Penelope Pitstop at the mercy of The Hooded Claw.


Original Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Hanna-Barbera
First Appeared: 1968
Creators: Jerry Eisenberg and Iwao Takamoto (designers)
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The Hanna-Barbera studio was famous for basing its cartoon series on concepts lifted from earlier …

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… entertainments. Oddly, tho, when they did a show that was expected to be based on another, it wasn't. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop was a direct spin-off of the previous year's Wacky Races, but the basic idea, i.e., wacky races, wasn't repeated. Instead, Penelope's precursors went all the way back to the beginning of motion pictures, and beyond. Her show was a send-up of the old silent movie serials, which in turn were based on the plays popular in 18th and 19th century music halls, centering around lovely young heroines menaced by sneering, gloating villains.

There was none of that in her original venue, where, during the 1968-69 Saturday morning TV season, she was one of several oddball racecar drivers, driving oddball racecars. Penelope was characterized as a girly-girl, very feminine in stereotyped ways — flirty, concerned with her make-up, that sort of stuff. She had a cute Southern accent, provided by voice actress Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson, Josie). She wore a pink leather driving outfit, with pink-rimmed goggles and a pink helmet. Even her car, The Compact Pussycat (no relation), tho equipped with devices James Bond (tenuous relation) would be proud to use, was given broadly feminine characteristics.

Wacky Races had a large cast, possibly too large to manage in a half-hour show. Only Penelope and the villain, Dick Dastardly, really stood out, so they both got their own shows while the one they came from went out of production after a single season. The Perils of Penelope Pitstop debuted on CBS, on September 13, 1969.

In this show, Penelope was an heiress, and her legal guardian, Sylvester Sneekly, was constantly plotting to steal her fortune — which he couldn't do as long as she was alive. She never suspected his intentions, however, because he performed his nefarious deeds (which included placing her in death traps worthy of Rube Goldberg) only in his costumed persona, The Hooded Claw. The situation was reminiscent of Gold Key Comics' Pauline Peril, who also had a supposed benefactor secretly trying to kill her, but that's how it is with Hanna-Barbera.

Sneekly's voice was by Paul Lynde (Mildew Wolf in The Cattanooga Cats, Templeton the Rat in Charlotte's Web). The Claw's (no relation) stooges, The Bully Brothers, were voiced by Mel Blanc, whose credits are so numerous, Pepe LePew and Speedy Gonzales are mere footnotes among them. The show was narrated in an extremely melodramatic style by Gary Owens, also the voice of Space Ghost and Roger Ramjet.

Aside from Penelope herself, only one other set of characters came from the earlier show. The Ant Hill Mob, seven little guys all voiced by Blanc, were constantly coming to her rescue (and usually botching the job so she'd have to rescue herself). Even The Compact Pussycat was never seen on this show, which may have made her racing togs seem odd to viewers who hadn't seen her elsewhere.

This show came along during the waning years of the era in which most Saturday morning TV shows were adapted into Gold Key comic books. Aside from her role in the Wacky Races comic, Penelope only appeared in the first issue of Fun-in, an anthology title that also ran Where's Huddles?; Speed Buggy; Inch High, Private Eye and other Hanna-Barbera properties.

The TV show remained in production during its second season, with four new episodes added to the first season's 13. Since then, the 17 half-hours have been seen from time to time as reruns.

In 2000, Penelope was one of several Wacky Races cast members reprising their roles in a popular video game. Later, she was included when Cartoon Network made some of the old Hanna-Barbera characters into Webtoons, and in this incarnation she is again an avid racer. Characteristic of the times, tho, she's no longer an innocent young girly-girl, but a take-charge woman who leaves villainous male competitors eating her dust. Sylvester Sneekly doesn't seem to be a problem for her anymore.


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Text ©2003-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hanna-Barbera.