Top Cat and Benny the Ball.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1961
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The Hanna-Barbera Studio followed up its success with The Flintstones by …

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… launching its second prime-time animated sitcom a year later. Top Cat debuted on ABC on Sept. 27, 1961.

Like its predecessor, Top Cat was based on an earlier, live-action sitcom — in this case, You'll Never Get Rich, in which Sgt. Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) operated various scams on a military base, maintaining a love/hate relationship with the local authority figure, Col. Hall (Phil Ford). Top Cat (voiced by character actor Arnold Stang) operated various scams in a New York alley, maintaining a love/hate relationship with the local authority figure, Officer Dibble (voiced by Allen Jenkins). To drive the point home, Top Cat's Benny the Ball, the character that corresponded to Bilko's Pvt. Doberman, was voiced by Maurice Gosfield — the actor who played Doberman.

Other members of TC's gang were Choo Choo (voiced by Marvin Kaplan), Fancy-Fancy (John Stephenson), Spook and The Brain (the last two by Leo deLyon). They all made their headquarters in Hoagy's Alley (an obvious reference to Hogan's Alley, where The Yellow Kid hung out).

Like most of Hanna-Barbera's 1960s prime-time shows, Top Cat (no relation) lasted one season in that venue, and was then relegated to Saturday morning reruns. In TC's case, that meant 30 episodes, recycled weekly from 1962-69. After that, it was syndicated, but not in very prominent time slots. Unlike its contemporaries, The Jetsons and Jonny Quest, Top Cat didn't later get a booster shot of new episodes.

Top Cat lasted far longer in comic books than as a first-run TV show. Dell Comics picked it up right when the TV show debuted. In mid-1962, along with the rest of Dell's licensed properties, it switched to Gold Key, which continued to publish it until 1970 for a total of 31 issues. Charlton Comics picked it up that year and published 20 more issues, the last of which was dated November, 1973.

The character later turned up in minor roles in one or two later Hanna-Barbera animated series, such as Yogi's Treasure Hunt, and those 30 episodes are still occasionally seen in out-of-the-way cable slots. But Top Cat never did become one of Hanna-Barbera's superstars, and is today the least well-remembered of their 1960s prime-time animated sitcoms.


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Text ©2000-05 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera.