Saturday, 24 August 2013
They Never Got Credit
So it was I grew up through the ‘60s not knowing there was such a person as Arthur Q. Bryan. His name never appeared on screen. It wasn’t until Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic and Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald’s The Warner Bros. Cartoons that the identity of a number of the voices at various studios were revealed. And, today, there are still cartoon characters whose voices are mysteries because their names were never included in the credits.
On rare occasion, long before books on animation studios were written, the public press would mention cartoon voices. Two feature stories appeared in newspapers in 1935, a couple of years before Blanc’s cartoon career began. The first is from the Los Angeles Times, April 21, 1935. The author was later a syndicated TV columnist. Only part of the story involves animation. The Disney explanation about why voice actors weren’t acknowledged shows you corporate spin is far from something new. My thanks to Mark Kausler for deciphering some of the text.
Business of “Ghosting” Now Hollywood’s Oddest
Heard But Not Seen, Cacophonous Army of Men, Women and Children Make “Dubbing” Pay Dividends
By PHILIP K. SCHEUER
Hollywood has one industry you never heard about. It is made up of an army of men, women and children who—unwept, unhonoured and unsung, if not unsinging—are the disembodied voices of the talking picture . . . the “ghost stars” of the screen!
Their business is like no other on earth. Before the sound film, they did not exist—yet today the highly complicated machinery of the talkie could scarcely turn without them. Of their total number—100, 200, 300, who can say?—the names of perhaps a scant dozen are known to the world outside. The rest are—ghosts.
A few—fewer than are generally supposed—“double” the voices of recognized stars. Bu what Nathan Finston, musical director at Paramount, calls “the first-line artists” cannot afford to employ doubles in singing for long. They can’t get away with it; for one thing; and for another, it isn’t worth the deception. Teaching the stars themselves is easier, as whatever vocal deficiencies they possess can usually be made up by that indefinable thing known as personality. Audiences will forgive their favorites anything.
So it is really the “ghosts” of the newsreel, the novelty, the cartoon, and the “background” in a feature with which we are concerned.
The newsreel personalities come off best, in the long run. You are already familiar with most of them: Graham MacNamee of the “Times”-Universal, Lower Thomas and Lew Lehr (dialect) of Movietone, Edwin C. Hill of Metrotone and perhaps a couple of others. Their reputations have been previously established on the lecture platform or the radio.
PETE SMITH “ODDITIES”
In the “novelty short” field, Pete Smith takes the lead, along with Grantland Rice and his “Sportlight.” Smith, of course, was western head of M.-G.-M. publicity until he got to be in greater demand as a master of ceremonies at studio and social functions. It was only one step from this to commentator on odd bits of film found lying around on cutting-room floors, and only one more, when these caught on with the public, to actual production of “Oddities” and “Goofy Movies.” Grantland Rice is too well known as a sports writer to need introduction.
Most Paramount short subjects are prepared and “ghosted” in New York. Leo Donnelly, an actor from the stage, officiates on the “Screen Souvenirs.” Another, described somewhat mysteriously as “a vaudeville actor” (Papa, what is vaudeville?) and named Red Pepper Sam, is the voice of “Pop-eye.” May Questal [sic] functions shrilly as “Betty Boop” two days a month, and fills in the remaining time making personal appearances as “The Betty Boop Girl.”
Charles Mintz, who makes shorts for Columbia, acknowledges the services of Leone Ledoux as “Scrappy” and George Winkler as “Krazy Kat.” One Allen Watson sings bass when bass is required, and there is a useful lady named Celeste Rush and a Paul Taylor quartet.
Harman-Ising (“Happy Harmonies”) draw 75 per cent of their people from radio, the balance from stage and film. Ian Wolfe, an actor in “David Copperfield;” Johnny Murray, K.F.W.B. m.c.; the Four Blackbirds (KFI;) the Californians and the Three Rhythmettes (said to have been the original “Three Little Pigs,”) are a few of them. A reel will provide only about thirty minutes’ work for a capable artist, Harman-Ising state, with salary ranging from $10 to $50.
KEEPING IT SECRET
The Walt Disney studio prefers anonymity for its vocal performers in according with a policy of not showing favoritism to anybody. Around the plant, you know, they speak of the various characters—Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck and the rest—as living personages, and they don’t see why the rest of the world shouldn’t do the same.
As a spokesman for the company summed it up, “Kids of 12 and 14 don’t believe in Santa Claus, but they don’t want to see him without his beard.
“Besides, we don’t have more than a few words in our ‘Mickey Mouses’ and ‘Silly Symphonies.’” Other than to intimate that those few are spoken by “people around the lot,” he refused to commit himself further.
TWO CROONERS, QUICK!
The Norman Bennett Agency provides disembodied voices to most of the studios, with more than 200 singers on its list. Occasionally these “dub” the voices of those less gifted (Nina Koshetz is an example of a talented artist much in demand for this purpose.) but more often they form part of a solo or ensemble “background” for a musical scene.
Paramount’s director, Finston, declared he has a “perfect organization” of more than 100 voices to call upon at a moment’s notice; voices in every possible combination, from soloists, duos, trios and quartets on up through male groups, soprano groups and mixed choruses.
“There are as many tricks to recording as there are to photographing,” he said. “For the ‘Tosca’ sequence in ‘Enter Madame,’ we needed two choruses—an ‘interior’ and an ‘exterior’ (off-stage.) We recorded the same thirty-four voices for both, and simply ‘doubled’ the sound track. Together they created the mass effect of a choir of—well, 175 voices would be no exaggeration.”
PAID HIM TOO MUCH
Many a ghost singer “graduates” to flesh-and-blood fame. The King’s Men, crack Whiteman vocalists, once did shadow work regularly for Finston. A crooner from a downtown band used to come out and croon for three hours at $50—“and the front office squawked that he was getting too much!” The crooner was Bing Crosby, whose earnings are now about $12,000 per week. Five singing units made up the nucleus of a chorus for the “I Wished on the Moon” number which Crosby sings in “The Big Broadcast of 1935.” They comprised the Three Shades of Blue and the Rhythmettes, female trios, and the Singing Guardsmen, male quartets.
You won’t see any of their faces in “The Big Broadcast”—but who can tell what a year may bring? One of their number may be Bing Crosby’s successor . . . a ghost already singing his way to visibility!
The second story isn’t bylined and contains some of the information in the Scheuer story. Either he reworked his Times story for syndication with additional information, or he expanded a news release from the Schlesinger studio for his Times story. Anyway, this appeared in the Schenectedy Gazette on May 30, 1935. The comments by Bernie Brown should put to rest Blanc’s claim (which expanded like a fish story over the years) that Norman Spencer wouldn’t hire him and then died. Brown hired the actors at Schlesinger and when he left the studio Treg Brown took over.
Learn to Talk Animal-Like to Crash Movies
If you want to crash the gates of Hollywood and are willing to give up your identity and be just a voice, move out an a farm and study, animals.
This is the advice of Leon Schlesinger, producer of “Looney Tunes” and “Merrie Melodies,” animated cartoons, in whose employ are 25 unsung heroes and heroines who sing and talk like pigs, mice, elephants, cows and snakes, and what have you?
Dorothy Varden, in her early 20's, does the dialog for “Buddy's” companion, “Cookie.” Like Jackie, Miss Varden is afraid that the passing of years will not be kind to her voice and career.
Billy Bletcher is the man behind the voice of “Bozo,” the dog. An expert at barking and growling, Bletcher does dialog for the “heavy” dogs too.
Bernard Brown, head of the Schlesinger sound department and “voice casting director,” tells of a man who came into the office the other day stating that he could do something different—a stuttering pig. An audition was arranged and the pig stutterer had created a job for himself. Now the studio is thinking of making a stuttering pig one of the featured players in “Merrie Melodies.”
Before the animators start work, the cartoon's voice characters gather around the microphone and record their lines. Then, Brown, with a print of the sound track before him, translates into words what he sees on the track and creates assignments for the animators. His detailed instructions tell the animators just when the cartoon character starts to open its mouth for a word, when the tongue touches the lips and when the mouth is closed at the end of the word. It's all very intricate, but the drawings always match up with the sound.
Brown, one of the best known engineers in America, believes in doing things well—that's why he took a lip reading course at night school.
Unfortunately, there are still too many unidentified actors and actresses in animated shorts, and even some TV cartoons for that matter. Worse still, some have been misidentified, either through incorrect guesswork or people making up their own “facts” by stretching logic from snippets of information, and then plastering it all over the internet. Fortunately, a few people are out there diligently filling in the blanks in our animation knowledge, not just when it comes to acting. Animation history will benefit in the long run.