ANIMATION SPIN
November 26, 2013 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Underdog Saves Thanksgiving!

How Did Underdog Save Thanksgiving?

The only major cartoon star to save Thanksgiving (though dozens have saved Christmas) was Underdog. On the NBC Network, November 25, 1965 at noon EST, he and Sweet Polly Purebred prevented Simon Barsinister from eliminating Thanksgiving forever—and Total TeleVision released their own 7” 45 rpm record of the soundtrack.

Underdog_45rpm_Front

HOW UNDERDOG SAVED THE THANKSGIVING PARADE
LTV Records ZTEP-106586/7 (Mono 45 rpm)

Released in 1965. Producer/Directors: W. Watts “Buck” Biggers, Chet Stover, Treadwell Covington. Script: Chet Stover. Music: Buck Biggers. Dialogue Director: Tread Covington. Art Director: Joe Harris. Running Time: 12 minutes.
Voices: Wally Cox (Underdog, Pilgrims); Norma Macmillan (Sweet Polly Purebred); George S. Irving (Narrator, Police Sergeant, Tribal Chief, Pilgrims); Allen Swift (Simon Barsinister, Pilgrims); Ben Stone (Cad, Pilgrims); Delo States (Pilgrims).
Song: “Underdog Theme.”
Instrumental: “Tennessee Tuxedo Theme.”

It’s surprising, considering the success and popularity of the Total TeleVision animated shows, that so few records were based on them. Only one was actually produced by the company. Adapted from the season two episode, Simon Says No Thanksgiving (episodes 37 and 38 on the Shout Factory DVD box set), the dialogue was reedited to remove the transitions between story chapters.

Underdog_45rpm_Back200“So great was Underdog’s popularity that the character debuted as a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, only one year after Underdog’s debut,” writes Mark Arnold in Created and Produced by Total TeleVision, “To honor this event, TTV prepared a special episode to air right after the parade.” The Underdog balloon—seen on the covers of The New Yorker and the book How Underdog Was Born by Buck Biggers and Chet Stover—was part of the parade through 1984.

The outrageously convoluted plot finds Simon Barsinister (monologuing to henchman Cad) about his evil plan to take over the city. Briefly, he wants to send three airplanes, three tanks and twelve soldiers to attack at 2:00 p.m., driving the citizens into shelters in which he would make them his prisoners. For some reason, two buttons on a “walk/don’t walk” signal initiate the attack, but he’s unable to get to the buttons because of the Thanksgiving Day Parade.

To go back in time to the first Thanksgiving, Simon uses a time bomb—which begs the question, why couldn’t he use a time bomb to attack the city before or after the parade? This is an example of what my family and I like to call “Gilligan’s Law” (named for the entity in which plot holes and lame explanations for them abounded).

Also, why is the parade at 2 p.m.? Wasn’t the Macy’s parade at 11 a.m. in 1965 (and at 9 am on NBC with its Broadway and pop musical numbers)? Neither the city nor the parade are identified in the cartoon, but they’re obviously Macy’s and New York, but maybe the time difference was done to make both more generic.

Sadly, if it really were New York, the idea of three enemy airplanes, three tanks and twelve soldiers encroaching upon Manhattan is no longer laughable, as it was in this cartoon, but takes on a horror never dreamed of back in 1965.

SPOILER ALERT: Underdog undoes Simon’s damage by starting a FIRE (!). This restores the alliance between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans (portrayed, as was the case decades ago, in stereotypical fashion). They reconcile and rebuild what Underdog just burned down (!).

Like most other TTV shows, these dialogue tracks were created at Aura Recording Studios in New York, which was co-owned by Howard Stern’s father, Ben Stern. Norma Macmillan’s Sweet Polly dialogue was recorded in Los Angeles (on one of the DVD interviews, George S. Irving says he had never met her).

The record presents both verses of the Underdog “Ooh-Aah” Theme Song, which can be found on the CD, Television’s Greatest Hits

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
How Underdog Saved the Thanksgiving Parade
It’s cool to compare the slight differences between this record and the actual broadcast. The dialogue and music were on separate tracks, making the transitions between chapters smoother. In the two parade scenes, the TV show music is one of the Underdog “tension” cues and music from The World of Commander McBragg, while on the record it’s a march from Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales.


TWINKLES AND HIS PALS
Two TV Sound Track Stories
Golden Records R-657 (Mono 45 or 78 rpm)

Released in 1962. Producer/Directors: W. Watts “Buck” Biggers, Chet Stover, Treadwell Covington. Script: Chet Stover. Dialogue Director: Tread Covington. Art Director: Joe Harris. Running Time: 3 minutes.
Voices: George S. Irving (Narrator, Various Voices).
Stories: “Twinkles and The Hide-and-Seek Game,” Twinkles and The Parade.”


TTV also produced these 90-second cartoons (more like animatics) as part of General Mills’ attempt to launch a sugar-frosted star cereal directly in conjunction with King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.

“By tearing along a perforated line, the back of the box would open up into a three-page storybook, Tim Hollis explains in Part of Complete Breakfast. “It was somewhat unusual for a cereal mascot to be the subject of toys sold at the retail level, in addition to mail away or free-inside-the-box premiums, but Twinkles made that big jump from cereal shelves. There were Twinkles jigsaw puzzles, storybooks and Little Golden Records.”

Twinkles-78

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Twinkles and The Parade”
George S. Irving, who also voiced Heat Miser in the Rankin/Bass special The Year Without a Santa Claus, read the Twinkles stories as if he were reading one of the boxes to kids. The music, such as it is, sounds like it comes from one of those Mattel toy guitars with the little handle on the side. Either someone was picking on the plastic strings or turning the music handle back and forth. You be the judge.

21 Comments

  • The music, such as it is, sounds like it comes from one of those Mattel toy guitars with the little handle on the side. Either someone was picking on the plastic strings or turning the music handle back and forth. You be the judge.

    Wouldn’t surprise me
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=of_4DqEatII
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnB4yWPGK0E
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79mp-TTkcVM

    Off-Topic: Underdog wasn’t the only one to grace the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNiZEbBSQ8I

  • …and the parade hasn’t been the same since they retired Underdog.

  • I have VERY fond memories of the Underdog Thanksgiving extravaganza….AND its Balloon! It was a biggg to do. And thank you for Twinkles!! I always loved its charm….AND back-of-the-box novelty! HAD ‘em!!

  • Hated Underdog, still do, for its super crappy animation. But, I loved reading Twinkles ‘comic books’ on my cereal box.

    • It’s makes a wonderful audio recording because there’s virtually nothing that is not explained by the cast. I wonder why we don’t see cereal boxes with little books that open on the back anymore? It’s a great idea.

    • I wonder why we don’t see cereal boxes with little books that open on the back anymore? It’s a great idea.

      Best I saw was this…
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PM8w7VGQF-o

    • didn’t some cereal boxes have records on their backs?

    • Yes, there were lots of records on and inside cereal boxes. Post put two sets of songs by The Archies and later The Monkees on the back. You cut them out, tried to keep them from being too curved, put them on your record player with pennies to hold them in place and they sounded fair.

      There were also 4″ flexible “Hip Pocket” records packed in boxes. Most of them had fairy tales from the Pickwick/Happy Time/Cricket library.

      The Monster cereals also had cardboard records inside them. I remember having to clean the sugary debris off them before playing.

    • The Monster cereals also had cardboard records inside them. I remember having to clean the sugary debris off them before playing.

      That must’ve been fun! I had one of these (probably still do someplace with a crease down the middle).
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dzgBy_rOTY

  • In the voice credits (at the top), Norma Macmillan (Sweet Polly Purebred) is omitted.

    • I saw her name mentioned in the Underdog credits, Karl. Matter of fact, it said who played each major character, so now we know who plays Simon Bar Sinister (George S.Irving) and Cad (Ben Sern/Stone, Howard Stern’s dad.).

    • But if you’re referring to the reruns [with Tennnesse Tuxedo, as part of the 1966 "Cartoon Crack-Ups" originally], then you’re right! I was surprised in the late 1970s reading various reference materials identifying her as a voice in the show at all.

  • NBC really promoted this special, which aired immediately following their live coverage of the 1965 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (counter-programming for kids and/or their families not interested in watching the Detroit Lions play whoever during their turkey day football game over on CBS).

  • I hadn’t watched Underdog since I was a kid, but this is the first time I noticed that Simon Barsinister was a Lionel Barrymore sound-alike.

  • I remember Twinkles the cereal and the quasi-cartoon. Also Underdog saving Thanksgiving.

    Underdog lingered in the parade long after he’d largely disappeared from the airwaves. Didn’t he turn up in “Broadway Danny Rose”?

    Linus the Lionhearted was the real hanger-on, outliving his cereal and TV show by several years. Fun to listen to the announcers explain who he was without mentioned either.

    Vaguely remember an odd, small-scale animated Thanksgiving special using characters from the Wizard of Oz (but not any specific film version). Back in Kansas, the Wizard is preparing to launch a turkey-shaped balloon when Dorothy happens by. She ends up in Oz and I don’t remember beyond that. Pretty sure it wasn’t Rankin-Bass. Anybody?

  • Gary Lewis and the Playboys had a tie-in with Kellogg’s Corn Flakes with a song called “Doin’ the Flake.” I thought I remembered it being one of those cardboard back-of-the-cereal box deals, but I looked it up and it was an actual record, for which you sent in two boxtops and a quarter.
    I notice the entire Twinkles cast wears collars and/or ties. Same trick Hanna-Barbera used of separating the head from the body on an animal character that normally wouldn’t wear clothes, so the head could be independently animated.

  • Watching as much TV as I did, I remember that “UNDERDOG SAVES THANKSGIVING” wasn’t the only tie-in with TV celebrating cultural days during the year. On “KING LEONARDO’S SHORT SUBJECTS”, a “HUNTER” segment had the imfamous Fox trying to do away with the St. Patrick’s Day parade by stealing all known sheet music so that the various bands would have nothing to play! And, while it is true that the very limited animation wasn’t incredibly interesting to watch, like a lot of these shows, you enjoyed listening to the versatile voice talent keep these convoluted scripts alive, and they did so admirably!

    It’s one of the reasons why I can appreciate the shows of Total Television much more without sight than I could with one eye’s worth of vision. I cherish both sets from Shout! Factory, and I still hold out hope that, someday, Shout! Factory might want to complete the trilogy by issuing a “KING LEONARDO’S SHORT SUBJECTS” complete set, even if only as an M.O.D. (made on demand) set, adding all the TOOTER TURTLE and HUNTER segments that did not make it to the other two Total Television-related sets. These are golden and the real enjoyment is found by just listening.

  • Sure Undedog’s animation was limited, but that was par for the course for most 1960s TV animation, so it doesn’t really stand out. The clever writing more than makes up for the animation’s limitations.

    • And for the theatrical WB and Depatie Frleng as well, though some of the Road Runners in the 60s were made for TV.

  • Is there no such thing as retiring from what he does, because retiring would be, like – dying?

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