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.
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).
Gary 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.
On 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.