So many of us spent our childhood Saturdays eating sugary breakfast cereal and watching TV. What was it that we watched? Cartoons, of course! Take a trip down memory lane by revisiting the 20 best cartoons of the ’50s and ’60s.
In lots of ways the granddaddy of them all, Looney Tunes gave us Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd, among many other timeless cartoon characters, and introduced the world to the vocal genius of Mel Blanc. Not only were they great to watch then, they’re great to watch now, and they’ll probably still be great to watch in a hundred years. You’d probably be lying if you said that you had never seen any Loony Tunes cartoons when you were younger. Chances are you have.
Merrie Melodies was (and is) the sister series to Looney Tunes, and you would not be wrong to wonder what the difference between them really was. There wasn’t much of one, honestly: Looney Tunes was the first broadcast in black and white, while Merrie was always color. Other than that, the theme music, and the title cards, they were identical. Call them 1 and 1A, if you must; either way, they’re still towering examples of the Golden Age of American Animation. However, Merrie Melodies usually find itself in the shadow of Loony Tunes.
Speed Racer had something of a rebirth in the ironic ‘90s, although it may have been less irony than nostalgia, considering that the show was shown on American television in 1967 and 1968 and ran in regular reruns throughout the ‘70s. Charmingly low-rent, Speed Racer is the story of young Speed, his brother Spritle, their parents Mom and Pop Racer, and Speed’s girlfriend Trixie. Each episode ends with Speed winning his race, sometimes with the help of the mysterious Racer X. It’s still worth watching now if you can tolerate some fairly primitive animation and a decided lack of irony.
Jonny Quest’s dad is a brilliant scientist who, in a show of either great or extraordinarily poor parenting, lets his son come with him on all sorts of daring and dangerous adventures. Sort of an update of radio serials and adventure comics, Jonny Quest ran for only a season (in prime time, like Top Cat) on ABC, despite being critically and commercially acclaimed. It was probably watchable when it was first broadcast for the same reasons it is now: who doesn’t like a good adventure story?
Heckle and Jeckle
Created by Paul Terry, and produced at his own Terrytoons animation studio, Heckle and Jeckle features two identical yellow-billed magpies that are frequently outsmarting their victims while continuously getting into trouble. Released October 1, 1956, the two birds are downright mischevious and are known to create trouble completely unprovoked. However, those they target sometimes win in the end. It is noted that Terry considered his work on Heckle and Jeckle to be his best series of studio cartoons.
Tom and Jerry
Maybe a little too violent for some sensibilities (seriously, some of those cartoons are dark), Tom and Jerry is nonetheless one of the titans of early American animation, and a lot of fun to watch, especially now that they’ve replaced some of the more unpalatable characterizations with updated versions. Just remind yourself: the mouse is going to win. For a real treat, dig up the thirteen bizarro episodes produced in Czechoslovakia in 1961-62.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?
Kind of a down-to-earth version of the Super Friends, the Scooby-Doo gang was nearly perfect in their breadth of characterization. Fred’s the alpha male, Daphne’s sharp but sexy, Velma’s a genius (and secretly pretty cute, too), Shaggy’s laid-back and always hungry, and Scooby’s a big talking dog who’s also always hungry. Couple that with a new mystery every week and the gang’s grooved-out van the Mystery Machine, and how can you go wrong?
The story of a big, genial gorilla who lounges in a pet store window eating the store owner out of house and home, Magilla Gorilla had a brief but eventful reign over the airwaves. The show introduced the Yiddish word “megillah” to regular conversation (okay, no, it didn’t) and made clear that, no matter how much you might want one, you should not own a gorilla. Even if he can drive a motorcycle and was almost sent into space.
The Pink Panther
The Pink Panther was one of the major reasons why an entire generation of kids was really surprised the first time they ever saw a Pink Panther movie. The movie Pink Panther’s just a guy with a mustache; the animated Pink Panther was an ultra-suave, ultra-pink Art Deco icon whose antics were even cooler for being backed by the movie’s smooth jazz theme.
The classic ‘60s version of what a space-age family would look like, and how it would live, the Jetsons were a traditional nuclear family – mom, dad, son, daughter, dog – updated for the far future. Flying cars that transformed into briefcases, food in pill form, and robot housekeepers, all wrapped up in a city in the sky. Then, it was a funny show to dream on; now, it’s a neat, if unrealistic, look at what people in the ‘60s thought the future would be like.
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour
One of the first attempts at combining live-action with animation, The Banana Splits was part of the small variety show boom of the late ‘60s and very early ‘70s. The Splits, a four-member band comprised of furry characters named Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky, hosted, and the theme song was popular enough to hit the charts. About as ‘60s as you can get, at the time the cartoon was probably just another TV show, but now watching it is like a trip to bizarro world.
Top Cat had a fairly short run as well, lasting just a single season, but its impact has sustained long enough to support a Mexican film adaptation in 2011. A gentle stab at animated social commentary, Top Cat and his gang live in an alleyway, forever dreaming of getting out (and coming up with get-rich-quick schemes to try to make the dream come true) and forever getting held down by The Man in the person of Officer Dibble. Seems fairly contemporary, still.
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
Rocky and Bullwinkle had some seriously good writing, full of puns and topical satire and the sort of self-referential humor that shows today are still attempting to pull off. Structured as a variety show, the cast included Rocky the flying squirrel, Bullwinkle the moose, Dudley Do-Right the – er – do-right, and a pair of Russian spies named Boris and Natasha. If you find it somewhere, catch it. It hasn’t aged a bit.
Felix the Cat
Felix the Cat, the character, has been around since the silent era, and no one knows who exactly created him. His signature has long been his enthusiastic laughter, a trait which persisted in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s TV show Felix the Cat. Most of the 126 episodes revolved around a plot to steal Felix’s Magic Bag, but the feline was so darn jovial that audiences couldn’t help but be charmed, and the little guy’s just as charming today as he was in 1960.
The Woody Woodpecker Show
Woody Woodpecker is, much like Daffy Duck, a classic screwball character, and the Woody Woodpecker Show is a classic screwball show. Comprised of animated shorts that had once accompanied feature films, much like Looney Tunes, the show was a way to keep Woody in the public eye once the heyday of animated shorts waned. A classic for a reason, it’s as good now as it was then.
The Quick Draw McGraw Show
The Quick Draw McGraw Show is the story of anthropomorphic horse/sheriff Quick Draw McGraw, his sidekick, and partner Baba Looey, and the misadventures they get up to in the Old West. A show within the show deals with Augie Doggie and his father Doggie Daddy, who have similar misadventures in a different and more modern milieu. A little comic relief and a little mild drama meant Quick Draw McGraw was perfectly watchable; today, if you can find it, it’s a throwback to a calmer time, and kind of soothing.
The main character in Underdog main character was a shoe shine, er, dog, called Shoeshine Boy, who would morph into Underdog whenever his friend/crush Sweet Polly Purebred was in trouble. Underdog tended to speak in rhyming couplets (“Have no fear, Underdog is here!”). Audiences at the time likely didn’t have much problem with that – the show ran over 125 episodes – but it may be too much for contemporary viewers to absorb without giggling.
Spider-Man is big business today, but the web slinger’s first appearance on-screen was in this low-key animated series, which ran from 1967-1970. A thin budget meant that the animation is somewhat lacking in depth and detail, but any Spidey fan owes it to themselves to take a look at this one, if only for history’s sake.
Laid-back, smooth-talking Huckleberry Hound’s 1958-1961 show was the first animated series to win an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Children’s Programming. Presenting Huck as a low-key hero standing up for goodness and righteousness, the show has a big, beating heart at its center, which endeared it to audiences during its run, and does the same to contemporary audiences.
Sort of connected, in its sensibilities, to All in the Family and other portraits of the working class in the 1950’s and 60’s America, The Flintstones is the tale of two families who live next door to each other and do things together regularly. Fred and Barney work at the quarry, go bowling each week, and belong to the lodge; Wilma and Betty are homemakers (and, later, stay-at-home moms.) In a lot of ways, that was the 1950s in America. Except that The Flintstones was set in the Stone Age.
Gumby detailed the claymation adventures of sweet little green Gumby and his equally sweet little horse Pokey with a healthy dose of surrealism, as in the episode where Gumby falls through his mirror and enters the Mirror World, where everything is backward. There is also the sinister Blockheads, who cause nothing but trouble. Though widely regarded as a classic, it may seem a little primitive to contemporary audiences. But anyone who looks past the surface will find the level of imagination and inventiveness unchanged by the decades.
Mr. Magoo was played in 1949, originally as animated shorts that were played in the movie theatre. Yet, in 1960, the show made its television debut. The show followed the character Mr. Magoo (voiced by Jim Backus) who was extremely nearsighted, yet refused to admit that there was a problem with his sight. This led him into many humorous situations which he always managed to get himself out of. Mr. Magoo was very successful and won two Academy Awards for Best Short Subject Cartoons, and Magoo himself was ranked number 29 of the “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time” by TV Guide.
Snagglepuss is a character that first appeared on the Quick Draw McGraw Show and later earned a regular segment on The Yogi Bear show in 1959, featuring in a total of 32 episodes. Daws Butler was the voice of Snagglepuss, a pink, cave-dwelling lion that wears an upturned collar and shirt cuffs. The lion is an aspiring actor, and his famous for his catchphrase was, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!”. He was also known for pronouncing words as a Shakespearean actor would, emphasizing the lion’s theatrical desires.
Deputy Dog debuted in 1960, produced Terrytoons, and voiced by Dayton Allen. The character of Deputy Dog was a Southern deputy sheriff in Florida. However, as the show ran, the location changed to Mississippi and eventually ended in Tennessee. The show focused on Deputy Dog dealing with stereotypical southern characteristics and problems. The show also featured Deputy Dog’s sidekicks Ty Coon, Muskie the Muskrat, and Vincent Van Gopher. The show ran on a weekly basis and received praised from the adults at the time, due to its southern undertones.
In 1958, Yogi Bear first appeared on the Huckleberry Hound Show originally voiced by Daws Butler, and later Greg Burson. By 1962, it had become so popular that it was given it own show. Shortly after, Yogi Bear was recognized as one of the most popular cartoons ever produced by Hanna Barbera. Yogi Bear lived with his sidekick Boo-Boo Bear in a bear cave in Jellystone Park, an animated version of Yellowstone National park. The episodes typically surrounded Yogi Bears quest for unattended picnic basket yet was always caught by Park Ranger Smith.
The Archie Show
The Archie Show is an American animated musical comedy based off of the Archie comic books from the 1940’s. The Archie Show aired on Saturday mornings on CBS in September 1968 until August of the next year when it was replaced by The Archie Comedy Hour. The show is based around 17-year-old character Archie Andrews, and his group of friends from Riverdale High School. In the show, the friends were a bubblegum pop band and had a real #1 single in 1969 with their classic song, “Sugar, Sugar”. The Archie Show was also one of the first Saturday morning cartoons to utilize laugh tracks following after The Flinstones, and The Jetsons.
Fantastic Four is a series produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and based off of the Marvel comic book series Fantastic Four. The premise of the show is that four different costumed superheroes with their own special powers team up to fight off evil villains in each episode.The show aired on ABC from 1967 to 1970. It had 20 episodes and was part of the continuing series Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super Adventure. Fantastic Four is one of the few Marvel-related television projects that is not currently owned by Disney.
George of the Jungle
George of the Jungle was an animated show loosely based off of Tarzan. It was produced by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, the creators of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Yet, George of the Jungle was also a cartoon characterization of George Eiferman, drawn by a Navy cook on his boat during World War II. The show focused on George, a wild man, who was the king and the protector of the jungle. yet, he was also clumsy and dim-witted, but he always managed to save the day. The show aired on Sunday Morning’s from September 9, 1967, to December 30, 1967, on ABC and had a total of 17 episodes.
Roger Ramjet was an animated comedy series that first began in 1965 and has aired in syndication since. The show stars Roger Ramjet (voiced by Gary Owens) and the American Wagle Squadron. The show was known for its popular culture references, making the show enjoyable for various ages. Ramjet is a not very bright, yet highly dedicated hero who was known to take Proton Energy Pills, giving him the strength of 20 atom bombs for 20 seconds which he uses against various recurring villains throughout the series.
The Ruff and Reddy Show
The Ruff and Reddy Show was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions for NBC. The series was based on the adventures and experiences of Ruff, a sharp and loyal cat, and Reddy, a noble, yet not-so-sharp dog. The show premiered in December 1957 and ran until 1960 with three seasons and 50 episodes. Unlike Tom and Jerry, the dog and cat were not enemies, but friends. The show was also known for its use of limited animation techniques, using fewer drawings, and saving more time.
Space Ghost debuted in 1966 and ended in 1968, yet, remained in syndication until 1970. In the original series, Space Ghost was an intergalactic crime fighter who had the power of flight, invisibility, and the ability to shoot rays from how wrist powerbands. Along with his sidekicks Jan, Jace, and Blip the monkey, they fought recurring supervillains in outer space. The show was created by Hanna-Barbera Productions and was designed for CBS. The show is also credited with the rise of superhero cartoon popularity in the 1960’s.
Produced by DePatie-Freleng Animation between 1967 to 1968, Super President features the American President (voiced by Paul Frees) who gains his powers as a reult of a cosmic storm. This gives him the ability to change his molecular composition along with increased strength. There were a total of 30 episodes produced, which were aired Saturday mornings on NBC. However, the show also recieved some criticism for portraying a national leader who was like Superman, however, basically invincible.
Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales
Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales is a cartoon that aired on CBS from 1963 to 1966. It was produced by Total Television, the same company that ended up producing Underdog. The show features a fast-talking penguin named Tennessee Tuxedo (voiced by Don Adams), and his best friends Chumley the Walrus, Yakety Yak, and Bald Eagle. The characters constantly complain about their lives at the Megopolis Zoo and the show follows their attempts to use science to help them escape.
Created by Robert D. Buchanan, and animated by Soundac of Miami, Colonel Bleep was the first color cartoon series made for television after its release in 1956. Although it is rumored that Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera production played a role in its creation, it is assumed that his participation was short-lived. The show took place on a fictional island known as Zero Zero island where Earth’s equator meets the Greenwich Meridian. Here, Colonel Bleep, an alien lifeform from planet Futura helped to protect Earth by manipulating automatic energy. The show was heavily influenced by the Space Age and was eventually syndicated in 1957 with episodes ranging from three to six minutes.
Winky Dink and You
Winky Dink and You was a CBS television show that aired from 1953 to 1957 on Saturday mornings. The show was created by Harry Pritchett and Ed Wyckoff and even had a host (Jack Barry). The program showed the adventures of the cartoon character Winky Dink (voiced by Mae Questal) and his dog woofer. The show has also been credited with the title of the first interactive TV show. The audience could buy specific kits for the TV show and at a certain point in the show draw onto a vinyl plastic that went over the screen to help move the story along.
King Leonardo and His Short Subjects
Released in 1960 by Total Television, which would later become Leonardo productions, King Leonardo was about the character Leonardo the Lion (voiced by Jackson Beck) who is the king of Bongo Congo. He is aided by the calm skunk Odie Cologne (voiced by Allen Swift) who helps make sure that the kingdom is under control. Together they fight against the foe Biggie Rat who is constantly trying to overthrow Leonardo and take over the kingdom. The show was aired on NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup until 1963.
The Nutty Squirrels Present
The Nutty Squirrels Present television series was produced by Transfilm-Wide Animation, and aired from 1960 to 1961 for one season. The original cartoons came from overseas countries in Eastern Europe by Fima Noveck, the President of Flamingo Telefilm Sales. Once the cartoons were brought to the United States, they were given a new soundtrack, translated into English. These Flamingo cartoons were based on education and the shows were designed to help motivate and inspire learning from its viewers.
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse was produced by Trans-Artist Productions and syndicated by Tele Features Inc. in 1960. The characters Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse were created as a parody of Bob Kane’s earlier creation of Batman and Robin. The show features the pair of animals that are superheroes that lack secret identities. There are many similarities between the pair of animals and their predecessors Batman and Robin. The two live in the Cat Cave, drive in the Cat Mobile and are summoned by a Cat Signal. Mostly everything is the same except the two are a cat and a mouse.
The Alvin Show
The Alvin Show was the first show to ever feature the singing group Alvin and the Chipmunks. The show was sponsored by General Foods and was aired on CBS from October 4, 1961, to September 12, 1962, for a total of one season. The show was originally in black and white, but color prints of the episodes were eventually released after its syndication in 1965. The animation was produced by Herbert Klynn’s Format Films and utilized music and portrayed the Chipmunks as a group of kids managed by a father figure named David Seville.
Linus! The Lionhearted
Linus! The Lionhearted was a lion character created in 1959 by the Ed Graham advertising company as an ad for General Foods’ Post cereals. During this time, Linus the Lionhearted was the spokesperson for the post cereal “Heart of Oats. In 1963, Linus was then re-made to sell Crispy Critters and the ads became so popular that Linus was made into the television show Linus! The Lionhearted in 1964 and ran on CBS until 1966. It then returned in color on ABC for three more years until it was eventually canceled after the FCC made it illegal to have children’s television show characters as an advertisers spokesperson.