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