Monday, 31 December 2012

Assorted Swell Stuff

Tex Avery never lets up. He starts a routine and then keeps going and going with different variations on a gag.

Here’s an example from “The Screwy Truant” (1945), where Screwy pulls stunt after stunt on the truant officer dog (with an interruption for a fairy tale). He just happens to find a convenient chest.

So, he uses it. But the gag is more than Screwy hitting the dog with one thing after another.

The dog keeps sprouting a different kind of hat every time he’s clobbered—including a top hat, a witch’s pointed hat, a crown and one of those Napoleon hats (with an ‘n’). Someone will have to explain to me the derivation of crazy-guy-thinks-he’s-Napoleon came from (it made it into a Winsor McCay comic so it goes back a way).

Heck Allen gets the story credit on this one, but some Avery gag favourites (including an anvil) make an appearance.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

On Censorship, Dimes and Maxwells

Jack Benny did not slow down until the very end. He died on Boxing Day 1974 at the age of 80 and spent much of the year busy every day either with television, concerts, interviews or preparing for The Sunshine Boys, the movie he never starred in.

We’ve posted several of Jack’s print interviews from that year here on the blog. Here’s another one from Family Weekly, a weekend newspaper magazine supplement. It was published February 24th. Jack is asked about censorship, interesting in light of rigid inspection from the Hays/Breen office that films went through when he was making them. And he talks about why some of his long-running routines were retired and stopped appearing on his TV specials. His “Second Farewell Special” aired a month before this interview saw print..

Jack Benny 80 Talks About Jack Benny 39
By Peer J. Oppenheimer
The last time I saw Jack Benny was in his beautifully furnished, immaculate Beverly Hills mansion. This time I faced him across his cluttered desk in his Beverly Hills office. He turned 80 on Valentine’s Day, and we began talking about his proposed retirement.
FAMILY WEEKLY: Tell the truth now—could you ever think of yourself as not working?
BENNY: Let me put it this way. I could retire up to a certain point. And I’ll tell you what that point is. If I made a business of my concerts—and you know I give concerts for charity all the time—if I could do enough throughout the year, then I could probably retire. You see, I LOVE to play the violin. But I also love to get laughs. And I love to talk. So when I give a concert, I can do everything I do in Las Vegas. The difference is, the people who come to concerts are pretty sophisticated—the same people who maybe come to hear Isaac Stern, or Heifetz. In fact, Isaac Stern acts as an agent for me because he tells me where they need the money. I always say he gets ten percent of nothing.
FW: What do you think of today's permissiveness—particularly in movies?
BENNY: It's too bad. Producers are taking the easy way out. And the fact that the films are rated means nothing to me. I mean, either a picture should be permitted to be shown, or not, and not have an X rating or a G rating, or however they rate them.
FW: During the last election there was a Proposition 18 in California that, if passed, would have prohibited the showing of a lot of films. What did you think of that?
BENNY: I voted no because while don’t like obscene films, I don’t want censorship. Of any kind, anywhere. Otherwise someone can suddenly say, “Well, we don’t want this Jewish joke!” or “We don't want this Italian joke.” If a proposition like that went through, there's no telling how far censorship would go!
FW: As you grow older, are you growing more conservative?
BENNY: Not if conservative means stingy, careful with money. This I have never been. Neither has my wife. If I had, I should be the richest actor in show business. But politically—well, I am not a party man. I've never been a Democrat or a Republican. I don’t want to get hooked, I guess—I just want to vote for who is right.
FW: You say you aren't stingy. How did that joke start?
BENNY: By accident. In one of my old shows there were a couple of jokes about my being stingy. The audience laughed. A little later, when I did a weekly show, we used the same gag and it worked again. All of a sudden I became a stingy character. And then I realized how humorous it was, an element that is easy to laugh at. It’s easy to relate to.
FW: Has this ever gotten out of hand?
BENNY: Sometimes when I do guest shots, they plan on doing too much, and I’ll say, “Hey, wait a minute, fellas! I can’t be stingy throughout the entire show! There must be other things to do.” I’m so identified with it now that I don’t have to spell it out anymore.
For instance, on the Dean Martin show I walk into a restaurant and a reporter comes out and says there’s a big comet in the air and it’s going to hit the earth in about five minutes and the earth will be destroyed. I don’t say a word, but I go to the phone, and I say to the operator, “Who do I see? I just put a dime in the phone box . . . .” I don’t have to go any further. Just my going to the phone gets the laugh.
FW: Did anyone ever take your stinginess seriously?
BENNY: No. Everybody seems to know it’s a joke. But in order to compensate, it costs me a bloody fortune! Even with charities. I’m forced into giving a lot more than I can afford sometimes.
FW: How about your insistence that you are 39 years old? How did that get started?
BENNY: I kept the year 37 for a couple of years. When I was 38, I kept that up for about another three years. Then when I got to be 39, for some reason or other we thought 39 was a funny number. Also, a lot of little kids think that when you are 40, you are an old man. And who wants to be old?
FW: Did anyone ever object to your growing older than 39?
BENNY: Well, once we decided, for the publicity, to have a big 40th birthday. You can’t imagine the letters I received, including one from The Christian Science Monitor, begging me not to do it. The Monitor’s letter wasn’t humorously written, it was serious. They said that most people know my right age [Jack was born Benny Kubelsky on February 14, 1894]; but the people say, “Well, if Benny stays 39 and keeps working, I can keep on working, too!” So I stayed 39. But we don’t play that bit much anymore. Or the Maxwell car joke. That’s old stuff now—it's become corny.
FW: You don't look much older now than you did 20 years ago. How do you manage to stay in such good shape?
BENNY: Luckily I don't care much about eating. I love breakfast, but after that I can go on practically nothing. And I play golf—not as much or as well as I used to. But 1 think the most important thing is to do things mentally. I love to work.
FW: You once told me that one of the reasons you stayed young was because your grandchildren kept you young. Is that still the case?
BENNY: Maybe that was right at the time, but today I feel it’s my work that keeps me young. I like practically everything I do, and I don’t delve into myself. I don’t give a hoot how much people liked me on radio or in vaudeville. That’s gone. And when somebody asks me, “What did you like best, radio or television?” I say, “When I was in radio, I liked radio. But I couldn’t wait to get into television. If there is something after television, that’s what I will like!" You don’t live for yesterday or even today. You live for tomorrow.
FW: Did the fact that you and Mary worked together for such a long time help your marriage?
BENNY: Yes. But you know, it was quite by accident that we became a team. When I met her she was selling ladies’ hosiery at the May Company. In those days a lot of comedians would bring a girl out onstage to work for them. They were supposed to be dumb girls. All the comedians had dumb girls. Well, one day the one working for me became ill and Mary knew the part, and I said, "You know, you could do this beautifully!" And she did.
FW: After that, did you teach her a lot about the business?
BENNY: Mary’s knowledge about show business is absolutely amazing. She claims she learned certain things from me, which she probably did, but there are certain things that you instinctively have to do correctly to succeed. Like she would know enough not to try hard for jokes, that if it was written correctly on paper all she had to do was read it. That’s why Ronald Colman and his wife were great on my show. They were dramatic actors, but all they did was read the comedy lines exactly as they were written.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Saturday Matinee

The movies ripped me off as a kid.

Saturday matinées where I grew up consisted of a Disney live-action feature and a really bad Woody Woodpecker cartoon. No wonder the only local theatre was torn down and turned into a parking lot (and remains one, more than 45 years later, as the photo to the right attests). But the 1940s were different. Kids could go to the movies and spend their afternoon enjoying a whole pile of cartoons and maybe some one or two-reel comedies.

Theatres advertised in the papers back then, nice big ads with drawings. Here are some random ads for different cartoon compilations.

This one’s from 1945. You’ve got to love the dog-looking Tom and the pig/bear in a civil defence helmet. And I don’t think there was a cartoon called “Confusions of Nutsy Squirrel,” though if Tex Avery made one called that, I’d watch it (I guess they mean the Norm McCabe-directed “Confusions of a Nutsy Spy”).

Four big cartoons and none of them are Woody Woodpecker titles. And kids got “Popeye’s Pappy” (1951), a cartoon where Popeye dresses up as a woman to lure his own father. Now that’s entertainment!

Someone better tell the Madison that “Jolly Frolics” is the name of a series, not a cartoon. At least the characters are more on-model in this one.

From August 1950. I’d go to a theatre today if they showed this line-up. “Three Bears in a Boat” starring Animal? Who know the Muppets were around back then (there was a Paramount short subject of that name in 1943; that could be it).

Not just cartoons, but Laurel and Hardy and the Stooges. Looks like the paper used studio publicity art.

“12 Big Units”? I thought they were showing cartoons, not big units.
I realised Beaky Buzzard had a Goofy-sounding voice, but apparently one theatre has mistaken the two characters in its ad for “Strife With Father.” And you all remember “Google Fishing Beer,” where Barney drinks then goes surfing the internet. Champion wasn’t a character, it was the name of the series of Paramount re-releases (just as MGM had the Gold Medal Reprints and Warners had the Blue Ribbons). The Edgar Kennedy two-reeler was the last one of the 1946-47 season. Plot: Edgar builds his own TV set to save money. Didn’t this get re-made into one of those hilarious Beary Family cartoons?

What better Christmas present than two hours of cartoons? This is from 1950, but “Jolly Little Elves” was released by Lantz in 1934 (it was his first colour cartoon). The Lum and Abner feature is from 1943.

Theatrical cartoon compilations like this proved one thing—kids will watch a show of old cartoons. It seems early television programmers made a note of that.

P.S.: In the comments, Mark Kausler noted the “Tom and Jerry Festival of Fun.” It seems to have been a durable compilation. I’ve found ads for it from 1962 to 1965. As the heydey of movie business was gone, few ads featured drawings of the characters, but here’s one that’s not very readable. It appeared on the bill with things like “Flipper” and a re-issue of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Friday, 28 December 2012

It's a Cuckoo

Tex Avery’s anonymous cat discovers the cuckoo he wants to kill is sitting atop his golf club in “The Cuckoo Clock” (released 1950). These are consecutive drawings; the first five are on single frames, the next two are on twos.

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

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Hollywood Holidays, 1951

Last year, we went through a bunch of Bob Thomas’ Yuletide season columns; Bob was the movie columnist for the Associated Press based in Hollywood. We left off at 1950. So, let’s pick it up for a Year in Review.

Actually, these two columns from 1950 are more of the quotes-of-the-year-in-review rather than ones of a Yuletide nature. He didn’t interview the stars at Christmas-time. But these are fun nonetheless and shows that being overly preoccupied with celebrities and gossip is not something restricted to the age of web sites.

Some footnotes to the column: Thomas is understandably coy (it is 1950, after all), as to background of why the Granger story is a “yawn.” The Crosby story happened in May; he actually did get a room when a bellboy recognised the singer, who had driven straight from Idaho with writer Bill Morrow and hadn’t shaved or bathed. Hotel Vancouver Night clerk Art Cameron later told the United Press “I thought they were a couple of bums or Indians from up north.” Crosby loved coming to B.C. to fish; of course, he was originally from Spokane so he was familiar with the region. Wanger was given four months in 1952 for jealously shooting his wife’s (Joan Bennett) agent in an area men would rather not be shot in.

1951 Finishes in Hollywood With New High, Low Points
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 25—(AP)—Another troubled year in Hollywood is drawing to a close, so it's time to sit down and pick the highs and lows.
Pardon the poetry, but it’s the season, isn’t it? So I tried a different approach for getting into the annual summation of the year’s events in Hollywood. Here goes: Biggest news story—The Walter Wanger shooting.
Second biggest and winner of long-run honors—The Franchot Tone-Barbara Payton-Tom Neal affair.
Yawn of the year—The Shelly Winters-Farley Granger “romance.”
Biggest industry news—Louis B. Mayer’s exit from MGM.
Almost the biggest industry news—Warner Brothers’ offer to sell their interests, later retracted.
Brightest new box office stars—Martin and Lewis, Mario Lanza.
Losses of the year—Robert Walker, Fanny Brice, Maria Montez, Leon Errol.
Biggest blow to the bobby-sox set—Elizabeth Taylor’s divorce.
Biggest blow to the dowager set—Clark Gable’s divorce.
Freak news event of the year—A Vancouver hotel’s refusal to room Bing Crosby because he looked like a bum.
Runner-up—Arrest of Charles Coburn and his poker pals.
Most recurrent news item—Hedy Lamarr’s announcement she'll retire.
Most notable homecoming—Rita Hayworth’s.
Worst public relations — Frank Sinatra.
Best musical film — “American in Paris.”
Best drama — “A Place in the Sun.”
Father of the year — James Stewart, parent of twins.
Best male performances —Humphrey Bogart, “African Queen”; Marlon Brando, “Streetcar Named Desire”; Gene Kelly, “An American in Paris”; Fredric March, “Death of a Salesman”; Gregory Peck, “David and Bathsheba.”
Best female performances — Bette Davis, “Payment on Demand”; Katharine Hepburn, “African Queen”; Vivien Leigh, “Streetcar Named Desire”; Shelley Winters, “A Place In the Sun”; Jane Wyman, “The Blue Veil.”
Most promising newcomers— Debbie Reynolds, Mitzi Gaynor, Dale Robertson. Aldo Ray. Best low-budget picture—“The Well.”
And a Merry Christmas and lots of them to patient readers.

And one more from a few days later. Joyce Mathews was married twice to Milton Berle and twice to Billy Rose, the first time in 1956. She was between husbands when this column was written.

More Memorable Hollywood Quotes of Year Listed
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 27—(AP)—Talk, talk, talk. There was lots of it emanating from Hollywood this year.
This was one of the film town’s talkingest years. Film folk were yacking all over the U.S., trying to convince citizens that Hollywood was full of solid citizens. Meanwhile, there was a lot of gabbing in Hollywood, plus a bit of spitting and shooting, that created another impression.
One of the year of talk, I have tried to cull the more memorable quotes. Here they are:
Frank Sinatra, irate at reporters who trailed him and Ava Gardner in Mexico before their marriage: “It’s a fine thing when we can’t go on a vacation without being chased.”
Whisky Scares Bugs
Humphrey Bogart, explaining how he escaped insects in Africa: “Nothing bites me. A solid wall of whisky keeps insects at bay.”
Paulette Goddard, learning ex-husband Burgess Meredith had married for the fourth time: “I think it was quite normal of him. He always was domestic.”
Actress Kay Scott, divorcing auto dealer Douglas Nerney: “Music has been part of my life, but when I tried to play classics on the piano my husband turned on the television full force.”
Ethel Barrymore, learning that John Barrymore, Jr. had skipped out on a summer theater play: “John let the family down. It’s the first time in 300 years a Barrymore failed to comply with the billing. I’m deathly sick about it.”
Loves Razor Blades
Joyce Mathews, after slashing her wrists in Billy Rose’s bathroom: “I just love razor blades.”
Director Fletcher Markle in an interview: “Now please don’t write me up as a genius like some of the others have. I’m just a fellow who works hard.”
Tallulah Bankhead, asked if she would enter politics: “Heavens, I wouldn’t inflict that on any country.”
Katharine Hepburn, declaring that plain women—like herself—know how to make love: “The beautiful women are usually too busy being fascinating.”
“We’re Happy—Goodbye.”
Robert Mitchum, answering the Hollywood Press women who voted him “the most unco-operative”: “Your gracious award became a treasured addition to a collection of averse citations. These include prominent mention in several 10 worst-dressed-American lists and a society columnist’s 10 most-desirable-male-guest list, which happily was published on the date I was made welcome at the county jail.”
Fred Allen: “It took 18 years in radio to ruin my health. It took three shows on television to ruin my reputation.”
Franchot Tone, greeting reporters on return from a honeymoon appearance tour with bride Barbara Payton: “We're home and we’re happy—goodbye.”
Walter Wanger, after firing the shot heard ‘round the world: “I shot him because he broke up my home.”

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Santa's a Monster

As Christmas has now transformed into yet another day, it is only appropriate that Santa transform into something else—like a hideous old crone. It happened in the fine cartoon “Felix Dines and Pines.”

Things are always turning into other things in a Felix cartoon, but the transformations move into the creatively grotesque when Felix is hallucinating. “Dines and Pines” may be the best of the Felix horror cartoons. Things are constantly changing and threatening him. He even gets caught in a psychedelic spinning wheel that could have come from the 1960s.

In one scene, St. Nick beckons to the out-of-it cat, then becomes a monster.

The drawings don’t actually morph. Otto Messmer, or whoever is animating, simply replaced each drawing. But it’s 1927, so who’s going to quibble? Bonus points for having a spider move about on the creature’s nose. There’s also cycle animation of Felix’s tail, where it registers fright by changing shape, a trick Carlo Vinci would still be using on Hanna-Barbera TV cartoons 30 years later.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Cards From Animation's Greats

Christmas is a time for animators and others who toiled during the Golden Age of Theatrical Cartoons to show their skill to friends and relatives. Many drew their own Christmas greetings. It’s felicitous that a lot of these cards have survived.

This year, Charlie Judkins has scanned some by Terrytoons employees that had been in the collection of animator Red Auguston. You can see them HERE.

Cartoon Brew has a bunch from the Lantz studio, right to the bitter end when a lot of good talent was wasted on crap. Click HERE and HERE. They came from Martin Almeyra.

The Fleischer Studio site owned by the Kneitel family has oodles of cards from old-time Fleischer staffers. Go HERE and click on the arrow to see each one. I believe some of them were published years ago in The Fleischer Story by Leslie Carbarga (my copy seems to have walked away for the holidays). And at Animation Resources, you’ll see Disney studio cartoons HERE.

Before you click on the links, take a look at these which I copied from elsewhere on-line. I didn’t make a notation whose collections they are from, for which I’m sorry. Here’s a great one for you fans of Flip the Frog (and you should be one).

If you don’t know who Friz Freleng, Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising and Tom and Jerry are, you’ve come to the wrong web site. The first three were posted by Kevin Coffey; Tom and Jerry comes from either Jim Engel or Jon Cooke.

Both Jevitronco Duro and Kevin posted this on Facebook. Tex claimed he could never draw, but this is just fine. It’s circa 1930.

More Tom and Jerry, you say? Thanks to Kevin Langley for this. Tom’s missing the white between his eyes but has the thatched fur there.

Finally, from Jerry Beck (you can find this in his Cartoon Research section at Cartoon Brew) comes this great staff photo/Christmas card from the Mintz studio, which made Krazy Kat and Scrappy cartoons that were distributed by Columbia. I’ll list some of the names here because this is really tough to see. Above the building is Ray Fahringer (second from left), with Reuben Timmins (fifth from left) and Ed Benedict next to each other and Irv Spector (second from right). The top row of the building has Emery Hawkins, Dick Marion and Irv Ellis (is he different than Izzy Ellis?) and Lou Lilly. The next row includes Ben Shenkman, Lou Zukowski, Ray and Don Patterson, Clark Watson (layout artist), Ray Patin (misspelled), Ray Huffine and Ed (not Fred) Moore. Ike Mellet, Al Boggs (layout), Paul Novak, Chuck Couch (writer) are in the next row; Mike Marcus, Joe De Nat (fine musical director) and Jimmy Bronis (production poobah) are in the row below; Felix Alegre (a Filipino), Preston Blair and Bill Higgins (both later of MGM) is the row below that. The great Art Davis is below Blair with Sid Glenar next to him and Jimmy Roth, Frank Powers (ink and paint supervisor) and Ruth Love farther down; Sid Marcus, George Winkler and Fred Jones (later of Warners) in the next row and the Rose brothers, Harry Love, Alice and Ed Rehberg, Al Jackson and Joe Voght (perennial assistant animator) included on the bottom. Mintz died just after Christmas six years later. There’s a pleasant Yuletide thought.

My thanks to those fine people who posted these cards and my thanks to you for reading this blog. It’s, more or less, a place for me to dump old screen grabs and newspaper clippings sitting in my computer and I hope you find some of them of interest.

A Hollywood Kid Christmas

What did you get for Christmas? A toy horse for just under $200 perhaps?

Well, you might have if this was 1952. And you were the child of a Hollywood star.

It’d be really trite to say Christmas is a time for children. Because it’s not. Christmas has a little something for everyone, though I’m not really a Christmas person. But I don’t need to tell you how you felt about Christmas as a child. After all, you were there.

And children of the stars no doubt felt the same way. It’s just that their parents could afford more expensive gifts, though a child’s fun can’t be measured in dollars and cents.

Here’s Aline Mosby with our final dig through the archives of old newsprint, revealing what kids of Hollywood’s celebrities got for Christmas 60 years ago. To your right you see a photo from 1949 of the toy store mentioned in the article owned by Bernie Sher. It was at 309 North Rodeo Drive and was noted for having a tree that dispensed free lemonade. There’s a Christian Dior store at the address now. We doubt it has a lemonade tree.

Movie Queens Get Minks, Small Fry Also Score
United Press Hollywood Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 25 (UP) — Many a movie queen found cellophane-wrapped mink coats under their Christmas trees, but the small fry of Hollywood got just as fabulous presents.
Movietown moppets this morning tore the wrappings off such glamorous gifts as junior size four-poster beds and a huge toy lion who blinks his eyes and yawns, or roars, depending on your sound effects.
Jungle Feline
Eve Arden’s offspring got the jungle feline from Uncle Bernie’s fancy top shop in Beverly Hills. Uncle Bernie also delivered a big bear, four feet high on all fours, to the children of radio-TV star Ralph Edwards.
“But our biggest sellers were space helmets that you can see out of but not into,” chuckled Uncle Bernie.
Maureen O’Sullivan’s seven children unwrapped seven of those, as did the small fry of Jane Wyman, Jerry Lewis and Red Skelton. Mrs. Skelton also purchased a space helmet for her biggest “child,” Skelton himself. Skelton, who recently had a major operation, opened his gilt in the hospital.
Suit of Armor
A suit of armor, just like in “Ivanhoe,” now adorns Charles Beyer’s child. Gloria de Haven’s little girl whirled about in a grown-upish ballet costume this morning, while the blonde actress gave her boy a frontier gun.
Other lucky children got a five-foot gorilla, at $260; horses, at $195, and playhouses, at $199, from Uncle Bernie’s. One society belle bought a $29.25 tiny four-poster bed — as a Christmas present for her cat.
The “Enchanted Cottage” children’s shop, run by ex-movie queen Gail Patrick, sold lunch boxes to Laraine Day for her children. Ex-football hero Tom Harmon and wife, Elyse Knox, gifted their boy with a bathrobe printed with the colors and number of Harmon’s football suit at Michigan.
Space Patrol Outfit
Dorothy Lamour's son got a space patrol outfit; Joan Crawford’s twin girls found painting smocks and paints in their Christmas stockings, and Lana Turner’s daughter unwrapped a be-jeweled party sweater just like mama’s.
The grownups got quite a haul today, too. Jane Wyman’s new husband gave her a $15,000 mink coat from designer Don Loper’s shop. Loper also sent a cellophane-wrapped white ermine cape and black broadcloth coat to June Allyson, gifts from husband Dick Powell.
“It’s the Republican election. I think,” shrugged Loper. “Spending was quite heavy this year.”
The most luxurious gift was claimed by Jeanne Crain. Producer Len Goldstein gave her a jewelled fly sweater after she complained about the insects on her movie set.

A Wile E. Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year but a fall from a cliff comes every cartoon to Wile E. Coyote. Well, it seems that way.

Christmas and a cliff were combined in one of Mike Maltese’s gags in the first Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon, “Fast and Furry-ous” (released 1949). There’s a pan over a background by Pete Alvarado showing various items Wile E. has combined to try to catch the speeding bird. I can’t clip the whole background together so you all you get is about two-thirds of it below.

Rhe snow-making contraption works but the plan fails right away because the Roadrunner simply stops on the road. Wile E. skis past him along the path of snow made by ice from the fridge churned through a meat grinder. He skis over a cliff and along the path being made in mid-air. But the plan fails again. The ice runs out while the coyote is in the air and he drops in a shot from above that became a cliché.

After crashing at the floor of the canyon, the ice contraption starts up again. And that’s when Wile E. wishes us a Merry Xmas.

Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam, Ken Harris and Phil Monroe animated the cartoon for Chuck Jones.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sniffles Misses Santa

Jerry Beck described “Bedtime for Sniffles” (released November 1940) as “A charming Christmas cartoon, a rare Warners bow to yuletide sentiments, albeit an effective one.” Well, if there’s sentiment in a Warners cartoon, you know it’ll come from the Chuck Jones unit.

Jones and storyman Rich Hogan put a pleasant spin on the idea of a child trying to stay awake on Christmas Eve so (s)he can see Santa Claus. And despite Sniffles’ best effort, he falls asleep before St. Nick and his sleigh arrive.

The camera moves in on the left pan on this scene so I can’t show you the whole background. You get about 2/3rds of it here.

Bobe Cannon gets the sole animation credit and despite the fact Hogan came up with the story, writer Dave Monahan has a prominent place in the cartoon as Sniffles owns a Monahan brand pocket watch.

And a trivia note: Sniffles’ radio is playing KFWB, a Los Angeles radio station owned by Warner Bros. The radio gives the NBC chimes twice, even though the real KFWB was not an NBC affiliate. But the chimes were so recognisable, they became kind of a shorthand for anything to do radio.

Secret Show-Biz Santa

Self-indulgent misbehaviour by celebrities has been going on as long as there have been celebrities, but these days we’re unwillingly inundated hearing about it. Sex tapes. Drug and alcohol abuse. Violence. Then there’s the other side of the coin where celebrities help others—but they want you to know what great, selfless people they are by tweeting about everything they’ve done, or getting their flak to send out a news release, or their agent to get them on an entertainment show to aw-shucks about it.

Enough, already.

Not all show business stars have been wrapped up in themselves. Here’s a fine example, reported by Aline Mosby of the United Press in her Hollywood column. The logical question you’ll have after reading this is “Who was it?” If Mosby every revealed the identity, I haven’t seen it. And it really doesn’t matter.

The first column is from 1952, the first year she took over the beat from Virginia MacPherson. The second one is from the following year.

Many Helped By Santa of Film Capital
UP Hollywood Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 16. (UP)—Thanks to Hollywood’s real life Santa Claus, a shivering invalid in Maine will get an electric blanket for Christmas this year. . . a California widow receives a wheelchair. . . and a North Carolina woman can pay her doctor bills.
Hollywood’s Santa is a celebrity of show business who anonymously hands out checks signed only “Santa Claus” to needy persons he hears about.
For five years he’s given away $30,000 a year, and every Yuletide I visit to find out whose chimneys he’ll climb down. He wears custom-made suits instead of that red outfit. He is beardless, his “North Pole” is a swanky office, and Santa’s helper is a gorgeous brunette who wears sweaters.
“I don’t want anyone to know who I am or I’d be criticized for seeking publicity,” explained Santa, a handsome, dark-haired man. “I get personal satisfaction from this, so it’s really a selfish motive.”
The town clerk in Owlshead, Me., wrote to “Santa Claus, c/o Security National Bank, Hollywood, 28, Calif.,” about a sick woman in a nearby town who needed the blanket to keep warm this winter. Santa sent a check with a comforting note and his usual set of golden rules.
A Bryson City, N. C., widow got $100 to pay milk and clothing bills for her two children. A Glendale, Calif., widow found money for a wheelchair in her mailbox. Santa also sent a Christmas check to a Van Nuys. Calif., man who walks three miles to work every day to support his two children and has only one suit. A Twin Falls, Ida., couple received $100 to help pay doctor bills.
Last year Santa helped a Detroit man get a new set of false teeth, and now all HIS friends are writing in. Santa has received 4,500 letters since 1948, and has helped 1,500 persons. He turned down the rest because “they were phonies, or weren’t needy, or wanted large loans.” His fame has spread even to Europe.
He refused help Tuesday to a jobless man behind the Iron Curtain, since “I was afraid the money wouldn’t get through.”
One grateful receiver sent Santa a painting, and others remember him with Christmas cards, socks and ties.
“But some never write to thank me,” mused Santa.

 Celebrity Is ‘Santa’ to Needy People

HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 22. (UP) — A television-radio celebrity said he “won’t feel so selfish” when he opens his Christmas presents. He’s given away $23,000 this season to needy people who don’t even know he sent it.
The checks, to pay for everything from alimony to a TV set, were signed merely, “Santa Claus.”
Hollywood’s anonymous Santa is a famous radio-TV man who for four years has been secretly giving money away to deserving persons. Each year I visit Santa’s “workshop”—his swanky office—to find out whose chimney he climbed down this year.
$100 for Test
A Bellaire, Ohio, father of five children who flunked the state barber’s test got $100 to try again. A Pasadena, Calif., boy received $50 for a new bicycle so he could sell papers and support his ailing parents. A Troutvale, Va., invalid received the price of a TV set, and a $100 check paid a Hollywood bit actor’s alimony bill and kept him out of jail.
“We had many more cases this year,” observed Santa, a handsome, dark-haired man as he leafed through stacks of mail on his desk.
“Only about one in a 100 turned out phoney when we investigated. We shy away from second requests, too. Santa wants everyone to know this is no gravy train! I just help people get on their feet.”
Many Letters
Santa gets thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus at the Security First National Bank, Hollywood, which handles his checks. He also hears about cases from “Santa’s helpers,” friends who pass along tips. Producer Walter Wanger, recently in jail, gave Santa names of many ex-inmates who had no funds to eat on while they looked for jobs.
“We gave them $25 apiece—no more,” said Santa firmly.
Bigger Gifts
Others got heftier sums. A bed-ridden Hammondsville, Ohio, woman with a crippled daughter received $100 for doctor bills. A worried Wichita, Kan., father with Santa’s $100 check can look for a job in Arizona so he can move his sick son to the warmer climate. A New Haven, Conn., labourer was sent money for new teeth. Santa’s $100 helped repair a home demolished by a tornado in Worcester, Mass. He also helped a New Kensington, Pa., mother, who is going blind.
“This really is selfish because I get such a kick from it,” reflected Santa as he puffed on his pipe. “Besides I got about 700 Christmas cards and nice presents, such as some long-hair books. They think Santa is intellectual, I guess.
“Actually,” he grinned, “I read murder mysteries.”

We can only hope human behaviour is consistent. If there were stars who helped the needy for altruistic reasons then, there must be some today whom we also don’t hear about. It means amidst the war, the greed, the pettiness, there are some who are trying to see that the world isn’t such a bad place after all. A Merry Christmas to them.

Tomorrow: Santa is Uncle Bernie.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Comics Celebrate Christmas, 1912

Let’s turn the clock back 100 years and see what the Sunday comics section offered around Christmas-time. The familiar characters of the day offered Yuletide-themed outings on December 21, 1912, the closest Sunday before Christmas.

The drawing style is a lot different back then. Panels could be pretty densely packed with things, certainly far more than today. Layouts vary in every panel; you won’t characters rigidly drawn in the same position through the whole cartoon. And I won’t guarantee you’ll laugh at any of these.

If George McManus is known today, it’s for the long-running strip Bringing Up Father. But before that, he created another strip called The Newlyweds. It seems to have morphed, at least in some papers, into Their Only Child, and that’s what we have here. Here, the child delibertely breaks all kinds of stuff and the wimpy father and clueless mother enable him. Interestingly, the San Francisco Call has a The Newlyweds cartoon on the same date with the same characters but a different story, though the kid destroys presents in both.

Like McManus, Jimmy Swinnerton drew several comics over his lifetime. One is Mr. Batch, which you see above. A little man with odd proportions. Frederick Opper’s best-known work is Happy Hooligan, but here’s his Howson Lott strip. The pigs appear to be high on something.

Well, here’s Happy Hooligan and Swinnerton’s Little Jimmy. Hooligan’s kind of freaky looking. And I suspect Mexicans are on a horse coming out of a garage because of Swinnerton’s residency in Arizona, where Mexican revolutionaries were an occasional sight at the time this cartoon was drawn. Arizona became a state less than a year earlier.

And what would a Sunday comic page of 100 years ago be with the Katzenjammer Kids? Other than a census report, the strip reflects how different things were then. The U.S. were still very much a land of immigrants. English was not the first language of a fair percentage of adults. Accents and dialects were commonplace in society and thus was reflected in popular entertainment. People made fun of one another and no one seems to have taken umbrage because it wasn’t done seriously.

There were a number of dialect strips (of course, there were later two versions of the Katzenjammers). Here’s a daily called Oscar and Adolf by A.D. (Armundo Dreisbach) Condo and Fred Schaefer. The strips are from December 24 and 25, 1912.

The comic section was in for a change. The war came and went, Depression set in, and soon there were action-adventure strips, soap opera strips, and many new characters created by younger artists—Dick Tracy, Blondie, Lil Abner—drawn in styles never thought of some 100 years ago.

Jack Benny’s Christmas in Vaudeville

Ed Sullivan had what must have been one of the cushiest book deals with McGraw-Hill. He came out with a book he didn’t even write. Christmas With Ed Sullivan featured little holiday remembrances by Ed’s buddies. The book was published in 1959—just around the time that plugola on TV shows was being ix-nayed. So Ed couldn’t push the book on his show. However, it did get a nice three-page spread in Family Weekly, one of those magazine inserts in weekend newspapers.

Among Ed’s friends who wrote a short recollection was Jack Benny (J. Edgar Hoover was another). It’s legend that Ed gave Jack his first shot on the radio. That’s not true, but it apparently did lead to Canada Dry picking up Jack to emcee its musical comedy show with George Olsen’s orchestra. The story was published in Family Weekly, December 20, 1959.

Dear Ed,
When I think of Christmas, I remember Father O’Connell, a priest in Sioux City, Iowa. At his death a few years ago, one of my most treasured friendships suddenly vanished, but a Christmas will never come without my memory racing back over the years to Sioux City and the night we first met.
Christmas in a town where I didn’t have one friend wasn’t exactly my idea of a holiday. It was in the early 1920s, and I had been playing a vaudeville engagement there. To make things worse, the snow began to fall. It was a white Christmas all right, but I didn't share in any of the joy I saw around me.
On Christmas Eve, the rest of the troupe had started to leave the theater, but I sat in the dressing room, feeling a long, long way from my home and friends in Waukegan.
Of course, I had been on vaudeville tours at Christmas time before, but there were always a couple of friends on the bill, and we managed to talk ourselves into a good time and a celebration over Christmas dinner in some restaurant, even though we were far away from Mama’s apple strudel.
But that year, besides not knowing a soul in town, I didn't know anyone playing the engagement with me. As the theater grew silent, I dreaded the prospect of dinner all by myself the next day. I was growing more alone by the minute when suddenly there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I called, and looked up to see a priest standing in the doorway.
He was a smiling, ruddy-faced man who introduced himself as Father O’Connell. “Jack,” he began, adding uncertainly, “I hope you don't mind my calling you Jack.” Then at once he explained, “It’s just that I’ve seen you every time you’ve come to Sioux City, and I think your act is great.”
Mind him calling me Jack! We were friends before I had time to answer.
Hesitantly he suggested that in case I hadn’t already planned Christmas with someone, he would be very glad if I would have dinner with him.
I jumped at the chance.
Instead of a lonely little restaurant the next afternoon, I found myself at the rectory having a wonderful dinner with Father O'Connell and five other priests. I didn’t feel at all strange, though I am Jewish and it was the first time I had been inside a rectory. To this day, I can’t remember another Christmas so filled with laughter and real joy. Once dinner was over, the priests went to open presents under their tree, where I was dumbfounded and touched to find a small gift from every one of them for me.
Good will toward all men indeed!
In the years that followed, Father O’Connell and I became close friends. Whenever I played Sioux City, he was at the depot to meet my train and spend any time he could spare with me. I looked forward to bookings in the once-lonely town where I hadn't known a single person on Christmas Eve. With Father O’Connell’s sudden death, I lost a generous and dear friend, and I have often realized since then that Christmas away from home is not so very different for me than Christmas away from the warmth and unassuming kindness I had found in that distant rectory in Sioux City.
Jack Benny

Tomorrow: Hollywood’s Secret Santa.