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Bob Clampett, Boy Wonder Of Stage C

by Robert Story

Editor's Note: Everyone knows the Bob Clampett of Termite Terrace, but what about the Bob Clampett that grabbed headlines and received 3 Emmies for one of television's first daily live puppet shows, Time for Beany. Robert Story was there and tells us this and other stories.


Time for Beany. Beany and Cecil puppets from the early 1950s. All photos are courtesy of the Bob Clampett Collection. © 1999 Bob Clampett Productions LLC. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce in any form.

Time for Beany
It's 1954 and KTTV's Stage C is crammed full of flats, props, lights, scrims, ladders and scaffoldings, tables, chairs, cables and wires, cameras, and a 6 foot high by 12 foot long "set." Behind it, Time for Beany puppeteer-actors prepare to manipulate their hand-puppets while reading from scripts.

It's a juggling act for "actors," Stan Freberg, who plays Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent and Dishonest John, and Daws Butler, who plays Captain Horatio Huffenpuff and Beany, the little kid with the propellered beany atop his head, who, with his Uncle Cap'n Huffenpuff sails the seven seas in search of adventure each day, Monday through Friday, from 6:30 to 6:45 pm. It's moments before their air-time, and the actors wait expectantly as Dick Aurant, the staff organist, sits at the Hammond organ listening over earphones for the director's cue to begin playing opening music and later, incidental and closing music for the pre-prime time kid's show, Time For Beany.

Color television is far in the future, so Beany art direction is a matter of coordinated shades of gray: each prop and set-piece is color-keyed to emphasize its various, and essential, parts. Leakin' Lena's hull is one shade of gray, while the trim around the good ship's combings, the hull's uppermost ridge, is another. The mast is yet another shade of gray, and the crow's nest is a medium gray. The Leakin' Lena's cabin is gray, but the sails, the whitecaps on the foreground sea and the puffy clouds air-brushed on the backdrop behind the "set" are an off-white. Early television cameras do not take kindly to white's tendency to "flare" or "bloom" on TV screens.

"One minute," the director's voice announces over a PA, in preparation for the countdown to that moment when the show goes out over the airwaves to TV-Land. Carpenters hammer the last nail, the set designer makes final adjustments, an artist from scenic touches up a scrape on Lena's hull, writers scratch out and scribble replacement dialogue on mimeographed scripts, one massive DuMont television camera on a telescoping dolly is focused on the first shot, while a second is pointed at an easel where an assistant waits to flip white-letters-on-black title cards to be superimposed over the opening scene. "Standby..." the voice says. The gaffer switches on key-lights. The racket is deafening. In short, chaos reigns.

"Ten....nine...eight..." a voice over headsets counts down the seconds until air-time and cameras are "hot." A hush falls over the studio. It is the dawn of commercial television. "...Seven...six...five..." continues the stage manager, and with his index finger, continues a silent count: four...three...two. Over his headset, the director signals the stage manager, the talent and organist.

FADE IN: to shot of Beany and Captain Huffenpuff on the Leakin' Lena.
MUSIC CUE: "Blow The Man Down" starts.
SUPER TITLE: "Time For Beany."
ANNOUNCER: "It's time..."

...says Jimmy McGeorge, somewhat stridently so as to differentiate his announcer voice from later character voices, "...for...BEANY!"

The picture fades up on the half dozen studio monitors. Videotape is a dream, so Time for Beany is going out over the airwaves the only way possible -- live. Every problem, every error may be apparent to the viewer, while if the show goes along smoothly, except for the actors and the people in the booth, the smoothness will go unnoticed. The Beany actors are trying very hard to provide yet one more flawless performance and the energy level in Studio C has never been higher.

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Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.