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Posted February 4, 2011 by Phil Hall in Retro Cinema
 
 

Retro Cinema – The Adventures of Paddy the Pelican

The Adventures of Paddy the Pelican
The Adventures of Paddy the Pelican

Sam Singer’s name is mostly unknown today, though during the 1950s and 1960s he was a fairly prolific presence in television animation. For the most part, Singer’s output barely stood the test of time: does anyone except a rabid cartoon fanatic know about Sinbad Jr., Bucky & Pepito or Pow Wow the Indian Boy? Not surprisingly, given the quality of his work, some people refer to Singer as the Ed Wood of animation.

Perhaps the most delightfully egregious examples of Singer’s canon was an aborted series of animated shorts presented under the banner THE ADVENTURES OF PADDY THE PELICAN.  Two of the shorts from this offering – Piggy Bank Robbery and Two Wet Bears, both from 1954 – have survived and were featured in a Jerry Beck-produced DVD anthology of the worst cartoons of all time. How bad are they?  Funny you should ask…

Paddy the Pelican began his life as the star of a puppet show on Chicago’s WENR-TV in 1950. Singer is credited as designing the puppet, which was operated and voiced by Ray Suber. The program enjoyed enough popularity for ABC to pick it up for a national broadcast. However, the show only enjoyed network exposure for a month. All that is available for contemporary viewers to enjoy of this endeavor is the cover of a 1950 Chicago-area television guide that features the Paddy puppet. It is unclear (and, perhaps, unlikely) that copies of any of the episodes of this rare TV show still exist.

Despite the short life of the series, Singer had hoped to create a franchise for Paddy. He began with a comic book and then expanded into a proposed animated series. In 1954, he began creating five-minute Paddy cartoons that were intended for the TV markets.

There is no evidence that THE ADVENTURES OF PADDY THE PELICAN cartoons were ever broadcast. The two surviving shorts do not appear to be finished both feature the rough animation of pencil tests, while the soundtracks appear to be tacked on with no attempt at achieving synchronization. But even if they were completed, they were pretty damn strange.

Piggy Bank Robbery finds Paddy observing the odd banking habits of Kenny Crow, who is saving up to buy a corn field. Kenny hides his savings in a piggy bank that is stashed in a secret panel of his house. But nasty Freddie Fox discovers Kenny’s monetary hiding place and conspires to steal the money while framing Paddy for the crime.  The cartoon swirls into a mess of outlandish behavior as Freddie plants pelican-shaped muddy footprints across Kenny’s floor and the poor crow reacts to the theft by throwing a brick at Paddy! Can Paddy clear his name and recover Kenny’s money?  Well, of course he can! (Yeah, that was a silly question!)

Two Wet Bear is even more bizarre, with an ursine duo named Amos and Buster who find themselves stranded on an island with a Popeye look-alike named Beachcomber Bill.  The bears (who, inexplicably, speak in the exaggerated African American voices associated with the old Amos & Andy radio show) are terrified because Beachcomber Bill wants to cook them for dinner.  Paddy, mercifully, flies to the rescue while Beachcomber Bill chases his would-be dinners with a spear and an ax.

In the two cartoons, Paddy has two distinctive personalities. In Piggy Bank Robbery, he is a dyspeptic and neurotic presence who is flustered by the inanity and accusations around him. In Two Wet Bears, he is a bemused interloper who happily frustrates the vicious Beachcomber Bill while aiding the nitwit bears in their escape. Where he could have rested his feathers is unknown; there was another film in the series, The Land of More, but Paddy is an elusive presence there he only appears as a still figure in the opening credits.

Singer lost interest in poor Paddy and abandoned the character for other pursuits. He achieved some degree of notability as the executive producer for the series Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse, although the genuine pleasure of those classic cartoons are rooted in the zany zoomorphic characters devised by Bob Kane and not in Singer’s cheapjack animation.

As for THE ADVENTURES OF PADDY THE PELICAN, his brief display of ruffled feathers lives on the two rare shorts, where he continues to baffle and amaze the unsuspecting souls that come across his nutty misadventures. Maybe someday there can be a resurrection of Paddy the Pelican perhaps a new 3D feature with Johnny Depp as the pelican, under the direction of Tim Burton?  Hey, stranger things have wound up on the big screen!


Phil Hall

 
Phil has written about cinema for the New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired Magazine, American Movie Classics Magazine, Tower Records Pulse! Magazine and the Organica Quarterly. He is the author of several books, including “Independent Film Distribution” and “The History of Independent Cinema.” Beyond film journalism, he is a former United Nations correspondent for Fairchild Broadcast News and a writer and editor for technology and financial publications.