Animation History
June 12, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

The Live Action Lips of “Syncro-Vox”!

clutch_cels

What was the story behind those live action lips, super-imposed over the stiffest limited animation ever made? Clutch Cargo, Space Angel, Captain Fathom – parodied on Conan O’Brien and by Pixar, celebrated at Cartoon Dump, and burned into the brains of the Boomers of the first TV generation.

I will be spending the afternoon today co-hosting a special episode of Stu’s Show (the internet radio show hosted by Stuart Shostack), where I will be interviewing special guest Margaret Kerry. If you know anything about Ms. Kerry, I’d bet it is the fact that she was the live action reference model for Marc Davis and the Disney Studio for Tinkerbell in the early 1950s. Kerry tours the Disneyana conventions and autograph shows discussing this and signing photos of Tink. She even has a new book on the subject.

The interview Stu and I will do today will not revolve around Kerry’s visit to Never-Never Land. We will ask about the rest of her career – a career that included being in Our Gang comedies in the 1930s, on The Lone Ranger in the 1950s, co-starring with Eddie Cantor in the movies, co-starring with Charlie Ruggles on live TV, guest starring on The Andy Griffith Show (twice), and working with The Three Stooges. But most importantly – to me anyway – we will ask about her life with Dick Brown, her husband and executive producer at Cambria Productions (the Syncro-vox™ people).

Syncro-vox™ was a patented technique to create low-budget TV cartoons – more significantly, the first adventure cartoons for television. Way before Jonny Quest or The Mighty Hercules, Cambria was churning out the serialized adventures of Clutch Cargo (drawn by comic strip artist Clark Haas) and Space Angel (designed and drawn by the legendary Alex Toth, above). In case you’ve never seen Synchrovox™ – get a load of this:

The stuff of nightmares – but I loved it. I recall watching these as a kid… I didn’t care what they were saying, I couldn’t take my eyes off the mouths. Clutch Cargo was merchandised very successfully. Click thumbnails below to see some of the sales materials and merchandise:

clutch_brochure1 clutch_brochure2 CLUTCH clutch_membership

space_angel_button

And then there was Space Angel. My favorite. Not only beautifully drawn by Alex Toth, but the setting of outer space promised more action, adventure and visual thrills. Well, at least it promised it. Here’s a sample:

Yes, the female voices in the episode above (and below) are all Margaret Kerry (and she’s many of the lips, too!). By the time of Captain Fathom (1965, below), Syncro-vox™ had run its course.

Three adventure-heroes made it to series. But that didn’t stop Cambria from trying the technique on other subjects, creating seri-comic pilots with Doc Potts and adapting comic strip character Moon Mullins:

Please listen in today FREE at 7pm EST (4pm Pacific). After that, the interview will be archived and available for 99 cents. Click here to hear the broadcast.

20 Comments

  • Shouldn’t have tired to watch this before sleeping… You have got to laugh about how they tried to sell the technique as if were some great breakthrough, and not simply a way to save money.

    • Shame they didn’t try to build up on it over the years like have them do eye movements or have a hand move around while they’re talking but I guess that would’ve been too much work than there already was on these.

  • Looks terrible

  • Syncro-Vox was parodied in “Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers.”

    • “But now it’s all over, it doesn’t matter anymore!”

  • Salute the lips, but let’s not forget the other wondrous attribute of Clutch and company — the ability to hover inches from the ground! Or maybe it’s the ability to get around on skateboard with off-center wheels (hidden behind hedges).

    I still owe you big time for satisfying my years-long need for Clutch Cargo, back when Streamline put out that VHS of the show. I remember at the store, fretting that it was over ten bucks for just a half hour of show, but how could I hold out? I was watching it pretty much right away, and before five minutes had gone by, I actually heard myself say “THANK GOD IT’S ONLY A HALF HOUR.”

    And yet. I’ve watched it over and over, and the same goes for some dollar DVDs of it that I found at $1 stores on family trips. In fact, whenever my skull gets too hard, I watch Clutch Cargo and soften the whole thing up there, and am a better person for it.

    • I think that’s the highest praise I’ve seen for Clutch Cargo.

  • All hail Syncro-vox! I love this stuff! Watching excepts from different series back to back you realize they must have found ways to ‘improve’ the system… the superimposed mouths are kind of messy on the Clutch Cargo episodes, frequently mis-aligned as well. They cleaned ‘em up as they went along and got pretty cocky about inserting them in small spaces (unlike Clutch’s enormous lantern jaw), and sometimes at odd angles. My favorite bits are when they would cut back to a female or underage character for a reaction shot, no dialog! Ms. Kerry was actually pretty game at ‘acting’ with just her lips, and there are wonderful takes of her registering fear or anxiety by sucking half of her lower lip under her teeth!

    And, oh yeah. As a little kid, I thought Clutch Cargo was supposed to look like Paul Drake (actor William Hopper) on Perry Mason. No really. The resemblance to my five year old eyes seemed uncanny!

  • Y’know what would been REALLY cool? If they’d filmed mouths and somehow attached them to photos of common fruit and vegetables…maybe an orange. Nah, that’s too annoying to even consider, right?

    • Please Scott, don’t give them ideas–oops, too late!

  • I hated Clutch Cargo. I’d hear that music and know it was another 5-7 minutes of my precious cartoon time ruined, never to return. It was like hearing that tinny music to the early 60s King Features Popeyes. Even as a little kid I knew Clutch Cargo, and Spinner and Paddlefoot, were ripping me off. Space Angel is ten times better, though it’s still a stretch to call it animation.

  • i would love to get my hands on some of that sales material. i especially like the c.c. and company train going of the cliff.

  • Never knew they tried to do “Moon Mullins” with Synchro Vox. Looking at it, I’m glad it never got off the ground.

    It did become animated years later – by Filmation!

    • Oh yeah, I forgot about Archie’s TV Funnies!

  • Hey, I just wanted to say I tuned in just in time to hear the Clutch Cargo talk get going. Thanks for posting this and for talking for 3+ hours!

  • Verry good show. And yeah, that lip technique is freaky. It’s a good thing I only knew about Clutch Cargo back when I was in middle school from Cartoon Network’s short-lived magazine.

    • I’ve learned of it courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000!

    • I wonder how many people learned about it from a one-season comedy on (I think) Nick that was a parody of Siskel & Ebert, reviewing non-existent TV shows. The one time they broke the ‘non-existent’ rule was to show some Clutch Cargo. Just because they could.

  • It doesn’t look as horrible in Space Angel as it does on Clutch Cargo.
    I remember watching the latter the first time a decade ago, on Cartoon Network Japan (they aired the craziest things). Seeing it for the first time, I was more mesmerized by how atrocious it looked to where I don’t even remember what was going on in an episode.

  • Thought I’d link this. It’s the patent for Syncro-Vox, which explains how it was done.
    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/2739505.pdf

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