Friday, 22 May 2015

The Beach Nut

Some outlines as Wally Walrus reaches to grab Woody Woodpecker in “The Beach Nut” (1944). Outlines like these were common in Woody cartoons for a few years. So was the perspective animation of something swooshing toward and past the camera.



Some perspective drawings as Wally pulls Woody back. These are animated on twos.



Dick Lundy and Les Kline are the only credited animators. I wondered whether the drawing below was Don Williams’ but someone will know.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Mail Call!

In “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery,” a wrinkled hand (missing a little finger) of a mailman delivers letters to Daffy Duck. Or does he?



Wait a minute! That letter’s addressed to Rod Scribner, who animated this cartoon (dare I say this is a Scribner scene?).



Who is the letter from? Hard to tell, other than the last name is Fitzpatrick. It could be Willie or Millie or Walter. Anyone know of a Fitzpatrick who worked at Warner Bros.?



Scribner, Manny Gould, Bill Melendez and Izzy Ellis are the credited animators.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Game Show Host Who Wanted to be a (Blank)

When you hear the name “Gene Rayburn,” two words come to mind. They’re not “Broadway actor.” It’s a shame because I suspect those are the words Rayburn would have wanted to come to mind.

Rayburn fancied himself as a stage performer and got a huge break when he starred on the Great White Way in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1961. But he got lured back into the game show world on TV the following year to host the (here come those two words) “Match Game.”

Like most people in 1950s television, Rayburn began in radio. His initial fame came from co-hosting a morning show in New York City. Then he got national exposure on TV in the early ‘50s as the announcer on the original “The Tonight Show.” That’s a pretty good resume, but it wasn’t for Rayburn. Here’s a syndicated newspaper column published March 19, 1958.

● ● ●

TV In Review
Woes Plague Rayburn

By WALTER HAWVER

For Gene Rayburn, the last four years have been a frustrating case of hurry up and wait.
Back in 1954, the National Broadcasting Co. gave Gene a rush call while he was disc-jockeying at a New York station. “We have a time slot for you,” he was told. Gene dropped everything, got to work on a format and was all set to go before the cameras when the agency owning the time period exercised his option—on another show.
An ABC executive sought to placate the dejected Rayburn. “How’d you like to be ‘second banana’ to Steve Allen, until we get something for you?” Gene was asked. Steve was getting together his cast for the original Tonight show at the time, and Rayburn having burned his bridges behind him, joined up.
Rayburn has been with Allen since and his life has been one round of disappointments and bad breaks.
FIRST OFF, IN 1955, he came down with hepatitis and was bedridden for 16 weeks. “I’m an expert on this disease,” he said solemnly. “I read every piece of literature on it.
“The thing that broke my heart is that I got sick just when Steve and the others went to California for 10 weeks. That was when Steve did ‘The Benny Goodman Story.’”
Rayburn got to California the following year but he did it the hard way. He broke a leg skiing. “Plaster cast and all, I went this time,” he said.
Although Gene was an important cog in the Tonight show, when Allen shifted over to Sunday nights exclusively he found himself with less and less to do. Occasionally he would get into a man-on-the-street sketch but usually he was concerned merely with getting the show on and off the air.
THEN GENE BECAME “the voice of Pontiac.” He was visualizing a future filled with security a la Bill Lundigan [who was the on-camera endorser for Chrysler] and Betty Furness [same for Westinghouse] when Pontiac decided the next season to get out of television.
“This fouled me up, but good,” Rayburn recalled. “I thought I had a good chance to become Buick’s announcer but somebody mentioned that ‘product association’ business. I’m dead as a car announcer for five or six years, until they forget I ever sold Pontiacs.”
Gene was never lower in spirit when NBC finally came through with the show of his own it had promised him four years before. Both the Home show and Arlene Francis had failed to hold an audience in the mid-morning period and the network decided to try a quiz program in this time.
The program is Dough Re Mi, a giveaway devised by Jack Barry and Dan Enright. Inasmuch as this team was responsible for both Tic Tac Dough and Twenty-One, two of television’s most successful quiz shows, no one can blame Rayburn associating himself with Dough Re Mi. But I, for one, can commiserate with him over the long hot Summer ahead. If the show lasts that long.
If you haven’t seen the program, it is a rather uncomplicated affair built around the old game of spotting tunes from a few notes. Three contestants bid for the right to guess a song’s identity with $100, $300 and $500 riding on the answers. If this sounds like a dull outing, it is.
IT SEEMS EXTREMELY doubtful that this show will do anything for Rayburn. Although Gene fancies himself as a comedian, he hasn’t shown any inclination to Dough Re Mi as a springboard for larger things in that direction. He apparently visualizes his assignment as keeping the contestants at ease and the game moving along pleasantly and expeditiously as possible.
While this is sufficient for the quiz show which has either (a) a lot of money to give away, or (b) exceptional personalities among its contestants. Dough Re Mi has neither. I’d like to see Gene take advantage of his hard-won position and strike out boldly to establish the show as one in which the quiz-master is more important than the quiz. He has nothing to lose. And he might attract the attention has sought these four long years.


● ● ●

In a way, Rayburn kind of accomplished that last paragraph. In the ’70s incarnation of “The Match Game,” the game was pretty much secondary—but not to Rayburn, as he steadily held the show together. The six stars were more important than the contest.

Here’s a little more background on Rayburn from a piece found in the Jamestown Post-Journal of July 2, 1960. “The Match Game” hadn’t come along yet, and neither had “Bye Bye Birdie.”

● ● ●

Top TV Personality
Gene Rayburn Does Unexpected

By JAMES MCMAHON

Early morning risers in the 40's will never forget me zany skits and humorous chit-chat with which they were greeted by radio's "Jack and Gene" show which later became the "Rayburn and Finch." The guiding light behind these shows' almost unlimited store of humor was Gene Rayburn. Not only the public but the entire entertainment world was amazed at the inexhaustible material which made up the daily format of the show. It was a program unique for its time.
This radio show also known as "Anything Goes" proved an excellent stepping stone for Gene Rayburn. As star of "Dough Re Mi" on NBC-TV (Monday through Friday 10 A.M. EDT), viewers and contestants alike have become prepared to expect anything to happen.
On Labor Day of last year, "Dough Re Mi" opened with the announcement that, because of the holiday, there would be no show. Viewers then saw the staff scurrying away, cameramen removing lenses from cameras, and the studio lights dimming.
Though the idea for this gag opening came just before air time, everyone connected with the program quickly got into the spirit of things for the unexpected is to be expected on this informal musical quiz show.
Gene has a lot to do with the surprises and humor that mark the program. Almost all the comedy results from Gene's spontaneous and inventive ideas. Undoubtedly, his varied background and comic talents contribute much to his ability to guide the show through these impromptu moments.
Gene was born in the town of Christopher, in the southern part of Illinois, but grew up in Chicago where his family moved when he was still an infant. He attended grammar school and Lindbloom High School there before entering Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. He left college after his freshman year to come to New York where he was hired as a page by NBC.
Between guide tours, he attended the network's announcing school where out-of-town station mangers hired young men aspiring to careers in radio. He soon landed his first announcing job. It was with WGNY in Newburgh, N.Y., where he remained for a year and a half. He then moved to WITH, Baltimore, and later to WFIL, Philadelphia, finally returning to New York, 1942, to work at WNEW. He stayed there until enlisting in the Air Force.
After the war Gene returned to WNEW and started a morning radio program that was to be an important springboard in his career. His first partner was Jack Lescoulie, and they billed themselves as "Jack and Gene." When Lescoulie quit to go to another station, Gene teamed up with Dee Finch and became known as "Rayburn and Finch." The show lasted more than five years, until 1952, when Gene joined NBC, where he has worked continuously ever since. First, WRCA (then WNBC) gave him his own radio program, and two years later he joined Steve Allen on the latter's local television show. He continued with Steve Allen on the NBC-TV Network's "Tonight" and then on the Sunday evening "Steve Allen Show." He has been the Star of "Dough Re Mi" since it premiered Feb. 24, 1958.
Gene's other TV appearances have been on panel shows and in dramatic roles on "Robert Montgomery Presents," "Kraft Theater" and other series.
"When I did 'The Man Who Vanished' on 'Robert Montgomery Presents,' I developed a real thirst for dramatic acting, and I haven't lost it I am extremely anxious to do a play on Broadway."
He also has done extensive Summer Stock work, including appearances in "Seven Year Itch" and 'Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" Last summer he broke all records at the Buck's County (Pa.) Playhouse where he starred in "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?"


● ● ●

Despite Rayburn’s hope for a stage career, he was convinced to accept the host’s job on “The Match Game,” which debuted December 31, 1962. The celebrities were NBC stalwarts Arlene Francis and Skitch Henderson on the first week, Sally Ann Howes and Abe Burrows on the second, and Peggy Cass and Peter Lind Hayes on the third. Rick DuBrow of UPI reviewed the opener. His column of January 3, 1962 containing this sting:
NBC-TV this week is initiating a new daytime quiz show, "The Match Game," in which panel teams try to write the same answer to questions by the host, Gene Rayburn. The original match game, which requires only a book of matches and a cozy tavern, was taught to me in Gus' Pub in Chicago, and I can assure you it is more pleasant. The new show is dreadful, geared for incredible simpletons and the screaming ninnies in the studio audience. Wednesday, a panelist could not think of a city in Asia. A guest, Arlene Francis, thereupon named Viet Nam as a city.
If DuBrow was cringing over the studio seat warmers in the sedate 1960s version (questions were of the “Name a state that begins with the letter I” variety), one can only imagine what he thought of the frenzied audience of the 1970s (answers included “tinkle,” “boobs” and, on at least two occasions, made veiled references to Charles Nelson Reilly’s sexual orientation).

I quite liked the original show (especially the great theme, “A Swingin’ Safari”) and was a little disappointed when the new one came on in 1973 because it wasn’t really the same. However the celebrities jelled, and I don’t think any game show has provided more laughs than the re-born Match Game. It’s something I’m sure Rayburn was proud of. But I still get the idea he kept hoping for a phone call to return to the stage, and sing and dance with a Birdie.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Wile E. Bird

You know how Wile E. Coyote used to paint a tunnel on the side of the rock and the Roadrunner would be able to go through it but Wile E. smashed himself when he tried to do it? Well, Mike Maltese didn’t come up with that gag.

The same kind of thing can be found in “The Early Bird Dood It,” the first cartoon assigned to Tex Avery to direct at MGM, with Rich Hogan getting the story credit.

The boid (Frank Graham) zips to the hole of the worm (Kent Rogers) and covers it up.



Then he paints a hole on the ground and hides.



The worm jumps into the “hole.” The bird reacts with about three times as many drawings as Avery would use a few years later. I’ve only posted one.



The bird tries leaping into the “hole.” You know what happens next. Notice how Avery makes the impact seem bigger by replacing the background drawing for one frame with a bright colour card. He does it elsewhere in the cartoon.



Irv Spence, Preston Blair, Ed Love and Ray Abrams are the credited animators.

Monday, 18 May 2015

March of 1945

Hugh Harman left MGM in 1941 to set up his own studio which, despite hopes of a deal with a major studio to make cartoons, ended up making industrial films.

One of them was “March of 1945” for the people who ran the transit system in the San Francisco Bay area. It runs 20 ½ minutes and it’s only in the last minute we see any animation. A little animated tram conductor runs onto the scene, twice using the same animation, and then once again. Here are some of the drawings. They look really good.



Finally, the conductor is lifted up by the narrator and deposited in a desk drawer in a fine bit of combination live action/animation.



The animation is by Arnold Gillespie, who had worked at Disney and Fleischer (on “Gulliver’s Travels”) and then for MGM before being hired by Harman (I suspect Gillespie had been at Harman-Ising at one point). He later moved to John Sutherland (and fit in some work on the “NBC Comics” before co-founding Quartet Films.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Jack Benny's Good Old Days

Pretty much every obituary about Jack Benny after his death in 1974 mentioned the gag about his age being 39. Not generally known was the “39” part came about late in Benny’s radio career and was the perfection of an old routine where Benny lied about his age.

Jack claimed other ages before 1950, but 36 is no funnier than 38. But 39 is funnier because it gave him and his writers ample opportunities to stretch the gag and invent comedy around why he refused to go to the milestone age of 40.

But Benny did turn 40, albeit briefly. It happened not on his own show, but on another series that Benny hosted. The show was a mess. It didn’t help that Eddie Anderson got sick at the last minute and couldn’t appear. The show was loaded with old colleagues of Bennys. But there wasn’t anything for them to do. They existed solely for the audience to peer at them and go “Gee, I didn’t know Paul Douglas was on the Benny show.” Instead of well-honed and purposely dialogue amongst a small group of characters, it look more like a visit to a museum. (Still, there is a contingent of TV viewers who find entertainment in merely ogling at stars. Oscar Night Red Carpet telecasts wouldn’t exist without them).

Here’s one of a number of syndicated newspaper columns featuring interviews Jack did solely to plug the broadcast. It was published February 13, 1958.

TV Keynotes
Jack Benny Late Arriving At 40 Year

By STEVEN SCHEUER

Jack Benny is celebrating, his 40th birthday on tonight's Shower of Stars and joining in on this remarkable milestone are such cronies as Mayor Robert Sabonjian, of Waukegan, Ill., band leader Don Bester, Phil Harris, Van Johnson, Andy Devine, Mary Livingston and many others to see that Benny doesn't renege and go back to the comfortable age of 39.
For some reason 39 is a funny age, and Benny, who's been that since 1950, has decided to face 40. In his early 60's, Jack and wife Mary Livingston recently celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary, and the master now feels he can look the public in the eye and admit to 40.
A few years ago Jack and his writers decided the time was ripe for him to turn 40, but the public, via mail, said no. One Boston newspaper went so far as to print an editorial against the move. Naturally, the birthday was abandoned. Now, eight years later, Benny sneaks into the fourth decade accompanied by a blast of trumpets.
Having a birthday means recalling "the good old days" and the other day in Hollywood, Jack was asked to name his happiest ones.
"I think the best time in my life was doing vaudeville," he said: "There were no particular problems about coming up with new material every week. And traveling at that time was fun and there were a minimum of worries."
What does he consider the funniest line in his career? Jack thought a moment and said "Well, I guess my most famous line is the one in which the holdup man sticks a gun in my ribs and says: 'Your money or your life.' I just stand there, and he repeats the line, whereupon I say, 'I know, I know, I'm thinking it over.'"
Jack learned most of his comic lessons in vaudeville and the most important one was making himself the butt of jokes. “I found it was always good for a laugh," said Jack, "when the other acts on the bill would make me the victim of the joke I'd stand there, a poor abused emcee, and the audience loved it.
“I found that if people laugh at you, they don't tire of you That's why I turn the laughs on myself and lots of time give most of the big laughs to others in the cast. That's part of the role I've built for myself and people seem to like it.
"I think the success of my comedy lies in the fact that I've created a fictional character,” Jack continued. "The fact that the audience knows in advance I'm going, for instance, to be cheap doesn’t detract from the humor, because they expect me to be cheap, but the audience doesn't know just how I'm going to be able to justify it to myself.
“When I do things expected of the Benny character, I'm actually doing something most people wouldn't do—it's easy to laugh at something you yourself are not guilty of. Now if I did something a normal person might be expected to do in a given situation—no matter how funny I was—there would be the thought in the mind of the listener that maybe under the same set of circumstances he might have done the same thing, and he wouldn't laugh.”
Well, Jack can laugh at his 40th birthday—all the way to that famous Benny bank vault. And if 40 isn't funny (he can't recall whether it really was or not) he can up it to 41 in only eight years.


Here’s another column we posted earlier on the subject. Fortunately, Benny and his people realised their error and went back to 39. And that was, at least according to one wire service at the time with a sense of humour, Jack’s age at his death.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Looney Tune Psychology

Walt Disney got most of the publicity when it came to animated cartoons—first Mickey, then Flowers and Trees, then Pigs, then Snow White, then Fantasia, then the combo features. But he didn’t get all the attention.

Here’s a short unbylined piece, likely syndicated, that appeared in the Schenectady Gazette on December 28, 1930. It gives a shout out to the early Looney Tunes cartoons made by Rudy Ising and Hugh Harman. Several had been released by that point; Warner Bros. began advertising them in the trade press in April.

Note that “Bosco” was an acceptable spelling of the character’s name in 1930.

Cartoon Type Of Comedy Has Strong Appeal
The appeal of the cartoon type of comedy has become so universal that it has piqued the curiosity of psychologists as well as of motion picture producers. The explanation of the public liking for cartoon comedies is of an unusual nature.
Leading psychologists declare that people are always interested in anything that acts contrary to the established laws of nature and their own sense of reality. The mystic tricks of magicians always find a ready audience. One must remember that the average layman attends the theater to enjoy the things that take him away, for the time being, from the humdrum happenings of everyday life. By means of animated cartoons, which have become so popular, the artist is able to present situations which by the very nature of their unusualness, enable the audience to lift itself for the moment out of this life into the land of make-believe.
A good example of this is evidenced in the "Looney Tunes" series of Vitaphone song cartoons. In one of the releases, Bosco, the central cartoon figure, whistles for his auto which comes running to him to the tune of a popular song. In still another of the series is shown a brute of a hippopotamus rendering popular selections on a guitar. The "Looney Tunes" cartoons are devised by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising with a special musical arrangement by Frank Marsales.
The cartoonist is allowed great opportunity for imaginative skill. The more unusual the antics of his characters, the better chance for success the attraction has. The element of impossibility and surprise in animated cartoons is a feature greatly appreciated by audiences. Added to the highly amusing though impossible situations, the use of music and sound effects, well synchronized, have probably done more to popularize the cartoons than any other factor.
The increasing popularity of the "Looney Tunes" series as well as other animated cartoons of like nature, bears out the contention of psychologists and the experience of exhibitors that the antics of cartoon characters are relished by the public because of the element of surprise, due to their improbabilities, and the amusing manner of their presentation.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Cinderella Swirl

Cartoon actors get typecast, too. Witness this review in Variety of August 21, 1934.
Betty Boop
“Poor Cinderella”
10 Mins.
Paramount, N. Y.
Paramount

Color cartoon by the new process with firm tones and practically no bleeding, but a lack of tints in the colors. Conventional story of Cinderella other than that Cindy is Betty Boop at her boopiest. Good stuff for the children around holiday times and carrying a catchy melody for a theme song, but not the knockout it was intended to be chiefly because the main character is unsuitable. Sound very poor. Chic.
The reviewer didn’t seem to want Betty in a cartoon unless she was dealing with letches coming onto her as inanimate objects sprung to life for little bits of odd business. This cartoon’s in the Disney vein. But using a one-shot female character instead of Betty just wouldn’t have worked. And when you’re using colour for the first time, wouldn’t you showcase your star?

I’m very surprised the reviewer didn’t mention the 3-D effects during the short which are spectacular. Here are the background drawings from when Cinderella runs away after the clock strikes 12.



After the transformation, the scene changes from the ragged Cinderella to the prince in the palace (who sounds like he read his lines from the back of the room). The transition from one scene to the next involves a setting swirling behind the animation. Here’s one complete turn.



Seymour Kneitel was the head animator on this short.