The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was an hourlong packaged television program that included both live-action and animated segments. The series was produced by Hanna-Barbera, and ran for 31 episodes on NBC Saturday mornings, from 7 September 1968, to 5 September 1969. The series' costumes and sets were designed by Sid & Marty Krofft, and the series was Hanna-Barbera’s initial foray into mixing live action with animation. The hosts of the show were Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky, a dog, a gorilla, a lion and an elephant.
In 1967, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera approached the Krofft Brothers to design costumes for a television show which would feature animated and live-action segments, with the whole show hosted by a bubblegum pop group of anthropomorphic characters. The format of the show was loosely based on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.
In addition to sketches and songs with the Splits, the show contained a number of other segments. There was a live-action cliffhanger serial, Danger Island; the short-lived Micro Ventures, an animated series consisting of only four episodes; Arabian Knights, and The Three Musketeers. Actor Jan-Michael Vincent appeared in the live-action component Danger Island; all the live-action material filmed for the series' first season, including the Banana Splits and Danger Island segments, was directed by Richard Donner, later of Superman and Lethal Weapon fame.
Each show represented a meeting of the "Banana Splits Club," and the wraparounds featured the adventures of the club members, who doubled as a musical quartet, meant to be reminiscent of the Beatles and the Monkees. The main characters were Fleegle, a dog; Bingo, an ape; Drooper, a lion; and Snorky, an elephant. Fleegle would assume the role as leader of the Banana Splits and preside at club meetings. The characters were played by actors in fleecy costumes similar to later Sid and Marty Krofft characters such as H.R. Pufnstuf.
The Splits' segments, including songs-of-the-week and comedy skits, served as wraparounds for a number of individual segments. In the second season, The Three Musketeers segments were replaced with repeats of The Hillbilly Bears, a cartoon segment that previously appeared in The Atom Ant Show (1965 - 1989).
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was one of the first two Hanna-Barbera productions in 1968 in which William Hanna and Joseph Barbera received executive producer credits; the other being The New Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. (Edward Rosen served as producer on both series). They would not, however, assume the title full-time for another five years.
During the first season, the Banana Splits segments often concerned the group's confrontations with a rival club: The Sour Grapes Bunch. The Sour Grapes were not shown on camera, but would send notes (usually a challenge or some other kind of threat) delivered by one of the "Sour Grapes messenger girls," who would dance into the Splits' clubhouse wearing purple minidresses, matched with pink leotards, tights and black go-go boots. They would normally intimidate or frighten the Splits until they gave the note to Fleegle. They would then dance out and take a bow before leaving. Five young actresses appeared as the messenger girls: Debra Thibodeaux, Colette Chenault, Julie Graham, Kathy O'Dare and Shirley Hillstrom; only one would appear at a time, always called "Charlie" in the context of the show, except for the performance of the song "Doin' The Banana Split", which first appeared in show #5, originally telecast 5 October 1968 and featured all five girls dancing with The Banana Splits. Their dance instructor was Byron Gilliam. Both Julie Graham and Kathy O'Dare would later appear in the 1970s TV series Happy Days.
The Splits also occasionally were visited by the Mariachi-tuned Dilly Sisters (an actual musical act from Mexico), who would appear at their door playing guitars and singing "The Mexican Hat Dance" or "Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay". In other recurring features during the first season, Drooper and Bingo offered advice to viewers in the "Dear Drooper" segment, while Fleegle served as the reporter for Banana Splits News. Other running gags included Fleegle repeatedly hitting himself by accident with his oversized gavel. The show introduced some catch phrases: the line, "That's an ooch," would be said every time a member was hit or injured (sometimes, it would be a double or triple-ooch depending on the extent of the injury). Other memorable sayings included "Hold the bus!" and "Uh-oh, Chongo!" (the latter from the serialized Danger Island segment).
In the second season, all new live-action segments were produced with the Banana Splits characters, while the animated segments and Danger Island serial were repeats. Arabian Knights and Danger Island were reprised from Season 1, while The Three Musketeers would be replaced by repeats of The Hillbilly Bears, previously aired in The Atom Ant Show. For the new season, the set was slightly modified, and the Splits' recurring routines were all new: Fleegle attempted (quite unsuccessfully) to perform magic tricks as alter ego The Great Fleegali, while Super Drooper fought crime and Coach Bingo kept the rest of the group active in sports competitions. Other new elements included School Time, Nursery Rhymes and a Gag Wall segment reminiscent of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, as well as Fan Club meetings where the Banana Splits would read viewer mail. Goofy Gopher (voiced by Paul Winchell) would pop out from a flower pot to deliver the occasional one-liner, joining Cuckoo, who popped out of the Cuckoo Clock, and Banana Vac (an electric talking moose head) as secondary characters. The characters' costume designs also received an overhaul (introduced in the next-to-last Season 1 episode, The Great Banana Splits Buggy Race), with Snorky, who was originally covered in hair, now clean-shaven and sporting a yellow and blue striped vest.
Syndication and Cable
In syndication, the show was re-edited into a half-hour format and retitled The Banana Splits and Friends Show. That package consisted of 125 half-hours, including 36 Banana Splits Adventure Hour cutdowns (edited from the 18 original first season shows; 13 additional episodes produced for the 1969-1970 season were not included in the syndicated package; reconstructed versions of the 36 syndicated edits continue to air on Boomerang today). Four other Hanna-Barbera series (originally unrelated to The Banana Splits, apart from having been produced by the same studio) were folded into the syndicated series as well: Atom Ant (26 half-hours, also featuring Precious Pupp and the aforementioned Hillbilly Bears), Secret Squirrel (26 half-hours, also featuring Squiddly Diddly and Winsome Witch), and The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (20 half-hours, originally seen in prime time and here introduced as The Adventures of Huck Finn) which combined live action with animation. The four other shows occasionally are repeated on the Boomerang cable network in their original, non-Banana Splits configurations. (The syndicated Atom Ant, Secret Squirel and Yogi's Gang episodes had a rotation of eight repeating clips edited into them, with Jimmy MacDonald redubbing Fleegle's voice to introduce various cartoon segments. A total of a minute and a half of this footage was repurposed in this manner; the clips originated from Season 2 shows, as did the syndicated series's opening and closing titles. It was the only Season 2 material included in the syndicated package.)
Although fewer episodes were produced during the second season (13 compared to 18 in the first season), NBC repeated five Season 1 episodes (re-edited to feature the final five chapters of Danger Island) to maintain continuity of story line immediately following the first run of the 13 Season 2 episodes.
After the cancellation of the original series, the characters were revived in the TV special The Banana Splits in Hocus-Pocus Park, which first aired as an hourlong installment of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie on Saturday, November 25, 1972. Unlike the television show, the Splits spent most of the film in animated form.
In addition to the original 31 episodes of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, NBC also aired two "preview" shows. Meet the Banana Splits was a half-hour special consisting of segments from the early episodes; it aired Friday, September 6, 1968, one day before the show's official premiere. Another "fall preview" show, called The Banana Splits and Friends (not to be confused with the later half-hour syndicated package The Banana Splits and Friends Show) aired in The Banana Splits Adventure Hour's regular timeslot on Saturday, August 30, 1969. The latter show served as a "fall preview" for NBC-TV's 1969-1970 Saturday morning lineup, and was produced by Don Sandburg (who was best known to Chicago-area TV viewers as "Sandy the Tramp" from WGN-TV's Bozo's Circus) for NBC. The special featured appearances by Jack Wild (Jimmy of H.R. Pufnstuf), Judy the Chimp (of Jambo), and a costumed Pink Panther. Although the special aired before the start of the second season, it was the last original Banana Splits show to be filmed, after regular shooting for the series had been completed.
Joe Barbera wrote in his autobiography, My Life in 'Toons, that the original name for the series was to be "The Banana Bunch", but Hanna-Barbera was forced to change it after the author of a children's book by that name refused permission to use the title. Kellogg's had printed up 1.25 million cereal boxes with references to "The Banana Bunch" on them but wound up trashing the stock and starting over.
The Banana Splits' adventures continued in comic books. Gold Key Comics began publishing a comic version in 1969, releasing eight issues through 1971. Drawn by Jack Manning, these followed the musicians trying to find work or on the road between gigs.
- Main article: Banana Splits discography
The Banana Splits' bubblegum pop rock 'n' roll was provided by studio professionals, including Joey Levine ("I Enjoy Being a Boy", "It's a Good Day for a Parade"); Al Kooper ("You're the Lovin' End"); Barry White ("Doin' the Banana Split"); Gene Pitney ("Two Ton Tessie") and Jimmy Radcliffe provided his songs ("I'm Gonna Find a Cave", "Soul", "Don't Go Away Go-Go Girl", "Adam Had 'Em" and "The Show Must Go On") but did not contribute vocals to Splits recordings. The music director was music publisher Aaron Schroeder, while production duties were mainly handled by David Mook. For a list of the songs performed in "The Banana Splits", see List of songs in The Banana Splits Adventure Hour.
In 1968, The Banana Splits released an album tiled We're the Banana Splits. The show’s theme song, titled "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)", released as a single, peaked at number 97 on Billboard's Top 100 in February 1969. The version included on the We're the Banana Splits album is the same recording heard at the beginning of the show, while the single version is an entirely different arrangement and recording of the song, featuring an additional verse. The song was written by Nelson B. Winkless Jr.; however, owing to contractual arrangements, on all record releases (as well as the TV show's closing credits), credit was given to Ritchie Adams and Mark Barkan. Winkless is credited as co-writer, along with Hoyt Curtin, of "The Beautiful Calliopa" (also called "My Beautiful Calliopasaxaviatrumparimbaclaribasotrombaphone"), which was featured several times in the television series and issued on record.
A cover of the show’s theme song, performed by Liz Phair with Material Issue, is included on the 1996 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for Walt Disney Records. A cover of "Don't Go Away Go-Go Girl", by pop-punk band Mr. T Experience was issued on the 1993 tribute album Banana Pad Riot and their Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood and Our Bodies Our Selves CD releases.
- Fleegle (dog):
- Acted by Jeffrey Winkless, billed as Jeffrey Brock
- Voiced originally by Paul Winchell (who also provided the voices of Goofy Gopher and Cuckoo) and by Bill Farmer in the 2008 version
- Bingo (gorilla):
- Acted by Terrence Henry
- Voiced originally by Daws Butler and by Frank Welker in the 2008 version
- Drooper (lion):
- Acted by Dan Winkless, billed as Daniel Owen
- Voiced originally by Allan Melvin (who also provided the voices of the announcer and Banana Vac) and by Carlos Alazraqui in the 2008 version
- Snorky (elephant):
- Acted by Frank Welker in season 1 song segments
- Acted by Robert Towers in most other segments
Although Snorky's voice often has been mistakenly credited to Frank Welker, the character never actually spoke. Welker did perform Drooper's voice in some portions of The Banana Splits in Hocus Pocus Park, with Allan Melvin voicing the character in other scenes.
Jeffrey and Dan Winkless are brothers, the sons of Nelson B. Winkless Jr., a jingle writer for the show's sponsor, Kellogg's. Winkless composed some of the memorable Kellogg's cereal jingles, including "The best to you each morning," and also co-wrote (with Hoyt Curtin) "The Beautiful Calliopa", a song used on the series. The actors' names were changed in the show's credits to avoid the appearance of nepotism.
Ironically, James Dove, the original Snorky, was previously a voice-over artist. He was hired as a result of his small stature, and has stated that he was fired as a result of not being able to get along with the Winkless "kids". James Dove currently suffers from end-stage Parkinson's disease. He lives in assisted care in Los Angeles. Dan Winkless currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Terence Henry continues to act. Jeffrey Winkless died of cancer at age 65 on June 26, 2006.
Earl Kress, a reputable source in the animation industry who holds close ties with the Hanna-Barbera crew, posted on his blog that The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was tentatively scheduled to be released on DVD in 2007. After further research had been done on available master materials needed to reconstruct the shows for proper DVD release, the project was cancelled.
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- CD liner notes: Saturday Mornings: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, 1996 Walt Disney Records
- The Banana Splits. The Big DataBase of Comic Books. Retrieved on 2008-08-25.
- My Name Is Earl Kress Blog
- Doin' The Banana Split! featuring interviews with the original cast
- Banana Splits' music
- The new official 2008 Banana Splits Web site
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- The Banana Splits Play Duffy's Tavern, a fanfic mashup with Old-Time Radio from It's So Hanna-Barberaesque
- Least Unlikely(?) to Play the Corn Palace, a Postcard from Snagglepuss at It's So Hanna-Barberaesque imagining the band playing the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD