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The top five Saturday morning cartoons on Joan De Arc

By J. Bueker

     Saturday morning cartoons were the very quintessence of baby boomer childhood. After a long, dreary week of bothersome school work, crabby teachers, demanding parents and tedious household chores, this genuinely sacred interval of time was our happy reward. While we seemed to have some difficulty awaking and arising on school days, every Saturday morning without fail we were cheerfully wide awake and warming up the TV at the crack of dawn, munching away on a bowl of Cap’n Crunch in excited anticipation. Saturday morning cartoons were nothing less than one of the supreme joys of being a boomer kid.
     One of the great things about being up early on a Saturday was that our parents and older siblings were still in bed snoring obliviously away, and so my brother Charles and I made the most of this special time. I fondly recall one Saturday morning in the early Joan De Arc years when we smuggled a few blankets into the family room so that Charles the future engineer could devise and construct a sort of enclosed tent-like theatrical structure that we sat inside to enhance our cartoon-viewing experience. That’s right -- my brother and I were intrepid pioneers of the home theater with surround sound.
     For our purposes, “Saturday morning cartoons” shall be defined as a genre of television programming comprised of animated kids shows that ran on the big three networks on Saturdays in the 1960s from 6:00 am to 12 noon local time. Please note that this definition therefore excludes such monumental programs as
Rocky and Bullwinkle, which was a staple on Sunday mornings during those glorious years. That show pretty much deserves its very own article anyway. Hell, Mr. Peabody and Sherman alone merit their own article.
     Many memorable animated greats aired on Saturday morn during this period of course and distilling the list down to a small pantheon is no easy task, necessitating the omission of more than a few fond favorites. What follows is my highly opinionated and open-to-revision Top 5 List of ‘60s Saturday morning cartoons. I realize these sorts of lists are purely subjective and ultimately rather annoying, but they do provide an all-too convenient vehicle for wistfully nostalgic newspaper articles. So away we go:

5. Jonny Quest

     Jonny Quest was aimed squarely at boomer boys and was widely regarded (at least by boomer boys) as the coolest cartoon in the history of the known cosmos. This Hanna-Barbera offering was a marked contrast to most other Saturday morning fare as it was devoid of goofy, exaggerated comic characters and rather presented relatively realistic settings, relatable characters, and distinctively dramatic storylines.
     Our hero Jonny is a markedly precocious lad whose famous scientist father Benton Quest has a knack for falling into incredible and dangerous adventures that invariably include Jonny, his adoptive Indian brother Hadji, and their rugged bodyguard Race Bannon. The team is rounded out by Jonny’s faithful pooch Bandit, who interestingly was the only non-anthropomorphic canine in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon universe.
     The show combined science, exotic locations, detective-style mysteries and imaginative villains into a compelling weekly narrative. The Indian boy Hadji introduces an element of eastern mysticism and magic to the proceedings, deftly blending the show’s science fiction with the uncanny and supernatural. Of course, there are also the cool monsters -- the gigantic one-eyed robotic spider attacking Dr. Quest’s compound, which appeared in the show’s intro sequence each week, remains an indelible image from my childhood.

4. The Jetsons

     The Jetsons was a whimsical 1960’s peek into a future that has famously become startlingly prophetic. The show seems to anticipate with remarkable prescience such current technologies as housekeeper robots, personal video conferencing, tablet computers, smart watches, holograms, and ubiquitous giant flat-screen TVs, to name but a few. Yet despite its extraordinary high-tech futuristic setting, The Jetsons was in many ways your typical sixties family sitcom: George goes to work for a tyrannical boss, Jane his wife is a homemaker, daughter Judy a high school student, and his boy Elroy a grade schooler. The stories were for the most part fairly domestic and formulaic.
For some unexplained reason, the Jetson’s civilization is situated high in the clouds among incredibly elevated Space-Agey buildings. Was there some sort of catastrophe that befell humanity, forcing the abandonment of a ground-based existence? We are never told; this is just the way things are in the future, I guess. Perhaps this framework was devised simply to provide an immediately apparent contrast with present-day societies as well as a showcase for such visionary spectacles as flying cars and aerial transportation tubes.
     For me, the two unmistakable highlights of the show are George’s supremely pugnacious and egomaniacal boss, Mr. Spacely, and the Jetson’s big, slobbery dimwitted lovable lunk of a pet dog, Astro. Cosmo G. Spacely, voiced by the immortal Mel Blanc, is owner of George’s employer Spacely Space Sprockets, and his primary function in the show seems to be perpetually yelling at George for poor job performance and then firing him. Astro is an amazingly clueless canine but loving and loyal to a fault, and he is endearingly afflicted with an apparent speech impediment that replaces the first letter of every word with an ‘R’ sound: “I ruv roo Reorge.”
The Jetsons was great fun and a seemingly carefree cartoon, but there was also an undeniably dark side lurking in the futuristic hijinks. Perhaps a more ominous message may be glimpsed during the closing credits at the end of each episode when George becomes trapped in a runaway endless loop on his automated dog-walk treadmill screaming “stop this crazy thing!” Technology is often a wonderful friend, but it can also carry repercussions of deepest consequence.

3. The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show

     Heckle and Jeckle is an absolutely unique cartoon classic in a number of important respects. The two hooligan magpies are completely indistinguishable visually and discernable only by virtue of their distinctive voices, one a refined British accent and the other a savvy Brooklynese. The pair is also cheerfully violent and cruel, possessed of the ability to manipulate the very fabric of reality itself, and perfectly well aware of their existence as cartoon characters. In “The Power of Thought,” the magpies observe that “we cartoon characters can have a wonderful life if we only take advantage of it,” which of course they then proceed to do with a series of increasingly weird sight gags wreaking mayhem on an unfortunate, cognitively-disadvantaged bulldog police officer.
     The ambiguous nature of the two principals in
Heckle and Jeckle combined with the arbitrary mindlessness of the violence and the bizarrely conceived action to summon a richly equivocal experience unlike anything else in the history of cartoons. A superlative example can be found in “King Tut’s Tomb,” one of the most remarkable cartoon shorts ever produced.
     Apparently bored with antagonizing their adversaries at home, the magpies decide to fly a magic carpet to Egypt to seek treasure and annoy the sprits lurking in the famous pharaoh’s tomb. I mean, why not? What follows is a matchless sequence of craziness and spooky imagery culminating in a surreal harem-cat dance number featuring appearances by Harpo Marx and Frankenstein’s monster. Harpo’s cameo is probably a fond nod to the undeniable influence of the Marx Brothers on the magpie’s raucous shenanigans, as his presence serves no other conceivable purpose whatsoever. Why Frankenstein shows up though is anybody’s guess.
Heckle and Jeckle is a masterfully funny, entertaining, and skillfully rendered cartoon series, but I think the sheer weirdness of their adventures is what appealed most to me.
The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show aired on CBS Saturday mornings until 1966 and then reappeared from 1969-71 on NBC. The program featured a choice sampling of the fifty-two theatrical Heckle and Jeckle cartoons produced by Terrytoons between 1946 and 1966. I find it incomprehensible that this unique and timeless cartoon has never seen an official release on DVD. Get on with it, chum.

2. Top Cat

     Top Cat is Hanna-Barbera at its most sublime; in hindsight a wry, witty and exceptionally sophisticated creation, even genuinely poignant at times.
     The cartoon about the street-wise alley cat and his devoted gang of buddies apparently found its inspiration in the Phil Silvers Show, much like The Flintstones was based loosely upon The Honeymooners. Yet Top Cat’s original model hardly accounts for the full splendor of this clever animated jewel: Sgt. Bilko and his men were but a point of departure and by no means the paradigm itself.
     Top Cat and his pals are literally alley cats, denizens of a disreputable but cozy Manhattan backstreet known as Hoagy’s Alley, which forms their home and base of operations. TC is the acknowledged mastermind of the group and he is perpetually seeking angles to exploit in order to improve his gang’s lot in life. The show presents us with a tight-knot group of friends who genuinely care about one another -- more than any other Saturday morning cartoon, Top Cat consistently emphasizes the virtues of loyalty, togetherness, and belonging.
     Each of Top Cat’s five cohorts has a distinctive shape, color, and personality, lending a richness and variety to the storylines: the amorous Fancy-Fancy, the hip beatnik Spook, the sensitive intellectual Choo-Choo, the ironically named Brain, and Top Cat’s primary sidekick, the good-natured and conscientious Benny the Ball. The city backdrop of the bustling streets and skyscrapers of New York City was an unusual setting for a cartoon of this era and also lent Top Cat its own unique flavor.
     The scheming Top Cat is certainly something of a scoundrel, but his extraordinarily good-natured charm and quick humor makes him one of the most beloved cartoon characters ever conceived. He is opposed by the seemingly strict and perpetually annoyed beat cop Officer Dibble, who keeps a close eye on all the feline mischief but is ultimately the cats’ best buddy in the neighborhood. Top Cat and Dibble together present a central trope of the cartoon – seemingly adversaries, the pair consistently exhibits mutual affection and support.
     Amid all the clever one-liners, sight gags and inspired hucksterism, Top Cat could suddenly turn quite touching. The pathos of the episode “A Visit from Mother” derives from the loving relationship between Benny the Ball and his mom, who has oddly come to believe that Benny is the mayor of New York (because Benny wrote and told her he was). When mom comes to town for a visit, the loyal Top Cat comes to Benny’s rescue with an elaborate scheme that is not about making money but rather preserving his friend’s happiness. In the end, TC convinces Benny’s mom that her son is indeed the mayor, only to have her tenderly inform Benny that she would love him regardless of his station in life. Top Cat exhibits a potent sentimentality that sets it apart from its Saturday morning brethren.
     Like a handful of Saturday morning ‘toons that includes The Jetsons and Jonny Quest, Top Cat had its original run in prime time. Sadly, the show failed to garner stellar ratings and lasted but a single season, resulting in a total of only thirty episodes produced. Yet those mere thirty shows found great success and longevity running endlessly on Saturday mornings throughout the ‘60s and beyond, and just never did get old. Echoes of the show can even be discerned in later children’s programming: Top Cat perfected the art of trash-can living long before the motif was employed with a certain Grouch on Sesame Street.
     This heartfelt and brilliantly executed cartoon was Hanna-Barbera’s masterpiece in my ever-so-humble opinion. He’s the most tip top!

1. The Bugs Bunny Show

     There should be very little surprise which Saturday morning cartoon snags the top slot.
     It would be quite impossible in a few short paragraphs to convey the staggering cultural and artistic significance of Bugs Bunny. This singular animated character, originally conceived as a simple zany goofball, quickly evolved into a highly sophisticated and formidable cartoon everyman. Going about his business, Bugs is content to leave others be until provoked, and this is a key point: the mayhem he unleashes upon his adversaries is always richly deserved. Over the years, Bugs morphed into a genuine cultural icon, achieving success for an animated creation rivaled only by Disney. He wasn’t introduced each week as "that Oscar winning rabbit" for nothing.
     In the context of the Saturday morning cartoon milieu,
The Bugs Bunny Show presented a wonderful framing for a dazzlingly rich archive of classic Warner Brothers animated gems. The program was essentially an anthology series composed of old Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts produced by Warner Brothers for theatrical release over the previous two decades. Newly created transition segments were prepared for each episode by the Warner Bros. animation staff led by the legendary Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, ingeniously instilling the show with a charming continuity and cohesiveness.
     Hosted by Bugs with the ever-problematic assistance of his pal Daffy Duck, the show opened each week with the pair onstage wielding hats and canes and singing the sprightly iconic theme song “This is It.” For the final chorus, Bugs and Daffy are joined by a lively procession that introduces featured
supporting characters including Tweety, Sylvester, Speedy Gonzales, Elmer Fudd, Pepé Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn, and my personal favorite, the exquisitely hapless and immeasurably ornery Yosemite Sam.
     After a couple years in prime time, The Bugs Bunny Show debuted on Saturday mornings on April 7, 1962 and became the longest continuously-running morning kid’s show in TV network history. These amazing cartoons were the glue that held Saturday mornings together, providing a bedrock foundation for everything else that was going on. The timeless beauty of Bugs luring the maliciously avaricious Daffy into spectacular feats of self-destruction is pure magic. Tweety cheerfully and effortlessly destroying the determined Sylvester, Foghorn’s ingenious battles with Barnyard Dawg, Elmer Fudd’s inept grasp of duck season vs. rabbit season; countless examples abound. These cartoons will endure forever.
     Bugs Bunny is simply transcendent artistry -- one of those glorious, unexplainable, intangible and visionary concoctions that make life worth living.


My beloved birthday cake, revised

By J. Bueker

     I was saddened by Nabisco’s recent decision to discontinue their iconic Famous Chocolate Wafer cookies, a fixture on American grocery store shelves for well-nigh a century. Those chocolatey marvels became an integral feature of my childhood birthdays by virtue of my mother’s fondness for a popular Wafer recipe: the Refrigerator Roll, also known as the Icebox Cake. Somewhere along the way, this ambrosial whipped-cream-lathered creation became my official birthday cake each year when I was a kid, and my wife has kindly perpetuated the tradition for me into the twenty-first century.
     So for my birthday this year, some difficult decisions needed to be taken. I managed to locate a sparse selection of the Nabisco Wafers still available online, but they were predictably outrageously overpriced as well as significantly past their “Best Used By” date. After some soul-searching and considerable painstaking research, we settled upon an acceptable replacement cookie for the Refrigerator Roll: Dewey's Bakery Brownie Crisp Cookies.
     I was quite unacquainted with the Dewey’s brand, which originated in North Carolina in 1930, but the cookies were easy enough to locate and happily proved to be an eminently serviceable substitute for the Famous Wafers. Slightly smaller and presenting a somewhat different texture than the Nabisco Wafer, Dewey’s thins are nonetheless equally delicious and perfectly suitable for the legendary dessert roll. Birthday crisis averted!
     The key to proper execution of this simple yet scrumptious recipe lies in the provision of a decidedly generous apportionment of whipped cream layered between each cookie. Don’t be stingy! Please also note that sugar should not be added in the preparation of the cream, as the cookies alone provide the perfect degree of sweetness for the dessert. Party like it’s 1968!

Famous Wafer Refrigerator Roll (Revised)


·          2 cups heavy whipping cream

·         1 teaspoon vanilla

·         1 package (9 ounces) Dewey's Bakery Brownie Crisp Cookies


·         Beat cream with mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently stir in vanilla flavoring.

·         Spread 1-1/2 teaspoons whipped cream onto each cookie thin. Stack cookie thins and then stand edge on platter. Frost with remaining cream. Chill 4 hours and serve.

Nutrition Facts:

One serving (3.5 oz / 100g) of Refrigerator Roll Cake has 294 calories (176 calories from fat), 19.5g total fat (11.5g Saturated fat), 66mg cholesterol, 153mg sodium, 109mg potassium, 24g total carbohydrates (14g sugar), and 6.9g protein.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________ JDA

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