A couple of months ago I promised to reprint a news story about Arnold Stang and, with his passing a few days ago, now may be as good a time as many to pass it on.
The Hanna-Barbera PR machine was well-oiled by the time Top Cat was heading toward its debut. Unlike any of the previous series, where Joe and Bill did the talking to reporters, the star himself was enlisted to push his new cartoon show in media interviews. Maybe it was because of Stang’s name recognition.
Here’s the interview I promised, un-bylined in this version, from a couple of months before the show aired. You can see that the voice cast still wasn’t quite settled; I don’t think Bea Benaderet did anything on the show; Jean Vander Pyl did.
TV Toppers: Is He Man or Mouse?
NEW YORK, June 13 (UPI) —The usual question, “Are you man or mouse?” won’t do for Arnold Stang.
In his case, you have to ask, “Are you man, cat or mouse?”
And he just might have trouble giving a snap answer.
The complication in the career of the slight, begoggled performer arises from the fact that besides being constantly employed as comedian Arnold Stang, in person, or as an actor creating a human character for stage, screen or TV, he has become prominent in the animated cartoon field.
STANG HAS been the voice for “Herman the Mouse,” a series of filmed shorts widely used in theaters and on TV programs, and now he has the important assignment of voicing the title role in “Top Cat,” a half-hour weekly animated series made especially for television that will be a new entry on the ABC network schedule next fall.
“Actually, I received no billing from the ‘Herman the Mouse’ series,” Stang explained, “and now, of course, I’ll make no more of them.
“However, everyone who saw one of those shorts knew, right away I did them. On account of the voice.
“They recognized it.
“But I’m not using the ‘Stang voice’ for the ‘Top Cat’ series. I won’t sound like me. When we first started making them, the question came up as to whether I shouldn’t voice T.C.—that's the way the cat is usually referred to—in my natural manner, but I talked them out of it. I don’t think my natural tone quite fits the character of T.C.”
“TOP CAT” IS another major cartoon creation by the Hanna-Barbera Firm in Hollywood that made a splash this season with “The Flintstones” on ABC, the first “adult” animation series especially created for television.
“Top Cat” also is intended to be a bit above the “kiddie level,” with a certain sophistication.
T.C. is a big-city vagrant with a leadership quality that binds assorted felines to him.
They get involved in stories which might just as well be played by humans. A policeman will be the only regular human character of the show.
“Some of the other well-known actors providing voices for the show,” Stang said, “are Maurice Gosfield—you know, the Doberman of Phil Silvers’ old series; Allen Jenkins, who talks for the cop; Leo de Lyon, who speaks for a beatnik-type cat, and Bea Benaderette [sic], who also does one of the voices on ‘The Flintstones.’
“We have a dozen of the episodes completed, and I have to go right back to work this week.
“We record on tape from script in a studio, and the technicians blend the lines with the animation frames.
“I came back here for a few days to close up my home in New Rochelle and move the family out to Bel Air, where we bought a house.
“I’VE BEEN commuting so much in recent years between New York and Hollywood, as more and more of the television work centered there, that about the only way. I could expect to have much time with my wife and two children was to set up our home out there.”
Cat lovers will want to know whether Stang really likes cats.
“Well,” he replied cautiously, “let’s say I’m very fond of this cat character.”
Something just doesn’t seem right with the interview, though. The show is about a conning cat that uses Bilko-like flattery, has Bilko’s sidekick (Gosfield) and was written at times by a Bilko writer (Barry Blitzer)—but the studio wanted him to sound like Stang and not Bilko? Call me a little sceptical.
Top Cat debuted on Wednesday, September 27, 1961. The Big Cartoon Database says ‘Hawaii—Here We Come’ was the first show. But that’s not what the TV listings of the day say. You see to your left a TV ad which suggests the first show was really ‘The $1,000,000 Derby.’ In fact, a couple of newspapers in their “week ahead” TV listings the previous weekend give that cartoon in their plot summary. But on the day of the show, the papers changed their minds. Here’s a typical summary:
7:30—2 Top Cat: (Premiere) New half-hour animated cartoon series about the adventures of a band of felines in Manhattan. Tonight: "Top Cat Falls in Love" — Benny the Ball has his tonsils out but, after one glimpse at the nurse, smitten T.C. is stricken with a rare ailment to keep him hospitalized.
That, according to BCDB, was supposed to be the seventh episode. So which one aired? It’s tough to say. The Chicago Tribune’s Larry Wolters had this review the following morning:
Top Cat, also known as Ali Khat or alley cat, is a happy addition to all of TV's animated cartoon characters TV's animated cartoon characters. He gets mixed up with some pretty mixed up characters including "a compact horse" which he manages to run in a derby. Arabelle, the nag, came in second—she stopped to have her picture taken.
Whether Wolters actually saw the show the night of the debut or received an advance copy and wrote his column from that, I don’t know. But nowhere can I find evidence that ‘Hawaii—Here We Come’ aired first.
Incidentally, Jack Gould of the New York Times panned the show the following morning. He was the guy who called The Flintstones “an inked disaster” the day after its premiere. After moaning about how Steve Allen’s new show was too slapstick—yes, he panned Steve Allen, too—he wrote:
‘Top Cat’ in Debut
Following Mr. Allen's mishap on Channel 7 was another one: a cartoon series called "Top Cat." The central animal is an unattractive-Tommy-run feline and his bewhiskered minions are a dreary lot. Their adventures last night were dull enough to have been performed by humans.
And the Tribune capped the debut with this note in Herb Lyon’s column two days later on September 29th:
Silliest promotional stunt yet: ABC-TV publicized its new cartoon series Top Cat by sending TV critics, columnists, etc., jumbo sized garbage cans, with the lids done up in blue ribbons. Anybody need a JSGC? I can’t get past it to my typewriter!
Ah, but we’re getting away from the topic of Arnold Stang. Suffice it so say, he entertained many people in different media—radio, feature films, television, cartoons—for decades. Fortunately, his work is still around for us to enjoy even though he has gone.
Top Cat is a little beyond the time limit that this blog is supposed to focus on, but I’ll pass on one more set of clippings soon about Stang’s funny mate from Brooklyn, Marvin Kaplan.