Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Jetsons – Astro’s Top Secret

Someone, no doubt, has a list of how many of the Jetsons prime-time cartoons featured the phrase “Jetson, you’re fired!” The number is probably smaller than people think, but because the cartoons have been run over and over and over for 50-plus years, it seems like a lot.

This cartoon features that particular phrase, along with what’s now a tired old plot point of dangling a company vice-presidency as a reward, something which strikes me as something peculiar to the 1950s and ‘60s as desirable.

“Astro’s Top Secret” has its moments; a ‘60s Jetsons episode featuring Astro always has something worth watching. I like the eager Harlan, Cogswell’s assistant, who enthusiastically throws himself into the role of corporate spy by incorporating secret agent cliché dialogue into his spiel because, well, that’s how spies talk. That great comic actor, Howard Morris, provides Harlan’s voice, as well as that of the mock-serious narrator who appears in the first part of the cartoon. There’s a neat bit of timing when Cogswell grills Astro in a dark room under a spotlight. Astro quickly whips out a pair of sunglasses. “No cheating!” says Harlan, who grabs them away. And there’s a vaudevillian bit of corn when Cogswell tells Astro to start talking. So he does. In rowrs, bow-wows and woofs. Cogswell has his assistant Moonstone read back the transcript. “Bow wow, wow wow wow. Wow wow wow, wow...” says Moonstone. You can probably see the gag coming a mile away but it’s funny. Don Messick plays both Astro and Moonstone, but the two characters sound completely different. Astro always sounds exuberant. Moonstone is clinical and earnest as he reads back the indecipherable dog talk. Messick’s a real master.

The story revolves around the old misunderstanding routine. Spacely threatens, yet again, to put Cogswell out of business. Meanwhile, Astro swallows Elroy’s toy space car. Cogswell’s spy, Harlan, sees Astro flying around (powered by the car in his stomach), thinks George Jetson has developed an anti-gravity device, dognaps Astro, who escapes. Cogswell, Spacely and Astro all end up back at the Jetson’s home where the car pops out of the dog. Misunderstanding ended. The ending has Astro swallowing a mini-computer. Yet another misunderstanding at the fade out.

George Nicholas is one of the animators in this cartoon. I can’t pick out the others (see Howard Fein’s always helpful comments below). The characters on this show aren’t designed to have big mouths and floppy tongues, like when Nicholas animates Fred Flintstone or Yogi Bear, but they do have beady eyes and wavy mouths that Nicholas liked to draw.

The cartoon is really inconsistent when it comes to takes. Below are two extremes. They’re a real take because the animator starts with a regular drawing of Astro, then expands his eyes for a number of frames so you get the effect.

To the right is a drawing from when Astro swallows the toy car. There’s nothing wrong with the drawing. The problem is that the other drawings accompanying it look similar so there’s no real take. Even worse is a little later in the cartoon when George realises that Astro is “flying” past him. There’s no take at all. Jetson’s expression doesn’t change. There’s simply a short “sproing” on the soundtrack. That’s one way of handling it, but I’d rather see the animator at work.

Time for some examples of dry brushwork on characters quickly leaving the frame. The characters become outlines or partial outlines to make the exit appear quicker. I’ve always liked the effect. The first two are consecutive frames of Harlan. The final two features the old “Follow that car” gag with the car taking off before the person gets inside. This time, it’s “Follow that dog!” It still works.

Here are some exteriors. I haven’t had time to check to see which other cartoons used the establishing shots of the Skypad Apartments and Spacely Sprockets buildings. The background artist is unknown.

Inventions? Well, there are plenty of visiphones in this cartoon. There’s the golf course that consists of floating platforms of grass (Spacely has a putter that converts to a number 3 driver by pressing a button; balls that drop off the platforms sprout parachutes). Most of all, I really like the sandwich maker in Spacely’s office. Oh, and dig that home computer—with a tape! It must be future retro.

Odds and sods...
● Judy does not appear in this cartoon. However, Janet Waldo makes an appearance as Marilyn, the sexy temptress dog. She talks just like Astro, pronouncing all words with “r” at the start.
● George makes $1,000 a week.
● Spacely and Cogswell drive past the same set of golf greens ten times before the scene changes.
● Music in Hanna-Barbera cartoons was strictly for mood, it wasn’t scored with the drawings in mind like in theatrical cartoons. But there’s one scene where a golf ball hits Spacely on the head and bounces into the hole. Each bounce is accompanied by a declining music stab, so the music matches the animation.
● Several scenes have characters walking behind overlays. It’s nice when Hanna-Barbera cartoons go to the trouble of doing that.

It appears Jerry Eisenberg laid out part of this cartoon. The drawing below matches the visiphone frame above.

The story is by Tony Benedict, who had an affinity for Astro. This isn’t as strong as some of the others featuring Astro, but it’s a pleasant enough half hour to watch.


  1. 6/11/16 Wrote:
    This episode has always been a favorite of mine since childhood. Best part was the battle raged between Cogswell & Spacely at the golf game.
    Cogswell: "Let's face it, Spacely, you are a born loser!"
    Spacely: " I think I'll paint your face on my golf ball, Cogswell!"
    And when the golf ball bounces off Spacely's head after a careless shot by Cogswell:
    Cogswell: "Hot dog!" "A hole in one!"
    Spacely: "Boy, that guy burns me up!"
    Also, when Cogswell tries to get Astro to give information on his "flying" technique.
    Cogswell: "All right, dog, start talking!"
    Astro: "I ain't ralking!"
    Cogswell: " Not even for a juicy space burger?"

  2. R/E Vice Presidency -- I worked for a major Chicago bank in the middle '80s. I got a better offer, and to retain me the Chicago bank offered me a Vice Presidency. No additional responsibility, no additional compensation or perks, just the title. I declined.

  3. I saw this episode recently on Boomerang (Brazil).

    1. That's good. Now for American TV to bring it back more!

  4. YOWP are you certain that's Janet Waldo as Marilyn> I think it's Jean Vander Pyl

    1. No, Georgi, Vander Pyl would have been a little lower and throatier, imo.
      Plus I suspect Miss Waldo would have been paid for the session as a regular voice, so I imagine Joe Barbera would use her.

    2. ...and since the subject was brought up, have always been curious what HB voice actors might have made per recording session.

      I saw an interview w/ Sid Raymond where he says he got $100 per early 50's "Baby Huey" and "Katnip"cartoon, so i am guessing HB probably paid a similar rate with maybe 1/2 (or even 1/4) of that per additional voice.

      Does anyone have any inside nfo on that?

  5. SPCH - Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Humans.:D :D :D

  6. George Goepper animates Astro's takes toward the steak and poodle, and the entire interrogation scene. Bill Keil does all the zipping around scenes in the vidcaps, George and Astro at the computer, and Spacely at the sandwich machine. Keil's characters tend to be rather chubby. Goepper, Keil and Nicholas were always teamed on JETSON episodes.

    Harlan appeared in two other episodes as Cogswell's flunky: "The Flying Suit" and "Private Property". He may have returned in a 1980s episode. Moonstone appeared in "Flying Suit", but voiced by Daws.

    1. Thanks, Howard. You're always a big help.
      I like Harlan. If I recall off the top of my head, he was Spacely's son-in-law, wasn't he?

    2. Wasn't he Cogswell's nephew? Are you thinking of that episode, where Spacely's nephew married Cogswell's daughter?