This week, we’ll be taking a slightly different approach toward our animated academic anthology. Focus this time will be on four respective series, covering their contributions to the topic as groups rather than in strict chronological sequence. So get set for an all superstar overview, down the memory lane of many of our senior readers’ childhoods.
First, as promised, a deferred look at the academic abnormalities of UPA’s Mister Magoo. Magoo’s contributions concerning the subject of school are rather unique, in that, although it was established early in the series that Magoo had a complete weak spot in his rickety armor for anything associated with his old college alma mater (Rutgers University), we have rarely if ever actually set foot upon the campus grounds of such hallowed institution in the course of the series. (But then, how infrequently has Magoo ever directed us to his real intended destinations?)
It appears that Magoo’s affinity for his college days began in Trouble Indemnity (9/14/50, Pete Burness/John Hubley, dir.). An insurance salesman from the Fly By Nite insurance company calls upon Mr. Magoo at his home. Magoo, who can’t tell an airing TV commercial from the saleman’s double talk, seems to have built-up sales resistance, and opens a door, demanding that the salesman leave the premises. However, he has mistakenly opened the door to his closet, which is chock full of pennants, letterman sweaters, and other Rutgers memorabilia. The crafty salesman gets an idea, and pretends to exit the house, entering the closet door instead. A few moments later, the door of the closet opens, and the salesman reappears, wearing the letterman sweater, carrying a pennant, and re-introducing himself as Roy Rutgers of the college alumni association. “Did you say Rutgers?”, responds Magoo, his eyes opening wide for one of the rare times in the series. He greets his fellow classman with the old “Rutgers’ grip” – an armlock followed by various shifts with the effect of judo throws, leaving the recipient upside down in a heap on the floor. While Magoo had just rejected the previous pitch for insurance as preposterous, the hearing of the same pitch from a Rutgers man brings about the unexpected reaction, “Just what I need. Were do I sign?” Without coaxing, Magoo suggests the nice round figure of a $400,000 policy, and the contract is signed. The delighted salesman returns to the home office – a shabby two-man location on the 17th floor of an antiquated brownstone office building – to collect his commission.
Meanwhile, in a typical Magoo mishap, Magoo catches his foot in the mouth of a tiger-skin rug in his living room, steps on the snout of the rug with his other foot – and thinks he has received a bite from his dog. Looking over his policy, he concludes, “I’m covered!”. and heads for Fly By Nite’s office to make a claim. Back at the office, the president’s graph line on a sales chart soars through the roof at hearing of the sale of a $400,000 policy. But the president has second thoughts, as he opens a safe door, noting that the company’s funds fit loosely inside the confines of a single piggy bank. “This Magoo – is he a good risk?”, asks the president. The salesman assures him Magoo is a nice quiet refined old gentleman – something like the guy they see out the window. Their view is of a skyscraper under construction next door, which Magoo has mistaken for the office building, and within which he is currently riding on a girder. “Get him!”, orders the panicked president. “If he falls, the company falls.” The usual hair-raising chase ensues amidst the structure’s dizzying heights, with Magoo finally winding up on the ground in one piece through sheer dumb luck. However, he walks straight into the enclosure of a power station, ignoring a warning sign reading “100,000 Volts – Keep Out” A blinding flash, and an explosion reduces the station to charred rubble. The two insurance whizzes are about to live by their own compaay motto and hop onto the next slow boat to China, when who should appear to make his claim but Magoo, seemingly unmarred by the explosion. The insurance men are happy to pay $10 to satisfy Magoo’s claim, which Magoo calls a fair settlement. However, before departing, Magoo asks that they once again give him the “Rutgers’ grip.” Both men extend their hand to him – and receive an electrifying jolt, as the stored up voltage in Magoo’s body pours out into their own frames, leaving them in a frazzle while the happy Magoo heads home, none the worse for wear. Nominated for an Academy Award.
Magoo at least gets to rub elbows with his actual fellow graduates in Hotsy Footsy (10/23/52 – William T. Hurtz, dir.), although the eveny is not on campus, but at the 67th annual Rutgers “Old Grad” Ball at the Walforf Ballroom. In deliberately square mock-1920’s style, Shorty Rogers provides musical accompaniment, with an original number bearing the film’s title, played by a septet in gaudy red and white striped band uniforms, known as “Rudy Roadheever and his Rhythm Rascals”.
Their asthmatic vocalist is interrupted by a Charleston-dancing Magoo, who seizes the microphone and insists on showing the singer how it’s done. Magoo calls for “that beat”, but as the band tries to resume playing, Magoo massacres the tempo so badly, the drummer can’t figure out where to insert his beats, and the conductor snaps his baton in two. Jim Backus’s singing and ad libs are delightfully dreadful, and the number is probably the high point of the film. From there, things start to go downhill. A dance contest is called, and a large woman and her inebriated husband react in contrasting ways at the realization that the wife has been selected by random number to be Magoo’s dancing partner. The wife hides under the table, while her drunken spouse has barely enough consciousness to keep repeating, “Good ol’ Magoo.” Magoo arrives to escort his partner, and asks her spouse where he’s hiding her. “She’s on the floor”, responds the husband truthfully. Magoo misinterprets this as meaning she is waiting for him on the dance floor, and walks off in search of her. Of course, he actually walks out into the alley, enters another doorway, and into the fighters’ entrance of a wrestling arena. Seeing one of the fallen contenders being carted away on a stretcher, Magoo’s eyes widen again, mistaking him for an undergraduate, with the aside to the audience, “Loaded.” Magoo hears a referee in the ring introduce the reigning champion, “Francis”, and mistakes the reference as to his intended dancing partner “Frances”. Good premise, but a boring payoff, as the “dance” in the ring proceeds at a veritable snail’s pace, for an anticlimactic finish that leaves a winded Francis draped over the shoulder of the drunken husband, while an unknowing Magoo heads for home, happily singing into the night. (The film was later released as a silent in the Columbia home movie catalog, and must have seemed exceptionally poky without its music score for assistance and projected at 18 frames per second.)
It seems that Magoo may finally make it to campus after all, in Magoo’s Homecoming (3/5/59. Gil Turner, dir.). He is on the right track, accompanied by a fellow alumnus, Gilmore, down a city street leading to the university. However, as Magoo stops to ask for directions from an officer (actally a curbside call box), a shout of “Stop, thief!” is heard from a jewelry store. A robber in a mask exits the shop with a small sack of stolen jewelry. In his haste to escape, he collides with Gilmore, knocking him to the ground, unconscious. Magoo can’t tell one of them from the other, and assumes the one standing is Gilmore, and the one on the ground a fallen fraternity man, carried away with premature celebration, who he refers to by the mock-Greek letters, “Lappa lotta grog!” The robber hears the approach of a policeman, and is unable to resume his getaway, as Magoo has grabbed up his sack, believing it is his own bag lunch. Thinking fast, the robber ties his own mask upon the prone Gilmore, and as Magoo informs the cop, “Officer, do your duty”, Gilmore is dragged away for the crime. A bus pulls up, which Magoo believes is headed for the college, although its sign reads that it is a shuttle to the zoo. Magoo climbs on board, while the robber makes a grab for the sack placed on Magoo’s seat – and gets his arm caught in the door as the bus pulls out, leaving him running on the outside as he is dragged along by the bus doors. Magoo interprets his jogging run outside the window as “quivering with excitement”.
At the zoo, Magoo makes the usual run of mistaken identies of the various animals for classmates and faculty members. He reads the sign on a warthog’s cage as that of the Dean, and notes they’ve made a change which he considers a notable improvement. The elephant house is mistaken for his old dormitory, and venturing inside, Magoo looks for his old room, staring instead at an elephant’s rear, which he describes as “Same inspiring view”. He gives the “Rutgers grip” to the trunk of another elephant he mistakes for their former star quarterback, and knocks down the robber, who is making another lunge for the jewelry sack. Seeing the thief on the floor, Mago reacts, “Not another celebrant. No holds barred around here. No bars barred either.” He next encounters the trash cans behind a building, which he mistakes for “The school cafeteria. Hasn’t changed a bit – but I’ll eat here, anyway.” He decides he won’t need the “bag lunch” after all, just as the robber is trying for it again, and leaves the robber to fall into one of the trash cans, while Magoo offers the “lunch” to a random needy student – tossing it into the enclosure of a grizzly bear. Necklaces and other jewelry rest festooned upon the bear’s head, while Magoo tells the “student” to take off that ridiculous fur coat, which “went out of style” years ago. Tiring of his masquerade, the robber finally shows his true colors, by pulling out a gun, and speaking up, “You asked for it.” As the robber takes pot shots at Magoo, Magoo believes “The fireworks have started.” The robber empties his gun without scoring a hit, and determines at least to get the jewels back. He grabs hold of a vine from an overhanging tree, and does a Tarzan swing into the bear pit, snatching the jewels off the bear’s head. But he misjudges the vine’s length, and is just short of reaching the opposite side of the pit, thus returning in reverse to pit’s center, where he becomes locked in a sleepy bear hug by the beast, the jewels again back in full view on the bear’s head. The policeman, having heard the gunshots, arrives in a squad car with Gilmore in the passenger seat, who has been cleared of the charges. The thief and jewels are discovered n the bear pit – but where is Magoo? Addressing an appreciative audience of seals, which he believes are the alumni association, as he leads them in a chorus of the Rutgers college anthem for the fade out.
It appears that Magoo’s only experience in a classroom was in the television special, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (12/18/62 – Abe Levitow, dir.), where, as young Ebenezer Scrooge, a junior version of himself appears, left alone in the boarding school without invite home for the Christmas holidays. The touching number. “I’m All Alone In the World” is performed by young Ebenezer, and nicely joined in by a singing Backus for a duet between present and past Ebenezer as a musical highlight. It was one of the more emotional moments of the special, and remains memorable.
A memorable bumper of unknown date origin would receive nearly constant use on broadcasts of “Rocky and His Friends” (Jay Ward Productions, circa 1959) as lead-in to sponsor breaks. Rocky the flying squirrel is seated in a classroom, while professor Bullwinkle Moose instructs him with portable blackboard, pointer, and obligatory mortarboard hat. “Today’s lesson is mighty important, remember,” says the moose, directing attention to the chalkboard. He has not noticed that someone (could it have been Boris Badenov?) has drawn a non-flattering image of him on the board, together with an inscription reading “Bullwinkle is a dope.” Rocky begins to read the caption aloud, as Bullwinkle’s eyes widen in observation. Interrupting Rocky before the last word, the moose disgustedly reacts, “Not that lesson!”, and flips the board over to its blank side, as the camera tracks in. “This lesson!”, says the moose, completing the thought as the imagery dissolves to the latest plug of the sponsor of the day.
Of course, Bullwinkle’s association with schooling will always be best remembered from the story arc, Wottsamatta U (first installment aired 7/7/63 on The Bullwinkle Show). The small, unknown university is on the verge of bankruptcy (and worse yet about to lose the Coke machine in the faculty lounge), because it has never drummed up attention for itself with a successful football team. “Do we even have a football team?”, asks one of the professors. Yes – one which hasn’t scored a goal in 22 years. “Seems a shame to spoil a perfect record like that”, observes another professor. Nevertheless, with a little creative bookkeeping, five English teachers are sacked, and five football scouts hired. Two of them get altogether lost, and wind up in Frostbite Falls, to witness Bullwinkle tossing Rocky in an “Alley Oop” forward pass to the grocery store and back before you can say “Jack Robin—“ Bullwinkle is offered a football scholarship on the spot. He reports to campus, in raccoon coat and with ukelele. “Do you have your textbooks?” asks Rocky. “Don’t bother me with details”, responds Bullwinkle. A counselor approaches, recommending he take a first semester course of study including introduction to chemical kinetics, differential calculus, and history of the Peloponessian wars. “Take ‘em? I can’t even pronounce ‘em!”, Bullwinkle moans. When it is revealed he on a football scholarship, the counselor’s recommendations change dramatically, to “personal grooming, crocheting, and reading modern classics” – the latter being “Dick and Jane at the Seashore.”
Bullwinkle suits up for Coach Rocky Knute – but can’t seem to throw a ball over ten feet. Rocky suggests the solution, that Bullwinkle needs the call of “Alley Oop” to exert his full moose muscles, and Bullwinkle tosses the ball out of the stadium, across the campus, and through the window of the Dean’s office, where he is sweating over construction estimates for a new football stadium. His mood changes entirely upon realizing where the football came from, and he instructs the bidder, “Well, don’t just stand there. Build something!” Rocky thus makes the team to provide Bullwinkle’s motivation, and the two make an unbeatable combination (except for losing many a pass receiver, who usually get picked up in the next county). When odds against opponents of the team grow to 200 to 1, Boris Badenov and Natasha move in, with a promise that Boris says seems counter to his usual destructive nature: to fix a game. Natasha turns on her charm, as a weeping damsel in distress, claiming that her brother (Boris) is on the opposing team for Saturday’s game, and if he loses, they’ll drum him off the team, take away his sweater, and not even let him watch “American Bandstand.” Rocky consults the “Heroes’ Handbook”, which provides split messages, encouraging helping damsels in distress, but also advising to never throw a game. Bullwinkle, siding with Natasha, tears the book down the middle. “You read your half, and I’ll read mine”, he declares. The plot almost works, as Bullwinkle deliberately fumbles the ball in Saturday’s game – but the opponents are just as inept to capitalize on it, and the game stands scoreless until the final quarter, when Rocky notices that Natasha’s “brother” never came on the field, but is in the stands. Angry Bullwinkle charges toward him – running back toward his own goal line. He stops a foot short of the line, to find Boris has doubled back and is on the opposite end of the field. Having nothing available to throw at him except the ball, Bullwinkle launches a pass sure to sail clean out of the stadium, until Rocky soars into the air to intercept it, bringing it down for the winning touchdown.
Bullwinkle becomes, in the words of the Dean, the greatest football attraction since Blue Grange. “That’s Red Grange”, notes a professor. “Let’s not be controversial”, scolds the Dean. And what of losers Boris and Natasha. The only way to beat the moose at his own game is to form a football team of their own – a team of mammoth killers, whom Boris dubs the Mud City Manglers – with the only person tough enough to coach them at the helm – Fearless Leader. They offer to pay the college $1,000 for an invitational challenge game. To drive odds higher on the game, the whole team dons wigs and skirts, disguised as girls. Betting rises to 500 to 1, and Boris’s own bet is exceeded by Fearless Leader, who puts the entire Pottsylvanian treasury in the kitty with the bookies. Boris’s team boards the bus to the stadium equipped with bayonets, hand grenades, poson-tipped cleats, and brass knuckles, among other assorted weaponry. They immediately intimidate the referee at gunpoint, so that all penalties are called against Wottsamatta, and Bullwinkle’s goals only count three points as a handicap in favor of the ladies. Boris has added a final touch to ensure the moose’s defeat – stealing the Wottsamatta book of plays, and replacing it with old battle plans of the War Between the States (an old colonel provides constant reminders that the war was anything but “Civil”). The bookies literally weep, sensing Wottsamatta’s defeat, and realizing there isn’t enough money in the word to pay off the wagers, skip the country on a tramp teamer. As the Manglers dig in defensively, in real trenches with machine guns, Rocky decides if the opponents can play it military, why not them too? Using the switched battle plans for real, the Wottsamatta team emerges for the second half wearing Confederate military uniforms, and re-enacts the war. Things almost go amiss when Bullwinkle realizes they’re charging South instead of North, and turns toward his own goal again. But the quarter ends, changing the direction of play, to correct things. Boris’s last resort, as Bullwinkle heads for a winning goal, is the fill the end zone with land mines. But the moose miraculously stumbles through without hitting a single one. When Boris tries to prove he mined the field, one toe in the end zone sends himself and fearless leader “rising up in the world”. Wottsamatta wins an undefeated season, while the bookies arrive at the only country which will accept their underhanded band of welchers – Pottsylvania! – where Boris and Fearless Leader head a reception committee, hangman’s nooses in hand!
A trio of episodes of “The Flintstones” deal with educational dilemmas. The first, surprisingly, is the first instance I have encountered of any cartoon dealing with a school bus driver.
The Missing Bus (9/29/61) – Things always get confusing tracking the history of Fred’s employers. Many early episodes refer to him as working for the Rockhead ad Quarry Cave Construction Company (By the way, was that the elusive Joe Rockhead, who always seemed to be a name dropped in for any random friend or position?) In this episode, however, Fred is working for a “J. J. Granite” – who oddly appears in design to be the first use of the model sheet that would become known as Mr. Slate, although not yet cast in his familiar voice. The name “Slate” gad not yet been coined, and as we will see in our second episode below, went through its own transition period with an entirely different character design, before the visuals of Granite and the name of Slate were merged into one final character.
In any event, it is Fred’s 13th anniversary of working on the rock pile. Wilma, Barney and Betty figure he’s due for a promotion. Instead, Granite offers him a new position with a pay cut. Fred arrives home mumbling and grumbling, and describes how, maintaining his composure, he told the boss off in no uncertain terms – except Granite had slipped out of the room, and never heard them. Everyone is disappointed, none more than Fred, who declares that his kind of worker is in demand anywhere, and consults the want ads to seek out more gainful employment. He spots an ad for a go getter, with good benefits, and qualifications including “Must be willing to travel”. Applying for the position at the offices of A.A. Carborundum, Fred obtains an interesting score on an aptitude test – being the only applicant who succeeds in putting a square peg in a round hole. When A.A. hears that he has no college degree, references, or any other notable training or qualifications, Fred is selected as just the man for the job. His mission – new school bus driver! Fred receives a fast-pitch sales talk about holding in his hand the destiny of 50 future presidents, and receives a cap with the equivalent of the post office motto about completing appointed rounds, and is placed in charge of the route from Bedrock to Redrock.
Barney takes time off from his own unnamed job (where no one ever misses him) to co-pilot Fred on his maiden voyage. Barney reads from a check-list, which strangely sounds like a paraphrase of the lyric to “Ballin’ the Jack”, and they are off to encounter a variety of characters along their pick-up route. Battling brothers, loquacious mothers, show-biz kids mired in practicing their dancing lessons for Mommy, and A.A. Carborundum’s own bratty son. Fred’s nerves are jangled as the morning load is dropped off, and he drives Barney to work. Barney suggests he unwind for the next few hours with a good cup of java. Fred spots a roadside diner, where all the other school bus drivers hang out. Inside is stone quiet, and the sound of Fred opening the door is enough to send the drivers within scattering, and one leaping to the ceiling, to hang from the chandelier. Signs on the wall demand silence, stating that drivers are in a state of shock. Fred introduces himself to the proprietor, noting that it his first day on the route to Redrock. “Redrock! Redrock!”, shout one of the drivers, who breaks into a fit of hysterical giggles, and leaps to the ceiling, walking upside down on its surface back and forth like a mechanical toy. Another glazed-eye driver mildly apologizes for the other’s behavior, explaining that the ine on the ceiling previously had Fred’s route. He further claims that not all drivers share such condition, some being just hard working guys who see their duty through and go home to wife and family, However, this mild-mannered man proves to be quite cracked himself, as he exits the diner brachiating on all fours and chattering like a chimpanzee. Fred vows he’s not going to wind up the same way, and calls up Carborundum to quit. But he hears Carborundum give him a speech starting with “Four score and seven years ago, I founded this company…”, and is re-convinced that following his mission through is his patriotic duty. As Fred returns, more determined than ever, to his bus route, he fails to hear the last words on the other end of the phone line – “This is a recording.”
By the time Fred’s bus is emptied for the day, his energy levels are reading empty too. But the frantic waves to him from a woman on the sidewalk cause him to stop. She’s not looking for one of his passengers, but whispers into his ear. Fred’s eyes pop, and he quickly tells her to hop in, and is off for a destination unknown. Hours later, the bus still hasn’t reported into the yard. What’s more, Fred’s loused up the return deliveries without Barney’s assistance, dropping the kids off at the wrong houses – including Carborundum’s son. A.A. is livid, and Wilma, Betty and Barney arrive, also in search of Fred. A telephone call reveals a clue to the mystery, as Fred is reported to be at the hospital, under a sedative. However, a nurse informs Wilma not to worry, as “Mrs. Flintstone is doing fine.” Everyone speeds to the hospital, only to find a press conference in progress, and Fred the center of attention. He is a hero for serving as emergency ambulance for an expectant mother. Everyone tries to hog Fred’s limelight, including Barney and Carborundum, who take turns eclipsing Fred in front of the news cameras. Then who should arrive to join in the claim to fame but Fred’s old boss Granite. Granite wants Fred back, with a raise. Carborundum tops his offer, and a bidding war takes place between the two moguls. Granite finally falls short of Carborundum’s offer of fringe benefits, and states he can’t go better – and admits that the job he had Fred in mind for was dangerous, anyway. Fred inquires what it was, and Granite replies, “Driving a dynamite truck.” “Why didn’t you say so?”, responds Fred, considering such a position a snap after what he’s been through. Wilma congratulates Fred on his re-hiring, while the nurse wheels out Fred’s “Godchildren” – a set of identical triplets. Wilma asks their names, and Fred responds, “Fred, Fred, and Fred.” “Isn’t that confusing?” asks Wilma. “Yes,” says Fred, revealing the joke as he admits, “…considering that they’re all girls.”
Flintstone of Prinstone (11/3/61) establishes that Fred never received a high school diploma. Known as “Twinkletoes Flintstone” in his high school days, Fred went out for fame through football. He was the star player of the class of ‘40, ‘41, ‘42, ‘43, – – and ‘44. Explaining to Wilma that he got knocked silly instead of studying for his classes, Fred spent each graduation session out in the corridor looking in, “muscle bound” in the head. Now, even eight year old Arnold the newsboy can whip the leopard skin off him in Scrabble. But a newspaper ad opens Fred’s eyes: Prinstone University throws open its door to night school classes for big fat failures. (It is never established if these classes provide high school equivalency, or how one can hope to earn a college degree while bypassing the high school diploma.) So somehow our Fred finds himself an enrollee at freshman level in the school’s program to become a CPA. With this lowly status comes the degradation of being subject to public humiliation by any upper classman, including bowing, carrying books, referring to himself as “Fred Simplesoul” or as a “wiggly worm”, and periodic paddling. But Fred learns how to take it, and keeps his fat nose in the books. Barney approvingly remarks, “It takes a smart man to know when he’s stupid.”
But burning the midnight oil begins to take its toll on weary, sleep-deprived Fred. While Fred boasts that he won’t have to tell his boss he’s taking night courses, as he’ll simply “notice the change in me”, the only change Mr. Slate (drawn in a completely different model than the “Mr. Granite” design, now short, squatty, with glasses and a moustache) notices is Fred falling asleep over his brontosaurus controls, mumbling accounting equations. When Mr. Slate’s nephew gets promoted over him, Fred decides on a more direct approach of telling Slate to his face that he’s a college man, but chickens out at Slate’s office door. However, a shout of his name from Slate reverts sleepy Fred into thinking he is being addressed by an upper classman, and he reflexively puts on a Prinstone beanie. The secret is out, and it turns out Slate is a member of the alumni association. His college interests, however, are diametrically opposed to Fred’s – centered only on the football team. Before Fred knows it, Slate is making calls to the college coach about the football find hiding under his nose. Fred’s measurements (from the ground up, 55, 45, 35) impress the coach as “shaped like a bullet”. Five foot tall Fred is now surrounded by teammates three times his size, who spend practices using him as a tackling dummy – but Fred is at least happy that he’ll get the chance to “rock and sock” upper classmen.
Of course, there is “the big game” against rival Shale University. Fred is still sleepily trying to balance his football schedule against his accounting balance books, and instead of memorizing plays, confuses them with math equations. Fred is no more alert on the field. He blocks the advance of an opposing ball carrier by lying as dead weight on the field and tripping him. He receives tackles from seven of the opposing players at once. But somehow, Prinstone stays in the game. On the final advance of the game, Fred, with mathematical equations appearing in his eyeballs, calls out his accounting problems instead of the signals for the play, gets the ball while the other players just stand around in total confusion, and collapses over the goal line for a touchdown. Holding the ball for his kicker for the deciding extra point, he gives the misleading instruction, “When I lower my head, you kick it.” Fred himself of course sails over the goalpost, fortunately still holding the ball. Slate is overjoyed, and announces that he has a new position in mind for Flintstone. No, it doesn’t mean a promotion out of the rock pit. Instead, Slate has decided to form a professional football team, with Fred as quarterback. Wilma tells Slate to get another boy, as she carries home the sound-asleep Fred for a little overdue shuteye.
High School Fred (9/7/62) almost becomes inconsistent with the previous episode. In a plot no doubt inspired by the Bing Crosby picture, High Time (1960), Mr. Slate (now in his more recognizable redesigned form) has hired a new efficiency expert, whose first act in removing the “deadwood” in the company’s ranks is to initiate a new rule, requiring all employees to possess a high school diploma. Fred stands out on the employee list as not possessing this qualification. Fred inconsistently states he was sick the last two weeks of his high school years, so never had time to graduate. (Does being “muscle bound” count as a sickness? Did none of his schooling at Prinstone earn him high school equivalency?) The expert is about to hand Fred his pink slip, when Mr. Slate, for once, beneficently intervenes, not to lose Fred as captain of the company bowling team. (I guess all memories are forgotten of Fred’s previous football favor.) Slate proposes that if Fred attends high school for the missing two weeks to receive his diploma, he can have his old job back. With his employment hanging by a thread, Fred finds himself forced to agree to the terms, but feels ready to die of embarrassment at the thought of having to attend high school at his age. He can’t imagine how he’ll break the news to Wilma, as no wife wants to be married to a high schooler. And he imagines how the kids will razz him. He is only thankful that Slate offers to take care of his enrollment, as he himself would not have had the nerve to face it. Fred is so upset, he forgets to pick Barney up for the ride home, leaving the caveman to trod home over the cobblestones with swollen feet. Hearing Wilma has had a hard day too when he arrives home, he is about to blurt out the truth to top her stories of woe one better – but Wilma only hears that the boss is sending him to school, and jumps to the conclusion that they must be training him for a promotion to executive. She races next door to spread the news to Betty and Barney, while Fred realizes now he’ll never have the heart to tell her the whole truth.
The reception Fred receives at Bedrock High is far from what he expected. The principal has been sympathetic upon learning of the circumstances of Fred’s enrollment from Slate, and has instructed the students in advance to go easy on him, and treat him like one of their fellow classmates. The students find more reason to befriend Fred, as they see him arrive with his own car. He acquires the nickname “Freddie”, and is cheerily welcomed. On his first day of class, opportunity arises to impress the other students, by providing a detailed description of the sub-strata of Bedrock in geology class – information which he adds he learned “the hard way”. During a free period, he finds himself on the school basketball court, sinking shots in his own way (a rebound off the backboard, a bounce off his head, and back into the basket). The kids pile into Fred’s car and take him to the malt shop, where he breaks the school record for downing the most malts in one sitting, then collapses. Night comes, and so does Fred – home, all aches and pains, and with no appetite after all those malts. All he can think of is bed, and conks out for the night without eating dinner. Wilma doesn’t know what to make of it, and thinks the school is working Fred too hard. But Fred insists on another round of same the next day. This time, the kids have him on the athletic field, trying to break every track and field record. He aces the pole vault, but lands with his head buried in the sand pit, uttering a muffled “Hooray for me” on learning of the success of his record attempt. He also sets a new high in the broad jump, soaring over a fence into a rocky pit below. Fred states he’s lucky if all he broke was the record. He arrives home that night in worse shape than the last, and Wilma is determined to find out what’s going on. Barney offers to tail Fred, detective style, the next day to see just what executive activity can be so tiring.
After shadowing Fred on the drive to school, Barney gets a full dose through the windows of what Fred is really up to. Fred is becoming so student-like that he is reprimanded by the teacher for dipping the long hair of a girl behind him in an inkwell! Another trip to the malt shop has Fred doing the twist to the juke box, and breaking his own record for downing consecutive malts, after eating ten brontosaurus burgers. As he lays on the malt shop floor, Fred hears Barney’s voice, warning him that all this will spoil his dinner. “It spoils my dinner every night”, Fred blurts out – then realizes who he just said this to. Explanations are in order, but Barney is entirely understanding when he hears the truth, and swears himself to secrecy not to let the news leak to the girls. But Barney doesn’t have an easy time covering why he can’t tell them the results of his investigation when he arrives home – especially when Fred again conks out for the night with an aching back. Still, he manages to dodge their suspicious stares by chiming in with Fred’s earlier insistence that it’s very important he complete the two-week course.
The next day, Fred meets a new faculty member – the football coach, who is complaining to the principal that the team is going to get clobbered today, due to theit lack of any players with weight and power. Who should collide with him in the doorway but Fred, knocking him down. The coach is about to employ some harsh words at Fred, when the principal reminds him that he should not talk that way to a student. “This is a student?” reacts the coach, and a smile spreads across his face, as he drags Fred outside for a little talking on the football field. Fred is recruited again (this is getting monotonous), suited up as star receiver. Meanwhile, Barney has coincidentally scored some unused tickets for this afternoon’s game. Assuming Fred at most will only be somewhere in the stands, he invites Wilma and Betty to join him. From their seats in the sidelines, they see the home team enter the stadium – with one team member towering above the others in weight and height. He receives the opening kickoff, and charges down the field with two opponents dragging along behind him, for an easy touchdown. Barney is at first shocked to recognize Fred, hoping the girls won’t notice, but forgets himself as Fred scores the touchdown, blurting out, “Yea, Fred!” “Fred who?”. asks a suspicious Wilma. “Flintstone! Flintstone!” yells the pep squad in immediate answer to her question. The cat is out of the bag, and Barney tells the tale. But the girls, upon realizing all that Fred is doing to save his job, can only react in one way – join in the cheering for the home team champion. Fred is a one man wrecking crew, allowing the opposing quarterback to bounce off his stomach repeatedly, to be driven backwards for a loss, then recovering a fumble and running it in for a touchdown, with the entire opposing team carried along on his back for the ride. Fred guides in the final kick for the extra point, by forgetting to let go of the ball, as the kicker launches him over the goal for the second time in the series. Barney and the girls beat Fred back home, and as Fred trudges in in his usual battered state, Wilma calls the signal numbers of a football play, and tosses a vase to Fred. Fred reflexively charges out the door to make another touchdown – then sticks his head back inside. “You know?” Yes, and they’re all proud of him. So Fred invites them to his graduation. Asked to say a few words upon receiving his diploma, Fred addresses the class (much as Bing Crosby did in the feature counterpart), “These two weeks have convinced me that high school is for the young, because only the young can take it. Oh, my achin’ back!”
We didn’t see too much or Orbit High School or the Little Dipper P.S. 85 in the course of Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons, but the premiere episode, Rosey the Robot (9/23/62), gives us a few clues regarding education in the not too distant future. As established in the opening credits, the school bus seems to be a thing of the past, with the Jetson children commuting to school by way of individual saucer pods, pre-programmed to fly to the coordinates of the campuses. They can either be launched from the family car, or with a push button destination finder from the vacuum tube entrance to the apartment. The tube system also emits a homing signal for the return commute, but is sometimes inaccurate, dragging in an occasional stray student not a family member. (“I’m Jimmy. What’s for snacks?”, speaks up one such stray in this episode.) Not a major problem, as the tube also includes a “reject” button to send strangers on their way. Education can be exotic, as a standard field trip includes firsthand study of the Siberian salt mines. Jane provides helpful advice for Elroy: “Keep warm, and don’t pick fights with the little Russian boys.” Judy of course receives more advanced studies, requiring her to take home each night a stack of homework tapes, including Esperanto (an experimental “language” which was “dead” on arrival, as it was never actually used anywhere) and “space calculus” – whatever that is. Of course, this doesn’t put much of a permanent crimp in Judy’s social life, as new robot maid Rosey announces that she is wired for tape analysis, and can process all the answers out of the tapes in about 10 minutes. You may not get any smarter from a space-age education – but progress certainly has made it more convenient. And after all, how much education does one really need to know how to push a button?
The last episode of the original series, Elroy’s Mob (3/3/63), also provides a rare look inside of Elroy’s classroom. Class is presided over by a robot teacher named Miss Brainmacher, who commends Elroy on a blackboard presentation of a math problem that would make a NASA computer’s head spin. In fact, even in checking the answer, Miss Brainmacher shorts out a head transistor, having to smack herself in the head a few times to get herself out of a speech-repeating glitch. Elroy is a straight A student, as the teacher announces in handing out weekly report tapes. Elroy is so happy, he forgets himself and jets around the classroom with his rocket belt. But class clown Kenny Countdown, who spends most of his time watching the billionth rerun of The Flintstones on his wristwatch TV, is not so lucky, receiving a report of four D’s, and F, and an H, on erase-proof tape. While Elroy brags that his pop bought a brand new tape player so that he can hear Elroy’s results in stereo, Kenny switches report tapes with Elroy. When George hears the tape, he is beside himself with outrage – especially upon earing the teacher’s additional recommendation that perhaps their son would benefit from transfer to a military school on Mars. No one will believe Elroy that there’s been a mistake, until George receives a visaphone call from Kenny’s dad, who smelled a rat at hearing the straight A tape, and who has dragged a confession out of Kenny, who he is holding by the ear. Of course by this time, Elroy and Astro have run away from home, leading to an accidental encounter with space criminal Muggsy Megaton and his gang, and being hoodwinked into being an accomplice to a bank robbery, thinking that it’s part of a TV show. But that’s another whole subplot, for another day.
More television, and some of the last theatricals, shall be included in our curriculum next time.