Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Beany and Cecil

Have you ever had a childhood memory so dim and sparse that you wondered if you had dreamed it? I’ve had a few. Sometimes I’ll encounter something that cracks such a memory open.

Here’s one. In college thirty years ago, I built a collection of Paul McCartney vinyl. One day I bought a 45 of the song Another Day, a song I didn’t think I knew. But when I played the record I was suddenly three years old, at breakfast in my mother’s kitchen. I could see everything clearly. The kitchen table was covered in dark simulated woodgrain laminate with a brown plastic edge and brown steel tubes for legs. My high-backed chair was covered in vinyl with a loud green floral pattern. The fridge stood in the corner, its long chrome door handle like a giant upside-down T. A white plastic table radio sat atop the fridge, tuned to an AM station that played this song every morning while it was a hit. Transported, I played the song over and over that college afternoon, enjoying the remembered connection.

While Another Day had slipped entirely from memory, a particular cartoon sea serpent had not, at least not entirely. I clearly remembered the main character’s lisp: Theethil the Thee-Thick Thea Therpent. So I was excited to find this clip of the show’s open on YouTube the other day:

My brother was over the other day and I showed this to him. “Of course I remember it,” he said. “You wouldn’t quit saying ‘Nyah-ah-ahh’ over and over again! You did it for years! I wanted to pummel you!” I felt my brain pop with the recalled memory. It was the villain Dishonest John’s signature laugh! I adopted it as my own until I was 9 or 10! How could I forget? Here’s an entire Beany and Cecil cartoon with plenty of Dishonest John nyah-ah-ahhing:

Beany and Cecil were created by Bob Clampett, who animated the craziest Warner Brothers cartoons. (Side trip: On his blog, John Kricfalusi, creator of the cartoon Ren and Stimpy, deconstructs several of Clampett’s WB cartoons and reveals the man’s genius. See those posts here.) Clampett first created Beany and Cecil as puppets, Cecil just a sock with eyes glued on. In 1949, these puppets became a huge hit on TV in Los Angeles. Albert Einstein is said to have been a fan. In 1959, Clampett animated these characters for theatrical cartoons in foreign markets. In 1962, ABC started running the cartoons in prime time and got Clampett to make more of them. The cartoons ran on ABC until 1967 and in syndication through the early 1970s.

I learned recently from the FuzzyMemories forum that the BJ and the Dirty Dragon Show on WFLD in Chicago showed Beany and Cecil cartoons, and that’s where I must have watched them. The Dirty Dragon finished his run on WFLD in July, 1973, which was about six months after we got cable and could have seen the show. Moreover, it was on at noon, meaning we could watch only during the summer. So after watching Beany and Cecil cartoons for maybe four weeks that summer, I then annoyed my brother for four years repeating Dishonest John’s laugh.


Vintage Television

Vintage TV: 1950s animated commercials

My mom’s parents always had the latest gadgets and electronics, so it was typical of them that they bought their first television in 1949. South Bend, where Mom grew up, didn’t have its own TV stations yet, so Grandpa put up a big antenna and they watched Chicago stations. They had the only television in their neighborhood for quite some time, and all the neighborhood kids wanted to visit to watch whatever shows were on. TV was so new that every show seemed like an event.

1949 television was very primitive. Most stations were on the air only a few hours a day, and most shows and commercials were live. But television grew up fast during the 1950s and by the end of the decade it had fully taken shape. My mom, as a little girl, had a front row seat to it all.

Mom especially enjoyed animated commercials. So many commercials in TV’s early days consisted of a man in a suit holding up the product and talking about it. It made animated commercials all the more compelling to my mom as a young girl.

Sometimes the advertised products were things Mom might use, such as toothpaste.

Sometimes the advertised products were things Mom couldn’t care less about, such as bank loans. No matter, she still watched.

This commercial for Winston cigarettes caused quite hubbub in its day. The prevailing wisdom then was that television should use English properly, and this commercial’s slogan committed a grammatical error. Only the strictest grammarian would arch an eyebrow today, and he or she would tell you that the slogan should be “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”

The simple line-art style of the previous two commercials was common among animated commercials in the ’50s. I figure the simpler they were, the less expensive they were to produce. This spot for Maypo maple-flavored oatmeal was very popular.

Another way to keep costs down was to create short commercials, such as this one for Hellman’s Mayonnaise.

There was a time when most people could sing the Black Label Beer jingle – hey, Mabel! I haven’t seen this beer on store shelves since the 1970s.

Plenty of beer commercials were animated in the 1950s, including this one for Hamm’s Beer. This log-rolling bear and hapless duck shilled Hamm’s beer on TV into the 1970s. I remember watching a shorter, colorized version of it when I was a child.

In this age of recording shows on DVRs or watching them on the Internet, advertisers struggle to get their ads noticed. Maybe they should take a lesson from the 1950s and animate more of them.