Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nostalgia Theater: Revealing The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty

James Thurber's 1939 short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is currently the recipient of a new screen adaptation now in theaters, starring Ben Stiller. And while the story of a daydreaming wallflower had been brought to the screen in a 1947 feature starring Danny Kaye, my first exposure to Thurber's celebrated novelette came in a somewhat sidelong fashion, while I was a kid living in Saudi Arabia and watching Filmation's live action/animated series The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty.

Airing on NBC in fall of '75, Waldo Kitty took its cues from Thurber while updating it for the kidvid crowd. Each ep would start with live action intros and outros where put-upon pussycat Waldo finds either himself or his girlfriend Felicia teased by neighboring bulldog Tyrone. From there, Waldo would wish himself into that week's fantasy, a riff on Batman, Robin Hood, the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, or Captain Kirk (most of whom had either already gotten, or would soon get, the Filmation treatment, as it happens). Here's the intro:

I must have been six or seven when I first saw this show in Saudi Arabia, where TV options were limited, so you pretty much watched whatever they showed. As I recall, the appeal of the series hinged almost entirely on the "surprise" of what character we'd see Waldo become for that ep. Thus, as you can imagine, the appeal was fairly limited. What really got Waldo into trouble was when the Thurber estate didn't find the lifting of the story's premise without proper credit or (more importantly) payment amusing, and quickly filed suit against Filmation.

I don't know if it was the lawsuit, low ratings, or some combination thereof, but The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty ended its NBC run in 1976, after thirteen episodes. However, Waldo would return in 1978 as part of Filmation's The Groovy Goolies & Friends syndication package, which, in a sop to the Thurber family, chopped the live action "daydream" stuff, and retitled it The New Adventures of Waldo Kitty. And that was pretty much the end of that. In the thirty-five years since, reruns have rarely been seen (except in Saudi Arabia, natch), and no DVD releases have as of yet materialized. Still, one can always daydream...

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