Sunday, 22 October 2017

Jack and Fred

Radio’s most famous feud was a fraud.

Jack Benny and Fred Allen had both worked on the Orpheum circuit in the vaudeville days (though there’s no evidence they appeared on the same bill) and respected each other’s talents. On radio, both tossed in some inside jokes. At the end of a broadcast at the end of December 1936, Allen ad-libbed a crack about Benny’s supposed poor violin playing; something that was the subject of jokes on Benny’s own show. The following week, Jack tossed out a retort mostly for Allen’s benefit as unless someone listening had heard the Allen show in question, they would have had no idea what he was talking about. That started the “feud.”

It was supposed to end several months later with Benny’s appearance on the Allen Show in New York. But the truce was only temporary. The feud was too good to end. It manifested in a Benny-Allen movie (“Love Thy Neighbor,” 1940) and bubbled up on radio throughout the ‘40s. Arguably, the change in writers on the Benny show in 1943 made it even more funny and clever. It even carried on after Allen ended his show in 1949; a wonderful routine on the Benny radio broadcast of April 24, 1953 had the two as small-time vaudeville partners simultaneously hamming it up and trying to undercut each other.

Here’s a feature story from Silver Screen magazine of July 1940. “Love Thy Neighbor” was still a few months away from theatres.

Although they've known each other for twenty years, Jack Benny and Fred Allen never really became friends until each started poking insults at the other on their radio programs
By Arthur Mason
OUT in Hollywood this summer, Jack Benny and Fred Allen are having the first chance of their lives to sit down together and get well acquainted. Working on their joint picture for Paramount, they will be around with their feet up on the same desk a few days every week and the talk in those sessions will be a caution.
This feud on which their picture and so many radio jokes are based is a lot of window dressing, of course. They have a friendship dating back some twenty years. The way their lives went, however, they never had much chance to sit down and talk.
"When we were in vaudeville," Fred explains, "Jack and I both worked alone or had just one girl with us. To keep the bill balanced, only one comedian like that would be on a show. We never met one another."
Jack knew Freddy (still Freddy to Jack) by hearsay mostly, the way nearly everyone knew Freddy. Unlike most actors, Fred always carried a typewriter in his baggage and spent a lot of leisure writing crazy letters to his friends and to the vaudeville papers. Variety was always running a letter from Fred Allen and making him offers to do a weekly funny column. Comedians watched for those, because usually there was at least one joke worth stealing.
Jack was no stranger in vaudeville conversation those years. He was not considered any great shucks as a wit, but he was a lovely companion for an evening. Actors who fancied themselves as wits always seemed to sparkle more the nights Jack was around. He was willing to tackle any of them, no matter how overwhelming the odds that he would come off second best.
There was a day when he played on a bill with Frank Fay, then considered the king of jokesmiths on the two-a-day time. Young Jack and young Bert Wheeler concocted a plan to make the big fellow quail.
In the middle of Fay's act, out came the two mischievous youngsters with their carefully planned interruption.
"Beg pardon, Mr. Fay," Jack asked, "but do you memorize all those funny sayings before you come out or do you make them up as you go along?"
Fay turned around with a kindly smile and let the two stand through a weighty, majestic pause. He beamed and placed a kindly hand on Jack's head.
"Bless your little heart," he said. Jack tells that story on himself to this day.
The main significance of that story at the moment is the idea it offers on the sort of youngster Jack was in his pre-radio and movie years. He was playing jokes and relishing his fun; Fred was lugging the typewriter around the circuits. Each of them spoke of the other as a good friend though they seldom met.
The friendship between them that has ripened by remote control the past three seasons really springs entirely from a casual jibe Fred made about 9:42 the night of December 30, 1936. The Fred Allen program brought in a few amateurs every week and this night a ten-year-old, who played the violin, was included.
Fred did not plan his conversation with those amateurs, relying mainly on extemporaneous inspiration. After some talk about the complex violin solo, "The Bee," that the little boy was to play, Fred remarked, "There's a comedian out in Hollywood who used to play the violin. He'll probably feel a little ashamed when he hears what you can do at your age."
The remark was forgotten until next Sunday night when Jack answered on his program, "I could play 'The Bee,' too, when I was ten years old. That's an age for it." The next Wednesday Fred called for witnesses who had heard Jack Benny playing "The Bee" at the age of ten — and the Benny-Allen feud was on. Two casual acquaintances suddenly became dear and intimate friends, but still mostly by long distance.
Benny was busy with movies in Hollywood and Fred preferred to conduct his radio business from New York. Whenever Jack was in New York, he would drop in on a Fred Allen broadcast, but that was about as much as the two saw of one another. Fred lives the life of a hermit, working on a radio script until the small hours of every morning.
When Jack visited New York this past spring, he insisted that Fred should move right into the Benny home during the weeks they worked on their picture together. Fred was insisting violently that he would not. He would make a strange house guest.
About mealtime he probably would emerge from his room and then go back up to books and typewriter. Meanwhile, the sort of a host Jack Benny is would be to sit around fretting about what could have happened to keep good old Freddy from having a good time.
Old friends in New York tell about the way Jack used to love to spend an evening when he lived there. After a show, he would stop in at Lindy's or one of the other actor hangouts and gather a gang of cronies to "come up to our place and sit around for some laughs."
On the way home, Jack would pick up the morning papers. While the conversation was getting under way, Jack would glance quickly through the columns where he might be mentioned and then slip off into a doze. The friends would have all those laughs that had been planned while Jack quietly and happily slept in a corner. When they woke him up around time to go home, he heartily thanked everyone for the swell evening the gang had given him.
Don Wilson tells about Jack in Hollywood.
"He's a great walker," Don says. "To get exercise, he goes out and walks through the hills and comes back to tell what a great day he had. But one side of his face will be all sunburned. He goes out and finds a nice grassy spot and goes to sleep."
Fred Allen's stays in Hollywood included a minor amount of social life with Jack Benny or anyone else. He has a strange phobia about burdening himself with possessions, so he refuses to have a car.
Distances between places are so great in Hollywood, Fred had to rent a car there. That entailed hiring a chauffeur to drive it, because Fred never has learned to drive himself. After a month of paying rent, Fred called the chauffeur aside.
"With what I'm paying in car rent," Fred offered, "you could be making payments on a car. Why don't I just give that money to you?"
The colored chauffeur liked the arrangement. The only trouble was that Fred had not been specific about what sort of car he might like.
"The chauffeur got his own idea of a nice thing," Fred went on. "We spent the rest of our time in Hollywood running around in a little cream colored Ford. Rolls Royces and a lot of other big cars would be parked in front of a place and up would come the Allens in their queer looking jallopy."
Portland has her own complaints about Fred Allen in Hollywood.
"He spoils all the servants," she says. "He keeps asking them if they like the way things are going and if everything is all right in their treatment. After a while, they won't take orders."
No one knows how much of this strange background for a close friendship will get into the Benny-Allen picture. Most of the script probably will come from the preliminary conversations between the two comedians.
This much has been planned: the picture will present them as a pair of radio comedians who get into a feud. The background will not be primarily radio, however. It will be a musical picture with emphasis on comedy and a title will be selected sometime between now and the release date next fall.
There is comedy material in abundance in the occasional meetings of Allen and Benny in the past. On their broadcasts together, they usually have been funnier during preliminary chats to the studio audience than they were after the microphones actually had been turned on.
Jack was on the stage early one night and asked, "Where is Allen?"
"Here I am, Jack," Fred drawled as he walked up the center aisle. "I have been out there watching the door for you so your audience wouldn't get away."
That was a night when the Benny show had travelled from Hollywood for a brief New York visit. Fred began explaining things to the studio audience.
"Those people under glass," and he pointed to the glass panels of the control room, "are California people. They can't stand the climate here so you see how we put them under glass."
No matter who tackles Fred Allen, the exchanges usually are one-sided and Jack is no exception. "If I only had my writers here, I'd give you an answer, I tell you," Jack has said to Fred many a time.
Jack always warns his studio audience, "You'd better laugh if you ever expect to get in here again."
"You'd better laugh," Fred interrupted one night, "if HE ever expects to get in here again."
Fred told the studio audience another night, "Jack Benny is a very funny man. Five minutes with him and your sides ache. Every time he tells a joke, he punches you in the stomach."
Jack laughs helplessly when Fred cuts loose on him. His professional reputation cannot be helped by having a rival comedian outwit him all evening. But, as far as Benny is concerned, that has nothing to do with the situation. He tries to provoke Fred to retorts, because he loves hearing them.
In one of their first programs together, he came out of the studio red faced with laughter.
"I was afraid Freddy was going to just stick to the script," he said, "and I had to dig into him to get him started. Wasn't he wonderful?"
After Jack left, a few of the people around there had their own ideas of what was wonderful. With people as jealous and petty as they usually are in show business, it was wonderful to find two top men with that sort of an attitude toward one another. You don't often find it.
Jack loves to plan ideas where he figures Fred can't possibly find a topper for the gag. One night just before a broadcast, he walked into the Fred Allen studio and ostentatiously shook hands with everyone except Fred. Fred watched that for a moment and came up:
"The man Jack just shook hands with is our tester. He shakes hands with visitors to see if they are fit to associate with the rest of us."
Their independent attitude toward the boss is one of the few things Jack and Fred have in common. Last fall, each of their radio sponsors had an elaborate luncheon at which the comedian was to explain his plans for the coming season. The newspapermen and a lot of vice presidents were there. Jack confined his remarks mainly to abuse of the sponsor for letting Kenny Baker go. Fred said his program probably would suffer greatly because of a lot of wild suggestions the sponsor was making.
Neither one of them has the flossy air of hypocrisy that usually comes after a few years on the stage, or in pictures. There is the real foundation for the affection they feel toward one another.
A good sample is Jack's remarks one year when he came home from a vacation in Europe. "Oh, great!" he was telling his friends about the time he had had. Then he paused to be more explicit.
"After you pack and unpack everywhere you go, you begin thinking you could have had just as much fun right at home. With your wife along, there's no end to that packing."
Jack had another picture coming up then.
"We were in some wonderful restaurants over there," he went on, "and I'm a guy who likes to eat. But I never can because it puts weight on me so fast. Isn't that awful?"
This Benny-Allen picture should be something worth seeing. But it's a shame to think of those preliminary conversations between that pair slipping off into thin air. Unless times are very tough this summer, Paramount ought to slip a stenographer into a corner and save those remarks. There has not been much talk as good as that going on in any age.

Gorgeous Gal is Gone

Earlier this year the world lost June Foray, considered the Grand Dame of Cartoon Voice Acting. There were many other women who lent their voices to cartoon characters in the Golden Age, and some are not well known.

One of them was Gladys Holland, who has passed away yesterday afternoon according to Jerry Beck.

Holland was a radio actress whose first cartoon was Madeline for UPA, released in 1952. She even received screen credit. Her French accent was perfect for the narrator. The cartoon garnered an Oscar nomination. It didn’t win the Oscar. Another cartoon did, and she revealed to Mr. Beck she almost had a connection to it.

“I had met Hanna and Barbera, and I was talking to Mr. Hanna, who did the Tom and Jerry cartoons. And he had heard that I had narrated ‘Madeline’ and he asked me if I could do a German accent. And I said, ‘Well, I learned English and German in school, so I can do a German accent.’

“So he said, ‘Okay.’ He said ‘We haven’t decided yet if we’re going to have a man or a woman to narrate it. If it’s a woman, you will get it. If it’s a man, it will be someone else.’ So, the cartoon was shown and it was ‘Johann Mouse’ and it won the Academy Award. And I was so upset that I refused to go and see that cartoon until years later when I was at the Motion Picture Academy, and they were showing the Oscar-winning movie of that year, plus the cartoon, which was ‘Johann Mouse.’

“And it was so great. And Hans Conried did the narration and he was so wonderful that I finally forgave them for winning the Oscar.”

You might be surprised to learn (I was) that Holland also worked for Walter Lantz, though she never received screen credit.

“Yeah, the Woody Woodpecker cartoons, yes. They used to call me whenever there was an accent in it and then I would come and do it. And I never really saw the cartoons, except for the one that I did when I did a very sexy French voice and they said ‘It’s so funny, you must see it.’ And they showed it to me [it was released in 1954]. It was a very heavy-set, fat woodpecker, and with a very, very sexy voice.”

Until Holland’s interview with Jerry Beck, I had no idea the character of Gorgeous Gal in A Fine Feathered Frenzy was not played by Grace Stafford. It was within Stafford’s vocal range and she would have been capable of doing it. Evidently, Lantz liked Holland’s work and was willing to pay her. Holland didn’t mention it, but I suspect she’s also playing French actress Gaga Gazoo in the Woody Woodpecker short Belle Boys (1953). Incidentally, both it and A Fine Feathered Frenzy were directed by Don Patterson.

Our condolences to Ms. Holland’s family.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Porky Pig Story

Porky Pig modestly started his life at the Leon Schlesinger studio as part of the cast I Haven’t Got a Hat (1935). Helped by the stuttering gimmick and a lack of personality in just about every other character at the studio, he was elevated to the lead in the Looney Tunes series.

Porky was a little limited, but far less than the insipid Buddy he replaced. He was the kind of character the theatre audience could empathise with. He overcame his vocal difficulties and his innocence with determination. Later, Bob Clampett used him as kind of a straight man playing off goofy characters.

Poor Porky kind of fell out of favour as more in-your-face characters gained in popularity in the 1940s. But he could still be found in comic books, and he still turned up in animated cartoons into the ‘60s. Various directors used him different ways; I particularly like Art Davis’ cartoons with Porky.

From what I’ve read from the great animation historians of our time, producer Leon Schlesinger loved Porky. Here’s Leon talking about his favourite character to Hollywood magazine in its issue of December 1936. By that time, Frank Tashlin had been hired to direct Porky, adding his own particular cinematic stamp to the character.

The article gives a nice roundup of how Porky was created and how Warners cartoons were made. It even talks about voice artists, though it doesn’t name Joe Dougherty or Berneice Hansell. (Mel Blanc’s first cartoon as Porky wasn’t released until April 1937).

(Sorry for the poor photos. The magazine was scanned at low resolution).

How Porky the Pig Became A Star!

Believe It Or Not, there's a new star in Hollywood who never signs a contract, never displays temperament, is always on time, and last, but not least, doesn't even expect a salary for the grand performances he gives on the screen.
This delightful personality has never been known to "highbrow" his less fortunate associates since he blossomed into stardom and left them struggling for recognition among the stock players at the studio in which he toils.
It all came about one day, when Leon Schlesinger, producer of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tune cartoons called in his staff and said, "Boys, the public is crying for new personalities and I'm going to do something about it. How about organizing a stock company? Perhaps we can find a new star."
A few weeks later this same group of men gathered in the projection room to see a cartoon just completed entitled I Haven't Got A Hat, in which the new stock company was to make its debut. Among such characters as Oliver Owl, Ham and Ex, mischievous little puppies, Kitty Kat, and Tommy Turtle, was a chubby, stuttering piggie named "Porky," and did he steal the show!
Porky Grabs the Spotlight
When they finished running the picture, Schlesinger, a large, good-natured man, fairly beamed with enthusiasm. "That's just the fellow I've been looking for. From now on he'll not only stutter, but he'll star in all our Looney Tunes."
And that's the new star we've been telling you about.
Like regular actors and actresses of the screen, these fantastic little characters must have likeable personalities and when they do, they receive fan mail just like famous stars.
Unlike Porky, Schlesinger once featured a little boy named Buddy in his films, who seemed to have possibilities as a comedian, but had to let him go when he failed to register on the screen.
With all his clever ways, Porky can't read, so when fan letters are sent to him his boss reads them and whenever possible, tries to fulfill the requests of the fans.
Porky's greatest appeal seems to be the fact that he's always a good little pig, and manages to dispose of the "villain" in his pictures.
Cartoons are so popular with children that Schlesinger has discovered he must never allow any evil or frightening character in his pictures. One wicked character appearing in a film was never shown again when parents wrote in saying it frightened their children.
Where Porky Got His Voice
There's an interesting story about the strange sounds emanating from these pen-and-ink people. Porky's voice, for instance, is that of an extra player who is a genius at stuttering. In fact, he can't say a word unless he does.
The child-like voice of Kitty, the Kitten, is created by a woman who is a dressmaker at the studios.
Because Schlesinger's cartoons are released through Warner Bros., he has access to their libraries and oftentimes your favorite star's voice speaks from an animated character. Joe E. Brown's amusing yell has been the roar of a hippopotamus. A record of such a famous voice as John Barrymore's has been played in reverse to furnish the jabber for a funny little animal.
Two famous stars of today used to double their voices for Schlesinger's cartoons when he first started producing them in 1930. One was Rochelle Hudson, the other, little Jane Withers.
Few people realize that it requires from 10,000 to 12,000 drawings for the average cartoon, which takes up approximately seven minutes running times on the screen.
Weeks are spent on story preparation for each picture, and strange sights are seen during this time. Don't be alarmed if it should be your fate to pass a story conference room in a cartoon studio and see a perfectly normal-looking person suddenly jump on one of his co-workers and choke him until he screams like a wild man. They are merely illustrating a proposed scene in a forthcoming picture. These gagmen, as they are called, will crow like roosters, walk on all fours, barking like a dog, etc., all for the love of their work.
Going Through the Mill
After the story has been okayed, the ideas of which are drawn, not written, the "scenario" is turned over to the director of animation. Here, as many as thirty animators will draw the key drawings, or "extremes" of each scene, leaving three or four drawings for the "in-betweeners."
From there it goes to the "inking" department, where each drawing is traced on celluloid. The painting department is the next stop, where "painters" fill in the various colors.
Backgrounds are then drawn which form the scenes or sets to match the action of the film.
After this every drawing on celluloid must be photographed.
The final step is the recording department, where the musical is added.
That's why it takes one-hundred-and-twenty-five people approximately three and a half months to bring Porky to life in one of his starring vehicles.
Modest Porky, who has always been so untouched by all this sudden fame will throw out his chest proudly when he sees this, his first magazine story.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Today’s Warner Bros. Inside Joke

Nothing But the Tooth was written by Dave Monahan, but he isn’t the only story man mentioned in the cartoon. There’s a billboard with another one.

The rest of the billboard is a play on Carter’s Little Liver Pills.

Phil DeGuard painted the backgrounds from layouts by Don Smith in this short from the Art Davis unit.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

TV Set Surprise

Hiding in a TV, escaped con Spike realises he hasn’t escaped from prison at all. He’s been transported right to the warden’s office. Some reaction drawings.

Tex Avery and gag writer Heck Allen started this cartoon—and then the Avery unit got laid off. One of Avery’s animators, Mike Lah, finished this off with animators from the sole unit remaining, the Hanna-Barbera unit. Ken Muse, Irv Spence and Ed Barge received screen credit, along with background artist Vera Ohman.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

What's Playin', Doc

TV bandleaders, at one time, all had to flashy dressers. Jackie Gleason made fun of Sammy Spear’s outfits. Merv Griffin exhorted Mort Lindsay to show him his lining. And maybe the guy whose mod wardrobe sparked the most jokes was Johnny Carson’s music man, Doc Severinsen.

No doubt Severinsen was a little more conservatively dressed in 1949 when he showed up at NBC looking for work. He hung around the network, in addition to doing concerts and cutting records, and when Johnny Carson took over the Tonight show in 1962, he was the assistant musical director to Skitch Henderson. But when Skitch left in 1966, Doc didn’t get the top job. Veteran bandleader Milton DeLugg did. Then DeLugg left to work on films and Doc was handed the baton on October 9, 1967. He kept it until Carson went off the air on May 22, 1992.

Let’s give you some insight into Doc’s career from his pre-Tonight leading days. First up is this story from June 17, 1961.
Busy Trumpeter Finds Himself

Newspaper Enterprise Assn.
New York—There's a problem when a musician gets to be too successful these days. Exhibit A is Carl (Doc) Severinsen, perhaps the busiest trumpet this side of Gabriel.
Around New York, if a musician is well thought of, he'll play several times a day in several different groups for several types of recordings.
"Sometimes," says Doc, "I play four sessions a day. One may be jazz, another is sweet, a third will be symphonicized and the last will be Latin. You learn to go from one style to the other without any trouble."
• • •
THE TROUBLE came when Enoch Light, the head of Command Records, asked Doc to front a band and make his own album.
"I was suddenly confronted with the realization," Doc says, "that I had no distinctive style of my own. I could play anybody's style, on order, but I hadn't worked out my own. So I just played the way I felt."
The result, an album called Tempestuous Trumpet, is a lovely thing — and Severinsen's sudden style makes fine listening. He's appeared on more than 500 records, but this is the first in which he's featured. He's played on TV, in movie and theater bands, in jazz bands, symphonies and concerts, but this is the first time he's lost his anonymity.
• • •
SO MEET Carl Severinsen. He's from Arlington, Ore. His father was a dentist, known as Big Doc, hence the boy automatically was Little Doc. When Little Doc said he'd like to play the trumpet, Big Doc bought him the only one in town—"We bought it from ol' Ernie Clark, I remember." A week later, the boy soloed for the Ladies' Aid Society. By the time he was 9, he was well-known in western Oregon.
"My father liked music with a beat," Doc says. "I preferred the smoother style. So I'd imitate Harry James. Dad would leave his patients waiting in the chair to chase me and get me to quit playing so sweet."
When he was 14, he went to Portland, auditioned for Tommy Dorsey's band. He didn't get the job, but Dorsey, Jo Stafford and the others were kind to the young boy, let him hang around. It was the first time he'd ever heard a band in person, and he knew he'd found his life's work.
He's still happy with it. Especially now that he has been forced to develop his own style.
This story appeared in papers starting August 13, 1966. Severinsen explains why he never got into rock music.
Music Makers Prescription


AP Newsfeatures
Doc Severinsen, respected trumpet sideman, age 38, has formed his first combo.
"It was an idea that was lying dormant for a long time," he says. "I think every kid has the eventual aim of being a leader. I lost sight of that along the line. Now I've recaptured a desire to do this.
"I think it's an ideal time to start it. By the time you're 38 you've gotten your lumps and should have learned something.
"I've often felt that a small group could be used as concert vehicle and really do a well-turned program. That is what I'd like to be able to do."
So far, the Doc Severinsen Sextet has appeared at Basin Street East in New York, in Hardin; Ky., Dallas and Houston, and has cut a record for Command.
At Basin Street, the sextet was on the bill with a rock 'n' roll group and was playing a variety of music, trying to please an audience with varying tastes.
"After, this we'll play 'Watermelon Man' for half an hour and let it go," Severinsen says. "Actually one weekend I just sat down and reexamined what I'm trying to do. I made up my mind if I'm going to have a sextet, I don't need to do anything besides concerts and be a soloist on the Tonight Show."
SEVERINSEN said he decided neither to compete with nor join the rock scene. "I'm going to play music that I enjoy. I want to be happy when I come on stage and be happier when I go off and I want the audience to know I'm having a good time."
Severinsen says it's difficult to judge the market for jazz — but nobody would consider it one of today's most in demand sounds.
He says, "We do 'Summertime'; it starts with trumpet and drum. I'm playing the melody to 'Summertime.' We build into a peak and at the top comes pure jazz. Commercial sounds are going on around it.
"I can play five-six choruses of pure jazz in 'Summertime' and they don't know they've heard a note of jazz. You do play melody. You're playing your very best. "The trouble with so many jazz people is that they want it to be an exclusive, esoteric item. But the psychology of a group like this is to take into consideration the feelings of the people we're playing for. Give them something to relate to. I don't mean it as a compromise — as a challenge."
SEVERINSEN has been a member of the NBC Orchestra for the past 15 years and TV's "Tonight Show" band since Johnny Carson has had the show.
Also, he has been making serious music appearances with symphonies — Amarillo, Minneapolis and Baltimore last year and Pittsburgh Houston and probably Seattle this year. And for the past five years he has been holding music clinics around the country in high schools and colleges, for a musical instrument company. "I rehearse with the band or orchestra. I do a lecture on music and life, and then we play a concert in the evening."
The likeable trumpeter is well-known among musicians and among those who collect trumpet recordings. He has made five LPs for Command; the newest is "Fever." "And we're doing an album now. We added two guitars and percussion to the sextet. It's the best record session I've ever had.
"You know if you want to get an intimate feeling in records, the machines are doing too good a job of picking you up sometimes. At times they almost add a dimension to your playing you don't want."
Severinsen started playing professionally in 1949 on the Kate Smith Show. He has played with Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Vaughn Monroe, Charlie Barnet, Ted Fiorito.
Asked whose trumpet style he likes, he names Harry James, Bunny Berrigan, Billy Butterfield, Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie.
"But the influence on me was my father." Severinsen's father, "Big Doc," an Arlington, Ore., dentist (still practicing), played violin and was a member of a large family which included a family string quartet.
"I was brought up on classical music but I heard jazz and said, 'Why, that's for me. ' "
So he learned the trumpet instead of the violin, and entered a statewide contest run by the Music Educators National Conference at 9. Herbert L. Clark, famed cornet soloist, was the judge. Severinsen, who won the national championship at 12, was the winner.
He recalls, "I was just two trumpet lengths high. Somebody gave me a shove and I was out in the middle of the stage. I played 'The Gaity Polka' — without a mistake."
Severinsen turned out to be the perfect bandleader for Johnny Carson. He’s a skilled musician, but on camera he was also able to get off a wisecrack without upstaging Carson. We’ll look at an earlier era of Tonight next week.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Cue(t) Gag

Yet another butt-piercing gag from Joe Barbera can be found towards the end of Cue Ball Cat (1950) when Jerry ties a pin to the end of a cue stick. Tom has shoved it down a hole to get Jerry, but somehow it’s defied the laws of physics and has curved up through the hole behind him.

Down the cue is plunged. Skyward goes Tom in pain. Here are some random frames. Even the in-betweens at MGM are pretty expressive.

The bite-lip/face-turns-red bit was also used the same year in Casanova Cat.

Irv Spence, Ken Muse, Ed Barge and Ray Patterson are, as usual, your animators in this cartoon.

Monday, 16 October 2017

It's the Musical Spider

Cartoons at Ub Iwerks’ studio started out just like the Silly Symphonies that Iwerks had made for Walt Disney—lots of dancing and singing, no story, light gags.

In The Village Barber (1930), a bumpkin decides to put money in the barber shop player piano. Instead of a piano roll, we get a spider, who zooms toward the camera like characters in, well, an early Disney sound cartoon, and dances out a little classical music tune on the ivories.

A fly joins him. The spider gets jealous of the fly’s talent and tries to eat him, but the fly flies away.

Not terribly strong stuff. Soon Grim Natwick and Berny Wolf would be arriving from New York to start adding risqué material to Flip the Frog’s on-screen efforts.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Benny Defends

Eddie Cantor’s daughters. Bob Hope’s nose. Bing Crosby’s Hawaiian shirts. Al Jolson and Larry Parks. Jack Benny being cheap. Radio columnists rolled their eyes and said “Oh, not again! Enough!”

And, eventually, the radio stars responded “Enough!”

John Crosby was one of those columnists who complained about the sameness of some shows. And Benny finally said “Hold on a second.”

The result was Crosby’s column of January 6, 1949.
Down With the Critics

In the anniversary issue of "Variety," Jack Benny, the $2,260,000 comedian, has broken a lance over the skulls of radio critics, an easy target and one that hardly justifies the expense—lances being pretty expensive these days. If you over look the extravagance though, Mr. Benny has a pretty good point and, since I’ve temporarily run short of lances of my own and comedians to break them against, I thought I’d turn the place over to Benny for the day. (Since columnists haven’t as much space at their disposal as comedians, this has had to be drastically condensed.) Take it away, Mr. Benny.
“The past several years I’ve noticed radio editors gang up on radio comedians and accuse them of using the same type of humor year after year. Reviewers admit the comedians have top comedy shows, and funny programs. Their beef is the programs always use the same characters and situations.
“The battle cry seems to be, ‘The listeners want a change.’ But do they?
“Amos and Andy were public favorites in 1929. They still are. Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Fred Allen, Burns and Allen, have all ranked high in the Hoopers for a dozen years. These comics have spent years perfecting their individual comedy styles, and would be completely lost without them. Would the critics have George and Gracie darken their dialogue and Amos and Andy jump into domestic comedy? Bob Hope has a pace and brashness I envy. But I know that I’d be floundering in ‘flop-sweat’ if I tried Bob’s delivery. I do flatter myself into thinking Hope can’t get as much out of a ‘Well!!!’ as I do.
“It took seventeen years to develop the characters on my show. Each week we’ve tried to inject a new situation, idea, or character into our script. What happens? A reviewer comes along, says the show was great, the audience loved it, the script was hilarious. . . . BUT ... I was the same stingy, toupee-topped, faulty fiddler; Mary was still snippy; Phil continued as a fugitive from Alcoholics Anonymous; Dennis was still silly; Don continued to be fat and Rochester was the same sassy butler he always was.
“Now, I’ve been reading this reviewer’s column for many years, and it’s a darn good column. But every week, every year, this columnist’s style of writing is always the same. Always verbs, pronouns and adjectives. Why doesn’t he get some new things? (Ed. note: If he’s inferring to me, I added prepositions in 1946, first man in the business to change with the times.)
“Radio critics scream, ‘Why don’t the comics stop already with programs about Thanksgiving and Christmas. The air is filled with them.’ What would they have me do on Christmas? Set off skyrockets and roman candles and have Phil wish me a Happy Fourth of July?
“On opening programs, why do the comics all do the same thing— talk about what they did on their vacations? Well, let me ask you something. If you worked with someone closely and then separated for the entire summer, what would be the first thing you’d ask him when you saw him again? How he liked Jane Russell in ‘The Outlaw?’
“Oh well, television is with us now, and I’m waiting for some reviewer to say: ‘It was an enjoyable video show, but darn it, always the same old faces.’”

Saturday, 14 October 2017


You probably think of Pinto Colvig as the voice of Goofy, but he was so much more than that.

Without further ado or sidebar trivia about Colvig and Verna Felton both voicing for Disney, here’s a profile of Pinto from the August 25, 1946 edition of Radio Life magazine. The very low-res photos came with the text.

The Dog’s Best Friend
Is Noise-Maker Pinto Colvig, Who Portrays Most Of the Dogs You Hear on Radio Programs, Besides Almost Anything Else That Producers Dream Up

By B.J. Hammer
AS you walk up Highland Avenue in Hollywood toward the Hollywood Bowl some evening you might pass by a house that seems to have a ferocious dog fight going on in the front room! Or the shriek of a werewolf, followed by horrifying screams, might issue from behind the front door! Don't call the police—you are just passing Pinto Colvig's house, and Pinto is probably auditioning over the phone for a radio producer.
Even in a town where unusual occupations are the rule, rather than the exception, Pinto's career is out of this world. He is a noisemaker de luxe for radio, films and records. You've heard him as Jack Benny's Maxwell, the hound in "Hound of the Baskervilles," a lion on the "Joan Davis Show," as Walt Disney's "Pluto," "Goofy," "Grumpy" (the dwarf in "Snow White"), and the "Practical Pig" in "The Three Little Pigs." For a "Command Performance" broadcast he even gave a practically perfect imitation of the Bronx subway train!
How in the world does a guy get started on a life of noise-making? Pinto smiled when we asked him—seems like everybody asks that. "I had my first taste of show business when I was about eight years old," he began, "and Verna Felton's responsible for that."
"You mean our Verna Felton?" we asked.
"Yes sir," exclaimed Pinto. "When I was a homely kid in the little tiny town of Jacksonville, Oregon, the biggest event of the year was the annual appearance of the Allen Stock Company featuring 'The Verna Felton Players.' Verna was about eight years old, too, and the prettiest little girl you ever saw. She was the star of the company and all their plays were especially written around her. Well, I was as stage-struck and as star-struck as they come. I'd hang around the company, getting in everybody's way, trying to get in with them. Finally, to get rid of me, they actually gave me a part! Two lines. I had to run across the stage, holding on to a live cat, calling back to the wings, 'Duck it! Duck it!' and start to throw the cat down a well. At this moment, heroic Verna was to match up to me, tear the poor cat from my murderous grasp, while I exited, chastised.
"During the actual performance, spellbound at being before an audience and on the same stage with my ideal, I refused to let go of the poor cat, determined to draw the scene out as long as I could. Verna finally got it out of my grasp, but not before we'd tug -o'- warred over it so hard we nearly pulled it to pieces!"
Many years later, at a Jack Benny rehearsal, one of the members of the cast started to introduce Pinto to a majestic looking fellow member, "You know Verna Felton ... " they began. "It was the first time I had seen Verna since she was eight years old," smiled Pinto. "I grabbed her by the hand and shouted, 'Do I know Verna Felton? Why, she's responsible for my being in show business!' Of course, I totally forgot that Verna didn't have the slightest idea who I was. When I reminded her of the Jacksonville Opry House and the cat in the well, she remembered perfectly. 'Oh, yes,' she said, 'that was in "the Power of Wealth"' ".
Though supplying weird noises has just about crowded Pinto's other talents out of the picture, he's found time to become known as co- writer of that deathless song, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?"; he's been a story -man and cartoonist at Disney's and most recently he's been featured on several Capitol record albums of children's stories with Margaret O'Brien. Last but not least, he's the loudest and corniest clarinet player in the country.
Circus Lover
Pinto left the University of Oregon just before graduation when the call of show business became too strong, and he joined up with the Al G. Barnes circus band. He still drops everything when the circus returns. This past season he played in the band while the show was in Los Angeles. Pinto's wife, Margaret, threatens to leave town next circus season. "When the circus is here, Pinto's never home," she sighed.
In spite of all this, Pinto leads a normal family life. He's the father of five talented and handsome boys, Vance DeBar, Mason William, Byington Ford, Bourke Lingae and Courtney X. "Sound like a string of Pullman cars, don't they?" he laughed. Vance is known in radio as a gagman for Tom Breneman [sic], writer and actor. "Gosh," said Pinto, "lately they're starting to refer to me as 'Vance Colvig's father'!" His son Bourke is a teacher at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and a fine classical musician and composer.
Pinto still claims that he hasn't made up his mind whether to be a musician, a cartoonist or an actor. His ambition is to get a part where he delivers lines like a real human being instead of an elephant, a mad dog, or what-have-you. "But when the phone rings," he sighed, "I know that it'll be somebody saying, 'Pinto, you do a penguin, don't you?'"
"Have you ever done anything serious in radio?" we wondered.
"Oh, yes," smiled Pinto. "On the 'Big Town' program I played a sad dog! It was a tear-jerker about a little boy giving his dog to the service about the time that the war first started, and we were afraid that the audience would laugh in the middle of this very serious, dramatic scene, when I started whining and barking. So Ken Niles had me come out before the show started and I barked and whined and growled till the audience had all the laughs out of their systems. My first serious dramatic effort!" sighed Pinto in mock sadness. "That's why I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for Verna Felton. She, at least, gave me real lines to say!"