August puts us right smack in the middle of Leo the Lion time, and so this week we are going to look back at Leo’s cousin, Linus.
Back in the 1960s, in the glory days before Action for Children’s Television convinced Congress to water-down Saturday morning cartoons, it was possible for a character designed as a mascot for a cereal to become so popular that a network would give him a full-blown series.
This sort of happened with The GEICO Caveman a few years ago, in prime time.
But in 1964 for the Post Cereal mascots all appeared on a cartoon program starring Linus the Lion, who was, at the time, the mascot for Crispy Critters, an attempt at making cereal in the shape of animal crackers. Linus the Lionhearted was sort of an all-star jam of Post Cereal mascots, presented as entertainment. It ran for two seasons on CBS, and was then re-run on ABC until the FCC made them take it off the air in 1969.
The cereal didn’t last long beyond that, but some of the cereal mascots that appeared as supporting characters are still around today and a few more of the cereals they represented still exist, with new mascots. Linus had actually been recycled from a previous failed cereal that was just a knock-off of Cheerios. During its heyday, this show was popular enough to spawn a lot of merchandising and even a full-length LP.
Linus the Lionhearted stood out because it was the most brazen example of taking mascots for kid’s cereals and basing a full-length show on them. Since Post Foods sponsored the show, it had the effect of being a half-hour commercial. This summary from IMDB gives you an idea of what the show was like, “Linus the Lion is the kind-hearted King of a jungle populated by such bizarre characters as the crabby Sascha Grouse and the vivacious Dinny Kangaroo. Each episode of this series features four animated shorts, the first with Linus and his friends, followed by an adventure with the cool and hip Sugar Bear (from the Post Sugar Crisp commercials) and his two foes, a fiesty granny and a scheming wolf. The third cartoon in each episode involves a kindly postman named Lovable Truly and his canine friend, who is constantly chased by a weasely dog catcher. And the fourth and final short cartoon features So Hi, a Chinese boy.”
The animation was typical low-budget fare of the day, a cut above Rocky and Bullwinkle, a few cuts below The Flintstones, but the voice cast was phenomenal. Sheldon Leonard voiced Linus. Carl Reiner voiced several supporting characters. Other regulars were voiced by Paul Frees, Ruth Buzzi, Jesse White and Bob McFadden. Guest voices included Jonathan Winters, the comedy team of Stiller and Meara and Tom Poston. Also of note is that the gag at the end of the show, an old vaudeville bit where someone “sweeps up” the spotlight, was later swiped by Carol Burnett.
This was one of the show that Chuck Jones dismissed as “animated radio,” but it has a certain charm among it’s blatant commercialism. This copy of the show is complete, but in black and white. You can find color clips of it on YouTube, but this one is a full episode, with commercials, which is more appropriate.