At first glance, the 1961-62 season might look pretty low-key, but things at the studio were hopping. Paramount put up the money to produce 14 new theatrical shorts – actually, it came out as 12 six-minute shorts and 1 twelve-minute “two-reeler”. The studio was a able to release 21 new cartoons due to an arrangement with King Features that gave the gave the studio six additional releases, plus a new alliance with Gene Deitch and William Snyder (Rembrandt Films) which yielded two additional shorts.
King Features Syndicate, flush from the success of the TV Popeye cartoons they were producing, decided to syndicate a package of 150 new cartoons – 50 each of Snuffy Smith, Krazy Kat and Beetle Bailey (there was talk of adding Gene Deitch’s Sampson Scrap to the mix – that was scuttled, though Paramount released the 1960 pilot film theatrically in March 1962).
Though the pilots for these series were animated elsewhere, much of the work on the King Features Trilogy was farmed to Paramount. Interesting to note the pilot for Beetle Bailey (“Labor Shortage“) was produced by Don Oriolo and Pat Sullivan(!!??) and directed by Steve Muffatti; with the pilots for Snuffy Smith (“Snuffy’s Turf Luck“) and Krazy Kat (“Housewarning“) produced in LA by Format Films – directed by Jack Kinney.
Snuffy Smith had, of course, been the subject of a 1946 Noveltoon, so his return to Paramount was something of a homecoming. Krazy Kat had been distributed by Paramount back to the 1920s, so this was somewhat a return to the fold as well. It was decided early on – with the prime time success of The Flintstones, and a new-wave of animated sitcoms – to hire a pair of sitcom writers, Michael Ross and Bruce Howard to created a half hour Snuffy Smith “pilot” that could be broken into three shorts if necessary.
Apparently it was necessary – those three parts, animated by Paramount, were released theatrically as separate shorts (and subsequently added to the King TV package). If you watch them in order – Snuffy’s Song, The Method and Maw, and The Hat – you can see how they hook up. (For some reason, The second one, The Method and Maw, was released out of order, relegated to the next season’s releases).
For those keeping score, Harvey Comics package of previously-Paramount cartoons (aka Matty’s Funday Funnies) was cancelled from the network in late 1961 (to be replaced by new Bob Clampett Beany and Cecil cartoons in the fall of 1962). ABC Films immediately put the cartoons on the syndication market – where they remained for the next 30 years. Paramount’s Cartoon Department kept busy creating several variations of the Harvey jack-in-the-box opening ID that were tagged to each syndication print.
The Cartoon Department populated its theatrical releases with an assortment of new oddball characters. Apparently the mandate from the front office was to come up with characters that could conceivably become TV series. The theatricals now doubled as “pilots” – and you’ll notice that one-shot appearences are rare. Most characters, from Professor Schmaltz to Goodie Gremlin, appear in at least two pictures before returning to cartoon obscurity. Perry Popgun and Crumlely Cogwell are obvious exceptions to this unwritten rule – each appearing this season only once.
The biggest addition to the theatrical crew was the addition of comedian, voice man and writer Eddie Lawrence. Apparently Lawrence’s Old Philosopher monologue was a huge hit with Seymour Kneitel (Full Disclosure: I too am a big fan of Eddie Lawrence). Lawrence began showing up in the Paramount cartoons last season and was a natural fit.
Kneitel invited Lawrence to contribute stories and write scripts, adapting several of his comedy routines and vocal characterizations to animation. Two characters he had developed on his comedy records were “Percy” and “Ralph” (two years later these characters would become known as Swifty and Shorty). Kneitel’s biggest coup at this time was getting Paramount to buy the screen rights to Lawrence’s 1958 recording Abner The Baseball – and adapting it (via Irv Spector) to a double length cartoon special.
Let’s take a closer look at the cartoons:
ABNER THE BASEBALL (11/61) Kneitel/Ehret. Abner recounts his experiences that led him to be placed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Seven (7) Noveltoon cartoons
TURTLE SCOOP (10/61) Kneitel/Tafuri. Photo-journalists Tommy Tortoise and Moe Hare have to get a picture of a missile launching pad – or they will get fired.
KOZMO GOES TO SCHOOL (11/61) Kneitel/Tafuri. Spaceman Kozmo is picked up by a truant officer and sent to school – where he does battle with a bully.
PERRY POPGUN (1/61) Kneitel/Reden. Private-Eye Perry Popgun decides to visit his girlfriend, a nightclub singer named Goldie, who is involved with three suspicious bears.
WITHOUT TIME OR REASON (1/62) Kneitel/Taras. Crooked jeweler Ralph tries to sell Percy a timepiece.
GOOD AND GUILTY (2/62) Kneitel/Reden. Goodie the Gremlin is on trial for doing good deeds.
TV OR NOT TV (3/62) Kneitel/Spector. Ralph is a crooked TV repairman who swindles Percy with his lousy service.
ANATOLE (9/62) Gene Deitch. Anatole the mouse becomes taste-tester and a vice-president of the cheese factory.
Seven (7) Modern Madcap cartoons
THE PLOT SICKENS (12/61) Kneitel/Spector. Myron (Eddie Lawrence) plots to kill his fat, ugly wife.
CRUMLEY COGWHEEL (1/62) Kneitel/Reden. Meek employee Crumley has worked for the same company for 20 years without asking for a raise. The boss gives him a week to work up the courage to ask for one – or get fired.
POPCORN AND POLITICS (2/62) Kneitel/Taras. Spec’s imagines what it would be like to be the President.
GIDDY GADGETS (3/62) Kneitel/Tafuri. Professor Schmaltz (channeling Grampy) creates a series of inventions meant to help his wife do her households chores – but instead drives his wife crazy.
HI-FI JINX (3/62) Kneitel/Taras. Percy buys a hi-fi kit and his neighbor Ralph helps him build it.
FUNDERFUL SUBURBIA (3/62) Kneitel/Tafuri. The trials and tribulations of a modern suburban settler.
SAMPSON SCRAP (3/62) Gene Deitch. Sampson and his friends look for junk to build a bridge between two apartment buildings.
Six (6) Comic King cartoons
FROG’S LEGS (4/62) Kneitel/Tafuri. Tubby and Lulu decide to catch a bunch of frogs to sell to a French restaurant.
HOME SWEET SWAMPY (5/62) Kneitel. The General orders Beetle Bailey and Sarge to take a furlough off the base.
HEROES REWARD (5/62) Kneitel/Tafuri. When Campy Swampy conducts war games, Beetle and Zero wind up capturing the whole base.
PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING (6/62) Kneitel/Reden. Privates Beetle Bailey, Zero, Cosmo, Rocky and Sgt. Snorkel go through a series of psychological tests.
SNUFFY’S SONG (6/62) Kneitel/Pattengill. Snuffy, Barney and Loeezy head for the city to record Snuffy’s theme song.
THE HAT (6/62) Kneitel/Taras. Still stuck in the city, Snuffy is tricked into robbing a bank – and becomes a wanted outlaw known as “The Hat”.
(Thanks Ken Layton, Mike Kazaleh, Paul Spector)