Monday, January 28, 2008

49. The Banana Splits

Note: Since I didn't have any pictures for my last entry, you get two here.

When I was younger—like two or three-years-old—I only wanted to do two things: sleep and watch television. Hell, that's what I'd like to do now, but I have to do adult stuff now. Anyway, the first show that I can remember being completely obsessed with was “The Banana Splits”.

Let me step back for a second; the first thing on television that I was obsessed with was a British short that went by the name of “Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawings” that ran every other day during “Romper Room”. You might remember this as the skit that Mike Myers did when he was in his English phase during his later years of SNL. Basically this kid would hop over a fence and enter into this world of stick figures where he was essentially the king because he could draw well. Whenever the cartoon would end, I'd go crazy and cry uncontrollably. My mother told me that one day I bawled so much that after three hours of hysterics she told me that Simon lived on my wall (luckily for her, I had a border of stick-drawn kids running at the top of my room that I had never noticed before) and that he wouldn't come around if I continued to cry. That shut me up.

That was the first short on television that I was completely and totally obsessed with. The first show was the aforementioned “Banana Splits”. What did I like about them? I'm not sure, I think that what attracted me to the show initially was the bright, psychedelic set colors. Remember, I was the kid who'd wake up at 5:00 am to watch the test pattern until the local UHF channel began its broadcasting day. Colors really had a great impact on what I watched when I was a kid; the brighter, the better.

I enjoyed how the cartoon were “real”—the main characters of Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky were costumed actors who did things that animated characters did, like get hit on the head with a hammer or run at a high rate of speed with bongo noises in the background. The show's format was like none that I had seen before as it was a variety show that would often have three different cartoons a day. I was used to watching just Yogi Bear or just Huckleberry Hound. To me, “The Banana Splits” was like watching four shows at once.

The shorts were often animated, but the live action shorts that sticks out the most was a serial called “Danger Island”. The plot details are murky, but the episodes centered on a father (who was a professor), his two kids (one of which was a young Jan Michael Vincent) their guide and the guide's spastic helper, Chongo who were stuck on an island. The group was often chased by a pirate who had a cadre of henchmen called the Skeleton Men (guys painted like skeletons – and were terrifying to a three-year-old) who thought that the professor knew where a treasure was burried. Whenever the group would get into trouble someone would scream, “Uh-oh Chongo!” and Chongo would go crazy, beating the crap out of anyone within three feet of him.

The more I think of it, the more that I think that Chongo was the first mentally retarded person on television, predating Corky from “Life Goes On” by about 20 years. Chongo had retard strength, no doubt. Other shorts included: “The Adventures of Tom and Huck”, “The Three Muskateers” and “The Adventures of Gulliver”. I have a feeling that these shorts, based on some of the best books ever written, could be the genesis of why I enjoy reading so much.

And that's about all I remembered of “The Banana Splits” until I happened upon the show one night about a decade ago when I was a little tipsy. Much like the time I came across “In Search Of ...” I was completely fascinated with the show and in my altered state began trying to recapture the wonderment I had when I was a kid. The thing that I found was that I still enjoyed the show as an adult and started watching it whenever I could. The colors were still vibrant, the actions of the characters were still cartoon-y, but it still made me smile. The last time I caught the show was three years ago—it was on Boomerang at the time, but after we switched cable companies we lost the channel. It's a shame because I really dug the show and hope to see it again.

One thing that I enjoy about this show is that it's not burnt into the collective conscious of the American people. Therefore it hasn't been turned into a cliché, like some of the other characters from the Hanna Barbera universe. In fact people only have a very hazy recollection of the program when asked if they remember it. Mostly, they can recall the opening song, but that's about it. As an aside, when I was in college, my favorite retro t-shirt was a Banana Splits shirt that I wore just about every weekend. It was always a cool conversation starter that usually ended with “I sort of remember them, but I don't. What were they about again?”

While doing some research on “The Banana Splits” here are some interesting things that I found:

- The live amusement park scenes were not filmed at King's Island in Cincinnati. King's Island wasn't open until 1972, two years after the show ended. The scenes were filmed at Six Flags in Arlington, TX and Coney Island in Cincinnati. I guess I thought that it was filmed in King's Island because of the “Brady Bunch” episode where the gang heads to Cincinnati.

- According to Wikipedia, the show was not based on “The Monkees”, rather it was based on “Rowan and Martin's Laugh In”. The characters themselves were loosely based on the Monkees, who were based on the Beatles. I was thinking about this the other day and came up with a chart:

Fleagle = Davy Jones = Paul McCartney
Drooper = Mike Nesmith = John Lennon
Snorky = Peter Tork = George Harrison
Bingo = Mickey Dolenz = Ringo Starr

- Barry White, yes that Barry White, sang one of the Banana Splits songs. It was called “Doing the Banana Split”. I am as surprised as you are. And Bob Marley said that “Tra, la, la, la's” from the opening theme were a strong influence on the chorus of “Buffalo Soldier”. Dread locked Rasta indeed.

- The costumes were designed by Sid and Marty Kroft. I am not 100% sure of this, but I read somewhere that Sid and Marty Kroft got next to nothing for creating this from Hanna and Barbera and this slight was the impetus for the Krofts to branch out on their own. So fans of HR Puffenstuff, you owe something to the greed of Hanna and Barbera.

- One last thing, check out Snorky from Season One to Season Two:

Season One, a kick-ass Wooly Mammoth looking thing:

Season Two, just a regular old elephant:

Why the change?

No comments: