April 25, 2020


(CBS, September 13, 1969-January 17, 1970)

Hanna-Barbera Productions

Janet Waldo – Penelope Pitstop
Paul Lynde – The Hooded Claw/Sylvester Sneakly
Paul Winchell – Clyde, Softie
Mel Blanc – Bully Brothers, Yak Yak, Chug-a-Boom
Don Messick – Dum Dum, Snoozy, Pockets, Zippy
Gary Owens - Narrator

            Although Wacky Races only ran for a season, it still did fairly well in the ratings and a few of its stars stood out from the pack with the audience. As a result, two spin-offs were produced to air in the following television season on CBS. One of them was The Perils of Penelope Pitstop.

Penelope at the mercy of The Hooded Claw.

            Perils was designed as a send-up of silent movie era melodrama serials; in particular The Perils of Pauline. Penelope (Janet Waldo), the lone female racer from the prior series, was reimagined as the heiress to a vast fortune. However, her guardian, Sylvester Sneakly (Paul Lynde), wanted that fortune for himself and the only way to get it was to get rid of her. So, he adopted the masked guise of The Hooded Claw by donning a hat, cape and mask, and hired the identical Bully Brothers (Mel Blanc in unison) to help him get rid of her. As in the serials, Claw and the Brothers would capture Penelope while she was going about her business and place her in a death trap, leaving her to her fate. Initially, Dick Dastardly (Paul Winchell) and his dog sidekick, Muttley (Don Messick), were going to be the villains of the series, but they were given their own show: Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines.

Penelope inside Chug-a-Boom with the Ant Hill Mob line-up.

            Assigned as Penelope’s guardians were the seven pint-sized members of the Ant Hill Mob. The Ant Hill Mob had also previously appeared in Wacky Races, but while they shared the same name, leader and general appearances, the two mobs were actually meant to be different. The Mob was led by Clyde (Winchell), who was comparatively the smartest of the group (although with that group, it wasn’t saying much). The other members included Dum Dum, who lived up to his name; Pockets, who had just about anything in his various and seemingly bottomless pockets; Snoozy (all three Messick), who was somehow functional despite being always asleep; Softy (Winchell), who was constantly crying; Yak Yak (Blanc), who was constantly chuckling; and Zippy (Messick), who could move at incredible speeds and spoke quickly. They drove around in a semi-sentient 1920s-style car named Chug-A-Boom (Blanc, doing a variation of his Maxwell to simulate the car’s talking). Exactly how The Mob, who were declared on the show to be wanted felons, ended up as Penelope’s guardians was never explained. As well-meaning as they were, they often times tended to bungle their rescue attempts to the point that they would end up in peril themselves. Penelope, despite being the damsel in distress, was atypical in that most of the time she freed herself from the elaborate death trap and proceeded to rescue her would-be rescuers.

            The Perils of Penelope Pitstop debuted on CBS on September 13, 1969. In keeping with its serial inspiration, the show’s settings and character designs were heavily influenced by the early 20th Century and a piano-heavy score directed by Ted Nichols. An alternate theme was also produced that was more in line with the soundtrack provided to a silent film (Japan, however, had their own completely original theme for their broadcasts). Narration by Gary Owens would begin each episode with “When we last left Penelope…”, making it seem like the next chapter in an ongoing saga. Joe Ruby and Ken Spears served as the show’s head writers, with Michael Maltese writing the actual scripts. Originally, each episode was going to feature an introduction to the story before Owens’ narration began, but these were cut out by the time the series was broadcast.

The Bully Brothers prepare to drop anchor.

            Like its parent show, Perils only ran for a single season of 17 episodes; however, it remained on the network until 1971. In 1976, it entered into syndicated reruns as part of the package show The Fun World of Hanna-Barbera (not to be confused with The FunTASTIC World), and was later seen on Cartoon Network and Boomerang. In 1970, the series was adapted into comic form by Gold Key Comics for Golden Comics Digest issues 7 and 11, and as a starring feature of the anthology title Fun-in for the first four issues. In 1986, Worldvision Home Video released three VHS collections containing a number of episodes in North America and in the UK as part of their Kaleidoscope label. First International handled additional UK releases. In 2006, Warner Archive released the complete series to DVD as part of their Hanna-Barbera Classics Collection, and re-released it in 2017 as part of their Hanna-Barbera Diamond Collection.

The long-awaited series finale.

            While Penelope had made additional appearances in the following years as part of the Wacky Races franchise, her solo series wasn’t revisited until 2018’s Scooby-Doo Team-Up #41 by Sholly Fisch and Scott Jeralds. The issue played out in a typical Perils fashion, however it served as a “series finale” of sorts by having the Mystery, Inc. gang unmask the Hooded Claw once and for all. 

“Jungle Jeopardy” (9/13/69) – Penelope is about to complete an around-the-world flight when the Claw’s sabotage of her plane causes her to crash in the jungle.

“The Terrible Trolley Trap” (9/20/69) – Failing to have Penelope run over by a trolley, the Claw takes her out to sea on her ship to get rid of her.

“The Boardwalk Booby Trap” (9/27/69) – Having failed to finish her on the beach, the Bully Brothers capture Penelope during a scavenger hunt and take her to a fishing village.

“Wild West Peril” (10/4/69) – When Penelope doesn’t go splat off a canyon, she’s strapped into a miner’s car filled with explosives.

“Carnival Calamity” (10/11/69) – Unbeknownst to Penelope, he trip to the carnival has been booby trapped by the Claw.

“The Treacherous Movie Lot Plot” (10/18/69) – Claw takes over directorial duties of the movie Penelope is set to star in to ensure she gets cut out of showbiz permanently.

“Arabian Desert Danger” (10/25/69) – Penelope is bringing a rare baby camel from Egypt to the children’s zoo but the Claw is set to ensure she doesn’t get there.

“The Diabolical Department Store Danger” (11/1/69) – Penelope heads to her department store to usher in the new Paris fashions, while the Claw waits to spring his traps for her.

“Hair Raising Harness Race” (11/8/69) – Claw looks to sabotage Penelope during her big harness race.

“North Pole Peril” (11/15/69) – Penelope kayaks her way to the North Pole while the Claw pursues her in a lethal paddlewheel.

“Tall Timber Treachery” (11/22/69) – Penelope heads to the Pitstop Lumber Camp for their Indian Summer Festival but the Claw is determined to make sure she doesn’t get there.

“Cross Country Double Cross” (11/29/69) – Penelope is set to do a sunt for a statue unveiling, but Claw is determined to make sure it’s a lethal one.

“Big Bagdad Danger” (12/6/69) – The Claw is there to disrupt Penelope’s plans to find Ali Baba’s cave.

“Bad Fortune in a Chinese Fortune Cookie” (12/13/69) – Claw uses the cover of the San Francisco Chinese New Year parade to capture Penelope in the mouth of a giant dragon.

“Big Top Trap” (12/20/69) – With Penelope performing in a circus, the Ant Hill Mob take jobs as clowns to ensure her safety.

“Game of Peril” (1/10/70) – Sylvester Sneakly sends Penelope on a scavenger hunt she’s sure not to complete.

“London Town Treachery” (1/17/70) – Penelope goes to London to deliver a painting but the Claw intercepts her delivery.

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