On Sept. 25, 1965, 50 years ago, the Beatles became a Saturday morning cartoon show. ABC debuted “The Beatles” show at 10:30 a.m. ET, where it ran for nearly four years before it was canceled. For a cartoon show about the most popular band in the land, it wasn’t much different in tone than other cartoon shows of the day – except for the Beatles music in it.
Other than the music, the Beatles’ voices were not heard in it. The actors who provided the voices included Paul Frees, who voiced the John Lennon and George Harrison characters. He also did the voice of Boris Badenov on “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle,” and lives on today as the spooky voice of “Dead Men Tell No Tales” in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland, Walt Disney World and other Disney parks. Lance Percival, who was the voice of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the show, actually had some history with Beatles producer Sir George Martin, who produced some novelty records he recorded at Parlophone Records. But Beatles fans will remember him better as the voice of Old Fred in “Yellow Submarine.”
The Beatles’ personalities in the cartoon series didn’t bear much resemblance to reality, but then few cartoons did in those days. Ringo Starr, especially, was made to appear quite the clown. The show also featured a weekly segment in which children (and adults) could sing along to Beatles songs.
The Fab 4 Free 4 All’s Mitch Axelrod, author of “Beatletoons, The Real Story Behind The Cartoon Beatles,” the definitive book telling the history and creation of the series, says the series got great ratings. “The cartoons were very very popular, especially the opening weekend got a 52 share, which is unheard of,” he said. “And they kept that for a long time, you know. … People would sit in front of their TV watching for two hours prior to the Beatles just to sit there and not miss the Beatles. And they’d sit there with their bowl of cereal, even though the Beatles were on at 10:30 … because they wanted to stay in front of the TV.”
But despite all the love back then, the Beatles cartoons still aren’t on DVD legally. And they may not be any time soon. The Beatles themselves were never much thrilled with the series. And as Axelrod said this week, “Unfortunately I think it may be less likely, given that Apple has many other priorities like the Ron Howard film. And at a recent screening of the promo films, Apple personnel named a few items that they know fans want, and the cartoons were not mentioned.”
Still, 50 years later, for those who saw it back then, it’s fun to remember what they were like. (See the video on this page.) Unfortunately, for right now, that’s all we have and may have for some time to come.