It's impossible to bring up the topic of favorite cartoons without someone mentioning Josie and the Pussycats. It is one of those essential staples in the comic book
industry. However, it has a long and varied history... there is far more to it than even most fans
are aware of.
In 1963, as a result of Archie Comics' management trying to come up with a redheaded counterpart to Archie's blonde Betty Cooper and brunette Veronica Lodge, cartoonist Dan DeCarlo came up with a new character, Josie Jones, named after his wife. In February 1963, she appeared in the first issue of She's Josie. Josie had a full supporting cast: Cheerful, bubble-headed Melody; brainy, cynical Pepper; Josie's on-again-off-again boyfriend, Albert, who shows an interest in folk music; strong and dumb Sock, who disappears after the first few issues; and rich, snobbish Alex. At this point, none of the characters are given last names. After a few issues, Alexandra Cabot, Alex's sister, is introduced. She's haughty, aloof, and a pain in the butt for both Alex (normal sibling rivalry) and Josie (feuding over Albert).
After five years, 35 issues, and some character development for most of the cast, a new character, Clyde Didit, appeared at the same time Albert disappeared. He was a white boy with a large afro, and a love for blues music. Pepper disliked him from the start, and tried to keep him away from Josie - which is probably just as well, because whenever Clyde finished singing one of his self-composed songs, he'd get clobbered by a tree, brick, plane, or whatever else the artists found fitting for the song he was singing.
In 1969, pleased with the success of the Archie cartoon series (Sugar Sugar, a song created for The Archies, hit #1 on the pop chart, becoming the fourth largest single of 1969), Archie Comics started casting about for other comics that could be remade into musical cartoons. They settled on Josie, but decided that it needed some significant changes before it hit the airwaves. They began with issue 42 (August 1969), getting rid of both Clyde Didit and Pepper, replacing Clyde with blond, musclebound Alan M. who would remain as a permanent cast member, and Josie's occasional boyfriend.
In issue 43, they introduced Sebastian, Alexandra's cat. Alexandra discovers that she has the ability to cast spells by stroking Sebastian's fur, and Alex becomes suspicious of strange events. He becomes convinced that Alexandra is a witch, and Sebastian is a reincarnation of an ancestor who was prosecuted for consorting with witches three hundred years earlier. The magic isn't all-powerful, though, as any of her spells can be broken by the sound of snapping fingers (Usually by rhythm-happy Melody). Alexandra's magic isn't as dangerous to the others as her temper, but it makes her a person to be taken seriously.
Issue 45 is considered by fans to be the true starting point of Josie and the Pussycats. In Decisions, Decisions, Josie and Melody are trying to form a new band, The Pussycats. Unfortunately, they realize that they need at least one more to make the band work. Alexandra, ever the opportunist, declares that she'll join the band on two conditions - they have to make her the leader of the band, and rename the band after her. Both Josie and Melody refuse flatly. Alan, seeing a potential in-road with Josie, introduces Valerie Smith, who hits it off with Josie and Melody immediately. Valerie fills the cast gap left by Pepper's disappearance, becoming the smart, cynical member of the cast, and defying the stereotypes of black people of the time. And thus, Josie and the Pussycats is born.
On Saturday, September 12, 1970, Josie and the Pussycats made its television debut. Archie Comics decided to use Hanna-Barbera for the show, instead of Filmation, who did the Archies TV show. The cast was voiced by an array of veteran Hanna-Barbera voice actors, and the Pussycats were sung by a band made up exclusively for the show:
- Josie (Janet Waldo - Sung by Cathy Douglas)
- Valerie (Barbara Patriot - Sung by Patrice Holloway)
- Melody (Jackie Joseph - Sung by Cheryl Stopplemore, who changed her name to Cherie Moore, then Cheryl Ladd)
- Alan M. - Jerry Baxter
- Alex - Casey Kasem
- Alexandra - Shelly Alberoni
- Sebastian - Don Messick (One of H-B's greatest voice actors)
In addition, Casey Kasem and Don Messick did most of the voice acting for the show's villains.
In a departure from The Archies' success in having the real-life band being subsumed into the cartoon's identity, The Pussycats (Douglas, Holloway, and Moore) posed as themselves on the album covers, with more pictures and biographies on the back. Unfortunately, it didn't save them from breaking up when the show died.
Despite high ratings and strong comic sales, two years after the debut of Josie and the Pussycats, Hanna-Barbera decided that the show needed something more, and launched (No pun intended, sorry) Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space. It debuted on September 9, 1972, occupying the same time slot as its predecessor. One new character, Bleep, a furball thing, was introduced. It befriended Melody - apparently, their minds were similar. Unfortunately, the changes were NOT for the better. All of the Scooby-Doo-ish cliches that kept the original series popular were now unavailable to the writers, as they had to stick to a hackneyed science fiction plotline. In short, the magic was gone. The new series only lasted for another two years, despite attempts to bolster it by running older Pussycats episodes after it. In January, 1974, it was cancelled.
Meanwhile, the comic took a different path from the Scooby Doo-ish style of the cartoon - for a while. It continued the Archie ideal of comic romance (Heavy on the comic, light on the romance) stories. When it reached issue #57(September 1971), Archie Comics decided to capitalize on the popularity of the cartoon, and changed it to a light form of horror/suspense, and kept it that way until issue #73 (December 1973), when it returned it to its comic romance roots.
Josie's sales started declining after the cancellation of Pussycats in Outer Space, and gradually got so low that in August 1977(# 95), Archie Comics reduced it from 7 issues to 2 issues per year. It stayed at that level until 1982, when it was cancelled after issue #106, and incorporated into Archie Giant Series Magazine, which was itself cancelled several years later.
In 1991, Ted Turner launched the Cartoon Network, a 24-hour all-cartoon channel, as a new part of his ever-growing cable empire. After Turner bought out Hanna-Barbera, he was searching the H-B vaults for "new" material to put on Cartoon Network, and discovered the Pussycats episodes. He promptly included them in the Cartoon Network's rotation, launching them with a "marathon," and adding them to the afternoon lineup for an unfortunately short run.
As with all Hanna-Barbera cartoons (And many 70's shows in general), there were numerous trinkets and doodads sold to capitalize on the popularity of the cartoon, including a lunch box, a coloring book, a children's novel, a blue plastic mug (I own two of these), a drinking glass, paper dolls, pencil toppers, patches, a 7-Eleven Slurpee cup, and even a wristwatch.
Josie and the Pussycats has had a tremendous impact on American society, and has even taken hold on other cultures. The British music magazine, Q, named Josie as one of the top ten sexiest ladies in animation, and there have been take-offs of The Pussycats in some Japanese comics, as well. It's a safe bet to walk up to any person on the street above the age of 15 and ask whether they've ever heard of Josie and the Pussycats. Josie is also a favorite for many Furries.
Upon request, I'm adding the totally unofficial Josie and the Pussycats Drinking Game
to this WU. =^_^=
The rules are simple: Take a drink whenever:
- There's danger (Or Melody's ears wiggle).
- Alexandra puts the make on Alan.
- Instruments are used in unusual ways.
- Sebastian saves the day.
- Someone makes a reference to, "Those meddling kids!"
- Alexandra uses her magic to zap someone. (Two drinks if it's Alex).
- Melody says something stupid. (This one alone should get you drunk in under three episodes!)