About all “Elroy’s Pal” is missing is an ending where George Reeves says “And they call ME Superman.”
You’ll recall the I Love Lucy episode where the TV Superman (Reeves) was supposed to show up at the Ricardo home to meet Little Ricky, and when he couldn’t, Lucy dressed up as an incompetent version of Superman. But then the real TV Superman changed his mind and went so he wouldn’t disappoint the child. (The episode ended with the line quoted above). Well, that’s pretty much the storyline of this Jetsons episode which aired about six years later.
The whole idea of a costumed space hero that could fly or do other kinds of Superman-type stuff was pretty much an anachronism when this episode aired in the U.S. on December 16, 1962. Nimbus the Great is based on characters found in shows like Captain Video or Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, which had been off the air for a number of years. You can trace their lineage back another 20-plus years to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Pretty soon, Star Trek would change the nature of space adventure shows.
There’s another ancient reference in this cartoon, one I doubt any kids got in 1962. There’s a line about something going out with “high button space shoes.” What kid would know what high button shoes were? Jack Benny and other radio comedians were doing gags in the 1930s about them being old-fashioned then. The story in this cartoon was written by Walter Black, who penned a ton of stuff in the ‘60s and came out of radio.
Black was born Walter Bloch on April 13, 1916 in Munich, Germany, the son of American-born painter Albert Bloch. After graduating in 1936 from the University of Kansas, where he did a bit of acting, he served three years in the Pacific with the 13th U.S. Army Air Force. He went to New York after the war where he co-authored the musical comedies “The Man Who Stole Sixth Avenue” and “Mother Was a Halfback” (neither of which made it to the stage) and continued to act. In 1953, he co-created, co-wrote and won a National Laugh Foundation award for the best radio sitcom for My Son Jeep and was active with the Writers Guild of America when in New York in the 1950s. Black, incidentally, appeared in at least one episode of a Du Mont network show called Captain Video.
Added to the story is a gentle spoof on cereal box-top premiums (again, something that went back to radio days) and stuff that could be found on the backs of cereal boxes. Some cereal companies had cardboard records you could actually play. Elroy’s favourite cereal, Moonies, has a TV set. The televised Nimbus’ hands go outside the screen to hand it to Elroy to show him (a switch on another old gag, but a fun one nonetheless). Moonies are a parody themselves of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. They don’t snap, crackle and pop but they do make a lot of noise.
The most fun in this cartoon is for freeze framers, thanks to animator Hugh Fraser, who had spent the better part of the 1940s and ‘50s at Disney. Fraser had a particular way of stretching the head in takes. You can see it in this sneeze drawing.
Some more of Nimbus’ sneezing. Some of these drawings were exposed on two frames, others on one.
Carlo Vinci animates in this cartoon as well. Here are a couple of exit drawings of George Jetson that are pure Vinci.
I will not venture a guess about other animators on this cartoon.
● Running gag when characters see Nimbus: “No offence, but you look bigger on TV.” “Everybody does.”
● On fleeting television fame: “I’m the fifth Nimbus on the program in the last two years. Anybody can be Nimbus. It’s all in the costume.”
● And on how not everything in the future will be perfect: “We’ve conquered space, but we still haven’t learned to prevent the common cold.”
This must be one of the few Jetsons episodes which features a sequence of George at the office but Mr. Spacely is nowhere to be found.
The Jetsons’ home interiors are always great. It’s a shame the credits were removed from the cartoons when they went into syndication in the ‘80s. Here are a couple. Oh, how I wish the background drawings survived.
My favourite invention in this cartoon is the spray that creates a plaid cushion for a lounge chair. Another button-pressing gizmo brings down a mechanical claw from the ceiling and carts someone elsewhere in the home (it was supposed to nab Elroy but gets George by mistake, since future tech never works in the Jetsons’ home). Snail mail still exists, except it’s delivered by a mailman in an airborne car. And the Jetsons sleep in separate beds (Whew! Morality is saved) but joined by the same headboard.
Overall, the cartoon’s pleasant, but all too familiar. Wholesale regurgitating of ideas had become a Hanna-Barbera fixture by 1962, to the studio’s detriment.