Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids the animated series was created, produced, and hosted by comedian Bill Cosby, who also lent his voice to a number of characters, including Fat Albert himself. Filmation was the production company for the series. The show premiered on September 9, 1972 and ran until 1985. The show, based on Bill Cosby’s remembrances of his childhood gang, focused on the lovable, oversized Albert, with his signature rumbling exclamation “Hey hey hey!”, and his friends.
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was the third positive Black cast Saturday morning cartoon series and the longest running positive Black cast Saturday morning cartoon series to air. The 40th anniversary of the Fat Albert cartoon is September 9, 2012.
Fat Albert first appeared in the Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert animated special on November 12, 1969 on NBC. This special was the first positive all Black cast cartoon to appear on TV. The music for this special was written and performed by jazz pianist / keyboardist Herbie Hancock and released on the album Fat Albert Rotunda.
Fat Albert primarily spoke to Black youth, a segment of the population previously ignored by Saturday morning programming. However, the show had an impact on children across the United States, regardless of race. The show always had an educational lesson emphasized by Cosby’s live-action cameos, and the gang always gathered in their North Philadelphia junkyard to play a rock song on their cobbled-together instruments. Cosby’s Kids had an upbeat attitude and were eager to learn, in spite of their apparent poverty.
The character Fat Albert first appeared in Cosby’s stand-up comedy routine “Buck Buck,” as recorded on his 1967 album Revenge. The stories were based upon Cosby’s tales about growing up in inner city North Philadelphia.
In 1969, Cosby and veteran animator Ken Mundie brought Fat Albert to animation in a one-shot prime-time special entitled Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert.
The special, which aired on NBC, was a hybrid of live-action and animation. For the animated portion of the special, it was necessary to develop the actual appearance of each of the Fat Albert Gang’s characters. For this, Ken Mundie relied on animator Amby Paliwoda, a former Disney artist. Paliwoda not only created all the Gang’s characters, but painted a “group portrait” which was eventually shown on the front page of TV Guide magazine shortly before the showing of the special, and which contributed significantly to the special’s large television audience.
The producers wanted NBC to bring Fat Albert to Saturday mornings, but they refused because the series was too educational. Bill Cosby and a new production company, Filmation Associates, took the property to CBS. The Fat Albert gang’s character images were primarily created by the artist Randy Hollar with the assistance of one-time Disney animator Michelle McKinney, under the direction of Ken Brown.
The series, now titled Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, premiered on September 9, 1972 on CBS, and lasted for 12 years (however, it was not in continuous production). It also spent another season in first-run syndication in 1984-1985. Several prime-time holiday specials featuring the characters were also produced. Like most animated series of the era, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids contained an adult laugh track, which was eliminated during the final season. The series was rerun on NBC Saturday morning and the USA Network in 1989 In 2010, Retro Television Network began airing the show.
More than 40 years after “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” first became a staple of Saturday morning TV, the program hasn’t been forgotten, although apparently Cosby’s one-time plan for a chain of Fat Albert hamburger stands has been. Bootleg videos of “Fat Albert” episodes fetch high prices on eBay. Time Life released some of the shows on video in the 1990′s and other programs have taken note of the long-lasting interest in Fat Albert, with “South Park,” “NewsRadio,” “Scrubs” and “Saturday Night Live” all paying tribute. Hey Hey Hey!!!
- Fat Albert Jackson — Voiced by Bill Cosby, based on his childhood friend Albert Robertson. The main character in the series, Fat Albert is the heart and soul — and often the conscience — of the Junkyard Gang; though he is depicted as being obese, he remains active through his love of sports, often taking part in different games along with the rest of the gang. Fat Albert works hard to maintain integrity in the gang and with others, and plays bagpipes/accordion (made from a radiator and an airbag) in the Junkyard Band.
- Mushmouth — Voiced by Bill Cosby. A chinless, linguistically-challenged simpleton who always spoke in virtual Ubbi Dubbi, tantamount to an overdose of novocaine in the mouth, which Cosby would later use in the “Dentist” monologue from his 1983 film, Himself. Mushmouth plays a homemade bass guitar in the Junkyard Band.
- Dumb Donald — Voiced by Lou Scheimer. A lanky but dimwitted fellow; he always wears a green long-sleevedjersey three sizes too big, and a pink stocking cap covering his entire face except his eyes and mouth. In the Junkyard Band, Dumb Donald plays a trombone made out of plumbers’ pipe and a morning glory horn from an old Victrola.
- Bill Cosby — Voiced by himself. A character based on himself. Like the others, Bill is an all-around good athlete, but more often he spends his time trying, though not always successfully, to keep his little brother Russell out of trouble. Like Fat Albert, Bill is usually the voice of reason in the gang. In the Junkyard Band Bill plays homemade drums made from a discarded foot-pedal trash can using spoons for sticks.
- Russell Cosby — Voiced by Jan Crawford. Bill’s little brother (named after Cosby’s real-life brother, whom he often talked about in his monologues) and the smallest and youngest of the Junkyard Gang. He always wears a heavy jacket, boots and a Ushanka winter hat regardless of the weather. Russell has a penchant for telling things like they are, much to his older brother’s consternation. Russell plays the xylophone in the Junkyard Band (made out of empty cans and a discarded coat rack).
- Weird Harold — Voiced by Gerald Edwards. A tall, skinny, beady-eyed kid who always wears a yellowish-brown dress blazer, a brown sock on one foot and a red sock on the other. Harold is usually clumsy. In the Junkyard Band, Weird Harold plays a harp made from bedsprings, and on occasion plays a “dressmaker dummy” in the percussion section. In the film adaptation, he is called Old Weird Harold rather than Weird Harold.
- Rudy Davis — Voiced by Eric Suter. A sharply-dressed smooth-talker and huckster antagonist whose smart-alecky attitude is always getting him into trouble more often than out of it. But to his credit, Rudy has a good heart and often learns his lesson. In the Junkyard Band, Rudy plays a makeshift banjo, whose parts include a broomstick handle and sewing-thread spool to hold the strings. However, when shown playing apart from the others, Rudy plays a real musical instrument: an electric guitar.
- Bucky — Voiced by Jan Crawford. As his name indicates, Bucky has a large overbite. Bucky plays a stovepipe organ.
- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids — 1972–73 (22 episodes), 1975–76 (14 episodes)
- The New Fat Albert Show — 1979–81 (24 episodes)
- The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids — 1984–85 (50 episodes)
- Hey, Hey, Hey, It’s Fat Albert — November 12, 1969
- The Fat Albert Halloween Special — October 24, 1977
- The Fat Albert Christmas Special — December 18, 1977
- The Fat Albert Easter Special — April 3, 1982
Gold Key Comics created a comic book adaptation of Fat Albert which ran for 29 issues, (1974–1979). A lunch box, board game and record album were also produced.
The Animation Art:
The following Original Production cels, drawings and limited edition cels are a part of the Black Animation Collection of The Museum Of UnCut Funk.