01 August 2023

The Mystery of Hamhock Jones


by Michael Mallory

It is safe to say that most people have never heard of the TV show Hamhock Jones ─ The World’s Most Amazing Detective, even though its inspiration is obvious. While there have been myriad Sherlock Holmes parodies in all media over the past century, this particular iteration has a unique place in television history: in 1948, during television’s infancy, Hamhock Jones was poised to become TV’s very first original cartoon character. 

While Hamhock Jones dressed like Sherlock Holmes, smoked a pipe, carried a magnifying glass, and spoke in an imitation of Ronald Colman, he was more like the big city detective stereotype that was popular in the late 1940s. He lived on the 234th (!) floor of the Greystone Building (alone; he had no “Watson”) and wielded a snub-nosed revolver. His was one segment of a proposed series called The Comic Strips of Television. 

The project was devised by a young San Francisco animator named Alex Anderson ─ the nephew of Paul Terry, founder of Terrytoons, which produced “Mighty Mouse” and “Heckle and Jeckle” cartoons ─ and his longtime friend Jay Ward. The two dubbed their fledgling company Television Arts.

Hamhock’s sole recorded adventure, from the series pilot, was titled “The Case of the Siamese Twins.” It involved a diminutive client named “Professor SoufflĂ©” who told Jones the bizarre story of conjoined brothers, one a world-famous scientist named “Otto,” and the other a bad-to-the-bone criminal named “Blotto.” 

Working with the good twin, SoufflĂ© invented a gas called “Votaine” which can turn Republicans into Democrats and vice versa, and allow campaigning politicians to gas babies instead of kissing them. The problem with Votaine (outside of its off-the-wall absurdity), was that if it were to fall into the wrong hands, the results could be catastrophic. Needless to say, evil twin Blotto fully intends to put Votaine into the wrong hands, chiefly an unnamed foreign power (but in 1948, there was little doubt who it was supposed to be). He kidnaps Otto…not difficult, since they are conjoined…and makes off with the formula. 

What will the World’s Most Amazing Detective do to save the American political system, if not the world? Well, that’s the problem: the pilot segment was nothing more than a teaser for the story, which ends there, so we’ll never know. 

While The Comic Strips of Television is the first attempt by anyone at an animated TV series (and until William Hanna and Joseph Barbera devised the template for successful television animation in 1957, tooning was most frequently seen in commercials), there’s a reason it was not called The Cartoons of Television. It was animated only in the most rudimentary definition of the term. The pilot was little more than a story reel──a series of stationary drawings photographed and edited to present the story visually. Voices were heard without the characters’ lips moving, and except for a couple shots in which quick-cuts between two poses were done to give the illusion of animation, any movement in the show was accomplished by panning or zooming the camera. 

Which one of the four credited voice actors, all Bay Area radio performers, played Hamhock has been lost to time, though it’s safe to assume it was not Lucille Bliss, who decades later earned fame as “Smurfette” on Hanna-Barbera’s The Smurfs. Bliss’s major contribution to the pilot was as the voice of “Crusader Rabbit,” one of the other pilot segments. The third component was a seminal version of “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties.” Producer Anderson felt that Hamhock Jones had the best chance of becoming a series, perhaps because of the parody name recognition, but he was wrong. After looking at the pilot with an eye for syndicating it to their affiliate markets, NBC was interested only in Crusader Rabbit. 

The first Crusader Rabbit series suffered from erratic scheduling and did not last long, though it was revived in 1959, with better animation, but without Anderson and Ward. By then Anderson had drifted out of animation altogether and into advertising, while Ward was about to launch a new career as the producer of a string of witty, intelligent cartoon shows beginning with The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends. Even though Hanna and Barbera would become the kings of TV animation, Ward would carve a major niche in the medium through such mordantly funny and pun-filled shows as George of the Jungle, Super Chicken, and Hoppity Hooper. With his new partner, writer and actor Bill Scott, he would also successfully repackage Dudley Do-Right. Hamhock Jones, however, was never heard from again.

The Hamhock Jones segment of The Comic Strips of Television can currently be found on Vimeo, and watching it reveals just how far TV tooning has come over the last 75 years. Its most startling revelation, though, is the plot device of a foreign power seeking to influence U.S. elections.

The more things change…


  1. Great post. My favorite cartoon as a kid was Rocky & Bullwinkle, and it's still enjoyable as an adult. I laugh at even more of it now than the grandkids do! I'll check Hamhock Jones out.

  2. I plead ignorance. I hadn't heard of Hamhock, but I'm amazed someone pulled off a cartoon with even less animation than Hanna-Barbara. As a child, I thought merely moving lips was cheating.

    The Otto/Blotto premise sounds terrific. Confidential conversations with conspirators/colleagues must have been interesting. I'm disappointed the show didn't survive, but thanks for the bit of history, Michael.

  3. Cartoonish and very scary clowns stirring the pot of politics, oh yes, it never ends.


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