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.
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.
“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.”
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.