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The gang's all here. The Jonny Quest crew heads out for adventure (via Wikipedia).

The gang’s all here. The Jonny Quest crew heads out for adventure (via Wikipedia).

I have a bunch of TV themes on my iPod—“Star Trek,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Gong Show” and “The Odd Couple” among them. All represent slices of my youth—some more than others. One of those songs started playing as I stepped out of the house today on a gray, frosty morning. It was a theme dating back to my cereal-and-cartoon-fueled Saturday mornings—“Jonny Quest.” This  pulse-pounding, brassy piece has propulsive drums, rampaging trombones, and even a portion that sounds like it should be played by a marching band. All in all, it’s a tune that screams “Adventure!”

I loved “Jonny Quest.” A product of the Hanna-Barbera studios in the 1960s, it originally played for one season on prime time before being sent into perpetual syndication. The cartoon related the adventures of young Jonny, his professor father, and Race Bannon, the beefy tutor/bodyguard. Something had taken Jonny’s mother out of the picture—I assume she had died—and along the way the all-male ensemble had scooped up Hadji, an Indian boy who came complete with turban and the ability to perform the magic rope trick. Jonny’s impish little dog, Bandit, provided the comic relief. (Even as a kid I found Bandit to be a little annoying.) This little group jetted around the world in support of Professor Quest’s scientific work, where they encountered everything from mummies and pterodactyls to lizard creatures and mad scientists.

It was perfect entertainment for a boy like me. And there was no icky girl stuff (although the show did introduce a femme fatale named Jade, primarily, I think, to silence the rumors about Race that were swirling around the Hanna-Barbera offices). Professor Quest was always working on some really cool scientific gadget and the boys didn’t even have to go to school (although they did have to study on occasion).

My favorite episode also scared the crap out of me. It concerned a mysterious flying object that crashed in the desert one night near the top-secret military base where our heroes were staying while Dr. Quest worked on some kind of laser cannon. Soldiers sent to investigate the wreckage found only a mysterious black sphere. They brought it back to the base and left it under guard in a hangar. That night the featureless orb came to life. It opened up a single big eye, studied its surroundings—and then unfolded telescoping legs from inside the sphere. The ominous device used some kind of brain sapping suction cup to knock out the soldiers on guard duty and began to roam the base, silently peering into windows with its one big peeper.

This was one of those occasions when Jonny and Hadji had to study. They were sitting in their room bantering while the mysterious intruder lurked just outside the window, observing them. It was creepy. When I watched this episode of “Jonny Quest” in our basement one morning, I moved up from the couch to watch from the top of the stairs. Something about that mysterious spider-like object moving silently through the night, unseen and unnoticed, just gave me the willies.

It all ended well. The spider (albeit one with only four legs) turned out to be a robot spy created by Professor Quest’s arch-enemy, Dr. Zin. When the robot tried to escape in its flying disk with the secrets of the professor’s work (after proving it could withstand direct hits by tanks in an exciting battle sequence) the professor used his cool laser cannon to shoot it out of the sky. All that remained in the wreckage was the disconnected eye, which managed to function, briefly, as a kind of communication device so evil Dr. Zin could threaten our heroes. Then, with a crackle of static and a burst of flames, the eye died.

That episode just got to me. For years I would draw doodles of the robot spider when I was bored in class. It didn’t require much talent, since it was just a black circle, an eye, and four angled legs. But then I could add tanks and jet planes to fill up the time until class was over.

Several years ago, when my son was about the same age as I was when I watched “Jonny Quest,” I found a boxed DVD set at the library of all the original episodes and I got to discover the fantastic world of Jonny Quest all over again.

By then I knew that a young actor named Tim Matheson had provided the voice of Jonny. Matheson, of course, later played Otter in Animal House. It makes me wonder what it would be like if the “Jonny Quest” and Animal House universes ever intersected. How would Dr. Zin’s robot spider have fared if it had gone creeping around Faber College? Not too well, I suspect. Maybe it would have hung out with Bluto, using its one big eye to peer at the girls in the sorority as they had their pillow fight, but most likely it would have ended up as part of the Deathmobile. Or, worse yet, on double secret probation.



November 2013
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