Chapter 14: The Terry-fying Challenge
In adapting TT to TT, a great deal of simplifying was necessary, and also, a purely animation device. Whereas Terr'ble Thompson was an adventurous little boy, who just ran energetically into situations that needed to be saved, I felt that Tom Terrific needed to have something magic about him, that would take advantage of the possibilities of animation. I was always fascinated with metamorphosis, so I decided that Tom had the ability to quickly change his shape into any kind of form that could solve the problem at hand. I also gave him the sidekick I had not yet introduced into the comic strip, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog, an anti hero who was neither mighty nor wondrous, except in the eyes of his loving master. Tom gave Manfred credit for every idea that he himself thought of. Manfred was only interested in food and sleep. Hey, he was a dog, wasn't he? The cost and production time restrictions were formidable, and in those early days of drawn TV material for children, those problems were usually solved by eliminating animation, and going for paper cut-outs that moved like puppets. I wanted to use as much real animation as possible, taking advantage of the large Terrytoons staff of animators, and save money on the everything else. I went so far as to eliminate opaquing the cels, letting Tom and the other characters be transparent, and making the backgrounds simple enough so it wouldn't matter. I wanted to get the greatest possible dynamics out of the soundtrack - mainly the voices, as we also had to keep the music to a minimum. We used a harmonica, (which I hated, but it gave us a mini-orchestral sound,) and that was about it, except for plenty of sound effects, and using, probably for the first time on TV, a Trinidadian steel drum. Then I worked out every imaginable way to stretch out the animation time. With Tommy Morrison, I created a Tom Terrific song opening, to start off each episode. Taking a cue from the old Saturday movie serials, at the end of each episode, we made teaser previews, and at the beginning of each following episode, we made recaps of what happened yesterday. The previews and recaps were printed as negatives to separated them from the actual story sections. With all of those gimmicks, we were able to almost double the effecting playing time of most of the animation. The most cruel deprivation was that we couldn't do Tom Terrific in color. The Captain Kangaroo show was still in black & white, and no one seemed willing to look ahead during the mid-fifties. If the Tom Terrific material had been produced in color, it might still be running somewhere till today. After all, old animation never dies. Now it is fondly remembered, but that is all. But facing up to the crudity of the productions, perhaps it lives best in memory, and I am in fact delighted that so many people to remember it, and the name Tom Terrific does.
Just for fun, as I am writing this, in February, 1999, I looked up the name Tom Terrific on Yahoo! I was amazed to find there were 15,471 sites listed! Fifteen thousand four hundred and seventy one references!!! Of course approximately 99% had nothing to do with my serial, but it floored me how the name Tom Terrific has entered the language! There is an auction site offering Tom Terrific production drawings, picture books, and comic books, labeled, "extremely rare!" I'll say!