One of my first memories of television, circa 1952, is of the music and introductory sequence for Crusader Rabbit , a cartoon series created by Alex Anderson and Jay Ward (Ward later created The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show). On my first visit to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, I was stunned to see, on display in the lobby, the animation table on whch Crusader Rabbit was created.
While on a recent late-night "let's see what's out there on YouTube" adventure I was able to catch up with my old pals Crusader Rabbit and Rags the Tiger, and then pushed on, deep into the astonishing world of old animated cartoons. It made me appreciate how fortunate I was, growing up in the 50s in Sacramento, California, in that every afternoon there were hours of programming that mainly consisted of every variety of amazing already-then-old cartoons.
The first time I remember re-visiting these toons was in the late-70s-early-80s, when I was working in NY publishing and hanging out at the Museum of Cartoon Art in Port Chester, then housed in a truly eccentric castle-like house made of cement. They kept tapes of rare old cartoons running constantly in one of the main exhibit rooms. ThIs was not only before the net, but before CDs, cable TV, and the widespread release of old films, TV shows, and movies. Before VHS distribution, you could only see these things if you happened upon them on broadcast TV, or went to a screening in a college town or arranged by afficionados. You couldn't possess any of it, unless you had actual film copies, which were extremely rare.
Every time I go back to these cartoons I am amazed by the beauty and ingenuity and playfulness -- and struck by the importance of the music, which is completely wound up with the movement and storytelling. Immersion in this world of endless visual riffing and inventiveness had a profound effect on me, and I'm sure on millions of my peers -- including a generation of future cartoonists. And I think the fact that in many of the old cartoons everything -- instruments, voices, sound effects -- was part of the music meant that "watching" was as much an aural experience as a visual one. This may have contributed to the central role music played in our lives as we got older, by making us good listeners.
I am doubly fortunate in that my own kids grew up in another golden age of cartoons -- The Rugrats, Doug, The Angry Beavers, Spongebob, The Fairly Oddparents, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. For those who have not yet encountered the earlier work, I invite you to enjoy this simulation of a 1950s afternoon of in front of the television:
Flip the Frog: Music Lesson
Walt Disney: The Band Concert
Betty Boop: Minnie the Moocher
Merry Melodies: Have You Got Any Castles?
Popeye the Sailor Man (First Episode)
Ain't Nature Grand