ANIMATION SPIN
July 22, 2014 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Top Cat’s Top Hits

The indisputable leader of the gang plays the angles on two classic releases based on Hanna-Barbera’s second primetime TV series.

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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.

top-cat-stang-TVEven 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!

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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.


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TOP CAT
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)

stang1By 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.

18 Comments

  • Greg:
    Always like to hear (as well as see) my all time favorite H-B series.Like Jonny Quest ,it ended way too soon I’m a long time Arnold Stang fan,and the theme (along with the Hoyt Curtin music score) was really great.Daws put his own spin on an H-B character he didn’t normally do,and it sounded great! I’m an H-B fan that goes way back to Tom and Jerry then Ruff and Reddy,etc.but Top Cat will always remain my personal favorite!

  • I remastered this LP along with others with added Hoyt Curtin music and effects and they are part of this Best of “Cartoon Carnival” Radio Show CD set! http://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-Carnival-Volumes-Audio-Theater/dp/1482930897

    You can also listen to The Cartoon Carnival podcasts at http://tunein.com/radio/Cartoon-Carnival-p566542/.

    Best to you,

    Joe Bev
    Daws Butler protege
    http://www.joebev.com

  • By the time the Robin Hood album was released, the “Top Cat” TV show had been off the air for a couple of seasons. For years, I was under the impression that Daws Butler had provided the voice of Top Cat on the TV series…due to repeated listenings of this record. When I finally got to see the Top Cat series on TV again, Arnold Stang’s voice sounded really different from the voice I had expected to hear. I think this shows the effectiveness of Daws’ Top Cat impersonation.
    The other voice artists on this album are excellent as well.

    Unlike some of the other “substitute” voice artists on some other HBR records, Daws truly owns the character of Top Cat on this album…and yes, there is a decided difference between his Top Cat and his Hokey Wolf voices, subtle though it may be. He makes Top Cat a believable character through his many variations and asides, such as when he first makes the decision to “borrow a page from the book Robin Hood.” It is truly a first-rate characterization, and in my opinion this qualifies as an authentic Top Cat voice…especially as Daws reprised his Top Cat voice for “Yogi’s Ark Lark” and for the interesting and unusual album “The Flintstones See Hear and Do Safety,” in which only Daws and Jean Van der Pyl provided voices for a variety of H-B characters presenting safety messages. On this album, Daws uses his Top Cat voice for two separate safety messages…but on the second one, he inadvertently lapses from Top Cat into Yogi Bear by the end. It must have been a long recording session, and perhaps Daws “forgot” midway through the message who he was supposed to be voicing. It’s quite hilarious to hear.

    Back to the Robin Hood album, it is also a delight to have a genuine story “acted out” by the characters instead of having Top Cat tell the story of Robin Hood to his alley cat friends. There are many delightful touches, as when T.C. is showing the crooks how the radio in the clubhouse works, and a few bars of “Monster Shindig” are heard–immediately preceding a description of the bank robbers. Then a few minutes later, when talking to Dibble, T.C. directly quotes the description from the radio, totally missing the point that the description of his two roomers fits that of the bank robbers. I like that this point is not driven home ruthlessly but is just left as a gag for the listeners to figure out.

    I agree that the “M-O-N-E-Y” is an unusual song, and a curious choice for a children’s album, but considering that this album does not “talk down” to kids it is somewhat fitting. I’m not sure I would consider it a “diatribe” against greed or capitalism–I think it’s more of a simple recognition that we need and use money, and that it is human nature to appreciate and want money to meet our needs and get the things we want. At any rate, the song is not cruel or malicious in its satire–if anything, the lyrics are somewhat sympathetic to the human need/want for money….just another human foible to tease lightly.

    The “Robin Hood” song is likewise a bit of a curiosity if you think about it. How many times is Robin Hood associated with horseback riding? Most of the legends and film versions show Robin operating on foot most of the time, and yet we get a beat based on hoofbeats that drives the tempo of the song. A very minor quibble, but something to think about.

    The Robin Hood album also contains one of the best climax sequences and endings in the whole HBR canon. Every character is used to good effect, and everything works out. I like Top Cat’s fainting at the end–very much in character.

    The other Top Cat album is also highly enjoyable and gives one a great appreciation of the incredible work done in the script writing. I do wonder why Brain is referred to as “a human collateral” when he is clearly “a feline collateral.” Jean Van der Pyl again does great voice work as the nurse who captures TC’s heart.

    Only thing missing from these albums is the great “Top Cat” TV theme–although it plays in the background for the first few minutes of the Robin Hood album, as well as popping up for a few bars at the very end.

    Thanks for this post about two of my favorite HB albums ever!!

  • Thanks Andy, Joe and Frederick,

    Frederick — I also was surprised by the difference between Butler and Stang as I had the HBR at least a year before the Colpix LP and the show was not being shown in my area.
    impersonation.
    I’m planning to marvel at the strange “Hear See Do” album in a future post.

    One of TC’s funny asides — possibly an adlib by Butler — is “There’s a telephone on that telephone pole (which is a good place for a telephone).”

    I think the galloping in the “Robin Hood” song was just a cool way to use that irresistible rhythm feature on the electric organ. Sort of like the “bossa nova” setting.

    Agree about “human collateral,” as it was one of those moments where the line between the cats and humans was cloudy on the show.

    As to the theme — the Curtin music was likely licensed as a whole, but the song, the lyrics and the recording of the theme song were not because of added costs.

    • Agree about “human collateral,” as it was one of those moments where the line between the cats and humans was cloudy on the show.

      At this point in my life, I really don’t think that hard about such matters but I can see the humor in it.

  • I grew up with the Flintstones/TopCat/Jetsons prime time assault and really only liked the Jetsons. I really wanted to like any cartoon, but the prime time offerings were pretty lame. All the voice talent in the world couldn’t make up for hackneyed Sgt. Bilko situations and limited animation. It only got worse with the Peter Potamus show and the nadir of Magilla Gorilla. Huckleberry Hound, Yogi, and my favorite, Quick Draw McGraw, had better humor. (Excepting the aforementioned Jetsons. Maybe that show succeeded because it wasn’t a rip off of a specific show like The Flintstones and Top Cat.)

  • The Robin Hood album is a reworking of the Top Cat episode “Naked Town”, which had a similar plot.

  • Ah, Robert, but there’s the rub! As the late, great HB historian pointed out on one of my shows with him, “The Jetsons” was indeed modeled after the “Blondie” movies of the 1940s, with a little bit of “Hazel” thrown in for Rosey the Robot. As both Hanna and Barbera would later comment, “there wasn’t a great idea out there that was worth stealing”.

    • They even had Blondie herself — Penny Singleton of all the Columbia movies — voicing Jane. George was George O’Hanlon, who play a similar character in the long-running “Joe Doakes” theatrical shorts.

      I make a personal game of matching Saturday morning shows with their Unofficial Inspirations. “Lone Ranger” leaned heavily on “Wild Wild West” scifi gimmicks; LaVerne & Shirley and Olive Oyl (!) both riffed on “Private Benjamin”; “Cool McCool” was “Get Smart” with a Jack Benny voice impression; “The Barkleys” was “All in the Family” with kid-friendly morals; “These Are The Days” owed a debt to “The Waltons”; “Bisketts”, “Snorks” and a few others channeled the “Smurfs”; HB mass-produced clones of its own “Scooby Doo”; and any hero who wasn’t DC or Marvel had a close cousin in one or the other (there are only so many superpowers to go around).

      I counted “Galaxy Trio” as “Star Trek” for the guy with Spock hair & ears and the saucerlike ship.

    • DBenson: Minor quibble, but George O’Hanlon’s character in those live-action shorts was Joe McDoakes. He also co-wrote (most? all?) the shorts with the series’ producer/director, Richard Bare. TCM usually shows one every week or so, and they’re worth keeping an eye out for; the worst ones I’ve seen have still been passably entertaining, while the best ones are quite funny and even inventive. (Most of the titles start “So You Want To…” and they all start with “So You/Your/You’re”, so that makes them easy to pick out in TCM’s online schedule.)

    • Elroy was Augie Doggie (BOTH DAWS BUTLER) and Judy was Corliss Archer (from that radio show) and any other teen that Janet Waldo played….and probaly Shelley Fabares’s Mary Stone on the Donna Reed show.

  • TOP CAT is definitely my favorite H-B series. Smarter writing and more interesting characters and stories. I bemoan the fact it lasted only one season where it was so entertaining. That said, these albums are a great find. It’s nice to see the short-lived TC still got its’ due in terms of media attention. The only downside is the absence of Arnold Stang. Don’t get me wrong; Daws Butler is brilliant but….. he just ain’t Top Cat. 😉

  • Every time I hear Daws’ not quite Hokey voice, I always think of his turn as Disney in this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwibf6t7Scc

  • I used to have that record. I wonder what happened to the very CHARACTERS, not voices buyt CHARACTERS, Benny, Spook, and Fancy Fancy……

  • Another inspiration for “Top Cat” might well have been the plethora of films featuring various permutations of the Dead End Kids, the Little Tough Guys, the East Side Kids or the Bowery Boys. These started out to be serious dramas, sometimes bordering on agitprop. However, within a couple of years after “Dead End”, they morphed into mugg comedy.

    The last incarnation of this sort of thing, the Bowery Boys, continued into theaters until around 1956, and these pictures were coming to television, where even stations out here programmed them with regular time slots and feature advertisements.

    Television runs of old movies and such-like led to a lot of things, ranging from “The Mouse That Jack Built” to Etta James alighting on “At Last” (which became her signature tune).

    • I was surprised the East Side / Bowery Boys weren’t mentioned in the article, watching their movies always remind me of Top Cat, I think Top Cat sounds quite a bit like Leo Gorcey too.

  • What a gorgeous cover!

  • Is there a solid upload of “M-O-N-E-Y” anywhere? I can’t seem to find one on YouTube anymore.

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