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'Linus the Lionhearted' (wot, no hyphen?) was the first
Saturday-morning cartoon show to be taken off the air by the U.S.
government. There were four separate cartoon segments in each half-hour
episode. Linus was a lion who presided over the other talking animals
in an ill-defined jungle, where he had various adventures such as
organising a vocal group called the Coconuts. Sugar Bear was a suave
adventurer in a green turtleneck, always unflappable and blase. Lovable
Truly was a naff red-headed postman (more of a prat than Postman Pat)
who encountered problems on his postal route ... such as the time when
he delivered a 'secret admirer' letter to a spinster librarian who
immediately assumed that he was also the letter's author. So-Hi was a
Chinese boy who narrated stories that were ostensibly folktales from
The 'Linus' stories featured above-average animation, by the standards of Saturday mornings in 1964. The violence was minimal and actually served the story lines. The scripts depicted the characters engaged in achieving credible objectives, as opposed to mere accumulations of spot gags. Even the background music was good, with a jazz flautist playing licks to mark the scene transitions. So-Hi's sequences, although not especially accurate in their depiction of Chinese culture and history, were much less stereotypical or condescending than one might expect. Between the main cartoons were animated mini-chapters of a running serial ... such as Linus's attempt to organise a game of Musical Chairs, with a few more characters eliminated at each commercial break, climaxing at the end of the half-hour segment when Linus's neighbour Granny Goodwitch used witchcraft to win the game. The programme's opening credits featured an upbeat and catchy title song; the closing credits featured a song that was more downbeat yet still well-written ('We're all kind of sad to go, glad to know it won't be long. Lion-hearted friendships don't end; we'll all be back, and then...') while a cartoon bird copied Emmett Kelly's sweeping-up-the-spotlight routine. Although hardly the stuff of greatness, 'Linus the Lionhearted' was far superior - in animation, scripts and humour - to most of the Saturday-morning drivel that's been spoonfed into children's brains.
So, what was the problem? Conveniently, each of the main characters on 'Linus' was also the pitchman for one of Post Cereal's breakfast foods. Linus himself was the compere on every box of Crispy Critters. Sugar Bear was the huckster for Sugar Crisp. (Later, when 'sugar' became a dirty word, this cereal was renamed Golden Crisp ... yet it underwent no reduction in sugar.) Lovable Truly hawked Alpha-Bits, the cereal shaped like sugar-coated alphabet noodles. So-Hi sold Rice Kringles, Post's equivalent to Kellogg's Ricicles.
Commendably, these products were never mentioned or shown on screen in the main cartoon sequences. But, in between the cartoons were spot plugs, drawn and animated in precisely the same way as the cartoons. After So-Hi finished narrating his cartoon, he would explain that rice was a source of nutrition in ancient China, and a good source of rice is Rice Kringles (cue the commercial).
The Federal Communications Commission decided, reasonably enough, that Linus the Lionhearted's intended audience (children) were incapable of distinguishing the difference between this cartoon show and its commercials. So, Linus got axed by Uncle Sam. The FCC's charge had some merit at the time, yet seems ludicrous from today's viewpoint, when one considers the cartoon shows that are blatant commercials for one toy or another. 'Linus' took the heat for being the first cartoon series to blur the line so blatantly, and deserves credit for some innovation. The scripts placed more emphasis on story, and less on gags, than is usual for kiddie cartoons. Commercialism aside, these cartoons deserve to be revived.
I guess I'll be the first after the late, lamented, F.Gwynplaine
MacIntyre from North Wales to do a review here.
This may have been a "commercial" for General Foods Post cereals but the characters within were NEVER the product, just the spokes-uh, if you will critters. Imagine Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, etc.(Kellogg's), Lucky the Leprechaun, Sonny and now, long sadly discontinued, Cocoa PUFFS Gramps the Cuckoo Birds, the Trix Rabbit,etc. (General Mills not to be confused, not that it isn't, with General Foods Post), or Captain Crunch, Jean La Foote the Pirate (Quaker Oats), with their own respective Saturday morning (or other outlets, theatrical included, just to mention mascots created exclusively for cereals) cartoon shows.
That's essentially what Linus was, along with fun writing, and the voices of Sheldon Leonard as Linus, Carl Reiner (who worked on many TV shows with Leonard) as the Mel Blanc to Leonard's one man voice, as Dinny Kangaroo, Billie Bird, Croc, and that grousiest of grouses, or "grice", Sascha, show producer-director Ed Graham (Jr.) as Mocking Bird (all of them in the Linus series), Gerry Matthews (NOT Sterling Holloway) as Sugar Bear, Ruth Buzzi as Granny Goodwitch, Bob McFadden as forgetful absentminded Benji Wolf and evil Mervyn the Magician (Sugar Bear), Bob McFadden as Lovable Truly the postman in his segment and Rory Raccoon in his, both sounding like Liberace with Jesse White as Claudius Crow in the Rory segment, and finally (NON-RACIST) Ed Graham again as So Hi and one of the greatest performers and a favorite of mine, and one of Ed's as well, Johnathan Winters as a giant, in the So Hi series.
Also throw in a cliff hanging segment, "The Company", bridging all of the above segments, with two or more of the above characters and music from several stock libraries (Ron Hanmer, Van Philips and others among composers), and original stuff from Johnny Mann and singers and Hoyt Curtin, borrowed from Hanna-Barbera when this started in 1964 (which thus explains Ted Nichols's presence over at HB) and a rather New York Terrytoons 60s type animation style (it was partly done back East and on the West coast under directors Lew Irwin and Irv Spector),m and you have a show.
A postman (Loveable Truly) who loves dogs. A raccoon who has to battle a crow and many more made up "Linus the Lion-hearteds", 1964-1969, various networks, excluding NBC. Actually, pulled in 1969 due to charges of commercialism yet syndicated in the next decade.
(1970s) Still a decade (eighties) after that: a new generation of decidedly inferior later "informercials" that had toys (both boy and girl), making one realise how (Lovable) truly great Linus truly was, going back to its initial, network run in the 1960s. Far better than twenty years later, a huge gap when (in my very HUMBLE opinion) toy commercials not just with mascots advertising, with, to damn with faint praise, a fraction of "Linus the Lionhearted wit or or goofiest, would dominate: "Transformers", ":He-Man","Care bears","Strawberry Shortcake"(popularity notwithstanding, ironically taking still decades for HER series), and "My Little Pony" (and coming from THIS self-confessed Brony), one realises, in conclusion, that the 1960s "Linus" was pretty good.. or.."He's the Host of which we boast". YouTube has had many episodes.... just get ready to feel a bit sad when the end credits... and note the "Bashful Bigshots" in the Season 1 voice credits.
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