Animation History
February 15, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

Terrytoons “Barker Bill”

Today we’ll gaze into the hypnotic image of Terrytoons’ long-forgotten animated cartoon host, Barker Bill.

barker_bill_frames

Barker Bill’s Cartoon Show is considered one of the first network television weekday cartoon series. It aired on CBS from 1953 to 1955 – before Paul Terry sold his studio and film library in its entirety to the network.

According to Wikipedia, Barker Bill was a 15-minute show, broadcast twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays at 5pm Eastern (although some local stations showed both episodes together as a single 30 minute show). Here is the original musical opening of the show, which would lead right into some delightfully creaky 30s Terrytoon.

Unlike the other animation studios, who tread cautiously into the world of television, Paul Terry embraced this new market for his ancient backlog of shorts. And he clearly had high hopes for his ringmaster, Barker Bill. This painting was probably proudly hanging in the lobby – it was fished out of the trash in the mid-sixties, mold and all…

barker_bill_painting

Terry had advertised the show with full page ads in Terrytoon comic books in the 1950s:

barkerbill_ad

Terry also promoted the show via a daily and Sunday comic strip (1954-55) drawn by animator Bob Kuwahara. I don’t think it was widely syndicated. Mark Kausler posted the only examples of the strip he could locate, from the The Winnipeg Free Press (via Newspaper Archive.com), The Boston Globe (via Proquest) and the Greensburg Daily Tribune (via Yahoo news). Below is a typical daily strip and a Sunday page (click to enlarge). Check Mark’s blog for many more Barker Bill strips:

barker_bill_comic_470 bill_strip_sunday470

In case you haven’t heard the Barker Bill theme song enough, here is the full length version recorded by Mitch Miller for Little Golden Records:

barkerbill_78rpm

Lest you think Paul Terry spared no expense to create this new character – Barker Bill was really a retread, originally designed (by Charles Thorson) for the 1942 theatrical cartoon, Happy Circus Days. Here’s the model sheet (click to enlarge):

barker_model470

And here’s the film itself:

For the sake of completeness, here is Thorson’s models for the kid and dog in Happy Circus Days (click to enlarge).

HappyCircusDays470

And now you know everything about Barker Bill – whether you like it or not.

(Thanks, Mark Kausler and Mark Newgarden)

11 Comments

  • The CBS affiliate in Detroit, WJBK, Channel 2, at that time occaisionally ran the animated BARKER BILL intro. I found this unusual since the animation was superior to Terrytoons animation of the 1950s and especially for what it was doing for television. It looked rightfully in the style and execution of the cartoons being featured. Also the art is especially good on the Barker Bill character. It goes to show you that sometimes they could “slip up” and do something quite well.

    • That shot of Bill leading the kids seems TOO good — maybe recycled animation? The kids look like they’re moving to swing music rather than a circus march. Then again, maybe one of the old hands simply put a little extra into that walk cycle.

  • Did poor Bill ever reappear in a later theatrical short—even after his TV show and comic strip got going? (Farmer Al Falfa starred in URANIUM BLUES as late as 1956, so there’s precedent…)

  • I remember seeing these in the fifties on early morning TV before school. Some of these were rated from interesting to bad to CAMP..
    We saw the same cartoon a zillions times in TV back then.

  • A few of the Terrytoons B&W and color shorts also received an instrumental version of the Barker Bill theme beneath the truncated opening titles (the B&W cartoons were gone by the mid-60s from most stations, but I remember hearing the theme on the 1944 cartoon “My Boy Johnny”, where it sounded out-of-place from the rest of Phil Scheib’s 1940s score).

    station stations, but

  • Kinda glad I missed that one…ugh

  • Before my time. However, I have purchased some old Terrytoons from Mr. Beck, and believe me, Disney and Fleischer Bros. had nothing to worry about in the early ’30s from Terrytoons. If you like mindless drivel… and I do… you might want to look at those ancient Terrytoons cartoons… Yes, Farmer Al appeared in “Uranium Blues” in 1956 (according to Graham Webb’s “The Animated Film Encyclopedia”) but he was pretty much retired by the late 1930s. He did help launch the careers of Heckle and Jeckle in 1946, though…

  • Personally, I though studio got a little better by the mid to late 30′s.

  • For anyone who is curious about the singers on Barker Bill’s theme song heard above, the “Terrytooners” credit was a made up name–this was, in reality, The Sandpipers, the Golden Records barbershop-quartet-in-residence. I have owned this record since it came out 48 years ago, along with many other Goldens, and I have studied the series over the years. The quartet members heard most often were Bob Miller, Dick Byron, Ralph Nyland and Michael (or Mike) Stewart. It is tenor Ralph Nyland who sings most of the solo lines on this recording. Bass singer Michael Stewart twice sings the line, “bellowing in the zoo.” The soloist on “Step Right Up” sounds to me like Dick Byron, but I am not absolutely certain of that.

  • Jerry:

    Was this the “inspiration” for “Terrytoon Circus” that ran on WOR (Channel 9) in NYC through the 1950s and ’60s, with Claude Kirshner in the ringmaster’s suit and doing a terrible job of vocing the puppet Clowny? I’m sure you remember his opening “Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages, welcome to Terrytoon Circus,” and his closing, “…because now it’s seven o’clock and time for most of you to be in bed…” Clearly WOR thought the audience for this show was VERY young.

    Pat

  • I, for one, had never (ever) seen him animated. It was always (his) title card. But i have this VERY fond memory of every early 30s Terry starting with that great little calliope jingle!!

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