Cartoons have long been a staple of television programming, making the jump from their theatrical movie warm-up act to the small screen in the 1950s. During the 1950s, major film studios had all of the popular cartoon characters in their pockets, and since these studios regarded the new entertainment format of television as a deadly enemy, they refused to supply animated programming to TV. This situation was highlighted by the success of Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater. When Uncle Miltie’s comedy-variety show was on, movie theaters were almost empty.
It was up to a talented group of newcomers to develop animated fare to keep the kiddies occupied on early morning weekdays and of course Saturday morning. The rising popularity of children’s programming led to television being dubbed an “electronic babysitter”, even more so today when kids under twelve watch more TV than at any other time in history.
The following list is a good cross-section of the changes in this industry, from simple cartoons that were little more than individual pictures with narration to action adventures with science fiction themes encompassing outer space and cyborgs. Some of these will be familiar, and others will probably leave you scratching your head because you won’t remember them.
Crusader Rabbit (NBC 1950-51)
This was the first animated series made for television, and the brainchild of Alex Anderson and Jay Ward, who went on to do Rocky and Bullwinkle. They teamed up in 1948 and began producing stories about a white rabbit in knight’s armor and his sidekick Ragland T. Tiger (or Rags for short). Despite being called crusades, there was nothing religious about the stories. The original 195 episodes led off with Crusader going to Texas to fight against rabbit hunting in that state. Lucille Bliss was the rabbit’s voice, and she also did voices for 101 Dalmatians, The Smurfs, Walt Disney’s Cinderella, and the recent film Robots.
Beany and Cecil (ABC 1962-67)
Originally a prime time show, this classic moved to Saturday mornings after its initial run. Beany, a young boy, roamed the oceans in a ship called Leakin’ Lena, captained by his uncle Horatio Huffenpuff. His constant companion was Cecil, a sea serpent with delusions of being a super hero. Cecil looked like a puppet because he started life as one on an earlier TV show. The propeller hat worn by Beany allowed him to fly. You could always expect recurring villain Dishonest John (with his trademark “Nya-ha-ha” laugh) to capture the boy, who would then scream for Cecil to help him. The serpent always obliged with his catch phrase “I’m comin’ Beany-boy”.
Marine Boy (Syndicated, September 12, 1968-August 1, 1969)
Marine Boy was the show that popularized Japanese Anime in the United States, the first such show to have a wide American fan base. We never found out his real name, but he was the son of Dr. Mariner, the scientist in charge of Ocean Patrol, a defense organization. Marine Boy used a suit with built-in jets to zip around under water, and employed something called Oxygum so he could survive without diving equipment. He would use a device called a sonic boomerang, which was clipped to his arm, against his enemies. He was helped out by a dolphin named Splasher and Neptina, a young mermaid whose long hair always managed to hide her upper body so no one would be offended.
Herge’s Adventures of Tintin (Syndicated, 1963-1971)
This show was mainly relegated to stations in larger metropolitan areas of America, and was usually on around 9 AM. Although he’s been around since the mid 1920s, Tintin is a relative unknown in the United States. In Europe and Canada, he is a legendary comic book figure created by a Belgian artist and writer. He was a young reporter for 20th Century Magazine, although he was rarely seen at his writing desk, instead being involved in globe trotting adventures with Snowy (in the French language known as Milou), his white dog of questionable breed, and human friends Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and detectives the Thompson Twins, after whom the popular 1980s musical group named themselves.
8th Man (Syndicated, 1966)
A murdered detective’s body is claimed by a professor who uses it in an experiment to create a cyborg, transferring the policeman’s life force into the android body. This being his eighth attempt at the process, which is successful this time, gives the title character his name. The cyborg continues to fight crime, now with tremendous new powers, including super speed, tremendous strength, and the ability to electronically change his appearance, and eventually brings his killers to justice. One of the things that may have killed off this Anime series was the fact that when he needed extra power, 8th Man would get it from something resembling cigarettes which he got out of a belt compartment.
The Adventures of Jonny Quest (ABC, premiered September 18, 1964)
Jonny is the son of widower Dr. Benton Quest, a brilliant scientist often found working on government projects. He travels all over the world in an action packed series of adventures, accompanied by his bodyguard Race Bannon, his best friend Hadji, an orphan from India, and a small white bulldog named Bandit because of the black mask marking around his eyes. A live action version of this show has been in the works for several years, yet the production keeps getting shut down by on-set accidents and weather problems.
Space Ghost (CBS, premiered September 10, 1966)
Radio legend Gary Owens provided the voice of Space Ghost, a super hero of dubious origin dressed in a white costume and black mask. He can fly and uses wrist mounted power bands to harness various types of energy beams. His galactic adventures were often complicated by his friends Jan and Jace, who along with their pet monkey Blip always managed to get into trouble. Also supplying voice talent were Keye Luke, Ted Cassidy, and Tim Matheson. The TNT Network brought him out of retirement decades later to host the mock talk show Space Ghost Coast To Coast.
The Herculoids (CBS, September 9, 1967-September 6, 1969)
Set on the far away world Quasar, this program followed the adventures of Zandor, his wife Tarra, and their son Dorno. They were helped in the defense of their planet by a group of highly exotic creatures. They were Igoo, a huge rock ape with incredible strength; Zok, a dragon capable of emitting energy beams from his eyes and tail; Tundro, a ten-legged armored pseudo-rhinoceros that fired explosive rocks via a cannon-like horn; and two globs of animated protoplasm with size changing and body-splitting abilities named Gloop and Gleep.
Atom Ant (NBC, premiered September 12, 1965)
Possibly the world’s tiniest superhero (with the exception of Fearless Fly), he lived in an ant hill on the outskirts of town and used his great strength, speed, and flying abilities to fight crime. The local police department seemed to be composed of only two officers and an unreliable patrol car, so Atom’s help was always needed. He wore a costume consisting of a long sleeved turtleneck orange sweater emblazoned with a blue “A”, purple tights, and a white helmet adorned with holes which permitted his antennas to stick out.
Courageous Cat (Syndicated, 1960)
Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, brought us this parody of his own bread-and-butter super hero who fought crime in Empire City with his companion Minute Mouse. Everything in this show was a spoof of the original Caped Crusader, such as the Catmobile and the Cat Cave. The main villain was The Frog, who went around speaking suspiciously like Edward G. Robinson. Courageous Cat always produced a gun with whatever capabilities he needed to solve a problem, a lampoon of Batman’s utility belt. Courageous’ voice was supplied by Dallas McKennon, who was also the voice of Gumby and later on Archie in that CBS cartoon.
As we look back at these cartoons, we see a pattern emerging. Most of these were, as many cartoons still are, male-oriented action series. Research shows that the largest audience for animated shows is male, perhaps because the male brain needs rapid, sometimes violent action to get its attention, whereas girls are more drawn to shows that involve detailed story telling and depth. There is no need to wonder why boys are more violent than girls when you consider this early training they get via television.