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Diver Dan was a series of 104 seven-minute live-action shorts made for children's television. Made by Brian Cartoons, it was syndicated (mainly to NBC affiliates) and distributed by ITC Entertainment. The shows were sometimes re-edited into half-hour (including commercials) blocks by local stations.
The series featured the adventures of a diver in an old-fashioned diving suit who talked to the passing fish. The series was filmed in live action with puppet fish; the underwater effect was achieved by shooting through an aquarium.
Diver Dan debuted in 1960, the brainchild of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, cartoonist J. Anthony (John) Ferlaine, as a spinoff of his comic strip, Fish Tales. Ferlaine, who worked as an art director at Philadelphia's CBS affiliate WCAU-TV, produced two Fish Tales live-action marionette pilots. When CBS did not pick up the show, Ferlaine and promoter Martin Young partnered with Philadelphia producer Louis W. Kellman, who with his staff produced local TV spots and film shorts and filmed NFL football games. They produced the shorts over nine months and syndicated them.
In New York City, Diver Dan shorts ran as part of Felix & Diver Dan, a 30-minute children's show airing from January 4, 1960, to August 31, 1962, which also included Felix the Cat. In Chicago during the 1960s, Diver Dan was regularly shown on the WGN-TV show "Ray Rayner and His Friends" even though Rayner would frequently read on-air letters from children requesting that he get other cartoons.
The characters included Diver Dan and Miss Minerva, the Captain (heard but not seen), and a puppet cast (with very obvious strings) including the villainous Baron Barracuda, his henchman Trigger (a trigger fish), Finley Haddock, Doc Sturgeon, Georgie Porgy, Gabby the Clam, Gill Espy, Glow Fish, Goldie the Goldfish (who spoke only in peeps and squeaks), Hermit Crab, Sam the Sawfish, Scout Fish, Sea Biscuit the Seahorse, and Skipper Kipper.
One of the running gags in the series was for Trigger to refer to the Baron as "Boss," at which the Baron would get angry and say some variation of, "Call me Baron, you idiot!"—to which Trigger would reply, "Okay, Baron, you idiot." All of the script writing was at a similar level.
Baron Barracuda wore a monocle in one eye, and spoke in a vaguely European accent; he sounded like a Bela Lugosi "Dracula" imitation. Trigger always had an apparently unlit cigarette jutting from the side of his mouth and sounded a bit like Ed Norton from The Honeymooners.
The series was not immune to ethnic stereotypes: One of the undersea characters was Scout Fish, who carried a tomahawk and always spoke in pidgin-Indian dialect. He occasionally used his tomahawk to extricate Diver Dan from seaweed (in the Sargasso Sea), fishing nets, or some nefarious trap.
Alpha Video released a collection of 15 Diver Dan episodes on DVD (Region 0) on September 26, 2006.
Another DVD release can be found at many Dollar Tree stores. Titled "Diver Dan, Vol. 2" and produced by East West Entertainment LLC, it contains two hours of the show, approximately 17 episodes. It is unknown what is on Vol 1, as this DVD appears to start with the very first Diver Dan episode.
In addition to these two DVD releases, the television series was rerun in the late '60s in Chicago on "Ray Rayner and Friends" after it was originally telecast. The Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention also occasionally shows episodes as fillers between movies.
Below in the deep there's adventure and danger;
That's where you'll find Diver Dan!
The sights that he sees are surprising and stranger
Than ever you'll see on the land!
Following those opening lyrics, the narrator sums up the recent situation in a short group of rhymes, during the second half of the song as an instrumental, before the episode resumes. Before the closing sung lyrics, the narrator brings up the new situation in a short group of rhymes, during the first half of the song, as an instrumental, as the episode concludes.
He moves among creatures
Of frightening features:
Flashing teeth, slashing jaws,
Flapping fins, snapping claws!
He protects and he saves
His friends under the waves;
That's where you'll find Diver Dan!
Dell Publishing issued a Diver Dan comic book, as issue #1254 (February–April 1962) of its series Four Color. A follow-up issue #2 was published dated June–August 1962 and then was cancelled. Diver Dan episodes are also available at tv4u.com.
In 1964, songwriter and record producer Tony Piano of Columbia Records put out a children's album based on the series titled "Diver Dan and the Bermuda Onion." With the exception of the theme song, which he legally borrowed from the series, Piano wrote the story, music, and lyrics for the album. His inspiration for producing it was his two young children at the time, who were 'hooked' on the Diver Dan TV series. In addition to producing the album, Piano took on three of the roles: Trigger, Sam the Sawfish, and Skipper Kipper. Aiding Piano on the album was the famous comedian Del Close, playing the role of Baron Barracuda. "Birthday House" and children's album star Kay Lande played Minerva the Mermaid.