Wednesday, 31 July 2013

MGM’s Cartoon Mogul

Today marks the birthday of one of the most celebrated artists in cartoon history, and a pioneer in animation. I’m talking about none other than Fred C. Quimby.

Don’t believe me? Check out what’s in his obituary published on Monday, September 20, 1965:

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—Episcopal funeral services were planned today for film cartoonist Fred Quimby, creator of the Tom and Jerry series. The 79-year-old artist died Thursday after surgery for an undisclosed ailment at a Santa Monica Hospital. Quimby, who retired nine years ago, developed one of the screen’s earliest cartoon series, “Colonel Heeza Liar.” Later he delighted audiences with “Barney Bear,” “Droopy” and “Red Hot Riding Hood.”

Animation fans are no doubt sputtering in disbelief at the claims contained therein. Quimby was no artist, he was nowhere near New York City when the Bray studios developed Colonel Heeza Liar and the other characters mentioned were the creations of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, Rudy Ising and Tex Avery.

Quimby’s best-known for being the man put in charge of the MGM cartoon studio from its creation in 1937 until a prolonged vacation and then retirement in 1956, accepting Oscars along the way for work done by his employees. But he was also involved in an interesting and long-forgotten footnote in silent film history.

Frederick Clinton Quimby was born on July 31, 1886 in Morton, Minnesota, 10 months after the marriage of his parents, Edward Bartlett and Nellie (Gardner) Quimby. His father was a train engineer for the Northern Pacific Railway and by 1893, we find the family living in Hope, Idaho, the railway’s new divisional point for the Rocky Mountain Division. The Quimbys moved down the line to Missoula, Montana after the turn of the century and the Anaconda Standard of May 30, 1903 stated that Fred had accepted an undisclosed job in Spokane. By 1910, he was married and living on East Cedar Street in Missoula.

Fred became interested in movies—not the making of them, but the selling. The World Encyclopedia of Film (1972) credits Quimby with designing, building and running the Isis Theatre in Missoula. This story in the Moving Picture World of December 1, 1917 gives us a bit of biography and a lot of puff. By this time, he had been working out of Seattle and Spokane.

F. C. Quimby Pathe Sales Manager
New Office Created and Branch Manager Promoted to Fill It — Other Changes.
PATHE announces this week the creation of a new position, that of sales manager, and the appointment of one of the best known salesmen in the country, F. C. Quimby, to the post. Mr. Quimby knows the Pathe organization from the ground up, there being few if any of the present sales force who have been with the company longer than he. He was special representative in charge of the Pacific Coast offices when he left Pathe recently to take a very responsible position with the First National Exhibitors' Circuit, and now returns to take active charge of the entire Pathe selling organization. Mr. Quimby is a big, powerful, energetic man, above all things a practical film salesman who knows the exhibitor and the newspaper business as well as the exchanges. He has been four years in the newspaper business and for four years he managed his own theater. He has been six years as exchange man and division manager. He knows advertising and the practical exploitation of the picture. He is the kind of man who can take his coat off and go out and actually put a picture over for an exhibitor. He has done it time and time again, and his idea is to train the entire Pathe sales force till every man in it can do the same thing.

And it goes on and on. Quimby moved to Manhattan, and then up in the corporate world. The Film Daily of January 20, 1920 reported:

Elmer K. Pearson has been selected to succeed Fred Quimby, who last week resigned as director of exchanges of the Pathe Film Company, to accept the appointment of general manager of the Associated Exhibitors. Pearson was formerly feature sales manager for Pathe.

Associated hoped to release 26 pictures in addition to supplying projectors and even seats to theatres. But one of Quimby’s films ran afoul of the law. It was a filmed version of a heavyweight fight in 1921 at Madison Square Garden between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier that Quimby made into a series. Variety reported on August 26, 1921:

The story of the neat coup by which the Dempsey-Carpentier fight film was eased over the New York-New Jersey state line in violation of the federal law against interstate commerce in prize fight records was circulated in Times square this week.
According to the gossiped version, Fred Quimby, who is handling the enterprise, made arrangements to have the film exhibited privately to a group of convalescent soldiers in one of the upstate New York hospitals. After the screening it was intended to send the picture back to Jersey.
But somehow—by accident or design—the film container was addressed to Fred Quimby at his New York City address and delivered there by the messenger. On the surface it was a mistake and may have been an error. But once the film was in Quimby’s possession in New York, Quimby took the position that he would break the law by transporting it back to Jersey. So he took it to the 44th Street instead.

It wasn’t too “neat” as things turned out. Quimby was arrested. The case ended up before a senate committee of the Department of Justice in 1924. Quimby was subpoenaed.

WASHINGTON, March 15.—(AP)—Investigation of the department of justice and Attorney General Daugherty, got off into less turbulent waters today in comparison with the explosive sessions heretofore. It revolved around the story of "protection" for the showing of the Carpentier-Dempsey prize fight films. . .
F. C. Quimby, producer of the fight films, testified that he and Tex Rickard, the promoter, had no intention of showing the films outside the state of New Jersey and abroad, because of the law prohibiting their interstate transportation, until Jap Muta, Will H. Orr and Ike Martin came to him and explained a plan to permit exhibition of the films in the various states without getting trouble, Orr, Quimby said, referred to the late Jess Smith, Attorney General Daugherty's friend, as a friend of his but he (Quimby) said he did not know the attorney general. Orr, Muma and Martin, Quimby testified, told him to go ahead.
"These three gentlemen told me to go ahead with the picture and I would not be bothered," he testified.
A lawyer named Urion, Quimby said, was retained by Orr, Muma and Martin, was to designate lawyers in various states who were to look after exhibition of the films. The plan as he outlined it was that the films were to be shown in each state first before some "veterans organization."
"Then," said Senator Wheeler, the committee prosecutor, "the buyer in that state would be hauled up before some justice and fined. That was the arrangement, wasn't it?"
While Quimby would not agree to that, he testified there was a plan of taking fines and then going ahead and showing the picture was followed in some states, and he identified the list of individuals give out last night by Attorney General Daugherty as those who had been prosecuted for showing the films, as the same men who had been the buyers for the state rights under the plans of distribution he outlined in his testimony.

The A.P. went into great length about Fred C.’s testimony. Quimby was subpoenaed to appear again. He, Rickard and four others were then indicted by a grand jury and were tried. Quimby and his company Quimby, Inc. were convicted in federal court in Trenton, N.J. on March 19, 1925 on one count of conspiracy and three of transportation. He was fined $7,000 and that was the end of it, except that in 1927, the Attorney General quashed indictments against Quimby and seven others in yet another case of transporting fight films across state lines, apparently from a 1923 enterprise of his called the Cinema Contest Syndicate of Hollywood.

Quimby’s career wasn’t hurt in the slightest by the case. The Film Daily reported on January 15, 1924 that he had been hired as the short subject sales manager for Universal in New York City. Within a year, he went to Fox to do the same job. He resigned in January 1927 to accept a five-year contract to distribute Hal Roach films for MGM worldwide then The Film Daily announced on March 2, 1927 he had been appointed head of MGM’s short subject department in Culver City, California. It crowed he had been “instrumental in launching the first two reel Harold Lloyd comedies” but his resumé neglects to mention his little legal difficulties.

And so it was in that capacity that Quimby found himself in the cartoon business. Not right away. MGM didn’t distribute cartoons until the sound era when Mickey Mouse had West Coast studios jumping to sign up their own versions of black-and-white characters dancing and making music and other sounds with other black-and-white things. In 1930, MGM signed a deal to send to theatres cartoons made by the Man Behind Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks. Four years later, Iwerks was dropped in favour of the Other Men Behind Walt Disney, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. Cost overruns resulted in Quimby or someone above him deciding in April 1937 the studio should dump Hugh and Rudy and get into the cartoon business itself. Quimby started shopping around for talent and ended with such a mess that The Film Daily announced on October 10, 1938 that Quimby had signed none other than Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising.

The situation still wasn’t stable but Quimby ran into a string of good luck. He listened to the whispers of two chaps under Ising named Hanna and Barbera who wanted to work together on their own, Ising-less cartoon, and then listened to a letter from Interstate Theatre shorts mogul Besa Short that there really should be more of those Tom and Jerry cartoons that Hanna and Barbera were making. It translated into Oscars. And he then had the foresight to hire Tex Avery, who had been nominated for a couple of Oscars at Warners, and let him loose making some of the funniest cartoons ever.

Boxoffice magazine of June 4, 1955 reported Quimby had decided to take an extended vacation. Barbera said in his autobiography that Quimby made it permanent in an announcement to the staff in early 1956. He died on September 16, 1965 in St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, two days after an operation.

Animation fans know Quimby through the few recorded stories told by the people who worked for him. Jack Zander was quoted by Tom Sito in Animation magazine:
[T]hat whenever you went to Fred Quimby with a complaint or to ask for a raise, he would pull out his “Footage Book” and would knit his brows darkly as he perused the record of your performance thus far.
In the same edition, animator Bill Melendez tells about another veteran animator fed up with Quimby’s footage book routine.
Animator Rudy Zamora retaliated by figuring out where on the second floor he would be directly over Quimby’s office so he could practice with his bowling ball over the bosses' head. After a few frames, Quimby fired him.
Mike Maltese related in “Tex Avery, King of Cartoons” that Quimby warned him that if was to be hired to work for Avery at MGM (apparently Quimby didn’t hire all the staff), “We will not stand for any of that Warner Bros. rowdiness in our cartoons.” One wonders what he saw in the Warners cartoons that he didn’t see in Avery’s. Animator Tim Walker tells how Ed Love was fired by Quimby at Christmas time in 1946 after amounts of Christmas cheer were given to the women in the ink and paint department. It was only after Love was fired that Quimby found out writer Cal Howard was responsible. Howard, who never got screen credit at MGM, was no fan of Quimby, either, taking his son’s Boy Scout troop past the Metro cartoon studio and having the kids yell “Quimby is a red-faced jerk!” Writer Heck Allen says Quimby actively disliked him and periodically fired him, only to eventually return whenever Avery needed a writer.

So what’s Fred Quimby’s animation legacy? As Bill Hanna recalled, not only did Quimby think making more than one cat and mouse cartoon was a bad idea, he flatly rejected Gene Kelly’s proposal of an animated/live action sequence in “Anchor’s Away” until Kelly went over his head. It appears cartoons were produced in spite of the producer. Still, Quimby seems to have given his staff enough freedom to make top-of-the-line cartoons and, for fans at least, you can’t ask for much more.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Hammered Elf

Shoemaking elves accidentally bash each other with hammers throughout Tex Avery’s “The Peachy Cobbler” (released 1950). Here are three consecutive drawings of one gag, each lasting a frame. The elf disappears in a swirl in the second drawing.

The elves are unintelligible but a French video release of this cartoon has subtitles to tell us what the angry, bashed elf is saying. “You need glasses,” he says. So he runs off camera to get some, along with an eye chart. “Can you read this?” he asks.

The goofy-looking elf passes the test. “Perfect, Doc. Try again,” says the elf. Yes, he says “Doc.”

You know what’s going to happen next.

Friz Freleng also directed a secret shoemaking-elf cartoon several years earlier called “Holiday For Shoestrings” (1946). The two shorts are good examples of the difference between the two directors. Freleng timed his gags around “The Nutcracker Suite;” the classical music dominates. Tex goes a barrage of gags of varying short lengths, one quickly after another. And Tex tended to reuse bits he liked, no matter how old they were. He and writer Rich Hogan end the “The Peachy Cobbler” with a catchphrase that was popular on radio when they were at Warners in the late ‘30s but was already obsolete by the time this cartoon was made.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Backgrounds of Barnacle Bill

Time for some more great Fleischer backgrounds, this time from “Beware of Barnacle Bill” (1935), where Popeye finally tells off Olive Oyl (in song), who seemingly doesn’t care who she hooks up with, so long as he’s in a military uniform.

Some of the best ones are not clear of characters and the flicker of the film makes it impossible to snip together a full pan from various frames. But these will give you a flavour. Before radio and record players, a stand-up piano was the main source of home entertainment. Olive has one in her home, probably like some of the animators when they were kids in the pre-World War One era.

Olive evidently loves sailors, as she has anchors and ships decorating her home. Maybe she loved fishermen, too, as she has a huge herring mounted on the wall.

Here are a couple of exteriors. Note the billboards that really don’t say anything.

I really like the layout here; the curtains frame the disgusted Popeye and the fickle Olive, who fully expects Popeye will still want to marry her even though she dumped him for a guy who she doesn’t want now because the sailor’s knocked him out of the picture (literally).

As usual, no background artists are credited. A shame.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Take Five, Jack

Entertainment reporters of the ‘60s and ‘70s always seem to have found a way to work in “39” and “cheap” into a Jack Benny story, usually telling readers that Benny was neither. We’ve run into one column that didn’t. It was from the typewriter of Hank Grant and published in papers beginning January 26, 1962. Grant started in radio. He was on WGN beginning about 1946 and then made the leap to television by 1951. He then headed to California where he wrote for the Hollywood Reporter for a number of years and broadcast show biz news on KNX when it became an all-news station. Grant wrote for a syndication service called TV Times as well. He died in 1990.

Grant captured how Jack never slowed down, even when he was supposed to be taking a breather between takes of his TV show.

Jack Benny: Pleasant Rehearsal
TV Time Staff Writer
Hollywood—A running gag on the old Jack Benny radio shows was Jack's tongue-in-cheek insistence that he be announced emphatically as "Jack Benny, star of stage, screen and radio!" For several years now, it's been "Jack Benny, star of concerts, night clubs and television—tape, film and live!"
Jack was filming one of his weekly shows, when we arrived for our interview. A rehearsal was in progress, broken frequently by whispered conferences and "Take five (minutes)" rest breaks.
We gathered that the plot of this particular show is Jack's anxiety to rent out a room in his home, so much so that he rents it to a man who claims a cat as a pet. Payoff is that the cat turns out to be a lion. One of the whispered conferences eliminates in agreement that all scenes with the lion be separately filmed without a studio audience. They walk through a scene where an actress, presumably Jack's secretary, ducks under the desk on spying the lion.

Next in the script Jack tiptoes over and places a gentle kick on her derriere. The actress feigns indignation and the stage echoes with laughter. Good humor abounds on a Benny rehearsal and when Benny indulges a rare prank, humor bounces high indeed. We couldn't hear what the actress said, but Benny literally doubled over with laughter.
DURING SHORT BREAKS, Benny doesn't sit down, preferring to converse with the crew and pry information on their technical problems. In one instance, it seemed the cameraman was instructing him on the finer details of handling a camera. We had a vision of Benny as a young lad being chased out of the kitchen by an exasperated mother.
Came a longer rest break and we went to the privacy of Benny's dressing room-office. It was as unpretentious as Benny himself, who was garbed as always on rehearsals in slacks and wrinkled sports shirt.
It was our turn to pry and Jack said he would continue next season with his weekly half-hour format. He'll continue with his yearly schedule of four or five concerts, 22 of which to date have grossed over two million dollars for music charities. He is keenly involved in expansion of his J&M Productions, which aside from his which aside from his already launched the "Checkmate" and "Ichabod and Me" series.
HE IS AWARE and troubled by current events, yet doesn't care to air his opinions for publication. Ostensibly, he feels a comedian should maintain a public "image" as a laughmaker, not a lecturer.
We were interrupted by a long-distance call from New York. On the other end of the line was Hugh Downs. From Jack's one-sided conversation, we gathered Downs was a forthcoming guest on a Benny show ("- - -read the script, Hugh, and tell me if you want any changes made") and that the show possibly would be themed on Benny's attempt to take over the Jack Paar Show ("---if you see something that Paar would see something that Paar would way, we'll have a dog as the mystery guest — the son of Lassie, or something like that. And you'll be sharing guesting honors with Rock Hudson"). End of conversation.
Came a call for Benny to return to his rehearsal. We shook hands as Benny arose from his chair with a smile, walked to the door, then turned with a quizzical look that faded his smile to a frown, and said: "Say, I wonder if this darn lion is as tame as they claim? Why should they worry about what he might do with an audience present? I'll be closer to him than the audience will!"

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Woolworth's of Animation

An awful lot of cartoons over the years have been neglected and even ridiculed. There was a time a few decades ago that the feeling was if it wasn’t Disney, it was junk. Then came the rise of animation historians who rightfully pointed out the funny characters and dialogue of the Warner Bros. cartoons, the genius of Tex Avery, the fluidity and expert pantomime of MGM’s Tom and Jerry and the off-beat sense of humour employed in the Fleischer cartoons. But everything else? Well, that left something to be desired.

Take Terrytoons, for example. Leonard Maltin, in Of Mice and Magic, dismissed them as repetitious, artistically stunted and cheap. Frankly, he has a point. Even the studio’s founder dismissed them as inexpensive theatre time-filler before the feature film. But that doesn’t mean there was a complete lack of entertainment value in the studio’s output and, after all, entertainment is what animated cartoons are ultimately supposed to be (something UPA, with its “Look at our Art-with-a-capital-A” attitude didn’t understand a whole lot).

The Terry cartoons have their champions today, who enjoy the taffy-pulling animation of Jim Tyer or the well-planned movement of Carlo Vinciguerra (later Vinci). And there are the early sound cartoons with inanimate objects springing to life for the sake of a gag. Among the champions when the Terry cartoons were still unappreciated by some animation critics were former Terry employees themselves. They took part in an exhibit in 1982 sponsored by the Council on the Arts in New Rochelle, New York, where the cartoons were made. The local paper gave space to a feature article on the history of the studio. It appeared February 1, 1982.

Terry’s works remain in tune

Mighty Mouse was born in New Rochelle. So were Heckle and Jeckle, Tom Terrific, Deputy Dawg, Dinky Duck and Hector Heathcote. They were born on the drawing boards of Paul Terry's Terrytoons animation studio located in this Westchester city for more than 40 years. This fact will be proclaimed for all to examine when the New Rochelle Council on the Arts holds a Terrytoons retrospective with an exhibition, reunion dinner, animated film showings, and other events, from Wednesday, Feb. 10 to Sunday, Feb. 28.
Whether seen in a “trailer” after a movie or as the main attraction on early morning television, these cartoon stars and others, including Billy Bear, Farmer Al Falfa, Little Roquefort and Sidney the Elephant, remain nostalgic memories for children of all ages.
Dwarfed by the impact of Disney, the work of Terry and his studios has not been given its due, said Eli Bauer, a former Terrytoons employee, and others who are planning this event. Which is the reason behind the celebration.
Doug Crane of New Rochelle, a former Terrytoons animator, agreed. “If we don’t do it now, the history of Terrytoons will be lost and people will forget it was ever in New Rochelle,” he said, just as they have forgotten that the West Side of New Rochelle was a movie production area in the ‘20s.
Descriptions of the days at Terrytoons are a series of name-dropping sessions. Comedian Dayton Allen was the voice of Heckle and Jeckle, as well as Deputy Dawg, and Dick Van Dyke did Barker Bill. There are remembrances by Bauer of visits to the studio by Jonathan Winters and Carl Reiner , who brainstormed gag ideas and also did voice-overs.
Bauer and Jules Feiffer worked desk to desk. Feiffer “knew that he would go on,” said Bauer. His time at Terrytoons “was part of his growth period” during which he was doing “Sick, Sick. Sick” for the Village Voice and working on a book of the same title.
Bill Tytla, who animated a “Night on Bald Mountain” for Disney’s “Fantasia,” started at Terry. As did Ralph Bakshi (creator of “Fritz the Cat,” “Heavy Traffic” and “Lord of the Rings) when he was just a “young kid.”
Bauer’s wife, Dianne, remembered studio employees working closely together. “This one would say ‘How about a wartime character?’ and somebody else would say ‘Right, he could be a Minute Man,’ with a third saying ‘How about a Minute-and-a-half Man because he’s always late.’ And as they pitched the story they would use different voices. The head of the story department was Tommy Morrison, now deceased, who was the voice of Mighty Mouse,” she said.
Everyone connected with Terrytoons depicted it as a spawning ground for talent throughout the animation industry with alumni going off to Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and other studios.
Crane, an animator, recalled Terry as “a tough old codger. A businessman, not an artist, who was smart enough to hire the right guys. The right guys, according to Crane, were Connie Rasinski and Artie Bartsch, both deceased, plus Johnny “Gent” Gentilella and Larry Silverman. “When I walked in there I was fascinated by the smell of the paint... I could see Connie from my desk and I thought he was cracking up. He would do a little action, look in the mirror and sit down and animate,” said Crane.
On Thursday nights Rasinski would teach animation to fledgling artists at Terrytoons and that was how a whole generation of animators learned its craft. “It’s a tough business trying to make these things move right,” Crane said. “Disney wasn't the only one who did animation,” he emphasized.
“I think that Terry gave to the world a lot of smiles in bad times and he was there for a long time. If a man does nothing but lift your spirits when you're down he’s done a great thing.”
For while Terry was the first to acknowledge that Disney was the “Tiffany's in this business” and he “the Woolworth’s,” Terrytoons was a pioneer in the field of animation and created characters that are still popular today.
With a background in newspaper art, the California-native came East in 1911, worked for the New York Press and also drew a comic strip called Alonzo. On the side, using a secondhand camera, Terry began developing techniques for animation.
“At one time he devised an early matte system in which the background would be photographed separately and then the characters and action sandwiched together to make a print. His first film was animated on paper with the background overlaid on a cel (clear acetate sheet),” said Leonard Maltin in his book “Of Mice and Magic.”
Terry sold his first animated film “Little Herman” to Thanhouser, a New Rochelle-based film company, but not before screening it for some neighbourhood youngsters in the company’s projection room. There he learned a valuable lesson.
He learned that cartoons were for “kids.”
According to Maltin, Terry said, “When they ran the picture, these kids began to squeal. And that tipped me off to the idea to draw things that would appeal to kids; because if they laughed at it, the adults wouldn’t have to know if it was funny, or whether it wasn’t, because kids’ laughter is so infectious. I decided right then and there, you make pictures for kids.”
Which he did. First as the creator of Farmer Al Falfa as a staff animator for John R. Bray and then as initiator of a series of animated cartoons based on Aesop’s Fables for Howard Estabrook. After an interruption for Army service in 1917, Terry was associated with Fables Studio, Van Beuren Productions and in various partnerships.
Terry and the late Frank H. Moser formed a partnership in 1929 with $500 in capital. They worked together until 1935, when following the studio’s move from New York City to 271 North Ave., New Rochelle, Terry bought out Moser for $24,200. A year later Moser initiated a lawsuit against Terry claiming “fraud,” but lost. The remaining firm, known as Terrytoons, moved to 38 Centre Ave. in 1949.
Terry, who lived in Larchmont until his death in 1971, headed the firm until 1956 when the studio was sold to CBS. Terrytoons closed its doors for good in the early ‘70s and its film library remains in the hands of Viacom.
“We knew we were part of a mass market,” said Bauer, who was with the studio from 1957-62 during its CBS era. In those days the studio produced 12 new cartoons a year and re-released 12 from their film library, generating a considerable output annually.
“We considered ourselves visual writers,” said Bauer, who worked as a story layout and design staffer. “We started a cartoon with a series of gags and then added the dialogue, unless the gag itself had to do with the dialogue. There’d generally be a conflict (between the characters) and that would involve a series of gags.”
The early days attracted many young and eager artists, writers and aspiring animators to the studio’s doorstep. They included the late Tommy Morrison, whose mother worked at the studio and is now celebrating her 102nd birthday in New Rochelle, and the late Philip A. Scheib; as well as Jack Zander and Joe Barbera. William Weiss was in charge of the business end as executive producer and was assisted for many years by Nicholas Alberti.
When CBS took over, Gene Deitch brought in a new crew of young talent which featured Bauer, Doug Crane, Al Kouzel, Ernest Pintoff, Howard Beckerman, Paul Terry still at work years later and Tod Dockstader. The outfit also included future super-stars Feiffer and Bakshi. Looking back, Crane recently asked, “Wasn’t it a thrill when you watched those films when Mighty Mouse came to the rescue? We thrilled and cheered. We knew he’d come through.”
And now this retrospective is coming through to ensure Terrytoons’ place in history.
JACQUELINE PERELSON is Lifestyles Editor of The Standard-Star, New Rochelle.

If I had to pick a favourite Terry series, it’s pretty easy. It’d be Heckle and Jeckle, with Tom Terrific in second spot. The two lippy con artists are very much in the Warners vein, though they’re not as creative verbally as Bugs and Daffy and the direction isn’t on par with Chuck Jones and his poses or Friz Freleng with his impeccable timing. Still, the chase formula works as it keeps the pace of the cartoon going, the action can get creatively silly and, occasionally, the stars are victimised in twist endings and come out losers. Here’s “Bulldozing the Bull” (1950). As far as I know, this is the only cartoon where the two magpies identify themselves. The animation of the pair of them walking in the stadium looks like Carlo Vinci’s work to me, if I had to guess.

Friday, 26 July 2013

That Cow's Plane Crazy

An historic cartoon starts with a black screen. Slowly, something appears. It’s a cow walking away from the camera. Pretty inventive stuff.

It’s the opening from the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, “Plane Crazy.” Mike Barrier’s fine research reveals that Ub Iwerks started drawing it in late April 1928, with Ben Clopton doing some kind of assistant work until leaving the studio on May 12th. The cartoon was previewed on May 15th. I’ve read no reviews of the preview, if any were ever written. As you likely know, Walt Disney soon decided sound was the coming thing, so a soundtrack was recorded for it in New York City on November 13th and 14th, just days before “Steamboat Willie” opened to the critics’ delight at the Colony Theatre. “Plane Crazy” was then released with sound, the score provided by Carl Stalling.

Incidentally, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising weren’t above lifting ideas from the Oswald cartoons they worked on in the ‘20s and reusing them in their cartoons released by Warner Bros. Hugh and Rudy didn’t work on “Plane Crazy” but they stole the cow-walking-away-camera-opening for the 1930 Looney Tune “The Booze Hangs High.” I’m no Oswald expert so I don’t know if this opening was used in an Oswald silent cartoon.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Tweety Clobbers Dog

Rubbery animation abounds when Tweety clobbers a bulldog with his bone in “A Gruesome Twosome” (released 1945). A few frames.

The dog pushes its head out of the dirt.

And looks at Tweety. These are consecutive drawings.

Manny Gould, Rob Scribner, Basil Davidovich and Bob McKimson are the credited animators on this.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Inner Thoughts From the Inner Tube Comedienne

When you’re a nobody in show business, you can try to tackle any role. Once you’re a somebody, especially after a monster hit, the audience has pretty well decided what role they’ll accept you in.

Here’s a good example. Can you picture the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” the story of the girl from Holland killed by the Nazis, played by Ruth Buzzi? Yes, that Ruth Buzzi. And I’m not talking about some send-up on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” with Ruth as spinster Gladys Ormphby yucking it up with Arte Johnson’s uniformed Nazi.

See how audiences stereotype performers?

Buzzi probably wouldn’t consider herself an overnight success on “Laugh-In,” but the show cascaded with such instant force on the television audience of 1968 it overshadowed everything the cast members had done before. In Buzzi’s case, if you had tuned in on the right episode early in the run of “That Girl,” you would have caught her. Before that, she landed the role of Granny Goodwitch in the 1964 cartoon series “Linus the Lionhearted.” But before that, Ruth Buzzi played the most famous teenaged victim of the Holocaust as a teenaged actress hoping to break into show business.

In 1957, the 20-year-old Buzzi was an unknown, appearing in summer stock in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Albuquerque Tribune decided the story of an aspiring actress might make good copy on the Women’s Page. Here’s the story it published on July 13, 1957. Her comments are refreshing to read, full of youth and hope.

Actress Got Comedy Start in Fanny Dances

Buzzin’ Ruth Buzzi from Wequetequock, Conn., is one of those people who bubble with all the vim, and vitality that life has to offer.
She and three other actors from the Pasadena Playhouse are here for the Little Theater productions of “Janus,” “The Fourposter,” “Pappa Is All,” and “Wedding Breakfast.” The latter opened the summer stock season.
Miss Buzzi says she has to be busy or buzzin’ to be happy. And she’s a snappy brunette who can put her friends, or her audience, in stitches by a flip of her clever tongue or a contortion of her pretty face.
“Ever since I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a comedienne,” she said in an interview. “But I didn’t want to tell anybody.”
Dancing Student
She had been taking ballet and tap lessons from the time she was a second grader, but “somehow I just wasn’t as good as the rest.” But in the eighth grade, she got the chance to do “funny dances”—take-offs on ballets and contemporary dances—and it was right then and there that she found her niche.
Yes, Miss Buzzi does want to be a comedienne, but along with that ambition she doesn’t want to be typed as such.
“I’d rather become a dramatic actress first .... because I hope to act in both types of roles. That is why I admire Alec Guiness so much . . . he is accepted in serious or funny parts.”
The 5'3" actress of Italian descent is the daughter of one of the leading stone sculptors in the United States. A monument maker chiefly, he has done many famous carvings on government buildings and memorials in Washington, D. C.
High School Cheerleader
“None of my family has ever been in the theater—but they could have been. They are quite talented . . . all of them,” she said. Her recently married brother Harold plays the accordion, and her 11-year-old brother Eddie plays saxophone.
“My parents are behind me all the way in this career—they are just grand,” she added.
Miss Buzzi, who will be 21 July 24, went to high school in Pawcatuck, Conn., where she was active in 4-H, the cheerleading squad and the dramatics club. “I learned to cook and sew... I really like to,” she declared.
Immediately after high school, the went to the Pasadena Playhouse. She was graduated in June.
Enjoys Music, Painting
When she has some spare time, she finds an outlet in the expression of two other talents: piano and painting.
She said she’s enjoying her stay in Albuquerque. “It’s just like a vacation,” she said. “The other day we were learning our lines as we floated in rubber inner tubes in the motel swimming pool!”
“When I go back to California (Hollywood) this summer, I’m going to take singing lessons. Not that I can sing—only that I think it will help my voice. And someday . . . maybe ... I’d like to do musical comedies.”
Hers [sic] first dramatic part was Belinda Pryde in “Ramshackle Inn.” She was in high school at the time.
Plays with Vallee
Since then, she has played Emily Kimbrough in “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” Ann in “The Diary of Ann Franck,” [sic] Louka in “Arms and the Man,” the shop lifter in “The Detective Story,” the TB patient in “Bury the Dead” and the countess in “Cherry Orchard.”
She likes the part of Emily Kimbrough the best, for she says, “It’s just me all over!”
Her biggest thrill came last winter at school when she played opposite Rudy Vallee in “Jenny Kissed Me.” The show ran six weeks at the playhouse and then went to the Geary Theater and the Curran Theater in San Francisco.
“Oh, I’ve also played the witch in Macbeth!” she exclaimed. “Somehow, I usually get character parts, and I dearly love to play them.” Does she have a boy friend?
“No, I’ve got several!” Seriously, she thinks marriage would be fine in six or seven years. ... and her only comment was a twinkling, “Whoever gets me gets the stage.”

Ruth Buzzi was very funny on “Laugh-In.” But the show soon wore out its catchphrases and its welcome. Buzzi survived rather nicely afterward because she was very funny wherever she went. She was in demand on variety shows (until they, too, petered out), cartoons and children’s TV. Today, She writes on Twitter: “I'm happily retired from showbiz; enjoying our cats, horses, cows, and the cowboy lifestyle in beautiful north Texas with my husband!” It’s not quite what she expected when she surveyed her future from an inner tube in a motel swimming pool in Albuquerque 56 years ago. And it’s a loss for her fans who enjoy her comedic talents. But there are a few things about a performer’s life that an audience can’t control.

A Day at the Races

MGM had a string of terrific full-page trade ads for the Marx Brothers. I spotted these in The Film Daily in rooting through some 1937 editions and pass them on.

Yeah, Harpo should probably be playing the metal fence but the art’s great anyway. I gather that piece is by Jacques Kapralik.

Here’s a Metro comic strip that you can blow up. I’d love to see the colour version.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Smog jokes were pretty common in the early ‘50s; you’d hear them all the time on network radio shows.

The best-known one in a cartoon is in the Chuck Jones opus “What’s Opera, Doc?” (1957) but Tex Avery and writer Heck Allen pulled off one in a string of sight gags in “Little Johnny Jet” (released 1953). Little Johnny helps his obsolete prop plane father win the big race by zipping past various landmarks. In this cartoon, they go so fast, the smog over Los Angeles is dragged away in their wake.

I’ll bet those orange groves are long gone. The background drawings are by Johnny Johnsen. It’s conjecture on my part that Ed Benedict did the layouts.

Ray Patterson came over from the H-B unit to help animate this one, along with Bob Bentley, Mike Lah, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons.

Monday, 22 July 2013

An, Ugh, Commoner

Not all of Jay Ward’s cartoons were crude products of inexperienced Mexican animators. Ward always wanted his shows to be made in Hollywood and he got his wish with parts of “Rocky and His Friends.” A number of his “Fractured Fairy Tales” were animated either by his own studio or subcontracted to TV Spots.

One of them his own studio did was “Cinderella Returns,” yet another cartoon with fast and funny dialogue and top voice work by June Foray, Bill Scott and Daws Butler (and, of course, Edward Everett Horton). You can tell it was made by an experienced crew because they did what they could to get the most out of the limited animation. Some of the layouts are overhead angles and there are camera movements during dialogue (instead of just cutting from a close-up to a medium shot). I like the multiples and speed lines during the scene where Cinderella is dancing with Prince Edgar the Mild.

And there’s even perspective animation of the Prince being twirled toward the camera. It’s something almost never tried down the street at Hanna-Barbera around the same time.

There were so many elements to “Rocky and His Friends” that it would have been impossible for Keith Scott’s indispensable book The Moose That Roared to reveal who worked on each cartoon. But it does about this one. The director was Ted Parmalee and Jim Hiltz animated it. George Atkins likely wrote the story.