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'DreamWorlds: Behind the Scenes' art exhibition at USC

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PoThe Cartoon Brew website announces that the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts Gallery is presenting an exhibit, “DreamWorlds: Behind the Scenes, Production Art from DreamWorks Animation” from July 30 through September 7.

DreamWorks’ works include more than just anthropomorphic animals, of course (Prince of Egypt, anyone?), but there has been SO MUCH anthropomorphization in its 24 features!

The exhibition includes more than one hundred digital prints and approximately thirty traditional paintings and drawings on paper; two miniature sets; three character maquettes; two set pieces – an 8? high Kung Fu Panda “Po” statue and the new Rise of the Guardians standee; and three media stations displaying animation tests, stereo footage, and the Rise of the Guardians trailer. There will also be a contemporary animation work station on display, with demonstrations given by current Hench-DADA students.

The School of Cinematic Arts Gallery is in USC’s Steven Spielberg Building, 900 West 34th Street, Los Angeles, Calif. 90089. Gallery hours are Monday-Friday and Saturday August 11, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed on Labor Day.

That is on the USC campus, of course. While you are there, USC contains much more on anthropomorphization. The Doheny Memorial Library, one of USC’s oldest buildings since 1932, at the midst of the USC campus, contains “vast collections of books and journals and also is one of the university’s best loved gathering places, hosting academic and cultural events ranging from lectures, readings and conferences to special exhibits and concerts.” The books include many out-of-print anthropomorphic novels.

When I was doing research in 1982 on the original Crusader Rabbit TV cartoons, I was the first (I think) to discover from the USC Library’s enormous collection of TV Guide editions for many major cities that although Crusader Rabbit may have begun production in 1948, its TV debut was not until Los Angeles on Channel KNBH on August 1, 1950. (The Wikipedia entry on Crusader Rabbit is slightly incorrect, but I digress.) The USC campus contains much of value to the serious anthropomorphics researcher.

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The slightly incorrect statement is that Crusader Rabbit’s “occasional nemesis’ was “Dudley Nightshade (called Ill-regard Beauregard in a few episodes), and his sidekick Bilious Green”.

The error is due partly to confusion and partly to deliberate lying. Insufficient attention is given to the statement that Crusader Rabbit’s crusades came in two parts; the black-&-white series by Alex Anderson & Jay Ward from 1949 to 1951, and the color series by Shull Bonsall from 1957 to 1959.

The original black-&-white cartoons ran for 195 episodes divided into ten crusades. During this period, Crusader Rabbit did not have a recurring nemesis. He mostly fought a different antagonist each time.

In “Crusader versus the State of Texas”, his and Rags’ antagonist – not a true villain – was Frank Sawbuck, a big-game-hunter type who was called on to rid Texas of jackrabbits because they were eating all the carrots that Texas’ cowboys needed for good eyesight to shoot straight. Crusader persuades the rabbits to eat creampuffs instead of carrots, and the problem is solved.

In “Crusader versus the Pirates”, his & Rags’ nemesis is Black Bilge, the pirate captain. In “Crusader and the Rajah of Rinsewater”, the villain is evil Dudley Nightshade who has replaced the Rajah’s honest prime minister, Ali Oxenfree. In “Crusader and the Schmohawk Indians”, the bad guy is a Chicago gangster type, Babyface Barracuda and his gang. In “Crusader And the Great Horse Mystery”, it is Gaston Glub of Glub’s Glue who is stealing horses to make their hooves into glue. (And a horse with bare feet is not a pretty sight.) In “Crusader and the Circus”, it is the evil ringmaster, Whetstone Whiplash, and his henchman, circus strongman Bilious Greene. (Note the final ‘e’.) In “Crusader in the Tenth Century”, it is the crooked Blaggard brothers, Blackheart, Brimstone, and Bigot, and their pet flame-breathing two-headed dragon, Arson & Sterno. And in “Crusader and the Mad Hollywood Scientist”, it is mad scientist Prof. Belfrey Q. Batts.

That makes eight crusades. In 1950 or ‘51, Anderson & Ward decided that there should be more continuing characters. So for the final two crusades, they gave Crusader and Rags a new friend, Garfield Groundhog, and they started recycling their villains. In “Crusader and the Leprechauns”, the leprechauns were being oppressed by the giant Finn McCool XIII. Crusader learns that nobody has actually seen the giant, only his secretary, Dudley Nightshade. And in “Crusader and the Showboat”, the villain is evil riverboat captain Whetstone Whiplash and his first mate, Bilious Greene.

At that point NBC stopped funding new episodes, there was bankruptcy all around, and “Crusader Rabbit” became ancient history. In 1957, Shull Bonsall entered the picture. Bonsall was a businessman who specialized in buying bankrupt companies that still had assets, to sell those assets. He bought the bankrupt Television Arts Productions to acquire the 195 “Crusader Rabbit” episodes. Another acquisition was TV Spots, a small animation studio that specialized in making animated TV commercials. TV Spots was a working studio; it had just had cash flow problems.

Bonsall decided that, instead of selling off TV Spots’ equipment, he would hire new animators and put the studio back into production, and start making original programming instead of commercials. And his ownership of “Crusader Rabbit” made their first production obvious. Bonsall had discovered that nobody would touch the old black-&-white, extremely limited animation of 1949-’51 any more, but the characters were very viable for new cartoons.

Bonsall studied other children’s programming of the 1950s. It was obvious that the most popular program of all was Bob Clampett’s “Time for Beany”, so Bonsall set out to imitate “Beany” as closely as possible. One of the most popular characters of “Beany” was its ever-present villain, Dishonest John, instead of a new villain each adventure. And DJ was a parody of the classic 19th-century melodrama villain; always dressing in solid black with a cape, and twirling his moustache.

Just like Dudley Nightshade and Whetstone Whiplash.

Bonsall took advantage of the fact that few people had seen “Crusader Rabbit” since 1951 to claim that Crusader’s villain had always been Dudley Nightshade in different disguises; and since “Crusader Rabbit” predated “Time for Beany” (it didn’t, but Bonsall claimed that it did), that Dudley Nightshade was the original TV cartoon villain and that all other villains were imitations of him. Actually, Bonsall used the name of Dudley Nightshade with the character design of Whetstone Whiplash, and he kept the oafish Bilious Greene as his regular henchman.

So it is accurate to say that Dudley Nightshade and Bilious Greene were Crusader’s regular nemeses in the later color cartoons, but wrong to say or imply that they were regular villains in the black-&-white series – which are all that anyone watches today, for the Jay Ward connection.

Fred Patten

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About the author

Fred (Fred Patten)read storiescontact (login required)

a retired former librarian from North Hollywood, California, interested in general anthropomorphics