Animation, Comics, Personal Essay

Remembered with fondness: The “Milton the Monster” opening sequence

By Scott Ross

For them as is interested, here’s the rather stylishly rendered opening of the (long-forgotten by most) Milton the Monster Saturday morning cartoon show, from 1965; it ran until 1968. The series was created by Hal Seeger, who also produced the new Out of the Inkwell series in the early 1960s, which was my introduction to Max and Dave Fleischer’s Koko the Klown.

At five I relished Count Kook’s request (“When the stirring’s done, may I lick the spoon?”)

Milton and his gruesome cohorts put me somewhat in mind of Little Lulu writer/layout man (and occasional artist) John Stanley’s wonderful contemporaneous Dell comic, Melvin Monster. Like Milton, Melvin was a decent sort in a world of malevolent bugaoboos, his misadventures filtered through the same macabre sense of humor that informed Stanley’s Old Witch Hazel stories in the Lulu comics.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Animation, Personal Essay

The bloom is off the rose: The Saturday morning cartoons of my youth in decline, 1969 – 1972

By Scott Ross

Partly as a result of getting older, I suspect, the allure of Saturday morning cartoons began to abate somewhat as I turned eight. But only partly. I was still wild about animation (even the “limited” sort Chuck Jones once astutely termed “illustrated radio”), still spent my allowance on comic books, still went to every Disney movie that opened, and still listened largely to cartoon-related records. But the Great Moment was ending, and I think I sensed it. From the highs of Jonny Quest and The Banana Splits and The Mighty Heroes, there were more and more items like Hot Wheels, which — quite rightly — brought the ire of the FCC down on the network. And there was worse yet to come.

1969. Old Business: The previous season Bugs Bunny moved from ABC to CBS, and was coupled with the Road Runner series under the omnibus heading The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, alleviating my 12-noon, which-should-I-watch? conundrum. Whew.

New Business: The networks took their Saturday morning fare very seriously in those days. Each typically ran a 30-minute promo on the Friday evening before unveiling their new shows. On one memorable Friday night in 1969, CBS aired not only their promo piece but a full half-hour pilot for what it was obviously expecting to be its breakout hit that year. More on that anon.

I was more interested in a few other items on the slate. First, one of two Hanna-BarberaWacky Races spin-offs, The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. The voice of the villain was provided by my favorite Bewitched warlock and Hollywood Squares regular, Paul Lynde. The fact that my family had just moved from Canton, Ohio to Mt. Vernon, birthplace of the then-ubiquitous Mr. Lynde, was serendipity.

Penelope seems dubious. Perhaps she knows something about Paul Lynde? (Who, if they had eyes and ears and a little imagination, DIDN’T?)

The other was Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines, a strange series revolving around Dick Dastardly attempts to shot down a carrier pigeon during World War I (“Stop that pigeon! Stop that pigeon!”) “abetted” by, to paraphrase MAD magazine, a gang of the usual idiots. Since D.D. was voiced by Paul Winchell, using the same voice he’d employed in Wacky Races, his “side” didn’t seem to have been the Germans. But he could hardly have represented the Allies, especially as he’s clearly the villain of the piece, and is always foiled. See what I mean when I say it was strange? Still, I loved it. One of my most vivid memories of that time is walking back home from the YMCA on a bitterly cold December Saturday and finding my DDandMITFM Fan Club package in the day’s mail.

The other new show that tickled my fancy was a rare live-action series, The Monkees. Of course at the time I had no notion of just how ersatz and pre-fabricated the band was, or how determinedly the people behind the group (among them Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider) aped The Beatles in their feature films. But I suspect that, even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. I found them, and their show, cheerful, charming, and fun, from their famous “Monkees Walk” to their under-cranked antics. And it certainly didn’t hurt that their British component was the adorable former chorus-boy Davy Jones.

The show that CBS had pinned its hopes on turned out to be its big winner that year, but I found Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! a let-down. I liked the big, dumb Great Dane (memorably voiced by H-B stalwart Don Messick in the manner of Daws Butler’s Snuffles character from the old Quick Draw McGraw series, especially in Scooby’s adoration of “Scooby-Snacks”) and the first image of the main title gave me chills: Bats screaming from a prototypical haunted-house. Oh, boy! But in the pilot, as in every single episode after, the plot’s seeming phantasmagoria turned out to hold (yawn) a logical, and all too human, explanation. Like most children, I loved the eerie, the creepy, the ghastly, the ghostly. I wanted to be scared. I wanted ghouls. I wanted blood-thirsty monsters. Not guys running around in rubber spook suits. For this 8-year old viewer, Scooby-Doo violated my expectations in the most prosaic fashion. I continued watching the show, but for the characters (such as they were) and for the cute blond Freddy, not for the series itself, its lame mysteries, or its anti-spectral solutions.

The Mystery, Inc. gang has been the collective victims of countless Internet porn spoofs… especially Shaggy and Fred.

The NBC line-up continued to be great fun. I remember tearing this promo spread from a Heckle and Jekyll comic; although I thought the artwork was strange, even crude, something about it appealed to and intrigued me.

Along with the returning Banana Splits and Underdog, the most enjoyment was to be had with two new NBC series. The Pink Panther Show provided a forum for airing the Friz Freleng/David DePatie-produced theatrical Panther shorts, along with new ones, including a curious series called The Aardvark and the Ant in which a Dean Martin sound-alike emmet is menaced, Wile E. Coyote style, by a Jackie Masonesque anteater. (The Inspector shorts followed later.) But the cream of the crop was the genuinely bizarre Sid and Marty Krofft offering, H.R. Pufnstuf.

Pufnstuf was a comic fairy-tale in which a cute adolescent (the adorable Jack Wild, the Artful Dodger of Oliver!) washes up on an island populated by costumed characters, led by a Southern-accented dragon. Jimmy is perennially pursued by the ineffectual camp villain Witchipoo (Billie Hayes) because she wants her talons on the magical talking flute the boy carries in his pocket(!) There was also a big frog in a derby who looked like she wandered in from a Bob Fosse musical, evil trees, talking alarm-clocks and a sneezing house. It was crazy, atrocious, and enchanting.

1970. Hanna-Barbera continued exercising its pop music bent with two new shows, Josie and the Pussycats and The Harlem Globetrotters. Filmation likewise mutated The Archies (Archie’s Funhouse Fetauring the Giant Juke Box) and the Kroffts followed up the quasi-musical H.R. Pufnstuf with The Bugaloos, a bunch of adolescent insect musicians menaced by yet another wacky wiccan, this time played by Martha Raye, on NBC. The Archie Andrews universe also gave birth to Sabrina and the Groovie Ghoulies, fright-show refugees who (naturally) have their own rock band.

Josie, which looked like an animated Hefner fantasy, at least had the distinction of having an integrated trio. The Bugaloos was also integrated. I wonder why I don’t remember how cute John Philpott was.

I’d loved watching the real Harlem Globetrotters on television, and I enjoyed seeing them on Saturday mornings, even in lousy Hanna-Barbera animation and saddled with dumb plots and a little old (white) lady bus driver. They also sang, quite well (especially Meadowlark Lemon) and the eventual Harlem Globetrotters television soundtrack LP is still a cheery, funky delight.

Meanwhile, over at ABC…

While I was looking forward to Will the Real Jerry Lewis Please… Sit Down! (and which I now scarcely recall…)

…the winner of the bizarro sweepstakes that year was decidedly Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. Almost indescribable, LLSC starred a cast of costumed primates playing out a Cold War satire and riding around on chopped motorcycles complete with training wheels, with the lead’s voice performed a la Humphrey Bogart.

A part of me finds this sort of thing cruel now, but at the time it amused me no end.

1971. I continued to spend now-wasted hours in front of the tube on Saturdays at 10, but with an increasing loss of enthusiasm. Even comic books, my mainstay since the age of four, had begun to pall on me, what with paltry narratives and indifferent artwork. (The obvious exceptions being those featuring reprints, such as Uncle Scrooge.) The magic was waning.

The new Pebbles and Bam-Bam Show was mildly intriguing. Even more interesting than the teenage versions of the Flintstones’ and the Rubbles’ somewhat bland offspring — their sidekicks were quirkier, and more fun — was the fact that they were voiced by Sally Struthers and Jay North.

Archie’s world was re-jiggered yet again, with the utterly weird Archie’s TV Funnies. I was a comic strip maven, so I enjoyed it, but it’s hard to fathom that the Filmation team imagined 1970s kids would be turned on by animated versions ofNancy and Sluggo, Moon Mullins, The Katzenjammer Kids (or The Captain and the Kids, as it was known) and Smokey Stover. Broom Hilda was at least current, but Russell Meyers’ strip was far funnier, savvier, more clever, and better drawn, than what showed up on this curious piece of mishegoss.

The finest new show, hands-down, was not a cartoon but a revival of a 1950s series. You Are There dramatized historical events, and was hosted by Walter Cronkite. I still recall many of its episodes, notably the disappearance of Amelia Erhart, the incapacitation of Woodrow Wilson, and the confirmation of the Zimmerman telegraph. Instructive, never condescending, always intelligent, they brought history to life in a most immediate and engaging manner.

One of Hanna-Barbera’s endless sausage-factory entries this season was Help! It’s the Hair-Bear Bunch! which the author of the venerable TVParty.com site succinctly regards as “stupid beyond belief.”

1972. The Kroffts returned again, this time with Lidsville. Starring another of my early crushes, the erstwhile Eddie Munster, Butch Patrick, the show also featured former Witchipoo Billie Hayes as Weenie the Genie. But the greatest pull was the villain: The great Charles Nelson Reilly, described by TVParty.com as “the biggest queen ever to parade across the Saturday morning screens.”

The most pleasing of the new cartoons this season — the only good one, really — was without doubt Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Hosted by Bill Cosby and based in part on his childhood memories, and the use of them in his stand-up comedy LPs of the 1960s, the show gave voice (and presence) to urban black youth for the very first time on Saturday morning. The characters were quirky, funny and engaging, and while there were what I think of as Dread Moral Lessons in each episode, the series, which ran for 13 years, was often marvelous. Far above the Filmation norm… although I saw what might be regarded as the pilot, the 1969 Hey, Hey, Hey! It’s Fat Albert, when it first aired and it seemed to me that the characters, in their slicker Filmation incarnations, lost more than a little style and a great deal of soul, in the process.

This was the last year I really cared to sit around watching the Saturday morning shows, at least without something else to do… a pad to draw in, something to write, maybe a comic book. My interests were changing (novels, as opposed to comics, for example.) I was certainly changing. But the endless party was coming to a close. The shows were becoming cuter (The Smurfs, The Care Bears) and more opportunistic (The Jackson 5ive first, then The OsmondsThe Brady Kids and finally, the nadir, The Partridge Family 2200 A.D.) It wasn’t enough to engage a halfway intelligent adolescent mind (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and certainly a plunge into the abyss after the highs of my childhood.

One pleasant after-note: In 1971, The CBS Children’s Film Festival officially joined the Saturday line-up. Although, curiously, it was not on the official schedule until then, I had been enjoying the show (presumably in syndication) since the mid-to-late ’60s, drawn initially by its hosts, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, but held by the many splendid movies that followed the opening segment. The films themselves had charm and appeal, and while they were often about troubled youths in difficult circumstances in foreign climes, they never felt didactic or moralistic. And they had, in KF&O, the perfect, gentle hosts. Naturally, the Kuklapolitans were eventually axed by CBS, like Captain Kangaroo on weekday mornings.

The party was definitely over.

Thanks once again to http://www.tvparty.com/sat.html for so much of the information gleaned for this essay.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Animation, Personal Essay

A consummate groove: The Saturday morning cartoons of my youth, 1966 – 1968

By Scott Ross

In the 28 December 1968 installment of his “The Glass Teat” column for the Los Angeles Free Press, Harlan Ellison copped to being “a devout Saturday morning cartoon watcher,” noting in the nomenclature of the time, parsed as only he would, that the then-current network offerings were “a consummate groove.” I know what he meant.

Although my conscious memory stretches back, improbable as it might seem, to the age of one or two, I date my memory of that cherished ritual of the TeeVee Generation — rising before mom and dad bestirred themselves, bolting down a bowl of Coco-Puffs (or Rice Crispies or Cap’n Crunch or whatever the breakfast cereal du jour might have been) in the kitchen (we were not allowed to eat in the living room except on TV trays, and then only on special occasion) and plunking ourselves down in front of the tube for the next several hours — to 1966. I was five then, and already cartoon-mad. For roughly the next six years, as my tastes evolved and the glories of the form began first to magnify and expand and then to cheapen and recede inexorably, the cathode box was my companion, my babysitter, my best friend.

Thanks to TVParty.com http://www.tvparty.com/sat.html I have lately been able to reconstruct the full panoply of those (mostly animated) delights that held me rapt, and kept me out of my mother’s hair, for roughly four or five hours every Saturday morning during those years.

1966. Some lunatic called Ralph Bakshi, of whom I would learn more later, came up with a crazed entry for CBS called The Mighty Heroes, consisting of Diaper Man, Tornado Man, Strong Man, Rope Man and (my favorite) Cuckoo Man. My memory of the show is a bit vague, but those wild character designs remain vivid.

The TTV-Leonardo folks, meanwhile, who had previously given us King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, came up with their own wonky superhero, Underdog. Voiced by Wally Cox, of all people, his transformation from shy, retiring Shoeshine Boy to intrepid do-gooder was accompanied by the immortal cry, “There’s no need to fear: Underdog is here!” I can still recall his sweetheart, Polly Purebread, performing a song called “Let’s Bongo Congo.” Why? Beats me.

Over on ABC, vintage Warner Bros. cartoons were re-packaged under the rubric Porky Pig and Friends, featuring a truly ugly main title sequence.

As Porky ran opposite the Hanna-Barbera Atom Ant, I rarely saw him until the network moved him to Sunday morning. My first school lunchbox featured this formican wonder-worker. Hanna-Barbera had a second offering on ABC, Secret Squirrel; he and his co-hort, Morocco Mole, were on the flip-side of the Atom Ant lunchbox, along with a character I barely remember, the somewhat unsettling Squiddly Diddly. I recall with far greater alacrity Atom Ant‘s Precious Pup for his wheezing snicker, which H-B, never a pair to be shy about beating any gag into the ground and on to China, used for several other canine characters over the ensuing years.

“Up and at ’em, Atom Ant!”

Cashing in on the phenomenal popularity of a certain mop-topped quartet of Liverpudlians, ABC gave us The Beatles in Filmation form. The songs were theirs, but their voices were provided by Paul Frees (John, George) and Lance Percival (Paul, Ringo.) Like, too mod!

Milton the Monster is, sadly, forgotten now. But I recall him fondly; I was especially taken with Count Kook’s request, “When the stirring’s done, may I lick the spoon?”

“I’m Milton, your brand-new son!”

The Jetsons was one of many attempts by Hanna-Barbera to replicate their success in prime-time with The Flintstones. It ran a single season, but found life in perpetuity on Saturday mornings. As an adult, I was amused to discover the Joe McDoakes series of comedy shorts starring George O’Hanlon, the voice of George Jetson.

“Help! Jane! Stop this crazy thing! Help! Jane!”

Noon was a time of deep frustration. On CBS, there was The Road Runner Show with its catchy (albeit all too ’60s) theme song and Chuck Jones-designed main titles. Over at ABC, The Bugs Bunny Show, featuring the immortal “On with the show, this is it” opening and “Starring that Oscar-winning rabbit, Bugs Bunny.” And on NBC, Bob Kane’s Cool McCool with its own hip theme song (“Danger is his business.”) I must have driven myself slightly nuts deciding between this trio of mouth-watering entities.

A Virgil Ross model sheet for Wile E. Coyote.

Cool McCool.

I suspect I switched from the Cool McCool opening to Bugs and then back and forth between the bunny and the Road Runner. The choices! They could drive a poor child mad!

Since my parents never owned a color set until after I left home at the age of 19, this is how I saw everything while I was growing up.

Magilla Gorilla ran after that, briefly, followed by Tom and Jerry, which also eventually ended up as a Sunday morning offering. As I’ve grown older I have less and less admiration for those early Hanna-Barbera shorts, as beautifully animated as most of them are. But I still love it when Tom gasps.

1967. One of the occasional pleasures for a comic book aficionado in the mid-’60s was the seasonal appearance, usually in two-page centerfold spread, of ads touting a network’s new fall Saturday morning offerings. I used to pull these from my comics and keep them in a growing cache of newspaper and other clippings.

Very few of the new ’67 shows appealed to me especially. My comics of choice were of the “funny animal” variety: Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck, Looney Tunes characters, Hanna-Barbera, the Harvey comics. Superheroes bored me then, as indeed they do now. I remember Spiderman mostly for its theme-song, but I suppose I must have watched a few of the others, simply because they made up the bulk of the offerings on all three networks, broken up only by The Flintstones, Atom Ant and another failed Hanna-Barbera attempt at prime-time, the Bilko-like Top Cat. Another catchy theme song in that, one that was cannibalized years later by the makers of the exuberantly, hilariously offensive Queer Duck.

Top Cat! / The most effectual / Top Cat! / Who’s intellectual…

The two standouts that season were polar opposites. One was completely new, the other yet one more Hanna-Barbera prime-time cast-off that ran a single season. One was the product of two of the most inventive, even subversive, minds ever to work in the field of television cartoons, forever pushing the boundaries between adult sensibility and childish humor; the other the natural outgrowth of comic book adventure tropes geared to pre-adolescent boys.

George of the Jungle issued from Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the inspired loons behindRocky and Bullwinkle. In it, an inept erstatz Tarzan (“Watch out for that… treeeee!”) disported himself with a gorilla who sounded suspiciously like Ronald Coleman, and a jungle maiden named Ursula (shades of Miss Andress), whom George called “Fella.” In between their escapades were the adventures of Henry Cabot Henhouse III, aka Super Chicken, and the stalwart racer Tom Slick. It was wild, unpredictable, full of outrageous puns and inexplicable sight-gags. And, as with Rocky and Bullwinkle, one enjoys it even more as an adult than one did as a child.

George’s polar opposite, Jonny Quest, was straight-up action-adventure, usually in “exotic” climes and often with supernatural, or seemingly supernatural, forces at work: Mummies, werewolves, terrifying globs of invisible energy, gargoyles, kimodo dragons, spider-like one-eyed robots and, in one especially memorable episode, a pterodactyl. It was a curiously homoerotic enterprise, what with Jonny’s widowed father Dr. Quest, his factotum, the humpy Race Bannon, Jonny, and the group’s Indian ward, Hadji and, aside from the mysterious Jade, no women or girls to speak of. The character designs were by the comics artist Doug Wildey. The astonishing, big-band driven theme was by Hoyt Curtin, and Jonny himself constituted my very first crush. Typical of me, I suppose, that the first boy I fell in love with was a cartoon character.

Doug Wildey’s model sheet for Johnny Quest.

1968.

TTV came up with Go-Go Gophers, an Indian Wars satire more or less on the level of F-Troop. The Natives may have been visually offensive, but the White Man was represented by bumbling foxes led by the incomparably inane Colonel Kit Coyote, so I suppose there was something here to offend everyone.

Hanna-Barbera weighed in with the truly bizarre Wacky Races, in which a platoon of improbable vehicles and their alternately weird and/or creepy drivers, vied each week to out-smart, and out-villainize, each other. The lead stinker was the superbly malevolent Dick Dastardly (voice by Paul Winchell) who seems to have been designed after Jack Lemmon’s Professor Fate in The Great Race. His side-kick, Muttley, inherited Precious Pup’s wheezy chortle.

Also making their debut were The Archies, Filmation’s adaption of the Archie Andrews comics, in which the teens had, naturally, their own band. They even got a Top 40 hit (“Sugar, Sugar”) out of it.

Best of the… er… bunch… though, was the Hanna-Barbera produced The Banana Splits. Four costumed nut-cases (the character designs were by Sid and Marty Krofft, and Fleagle was voiced by Paul Winchell) danced, cavorted, engaged in slapstick, played pop songs, and hosted animated shorts (The Three Musketeers, The Hillbilly Bears, Arabian Nights, Micro Venture) and a live-action cliff-hanger called Danger Island! whose catch-phrase (“Uh-oh… Chongo!”) became ubiquitous. The Banana Splits theme (“The Tra-La-La Song”) was pretty nifty too.

I was wild about this show. I had Banana Splits hand-puppets, Banana Splits comics, and was a Banana Splits Fan Club member. Somehow, I missed the two 45 rpm EPs. Well, one can only eat so much sugared cereal.

Curiously, I didn’t recall that Danger Island featured a much later crush, the impossibly pulchritudinous blond beach-bum Jan-Michael Vincent. Perhaps I was too distracted by Jonny Quest to notice. But with that boy running around half-naked and being a part of such jaw-dropping homoerotic images as the above, I’m shocked it all went past me so easily.

[Stay tuned, boys and girls! Part Two comes your way next!]

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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Animation

Some kind of crazy genius: Ludwig von Drake and his creators

By Scott Ross

Making his first appearance in the world the same year as your humble scribe was one of my very favorite cartoon characters. Professor Ludwig von Drake, acknowledged expert on everything (and if you don’t believe that, just ask him) debuted on Disney’s Sunday evening showcase The Wonderful World of Color, as it then was, in September 1961. He is unique among what I think of as the great Disney characters in that he is the only one who was created, not for the movies, but for television.

Ludwig von Drake, annoying both Walt Disney and the NBC Peacock.

Designed by the magnificent Milt Kahl, Von Drake benefited from the use of the then-new Xerox technology so beloved of the Disney animators because, unlike more traditional ink-and-paint coloring and finishing, it preserved their original drawings in a rougher (and, they believed) truer form, preserving the spirit of their renderings. The Professor, with his fringe of hair and feathery hands, was a natural for the Xerox treatment.

A typically expressive Milt Kahl model sheet for Von Drake.

For many years I mistakenly attributed Von Drake to Ward Kimball’s dry, comic brain. Kimball did animate the Professor, although the Professor’s initial appearance, in which he sang the Sherman brothers’ “The Spectrum Song,” was directed by Hamilton Luske and animated by Woolie Reitherman and Les Clark. If you look at Von Drake’s physiognomy, though, there is an uncanny resemblance to Kimball in his later years. But since Ludwig’s emergence took place during the animator’s middle-age, this is surely, however attractive a thought, merely retroactive suggestion.

Key animation by Milt Kahl.

The Disney organization seemed to be pushing Von Drake for stardom pretty hard at the time of his debut. He showed up on magazine covers…

… in Al Taliaferro’s Donald Duck comic strip…

… in children’s books…

… in his own comic book (short-lived as it was with only four issues)…

The fine, underrated duck cartoonist Tony Strobl provided the artwork for the Von Drake comics.

… on jigsaw puzzles (I had this one, four or five years later)…

Yes, Professor, I agree. Enough!

Still, there was something about Von Drake, beyond the Disney hard-sell. First and foremost, Kahl’s brilliant design. Second, his vocalilzation by the great Paul Frees. Of all Frees’ myriad comic voices (Boris Badenov, Inspector Fenwick, Super Chicken’s sidekick Fred, the Burgomeister Meisterberger) Ludwig is his masterpiece: The only slightly exaggerated accent (all those marvelous, rolling r’s), the explosive temper (which, in spite of the lack of official genealogy, does rather link him with both with Donald and with Scrooge McDuck), the muttered asides, the outrageous braggadocio.

Although Von Drake appeared in some very fine short subjects both for television (An Adventure in Color, Kids is Kids, The Truth About Mother Goose) and theatrical release (A Symposium on Popular Songs) nowhere is his (and Frees’) absolute brilliance demonstrated more completely than in the superb Disneyland LP Professor Ludwig von Drake.

I discovered this record in a music shop in downtown Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1970. The proprietor, who stocked sheet music and instruments as well as a few LPs, had a wire-rack display of Disneyland albums. I must have taxed his patience pulling out these treasures over several months, weighing which one I wanted most (the That Darn Cat soundtrack? The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?) but always coming back to Ludwig. Since I only received a dollar allowance every week, of which half went into my savings account, that other half had to go for my comic books (15 cents then, and I’d never forgiven the publishers for raising the cover price from 12) and whatever else I wanted. I must have gotten a few extra dollars for Christmas or my 10th birthday, because one day that winter I nervously approached the music shop with the whole six dollars necessary in my hand, earnestly praying Ludwig was still there. It was.

I damn near wore that record out.

The album’s songs are by Disney’s house composers, the pre-Mary Poppins Richard and Robert Sherman and while there is no writer credited on the LP jacket, I now assume (and await correction for this presumption) that they wrote it, in collaboration with Paul Frees.

Richard B. and Robert M. Sherman, at work on the songs for “The Jungle Book” in 1967.

Aside from the songs, and a few gags, however, nothing on the album feels written. Frees’ exuberant, egocentric chat — hilarious muttered asides and all — feels wholly ex tempore, as if it was all pouring out of his (or Von Drake’s) brain and off his tongue at the moment the reels of tape began rolling. Early on, Von Drake begins nattering about The Wonderful World of Color as though he was solely responsible for it, his muttering becoming more and more indistinct as he prattles on about some imaginary creative genius called Disney (“…some kind of a duck or something…”) Walt must have loved that.

The LP was re-released on CD, slightly and rather curiously truncated (a snippet of introductory music and dialogue at the beginning of “I’m Professor Ludwig von Drake,” a word or two here and there later) at one of the Disneyland shops in a sale-on-demand format. I’m grateful and relieved I managed to snag a copy, as it seems to no longer be made.

I don’t know exactly what to call what the messrs Sherman, Sherman and Frees wrought on this album, but each time I hear it I find it perilously close to some kind of crazy genius.

A Wonder Bread premium sticker from the 1970s. I remember this one with a great deal more pleasure than the memory of chewing that sawdust-and-mucilage solid gruel they called a loaf of bread.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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