What’s in a Name? Most animation fans recall Dudley Nightshade to be the chief villain of Crusader Rabbit but as animation historian Fred Patten once shared with me almost three decades ago (and I just found the notes), there is much more to that name. In the first episodes of Crusader Rabbit, he battled villains including Dudley Nightshade and Whetstone Whiplash/Sternwheel Jackson who all looked very much alike being lean, dressed in black and with mustaches (Nightshade had a French Imperial and Whiplash/Jackson a handlebar.).
When Capital Enterprises/TV Spots revived the series as color programs, it was decided to give Crusader a continuing arch-enemy. TV Spots preferred the name Dudley Nightshade but also preferred the appearance of Whetstone/Sternwheel so the new Nightshade was a combination of the two and apparently a master of disguise.
As the character announced at the end of episode eight of “The Great Uranium Hunt”: “They’ll rue this day or my name ain’t Dudley Nightshade alias, Nightly Dudshade, alias Sternwhell Jackson, alias Whetstone Whiplash…” The narrator cuts in with “Dudley can go on like this for hours, so let’s close for now”.
By the way, his sidekick was known as “Bilious Greene” (yes, the scripts had the extra “e” at the end of the name). In 1982, a new animation studio headed by Lee Orgel called Cinemation announced that it was preparing to produce a new Saturday morning television series of Crusader Rabbit. The staff included Gerry Ray, Sam Nicholson and Norm Gottfredson who had worked on earlier incarnations of the character. Hopefully, Fred Patten might write a book about Crusader Rabbit one of these days using his two part Comics Scene articles as the foundation.
Bugs Bunny. Chuck Jones, interviewed in Business Screen magazine (Aug/Sept 1982) said, “Bugs Bunny in all his pictures was a counter revolutionary – not a revolutionary. He did not go out like Woody Woodpecker and just bedevil for the fun of it. Bugs was always minding his own business at the beginning of a picture. He was always in a natural rabbit environment. Then someone would come along and try to remove his foot, or his body, or his soul – and he would fight back. Like Groucho (Marx), he had to say, ‘You know, this means war!’ That was a line of Groucho’s I could not refrain from stealing. It was so natural for Bugs to say that. I tried Bugs Bunny once using Groucho Marx’s walk and it worked fine. But I didn’t use it again because I learned what the lesson was. You learn ways for the character to move by doing it once then I knew that Bugs would have his own style to do the same thing.”
British Sex Cartoon. Sinderella was a six minute sex cartoon made by David Grant in 1972. The tagline was “She “Lost” More Than Just Her Glass Slipper and Never Even Noticed That It Was Past Midnight!” In 1988, Bow Street magistrate Mr. Kenneth Barraclough declared the cartoon obscene and police raided Oppidan Film Productions and confiscated all copies. In a two day hearing, Mr. Richard du Cann argued on behalf of Oppidan that Sinderella was “full of exaggerations with the quality of a naughty seaside postcard and no more.”
Mr. Barraclough responded, “The fact is that it is obscene material in my view.” Strangely, the banning only applied to the London area in the jurisdiction of Bow Street Magistrates Court. A police legal expert pointed out that only people showing the cartoon in this area would be breaking the law. On the stand, Grant denied that is was just “six minutes of copulation”.
It was finally granted an “X” Certificate (adults only) after the British Board of Film Censors deleted about 30 feet of the film. The animators of this obvious parody – that included Sinderella, her sisters, the Prince and the Three Bears – chose to remain anonymous. Animation historian Denis Gifford considers this the first British pornographic animated cartoon.
Richard Pryor and Bakshi. In the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper for January 23, 1988, filmmkaer Ralph Bakshi told entertainment columnist Marilyn Beck that he was working with comedian Richard Pryor on an animated feature: “It won’t be Fritz ‘cause he’s the 1970s. It’ll be about a ‘Cat’ of the 1980s who represents what’s happened during the Reagan years and how we all sold out. It will have Richard at his most outrageous.”
Heck Allen. Henry Wilson Allen, better known in the animation industry as Heck Allen, began writing cartoon scripts for MGM in 1937 on primarily the Barney Bear series. He later teamed with director Tex Avery and was responsible for cartoon classics like Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Screwball Squirrel (1944), The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945), Dixieland Droopy (1953) and at least fifty other cartoons including several for Walter Lantz that were directed by Dick Lundy. Allen retired from cartoons in the mid-1950s and wrote over fifty Western novels under the pseudonyms of Will Henry and Clay Fisher. Some of those were made into movies.
Allen told Film Dope magazine in 1982, “My list of animated triumphs appears full enough to me. Indeed, I had no idea how prolific ‘Heck Allen’ was and how perfectly awful one might interpret that list as being. I mean, what an indictment of an entire decade which might have been spent at some honest job. Ah, well, seven years have passed and the statute of limitations will prevent prosecution. So I will admit authorship.”
He passed away in 1991 at the age of 79. By the way, his granddaughter is Amy Allen who plays Aayla Secura in the Star Wars franchise among other accomplishments.
Spielberg’s Obligation. In the Los Angeles Times May 21, 1984, director and producer Steven Spielberg said, “I feel an obligation to work at Disney at some point as a sort of repayment for all the stuff Disney put in my imagination when I was growing up.”
Coincidence or Conspiracy? Let’s close out the year with this oddity. Thirty years ago(!) a spring 1986 primetime anniversary episode of Late Night With David Letterman was taped aboard a jet plane as it traveled between New York City and Miami, Florida. Animation expert Jerry Beck (proprietor of this website) was an invited member of the “studio audience” (as a passenger on the plane). Letterman promoted this special broadcast with footage from cast party on his show (clip below) – part of which showed candid footage of Jerry (eating a bagel – at :38), with Letterman playfully identifying him as “Don Johnson” (the actor starring in the then popular Miami Vice television show).
Nearly three years later in March 1989, the film “Dead Bang” was released with actor Johnson playing a character named “Jerry Beck”, based on a real life L.A. police detective named Jerry Beck. Coincidence or Conspiracy? You decide.
Happy New Year, everyone!