred.

Moving on to the females...Daphne's been voiced by an array of voice actresses over the last 45 years and so has Velma. Daphne's original voice actress has the unique name of Stefanianna Christopherson. She voiced Daphne in the first season only (1969). Heather North took over the role in 1970 and she remained the voice of Daphne through that point the character was written out. She voiced the character for several future projects in 1997, 2002, and 2003 but is mostly retired from the role. The child version of Daphne in A Pup Named Scooby Doo was voiced by Kellie Martin. In the late '90s direct-to-video animated movies, those released from 1998-2000, Daphne's voice was supplied by Mary Kay Bergman.

Since 2001, with the exception of a couple of special projects in 2002 and 2003 that Heather North took part in, Daphne's been voiced by Grey Delisle.

Velma, on the other hand, has had even more voice actresses. Her original voice was supplied by Nicole Jaffe (1969-1973). Nicole returned to the role during 2002 and 2003 for some retro-styled Scooby direct-to-home video animated movies (as did Heather North as Daphne). Pat Stevens voiced Velma from 1976 until 1979. Marla Frumkin voiced Velma briefly during 1979-1980 and 1984. The child version of Velma was voiced by Christina Lange. In 1997, adult Velma returned to the Scooby franchise and this time her voice was supplied by B.J. Ward. She remained the voice of Velma through 2001. Mindy Cohn (Natalie from The Facts of Life) became the voice of Velma starting in 2002 and she's remained in the role ever since.

In the classic episodes (1969-1985), several other voice artists became familiar to the viewer's ears. John Stephenson voiced almost all of the villains, scientists, policemen, detectives, and red herring passerby throughout the 1969-1973 time frame. John mostly voiced characters that sounded like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Joe Flynn, and Paul Lynde in addition to using to his distinctive natural speaking voice, too. Don Messick and Frank Welker voiced multiple incidental characters, in addition to their starring roles. Casey Kasem also voiced an array of policemen, scientists, and other incidental characters to fill out the story.

I keep reading commentary across the internet and most of the time people think Scooby originated in movie form and that the cartoons they see on Cartoon Network are based on those movies. I'm in my mid 30s and love the older Hanna-Barbera cartoons of Scooby and the gang from all time periods (1969-1991). The most recent, Mystery Incorporated, wasn't terrible or anything but I prefer the stories to be self-contained, less edgy, less self-parody, and with zero drama and romance.

Scooby's a comedy cartoon (or it's suppose to be) so it's kind of difficult to take in scenes of say, Fred and Daphne, bickering and teasing one another and talking like love-struck kids. It borders too much on fan-fiction.

Attention Scooby cartoon writers: Return the action to what made the franchise popular in the first place. Leave the 'Fred loves Daphne' or 'Velma's got a crush on Shaggy' stuff to fan-fiction and return the series to the conventional formula of 4 teens and a talking Great Dane traveling the country solving mysteries.