True Story, Grace Will Bear Me Out:  Tumbleweeds

True Story, Grace Will Bear Me Out: Tumbleweeds

The redoubtable Charles Brubaker passed along this YouTube link to the one & only episode of T.K. Ryan's Tumbleweeds comic strip ever animated & aired.

I bring this to your attention because:

  1. I was (& still am) a big fan of the Tumbleweeds strip

  2. I wrote this particular episode

  3. We animated & aired it without the knowledge or permission of Mr. Ryan

How can you do such a thing?  Easy, if you're Filmation Studios...

Well, that's my topic of the day...

Filmation in 1978 was my first writing gig in Hollywood.  I had been hired after luckily knocking on the right door at the right time & put to work on a show that had the dubious distinction of being cancelled even before the first episode was completed.

Nevermind, there was other stuff to do.

After writing several segments of the Tarzan And The Super 7 series[1], I was moved over to another show:  The Fabulous Funnies[2].

Frankly, it was a lousy idea for a show.  Almost all the comic strips they selected were old & anemic even at that time; I couldn't imagine any kid being interested in them.

There were two exceptions: Broom-Hilda, which at 8 years of age was the newbie in the pile, and Ryan's Tumbleweeds, which began in 1965.

I'd been reading Tumbleweeds since junior high and had the first paperback collection.  While somewhat extreme in its stylization, it had a sly, savage wit and cartoonist T. K. Ryan filled it up with a cast of memorable eccentric characters, each a delightful off-beat take on Western cliches.

Naturally, I glommed onto Tumbleweeds the moment I was assigned to the show, eager to make full use of its wide range of characters and situations.

Only one problem:  The budget was so small we could only afford 4 voice actors on the show.

And to make matters worse, we weren't allowed to use any of the Indian characters because the network wouldn't let us record their voices with non-Native American actors and at the time the only Native American actor anybody in Hollywood knew was Iron Eyes Cody[3], who was waaaaaaay too expensive for Filmation.

Fortunately there was a workaround for the Indian situation.  Two of the strips recurring Native American characters -- Lotsa Luck and Bucolic Buffalo -- were mute.  Further, in the strip Lotsa Luck communicated by scribbling notes for other characters to read, so I was able to secure permission from the network to use them.

The person whom we didn't secure permission from was T. K. Ryan.

It seems Filmation sold the idea of the show to the network without first formally securing the rights to any of the comic strips.

Once the series was picked up, Filmation's lawyer then went to the various strips & picked up the rights.  Most of the rights were granted through syndicates, but Ryan personally held all rights to Tumbleweeds.

So Filmation's lawyer contacted Ryan and told him Filmation was interested in doing a Tumbleweeds segment of The Fabulous Funnies and Ryan said he'd like to see a storyboard first so he could tell if we knew how to handle his characters and Filmation's lawyer said sure and then he called the producer and told him Ryan was okay with the idea.

So I started writing.

I was disappointed to learn there were only going to be four Tumbleweeds segments but I was determined to make the best of them.  The first was the short segment seen above, a brief intro to the characters and setting before getting ito the real character comedy.

So I wrote it and it was storyboarded and animated and produced and aired.

And the following Monday Filmation got a call from Mr. Ryan's lawyer, saying Mr. Ryan liked the episode very much only he wondered why Filmation never bothered to sign a contract with him...

Can you say "Oops!", boys and girls?[4]

Anyway, long story short, Filmation quickly ponied up and, for reasons I could never fathom, opted to removed Tumbleweeds entirely from the show rather than run the segment again or make new ones.

They even went to the trouble of editing him out of the main titles.

Ryan kept the 'Weed running for another 30 years, finally signing off in December 2007 in one of the classier endings of a comic strip.

I'm truly sorry we never got a real chance to do something with his characters; they were perfect for animation.

© Buzz Dixon

[1]  Yeah, yeah, I know:  No way is it possible to configure that show & end up with the number 7.  We figured if the network didn't care, why should we.

[2]  Which was neither

[3]  Trust me, I am deeply appreciative of the irony here...

[4]  I knew you could.

In This Place, In This Time

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