Animation Trails
June 12, 2024 posted by Charles Gardner

In The Center Ring (Part 22)

Today, we’ll try to wrap-up coverage of the “golden” era of Hanna-Barbera, covering circus-related productions up to about 1969. By the end of this period, the studio was already well under way into its shift toward human characters and super-heroes, with few animals remaining to be seen except in supporting guest roles or as mascots. This sparked a personal decline in my interest in the studio’s productions, and may have done the same to a great number of viewers. The demographic audience target may have also shifted, with stories aimed less at universal appeal to adults and children alike, and more toward an adolescent audience seeking adventure over comedy. However, the studio would live to possibly regret this in later years, finding itself compelled at times to fall back upon its old ways, in feeble, sometimes half-hearted attempts to revive its old stable of characters in new vehicles. Aside from occasional prime-time specials and feature-length projects for syndication, and one successful reboot of The Jetsons for daily syndication, many of these revival efforts failed to meet the mark, unable to recapture the ease and spirit with which the 60’s staff had churned out one engaging title after another.

Ferocious Flea (Atom Ant, 10/23/65) – One of the stronger, better-written episodes of the series. (I wonder if I detect the fine hand of Michael Maltese, who, as previously noted, LOVED flea epics.) A flea circus is performing at a local theater, starring Ferocious Flea, a strong-flea act, in which the insect demonstrates such powers as to lift automobiles with one hand. Unfortunately for the kiddies, there will be no show today. In fact, the whole flea troupe is offered the day off by the circus’s owner – all except Ferocious, who is keeping in shape by toying around with the owner’s heavy wooden desk, flipping it around in a juggling manner. When the other fleas have gone, Ferocious, a tough-talking insect in a large gym-style sweater (using the same Don Messick voice used by Mighty Mite in Pixie and Dixie’s “Home Flea”), confers with the owner on the plans being all set for their caper of the day. These plans are illustrated in a “flash forward” dissolve, as the owner arrives by taxi at the door of a bank, carrying a suitcase, and accompanied by a dog on a leash. Ferocious is riding unseen within the dog’s fur. The owner waits in a teller line, and sets the suitcase down. When a clear opportunity arises, Ferocious disembarks from the dog, carries the suitcase into the bank vault, and fills it to capacity with money. Again waiting for a clear chance, Ferocious carries the suitcase back to the owner’s feet, then hops back on the dog. All of them then depart from the bank, much richer for their experience.

Three banks suffer heavy withdrawals in this manner, and the police find no clues, referring to the mystery of the invisible robber. The police chief sees only one means to solve the case – call in Atom Ant. For this purpose, he has installed in his office a large red “Panic Button”, and informs an officer that, although he has no idea how he does it, Atom Ant always personally responds to anyone pushing a panic button anywhere in the world. The button sends electrical impulses, which are picked up far away at the underground residence of Atom Ant, sensed through his own natural antennae. Atom is also able via super-computer to translate the electric waves into an IBM data card, which spells out the address of the panic button pressed. Atom recognizes the call as coming from the town which has recently fallen prey to the invisible bandit, and, assuming they’ll need help in a hurry, travels to the scene by way of “Atom-izer” – a molecular particle transmission chamber, bearing strong resemblance to the “evaporation” chambers used for light-speed transport in “Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century”. Re-integrating upon the chief’s desk, Atom is quickly briefed upon the crime wave, and taken to one of the banks for an investigation. While the police state there are no clues, Atom insists that there are always clues, and soon spots footprints too tiny for the police to have noticed in the bank’s carpeting. The footprints come in pairs and at equal intervals, suggesting to Atom that they were made by a hopping insect. Too small for a grasshopper. Just as atom ponders another likely species, he trips over a large stray dog hair. The solution comes to him in an instant – a flea. Atom next deduces that a flea strong enough to carry off that much money probably works in a flea circus. The phone book discloses only a small number of possible suspect shows, and Atom happens upon the right one on the first try, observing Ferocious’s poster outside the theater.

He steps inside, and interviews several members of the troupe, including clowns, and a trapeze flea (who Atom interviews while swinging on trapeze with him). They all state that Ferocious is downtown with the boss today, and one comments that Ferocious has hit it big lately, though he has no idea where Ferocious is getting the money. A ringmaster flea offers Atom a job if he’d care to join, and Atom proposes taking on the position of strong man. The ringmaster shudders, realizing that’s Ferocious’s position, and that the flea will be plenty sore if he finds out someone else wants to take his spot. The ringmaster isn’t kidding, as Ferocious appears at the miniature tent entrance. “No hard feelings”, Ferocious remarks, offering an extended hand to Atom. The moment Atom clasps it, Ferocious delivers a judo flip. But Atom returns the favor, grabbing Ferocious’s hand, and flipping him back and forth multiple times with equal force. “Wanna play rough, huh?” responds Ferocious, tossing Atom out of the tent, and headfirst into a miniature circus wagon. Then, Ferocious tries to finish Atom off with a smash of a bottle, which knocks Atom off the table upon with the flea circus is positioned. “If that’s the way you wanyt to play it…” responds Atom, picking up one of the boss’s full-sized chairs. “No fair. No fair”, yells Ferocious, as Atom splits the chair over his person in a tremendous blow. Only Ferocious’s pride appears to be injured, and, although he claims he didn’t want to have to fight dirty, Ferocious pursues Atom with a heavy hammer. Atom at first runs, but determines to put a stop to this, by catching the flat end of the hammer between his upraised hands, then giving the implement a flip toward the wall, lifting Ferocious on the handle end in the process. Ferocious slams into the wall, just missed by the hammer, and both fall to the ground. Ferocious lands first, with the top side of the hammer-head clunking him on his own noggin. Ferocious complains that this could give a guy a throbbing headache. The fight continues, with more hammer blows, and more busted chars, into the boss’s office, where he is just depositing the latest bank haul into a safe. One of the insect combatants decides to toss the safe as a weapon, missing his opponent, but landing the safe with vault-door open just outside the theater door. The boss races to start scooping up the loot, complaining that they’re getting all his nice clean stolen money dirty – and is overheard by a passing cop, who takes the statement as a full confession. Atom appears, with Ferocious Flea in custody, and Ferocious, upon learning who Atom Ant is, remarks “Now he tells me. No wonder I couldn’t win.” Another electrical impulse is picked up on Atom’s antennae, which he recognizes as another panic button call for help. “When they call this a push-button age, they’re not kidding.” It’s “Up and Atom” to another adventure.

Clowning Around (Squiddly Diddly, 12/18/65) – As usual, Squiddly, with his natural equipment of eight arms (though frequently in the series, despite being often identified as an octopus, he seems to be drawn with only six), is being overworked by Bubbleland curator Winchley, using Seuddly’s arms to fill advantage to scrub the walls and floors of the aquarium complex spic and span. Squiddly spies a circus train passing one of the complex’s windows, signs on its box cars advertising Colonel Blab’s Circus, and decides such life is the real show biz. Without elaboration as to his method of escape, Squiddly jumps ship from Bubbleland, and shows up at the circus grounds, ready to be hired as the new star. The Colonel, upon seeing him approach, remarks, “Boy, I’ve seen some wierdos, but this one’s got the others beat eight ways.” Squiddly describes his credentials, sating he’s had quite a bit of experience in water shows. At the mention of the word “water”, the Colonel brightens with an idea for a job opening for Squiddly. What else – watering the elephant. Squiddly’s still overworking his arms carrying heavy buckets, but hopes this career move is a step in the right direction. A trip over a rope supporting the tent proves to be a misstep, as Squiddly “waters” the elephant by dousing him with several buckets of the stuff, the last pail winding up on the Colonel’s head. The Colonel orders the elephant to eject Squiddly from the circus grounds. The pachyderm gives her best toss of Squiddly with her trunk, and the octopus comments as he is lifted that he “hasn’t got a leg to stand on”, then repeats a Magilla Gorilla line as he sails through the air about wishing he’d asked for traveling expenses. The elephant’s toss falls short of the perimeter of the circus grounds, and lands Squiddly through the roof of the costume tent. Squiddly rises from a pile of unused costumes on the floor, and spots himself in a make-up mirror, wearing a little clown hat. Squiddly mistakenly believes he is addressing a performer, until he discovers it is his own reflection. To add to his new image, Squddly dons a false nose supported by an elastic band around his head, and a little pasty makeup to add white eyebrows and round cheeks to his countenance. A new clown is born.

The show has begun. The Colonel, as ringmaster, announces the entrance of the Colonel Blab Clowns. Squiddly joins the act unannounced, juggling eight Indian clubs with ease. Two of the real clowns on a miniature fire truck wonder who the new guy is who’s truing to steal their thunder, and decode to crab his act. They drive their fire truck right through Squddly’s maze of legs, toppling the octopus and his eight clubs. Then, they pick up Squiddly and hustle him over to a towering false movie-style front of a burning building, which looks like it was lifted straight out of the clown act in “Dumbo”. They provide Squiddly with an eye-dropper of water, and instruct him to put out the fire – then launch him to the blaze via catapult. Sqioddly never gets a chance to effectively use the eye dropper, as he crashes through the top of the false front, taking most of the blaze with him. In the grandstands, who of all people should be seated in the front row to take in the show but Winchley. Squiddly lands in his lap, and in a matter of moments is recognized, false nose or no. Winchley pursues Squiddley into the center of the arena, and the two are soon mounted on unicycles. Squiddly insists that he has quit Bubbleland, but Winchley claims he can’t quit, because he wants the privilege of firing Squiddly. Squiddly remarks that he just saw all the fire he us ready to handle. Squiddly’s unicycle makes a sharp turn at the lion’s cage, but Winchley finds out too late that the vehicles have no brakes.

Winchley rolls right through the bars into the lion enclosure, and after the sounds of roars and a scuffle, emerges from the bars scratched, torn, and battered, but angrier than ever. Squiddly climbs to the tight wire, carrying a small umbrella for balance. Winchley follows, also with an umbrella, and nimbly catches up to Squiddly halfway across the arena. Squiddly jumps, using his umbrella as a parachute. Winchley jumps too, but his umbrella turns inside out. He falls like a stone past Squiddly, and bounces off a safety net below. The net propels Winchley into Squiddly, and the two sail a distance across the ring, landing in a heap upon the Colonel. The crowd cheers, and the Colonel states that he likes the act, except it needs work on the ending. After the show, the Colonel talks terms with the boys, and offers them $1,000 a week to join his show. The boys are eager for show biz and the bright lights, until Winchley brings up the subject of billing. “Winchley and Squiddly”, he proposes. A counter-proposal emits from the octopus: “Squiddly and Winchley”. A heated and insistent argument ensues between the two performers (a gag which had already been used in a Breezly and Sneezly episode of “The Peter Potamus Show, “Snow Biz”, a few seasons earlier). The Colonel says, if they ever get their minds made up on the billing, look him up. However, it seems that the dispute will never be settled, as the battle of words rages far into the night back at Bubbleland, with even the sharks complaining to keep it down so that they can get some sleep. Right to the final fade out, the protagonists continue to whisper at each other their insistences on top billing, as Squiddly submerges below the water surface for his evening shut-eye.

Several films produced for hire by Hanna-Barbera for the Laurel and Hardy cartoon series, nominally produced by Larry Harmon ad distributed though Wolper Films, remain missing, several titles of which indicate or at least suggest the possible presence of circus themes. These AWOL episodes include (but may not be limited to) “Circus Run-Aways”, “Flea’s a Crowd”, “Kangaroo Kaper”, and “Peek-a-Boo Pachyderm” (the latter leaving one to wonder if Yogi’s “Hide and Go Peek” was perhaps recycled). Anyone with information on these or other circus episodes is welcomed to contribute.

The Rascally Ringmaster (The Impossibles, 12/17/66). Aside from there being no regular starring animals in the Laurel and Hardy cartoons, “Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles” seems to have marked H-B’s first move to an all human (or at least human-like) cast without at least the appearance of a recurring animal mascot (such as Bandit in Jonny Quest). It was also the studio’s first move into casting rock musicians as starring heroes, as an excuse to feature new songs in many episodes. This was no doubt an effort to cash in upon the recent success of the King Features “Beatles” cartoons, and to keep pace with the failed efforts of Total Television in its competing series, “The Beagles”. Personally, I never cared for any of the music from this series, and still am largely of the opinion that the closest thing H-B ever produced to anything catchy borderlining upon rock-and-roll were the two numbers penned for the Jetsons’ “A Date With Jet Screamer” – particularly “Eep Opp Ork.”

Hard to believe that Michael Maltese was reduced to writing for this series, which certainly lacks hs signature humor and timing. There still should have been more deserving products elsewhere to which he might have contributed. Oh, well, anything for a buck in sparce times. The Impossibles head by air to their next gig – a charity circus at Frivolous Gardens amusement park. Little do they realize that the show is headed by a masked MC and International thief, known only as “The Rascally Ringmaster”. He introduces the most unusual clown act in the business, as a trio of clowns, armed with 44 caliber revolvers, mills through the crowd heisting valuables. Despite their weapons (which would soon meet the disapproval of the anti-violence mothers’ groups of the years shortly to come), the clowns are not much on crowd control, as audience members flee the tent in a stampede, calling the attention of the Impossibles above. They soon size up the problem, as the Ringmaster thanks the audience and takes a bow at the tent entrance, carrying a large sack of loot. Ducking into the cockpit of their plane, the Impossibles, not-so-secretly, re-costume as Multi-Man, Fluid Man, and Coil Man. (Shades of Ralph Bakshi’s “The Mighty Heroes”, premiered the same year.) A flick of a switch, and the plane converts to the mighty Impossi-Jet, which begins a power-dive toward the Ringmaster, with the heroes call of “Rally-Ho!” The Ringmaster recognizes the danger, and wheels out a cannon, from which he fires a live helmeted Human Cannonball, straight at the jet. He hits the jet head-on, and the Cannonball parachutes to earth, complaining of a splitting headache. But the jet is also in bad shape, and falls in a crash-dive.

Coil Man comes to the rescue, by somehow positioning his body in a stationary hover in mid-air, while hooking his feet and extending coil legs inside the jet’s cockpit, allowing the craft to be gently slowed and lowered to the ground. The Ringmaster announces Flamo, the Human Torch, who breathes fire in an attempt to burn the Impossi-jet to a cinder. He s no match for Fluid Man, who puts his fire out with one splash. Elasto, the human rubber band, attempts to slingshot the Impossibles into the next county. But Multi-Man divides into four duplicates of himself, each of which grabs an arm or leg of Elasto, and stretches him to the limit, then lets go. Elasto snaps back, his limbs tying themselves together, leaving him looking like a tightly-wound ball of knotting wool. The clowns get into the act, one attacking with a gun concealed under his hat. “I’ll dampen his ardor”, says Fluid Man, drenching the gun and somehow rendering it inoperable. A second clown rides a unicycle on a high wire strung over the Impossibles’ heads, then opens up his balance-umbrella, dispensing from inside it a payload of eight small aerial bombs. Multi-Man divides into eight, all of them flying upwards, to catch one bomb apiece. Coil Man disposes of the overhead clown by springing up to grab the wire, then stretching it to shoot the clown into the sky like a slingshot. Someone has confused this circus with a Wild West show, as an Indian Chief, sounding strangely like Chief Crazy Coyote from Huckleberry Hound, fires arrows at our heroes. Fluid Man takes the blow with no marks, the arrow just splashing through him, and makes a remark about “Laughing waters”.

Coil Man adds a reference to “laughing springs, too”, as he lets the arrow rebound off his metal coils, shooting it back at the Indian, who disappears over the horizon. No one left but the Ringmaster himself. The Ringmaster decides it is time to close the show, with his own departure in the mouth of the cannon, carrying the sack of loot. Coil Man shoots up into the path of his flight, stating, “You forgot to take a bow”, and delivers a solid sock to the Ringmaster’s jaw (another no-no in the anti-violence climate that was to come), knocking the sack of loot from the Ringmaster’s arms, into the hands of the other waiting Impossibles below. The Ringmaster rises from the ground, and makes an escape into a mountain-sized mystery maze which is one of the amusement park’s attractions. The Impossibles do not pursue him inside, one stating that it’ll take the Ringmaster ten years to find his way out of there. Another notes that this is about as long as his jail sentence would have been. The scene closes far into the night, as the Ringmaster’s voice is heard from within the maze: “Ladies and Gentlemen – – Get me outta here!!”

The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show is another H-B property that is drastically under-represented by available episodes. Numerous titles from this series, all unavailable for viewing, are suspects for possible circus stories, including “Elephantasy”, “Mighty Midget Mustang”, High-Wire Lion”, “Wild Man, Wild”, “Son of Konk”, “Carnival of Menace”, and “Gorilla Thriller”. Anyone with information on this is again encouraged to share.

Wacky Races was loosely inspired by Warner Brothers’ big-budget comedy about early racing, “The Great Race.” Although choosing not to present a race with early-day motorcars, the series relies heavily for its humor upon the always-failing exploits of melodramatic arch-villain Dick Dastardly (a close parallel to Jack Lemmon’s tole in the Warner feature) and his canine assistant Muttley (the latest incarnation of a “snickering hound” character that had haunted numerous H-B productions since the first season of “Huckleberry Hound”). Remaining racers were an amazing array of bizarre characters with even more bizarre racing machines, which must have driven production budget up from the sheer number of players of varying design needing to appear in every episode. Daws Butler and Don Messick were called upon to dig deep into their stock of voices to supply each character’s unique sounds, aided and abetted by newcomer to the studio Paul Winchell as Dastardly, and Janet Waldo as the only female racer, Southern-fried Penelope Pitstop. At times, it felt like the writers were having as much fun as we were, finding new ways each week to keep the broad personalities of the racers in fairly evenly-distributed interaction with one another, punctuated by Dastardly’s Wile E, Coyote-like evil schemes to cheat his way to victory.

Races were usually distinguished from one another by a locale change, or the intervention of some new outside guest character for the week. Three races involved side excursions venturing into circus themes.Real Gone Ape (10/5/68) finds Dastardly substantially in the lead, thanks to the dirty trick of converting his Mean Machine racer to submarine power, and undermining a pier-based stretch of race track with a drill built into the car’s front grill. While the other racers battle to find various ways to ford the stream, Dick is stopped cold by a road block. A circus truck has broken down ahead of him, blocking the way, and the driver, a tough burly type who looms menacingly over the cringing Dastardly, is so intimidating that Dastardly doesn’t dare press the point of getting him to speed up his work on the vehicle’s repair. Dastardly notices a sign on the truck advertising its cargo – King Klong, largest gorilla in captivity. This starts the “old wheels turning” in Dastardly’s brain. Professing a “mastery over dumb animals”, Dastardly produces a watch, with intent to hypnotize the gorilla to do his bidding. His powers are in fact effective, as he inadvertently hypnotizes Muttley in just describing his plan. Muttley is made to open the truck’s rear door when the driver isn’t looking, and a huge paw emerges to grab and yank Dastardly inside. But a few moments later, Dastardly’s voice is heard, stating “Watch the watch”, and in another moment, Klong emerges, carrying Dastardly in one hand, completely in the villain’s power. Dastardly issues orders to Klong to stop the other racers from passing, at all costs.

Penelope Pitstop is first to encounter the ape. The beast picks up her car like a toy, and begins to play at spinning the front wheels. Peter Perfect arrives to play rescuer, threatening the gorilla with his knowledge of karate. The ape merely drives Peter into the ground like a spike with one fist, then adds a foot stomp to remove Peter from view entirely. Sergeant Blast in the Army Surplus Special addresses the gorilla with his tank turret top, but the gorilla gives the turret a spin, leaving the dizzy Sarge to command a retreat back inside his own vehicle, with the improper command of “Down, periscope.” The Red Maxx converts his Crimson Haybaler plane/car to flying mode, firing machine guns at the gorilla like the airplanes did to Klong’s big-screen predecessor. Temporarily releasing Penelope, the gorilla holds up one paw, stopping the progress of the plane cold, then turns the plane in the other direction, winding up the propeller like a toy plane’s rubber-band drive. Max scoots back from whence he came, nearly buzzing Rufus Roughcut in the Buzzwagon (which Rufus saves by flicking a switch reading “Down”, allowing the buzz-saw wheels of his vehicle to dig a foxhole for the car to hide in as Maxx passes. Maxx finally comes to a stop in a collision with the Creepy Coupe’s bat belfry, sending the numerous spooks dwelling within scattering.

Penelope is finally on the move, but not for long, as the gorilla catches up, lifting her car off the ground again. The gorilla snarls with its ugliest expression. Penelope remarks that the gorilla could be attractive with only a little makeover. With the built-in beautification equipment from her car, she applies a coat of facial powder, lipstick, mascara, and a blonde wig to the gorilla’s face. The gorilla is so shocked by his “new” appearance, that he drops Penelope and heads running up the road, for anyplace that’s far. Miles ahead, Dastardly, who has finally gotten past the circus truck, is mere yards from the finish line. Unknowing of what is transpiring behind him, Dastardly decides to add a little insurance to his victory, by laying down an oil slick on the road. Along comes the gorilla on the run behind him. One step into the oil, and the gorilla can’t stop. He flips into the air, and lands smack atop the Mean Machine, mere inches from the finish line. The gorilla sits upon the wreck and watches as the winner and the remaining field of racers all pass over the finish line, leaving Dastardly the only one not to finish. As the dust clears from the passing racers, the ape reaches into the wreckage and pulls out Dastardly, and also Dastardly’s watch, which the ape playfully swings in front of Dastardly’s eyes. “Yess, Master…I am in your power,” drones Dastardly, while below, Muttley can only sarcastically snicker, for the fade out.

By Rollercoaster to Upson Downs (10/19/68) has a much more tangential circus theme, confusing the attractions of circuses and amusement parks. The race is pretty standard by Wacky circuit standards, until the racers approach Holiday Amusement Park, closed for repairs. Dastardly swings the gates open, and he and Muttley “build” in unseen record time a “road switch” that shifts the pavement of the raceway to point directly into the park. Soon, Dastardly, at a set of master controls inside the park, has the other racers re-routed onto a roller-coaster, airplane ride, merry-go-round, dodge ‘em, etc, in a state of chaos and confusion. But Professor Pat Pending remains the only car still with his wheels on solid ground, and uses the Converrt-a-Car to produce a large boot on a hinged metal leg, giving the fleeing Dastardly a swift kick in the rear. Dastardly rises into the air, bounces off a trampoline, and into the barrel of a cannon, which fires him into a high wire strung over the park. The wire acts as an elastic band, launching Dick back into the cannon barrel, to be fired again. Dick winds up in a repeating cycle of rebounds between the high wire and the cannon, calling to Muttley for help. All Muttley does in response, of course, is snicker.

Watch it HERE.

Whizzin’ to Washington (11/23/68) – Though we’ve never quite known what sort of crimes the Ant Hill Mob (fashioned in the style of a group of midget 1930‘s gangsters) were guilty of, it appears that an outstanding warrant may still be around for their arrest. Dick Dastardly plays upon this, as the Mob take the lead in their latest race. Dastardly pursues, but is pulled over by a motorcycle cop for doing 90 miles an hour. Dastardly playfully notes that the officer was travelling 90 miles an hour too to catch him, but Dastardly is willing to drop the charges. However, Dastardly adds that he was trying to catch the Ant Hill Mob. At the mention of their name, the officer’s attentions are completely distracted, and he thanks Dastardly for the tip, as he sets off at full speed in pursuit of the Mob. Hearing the police siren approaching, the Mob ducks their car into the grounds of a circus, and into the dressing tent. They emerge dressed in acrobat’s outfits, hopping ad jumping around like real troupers, and pass themselves off to the officer as the circus’s star performers, an acrobatic act depicted on a poster as “The Seven Flying Credenzas”. The cop is sent packing with a “They went thatta way” point from Clyde (the leader of the Mob), yet, inexplicably, the Mob remains in disguise. Further inexplicably, Dastardly decides that what this circus needs is a ringmaster, and himself darts nto the costume tent to acquire such an outfit, and unilaterally assume the ringmaster’s role.

This all provides a meaningless excuse for time out for a performance in the big top, with the Mob somehow feeling entrapped to go through with their charade. Huddled together atop a high platform, the Mob looks down as Dastardly introduces their act to a packed house. One of the Mob members (Ring-a-Ding) remarks to Cylde that he is scared at this great height. Clyde responds that what scares him looking down is that “great depth”. Dastardly announces that a Credenza will perform a triple somersault, in attempt to dive into a tank of water below, before Dastardly can pull it away. Clyde takes the leap, but Dastardly quickly removes the tank. Ring-a-Ding comes to the rescue, getting a smaller pail under Clyde before he hits, without mishap or complication. Dastardly next announces that the entire Credenza troupe will be fired simultaneously out of the mouth of a cannon, to a trapeze in mid-air two miles away. It is not explained how Dastardley is making this announcement to the crowd, as he is together with Muttley two miles away in the driver’s seat of the Mean Machine, which is converted to helicopter mode, with a trapeze hanging from its front wheels. The cannon is fired, launching all of the Mob in a continuous human chain. Clyde tells Ring-a-Ding to “Grab something, anything.” Though the trajectory of the launch already appears in first views to be high off the ground, Ring-a-Ding miraculously catches the hands of Penelope Pitstop, yanking her from her racing car (which must be traveling on an uphill slope). Penelope becomes another link n the human chain, flying through the air. The Army Surplus Special observes that Penelope is in trouble, and the Sarge orders “Operation Airlift”. The tank turret is turned to fire out a mile long lasso, which catches Penelope’s feet. At this precise moment, Clyde announces, “We made it”, himself clinging at the leading end of the human chain to Dastardly’s trapeze. The Sarge hauls in the rope, bringing Penelope and the Mob back to earth, where they gently land in the form of a human pyramid. However, the rope also hauls the Mean Machine out of the skies, causing it to crash-land in the dirt alongside the road. Everyone eventually gets back to racing, leaving the circus theme behind, and also leaving Dastardly the assured loser, as in every week’s story.

Big Top Trap (The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, 12/20/69) – Still following in the melodramatic vein of “The Great Race”, but crossing it with the silent movie serial style of “The Perils of Pauline”, this spinoff series, well intended as it may have been, was a bit of too much of a good thing. A potentially promising concept seems driven into the ground by just stringing together one peril after another, in half-hour installments that seem to linger on endlessly. The net result is that no individual peril seems to deliver proper heart-stopping drama, or even hoped-for laughter at its ridiculous setup. Adding to the dilution of effect, many perils are overly drawn out with time-filling lead-up dialogue, or deliberately slow pacing. There is further never any real plotline, and what little theme for each week’s death traps is announced is frequently deviated from at some point in the half-hour, allowing for inclusion of generic traps in the writers’ back-store of supply, easier to conceive than three to five traps all corresponding to one setting or locale. I rarely was able to make it through an entire half-hour, my attention usually waning after about the second trap from the slogging pacing and wandering from any cohesive theme.

In the same manner as Mighty Mouse/Oil Can Harry episodes, each week’s first scenes remind us of a “last time” which no one ever saw, as if we are tuning n on a chapter 2 or 3 of a theatrical serial. Old corn, but sufficient for the show concept. Today, Penelope is for no apparent reason a circus performer in the Ringding Circus. Her regular supporting cast includes the Ant Hill Mob (who by now should consider themselves old pros at the circus biz), apparently inexplicably reformed, and now Penelope’s self-appointed “protectors” against peril – a sort of Seven Dwarfs bodyguard troupe. Villainy for the show is not provided by Dastardly (who by now had hs own series), but by a new villain (voiced by Paul Lynde), The Hooded Claw (in reality, Sylvester Sneakley, Penelope’s guardian, and next in line to inherit Penelope’s vast fortune on the event of Penelope’s demise). Two twin thugs, the Bully Brothers, do most of the Claw’s manual labor and dirty work. This week’s chapter begins with Penelope, standing atop a white horse (named Butterfly) bareback, thrown from her horse, into the mouth of a cannon. The Bully Brothers pull the firing pin. Penelope is blasted toward the open-top cage of a wild Tasmanian cruncha-beast (who looks somewhat like Hardy Har Har with a bad hair day, but snarls ravenously, with several bones picked clean at its feet). The Ant Hill Mob drives to the rescue, but hits a rock in the road, shooting the Mob out through the car roof, and leaving them repeatedly bouncing off a trampoline outside the tent. Penelope thinks up her own rescue, grabbing on the fly a balancing pole away from a tightrope walker, which is just wide-enough in length to straddle the upper walls of the cage enclosure, preventing her from falling within the claw-range of the beast below.

From merely bouncing on a trampoline, the Ant Hill Mob is noticed by the ringmaster, and hired on as clowns – a position they are willing to accept, allowing them to keep a close guard on Penelope. The Hooded Claw, however, exceeds himself in this chapter as a master of disguise. Accustomed to changing into the image of various others with a mere tornado spin, the Claw converts himself into a duplicate of clown-outfitted Clyde – an impossible task, considering that Clyde is about one-third his body height. He mingles with the Mob members, presuming that no one will notice an eighth clown in the crowd. Assuming the role of end man in a human chain of mobsters dangling from a trapeze, the disguised Claw plays catcher as Penelope swings toward him from a trapeze on the opposite end of the tent. The Claw deliberately misses, allowing Penelope to fall. Apparently, the fall isn’t guaranteed to be lethal, and Penelope merely slips, somehow unhurt, into a large sack carried by the Bully Brothers. The mobsters all point the blame to Clyde for the missed catch, but Clyde states that he wasn’t on the catching end. Then who was? The disguised Claw tries to remain inconspicuous, by posing behind an empty mirror frame, in the old gag of imitating Clyde’s reflection. When he is discovered, he changes costume, assuming the form of the wild cruncha-beast, scaring the Mob into retreat.

A few perils unrelated to the big top later, Penelope is back safely aboard a private car on the circus train. The Bully Brothers ride above, installing a large metal eyebolt into the top of the car. Down swoops the Hooded Claw with a blimp, to which is attached a long rope and hook, tied to a winch. The hook catches the eyebolt of the train car, lifting it skyward. Rather than just drop the car, the Claw decides to precariously balance the car atop the pinnacle of a 45 story skyscraper, to allow Penelope to seal her own doom if she should walk to one end of the car or the other. Penelope does so, toppling the car. But one of the Mob’s gadgeteers has a device cistom-suited for such emergency – a crank-driven telescoping set of choo-choo tracks, which angles Penelope’s railroad car down a slope and straight into a subway station, where her car comes to a safe stop on the subway tracks. (Gee, let’s see Superman top that rescue!)

Penelope participates in a circus parade, then eventually rides in the evening show, but is again absconded with by the Bully Brothers, who pose as Penelope’s steed in a fake horse costume, trotting her away and out of the ring. They take her to a farm, where, the Claw sets up a chain-reaction Rube Goldberg-style set of events, leading to Penelope being deposited into a hay-baling machine. All Penelope has to do for this one is whistle for her circus horse to come and get the nice sugar in her pocket. The horse arrives just as Penelope is sealed in a hay bale (not exactly a lethal peril), and merely nibbles Penelope free.

Back at the circus, the Claw has outdone himself, posing, for no apparent reason, as Penelope! Seeing the real Penelope enter the tent, he can’t think of anyone else to change into, so reverts to his actual self, Sylvester Sneakley. Penelope thinks Sylvester has volunteered his services to the charity circus as a quick-change artist and rider, and asks who else he can change into. In an unthinkable moment of give-away of secret identity, Sylvester whirlwinds, and announces “I am the Hooded Claw”. Penelope doesn’t find the new look convincing, and refuses to believe what she sees. “Never. I would stake my vast fortune on that.” The Claw mutters, “You will, my dear, you will!” and laughs with fiendish glee for the fade out.

Bedlam In the Big Top (Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, 11/15/69) – H-B’s first use of the concept of an evil clown – an idea which was becoming a convention of horror pictures, and of course not far removed from Batman’s use of the maniacal Joker. On a dark evening while driving through some unfamiliar woods, the Mystery Machine encounters an unlikely duo on a tandem bike – a midget, and a tall circus strong man, heading in the opposite direction. At a distance, a figure in gaudy painted makeup and false nose, but with menacing, intense eyes, lurks to view the scene. Suddenly, the bicycle snaps into two sections, which seem to propel themselves, causing both performers to crash into one another with their respective halves of the conveyance. Neither is seriously hurt, but when the Scooby gang stops to offer assistance, the performers remark that this is typical of the mysterious goings on at what they refer to as a “jinxed circus”, which they are glad to be walking out on. The gang decides to check the situation out, and meet with the circus owner, a Mr. Barnstorm. He informs the gang that most of his cast has quit, due to repeated reports of a “clown ghost”, and mysterious incidents where trapezes have snapped for no reason, lions have been reduced to the disposition of timid pussycats, etc. Scooby notices a shadow lurking around a corner of the tent canvas, and, unnoticed by the others, rounds the corner to investigate. When the gang begin to leave the show, they notice Scooby is gone. Where is he?

Mesmorized by a swinging gold coin held before him by the mysterious “ghost clown”, who instructs him that he is fearless, and will perform a high-wire act. When the gang returns to the grounds in search of Scooby, Velma and Shaggy discover their canine friend walking on his hind legs on a tight wire inside the empty big top, carrying a balance bar in his front paws, and performing leaping somersaults with the greatest of ease. Velma and Shaggy place a trampoline under him, just as the clown, from the arena below, gives a command to snap Scooby out of the spell, placing him in peril. Scooby awakens, and instantly begins getting dizzy from the sight of the arena far below. He topples, saving himself from a fall by clasping the wire with all four paws. Velma, from a platform at one end of the wire, tosses Scooby an umbrella for balance, to take the place of the balance bar Scooby allowed to fall. Scooby instead attempts to jump, using the umbrella as a parachute until it turns inside out. Shaggy unwisely stands below on the trampoline, and Scooby’s bounce propels him into the air. Shaggy’s return landing bounces Scooby up – and the two exchange bounces repeatedly. Velma climbs on to intercede, but only joins in the bouncing. Scooby finally misses his aim on a bounce, arcing over to fall through the roof of a small supply wagon inside the tent. He rises, somehow entangled in the strings of a batch of helium balloons, which begin to float him toward the top of the tent. Scooby complains in his usual R-laden speech that he’s falling up. On a pole platform above, the clown appears, and is spotted tossing darts at Scooby’s balloons, popping them one by one. Shaggy attempts to climb to him, but erroneously chooses a rubber ladder from a clown’s fire truck, which sags to the ground. Scooby’s last balloon is popped, and he falls. Shaggy and Velma position a round hoop net under Scooby, but Scooby merely plunges through it – repeating the “paper hoop” gag from Yogi Bear. Scooby begrudgingly acknowledges Shaggy and Velma’s efforts to save him, grunting “Thanks loads.”

Elsewhere on the grounds, Fred and Daphne still search for Scooby, but spot the ghost clown creeping back to a costume tent. They enter, but cannot spot him among the many costumes. Fred checks out a large standing steamer trunk full of wardrobes, but is pushed from behind by the clown and locked in. Daphne falls prey to the swinging gold coin of the clown, and is placed in a trance just like Scooby’s. Soon, she appears inside the big top, dressed in a circus costume and riding a unicycle – a feat she’s never before accomplished, even with a bicycle. She is suddenly performing precarious moves like unicycling up and down angled tight wires, and riding over the trunks, backs, and tails of a string of live elephants. The rest of the gang try everything to snap her out of it, throwing nets in her way, blowing trumpet fanfares from the bandmaster’s store of instruments, and finally Scooby coordinating with the elephants to spray her with water from their trunks (getting well-doused himself when one of the elephants does’t quite understand his commands). Daphne comes to, without further incident. All she can remember is the gold coin. After a failed attempt to entrap the ghost clown, Shaggy gets an idea. For once bravely volunteering himself and Scooby as bait, the two casually roam the circus grounds, waiting to be set upon by the clown. The gold coin appears right on cue, but Shaggy and Scooby come prepared, placing mirrors in front of their faces. The clown picks up the reflection of his own coin as he chants commands for his victims to behave like monkeys – and is suddenly self-zapped by his own powers of suggestion. In no time, the clown is being led to a cage by Shaggy and Scooby, wearing a leash around his neck, and walking on all fours with ape-like grunts, closely following a stalk of bananas held by Scooby. In an unusual move for the series (this was an early episode, where cliches may not quite yet have been in place), the unmasking of the villain happens off-screen, and we merely see a time-dissolve to the villain, tied up n a cage, already with the make-up off. Mr. Barnstorm recognizes him as a hypnotist who had been arrested after stealing from the circus payroll, with a motive for revenge in attempt to destroy the show. The final scenes see the midget and strong man returned to the show. Shaggy and Scooby have promised a surprise to the rest of the gang, and as the strong man lifts two round weights on an impossibly-sized barbell, the weights pop open, revealing Shaggy and Scooby inside, taking bows. Velma applauds: “What an act.” Fred responds, “What a pair of hams. They’re a riot.”

NEXT: As H-B circus episodes begin to be fewer and far between as the studio reached the vacuous age of the 1970’s, we’ll take at least a temporary break from their productions next week, and fill with some works of other rival animators.


  • As Hanna-Barbera rock songs of the 1960s go, I think Rock Roll’s “The Twitch” is hands down a catchier, cooler, and altogether better song than Jet Screamer’s “Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah”. That also goes for the Way Outs’ “We’re Goin’ Way Out!”

    Penelope Pitstop spends an awful lot of time bound up in ropes, even more than Sweet Polly Purebred ever did. Last year I saw a Japanese anime series in which a girl regularly got tied up by the bad guys, and it occurred to me that it had been ages since I’d seen that sort of thing in Western animation. Evidently Standards and Practices had not yet targeted the practice in 1969.

    At one point in “Big Top Trap”, the Hooded Claw abducts Penelope and takes her to “the old, unsafe Metropolitan Opera House, which is about to be torn down!” In actual fact the Old Met was torn down in 1967, two years before this episode first aired and one year after the Met had moved into its new home in Lincoln Center. The problem with the old building was not that it was unsafe, but that it lacked adequate backstage space, a common feature of nineteenth-century opera houses. The Old Met really did have a sunburst chandelier like the one in the cartoon, and its stage would have had several convenient trapdoors through which Penelope could have escaped her peril.

    I still think it’s your own loss that you missed out on “Space Ghost” and “The Herculoids”, but I can assure you that the circus never came to Amzot or the Ghost Planet.

  • I second the aforementioned Way-Outs and will also add ‘Jimmy Darrock’s’ “Surfin’ Craze”. as well as “Makin’ with the Magilla”. They may be calculated musical clones, but I think they’re undeniably appealing H-B earworms.

  • Re “The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show”
    I can only help with 2 of them – but it’s a double jackpot.

    Son of Konk:

    A & C are delivery truck drivers assigned to pick up a monkey from a ship and take him to the circus. Costello discovers the cute little monkey is actually a giant red ape, who palms him in his paw and uses him as a marble.
    The ape breaks out of his cage, Costello decides the job is to big for him, but Abbott reminds him of their motto:
    “Big or little, large or small
    We’ll deliver one and all”
    Sitting on a trailer attached to the truck (the ape is about 8 times larger than the truck) they don’t get very far as the ape gets hungry – and eats the truck.
    So now they drag the trailer with a motorbike! – until the ape escapes, firstly by going for a swim, then by jumping onto an overhead bridge, then by climbing an Empire State building.
    They finally deliver him to the circus, with the ape kept amused by using Costello as a makeshift paddleball and continually clobbering him with a plank of wood.
    The ringmaster is so pleased he pays Abbott to hire Costello, so the paddleball act can be part of the show.

    Carnival Of Menace:
    (I’m not making this up)

    Fort Knox is being robbed by (says the narrator) “that abominable showman known as The Wretched Ringmaster” whose form of travel is a flying circus tent. The Human Cannonball is shot out of his cannon and becomes a human drill to dig into the gold vault. Jumbo the elephant then turns his trunk into a vacuum.
    “That’s how I like my gold – by the trunkful” says the Ringmaster.
    The gold is then blown into a safe.
    A & C are still driving a truck in this cartoon – this time the A & C Armored Car Service – and they’re delivering gold bars to Fort Knox.
    They see the tent, and Abbott explains that is Fort Knox disguised to keep out crooks.
    They drive into the tent, and crash into Jumbo. who retaliates by crushing their truck (2 trucks in 2 cartoons gone!)
    The ringmaster assigns Mighty Max the strongman to take care of A & C (“Max break every bone in body”)
    A & C run for cover, only to find themselves in the lion’s cage, then Stretch the Rubber Man catapults them to the high wire, they’re shot out of The Human Cannonball’s cannon, then Hassim the Fireeater burns their landing net. (“He’s a Bad boy”)
    The Ringmaster flies his tent out, leaving A & C tied to a very large stick of dynamite. The explosion causes Costello to land on top of the flying tent, and rip it thus letting the air out.
    The tent falls to the ground – followed by Lou, who lands on top of the ringmaster and saves the day.

  • In it’s original run on CBS, each episode of The Perils Of Penelope Pitstop ended with a lead-in to next week’s installment, setting the stage and theme, ending with Penelope being captured in the Hooded Claw’s latest trap as announcer Gary Owens gravely intoned, “To be continued next week!” Syndication did away with those end scenes, leaving us starting each episode a la Mighty Mouse as Mr. Gardener pointed out.
    If MeTV Toons shows this series uncut, I’m in!

    • I first saw TPoPP as part of a syndicated “package” series, Fun World AKA The Fun World of Hanna-Barbera in the late Seventies, and the preview segments were still in place.

      • “Fun World” never aired on any local stations in my area, though I heard of that cartoon show. Nice to hear they didn’t chop those off yet.

    • Were they included in the DVD set from a few years back?

  • Am I the only one who remembers Hanna-Barbera’s “The Adventures of Gulliver”? In “The Perils of the Lilliputs” (19/10/68), circus owner P. G. Billings has chartered a ship to gather exotic animals for his circus: a gorilla, a tiger, a seal, and a baby elephant. But when the ship stops at Lilliput to take on water, Billings decides that some of the island’s tiny inhabitants will make a star attraction for his show. Two of the crew members abduct Gulliver’s friends Bunko, Eager and Glum, take them to the ship and lock them up in a birdcage. When Gulliver finds out what happened, he swims out to the ship, sneaks on board, and releases the circus animals from their cages; then, amid the ensuing chaos, he is able to rescue his friends and carry them back to the island.

    There’s also a subplot about Leech and the ship’s captain teaming up to steal the treasure map that Gulliver’s father gave him, but that needn’t concern us here.

    • No, you’re not the only one who remembers. It’s just that Hanna-Barbera’s catalog is so exhaustive, its character list enough to populate a small town, that not every series can receive its due. They were busy boys back then, and for over a decade they owned Saturday morning.

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