Saturday, 20 February 2016

Snagglepuss – Don't Know It Poet

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara.
Credits: Animation – Allen Wilzbach, Layout – Don Sheppard, Backgrounds – Bob Gentle, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – John Freeman, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Maiden Clarissa – Jean Vander Pyl; Snagglepuss, Irate Father – Daws Butler; Duke de Geese – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Production R-75 (fourth of eight cartoons in 1961-62 season).
Plot: Snagglepuss pulls a Cyrano de Bergerac routine to win the hand of a maiden for a shy, French-accented Duke.

Snagglepuss was a character with endless possibilities. Anything involving theatricality or the great dramatic works of literature could be easily woven into a plot for the stage rhetoric-loving mountain lion. Especially if costumes were involved. And if said works were familiar enough to be used as a vehicle of parody.

So it is that Snagglepuss is plunked down into that cartoon land that isn’t quite Merrie Olde England, isn’t quite 18th Century France but isn’t quite the present, either, as writer Mike Maltese adapts the tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. Well, he adapts the best-known part of the novel, when Christian de Neuvillette proxies for the big-nosed de Bergerac to woo the lovely maiden Roxane.

Maltese, noted for putting the language of romance into a stinky French skunk, concocted these mots d’amour for the cartoon’s version of the famous scene:

What brings me riding hence—
My poor heart all aflutter?
Is it to build a fence?
Or buy a pound of butter?

Nay! I come ridin’ hence—
I don’t need a shove—
Tho’ the fare was 50 cents
I come to woo my love.

I will finish my rhyme.
Now, wilt thou be mine?

Part of the fun of this cartoon is it is like a stage, and everyone in it merely players, some of whom lapse out of character and switch from a stage declamatory style to give us asides in some lower-class American voice. Here’s an exchange after maiden Clarissa’s weight starts cracking the balcony she’s on and Snagglepuss hammers in a support beam.

Snag: There! That ought to hold an elephant.
Clarissa: Elephant! Who dares calleth me an elephant?
Snag (playing a lute): I come a wooin’ thee, with heart so pure. I am lovesick, and you are my only cure.
Clarissa: Who doth help and whine, as though t’were beneath my balcony?
Snag: Not only does yon buxom belle lack shape, but she also has no ear for music.
Clarissa: Do I hear the bleatings of a disenchanted donkey?
Snag: Neether, neither, my fair lady. ‘Tis I, the Duck de Geese, come to woo ya with lover’s rhyme.
Clarissa: Who, me? Are you sure you have the right address?
Jean Vander Pyl is really great in this. Her chubby maiden talks like a really bad actress reading lines until she snaps out of character (as in the last sentence above).

Snagglepuss’ wooing is interrupted by “the inevitable, ever-lovin’ irate father. The two get into a sabre duel. “Stop it! Wait!” shouts the maiden. “He is no burglar. He doth come to win my fair hand. (out of character) Don’t blow the chance of a life-time!”

Anyway, it turns out Snagglepuss has the wrong address. “Sacroiliac! You are not zee lovely Lady Lavendish!” says the Duke after the maiden jumps off the balcony and splats onto his back. “Oh, that skinny thing? She moved last week. We’re the new tenants,” responds the chubby replacement. At this point, the Duke borrows Snagglepuss’ routine. “Exit, broken back, heart and all, stage left!” And the cartoon ends with the Hanna-Barbera eternal chase, with the Duke stabbing the running Snagglepuss with his sword. But why is it Snagglepuss’ fault? The Duke was the one who gave him the address. “Ouch, ouch, the Duke is a grouch” indeed.

Continuity obsessors may now enthusiastically point to this cartoon and giddily spread the news on the internet that Snagglepuss’ real name is Cyril D. Snagglepuss, and point to this cartoon. The name was designed for a one-shot thing only, sorry. And you’ve got to appreciate Maltese calling the nobleman the Duke de Geese. Duke as in “Duck.”

The animator of this cartoon is Allen Wilzbach. Whether he’s still alive, I don’t know, but he was born December 1, 1929 and grew up in Cheviot, Ohio where his dad drove a milk truck. He was still in Ohio in 1948 as he placed in an art competition in Cincinnati that year. I believe Greg Wilzbach, who worked at Disney, is his son. Wilzbach has his characters almost facing the camera during some of the dialogue in this cartoon. An odd thing he animates (which may have come from Maltese’s story) is little hearts breaking near the Duke. His heart isn’t broken at this time, so I’m not sure why they’d shatter like that.

And before we taketh our leave, wouldst thou vieweth a stoney interior from Robert Mac Gentle, with our two heroes, bowin’ all the way, stage centre.


  1. It is from this cartoon that I learned the word "magilla".

  2. Jean Vander Pyl really is incredible in this cartoon, and have in mind that she was trained in Shakespeare. She is one Hanna-Barbera's best actresses. However, Bill an Joe's greatest actress is beyond a shadow of a doubt Lillian Randolph.

    1. Lillian Randolph, the voice of Mammy Two Shoes (and also Madam Queen on the AMOS 'N' ANDY tv show, among other roles...

    2. Birdie on ''The Great Gildersleeve''.

  3. Al Wilzbach passed away a few years ago. I worked with Al on several occasions over the years. Al was a really nice gentle man. He contracted polio in the 1950's and had to wear a leg brace on one of his legs. I never heard him complain about his condition.

    1. Robert, thanks for the note. I'm sorry to hear that.