Monday, 28 September 2009

Top Cat! Starring the Voice of ... Who?

A note from Yowp: Today is Arnold Stang’s birthday, so this post is in honour of the occasion. Your friendly Yowp wishes him many more filled with good health.

Some voice actors are so right for the characters they play, you wonder how anyone else could possibly have been considered for the roles. You can picture Joe Barbera in 1960, looking over ideas for The Flintstones, simply picking up the phone, calling Alan Reed and telling him “You’re perfect for Fred. Come over and voice him. See you at 1:30.”

It’s not that simple, of course. There are auditions. And in the case of The Flintstones, it’s surprising to think that Alan Reed and Mel Blanc were not the first choices for Fred and Barney, and they re-did dialogue tracks that had been recorded by Bill Thompson and Hal Smith in the roles.

Barbera had the same problem with another cartoon. And, again, it’s difficult to picture anybody but Arnold Stang playing the Sgt. Bilko-esque character. But Stang wasn’t the first choice. He wasn’t even the second choice. The actor originally hired was someone you likely have never heard of. That’s because he never, before or since, provided a voice for an animated character. A syndicated column by Robert E. Stansfield dated May 28, 1961, fills us in.

Michael O’Shea had been slated as the voice of the new fall entry, “Top Cat,” a “family entertainment” cartoon feature slated for prime evening time this fall. However, he is out because of other commitments and is being replaced by the voice of Arnold Stang. Stang is already the voice of “Herman, the Brave Mouse” on a current cartoon show. Another cat lined up for fall is Maurice Gossfield [sic], the Doberman on Phil Silver’s [sic] Army comedy series; and Allen Jenkins is the voice of a police officer (a cartoon human). Three cartoon cats are still hunting voices.

Stansfield (or his source) was pulling a few punches. Another article of the same time quotes Hanna-Barbera Productions as saying O’Shea was up for a live-action role. But Alan Dinehart, who started with Hanna-Barbera on The Flintstones, and whose credits include the immortal and highly-respected Super President and a much-beloved animated version of Mr. T., soon gave a different published version of why the man who played the puss got the boot. This is from a syndicated column of Saturday, September 23, 1961:

Viewing TV With Hal Humphrey
Cartoon Shows On TV Bread and Butter To Many

Hollywood—“I like this job because I don't have to deal with the stars—if he gets tough I just erase him,” says Alan Dinehart, who has the unique job of directing “The Flintstones” cartoon series (Fridays, ABC).
Dinehart is joking, of course. Actually his work is doubled because he is working with two stars. There is the one the artist puts on paper and the flesh-and-blood character who furnishes the voice.
After sitting in with the writers and artists, Dinehart moves into the recording studio where the voice actors are matched with the animated action.
He has had his troubles finding the right voice for the title role in the new cartoon series, "Top Cat," which goes on ABC (Channel 13) Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
Actor Michael O'Shea was first for the job but didn’t read fast enough, according to Dinehart.
Took Too Long
“Instead of the normal three hours to do a half-hour episode, it was taking O’Shea six hours, so we had to drop him,” Dinehart explains.
Daws Butler, who does most of the voices for “Huckleberry Hound” and “Yogi Bear” (two other Hanna-Barbera productions), was called in. He could not hit on a voice which had enough of its own character to suit Dinehart.
Now Arnold Stang, one-time stooge for Milton Berle, is Top Cat. Maurice Gosfield, who did Doberman on Phil Silvers’ “Bilko” show, is the voice for Benny the Ball in “Top Cat.” Allen Jenkins’ voice will give life to one of the cats.
These are pretty big names, and you might ask how come they are willing to bury their identity behind a cartoon character? The answer is brutal, but simple. Nobody was knocking down their door with offers to do anything else.
Dinehart, himself, says this is why he is directing cartoon characters instead of live people. He started out in the footsteps of his father, the late Alan Dinehart, Sr. After a short whirl at acting on the Broadway stage and a five-year stint in World War II, young Alan (he’s 44 now) became one of TV’s pioneer directing talents.
His most fruitful job was directing the Alan Young comedy series on CBS in the early ’50s. It gave him a reputation for being an exceptional comedy director, but when comics began dropping off TV like autumn leaves, Alan Dinehart dropped, too.
“I ‘got religion’ and went with an advertising agency and met some great fellows,” Alan recalls. “I remember one who had three vents in his suitcoat—I mean on each side!”
Had Enough
Dinehart left that rarefied atmosphere of Madison Avenue when he was asked to supervise the “Arthur Murray Dance Party.” That was carrying comedy too far.
Joe Barbera called him in New York and offered him a job with the thriving Hanna-Barbera cartoon factory.
“I confess I wasn’t thrilled but when Joe said ‘The Flintstones’ was about Stone Age and then offered to pay my expenses to Hollywood, I was hooked.”
Although a huge commercial success (big ratings) its first season, “The Flintstones” was considerably less than an artistic smash. Dinehart says it is much improved this season, and he hopes the humor will be a bit more adult.
As might be expected, the Hanna-Barbera success with “The Flintstones” not only is giving birth to “Top Cat,” but other cartooneries are coming up this fall with “Bullwinkle,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “Calvin and the Colonel” (with Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll of Amos ‘n’ Andy).

It’s understandable Daws would have been pulled from the role. He was already doing a Phil Silvers-type voice for Hokey Wolf.

Dinehart may not have had much choice but to reveal why O’Shea found himself fired. Arnold Stang himself talked about it in a syndicated column interview by Jack Gaver, dated June 16, 1961, though Stang shows his class by not naming names:

“They tried a couple of other voices for T.C. — in fact, one actor finished five episodes — but they decided they didn’t reflect the character of T.C. properly, and I was asked to take a shot at it. So, we started all over from scratch.”

Colourful characters seem to have hung around the world of animation back then, and O’Shea was no exception. Let’s check our newspaper clippings about Edward Francis Michael Patrick Joseph O’Shea:

March 19, 1947: O’Shea’s wife filed for divorce, citing desertion. He married Virginia Mayo on July 8. In 1951, his ex sued him for $25,730. He tried to get a reduction in alimony the following year.

June 10, 1953: “Michael O’Shea will be able to vary the monotony of his appearances in court (alimony troubles) by appearing in a movie for a change.”

August 24, 1959: “BRISTOL, Pa. (AP) – Actor Michael O’Shea was arrested Monday after allegedly displaying a pistol in defense of his actress wife, Virginia Mayo, during an argument over the air conditioning in a restaurant here.”

O’Shea died of a heart attack in his New York apartment on December 5, 1973.

Getting back to Top Cat’s voice, what’s surprising is there’s no mention in any of these stories of a talented mimic and former radio actor who could do a pretty funny Silvers-like voice. In fact, Joe Barbera used that very actor and voice in the 1960-61 season of The Flintstones. The voice belonged to Jerry Mann, who played a variety of characters in several episodes that year, but is mostly forgotten because the show’s original end credits were replaced when it went into syndication decades ago. Cartoon producer/writer Mark Evanier speculated in a Usenet conversation in 2000 it was “conjecture” that Mann auditioned for the role. If so, Mann was evidently not acceptable or available—he didn’t die until December 1987—or perhaps ran into outside politics as Lucille Bliss did twice when she landed title roles in Ruff and Reddy and The Jetsons. But that’s a story for another time. And we’ll tell you a little more about the always enjoyable Arnold Stang as the most effectual T.C., too.


  1. Yowp,
    JERRY MANN was who I had though you would bring up., I've hear about actor MIChAEL O'SHEA-heard he was the original voice of GEORGE JETSON. Had no idea that he'd auditioned as T.C.


  2. A big Happy Birthday to Arnold Stang!! It's also good to know that " Top Cat " alumni Marvin Kaplin ( Choo Choo ) and John Stephenson( Fancy ) are still with us...and working.

  3. Arnold Stang was probably for the best. Look at that picture! He has credability-He's the Honey Nut Cheerios bee. Also, Mike O'Shea might have killed Bill and Joe if the Air conditioning was problematic and not up to his standards.

  4. Yowp..You've mentioned under a different name on on e of the forums correctly that Top Cat had some pretty odd voice casting, especially considering a few, Maurice Gosfield [yet another Sgt.Bilko connection] was the roly poly little cat Benny the Ball aka Pvt.Doberman, and Allan Jenkins as Officer Dibble, who had much voice work on radio and live appearances on TV and movies but not otherwise in animaiton [Marvin Kaplan, and for such performers I'll also add Top Cat himself, were more lkucky animation wise.] Then you've got Leo DeLyon, the only one doing two main characters, and the only official Hanna-Barbera regular, John Stephenson, in the main cast.

  5. For years, people have assumed that Stang is dead, no matter how ofter he pops up after they say it.Now, the people at PBS have a theory that Bilko was cancelled because he was too "Anti-Authoritarian" for an "increasingly conformist culture", but shouldn't the existace of "Cat", post-Bilko, kind of put the lie to that?

  6. Well, sadly, he is now dead..on ANIMATION HISTORY Ray pointer revealed that Stang was NINETY ONE!