Saturday, 29 November 2014

Gallopin’ Galaxies!

There was more than one space race in the 1960s. Of course, there were the Americans and the Russians squaring off to see who could get to the moon first. And, to really stretch the analogy, there were animation studios and syndicators vying for space on children’s TV shows for their product.

Some cartoons were popular and desirable—Hanna Barbera’s Touché Turtle/Wally Gator package for one—and then there were others which, today, languish in obscurity. One of those is Rod Rocket.

Trying to sort out the lineage of this one has proven to be tricky. Trade papers have part of the story, Lou Scheimer’s autobiography has some other information. I like to think that answers to many animation history questions are out there, it’s just a matter of finding them. Parts of the history of the Rocket cartoons are missing but, perhaps, will eventually turn up. But here’s what we can discover through trade papers, most of which had similar stories.

Rod Rocket seems to have been the brainchild of Jim Morgan. I presume it’s the same Morgan was involved in a variety of radio and TV ventures; for example, Morgan-Forman Productions put together a show starring Pinky Lee. Morgan’s name surfaces in connection with a company called Space Age Productions. Rod Rocket wasn’t the company’s only venture. Morgan announced a pilot had been completed for “Pupsville USA,” starring live, costumed dogs with lip-synched voices (Variety, July 17, 1962) and something called “The Man Who Sings To Birds” (Variety, Oct. 23, 1962).

But back to young Mr. Rocket. Here’s a good sampling of his history from 1962:
Rod Rocket—This animated cartoon series of five -minute programs deals with two small boys and their adventures with a rocket in space. Space Age Productions has completed five episodes. Jim Morgan is producer. (Broadcasting, Feb. 19, 1962).

Sugar-coated science ■ Space Age Productions, Hollywood, has produced several pilot films for a space- adventure series titled Rod Rocket. Animated color cartoons detail the adventures of the teenage hero in outer space in five - minute installments, five of which tell a complete story. Each program includes at least one "space fact" which is described on an information sheet available to youngsters on request, affording a merchandising angle for sponsors. (Broadcasting, May 7, 1962).

Rocket' Recharged
Space Age Productions' prexy Jim Morgan has set 115 more tele- film segments of "Rod Rocket," animated series. (Variety, July 12, 1962).

Jim Morgan Adds 2
Prexy Jim Morgan of Space Age Productions in readying "Rod Rocket," animated telefilm adventures of a boy in space, has signed Dick Robbins as writer and Jack Meakin as musical director (Variety, July 20, 1962).

Set 10 ‘Rocket’ Segs
Jim Morgan, prexy of Space Age Productions, has authorized launching of ten episodes of "Rod Rocket," tv cartoon series written by Dick Robbins, for syndication. (Variety, July 31, 1962).

3 In TV Rocked
Jim Morgan has set in his "Rod Rocket" telefilm series Hal Smith, Sam Edwards and Pat Blake. (Variety, Aug. 7, 1962).

Sell 130 'Rockets'
Chuck Forman, sales vice president of Space Age Productions, discloses 130 episodes of "Rod Rocket" animated telefilm series has been sold to WNEW, New York; WTTG, Washington; KMBC, Kansas City; KOVR, Stockton- Sacramento; WTVR, Peoria; WTCN, Minneapolis - St. Paul; KPAC, Port Arthur, Tex.; KGNC, Amarillo, Tex.; and KPTV, Portland. According to Jim Morgan, company's prexy, negotiations are on with foreign [broadcasters]. (Variety, Oct. 11, 1962).

'Space Dictionary' Promo For 'Rod Rocket' Cartoon
"Space Dictionary," featuring latest information on [future?] travel, will be a promotional give-away of Space Age Productions five-a-week cartoon, “Rod Rocket.” A booklet for sponsors and stations will be distributed around Jan. 1, when the syndicated juvenile show starts nationally. WNEW-TV is the New York outlet. . (Radio-TV Daily, Oct. 24, 1962).

'Red Rocket' at ½ Market Of Its Production Orbit
West Coast Bureau of RADIO TV DAILY
Hollywood —Completion of XX segs of "Red Rocket," video cartoon series for national syndication, has been announced by Morgan, Space Age Productions prexy, bringing the total to XX completed shows. Total of XX shows will be produced for a full year's supply The strip is prepared for five-a-week issue in three and a half minute segs, each week completing a complete adventure. A 15 minute episode is also prepared for one-a-week screening. (Radio-TV Daily, Oct. 31, 1962, numbers unreadable).

Space Adds Just That
Space Age Productions' prexy Jim Morgan has expanded its Hollywood offices. Firm makes syndicated “Red Rocket” [cartoons]. (Variety, Nov. 7, 1962).

Desilu 'Rocket' Distrib
Desilu Sales Inc. has acquired distribution rights to "Rod Rocket," space age cartoon series of 130 three-and-one-half min. episodes produced by Morgan-Foreman Productions [sic]. (Variety, Nov. 19, 1962).

New space completions ■ Ten new segments of Red Rocket, an animated cartoon series for tv, have been completed by Space Age Productions, Los Angeles. A total of 130 are planned for a half -year's supply. Plans call for five 3 1/2- minute segments comprising a complete story each week. The series is also available in a 15- minute, once-a-week format. (Broadcasting, Dec. 10, 1962).

Jim Morgan, Space Age Productions prexy, in from Mexico City location filming of "Rod Rockets." (Variety, Dec. 11, 1962).
Things seem to have been humming along for Rod and, especially, for Desilu. The cartoon brought the studio nearly $250,000 in sales (Variety, April 19, 1963) and was snapped up by six Metromedia stations and five in Australia (Sponsor, June 24, 1963). But things had taken a bit of a left turn. Morgan’s Space Age Productions was apparently out of the picture; the company turned its attention to a TV game show and a comedy that featured clips from old Pathé newsreels and shorts (Variety, Dec. 13, 1963). The cartoon series ended up in other hands.
SIB Productions head Walter Bien has delivered 14 segs of "Rod Rocket" series to Desilu for distribution. Lou Scheimer directed. (Variety, July 26, 1963).

12 More “Rockets”
Walter Bien reports his SIB Co. will make 12 more "Rod Rocket" vidpix segments for Desilu distribution, making 26 in all. Director Lou Scheimer starts shooting today (Variety, Aug. 1, 1963).
Bien went on to produce Tom and Jerry cartoons with Chuck Jones for MGM before running out of money in 1965 (MGM then took over the production). Scheimer had co-founded Filmation in 1962 to make TV commercials. “Rod Rocket” was the company’s first animated cartoon series.

Why the change from Morgan to Bien and Scheimer? Historian Jerry Beck has leafed through Scheimer’s autobiography. His note to me:
[I]n Lou Scheimer's autobiography, on SIB he says: "They were calling themselves SIB Productions in their logo, but in the trade papers like Variety they were Space Age Productions."
Scheimer's book also mentions that that Rod Rocket started at a studio called True Line run by Lou Livingston and Marcus Lipsky (who owned the Reddi-Whip whipped cream company). True Line was disorganized and Scheimer and Hal Sutherland (who had also worked there) decided to do the show themselves—as Filmation.
SIB was set up in 1960; Bien was involved at the time. I’ve found nothing that states Morgan was ever a part of it. Perhaps SIB sub-contracted from Morgan. Anyways...

Whether any of the Morgan versions of the show, seemingly produced in Mexico, made it to air is unclear. But the writer and actors he used were all credited in cartoons with Filmation’s name on it. Musical director Jack Meakin didn’t make the final cut, at least in the one cartoon you can watch below. SIB saved money by licensing the Capitol Hi-Q library which was heard in all the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons (since you want to know, the cue playing as the professor explains his glass invention is ‘EM-116B Lite Mechanical’ by Phil Green).

Well, we can’t delay this any longer. Watch an episode for yourself. The best way to be entertained by this thing is by turning it into a drinking game every time Hal Smith’s kid voice says “Gallopin’ galaxies!”

Amazingly, I found listings for this show as late as 1986 in Brazil. By 1988, TV-Radio Age reported the distribution rights to the show were owned by the Peter Rodgers Organization which, today, syndicates old episodes of “Queen For a Day,” which had been produced by Jim Morgan.

Another little mystery surrounds the character drawings you see in the post, graciously supplied by Chris Sobieniak. They’re from a book issued in 1969 and credited to Jiro Enterprises. What was Jiro? Beats me. I cannot find any reference to the company, other than the same one-line sentence that came from who-knows-where and regurgitated on multiple web sites. If anyone has any concrete answers, as opposed to rumours or “I believe”s, let me know. Fans of weak cartoon series everywhere will salute you.


  1. Sam Edwards had a funny story to tell about this show when we were together in 2001. He said that at the time it was first airing, he was dating a lady who had very strict rules as to how much TV her kids could watch. She said that she limited them to 30 minutes a day, and she was frustrated that "they waste it on this awful thing called Rod Rocket. It's even teaching them to count backward, as they go around saying 'ten, nine, eight, etc.'" When Sam could get a word in, he sheepishly admitted, "I hate to tell you this, but I'm the voice of Rod Rocket!" As he concluded, "I married her anyway," and Sam & Beverly Edwards were together from then until his death!

  2. You could ask Lenberg where he got the term "Jiro" from, as before this, he seemed to be the only source mentioning it. He may have gotten it from this book as well, and assumed it was the production company name. Even in his last edition, he replaced that with "Filmation" (which is still not completely accurate; they weren't the actual producers).

    Since this book was 1969 and well after it was produced, it must have been whoever was "holding" the property after its production and run.
    The way things were back then, it was all very unstable and sometimes even shady, as they subcontracted and had alternate names (Like "True Line" and "SIB", which had several subsidiaries around the country and the different names that came and went in the project).

    Also, I read somewhere that the show by 1964 was airing in a cartoon package on Ch.9 WOR (which I saw listed in a TV Guide from that year that I found. Didn't know it started out on ch5).

    1. "Since this book was 1969 and well after it was produced, it must have been whoever was "holding" the property after its production and run.""

      It wouldn't surprise me if the series was passed off/sold to another company by that point. Kinda like when Trans-Lux got out of the syndication biz by the end of the 60's and someone else was handling distributing cartoons they had once offered.

  3. Jim Morgan also produced "A DAY WITH DOODLES" (1964-'65).