Saturday, 12 May 2012

Wanted: Stars For Leon

If Walt Disney can get ink, Leon Schlesinger must have thought, so can I. By the late ‘30s, he had a PR person named Rose Horsley. But he started getting space in the papers before that.

We’ve posted a 1937 feature story about cartoons that focused on Schlesinger. It may actually have been written the year before and banked since it contains some of the same information in this 1936 story from the Associated Press. I’m unable to find a byline. Fans of old cartoons will recognise the references to Joe Dougherty and Berneice Hansell, though neither is mentioned by name.

Artists Seek New Stars For Cartoon Films
Scratch Heads for Additional Movie Strip Characters Which Would Be Popular
HOLLYWOOD, April 4.—(AP)—In Hollywood, where film factories cry for new faces, there are studios that never send out talent scouts. No actors haunt their gates.
These are the animated cartoon studios. Actors they seek must come from the inspiration of their artists.
Cartoon actors, like their human fellows, must make the grade before they become stars. Like the other Hollywood puppets, they depend on public acclaim for advancement.
“We are always on the alert for characters,” says Leon Schlesinger, producer of “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies.” “A character may make an impression in a minor role, just as a feature picture with living actors, and work up to stardom in the same way,” he says. “Out best example is Porky the Pig, who has become one of our stars—a personality for whom we create vehicles.”
When Schlesinger first begun making cartoons in 1930, he featured Bosko and Honey, a.
“boy and girl” pair. Since then his “stock company” of pen-and-ink people and animals has grown considerably.
Another success of star-building in the cartoons is Walt Disney’s Donald Duck, who used to be merely one of Mickey Mouse’s playmates. Whether Donald stole scenes is not recorded, but he now stars in his own vehicles, with, or without Mickey.
To give a cartoon character “personality” is the task of the animators, who always are striving for individuality. Animators have been known to work with, mirrors, incorporating into their sketches their own facial mannerisms.
In talking cartoons, a character is not complete unless he has a voice. To find a voice that fits the personality is not simple.
Disney keeps secret the names of his “voices,” to preserve the illusion as far as possible. He admits he searched a year for a voice for Snow White, heroine of his cartoon feature.
Rochelle Hudson’s, before she became noted in feature, pictures, was a voice in “Looney Tunes.” Jane Withers came from radio to double vocally for a child character for Schlesinger before any studio gave her a chance on her own.
On the “Merrie Melodies” vocal list is a woman who does no other film work than speaking for Kitty the Kitten. A young extra stutters convincingly as Porky the Pig.
Schlesinger also has access to Warner Bros. record libraries, so today’s stars sometimes speak from cartooned mouths.
Joe E. Brown’s wide-mouthed yell has been heard in cartoons as the roar of a hippotamus [sic]. A John Barrymore dialog record, played in reverse, has served for the gibberish of animal characters.

Withers, by the way, recorded for more than just the Schlesinger studio. We’ll dig up an old newspaper article from the start of her career in a future post.

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