Note: Since I bashed UPA earlier in the week, here’s a post for those of you who are fans of the studio.
It starred Gerald McBoing-Boing (why it wasn’t called “The McBoing-Boing Show” isn’t clear) and was produced by UPA, the cartoon studio that bought the story rights to the character from Dr. Seuss, completely redesigned him in the flat UPA style, then won an Oscar. Like anything UPA, critics loved the show. Daily Variety’s review came in its December 17, 1956 edition.
A new television cult undoubtedly will spring up as a result of the arrival of Gerald McBoing-Boing on the video scene. And, as is the case with all cults, the vociferous supporters will meet with equally vociferous opposition. In the long run, however, “The Boing Boing Show” should settle down to enough of a following to more than justify its place on the television screens; it’s a light-hearted, humorous and frequently charming entry.
Initialler sets forth a format encompassing animated cartoon treatment of a pair of novel-tunes, “A Horse of Course” and "Miserable Pack of Wolves,” plus a pair of cartoon shorts. For the opener, one is the classic fable of the origination of Gerald and the other is fable based on the life of the French painter, Raoul Dufy. Latter packs some interesting art world information into its colorful and whimsical footage to provide an intriguing segment. The “McBoing-Boing” original, of course, still stands as solid fare.
Animation hews to the high UPA quality throughout, but there appeared to be some difficulty with the color on the original and some segments showed to better advantage on black-and-white screens. Show features an excellent original musical theme by Chico Hamilton. Bill Goodwin does an easy job as narrator. It is, for the time being, a CBS-house show.
The show ran for a half hour starting at 5:30 p.m. every other Sunday (2:30 on the West Coast). It was off the air by mid-March. Realistically, it didn’t have a chance. The reasons for the demise can be found in the syndicated TV Keynotes column of January 15, 1957:
Boing! Gerald's Comic But Expensive! $70,000 For 30 Minutes Viewing
By STEVEN H. SCHEUER
Probably the brightest and most ingenious TV show to come out this winter is the Sunday afternoon half-hour cartoon series, the Boing-Boing Show. The title is taken from UPA's first big cartoon hit, Gerald McBoing-Boing, the little boy who only speaks in sound effects.
Gerald plays host, introducing four cartoon segments, running from three to six minutes, with musical backgrounds about such people as painter Raoul Dufy, The Average Giraffe, a Sad Lion, the Twirliger Twins, and a little girl who hits wolves on the nose.
The appeal of the cartoons comes from the UPA approach known on TV first in commercials—the Harry and Bert ones, the Mr. Magoo beer ads, etc. The UPA approach is simplicity, a light touch, stylized drawings, and a fresh use of color influenced by painters like Picasso, Matisse, Braque. The approach also differs in that artists create the show.
The big problem for UPA on the TV series is the high cost, said to be around $70,000 for 30 minutes of animation, which CBS is putting up while looking for a sponsor. So in conceiving a segment, producer Bob Cannon, and color expert and choreographer Jules Engel have to eliminate as much production value as possible.
"It's a good discipline," said Mr. Engel the other day at the small UPA studio in Burbank near the huge Warner Brothers lot. "We have to get to the point quicker."
Getting artists who can work in the UPA style is another problem. Training them takes time. "We had one talented young man who was here six or eight months before he suddenly saw what we were trying to do," said Engel. "We spend our time trying to take things out of pictures."
So Simple It's Difficult
It's been a long pull for UPA trying to put their style over. War training films and their early cartoons helped a bit, but not many backers jumped on their side. Producer Cannon remembers vividly telling his wife when he began the first Gerald McBoing-Boing show. "We're going to do it this way or it's the end." Most of the Hollywood criticism after the show was, "but it's too simple — looks like anybody can do it."
Mr. Cannon says his job now is "in getting out of the way of the guys who do the work." The trouble, for a while, was trying to pick the artists who could do the best job. He gives credit to the artists, the story men and the musicians for the conception of the segments. "That's what attracted the musicians like Shorty Rogers," said Mr. Cannon, "the fact everyone could speak up out here."
A story idea is tossed about between all groups and someone might take off with it. "In the beginning several were too costly and we've learned now we never should have considered them. There are others," Mr. Cannon continued, "like a series we had pegged on painters, but we never finished. We either couldn't get the right artist, or the story dwindled, or the cost became prohibitive."
Stories, cost and lack of sponsorship all contributed to the show’s demise, though it was brought back for a short rerun. Let’s face it. Who wants to watch a half hour of charm and whimsey, other than maybe Bobe Cannon? (Bill Scott, the future Rocky and Bullwinkle producer fired by the studio during the Communist scare, returned to try to make the stories funnier. I can only imagine Cannon’s reaction).
Life magazine evidently profiled the show and assigned photographer Ralph Crane to the story. He took pictures of cels or layout drawings that had been tacked up on a cork board. As the cartoons themselves have never been released on home video that I know, this will give you a bit of an idea of the graphic style.
This is from one of the cartoons starring the Twirliger Twins. They appeared in “Follow Me,” “Alphabet Song,” “Average Giraffe,” “The Violin Recital” and “The Ballet Lesson.”
“The Unenchanted Princess.” Besides Bill Scott’s presence as a writer on the series, there’s another Jay Ward connection as this short was narrated by Edward Everett Horton, the man who performed the same delectable task on Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales.
These are likely from “Martians Come Back.”
“The Historic Eohippus.”
Don’t know about the top frame but the second is from “Outlaw” (aka “Jittery Deer-Foot Dan”). Stan Freberg provides a voice.
I suspect the top drawing is from “The Painter.” The bottom may be from “The Merry-Go-Round in the Jungle.” I’m pretty certain I’ve seen that cartoon somewhere, perhaps it was one of those Jerry Beck rarities that was on line for awhile.
There are other photos from this shoot that you can see on line. Even if you’re not a UPA fan—and I’m not crazy about much of their stuff—the artwork is interesting and worth a look. Click HERE.
By the way, a number of cartoons on the Boing-Boing show featured inventors and other characters from history. I can’t help but think of the Mr. Peabody segment on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Many of the same artists and writers that toiled at UPA in its pretentious days toiled on Rocky, one of the least pretentious TV cartoon shows ever. From what I can gather about the “Boing Boing Show,” they tried to leave pretentiousness behind there, too.