NEEDLE DROP NOTES
May 7, 2017 posted by James Parten

Quiz Show Cartoons – Part 3: “The Ducksters” (1950)

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.

18 Comments

  • I think the following article might shed a bit of further light on the “Miss Shush” gag; I think what might have been specifically parodied by Maltese and Jones here was the ToC “Walking Man” contest.

    http://martingrams.blogspot.com/2014/03/jack-benny-and-walking-man-contest.html

    For comparison purposes, by the way, when RCA sold the Blue Network (later ABC) to a syndicate in 1943, the sale price was $8 million. Ajax obviously worth a great deal more!

  • This was always one of my favorites. The humor is mostly verbal, but Jones’ posing and timing pushes it over the top, keeping it from becoming what Jones would later call “illustrated radio”. Favorite gag is Daffy’s shocked reaction when Porky actually gives the correct answer.

  • Wow, beyond the name of ‘Truth or Consequences’ I never realized the extent of the references in ‘The Ducksters’. There are some surprisingly deep cuts in Maltese’s script. I’m guessing ‘Miss Shush’ and now ‘Have you got a doctor in the balcony, lady?!’ went clear over the heads of theater audiences when this short was reissued about a decade later.

  • A bit of trivia: one of the producers of Truth or Consequences in the early 50s was former Warners writer Cal Howard. He thought up the stunts as well.

    • Howard also received an early 1950s WB story credit on “Canned Feud” produced just after “The Ducksters” was released.

  • I remember in the 1982 special Bugs Bunny’s Mad World of Television they used footage from The Ducksters including the tv announcer announcing the next programming “Truth of AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Featuring a totally different scream provided by Mel Blanc and differently re dubbed dialogue with Porky asking how much is the TV station which he purchased with his prize money that he won on the game show.

  • Physical penalties would resurface on shows like “Double Dare” (the Nickelodeon edition) and even later on the “Press Your Luck” retool “Whammy!” More of a loss of some dignity than anything remotely painful.

    • As well as several Japanese game shows like. “A Life Out of Prizes by Denpa Shonen”,”Endurance” and “TORE!”.

    • The first edition of The People’s Almanac (1975) made note of one long-gone Japanese TV game show as punished losing contestants by slowly cutting away at pieces of their clothing.

      And soon after commercial television began broadcasting in Italy in 1978, one Turin station began a call-in quiz show which starred a local housewife (who was masked for privacy reasons) who removed an item of clothing when callers got the answer right.

      (Too, let’s not forget that Japanese TV chestnut Endurance, which features absurd stunts.)

  • The very success of Truth or Consequences on radio would be such that, for the show’s 10th-anniversary season (1950), Ralph Edwards offered free publicity to any community as would restyle itself “Truth or Consequences” … and as it so turned out, Hot Springs, New Mexico would seize upon the opportunity to better promote its therapeutic mineral hot springs without confusion from Hot Springs, Arkansas in particular.

    Which it did on April 1, 1950; the evening before, a ballot measure on whether to change the name passed by a margin of 1,294 for, 295 against.

    And three ballot plebiscites later (the most recent in 1967), the name remains “Truth or Consequences” .

    For years, in fact, Ralph Edwards “himself” would host the annual Fiesta celebration in Truth or Consequences (second weekend in May, know) as comemmorated the name change, bringing along emerging Hollywood stars in the bargain. The which would inspire an extended story arc at my blog last spring imagining a gathering of many Hanna-Barbera cartoon greats in Truth or Consequences for Fiesta weekend, as well as the parade, in that spirit.

  • i, by fluke, just saw this film earlier toDAY (at 5am) on Boomerang. It is great….repeat—grrrrrrrrreat—to get the “definitions!”

  • There are quite a few similar gags in the Joe McDoakes short “So You Want to Be On the Radio” (1948).

  • Talking about insane Japanese game shows, there was a parody of insane Japanese game shows on the Simpsons episode Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo where The Simpsons had to compete on a Insane Japanese game show to win airfare to return to Springfield after losing ¥1,000,000,000 in Tokyo and after doing extremely dangerous stunts to compete in the next few rounds. Homer ridicule the game show host on live tv and telling him that he should be ashamed of himself putting people in grave danger on the game show.

  • The movie “Seven Days’ Leave” had Victor Mature and Arnold Stang as soldiers who found themselves as contestants on “Truth or Consequences” (with Ralph Edwards playing himself).

  • While I don’t think we’ll get to that in these posts (and going back to the Columbia cartoons posted earlier), in one of the early Mr. Magoo cartoons (produced by UPA) had Waldo going on a quiz program (possibly radio) in order to win the prize money to fix his uncle’s car after wrecking it in “Barefaced Flatfoot”, it was a quick, short moment but I thought I’d pass it along.

  • This cartoon even mentioned “Jungle Jitters”, also a Warner Bros. cartoon, a Merrie Melody, if you will.

    • Also one of the fabled “Censored Eleven”!

  • One of Chuck Jones’s best.

    “RIGOLETTO!”

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