Ed Graham worked at the Young & Rubicam agency in New York in 1957. He was the account man on the Piels Bros. Beer commercials, working with Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding as Bert and Harry Piel. Ed made two short live action films with Bob Elliot called “Test Dive Buddies” and “Kid Gloves” in 1959 and 1960. Working with the team of Bob and Ray probably inspired his love of “improv” comedians doing voice tracks for animated cartoons. When Graham began working with the Post Cereals account, he produced spots featuring Sheldon Leonard as a prototype Linus and Gerry Matthews and Ruth Buzzi as Sugar Bear and Granny Goodwitch in Sugar Crisp commercials.
Graham brought about a small miracle by getting General Foods (makers of Post Cereals), to fund a TV series featuring characters promoting cereal products and featured in entertaining stories for a family audience. The good side of this idea was that the cartoons could be made with a higher production budget, the bad side was that by 1969, the FCC decided that they would no longer allow a show that featured the same characters in the advertising and entertainment portions. This put a stop to Linus and his friends–but there were good stories to look back on.
THE COMEDY OF LINUSEd Graham conducted the dialog recording sessions for the “Linus” show as his private province. None of the storyboard, layout or animation artists were invited to sit-in or take part in the sessions. Graham used comedians he liked for the main voices–Carl Reiner did Billy Bird and Sasha the Grouse as well as Dinny the kangaroo. Reiner could make Billy sound high pitched and teasing, while Sasha was in a lower register and continually kvetching and expressing disdain for all the animals in the Jungle. He could also be an evil trickster. In one of my favorite Linus cartoons: “Shadow Thief”, Sasha resents Billy Bird casting his shadow over the earth-bound carcass of the Grouse. With a powerful vacuum cleaner, a mysterious unseen character sucks up all of the animals’ shadows and forms them into one gigantic shadow that darkens the entire jungle. Linus reveals that it’s Sasha who stole all the shadows and orders the reluctant grouse to cut all the animal shadow shapes out of the composite shadow and return them. Billy points out that the Grouse took suspicion off himself by vacuuming his own shadow.
This episode has a strong visual gag at the finish that ties in to the “dee-lish-ious” animal shapes in Linus’s cereal, Post Crispy Critters. Because of the way the tracks were recorded and the improv attitude that Graham and his head writer Bill Schnurr encouraged, good beginnings and second acts were too often followed by weak conclusions.“Truly Chewy” is an example of a cartoon with a weak ending, but a funny premise. A thief named “Chewy Louie” steals an ocean liner, complete with passengers. Louie is addicted to bubble gum and keeps leaving sticky clues around as he robs a bank and steals a painting to decorate his stolen ocean liner. Lovable Truly the POSTman (Post Alpha-Bits) tries to give a special delivery letter to the detective Frank Cuddleback all through the picture. The letter reveals that Chewy Louie is the master thief. Lovable also has a letter for Chewy, which he forms into a paper airplane. Lovable directs the paper airplane letter toward the giant bubble gum bubble that Louie blew to facilitate his escape (like most cartoon characters, Louie exhales helium). In the last 15 seconds of the cartoon, the letter pops Louie’s bubble, he crashed to the ground, and is instantly tied up by Frank Cuddleback–in a very overworked layout, the camera pans left to reveal the stolen ocean liner, and a passenger says, “We’re home for dinner now!” This ending feels pushed and doesn’t capitalize on the absurdity of Chewy Louie being able to hide the stolen ship from the law.
The So-Hi (Post Sugar Rice Krinkles) cartoon: “The Cat Who Looked At A Queen” has a more successful ending typical of Graham’s improv approach. Paul Frees does the voice of So-Hi’s cat, who gets an “overpowering urge to look at a Queen”. So-Hi takes the cat to the palace where the Mandarin cat keeps shocking the Queen by ogling her inappropriately. Fredrieka Weber, as the voice of the Queen, does some very funny raspy screams whenever she gets too much of the cat’s prying eyes. So-Hi comes up with a scheme, he pretends to see a mouse in the palace to justify the cat’s unwelcome presence. The cat doesn’t try very hard to catch the rodent, and the Queen remarks to him, “Less looking, more mousing”.In a risque scene, the cat shows up in bed with the Queen and comments: “You even snore beautiful”. The cat eventually catches a real mouse and holds it up for the Queen to see. She screams and exits fast as the mouse remarks: “Not much of a look”. “Moral of story, honorable children friends”: Better to Be Looked Over, than Over-Looked. As the curtains close over So-Hi’s little stage we hear the cat saying: “Now I got overpowering urge to look at a KING.” The little asides in the So-Hi cartoons behind the curtains didn’t need to be lip-synced to the characters, and were often the funniest part of the story. They feel improvised.
The comedy in ‘Linus’ owed a lot to Tex Avery and his discovery of “Heckler” characters. Daffy Duck’s harassment of Porky Pig in Porky’s Duck Hunt started a trend. It changed cartoon humor from musical gags and melodramatic plots to broad slapstick. Linus’s jungle and his show were filled with hecklers. Ed Graham voiced the Mockingbird that followed Linus, Sugar Bear and Billy Bird around and annoyed them by imitating their voices. Graham was good at imitating Sheldon Leonard’s way of breaking up words: “dee-lic-ee-ous”, “croc-od-dil-ee”, etc.Sugar Bear was a heckler par excellence, but he was a very cool heckler. If Granny Goodwitch had something he wanted, there was nothing she could do, no magic spell could she cast, to keep him out of her hair. In “Room For One More”, the first Sugar Bear cartoon, Granny tries to keep the pesky bear from moving in to her rental room that she keeps to rent to humans only. Sugar Bear has one basic facial expression, a deadpan bemused half-smile, eyebrows tilted down over half-closed eyes. He usually is strumming his Banjo and singing a lot of old Bing Crosby hits like “Pennies From Heaven”, and “Old Man Mose Done Kicked the Bucket”.
To discourage Sugar Bear from wanting to live in her rental room, Granny conjures up a tiger, an elephant and tries to enclose the persistent bear inside a brick wall, all to no avail. Granny is kind of insane in her early appearances, as she casts each spell she cackles like a banshee, loud and long with a well-animated laugh cycle. Sugar Bear drives her so crazy that she blows her house up with TNT as a last attempt to get rid of him. “Room For One More” has a strong finish, as Granny’s house is destroyed, she rents a room in Sugar Bear’s treehouse. He says to her: “Glad to have you aboard roomie, just wanted to remind you about paying your rent promptly”, as Granny throws a pillow at him, and he slyly winks to the audience.This cartoon capitalizes and expands upon the Sugar Crisp commercials that Ed Graham produced, pitting Granny’s magic against Sugar Bear’s outrageous persistence. Later on Graham introduced Mervyn the Magician (a very evil, but inept wizard) and Benjie Wolf, who stuttered so badly he couldn’t get to the end of a line without correcting himself. This proved to be more confusing and annoying than amusing.
Ed Graham loved to tell the story (in TV Guide) of Jonathan Winters’ improvised lines as the Giant in “So-Hi and the Bamboo Stalk”. The Giant swats his foot with a big club in a vain attempt to kill So-Hi, and hops around the Castle painfully exclaiming in Asian agony: “Jumping Buddha”, “Twisted Sneaker” and other oaths. This sounded so funny in the recording room that Graham said he expanded the Giant’s foot scene to three minutes–but–when you look at the cartoon, the sequence only runs fifteen seconds and the music and effects tracks nearly drown out Winters’ dialog. It seems like the film editor didn’t share Graham’s love for the improv session.Another character built by the sounds it made was “Zeke the Racclown” featured in the Rory Raccoon cartoons–Rory’s cereal was Post Toasties. In “Rory’s Circus Act” (1964), Rory wants to perform in the Bungling Bros. Circus. He meets Zeke, a veteran clown and a seedy old joker. Zeke has a snorty laugh a bit like a donkey bray that is accented by a funny twist of his head. A good quality of the Ed Graham cartoons is the that the character drawings look funny and appealing and the animation is a step above most early 1960s TV stuff. “Rory’s Circus Act” has a lot of fully animated scenes of Rory being smacked around the Circus tent by a strong man who sounds like Frank Fontaine and a disgruntled seal. Rory’s stint with the Linus show was short-lived, despite the good vocal performances of Bob McFadden as Rory and Jesse White as C. Claudius Crow. Rory’s segment was replaced by Sugar Bear early in the ‘64 season. There are 7 orphaned Rory Raccoon cartoons that were not syndicated. “My Fuzzy Fugitive”, with Lovable Truly, was a rare cartoon for the TV era, it’s a chase picture that has some handsome looking 6 drawing pan cycles on ones of Lawrence the dog being pursued by Richard Harry Nearly, silent movie star and part-time dog catcher, at the beginning. Lawrence is resourceful, disguising himself as a man (like Gene Deitch’s “A Tale of A Dog”), and running into an unfinished skyscraper as Lovable and R.H. Nearly trade the pursued pooch back and forth. Richard Nearly falls into a chute in the Post Office and winds up in a sack full of dead letters. Lawrence gives Lovable mucho tongue slurps as the Postman tells hem: “If you wanna lick something, I’ll get you some stamps!”. “The Jester Who Took Himself Seriously” is a So-Hi cartoon that features a Jester who can actually throw pies at himself, and who falls in love with a gloomy Princess, voiced by Fredrieka Weber. The Jester sobers up under the Princess’s influence and becomes so morose that the King fires him. But he regains his position when he gets fed up with the gloomy Princess and substitutes her face for his in the pie-throwing routine. Under the falling curtain at the end of the cartoon, the Jester remarks: “That no Lady, that ALMOST my wife!” This line has an old-jokey, improvised feel to it.
What kind of a place was Ed Graham’s studio to work for? Bob Kurtz, who did storyboards and designed incidental characters for the Linus show in the 1964 season, enjoyed it at first. He worked with his friends Corny Cole and Bob Dranko, layout artists, who also worked at Warners and Jay Ward. Corny liked to joke around and put Bob’s name in his background layouts, as in “The Flying Dogcatcher”, where he lettered: “Let KURTZ put you in the driver’s seat” on a fence in one scene. The studio was in an office building on Laurel Canyon, just north of the freeway, and later housed Format Films. Bob was friends with Frank Braxton, a pioneer black animator who loved to play “Black Orpheus” on the guitar. He also knew John Freeman, Dale Case and Alan Zaslove, all animators who worked on Linus. Bob remembers Warner Bros. legendary animator Manny Gould by his “big smile” and free-lancer Gerard Baldwin by his laugh, “the loudest laugh in the business”. But Bob didn’t have quite such a good time getting along with the parsimonious production manager on Linus, who was probably Lew Irwin. He was stingy with supplies, reluctantly handing out pencils one at a time, to the staff. Bob once was pressured into boarding an episode of the show over a weekend. When Bob turned in his bill for the extra work, the Manager accused Kurtz of being “greedy”, and informed him that the extra hours were to be considered part of his salary. In other words, uncompensated overtime, which has become standard procedure in the business today, but in 1964, was not. Bob carried his grievance to Ed Graham, but Ed made light of the whole thing and refused to pay–Bob quit the studio, enraged at his treatment. It wasn’t an easy decision, as Bob had been ill, and his family needed his salary. I admire his fierce aversion to free overtime!
Gerard Baldwin worked on the animation side of Ed Graham’s studio. He picked up entire segments of Linus and So-Hi and animated two wraparound introductory sequences free-lance. He did his own layouts, and all his own extremes and inbetweens, working out of his home. Gerard’s animation style was unmistakable–unique hand gestures both in and out of silhouette, beautifully drawn (he also animated the comic villain Snideley Whiplash for Jay Ward, who also had some terrific hand gestures), and a mouth system that worked very smoothly. The acting he used involved a lot of sheepish and devilish grins, so Gerard’s characters showed a lot of teeth. The mouth covered a wide range of space inside the head, consonant sounds were usually back in the cheeks and most of the vowel sounds and “oo” mouths were nearly outside the head mass. Most of the actions Gerard planned were based on two extremes, like the elephant baseball pitcher in the Linus cartoon “What’s On Third”. From an anticipation pose, the elephant snaps in one inbetween to the pitch pose and holds. For a screwball pitch, Gerard popped to a drawing of the elephant’s trunk arranged like a curl and the ball animated in a curly pattern with dry brush blur. It worked very well, with great economy. Gerard had to be economical, he did a 5 minute segment in a week, all the drawings! Gerard did an episode for a flat fee price of five thousand dollars. His “Sunken Treasure” Linus and Sugar Bear wraparounds are very good to look at. He drew sunken ships and kelp handsomely stylized, and a whale with a body shaped like a parallelogram. This was the episode where the lion and bear find a chest of gold undersea and throw it back because the chest contained no chocolate chip cookies!
Gerard Baldwin’s cousin, George Cannata, Jr., designed all the main characters in the Linus show and drew some of the storyboards Gerard worked from. Sadly, George Cannata Jr. had a very low opinion of animation and was really a fine arts painter at heart. He was married three times and had children to support, so he had to crank out a lot of storyboards, designs and layouts. Toward the end of his life, George was living in a small apartment in New York City, surrounded by his paintings and drinking heavily. He had a sad life making cartoons to keep children happy. Gerard didn’t really mix in to the Ed Graham studio life too much because he worked at home, but he knew and liked the directors Gerry Geronimi and Rudy Zamora. Rudy’s mother was Pancho Villa’s nurse! Gerard made an independent cartoon of his own in an African style called “The Caterpillar and the Wild Animals”. He had high hopes for an Academy nomination, but a similar film called “Anansi and the Spider” was in competition the same year. The two “African” designed films cancelled each other out, and Gerard’s Academy hopes were dashed.
Ed Graham made two cartoons independently (both released by Universal): in 1965 he made The Shooting of Dan McGrew, with Walter Brennan reading Robert W. Service’s poem. Old hand George Gordon directed, and Manny Gould and Amby Paliwoda did much of the animation, which used more drawings than most of the Linus cartoons. George Shearing did the music. Bob Dranko did the layouts. In 1966, Ed Graham did another indie cartoon called Funny Is Funny. It featured two cartoon dogs named Brutus and Brownie, voiced by Carl Reiner and Ed Graham. It featured Brutus demonstrating what makes him laugh to the hapless Brownie. Pies in the face and cannon gags dominated, and the animation was again handled primarily by Manny Gould and Amby Paliwoda. George Cannata, Jr. designed the characters for both of Graham’s cartoons, released by Universal. Funny Is Funny is a humorous commentary on the “heckler” comedy that Graham employed so abundantly in the Linus the Lionhearted show, the two dogs were poking fun at the whole idea of animated slapstick.
After his two shorts, Ed Graham stepped away from animation for 14 years until he became the voice casting director for the I Go Pogo stop-motion feature, produced in 1980 and directed by Marc Paul Chnoy. Graham used many of his favorite comedians from the Linus days, Jonathan Winters, Ruth Buzzi and Bob McFadden. He also cast Vincent Price as Deacon Mushrat, Arnold Stang as Churchy La Femme the turtle (sounding like Nertle the Twertle in Pinocchio in Outer Space) and Skip Hinnant (previously “Fritz The Cat”) as Pogo. The animation was cheaply produced in the “Flexi-Form” process, Clay animation to most people. After seeing the beautiful animation that Walt Kelly put into his last film, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us, “I Go Pogo” is quite a visual disappointment. Although the voice casting is the outstanding part of the project, there is a bit of improv comedy in it, and the lion’s share of the budget.
The approach to character voices that Ed Graham pioneered reached a high point in 1992, when John Musker and Ron Clements let the mind of Robin Williams loose on the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin. Robin Williams built the character’s personality through his improv skills. One of Williams’s idols was Jonathan Winters, Ed Graham’s favorite performer.
If you want to see 39 episodes of the “Linus the Lionhearted” show, they are available through the Internet in two editions. “The Sixties Guy” on Ebay, sells a Linus set as a Buy It Now. It has the entire series in color on 10 discs, the last two discs are in black and white, and contain a few complete network copies of the show, complete with the Post Cereal “commoicials”. The Sixties Guy has also included the very first Post Crispy Critters commercial featuring Linus. If you want just the 39 color syndicated episodes of Linus without any bonus features, “World’s Best Comics” at 2608 Watt Ave., Sacramento CA 95821, also has it in an 8 DVD set. I haven’t seen it so I can’t vouch for the quality, you can find them on an Internet search.
There were more than 39 episodes of Linus in 1965 and ‘65, but not all of them made it into the syndicated run. The Wraparound episodes, “Joke Day” (1964) and “Cool Cousin” (1965), the Linus episodes, “Swami Bird” (1964) and “Leaping Lizard” (1965), the Rory Raccoon episodes, “Rory Takes A Vacation” (1964), “Make Someone Happy” (1964), “Beautiful Baby Contest” (1965), “This Means Total War” (1965), “Some Total” (1965), “Rory Goes Skiing” (1965), “Numbskull and Crossbones” (1965) and one So-Hi episode, “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (1965) did not make it to the syndicated package. By the way, if you buy The Sixties Guy’s DVD set, you will find the Rory Raccoon cartoon “Rory Takes A Vacation” in black and white on Vol. 10. Tell him you heard about it on Cartoon Research!