My parents splurged (at $2.95 a month) on cable in 1972 so Dad could watch his beloved White Sox on Channel 44 from Chicago. This opened up a whole new world of TV entertainment for my brother and I. Ray Rayner on Channel 9 got us off to school every day (“Ten minutes to eight, don’t be late!”) and the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals were waiting for us on Channel 32 when we got home. And Channel 44 had a whole bunch of great cartoons, including many of the Marvel superhero series from the 1960s.
But the best of Channel 44’s cartoons, the one my brother and I went nuts for, was Speed Racer, an early anime about a young race car driver. (You probably haven’t escaped the trailers for the movie, opening this month, based on this show.) Speed Racer had a style and intensity missing in the cartoons that filled our Saturday mornings. We were taken in by the mystery surrounding Racer X, a driver who always arrived at the right moment to give Speed advice or save his bacon, but then disappeared – and Speed didn’t know that Racer X was actually his older brother, Rex, who ran away from home some years before. Nobody at Hanna-Barbera was writing cartoons like this.
This 40-year-old series is available on DVD today, and I own the first volume. A few changes were made to the opening and closing sequences as the films were remastered, so today I share with you what they looked like when I first saw them in the early 1970s.