Cover of the final King Leonardo comic book.


Original Medium: Television animation
Produced by: Total Television
First Appeared: 1960
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It was the classic conflict of brother against brother. Equally qualified to rule, they vied constantly for the throne. The only difference — one was good, the other evil.

Or at least, that's how …

continued below

… it would have been if this early Saturday morning cartoon show had been intended to be taken seriously. As it was, King Leonardo & His Short Subjects provided plenty of laughs for young TV viewers of the early 1960s, but wasn't nearly as dramatic as the premise might imply.

The show debuted October 15, 1960, on NBC. It followed the usual practice of the time (established by Hanna-Barbera in Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear) of containing three major segments in each half-hour episode, each about as long as a theatrical cartoon. King Leonardo was in the lead, backed up by Tooter Turtle (whose schtick was getting a wizard to transport him to adventurous settings, only to find he was better off at home) and The Hunter (a private eye spoof). There was also a fourth segment, very minor, about Twinkles the Elephant, who was there mainly to blur the distinction between entertainment and advertising — his main function was as spokestoon for Twinkles Cereal, a product of General Mills, which sponsored the show.

The King Leonardo segment had four principal cast members. King Leonardo (a lion) was the ruler of Bongo Congo, whose major export was bongo drums (very popular at the time). Odie Cologne (a skunk) was Leonardo's faithful assistant, and a good "man" to have around — he was probably the only character on the show competent to run things. Itchy Brother was Leonardo's brother, a flea-bitten dimbulb driven mainly by jealousy of Leonardo's throne. Biggie Rat was a high-level criminal (you could tell by his Edward G. Robinson accent) whose function was to plan and execute Itchy's coup attempts. Jackson Beck (Brutus, no relation, in the 1960s Popeye cartoons and Perry White in The New Adventures of Superman) provided the voices of Leonardo and Biggie, while Allen Swift (Terrytoons' Clint Clobber, and miscellaneous voices in The Tom & Jerry Show) voiced Odie and Itchy.

King Leonardo was the first production of Total Television, which later changed its name to Leonardo Productions. Under that name, it also produced Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog. Most of the actual animation was done in Mexico by Gamma Productions, where The Jay Ward Studio also farmed out much of its work.

King Leonardo & His Short Subjects remained on NBC's Saturday morning schedule until 1963. It spawned a comic book that lasted seven issues (three from Dell Comics and four from Gold Key) and a few minor cereal tie-ins (from General Mills, natch). After it went off the air, its 38 episodes were syndicated under the title The King & Odie, and are still seen on rare occasions, in obscure time slots.

Lately, tho, due to a bad attitude on the part of the FCC toward blurring the distinction between advertising and entertainment, Twinkles the Elephant hasn't been part of the package.


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Text ©2002-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Leonardo Productions.