The Austin Chronicle

Cartoons, Slight Return

By Margaret Moser, December 4, 1998, Screens

The Professor and Count Kook created Milton the Monster during the show's credits,
singing, "Six drops of the Essence of error! Five drops of Sinister Sauce!"

Perhaps the Novem-ber television offerings are better left unexamined. I finally forked over for the cable box so I could watch the History Channel, the Sci-Fi Network, and The Larry Sanders Show reruns on HBO Signature but, like a sucker, I ended up watching all those let's-grab-the-ratings shows.

The most memorable episode was Detective Bobby Simone's (Jimmy Smits) into-the-white-light death on NYPD Blue (Tuesdays, 9pm, ABC) and the worst, aside from the vacuous Celine Dion special and L.A. Doctors (Mondays, 9pm CBS), was the trumped-up Party of Five (Wednesdays, 8pm FOX) episode "Tender Age," that exploited child-snatching for the sake of ratings. (Please, could Charlie [Matthew Fox] Salinger have hooked up with anyone stupider than Daphne [Jennifer Aspen]? And don't you just know that every time that actress' agent calls about a job for her, he has to say, "No, that's Aspen, not Aniston.")

The coolest network entry was The X-Files "Triangle" illustrating just how inventive they are about getting Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) into mischief with them being officially unassigned from the X-Files. The adventure back in time to 1939 in the Bermuda Triangle displayed very creative camera work, too; its use of split-screens and letterboxing was commendable. But this part is just an excuse to mention how much I love the Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood) characters.

So, with that out of the way, "TV Eye" goes back to reader mail and the one subject that evidently none of us can get enough of, cartoons.

Mark S. (who draws cartoon ducks for pay) wrote back and good-naturedly accepted ribbing for being a Hanna-Barbera fan. He informs me that Milton the Monster was on ABC 1965-67, and describes it as the "inevitable Munsters/ Addams Family-inspired cartoon show that chronicled the adventures of Professor Weird-O (a beatnik-like mad scientist), Count Kook (a vampire), and their unscrupulous handymen Heebie (a living skeleton), and Jeebie (an amorphous, furry, one-eyed monster)." Mark goes on to describe Milton as a cross between "Tor Johnson and Hoss Cartwright" with the "personality of Gomer Pyle." Mark gets warm fuzzies from "TV Eye," though, for saying that he knew his wife was his soulmate when he visited her parents' house and saw her Milton The Monster game from childhood. Hey, I once fell in love with a cool guy partly because he collected skulls, so yeah, that sort of thing does count.

Mark, you will also make Claudia's day. She wrote in excitedly about Milton the Monster. She too remembers the words to the theme but says "since I grew up in Mexico City I know only the Spanish version." Oh, Claudia, pleeeease send the lyrics in Spanish! She also queries about a DePatie-Freleng cartoon she remembers as "'Ahi viene el cascarrabias!' which would roughly translate as 'Here comes the grouch.'" The cartoon was about a grouch who flies around on a sneezing dragon and a princess in a castle. I can only reference DePatie-Freleng as the folks who created the Pink Panther. Readers?

Mandy F. was excited to see Ruff and Reddy mentioned and sent her lyrics to it, which I added to the ever-growing archive. Another reader, J.D., calls himself a fan of the Sixties and Seventies cartoons but asks about "Coco the Clown," last seen in a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I was in heaven with this query. Max and Dave Fleischer created Koko the Clown for their Out of the Inkwell series. It was one of the earliest marriages of film and animation, as Max Fleischer's hand would literally draw Koko out of an inkwell, where he would then spring to life for various adventures. The Fleischer Brothers would go on to create Thimble Theatre, from which Popeye was born. Betty Boop was also part of the Fleischer stable of characters.

In the early Sixties, Hal Seeger's studio revived the Koko character and updated him but Max Fleischer was horrified with the results. The storylines were unimaginative and the animation style was elementary. Still, dozens of episodes were created, giving Koko a high profile in the Sixties among cartoon-watching kids.

It was the fluid style of Fleischer and Warner Bros. artists that spoiled me on animation. Raised on Fleischer's gorgeously rendered background and Warner's quick wit, I couldn't make the jump to Hanna-Barbera.

And Max Fleischer should have known better. After witnessing what Paramount Studios did to his creation Popeye in the Forties, there was no reason to think Koko wouldn't suffer the same fate. In one of those ironic little twists of fate this column loves, just three years after re-animating Koko the Clown, Hal Seeger would go on to create none other than Milton the Monster.

If that's not all, folks, write [email protected]

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