Gene Kelly and the Woggle birds

Well, talking about Gene Kelly made me a little nostalgic for one of my favorite kids’ TV specials (which I saw when I was a kid, many years ago, mind you). If you have not seen Kelly’s “Jack and the Beanstalk” then you should rent the DvD, rent a kid to see it with, and sit down in front of the Boob Tube and become a Boo– er, find out what does a Woggle bird do?

Don’t get me wrong. “Jack and the Beanstalk” was hardly the height of Kelly’s career. I doubt many people today would think much of it but at the time it demonstrated that it was possible to transfer to television the mixed live-action/animation techniques Kelly had helped to pioneer in the movies. I only remember one prime time show that attempted to do this on a regular basis: The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which lasted one year from September 1968 through 1969. The show ran on NBC (which also cancelled Star Trek about the same time, so you have to understand the poor judgement behind the cancellation).

The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took Mark Twain’s lovable characters Tom and Huck, threw Becky Thatcher in beside them, and sent them off to imaginary worlds that could only be reached through those dreadful Missouri caves. Injun Joe made an appearance in every episode as the “surprise” villain of whatever alternate world the kids entered into. Jack Cassidy voiced Injun Joe, Michael Shea (whose acting career fizzled after 1973) played Tom Sawyer, Lu An Halsam played Becky Thatcher (she did not act in film or television again), and Kevin Schultz played Huckleberry Finn. Schultz and his twin brother Keith appeared in several television shows but they stopped acting after 1986.

The Schultz twins also starred the previous season in a show called The Monroes, which was about a family that sets out to pioneer in the wild west. The parents are killed in a river accident and the five children decide to carry on without them. The premise sounds vaguely familiar but I’m not sure if I ever tried to watch it.

Here is another dance scene with Gene Kelly and some animated partners (in 2 parts) from “An Invitation To The Dance”:

What is characteristic about this older dance and the Woggle bird dance is that Kelly’s partners pretty much shadow or mirror his movies. The animators had to use his own steps as models for the dance sequences.

Although Gene Kelly introduced mixed-live action/animation dancing in “Anchors Aweigh” in the 1940s, it was probably Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews who made it come to life in the most realistic way possible in “Mary Poppins”.

I was going to conclude with some clips from “Xanadu” (which, so far as I recall, had no animation in it) but frankly all the embeddable clips I found on YouTube were of pretty poor quality. The movie was not popular when it came out but apparently it’s picked up quite the cult following. The dancing sequences are pretty good, in my opinion but the 1980s were not ready for good dance.

And just so you know I’m a completely sentimental fop, here is one of my favorite Gene Kelly dance scenes of all time. It’s “Go Home With Bonnie Jean” from “Brigadoon”. The original plan was to film the movie on location but budget cuts forced them to do most of the film on backlots and sound stages. I think it looked good anyway.


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