Behind the Scene, with Big Bill, Archy and Mehitabel

Here is brief clip showing actors Alan Reed (left) and Eddie Bracken reading lines from the 1971 animated movie “Shinbone Alley” — with a glance at Carol Channing, too. The clip is from “Animation: A Living Art Form,” a 10-minute feature that was released with “Shinbone Alley” to explained the intricacies of the animation process. (Coming decades before computer animation, the 85-minute film required more than 400,000 drawings!)

Reed is known to many as the voice of Fred Flintstone, but he also gave a memorable performance in “Shinbone Alley” as Mehitabel’s tough-guy tomcat boyfriend, Big Bill. Bracken and Channing were Archy and Mehitabel, reprising their roles on a remarkable concept album released by Capitol Records in 1954, “archy and mehitabel: a back-alley opera”—the predecessor of the 1957 Broadway show “Shinbone Alley,” starring Eartha Kitt and Bracken, as well as the 1971 animated movie.

“Shinbone Alley” confounded critics, who were impressed with the voice actors and with the movie’s bold animation, unlike anything seen in Hollywood in years. But they rightly pointed out that the movie’s premise — a cockroach infatuated with an alley cat, a love affair that Don Marquis never suggested in his original stories 40 years earlier — was preposterous.

“Animation: A Living Art Form” is impossible to find today. The clip is taken from an original 16mm film that was acquired 20 years ago (on eBay) and converted to digital format. “Shinbone Alley” is much easier to find, on old VCR tapes and on DVD. It’s also available on YouTube, here.

Photos From ‘archy and mehitabel’ (1954)

Here are publicity photos of Eddie Bracken and the inimitable Carol Channing taken during the studio recording of “archy and mehitabel: a back-alley opera,” a concept album by writer Joe Darion and composer George Kleisinger.

Photo from "archy and mehitabel" 1954 recording Photo from "archy and mehitabel" 1954 recording Photo from "archy and mehitabel" 1954 recording
Photo from "archy and mehitabel" 1954 recording Photo from "archy and mehitabel" 1954 recording Photo from "archy and mehitabel" 1954 recording

Darion and Kleinsinger recorded the album (Columbia ML 4963) in February 1954, but Columbia wasn’t sure it would sell and didn’t release the album until January 1955. They got behind the album after the Little Orchestra Society staged a successful, one-night performance at New York’s Town Hall theater on Dec. 6, 1954, though without Channing or Darion. It took another two-plus years before the renamed “Shinbone Alley” finally premiered on Broadway as a full-cast musical production. The Broadway show had been partly rewritten by an up-and-coming comic talent, Mel Brooks, and starred Bracken and Eartha Kitt. (Channing was pregnant when the show was being cast.) “Shinbone Alley” ran for only 49 performances, but several songs remained in Kitt’s repertoire for the rest of her life.

"archy and mehitabel: a back-alley opera"Channing and Bracken were reunited as lead vocal talents in the 1971 animated movie “Shinbone Alley.” Visit my Archy & Mehitabel page for more on the production’s enduring appeal, and click on the images above to see larger versions. The photos come from the Masterworks Broadway website, part of Sony Music Entertainment, which also has a link to buy a digital copy of the album from and Apple’s iTunes.