Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising may have been forced to use Warners-owned songs in their cartoons for Leon Schlesinger, but they couldn’t have been handed a better break (if you’re forced to use songs, that is). Their characters got to bounce around tunes from the best movie musicals of the era. “We’re in the Money.” “42nd Street.” “Lullaby of Broadway.” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.” All great songs. I’m sure a lot of kids had their first exposure to them watching cartoons.
The songs were plunked in cartoons which bore no similar to the musical in which they appeared, possibly with the exception of “Page Miss Glory” (1936), which has a faux Busby Berkeley overhead choreography shot. The cartoon version of “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” (1933) involved a dispatch office for a place that delivered newborn human babies. None were delivered to Buffalo, shuffling or otherwise. Instead we get rubber hose animation, ethnic throw-ins, celebrity caricatures and the Rhythmettes.
Speaking of Disney...
There’s an inside joke in one of the background drawings of the cartoon. There’s a birth chart on a wall and it lists the names “Frisby,” “Larry” and “Otto.” Frisby is Friz Freleng, and Larry is likely Larry Martin. Both were animators at the studio at the time. “Otto” could very well be Otto Englander. He worked at the Iwerks Studio before going to Disney in 1933 but it’s possible he had a stopover at Harman and Ising. The drawing is quite possibly by Art Loomer, who was later head of the background department when Schlesinger opened his own studio. The 1932 Los Angeles City Directory lists him as an artist at Pacific Title and Art Studio, which was Schlesinger’s own company.
The same celebrities seemed to come in for a caricatured ribbing in cartoons on either side of the mid-‘30s—Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Laurel and Hardy, and these guys:
Joe E. Brown. That kinda looks like the pre-Lantz version of Oswald the Rabbit in the crib.
Eddie Cantor. He even claps his hands and rolls his eyes.
And Ed Wynn, known as The Fire Chief on radio, sponsored by Texaco.
Just a note on the Rhythmettes...
They were a vocal trio who found work at several cartoon studios, including employment on the biggest cartoon before “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” Said a story in Hearst’s International in 1934:
There has been much secrecy about who portrayed the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf. The voices of the pigs were those of the Rhythmettes. The Rhythmettes are three girls who work on the radio in Los Angeles. They do not broadcast that they are the Three Little Pigs because they want more work at the Disney art shop.
They were appearing on KMTR as early as January 1931 and were with Al Pearce on the NBC Red Network by 1933. Then came this story from Johnny Whitehead of the Covina Argus of May 4, 1934. The Rhymettes were now on the radio with the Rhyme-Kings.
The Rhythmettes, fancy-harmonizing feminine trio with KHJ, sound every bit as good with their new member, who really isn't new because she formerly sang with the trio before going to Chicago some time ago. One of the Rhythmettes told your reporter the other night that the reason they left Al Pearce’s Gang was that two of the team are married and didn’t care to travel any longer.
The identity of the Rhythmettes gets a bit confusing. Two of them were Mary Moder and Dorothy Compton, who was later in The Debutantes singing about a grass shack in Kealakekua Hawaii. But a story in the June 29, 1937 edition of The Oakland Tribune calls them “Doris, Dell and Kay of radio fame.” It’s quite possible there was more than one girl group using the name on radio. Or maybe all the original members eventually quit. Regardless, you can hear them on this very trying syndicated show from 1937 singing a song from a 1932 Harman-Ising cartoon. Another voice you may recognise is that of the “Queen”. She’s Elvia Allmann.