Friday, 9 December 2016

Piece of Pie

There are always little characters popping up to enliven the Fleischer Talkartoons. In Mask-A-Raid (1931), Betty Boop hands swords to Bimbo and the King so they can duel over here. Soon, a phalanx of armoured soldiers marches forward to join in. One of them apparently gets killed.

Cut to a scene where a trap door on the armour opens up and a mask pops up. Yes, there are masks all over the cartoon, but that but that isn’t the gag. A mouse pops out, makes a spitting scat of the words “Give a piece of pie” in time to the music. His job done, he disappears for the rest of the cartoon. The reference must be vaudevillian, but I couldn’t tell you from where.

The cartoon ends with a great scat by Bimbo with winged Betty Boops in the air. Great stuff. Unfortunately, there are no animation credits.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Ringing Snake

Willie Whopper’s girl-friend is being eyed by a lecherous dinosaur in the The Cave Man. She gets on the phone to our hero.

Better make that our lazy hero. Willie would rather rest than answer the phone. The broken lines coming from the inside of his cave indicate the ringing of the phone, even though they’re not needed. You can hear the phone.

Actually, the ringing is coming from a snake’s rattle. The snake’s pretty expressive. It indicates worry, surprise and determination.

Finally, the mouthpiece leaps down to the floor and yells for help in Mary’s voice.

A split screen effect in a cartoon. In 1934. Was Frank Tashlin at Iwerks by this point?

Grim Natwick and Berny Wolf are the credited animators.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Tonight's Giant Writer (and Chicken)

When Pat McCormick wasn’t on the screen, he was writing for it. He appeared on the panel of a pile of talk shows: Merv Griffin, Les Crane, Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett, Virginia Graham—and Johnny Carson. The latter isn’t a surprise as he was a writer on the show. McCormick showed up with Johnny in all kinds of costumes, such as an Easter bunny or a chicken, and once he showed up wearing nothing at all during the streaking craze.

McCormick’s first national appearance may have been on May 5, 1958 when his buddy Jonathan Winters substituted for Jack Paar and handed him a shot at the Tonight show. Ten years later, he was Don Rickles’ sidekick/writer on an ill-fated variety show produced by Godson-Todman. But McCormick started out in show biz as part of a duo with a guy named Al Ruby, later known as Marc London, who wrote for Laugh-In. McCormick told columnist Cleveland Amory in 1977 the two idolised Bob and Ray and bemoaned the fact there were almost no comedy teams any more.

Despite that, McCormick did quite well as a single. I always thought he was pretty funny. So I’ve dug around and found a bunch of newspaper clippings about his career. First up is a feature story from VIEW, one of those TV Magazine supplements. It was published on July 29, 1967.
Comedian Pat McCormick Fled Grey Flannel

You've probably laughed at Pat McCormick more often than you think you have. Not that you could miss him (six-feet-four, 250 pounds) when he is on screen. It's just that Pat is of the breed known as comedian-writer, and that means many of his bright sayings fall lightly from other lips, belonging say to the likes of Jonathan Winters, Danny Kaye, Jack Paar, Lucille Ball, Andy Griffith, Merv Griffin. And now Soupy Sales for his updated "Hellzapoppin" stage show.
Quite a range of styles, how does he manage it? "If you have the ability to think funny you can apply it to whoever you are working for," Pat said solemnly over a restaurant breakfast. That was Pat the writer talking.
The next inning goes to Pat the performer who attests: "You can do anything for a laugh — even a pants-falling-down routine — if it's in good taste." And Pat did just that on a recent Merv Griffin show. He enjoyed the laugh, feels it keeps him on his toes to get out there himself. "A polite smile isn't enough — you've got to hear noise coming back at you.
He was vague, however about dreams of going it strictly as a comedian, luckily people he writes for urge him to write himself in often enough to keep the wheels whirring and to win an Emmy nomination this year — for the Dick Cavett Special on ABC.
Except for six unfunny years in advertising, Pat has been criss-crossing the writer-performer boundary since he teamed up with classmate Marc London to earn money during his five years at Harvard, four years for the B.A. and one at Law which he found was a mistake. "We played all the houses at Harvard dances, parties. And we went to Wellesly, too.
After college he tried to go straight. Pat had settled into the grey flannel world, Chicago Division, and he was far from happy about it. Then serendipity and Jonathan Winters sidetracked him back to what proved to be the right road. "A mutual friend introduced me to Jonathan. We hit it off right away."
Pat adds that when he's creating comedy for himself, what comes out is in the Jonathan Winters vein cuz that's what comes naturally. But he can also whip up if not all-purpose, at least multi-purpose gags that could be adapted to say Jack Paar or Phyllis Diller. Phyllis, by the way, is an old friend for whom he started doing material back in the Harvard days fifteen or so years ago.
Jonathan wanted me to work on his show," Pat recalls, and that of course gave me a credit. And with a credit he was a cinch to get a New York-based job as writer. Which he did in 1961 — with Jack Paar. He took with him "the one thing that meant Chicago wasn't a total loss — his bride ex-airline stewardess Dionne Cady.
They now have one son, Benjamin, who Pat says also "thinks funny" and seems a sure bet to follow pop, who adds: "I think we're raising him for a carnival. Never saw such a big kid for four years old."
One consolation for Benjamin, by now he must know how to travel. Except for a trip to Expo (because that's where Soupy Sales is currently playing his "Hellzapoppin'"), Poppa McCormick has been summering in New York and Southampton. Comes fall, though, the shuttling between New York and Hollywood begins again.
In the offing, a movie with the interest-piquing title of "How to Be a Bishop Without Being Religious," more gag stuff, and most important, the pilot for a comedy series of his own creation.
Would he, like Carl Reiner, really be writing about himself? No, says Pat. His idea needs a comedy duo like Burns and Schreiber. But he may be at least as generous as his other "employers" and write himself in now and then. Mostly though, he'd like to settle for what Carl Reiner has, one more hyphen to make it read Patrick McCormick, comedian-writer-producer. One way or another, thinking funny seems to breed money.
Another syndicated columnist whose target readership was teenagers interviewed McCormick as well. The “advice for young writers” question was dragged out and McCormick gave some good recommendations. This was published in papers starting January 12, 1968.
Comedy Writer McCormick Looks Like Football Star

At the end of comedy or variety television shows, lists of names roll across the screen. A large portion of them are listed as writers. These are the men whose typewriters turn out the jokes for the comedians and Pat McCormick is one of the best of them.
What a comedy writer should look like hasn't been specified. But, whatever it is, Pat doesn't look like it. He looks more like a professional football player towering six-feet-six inches and packing 240 pounds on his huge frame. "I think some of the comedians take my jokes just because of my size," he quipped. "They're afraid of me."
With all the size, however, Pat and his humor are both gentle. His eyes twinkle as if he's always thinking about something funny. "I didn't start out to be a comedy writer. I don't think anybody does," Pat told us.
"When I was at Harvard I worked up some comedy routines with a friend of mine, but I was studying law. After one year of graduate study, though, I knew that the law wasn't what I wanted.
"I teamed up with my Harvard friend, Marc London, and we worked up a few routines and worked around New York for about a year as comedians. We did pretty well, but then Marc had to leave the act."
Besides making his class-mates laugh and earning a B.A. degree, Pat managed to be one of three men in the History of Harvard who won four varsity letters in track. He was a hurdler.
"When the act split up I decided to give up the comedy business. I went to Chicago and became an advertising salesman and found that a very unfunny business," Pat told us.
It was at this juncture of his life that Pat met Jonathan Winters. The two would meet at a club and begin ad libbing and kidding around, just for the fun of it. Said Jonathan, "If I ever get a big television show I'm going to get you as a writer." "I thought it was just one of those things people say," Pat confessed. "But, later on when Jonathan got a special he remembered and got hold of me.
"In addition he recommended me to Jack Paar and that gave me my first full-time writing job. And, I haven't done anything but write since then. Oh, once in a while I'll get into a skit or something, but I guess I'm a writer more than I'm an entertainer. "There is a lot of satisfaction in it. When you write a joke and it gets a big laugh from the studio audience it gives you a good feeling, no matter how long you've been at it."
What advice does Pat have for aspiring writers. "Write. No matter what you write, keep on writing. Even if you can't sell it keep at it to develop your skill at writing. After I gave up the act I kept at it and I've never regretted it."
Pat's formula must be the right one. He's been head writer on the Danny Kaye Show, written the Lucille Ball-Anthony Newly Special, the Dick Van Dyke Special, the Danny Thomas Block Party, and Zero Mostel Show, the Andy Griffith, Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows.
Pat also has two motion picture scripts to his credit. "The one thing I'd really like to do," he said, "is write a comedy for Broadway. It's one thing I haven't done yet."
The way Pat keeps at his writing it won't be too long before Broadway feels the warmth of his wit.
Let’s jump a few years and read an Associated Press column from October 19, 1977. McCormick would have been familiar to TV viewers from The Gong Show at this point. He seemed positively sane compared to what was going on around him on the show. McCormick voiced commercials for radio and decided to add to his bank roll by producing radio comedy bits as well (a concept killed by programmers and consultants in the ‘80s who wanted radio to be a juke box). For you people who weren’t around back then, “cyclamate” was a sweetener used in diet soft drinks. It was fed to a bunch of rats and suddenly it was declared unsafe by the U.S. government and banned.
Diaper firm wash out

LOS ANGELES (AP) — When last seen, Pat McCormick sat gloomily in a Hollywood bistro. He was bemoaning a great fiscal loss incurred by his investment in a diaper service in Sun City.
He recently was asked how he plans to recoup his loss.
"Well," he said, "I bought into a cyclamate factory.
But the six-foot-six, 250-pound Irishman needn't depend on that for a living. He's a top comedy writer here, with 5 1/2 years on "Tonight," plus credit on a string of comedy specials and movies.
In the last three years, he's also acted in four movies — "The Shaggy DA," Robert Altman's "Buffalo Bill and the Indians," Burt Reynolds' "Smoky and the Bandit" and Altman's new "A Wedding."
It now turns out that this mustachioed citizen, once honored as "The World's Tallest Leprechaun," has yet another career going — in radio comedy, a species of entertainment heretofore believed extinct.
He and a partner, Al Barzman, produce and star in a show called "Studio B." It's a series of weird 90-second interviews they've syndicated to radio stations nationally since June 1976.
McCormick, who says 190 stations air the chats, always is the interviewee. It's doubtful any of them ever will make Barbara Walters' list of people in need of interviewing.
For example, one is a hump-dryer in a camel wash. Another is the tiniest man in the world. Another is a worthy Pat calls "the guy who predicts the past."
McCormick, born in Lakewood, Ohio and educated at Harvard, says he and Barzman also will have a sequel soon, "Studio B-2." It features other players in addition to the original cast of two.
It's strange McCormick is loose in radio humor, as he's been a full-time TV writer ever since a pal, comedian Jonathan Winters, wangled him to work on "Tonight" when Jack Parr [sic] was the main event.
Asked for an explanation, he said his for-ears career began six years ago when he and Barzman, who makes commercials, teamed up to do off-the-wall comedy ads touting various products. All were for radio. "We'd go in the back studio and wing 'em," he said, meaning they made it up sans script. "Then it occurred to us, maybe we could do that with a syndicated radio show, just go in and wing it." A non-radio matter: What will McCormick do if that cyclamate factory he invested in fails? He pondered the prospect a minute. "Well," he confidently declared, "I'll probably open a suit shop for tall and portly men in Tokyo..."
Comedy seems to attract tragedy. That’s what happened to Pat McCormick. He died in 2005 but was pretty much gone in 1998. You can read the sad story from that fine TV writer Mark Evanier on his blog.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What's in the Fridge?

Who keeps ball bearings in their fridge? Apparently Tedd Pierce did. He wrote Kiddin’ the Kitten, a Warner Bros. cartoon featuring Dodsworth the lazy cat and a little kitten.

The kitten uses the ball bearings and a magnet to catch mice.

Phil De Lara, Rod Scribner and Chuck McKimson are the only credited animators.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Van Williams is Not Batman

Thick dark-haired young men were in plentiful supply on television in the late ‘50s and early ’60—Warner Bros.’ TV division especially employed them—and one of them was Van Williams. He had never acted, let alone seen a script, before he landed in Hollywood. And while he had co-starring roles on a number of series, he’ll likely best be remembered for a one-season attempt to see if the huge Batman fad could spawn a spin-off. Williams starred in the title role on The Green Hornet.

Williams came out second best, not only to Batman, but to his co-star, Bruce Lee, who became the subject of a cult of fans that only got bigger after his death. Producers took pains to shout “The Green Hornet is not Batman!!” but the comparisons were too great. Both characters fought crime. Both had secret identities. Both had younger sidekicks. Both had gimmick-laden cars. And both had the mock-serious narration of producer Bill Dozier helping the audience follow the activities on the screen.

About the only thing that was different was The Green Hornet was boring. Okay, the trumpet theme was great (by Al Hirt, I believe) and so was the psychedelic swirling title card. But I can’t remember anything else about the series, even though I watched it every week. That’s kind of a shame because Williams, whose death was reported yesterday by a former colleague, deserves to be remembered.

The Warners TV studio system tended to sour actors after awhile—Edd Byrnes and Jim Garner come to mind—and Williams doesn’t appear to have crazy about it after a while, either. Here’s a column from the National Enterprise Association syndication service that showed up in papers starting around September 16, 1964.

Van Returns To TV

HOLLYWOOD (NEA)—Van Williams has made a disturbing discovery. He can walk down the streets of major cities in several countries and be recognized as a star of SurfSide 6. Yet his name is not known among the industry's bigshots.
"I have a good friend who has great stature in the movies," handsome, green-eyed Van said. "We went to Las Vegas together and hardly anyone recognized him. They knew me though. Yet he could walk into any movie studio in town and get a part. Television is a matter of impressing the public. For movies you have to impress Hollywood."
And so, to impress movie moguls that he is a working actor, Van has returned to television. He is appearing as Walter Brennan's sidekick in The Tycoon, the new ABC-TV comedy series. He also figures he will be getting valuable acting working with Brennan and Jerome Cowan, another regular.
Van was dropped last year by Warner Brothers, where he had been under contract. But a year before he was released he asked to be let out of his contract and they refused.
"I could see the handwriting on the wall, when their shows started going off television. They kept me on, and cast me in six different shows. But they wouldn't loan me out to other studios.
"I look on my time there as an embryonic period. It did a certain amount of good. Everybody else who was there knocked it, but I think you have to look at what you are after in this business. I want to become a good actor, and work my way into feature films. Where else can you go and get paid for getting that experience before the cameras, and a chance to learn what goes on in the technical side?
"The only trouble is, nobody's personality came through. Warners wanted us like a bunch of fish, so if one of us kicked up our heels, we could be replaced easily."

On to The Green Hornet. Allow me to reprint a feature story that was part of a publicity campaign for the new series. It’s from the Greenfield Recorder-Gazette of July 10, 1966.

Van Williams To Star In "Green Hornet"

If things pan out as Van Williams believes they will, his forthcoming Friday night ABC series "The Green Hornet" will generate the kind of surefire entertainment that Hollywood movies did back when they were pleasing most of the people most of the time. Audiences, he feels, like to see "good looking people, nicely dressed" in polished escape stuff.
But the very good looking, dark-haired Van (who wears clothes with the nonchalance of a young Cary Grant) signals for a stop on that word "escape." Wants to explain. Just because both are produced by William Dozier, Van doesn't want you to get the idea that "Green Hornet" is another "Batman." Van is the chap who left Texas to become the first actor in his family "because though I love my father, I didn't want to play second fiddle to him all my life." So it figures he'd hardly relish being a second-string "Batman." No danger, though, it seems.
-o- -o- -o-
True, the double-life hero boasts a car that out-bats the Batmobile "but neither the concept of our show, nor the wardrobe are way out." Furthermore, even back in the days when the "Green Hornet" was a radio staple, the glamor boy publisher who moonlights as a crime fighter had to have his autos custom made. Not, of course, on the scale of the Black Beauty Van will be sporting. But then, this is a jet age Britt Reid he'll be playing. Now if by chance you're thinking Van is a mite young and lacking authority to play a 35-year-old millionaire publisher, well it means you’re Still hooked on the old Kenny Madison image from "Surfside Six" — or maybe the respectful young aide to Walter Brennan in "Tycoon." An hour's talk with the real Van Williams will correct that!
Nearing 35 now, he talks about himself with good humored honesty, says he's kept Texas as a secondary interest. And that includes co-owning with his mother "a working ranch, not rich by Texas standards where there is oil." Its net worth, he admits "is about a million dollars." He also keeps up some business interests with his fattier. "We have some buildings in downtown Fort Worth Woolworth's leases one we have a shopping center, too, and are developing another, maybe with a drive-in theater. I also have a lot of stock and personal investments and am part owner of a bank in California.
-o- -o- -o-
"I'm a capitalist. I admit it. But I also admit I'm very tight with money. It bothers my wife (Vicki Richards to whom he's been married seven years)...but I believe in keeping my money working."
He's glad, though, that William Dozier doesn't believe on stinting when it comes to the series. "He has beautiful taste and it's quality all the way. Why he chose the fabric himself for my coats — $27.95 a yard in a color he's named Midnight Green. It photographs more black. He's had the top tailor Richard Carroll make five identical ones. Fly front, very simple. I'd wear it myself in the daytime if I had one but in the series I wear them only at night when I'm being 'The Green Hornet.' In the daytime, as Brett, I wear normal clothes, never the green."
But wardrobe costs are dwarfed by Black Beauty expenditures. Estimates for the modifications are now quoted around $50,000. Says Van: They started with an Imperial Le Baron Four-Door, took all the chrome off, replaced the grill and wheels with magnesium ones. The exhaust has been removed, too, and the noise upped. They've gimmicked a control panel that's supposed to do 28 different things like fire rockets from the roof." And a touch he especially likes, "there are little brooms that come out to sweep away tire tracks on a dirt road."
-o- -o- -o-
"Green Hornet" did get one budget break, though. It never had a pilot film. Between the aptness of casting Van Williams and Dozier’s prestige, the series was snapped up right away.
For Van, of course, it’s the biggest break thus far in a career that's moved smoothly ever since he made up his mind to be an actor. The late Mike Todd is supposed to have given Van that first job. Not so, says Van "but he did give me some good advice and I went back to Texas Christian and finished college. I was married in college, two children and divorced, I had to think things ever." So he'd wandered a while, was teaching skin diving to Hawaii when he met Todd. "He had said to look him up. But he was dead before I went to Hollywood." It so happens, however, that Van was what Warner Bros. were in the market for. He started as Kenny Madison student on "Bourbon Street" and when that series folded was moved into "Surfside Six" as the more mature Ken Madison, lawyer.
And now of course, the big one, “The Green Hornet” with the handsome young capitalist playing the highly suitable role of a handsome young capitalist. Plus, of course, all that well-dreamed nocturnal crime fighting that Van figures should prove sure-fire fun.

If you’re wondering how The Green Hornet got on TV in the first place (besides networks looking for copycat Batman shows), this story from the Binghamton Press of September 3, 1966 provides some insight from the Hornet’s radio creator.

Green Hornet Buzzes Again

Special Press Writer
New York — A lot of the past, some of the present and a little of the future of broadcasting belongs to a fellow who never left home—George W. Trendle, now 82 and still generating new ideas.
When a sign of the times was the blue eagle of the NRA (National Recovery Act) and the Townsend Plan for old-age pensions was still only a twinkle in the eye of Dr. Francis Townsend, Trendle, a Detroit lawyer-turned-showman, created a new radio super hero, The Lone Ranger.
The masked rider and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, rode onto the airwaves on Jan. 31, 1935, before Alf Landon was nominated for President. Eighteen months later, Trendle had proliferated his radio heroes. Alongside the Lone Ranger were the Green Hornet and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.
Now more than three decades and three wars later, all three characters still are familiar to lovers of escape adventure.
The Lone Ranger handily made the transition from radio to movies and then TV. He'll be making another round soon as an animated TV series. And Sergeant Preston keeps recurring as a TV kiddie adventure series.
• • •
BUT the Green Hornet? Ah! Look what's happened!
"I put the Green Hornet on radio on Jan. 31, 1936," Trendle said by telephone from his office in Detroit. "He stayed on radio until 1952."
A few years ago, some sentiment was expressed for the good, old days of radio drama. Trendle got to thinking about it, and dusted off the old transcriptions of his Green Hornet series and offered them for sale. "Two years ago we got the Hornet in re-use on some radio stations. It didn't make any money, but It stimulated TV to get interested. I had four different movie studios in one week come to me about TV rights," Trendle chuckled.
He made his deal with Bill Dozier, the producer who does. Batman. Trendle retained his rights to approval on scripts and casting for the Green Hornet TV show, which will make its debut on the ABC network Friday, Sept. 16 over Channel 34.
TRENDLE is especially happy with Bruce Lee, the Chinese-American who will be TV's faithful Oriental servant, Kato.
"He's a foot fighter," Trendle said proudly. "He can floor a man with a kick." He also is skilled in karate and judo.
As for Britt Reid, the crime-fighter known only to Kato as "The Green (with feeling) Hornet," Trendle agreed to actor Van Williams for the role.
"Dozier sent a color film of a pilot for a TV series with Williams as a submarine officer [The Sea Wolves, from Four Star Productions, in 1965]. I said, That's the Green Hornet, except for the blond hair.' In my imagination, the Hornet was a blond with blue eyes," Trendle said.
Williams is dark-haired, dark-eyed and dark-complexioned.
"Green Hornet will not be camp," Trendle promised. "Maybe teepee. There'll be the gas gun, and the Black Beauty car, and the mask. We changed him from a black cape and black fedora to dark green for TV.
"I've been telling them to play it serious and it will last longer. The Lone Ranger stayed on radio from 1935 to 1957 because we kept it serious. I'm hoping this will go four or five years on TV."

Unfortunately for Trendle, not to mention Williams, the show didn’t survive past the 1966-67 season. Williams appeared in a few other series through the ‘70s and then gave up acting for community service as a volunteer firefighter and reserve deputy sheriff, proving he was more than just another thick dark-haired young guy to be chewed up by the Hollywood television machine.

He Went That Way

“Which way did he go? Which way did he go?” A familiar line in a Tex Avery cartoon, isn’t it?

In Half-Pint Pygmy (1948), George says it, appropriately enough, at an information booth. The guy inside turns out to be a dopey octopus who weaves around before pointing in all directions.

George and Junior click their heels in the air and off they go after the title character.

Louie Schmitt and Bill Shull are still in the Tex Avery unit at this point, joined by Grant Simmons and Walt Clinton.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

How Mary Met Jack, 1932 Version

Over the decades, several different versions of how Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone met made the rounds. One of the earliest versions is found below. It was published in the December 12, 1932 edition of Radio Guide. Jack hadn’t been on the radio for a year at this point and was just about to lose his original sponsor, Canada Dry, thanks partly to a behind-the-scenes battle involving him; his writer Harry Conn; writer/performer Sid Silvers, imposed on the two by the sponsor; and Mary. For a time, there seems to have some reluctance on identifying who Mary Livingstone was in public. By the end of 1932, the trades were reporting she was Sadye Marks, aka Mrs. Jack Benny.

There’s no mention of a seder meeting between the two in this story but there is a mention of Vancouver, where Mary grew up. One thing is consistent in all the stories I’ve seen. Jack deeply loved his wife.

The photo, with the annoying dots, accompanied the article.

Mary Livingstone—Jack Benny’s Boss
By Hilda Cole

THE gathering of the clan of radio comedians is evidently Essex House. Burns and Allen live there, and so do Mr. and Mrs. Jack Benny. Often when George and Jack are off to the Friar's Club, Gracie and Mary go to a midnight show. On other nights they get together seriously over a bridge table. It's New York's radio rendezvous.
The Benny's live on the thirtieth floor, and their apartment is simple but very comfortable. Mary loves to look out of the window over Central Park, which from that height is map -like, with cars wending through the labyrinth roads, small ant -like figures scurrying across the football field in formation, and others proceeding aimlessly around the frozen pond.
She, Mary Livingstone, is a darling. Her voice is quiet and low-pitched and earnest. She says she loves Jack more than the day she married him, which was approximately six years ago.
"I'm not very interesting myself," she said, "'but I do like to talk about Jack."
He hastily passed through the room en route to a conference with his script collaborator, in dressing gown with his hair mussed up. He paused and grinned upon hearing her words.
"That," said Jack, "Is as it should be." Whereupon he blew a kiss at her and vanished.
"There," said Mary, "Isn't he sweet?"
IT was in Los Angeles, seven or eight years ago, and Mary, having just emerged from school, was having herself a good time. She liked college boys best. She was interested in her job, as buyer for a shop in town. An older sister had married a theatrical man, but she was on the other side of the continent. Outside of that, Mary knew nothing of theatrical persons. She was thrilled to meet Jack Benny, playing at the Orpheum, through a friend. While he was there Mary. in a somewhat smitten state of mind, went out with him several times, and was very impressed. He seemed an extra-grand person. Jack too, had indelible impressions of Mary, but before they had time to think twice, he'd gone on to make people laugh in another town.
Within the next year Mary became engaged to a very nice boy, a college man with a sensible future. "I must," said Mary, "have been in love with him."
However, in the interim between the announcement of her engagement and the wedding, Mary visited her sisters in Chicago. Jack Benny arrived in town too, and they got together. Mary arrived on Sunday night, and Friday she married Jack. People like Jack didn't grow on trees, she thought, and evidently Jack held the same sentiments about Mary.
At first she was as bewildered as Alice in Wonderland by the back-stage life. It seemed crazy. But she wanted to adjust herself to Jack's life, and she has succeeded. He helped her along by asking her to step into the act and take the place of his girl partner, who had to leave.
"I was very bad the first time," she will tell you. However, Jack was patient. They Mary Livingstone and Jack Benny toured the Orpheum persistently together, and by the time it was concluded, she had a little experience. Finally, at Vancouver, B. C., Jack had a chance to get his old partner back. He tried to work with her, and found that he could not do it. From then on, Mary and he were inseparable as actors as well as life partners.
WHEN Jack started the new Canada Dry [show] on CBS, she had never a thought of participating. However, one night he decided he would like to have another character, and she did so beautifully and added such an invaluable touch to the program, that she's been on since.
Mary says she is always scared to death before she goes on, and knows that she could not do it with anyone but Jack. Standing next to him gives her confidence. When he changes script—as he does occasionally she always starts to correct him, and remembers only in the nick of time that she is on the air. She's boss, you know.
Jack, says Mary, is an ideal person. It is next to impossible to have an argument with him. He likes everybody, and everybody likes him. Like most comics, he is serious-minded. "Everybody else may be clowning in the room, but Jack is serious," says Mary, "He enjoys laughing at everyone else, though." Sometimes he will wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, and beg her to help him remember it. They both enjoy going the same places and doing things together. Mary says she would not enjoy being with anyone else. Their tastes are mutual—with the exception of gold.
Mary has a special passion for movies. She says she could see them all day long, good or bad. Joan Crawford and Leslie Howard are her favorites.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

A Day at the Van Beuren Studio

New York City had three cartoon studios in the 1930s that were busy with theatrical releases. The Fleischer studio released its Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons through Paramount and was the best of the three. Terrytoons had several corporate relationships but its cartoons went out with 20th Century Fox features. And then there was Van Beuren, which released several other short subjects besides cartoons, and was partly owned by RKO. In 1936, RKO decided it would rather hand money to Walt Disney to make cartoons for it, so it closed the Van Beuren studio.

I feel bad for Van Beuren. Its early cartoons are not very well drawn at times and most have no real story to speak of, but there’s something likeable about them. The studio should have been able to get its act together. By 1936, it had some pretty good animators like Jack Zander, Bill Littlejohn and Carlo Vinci. It had solid properties in Felix the Cat and the Toonerville Trolley (though neither were owned by the studio). It had Joe Barbera, who knew how to construct a funny story and add gags along the way. Okay, it had Burt Gillett and his rather unstable style of managing. But if the studio had decided to go for slam-bam comedy, it might have finally turned the corner. But it was not to be.

Let’s tour the Van Beuren studio, courtesy of this feature story in the New York Herald Tribune of April 17, 1932. No one is quoted and no names are mentioned. It’s simply an outline of how the studio made cartoons. Interestingly, there’s no mention of dialogue, but the sound was added after the drawings were made and not before. And readers certainly got a lesson on how cartoons were shot in painstaking detail. Four people seemed to be working in the camera department at any given time.

Putting the Animation in Cartoons
For approximately fifteen years animated cartoons have been entertaining motion picture audiences with the antics of their funny characters and mystifying those who wondered how the little figures acquired life, how they learned to sing and how the sound effects were timed so perfectly.
A visit to the studio where Æsop’s sound fables are produced by the Van Beuren Corporation for RKO release will give an idea of the amount of tedious work that is required for one cartoon.
Motion pictures do not move of themselves, but are a succession of still pictures projected on the screen at the rate of ninety feet a minute, or a foot and a half a second. There are sixteen “frames,” or pictures to one foot of film and therefore twenty-four separate pictures are shown on the screen each second. Ordinarily motion pictures are photographed at the same rate of speed at which they are projected, but in animated cartoons the camera photographs but one frame of picture at a time. But before the photographic stage is reached there are many other details that must be taken care of.
In the days of silent pictures a staff of twenty-five men was sufficient to produce a cartoon each week. Today, not counting the music and effect men employed for recording purposes, twice that number are needed to make one cartoon every two weeks.
Artists Maps Out Story [sic]
First there is the story to be worked out. As so many technicalities are involved, outside scenarios are not solicited and the artists gather in a conference room to map out the story. At this meeting, in addition to the artists, there are the musical director [Gene Rodemich] and what might be termed a “song and dance” man [Jack Ward]. Music to accompany the various scenes must be selected in advance. Various steps or gags are demonstrated and the artists jot down their notes and make rough sketches. Also, they often attempt to illustrate the action of a character. Sometimes two or three days are required before the artists can return to their boards and get down to actual drawing.
Fifth men are employed at the studio, all of whom devote their time exclusively to drawing. These are divided into three groups: artists, or animators at they are genuinely called, the tracers and the inkers.
Fifteen artists sketch their drawings on translucent tissue paper. The average cartoon of 700 feet requires from 10,000 to 15,000 separate drawings, as well as from twenty-five to thirty backgrounds. This may seem an impossible task, but some of the drawings consist merely of a hand or a food, later to be superimposed over another drawing to make the complete picture.
The artist’s desk consists of a large drawing board with a square approximately seven by nine inches cut out of the center in which is fitted a piece of plate glass. Below the glass is an electric bulb, the reflected light enabling the artist to follow through several layers of paper the action of the figure he is drawing. The paper has two perforations at the top which fit over two pegs on the drawing board. This system of holes and pegs is used throughout the entire process, including photographing, the purpose being to insure proper registration of the drawings.
The artist now begins his scene, which may be a cat walking. The first sketch would show the cat starting a step. The next would show it finishing the action. By placing these two drawings above the light, the artist can see the start and finish of the action and he must then fill in the intermediate drawings to give the process smoothness. This is termed “animating” and requires great skill. The drawings are numbered according to scene and group and must be made so that the action will synchronize with the music. For this purpose the music is set up by the musical director by “beats.” Sometimes the artist will not even know the musical selection for the scene he is drawing, but if he knows the number of beats a minute he can make his animation in perfect synchrony.
The Tracing Department Enters
As scenes are completed, the drawings are turned over to the tracing department, where the outlines of the figures are traced in ink on specially treated celluloid. The use of celluloid is a great time-saver, but this will be explained later as its use more directly applied to the photography.
As the tracers finish the drawings, they are placed on drying racks and are turned over to the opaquing department, which fills in the outlines with black, white or gray paint, a chart being provided with each scene designating what shades are to be used on each character. When the opaquing department has completed its work, the celluloids or “cells” are ready to be turned over to the camera department.
Photographing an animated cartoon is a tremendous task necessitating two camera men and two assistants working from morning to night. The average time required is eleven to twelve days. With each scene that is delivered to the camera department there is also delivered an exposure sheet on which are shown the background and celluloids by number for each individual frame or picture. Four separate drawings are photographed at the same time, one atop the other, and here is where we see the saving of time made possible by the use of celluloid. Only objects that actually move must have separate drawings. The camera is mounted directly above a rack, or table, on which the camera man first places the background. On this background are shown the objects that do not have animation or life throughout the scene.
After the background is put in place, three layers of celluloid are placed on top of it, various characters appearing in the scene being on the separate layers of celluloid. For instance, three characters walk into the picture, one at a time, and then stand alongside another to sing a song. The camera man would first place his background with three blank celluloids above it and snap several frames to give the final picture continuity and so that the characters do not appear to rush in. This action would be marked on the exposure sheet for the proper number of frames.
Then the first character appears. To complete one step requires from five to ten drawings, depending on the speed desired, the faster the action the fewer the drawings. However, if too few drawings are made the action becomes jumpy. While the first character is walking in to take his place the action is confined to one celluloid, the set-up on the camera being first the background, then two blank celluloids and on top the celluloid on which the character appears. When the first character takes his position in the scene the second character starts to enter, the action being the same as the first.
How Celluloids Are Arranged
The set-up would now be changed so that first there would be the background, then the first celluloid with the character who is already in his place, then a blank celluloid, and on top the celluloid on which is traced the outline of the second character. When the second character is in his place the third character enters. Now all three layers of celluloid are in use until the third character is in place.
For the purpose of better illustrating the celluloid process, let us say that the three characters do not move their bodies while singing, merely opening their mouths in unison. The three figures would then be drawn on one celluloid and the three heads on another, so that separate drawings to animate the heads only would be needed, these being so set that when the celluloids are in place they would appear as one picture. there would then be an extra celluloid which might be used if the singers were to move their hands or feet for the purpose of adding gestures.
The camera man in photographing would following his exposure sheet which would read “Background No. 1.” “Celluloids 1, 2, 3” for the first frame or picture. The next exposure would read “Background No. 1,” “Celluloids 1, 2, 4” on down through the scene, the celluloids being changed by the cameraman as indicated on his exposure sheet. But this is not the only thing the cameraman must keep in mind. Sound enters into the photography as well as every other operation in the making of a sound cartoon. The cameraman is instructed on the rhythm or number of beats of the music that is later to be added and by means of a secret process [the Rufle baton?] registers the beats on the negative film.
When the photographing is completed, the various scenes are arranged in order and a master print is made. All this while the musical director has been working out his music and rehearsing it, arranging original composition whenever necessary, so that, by the time the print is returned from the laboratory, he is ready for a final rehearsal. Minor cuts are sometimes necessary, but as a rule the work is so perfectly timed that the operations go through without a hitch.
The operations now shift before the microphone. The essential requisites are a sound proof room, the necessary recording apparatus, a projection booth and machine for the purpose of projecting the picture (silent) on the screen and last, but not least, the men to supply the music and sound effects. The film is started, the men get their cue, and the score is rehearsed, music, footbeats, thunder and lightning effects, all coming in at their proper places. The preparatory work has been so complete that one rehearsal is generally sufficient. The microphone is next put into action and the recording takes place.
It now merely remains for the picture negative and the sound track negative to be delivered to the laboratory, matched up properly, and hundreds of prints made so that another cartoon may be presented to audiences around the world.

Use 12,000 Units In Single Cartoon
Here some some figures prepared by a cartoon artist which give a concise estimate of the work involved:
Fifty artists make twenty-six animated cartoons a year.
Each cartoon averages 12,000 drawings.
Each drawing is handled five separate times—penciling, inking, opaquing (black, white and gray).
312,000 drawings are animated in one year.
312,000 drawings are worked on 1,560,000 times.
The drawings make approximately 18,200 feet of film.
All this, one year’s work of fifty men, can be shown in the screen in 3 hours and 20 minutes.

Friday, 2 December 2016

What Bugs Knows

“Stop right there, rabbit. How much do you know?” asks gun-toting Rocky. Bugs proceeds to ramble off some trivia. Rocky decides Bugs “knows too much” in Warren Foster’s parody of gangster film dialogue.

Bugs has some neat finger movements as he enumerates his facts.

Animators on “Bugs and Thugs” are Manny Perez, Art Davis, Virgil Ross and Ken Champin.