The Furry History Project, Part-5: The 1950's & 60's

The 1950's

The early years of television brought about a tragedy for classic animation and Funny Animal fans. As many of the early animation studios went out of business, their cartoons were sold to television. In preparing these cartoons for broadcast on black & white TV, the negatives were doctored and tinted, resulting in a large portion of our animation history being unavailable in its original state, if not irretrievably lost. Read here the fate of Paramount's cartoons and see also the amount of Funny Animal characters from just one studio that you've probably never heard of.

In the 50's, the main venue of cartoons shifted from theatrical shorts to TV programs. The first TV cartoon was Crusader Rabbit (1950) which dramatically illustrated how different TV cartoons were going to be from theatrical shorts.

TV cartoons had to be churned out much faster and on much lower budgets. But this didn't really hurt them in terms of appeal. After all, most toons functioned very well in comic strips where they didn't move at all. And, still being in the tail end of the golden age of radio, it was no trick to create a fully engrossing soundtrack. Actually, many radio actors would go into cartoon voiceovers at the end of the radio era. And it is still tradition today in TV cartoons to have very well produced soundtracks and voice characterizations cover for the most limited of animation.

The bulk of what went on in terms of experimentation with TV cartoons between Crusader Rabbit and the late 50's is rather obscure. My guess is this wasn't seen as the most practical means of providing children's entertainment in a black & white medium. Instead, the era gave rise to something new—sock puppet shows like Kukla, Fran & Ollie and Howdy Doody. Most of which could boast at least one or two Furry characters. Shari Lewis being the most significant of these in terms of over all Furriness, as she was the only one to focus specifically on animal characterizations. While Captain Kangaroo also boasted some endearing Furry characters in prominent roles.

Both Shari Lewis And Captain Kangaroo went on to become institutions of children's entertainment, popular throughout the rest of their lives, far into the 80's where they influenced some Furry fans to create their own sock puppet shows. While other such shows of the 50's that did not make prominent use of Furry character appeal proved to quickly become dated and unable to maintain popularity throughout the generations.

In 1950, Osamu Tezuka began publishing the comic book version of Kimba The White Lion. Tezuka would become known as the Walt Disney of Japan, applying the large expressive eyes seen in Disney's animal characters to all his characters, both animal and human. This influence of the early Funny Animals would become the most identifying trait of anime.

In 1950, Disney released Cinderella, featuring a supporting cast of Anthropomorphic Animals who very often steal the show.

In 1951, DC Comics introduced The Fox And The Crow.

In 1951, Disney released Alice In Wonderland, revisiting the classic characters who had liberated Furries from the Fairy Tale genre the better part of a century earlier.

In 1952, E.B. White penned Charlotte's Web, a book that, like Bambi, is sometimes denounced as animal rights propaganda, though its intended point seems to be more an allegory of mortality.

In 1953 Atlas Comics introduced Buck Duck.

In 1953, Disney released Peter Pan, the first Disney animated feature to almost not make this list. But, as some people might consider Tinkerbell a Furry, or at least Furry related, I'm reluctant to omit it. And there is that crocodile, not to mention the mermaids.

In 1955, Disney released Lady And The Tramp, one of the most endeared Furry movies of all time, breathing new life into the Talking Animal formula.

In 1956, Dodie Smith penned The Hundred And One Dalmatians.

In 1957, Disney released Perri, based on Felix Salten's novel. Though Disney produced the film in live action with real animals, it makes this list for it's connection to a Furry novel, and for the comics that resulted.

At the end of the 1950's, Hanna-Barbera entered and revolutionized the TV cartoon business with a long string of enduringly popular Furry characters, beginning in 1957 with Ruff & Ready.

In 1958, Ross Bagdasarian created The Chipmunks as a novelty for Liberty Records, little knowing that his creation would become one of the longest lived institutions in Furry character history, sans the classic Disney and Warner era characters.

In 1958 Hanna-Barbera introduced Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Pixie & Dixie & Mr. Jinx.

In 1959, Terrytoons introduced Deputy Dawg, Ralph Bakshi's first animation job. (YouTube Links)

In 1959, Margery Sharp published the first book in The Miss Bianca series, which was a nice series of novels that no one seems to write much about these days. Though you can read lots about the Disney movies that resulted from it.

In 1959, Disney released The Shaggy Dog, based on the Felix Salten novel The Hound Of Florence.

In 1959 Hanna-Barbera introduced Quickdraw McGraw, Super Snooper and Snaglepuss.

In 1959, Jay Ward began The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, which was targetted at both children and adults, and is something of a pre-curser to today's adult targeted TV cartoons.

In 1959, Disney released Sleeping Beauty, which, like Snow White, has no talking animals, but does have animals with human personality and facial features. It also has fairies and a morphing dragon lady. Like the scholars of old had pointed out, it's pretty hard to have a fairy tale without Furry involvement.

The 1960's

In 1960, Bob Kane created Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse as an anthropomorphic parody of his earlier creation, Batman And Robin.

In 1961, a sit-com called Mr. Ed introduced the concept of the live action talking animal.

In 1961, Disney scored more box office success with talking canines in 101 Dalmatians.

In 1961 Hanna-Barbera introduced Top Cat, Yakky Doodle, and Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy

In 1961, The Chipmunks made the jump from records to television, necessitating a renovation of their character designs. Whereas they had previously been cartoon chipmunks on their older album covers, they now became anthropomorphic characters that were hard to identify as chipmunks. The album covers that followed the well received but short lived TV show would retain the more humanized look.

Also in 1961, the radio institution of Amos & Andy, running since the 1920's and still on the air at this point, had failed to make the transition to television, due to the problem of the black radio characters having been voiced by white actors. Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll still wanted to do something in television with their ethnic voice characterizations. So animation was the next logical thing to try. And how best to sneak past the rising disapproval of ethnic characterizations than to voice Furry characters. Hence Amos & Andy became Furries in the series Calvin and the Colonel.

In 1962, Hanna Barbera began The Hanna-Barbera New Cartoon Series featuring Wally Gator, Touché Turtle, and Lippy The Lion.

In 1962, Warner Bros. released Gay Purr-ee.

In 1962, Marvel Comics introduced Spiderman, a superhero who acquires the attributes of a spider through a science fiction mishap.

The advent of Spiderman is seen as the turning point for comics away from the all powerful, self-assured and infallible superheroes of the past. It is the dawn of the fallible superhero that readers can relate to themselves. Likewise, Spiderman's appearance at this time in history marks a turning point for Furry.

Spiderman was, himself, a new type of Furry character at the time. One that was not a cartoonish Funny Animal, nor a casually created ALF providing background for a human space traveler, or an allegorical Talking Animal. All such things spring from the same basic formula of mixing human and animal attributes. And all developed independently. Now we see the developing of something new from the same basic ingredients. Something that would lead to science fiction writers re-evaluating the potential of animal based characters.

From this point we see a generation that grew up with animal characters gradually applying them to more serious subject matter and aiming them at older audiences. Furry has had a long, innocent and idealistic childhood. It is about to enter its rebellious teen-age years.

In 1963, Maurice Sendak published Where The Wild Things Are, a picture book for children that would inspire an opera, a short art film, and a top grossing motion picture.

In 1963 Hanna-Barbera introduced Magilla Gorilla, Punkin' Puss and Ricochet Rabbit.

In 1963, Tennessee Tuxedo made his first appearance, voiced by Don Adams of Get Smart and later Inspector Gadget fame.

In 1963, the BBC launched Doctor Who, television's longest running Science Fiction series, still running today. The show makes frequent use of anthropomorphics to create robots and Alien Life Forms. And it is not uncommon for the ALF's in this show to be based on animals. Even in it's black and white era, The Doctor encountered some of the most lavish, beautiful and grotesque Anthropomorphic Animals the world had yet seen.

In 1963, Pierre Boulle published Planet Of The Apes.

In 1963, Disney released The Sword And The Stone. Yes, even in a story about King Arthur, Disney found ways of featuring his anthropomorphic critters.

In 1964, The Linus the Lionhearted Show began, featuring popular mascots from Post cereals, including Sugar Bear.

In 1964, Underdog appeared, an anthropomorphic parody of Superman.

In 1964 Hanna-Barbera introduced Peter Potamus.

In 1965 Hanna-Barbera introduced Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel and The Hillbilly Bears.

In 1965, Robert Crumb's Fritz The Cat was first published in the underground press. Up to this point, the notion that there was a sexual allure to anthropomorphism had been hinted at, primarily in Gothic Horror. But it had been beyond imagination that we would ever see a published Cartoon Animal in explicit sexual situations.

Crumb's audacity at doing the unthinkable earned him instant respect and acclaim. His strip was a hit, and the genie was out of the bottle. Yet another new venue of Furry entertainment had been opened for development - Furries that were exclusively for adults.

Robert Crumb may have looked back on "Fawcett's Funny Animals" as the inspiration for his parodies. His is the first instance I've found of anyone using the term "Funny Animals" in reference to animal characters in cartoons. Therefore it was perhaps Crumb who is responsible for the position "Funny Animals" now holds in the pop-culture vocabulary.

What history is available seems to show "Funny Animals" went from being a type of poetic story for children in the early 20th century, to a comic book title in the 1940's, to the title of some parodies in the late 1960's, and from there being taken as the name of the over all interest itself, at least by some, which was later supplanted by the term "Furry."

However, it would be inaccurate to suggest that Robert Crumb was the first to draw Furry characters in off color situations. He was just the first to professionally publish such ideas and prove there was a lot of money to be made by doing so. But Furry has always had fans of adult age, and there's never been any accounting for what goes on in the imaginations of adult fans, or what they might produce for fun because of it. Thus you may happen upon ancient comics of Donald Duck in explicit gay encounters, or come across historical surprises like the following offered by Fred Patten.

"One historical factoid that I consider fascinating if entirely irrelevant was the 1930s animation career of Charles Thorson (1890-1966). He worked for almost every animation studio (he couldn't keep a job), and specialized in designing cute animal characters. Elmer Elephant and the cute woodland creatures for The Old Mill and The Country Cousin for Disney; Sniffles and Bugs Bunny for WB; maybe Droopy Dog for MGM.

It was Thorson who "named" Bugs Bunny by labeling his model sheet "Bugs' bunny" because he created the character for WB director Ben "Bugs" Hardaway; and famously had his initial design rejected because it was too cute & cuddly for the sassy personality that the rabbit had in the cartoon.

Walt Kelly acknowledged Thorson as a major influence on Kelly's design of cute anthropomorphic animals and fairies.

Well, according to Thorson's biography (Cartoon Charlie; The Life and Art of Animation Pioneer Charles Thorson, by Gene Walz; reviewed by me in Animation World Magazine in 1999, a major reason for Thorson's moving from studio to studio was that he kept getting drunk and drawing his cute woodland animals in obscene situations; not to mention starting drunken fights. This was kept private in the 1930s animation industry, so it could not have influenced funny-animal or furry fandom; but you can be sure that a lot of furry fans would have given almost anything to have seen some of the creator of Sniffles the mouse and Bugs Bunny's pornographic cartoons featuring his characters."

In 1966, Kimba The White Lion became Japan's first color television cartoon, as well as a world wide hit.

Kimba is significant in the history of The Furry Interest because he was a radical departure from other popular animal characters of the era. He was the first cartoon animal to set forward a personal morality contrary to the human norm and preach it to millions of children.  "Eating animals is wrong," Kimba said time after time.  Treating animals differently because of species was also wrong in Kimba's theology.  Humans placing themselves above animals was wrong.  And so forth and so on.

Kimba was not passive about sharing his ideology.  Kimba got up in your face and preached his moral edicts with a roar and extended claws to silence anyone who challenged his endeavors to prove that all creatures, human and animal alike, could live together in peace without killing each other.

For many fans, this was an eye opening experience. One of a great many projects of that era that just left fans with their jaws dropped, never having known such things were possible. A great contrast to the Hanna-Barbara projects you see surrounding it.

Even though the series was a hit in America, Tezuka's plans to take the series further into uncharted territory scared the executives at ABC out of licensing the second season. If they had licensed it, Kimba would have been the first major Cartoon Animal star to die on American television.

In 1966, Disney began a series of Winnie The Pooh shorts that would later be sown together as a feature length film.

In 1967, Disney released The Jungle Book, the last true Disney animated feature, released posthumously after Walt Disney's death.

In 1967, Dodie Smith penned The Starlight Barking, the true sequel to 101 Dalmatians which has never been adapted for film, and would seem from the description to be a significant Furry novel. One reviewer describes it as "a story of the attractions and perils of sudden advanced technology."

In 1967, Daniel Mannix wrote The Fox And The Hound.

In 1967, Batfink began - a parody of Batman and The Green Hornet.

In 1967, The Beatles were about the business of revolutionizing rock music, inventing concept albums and trippy TV shows to illustrate their music. Their second conceptual project was Magical Mystery Tour. And, as you can see, on the cover of Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles are wearing fursuits.  They also referred to each other as animals in lyrics like, "The walrus was Paul."

Because of The Beatles, rock music took a sharp turn towards artistic content. Particularly in England, rock bands began reaching back into English folk culture for subject matter. And waiting there to be rediscovered was the heritage of Louis Carrol, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and for the more sensative artists of the era, like Paul McCartney, the allure of characters like Rupert Bear. And thus Furry anthropomorphics would begin to appear in Progressive Rock, music specifically geared towards serious adult listeners.

However, while the English embraced Funny Animals as part of their own native surrealism, the American counter culture took a different view. They saw Funny Animals as the mascots of the establishment. Thus certain Steppenwolf albums from this period depict armies of Mickey Mouse like characters engaged in trench warfare, or being crushed in the hands of a monster meant to be an allegorical representation of America. Obviously the folks at Disney never saw the blow-ups below from the covers of "Steppenwolf At Your Birthday Party" and "Monster." They would have had a fit.

Culturally these images are significant. Why did Steppenwolf equate Mickey Mouse with war? What were they thinking?

Could it be they were remembering the part Funny Animals played in World War 2 propaganda, cross referenced with the awareness that many of the kids who grew up watching The Mickey Mouse Club were at that time being forced into uniforms and sent off to die? Were they saying Mickey misled us? Or possibly that Mickey failed us? Or maybe they were just trying to remind us of who was dying out there.

In 1967, Jefferson Airplane released the song White Rabbit, meant to suggest a comparison between the imagery in children's literature, specifically Alice In Wonderland, and the effects of psychedelic drugs.

In that same year, Bunny Sigler appeared facing a statue of The White Rabbit on the cover of a hit single.

In 1967, Tezuka followed Kimba with an anthropomorphic science fiction series, Amazing 3. Though possibly one of the most significant advancements to The Furry Interest in the 1960's, it has not survived well and is something of a missing piece to many. The Japanese negatives said to have been destroyed in a wearhouse fire, and the American dubs also having long gone missing, possibly chucked into a furnace when licences expired, like the lost episodes of Doctor Who.

In 1968, the Planet Of The Apes film series began, providing the first wide spread exposure of Anthropomorphic Animals as a vehicle for serious science fiction aimed at adult aged viewers.

In 1968, Ray Kalnen penned The Day The Universe Came, bringing Furry Sci-Fi concepts into the then booming erotica novel market.

In 1968, Elisabeth Beresford created The Wombles for a series of children's stories. The characters would go on to become the mascots of England's recycling movement.

In 1968, Peter S. Beagle penned The Last Unicorn.

In 1968 Hanna-Barbera introduced The Banana Splits.

In 1969, Sid and Marty Krofft created H.R. Pufnstuf.

In 1969 Hanna-Barbera introduced Scooby Doo and Cattanooga Cats.

In 1969, The Pink Panther cartoon character spun off from its parent movie series.

In 1969, PBS introduced Sesame Street, an educational program for children that may have had much to do with popularizing the term Furry, as to this day they are still making a big deal out of the word. Far more so than would be required for a simple adjective. On Sesame Street, Furry could almost be considered an ethnicity, a different kind of people that the show often uses to illustrate the concept of treating all types of people, no matter how different looking, with the same respect.

Forward To Part-6
Back To Part-4
Back To Furry History Index