At an very early age, growing up in the 1960’s, I was fascinated by animation. TV cartoons were a major attraction, which compelled me to become an artist and cartoonist.
But the creative moment that inspired me the most didn’t involve moving pictures on film, or TV cartoon characters and their adventures. It was the day I met a cartoonist at a public exhibition at a local art gallery. I stood next to his table and watched him, at lightning speed, scribble out drawing after drawing for young spectators.
“How does he do that?”
Remember, this was before Comic Con. This wasn’t some famous artist. This was a local artist who likely freelanced some of his work to magazines. This wasn’t some caricature artist, either, the dude who draws your picture at the carnival. This was a fellow, who in mere seconds, could draw a cartoon illustration of any super-guy, animal or thing you could imagine. And the results were astounding.
“How does he do that?”
Cartoon TeleTales, network television’s first “cartoon” series achieved just that for hundreds of thousands of kids during its broadcast from 1948-1950. It wasn’t an animated series, unless you took into consideration its co-hosts, who were very “animated” on camera. Originating at ABC Network studio headquarters in Times Square, New York, Cartoon TeleTales was the creation of two brothers, Chuck and Jack Luchsinger. Jack recited original stories every week featuring unique characters, while cartoonist Chuck Luchsinger drew 12-14 illustrations to accompany the tale at rapid speed.
A handful of kids were invited into the studio to watch, listen, and participate. When the story time concluded, Chuck showed the aspiring young artists how to draw the featured character of that show. The spellbound and attentive looks on their faces were amazing. It’s one thing to watch a cartoon, it’s another to draw one.
Children at home viewing the show were instructed to draw the featured character as well, and mail their drawings in for a chance to have it displayed in Chuck and Jack’s Art Gallery, and have a chance to win a prize. The first place winner received a wood box filled with drawing tablets, crayons, and drawing implements. The second prize, a drawing booklet and pencils, was awarded to runner-ups. Artists were named and encouraged.
The television entertainment industry was in its infancy at the time. While Cartoon TeleTales was a network show, ABC only had 10 affiliates nationwide at the time. Even so, it wasn’t as if no one was watching, with over 1 million TV sets in American homes. In its first year on the air, Cartoon TeleTales received over 75,000 drawings mailed in by children, and some created and sent by their parents!
The program, along with the brother’s subsequent kids show, Jolly Gene and His Fun Machine, are the subjects of my new “Cartoon Research” book, Chuck and Jack Luchsinger’s Cartoon TeleTales. It provides a piece of TV history virtually lost time time.
Working with the siblings on their shows were individuals who became known talents in children’s programming and entertainment, like Babette Henry, who directed the Buck Rogers TV series, which debut in 1950. Ed Nofsiger, later of Mr. Magoo fame, was a good friend of the Luchsingers, and substituted for Chuck on occasion. Lee Orgel, who went on to bring us the animated New Adventures of The Three Stooges and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, was a producer of Cartoon TeleTales. Bill Britten, of Bozo fame and other endeavors, worked on the Jolly Gene series. The Luchsingers were even pals with Bert (Miss America Pageant host) Parks, Chuck making drawing appearances on Stop the Music.
While Chuck and Jack both passed away nearly a decade ago, their legacy is cherished in the Luchsinger family.
Jack’s son, Jay, tells tales of being on Cartoon TeleTales when he was age one playing the 1949 New Year’s Baby.“My dad managed to talk my mom into letting him use me as a prop on the show,” Jay said.
Chuck’s son, Bob, recalls when his father met with Walt Disney over lunch. Disney was exploring getting into television and Chuck pitched Cartoon TeleTales to him. Walt was more interested in the dozens of characters presented on the show and meeting didn’t end on a good note.
“I guess Walt Disney just wanted to buy the characters, and leave Chuck out,” Bob said. “He wasn’t interested in the Cartoon TeleTales, he just wanted to buy his stuff. So, Chuck was insulted.”
The family possesses one, perhaps two, Cartoon TeleTales episodes via Kine scope on film, since transferred to digital. It remains private, but a special viewing provided an episode description and screenshots for the Cartoon Research book. It’s really something fun watching the show, which made its debut 70 years ago. It reminded me, when I watched Chuck draw at lightning speed, of the question kids never get an answer to.
“How does he do that?”