Thursday, 29 September 2016

A Deck of Sandwiches

Silent films were hardly a distant memory when the Fleischer studio started making Popeye cartoons. So maybe that’s why little bits of non-speaking business work their way into the studio’s shorts. I suspect a couple of decades later, they’d be deemed unnecessary and too expensive.

In “We Aim To Please” (1934), Bluto orders a half dozen sandwiches. Popeye passes the order onto Olive Oyl. She nods her head with her eyes closed like Stan Laurel, bangs her knife on the table, takes a one-eye aim and starts slicing. Is this the first time the shuffle-the-ingredients-like-cards gag was used in a cartoon?



Then she licks her finger twice before tossing the sandwiches to Popeye the Waiter Man.



Willard Bowsky and Dave Tendlar are the credited animators. I’ve always liked the theme song of this cartoon. There’s a nice little tune, With My Eyes Wide Open I’m Dreaming by Mack Gordon and Harry Revel, in the sequence just before, and while, Popeye makes Wimpy a burger. Whether Sammy Timberg did his own arrangements, I don’t know, but there’s a really good use of solo instruments, especially a violin, in the score of this cartoon.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Freberg Moves On

The year was 1957 and there were worlds left to conquer for young Stan Freberg. He had toiled anonymously in animated cartoons, received a bit of notoriety for his work on the puppet show A Time For Beany but then vaulted into fame in the novelty record business. The canny Freberg managed to take his satiric records to the next step—in summer 1957 he was handed a radio variety show where he poked fun at whatever the censors would permit (and they didn’t permit him to do all he wanted). Finally, he opened an advertising company that basically poked fun at advertising.

Let’s pass along a couple of newspaper columns. First, let’s see what the Herald Tribune syndicate’s John Crosby thought about Freberg’s radio show (actually Freberg’s second; he had a sitcom for CBS in 1954). Crosby wasn’t a fan of the banality of radio or TV; he was a fan of both Fred Allen and Henry Morgan, who liked to take shots at both media. Crosby hits on one thing I’ve found about the Freberg shows—some routines carry on a little too long. But they have moments of real brilliance, too. He also reviews Morgan’s latest radio effort as well. By 1957, Morgan had been sadly emasculated. He should have been doing a game show parody, not a game show. This appeared in papers on July 19, 1957.
Out Of The Air
By JOHN CROSBY

Freberg—The Man Of Many Voices
Stan Freberg, the man of many voices who can reduce me to helpless laughter with his better satiric flights, now has his own radio show on CBS (7:30 p. m. EDT, Sunday). The opening show last Sunday was, I would say, a yes-and-no affair which had moments of great charm and bright wit but contained some empty spots, too.
Freberg is not only a satirist but a man with a great gift for fantasy which is sometimes delightful and sometimes gets him into trouble. The show’s opening, for instance, found the live Stan Freberg arguing with the various personalities created by the recorded Stan Freberg. “It’s frightening! It’s frightening!” exclaimed Freberg. It was also a wonderful demonstration of the man s versatility and imaginative range.
THIS WAS followed by a bit in which Freberg played the part of a French sheepherder who had taught his sheep to play a tune on the bells around their necks. This was charming. It was a mixture of both fantasy and humor in pure sound — something that wouldn’t come off on a television screen at all — and an excellent example of what Freberg does best. He is essentially a sound man and he knows how to call into play the imagination of his listeners. He has done some of his things on television and always, to me, there’s a letdown. I’d rather do my own imagining.
The bulk of the show was devoted to something called a Freberg fable, entitled “Incident at Los Varoses,” and this was drawn out far too thinly. It detailed a ferocious rivalry between two gambling establishments known as El Sodom and Rancho Gomorrah, Los Varoses being a thinly disguised Las Vegas.
THE TROUBLE with trying to satirize that fabled sin-spot is that the excesses of Las Vegas in the entertainment field are so bad that it is almost impossible to top them. As a result, the thing got pretty strained and seemed interminable.
Just the same, it was an interesting and unusual half-hour and well worth listening to. This Sunday Freberg promises an interview with the Abominable Showman and the inside story on the midnight ride of Paul Revere, both topics you are not likely to hear just anywhere. You might just blow the dust off that radio in the corner this weekend and sample purely aural humor for a change.
JUST AHEAD of Freberg, CBS Radio has started a new panel show called “Sez Who,” presided over — with great difficulty — by Henry Morgan. The panelists are Gypsy Rose Lee, John Henry Faulk and Joey Adams, and the idea of the game is to guess the identity of voices on records, most of them old ones. The first one, for example, was that of Enrico Caruso singing, “Johnny Get Your Gun” at a World War I bond rally.
However, the game rapidly was buried under a barrage of wisecracks and acrimony that sounded a little too edged to be quite comfortable. “What started as a simple game has developed into one of the greatest indoor fights,” lamented Mr. Morgan at one point. “I hope we can all leave this studio together.”
FROM THE POINT of view of the show, perhaps it is just as well that distemper occurred. “Sez Who” is a pretty witless and simple-minded parlor game, even as radio parlor games go, and was not especially helped by a sort of studied ignorance on the part of the panelists of almost every field with which the mystery voices were connected. “It takes two to play baseball?” asked Miss Lee innocently, a remark I always shall cherish. She was talking about comedy routine between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig which was pretty awful, even for a couple of baseball players. It was this sort of thing that the ancients claim killed vaudeville and future generations well may say it was this kind of program that killed radio.
Freberg’s radio show debuted on July 14th, was cancelled on September 25th and went off the air October 20th. Bing Crosby was supposed to replace him but Bing wasn’t ready by the 27th. There was talk in Variety that Freberg would do another show; instead Broadway 1957 aired on the 27th in the Freberg slot. Four days later, it was reported Freberg turned down an offer from CBS to find something else for him.

In April 1958, Freberg had signed—along with Rowan and Martin—to host a summer replacement show for Dinah Shore sponsored by Chevrolet. And by June, he had opened his own ad agency. By month’s end, he and Gloria Wood had transcribed a six-minute blurb for Butternut Coffee. The syndicated TV Key column caught up with Freberg. This column was published August 25, 1958.
Stan Freberg Goes Commercial
By STEVEN H. SCHEUER

On the first floor of Hollywood's record-shaped Capital [sic] Record building, satirist Stan Freberg was busy recording a platter about Butternut, a certain gypsy. With a violinist, a tambourine player, a chorus of seven, Stan intoned "Butternut spelled backwards is Tun-ret-tub." This was take number ten and Stan and group had been at it four hours.
"This it normal for Freberg," said an engineer in the sound room. "I've seen him take all night on a single record."
After take ten, Stan called it quits until the next day. He and writer-director Allen Alch had been up till 3 a.m. working on the dialogue. And in two hours he had to report to NBC for rehearsal which included a choreography number for Sunday's Chevy Show, where Stan has been appearing every other week this summer.
Orville Sounds off
"I'm split down the middle," said Stan after the session. "Half of me is with my ad agency and my records, and the other half as an entertainer on the Chevy show. I'm very happy to be on the show, but right now I'm on a treadmill in offers. My agent keeps finding more things for me to do."
As a satirist on TV, Stan has his puppet, Orville, a creature from the Moon, speak up on local happenings and say things Freberg couldn't say himself.
"The Chevy Show is a nice show," said Stan about his new employers. "Bland maybe, but nice. The fans like the music and the show sells a lot of cars. I'm not knocking their success. It pays off. But you never hear people say, 'Gee, did you hear what they said on that show Sunday.' "
So as a satirist Stan perhaps was wondering what he was doing on the program, hut nevertheless he was happy to be on it.
"Tell the people out there in Readerland," said Stan, "I'm trying to get to them as best as I know how."
Stan has already gotten to the people with records like "Banana Boat Song," "St. George," "John and Marsha," his radio show and his TV appearances on Club Oasis and with Frank Sinatra. The reviewers favorite terms for Orville and Freberg were "offbeat," "inventive," and "fresh'.
"Those are the terms I like to hear," Stan admitted without blushing. "I’d much rather be any of those than funny."
Proven Critics Wrong
His offbeat humor hasn't warmed the "big" hearts of the network and agency men. They've been telling Stan for some time. "You're just not commercial, Stan." To prove them wrong, Stan went into the ad game. After doing commercials on a small scale with the Cunningham and Walsh ad agency for two years, Freberg went into business on his own last November. With a staff of five, Freberg Ltd. is going great guns.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

It's a City Gal!

Time for another Tex Avery reaction.

The hick wolf (Pinto Colvig) gets a look at what a city girl looks like. It takes seven drawings for the wolf’s body to fly apart.



He recovers briefly. These are consecutive frames.



This is just a sampling. In the first take, the wolf clacks his farm boots together. In the second one, his eyes zoom right to the paper, he jumps up and down, then over and back, stomps himself on the head and lets his tongue roll out like a snake onto the floor. Avery always has action quickly mounting on action. That’s why he’s so great.

Grant Simmons, Bobe Cannon, Walt Clinton and Mike Lah are the animators.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Swallow the Leader Backgrounds

Dick Thomas’ background paintings of San Juan Capistrano highlight the opening of the Bob McKimson short “Swallow the Leader” (released in 1948).



The camera panned over this painting. Cornett Wood was responsible for the layouts.



Between this and the cycle animation of birds to start the cartoon, McKimson saved Warners a bit of money.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Silent Cartoon Alert

What a joy it is to watch a silent film masterpiece, accompanied by a well-skilled musician in the pit. Someone playing old Sam Fox sheet music cues on an upright piano is just fine. That includes silent cartoons, too. If you’re in the New York City area at the end of the month, you’ll have a chance to view some, thanks to the New Yorker who knows silent cartoons best.



Animation Nights New York is marking its one-year anniversary with a two-day festival of films culled from its showings over the past year. There’s an incredibly varied array of independent animation and panels; a lot of work has been put into this event. But as this blog deals with old theatrical cartoons, we note there’s an opportunity to see some silent animation.
Tommy José Stathes' Cartoons On Film provides a fun and historical 16mm film program of rare prints from the Stathes Collection. In recognition of ANNY's presence at the South Street Seaport, this Cartoons On Film program of animation from the 1910s through the 1930s incorporates a nautical theme and features live musical accompaniment from The Queen's Cartoonists for select silent-era shorts!
Whether the Felix the Cat cartoon to the right (Two-Lip Time, 1926) will be part of the programme, I don’t know, but it’s the first silent cartoon with a nautical theme I thought of.

It’s a shame the world isn’t populated with Tommy Statheses (duplicates made in an animated machine by Koko the clown, perhaps) who can park themselves in cities around the world and give shows like this. However, there is only one, and he is restricted to New York City, so if you’re nearby, take the time to see his animated revue. Tom’s show is September 29th, 8pm, at the Main Venue, Conference Room 1.

You can find out more about AMMY’s eclectic programme at their web site or on this web page.

A Wedding For Jack

These days, you can’t escape “stories” about celebrity offspring. They’re all over the internet, especially if clothes (or a lack thereof) or pairing up with someone is involved. I’d like to think things were different years ago, even in the era of Hollywood fan magazines and their manufactured reality.

Outside of a line in a gossip column, how often did wire services and newspapers back then report on marriages of TV stars’ kids? Not often, at least that I can tell. One exception was the first wedding of Jack Benny’s daughter. Perhaps the difference was Jack was beloved by just about everyone. Or it may have been because of the easy, ready-made angle: a huge, expensive wedding was being paid for by someone who had appeared in millions of living rooms for 20 years as the cheapest man in the world.

The marriage itself failed, but did result in a grandchild for Jack, which pleased him to no end by all reports.

Here’s the Associated Press from March 9, 1954 on the impending nuptials and Jack’s resignation over what ballooned into a huge affair.

Radio Tightwad Jack Benny Will Spend Fortune Tonight
By BOB THOMAS

AP Hollywood Writer
Hollywood—Jack Benny's reputation as a tightwad gets a jolt tonight when he foots the bill for the lavish wedding of his daughter Joan to Seth Baker of New York.
Rabbi Edgar P. Magnin will marry the young pair tonight at 7 o'clock (PST) in private ceremonies at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Present will be the parents of the couple—the Bennys and New York industrialist Harry Baker and his wife, plus a few intimate friends of the family. These include Barbara Stanwyck, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, Mr. and Mrs. William Goetz and Claudette Colbert.
After the ceremony, the hotel's Crystal Room will be packed with some 500 well-wishers, including more of Hollywood's top stars.
"Outside of having an elopement, there were only two ways we could have done it," sighed Benny. "We could have had a very small wedding and invited only the family and a handful of friends. Or we could have a big affair and invite everyone. Because too many people would have been slighted, we decided to have a big wedding."
MIGHT RUIN HIM
I remarked that this might ruin his reputation as a money-pincher, built up for years on radio and TV.
"Reputation nothing!" he protested. "This might ruin me!"
He estimated that the entire affair might run up a bill in excess of $25,000. This might seem high to all those except fathers who have had to finance weddings lately.
Joan's wedding gown alone is reputed to cost $2,500. It is a Don Loper creation of brocaded lily-of-the-valley white satin, full length with a train. Rex designed the cap of Juliet pearls with a three-tiered full length veil.
"Oh, well, I have only one daughter," said Benny bravely. "I don't care what it costs, just so the kids have a happy marriage."
HIS WEDDING
He added that Joan's wedding is a contrast to when he married Mary Livingstone.
"We did it in Waukegan at the home of a friend," he recalled. "There were six or seven people there, and the cost of the wedding was nil. We didn't even have time to have a reception. We were married in the afternoon, and I had to grab the train to Chicago, where I was appearing in a show that night."
Jack said he was pleased with his future son-in-law, who is a stock broker. Baker, 26, is a graduate of Andover Academy and Amherst College, where he was a Beta Theta Pi. He was married once before.
Joan, 19, is an adopted daughter and was a junior at Stanford when she decided to get married. She has appeared on the Benny radio show and was on his TV program last month. She and her husband will make their home in New York.
ONE REGRET
"I kind of regret that she never got too interested in show business," Jack reflected, "especially since I don't have a son. She was always very good on radio, and I loved the way she threw away her lines on the TV show.
"But she never had any great driving urge to act, and that's what it takes. I might have been able to give her that urge. But it was hard to work her into the show. She never could have appeared as my daughter, except in a dream sequence. When I play my character on the air, I'm not supposed to be married."
Music for the wedding and reception will be provided by Freddie Karger and his orchestra. Mr. Benny will not play the violin.
The newlyweds will leave tomorrow for San Francisco and will fly to Honolulu for a two-week honeymoon.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

TV Takes Over the Cartoon Business

One of the more annoying things about the criticism during the 1950s of cartoons on TV is that the theatricals which began appearing in waves over the course of the decade were “ancient.” One of the reasons critics liked the Huckleberry Hound Show was the cartoons were brand-new, even though some of the situations and gags were borrowed from the same old theatricals the critics were deriding.

I don’t know why the age of the cartoons would bother anyone. Kids didn’t care. They thought Bugs Bunny, Popeye and Heckle and Jeckle were fun and funny, and wanted to see them over and over and over again, much to the delight of advertisers and syndicators. But the supply of theatricals was finite, so a way had to be developed to make animation within a television budget.

It’s debateable when TV cartoons finally became viable. Crusader Rabbit first aired in 1950 but it was really an exception to the rule. More series finally starting appearing in 1957 and then 1958. It can be argued when Huckleberry Hound became a critical and financial success, more production companies realised they could make money copying the Hanna-Barbera model, and that’s when the proverbial dam burst and all kinds of series were proposed and/or developed.

Let’s give you an idea about how quickly things were changing. Here are two stories from Variety, four months apart. You can see the numbers of new series growing. The first story is from March 19, 1958; the second is from July 9, 1958. We’ll be going through Variety for that year and posting cartoon clippings in the weeks ahead.

Cartoons Creaky, But What Do Kids Care!
By BOB CHANDLER

Many an economist has stated that the field of economics is more psychology than finance.
Change that to child psychology and half the battle is won in figuring the complexities of the business of selling cartoons to television.
Animated subjects, for example, are among the hottest of the syndicated sellers, the object of an almost inexhaustible demand. Yet, although the supply of theatrically produced cartoons is virtually exhausted insofar as their availability to television is concerned, the amount of new cartoon product produced directly for tv can be counted on the fingers of both hands.
If this seems a paradox, it can be explained by two factors, cost and child psychology. First of all, "full" animation is extremely—almost prohibitively—expensive. There have been innovations in "limited" animation that cut costs considerably, and these have been responsible for the few series that have been produced. But more about that later.
As to child psychology, remember when as kids you sat through a movie four or five times on a Saturday afternoon? Well, the same goes for tv. The repeat factor is virtually negligible, and station programmers can use the same cartoon package for years on end, repeating each subject an infinite number of times. Without a complaint from the kids.
What this means is that this inexhaustible demand for cartoons isn't necessarily a demand for new cartoons. Having found that kids will watch the same subjects over again, stations aren't so much concerned about having new product as they are about having some kind of product, no matter how old. The only way a new show stands a chance is if it's priced competitively with the older packages, even though they're reruns.
Bearing the high costs of animation in mind that's the reason so few new cartoon series have been produced for television. Those that have been produced—the list includes the "Crusader Rabbit" series, Screen Gems' "Adventures of Powwow" and "Ruff & Ready," [sic] Terrytoons' "Tom Terrific" and some "Mighty Mouse" entries, and UPA's "Boing Boing" half-hour series—have mainly been produced for network use first and subsequent syndication rerun, or in severely limited animation style, or a combination of both.
Show, Costly Technique
Full animation, as the term implies, involves completely rounded and smoothly moving figures, with the drawings changed in every frame. It's an extremely slow and costly production technique, with costs running up to $100 and more per foot, or some $9,000 for an eight-minute one-reeler. Such a one-reeler, in the context of a full package of cartoons, could conceivably gross better than its production costs, but the risk is high at best. Some costs run higher—CBS laid out $1,695,000 for its series of 26 half-hour "Boing Boing" films, better than $70,000 each.
Fortunately, UPA some years ago pioneered the new animation form called "limited" or "stylized" animation. This involves the use of angular figures, moving jerkily against static backgrounds, etc. UPA technique, drawn in the modern vein, caught the public's fancy and won acceptance for the limited style. This opened the door to many cost-saving devices, all stemming from the fact that the same drawings and backgrounds could be used for many frames instead of single-frame filming.
This limited animation technique is varied in degree, and in its crudest sense can bring in a semi-animated subject at a remarkably low budget. Trick, however, is to keep the costs low without sacrificing too much in the way of quality by using the limited technique. In the main, this has been the course of action used by those companies that are producing new-cartoons for tv. Another trick is to get them sold on a network basis first, then release them for syndication, as Screen Gems has done with "Powwow" and "Ruff & Ready" and Terrytoons with "Tom Terrific." With most of the cost thus written off, syndicators can then match the rerun prices of their theatrical-cartoon competition.
As to the future, stations can expect only a limited amount of new made-for-tv product. Amount of pre-'48 cartoon product still outstanding from tv is insignificant, some Columbia color subjects and a few Metro "Tom & Jerry" cartoons. As for post-'48 cartoons, they are also limited in number, since the business of cartoon-making went into a major decline as television's impact on filmmaking became evident. En masse, the accumulation of post-'48 product from all sources is substantial, but in terms of packages from individual companies, they won't make much of a dent.
So the current flock of libraries, already in their umpteenth runs, will be repeated over and over again indefinitely. As long as the kids don't care, why should anyone else?


TV CARTOONS' BIG COMEBACK
By MURRAY HOROWITZ

Television, for the first time in many years, is due to be on the receiving end of a fresh upbeat in cartoon production.
The boost is occurring at a time when the pool of vintage cartoons, culled from the motion picture libraries of the majors, is closer to the bottom of the barrel. Fresh cartoons are slated to come from Guild Films, Screen Gems, Trans-Lux Television, Sterling Television, Walt Disney and other firms.
Cartooning for video is a tricky, tough business. First, there are the economics of the situation. In theatrical cartooning, virtually at a standstill now with the industry depressed, from $35,000 to $45,000 was spent per short cartoon subject. Most distributors in the tv biz feel that any cartoon short that comes in above the $4,000 per negative level is in trouble. Television, at least in syndication, couldn't support much more.
Then there's the problem of establishing the principal characters for the kiddies. The "Popeye's," "The Looney Tunes," the "Tom and Jerry's" and "Little Lullu's" are part of the American folklore and almost have a pre-natal following. The new cartoon characters have to fend for themselves, building their audiences from scratch.
The relative high cost of obtaining animation, ranging the limited to the full variety, has led a few producers to go abroad for their drawings, doing the editing and narration in the U. S. to get the American flavor. Additionally, foreign cartoons have been utilized with a new sound track, etc., added.
As to the upcoming fresh cartoon productions Screen Gems will have "Huckleberry Hound," already bought by Kellogg for national spot; Trans-Lux Television, "Felix the Cat"; Guild, "Adventures of Spunky and Tadpole." These are being produced in Hollywood or N. Y.
Sterling Television has been distributing two packages in syndication, 104 Cartoon Classics, and the Famous Cartoon Group of 65, both of which had the animation done abroad, with sound track, editing, etc., done in the U. S. Sterling has another group "Daniel Boom" upcoming, and is prepping a fourth group, reportedly tied to record tunes.
In syndication, there also is a new batch of "Crusader Rabbits," as well as a package of "Col. Bleep's" from Richard H. Ullman's outfit, with headquarters in Rochester, N. Y., and "Terry's Toons," from Screen Gems, all product made for tv.
On the nets, ABC-TV has "Woody Woodpecker," vintage theatricals released by Universal-International but fresh to tv; and Walt Disney cartoons slotted in "Mickey Mouse Club" and "Disneyland." NBC-TV has "Ruff & Ready" [sic] out of the Screen Gems lot, a cartoon specially made for tv.
CBS-TV has "Mighty Mouse Playhouse," "Heckle & Jeckle" and "Tom Terrific," the latter slated in "Captain Kangaroo's Show." All of the aforementioned shows come from the Terrytoon outfit, now completely owned by CBS-TV, and represent vintage theatrical shorts seen for the first time on tv. CBS-TV also is telecasting "McBoing Boing," the UPA label, as a sustainer Friday nights from 7:30 to 8 p.m. Net took an awful financial licking with the UPA cartoons, first telecast Sundays without attracting commercial sponsorship despite critical hosannahs.
Terrytoon shorts, distributed by CBS Film Sales in syndication, still have a long way to go before the entire library is released via the market-by-market route. But other libraries, to a varying degree, are facing depletion.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Cat Thwarts Frog

The Flip cartoon “Room Runners” (1932) is probably famous among cartoon fans for featuring a semi-naked woman and assorted female breast jokes. But it also includes Ub Iwerks’ fetish for radiating and jagged sound lines.

Here’s an example. Flip’s trying to sneak out of the Grand Slam Hotel. A noisy cat sneaks up behind them.



Then the cat gets under Flip and the frog tumbles down the stairs. Some simple but effective expressions on the cat.



The score’s really good on this. Devon Baxter has gone through some cue sheets and found the composer was Scott Bradley.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Singing to the Cheese

The best Van Beuren cartoons are weird Van Beuren cartoons. They’re kind of like half-baked Fleischer cartoons. The early Fleischers have inspired funny moments that come out of nowhere. The Van Beurens toss in some scenes that are just odd.

“The Tuba Tooter” (1932) is one of them. The cartoon consists of stuff swaying and dancing to the 1927 tune Schultz is Back Again. The Fleischers would have that going on and then some quick bit of business would jump onto the screen. The Van Beurens settle for swaying and dancing alone. The weirdness is the gag.

In one scene, a fish in a bowl sings to a hunk of swiss cheese under glass. The cheese comes to life and dances. The poor cheese doesn’t have eyes or a mouth. It just spawns arms and legs because that’s all it needs for dancing. The fish claps its fins to the beat.



The Van Beuren characters in the Gene Rodemich period sang with a vibrato. If you look at the third and sixth drawings above, you can see a wavy mouth line. The animators altered this with a “straight” drawing and cycled the two so it would like the mouth was vibrating. Pretty clever.

The guy with the raspy voice speaks as Schultz getting off the boat and Jerry getting out of bed. He’s in pretty much every Van Beuren cartoon in the early ‘30s. I guess we’ll never learn his identity at this late date; I’d like to think it was Rodemich himself.