ANIMATION ANECDOTES
November 4, 2022 posted by Jim Korkis

Heckle and Jeckle Tales

Suspended Animation #396

“One day [Paul Terry] came into our room with a big announcement: ‘NO MORE MICE! TO HELL WITH MICE! WE ARE THROUGH USING MICE IN OUR CARTOONS’.” – I. Klein, storyman/animator at Terrrytoons


Heckle and Jeckle are magpies. They look alike. They act alike. One sounds British. One sounds like he’s from New York. Those are the only certain facts about Heckle and Jeckle.

It is extraordinary that such little information propelled these yellow-billed magpies, a type of bird with black and white coloring and long tail who are part of the crow family, to cartoon stardom.

Heckle and Jeckle were one of the few cartoon teams that were, for most part, an actual team. Unlike Tom and Jerry, the Coyote and Road Runner, the Ant and the Aardvark, and so many others, Heckle and Jeckle were not adversaries. They were buddies.

They were also impossible to tell apart. It is never quite clear which bird is using which voice. They never seem to call each other by name.

Yet these two indistinguishable magpies proved extremely popular and could be as fast and furious as any Warners or MGM cartoon. Their better efforts contain wild chases and crazy characters.

At their worst they feature some of the most mindless violence and cruel treatment. They might be considered a sort of animated Three Stooges.

In fact, Heckle and Jeckle may be the most antagonistic, violent characters in the cartoon universe and it is they who break the law, disturb someone or just desire fun at the expense of someone else.

Heckle and Jeckle also tapped into a format not being exploited by other cartoons at the time. The Heckle and Jeckle cartoons were throwbacks to the very early days of cartoons when anything could happen.

“We cartoon characters can have a wonderful life if we only take advantage of it.” – Heckle (or Jeckle) in The Power of Thought (1949).

They were aware that they were cartoon characters and this was “only a cartoon.” This belief was not always shared by other characters in the same cartoon.

The premise for this team allegedly came from producer Paul Terry, himself. He thought it would amusing to have identical twins as the key characters of a series. Since most animated teams worked on the idea of the two characters being quite opposite, this seemed a novel idea. Tom Morrison was instrumental in writing the first short and Mannie Davis directed it.

Heckle and Jeckle officially started their career in The Talking Magpies (January, 1946). Like many “first” appearances, it has key differences from the current conception of the characters. The biggest difference is that Heckle and Jeckle are husband and wife.

The New York character is the husband. He wears a hat and carries a suitcase. The other magpie (called “Maggie” in the short) wears a ladies hat, carries a purse and has large eyelashes.

The short starts out with the married couple looking for a nest. A real estate agent sends them to a nest outside the home of Farmer Alfalfa and his dog, Dimwit. Once in the nest the two begin arguing. Inside the house the farmer and Dimwit are trying to sleep. Initial attempts to quiet the birds meet with violent retaliation. The farmer decides to go down and get his gun. Halfway through the short the birds lose all their clothes so they are indistinguishable from each other.

It wasn’t until the end of the year, November 1946, that a second talking magpies short appeared, The Uninvited Pests. In this short they are both male, and totally indistinguishable. The New York voice is still there, but there is no British voice yet. This other magpie spent several shorts trying to find an appropriate voice.

Over the decades the birds were voiced by Sid Raymond (1946-47), Ned Sparks (1947 -1951), Roy Halee (1951 – 61), Dayton Allen (1955 – 66) and Frank Welker (1979).

The Uninvited Pests, directed by Connie Rasinski, is truly a standard Heckle and Jeckle short. When Farmer Alfalfa and his dog, Dimwit, try to have a picnic, the two magpies horn in. Violence ensues and the farmer and Dimwit lose in the end.

The series continued full steam until 1955 when Terry sold his studio and library to CBS. Before this period a number of standout shorts were released. These include King Tut’s Tomb (1950), an atmospheric trip into an Egyptian tomb with Heckle and Jeckle as explorers. While deep in the catacombs they see a number of strange things including some alluring female cat dancers. Hair Cut-Ups (1952) is a mini musical with the pair as barbers who clip the career of Dangerous Dan. The short features the magpies singing the ballad of Dangerous Dan.

The new owners kept production going, but under new hands new characters were being created. Heckle and Jeckle went to a more relaxed pace of only one or two new shorts released a year.

In 1948, six theatrical shorts had been released that year alone and overall a total of 52 theatrical shorts with the characters were produced. In 1966 the last Heckle and Jeckle cartoon was made, Messed Up Movie Makers.

Following the success of MIGHTY MOUSE PLAYHOUSE (1955), 1956 saw the debut of THE HECKLE AND JECKLE CARTOON SHOW on CBS. With opening credits created from a series of chases and battles, the show became a TV staple and appeared on the network on and off through 1971.

After a number of years in limbo, Filmation purchased the rights and created a new Saturday morning series starring the magpies and other Terry characters. THE NEW ADVENTURES OF MIGHTY MOUSE AND HECKLE AND JECKLE debuted in 1979 as an hour show. 1980 saw its second season cut to a half-hour show. There was no third season.

The most prolific Terrytoon’s character in terms of merchandise was Mighty Mouse. A long way back in second place would be Heckle and Jeckle. They have the dubious distinction of being more prolific than any of the other Terrytoon characters.

They appeared on toys, puppets, cookie jars, records, Halloween costumes, games, children’s books and more. However, their greatest exposure was in comic books where they were published by four different companies from 1947 to 1987.

In 1999, Nickelodeon created the pilot Curbside that was meant to re-introduce the Terrytoons characters to a newer younger audience, with the format being presented as if it was a late night talk show hosted by Heckle and Jeckle (with Dinky Duck) featuring three newly created shorts starring other Terrytoons characters like Deputy Dawg, Sidney the Elephant and Mighty Mouse (with Tom Terrific).

They were also changed from magpies to crows which is what most people thought they were anyway. Bobcat Goldthwait voiced Heckle and Toby Huss voiced Jeckle. The pilot never aired on Nickelodeon. It was produced and directed by Robert Taylor (a Terrytoon/Bakshi veteran) who was also one of the writers.

The series was never picked up – for good reason – but Heckle and Jeckle are still fondly remembered today – also for good reason: They were funny.

EDITOR’S NOTE: One the one hand, I had nothing to do with the Nickelodeon Curbside pilot – on the other hand, sadly, it wouldn’t exist if not for me.

The short version: I worked in animation development for Nickelodeon between 1994-1997. My all-consuming goal then (and now?) was to revive Terrytoons characters – a Mighty Mouse movie for Paramount, a Heckle & Jeckle series for Nickelodeon, Tom Terrific for Nick Jr. etc. I did pitches, I hired artists, I spoke to everyone within the company who could conceivably green light it.

Nickelodeon, on my behalf, spent years negotiating the rights to use the characters from our Viacom overlords… but time ran out. I can’t tell the complete story here… but within a year of my leaving, the business affairs people dotted every “i” and crossed every “t” to an agreement to let Nickelodeon use the Terrytoon characters.

However, by that time (1998), I was now gone. Mary Harrington inherited the project and hired her friend Robert Taylor to make it. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. It’s very existence is one of the main reasons no one at Paramount wants to revive the characters.

I could go on and on about this – but I won’t, not here, not now. It was a major missed opportunity.

SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Watching this pilot might damage your brain “cels”. Watch at your own risk. You’ve been warned.

– Jerry Beck

SPECIAL THANKS to John Cawley for information and writing he contributed to this post.

30 Comments

  • Once it was established at terry tunes and that one of the birds was New York one of the birds was British, I thought the personalities were well defined. I also liked those voices. The problem with the nickelodeon incarnation was that you had to try and follow the quickness of the dialogue. I can’t talk about the visuals here, but I don’t like these birds near as much. I wonder how closely they adhered to your original outline of the characters. Have they ever seen an original heckle and Jekyll cartoon?

  • I don’t know whether “brain cels” was intentional or a typo, but either way, it’s perfect for this site. Love it.

  • “Rival Romeos” (1951) definitively established that Heckle has the New York accent and Jeckle the British one. They have homes on opposite sides of a tree trunk, with their names printed clearly next to their doors; they also wear different hats during most of this cartoon, and Jeckle has a monocle, so they’re easy to tell apart. Moreover, as the title implies, it is a singular instance of the magpies as rivals, competing for the affections of an attractive female bird (who has a Southern accent, y’all).

    The anything-goes mayhem of Heckle and Jeckle is so extreme, it’s almost disturbing. There’s one bit in “Flying South” that really freaked me out when I was little: Heckle’s head and right arm disarticulate from the rest of his body, which sneaks around behind the wolf to give him a swift kick in the fundament. Most prints of this cartoon today are missing several other scenes that involve alcohol or firearms. Those wouldn’t have bothered me as a boy, but headless bodies walking around gave me nightmares.

    The most successful Heckle and Jeckle cartoons are the ones where they turn the tables on an enemy who’s trying to kill them, such as “Flying South” and “Taming the Cat”. They’re less sympathetic when they torment someone who’s just minding his own business. But boy, are they ever funny!

    The talk show format of “Curbside” was evidently derived from “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”. I’ll agree that the special was a wasted opportunity, and leave it at that. By the way, Bobcat Goldthwait played Jeckle, not Heckle. His voice, the most annoying in the entire history of show business, is the main reason that I’ve never been able to sit through more than a few minutes of “Curbside”. He makes Gilbert Gottfried sound like a BBC radio announcer.

    • Thanks as always for the corrections and additions. Much appreciated. Always willing to learn more and get the record set straight in print. What? No comments on the music?

      • “Listen to the Mockingbird” was another thing Heckle and Jeckle had in common with the Three Stooges. I love these Terrytoons posts of yours, Jim. Do Gandy and Sourpuss!

      • I’ve been waiting for someone to link to this scene from Bulldozing the Bull:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PrvjADR7Gw

    • Interesting (to me, anyway) that heckle and Jeckle didn’t have an original theme song; instead there are variations of “Listen to the Mockingbird” with no words to signal their presence.

      Other Terrytoon characters got to have their own songs: Farmer Al Falfa (“I swarn here’s a feller we all know well…”), Kiko the Kangaroo (“All the kids like Kiko…”), Mighty Mouse (do I even need to quote that one?), even Puddy the Pup – but the Talking Magpies got nothing. No wonder they basically sociopathic.

  • A shame neither Heckle & Jeckle nor the wider Terrytoons filmography were ever given a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release and thus are not easily available restored up to the according level of picture quality; it seems unlikely to ever happen now, but who knows? At least we live in an era where we can watch them in not-quite-as-good quality easily, and these prints are in a better state than some of the others I’ve seen online in the past.

    • Please somebody do a DVD! If we have Hunky and Spunky than we can have Mighty, Gandy, and friends!

    • You are in luck. Sort of. I have obtained the rights for all future Betamax releases of Heckle. So far, Jeckle not included in the deal, so he will unfortunately have to be edited out. But it’s better’n nothing, and nothing is what we get.

  • When I began programming four hour marathons fans told me the Terrytoons were junk. Regular folks loved them. I loved Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle. Had a hard time getting 16mm prints. They do deserve a DVD and Blu-ray release.

  • From what I’ve heard about Paul Terry, he probably suggested twins to save money on model sheets and animation.

  • This excellent post about cinema’s most beloved magpies made my day. Even finally getting to see the wretched “Curbside” was a treat. Thanks!

  • i could never understand why they had to “revamp” them in the 70s. What was sooooooooo “different” about 70s kids that could not (still) enjoy the CBS show from the 50s?? Hmmmmmmm????

    • Worse, they tried to shoehorn “educational” content; I remember segments where H&J were teaching the young viewers about homonyms, giving as examples “sail” and “sale,” “right” and “write” – which are homophones.

  • I have some question about the attribution of the voices of Heckle and Jeckle you provide – which I see you picked up verbatim from an entry on a recent update of a Wikipedia page. There have been many previous web posts which have attributed the original voicing of the Magpies to Dayton Allen – I have never before heard the name of Ned Sparks associated with them, and severely doubt his limited vocal delivery would have been flexible enough for such voice work. What especially makes things suspicious is Wikipedia’s misattribution of the years of Dayton Allen’s contributions to 1955-66 – overlapping with the years assigned to Roy Halee. In fact, Roy Halee’s name appears on the credits of all “New Terrytoons” episodes following the sale of the Studio to CBS, with no sign of Allen except for the very last episode, Messed Up Movie Makers”. In contrast, Allen’s contributions to the studio can be heard on soundtracks dating back considerably earlier than the debut of the Magpies, He had already invented the Jeckle sillyass Englishman accent for “The Last Indian” in 1938, in which he provides narration throughout. In one or more cartoons during the 40’s, he used his Hugh Herbert impression which went into regular use again in the 60’s with vocal credit for the last installments of the Silly Sidney series. Other supporting voices (like the original Powerful Pierre in “Sn’o Fun”) also sound like regularly-used Allen voices from later years (not dissimilar to Badlands Meany). So Allen was definitely around earlier than Wikipedia contends, and his regular association with voice work of the series by all other sources could not be explained by attributing to him only the single comeback episode from 1966. I therefore side with earlier sources, giving credit to Allen as the primary voice of the magpies during their formative years.

  • In “Sappy New Year” from 1961, Heckle is the NYC speaker because he addresses the British one as Jeckle.

  • The more Terrytoons on CR, the better! And that Gold Key cover is more appealing than the real McCoys (and I ain’t meanin’ Walter Brennan)!

    Gosh almighty. I wrote about Curbside a few months ago, and deleted it! I could’ve had a viewing flood! Awfullest thing ever.

    Oh, Jerry: I forgive you. I can’t see you involved with a destruction of Terrytoons:) Had no idea you were behind it.

    • I have the oppoisite opinion about that Gold Key comic cover. It’s rather too simplified for my taste reguarding the magpies and lack their white colored chests (which is what real magpies are supposed to have).

  • There is a species of magpie, the California yellow-billed magpie, that does indeed have a yellow bill, though a brighter, less orangey shade than the cartoon variety. But no bird of any species has eyeballs on its beak. I always wondered about this anatomical unlikelihood that infests our heroes. Do the hard, bony projections – the upper and lower mandibles – covered with a thin keratinized layer of epidermis known as the rhamphotheca, extend upward, or does the upper part fade into a softer area of skin only? I can’t make sense of it.

    And don’t even mention the teeth.

  • In “The Simpsons” episode “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace” Homer, in the midst of a midlife crisis, imagines his own funeral with the magpies as attendees. After Homer’s body is unceremoniously dumped in the grave, we get this:
    Heckle: “There goes a real piece of crap!”
    Jeckle: “Indubitably old chum!”
    According to Wikipedia, both were voiced by Harry Shearer.

  • Why anyone trusts Wikipedia when it comes to cartoons, I’ll never know. It’s rife with incorrect guesses from tin-eared fans.
    A Hedda Hopper column in 1948 says Ned Sparks was living in Victorville, Calif., writing his memoirs. He was nowhere near New Rochelle. A Sid Shalit column in 1951 said he was retired but coming out of it to do TV.

  • They still have a following, thanks in large part, I’m sure, to all of their old films being available on Youtube. I have a t-shirt of the duo and I was surprised at how many people – in grocery stores and other places – would stop me and say “Oh! I remember them!”

    I also remember back in the seventies when the family went to see Mel Brooks “Silent Movie” and a Heckle and Jeckle cartoon was shown before the feature. It was “Dancing Shoes” and got big laughs.

    Despite the bad rap Terrytoons often get from the scholars, a lot of them, especially the H&Js, have a great comic spirit and it’s not hard to see their appeal. And the Jim Tyer animation helps too.

  • I watched the Curbside pilot about a month or so ago and…yeah, I can definitely understand Mr. Beck’s backlash towards it. It’s decked out with an all-star assortment of familiar 90s voice actors (Charlie Adler, Rob Paulsen, Dee Bradley Baker, Billy West), but even they can’t save a poorly paced pilot.

    • A step down to Bakshi’s “Mighty Mouse” series, in my opinion.

  • It’s like they never actually watched one Terry cartoon. No grasp of any of the original characters. Mighty Mouse reminded me of Bakshi’s. That said,I kinda’ liked it.

  • You say that “In fact, Heckle and Jeckle may be the most antagonistic, violent characters in the cartoon universe and it is they who break the law, disturb someone or just desire fun at the expense of someone else.”
    I think that you forget Screwy Squirrel…
    They are among my favourite characters. I wish that some day we ‘ll see Heckle and Jeckle movies at a BR, they worth it.

  • Steve Allen regular Dayton Allen was always the definitive voice of Heckle & Jeckle. Most of the H&J shorts fans remember best can all be attributed to his vocal talents. As we know, Allen also did ALL the voices in the Deputy Dawg series, from the stars to the incidental characters.

  • As a near-boomer, my pre-teen prejudice was that Terrytoons and Famous/Paramounts were for little kids, and not to be watched with peers unless you were all being Ironic. A bit like hiding Harvey comics under your superhero titles and acting surprised you still had them.

    That attitude lingered into adolescence, when Looney Tunes, early Fleischer and much of the MGM product were all considered cool and hip, and Disney was okay because Disney was in a separate realm, like late-period Beatles.

  • Just got through the Curbside pilot. To say it was unpleasant is putting it mildly. That being said, classic Heckle and Jeckle have certain charm about them that made them quite memorable

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