The world of television animation is vast and expansive - For every "Flintstones" and "Simpsons", there are several dozen cartoons along the lines of "Paddy the Pelican" and "Spunky & Tadpole". Naturally not every cartoon can be talked about in great detail; for many of the little-known shows, there's simply not enough to speak about. But we shouldn't write these cartoons off as nothing, some of these would pave the way for later titles or provide interesting insight into the popular trends of entertainment.
This series, "Cartoon Footnotes", will be taking a look at the shows that may not be historically significant on their own, but nevertheless were a part of the landscape of television animation.
The Adventures of Pow Wow
January 30 - March 6, 1949
The Adventures of Pow Wow, created by Joseph Benson "Bugs" Hardaway (a former Warner Bros. animator who the famous Bugs Bunny was named after) and Sam Singer (an animation producer who would work on several other early TV cartoons), debuted on January 30, 1949 as a Sunday morning program on WNBT-TV (now known as WNBC), a local station in the New York area. Only a mere 6 episodes of Pow Wow were produced initially, ending on March 13th of that same year.
The premise of the show centered around Pow Wow, a young native-american boy living with a small tribe. Each episode would have Pow Wow helping someone, primarily animals, from the dangers of life in the west. Whenever he's in need of assistance, he would speak to the medicine man, who'd give him something that'd help solve the problem of the day.
Rather than a full voice cast like most cartoons, Adventures of Pow Wow's voice cast consists of only a narrator doubling as the dialogue provider for the characters (which rarely matched the mouth movements on-screen). Animation for Pow Wow was decent, certainly as good as one could expect from a TV cartoon of that era. Though, as for the show itself, it has been widely forgotten due to obscurity and, even more likely, its somewhat questionable portrayal of Native Americans.
Jim and Judy in Teleland
September - December 1949
Television Screen Productions / Film Flash Productions
Jim and Judy in Teleland, created by Paul N. Peroff, premiered in September 1949 with 52 five-minute episodes. The premise of the show was that the titular characters Jim & Judy would enter their television set and have adventures. The show wasn't much of a hit, but it would go on to air in Venezeuala in 1954 and Japan in 1956. It may have also aired in 1959 as "Bob and Betty in Adventureland".
Sadly, there really isn't much information about this show available, nor any episodes known to exist besides some that are held by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in California. It has been said that the show was met with some controversy by parents at the time, that children who watched the show would try to enter their televisions similar to Jim and Judy.
Tele-Comics / NBC Comics
Telecomics Inc. / Vallee Video
September 18, 1950 - March 23, 1951
Telecomics, Inc. had been formed as an animation studio in 1942 by former Disney animators Dick Moores and Jack Boyd. In 1949, they got a syndicated program on television, consisting of four 3-minute stories per episode: "Brother Goose", "Joey and Jug", "Rick Rack Secret Agent", and "Sa-Lah". This 15 minute program was distributed by Vallee Video, a company owned by singer Rudy Vallee.
The initial series was a bomb (to the point where all copies have been lost to time), but the project caught the interest of NBC, who ordered a 165 segment series (each segment being 3 1/2 minutes aired together in groups of four) entitled "NBC Comics". This show premiered September 18, 1950, weekday afternoons at 5pm on NBC.
Telecomics and NBC Comics were both basically what their titles implied, a televised reading of comic book pages. There may be one animated effect per episode at best, but most of the time it would just be still images accompanying what amounted to a radio play. To be honest, it barely even qualifies as a cartoon.
NBC Comics consisted of four serialized shorts per episode. The first was "Danny March", following the investigations of private eye Danny March and his assistant Reggie, living in the crime-ridden Metro City.
The second was "Space Barton", the first Sci-Fi cartoon made for TV, about an Army Air Corps pilot from Earth who is sent on a rocket to Mars and finds himself in the middle of a civil war orchestrated by a mad scientist.
The third was "Kid Champion", a boxing series about Eddie Hale, who is a musician-turned-boxer.
The last (with the least information available) was "Johnny and Mr. Do Good", about a boy and his wacky dog.
Voice actor information is scarce concerning who participated in NBC Comics, but Robert C. Bruce (narrator for many Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies shorts during the 40's and 50's) was the voice of Space Barton and several other characters in the other shorts.
While NBC Comics did slightly better than its 1949 predecessor, it didn't perform as well as they had hoped, and had its final NBC broadcast on March 23, 1951, only six months after it began. It would then stumble its way through syndication for the next several years, until finally fading into the obscurity nearly all television shows from that time share.
Winky Dink and You
1953 - 1957
Barry Enright Friendly Productions
Created by Harry Prichett Sr. and Ed Wyckoff, "Winky Dink and You" is considered to be the first interactive television show. Kids would send in 50 cents to an address in New York (or for $2.95 in toy stores), and receive in the mail a "Winky Dink Kit", consisting of four crayons (eight crayons in the toy store version), a wipe cloth, and a large sheet of vinyl plastic that would stick to the television by static electricity.
Harry Prichett had come up with the idea while working for an advertising agency who worked with Benrus Watches. The agency had made a commercial for the watch company, which aired during the variety program Your Show of Shows, that said on-screen that watches could be bought for "$39.95 and up", but the "and up" part had possibly been cut off by the edge of the screen and many customers were complaining that the expensive watches offered couldn't be bought for the lowest price. The agency ordered its employers to watch the program and report back if the message was really being cut off. Prichett placed a piece of cellulose acetate film over the TV screen and took a grease pencil that he'd use to sketch the problem area of the commercial. While he waited for the commercial to show up, he added doodles and erased them to put new ones in. It was here he realized how fun this would be for children.
In the show, host Jack Barry (as himself) would guide the children through assisting Winky Dink (voiced by Mae Questel, best known as both Betty Boop and Olive Oyl) and his dog Woofer with the help of their magic screen and crayons. When prompted, the kids would draw objects, people, decode messages, connect the dots, whatever Winky Dink and Barry needed from the audience. It wasn't exactly a "cartoon", besides Winky Dink (who would move at a wonderful 2 frames per second), but the actual animation would come from the drawings made on the screen.
Beginning in 1953, Winky Dink and You was broadcasted live on Saturday mornings at 10am on CBS. The show was so successful that a second Sunday morning slot was added a year later, both slots airing on a total of 175 stations. While the kits were a success, the show never performed well in the ratings, possibly because the show only made any sense if viewers owned the kit. There was also a growing issue of kids who didn't own the kits drawing directly on the (expensive first-generation) television screens with their own crayons, causing a number of complaints from parents. Not even to mention, there was a worry of children sitting too close to those early television set.
Ultimately, when Jack Barry left the show in 1957 to focus on a career in prime-time with the game show Twenty-One (a job that would spark its own controversy when it was revealed a year later that the game was rigged), Winky Dink and You ended. It wouldn't be until 1969, well over a decade later, that Winky Dink would be revived for a new generation.
Also from 1949-1953
- Crusader Rabbit (1949-1952) : The first cartoon series made for television