A celebration of the actor who provided the voice (and over 50 others) for the beloved animated hero, as well as countless records for which he received little credit.
and MIGHTY MANFRED THE WONDER DOG
As Featured on the Captain Kangaroo Show
Little Golden Records R-579 (Mono) (6” 78 RPM & 7” 45 RPM)
Released in 1959. Executive Producer: Arthur Shimkin. Musical Direction: Don Elliott. Running Time: 3 minutes.
Songs: “Tom Terrific,” “Mighty Manfred, the Wonder Dog” by Phil Scheib, Tom Morrison.
You can have spectacular screen extravaganzas where heroes fling eighteen-wheel trucks at space ships. Animation can be so fluid and lifelike that you forget it’s really pixels and binary codes, or even the most elaborate of hand-drawn movement on “ones.’Or you can have no money and draw black lines on white backgrounds, a two-piece orchestra and one actor doing all the voices. If it’s something like Tom Terrific, it will last forever, not just through the fond memories of the grown-up kids who delighted in its airings on the Captain Kangaroo show in the late fifties/early sixties, but through anyone of any age who happens to become mesmerized by what is perhaps animation’s greatest example of “less is more.”
Tom Terrific was created by legendary—and ASIFA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner-Gene Deitch, who was brought to a decaying Terrytoons to breathe life into what had become a worn-out tire festooned with patches. Deitch was more than up to the job, but according to the fascinating account in the Cartoon Research-published book The Amazing Transformations of Tom Terrific by Kevin Scott Collier, he was unfortunately mired in company infighting due primarily to the machinations of Bill Weiss, whose misdeeds made life difficult for Deitch and other personnel.
Despite the internal turmoil, Deitch had a winner with Tom Terrific, and the resulting success led to a longer run than expected, plus a nice inventory of merchandise, including a Little Golden Record in which Lionel Wilson sang two songs from the show.
This record, which never appeared on an LP or CD, presents on side one a re-recording of the theme song sung at a slower tempo. Side two features Mighty Manfred singing his song. What makes the record extra special is that it’s a little more elaborate than the audio on the actual series. A jazz combo, Don Elliot and the Skip Jacks, perform the music (with a slight name change to the “Video Singers,” though Wilson is the only vocalist). On the series, Tom’s song is accompanied by a harmonica and accordion, while Manfred sings á cappella.
Despite the success of Tom Terrific, according to Collier’s book, Weiss made life a living hell for Deitch and other artists, using such toxic techniques as co-workers acting as moles, until many left. When Ralph Bakshi came in, Terrytoons had a reprieve for just a few years before Weiss’ machinations finally succeeded in sinking the company.
One of the last cartoons is the unforgettable Mighty Heroes, a Bakshi creation for which Lionel Wilson voiced Rope Man and perhaps the most memorable and kid-quotable characters: Cuckoo Man (“D-yeh cuckoo! D-yeh cuckoo!”)
Hanna-Barbera’s THE FUNKY PHANTOM
Peter Pan Records #8101 (Stereo) (12” 33 1/3 RPM)
Released in 1972. Executive Producer: Martin Kasen. Writer/Producers: Herb Davidson, Charlotte Sanders. Running Time: 40 minutes.
Stories: “Friends to the End… Almost,” “A Revolutionary Cure,” “April in Paris,” “The Dog-Napper Trap.”
Song: “Funky Phantom Theme” by Hoyt Curtin, Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna.
Lionel Wilson, a lifelong New Yorker, was a regular presence in sound recording studios for decades, dating back to radio’s golden age on such shows as The Aldrich Family as well as stage and onscreen TV appearances. After Tom Terrific, there were more commercials; animated films (including a 1966 “package feature” directed by Deitch called Alice of Wonderland in Paris in which he played the Jester in the “Many Moons” sequence; and another signature TV cartoon voice (actually all the voices again) for 1969’s reboot of Winky Dink and You.
By the late sixties, Wilson also became a familiar voice to millions of kids who listened to records, though most had no idea who he was, unless they were savvy enough to connect the Tom Terrific and Winky Dink voices to the discs.
His vinyl work was by no means exclusive—he did an album called The Jungle Book Adventures of Mowgli in 1967 for Happy Time (Pickwick) Records, for example—but at Peter Pan Records, he became part of the regular actors’ stable, especially for albums written and produced by the husband and wife team of Charlotte Sanders and the late Herb Davidson.
Sanders and Davidson–who worked on stage in musical theater revues as well as co-authoring so many Peter Pan Records in the early 1970s, they defined the sound of that particular era with albums like The Lion Sleeps Tonight, The Candy Man Can, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Doctor Swan—as well as a series of Book and Record original fairy tale musicals–most of which featured Wilson either in the lead of in or supporting roles.
In 1972, Peter Pan licensed three Hanna-Barbera properties for albums: The Flintstones, The Hair Bear Bunch and The Funky Phantom. All three contained four original stories with music written by Davidson and Sanders, also referred to as “The Charlotte Russe” as an umbrella title for themselves and their troupe of actors. Everything, including the H-B theme songs, was completely re-recorded by the Peter Pan people.
There is no reasonable way to expect that any of these three albums could please purists, as the themes are done with very modest instrumentation and obviously with little studio time. The voice doubling varies in accuracy, but that’s always the case with Golden and Peter Pan studio versions. The rule of thumb might be to approach each character voice as one might do with an actor playing a famous person in a behind-the-scenes drama—focus on the spirit of the performance rather than note-for-note accuracy.
The Funky Phantom was Hanna-Barbera’s first outsourced series, animated at what was originally Air Programs International, or API, producers of the NBC Saturday morning comedy version of Around the World in 80 Days and many of those Kenner Famous Classic Tales. For Muddsy, the lead character—a Revolutionary War ghost released from an antique clock—Daws Butler did a variation on his Snagglepuss voice. Also in the cast were Micky Dolenz of The Monkees (Skip), Kristina Holland (April) and Tommy Cook (Augie).
Following the latest Saturday morning trends, The Funky Phantom adhered to the basic formula of Scooby-Doo, with meddling teens investigating mysterious goings-on with the aid of a chickenhearted sidekick and his comical pet. In this case, Muddsy had a cat named Boo and the kids had a bulldog named Elmo.
For the Peter Pan Record, Lionel Wilson plays Muddsy and Augie, with two Speed Racer veterans as April and Skip (Corinne Orr and Peter Fernandez, respectively). So though there is no way to expect this to sound like an original TV soundtrack, the interest factor of having Tom Terrific, Winky Dink, Mighty Heroes and Speed Racer people involved is considerable for the animation voice buff. The sad thing about the majority of these Peter Pan Records (along with their other labels including Power and Tifton), the actors are not credited so it’s up to the listener to play detective.
The music cues are the original work of Davidson and Sanders and are a nice touch when one considers other children’s records that opt for very chintzy accompaniment or none at all. This music was used for the other two Peter Pan/Hanna-Barbera albums of 1972, as well as Mel Blanc’s Christmas with Bugs Bunny album, which you can read about here.
While the TV series held tightly to the Scooby-Doo mystery format, the stories on the record enjoy the freedom to step away and have a little more fun with the premise. While “Friends to the End… Almost” is standard high school teen fare, in which Augie is behaving strangely in a football game; and “The Dog-Napper Trap” is the most similar to the series in that it’s a crime caper; “A Revolutionary Cure” gives Muddsy a chance to help a delusional relative who thinks he’s George Washington and “April in Paris” has time travel.
Wilson was active in voice work until his seventies, playing Eustace Bagge on Courage the Cowardly Dog until illness forced his retirement (another radio veteran, Arthur Anderson, whose resume includes the children’s classic Let’s Pretend—and voice the Lucky Charms leprechaun—was his replacement as Bagge). Wilson passed away in 2003 and was among those remembered in ASIFA’s annual memorial for the animation industry.
Many more details about Tom Terrific and Terrytoons abound in the keen book, The Amazing Transformations of Tom Terrific, which every terrific home should have.