Bob Clampett’s Time for Beany featuring Cecil, the Sea Sick Sea Serpent, made out of pale green terry-cloth for skin with sewn on eyes and buttons representing nostrils, premiered on February 28, 1949 from Los Angeles television station KTLA-Channel 5 that was adjacent to the Paramount movie lot, “Time for Beany” ran live Monday through Friday in fifteen minute installments for five years. (Kinescopes, the videotape equivalent of the day, were later sent to stations nationwide.)
The premise of the show was that a wide-eyed innocent young boy in overalls and stripped shirt and wearing a beany cap with a propeller cap was lost at sea along with his uncle, Captain Horatio K. Huffenpuff, who commanded a one-sail ship dubbed “The Leakin’ Lena”. On that first episode, Beany turned to his uncle and asked, “Maybe we’re lost. Are you sure you know where we are?” Captain Huffenpuff confidently replied, “Beany boy, I know every wave in this ocean. (sound of a splash) Ha! There’s one of ’em now!”
Also on that first episode while the good captain was below deck, a lisping green sea serpent popped up to utter his later to be famous greeting of “Howdy!” to the young boy. “I’m Cecil, the Sea Sick Sea Serpent (hiccup) and I’m seasick (starts to sway). Stop rocking the boat! Steady the frame!” stated the green sock puppet. The sea serpent disappears beneath the waves to steady his stomach and Beany tries vainly to convince his uncle that he saw a sea serpent.
“You say you saw a singing sea sick serpent named Cecil?” scoffed the plump captain, “I can’t even SAY it. How could I SEE it?” For several years (and literally hundreds of Monday through Friday episodes), Beany tried unsuccessfully to convince his uncle that not only did Cecil exist but that the sea serpent was helping them on many of their adventures. Captain Huffenpuff finally met Cecil and the captain’s famous line of “there’s no such thing as a sea serpent” was retired.
Manipulating the puppets and doing the voices were Stan Freberg (who voiced Cecil and Dishonest John among many others) and the man who would later become famous for his voice work for Hanna-Barbera, Daws Butler (who voiced Beany and the Captain among many others).
At one time, Bill Scott (who later teamed with Jay Ward to create Bullwinkle and friends) was a writer for the show along with Charles Shows (who also did story work at Disney). Chris Allen (who also worked at Jay Ward later) and Lloyd Turner (who had been a storyman at Warners) provided the writing under Clampett’s guidance. And of course, Freberg and Butler supplied a lot of ad-libbed material especially in the beginning.
“We performed live, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, including Christmas and New Year’s, for the next five years. We managed to become the number one children’s show, while appealing to adults as well. Whole families would gather before their tv sets each evening to watch ‘Time for Beany’. A 70 share of the audience was not unusual,” claimed Freberg in his autobiography, “With mikes on our chests and both arms holding various puppets in the air, Butler and I literally had our hands full.
“We would perform all the characters, walking one hand out of camera range, only to have an assistant pull off the Chinese cook Hopalong Wong and put Tear-Along the Dotted Lion on one of our hands so we could walk him back in as the three cameras shot above our heads….We had devised a way for the pages of the script to be taped together into a continuous sheet attached to rollers, so it would move down in front of our eyes…We had invented the first crude TelePrompTer. It turned out later that the best lines often came from the ad-libs Daws and I would inspire each other to toss off, as we worked side by side, night after night—our four arms in the air, like a well-oiled machine.”
With only Freberg and Butler doing puppets, the scenarios were limited to only four characters at a time (one puppet for each hand), and Clampett had grander designs than that restriction. Walker Edmiston was doing voices for Walter Lantz cartoons but more importantly designed and built ventriloquist dummies.
“I told Clampett my hobby was designing and building puppets. That combined with the voice imitations did the trick. I was hired…and my career was launched as Daws and Stan’s other pair of arms. Now there could be six characters in a scene. My first very own character was Mouth Full of Teeth Keith who was a lion with a silly smile who wore false teeth,” stated Walker Edmiston.
Soon, the show was populated by a variety of punnish sounding characters like Hopalong Wong the Chinese cook, Clowny the clown, Crowy the crow, Smarty Pants the Frog (who was also known as The Brain, a psychiatrist who let his patients solve their own problems while he took the credit), Tear-Along the Dotted Lion, Mr. Nobody (an invisible man who was sometimes represented on screen by a floating umbrella), and Flush Garden.
In addition, there were Ping Pong the giant ape (George Barris, Walker Edmiston and Bill Oberlin took turns dressing up in an ape costume), Inca Dinca Doo Bird (which sounded like Jimmy Durante), Dizzy Lou and Dizzy Too (a joke on the Desilu studio formed by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball), Two Headed Freep (Eddie and Freddie) Moon Mad Tiger (voiced by Jerry Colonna) and a robot named Clank Clank McHank. Live action stars like Jerry Lewis, Liberace and Spike Jones made guest appearances.
The basic crew of the Leakin’ Lena visited such strange sounding locales as the Fifth Corner of the World, Shangri-La-Di-Da, Vitamin Pill Hill, Tin Pan Valley, Horrors Heights, Widow’s Peak, Close Shave Cave, Nothing Atoll, and in one of the most memorable adventures, The Schmoon (which was the moon’s moon).
In an early Fifties article, writer Betty Jordan wrote, “Clampett’s scripts always point up the affection and eagerness to help his pals that is exemplified by Cecil, the ever-readiness of Beany to rescue Cecil from his troubles and by the same token, the harm that can come to Dishonest John for his dastardly deeds.
“Kids have little lessons in cleanliness, politeness, attitudes toward suspicious strangers, etc. Clampett says, ‘I don’t believe that you have to frighten children or build up too much tension to capture and hold them. Even if I did I wouldn’t risk anything that might cause an emotional scar on any child’.”
When the puppet show came to an end, Clampett continued to work on other possible projects. Eventually, he found an opportunity to transfer the characters to animation but that’s another story for another time if anyone is interested.