The Spies Report
January 9, 2023 posted by Kamden Spies

Looking Into Chuck Jones’ Curiosity Shop

Chuck Jones in a publicity photo for ABC’s “Curiosity Shop”

Despite the fact that I have hardly any interest in them compared to his Warner Bros. cartoons, I have posted several articles on Cartoon Research about Chuck Jones’s time after working at Warners. The reason: the stories behind them are much more interesting than the projects themselves. In 1971, Chuck Jones entered the field of live action to work on a series that would attempt to rival Sesame Street, titled Curiosity Shop. Rather than just explaining the history of the series in this article, I will be showcasing and examining the series by its various segments, articles, scripts, and sequences.

When it comes to the history of this series, nobody knows more about Curiosity Shop than cartoon extraordinaire, collector, and Mouse Tracks and Toons in Toyland author Tim Hollis. Tim knows all about the series and provided almost every piece of info and artifacts that I am sharing here.

The story goes that Chuck Jones was asked by Michael Eisner at ABC to create a series that would compete with Sesame Street. Curiosity Shop was a series that was designed as something much smarter than Sesame Street was. Chuck Jones’s mark on the series was its smart and more adolescent dialogue. The series was an hour long show and would include three kids, puppets, music, and cartoon shorts based on comic strips or from overseas.

ABC’s Curiosity Shop Gets Prime-Time Preview September 4th by Don Roval

New York — “Children are islands of curiosity surrounded by question marks” declares Chuck Jones, creator and executive producer of the hour-long “Curiosity Shop” which bows-in on ABC Saturday, September 11. Three other children’s shows – “Jackson Five,” “Funky Phantom,” and “Lidsville” air the same morning. “Make a Wish” an ABC News Children’s program debuts on Sunday, Sept. 12, but more on this later.

We’ll get our first look at “Curiosity Shop” in a prime-time special on Sept. 2.

“The show aims to stimulate a child’s natural curiosity by placing the emphasis more on asking questions than on answering them. The idea is to involve the child in explorations that stimulate his understanding of the world around him, not merely to teach him numbers, letters, or facts,” Jones says.

A pioneer in film animation, Academy Award-winner Chuck Jones is the creator of a gallery of outstanding cartoon characters. Among the characters he created or helped develop animation for are Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, The Road Runner, Pepe Le Pew, and Wile E. Coyote.

He has also been active as a producer and director in television— “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Horton Hears a Who,” and the feature film “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

Each segment of “Curiosity Shop” will revolve around a theme, some aspects of which are familiar to the child, and each of these themes will expand into connected areas, ideas, facts, or flights of fancy.

Three youngsters will appear every week to question, explore, and challenge facets of such subjects as the senses, laughter, fright, rules, clothing, play and weather.

The young people are Kerry MacLane, 13; John Levin, 6. Jerelyn Fields, 11, alternates with Pamelyn Ferdin, 11. All four have appeared in television series and in films.

Mike Marmer, of the team of Sandler Burns Marmer, which is producing the series for ABC, says “We force the kids to discover things for themselves rather than going into the ‘nuts and bolts.’ We put them in an area they are aware of and hope to expand their awareness.”

A section of Curiosity Shop wrapping paper

Contributing to the programs are Ray Bradbury, noted author in the fields of science fiction and fantasy; cartoonists Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace”), Mell Lazarus (“Miss Peach”), John Hart (“B.C.”), Irv Phillips (“Mr. Mum”), Virgil (VIP) Partch (“Big George”), and Stan and Jan Berenstein (“Bear” characters).

Composer Henry Mancini wrote the theme song “Who, What, Where, Why, When, How.” Another Oscar winner, producer George Pal, will contribute to the series. Vincent Price will be among the guest stars.

Architect Robert Stanton and his wife Virginia designed the show’s set to “convey a sense of adventure.”

Among the unique fixtures in the shop are an animal wall and among the animals dwelling on the show are Nostalgia the elephant, Hermione the giraffe, Halcyon the hyena, Aarthur the aardvark, Flip the hippo, Ole Factory the bloodhound, and the lumbering Oogle.

Barbara Minkus, who portrayed Lucy in the original stage presentation of “Charlie Brown,” is featured as Gittle, the bumbling witch who flies about the shop on an electric sweeper.

“She’s a mod witch,” Barbara explains, “and most of her magical powers stem from love.”

The proprietor of the shop is a man named Mr. Jones who is always out when the three youngsters arrive, but his voice is heard via Mr. Jones’ Answering Service. A red light glows in sync with his recorded voice.

Mr. Jones’ reason for his absence range from a “visit to the lumber veterinarian because my sawhorse broke its leg” to “an errand to obtain a new phase discriminator for my analog capacitator.”

Descripted as “one of the many curiosities around the shop” is an old TV set which shows only black and white pictures. Known as “Granny TV,” Granny reminisces about the former glorious days of early anything.


Production

The production of Curiosity Shop is interesting in itself. Curiosity Shop was designed for an audience of older kids. There were casting problems on the series. The two girls on the series would alternate. None of the people working on the production of the show liked working with six-year-old John Levin. Tim Hollis points out: “He was too young and didn’t know how to act. There were problems with Pamelyn Ferdin due to stage parenting from her mother.”

Mr. Jones obviously was a reference to Chuck himself. However, Jones never appeared on the series. When Mr. Jones’s voice finally appeared, it was Don Messick performing. Chuck’s influence can be seen in the series through the more intellectual avenues that the series takes. There are words, references, and personas that clearly show Jones’s influence due to the intellectualism of how things are worded or what is being discussed.

There were only seventeen episodes produced of Curiosity Shop. Only two episodes, the first and the last, are known to survive. The series was shot on tape and the tapes were destroyed after the series ended. The surviving episodes are in the hands of a few private collectors and performers.

Many Curiosity Shop scripts exist. One of which is the Halloween show which guest starred Vincent Price. Thanks to Paul Dini and Tim Hollis, I am able to share some production photos and script pages below.


Cartoon Segments

Probably the most memorable part of the show are the cartoon segments hooking it together. Cartoonists Hank Ketcham, Johnny Hart, Mell Lazarus, Irv Phillips, and Virgil Partch all contributed by adding their characters to the series in short educational animated segments. While the series was shot on tape, the comic strip segments were produced on film and still exist. These segments were later distributed through various VHS tape distributors and can be seen all over the internet.

The most (and in some ways THE ONLY) enjoyable segment of Curiosity Shop were the Professor Balthazar segments. These segments were European animated shorts dubbed over with witty new dialogue by the writers of Roger Ramjet. These were pre-made overseas and just dubbed over with writing by the Ramjet writers. The scripts play just like a Roger Ramjet segment, sometimes even funnier. The Balthazar segments include the dry Roger Ramjet humor, and it’s a shame that none of them are sharable today. The original shorts do exist however, and can be seen on YouTube.

Hank Ketcham was one of the many cartoonists whose characters made their animated debuts on Curiosity Shop. Unlike the other creators, Ketcham himself made cameos on the series. Here in this article promoting an episode of Curiosity Shop, we can understand more about Ketcham’s involvement.

Do Horses Play Man Shoes? Hank Ketcham Really Real?

Cartoonist (“Dennis the Menace”) Hank Ketcham flew half way around the globe to contribute his talents to the ABC Television Network’s new children’s series, “Curiosity Shop” which airs Saturday mornings.

Hank Ketcham

One segment aired earlier this season: the second will be seen Saturday Nov. 27, at 11:00 a.m. with the title “How Does a Horse Play Man Shoes?,” in which Ketcham helps the youngsters examine various forms of play.

Ketcham was drafted last year when Chuck Jones creator and executive producer of the series and long-time friend, visited him at his home in Geneva, Switzerland and explained the concept of the show.

“I liked the sound of it,” explains Ketcham, “and think it is a genuine effort to improve children’s programming. It’s an important breakthrough and I am pleased to be a part of it.”

On “Curiosity Shop,” Ketcham is seen at his drawing board (one of the two places he feels comfortable – the other is a golf course) where he brings “Dennis” to animated life. He also draws a comic book adventure sequence featuring series regulars Kerry MacLane, Jerelyn Fields, and John Levin.

Seattle-born Ketcham, who has been sketching as long as he can remember, did his basic training as a cartoonist on Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” before World War II came along and his services turned to designing War Bond posters and illustrating pamphlets.

In 1946, Ketcham and his wife produced a son whom they named Dennis. One memorable day, two and a half years later, while scrambling after the active child, Dennis’ mother said, “Your son is a menace!” and “Dennis the Menace” was born.

The real-life Dennis, incidentally, recently returned to the United States from service in Vietnam.

One of the fortunate individuals who can work whenever he wants to, Ketcham decided to make his home in Switzerland 11 years ago, following a tour of Europe.

“It has indescribable beauty” he says, “and stimulating people and the place is less hectic than in the States.”
When he made his acting debut in “Curiosity Shop,” Ketcham says he feels he has been in show business ever since he started drawing cartoons.

“I’m like a director because I have to move characters on stage. I have to be an actor to put myself in place of characters and I have to be a cinematographer to draw them at best angles. The main difference is I deal in a frozen instant”

Dennis’ creator says the boy will always be 5 years old going on 6, will always be an only child and will always wear a red-striped T-shirt and over-sized blue overalls.

“When news is bad,” he says, “I delve into this fantasy (“Dennis”). It’s my little trip. I don’t write for any particular audience, and I get letters from all ages and levels of society. If I think something is funny, I’ll use it. I try to please me and have fun at my job,” he says.


The Merchandise
There was a lot of Curiosity Shop merchandise that was made and of course, Tim has it all. Here are a few examples…

Sugar Smacks (1972)

Cocoa Krispies (1972)


UPDATE: In response to this post, Ron Kurer, The Toontracker, has posted a few kinescopes of The Curiosity Shop on You Tube. Here is the first one:

Special Thanks to Tim Hollis for all of the photos he shared. Also thanks to Paul Dini, Linda Jones Clough, and Craig Kausen

40 Comments

  • What a treat! I loved “Curiosity Shop”, wish I could see it again and am very sad that I never shall. Although, like everyone else, I haven’t seen it in 50 years, I remember it fondly and am grateful for any information about the show and its background.

    My father loved “Curiosity Shop”, too, and looked forward to watching it with us every Saturday. (He also loved “Tomfoolery” and “Here Comes the Grump”.) One week they played an old song parody that must have been current when my father was young, because he began singing right along with it. Part of the joke was that the song ended very abruptly, in the middle of a phrase; and when the music on the TV cut off just as my dad stopped singing — well, to use an expression that was current in 1971, it blew my mind. Any information on this song parody will be most welcome. I think it was sung to the tune of Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

    I didn’t like the little boy on the show either, but I liked Pamelyn Ferdin, an actress whose face was as familiar to me as that of any girl I went to school with. She was by far the hardest-working little girl in Hollywood at that time; Jodie Foster was a distant second. When she wasn’t playing Felix Unger’s daughter or getting spattered by Peter Brady’s volcano or being rescued by Lassie, you could see her singing and dancing on any given variety show, usually with her hair done up in Shirley Temple curls. As pretty, talented and appealing as she was, even then I sensed something a bit off about her. Her enunciation was just a little too crisp, her gestures and expressions too calculated, to seem genuine. Seeing her performances in reruns over the years, I got the impression that she must have had the mother of all stage mothers, and Tim Hollis’s statement seems to bear this out. I know that as an adult, Pam has been a very dedicated animal rights activist who has been arrested while protesting at circuses and rodeos. Clearly she feels a strong empathy toward creatures that are forced to perform by the people who care for them.

    In “Chuck Amuck”, Chuck Jones described “Curiosity Shop” as “highly ordinary”, but I think he was unduly self-critical here. Even if the show didn’t live up to his own expectations for it, it was still an extraordinary achievement in children’s television. I only wish it had lasted longer, spawned a few imitators, and — above all — been preserved for posterity. I for one shall never forget it.

    • Curiosity Shop and Tomfoolery were, indeed, the jewels in the 1971 Sat Am crown!

      As I recall, Tomfoolery was a joint production between Rankin-Bass and Halas-Batchelor.

      (With all due respect to the over-used Ms. Ferdin, I was more of a Lisa Garretson fan.)

      • And “Make a Wish,” which I enjoyed, and I still recall the theme song by Tom Chapin (Harry’s brother), who hosted the show.

  • Another show I never knew existed, and judging from the way it looks that’s probably a good thing.

  • Not a lot of memories about this, I was 7 in ’71. In addition to being a cartoon, wasn’t Baron Balthazar also a puppet that could tip his hat?

    A sudden memory of one of the kids telling Ketcham they “can’t draw a straight line,” and him responding that it’s the crooked ones that count as he sketches Dennis’s bunched up overalls.

  • Yes, I definitely recall the Dennis the Menace segments, and also an animated adaption of the Berenstain Bears’ “The Bike Lesson”. Guess they’ll have to live on in my memories.

    And I suppose I’m the only one who doesn’t swooooon over Pamelyn Ferdin—In either live-action or animation. That chirpy, precocious smart-ass voice of hers has always been fingers-on-a-blackboard grating to me. Just my opinion.

  • (Clears throat)

    “Be kind to your web-footed friends
    For that duck may be somebody’s mother,
    She lives in a nest in a swamp
    Where the weather is always damp.

    “You may think that this is the end,
    Well it is, but to prove we’re all liars,
    We’re going to sing it again,
    Only this time we’ll sing a little higher.”

    [Repeat the song but sing it a bit higher. Continue for as many rounds as you can stand.]

    Finally, end with:
    “You may think that this is the end….
    Well you’re right!”

    “Be kind to your old umbrella,
    For some day it may be under the weather.
    Be kind to your old pair of shoes,
    And they’ll keep out the rain and mud.”

    “Be kind to your fur-bearing friends,
    For a skunk may be somebody’s brother.
    Be kind to your friends with the stripes
    Including raccoons and snipes.”

    • That’s it! Thank you!

    • A version with revised lyrics appeared earlier in the Chuckster’s Horton Hears a Who special.

    • And a greatly-truncated version was sung by Plucky Duck in the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, “Hollywood Plucky”. So now I know where it came from; thanks!

    • There was also a variation of the same tune sung in another feature Jones produced, [i]Yankee Doodle Cricket[/i], the Independence Day holiday special that was the second sequel to [i]The Cricket In Times Square[/i], based on the children’s book by George Seiden and Garth Williams.

  • Curiosity Shop was a good effort from the network, but probably would have done better in a later timeslot where pro-social and educational series did much better ratings wise. I read somewhere that one of the school house shorts “3 is a magic number” premiered on the Curiosity Shop which lead to the entire School House Rock series being created.

  • Sadly, I wasn’t born yet when Curiosity Shop aired, so I missed out. It always galls me when networks neglect their shows like this, not taking prosperity or the fans’ memories into consideration.

    I remember the Professor Balthazar shorts from Nickelodeon’s Pinwheel, which also showed a lot of rarities from Europe and Canada. They didn’t have narration, but like most of Zagreb Films’ output, it wasn’t necessary. They were meant to be enjoyed regardless of what language you spoke, ideal for a multilingual nation like the former Yugoslavia. Incidentally, along with an oficial Balthazar channel, Zagreb Films is releasing restored prints of its cartoons on its official YouTube channel. They are a treat to watch, even if some of them make no sense half the time.

  • here’s a video of the primetime curiosity shop special I found on YouTube a few years ago that I saved and re-posted….starting at 19.08 and ending at 36.41…the special is in color…the video quality varies a bit….it also includes the very first multiplication rock video in it’s entirety

    https://youtu.be/cbcTswM9CSM

    • sorry about the video being blocked…..I’ll edit and re post it…..

    • Perhaps you can upload the whole video on archive.org without having to edit anything out. Thanks, Scott!

  • that’s something I didn’t know.

    In the Curiosity Shop, the Zagreb Studios Balthazar was known as a Baron, but to many others around the world he was known as Professor Balthazar.

  • I have a 16mm kinescope of a Curiosity Shop episode. I’ll try uploading it to YouTube and post a link.

    • Please do!

    • Curiosity Shop premiered on September 2, 1971. The last first run episode aired on January 8, 1972. At the end of the shows run, all of the tapes were destroyed, with only two episodes known to survive. Both of these episodes are black and white 16mm film kinescope copies and the physical films are the property of the Toon Tracker Film Archive. I am uploading both episodes for historical research purposes.

      Here are the links:

      https://youtu.be/MyL1fg31oIU

      https://youtu.be/i3Xq-p6YBmE

      • You are a saint! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

      • *****UPDATE***** I was informed that there also exists a color episode on video tape and another 16mm kinescope episode. These are both at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

  • I was in high school in ’71, but would still at least check out new Saturday morning cartoons. I tried to catch “Curiosity Shop”, realizing I was seeing animation different from the usual. Also remember a TV in a rocking chair showed a scene of Buster Keaton from “Steamboat Bill Jr.”, the hippo puppet in the wall also appearing as a full-suited walk-around character, and the kids being optically inserted into a static Dennis the Menace comic book, to the annoyance of Mr. Wilson.

    I don’t see it as “competing” with “Sesame Street” so much as trying to duplicate some of the amazing goodwill and prestige that show had/has. It looked sufficiently expensive that anything less than blockbuster ratings and awards would kill its renewal chances.

    Wondering if the episodes were erased and never syndicated because shorts and such were licensed and not bought.

    • I found a listing for “Curiosity Shop” in an old issue of Broadcasting Magazine from after the ABC run ended. Early in the year they used to have coverage of the annual NATPE convention and often had listings of programming available from various distributors — there were 17 episodes of “Curiosity Shop” offered through Worldvision Enterprises. No idea if the series ever got picked up by any station, but it was offered.

      I am sad to know the tapes were erased. I loved the show as a kid (I was about 5 years old when it aired) but unfortunately I remember little about it. I wish I had the opportunity to revisit it.

      • Someone should look into that…perhaps copies of the master tapes might be sitting in the worldvision holdings now held by CBS.

        • I don’t know if there is a way to post a screen shot, but it’s in the March 31, 1975 issue under Worldvision Enterprises. Page 74.

      • I’m certain I saw “Curiosity Shop” in Detroit circa 1975 as a 5-6 year old. I don’t recall which local channel had it, and I only remember catching it a couple times.

  • As a 10-year-old at the time, Chuck Jones was already well known to me from Looney Tunes and his newer MGM work (even the ill-fated Pogo special), so I was enthused about “Curiosity Shop.”

    ABC’s Miami affiliate had the habit of time-shifting some of the Saturday morning schedule to weekdays, so we had “Curiosity Shop” on a late afternoon weekday. There was at least one example of ABC synergy: Shirley Jones visited as “Mrs. Jones,” and IIRC, The Partridge Family was mentioned. Sorry to hear the bulk of the series was wiped.

  • I saw this a couple of times when it ran on ABC. My 10-year-old self knew nothing of Chuck Jones’ place in animation history, but I knew who Virgil Partch and Mell Lazarus were, from reading their comic strips.I would sure like to watch every episode of this series now, but alas…

  • “The most (and in some ways THE ONLY) enjoyable segment of Curiosity Shop were the Professor Balthazar segments.”

    The “only enjoyable”? What about the four NFBC animated shorts that aired on the show? Heck, “What on Earth!” was nominated for “Best Animated Short” of 1967 (It lost to “The Box”).

    Plus, as people pointed out, it marked the debut of “Three is a Magic Number” which led to the award winning “Schoolhouse Rock” interstitials (which I called one of the best things to come out of the otherwise bleak 1970’s Saturday Morning era).

    • Nic, you’ve been seemingly only been leaving these nitpick comments on Kamden’s posts recently. What’s your problem?

      • Nothing. I was just pointing out some other stuff that was noteworthy and I found enjoyable.

  • There’s such a thing as too smart. The failing grace of “Curiosity Shop” (which I vague recall, but only very vaguely) seems to be its apparent eagerness to show the viewers how clever it is (always a tendency with Chuck Jones) instead of the other way around. The quality of innocence is missing; which probably had the kids feeling they were being talked down to, as opposed to “Let’s discover things together.” With all its Activity Books, it must not have managed to engage its audience the way “Sesame Street” does.

    • I think you put your finger on why this show was so quickly forgotten. The show rated poorly with viewers and with only 17 episodes it was never a candidate for syndication. Not one of Jones’ best efforts, but still a pity that only fragments survive from his only network TV outing.

    • But didn’t H”R Pufnstuf” lasted a season too? I was under the impression it was too expensive to produce to continue like the former.

  • Is that the same Michael Eisner who would later run Disney?

  • George Pal’s last Puppetoon, THE TOOL BOX, was featured in THE CURIOSITY SHOP.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-XCyGWTMkQ

  • I stumbled upon this, and unless I’m mistaken this is the color pilot Scott attempted to post: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGS3n8rgO_4&t=711s

  • I remember watching Curiosity Shop on ABC-TV back in the 1970s .My favorite episode of the show was “Where Do You Go to Get Out of a Scare?”, the Halloween episode of the show that featured Vincent Price as a guest star and Master of Scaremonies. That episode inspired a scary dream about Vincent Price that I had back on January 9,1973, hours after I saw him on a Merv Griffin show that afternoon. My Curiosity Shop inspired dream went like this; I dreamed that Vincent Price and I were in a Haunted House setting like the Curiosity Shop was turned into for Halloween. I stood at the loft of a black armchair he was sitting in. Vincent said something that I couldn’t quite recall, like some kind of magic incantation, then the setting got totally dark and gave me quite a scare, then he went into his now-famous evil laugh, like he didn’t even know that I was there with him. I got panicky and I started to cry and begged him to bring light back into the setting, and he did. I told him about myself and all the cataract surgeries I had on both my eyes, and he became sympathetic with me. We talked for a while, then I started to leave the setting. He called me back to his favorite chair and gave me a kiss on the right cheek, and I left the setting after that. I wish the ABC-TV network hadn’t erased the episodes of Curiosity Shop, because I would like to see “Where Do You Go to Get Out of A Scare?” again to see if there was any darkness in that episode with Vincent Price, who became my favorite horror film actor after that.

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