Created by J. Anthony Ferlaine
Starring Frank Freda, Suzanne Turne, Allen Swift
Children's TV in the 50s and 60s was weird, partly because it was made on the cheap. Cartoons were considered too expensive,* so quite a lot of shows used puppets or other odd techniques.** And one that always seemed very odd to my eight-year-old eyes as Diver Dan.
Diver Dan was much like Roger Ramjet: a short cartoon marketed to children's shows around the country. But Diver Dan wasn't a cartoon; it was live action with a combination of puppets and people.
The show was about talking fish. Diver Dan (Frank Freda) discovered them while exploring and helped out with their adventures. In addition to Dan, there was Minerva the Mermaid (Suzanne Turner), who the various fish -- Finley Haddock, Doc Sturgeon, Georgie Porgie and many others (most voiced by Allen Swift) -- would turn to for advice against the nefarious schemes of Baron Barracuda and his henchman, Trigger.
The plots were all very simple, and the Baron was about a threatening as a ladybug. One interested effect was that the show was shot through an aquarium, so you would see various live fish swimming into the picture as well as the aquarium bubbles. Dan wore an old-fashioned (even for its time) diving helmet, which obscured his face.***
I noticed one thing right off when I watched the show: for a title character Diver Dan got very little screen time. The show concentrated mostly on the fish and the Baron. And the marionettes didn't look all that impressive. It was tough to keep them from wobbling, even though the only part of them that moved was their mouths.
Here's an example:
The stories were all about the Baron trying to do something mildly nasty, and being thwarted by the other fish, with the advice of Dan and Minerva. His most notable characteristic was an exchange between him and Trigger:
Trigger: What should we do, boss?
Baron: Call me Baron, stupid.
Trigger: OK, Baron Stupid.
This was repeated every episode, with some variation. It was probably a big hit with the target audience.
Like many of these shows, the history is sketchy. It was certainly shown in the New York area, and in outlets around the country in the early 60s and, as stations went from home-grown kid's shows to network versions, the market dried up.**** Diver Dan was quickly forgotten, except in the memories of its fans.
*Until Jay Ward showed the way.
**Like the exceedingly bizarre Synchro-vox animation used in Clutch Cargo and Space Angel.
***In the early episodes, you could see his face pretty well, but as time went on, it looked more and more like a faceless helmet. Dan also got less screen time.
****Of course, the episodes were rerun constantly, since kids weren't bothered by it.