Saturday 15 August 2015

Much About Clutch

I’ll just go ahead and say it. Clutch Cargo is creepy. I don’t know if it aired on any channels I watched a kid, but it would have been too weird to attract me if it had.

Clutch, for those of you who don’t know, is classified by many as a cartoon and, it is in a way. The drawings don’t move. Instead, film of human lips reciting dialogue is super-imposed over the drawings.

I ran across the trade ad you see to the right and it inspired me to write a few things about Clutch and its producer. As I started researching I discovered—and I shouldn’t be surprised about this—cartoon historian Jerry Beck has already posted an interesting little history on his blog. Read it HERE. Frankly, it’s far more entertaining than what you’ll read below.

Getting TV cartoons on the air in the 1950s and early 60s was octopussian in nature. There were always a bunch of connected tenticles. In the case of Clutch Cargo, there were George Bagnall, a company called Cambria Studios and inventor Edwin Gillette.

Cambria came about in 1956. Jack Schwartz sold his Equity Studios to a man named Richard Brown “who will operate it as Cambria Studios on a rental basis” (Variety, Jan. 18, 1956). Brown seems to have intended it to operate as a live action studio. The Fund for the Republic, bankrolled by the Ford Foundation, commissioned a five-minute historical series with the filming to be done at Cambria, with Ed Gillette handling the cameras (Weekly Variety, May 9, 1956). Gillette held a number of patents, and one of them was for a process which photographed composite talking pictures. You can see the patent HERE. Somewhere along the way, this process acquired the name “Synchro-Vox” and, it would seem logical to assume, Gillette talked to somebody at Cambria about the studio using it. Apparently, he soon had his chance. Weekly Variety reported on November 14, 1956.
‘Capt. Fathom’ in Tint
Cambria Studio Inc. and New Vistas Inc. will combine to color-film a new telepix series, “Captain Fathom,” according to Dick Brown, prexy of Cambria. Series, about a skindiver, will be aimed at both juve and adult markets.
Things get a little confusing here. Captain Fathom was the name of a Cambria cartoon series in 1965 that used the Synchro-Vox technique. The aforementioned programme may have been a live action show starring Buster Crabbe; Weekly Variety of Feb. 7, 1957 mentions such a show was being produced by Cambria. But it may have been a different show altogether. Billboard of September 9, 1958, well over a year and a half later, talks about the Crabbe show and we learn for the first time about Clutch and Synchro-Vox.
Bagnall Associates Pitches Anthony, 'Davey Jones' Pix
NEW YORK-George Bagnall Associates is pitching two new properties for TV, with Les Anthony handling ad agencies here.
"Davey Jones," half-hour adventure series, stars Buster Crabbe as an ex-Navy demolition expert engaged in salvage work.
"Clutch Cargo," a cartoon strip with a new lip-sync process, is a five-minute serialized cliff-hanger.
Both properties are being produced by Cambria Productions.
Bagnall had kicked around for awhile. He was treasurer of the Fox Film Corporation in 1930, moved to Paramount in 1941, and later landed at United Artists as vice president in charge of production. He was on the board of the Motion Picture Relief Fund for 45 years, serving as its president for a time, and received the Jean Herscholt Humanitarian Award from the Motion Picture Academy in 1967. More relevant to our story, Bagnall set up his own distribution company in 1952 hoping to get in on the television syndication gold mine. His experience with animation came in 1957 when he bought the rights to distribute the original, Jay Ward produced, Crusader Rabbit cartoons to TV stations. Evidently, he was looking for more animation to sell; several companies were making good coin brokering deals for old theatrical cartoons to stations.

In the meantime, an animator named Clark Haas came up with the concept of Clutch Cargo. Somehow, he hooked up with Cambria and Gillette’s Synchro-Vox, and Bagnall came on board to distribute the 130-episode series (Cargo’s companion Spinner, incidentally, was voiced by Margaret Kerry, who was Richard Brown’s wife).

Bagnall’s sales team hit the road. By August 25, 1959, Variety reported the company had done a half million dollars in business on Clutch. Broadcasting magazine of August 31, 1959 broadcast the happy news:
George Bagnall & Assoc. Inc. (tv film distributor), Beverly Hills, Calif., has sold Clutch Cargo, a cartoon comic strip using the Synchro Vox system of interposing human lips to drawings, to more than 15 stations. The Stations include WPIX (TV) New York, WFIL-TV Philadelphia [purchased in January], WNHC-TV New Haven, WGN -TV Chicago, KTTV (TV) Los Angeles, WWJ -TV Detroit, WIIC (TV) Pittsburgh, WEWS (TV) Cleveland, WKBN-TV Youngstown, KFRE-TV Fresno, WNBF-TV Binghamton, KOVR (TV) Stockton, WREX-TV Rockford, WJRT (TV) Flint. Other sales were made in Phoenix, Tucson, Tampa and Eureka, Calif.
Clutch Cargo has 26 stories consisting of five episodes a story.
When did Clutch first appear on TV? The Los Angeles Times reveals he became part of KTTV’s Lunch Brigade with Sheriff John on October 19, 1959. He’s on Philadelphia’s channel 6 on March 30th introduced by Sally Starr (who had just finished running 55 minutes of Popeye cartoons). The earliest we’ve spotted him is on New York City’s channel 11 on Monday, March 16th at 5:25 p.m. immediately after Abbott and Costello.

For the record, Clutch was voiced by announcer Richard Cotting. Emil Sitka, a well-loved secondary player to Three Stooges fans, supplied accents and what he called “eccentric voices” and the ubiquitous Hal Smith can be heard as well.

Sponsor magazine of July 11, 1960 mentions this interesting Clutch tie-in:
Ideas at work:
• Humanitarians all: WTRF-TV, Wheeling, W. Va., turned its gimmick "Clutch Cargo Humanitarian Award" legit. The tv station and local police department honored a parking lot attendant for "service beyond the call of duty" (he permitted an officer to store his rain gear on the lot) . The award became so well known that the two decided to make it really mean something. First recipient was a 12-year-old who saved a friend from drowning.
Clutch Cargo remained on the air for several more years. Variety reported in September 1963 the “TV comic strip” was syndicated in 90 markets.

The success of the ultra-cheap Clutch enabled Cambria to put several more Electro-Vox series on the air. Space Angel (1963), with animator Hi Mankin supervising, featured artwork by Alex Toth, Doug Wildey and Warren Tufts, all of whom went to Hanna-Barbera to toil on Jonny Quest. In fact, Cambria took Hanna-Barbera to court for $1,050,000 in 1965, claiming the Quest series “uses, copies and appropriates substantial parts and portions of Cambria’s ‘Clutch Cargo’ and its pilot film, ‘Captain Fathom,’ including their principal cartoon characters.” There’s really no comparing the shows.

The year was a busy one on the drawing board for Cambria. Not only did Captain Fathom hit the airwaves, so did an animated version of The Three Stooges (producer Norman Maurer was Moe Howard’s son-in-law). These series required honest-to-goodness animators, and veteran Chic Otterstrom was among them. Read more (or is that “Moe”? Nyuk, nyuk) about the show on this blog. Cambria, incidentally, had a co-production deal with Canawest Film Productions of Vancouver to film a Three Stooges feature film. It was budgeted at $250,000 and to be shot in two weeks in Vancouver (Canawest was one of the studios where the Beatles cartoons were made).

Like the other TV studios, Cambria had projects that were announced in the trades but never quite got off the ground. From Variety, January 19, 1965.
Cartooning Arquette's Weaver' Character
Cliff Arquette's " Charlie Weaver" character will become a cartoon to be produced by Cambria Studio for its kidult series. He will portray his Mt. Idy caricature in letters from his mother.
Joe Cutter and Dave Detiege are scripting the pilot and Clark Haas is the art director. Art Rush set the deal for Arquette.
And from Broadcasting magazine, February 13, 1967...
Animated World War I
A new adventure cartoon series in color, The Golden Eagle, is being produced by Cambria Studios, Hollywood, for distribution by the Trans-Lux Television Corp. Initial episodes of the series, which is based on exploits of World War I flying aces, are expected to be ready by March in time for the NAB convention and TFE '67, a Trans-Lux official reported.
Trans-Lux was no stranger to cartoons. It put the “bag of tricks” version of Felix the Cat on the small screen, as well as that Greek god with iron in his thighs, The Mighty Hercules.

Cambria seems to have relocated to Canada. Richard Brown was based in Vancouver by the late ‘60s and working on a number of deals for TV films, some involving children’s adventure stories. He joined Animation Filmakers Corp. in 1972 which absorbed Cambria. Clark Haas, the man behind Clutch Cargo, died in 1978. Brown died in 1993 (the cartoon’s director, Phil Booth, died in 1960). Meanwhile, the worldwide TV rights to Clutch and Space Angel were acquired in 1974 by Entertainment Corp. of America. Whether anyone actually broadcast them has yet to be discovered. The show remained a campy, fuzzy memory for some boomers, including Conan O’Brien, who decided the Synchro Vox technique would be something really funny for a segment of his late night TV. Suddenly, people were talking about Clutch again and the maligned series ended up on DVD in 2005.

We wonder when a forward-thinking studio will come out with a feature film CGI remake of Clutch Cargo. Some fans may complain about computer generated versions of their old favourites being vastly inferior to the originals, but we suspect there’s no possible way to make Clutch worse than it was.


  1. I have a one dollar DVD of Clutch Cargo episodes. I assume it is a bootleg, but I bought it in a bargain store in Toronto.

    1. I don't think it matters if the copyrights haven't been renewed.

  2. 8/15/15 Wrote:
    Nifty picture of the promotional flyer from Detroit's former Channel 4 (NBC affiliate) WWJ-TV (now known as WDIV Channel 4 today.) Clutch Cargo was a cheap-jack carton I don't remember seeing too much in re-runs (after Channel 4 dropped the series from it's programming schedule, no other Detroit station on VHF of UHF channels seemed to pick up on the series after 1970.), but I do remember the Cambria Studios "Three Stooges" cartoons. Sometimes they still show up on cheap dollar store DVD's featuring The three Stooges shorts with lapsed copyrights (such as "Disorder In The Court." Comedy # 3 productions have tight restrictions of copyright laws on the other Columbia Stooges films.) Space Angel seems even more obscure than The Three Stooges or Clutch Cargo. I have yet to see a repeat of this series. Interesting that three artists/writers from Space Angel went on to the more successful Jonny Quest series. Too bad that Doug Wildley clashed with H-B and soon had his name removed from Jonny Quest credits. Wildley really deserved credibility for Jonny Quest after so many years of obscurity, in spite of the fact that Jonny Quest borrowed a lot from The adventures of Jack Armstrong's series. As for Canadian broadcasting, CBC Channel 9 of Windsor may have shown "Clutch Cargo" on it's roster, but I don't have any remembrance of it.

    1. Wouldn't surprise me. Someone told me CKLW even aired "Rocket Robin Hood" at one point.

  3. If I recall, Norman and Joan Maurer originally had sole merchandising rights to the Stooges, but the children/heirs of Larry, Curly, Shemp and both Joes (Besser and DeRita) sued or threatened to sue the Maurers for a share of the royalties; eventually, they all formed the Comedy 3 partnership.

  4. Meanwhile, the worldwide TV rights to Clutch and Space Angel were acquired in 1974 by Entertainment Corp. of America. Whether anyone actually broadcast them has yet to be discovered.

    They sure did - one of the local Houston, TX. stations was airing "Clutch" when my family moved to the area that same year. (They also ran black & white Fleischer Popeyes! Unfortunately, both series vanished within the year - probably their "last gasp" in the American TV market).

    1. Don't forget ZIV International also toyed with these two shows as well (Space Angel barely got a VHS release in the early 80's).

    2. I remember watching Clutch Cargo on WCIX from Miami in the late 1970's.

  5. Well, yeah, plenty creepy! But also way cool in a wacko way. And just for the record, CLUTCH and SPACE ANGEL did feature the (very) occasional honest-to-god animated shot. Usually a clunky little cycle, but animated none the less.

    1. Another cool aspect of Clutch was its music - instead of using well-worn library cues, it had mostly original scores performed by bongos and flute.

  6. Synchro Vox was also referenced/parodied in "Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers".