In this series, we have dealt with songs and records that were inspired by, or drawn from, animated cartoons, both short-subjects and features. This time, we’ll deal with the exact opposite situation–cartoons that owe their existence to already-exising records.
As Br’er Ehrbar can easily attest, the rise of the Children’s Record, in the years subsequent to the end of the Second World War, did not go un-noticed by record companies dwelling in the younger section of the market. Labels such as Capitol, M-G-M and Peter Pan, all marketed original children’s records–either single discs, or long-playing compilations–based on newly-released, and popular cartoon series.
So, why shouldn’t it work the other way around?
One of the first series to do this was Mel-O-Toons. Believed by some to have first appeared around 1958, many show up on public domain compilations, and on Social Media websites, with copyright dates of 1959 or 1960 on them. The soundtracks were often taken from existing children’s records, licensed from the original labels, such as RCA Records and Capitol Records. Even a ten-year-kid, such as myself, could recognize these as unusual productions. United Artists distributed them to television, 104 cartoons in this series were produced.
I can remember one station, KTLA (Channel 5) filling a weekday-morning show with these shorts, with the closing repeat of the Mel-O-Toons theme replaced by a nasal, adenoidal, announcer voice telling us “This cartoon has been selected for viewing by your Armed Forces Overseas”.
Another series of made-for-television cartoons which would have had is origins on a record was “The Nutty Squirrrels”. This had been heard during the Yuletide season of 1959 on a recording “Uh-Oh”, in two parts on a Hanover 45rpm disc. I do not remember seeing any of these cartoons on local television. Don Yowp wrote a definitive history of these characters on his Tralfaz blog.
1961 also saw the appearance of The Alvin Show. These catoons, inspired by the ongoing series of records issued as by “The Chipmunks”, is fondly-remembered by the generation who saw it in first-run on network prime time – or later daytime reruns. Mark Arnold has just written a hefty book on this subject.
This same year also saw a theatrical cartoon inspired by an already-known phonograph record, Abner The Baseball, a Paramount release, double the length of the usual Paramount time-fillers, based on a 1957 release by Eddie Lawrence.
Lawrence had come to the attention of Coral Records in 1954, with “Old, Old Vienna”, a long comedy sketch that occupied both sides of a single record. But an even-more-successful routine scored a Top Ten hit when “The Old Philosoper” was released in 1956. Lawrence could do just about anything he wanted on Coral records. And, in he sring of 1957, he put out a doubl-header of a disc, “Abner he Baseball” (parts One and Two) on Coral 61831(78 rpn) and Coral 961831 (45). For any fan of the National Pastime, this record was a charmer. It tells a baseball story– albeit from a unique point of view: that of the baseball itself.
Few changes are made in the text itself–allowing for the changes that had driven Major League Baseball to expand the number of teams in each league by 1961. And it is easy to see that a good deal of love went into this cartoon. The Paramount cartoonists were also fans, and often went to Yankee stadium — of course in earlier years, The Polo Grounds or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn — for an afternoons release from the stresses of their day jobs.
Eddie Lawrence was aleady working a Paramount Cartoons, reinforcing the “New Yawk vibe” that had marked their shorts since the days when Max Fleischer ran the studio. Listening to genuine broadcasts of Yankees games of the period–as can be done on YouTube–gives you the same feeling for the way Baseball was played in New York – and the baseball slang that has evolved since that time.