Tuesday, 20 February 2018

In Case You Missed the Name...

We posted about an inside gag in the 1933 Willie Whopper cartoon Spite Flight in this post. Here’s one from a similar cartoon, The Air Race, made the same year.

Aviator Willie can’t see where he’s flying. He crashes into a roadside fireworks seller.

Too bad the animator didn’t caricature Ub Iwerks as well.

Carl Stalling has a portion of Franz Von Suppé’s “Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien” Overture in the background during the scene.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Cat Face

The King Size Canary realises the cat chasing him has grown. Here’s the gag Tex Avery and Heck Allen came up with.

Walt Clinton, Ray Abrams and Bob Bentley receive the animation credits in this cartoon released in 1947.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Fred Allen's Side of the Jack Benny Feud

Somewhere close to 1 o’clock in the morning on December 31, 1936 (Eastern time), radio history was made. That’s when Fred Allen, in New York City, ad-libbed a crack on his Town Hall Tonight show about the ineptness of Jack Benny’s violin playing. Benny was listening on KFI in Los Angeles (it being around 10 p.m. on December 30th Pacific time).

Benny responded with a line directed at Allen during the tag of his own programme on January 3rd. With that their feud was on, supposedly climaxing with a “fight of the century” on Benny’s show of March 14, 1937, but it carried on, surviving Allen’s programme that left the air in 1949.

Benny devoted whole shows to the feud. In 1937, Allen’s Town Hall was an hour-long broadcast with a number of different elements so all he could do was write what the scripts call a “Benny insert.” Some of these Allen broadcasts may not be in circulation. Fortunately, radio historian Kathy Fuller-Seeley dug through Alley’s scripts at the Boston Public Library and made photocopies. So, here are a few of them.

A notation by Kathy on the script of January 6, 1937 was that no reference to Benny was made. Clearly there was, as there was a response as a running gag, complete with Benny doing an impression of Allen, on Benny’s show of January 10th. Perhaps the Allen file only has the East Coast script and Allen wrote something for his West Coast repeat broadcast, the one Benny would hear. So, let’s move ahead.

“PORT” refers to Portland Hoffa, Allen’s wife and stooge. “JOHN” is John Brown, who spent time off and on with Allen, portraying John Doe in the original version of Allen’s Alley. He specialised in low-life Brooklyn characters. Brown moved to the West Coast and continued radio, TV and film work before he got caught up in the insidious blacklist. “CHAS” is Charlie Cantor, another long-time Allen secondary player who was Socrates Mulligan in early incarnations of the Alley. He left for Duffy’s Tavern, where he played Clifton Finnegan. Benny radio fans may recall him as the nelly married man Logan Jerkfinkle on a few episodes. “Peter” is Allen’s orchestra leader, Peter Van Steeden. The copy with lines through it is dialogue that was cut. The copy in italics was hand-written on the final script.

JANUARY 13, 1937
BENNY BIT.......Fred Allen
ALLEN: Thank you, now the first artists we welcome this... You have just heard Miss Merrill Lee singing Taint Good. And now—
PORT: Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: Go away, Portland.
PORT: I want to tell......
ALLEN: You’ve been on already. Are you getting absentminded?
PORT: No. There’s a man to see you. He says it’s important.
ALLEN: I’m busy, Portland if it’s somebody who wants a dime for a cup of coffee.. Tell him I’ve done away with the middleman. There’s a percolator in my overcoat pocket he can help himself. Tell him to—
PORT: You’d better tell him. He’s right here.
JOHN: Yes. It won’t take a minute, Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: Oh! You want to see me, mister? What is it? Do you want to see me?
JOHN: Yes. I hate to butt in.
ALLEN: That’s just what you’re doing.
JOHN: I know. I hate to do it...but I’m doing it. That’s me all over. No will power.
ALLEN: Don’t worry. You won’t be tempted here. Well, what is it? What is it you want to see me about?
JOHN: Jack Benny.
JOHN: I heard his program last Sunday night.
ALLEN: So...you’re the one.
JOHN: No. There was another man with me. He heard it, too. Now what’s all this trouble you’re having with Jack Benny?
ALLEN: There’s no trouble, mister.....
JOHN: Petrie.
ALLEN: There’s no trouble, Mister Petrie. Jack just said he could play The Bee on his violin, when he was ten years old, and I didn’t think he could. That’s all. Last Sunday, Jack got off on the wrong argument. He said I just happened to say one night that Jack couldn’t play a number called The Bee on his violin. That’s all. Last Sunday Jack said he could play the Flight of the Bumble Bee.
JOHN: That’s a different tune, ain’t it?
ALLEN: Yes. He’s off on the wrong argument. The number I meant is The Bee is by Shubert. And The Flight of the Bumble Bee is by two other fellows Rimsky and Karsakoff.
JOHN: A couple of foreigners, eh?
ALLEN: From what I can understand...you know the lowdown in As a matter of fact, the talk in musical circles....is that Rimsky and Karsakoff heard Jack trying to play Shubert’s Bee and that’s why they wrote their Bee In Flight.
JOHN: To give the bee a chance to get away, eh?
ALLEN: Yes. Now, Mr. Petrie, as man to man, I’m giving myself the best of it perhaps...But did you ever hear Jack Stuff Benny play The Bee on his violin?
JOHN: Well. I heard him play somethin in a vaudeville theatre in Waukegan one time.
ALLEN: Was it The Bee?
JOHN: Couldn’t a been. When he finished playin his violin was covered with somethin but it wasn’t honey. Looked more like tomatoes to me.
ALLEN: I see. With those tomatoes hanging on it his E string must have looked like a vine.
JOHN: I ain’t here to stool pigeon, Allen.
ALLEN: Well......
JOHN: You fellers ought to quit this arguin, Allen. All Waukegan is agog. The Chamber of Commerce sent me down here as a committee of one to straighten this thing out.
ALLEN: Oh! Are you from Waukegan, Mr. Petrie?
JOHN: Yes. I’m in the Post Office there. At the General Delivery window.
ALLEN: Yeah?
JOHN: Right across from the second spittoon as you come in the door.
ALLEN: Then you’re probably just the man I want to see. Did you know Jack in Waukegan when he was ten years old?
JOHN: Say....I knew Jack Benny back in Waukegan when he was knee-high to a cricket.
ALLEN: Knee-high to a cricket?
JOHN: Yes. Grasshoppers were scarce in Waukegan.
Sure Did.
ALLEN: Well. You ought to be able to settle this whole thing in two seconds. Could Jack play the bee on his violin when he was ten years old?
ALLEN: Can you prove it?
JOHN: Prove it? I been runnin the general delivery window in the Waukegan post office for forty years. You see—Jack Benny started takin violin lessons through the mail.
ALLEN: You mean he had his lessons come general delivery.
JOHN: He had to. That’s right. His family wouldn’t let him practise in the house.
ALLEN: I can imagine.
JOHN: I can see Jack now. He’d toddle into the post office draggin his violin. I’d give him his lesson and he’d practise right there in front of my general delivery window.
ALLEN: What did he play?
JOHN: Got a violin?
ALLEN: Do you play, Mr. Petrie?
JOHN: I never had a violin in my hands but I can show you what Benny played any day.
ALLEN: Peter! Will you lend Mr. Petrie a violin?
CHAS: Yes, Fred. Here!
ALLEN: Thank you. Here you are Mr. Petrie.
JOHN: This one’s got four strings on it.
ALLEN: Yes. All violins have four strings.
JOHN: Benny’s violin only had two.
ALLEN: Never mind. Just show us what Jack played around the post office back in Waukegan when he was ten years old.
JOHN: Oker-Doker. Here she goes.
ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Petrie. That will be plenty.
JOHN: I guess that settles the argument, don’t it?
ALLEN: You bet it does. If that’s the bee...I’m Koussevitsky.
JOHN: Well. I gotta be goin. Which way is Waukegan from here?
ALLEN: Just go out that first door...and keep left. Ladies and gentlemen...There is nothing we can add to Mr. Petrie’s story. The bee was may have been played by a ten year old boy on this program but his name was not...Jack Benny. And now getting back to our guests......

The following week, Allen tosses in an inside joke. The reference to “Boasberg” refers to Al Boasberg, who was Benny’s script doctor until he suddenly died in June 1937. Cantor is playing in Jewish dialect here. My favourite line is a real subtle one. When Cantor talks about Allen being a toothpaste salesman, Allen responds “That’s only the half of it.” It’s true. Half of Allen’s show was sponsored by Ipana toothpaste and the other half by Sal Hepatica laxative.

JANUARY 20, 1937
ALLEN: Thank you. And now? Before presenting the first of our guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to clean up a little extraneous business that has been popping up.....on the program....Helter skelter....As the saying goes every Wednesday night for the past few weeks....I refer to what, in French, we would call l’affaire Benny. Last Sunday, the this impetuous and self-styled virtuoso, Mr. Benny, showed a picture of himself playing the “BEE” at the age of ten. A new low in composite photographic skulduggery, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Benny could have waiting for television and the entire country could have seen what the picture looked like. But...no....the picture was exhibited in a dinky, ill lighted West Coast radio studio to a hand-picked studio audience consisting of fifteen men named Boasberg. We are coping with a cutie, ladies and gentlemen, but we are prepared. We’ll show this pixie who is running the dell. We’ll show you exactly what this picture was. Tonight, we have spared no expense to bring you the man who took this picture of Jack Benny holding the violin when he was ten years old. Mr. DeWitt Levee.
CHAS: Thank you.
ALLEN: Put down the applause sign, Mr. Levee.
CHAS: Better I’m holding it. I’m not going flat if I’ll finish.

ALLEN: All right. Now Mr. Levee. Where is your home?
CHAS: Waukegan, Illinois.
ALLEN: What do you do in Waukegan?
CHAS: I am running...strictly by appointment...the Bide A Wee combination pawn shop and photograph gallery delicatessen.
ALLEN: I’ve never heard of a combination pawn shop and photograph gallery. Pawnshop and delicatessen. What kind of sign do you use outside of the store?
CHAS: Three meat balls.
CHAS: Why not? It’s my own idea. So many people are hocking valuables and never coming back.
ALLEN: I know. But where does the photograph gallery fit in?
CHAS: By me, let us say for no reason, you are hocking something. I am taking your picture with the article. You are keeping the picture for a souvenir.

ALLEN: I see. Do you ever listen to Jack Benny on the radio?
CHAS: Who else?
ALLEN: Don’t get personal, Mr. Levee. Just answer my questions.
CHAS: Jack Benny! There’s a comedian. You should like to see the day you could hold a candle to Jack Benny.
ALLEN: Wait a minute! I don’t want to hold a candle. Don’t turn this into an arson case, Mr. Levee.
CHAS: Last Sunday, Jack is slaying me. He is calling you a toothpaste salesman.
ALLEN: That’s only the half of it.
CHAS: A toothpaste salesman! Hi! Yi!
ALLEN: Well. At least my samples don’t wobble around.
CHAS: What’s the matter you couldn’t say Jello?
ALLEN: Did he say Ipana last Sunday.
CHAS: Who’s clapping? What’s going on?
ALLEN: Put down that applause card. You started that.
CHAS: Nu. So what? On a program like this you could use a little applause right now.
ALLEN: Now....Listen...Mr. Levee. At long last you and I are not gathered here tonight to eulogize Jack Benny.

CHAS: Jack Benny. An artist. A scholar.
ALLEN: But not a violin player.
CHAS: Look! I’m giving Jack Benny a little plug. And he can’t take it.
ALLEN: You know what happens if you give Jack a little plug, don’t you.
CHAS: So what happens?
ALLEN: Buck Benny rides again!
CHAS: Oy! Buck Benny. What a cowboy!
ALLEN: Now...Look, Mr. Levee. You were brought here tonight to tell our radio audience about a certain picture.
CHAS: Could I get a word in endwise....Up to now?
ALLEN: Quiet, please! Did you....or did you not....on the afternoon of July 7th, 1904 take a picture of Jack Benny holding his violin.
CHAS: I did.
ALLEN: Where was this picture taken?
CHAS: In the Bide-A-Wee Pawn Shop at Waukegan, Illinois with a Brownie Number Two.
ALLEN: Fine. What was Jack Benny doing in the Bide-A-Wee Pawnshop at the time.
CHAS: He was practising his violin.
ALLEN: He practised his violin in your pawnshop?
CHAS: Where else? You think I am letter the violin out of mine sight.
ALLEN: I see.
CHAS: The violin was in hock, a technical term, but I was letter Jackie come into the pawnshop to practise.
ALLEN: How did you come to take this picture.
CHAS: Confidentially, one day a party is relinquishing for money a Brownie Number Two. Jackie, a little boy, is asking me to take his picture to see if he will coming out a Brownie.
ALLEN: You have one of these pictures with you.
CHAS: Right here. See! It’s Jasha Benny with his violin.
ALLEN: Yes. Uh, huh. Which is Jack?
CHAS: The one that goes in the middle there.
ALLEN: According to this picture he was standing on his head at the time.
CHAS: No. It was me. I was holding the camera upside down.
ALLEN: Ha, Ha. Look at this. He didn’t even know how to hold a violin.
CHAS: Yi! Yi! The strings is underneath.
ALLEN: Not only that. The thin end he’s got stick in his neck.
CHAS: It ain’t right?
ALLEN: No. The fat end of the violin goes under a violin player’s chin to keep his head company.
CHAS: Hi! Yi! A schlemiel!
ALLEN: Now one vital question, Mr. Levee. Was Jack playing the Bee on this violin when you took this picture.
CHAS: Is his right arm blurred?
ALLEN: No. The right arm isn’t blurred.
CHAS: The he wasn’t even playing.
ALLEN: Now, Mr. Levee, you heard Jack play around your pawnshop a good many times.
CHAS: To destruction!
ALLEN: And what did he play?
CHAS: You got a fiddle?
ALLEN Yes....A violin for Mr. Levee, Peter. Thanks. Here you are.
CHAS: A violin. By me, in hock for this fiddle, you are getting two dollars only after an argument.
ALLEN: Never mind that. Just show us what Jack Benny played around the Bide-A-Wee Pawnshop back in Waukegan.
CHAS: Okay.
ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Levee, you have proved that the Bee was not played by Mr. Jack Benny in your Pawnshop. Thank you.
CHAS: How do I get out now. It’s falling flat.
ALLEN: I’ll Just lift your up this applause card and you beat it.
CHAS: Hokay.

The following week, there are several references to Benny. There’s one in the “Town Hall News” segment, where Allen tells listeners to stand by for Three Smart Girls, then asks “How do I know you are Three Smart Girls.” The girls, Minerva Pious, Eileen Douglas and Portland Hoffa, jointly reply: “We never listen to Jack Benny, Mr. Allen!” Later, in Portland’s spot, she and Fred kibbitz about New York City making electricity out of garbage. Allen compares a dynamo to a radio: “Imagine throwing a used tongue, a cabbage head and two big ears of corn in your radio and getting a program.” What programme? “Why should I advertise a certain party who’s been throwing six malicious flavors out of radio’s [sic] for years,” he responds. And he carries on with a couple of references to Jack. (Interestingly, this segues into a Southern sketch where one of the characters is named Miss Claghorne. Allen filed that away for future use).

But the main Benny gagging comes in another part of the show, with announcer Harry Von Zell butting in with a disclaimer. There’s another inside joke here, designed for Benny’s ears. One of the characters is “Myrt Plum.” Jack’s business manager at the time was Myrt Blum, who happened to be his brother-in-law (he was married to Mary’s sister Babe Marks).

JANUARY 27, 1937
ALLEN: Before presenting our first guest, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to mention a gentleman....and the word gentleman is used loosely here....Cad might better be the word...even cad isn’t the word but it will have to do. I would like to mention a Cad who, although he is no cupid, has seen fit to remove some pointed shafts from his verbal quiver and “ping” them at me from the West Coast. I won’t stoop to mention his name....But....He is a picture star...His initials are J.B....and I don’t mean John Bunny Barrymore. Last Sunday, J.B., on a cowboy radio program— referring to my profile, said that there was a limit to what the makeup man could for me when I come out to Hollywood to make a picture for Mr. Zanuck this summer. All right. I’ll admit I’m no middle Ritz Brother. I know that the stork flew backwards so he wouldn’t have to confront me in case the bundle flew open....but...why did moving picture theatres recently give mothers...taking their children into the theatres....a portable closet with each ticket. I’ll tell you why! So that when Mr. J.B. came on the screen the little kiddies could run into the portable closets and hide until this grotesque Punchinello had worked himself into a lap-dissolve. Still I had hoped he could keep this altercation on a dignified plane—but—If Mr. J.B. wants to get personal, all right. I quote from a Hollywood gossip column....Quote.....what radio and movie star was seen trying to get into a grapefruit-skin so that he could go to a masquerade as a little squirt...Unquote. J.B. isn’t exactly little but a big squirt would spoil the joke. All I said, originally, ladies and gentlemen, was that Mr. J.B.
HARRY: The character J.B. is entirely fictional, folks, and any incident that might be construed as having reference to any living person....or Jack Benny....is entirely coincidental....signed....the management.
ALLEN: I only said that when J.B. was ten years old he couldn’t play the Bee on his violin. Tonight...I will go even farther. I shall Statistics don’t lie ladies and gentlemen and tonight statistics will prove conclusively that J.B. will never play the Bee on his violin. Statistics don’t lie, ladies and gentlemen, and tonight cold, ruthless statistics will prove that if you ever want to hear the Bee played on the violin you had better hitch your wagon to a violinist whose initials are not J.B. So much for venom....and now for the statistics, first At this time...I present Mr. Myrt Plum, vice-president of the Neapolitan Insurance Company. Mr. Plum.
JOHN: Yes, Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: As an insurance man you have a thorough knowledge of the life span in different parts of the world.
JOHN: Yes. Our insurance charts are authentic and complete.
ALLEN: If I ask you the life expectancy of a person you can tell me approximately how long the person will live.
JOHN: Oh yes! If you’re a Hindu, aged ten, under normal conditions your life expectancy is 48 point 5. That means you’ve got less than half a chance to live to be eleven.
ALLEN: This part isn’t a Hindu.
JOHN: Is he white?
ALLEN: Yes. He’s scared most of the time.
JOHN: Does he smoke cigars?
ALLEN: If you put a cigar down he’ll take it up from where you left off. Yes.
JOHN: Drink?
ALLEN: No. But he might as well. He always looks that way.
JOHN: I see. What month was he born in?
JOHN: Under Gemini, eh? Where was he born?
ALLEN: Waukegan, Illinois.
JOHN: How old is he now?
ALLEN: About thirty-five.
JOHN: What business is he in?
ALLEN: No business. But he plays the violin.
JOHN: I see. No business playing the violin, eh?
ALLEN: And how! He’s got no business.
JOHN: Well. According to our Neapolitan Life chart this party should live sixty-nine more years....and six months.
ALLEN: If he’s thirty-five today he’ll live to be 104 and six months.
JOHN: Unless he plays the violin in public. Yes.
ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Plum. And now from the South Bend Conservatory of Music I present professor Gustave Strad. Professor Strad, you are an authority on the violin.
CHAS: (DUTCH) Yes, Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: Are you familiar with a musical composition known as “Love in Bloom?”
CHAS: I am. Yes.
ALLEN: Are you also familiar with Shubert’s immortal masterpiece [sic]...The Bee.
CHAS: Bee as in Benny?
ALLEN: No. That’s what the whole argument is about. There is no Bee in that Party. It’s Shubert’s Bee.
CHAS: Bee as in something else?
ALLEN: Yes. As in to be or not.....I forget the rest of it. Shubert’s Bee.

CHAS: Ach, yes! I know Shubert’s Bee very well.
ALLEN: Good. Now, in your expert estimation, professor, how long would it take an alleged violinist who today can barely play “Love in Bloom” to render Shubert’s Bee?
CHAS: Speaking as an expert I would say....Three times as long.
ALLEN: In other words. If a man was thirty-five today and could barely play “Love in Bloom”. By the time he could play The Bee....
CHAS: He would be three times as old.
ALLEN: He’d be 105.
CHAS: To the day.
ALLEN: Thank you, Professor. That concludes my argument, Ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Myrt Plum, the insurance expert says:
JOHN: This man will live to be 104 years and six months of age.
ALLEN: Professor Gustave Strad says:
CHAS: He will never play the Bee until he is 105.
ALLEN: So you see, Ladies and gentlemen, statistics prove that Mr. J.B. will never play the Bee. He will be gone six months before he even masters the entire number. I thank you! rest my case.

To be honest, I find some of the feud to be pretty weak at the outset. However, once Benny changed writers to Tackaberry-Josefsberg-Perrin-Balzer and they got used to the show and its character relationships, the material got funnier. And Allen’s got better, too, with some very clever puns, and the famous King For a Day sketch which violated one of Allen’s no-nos and played to the studio audience to get laughs. And when the two got together on Benny’s show, there were off-the-cuff chuckles and commentary on the script by both. By the time the 1950s rolled around, and Allen was struggling with his health and finding a place on television, the nastiness was gone from the feud and the two behaved like a bickering old vaudeville team, which was a lot funnier than the 1930s name-calling.

Even after Allen was gone, Benny was linked to him. Jack would pull out his Allen impression on The Tonight Show and other talk shows. And the loving feud was one of the many things mentioned in obituaries when Jack Benny died 18 years after Fred Allen.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Living With Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc didn’t only have a successful career. He had a successful marriage, too.

He and his wife Estelle were together for 56 years. Their marriage only ended with his death in 1989.

Radio Mirror had a unique profile of Blanc in its April 1946 issue. It was, supposedly, written by Estelle. She talks about his radio career wherein her husband supplied character voices on some of the top shows. While she doesn’t talk about his cartoon work, some of the voices he used on the radio were also heard in cartoons, including Porky Pig and Sylvester (actually, Sylvester’s name and voice were borrowed from the Judy Canova show).

There’s no mention of Blanc’s own radio show that would debut in September; it likely hadn’t been conceived yet. Variety reported on April 23rd that a transcription demo was being cut at NBC by creator Joe Rines, who quit the show two months after its debut over creative differences.

Anyway, this is a different perspective on Blanc, and a pleasant one, too.

"Everything Is Shared"

FIFTEEN years ago, I wrote I my diary, "I met the cutest fellow. I wonder if he'll call me?"
That first note about Mel wasn't much different from the other entries in my diary in those five years from the time I was fifteen, when I started keeping it, until I was twenty — and met Mel. All the notations, in those days, were about dates I'd had, or adolescent speculations about what would happen to me in the years to come, plus anxious (and unanswered) queries to the deux ex machina of the little book about when and whom I would marry.
Then, late one night in the spring of 1931, I came home and wrote about the "cute" fellow who I hoped would call — and that was the beginning of the real diary — the first entry in a day-by-day account of pure happiness.
I had gone to a dance that night with a friend of mine named Vera, her brother, and my brother. While I was waltzing with my brother — and who, at twenty, wants to waltz with her brother, no matter how much she loves him — I saw Vera talking to a man I'd never seen before. Now, normally I was very shy indeed — which probably accounted for my dancing with my brother, while Vera found herself this delightful stranger. But even shyness couldn't keep me away then. I walked over toward them, and sort of hung around on the outskirts, hoping with all my heart that Vera would be generous enough to introduce him.
She was. "Estelle," she called, and I closed in the gap between us with most ungirlish haste.
Vera's eyes were teasing. "How would you like to meet someone who's in radio?" she asked.
Mel tells me that I turned a nice, rich rose color. "This is Mel Blanc," Vera went on. "He's in California from Portland, Oregon, and he's really and truly in radio — he's on the Al Pearce program."
Mel and I just looked at each other. In retelling the story, he likes to point out that here I blushed again. But he did ask for my telephone number. Even so, blushes and all, I wasn't sure that he was really interested. Didn't I anxiously question my diary that night, "I wonder if he'll call me?"
I spent the next two days in awful anticipation of the calamity that would blight my young life in case he didn't call. But finally the phone rang, and I could breathe again, for it was Mel. We didn't see each other that day, but my diary plainly states (with obvious relief) "I am so happy! Mel Blanc called today!"
I wish I could have seen into the future. I wish I could have seen Mel Blanc as my husband, and also as one of the most famous comedians on the air. It would have saved me a lot of worrisome days.
But now the future is here. I've been Mel's wife for a long time, and he's been that famous comedian for a long time. He's on five shows a week at present. He's Mr. Wortle on Judy Canova's show, and he's also Pedro and the man with the hiccups. He works for Jack Benny and meets himself coming and going on that program as the parrot, the train caller, the French violin teacher and Detective Flanagan. And my incomparable husband is also Bob Hope's incomparable Private Snafu. To George Burns and Gracie Allen he is the happy postman and the cigar store clerk. For Abbott and Costello he plays Scotty McBrown and Cartoony Technicolorvitch. And he gets a big kick out of the fact that he's been billed as "miscellaneous voices" on so many shows he can't keep count of them.

AND so, in the exciting present, I'm married to a motley collection of wonderful funnymen, all of whom boil down, at home, to the grandest husband in the world.
That, as I say, is the exciting present. Not that the past wasn't exciting, too. It was. There were those long months, for instance, when I knew as well as I knew my own name that I was head over heels in love with Mel — but when I had no idea whether or not he loved me.
I decided, at last, that it was up to me to make some move. I finally asked him if he would consider acting as master of ceremonies at the cabaret dance our club was giving. I didn't see exactly how this was going to further my romance, but at least I'd be with Mel, and that was something. I didn't really think that he'd accept, but he said yes without hesitation, and my stock rose by leaps and bounds with the other club members. I was pretty proud of myself.
I was still sure, when we went to that dance, that I liked Mel a great deal more than he liked me. But by the time the evening was over I was walking on air, because suddenly, right in the midst of a dance, I knew that the feeling was mutual. Mel hadn't said a word, but I just knew, in that mysterious way that females have of knowing when a man's in love with them.
Mel was the cautious type — he still is. For a long while we saw a great deal of each other, but he never mentioned that little word "love." Mother was suspicious — perhaps she thought I was wasting my time. And Mel hadn't said anything, so I couldn't reassure her. Instead I'd just say, in my best off-hand manner, "Why, I only feel sorry for him, Mother. He wants a home-cooked dinner — he doesn't know anyone in California." And I'd quickly add, while she was in a softened mood, "Can't we have him over again tonight?"
I don't for one moment think that Mother was fooled by all this, but just the same, she used to let me invite Mel to dinner regularly.
In July, he had to go back to Portland — to attend the wedding of a friend, and to see his family. I was pretty excited when he asked me, the night before he left, if he could leave his car with me. Surely, I told myself — and my diary — that meant something. At least, he trusted me with his most cherished possession. (I think if he had run over me with his most cherished possession, I would have found some way to turn it into an indication of affection for me!)
When an embossed leather writing case arrived from Portland for me, I smiled a knowing smile. Why of course — that was Mel's own way of saying, "Write to me, dear. I miss you."
In August, when Mel got back from Portland, I was so eager to see him that I drove right through a stop signal on my way to meet the boat. I got my first ticket then, and Mel hasn't let me forget it to this day.
But he was still slow about proposing. Being of a practical turn of mind, I decided to go to night school to fill in my time. I was working for an attorney, but I was interested in drama — which, incidentally, was elegantly labeled "Oral Art" in the evening sessions catalogue. Suddenly Mel, who had often told me how much he hated school, started going to classes with me. A good sign! To my diary I confided, "He must love me. He goes to school with me every night, and I know it isn't school he likes. Why doesn't he propose?"
To ease your mind — it certainly eased mine — he finally did!

HE waited until Thanksgiving Day to ask me, and even then we didn't get married right away. Mel thought that we should have an engagement period. Mel is very serious about marriage; he thinks far too many people ruin their lives by not being sure, by rushing into marriage. He didn't want us to make a mistake.
Goodness knows, I wanted our marriage to last, so I was perfectly content to do just as he wanted — and so we waited until May, 1932. We were married on Mothers' Day, and two hours later we left for Portland. It was a wrench to leave my Mother and Father for the first time in my life, much as I loved Mel — and I was, grateful to him, then, for that long waiting. By now I was sure. I wasn't any flighty girl, who rushed headlong into marriage. I was a woman, sure of my love, sure of my husband's love.
Mel had a chance to do a new show for a Portland station, KEX. The name of the program — Cobwebs and Nuts — will give you a pretty good idea of what it was like. Mel did the whole thing, from beginning to end — wrote it, ran the mimeographing machine, produced it, did all the male voices. And there my "oral art" came in handy — because I played all the feminine parts! We worked sixteen hours a day on the thing — and it was on the air six nights a week. Mel would sit at one typewriter and I at another; as he turned the stuff out, I made clean copies, with carbons.
The show was a success, if you count success in satisfaction and acclaim, and not in monetary gain. The financial end of that sixteen-hours-six-days-a-week show was a check for precisely fifteen dollars a week. After a couple of months we suddenly realized that we simply couldn't manage on that. So Mel scouted around and got a job writing scripts for the Portland Breakfast Club, also on KEX. This he managed to turn out on the seventh day — and got an extra ten dollars for it.
So, if we weren't wealthy on that, we were at least solvent for the time being. We kept our chins up, and managed. But after two years of it, we felt we owed ourselves a baby — but a baby couldn't possibly be squeezed into that budget. So Mel asked for a raise, and got it — five dollars a week.
When he came home that night he said, "Estelle — I think we'd better get out of this town. Cobwebs and Nuts has been swell as experience for me — in fact, I chalk it up as a college education. But we've got to have more money! I've got to get out of here — and it'll either be a sanitarium or L. A. Maybe down there we can make some decent money."
It was a good idea all around, of course. Los Angeles is the place where a good half of the best radio shows originate, and a lot more than half of the best comedy shows. Besides, in Los Angeles we had my family to fall back on.
And we did fall back on them to the extent of living with them for a year and a half. At that point, Mel was bringing home $25.00 every week — and twenty-five being just twenty-five whether it's in Portland or Los Angeles, he was pretty discouraged. But I wasn't. I had all the faith in the world in Mel. Everything in radio was "breaks," I told him, over and over — and someday very soon now, his break would come.
And one day it did seem, finally, as if our dam of hard luck was beginning to give way. Mel came home walking on air.
"Honey — listen to this," he cried. "I've got a spot on the Joe Penner show!"
"This is your break," I told him.
"At any rate, it's our first network show," he answered, cautious to the last ditch. (And right in that conversation you can see one of the reasons why our marriage is a happy one. "Our first network show" he said, not "my." Although it was his break, it was ours because nothing in all of our lives belongs to one or the other of us — everything is shared.)

IT'S fun to realize that although Mel is famous now for his dialects and voices, particularly animal voices, he did not play Joe Penner's duck. But as sometimes happens when things are going wrong, they suddenly begin to go very right. That first night that Mel was on the Penner show, two producers were listening, and both of them called Mel for their shows.
That was the beginning, and success, slowly but surely, followed on the heels of "our" first break. And success meant another fulfillment for me — we decided that now it was time for us to have our baby. We hoped and hoped for a son, and our luck held good. We named him Noel after Mel's grandfather, and he has been one of the greatest delights of our life together.
By 1943, my hard-working husband was doing a grand total of fourteen radio shows a week, and that meant hardly breath-catching time in between. Mel used to say that he met himself coming in and out of rehearsals.
As we always do when there's a problem, we talked it over; Mel was working too hard. We had too little time together. So we decided that Mel had better pare it down to five shows a week, and we'd have a little more time for living.

THE talking things over covers everything in our life together — our personal lives and business, too. We have no agent or business manager, and when a new proposition comes up, or when a change of some sort is suggested to Mel, it's the talk-it-over method that makes the decision. Mel never signs a contract unless I read it first, and he delights in telling our friends that I have an excellent business head. I don't know about that, but so far everything has worked out all right. I'll just keep my fingers crossed and go on helping as much as I can, because I love our share-and-share-alike way of life.
We've seen a lot of changes in our fourteen years together, Mel and I. There's the matter of money, for instance. People often ask, "Is there any money in work like Mel's — not being the star of your own show, I mean, but doing comedy parts on a lot of shows?" My answer is that there is, at least for Mel. It's a long, long way from that fifteen-dollars-a-week period in Portland. And so is our very pleasant, eight-room house in Playa del Rey, a suburb of Los Angeles, different from that first room in which we lived in Portland.
Our house is about one hundred feet above the ocean, so we get in lots of fishing and swimming. I started to fish because Mel loves it, although I privately had my doubts. He was so pleased with my cooperative spirit in the matter that he set about teaching me how to cast, and all of a sudden I found that I was a fishing enthusiast, too. Now we enjoy it more, and do more of it, than almost any other type of fun. Last fall we spent a month at Big Bear Lake in southern California, and most of our meals there consisted of the fish we'd caught ourselves. We liked it up there so much, in fact, that we bought ourselves a lake-front lot where we intend to build a mountain home this summer.
Mel's and my tastes are pretty similar. We like to swim; we like to fish; and most of all we like our quiet, simple home life. There's nothing in the sitting-and-drinking life of the night club that appeals to us, so we simply don't go to them. But we do love both the theater and the movies — and we're still young enough and in love enough so that it's a thrill to go dancing. We love to watch the jitterbug experts — although we feel it's out of our line and made a solemn pact never to try that particular form of exercise.
Our son, Nonie, wants to be "just like Daddy" when he grows up, but I have a private hunch that he'll be a doctor. When Nonie was three, Mel used to read him to sleep. But he didn't read fairy tales — he read, for some strange reason known only to himself, first aid books. Nonie is seven now, and very adept at amateur doctoring. When I have a headache he solemnly brings me a cold towel for it, then slips in with aspirin and a glass of water. When the recovery is complete, he is as satisfied as if he'd performed his own little private miracle.
We have a Scotch housekeeper, too — Mrs. Elizabeth Ross — who is like a third grandmother to Nonie. She's an excellent cook, but Mel and I both like to have our finger in that pie, too. Mel adores Mrs. Ross' roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, but hastily adds a "simply terrific" description of my fried chicken. He's embarrassingly dreamy too, about my macaroni and cheese, a dish I sometimes make of rice and mushrooms, and about my corn pudding.
But leave it to Mel — he always winds up with, "I'm not a bad cook, myself." And that's true. One of his specialties is baked ham. He uses lots of brown sugar, bastes it with ginger ale, and calls it, for some strange reason, "ham spliced and spiced."
Mel says, "I'm a one-woman man," but I say, in answer, "I'm a twelve-man woman." And I really do feel, sometimes, as if I had a round dozen of husbands because of all those air characters of Mel's. I have a male harem, and never a dull moment, and I love every second of my own brand of polyandry.
That's about all there is about us, except to say again and again that we're happy, and we're still in love. Those things could never be repeated too often. Our project for the future? To keep on living this life we love so much just as it is. Oh, yes — and we do have every intention of going to Niagara Falls some day for a bang-up second honeymoon!

Friday, 16 February 2018

That New Car Smell

“Man, my cars are clean!” insists shady auto dealer Buzz Buzzard. He opens the car door. It’s the old skunk gag. Buzz then pulls off one of those jagged, taffy-pull takes that were popular in Woody cartoons for a few years in the ‘50s.

Buzz gets rid of the smell, thanks to a cute pun.

Homer Brightman’s story in Hot Rod Huckster (1954) is loaded with car gags and he even resurrects the Woody Woodpecker song that Mel Blanc had done more than 10 years earlier. Unfortunately, the animation accompanying it is pretty tame. And Brightman can’t seem to make up his mind whether Woody is intelligent or goony.

Don Patterson directed this with a crew of Ray Abrams, Herman Cohen and Ken Southworth.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Chasing Lucky Ducky

The two dogs hunting Lucky Ducky (from the Tex Avery cartoon of the same name) exit from the scene—in individual pieces.

The Motion Picture Herald reported on July 19, 1947 that the cartoon would be released in the 1947-48 season. Nope. Boxoffice then reported on September 25, 1948 that it would be released in the 1948-49 season. It played at Loew’s Atlanta on November 7, 1948 opposite John Wayne and Monty Clift in Red River.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ruling Radio Roost

There weren’t too many newspaper columnists who had bad things to say about Jack Benny. About the worst it got was John Crosby and a few others grumbling that Benny’s shows had the same types of routines before admitting that’s what the (very large) audience wanted.

Hearst columnist Jack O’Brian caught Jack in 1952 when his TV career had become a success. He wrote a birthday piece about Jack, published by the International News Service on February 13, 1955. As this is Jack’s birthday today, let’s reprint it. You’ll notice even columnists took advantage of Benny’s “39” joke to add humour to their stories.

My thanks to Tim Lones for supplying the drawing for this post.
Benny 39?

NEW YORK (INS) Jack Benny, comic Valentine born Feb. 14, 1894, will be 39 tomorrow. We realise this may strike a discordant chronological note, but we don't argue with a man about his own age, and that's what Jack told us; he'll be 39 tomorrow.
What we can do something about is to divulge the fact that at the age of either 61 or 39, Jack Benny, born in Chicago, bred in Waukegan, star of vaudeville, the legitimate stage, movies, radio, television and several banks, observed his impending birthday by moving up to the top ten shows on television.
The Jack Benny show still rules the radio roost, too, as it did 20 years ago. Jack has been in the light for 45 years; he was just 16 when he teamed his then authentically proficient fiddle with the pianistics of one Cora Salisbury, who played with him in the pit orchestra of the Barrison Theatre in Waukegan, at which point a star was born.
Jack had been playing violin in the Barrison for several years, in knee pants.
Cora Salisbury got homesick early in their partnership. When her father became ill, and dashed home to Waukegan. The team Benny & Woods followed, the latter a Chicago pianist.
Enlisting in the Navy at the start of the First World War, Jack was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval training station; became a sailor in greasepaint, raised money and spirits in "The Great Lakes Revue."
This became an important milestone, for it established Jack as a man who could chatter engagingly on stage as well as fiddle.
From the first laugh, comedy became more important than violin. He had planned another musical act with Zez Confrey, legendary jazz pianist, as partner, but Zez got out of the Navy later than Jack, who by then had decided to go it as a "single."
When early talkies were hiring any vaudevillian able to speak in passable grammar, Jack starred in several films revues and did real well in them. Though he was getting big pay, he felt he was stagnating between pictures, and his guilt complex sent him back to the stage.
In a couple of years a little gadget that poured entertainment into homes was in its infancy—radio. It was, as TV was to become later, a chance and a challenge for all in show, business. Jack took the chance and became the biggest name in radio comedy and remained at the top since.
Television claimed him five years ago. His first hilarious phrase came after a long burst of applause from the premier audience, to which he mused: "I'd give a million dollars to know how I looked. He looked, and performed, just fine.
Neither O’Brian or Benny knew it at the time, but the radio roost was about to be torn down. Fewer people were listening, more and more Americans had television sets on at night. American Tobacco didn’t see how it could bear the expense of the Benny show for the diminishing return it was getting from its advertising. The microphones were shut off for a final time on May 22nd. But Jack carried on in television, either on a series or in specials, up until he died. O’Brian was right. Benny “looked, and performed, just fine.”

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Phone-y Disguise

Ten-Pin Terrors (1953) features some good animation (the bulldog bowling at the start, Jeckle tapping his fingers against the bathtub at the end), nice backgrounds and a solid story.

One gag I particularly like is when the magpies disguise themselves as candlestick phones in a phone booth to get away from the angry dog. Here are some frames as the dog answers each phone (the third one is a real one; the operator tells him his two minutes are up).

Incidentally, an in-house paper called 20th Century Dynamo of April 18, 1953 not only announced Ten-Pin Terrors and other coming releases but also talked about bonuses given to branches in Canada and the U.S. that booked Terrytoons. The article is a wonderful piece of spin, saying how revenue for Terrytoons in the first quarter was below that of the previous quarter (and 1.6% from the previous year) and only 11 of 38 booking departments qualified for bonuses but things were looking up! Canadians evidently loved Terrytoons, as Vancouver, St. John, New Brunswick and Calgary all finished in the top ten.

Monday, 12 February 2018

The Art of Bugs and Elmer

“Did you notice,” reader Steve Bailey remarked, “the caricatures in the background of Yankee Doodle Daffy?”

No, I don’t think I have. It’s never been among my favourite Daffy/Porky outings to begin with. But behold! Porky’s office has portraits of Warners’ beloved stars on the wall. Porky, evidently, has stolen someone’s Oscar, too.

A famous cartoon director sends his love.

Too bad we can’t see the full drawing in the frame below. It’s not the same as Friz above. I love the fish statuette.

Unfortunately, the pictures below are tough to see.

And there may be an inside joke. I can’t discover whose phone number this was when the cartoon was released in 1943. There definitely was a WYoming exchange in the Los Angeles area at the time, with four numerals after the prefix.

So who was the portrait artist? There’s no credit on screen, of course. Paul Julian left the Jones unit for Freleng in February 1941 (according to Mike Barrier’s book Hollywood Cartoons), but he left the studio for the forerunner of UPA soon after, then returned. When? I don’t know. Lenard Kester was painting backgrounds for Freleng in the interim.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

A Day in the Navy

Dennis Day may not have been the best singer on the Jack Benny show, but he was arguably the best cast member out of the vocalists who were hired. He had a penchant, the writers eventually discovered, for broad dialects and could do some impressions well enough for comedy purposes.

Day joined the show at the start of the 1939-40 season then left for almost two years starting in April 1944 for service with the U.S. Navy. He parlayed the Benny job into his own radio and TV series, a record deal, as well as nightclub gigs in Las Vegas. Day did pretty well by Jack Benny. But, of course, he had to have the talent first.

Screenland magazine’s October 1944 devoted space to Day’s career. It’s a familiar tale to those of you who are long-time Jack Benny fans. And there are a couple of personal pieces at the end.

A million times yes, Dennis Day! Two big contracts are held in abeyance for you until the war is over — radio AND pictures

MAYBE this story should be called "My Day, by Jack Benny." For Dennis Day's been Benny's boy to the last naive wisecrack, the final bright, agreeable "Yes, please?"
By Constance Palmer
But he's in the Navy now. Two contracts are being held in abeyance for him until the war is over. One is with National Broadcasting Company, holding his spot in the Jack Benny show and the other is with RKO for pictures.
He's finished making "Music In Manhattan," with Anne Shirley and Phil Terry. In his first picture, "Buck Benny Rides Again," they made him a cowboy in a blond wig and allowed him one song. RKO, however, has shown more discernment. This time he is playing his own black-haired, dancing-eyed Irish self and is given full scope for his particular brand of pixie comedy.
Reports on the picture and Dennis' performance are enthusiastic, but not all the fun went on the screen. Gifted with the keen ear of the singer and the lively humor of the Irish, he can be at will Jap, Swede, Greek, Cockney or lazy Mexican peon.
One morning, to the astonishment of the executives, he turned up in the day's rushes as Hitler, bellowing in low-German accent, "Dey vill nefer bomb Chermany!" Then, after a sheepish pause. "Veil, maybe a leedle — "

Dennis' father and mother came from Ireland. They established a home in New York, where Eugene Dennis McNulty was born on May 21, 1917. He is the third son of a large and lively family to go into the Navy. Another brother is a priest and a sister goes to college. He, himself, went to Cathedral High School and studied law at Manhattan College, where he won the Mayor's Scholarship. However, he didn't take his bar examination because graduation and the depression were simultaneous.
"It was a choice of clerking in a store or driving a truck or — the radio," he said. "And, since I'd always been singing — in church and school and at home — I chose the radio."
After some months of sustaining spots on small New York stations, he heard that Jack Benny was looking for a singer to replace Kenny Baker, who had left the program. On the slim chance of being considered, Dennis sent a recording of his voice over to NBC.
"I didn't have much hope of ever reaching Mr. Benny," he explained. "I'd heard they'd auditioned more than 530 people already. But Mary Livingstone listened to the record and took it to Chicago, where they were broadcasting that week. I was called there and sang for them for an hour and a half, so scared I hardly knew what I was doing. Then they told me I could stop and rest."
He turned to ask his accompanist how the songs had sounded just as someone in the control-booth called, "Oh, Dennis — "
"I answered 'Yes, please?' just the way I always answer whenever I'm called," he continued. "Later, Mr. Benny told me that 'Yes, please?' had sold me more than the hour-and-a-half's singing!"
He was given a round-trip ticket to Los Angeles and put up at the Hollywood Athletic Club, with instructions not to talk to anyone.
"They meant, of course, not to discuss the program or the character. Then, if I were selected, the announcement would come as a surprise," Dennis explained. "But I took them literally and for three weeks didn't speak to a single soul. I just walked up and down Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards and all the side-streets north and south and didn't say a word to anybody. I've never been so lonesome in my life!"
After he was chosen for the program and the contract signed, he brought his father and mother to Hollywood and bought a house for them. He moved in with them and they took up again the home-life they'd always had before he left New York. It's a merry menage, full of Irish wit and laughter. Mrs. McNulty isn't at all like the character who is Dennis' mother on the radio. She is warm and friendly, drawing people to her by kindness and happiness. It's a typical evening to find the rugs rolled up and eight or ten in the midst of a lively Irish jig.
Dennis, too, has a deeply religious side to his nature, and, besides his cleverness and quickness of mind, he is a hard and earnest worker. He doesn't talk too readily; he studies his vis-a-vis thoroughly and steadily first with unswerving black eyes.
He likes the ceremony and pageantry of British public life and came away from his recent trip to Canada imbued with the sense of its dignity and beauty.

While he was still in school, he and his sister made a vacation trip to Ireland to visit their grandparents. He bought a little donkey and cart and went jogging up and down the lanes of the lush green countryside.
"The Irish are a poor people but they have a wonderful time," he said. "And my cute little grandmother can dance a jig with the best of them!"
He likes the girls — all of them. But when he settles down to one, he wants to marry a fine woman who will be satisfied and happy with a home and children. He doesn't believe in career-girls or war marriages.
As a child he was unlucky in accidents. When he was six months old, he fell out of his carriage and cut himself so badly that, because of loss of blood, he didn't walk until he was five years old. Later, at the family's summer cottage on City Island, he cut a tendon in his bare foot on broken glass. He hobbled the two miles back home, spouting gore at every painful step. On another disastrous occasion, a playmate pushed him onto the stone steps of the schoolhouse and split his forehead open. Accidents happened so often that my mother made a habit of watching out the window for me every day. When she saw me dripping blood, she'd just reach calmly for the telephone," he said. "The Fordham Hospital ambulance made regular round trips, practically on schedule!"
He enters the Navy with the rank of ensign, but doesn't know yet to which branch of the service he will be attached. His particular fitness will be found out in the two months' intensive training he will have at the University of Arizona at Tucson.
He loves the Navy and is proud to be a part of it. He is entering earnestly and sincerely, just like hundreds of thousands of other boys. Here's good luck to him — and welcome home when he gets back!