Sunday, 11 October 2015

Jack Benny's Car is Goofy

Question: what famous cartoon voice actor first supplied the sounds of Jack Benny’s Maxwell?

If you guessed Mel Blanc, you’re wrong. It’s that guy in the picture to the right.

Pinto Colvig had a fascinating life. He was a cartoonist, a musician, a Keystone Kop, an early TV kids show star, a gag writer, a recording star (as Bozo the Clown) and, at one time, the voice of Goofy in the 1930 Disney cartoons. And he, somehow, found time to gain employment from Jack Benny.

Benny’s Maxwell was first mentioned on the Jell-O Program of October 24, 1937 but Blanc didn’t provide its sounds until March 23, 1947. Transcribed effects handled much of the load until then, assisted for a period by Colvig, who left Hollywood in 1939 for a job at the Fleischer cartoon studio in Florida. This syndicated story is courtesy of the Schoharie Republican of February 17, 1938.
“HOW DO you make Maxwell sound like a Maxwell when it isn't a Maxwell?”
This in effect, is the most frequent question asked of recent weeks in the thousands of letters Jack Benny has received in regard to his sound-effects auto. Pinto Colvig is the man responsible for the development of the apparatus which is the “Maxwell of the Air.”
It is he who operates it so skillfully that many persons are prompted to inquire whether or not Jack has a real Maxwell on the stage of the NBC studio. Colvig, Hollywood's most unusual sound effects engineer, is a veteran of both radio and animated cartoon sound effects.
He was consulted regarding effects for the venerable Benny vehicle following the first broadcast on which the Maxwell was mentioned.
He uses the “south end” of the trombone for the sound of the car's starting motor.
The battered washboiler with mounted electric motor gives a perfect imitation of a rickety jillopy [sic] rolling down a bumpy road.
The rattle, cowbell, steel plate, and coffee can mounted on a board, when beaten with a wooden hammer, create an illusion of things dropping off the Maxwell.
The mechanical effects, together with whistles, screams, chugs and wheezes supplied by Pinto himself, constitute the working parts of Jack's famous Maxwell.
Jack calls the talented sound effects engineer his “air chauffeur,” and no name could be more accurate.
For Colvig is the only fellow who's ever actually “driven” the Benny bus.
LIKE Phil Baker's “Beetle” and Edgar Bergen's “Charlie McCarthy,” Benny's Maxwell is a rich source of gags.
Many of the heartiest guffaws traced to the Benny program come by way of this mythical auto.
In this day of ever-increasing difficulty in obtaining gag material, Benny finds his gas buggy a handy solution for script troubles.
Laura Leff’s excellent reference book 39 Forever lists Colvig as making only six appearances with Benny, two in 1937, two in 1938 and two in 1942. He was the Maxwell in only the first two. In the final pair (by that time, Colvig had left Florida and found work at the MGM cartoon studio), he played Benny’s short-lived and long-forgotten horse Leona. The Benny show featured another horse, far better remembered, of the English variety, played with relish by one Mel Blanc. Colvig was multi-talented but he just can’t get out of Mel’s shadow when it comes to working with Jack Benny.

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