Saturday 10 August 2019

Alvin and Calvin (And The Rest)

Three half-hour cartoon shows didn’t make it in prime time in 1961. Top Cat, The Alvin Show and Calvin and the Colonel were all cancelled after one season; Calvin was even pulled from the airwaves for a while for some re-tooling. T.C. ended up in Saturday morning reruns and, occasionally, Hanna-Barbera brought him and the gang out of retirement. The biggest success of them all was Alvin. 1961 was a very minor setback. The Bagdasarian family built a huge empire out of the Chipmunks long after the record label which brought them to life went bust.

The Cincinnati Enquirer’s TV editor, Luke Feck, wrote about one of the three shows in his column of September 15, 1961 and the other two the next day. Two consecutive newspaper columns devoted to TV cartoons! That might have been unprecedented.

I’m afraid I’m with the 1961 TV audience in finding no appeal in Calvin. Other than the score, I could never get into Top Cat, even with Arnold Stang as the lead. As for The Alvin Show, the theme’s good, the opening and closing was imaginative, but Alvin himself is an annoying jerk and the musical segments mostly featured tired, worn-out songs. The “sped-up singing harmony” bit gets tired fast. The cartoons with Clyde Crashcup are still my favourite part of the show.

Feck’s first column also includes a note about The Bullwinkle Show. It aired Sunday evenings at 7 p.m.; I don’t really consider that prime time (in the ‘70s, they called it “prime time access”). Bullwinkle was the funniest series of the four; it was faster-paced and made fun of ridiculous things, like politics and pop culture.

In a column earlier in 1961, Feck proclaimed himself “the regional defender for Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear” against those who would insist “cartoons are kid stuff.” It’s no wonder he got a chance to chat with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who tried to differentiate between “limited animation” and “planned animation,” but never really specified what “limited animation” was; I can only guess they considered it along the lines of NBC Comics or the original Crusader Rabbit, where there wasn’t much movement. But, still, Bill and Joe...

As for the second column, I’ll bet the unpublished first-hand tales about the heydey of Amos ‘n’ Andy were funnier than anything in that Calvin series.

HOLLYWOOD—Trend spotting can be almost as much fun as bird watching. TV, which has almost had it with the horses (hear them galloping off?), will lay many of its eggs in the animated cartoon basket.
Over at ABC, that prolific paid, Hanna-Barbera, who followed their syndicated success of "Yogi Bear." "Huck Hound" with the "Flintstones," have conjured up still another gimmick from their pens.
"Top Cat," a Bilko-like cat with a feline following similar to the platoon, makes its debut Wednesday, September 27, in a trashcan-forested Manhattan alley.
The voices, one of the treats of earlier H-B productions will be supplied by Arnold Stang, Allen Jenkins, Maurice Gosfield (Bilko's bestial Doberman), Marvin Kaplan, Leo De Lyon, and John Stephenson.
Hanna, who had just come from a 7:45 a. m. dental appointment, found the porcelain filling impaired his chewing but he minced no words in speaking out on his favorite subject: cartoons.
"We do over two hours of cartooning a week for TV. In the movies that would be a full year's output. The secret is in the animating." Barbera said.
"The movies use full animation, trying to be as lifelike as possible. Limited animation (a herky-jerky animation form) is too shoddy for TV. Ours is called planned animation where each move is planned and there is a lot of closeup facial work."
Hanna said voices are awfully hard to come by. "Over 80 people read for the "Top Cat" role. You just have to close your eyes and listen to them talk. The voice must fit the cartoon, not the actor." (Arnold Stang has the "Top Cat" voice.
Now firmly entrenched in the prime time firmament, H-B are already planning ahead for next year. In the works: Touchee Turtle, Lippy Lion, Hardy Har Har a baboon and Wally Gator, any one of which may be slapped into the breech [sic] next fall if a familiar series falters.
Jay Ward, who heads up one of the funniest publicity campaigns ever, "I'll give you a pewter spoon warmer if you watch us," brings his clod-[l]ike, plodding moose (named Bullwinkle?) to the home screens in color September 24 on NBC.
"The Bullwinkle Show" promises such stalwart regulars as Dudley Do-Right and the maliciousest meanie of them all, Boris Badenov.
The word out here is that you can expect some sharp satire from Jay Ward—one-time Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBolng Boing scripter—and his associate, Bill Scott.
Tomorrow, two more cartoon series are visited.

Amos ‘n’ Ross
HOLLYWOOD—Amos 'n' Andy's white-haired human counterparts, Freeman Gordon and Charles Correll, sat at Rominoff's dispensing their patented cure-all: Laughter.
Gosdon, a raconteur of the old school, and Correll, a 71-year-old composite of one-line jokes, were on hand to discuss their latest venture into show business: "Calvin and the Colonel" on ABC-TV.
Rambling off into marvelous, and frequently unprintable yarns about the heydays of Amos 'n' Andy, the pair would be casually guided back into line by an ABC publicist—which is a nice word for press agent.
The pair, after 33 years together, have found TV just what they need in their later years. "We work two or three hours a week doing the voices for the series, Gosden drawled in his Richmond, Va., voice.
"We have had some practice working with our voices together," Correll added in the understatement of the day.
"The cartoon, done by Creston Studios, is all about some animals from the South. Charlie plays a bear named Calvin and I'm a fox called the Colonel," Gosden said. "Everybody wants to know if we'll be doing the same voices we did on radio. The answer is definitely no. "By the way, Charlie has a little bit, that he uses every time he sees a girl. He gives a little tip of the hat and says 'How de do.' It should catch on." It is impossible to report here just what went on for the next several moments as Correll went through his hat-tipping exercises for any and all social occasions. Calvin and the Colonel will make its Cincinnati debut October 3 on Channel 12. The series is being put together by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher of "Leave It To Beaver."
Ross Who?
"How would you like to talk to Ross mumble jumble mumble," a CBS press agent asked the other day.
"Ross who?" I asked. "Bagdasarian, the fellow with the chipmunks," he said.
Then it dawned on me who he meant—the guy with that nutty collection of chipmunks which, for want of a better word, sing those nutty songs.
Ross, as he shall be henceforth called because of an economy move, was a former farmer in the raisin racket. In 1949 he produced a bumper crop just as the bottom fell out of the market. He went to Hollywood with an unpublished copy of "Come On-A My House" which he wrote with his cousin, playwright William Saroyan. The song sold—making Rosemary Cloony [sic] a star—and Ross was on his way.
Now he's busy bringing his famous trio of rodents to animated fame. "Our necks are stuck way out on this. We are going to do something entirely different. This will be like a cartoon variety show. When Alvin sings (two songs each half-hour usually with his brothers) it will be a regular production number," Ross said.
"The backgrounds to the song will try to take on the flavor of the country. In Japan, for example, the artwork will have a Japanese motif. Most of the cartoons, however, use the contemporary format familiar to UPA cartoon enthusiasts.
All the animal voices will be supplied by Bagda, whoops, Ross. "It's really a difficult thing to do," he said. "When you record, you must talk at half speed, but what that really means is that you have to be thinking at half speed. That's something my teachers always insisted on for me anyhow.
"There are 160 people working on various stages of this production and I'm always around to overlook better make that oversee. Whenever someone asks if he should do it like (sic) It was done somewhere else, I tell him no. We are not going to be like anybody else in the animated cartoon field. Like I said, our necks are stuck way out. If we die, we die but with dignity." Outside of the chipmunks and their songs, one other character will be introduced an inventor named Clyde Crashcup who invents things like shoes, jokes, horses, yes even babies, long, long after they're been invented, discovered or created as the case may be.
And as for Ross, at the end of each show, his name will be spelled out to a tune similar to "M-I-C-K-E-Y   M-O-U-S-E."
"If people can pronounce it after the series, I know we're a hit."


  1. Agreed on the Crashcup episodes being the highlights of the show even when I was watching them first-run on CBS. The Alvin segments had a few highlights, but Bagdasarian, Format Films and CBS made the same mistake Paramount made 14 years earlier when they revived the Screen Songs series, in doing it on the cheap, with old public domain songs, where the novelty of the sped-up voices were supposed to carry the day.

    Between this, the KFS Popeyes most of the Format crew did right before this under Jack Kinney, and the later Road Runner shorts they sub-sub contract out on for Warners and D-FE, Format's product was pretty meh (and their UPA roots seemed to indicate they weren't all that excited about doing Warner Bros. slapstick or Famous Studios pugilism in the first place. It's just too bad Clyde couldn't have been the star of the show, with two segments per week and one in the middle with Alvin. The entertainment value would have been a lot higher).

    1. I wish whoever has the rights to the original show would allow them to be issued, just for the Clyde Crashcup segments.

      My favorite Clyde gag - Clyde is inventing the boat. He says "I'll call this end the stern, and this end (pointing to the front), the Pointy Part" Leonardo whispers in Clyde's ear, and Clyde says "Bow? Well if you insist" and he takes a bow!

    2. Clyde Crashcup DID have a major part in the "Chipmunks Go to the Movies" episode "Back to Our Future", where he takes the 1980s Chipmunks back to the 1960s where the 1960s version of the Chipmunks made appearances (and even the 1960s Dave Seville).

    3. AGreed, J LEee...but your suggestion sounds in a way like how the "Nutty Squirrells" wound up used..minimized, only not as much as the N.S. were..:)

  2. any of the Rudy Larriva Roadrunner shorts are pretty much (in my humble opinions) inferior to what Chuck Jones did! even the repetitive Music by Bill Lava can grate on your nerves. outside of some funny scenes Rudy's ones are pretty much not good.

  3. beginning about eight years ago, i have managed to catch a few episodes of Calvin and the Colonel. i don't know how i missed the show in first run, as i watched all of the Alvin and Top Cat episodes back in '61. perhaps the local ABC affiliate didn't carry it (I'll rummage through my tv guides to check up on that point).
    upon reflection, from what i saw of the Calvin eps, I'm kind of sorry my seven-year-old self missed it.
    i think i would have enjoyed it.