… in Saturday-morning cartoons, that is
Lately, I began a dive into the Saturday-morning cartoon series titled, simply, “The Beatles” (1965-69). Try as I might, I can’t hate it. Yeah, it’s lame. Yeah, the voices don’t sound a whit like the Beatles (with the possible exception of Ringo Starr). The series was produced by Al Brodax, the animator behind the cartoon series “Beetle Bailey” and “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” — not exactly Disney-level stuff.
But the songs are terrific. (It’s the Beatles, yo!) And for fans of the great voiceover artist Paul Frees, the series is a treasure trove.
I found one aspect remarkable: Not even half-a-season in so far, I’ve spotted no less than five monster-themed segments. At the time, the Monster Craze of the 1960s was still going strong, with “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family” still in their maiden runs. But this seems excessive — wonderfully excessive. I thought I’d memorialize the phemomenon-within-a-phenomenon for fellow monster and Beatles freaks.
‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (9/25/1965)
Season 1, Episode 1 (first segment)
Synopsis: Finding the Transylvania Hilton too cramped to use as a proper rehearsal space, the boys try their luck at a nearby castle. They first encounter the caretaker — a friendly, scarred, one-eyed ghoul who sleeps in a grave. Once inside, the boys meet cyphers for most of the top-tier monsters: a Dracula, a Frankenstein, a werewolf, a Morticia-like lady, a witch, a masked executor and various ghosts.
‘If I Fell’ (10/2/1965)
Season 1, Episode 2 (second segment)
Synopsis: This one has a mad scientist doing a brain switcheroo between John and a Frankenstein-type monster. (Brodax must’ve seen “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.”) When the monster comes to life, he sings like the Beatles.
‘Devil in Her Heart’ (10/9/1965)
Season 1, Episode 3 (second segment)
Synopsis: George and Ringo have a picnic in a Transylvanian forest, replete with ghost trees. Separated from George, Ringo asks the Headless Horseman for directions, but is told: “I never had a head for directions.” Ringo next encounters a green-skinned witch, who declares she has finally found her husband.
‘Baby’s in Black’ (10/23/1965)
Season 1, Episode 5 (first segment)
Synopsis: Now it’s Paul’s turn to become separated from the rest of the group to be terrorized by monster-ish types. He meets Professor Psycho, the inventor of “instant wolfbane.” The professor’s latest experiment is Vampirette, “half-girl and half-bat.” Once Vampirette is jolted to life, Professor Psycho tells Paul that he is to marry her. The segment ends with a pretty good gag, which I will spoil: Vampirette is really a singer, and Professor Psycho is her manager. They just wanted to curry favor with the Beatles to advance her career.
Season 1, Episode 5 (second segment)
Synopsis: Shouting newspaper sellers sound the alarm: Dracula has been terrorizing London. The Beatles stroll through Piccadilly on a foggy night, and decide to take in the Chamber of Horrors show at the wax museum. They spot a figure of Dracula that looks too good to be wax. (It is.) The Beatles then come across wax figures in their own likenesses. (This happened in real life, at Madame Tussauds in London.) The boys remove the figures and pose as themselves. (A visiting tourist lady comments that Paul and John “look like death warmed over.”) The boys spend the rest of the episode chasing Dracula around.
What did all of this monster-ish activity in the Beatles ‘toons mean? (Come to think of it, Brodax later put Frankenstein in the Beatles’ animated film of 1968, “Yellow Submarine.”) I just figger it’s a zeitgeist thing. The Beatles were hot; monsters were still hot. Dipso-facto.
Above is the Oct. 23, 1965, episode in which both segments are monster-themed. Um, there’s a catch. The sound occasionally drops out. And there are large Spanish subtitles. But I swear it’s worth it.