Tuesday 31 May 2022

Top Cat's Debut and What Arnold Stang Hated

Top Cat debuted on the ABC-TV network on Wednesday, September 27, 1961 with the episode “The $1,000,000 Derby.” Like all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons, T.C. was shot in colour but broadcast in black and white.

It would appear some stations aired the series on a different night, as 16 mm. black-and-white prints exist of the show, complete with commercials. One of “Derby” is for sale on-line as of this writing.

The seller has these neat shots of the actual film. The first film strip below has the unmistakeable earmarks of being animated by Carlo Vinci. The mouth on Top Cat gives it away. He gave Fred Flintstone the same kind of angular expression. Variety’s review at the time claimed Ken Muse animated the episode. I haven’t seen the cartoon in eons, so I don’t know if he worked on it (he animated the series opening), but there is no way Muse did that first scene below.

We mentioned commercials. Here are some frames from a spot for Kellogg’s Special K I’ve never seen before. (Other ads for Bristol-Myers products are live-action). The characters sure don't look like the H-B house style, do they? The teenager looks a bit like Waldo from UPA’s Mr. Magoo shorts.

Below are some frames from the opening and closing. The ABC title card isn’t on the DVD version (the one with the credits all screwed up).

The series leaves me a little cold, despite Top Cat’s cue library by Hoyt Curtin being really enjoyable (especially his mock Gershwin) and a superb voice cast. I love Marvin Kaplan. I love Arnold Stang. What better, then, than to reprint an interview Stang did about the show, and his family. He also makes a startling revelation of one of his best-known on-camera roles up to that time. This appeared in the January 6, 1962 edition of the Charlotte News.

Arnold Stang: Cat's Meow


HOLLYWOOD — Arnold Stang, in his time, has played almost every kind of animal. Currently he is gainfully employed as Top Cat, the title puss on the cartoon show (ABC and WSOC-TV) of the same name.
Playing a cat is, he says, a challenge. Not because of the character's felinity, but because he is just serving as a voice for animation.
"Ordinarily," says Stang, "I act with my body, with my face and with my hands. But here I can only use my voice. It is a great challenge."
WHILE IT IS obvious that Stang likes his job — the hours are good and so is the pay — he is still a bit unhappy that he is not accorded the chances he'd like at heavier parts.
"It is distressing," he admits. "Everybody thinks of me automatically as the character on the Milton Berle show. And I hated that part more than anything I did.
"I quit several times, and the last time I quit I went right into 'The Man With the Golden Arm.' That was a fine picture and I had a fine part.
"I thought that was an important role. And, since then, I have had some other serious things to do on TV, in the movies, on the stage But, despite that, it’s still the Berle thing people remember. And I seldom get thought of in serious terms."
STANG AND HIS family moved to California for the Top Cat assignment. They are all adjusting nicely to the West Coast, although the house they bought burned down in the Bel Air fire.
Happily, they were all away at the time, but they lost everything they owned — including some souvenirs which are irreplaceable, such as a letter from Sir Winston Churchill.
The two Stang children — his 1-year-old son and 1year-old daughter — like the California climate, although they miss their friends back east.
ARNOLD'S SON at the moment wants to be an archaeologist, and "seems to be quite serious about it." The little girl is going through the ballerina stage.
"Up until a year ago," Arnold says, "if you asked her what she wanted to be, she'd say, 'A person.' I always thought that was a very good answer."
Stang has been kept quite busy with things other than Top Cat — he's made three movies and starred in several other TV shows. The Top Cat recording schedule is always arranged to suit him — it can be in the evening or on weekends, if he's otherwise occupied. And he sometimes does three a week, so he can go back to New York for a week or so.
AS FOR STANG'S intimacy with cats — he has none.
"I don't own a cat. I've never owned a cat and I doubt if I ever will own a cat," he says. "We have a dog, you see.
"Actually, I don't think that observing a cat would be of any help to me in this show. The fact that Top Cat is a cat is incidental; he thinks and acts like a human being."

Things looked good for T.C. for a bit. ABC ordered additional episodes but stopped at 30. The ratings weren’t good enough; during one week in San Antonio, the alley cat gang was beaten by a syndicated show. Top Cat was part of an anticipated prime-time animation boom caused by the success of The Flintstones the previous year. Instead, it fizzled and network soured on animation. T.C. was moved to Saturday mornings the following year. With no new episodes (and no residuals for actors), the series was now reasonably cheap and therefore attractive to companies that wanted to aim solely at kids (in other words, no more ads for Alberto VO-5 like in prime time).

The characters have popped up on occasion since the original series 60 years ago but it’s somehow not the same without Arnold Stang and Curtin’s Rhapsody in Blue-ish clarinet opening an episode.

My thanks to Austin Kelly for his tip that resulted in this post. The blog resumes its retirement.

Monday 23 May 2022

Is There a Plumber in the House?

Fans of early Hanna-Barbera cartoons are the best.

Each of us has our favourite series and characters. The late cartoon writer Earl Kress and I found an instant kinship when I told him my favourite H-B series is The Quick Draw McGraw Show. Earl, as you may know, spent what ended up being fruitless time endeavouring to get the series released on home video by Warners, only to run into several roadblocks.

One of them was the location of bumpers—those little cartoons between the cartoons. Whoever was running things at what was left of the studio had no idea where the masters were, or even if they still existed, to Earl’s dismay. Of course, when the series first aired in 1959, 16-millimetre prints were sent to TV stations in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. The same thing happened several years later when the half-hours were shorn of references to Kellogg’s and syndicated again (Quick Draw also aired on CBS on Saturday mornings in 1966-67).

An early Hanna-Barbera fan with the handle of Steven Hanson has somehow acquired dubs of some of the 16 mm. prints and is braving take-down notices by posting some of the Quick Draw mini-cartoons in his possession. Some are even in colour.

Here’s a shortie. Quick Draw and Baba Looey are fishing in a rowboat that is taking on water (which we can’t see to save some pencil mileage).

Quick Draw’s keen deduction tells him if he shoots a hole in the bottom, that’ll let the water out.

Not quite.

Never fear! Tex Avery is here! Well, kind of. The writer borrows the water-plugging gag from Avery’s Lucky Ducky (1948). I’m pretty sure it predates that cartoon, but that’s the only one I can think of with it.

The Avery version.

Who is the animator of this cartoon? He worked on Lucky Ducky. These odd mouth shapes should give it away.

Mike Lah.

The frames look they came straight from the storyboard without embellishment, though in the first Huckleberry Hound Show cartoons (1958), Lah would change mouth shapes on a face with the rest of the body being held on a cel. In this little cartoon, the pinkish snout moves slightly as well (and the water spurt is on a cycle). It’s a shame he decided not to go for funny takes like he did with Mr. Jinks, but gave us Jack Benny-style stares instead. Lah worked freelance the whole time he was at Hanna-Barbera; an offer to be a partner in 1957 fell through.

Oh, the title of this post is Quick Draw’s last line before the fade-out.

If you like Quick Draw, you should be delighted Mr. Hanson has posted these. He also has put up a few Ruff and Reddy half-hours. I find the show a little childish and dull, but it has fans who will be happy to see it. Like the Quick Draw McGraw Show, I really, really doubt we will ever see it on home video due to music rights issues, so this will have to do for now.