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.


  1. I was surprised to discover a few years back that Top Cat (advertised as Boss Cat in the UK) wasn't a success. It was repeated ad infinitum for years, and as I must've missed a few from time to time, I probably subconsciously assumed they were still making them. In fact, it's likely the show was cancelled long before I ever saw it on UK TV.

    1. Same. It always amuses me how Top Cat was a ratings failure on the USA, but a complete success overseas with a surprising staying power, through decades of reruns on cable and local stations. In fact it's still running in some latin american countries til this day, DVDs are still available in many stores and any latin american person old or young can name at least some of the characters. Not kidding, it's wildly popular. Wonder why that is?

  2. A note about the black & white prints. There were markets that in 1961 still didn't have an ABC affiliate, because of an FCC freeze on new stations that lasted into the 1960's. (Syracuse was the largest until WNYS signed on in 1962.) ABC programming like TC and the Flintstones was only seen if a print was struck and sent to the NBC or CBS station to air in off-network hours.

  3. Uncle Miltie, by most accounts, wasn't the easiest comic to work with, particularly if you were in any danger of getting laughs yourself.

    I wonder how the Stang son and daughter turned out.

  4. The underscore that was leaked online last September has cues T-1 through T-12 (for the most part) in the same order as the first half of the episode. My guess was Hoyt scored this episode has the "pilot" episode, then they applied the cues to the rest of the season in editing.
    I'm still hopeful this Warner give this a Blu-Ray release as good as the Jetsons, Kellogg’s commercials and all.

    1. Could you direct me to those licked never-heard-before Curtin cues please? It seems a lot of new material was licked some time ago (apart from the ones Yowp generously gave us on this blog) but I can't seem to find it

    2. https://archive.org/details/@cartooncade

  5. I was 3 years old when TC ran on ABC. He seemed to have disappeared by the time I was old enough to appreciate HB cartoons. I knew all the Hucks and Yogis, Flintstones, Jetsons, etc. But Top Cat was never shown during those years. I was aware of the show, but it was like the Holy Grail of HB cartoons. Needless to say, I jumped on the DVD set when it became available many years later. I really love the city setting for this series, and the urban backgrounds were just fantastic.

  6. I've got a doubt about the 80s TV film "Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats", the film where Top Cat and the gang, from the 60s series, help a teenager, Amy, claim her inheritance. with Arnold Stang reprising his role as T.C. and featuring Lilly Moon as teenager Amy Vandergelt.

    Is there any interview of the cast, Yowp? I wonder this because I couldn't find nothing (recordings, cast, photos), except some pictures of Lilly, the 21-year-old teen actress who voiced Amy in 1988.

  7. I haven't seen one, but I admit I haven't really looked.

  8. I thought the first episode of the series was "Hawaii, Here We Come?"

    1. It was not the first one that aired. That's pretty much proven by newspapers in 1961, in reviews, listings and box ads.
      I haven't seen the production numbers so I don't know which one went into production first.

  9. More French bumpers!