|Written by||Clark Haas|
|Voices of||Richard Cotting
|Theme music composer||Paul Horn|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||52|
|Running time||4 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Cambria Productions|
|Original run||March 9, 1959 – 1959|
Clutch Cargo was an animated television series produced by Cambria Productions and syndicated beginning on March 9, 1959. Notable for its very limited animation, yet imaginative stories, the series was a surprise hit at the time, and could be seen on 65 stations nationwide in 1960.
The stories centered around Clutch Cargo (voiced by radio actor Richard Cotting), described as "a writer and pilot with a muscular build, a white flat-top hair cut and rugged good looks". As was typical of adventure serials, Clutch Cargo was sent around the world on dangerous assignments. Accompanying him on the assignments were his young ward Spinner and his pet dachshund, Paddlefoot. Actress Margaret Kerry, who provided the look, style, and movement of Tinker Bell in the 1953 Walt Disney Studios production of Peter Pan, provided both the voices and lips of Spinner and Paddlefoot. Live-action footage of an airplane was used as well, specifically that of a rare 1929 Bellanca C-27 Airbus. The attention to detail shown to the aircraft in the series is no doubt due to the fact that the creator of the series, Clark Haas, was a pioneer jet pilot.
Hal Smith, who voiced Owl in Disney's Winnie the Pooh series and played Otis Campbell on The Andy Griffith Show, was the voice of Clutch's grizzled, pith-helmeted friend Swampy, as well as numerous other characters.
In all, 52 Clutch Cargo adventures were produced and then serialized in five five-minute chapters each. The first four chapters naturally ended in cliffhangers, with the fifth chapter concluding the adventure. Haas explained the format of the show: "Each story is done in five five-minute segments so the stations can run one a day on weekdays, then recap the whole for a half-hour Saturday show. It's flexible and works very well."
Because of budgetary limitations and the pressure to create television animation within a tight time frame, the show was the first to use the "Syncro-Vox" optical printing system. Syncro-Vox was invented by Edwin Gillette, television cameraman and partner in Cambria Studios, as a means of superimposing real human mouths on the faces of animals for the popular "talking animal" commercials of the 1950s. Clutch Cargo employed the Syncro-Vox technique by superimposing live-action human lips over limited-motion animation or even motionless animation cels.
To further cut costs, Gillette and special-effects man Scotty Tomany supplemented Syncro-Vox with other time- and money-saving tricks. Haas explained, "We are not making animated cartoons. We are photographing 'motorized movement' and—the biggest trick of all—combining it with live action. This enables us to produce film at about one-fifth what it costs Hanna and Barbera. Footage that Disney does for $250,000 we do for $18,000."
Gillette and Tomany simulated action not by animation but in the real-time movement of either the camera or the cel itself. Other live-action shots were superimposed as a means of adding a certain degree of realism and to keep production costs down. For example, footage of real smoke was used for explosions.
Gillette said, "We are constantly discovering new dimensions. We have used real balloons to simulate bubble gum, developed windmills that really turn—mechanically; and Scotty can come up with the darndest snowstorms you've ever seen—on a turning drum. With a camera capable of zooming, walkers that jog, and judicious cutting away from costly animated movement we manage to do things which otherwise would be impossible. With fewer than a dozen men we produce the equivalent of a half-hour film every week."
Occasionally traditional animation was also employed in the series, notably in the episode The Lost Plateau, in which brief segments of animated dinosaurs stood out. The character Paddlefoot, with his scratching and comical movements, was singled out as the most common cause of "skyrocketing" animation costs at Cambria.
The musical soundtrack to Clutch Cargo was, in its own way, as limited, and yet as inventive within those limitations, as the animation. Jazz musician Paul Horn provided a score using nothing more than bongos, a vibraphone and a flute.
Haas summed up the lasting appeal of Clutch Cargo: "Let's face it, Clutch is a square. But there's a place for him. One thing about this kind of business: It's fun. That's because what you can do is limited only by your ingenuity."
Perhaps because of its unique style, Clutch Cargo has been referred to and parodied many times in contemporary pop culture. In 1990, clips from Clutch Cargo were run on The Higgins Boys and Gruber, one of the first shows to air on the Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central). They plugged it with "If it weren't for the lips, it'd be a filmstrip!" In 1994, the film Pulp Fiction included a scene in which a character was watching Clutch Cargo. And, for several years, the late-night television talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien frequently included fake interviews with celebrities in which live video of the impersonator's lips was superimposed over a still photo of the celebrity; this routine has consequently been referred to as "Clutch Cargo."
The movie Forbidden Zone also contained a syncro-vox segment during one of its earlier musical numbers.
The person in the Max Headroom pirating incident can be heard humming the theme song, pausing halfway to say "I still see the X," a reference to the last episode of Clutch Cargo.
A short clip from the Clutch Cargo episode "Space Station" is shown on a TV screen in the opening credits of the Futurama episode "A Flight to Remember". In 1996, a live music venue named after the series, Clutch Cargo's, opened in Pontiac, Michigan.
The animated short "Mr. Incredible and Pals", included as a bonus on the DVD release of the Pixar film The Incredibles, begins by referencing Clutch Cargo's title sequence, and also features both Synchro-Vox animation and an intelligent animal sidekick.
In the April 18, 2011 strip of Retail, Marla's fiancé Scott suggests "Clutch Cargo" for the name of her new handbag business. The strip's cartoonist, Norm Feuti, also posted a video explaining it to his fans.
On March 22, 2005, BCI Eclipse released the entire Clutch Cargo series in two 3-DVD box sets. Each volume contains 26 5-part episodes, and extras including one episode of Cambria Studios' other two Syncro-Vox series, Space Angel and Captain Fathom.
|Episode and Title|
- Margaret Kerry: Memorabilia & Collectibles
- "Don't believe your eyes! How 'Clutch Cargo' cuts corners as a television comic strip." TV Guide December 24, 1960, p. 29.
- Clutch Cargo's, metromix detroit
- Feuti, Norm. "Retail, 18 April 2011". King Features Syndicate. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
- "Don't believe your eyes! How 'Clutch Cargo' cuts corners as a television comic strip", TV Guide, December 24, 1960, pp. 28–29.
- Erickson, Hal. Syndicated Television; The First Forty Years, 1947–1987. p. 119. ISBN 0-7864-1198-8
- Terrace, Vincent. Encyclopedia of Television Series, Pilots and Specials, 1937–1973. New York, New York Zoetrope. 1986. pp. 96–97. ISBN 0-918432-69-3
- Jack and Jill magazine, Feb. 1961 issue, 6-page Clutch Cargo comic strip.
- Outré magazine #5.