Saturday, 30 June 2012

UPA Clipping File

When was it the critics began raving about cartoons made by UPA, and bestowing on them the mantle of The New Disney? Perhaps the most important, and widely-circulated, hosanna came from the The New York Times on December 21, 1952, when another newspaper’s editorial column noted:
Bosley Crowther, New York Times motion picture critic, recently credited UPA, headed by 41-year-old Steve Bosustow, with “Imposing what amounts to the spirit and style of modern art upon the traditionally romantic and restricted area of the movie cartoon.”

Crowther, though, wasn’t the first one.

Stories in the popular press about the studio were understandably few when Bosustow worked out a commercial release for the company’s cartoons. Hedda Hopper had these words about UPA in her column of December 5, 1950.
James Thurber’s cartoons and short stories will be brought to the screen by United Productions of America in a full-length picture with John Houseman producing and John Hubley as supervising director. The picture will be partly live action and partly cartoon. The animation characters will include Thurber’s famous seal and bloodhound. Stories under consideration are “You Can Look It Up,” “The Unicorn in the Garden,” “The Topaz Cuff Links Mystery” and “Mr. Preble Murders His Wife.”

“Unicorn” was the only one made, and then as a short. Perhaps the studio’s perennial money troubles quashed any other plans.

By the time of Heppa’s little blurb, UPA had released the first Mr. Magoo cartoon, “Ragtime Bear.” Yet it wasn’t until “Gerald McBoing Boing”—and its Oscar nomination—that critics and columnists noticed what UPA was doing and started dragging out the Disney comparisons. We reprinted Aline Mosby’s United Press column of February 22, 1951 HERE. And you can read Gilbert Seldes’ review in the Saturday Review from May 31, 1952 by going HERE. As you might expect if you know Seldes’ reputation, he delights in a bunch of the studio’s releases to date.

Just as Mickey Mouse’s popularity gave birth to stories about the man who put him on the screen, so reporters became curious about the head of the UPA studio once little Gerald won his Academy Award. Here are a couple of stories about Steve Bosustow. First, from the Associated Press of October 12, 1952.

Hollywood
By GENE HANDSAKER
HOLLYWOOD — A mild-mannered, slender man with brown eyes, heavy black brows, and the unpronounceable-looking name of Stephen Bosustow has quietly upset the movie-cartoon business.
Most film funnies are still content to involve mice, cats, dogs, and birds in frantic battles and chases. (And who's complaining? Not us fans.) But Bosustow (bo-SUSS-toe) has given cartoons a new concept, new technique, new story-ideas.
His “Gerald McBoing-Boing,” about a little boy who spoke in sound effects, won an Academy award. Another favorite character from his drawing-boards is “Mr. Magoo,” a near-sighted, potato-nosed little man who always comes out on top but never knows how close he has come to disaster.
His techniques are suggestive of some modernistic works of art. Backgrounds contain only the bare minimum of props and scenery. A sidewalk crowd of people is drawn in outlines only, with just the central character — and the ladies’ handbags!—filled in.
“We caricature human situations rather than try to be realistic about them,” Bosustow says. “First we reduce a chancier to the simplest form, and then the action. You get your point over faster, funnier, and with greater impact.”
His firm, United Productions of America, occupies a modest, modernistic building in Burbank. Bosustow, 40, a one-time trap-drummer, poster artist, and Disney animator, employs six units artists, each headed by a director. Six to 15 artists work in each unit.
The place is thriving, with sketches of cartoon projects thumbtacked to walls, and Bosustow’s stable of ink characters is growing. His “Jolly Frolics” series, six a year, deals humorously with such subjects as rivalry between a brother and sister and parental over-protection.
Another project for UPA is the preparation of cartoon sequences inserted in other studios' live-action feature films. Eight sequences link the episodic action in “The Four Poster,” which, stars Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer. In a Dan Dailey-June Haver film, a Bosustow cartoon will depict a small boy’s dream.
Bosustow wants to produce a feature-length film himself, possibly Don Quixote or a James Thurber story. He says: “We’ve brought into the industry a modern approach to art and have proven that cartoons can be made for adults. The cartoon field is in its infancy.”

This story comes from the Oakland Tribune, Saturday, May 22, 1954.

Movie Cartoon Expert Predicts Rosy Future
By THERESA LOEB CONE
“The time isn't far off when theaters will show as many full-length animated movies as those with live actors,” says Stephen Bosustow. If anyone can make this rather startling prediction, that man is Bosustow. He’s the organizer and president of United Productions of America (UPA) and he has advanced cartoons in a spectacular fashion these past few years.
As a matter of fact, UPA has plans in the hopper for several feature-length cartoons right now. They've completed George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” hope to do Milne’s “Winnie, the Pooh,” some of the Thurber yarns, Gordon Jenkins’ “Seven Dreams,” and a musical comedy, for starters.
Speaking in San Francisco’s Museum of Art Thursday night on the “Revolution in the Animated Film,” the tall, dark and very handsome Mr. Bosustow also presented a program of 10 UPA cartoons, many of which have the power of enticing audiences into movie houses where the feature offering might not be so attractive.
TREMENDOUS APPEAL
Some of the program’s items were “Gerald McBoing-Boing,” “Christopher Crumpet,” “Unicorn in the Garden,” “The 51st Dragon,” “Rootie-Toot-Toot” and “Madeline,” all fairly familiar to moviegoers as typical UPA fare—vastly amusing in an adult fashion, yet having at the same time tremendous appeal for children. Not shown was an even more familiar UPA character, “The Great Magoo,” presently being afforded festival treatment at Oakland’s Globe Theater.
Bosustow, who has made such strides in his field, is still in his early forties but has behind him over 20 years of movie making experience. He has tried his hand at all phases of movie production—writing, cutting, music, etc. But principally he is known as an artist who abandoned what is known as a “serious” art career long ago in the understandable interest of wishing to eat regularly and be housed satisfactorily.
Canadian-born but transplanted with his family to Los Angeles when he was 11, Bosustow was an art major, got a job with the old U.B. Iwerks’ studio working on “Flip the Frog” cartoons in the 1930’s. Next he was on the Universal lot with Walter Lantz. Then on the list of Bosustow’s bosses was the king-of-cartoons, Walt Disney.
WORKED FOR DISNEY
Bosustow (it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled, if that’s any help) stayed with Disney for seven years, writing scripts, doing story sketches, helping with the first animation on “Snow White” and providing most of the story adaptation on “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”
But in 1941 he was a victim of a Disney Studio payroll slash and went to work for the production illustration department at Hughes Aircraft. He was also teaching industrial art at the same time. His drawings attracted the attention of Frank Capra and children's story writer Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.
The up and coming cartoonist then did Army and Navy training films. By war’s end he launched UPA on the way to fame, fortune and Academy Awards.
100 ON PAYROLL
The original organization boasted eight on the staff of a payroll that now has reached 100 They have two studios, one in Hollywood, one m New York, do not confine themselves to theater shorts or full lengths, for that matter.
They’re doing TV commercials, and documentaries for industrial firms. Heywood Broun’s story “The 51st Dragon,” by the way, was the first cartoon written assignment for TV, was originally shown on the Ford Foundation’s Omnibus program.
Bosustow’s talk was the seventh in the “Arts in Cinema” series which will take a break for the summer, will be resumed in September.


And here’s Bosustow again, in a TV column by the Associated Press dated December 15, 1956, on his major TV endeavour that ended in an unfortunate failure.

‘Boing Boing’ Show Features All Cartoons
By BOB THOMAS
HOLLYWOOD (AP)—A new kind of show debuts on TV Sunday afternoon. It is all-cartoon, unsponsored and simply wonderful.
The name of it is “The Boing Boing Show” on CBS. Do you remember the little boy in the Oscar winning cartoon short who spoke only in sound effects like “boing” and “ah-ooga”?
Well, Gerald is the emcee of the show, and his noises are interpreted by Bill Goodwin. Together they introduce a variety of subjects. On the first show are Gerald’s own story, a treatment of the life of the French artist Dufy and two songs done in hilarious style.
Sold On Project
The series has been put together by United Productions of America Pictures, Inc.
CBS is so sold on the project that it is putting the show on without a sponsor. It shouldn’t be sponsorless long.
The guiding force behind the show is U.P.A. President Stephen Bosustow, whose imaginative ideas have revolutionized first the cartoon industry and then TV commercials.
The U.P.A. technique of wacky immobile characters against impressionist backgrounds was born of necessity, he told me.
“When we started out with the company in 1943 we couldn’t afford the expense of trying to make cartoons look like live action,” he said. “We had to invent new methods that were cheaper. What we developed wasn’t new; it had been done for years in magazines and by cartoonists like Virgil Partch.
Native Of Canada
Bosustow was born on Victoria, B.C., and sought his fortune in Hollywood as a musician and cartoonist. Laid off at Disney’s in the movie depression of 1941 he was unable to find work at other studios. So he deeded to start his own. Two years later, his dream came true.
U.P.A. struggled along making training films and cartoon shorts, then burst into prominence with characters like Boing Boing and Mr. Magoo. It has since helped bring with and imagination to TV commercials.
“About 40 per cent of the work in our studios here and in New York and London is in commercials,” said Bosustow, a tall, good-looking man with a dark mustache. "With this as a basis, we have been able to branch out into other fields such as the CBS show. Our next plan is to make all-cartoon features.”


Bosustow did move into features. One of them, anyway. A Middle Eastern version of Mr. Magoo was somewhat shoved aside in a story surrounding Aladdin, a princess and a Wicked Wazir in “1000 Arabian Nights” (1959). But it was the studio’s real last hurrah. Director Pete Burness left unhappily during the feature’s production and perennial money troubles finally resulted in UPA being sold to Hank Saperstein. By then, the giddy critics at the beginning of the decade had long let the bandwagon play on without them.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Truce Toothbrush

There isn’t a lot of outrageous animation in “The Truce Hurts” (1948), a cartoon by the Hanna-Barbera unit for MGM. Well, not counting a blackface gag. The stretchy-est piece comes in some cycle animation of Tom brushing Jerry’s teeth.

It reminds me a lot of Irv Spence’s work at Warner Bros. before he went to MGM. He did kind of a face stretch like the one on Jerry in “Little Red Walking Hood” and seems to me Spence animated characters who were cross-eyed and with an overbite.





We get multiples of Jerry as he dashes off camera for breakfast.



The credited animators on the reissue print are Spence, Ken Muse, Ray Patterson and Ed Barge.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

How Do I Know It's Friz

Popular books, popular products, they all came to life in Warner Bros. cartoons. They all had a sameness. Books or products would sing and dance, some evil force would sneak in (generally to kidnap a female character) only to be vanquished by the joint action of the singers and dancers. Iris out. “That’s all, folks!” If you were lucky, you’d see some celebrity caricatures as a bonus.

Many of those cartoons had something else in common—inside references to members of the studio’s staff. They’d be on spines of books or in names of products, placed there by background artists. Until home video came along, no one noticed (except maybe Jerry Beck when he wrote his book on the cartoons in 1981). Now, viewers can sit at home, freeze frames of cartoon DVDs and see for themselves.

Amongst parodies of real products (including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Flit Bug Spray and Uneeda Biscuits) are a bunch named after Scheslinger studio staffers in the Friz Freleng cartoon “How Do I Know It’s Sunday” (1934). Let’s see what we can find.



Ray Katz, Leon Schlesinger’s brother-in-law, was kind of a studio manager. It also appears he made refrigerators on the side.



An Eskimo boy who is the hero of the picture leaps to grab a roll of paper towels. You can see he passes Pratt’s Dog Biscuits. Whether Hawley Pratt was briefly at Schlesinger’s at this time isn’t known. He started at Disney in 1933 if he wasn’t working for Leon, people who did would have known him.



As the boy drops, he passes a box of Friz’s Shredded Coconut. The first reference to Friz Freleng, the cartoon’s director.



The evil flies in the cartoon are going right for the Russian rye bread and avoiding Friz’s Salad Dressing. “Lofa Bread” is probably the funniest bad pun in the whole cartoon.



We get two of them in this frame. Armstrong’s Prune Cider Winegar is named for Tom Armstrong, who was in charge of the studio’s story department in the mid-‘30s. Norm’s Soda Crackers could be for musical composer Norman Spencer. I think animator Norm Blackburn had left for the Iwerks studio by the time this cartoon was made. Note: the consensus in the comment section is that it’s Norm McCabe, who I didn’t realise was at the studio that early.



The General Store in this cartoon is also a convenience store. Friz’s Pretzels are right next to Ben’s Brew, named for Ben Hardaway, who ended up directing cartoon after Tom Palmer was fired in 1933 and before Tex Avery was hired two years later.

So who is the background artist? No one ever talked about the background people in the Warners’ cartoons before the late-‘30s other than Chuck Jones and he blew them off as no-talents. Art Loomer was in charge of the background department at one time and former Kansas City and Los Angeles newspaper cartoonist Griff Jay worked under him. It’s possible one of them worked on this cartoon and provided enjoyable little in-jokes throughout the mid-‘30s, but we may never know.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

There He Is

Game show emcee Tom Kennedy once called him “the guy that taught all of us about this business of hosting.” Kennedy made the statement in 1983 but by that time, it had been about two decades since any TV giveaway quiz had been hosted by the man he was talking about, Bert Parks.

Parks made his name in radio in New York, as did people like Bill Cullen, Gene Rayburn, Bud Collyer and Art Fleming. And while all of them had high-profile game show gigs in the 1960s—along with others such as Allen Ludden, Merv Griffin and Peter Marshall—Parks wasn’t among them. Even Dennis James, another pioneer from late ‘40s television, still appeared on camera to give away an Amana Radarange to some lucky contestant. Parks, instead, settled for the job that brought him his biggest fame—hosting the Miss America pageant. His somewhat flamboyant emceeing mien was a natural fit for something based on fashion, musical numbers and fake royalty (until he was fired after 1979). For viewers, once a year of that was fine. But five times a week? Evidently the 1965 audience had seen and heard enough of his somewhat overwrought and campy manner to hosting.

But Parks was a fixture on 1950s television sets at various times of the day. And before that on radio, he used his dramatic build-up style of announcing to pull away Fred Allen’s audience on “Stop the Music.” Let’s pass on a couple of pieces on Mr. Parks. First, let’s go to July 1, 1951, when Parks’ career was at its peak. This is from The American Weekly, a Sunday newspaper magazine supplement.

How Bert Parks Got Into Television
TWENTY years ago people were saying commercial radio was in its infancy, and so was Bert Parks, practically. He was 16 when he won a radio singing contest in his home town, Atlanta, Ga., and landed a job announcing, at $7 a week, at station [W]GST.
When he was 18 he heard that Columbia Broadcasting System was preparing to audition announcers in New York. Applicants were supposed to be over 21, have two years of college to their credit and a fair knowledge of foreign languages.
“My score was zero minus on all counts,” he recalled the other day. “But, I went to New York, lost out on the audition test, went back to Atlanta $50 a week. Seems like I’ve been talking into microphones and telephones ever since.”
THERE was one interlude, however, that kept Bert Parks quiet. He joined the Army in World War II, rose to the rank of captain on Gen. Joseph Stilwell’s staff and was sent behind the Japanese lines with a wire recorder as his chief weapon.
“I wasn’t to be seen or heard for three weeks,” Parks said. “I made up my mind that if and when I got back to New York I’d make up for it.”
A few months after his discharge he did start making up for his enforced silence.
Bud Collyer, an announcer friend, persuaded the producer of a new quiz show, “Break the Bank,” to let Bert act as master of ceremonies for one performance. After that one trial, Bert Parks had a steady job on the show.
When “Stop the Music” went on the air over the American Broadcasting Company chain three years ago, it seemed only natural for Parks to take over the MC and telephoning chores there, too, and he has been with the sensationally successful program since.
Came television and Parks was ready and equipped. He had good looks, a good voice and poise along with experience gained by acting as straight man and singer on Eddie Cantor’s radio show and master of ceremonies for Xavier Cugat.
The young man who had been muted for three weeks in the Pacific during the war found himself one of the busiest talkers in the world.
He had his “Stop the Music” radio show Sunday nights, sponsored by Old Gold Cigarettes and Admiral Corp., over ABC, and the same sponsors kept him busy Thursday nights over ABC-TV.
“Two years ago,” Parks said, “when ‘Stop the Music’ first went on television, we tried to telecast the regular radio program but it didn’t work. You can’t sacrifice sound for sight on radio so we started separate shows.
“At first, on TV, to introduce a song having to do with bubbles, for example, we’d blow bubbles from a clay pipe. Then we hired writers to think up sketches that would integrate our songs. They gave me more things to do, like clowning, dancing and comedy. Then the ham in me came out.”
“Those two hour-long shows should have kept the average young man busy, but Bert Parks proved he wasn’t average.
His first big radio program, the quiz show called, “Break the Bank,” had convinced observers that he would be the perfect MC for the NBC-TV version of the show on Wednesday nights. With his thick black, glossy hair and a white-tooth smile, he was a living, breathing and talking advertisement for Ipana toothpaste and Vitalis hair tonic, products of Bristol-Myers, sponsor of “Break the Bank.”
The program still left him with some idle hours during the daytime, he thought, and when General Foods decided, he should have his own daytime program he agreed wholeheartedly. And so The Bert Parks Show was staged over NBC-TV three afternoons a week; 30 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On this one he didn’t have to give anything away, except his energy, his singing, talking and dancing talents.
Bert Parks has given away more than $2,500,000 in cash and merchandise on his quiz shows, radio and TV, to people who have been able to recognize and identify mystery melodies and answer other questions. But the only thing he ever won for himself was the singing contest in Atlanta at 16.
HE CAME close, however, last year when he went to a charity ball where an expensive automobile was raffled off. Instead of tickets, keys were sold at the door; the winner to be the holder of the key that unlocked the car. Parks was approaching the auto with his own key when a lady said:
“Try my key, for luck.”
She won.
Parks was thinking about the incident the other evening while driving from New York to his home in Greenwich, Conn., where he gets to spend two days a week with Mrs. Annette Parks, the pretty wife; two-year-old Annette Parks, equally pretty, and twin sons, Jeffrey and Joel, five years old.
A motorcycle cop drew alongside, motioned him to the curb and wrote out a summons for speeding. Then the policeman wanted to know what Parks did.
“I’m in radio and television,” Parks said.
“That so?” the cop asked, remounting his motorcycle. “Selling many?”
When he got home Bert Parks was still talking (to himself), saying something to the effect that he had given away more radio and television sets than the cop had ever seen.




TV’s grumpiest columnist found Parks an easy target, stating that the Parks daytime show was a perfect example of what was wrong with television. But even he couldn’t dislike the man. This is from September 25, 1951.

Radio In Review
By JOHN CROSBY
The Expansive Bert Parks
I can spot a trend as well as the next fellow, I keep telling myself, and the trend I have spotted—stand back, men, this is dynamite—is Bert Parks.
Bert Parks on Stop The Music. Bert Parks on Break The Bank. Bert Parks on a thrice-weekly afternoon show which is aptly named the Bert Parks show.
Some years ago the trend was Arthur Godfrey. Arthur Godfrey Time. Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Fears were expressed, during this phase of Mr. Godfrey’s expanding economy, that he eventually would engulf all the Columbia Broadcasting System.
I was looking forward with some alarm to reviewing Young Dr. Godfrey, Our Gal Godfrey, Godfrey Goes A-Shopping and the rest of them. But the Godfrey expansion was finally halted conceivably by the antitrust laws. Now we have the Bert Parks menace.
This has got to be stopped. I can’t be looking at Bert Parks all the time. My blood pressure is high enough as it is. Where Mr. Godfrey confines himself to one network, Mr. Parks is generously distributed over two, NBC and ABC.
This seems only fair. Mr. Parks, who also emcees the Macy parade from time to time just to keep from perishing of inactivity, is a personable, high-voltage operator with a grin you can read by.
He originally sprang into prominence by giving away Cadillacs, mink coats and a 12 year's supplies of shaving cream on Stop The Music.
You might think this is easy, but it isn’t. Parks can give away $20,000 with a flourish that no one else has ever quite matched. It's too bad, I keep thinking, that Parks wasn’t born a Rockefeller. Then all those millions could have been distributed in full sight of all of us on television.
Parks would have passed the moola around in bundles of $1,000 bills while buzzers sounded, lights flashed and Betty Ann Grove sang Millionaires Are Hard to Find in the background.
But let's stop woolgathering. Somewhere during his charitable activities, it was discovered that Parks had a distinct flair for comedy, a passable voice and, after taxes, a $40,000 personality, which is quite a lot of personality in the surtax brackets.
This led to the afternoon show, an enterprise in which Parks doesn’t give away so much as a can of sardines. His hand wanders absently to his pockets now and then, but then he remembers and gets back to business.
THE AFTERNOON show is a very pleasant half-hour, and certainly an ambitious one for afternoon TV. It is awash with gimmicks and elaborate song cues. And it is so strikingly informal that, as a gesture of respect, you ought to remove your shoes while watching it.
In the middle of a song, We Joined The Navy To See The World, Parks and his sidekick, Bobby Sherwood, a reformed band-leader, will arrange to have a near-sighted admiral walk overboard—“We lose more admirals”—and then go right on with the song.
It’s a prank, really, rather than comedy but then TV comedy is getting awfully prankish.
On the Parks show, they play the pranks on one another, Parks shooting arrows at Sherwood, Sherwood shooting them back. One of the chief victims is Betty Ann Grove, one of the fairly permanent members of Parks’ entourage, who has been asked to do everything except ride elephants to put a song across.
She’s a remarkably good-natured and terribly agile girl and so far has escaped serious injury, though I wouldn’t gamble a farthing on her if I were an insurance company.
Like Parks, she is talented in all directions—songs, dances, gags—and, I expect, she could run the roulette tables in an emergency, too.
My only complaint about Parks—and, for that matter, about his show—is that he is occasionally overwhelmed by his own cuteness.
Come to think of it, the whole industry is obsessed with that word “cute”—everything’s got to be cute now—and I wish they’d cut it out and grow up.
After all, television is five years old now. It’s a big boy.


A dozen years later, columnist Jay Fredericks bemoaned Parks’ demeanour on audience participation shows “in which fat ladies from Brooklyn or Cedar Rapids, Iowa, take part.” But he announced he was tearing up his membership in his self-instituted “Keep Bert Parks Off Television” club because “on the Johnny Carson show, Bert Parks served as a master of ceremonies on what must have been one of the wildest, most confused and unintentionally funniest half-hour segments ever seen on television — the premiere of the multi-million-dollar extravaganza ‘Cleopatra.’”

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Carson publicly urged his audience to demand Parks’ reinstatement after sponsors got him fired from the Miss America pageant.

It can be argued Parks made the pageant what it was, and that it was never really the same when he left. It was first televised in 1954 on ABC, then the way-behind-in-third-place network (out of four). The hosts were Bess Meyerson and network news vice-president John Daly, also the host of “What’s My Line.” One can’t picture anything but a polite, demure broadcast from the two of them. Parks was added the following year as a master of ceremonies, bringing his overly-earnest, somewhat campy attitude to the mix. Until the day he died, virtually every news story about the pageant telecast included a chunk of space about Parks, even during his years of exile.

Bert Parks may have taught some game-show legends about hosting, but when the giveaway programme industry moved onward and left him behind, he became a TV icon instead.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Señor Droopy Swirls

Ever seen characters swirl from one take to the next? It happens in “Señor Droopy” (released 1948) where the Tex Avery wolf and a bull go at it in the ring. Here are some drawings of the characters getting stretched into the swirls.






A mass of brown brushstrokes give the appearance of spinning like a top. Soon, the swirls separate into the colour of the two characters and they stop, with the swirls vanishing. Below, you can see the outlines of the characters behind the swirls.



Avery’s animators in this cartoon are Bobe Cannon, Walt Clinton, Preston Blair, Mike Lah and Grant Simmons.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Smoked Hams Exit

Woody Woodpecker makes a dash for it in “Smoked Hams” (1946), directed by Dick Lundy. All but the last drawing are on twos.







The credited animators were Myron Henry Natwick and Stanley Casimir Onaitis.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Wonga is 104

Phil Harris would be 104 today and, if you think about it, he really had four careers. To some, he’s best-known for his work on the Jack Benny radio show which he parlayed into his own show co-starring second wife Alice Faye. But it’s not like Jack plucked him from obscurity. He had a dance band with a home base at several different Los Angeles night spots and was recording for Victor. He appeared in several films with Charlie Ruggles, including the comedy “Melody Cruise” (1933). So it was evident to Jack that Harris could act and fill a stooge role that his previous bandleaders had been handling. Harris had plenty of experience on the radio before he joined the Benny show as well. In fact, while Harris’ “two shows” was a running joke starting in the mid-‘40s, Harris was already hosting a musical show with his dance band on CBS when Jack hired him and continued to so while appearing with Benny.

No doubt Harris was happy to settle down with Benny and give up the grind of touring. The Galveston News wrote about a Harris stop in its June 15, 1933 edition; it was a big deal and the paper had a number of Harris stories over several weeks.

HOLLYWOOD HOLDS BRILLIANT OPENING WITH PHIL HARRIS' ORCHESTRA; CROWD ATTENDS
With all the brilliance, pomp and ceremony that goes with a Hollywood first-night and amid a scene of splendor and beauty, Hollywood Dinner Club opened its eighth summer season last night to a packed house, with hundreds being turned away.
It was the moat colorful and successful premier from every viewpoint in the history of the popular west end theater-restaurant. Newly decorated in rare good taste and with a new Frigidaire cooling system the smart, fashioned crowd was thrilled by the appointments and the entertainment of Manager Sam Maceo as they danced, dined and made merry within a veritable forest of flowers.
Phil Harris and his orchestra proved a sensational hit. Thin debonair young man from Hollywood is a great entertainer and his combination of musicians and vocalists provide divertisement comparable to the best seen at the club in recent years.
While Harris did not have any of the movie stars present in person, they were there in spirit. More than a hundred telegrams were displayed from big names in the picture industry who wished Phil luck in his first appearance away from California. Included in the lot were messages from Wallace Beery, Robert Montgomery, Ruth Chatterton, Maurice Chevalier, Gary Cooper, Kay Francis, Anson Weeks, Ginger Rogers, James Cagney, Edwin G. Robinson, Richard Bathelmess and scores of others. Baby Leroy, the tot in Maurice Chevalier’s “A Bedtime Story,” sent this message: “ ‘Ga Ga Goo Club,’ which means ‘Whatever Mr. Chevalier says goes for me, too.’ ”
To single out any particular number that Phil Harris did best would be difficult indeed. The-first night crowd apparently liked everything he offered and cried for more. “Tea for Two,” done with Leah Ray; “Love Tales,” a number that West coast radio critics chose three times in a row as the outstanding number of the week, “It Happened to Me,” theme song from "So This is Harris,” and “Isn’t This a Night for Love,” the theme song from the picture “Melody Cruise,” in which Harris is starred and which will come to the Martini Theater Saturday, were well received.
Harris has some fine arrangements of dance tunes and most of those played were new and taken from current New York musicals and motion picture hits.
Leah Ray, lovely in a black and white lace gown, scored an individual hit and undoubtedly will become as great a favorite here as she was in California. Though still in her teens, she is a finished artist and has a style that wins her audience without a struggle.
Phil Harris’ Ambassadors is another feature with the orchestra that clicked strongly. This trio make a nice appearance and harmonize perfectly.
If one may judge by his reception last night, Phil Harris is due for a highly successful month’s engagement here.
Harris and the band will broadcast four times weekly over KPRC, Houston, and the same outlet will be used when he begins his national network broadcasts June 23.


Ray was a Harris discovery—at least, he gave her her singing first job—and she later married MCA and New York Jets boss Sonny Werblin.

Harris debuted on the Benny show on October 4, 1936. It look a while for the writers to get his character in place; he was kind of a jerkish antagonist to Benny at first. It really sounds painful. Eventually, they had to realise “mean” didn’t work, and that any put-downs of Jack had to be humorous, if not deserved. Harris became the self-absorbed, carefree, alcohol-friendly, illiterate braggart, one of radio’s great characters.

There was little fanfare about Harris’ arrival, nor much speculation about who would replace Johnny Green as the show’s orchestra leader. The Wisconsin State Journal of October 8th sums up all I’ve been able to find in papers of the day:

Phil Harris won the band assignment for the Jack Benny program after a long series of eliminations. Benny was unable to make his mind up as to which of three band leaders he would take and was won over by hearing Harris play in Los Angeles. Benny is also to have another new stooge in the person of Patsy Flick, who was on the Mutual network last year as a dialectician.

Band leader was Harris’ first career, radio star was his second. His fourth was voice actor for Disney as a couple of casual characters. Harris as Baloo singing “The Bare Necessities” may be the highlight of “The Jungle Book.” In between was his third career, that of doting husband to Alice Faye, amateur golfer and someone who only worked when he wanted to, enjoying the good life in between. In a way, all his careers are interrelated, and all entertaining.

Here’s Wonga Philip Harris in his best animated role.

The Rumors About Dr Seuss

The best part about the Snafu cartoon ‘Rumors’ (1943) is the flying baloneys, jabbering away over an army base. But something that’s about as fun is checking out the incidental characters that had to be influenced by the art of Dr. Seuss. That shouldn’t be surprising as he was with the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Force during the last couple of years of the war. The Snafus were commissioned by the military to play for soldiers and most were animated and recorded at the Warner Bros. studio.

I’d love to point out similarly-drawn characters in Dr. Seuss’ books but my knowledge isn’t that in depth. So I’ll just put up the animation drawings instead.



Here’s the first appearance of a horn-mouthed creature as Snafu slowly starts being driven insane by rumours.



The eyelashes on the horse are like the ones you’d find on Horton the Elephant, though at least some of the Seuss characters had only three lashes.



And here’s another Horned Beaketybeast with his friends.

The Seussical animation is by Friz Freleng’s unit. I’m not sure how the Snafu cartoons were put through the system; if Ted Geisel was involved then I gather the story came from FMPU and the rest of the work was handled at Warners.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

That’s Oswald

Not too many stars have their career revived at the age of 85, but Oswald the Lucky Rabbit isn’t just anyone. He was Walt Disney’s first animated success, and then made the jump from silent to sound films before a slow and steady decline. After all, what can be more demeaning than playing straight man to Charlie Chicken in comic books?

The Disney Hype Machine™ has gone all out pushing Oswald lately, most recently digging into the archives and creating a “cartoon” from some of the drawings made for one of Oswald’s first cartoons. So allow me to dig into the archives and pass on a couple of old Oswald newspaper stories.

In case you don’t know the basic story...

Walt Disney created Oswald in 1927 for distribution by Universal through Margaret Winkler’s company managed by her husband, Charles Mintz. Mintz then waved a contract at Disney’s unhappy animators and hired all but one of them, taking Oswald as well because the rabbit wasn’t Disney’s property. But Oswald wasn’t Mintz’s, either, and Charlie became an early victim of Cartoon Karma. Universal suddenly decided to dump the Mintz studio and set up its own under Walter Lantz to make Oswald cartoons. Mintz played out the rest of his years making increasingly crappy cartoons while Disney and Lantz went on to much better things.

The Syracuse Herald of March 11, 1929 reveals “Walter B. Lantz, animated cartoon artist, has arrived in Universal City to do his stuff.” Not long after that, Oswald—and Lantz—got a bit of publicity. Here’s a syndicated column dated July 27, 1929:

Screen Life in Hollywood
By HUBBARD KEAVY
HOLLYWOOD, July 26—It takes 15 or 20 men two weeks to make Oswald act for a few minutes. Oswald is that mischievous little rabbit of screendom possessing so many human qualities.
The film, “Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit,” comes under the head of “short subjects,” but to the artists and cameramen who put Oswald and his playmates in celluloid and into sounds, it is anything but a short subject.
Every time Oswald playfully pulls off his elongated ears, or throws his right paw through a window pane, it means hundreds of minute cartoons painstakingly made. One of Oswald’s adventures requires more than 6,000 individual cartoons, which make a half-reel of film. A separate series of cartoons must be drawn for every-movement.
Crew Of Artists
Walter B. Lantz, the originator, and his two assistants pencil the cartoons after the story has been written. Each draws a portion of the story. Other artists retrace the drawings in ink. Each of the 5,000 cartoons must be photographed separately and sounds to accompany Oswald’s antics are made during this process.
The popularity of cartoon comedies has grown greatly during the last few years, and now nearly every picture theater in the country has on its program either Oswald, Felix the Cat or Aesop’s Fables, to name three of the better known screen cartoons.

The absence of the name “Mickey Mouse” in that last sentence is intriguing.

The funniest story about Oswald comes in another Hubbard Keavy column, this one dated April 12, 1931. People who keep blabbing on about the 1934 Production Code and its effect on films don’t seem to realise there was an earlier Code in place with restrictions as well. That’s the centre of this piece dealing with an Oswald cartoon.

Story Conferences
Story conferences have been story conferences ever since the first movie studio came to Hollywood, but every once in a while one crops up of more than usual interest.
The movie public generally is aware that the board of censors, a rather intangible bogey that frightens the producers and the directors, recently decreed that cows in the animated cartoons should be entirely removed from the dairy business.
The pen and ink boys, who draw Mickey Mouse, Oswald the Rabbit, and the other talking cartoon characters, were in a very sad state of mind for some time afterward.
Walter Lantz, creator of Oswald, called a story conference to determine just what steps should be taken.
Hundreds of sketches were submitted and paper littered the floor.
Finally Lantz hit upon an idea. He attired Madame Cow in a Mother Hubbard frock. Her part in the picture was to run down a railroad track.
But Bossy found difficulty running in a Mother Hubbard and the artists became tired of drawing the bulky dress.
Finally, when the comic strip was about half finished, Lantz threw up his hands and moaned; “What will we do?”
“Oh, let a train hit her,” said one of his disgusted assistants.
Then—just about the time the assistant was prepared to laugh at his own remark—Lantz surprised the group.
“Swell idea,” he declared. “Change the script. Draw a train. We’ll end the whole thing in the next scene.”
And the cow, a hapless sacrifice to fashion, was just a bit too slow in leaping from the track in the next scene.

Perhaps a Lantz expert out there knows the name of the cartoon involved. “The Farmer” (1931) features a cow giving milk under a Mother Hubbard skirt, but there’s no train scene.

It’s up for grabs who might have come up with the train gag. Both Tex Avery and Pinto Colvig were working for Lantz in 1931. Either one could have blurted out a warped gag like that.

In case you haven’t seen the footage created from drawings made for “Harum Scarum,” you can play the video below. Is it the work of Ham Hamilton? Rudy Ising? Ub Iwerks? Beats me. Regardless, it’s a lot of fun and I’d rather watch this than the stuff that’s in theatres today.


Friday, 22 June 2012

Buddy and Azusa

Jack Benny wasn’t the first person to have some fun with the city of Azusa. Benny’s train-call of “Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga” made it into a number of cartoons (sometimes voiced by train-caller Mel Blanc) but before that, Azusa appears in the background of one of the low points of Warner Bros. animation, “Buddy’s Day Out.”

The background drawing (the artist is unknown) feature oil wells and storage tanks, so I presume the oil industry was alive in the extremely rural Azusa when this cartoon was released in 1933.



This inept cartoon was directed by Tom Palmer, who was soon fired and joined fellow ex-Disney buddy Burt Gillett in New York City at the Van Beuren Studio. Palmer’s stint at the Leon Schlesinger studio was a fiasco. If you can actually sit through “Buddy’s Day Out,” you can be thankful it isn’t longer. The obvious edits in the soundtrack leave you with the impression parts of it were cut out before it hit theatres, thus inflicting less of it on thankful theatre patrons.

Palmer is immortalised in an inside gag in the background. As Buddy and Cookie continue to drive along the road in Azusa, a side-road heads to Palmer’s place, with a sign thoughtfully helping anyone who wants to go there and tell him what they think of his cartoon.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Benny and Azusa

Name Mel Blanc’s most famous words in cartoons, and they’d have to be “What’s up, doc?” Name his most famous words in radio, and they’d probably be “Train leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc-amonga.” Blanc first called the stations on January 7, 1945 and the gag kept right on going into the TV years.

It’s a matter of comedy fact that strange sounds are funny. So are words. “Smith” isn’t funny. “Krankenschpooler” is funny.

People get very protective about the name of their community, even if it sounds funny. And so it was for some of the burghers of Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga who felt their towns were being ridiculed. That wasn’t the case at all. Their towns had odd names, though they were unwilling to accept that, and the names got laughs. As the train-caller routine became a running gag, it got instant laughs.

Here’s a piece from The Independent of April 20, 1956 where the townsfolk of Azusa weigh in.

Benny’s Humor Lost on Azusans
City Is Still Butt of Gag
By RAY DUNCAN
In Azusa a dying job is clinging to a town that is very much alive. The town is still enjoying an ancient gag about itself that it never did think was very funny.
This is the joke. “Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.”
Get it? A lot of people don’t when you pin them down after they stop laughing at it.
“Out-of-town people drive into my place,” says Azusa service station manager Don Johnson, “and they ask what town this is and when I tell them, they laugh and say, ‘Are you kidding? You mean there really is such a place? I thought it was just on the Jack Benny show.’
“Some yell from their cars, “Hey, which way is Cucamonga?” and fall back convulsed by their own wit.
“So this is Azusa,” others say. “I was expecting a hick town, a whistle stop, like it is on the radio.”
But station agent Amos Hanke said, “I often see them laughing on the bus as they go through, but there’s nothing really funny about town. It’s very nice. We all take it seriously.”
“It still gets a laugh,” sighed another Azusan, “but I never could see it myself. Anaheim isn’t funny, and neither is Azusa. What makes them seem funny is Cucamonga on the end. But still, Cucamonga wouldn’t seem quite as funny if Anaheim and Azusa didn’t come first."
“If Jack Benny told you often enough that Pasadena is a funny word,” said another Azusan, “it would gradually get to be a funny word.”
“People used to come out here just to see what Azusa is like in real life,” said railroad station agent R. W. Lewis. “That was when the big trains stopped here. They don’t stop now.”
NEITHER DOES the gag. For more than a decade Azusa has been, facing the fact that It is part of one of the greatest long-running jokes in modern history. Citizens reported yesterday that the gag is slowing down just a little with age.
“But that joke helped put us on the map," says Cornelius Smith, often known as “Mr. Azusa” because he has been a leader here for 50 years. “We got together and we made Jack Benny honorary mayor of Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga (he paused to smile at the famous phrase) and I guess Benny is the only man ever to be made honorary mayor of three cities at once.”
In Rhode Island a newspaper columnist once complained that Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga “have absolutely no legitimate reason for being known anywhere outside Los Angeles County.”
Mr. Azusa wrote a fiery reply pointing out that Anaheim is in Orange County, Cucamonga is in San Bernardino County, and only Azusa is in Los Angeles County—and set the man straight on some other things too.
“Chambers of Commerce from all over the country have phoned us and wired ns asking how we managed to get so many mentions on the Benny show,” Smith says.
“Opinions differ on how it all started. A few weeks; ago in Pomona a frost warning broadcaster named Floyd D. Young was quoted as saying that the tri-city gag was inspired by his nightly reading of temperatures. Smith of Azusa denies this.
Most of Jack Benny’s gag writers have changed since the 1940’s. even if his gags haven’t, but one veteran is Sam Perrin who yesterday remembered it like this:
“We had decided to do a show in the L.A. railroad station, and we were sitting in the station a couple of days beforehand, kicking the idea around, George Balzer and I, and we heard this train caller sound off, and we decided it would be good to have some funny names called out on the show. We made a list of the funny town names we could think of, and tried them out in combinations, and we finally narrowed it down to you-know-what.”
Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga aren’t even on the same railroad line, but in radio-TV a joke is more important than geography.
A COMMON question from travelers through town is, “Where did they ever get a name like Azusa from anyway?” A common answer is, “Azusa means everything from A to Z in the U.S.A. AZUSA Get It?”
“There actually is almost everything from A to Z here. when you stop to think about it,” said service station manager Johnson. “There’s Aerojet, and the Angling Club, and Azusa Rock and Sand Co., and . . .”
He couldn’t think of anything here that started with Z. Azusa has no zoo and therefore no zebra, but civic honor is saved by public spirited citizens like Henry Zeka, Dorothy Zerell, Norman Ziser, Raymond Zitney, Ivan Zuber and Dalila Zepeda.
The Chamber of Commerce is mystified abou the origin of the word Azusa, and only mentions some possible Indian meanings like “watering place” and “place of contented people.”
But if you go to the library you can find three reference books on California place names, all of which say Azusa probably derives from Askuska-Gna, an Indian word meaning “skunk place” or “place of the skunk” or just plain “skunk hill.”
That controversy has never been aired by Benny. On one program, he sent Rochester out to see how things were in Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.
“I’m in Azusa now,” Rochester phoned back on the air. “All these other towns are blaming each other for being on your program so much. Anaheim is blaming Azusa, Azusa is blaming Anaheim, and Cuca is blaming Monga.”


Any grumblings about Jack’s jokes certainly weren’t official; publicity is publicity, after all. He had been made honorary mayor of the three towns in January 1946 (sparking a forgotten feud with Abbott and Costello). Azusa hosted Jack Benny Day on behalf of all three on June 15, 1965. Newspaper stories don’t reveal if he arrived by train. It would have been a shame if he didn’t.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Minerva Pious

If anyone remembers Fred Allen any more, it’s for the Allen’s Alley portion of his radio programme, where four characters would joke up issues of the day. Fans can name the characters—Mrs. Nussbaum (Minerva Pious), Senator Claghorn (Kenny Delmar), Titus Moody (Parker Fennelly) and Ajax Cassidy (Peter Donald). They made such an impact that people have forgotten they weren’t the original residents of the Alley in 1942 and only spent two years together. The actors who played the last three characters were relative newcomers to the Allen show.

Pious, however, was with Allen in the earliest days, and she actually gets an on-air credit on the debut of The Hour of Smiles on March 21, 1934, which was the brainchild of the ad agency of Allen’s sponsor at the time. The other regulars were Irwin Delmore, Lionel Stander, Jack Smart and Eileen Douglas, though Walter Tetley whenever Allen needed a child voice. Pious was doing her Nussbaum Jewish dialect even back then and was well respected for the variety of accents she could master.

The Lowell Sun of August 16, 1934, carried a short biography about her, something unusual for a stock player on a radio show.

How Minerva Became a Star
“How,” repeated tiny Minerva Pious, reaching up to pull a thread oft the reporter’s cuff, “did I become a radio character actress?”
“Yes,” said the reporter, walking down the stairs six steps so he could be on a level with her eyes. “And how did you learn all those dialects?”
“Well, booblitchka, I’ll tell you,” Minerva said. “Ich war in Moscow geboren et quand j’ai dix ans je quitto La Russie et viens aux Etats Unis, et, signore questa patria....”
And out of it all, the reporter, who was something of a linguist himself, gathered an unusual story.... not the least unusual part of which was the fact that Miss Pious, who is a character actress on Fred Allen’s Wednesday evening Town Hall Tonight program, probably owes her successful position in radio today to the fact that she forgot in the middle of a performance and was fired.
The performance was not acting, however. It was playing the piano for a radio singer. Miss Pious, who always prided herself upon her ability to remember notes, would, under no circumstances, have the music before her at the piano. In the middle of a performance one night her memory failed her. She was fired.
This ended her work as accompanist and started her on a career as a character actress. The singer who fired her—Harry Taylor—is none other than Harry Tugend, Fred Allen’s assistant and director of Town Hall Tonight, and when the Allen group was looking for a woman who could do Russian dialect, In January, 1933, Tugend remembered little Minerva Pious, who wasn’t a perfect accompanist, but was a native Russian. She has been with the Allen group ever since, speaking all the European dialects, including the Scandinavian.
Miss Pious was born in Moscow, March 5, 1909. She had her first stage experience as a child walk-on in an opera in which her father sang the baritone lead. She went to school in Moscow, Vienna, Paris, and in various American places after her parents brought her to this country.
Before going into radio she played character bits on the New York stage and worked in the editorial department of a large national and international news syndicate. She also
played in German and French dramatics in Salzburg.
In person, she belies her rather powerful, husky voice. She is exactly five feet tall, and has brown eyes and dark hair. She likes bridge and tennis, and has published songs, poetry and prose. Believe it or not, Minerva Pious is really her name and she is really Russian.


The article engages in that fine show-biz tradition of shaving some years off someone’s age. Pious spent her teenaged years in Bridgeport, Connecticut where she appeared in plays from 1919 into the early ‘20s. The picture of her in this post is from a Bridgeport newspaper 1920 and is certainly not of an 11 year old. U.S government record show she was born on March 5, 1903. Newspaper articles reveal her father, Abraham M. Pious, brought the family from Odessa, Russia to New Haven, Conn. in 1905, then moved to Bridgeport five years later (115 Roosevelt Street) where he operated the Park City Candy Manufacturing Company.

Oddly, while her hometown paper profiled her brother Billy (a prominent dentist), the only longer story it published on Pious—and it didn’t even run her obit—was the piece on December 21, 1947. There was a picture accompanying it.

War Orphan Here for New Leg;
Minerva Pious, His Benefactor
Cassino—a name that will live in American military history for years upon years.
Pious—the last name of a radio comedienne from Bridgeport who has kept America chuckling for years and years.
How these two names have become related is a story that makes Minerva Pious a truly person, was revealed in New York just last week.
Cassino was the place where Ernie Pyle wrote his most famous dispatch—the story of the company commander who died in the assault on the Jerries entrenched in a hilltop cemetery.
And Cassino was the setting for the story of the di Lillo family and their 11 year old son Guiseppe, who is now 12.
Family Wiped Out
In the Allies’ advance of April, 1944, Guiseppe was the sole survivor of a large family. Dead were his father, his mother, eight brothers and one sister. And little “Joe” himself had lost his right leg—but lived.
His case is typical of the thousands of war orphans in Europe today, and compassionate Americans are doing something about it.
One of those is Minerva Pious, the ex-Bridgeporter who plays “Mrs. Nussbaum” on Fred Allen’s NBC radio show.
Miss Pious joined other Americans in bringing to this country five war oprhans—and Guiseppe is in New York now as her charge. He will remain here until Miss Pious can get him a new leg, and then he will return to Italy under funds supplied by the comedienne and administered through the Foster Parents’ Plan for War Children, Inc., on Manhattan’s 42nd street.
Guiseppe is a bright lad who gives the impression of being quite reserved and shy, but actually has made many friends in New York. He wants to earn his own living, and through the foster parents’ plan he will be taught a trade. Before the shooting war came to Cassino, he roamed the hills tending sheep alone with other members of his family.
When he returns to Italy—after getting his new “natural action limb”—he will certainly have a warm spot in his heart for Minerva Pious and the other kindly Americans who are making a new life possible for him.


Just like Allen, Minerva Pious didn’t really make the transition to television. She appeared on a show with Gertrude Berg (of “The Goldbergs”) in 1948 and two decades later was part of the CBS soap “The Edge of Night.” Other than that, she seems to have only showed up on interviews looking back at network radio.

Pious died in March 16, 1979 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Dippy Diplomat Outline

A bunch of Walter Lantz cartoons in the mid-1940s used an outline effect to indicate movement. Here’s one from “The Dippy Diplomat,” a 1945 ahort directed by Shamus Culhane. These are consecutive frames.




During this part of the footage, Culhane alternates outline drawings on one frame with fully-rendered characters in the next.

Grim Natwick and Pat Matthews get the animation credits in this one.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Scaredy Cat and Fake Cat

Tex Avery’s eye-popping takes are well-known to any cartoon watcher, especially since they were imitated by just about every other studio for awhile. But Tex had a scare-take with fur standing on end. He used it as a running gag in ‘Ventriloquist Cat’ (1950).

The story (by Rich Hogan) is pretty simple. The mangy cat that appeared in Avery’s cartoons around this time is picked on by Spike the dog. The cat finds a ventriloquist’s kit and uses it to throw his voice, leading Spike into a bunch of funny, familiar Avery gags. The takes are on ones, as the characters hover and shudder in mid-air. Some of the takes have two different drawings of fur on end, others have four.

Eventually, the cat makes Boyer-type love to Spike disguised (rather poorly) as a cat. Spike’s cat head comes off. Time for the take.



Spike chases the cat past some dogs. Spike tries to convince the dogs he’s a dog, too, but the cat keeps throwing his voice into Spike’s mouth. The dogs get set to pounce. Cue the take.



The cat meow-laughs because he conned the dogs. The dogs suddenly hear the cat meowing and go over to get revenge for being suckered. Cue the take. Whoever the animator is then has the cat turn 180 degrees in perspective and zoom out of camera range, being chased by the pack of dogs.



Dashing up a telephone pole, the cat realises he’s not safe. That’s where the dogs chased Spike. Cue the take.



Mike Lah, Grant Simmons and Walt Clinton are the credited animators.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Month of June (Foray)

If there was anyone on the face of the Earth who could possibly have the distinction of winning an Emmy award for the first time at age 94, it would be June Foray.

And she did it tonight.

She won for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program.

One would think that she would have been nominated long before this. After all, her career pre-dates the Emmys. It even pre-dates network television, considering her years on radio. The trouble is she’s a voice-over artist, working off-camera in commercials and guesting with cartoon ensembles, and that doesn’t really fit any of the Emmy categories.

There is no possible way you have spent your life without hearing June’s voice. Interestingly, her roles that everyone remembers today are not found in a nice little biography in an Associated Press story of November 3, 1967—Witch Hazel for at least two cartoon studios; Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha and Nell Fenwick for the Jay Ward studios; Talky Tina on “The Twilight Zone.” Oh, and Cindy Lou Who in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I’m sure you have your own favourites.

Remarkable Vocal Range
June Foray Specializes In Dubbing For Babies, Birds, Stars - Witches, Too
By GENE HANDSAKER
HOLLYWOOD (AP) – She’s a tiny thing, with auburn hair, sparkling eyes and a remarkable vocal range—for babies and birds to sexy dames, doting grandmas and cackling witches.
For 20 years a frequent cry from Hollywood producers with feminine-voice problems has been, “Get June Foray.”
She earns $250 an hour and 11 probably Hollywood’s top woman practitioner of the obscure trade listed in her modest 2 lines in the Motion Picture Almanac: voice specialist.
Good On Imitations
Ann Sheridan died before she could rerecord dialogue for her last television show that extraneous noises had ruined in the sound track.
Miss Foray, after listening carefully to Miss Sheridan’s voice, did the rerecording matching the words to Ann’s lip movements.
“Sometimes the producer will add dialogue after the star has gone, say, to Europe,” said June. “It’s cheaper and quicker to have me do it than bring her back.
“And a lot of young actresses whom I can’t mention do a lousy job and they call me in to pull them out of the soup by replacing their voices. How did they get the job in the first place? Because they look good.”
Its Constant Effort
On a “Rawhide” she rerecorded the entire dialogue of one week’s guest star. It taxes Miss Foray, who works almost constantly, to remember all the voices she supplies, especially in television.
“I’m Axis Sally in ‘12 O’clock High,’ Knothead and Splinter on ‘Woody Woodpecker,’ and I’m all over the dial on the Saturday cartoon shows.”
Her voice changes as she describes various roles: “I do French girls, Cockney accents, Svenska, and ah do Suth’n dialects.”
The secret is “having a good ear and flexible vocal cords.”
Born in Springfield, Mass., Miss Foray came to Hollywood with her parents at 17 and started a local radio show, writing and playing all the parts, then graduated to network radio.
She lives in suburban Woodland Hills with her writer husband, Hobart Donavan; two terrifying friendly great Danes weighing a combined 345 pounds and a withdrawn, 14-year-old cat named Henry.
Miss Foray supplies nearly all the witches’ voices used in Hollywood. Pat Buttram once asked her to do one over the telephone when he had a local radio program.
“When I got through doing that cackling, hee-hee-hee voice,” she recalls, “there were 15 people standing around the phone booth wondering what this nut was doing.”


When you think of June, you don t think of her subbing in for other actors. The TV Scout column of October 10, 1960 revealed she did it for Sherry Jackson in a episode of “Surfside Six” to make the character sound sexier. Here’s another Associated Press piece from January 24, 1960.

Seldom-Seen Actress Gets Top Salary
By JAMES BACON
AP Movie-TV Writer

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—One of the best paid actresses in Hollywood is seldom seen on the screen.
She is attractive June Foray, who dubs voices for other actresses—sometimes the leading lady.
In one film, a well known actress was cast opposite a deep-voiced male star.
“When the picture was completed,” June recalls, “the producers found that audiences would have laughed the leading lady right out of the theater. Her voice was way too high and squeaky for the lower registers of the male star.
“I was called in to dub the whole picture.”
June makes plenty from movies and television but her biggest income is from commercials on radio.
“I make as much for a half hour’s work on a radio commercial as I could for a full day’s work as a visible actress,” she says. “Sure, it does something to your ego but when those residual checks start coming in every time the commercial is replayed, your ego is soothed so nicely.
“At those prices, I can’t afford to be seen on the screen."


You can read a couple of other old newspaper stories about her HERE and HERE.

In honour of June’s Emmy win, here she is in an interview with the Archive of American Television, in snippets discussing her career. There are 11 of them; I hope they’ll play one after the other.

Buck Benny and Ernie Bilko

If you had to name the top three sitcom stars of the 1950s, they’d have to be Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason and Phil Silvers. That’s even though Gleason’s “Honeymooners,” as a half-hour show, lasted a mere 39 episodes.

You can’t help but think of Silvers as a fast-talking conman. That describes his character as Sgt. Ernie Bilko on “The Phil Silvers Show,” elsewhere on television (such as “The Beverly Hillbillies”) and in that old comedians’ romp “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” But, of course, Silvers had roles long before that in film and on the stage. And after four years (1955 to 1959), he was anxious to try something else. So he came up with a TV special, written by Bilko’s creator, Nat Hiken, where he’d play a western not-quite-hero. And a special role was found for a man whose shows had just come off winning Emmys two years in a row—Jack Benny. Jack, of course, had his firmly established character that followed him to the grave. But he had some western parody experience as Buck Bunny, first on his radio show in the ‘30s, and then in a feature-length movie.

The special aired May 7, 1960 and was re-run on July 29, 1963. After the first showing, Cynthia Lower of the Associated Press called the sketch’s climax “the nicest thing that happened on TV in months.”

Here’s a feature article by syndicated newspaper writer Charles Witbeck, from the Troy Record of April 30, 1960. It gives a nice behind-the-scenes look and deals with Silvers’ frustrations with the film industry.

Phil Silvers Returns To Stage In Western
HOLLYWOOD — Phil Silvers, decked out in a black Stetson, black leather jacket and pants, walked up the street of a western set at Universal Revue Studios, and his spurs kicked up a little dust.
Silvers was Sheriff Bissell, the Silver Dollar Kid. His cuff links were silver dollars and dollars were strung around his hat band. He was the most cowardly sheriff in the wild west and he was about to have a shootout with Chicken Finsterwald, another coward played by Jack Benny.
The two comedians were filming a scene for the Silvers’ Special, “The Slowest Gun in the West,” CBS, Saturday, May 7. Silvers walked about 40 paces from Benny and then turned. Benny peered up the road.
“Where are ya, I can’t see you?” he said.
The camera began grinding and Silvers said, “you four-flushing coyote, you draw.”
Benny replied, “No, you draw.”
Another Angle.
The “you-draw” dialogue went on for quite a while and then the scene was shot from another angle as the two cowards threatened each other for hours in the script.
In the next shot, with most of Hollywood’s top TV villains standing aghast in the background, Silvers shouts threats at Benny and Jack comes out of a barn, takes a big pause and says: “I’m calling you, B-Bustle.” He meant to say “Bissell” and Silvers laughed so hard at the miscue he almost tripped on his spurs.
“That’s thirty dollars you cost me, Jack,” he yelled. “Learn your lines, learn your lines.”
High On the Show
Silvers is putting up his own money for this show and says he won’t let anyone dog it on his dough. He has Nat Hiken, the man who first wrote the Bilko shows, doing the script, a take-off on all westerns.
“You don’t know me very well,” said Silvers during a break. A crew man took Phil’s fake glasses, the ones he uses during the film shows, but I’m high on this. It’s funn-ie. It’s not just kidding westerns. We go further. Now when I see a killer going for his guns, I use a little Freud. I say: ‘Look at those hands! Those hands were meant for love, not to kill. You want your mother.’”
Funny Script
The script is pretty funny. Author Hiken has the yellow bellied, four-eyed sheriff ducking all gun fights, even giving up his girl when a tough gunman wants her. The Silver
Dollar Kid is more interested in organizing needlework classes and picking up needle skills from a plump Indian squaw. Most of the laughs go to Silvers, who is the most vocal western hero ever seen on TV. Jack Benny has a relatively small part, coming on in the last part as the only gunman more cowardly than the Kid. Benny, as Chicken Finsterwald, shot an old lady in the back to become a legend.
While Benny and Hollywood villains complete the cast, not a single member of the Bilko group turns up. Doberman is strangely missing from this show.
“Doberman’s living like people think I live,” said Silvers. “He has the yachts, drinks the wine, chases the girls. I miss all his excuses. He had better excuses for blowing lines than anyone I ever bumped into. He was El Top.”
.Next Silvers and Benny were out on the street again for another “you-draw” sequence. Phil was within eyesight range. While the cameras were being reloaded, Silvers said to Benny: “Hold up a piece of wood.” Benny, whose holster strings tied around his pants accented his thin legs, held out a piece of wood. Silvers drew his gun and shot twice vocally. Benny dropped the wood and then as an afterthought, said, “I should have grabbed my hand in pain, you poor shot.”
“Now take two pieces of wood Jack,” called Phil, “I’ll show you how deadly I am with a gun.” Benny just looked at him. The two men seemed to enjoy playing kids again.
Then there was a sequence in which Silvers was to ride a horse. Now Phil had never been on a horse, or so he said. A photographer thought of having Phil stand on a chair in an effort to get on the nag, but a wrangler wouldn’t have it. He felt the horse would be nervous about the chair.
Back to Earth
Silvers finally mounted the animal. He looked around and blinked. “The air is different up here. Let me down.”
Back in a chair, Silvers talked about working in Hollywood. He made movies years ago at 20th and was never a big hit. He should be one now in the cinema.
“I don’t know,” Phil said. “Mervyn Le Roy let me read ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’ and I wanted to do it before someone else grabbed it (turned out Ernie Kovacs did). You know why I lost out? When the producer heard, about me, he said, ‘we don’t want him. He’s in TV. Remember what happened to Liberace.’”
With that Silvers rolled his eyes and shrugged. “It’s different out here. You get out in the warm sun, you sit back in one of these chairs and you don’t care much what happens.”


Silvers was busy with his own production company in the ‘60s (it produced “Gilligan’s Island”) and failed in a new sitcom where he played, well, you can guess, but he returned Jack’s appearance on his special by popping up on the Benny TV show in 1962. You can watch a portion of it below.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

What Walt Disney Learned From Snow White

Here’s a full-page feature story that ran in Every Week Magazine, a Sunday newspaper supplement that apparently was put together by the National Enterprise Association. That’s who Paul Harrison worked for, and he’s the author of this piece that I found in the Laredo Times of January 16, 1938.

A couple things surprised me here. One is that Paramount got in the way of a Rip Van Winkle feature that Disney was planning with Will Rogers. One wonders if Rip was suggested as a feature to the Fleischer studio during its Paramount release (there was a short, “Popeye Meets Rip Van Winkle,” in 1941). The other is Disney’s pledge he had given up on combination live action/animation features. He was making them by the mid-‘40s. So much for that.

At least two other wire services released feature stories on “Snow White” the same day. One has Uncle Walt busy at his desk. It appears his P.R. people were even busier.

The pictures below accompanied the original Harrison article. I don’t know anything about the guy who drew the long shot of Snow, the Prince and the dwarves. It almost looks traced.



What Walt Disney Learned From Snow White
By Paul Harrison
HOLLYWOOD
BACK in 1928, when Walt Disney introduced the little character which subsequently became the world’s No. 1 rodent, that single-reel cartoon, “Steamboat Willie,” was made for less than $1000.
Disney's first full-length feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” now ready for national release after four years in production, has cost nearly $1,300,000 to date. All the duplicate Technicolor prints which must be made for exhibition in theaters will add another $300,000 to the total.
“We’ve worked hard and spent a lot of money, and by this time we’re all a little tired of it,” Disney said. “I’ve seen so much of ‘Snow White’ that I am conscious only of the places where it could be improved.
“You see, we’ve learned such a lot since we started this thing! I wish I could yank it back and do it all over again.”
And right there you have a pretty fair idea of why Disney is Disney, why he has received more prizes, citations, plaques, medals, scrolls, certificates, foreign decorations and other tributes than anybody else, probably, in or out of Hollywood. His name is synonymous with artistic integrity. He believes that “Snow White” is a good picture and that critics and public likely won’t notice many of the faults, partly because no film ever has been made with which it could be compared. This is of no great comfort to Disney, though, because he doesn’t like an undiscovered fault any better than an obvious one.
He said, “I hope it makes a lot of money so that we can go ahead. But whatever happens, I’m going to get out our second feature, ‘Bambi.’
“You couldn’t possibly realize all the things we had to learn, and unlearn, in doing ‘Snow White.’ We started out gaily, in the fast tempo that is the special technique of short subjects. But that wouldn’t do; we soon realized there was danger of wearing out an audience. There was too much going on. A feature-length picture has to deal in personality and character development instead of trying all the time for slapstick and belly-laughs.”
THAT few people know is that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was begun as a one-reeler. That was about the time of the “Three Little Pigs,” when Disney craftsmen were busy with other fairy tales, among them “Hansel and Gretel” and “Babes in the Wood.” “Snow White” had been a favorite story with Disney ever since his newspaper carrier-boy days in Kansas City, when he had seen the silent version starring Marguerite Clark.
Here in Hollywood he several times had given quite a bit of thought to making a feature-length animation. Mary Pickford wanted him to produce “Alice in Wonderland,” with herself as Alice, but with all the other characters hand-drawn.
“She was also going to put up the money,” Disney recalled. “Golly!—I can still remember how awed we were when we figured that it would take $400,000 or $500,000 to do a good job. It wouldn’t have been too difficult in black-and-white—just a lot of intricate process shots. I worked out a plan. Then Paramount came along with a production of ‘Alice,’ and that knocked out our idea.”
Another time, Disney revealed, he and Will Rogers conferred on a filming of “Rip Van Winkle,” with the little men to be done by animators. Paramount wouldn’t release its rights to the story, so nothing happened.
“I’ve got that combination flesh-and-ink idea out of my system now,” Disney said. “After this we’ll work only to develop our drawing and advance our own medium. And it is a medium, not a novelty. It’s capable of conveying some pretty heavy emotional stuff, as we found out in ‘Snow White.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d cry a little with those little fellas. I hope so, anyway.
“We’ve had a few touching sequences in some of the short subjects. Remember the one about the mouse that wanted to fly, and the fairy gave him a set of bat wings? The poor little guy was in a hell of a shape, being neither mouse nor bird nor bat. All the animals laughed at him until the fairy came and took his wings away, and after that he was happy just being a mouse. Lots of people have told me they got a tremendous emotional boot out of that little story.”
Disney believes that “Snow White” is the sort of story that just couldn’t be done convincingly with human actors. Casting difficulties, especially with the dwarfs, would have been insurmountable. Paradoxically, you see, the purer fantasy of drawing lends a stronger feeling of reality.
“Snow White” also was the sort of story that refused to be tossed off in a single reel of eight minutes. The studio staff took more than ordinary delight in developing the ingratiating characters of the dwarfs. And the story department was torn by dissension when conferences were held to pare the tale down to short-subject dimensions. Pretty soon Disney realized that here was the material—action, comedy, emotion and suspense—for a venture in feature production.
Not even the statistical-minded publicity department can estimate the effort that was poured into the project. It has been a labor of pride for an organization in which everybody is young and where the big boss is called “Walt” to his face.
Disney must be the proudest of all, but he leans far backward in an effort to be matter-of-fact. He said, “It’s no wonder we have a different sort of feeling here; we’re an entirely separate little industry. In our work, we have nothing in common with Hollywood people, and we don’t live the Hollywood life.
“You take an ordinary studio and it’s full of people doing those things that are necessary for them to get ahead. There are executives who know nothing at all about making pictures. They worry about the prices of picture company stocks. They’re in it for the dough. In this outfit, every nickel’s worth is owned by my brother and myself.”
To safeguard their balance, and as a precaution against head-swellings, the studio’s myth-makers never see the articles written about their work. Disney himself sees only digests of significant critical opinion, and no fan mail except excerpts containing suggestions.
WITHOUT hoopla and with some misgivings, Disney launched “Snow White” on an initial appropriation of $250,000 and a staff of less than 100 people. His first release date was equally optimistic—early in 1936.
No great technical obstacles were encountered. The increasing delays and mounting costs mostly were due to discoveries of possibilities for improvement. Then they’d go back and make changes. The multiplane camera, developed at a cost of more than $50,000, was one of the improvements. It is a device which permits the photographing of characters and backgrounds on different plattes, exactly as players and props stand out in perspective on a stage.
Not only because of her voice, but her face and figure, Snow White herself was the most difficult member of the cast. This is Disney’s first representation of a normal human being. She had to be beautiful, and graceful in movement. At the same time, she had to be fairly simple in design because elaborate detail in facial lines and coloring produces a jittery image on the screen.
Snow White also sings. There are eight musical numbers in the picture and all are the work of Frank Churchill and Larry Morey of Disney’s staff. “Some Day My Prince Will Come” is the picture’s theme song.
So attached have Disney’s men become to the dwarfs, through years of developing individual personalities for them, that he has been petitioned to keep the little characters alive in future pictures. But Disney says no, they’ll have served their mission and he doesn't want them chiseling in on the popularity of his established stars.
The grotesque little men already have proved that they're expert scene stealers, and the studio animators have had a hard time suppressing some of them. Even now, for example, Disney is worried lest Dopey walk off with the picture, or at least with more than his due share of audience attention. Dopey is voiceless and wears oversize clothes. He’s always up to something with the mad singleness of purpose that makes Harpo Marx appealing.
DOC is the pompous, jittery, self-appointed leader of the band. Watching rushes of the film, Disney soon discovered that Doc was stealing scenes by the old familiar stage trick of “fly catching.” That is, he was making too many motions with his hands.
Happy is a fat little man with a perpetual smile and a cheery voice. Sleepy is always yawning, talks little, but is smarter than the others realize. Real boss is Grumpy, who’s actually teader-hearted but pretends to be opposed to everything, especially “wimmin an’ their wicked wiles.” Bashful is shy and fidgety, and poor Sneezy suffers terribly from hay fever, always managing to kerchoo at embarrassing times.