Heckle and Jeckle
|Heckle and Jeckle|
|First appearance||The Talking Magpies (Terrytoons, 1946)|
|Last appearance||Birds of Paradise (Filmation, 1981)|
|Created by||Paul Terry|
Harry Shearer (The Simpsons cameo)
Isamu Nagato (CR TerryToons)
Heckle and Jeckle are postwar animated cartoon characters created by Paul Terry, originally produced at his own Terrytoons animation studio and released through 20th Century Fox. The characters are a pair of identical anthropomorphic yellow-billed magpies who calmly outwit their foes in the manner of Bugs Bunny, while maintaining an aggressively mischievous streak reminiscent of the early Woody Woodpecker or Screwy Squirrel. Unlike Bugs Bunny, who retaliates against a foe only after repeated provocation, their comic aggression is often unprovoked, and in a number of Heckle and Jeckle cartoons (Moose on the Loose, Free Enterprise, The Power of Thought, Hula Hula Land) their foes win in the end.
According to Leonard Maltin's Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons (1980) and Don Markstein's Toonopedia, Terry considered the Heckle and Jeckle series his studio's best cartoons.
Although identical in appearance, they are differentiated by their voices. Jeckle speaks with a slightly falsetto English accent, and his dialogue is somewhat more refined. Heckle is more rough around the edges, and speaks with a more informal, slangy vernacular and gruff New York City dialect with traces of Jimmy Durante. However, the two magpies are far more alike in temperament than they are different. The characters seldom referred to each other by name, leading to some confusion as to which one was which. Heckle usually refers to Jeckle familiarly, as "chum" or "pal", while Jeckle often calls Heckle "old chap", "old thing", "old boy" or "old featherhead", indicating a close friendship between them.
Among the few instances where the two are positively identified, they clearly refer to each other by name in the short Bulldozing the Bull (1951), with the Brooklyn accent belonging to Heckle and the English accent belonging to Jeckle. In the later cartoon Stunt Men (1960), Jeckle, in an English accent, again calls Heckle by name. In Rival Romeos (1951), the magpies, after being simultaneously smitten by the same female, race home to get dressed. They are shown to occupy two sides of the same tree, and each character's home is marked with a sign—Heckle is clearly designated as the Brooklyn magpie with his jaunty porkpie hat, and Jeckle dons an English-looking bowtie, monocle and straw boater. Rival Romeos is also one of the only cartoons where the magpies are at odds with each other rather than united against a common adversary (usually either of two series "regulars": Dimwit, a moronic hound dog, or Chesty, a belligerent, disagreeable bulldog).
In 1979's The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle, the birds introduce themselves by name in the opening credits; Heckle again with the Brooklyn accent, and Jeckle with the English one. Both characters were voiced at different times by Sid Raymond (1946–47), Ned Sparks (1947–61), Roy Halee (1951–61), Dayton Allen (1956–66) and Frank Welker (1979–81).
While both are basically brash, cynical and antagonistic, Heckle may be more openly confrontational, and Jeckle slightly more devious. Both may deliberately annoy their mutual foils with insults, slapstick violence and rudeness, but Heckle is more likely to make his intentions clear from the outset. Conversely, Jeckle often treats enemies politely at first, in order to lull them into a false sense of security before unleashing magpie mayhem. They are alternately cast as a pair of conmen actively out to swindle an unsuspecting dupe—or just freeloading opportunists, idly in search of a free ride or mooching a meal. However, even when they're gainfully employed (as in The Super Salesmen or Pill Peddlers), there's often a hint of hucksterism or prankishness involved. In Sappy New Year (1961), they're a couple of inveterate, compulsive practical jokers trying (unsuccessfully) to turn over a new leaf.
The characters' cheeky personas occasionally extended to impromptu song routines, such as "Give Us a House to Wreck" in House Busters (1952), and "Come to Our Diner" in Blue Plate Symphony (1954). In Taming the Cat (1948), they stop the action just to perform a lively version of "Get a Couple of Songbirds Today" on piano, in the style of Jimmy Durante. Other impersonations of Hollywood and radio favorites included Humphrey Bogart, Hugh Herbert, Bert Lahr, Walter Winchell, Edward G. Robinson, and Groucho and Harpo Marx.
The high point of any Heckle and Jeckle cartoon was arguably the climactic chase sequence, often interspersed with witty banter between the two magpies. The duo bested their foes by outsmarting them, all the while indulging in wry commentary that made their adversaries appear even more stupid. Heckle and Jeckle often received their comeuppance before the fadeout, however, as they were usually the instigators of the conflict in the first place. Although they've wound up inside a jail cell on occasion, for some (usually unspecified) offense (Out Again In Again, Free Enterprise, A Merry Chase), other episodes portray the pair ostensibly on the side of law and order (The Hitch Hikers, 'Sno Fun, Hair Cut-Ups), instead of fleeing from it.
In the short Blind Date (1954), Heckle is able to forcibly disguise the unwilling Jeckle as a girl, which might indicate that Heckle is physically stronger than Jeckle. However, in that same short, Jeckle actually overpowers Heckle and throws him into the arms of an amorous suitor. This would suggest that Jeckle is not necessarily weaker, but simply more reluctant to resort to brute force. In The Power of Thought (1948), it is Jeckle who self-reflexively discovers the unlimited possibilities of being a cartoon character, although Heckle is quick enough to go along when this is pointed out to him.
A prototype of the first Heckle and Jeckle cartoon (titled The Talking Magpies, which became the team's identifying nickname) premiered in January 1946. The cartoon featured Farmer Al Falfa and his dopey dog, an embryonic version of Dimwit. At this point the duo was still unnamed (one of them is addressed as "Maggie" at one point), and had white beaks. While one magpie had a vaguely New York-like accent, the other had no trace of British accent at all—and was female, wearing a ladies hat. This premiere short cast the pair as a noisy husband-and-wife couple looking for a new home. "Listen to the Mockingbird," which would become their unofficial signature theme, played over the opening titles.
All subsequent episodes (beginning with 1946's The Uninvited Pests) portrayed both characters as males, and featured their now-familiar colors and characterizations. The cartoons were directed on a rotating basis by Connie Rasinski, Eddie Donnelly and Mannie Davis. A five-year production hiatus coincident with Gene Deitch's tenure as the new Terrytoons producer began in 1955. The characters were later revived by directors Dave Tendlar and Martin Taras, under Deitch's successor Bill Weiss in 1960. The final episode, Messed Up Movie Makers from longtime studio animators Al Chiarito and George Bakes, was produced in 1966.
The earliest TV appearance of Heckle and Jeckle was on CBS Cartoon Theatre (later known as Mighty Mouse Playhouse), the very first prime time network animated cartoon series (premiering in 1956, four years before The Flintstones). The original 52 H&J theatrical shorts were combined with Gandy Goose, Dinky Duck and Little Roquefort cartoons and repackaged for television. Dick Van Dyke was the original host of the show. The cartoons were later syndicated as The Heckle and Jeckle Cartoon Show, which was broadcast until 1971. The characters then reappeared in 1980 in their own segment of Filmation's The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle, and finally, The New Adventures of Heckle and Jeckle in 1980.
Comic books and licensing
Heckle and Jeckle have been licensed for toys, t-shirts, puzzles, games, salt and pepper shakers, Halloween costumes, plush dolls, puppets, coloring books, cookie jars and other consumer products for decades, variously through Terrytoons, CBS Television and Viacom. Selected cartoons from the original series of 52 theatrical titles were briefly made available on VHS home video in the 1990s, but a major DVD release has yet to materialize. The characters also regularly appeared in comic books over the years, including Mighty Mouse, Terrytoons and Paul Terry's Comics, and even headlined a number of their own comic book titles:
- St. John Publications, Heckle and Jeckle #1–24 (1951–55)
- Pines Comics, Heckle and Jeckle #25–34 (1956–59)
- Dell Comics, New Terrytoons #6–8 (1962)
- Gold Key Comics, New Terrytoons #1–43; 47 (1962–77)
- The Talking Magpies cartoon @ The Internet Archive
- Heckle and Jeckle Theatrical Cartoon Series @ The Big Cartoon Database
- Heckle and Jeckle TV Episode Guide @ The Big Cartoon Database