September 12, 2023 posted by James Parten

Famous/Paramount Studios: Another Grab Bag

By 1958, the writing may have been on the wall for Famous Studios, now renamed Paramount Cartoons, when all their original characters were sold to Harvey Comics, who handled both television syndication and the production of Matty’s Funday Funnies for ABC. Paramount would soon turn much of its attention to television projects, such as a goodly share of the television Popeye cartoons produced for Al Brodax and King Features. Other staffers would begin independent work for former Paramount animators Hal Seeger and Joe Oriolo in their own independent productions, yet seem to split their workload between these productions and work at the original studio. Some of the studio’s work intended for television did also receive theatrical release, in the short-lived “Comic Kings” series showcasing television episodes of Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith, and Krazy Kat (a few of which will be discussed in the final article of this series). There was less attention this paid to the theatrical cartoons, and less incentive for Paramount to dip into its music library to supply background themes for its films. While several attempts at new characters were tried, many seemed highly derivative of the studio’s past creations, while others (such as Swifty and Shorty) received only lukewarm reception and failed to catch on with any lasting appeal.

Heir Restorer (1/25/58) – Casper is flying to England, hitch hiking atop a trans-Atlantic airline, reading a book on the British Isles. Thinking the land is a great place to make friends, Casper jumps, transforming into a parachute. He goes up to a normally imperturbable Beefeater, and gets the usual reaction. He winds up at an old manor house, where he meets the spirit of the last of the Montague clan, who is required to haunt the place until a living heir to the Montague estate can be located. Casper offers to hunt for the heir, and eventually winds up at an orphanage. The infants at the nursery don’t seem to mind Casper one bit, though the nurse gives out with the usual scream. Here Casper finds Montgomery Montague, who is accepted as the heir to the Montague fortune, as announced in newspaper headlines. The spirit of old Montague, now freed from his haunting duties, finally enjoys some rest and recreation, joining Casper on an invisible ride on a tandem bicycle. Songs: ”Rule Brittania”, a British patriotic song recorded in the late oughts by Alan Turner on black seal Victor, then by Frances Alda for Red Seal Victor acoustical, a symphony orchestra under Alfred Coats for HMV electrical (which also saw release at least in Canada), Dame Clara Butt on British Columbia, and much later, Russ Conway in a piano performance on English Columbia. The song is frequently used as a marker for anything British. Also, “There is a Tavern In the Town”, a folk song of unknown provenance, which became well known when Rudy Vallee revived it in 1934 for Victor. There are two takes (subtitled “The Drunkard Song”), the off-take of which is nearly a breakdown by Vallee, yet was okayed for release because of its comic value. Harry McDaniel (actually Johnny Johnson’s Orchestra) issued a version on Melotone, Perfect, et al.

You Said a Mouseful (8/29/58) – Katnip is running a pizzaria (back in the days before there were chain pizza palaces, when most pizza came out of small corner establishments where you would look in the window and see the proprietor tossing pizza dough into the air). Herman is inside the wall, running an exercise class, with one student named “Chubby”, who has a mountainous appetite. This gets him into trouble quickly, as the smell of Katnip’s fresh-baked pizza draws him like a magnet. Herman has to rescue Chubby, only to get captured himself. Herman is about to be the main ingredient in Mose-estrone soup, until Chubby gets the idea to play that he and Herman are of Italian descent. Katnip falls for it, believing that all the mice are paesani from the Old Country. The film ends in celebration, with Katnip singing, “You’ll eat my pizza pies till they come outta you eyes.” Song: “That’s Amore”, from the 1953 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis picture, The Caddy. Dean seems to have had the only action on the song in a hit recording for Capitol, though sound-alike versions appeared on budget labels such as Tops and Broadway, and a few foreign-language versions appeared in other countries.

Top Cat (July, 1960) – Do not assume this had anything to do woth the Bilko of the back alley of Hanna-Barbera fame. This was one of a short-lived series directed by Seymour Kneitel, simply known as “The Cat”. The film deals with a Hollywood mogul, searching for a new star. His coterie of “yes men” search high and low, especially in Las Vegas. They think they’ve found a girl that has all the right requirements – only she has a voice that could shatter glass at six paces. The mogul goes into a seedy night club and encounters The Cat, a song and dance cat. (Who says “Cats Don’t Dance”?) He performs an original song about millinery – about what the right kind of topper can do for somebody. The mogul brings The Cat to Hollywood, then summons another group of yes men from “Names Incorporated” to come up with a stage name for his new star. They come up with simply “The Cat” – changing nothing whatsoever. Song: “When You’re Wearing the Right Kind of Hat” – no known recordings. Even kiddie labels were ignoring the theatrical cartoons in large part by this time, more willing to record TV themes.

Goodie the Gremlin (April, 1961) – Any similarity between this series and the Caspers that had come before are purely…well… Goodie’s resemblance to Casper is uncanny. It’s a wonder there wasn’t litigation. He is the one Gremlin who wants to do good deeds rather than raise sand. Goodie finds himself frozen in a block of ice, so that he won’t interfere with the mischief caused by his fellow gremlins. But Goodie manages to maneuver the ice in front of a blow torch, and eventually wins out in foiling the others’ evil plans. Song: “We’re the Gremlins”, an original ballad for the evil forces, first appears here, and would be used in later installments as theme song of the series. It is performed by a deep-voiced male chorus. The same chorus seems to have been used in other Win Sharples’ projects for other studios, including “8th Man” and “Rocket Robin Hood”. Again, no commercial recordings.

Hobo’s Holiday (12/63) – We open with the sight of a train going down the tracks. There’s a mail car, a femail car, and a sleeper. Riding the rods under the sleeper is a hobo. The train pulls in at a station marked “Utopia”. This burg, however, is no utopia for hobos, as our hobo friend finds out when chased by a local cop. A woman puts a fresh pie on a windowsill to cool. The hobo decides to snatch the pie, ignorant of a sign reading “Beware of Dog”. After enduring a canine encounter, the hobo, ultimately having consumed the pie, is next found asleep be a campfire. Then, with a great grinding of gears as if someone abruptly applied the stick shift, the film jumps into Screen Song mode, complete with bouncing ball, but not so much as an alter call to invite the audience to sing along. We get a full rendition of the song “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”, complete with a third verse with the words changing into appropriate visual images. There is no closing gag whatsoever. Watch the cartoon here. Was this leftover unproduced Kartune script pressed into service to fill a quota? The song was originally introduced by Harry (Haywire Mac) McClintock on Victor in 1928. Vernon Dalhart cut it for Columbia. Hobo Jack Turner (possibly Ernest Hare) covered it on Velvet Tone. Frank Luther would record it on Supertone and also on Banner/Oriole. Tex Morton recorded an Australian country-flavored version on Columbia. Burl Ives would later revive the song on Decca (below). It became a staple of various children’s labels, typically with truncated lyrics.

Robot Rival (disputed date – either 9/64 or 11/1/64) – Zippy Zephyr (voiced by Bob McFadden) drives a taxi cab for the Interplanetary Taxi Company. His boss, Mr. Mars, is about to fire him and replace him with a robot. Zippy fears that if he is fired, his romance with a secretary named Rosie will fade, fade, fade out of his life (a reference to a contemporary television commercial for a deodorant which said “Don’t let romance fade, fade, fade away”, dissolving one lover out of the picture). Zippy gets a call for a fare at Utopia and Valhalla on Saturn. His job is placed on a competitive basis in a race with the robot, who cheats in various manners, including gumming and feathering Zippy’s cab. Zippy still manages to get to the destination first. The fare he picks up is a tough looking yegg, with two obvious associates/henchmen waiting for him on the corner of Aurora and Borealis. However, Zippy gets lost, and brings the fare back to taxi headquarters, where the passenger threatens to sue unless he receives $1,000. Just as the passenger is about to leave, police officer Orion shows up on the scene to recognize him as Saturn Sam, wanted on 87 planets and 12 satellites. The reward for his capture is $1,000, receipt of which causes Zippy to faint dead away. The taxi company’s mechanic wonders why nothing like this ever happens to him, and smites the robot, whose eyes whirl around like slot machine wheels, and pays off with a jackpot of coins from his meter mouth. Song: “Fly With Zippy Zephyr”, an original theme song sung by a mixed chorus, somewhat in the style of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.

Laddy and His Lamp (9/64) – A little boy (Laddy) sees another boy flying a model airplane, and thinks that might be fun to try. When he asks the older boy for a turn, he is dismissed by the elder boy in best bully fashion. Laddy then remembers that he possesses a magic lamp in his toy box, goes to his room, and gives it a rub. A genie (Ali Presto) pops out, complaining about Laddy rubbing the lamp under a shelf, causing him to bonk his head. The genie is given a vague foreign accent that is supposed to resemble middle-eastern, but sounds more like something from Lower Slobbovia. (The film provides no backstory as to how Laddy acquired this lamp, nor elaborates on any of Laddy’s first uses of the genie’s power.) The genie demonstrates that he’s been cooped up in the lamp for so long, he has no cultural literacy. He conjures up a full-size bomber for Laddy to fly. Laddy attracts the attention of the Coastal Air Defense, and winds up being the target of several missiles. As Laddy is plummeting to Earth, he rubs the lamp for the genie again. Again misinterpreting Laddy’s wish for a parachute, the genie instead provides a pair of shoes. Laddy wishes he were home in bed, and finally winds up safe. He states that all’s well that ends well – but the genie conjures up an endless number of water wells in his bedroom. Song: “Laddy and his Lamp”, an original theme song, denoting intention to make this a series. (As it was, only two episodes were produced, the second being A Tiger’s Tail).

Next Time: a wrap-up, including a few cross-overs from TV.


  • When Casper approaches the Beefeater in London, we hear the traditional fiddle tune “Soldier’s Joy”. I’m not sure what exactly the joke is in this context, but that’s definitely the tune.

    “That’s Amore” was one of many hit songs of the 1950s to be built on foreign words and phrases, often though not exclusively Italian. Flanders and Swann satirised this trend in their “Philological Waltz”:

    “Oh, it’s hard to say ‘Holimakitilukacheecheechee,’
    But in Tonga, that means ‘No!’
    If I ever have the money,
    ‘Tis to Tonga I shall go.
    For each lovely Tongan maiden there
    Will gladly make a date,
    And by the time she says ‘Holimakitilukacheecheechee,’
    It is usually too late!”

  • As usual, I like these articles and their in-depth look at popular music of the day. That is part of what made theatrical cartoons of that age so amazing to watch and that they still hold up. Not only do you get a full orchestra back in your cartoon, but you get hints of some of the popular music of the day. it has been noted elsewhere, but it’s nice to know that some of the studios themselves we’re getting involved in writing or co-writing the scores. As noted here, some of the tunes in the cartoons became specific to that cartoon, and so they were memorable by a lot of us watch them because we saw the cartoons over and over again on television.

  • This is the beginning of the era when the former Famous was producing cartoons Shamus Culhane deemed “a piss-poor pile of crap” (and made the tactical error of saying so to the staff when he took over the studio a few years later).

    Next week’s batch will be post (as in Howard)-Seymour Kneitel, the last of the old Famous management. At least Max Fleischer had the acrid satisfaction of outliving his successors.

  • At least with Goodie they were only ripping themselves off. The Cat is another matter. A tall, dapper cat concerned with the proper headgear; remind you of a certain Dr. Seuss character?

  • The “Goodie the Gremlin” theme always struck me as the style Famous Studios was doing 15 years earlier. Interesting that they could duplicate the music style in the early 60s.

  • There’s a gag missing from that print of “The Cat”: After the girl the studio head widens his search and approaches “a Russian Rock Hudson” in the USSR. The Russian confers with a countryman and they both yell for the police. Repeat the cop hauling him off to jail, and add a line about the American embassy getting him released.

    Note the voice and character are a loose approximation of Cary Grant. The character would remain suave and (usually) in control of the situation, a little like Bugs Bunny or Pepe Le Pew. His later adventures — the ones I know of — were parodies of noirish TV detectives (gags about Ed Sullivan) and Bat Masterson (gimmicky cane), then Robin Hood as a hep jazz musician.

    He predates the Pink Panther, who occasionally got to be as cool as Mancini’s theme music.

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