Fractured Flickers: A Critical Exploration
*Transcription of Video Below*
We all have those formative cartoons that we remember. Yogi Bear, Garfield, The Simpsons, The Flintstones. Every generation has its favorite. When I was growing up, a large part of my cartoon viewing came through The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle VHS tapes we had laying around.
The Jay Ward classic helped to shape and define the art of the television cartoon in the early years of the medium.
Despite my lengthy history with The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it somehow snuck under my radar that Ward and his team had other shows. A few months ago, I stumbled across Fractured Flickers during a completely unrelated YouTube search. I dove into the series DVD set. Like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fractured Flickers shows itself to be a savvy and thoroughly ahead-of-its-time comedy, definitely worthy of more love than it receives.
Fractured Flickers vaults in to newspapers in March of 1963 when the show the was picked up for syndication by Desilu — yeah, that one.
The series hangs in news cycles throughout out the spring and summer of 1963, reportedly heading for a fall premiere, according to an August 6th article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
August 9th of the same year, the Philadelphia Inquirer brought an article headlined: Wacky Promotion Kit Introduces Series Titled Fractured Flickers. Ever the quirky individual, Jay Ward had a flair for promotion: The article writes “Inside is everything needed to ease a TV columnists labors… ‘Take the day off. Have a few beers,’ Ward urges TV critics as he graciously volunteers to save them the trouble of writing a Fractured Flickers review”. The article goes on, quoting the promotional material, “this year’s odds on favorite to cop every Emmy award in sight! And that’s not all– it may even win a Nobel Prize unless someone comes along with an anti death vaccine”.
The series was syndicated, so there’s a little less standardization to the air time as the network owned shows of the period. Based on the uptick of articles which began with the release of the press kit in August of that year, the series began to hit airwaves in September.
For example, an advertisement running in the September 2nd 1963 issue of the San Bernardino County Sun hypes the new channel 18 will be on the air September 29th bringing star student shows 16 hours a day 7 days a week and lists series like Fractured Flickers, Frontier Circus AND Dragnet. Meanwhile, other regions already showed it on the air the same week. The Wilmington News Journal out of Ohio lists it on the TV schedule for that week, placing the comedy series up against Combat, Laramie and M-Squad.
Fractured Flickers official debut was another example of Jay Ward hijinks as the series debut came at the Coney Island Film Festival. On September 12th 1963 according to The Moose that Roared by Keith Scott, the publicity stunt– which cost Ward upwards of $50,000 was completely built around Fractured Flickers and saw hoards of TV journalists being brought out to Coney Island by subway train where they had a massive night of entertainment planned. It was themed of course and ended with an awards ceremony– where, according to the book, Fractured Flickers won all the awards… Most Serious Comedy, Nicest and Most Talented Producer and Best Film Made Without a Camera. This is pure Jay Ward.
Despite the fact that there were only twenty six episodes of Fractured Flickers, the show stays in the TV listings in various places around the country for the better part of two years where it was largely reviewed very well. In fact, a syndicated column which made the rounds in papers across the country touts it as one of the more impressive shows of the young TV season.
Fractured Flickers came to screens from the mind of writer, producer and director Jay Ward. The iconic figure of animation was born in September 1920 in San Francisco California.
Ward’s premiere work, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle premiered in 1959 on ABC. According to an article published in the Madison Wisconsin Capital Times in 1986, “Premiering on ABC on September 29th 1959, Rocky and Company moved to NBC in 1961. In 1964 the series returned to ABC”.
The whip smart Ward took a while to get to animation, having started in real estate. Per the Capital Times article, after serving in World War II, the Berkley educated Ward studied at Harvard business school before opening a real estate office upon his return to California.
The book The Moose that Roared by Keith Scott touches on the stressful events which led to Ward moving to animation. On his first day in his new real estate office a lumber truck lost brakes as it was coming down a nearby street and crashed through the front window of the office. Ward was pinned against the wall by the accident. He received a broken knee, was nearly blinded and was left with psychological trauma in the form of claustrophobia which resulted in a lengthy convalescence.
It was during the lengthy recovery process that Ward moved forward with starting the animation company he could become known for. The company started as Television Arts Productions– according to the Capital Times.
His earliest producer credit came on an idea called Crusader Rabbit. Ward’s 1989 obituary in the Chicago Tribune writes, “With another friend, Ward invented the character of Crusader Rabbit and decided to produce it for television. Crusader Rabbit with Ward’s trademark puns and wordplay, was a hit after its introduction in 1949, the first cartoon developed expressly for television”.
Ward switched focus from Crusader Rabbit to his newest idea about a moose and a squirrel in 1954, he teamed with writer and voice actor Bill Scott and formed Jay Ward Productions.
Throughout the 1960s as Ward shepherded the studio through shows like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fractured Flickers, George of the Jungle, and others, Ward brought what became his trademark sense of humor not only to the series in front of the camera, but even to his behind the camera antics as I mentioned earlier with his Coney Island Film Festival stunt.
Ward’s press clippings throughout the decade reference the producers quirky management style, particularly surrounding his dealings with the press. There’s an often recounted story that in 1962 Ward took a road trip from California to Washington DC in a van championing statehood for Moosylvania– reportedly an island just off the US, Canadian coast. The stunt came right during the peak of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle‘s popularity, but came to a premature end when he reached Washington. An attempt to get into the White House was reportedly quashed– this was during the peak of the Cuban Missle Crisis after all.
Jay Ward settled down a bit after Fractured Flickers came to an end in the middle of the 1960s, at least as a snowman. He continued producing cartoons, keeping the airways filled with memorable cartoons like Super Chicken and George of the Jungle, establishing himself as one of the most memorable creators of the medium.
Jay Ward passed away in October of 1989 at the age of 69.
Fractured Flickers reunites a large part of the voice cast from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. While the names might not be the most familiar, the cast encompasses some of the greatest and most notable talents in voice over work during this period.
Actor Hans Conried carries the heaviest weight as the on-camera host of Fractured Flickers. The delightful and ultra talented performer shows throughout the fun series shows just why deserves to be better known in entertainment.
In a common struggle with character actors, and voice performers, I have long known of Conried’s work, without knowing just WHO was providing the voice I’ve always known. While I’ve been watching some of Conried’s roles for as long as I can remember, I only recently began to learn about the man behind the animation.
Hans Conried was born in April of 1917 in Baltimore Maryland, a reported fact which always surprised the heck out of me.
Conried is quoted in his 1982 Los Angles Times Obituary, “I started out to be a Shakesperean actor, but there really was no market for Shakesperean actors”.
Conried started out as a radio actor in the 1930s. A 1960 profile in the Progress Bulletin out of Pomona California quotes him, “Hitler kept me alive until Uncle Sam put me in a uniform and started feeding me”. During the decades, he played an abundance of Nazi heavies, with Hollywood casting agencies likely honing in on the very specific, European type he brought in his screen persona.
Conried’s filmography shows his screen career also beginning in earnest during the late 1930s. He works regularly during the period in usually uncredited roles. Two films which jump out are the Charlie Chaplin classic, The Great Dictator and the 1941 comedy Maisie was a Lady.
The profile goes onto describe that his career swung just after the war thanks to Conried’s friend and fellow voice actor Mel Blanc, who recommended Conried for a humorous role in a show he was working on, which gave spotlighted the actor’s skill with dialects.
Conried never quite has a big screen breakout. Contemporary classic film fans might recognize him in a small, but memorable role in the Gene Kelly musical as a head waiter and as a Professor in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis.
Conried is perhaps best known through his television and voice over work. I think I first heard Conried’s work in the 1953 Disney animated classic Peter Pan where he plays a dual, rather villainous role as Captain Hook and the Darling family patriarch. Many also wistfully remember his recurring role as Uncle Tonoose on Make Room for Daddy.
In 1958, he was brought in with Jay Ward Productions where he portrayed the mustache twirling villain — a role Conried’s persona really agreed with– of Snidely Whiplash in the Dudley DoRight cartoons.
The Progress Bulletin quotes Conried, “In 25 years of acting, I’ve never worried much about whether I was known as an actor or as a personality. I just want to stay alive”.
In the years after Fractured Flickers, Conried continued working steadily. His IMDB filmography showing a steady combination of television shows and animation voice over gigs. Meanwhile, his newspaper clippings show a steady stream of theater roles and summer stock. A 1967 article in the Elmira New York Star Gazette quotes the actor, “It’s like asking a man who has been a carpenter for 30 years to recall a special board…. It is very gratifying work. I like it”.
As I mentioned, Fractured Flickers brought together Jay Ward’s troop of voice actors from The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. June Foray stepped in, having voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Nell Fenwick and a host of other characters from the classic animated series to join the Fractured Flickers cast.
Foray was born in September 1917 in Massachusetts. Her 2017 obituary in the Boston Globe describes her ultra supportive family as avid theater goers and Foray herself as a voracious reader.
The Globe reports that Foray entered the industry early through voice roles on local radio dramas. The article cites that she was twelve years old.
She took a step into a much larger pond when the family relocated to Los Angeles soon after. Foray began getting work on shows like “Lux Radio Theater” and The Jimmy Durante Show.
Foray was working steadily in largely uncredited roles in animation during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was in 1950 when she joined the cast of the now classic, Walt Disney take on Cinderella as the cat Lucifer. She again popped in with the iconic animation studio with a role in Peter Pan.
The growth of television and development of mainstream animation was a vitally important one for Foray. Throughout the 1950s, while she continues doing uncredited voice over and sound effects roles in features, she begins working with increasing frequency in TV and in TV animation. Here she is in 1955 opposite a pre Tonight Show Johnny Carson.
Johnny Carson Clip
Her most popular pairings are undoubtably with Jay Ward. However, she begins working with Warner Brothers and Looney Tunes towards the middle of the decade. In fact, the Boston Globe quotes legendary Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones about Foray, he says “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc was the male June Foray”.
The 1960s say Foray continue to be an in demand vocal talent. She continues working not only with Ward and Looney Tunes.
George of the Jungle Clip
However, she’s seen in other legendary cartoons like Mister Magoo, The Flintstones and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Foray’s career stretched a mind boggling 87 years, according to the Boston Globe. She continued acting steadily into the 1990s and 2000s with voice roles in Mulan, Looney Toons Back in Action and even Rugrats.
Foray passed away in 2017 at the age of 99.
Meanwhile, the secondary voice performances come from another The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle alumni and voice actor extrordinaire Paul Frees.
Frees was born in 1920 in Chicago. He started quickly in the entertainment industry. He began touring vaudeville circuits in the 1930s as an impressionist billed under the name Buddy Green.
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that Frees saw his biggest career boost from his radio appearances, which came fast and furious, particularly during the 1940s and 1950s. His radio work was prolific to say the least. Perhaps the most impressive is his work in the series The Player in which Frees not only narrated the show, but also voiced all the characters. Throughout the decades, he appeared across the genres, from thrillers and mystery series like Escape and The Adventures of Rocky Jordan to dramas like Doctor Kildare and even comedies like The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show.
Early in his career, Frees did have a few on-screen roles as he attempted to find his footing in the industry throughout the 1950s. While he featured as uncredited narrators in a number of films dating from the early 1940s, he features prominently — in an uncredited role– in the 1951 classic horror film The Thing from Another World. The same year, Frees appeared in a small, but important role in the classic drama A Place in the Sun.
Frees appeared on in a handful of on-screen roles. Classic film fans might also recognize him in this brief, but memorable role in War of the Worlds.
However, Frees is best known for his small screen voice appearances. This isn’t just limited to his work with Jay Ward on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle— where he voiced characters like Boris Bedanov, Inspector Fenwick and a host of other supporting roles throughout the run of the series.
Frees was an in demand performer across animation during the 1960s and 1970s. He was a regular in the popular Bass and Rankin specials of the era and was also a regular in advertising of the period. His 1986 Associated Press obituary cites that –among others– he voiced the Pillsbury Doughboy
And Toucan Sam.
Meanwhile, Frees voice might sound familiar to Disney fans and attendees the world over. Frees immensence skill was captured for posterity thanks to his work as the Ghost Host on the Haunted Mansion attraction. The narration has since been rerecorded, but it continues to be presented in the Frees style. The actor was also used repeatedly in The Pirates of the Carribbean.
Paul Frees passed away in 1986 at the age of 66.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, this profile would be lacking if I didn’t spotlight the versatile contributions of actor, writer, producer and director Bill Scott.
Bill Scott was born in August 1920 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. According to his 1985 obituary in The Atlanta Constitution, he was raised in New Jersey and went to college in Colorado.
A 1985 article in the Cincinnati Enquirerer writes that Scott had a very diverse career path as he gained traction in the industry; however, it was his early work in radio during the 1930s which developed his interest in doing voices. Aside from his work behind the camera with Jay Ward, Scott also provided the voices for Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and Pebody — of Pebody and Sherman fame.
The Philadelphia Inquirer continues, reporting “He entered the animation field after world war II and became a story man and script editor for Warner Brothers…. he moved to United Productions of America… the Production Company won an Academy Award in 1950 for Gerald Mc Boing Boing.”
It was in 1958 when he joined Jay Ward Productions in a partnership which would last through the rest of his career. He was a regular voice actor with the studio, appearing in shows like George of the Jungle, Tom Slick and Super Chicken.
His voice can be heard in this The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle outtake directing a vocal recording session as well.
Scott passed away in 1985 at the age of 65.
A few episodes of Fractured Flickers do exist on YouTube, but I was excited to find the series did actually receive a DVD release. I found it on Amazon– for those who are interested.
Watching the range of episodes, what becomes immediately apparent is the just how much thought goes into Fractured Flickers.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, the better known Jay Ward creation is well known for bringing a witty intelligence to its humor, despite on the face value being simply a kids show.
Fractured Flickers reflects this same whip smart sensibilities. This begins even at the most basic level in its structure. The show features Conried’s host presenting these FLICKERS, which are portions taken from silent film. The title cards are coyly removed, the stories are rewritten and new dialogue is provided by the voice cast. Suddenly, The Hunchback of Notre Dame becomes a “boy cheerleader”.
All at once, it becomes clear that the show– despite Ward’s reputation as a children’s TV creator– is geared more towards adults than the little ones. After all, synched sound in pictures had been in place by this point for more than thirty years by this point. So in tapping into this part of popular consciousness, the show is automatically going to speak more to children than adults.
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle featured a similarly complex tone; however, as an animated series, it could be directed to children by default. There are multiple moments throughout Fractured Flickers where the show demonstrates a dry, self-reflexive sense of humor, particularly in regards to popular opinions about the show.
Even the audience isn’t safe from the show’s biting sense of humor.
In looking at this, in order to enjoy Fractured Flickers, it’s necessary to bring a bit of separation from the silent films so near and dear to so many of our hearts. An April 05 1963 article in the Richmond Virginia Times Dispatch writes, “Fractured Flickers will change Lon Chaney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame to make him a UCLA cheerleader. Rudolph Valentino in Blood and Sand becomes a used insurance salesman, and John Barrymore in Jekyll and Hyde becomes an advertising executive who has discovered a new chocolate drink”.
Throughout the shows run, there is a running gag– in a study of period primary sources it’s difficult to tell just how true it is– that the show was under constant threat from lawsuits from annoyed silent film stars.
Fans of Ward’s comedy, or even comedy fans as a whole should get a kick out of Fractured Flickers with its kooky experiments in comedic form. However, those who feel precious with their silent films might now find the same pleasure here.
Viewing this content from both a contemporary perspective– casting what plays out on screen in a slightly different light. As I mentioned earlier, at this time, silent film had been away from the public eye for a little more than forty years. Some of the stars of the medium were still alive.There was more of a collective memory of silent films stars as well as the movies.
To put it into context, when Fractured Flickers was taping, they were as far away from silent films as I am taping in 2020 form the release of The Terminator.
Though, watching Fractured Flickers in 2020, the transition to synched sound pictures started 93 years ago with the release of the jazz singer. Diana Cary– known to popular culture as Baby Peggy– and known as the last surviving star of the silent era passed away earlier this year. Preservation efforts — and the lack thereof– have showed just how many silent films have been lost to time — quoting a 2013 Variety article, as many as 75 percent. Suddenly, this work of satirical comedy becomes an important historical artifact. It’s highly likely that a lot of this footage doesn’t exist anymore. Even the more well-known silents– like The Hunchback of Notre Dame— are hard to find on DVD and even harder to find on streaming. What is the likelihood that this Fractured Flickers dvd contains the last surviving footage of some of these films? So, while on the surface, this Jay Ward series is a comedy which experiments and alters these clips from their original intention, with the passage of time, Fractured Flickers now exists as a tribute to silent cinema in that it remembers the names and the faces of the medium. I mean, there is something to say in that how often can we turn on a mainstream television show in 2020 and hear Theda Bara’s name mentioned?
Switching gears, coming this early in the 1960s, Fractured Flickers‘ tone is a definite rarity, at least among more mainstream releases. A look at the line-ups shows some of the popular series of the time: MY FAVORITE MARTIAN, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, PETTICOAT JUNCTION, THE PATTY DUKE SHOW and MY THREE SONS shows that this almost biting sense of humor isn’t common place.
The combination of this unique tone plus the unconventional form of this series to me places this show as very much ahead of its time. YouTube and viral video culture has seen a number of examples of works utilizing a very similar form.
CLIP OF FF
All at once, for me it is almost easy to see why Fractured Flickers didn’t last longer at the time of its initial release. The tone and structure of the show is much closer to something we might see in the twenty-first century. Its experimental and quirky, when comedy formulas didn’t necessarily allow for the same versatility.
Meanwhile, while the form and structure of the show feels ahead of its time, the use of humor– particularly in the vocal performances is more reminiscent of a previous era of comedy. There is a heavy reliance, particularly in the voice performances, on what we see now as dated stereotypes to convey the jokes.
This can and does sit wrong on an ear from a contemporary perspective, and I discussed in my previous video on F-TROOP how these interpretations do more harm than good in lieu of representation on screen– as is the focus in our current climate.
However, in looking at the series from a historical context, this very much ties Fractured Flickers into the heyday of radio. Frees and Foray were both prominent voice actors on the radio, and in the medium where the audience didn’t have visuals to assist with storytelling, these more over-the-top vocal performances really stood in for quick characterization. Radio shows often had actors playing various roles from week to week — as Frees himself did in THE PLAYER– and it was the impersonators who honed their skills on stage and on the Vaudeville who made their names as voice actors during this time.
Fractured Flickers may be a bit of a deep cut of 1960s television, truth be told, I only truly discovered the show recently myself. The quirky comedy from animation legend Jay Ward absolutely shines in the programming of the era, its satire and structure light-years ahead of its time. Like everything we discuss, is this a perfect show? No. However, if you’re at all a fan of Jay Ward, or are looking for an interesting an innovative work of classic television, definitely look this one up.
Luckily, Fractured Flickers had been given a DVD release. I was able to purchase the single season set through Amazon.
Stay tuned for more here at Female Gaze Productions as we look at classic popular culture through a historical and feminist lens. My name is Kim, you can find us on Twitter at GazeFemale. If you’re looking for more, check out my podcast Hollywood and Wine wherever you listen to podcasts. As always, if you like what you’re seeing, please like and subscribe.
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