If you were born in the second half of the boomer era, you’ll remember The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. It was a TV show produced by Hanna-Barbera that featured a fictional “bubble gum pop, rock ‘n roll” band of anthropomorphic characters: a dog, a gorilla, a lion and an elephant. Fleegle (a Beagle) played guitar and sang, Bingo played drums and sang, Drooper was the bass player and contributed vocals and Snorky (aka Snork) played keyboards and added effects. The show, which featured cartoons, live skits, musical numbers and live-action serial stories, ran from September 1968 to September 1970. It was patterned after The Monkees and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In and was sponsored by Kellogg’s cereals.
The show’s premise was that each episode was like a meeting of The Banana Splits Fan Club. All the characters spoke except for Snork, who communicated through a honking sound reminiscent of Harpo Marx. It was, like The Monkees (and A Hard Day’s Night before that), pure slapstick humor.
As became typical with so many TV shows of the boomer era, people who worked on the show went on to greater fame and fortune. Jan Michael Vincent was one of the actors in the live-action Danger Island stories, which were directed by Richard Donner. Boomers will remember Vincent co-starring opposite Charles Bronson in The Mechanic (1970) and his numerous TV appearances in the 1980s. Richard Donner was already known as a director before The Banana Splits, having worked on TV commercials and a host of popular TV shows in the 1950s and ’60, as well as on feature films. His breakout movie, though, will be familiar to boomers — The Omen (1976). Two years later he directed Superman, starring Christopher Reeves.
Among the most notable people who worked on the show are Sid and Marty Kroff, who designed the costumes and sets. Hanna-Barbera approached the puppet makers to create the Banana Splits characters. As a result of their work, NBC offered them their own show, which they named H.R. Pufnstuf, which was launched during a Banana Splits special in 1969.
Since The Banana Splits were supposed to be a band, the show needed music, too. Al Kooper Barry White, Gene Pitney and Jimmy Radcliffe were among the musicians who contributed their talent to The Banana Splits songs. The show’s theme song, The Tra La La Song (one Banana, Two Banana), was composed by Nelson Brock Winkless, Jr. Boomers know his work, if not his name, since he had previously the composed the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Good Morning, Good Morning and Rice Krispies Snap, Crackle, Pop jingles. Due to contractual considerations, credit for The Banana Splits song went to Ritchie Adams and Mark Barkan. Barkan was one of the musical directors on the show.
An album of The Banana Splits music was released in 1969, as well as singles that included The Tra La La song, but the band did not capture boomers’ musical attention the way The Monkees had.
Since Kellogg’s was the show’s sponsor, a full-on blitz of merchandising was put into motion to publicize the show and its sponsor. A variety of toys, puppets and dolls of the characters were made, along with their likenesses adorning posters, lunch boxes, cups, coloring books and more. The Aurora Plastics Corporation produced model kits of the six-wheel all-terrain vehicles driven by the characters on the show. Unlike the model car, airplane and boat kits made by Aurora that many boomer boys were familiar with, though, these kits were conceptualized as a toy more than a model, so assembly was simple enough for younger fans of the show. Kellogg’s released two EP 45s of The Banana Splits music as flexi-discs on the back of cereal boxes in 1969, and Gold Key released a Banana Splits storyline in a comic book.
Mister Boomer was in high school by the time the show appeared, and could not warm to the kiddie-centric shenanigans of the show’s characters. But he remembers his younger sister watching the show. Naturally, she could “tra la la” along with the show’s opening song and seemed to enjoy the slapstick humor of the characters bumping into each other and running into a host of things with their vehicles.
How about you, boomers? Do you remember The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and are now kicking yourself for not holding on to your Banana Splits collectibles?