Animation Trails
December 21, 2022 posted by Charles Gardner

We, Robots! (Part 8): Steel Workers

Today, we’ll focus on some highlights of early television animation, in somewhat random order, dealing with the subject of robots. Comprehensive coverage of the topic throughout the entire story of the medium would be nearly impossible, as robots became something of a vogue commencing from the days of early TV animation, and increasingly so as trends moved into action-adventure shows and anime, resulting in a staggering output of metal marvels. As usual, I’ll aim my primary focus on major studios with a slant toward laugh-getters, giving occasional nods and mentions to action and anime more by series overview than by summary of isolated episodes.

One of the first contributors to the topic was Art Cloakey’s Gumby, which included a robot episode in its early double-length episode run. In Robot Rumpus (7/20/56), Pokey wants Gumby to come out and play, but Gumby has too much work to do around the house and yard. Pokey remembers a quintet of battery-powered robots he saw in the Toy Department, and suggests them to Gumby to get someone to do the work for him. Borrowing a toy truck, Gumby packs the robots aboard in the truck bed, and drives for home. On the way, they pass under a series of Erector set bridges, the first of which brushes against the topmost robot’s antennae. He doesn’t like it, and when they reach the next bridge, the robot grabs onto the bridge with a metal claw, preventing the truck from proceeding further, and forcing it to remain motionless, balanced on its rear wheels. Gumby has to climb out of the cab and up into the truck bed, climbing up the robot’s chest to deactivate his power button, then loosening the claw. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” Gumby asks Pokey with some trepidation.

At the house, Gumby sets the robots to their respective tasks. The first harkens back to Flip the Frog’s Techno-Cracked, which may have been the inspiration for this film – placing the claws of a robot upon the handles of a lawn mower and setting him to push. Despite one quick twirl by the robot, this programming proceeds smoothly. The next robot is switched on, the only mishap being that his head is pointed in the wrong direction, and twirls around the other way. Said robot is given a set of hedge clippers, with Gumby positioning his arms at a certain height to trim the hedgerow. Robot #3 is carried into the garage, and emerges carrying out a garbage can full of trash. A small mishap here, as Gumby emerges from inside the trash can, climbing out so as not to get thrown out himself. Robot #4 proves a bigger programming task, set to paint the property-line fence. The misguided robot first spreads a brush of orange paint across Gumby’s forehead, then, after a minor adjustment, dumps a whole paint can on Gumby’s head, causing Pokey to break up in laughter. After Gumby finally gets this robot applying paint to the intended target, Robot #5 is supplied with gardening tools, and programmed to dig irrigation furrows in the garden. A further mishap occurs, as the gardening robot feels Gumby is in the way, sweeping him out of the garden with a swing of a hoe Gumby flies through the air, landing in the arms of the other robots, each of whom tosses him away again in order to complete their tasks. Gumby finds himself once again in the trash can. However, Pokey points out that the robots seem to be doing fine in their tasks, and that now Gumby can play.

Before beginning playtime, Gumby and Pokey stop in Mrs. Gumba’s kitchen for a glass of milk and crackers. Mrs. Gumba asks if Gumby is getting his chores done, and Gumby replies, “Look out the window, mother.” She sees the robot team hard at work, and commends the boys on their cleverness, while reminding them to return the robots after they are through. Pokey, however, spots an unexpected sight, calling Gumby’s attention to it. The painting robot, finished with the fences, is plastering orange paint all over the kitchen window. A shot from outside shows he has also applied random brushwork to the house walls, and in one spot on the wall, added his own version of graffiti, spelling out in paint the word “Robot”. Mrs. Gumba leans out the window to try to stop him, but receives the same paint-in-the-face as Gumby. Suddenly, the whole house shakes, then rocks back and forth, tossing the three occupants from one corner of the house to another. Two of the robots have randomly decided to pick up corners of the house in attempt to move it – perhaps classifying the home as trash to be disposed of. Mrs. Gumba runs for the phone, and calls her husband Gumbo at the fire station. Gumbo drives home in the station’s fire truck, and sees all the robots in unintended activities of destruction. The mowing robot is crashing through fences, mowing holes in them back and forth. The trash robot is ripping boards off the garage, tossing them in the garbage cans for disposal. And the gardening robot is digging a hole to China. Gumbo first races for the power switches of the two robots shaking the house, flipping off their power switches. While he checking inside to see if everyone is okay, a third robot passes by, and helpfully reactivates the power switch of the robot on one corner of the house, causing Gumbo to have to shut him down again. A tire rolls by Gumbo, and he finds one of the robots removing the tires from his fire engine. Another deactivation is necessary. He chases the trash robot, who is dismantling the garage, but only the robot emerges from the garage, carrying another trash can. Gumby has to intervene, turning off the robot from the back to rescue his father, tossed inside the trash can. This leaves the digging robot. Gumbo hops in the hole with him, but is thrown out forcibly buy the robot, who tosses Gumbo several houses away upon a roof. Gumby has to use the fire engine ladder to bring his Pop down. Gumbo grabs a large monkey wrench from the fire engine’s tool box, and hurls it into the hole to attempt to connect with the robot’s machinery works. Instead, the robot tosses it back at Gumbo, leaving a wrench-shaped hole through his stomach clay. Gumby has to again come to his father’s aid, zipping off to the toy store, to return with a toy clam-digger crane. He lowers the basket of the clam-digger into the ground, snags the robot, and exhumes him from the ground, deactivated. The final shot deals retribution for the damages, as Gumbo and Mrs. Gumba watch with stern faces and folded arms, and Pokey mopes in embarrassment and disappointment, while Gumby spends the rest of the day working three times harder than before, repairing the wreckage of the day’s disaster.

Another of the earliest television cartoons to deal with robots was the first story arc of “The Ruff and Reddy Show”, Planet Pirates (Hanna-Barbera (as H-B Enterprises), beginning 12/14/57). The plot has been explored in depth in my previous Animation Trail, “Spacey Invaders”, but a recap focusing on the robots is in order. The all-metal planet Muni-Mula (Aluminum spelled backwards), has produced a legion of robots, whose bodies look much like upside-down ice cream cones with eyes and loudspeaker mouths. A pair of them approach Earth in a saucer, their claw-like metal hands twisting the dials on a scanner screen, to reveal Ruff (a dog) and Reddy (a small cat), exchanging wise-cracks about Reddy’s winning of a space helmet and toy ray gun/water pistol for composing a poem for a kiddie space-opera TV show. As the duo doze off to sleep in their back yard, the space robots turn on a tractor ray to pull them up into the ship. After a chase aboard the saucer and a scuffle over the Whamma Bamma Gamma Gun the robots use as a weapon, Reddy gets the drop on the robots, while Ruff grabs a lever during weightlessness that opens a roof hatch in the saucer, allowing the robots to float out into deep space. But the ship itself is pulled by another tractor beam into the approaching metal planet, hollow on the inside. There, more metal men carry them to a larger robot with two faces which rotate respectively into position whenever the robot changes mood (which is often), changing him from cordial to fierce. At the orders of said chief robot (known as “The Big Thinker”), Ruff and Reddy are marched to a production room, and placed in respective positions between huge blocks of an unknown substance. positioned both in front of and behind them. In one of the eeriest moments of the story, the blocks converge on our heroes, giving the impression they are about to be done in with the old “shrinking room” trope. Instead, after the blocks close completely upon them, the blocks separate again – and each of our heroes has created halves of a mold on either side, in their image. The molds somehow harden, and our heroes are ejected from the belt through trap doors. In their place drop blocks of metal the size of each character. The molds compress again, pressing the metal blocks into duplicate shapes of our heroes. A drop down the trap doors, and a quick coat of paint, and the metal doppelgangers look more like our heroes than our heroes do. Reddy realizes it is an invasion force, and that they are being quickly outnumbered.

Back Cover of album (click to enlarge)

He stands in the path of the robots as they approach a device that applies a ”thinking cap” to their heads, electrically programming them through cosmic rays to think and take orders like a robot. All Reddy succeeds in doing is having the cap lowered upon himself, causing him to act like and join the ranks of the robots in following the Big Thinker’s orders. Ruff tries to snap Reddy out of it, but is watched by a robotic flying camera known as the Hocus Pocus Focus. His pal Reddy is ordered to return the earth cat to the Big Thinker, and obeys orders until the robot rays wear off inside his noggin due to the thickness of his skull. Though the boys continue to play robot to fool the sentries and the flying camera, the camera catches them up, and flies them back into the Thinker’s chambers. There, a strange revelation occurs, as the top of the Thinker’s large head opens, revealing a little man named Professor Gizmo, who years before had crash-landed a rocket ship on the planet. Captured, and found out to be quite the thinker too, he has remained a prisoner, forced to act as a speaking emissary for the Thinker in dealing with aliens, by operating inside the robot head to communicate the Thinker’s desires and plans. The real “Thinker” is a mute mechanical brain of unknown origin, which sits on a plush pillow behind the scenes, somehow transmitting its thoughts and desires to Gizmo and the soldier robots. Gizmo wants out, and takes advantage of the Thinker’s lapse into sleep mode to communicate his secrets to Ruff and Reddy, with the further revelation that he has been secretly working on rebuilding his rocket, the S.S. Gizmo, for a getaway. Gizmo, however, fears it will be difficult to explain his conduct with the earth specimens once the Thinker awakes, and puts little personal hope in making a clean getaway. He does not reckon on Reddy, who takes the brash act of smashing the Thinker’s works with a hammer. Gizmo has neglected to inform Reddy that the Thinker is guarded by a huge robot known as the Creepy Creature – a square-chested giant with highly flexible arms that resemble the tentacles of an octopus. The Creature emerges from a holding closet, and pursues Reddy. Cornered, Reddy bluffs the robot by producing his toy space pistol won from the kids’ show. When the Creature still advances, Reddy hits him with a shot of water from its water-pistol interior. Reddy runs again, but the Creature slows and stops completely – rusted by the water. The rocket is eventually launched, while the Muni-Mila men pursue by donning “copter caps” equivalent to the propellered Beany caps of Beany and Cecil. Gizmo brings a stop to the pursuit by launching out of the rocket a large package suspended from a parachute, gift-wrapped and with a tag reading “Do Not Open Until Christmas”. Gizmo knows the robot men to be nosy, and they all cluster around the package, reading the tag, and wondering what’s inside. Their answer comes in a flash, as the box explodes – from a huge firecracker inside left over from the Fourth of July – leaving the space sky full of whirling copter caps with broken chin straps, and no remaining Muni-Mula men suspended underneath.

A strange recent legacy of this story arc has appeared in the cable series “Jellystone”, where Ruff and a gender-modified Reddy have made periodic cameos, but have been revealed to be robots instead of a cat and dog. We can only speculate that the duo as presently appearing are actually part of the doppelganger army produced from the Muni-Mula assembly line, who somehow fell to Earth, ignorant of their intended mission to conquer the planet. Lucky for them Jellystone appears to adhere to a policy of robot tolerance, rather than resorting to the might of an alien task force, or even Benson Quest.

Missing in action as usual are Larry Harmon’s Bozo the Clown cartoons of the late 1950’s. Among them was one or more appearances of a human-sized robot, named Klank, the Tin Can Man, its exact origins which I do not recall. I am not certain if Bozo constructed the thing himself from the equivalent of a king-size Erector Set, of if the device was the creation of Bozo’s pal, Professor Tweetyfoofer. He was the usual pile of cylinders with a smokestack hat, similar to the Tin Man of Oz, though I do not recall his precise powers or misadventures. Though I believe there were only one or two animated appearances of the character, Harmon thought the concept adaptable to the live-action segments of the Bozo Show as they came to be, and introduced a costumed metal robot of the same name into the regular cast of the program (though the costume bore little or no physical resemblance to the animators’ drawings.). The character would enter the center ring, where Bozo would select from a few switches on its chest to issue a command or ask a question. Lights would flash in Klank’s eyes, and a voice metallicized by a trick microphone would exchange answers of quips with Bozo, then the robot would waddle away after the allotted few minutes of time for the sketch was over. The comparative frequency of use of the character in the live-action segments tended to make one forget the robot had ever been a drawn character at all, with the infrequent airings of the original cartoon surprising the viewer to learn from where the idea was first presented.

From this point on (at least for this week) Bozo and the Hanna Barbera cartoons below are really hard to embed. If any readers have some suggestions or links – please put them in the comments below.

Returning to Hanna-Barbera, the studio had now moved on to their next project, “The Huckleberry Hound Show” – their first to supply enough footage to sustain the entire half-hour without the aid of a live-action host to provide filler. Cop and Saucer (12/21/59) is another title visited previously in our “Spacey Aliens” series, and included here despite uncertainty whether the pilot of a space saucer is indeed mechanical, or something living encased in an oversized metal space suit. Huck plays patrolman in a squad car, with identifying number so long, it takes 20 seconds before he can tell if a radio call for assistance on the police frequency is really intended for him. Huck is sent to investigate a UFO sighting in the park. “Our duty is to check all rumors – even if they’re ridiculous”, asides Huck to the audience. Blocking the road in the park is the spaceman’s saucer, which Huck mistakes for “one of them foreign cars”. Spotting the spaceman, Huck thinks he’s merely a bystander ripe for interrogation about the suspicious vehicle. The spaceman is shaped like a cylindrical bullet, with holes on the sides through which arms protrude when needed, an antenna on its head, and a tiny eye-hole for two beady eyes to peer through. When Huck asks about the “car”, the spaceman just emits a series of beeps. “It’s just a routine question, sir”, replies Huck – “No sense gettin’ riled.” The spaceman pulls out a ray gun and almost blasts Huck’s head off. “A kid’s toy like that can be downright dangerous in an adult’s hands”, says Huck. The spaceman clutches Huck by the neck with a metal claw. Huck confides to the audience that this guy doesn’t realize they teach all officers judo at the academy. But the spaceman flips Huck repeatedly, throws him helplessly against the ground, then flings him through the air into a tree trunk. “Of course,” remarks Huck to the audience, “there’s new holds comin’ along all the time.”

Eventually, Huck finds himself forced to write a citation. But as he writes the ticket, the spaceman produces a disintegration ray and blasts a hole through the center of his ticket book. Huck doesn’t stick around this time, but hides in the protection of a mailbox to attempt to think out his next strategy. Another blast from the ray gun – and the mailbox is gone. Huck hides in a birdhouse, and meets the same results. He rows a boat out to the middle of the park lake – but the spaceman rolls himself on wheeled feet onto a pier, and aims his gun at the water. The lake disappears, leaving Huck suspended in his boat in mid-air. “Now cut that out!” yells Huck, and lands with a thud in the lake bottom. He runs for his police car, and attempts to radio for backup. But another ray blast obliterates the car. “That did it. That DID IT!”, responds Huck, drawing the line at destroying police property. He insists that not only is the spaceman under arrest, but that he take Huck to the station house “in your car”. The spaceman picks up Huck and carts him into the space ship, then takes off – not for the station, but into outer space. While Huck stands inside the ship, believing he is cracking down on the spaceman busy at the controls, a radio broadcast from Earth is picked up on a loudspeaker – as an announcer laughs at the reports the police have received – not only of a flying saucer taking off from the park, but with a policeman inside! Huck looks out the window, and sees the Earth disappearing far below. He reluctantly concedes agreement with the announcer: “Yup, it’s hi-larious,” then breaks from a half laugh into a wail of tears for the fade out.

Kit Kat Kit (Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, 10/16/58) , from the supporting series of the Huckleberry Hound Show, is something of a poor man’s reworking of Tom and Jerry’s “Push Button Kitty”. The routine of the usual chase of the day is beginning to tell on both the cat and the loveable “meeces”, who end the afternoon in a state of physical exhaustion, Jinks stating he is “too pooped to pant”. Jinks resolves that there must be a better way, and turns to the old adage about building a better mousetrap. He concocts a few amateurish devices of his own, which he is gullible enough to explain to the mice, giving away any possible element of surprise. A variation on a box trap with cheese tied to a string releases a hammer, which Jinks demonstrates “clobbers the victim”, as he himself takes the blow on the head. A firecracker inserted in the holes of a piece of Swiss cheese seems (to Junks) like a good idea, and Dixie produces a camera to preserve the moment of invention for posterity, just as the firecracker explodes. The picture is one worth keeping, with Jinks well charred and minus two teeth. Jinks finally gets smarter, and purchase a “Do-It-Yourself Kitty Kat Kit”. He constructs a robot cat which looks a lot like a missile shell with a painted-on cat face, bowtie, collar and buttons. Its “nose cone” of a head appears to be made of a large cup or bowl inverted with attached cat ears, and makes the sound of a coffee cup against a saucer when it bobs up and down in anger, steam rising from its collar and ears when it detects the presence of mice. Dixie refers to the device as “blowing its top” when it spots them, and the mice make a beeline for their mousehole. Jinks mans a speed control panel, as the robot outraces the mice to their hole, opening a small hatch before them in its base. Pixie is unable to apply the brakes in time, and slides right into the hatch. Dixie is hit by a shot from a cork gun which emerges from the robot’s painted collar. A robotic arm emerges next from the lower hatch, extending out to capture Dixie. The same arm deposits both of them out the window onto the lawn. Dixie declares that this means war.

Efforts to re-enter the house prove failures. Dixie (who oddly seems to take the lead in almost everything in this picture) trues to back into the mail slot, but gets blasted by a space-age ray gun from the robot’s collar. He next drills a hole through the floorboards, but as he tries to climb through, is bopped by the robot with a large mallet. In rather a plot hole, since the robot seemed so on-the0job to prevent entry, the mice finally spot Jinks asleep on the couch, and create a paper cap and nose cone which they attach to Jinks’ head with tape after entering from a window near the couch. (Where’s the patrolling robot during all this?) The cap is basically a Mickey Mouse hat, and the nose cone gives Jinks the look of a snout with whiskers, so that when the robot catches sight of him, it thinks Jinks is a giant mouse. “What are you looking at me like that for?” asks a startled Jinks, when the robot’s steam tantrum awakens him. Jinks takes off running, without bothering to notice or remove his stage costume provided by the mice, as the robot repeatedly blasts him with the ray gun, while the mice set the robot to full speed on the remote control. The chase merely continues for the fade out, as the mice declare when the cat’s away, the mice will play.

A season or so later, Jinks and the meeces return to the subject, doing it one better, in Rapid Robot (9/19/59). This time, the mice begin with the situation more well in control. They feel safe enough to have free run of the place, walking right by Jinks’ sleeping basket to filch cheese from the pantry. They taunt Jinks verbally when he awakens, stating “Action speaks louder than words.” Jinks tries to give them some action with a quick chase, but the mice continue to razz him, stating as they run that they haven’t even noticed if anyone is following them. As happens every day, Jinks slams headfirst into the mousehole door, and “His eyes roll around”. Jinks claims they won’t be “yukking it up” when a certain thing arrives from a certain place. A postman’s whistle announces the mail, and Jinks carries in a large package. Inside is a rough equivalent of Tom and Jerry’s Mechano, perhaps even more streamlined in body design. Jinks introduces the mice to his “assistant”, who quickly vacuums up the rodents, and drops them outside on the lawn. Pixie can only stammer in wonderment at what hit them, and Dixie remarks, “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

All is quiet, and Jinks wonders at why the meeces have given up so easily, but takes a snooze anyway. The mice have been out shopping. They return to the house with a large package of their own, marked “The Electronic Dog”. The contents are a rather block-shaped robot with saw-toothed jaw resembling a bulldog. Dixie sets the controls to make it bark and growl. “Save me, Dixie”, yells Pixie, climbing into Dixie’s arms in fright. “Relax. He’s on our side”, says Dixie. They set the robot dog to make mince meat of the robot cat. The two robots roll toward each other’s direction at full speed, and the mice wait for the bolts to fly. Instead, both robots pass right by each other. They are not interested in their steel counterparts at all – but in their live owners just beyond at the control boxes. Both the mice and Jinks find themselves being pursued by each other’s metal monsters. Jinks tries to ward off the dog with the handle of a broom, but the dog devours the handle, then tries to swallow Jinks too. Jinks is quickly on the run again, and the mice and cat converge in the middle of the living room, the robots bearing down upon them from both directions, surrounding them. “Folly me!”, shouts Jinks, leaping through the mesh of a screened wall vent. The mice follow, leaving nothing in the path of the robots but each other. The two steel sentries collide, the cat passing through the body of the bulldog, and getting stuck halfway through, producing a robotic CatDog. “What a mess of metal. They destructed themselves”, comments Jinks. Suddenly, the head of the bulldog comes to life, barking and snarling, while that of the cat also yowls and snaps. The robots aren’t through yet, and leap into the vent hole after our heroes. “Take to the trees”, yells Jinks, as the trio race outside and up an old elm. The two robot heads take turns snapping at their heels from the base of the tree trunk, while our heroes find themselves out on a limb above the action. “When do you think we can get down, Jinksy?” asks Dixie. “When their batteries run down”, responds Jinks, “and they’re like, guaranteed for six months. Wow!”

Hanna-Barbera’s “Quick Draw McGraw” show presented robot episodes for each of its three featured series. Quick Draw starred in Bullet-Proof Galoot (9/17/60). Peaceful Gulch is a town that needs no sheriff – they’ve got Clarence. Clarence? The usual reaction is that anyone named Clarence can’t be such a much. That’s what they think, learns Quick Draw the hard way, when he determines to show the town they need a sheriff, by staging a fake bank holdup with Baba Looey as the bandit. The bank teller isn’t the least bit intimidated by Baba’s mask, pistol, and yells of “Wah-hoo” as the signal for Quick Draw to come to the town’s rescue. Instead, he pushes a silent alarm button inside his teller’s cage, and summons Clarence, a metal robot on one wheel, with body shaped a bit loke a roly poly. He wears jeans, a painted face with handlebar moustache, a Stetson hat he tips by means of a jack-in-the-box style spring located in his head, and packing a gun holster with two six-guns. Clarence doesn’t rely on the guns much, as he has other weaponry. His robotic arms can toss a bandit like a javelin, plus pack a wallop when he resorts to socking Quick Draw in the snoot (after a tidy removal of stray dust from Quick Draw’s nose with a whisk broom). When Quick Draw creates a suit of protective armor from parts of an old stove, Clarence unleashes his most secret weapon – the ability to remove his hat, pivot at the waist, and become an automated cannon, his rounded body forming the barrel as cannon balls shoot from his head. Baba asks Quick Draw if they should consider giving up and leaving town. Quick Draw says to ask him again later – after he stops vibrating from the cannonball blow. Into town walks Fast-Gun Finnegan – the bank bandit Quick Draw had intended to save the town from in the first place. Quick Draw informs him the town is guarded by Clarence, but generates the usual lack of fear from Finnegan at the mention of Clarence’s name. Finnegan marches boldly toward the bank, while Quick Draw calmly waits at the edge of town. Within minutes, Finnegan returns on the run, begging Quick Draw to arrest him and take him to a nice safe jail. Clarence has apparently done his work again. Quick Draw tells Baba that he will use the reward money to purchase Clarence and take him apart bolt by bolt so that Quick Draw can obtain the sheriff’s job. Clarence thinks otherwise, and converts to cannon mode again, firing six shots at Quick Draw. Our hero exits town pronto, the cannon balls in pursuit, calling for Baba to pick up the reward money, then look him up in Arizona.

Impossible Imposters (1/25/60) features Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse. Unlike many late episodes of the series where Snooper seemed to always be in need of a case, the self-proclaimed world’s greatest private eye is answering a bank of telephones on his desk, refusing cases right and left, because he is allegedly booked solid with existing work. Blabber sits close by reading the newspaper, commenting on how good Snooper looks in his latest press photo. Snooper leans over for a look at the article, showing Snooper being handed a million-dollar ruby for safeguarding by wealthy Orville Rich. Snooper admires himself, faulting the photographer for only snapping him from his “adequate side”, but then casually remarks to Blabber that he never took the case. Blabber wonders what, then, is Rich handing him the ruby for. Snooper takes another look, then realizes it’s not him in the photo at all, but “some handsome, good-looking guy imposturing me.” “You forgot. ‘Devil may care’, Snoop”, adds Blabber. Snooper and Blab set off for the billionaire’s mansion to see if the ruby is okay and save Snooper’s reputation. They find Rich in his parlor (Snoop is certain in advance that Rich is at home, because who would want to leave his gorgeous abode.) Before he can explain the curious circumstances, he receives an unexpected reception from Mr. Rich – a shout of “Where’s my ruby?”, accompanied by shotgun blasts. Unable to get a word in edgewise against flying bullets, Snoop ducks for cover into a closet. There, he sees an image of himself, and believes he is looking into a full-length mirror. But when the “reflection” neither straightens its hat nor smiles on cue with Snooper, Snoop speculates that the mirror must be broken. Another explanation presents itself, as the “reflection” produces a pistol, and blasts Snooper in the face. ‘It’s me handsome imposteror!” Snoop runs, hollering for Blab to bring the handcuffs, while the imposter, a mechanical robot doppelganger to Snoop, wobbles in a slow robot walk out of the closet, carrying the ruby. Blabber arrives, and seeing the ruby, thinks Snooper has solved the case already – only to receive a similar blast in the face from the robot’s pistol. The real Snooper returns, and he and Blabber tail the robot to a spooky old house in the country, with appropriate sign at the gate reading “Mad Scientist Hideoit”/ “The thick plottens”, quips Snoop, not intimidated in the least by the creepiness of the abode – after all, where else would you look for a mad scientist?

Snoop cases the place, peering through a window. “Jumpin’ jellybeans! I don’t believe it”, he utters. “Can I look too, Snoop? I don’t want to believe it either”, remarks Blab. The sight is one not for sore eyes – a seemingly endless parade of imposter robots, all looking like twins to Snoop, each one carrying a different article of valuable loot. The mad scientist stands by a control oanel of switches and levers, congratulating the robots on their night’s work, announcing that they will be rewarded with an extra bowl of nuts and bolts for dinner. He begins assigning thieving tasks to each of them for the next evening, while Snooper realizes desperate measures must be taken to clear his good name. Snooper decides to mingle with the robots bu posing as one of them, instructing Blabber before entering that if he is not out in 30 minutes, to phone for the police. Snooper assumes a mechanical walk, and crosses the threshold, An electric eye beam detects him as living rather than mechanical, and sounds an alarm. “I think me jig is up”, reacts Snoop, who darts to stand in line rigidly with the robots. Knowing an intruder has entered the hideout, the scientist calls upon his special devices to detect a robot’s imposter. Our from a wall extends a large wooden mallet on an extra-long pole. One by one, it delivers clobbering blows on each of the robots, flattening their hats with a clang. Snooper braces himself, and takes the blow himself, but remains standing, commenting to the audience, “What a way to earn a livin’.” The scientist’s next control does even worse. Each robot’s head unscrews, popping up out of its collar upon a large bouncing spring. With great effort, knowing this won’t be easy, Snooper coils his neck to match the unwound spring of the robots, his face looking greatly pained. Who should walk in at this point but Blabber, who, ridiculously calm, asks the scientist if he can have a word with Snooper. The scientist agrees, if Blabber can pick him out. Blabber says that’s easy, as the real Snooper is the not-so-handsome one. Blab asks Snoop how long it was that Snoop said to wait before calling the police, and Snooper angrily responds 30 minutes. Blabber apologizes that he thought it was 30 seconds, and the police are already here. An officer already has the scientist in custody, and tells Snooper he’ll receive a nice reward for recovering the loot. Snooper insists he was only in this to clear his good name, but nevertheless makes inquiry where he can pick up the reward. The film closes with the added results of Snooper’s efforts. His office is now populated by the robots, who answer every phone call with the agency’s latest motto – “We take every case.” With all this manpower, Snooper lounges comfortably in a reclining office chair, just watching the activity and the potential fees rolling in, and remarks to Blabber that “I never thought there would ever be enough of me to go around.”

Ro-Butler (Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, 12/21/59) – It’s father’s day, and Daddy is sleeping in – until he hears loud hammering (which in his dreaming state, he thinks is the shooting of the James Boys). Calling to the basement to see what is the commotion, his call is answered by Augie, who states he is working on Daddy’s Father’s Day present. Augie is hammering in the last nails on a robot the size of a human, who looks much like one of the Muni-Mula men except for a head shaped like an inverted cone, with no speaker for a mouth – in fact, the robot is entirely mute, and only communicates mood through occasional shift of eyebrows or a grill seen once in the picture that resembles a smile. Augie issues orders from a one-button control box with a receiver that takes audio commands, transmitting signals into an antenna in the top of the robot’s head, and orders the robot to serve Daddy breakfast in bed. The robot stands with tray in hand over Daddy’s bed, and taps Daddy on the nose to awaken him. Daddy sleepily opens his eyes a bit, and remarks, “Good thing I’m dreaming, or I’d be climbing the chandelier.” Then, realization dawns that he is awake. In a split second, Daddy is inside the chandelier above, screaming for help from Augie. Augie reveals that the robot is his father’s day servant to command, and Daddy is too sensitive of his boy’s feelings to refuse the gift outright, so braces himself to give the invention a tryout.

Back in bed, Daddy receives a cup of coffee from the robot, then asks for “Two lumps”. The robot obliges, smacking Daddy with a couple of blows to the head with the coffee pot. Daddy is informed by Augie that he has to be careful of what he says being taken literally. Augie suggests some toast for breakfast, and Daddy agrees, but adds “Tell mister nuts and bolts to skip the jokes, and give it to me straight.” The robot responds by pushing the toaster straight into Daddy’s mouth, with the toast emerging from the toaster inside Daddy’s head, inflating his ears into neat pop-up squares. Augie suggests a morning bath, with the robot forcefully dunking Daddy in the tub. However, the scrubbing goes well, Daddy not only admitting he likes it, but it tickles. Playfully, he adds, “How about telling him to hang me out to dry?” Before Daddy knows it, he is hanging by his ears from the clothesline outside. “I know, I know. I said the wrong thing”, he admits to Augie.

Moving to the living room, Augie convinces Daddy to be careful again with his speech, and give the butler one more chance. Daddy commands the robot himself to obtain the morning paper and a cigar. He instructs the robot, “First the paper, then the cigar, then light it.” The robot shoves the end of the rolled-up newspaper into Daddy’s mouth, stuffs the cigar into the center of the paper roll, then lights the paper, igniting the whole mess so that the cigar is entirely burnt away, falling in ashes to the floor. Daddy tries it one more time, changing instruction to “First the cigar, then the paper…” The robot merely stuffs the cigar into his mouth first, and the newspaper roll around it, lighting the match with the same result. Daddy resolves to fire the butler, but issues him one more order to “Clean up the mess around here”. The robot instantly scoops up Daddy with a dustpan and broom, carts Daddy outside, and dumps him in the trash can. Even Augie knows the robot has overdone it, and Daddy returns, pressing the control box, and ordering the robot to give him the broom and dustpan. The robot brings them down upon Daddy’s head, flattening him upon the floor, and under him, the control box, which is smashed. Daddy says we’re through with the robot. “But he’s not through with you”, Augie states, as, similar to Paramount’s Electronica, the robot continues to follow its last command, unless a new control box is built. The robot brings the broom down upon Daddy again and again, but Daddy graciously consents to his son taking his time to build the new box, admitting, “How many fathers are lucky enough to get a butler on father’s day?”

NEXT WEEK: We’ll explore other random series into the early 60’s.


  • Gumby has a vintage Nylint T-24 Michigan truck-mounted jumbo crane, from back in the days when boys’ toys were made of metal with sharp edges and corners to make a man out of you. One of those would go for one to two hundred dollars today, depending on condition.

    To me, the robots in “Planet Pirates” appear to be shaped not like “upside down ice cream cones”, but like regular ice cream cones held the proper way. An upside down ice cream cone would have the scoop on the bottom, that is, for just a fraction of a second before it fell to the ground. Then you’d have to spend the rest of the day crying about it because your dad wouldn’t buy you another one. I remember that happening once.

    I was distracted by Don Messick’s pronunciation of “robutt” in the narration to that cartoon, but I just checked my dictionaries and they all list it as a legitimate alternative. In fact, my Funk & Wagnalls gives it as the preferred option. Have I been saying it wrong all these years?

    As a police officer, Huck should know that hiding in a mailbox is a federal offense. But having the feds on his tail is probably the least of his worries.

    Looking forward to next week’s robutt cartoons!

  • And now, stand by for adventure! Colonel Bleep, the first animated series made for TV in colour, had a couple of robot-themed episodes from 1958:

    “The Rusty Robots”: The evil Dr. Destructo kidnaps a mechanical robot train driver and spritzes it with his experimental Rust-O-Spray. As expected, it causes the robot’s parts to oxidise and corrode, disabling it. Heartened by its success, Dr. Destructo travels through space spritzing robots with Rust-O-Spray as his latest plot to take over the universe. Soon fleets of space ambulances are taking rusted robots to the Futura Clinic, but the robot medic in charge sadly says that there is no cure, and robotkind is doomed unless a vaccine can be developed. The heroic spaceman Col. Bleep intently pours coloured fluids from one test tube into another and back again, and in short order he has an anti-Rust-O-Spray serum, which the clinic then dispenses to its patients. Meanwhile, Dr. Destructo comes to a space station manned by a robot named Gydex and quickly disables it with the spray. Little does he know that Gydex was the first robot to receive the vaccine, and is only playing possum until Destructo gets within range; then Gydex springs into action and chases Destructo off into deep space with a volley of space cannon.

    “War in Robotland”: Col. Bleep and his pals Squeak the cowboy and Scratch the caveman are turning in for the night when they get an emergency message from the planet Robotland. Robotland had hitherto been a peaceful world ruled by the master robot Romex, who directed the other robots to manufacture useful machines for the good of the universe. But the evil Dr. Destructo, having disguised himself as a robot, pulled a switch that cut off Romex’s power; whereupon he assumed control of Robotland and directed the robots to build space tanks for his program of universal conquest. While Bleep is busy vaporising the tanks with his space beam, Squeak shoots Scratch out of a cannon and into the Robotland command centre, and he throws the switch restoring power to Romex. Now that they’re no longer under Destructo’s control, the space tanks turn on him and chase him into the far-off reaches of the universe.

  • I always liked mst3k’s take on Robot Rumpus.

    • Clockey seemed to have a large interest in robots. Robot clones would play a part in “The Gumby Movie” (1995).

      • The robot waiter gave Prickle a lot of problems in that movie, too.

  • I’m sure a good amount of people recall Gumby’s “Robot Rumpus” from when it was featured in MST3K as part of a bill with “The Screaming Skull”. Given that two of its three leads were bots themselves, the ending shot of a robot head mounted on the garage horrified them after spending the whole short heckling the claymation figures.

    • Ironically, Crow and Tom Servo are displayed at the Center For Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia RIGHT next to a display of stop-motion pupets that features Gumby!

  • Art Clokey returned to the subject of robots with “The Mechanical Man” (Clokey Productions/The United Lutheran Church in America, Davey and Goliath, 22/9/60 — Arthur Clokey, dir.).

    After adopting a stray kitten, Davey and his sister Sally receive a package in the mail from their Aunt Kathy containing Mekano, a remote-controlled robot, as well as a mechanical cat for Goliath to play with. Goliath has no interest in the toy cat, preferring to play with the live kitten, but Davey and his friend Jimmy are keen to get the robot up and running. They get it to walk — but it walks right through Jimmy’s mother’s flower bed. Then they try to get it to play baseball. Mekano pitches with Jimmy at bat, Davey and Sally fielding, and Goliath catching. After Mekano throws two strikes, the kitten nuzzles the remote control, and suddenly the robot goes wild. It grabs Goliath by the tail, swings him around and throws him into a bush. Thereafter Goliath wants nothing to do with robots. Mekano’s next pitch flies wildly into the distance, and the kids go off to retrieve the ball. The kitten nudges the remote control again, and the robot marches menacingly toward Goliath, who knocks it down. When the kids return, they find the robot lying inert on the ground with a broken arm. Goliath asks if Mekano’s arm will ever heal, but Davey says no, only living things can heal themselves. Jimmy suggests that they bring Mekano back to life like Frankenstein, giving the robot a heart, brain and so forth; but Davey says that won’t work, because only God can create living things. Now aware that God’s creations are superior to man’s, the kids leave the broken robot on the ground and go off to play with the kitten.

    So would a self-aware robot with free will have a soul? Davey and Goliath never tackled that question.

    • He also came back to the robot issue from a bit of different angle in the Gumby episode Gumbot, where the blockheads hypnotized Gumby into being a robot worker on their assembly line.

  • Bozo also contended with an alien robot in “Space Gun Fun”. I had a 50 ft silent version of that one, one of the very few color reels in my 8mm collection until Disney began releasing titles in the 70s.

    The robot arrives in a flying saucer and is witnessed by Bozo and Butch, who are riding a scooter. The robot captures Butch and tries to zap Bozo with his space gun, which incinerates a tree Bozo hides behind. Bozo rides off, promising to return. He does so, wearing a medieval suit of armor. Now evidently immune to the space gun, Bozo punches the robot until it collapses into a pile of junk. Butch is okay.

    What do you expect in 50 ft?

  • The Internet Archive is a resoource for viewing early Hanna Barbera shorts (Huck Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw Mcgraw, Snooper/Blabbermouse, and even some Pixie & Dixie (including Jinks)

  • Are you going to look at 60s tv series with robots as the main characters? Like Astro Boy & Gigantor fron Japan, and Frankenstein Jr. from the USA?

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