Saturday, 29 April 2017

UPA Acclaim

In the world of film, there’s room for comedy, drama, adventure, mystery—unless it’s an animated cartoon. In that case, critics (for the most part) decided there was no room for comedy or, if there was, it must be subtle and underplayed.

So it was that critics fell over themselves to expound on the “realistic art” of Walt Disney and then later the “adultness” of UPA.

The UPA story has been told in many places, the tale of a studio that was deliberately anti-Disney, anti-Warners, anti-funny animal, where graphics were important and, perhaps to some of its artists, the only thing that mattered.

I’m afraid I can take or leave pretty much all of UPA’s theatrical output. Mostly leave. The artists seem to be trying too hard to be different, trying too hard to be droll instead of funny. To be honest, the most enjoyable UPA cartoons I’ve seen are the studio’s TV commercials. They are droll, if not funny, and the drawing style is different without clobbering the viewer over the head about it. Mind you, UPA wasn’t the only studio experimenting with character (and background) design and movement in TV ads at the time.

The New York Herald Tribune published this little primer on the UPA studio on November 23, 1953, skipping its pre-history and starting with the Columbia release contract. It’s not an out-and-out rave but shows its appreciation. As you likely know, the Thurber feature talked about was never made. Columbia didn’t think Thurber was box office enough; the same logic that resulted in Mr. Magoo being plunked into the studio’s eventual Arabian Knights feature. And if Rooty Toot Toot was a “tremendous success with children,” it had nothing do with the story. Children soon showed CBS what they wanted—bargain-basement Terrytoons instead of the coy Boing-Boing Show.

The Animated Cartoon Becomes a Full-Fledged Art
Poe, Thurber Stories Made Into Films

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 22.—Four years ago a group of young animated-cartoon experts banded together for the express purpose of taking their product out of the pictures-for-kids or “cat and mouse” stage. They called their company UPA, for United Productions of America, and in the short time they have been active they have completely revolutionized the animated cartoon.
While their break with tradition was not clean—their first releasing contract called for three “Fox and Crow” cartoons—their initial effort, “Robin Hoodlum,” was so original and mature that it was given an exclusive run in the so-called “art circuit.”
Since then, UPA has ticked off many a cartoon milestone and won a gross of awards here and abroad. In 1950, for instance, three of its nearsighted Mr. Magoo films were selected for exhibitions at Edinburgh.
That same year the company won its first Academy Award for “Gerald McBoing Boing,” a highly imaginative cartoon about a little boy who spoke sound effects rather than words. And last year it received an Oscar nomination for “Rooty Toot Too,” a lusty interpretation of the famous legend of Frankie and Johnny, but was beaten in the award by a “Tom and Jerry” picture.
“Rooty Toot Toot” is regarded around the company’s tiny studio in Burbank as the turning point in its history. The subject matter, which is concerned largely with sex, lust and murder, was a distinct departure from anything ever dealt with in animated cartoons. Its tremendous success, both with grown-ups and children, paved the way for further explorations into uncharted fields.
One example of UPA’s new adventures is a cartoon translation of a contemporary literary classic, Ludwig Bemelmans’ “Madeline” (recently shown in New York). This is the story of twelve little schoolgirls in Paris who do everything in unison like brushing their teeth, smiling at good deeds and frowning at bad ones. They live such identical lives that when one gets appendicitis, the others all want it, too.
This unusual project has been approached with great reverence. Bemelmans’ unique art style has been faithfully followed throughout. Some of the colors have been intensified here and there, perhaps, but the end result is as typically Bemelmans as if the artist-author had animated it himself.
Soon UPA will release two other animated cartoons which also are visual counterparts of famous stories—“The Tell-Tale Heart,” by Edgar Allan Poe, and a fable of our time, “The Unicorn in the Garden,” by James Thurber.
The art approach in each instance has been set by the tone of the original. Poe’s story is ghoulish and somber, so the characters and the settings take on some of the atmosphere of a Charles Addams’ drawing. This film has been a labor of love in this respect, for the artists at UPA are extremely fond of Addams’ work, and some day they hope to bring some of his sinister people to the screen.
Light, Gay Fable
As for the Thurber fable, it is light and gay, like his drawings, and the animators have simply assimilated his style. Some minor liberties have been taken with the colors, though, because there is no evidence that Thurber ever worked in anything but black and white. But if he had, the UPA artists feel certain that he would have used colors as sparingly as they have. Similarly, they have applied sloppy washes to the backgrounds on the simple theory that if Thurber had ever attempted to fill in his backgrounds, he’d have been sloppy about it.
UPA is pinning great hopes on its Thurber picture, by the way, because if it is successful, the company hopes to follow it up with a full-length feature based on his famous “Battle of the Sexes.” Some time ago, they took an option on this work but haven’t yet been able to raise the necessary backing, which is estimated at $500,000.
Despite the acclaim which greets its work, UPA has not yet broken down the distributors’ resistance to full-length animated cartoons of a non-“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” character, but the company doesn’t intend to give up trying.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Wile E. Cat

You remember that cartoon where Wile E. Coyote tip-toed from right to left carrying something, giving a knowing side look to the camera before entering his cave?

Oh, wait. This is Wile E. Coyote wearing a Tom costume. Isn’t it?

The cartoon starts with Jerry mouse drinking some kind of potion that makes him as fast as a, um, roadrunner. About the only thing missing in Is There a Doctor in the Mouse (1964) is a pile of purchases from the Acme Company.

We get Warners directors, Warners artists, a Warners writer, Warners sound effects and even Warners voices. We also get a slick-looking cartoon that’s really boring.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

More Fun Than a Barrel of Skeletons

Mickey Mouse encounters skeletons galore in The Haunted House (1929). In fact, he plays the organ for them as they dance and use bones to play each other like xylophones.

Then he tries to escape. A doorknob turns into a skeleton.

A door hides a Murphy bed containing husband/wife skeletons. Mickey jumps out the upstairs window. He lands into a barrel where the water turns into skeletons.

Mickey shakes his head looking around so quickly, he practically grows a second head. This is an early version of smear animation, it would appear.

Ub Iwerks is the only credited animator.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Children of the Radio

For every Ron Howard, who people watched as a young child and followed his show business career into adulthood, there are a bunch of Muriel Harbaters.

Muriel, for those of you who don’t know, co-starred on the radio show “Jolly Bill and Jane” in the late 1920s and early ‘30s on NBC. She was under 10 when she started. She quit the show in 1935. By 1940 was toiling as an office worker for a wholesale stationery company. The show biz in her blood turned anaemic.

Here’s a neat story from the National Enterprise Association from 1931 talking about the child stars on the radio at the time. Two of the people in the story you’ll likely have heard of; they took their careers into adulthood. After childhood, Rose Marie sang and did impersonations in nightclubs, then landed the role she’ll always be known for on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Walter Tetley may have had the biggest radio career of the lot of the young people listed, with regular roles on The Fred Allen Show, then The Great Gildersleeve, then The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. When television came around, he voiced Sherman in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, and that’s probably how you know him best.

The others in the story below had varying degrees of a post-kid life in entertainment. Jimmy McCallion won bit roles in movies and TV. Conversely, I can’t find a thing about Bobby Jane Allert outside this story; I wonder if the author got the name right. And we hope the story is correct and young Muriel retired to a life of independent wealth from her glamour days with Jolly Bill.

Child Radio Artists Outdo Their Dads as Money Earners; Broadcasting Offers New Field for Talented Baby Stars
NEA Service Writer
NEW YORK, Feb. 13. (NEA)—In more ways than one is radio an infant industry. Scores of its artistic little proteges, many of them too young to read their scripts before the microphone, are bringing home bankrolls that make their fathers' salaries look like pin money.
The young idea in the broadcasting business had twisted an old maxim around to "Children should be heard, and not seen"—but the sooner television comes along, the better they'll be satisfied. For talented children are adopting the radio as their own special medium, and another decade or two will find hundreds of highly-paid entertainers who literally have made broadcasting their life work.
Just now, with most of the baby stars, a radio career is pretty much in the nature of a lark. The sights they see in the labyrinthine studios, the rehearsals which are scarcely more than afternoon parties, and the stories and plays in which they take part all are far more exciting than their pay-checks.
As a matter of fact, their salaries are not large in comparison to those of adult performers and, contrary to reports of fabulous amounts and long term agreements, only one young star today is working under contract to a broadcasting company. This is Baby Rose Marie, 7-year-old bundle of hard-boiled precocity, love-crooning, blues-shouting tenement-house daughter of an Italian father and a Polish mother. Their name used to be Mazetta; it's Curley now, and they're managing Rose Marie, teaching her jazz songs and banking something less than $1000 weekly from a vaudeville contract. She has been in the movies, too, and soon will return to the air.
But though many of radio's baby stars are the children of foreign-born parents, few are such unchildlike sophisticates. Winifred Toomey, for instance, an Irish colleen of 10 who has had six years of broadcasting experience. Apparently as simple and unaffected as any youngster of her age, she plays most of the important little-girl parts you hear over the NBC networks. She attends a professional children's school, is a full-fledged actress and earns about $5000 a year.
Winifred has an Irish partner in many of her broadcasts, Jimmy McCallion, 11, who is more of a child of the stage. Jimmy has appeared in several Broadway shows, has had parts in 25 movies, and began his radio career four years ago. He makes a lot more money than Winifred.
Radio Is Play to Him
"Radio is just a lot of fun," said Jimmy seriously. "It's mostly like playing with a bunch of kids at your own house. The movies are just hard work, but I like the stage because I can tell when people like me.
Another highly-paid baby star is Muriel Harbater, who is "Jane" with "Jolly Bill" Steinke on NBC networks every morning. She is the daughter of a plumber in the Bronx who is sticking to his pipes and faucets while Mrs. Harbater manages Muriel and makes sure that her education doesn't suffer. It's a strict routine, rising at 5 o'clock every morning and doing two broadcasts at the studio, but all of her salary is being banked against the time she is of college age and should be independently wealthy.
Miss Madge Tucker, who directs the juvenile activities of the National Broadcasting Company, manages and acts in the widely-known "Lady Next Door" program. Since she deserted the stage for radio six years ago, she has given thousands of children has given thousands of children's auditions and has discovered most of today's youthful entertainers. About 75 of them appear regularly on the programs she supervises.
"And practically every one of them,” she declared, “is the child of hard-working parents who never would dream of exploiting their youngster’s talent. There is some jealousy, of course, but generally we get along better than adult entertainers.
“The children themselves are quicker to learn than most grown-ups. Their charm is in their naturalness for they seldom try to ‘act.’ I treat them like intelligent people because they are. Pure animal spirit sometimes makes them a little unruly at rehearsals but they really take pride in their discipline and almost never show stage-fright.”
Miss Tucker and Miss Nila Mack, director of children’s programs for the Columbia Broadcasting System, both predict that nearly all of their audition discoveries will go far in the entertainment world. There is Walter Campbell Tetley, the “Wee Harry Lauder” of NBC, who was discovered only a year ago and already is appearing regularly in four programs, including “Raising Junior” and Ray Knight’s Cuckoos. Another, Eddie Wragge, (“Shrimp” to you) is 10, tiny and blond, but he already has experience with the Theater Guild.
Howard Merril, at 14, has appeared in scores of movies and plays and is considered one of the best child actors on both Columbia and National Broadcasting programs. Pat Ryan, 10, and Estelle Levy, 8, principals in the “Helen and Mary” broadcast on the Columbia network, both are audition discoveries and come from modest New York homes. Bobby Jane Allert, 4, who has to memorize her script and songs, plays a ukulele almost as big as herself.
When a shabby little Russian girl of 8 walked into the Columbia studio for an audition recently and nearly shattered the microphone with her full-toned blues voice, the orchestra laid down its instruments and applauded. Her name is Ruby Barth, and you’ll be hearing her one of these days.
Their Incomes Vary
Alfred Corn, in NBC’s “Rise of the Goldbergs,” is 14 and gets heaps of fan mail. Laddie Seman [sic] of Norwegian and Dutch parents, has had theatrical experience and seems destined to go far. Donald Hughes, another veteran of 12, has graduated from children’s programs to the very profitable role of Rollo in J.P. McEvoy’s skit on the Columbia network.
But radio's babies have their ups and downs, for only a fortunate few have contracts on commercial programs. Others are "at liberty" for small bits which may last months or only a day. Jimmy McCallion, for instance, until recently appeared in seven different programs on various networks, and made from $15 to $50 weekly with each of them. But some of the broadcasts have been discontinued, and now Jimmy isn't making any more than his papa!
While the field for child talent is growing, program directors say it by no means is keeping up with the host of prodigies whose parents are constantly seeking auditions. Chances are slim indeed for young geniuses of piano or violin, since nothing of their fresh young personalities can be conveyed through the ether. The demand is only for dramatic actors and singers, and not more than one in a hundreds of these is outstanding enough to win a place in broadcasting.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Flapping Foggy

Violent gestures highlighted the early Foghorn Leghorn cartoons in the late 1940s before everything at Warner Bros. became fairly sedate.

Here’s Foggy not paying attention as he’s flapping his gums in The Foghorn Leghorn (1948). The dog gets the worst of it.

Foggy finally notices the dog. Here are some frames from the take.

Foghorn tries to escape from the angry dog. Check out the smear drawings as Foggy looks around before climbing the ladder.

There’s a lot of animation at the bottom of the ladder, too, as the rooster’s legs keep slipping off the rung. You sure didn’t see any action like that by the late ‘50s.

Read Devon Baxter’s research on this particular cartoon here.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Maybe It Does Strike Twice

“The Boy Scout Book says never stand under a tree in a lightning storm,” Droopy informs Spike in Droopy’s Good Deed. Lightning happily obliges to prove the point.

“It says, however, lightning never strikes twice in the same place,” Droopy continues, convincing Spike it’s safe to go back to where the tree was hit. The result is a gag edited for American television (that is, if Tex Avery cartoons still appear anywhere on American television). Scott Bradley plays “Swanee River” in the background.

There’s an odd frame that slipped through production that’s x’d out. The only way you’d see it is if you freeze-framed the cartoon.

Tex’s animators in this cartoon are Mike Lah, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Generous Jack

Jack Benny was ridiculously cheap on the air. That was the idea. Ridiculous equals laughs.

The real Benny was generous, partly because he was boxed in by his radio/TV character. He felt the need to show people in real life he wasn’t cheap.

Some examples are given in this feature story in Modern Screen magazine of October 1942. Movie magazines aren’t exactly reliable sources of journalism but what’s contained in this article was echoed elsewhere for many years. Jack’s mind was elsewhere when he ran into people and his bedroom was laden with pills just in case he got ill. The only odd statement is at the end about giving a break to Rudy Vallee. Vallee was one of radio’s earliest stars and was giving breaks to others before Jack even started on the air.

The pictures below accompanied the article.

Benny’s from Heaven
But Jack’s no angel! He’s a Hellzapoppin’ zany with the biggest line of gags this side of Allen!

One day, not long ago, Jack Benny met a slight acquaintance in the halls of NBC's Hollywood studios and stopped for a chat. The man mentioned the wife of a mutual friend who was very ill. "Zat so?" murmured Jack vaguely, puffing his cigar. "H-m-m-m-m — too bad." Then he changed the subject and strolled on with an absent-minded "So-long."
The acquaintance stared after him and shook his head. "That guy Benny!" he muttered angrily. "What a selfish dope! All he cares about is himself and his show. He must have a cake of dry-ice for a heart!"
A week or so later the same man ran into the ailing woman, now up and about and bustling along the Boulevard. He said she looked swell and what was the hurry? "Got a date to meet Jack Benny," she smiled. "I want to thank him for being so nice!"
"Benny!" sputtered the gent, recalling the disinterested episode. "Good Lord, why Benny?"
"It was the funniest thing," bubbled the lady. "I hardly knew Jack, you know. But one day when I was so sick, he showed up loaded with flowers and presents. He sat around all afternoon telling stories and making me laugh so hard I couldn't help get well. It was the day before his show, too. I know he was busy, and — well, I think he is swell."
Because he is modest, most people think Jack's stand-offish. Because he's shy, they call him cold. Because he plays tightwaddery for a radio gag, they'll tell you he's a penny pincher. Because he's gone absent-minded, wool-gathering on how to make folks laugh, they're sure Jack's distant, indifferent and selfish. Some call him stuck-up because he's been the number one chuckle champ for years; others paint him grass green with envy of Fred Allen, Bob Hope, Red Skelton or every other Joe Comic.
All of which is a lot of scuttlebut, as they say in the navy. If you don't believe me, you might ask Ann Sheridan.
Jack has just finished "George Washington Slept Here," with Oomphy Annie out at Warner Brothers'. Jack always makes buddies out of his movie leading ladies, and always before the picture is over they turn up on his radio show. Jack thought Ann would be particularly swell on a Sunday laugh spot, but when he suggested it, she shivered and shook.
"I'm allergic to radio mikes," protested Ann. "I'm likely to faint or draw a bamboozled blank and ruin your program. Sorry, Jack, but it's impossible."
Jack tried to soft-talk her out of it, but he saw Ann wasn't kidding. Mikes do convert her nifty knees to jelly and turn moths loose in her tummy. But Jack was convinced Ann would be terrific, and he had an idea. "Okay," he told her, "I'll write two complete shows — one with you and one without you — and rehearse 'em both. Then if you just can't go through with it at the last minute — well — you won't have to." And that's what he did — although it cost Jack a pretty penny and some horse-sized headaches, too, to double the order just to soothe Annie's nerves.
The first year that Jack's black Man Friday, Rochester, clicked on his program, he got a $10,000 check for Christmas. Every member of Jack's big staff, his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, his entertainers, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, Don Wilson, and all the rest get regular raises on already fat salaries well above what their options call for. Nobody who has ever worked for Jack is happy with anyone else. His secretary, Harry Baldwin, has been with him 11 years. Two actors he brought out from Broadway several years ago haven't worked on Jack's show for months, yet every Saturday night their check is in the mail. On his army camp shows Jack personally foots all transportation and technical expenses, which run into four figures about every week. If I mentioned his private charities, I'd only embarrass a sensitive guy. But I can tell an incident on the "George Washington" set that happened just the other day.
passing the "buck" . . .
They were collecting for a certain war fund around the Warner lot, signing up the various stars for various amounts. It was all on the cuff and in advance, but when Jack was approached he said — "Oh, sure," and reached in his pants pocket, extracted a roll of century notes big enough to choke a cow and said, "I don't know how much is in it, but take it. Wait," he added, peeling off a lone dollar bill. "I need gas to get home."
Most of this abundant generosity in Benny comes from the fact that he has little use for the green stuff except to pass it around. He has been so up in the chips for so long that he knows it isn't mere bank notes that count.
You wouldn't think a hardened entertainer would be sensitive about his comic stock in trade. But the penurious, misery air Jack assumes for gags on the air waves touches him to the quick.
A Brown Derby waitress told me, '"Jack Benny doesn't over tip. He over-over-over tips." He's afraid somebody will think him a nickel-nurser. A couple of years ago when his wife, Mary, was in Honolulu, Jack cabled her one night. "Jack Benny cabling Mary Livingstone in Honolulu," said Jack. "Oh," replied the operator, "then you'll want the message sent on the deferred rate, won't you, Mr. Benny?" Deferred trans-ocean messages are lots cheaper, and in this case it made only an hour or so's difference, and the message wasn't rush at all. But Jack flushed — "No — no," he said hastily. "Send it straight — send it straight!" He was afraid even an operator would think him stingy.
Actually, the luxury requirements of Jackson Benny are pretty meager. He has never felt exactly comfortable in the plush life, remembering too well the hard times he waded through to success. He lives in a Beverly Hills colonial mansion of movie star proportions, all right, but that's mostly a gesture to Mary and his family. Jack himself holes out in his bedroom, which is his workroom, library, studio and about everything else. He has a complete radio transcription outfit there, recording machine and playback equipment. The walls are lined with bound scripts of his shows. He has dope and data scattered around on a couple of big desks and seals himself in amid dense cigar smoke for inspiration on this or that.
Like most Beverly Hills citizens the Bennys sport a fancy swimming pool in the back yard. Jack never uses it. Instead he goes down to State Beach, the public strand at Santa Monica, and mingles with the mob. He's a guy of the people, really, and is happiest when he's doing just the things they do. His biggest daily recreation is a walk downtown in Beverly to hang around the drug store. He used to get his biggest recreational kick driving his open roadster around town slowly, often with Joan, and buying her all the things she shouldn't have. He likes to go to the fights and movies and the Play Pier at Ocean Park.
slightly stupendous . . .
When the Jack Bennys first got settled in Beverly Hills, they used to entertain a lot, and like all Hollywood entertainers, they found that their parties soon became events. A guest list starting at ten zoomed to two hundred in no time. People they slightly knew came and kibitzed on the food and entertainment. One New Year's Jack and Mary threw a lavish party— with gay canopies all around the place, an orchestra, fancy catering and almost a stage set around the swimming pool. Everybody came — and stayed, and it was such a chilly night that the Hollywood night clubs actually beefed about Benny taking away their customers.
In the midst of the gala event, a good friend of Jack's came up to him and noticed that Jack wasn't having such a hell of a good time. He pointed to the mob. "It's colossal, Jack," he cracked. "Why don't you photograph it?" Since then the Benny's don't entertain like that. When they go in for good times it's with their close pals, and what they do are the little ordinary American fire-side diversions — cards, conversation and home movies, as a rule.
The intimate Benny set includes Barbara Stanwyck and Bob Taylor, Ronnie Reagan and Jane Wyman, the Ray Millands, the Mervyn LeRoys, Loretta Young and her husband, Tom Lewis, George Burns and Gracie Allen and Jack's in-laws, the Myrt Blums.
For a long time the clique maintained a Sunday night "Turnabout Club," the turnabout part being that each member took turns footing the check for an evening of dancing at Ciro's or some Hollywood glitter gallery. Jack loves to dance, and he's good, too, especially at a rousing rumba. Since the war and his army camp shows, his one night of stepping out has been stepped on. Sunday evening is Jack's high spot of the week in more ways than one. It's the only time he can relax — after the radio show is over — and as anyone will tell you, Jack's weekly radio stint is the essence of his life.
He worries about it from Tuesday until it goes on the air Sunday. Sunday night is the only night he lets down, when the "So-long, folks" signs him off the air waves. Monday he sleeps late and that is what his colleagues call "the wolves' day." Every Monday people who want Jack to attend to this or that, people with axes to grind, solicitors, business agents, tailors with fittings, salesmen and all extra-show business characters swoop down on Jack. He holds court far into the night. Tuesday morning he starts worrying again — about Sunday's show.
Jack is a great worrier — maybe that's why he's so good. His nails are chronically bitten down. He's a perfectionist, and he's always sure everything he does is terrible. The people who brand him disinterested and self-centered don't know that from Tuesday morning at 7:30 on (Jack is an early riser every day except Monday), Benny is deep in mental agonies about his next Sunday program. He puts in hectic work on it surrounded by his staff who tag after him to his several offices, scattered around Hollywood at NBC, his home, Paramount, Warner Brothers and Twentieth Century-Fox. During that time he is likely to stare old friends in the eye and not know them. Sometimes Mary Livingstone, after repeating the same thing to him five times and getting "H-m-m-m's" for answers, will cry, "Remember me? I'm your wife!"
benny's self-torture . . .
Jack himself bemoans this concentration because it takes plenty out of him, but he's convinced that his stuff depends on timing and finesse. That's one reason he feels so chagrined about his value as an army camp entertainer. He feels that the continuity type of program he puts out is not zippy and fast enough to make good watching entertainment for the doughboys. And while he doesn't beef about it, it's no secret that for him to stage a program where every faculty isn't just right is a torture his audience never knows about. When things aren't smooth as silk, Jack Benny dies a slow death.
Jack envies Bob Hope and Red Skelton and the only gag ad libbers who can toss off a show at the drop of a hat, tear themselves to pieces and love it. "If I was only about ten years younger like those guys" he wails. Jack always gives out with a 45-minute warm-up to compensate for the less slam-bang character of his program. And he's already made plans for a 13-week road tour of the camps this summer, devoted exclusively to entertaining soldiers with a show prepared especially for them. He'll pay the expenses, by the way, and it will cost plenty. But that's the only way Jack figures he can really do a good job and keep out of a coffin.
Health is a great concern of Jack's. Some people call him a hypochondriac. He's a great pill swallower, dieter and general health faddist. "Benny," Phil Harris once cracked, "eats an 11 course meal — five courses of food and six courses of pills!" The other day a waitress at Warner Brothers brought Jack his lunch; it was Jack's tomato day. As she set the plate down the waitress gasped, "Oh, Mr. Benny, I'm so sorry!"
"What's the matter?" gulped Jack.
"Why, your tomatoes — they're sliced, and I forgot you like them quartered!"
Jack doesn't drink. When he does he falls asleep. If he goes for a cocktail before dinner it's always a pink lady. He's always furrowing his brow about the cigars he devours but can't stop them. His dietary weakness is rich food and late night stuffing. "Restaurants will be the death of me," he wails after stocking up on a choice morsel.
Oddly enough, Jack's not one bit touchy about the signs of Old Man Time. In fact, he's always joking about his thinning, gray hair. A few days ago on the "George Washington" set he had a scene in which he was drenched in a rainstorm. After the prop storm deluged him a few times, Jack cracked, "For gosh sakes — get me out of here — my hair's slipping."
don't tell allen, but . . .
Probably the highest glee of Jack's week is listening to the caustic comments of Fred Allen which rip his own show to pieces every Sunday. He carries a couple of portable radios with him to be sure not to miss them, smoking a stogie furiously and chuckling when Fred — who pulls no punches — hits a particularly tender spot. The Allen-Benny feud, by the way, is entirely impromptu. It was never a studied gag, like the Walter Winchell-Ben Bernie battles. Jack and Fred, who have known each other from vaudeville days, never correspond or arrange pots at each other. Each Sunday it's a complete surprise to Jack, and he's never yet got really mad.
Jack is always telling his friends that he'd give anything, including a small fortune, for a year's rest. Sometimes he probably means it. "I'm tired," he sighs. "The pace is killing me," but there's always some reason why he can't stop. Right now, of course, the reason is that Jack thinks he'd be unpatriotic to loaf when the government can use the cartwheels he collects each week and when the public can use a few belly laughs.
What Jack Benny will probably do if he ever ends up on the retired list is to sit and reminisce — his favorite recreation today — about the fun he's had making other people laugh. About the kick of giving breaks to radio stars like Rochester, Kenny Baker, Rudy Vallee, Phil Harris, Dennis Day and a dozen more. And the headaches he's enjoyed stewing on picture sets, taking it on the chin from sassy birds like Fred Allen and generally worrying himself sick — and happy. Probably Jack Benny will be most remembered in Hollywood's archives by his last picture, "To Be or Not To Be" — because it undoubtedly is his best to date. It would be a funny thing if some future Hollywood historian links him with the one he's doing now — "The Meanest Man in Town."
Because, take it from me, that's one thing Jack Benny is not and never has been — and the people who get that impression just don't know their Benny.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Early Bouquets For George Pal

George Pal had a reputation amongst the cognoscenti when he arrived in North America from Europe in early 1938. His stop-motion films had been well received by critics overseas and he soon made his mark in North American theatres. He animated his Puppetoons for Paramount release until the profit margin disappeared, then turned to feature film work.

Bosley Crowther of the New York Times may have been the first critic in the U.S. to write about Pal’s work. In the paper’s March 13, 1938 edition, he said, in part:
Pal has already shown some of his work here privately—and a delighted spectator may be permitted to endorse it enthusiastically. He is a master of vivid color compositions and a slyly inventive humorist, generally in the vein of the more impish European artists. All of his best films have been made as “commercials”—that is, to advertise (though anything but offensively) such products as Horlicks malted milk and Phillips radios—because, he says, the European market for non-commercial shorts is small and is generously supplied from this country. Therefore, he has not yet created a recognizable character around which to build his plots in the manner of the American cartoon animations. When he does so, his creations should be even better than they are now.
And—if a discreet jot of sooth may be permitted herein—it is safe to opine that Pal has what it takes to be just that to the American movie public ere long.
The first lengthy article on Pal’s work I can find is in the Summer 1936 edition of the English publication Sight and Sound. Others in Europe were making puppet films—Starevitch and Réné Bertrand in France, the Diehl Brothers in Germany and Ptushko in the Soviet Union. Pal, however, was the first one profiled by the magazine.
By Marie Seton

IN this country there is still a lingering prejudice against advertisement films; audiences are slightly resentful when they are told they must buy such and such a commodity. Were it not for this conviction that art and entertainment seldom go amicably in hand in hand with commercial propaganda the cartoon and doll films of the young Hungarian, George Pal, would be far better known in England than they are.
Thanks largely to the Dutch firm, Phillips Radio, Pal is making a steady contribution to the cinema. He works at Eindhoven, Holland, where Phillips have given him a studio, and allow him free rein to further the ideas he began developing a few years ago in Berlin where he was an art director for Ufa. His first important film, Midnight, was made in 1932 for a Berlin cigarette firm. It was black and white, and in it Pal animated an army of little puppets made in the form of cigarettes. Since then his dolls and the materials he utilizes have become extremely varied. Of his drawn cartoon films, The Revolution of the Bulb is the most amusing; it seems, however, that the puppet film is becoming his real métier.
Pal’s dolls are of brightly painted wood, and have the appearance of toys; and as in cartoon where each stage of a movement has to be drawn, so in Pal’s films there has to be a number of figures in slightly different positions to develop a single movement. The series of dolls completing such a movement as walking, dancing, or jumping are attached to wooden boards; while the figures which have to give the impression of moving through the air are made in profile and fixed to sheets of glass. The puppets are then arranged in a miniature set built of pasteboard and wood.
Pal’s style of work is fantastic and delicate, and he relies upon individual characters far more than armies of animated objects and crowds of dolls. His humour is subtle. Of his advertising pictures, Ship of the Ether and The Magic Atlas are the most imaginative. Ship of the Ether is an enchanting fantasy of a broadcasting studio in which the doll artistes go through dreamlike antics and ships in twisted glass sail over fantastic seas. Magic Atlas presents a variety programme from important radio stations, showing what you can enjoy if you have a Phillips set. The dolls in this film, as well as some in Ship of the Ether, are often amusing caricatures of celebrities such as Strauss, Henry Hall and Tauber; there is also a delicious tennis tournament broadcast from Paris.
Recently George Pal has been making a series of independent film with English dialogue, based on stories from the Arabian Nights; the first, Ali Baba, is complete. Because it does not have to conform to advertisement, Ali Baba is Pal’s best film. It is a delightfully whimsical version of the old story, and the use of colour (Gasparcolour is used) and the composition of the whole are excellent. He has also just completed a puppet film in England for Horlick’s Malted Milk which is so good that two more may be sponsored by the same firm immediately.
The Los Angeles Times noticed Pal in its March 27, 1938 edition. It explains the incredible amount of work needed to make a Puppetoon.


IMPORTED NOVELTIES screened at the Filmarte recently included a striking puppet play in color, “Ship of the Ether.” Last week a dapper young Hungarian named George Pal, newly arrived in town, told me that this had been his first creation in the puppet medium. He seemed unnecessarily apologetic about it; but since then, he explained eagerly, he has improved the art “200 per cent.”
Pal’s subjects, called “Puppet-toons,” have won unstinted admiration in Europe during the past four years. Oddly enough (to us,) they have all been sponsored by advertisers; but limited distribution channels abroad make the regular production of animated films unprofitable. Here Pal expects to work free of the art-for-art’s-sake basis, and is already negotiating with several of the major concerns with that in view. If he succeeds, you may look forward to something really different.
George Pal was a cartoonist originally, animator in a Budapest studio. Later he became head of the animation department at Germany’s U.F.A. plant. But as holder of an architectural degree he was never quite satisfied with two-dimensional drawings. Two years later he opened his own studio, and developed “the color cartoon in the third dimension”—i.e., with dolls against actual sets.
Although the actors are puppets, there are no strings attached. Nor are there any moving parts. A completely stationary puppet is created for each phase of a “movement.” And where the cartoonist would draw a separate figure for each motion-step, Pat builds a separate doll.
Or part of one. It depends how much of the doll’s body is supposed to “move,” from one frame of film to the next. Thus a “close-up” of the heroine making eyes at the hero would require replacement of the lady’s original head by twenty-eight others—each one advancing the wink until the twenty-eighth had told the story. When you consider that an average one-reeler contains 15,000 frames, Pal’s work would appear to have been cut out for him! But he just smiles and says, “It’s no more difficult than cartoons.”
Indeed a “working cartoon” is made and “shot” before the actual subject—in order, Pal explains, to test the movements of the dolls-to-be. Even earlier, the script has been written, the music scored, and the sets designed. When everything is ready the puppets go into “action.” Held in place by invisible pins, they are about six inches high. But they look as big as life.
Pal maintains a staff at Eindhoven, Holland, although his last subjects have been in English. They include “Philips Broadcast, 1938,” a tabloid revue (music by Ambrose;) “Home on the Range,” with synchronized dialogue; “Sleeping beauty,” and “The Queen Was in the Parlor,” which music by Jack Hylton’s orchestra.
A number of Pal’s stop-motion shorts were compiled into a film called The Puppetoon Movie a number of years ago, exposing his work to a new generation. Some of his shorts can be found on-line, and you should seek them out. You can view Pal’s Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1936) below.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Today is Not 1934

Attitudes change with the times and conditions. In the Depression-era cartoon When My Ship Comes In, Betty Boop gives away her $1,000,000 windfall. What do people want to do with their new-found wealth? Today, people want to retire and do nothing. Not in the Depression. People wanted to work. And that’s what benefittors of Betty’s benefaction wanted to do. They get blue-collar jobs in factories brought back to life from the dead economy.

Railroads, the symbol of prosperity. Goods are being shipped to markets across the country.

Building cities. The symbol of progress.

That was in 1934. People wanted, needed something positive. This cartoon is all positive. Everyone in it is positive.

In 1934, having a job warded off psychological depression. Today, there would be complaining about dead-end factory jobs and overpaid, incompetent management. In 1934, growing cities meant life was improving. Today, growing cities bring about gripes about gentrification and the destruction of nature. Today, people are negative. No wonder many want to turn back the clock to a different time, even if it’s a time when people had very, very little.