Rankin/Bass adapted Morrie Turner’s multi-racial comic strip into a landmark animated series and an album with a lot to sing about.
The Original TV Sound Track
A Rankin/Bass Production
Pride (MGM) Records PRD-0010 (12” 33 rpm)
Released in 1972. TV Series Producers: Arthur Rankin. Jr., Jules Bass. TV Series Associate Producer: Basil Cox. Writer: William J. Keenan, based on the Comic Strip “Wee Pals” by Morrie Turner. Developed in Consultation with the Bank Street College of Education. Music Producer/Arrangers: Perry Botkin, Jr., Bob Summers. Underscore: Perry Botkin, Jr. Music Consultant: Mike Curb. Creative Consultant: Charles H. Stern. Engineers: Jim Harris, Jack Hunt, Angel Balastier. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Voices: The Curbstones (Vocal Group); Greg Thomas (Oliver); Charles Kennedy (Nipper); Donald Fullilove (Randy, Diz); Jay Silverheels, Jr. (Rocky); Jeff Thomas (Ralph); April Winchell (Connie); Michele Johnson-Murray (Sybil); Gary Shapiro (Jerry, Wellington); Carey Wong (George).
Kid Power Original Songs: “Kid Power (All the Colors in Your Head)”, Don’t Let the World Go By,” “Uncle Tom,” “Don’t Fake It,” “The Most Beautiful Thing in the World,” “Big Fish,” “Easy Way,” “Real World” by Perry Botkin, Jr. and Jules Bass.
Other Songs: “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” (from South Pacific) by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein III; “Everybody’s Got Fingers” (S. Burke/M. Burke/J.F.K. Burke), “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” (Traditional); “The Children’s Marching Song” (Adapted by Malcolm Arnold).
The impact of Sesame Street on television and the social issues of the sixties and early seventies was changing the way people were looking at children’s TV. Almost every show for kids went into some kind of transition on a local and network level. Saturday morning programming was expected to carry some pro-social material in addition to laughs and adventure. The same year Sesame Street premiered, Filmation introduced the first regular African-American cartoon character to Saturday morning with Pete Jones on The Hardy Boys.
In September 1970, Hanna-Barbera’s Josie and the Pussycats introduced Valerie, the first female Black animated regular TV character (first appearing in Archie comics in December 1969). Valerie was also the first Black animated regular TV character of any gender whose voice was also played by an African-American—actually two voices. Barbara Pariot portrayed Valerie’s spoken role and her singing voice was Patrice Holloway (co-writer of the hit “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”).
Then in 1972, Rankin/Bass adapted cartoonist Morrie Turner’s 1965 landmark comic strip Wee Pals for ABC-TV, making Kid Power the first multi-racial network animated series with regular roles cast with actors by their races and ethnicities.
The characters of Randy and Diz were played by Donald Fullilove, who in 1972 was heard speaking as Michael Jackson for the Rankin/Bass animated Jackson 5ive. He later played Goldie Wilson onscreen in the Back to the Future films and performed voices in WALL-E, Up and What If…? Jay Silverheels, Jr., son of the actor who played Tonto in The Lone Ranger films and TV shows, voiced Rocky, a Native American. Charles Kennedy voiced Nipper, the character Morrie Turner fashioned after his young self, much as Charlie Brown was a part of Charles Schulz’s childhood.
Cast as feminist Connie was a preteen April Winchell, now one of Hollywood’s top voice actors (as well as a writer and satirist) whose oeuvre includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Despicable Me 2. For many years now, Winchell has provided the voice of Clarabelle Cow, a bovine beauty to which we devoted this Animation Spin. Michelle Johnson-Murray (Sybil) later appeared as Tabi on the series Degrassi High. Gary Shapiro (Jerry) was the voice of Jamie in Hanna-Barbera’s Sealab 2020, the same year as Kid Power.
Voicing Oliver, the bespectacled “Charlie Brown-meets-Linus” president of the Rainbow Club is Greg Thomas. His brother Jeff plays the Archie Bunker, Jr.-esque Ralph. Both are familiar voices to frequent Rankin/Bass enthusiasts as Sombertown children in the 1970 classic, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. One can practically hear Ralph saying, “That’s the only way they judge you around here. By how many chores you do and how clean your stockings are.”
Even though the series was scripted by William J. Keenan (The Year Without a Santa Claus), excerpts of dialogue (including the series title) and the casual, “neighborhood” tone were taken directly from the original comic strips. The “Peanuts” flavor was by design, as Charles M. Schulz was a friend and mentor of Morrie Turner.
It was Schulz and comedian/activist Dick Gregory who encouraged Turner to create his own African-American comic strip, first entitled Dinky Fellas before it combined races and ethnicities, and was retitled Wee Pals (not unlike Schulz’s original name for Peanuts, “Li’l Folks”). A fascinating, detailed history of Morrie Turner, Wee Pals, and his legacy can be found here in a The Comics Journal article.
In its original run, ABC scheduled Kid Power between reruns of Bewitched and reruns of 1971’s The Funky Phantom. It was a curious position since four other brand-new series–Jackson 5ive, The Osmonds, The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie and The Brady Kids–were scheduled before the not-new Bewitched. However, Bewitched was still running in prime time and the reruns were not yet widely seen in syndication. Perhaps the intent was to position the popular sitcom as a strong ratings lead-in for Kid Power.
NBC’s competition against Kid Power was the live-action game show Runaround (hosted by ventriloquist/voice actor/inventor Paul Winchell — and April’s father). Neither network could withstand the CBS powerhouse block of Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch, The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, The Flintstone Comedy Show, Archie’s TV Funnies, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
The following season, ABC relegated Kid Power to Sunday mornings (“the cornfield” in Twilight Zone terms), where former Saturday morning reruns were sent if they did not prove strong enough for the fierce Saturday morning competition, or if they had been competing for too many years. Some were in a category by themselves.
Kid Power was followed on Sunday mornings from 1973 to 1974 by The Osmonds, H.R. Pufnstuf, and the beloved live-action docu-montage-fantasy, Make a Wish.
The early seventies was the era of Coca-Cola’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” advertising campaign and hit song. From the standpoint of recorded music, the Kid Power album is entertaining and important in the Free to Be… You and Me tradition. The hope here was that people would gather as one to share common bonds rather than focusing on divisions.
So it’s all grooviness and puka shells and hanging macramé flower baskets, but the very finest example of the genre. A very lavish album, all the songs were augmented with additional orchestration beyond what was heard on the TV episodes. Many producers were aware that mono TV speakers of the day were not capable of handling complex, elaborate sound, so the music is simpler in the TV songs. Massive string and brass sections were added for the record and the results are magnificent.
With Rankin/Bass at the busiest time in their history (specials, feature films and TV series on networks and in syndication), Maury Laws was unavailable to score Kid Power, so the talented Perry Botkin, Jr. composed the background cues and co-wrote almost all the songs with series co-producer/director Jules Bass, as in the usual manner of Rankin/Bass specials.
Botkin was a top-notch composer/arranger, most famous for the hit, “Nadia’s Theme (The Young and the Restless)” and Oscar-nominated “Bless the Beasts and the Children” that he wrote with Barry DeVorzon. Many Botkin arrangements are legendary, including José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” Robin (Jackie) Ward’s “Wonderful Summer,” and The Cascades’ “Rhythm of the Rain.”
Many of the Laws-Bass songs had carried morals and messages in previous scores, so the Bass-Botkin Kid Power songs fit nicely in the Rankin/Bass songbook. One of the best is “Don’t Let the World Go By,” a lesson for all ages about savoring the moment that one could consider a companion piece to the Laws-Bass song, “My World is Beginning Today,”
“The Curbstones” were the children’s ensemble version of Mike Curb Congregation vocal group (“Candy Man”). Curb headed MGM Records at the time and Pride was one of its subsidiary labels.
In addition to the Bass and Botkin selections, there are also songs created by other outstanding talents. “Everybody’s Got Fingers” owes its spiritual soul to co-writer Solomon Burke. According to Billboard, the legendary preacher and R&B music pioneer originally recorded it in 1971 with twelve of his children in a group called Sons and Daughters of Solomon. Arranger/producer Bob Summers helmed these songs. Summers’ credits include Sailor Moon, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, Miami Vice and The Simpsons (he played trumpet for Bart in the episode “The Kid is All Right”).
Of particular note is Summers’ approach to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific. The Kid Power version may be the only one that was done with such a surprisingly antithetical arrangement. (The song itself is a rather potent choice for a children’s album and TV series to begin with.)
Intended to be performed in a bitter state of resentful bile (as Harry Connick demonstrated in 2001), Hammerstein’s thought-provoking and historically controversial lyrics strike out at the demons existing within one’s mind as a result of being “taught to hate all the people your relatives hate.” Imagine hearing those lyrics sung by a children’s chorus set to a jubilant, bouncy dance beat glittering with bells, more akin to a Christmas party tune by The Ventures! Perhaps those “relatives” weren’t supposed to realize what “those waste-of-time cartoons” and “worthless baby records” were singing at the top of their lungs.
Kid Power was born of the explosive previous decade of the sixties that inspired efforts to find ways to build bridges, find mutual understanding and somehow forge bonds in the seventies. Both the album and the series made the finest effort possible within the limits of the era and the production circumstances, and they most certainly made entertainment history.
A very small portion of this feature was previously posted.