Friday, 20 December 2013

Some Words From Top Cat

It’s been four years since the voice of Top Cat, Arnold Stang, passed away. There’s something about the show “Top Cat” that doesn’t do it for me, although I love Arnold Stang and I love Marvin Kaplan and think Hoyt Curtin’s music on the series is brilliant.

Anyways, I won’t try to analyse the pros and cons of the show, which was Hanna-Barbara’s first real failure (in that it couldn’t make it in prime time). Instead, allow me to go into my Stang file and post some photos (some may have already been posted) and two interviews from the ‘60s. Unfortunately, he doesn’t touch on Top Cat, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy what he has to say nonetheless.

This first interview was for the syndicated “TV Key” service, which provided newspapers with a Q-and-A style show biz column and an another written in the feature story format. This was published by the Binghamton Press on January 6, 1962, when “Top Cat” was in first-run. The fire, incidentally, was in Bel Air, California, in spite of the New York dateline.

Radio Fine Medium, Stang Feels

Arnold Stang was in New York recently between houses. The voice of ABC’s Top Cat was one of the many members of the movie colony burned out during the disastrous fire.
“I was in Boston doing a show and my wife was in New York when it happened,” explained Stang. “It’s a funny thing, though, how people react to tragedy. My neighbor’s house was on fire and burning to the ground, and what do you think he was doing? He was on my roof spraying it with water hoping to protect my house. Of course when the news reached me my first thought was my children, but I must have forgotten how many wonderful friends I have.
"When the kids came out of school that day three of our friends met them and prepared to to take them to their houses to live. I understand it almost ended, up a tug of war for possession of the Stang brood.”
The first reaction from the public when they read about a fire like this is that everything is insured anyway. But as Arnold asked, “How much insurance do you think I carried on a gift I received from FDR? And could I insure a letter from Churchill? Not to mention hundreds of personal belongings and the scripts of every show I’ve ever done, plus recordings of many of them.”
Although he only weighs in at 103 pounds and buys his suits at the boy’s department, Arnold Stang has better than 25 years experience in this business.
He ran away from his home in Chelsea, Mass., at the age of 9 when he wrote a letter to a radio program in New York asking for an audition and they replied that they only audition on Saturday.
Little Arnold hopped a bus, landed in New York, read a serious poem and was signed on as a boy comedian at $10 a week. He made a deal with his folks that he would never miss regular schooling if they’d let him pursue an acting career and he was off.
“Radio had it all over TV,” said the veteran of the microphone.
“The listener was able to draw his own mental images and the actors had the audience imagination working for them. Take Jack Benny’s safe . . . on radio you’d hear five minutes of sound effects including rattling chains, dungeon noises and creaking doors and it never failed to get laughs.
“On TV Benny has to show you what goes on in his vault and, in spite of some wonderfully creative tricks, it’s never as effective.”
Arnold’s favorite radio job was on the Henry Morgan show. No devotee of radio comedy could argue this point with him because, in spite of the nonsense Morgan subjects himself to on I've Got a Secret, his radio program was one of the outstanding achievements of radio’s final decade of supremacy in home entertainment Stang’s voice? In person it’s quite normal but a 103-pound actor with a normal voice could only play a jockey, and Arnold has a family to support.

Prior to “Top Cat,” Stang’s cartoon career had mainly consisted of voicing Herman the Mouse for Famous Studios (which didn’t believe in giving fame to its voice actors as none were credited). He provided a voice in the 1961 feature, “Alakazam the Great,” which hit theatres just before T.C. debuted. But with “Top Cat,” his cartoon career had peaked. Unless someone thinks of “Pinocchio in Outer Space” (1965) as a high point in animation. Stang hit the publicity circuit to push that piece of animated dreck which he once called “a first-class Christmas release film which the kids will love and which will pleasantly surprise the parents.” This is the most complete version of the story I can find but it appears awfully brief.

Cartoon Picture Drawn to Go With Voice
United Press International

NEW YORK, Jan. 26 [1966] (UPI) — When Arnold Stang speaks for a cartoon character, he doesn’t time his lines to fit the picture. They draw the picture to match his voice.
The usual procedure in dubbing is for the actor to sit and watch it being projected and synchronize his voice as nearly as possible with the lip movements on the screen. Stang doesn’t work that way.
“I find there are almost always changes I want to make in the lines, for reasons of style or characterization,” he said at lunch here recently. “Changes in words, changes in timing. No two actors ever read the same passage in exactly the same way.
“So I have an understanding that, when I do a cartoon, I record the voice first and then the picture is drawn to conform to the lines.”
Stang is perhaps best known just now as the voice of television’s “Top Cat.” He also spoke for Nurtle the Twurtle in “Pinocchio in Outer Space” a Universal Pictures’ release.
(A twurtle is a space creature that looks the way a big turtle would if it were closely related to Arnold Stang.)
The performing credits Stang has accumulated in 20-odd years include half a dozen Broadway plays, more than 20 records, nearly that many feature films and so many radio and television shows he has lost count.
“I am usually called in on a guest basis (on television shows),” he says. “I have all the excitement and the public acceptance without the crushing responsibilities that plague comedians with their own programs.
“Most people tell me they remember me best for one thing,” he says, “but it’s rare to find two people who remember the same thing.”

This column is a little odd in that the soundtrack of a cartoon is generally recorded first; it certainly was at Hanna-Barbera. Some of the New York studios used to have the dialogue done last but I don’t know when that practice stopped. It had to be well before 1965.

Stang had some experience as a turtle. He played the voice of Socrates, a turtle with 500 kids and a wife who looked like his brother, on a Sunday afternoon show called “Washington Square.” Ray Bolger starred and it aired every other week on NBC in the 1956-57 season. Interestingly, Stang once told TV columnist Steven H. Scheuer that it was originally supposed to be a cat puppet.

There’s one connection between Hanna-Barbera and “Pinocchio in Outer Space” that’s so obscure, it’s really too geeky to mention. In the scene when Pinocchio first meets up with Stang’s twurtle on Mars, the soundtrack plays a toodling sweet-potato cue. It’s the same stock music cue on the Augie Doggie cartoon “Mars Little Precious” where the Martian baby climbs Doggie Daddy’s wall.

Here are a couple of great TV magazine covers featuring T.C. The one on the left is courtesy of Jerry Beck; I apologise for not noting who sent me the one on the right.

By all accounts, Stang enjoyed his time on “Top Cat.” Maybe one of the reasons was it played against his little runt type on camera. But it could well be because the soundtracks were recorded with all of the actors in a studio playing off each other, just like in radio. Radio was Stang’s favourite medium and one where he truly shone.


  1. Thanks for post, Yowp. I always liked Top Cat and have become bigger fan after watching a lot episodes over the past year. I appreciate show much more than when I was a little kid. I thought the writing and characters were very good. Many of Hoyt Curtin's great underscore created for TC would later show up on later HB cartoons. Yeah, unfortunately it was prime-time failure. I think after huge success of The Flintstones in primetime, HB assumed primetime was going to be their bread & butter going forward. It's interesting to note all HB post Flintstones primetime efforts, Top Cat, The Jetson's and Jonny Quest all lasted just one season. It's too bad because even if those shows weren't successful commercially I think they were some of best HB shows ever in IMO. Sadly, shortly after Jonny Quest's primetime run HB made their first made for Saturday show, Secret Squirrel/Atom Ant and HB's downward spiral into bad cartoons began, save for a few.

  2. The intro and closing credits of Top Cat are a joy and have been for me since I first saw them in 1963.

  3. I too enjoyed (still do, have complete series on DVD) Top Cat. Will have to pay closer attention to the music cues, since I didn't realize Hoyt Curtain did them. So kind of 'toon "connoisier" I am. Thanks for the post, Yowp.

  4. This is very tip-top, Yowp, posting on the same person but two different stories...this being on him and the radio....with that as my fave medium myself, and records a close second and being just a "canned version":, the childrens records [to other posters] that Yowp posted on his other blog, Tralfaz, are examples of his voice without a cartoon, movie, live performance or TV show tied to it. Top Cat, Jetsons, and Johny Quest, with one season each in prime time, yeah, may have failed there, but were happily rerun endlessly on weekday and Saturday Morning and Sunday Morning [when they USED to show such cartoons on Sunday.]. Of course, H-B wasn;t the only studio having early 60s prime time failures, with 1961 having TVS/Universal/Kayro's "Amos & Andy"-like :"Calvin and the Colonel"-imagine, an animated Bilko and Amos and Andy-the latter, both due to the monumentality of the original radio show and mid-decade [1965] racial issues, since then having remained a most interesting curiosity.

    Hoyt Curtin's Top Cues [:)] are among his best..turning up immediately on the Flintstones [the one where, as the title stated, "Dino Disappears", one of Season 4's first, which was a Pebbles-based episode centering around the resentment other chartacters felt, had the "Rhapsody in Blue" cue form Top Cat used when Dino poses on a gigantic dogfood billboard!]


  5. I saw the part, Part three, on You Tube of Pinnochio in Outer Space when Nurtle and Pinoke [as Jiminy Cricket called him in the classic Disney musical] meet and it is the same cue [See Yowp's final sentence]!

  6. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth and HB-fans from the whole world,

    Here's a tribute that our HB-fanatic friend Andrew "Suga Beet/Granitoons" Morrice (from Great Britain) did to the late Arnold Stang (the Top Cat's eternal voice in English) at deviantART.
    This reference is located on the following link:
    Enjoy it!

  7. And plus, although Top Cat, the Jetsons, and Jonny Quest only lasted but one season in their initial run in prime time, the Jetsons and Jonny Quest both had a revival series in the '80s, and Top Cat got to be part of Yogi's Treasure Hunt.