50 Years Ago: The Beatles Become Saturday-Morning Cartoon Characters
On Sept. 25, 1965, ABC debuted The Beatles, a 30-minute Saturday morning cartoon that became an instant ratings smash for the network. A few years before they all lived in a yellow submarine, the legendary British rockers were first immortalized in animated glory, lending their music — but not their actual speaking voices — to the show.
The series used the music of the Beatles to frame the individual episodes, each of which centered around the completely made-up and fanciful adventures of the lads from Liverpool. Perhaps best known as the voice of Boris Badenov from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, actor Paul Frees voiced the characters of John Lennon and George Harrison, while Lance Percival provided the voices of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Airing from 1965 until 1967 in its original run, and through 1969 in reruns, the show lasted for 39 total episodes that marked the first time an animated series had portrayed real, living people. The series’ executive producer, Al Brodax, and producer George Dunning would also be involved in the production and direction of Yellow Submarine.
According to the book Beatletoons: The Real Story Behind the Cartoon Beatles, the Fab Four hated the show at first, but later embraced its campy portrayal of the period when they still sported mop tops and suits. “I still get a blast out of watching the Beatles cartoons on TV,” John Lennon said in 1972.
“I always kind of liked [the cartoons]. They were so bad or silly that they were good, if you know what I mean,” George Harrison said in 1999. “And I think the passage of time might make them more fun now.”
The Beatles series was re-broadcast in 1980 and again in 1987 by MTV, and later by the Disney Channel. Apple Corps, Ltd. purchased the rights to the show in the ’90s, and McFarlane Toys have released a line of Beatles figures based on the animated series. A series website states that despite popular demand, Apple has no immediate plans to release the show on home video.
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