Monday, December 3, 2018

The Pink Panther #37

Christmas 2018
Kid’s Stuff – Saturday Morning Cartoon Edition
The Pink Panther #37

Mancini is playing in your head right now. Admit it.

"Huckleberry Pink/Le Chef Pink/The Cuckoo Clue/Pink Poolman”
Writer – Uncredited
Penciller – Warren Tufts
Inker – Warren Tufts
Letterer – Uncredited
Colorist – Uncredited
Editor – Uncredited
September 1976

It is hard to ascribe the popularity associated with The Pink Panther to any single element, but certainly the Pink Panther theme has a lot to do with it. 

The 1963 theme is an all instrumental composition by Henry Mancini. It was made to accompany the film “The Pink Panther,” a mystery-comedy directed by Blake Edwards. Released as both a single and an album, the theme reached the American Top 10 in 1964 and took home three Grammy Awards. By the slimmest of margins, the work lost an Academy Award for Best Original Score to Mary Poppins.

The sax riff was played by Plas Johnson. Mancini is quoted as saying “I had a specific saxophone player in mind – Plas Johnson. I nearly always precast my players and write for them and around them, and Plas had the sound and the style I wanted.” Indeed he did. The sax work melded Johnson’s delivery with Jimmy Rowles piano work and Larry Bunker’s percussion/Shelly Manne’s drums as well as a host of other players into a distinctive funk so cool it was like ice.

You don’t simply hear The Pink Panther Theme, you are transported by it. An old school, too cool jazz ditty that shuts down parts of your higher brain functions and slows down everything around you. It’s the sound that every pimp or pusher or street hustler would want to accompany them as they ambled down a stereotypical 70’s street scene. It defines COOL, with its casual, unhurried tempo that only becomes rushed in short effortless trots.

As for the film it came from, Edward’s The Pink Panther was so popular that it garnered eight subsequent films and an attempted reboot in 2006. Seven of the sequels to the original were directed by Edwards and all but three of those stared the impeccable Peter Sellers as the bumbling, incompetent French police inspector Jacques Clouseau.

Most begin with the disappearance of a jewel of great worth, a huge diamond with a flaw inside that looks like a leaping pink panther if viewed in the light. Thus, the name the series and the diamond are both derived from.

The movies also feature a short animated story during the credits of a thin, gangly panther, usually using a 1920’s cigarette holder and monocle when he first appears and a short, rumpled male “Inspector” character with oversized facial features wearing a tan trench. The Panther leads the Inspector on a merry, slapstick chase, with the Inspector typically getting injured in may comical ways.

The director of the first intro was Friz Freleng, and it was such a smash success with audiences that United Artists signed Freleng and his company (DePatie-Freleng Enterprises) into a multi-year deal to make more cartoons. The initial idea was to release them as theatrical shorts. Freleng’s first offering, The Pink Phink was so good that it won the 1964 Academy Award for Animated short film and much audience acclaim.

It’s easy to see why, if you watch The Pink Phink. Freleng’s comedic foil “the little man” squaring off against a barrage of pink-painting Pink Panther menace is a masterpiece of timing and Vaudeville stunts without the violence of most cartoon conflicts. When I think of the Pink Panther cartoons, Pink Phink is always the first that comes to mind. Usually it is the scene where the little man and Pink Panther are painting a column in alternating shades of blue and pink, each oblivious to the other’s presence as they circle the support.

In the fall of 1969, the cartoons had grown numerous enough that NBC optioned them for a Saturday morning cartoon offering called The Pink Panther Show. Some liberties were taken to the originals. A laugh-track was added, which I would term unnecessary talking-down to kids, who I’m certain were smart enough to “get” the humor without an auditory clue. The Inspector character from the films made appearances, with Marvin Miller brought on as an off-camera narrator for bumper segments featuring Pink and the Inspector together. In the most bizarre addition, the introduction of each show was live-action featuring different music and a oddball car dubbed “The Panthermobile.”

I’m dubbing all that “twaddle” and marking it as unnecessary. The clips stand on their own without laugh-tacks or weird car intros.

And I’m right, as the show expanded. Segments were added after the show was redubbed “The Think Pink Panther Show” including shorts of The Inspector and his sidekick Sgt. Deux-Deux, whom the lesser competent inspector corrected incessantly. These bits were clever and I loved them and the Panther parts equally.

Of lesser quality were DePatie-Freleng episodes featuring The Ant and The Aardvark, The Tijuana Toads, Hoot Kloot and Misterjaw. The Ant and Aardvark was decent, if formulaic; the Toads bland to the point of being nearly unwatchable; and the rest completely forgettable.

The show would run with very few tweaks from that time on. New episodes were added, but the classic Panther clips were still in rotation. In 1976, the network expanded it to an hour and a half with a live-action portion in the middle where comedian Lenny Schultz read letters and jokes. That version flopped and it was back to a half hour the next year. The show moved to ABC in 1978 with 32 new Panther cartoons added and 16 episodes featuring the Tijuana Toad’s nemesis Crazy-Legs Crane. That was the last year these shorts would be aired.

After a few prime time TV specials like A Pink Christmas (1978) and Olym-Pinks (1980), Marvel Productions took over the animated license. They created a Saturday morning series called Pink Panther and Sons, featuring a still-mute Panther and his two talking sons. The series featured very little of the actual Panther in each episode though. A good example is this episode titled The Pink Link. The series aired from 1984-1986, consisting of only one season for a total of 26 episodes.

Sadly the experimentation didn’t end there. in 1993 the Panther was revived again for Saturday morning television. His sons were excised and the decision was made to allow the Panther and his cast to all speak. Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) was brought on to voice the Panther. John Byner came back to voice the Ant and the Aadvark. While those episodes might be grand, I can’t make it past the Frewer voiced Panther shorts to try them. I have no idea who though a speaking Pink Panther was a good idea. Frewer does his best, but the character was really never meant to speak (aside from briefly by Rich Little in two 1965 episodes). Here’s a few compiled episodes that hopefully don’t give you the same nails on chalkboard feeling I get.

This new iteration of the show lasted two seasons and ran for three years. There were 40 episodes the first year and 20 the second, owing to networks tending to mix old and new spots to fill second seasons and beyond. It was awarded a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition, possibly by people who had never watched the show or listened to the awful synth-pop hot mess it had made from Mancini’s jazz standard.

But way before all of that clutter happened, Gold Key Comics snatched up the licensing rights to print Pink Panther comics. In 1971 they began publishing a Pink Panther comic book with art by Warren Tuffs. The book was a hit and lasted 87 issues, ending only when Gold Key folded up operations in 1984. The Inspector even got his own series that lasted 19 issues from 1974 to 1978.

What we have in the Crapbox today is issue number 37 of that Gold Key run. Published five years into the run, the book has seen a lot of wear, possibly having been read about a million times by one very enthusiastic Pink Panther fan.

I’m not going to mince words – kinda hate this issue. Much like the Think Pink show, it breaks one of the cardinal rules of Pink Panther: the Panther shouldn’t speak. However, given the comic book medium there is a limitation to how much you can ascribe to a character without narration or darn good panel sequences.

In addition to the Panther talking, I also feel that the musical accompaniment is a necessary set piece for any Panther story. Much like I did in the Indiana Jones review, I take points off here for something no comic can do: convey the soundtrack that feels like it is grafted to the character. Without it, the book has no chance of BEING a Pink Panther story. It’s just random squiggles on paper.

Such is the emotional power of music.

But we have this on deck so I should at least attempt to show you what the book’s insides look like.

We start with Huckleberry Pink, a story in which the Panther is left to babysit a young lad addicted to television. The Panther yanks the lad off his butt and drags him out into nature for an “adventure.”

Note how awkward it is to see words come from the Panther’s mouth. Like you can’t even find a voice for what his character would sound like. Unless you are part of the Matt Frewer generation of Panther-watchers, in which case my condolences. 

As our story progresses the kid finds a raft while the Panther goes off to get popcorn. Being an enterprising youth (or a thief), young Jimmy steals the boat and heads downriver. The Panther is left to hustle after him..

True to his promise, Jimmy is off to have some adventures, although of a much rougher variety than the Panther originally planned. Added note: No runaway slaves will be picked up during the course of this story.

But there are plenty of moments where Pink will wish he had stayed at home, what with the ferocious thunderstorm…

…and the rapids…

…and the sudden appearance of a waterfall with whirlpool, both of which our heroes get to experience firsthand.

The story ends with the comedic reversal, where Jimmy now wants to go out and the Panther wants to stay by the TV where it is safe.

Not a spectacular beginning, but better than I had hoped for. Unfortunately, the next story is a massive letdown from this mediocre peak.

We start tale number two, titled Le Chef Pink, with Pink prepping his apartment for the arrival of his girlfriend while watching The Stomping Gourmet on TV. The announcer states that the show will be a rerun due to something the Gourmet ate at the same moment that Pink wonders aloud if the Gourmet got the recipe he sent. Then the doorbell rings.

And I don’t remember Pink having a girlfriend, but I’ll go with this. However, the cat related jokes wear thin very quickly. As does the suggestion that Panthers would wear each other as clothing. Creepy!

Also this part where the Panther puts on a evening jacket and somehow that makes him more attractive than his normal naked self. Weird.

At this point the book does NOT turn into a colored version of Omaha the Cat Dancer, just in case you were wondering what I’ve cut. Instead, our hero feeds his girl a scrumptious meal and she invites him to be the guest chef on the Stomping Gourmet.

Which sounds fine, except we then learn that the entire meal was catered in and that Pink doesn’t know salt from pepper.

Which means when he does get a chance to perform creating a meal on TV…

…we end up with multiple things going wrong all at once, leading to…

…Pink destroying the entire TV studio.

“Unsatisfying” fits my description of his meal and the story. The decline gets a bit steeper. My hope fluttered up when I realized the next story was one of The Inspector character titled The Cuckoo Clue. I should have kept my expectations in check.

The story does feature the Inspector, but no sign of my favorite sidekick Sgt. Duex Duex. I don’t think any Inspector story is complete without a “Don’t say si, say we” line. But here we go with the Commissioner waking the Inspector up (twice!) because a robbery has just been committed. 

The book then attempts to get me to believe that the Inspector is a competent detective by showing him making rational observations about the crime scene.

In like ten seconds, the Inspector is at the home of the suspect, one “Cracky DeVault.” Unfortunately, his theory appears to be false, as Cracky has the alibi of being sick in bed all night.

However, the Inspector figures out how he could be in two places at once in a flash of inspiration. These little boxes with the Inspector’s eyes having feet are getting annoying. I don’t think eye movement was ever part of my love of the character so trying hard to emphasize that he is looking around is doing nothing to wind up my nostalgia. 

The crook is caught and the Inspector retires for the night.

I don’t’ find this true to the character either. In this story, the Inspector is like Sherlock Holmes, not the bumbling idiot we see in the cartoon. Boo! Boo! Also bring back Deux Duex!

Our last bit of torture in Pink is called Pink Poolman. It stars Pink and a guy who is not quite the little man. Pink runs a pool cleaning service and of course he’s inept at it, dragging his equipment through the man’s house and wrecking the place.

Then he accidentally snags the man’s lounger and drags him into the pool.

While in the pool he dumps an entire 40 lb bag of flammable pool chemicals in on top of the man and the accidentally sets him and his pool on fire.

The man tries to escape the pool via the filter, but Pink thinks he is some sort of mole and attempts to kill him with a pickaxe…

…and then the guy’s wife shows up and punts him out of the yard for making such a mess (even though he thinks the world has been through some sort of devasting disaster).

Yeah, these killed my nostalgia completely. Those silent clips are true gold and the original Inspector and Ant/Aardvark would probably hold up well. I think I’ll show them off to Rob and my granddaughter next time they are over. But the rest of this? It is a declining returns kind of thing. The farther the series gets from stories driven by the Mancini theme with little to no speaking, the more these will no be “Pink Panther” stories.

Which is sorta sad, because he IS the coolest cat ever.

For your added fun, try to put yourself back in the 60’s/early 70’s and do this crossword puzzle of current slang. It’s a drag, man.


  1. this is like an adaptation of the crappy Pink Panther cartoons, where he talks!

    1. Without a doubt. The more of those I found online the more bored Matt Frewer sounded with making them. They gave him such crappy dialogue.


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