Saturday, 20 May 2017

Crusader Rabbit: Waiting For the Whimsy



For many critics in the late 1950s, brand-new cartoons for TV were a welcome relief from what they saw as tired old theatrical cartoons that were rerun constantly. You know, like Bugs Bunny and Popeye, the ones that kids never got tired of seeing. The Huckleberry Hound Show was pretty much universally praised when the paint was still wet on the cels; critics had good things to say immediately after the show debuted in September 1958.

But before Huck came Crusader Rabbit. There were actually two Crusader Rabbits. One was the original black-and-white series produced by Jay Ward and Alex Anderson that first appeared on August 1, 1950 on KNBH in Los Angeles. Then there was the second version in colour produced by TV Spots. When it began airing is something to research; Regis Films wasn’t formed to distribute the cartoons until early February 1958, even though TV Spots head Shull Bonsall was promoting the series the previous October with an “America’s Most Beautiful Rabbit” search contest (ostensibly to find a model for a character which, in reality, had already been designed). Eight stations had signed up by the end of April to run the series. KMBC Kansas City was airing them on “Whizzo’s Cartoon Parade” by early July, and production wrapped up in May 1959 with the completion of the 260th cartoon.

Crusader made his first appearance on Los Angeles TV on April 6, 1959. Huckleberry Hound had been on the air for a little over six months, with the Times praising it for appealing to children and adults. But the same paper didn’t have good things to say about Crusader. Here’s the Times review of May 10th.

To sum up, many of the early TV cartoons had stuff for kids and stuff the kids likely wouldn’t get. Rocky and Bullwinkle was full of that kind of thing. One of my favourite puns on the Rocky show was a mountain called Horace Heights. As I kid, I never would have gotten it (Horace Heidt was a bandleader who had hosted an amateur show on network radio). Today, I think it’s pretty clever. But as a kid, I would have appreciated the silly name. So even if a kid doesn’t get the actual joke, they get something on some level. I think the reviewer misses that point in her column.
Bunny’s Funnies Leave Mummies
Bunny’s Funnies Choke Adults, Paralyze Tots

BY BARBARA COX
“Should Auld Acquaintance Be For Cotton.”
So help me, that’s what it says. Right here over the synopsis of Episode 124 (WILL Crusader Rabbit realize that Ill Regard Beauregard is none other than Dudley Nightshade in disguise? Tune in Channel 4 any weekday at 4:45 p.m., kiddies, and you might find out. Our try the full-length color feature starting at noon every Saturday.)
“Kiddies,” I said. Ha! Crusader Rabbit, that animated showcase for the most outrageous puns this side of Bennett Cerf, isn’t getting any laughs out of the children. They take the whole thing for real—deadpan and paralyzed.
She’s Pinned
It’s the adults who choke on such nifties as the shipwreck on “Nothing Atoll,” subtitled “Two on the Isle.” (Next episode: “Bah, Wilderness.”) OK, then, “Hominy Grits Can YOU Eat?” Out on “The Missing Links,” that is—and they do mean a golf course.
Brother. If I weren’t so fond of the assistant here, Ragland T. Tiger, I’d take off this Crusader Rabbit pin those characters down at the studio sent me. I’m only wearing it out of gratitude they’ve supplied for my husband’s boat: “The Whole Sinking Mess.”
The chip on my shoulder is not here because I think Crusader over-crowds the cartoon animal set. He was one of the first and best to hit TV, holding on for seven years—and if I got tired of the reruns, the children didn’t (There are 260 chapters in the new series—blessedly a long time before reruns.)
Puns Don’t Do It
Nor is it the puns (I love them) nor the money I had to pay my 8-year-old to watch the show so I could judge her reaction (the younger two came willingly) nor the schoolteachers who formed a fan club (the official salute: rabbit ears and a twitching nose).
My objection is to the wordiness between cartoons, the over-obvious pitch for adult viewers. There does exist an enchanted middle ground of the ridiculous where children and adults may sometimes meet as equals. But please, let me drift in, nose twitching, on some subtle, magical bit of whimsy—don’t shove.
I couldn’t tell you who wrote all of the TV Spots versions of Crusader, but two names on the credits are Chris Hayward and Barbara Chain. Hayward’s background should be well-enough known. He was one of the creative people behind Get Smart, one of the savviest TV shows of the 1960s, and worked on Rocky and other projects for Ward. Chain is less known. She began writing in radio on Stars Over Hollywood and then moved to television on The U.S. Steel Hour. Her main animation credit is on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Years later, she supplied stories for Ruby-Spears’ Rambo. You’ll be waiting a long to see “some subtle, magical bit of whimsy” on that one.

1 comment:

  1. Chain is less known. She began writing in radio on Stars Over Hollywood and then moved to television on The U.S. Steel Hour. Her main animation credit is on Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. Years later, she supplied stories for Ruby-Spears’ Rambo. You’ll be waiting a long to see “some subtle, magical bit of whimsy” on that one.

    Probably not the highest note to end your career on (10 episodes even)! Seems like her time at UPA in the early 60's was a bit more productive, though I'm a little surprised she wrote for the PBS bilingual series "Villa Allegre" (apparently her son worked on it as the head writer, so obviously nepotism got her that job).

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