Here’s what’s wrong with the world today: We don’t have enough dancing cows. Make that dancing and whistling cows, where little black eighth notes come floating out of their round lips.
I blame the cartoon producers. It used to be you could watch any number of cows with giant nostrils, dancing in ruffled aprons, to a great old jazz song, like “Holiday for Strings.” Mice in tiny vests would scamper about to a Brahms Hungarian dance, while Bugs Bunny would conduct Von Suppe and pigs would play tubas. Liszt’s rhapsodies, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, Strauss, Rossini—they were all part of a happy childhood where equally dazzling animation brought every note to life.
Most of these classics were made in the 1930s-1950s, but they continued to entertain into the 1970s, when—WHAM! Cartoons suddenly became all about taking over the world. The humor dropped out, the animation became stilted; it was as if all the writers and artists had died, and left cartoon-making to control freaks with Etch A Sketches. Marketing departments saw how much money they could make selling action figures, lunchboxes, bedsheets, and backpacks, and kids were fed a steady stream of programming that led them to purchasing.
Not only that, but scientists discovered kids weren’t playing make believe with as much imagination, anymore. Their toys stayed in the same character dictated by the cartoon shows, and storylines stayed in the same rut of vanquishing the enemy (cue the explosions). Soon videogames popped up, even more violence-based than cartoons, and well, soon the only place you could find a cow was in the form of a Big Mac.
Gone are the incredible voices of Mel Blanc and Clarence Nash (the original Donald Duck). I had the privilege of interviewing Mel Blanc when I was in college, and he actually took on the appearance of the Warner Bros. characters he voiced, from Bugs Bunny to Yosemite Sam. It was incredible.
Clarence Nash was the uncle of my good friend, Cynthia Rhine, and I had the pleasure of meeting “Uncle Clarence,” as well. Dapper, beaming, a twinkle in his eye—always eager to entertain kids for the sheer joy of it.
Not only that, but the cartoon characters stopped singing. Those same dancing cows used to croon like Bing Crosby, and squirrels sang in Barbershop quartets.
Gone also are the clowns and captains of yesterday’s cartoon shows, as well. Remember them? They would interview children, give them prizes, and introduce the next exciting Looney Tune. This was actually St. Bob’s first job in television. When he was only 15, he dressed up as an Emmett Kelly-style clown and everyone thought he was a grown man, introducing cartoons on KPLC TV in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
There was something lilting and light about yesterday’s cartoons. The whimsical animation, the dramatic classical music. It was dreamy, that’s what it was. And you never hear anyone say that, anymore.
Check out Pinholes Into Heaven, one of my books, here. It’s a literary coming-of-age novel set in the same time period.