We’re Here For The Cartoons
Every Saturday and Sunday morning I’d join the crowd of twerps and twerpettes waiting for the doors to open for the two o’clock matinee double feature at my local movie theater. Twenty cents admission for the double feature, a nickel for a Coke, another nickel for candy, and a dime for a bag of popcorn half as big as I was.
Not a single one of us ever looked at the marquees to see what movies were playing. Who cared – we knew what we really wanted to see. The house lights go down, we all shut up our jabbering – and heaven descended upon the theater as the first of TWO (yeah two!) cartoons began to roll! And then – TWO more cartoons before the second film! Hallelujah!
It all began in 1928 when Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks produced the first synchronized sound and animation short, Steamboat Willie, which introduced Mickey, (if I have to add his last name, I want to know which planet you are from,) Millie, and Mickey’s nemesis, Pete. There wasn’t much of a plot, it was in black and white, but people were mesmerized.
In 1932, Walt cut a deal with Technicolor and all the subsequent cartoons were in magnificent full color. Silly Symphonies debuted with Three Little Pigs and “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” went to the top of the music charts. Mickey’s dog, Pluto, his buddy, Goofy, and his friend and rival Donald Duck came along in 1935.
In time, Donald’s screen popularity out shown Mickey’s. Donald, more formally Donald Fauntleroy Duck, started as a voice by Clarence Nash, and almost became a baby goat, before Walt switched to a duck. He was joined by his girlfriend Daisy, three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and his frequent antagonists, Chip n’ Dale. Donald appeared in more films than any other character and in more comic books than any other except for the superheroes.
The other studios took notice and started their own animation departments. Walt Disney had the Mickey and Donald powerhouse, but Warner Bros. had the screwball magicians Tex Avery, Friz Freleng, Bob Clampett, and Chuck Jones as directors and the amazing million voices of Mel Blanc.
Porky Pig came along in 1935 and Daffy Duck in 1937. In 1940, Elmer Fudd, debuted followed later in the same year by the most Wascally Wabbit to ever torment anyone and everyone, none other than, Mr. Bugs Bunny, Esquire. The cartoon world has had seismic tremors ever since.
Driven by the voice work of Mel Blanc, Warner went on to create the memorable characters of Tweetie, Sylvester, Granny, Yosemite Sam, Pepe Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, the Tasmanian Devil, and Marvin the Martian. That should have been enough for anyone, but then in 1949 they went totally over the top with the introduction of the long suffering Wile E. Coyote, and the sweet-cute/diabolical-annoying smart ass “Beep Beep” Roadrunner.
In 1982, with the Harvard Lampoon representing him, Wile E. filed suit against Acme Corporation for their innumerable murderous attempts at killing him (he lost, but what else did you expect?). When asked why he still bought their products, Mr. Coyote replied, “easy credit and instant delivery.”
In one of the shorts, after a long series of disastrous product failures, the camera zoomed in to reveal that Acme Corporation was a wholly owned subsidiary of Roadrunner Enterprises! The unforgettable music theme for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies was originally called “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” written in 1937 by Cliff Friends and Dave Franklin.
Television At Home
The first television I remember was a 17 inch black and white Capehart. We upgraded to a monstrous 21 inch Admiral (still black and white) when we built the “big new house.” My maternal grandparents lived across the field behind our house and their living room became a Mecca when Grandpa brought home a Zenith COLOR TV! Holy Toledo! It was like going to the movies!
And like the movies, it didn’t take television long to figure out the attraction of cartoons to us kids. My Saturday morning ritual included lying on the floor with a bowl of cereal, head bent back watching Mighty Mouse, Tom and Jerry, and Woody Woodpecker. The TV cartoon market got even rosier when they added cartoons every afternoon.
Walter Lantz’s Woodpecker was there for a second round, but Hanna-Barbera brought us Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks. Hanna-Barbera doubled up with Quick Draw McGraw, (sometimes assuming the identity of the masked El Kabong,) his faithful sidekick Baba Looey, and above all, Snuffles the bloodhound that frequently stole the show.
Then like a small earthquake that kept on satirically rumbling, Jay Ward hit the tube with his ever irreverent Rocky (Rocket J. Squirrel) and Bullwinkle J. Moose. Their ever lovable and equally ever inept antagonists, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, both working for Fearless Leader, watched helplessly as all of their fiendish plots went up in smoke.
They never did manage to “Kill Moose and Squirrel” but they kept trying. Mixed in with the opening and closing Rocky and Bullwinkle story arcs, were Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman, and the mind warping Fractured Fairy Tales. (The mind warping certainly worked on me.)
Bullwinkle For President
In 1962, Jay Ward and Bill Scott, crisscrossed the country getting petitions to make Moosylvania the 51st state. It was alleged that this was to establish a home voter base for Bullwinkle to run for the Presidency down the road. (If Alfred E. Neuman of Mad Magazine and Pat Paulsen of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour could run, why not a moose? He’d have got my vote.)
With the petitions in hand they arrived at the White House to present them to President Kennedy and were quickly sent packing – unbeknownst to them, it was in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
M-I-C K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E
Then a huge earthquake hit kid TV in the form of a club headed by the mouse that started all this nonsense. “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E! Overnight every kid in the country was wearing mouse ears. How big of impact did it have? At one point the three most recognizable tunes on planet Earth, (and guaranteed earworms,) were:
Number 3, “You Deserve a Break Today” sung by Barry Manilow.
Number 2, “It’s the Real Thing” featuring in various versions, an emblematic world choir, The Fortunes, Billy Joe Royal, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Ivor Raymonde Orchestra.
And Number 1, the “Mickey Mouse Club March” written by none other than Uncle Jimmy Dodd. The Mouse had the advantage because you’d have to really search the boonies to find someone that hasn’t been repeatedly exposed to it at one of the Disney parks. Disneyland in California alone is nearing a billion visitors.
As I was growing up, (in seventy years, never have managed to finish the task,) animated cartoons were also growing up and hit prime time television. The Bug Bunny Show, (“On with the show, this is it!”) The Flintstones, (animated Honeymooners?) and The Jetsons to name a few.
The cartoons are still here in prime time, but I for one can’t find even one that is as well done as the old classics from The Golden Age. Thanks God for my DVD collection of vintage insanity!