Mumbly catches up with a bad guy.


Medium: Television animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1976
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The history of Hanna-Barbera's tenure as television's most prolific early animation factory is littered with stolen set-ups — maybe because you can't get to be the biggest feeder of that voracious appetite on your own creative concepts alone. That The Flintstones was "borrowed" …

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… from The Honeymooners and Top Cat from Sgt. Bilko is well known. But they didn't just steal from the acknowledged classics. Lesser properties they imitated include The Ghost & Mrs. Muir (The Funky Phantom), Gigantor (Frankenstein Jr.) and Columbo (Mumbly).

In fact, Mumbly was borrowed from more than one source. The studio already had a character who was perfect for the part, a dog with a wheezy, snickery mumble who had heretofore been used only as a villain. Muttley had been the companion of Dick Dastardly, who started out in Wacky Races and then became a rare bad guy series protagonist. To make a detective hero out of him, all they needed to do was make a slight alteration in his name, put clothes on him, and change his entire philosophical orientation from evil to good.

There are reports that the reason Hanna-Barbera created a "new" character rather than simply use Muttley under his own name had less to do with his prior use in villain roles, than with the fact that they only partially controlled the character. Game show producer Heatter-Quigley was part owner of Wacky Races and all the characters that started there, so they'd have to be paid for Muttley's use. Later, Disney had to share revenue with Amblin Entertainment (Tiny Toons, Animaniacs) for using Roger Rabbit, which may be why they created the similar Bonkers Bobcat rather than give Roger a TV show. Whatever the reason, Hanna-Barbera did create Mumbly rather than re-use Muttley.

Mumbly was first seen as a back segment on a show shared by Tom & Jerry and The Great Grape Ape. The show started in 1975, but Mumbly was added in '76. Later, he was spun off into a show of his own.

Mumbly was, like Columbo, a trenchcoat-wearing solver of crimes, who didn't look or act very bright but always got his man anyway. Also like Columbo, he drove a junker of a car, but in his case, parts were always falling off. Lt. Mumbly took his orders from Chief Schnooker. Mumbly's voice was done by Don Messick (Kaboobie the Camel, Ricochet Rabbit), and Schnooker's by John Stephenson (various voices in Kissyfur, Speed Buggy and elsewhere).

After Mumbly's series ran its course, he joined the cast of Scooby's Al-Star Laff-a-Lympics, alongside Hong Kong Phooey, Wally Gator and other defunct Hanna-Barbera stars. There, he was paired with a new guy, The Dread Baron (also voiced by Stephenson). This character was reminiscent of Dick Dastardly, giving credence to the assumption that Mumbly was created only to save money.

The two also turned up in a 1980s feature-length Yogi Bear movie. But they never did become big stars for their producer.


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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera.