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