When I first began research for my new mini-book on the 1961 television cartoon “Calvin and the Colonel,” I was aware of its connection to “Amos ‘n’ Andy” creators Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll. They did the voices, and were given screen credit as the creators of Calvin and the Colonel. What I wasn’t fully aware of, is that the cartoon was actually a reincarnation of their racially-charged radio program, which was on air from 1928 to 1960.
The truth of the matter is that the NAACP applied so much pressure on Gosden and Correll’s radio show, that they drove Amos ‘n’ Andy of the air. But I still figured, that was over, and someone approached the partners and suggested, “want to make a cartoon?” And, the men decided to come up with something, partially based on “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”
That is untrue, also. In fact, during their final radio broadcast, they told a reporter that was at the studio that they planned to “bring back Amos ‘n’ Andy” as a television show. It caused some confusion, as the characters had already appeared on TV in a series in the 1950’s, featuring an Africa-American cast.
You see, Gosden and Correll weren’t ready to end their radio show. So, under the heat of the NAACP, a reincarnation took place, this time using animals to defuse any association with race identity. But, the voices Gosden and Correll recorded for Calvin and the Colonel were Andy and the Kingfish. They also struck a deal to bring the radio show’s longtime writers, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher. And the content for Calvin and the Colonel stories was mined from old “Amos ‘n’ Andy” shows, rewritten to accommodate the menagerie of furry friends.
The tale of “Calvin and the Colonel” goes back to Gosden and Correll’s first experience with animation, with the 1934 “Amos ‘n’ Andy” cartoon shorts, created by Van Beuren studios. But the intended 13 shorts became 2, and Gosden and Correll walked out of the deal because the quality was so bad. They were sued for this.
“Calvin and the Colonel” featured Colonel Montgomery J. Klaxon, his wife Maggie Belle, her sister Sue, Montgomery’s best friend Calvin T. Burnside, and other characters such as Judge Oliver Wendell Clutch and manicurist Gloria.
TV Spots, Creston Studios and Kayro Productions in where responsible for the 26 episodes that were created.
Robert Charles McKimson was a director of animation on the project. Besides Gosden and Correll, voices included Paul Frees, Virginia Gregg, Beatrice Kay, June Foray, Joe Flynn, Jesse White, among others. The series appeared in prime time on the ABC television network.
After its debut on October 3, 1961, the ratings were so poor advertisers pulled out. Within weeks the show was put on hiatus. It resumed broadcast on ABC on January 27 the following year, but continued to gain any viewer interest. ABC pulled the show after its September 22 broadcast. And, “Calvin and the Colonel” vanished into history.
Away from the backstory of Gosden and Correll, “Calvin and the Colonel” is an enjoyable cartoon. I’ve always admired it. The schemes and predicaments Klaxon and Burnside get into are quite entertaining.
Hopefully one day a company (NBC-Universal?) will release all of the episodes on DVD, using the best prints available, and restored in full color. As it is now, about a dozen or so shows can be acquired, many in black and white. And my latest Cartoon Research mini-book can answer most of your questions. Click HERE or the cover below to order.