February 10, 2024

THE RELUCTANT DRAGON & MR. TOAD SHOW


 
THE RELUCTANT DRAGON & MR. TOAD SHOW
(ABC, September 12-December 26, 1970)
 
Rankin/Bass Productions

 

 

MAIN CAST:
Paul Soles – Tobias, Irving the Bold, Merlin the Magician Jr., Inkley, Mole, Badger, Chief Weasel, King the Lion, Robin Hood, Sir Lancelot, various
Carl Banas – King Herman the Atrocious, Ugliola, Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Gallahad, Uncle Charles, Monk the Gorilla, various
Claude Rae – Mr. Toad, Sir Malcolm St. George, Bunkley, King Arthur, Additional voices
Donna Miller – Daisy, Water Rat, Queen of England, Field Mice, Additional voices

 

 

            Kenneth Grahame was a British writer that lived from 1859-1932. A good student, he wanted to attend Oxford University, but due to the cost was instead sent to work at the Bank of England, the central bank of the United Kingdom. There, he quickly rose through the ranks to become its Secretary. In 1899, he married Elspeth Thomson and they had a son, Alastair, in 1900. Alastair was born with blindness in one eye and was plagued by health problems, school bullies and an unhappy home life until he committed suicide in 1920. In 1908, Grahame was forced to retire (health was the official reason—the actual reason was he had fought with one of the bank’s directors, Walter Cunliffe, who would eventually become Governor of the Bank of England) and relocated his family to his childhood home of Cookham where they lived in what would become Herries Preparatory School.

70th anniversary publication of The Reluctant Dragon.



            While he was in his 20s, Grahame published light stories in various London periodicals; some of which would be collected and published as Pagan Papers in 1894 and then The Golden Age in 1895. 1898’s Dream Days contained Grahame’s most famous short story: “The Reluctant Dragon”.  The story, set in Grahame’s one time residence of Berkshire Downs in Oxfordshire (where St. George was said to have fought a dragon in legend), featured a young boy discovering and befriending a poetry-loving dragon. The townspeople learn of the dragon’s existence and called for St. George to exterminate him. However, St. George befriends the dragon as well and stages a fake joust between them, which leads to St. George convincing the townspeople the dragon meant no harm. The story was effectively the prototype for all the ones that would present the typically thought-of-as-evil being as a sympathetic character.

The 1st edition of The Wind in the Willows.


            Grahame’s next most famous work would come in 1908, when he turned the bedtime stories he told his son into the children’s novel The Wind in the Willows. The plot centered around Mr. Toad; the rich, jovial, friendly, kindhearted yet arrogant and rash master of Toad Hall whose personality was inspired by Alastair. He was quick to fall into the latest fad and drop it just as quickly in favor of the next one. It just so happened his latest obsession became motorcars; which he routinely crashed, incurred astronomical fines, and had three stays in the hospital. His friends—the timid and thoughtful Mole, the charming boat-loving Rat, and the wise and considerate Badger—attempt to keep him out of trouble, but Toad winds up in jail anyway. This allowed the sinister weasels, stoats and ferrets to take over Toad Hall, prompting the four friends to fight to take it back. Along with this central story, the book contained several short stories independent of it centered around the adventures of Rat and Mole. While initial reviews of the book were mixed, it quickly became popular; with U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne being counted amongst its fans.

Ad for a stage version of The Reluctant Dragon.


            Over the years, both stories have seen reprintings with and without pictures, as well as adaptations into stage (the first of which was written by Milne), screen and radio productions that continue on to this day. Disney would release a film version of both as part of anthology films in 1941 and 1949, respectively, and continues to feature their versions in their parks and productions. On television, there was a 3-year period dedicated to adaptations of Grahame’s works. In 1968, a puppet adaptation of The Reluctant Dragon was performed by Kukla, Fran and Ollie for an episode of NBC Children’s Theater. In 1969, The Wind in the Willows was adapted using still images by artist John Worsley and narration by Paul Honeyman. In 1970, Rankin/Bass Productions took their first stab at adapting the stories; however, they ambitiously decided to do both at the same time.

Rankin/Bass' Reluctant Dragon meeting their Mr. Toad.


            The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad Show debuted on ABC on September 12, 1970. As the title suggests, it featured the adventures of the dragon, now named Tobias (Paul Soles), and Mr. Toad (Claude Rae). However, the worlds of the two characters only interacted during the opening and closing titles, commercial bumpers, and in the story “Toad’s Time Machine”. The series was actually broken up into three different stories: two featuring Tobias at the beginning and end, and a Mr. Toad one right in the middle. The entire series was adapted and written by Romeo Muller and William J. Keenan, music by Maury Laws with lyrics by Jules Bass, characters designed by Paul Coker Jr., and animation duties handled in Japan by Mushi Studios. It was produced and directed by studio founders Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Bass.

Tobias after encountering a daisy.


            The Reluctant Dragon segments opened with royal trumpets blaring before the story title was shown with Tobias behind it. As in the original story, Tobias was a gentle dragon who didn’t want to hurt anyone. However, he was cursed by the wizard Merlin to unleash dangerous fiery sneezes whenever he saw a daisy in any form—from the real thing to a simple picture. It was often a point of great shame when one of these attacks hit; as well as troublesome for the medieval village of Willowmarch where he resided.

Tobias, Sir Malcolm and King Henry in one of many encounters with Ugliola and Iriving the Bold.


            Ruling over Willowmarch was King Herman the Atrocious (Carl Banas); a self-centered and short-tempered royal who frequently tried to get rid of Tobias while at the same time often relying on him to handle certain kinds of trouble. He was often on the receiving end of one of the sneezing fits. Knight Sir Malcolm St. George (Rae) was Tobias’ only true friend and did what he could to protect both him and the kingdom. A little girl named Daisy (Donna Miller)—who claimed to love Tobias—made it her mission in life to get him a bouquet of daisies whenever possible; either being blissfully or maliciously ignorant of the effect they had on him. Additional trouble was often caused by two Vikings from Viking Land: the large Ugliola (Rae) and the diminutive Irving the Bold (Soles). They sought to steal whatever they could from Willowmarch—be it valuables or the entire kingdom itself. They were often stopped by Tobias as much as their own incompetence.

Badger, Rat and Mole look on in worried disbelief as Toad explains his latest endeavor.


            The Mr. Toad segments began with their own brief intro showing Mr. Toad piloting a variety of vehicles before crashing onto Tobias’ tail and giving him a sneezing fit by offering a daisy. Residing at Toad Hall in turn-of-the-century Scotland, Mr. Toad was a carefree and aloof soul who squandered his money on every single whim that crossed his mind. This often put him at odds with his friends—English gentleman Mole (Soles, using a British accent), rough and tumble Rat (Miller, modulated with an Irish accent), and stalwart Badger (Soles, using a Scottish accent)—who were either inconvenienced by his flights of fancy or dragged along on them. Aiding him in his schemes was sometimes a legion of dimwitted and lazy field mice (all Miller). There were also the weasels, who took every opportunity they could to usurp Toad Hall from Mr. Toad’s possession; necessitating Toad and his friends getting it back from them through some elaborate scheme. Although Mr. Toad seemed unbothered by these turns of events, a wink to the camera at the end sometimes let on he was more cognizant than seemed.

Toad being tricked by the weasels into signing over Toad Hall for a shiny new fire truck.


            The Reluctant Dragon & Mr. Toad Show, unfortunately, had trouble finding an audience; it was cancelled and removed from the schedule before it finished airing. It returned to the network on Sunday mornings beginning September 12, 1971 and remained there until the following September. The series has largely disappeared since, with only 7 episodes made available online so far through the Internet Archive. Rankin/Bass would get another crack at Mr. Toad for ABC in their 1987 telefilm The Wind in the Willows, which was a more faithful adaptation of the book again written by Muller. The film was actually completed in 1983 and released onto video in the UK, but was met with several delays before it could make its American debut. This ended up being the last production by Rankin/Bass, as the company would be shut down on March 4, 1987. Rankin and Bass would partner for two more productions before officially dissolving their partnership on December 17, 2001; with all but several projects from their library split between Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Discovery.

  

EPISODE GUIDE:
“A Cold Day in Willowmarch / Build a Better Bungalow / A Day at the Fair” (9/12/70) – Tobias is unwilling to use his fire to free Willowmarch from Viking Land as it’s against the law to do so. / To keep the mischief to a minimum, Toad’s friends oversee the construction of his new guest house. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Cowardly Herman / Casey Toad / Daisies Away” (9/19/70) – Sir Malcolm sets up a fake fight between Tobias and King Herman in order to cure the King of his sudden bout of cowardice. / Mr. Toad has taken to playing with a model railroad—using full-sized trains. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Dippy / Gentlemen's Gentleman / Dragon Under Glass” (9/26/70) – The Vikings use a baby dragon to distract Daisy so that they can capture Tobias and keep him out of their plans. / After losing Toad Hall to the weasels when he spends the mortgage payment, Mr. Toad happily becomes their butler. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Free a Cold, Starve a Viking / Ghost of Toad Hall / Happy Birthday, Dear Tobias” (10/3/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / When the weasels trick Mr. Toad into signing over Toad Hall, he and his friends decide to play ghost and scare them out. / If Tobias can keep away from daisies all day on his 400th birthday, his sneezing curse will finally be lifted.
 
“How to Be a Wizard / Jack of All Trades / How to Vex a Viking” (10/10/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“If It's Wednesday It Must Be Viking Land / Jove! What a Day / Lights, Camera, Action” (10/17/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Merlin the Magician, Jr. / Micemaster Road / National Daisy Week” (10/24/70) – Expecting important visitors, King Herman enlists the aid of Merlin’s son to remove Tobias’ curse. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Never Count on a Cornflower / Movie Maker Toad / No Bix Like Show Bix” (10/31/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / Mr. Toad takes up filmmaking and recruits the weasels as his villains, who in turn sabotage the production. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Saving the Crown / Polo Panic / Sir Tobias” (11/7/70) – The Vikings come to steal the crown jewels and use a daisy to keep Tobias from stopping them. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / After King Herman banishes him, Tobias decides to try and make London his home.
 
“Subway Sabotage / Sail Ho-Ho / Taxes Are a Drag on Dragons” (11/14/70) – Tobias comes to the rescue when the Vikings steal the palace through an underground tunnel. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Big Break / Sandhogs / The Campscout Girls” (11/21/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Flying Flagon / The Amphibious Mr. Toad / The Haunted Castle” (11/28/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / King Herman forces Tobias to spend the night in a castle that ends up being haunted by King Arthur and some of his knights.
 
“The Kid's Last Fight / The Demolition Derby / The Purple Viking” (12/5/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / The Vikings bring a massive purple Viking to Willowmarch to steal their bridge.
 
“The Robot Dragon / The Great Bonfire Contest / The Starve Versus Herman, the Atrocious” (12/12/70) – Tobias gets blamed when the Vikings attack Willowmarch with a robot dragon. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“The Tobias Touch / The Great Motorcycle Race / Tobias, the Terror of the Tournament” (12/19/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
 
“Tobias, the Reluctant Viking / Toad's Time Machine / Wretched Robin Hood” (12/26/70) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE. / Mr. Toad builds a time machine that takes him and his friends to medieval Willowmarch. / Tobias and Sir Malcolm encounter Robin Hood, who doesn’t exactly live up to his legend.
 
“The Toughest Daisy in Willowmarch / Twenty Thousand Inches Under the Sea / The Great Zoo Bust Out” (1/2/72) – Tobias tries to get rid of a daisy in front of his door before he’s supposed to receive an award for not destroying the town for a month. / Mr. Toad’s friends get pulled into an unwitting adventure on his latest invention: a submarine. / King Henry sells Tobias to a zoo where he ends up unwittingly aiding in the other animals’ escape.

February 03, 2024

THE OSMONDS

 

THE OSMONDS
(ABC, September 9-December 23, 1972)
 
Rakin/Bass Productions, Halas and Batchelor

 

 

MAIN CAST:
Donny Osmond – Himself
Jimmy Osmond – Himself
Alan Osmond – Himself
Wayne Osmond – Himself
Jay Osmond – Himself
Merrill Osmond – Himself
Paul Frees – Fuji, Hortense Bird, various
Iris Rainer – Various

 

 

            The Osmonds were an American family musical group that were very popular in the 1970s. George Virl Osmond Sr. and Olive Osmond resided on a farm in Ogden, Utah, and were musicians within their church. They had nine children: Virl, Tom, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny, Marie and Jimmy.



            In 1958, Alan (9), Wayne (7), Merril (5) and Jay (3) began singing as a barbershop quartet around the town and during church services as a way to earn money for hearing aids for their brothers Virl and Tom, both born with severe hearing impairments, and to finance future church missions. Their talent and stage presence encouraged their father to take them to an amateur barbershop singing competition in California. While there, the family took a trip to Disneyland where the Osmonds performed with the park’s own barbershop quartet, The Dapper Dans. Having been seen by Tommy Walker, Director of Entertainment and Customer Relations, they were hired to perform at the park the following summer. It also landed them minor roles in the Kurt Russell television series The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters and an appearance during a segment of the “Disneyland After Dark” episode of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, where Walt Disney himself took viewers around Disneyland at night and showed off the nighttime entertainment; complete with numerous entertainment guest stars.



            When singer Andy Williams’ father Jay saw them at the park, he encouraged his son to book the Osmonds on his show, The Andy Williams Show. The Osmond Brothers became regulars on it from 1962-67, earning the nickname “one-take Osmonds” amongst the staff due to their professionalism and constant rehearsing. Donny would join the group in 1963, with Marie and Jimmy making appearances later on and Jimmy eventually joining in 1967 (Marie would be the last to join up a few years after in 1973). When the show ended in 1967, the Osmond Brothers were signed to The Jerry Lewis Show until it was cancelled in 1969; at which point they rejoined The Andy Williams Show for its second run.

Osmonds LP sleeve featuring The Osmond Brothers and Donny in the middle.


            Deciding they wanted to get away from variety shows and perform as a rock and roll band, The Osmond Brothers recorded and released their first single, “Flower Music” with the B-side “I Can’t Stop”, in 1967 for UNI Records. Record producer Mike Curb saw the Osmonds perform and recognized their talent. He signed them to MGM Records and paired them with producer Rick Hall. Now known as The Osmonds, they released their first hit single, “One Bad Apple” written by George Jackson, in November of 1970, along with their first MGM album, Osmonds. It hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for five weeks in early 1971. The album itself hit #14 on the Billboard Top Lps chart and was certified gold later that year. Their second album, Homemade, was recorded in just 6 days and released in August of 1971; with the single “Double Lovin’” peaking at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was certified gold in early 1972.

Osmonds Greatest Hits album featuring Jimmy with the group.


            With their third MGM album, Phase III in 1972, the Osmonds began writing and performing their own music, gravitating towards a rock sound. Their fourth album, Crazy Horses, went even harder on the rock; going over into heavy metal territory. They wrote all the songs, played all the instruments, and sang all the vocals. Merrill and Donny were the co-lead vocalists—with Donny mostly singing the chorus of the songs—until Donny’s voice began to change, forcing him to drop back to largely instrumental contributions. The band compensated by progressively lowering the key until his voice finished changing. While still working with his brothers, Donny had also engaged on a solo career; releasing his own albums alongside the group’s. Jimmy would follow suit with his own solo work beginning in 1972.

Rankin/Bass' caricatures of The Osmonds: Jimmy, Donny, Jay, Wayne, Merrill and Alan.


            Rankin/Bass Productions partnered with MGM to bring the Osmonds to Saturday mornings for ABC; similarly to how they had The Jackson Five the year prior. In fact, both cartoons were very much identical in their structure and presentation. The Osmonds would follow the brothers as they embarked on a world tour after winning a contest to become musical goodwill ambassadors. They traveled on a provided psychedelic jet plane piloted by Alan, accompanied by their anthropomorphic dog, Fuji (Paul Frees in 4th wall-breaking internal monologues, using a Japanese accent). Unlike The Jackson 5ive where a touring schedule kept the Jacksons too busy to participate in the show, the Osmonds provided all of their own voices; with Frees and Iris Rainer doing all the rest. Along with the interesting characters they met in each new location, trouble usually followed the brothers due to Jimmy’s immaturity and impetuousness and Donny’s tendency to be girl-crazy. One girl Donny wasn’t crazy about was his self-proclaimed #1 fan: Hortense Bird (Frees), an old lady with missing teeth who decided to follow the Osmonds on their tour.

Dancing through the streets.


            The Osmonds debuted on ABC on September 9, 1972, airing right after The Jackson 5ive. The series was a showcase for the music of the Osmond brothers, with two songs being worked into every episode accompanied by a music-video like sequence. All of the songs--with the exception of “Getcha Goin’ My Way”, which wouldn’t be released until 2012--were taken from the albums Osmonds, Homemade, Phase III and Crazy Horses; the Donny solo albums The Donny Osmond Album, To You with Love, Donny, Portrait of Donny and Too Young; and the Jimmy solo album Killer Joe. “One Bad Apple” was used as the series’ theme, with episode titles appearing at the end of the intro in an apple shape. Maury Laws provided the rest of the music, and Curb served as an executive producer. The show was written by Rainer, Earle Doud, William J. Keenan, Claire Merrill and Romeo Muller, and animated by Halas and Batchelor. This was the second—and last—series to feature Rankin/Bass’ new and improved laugh track; which had better modulated laughs than their previous one and benefitted from better timing by the sound engineers. It only ran a single season of new episodes, with a second season comprised entirely of reruns on Sunday mornings. Several episodes would be released to VHS in the early 1990s by The ABM Group, and Donny would release a DVD compilation of 5 episodes through his website in 2007. While the complete series has never been released, episodes have been uploaded to YouTube by fan accounts.




            The Osmonds’ popularity began to decline following the release of their ambitious 1973 album, The Plan, which carried a strong religious message and a progressive rock sound. Within three years, the band put out music in a variety of genres including bubblegum pop, hard rock and easy listening, giving them an inconsistent sound and took them away from the pop music that made them popular in the first place. Not helping matters was Donny’s voice change taking away their younger fans and his tendency to cover oldies on his solo albums. Alan, Wayne and Merrill had all gotten married between 1973 and 1974, which led to the band reducing their touring schedules to spend more time with their families. Finally, the Osmond brand had gotten diluted with Donny, Marie and Jimmy emerging as solo artists, and Donny and Marie recording duets together. By 1976, album sales were slumping and The Osmonds had only one last Top 40 hit with “The Proud One”, a cover of a Frankie Valli minor hit.

Donny & Marie billboard during their residency at the Flamingo.


            Donny returned to television with Marie for The Donny & Marie Show, with their siblings working in supporting roles. After its cancellation in 1979 and with the family in debt, the Osmonds switched from MGM successor Polydor to Mercury Records and released the unsuccessful album Steppin’ Out. An attempt was made to get Marie back on TV with a sitcom pilot that never aired and a variety show that only ran 7 episodes. Marie carved out a successful career singing country music and starring in the Broadway revivals of The King and I and The Sound of Music. She starred in the short-lived sitcom Maybe This Time and hosted the talk show Donny & Marie with Donny. Donny returned to pop music in 1989, sang “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” for Disney’s Mulan, starred as Gaston in the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, and toured as the title role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Donny also had a turn as a game show host and won the 9th season of Dancing with the Stars. In 2008, Donny and Marie had a residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas that was originally supposed to run for 6 months, but kept being extended until it finally ended in 2019 after 11 years. Donny went on to have a solo residency at Harrah’s Las Vegas while Marie continues to tour and do commercials.

The Osmonds all together for Marie's 60th birthday.


            Alan, Wayne, Merril and Jay returned to The Osmond Brothers to earn money for their debts. A handful of their songs just missed breaking the top 40, and their record sales were reduced by their unwillingness to tour and desire to only promote their music through music videos, but they were able to pay off their debts by 1983. They continued to perform with various line-ups, including their children, as well as independently with other performers. Alan retired from the group in 2007 and Wayne in 2012 after a stroke left him unable to play guitar; although they played one more performance with them in 2018 and again in 2019 for Marie’s 60th birthday. Merril planned to retire in 2022, but continued on for a limited run in 2024. Jay continues to perform with Alan’s son, Nathan, and they plan to begin a residency in Branson, Missouri in October of 2024. Jimmy suffered a second stroke in 2018 and had dropped out of showbusiness to recover, with Merril hoping he’d eventually return to the group.

 

EPISODE GUIDE:
“And Away They Go” (9/9/72) – The Osmonds have a chance to audition for a world tour, but Jimmy and Fuji ruin their chances.
Songs: “One Bad Apple” & “Go Away Little Girl
 
“China” (9/16/72) – While Jimmy and Fuji are fighting, the brothers must play a ping pong game for America against China.
Songs: Don’t Panic” & “Sweet and Innocent
 
“Jimmy and James in London” (9/30/72) – In London, Jimmy is mistaken for a prince that he resembles.
Songs: In the Rest of My Life” & “Why
 
“Sir Donald of Bavaria” (9/30/72) – In Bavaria, Donny dreams that he, Jimmy and Fuji are sent back to Medieval times.
 
“Paris” (10/7/72) – The brothers must save a restaurant from closing wile a government minister conspires to make them lose a contest to a local band.
Songs: Promise Me” & “Shuckin’ and Jivin’
 
“Monte Carlo” (10/14/72) – While in Monte Carlo, Jimmy makes a hit film while Donny falls for the wrong girl.
Songs: Wake Up Little Susie” & “Getcha Goin’ My Way*”
*Unreleased until 2012.
 
“Denmark” (10/21/72) – Donny must stop some undersea bullies in order to get a sea witch’s spell reversed and change Jimmy’s fin back to legs.
Songs: Love Me” & “Hold Her Tight
 
“India” (10/28/72) – Jimmy befriends a genie in India.
Songs: And You Love Me” & “Hey Girl
 
“The Yukon” (11/4/72) – Jimmy accidentally sends the brothers to the Yukon.
Songs: All I Have to Do Is Dream” & “My Drum
 
“The Black Forest” (11/11/72) – A whole town may sleep forever if the brothers can’t fix a special clock.
 
“Italy” (11/18/72) – A girl dates Donny as a ploy to get the valuable coin Jimmy found.
 
“Australia” (11/23/72) – Jimmy gets a new admirer: a kangaroo.
Songs: It’s You Babe” & “Lonely Boy
 
“Transylvania” (11/25/72) – The Osmonds are invited to a birthday party held by a vampire.
Songs: Killer Joe” & “We All Fall Down
 
“Rio” (12/2/72) – Jimmy ends up getting lost during a costume contest in Rio.
Songs: Prety Blue Eyes” & “Hey Mr. Taxi
 
“Don Osmondo in Spain” (12/9/72) – Donny takes up bullfighting in order to impress a girl.
Songs: Puppy Love” & “Yo-Yo
 
“Luck of the Osmonds” (12/16/72) – Jimmy gets mistaken for a leprechaun in Ireland.
 
“Coming Home to Utah” (12/23/72) – The brothers return to Utah to a fairly lackluster homecoming.
Songs: Utah” & “Too Young