Ralph Bakshi’s <em>Bickersons</em> Ralph Bakshi’s <em>Bickersons</em>

Ralph Bakshi’s Bickersons

Here’s a real rarity.

When Ralph Bakshi worked at Paramount in 1967, he produced several theatrical shorts and proposed a dozen more. One of his assignments was to create a pilot based on the classic radio show The Bickersons using the track of a 1940s radio broadcast starring Don Ameche and Frances Langford. Paul Rapp, son of Bickersons creator Philip Rapp, found this previously lost footage and has posted it on You Tube. Note the first half is in pose reel, the second half is finished in (now faded) color:

(Thanks, Jeffrey Gray)

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Thanks for posting that. Like noticing the transition from the sketches to full animation the way it was executed here.

  • Gillian

    Slob husband…shrew wife… How deliciously formulaic!

  • Excellent to see, thanks for that. Another to add to that short list of audio comedy becoming the soundtrack of an animated cartoon, along with Thank You Mask Man (1963), The Mad Mad Mad Comedians (1970) and The 2000 Year Old Man (1974). Any more?

  • Very cool! I love the character design and animation.

  • Dave

    The animation is fuller here than in most of the Paramount shorts done in that era.

  • That was funny! I kinda dig how limited the bg’s were for the first half.

  • Jeffrey Gray

    I found “The Bickersons” listed in a 1971 book listing all of the TV shows made up to that point. This is long before the Internet, long before the Museum of Television & Radio or other extensive research projects, so a lot of information is unavailable, placeheld by question marks, or sometimes just plain inaccurate.

    In a section of the book marked “Cartoons (under 10 minutes)” I found something called “The Bickersons,” with Krantz Films listed as distributor. Since I’d never heard of this, I looked it up on the Internet, and ended up finding this test on YouTube, which I showed to Jerry because I had no idea who produced it.

    Turns out that this title is mentioned in Bakshi’s filmography on his website, listed w/ Marvin Digs as an example of his 1967 Paramount Cartoon Studios work. (Paul Rapp misremembered it as being Filmation for some reason, but I won’t hold it against him…memories can turn fuzzy sometimes.)

    I am willing to bet that the “Bickersons” series was going to be syndicated by Krantz when it was completed. If I had to guess why it was listed in that book, when it never got past a (seemingly unfinished) test pilot, I’d say that the editors of the book, for want of sources, probably got some of these titles from TV distributor trade announcements. My current theory is that Krantz at one point announced the show for syndication, though it was never completed.

    But if it hadn’t been for that inaccurate listing, I’d never have found this.

  • Jeffrey Gray

    I wonder who worked on this project. Looking at the three completed/released Bakshi Paramount shorts, his main animators seemed to be Al Eugster, Nick Tafuri and Doug Crane, with layouts/backgrounds/design by Cosmo Anzilotti, Jim Simon and John Zago.

  • This is a pretty good job of visualizing a radio show, but falls into the same trap that all animated attempts to visualize radio fall into. Radio doesn’t need to be seen to be “seen”. Chuck Jones characterized most TV animation as “illustrated radio”, not always accurately. This pilot actually IS illustrated radio and really throws into relief the differences between radio timing and cartoon timing. The Bickersons starring Frances Langford and Don Ameche is very funny just from the sounds of the actors’s voices. It doesn’t need an exaggerated laugh track, as it gets here, and doesn’t need a lot of awkward pauses and editing to insert dog and cat jokes, either. The exchanges between Langford and Ameche in the original show were very fast and acerbic, that timing is altered here, to the detriment of the humor. On the Beany and Cecil DVD, there was a rare Bob Clampett pilot where he took the “Tex and Judy” sketches from “The Judy Canova Radio Show” and attempted to film them. The technique he used was live action heads on animated bodies. It looked very interesting and was a unique approach, but still, the radio tracks don’t need any pictures to be funny and the pilot didn’t sell. That’s why these pilots are “rare”, they didn’t succeed.

  • top cat james

    Not bad. The potential for a good series is certainly there.

    Johnathan Sloman:

    Excellent to see, thanks for that. Another to add to that short list of audio comedy becoming the soundtrack of an animated cartoon, along with Thank You Mask Man (1963), The Mad Mad Mad Comedians (1970) and The 2000 Year Old Man (1974). Any more?

    Bob Clampett’s unique, bizarre, and very funny “Tex and Judy” pilot from the “Judy Canova Show” on the Beany and Cecil DVD.

  • It may have been “deliciously formulaic”, but when Francis Langford and Don Ameche did “The Bickerson’s” in the 1940s it was a breakthrough radio show. So many of the shows of the period were even more formulaic; “The Life of Riley”, and “My Favorite Husband” spring to mind. The big thing for me is that when I listen to “The Bickersons” I never fail to laugh – ever.

  • pappy d

    I’m with Mark on this one. As theater of the mind, “The Bickersons” has integrity. The visuals only impoverish it.

  • Reminds me of The Honeymooners which of course was the inspiration for The Flintstones.

  • Speaking of which, have you seen Preston Blair’s FLINTSTONES-era character designs for a HONEYMOONERS prime time cartoon show? Pretty good, but creepy in that the unmade project would have brought the cycle of imitation completely full-circle. (I think that some of the poses were in recent editions of one of Blair’s books for Walter Foster.)

  • FP

    It’s entertaining both with and without the animation. That’s good, right?

    It reminds me of a funnier-than-usual Depatie-Freling THE INSPECTOR, titled Le Ball and Chain Gang, which focused on a bickering couple, rather than the Inspector. The couple’s arguments were depicted in a more adult style than is usually seen in cartoons of the 60s.

  • Very funny, except for the few parts with the animals. I like the character designs. They have a nice Paul Coker flavor to them.

  • I like that “CRASH” written out at the end. I’m going to remember that technique.

    Next time I need an effect I’ll save myself time and just spell it out. EXPLOSION! LASER! EARTHQUAKE! VOLCANO ERUPTING WITH MOLTEN LAVA!

  • Last month I went to a 16mm film night at a friend’s house, and he ran a half-hour-long animated Bickersons pilot from 1972, with a Halloween theme. (My friend picked it up at a film show years ago.)

    Shamus Culhane was listed as a producer; I didn’t recognize any of the other names in the credits (except Philip Rapp, creator of “The Bickersons,” who was billed as the writer).

    They did not use Ameche and Langford’s voices; the man voicing John Bickerson sounded a bit like George O’Hanlon, but when I checked the names on the closing credits it turned out to be someone else.

    Interestingly, the gag about the cat in the freezer turns up in both the half hour version and the Bakshi reel above.

    I contacted Ben Ohmart, the author of a book about “The Bickersons” to find out what he knew about this half hour version; he has never seen it!

  • Jeffrey Gray

    Wow. That Culhane production may be the show that Krantz Films tried to distribute, since it seems to have been completed. (I think it may’ve been listed in 30 minutes actually – I only remember that in that 1971 TV tome, Krantz Films was listed as the distributor.)

    What were the credits? Could you eventually transcribe them?


  • I honestly don’t know when (or if) I’ll have a chance to get the credits on that show. My friend (who lives an hour away from me in South Jersey) is the one with the film, and I’d have to borrow the film (and get a working 16mm projector!) in order to transcribe them. But I do remember that a syndication company was listed in the credits, rather than any production company I’d heard of.