This being International Cat Day, and a Saturday Morning to boot, I thought I’d give a brief nod to an important animated Saturday morning kids show of my nonage, Josie and the Pussycats.
Even as a young child I noticed the similarity of this popular kiddie franchise to several others that were then going. Hanna-Barbera cooked it up to build on the success of the existing programs The Archie Show (1968) and Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969). Josie (1970) was like a mash-up of the two shows in many ways. It was about a gang of teens or young adults who went around solving mysteries, and also had a rock band. Like Scooby Doo, they also had a sentient pet mascot, in this case a cat name Sebastian, who snickered breathily like the many incarnations of Hanna-Barbera’s “Muttley” character. Sebastian was sort of wicked looking, and seemed almost like the familiar of the character Alexandra, voiced by former Mousketeer Sherry Alberoni. Since that same year Filmation adapted another Archie comics property Sabrina the Teenage Witch into an animated kids show, and Sabrina had a cat familiar named Salem, the choice seems pointed. Alexandra resembled Veronica from the Archies, a sort of dark and mean trouble-maker, with a white streak through her hair like Disney’s Cruella DeVille. The presence of Casey Kasem‘s voice as Alexander, her twin brother and the group’s manager, was another link back to Scooby Doo.
This “rock band for kids” thing had a long pedigree by that point: before the Archies there had been The Beatles (and their Saturday morning cartoon), The Monkees, and The Banana Splits. The interesting twist here was that the Pussycats were an all-female trio, oddly not unlike The Carrie Nations in Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1968), even down to having one of the girls be African American. Valerie was the first regular African American character in a kids cartoon show, beating Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids by two years. The character was voiced by Patrice Holloway, who’d been one of the backup singers on Joe Cocker’s 1968 version of “With a Little Help from My Friends”, and who co-wrote Blood, Sweat and Tears’ 1969 hit “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”. The voice of Josie herself was provided by Janet Waldo, who’d previously been Judy Jetson on The Jetsons. The third in the trio, Melody was voiced by Jackie Joseph, whom we wrote about here.
The “trio of girls solving a mystery” motif seems to look ahead to Charlie’s Angels. In light of that I’m sure that’s one of the many reasons people thought the latter show was a new low in prime-time grown-up network programming . It really did seem like a sexy children’s show. Further, the Pussycats wore provocative animal costumes, not unlike Playboy Bunnies. Was it a show for children or dirty old men?
There was only one 16 episode season of the original Josie and the Pussycats , which premiered 1970-71 and then replayed 1971-72. Then it morphed into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space which ran 1972-73, and was re-run 1973-74. This “moving to space” trope was later borrowed by other franchises, possibly inspired by the cartoon version of Lost in Space (1973). Later manifestations include Yogi’s Space Race (1978) and Gilligan’s Planet (1982-83).
In 2001, Hollywood made the inevitable live action Josie and the Pussycats film, starring Rachael Leigh Cook, Tara Reid, Rosario Dawson, Alan Cumming, and Parker Posey.