Cartoon Research Books
March 3, 2018 posted by Kevin Scott Collier

The Controversy Over “Calvin and The Colonel”

When I first began research for my new mini-book on the 1961 television cartoon “Calvin and the Colonel,” I was aware of its connection to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” creators Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. They did the voices, and were given screen credit as the creators of Calvin and the Colonel. What I wasn’t fully aware of, is that the cartoon was actually a reincarnation of their racially-charged radio program, which was on air from 1928 to 1960.

The truth of the matter is that the NAACP applied so much pressure on Gosden and Correll’s radio show, that they drove Amos ‘n’ Andy of the air. But I still figured, that was over, and someone approached the partners and suggested, “want to make a cartoon?” And, the men decided to come up with something, partially based on “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”

That is untrue, also. In fact, during their final radio broadcast, they told a reporter that was at the studio that they planned to “bring back Amos ‘n’ Andy” as a television show. It caused some confusion, as the characters had already appeared on TV in a series in the 1950’s, featuring an Africa-American cast.

You see, Gosden and Correll weren’t ready to end their radio show. So, under the heat of the NAACP, a reincarnation took place, this time using animals to defuse any association with race identity. But, the voices Gosden and Correll recorded for Calvin and the Colonel were Andy and the Kingfish. They also struck a deal to bring the radio show’s longtime writers, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher. And the content for Calvin and the Colonel stories was mined from old “Amos ‘n’ Andy” shows, rewritten to accommodate the menagerie of furry friends.

The tale of “Calvin and the Colonel” goes back to Gosden and Correll’s first experience with animation, with the 1934 “Amos ‘n’ Andy” cartoon shorts, created by Van Beuren studios. But the intended 13 shorts became 2, and Gosden and Correll walked out of the deal because the quality was so bad. They were sued for this.

“Calvin and the Colonel” featured Colonel Montgomery J. Klaxon, his wife Maggie Belle, her sister Sue, Montgomery’s best friend Calvin T. Burnside, and other characters such as Judge Oliver Wendell Clutch and manicurist Gloria.

TV Spots, Creston Studios and Kayro Productions in where responsible for the 26 episodes that were created. Robert Charles McKimson was a director of animation on the project. Besides Gosden and Correll, voices included Paul Frees, Virginia Gregg, Beatrice Kay, June Foray, Joe Flynn, Jesse White, among others. The series appeared in prime time on the ABC television network.

After its debut on October 3, 1961, the ratings were so poor advertisers pulled out. Within weeks the show was put on hiatus. It resumed broadcast on ABC on January 27 the following year, but continued to gain any viewer interest. ABC pulled the show after its September 22 broadcast. And, “Calvin and the Colonel” vanished into history.

Away from the backstory of Gosden and Correll, “Calvin and the Colonel” is an enjoyable cartoon. I’ve always admired it. The schemes and predicaments Klaxon and Burnside get into are quite entertaining.

Hopefully one day a company (NBC-Universal?) will release all of the episodes on DVD, using the best prints available, and restored in full color. As it is now, about a dozen or so shows can be acquired, many in black and white. And my latest Cartoon Research mini-book can answer most of your questions. Click HERE or the cover below to order.

30 Comments

  • i rmbr it as it were ystdy. I rmbr, SO vividly, that Daddy quickly telling me, “it’s Amos ‘n’ Andy!!!”

    • I bet he was happy. I don’t know if my dad even remembers this, and he watched the 50’s live action TV series.

  • It’s hard to argue over the quality animation and voice work, but in a PC world :O

    • And yet I can’t help but think the slight controversy of Klaxon’s vest the cover to Kevin’s book might push the sales a bit!

    • Ugh! This is hideous! You sure you want to go with that image? The Confederate flag in 2018 deserves to be seen as little as possible. I sure ain’t gonna buy it.

      As for the show, I remember watching it lo these many seasons ago. It’s not badly done, but giving the Colonel a Klan-y name and the personality of a Lost Cause apologist (even a foolish one) wasn’t exactly in tune with the Civil Rights zeitgeist that was just getting rolling in 1961. Yes, they’re animals but did anyone miss the point? (I did, but I was nine.) Not cool then, worse now.

    • See, controversy just follows us everywhere it seems!

  • It was actually CHARLES McKimson who worked on CALVIN AND THE COLONEL, not Bob McKimson.

  • The NAACP wasn’t the reason CBS cancelled the Amos and Andy radio show in 1960. (The incarnation of the series then on the air was THE AMOS ‘N’ ANDY MUSIC HALL, a series heard weekday evenings that basically presented the characters as glorified disc jockeys, doing short skits in between pop records.)

    CBS Radio changed its program format in the fall of 1960. Part of that change involved cancelling the network’s remaining seven daytime soap operas, THE AMOS ‘N’ ANDY MUSIC HALL, and the dramas SUSPENSE and HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL. The network retained two dramas for awhile longer, YOURS TRULY, JOHNNY DOLLAR and GUNSMOKE.

    The call to cancel these shows actually came from network affiliates, who wanted the time turned back over to local stations. By that point, they could make more money with a disc jockey and a pile of records than they could carrying old-style program formats that few people–few young people, in particular–were listening to.

    • It should be mentioned as well that the “Amos ‘n’ Andy” TV show was not off the air when the creation of “Calvin and the Colonel” was announced in Variety on Jan. 31, 1961. Kayro was still syndicating it in reruns.
      CBS radio had to play catch-up with the other networks, which had changed their focus to news from entertainment. It expanded its newscasts in the evening. Affiliates agreed on August 10, 1960. That sealed “Amos ‘n’ Andy”‘s fate.

    • “Suspense” stayed on radio till September 1962, being, along with “Johnny Dollar”, the last of the OTR shows. Sponsors moving their dollars to TV was another nail in the coffin of “Old Time Radio.”

    • The call to cancel these shows actually came from network affiliates, who wanted the time turned back over to local stations. By that point, they could make more money with a disc jockey and a pile of records than they could carrying old-style program formats that few people–few young people, in particular–were listening to.

      So that’s what killed radio programs (of the non-music/sports/talk persuasion).

    • Chris, this is getting off the topic of cartoons, but Jon sums it up very nicely. As the ’50s moved along, more people watched TV. That’s where the sponsor money went. Old time variety/comedy/mystery radio shows vanished. There wasn’t the money to pay for them.
      Meantime, NBC did very well revamping some of their time-periods and filling them with Monitor. ABC and Mutual followed, scheduling and selling newscasts. CBS expanded its news programming, as Jon mentioned. The word “nostalgic” was already being applied to “Amos ‘n’ Andy”; clearly the network wanted to move on from old hat programming, including those hoary old unsophisticated soaps.
      Variety outlined the CBS plan in its August 24, 1960 edition. It stated “Amos ‘n’ Andy” would leave the air after November 26th.

    • Yeah, I remember some early mid 1960s syndication of this one (Amos and Andy itself still thru 1966 being as a TV show syndicated..)

    • Getting back on cartoons, the fact that Amos & Andy in their more limited role made it all the way to 1960 also explained why Friz Freleng used an Amos & Andy joke for Bugs in his written-and-directed effort, “Lighter than Hare”. It was in production while the radio show was still on, though by the time it hit the theaters in December of ’60, A&A were gone.

    • “Suspense” stayed on radio till September 1962, being, along with “Johnny Dollar”, the last of the OTR shows.

      SUSPENSE was cancelled at the end of November, 1960, along with the other above-mentioned programs. CBS continued to air GUNSMOKE and JOHNNY DOLLAR late Sunday afternoons. In June, 1961, CBS cancelled GUNSMOKE and replaced it with a revival of SUSPENSE.

  • Although “Calvin & The Colonel” had an almost non-existent afterlife in the U.S. after its original network run (unlike other animated primetime series of that period, whcih found a “second life” in Saturday Mornings), it remained in international distribution over the following decades: thus, in 1968 it was seen in Japan as “O.K. Calvin!” and in the late 1990s it aired, of all places, in Poland on a network named RTL7!

    • Calvin and the Colonel also appeared on Brazilian TV in the 1980s in color.

    • I’m sure MCA TV got a lot of mileage out of this one when possible.

      Reminded they even had the rights to Ruby-Spears’ “Donkey Kong” cartoons from Saturday Supercade (going by prints that have circulated out there on the net)…
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yt9QVE4aIQ

      I’m guessing that was, perhaps a consolation to losing the Universal vs. Nintendo case over the gorilla infringing on King Kong.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_City_Studios,_Inc._v._Nintendo_Co.,_Ltd.

    • And if I recall correctly, the Seven Network in Australia ran a few episodes back in 1982.

      Wow! Didn’t take long for it to go out of print. I’ll look for it again later on in the week.

  • YouTube has what they claim is the radio version of the episode above. It was common for TV series in the 50s-60s to air a radio version of a TV show and often used the same scripts.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J7fHLBhqEj8

    • Yeah – take the sound from an old TV show, post it on YouTube without the picture, and wham – instant “Old Time Radio”. Not buying it.

  • This whole bit of history is very interesting, and all I can add to this discussion is to agree with the author that the entire short run of “CALVIN AND THE COLONEL” should someday be released in full color and as restored as humanly possible. I, too, like the antics of the characters, and it is interesting to hear the other voices that appear throughout the series. I’m anxious to check out the episodes that aren’t being seen in heavy rotation on You Tube or whatever streaming site. On a side note, I hear that the characters look remarkably like Fillmore Bear and Waldo Wigglesworth from Jay Ward’s “HOPPITY HOOPER”, another series that I’d *LOOOOVE* to have, fully restored, in my collection!! Sure, examples of that show can be found streaming online, but the quality is good to dull, nothing nearly as good as “ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE AND FRIENDS” which could also use yet another overhaul, but it is at least in decent shape.

  • I saw in the credits for this episode Lee Mishkin (director of Oscar winner IS IT ALWAYS RIGHT TO BE RIGHT? and BUTTERFLY BALL)

  • Found RASSLING MATCH: https://archive.org/details/amosnandyrasslingmatch (butt ugly animation)

  • While I recognized the connection to AMOS N’ ANDY, Gosden and Correll did not seem to rely as much on the “Minstrel Negro dialect” for CALVIN AND THE COLONEL. And I think the ratings problem was the same with TOP CAT with a mid week placement after 8 p.m. I only saw it during school breaks and when it went to Saturday reruns after its Prime Time run because my bed time then was 8:30. So it seems that its failure was largely due a poor time slot and not realizing what audience it was playing to. The racial issue was non-existent.

    • Ray, I recall you making a special presentation at our unveiling of the Winsor McCay historical marker placed by the Spring Lake (MI) Library in 2008. Nice memories! You are correct, the racial issue played no role in the cancellation of “Calvin and the Colonel.” The show was scheduled opposite two highly rated programs, “The Many Loves of Dobey Gillis,” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Civil rights advocates had nothing to do with it being canceled, it was low ratings, and some major advertisers pulled out right after the first show was broadcast. The controversy concerning the NAACP/Civil Rights Advocates had concerning the program was the way it originally was announced. After Gosden and Correll’s “Amos ‘n’ Andy Music Hall” final broadcast took place on November 25, 1960, the boys were telling the press “Amos ‘n’ Andy” were coming back to television. At this time, the NAACP was still carrying on the battle over the battle against the CBS TV Show, originally airing 1951-53, which was NOW in reruns. So, while the Civil Rights advocates didn’t name the “Amos ‘n’ Andy Music Hall” in documents to drive the show off the air, they didn’t like the notion Gosden and Correll were continuing anything Amos ‘n’ Andy.” The men knew this, and kept a low profile, until “Music Hall” went off the air. So, Jon’s post is correct, the NAACP didn’t drive the radio show off the air, and his reasons stated are correct. But the NAACP celebrated its demise, as they were sick of Gosden and Correll continuing this in any form. So, when Gosden and Correll initially put out there that “Amos ‘n’ Andy”was returning to TV in a new show, it caught the attention of the NAACP. They wanted the reruns of the old TV show off the air, and now and these fellows were bringing back a new “Amos ‘n’ Andy” series? Godsen and Correll then, a couple months later, explained it was a cartoon, “Calvin and the Colonel,” and would feature animals. But they still said a lot of stupid things in interviews leading up to the program’s release, such as dismissing stereotype items such as “watermelon” and making a remark about “retards.” So, Civil Rights advocates kept an eye on whatever they were doing but didn’t formally come out against the cartoon. Actually, there was more of a concern the cartoon would stereotype “southern folks” and that was a concern. So, aside from the drama that swirled around it, “Calvin and the Colonel” didn’t spawn boycotts or an uprising. It was scheduled against two highly rated shows, few watched, and it vanished.

  • Looking at Wiki’s 1961-62 TV schedule,it is interesting that besides the post 8:30 slot for Calvin,ABC had Warner’s Bugs Bunny Show @7:30,with Bachelor Father sandwiched between Bugs & Calvin @ 8PM. ABC & Warner shared a deep relationship with seven(at least) WB productions on the ABC schedule. The logical idea would have been to have a ‘toon block from 7:30 to 8:30. I wonder if that was considered and Warner objected?{ The mantra I found to be true in the music biz,was:Don’t f@#% with The Bunny!”). When Calvin was moved to Sat.,it was slotted @ 7:30,with Matty Funday Funnies,a half hour of ‘toons(Famous Studios Harveytoons) @ 7PM,creating that hour of ‘toons. Still,Calvin never caught on.I was nine and loved cartoons in the evening.but was never thrilled with Calvin,though it did have a cool theme song

  • I spent years trying to convince Universal to put C&tC out on DVD, noting its appeal to multiple groups–animation, early TV, A&A and of course kids. They were completely uninterested. I finally gave up.

  • The ONE advertiser that stayed with “CALVIN AND THE COLONEL” was Lever Brothers {Pepsodent, Imperial, Stripe, et. al.}, because they originally sponsored “THE AMOS ‘N’ ANDY SHOW” on radio {for Rinso} from 1943 through 1950, and had a firm commitment to sponsor the show during the entire season {American Home Products’ Whitehall Laboratories division [Anacin, Dristan, et. al.] was an “alternate sponsor” during the initial Tuesday night run, but pulled out after the show was temporarily shelved}. It WAS the lousy ratings that finally did it in (and being opposite “PERRY MASON” in mid-season on Saturdays didn’t help, either).

  • Was the ” host” the sponsor?

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