August 11, 2016 posted by

The Dog Days of Summer, Detroit – and “The Crunch Bird” (1971)


Some Thunderbean news:

flip_logoWednesday was a busy day! Johnathan Boschen is out here this week, working on unearthing Jam Handy materials as well as interviews for his upcoming Jam Handy documentary. While he was taping on one side of town, we were over at the school, working on taping footage for the Flip the Frog animated ani-jam Kickstarter (we’ll talk more about that soon). The Cubby Bear discs are making a steady stream out this week, and I hope to have all out this week. Jerry Beck was on Stu’s Show yesterday (always a good listen!) so I gave him a list of the things in progress (that I can talk about). There’s eleven projects in progress in one form or another here, all getting worked on when there’s time. Several others are in the category of ‘We have some of this but need more than four to make the set good’ category. The sneak peek at Flip is getting dubbed right now, a little late, but they’ll be on their way soon.

Since Cubby is out the door, the Flip project has been dominating my time. More scans are being done this week, and each time I’m astonished at how beautiful this stuff is.

A few days back we were showing Jonathan around Detroit, thinking about Jam Handy and industrial films in general, and Ted Petok and the Crunch Bird Films came to mind, made in Detroit in the 70s.

detroitDetroit is making an astonishing comeback right now, from New Center (where the Jam Handy Studios were in more than one building) all the way into downtown and stretching further and further each year. The last five years have been especially surprising if you were used to seeing large sections of of Detroit dilapidated. Seeing the pieces come together and whole areas growing and looking great is something that will make almost any Detroit smile. There are still areas that need a lot of work of course, but it doesn’t look like the bombed out city of 10 years past these days. Then again, if you travel outside of the areas that are now growing and developing into new small centers, you’ll find some of the same blight- it’s very hard for a city to lose more that 70% of its population and survive at all.

The place is so big that it’s impossible for all of it to come back more than slowly- but that is also an asset in that there’s areas that are affordable to do all sorts of things, from tiny start ups to art studios to rebuilding neighborhoods. Funny enough, the scruffiness of Detroit is one of its assets, along with the ability for small businesses to affordably grow. The art and music scenes are quite strong and getting stronger- with lots of younger folks that can’t afford New York moving here. There’s a lot of youthful energy in Detroit, and a lot of my students decide to stay and build the creative community. I’m hoping conditions will be conducive to opening an animation studio that produces more than spots here. Maybe I’ll have to do it if no one else will!


Ok, back to The Crunch Bird! Ted Petok (1917-2010) lived to the ripe old age of 93. I met Ted a few times over the years and always enjoyed his stories, especially those of the old ad agencies and working in production. He collaborated with John Hubley’s studio and UPA in New York when he worked for some of the agencies here, hiring them to produce animation. He boarded most of the spots here (agency boards) that were then done there, eventually opening his own shop right in Detroit to produce small ads.

Academy_Award_trophy175The Crunch Bird (1971) is a small gag short that actually went on to win an Oscar! Ted was as surprised as anyone else that this little film won. It was made on a whim to put as a gag on the end of a commercial show reel (to rep the studio’s work). Someone locally liked it and suggested it be shown at one of the local movie houses. From there it spread across the country as a little gag film. Ted said he honestly never expected the film to win anything. It did help the studio quite a bit. They ended up producing a lot of spots over the years, and some really cute and memorable segments for Sesame Street.

These types of things seem less likely to happen this way as in the past. I remember thinking how similar the story of this film is to the Benny Bell song “Shaving Creme”, produced as a dirty gag record in the late 40s, then become famous (MUCH more famous) in the early 70s, even hitting the Billboard charts as a single. It’s popularity spread from independent radio station to radio station, eventually becoming so popular that it was released as a single, Funny, hearing it now, it’s just as sort of innocently dirty as I remember it being as a kid:

I’ve never heard an unkind word about Ted Petok in this town- he was well known for working on the industrials here in later years. I have ea few cels from some of the stuff he did, rescued from the piles going in the trash years back at Grace and Wild, one of the production houses here. I had dinner with Ted many years back, and very much enjoyed his candor about the industry and the Crunch Bird films in general.

Here are three of the films in a nice HD transfer- The Crunch Bird (1971), The Golfer (1972) and The Crunch Bird 2 (1975). All have a similar format, and are good if somewhat cheesy fun. Ted had a huge smile on his face when I showed him some of my animation. He made a comment that I don’t have to do so many drawings to get over the business of my scenes, just drawings that work. In some ways that’s the best advice, but I sure like rubbery stuff.

Have a good week everyone! Abbott and Costello finally next week if I can find the time to give this space proper treatment!


  • You might notice the first short is rated “GP” – yes, that was a real rating, which didn’t last long. GP stood for “General, Parental guidance recommended”. Everyone was confused – “Why don’t you just call it PG, for Parental Guidance?”. So they changed it.

    Funny thing, after the last Crunch Bird short, about the Large Mouth Frog, YouTube queued up one called Wide Mouth Frog – exactly the same gag, (with a milder punchline) done in Flash by a kid who admits it’s an old joke. Indeed it is.

    • Originally, it was an “M” rating, then it became “GP and finally “PG.”

    • No doubt that’s pretty much how these jokes play out. It’s just more of how you choose to write it that makes it work to what you want it to be (of course Ted had to stick the S-bomb in there).

      Interesting info on the evolution of the PG rating we know today. Of course with the utterance of the A word in the first film, I would think it would jump up a rating anyway.

    • Al: Ted Petok did some work for Chanel 4 but I’m not sure about the Duck Factory. He did work for Sesame Street too/
      Check out his re-launched web site at

  • “The Crunch Bird” never looked so good!
    PS: Had no idea Petok’s studio worked on Sesame Street! Which segments did they produce?

    • I’m impressed by those colors on “The Golfer”. My print of “The Crunch Bird” is beat red compared to this!

    • Here’s one:

      I think he also did the D building that on two of the episodes that’s on “Sesame Street: Old School” Volume 1.

  • Oh, this is funny stuff! Another great post as usual, Steve.

  • I still wonder how it managed to snag an Oscar. I guess it was the novelty of hearing the word “ass” in a cartoon.
    That said, I remember when “Crunch Bird” ran on the short-lived “Jokebook” TV series – they changed the punch line to “Crunch Bird, my butt!”

    “Shaving Cream” gained popularity in the 70s in no small part due to Dr. Demento playing it on his radio show. Vanguard Records issued an album with that and Benny Bell’s other double-entendre songs.

    • Dr. Dimento certainly did a lot to make it happen.

      In some way, it reminds me more of how South Park got started as a simple goofy video Christmas card the guys made for a network exec. that ended up being circulated among everyone in the entertainment field. I suppose the same could be said for Ted Petok’s Crunch BIrd, and to some extent, Marv Newland’s “Bambi Meets Godzilla”. They all found their way to the masses often through film festivals, late night TV airings or other cult film venues. I first learned of The Crunch Bird as it was stuck on a tape mostly composed of bloopers from TV and movies that was put out by Goodtimes Home Video in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Wasn’t a great copy and somehow Crunch Bird’s belch was changed to that cute tweet noise heard when he’s first seen (though they kept the “My Ass” in).

      I still wonder how it managed to snag an Oscar. I guess it was the novelty of hearing the word “ass” in a cartoon.

      Oh I bet. The other two films in the running otherwise had none of that at all. “Evolution” from the NFB was a silly take on evolution of a planet, while “The Selfish GIant” was a beautifully rendered, if not religiously overted tale that probably could’ve taken home the Oscar had it not been for Petok’s entry.

    • I saw an animated film with the title “Evolution” at the local public library in the late 1970’s. I wonder if it was that one?

    • Probably was if it looked like this…

  • Ted Petok’s Crunch Bird Studios website is still up after more than a decade. Surprise surprise.

    • I remember reading somewhere his son was operating that site. Another film mentioned there that’s not in Steve’s reel is “The Mad Baker”, though if you check the prices of those VHS tapes on the ordering page, it could put off anyone wanting to see each of these films given their prices. (you’d think those were for educators). Not sure if the site is still active enough, but I suppose I could try to contact the person who’s still has it up, not sure though if they would be happent to know Hi-Def transfers of their daddy’s work can be seen by all here!

  • Nice to see things are letting up in Detroit, Steve. Too often the media still likes to paint this grim picture of a city on the verge of collapse and decay, let alone the opinions of those who share their voices, videos and words all over social media sites (someone’s doing that to my town as well). I suppose there are quite a large number of areas that are perhaps in need of new development over time. I’ve heard of some people turning whole neighborhoods into farmland again, I suppose that’s one way to use up valuable space than await another strip plaza.

    Nice to learn more about Ted Petok and his connection to Detroit. I really didn’t know much myself so it was great to see how this all came about. Recall noticing a commercial I saw on YouTube of The Crunch Bird being used to promote a local car dealership. I do wonder how many such ads were produced over the years.

  • I saw The Crunchbird in a theater and it definitely got big laughs, but it is not what anyone would consider Oscar material. The story I heard from the Academy is that most Academy members didn’t see any of the nominated shorts, so they selected the only American one. After that the rules were changed requiring members to attend special screenings of the short nominees in order to vote.

    • That is true Steve. This film is not something to write home about given it’s premise. It’s what I would call a “water cooler joke”, it just kinda sticks out from the rest for having been a fluke in the winning, though nice if it gave Ted some good accolades in the years that followed. Seeing the later efforts, I couldn’t help but think of the “Dr. Tran” shorts I saw years back. One after another had to top what was done in the first film. They haven’t done a new one of those in years though I remember how over-the-top they became despite such a simple premise of a kid being told he’s this super secret agent and all that.

      It wouldn’t surpirse me if the Academy turned their noses up at the Canadian efforts simply because Crunch Bird was the only domestic entry in the running and they’d rather give it to our side. Glad they changed the rules after that.

  • You’re right, Steve. There is more building and rebuilding happening in Detroit now than anytime since the 1920’s. And as you noted, it’s a physically huge city. I believe that you could put Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco inside of Detroit and have room left over. So there’s lots of room folks – c’mon up and start something. It couldn’t happen to a better city.

  • Here’s another dirty classic from Detroit:

  • I was a teenage animator in the suburbs of Detroit at the time Ted Petok won his Academy Award- he got a lot of good press around then in the Detroit newspapers since he was a local guy. I remember tuning into the Academy Awards to see if he’d win and when he did? A clearly drunk Ted Petok accepted his award with the words ” Crunch Bird MY OSCAR”!

    • Here you go!

    • Kevin, you must be near my age. I was 19 at the time and attending Wayne State. I knew Joe Petrovich from Jam Handy, the animator and partner on CRUNCHBIRD. Yes, the Oscar certainly got Ted a lot of recognition, including Sesame Street contracts.

      One of the films overlooked here is THE MAD BAKER, a parody of FRANKENSTEIN. My print has faded, too. But considering how old it is, it’s no wonder. This one should be included since it is better than THE GOLFER in terms of content and pacing.

    • One of the films overlooked here is THE MAD BAKER, a parody of FRANKENSTEIN. My print has faded, too. But considering how old it is, it’s no wonder. This one should be included since it is better than THE GOLFER in terms of content and pacing.

      Yes it’s a shame it’s not included here. Noticed that one clocks in at around 9 minutes, certainly enough time to work with.

  • Corny! But that lumpy, goofy, FUNNY style of animation (which these share with things like Jay Ward’s “George of the Jungle,” Ken Snyder’s “Roger Ramjet,” and lots of old commercials) seems to have become lost since the 60’s and 70’s. Everyone now who even wants to bother with drawn animation rather than CGI seems to want to do pseudo-Disney, faux thirties, imitation anime, or the John K. “let’s make this as ugly and grotesque as possible” school. (Sad ending, ain’t it?)

    • It’s certainly an interesting jump from what was being done 40-50 years ago to now.

  • “There’s a lot of youthful energy in Detroit, and a lot of my students decide to stay and build the creative community. I’m hoping conditions will be conducive to opening an animation studio that produces more than spots here. Maybe I’ll have to do it if no one else will!”

    There always has been a great cultural circle in Detroit. I grew up in it. There were also several animation studios then, as well. Besides Ted Petok Studios, which became Cruchbird, there was Group Productions headed by the late Bill Pierce, also located in The New Center area on Bethune, on block north of the old GM headquarters. I had the same aspirations 40 years ago. But I didn’t know enough then, there was no place locally to learn, and the few jobs were sewed up by essentially the same four people. The demand was not as great as it was in the 1950s.

    But as new media has emerged, new markets develop. So I’m with you in seeing this dream come true. I’m ready when you are!

    • I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of it rub off down here in Toledo as well!

  • Wasn’t Crunchbird Studios also responsible for all the actual animation work seen in the NBC series “The Duck Factory”?

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