Only one man would make a 1960s children’s TV cartoon featuring a character singing while rubbing her nose and scratching her butt at the same time.
It wasn’t Jay Ward or Bill Scott of ‘Bullwinkle’ fame. And it certainly wasn’t Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. No, it was that man whose animated likeness and lyricised name were featured in every cartoon, Robert Emerson Clampett. The show was ‘Beany and Cecil.’ Eventually.
Both Bob Clampett and his cartoon invention had lineages in the entertainment business. Clampett started working on Warner Bros. cartoons in 1930, eventually being promoted to a director’s job and crafting theatrical shorts featuring Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He moved into early local television in Los Angeles and developed several puppet shows, the first of which revolved around a boy and his buddy, a sea serpent named Cecil.
Clampett brought the characters back and they debuted on Saturday, January 6, 1962 as the stars of a revamped ‘Matty’s Funnies,’ an early-evening show that brought together tired old Paramount cartoons like Baby Huey and Little Audrey. No doubt the time slot was picked because Hanna-Barbera had three very successful half-hour cartoon shows in the early evening on different weekdays (same generally time, but not on a competing day). The Associated Press’ intrepid West Coast TV columnist told all about it in a story that appeared in newspapers a week later. For reasons unknown, Bob Thomas spells the lead character’s name incorrectly.
Beanie And His Pal Back On Television
By BOB THOMAS
AP Movie-TV Writer
HOLLYWOOD (AP) — Beanie and his pal, Cecil the seasick sea serpent, are back on TV!
This news may be received with apathy east of San Bernardino. It’s a joyous event for many Southern Californians.
“Time for Beanie” was one of the pioneer TV shows in Los Angeles and later was syndicated in other parts of the nation. It developed a large and sometimes fanatical following here.
I recall hearing from Lana Turner that she and her then husband Bob Topping would allow nothing to interfere with their watching of “Beanie.” Lionel Barrymore was an enthusiastic viewer. Groucho Marx wrote a fan letter to producer Bob Clampett.
“Time for Beanie” went on KTLA in 1948, began as a series in 1949. The stringless puppets, made a hit in those pioneering days with their literate humor and boundless imagination. Most of us adult fans thought it was much too good for kids.
The show lasted eight years. Then Clampett decided to call a halt.
“My Eastern distributor said that the dam was about to break,” he explained. “The film companies were going to flood the market with Bugs Bunnies and Popeyes, etc. We couldn’t hope to compete with cartoons that had cost $30,000-$40,000 to make.”
Clampett ended the five-day weekly grind and spent a year doing the things he had wanted to do during the eight arduous years. But he wasn’t ready to give up on Beanie and Cece. He bought up all rights to the characters and started working up a backlog of stories.
“I still wanted to do the series as puppets,” said Clampett, a tall-brush-haired man with quiet voice. “But all the Eastern people told me puppets were out. Animation was in.”
The producer adapted. He made a deal with United Artists for releasing the Beanies as theater shorts abroad. A toy manufacturer signed up as TV sponsor, planning a direct pitch for toys based on the show’s characters. ABC scheduled the show for 7 p.m. EST Saturdays. (Monday nights in Los Angeles.)
I can report to the aging members of the local fan club that Beanie and Cece are as ingenuous as ever in animated form, and Dishonest John is just as outrageous with his puns and nefarious deeds.
“Animation gives us more scope for the adventures,” Clampett observed, “but we also lose a human quality that we had in puppets. I still think there is room for a puppet show on TV.”
The ‘Matty’s Funnies’ name was dropped fairly quickly and the show was known by the names of the lead characters.
There was always something odd about Beany and Cecil. Beany rarely had any variation in expression. Captain whatever-his-name-was had no real personality and seemingly existed to read strained puns that appeared on the screen. Really warped things used to be inflicted on Cecil (not unlike Clampett’s Bugs in ‘Falling Hare’). And then there’s the woman mentioned above: So What (a name reworked from another Clampett Warners cartoon).
At times, Clampett couldn’t resist following the path of self-indulgence blazed by the 1950s UPA studio (full of designs made only to please the designer) and Chuck Jones (who made cartoons for himself). The audience sometimes was a secondary consideration. In a gag that went over every kid viewer’s head, So fixes a black wig in place, her body shape inexplicably morphs and she starts rubbing her nose and scratching her butt as “Squeely Smith.” Later in the scene, she’s suddenly back to normal with no explanation.
On the other hand, Clampett’s writers could pull some brilliant stuff. In this cartoon, Clampett repeats his ‘An Itch in Time’ routine at Warners (perfected by Tex Avery) where he stopped the picture for a comment to the audience. Dishonest John is being painfully zapped with electricity, except for a moment when he asks viewers in an aside “Do you think there’s too much violence on television?” Jay Ward’s characters tossed off contemporary show biz cracks like that all the time and they always work because the audience is in on the joke.
Beany and Cecil was a cartoon series that was inconsistent and unpredictable but still worth watching. You can probably say the same thing about its creator.