Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Arnold Stang on Top Cat

Arnold Stang was busier outside the studio than in it in 1961.

Variety of July 19th of that year reported he was hitting the promo circuit for the animated feature film Alakazam the Great. Then it blurbed on September 29th that he’d be doing the same thing for Top Cat.

Stang was assisted on his tour by Arnie Carr’s press kit. The same phrases and quotes are found in various local newspaper interviews with Stang, such as the tale about “The Raven.”

The column below was published by the Akron Beacon Journal on December 17, 1961. Already, T.C. was in trouble in the Neilsens. The story talks of 28 episodes but a total of 30 appeared in prime time. His selection actually was a complex thing, but he doesn’t get into it in this particular interview. One of the syndication services revealed (this comes from the North Adams Transcript of October 21, 1961):

Arnold Stang was the last actor to have an audition for the voice of "Top Cat," the cartoon feline. Dozens of actors were tested and complete shows were made with other actors Michael O'Shea, Mickey Shaughnessy and Daws Butler. They had about settled on Butler when Stang was given a chance. After one reading, he was signed.
Fred Danzig of UPI reported on May 17, 1961 that Stang had replaced O’Shea. Evidently O’Shea didn’t have the role long. Variety reported on May 9th that O’Shea had the job (there was no mention of Butler but mentioned other actors previously cast).

Top Cat, to me, is one of those the-parts-are-greater-than-the-whole shows. The voice casting was very good and I love the cues Hoyt Curtin wrote for it, but the stories and characters don’t really connect with me. They did with others and T.C. still has a loyal band of fans. Stang does, too. Count me as part of that one.

Stang Is 'Top Cat's' Meow
Work's Steady But Nobody Sees Him
After knocking around the comedy world for all but 10 of his 37 years, bespectacled little Arnold Stang finally has landed a steady job in a major role.
But now that he's on television regularly, nobody ever sees him.
Stang provides the voice of ABC's Top Cat in the animated cartoon series of the same name. It's seen here Wednesdays at 8:30 on WEWS. His selection for the role of "Top Cat" was "a complex thing," he quips.
"They called and asked if I'd like to do a show. I said, 'Does it pay? and 'I'll take it'."
Most of his jobs didn't come that easily. Like many other comedians, Stang, at the ripe old age of 10, thought his true calling was serious drama.
The skinny, squeaky-voiced boy stood before producers of a big-time New York radio show and recited Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." The producers doubled up with laughter.
"The Raven" isn't supposed to be funny. But Stang's audition fractured them.
"I was heartbroken when they laughed," says Stang. "But the wounds healed quickly when I was given a part on the show."
Somehow it's hard to picture Stang as a show biz VIP.
He's five-three and weighs 120 pounds with his horn-rimmed glasses on.
You could mistake him for a pin boy who has been out of work since automation hit the bowling alleys.
He also has popping eyeballs, a receding chin and a funny voice and could get laughs almost regardless of what he says.
Over the years, Stang has done about everything from acting in soap operas on radio to selling chocolate bars on television.
In radio days, he played Seymour in "The Goldbergs" and Gerald [sic] on the Henry Morgan show. In addition, he made guest appearances with comedians Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle and the late Fred Allen.
When show business jobs were meager, he delivered telegrams and later packages for a New York ski shop.
For a while he pushed chocolate on a TV commercial. ("Whatta hunk-a-chocolate.")
In one of his first TV roles, Stang became Francis, the wise-cracking stagehand on "The Milton Berle Show."
Now working for Hanna-Barbera Productions, Stang has made 28 "Top Cat" shows and is still putting them out.
"We spend more money on writers alone than many of the big specials on TV," say Stang. "Each show costs about $67,000."
It took a staff of about 200 four and a half months to do 14,000 drawings and the scripts Top Cat has used so far. Dubbing in voices takes another eight hours for each show.
Stang stopped briefly in Cleveland recently to plug the show which apparently needs some sort of a boost. "Top Cat" is opposite the Joey Bishop Show and Checkmate and has the lowest rating of the three.
"I don't believe much in those ratings or that they are necessarily representative of the show's popularity," Stang snaps.
Stang agrees that the success of the "Flintstones" in 1960 brought the onslaught of the animated cartoons this season. However, he says, "The "Flintstones," (no pun intended) is much more "primitive" than "Top Cat."
Does he think there are too many cartoons? "Definitely not!"
"If there are two poorly produced shows on TV then there are two too many, Stang adds. "This goes for any type of show."
Stang feels "Top Cat" is a well-produced family show.
"The dialogue appeals to the adults and the pictures appeal to the children. I think it's a very happy marriage."
Stang uses a new personality for Top Cat to differentiate the cat from his "Arnold Stang type character." "I'm trying to develop new Arnold Stang catch phrases for Top Cat."
"Top Cat is someone the viewers can easily identify with someone else they know. Maybe it's the guy down the street or their boss or even their mother-in-law," he says.
"It's been proven that the shows that last and are popular must have a strong identification with the audience."
After signing for the "Top Cat" role, Stang moved his family from New Rochelle, N. Y., to Hollywood. It was a bad move for the Stangs.
They lost their home in the Bel-Air fire this Fall. "The only one at home was the maid," says Stang.
"That's the thing about these fallout shelters," he quips, "the only people that'll be saved are the maids."
He hopes to rebuild in the Spring.
Stang and his wife JoAnne have a son David, 11, and a daughter, Deborah, 10.
"We spend a lot of time reading, and often in the evening after we've read the paper we'll all sit down and discuss it," says Arnold.
TV is out for the kids on school nights except, of course, for "Top Cat."
What do they think of pop's show?
"They like it," says Stang, "but they let me know when there's something on the show they didn't like."
A confirmed do-it-yourself fan, Stang wired his California home for hi-fi by crawling through the attic "because I didn't want to cut holes in the wall."
He learned his lesson at his New York home. After knocking a hole in the wall, he found a wooden beam that wasn't supposed to be there.
So he called in a carpenter to tackle this job, and then the hole was so big he hired a plasterer to fill it.
In the meantime, Stang bought a large picture to cover the gaping hole.
Besides his work with "Top Cat" Stang is making occasional appearances on other TV shows such as Wagon Train and Ed Sullivan's.
And he's working on an MGM film, "The Brothers Grimm." He plays Rumpelstiltskin.


  1. Thanks for this article on Arnold Stang, Yowp. The commercial referred to is one for "Chunky", a large piece of milk chocolate with raisins and bits of walnuts in it. Stang's line at the end of the spot was "Chunky, what a CHUNK of chocolate!"

  2. I'm sure that Hanna and Barbera's concern with Daws Butler being cast--besides the obvious "problem" of having him identified with the lead in yet another of their series--was that he was already doing the Bilko voice as Hokey Wolf. While this kind of thing had been overlooked when Reddy and Huck used virtually the same southern accent, I think they understood that by this time their audience was a whole lot larger than it was then.

    Having recently (within the last decade) watched O'Shea's sitcom IT'S A GREAT LIFE on cable, I can understand why they dropped him as T.C. His delivery there was amusingly laconic (sort of like Buddy Hackett's), and with several other actors in the TOP CAT cast also slow in their delivery (particularly Maurice Gosfield as Benny), they probably realized that he was all wrong as a fast-talking con man--and that dialogue would need to be cut for time. It's interesting that, after lifting the HONEYMOONERS format and characters for THE FLINTSTONES, they hired Alan Reed, who was not doing a specific Gleason impression, while in this case they wanted to stick with their Phil Silvers template when casting their animated version of SGT. BILKO.

    Nowadays, of course, ABC would have slotted TOP CAT on the same night right after THE FLINTSTONES, but for reasons I can't understand today, all of ABC's prime-time animated programming had their new series on separate nights. (They still hadn't learned their lesson by 1966, when they put GREEN HORNET on a different night than BATMAN.)

    1. Maybe he could have done one of the other cats, or am eighth one could have been created..Yowp already in an earlier article did mention the issue with Daws as Hokey..they could have cast Jerry Mann, the guy who came (IMO) closest to sounding like Mr.Silvers, on FLINTSTONES, for TOP CAT, and Yowp mentioned it in the articvle on Michael O'Shea... or Phil Silvers himself!

      BTW BILKO wasn't the exclusive template for the cats...Fancy Fancy seems to sound like Cary Grant and (rhyme alert) Brain like Frank Fontaine.

  3. @Mike Tiefenbacher: Not counting the time setting and body build, I wonder if Fred Flintstone was like Moe of the Three Stooges, but less cultured.