Colonel Bleep was the first color cartoon series made for television. It was created by Fran Noack and written by Robert D. Buchanan, and was animated by Soundac of Miami. (Some sources have Joseph Barbera with a hand in its creation as well, although his contribution was short-lived before he rejoined William Hanna to form Hanna-Barbera.) The show was originally syndicated in 1957 as a segment on Uncle Bill's TV Club. 104 episodes, of varying length of between three and six minutes each, were produced. Of these episodes, slightly fewer than half are known to survive today.
VHS cover art for Colonel Bleep
|Created by||Fran Noack|
|Written by||Robert D. Buchanan|
|Directed by||Jack Schleh|
|Narrated by||Noah Tyler|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||104 (less than half are known to survive)|
|Running time||3-5 minutes|
|Original release||1957– 1960|
In 1945, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are noticed by two figures: Scratch, a caveman from a vague prehistoric era who had been asleep since the last Stone Age and was awakened by the bombings; and the denizens of the exoplanet Futura. The Futurans, an alien race with heads shaped like Reuleaux triangles and small, slender bodies, send one of their own, Colonel Bleep, to investigate. Upon reaching Earth, Bleep commissions Scratch as a deputy, with Bleep representing the future and Scratch the past. Representing the present day is Squeak, a cowboy puppet toy that can move on its own volition but cannot speak (as a puppet, it cannot speak on its own). Together, the three establish a base at Zero Zero Island in the Atlantic Ocean to protect Earth's solar system from extraterrestrial threats.
Colonel Bleep was typically seen with a transparent bubble as a helmet, with a helicopter-like propeller and two antennae. The propeller, used in conjunction with Bleep's ever-present unicycle, helped propel the creature through space. The antennae shot beams of "futomic energy" (a portmanteau of future and atomic), which could manifest itself in any number of ways, most commonly as a raygun. The amount of futomic energy Colonel Bleep could absorb at any given time was finite, and in several episodes he runs out of energy and becomes vulnerable. Scratch's main weapons were his superhuman strength and a large club. Squeak, other than his unexplained ability to move on his own, had no identifiable superpowers of his own.
The series drew heavy influence from the Space Age of its time. Occasionally, the planet Futura and its denizens would be seen; most of the series took place within Earth's solar system, with various intelligent life forms existing on most planets. The actual science was grossly fictionalized and frequently used anachronisms (for instance, Scratch, before his long sleep, is shown to have had a pet dinosaur, even though dinosaurs had died millions of years before cavemen appeared); however, there were moments when actual scientific topics were discussed (a discussion on the moon gave an accurate overview of various then-current theories for the moon's heavily cratered appearance).
The trio's usual nemesis was a dark and mysterious hooded figure called Dr. Destructo, who could typically be found in his flying saucer. Other regular villains included The Black Knight and Black Patch.
The animation in the show was extraordinarily limited, as was typical of TV animation during that era. Noah Tyler was the narrator for the show and provided virtually all of the vocal characterizations (most of the characters were mute). Jack Schleh directed all of the episodes. The design of the series was greatly influenced by the futuristic googie designs of the 1950s and early 1960s: Cars had huge tailfins, boomerangs were frequently incorporated into signs and architecture, and atom symbols were used as frequently as possible.
In 1965 Schleh and Buchanan also produced a series of syndicated physical fitness cartoons for children through Soundac called The Mighty Mr. Titan. Although Colonel Bleep is generally well-regarded today, The Mighty Mr. Titan is not.
Unlike contemporary animated television shorts of the era, most of which were preserved, practically no original material from the production of Colonel Bleep is known to exist today. In the early 1970s, while Jack Schleh was closing Soundac and moving the company's materials to a van, car thieves stole the van. Its contents have never turned up.
Colonel Bleep has probably not been shown on television in the United States since Soundac's closure (and the aforementioned theft of the master tapes) in the early 1970s. The copyrights of the show's episodes lapsed, without being renewed, in 1985. Two videocassettes from the series were released in 1993, containing most episodes still known to exist at the time (reportedly discovered in the film storage vault of a southwestern U.S. TV station which had formerly aired the show). The remaining extant episodes were not released until August 23, 2005, when Alpha Video released a DVD entitled Colonel Bleep, Volume 1. The DVD contains 23 episodes, about 20 of which do not appear on earlier video releases.
One episode, "The Treacherous Pirate", can be seen as part of The Speed Racer Show, an anthology film created by Streamline Pictures released on VHS and DVD by Family Home Entertainment as Speed Racer: the Movie. The episode occurs between Speed Racer episodes ("The Car Hater" and "Race Against the Mammoth Car, Part 1"). Production notes for The Ren & Stimpy Show cite Colonel Bleep as an inspiration to the show's animators.
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- WPST-TV / Channel 10 • Miami, Florida
- WBAL-TV / Channel 11 • Baltimore, Maryland
- WINR-TV / Channel 40 • Binghamton, New York
- WGN-TV / Channel 9 • Chicago, Illinois
- KXJB-TV / Channel 4 • Fargo, North Dakota
- KHJ-TV / Channel 9 • Los Angeles, California
- WOR-TV / Channel 9 • New York, New York
- WGAL-TV / Channel 8 • Lancaster, Pennsylvania
- KPIX-TV / Channel 5 • San Francisco, California
- WBRE-TV / Channel 28 • Scranton, Pennsylvania
- KMOX-TV / Channel 4 • St. Louis, Missouri
- KCND-TV / Channel 12 • Pembina, North Dakota / Winnipeg, Manitoba
- WSUN-TV / Channel 38 • Tampa, Florida / St. Petersburg, Florida
- Dooley, Jim (1958-01-25). "What Makes Col. Bleep Blip?". The Miami News.
- Hal Erickson (30 July 2005). Television cartoon shows: an illustrated encyclopedia, 1949 through 2003. McFarland & Co. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-7864-2255-5.
- Rea, Steven (1993-07-23). "A Fleet Of '60s 'speed Racer' Cartoons". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2014-12-11.
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