BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
To say Mark Arnold is a classic cartoon fan is something of an understatement. He's an expert in the field as his newest work, Total Television productions The Story Of Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo and the Rest, sheds some light on bygone characters from a simpler time in cartoon land. Arnold told us what it was about those crafty creations that got in his blood and made him have to tell this tale. THE PULSE: How did you get interested in classic cartoons enough to focus
your energy on writing several books on the subject? I mean, a lot of us are
cartoon fans, but there was so much work and time you had to put into this
--- what made it worth it for you?
I have always been a collector of books about animation and have all the "classics" like Leonard Maltin's "Of Mice and Magic", and Leslie Cabarga's "The Fleischer Story", and learned about the subject through those books and by others from people like Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier, Jim Korkis, Mark Evanier, etc. Eventually, I wanted to join the ranks of these people whose worked I admired, and felt that I had something to say, and wanted to write books like them.
It was not my original intention, but I tend to focus on topics not covered. For instance, there are a lot of books about Disney, but only one about Total TeleVision, so that seemed to be virgin territory for me. There are also a lot of books on Marvel and DC, but I chose to write about Harvey Comics on my previous book "The Best of The Harveyville Fun Times!" (2006).
It is worth it to me to do books like this, because it sheds light on subjects that otherwise would be lost. Most of my interview subjects for this TTV book are now in their mid-80s and they will not be around forever. It was a chance to get information from them before it was too late. THE PULSE: Some of this had to be done due to fond childhood memories you
had of watching these series when you were younger, but what was the most
valuable research tools you used to come up with some of the groundwork for
Though I used numerous sources, a couple of books were truly instrumental in me being able to my book. One was Keith Scott's "The Moose That Roared", which was the first book to delve deeply into Jay Ward's cartoon studio. The other was "How Underdog was Born" by TTV creator Buck Biggers and Chet Stover. A third valuable source was the issue of "Animato" that featured articles by and about TTV creator Joe Harris.
I did have fond childhood memories and always wondered who made these cartoons as the names (Biggers, Stover and Harris as well as Tread Covington) never appeared on screen.
After that, FINDING these people proved initially difficult, but the Internet has done wonders as well as the contacts I have already made in the comic book and animation industry have made things tremendously easier, but I still had to do a lot of my own detective work to track these people down. THE PULSE: For our readers who have never heard of this group, who were
Total Television productions?
It was a New York-based cartoon production company consisting of four primary owner/creators: Buck Biggers (who wrote the music); Chet Stover (who wrote the scripts); Joe Harris (who designed the characters); and Tread Covington (who handled the recording sessions as well as the day-to-day business).
They were co-owned by General Mills, the cereal manufacturer, and their productions were animated primarily by Gamma, a Mexican animation outfit that also animated the bulk of Jay Ward's output, causing confusion about the two companies.
Their primary shows were "King Leonardo and his Short Subjects" (1960-63); "Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales" (1963-66); "The Underdog Show" (1964-73); "The Beagles" (1966-68) and "Go Go Gophers" (1968-69)
TTV still exists today, but their primary output years were 1960-69. THE PULSE: Why did you think this untold story was one that needed to have
light shed on it at this point in time?
It was mainly due to the increasing misinformation being stated about TTV. Nobody else bothered to check their facts and misinformation was being taken as fact. For example, Delo States was commonly cited as the original voice for Stanley Livingstone, the head of the Megopolis Zoo in "Tennessee Tuxedo". Problem was, Stanley was always voiced by Mort Marshall and Delo States only did female voices at TTV.
Also, the creators were and are getting older and once they're gone, that part of the story is silenced forever.
My regret was that I didn't do the book sooner so that I might be able to get contributions by voice artists Don Adams and Norma MacMillan, animator Gary Mooney or director Lu Guarnier, who all died in the past few years; the latter two while I was writing the book.
Also, 2009 is the 50th anniversary of TTV. Their first show "King Leonardo and his Short Subjects" debuted in 1960. THE PULSE: What do you think was the most significant contribution that
Total Television Productions made to the world of animation?
Character wise, Underdog or Tennessee Tuxedo. Show wise, "Tennessee Tuxedo" proved that you could mix education with animation long before "Sesame Street" did it.
Overall, TTV is memorable due to their appealing graphics and characters and bolstered by catchy theme songs and catch phrases.
Animation wise, the TTV shows that you could do this effectively with limited animation that wasn't so limited as to be unwatchable as other studios during the era and afterwards were prone to do.THE PULSE: How did you decide how to break down all this information?
I figured the best way to tell the story was roughly chronologically, and then break it down further by show and characters. As show segments were commonly interchanged from program to program, I discovered that going by half-hour program was not a good way to tell the story, so that's why it's broken down by cartoon segments.THE PULSE: A book only has so many pages, even if you're the captain of the
ship, what, if any, amusing anecdotes or stories would you have liked to
include, but, due to page constraints, were unable to use in this volume?
I really don't think I left much out anecdote-wise. I used all the pertinent commentary that was told to me in the interviews. I did discover a few more images such as Underdog storyboard art after the book was completed, and I may be able to conduct a few more interviews if a few more of the surviving animators and production people come out of the woodwork, but I really didn't leave anything out as far as I can remember.
I really wanted to put everything including the "kitchen sink" into this.
If I ever do a revised edition, I would like to view all the cartoons I was not able to, so that the Appendix would be more complete.
I did leave out the nitty-gritty details about the creation process that Biggers and Stover did with their book, but that was primarily because they covered it first-hand, so if you want more details about their martini lunches, "How Underdog Was Born" is the book to get. (LOL) THE PULSE: How eager were people involved with TTp to talk with you about
the early days of the studio, the characters and situations that occurred
with their artistic endeavors?
Fortunately, I had no issues with everyone that I interviewed. Some people I just simply could not get a hold of like George S. Irving. Others like Larry Storch, refused to be interviewed without a fee. The only interview that was difficult was the Allen Swift one, because he is not doing too well these days, but I made the best with the short time I had with him.
Also, though their memories are generally quite clear for their advanced ages, it was sometimes difficult to get the people I interviewed to remember specific information about events that happened 40-50 years ago, but overall I am pleased with the results. THE PULSE: Why do you think, aside from Underdog and possibly Tennessee
Tuxedo, most of these other characters aren't household names or ones that
people under 30 might not even recall with prodding?
TV just doesn't televise cartoons the way they once did. I grew up in the 1970s where we were fed a steady diet of Looney Tunes, Jay Ward, Tex Avery, Tom & Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Casper, Terry-Toons, Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freleng, Filmation and TTV. And you saw Disney on the Sunday night Disney show. Nowadays, a lot of these cartoons are not aired, even on Cartoon Network or Boomerang and have been dumped into what I call "The DVD Graveyard" or are completely MIA.
It's a shame as nowadays, most kids' exposure to Underdog is with the 2007 live-action movie.
Tennessee Tuxedo is even falling by the wayside and I don't foresee a live-action flick for him on the horizon. (LOL)THE PULSE: Why do you think these characters don't live on at Boomerang,
Cartoon Network or other, newer cable channels, that showcase classic
They could and they have. I remember when Cartoon Network first was going on the air and someone read in one of the trades that they only had enough cartoons to last for 30 days of programming before they would have to repeat. The person reading this thought for sure that the station would fail. I said, "No way. They've aired these cartoons endlessly on TV for the past 30 years, they could keep on doing it."
Unfortunately, someone at Cartoon Network feels that live action shows or marathons of something like "Ben 10" is more important than airing all this old crap. The oldest thing they tend to air nowadays is "Scooby-Doo". Very disappointing.
We've all got it drilled into our heads for some reason that if it came out before you were born, it isn't any good. If I felt that way, I wouldn't like the TTV shows at all, because by the time I was born (December 1966), virtually all the TTV shows had been made and aired.THE PULSE: Which of the lesser known TTp characters are your favorites?
I have to say that Tennessee Tuxedo and Chumley are hands-down my favorite TTV characters, but I also like Biggie Rat, Itchy Brother, Commander McBragg, Go Go Gophers, and Underdog. I also have an extreme fondness for "The Sing-a-Long Family" which was probably the most obscure TTV show that was actually produced and aired.
In it, a family dressed in 1910 clothing "performed" the lyrics to a song. One was about a county fair, one about a picnic and one about ice skating. Even Joe Harris admits that this was the funnest one to design. I find the tunes as composed by Buck Biggers to be insanely catchy and often find myself singing them to myself even today.THE PULSE: What kind of feedback have you gotten about this book since it
Most of it has been extremely positive and supportive. Usually the negatives have been extraordinarily nit-picky like where the name "Horrors" Hunter came from, and Joe Harris' inaccurate recollections of the "I Love Lucy" Superman episode plot. These are things I found to be frivolous and not important to the story. THE PULSE: How can PULSE readers get a copy of this book?
You can order it off of Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Created-Produced-Total-TeleVision-Productions/dp/1593933452
or directly from the publisher, BearManor Media: http://bearmanormedia.bizland.com/id423.html
or my website at Fun Ideas Productions:http://funideas.home.att.net/
It should be available soon through Diamond Distribution to comic book stores, but online is probably the quickest way to get it. The book retails for $29.95 and is 380 pages. If you want sample pages, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send a few sample scans.THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?
I am currently working on a book about the history of "Cracked" magazine called "If You're Cracked You're Happy", also for BearManor Media that should be out in 2010. Also, I'm working on "Mark Arnold Picks on The Beatles" that I will complete after that, probably by 2011. I still write articles for "Back Issue" and "Hogan's Alley" magazines, and publish "The Harveyville Fun Times!", a fanzine about Harvey Comics.