Think of the TV cartoon studios of the 1960’s and you may think of Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freleng, Filmation, and JKL Productions. JKL Productions? Who are they? I’m glad I asked that, for indeed that is our subject for today.
JKL Productions was the name chosen by comedian Morey Amsterdam for his cartoon studio. He announced a series featuring the voice and likeness not only of himself, but Zsa Zsa Gabor as well. Our good pal Darrell Van Citters recently discovered a 16mm print of Amsterdam’s pilot episode, Black, Kloke and Dagga, among the artifacts of the late Lee Orgel, animation producer… and old pal of Morey Amsterdam. Darrell also found a complete storyboard for same.
The film does in fact feature Morey and Ms. Gabor on the soundtrack, and the characters resemble them as well. Interestingly the third actor is Stan Irwin. About this same time Mr. Irwin was working as the voice of Costello in the Hanna-Barbera Abbott and Costello cartoons, and Lee Orgel’s Jomar Productions co-produced the series.
Morey Amsterdam had a few brushes with animation before this, mainly with UPA. His first being a cartoon for The Boing Boing Show entitled “The Merry-Go-Round in the Jungle” designed and directed by Lew Keller. The cartoon was a fanciful telling of the Henri Rousseau story. Amsterdam did the narration in a dodgy French accent similar to the one he would employ in Gay Purr-ee six years later. About the time he was recording his voices for Gay Pur-ee, Amsterdam also worked on Magoo’s Christmas Carol. These last two projects were produced Lee Orgel.
Small wonder then that when Morey Amsterdam wanted to produce a cartoon pilot, he turned to Lee Orgel. It’s likely that Orgel acted as the actual producer, hiring freelance artists to complete the film. There are no screen credits besides the voices, so we have to make a few educated guesses about the personnel. The music sounds to me like Walter Greene’s work. The sound effects are from Phil Kaye. The layouts appear to be the work of Corny Cole, who probably drew the storyboard as well. Much of the animation looks it was done in a simplified fashion by Manny Perez.
The film itself is parody of the spy genre, specifically recalling the wildly popular Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show, even employing acronyms for the spy agencies. We do not know who might have written or directed the cartoon. The print was in faded Eastmancolor, so it’s safe to assume that the colors were originally much more vivid.
What possessed Morey Amsterdam to want to become an animation producer is another mystery. Perhaps it was a belated revenge plot against Hanna-Barbera for not using him as the voice of George Jetson as they had originally planned. I guess we’ll never know. We also don’t know what if anything JKL stood for, other than being three consecutive letters of the alphabet. Anyway, take a look at the cartoon and judge for yourself if this was another great could-have-been, or another mediocre understudy waiting in the wings for the big break that never came.
Below are a few sample pages of the original storyboard for Black, Kloke and Dagga. Notice that they are drawn on store bought storyboard paper and not on studio paper. This would suggest that the board was done on a freelance basis. (click thumbnails to enlarge)
(Thanks to Darrell Van Citters, Chris Perridas, Vince Waldron, Kliph Nesteroff, and Jerry Beck for making this post possible)