Saturday, 28 February 2015

Leon Looks Back

Leon Schlesinger’s claim to fame was running a production company that made animated cartoons, but he and his brothers were around show business for a number of years before that. All of them were involved with theatres.

It’s hard to say whether it was due to interest in cartoons being boosted by the production of Disney’s “Snow White,” or some aggressive press agentry by Rose Joseph, but a pile of articles quoting Schlesinger started popping up around 1937. This story appeared in the Buffalo Courier-Express, January 31, 1937. It’s mostly a reminiscence and only deals partly with his cartoon studio. One can only imagine the reaction of Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising as Schlesinger relates how he made “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub.” Then, again, credit went to the top. The top paid the bills. And had the press agents.

Cartoon producer waxes reminiscent of old days in show business and stars whom he met when legitimate theater was going strong.

HOLLYWOOD, CAL., Jan. 30—“Somebody once said, with more cleverness than fairness, that the motion picture industry's typical executive is a man who has risen from pressing pants to pressing buttons. They're got to leave me out when they say this, because I have the longest career in show business of any film executive. I started as an usher, as a boy, and I've been through every phase of show business, except acting, before I came into films as a producer of cartoon comedies.”
This from Leon Schlesinger, genial ex-Chicagoan who makes Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, for Warner Brothers release. Considerable attention has been attracted to the Schlesinger outfit by the release of Coo Coo Nut Grove, a colored musical short, containing caricatures of many of Hollywood's notables. Clark Gable is shown, flapping his ears to applaud an act; Katharine Hepburn is caricatured as a horse, Hardy of Laurel and Hardy as a pig. Jack Barrymore is billed as “Profile Barrymore.”
So They Can Take It?
In general, the darlings of the film colony are called on to “take” a bit of rough but good humoured kidding. How have they liked it?
“At the Boulevard theater where it has been shown, the box office girl reports that Hepburn came four times to laugh at herself and Gable at least twice, mesmerized by the rhythmic waving of his own ears. That ought to answer any questions about can Hollywood stars take it,” says Schlesinger. “My new plans are for a comedy burlesque on Cinderella, using a caricature of Garbo as the girl with the feet in the glass slippers. Any place in the world, prominent people know that they will be cartooned, or burlesqued. It's only natural that Hollywood stars should come in for some of the same thing. My experience with show people is that they love this sort of thing. After all it is advertising, in a way, and a compliment too.”
“Oh, yeah?” says this writer.
Many years ago, Schlesinger took care of the box office at the then new Colonial Theater in Chicago when in 1908 it was opened by George Lederer. He kept a book of photos and autographs of the stars who played there over a long period of time, and today that little book is in the top drawer of his desk in the business office of his studio. He took it out for us; there was the signature of John Drew, uncle of John Barrymore; Lina Abarbanell and George Damerel in The Merry Widow. Incidentally Damerel, who played Prince Danilo, has some claim to radio fame today; his wife and daughter are your favorites, Myrt and Marge.
Maclyn Arbuckle, Jimmy McIntyre, of Mclntyre & Heath; Charley Ross of Ross & Penton; Johnny Slavin, then playing with Anna Held; Elsie Ferguson, then in Such a Little Queen; pictures of those, and many others, with their autographs, are in the little book. “One day,” says Schlesinger, “I slipped a pass, made out in Anna Held's handwriting, and in French, into my purse. Here it is,” and there it was, faded and frayed, but treasured in the purse.
Santley and Barrymore
"Joseph Santley, now a Hollywood director, was getting his start in those days, before he went into musical comedy; he was playing in a melodrama, Billy the Kid, as the hero. I remember Jack Barrymore in what I believe was his first stage role; he was in The Dictator with Willie Collier, over at the La Salle Theater. It was a road show; Barrymore was in stock.
“The other day, I met Lottie Williams out at Warner Brothers; in the old days, she was a soubrette in the ten-twenty-thirty houses in Chicago, and had as many as 200 stage door Johnnies awaiting outside to see her come out. She's 60 now; she gets $50 a week on her stock contract at Warners now. She's lucky to be taken care of that way.
"Bob McIntyre, casting director at United Artists now, and for some years past, used to be in the box office of the old Wall Street Theater in Philadelphia at that time.
“I can remember when The Merry Widow opened in Chicago. The marble foyer of the theater, with its ornamental stairway, was a brilliant spectacle, filled with the cream of Chicago society. A string orchestra played in the foyer, and the first nighters waited, until at 1 o'clock, the string of carriages began arriving to take them home. The Swifts, the Marshall Fields, the Potter Palmers, and all the rest were there. The celebrated Everleigh Sisters were regular patterns of our theater, they always bought three seats, two to sit in, and a third for their hats. Chicago at that time was a very colorful city; we used to have the yearly Follies come on from New York, along with all the other good things of the theater that made history.
Twenty Years in Films
“In 1917 I found myself entering the film business. I was a picture salesman for the old Metro Company. Later I managed a de luxe movie house in New York; in 1922 I came to Hollywood to sell raw stock to the studios which I did for two years. Then I bought the Pacific Title and Arts Studio which in the silent days Blade those printed titles; we still do a good business.
“In 1930 Jack Warner came to me and asked me to take charge of some experimental pictures along the animated cartoon line; the first one I made was a burlesque of a hit number in the first Gold Diggers film, Singing in the Bathtub, and it was a hit and I made twelve more.
“Later I developed the technicolor end of it for one cartoon series, known as Merrie Melodies; they have been running for six years now. Our Looney Tunes had their seventh birthday this year. Our yearly output is now 34 cartoon shorts, eighteen Merrie Melodies and sixteen Looney Tunes. Our newest screen character whom we intend to build for stardom is Porky Pig.”
A tour of the Schlesinger plant shows a very busy bunch of cartoonists giving their brain children an airing on paper, for the approval of the boss. Story conferences are held, just as in a regular studio, but plot must be worked out with a series of arresting sketches, instead of with words. Then there are the animators, who supply the in-between pictures between the high spots of action.
Calculations Meticulous
Twenty-four pictures must be made for one seconds screen release. Accompanying sound effects and music must be keyed to a carefully made chart, in which action is indicated, worked out in beats, just as music. For instance, it may take fifteen beats on the key for Porky Pig to turn around. I may be less than a second on the screen. Sounds and music must be calculated to conform. It may look very breezy and amusing on the screen but it's meticulously calculated in the studio laboratories.
Backgrounds are traced and finally painted on huge celluloid sheets. On these drawings of characters are imposed, also drawn on celluloid sheets. Not more than five layers of such superimposed characters can be photographed. They are all keyed together by holes at the top of the sheets. When the lineup is complete, the camera, operating on a lever that raises and lowers it, photographs these sketches. Roughly, 11,000 such sketches are used for three minutes on the screen.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Sir Mix-It-Up-A-Lot-With-A-Dragon

Perhaps it’s best that “One Droopy Knight” didn’t win the Oscar. After all, who would have accepted it? The awards were handed out in March 1958, months after MGM shut down its cartoon studio.

Many of the gags are lifted from earlier, Tex Avery Droopy cartoons (Homer Brightman got the story credit). Here’s a collision gag with an Avery-like “break into pieces” ending. Director Mike Lah and layout artist Ed Benedict gave the dragon some good expressions through the cartoon. Note when the impact happens, the background changes to coloured cards.

Herman Cohen, Irv Spence, Ken Southworth and Bill Schipek were given the animation credits. Bill Thompson supplies all the voices, except the woman’s scream which likely came from the studio’s effects reels.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Snafu Head Outlines

Snafu hears Technical Fairy (First Class) tell him to hide from the Nazis by getting into the shadow in “A Lecture on Camouflage” (1944). Note how his ear grows to hear the instruction.

Snafu’s still a little confused from a hard landing on the ground, thanks to the bad guys. I like how outlines of his head sprout up and weave around to show how dazed he is.

This Screen Magazine short from the Chuck Jones unit is probably more famous for its mermaid breasts at the end than anything else.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Night With Fred Allen

A while ago, we posted an article from PM from a reporter who attended a broadcast of the Jack Benny radio show. Today, we do the same thing, only the subject is Benny’s mock adversary, Fred Allen.

This appeared in PM on April 28, 1948. Leo the Lip had guested on the second half of Allen’s show on April 25th.

Man Has Fun at Allen Broadcast
By John McNulty

Excuse me for crowding, Seymour Peck, radio editor, but Al Durante, over at the J. Walter Thompson ad agency, sent me a couple of tickets to see and hear the Fred Allen broadcast last Sunday night, the night Leo Durocher from Brooklyn was on, and it was great fun I'd like to tell about.
Since Mr. Sullivan from Boston (Fred Allen, that is) was trouping along the vaudeville trail, I've been hammering my way into theaters to see him. At the Colonial, in Lawrence, Mass., for example, or the Keith-Albee, in Columbus, O. (Burns O'Sullivan, mgr.) and along with Ed Wynn and James Durante, he is one of the three top funny-men of the world. Sunday night, I learned that the 15 minutes he does in the studio, before the show goes on the air, are at least 50 per cent more comical than the half hour that goes out to a jillion listeners from 8:30 to 9 o'clock.
And the half-hour that goes out is plenty good, plenty funny. Yet in the prior 15 minutes, Allen is not cramped, tethered, hog-tied, and straitjacketed by the needs, real or imaginary, of radio. The comedy of the 15 minutes in the studio is seven furlongs higher in intelligence, fantasy, sleekness, and niftiness than the stuff that goes out on the air.
"Vice-presidents of radio," Allen said during Sunday's 15-minute prologue to the ether (this was before he went under the ether, as the saying goes) "are men who do not know what their jobs are. By the time they learn what their jobs are, they are no longer with the organization.
(Gor! I'm garbling this thing up, but when the great Fred Allen is out there doing his stuff, no man of sense is wasting his time by trying to take notes. To heck with the notes!)
"The word 'heck'," said Allen, "was invented by the National Broadcasting Company. The National Broadcasting Company denies the existence of hell and the Columbia Broadcasting System—although not necessarily in that order."
(That remark, also, was only for us privileged handful in the studio. Too amusing for the general public.)
Allen began talking about the way thousands troop through, and wander aimlessly through, the RCA building, including hundreds of people from New Jersey. "Lately," he said, "these wanderers have taken to dropping into offices in the building and giving orders to vice-presidents. Still more lately, however, this situation has been equalized a little, because now, at stated intervals during the day, the vice-presidents are allowed to go out on the street and give orders to people who happen to be passing by. It's doing the vice-presidents the world of good, getting them out in the open air. Brings the bloom of health to their faces. One vice-president, I noticed, has only one rosy cheek. He hasn't been outside quite enough to take care of both cheeks, but all in good time, all in good time."
Maybe these samples don't stand up so well in print, but they're vastly funnier than what goes out on the air, and, I repeat, what goes out on the air from a Fred Allen show is still the funniest stuff in radio.
Mr. Durocher, or Labial Leo, was an amazingly calm and deft mike performer, too. He'd just lost a ball game, but you'd never know it watching him do his stuff Sunday night.
The Dodger manager seemed as much at home before the microphone as was Minerva Pious, that wonderful Mrs. Nussbaum. Only complaint I have against him is that he went sartorially a trifle into the territory of Harry Balogh, the Madison Square Garden fight-announcer. For years, as Daniel Fosdick Parker (Balogh's creator) has stated, Balogh has been the city's best handkerchief-display man. That is, he has been able to show more, and whiter, handkerchiefs from the breast-pocket of his jacket than anybody else in town. Also, he is noted as the only man who can make a handkerchief display five distinct points, as it sticks out from the pocket. It's some trick of folding the thing, a trick only Balogh knows. Well, sir, Durocher out-did Balogh for the broadcast. The amount of handkerchief sticking out of the Durocher breast-pocket would have covered third base, and that might not be a bad idea. I thought it ever-so-slightly flamboyant. That's quibbling, I fear, but I've got to put the knock on something, the whole rest of the column is praise, always an unpopular thing with readers.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Running Atom

Atom the dog spots (with night-time vision) a scrounging cat near the start of Tex Avery’s great “King Size Canary.”

He gets ready.

There’s a unique sequence of drawings as Atom runs toward the cat. Here are the first seven of them. It’s tough to see here, but Atom leaps up and stretches out, almost lands flat on his head with his body on top, then leaps to run again.

Whoever the animator was didn’t re-use drawings, the second leap and run are similar but not the same.

Bob Bentley, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton get the animation credits.

How long did it take this cartoon to be released? Variety reported on October 23, 1945 that Scott Bradley had been assigned to write the score for it and “Lonesome Lenny.” It was released December 6, 1947.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Hidden Jones and Freleng

Friz Freleng’s “All Abir-r-r-d” doesn’t just have references to staff members in the opening (see this post) but during the baggage car scenes.

Here’s a parcel sent by Mel Blanc to “Fred Fraling.” I can only imagine the variety of ways people mispronounced Friz Freleng’s name. The cartoon studio was at 1351 North Van Ness.

Here’s a crate for another resident of 1351 N. Van Ness—one C. Martin Jones. I suspect you know which cartoon director he is.

The trunk is on its way to Friz Freleng of Pratt Falls, Wisconsin. There may not be a Pratt Falls, but there is a Hawley Pratt who laid out this cartoon.

The label on the green case reads “Tedd Pierce.” Pierce wrote the cartoon. The rest of the label isn’t very readable but it says “Low” and “Nevada.” I presume it’s a Las Vegas/Low Wages gag. I can’t read the label on the red hat box.

“Anyone can ? this one for free”.

Gower Gulch was the nickname of the area at Gower and Sunset, not all that far from the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. At one time, it’s where cowboys hung out to get work as extras in silent westerns.

The inside jokes are again from the brush of background artist Paul Julian.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

A Pair of Dolls

You don’t hear about too many loving relationships in Hollywood, but Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone were occasionally public about theirs’, judging by the number of newspaper stories over the years. The relationship must have been a real one—someone would have exposed it as phoney if it wasn’t (especially those who later revealed they weren’t all the wild about Mary).

Here’s a full-page feature story from the New York Post, June 28, 1947. The photo to the right was one of several accompanying the Post story. Incidentally, that’s the reporter’s real name. He was born in the Waukegan suburb of Chicago on February 12, 1902 and died in New York on October 15, 1990.

‘Doll’ and—‘Doll’

The fabulously successful Jack Bennys are nothing if not simple.
Backstage at the Roxy Theatre, where Jack and his comic troupe recently drew laughs for a reported $10,000 per week, he was explaining while puffing his long cigar:
“Mary and I live quietly in our Beverly Hills house. No big noisy parties, no night clubs. A pleasant evening at home for us is a game of gin rummy with a few very close friends. And then early to bed.
“Food? Oh, we go for good, plain food like chops or hamburgers. I'm not hard to please. My tastes are very simple.”
The chops and hamburgers, though, are prepared by their expert cook. Other appurtenances of the simple Benny household include maid, butler, governess and swimming pool. While in New York they occupy a Sherry Netherlands tower suite.
Jack Benny, discarding his cigar and lighting a fresh one, then turned to his wife and fellow radio performer, Mary Livingstone. Blandly, he delivered this line to her:
“Isn't that so, Doll?”
“Why, of course, Doll,” she answered. In the couple's 20 years of marriage, they've been calling each other “Doll,” occasionally lapsing into “Babe.” Then “Doll” (Mary) turned to the reporter:
“We lead very ordinary lives, really. Our favorite game is golf, shoots in the 80s.”
In Beverly Hills, she added, Jack likes to hang around the house in bathrobe and slippers, and will often receive guests while he's dressed that way. They have a movie projector, and when their close friends — the Robert Taylors, the Gary Coopers or Burns and Allen drop over, a quiet evening of home movies is had by all. Sometimes they'll go to the fights or a night baseball game, or read.
“Oh,” she said, stepping forward and giving him a hug, “he's the easiest person in the world to get along with. We have our arguments, of course, as all married couples do, but I always start them.”
Here the visitor sailed in quickly. “Like what?” he asked.
“Well, for instance, I like to motor across country while Mary prefers riding the trains,” Jack said. “Little things like that. Here, have a cigar.”
Benny doesn't smoke much. Actually, he takes three or four puffs at a good cigar, chews it a while, then throws it away. Lately he has taken to sucking at a tobacco-less pipe so that he might cut down on his cigar-reflex habit. Both cigars and pipe seemed to be personality adjuncts or props, like the fiddle he used in his early vaudeville days.
That is not to say that Benny didn't have the equipment of a good musician. He freely admitted he had studied the violin for nine years, and that he once wanted above all else to become a famous concert violinist. But the ready world of comedy drew him away from that goal.
At 53, Benny, who has been batting out radio comedy since 1932 (following a guest appearance on columnist Ed Sullivan's program), is still plugging realistically along, hammering away to stay on top. With his four gagmen, he has to hit the ball every week, hewing out humor for the millions, and it's very hard work, he said, without going into the mechanical details of it all.
“What I said about leading a simple life wasn't kidding,” he confided, dropping his bland manner. “At home I don't try to be funny. I am a great audience, strictly a listener at home, and when we have guests who say or do funny things, I'm glad to laugh with them, not try to top them.”
He took a puff at another cigar, looked absorbed, spoke in his mouthy drawl of his 13-year-old adopted daughter, Joan, and then said a word or two about his radio comedy technique:
“It's situation comedy. Radio audiences expect certain things from their comedians, and in my case it's situation built around character. I'm supposed to be a pinchpenny, with all the others picking on me.
“Well, to counteract that character in real life, I always overtip. And as to analysis of humor, I never went into that. I don't go in for any highbrow stuff, and as for political leanings, I am just not interested. If you want to know who my favorite humorist is—it's Stephen Leacock. His humor is marvelous.”
Jack, who can look alternately bland and glum, used the word “marvelous” frequently. He said that Mary—she was flitting in and out of the dressing room was a “marvelous” critic of gags, even though she didn't participate in their shaping, that she was wrong only “once in a hundred times.”
Also that she was a “marvelous” dress designer, “the best in the world,” and knew that art so well that she could have been “a millionaire in no time if she followed it.” She has a good eye for clothes, too, and helps Jack select his.
Mary, who had heard some of this, said emphatically that she appears with Jack on his radio program only because he's in it, that she never really cared for show business. She is a tall, slender, charming brunette, with a quick, eager manner. And she is so unaffected that she might readly be taken for any good helpmate wife, solely concerned with supporting her husband's role in life. She gets all jittery, she said, during and after each broadcast, whereas Jack remains calm.
Jack, raised in Waukegan, Ill., but born in Chicago (despite previous reports), is 5-feet-9, fair-looking, and his right eye is bluer than his left. His father was a Waukegan haberdasher.
Jack's climb from a young fiddler looking for a job follows a familiar pattern: vaudeville, then revues and the movies, and finally radio. During World War I he was in the Navy, spending most of his time entertaining with his violin. Soon after this he discovered that joking with audiences brought better response than actually playing the instrument.
Jack's first meeting with Mary dates to the time she was 12, and the Marx Brothers brought the young performer to her home in Vancouver. Some years later they met again in Los Angeles, where Jack was playing the Orpheum.
Right across the street was Mary, working as a May Co. stocking salesgirl; she kept leaving her post to call upon her old friend despite protestations of the floorwalker. A few dates led to their marriage in Waukegan on Jan. 14. 1927.
Both agree it wasn't love at first sight; it “just grew.” In fact, just before the nuptials, Mary had another boy friend, and Jack telephoned her long distance: “You're too young to get married. Take the first train to Chicago and I'll explain!”
When she got there, he lost little time. His father helped him in his arguments for a marriage, and all the other prospective in-laws chimed right in. The couple have been happily together ever since, and it wasn't long before Jack encouraged Mary to work with him in show business.
"Jack is wonderful," said Mary, flinging her arms around him once more while the camera clicked. “Just think, we still call each other ‘Doll’ after 20 years:” “Doll is a marvelous person,” announced the Waukegan Wit, finally breaking from the clinch and grinning.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Peace For Parents, Thanks to Terrytoons

You wanted to watch cartoons at home before DVDs were invented and before they were broadcast on TV? Then you bugged your parents to get you a movie projector.

Probably the biggest name in home movies was Castle Films. The company had a catalogue offering all kinds of films, including cartoons. Department store ads in newspapers in the 1950s and ‘60s plugged them as well, especially Woody Woodpecker cartoons.

Here’s a newspaper story that reads like it was written from a Castle press release. I found it in a paper dated April 29, 1938 but it was obviously written before then.

PEACE at last! for Daddy and Mother. And “Peace, it's wonderful.”
No more must harassed parents lay aside their own newspapers time and again to read the comic sections “just once more” for little Jimmy and Nancy.
Thanks for that go to Eugene W. Castle, who is releasing these “rest cures for parents” under the title of “Terry-Toons.”
Now, when three-year old Penelope insists that she wants to hear the comic strips read for the firth time, Daddy can refuse with impunity, for he can switch on the home movie machine, and Presto! Little Penny can watch her favorite characters in action right in her play room.
Rip Van Winkle, Pandora, Beanstalk Jack and all the animals of the zoo have been household figures for ages. The youngsters have had pictures of them in books, on the playroom walls and on their cereal dishes and cups, but it remained for Mr. Castle and Paul Terry, one of the movie industry's top flight animators, to bring them to life in the home.
As a result, these characters no longer are just figures to amuse the children. Now they're the life of any party, for Mr. Terry has immortalized them in animated cartoons now available for the first time on 8 and 16 mm. film.
Until Mr. Castle hit upon the idea of adding full length cartoons to the release schedule of Castle Films, Inc., home movie tans who wanted cartoons in the film libraries had to be content with 100-foot clips cut from comics at least five years old.
When they put one of the new “Terry-Toons” into a projector, they know they're going to see a complete cartoon story of recent vintage. The first six to be released April 16 are “Pandora,” “Rip Van Winkle,” “Holland Days,” “Just a Clown,” “Beanstalk Jack,” and “Grand Uproar.”
Although they all will be released for both sound and silent projectors, Mr. Castle selected the cartoons for their effectiveness in silent version, with the thought in mind that the majority of the 2,000,000 home movie fans in the country have silent machines.

There’s no point in telling you more about Castle Films and its movies-for-sale. Others have done it for me. Scott MacGillvray wrote Castle Films: A Hobbyists’s Guide (published in 2004). You can read much of the book by going here and discover which Ub Iwerks movies the company sold for home viewing. And if you want a nice precis of the company, who better to tell you than Mark Evanier? You can read it on his site.

Friday, 20 February 2015

There's Three of Everything

Ub Iwerks loved everything rounded in the backgrounds of his cartoons, even in his supposedly more realistic ComiColor fairy tales. Here are some examples from a washed out print of “The Three Bears” (1935) from one of those public domain DVDs.

The big gag in the first half of this cartoon is there are three of everything in varying sizes. Bugs Hardaway was writing for Iwerks then, wasn’t he?

How can you tell this is an Iwerks short? Radiating lines over someone’s head.

Animators were not credited on the ComiColors. Carl Stalling’s original score gets a mention.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Name That Circle

A black screen slowly becomes a black circle with white around it. What is it? The circle pulls back some more.

Just another pull-back opening for a Walt Disney cartoon. This is from “Mickey’s Choo-Choo” (1929).

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Cantor on Comedy

Eddie Cantor was star of vaudeville, Broadway (and song as a result), early sound films, radio and the first few years of network television which, more or less, was going full circle considering the nature of variety shows back then. So it would appear Cantor knew something about comedy.

He gave his viewpoint about it in an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle’s radio columnist, Jo Ranson, in a short piece published on October 17, 1940. It’s interesting to note that Cantor believed the comics who, in earlier radio times, played up to the studio audience weren’t on the air any more. Cantor’s memory was being selective. Fred Allen groused in Treadmill to Oblivion that Cantor wore funny costumes, beat his announcer and kicked his guests to get laughs from the studio audience, leaving the home listener baffled about what was so funny.

The story was published about two weeks after Cantor returned to the air after a season’s layoff. Radio histories will tell you Cantor had been immediately yanked off the air by his sponsor for a diatribe he made at the New York World’s Fair on June 13, 1939. That isn’t quite what happened, judging by contemporary reports. On May 24, 1939, Variety reported that Cantor would be going off the air on June 26. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco allowed a May 29 deadline pass without a decision about whether to renew Cantor’s contract so it would appear something was going on behind the scenes long before Cantor’s anti-bigotry speech at the Fair. The trade paper finally reported on June 28 that the maker of Camels decided not to pick up Cantor’s option. The speech may simply been the last straw; at this time Cantor was involved in a couple of lawsuits and a messy internal battle in the American Federation of Actors.

There is No Ersatz For Laughter, Cantor
It was in the month of October in the year 1931 that bug-eyed Eddie Cantor made his first appearance on the air. That was at 711 5th Ave. and Merlin H. Aylesworth was prexy of the outfit. Today Cantor, 10 years older and considerably more familiar with the ways of radio, is doing his stuff from Radio City, and he thinks radio has gone a mighty long way since the days of carbon mikes and the wobbly jokes of Ernie Hare and Billy Jones.
"Yes. there have been changes," he says. "They were slow in coming, but the changes have been for the better. The quality of radio comedy is at a higher level now than at any period in radio's history. Puns, jokes and wheezes have passed out of the picture. In their place we have situations involving real people. We are making actors living persons instead of machines that spout jokes. Radio comedy is building characters, not caricatures, and you can give Jack Benny credit for showing the way. He gave us real characters that every listener can recognize."
Faster Comedy Tempo
There's a faster tempo in radio comedy today, according to Cantor. "We're doing in a half-hour now what some programs used to do in an hour."
Cantor observes that comics today aren't playing up to studio audiences as much as they did in the past. "The boys who made people scream in the studios are not on the air any more." He added that funnymen don't make any more gags about Hedy Lamarr or Bing Crosby's nags. That passed out of the window last season. "Nowadays the comics cater to the home bodies. No comic has a right on the air unless he can see in his mind's eye the Nebraskans, the Alabamans, the Iowans and all the rest."
Cantor's Troupe
Speaking of the people who work with him on his current Wednesday program, he declared that Maude Davis, who plays Mrs. Waterfull, "has a better sense of timing than any woman I have ever worked with in my life." Harry Von Zell, his announcer, is "unquestionably the greatest announcer-actor-comedian in the business."
Regarding the future of radio comedy, Cantor holds that "there will be an avalanche, an epidemic of laughter. We need laughter as much as we need music. Laughter is a balance very necessary in these times. You will hear more and more laughter because people will be afraid NOT to laugh. If the dictators didn't suppress laughter they wouldn't have a chance, because laughter makes a people relax and think. As long as we can laugh we're safe. There have been substitutes for oil, for food and clothing, but never has there been a substitute for laughter. There has yet to be an ersatz laughter. Laughter is the most important thing in the world today. It is the oxygen tank to keep America alive today."

It’s no great surprise Cantor lavished praise on Harry Von Zell instead of the announcer of his last show. Bert Parks ended up suing Cantor in December for 26 weeks back salary and damages for what he claimed was a “setback to his career.” Considering Parks’ biggest fame was ahead, first with “Stop the Music” in the late ‘40s and then during a long tenure as the host of the Miss America pageant on TV, being bounced by Cantor didn’t hurt him a bit.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Bad Luck Blackie Trunk Gag

What? It’s been over two years since we posted something from “Bad Luck Blackie”? Well, let’s fix that.

Every cat owner will recognise the kitten’s screw-you expression.

Everyone here knows how this cartoon works. The kitten is threatened by the bulldog. The kitten blows a whistle. The black cat crosses the bulldog’s path for bad luck. Bad luck falls from the sky. Repeat gag with variation.

This is the trunk scene. Scott Bradley and his arranger help out with quiet woodwinds as the black cat flicks its feet during this version of the walk.

Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton, Louie Schmitt and Preston Blair are the animators in one of Tex Avery’s all-time greats.