Christopher P. Lehman
September 10, 2016 posted by Christopher P. Lehman

Segregation and the Selling of “Deputy Dawg”

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The Deputy Dawg Show–a cartoon series from the studio Terrytoons–aired on television during the last years of legal segregation in the early 1960s, and Jim Crow in the South significantly shaped the program. The show’s official advertising agency developed promotional events for the cartoon in segregated venues. A major film company distributed episodes of the series for segregated movie theaters. Also, the program’s main character–a southern deputy as a white, anthropomorphic dog–became an unofficial symbol of southern law enforcement during the Jim Crow era, and skin color influenced how people responded to the figure.

Larz Bourne, a southerner from Tennessee, created the series while at Terrytoons in New York. He had entered the animation business in Florida, when Max Fleischer ran his studio there in the late 1930s and early ’40s. After serving in World War II, he moved to New York to work as a writer at Famous Studios, and while there he set many cartoons in the South. In the mid-’50s he relocated to Terrytoons, and in 1959 the studio began production on his Deputy Dawg series. According to the Sarasota Journal of April 25, 1963, Bourne wanted to create what he called a “Dixie-voiced” character.

A scene from "Rabid Rebel"

A scene from “Rabid Rebel”

The program depicts the South in contemporary terms–a rarity for a cartoon. It is not set in antebellum times, unlike parodies of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, nor does it romanticize Reconstruction as Walt Disney’s film Song of the South does. To an extent the series borrows from Disney’s presentation of southerners as anthropomorphic animals. Deputy Dawg has more social power than the other animals at the swamp–none of whom are white. Muskie Muskrat, who shares the brown skin color of African Americans, is the white dog’s most frequent antagonist. Also, Muskie is prone to stealing eggs from the Sheriff’s hen house, reflecting the ethnic stereotype of African American laborers stealing chickens from slaveholders and employers. On the other hand, Deputy Dawg drives an automobile and uses a telephone. He does not glorify the Confederacy but readily admits that the North won the Civil War in the episode Rabid Rebel. Also, many episodes gently rib regional stereotypes. “Everybody’s friendly here in the South,” says Muskie in the episode The Space Varmint; Deputy Dawg refers to the contraction “y’all” as “fluent South-land” in Welcome Mischa Mouse.

The television network CBS owned Terrytoons at the time but chose to syndicate the program instead of directly airing it. CBS hired the advertising agency Liller, Neal, Battle & Lindsey (LNBL) of Atlanta, Georgia to handle the series, and LNBL relied significantly on southern businesses to support the cartoon. Southerners William W. Neal of North Carolina, C. K. Liller of Atlanta, and James L. Battle of Atlanta founded the agency in 1940 and attracted regional sponsors for radio and television programs for years. For The Deputy Dawg Show, LNBL secured sponsorship from fellow Atlantan Herman W. Lay of Lay’s Potato Chips. Lay’s company had a strong regional consumer base, and the viewers who saw the show in the South could also buy his chips at local stores. His company invested $400,000–almost all of its budget–into sponsoring the cartoon.

deputy-dawg-newspaperCBS also used southerners to reach out to broadcasters in their region. Three of the network’s southern branch managers–James Thrash of Atlanta, George Deiderick of St. Louis, and Carter Ringslop of Dallas–pitched The Deputy Dawg Show at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in early 1960. After two weeks of sales in May 1960, CBS made $600,000 in sales to fifteen major television stations. The network packaged the 104 short cartoons comprising the series as twenty-six half-hour blocks, thus allowing four episodes per block. By the following month LNBL sold the series to forty-five markets in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and five stations outside the Deep South.

The Deputy Dawg Show was an instant success upon its debut that fall. The show topped the ratings in seventeen of the forty-five markets where it aired during November 1960. Of those seventeen cities where the program dominated, only four were not in the South. CBS immediately went to work on a second batch episodes after the reports of high ratings, and it completed another 104 films in the spring of 1961. Also, the program attracted three million viewers in over one million households between 1960 and 1962. As advertisements for Lay’s potato chips aired during the commercial breaks, the company sold fifteen percent more chips during those two years. Lay’s $400,000 gamble yielded a lucrative payoff.

However, some civil rights activists in the South saw Deputy Dawg as a symbol of police enforcement of segregation laws against African Americans. In the summer of 1961, college students integrated some chartered buses and drove through the Deep South to test recent federal desegregation of interstate buses. Officers in Mississippi arrested the “Freedom Riders,” and a judge sent them to the Maximum Security Unit at the state penitentiary. The riders loudly sang songs to keep up their spirits while incarcerated. When a portly prison deputy named G. M. Tyson told them in a thick drawl to stop singing or he would take their mattresses, they sang anyway. In Stokely Carmichael’s autobiography Ready for Revolution, he recalled that he and his fellow student inmates derisively nicknamed Tyson “Deputy Dawg.”

89db785d6b722005de7dffa12bce7b14Segregation affected promotional gimmicks for the show. LNBL and Lay’s arranged a “Deputy Dawg Coloring Contest” at a television station in Greensboro, North Carolina in the fall of 1961, but at the time Greensboro was a community of rigid segregation and tense ethnic relations. Student activists had started anti-segregation sit-ins there in February 1960, and since then European Americans grew increasingly hostile to African Americans’ demands for civil rights. Thus, efforts at desegregation in Greensboro met with crushing resistance. The contest took place in this volatile climate, and a costumed Deputy Dawg appeared at the local station to congratulate the contest winners–all European Americans–in person.

Throughout the second season (1961-62), LNBL and Lay’s coordinated a publicity tour for The Deputy Dawg Show. They arranged for a person in costume as Deputy Dawg to greet attendees at various events and to make appearances at stores. As with their marketing to television stations, the agency and company restricted the star’s travels to the South. Consequently, African American children had to suffer Jim Crow’s humiliation in order to see Deputy Dawg in person. This idea was not novel, for such promotions for cartoons had taken place for decades. However, Deputy Dawg’s southern excursion was affected by rapid changes in Jim Crow.

depurty-sawg-smallWhen the tour began in September 1961, it barely missed becoming engulfed in a prolonged civil rights demonstration. That month the live-action Deputy Dawg visited the Midtown Shopping Center in the downtown area of Albany, Georgia. The city was semi-rural and rigidly segregated, and only the most liberal European Americans there referred to African Americans by the respectable term “Negroes.” No African Americans worked in the downtown stores, nor did they serve in the police department or in local government positions. Consequently, only European Americans greeted the star at Midtown. Later that fall the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee brought its year-old sit-in campaign to town, and the activists continued desegregation efforts there through 1963.

From Albany the sit-ins continued to spread throughout the South. Some communities responded by stubbornly holding on to Jim Crow, but others began to slowly desegregate. By the time the costumed Deputy Dawg appeared at a parade in Atlanta, Georgia in the summer of 1962, the city desegregated buses, trolleys, restaurants, movie houses, and some public schools. LNBL and Lay’s had nothing to do with this progress, but they could now claim that their character appeared at an integrated event.

muskie-behind-bardsTerrytoons did not produce new episodes of The Deputy Dawg Show for the 1962-63 season. While the first two seasons remained in television syndication, CBS put six old episodes in theatrical circulation via Twentieth Century-Fox. This decision once again placed the character in segregated venues. In Kingsport, Tennessee, the Taylor Drive-In Theater played the cartoons Where There’s Smoke and Nobody’s Ghoul. The character received even greater exposure in the much larger city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for Deputy Dawg episodes appeared in two theaters there. The Dalton Theater presented Big Chief No Treaty in February 1963 and Astronut twelve months later. Meanwhile, the Regina Theater ran Nobody’s Ghoul in July 1963. These facilities either excluded African Americans entirely or exiled them to balcony seats providing poor visibility of the screens.

After one more season of new episodes (1963-64), Terrytoons ceased production of The Deputy Dawg Show. Bourne created series spinoffs Astronut and Possible Possum for the studio, but neither of them generated the same intense popularity as the canine officer had. In addition, the show’s demise coincided with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1964, which made segregation illegal. The death of Jim Crow gave Deputy Dawg the distinction as the last new cartoon character shaped by the discriminatory system. Reruns of The Deputy Dawg Show aired in syndicated television for the next two decades, but the days of costumed characters visiting “whites only” venues were over.

35 Comments

  • I wonder if Larz Bourne wrote the Famous Studios Popeye animated shorts Silly Hillbillies and my favorite Hillbilling and Cooing where scrawny Olive Oyl had rescue Popeye from a muscle bound Mountain Girl named Possum Pearl, and the one shot Possum Pearl spinoff?
    I remember Both the Deputy Dawg and its spinoff Possible Possum. Deputy Dawg aired on KNXT TV 2 (Now KCBS TV 2) on Saturday mornings and later Sunday mornings and Possible Possum air on syndication via KCOP TV 13 on the Skip and Woofer Show here in SoCal.

    • I don’t recall when I first saw Deputy Dawg (perhaps from home video), but I do remember Possible Possum often showing up on CBS affiliate WTOL’s “Patches & Pockets” program during the 1980’s here in Toledo, sometimes those cartoons also showed up as filler after certain movies as well.

    • My first exposure to Deputy Dawg was in those booths that played a cartoon for a quarter.

      (And no, Larz Bourne didn’t write any of those 3 cartoons. “Silly Hillbilly” was written by I. Klein, and both cartoons with Virgy/Possum Pearl were written by Jack Mercer.)

  • You could say “Deputy Dawg” in the fall of 1960 was to CBS’ cartoon division what “The Andy Griffith Show” was to the network’s prime time line-up that same year — an attempt to use a Southern rural setting as the source for comedy while ignoring what was going on in the South at the same time (and in the case of the latter, doing so though the producers would later be the first to cast an African-American as the lead in a prime-time TV series).

    • I agree with that parallel. I don’t know why CBS didn’t put Deputy Dawg on network TV. Certainly by the time it had “Andy Griffith,” “Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Petticoat Junction” on at the same time in 1963, CBS couldn’t say it was trying to avoid looking too rural.

  • Christopher:
    This was one of the most informative and, to my eye, one of the most well researched blog posts I’ve read in quite some time. I never thought of Deputy Dawg in ethinic terms, but your explanation makes a whole lot of sense. It also shines a wholly different light on what I’ve always assumed was a fairly amusing cartoon. Thanks for putting not only a new, but also interesting perpective on Deputy Dawg!

    • Now it’s just going to be painful looking back on those cartoons knowing this!

    • Thank you very much. I take the research very seriously, and I try to be thorough. I’m glad you enjoyed my post for the month.

  • This is a puzzling post.

    I had thought that Ralph Bakshi created DEPUTY DAWG or at least directed the first season of them. While Muskie Muskrat was the antagonist, along with Vincent Van Gopher, there were episodes in which Deputy Dawg and Muskie joined forces and, when it seemed like Deputy Dawg was going to get himself in trouble with the Sheriff (the only human in the whole series), Muskie, Vince and that alligator (whose name I don’t recall right now) helped absolve him of all blame. Of course, there were also times when, after this took place, they’d go right back to out-witting ol’ Deputy Dawg.

    As for Deputy Dawg being used as the “insult” to Southern police and other law-enforcers, Yosemite Sam got that reputation as well. Heck, I’m sure that Foghorn Leghorn also got that treatment in some cases. It was the style of animation that I liked regarding this series. It poked light fun at its regionalism as much as it seemed to pay homage to it, and I felt that a good many of the jokes were built around how cut off from other cultural advances these country folk were – such as when Hollywood visited and totally upset the usual chain of events, whatever those might be, outside of Muskie and Vince out-witting Deputy Dawg or getting him in trouble with the Sheriff. Hey, this was the way I saw the character.

    • Apparently, according to the credits, Bakshi served as an animator.

    • Perhaps it was during that final season of the show when he finally got to direct the episodes.

  • Outstanding article, filled with stuff I never knew or realized. I am always fascinated by cartoons being put into the context of the time when they were released. This also gives me an opportunity to say how much I enjoyed the book The Colored Cartoon that is on my library shelf. As a kid, the Deputy Dawg cartoons were never my cup of tea but your article has made me want to go back and take another look. Eagerly awaiting future articles from you. Thanks for sharing all of this with us.

    • Thank you so much! That means a lot, and I’m glad you liked my book. I enjoy reading your postings here, too.

  • Actually, “The Deputy Dawg Show” aired here in the Los Angeles market on KTTV (11), Thursday nights in the 7:00-7:30 slot. That station loved to run cartoons in that slot on weekday nights. These included, at various times, “Huckleberry Hound'” (after is first season on KNXT), “Quick Draw McGraw”, “The Yogi Bear Show”,”The Woody Woodpecker Show “(after its network run ended), and the “Dick Tracy” and “Mr. Magoo” cartoons.

    The show actually contained only two “Deputy Dawg” shorts in the half-hour. Following the pattern of “Mighty Mouse Playhouse” and “The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show”, only the first and fourth cartoons would feature the title character. The other two would be “one-shots” out of the vast library of Terrytoons shorts.

    While one could read a civil-rights theme into “Deputy Dawg”, thee’s another likely inspiration: the syndicated “Pogo” comic strip, drawn by Walt Kelly. “Deputy Dawg” didn’t include the political satire that Kelly wold put into his strip.

    Looking back over some of the shorts, what strikes this observer as notable is the musical score.
    Althogh it is contractually attributed to Philip Scheib, I’d be surprised if he had as much to do with these scores as might be suspected.
    The scores are for an interesting small combo of harmonica, accordion, electric guitar and string bass. And they capture the langorous, sultry ‘feel’ of the Deep South to a fare-thee-well.

    This was also the last Terrytoons series to use the “dressing-room-door'” logo that had been used on ‘The Farmer Al Falfa Show ‘(syndicated) and on the “Mighty Mouse’ and “Heckle and Jeckle” network shows. But,instead of a descending blast on a pennywhistle, or a bit of music sliced out of a previous cartoon, it used a purpose-written piece of music, long enough to fill the time without any ‘dead air’.

  • Utterly fascinating. Having been brought up in mid-La., stoopid me (at 8-years old) just thought it was “just another tv cartoon” aired at 5, on Ch. 5 (Alexandria!)

  • Dag nab it!

    • “OOOOOOOH!!!! My Foot Bones!!” One of my favorite quotes from Deputy Dawg!

  • In retrospect, I’m surprised we didn’t see a lot of editorial cartoonists or others latch onto Deputy Dawg as shorthand.

    As a kid I remember it playing in the Bay Area; there was a lot of merchandising (as there seemed to be for all television animation — even the not-that-widespread “Dick Tracy”).

    At least one of the Dawg cartoons had a beatnik duck; eventually saw him again as sidekick to a W.C. Fields donkey (one shot of series?).

    In time nearly all the Terrytoons product seemed to recede into a few obscure UHF slots; “Mighty Heroes” sticks in my mind as a last gasp, with Dawg, Mighty Mouse, Hector Heathcote, Sidney and the rest long off the air (a local station had a half-hour of old theatricals for a while).

    • In retrospect, I’m surprised we didn’t see a lot of editorial cartoonists or others latch onto Deputy Dawg as shorthand.

      I’m surprised too. Deputy Dawg could’ve easily been a stand-in for any white southerner of authority they could use to attack the issues at hand.

      As a kid I remember it playing in the Bay Area; there was a lot of merchandising (as there seemed to be for all television animation — even the not-that-widespread “Dick Tracy”).

      Speaking of Dick Tracy, I’m reminded this happened.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8e-LCHyDjo

      In time nearly all the Terrytoons product seemed to recede into a few obscure UHF slots; “Mighty Heroes” sticks in my mind as a last gasp, with Dawg, Mighty Mouse, Hector Heathcote, Sidney and the rest long off the air (a local station had a half-hour of old theatricals for a while).

      These things do eventually fade into obscurity soon enough. CBS got what they wanted from the studio by the time they called it quits and kept those cartoons in circulation as long as possible.

    • That commercial is so beautifully wrong — even in the UPA toons Tracy was never allowed to be part of the joke. One wonders if Gould ever saw it. Also: Musky nearly becoming roadkill is disturbing on so many levels.

    • One wonders why they didn’t just make a Deputy Dawg Soaky toy instead, then the ad might’ve made sense if it was him chasing after Muskie on foot as usual.

    • At least one of the Dawg cartoons had a beatnik duck; eventually saw him again as sidekick to a W.C. Fields donkey (one shot of series?).

      This was “Duckwood”; his donkey sidekick was called “Donkey Otie”. Both characters starred in three cartoons, all made in 1964: “Short-term Sheriff”, “Oil Thru the Day” and “The Red Tractor”.

  • Deputy Dawg, the character, was too much of a buffoon to be very threatening as an authority figure, and even if he did put Muskie in the lockup from time to time, it was only so that Muskie could talk his way out. It was a kids’ show after all, with broad slapstick humor, and any topicality was soft-pedaled if it existed at all.

    A more problematic romanticization of the Jim Crow era was the animated “Calvin and the Colonel” (1961), which ran in prime time. It was the last gasp of the braintrust behind “Amos and Andy” – sort of a Deep South “Honeymooners” with animal characters talking in dialect and getting themselves into scrapes. If the blustering Colonel’s full name, Montgomery J. Klaxon, seemed too uncomfortably Klannish to be funny, that might be one reason why the show seemed out of its time and did not succeed.

  • The bottom line for me is that it was a crappily made, unfunny cartoon, like almost all of the post Golden Age Terrytoon product. I was a young kid when it aired and I wasn’t that impressed with Mighty Mouse or Heckle & Jeckle. I was aware of the different studios and only cared for a Mighty Mouse cartoon when it was one of the really early ones, when better animation was the standard. I knew that Hoppity Hooper was Jay Ward, and although not a great series, I trusted it to entertain me with punny jokes, limited animation, but great character voices. Huckleberry Hound has an almost beatnik edge to his persona, and Quick Draw was hilarious. Deputy Dawg was a big disappointment, and a reason to turn that big clunky dial on our Motorola.

    • I rather disagree since after watching a bunch of Terry-era shorts, Deputy Dawg seem to have more charm and a bit more energy than most of the one shorts and the lesser character stared shorts of the past. Even Scheib’s music felt more energetic.

    • I agree with your assessment.
      Not entertaining to me at all.

  • Isn’t it a shame that we can’t just accept the cartoon for what is was meant to be? There was no apparent intent to make DEPUTY DAWG some political issue or comment on Jim Crow or any other “racial”/social issues. In fact, producers steered clear of these matters by this time.

    There tends to be too much effort to “read” personal issues into things that simply are not there. So what if Muskie was painted “brown?” He was a Muskrat. And muskrats, like foxes and raccoons do invade chicken coops. This is ANIMAL behavior. Incidentally, with regards to the “color” issue, Vince was purple, and Deputy Dawg was not “white,” he was gray. All of this only makes an excuse for hating something that does not deserve hatred especially since its purpose was entertainment. There were no racial stereotypes depicted.

    The series was popular in the south and according to OF MICE AND MAGIC ran in Drive-in Theaters. It’s more of a regional appeal issue, so what’s the harm in that? And for the record, 20th Century-Fox was the theatrical distributor, as it had been for Terrytoons for 30 years.

    For me, the only bothersome thing was Dalton Allen’s portrayal of DEPUTY DAWG –somewhat like a Frank Fontaine (Crazy Googenheim) impersonation, sometimes went over the top, sounding more “drunk” than dumb.

    • The fact remains that people committed to social justice saw something about Deputy Dawg in 1961 that associated him with enforcing segregation, despite what CBS-Terrytoons intended or not. It is also a fact Deputy Dawg’s ad agency and main sponsor made the cartoon a social issue by holding promotional events at segregated and “whites only” venues, whether the studio wanted to or not. It is also a fact that 20th Century-Fox distributed the cartoons to theaters that practiced segregation–a consequence of the regional popularity. It is also a fact that cartoons have a history of having anthropomorphic animals perform ethnic human stereotypes; so Deputy Dawg could possibly be part of that history.

    • Ray Pointer, thank you. Some much needed common sense.

    • It is Christopher who is displaying common sense here, by pointing out how a cartoon can be read differently by different audiences. Veiling your stereotypes as animal characters gives you plausible deniability, but at the same time these stories don’t exist in a cultural vacuum. You can say that of course, a real muskrat might really steal eggs, but then that’s exactly why they put an anthropomorphic muskrat in the mix – it allows them to use old minstrel show routines about no-good egg-stealing Negroes, ostensibly without offending anyone, but in reality the point could not be missed by a black audience well used to being the target of such conventions.

      I don’t want to oversell the point, or suggest that more thought was put into the creation of Deputy Dawg than it deserves; rather that it surfaced at a time when people were starting to notice the subtext of the entertainment presented to it, and ask whether old ways of doing things were useful in a changing society.

    • Consciously or unconsciously anything created reflects the times

  • Watching these cartoons in a northeastern suburb that had just integrated its elementary schools in a test-case to end “de facto” segregation, I don’t think I or any of my elementary-school classmates saw anything “racial” in any of this; it was just a lot of funny animals who talked “funny.”

    Also, we were all watching them on monochrome TV sets, and so had no idea of the “color” of any of the characters other than shades of gray.

  • The tactic of selling “Dixiefried” shows in the South was nothing new to CBS Film Sales. Just a couple years earlier in 1957, they had syndicated “The Gray Ghost,” a live-action adventure series glorifying the Civil War exploits of Confederate spy Major John Singleton Mosby. While only one season was produced, the show aired in syndication for ten years, with stations in Southern cities its most loyal customers. It’s hard to say if the tumult of the Sixties contributed to its withdrawal from release, as a great many other older shows also vanished from the market around the same time due to the industry-wide move to color broadcasting. And until 1966, CBS Films was still actively syndicating the still-controversial TV version of “Amos ‘n’ Andy.” (While they no longer distribute the show, CBS still owns the copyrights to the films and has prosecuted several home video distributors for copyright infringement.)

  • Christopher , when I watched Deputy Dawg as a child I saw it as funny, rural slapstick humor. As I got older , I noticed the Southern regionalism , especially with the references to the Civil War. And I got to seeing how some viewers, especially civil rights protestors, would see racial color symbolism in the relationship between Deputy Dawg and Muskie. With the relationship between Deputy Dawg and The Sheriff, I saw funny swipes at workplace hierarchy. Your essay and your reply provides a good , frank, analytical view of the show’s connection with the mood of early ’60s southern America.

  • Great read. I will following this site for now on.

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