ANIMATION SPIN
October 2, 2018 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Bob Kane’s “Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse” on Records

The bargain basement Batman-like superhero from the “Wonderful World” of Sam Singer came to vinyl with an album-length comedy adventure made just for records.

COURAGEOUS CAT
in the story of “Around the World in a Daze”

Original TV Characters
Simon Says Records M-32 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono)

Released in 1960. Producer: Beckjohn Productions. Running Time: 24 minutes.
Voices: Dal McKennon (Courageous Cat, Minute Mouse, Walter Geshundheit, Harry, Tour Guide); John Holiday (The Frog; Snake Charmer).

Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse was one of several low-budget animated series that offered local stations a mountain of episodes—like King Features’ Popeye the Sailor, Cambria’s The New Three Stooges and many others, these offered local stations the flexibility to bundle them together as one show, mix them with other cartoons and toss them in as needed if a movie ended too early.

On many occasions, producer Sam Singer has been affectionately dubbed “the Ed Wood of animation” by our own Jerry Beck. He could also be considered the animation industry equivalent to bottom-budget live-action producer Sam Katzman. Even Paul Terry, whose cartoons were inconsistent and increasing parsimoniously, came up with characters and plots that captured audiences’ attention and even affection (much to the credit of Terry’s creative personnel). Sam Singer’s cartoons had little appeal and have not stood the test of time, even as cult fodder, except through Jerry’s legendary “Worst Cartoons” presentations at the San Diego Comicon and elsewhere.

Singer’s The Adventures of Paddy the Pelican (1950) has a theme song so lackluster, it could be a send-up of theme songs. The animation is dependent on cycles. Jabbering mouth movements are overdubbed (without those charming Fleischer-like results).

Another Singer cartoon, The Adventures of Pow Wow (1956) is a non-comic series of stories featuring a young Native American boy, this time using a narrator to avoid synching dialogue.

A cel from POW WOW THE INDIAN BOY

As for Bucky and Pepito (1959), your humble author recalls the strange, echoing theme song to Bucky and Pepito as so downright creepy, it haunted his childhood ears. The vocalists sound as if they are trapped at the bottom of a deep well (like Timmy, before Lassie arrived with help).

The most successful and well-regarded of Sam Singer’s cartoons is not so much associated with his name than that of Bob Kane, who with Bill Finger also created Batman. Inconceivable as it might seem now, Batman was losing popularity by the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, and Courageous Cat was born out of necessity.

“It’s pretty obvious Kane came up with Courageous Cat as a rip off of Batman,” Jerry told me. “Sam Singer was never very creative, and the writing—such as it is—is better on this series than in the other Singer cartoons, so I give Kane the credit for that!

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen an interview with Kane that mentions his involvement with Courageous Cat. In fact I don’t think he ever mentioned his other TV series, Cool McCool, that much. But it is true that DC was going to cancel Batman comics, until the deal for the 1966 ABC TV series came to be.”

The other “respectable” Sam Singer cartoon was Sinbad, Jr., which was owned by American-International Television. AIP replaced Singer midstream in production on Sinbad with Hanna-Barbera, so there are two sets of cartoons from each studio (see this Spin for the story behind its record album).

Dal McKennon, voice of both Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, was one of the busiest character actors in both live-action and animation in the 50’s and 60’s especially for Walter Lantz, Walt Disney, George Pal, Art Clokey and of course, Sam Singer. His signature lead voices included Gumby and Archie Andrews, but he did countless supporting voices in Mary Poppins, Lady and the Tramp, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and tom thumb. He played Cincinnatus on Fess Parker’s long-running Daniel Boone series and his movie appearances include the cook in that “high-test” diner scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds.

Simon Says Records was a small children’s record label that began in 1948 by entrepreneur Larry Press as The Record Guild of America. The label produced all manner 78- and 45-RPM singles, many in novelty formats such as picture discs or with motion-making devices to create basic movements as the records played (similar to the Red Robin Records of the same era). Almost every Simon Says LP boasted white covers with bright basic colors, distinguished by a big color circle on the front. Licensed cartoon characters were very rare for the label, the only other being Astro Boy.

Johnny Holiday was the music supervisor for Sam Singer cartoons. As a songwriter, he co-wrote the disturbing theme for Bucky and Pepito (the credits misspell his name as “Johhny”). For Courageous Cat, Holiday came up with something special–an unforgettable Henry Mancini-style theme that transcended the series.

The theme has enjoyed cult status of a sort, with a rock version performed by the group New York Dolls and a spot-on re-creation for the second volume of Television’s Greatest Hits on Tee-Vee Toons Records. However, the actual soundtrack theme must not have been licensed to be used on records and does not appear at all on the Simon Says LP (or any other commercial recording). The Simon Says album does include a wide selection of production library music, just as the TV version did, probably selected and edited by Holiday.

Also, according to the album notes (which misspell actor Dal McKennon’s name as “McKenna”), Holiday voices The Frog. It has been noted elsewhere that The Frog might have been voiced by Bob McFadden, and it does sound like him, but Singer cartoons were made in the LA area. Why use the budget to hire the New York-based McFadden actor when you can have your own music supervisor do a much cheaper Edward G. (“Nyaah! Nyaah!”) Robinson imitation for the Frog?
For more about Sam Singer, visit Don Yowp’s fascinating website.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Around the World in a Daze”

The Courageous Cat LP is almost five times longer than the five-minute TV versions, but the episodic story is made up of smaller vignettes, so it could just as well have been a string of short cartoons. Written especially for the album, it’s a take-off on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, with Courageous and Minute taking the place of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout and The Frog standing in for Inspector Fix. The Frog tries to win their race around the world by constantly trying to place Courageous Cat in jeopardy with each attempt ending in wackiness. A Walter Cronkite-like newscaster (McKennon) links the adventures together, complete with a teletype sound effect similar to the one used as the “theme” for the CBS Evening News.

12 Comments

  • “The writing—such as it is—is better on this series than in the other Singer cartoons, so I give Kane the credit for that!”

    Bob Kane was no writer (or much of an artist), but perhaps he deserves credit for hiring a good ghost. I wonder if Bill Finger was involved with the show?

    “But it is true that DC was going to cancel Batman comics, until the deal for the 1966 ABC TV series came to be.”

    From what I’ve read, this was what DC told Kane in order to assert more control over the comic, thus initiating Batman’s “New Look” period under Julius Schwartz, which pre-dated the TV show. Whether DC would have really cancelled the book is another question.

    • To say this is Sam Singer’s best series is not saying much – but it is indeed Singer’s best series. And since Bob Kane (whatever his actual involvement to the writing was) is the big difference, I’d have to assume Kane made some positive contribution to the production.

      I’d read several accounts about BATMAN comics pre-1966 and the sales were horribly bad. And Kane spent many years in Hollywood from 1959 on, looking for a way to exploit his fame with that character to create or co-create several series. Don Yowp found this clipping in Backstage (an industry trade paper) from 12/13/63 that reflects his efforts at this time:

      Bob Kane clipping

    • I thought animation underdog Sid Marcus wrote a lot of the episodes (which might be why it was a bit better than the previous Singer shows, writing wise).

  • Regarding the SINBAD< Jr. series, the late Film Roman Animator, Larry Jones told me that he was on that series, and the reason for the change in studios was due to salary disputes and the fact that Singer was a non-signatory to the #839 Union Contract, and was paying below established scale. Due to continue financial conflicts surrounding Singer, American International moved the production to Hanna-Barbera where the production values were a bit better even with the limited budget.

    • Thanks, Ray.
      Gasp! Singer paying below scale? “I am shocked, shocked, that underpaying was going on there!”

  • McFadden did provide at least one voice from his East Coast base on a West Coast-produced series, with Linus the Lionharted in 1964. So it’s possible he could have done the Frog’s voice, but I don’t think it really sounds enough like him.

  • When I was a kid watching these on TV, I always thought that Courageous Cat was up there with the UPA Dick Tracy cartoons in the “opening credits were the best part of the show” department.

  • That Latin-flavored track at 9:35 was also used by Fred Ladd in one of his redrawns.

    • Oh, and I forgot to mention this in my initial comment, but the Hawaiian track at 17:34 is “Hawaiian Happiness” by Jon Jelmer, originally off the Conroy label.

  • “The Adventures of Pow Wow (1956) is a non-comic series of stories featuring a young Native American boy, this time using a narrator to avoid synching dialogue.”

    Actually, as I remember the episodes (and I saw a lot of them) they often involved young Pow Wow consulting with a wizened Medicine Man to answer some point of curiosity, and as the old man would tell, for instance, how the fox got a white tip on the end of his tail, the cartoon would devolve into a bunch of slapstick incidents that are guaranteed to have zero connection with any known Indian folklore. You got the “non-comic” part right.

  • To be honest, the only thing from Singer that I enjoyed (in a so bad it’s good sense) was Paddy the Pelican. A case of trying to bring pure animation to television, but failing badly at it, along with everything else.

  • I did like Bucky & Pepito as well as Singer’s Sinbad Jr too.

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