by Ronald L. Smith
He made people look stupid.
He laughed at "squares."
He perfected "mind control" and "subliminal suggestion" before the Cold War era began.
He jeered authority and cheered humorous disobedience. He only had kind words for his cult followers:
"Hiya kids, hiya hiya."
Moe had Larry & Curly, and Spike Jones had his City Slickers, but Froggy the Gremlin worked alone. He was the lone
class clown, the one "bad apple" in the barrel, the one wart on the helping hand.
Remember when you were a kid, and adults kept giving you another chance to be good and behave? On "Andy's Gang,"
Andy Devine, that big symbol of authority, invited the Gremlin to come out and behave himself... "Plunk Your Magic Twanger,
In a puff of smoke, Froggy appeared, laughing, hopping from side to side, that fixed and evil grin on his face.
Andy thought THIS TIME, Froggy might behave like a responsible adult. But the kids in the audience knew better! Froggy
relished practical jokes, dirty tricks, and interrupting any "guest" who was giving a lecture that involved learning
something! In the audience, kids screamed with delight, half of them howling and trying to get out of their seats.
The history of Froggy the Gremlin is a swamp of mystery. Nobody paid much attention to kiddie shows, so there aren't any
newspaper clippings about Froggy. By the time people realized how warped Froggy was, the program was over, the damage was
done and the perpetrators long dead.
The legend began on radio.
Froggy made his debut on Smilin' Ed McConnell's "Buster Brown gang" show in 1944. Audiences didn't know what
to expect. Buster Brown had been the subject of a brief 1929 radio series on CBS, now a dim memory. And so was R. F. Outcault,
who had died in 1928. Outcault was the cartoonist who created the Buster Brown strip in 1902. It debuted in the New York Herald
(say, didn't Oscar Madison write for them??)
Smilin' Ed's show was a hit. He'd be sure to open every episode with a subliminal shoe reference ( "Come running")
and pepper the show with references to his one and only sponsor. Each show was a merriment of songs, an action-adventure yarn,
and a segment for Smilin' Ed's weird menagerie of animal friends.
The characters of Froggy the Gremlin, Midnight the Cat and Squeaky the Mouse were not in the Buster Brown strip; they
were all invented for the radio show.
The Buster Brown comic books, given out free, eventually began to feature not only adventure stories, but funny adventures
involving Smilin' Ed and his Gang.
As with the latter TV show adventures (featuring Gunga Ram) the radio and comic book adventures involving kid heroes,
genies and pirates were not exactly riveting. Today it's Froggy the Gremlin that accounts for most of the interest in the
radio show, comic books and TV series.
For many kids, a sign of puberty was getting sick of that Buster Brown label inside your shoe and wanting to wear a normal
brand of footwear.
Into the harmless world of radio adventure stories and Buster Brown comic books came a certain amphibian-poltergeist.
He was dressed, mockingly, in a red jacket, white shirt and black tie. But he had no pants on.
Was he a ghost, space creature or leprechaun? A little guy with a frog's head?
Was he a frog that became a gremlin? A gremlin that had become a frog? Where exactly was his "twanger" and how
did he "plunk" it? Nobody really knew much about the magical, mysterious......
FROGGY THE GREMLIN.
He was the star attraction on radio, on the cover of many Buster Brown comics, and in 1948 infiltrated homes via a Rempel
rubber squeak toy likeness. (Check the Rempel Froggy page for more!)
A few years later...and FROGGY THE GREMLIN was ON TELEVISION
The TV series arrived in 1950 and Smilin' Ed was at the helm until his death in 1954.
No evidence suggests that Froggy had anything to do with Ed's passing.
Most of Froggy's fans don't even remember that there was an Ed McConnell at all. They only remember how affable, gravel-voiced
Andy would holler that raucous "HEY KIDS!" greeting, and how Froggy would appear, laughing at "the big square"
in front of him, and quacking out his familiar "hiya kids, hiya hiya!"
The re-titled "Andy's Gang" premiered August 20, 1955 at 9:30 am with new host Andy Devine...and special guests
such as Billy Gilbert and Vito Scotti. Vito (pictured above) was a regular antagonist for Froggy.
Variety was unamused when Andy appeared. In a review by "Jose" on August 24, 1955 the paper complained about
the filmed adventures and then the comedy: "Accompanying Devine's contribution are bits of clowning with mechanical toys.
Aside from this business being not too funny, Devine is much too big to be playing with dolls."
However, on November 27, 1957, reviewer "Ron" (no relation!) praised the "dancing cat, flying hamster and
magic gremlin...Froggy the Gremlin comes on to introduce cousin Harry, a live orangutang. Without use of animation Harry mimicks
what's being said or vice versa and the outcome is quite amusing...Devine is affable fun to look at and has the ability to
make a pal of every young viewer..."
Most filmed adventures in the series featured the exploits of Gunga Ram (Nino Marcel) an Indian boy who was usually having
trouble with elephant poachers or deadly scorpions. Nino also played "Little Fox" the Sioux Indian, but his elephant
boy character seemed to be more popular. He even made a movie using the character: "Sabaka" (1955) co-starring Boris
Karloff and Victor Jory!
For the Indian adventures, Nino's sidekick Rama (no jokes about his last name being Lama Dingdong) was played by the beloved
Vito Scotti, who often appeared live on the show in the guise of a chef, music conductor or some other eccentric lesson-giver.He'd
politely lecture the kids...and Froggy would call out terrible suggestions that Vito would instantly repeat and follow...only
to become enraged at how he'd been fooled!
Vito was the perfect foil for Froggy...he was animated and excitable, while Froggy was pretty wooden in his movements
and had that fixed open-mouth grin.
Alan Reed (later the voice of Fred Flintstone) sometimes turned up as the pompous poet Algernon Archibald Percival Shortfellow
(he played various oddball poets on several radio shows).
The show was filmed without a studio audience...the raucous (and constantly re-run) shot of kids in the studio audience
was added later.
In the commercials, happy little Buster Brown was played by little Jerry Marin. Bud Tollefson was the dog Tige. And although
some sources insist Andy Devine voiced Froggy the Gremlin, the first few seasons seem to be the work of Archie Presby, the
man who played him so often on radio.
Paul Cavanaugh, Peter Coo, Billy Race and Joe Mazzuca were all credited with supplying miscellaneous voices on the show.
But I am 90% certain that the original TV Froggy voice was...Presby.
Over the years, Froggy's voice changed from a sinister deep croak to a gooey kind of baritone. Who voiced THAT version
of Froggy...I dunno.
Oh...there were two other odd characters on the show.
Some kids were baffled by the strange appearance of "Midnight the Cat and Squeaky." They were on radio and in
the comic books, but now turned up played by hideous taxidermy specimens and, for facial close-ups, a real cat and mouse (well,
hamster actually!). For reasons unknown, Andy Devine loved to see Midnight, in a dress,perform some pathetic musical number.
(Sometimes Andy would sing, as in the memorable episode where he offered "Jesus Loves Me.") Usually Midnight would
"dance" by lurching awkwardly in a half-crippled circle. This was accompanied by snivelling Squeaky playing a toy
violin, guitar or drum.
Andy would guffaw. The kids would squeal. And Midnight herself would have to admit that the whole thing was..."Nice!"
That was the only word she ever said. A close-up of a lip-licking black cat and that high-pitched dubbed word.
The word was supplied by June Foray (yes, the woman who would later be the voice for Rocky the Flying Squirrel.)
When one thinks of "Andy's Gang," that's just about the only word that DOESN'T come to mind. Nice? How about
Is it too much to imagine that Froggy was secretly watched and applauded by boys and girls who grew up to become great
world leaders, actors or criminals?
And what of all the kiddies who heard Andy admonish, at the end of every show, "Don't forget church or Sunday school?"
Did they become ministers...or murderers? How about...writers!
The website has uncovered rare manuscripts that could be from e.e. cummings and Dylan Thomas. Yes, great poets have struggled
to do justice to Froggy the Gremlin!
Here, in a manuscript signed by e.e. cummings and previously unknown, discovered amid a pile of forged poems, is the epic
Froggy poem that he never acknowledged:
hopping on his haunches
how do you like it, andy?
you giggle gravel
but he's hopping
splintering fireworks, andy
your 300 pounds deflate
And if that isn't enough, here, also discovered in that same pile, is this one purported to be from the flowing pen of
Plunk! Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!
Let your laughter peel and swell with the
Raucous shrieks of the New Cruel Generation!
Your eyes shall never close
Fixed open grin fiercely alive
Raging with furious pranks at man, not God.
Never God. For there is none where children breed
like mosquitoes teeming in the swampy auditorium
And more of them home,
Large embryos 10 inch picture tube children
All ready to explode into the world with
Twangers and anger and pranks!
All to make childhood dreams
You might think the website is getting a bit carried away. But that's the Gremlin-influence, it is, it is.
For many of us, there isn't a memory of childhood TV as beloved as Froggy the Gremlin and "Andy's Gang."