Monday, 6 July 2015

Not Bugs

You know the gags. The rabbit has a joy buzzer and zaps the hunter with it. The rabbit honks the hunting dog’s nose. The rabbit hands a shovel to the hunting dog to dig for him, then the dog wises up. The rabbit bends the hunter’s gun so the hunter gets shot when the gun is fired.

No, we’re not talking about Bugs Bunny. We’re talking about Terry’s Bunny.

The cartoon is “The Hare and the Hounds,” a Terrytoon released February 23, 1940. Bugs first appeared five months later. Of course, Warners had several rabbit cartoons going back several years, one of which included the joy buzzer gag.

None of the characters speak, and whoever wrote it couldn’t decide if he wanted a solo smart-alec rabbit or a bunch of them. But it’s interesting to see how another studio handled Warners’ style gags.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Rochester In...

Here’s a trade ad plugging the 1943 film “Cabin in the Sky.” Everyone loved Rochester on the Jack Benny radio show, so Eddie Anderson’s character name always seemed to get into trade ads and reviews.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Subliminal Moose

Jay Ward’s writers didn’t waste time.

‘Rocky and Bullwinkle,’ ‘Dudley Do-Right,’ ‘George of the Jungle’ and ‘Super Chicken’ may have been the funniest cartoons on TV. For one thing, they didn’t fill seven minutes like a theatrical cartoon or what Hanna-Barbera was putting out. The cartoons were half the length. That allowed Ward’s great writers to come up with joke after joke after joke, one quickly after the other, with the cartoon ending before the audience got worn out.

We don’t write much here about the studio’s cartoons because Keith Scott said it all in his book The Moose That Roared. Anyone who has ever laughed at a Jay Ward cartoon should own the book. Ward’s publicity team put together stunts that may have been crazier than anything in the cartoons. And they also made sure the press was told someone was available to be interviewed. Here’s Bill Scott talking with a syndicated columnist in 1960. The theme of “the network won’t publicise us” was not unusual in media interviews. And if you’re wondering about references to Marvin Miller and Louis Nye, Ward had several projects in development that never panned out. Super Chicken finally got on the air a number of years after Ward’s team came up with it; Nye was involved in the original version, if I recall.

This version of the column appeared in the Binghamton Press on August 20, 1960.

Rocky Is 'Subliminal' Cartoon

Special Press Writer
THE Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw TV cartoons are big hits and receive ample publicity. Grownups know about them and many watch the series with their kids. That's fine, but there also happens to be another expertly made cartoon series featuring a squirrel and a moose, called Rocky and His Friends, on the ABC network, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p. m.
Rocky and His Friends is called a "subliminal" cartoon series by its producers Jay Ward and Bill Scott, because apparently nobody has ever heard of it, though Rocky has been on the air since last November. General Mills, the sponsors, do not seem to care about publicizing it end are apparently happy about all the kids who do watch the show, because the publicity budget hasn't increased.
But the sponsors did try something. Rocky and Friends was put on at a later time, 7:30 p. m., in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the squirrel walked off with a whopping 30 rating. By a simple deduction the producers feel that with a time change and a little publicity, Rocky might jump into the limelight. However, no changes are in sight.
As long as the sponsors are happy, Ward and Scott are in business and trust to kids' word of mouth to turn Rocky into a draw. Their main problem is just to get the cartoons out and they go about it in a strange but commendable way.
For instance, their animating plant, with 70 workers, is situated in Mexico City. The idea, of course, was to put out shows at a lower cost. The writers think up the stories in Hollywood and the animators do the drawing below the border.
The funny thing is that it is working, not perfectly, but working. Co-producer Scott says the plant is turning out an adequate product. "It's like the story of the talking dog," Scott explained. "The wonder is not what it says, but that it talks at all.
"When we began down there," Scott continued, "the artists were wonderfully polite. Of course, they could turn out this staggering amount. Because of lack of experience there were pitfalls. Retakes were needed, but this is slowing down and the politeness and friendliness are still on a high level."
Says Scott, a former writer for Mister Magoo, Gerald McBoing-Boing and Bugs Bunny: "If we had a brilliantly trained crew, it would still require a miracle to maintain the output we really need. But we don't hire only people we like. We've even turned down money."
Scott maintains most of the people in the cartoon industry like each other. He feels it's an industry in which the kidding is on a kind level. There are a lot of "kooks" in the business, but they have big hearts.
"First of all, the people in the cartoon industry are smart," said Scott. "Secondly, they're doing satisfying work and have a chance to compete. Another pleasant thing about it is there is nothing on film that we did not put there. In no other business do you have such absolute control."
With the success of Huckleberry Hound and other cartoons, Scott feels that the TV cartoon industry can only grow. He only wonders where the new talent is going to come from.
"It should come from the kids who draw funny jokes in school magazines," said Scott. "But I haven't met any for a long time. I think those boys have become shoe salesmen or have gotten into public relations. We need them."
Most of the staff members of Jay Ward Productions have put in time at UPA, Disney, or one of the movie cartoon outfits. Co-producer Jay Ward created the first TV cartoon series, Crusader Rabbit, director Pete Burness handled many Magoo shows for UPA, and director Bob Cannon won two Academy Awards plus those from Venice, Cannes and Edinburgh.
Probably the most familiar thing about the Rocky shows is the voices. The nervous voice of Edward Everett Horton cheerfully takes over at times. Hans Conreid, Marvin Miller from The Millionaire series, Don Knotts and Louis Nye from the Steve Allen Show can be heard. Besides these names, add the two most talented "voice men" in Hollywood, Daws Butler and Paul Frees.
"Butler and Frees have as much control of-their pipes as a jet pilot does with his intricate plane," says Scott. "They never stop learning. Both sit home with tape recorders and listen to voices on TV. The next day a perfect imitation is forthcoming."
This kind of talent does seem to be wasted at 5:30 p. m. But still, better a "subliminal" show than none at all.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Patriotic Duck

Daffy Duck in Bob Clampett’s hands is either emotional or hyper-emotional. Take “Draftee Daffy,” for instance.

The little black duck lets his American patriotism fuel his reactions in one of the early scenes. He’s not overly hyper, just enthusiastic. It’s a shame there’s a lamp in the foreground and the shot is so tight because they get in the way of some of Daffy’s histrionics. You can see what I mean in some of these frames when he leaps up and back into his chair then bounces onto the floor.

The scene carries on with some quick morphing. These pairs are consecutive frames. Daffy whips out an American flag from nowhere as he sings “Hurray For the Red, White and Blue.”

He switches to “Yankee Doodle,” and switches patriotic guises at the same time.

For a line of dialogue he turns into Teddy Roosevelt.

And changes back.

Daffy’s patriotism turns out to be the let-the-other-guy-go-into-battle variety. When the man from the draft board shows up, the duck spends the rest of the cartoon in a panic trying to get away from him. He fails.

Rod Scribner gets the only animation credit.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

He's Droopy, Too

“Northwest Hounded Police” was like an experiment by Tex Avery to see how many variations of his outrageous, expanding-eye take he could shove into one cartoon.

I haven’t tried counting, but here’s one from an expanded routine where the wolf, desperately trying to escape from the ubiquitous Droopy, demands a plastic surgeon to give him a new face. So he gives him Droopy’s. The horrified wolf has the plastic surgeon change it back. He’s completely satisfied until he discovers the plastic surgeon now has Droopy’s head.

Part 1 is the head shake

Part 2 is the bulging eyes followed by the red veins in the eye becoming longer.

Part 3 is when the tongue expands and wags. Here’s one drawing.

Walt Clinton is now part Avery’s unit of Preston Blair, Ray Abrams and Ed Love. The wolf is played by Frank Graham.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Canadian Looks at Rocket Robin Hood

Canadians have many things in the entertainment world to be proud as they celebrate Canada Day today. To name one example, SCTV was one of the most brilliant shows ever made. And then there are pieces of Canadiana best left forgotten.

One of them is Rocket Robin Hood.

Yes, the show had the smooth Bernard Cowan and the very funny (under normal circumstances) Carl Banas as part of the voice cast. But after watching in horror and disbelief at the first two minutes of one show at the age of 11 or so, all I felt was sorrow for those poor kids in Canada’s hinterland who could only get the CBC and were therefore forced to watch it.

Where better to get an opinion on this Canada Day about a Canadian show on Canada’s national network than from Canada’s national magazine? Douglas Marshall reviewed Robin in the March 1968 edition of Macleans magazine. Marshall touches on the Canadian aspect, though he ignores the fact the reason Steve Krantz produced the series in Toronto is doing so cost less than animating it in New York. He also lumps the show in with other superhero cartoons, and dismisses the whole works of them. Limited animation at Hanna-Barbera’s factory is one thing. But there was no excuse for Rocket Robin Hood being as ugly, boring and stiff as it was.

A VERY UNFUNNY THING happened to television cartoons for children on the way to 1968. Bang! Zap! Pow! With flashing laser beams and crackling doomsday machines, the deadly-serious superheroes swarmed out of our pop-cultural past to win control of Saturdays.
Long gone is Huckleberry Hound, with his multi-level wit and humor. Say a melancholy prayer for those delightful cartoons that combined zany animation with educational themes. Poor Roger Ramjet, that valiant non-hero, is fighting a rear-guard action against the Neitzschean onslaught. And even the irrepressible Top Cat, perhaps the best cartoon character ever conceived for TV, is clearly on his last legs. Only the Oscar-winning Bugs Bunny, now in what seems to be his fifth season of repeats on the CBC, remains strongly entrenched to defend the cause of comedy against the invasions of gratuitous violence.
The program that immediately precedes Bugs Bunny on Saturday afternoons, Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor, is a prime example of the cartoon world’s New Order. The plots, regurgitated by a one-cell computer in the Hanna and Barbera factory, are unbelievably moronic. The basic formula is some variation of the Clark Kent-Superman switch, followed by a five-minute burst of mayhem. Television invariably adds a junior super-hero, so kids can identify, and a cute little animation figure—monkey, seal, elephant, auk—to remind us there was once a Walt Disney.
The utter pointlessness of the super-hero cartoons is appalling. So is the poverty of imagination. The only idea that went into Mighty Mightor, for instance, was the initial brainwave: “Hey, let’s refight World War II in the stone age.” The result is a crudely animated war movie. The villains, grotesque cavemen or snarling vulture men, all look like 1940 comic-book drawings of Nazi goons. The stone-laden pterodactls zoom down like Stuka dive-bombers and the tyrannosauri reges charge like panzers. In the background are disguised flame-throwers, howitzers, machine guns and all the other artifacts of slaughter. Mightor is obviously General Eisenhower.
Don’t get the idea there is any subtle message in this. The war analogy is purely mechanical. The creators simply can’t be bothered to change last year’s scripts, which probably deal with a Sir Lancelot hero on the Normandy beachhead. The same crab-like saucer smashed by Moby Dick reappears minutes later to be smashed again by Space Ghost. After all, it takes 5,000 separate drawings to make a 30-minute show of this jerky trash, so why waste a good flying saucer profile?
Are superheroes just the latest example of degenerate American values?
One more attempt by the damyankees to corrupt clean Canadian kids, you say? Think again. The start with, many of the superhero sound tracks are produced in Toronto and the voices belong to well-known Canadian actors. Submariner, for instance, is none other than Wojeck’s earthy John Vernon. Max (Rawhide) Ferguson played The Hulk, Jack Creley is Mighty Thor (not to be confused with Mighty Mightor) and Captain America is played by Toronto radio announcer Keith Rich.
What’s more, the latest Canadian superhero, the CBC’s Rocket Robin Hood, is an all-Canadian program animated in Toronto by Allen and Claire Guest. The 30-minute series (there will be 52 episodes) is probably the most widely distributed Canadian TV program in history. Rocket Robin Hood is currently being shows in the United States and is scheduled for Britain, Australia and South Africa. A French version is going out on the CBC French network. A Spanish version is being prepared for South America.
Canadians can console themselves that Rocket Robin, an intergalactic protector of the poor, is the least offensive of the superheroes. But that’s not saying much. The series was commissioned by New York distributor Stephen Krantz. He chose Canada for the production because it gives the program 100-percent Canadian content (making it easier to sell here) and qualifies as 50 percent British content in Britain. One happy result is that the Guests now employ 140 artists and have the third-largest animation studio on the continent.
Claire Guest tried to persuade Krantz that Canadians could write imaginative scripts and would be able to work more closely with the artists. Krantz turned the idea down. “So all the scripts are written in the States and they’re garbage,” Guest admits. “I think the superhero genre has been overworked and will soon die. Human beings are three times more difficult to cartoon than animals and it’s all just talk, talk, talk.”
It’s also all pow, pow, pow. The repetition is so monotonous that it’s hard to believe anyone over the age of six wouldn’t be bored to tears. And many pre-school children I know simply won’t watch superheroes. They say the programs are nasty. So who does the CBC think is enjoying Rocket Robin Hood? The corporation, which bought the series when it was still only an idea, won’t release ratings. But unofficial figures show that some 600,000, two thirds of them children, are tuning in. Which is sad indeed.
Al Guest says he is anxious to return to cartooning animals. The sooner the better. Meanwhile, if Rocket Robin Hood is being broadcast just because of its Canadian content, I’d sooner have my children watch reruns of Hatch’s Mill. It should have been shown on Saturday afternoons in the first place.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Fun With Fireflies

The first few years of the Silly Symphonies really did feature silliness. That was the whole point of them. None of that “illusion of life” stuff.

Here’s a good example from “Night” (released April 1930). Fireflies are dancing to the immortal song “Glow Worm.” They’re twanging their necks like jew’s harps.

Their heads get cut off and leap into the air.

The heads land upside down on the other’s body. No matter. They bounce back onto their proper bodies.

The glow worms ballet jump off stage, leaving their shoes behind.

The shoes leap up, blink their holes like eyes, and then tap their way off stage. End of song.

I’ll take the fun Disney over the am-I-impressing-you-with-this-old-mill-cartoon Disney any day.

Sometimes Jolly Jack

He appeared on game shows, variety shows, late-night talk shows. He was interviewed by Ed Murrow on Person To Person, filled in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight show, and hosted one of the earliest variety shows in network television.

Jack Carter did an awful lot of television over a very long career. Carter has passed away at the age of 93.

As did a number of stars, he came out of one of the Major Bowes units in 1941. His career resumed after an interruption for World War Two. Television was lumbering toward expansion from a handful of stations on the East Coast (and a few others dotted across the U.S.). NBC, CBS and ABC began assembling legitimate TV networks by 1948. There was another network, DuMont, which had the disadvantage of not being flush with radio stars like the other three. It had no radio. It had look elsewhere for talent, and nightclubbing Carter was perfect for the vaudeville-like early TV variety shows. Carter didn’t stay at DuMont long. NBC tapped him for its huge Saturday night variety extravaganza, hosting an hour from Chicago before the cameras switched to Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca for 90 minutes. Caesar and Coca went on to huge success. Carter got cancelled.

Here’s a story from the American Weekly, a weekend newspaper supplement, of October 14, 1951. It sums up Carter’s career to date. It also shows Carter’s propensity for whining (a trait shared by another ex-GI comic, Jack Paar, in the ‘40s). He should be more famous, he’d say. He wasn’t getting ahead fast enough, he told Hearst columnist Jack O'Brian (he was 24). He got screwed out a gig, he’d gripe. Quite true, it could have been, but if so, he wouldn’t have been the only one in show biz that ever happened to.

TV’s Jack of 80 Faces

JACK CARTER is really proud of himself at last and here's the reason why. It happened on a Hollywood golf course. A small, serious-faced man approached him. "You're Jack Carter, aren't you?" he asked.
Carter swallowed hard and said he was. His heart beat faster, like a schoolboy's on his first date.
"I just wanted to tell you I think you're great," the stranger said. "I watch you on television. You're a comer."
The little man, whose name was Harpo Marx, walked away.
"It was like a shot in the arm," Carter told The American Weekly.
"Nobody ever knows me. They just know the people I imitate. I'm the man of 80 faces—79 of them you can't miss, the 80th—that's mine—you'd never guess."
IF YOU don't know Jack Carter when you see him it's not because he's shy about his identity. From the time he was a kid hanging around the amusement park at Coney Island he was shouting it out to the world.
He was raised in the shadow of the roller coaster and the ferris wheel. He could sing and dance a little, ape the raucous voices of the Coney spielers, imitate Cantor and Durante. His relatives applauded.
"This kid's a natural," they said. One summer he got a job as locker room attendant at one of Coney's bathing beaches. The proprietor saw him clowning for the other kids. "Here's a straw hat and a cane," he said. "Be funny for the boardwalk customers."
Those two "professional" seasons on the boardwalk were Carter's indoctrination into show business.
The people seemed to like his cocky grin, his quick shift from one imitation to another. The audience that heard him on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour in 1940 liked him, too. He was a winner and spent a month touring with three other hopefuls: Robert Merrill, Frank Sinatra and Ventriloquist Paul Winchell.
Often in the later months when he worked as a Single in clubs around New York City Carter became discouraged.
"Who knows my name?" he lamented. "I'm a guy who does 80 imitations. But nobody's imitating Carter!"
He had a chance to build up a better act when he went into the Army and was assigned to the "Flying Varieties" show. Out in 1945, he had his first real success as a featured comic in the hit Broadway musical, "Call Me Mister." Then television and its search for new talent came along. In 1948 he became interlocutor on the "Pick 'n' Pat" ABC-TV show.
ALL the big-timers were getting into TV: Berle, Durante, Cantor, Hope. Carter kept plugging away. He got better shows. He did guest shots for Berle and headed the "Cavalcade of Stars" over WABD. Last year NBC-TV put him under long-term contract and starred him in the "Jack Carter Show" from Chicago.
At the age of 29 the kid from Coney Island was making $1,000 a week, had a pretty wife (ex-model Joan Mann), a nice apartment, a nice car. TV was hard work but he loved it.
It was show business.
He was in Hollywood testing for a comedy role in a Lana Turner film (he got the part) when Harpo Marx made him so happy.
"Imagine him recognizing me!" said Carter. "And then being nice enough to talk about it. I'd always thought he COULDN'T talk!"

The early TV Carter wasn’t universally liked by critics. John Lester of the Long Island Star-Journal declaimed in1950, when Carter was still at DuMont, that Milton Berle, Morey Amsterdam, Sid Caesar and Carter “None...have the ‘warmth’ and the humility without which no comedian is ever really great.” Lester’s comments are not quite fair. “Warm” was not the kind of comedy the four were doing. With the possible exception of Caesar, they were loud, boisterous and vaudevillian. Lester had been comparing them to Keaton and Chaplin, who were working in a different medium with a different approach.

Carter’s NBC show lasted a little over a year. There were rumblings in Variety in March 1951 that NBC was not happy with the show losing ground to Ken Murray on CBS, even though ratings were still decent. Sponsors jumped ship. Finally in May, the network decided to try something else in Carter’s slot. (Carter spent late August doing a show at the Chicago Theatre, ironically replacing Ken Murray).

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s TV columnist wasn’t impressed with Carter’s show. He put only part of the blame on Carter. This column is from February 14, 1951.

Jack Carter Falls Short As Comic, Hurt by Writers
By Merrill Panitt

One of Jack Carter's sponsors on his Saturday night opus is a company that produces dog food, which is appropriate enough since most of the show seems to come out of a can.
Carter himself is an amiable enough young fellow. It is only that he has one rather serious fault as a television entertainer. The boy lacks talent as a comedian. He has nerve, a fine appearance, and good stage presence. It's only in the comic department that he falls flat.
Every comedian should have some style, some trademark of his own. With Durante it's the schnozz and his pretended boastfulness. With Lahr it's a rubber face and a buzzsaw singing voice. With Berle it's brashness and the ability to steal material carefully. You could go down the list and find characteristics that set each comedian apart from his colleagues.
Like Hope, Carter tells gags in rapid-fire succession—only Hope's usually are original and are beautifully timed. Carter's (and this may be his writers' fault) are not new and his timing misses. Like Berle's stuff, his material has a reminiscent ring. Like any of a thousand night club comedians he urges the audience to laugh it up. But he doesn't seem to have anything of his own.
Last Saturday night Carter's guest was ex-movie queen Constance Bennett, who is now making the rounds as a guest star. Her sister, Joan, is also making the circuit. Isn't it a small world? Carter and his writers, may their tribe decrease, had Miss Bennett, Constance that is, in two sketches, one as the chief of a government bureau testing women's products and the other in a takeoff on the movie, "King Solomon's Mines."
The first sketch, real high class stuff, ended with Carter climbing into a woman's girdle. The second had Carter doing a fairly amateurish takeoff on Groucho Marx—with no credit line to Groucho. It was all about a gorilla and a diamond mine, and as far as I know had no ending.
To Carter's credit, he knew Miss Bennett's part as well as his own, and a couple of times was called upon to speak them when the lady's memory lapsed.
There was another sketch, without Miss Bennett, in which Carter was a barber and—you guessed it—cut all the hair off his victim's toupee. Why, by the way, are toupees always supposed to be funny?
During one musical interlude Donald Richards sang a song titled, "Johannesburg," which led into the "King Solomon's Mines" sketch and the one joke that sticks in my mind. It had something to do with making king size cigarets for pygmies who like to pole-vault.
Considering the cost of the program and the fact that it precedes Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca, it would seem that NBC would expect and demand more for its sponsors' money. Carter might be all right if his writers (the credits listed four of them) turned out presentable material. He is not comedian enough, however, to carry a program by sheer weight of personality.
To Carter's credit he can carry a tune and do a time step. He also, it is said, has the knack of being able to read a script once and know it by heart. So can a couple of the Quiz Kids.

Panitt’s opinions proved to be without merit, if one uses longevity as a yardstick. Carter’s guest appearances on television over the following decades seem endless. He was quick with a quip on game and talk shows. He was in constant demand. Carter may not have been “warm,” but he could be pretty funny.

If you want to know more about Jack Carter, there’s no better person to ask than author Kliph Nesteroff, who spent a good chunk of time in the comedian’s good books and bad books. Read here.

Monday, 29 June 2015

50s Design Fun From John Sutherland

I enjoy the work (that I’ve seen) of the John Sutherland studio, and I enjoy some of the drawing style used in commercial and some of the theatrical cartoons put out in the 1950s. So I really like the artwork in The Story of Creative Capital, a 1957 Sutherland industrial film.

The layouts are by Vic Haboush, who started with Disney, and the backgrounds are by Joe Montell, who was in the Tex Avery unit at MGM. Both of them ended up at Hanna-Barbera.

Forgive the low resolution, but here are some of the backgrounds.

Montell worked on Avery’s Farm of Tomorrow, by the way.

This particular short has been restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation. You can go HERE and watch the film.

Incidentally, there are three voice actors on this cartoon but only Marvin Miller gets credited. Daws Butler is Alf the Elf and Herb Vigran is Richard Van Winkle. Vigran worked on a number of Sutherland productions. And this post gives me an excuse to divert the topic for a moment and post a couple of photos I have of Marvin Miller.

My thanks to Mark Heimback-Nielsen who posted a note on Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research Facebook page about this short.