About the only people who didn’t know what to do with cartoons in the 1950s were the people who produced them. All the film companies knew how to do was make them and distribute them to theatres. They were happy (and stupid) to rid themselves of old cartoons to television syndicators or networks who knew what to do with them—make lots of money.
The television programme businessmen realised if old cartoons could make them a windfall, maybe old children’s records could do the same. After all, the 78s and 45s had been released once and had likely wrung out most of their sales. Why not marry old records to new cartoons, ones especially made for television? They didn’t need theatrical-style animation on every frame—“NBC Comics” and (especially) “Crusader Rabbit” had proven kids would watch virtually static drawings over narration, so they were affordable to make.
However, the idea of cartoons based on children’s records seems to have had a lengthy gestation period. Former Disney animator Art Scott’s company produced Mel-O-Toons starting in 1959. But the idea goes back before that, to 1954, according to an article in Billboard in December that year. Scott, apparently, wasn’t involved at that point. But Ed Nofziger, later with UPA and Hanna-Barbera, was. So was ex-Disney animator Cecil Beard.
Here’s what Billboard had to say. It looks like Fischel had all the loose ends tied up.
Film Cartoons’ Kidisk Tie-In
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 18.—The children’s record field is expected to achieve its biggest sales potential very shortly with the upcoming television debut of a series of animated cartoons, cued to the sound tracks from children’s records.
Record-Toons, Inc., TV film producers, have completed negotiations with Capitol and Columbia Records and acquired rights to approximately 200 kidisk selections for which a series of seven-and-one-half minute films are to be produced. Further negotiations with the other major recording companies are currently under way and are expected to be consummated shortly.
Bob Fischel, president of Record-Toons, revealed that negotiations with a number of TV film distributing organizations have been entered into with the announcement of a definite agreement to be made shortly.
Included in the block of records acquired from Capitol is music by Nat (King) Cole, Jack Smith, Van Alexander, Stan Freberg, Billy May, Jerry Marlowe, Sportsmen Quartet, Don Wilson, Knox Manning, Smiley Burnette, Paul Weston, Hal Derwin and Paul Sells.
A roster of 36 additional artists are available to Record-Toons, tho contracts have not been signed. A total of 132 selections have been made available from the Capitol catalog.
Clearances for the use of the disk sound tracks have been received from the artists involved, with Record-Toons also inking a contract with the American Federation of Musicians calling for repayment to musicians originally on the recording dates, and a 5 per cent payment to the AFM’s music performance trust fund.
Record-Toons is completing its first film, an original animated cartoon based on the Stan Freberg recording of “Dinky Pinky” on Capitol.
Additional executives of Record-Toons include Milt Feldman, producer; Jerry Marlowe, music supervisor; Ed Nofzinger [sic], art director; Cecil Beard, animation director; and Max Morgan, camera man.
Lloyd Dunn, vice-president of Capitol Records, and Hecky Krasnow, artists and repertoire director of the children’s department at Columbia, represented their firms in the negotiations with Record-Toons. Hal Spector handled details of the Columbia pact in New York for the new firm.
In addition, Record-Toons is currently planning two additional TV film series, using disk material as a basis. “Sandman,” a 15 minute teleshow tailored to urge youngsters to get to bed, and “Record-Toons Review,” a one-hour panel record discussion show, are both being scripted.
Billboard of April 16, 1955 shows Record-Toons was in the pilot stage with Fischel producing, then mentions the series no more. But the 3rd edition of The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons by Jeff Lenburg picks up the story.
Legendary animator James “Shamus” Culhane produced and directed this short-lived, ultra-limited animated series of seven-minute theatrical cartoons on a shoestring budget in 1957 based on popular novelty tunes of the day. Besides serving as a creative supervisor on the series, UPA animator Ed Nofziger, best known for his work on UPA’s Mister Magoo cartoons, designed and animated the films along with fellow animators Cecil Beard, Joe Messerli (of TV’s Captain Fathom fame) and Milt Feldman, and films were drawn by animators Fred Crippen, Jack Heiter, Ed Levitt and Shirley Silvey. A few 16-mm prints that exist today are in blackand white, though it is possible the series was made in color. Listed below are known titles.
Produced and directed by James “Shamus” Culhane. Black and white. A Shamus Culhane Production.
“Dinky Pinky”; “Pepe the Possum”; and “D-O-G Spells Dog.”
Evidently, the few cartoons that were made were so forgettable, Culhane forgets to mention them in his autobiography Talking Animals and Other People.
The exact same concept appeared on TV screens several years later as Mel-O-Toons, using Capitol and RCA children’s records as narration for cartoons with lots of pans over backgrounds and bits of limited animation. They weren’t 7½ minutes like the Record-Toons were supposed to be; they were the length of the record plus opening and closing titles. And one of the Mel-O-Toons was Freberg’s “Dinky Pinky the Elephant,” released on disc about August 1953 by Capitol. Incidentally, it was written by Charlie Shows, who went on to Disney and then wrote every cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera in its first two seasons.
You can see the UPA influence on them in the drawings below. The first is from “Noah’s Ark” and the second from “Helen of Troy.”
Time worked against the Mel-O-Toons. Between the time Record-Toons was a concept and the Mel-O-Toons were released, Hanna-Barbera opened its TV factory with limited animation that was a lot less limited than what narration-over-records delivered, and starred characters like Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw that were funny and enduring. Mel-O-Toons was merely one of a number of inexpensive series that stations could buy to fill our their morning or afternoon roundups of cartoons dominated by AAP packages of Bugs Bunny and Popeye.
The idea of combining kids’ records and animation is still a fun one and, surprisingly, has its backers today. “Daffy Duck’s Rhapsody”, with CGI animation atop a soundtrack of an old Capitol record by Mel Blanc, hit screens this year. And someone else got the idea of augmenting the song with clips from some classic cartoons and posted it on-line.