March 21, 2020

KING LEONARDO AND HIS SHORT SUBJECTS


KING LEONARDO AND HIS SHORT SUBJECTS
(NBC, October 15, 1960-September 28, 1963)

Total TeleVision productions, Leonardo Television Productions




MAIN CAST:
Jackson Beck – King Leonardo, Biggy Rat, Professor Messer
Allen Swift – Odie Colognie, Itchy Brother, Duke, Earl, Tooter Turtle, Narrator (The King and Odie)
Sandy Becker – Mr. Wizard
Kenny Delmar – The Hunter, Narrator (The Hunter)
Ben Stone – The Fox, Officer Flim Flanigan
Norman Rose – Mr. Mad, Narrator (several episodes of The King and Odie)
George S. Irving – Narrator (Twinkles), various male characters
Delo States – Various female and children characters


            For the average viewer, the shows made by Jay Ward Productions and Total TeleVision productions were almost interchangeable. Considering how much the two studios had in common behind the scenes, it’s no wonder why.



            To make Rocky and His Friends, Jay Ward Productions entered into a deal with advertising firm Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) that landed them sponsorship by one of their biggest clients, General Mills. General Mills was eager to create something to challenge the shows rival Kellogg’s was sponsoring from Hanna-Barbera. The financing/marketing company behind Jay Ward Productions, Producers Associates for Television (PAT), convinced General Mills to invest in the creation of a Mexican animation studio with the promise that they could get a tax break and use it for cheaply made animated commercials. That studio became Val-Mar Productions, later renamed Gamma Productions.

Itchy Brother model sheet.

            Gordon Johnson of DFS was the firm’s direct contact with Jay Ward and his crew. DFS, General Mills and the network often had issues with the content of Ward’s scripts, and Ward had issues with the quality of work being turned out by the raw talent in Mexico. Because of this, work on Rocky and His Friends often slowed, and even stopped. Since so much money was invested into Val-Mar—some of it Johnson’s own—Johnson decided that Val-Mar needed another series to work on; one that he could have more control over.

Odie Colognie character art.

            Johnson proposed the idea to W. Watts “Buck” Biggers, a trusted colleague and friend whom Johnson knew had the necessary contacts to make something like that happen. Biggers brought in his friend and colleague Chester “Chet” Stover and began doing research on the animation field and coming up with concepts involving animal characters that haven’t already been done by other studios. They formed Total TeleVision, which would offer “Total Concept,” “Total Entertainment” and “Total Flexibility.” As Biggers and Stover would continue their full-tine jobs at DFS initially, they brought in Biggers’ friend Treadwell D. Covington to manage the day-to-day operations of TTV, and eventually recruited Joe Harris to help refine Stover’s character designs and serve as a storyboard artist.


            The first concept they came up with was King Leonardo and His Short Subjects; so named because each episode would be comprised of several story segments less than 5-minutes in length, and also because most of the characters were based on small (read: short) animals. The primary segment was The King and Odie, which featured the titular King Leonardo (named for Leonardo da Vinci and modeled after Eugene Pallette, voiced by Jackson Beck), a lion, and his faithful companion, Odie O. Colognie (modeled after Ronald Colman, voiced by Allen Swift), a skunk. Leonardo was the inept ruler of the fictional jungle kingdom of Bongo Congo, whose main export was bongo drums (a popular instrument at the time). Odie was really the brains behind everything and helped keep the country running. Constantly vying for the throne was Leonardo’s dimwitted beatnik brother Itchy (also Swift, modeled after “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom), who was jealous of Leonardo’s power. Aiding him was Biggy Rat (modeled after Edward G. Robinson, also Beck), a high-level criminal who planned and executed Itchy’s coup attempts. Occasionally, they would be helped by an evil German inventor named Professor Messer (Beck). Swift also served as the segment’s narrator, except for a few done by Norman Rose.

Itchy, Biggy and Professor Messer.

            The King and Odie largely drew on Biggers and Stover’s experience in advertising. The jungle setting came from the affectionate term for the advertising business, as well as their realization that so few cartoon animals actually lived in their traditional environments. Leonardo and Odie were also patterned after a typical CEO and his “right-hand man”. Johnson and Biggers presented the show idea to General Mills with Biggers providing character voices and pointing to Harris’ storyboards. General Mills green-lit the series, but had some concerns whether they could come up with enough stories. Biggers and Stover abated those fears by presenting them with enough material for 52 episodes.


            One of the accompanying short subjects was The Hunter. The Hunter (Kenny Delmar, using a voice similar to his Senator Claghorn character) was a dog detective that worked for a human cop, Officer Flim Flanigan (Ben Stone). They were always hot on the trail of a fox thief named, surprisingly, The Fox (also Stone). The stories usually involved The Fox stealing some kind of outlandish thing—such as the Brooklyn Bridge—and being pursued by The Hunter and Officer Flanigan, often being caught only through dumb luck. The Hunter often announced his presence by blowing a horn and came prepared with a business card marked “Have nose, will hunt.” Delmar also served as the segment’s narrator.


            The next subject was Tooter Turtle. The titular turtle (Swift, using a stereotypical dumb guy voice) was a daydreamer who happened to be friends with an actual wizard, Mr. Wizard the Lizard (Sandy Becker, using a faux German accent). Tooter often asked Mr. Wizard to magic him into a new occupation or role in life as he was never satisfied with his own. Mr. Wizard would grant his request, only for Tooter to experience some kind of disaster in the new scenario that would make him appreciate his original lot in life and request to return to it. Tooter was originally going to be named Toonerville, but changed it to avoid potential problems with a comic strip called Toonerville Folks.


            The other short subject was a bit of an oddity. At the time, General Mills was producing a cereal called Twinkles, which featured a pink elephant mascot with the same name. They had asked that the character be included in his own adventures in the program, which would also serve as an additional means to advertise the cereal. The Twinkles segments were the shortest of all, barely running over a minute long, and played on both King Leonardo and Rocky and His Friends until Ward’s objections saw it air as part of King Leonardo exclusively. As the boxes were often advertised as “storybooks” and featured adventures of Twinkles and his animal friends on a book-like back panel, the episodes were told through continuous narration by George S. Irving as if reading a story to the audience. The animation style was also different from the others, being even more limited in their movements. Although TTV handled the pre-production and storyboard work on the segment, they weren’t directly involved in the final product as General Mills farmed it out from there. Twinkles could fly by twirling his tail and magically reshaped his trunk into an item needed to get him and his friends out of any trouble.

Tooter Turtles protecting the highways.

            King Leonardo and His Short Subjects debuted on NBC on October 15, 1960. It was only the second colorized production on the network’s Saturday morning schedule. Each episode was comprised of a two-part The King and Odie story that played at the beginning and end, as kind of an enticement to keep people around for the entire show. The Hunter, Tooter Turtle and Twinkles segments comprised the rest of the half hour, with selected theatrical shorts from the Columbia Pictures library used to fill in any remaining time caused by any production delays (which were previously used in broadcasts of Hanna-Barbera’s The Ruff and Reddy Show). The first few episodes were animated at TV Spots before shifting entirely to Gamma for the remainder of the run. TTV didn’t have as much of an issue with Gamma’s output as Ward had, and whatever issues they did come across were quickly fixed by Harris. The series’ music was conducted and orchestrated by Jack Pleis.

The Hunter is on the case.

Biggers and Stover handled the scripting duties. They wanted to appeal to the kid demographic that General Mills was targeting while also making their show accessible and enjoyable to older siblings and parents. They reasoned that since most households only had a single television, they had to keep the older family members entertained so that they wouldn’t take it away from the younger kids and watch something else. However, they were careful to avoid the topical references that Ward employed so as not to alienate the younger audience and keep the stories as timeless as possible. Catch phrases were a big thing for them, as they felt children liked repetition. One such phrase was Leonardo’s nonsensical “That’s the most unheard of thing I’ve ever heard of.” They also employed shorter multi-part stories as compared to Rocky and His Friends, which employed weeks-long story arcs, so that the network had more flexibility in airing the show.

Officer Flim Flannigan congratulates The Hunter in capturing The Fox.

While Harris was in charge of art direction, Covington was in charge of casting and audio recording. In casting the roles, TTV had specific ideas as to what many of their characters would sound like; typically, a specific well-known actor. Covington, with his connections through his advertising projects, went and found the actors that could best impersonate the voices they were thinking of. Part of this practice was as a way to lure in adult viewers by using voices that they would recognize from films they’ve seen. When discussing The Hunter character, Covington decided he would try and reach out to Delmar himself instead of relying on an impersonator as other studios, such as Warner Bros. with their Foghorn Leghorn (Mel Blanc) character, had done. Irving and Delo States were utilized to round out the cast with the remaining male and female/children character voices as needed.


King Leonardo ran for a single season, but stayed on the network until 1963. However, the show continued to live on in other formats. TTV—renamed Leonardo Productions after the main character—launched their next program on CBS, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, which featured all-new segments of The King and Odie and The Hunter. The King and Odie gained two new foes in Mr. Mad (Rose), a mad scientist. The following year, TTV’s Underdog adopted repeats of The Hunter while Tennessee aired reruns of Tooter Turtle to take its place. In rerun syndication, King Leonardo was often broken up by components and combined with reruns of Ward’s shows. The King and Odie aired as part of The Rocky Show and Dudley Do-Right and Friends. Tooter Turtle and The Hunter were packaged as a part of The Dudley Do-Right Show. Twinkles initially aired with The King and Odie reruns, even after General Mills had eliminated his character from the cereal, but were discontinued in the early 1970s in accordance with new FCC rules against cartoons advertising directly to children.

One of the album releases showcasing all of the series' characters.

King Leonardo was heavily merchandised through PAT, which Johnson had quietly taken a controlling stake in. Along with things like cut-out masks on General Mills cereal boxes, there was a Halloween costume from Collegeville, jigsaw puzzles by Jaymar, a board game from Milton Bradley,  a slide tray puzzle by Roalex, a coloring book by Whitman, a book from Top Top Tales, an art set, a record published by Golden Records, and a plush doll. Dell Comics published stories based on the show in Four Color #1242 & 1278, as well as in 5-issues of a King Leonardo series. Twinkles also had his own share of merchandise with a record also from Golden Records and as a box top mail-in cereal premium, a frame puzzle and coloring book from Whitman, a board game from Milton Bradley, a coin bank, a book from Top Top Tales, and a glitter craft set. The complete series has yet to be released to DVD. The Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog collections do feature various segments, although not necessarily the same ones that aired alongside each show.



EPISODE GUIDE:
(Note: Twinkles segments are omitted for the moment until information about their placement can be determined.)
“Riches to Rags / Two Gun Turtle / Brookloined Bridge / Nose for the Noose” (10/15/60) – Itchy plans to take the throne while convincing Leonardo to go out and reconnect with his people. / Tooter wants to become a cowboy and finds himself as a sheriff facing off against Black Bark. / The Fox steals the Brooklyn Bridge. / Odie and Leonardo expose that Itchy and Biggy have been posing as them.

“Drumming up the Bongos / Tailspin Tooter or Plane Failure / Counterfeit Wants / How High is Up?” (10/22/60) – Biggy messes with the drum shipments causing a surplus of drums in the country. / Tooter becomes a WWI fighter pilot who runs afoul of the Black Baron. / The Fox makes phony wanted posters featuring innocent people. / Leonardo loses his hair when escaping his and Odie’s death trap, causing confusion when he confronts his look-alike brother on the throne.

“Royal Amnesia / Sea Hunt / Haunted Hunter / Loon from the Moon” (10/29/60) – Biggy and Itchy sabotage Bongo Congo’s space launch by forcing Leonardo to pilot the shuttle himself. / “Sea Hunter” Tooter is called upon to rescue a woman’s brother from the bottom of the ocean. / The Fox tries to clear out City Hall so that he can look for a buried treasure. / Leonardo survives the shuttle crush, but has amnesia and believes he’s from the moon.

“Royal Bongo War Chant / Highway Petrol or Road Blockhead / Fort Knox Fox / Showdown at Dhyber Pass” (11/5/60) – Biggy and Itchy convince Leonardo to go to war with neighboring country Koko Loco. / Tooter is a highway petrol man on the hunt for a criminal. / The Fox disguises himself as a general and robs Fort Knox. / Leonardo manages to defeat Koko Loco’s forces through dumb luck and deception.

“Duel to the Dearth / Knight of the Square Table or The Joust and the Unjoust / Stealing a March / Ringside Riot” (11/12/60) – Leonardo accepts Itchy’s invitation to fight after they spread rumors that he’s a coward. / Tooter becomes a knight of the Square Table and has to prove himself in a series of chivalrous contests. / The Fox steals the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. / Itchy brings in a massive ringer to fight Leonardo, and Odie takes steps to help Leonardo win.

“Bringing in Biggy / Mish-Mash-Mush or Panting for Gold / Horn-a-Plenty / Confound It! Confusion”(11/19/60) – Reminiscing about childhood leads to Itchy’s latest scheme to help stop Leonardo’s “bad” language for rights to the throne. / Tooter discovers the life of a prospector isn’t all that easy. / The Fox steals The Hunter’s horn. / Biggy and Itchy try to get Leonardo to say “Confound it!” so that he gives up his right to the throne.

“Paris Pursuit / The Unteachables or The Lawless Years / Concrete Crook / The Awful Tower” (11/26/60) – Leonardo and Odie decide to go on vacation and Biggy and Itchy get themselves hired as their yacht’s crew. / Tooter becomes an FBI agent and finds himself a target for crime. / The Fox steals cement trucks to make ice cream. / Leonardo and Odie give chase in Paris after Biggy tries to kill Leonardo with an arrow.

“Beatnik Boom / Kink of Swat or Babe Rube / Subtracted Submarine / Call Out the Kids” (12/3/60) – To keep themselves from having to work, Biggy and Itchy turns everyone in the country into beatniks. / Tooter wants to be a baseball player and ends up sending himself into orbit during the big game. / The Hunter ends up booking a vacation on the submarine The Fox stole. / Realizing their parents won’t have money for their toys, the kingdom’s kids trick their parents to stop being beatniks and get back to work.

“Trial of the Traitors / One Trillion B. C. or Dinosaur Dope / Risky Ransom / Battle-Slip” (12/10/60) – Leonardo and Odie finally put Biggy and Itchy on trial for treason. / Tooter becomes a caveman and almost gets eaten by a T-Rex. / The Fox kidnaps The Hunter’s annoying nephew. / Biggy and Itchy are found guilty and banished, only to return with a battleship and declare war.

“Heroes are Made ... With Salami / Olimping Champion or Weak-Greek / Unfaithful Old Failthful / The Big Freeze” (12/17/60) – Biggy and Itchy get an exploding sandwich from Professor Messer for Leonardo. / Tooter wants to go back and compete in the original Olympics. / The Fox steals all the world’s reservoirs in order to sell hot water at high prices. / Messer creates an ice cube ray that Biggy and Itchy use to freeze Leonardo and Odie and send them floating down the river.

“The Legend of Leonardo the Neat / Stuper Man or Muscle Bounder / The Armored Car Coup / Home Neat Home” (12/24/60) – Itchy believes there’s a treasure under the castle, so he and Biggy trash it so Leonardo no longer wants to live there and puts it up for sale. / Working out inspires Tooter to become a superhero. / The Hunter’s vacation is interrupted to find The Fox and stolen armored cars. / When Leonardo comes back for his storybook, Itchy and Biggy lock him in the dungeon and proceed to dig for the treasure.

“Sticky Stuff / Buffaloed Bill or Custard's Last Stand / Telephone Poltergeist / Am I Glue” (12/31/60) – Leonardo sends Odie and detective Charlie Chin to get Itchy to stop rotting his family tree, while Itchy and Biggy plot to use Messer’s new glue on Leonardo. / Tooter leads a cavalry unit and ends up running afoul of some Indians. / The Fox steals all the telephone poles to make cheap log cabins. / Itchy plans to glue Leonardo to the palace wall and declare him missing so that he can take the throne.

“Double Trouble / Moon Goon or Space Head / Sheepish Shamus / Switcheroo Ruler” (1/7/61) – Messer creates robotic duplicates of Leonardo and Odie. / Tooter lands on the moon and encounters a monster. / The Fox steals and shrinks all the sheep to sell them to people who need to count them to sleep. / The robots take Leonardo and Odie’s places, allowing the villains to move into the castle.

“Perfume Panic / Robin Hoodwinked or Thimple Thief / Ruster Hustler / Style Awhile” (1/14/61) – The public rebels against the royal perfume Odie creates. / Playing Robin Hood turns out to be harder than Tooter believed. / The Fox steals all the buffalo. / Biggy and Itchy take over the perfume business and use the money to take over the bongo business.

“No Bong Bongos / Steamboat Stupe or Captains Outrageous / The Case of the Missing Muenster / The Ad Game” (1/21/61) – Itchy and Biggy sabotage the bongo production enough that no one wants bongos from the country anymore. / Tooter’s desire to be a steamboat captain puts him in a race with Big Blackie Bart. / The Fox steals all the cheese to sell as moon souvenirs. / While Itchy makes a killing with his bongos, Odie sets up an advertising campaign to get Bongo Congo’s back on the market.

“De-Based Ball / Souse Painter or Brush-Boob / The Great Train Robbery / Bats in the Ballpark” (1/28/61) – Everyone turns out for the big game between the Bongo Bruins and the Koko Cards. / Tooter becomes a house decorator and ends up with more paint on himself than on the walls. / The Fox steals a train. / Biggy and Itchy try to fix the game with a jumping ball from Messer.

“Long Lost Lennie / Railroad Engineer or Stupefied Jones / Florida Fraud / Ghosts Guests” (2/4/61) – Leonardo inherits a silver-rich town that is apparently haunted. / Mr. Wizard actually supports Tooter’s desire to be a train engineer, which still ends up in disaster. / The Fox fakes an alien invasion so that he can steal Florida. / Biggy and Itchy disguise themselves as ghosts to try and scare Leonardo and Odie away.

“Fatal Fever / Quarterback Hack or Pigskinned / The Great Plane Robbery / Pulling the Mane Switch” (2/11/61) – Odie goes on vacation, leaving Leonardo susceptible to Itchy and Biggy’s schemes. / Tooter becomes a football player. / The Fox steals a plane and convinces The Hunter to use it to hunt ducks on his vacation. / Itchy takes Leonardo to get his mane cut and a call goes out for Odie to return and find the king.

“Dim Gem / Drafthead or Overwhere? / Girl Friday / The Clanking Castle Caper” (2/18/61) – Leonardo and Odie take the royal gems to London to get polished and Itchy steals them. / Tooter survives just fine in the army—until it’s time for actual combat. / The Fox takes a job as The Hunter’s secretary. / Odie lures Itchy into a beatnik coffee shop to get the gems back.

“The King and Me / Lumber-Quack or Topped / Stamp Stickup / The Loves of Mynetta Lion” (2/25/61) – Leonardo heads to Hollywood to make a movie. / Tooter discovers he doesn’t quite have the muscle for lumberjacking. / The Fox steals all the stamps in the world for his cut-rate post office. / Leonardo meets a beautiful starlet in Hollywood.

“The Sport of Kings / Jerky Jockey or KenduckyDerby / Statue of Liberty Play / Black is White” (3/4/61) – To get anyone to race him and his excellent horse, Leonardo puts the kingdom up as a prize. / Tooter’s jockey career ends in quicksand. / The Fox steals the Statue of Liberty. / Itchy switches horses with Leonardo and races to victory on his horse.

“True Blue Blues / Fired Fireman or Hook and Batter / Frankfurter Fix / My Dog Has Fleas” (3/11/61) – Odie decides to get Leonardo a dog to cheer him up, so Itchy decides to disguise himself as one. / Tooter finds being a fireman too hot to handle. / The Fox steals all of the hot dogs. / Itchy waits for his opportunity to steal the kingdom’s gold when fleas lead to his getting a bath.

“Lead Foot Leonardo / Sky Diver or Jump, Jerk, Jump ...! / The Case of the Missing Mowers / The Rat Race” (3/18/61) – Leonardo is gifted a go-cart and declares go-carting a national pastime. / Tooter goes skydiving. / The Fox steals lawn mowers to make go-carts. / Biggy and Itchy cheat to make Leonardo lose the big go-cart race.

“The Obey Ball / Tuesday Turtle or Private Pie / Fancy Fencing / Out of the Depths” (3/25/61) – Biggy and Itchy use a ball that follows their commands to get Obie fired while he and Leonardo play catch. / Tooter becomes a detective on the search for a pie thief. / While The Hunter learns how to fence, The Fox sells old jail cells as fences. / Itchy takes Obie’s place and gives Leonardo cement shoes so that he can sink him into the river.

“The Loco Play / Snafu Safari or Trackdown Tooter / Raquet Racket / Romeo and Joliet” (4/1/61) – Leonardo puts on a play for King Loco, but Biggy and Itchy plot to kidnap the star. / Tooter gets too much hassle from being a hunter. / The Fox steals all of the country’s tennis racquets. / Biggy and Itchy hold the play’s star for ransom.

“If at First You Don't Succeed / Anti-Arctic or North Pole Nuisance / Seeing Stars / Try, Try Again” (4/8/61) – To get Bongo Congo more publicity, Leonardo tries to accomplish some outlandish stunts. / Tooter becomes an arctic explorer. / The Fox steals a giant telescope to charge people in New Jersey to look at New York. / Leonardo and Odie climb the wrong mountain to beat Itchy and Biggy to a cash prize.

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