Saturday, 3 January 2015

Dot ist Gut Cartoon?

Characters with thick accents adorned newspaper comic pages around the turn of the 20th Century, no doubt reflecting the large influx of immigrants into the U.S. and their manner of speaking English. Everyone had a good laugh over the funny way each other spoke English, both in real life and in the comics. One of the most popular of the accent-filled comic strips was the Katzenjammer Kids.

We’ll avoid going into a detailed history of the comic and of its twin, the Captain and the Kids. Suffice it to say attempts were made at screen stardom for both. The Katzenjammers were owned by Hearst, which owned an animation studio, so Hearst put them in silent cartoons for the first time in 1916 (the first title I’ve found is “The Captain Goes A-Swimming”, released December 11, 1916). And in what critics generally concede to have been a fiasco, rights to the Captain and the Kids were bought by MGM by May 1937 and the series petered out after 15 cartoons and several changes in cartoon studio middle management. You can read more in this post.

But the Katzenjammers/Captain comics were still popular and when television started expanding after World War Two, the idea of animated TV cartoons mixed with dollar signs in the heads of many would-be producers. And among the vehicles they considered were Hans und Fritz.

Enter a company called World Video, Inc.

The fact you’ve never heard of them shows what a non-powerhouse they were when it came to television though, in reviewing a few trade publications, they did syndicate an eclectic mix of programmes. Variety reported on December 31, 1947 that “the outfit was granted a New York state charter this week in Albany. Office will be set up in Paris under the direction of Henry White, former U. S. Government staffer in the French capital. Shows will be produced and filmed there and then shipped to the U. S.” The company’s vice president was John Steinbeck. Yes, that John Steinbeck. Its first programme was “Floor Show,” a 30-minute variety series with Eddie Conlon that was quickly sold to NBC. And it had children’s programming in mind; Broadcasting magazine reported on July 12, 1948 it had completed a puppet adventure show called “The Adventures of Billy Bravo.”

Here’s a trade ad from March 1951 that shows World Video hawking “The Captain and the Kids.” Whether it was syndicating the old silent cartoons or planned to make brand-new ones is unclear. World Video had been purchased in November 1950 by Foley-Brockway. Finally, Variety reported on May 7, 1952 that the Board of the company was calling it quits after three years of turmoil. That may have sealed the fate of the cartoons.

That wasn’t the end of the Captain, the Inspector, Hans and Fritz on TV, at least potentially. Above you see another trade ad from the William Morris Agency. It wasn’t selling a cartoon series, though, according to this story in Variety of February 6, 1952:
TV Comics' Vidpix
William Morris Agency has made a pilot film of a series to be called "TV Comics" which will comprise three 10-minute segments of comic strips. Lined up for the strip are Katzenjammer Kids, Smoky Stover and Oaky Doaks. It'll be a puppet show. Deal is currently on for syndication of the strip in 2-4 stations in the Chicago area. Pact is still to be signed.
And with that, the Katzenjammer Kids disappeared from TV screens until 1971, when Filmation included them in part of “Archie’s TV Funnies.” By then, the kids were hardly stars of the newspaper comics section any more. Despite that, they’re still being syndicated today. They may not be animated, but they certainly are durable.


  1. I don't have the hard data, but there was at least two TV specials about the Newspaper Comics which included animation of the Captain and the Kids, may have been produced by Lee Mendelson. They had live action of the various cartoonists, and animation of their characters. Also, there was a Pepto-Bismol commercial in the 1970s featuring the Captain and the Kids. The Captain gets an upset stomach from the Kids antics, and finds relief from "the good tasting vun"; Pepto-Bismol. Also, the Archie's TV Funnies series was marketed under the name, "The Fabulous Funnies", as well.

    1. There was a special hosted by Loni Anderson that you're probably thinking of Mark. That one was also called "The Fantastic Funnies". A shame the entire thing isn't up on YouTube.

      I already saw that Pepto-Bismol ad too, though the ad on YouTube has the kids getting the upset stomach after stealing pies off the window sill like always and were about to get a spanking by Captain and the Inspector before Mama comes in to do the pitch. If they did more than one ad, perhaps that's what you were remembering.

      Filmation's "Fabulous Funnies" wasn't so much a repackaging of Archie's TV Funnies, but a completely different show altogether with a different case of voice actors like June Foray brought in to voice characters that had different VA's before (let alone a couple other new strips added like Alley Oop and Tumbleweeds).

    2. The story on the show's inclusion of Tumbleweeds was funnier than the show itself.

      Long story short: Filmation didn't actually clear the rights to use "Tumbleweeds", and were forced to remove the short after only one aired.

    3. Certainly a good example of "Oops!" from the legal dept.!

  2. "And with that, the Katzenjammer Kids disappeared from TV screens until 1971, when Filmation included them in part of “Archie’s TV Funnies.”"

    Let alone showing up in a Pepto-Bismol commercial.

    "By then, the kids were hardly stars of the newspaper comics section any more. Despite that, they’re still being syndicated today. They may not be animated, but they certainly are durable."

    Well, at least King Features still finds some use for 'em, whatever how many papers they're in today.

  3. What's particularly interesting is that the term Katzenjammer translates from the German as "yowling of cats" ... but is, to be more accurate, a German colloquialism for "hangover."