Jonny Quest was an animated action series focused on the globe-trotting adventures of US government scientist, Dr. Benton Quest; his 11-year-old son, Jonny; his adopted Indian son, Hadji; family bodyguard, Roger "Race" Bannon; and their pet, black-masked bulldog, Bandit. It was produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions and ran on ABC in primetime on Friday nights for one season, 1964-65.
The Quests had a home compound on a remote island off the coast of Florida, but they spent most of their time flying around the world on various adventures, usually initiated by scientific mysteries that Dr. Quest pursued. These mysteries often had science fiction elements, from espionage robots to Egyptian mummies to pterosaurs come to life. They usually involved the work of various villains, like the evil recurring nemesis Dr. Zin, an Asian criminal mastermind.
One of the defining aspects of Jonny Quest was its use of limited animation. Like the style used in the earlier animated series Clutch Cargo, Hanna-Barbera used this technique in order to cut corners and meet the tighter scheduling and budgetary demands of television. This meant that characters were usually drawn in static form, with just their moving parts, like legs, mouths, and eyes, re-drawn from frame to frame. When characters had to move, they usually moved from side to side while the background behind them shifted. Though the animation was relatively static and limited, the people and backgrounds were drawn in a realistic and detailed way, and a sophisticated palette of bright colors was used that made the show look lush and expensive, despite the limited animation. The jazz music used in the show also added to its air of sophistication.
Jonny Quest was highly controversial because it featured much more realistic violence than other children's cartoons of its day. It became one of the main targets of parental watchdog groups such as Action for Children's Television. The show was cancelled after only one season, but reruns were broadcast on various networks’ Saturday morning lineups from 1967 to 1972, and highly-edited versions appeared sporadically after that. Hanna-Barbera later produced a revival called The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which aired on the Cartoon Network in 1996-97.
For those of you who are Kukla, Fran, and Ollie fans, as I am, there is good news. Some of the earliest KFO kinescopes have been lovingly restored and are now available in a 2-DVD set, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, the First Episodes: 1949-54. The first run of these new DVD's sold out quickly, so if you'd like to get this set, I suggest you buy it soon.
I have only fuzzy memories of Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, a wonderful puppet show that was one of the first kids’ shows on TV.I wish I could remember it more clearly, because from all accounts, it was one of the most creative, sophisticated, and entertaining kids’ shows in TV history.Created by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom, who handled all the puppets on the program, the show debuted in 1947 on the NBC station in Chicago, the source of so many great children’s programs in the early days of television.In 1949, it became an NBC network show and was broadcast nationwide until 1954, when it moved to ABC, where it ran until 1957.
Kukla, Fran, and Ollie quickly became enormously popular and was the first children’s show to attract a large adult audience.The format consisted simply of host Fran Allison standing in front of a puppet stage and interacting with Kukla and Ollie, the two puppet stars of the show, along with a host of other puppet characters. The secret to the show’s success was that it combined a simple format and seemingly gentle, sweet atmosphere with adult-level wit and sly satire.
Amazingly, each show was completely ad-libbed, a fact that most child viewers must have been oblivious to (I certainly was).When you watch old videos of the show today, you can hear the crew laughing off-screen during some of the funnier moments.They were apparently as surprised and entertained by the unscripted comedy as the viewers at home were.
The puppets on the show were designed in the traditional Punch and Judy style, but they didn’t engage in slapstick, and their personalities were much more nuanced.Kukla was a sweet and gentle clown who served as the sensible though somewhat over-earnest leader of the group.Ollie was short for Oliver J. Dragon, a mischievous snaggle-toothed dragon who often instigated the funnier interchanges on the show.There were a host of other puppet characters collectively referred to as the Kuklapolitans, including Fletcher Rabbit, the town mailman and fussbudget, Madame Ophelia Oglepuss, a former opera diva, Beulah Witch, a liberated witch, stage manager Cecil Bill, who spoke a language that only the other puppets understood, Colonel R.H. Crackie, a courtly southern gentleman, Ollie’s mother Olivia Dragon, and Ollie’s cousin, Dolores Dragon, who started out as a toddler and grew into a teenager during the years that the show ran.Host Fran Allison, the only human who appeared on air, served as straightman to the puppets but could also hold her own during the often-rapid improvised banter.
What made Kukla, Fran, and Ollie unique was how well-developed and three-dimensional the puppets’ characters became during the show’s run.Through the ad-libbed banter that took place during each episode, viewers learned more and more about the distinct personalities and individual as well as family histories of each of the characters, so that the show created a varied and engrossing world populated by characters that the audience felt they really knew and quickly came to love.
After ABC cancelled Kukla, Fran, and Ollie in 1957, it returned to NBC in the form of 5-minute vignettes.In 1967, the KFO cast began hosting the CBS Children’s Theater, but they only provided a brief introduction to each show and segues between commercials.The Kukla, Fran, and Ollie show was revived on PBS from 1969-1971, and later appeared in occasional syndicated specials.
This is the range country where the pounding hooves of untamed horses still thunder in mountains, meadows and canyons. Every herd has its own leader, but there is only one Fury - Fury, King of the Wild Stallions. And here in the wild west of today, hard-riding men still battle the open range for a living - men like Jim Newton, owner of the Broken Wheel Ranch and Pete, his top hand, who says he cut his teeth on a branding iron... FURY!..The story of a horse..and a boy who loves him.
So began each episode of Fury, a weekly dramatic TV series set in the then contemporary American West, which aired on NBC from 1955-1966 and later in syndication through the 1970's (retitled as Brave Stallion). Fury starred Peter Graves as Jim Newton, the recently-widowed owner of the Broken Wheel Ranch in California, Bobby Diamond as Jim's adopted son Joey Clark Newton, and William Fawcett as ranch hand Pete Wilkey.
As depicted in the first episode of the series, Jim Newton first meets orphan Joey Clark when he sees a group of young boys playing baseball in the streets of a small town, and the boys wrongly blame Joey for an errant baseball that breaks a nearby shop window. Jim attends the court hearing where Joey is to be held responsible for breaking the window and tells the judge, who happens to be a friend of his, that Joey is innocent. Jim offers to take the orphan Joey home to live with him at the ranch, and the judge lets Joey go free.
Once at the ranch, Jim introduces Joey to Fury, a captured wild stallion that no one seems able to tame. Fury seems drawn to Joey as a kindred spirit and allows Joey to ride him. From then on, Joey and Fury become fast friends. Subsequent episodes of the show usually revolved around a guest star who would find him or herself in danger, usually due to their own reckless behavior, and Fury and Joey would ride to their rescue. Jim would also usually play a part in helping to resolve the situation and set things right, even if it meant taking part in a fist fight or two.
Fury was one of a number of dramatic series in the 1950's, like Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, My Friend Flicka, and Sky King, that were set in the West and involved kids and horses or dogs (or airplanes) rescuing people. The children in these series were usually orphans or only distantly related to the adults they lived with. These shows were aimed at a family audience, and they combined action and adventure with clear moral lessons about right and wrong. The starring adults were depicted as kind and nurturing but also strong and fearless, and always ready to right a wrong, rescue a hapless victim (even if they had gotten themselves into trouble through their own bad judgment), and capture a bad guy. The kids served as the adults' assistants and apprentices, learning important values and moral lessons along the way. The horses and dogs in these shows were depicted as proud, innocent, wise, and brave creatures who had a natural bond with children who, unlike some adults, were inherently good and innocent themselves.
Peter Graves, the actor who played ranch owner Jim Newton, later went on to star in other TV series, most notably Mission Impossible. Sadly, he passed away on March 15, 2010.
Wonderama wasa very popular and long-running kids' show that aired from 1955 to 1978. It originated from WNEW-TV in New York City and also appeared on the Metromedia-owned stations in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Cincinnati, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Kansas City.
Wonderama was a variety show with a studio audience of enthusiastic kids and featured a range of segments that included games, contests, interviews, audience participation, musical performances, and cartoons. The show ran three hours long on Sunday mornings, and there was also a one-hour weekday version for a time. It had a series of hosts over the years, but the longest-running and best-known were Sonny Fox and Bob McAllister.
The show reached its peak of popularity under McAllister, the former host of a children's show in Baltimore. McAllister was a multi-talented performer who sang, played guitar, and clearly had a way with kids. He presided as ringmaster over a fast-paced three hours of fun and games, including several regular features:
"Snake Cans" -- McAllister would choose a series of kids from the audience to open one of ten tin cans arrayed on a long table. Nine of the cans were filled with spring-loaded "snakes" that would fly out when the cans were opened. The tenth can held a bouquet of artificial flowers. All the kids received small prizes, but the child that picked the can with the flowers would win the grand prize, usually a fancy bicycle. All the children also had to answer trivia questions correctly before they received their prizes, but McAllister did his best to see to it that they got the answers right.
"Does Anybody Here Have an Aardvark?" -- McAllister would pick kids from the audience to show off unusual objects they had brought in with them.
"Wonderama-a-Go-Go" -- This was an American Bandstand-type dance contest, later renamed "Disco City," in which the kids competed to win a prize. The record that the children danced to was brought in by "The Disco Kid," a boy dressed in a Lone Ranger-like outfit.
"Exercise, Exercise!" -- All the kids in the audience (and undoubtedly most of those watching at home) got up and worked out.
"Good News" -- McAllister picked children from the audience to read happy news items from newspapers around the country, and then asked other audience members if they had any of their own good news that they wanted to share.
"Whose is Whose is Whose?" -- Four children and four dads were introduced, and kids from the studio audience had to guess which dad was which child's father.
"Guess Your Best" -- This was a game-show-type segment in which three kids competed to guess the results of audience polls and relay races.
"Head of the House" -- This segment featured kids competing against each other in various quirky competitions, like gerbil races, balloon-breaking contests, and so on. The child who won the most competitions was named "Head of the House."
Because it originated from New York, Wonderama was able to feature some of the top stars of the day, including Abba, the Jackson Five, Jerry Lewis, the cast of Monty Python, and even boxers Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, who competed against each other in a game of marbles.
The show would end with McAllister singing the show's theme song "Kids Are People, Too." This became the program's title when it later aired briefly as a national network show on ABC.
This song embodied McAllister's approach to the show, which he treated as a kids' version of The Tonight Show combined with The Today Show, with a little touch of circus thrown in. He was never patronizing to his young audience and seemed genuinely to be having a good time interacting with his guests and the audience as he kept things moving along. Wonderama and McAllister developed a loyal and devoted following who still remember the show fondly today.
The Magic Garden was a locally-produced half-hour children's show that aired weekdays on WPIX in New York City from 1972 to 1984 and was also syndicated to other parts of the country. The show starred co-hosts Carole Demas and Paula Janis, who sang and played guitar throughout the program, which took place on a studio set decorated like a "magic garden." The Magic Garden set included a Magic Tree with two tree swings, as well as a barn, a stone path, and a giggling bed of flowers called the "The Chuckle Patch," that grew at the foot of the Magic Tree. There were also two puppet characters on the show -- Sherlock, a mischievous pink squirrel, and Flap, a happy, colorful duck-like bird.
Each half-hour episode of the show included songs, games, jokes, stories, and life lessons. At some point in the show, one of the co-hosts would pluck a leaf from the Chuckle Patch and ask the other co-host a simple joke question that was written on one side of the leaf. When the other co-host couldn't answer the question, she would then turn the leaf over and read the punch-line answer written on the other side. There was also a "Story Box" that provided the hosts with costumes and props for acting out stories on each show.
Every episode of The Magic Garden was infused with music, from the show's introduction to its close and during the transitions between each segment of the program, as Carole and Paula sang simple folk-music-like songs and played guitar. With their guitars, long hair, and bell-bottom pants, Carole and Paula brought a distinctly folk/hippie 1970's look and sensibility to this children's show. Like the female hosts of such earlier children's shows as Ding Dong School and Romper Room, Carole and Paula had been school teachers, and they seemed to be natural performers with an ease in front of the camera and an ability to connect directly with their young viewers. They also released several albums of their music and developed a live show that they took on tour throughout the country.
Originating in the biggest television market in the country, The MagicGarden had a simplicity and sweetness that drew a large and enthusiastic audience of children, parents, and grandparents, many of whom still remember the show fondly. The Magic Garden wasn't frenetic like some other children's shows at the time but instead presented its viewers with a gently-paced selection of lovely songs and child-friendly jokes that appealed to both kids and adults.
For those of you who want to experience or re-experience the The Magic Garden for yourself, try Carole and Paula in the Magic Garden, a 2-DVD set that also includes a bonus CD with 6 of Carole and Paula's songs.
Who's the leader of the club That's made for you and me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!
In the 1950's, every child in America (and probably every adult as well) instantly recognized this refrain as the beginning of the theme song for The Mickey Mouse Club, another iconic hit show from Walt Disney Productions, which had already launched the popular Disneyland series. With its debut in 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club, namedfor the Disney studio's best-known cartoon character,quickly became one of the defining children's TV shows of its day. It had a variety show format that featured singing, dancing, guest stars, classic Disney cartoons, and continuing serials like The Hardy Boys and Spin and Marty.
The series aired five days a week, and each day had its own theme:
Monday - Fun With Music Day Tuesday - Guest Star Day Wednesday - Anything Can Happen Day Thursday - Circus Day Friday - Talent Round-Up Day
The show's most distinctive element was its cast -- a group of wholesome, talented teenagers called the Mouseketeers, who wore mouse-ear hats and sang and danced their way into the hearts of the viewing public. There were also two adult regulars, "head Mouseketeer" Jimmie Dodd, who had also composed the show's theme song, and "Big Mooseketeer" Roy Williams, a rather rotund staff artist at Disney. Every episode of the show would start with the Mouseketeer Roll Call, a musical number in which each of the Mouseketeers would announce themselves by name.
Though many of the Mouseketeers gained name recognition and loyal fans, the most popular Mouseketeer was Annette Funicello, a beautiful and talented teen who was given her own serial on the show and later went on to a successful movie career. Annette was TV's first real child star. Her dark Italian features gave her an "ethnic" look that was unusual for TV in those days, which largely favored blond, blue-eyed actors. In fact, all the Mouseketeers on the original show were white.
The Mickey Mouse Club ran on ABC from 1955-1959, but was cancelled when ABC and Disney couldn't come to terms for renewal. Audience demand brought it back in 1962 as a syndicated series in the form of edited half-hour reruns that ran in various markets until 1968. Disney revived the show in 1977 as The New Mickey Mouse Club, with a disco re-recording of the theme song and a new cast that now featured some minority Mouseketeers. The new version of the show spawned such stars as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Keri Russell, Kenan and Kel, and Melissa Joan Hart.
Among the many Mickey Mouse Club DVD collections currently available, I would recommend:
Walt Disney Treasures - Mickey Mouse Club, featuring the first five episodes of the show, color archival footage of the Mouseketeers' first appearance at the grand opening celebration of Disneyland, and a reunion of six of the original Mouseketeers on the soundstage where the show was produced
From its debut on ABC in October 1954, through its final telecast on Christmas Eve 2008, the Walt Disney anthology television series commonly known as The Wonderful World of Disney (initiallycalled simply Disneyland) appeared on all three broadcast TV channels at various times under a variety of names, becoming the second-longest-running prime-time program on American television. Watching the show with my family when I was growing up, I was of course oblivious to Disney's incredibly forward-thinking synergy strategy, with the TV show, the Disney studio's theatrical films, and the new Disneyland theme park all designed to promote and market each other and strengthen the overall Disney brand. All I knew was that the show was fun to watch and something that my mom and dad enjoyed watching with me.
The format was a mixture of cartoons, live-action adventures, documentaries, and nature stories, all initially hosted by the affable Walt Disney himself. Much of the material came from the Disney studio library, including one-hour edits or multi-part miniseries of recent Disney films. Unlike the heads of the other major Hollywood movie studios at the time, Disney didn't worry that the new television medium would destroy his movie business. On the contrary, he understood that he could use his TV show to promote and extend the life of his theatrical releases, and vice versa.
A good example of this synergy was the huge success of the 3-part miniseries about the historical American frontiersman Davy Crockett that aired under the show's umbrella in 1955. In the ensuing Davy Crockett craze, the show's theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," became a hit record, and Disney sold millions of dollars of Davy Crockett merchandise. Every child I knew had a Davy Crockett lunch box, coonskin hat, fringed jacket or pants, or similar paraphernalia. Then Disney edited the TV episodes into two theatrical films that were quickly released to benefit from and build upon the show's popularity.
Walt Disney approached both NBC and CBS with his plans for producing a TV series, but he ultimately chose third-place network ABC for the debut of Disneyland, because ABC was willing to give him what he wanted in exchange -- a $500,000 investment in the amusement park he dreamed of opening in Anaheim, California. ABC executives were desperate to obtain programming that would give them an edge against their two more established rivals, and they were also very interested in attracting the growing family market in those baby-boom years. ABC's investment paid off quickly, as Disneyland became the network's first series to hit the top ten in ratings.
When the Disneyland theme park opened in July of 1955, ABC aired a live special honoring the new tourist mecca and its founder. Within a year, millions of Disneyland viewers who had seen the park constantly promoted on the TV show poured into Disneyland. In its first year, the theme park grossed $10 million. Walt Disney and his company had shaped two new entertainment forms and interlinked them in a strategy that continued to generate millions of dollars in profits over the ensuing decades.
In this clip from the series' premiere episode, you can see how the show helped to promote both the Disney studio's movie line-up and the planned theme park:
In 1961, Disney moved the show to NBC to take advantage of the fact that it was the first network to broadcast in color. In another prescient decision, Disney had filmed many of his earlier shows in color, even though they could only air in black and white at the time. With the move to NBC, he could now repeat these shows in full color. The series was renamed Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and aired under that name until 1969.
Walt Disney, an inveterate cigarette smoker, died of lung cancer on December 15, 1966. The intros he had filmed before he died remained a part of the show for the rest of that season, but the host segment was then dropped. The series was retitled The Wonderful World of Disney in 1969 and remained popular through the mid-70's. At that point, however, the show's audiences began to decline, as popular tastes changed and the public began to see the Disney brand as square, uptight, and unhip, qualities that America's youth were turning away from.
In 1979, in an attempt to revive the series' fortunes, it was retitled Disney's Wonderful World and given a new opening sequence with a computer-generated logo and disco-flavored theme song.
But growing competition from CBS's new 60 Minutes newsmagazine show combined with frequent preemptions and cancellations by NBC, led to further ratings declines, and NBC cancelled the show in 1981.
CBS then picked up the program and retitled it simply Walt Disney. It ran for another two years, until the debut of the Disney Channel on cable TV. The Disney company then decided that the broadcast show and the fledgling cable channel would cannibalize each other, and production of the program was ended. However, after a change in management at the Disney company, the series was revived in 1986 under the title The Disney Sunday Movie, with new Disney CEO Michael Eisner as host. This version of the show had a movie-of-the-week format, featuring family-oriented TV movies produced by the Disney studio, as well as occasional theatrical films.
The series moved back to NBC in 1988 as The Magical World of Disney, with its original anthology format. But it did not do well and was cancelled in 1990. The Disney Channel continued to use The Magical World of Disney as the umbrella title for its Sunday night movies and specials until 1996. In 1997, after Disney purchased ABC, the series was revived again as The Wonderful World of Disney, airing on Saturday or Sunday evenings until its finale on December 24, 2008, with a telecast of the feature film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Walt Disney's endearing on-screen personality made him an icon of American popular culture. His television series provided wholesome, high-quality, family-oriented entertainment for generations of viewers. And his marketing acumen created a multi-media juggernaut that combined television, movies, theme parks, and licensed merchandise into one of the most successful and powerful brands in the world.
Among the many books and DVD's about the Disney TV series, I suggest the following:
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Art Clokey, the animator who created Gumby, the claymation star of one of my favorite kids' shows in the 1950's, passed away last Friday (see obituary in the New York Times on January 11, 2010). As I noted in my previous post about the Gumby Show, the program was the first extended use of stop-motion animation on television. As a child, I was enchanted by the primitive-looking animation on the show and the fact that Clokey didn't try to make his characters and sets look realistic but instead celebrated the fact that the characters looked like something a child might have made and the sets consisted of toys and miniature models.
I learned some interesting facts about Clokey's life in the Times obituary that shed additional light on the Gumby Show. When Clokey was 8, his parents divorced and he went to live with his father, who was killed in a car accident the following year. Clokey then briefly rejoined his mother in California, but his mother's new husband didn't want Clokey around, and he was placed in a children's home. When Clokey was 11, his fortunes improved when he was adopted by Joseph Waddell Clokey, a well-known composer of sacred and secular music. Joseph Clokey was apparently a loving father who introduced Art to a new world of books and culture.
After graduating from Miami University in Ohio, Clokey attended Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, intending to become an Episcopal priest. However, he left before graduating and returned to California, planning to make religious films. He entered the University of Southern California, where he studied with the modernist filmmaker Slavko Vorkapich. In 1953, he made a student film titled Gumbasia, in honor of the Disney animated feature Fantasia, in which he used the form of claymation that he was to apply to the Gumby Show two years later.
Clokey's religious interests and apparent lifelong search for enlightenment help to explain the subtle undercurrent of spirituality that runs through the Gumby Show. Clokey also created the Davey and Goliath Show, which was explicitly spiritual and was sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Davey and Goliath was designed to teach children values like charity and tolerance.
The Gumby Show was popular through the 1950's and 60's but was pushed aside when slicker violent cartoons began to draw larger audiences in the 1970's. However, Gumby got a new lease on life in the 1980's, when Eddie Murphy created a raunchy caricature of the character on Saturday Night Live. According to Clokey's family, Clokey loved Eddie Murphy's performance.
We are indebted to Art Clokey for creating a charming and whimsical icon that represents some of the best of what children's television has contributed to our culture.
Clutch Cargo was an animated show produced by Cambria Productions that debuted on March 9, 1959, as a syndicated series available to local stations around the country. It stayed on the air through the early 1970's, and could be seen on as many as 65 stations nationwide.
The stories centered around Clutch Cargo, a writer and airplane pilot with a muscular build, white hair and rugged good looks, who traveled the world (and even outer space) on dangerous assignments. Clutch was accompanied by his young ward Spinner and his pet dachsund, Paddlefoot, and sometimes by Clutch's grizzled, pith-helmeted friend Swampy.
What made Clutch Cargo special was its unique style of animation, if you could call it that. In fact, the animation on this series was so limited that it looked more like a series of panels from a comic book. To save money on production, Cambria developed some clever but cheesy-looking ways to simulate motion. If there was an explosion, they would shake the camera or the drawing of the scene to make it look like the earth was trembling. If there was a fire, they would blow real smoke across the drawing. When characters had to walk or run, they would only be shown from the waist up, to save money and time that would have been spent on showing the character's legs moving.
But the animation technique that Clutch Cargo is best-remembered for is the way that it showed characters talking. Using a patented process called Synchro-Vox, the producers filmed the mouths of the live actors speaking the characters' lines and then superimposed the film of the actors' moving lips onto the motionless drawings of the characters' faces. This resulted in a weird-looking and kind of creepy effect that, combined with the other forms of primitive animation in the series, gave it a truly unique look and feel. You can still see the Synchro-Vox technique in use today, most notably in the opening to Spongebob Squarepants. Conan O'Brien used the technique quite often in segments on his former late-night TV show.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its crude animation techniques, Clutch Cargo had a certain charm that helped make it a very successful series. It was cleverly written and beautifully drawn. Its musical soundtrack was as limited, and yet as inventive within those limitations, as the animation. Jazz musician Paul Horn provided the score using nothing more than bongo drums, a vibraphone, and a flute.
In all, 52 Clutch Cargo adventures were produced and then serialized in five five-minute chapters each. The first four chapters naturally ended in cliffhangers, with the fifth chapter concluding the adventure. This format allowed local stations to run one chapter a day on weekdays, then recap all five chapters in a half-hour Saturday show. You can see all five chapters of one continuing episode below.
Clutch Cargo was a very popular show whose content and style influenced many animated series that came later. It may have been the first television cartoon in the U.S. to emphasize adventure rather than humor. Its emphasis on dramatic action in exotic locales and its low-budget animation style can be seen in such later series as Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and the Mighty Mightor.