Some of you out there might remember UPA’s first television series The Boing Boing Show. It began airing on CBS in 1956, showing mostly new cartoons hosted by announcer Bill Goodwin and Gerald McBoing Boing (star of the famous Oscar winning film by the same name.) The new cartoons were largely one-shots, but there were a few mini-series-es within.One of them was Dusty of the Circus, a young boy who worked at his daddy’s circus and could talk to the animals. Dusty was voiced by Walter Tetley, the wonderful radio actor and sometimes cartoon star. The cartoons were drawn with a heavy brush line in a style that evoked a child’s drawings. In all, six cartoon were made for The Boing Boing Show that season. But it turns out the character goes farther back then that.
Which brings us to our story…
Back in the late eighties, I was doing some informal research about UPA in general, and The Boing Boing Show in particular. Among the people I talked to was Herb Klynn, head of Format Films and production manager at UPA at the time the series was being made. I’d met Herb before, and we soon became good friends. Herb was very keen to talk about The Boing Boing Show. He invited me up to his house in Tarzana to show me some artwork and files pertaining to the show.
When we went into the room that was his home office, I immediately noticed a small circus train. It was made out of cardboard and looked exactly like Dusty’s train in the cartoons. The train was sitting on a film can that was sitting on top of a filing cabinet.
I asked Herb about the train. He said that Gene Deitch had constructed it. This was the first time that I’d heard Gene’s name in connection with Dusty. I did know that Gene had left UPA shortly before the studio began to ramp up for production on The Boing Boing Show.
It was then that Herb told me that Gene had made the train back in the late forties. He further explained that a pilot film had been made at that time, and Gene had designed the picture.
Then Herb told me that the pilot was in the can beneath the train.
Suddenly, I wanted to see the film very desperately. Being the (often) shy and (usually) polite young man that I was, I did not drop to my knees and grab the bottom of his jacket while yelling, “Herb! You must show me this film now!”
Instead I quietly said, “Boy, I’d sure like to see that film.”
By this time Herb was pulling out some documents pertaining to The Boing Boing Show, and he wanted me to see them. The documents were a real eye-opener alright, going into detail about who worked on what picture. I eagerly read the papers, but nothing more was said about the Dusty pilot film.
On subsequent visits to his home, I would steal glances at the cardboard train and the film can, wondering if I should say anything more about them. But I don’t think I ever did.
Herb passed on in early 1999.
Fast forward to 2022. Our own Jerry Beck was in contact with the film archivist at USC HMH Foundation Moving Image Archive, where Herb Klynn’s films now reside. Jerry asked me if there was anything in his collection that we should be on the lookout for. The first thing that came to mind was Dusty pilot film (I also mentioned a few other rare and unusual films that may hopefully be the subjects of some future posts.)
The Dusty of the Circus film was in fact located. The archivist at USC said it was going vinegar, but managed to get a decent transfer anyway. As it turns out, this test film appears to have been made without sound. It is not actually animated, but filmed using cardboard cut-out puppets photographed in real-time. It also appears to have been shot in color, although it is extremely faded now. So after a wait of three decades, I finally got to see the film. Now you can see it, too!
ADDENDUM: Since we initially made this post, a Kodachrome 16mm print had been discovered by USC. The color in Kodak reversal stock is very stable compared to Kodak’s negative-based print system, and consequently this print had much better color. This version is now embedded below.
When UPA revived the Dusty character for The Boing Boing Show in 1956, it is striking to see how closely they kept to the design motif of the 1949 pilot film, a testament to the forward thinking visual sense of Gene Deitch. Walter Tetley, a radio veteran (The Great Gildersleeve, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye show) and cartoon star (Andy Panda, Reddy Kilowatt, and UPA’s own Georgie and the Dragon) was the perfect choice to voice Dusty. Writer Bill Scott must have been taking notes, for a few years later Tetley would be cast as Sherman on the Mr. Peabody cartoons produced by Jay Ward. Other voices in the Dusty cartoon series include cartoon legends Stan Freberg, Daws Butler and Shep Menkin. Here they are in the order we believe they were produced:
The Sad Lion (Director: Gerry Ray)
The Five Cent Nickel (Director: Gerry Ray)
Turned Around Clown (Director: Alan Zaslove – with Stan Freberg using his Clowny voice!)
The Bear Scare (Director: Alan Zaslove)
Lion On The Loose (Director: Alan Zaslove)
The Elephant Mystery (Director: Alan Zaslove)