Wednesday, 19 November 2014

How To Be a Star

George O’Hanlon is known today only as George Jetson and it’s a shame. O’Hanlon’s original fame came from a series of funny one-reelers released by Warner Bros. in the 1940s and ‘50s which deserve wider exposure.

The Joe McDoakes shorts weren’t really rerun much on television (unlike one-reel animated cartoons or the Three Stooges two-reelers) and attempts to put together a McDoakes sitcom failed. It’s too bad, because the few shorts in the series I’ve seen are enjoyable. They benefit not only from good comic acting but the direction and writing of Richard Bare. The best of the McDoakes have some gentle spoofing and, at times, they get surreal, similar in a way to Bare’s great TV series “Green Acres,” where the bizarre was accepted as a normal way of living.

O’Hanlon and Bare talk a bit about their light pokes in this United Press interview from 1947. O’Hanlon died in 1989 after a stroke (he had just finished a recording session as George Jetson). Bare is still with us at age 101.

Advice on How to Be a Movie Star By a Couple of Gents Who Are Not

HOLLYWOOD, Feb. 18 (UP)—The brothers Warner would have fallen right out of their gold-trimmed swivel chairs if they had seen two of the 2,504 hirelings today. These two characters, ignoring their bosses’ blood pressure, were handing out advice. On how to be a movie star.
Yet they’re quite a stretch from being in that category themselves.
Well, except in a way. They look like movie stars. George O’Hanlon resembles Burgess Meredith a bit and Richard Bare might pass for Cary Grant in the dusk. O’Hanlon and Bare grind out those 10-minute comedies that flash on the screen while you’re out in the lobby having a smoke, waiting for Burgess Meredith and Cary Grant to come on in the main event.
So how come these fellows know so much about being movie stars?
“We look so much like ‘em,” explained O’Hanlon, “that movie stars are always mistaking us for movie stars. We’re on the inside, see?”
Besides, he added, if a movie-towner wants to know something he should ask some yokel who’s not suppose to know. Then he’ll find out.
They gathered their advice by eavesdropping under tables at the Brown Derby and loafing, disguised as lampposts, at Hollywood and Vine.
Then they rolled it into a comedy short, “So you wants be a movie star.” This neatly fits into their “so you wanta” series, which points a stern finger at cringing movie patrons. Things like “so you want quit smoking,” and “so you wanta have a nervous breakdown.”
“We’ll tell you some things about stars that you won’t find in our picture,” hissed Bare.
Here’s their formula. If you wanta be a star, turn bald, elope with your best friend’s wife and report your house robbed once a year.
“A man can’t have more than 10 hairs on his noggin,” explained Bare, parking his number 10’s on somebody else’s desk while we prayed Mssrs. Warner & Warner weren’t peeking. “Haven’t you heard of the hairdressers’ union—Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Charles Boyer?”
A star should also have a face that takes two hours to paint and four hours to light, our experts continued. Gives the makeup men and electricians something to do.
And when an actor is told to choose a script, they said, he rips the title page from a best-seller and writes new insides. That’ll make him a star, says Profs. O’Hanlon and Bare.
Now we come to a star’s social life.
Our hero, they said, must get married only one (whazzis?) Otherwise he’ll be broke coughing up alimony. His one wife, they said, should have been his best friend’s.
“It’s being done, you know,” said O’Hanlon, glancing at a picture of Van Johnson.
“And for publicity,” said O’Hanlon, “what’s better than having your house robbed?” Or giving advice on how to be movie stars?
An actor also can have himself paged at a nitery for only two bucks a month, Bare pointed out. Of course, the star never answers the page at first. He waits until everyone is looking at him.
Now if you’re not a star in two weeks under this formula, said Bare and O’Hanlon, tactfully examining their nails, better leave town. They are.

My favourite of the McDoakes shorts is “So You Want To Be A Detective,” a brilliant spoof where the killer turns out to be narrator Art Gilmore. I spotted another short the other day so watch it before the inevitable corporate take-down order. The mechanical sight gags are ingenious and Bill Lava cooked up a nice little score. The short was released on June 27, 1955, which seems late to be parodying the John J. Anthony radio show (complete with “Don’t touch the microphone”), but the people watching this at the time would be familiar with it. And you should be familiar with the uncredited actor who plays Mr. Agony. He’s Arthur Q. Bryan, the voice of Elmer Fudd. He’s a lot thinner in this than he was in the early ‘40s.


  1. Among his feature credits, O'Hanlon played Steve Brody in 1952's "Park Row", and he certainly doesn't sound like Billy Bletcher doing his turn as Brodie with Bugs a few years earlier (in fact, for those coming at the movie after spending years watching "The Jetsons" the fact that George O'Hanlon's real voice sounds like George O'Hanlon's cartoon voice at least momentarily takes you out of the situation. Not a major problem if, say, you're talking about Alan Reed doing his usual voice in a TV sitcom and you're going from a human comedy from an animated one; more problematic when in the middle of an 1880s period piece newspaper drama, you're thinking about Spacely Sprockets).

  2. Tralfaz: I don't have to tell you my credentials, since you once linked to my Joe McDoakes website. But if you've seen only two of these shorts (two of the best, for sure), I highly recommend that you buy the DVD series from Warner Home Video. Hours of great laughs in it.

  3. One of the advantages to the DVD era was that many of the classic live-action comedy shorts got released as bonus features to accompany film classics. The animated shorts have been around for years, getting rerun endlessly on television, but the live-action shorts somehow got lost in the shuffle. Several of the Warner Brothers releases featuring stars such as Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, and Doris Day included some of the finest of the Warners shorts, especially the Joe McDoakes series. I agree that "So You Want to be a Detective" is one of the best in the series. George O'Hanlon naturally does sound remarkably like George Jetson, but once you get used to seeing the antics of a live-action George, it's easy to readjust to the world of McDoakes. Most of the old live-action shorts did not make me laugh out loud. These did.

  4. Steve, I've probably seen a half dozen. For a number of reasons, I cannot buy from WHV.
    JL, I can't remember where it was, but O'Hanlon did an interview where he insisted he was not a cartoon voice actor and the only voice he had was his own.