“All together now!”
What Mitch Miller did for me was to produce the first incarnation of my comic strip, “TERR’BLE THOMPSON!” Actually, it was Arthur Shimkin, working for Little Golden Records publisher Simon & Shuster, who actually made it happen. I was still at UPA New York when Arthur Shimkin gave me a Little Golden Record to animate. It was “I HAD A BIRD,” the old children’s jingle.
“I had a bird, and the bird pleased me.
And I fed my bird under yonder tree,
And the bird went ‘tweedle-dee-dee…”
Etc. With each verse adding another animal under and in the tree. If you feel like three-years old today, you can see it here!
In the course doing this kindergarten jingle I became friendly with Shimkin, and I told him of the comic strip idea I was developing, “TERR’BLE THOMPSON!” He immediately offered to produce a Musical version for Little Golden Records.
It was early 1955 when the Little Golden Records producer, Arthur Shimkin, asked me to come up with a script for a six-minute musical version of one “Terr’ble Thompson” story for a Little Golden Record. They were 6-inch 78 RPM phonograph records, pressed on bright yellow plastic; for toy kiddie record players. Not a big deal, yet Shimkin brought top talent to the project.
He got the brilliant American composer of the time. Alec Wilder, and Broadway lyricist, Marshall Barer to create the songs, with Mitch Miller’s full-sized orchestra and chorus to perform them. He brought in one of the star TV comics, Art Carney to play the two main voices. All greats, to perform a preview of my comic strip!
I wrote the script in collaboration with my UPA colleague and best friend, Bill Bernal. It was a silly story about the 19th century circus man. P.T. Barnum, whose elephants had all been stolen by the arch villain, “Mean Morgan.” just the day they were to be in his great circus parade. Barnum calls on the “Greatest Elephant-Finder in The Entire-Whole-World,” seven-and-a-half-year-old “Terr’ble Thompson,” to find the elephants and catch Mean Morgan!
Silly or not, our little story took on weight and abs with this all-star performance! Importantly, the recording was a great hit with the United Features comic strip syndicate, which up to that time had not agreed to distribute “Terr’ble Thompson” as a newspaper comic strip. But now they did! They offered me a contract to write and draw a daily and Sunday comic strip to be nationally syndicated by them! Along with my boyhood dream of making animated cartoons, my alternate dream was to have my own comic strip in the nation’s newspapers. It seemed that fame, glory, and riches were about to be mine! I can tell you that the next two years of writing and drawing my own comic strip were the creatively happiest in my life! The entire run of the “Terr’ble Thompson!” comic strip was recently published in a book by Fantagraphics and it all started with a 9-minute Terr’ble Thompson musical produced as a Simon & Shuster Little Golden Record – find it after the comic strips below!