Whatever Happened to Heathcliff? The Cartoon Cat Who Used Up His Nine Lives. [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
He was splashed all over the television in the 1980’s and could be considered a cheap version of Garfield, the famous cartoon cat. He even had two television series and a movie, but Heathcliff may be on the last of his nine lives.
Like Garfield, Heathcliff was another orange, wise cracking cartoon cat spent most of his time knocking garbage cans in the air, trying to steal fish from the local fish store and winning over his girlfriend, Sonja. At times he could be as outgoing as Garfield, but in contrast would often apologize for his mishaps and was generally less sarcastic.
Heathcliff started as a simple Sunday newspaper comic in 1973. It was usually a single cell strip with a special Sunday edition that expands to multiple panels.
In the fall of 1980, ABC would bring Heathcliff to television as part of their Saturday morning cartoon lineup. Remember when there actually were Saturday morning cartoons? He was paired with Dingbat and the Creeps, a vampire dog, and in season two was joined by another comic strip character Marmaduke.
Heathcliff was voiced by one of the most legendary cartoon voice actors ever: Mel Blanc. Mel, nicknamed “The man of a thousand voices” is well known as the voice of Bugs Bunny and dozens of other Looney Tunes characters, as well as Barney Rubble, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom Cat to name a few. Heathcliff was one of the last new voices the actor would perform before his death.
After two seasons and 26 episodes on the network, Heathcliff was cancelled and aired his last show in September 1982.
While continuing on in the newspapers and now comic books, Heathcliff was brought back to the air for syndication in the fall of 1984. Airing in syndication meant that the local stations had full control over when the show would air and they would split advertising time with the show’s production company, DIC. It was mostly seen on weekday afternoons during kids blocks on independent stations that did not have a network affiliation.
For this series, Marmaduke was dropped in favor of The Cadillac Cats. The Cadillac Cats lived in a junkyard and would get into adventures with a Cadillac car that could also transform into a boat or airplane. Occasionally, the Cadillac Cats would cross over and guest star with Heathcliff in his part of the episode.
65 episodes of this version were produced for season one, with a second season order for 21 more. These 86 episodes would repeat over and over for two more years on local stations, before heading to cable and being rerun on Nickelodeon.
While these reruns were on the air, seven segments were packaged into Heathcliff: The Movie and released in theatres, VHS, and Betamax.
Reruns from the ABC second season and all of the syndicated episodes have been airing since last September on the ThisTV network. ThisTV can be seen as a digital subchannel on local television stations across the country.
Being the 1980’s, Heathcliff would also score with a moderate amount of merchandising. His face would land on school lunch boxes and t-shirts, though he never gained the popularity of Garfield.
I used to watch this cartoon every afternoon as a kid on the old WFAT-TV. WFAT was a small Johnstown, Pennsylvania independent station that is long off the air.
I also enjoyed watching and reading Garfield, but Heathcliff was a fun alternative. He was more street smart and went on more realistic adventures, whereas Garfield was lazy, constantly ate, and was mostly played for zany one liners.
I remember seeing the same episodes over and over again for years. It all makes sense now that I know they only produced 85. I along with most kids stopped watching after they’ve seen the same show a dozen times. Airing five days a week, those episodes get old fast. During this time, Garfield continued to roll out new hour long shows for CBS on Saturday morning and Heathcliff’s fate was sealed.
Now, rumors are circling the internet of a possible Heathcliff movie. Variety has reported that Magic Lantern Entertainment and FitzRoy Media have bought the rights to bring that cat to the big screen. The film will be live action similar to Garfield and The Smurfs Movie. Frank Weller, who voiced Azrael in The Smurfs Movie, has been given the nod to star as Heathcliff. The first part of this project is to be a direct-to-DVD film, then the live action movie.
The first direct-to-DVD film was originally announced to drop this year. The deal was arranged in 2009 and no news has come out about either project since. Could this be the end for the once popular cat? Do people even remember who he is?
For fans of the original cartoon episodes, The Shout Factory has released numerous DVDs over the past few years. They are still for sale on Amazon.com, although some of the earlier discs may be out of print.
So, let’s hear it Heathcliff fans! You want to see more of this old cat? Post your thoughts and let Hollywood know!
What: animated cartoon cat
Originally Aired: ABC, 1980-1982 (26 episodes)
Syndicated: 1984-1988 (85 episodes)
Currently Airing: ThisTV
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: Heathcliff should probably stay in the 80’s. Sadly, they don’t make good quality cartoons like this anymore, but if they were to bring him back, it would most likely get screwed up.
Note to Hollywood: Please do not attempt to make this a movie franchise. You need to stop recycling old ideas and turning them into really bad movies. Are there no more good ideas out there? Did we not learn a lesson from such duds as The A-Team, Bewitched, Garfield, Smurfs: The Movie, and more? You waited too long. Kids now won’t be interested in this cat and the Generation X’ers have seen enough bad remakes.
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featured image credit: filmjunk.com