Simple, charming, and unforgettable… Those three words may be the only description necessary for Terrytoons’ Tom Terrific, a classic of the “Baby Boomer” TV generation. Developed by Gene Deitch as the first CBS-based Terrytoon (the network had recently bought the animation studio), Tom Terrific debuted on the network’s popular Captain Kangaroo children’s show in 1957.
Armed only with a small budget and a talented staff of writers and animators, Deitch and crew developed a series that both celebrated and poked fun at the adventure serials of radio days. Using a simple black-and-white drawing style with minimal backgrounds, the Terrytoons animators brought Tom Terrific to rousing life.
“I’m Tom Terrific, greatest hero ever,
Terrific is the name for me, cause I’m so clever,
I can be what I want to be, and if you’d like to see,
Follow, follow me…”
The title star was a wee superhero with a magic, funnel-shaped hat. Tom’s unusual headgear allowed him to transform into anything he could imagine, from a rock a rocket. Always confident but never violent, Tom took on a variety of comical criminals, including Sweet Tooth Sam, Captain Kidney Bean, The Silly Sandman, The Gravity Maker, and Tom’s arch enemy, Crabby Appleton, who was “rotten to the core.”
Always at Tom’s side was his “ever-faithful companion,” Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog. Despite the imposing name, Manfred never really liked the whole crimebusting routine. The big, slow-voiced and baggy-eyed pooch would rather avoid trouble than stop it, and a good long nap beat a good deed any day of the week.
“If you see a plane on high,
A diesel train go roaring by,
A bumblebee, or a tree,
Tom Terrific was an instant success with kids and adults, both of whom could appreciate the show’s inventive writing and clever situations. The five-minute, cliffhanging episodes were presented every weekday on Captain Kangaroo, delivering one complete five-part story each week.
In all, twenty-six full adventures (or 130 individual episodes) of Tom Terrific were produced and aired over the cartoon’s four-year Captain Kangaroo stint. After leaving the Captain’s realm, the twenty-six Tom Terrific stories were packaged and sent into syndication, where Tom and Manfred continued to delight young audiences for years.
“When there is trouble,
I’m there on the double,
From Atlantic to Pacific,
They know Tom Terrific!”