In the fall of 1961, a new half-hour animated cartoon made it primetime network debut, one year after The Flintstones premiered as the first primetime animated cartoon series for network television, and the networks were all scrambling to compete. The series was Calvin and the Colonel, the creation of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, produced by Kayro Productions in association with MCA-TV/Revue Studios. The cartoon was anything but new; it was the reincarnation of Gosden and Correll’s Amos and Andy radio program, also voiced by Gosden and Correll.
Colonel Montgomery J. Klaxon, a shrewd fox and Calvin T. Burnside, a dumb bear, were the central figures (ala Kingfish and Andy). Their lawyer was Oliver Wendell Clutch, who was a weasel (literally). The colonel lived with his wife, Maggie Belle, and her sister Sue, who never trusted the colonel. Colonel Klaxon was in the real estate business, but always tried a number of get-rich-schemes with Calvin’s unwitting help.
Several of the radio scripts were adapted for use on the animated series, with minor revisions to character names and locale. Because of low ratings (not because of complaints from Southern television stations as rumors commonly and falsely circulate), the program was canceled after two months. The series returned later in the season to complete the terms of the contract. Lever Brothers, makers of Rinso Soap, sponsors of the radio program, bought time slots for the animated rendition and their contract was for 26 half-hour episodes. Reruns were later aired on Saturday mornings, syndicated across the country afterward, but the minimal number of episodes handicapped syndication success.
Because Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, scriptwriters for the radio program and the animated series, also produced television’s The Munsters, a brief clip from one of the episodes can be seen on a television set in the 1966 episode, “A Visit from Johann.”
Comic book fans know of the two Calvin and the Colonel Dell Comics that were published in 1961, highly sought after by fans of Amos and Andy.
The episodes “supposedly” fell into the public domain, copyrights never renewed after the 28-year initial issuance. Twelve of these episodes have been floating about in collector’s hands from 16mm masters, a few easily found on YouTube and a few recently released commercially with a company logo superimposed on the screen, along with the addition of sound effects to the soundtrack to brand the altered version. (Before purchasing any episodes, ask the vendor if their copies are “unaltered.”)
Of recent a new book was published through Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research publishing label, written by historian Kevin Scott Collier. Documenting as much information about the television series as possible, Collier explores the two animated Amos n’ Andy cartoons produced by Van Beuren in 1933 (which have recently received restoration through Thunderbean DVD) and the radio program for which Calvin and the Colonel originated. Publicity photos, budgets, the NAACP controversy, artist model sheets for the characters, and much more can be found in this book. Godson’s recollections are quoted, and reprints of episode promotional synopsis were scanned and reprinted.
After reading the book I was pleased to learn things I did not know about the television program. I knew the program was filmed in color but was unaware that ABC still telecast in black and white at the time so viewers never saw the cartoons in color in 1961. There was a Calvin and the Colonel board game, “High Spirits,” and two talking dolls produced by Mattel in 1962. There was also a coloring book which I am now seeking out on eBay this week. (Yeah, I was bitten by the collecting bug years ago when it comes to Amos n’ Andy.) The 65-page book is available from Amazon.com and if you want to buy a copy, a link is provided below for your convenience. Fans of Amos n’ Andy will want a copy of this book.