Monday, 19 March 2012

Page Miss Glory and Mr Avery

“Page Miss Glory” is an unusual cartoon in so many ways. It starts off as the raison d’être of the Merrie Melodies series—to push Warner-owned songs, in this case Warren and Dubin’s “Page Miss Glory” from the 1935 feature film of the same name. How it was done is what’s unusual.

Leon Schlesinger’s cartoons were not noted for their art; some around that time are flat-out ugly with some dull stock character designs. But, for reasons we can only speculate, Schlesinger decided to make a cartoon with Art Moderne designs, brought in mystery woman Leadora Congdon to create it, then never tried anything like it again. Congdon only worked on this one cartoon. Who she was and where she came from is one of those great unanswered questions of animation; I’ve never found her name in a census report, a Los Angeles City Directory, nor a newspaper of the day.

Even more odd is the cartoon was assigned to director Tex Avery (“I think I was forced to make it,” he recalled to historian Joe Adamson). Avery was hardly the veteran on staff. Friz Freleng was the number one director at the time and Jack King had experience at animation’s Shangi-La, the Walt Disney studio. Avery had only made four cartoons before this one was released in 1936 and was noted for his gags, not his artistic temperament. But he geared up his crew of Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Sid Sutherland, Virgil Ross, Bobe Cannon and writer Tubby Millar and came up with an interesting cartoon at worst (none of them received credit but all appear in caricature near the end of the cartoon). Certainly the gags and the twist ending are what you’d expect out of Avery.

Avery isn’t known for his perspective animation, but there’s some of it in this cartoon. My favourite bit is a funnier variation on the old Harman-Ising camera-in-the-mouth routine. This one has the “camera” drink champagne.

Tuxedoed men run to and away the camera. In an enjoyable bit, an endless group of them run from elevators toward the camera, turning the picture black (I’ll bet this was a hit on a big screen in the theatre). A few seconds later, the men walk away and the picture reveals them surrounding the idealised Miss Glory.

More perspective animation as the men high-step in a ring around Miss Glory. It’s remarkable to think this same studio could only muster lame Buddy cartoons a year earlier.

Anyone familiar with Busby Berkeley’s choreography at Warners has seen his overhead shots during songs. Congdon (or Avery) imitates one in the cartoon, with the dancers going clockwise and the rings they’re on going counter-clockwise. Really a great effect.

And there are rounded or angular geometric shapes everywhere in this cartoon. Some have the camera looking up at them, and others down. Here are two examples.

These designs are in stark contrast to the standard-issue characters and Elmer Plummer’s backgrounds we see outside of the art deco dream sequence. A wandering cow is downright crude. It’s hard to believe the same animators were at work. Despite that, I still like this cartoon. And you can’t beat a surprise pop culture reference to Jack Benny’s orchestra leader at the very end.


  1. Just to repeat something I've said before -- despite the standard idea that the people running the studio knew nothing about cartoons, somebody (Leon, Henry or even Ray) knew something about talent, since the logical step would have been simply to promote by seniority and to give this cartoon to the Freleng or King units. The fact that they basically bumped Tex up to the No. 2 unit, and then a few months later improved the now-No. 3 squad by re-hiring Tashlin after King left for Disney, shows the studio's later success wasn't just built on happenstance.

    As for the cartoon itself, the crude mid-30s drawings at the start and finish actually do make the contrast with the dream sequence both starker and more impressive. Even if Avery was forced to make the cartoon, pre-Warner Brothers house style it's one of the most impressive statements of artistic talent outside the Disney studio, because just as with Tex's evolving gag philosophy, it's something Walt hadn't tried. That makes the drawing vivid for a 1936 short, but without it the "keeping up with Disney" feel of the higher-budgeted Harman-Ising shorts of the same period (and the Art Deco look would linger on in WB shorts, particularly the Tashlin/Jones unit, though the end of the decade).

    1. Regardless, J.L., Freleng was still the number one guy. All I can think of is that comment by Tex that he had a unit of renegades that wanted to make funny pictures. If the other units were interested solely in the status quo, I can see why neither was given this cartoon to work on. And I can't see the grumpy Freleng working with Congdon anyway.
      While the contrast in drawing styles is necessary in this cartoon, to me it shows the Warners artists were capable of drawing something than those ugly mid-30s characters. I wonder why, then, they insisted on drawing them in other cartoons when, evidently, they could draw characters differently.
      Tashlin certainly did retain the streamline aspect of Art Deco in a number of his cartoons, didn't he?

    2. Yowp, I wish more questions had been asked about this cartoon while the main people involved were still alive. We know in intricate detail how much longer it took Jones to make "What's Opera, Doc?" than his average Bugs cartoon, along with all of his and Maurice Noble's color and design choices, but we really know nothing about the details of "Miss Glory's" art deco sequences, even though they're just as unique to 1936 as the other cartoon is to 1957.

      If the cartoon required extra time/cost to complete because of all the pre-production work and the precise animation involved, that would explain why Schlesinger and Avery's crew never tried it again (and just to be fair to Tex's unit, it was the presumed No. 3 when he came on board more because of him being the new guy than anything else -- unlike the 1950s, when Bob McKimson would get all the weaker artists pawned off on his unit, it wasn't that Tex got stuck with the studio's artistic dregs/alcoholics when he arrived; he was given the ones who were actually more ambitious than Freleng or King were at the time).

  2. Alas, J.L., Avery (as you likely know) didn't have a high opinion about this cartoon, so he didn't talk about it a great deal, Jones generally only talked about cartoons that he directed and if Clampett had done anything major on this, he would have crowed about it to the world. So it's no wonder we know nothing about it.
    The fact the animators could draw those angular characters that were completely different than anything else the tried before showed they were pretty expert draftsmen.