Sunday, September 12, 2010
Valerie Brown of Josie & the Pussycats Makes Saturday Morning Cartoon History
On September 12, 1970, Josie & the Pussycats made its transition from comic book to CBS Saturday morning cartoon. One of the characters making the transition (Valerie) is significant because she became the first female African-American cast member on a regular Saturday-morning cartoon. The first African-American Saturday morning cartoon character overall was Pete Jones, who appeared on The Hardy Boys (which debuted on September 6, 1969).
Valerie almost didn't make her historic appearance on Josie & the Pussycats. In preparation for the cartoon, Hanna-Barbera Productions decided to assemble a real-life Josie & the Pussycats group, who would provide the singing voices of the girls in the cartoons and also record an album (other actresses provided the speaking voices for the characters on the series). The company who would be in charge of the recordings (La La Productions) held a talent search to find three females who would match Josie & the Pussycats in the comic book in both looks and singing ability. The trio chosen to be "Josie & the Pussycats" were: Cathy Douglas (Josie), Patrice Holloway (Valerie) and Cherie Moor (Melody). Side note: after Josie & the Pussycats disbanded, Moor got married, took her husband's surname and gained fame as Cheryl Ladd.
When one member of La La Productions (Danny Janssen) presented the newly formed trio to William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, he learned that they wanted to recast Patrice Holloway because they had decided to portray Josie & the Pussycats as all-white (even though Valerie was an African-American in the comic book). Janssen refused to recast Holloway and threatened to walk away from the project. After a nearly month-long stalemate between Janssen and Hanna-Barbera, Hanna-Barbera conceded and allowed Janssen to keep Holloway, and changed Valerie back to being African-American. Ironically, Holloway became the most prominent voice of the trio. In addition to singing lead on many of the tracks on their self-titled album, Holloway also provided lead vocals to the cartoon's iconic theme song.
Although it often gets overlooked, I think it's important to recognize the significance of the appearance of Valerie on the cartoon version of Josie & the Pussycats. Her inclusion on the series opened the doors to black female cartoon characters on TV and helped lead to others such as Dee Dee (Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels), Susie Carmichael (Rugrats and All Grown Up), and Vixen (Justice League Unlimited).
Below is the first single (Every Beat of My Heart) from the only album Patrice Holloway, Cherie Moor, and Cathy Douglas recorded as Josie & the Pussycats. Although the player below doesn't contain any performance footage, there are stills from the cartoon series and of Holloway, Moor, and Douglas recording in the studio.