Total Television Productions was luckier than many small-budget producers for the small screen. They began with a very rudimentary style, almost bordering on that of Roger Ramjet, with sparse backgrounds and stilted movement, sometimes leaving the screen looking rather empty. Though their animation and scenics later improved to a degree, they were never known for an array of facial expressions, and most characters’ acting abilities would barely range past raising or lowering eyebrows or flipping smiles for frowns. Many characters’ mouth movements were achieved by a mere simple vertical raising or lowering of lower jaw against a cheek line for a movement guide. Storylines were kept simplistic – almost “dumbed down” to present tales at a leisurely pace, often repeating at least once too often key plot points to make sure the little ones’ attention span hadn’t wandered. So why did they occupy so much air time for so long? Somehow, they managed an uncanny knack of creating likeable characters and pairing them with good celebrity voices, leaving the dialogue reads to carry the day. The formula worked through three hit series, which found everlasting life in perpetual rerun. They would further continue to save on budget by moving cautiously from project to project, bringing successful elements of previous shows in as secondary material to support new characters, both saving on developmental costs in getting a new series on the air, plus ensuring some audience following from those who were still fans of the past shows.
Their luck held out until a sad choice to cash in on a trending fad caused them to rush to the airwaves an animal attempt to follow in the fame of the “Fab Four” (who had scored with their own low-budget animated series for King Features), resulting in the ill-fated “The Beagles”, featuring two dog rockers who had neither winning personalities nor recognized celebrity voicing. The series would be their only cartoon product to see no market in syndication, and vanished from the airwaves following the CBS run – as did Total Television itself, which folded without further ability to sell a pilot. A few unreleased projects were produced that have surfaced, such as “Cauliflower Cabby”, a taxi-driving mutt who transforms into a super crime fighter by night. It’s as bad as it sounds, and demonstrates that the chemistry had somehow washed off, revealing unpolished pebbles in place of diamonds in the rough. The run of luck was over – but in its wake were left behind the elements of three memorable mainstays that virtually every kid of the era watched at some point in time: “King Leonardo and His Short Subjects”, “Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales”, and “Underdog”.
A surprising number or airplane-related scripts were generated from the studio’s many characters – enough to nearly fill this chapter entirely. We’ll begin with a two-part installment of King Leonardo (sometimes known in 15 minute resyndications as “The King and Odie”), entitled Odie Takes a Dive and Go and Catch a Falling King. King Leonardo (voiced by Jackson Beck) is a regal lion with a bit of a temper (prone to saying his favorite phrase, “Confound it!”), who is ruler of the island kingdom of Bongo Congo – whose only trade is the manufacture of bongo drums. His prime minister and right-hand man is true-blue Odie-o-Cologne (a skunk, voiced by Allan Swift, in his best impression of Ronald Colman). Enemies of the King include his flea-bitten sibling (Itchy Brother, who talks fluent beatnik), and Biggy Rat (a sound-alike to Edward G. Robinson), who plot to overthrow him. The two villains work for various “bosses” from time to time – in this pairing working for a “Mr. Madd”, who wants to add the King to his “collection” as some sort of specimen. The plot for this two-parter has Leonardo and Odie taking up a new sport of sky diving. They have become very adept at it, performing team dives, free-falling in graceful soaring fashion until the very last before pulling their ripcords, and regularly enjoy their outings. Until one day, Leonardo becomes busy with “affairs of state” (that is, posting a new batch of stamps in his stamp collection), and decides to bow out on the morning’s jump. Odie is inclined to stay in the palace too and keep the King company, but Leonardo will not have Odie miss his own dive, and orders him to take the flight solo. Odie does so, but upon jumping out, hits a freak crosswind, blowing him entirely off course from his intended target. Instead, Odie is wafted miles sideways, falling into the crater of a nearly inaccessible extinct volcano. Odie knows he will be unable to climb out, but sees the plane pilot pass overhead, acknowledging that he knows where Odie is. Odie trusts in the King to find a way to send help. The pilot reports to Leonardo, who orders the royal helicopter be made ready for a rescue. Regrettably, an aide tells him the helicopter has just been sent to the shop, badly in need of repair, and is not expected to be fixed for several days. Concerned about Odie, the King determines to parachute into the crater himself, to make sure that Odie is okay and offer his companionship until the helicopter is returned to duty. News of this brave vow travels fast over the radio – and is heard by Itchy. Biggy, and Mr. Madd. Together, they conspire to take advantage of the king being trapped without guards or means of escape. Using a plane of Mr. Madd’s, Itchy and Biggy themselves parachute into the crater, capturing Odie and tying him up to use as bait. Mr. Madd further drops from the plane, supported by its own parachute, a steel cage, for use to drop over Leonardo. Soon after, the royal plane passes overhead, and Leonardo drops in on the tense situation. Seeing Odie tied up, Leonardo advances to investigate – and himself falls prey to the trap, dropped over himself and Odie. (A plot point is not properly thought out, as the trap appears to have no bottom when dropped – yet a floor appears under Odie and the King in later shots.) The plane circles overhead, and drops a grappling hook on a rope, which the villains hook to the bars of the cage. The cage and out heroes are hauled upwards – just as Boggy realizes Mr. Madd won’t need their services any longer – and is leaving them behind to rot. Itchy and Biggy race after the cage, grabbing hold just as it begins to rise out of the crater. They hang on with determination as the plane flies back over the kingdom – bit no one calculated the effect that two extra bodies would have on the tow rope. The rope snaps – but the parachute, still attached to the top of the cage, floats both good guys and bad guys gently down – right into the courtyard of the palace. The guards quickly round up Itchy and Biggy, who serve their time in the dungeon, while Mr. Madd, minus his intended specimen, escapes to fight another day.
Tooter Turtle was a dim-witted character in dire need of vocational counseling. Every week, he would acquire a “lifelong dream” to take up one exotic career or another. Never would he do things the hard way, like everyone else, by training to earn his trade. Instead, he would rely entirely upon magic, through a never-explained chance friendship with the magical Mr. Wizard the Lizard, who lives in a small box beneath a tree in the forest. Wizard perhaps mistook himself for a fairy godmother with a bad Germanic accent, as he was always ready to share his magical abilities at the mere mention of the word “Please”, without ever asking a fee, or declining the most outlandish of wishes. The whole series was thus an illustration of the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for” – perhaps an early-day predecessor of “The Fairly Odd Parents”.
In Tailspin Tooter, or Plane Failure, Tooter’s latest wish is to become a famous ace pilot of WWI, after seeing an old movie, “Evening Patrol”. (Doesn’t he realize we already won the war, so there’s no patriotic purpose in volunteering? Oh, well, if it’s good enough for Snoopy…) Wizard thus not only has to provide Tooter with occupational equipment, but turn back time. It’s a question whether the war he sends the turtle back to is the genuine article of the past, or a concoction of the Wizard’s imagination. Nevertheless, for a character who should know his German, Wizard sure gets his history mixed up, confusing two different wars. While his enemy ace, the Black Baron, flies in a squadron of planes that look for all purposes like Fokker D7 biplanes, Wizard (perhaps afraid that the kiddies’ tender ears might interpret the name of the planes as a nasty word), incorrectly refers to them as “Messerschmitts” – a company not founded until 1923! Furthermore, the Baron is given dialogue that sounds like it was dropped straight out of the track of Bob Clampett’s Russian Rhapsody, predicting years before his time the Fuehrer in the era of the Kaiser, as he hypes-up his squadron with the call of “Sieg Heil” and a vow to take down the American Ace himself, “And I ain’t whistlin’ Dixie!” Tooter meanwhile has become Ace of Aces by default – because everyone else’s plane has been shot down. He is outfitted with the requisite long silk scarf and swagger stick to cut a dashing figure – an image broken when his scarf snags on the wing tip of his plane, pulling him backwards to fall into a turtle’s least favorite position on the ground. The scarf continues to prove a formidable obstacle as Tooter taxis for takeoff – the wind tangling the scarf Into a turban knot around his face, completely obstructing his view. “Ceiling zero”, reacts Tooter, marveling at how fast a ground fog can creep up on you. Flying blind, he barely misses the lines of a set of telegraph poles, by shifting into a vertical rise, inches from impact, then proceeds ahead, through tree branches, and into a farmyard, where he briefly picks up as passengers a cow and a chicken, the latter leaving an egg atop Tooter’s flight helmet. Another blind vertical turn averts a fatal crash with a mountainside, and the scarf finally comes loose, Tooter believing he has risen above the fog. Over France, he encounters the Baron. As in the “History of Aviation” segment of Victory Through Air Power, the Baron and Tooter begin their fight in gentlemanly fashion by passing and taking pistol shots at each other (which Wizard explains was “the custom of the day”) – but eventually get down to business with the machine guns. Tooter seems quite skillful at his evasive dogfighting maneuvers – until he finds his plane upside down, with himself dangling out of the cockpit, holding on only by the control stick. A quick flip, and Tooter is suddenly back in his seat. The Baron strafes his plane with machine gun fire – and suddenly the oil line ruptures (which Wizard comments was “also the custom of the day”). Oil splatters onto Tooter’s goggles. “Sure gets dark early around these parts”, he reacts, again flying blind. The Baron pulls the old gag of shooting apart Tooter’s plane piece by piece, until everything is gone but Tooter himself – without even his pilot’s seat. He begins to fall helplessly, and falls back on the same call with which he ends every episode – for Mr. Wizard to save him. A wave of a wand, and Tooter is spiraled back to the present, with the chant “Drizzle Drazzle Druzzle Drome – Time for this one to come home.”
In Sky Diver, or Jump, Jerk, Jump, Tooter’s been watching too much TV, apparently watching the unnamed hit series of the period, “Ripcord”. Now he wants to be a sky diver. Tooter finds himself appropriately outfitted by another wave of wand, including heavy shoes built to withstand the impact of landing. He practices jumping from a fixed platform, with the shoes expected to absorb the impact on his ankles. However, it’s hard for any footwear to perform this function – when the diver lands on his head. Tooter next trains in folding his parachute – a task he callously completes by rolling the silk material into a bulging, lopsided ball. Then stuffing the mess into his backpack, with large portions of the material; still handing out. Tooter is taken up for his first genuine jump – with only the gentle prod of a swift kick in the pants needed to get him out of the plane. Tooter repeats the tried and true Goofy gag of forgetting what number comes after four, and never pulls the ripcord. “That’s what practice is for – to learn from your mistakes”, narrates the Wizard. Tooter takes another flight and dives again. This time, he quickly reaches a count of ten – but forgets when to stop, counting onwards past 16, and cracking up on the ground again. With a motto of “Never give up”, Tooter tries the same stunt a third time, this time counting on the fingers of both hands to know that he must stop at ten. At the appropriate moment, he reaches for the ripcord – but can’t find it. Knowing it must be somewhere, he starts fishing through every pocket in his jacket and trousers. He comes up with something small and round – but finds it is only a lost yo-yo which he’s been trying to find for ages. The dense brain of the turtle is distracted, as he begins to plat with the toy, only to crash painfully again for the third time. Don’t ask us how, by Tooter finally gets the next jump right, and is next seen with chute already open, learning to steer his descent by tugging on the shroud lines. Wizard comments that it’s so simple, even a simpleton can do it – with enough accuracy to land on the head of a pin. Tooter illustrates – by landing on the needle point of the roof pole of a church steeple, with a resounding “OUCH!!” Finally, Tooter tries soaring like a bird before opening his chute – but descends too low and too close to rocky canyon walls and the ground below. He lands without opening the chute in an eagle’s nest, disturbing the hatchlings, and asking uf the lady of the house is home. She’s on her way – diving straight at him with talons bared. Tooter bails out backwards from the nest – with no time or space left for the chute to safely open. The call goes out for help again, and another spiral brings Tooter back safely to Wizard’s home. In the standard closing bumper following every episode, Wizard advises Tooter, “Be just what you is, not what you is not.” Perhaps not the soundest of advice under the circumstances. After all, who’s going to pay him a working wage, for just being a turtle?
The Hunter, the third element of the “King Leonardo” show, involved a never-fail private dog detective, voiced by veteran radio actor Kenny Delmar (Senator Claghorn of “Allen’s Alley”, and one of the voices that gave the inspiration for Mel Blanc’s voicing of Foghorn Leghorn). The Hunter employs nearly the same Claghorn voice, adding a loud honk on a hunting horn as a working signal to accompany introductions of himself by name. His recurrent nemesis was simply known as “The Fox” – a criminal so confident of his superior intellect over that of the Hunter, that he openly invites danger by running his operations virtually under the Hunter’s nose, acting without fear of detection, as the Hunter is so infallibly dense, he rarely if ever realizes just what nefarious plans are hatching around him.
The Great Plane Robbery is a clever and original installment. The Hunter is absent from his detective office, taking time off for a little duck hunting. Elsewhere in the world, news flashes announce the mystery of a giant plane disappearing from the hangar without a trace. So how do these two events link up? The culprit behind the crime is, as usual, the Fox, who approaches the Hunter amidst the duck blinds with a business proposition. Representing “Maxie’s Modern Mallard Masher”, he proposes that the Hunter has to get with the times in pursuing his duck hunting pastime. “Where are the ducks? Up there”, says the Fox, pointing to the skies. “That’s where you’re going, pal”, he concludes, offering the Hunter the opportunity for a flight up to fire at will from the stolen plane’s porthole windows, at a price of a dollar per duck bagged. (Jet fuel must have been pretty inexpensive in those days.) The Fox declares his service “the greatest boon to hunting since Daniel.” The Hunter is not quite sure everything’s ducky, but the Fox insists on a quick answer, by turning on the jet intake of the plane and sucking the Hunter in, causing him to be amazingly transported into the passenger cabin. Once aloft, the Hunter hears quacks instead of the blast of his signature hunting horn, and looks out to porthole to see massive flocks of ducks flying alongside the plane at nearly matched speed – so close you could almost reach out and touch them. The Hunter declares it a sight to warm the heart of any red-blooded hunter, and observes “Only a blind idiot could miss”. He fires round after round – but the skies are still full. “Missed every time”, observes the fox. The fox improves the Hinter’s odds by bringing up the heavy artillery, in the form of a cannon. “Blast away”, he instructs. The cannon goes off, but backfires from the recoil into the Hunter’s lap, knocking him backwards into a seat. “I said blast away, not blast off”, snarls the fox. “Lost my footing, son”, apologizes the Hunter.
The fox hands the Hunter an automatic Tommy gun, and instructs him to wait while he takes care of everything. The Fox walks out on the plane’s wing with a pain can, and begins to paint target circles on the sides of the ducks still matching speed with the plane. Decorating them like the ducks of a shooting gallery. The Hunter can’t resist the targets, and begins firing away, with the Fox still outside. “Wait! Stop!”, shouts the Fox. Below on the ground, the city is pelted by a rain of thousands of fallen ducks, victims of the Hunter’s fire. One of them falls right on the nose of the Chief of Police, who looks up to discover the source. He orders a squadron of fighter planes up to bring the big plane down. The Fox now finds himself dodging crossfire from all directions, including from the Hunter’s porthole. “Somebody, I say somebody is poachin’ on my preserve”, protests the Hunter at seeing the additional sprays of bullets, and contemplates writing his congressman for redress. The Hunter fires with more gusto, in attempt to frighten the poachers away. “Stop, you idiot. You’re wrecking the plane!”, cries the Fox, as the bullets render the wing a metal equivalent of Swiss cheese, causing the wing tip and the Fox to snap off. The plane turns into an uncontrolled divem crashing into the ground and leaving a deep crater, with only the tail visible above ground. The hunter climbs out, still holding the Tommy gun, with the Fox directly in front of him. They are met by the police chief, who congratulates the Hunter on another successful capture. The Hunter, having no idea what he’s just accomplished, is as usual perfectly willing to take the credit despite not knowing what crime he’s solved. And makes a proud exit, repeating his name and blowing his signature horn honk – as he walks straight into the crater left by the plane and falls out of sight for the fade out.
Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales was a rare instance of successfully mixing education with entertainment, that didn’t give the impression of overdoing it on the learning angle, but carefully balanced the laughs against the facts so that the latter didn’t seem intrusive, but served more to progress the plot, making the whole blend feel comfortable. Our hero is an enterprising penguin who is always looking for the chance to make himself a success in the world. His best friend, a walrus named Chumley, is along for the ride – and if a little fame rubs off upon him, all the better. Their education comes from “answer man” Phineas J. Whoopee, who has an imposing office in what appears to be a nearby university. The precise origins of his friendship with the penguin and walrus never seem to be explained, but whoopee can be depended upon to impart his knowledge to them in every episode, usually with the help of his patented “three dimensional blackboard (3DBB)”, often stored in a cluttered replication of Fibber McGee’s closet, as dependable for having everything fall out when the door is opened as Barney Bear’s closet of the 1940’s.
Helicopter Hi-Jinx – A roasting summer heat wave has the residents of the Megapolos Zoo lifeless, listless, and perspiring their heads off – all except Tennessee, who reads in the newspaper about a business opportunity for salesmen of electric fans. No money needed, and no experience required. Even Chumley has to admit that description suits them to a T – no money and no experience. The only obstacle to a chance to make a fortune selling the devices to their pals in the zoo, is how to get out to bring in the merchandise. Tennessee as usual is full of escape plans, but zookeeper Stanley Livingston and his right-hand flunkey Flunkey are on the job, and one move ahead of the penguin at every turn. A human cannonball escape using a park cannon is foiled by re-aiming the barrel downwards into the ground. Am innertube slingshot fails when Stanley and Flunkey raise a second innertube to catch the pair just outside the zoo fence. And the fence itself becomes an insurmountable obstacle when Stanley has it electrified. Chumley concludes that the only way they could ever get out would be to go straight up. For once (given their inability to leave to reach his office, Tennessee’s instruction from Phineas J. Whoopee is presented as a flashback, as Tennessee “remembers” a lesson that Whoopee taught them in a previously unseen visit. Whoopee explains the principle of a helicopter’s rotating blade, and demonstrates it with a small model blade cut out of a pie tin and bent to give the blades lift. He fastens the blade to a spool of thread, then pulls the string with the spool mounted on the end of a pencil – ad the device goes up. Tennessee decides to build a full-scale version of Whoopee’s model, using a barrel in place of the spool, to which he has nailed two seats for them to sit in to make their escape. (It’s going to be a dizzy ride, plus nothing’s been figured on how to steer, but what the heck – it’s a cartoon). Chumley ties a rope to the barrel and loops it around to simulate the thread – but who’s going to pull it, if they’re both riding on the barrel? Chumley pulls anyway, and the vehicle goes up without them, coming down for a landing smack upon Tennessee. The penguin gets a better idea, and, using the innertube from their earlier escape plan, fastens one end to a stake in the ground, and the other end to the barrel. They then wind the tube around the barrel to provide a rubber-band motor effect. But the effort of stretching the tube proves exhausting to the walrus, who lets go of the blades to mop his sweating brow. The penguin alone cannot hold back the effect of the innertube – and goes into a dizzy spin, then sails off the blade into a pile of trash cans. Finally, Tennessee copycats “The Flintstone Flyer”, attaching dual sets of bicycle seats and pedals on either side of the barrel, and a center gear mechanism hooked to the bicycle chains to power the blade. The two pedal with all their might – but their weight makes it a no go, the craft not budging off its central mount. All Chumley finds it doing is blowing a gale, and sweeping his hat clear off his head. “That’s it, Chumley!”, shouts Tennessee suddenly realizing their money-making goal can be accomplished without leaving the zoo after all. He sets up a ticket booth, and charges the zoo animals $1.00 per half hour to sit in “the coolest spot in town” – in a circle under the helicopter blade as Chumley pedals. Chumley congratulates Tennessee on a real cool idea, for the fade out.
Parachuting Pickle derives a number of its plot ideas from the “King and Odie” installments discussed above. Arch criminal Rocky Manninoff has just pulled a bank heist – with an unexpected twist. Instead of a getaway car, he has parked at the curb a small plane, in which he and his stooge taxi down Main Street and take off, leaving the cops with no means of pursuit. However, flying over a mountain range, Rocky’s stooge makes an unexpected sharp turn – and the strong box holding the stolen money falls out the cabin door, falling into Lost Valley – a spot surrounded by impassible mountains, too rugged to climb into or out of, and with no strip of land clear enough to land a plane. Rocky’s stooge apologizes, presuming the money to be lost – but Rocky figures where there’s a will (and a Tommy gun), there’s a way. He places a want ad for “Divers” intending to have them sky dive into Lost Valley. Meanwhile, Tennessee and Chumley are practicing their fancy moves on a diving board at a swimming pool in the zoo, and consider turning professional. Misinterpreting the want ad, Tennessee decides their ext career move, and the two apply for the job at Rocky’s hideout. Without question (as they’re the only ones foolish enough to apply), Rocky signs them both to a contract, then tells them to meet him at the airport that afternoon. Tennessee comments that he didn’t know they had pools at the airport. “What pool?” snarls Rocky – and the true Intentions of the flight are revealed. Chumley shudders at the thought, knowing they know nothing about sky diving. Of course, a quick visit to Mr. Whoopee is in order – but even after explaining the principles, Whoopee, when hearing that the boys plan their first jump today, informs them that the idea is preposterous, as it is much too dangerous for an untrained beginner.
Tennessee and Chumley plan to hide out in the zoo to dodge out on the deal, but find themselves face to face with Rocky coming around a corner, who, with pistol aimed at Tennessee’s head, says he gets very upset at people who miss appointments. The boys are marched to the plane, and the crooks fly them to Lost Valley. With parachutes strapped on, Tennessee and Chumley stall, in an endless game of “After you” to each other. Rocky settles the issue, by tossing Tennessee out bodily. Though frightened, Tennessee pulls his ripcord – and the parachute opens easily without a glitch. But Chumley is another matter. As Rocky boots him out, Chumley searches his straps, but can’t find his ripcord. He makes a soft landing – right on top of Tennessee’s chute – and the excess weight brings the two of them down in unexpected record time, for a rough landing. But they are still in one piece, and Rocky’s strongbox is conveniently within view. Now, how to get out? Rocky tosses down a large basket gondola for the boys to climb in and load the strongbox into, then dangles from the plane a rope ladder with a grappling hook tied to the end. The gook snags the handle of the basket as the plane passes overhead, and it’s up and away. However, the boys are still afraid of heights, and when Rocky commands them to climb the ladder and bring up the strongbox, Tennessee responds that he and Chumley way where they are and sit the situation out. “But we can’t land this way”, shouts Rocky. If they’re not coming up, Rocky is coming down – and he descends the ladder to confront the two and retrieve his box. But his added weight snaps the rope supporting the grappling hook, and everyone plummets. Below is the office of the chief of police, who comments as to chances of solving the bank robbery case that there’s fat chance without Rocky and the money simply falling into their laps from the sky – and suddenly, the chief gets his wish. The scene fades to Tennessee conversing with Chumley about being heroes. “Our sky diving really broke up that case”, he boasts. The camera pulls back to reveal himself and Chumley, both wrapped in bandages in hospital beds, as Chumley responds, “Our sky diving broke up just about everything.”
Flying Yak’s Sky Service is less inspired. At the zoo, Yakety Yak receives a telegram indicating that he’s inherited a plane at the airport – bit knows nothing about airplanes. Tennessee horns in on the opportunity, telling Yak that with the penguin’s help. They’‘ll open n airline and make a fortune. The Sky Service indicated in the title is opened, with advertising banner reading, “We fly anybody anywhere” Tennessee can find no volunteers among his pals for pilot duty – so volunteers himself, despite total lack of flying experience. He takes Chumley and Yak up for a test hop, which is predictably rocky, barely managing to plop down for a landing in one piece. Even Tennessee struggles to fake an explanation to his pals for the flight problems, insisting, “We just had a little trouble with the thingamabob on the whatzit.” Speaking of thigs rocky, along comes Rocky Manninoff again, in need of a plane that afternoon to fly him “somewhere” on a hurry. His Tommy gun again won’t take no for an answer, and the boys, bringing Yak along, make another visit to Mr. Whoopee. Basic wing and rudder controls are explained to Tennessee, though Whoopee finds himself regretting it, as he is unable to get the gang to listen to his coda about the hours of flight instruction needed before getting off the ground. Rocky arrives with another sack of stolen bank loot, and the police hot on his tail. The boys and Rocky take off, while the police chief commandeers another light plane to give pursuit. An active but predictable piece of cops and robbers action takes place in the sky, with pistol shots shooting out windshields, and Tennessee almost taking his plane into a mountain train tunnel. Finally, the chief’s shots find their mark, and take out the blades of Tennessee’s propeller. They somehow manage to land in a farm haystack to break their fall, and Rocky is captured. Tennessee comments that things were really “up in the air” for a while, as the film closes.
The Underdog Show would bring us a supporting element (which for one season was recycled under its own series banner) entitled “Go Go Gophers”. Politically incorrect by today’s standards, the series spotlighted a pair of gopher Indians in the old West, who are the last survivors of their tribe, continuing to occupy territory which the cavalry wishes it could clear of their kind, and making general pests of themselves with mischief and pranks that drive commander, Colonel Kit Coyote up his wooden fort walls. With the assistance of taller, slow talking sergeant (who is the sole voice of reason amidst the mischief and retaliation, constantly attempting to nudge the Colonel back to sanity with gentle protests of, “Begging the Colonel’s pardon…: But the headstrong Colonel inevitably turns him a deaf ear, and plots to get rid of the gophers at every turn. The Indians (Ruffled Feather and Running Board) are played much like Zilly and Klunk would later be in H-B’s “Dastardley and Muttley” cartoons – Ruffled Feather talking only in wild mock-Indian gibberish, and Running Board acting as translator.
In Up In the Air, the time frame of the series seems bent from the actual days of the old West to more modern days (maybe its taken just that long to try to get the gophers evicted), as the Colonel acquires an early-day flying machine as his new secret weapon against the gophers. Not only has he obtained flight power, but advanced to the tactics of WWI, by outfitting the plane to drop hand-held bombs on the Indians’ teepee. When Ruffled Feather reports news of the crazy looking machine to Running Board, the reaction is pure laughter at the thought that the Colonel would believe it will get off the ground, and Running Board suggests the Colonel has flipped his lid, and palefaces in white coats will soon be coming to take him away. But the Indians sing a different tune when Coyote mounts an aerial attack, dropping his bombs on target, ad destroys their teepee, leaving only a crater and two puzzled gophers hiding behind the rocks. Temporarily out of ammunition, Coyote vows to fly back with a new load the next day to finish off the now shelterless Indians. But the gophers determine to battle the “big bird” by fighting fire with fire. Heading for a mountain cave over the entrance of which is painted the word “Hangar”, they recruit the services of the cave’s resident – a huge eagle. Riding astride the bird’s back, the Indians launch a counter-assault during the next day’s raid, riddling the Colonel’s plane with wave after wave of arrow penetrations, until the sheer number of hits weakens the structure of the plane’s wings, breaking them in half. The Colonel gives the command to bail out, and he and the sergeant jump with umbrellas. The two almost reach the ground – until another wave of arrows spears the umbrellas, turning them inside out for a double crash, as the gophers fly away laughing, into the sunset.
In a final note, to make matters even more confusing as to time of the series’ events, a second opening bumper for the series was created, in which the gophers now use aerial warfare as part of their own game book. Their teepee has what appear to be three large eagle feathers decorating its pointed top. When the cavalry charges, Ruffled Feather bends the three feathers to serve as a three-blade propeller, and the teepee takes to the air like a helicopter, raining don shot upon the military forces as the teepee pursues the whole squad across the desert.
“Commander McBragg” was a sub-series seemingly designed for no purpose other than to fill time, serving the same function as “Twinkles” on the King Leonardo show to occupy a spare minute and a half between episodes. Though the idea of a Baron Munchausen-style British officer telling tall tales was reasonable (and certainly nothing new, dating back to similar concepts at least as early as Ub Iwerks’ “Willie Whopper” and Frank Tashlin’s The Major Lied Til’ Dawn), the problem was in the approach. A formula-driven 1 1/2 minutes never gave sufficient time for genuine plot development or comic timing, The payoffs of the situations were never outrageous or unexpected enough to seem genuinely funny. And McBragg’s delivery was so matter-of-fact serious that it also deflated any comic effect. Rather than look forward to the segment, it always felt like an unwanted intrusion – making the audience want to leave the room just as much as the unwitting man who always has to sit for McBragg’s stories. The series passed without a standout installment, and, if not for interminable reruns (which might have used their time more wisely by just airing additional commercials), would have long ago vanished from long-term memory.
Two installments dealt with flying. Ace of Aces follows the Commander’s explouts in WWI. Telling the tale of how he downed five enemy aircraft in one dogfight, the Commander describes an aerial ambush that results in the usual shooting away of his plane part by part, severing both wings, then leaving the Commander with nothing but his cockpit seat. The Commander jumps, falling at a speed that allows him to catch up with the drifting wings of the plane. Seizing a wing with each arm, the Colonel successfully makes like a bird, and flies away. The startled enemy pilots, watching him, do not look where they are going – and crash headfirst into one another, fulfilling the Commander’s boast of downing five planes in a single mission.
The Flying Machine is somewhat more clever than most. At Kitty Hawk, McBragg claims to have flown long before the Wright Brothers. He had his failed attempts. His first device uses a helicopter-like propeller powered by a crossbow belt wound around the propeller shaft. It bever gets off, the ground, but the bow friction produces a toasty fire. A second device uses bicycle pedal power to flap flexible wings. It too never rises off the ground, but wins the cup at a 6-day bicycle race. Finally, the commander harnesses solar power, building a giant radiometer (an early-day grade-school device inside a light bulb, with white and black metal panels that used solar energy to spin a wheel inside the bulb). The Commander installs the bulb on the frame of a plane fuselage, and fastens an external propeller blade by a shaft through the top of the light bulb, connecting it to the inner rotating wheel. The wheel’s spinning powers the propeller blade, and the Commander is soon flying at 40,000 feet. The man listening to the Commander’s story is for once impressed, and asks to see the invention. “You can’t”, explains the Commander – as the sun ultimately went behind a cloud, causing the plane to crash so hard, it left a silhouette-shaped crater three miles deep. By the time the Commander crawls out of the hole, a newspaper is declaring the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers, and they get all the credit. Even the listening man finds this story a little “too much”, and the Commander, agrees, “Quite.”
We may consider ourselves mercifully spared by the absence from the Internet for review of an installment of “Klondike Kat” called Getting the Air. Klondike was perhaps the most formulaic, repetitious creation in the studio’s history. Likely created to ride on the coattails of Jay Ward’s successful “Dudley Do-Right” series, this Mountie mish-mash involves a Mountie camp whose food supplies (particularly weekly delicacies that seem to be fancied by its commanding officer, Major Minor, keep getting pilfered by a thieving French-Canadian mouse, Savoir Faire, and his trusty sed dog Malamutt. The mouse is absolutely selfish, condescending, and dislikable, with an aggravating taunt of “Savoir Faire is everywhere”, used in every episode. Klondike, assigned to guard against or capture the mose, is equally repetitious, with his own aggravating catch phrase, “I’ll make mince meat out of that mouse!” (Someone must have thought this would e a hilarious counterpart to Mr. Jinks’s “I hate meeces to pieces” at Hanna-Barbera. However, the H-B writers spaced uses of their phrase properly far apart from one another, and found enough means of making creative variations on its use, that it somehow never became tiresome. The lesser writers at Total just made us cringe with the repetitions, and wonder why the Kat could never think up something else to say to give us a break.) I never recall seeing a single episode I found to be clever or genuinely funny, but inevitably, through accidents or bumbling, Klondike would always get to end each episode with his foe in hand, repeating the Mountie motto, “Klondike Kat always gets his mouse.” This is pretty much all anyone needs to know about these titles – perhaps you will consider this flying cartoon, Plane Food, to be one of the better ones:
For a bonus extra, we’ll close with a brief venture to Larry Harmon Productions, producers of Bozo, the World’s Most Famous Clown (as well as a portion of the output commissioned by King Features for its revival of Popeye in the 1960’s). The studio ceased operations after these two ventures, though Harmon would continue to front production money by hiring out Hanna-Barbera for a later series of Laurel and Hardy cartoons. Little recognized is that Harmon’s production company would serve as the germinating ground for what would become a larger operator in the industry for several years to follow – being responsible for the team-up of Hal Sutherland and Lou Scheimer, who would later found Filmation Studios (to itself be briefly discussed next week),
Regrettably, much of the output of the studio’s Bozo cartoons remains extremely difficult to obtain access to, either having not received official release or relegated to early ad rare VHS releases unavailable to the internet, The Harmon estate further seems to persist in attempting to keep Larry’s product off of public sources. Thus, I can find neither film nor plot descriptions of “Funny Face Ace”: or “Fire Fighter Flyer”. If anyone can provide any info on these films, your contributions are welcome.
Charter Service Nervous finds an old nemesis of Bozo, Wacko Wolf (voiced by Paul Frees) involved in a new business venture – Wacko Wolf’s Kwik Starter Charter Flying Service. Bozo’s willing to try anything once. He and his little boy pal Butch locate Wacko inside the air scoop of a dilapidated three-seater monoplane named the “Spirit of Pismo Beach”. “My first day in business, and already I’m deluged with customers”, reacts Wacko. He stands before Bozo in military fashion, introducing himself as Wolfgang Von Wacko, at your service. Bozo inquires if he is a licensed pilot. Wacko flashes him a wallet full of everything from honorary dog license to chicken plucker’s license. “But how ‘bout a pilot’s license?”, queries Bozo. “I thought you’d bring that up. Well, I got me one o’ them, too. Surprise!” Wacko flashes a small card, reading “Learner’s Permit” from a local flight school. Bozo assumes that’s official enough credentials, and he and Butch hop in. Wacko boasts that his plane is the finest mess of parts the U.S. Air Force ever junked. Bozo figures it’s better than walking – but not very.
Wacko announces they’re ready for take-odd, except for one little thing. He can’t figure out how to start the plane. “You mean you’re not familiar with the instruments?” asks Bozo. “Familiar? I’m practically a total stranger”, responds Wacko. “I hope you know where the radio is”, asks Bozo. Wacko assures him he does, and asks if they’d like some classical music – turning on an A.M. radio to a raucous rock and roll tune. “Wasn’t that soul-stirrin’ pretty?”, he adds. Wacko gets down to business, pushing a button at random. The button folds the plane’s wings upward like those of a Navy carrier plane, slapping Bozo and Butch in the face from either side. “Well now, doesn’t that just beat all?” Wacko asides to the audience. Remembering how it’s done in the movies, Wacko falls back on the old spin-the-prop gag while Bozo presses the starter from the cockpit, Wacko performs the usual spin while still clinging to the prop. “I oughta ground that clown”, he grumbles. With the plane finally in gear, Wacko returns to the cockpit, shouting, “Cloud 9, here we come!” The plane leaves the ground – maintaining and elevation of only about five feet. It disappears into a hangar, chasing out an ambulance and a blimp, then itself re-emerges from the building, flying upside down. “You know, I can fly this baby standin’ on my head?”, Wacko calls back to his passengers. Bozo and Butch hang on, precariously dangling from the railing edges of their fuselage holes, with Bozo responding, “Okay, so I believe ya’!: The plane disappears into a cloud, and Bozo and Wacko are surrounded by blackness, only their eyeballs visible. “Shuckins! Where dd all the wild blue yonder go?” When Bozo informs him they’re in a cloud, Wacko advises him to keep his eye peeled for a silver lining. They emerge flying backward, but right themselves passing through another cloudbank. “I’m a regular flying fool”, boasts Wacko. An engine sputter prompts Bozo to respond, “You’re an out of fuel flying fool.” Wacko states not to worry as they’ll just glide in for a landing. The approach is far from picture-perfect, as the plane takes several bounces off the runway, then buries its nose in the asphalt. Butch and Bozo somehow emerge from the wrecked fuselage unscathed, except for Bozo being upside down, but wonder where Wacko is. Wacko is on his face on the runway, with the engine cowling and propeller unit of the plane stuck to his rear end. The engine springs to life again, and Wacko is once again airborne – as a human helicopter, aiming straight up. He gives us a big thumbs-up sign and his signature hysterical laughter, as he disappears into the sky.
We’ll make our final approach, next week.