By the late 1940’s, game shows had reached a new level of technical agility. So had the Warner Bros. cartoons.
So, it makes sense that a Warners ‘toon would take off on the game show genre.
This idea hit not only the animation field. At the same time that The Ducksters (copyright 1949, released 1950) was in the pipeline, Fox was prepping The Jackpot, which would star Jimmy Stewart and feaure a young Natalie Wood. And Cardinal Productions was preparing Champagne for Caesar for a United Artists release, with Ronald Colman and Vincent Price. both those features would hit theaters the same year that The Ducksters would hit.
The Ducksters–a title derived form a 1946 book, “The Hucksters”, which purported to lay bare the sneaky world of the advertising business (and the 1947 feature film of the same title, starring Clark Gable)–took off on one specific game show: “Truth or Conseuences”, hosted then by producer Ralph Edwards.
“Truth or Consequences” had started on radio in 1940, and soon settled into a Saturday-night time slot on NBC, for the greater glory of Duz, a laundry soap that “does everything”, according to claims made by the advertising. The show was one of the most elaborate shows of any kind on the air.
There were questions asked–but contestants (drawn from the studio audience) clearly liked to “take the consequences”–which meant a stunt. And while some were proven and obvious laugh-provokers, others were elaborate beyond imagination.
Overseeing it all was Edwards, who would cackle “Aren’t we devils?” when setting a particularly diabolical stunt for a hapless contestant.
When Bugs Bunny turns to the camera, and asks the audience “Ain’t I a stinker?” after having played some prank on Elmer Fudd, he may well be channeling Ralph Edwards.
Director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese have Duffy Duck as the downright sadistic host of “Truth or AAAAHHH!”, sponsored by the Eagle Hand Laudry.
(“Does your eagle have dirty mitts?”) Porky Pig is the hapless contestant, who comes off somewhat the worse for wear after each question–and each penalty.
The cartoon even parodies the home-listener aspect of Edwards’ big show. Edwards wanted to poke fun at the enormous jackpots that some shows were offering. He chose a home-listener segment, in which home listeners would be called, and asked to identify “Mr. Hush” from cryptic clues given.
What had been meant as a spoof got out of hand, and after Mr. Hush had been identified as old-time boxer Jack Dempsey, Edwards had to keep things going with “Mr. and Mrs. Hush”, and then simply “Miss Hush”–hence, the reference to “Miss Shush“, proving to be more than the contestant bargained for.
In the course of this cartoon’s run, there are references made to two other game shows of the day. When Daffy makes a threat against a reluctant Porky, it’s another takeoff on “Take It Or Leave It”—which had already been skewered just bit earlier in the cartoon when host Daffy has a definite reaction to the audience member who warns Porky “You’ll Be SORRR=REEE!”
And Daffy’s curtain line, as he is prepared to be hoist on his own petar, is a takeoff on a line from a game show that has far lower stakes: Doctor I.Q.. That show was broadcast from movie theaters, and,while the good Doctor was on stage asking questions and handing out silver dollars, his assistants were scattered among the cash customers. Comedians of the day, such as Henry Morgan, had a field day when an announcer told one and all “I have a lady in the balcony, Doctor!”
It could also be that the influence of “Truth of Consequeces” hangs over two other Warner Bros. cartoons of the early 1950’s–It’s Hummer Time and Early To Bet. This is especially true of the latter cartoon, where the hapless cat who keeps getting bitten by the Gambling Bug (Stan Freberg), spins the wheel knows what the Penalties are, and dreads them most severely.
Next Week: Warner Bros. Cartoon Game Shows in the 1950s.