ANIMATION SPIN
April 28, 2015 posted by

Gary Owens’ “Roger Ramjet” (1966) on Record

Today we belatedly salute another giant of the American speaking voice — the late Gary Owens — on a soundtrack LP with one of his funniest characters.

RogerRamjetLP-600

ROGER RAMJET AND THE AMERICAN EAGLES
TV Soundtrack Recording
A Snyder-Koren Production

RCA CAMDEN CAS-1075 (Enhanced for Stereo) CAL-1075 (Mono) (12” 33 1/3 RPM)

Released in 1966. Produced by Panomime Pictures, Inc. Executive Producer: Ken Snyder. Director: Fred Crippen. Writers: Gene Moss, Jim Thurman. Theme Lyrics: Ivan Ditmars. Sound Effects: Phil Kaye. Sound: TV Recorders, Western Recorders. Running Time: 28 minutes.
Voices: Gary Owens (Roger); Dave Ketchum (Narrator); Bob Arbogast (General Brassbottom); Dick Beals (Yank, Dan); Joan Gerber (Dee); Gene Moss (Doodle, Noodles Romanoff); Paul Shively, Jim Thurman, Ken Snyder).

ramjet-puzzle270Gary Owens’ great American speaking voice was everywhere over so much of the 20th and 21st centuries, it’s simply by chance that he did not cut many records, particularly for children. Hanna-Barbera had just stopped making records when Owens took their superhero shows by storm, otherwise there might have been a Space Ghost or Blue Falcon/Dynomutt album. I’m sure to find them in the next dream I have in which I stumble upon a F.W. Woolworth store well-stocked with non-existant HBR releases.

To many of those who know of Roger Ramjet cartoons, they’re among the least celebrated of the mid-sixties’ animated TV classics. Like Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Alvin Show and Underdog, they were produced on a shoestring and look like it, yet the scripts and voice work make them better than many cartoons with ten times the cel count. The series premiered in 1966 in syndication as either 39 half hours with 4 cartoons each or 156 five-minute cartoons to be slotted in various cartoon cluster shows (much like Mister Magoo and Dick Tracy TV cartoons).

Roger didn’t have the monolithic General Mills behind it to get reruns on local stations (as was the case with Ward and TTV cartoons), nor did it have the name recognition of a Magoo or Flintstone. So the cartoons popped up once in a while over the years without gaining the momentum they deserved. This is very funny stuff, so verbal it makes a great record.

The voice cast is top-drawer, including Joan Gerber (Pufnstuf, Lancelot Link), Dave Ketchum (Camp Runamuck, Get Smart) and Dick Beals (Speedy Alka Seltzer, Frankenstein, Jr.). But the series is a sparkling showcase for the sharp timing and breathtakingly perfect comic phrasing of Gary Owens—who has that remarkable gift of making even the most innocuous line, or word, hysterically funny.

Owens’ talent notwithstanding, with an equally agile, savvy script, there’s no stopping him. This is a funny cartoon to watch—there is no attempt to make anything seem realistic or vaguely serious—and it’s a hoot to hear as pure audio. Listening without a picture serves to accentuate the work of the ensemble.

ramjet_generalOn his exemplary blog, newsfromme.com, Mark Evanier writes about the series, with details about writers Gene Moss and Jim Thurman. Thurman wrote humor for print and TV, both prime time and daytime, including material for Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Gene Moss, who worked with Thurman on a local L.A. monster-themed kids show called Shrimpenstein, nearly cornered the market on ghoul-friendly comedy, particularly on records. Kliph Nesteroff profiles his career here.

The RCA record was another in its series of stereo records that were mere posers; it’s really a mono recording with portions toggled between the right and left channels. The back-and-forth silliness makes the mono version a little more desirable.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Roger Ramjet and the American Eagles”
While the theme song can get a little annoying when played over and over (perhaps a minor reason for the series’ lack of notoriety), these stories are good examples of the style of the show. The first story, “Roger Meets Ivan Evilkisser”, is especially amusing, with a wonderfully ridiculous premise and nicely twisted crowd responses.

23 Comments

  • Thans for sharing this rate item! I do really find strange why there were no Roger Ramjet comic books (by either Gold Key or post-Western Dell). There was, however, a Roger Ramjet annual in 1984, published in the U.K. (because his cartoons were re-run on British T.V. in the 80’s). I saw it once at a second-hand bookshop in England, but didn’t buy it because it was rather dissapointing: it consisted mostly of text stories and a couple of amateurish-ly drawn 4-page comic stories (you can look for it on eBay).

    • Apparently, Roger Ramjet had / has a huge cult following in the British Commonwealth. Too bad we haven’t had the COMPLETE complete series on DVD as of this writing. Perhaps now would be a good time.

    • Roger Ramet does have the honor of being the first cartoon series to see a home video release as early as 1972 (of course the format itself was ahead of it’s time and money for most Americans)!
      http://cartrivision.tumblr.com/post/59495511198/the-continuing-adventures-of-roger-ramjet-an
      http://www.labguysworld.com/CartV_063.jpg

    • I actually remember seeing ads for Cartrivision, though I never saw a machine in anyone’s home. Can’t go along though with the blogger’s description of Roger: “an awful cartoon that somehow people still think they loved!” (Must be an anime fan…)

  • Jim Thurman was a writer/producer on PBS’s “Square One Television,” which featured a cartoon segment called “Dirk Niblick and the Math Brigade.” Dirk not only resembled Roger, he was also voiced by Gary Owens.

    • It certainly was Roger Ramjet 2.0, perhaps with more educational emphasis but still, that was our generation’s Roger Ramjet!

  • Since I’ve lived in Lompoc, on and off, since 1972 I’m always interested in stories about it in mainstream media. While working at a local printshop in the 1990’s, a small group of Australian visitors came to the shop but not to have any printing done. They were vainly searching for any local references to Roger Ramjet which was still rerunning in Australia. The series was nowhere to be seen in these parts for years and any memory of it and its connection to Lompoc (actually pronounced Lom-poke) had long since faded. The folks from Australia were disappointed that Roger’s hometown had forgotten him. Not surprising since the towns temperance colony origins seem to linger in its stonewalling any entertainment venues from coming in. Lompoc hates fun.

    • I remember Lompoc from the animated commercials for Quisp and Quake cereals, where Quisp and Quake had a cross country race from Long Island to Lompoc.

    • Didn’t Tom Slick (George of the Jungle) also hail from Lompoc?

    • “The folks from Australia were disappointed that Roger’s hometown had forgotten him.”

      You’d be surprised how often American entertainment just sorta gets disposed of very quickly before everyone else can play catch-up.

    • The funny thing about that Quisp and Quake commercial is that the year it aired (1972) it predicted my service trajectory. I started out in Stony Brook, Long Island and ended the year in Lompoc, CA. Hmm. Stony Brook doesn’t sound as funny as Lompoc. Right, Mr. Souse?

  • ROGER RAMJET is one of those rare and wonderfully silly cartoons that would *NOT* have benefitted from better animation. The design had to be simple, especially during those uproarious fight scenes; just watch them carefully. And, occasionally, the writers got away with a joke that was clearly aimed at adults, a play on words or, as one of the episodes on this record showed, a joke aimed at a political figure of the moment. Ya didn’t have to know your political history, because the fracturing of that history would be funny anyway! I was delighted when it showed up on our local TV in the afternoons. Thank you, Gary Owens and all the American Eagle Squadron!

  • On a sad note: Thurman & Moss were hired as writers on the Carol Burnett Show the season I was on it. Despite submitting tons of sketches, not a single one was accepted — how frustrating for the team. Nevertheless, Gene and I remained close friends till the end of his life. He was a tremendously talented and kind-hearted person.

    • That’s sad to hear, still nice you knew one of ’em.

  • I was 5 or so when “Roger Ramjet” premiered. I was an idiot back then (as are most kids that age) and did not “get” the humor or even liked it. Watching them again 50 some years later, “Roger Ramjet” is a goldmine of brilliant hilarity. Made for kids but can only truly be appreciated by adults.

  • It was my most revered adult comedy cartoon. I loved the fact that when I asked Bill Scott about it in 1973, he said, “That was our only competitor. Just wet-your-pants funny…I can’t fault it.” Moss and Thurman even paid a little tribute to Jay Ward in one (the “Bathysphere” episode) when a character says, “Now there’s something you don’t see every day…” My personal favourite was “Jack the Nipper” wherein the villain was biting one ear off everyone in England so they’d all be hard of hearing (thus getting run over by omnibuses, etc.) and he could take over the nation. One scene is, for me, the most outrageous quick gag in a kids cartoon bar none: as the narrator says, “Jack the Nipper struck again..” we see a silhouette of Buckingham Palace at night. Suddenly we hear a crunch noise, then a palace light switches on and a female (Queen Elizabeth) says, “Ow!!! Phillip.. did you bite me on the ear?”…then TWO FLOORS BELOW another light goes on, and Prince Phillip answers, “No darling, was I supposed to?” The whole gag lasts mere seconds but even as a schoolkid in 1965 I knew it was so daring and WRONG..I would kill to know if any Brits living in the U.S. at that time ever saw that gag and had my reaction. A classic.

  • Hee-hee-hee. “Professor Mayoryorty” A 1960’s local LA joke that no kid got then, and few adults get now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Yorty

  • Loved the non-sequiturs, like during one of Roger’s fight scenes where the screen is covered with words like “Bam!:, “Pow!” and “Oof!,” one sign that came up was “Indigestion.”

  • Wasn’t W.C. Fields’ “The Bank Dick” set in Lompoc too? What can I add to what everyone else has already said? Great comedy material and voice performances. Phil Kaye’s sound effects were punchy in both senses of the word (hard hitting AND goofy), and veteran organist Ivan Ditmars did his customary excellent work. (At that time, Ditmars was playing every day on Let’s Make A Deal.) I exchanged some letters with Paul Shively, the show’s associate producer, who told me the non-sequitur on-screen dialogue titles were put in at the animator’s own discretion. One of my favorites was when Roger said, “Now we’ll see who gets who!” and on screen was “WHO GETS WHO” with a flashing on-and-off “M” attached to the end (WHOM.) I think when the cartoons were first syndicated, they were bartered in some markets for commercial time by the AMF bicycle and toy company.

  • A couple of Roger Ramjet items recently popped up on ebay (no idea if they are still there) that offer some sidelights on the show’s syndication. One is a promo flyer from CBS Films, apparently Roger’s original syndicator, sent as a prospectus to TV stations. It has a color printing error giving Roger white (or platinum blond?) hair! The other is an original b/w still with a pasted-on caption, probably another CBS Films error, reading “TERRYTOONS: ROGER RAMJET”!

  • 5/15/15
    RobGems.ca Wrote:
    More interesting TV cartoon soundtracks courtesy of RCA Camden in typical fake psuedo-stereo (not to be confused with RCA’s Stereo-Action, which I mentioned in an earlier post about the Hector Heathcoate soundtrack LP.) The late Gary Owens had a fine voice and will be missed since his Feburary 2015 passing. I remember hearing that mellow deep voice of his not only as Roger Ramjet, but also as the frivolous voice narrator on H-B’s “The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop”, and of course, his droll delivery as the announcer on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”. I also remembered Gary doing a reprise of his first job, as a disc jockey during the 1980’s on WOMC-FM 104.3 out of Sterling Heights, Michigan (direct from his station in California.) RIP, Gary Owens, you were the greatest.

  • Am I the only one to notice this? The picture of General Brassbottom shows him holding a telephone handset to his ear.

    1) There is no wire connected to it and 2) The telephone on the desk still has a handset in it’s cradle. I understand that the humor for Roger Ramjet is not in it’s animation but in it’s dialog so I am not criticizing, just commenting. Also, Anton Marx lamented, on 4-28-2015, that the complete series is not available on DVD. I don’t know where you are, Anton, but the complete series is available on DVD from SONY Classic Media. I picked up a copy from Amaz…. well, you know who, last year.

    Maybe it is not available in formats outside of the U.S.?

  • I was 9 years old girl fron Toronto when Roger and his scathingly dry, tongue in cheeks (pun intended) humour grabbed me and my best friends by storm. Watched it religiously on our little white, rabbit eared kitchen table tv at lunch time. I attribute Roger Ramjet and Joan Rivers to my seriously strange sense of humour, precociousness and all round Snidely Whiplash witt.

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