November 14, 2015


(ABC, October 4, 1980-September 18, 1982)

Ruby-Spears Productions, McNaught Syndicate, United Features Syndicate (season 2)

Mel Blanc – Heathcliff, Spike, Mr. Schultz, milkman, various
Frank Welker – Dingbat, various (season 1)
Paul Winchell – Marmaduke, Phil Winslow, various (season 2)
Henry Corden – Clem, Digby, dogcatcher
June Foray – Iggy, Muggsy, Grandma, Sonja, Marcy, various
Don Messick –Nobody, Sparerib (season 1), Mr. Post, Mr. Snyder (season 2)
Russie Taylor – Barbie Winslow, Dottie Winslow, various (season 2)

When you think about a fat orange cat in comic strips, chances are you think of a certain lazy Italian-food loving one. But, there was actually one that came five years before.

The first Heathcliff strip.

Heathcliff was created by George Gately and debuted on September 3, 1973 through the McNaught Syndicate. The strip stars the titular cat who resides in the port town of Westfinster. Heathcliff has a troublemaking demeanor, often stealing food from Mr. Schultz at the Elite Fish Market, performing acrobatics over or just kicking around garbage cans to irk the sanitation workers, tricking the milkman into losing some (or all) of his milk, or abusing the local dogs--particularly bulldog Spike--either physically or by ratting them out to the dog catcher. Typically, Heathcliff runs as a single panel strip during the week with multiple panels on Sunday; with one of those panels dedicated to cat ownership tips called “Kitty Corner.”

Heathcliff with Iggy, Mr. Nutmeg and Mrs. Nutmeg.

Heathcliff’s supporting cast includes his girlfriend Sonja and her owner, Herb Jablonski, who hates Heathcliff; Crazy Shirley, a female cat obsessed with him; Mr. Nutmeg, the owner of the house he lives in and whom he’s often at odds with; Mrs. Nutmeg, who adores Heathcliff; Iggy, Nutmeg’s grandson who loves Heathcliff despite occasionally being the target of his annoyance; Willy, Iggy’s best friend; Marcy, a neighborhood girl Heathcliff plays doll carriage with by being dressed as a baby; Muggsy Faber, the local bully who owns Spike; Chauncey, a friendly neighborhood dog that Heathcliff tolerates; and Heathcliff’s father, who resembles him except for a stripped prison jumpsuit.

Heathcliff at odds with the milkman.

After several years of syndication, Ruby-Spears Productions decided to try and bring Heathcliff to life with his own animated series. The decision was made that even though Heathcliff never spoke, not even in thought bubbles ala Snoopy or Garfield, he would be voiced by venerable actor Mel Blanc in what would be his final new character role (his remaining projects involved characters he had already done previously). Otherwise, the series stayed fairly true to the strip and Heathcliff’s antics while keeping to the standards set for Saturday morning television. 

The Creeps: Dingbat, Sparerib and Nobody.

For the first season, Heathcliff shared the spotlight with an original group of characters known as The Creeps. The Creeps were Halloween-themed characters who could never seem to save a buck and bounced from one odd job to another, which is why they worked under the combined label of “Odd Jobs, Inc.” Comprising the crew was the vampire dog Dingbat (Frank Welker, impersonating Bela Lugosi), who could turn into a bat and usually ate things through a straw with bat wings; Sparerib (Don Messick, doing a close approximation of Curly Howard), an overweight skeleton who wore pants with suspenders and a plunger for a hat that could change into various useful items; and their leader Nobody (Messick, verging on Jimmy Durante), a pumpkin with a hat and sneakers who stored a variety of items inside himself. It was interesting that Dingbat was the headliner for their segments as he played more of a supporting character.

The Creep Mobile.

They rode around on a 3-wheeled motorcycle called the Creep mobile, which was reminiscent of the Creepy Coupe from Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races. It had a belfry on the back and a storm cloud constantly following that could provide a burst of speed with lightning power. It was typically powered by two mice running on a treadmill, but occasionally they’d upgrade to dragon-powered. A lot of times they carried around a case shaped like a small coffin, from which a mummy or gorilla hand would emerge holding an item they’d need. 

Marmaduke, Phil and Dottie Winslow.

The series premiered on ABC on October 4, 1980 as Heathcliff and Dingbat and ran for thirteen episodes. Each episode would be comprised of four segments, alternating between a Creep story and a Heathcliff one. The series was written by Buzz Dixon, Paul Haggis, Elana Lesser, Michael Maurer, Sandy Sandifer, Gordon Kent, Tony Benedict, Tom Dagenais and Cliff Ruby with Jerry Eisenberg handling the character design and Dean Elliott the music. After the season ended, the show was revamped for its second season. The Creeps were removed and replaced by fellow comic strip star Marmaduke (Paul Winchell), distributed by United Features Syndicate.

Marmaduke on Phil, with Dottie, Barbie and Billy.

Marmaduke was created by Brad Anderson, with help from Phil Leeming, Dorothy Leeming and his son, Paul Anderson. The strip debuted in 1954 and featured the Winslow family, Phil (also Winchell), Dottie, Barbara (both Russi Taylor) and Billy, and their giant Great Dane, Marmaduke. Marmaduke’s size and child-like demeanor were often the driving force behind the jokes of the strip, and Anderson took additional inspiration from the routines of Laurel and Hardy. Like Heathcliff, the strip runs as a single panel gag during the week and expands on Sundays. The Sunday strip also includes a panel called “Dog Gone Funny,” in which readers send in letters about their own goofy pets. The strip quickly grew from its original eight papers to 500, to over 1,000 in 20 countries.

The second season, renamed Heathcliff and Marmaduke, debuted on September 12, 1981 with a new theme song sung by Scatman Crothers. The intro and credits were the only times the two characters saw any screen time together. Despite having top billing, Heathcliff only had one segment per episode sandwiched between Marmaduke’s two. Marmaduke also had the 30-second bumper “Marmaduke’s Riddles”, which featured a quick gag, and an animated version of “Doggone Funny” (with that spelling). Benedict, Dagenais, Haggis, Kent, Maurer and Sandifer were joined by Jack Enyart, Jack Hanrahan, Mark Jones, Don Jurwich, Kayte Kuch, Jim McNamara and Mark Shiney on writing duties. The season ran for another 13 episodes, but it failed to generate any kind of sustainable success resulting in its cancellation. 

Marmaduke helping with the kids' lemonade stand.

Worldvision Home Video released several VHS tapes containing episodes from the second season. To date, only the first season had been completely released to DVD by Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive Collection. While Heathcliff went on to have another short-lived series, Marmaduke was relegated to the comic pages and reprint collections until 2010, when 20th Century Fox released the largely-panned Marmaduke to theaters. There have been attempts to cancel the strip, but each time the effort was met with strong protest from readers. In August of 2015, Anderson died suddenly, putting the strip’s future in question. Unlike other strips who have continued on with new creators mimicking the established style, known as a zombie strip, Anderson had not trained any replacements.  

Season 1:
“Health Nutz / Doggone Dogcatcher / U.F. Oafs / Feline Fugitive” (10/4/80) - The Creeps take charge of a health spa. / The dogcatcher is after Heathcliff. / The Creeps are abducted by an alien for tests. / Spike frames Heathcliff for robbing the fish store.

“French Fried Fracas / Cat in the Beanstalk / Treasure Haunts / The Great Chase” (10/11/80) – The Creeps take jobs as waiters in a French restaurant. / Heathcliff’s climbs a magic beanstalk and encounters a giant Spike. / The Creeps go after a treasure in a haunted mansion. / Spike and Heathcliff compete for a man’s lunch.

“Window Washouts / Angling Anglers / Prized Pooch / Cake Flakes” (10/18/80) – The Creeps have to wash almost 7,000 windows in one day. / A cleaned-out Schultz goes fishing, and Heathcliff decides to join him. / A man plans to capture Dingbat in order to win a dog show. / Muggys and Spike plan to steam Grandma’s cake from Iggy and Heathcliff.

“Detective Ding-a-Lings / Red Hot Riding Hooded Heathcliff / Showbiz Shenanigans / The Great Milk Factory Fracas” (10/25/80) – The Creeps take a filing job at a detective’s agency and end up taking a case. / Woodsman Heathcliff saves Red Riding Sonja from the wolf. / The Creeps take jobs as Hollywood stuntmen. / Heathcliff raids the milk factory.

“Service Station Screwballs / Kitty a la Carte / Beach Blanket Bozos / Mystery Loves Company” (11/1/80) – The Creeps encounter thieves at the service station they had to rebuild. / Heathcliff goes after a fancy salmon to impress a wealthy cat. / An earring thief ruins the Creeps’ day at the beach. /  Heathcliff finds a diamond hidden in a garbage can on his turf.

“Nautical Noodnicks / Gold-Digger Daze / Bungling Baby Sitters / Hives” (11/8/80) – A desire for a nautical vacation leads the Creeps to taking jobs on the wrong ship. / A prospector throws his gold claim map at a singing Heathcliff. / The Creeps take a babysitting job. / Heathcliff drives one of the garbage men to develop hives.

“Batty Boo-ticians / Robinson Cruise Ho / Door to Door Sales Creeps / Lion Around the House” (11/15/80) – The Creeps mistake an escaped gorilla for their client. / A marooned man makes Heathcliff his servant. / The Creeps are selling a cleaning robot door-to-door. / An escaped lion interrupts Heathcliff’s date.

“Creep Crop Crack-Ups / Heathcliff & the Sleeping Beauty / Retail Ruckus / The Mouse Trapper” (11/22/80) – The Creeps try to help save a farm. / Prince Heathcliff has to save Princess Sonja from a sleeping spell. / The Creeps have to sell something in order to keep their jobs. / Heathcliff has to save the resident mouse from an exterminator.

“Carnival Cut-Ups / Rodeo Dough / LeMans-ter Rally / Pinocchio Rides Again” (11/29/80) – A carnival strongman resents losing his job to Sparerib. / Heathcliff and the dogcatcher enter a rodeo to win the prize money. / The Creeps enter a race with a cheating opponent. / Heathcliff reads his fan club the story about his uncle Pinocchio.

“High Flying Fools / Star Trick / No News is Ghoul News / The Big Fish Story” (12/6/80) – Jewel thieves take the airline the Creeps work at. / Heathcliff goes on a television audition. / The Creeps have to get a story on a cat burglar in order to keep their reporter jobs. / Heathcliff is after Schultz’s giant cod.

“Nutty Knights / Pumping Irony / Safari Saps / The Watch Cat” (12/13/80) – Fixing a clock sends the Creeps back in time where they have to rescue a princess. / A jilted Heathcliff tries to take in the female cats at the cat show. / The Creeps head to Africa to retrieve a lost elephant. / Heathcliff has to protect his house from a burglar.

“Heir Today Gone Tomorrow / Mascot Rumble / It’s a Snow Job for a Creep / Heathcliff of Sherwood Forest” (12/20/80) – Dingbat needs to prove how brave he is in order to gain an inheritance. / Heathcliff and Spike are mascots for rival teams. / The Creeps help revive a failing ski lodge. / Heathcliff has to stop the evil sheriff.

“Football Flunkies / Milk Run Mayhem / Lumbering Loonies / Great Cop ‘n Cat Chase” (12/27/80) – The Creeps fill in for injured players. / The milkman tries to keep his job in spite of Heathcliff. / The Creeps end up taking a lumberjack’s job accidentally. / A cop gives chase when Heathcliff steals his hotdog.

Season 2 (* denotes rerun):
“Home Run Rover / Gator Go-Round / Play Grounded” (9/12/81) – Marmaduke disrupts the kids’ baseball game. / A hungry gator sets his sights on Heathcliff. / Marmaduke and the kids put on a show to save their playground.

“Missy Mistique / Crazy Daze / Shuttle Off to Buffalo” (9/19/81) – Marmaduke tries to woo a female bulldog away from her boyfriend. / Crazy Shirley chases Heathcliff around the carnival. / Marmaduke chases a cat into a space shuttle.

“Wish Bones / Caught Cat Napping / Wondermutt” (9/26/81) – Maramduke finds a cat genie at the beach. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / Marmaduke fantasizes about being a superhero.

“Gone with the Whim / Dud Boat / Seagoing Watchdog” (10/3/81) – The Winslows rehearse a play causing Marmaduke to think he’s no longer wanted. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILBLE. / Marmaduke sneaks along on Phil and Dottie’s cruise.

“Beach Brawl / Of Mice and Menace / Tricky Treat” (10/10/81) – Marmaduke enters a fishing contest for a chance at a hotdog prize. / Heathcliff goes after a giant mouse for a reward. / Marmaduke goes Trick-or-Treating.

“Ghostly Goof Up / A Briefcase of Cloak and Dagger / Fret Vet” (10/17/81) –  A ghost tries to get Marmaduke out of his house. / Heathcliff is sent on a secret mission to deliver an important letter. / The Winslows are invited to a barbeque and Marmaduke thinks he’s going to the vet.

“Bearly Camping / Tabby and the Pirate / Gold Fever Fracas” (10/24/81) – The family camping trip is interrupted by a bear. / Heathcliff reminisces about his pirate anscestor. / A prospector wants the Winslows’ claim.

“Police Pooch / Mush, Heathcliff, Mush / Bone to Pick with Marmaduke” (10/31/81) – Marmaduke joins the police force. / Heathcliff pulls Iggy in a sled race for a pizza prize. / The neighbor tries to keep Marmaduke from burying bones on his property.

“Suburban Cowboy / A Close Encounter / Marmaduke of the Movies” (11/7/81) – Marmaduke imagines he’s a deupty in the old west. / An alien attempts to abduct Heathcliff. / Marmaduke interrupts the filming of several movies.

“Baby Sitting Shenanigans / A New Kit on the Block / Kitty Sitter” (11/14/81) – Marmaduke babysits a valuable dog and has to keep him from being dognapped. / Heathcliff recalls his first meeting of Spike. / Marmaduke becomes caretaker for a littler of kittens.

“Leapin’ Leprechaun / Clonin’ Around / School Daze” (11/21/81) – A leprechaun torments Marmaduke. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / Marmaduke accidentally crashes a pet show-and-tell in class and causes chaos.

“Caper Cracker / Cat Kit / Barking for Dollars” (11/28/81) – Bank robbers steal the Winslows’ car with Marmaduke in it. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILBLE. / Marmaduke is mistaken for a wealthy woman’s dog.

“The Lemonade Kid / The Great Milk Factory Fracas* / Double Trouble Maker” (12/5/81) – Marmaduke has to retrieve the kids’ lemonade money from the local bully. / Marmaduke chases after two gophers in their garden.

Originally posted in 2015. Updated in 2020.

No comments: