The indisputable leader of the gang plays the angles on two classic releases based on Hanna-Barbera’s second primetime TV series.
ROBIN HOOD Starring TOP CAT
Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series HLP-2031 (Mono) (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / 1965)
Hanna-Barbera Records – Cartoon Series CS-7033 (Condensed Story) CS-7038 (Songs) (7” 45 RPM / 1965)
1977 Reissues (Columbia Special Products):
P-13864 (Complete Album) / P-13908 (Condensed Story with Pixie & Dixie’s Cinderella and Magilla Gorilla’s Alice in Wonderland / P-13934 Fred Flintstone Presents All-Time Favorite Children’s Songs and Stories (Condensed Story with Other HBR Reissues)
Executive Producers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera. Writer: Charles Shows. Music (Hanna-Barbera Library): Hoyt Curtin. Art Direction: Harvard Pennington. Layout Jerry Eisenberg. Cover Art: Rene Garcia. Hand Lettering: Robert B. Schaefer. Editor (35mm): Tony Milch. Running Time: 32 minutes.
Voices: Daws Butler (Top Cat, Narrator, Homicide McBride, Big Fats, Radio Announcer); Leo DeLyon (Brain, Chief, Song Solos); Marvin Kaplan (Choo-Choo); Allen Jenkins (Officer Dibble); The Hanna-Barbera Singers (Ron Hicklin, Al Capps, Stan Farber).
Songs: “Top Cat,” “M-O-N-E-Y,” “Robin Hood,” “Dibble,” Buddies” by Larry Goldberg, Peggy Shows.
Just for fun, let’s get started with this little gem from BBC Radio:
In the chronology of network primetime sitcoms, Top Cat (1961) followed The Flintstones (1960) and preceded The Jetsons (1962). This verbose series about a group of New York City alley cats and their indomitable leader was unmistakably inspired by the Phil Silvers Sgt. Bilko show. Unlike The Flintstones, which was “unofficially inspired” by (and employed writers from) The Honeymooners, there was no official confirmation of the connection from H-B (reportedly, Honeymooners creator/star Jackie Gleason toyed briefly with legal action).
Top Cat did not raise much concern about its mirror image to Bilko, also hiring writers from that series as well as the voice of Maurice Gosfield—who played Doberman on Bilko—voicing Benny the Ball. It could also be stated that Top Cat owes more than a tip of the hat to the lovable, colorful con artists of Damon Runyon stories as well.
Even though Top Cat lasted one season, it enjoyed a second life on Saturday morning TV with a respectable amount of merchandise over the ensuing decades, including comics, storybooks and records. When Hanna-Barbera started their record company in 1965, Top Cat had already appeared on two other labels before headlining the HBR Robin Hood album.
Robin Hood was part of the second wave of Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Series records. Unlike the first eight records, the characters on the second-wave covers are not positioned in free space vignettes but instead reside in rich backgrounds that “bleed” to each cover’s edges. Some also depart from the first HBR LP’s in that they feature original stories inspired by famous tales, rather than straightforward or satirical retellings. The characters took part in these original stories, finding themselves in similar circumstances as the literary protagonists, whether they realized it or not. (Please note that I did not include Monster Shindig, as it shared a little of each approach.)
On this Top Cat record, Choo-Choo’s Robin Hood book gives TC the idea of taking from the rich and giving to the poor—you know, like them. Officer Dibble nixes the plan just as a real bank robbery occurs. TC unknowingly welcomes the crooks into the alley until he and Choo-Choo spot their weaponry. They pretend to be producers of a movie called “Robin Hood Comes Back,” tricking TC and the gang into helping rob another bank under the pretense of a location shoot.
Top Cat’s TV voice, Arnold Stang, was unavailable so Daws Butler fills in, doing a variation of his Phil Silvers/Hokey Wolf voice. It’s always important to note that a seasoned performer may create a similar voice but not a mere duplication; Butler’s TC is neither Arnold nor Hokey, the former having a higher register and less cynical tone and the latter tinged with more edge and sarcasm.
With Marvin Kaplan as Choo-Choo, LeoDeLyon as Brain and Allen Jenkins as Dibble, the Robin Hood album reunites three original Top Cat cast members. When TC calls the roll and the missing alley cats don’t answer, he says, “All those absent, please raise your right hand… Well, I see we’re all here.” A few grooves later, TC asks Fancy-Fancy to “borry him an apple.” To this day, it still seems unclear and contradictory.
In addition to providing several voices (but not Spook for some reason), Leo DeLyon can be heard in a few songs, making him the only voice actor on an HBR record (besides those on The New Alice in Wonderland and Jack and the Beanstalk Starring Gene Kelly) to do double duty. Most of the songs are pretty good, but worlds apart from the tone and manner of the story, even though we’re supposed to believe a song like “Dibble,” has been sung by the characters because TC says, “Hold it, fellas, hold it!” at its close.
The strangest song on the album is “M-O-N-E-Y,” a diatribe on greed (much like the anti-space program songs from The Jetsons in First Family on the Moon). Its ironic lyrics might be taken literally by tots or parents. The Hanna-Barbera Singers don’t really mean “We all love money,” folks!
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Lights, Camera, Action!”
Plotwise, the Robin Hood Starring Top Cat album boasts one of HBR’s tightest scripts, neatly tying the two entities together and building to the thrilling conclusion heard here. It’s expertly performed and beautifully edited with well-chosen sound effects and music.
Original TV Soundtracks
Colpix Records CP-210 (12” 33 1/3 RPM LP / Stereo / 1961)
Album Producer: Howard Berk. TV Series Producers: William Hanna, Joseph Barbera. Music: Hoyt Curtin. Running Time: 44 minutes.
Voices: Arnold Stang (Top Cat); Allen Jenkins (Officer Dibble); Marvin Kaplan (Choo-Choo); Leo DeLyon (Brain, Spook, Mr. Stiffany, Doc Rigor Morton, Expectant Father); Hal Smith (Big Gus; Expectant Father); Herb Vigran (Muscles, Motorcycle Cop; Muscles); Maurice Gosfield (Benny); John Stephenson (Fancy-Fancy); Jean Vander Pyl (Fifi, Desk Nurse, Nurse LaRue. Replacement Nurse); Herschel Bernardi (Muggsy); Don Messick (Doctor Dawson, Expectant Father); Hal Smith (Big Gus; Expectant Father).
Episodes: “The Unscratchables” (Originally aired on ABC prime time December 13, 1961); “Top Cat Falls in Love” (November 8, 1961)
By the very nature of its premise, Top Cat would have been a highly verbal TV series, animated or not. But this duo of episode soundtracks proves that the listener does indeed miss something when the visuals are removed.
There is no album narration. Although the dialogue and sound effects provide clues to various gags (Nurse LaRue must be taking TC’s temperature, etc.), not everything is obvious. Those instances, however, do not mar the enjoyment of great scriptwriting and comic timing. Top Cat is a funny show that holds up brilliantly alongside other sitcoms. In many cases, it’s even better.
The storylines don’t break new ground, but the dialogue is snappy and most of the humor is character-driven in the classic TV (and radio) sitcom manner. It’s wonderful to hear voice acting legends like Don Messick, Hal Smith and Jean Vander Pyl work with sophisticated repartee rarely afforded them in other cartoons except The Flintstones.
Slightly edited, the two episodes selected offer a nice contrast. “The Unscratchables” obviously offers criminals, action and danger, while “Top Cat Falls in Love” is a fast paced comedy of errors with TC confounding others when he’s not confused himself by mixed signals (this includes a clever sequence in a maternity ward where TC thinks the expectant fathers are taking about loud, bottle-swigging party ladies instead of hungry, wailing babies).
The Top Cat series featured a symphonic background score unlike those of most other Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Hoyt Curtin took full advantage of the strings, bringing a Gershwin-esque sound to some of the cues. There’s also an unusual use of electric organ for moments of surprise or tension (such as the scene in which TC “Gaslights” Nurse LaRue’s tough, matronly replacement). This particular score was so specific to the needs of Top Cat’s less-than-idyllic surroundings, it was not re-purposed as frequently as Curtin’s other music was on other H-B cartoons and records.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Top Cat Fools Dibble Again”
Dibble was as great a dupe as Top Cat was a con, but he wasn’t the overused Irish flatfoot, nor was he a moron. We got to know Dibble well in several Top Cat episodes. If anything, Dibble was a little too naïve and trusting; he was such a softie, it took very little for TC to confuse him with false sentiment.