Saturday, 17 September 2016

Half Man, Half Dog?

Leon Schlesinger had high hopes for Bosko.

The year was 1930 and musical cartoons were in vogue. Not only was Bosko musical, but he sang and danced to Warner Bros. tunes. Bosko cartoons might just popularise Warners songs, which would make Leon’s buddies, Jack and Harry Warner, very happy. And the success of the cartoons might just launch Schlesinger into other movie ventures (It did. He make a series of short Western films with John Wayne which died due to lack of theatre interest. He later optioned the rights to Death Valley Days but made no films).

A contract between Schlesinger and Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising was dated January 28, 1930 but, for whatever reason, the first announcement that the Looney Tunes series was being made didn’t appear until April 16th (two short lines in Variety). However, once the cartoons hit the screen, Schlesinger’s publicity machine started churning. For about a year and a half, there were a number of articles about the cartoons. We’ll reprint one from the New York Herald Tribune of March 1, 1931.

A few things may be of interest. “Bosco” seemed to be an accepted spelling in the early months of the series. This story has the only reference I’ve seen about him being “half man and half dog;” one wonders if this was the conclusion of the authoress and not the studio. And the surprising thing is the presence of Bernie Brown—and doing character voices! The general perception amongst animation fans is Brown didn’t arrive until 1933 when Harman and Ising (and Bosko) left and Schlesinger hired a whole new staff for a brand-new cartoon studio; that’s when Brown’s name first appeared on screen. But Brown was there earlier. In fact, at the start of 1932, Schlesinger, Brown and Norman Spencer, a San Franciscan who was later the composer at the Schlesinger studio, set up a soundtrack company together. Both Brown and Spencer left Schlesinger in 1936.

Animated Cartoons In Person
By Marguerite Tazelaar
BOSCO and Honey, stars of “Looney Tunes,” get fan mail from such distant points as Australia and Germany. Their admirers want autographs, ask how they do their tricks and demand that photos be forwarded by return mail. Bosco, as you probably know, is that curious little fellow, half man and half dog, who frisks his way through Vitaphone Song Cartoons. Honey is his girl friend, and all the animals in Kingdom Cone are alternately friends and foes.
Bosco will be a year old April 1. During his short life he has burlesqued, with fine subtlety, of course, such luminaries as Richard Barthelmess, Winnie Lightner and Noah Berry. To do this successfully, so successfully that today he holds the high regard and affection of these stars, he finds it far more satisfactory to be an animated cartoon, than to be made of flesh and blood. For he never knows the anguish of professional jealousy. He keeps out of scrapes and scandals—though the Will Hayes office has censored parts of his pictures—and he is accepted socially in Hollywood’s choicest circles.
When asked what he is made of and what makes him go, he will confess with disarming frankness, “ink and white paper.” His motivators are Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising, who first created him. They, with gagmen, other artists, the musical director Frank Marsales, and the producer, Leon Schlesinger, get together before each “Looney Tune” is begun and discuss ideas for a story plot for new Bosco adventures. These plots often are burlesque or satires on serious talking pictures of musical hits which have already been released. “The Dumb Patrol” was a takeoff on “The Dawn Patrol.” “Sinkin’ in the Bathtub” and “The Booze Hangs High” was another version of “Song of the Flame,” whose theme song was “The Goose Hangs High.” “Hold Anything kidded that other film, “Hold Everything.”
After the staff group has thrashed out a story, drawings are started. Mr. Harman and Mr. Ising are the chief animators, that is they draw the principal movements of Bosco and Honey. Fillers-in or artists who draw the in-between movements now depict the actions of the principals in relation to others in the “cast;” they give continuity to the story. Finally the background man adds his drawings—trees, houses, barns and so on.
The film when completed measures 600 feet, which is one reel in length. It takes about four weeks to make and includes as a finished product approximately 10,000 tiny pictures, first drawn by the cartoonists, then traced on celluloid from which they are photographed on film. Twelve artists do the work of animating the figures and filling in the outlines, and there are sixteen action drawings to every foot of film.
The photographers take each of the 10,000 drawings with an overhead camera that shoots one drawing at a time. Expense and time are saved when a part of Bosco’s body, the head, for example, moves and the rest doesn’t by using the same drawing of the body and different positions of the head.
In order that the musical accompaniment and the sound effects may correspond exactly to the film’s movements, the musical director and his assistants work simultaneously with the artists. They write the score on a basis of so many sounds and so many beats to each foot of film, giving a rough chart of their work to the animators as they go along. This procedure, it was explained, is the secret of perfect synchronization and the success of the later talking cartoons.
The earlier ones used to add the music to the film after it was all finished, ready to be projected on the screen. The result of this method was that a drum-beat would sometimes follow a minute after the drummer in the cartoon had made the motion. The music director fits his score to the plot as nearly as he can. He has at his disposal a complete musical library to draw from. He can select jazz, classics, opera, musical comedy, anything he likes as material for his running composition, or he can improvise. He has fourteen musicians in his permanent orchestra, and after the entire score has been written it is played by the orchestra and made into a photograph record for the film. It is then transferred to a sound-track, which accompanies the picture.
Sound effects are very important in “Looney Tunes”—in any animated cartoon for that matter. They often express the humor of the piece more vividly and pungently than the characters themselves, or plot situations. These effects range from gunshots to baby cries. Mr. Bernard Brown, known better as “Brownie,” is the official voice of the “cast.” He gives to Bosco his beautiful tenor and bestows upon the “heavy” his frightening bass. He contributes Honey’s soprano and he whistles for everybody. He can also laugh like a hyena. In short, he is a fellow of many talents. Mr. Brown is a violinist by profession, but gives all of his time now to providing “Looney Tunes” with voice and song. The drummer, too, is important in supplying odd noises to these little comedies. He has a veritable menagerie of sound devices at his disposal—automobile horns, all kinds of whistles, fire sirens, a scheme for producing an airplane whirr, saws and mechanical imitations of falling rain, an elephant’s sneeze or a horse’s neigh.
“Looney Tunes,” as noted before, reach far-flung audiences. They make people laugh in Japan, in the Dutch East Indies, in Egypt, Syria, all of Europe, Palestine and Brazil. Mr. Schlesinger, the producer, says that their popularity, particularly in England and Germany, has increased in great strides during the last few months. These funny little caricatures who take off human being with such wit and good humor find a universal audience in every part of the world, evidenced by letters received from all corners of the earth inquiring about Bosco, Honey and their pals.
It seems that the censors are the only ones whose humor proves to be a bit warped among Bosco’s and Honey’s fans. For they not infrequently have taken offense at Bosco’s behavior or what they interpret as unseemly attitudes on the part of the animals. Gunplay in this absurd little world of cartoons is frowned upon and blue-penciled. Also the animators must not make women get the worst of it in their creations; this is looked upon by the censors as an insult to womanhood. Children, they point out, patronize the animated cartoons and the animals’ behavior must not be a corruptive influence.
So successful have “Looney Tunes” been during the last few months of their distribution that the producer is about to start a new series of animated short subjects which he will call “Merry Melodies.” They will be cartoons, but will take exclusively popular song hits as their subjects. The “Looney Tunes” series will continue to be released, with the new series an additional attraction. “Lady Play Your Mandolin” will be the first “Merry Melody.”


  1. This is really great stuff! I have always wanted know much more about Brown and Spencer's work for Schlesinger. Their lively orchestrations were fun and have been vastly underrated. And Spencer seems to have been cast as some sort of studio "bad guy" by some historians. Also, did Brown once voice Woody Woodpecker in that post-Blanc/pre-Hardaway period?

  2. I don't think so, MFM. Kent Rogers voiced him; the other Woody voice is likely Danny Webb.
    For years, Mel Blanc went on talk shows and did the "Norm Spencer died" line when told how he was hired at Warners. Spencer didn't die but Blanc got laughs with the line so he changed his spiel to include it. Spencer and his son were in NYC by the end of the 30s; his son arranged his cartoon music at Warners.

  3. Marguerite Tazelaar COULD have mentally conflated Bosko with Fleischer's Bimbo and/or RKO's Toby the Pup. The early 1930s saw black-and-white rubberhose headliners at peak saturation (e.g., Bosko, Bimbo, Toby, Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Krazy Kat, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Van Beuren's Mickey/Minnie clones - with Harman/Ising's Foxy/Piggy later to come in 1931). That typed, I wonder if this is an awkward way to get around calling Bosko a "Negro boy"...though this article portends Tiny Toon Adventures' 1990 retcon of Bosko as a cartoon dog, which I'm glad didn't take.