Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Jetsons – Elroy’s Pal

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.

It also owes a lot—an awful lot, in fact—to the Augie Doggie episode “Fan Clubbed” (1960). Both cartoons involve a catchphrasing TV space hero that couldn’t show up to greet his little fan. Both have dad going to the TV station (with a shot of a background drawing of the station). Both have dad discover the hero is too sick to show up at the kid’s home. Both have dad dressing up as the hero and bollixing up the impersonation. Both even have the line “That’s my boy who said that!” (Okay, “Fan Clubbed” may not, but we all know Doggie Daddy said it often enough).

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.
He died in Lawrence, Kansas on June 8, 1990.

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.

Quotes:
● 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.

Daws Butler gets to play opposite himself in one act where Elroy and Henry Orbit sit down to eat cereal. Janet Waldo doesn’t have much to do as Judy but she lends a voice to George’s secretary, Miss Asteroid. Howie Morris is the guest voice here, playing Nimbus, Elroy’s Nimbus playmate Willie Lightyear, as well as George’s conscience, one of those small representations of a character that you find in cartoons floating near a character’s head or sitting on their shoulder (usually, there’s a devilish counterpart, but not in this cartoon).

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.

18 comments:

  1. My Son Jeep was also a television show (the title sounds like the later 1960s infamous bomb My Mother the Car). Didn't really recall it also being a radio show. SC

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  2. And there was a Magilla Gorilla cartoon with the little girl Ogee ("O-Gee"_) that had a similiar story..I can;t even remember the title.

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    1. "The Purple Mask", which is obviously a parody of something. Maybe the Scarlet Pimpernel?

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  3. To this day, whenever I have a cold or a stuffed nose, I have the overwhelming urge to do an impression of Howie Morris as Nimbus, just reciting his lines from this episode. His voice performance here was indelible.

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    1. It's funny, but Nimbus-with-a-cold sounds more like Arnold Stang's real voice.

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  4. The only other place I can think of where I've heard the term 'high-button shoes' is in Disney's 'Everybody Wants To Be A Cat' song.

    Incedentally, is 'bollix' as rude a word where you are as it is here? I remember hearing it at least twice on The Flintstones and was surprised also that it was spelled the way you use the word here.

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    1. I know that "bollix" is a variant on "bollocks" which in the UK means either "testicles" or "bulls--t," but in the US, "bollix" is a verb meaning "to mess (something) up."

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    2. "Bollocks" is pretty well unknown in the U.S. except for people who know its UK usage (chiefly thanks to the first Sex Pistols album), and while "bolix" evidently originated from its homonym, it only means messing something up. Given that, I doubt many people younger than me have even heard "bolix" used in any context. In other words, when writers who grew up in the thirties have all died, so will that word.

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  5. Woe to the impressionable 5-year-old who was expecting continuity out of a prime-time TV cartoon in 1962, but I can still remember being puzzled why Elroy was so excited about Nimbus when he had played a super-hero on TV about a month earlier in the "Elroy's TV Show" episode written by Warren Foster. It just seemed like the first episode made the second episode make no sense.

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  6. Since Walter Black was an alumnus of KU and lived in Lawrence, wonder if he worked for Herk Harvey's Centron Films?

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  7. George Kreisl and Edwin Aardal were the other animators and the backgrounds were by Montealegre and his crew.

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    1. I recognize Aardal's animation in the opening act, but thought the rest of the episode was Fraser and Vinci. George Kreisl's work is completely unfamiliar to me. Do you know where it appears in this episode?

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  8. "Sorry about your wall, lady"

    Love it when George (as Nimbus), unfamiliar with Nimbus' adventures, ends up with Elroy having to describe Nimbus' exploits to Nimbus!

    That, and when the real Nimbus gets halfway through his slogan, sneezes, and blows himself backwards out of the room!

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  9. Yikes! Watch it there, Fraser! We're beginning to venture into TV-MA territory with the last few of those drawings. Poor George got the full view.

    Another cartoon trope - soaking one's feet in a tub when suffering a cold.

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  10. There is another "I Love Lucy" connection to this particular Jetsons episode. George O'Hanlon appeared in the "Lucy and Superman" episode as Caroline Appleby's husband (his name is Charlie, if I remember correctly). It is the scene with the Applebys that spurs Lucy to outdo Caroline with a special guest for Little Ricky's birthday party.

    The Flintstones episode "Superstone" also makes use of this concept of the unavailable super hero who is replaced by a masquerading lead character.

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    1. BEYY-NEE-HEE-HAA-HAA!! (Superstone's catchphrases/clarion call.)

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    2. The notion that TV superheroes are expendable is touched upon here. "I'm the fifth Nimbus this month. ANYBODY can be Nimbus." This echoes the later Yogi episode "Batty Bear", in which TV superhero 'Batguy' begs kids to watch. "I could be replaced, you know."

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  11. Funny though, literally NOBODY could have replaced George Reeves. They tried to get the actor who played Jimmy Olsen to do a spinoff show and he wouldn't do it out of respect for Reeves. I don't think anyone could have replaced Adam West as Batman either, because his style was so perfect for the tone. He got the humor of it and knew exactly how to play it straight. Obviously this is different in superhero movie franchies (which often get rebooted with new actors) then it is with serialised TV shows. ( though they are gonna have a HELL of a time ever getting anyone to accept anyone besides Robert Downey JR. If they ever try to reboot Iron Man after he quits)

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