If there is one quality that all superheroes share, it is their affinity for the alter ego. It is the only thing that allows them a semblance of a normal life, free to hang up the cape for a bit and mingle among the less extraordinary, do some grocery shopping, even try to engage in a bit of romance. And while their occupational choices have ranged from nurse to newspaper reporter, perhaps none has ever set the bar lower than a canine custodian named Penrod Pooch. Spending his day with mop in hand, he is hardly noticed by his co-workers as he goes about his chores. Sgt. Flint looks down upon him, nasal-voiced switchboard operator Rosemary is polite, yet understandably unimpressed. But little do they know, they are in the midst of greatness.
When the call comes in, when the criminal element is getting the upper hand and baffling local authorities, Penrod is ready to leap into action, which means leaping into a file cabinet that contains his mask and karate uniform and transforms him from an ordinary janitor into Hong Kong Phooey, number-one super guy! Unfortunately, Hong Kong isn’t exactly Houdini and escaping from the file cabinet can be nearly as treacherous as dealing with the bad guys. That’s where the unimpressed little kitty named Spot comes in. Spot possesses a Fonzie-like ability to free the superhero with a few simple raps of the paw or a well-placed kick. Complicating matters were the times when Penrod wasn’t at the station when the call came in – then Spot would have to lug the bulky cabinet all around time and get it to Phooey pronto.
Like many superheroes (Superman excluded, of course) Hong Kong relied on some pretty impressive transportation to get him from place to place. Parked in a dumpster behind the station was the amazing Phooeymobile. With a simple “bong from the gong,” Phooey could transform the vehicle into any method of transportation that would be best suited for his mission. Sometimes he needed a hovercraft or helicopter, sometimes a pogo stick or unicycle – there was no job the Phooeymobile couldn’t handle. Within a matter seconds, he and his trusty sidekick-savior Spot were whisked off to save the day.
And it’s a good thing that the pair chose to rideshare, because, truth be told, Hong Kong Phooey wasn’t really the most exceptional crime-fighter that ever lived – he just thought he was. Usually it was Spot that actually caught the criminals, or barring that, the sheer incompetence of the crooks that did them in. But it was of little consequence. With his “Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu” firmly in hand, Phooey always got the credit, not to mention the never-ending adoration of Rosemary, who thought he was the greatest – at least when he was in uniform.
Hong Kong Phooey debuted on ABC’s Saturday morning lineup in 1974 and was an instant success, thanks in part to the golden vocal chords of veteran actor Scatman Crothers, who provided the pooch’s voice. The show lasted for two years on ABC and when they threw in the towel in 1976, NBC was swift to pick it up. The show would run for another five seasons and live on in the memories of its loyal fans for decades after, who still fondly remember their number-one super guy.
If you have fond memories of watching this beloved show as a kid, we welcome your thoughts in our comments section, as we pay tribute to a cartoon icon of the 70s, here at Retroland.