Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Counterfeit Cat Brushwork

The Counterfeit Cat zips into a scene with the help of brushwork from the MGM cartoon ink and paint department. These eight drawings are consecutive frames.

Actually, it would make more sense to call this cartoon Counterfeit Dog because the cat is pretending to be a dog during much of the picture.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Robbing the 5:15

Bugs Bunny screws around with Red Hot Rider just for something to do in the 1944 cartoon Buckaroo Bugs.

Bugs tells the dullard hero that the Masked Marauder has robbed the 5:15 train (trains always arrive at 5:15 in cartoons). A huge commotion is heard. Cut to Bugs and a huge sound effects contraption.

Lou Lilly is the story man. Manny Gould gets the only animation credit.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Life and Times of Jack Benny, Part 4 of 6

Jack Benny’s show debuted on radio on May 2, 1932, and among the other shows you could hear that night on WEAF (and a number of NBC Red affiliates) were Billy Jones and Ernie Hare, impersonator Ward Wilson, Ireene Wicker the Singing Lady, the Stebbins Boys and Lum and Abner. When Jack finally signed off on May 22, 1955, all of them were gone.

Benny’s longevity was matched by his popularity. Even when sponsors dropped him, it wasn’t because of ratings (Chevrolet dropped him solely because an executive wanted music, not comedy). Benny managed to find ways to keep his show fresh during his long time on radio; what he put on the air in 1932 was quite different than his broadcasts of 1955.

Jack had appeared on radio several times before he began his series for Canada Day, even before his appearance on Ed Sullivan’s interview show that landed him the job with the soft drink company. Except for Sullivan, Benny didn’t feel the others were significant and may have forgotten about them. But several were detailed in the third part of the New York Post’s profile of Benny, published on February 6, 1958. The article also goes into Benny’s comedy timing. We’ll have part five next week.

The Jack Benny Story

In the late 1920s, American light culture was being dispensed from three different sources—vaudeville, the movies and, to a lesser extent, radio.
Like a speculator in futures, Jack Benny kept a hand in all three.
In 1928, at the peak of his vaudeville popularity, he signed a movie contract with MGM at $850 a week, which turned out to be a very comfortable pension. Benny had almost nothing to do for the money.
In the dressing room adjacent to Benny's at the time was fellow vaudevillian Benny Rubin, who was getting nearly as, much money for even less work.
"With nothing better to do," Rubin recalls, "we put a sign over the dressing rooms that said: 'Jack-Benny-Rubin, Music Publishers.' Every time one of the MGM boys wrote a song hit, Jack and I would rewrite the lyrics and they spread around so fast the guys wanted to kill us. Gus Edwards almost came after us with a pistol when we rewrote the lyrics to a song he wrote about mothers, this way:
'Your mother and my Uncle Sam,
They are from Kishnev, I mean Alabam’... '"

That year both Benny and Rubin were considered for a local radio show.
"I got the job," Rubin said, "and to compensate I hired Mary (Livingston) as my singer and foil. Jack helped to write the first show. One of the jokes called for Mary to ask me where I came from and I had to say, Ireland—I mean Coney Ireland.'
"When the show was over the sponsor came out of the control room and walked over to Mary and said, 'Who told you you could sing? You're through!' I protested and he said, 'And as for you, you're through too. You and your Coney Ireland!' Oh, it was a great night for the three of us because the Coney Ireland joke was one Jack dreamed up."
The experience effectively squelched Jack's radio ambitions for the time but he filed it away for further investigation. Meanwhile he idled around the MGM lot long enough to make one Grade A type movie, "Hollywood Revue of 1929," then begged out of his contract to do the Earl Carroll Vanities on Broadway for $1,500 a week.
While the show was touring Chicago, Benny was enticed into doing a local radio show and again the results were discouraging. There was a blizzard on the night of the broadcast, the scheduled singer failed to appear and Jack had to fill in the spaces with jokes.
'Who Cares?'
The ubiquitous Rubin, who was appearing in "Girl Crazy" in Chicago, dropped in at the broadcast studio, passed a note to Benny telling him to announce that he would do an imitation of Benny Rubin, then stepped up and did the imitation himself. The next day the local critics panned the show and advised Jack to stick to his own material instead of doing bad imitations.
It was a minor failure. Radio in those days was largely the province of the dance bands and, outside of the newspaper critics, there were few listeners to judge its merits as an entertainment medium.
But by 1932, the little brown box had assumed a vastly increased importance in thousands of American living rooms where it had come to roost, squat, ugly and owlish, and yet somehow sparkling with personality.
Names like Amos and Andy, and Stoopnagle and Bud had come into the household language from nowhere and veteran stage performers like Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn and Burns and Allen were finding a mass audience for the first time.
Reflecting recently on that distant dawning of modern times, Benny recalled:
"I suddenly realized that radio was becoming important to the people and radio people were becoming more important than stage people. I went to Earl Carroll and asked him to let me out of my contract. There I'd quit a $1,500-a-week job without the prospect of anything definite in radio. I was married and had almost no money to speak of. Then Ed Sullivan signed me to appear on his radio show and the Canada Dry people heard me and gave me a job."
It happened pretty much that way. On the Sullivan show, in February, 1932, a network audience for the first time heard the mild, medium-pitched, faintly nasal voice of Jack Benny uttering his first national self-effacement:
"Hello folks. This is Jack Benny. There will be a slight pause for everyone to say, "Who cares?'"
It is possible that at that very moment a large number of people did say just that But in any case Canada Dry Ginger Ale cared and a few months later Jack had a regular radio show of his own.
At 9:30 p.m. (EDT) on May 2, 1932, on the old Blue Network of the National Broadcasting Co., announcer Ed Thorgerson introduced a new program featuring George Olsen and his orchestra, singer Ethel Shutta (Olsen's wife), and starring "that suave comedian, dry humorist and famous master of Ceremonies—Jack "Benny."
There was no studio audience to hail this event but to the vast (about 60,000) unseen home audience, Benny explained in his patient, mock-earnest inflections that he was "making my first appearance on the air professionally. By that I mean I am finally getting paid, which will be a great relief to my creditors."
By comparison with his later self-castigation, this was almost flattery. But the seed of the Benny syndrome was already visible, it's interesting to note, however, that during this early stage, he concentrated on the outgoing insult, the insult directed toward others.
For example, after his opening monologue on the first broadcast, he said:
"Oh, George, come here—I want you to say 'hello' to the folks."
GEORGE: "Hello, everybody."
JACK: "That was George Olsen, ladies and gentlemen. He rehearsed that speech all week."
Even the stingy insult, which by now of course homes to Benny like a faithful shaggy dog, was out-going then. On the same show, Jack used this one on Olsen:
"He invited me to dinner the other night, much to his own surprise, and he paid the check with a $5 bill that was in his pocket so long that Lincoln's eyes were blood-shot."
Olsen was the hapless target for most of the sponsored abuse that night. There was really no other target available. Thorgerson was not an integrated member of the cast (as was announcer Don Wilson later), and therefore not fair game.
Ethel Shutta was—and for that master still is—a lady, and ladies were never insulted on the Benny show, except for the mythical ones like Benny's off-stage girl friend on the first program who, he said, "poses for the beauty ads entitled 'before taking.'"
Years later the Lincoln joke turned up again the show, only now Benny himself was the object, Fred Allen was the aggressor, the $5 bill had been devalued to a nickel and Lincoln had become an Indian.
This was only a small sample of the infinite variety of the same old things on the Benny program. Old jokes never die there. They merely dissemble.
Once accorded the tribute of studio audience laughter, a Benny joke is apt to become a tradition. The same may be said of the familiar cast of characters on the show, most of whom were hired on the most tentative terms and then simply stayed and stayed.
'Who Goes There?'
The longevity figures on some of the people connected with Benny read a bit like the seniority chart of a life insurance office: Don Wilson, 24 years; Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, 21 years; Dennis Day, 19 years; Mel Blanc, 15 years; guitar player Frank Remley, 20 years; writers Sam Perrin and George Balzer, 15 years.
When Benny tells his secretary, Bert Scott (16 years), "Send in the new writers," he means Hal Goldman and Al Gordon, who have been with him eight years.
But by far the oldest thing on the show (next to Benny) is the money bit, which received what many consider its apotheosis several years ago in a situation that had Benny going down to the secret vault under his house where he hoards his cash.
It was for the most part a pure sound gag. For nearly a full minute nothing was heard from the stage but the tap-tap of Benny's footsteps down an apparently endless staircase toward the vault. As the descent became deeper and deeper, the idea became more, and more preposterous, Benny's stinginess became more and more fantastic and the studio audience became more and more hysterical with laughter.
For the sake of comparison it might be argued that, had Fred Allen used the same joke, he would have stopped at the first landing; Bob Hope perhaps would have gone as far as the second landing, and any number of others would have gone to a third landing.
Benny went all the way to some incredibly subterranean cellar and when he reached bottom a guard called out:
"Who goes there?"
The timing and execution came off perfectly, the response was overwhelming, and it was in fact very funny. And this is Benny's art, take it or leave it.
"Like everything I've ever done on the show," Jack said recently, "becoming the butt of the jokes may have started on one program and gotten such a good response that we Just kept it up. I can't say that I appreciated its lasting value at first. It just happened by accident.
"Like the Fred Allen feud. If we had contrived the thing, if we had said, 'Let's start a feud,' it wouldn't have lasted a week. That's the way all the jokes that have stayed with me started. They all started with one joke."
TOMORROW: The Benny Era.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Bugs Times Two

Want to read in the 1940s about animated cartoons? About all you got was Disney, Disney and Disney.

Here’s a feature story about Bugs Bunny from 1945. Remember, this is back in the days before there were such things as animation historians who compiled the facts about how things really happened. In 1945, Tex Avery wasn’t at Warners any more, so employees there felt no need to mention him at all in connection with Bugs. Thanks to people like Joe Adamson and Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck, you couldn’t get away with that today.

But the most remarkable thing about this story is the quotes from it resurfaced 18 years later as if they had come from a brand-new interview. In fact, they appeared in a 1960 newspaper story as well—with different people cited as saying them.

We’ll post the 1963 story for comparison in a moment. First, the unbylined New York Times story from July 22, 1945.
It would be amusing, even though incorrect, to report that the popular cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, lives in a bottle of ink. Actually, he resides in the minds, imaginations, yes, even in the hearts, of the 200 men and women who produce him and make him cavort across the screen. Surprising though it may be, Bugs Bunny is both the slave and the master of those who plan his adventures, draw his 7,000-odd likenesses for each of his six to eight cartoons a year, and who stand ready to guard his morals, his manners and his methods of getting in and out of trouble.
He was created, by pencil sketch, some time in 1936 as an “extra” playing in an “Elmer” cartoon in which Elmer when hunting and the then unnamed rabbit was one of the intended victims. He was not an immediate hit. In fact, he had so little screen appeal at the time that he was practically forgotten for nearly two years. Then, early in 1938, the cartoon people at Warner Brothers were called upon to make an added picture in the briefest possible time. Some of the men involved in the task recall it as a “quickie.” The director and writers huddled over the possible development of a new character, and out of that huddle the rabbit who was to be named “Bugs Bunny” evolved.
“Steamlined” Bunny
It, too, was to be a hunting picture, Director I. Freling recalls, and that may have brought to mind the rabbit character which had appeared so briefly two years before. They decided to revamp the rabbit, “streamline him,” they explain, in both character and proportions, and to give him a voice and characteristics similar to the already popular “Daffy Duck.”
At this point, the three artist-directors largely responsible for Bugs Bunny began to interrupt each other with suggestions and recollections concerning the development of Bugs.
“We made him use his wits,” put in Tedd Pierce.
“We gave him a Brooklyn accent,” remarked Michael Maltese.
Victorious Underdog
“He was full of mischief,” added Frileng, “but he always started out minding his own business. “We made a mistake with him once. We started out with Bugs going out to hunt for trouble. It wasn’t successful because it wasn’t true to type. He never starts the scrapes he gets into any more.”
Based fundamentally on the idea that the public enjoys watching an underdog get the better of his oppressors, they constantly try to think of situations in which Bugs could become involved, through no fault of his own, and then turn the tables on the troublemakers. It is, they suggest, one of the simplest of all comedy routines, but they guard their star as carefully as any studio watches the reputation of its living actors.
Bugs Bunny’s first hit, his mentors agree, was made in the hunting comedy released in 1938. The “streamlined” rabbit, the intended victim of a cartoon hunter, came up out of his hole, chewing a carrot, and asked another rabbit, “What’s up, Doc?”
“When we saw that on the screen, we knew we had a hit character,” explains Freling. “He was the most timid of animals, yet he had courage and brashness.” Gradually, through the process of planning and drawing from six to eight Bugs Bunny cartoons each year, the full character and appeal of Bugs Bunny has been developed. He has been kept in the wild state, never given houses to live in or clothes to wear. He has no steady girl friend, although he can have occasional romances.
Mel Blanc, who supplies the voice, accent and all, for Bugs Bunny, according to all the artists, is allergic to carrots, which he must chew, for the sake of realism while speaking the rabbit’s lines. “He doesn’t swallow a piece of the carrot,” laughs Maltese, “because they make him sick.”
The most common adjective applied to Bugs Bunny by his creators is “brash.” He is mischievous but never mean. Things happen to him which bring about a reversal of his naturally timid rabbit nature and make him go on the offensive against his tormentors.
Bugs Goes to War
There would appear to be enough evidence on hand to substantiate the opinion of Edward Selzer, chief of the Warner’s cartoon studio, that “Bugs is the most popular cartoon character on the screen today.” Mr. Selzer went to the filing cabinet and drew out a letter from a seaman off the carrier Lexington, who reported that when the ship went down at least two Bugs Bunny pictures were lost, “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt” and “The Rabbit Who Came to Supper.”
Mr. Selzer and the others also are proud of the service record supplied by the United States Marine Corps for Bugs. His impertinent likeness serves as the mascot insignia for many branches of the armed services, including the hospital ship U.S.S. Comfort. Bugs and his uneaten carrot was painted on the side of the lead Liberator bomber that made the first attack on Davao, which started this country’s march back to the Phillipines.
Now, here’s a syndicated newspaper feature story (bylined) published April 13, 1963, and suitably updated for television and the Cold War. Neither Maltese nor Pierce were employed at Warners when this saw print. Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson get their names added; McKimson animated on A Wild Hare, while Jones directed Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1940), where Bugs’ character and voice aren’t quite the way we know him today.
At 27, Bugs Is Still Going Strong

What’s up, Doc?
Carrot-crunching Bugs Bunny, the buck-toothed, madcap hare of Warner Bros.’ perennially popular cartoon series of the same name is getting old enough to be the father of most of his fans.
Bugs’ kiddie fans have been estimated at from 30 to 50 millions. Businessmen, ministers, matrons, church workers, hep teen-agers and sub-teens make-up at least another 50 million dedicated fans.
♦ ♦ ♦
And yet their numbers keep mounting as the years roll by.
Recently turned 27, Bugs obviously takes no back seat to any Hollywood celebrity in terms of durability, fan mail volume or professional acclaim.
He has held a select spot at the top of the hierarchy of stars for more than a quarter of a century.
♦ ♦ ♦
As a matter of fact, although he hand an inauspicious beginning, Bugs loomed on the horizon as a star after what is probably the shortest apprenticeship in film history.
He had one prestardom outing in 1936 as an extra. Two years later when he hit the celluloid again, Bugs chomped his way into the hearts of viewers faster than he chews a juicy carrot.
He has been serving the world a rib-tickling diet of devilment ever since.
♦ ♦ ♦
In every laughter-loving country save those behind the Iron Curtain, the animated hare with the Brooklyn accent is one of film- land’s best-loved characters. This was never better evidenced than by the applause four years ago when the ribald rabbit bounced onto the stage at the annual Academy Awards presentations and hopped off again with an Oscar presented by Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh for his masterful and farsighted performance in the “Knighty Knight Bugs” episode of his show.
♦ ♦ ♦
The exhibitors of America have voted him top favorite in the short subjects category of movie programming for an impressive 15 consecutive years.
In addition, Bugs probably holds the world’s record as recipient of personal phone calls.
When he gave out his number in connection with the Easter promotion of a Baltimore-Washington department store during the five weeks of the store’s holiday sales event when any youngster could dial and be greeted with the familiar “Eeeeeh, what’s up, Doc?”, a total of 2,030,679 calls came in.
♦ ♦ ♦
Never one to forget his less celebrated days in the briar patch, Bugs is quick to point out that his long romp on television very nearly didn’t happen.
In the bit part he played in the 1936 cartoon, another comical character called Elmer Fudd was featured. As a hunter, Elmer’s objective was to get the elusive rabbit into a frying pan.
Bugs dodged the frying pan successfully but attracted so little attention that he landed back inside the cartoon department ink well.
♦ ♦ ♦
“He was put away to mellow,” his creators recall.
And mellow he did. For when Cartoon Division Director Isadore Freleng suggested he be trotted out late in 1938 for another go in the popularity sweepstakes, Bugs rocketed to fame.
Aided by director Freleng, Charles M. Jones and Robert McKimson, along with writers Michael Maltese and Ted Pierce who mastermined “The Bugs Bunny Show,” the cabbage patch rodent hopped from the ink well, this time a revamped rabbit.
♦ ♦ ♦
“We streamlined him both in character and proportions, and gave him a voice and characteristics similar to Daffy Duck whose impudence was already famous,” they say.
“We gave him a Brooklyn accent,” Maltese asserts.
“We made him use his wits,” says Pierce.
♦ ♦ ♦
“He was full of mischief,” adds Freleng, “but he always started out minding his own business.
“We made a mistake with him only one time. We had him out hunting for trouble. His fans cried ‘Foul!’
“They don’t like to consider him the trouble-making type. Now, he never starts the scrapes he gets into.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Most people are like that or they like to feel that they are; so it is easy for them to establish an empathy with Bugs and enjoy his triumphs quite thoroughly.”
And over the years the once dopey looking, shaggy cottontail has made a lot of adjustments to keep up with the changing tastes of the sophisticated youngsters and adults of today’s movie and television audiences.
Once a zany guy given to temperament and pique, he is now a more refined citizen, surprisingly gentle.
♦ ♦ ♦
With great worldliness and sophistication, he suffers in silence, up to a point; then explodes into action and usually comes out ahead.
It should be noted, of course, that while Bugs tops the all-family entertainment polls and has earned millions of dollars, he has personally refused to indulge in any ostentatious display of wealth.
He has never owned a house of his own, wears clothing only on special occasions and has no steady girl friend.
♦ ♦ ♦
Among his creators he is known as an animal with human characteristics rather than a humanized animal.
Jestingly they declare “We can’t get shoes for him because his feet are too big. He doesn’t wear clothes unless the situation demands them since his tastes are so expensive that though privately wealthy even he couldn’t afford to keep himself clothed.”
Significantly, the titles of Bugs’ shows are often as amusing as the melodrama. Bugs made his starring debut in “Wild Hare”; later came out with “Upswept Hare.” He has also starred in “John Brown’s Bunny,” “Rabbit Transit,” “Hare Meets Hair,” “Rhapsody Rabbit” and “Rabbit Hood.”
Errol Flynn played a small part as a guest star in “Rabbit Hood,” swinging from tree to tree as Robin Hood, the role he originally created in Warner Bros.’ full length movie “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Reciprocally, Bugs has appeared with flesh and blood Hollywood stars in the live productions “My Dream Is Yours” and “Two Guys from Texas.”
A character of great versatility with the daring to meet all competition, Bugs competed brazenly with filmland’s voluptuous pin-up girls during World War II and somehow managed to become widely regarded as Morale Booster No. 1.
Aside from aiding the Treasury Department in bond sales, he was mascot to many Air Force squadrons, tank outfits and infantry companies, not to mention units of the Navy and Marine Corps.
As a matter of fact, he is an official member of the Marine Corps, with his service record now a permanent part of the official files in Washington, D. C.
♦ ♦ ♦
And it is distracting to some that the glib Bugs has really never had a single word to say about all of this since it is Mel Blanc, the man of many voices, who has been Bugs’ voice down through the years.
Blanc does the voices for more than 50 characters on “The Bugs Bunny Show.”
When Bugs celebrated his 25th birthday, The Thalians, a Hollywood charity organization headed by Debbie Reynolds, presented Blanc with a 14-carat gold carrot. The valuable replica of the hare's favorite food is inscribed “in recognition and grateful appreciation of the happy laughter and wholesome entertainment you have brought to so many children of all ages . . . as the voice of Bugs and his playmates.”
And at 27 Bugs seems no more inclined to grow old than Freckles and His Friends. He just keeps hopping along several bounds ahead of all competition.
That's what’s up, Doc!
But some of these particular sets of facts appeared in yet another newspaper story, the only version of which I’ve found is in the Oneonta Star of November 19, 1960. It talks about 1936, the “quickie,” the Daffy Duck voice and characteristics. Freleng is assigned the “Brooklyn accent” quote, while Jones is handed the “wits” observation (Maltese and Pierce are still mentioned in the story). And there are the same insights about no houses or clothes, girl-friend and Freleng talking about “the most timid of animals.”

We can only presume Warners came up with a press handout in the ‘40s and kept pulling it out of the filing cabinet whenever it needed to bash out a new news release. If so, it had a life almost as long as the rabbit himself.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Enter Gerald's Parents

The production crew at UPA had an interesting way of bringing Gerald McBoing Boing’s parents into the scene in his Oscar-winning cartoon. The character’s lines appear to draw themselves and the colour fades in.

Bill Melendez, Pat Matthews, Rudy Larriva, Willie Pyle and Frank Smith were the credited animators.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

One of Them Corny 'B' Pictures

Tex Avery always found a way to make fun of that staple of animated cartoons in the 1930s, fairy tales. He unexpectedly does it in The Screwy Truant (1944).

The cartoon motors along for about three minutes when there’s a scream and, without warning, Red Riding Hood runs into the scene being chased back and forth by the wolf.

Screwy shows the audience he’s annoyed.

Screwy stops the wolf and informs him he’s in the wrong picture, pulling down the opening title cards as proof.

“Hmmpf. One of them corny ‘B’ pictures, eh?” sneers the wolf. Screwy is shocked by the accusation.

The scene turns odd, with Screwy challenging the wolf to a fight (note how Screwy rubs his nose like a prize fighter) if only he were the same size. The wolf accommodates him.

The punch line is Screwy shrinks some more and runs away while the wolf’s mouth is agape. It’s, well, a peculiar way to end a gag.

The wolf leaves the cartoon for good, but the next couple of sequences happen inside grandma’s house to keep the Red Riding Hood tie-in alive.

Heck Allen gagged the cartoon with Avery.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Arlene Francis' Line

When you mention the name “Arlene Francis,” you don’t think of an actress. And you certainly don’t think of an impressionist. But that’s what she did before arriving on the panel of “What’s My Line” in 1950.

Searches of old newspapers reveal she headed to Hollywood in 1932 where she won a role in the movie Murders at the Rue Morgue. That October, before heading back to New York, she made an appearance on KFWB’s The Big Show, one of several local variety shows on the air in Los Angeles. It may have been her first appearance on radio. She was billed as a “comedy monologist,” a ‘30s term for stand-up comedian. Variety didn’t specifically report what she did in her act.

The following year, she was leading the cast of “Bridges to Cross” at the Lyric Theatre in Summit, New Jersey and had been picking up roles on The March of Time on WABC, the CBS flagship. But she then landed a regular network radio show in 1934. She and Fred Uttal co-starred in 45 Minutes in Hollywood, a half-hour show on Thursday nights at 10 p.m. (I suspect the “45” was a pun on the title of the 1926 movie 45 Minutes From Hollywood). The two did impersonations of Hollywood stars; Kay Francis, Jean Harlow and Constance Bennett were in Francis’ repertoire, according to an ad in the Boston Globe.

Here’s a personalised story from the Washington Post radio column of July 17, 1934.
Radio Waves and Ripples
RAVEN-haired, girlish-figured Arlene Francis, now very much a star as C. B. S.’s radio mimic, first directed her dark brown eyes at a microphone about a year ago.
Within a few months she had impersonated movie personalities of such widely divergent characteristics, mannerisms, emotional traits and voices as Lupe Velez, Claudette Colbert, Evelyn Venable and Betty Davis. ‘Twas all done with plenty of zip and fire. Columbia knew they had a “find.”
But Arlene had tried her hand, brain and personality at nearly everything faintly connected with grease paint and amber spots before she blossomed as a mike star. Children’s playlets, neighborhood dramatics, Broadway bits, posing for painters and even a term at gift shopping sustained her until we noticed a C. B. S. photograph not long ago of “Arlene Francis.”
Mi gosh! We looked a little closer. Was it the same girl? We thought we remembered her during our callow youth as the girl “in our town” who swept along accompanied by a growlish-swank-looking Russian wolf hound. Well! It was. And she was known to us boys then as Arlene Kazanjian.
She appeared betimes in exotic Parisian things that formed suitable conversation for local dowagers. She stole the show during local “play contests.” She made mysterious visits down town. “Rehearsing” she said. And Charley Chambers, whose brilliant illustrations you’ve seen in many a magazine and on countless billboards, asked her to come over to his studio one day. He said ecstatic things about her unusual coloring.
That was during college days and our first rash hounding of city editors. However, Arlene was conscientiously hounded casting directors and studio offices. And now here she is along with Columbia’s famous array . . . a full-fledged radio personality.
We played the King in “Hamlet” once. But, alas. It’s too late . . . and think of all the typewriters that would have been saved.
Her radio and stage careers expanded—on one NBC broadcast in 1934, she played in “Macbeth” opposite Ray Collins and Walter Tetley—and included the hostess’ job on The Hour of Charm with the Phil Spitalny orchestra (1936) and a co-host spot on the game show What’s My Name? (1938) on the Mutual network. By 1940, she and Tom Slater had recorded so many 60-second commercials for Lydia Pinkham that one was heard somewhere in the U.S. every three minutes, six days a week.

Let’s boot ahead to January 17, 1943, where the New York Herald Tribune talked about Francis’ stage career. Frankly, it was never very successful; she later joked a bit about it in her autobiography. It’s a side of Francis that those of us who watched her on “What’s My Line” never saw.
To Tell Truth, Actress Thinks Play Is Really Zametchatilna
By Helen Ormsbee
ARLENE FRANCIS is not a player to whom a Broadway hit is just one more on her list. Before she started toting that army rifle as Natalia, the sergeant from Russia in “The Doughgirls,” she had acted in seven Broadway plays that failed. So to her Joseph Fields’s comedy about war-time Washington is a red-letter production.
Those Russian exclamations which she uses in the play express her sentiments. “Eta chudna,” meaning “It’s wonderful,” will do pretty well. But the real mouth-filler is “Eta zametchatilna! This is something like, “It’s colossal.” (“Only Russians mean more,” she explains.) She feels approximately like that.
“It was only coincidence, of course, but a mind reader told me something about this engagement,” she admitted the other day. “At a party I went to in August, he asked each guest to write a question on a card. You might know what my question was.” (This was perhaps why the mind-reader knew.) “I was rather ashamed to have put it down, but I wrote, ‘When shall I have my next engagement?’
“Without looking at what I had written, he told me, ‘I can’t see anything for you in September or October, but November is better. Yes, I’d say Nov. 17.’ It turned out that they sent me word about this part on Nov. 16, and rehearsals commenced on Nov. 17.”
Still, Miss Francis didn’t know it would really happen that way. September and October went by, and so far the mind reader was only too correct.
“One day in November,” Miss Francis continued, “I was making a recording at a studio around the corner from Max Gordon’s office. I’ve been in radio for eight years, you know, and I often do recordings. Going to the theatrical offices and being turned down isn’t pleasant, but that day I thought ‘I’ll do it.”
Up in the Gordon office at the top of the Lyceum Theater I found about all the blondes in New York waiting to try for parts. As my hair is black, my chances didn’t look good. Blondes only, I was told. Still, they said to step into the other room, and when I did there sat George Kaufman and Joseph Fields.
“They looked at me and shook their heads. I was leaving when one of them said: ‘There’s the Russian girl. Would she do for that?’ and they asked me whether I could manage a Russian accent. I speak several languages, and in radio I’ve used any number of dialects, so I told them yes.”
That afternoon she gave a reading of her present role for Kaufman, the director. Her accent was not what it has since become, for she was later coached by Maxim Panteleiff, a member of the “Doughgirls” cast, who is Russian. Under the circumstance, though, Miss Francis thought she did very well. She was quite carried away by her own performance. But Kaufman merely thanked her politely. She went home and waited day after day to hear from him.
“I gave up hoping after a while,” she said. “Then one day when I had gone out there came a telephone call asking me to report for rehearsal next morning. Hattie, who has been my maid for several years, answered the telephone and was beside herself with delight. ‘I sure will give her the message,’ she said over the wire. ‘Why, this is the call she’s been waitin’ for!’”
In private life Miss Francis is the wife of Neil F. Agnew, a vice-president of Paramount Pictures. This interview took place in the Agnews Park Avenue apartment at an early lunch before a matinee.
“The gun that I wear slung over my shoulder in the play weighs twenty pounds,” she confessed, “and when I come in carrying a big dog besides, they feel pretty heavy. The dog is a Boxer—thirty-two pounds of him. I have to toss him and the gun around as though they were nothing, but my back is still strapped up from learning how to do it.”
The actress, like William Saroyan, is of Armenian extraction. Her father is Aram Kazanjian, a portrait photographer, and her uncle, Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian, is an authority on plastic surgery.
“Radio gave me my start, and I can’t say enough for the training it gives one in acting,” she added. “My first chance came through a friend in an advertising agency, and after that I was kept on. It didn’t pay for much at first, but it was splendid practice.
“Orson Welles was beginning then, and I was in many dramas and sketches with him. He was full of originality. He has been very loyal to people who worked with him then, and has often put opportunities in their way. I played in two of his stage productions, ‘Horse Eats Hat’ and ‘Danton’s Death’—which were among those seven failures I told you of. But when the stage productions closed, there was always radio going right along. In radio I’ve acted dizzy blondes, and felt blonde while I was doing them.”
For more than three years Arlene Francis conducted a quiz program on the air. “What’s My Name?” was the title. In February she will be back with this entertainment on Sunday nights—her night off from “The Doughgirls.”
“When ‘The Doughgirls’ went into rehearsal we all worked hard, but it didn’t feel like work,” she said. “The rehearsals never seemed long. One thing I notice about George Kaufman was that he never calls a person down before the rest of the company. He gets the whole cast together and talks about everybody’s work—a word here, a word there, and somewhere in the list is the thing that was wrong and has got to be changed. Then, too, he can tell you just where the laughs will come, and how a pause or a look will bring a laugh that wasn’t there before.”
You can see why Miss Francis is in the mood to think that “zametchatilna” is the word for her present engagement.
Francis may have seen radio as some kind of fallback from her real job, acting on the stage, but she was far more successful in the lucrative world of top echelon broadcasting than she was in the theatre. Especially with game shows. In 1943, she emceed Blind Date, which later moved into television. While still hooking up men with eligible ladies, Francis made her first appearance on “What’s My Line” (the second broadcast on February 16, 1951). Her warmth and friendliness was just what programmers wanted. She added NBC’s Home show to her resume, and in the early ‘60s was appearing on all four radio networks, her Mutual show being based out of WOR New York.

“What’s My Line” left the CBS network in 1967, but returned in syndication for a while in the ‘70s, with the charming Francis still on the panel. Her radio career carried on until she was told on March 1, 1984 after 23 years and nine months that WOR decided, as they say in radio management, “to go in a different direction.” In other words, a cheaper direction. Francis was still hosting a syndicated TV show called The Prime of Your Life. On the episode after her last day at WOR, The Prime of Your Life featured a segment on Alzheimer’s Disease. That’s what claimed Arlene Francis on March 31, 2001 at the age of 93.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Disney's Out of the Inkwell

What happens when you take Felix the Cat and an Out of the Inkwell cartoon? You get Walt Disney. Well, you get 1925 Walt Disney. Here’s a frame from the opening of Alice Chops the Suey.

Things get a little more original after that. Alice (Margie Gay) jumps out of the inkwell and shakes off the ink. The animator’s hand draws a pagoda backdrop. Suddenly a scary, enlarged Oriental rat grabs the fur off the Felix substitute (named Julius) and uses it as a bag to capture Alice before running off to sell her into white slavery.

The cartoon ends with Julius and Alice in the safety of the inkwell, pulled off screen by the hand.

There’s plenty of animation and little live action. I suspect Hugh Harman, Rudy Ising and Ub Iwerks were among the animators on this one.