Friday, May 15, 2020

Brian Cartoons and "Diver Dan"

This the first blog post designed to answer a question from the Children's Media Archive YouTube Channel:

"I wonder what happened to Brian Cartoons. Seemed they ONLY existed for that one show [Diver Dan]..."

Brian Cartoons, Inc., was an animation company established in 1955 as a part of Louis W. Kellman Productions, a producer of commercial and industrial films based in Philadelphia. Along with producing the making the popular "Diver Dan" TV series, Brian also created the first animated film produced in Philadelphia. The company was named after Kellman's son.

Although the goal was to produce animated cartoons, records and press articles of the time suggest that only one theatrically released cartoon was completed before the "Diver Dan" series. "Li'l Davy and Dan'l Coon", a seven minute color cartoon was listed in film magazines and screened in at least one theater in the Philadelphia area.
The Brian Cartoons production - "Li'l Davy and Dan'l Coon" listed in the August 22, 1956 edition
of the Motion Picture Herald.  Click HERE to see the full cartoon listing. 

The cartoon was about the childhood of Davy Crockett and a raccoon friend, most likely made to capitalize on the Disney/Fess Parker/Davy Crockett craze of the time. If this cartoon still exists, it is not cataloged in any known film archive or library collection. Perhaps it is in the hands of a private collector or historian.

Diver Dan was the creation of Philadelphia cartoonist and puppeteer J. Anthony "John" Ferlaine. The new series was based on an underwater fantasy comic strip idea that was never syndicated. Ferlaine was also a longtime art director at WCAU-TV the local CBS affiliate station. He produced a live-action marionette pilot for this new series in 1956 titled "Fish Tales" using WCAU-TV talent. When the series was not picked up, Ferlaine partnered with Martin B. Young of Young Development Inc, (Young Productions, Inc as subsidiary) a local TV producer, and Louis W. Kellman of Brian Cartoons, and the rest is history.

Snippet from a February 1961 Philadelphia Tribune ad for the new Diver Dan series. Note that it the series was filmed by "Louis Kellman-Brian Cartoons"

It was easier to find out what Brian Cartoons did before Diver Dan that after. For now, what productions Brian Cartoons made after "Diver Dan" are unknown, but the company was listed in production directories as late as 1969.

Louis W. Kelleman passed away in the 1988 at the age of 82, Martin Young in 2000, and John Ferlaine in 2011 at age 90.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Telecomics: The Search for Surviving Elements of A Pioneering TV Cartoon Series

Telecomics was considered the first "animated" TV program in some sources, even though technically there is little to no animation. The process of having voice overs with storyboard art under the name "Telecomics" goes back to 1942. 

The first version of the program aired in 1949, but none of the earlier shorts are known to exist. According to the Tralfaz animation history blog, and various animation encyclopedias, the earlier stories were: “Brother Goose” by Cal Howard; “Joey and Jug”, a clown story by Arnold Gillespie; “Rick Rack Secret Agent,” by Miles Pike and Pete Burness, and “Sa-Lah,” (Sa-Lih in some sources) an Arabian Knights fantasy drawn by A.J. Metcalf." 

Duke University in Durham, North Carolina holds the Dick Moores Papers, 1937 - 1976, which includes some correspondences related to Telecomics, Inc. 

Drawings from the Rick Rack series have resurfaced in online auctions. Also cels were auctioned from Hakes. Rick Rack is almost identical to "Dick Tracy" which is fitting since the series was created by cartoonist Dick Moores, a former assistant to Tracy's creator Chester Gould. If footage or production elements exist from the other titles, they have yet to surface online or in another listed archives collection. 

Recently in my own research I found out that Telecomics did a Christmas special called "Santa and the Angel" in 1947 narrated by Ireene Wicker, radio's "Singing Story Lady". This may have been the first "animated" Christmas special in TV history. 

The NBC Comics version began in 1950, and was supposedly network television's first cartoon series, This version featured "Space Barton", "Kid Champion", "Danny March" and "Johnny and Mr. Do Right". 

At least 3 complete episodes of the NBC version exist in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Film TV Archives: 

In 2008 a channel posted 2 episodes of NBC Comics/Telecomics to YouTube claiming that the prints were found in a New York camera shop.

Telecomics 113 Space Barton

Telecomics 113 Kid Champion

Telecomics 113 Danny March

Telecomics 151 Danny March

Telecomics 151 Space Barton

Telecomics 151 Kid Champion

"Johnny and Mr. Do Right" survives in scenes reused for a classroom educational film "Good Health Habits" (1950) -

Recently I came across articles saying that Telecomics, Inc, changed their name to Illustrate, Inc and moved to Hollywood. There many of the same creators began "The Search For Christ" a religious series for children around 1952. There were at least 13 episodes, some made available for classrooms, and it did receive some praise for audience surveys in Variety as one of the best syndicated religious programs on TV. Some elements of this series exist in the film research center at Regent University.

At some point in the future (way beyond the pandemic) I would love to see the Moores collection, and the film elements at UCLA for more pieces on the story of the Telecomics, Inc. Also it is hopes that more prints of the works of Telecomics, Inc., and Illustrate, Inc., will resurface.  

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Lost Kids TV: "Playtime" Early NBC Kids TV

WNBW-TV, Washington, D. C. [Now WRC-TV], For NBC
Wednesday, October 22, 1947* - c. 1951, Aired weekly, Wednesdays 5:00PM, later Saturdays afternoons beginning in 1948, Thursdays in 1950
Produced by the Junior League of Washington, D. C., later
Cast: Agnes "Bitsy" Birney ("Popit"), Bliss Schumann ("G. G., the Guessing Girl"),

The Hook: This was the first children's series on NBC to be shown in more than one TV market (or viewing area), before "Howdy Doody". Also "Popit" and the "Guessing Girl" were two to TV's earliest female favorites with young children. 

Snippet of a press image of Agnes Birney as "Popit" of WNBT-TV's "Playtime", 1947

Even before the landmark "Puppet Playhouse" introduced "Howdy Doody", NBC's east coast stations (all 4 of them) featured a widely praised series for kids called "Playtime" broadcast from Washington D.C. This serious was produced by the Junior League of Washington D. C. For decades only George W. Woolery's monumental book Children's Television, the First Thirty-Five Years, 1946 - 1981 Part I Live Action, had a history of this series. With more resources available today, it is possible to take a closer look at this early series.

The hour long series featured program segments linked together by Popit a colorful elf character and the Guessing Girl an "intellectual dope" dressed in an glasses and academic gown. The two characters would perform quizzes, riddles and charades based on familiar books that served as bridges between the program segments. A clever techniques would be to have a "magic" or "super-sonic electronic" ballon appear which would be popped to reveal what segment was next. "Busy Hands" was a segment on how to make things at home; "Special Events" featured musical performances, shadow plays, and marionette plays by members of the Junior League.

Playtime aired for two seasons on the four station NBC east coast connection of D. C., Schenectady, New York, New York City, and Philadelphia. It's first run lasted at least 18 weeks with a second east coast season beginning fall of 1948 which lasted until March 1949. Playtime continued to air in the Washington, D.C. in between those seasons, and for a third season that began October 1950.

Snippet of press image of Bliss Schumann in character as "G. G." or the "Guessing Girl" from WNBW's "Playtime".

Agnes "Bitsy" Birney was a native of the D.C. area and a student of Wells College, Yale University, and American University. She seemed born for the role of Popit as even one of her college year books noted her as "tiny" "fun" with a "turned up nose" and tendencies to giggle during biology classes. She was later a successful horticulturalist. Birney and Bliss Schumann as Popit and the Guessing Girl became two of TV's earliest character heroes for small children, and their parents. "Playtime" was the kind of series that parents and educators wanted, good for their children and engaging to them as well. During its second season on NBC, the series was reportedly so popular, that 70% of TV sets in the Washington D.C. area were said to be set to "Playtime" in its new Saturday evening time slot.

To my knowledge no recordings of "Playtime" are known to exist, but photos and other memorabilia my survive with private collections. If you have more information about this series or remember watching it, please comment below or write to with "Playtime" as part of the subject heading.

*Woolery's text lists November 26, 1947 as the premiere date, however coverage by the Washington, D.C. Evening Star newspapers suggest the debut date of October 22, 1947.

For more information about "Playtime".

Boushall, Frances. "Elf Is Children's Video Hero". Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch, December 12, 1948

Downey, Sally A. Agnes Hood, 88, actress, horticulturist, volunteer. Philadelphia Inquirer. July 27, 2009.

Junior League offers 'Playtime' again, Evening star. [Washington, D.C.], October 01, 1950.

Junior League produces show for television: weekly program for children. Evening star. [Washington , D.C.], October 19, 1947, Image 58.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

DVD Review - "Primeval Puppets TV Shows" from Festival Films

"Primeval TV Puppet Shows"

This is my first DVD Review and it is for a set that I hope to see a second edition of in the future. 

Primeval TV Puppets Shows is the latest DVD from Festival Films in their Lost and Rare series. Lost and rare is definitely true description for a number of shows in this collection. I was happy to supply information of a couple of the titles.

The one series on this set that I never thought I would ever see is "Unk and Andy, Stargazing With Professor Twink" (1951). It was a sequel or continuation of "Unk and Andy" a 1950s series, and one of the first to teach the alphabet. Produced by host "Unk" Jack Kenaston, this series probably has not been available for over 55 years. I found the puppet Andy Auk to be funny and wonder if Jim Henson could have seen this series.

"Topsy Turvy Theater" is a funny puppet series with the talents of Walter Edminson from around 1961. It is like a spin of the "Fractured Fairy Tales" format with puppet characters doing their take on story, in this case Sherlock Holmes.

Johnny and B-12 from "Johnny Jupiter". 

Another favorite surprise is the episode of "Johnny Jupiter" (1953) with the late Wright King. Johnny Jupiter was a puppet/live action sitcom about janitor Ernest P. Duckweather (King) who invents a TV set allows him to communicate with characters on the planet Jupiter trying to explain the ways of the planet Earth. This was ALF before ALF. In recent decades there were only 2 episodes of "Johnny" circulating. This DVD brings that number of surviving episodes up to 3.

Scene from "Fearless Fosdick" 

The collection is rounded out nicely with an episode of the very rare "Fearless Fosdick" based on Al Capp's "Dick Tracy" parody strip within the "Li'l Abner" comic strip, the "Rootie Kazootie Club" a puppet show very similar to Howdy Doody, that I find more entertaining, "The Magic Clown" a short Saturday morning series, the long time favorite "Howdy Doody's Christmas" and clips from "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" and "Andy's Gang" with Froggy the Gremlin.

This DVD is a must have for collectors and enthusiasts of Golden age television, early children's media and of course, puppets.

For more information or to purchase a copy:

Lost and Rare: Film and TV Treasures -

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Castle Films Christmas: Four Short Films

Castle Films released two dozen live action and animated Christmas shorts to the home movie market from 1939 to 1959. This video combines four of those classic films.

The First Christmas (1957) - The Nativity enacted by puppets.
Merry Christmas
The Night Before Christmas (1945)
The Little Match Girl (1954), was originally a French short film from 1952. The child actress playing the lead role is unknown.

Island of Lost Christmas Specials: Ireene Wicker in "Cinderella" (1939) on CBS-TV

TV listing from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 23, 1939 about the Cinderella broadcast for Christmas Eve.

"A Christmas pantomime" 
W2XBS (now WNBC New York). 8:30pm EST
Cast: Ireene Wicker and "Jolly Bill" Steinke
Play or script(?): Madge Tucker

Publicity photo of Ireene Wicker. From Wikimedia Commons

Very little is known about this early broadcast of the famous fairy tale from 80 years ago. Ireene Wicker was radio's famous "Singing Lady" and Bill Steinke was the long-time host of the popular children's radio program "Jolly Bill and Jane". Madge Tucker who was credited as the writer was NBC's famous "Lady Next Door" and like Wicker a household name as a quality entertainer of children.

Along with Cinderella, Ireene Wicker has a number of forgotten landmark early Christmas specials. She would return to television nearly a decade later in 1947 to narrate "Santa and the Angel", and again in 1949 for the A&S Christmas Party.

Like most early television broadcasts, "Cinderella" was most likely never recorded in any format, but hopefully a script or behind the scenes images may still exist.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Island of Lost Christmas Specials: A&S Gala Christmas Party, 1949

Newspaper Ad from the New York Daily News, December 23, 1949

A&S Gala Christmas Day Television Party
December 25, 1949
WNBT New York, 3:00pm EST

The "A&S Gala Christmas Day Television Party" was one of television's first big Christmas spectaculars, with two hours of broadcast time. The program reportedly featured "20 stupendous acts" which included most prominent children's entertainers like Clarabell the Clown from "Howdy Doody", Irene Wicker "The Singing Lady" of radio and TV fame, Paul Winchell and his dummy Jerry Mahoney. The line-up also included Popeye and Olive Oyl, but it is not clear if they were featured as broadcast cartoons or live performer portraying them. A large ad for the special appearing in local papers claimed that the special would feature the debut of Woody Woodpecker & Andy Panda cartoons in New York. Of course Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus were also part of the broadcast.

A&S was Abraham & Straus, was a long running department store company that later became a part of Macy's.

It is not clear if this gala was broadcast to a national audience.

Like most broadcast from 1949, the A&S Christmas special was most likely never recorded, or kinescope were destroyed and are long since lost.