What ever happened to the original Banana Splits?
Image: The Everett Collection
Fifty years ago, a new kind of Saturday morning cartoon premiered. The catch? It was not a cartoon at all.
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour was Hanna-Barbera's first foray into the world of live-action. Sid and Marty Krofft, masters of psychedelic puppetry, designed the costumes and sets. Featuring a gorilla, beagle, lion and elephant, the Banana Splits put a candy coating on hippie culture. Released at the height of acid rock, the bubblegum pop of the Banana Splits was a little bit Woodstock, a little bit cereal commercial. In fact, Kellogg's was a sponsor.
Half a century later, the theme song is still stuck in our heads. And your head. Now, at least: Tra-la-la, tra-la-la-la.
It took a load of talent to bring Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky to life. A fleet of costumed performers, voice actors, singers and songwriters were behind the quartet. What they did elsewhere is fascinating.
Robert Towers - Snorky
We start with the man in the elephant costume for most of the segments. Robert Towers built a resume of various quirky guest roles, and continues to work today. He has been the singing voice of Snoopy (You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and played a kangaroo on Frasier. In an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (the one, coincidentally, that happened to introduce Wesley's iconic rainbow sweater) he played the Ferengi named Rata. On It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Towers portrayed a jockey who tells Charlie, "Nobody parties like a jockey!"
Images: CBS Television Distribution / 20th Television
Allan Melvin - Drooper (Voice)
The voice of Drooper should be familiar to any fan of The Brady Bunch. It's none other than Sam the Butcher, Allan Melvin! The sitcom veteran was more than a familiar face by that point. He played recurring characters on two military comedies — Corporal Henshaw on The Phil Silvers Show and Sergeant Hacker on Gomer Pyle, USMC.
Barry White - Drooper (Songwriter)
There's a good reason those Banana Splits songs wormed their way into your brain — serious professionals were crafting them. The theme song was reportedly born on the piano of N. B. Winkless Jr., a jingle writer for Kellogg's who had also come up with "Snap Crackle Pop." The complete 1968 album We're the Banana Splits featured an impressive array of rising talent. Soul icon Barry White wrote "Doin' the Banana Split," which had been performed by Drooper on the show. White did not sing it, however…
Ricky Lancelotti - Lead Vocals
Alas, Barry White did not sing "Doin' the Banana Split." It'd be a little deeper, a little more romantic if he had. Much of the lead vocal work for the Splits was sung by an uncredited Ricky Lancelotti. He had been the in-house singer for the musical series Shindig. Later, he would go on to join Frank Zappa in his band the Mothers, providing vocals on several Zappa tracks, largely on Over-Nite Sensation. He sang "Zomby Woof," to name one cut. See if it sounds like the Banana Splits to you.
Terence Winkless - Bingo
A lot of Winklesses were involved behind the scenes of The Banana Splits. Terence Winkless, billed as "Terence Henry," worked with his brothers Jeff and Dan Winkless, billed as "Jeffrey Brock" and "Daniel Owen." Terence was inside the gorilla suit. In 1974, he turned up in the original Gone in 60 Seconds film, playing a stoner car cleaner who gives away "Lyle Waggoner's car." He later moved behind the camera, becoming the first American director to make a theatrical feature in Bulgaria following the fall of the Berlin Wall (The Berlin Conspiracy).
Image: H.B. Halicki Junkyard and Mercantile Company
Jeff Winkless - Fleegle
Terence Winkless directed his first feature in 1988, The Nest, a campy cult horror film about zombie mutant cockroaches. He cast his brother Jeff as "Church," who gets chewed up by flesh-eating bugs. As you can see. Two decades earlier, Jeff was dancing inside the Fleegle costume on The Banana Splits. Dan Winkless was the performer inside the Drooper costume. He had no other acting credits, but did work as a grip on the Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster True Lies.
Image: The Nest - Concorde Pictures / Shout Factory
Paul Winchell - Fleegle (Voice)
Winchell had an unparalleled career. Who else can claim to be a pioneering ventriloquist and the inventor of the artificial heart? (No, really. He received the first patent for a mechanical heart for humans.) He came to fame working stages with his dummies, Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Later, he would voice Tigger in dozens of Winnie the Pooh cartoons for Disney. On Perry Mason, he met a much darker fate in "The Case of the Nervous Neighbor." Fleegle did sound a bit like Tigger.
Al Kooper - Songwriter
Another pen behind the Banana Splits songs was Al Kooper, an original member of Blood, Sweat and Tears from 1967–68. After the Splits, Kooper would discover and produce Lynyrd Skynyrd. He produced "Sweet Home Alabama," in fact. Compare that to "You're the Lovin' Kind," a track he gave the Banana Splits.
Richard Donner - Director
Oh, we should mention the man behind the camera. None other than Richard Donner directed the live-action segments in season one of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. He would go on to helm Superman: The Movie (1978), The Goonies (1985) and Lethal Weapon (1987).
Images: Warner Bros.