Saturday 20 January 2018

Linus the One-Hit Wonder

Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and DePatie-Freleng cranked out series after series, year after year, for Saturday morning network programming. And then there were other studios that, for whatever reason, were one-shots.

One of them was Ed Graham Productions. He gave the world Linus the Lionhearted—in fact, he was making new cartoons for Saturday mornings before almost everyone else—but that was about it.

Graham had been a writer and producer of the animated Bert and Harry Piel commercials in partnership with Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, the radio comedians who voiced the characters. Their business split up, and Graham moved on to Linus.

This story in the Binghamton Press of July 3, 1964 explains:
Linus, His Pals Get Own Show

Special Press Correspondent
Chicago—A year ago, when the advertising agency handling television commercials for one of the big cereal companies wanted a "spokesman" appeal to children, Linus the Lionhearted was created.
Linus, a timid lion, appears in cartoon form to tell the kids to buy a breakfast food. Linus later was joined by such cartoon spokesmen and pitchmen as Sugar Bear, Rory Racoon, So-Hi and the Friendly Postman.
Inevitably, what happened was that the commercials proved more popular with the kids than the so-called entertainment shows.
This isn't unusual in television.
It happens occasionally, even with the so-called adult shows. That's because more money, imagination and talent often are expended on the commercials than on a series, which is ground out like so much hamburger.
Now comes the announcement that Linus and his friends have been promoted. No longer will they be confined to the commercial spiels but, instead, are to be stars of their own entertainment program.
The new half-hour cartoon series will be scheduled by CBS-TV on Saturday mornings, effective in September, and will utilize a company of both cartoon and human figures in a game-story-joke format.
There must be a moral there, somewhere.
Children’s programming rarely warranted interviews in the popular press, but the Chicago Tribune talked with Graham in a story published September 24, 1964.
Linus & Co. Roar Into New TV Roles
By Marion Purcelli
STORYTELLERS INFORM us that some lions are born great; others have greatness thrust upon them. Television's storytellers are going to show us a rare type, Linus, the Lionhearted, a new cartoons series starring an unlikely king of beasts who would rather sleep undisturbed in the shade than face the problems arising daily in his jungle domain. It makes its debut Saturday at 10 a. m. over channel 2.
King Linus, a mild beast who is continuously being plunged into impossible situations by his many subjects, will be joined by three colleagues—Loveable Truly the postman, So-Hi the Chinese boy, and Rory Racoon the guardian of the cornfield.
The improbable Linus has the loudest and most self-satisfying roar in the jungle, but is reluctant really to let loose because the frightening noise always stampedes his subjects—and likely as not, Linus is trampled underfoot.
An oddity about Linus and his colleagues is that they starred on cereal boxes and as spokesmen in cereal commercials on television. Their popularity with children became so great that the sponsors decided they deserved to rise from the sales force to star in their own TV series.
LINUS AND HIS friends are television personalities known and loved thruout the land by people under four feet high. We decided that the taller and older folk, already baffled by Beatlemania and other childhood ailments, deserved a briefing that will make them erudite enough to discuss Linus with their children. Herewith is our report.
The job of transforming a television spieler into a character with the depth and breadth to sustain the interest of 2-12 year old children, was entrusted to Ed Graham, television producer.
"Linus had already developed a full-blown character," said Graham in a recent interview. "And since action stems from character in any dramatic form, in effect, he told me what would happen. Linus, deep in his lion heart cannot quite accept his own lion-hood.
"In the first episode he becomes the natural prey of a neighbor, Billie Bird, instead of the other way around. Billie Bird's idea of fun is to present Linus with an impossible problem, then watch him try to handle it in kingly fashion."
THAT’S JUST ONE of the plots.
"In others, we’ll see what happens to Linus when he meets with a totally different character," Graham continued as earnestly as if he were discussing a human he knew well. "Sugar Bear, for example, is ultra-cool, but a scrapper who helps Linus to be more king-like. Occasionally So-Hi takes time out to tell one of his Orientalized fairy tales—'Jack and the Bamboo Stalk' or 'Goldilocks and the Three Dragons.'
'Rory Racoon', a mixture of Nelson Eddy, Jack Armstrong, and Lil’ Abner, is featured along with Loveable B. Truly, a thin, freckled-faced postman who is too loveable to be true. Most of his good deeds involve keeping his dog from the clutches of Richard Harry Nearly, silent screen star turned dogcatcher."
Linus, among these characters and dozens more, is the star as well as the king. He is a well-meaning, but stumbling honest-John-con-man from Runyonland. What he’s doing in the jungle is anybody’s guess and the basis for the cartoon show.
"Only Linus would think of dressing an elephant in a suit with vertical stripes to play down her overweight," said Graham. "And only Linus could let loose the roar that would bring all the elephants thundering to his rescue just as he and Sugar Bear are about to be swept over the rapids.
Despite his self-doubt, Linus is King."
Variety, in its September 30, 1964 edition, reviewed the Linus debut. “As kids’ tv cartoon fare goes,” began ‘Bill,’ “ ‘Linus the Lionhearted’ rates with ‘Bullwinkle’ and ‘Yogi Bear,’ which is real class.” He went on the praise the musical score by Johnny Mann, though the series seems to have used stock music, the character designs of George Cannata, and voice work of Sheldon Leonard and Carl Reiner, as well as the format with a story connecting all the little cartoons between the cartoons.

Let’s catch up with Graham again, giving background on how he hooked up with Reiner. To be honest, both Reiner and Leonard were so busy with other shows, it’s surprising they found time to be involved in a cartoon series. This appeared in the Los Angeles Times on July 5, 1965.
Graham Roaring Hit With His Linus the Lionhearted

“I had been watching Sid Caesar’s show. Some of those wonderfully wild things they did. On one there was a crazy song, something like ‘Who Kept the Kaiser Out of Nebraska?’ and I got to wondering whose fertile mind was behind all this nonsense.
The wondering man was Ed Graham, who at the time was doing commercials for an agency in the East. He put in a call to NBC and learned the man behind the Kaiser bit was one of Sid’s second bananas, Carl Reiner.
“I called Carl and introduced myself,” said Graham, “and after he reluctantly admitted that he was the idea man for many of Caesar’s skits, I told him that someday I’d like to get together with him to discuss some ideas I had about doing commercials.
“Carl thanked me, but didn’t seem too enthused. About 10 minutes later the phone rang. It was Carl. ‘Aren’t you the guy who does those beer commercials using the voices of Bob and Ray?’” Ed was.
Heads Own Film
That conversation took place more than 10 years ago. Today, Ed Graham is head of his own animation production company. And Carl Reiner is very much a part of the operation.
Linus the Lionhearted, the CBS animated cartoon series for kiddies on Saturdays, bears the Graham label. The voices of Billie Bird, Sascha Grouse, Dinny Kangaroo and perhaps a dozen other characters all come from Reiner.
Ed Graham is a New Yorker who made up his mind early in life what path he’d pursue. Having a father who is a cartoonist (Ed Graham Sr.) gave him direction. Graduation from Dartmouth, writing for magazines, then for Perry Como, before getting the agency job, rounded out the background for the 39-year-old family man (a wife and two sons), who now has 100 employes working for him.
Linus Going Strong
The Linus series has been renewed by CBS, sold in Japan and Australia, and Graham is about to start on theatrical shorts. And Carl Reiner is with him all the way.
“Carl is just amazing,” said Graham, continuing his praise for a colleague, who has logged much praise on his own for the Dick Van Dyke series. “The biggest thing about Carl is his spontaneity. When he speaks lines you just can’t believe that he’s reading them.”
Graham, well aware of Reiner’s many other enterprises, always arranges recording sessions to accommodate him.
“Carl will break away during his lunch hour,” said Graham. “I’ll hand him a few basic story lines. He’ll usually change a line or two, which makes it better, and during that hour or so we can usually wrap up six or seven stories.”
Graham uses other great names to voice his cartoons—Jonathan Winters, Sheldon Leonard (he’s Linus) and Jesse White, to name three—but he says Reiner’s personality dominates the series.
With all this talent poured into each Linus production, you’d think that some authoritative body, headed by Graham or Reiner, would put the final OK on each episode before airing. But no.
It’s up to a couple of fellows named Lucas and Scott. If they don’t laugh, it’s back to the drawing board. Lucas Reiner is 5, and Scott Graham is 4.
One person whose name you haven’t read yet is Irv Spector’s. Bob Givens, who storyboarded on the series, gives Spector full credit for Linus. He says Spector was the one who set up a studio on the West Coast for Graham and ran the show, although Jack Kinney was involved at one point. The studio on Laurel Canyon just below Burbank Boulevard; Givens says it was a big place but there weren’t many people in it. Spector, he says, was at UPA when the original Post cereal commercials were made; Givens boarded and laid out some and revealed they were made on the West Coast because it was cheaper than animating them in New York.

There was talk of a Sid and Marty Krofft series called Au Go Ghouls featuring top-40 music and puppets that would wrap around Linus episodes (Broadcasting, Feb. 21, 1966). Instead, ABC picked up the show for a Sunday morning re-run for three more seasons. Then that was it, though Linus was later offered in syndication. Word is the Federal Trade Commission forced the series off the air because its characters endorsed Post cereals during the show. A perusal of Variety and Broadcasting magazines has found no report on the matter. In fact, ABC aired Hot Wheels starting in fall 1969 after Linus had left the air, and a Variety story in December that year about the cartoon’s connection with Mattel’s toys of the same name doesn’t mention any decision or ruling. Nevertheless, Ed Graham’s animated series was off the air, bringing an end to his shot at cartoon stardom.


  1. The Linus balloon was in the Macy Parade for years after the character had gone off the airwaves.

    Linus the Lionhearted was a well-written, well-voiced, and delightfully funny series. It has received critical bashing over the years for its shameless tie-in to breakfast cereals, but that was part of its charm. Sheldon Leonard did a great job voicing Linus; he really made the character come alive.

    The character with the most longevity was Sugar Bear, who continued to appear in commercials for Sugar Crisp until well into the late 80's or 90's at least.

    This series deserves a DVD release.

    1. SB appeared in SUGAR CRISP® ads as late as 2005.
      The ads were CANADIAN, tho.
      (Based on intensive YouTube™ viewing.)

      Is EGJ still alive? Does anyone know? Thanks.

    2. It's interesting that Post's Canadian division still continues to call it "Sugar Crisp" to this very day. At least that hadn't changed.

  2. I'm interested in the small studios that managed to crank out a weekly series in this early era of made-for-TV cartoons (Creston, Format Films, Snowball, Hal Seeger), and always wonder if they had to "farm out" any of their footage to meet production demands, as Jay Ward, Total TeleVision, and UPA were forced to do with their series.

    1. Me,too..Yowp, thanks for this review..! I agree on the show needing a DVD release. Linus actually continued as a Macy baloon through 1991 and I even saw it during the 2000s in some of the parades, I believe..and Sugar Bear has certainly remained from the series. Sheldon Leonard truly did a grrreat! :) voice for Linus!

  3. Mike Kazaleh's post on Cartoon Research back in 2014, noted that some of the first 1960s ads for Linus were done at the Warner Bros. studio, when General Foods was still partnered with WB on "The Bugs Bunny Show". While the ads don't scream out the Warners' house style, the definitely do have smoother animation than the UPA-ish/Format Films style that would follow in the Ed Graham series and the ads by 1964.

    (As for Reiner and Leonard and "Linus", General Foods is also the likely connection there -- they were biggest sponsor of CBS' sitcoms in the early and mid-1960s, especially the shows coming out of the Danny Thomas-Sheldon Leonard production house, like Reiner's "Dick Van Dyke Show". Lending their voices to the Saturday morning show was an easy way to keep the guys paying your bills for the prime-time shows happy.)

  4. This show reminds me quite a bit of the late 60s Warner/Seven Arts cartoons, with similar character designs, animation and sound effects, except for the Hoyt Curtin music score, which is more jazzy compared to the twangy Bill Lava scores in those Warner cartoons.

  5. All I can say is to echo the desire and need for a DVD release, commercials included. I enjoy the links on You Tube and would love, love, love to see and possibly own more episodes.