Remembering 'Curiosity Shop,' the forgotten live-action show from Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones
This Saturday morning series introduced Schoolhouse Rock!
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Chuck Jones helped shape your childhood. The animator was the best-known of the Looney Tunes creators, as beloved characters like Marvin the Martian, Michigan J. Frog, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner were born from his imagination. He directed beloved Bugs Bunny shorts such as "Wackiki Wabbit" and "What's Opera, Doc?" — and gave us the brilliant Daffy classic "Duck Amuck."
Beyond Looney Tunes, Jones rebooted Tom and Jerry in the 1960s and, of course, crafted the perennial Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
What you may not realize is that Chuck Jones made live-action entertainment, too.
Fifty years ago, the ABC network turned its Saturday morning schedule into a Chuck Jones showcase. Kids could kick off their day with The Road Runner Show and wrap up their morning with Curiosity Shop, an educational Sesame Street-like program that blended puppetry, child stars, stop-motion animation and cartoons.
For the puppets, the show tapped marionette master Bob Baker, who in 1963 opened his Bob Baker Marionette Theater, now the oldest children's theater company in Los Angeles. Baker's creations included Flip, an orange hippo; Nostalgia, an elephant; and Baron Balthazar, a European man with a white mustache and top hat.
The human cast included Pamelyn Ferdin, who herself had a hand in cartoon history, as she voiced Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts cartoons. (She also nearly landed the lead role in The Exorcist.) That's her with the pigtails to the right of the hippopotamus in the image above.
Granny TV, a vintage television set "character," would show clips from classic silent films featuring comedy legends Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
With Chuck Jones aboard as a producer / creator, naturally there were some fresh cartoon characters, too, including a literal "book worm" named Professor S. I. Trivia.
Kellogg's backed the show as a sponsor. Yet, Curiosity Shop lasted a brief, single season.
However, those mere 17 episodes offered a handful of historical firsts.
The pilot episode aired in primetime on September 2, 1971. Shirley Jones (pictured up top on the far right) from The Partridge Family starred in this premiere. But perhaps the biggest name in that first episode was "Three Is a Magic Number." This famous Multiplication Rock segment was the first-ever airing of the influential and unforgettable Schoolhouse Rock! series.
Yep, Schoolhouse Rock! premiered in the Curiosity Shop premiere.
There was another piece of animated history on this show. Hank Ketcham, creator of the Dennis the Menace newspaper comic strip, popped in as a guest star and presented the first animated cartoons of Dennis the Menace.
While by today's standards a single, 17-episode season seems like a flop, we should remember that H.R. Pufnstuf lasted the same amount of time. You could make a big impact over the span of an autumn.