Sunday, 23 November 2014

He Didn't Like Mr. Kitzel

Nobody got worked up about dialect humour 120 years ago. America was a land of newcomers from Europe and they all laughed at each other’s accented mangling of English. They laughed at themselves. Stereotypes were considered funny exaggerations. No one took it seriously. Staying out of poverty, that was to be taken seriously.

Dialecticians were big on the vaudeville stage and then appeared on radio when it replaced vaudeville. With new generations came new attitudes. Dialect humour was not only old and tired, it offended people who saw it as ridicule, not good-natured fun.

Jack Benny’s radio show had a bit of dialect humour, certainly in the ‘30s. Jewish accents a specialty. Ralph Ashe played Schlepper. Later, Sam Hearn was Schlepperman, who became so popular he decided to go off on his own. Pat C. Flick played a variety of characters, including Jewish ones. Benny was Jewish. His writer Harry Conn was Jewish. Neither saw anything demeaning.

Things changed after the war. Most of Benny’s stable of characters—Rochester being a notable exception—could be suburban WASPs for all anyone knew. Even the New York accented phone operators played by Bea Benaderet and Sara Berner (later Shirley Mitchell) didn’t sound like they belonged to an ethnic minority. About the only ethnic characters who made somewhat regular appearances were Mel Blanc as Sy the Mexican and Artie Auerbach as Mr. Kitzel. Sy existed simply for wordplay. Kitzel sounded like a short, nice, older Jewish man who liked to pay a friendly visit.

Arthur Allan Auerbach was born May 7, 1903 in New York City to William Wolffe and Rose Feiner Auerbach. His father was from Germany, his mother from Russia. He didn’t start out in life to be a radio entertainer. Walter Winchell knew Auerbach from the newspaper business and wrote this little note in his column in 1957:

VIGNETTE—Artie Auerbach, the popular "Kitzel" on the Jack Benny radio shows who passed recently, was a comic find by Phil Baker, who howled at Artie's dialect humor. . . . Baker met Artie when the latter starred as a news-photographer. He introduced him to Lew Brown, who was casting a revue named "Calling All Stars." Brown was also convulsed by Auerbach's Yiddish accent. . . . He immediately signed him for that Broadway show. . . . as a hill-billy.

Auerbach had been employed by papers including New York Graphic and covered the Lindbergh kidnapping case. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of October 25, 1934 revealed Auerbach’s turn in “Calling All Stars” was to begin “soon.”

His career with Baker didn’t last long. In October 1936, it was revealed that Auerbach had been stolen by the Thief of Bad Gags, Milton Berle, for his show. The following April, he was on Eddie Cantor’s show, then took his Jewish accent to Jack Haley’s show for the 1937-38 and 1938-39 seasons, the latter called “The Wonder Show.” It included Lucille Ball and Lucy’s cousin Cleo Manning in the cast (Gale Gordon was the announcer). Artie and Cleo got married and Lucy signed the marriage certificate as a witness. By this time, Kitzel (he wasn’t “Mr.” at this point) had developed the catchphrase “Could be!” which found its way into untolled Warner Bros cartoons.

Well, maybe the accent wasn’t Jewish. The Buffalo Courier-Express of March 13, 1940, had this item in its entertainment section:

Artie Auerbach, dialectician on the Al Pearce programs, came by his stock in trade in a curious way. While serving as a photographer with a New York daily, he dropped into a Bronx candy store to phone his City Desk. The photographer's "singing" dialect intrigued Artie so much that he spent the whole afternoon listening to it--and many more afternoons and evenings thereafter, finally mastering the jargon himself. Most listeners would consider it as Jewish in origin, but Artie claims that the dialect comes from a combination of several Balkan tongues.

Kitzel appeared on the Pearce show for two seasons, then Auerbach took a year off to tour 250 Army posts and Navy boot camps. By 1944, Mr. Kitzel was on the air again, this time with Abbott and Costello. On January 6, 1946, Auerbach made the first of many appearances on the Benny show, first as a hot dog salesman at a Rose Bowl game. His selling refrain “Pickle in the middle with the mustard on top” was turned into a song by one of Benny’s writers and Mr. Kitzel remained on the show, appearing every few weeks to kibbitz with Jack with humour based on his Jewishness (Kitzel would remark that he had a cousin with an Irish name or a son who went to Southern Methodist University). Mr. Kitzel moved along with many of the other secondary players when Benny went into television and remained on the show until he died on October 3, 1957 (one episode was aired posthumously).

But there was someone, a long-time friend of Benny’s, who wasn’t happy with the Kitzel character, someone who had been known for years for dialect humour, beginning in vaudeville. Here’s the story from a syndicated column dated March 2, 1963.

Rubin In First Jewish Part

Hollywood—A relatively small but nonetheless significant event took place on ABC's “77 Sunset Strip” series last night.
Benny Rubin, one of the great dialect comedians in show business, played his first Jewish character part since 1938.
You’re nuts, somebody will say. We see him on Jack Benny’s show all the time. But on Jack’s show, Benny Rubin does not play Jewish characters.
Three weeks ago, he was an Arab in a commercial with Don Wilson.
On Tuesday of this week, he was a stagehand on Jack’s show, but just a mug type with no particular ancestral identification.
“I quit doing Jewish characters because the movie producers in 1938 banned them from all pictures," Benny recalls.
“A campaign by Walter Winchell started it. He and the movie moguls decided that because of Hitler and his treatment of the Jews, it was better not to play up Jewish accents. The funny part of it was that Winchell in the next paragraph would quote his favorite character, ‘Mefoosky.’”
A score or more of Jewish dialect comedians suddenly had no work, says Benny. The late Fanny Brice went into radio and became the non-Jewish “Baby Snooks.” Bert Gordon went to Eddie Cantor's radio show to become the "Mad Russian.”
Benny Rubin opened a dress shop. When it didn't go, he began peddling barbecue barrels. Later, he got into radio as host of a show called “Best of the Week.” Benny's salary was $23 per show.
Since then, Benny has managed to do all right, although nothing like his days as a vaudeville headliner and movie character actor. TV, radio and movies still shy-away from Jewish and Negro dialects.
“I’d rather not do the Jewish characters they do have, the way they are written,” says Benny. He was about to turn down the one on Friday’s “77 Sunset Strip.”
“When I saw the script, I almost cried. One line had this Jewish clothier asking, ‘Would you like your pants I should matching by the coat?’ Can you imagine gibberish like that? I went to the director and he told me to say the lines the way I wanted.”
Benny never liked the way the late Artie Auerbach did his Kittzel character for Jack’s show.
“I thought it was phony. There are ways to do these things so that the character is made warm,” says Benny.

Could Rubin’s comments be a case of bitterness? He was a vaudeville headliner who had been reduced to doing bit parts. Mr. Kitzel wasn’t as over-the-top as Sam Hearn’s Jewish Schlepperman 10 to 20 years earlier. Kitzel was, if nothing else, fairly benign, though the Judaic switching of names (ie. Nat King Cohen for Nat King Cole) and his “hoo-hoo-HOO!” might have become tiresome for some fans. Still, the fact he remained on the show for 11 years until his death shows that there weren’t really any objections to him. He never would have stayed otherwise.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Fun Factories of Filmland, 1916

J.R. Bray invented the animated cartoon. Well, that’s what the papers suggested.

A 1916 syndicated newspaper feature looked at the Paramount-Bray Pictographs which had started appearing on movie screens that year. There had been animated cartoons before that, but the story makes no mention of Winsor McCay or Raoul Barré. Bray was the one being interviewed, and he wasn’t going to share credit with anyone. Indeed, as events soon revealed, Bray’s claim of the invention of the animated cartoon extended to the U.S. Government Patent Office, which he used to attempt to rake in royalties from other studios from the animation process. Bray eventually forsook cartoons for educational films.

Tom Stathes has compiled a fine, footnoted primer on the Bray Studio HERE.

This story appeared in newspapers on a variety of dates; I’ve found one as early as June 13, 1916. These pictures appeared with the story; I’ve had to omit one of Bray himself because it’s not visible in any of the copies I’ve found.

J. R. Bray of the Paramount-Bray Studios is the Wizard of Laugh Getters.
His Animated Cartoons Make Film Fun For the Nation

When the original stone-age caricaturist created the first mother-in-law joke by hammering rock against rock, he is credited with having stepped back to view his efforts with this wish:
“If I could only make her more alive and breathe and still look like that, I’d make the old rocks grin.”
Shades of Tom Nast and Phil May! It was scores of centuries later that these world’s greatest caricaturists made the world jump over the same overworked jest. No doubt they, too, uttered the cave man’s thoughts as they viewed their grotesque conceptions of the much-abused mother-in-law:
“If I could only make her move I’d make the world laugh.”
That was all before the days of the screen drama. Now, at one bound, an ingenious comic artist has succeeded in making his characters not only move and act as he wills, but accomplish feats that no human actor would find possible. To say that he is making whole world laugh would hardly be an exaggeration since his piquant conceptions furnish amusement for a greater number of men and women than any artist ever before dreamed of reaching. Fifth million mirth-loving patrons of Paramount Pictures go into paroxysms of laughter over his comic figures on the screen each week.
J. R. Bray, creator of the Paramount-Bray animated cartoon may well be called the Edison of caricaturing. What the wizard of electricity did in his field, Mr. Bray has succeeded in doing for laugh-making.
Blase moving-picture directors to whom life is a yawn and who wouldn’t possibly twist a single smile out of five reels of the most ridiculous gyrations of the slap-stick comedian admit that they get enough mirth out of a few feet of animated cartoons to create a hearty appetite or add several years to their lives.
For J.R. Bray has accomplished what every cartoonist since the days of the stone-age joker has no doubt wished he could do—he has made his cartoons move. He hits given to the screen what photography cannot give it—the fantastic brain children which the public craves, but which do not exist in reality—the dragons and dodoes and other mythical creatures of the fairy tales. Colonel Heeza Liar, in a brief life, has acquired a reputation as a leading man at Paramount that few living comedians can equal, and Inbad the Sailor and a bottle of tabasco sauce have created comedy for a nation.
Back of the debut of Colonel Heeza Liar lies an interesting story. Mr. Bray, who was born in Detroit, Mich., and has been a resident of New York since 1901, was a newspaper artist and a regular contributor to “Life” and other weeklies before he turned his attention to the screen. He had acquired a reputation for Teddy Bear drawings and had often remarked to Mrs. Bray—
“Wouldn’t those bears be funny if they could move?”
Sitting in a motion picture theatre one evening in the days before the flicker had been taken out of the reel, Mr. Bray caught the glimmer of an idea. He suggested a plan to his wife:
“Put the Teddy Bears into motion pictures.”
Little by little Mr. Bray began to experiment with his drawings. Suddenly he found himself in the position, not so much of a cartoonist, but of a director of comedy. His studio became a dressing room for a stock company of comedians that sprang into life when he sat before his drawing board, and he, himself, assumed the role of stage director.
His characters assumed their roles at the stroke of his pencil, but he found his power more wonderful than that of any director of the legitimate drama. He gave the actors not only life and action—he created them at his need or pleasure. Perhaps his cast consisted of a dragon and a flying brickbat if the day’s work called for that. Heeza Liar came and went at his will.
The legitimate stage director may have his limitations. Not so the animated cartoonist. His equipment is limited only by his imagination and the versatility of his brain.
Out in the sunny Bray studio in New York City, Heeza Liar, Farmer Al Falfa and the rest of the merry troupe rehearse their antics and evolutions for the mirth-mad public. No back-of-the-scenes setting was ever more devoid of decoration than this studio. Certainly no comedies were ever staged with so little disturbance. The walls are lined with the necessary ceiling-to-floor windows and the properties consist of many tables covered with drawing boards at which sit busy artists turning out one hundred drawings a day.
There is no shifting of scenes, no careless disarray of make-up and costumes and no bellowing of orders from a feverish stage director in this motion picture studio. Heeza Liar wins a pennant or directs a charge from a trench at the top of Dead Man’s Hill. No 23, Bobby Bumps, breaks all the speed laws on record in his goatmobile and Farmer Al Falfa flirts with a group of milkmaids or conducts a scientific dairy as the case may be. Nobody in the Bray studios turns a hair even when Heeza Liar wins the greatest battle of the European war. It’s all in the picture and the drama lies in the inventive brain and fingers of J.R. Bray and the splendid staff of artists which he has associated with him in his work including L.M. Glackens, Paul Terry, Earl Hurd, Frank Masses and most important of all C. Allen Gilbert, who among other great illustrators made the American girl famous on canvas.
Sixteen different drawings are flashed on the screen each second in the Paramount-Bray Animated Cartoons. Each artist in the studios turns out approximately one hundred drawings each day, or more, and thousands are turned out to the course of a week. Much of the scenery remains stationary during an entire cartoon so that much of the routine work can be timed out automatically without being repeated countless drawings.
Each movement of his brain children is carefully laid out by Mr. Bray himself in a series of successive positions showing with infinite care the projected movement of each animated figure. It is the fine touches in the animated cartoons which place them among the most popular features on the program.
For a guiding genius of comedy Mr. Bray at first glance appears more than necessarily serious. But that is before you have discovered that life’s an eternal smile with this originator of the animated cartoon, who is slight, rather blonde, and very boyish.
“Every born caricaturist since the days of the cave-man would probably have given half his life to make his characters move,” declares Mr. Bray.
“Cartooning is a comparatively recent art development, but caricaturists have lived since the days when the care man’s feelings of the mother-in-law topic became too much for him and he took to the stone yard to vent his sorrows on the rocks. Research has shown that the stone-age man invented the first joke and it was one on mothers-in-law carved in stone. The Chinese reduced their conception of trouble to five lines representing two women and one man under a single roof; Egyptians carved the comedies of their dynasties on the pyramids, and the Peruvians reproduced on pottery drawings that closely resembled cartoons.”
On his work and the qualifications necessary for a successful screen cartoonist Mr. Bray has distinctive and original ideas. He believes that the public wants the animated cartoon because it gives to the screen what the camera-man can never photograph, the fantastic creatures we have never seen, but never fail to be interested in.
“The animated cartoon marks an epoch in motion pictures as well as in caricaturing,” asserts the Paramount’s cartoonist. “Its possibilities are as yet undreamed of. Eventually it will become to the screen what the drawn illustration is to the magazine of today.
“It takes more than a sense of humor and the skill of the caricaturist to make a man a successful animated cartoonist. The man who is valuable in my studio is the one who has the technique of the cartoonist and the dramatic sense of the stage director. He must not alone be capable of drawing a ridiculous character to provoke mirth or to merely create strange monsters in his brain and transfer them to the screen. His sense of the dramatic must be as finely developed as that of the man who directs a Paramount feature play so that his fantastic actors may be convincing.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wacky-Bye Baby Backgrounds

Here’s some more of Fred Brunish’s work, this time of the Wally Walrus mansion in “Wacky-Bye Baby,” a 1948 cartoon made during Walter Lantz’s United Artists release. It’s a shame I can’t snip together some of the long interiors from this cartoon (characters get in the way and there are colour matching problems). Wally must have spend a fortune on floor wax.

Brunish was only 49 when he died on June 25, 1952 of cirrhosis of the liver.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Slap Happy Skeleton

A lion swallows a bomb to blow up a mouse in his stomach in Tex Avery’s “Slap Happy Lion.” The mouse gets out—then the lion realises what he’s done. He bids us a fond farewell.

Fortunately, the lion isn’t dead. Parts of his body descend from the sky in sequence and he’s just like new again.

This is another one of Avery’s “the-little-guy-is-always-there” cartoons, in this case a lion-frightening mouse (voiced by Frank Graham).

Bob Bentley, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton are the animators in this cartoon.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How To Be a Star

George O’Hanlon is known today only as George Jetson and it’s a shame. O’Hanlon’s original fame came from a series of funny one-reelers released by Warner Bros. in the 1940s and ‘50s which deserve wider exposure.

The Joe McDoakes shorts weren’t really rerun much on television (unlike one-reel animated cartoons or the Three Stooges two-reelers) and attempts to put together a McDoakes sitcom failed. It’s too bad, because the few shorts in the series I’ve seen are enjoyable. They benefit not only from good comic acting but the direction and writing of Richard Bare. The best of the McDoakes have some gentle spoofing and, at times, they get surreal, similar in a way to Bare’s great TV series “Green Acres,” where the bizarre was accepted as a normal way of living.

O’Hanlon and Bare talk a bit about their light pokes in this United Press interview from 1947. O’Hanlon died in 1989 after a stroke (he had just finished a recording session as George Jetson). Bare is still with us at age 101.

Advice on How to Be a Movie Star By a Couple of Gents Who Are Not

HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 18 (UP)—The brothers Warner would have fallen right out of their gold-trimmed swivel chairs if they had seen two of the 2,504 hirelings today. These two characters, ignoring their bosses’ blood pressure, were handing out advice. On how to be a movie star.
Yet they’re quite a stretch from being in that category themselves.
Well, except in a way. They look like movie stars. George O’Hanlon resembles Burgess Meredith a bit and Richard Bare might pass for Cary Grant in the dusk. O’Hanlon and Bare grind out those 10-minute comedies that flash on the screen while you’re out in the lobby having a smoke, waiting for Burgess Meredith and Cary Grant to come on in the main event.
So how come these fellows know so much about being movie stars?
“We look so much like ‘em,” explained O’Hanlon, “that movie stars are always mistaking us for movie stars. We’re on the inside, see?”
Besides, he added, if a movie-towner wants to know something he should ask some yokel who’s not suppose to know. Then he’ll find out.
They gathered their advice by eavesdropping under tables at the Brown Derby and loafing, disguised as lampposts, at Hollywood and Vine.
Then they rolled it into a comedy short, “So you wants be a movie star.” This neatly fits into their “so you wanta” series, which points a stern finger at cringing movie patrons. Things like “so you want quit smoking,” and “so you wanta have a nervous breakdown.”
“We’ll tell you some things about stars that you won’t find in our picture,” hissed Bare.
Here’s their formula. If you wanta be a star, turn bald, elope with your best friend’s wife and report your house robbed once a year.
“A man can’t have more than 10 hairs on his noggin,” explained Bare, parking his number 10’s on somebody else’s desk while we prayed Mssrs. Warner & Warner weren’t peeking. “Haven’t you heard of the hairdressers’ union—Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Charles Boyer?”
A star should also have a face that takes two hours to paint and four hours to light, our experts continued. Gives the makeup men and electricians something to do.
And when an actor is told to choose a script, they said, he rips the title page from a best-seller and writes new insides. That’ll make him a star, says Profs. O’Hanlon and Bare.
Now we come to a star’s social life.
Our hero, they said, must get married only one (whazzis?) Otherwise he’ll be broke coughing up alimony. His one wife, they said, should have been his best friend’s.
“It’s being done, you know,” said O’Hanlon, glancing at a picture of Van Johnson.
“And for publicity,” said O’Hanlon, “what’s better than having your house robbed?” Or giving advice on how to be movie stars?
An actor also can have himself paged at a nitery for only two bucks a month, Bare pointed out. Of course, the star never answers the page at first. He waits until everyone is looking at him.
Now if you’re not a star in two weeks under this formula, said Bare and O’Hanlon, tactfully examining their nails, better leave town. They are.

My favourite of the McDoakes shorts is “So You Want To Be A Detective,” a brilliant spoof where the killer turns out to be narrator Art Gilmore. I spotted another short the other day so watch it before the inevitable corporate take-down order. The mechanical sight gags are ingenious and Bill Lava cooked up a nice little score. The short was released on June 27, 1955, which seems late to be parodying the John J. Anthony radio show (complete with “Don’t touch the microphone”), but the people watching this at the time would be familiar with it. And you should be familiar with the uncredited actor who plays Mr. Agony. He’s Arthur Q. Bryan, the voice of Elmer Fudd. He’s a lot thinner in this than he was in the early ‘40s.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Talking Knives

Knives come to life during an argument over how much they cost in “Choose Yer Weppins,” a 1935 Popeye cartoon. “Aw, make up your mind!” they exclaim in unison.

The background work is always a treat in the earliest Popeye cartoons. Popeye runs a very cluttered pawn shop. I can’t snip together the backgrounds because of the characters being in the way, but here are a couple from the climax of the cartoon, when Popeye and Olive beat up on an escaped crook who tries to rip them off (The sailor man practically strips him. The less said about that the better). The street-scape doesn’t have wonky lamps or crooked buildings but it’s nicely designed and rendered.

Funny, earlier in the cartoon, the shop is on a corner.

Billy Costello, William Pennell and Mae Questel provide the voices while Dave Tendlar and George Germanetti get the animation credits.

Monday, 17 November 2014

The Supreme of the World

What’s playing at the local theatre? Cartoons. Looney Tunes, in fact. Check these posters outside the theatre in “The Film Fan” (1939).

“Valley of the Giants” was a 1938 Warner Bros. release. Apparently the theatre couldn’t book “The Wizard of Oz” but was able to get a print of “Ahs of a Wizard.”

This Porky Pig short was from the Bob Clampett unit. Bob Thomas was Clampett’s background artist, so I suspect he was responsible for the settings (the unit was technically part of the Ray Katz studio, which was considered separate from the main Leon Schlesinger studio, certainly for the purpose of union negotiations).

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Radio Emergencies

One wonders how Mary Livingstone managed to work with her husband on stage in vaudeville. In radio, there was a seemingly constant concern she’d pass out in the middle of a broadcast.

It was revealed to the world in a feature story in the Rochester Democrat Chronicle of September 13, 1936. It’s part of a piece on unexpected things happening during radio broadcasts. I’ve transcribed the whole story. My favourite is the clueless client; such people, I understand, still populate the radio industry.

Blanche Stewart was an unsung heroine of the Benny show of the ’30s. She performed all kinds of roles almost every week for a number of years, she made animal noises, she could scream on cue. For whatever reason, she faded away from the Benny show and ended up as a regular with Bob Hope before returning for periodic appearances toward the end of the ‘40s. She never had the chance to be a secondary player with a character, like Mel Blanc, Bea Benaderet or Frank Nelson, but she was just as talented as far as I’m concerned.

Saving the Situation By RUTH ARELL
Radio Headliners Speedy Thinking Keeps Air Alive
THE time was 7:11 of a certain Sunday night. Jack Benny had just gotten a snappy answer from Mary Livingstone in their half hour of radio fun. In an aggrieved tone he replied, "Oh, yeah?" at which the studio audience howled with glee and Mary stepped forward to take a bow. She beat slightly at the waist but, instead of straightening again, toppled over in a dead faint.
Not waiting for an introduction, Johnny Green immediately swung into the next musical number as Jack polled a bottle of smelling salts from his pocket to bring Mary back to consciousness. While this dramatic by-play was going on, the program continued smoothly on the air.
Those in the studio saw a young lady come forward and stand beside a mike.
In the meantime, the smelling salts began to penetrate the fog that surrounded Mary. Groggily, she got to her feet, realised where she was, and walked over to the mike, waving the young lady away. Johnny Green's music came to an end. Jack announced the name of the song, and he and Mary went into their next bit of comedy dialog.
As far as the radio listeners were concerned, everything had gone off smoothly. Only those actually seeing the broadcast knew about those anxious moments as Jack gave restoratives to Mary. Despite her hearty voice, she is a pretty frail person. So much so that Benny always carries a bottle of smelling salts with her for emergencies. And because of Mary's heeling-over habits, Blanche Stewart, a minor member of the cast, serves as perpetual understudy.
This time Mary's faintness lasted just for the musical interlude and she recovered in time to pick up her cue. If she hadn't Miss Stewart who had come to the microphone while Mary was "out," would have jumped in in her place and imitated her voice to carry on the program.
THAT’S how it is in broadcastland. Every once in a while on the best run programs, something happens that isn’t in the script. It comes suddenly and unexpectedly. When this occurs and the program is on the air, there is only one rule of conduct: The show must go on. And it must go on in such manner that the armchair audience at home never guesses that anything out of the ordinary has happened.
"Lights Out" is a popular song, and is played a lot in the studios. If "Lights Out" had only stayed a song title, all would have been well. Instead, the studio lights actually did go out during a broadcast, and then it was a case of plain sweating agony until they came on again.
Leading his men in a very difficult concerto, Erno Rapee was in the middle of the composition when all the lights in the studio were doused. Rapee breathed a prayer, folded his arms, and left it up to his men. There was nothing else he could do, since they couldn't see his direction. The last half of the concerto was played in total darkness. But so well was the orchestra rehearsed that each man knew his part well and there wasn't the slightest slip-up. As far as the tuner-in could tell, everything was as it should have been. The ability of the musicians had saved the day.
Lights also went out accidentally once during the broadcasting of the Crime Clues program. But one of the actors had the presence of mind to pull out his pocket lighter and use it as a torch. Two others followed his example and those without lighters used match after match. By such flickering light did the show go on.
The following episodes took place during rehearsals, but are funny enough to be used as examples of what can happen while a program is being prepared. Lou Holtz, the comic dialectician, is probably the most nervous guy on the networks. And this despite the fact that he has been on the stage for years.
When he made his very first microphone appearance, he knew nothing at all about broadcasting technique. He stepped up close to the microphone, as he had been told to do, and in a confidential manner read his lines into the mike's waiting ear. He didn't know that in rehearsals there is a “speak-back” attachment to the microphone so that the program director and the engineer in the control room can give instructions to the performer without leaving their booth. Evidently Lou was just a bit too close to the microphone, for he heard a low, rumbling voice say. “Stand back, fella; I can't take it that close!”
“Help! It's haunted!” shouted Lou, and his natural pallor turned a sickly green as he all but passed out It took the entire studio staff to convince him that the microphone itself bad not been talking, but only the engineer who wanted him to step back a bit.
WHILE a certain large orchestra was rehearsing for its commercial broadcast the sponsor came around for a visit to see how things were going. At that particular time the boys were playing a selection that called for string instruments only, which left the woodwind and brass players idle like the unemployed. Noting this, the sponsor jumped up and stormily asked the conductor: “What’s the matter with those men that they are just sitting around doing nothing?”
Surprised, the conductor explained that the music called only for strings. But that left the man who footed the bill far from satisfied.
“Listen,” he said. “I’m paying out enough money for an orchestra. It’s larger than I wanted in the first place so, since I’m paying for all those musicians, I want you to use songs that all of them have to play instead of letting only half of them work.”
But to get back to embarrassing moments on the air, Fred Allen’s came when, on his April Fools Day program, he had a number of guest stars who pretended that they were competing in his amateur contest. One by one he introduced them and each did his bit. Then he came to a certain lady and he gave her a terrific build-up. He dwelt long and lovingly on her career on the screen, on the stage, and in radio. And when he came to mention her name, he plumb forgot it. He had to ask Irene Rich to tell the folks who she was. Was his face red!
SOMETIMES it happens that unfortunate things happen during a broadcast which cannot possibly be kept from going out over the air. When that is the case, they are covered up in the best way possible and every attempt is made to turn an embarrassing situation into a laugh.
Thus, when Ozzie Nelson once lifted his baton to begin the accompaniment to Harriet Hilliard's song, a large, heavy cigaret case slipped out of his pocket and fell to the floor with a resounding “bang.” No mistake about it, that sound went out over the air. Quickly Ozzie turned to the mike and said, “Boy, set 'em up in the other alley!” That made it seem as if the bang was a planned sound effect to introduce his wife's vocal number. It got a big laugh from the studio audience and only those connected with the program really knew bow unforeseen the big noise was.
While a well-known news commentator was airing his views, the page from which he was reading slipped out of his hand. Calmly be bent over and picked it up. And then to explain the split second of silence, he said: “Pardon me, folks, but a blond just passed by.”
WILLIE AND EUGENE HOWARD, two boys who are fast on the trigger in an emergency, saved their program from the embarrassment of “empty air.” Willie always puts his script on a music stand instead of holding it to read his lines. Making a sweeping motion with his hands to emphasize a certain word, he inadvertently swept the script off the stand, scattering the pages in all directions. Eugene looked petrified but Willie, quite as if it had all been planned in advance, switched into the patter of one of their memorized old vaudeville routines. Eugene caught on immediately and gave the proper response when he got his cue. In the meantime somebody got them another script pointed out the proper place, and they went back to their radio material. And the world at large was none the wiser.
Thus, when you listen to a broadcast and admire the clock-like regularity with which the show seems to go off, you seldom can tell if everything really is all right or whether something went wrong, but quick action, fast thinking or just plain luck prevented you from knowing that for a little while some ether favorite was on the spot.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tom and Jerry 3.0

Yesterday, we wrote about how MGM suddenly sprung on its own shareholders the surprising news in March 1961 that a deal had been signed six months earlier with producer William Snyder to make Tom and Jerry cartoons. Enough were made for one theatrical season—13 cartoons—and that was that for Snyder and his director, Gene Deitch.

MGM wasn’t finished with Tom and Jerry, though. It was still making money on them, not only from the Deitch cartoons, but a package of old ones made by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera before Metro got out of the cartoon business. The studio inked a new deal in summer of 1963 to keep the cat and mouse cash cows on the big screen.

Walter Bien had been a film editor for MGM, Monogram and Eagle Lion studios in the 1940s before opening his own TV production company in 1950. By 1954, he was the head of the Universal TV commercial department, had the same job with Warners in 1956, then headed Four Star Productions’ commercial division; the company made animated ads for TV. He opened SIB Productions in August 1960 (I can’t find the reference now but I read the “B” was for “Bien,” “S” and “I” were for his children) to make commercials and industrial films in association with Paramount. But Bien had other things in mind. Daily Variety of October 8, 1962 reported he formed a side company, Bien Productions, “to make fictional vidpix series. ‘The Manager’ is first projected skein.” Then Variety declared on July 26, 1963 he had delivered 14 segments of the Lou Scheimer-directed “Rod Rocket” series to Desilu for distribution. And at some time, he landed a far bigger deal, one that wrested a cat and mouse away from Deitch.

The SIB Productions arrangement with MGM was the centrepiece of a front-page story in Variety of August 30, 1963 on the lay of the land in the West Coast cartoon business. Among many things, it vaguely explained why Metro dumped Deitch.

MGM Revives ‘Tom-Jerry’ Shorts After 6 Years, Walter Bien Producing

Sharp increase in Hollywood animated film activity, indicated during the next few months, should see IATSE Screen Cartoonists Local 839 membership 100 percent employed by end of the year. Prediction was made yesterday by union's biz rep Larry Kilty, who said that at present only 60 percent of the 826 members are working.
Sparking resurgence is deal disclosed yesterday which will put MGM back in the cartoon field for the first time since it shuttered its shorts department in 1957. Walter Bien, it was learned, has been pacted to produce top-budgeted "Tom And Jerry" shorts on a one-a-month basis. As an indie producer, Bien will produce films off the Metro lot, with the studio putting up coin and distributing. Bien, heretofore active only in commercial and industrial film field, has set director Chuck Jones, long associated with Warners cartoon production before studio closed its shorts department in January, to helm films. Jones will bring bulk of crew he has worked with in past which will include writer Mike Maltese.
Cat and mouse team was launched by Joe Hanna and William Barbera [sic], who segued into indie production when Metro halted its shorts production. Their creations, however, remained property of studio. No specific number of cartoons has been set for production under deal, according to Bien. The agreement stipulates that films be made for "as long as they are satisfactory to everyone concerned."
Productions will be in "full animation" as opposed to the "limited animation" common to tv. Illustrating difference, Jones declares that average weekly output for the "limited" animator is equal to from 160 to 200 feet of completed film whereas in "full" artist usually accounts for no more than 30 feet.
WB Also Prepping?
Foreign income derived from animated shorts has long gone largely unnoticed, according to Cartoonists rep Kilty. He asserts that recent reappraisal by Warners of this factor has sparked recurrent rumors that studio is also prepping a return to cartoon production.
No Dubbing Factor
Fact that many of the popular animated series are done in "pantomime" with no dialog and hence no need for dubbing or new tracks on prints shipped overseas is a prime factor in their record of lucrative foreign returns, according to Jones. He notes that "Tom And Jerry" and his "Coyote" and "Road Runner" cartoon series are of this variety.
Foreign production and sharp drop-off in animated skeins in recent seasons has pushed Local 839's employment from virtually 100 percent two years ago to current meager level, according to Kilty. Predicted upswing will be wrought by producers returning after bad overseas experiences and work already on the boards for fall, he asserts. MGM has made several "Tom And Jerry's" in Italy following 1957 halt to local production, asserts Kilty, though studio confirmation on this was not forthcoming.
Hanna-Barbera Active
Among diverse animation activity slated for this fall, according to Kilty, in addition to the Metro work, includes "Whistle Your Way Back Home," the Hanna-Barbera feature already in production for Columbia release [released as “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear!]”; one feature to be made here by Boston producer Norman Prescott, "How The West Was Lost (Almost)" and another which was 60 percent completed in Denmark, "Return To The Land Of Oz," he plans to complete here; a lengthy animated insert into Disney's predominantly-live action "Mary Poppins" plus two features "Jungle Book" and "Winnie The Pooh" now in story stage, two new Hanna-Barbera tv skeins in addition to "Flintstones," a carry-over from previous seasons; a variety of syndicated animated tv fare from such producers as Ed Graham, Al Lovey, Sam Nicholson and Larry Harmon—plus feature title work and an increase in animated commercials, field which usually employs 10 to 15 percent of Kilty's membership and which, according to the biz rep, usually runs in cycles and is due for turn upward.
UPA, adds Kilty, has large-scale Christmas spec in works similar to one they produced last season and Walter Lantz, one of pioneers in cartoon field, continues consistently active.

As a side note, Al Lovey is Alex Lovy, who seems to have briefly left Hanna-Barbera, only to return.

In October 1963, SIB set up a facility in the Sunset Towers Building, hence the company’s later name of SIB-Tower 12 Productions. It had opened an office in Chicago and a separate company in New York in August.

Bien’s crew delivered seven cartoons by the following October. And then production stopped. MGM stepped in. Here’s Variety from December 31, 1964:

Metro, once a major source of cartoon shorts, has come full circle back into the animated production camp. Studio, which disbanded its animation wing several years ago, subsequently releasing cartoons made by indies, now has formed Animation-Visual Arts, a wholly-owned subsidiary which vet animation director Chuck Jones will head-up. Les Goldman is his associate. Unit has begun production on 12 new Tom and Jerry cartoon shorts, continuing characters created in 1937 by William Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Metro, which had released several foreign-made Tom and Jerrys in recent years, early this year inked deal with Walter Bien’s animation-commercial firm for production of a new cartoon series featuring the cat and mouse team. In October, after completing seven of them, Bien’s company struck financial trouble and ceased production. Difficulties, which involve a suit brought by employees for back wages, are now being unraveled by courts, with an out-of-court settlement also a possibility.
In addition to theatrical cartoons, Jones and company will make commercial and educational films. To that end a research and development fund has been formed for unit’s use. Unit, most members of which had been working for Bien, will [remainder of sentence unavailable].

Metro was anxious to keep Tom and Jerry going. A Variety piece on August 5, 1964 estimated the Tom and Jerry series was good for at least $1,000,000 a year in sales to foreign markets alone. As for Bien, he signed with Rock Hudson’s Gibraltar Productions in late March 1965 to head the company’s new commercial and industrial film wing.

A month before Bien ceased production, he sold SIB’s New York subsidiary to the man running it, no doubt to raise cash.

MGM Visual Arts eventually moved into new territory involving a Grinch, Oz and a Phantom Tollbooth. The studio quietly decided to leave theatrical shorts behind. After the release of “Purr-Chance to Dream” in 1967, the 34th short after end of MGM’s contract with William Snyder, there was no more Tom and Jerry. Well, until they resurfaced in TV form under their old bosses, Hanna and Barbera, about eight years later. But that’s another story.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Thermos Cartoon Violence

Violently jerky camera movement on impact was not uncommon in the Gene Deitch Tom and Jerry cartoons. Here’s an example from “Sorry Safari” (1962). The unnamed hunter (played by Deitch’s buddy Allen Swift) bashes Tom with his thermos. Each shot is taken twice.

The Deitch T&Js are generally a sorry mess, not a sorry safari, but the elephant design in this one is funny.

Deitch’s cartoons were produced by William Snyder, who seems to have worked out a secret deal with MGM for the cat and mouse shorts. Here’s the part of a Daily Variety story from March 9, 1961 dealing with the cartoons:
Mochrie Details MGM Plan To Resume Tom & Jerry Cartoon Prod’n Abroad
New York, March 8. – Bill Snyder’s deal with Metro for production of new Tom & Jerry cartoons in Europe, closed more than six months ago, today was publicly announced by Robert Mochrie, sales veepee, to more than 75 delegates before winding two-day sales sesh at Astor Hotel.
During past several years Metro reissued T&J's in color and other shorts singly and in packages. About five years ago Metro curtailed all shorts production when cost per subject was found prohibitive. Snyder, through his Rembrandt Films, has produced cartoons abroad for half Metro's tally sheets. He's been quietly making T&J's to build backlog for one a month release starting May 8.
Former trade paper reporter, Snyder has imported numerous foreign features and shorts, one or two winning Academy recognition.
And contrary to popular belief, the cartoons weren’t all done at Deitch’s studio in Czechoslovakia. Here’s Variety again, from April 21, 1961:
Bill Snyder, whose “Munro” short won an Oscar Monday, has five units working on new product in four foreign countries: one each in London, Zurich, Milan, Rome and Prague. Stories, soundtrack and layouts are prepared in Gotham, he said. Three of 13 “Tom & Jerry” subjects for Metro have been completed
While Deitch et al were making their shorts overseas, MGM continued to release Tom and Jerrys from its own closed studio in a compilation “Tom and Jerry Festival of Fun.” Finally, Metro announced a change. The headline in a lengthy front-page Variety story of August 30, 1963: “MGM Revives ‘Tom-Jerry’ Shorts After 6 Years, Walter Bien Producing”. Thus ended Gene Deitch’s brief connection with a 23-year-old cat and mouse team. We’ll have the Bien story tomorrow.