Rich Little – Pink Panther
Paul Frees – Pink Panther Narrator, American hunter, Commissioner
Pat Harrington, Jr. – The Inspector, Segreant Deux-Deux
Marvin Miller – Commissioner, The Inspector (1969), Deux-Deux (1969), Narrator (1969)
Lennie Weinrib – Roland, Rattfink
John Byner – Charlie Ant, Blue Aardvark, Roland (1 short)
Don Diamond – Toro/Fatso
Tom Holland – Pancho/Banjo, Japanese beetle
Larry D. Mann – Blue Racer, Crazylegs Crane
Bob Holt – Sheriff Hoot Kloot, Fester, Dogfather
Daws Butler – Pug, Louie
Paul Ritts (1972-73) – Host, puppeteer
Mary Ritts (1972-73) – Host, puppeteer
Lenny Schultz (1976-77) – Host
Arte Johnson (1976) – Misterjaw
Arnold Stang (1976) – Catfish
Frank Welker (1978) – Crazylegs Crane Jr., Dragonfly
The Pink Panther is a media franchise conceived by writer/director Blake Edwards that began with the film of the same name. Originally, it was meant to be a sophistic romantic comedy about a suave jewel thief, Sir Charles Lytton, aka The Phantom (David Niven). The primary object of his desire was the world’s largest diamond known as The Pink Panther due to a small imperfection at its center that resembled, well, a pink panther. Hot on his trail would be the bumbling French detective, Inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Ustinov), with his unfaithful wife, Simone (Ava Gardner), who was in league with Lytton.
However, things didn’t quite go as planned. Gardner left the project when the producers, The Mirisch Company, was unable to meet her demands for a personal staff. Ustinov also followed her off the project. After Janet Leigh turned down the Simone role due to it requiring her to be away from the United States for too long, Capucine was cast instead. Now playing her husband was Peter Sellers. The Pink Panther debuted in Italy on December 18, 1963, with a United States release following on March 18. The film was set at a ski resort where The Pink Panther’s owner, Princess Dala (Claudia Cardinale), was vacationing. Following her was Lytton, and following him was Clouseau and his wife. Also after the diamond was Lytton’s nephew, George (Robert Wagner), in order to pay off his massive gambling debts. While Clouseau ineptly investigates, Simone must constantly juggle keeping her relationships with both Lytton and George a secret from everyone.
While the Clouseau role was always intended to be comedic, Edwards discovered he and Sellers had similar tastes in humor and began elaborating and improvising on bits. Sellers soon began to steal every scene he was in, becoming the breakout star and character of the film and overshadowing Niven, who had the actual lead billing in the credits, despite his comparatively short amount of screen time. As a result, the film became a massive success. Sellers, who was set to star in an adaptation of the stage play A Shot in the Dark, was unsatisfied with the script and was able to get Edwards onto the project to write and direct. Edwards utilized his newfound clout to turn the film into a Clouseau vehicle, making it the second entry and the official launching point of The Pink Panther franchise that spanned 9 films; 6 of which starred Sellers (one was made after a falling out between Sellers and Edwards that poorly attempted to recast the role, and two following Sellers’ death).
Sellers wasn’t the only breakout star of the franchise, however. Edwards knew David DePatie, co-founder of animation studio DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (DFE), through his uncle and asked him to design a pink panther for him. DePatie gave the assignment to character designer Hawley Pratt who proceeded to churn out about 100 different design concepts. Edwards selected the one he liked and used it initially for letterheads and business cards. Once filming was wrapped, Edwards contacted DePatie again and asked him to create a title sequence where the Panther character would interact with the film’s credits while the theme composed by Henry Mancini played. These titles ended up being a tremendous hit with the audience, and were thought to have added a couple extra million to the film’s overall gross. DFE soon found themselves in demand to make titles for other projects, allowing them to move beyond commercials and industrial films.
It also allowed them to move into the business of theatrical shorts. DePatie was encouraged by the titles’ success into thinking there was more to be done with the character. DFE struck up a deal with Mirisch and United Artists, the film’s distributor, to produce 156 6-minute theatrical shorts (although only 124 ended up being made). The shorts took a cue from the titles, showing Pink silently (at the suggestion of primary writer John Dunn) working his way through a given situation; like sneaking into an alcoholic’s house to spend the night or serving as a secret agent. Pink would speak in only two cartoons, his voice provided by Rich Little modeled after Niven’s portrayal in the first movie (and who would later dub an ill Niven in future Pink Panther films). Other characters provided any dialogue that was spoken, with the exception of Pink’s primary antagonist: the Little White Man, a minimalist rounded figure of a person with a large nose and mustache. Said to be modeled after DFE co-founder and initial short director Friz Freleng, the Little Man was also silent as he often dealt with Pink’s shenanigans. Mancini’s theme typically accompanied each short, with additional music provided by Walter Greene and William Lava.
The first short, The Pink Phink, debuted on December 18, 1964 and ended up taking home the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. This success would spur other studios to revisit the notion of theatrical shorts, which had largely fallen out of fashion by this time. Pratt would eventually take over as the primary director for much of the series, with Gerry Chinquy, Art Davis Robert McKimson, Art Leonardi, Cullen Houghtaling and Sid Marcus handling various later entries. DFE was able to churn out one Pink Panther cartoon a month, eventually ending up far ahead of schedule by 1965. It would be 6 years until DFE would need to resume work on the series, giving them time to visit additional series upon United Artists’ request.
DFE’s second series went back to The Pink Panther well and came up with The Inspector, based on the Clouseau character. Dubbed simply “The Inspector”, the character had appeared in the opening titles for The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark previously, but was altered for the new shorts to remove any resemblance to Sellers for legal purposes. The Inspector (Pat Harrington Jr.) was a senior detective for the Sȗreté nationale (now known as The National Police). He was slightly more competent than his inspiration, however he was plagued by bad luck and poor judgement. His partner for roughly half of the run was Sergeant Deux-Deux (also Harrington, Don Messick for one short), a slow-talking Spaniard gendarme with a love of Mexican food. A running gag saw The Inspector constantly try to get Deux-Deux to respond with “oui” instead of his native “si”, resulting in some misunderstandings along the way. Their commissioner was voiced by Larry Storch, Paul Frees, Marvin Miller and Mark Skor at various points. Storylines usually involved the misadventures of The Inspector as he attempted to apprehend equally colorful criminals around Paris.
The first Inspector short, The Great De Gaulle Stone Operation, debuted on December 21, 1965 preceding the James Bond film Thunderball. As with the Panther shorts, Mancini’s theme from A Shot in the Dark was used for the shorts’ intros, with additional music by Greene and Lava. DePatie, due to his knowledge of the French language, had the most involvement with the production of these shorts out of any DFE project. While the shorts performed well, they didn’t quite reach Panther levels and capped off with 34 entries. The Inspector would be used for the title sequence of the 1968 film Inspector Clouseau, and would be seen interacting with Pink and redesigned to more resemble Sellers in his remaining entries in the franchise.
Their next series was Roland and Rattfink. The shorts focused on the titular characters: blonde good-looking pacifist Roland, and the evil mustachioed Rattfink (both Lennie Weinrib, except for one short where John Byner and Dave Barry voiced them). Rattfink was always eager to get ahead in life in the most dirty, underhanded and violent ways possible with additional bad deeds on the side. Good-natured Roland was sometimes put at odds with him, taking indirect action to stop Rattfink’s machinations or allowing Rattink to foul himself up. Some of the plots were recycled from Looney Tunes shorts directed by Freleng. Many of the shorts featured intertitles like old silent movies, introducing the characters and offering some plot narration at points, with music to match composed by Doug Goodwin. Most of the shorts were written by Dunn with the remainder by Marcus, Spector and Dale Hale. The first short, “Hawkes and Doves”, debuted on December 18, 1968 with the film The Night They Raided Minsky’s. Despite Variety’s January 9th issue declaring 26 shorts had been ordered, only 17 were produced.
Replacing that series was another pair at odds with each other: The Ant and the Aardvark. The series followed a solid blue aardvark (Byner, impersonating Jackie Mason) attempting to catch and eat a red ant named Charlie (also Byner, impersonating Dean Martin). At one point, when Mason heard Byner’s impression he decided to approach DFE about doing it himself. However, upon realizing Byner did him better than him, Mason instead worked out a deal where he was paid for the use of his distinctive voice while Byner continued on in the role. The series actually predated DFE, with Pratt having come up with a concept for them at Spunbuggy studio originally known as The Big Red Ant and Harry the Anteater. Corny Cole handled the design for the DFE version. Musical director Goodwin assembled a group of established jazz musicians—Ray Brown, Billy Byers, Pete Candoli, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Rowles and Tommy Tedesco—to compose the score. For the first time in cartoon history, all six musicians received on-screen credit. Leonardi designed the main titles utilizing a technique that included tearing paper into a stylized version of the characters. Also capping off at 17 entries, the first short was released to theaters on March 5, 1969. Dunn again wrote the lion’s share of the series, with additional scripts by Spector, Marcus, Hale, David Detiege and Larz Bourne.
Next was Tijuana Toads, also written by Dunn, Hale and Bourne, which hit theaters for the first time on August 6, 1969. The titular toads were the hefty Toro (Don Diamond, named after the character he portrayed in The Adventures of Kit Carson) and the scrawny Pancho (Tom Holland). The pair was always generally hanging out, with Toro being fairly abusive and dominant towards Pancho, until a bug crossed their paths. Then, the chase was on to try and snag the bug by any means necessary for lunch. However, they always ended up outsmarted. Once again, plots and gags from Freleng’s past Looney Tunes shorts were recycled for the series. The tables were turned on the toads when two antagonists were introduced that wanted to eat them: the first was Crazylegs Crane (Larry D. Mann, Bob Holt in one short), a dimwitted and klutzy yellow crane with a hat and spats, and The Blue Racer (based on an actual snake, also voiced by Mann and Holt), the world’s fastest blue snake. Despite Toads also only running for 17 entries, Crazylegs and Racer were both eventually spun off into their own series.
|NBC's 1969 Saturday morning ad.|
As the 1970s approached, once again the age of the theatrical short was beginning to wane. Looking to get more mileage out of their investment, Mirisch decided to import the shorts to Saturday morning television like other studios had done before. The result was The Pink Panther Show, which saw two Panther shorts sandwiching an Inspector short each episode with the addition of a laugh track. Bridging sequences were created utilizing a mix of newly-animated and recycled footage starring Pink, The Inspector and Deux-Deux (the latter two voiced by Marvin Miller, who also acted as a narrator), marking the first time that the characters would interact outside of a title sequence.
The Pink Panther Show debuted on NBC on September 6, 1969. The opening titles were filmed in live-action following a pink hotrod dubbed the “Panthermobile”, designed by Ed “Newt” Newton and built at Bob Reisner California Show Cars by Newton, Dan Woods, Joe Bailon, Bill “The Leadslinger” Hines and Bill Honda for about $100,000. It traveled down a rural roadway before eventually ending up at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, accompanied by stock footage of animals from the Los Angeles Zoo and Marineland of the Pacific, people on the beach and at a carnival, and clips from “Reel Pink”, “Come on In! The Water’s Pink” and “Put Put Pink”. A young boy would be revealed to have been the driver with an animated Pink and the Inspector as his passengers. A slightly-altered version was used for the second season, which essentially reshuffled and resized some of the clips used. For the end credits, the Inspector would return to the car and it would drive off, leaving Pink to chase after it. The show’s theme, “Panther Pink Panther From head to Toes”, was written by Goodwin. Some of the shorts received minor edits for content to make them more family-friendly due to growing concerns over violence in television.
After two seasons, The Inspector was dropped and replaced by The Ant and the Aardvark and the show was renamed The New Pink Panther Show (sometimes referred to as The Pink Panther Meets the Ant and the Aardvark). A new intro was created, doing away with the live-action in favor of Pink and the Aardvark vying for the viewer’s attention. Goodwin also composed a new theme, “Pantherly Pride”. All-new bumper segments were created, sometimes featuring Pink involved in a typical Ant and Aardvark plot or showcasing a story with the pair. Unlike their original adventures, the Ant and Aardvark remained as silent as Pink.
The second season of this version introduced live-action hosts Paul and Mary Ritts who, along with their menagerie of puppets, would perform various skits and read fan mail on the air. Their son, Mark, also performed some puppetry on the show. The pair were already featured weekdays on NBC’s Watch Your Child. However, this format was dropped for the third season, and The Inspector was reintroduced into the line-up with all three series now airing in a single episode. Only 8 new Panther shorts were made during this period, with the rest having already previously aired.
For the 1974 season, the series was revamped again as The Pink Panther and Friends. This time a few new Panther shorts were mixed in with the older ones, and were joined by a rotating line-up including The Inspector and new entries Roland and Rattfink, Hoot Kloot, The Blue Racer and The Dogfather. The Blue Racer starred the aforementioned Racer with a new hunger for a Japanese beetle (Holland) who happened to be a black belt in karate. Hoot Kloot starred a diminutive and short-tempered sheriff (Holt) who tried to maintain order in a Western town with his faithful steed, Fester. The Dogfather was a parody of The Godfather starring anthropomorphic dogs. Holt played the titular role doing an impression of the film’s star Marlon Brando, with Daws Butler playing henchdogs Pug and Louie (Holt would voice Pug when Louie wasn’t present). Each series only lasted 17 entries each. Dogfather was the last theatrical series created by DFE as demand for them continued to diminish, and DePatie theorized they were asked to keep making them to keep the television show fresh.
In 1976 the show got yet another revamp in an attempt to duplicate the success CBS found after they expanded The Bugs Bunny Show into The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour the previous year. The Pink Panther Laugh and a Half Hour and a Half Show Introducing Misterjaw expanded to 90 minutes and included three Panthers, two Inspectors, one Ant and the Aardvark, and one Tijuana Toads. However, due to changing broadcast standards, the Toads were rebranded as The Texas Toads, the toads renamed Fatso and Banjo, and the shorts were all redubbed to remove any trace of stereotypical Spanish elements.
Newly created for the show was Misterjaw, inspired by the success of Jaws. It followed the misadventures of the titular shark (Arte Johnson, using a German accent) adorned in a collar, tie, vest and top hat. He was joined by his sidekick, Catfish (Arnold Stang, using a Brooklyn accent), who wore a bowler hat. Running gags included Misterjaw often mispronouncing words, attempting to make a feast out of Harry Halibut (Bob Ogle), and his terrorizing people by sneaking up on them and saying “Gotcha!” Of course, when people came face-to-face with him, they would take off running anyway similarly to the old Casper shorts (after all, he was a shark!). The series’ theme by Goodwin utilized a couple of notes reminiscent of John Williams’ Jaws theme. It would be the final project directed by McKimson before his sudden death.
Filling in the remainder of the 90s minutes were all-new bumpers involving the Texas Toads and Misterjaw, as well as riddle segments NBC forced DFE to do. NBC also introduced a new host: comedian Lenny Schultz. Like the Ritts before him, he performed routines and read fan mail from viewers. While he was hot at the time, it became apparent very quickly that he was too frantic and his humor skewed too adult for kids. The show fared poorly in the ratings and was scaled back to 30-minutes for the subsequent season, renamed Think Pink Panther and dropping Schultz, The Inspector and The Ant and the Aardvark in the process.
After nine years on NBC, the network dropped it and the show was acquired by ABC, who retitled it The All New Pink Panther Show. A new rendition of Mancini’s theme with a disco flair was composed for the intro by Steve DePatie. At ABC’s behest, DFE made 32 new Panther shorts that United Artists would eventually release to theaters through 1981. Additionally, DFE made 16 Crazylegs Crane shorts to go along with the Panther; his first solo series after appearing as a guest character in Toads, Racer and Dogfather. In his series, Crazylegs was joined by his son, Crazylegs Crane Jr. (Frank Welker), as misadventures were caused by his dimwitted and klutzy nature. To make his son proud, Crazylegs often tried to capture and make dinner out of his frenemy, a fire-breathing dragonfly (Welker, impersonating Andy Kaufman). For the 11th and final season, the show was once again renamed Pink Panther Encore and was a repackaging of previously aired shorts. No further content was made.
Following the end of the network run, MGM/UA created two syndicated versions of The Pink Panther Show. One featured Panther, Inspector, Ant and Aardvark and Texas Toads shorts utilizing the prints from the television series. The second had Panther, Ant and Aardvark and Misterjaw sourced from film prints and original negatives, resulting in sharper images. For the ones sourced from theatrical versions, a new laugh track similar to those used on current sitcoms was added. Additionally, DFE produced two Panther animated specials for ABC in 1978 and 1980. A third was done by DFE’s successor Marvel Productions, who also worked on the title sequence for the next Panther film, Curse of the Pink Panther. Pink himself wouldn’t return to television in new adventures until 1986. The Ant and the Aardvark would return in both the syndicated The Pink Panther in 1993 (where Pink was given a voice supplied by Matt Frewer), and for the 2010 revival series Pink Panther and Pals (where the Little Man was renamed Big Nose). The Inspector, The Texas Toads and The Dogfather characters were also included in the 1993 series.
The show’s various formats have been broadcast in reruns across cable and around the world. Networks like Boomerang, Cartoon Network, BBC Two, UK Gold, BBC One, Teletoon Retro, This TV, Galavisión and others. Sometimes they were presented with the shorts remastered while the original content was not, sometimes without the original content at all. Occasionally, the shorts would air individually to use up empty time in a schedule. In the summer of 2021, MeTV began airing a selection of the shorts as part of their Saturday Morning Cartoons programming block under the name Pink Panther’s Party. Pink was introduced on the network during the weekday Toon In With Me programming block with his first short, and the first Saturday broadcast featured two Panther, a Roland and Rattfink and an Inspector shorts.
|Cover art for American Mythology's Pink Panther Cartoon Hour Special by S.L. Gallant.|
While Pink was heavily marketed, in relation to the show it was the Panthermobile that received most of the focus. Dinky Toys released a self-driving pull-cord version of the car with Pink in the driver’s seat in 1972, then rereleased a reworked version in 1977 minus the large flywheel that moved it and with new stick graphics. Eldon Industries produced a buildable model kit, which was later rereleased by Doyusha when Eldon went out of business. As for the car itself, after it made a few rounds on the show circuit it changed hands several times before being bought at auction by Galpin Auto Sports in 2011, who then restored it to its former glory. Prompted by the series’ BBC run, World Distributors published 11 comics annuals containing reprints from the Western Comics Pink Panther series. Between 2016 and 2019, American Mythology published new Pink Panther comics that featured original stories as well as classic reprints. Many of the shorts characters appeared in various issues.
1985 saw the debut of MGM/UA’s “Viddy-Oh! For Kids” VHS line, which included 32 Panther shorts across four tapes, 10 Inspector shorts between two, and 5 each for Ant and the Aardvark, Roland and Rattfink, Tijuana Toads and Misterjaw. The Panther tapes were reissued in 1993 with new cover art. Beginning in 2006, MGM released the Pink Panther shorts onto DVD across 6 volumes, with a box set in 2009. KL Studio Classics started re-releasing them onto DVD and Blu-ray in new collections with all-new special features and HD remastering in 2018. They were collected into a box set in 2020. 20th Century Fox handled the UK release with 2014’s Pink Panther Cartoon Collection and the Fan Favorites Cartoon Collection of 24 shorts voted by vans for Pink’s 50th anniversary in 2015. The other shorts got their own releases from KL starting in 2016, both individually and in two DePatie/Freleng collections on DVD and Blu-ray.
“Flying Fool / Shopping Spree” (9/11/76) – Misterjaw tries to duplicate a pelican’s method of catching fish. / An ad encourages Misterjaw and Catfish to go to the supermarket for food.
“Pink Bananas / Crane Brained / Pinktails for Two” (9/9/78) – Pink encounters a gorilla that dances whenever he hears music. / Crazylegs tries to make his son proud by catching the dragonfly. / Fertilizer causes Pink’s tail to grow.