Saturday, 10 January 2015

He's Not Sam-tastic

Cartoon aficionados are known to shudder when the name “Sam Singer” is mentioned. Singer had a chance to build a TV animation empire but the cheapness and overall shoddiness of his cartoons got in the way.

Screen Gems, the TV unit of Columbia Pictures, was looking to make money off television animation. And it thought it had something in Singer’s “The Adventures of Pow Wow.”

Pow Wow the Indian Boy does not, as the internet would have you believe, date its origin from a show that debuted on WNBT New York on January 30, 1949. Radio Daily’s special August 1949 edition list of shows available for syndication includes the following:
A different, exciting children's series, with family appeal—real North American Indians in full regalia and feathers! Present Indian tribal life, customs, manner of warfare and woodlore as the Indian roamed and lived in America before the Colonists took over the country. Adventures are dramatized in real settings as the story-teller unfolds the tales.
Availability: Live Talent.
Running Time: 30 minutes.
The listing says nothing about cartoons, little Indian boys or Sam Singer. The show was produced by a company called Video Events. It eventually changed time slots and went off the air after the broadcast of April 14, 1949. Singer wasn’t in New York at this point, anyway, he was back home in his native Chicago.

Singer was born on August 27, 1912 to Abraham and Ida Singer. Karl Cohen’s Forbidden Animation reveals he worked for Disney and other Hollywood studios (the 1940 census shows him in New York; he was working for Terrytoons) before returning to Chicago in the late ‘40s. Starting on November 15, 1948, he did all the animation for a puppet show called “The Adventures of Mistletoe,” the animation being achieved by switching from one camera to the next that were focused on different drawings. By early 1950, he was producing a similar 15-minute daily show called “Paddy the Pelican,” featuring Newt the country store owner, Mr. Nosegay and the same rudimentary animation. The show was picked up by the full ABC network from September 11 but axed within five weeks, though it continued to pop up locally on WENR Chicago. A survey by John Meek Industries showed Paddy placed third in the hearts of high-income children (Broadcasting, July 10, 1950).

That wasn’t the end of Paddy the Pelican or Sam Singer. In 1955, a Hollywood company called Medallion Productions ended up with the rights to the cartoon portions of the old show and was selling them (five stations had purchased them by year’s end). Singer doesn’t appear to have been associated with Medallion (according to 1955 and 1957 Radio Annuals). He pops up with another company soon afterward called Tempe-Toons. The money men appear to have been a couple of property developers and would-be fight promoters. And together they landed a deal not only with Screen Gems but with CBS which, at the time, owned Singer’s former employer Terrytoons. Here’s Variety’s story from January 16, 1957:
Tempi-Toons Into ‘Kangaroo’ TV-er
A new cartoon series, made by Tempi-Toon [sic] and distributed by Screen Gems, has been inked for network airing by CBS-TV for slotting in its midweek “Captain Kangeroo” show. The deal, the first to be made since the Jerry Hyams moveover from HygoUnity to Screen Gems as syndication head, calls for the delivery to CBS-TV of 26 Tempi-Toon cartoons, each running five-and-a-half minutes.
CBS-TV will air the 26 in all its markets, except those in 11 Western states, where Screen Gems will syndicate the cartoons, especially made for tv to appeal to children of pre-school age up to the third grade. Although the series is being made in-color, the CBS deal calls for black-and-white telecasting. The net has a 90-day option to pick up the balance of the 52 episodes. CBS' exclusivity in the current deal prohibits telecasting by competing stations in the same time period slotted for the CBS airing.
Principals in Tempi-Toon production outfit are Leo and Walter Minskoff and Sam Singer, creator of the central character, Pow Wow, an Indian boy. CBS deal was disclosed as Hyams, who, with his associate Bob Seidelman, sold their HygoUnity outfit to Screen Gems, prepared to hold his first series of sales meetings of the now unified HygoUnity-Screen Gems syndicated sales force. The initial meeting is slated later this month.
52 Pow Wows were made. Columbia wanted more cartoons—but that wasn’t good news for Sam Singer. Joe Barbera, in his autobiography My Life in Toons explains what happened when he and Bill Hanna went knocking on doors in 1957 to try to land a TV cartoon producing deal.
When we called on Screen Gems, they were already working with a cartoonist named Al Singer [sic] — no relation to the lightweight boxer I had emulated in high school — who was developing a crude series revolving around a character named Pow Wow the Indian Boy. By necessity, Singer’s cartoons were cheap—and they looked it. On a meager television production budget, Singer operated out of a cavernous loft space, which he tried to make more impressive by deploying his handful of animators across the entire space: a desk here, another here, about a mile away, another a few more miles into the distance. His operation looked like a very small archipelago lost in a very big sea.
Well, how could it have been any other way? It cost between forty thousand and sixty-five thousand dollars to make a single Tom and Jerry. Screen Gems was offering the sum of $2,700 for five minutes. No wonder Pow Wow the Indian Boy looked like hell and Screen Gems was unhappy with it.
Hanna and Barbera pitched a series named Ruff and Reddy. And they agreed to make the first two cartoons, according to Bill Hanna’s autobiography, for $2,800 apiece. Oh, and they gave Screen Gems the merchandising rights to any characters that Hanna and Barbera might develop. From that spawned a cartoon empire (and a nice merchandising windfall for Screen Gems, thanks to the yet-to-be-invented Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Flintstones). In the meantime, Screen Gems continued to, at least in mid-1958, offer for TV syndication its old theatrical cartoons, including 81 Scrappys, 75 Krazy Kats and 52 Phantasies, as well as 93 Aesop Fables.

And what of Sam Singer? He went on to develop more lame cartoons, such as “Bucky and Pepito” (1959), “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” (1960, through Tele-Features) and “Sinbad, Jr.” (deal firmed in 1964 with AIP through Vulcan Animations). In a familiar story, the animation chores were taken away from Singer and handed over to Hanna-Barbera by May 1965. As for Pow Wow, he was still available in 1974 from Trans America Film Corp.

Here’s the only Pow Wow cartoon that appears to be on-line in English these days. You’ll notice Tom Baron and Ed Nofziger’s names in the credits. They later worked for Larry Harmon Productions making Bozo and TV Popeye cartoons. One of Pow Wow’s writers was Bugs Hardaway. It was his last job before his death in 1957. And the music is from the same Capitol Hi-Q library used by Hanna-Barbera. The first cue is ZR-53 COMEDY MYSTERIOSO by Geordie Hormel, followed by L-75 COMEDY UNDERSCORE by Spencer Moore, with L-1147 ANIMATION-MOVEMENT (Moore) after the drum solo, L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) when Pow Wow is at the steps, ZR-46 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) when Pow Wow fires the arrow to the end of the cartoon. All the cues are on one album. Who needs to pay for a whole library? Not Sam Singer!


  1. Any mention of "Pow Wow" always reminds me of the funny bit by Eugene Levy - as Lorne Greene - singing the theme song to a stunned camera crew on the SCTV episode, "Sweeps Week".

    1. Found that moment!

  2. I sorta wonder who owns Pow Wow these days. The only other Pow Wow on YouTube is an intro in Polish (though clearly showing a title in English so it has to be some US outfit, and this (No single Capitol Hi-Q album here)...

  3. It's interesting that Joe Barbera went out of his way to denigrate Sam Singer and the quality of his TV animation in his autobiography, when in actuality, Pow-Wow had more drawings and more movement than Ruff and Reddy had in a typical episode. The design and writing weren't quite as sharp as Ruff and Reddy, but the action isn't too hard to look at, and the Native American angle made the series a novelty.

    1. "It's interesting that Joe Barbera went out of his way to denigrate Sam Singer and the quality of his TV animation in his autobiography, when in actuality, Pow-Wow had more drawings and more movement than Ruff and Reddy had in a typical episode."

      That is strange Mark, for him to act like Sam didn't know what he was doing here. It seemed like Screen Gems got what they paid for and it shows at least. Just watching that one episode, I could never picture H-B attempt that sort of thing at all with the way they went about it on their own.

      "The design and writing weren't quite as sharp as Ruff and Reddy, but the action isn't too hard to look at, and the Native American angle made the series a novelty."

      Sure did. I suppose what killed it was not having actual voice acting of the characters, it was all done in that storyteller fashion that otherwise probably doomed it's appeal (the concept though proved rather popular in the UK where needing to make cheap children's cartoons without the use of lip flaps and dialogue proved to be necessary). I could see where Ruff & Reddy would win over Pow Wow with it's characterization and voices acting.

  4. In the early 1960s in New York, WPIX combined 15 minutes of Pow Wow at 12 noon with the 15-minute version of "The Rocky Show". Needless to say, if you were a child at that time home for lunch, 12:15 couldn't come soon enough...

  5. In the 1970s Sam Singer - whom I have dubbed "The Ed Wood of Animation" - bamboozled his way into becoming the director of the ill-fated "Tubby The Tuba" feature produced at the New York Institute of Technology in Long Island. There is at least one trade ad from VARIETY which lists him in the credits as director - and Tom Sito recounts (in his book "Moving Innovation") that Singer was fired from the film within its first year. The final film feels like a Sam Singer feature - a big mess. I actually met him in the year before his death - he was quite a character.

    1. Well, he tried. You have to give him some credit there. The title of "Ed Wood of Animation" suits him best, at least he didn't have a thing or angora sweaters.

  6. I've never equated Ed Wood with Singer. Wood was inept and penniless but he seemed to have some kind of message he wanted to put into his films ("Plan 9," for example, is really a plea against the Cold War arms race). Singer doesn't strike me as having any lofty ideals when it came to what he produced.
    I was spared the pointless Bucky and Pepito cartoons when I was a kid. Pow Wow never aired locally, either (or I certainly never saw it). But the Sinbad cartoons ran here. They're just plain disconcerting. I'd have to gird myself to try to watch one again to try to analyse why. Sinbad's two-inch waist (seen in stock footage every cartoon) was too odd.

  7. 1/11/15 Wrote:
    Why would John Mitchell (I assume) or anyone at Screen Gems would've thought this would be a hit? After huge success distributing UPA cartoons, I presume they wanted to sell cartoons to TV on smaller budgets, as the UPA material looked like expensive award-winning material compared to this low-budget show. As much as H-B had a limited budget towards their approach to animation, their early storylines had some good imagination, at least until the dull "Loopy De Loop" cartoons arrived in theatres in 1959. SG's intentions to save money seemed as low-budget as rival MGM's approach to lower-budgeted Tom & Jerry cartoons directed by Gene Deitch. This series wouldn't be televised on syndication or cable stations today, due to insensitive portrayals of Native Americans, who would probably reject this show's appeal (whatever little appeal it had) If anyone had the nerve to re-create Pow-Wow, it would have to be in modern-set surroundings with modern Native American customs approved by Native American groups (even the word "tribe" seems politically incorrect, as tiresome as the politics are.) Pow-Wow would even have to be political to get back on TV today, such as volunteering for Native American rights. Pow-Wow was somewhat decent in 1957, as it was when the Western series was the norm, but in 2015, it would have some modern 21st Century achievements. No one except haters would today dare refer to Pow-Wow as a "Redskin." It would be the same results if somebody revived "Bucky and Pepito", with modern problems facing Mexicans and Latino-Americans (such as the U.S. Custom Borders situation.)

  8. Thank you for your interesting post on Pow Wow. I remember watching the cartoon when I was a kid, but the only episode I can remember is the one about how the turtle got his shell. I was surprised by this YouTube entry, expecting near motionless animation, similar to Clutch Cargo. But, IMHO, it wasn’t much worse than most TV cartoons of the time. Thanks again!

  9. Hello everyone. I'm trying to find out who painted the wonderful backgrounds for Pow Wow. I have a number of them and they glow and look like they were done yesterday. I can't find a listing of full credits for the shows, any help would be great.
    I thank you ahead of time.
    Roy AKA Backlotanimation

    1. That's someone I wish I could answer. I've never seen any lists of Singer employees, besides a few animator/directors like Ken Southworth.

  10. Here is two links to some of the stuff I have from the show. The info posted I have gathered from others online over the years. I do have other stuff not shown like the written rules that govern what they could and could not show or animate and the company rules. Some of the stationary and other office stuff used at Tempe Toons. This stuff came from the online auction/estate sale of ether Leon Marcus or Sam Singer desk items. I'll check on the name it's been awhile sense I bought it years ago. Link #1 Link #2 Enjoy! If anyone wishes to see the company rules from that time let me know and I'll make a copy of them for you to read, kind of cool the rules they had to go by on TV at the time. Most we would not even bat a eye at now.

  11. Oh, do I remember that half hour, or hour, on WPIX in New York. I ran home, myself, not to miss a single episode. And I like that 15 minute version of “Rocky and his friends“. Some favorite memories that I wish I could find on DVD somewhere, even from McInnis Co Op.