Saturday mornings just aren't what they used to be.
These days, I like to sleep in on Saturday, but I don't always get to. There are chores to be done, errands to run, other activities which need my attention that prevents me from pulling the covers over my head to block out the rising sun, and just going back to sleep.
It wasn't always that way for Saturday mornings though.
Things used to be different.
I remember vividly waking up on Saturday mornings, (the only morning, as it happens, that I didn't need a cattle prod to separate myself from my bed once I started going to school), and sneaking into the kitchen pantry for my Saturday morning meal of Oreo's, and tuning in my favorite cartoons of Bugs Bunny and the gang, The Road Runner, and my all-time favorite of Heckle & Jeckle.
Remember those cartoons from our childhoods? What happened to them? I mean, I can't find Bugs or Daffy or Elmer or Yosemite Sam anywhere anymore. The few generations that have passed since I was a kid seem to have erased them permanently from the airwaves.
From TVPARTY.com, we learn: 1962 was the first year all three network's began programming Saturday mornings, with a line-up that consisted mostly of reruns of former live-action, prime-time shows like 'The Lone Ranger', 'Circus Boy', 'Roy Rogers', 'Dennis the Menace' and 'Space Patrol' along with original filmed programs like 'Fury' and 'Sky King'. Theatrical cartoons like 'Bugs Bunny', 'Casper', and 'Heckle & Jeckle' were also popular.
I was only 1 year old in 1962 so my interest in Saturday morning cartoons wasn't as developed as it would later become a few years later.
In 1966, when I was 5, (or five and a half if one were to ask me at the time), our family moved into our "Sierra Madre" house. It was there that I truly began to appreciate this wonderful art form. Truth be known, I was always looking for something to make me laugh. The only cartoon I recall before we moved was The Flintstones, and they were on during prime-time, the first animated series to fare well in this time.
I remember Captain Kangaroo, but I wasn't all that into the real people. It was the cartoons that really made me take notice. And they had to be the funny ones too. Johnny Quest wasn't funny, at least it wasn't to me, so I paid it no attention.
In 1966, 95% of American homes had at least one television set . Ours was black and white, but that was ok for two reasons. One, I didn't know any better, and two, most programming was in b&w also. I remember our first remote control too. When you mashed the change channel button, the knob on the front of the set would rotate. That, my friends, was magic!
My father had built shelves on one whole wall of our living room, and our set was right there in the middle. My favorite place on Saturday mornings was in what could best be described as a reclining chair, except it didn't recline. It rocked, and it swiveled, and it was plush (at least it was to my little 5 year old butt), and it was most comfy. On a side note: They say that if one were to stack all of the Oreo's ever sold flat on top of one another, the stack would reach to the moon. I'm sure if one were to ever clean all of the Oreo crumbs I dropped out of the cushions of that chair and stacked them, this stack would reach at least to Cleveland.
So on Saturday mornings I would settle myself into that chair and submerge myself into TV Land and I can't think of a single morning when I was disappointed, by the cookies or the programming.
Heckle and Jeckle was my favorite. Remember those guys?
Although it was on the earliest, that didn't matter... it could have come on at 3:00 in the morning and I would have found a way to be in front of the tube at that time. I wasn't ABOUT to miss their antics. I never really knew at the time, or even cared, which was which, but I've come to learn that Heckle was the magpie with the Brooklyn accent, and Jeckle spoke with an English flair.
Heckle is slightly more cynical than Jeckle. Both of them treat their mutual enemies with threats and rudeness, but Heckle will usually make his intentions clear from the outset, while Jeckle will (at first) treat enemies politely in order to lull them into a false sense of security before unleashing magpie mayhem.
The duo have made recent appearances which seems to have cemented their place in pop culture. They made an unexplained appearance in Homer's vision of his funeral in "The Simpsons" episode of "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace" and in the very first episode of "Monk", Monk and Sharona have the code names of "Heckle" and "Jeckle" while on a stakeout.
I just think that's as cool as cool can be.
Bugs Bunny was another favorite. Remember when he took over the symphony as "Leopold"? He made that poor tenor hold that note forever. What about the time he had the argument with Daffy Duck about whether it was duck season or rabbit season, and Elmer couldn't figure out who to shoot? My favorite of his antagonists though was Yosemite Sam. Sam had a way of cursing and swearing that was just downright hilarious. One time, Sam was trying to get Bugs to dive off a sky-high diving board into a glass of water, but kept falling himself due to the genius of Bugs. That one still makes me cry laughing.
These cartoons, along with The Road Runner, Tom and Jerry, and others of the time, were full of fun violence, if there is such a thing. Explosions, falling rocks, bombs, brick throwing were the norm for these programs, and I loved every minute of them. I've heard it said that all this violence is not such a good thing for kids to watch on television. Maybe so, but I was always able to differentiate cartoon violence from real violence, animated action from live action, and just because the talking magpies blew up their enemies with the ever ready bomb, I instinctively knew that this was make believe and real people (or real magpies) don't use bombs to get what they want. OK, maybe some terrorist groups do, but are we really about to blame that on the cartoons that I love so much? I hope not.
Another favorite was Scooby Doo. Looking back now, it's truly amazing how those meddling kids were always finding themselves in such predicaments week after week. It was cool though, that they were always the ones to figure out the mystery when no one else could. They became heroes of sort to me.
In 1968, CBS started running The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Show on Saturday mornings.
Oh man, was I happy. I still remember the opening of the show with all of the Looney Tunes characters marching out on the stage. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Tweety, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales, Marvin the Martian, Tasmanian Devil, and Pepé Le Pew, just to name a few.
Sometimes my dad would wake up early, (or was it that I woke him up with my frantic search for Oreos?) and watch cartoons with me. He always enjoyed watching the Road Runner outwit Wile E. Coyote, and he seemed to get as big a kick out of Heckle and Jeckle as I did. As a kid who was often intimidated around my dad, it was always a welcomed pleasure to see him laughing, especially if what he was laughing at was humorous to me as well. Weird, huh?
Following the Bugs Bunny / Road Runner show was The Wacky Races with characters like the Slag brothers in the Boulder-Mobile; the Gruesome Twosome in the Creepy Coupe, with a dragon in its belfry; Prof. Pat Pending (ha ha) in the Convert-a-Car; Red Max in the Crimson Haybailer biplane; Sergeant Blast and Private Meekly in the tank-like Army Surplus Special; the Ant Hill Mob in the Bullitt-Proof Bomb; Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chugga-Bug; Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth the beaver in the Buzz Wagon; the Belle of the Brickyard, Penelope Pitstop, in the Compact Pussycat; Peter Perfect in the Turbo Terrific; and our hissable villains, Dick Dastardly and his snickering muttering dog, Muttley ("Sassa frassin'...") in the Mean Machine. More uncontrolled laughter by yours truly.
Many of these cartoons were laced with humor that I didn't understand at the time. Remember the coyote and the sheepdog punching the time clock at the beginning and end of their "shift"? That's really funny, but the humor was lost on me back then, having never really had a job up to that point in my short life. It didn't matter though, I still enjoyed watching the sheepdog get the better of that coyote.
Did these cartoons of my youth have the life lessons that are ever present in the cartoons of my children's time like The Smurfs, or of the cartoons of today like Sponge-Bob Square Pants? Maybe Scooby Doo, but other than that, probably not. They were animated slapstick at it's all time finest.
And anything was possible.
Take The Road Runner cartoons for example.
As in other cartoons, the Road Runner and the coyote follow the laws of cartoon physics. For example, the Road Runner has the ability to enter the painted image of a cave, while the coyote cannot (unless there is an opening through which he can fall). Sometimes, however, this is reversed, and the Road Runner can bust through a painting while the coyote goes through it. Sometimes the coyote is allowed to hang in midair until he realizes that he is about to plummet into a chasm (a process occasionally referred to elsewhere as Road-Runnering). The coyote can overtake rocks (or cannons) which fall before he does, and end up being squashed by them.
In "Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times Of An Animated Cartoonist", it is claimed that Chuck Jones and the artists behind the Road Runner and Wile E. cartoons adhered to some simple but strict rules:
1. Road Runner (Hot-roddicus supersonicus) cannot harm the Coyote (eatibus anythingus) except by going "meep, meep".
2. No outside force can harm the Coyote -- only his own ineptitude or the failure of Acme products.
3. The Coyote could stop anytime -- IF he was not a fanatic. (Repeat: "A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim." —George Santayana).
4. No dialogue ever, except "meep, meep".
5. Road Runner must stay on the road -- for no other reason than that he's a roadrunner.
6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters -- the southwest American desert.
7. All tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote's greatest enemy.
9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.
10.The audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote.
See? All harmless fun, and no one gets hurt. Well… not REALLY hurt anyway. And a lot of thought went into entertaining me apparently.
Casper, The Banana Splits (not a cartoon per se') and Underdog we also perennial favorites of the times.
Later came The Pink Panther.
This one was a lot of fun, and the fact that no dialogue was ever used (or needed) was pure genius. Watching Pink get around from place to place with that half walk / half skip while that jazzy theme music was funny by itself, but watching him silently get the best of the little man with the white mustache was another example of pure cartoon gold. Other short cartoons that went along with the Pink Panther were the Ant and the Aardvark, and the Texas (or Tijuana) Toads.
These days, Pink is enjoying full time employment as the mascot for Owens Corning's pink fiberglass thermal insulation, as well as for Sweet-N-Low artificial sweetener. Nice work if you can get it, but I miss him on Saturday mornings.
There are many others that came and went over the years, some that I'm sure entertained me at the time, but that I cannot recall just now. I never enjoyed Sesame Street or Mr. Roger's Neighborhood as much as I did my Saturday morning friends. I probably learned more from those shows, but they just weren't as much fun for me, you know?
Cartoons today just aren't the same. Not enough explosions. Not enough animated violence. Not enough falling into deep canyons. Today's cartoons are tame by comparison, probably better for the well being of our children, but I still miss the ones I grew up with. I'm sure I could find them all here on the information super-highway, but I don't think it would be the same.
I know it's just a fantasy, but I would really like to wake up next weekend on Saturday morning about 7:00am, turn on my television, and see several hours of Heckle and Jeckle, The Road Runner and Coyote, Bugs Bunny, The Pink Panther, and all the rest of my favorites, and I'll have a whole box of Oreos next to my chair.
And after all of my cartoons are over, I'll treat myself with a huge bowl of my favorite childhood cereal… either Quisp or Quake, but I'm not sure which just yet.
Until that fantasy happens, I'd sure like to know some of your favorite cartoons from the past. Maybe your favorites will spark a memory for the rest of us and we can all reflect back and give ourselves a smile or two.
Not such a bad thing.
Until next time...