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Beany and Cecil first appeared as a hand puppet TV show in the late 40's created by Bob Clampett. It later became an animated cartoon series under the Warner Brothers aegis. The puppet show, entitled Time for Beany, originally aired in 1949, and the animated series first appeared in Matty's Funday Funnies in 1959, later renamed Matty's Funnies with Beany and Cecil and finally Beany and Cecil in the USA. Another season was produced in 1988. In its original form with hand puppets, the show conveyed a greater sense of personal communication than did the animated series that followed. The hand puppets were extensively marketed and sold well.
Originally created as a children's show, the genius of the creators and writers soon became evident and the show began attracting more adults than children. As Time For Beany, the entire family was crowded around the 6" (or so) television screen. The crux of Beany's success was the intermingling of current political issues and fiascos that appeared as thinly veiled plots easily recognizable as lampoons of current political issues or personalities. The Shakespearian asides given by Beany, Cecil and the rest of the cast were magnificent and often alluded to embarrassing public fiascos or personages, on which the adult audience immediately picked up.
Along with The Jetsons and The Flintstones it was one of the first three color television series on the ABC television network (the initial season, though, was originally shown in black and white, as ABC was unable to telecast color programs until September 1962).
Beany and Cecil was created by animator Bob Clampett after he left Warner Bros., where he had been directing theatrical cartoon shorts. Clampett originated the idea for Cecil when he was a boy after seeing the top half of the dinosaur swimming from the water at the end of the 1925 film The Lost World.
Clampett originally created the series as a puppet show called Time for Beany, which ran from February 28, 1949 to 1954. Time for Beany featured the talents of veteran voice actors Stan Freberg as Cecil and Dishonest John, and Daws Butler as Beany and Uncle Captain.
After 1962, the 26 shows (including 78 cartoons) were repeated on Saturday mornings for the next five years. The cartoon featured Beany, a boy, and Cecil the Sea-Sick Sea Serpent embarking on a series of adventures, often to discover ancient civilizations and artifacts. These escapades were rife with cartoon slapstick and puns.
Prior to the animated series, but concurrent with the puppet show, Clampett created a comic-book series of Beany and Cecil adventures for Dell Comics. The artwork for this series of comics, running from 1951–54, was drawn by Jack Bradbury.
Beany Boy - A young, cupid-faced boy with a propeller beanie that allows him to fly (the "Beanycopter", complete with helmet and propeller, became a popularly marketed novelty). Beany is a good-hearted, upbeat lad. In most episodes, Beany would be kidnapped by the villain or vice versa, crying "Help, Cecil! Help!" to which Cecil would reply "I'm a-comin', Beany-boy!" as he raced to the rescue. This has become something of a catchphrase. Beany was originally voiced by Jim MacGeorge in the 60's series and by Mark Hildreth in the 80's series.
Cecil (or "Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent") - A large green sea serpent with a slight lisp. He is fiercely loyal to Beany but not terribly bright. Cecil's trusting good nature invariably winds up with him being taken advantage of by the bad people, and he often ends up absorbing a great amount of physical abuse (getting smashed flat, losing his head, having his skin burned off, being shattered to pieces), all within the laws of cartoon physics. The end of Cecil's tail was never seen in most episodes; it always extended off-screen, or was hidden behind an obstacle. This is likely a joking reference to the original Cecil, a hand puppet whose tail was likewise hidden (because it didn't exist). Cecil's tail did appear in "Beany and the Jackstalk", when his entire body got wound into the tension spring of a giant cuckoo clock. Cecil also has a superhero alter-ego known as Super-Cecil. In this guise, he wears a modified Superman shirt (complete with cape). It was Cecil who cried "A Bob Clam-pett car-tooooooo-OOOOOOOOON!" at the opening of each episode. Cecil was originally voiced by Irv Shoemaker in the 60's cartoon and by Billy West in the 80's cartoon.
Captain Horatio Huffenpuff - Also called "Uncle Captain", he is Beany's kindly uncle and the Captain of the Leakin' Lena, which takes the pals from one destination to the other. The Captain is always willing to instruct Beany and Cecil on their latest assignment, but is rather cowardly and refuses to put himself in any personal jeopardy, locking himself below deck or under a box labeled "Capt. Huffenpuff's Hiding Box" for most of the episodes. Uncle Captain was voiced by Jim MacGeorge in both series.
Mouth-Full-of-Teeth Keith - A cowardly, toothless and Xenophobic old lion that hid in the first jungle arrived at by the crew. Trying desperately to maintain his isolation from the interlopers, Keith would roar threatenly at any passerby or invader of his territory. On first encounter with Keith the crew was terrified of the unknown and imperious jungle beast. However, as the story unfolds, Cecil (who often exhibits psychological insights worthy of Sigmund Freud) begins to suspect that Keith is really a "good guy" and fearful of strangers. After a few minor skirmishes and a lot of trust, they all become good friends. Audience response to the gentle and maned feline giant (albeit he is toothless!) was so great that Keith soon became a regular member of the troupe. On several episodes, he rose to the occasion, rescuing the crew from peril in spite of his shy and reclusive nature.
Crowy - The navigator of the Leakin' Lena. He is a crow, and unsurprisingly spends most of his time in the crow's nest. He speaks in a squawky voice and has a tendency to faint dead away whenever the ship encounters some sort of hazard. Voiced by Jim MacGeorge.
Dishonest John (or "D.J.") - The villain of the piece. He is dressed like a Simon Legree character, and he is constantly scheming to foil Beany and Cecil's adventures. His catch phrase is a sinister "Nya-ah-ãhh!", and he occasionally refers to Cecil as a "tall toad" or "big salami" (referring to his big, limbless body). Whenever Dishonest John's schemes are revealed to the heroes, Cecil tends to respond with an aghast "What the heck! D.J., you dirty guy!". When Dishonest John receives his inevitable come-uppance, it is usually just as painful as the abuse Cecil has endured in the rest of the episode. Dishonest John also has a supervillain alter-ego known as The Bilious Beetle. In this guise, he can fly under his own power and sports a painful stinger. "D.J." also appeared disguised on occasion as the mechanical robotic octopus "Billy The Squid" usually in haphazard attempts to simulate seastorms to scare away the crew of the Leakin' Lena when on a treasure hunt. Dishonest John carried a business card that read: "Dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Special rates for Sundays and holidays". He was originally voiced by Irv Shoemaker in the 60's series and by Maurice LaMarche in the 80's series.
Davey Cricket - A cricket with a coonskin cap who lives in the backwoods of Eight-Nine-Tennessee. A parody of Walt Disney's wildly popular segments on the Disneyland TV show based on the life of American frontiersman Davey Crockett. In Cricket's self-titled episode, Dishonest John tries unsuccessfully to sign Davey to a lucrative Hollywood movie contract.
Go Man Van Gogh - A stereotypical cartoon beatnik/wild man who lives in the jungles of Wildsville on the Hungry I-Land. He often paints various things with his paintbrush, including paintings, vines to swing on, and fake backdrops to fool enemies (ala Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner). He also often plays a set of bongo drums, does scat singing, and speaks with various beatnik stereotype slang. Though he did not appear in many episodes, he was somewhat of a recurring character in the bumpers. He was originally voiced by Lord Buckley in "The Wildman of Wildsville" (a 1959 theatrical short that later aired on the TV series) and then by Scatman Crothers after Buckley's death in 1960.
Harecules - A rabbit version of Hercules who accessed super mental powers by wearing a helmet called a Thinking Cap and traveled in the Guided Muscle, a rocket shaped like a muscle man's arm with a clenched fist.
Jack the Knife (or "Jacques the Knife") - A friendly, jazz-singing sawfish with a heavy French accent; a parody of singer Bobby Darin and his 1959 recording of the song "Mack the Knife". His sawlike nose is used like a sword to help Cecil defeat Dishonest John in the episode "Hero by Trade". He usually sang to the tune of a jazzy rendition of My Darling Clementine.
Little Ace From Outer Space - An astronaut mouse. In his self-titled episode, he was used by the people at Cape Banana Peel to see "whither or whether there was any weather." Cecil and Dishonest John competed to get Little Ace back to the cape for a cash reward. In "Rat Race From Space," he was sent in a rocket to be the first mouse on the moon only to end up in the ocean. Voiced by Paul Frees.
Tear-A-Long the Dotted Lion - A muscle-bound lion obsessed with exercise and vitamins, a possible parody of fitness guruJack La Lanne, who had a popular TV exercise show around the same time as Beany and Cecil. His name is a pun of the phrase "Tear along the dotted line", but Tear-A-Long himself wasn't spotted. He spoke with a Southern U.S. accent similar to the Warner Brothers animated character Foghorn Leghorn. One of the original characters on the Time for Beany puppet show. Voiced by Daws Butler.
Careless the Mexican Hairless - Cecil's jovial pet Chihuahua, introduced in the episode "Cecil Gets Careless" and so named because of his tendency to knock things over when he happily jumps and dances. He sings to the tune of the Mexican folk song "El Jarabe Tapatio". He is called a Mexican Hairless for comic effect; the actual breed is much larger.
William Shakespeare Wolf - an actor wolf who was the foil for Little Quacker, a duckling he desired to eat up, and Rin Tin Can, a robot dog.
Beepin' Tom - A diminutive alien who flew about in an open-top flying saucer. Named for his habit of making beeping sounds. When he spoke, he would hum the first line of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and then sing his phrase to the tune of the next line. A high pitched, sped up voice similar to the Chipmunks was used for the character and the words he sang/spoke appeared as a rebus in a word balloon over his head.
Shlepalong Catskill (aka Hopalong Catskill) - A frog wearing a cowboy hat who walked with a limp similar to that of Dennis Weaver's "Chester" on the TV show Gunsmoke and spoke with a Yiddish accent. His catchphrase was "Hey Shmendrick! Would you like a cup of coffee? The character was voiced by Yiddish comedy singer Mickey Katz "
Peking Tom - A Siamese alley cat who sang about being a "very hungry guy; I've got to get some food 'cause I'm too egg-foo-young to die."
A Bob Clampett Production, in association with Television Artists and Producers Corporation
The credits of the show did not show traditional job titles, but pictorial icons indicating their jobs. Bob Clampett's writing credit was indicated by a typewriter typing out the words "...by Bob Clampett", for instance.