Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Cop Who Loved Cats

“He was very serious, he didn’t seem to be an actor at all, but just a very serious kind of brooding man,” is Arnold Stang’s recollection of the man who played Officer Dibble opposite his Top Cat—Allen Jenkins.

“Allen pretended to be grumpy but he wasn’t grumpy at all, he was a marshmallow,” Marvin Kaplan remembers.

So, who’s right?

People seem to exhibit different traits in reaction to different people. But this isn’t a human psychology blog. We’re here to talk cartoons.

Jenkins certainly was serious about acting, and his movie career at Warners was full of non-marshmallow roles—“a gangster, a reporter, a bouncer, a cab driver—and anything that called for a tough mug” (Virginia Macpherson, UP, Feb. 25, 1945). This biography appeared in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, August 20, 1961:

Tough-Guy Allen Jenkins To Be Voice of ‘Top Cat’
HOLLYWOOD — Allen Jenkins, who made a career of portraying tough guys for the movies, will be on television this fall every week, but viewers won’t see him. Jenkins will be heard as the voice of Officer Dibble, a character in ABC-TV’s new animated series, “Top Cat,” every Wednesday night, beginning Sept. 27.
Jenkins is looking forward to being heard and not seen. “This cartoon stuff is all new to me,” said the actor whose career began as a member of a Broadway chorus 42 years ago. “I think it's going to be fun.”
JENKINS’ character — Officer Dibble — is a harassed cop whose beat includes a New York alley in which reside Top Cat (Arnold Stang’s voice) and his motley gang of off-beat cats.
Jenkins was born April 9, 1900, on Staten Island, New York. His father, Robert Jenkins, was an actor, and so was his mother, the former Leona Clark. When Jenkins’ father died in 1906 Allen traveled with his mother, who continued her stage career.
After two years at Cooper Union, an engineering school, Allen went to work in a shipyard. “I wanted to be a marine architect,” he recalled. Then the acting bug bit him suddenly and for the first time.
“My first job was in the chorus of ‘Fitter Fatter’ and I remember one other guy from that chorus, Jimmy Cagney,” Jenkins said.
When Jenkins’ mother urged him to take acting seriously and get out of chorus work, he followed her advice, enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Art and soon landed his first dramatic stage role as a butler in “Secret.” He also doubled as assistant stage manager.
Several years of road company work followed before Jenkins won a leading role. When Spencer Tracy left “The Last Mile,” young Jenkins, Tracy’s understudy, took over the lead. He played featured roles in “Front Page” and “Five Star Final” on Broadway.
IT WAS while appearing in the Broadway hit, “Blessed Event,” that Hollywood beckoned to Jenkins.
When Warner Bros, bought “Blessed Event” they gave Jenkins “a 3-week guarantee.” He stayed with Warners for seven years [the contract was extended in August 1932] and eventually appeared in some 200 Hollywood movies.
A veteran radio and TV performer Jenkins has three children — two of whom have appeared with him in summer stock. Dorothy, 14, and Tony, 19, love the stage. Nancy, 22, is the non-professional like her mother, whom Jenkins met and married in Chicago more than 30 years ago.
“Getting character and personality into an animated figure is a challenge to any actor,” Jenkins said, “and I hope I can do a good job.” “Top Cat” is the creation of Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc., and will be directed by Alan Dinehart.

Dinehart may have been the key to Jenkins’ hiring at Hanna-Barbera. Dinehart’s father, Alan Dinehart, Sr., was under contract to Warner Bros. and appeared in movies with Jenkins. One was Rackety Rax (1932), which also featured Arthur Pierson, who was a Story Supervisor when Dinehart was Associate Producer of The Flintstones.

But Jenkins, the guy with the homely mug, wasn’t all serious. Kaplan told historian Earl Kress that Jenkins “had this cat who owned him,” which is a great starting point for any article about a cartoon about a beat cop protecting his turf from scheming cats. It was for Joseph Finnigan of United Press International, anyway. Here’s his column that appeared a couple of weeks before Top Cat debuted.

Actor Purrs-Down His Alley
HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 12 (UPI)—Allen Jenkins has a role in a TV cartoon series that is right down his alley because it’s about the actor’s favorite non-human pals—cats.
JENKINS IS one of Hollywood’s all-time cat lovers. One of his felines, a 27-pound animal named Smiley, was found by Allen in a saloon in Westchester, near the Los Angeles Airport, when Jenkins was en route to catch a plane.
“I stopped for a few beers and here was this cat,” recalled Allen. “He was only a kitten then and the bartender gave him to me. I put the cat into my overcoat pocket and we both headed for San Francisco.”
That was years ago, and Jenkins’ love for Smiley never diminished.
The two pals have taken innumerable cross-country airplane trips. So, now that Allen has a chance to play opposite cats, he’s overjoyed.
OF COURSE viewers won’t see Al but they’ll hear a lot from him as he provides a voice for “Officer Dibble” on the new “Top Cat” series. All other characters are cats.
Arnold Stang talks the title role, conversing with such pals as “Spook,” “Brain,” “Fancy Fancy,” “Benny the Ball” and “Choo Choo.”
The ABC show was created by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, who have a lot of experience turning out cat stories.
They worked together at Metro Goldwyn Mayer on the famous “Tom and Jerry” films, a cat and mouse cartoon which entertained millions of moviegoers.
THE TWO veteran animators have won seven Academy Awards. Now independent producers, they have such TV shows as “Huckleberry Hound,” “The Flintstones” and “Quick Draw McGraw.”
Jenkins says “Officer Dibble” will be “the sparkplug of the thing. He takes the bumps.”
ALL ACTORS like to be seen as well as heard, but Jenkins is perfectly content to be the voice for a cop who chases a crazy bunch of cats.
“It could well bring me a new audience,” said Jenkins, who also is rehearsing for a role in Los Angeles stage productions of “Guys and Dolls.”
“WE’VE GOT 180 million people in this country and I dare say 140 million of them like cats,” he estimated. “There’s a built-in audience right there.”
Jenkins purrs with optimism when he talks about his gang of kitties.
“I’ll go out on a limb on this show,” he said, offering a flat prediction.
“I think it'll be a smash. I’ve never said that before.”
It had better be or Allen will find a lot of cats out on that limb.

Getting a free cat along with a few drinks doesn’t sound much like the behaviour of brooder. In fact, the combination of the two showed Jenkins’ irreverent side when it came to the law. Smiley and Jenkins’ love of tippling were front and centre of a case more comic than anything Jenkins’ Officer Dibble dealt with on Top Cat. We go back to 1948.

Allen Jenkins Held on Drunkenness Charge; Says Pet Cat Does His Driving
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 27 (AP) — Film Actor Allen Jenkins, 47, who told police his pet cat “Smiley” does his driving, faces trial next month on a drunken driving charge.
Jenkins, with “Smiley” in tow, was held for six hours yesterday before being released in $150 bond on his plea of innocent to the misdemeanor charge. Trial was set for Feb. 16.
When arrested, Jenkins was quoted by police as protesting:
“Smiley was driving. I was just along for the ride.”
Jenkins— and Smiley— left by plane last night for San Francisco.
As the actor boarded the plane, a member in the seeing-off party shouted:
“Don’t let Smiley drive.”

Both Jenkins and Smiley were placed in a cell. Remarkably, the trial went ahead. And, like O.J., like Michael Jackson, the media was there to record the grim details. In court, Jenkins was a little more sober-minded.

Allen Jenkins Denies Drunk Driving Charge
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 18.—(AP)—Movie comic Allen Jenkins denies he was intoxicated the night he was arrested and charged with drunken driving.
Jenkins, 47, testified yesterday that he had taken “just four bourbons in a period of several hours” and was “sober enough to drive.”
Police Officer Lester Jones told a Municipal Court jury that at the time Jenkins was booked last January 26, the actor insisted his pet cat, Smiley, be fingerprinted first.
“I did it to humor him,” Jones testified.
After Jenkins’ arrest, police said the actor told them the cat was driving.
Both Smiley and Jenkins were placed in a cell. Smiley wasn’t in court.
Jenkins denied he was drunk and said he hadn’t been given a sobriety test.
Jenkins said yesterday “the part about Smiley was just a gag. He is a remarkable cat. He goes everywhere with me.”
The jury will get the case today.

Jenkins said he hoped jurors appreciated the “great gag” about the driving cat and that he only wanted the paw prints “as a souvenir.” Something that may have been more relevant to their decision than the precursor to SNL’s Toonces was the fact Jenkins was never given a sobriety test. Reporters neglected to reveal whether Smiley had. It appears a verdict was quick.

Actor Allen Jenkins And His Cat Freed
HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 19—(UP)—Actor Allen Jenkins and his cat were cleared today of drunk diving charges.
“This is a great relief to Smiley,” Jenkins said. “He was upset about us being lawbreakers.”
Jenkins, who exonerated Smiley, his cat, during the trial, was acquitted yesterday.
“I don’t want him to have a police record,” he said.
He told police who arrested him Jan. 26 that Smiley was doing the driving, and he just was along for the ride.

Jenkins helped others who loved their bourbon a little bit too much. He was involved with 12 Step House in Oxnard, California in the late ‘60s. An AP ‘where are they now’ story of October 1973 reported he was living alone in a home in Santa Monica, divorced and without a cat to keep him company. The following year, he had problems breathing, had a lung removed at a local hospital and died a week later on July 20, 1974.

We’ll let Marvin Kaplan have a final word about Jenkins and his role as Officer Dibble.

“He was marvelous, he was wonderful,” Kaplan told Earl Kress. “Allen was the perfect casting for that part because you needed an authority figure who wasn’t obnoxious. And he was very kind, and very gentle, and he was the nice cop.”

So it seems Stang and Kaplan were both right. Allen Jenkins was both serious and a marshmallow after all. And, as we can see, he was perfectly cast the cop who loved cats. T.C. and Smiley could have told you.


  1. OK, the words "nuance" and "Hanna-Barbera cartoons" don't normally go together, but a lot of the early H-B stuff comes off the theatrical cartoons' usage of the "non bad guy" bad guy/authority figure. Dibble fits in with Ranger Smith, Mr. Slate, Mr. Spacely and even going up through Mr. Peebles in "Magilla Gorilla" as the regular characters who were supposed to be the heavies in the stories, but who the audience wasn't supposed to strongly dislike. The same can't be said for the H-B heavies in their later shows.

    Jenkins' was also basically playing the same role Paul Ford did on "The Phil Silvers Show" and if there's any weakness, it's that TC was overtly trying to scam Dibble (even more so than Yogi with the Ranger) which may have made the authority figure a little too sympathetic -- you've got to walk a fine line between making the audience enjoy watching a scam pulled off and the audience siding with the victim more than the scammer.

    (Also, and semi off-topic on the last thread, thanks to Anonymous mentioning Top Cat's ratings battle with "The Price Is Right" and me having too much free times on my hands Wednesday to surf YouTube, I now have the damned 1960s Price Is Right theme stuck in my head. Not quite a Capitol Hi-Q cut and not quite a Bert Kampfert number that 60s game shows doted over, but it's in the same ballpark.)

    1. Please read my response to Anonymous...TOP CAT wasn't up against THE PRICE IS RIGHT.

  2. Hanna Barbera cartoons are the best cartoons ever made!

  3. Agreed! These cartoons are just fantastic! There is nothing amazing like these ones!

  4. I remember Jenkings fo his becoming a Warner contract player in the early 30s. It is sad that he mostly played supporting parts, the hero's side-kick, e.g. for James Cagney. i remeber this character quite well.

  5. Of course the Warner cartoons then were Disney clones and also Warners owns TOp Cat and any other H-B cartoons, and Top Cat was in the earlier WB style,too.:)Steve

    PS Seems like every HB voice actor of the early sixzxties worked at WB.