Among the many obscure TV cartoon series is one called The Nutty Squirrels Presents. It exists thanks to a chicken feeding machine maker, a Yale graduate and Ross Bagdasarian.
Novelty records were big in the 1950s. Bagdasarian was a song-writer who came up with the gimmicky tune “Come Ona My House” for Rosemary Clooney. Evidently he was intrigued by advances in technology during the decade which allowed someone to record a song on tape and play it back at any speed. The end result was a song he wrote and sang about a witch doctor that featured silly lyrics in a chorus that played back at a higher pitch. “Witch Doctor” became a monster hit in 1958, spending three weeks atop the Billboard charts. Bagdasarian’s kids thought the sped-up voice sounded like a chipmunk. That gave him another brilliant idea. He put out another novelty song at the end of the year called “Christmas Don’t Be Late” in which he played sped-up singers in three-part harmony that he dubbed The Chipmunks. It was even bigger than “Witch Doctor,” spending four weeks at number one and giving birth to a chipmunk mega-industry.
It also gave birth to imitators. Don Elliott and Granville “Sascha” Burland got together and did their own sped-up rodent song, except they called their creatures “The Nutty Squirrels.” Burland was a Yale grad who had written the theme to “What’s My Line?” and was a commercial copywriter for McCann-Erickson in New York. Elliott had been a singer with Hi, Lo, Jack and the Dame after being discharged from World War Two service and then played with George Shearing, Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson. Hanover Records picked up their musical concoction, called “Uh-Oh” (Parts I and II). It was released by October 19, 1959 and began charting on Billboard in early November.
It was an instant smash. The Squirrels “appeared” on the Steve Allen show on November 16th and four days later were part of a show with Connie Francis at, believe it or not, Carnegie Hall. The song peaked at number 14 of the pop charts after eight weeks and also appeared on the Billboard R&B chart, selling 1½ million copies.
Elliott and Burland decided to ride the squirrels as far as they could. They got busy on plans for follow-up songs and, apparently with album art in mind, drawings of the two squirrels by former UPA commercial director Jack Goodford were copyrighted on December 7th. Drawings? TV appearances? Put the two ideas together and you have an animated cartoon series.
Elliott-Burland CartoonsWylde Studios, Inc. was another New York-based commercial producer with an animation component that was snapped up by Buckeye, then merged into Transfilm.
Don Elliott and Sasha Burland, creators of “The Nutty Squirrels” characters and the recording artists of the “Uh-Oh” novelty number, have concluded a deal to be featured in a cartoon series. The deal with made with Flamingo Films.
Elliott and Burland will do the voices in the series which is to be produced by Transfilm-Wylde Animation. Flamingo will distribute. The pair of “Nutty Squirrels” also will act as host of the series. Each cartoon will be six minutes long. The “Squirrels” will be sold in conjunction with their Transfilm-Wylde cartoons.
Variety wrote of a shake-up at Flamingo in its April 20th edition and revealed more about the cartoons.
Flamingo’s catalog has 115 features, mostly foreign, and eight half-hour series, including “Deadline,” “Citizen Soldiers,” “The Country Show,” “Cowboy G-Men,” and “O.S.S.” Flamingo is currently negotiating for another 50 feature films and has moved into cartoon distribution with the “Nutty Squirrels” package (bundle of foreign fairy-tale films with especially-created “Nutty Squirrel” intro etc. segs) produced by Wylde Animation, in association with Buckeye subsid Transfilm-Caravel.The foreign fairy-tale films, according to a report in Broadcasting magazine two days earlier, were “150 cartoons originally produced for theatrical distribution.” In other words, Transfilm decided not to animate a full half-hour show. Instead, it bought cartoons that had been made in Europe, added a soundtrack and titles in English, and then bookended them with bumpers in limited animation, presumably made by people on Transfilm’s staff. The company’s animation director at the time was Bill Hudson, who had been a writer and animator at Famous Studios in the1940s and ‘50s.
The squirrels cartoons, obscure as they might have been, apparently had an interesting effect. Over in chipmunk land, Ross Bagdasarian realised that he, too, had rodent recording stars with great potential as an animated property, one that he could use to cross-promote Chipmunks 45s and albums he would make under his contract with Liberty Records. So it was that in March 1961, CBS announced it would be airing The Alvin Show in prime time starting in the fall, a full year after the cartoon squirrels made their TV debut.
Mentions of the squirrels disappear in the trade papers before September 1960; Burland had already moved on to form his own TV and radio commercial production house (taking some Flamingo people with him). But rights to old TV properties never die, they just keep getting passed around. Someone still had ownership of the squirrels cartoons in 1975 because they aired on WSBK-TV in Boston in a half hour slot between Popeye and Wally Gator. When the squirrels were last seen on the small screen is your guess.
But one old print has made it to a video sharing site. You can see it below. Goodford’s design of the squirrels seems to owe a little bit to the designers at the Jay Ward studio.