September 5, 2013 posted by

Red Raven Records and Creepy “Teddy Bear” Themes


This was one of my favorite things when I was a kid – Red Raven ‘Movie’ Records!

RedRavMirror200These worked sort of like a zoetrope, with a continuous animated movie drawn in a circle around the record. They played at 78 RPM if memory serves. Even as a kid, I thought the ‘Red Raven’ looked an awful lot like a Terrytoon character, especially in his cameo appearances in pretty much every record among the other characters. Seeing the animation and designs these days, I’d venture to say the animation was from someone working at Terrytoons or Famous… what do you folks think?

I’m pretty sure my mom bought this set new in the late 60’s for me. I think I had about 10 of the 20-some records that were made. There is a set in at least one other language as well with the same animation. Some people date these from
the late 50’s- if that’s true they were selling them in stores for many years…

Here’ s a good example of what these look like in motion:

…and here is a great youtube video that someone made from many more records than I had… and they did a pretty good job of lining things up! I always liked the animation on these a lot and was so happy to see this posted:

At around 9:44 on this video is the song Teddy Bear’s Picnic. I always found this song to be creepy, even as a kid. The frog animation seems to owe something to Preston Blair’s book….

Here’s a ‘sort of’ related film featuring the Teddy Bear’s Picnic theme. I think it sounds positively sinister and menacing in this film, like it might be played while robbing someone’s house. The song must have scared children with
the middle theme that sounds like Bluto is about to show up, and it’s stern warning that it’s better to not leave home. I found in that big box of Jerry Nelson films I talked about last week, along with Scrappy cartoons and other things… So, here from the Australian Travel Association is Teddy Bears at Play, likely from the early 30’s:



  • I remember the Red Raven thing as a kid in the very early 60s — Don’t remember seeing any kind of packaging. Could be misremembering, but I faintly recall a giant version on top of a snack kiosk or something at Santa’s Village in Scott’s Valley, CA.

    Another memory of low-tech interactivity was records with books (“When you hear Nipper bark, turn the page!”). A now-regretted loss was an album of two or three 78s (albums were really albums in those days) featuring Don Porter of the Jack Benny show narrating Disney’s “Three Little Pigs.” It had what seemed to be soundtrack voices and music, and I vividly recall a big dumb guy voice saying “I’m working my way through college” over “Jewish” music. Later figured out that replaced the offensive bit from the original film; odd that they bothered to change the voice while keeping the background score (the actual film simply re-recorded the original line — “It’s the Fuller Brush Man” — without the stereotype accent).

    The song “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” goes back to the 20’s. The “scary” quality has been noted: I’ve heard the tune (sans lyrics) used for mock-spooky toy commercials (Rudy the Robot, a cutesy sort of puppet) and a Halloween production number on the old Smothers Brothers show. It wasn’t public domain but I suspect it inspired a lot a cartoon scores.

    • Don Wilson, not Don Porter.

    • The actual film did change the line a little when re-recording it.
      Original: “I’m the Fuller Brush man. I’m giving away free sample.”
      Later: “I’m the Fuller Brush man. I work me way through college.”

    • “Teddy’s Bear Picnic” actually dates to around 1905.

    • Christmas season in 1961 I worked in the record department at Frederick and Nelson Dept. store in downtown Seattle. One popular gift item for children was the Magic Mirror and little 78rpm records to go with it. Being a “sophisticated” 18 yr old I wasn’t impressed with it or the most popular song “Teddy Bears’ Picnic”. Now at age 70, I’d give a lot to find one for sale. (and no, the song wasn’t spooky)

  • I so wanted one when I was a kid, but my mom thought it a frivolous waste of money, since we already had a record player.

  • The work does look like N.Y. animation. I wonder who was responsible for it? Was it somebody moonlighting, as many animators did on comic books, or was it a studio that serviced clients?

    Also, imagine what the field guide for this must have looked like. I’m guessing it was a trapezoid, wider at the top than at the bottom. I also imagine that after one image was animated, stats were made and pasted up to create the entire record label. Spacing the images correctly around the label and getting the line work to join up would have been tricky.

    Too bad nobody thought to combine this with the red-green 3D process. You could have seen the images move in 3D!

  • Red Raven has a face like a Terrytoon character … but with a hint of the black crow design that Friz Freleng used at MGM and Warners in “The Bookworm” and “The Wacky Worm”.

  • I’ve always thought “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” was odd too, because of the minor key. I don’t have Red Raven Records, but I used to have — imagine this — a cardboard record player! You opened it like a greeting card and placed the 7″ record on the little spindle. There was a needle in the folded part of the front and you placed it on the record, then use a pen or pencil to actually turn the record (there was a small hole in the label.

  • According to Peter Muldaven’s “Complete Guide to Vintage Children’s Records”, Red Raven Records were introduced in 1956 and continued to be manufactured well into the 1970s (until they stopped including 78 RPM on most turntables). The earliest ones were 6″ cardboard picture discs with a metal ring around the edge and the grooves on top of the picture, then they switched to the larger 8″ format with an oversized label and grooves on the outside a couple years later. There were 20 of them in total.

    It’s common to find them with the labels missing, since the glue one of their factories used didn’t age well. (The same problem – from the same factory – inflicts a lot of early 1960s LPs and 45s, most famously “Runaround Sue”.) Later pressings have the label pressed into the vinyl, so they don’t have that problem.

    There’s a rare version of the mirror with a large removable knob at the top, rather than the little round one you have pictured. This was in response to the proliferation of automatic changers, on which the small-knob mirror didn’t fit. I had one of those. Wish I still did – ebay seems particularly fond of that style.

    Muldavin says similar records were released in at least 12 other countries under various brands and configurations.

    And on a somewhat unrelated note, I now proudly present the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s version of “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”, released in 1967 on their 2nd album, “Ricochet”. You’ll find that it features a surprisingly “animated” ending.

  • Good stuff as always, Steve. Thanks for Thunderbean Thursday.

    Red Raven somehow was off my radar. Odd, insofar as I used to chase down everything animation in the 50s and 60s.

    Just going by the animation itself, it’s hard to imagine this is anything other than Terry, or someone from therein. Even if incidental characters bear a resemblance to Jerry Mouse, or Goofy Gophers, or Little Audrey.

    Is that Cliff Edwards on a couple vocals?

  • I can easily see how a ‘toy’ like this could fall off the radar…..

    I thought that sounded like Edwards as well on at least one of those tracks- and that makes me think perhaps some of these were recorded in LA- but they really ‘feel’ like NEw York recordings to me in many ways-I bet there’s some experts on children’s records that may know more. I must have played mine a lot as a kid- hearing them again was an odd experience in that I still remembered all the inflections of the singers. The swim cycle of the raven in the fishies song sure looks like H&J….

    • For the most part they’re original recordings done specifically for Red Raven. The artists aren’t credited, but it’s always the same couple of anonymous vocalists, usually a solo by the “Tootles the Tug” lady. The original company, Morgan Labs, was based in Westport, Connecticut, but that doesn’t mean they were recorded there.

      At least two of the records (Teddy Bear’s Picnic and Little White Duck) are edited versions of tracks licensed from Pickwick International of NYC, one of the largest budget labels, and would’ve appeared originally on the Cricket or Happy Time imprints. It’s possible that Cliff Edwards could be on another licensed track, although I think it’s unlikely Pickwick would’ve sprung for his services either. If you’re referring to “Toy Town Parade”, then no, that’s definitely not him. That’s the in-house bunch.

      Just for the heck of it, I calculated the frame rate on these things, and came up with roughly 20.87 fps. (The mirror has 16 faces, and the playback speed should be exactly 78.26 RPM.) I suspect the clips shown in the compilation video run quite a bit slower than that, though I’m terribly impressed at how well they maintained the registration.

    • Update: I had a brainstorm and googled George S. Chase, the musical director credited on most of the records. Based in NYC, so there you go. He also did a lot of work for production music libraries. Some of his stuff is in Plan Nine from Outer Space!

    • Thanks Eric, I’ve learned something new today!

  • You have put me smack dab back into my first grade year (1959), where i was GLUED to this incredible contraption for days (and days) with the mumps. Later down the road, i wound up MAKING beaucoup (paper) toons to match the Magic Mirror, winning me high honors in Science Fair[s] around the state! A great and grand memory. Thank YOO for that!

  • Great stuff! Love the whole Red Raven concept!

    “Teddy Bears Picnic” figures into the soundtrack of a couple of vintage theatrical cartoons, most memorably in the 1935 Looney Tune A CARTOONIST’S NIGHTMARE. And, yes, it is used as ‘scary’ music with substitute lyrics sung by a gang of creepy villains!

  • I can also attest that Red Raven records sets and that mirror device for viewing cycled animation were around in the late 1950s, as I owned one. The animation itself does seem like solid New York style stuff and the construction of the Red Raven character is very similar to the general head construction of Heckle and Jeckle. Could have been done by a skilled professional who had worked at either Terry or Famous. Mike Kazaleh or Mark Kausler may be able to identify the animator in question.

  • How many colors did the vinyl come in? Were they color co-ordinated in any fashion?

    • Just red, yellow, blue, green, but the shades varied dramatically depending on which factory they were outsourcing the pressings to at that particular time. There was no color coordination, and each title can be found in any of the colors.

      You might see some cool-looking yellow-red swirly ones, but those weren’t intentional. Seems one of the most common yellow dyes used for records would darken to red (and eventually black) over several years. Tops/Mayfair LPs pressed on “golden vinyl” tended to do the same thing.

      The very earliest pressings were smaller cardboard records with the grooves embossed directly over top of the picture, so they weren’t any color.

  • The animation complimation video sounds like a mix of children’s software and a Time-Life music collection informercial!

    “From the animatior of the classic SCREEN SONGS and the creator of MEL-O-TOONS comes a music video collection that you can only play on your record player. 200 classic children’s songs with brand-new looped animation you get…..

    *Insert all the songs in the youtube video*

    ‘HI I’m Seymour Knetiel, head of Paramount Cartoon Studios, and we’ve made hundreds of pictures about songs with a bouncing ball inherited by my brother-in-law. . Now kids can turn off their black-and-white and pinkish TV sets and enjoy music with wonder and imagination’

    ‘Hi, I’m Bernie Wolf, former Fleischer animator and patent-infri-I mean make my own nursery rhyrme movie seires. Now kids would want to see their own movies based on their favorite songs that aren’t real stuff like Beatles- bleah!

    Yes, you can own this toy for only $5 plus postage along with 20 records per year!

    Call now!

    *Phone number informaton*”

    • I needed a good laugh, thanks!

  • “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” first appeared around 1908, in the wake of the sudden popularity of the Teddy Bear toy the year before. The toy was inspired by (then) President Theodore (“Teddy”) Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a bear on a hunting trip.

    It was a bit hit on early records, especially in the U.K. It was usually played by military-style bands, with growling in the appropriate places provided by one or more of the bandsmen. \\

    The lyrics were in place by the early 1930’s, when Henry Hall and the New B. B. C. Dance Orchestra had a very successful recording of the piece. The “Beeb” would use this 1932 recording to test out their gramophones, as it reproduced frequencies from bass to treble as well as any recording of the time.

    This was always considered a children’s classic, and I would not be surprised to find that there were numerous versions on all the major “kiddie” labels of the 1950’s, includig Peter Pan, Golden, Cricket, and the various major labels’ children’s marques.

  • The record in the first video is playing TOO SLOW.
    I think it’s a 78 speed record being played at either 45 or 33 rpm.

    • I can tell they had to slow it down in order so that the camera could pic up the images from the mirrors, if that’s the only reason but I haven’t asked the YouTube user about it.

    • Yep.

  • I never knew about these players until now. In the early 70s, we had a beat-up Show ‘n’ Tell player (one of these: Well, I beat it up myself. I thought I could master the art of animation by removing the celluloid from the strip and replacing it with scotch tape, onto which I drew frames of a flying bird. I rammed the strip up and down the slot at various speeds. I couldn’t understand why drawing on the edges of book pages worked but not this.

    • “I never knew about these players until now. In the early 70s, we had a beat-up Show ‘n’ Tell player (one of these:”

      I still have one in the basement! Bet it still works!

      “Well, I beat it up myself. I thought I could master the art of animation by removing the celluloid from the strip and replacing it with scotch tape, onto which I drew frames of a flying bird. I rammed the strip up and down the slot at various speeds. I couldn’t understand why drawing on the edges of book pages worked but not this.”

      Still you had an interesting idea there. When I was in the 6th grade in elementary school, a music class I was in had a project that involved taking a song we picked and making a visual filmstrip to run on the projector we would draw out by hand on the film itself with markers. The song I picked out of having discovered it in my parents’ record collection was Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”. It was a lot of fun to do it and it was interesting contrasting this with most other kids’ entries that end to be more current stuff on the time (late 80’s). The following year while I was in junior high the same thing happened again with another music class I was in and again I used the same song out of being lazy. This time though they used a slide projector so that we did the drawings on individual slides rather than a strip of clear film, though also the teacher restricted us from repeating the same images again. I suppose this put a clamp on most who used songs that used repeating lyrics anyway but I was glad to get by with a tune that had none of it anyway. Again I probably got an A as usual.

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