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Cartoon Memories

Growing up in the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky, my absolute favorite reading materials were the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comic books. Once a week I’d accompany my mother to the A & P Supermarket, and she’d give me a nickel for a comic.

[My friend Gunnar with his beehive.]

I loved the irreverence of the ducks and the energetic, abbreviated way in which their tales hopped from one frame to the next. I learned a lot from those comic books. When grown-ups would ask me how it was that I knew the meaning of some fancy word I might use, I enjoyed telling them I’d learned it from Donald Duck comics.

[Hiking at Castle Rock Park]

By now some of my school friends had televisions. One boy lived within walking distance, and I went to his house to see the Howdy Doody show. It was the first time I’d ever seen a television.

I liked the show a lot, I could hardly believe how great television was—the creamy black and white shades, the hiss of static, the announcer’s rounded tones, the jerky scan across the children in the audience, the hilarious commercials for Ipana toothpaste.

[Inside the Capitol buildng in Madison, Wisconsin.]

There were some great ads for Jell-O as well. In the Jell-O ad, a warm housewife voice would sing-song “busy day, busy day,” as her cartoon icon hurried around. And then would come the Jell-O. And I remmber an ad—for what?—with the tag line, “Chinese baby say…[Product name]!” I loved that the baby. I’d never seen a Chinese person.

I didn’t actually like the puppet Howdy Doody himself—he disgusted me. And I hated his conniving partner Clarabelle the clown. But near the end of the show, they’d air a cartoon, and the cartoons were paradise.

My brother and I worked on our parents, and eventually they agreed to get a television. We went to a department store in downtown Louisville, and Pop negotiated with the salesman for nearly an hour. Embry and I watched a cowboy show on the dozens of display TVs, the horsemen eternally riding down a sandy road beneath dry, spindly trees.

We went home with a Dumont set, a small tube in a cubical yellowish cabinet that might have been particle-board. You could get two channels in Louisville, 3 and 11. And at 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoons I’d get to watch Cartoon Circus.

I worshipped that show. To make it even better, when I watched Cartoon Circus, Mom would give me my one soft-drink of the week, orange soda in a pale green anodized aluminum cup.

Everything about the cartoons was wonderful. The exultant blare of chase music, the high slangy voices, the xylophone sound of sneaking footsteps, the moany-groany graveyards with twisting ghosts, the sarcastic ducks, the battles and stratagems of the cats and the mice.

[My friend Emilio.]

One Saturday afternoon my father for some reason wanted to take me for a drive in the car.

“No, no! I have to watch Cartoon Circus.”

“Oh, don’t worry, we can hear it on the car radio.”

I wasn’t quite sure if watching cartoons on the radio would work—and then, of course, it turned out that there wasn’t any cartoon radio show at all. But I didn’t nag my father on it. He seemed a little sad and distracted. Perhaps he and Mom were having a fight.

9 Responses to “Cartoon Memories”

  1. Jeff Judson Says:

    Well, sorry, Cartoon Circus I don’t hink survived. However, Howdy Doody is still alive…with one of the original marionettes on permanent display at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC and another at the Detroit Institute of Art. Howdy is being kept alive by an organization of nearly 200 folks across the USA and Australia, and Canada, too. The Doodyville Historic\al Society was founded in 1978 and publishes a monthly newsletter devoted to our TV pal and hero.
    It is the only organization in the world dedicated solely to Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob, and the Gang. For further information contact:

  2. Jeff Judson Says:

    Jeff Judson
    Editor/Newsletter Editor
    Doodyville Historical Society
    8 Hunt Court
    Flemington, NJ 08822

  3. Jeff Judson Says:

    soeey, make that Founder/Newsletter Editor!

  4. Jeff Judson Says:

    Sorry, make that “sorry”

  5. rs Says:

    hey good looking friend you have there, but next time you get your picture taken ask him to pay attention and get the pen out of your pocket.

  6. Deb Newton Says:

    That was a blast from the past, Rudy– early TV was very compelling. Especially Saturday mornings. I liked Sky King, and all the cartoons too. I thought Howdy Doody was creepy.

    Paul still reads the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, every issue that comes out! He can tell the Carl Barks stories from the newer artist’s strips. He loves them. I only got to read them at the dentist office when I was a kid.

    Did you ever watch Felix the Cat cartoons? My sister and I loved them, and when we started to learn French in elementary school we made up a French version of the song– it was more fun to sing:

    “Felix le chat, le magnifique magnifique chat, Quand il avait un prob-el-em, Il prendre son sac de joues!”

    Whether or not it was grammatically correct, we didn’t care, it was just more fun to sing.

  7. Belf (of Moldavia) Says:

    Should not this Gunnar beekeeper be dressed in khaki safari coat and a pith helmet??

  8. Steve H Says:

    Belf, I suspect he ran out of pith for his helmet.

    Rudy, this link contains the “Chinese baby” Jell-o commercial – there are a bunch of other ads and cartoons on this site.

    Deb, Felix was the original test image for experimental television; the camera pointed at a Felix doll as they worked on the hardware.

  9. sandy w Says:

    I am hoping Jeff will read this – I am going to be playing for Roger Muir’s (producer Howdy Doody) funeral Tuesday & will be playing the “Goodbye Song”. Do you, or anyone, know where on the web I can hear the song? I remember the theme song, but not Goodbye..

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