For Paramount executive Seymour Kneitel, this was a pretty good year. The Paramount Cartoon Studio had survived the sale of its library and its established characters to Harvey Comics. Paramount Pictures ordered a second year of 20 new theatricals – and production on Popeye TV films continued, and there was potential for further King Features TV cartoons.But this would be the last year that Paramount would order 20 theatricals. Thirteen (13) would be the norm beginning the next season. Not that Kneitel and his small crew weren’t trying to come up with a “star” character – its just that none of their attempts would click with the public.
Let’s look at the recurring characters being offered: Professor Schmaltz, Kozmo the kid from Mars, Goodie Gremlin (a variation of Casper) and “Specs, Chub and Goop”, an ersatz “Our Gang”. For some reason Kneitel looked to one of the remaining Hollywood animation studios – Walter Lantz – for some inspiration, basing one cartoon on a annoying woodpecker, another on a pair of penguins (Chilly Willy, anyone?) trying to sabotage a cargo ship’s watch dog.One creative highlight, Bouncing Benny. Former Fleischer/Famous crew members Graham Place and Otto Feuer had been tinkering with a new method of limited animation. The result, a cut out/stop-motion technique, was given a try out by Kneitel on Benny. The cartoon was cute, but it wasn’t a game changer – and was not used again (though I believe Place and Feuer produced a few TV commercials with their technique).
And then there was “The Cat”. Desperate for a “Star”, Paramount foist this non-entity (originally planned as a one-off entry in the Modern Madcaps) upon the public in four shorts. Evidence that this “series” was rushed to comply with Paramount’s salemen’s demand for some sort of cartoon “front man” is the gap of six months between the first film and the second one – and another six months wait for the third entry. They are not completely without merit – a catchy song in the first one, clever ideas and – in the first two – witty scripts by Irv Spector – but their threadbare execution and limited animation must have looked awful on the big screen.
Reaching for straws, Kneitel even made a two-picture deal with Marge to revive Little Lulu – adapting two John Stanley “Little Lulu” stories (without credit to Stanley) to animation for the first time.
Regardless, Paramount was still high on animated shorts – in fact it even picked up an independent film to augment its schedule: Munro, directed by Gene Deitch (who was also producing King Featuers Popeye TV cartoons from his studio in Prague) and based on a story by Jules Feffier. It was released by Paramount in October 1961 – after it had won an Oscar – and the studio began negotiations with Rembrandt Films for more eclectic Deitch animated theatrical shorts. It is not known what Kneitel thought of this relationship. Perhaps he was too preoccupied getting “The Cat” into theaters and delivering TV Popeye cartoons to King Features.
That said, and without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the 1960-61 in-house Paramount cartoons.
Eight (8) Modern MadcapsGALAXIA (10/60) Kneitel/Spector. A Russian matchmaker tries to match an alien spaceman to a gumball machine, a juke box, and finally an old maid.
BOUNCING BENNY (11/60) Kneitel/Graham Place-Otto Feuer. A young married couple raise a (literally) bouncing baby boy.
TERROR THE TERROR (12/60) Kneitel/Johnson. Professor Schmaltz, Child Psychiatrist, tries to tame bratty little Terry.
THE PHANTOM MOUSTACHER (1/61) Kneitel/Waldman. Sir Percival Prunepit is the “Phantom Moustacher” (who draws mustaches on everything). His butler, Smedley, tries to stop him.
THE KID FROM MARS (2/61) Kneitel/Tafuri. Kosmo lands on Earth and plays havoc with his ray gun at a circus.
THE MIGHTY TERMITE (4/61) Kneitel/Tafuri. Professor Schmaltz tries to study a hungry termite.
IN THE NICOTINE (6/61) Kneitel/Spector. Chain-smoking Charlie Butts is sent to Smokers Anonymous by his harried wife. NOTE: first large role for Eddie Lawrence, as the voice of Charlie Butts.
THE INQUISIT VISIT (7/61) Kneitel/Spector. Chas Huntington and his “Person To Person” style TV show visit the home of Gaby Lament (a Zsa Zsa Gabor type).
Eight (8) NoveltoonsNORTHERN MITES (11/60) Kneitel/Tafuri. Two mischievous penguins play with the supplies on an Arctic supply ship, despite the efforts of a harried watch dog.
MICENIKS (12/60) Jazz playing beatnik mice try to elude a cat from the country.
THE LION’S BUSY (2/61) Kneitel/Taras. Spoiled millionaire Sir Reginald Tweedledum IV is sent to Africa to kill an animal and uphold a family tradition.
GOODIE THE GREMLIN (4/61)Kneitel/Taras. Goodie undoes all the mischief and mayhem caused by the other Gremlins.
ALVIN’S SOLO FLIGHT (4/61) Kneitel/Tafuri. Tubby and Lulu take little Alvin to the beach. There he grabs some balloons and floats away.
HOUND ABOUT THAT (4/61) Kneitel/Taras. A fox teases a near-sighted dog.
TRICK OR TREE (7/61) Kneitel/Reden. A stubborn woodpecker is preventing the construction of a new super-highway.
CAPE KIDNAVERAL (8/61) Kneitel/Waldman. Specs and his two friends, Chub and Goop, build a moon rocket.
Four (4) The Cat
TOP CAT (7/60) Kneitel/Klein. The head of Blocbuster Pictures, J.C. Bandwagon, sends his men out to find a new star.
COOL CAT BLUES (1/61) Kneitel/Spector. The Cat is hired as a bodyguard for Smilin’ Ed Solvent (a take-off on Ed Sullivan).
BOPIN’ HOOD (8/61) Kneitel/Spector. A hip cat named “Bopin’ Hood” (and his band) comes to Squaresville, where jazz has been outlawed.
CANE AND ABLE (10/61) Kneitel/Spector. A take-off of “Bat Masterson”, The Cat goes west to clean up a gambling operation in a rough town.
(Thanks, Ken Layton)