Sunday, 22 April 2018

When Viewers Stop Viewing

It’s remarkable how nobody complains when their ratings are good, but when they’re bad, there’s either something wrong with the system or the audience. The stars never blame themselves.

That went for Jack Benny, too.

Here’s Jack complaining to the Boston Globe of July 10, 1967. The show he’s referring that soured him on television was broadcast on November 3, 1965—it was his first special after NBC cancelled his series. Critics at the time gave it mixed reviews. Jack’s response to losing the ratings war that night is to make a snide comment about Green Acres which a) had an audience that tuned in every week, something he didn’t have any more and b) hadn’t jettisoned the format that made it popular as Jack admits in the article he had done with his own show. Instead, Benny stole Bob Hope’s format, which relied on guest stars (Elke Sommer was a Hope favourite for a while). While Hope eventually became a parody of himself, Jack never did.

True, there were some cringingly bad sitcoms on TV around that time. But Jack seems to have had a real bias against rural shows. He was annoyed when CBS put Petticoat Junction as his lead-in during the 1963-64, a show that turned out to get better ratings than him, ratings that he couldn’t hold. It, of course, starred his former secondary player Bea Benaderet who, coincidentally, appeared on the Green Acres episode he complained about. In his last full season in 1964-65, Gomer Pyle had huge numbers against Jack. This is the same Jack Benny who used to love doing an old rural voice in broad hick sketches on his radio show.

His complaint about “too many satires” is especially hollow, considering the special he talks about working so hard on every line featured almost nothing BUT satires—on Mary Poppins, on California’s surfing culture and even TV commercials. Benny, perhaps more than anyone, pioneered parodies on network radio with his funny send-ups of current movies and radio shows (especially Fred Allen’s).

It’s surprising reading his trepidation about being “in the round.” That setting would appear to work to Jack’s strengths—where he can make funny observations and joke around to an intimate group of people, then react. He was a master at it.

It appears the columnist ran out of space. The story ends abruptly. I would love to have read more of his anecdotes about Mary and George Burns. I’m sure he would have pleased his stage audiences with that kind of material, too.

Movies? Television? Both Bewilder Benny

Globe TV Critic
Jack Benny is saddened by the state of television today.
“People accept too easily what is offered them,” he said at a press luncheon at the Sheraton Boston. “The audience doesn’t seem to care.”
“If they don’t particularly like the comedy shows that are on, they’ll watch them anyhow. It’s a way to relax. They’ll get into a robe and sit there and take whatever is fed them through the tube.
“After all, it’s the best bargain I know of, and I know something about bargains. You can’t beat the price.
“It beats me how some of these shows get on the air. They get their laughs stumbling over tables—things like that.
“Critics wouldn’t give these shows two weeks. Yet they’re still running. I can’t understand it. It must be the kids that keep them going.
“That’s one reason why I’m not doing as much television work as I used to. Why be so meticulous and try to get every line right in a situation. It just isn’t worth it.
“I can remember not too long ago doing a special in which we took great pride. We had a cast full of stars and our big feature was doing ‘Mary Poppins’ as it would be made for an Italian movie. The best we could do in the ratings was to tie ‘Green Acres.’ That soured me.
“I will say that my old show was easy to do, probably because the humor came from characterizations. But I have no desire to go back to it.
“Just one of two specials a year, a couple of ‘Hollywood Palaces,’ and maybe a Lucille Ball or Bob Hope show are enough for me. I expect to make no more than four appearances this coming season.
“But I’m not about to retire, either. I’ll just do a little less and less each year. Just so’s I won’t have to drop out entirely. Why should I? Bob Hope has $9 billion and he’s worse than I am.
“It’s been a long career. I started when I was 16. I had 17 years on radio and 15 years on television. I remember how hesitant I was to make the switch. But it took me only four shows to get used to the new medium. It was like going back on the stage.
“I was scared of going into the theater-in-the-round, too, at first. But it’s worked out beautifully. I seem to be able to get to the audience in such a setting, particularly when the front seats are close up, as they are at the Carousel. I’m enjoying my week there.
“What I’d like to do now is act in a play and perform in South Africa. Those are about the only areas of show business I have not gone into. I almost played in ‘The Impossible Years,’ a wonderful comedy, but they’d have to wait too long for me and got Alan King instead. I thought he was great in it.”
Jack, who is 73, doesn’t think much of today’s movies, either.
“So many of them I don’t understand,” he said. “Even one like ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Half of the things that happened went over my head. They didn’t seem to have any motivation. There are too many satires, too. All those Bond imitations.”
Jack laughs at his “tight-wad” image. Everyone knows it isn’t true. But he goes further.
“I’ll bet my wife and I are the two most extravagant people in show business,” he said. “We’ve spent a fortune without making any particular issue of it.
“Mary has enough stuff to open eight stores. She went on a Paris shopping spree that was really something. She gets a big enough allowance but that isn’t enough.
“She’s always been that way—even when we didn’t have it. But one thing about Mary. If I suffered reverses and didn’t have the money to spend, she could adapt herself in a minute. She’s that way.
“But she still loves the silliest things. We were paying $150 a day for a suite in London and she shopped around to save 40 cents on bottled water. She’s that way, too.”
Jack talks with great affection of George Burns, “who still loves to break me up.” He loves to tell stories about George.
“We were in Chasen’s restaurant in New York,” he related. “George likes cold things cold and hot things hot. He ordered vegetable soup and said, ‘I want to so hot you can’t carry it. If you can bring it in, I don’t want it.’”

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Oswald Talks

Cartoondom’s most famous rabbit before Bugs made a successful transition from silent pictures to sound though, to be honest, Oswald didn’t have a distinctive voice and the best gags in his sound cartoons were visual ones, at least judging by the few early shorts I’ve seen.

Oswald was created by Walt Disney in 1927 for release by Universal Pictures through middle-man Charlie Mintz, who was running Winkler Productions. Disney’s studio was employed on the basis that Universal owned everything he produced, including Oswald. Mintz apparently figured he could be making all the money that he was giving to Disney, so he raided the Disney staff and set up his own studio. Karma got him in the end in more ways than one. Disney ended up creating an even more popular character, then Universal did to Mintz what Mintz did to Disney.

One of the reasons Disney’s new Mickey Mouse was popular is because of the way Walt, Carl Stalling, Ub Iwerks and others at the studio coordinated the soundtrack to the picture. There was nothing done arbitrarily; sounds weren’t just tossed in for the sake of sound. It was perfect and it was engaging.

By 1929, it would appear both movie studios and theatres came to the realisation that the era of silent films was over. It meant Oswald would have to dance and gag it up in time to a soundtrack. The in-house Universal News told exhibitors in its issue of January 12, 1929:
Music and Sound Effects to Be in All Future Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, Cartoon Comedies—First Three Now Being Shipped

THE first of the synchronized Oswald Comedies have arrived in the East and are being printed and rushed to all Universal Exchanges. They are hailed by the Universal home office executives as the last word in cartoon entertainment. Universal, in launching this comedies series with synchronized music and sound effects, is one of the first in the field with a sound cartoon series.
The first synchronized Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, comedy set for release is “Hen Fruit,” which will officially reach the screen every other week. Three synchronized comedies have been completed to date. The second and third are “Sick Cylinders,” and “Hold ’Em, Ozzy!”
The Oswald Cartoon Comedies, according to the Universal sales reports, are one of the most popular cartoon series on the screen. The addition of sound effects greatly enhances their entertainment value, “U” executives state.
It further announced on March 23, 1929:
The famous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon comics now are being released in synchronized form and are very popular with audiences, according to reports reaching the Universal sales executive. They are released every other week. “Sick Cylinders,” “Hen Fruit,” “Hold ‘Em, Ozzie” and “Suicide Sheiks” already have been released. “Alpine Antics” and “Lumberjacks” will reach the screen early in April. There will be fifteen synchronized Oswald Comedies this season.
These Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons have proven peculiarly well suited to synchronization as they fuse a hilarious element of utterly inconsequential noise into an already laugh provoking and popular short subject. This type of screen fare makes an excellent antidote for heavy photodrama, and will prove a boon to the exhibitor who needs a light and bright spot on his program.
According to the March 15, 1930 edition of the Motion Picture News, the last silent Oswald was “Yankee Clippers”, released on January 21, 1929. Despite the extra planning, time and expense, Mintz continued to produce a new Oswald every other week. The cartoons were available to theatres with sound on film or sound on disc. The release schedule was:
Hen Fruit, February 4, 1929.
Sick Cylinders, February 18, 1929
Hold ‘Em Ozzie, March 4, 1929
Suicide Sheiks, March 18, 1929
Alpine Antics, April 1, 1929
Lumberjack, April 15, 1929
Fishing Fools, April 29, 1929
Stage Stunts, May 13, 1929
Stripes and Stars, May 27, 1929
The Wicked West, June 10, 1929
Nuts and Jolts, June 24, 1929
Ice Man’s Luck, July 8, 1929
Jungle Jingles, July 22, 1929
Weary Willies, August 5, 1929
Saucy Sausages, August 19, 1929

(I presume “Fishing Fools” was originally silent and had a soundtrack added, as it was reviewed by Motion Picture News on Dec, 8, 1928).

Ah, but a change was afoot. The Syracuse Herald of March 11, 1929 reveals “Walter B. Lantz, animated cartoon artist, has arrived in Universal City to do his stuff,” though Leonard Maltin’s book Of Mice an Magic points out Lantz received a story credit as early as “Bull-Oney,” released October 29, 1928. We read in Film Daily on April 15, 1929 that “Lester Kline, commercial artist and cartoonist, has been added to the staff of "Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit," according to Walter Lantz, production supervisor.” Lantz received a director credit on “Stripes and Stars” (“The Wicked West” was directed by a chap named I. Freleng. He became somewhat better known at another studio).

Somewhere along the way, Universal figured it could be making all the money that it was giving to Mintz. Joe Adamson’s fine biography on Walter Lantz reveals that studio head Carl Laemmle decided to make cartoons on the Universal lot, and producer Sam Van Ronkel told him that the perfect guy to run it was Lantz, who was spending some time chauffeuring him to poker games at Laemmle’s. Laemmle always seemed to win when Lantz was around the table, so he figured if Lantz brought him good luck at poker, he could bring him good luck in cartoons. Bye, bye, Charlie.

When the decision to dump the Mintz studio was made is unclear but Universal News announced on July 13, 1929:
Oswald Comedies
The popularity of the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Cartoons both in sound and silent prints is a matter of short subject history by now. Universal will produce in its own studios twenty-six one-reelers for next season. The addition of sound has greatly enhanced the entertainment value of the lively rabbit and makes him top the one-reel field in box-office appeal.
Walter B. Lantz, animated cartoon artist, has been signed to draw the series of pictured for the pen and ink character of Oswald. William C. Nolan will assist him. Lantz was last with the Bray Studios in New York where he drew the “Unnatural History” series. He drew for the screen “The Happy Hooligans,” “Jerry on the Job.” “The Katzenjammer Kids,” and, recently, “The Colonel Heeza Liar,” after the screen rights were purchased from the cartoonists of the various newspaper comics. He will write the stories for “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” and arrange novel sound effects for a synchronized version.
The Lantz studio’s first release for Universal was “Race Riot” on September 2, 1929. The others that calendar year (released with sound on film or sound on disc):
Oils Well, Sept. 16, 1929
A Permanent Wave, Sept. 30, 1929
Cold Turkey, Oct. 14, 1929
Pussy Willie, Oct. 28, 1929
Amateur Night, Nov. 11, 1929
Snow Use, Nov. 25, 1929
Nutty Notes, Dec. 9, 1929
Ozzie of the Circus, Dec. 23, 1929

Oddly, Film Daily had reported on April 15th that “Ozzie of the Circus” was ready for release; the delay is a little puzzling.

Now, the purpose of this post isn’t to run off a bunch of lists. It’s to pass along some of the great full-page ads for Oswald in Universal News after sound came in.

Universal News provided plot summaries for a number of the sound Oswalds produced by Mintz.

March 2, 1929
“Sick Cylinders”
Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD, with his newly acquired car, made the home of his best girl in “high.” She was delighted and ready for a ride in no time. They hardly got started before the flivver began to act up. Finally Oswald had to crawl under it!
A playful pup appeared and pestered Oswald to throw sticks for him, which delayed matters considerably as the sticks got larger and larger. Long before Oswald got things ship-shape the girl was impatiently looking at her watch. Eventually they got underway and everything was lovely until, on a mountain road, they jarred a big rock loose. That rock seemed possessed and pursued them up hill and down dale!
From then on their ride was a “bust”! They finally fell into a sand pit and the best girl didn’t hesitate to tell Oswald what she thought. In the midst of her tirade her other beau breezed up in a “straight-eight” and the ungrateful minx went off with him, leaving Oswald to take it out on his little car. And what he said!!!

April 13, 1929
“Hen Fruit”
Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD was foreman of the egg factory, but even with every modern device in the way of alarm clocks, it was difficult for him to get on the job. The time clock, however, never missed a trick and didn’t let any late pullets get by. A young cockerel managed to sneak in, and certainly disrupted the business of the egg laying! Oswald was so long pulling his basket that before he got out to his tin lizzie a goat roaming around had swallowed it. Oswald had a terrible time with that goat, but finally made him disgorge his lizzie. Of course, it was chewed to bits, but Oswald collected it in a couple of tin cans and soon shook it together again.

May 25, 1929
An Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD’S debut as actor was attended with much gaiety. Mice musicians tickled the hippo’s ivories, the thousand-leg chorus was spritely and Oswald was making a great success as snake-charmer and xylophone player when an old meanie in the audience broke his instrument, and gosh how bottles flew. Oswald, not to be foiled, returns with a skinny horse and plays on the animal’s ribs, but a pup throws a bomb which the horse swallows. Pandemonium!
Out of the theatre they rush,—though Oswald gets the bomb out of the horse’s mouth the thing follows them and they’re blown up. Oswald has a pleasant dream of kissing a nymph but comes to, finding himself kissing the horse. He has the horse knock him out again so that he can again enjoy his dream.

June 1, 1929
An Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD was asleep at the line, —the fish were having a grand time diving around him. They stole the bait and carried on generally. Oswald wakes up to find that his sleep hasn’t been profitable. When a stork steps up and ducks his head in the water, fetching out a fish or two for a slight snack, Oswald decides to use the bird’s services—so he hooks Sally Stork on the line and knots her neck so she can’t swallow,—and casts her off. But when a whale comes up as the catch and nearly swallows our Oswald (after devouring Sally Stork), the rabbit decides to rush out of the fish’s way.
Next Oswald tries music, which pleases one fish into doing a dance. Oswald gets the little fish into his clutches, but lo and behold a huge finner comes out of the water,—there is a battle. Oswald, the winner, is just about to carve a neat sirloin from his prize, when a thief comes along and steals it and the fadeout comes with Oswald hot in pursuit of the burglar.

June 8, 1929
Oswald Cartoon
WHILE the animals kept things “humming” at the sawmill, little Oswald went gaily through the forest, chopping down trees. But one tree was a tough one — so tough that his axe went back on him and nearly knocked him out. Puzzling what to do, he heard a noise. Aha, an idea! There was a sleeping pup who was sawing a lot of wood in his sleep. He used the sleeping dog’s saw and it worked! Lo and behold, the trunk exposed a bag of gold but, before little Oswald could take it, a Brute Bear reached for it and away he scooted; but Oswald ran right after him. The bear made a getaway down a stream in a canoe, but Oswald catches up to bear by riding on two logs and using his tail, first as a wind-propeller, and then as an outboard motor. Oswald diverts the rushing stream so that it runs over a cliff and grabs the bear as he passes by. While they are both falling, Oswald snatches the money and then flies back to safety on the cliff-top. Meantime the bear fell into the jaws of a huge crocodile and Oswald, in great glee, sees the crocodile salt the bear to taste and (galoomp!) swallow him. The sound version is happily animated with animal noises.

June 15, 1929
Oswald Cartoon
TIMES were hard for our Oswald when his days were spent in cleaning up the police court floor and he did have such a time keeping it free from tobacco juice—the captain was an old meanie who just would “chaw” while knitting.
Big Bruin Boloney, the gangster, held up the jeweler, and all the big and little Ben clocks threw up their hands in fright and the cuckoo retired into his nest. “The dials all went wrong.” All the available police did their best to catch Big Bruin, but he blew them up.
Little Oswald was promoted to the rank of cop, and he went out to get his “ham” (Boloney). The Big Brute nearly got Oswald, but our hero came to the courthouse triumphantly with the Bear a captive under a manhole.
Oswald is made judge, and the bear has to clean up tobacco juice forever after.

July 29, 1929
Oswald Cartoon.
OSWALD, a new Lochinvar, a bit weary from much lassoing and riding, reins in his horse and stops at a saloon—produces his own seidel of beer and amuses himself by having the Mouse-on-the-Keys Piano play for him. When the mouse drops on the ivories in exhaustion, Oswald goes in search of further adventure and “noses” in on a checker game which Big Bruin is enjoying in solo. Staking his money bag on the game, Oswald, through brilliant play, turns victor. The loss is too much for the Bruin to Bear and the ensuing battle is a fierce one.
After the “war” is over, our hero gallops away, in triumph, to find new fields to conquer.

August 17, 1929
Oswald Novelty
OUR little hero found his job as iceman not so hot. A feline tried to make a cat-a-away with a huge cake of ice, and only the glace eye of Oswald prevented it. Then, too, just as Ozzie’s favorite maid was about to present him with a delicious hot pie, big Bear butted in and the first thing you know he went off with the burnt offering. But the final deluge of poor luck came when Oswald and his faithful mare were nearly drowned by melted ice—caused through the placing of a bonfire under the ice-truck.

August 24, 1929
Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD is trying a hobo life by an encounter with a copper takes the keenness out of his freedom. But life looks promising again when he meets Brother Bear hobo, who is boiling coffee over a campfire. Oswald donates an egg to the repast—which is promptly stolen.
Suddenly they see a freshly-roasted chicken on a pantry window and Oswald is made to act as a purloiner. His first attempt at theft is squashed by a ferocious bulldog.
Finally a neat-but-not-flashy set of long woollies on a line acts as endman and trolleys the bird to Ozzie.
Foiled again (for a policeman happens on the scene) down the unfriendly road rushes our hero.
The bulldog, spying the policeman who has seized the fowl, chases the officer into the far horizon, much to Oswald’s glee.

Not all the issues of Universal News are on-line, so we can’t find a précis for the first Lantz produced cartoon, “Race Riot.” We reprinted a review from Film Daily in a post on the cartoons of 1929. Other opinions were expressed in the trades:

SOME highly amusing and clever cartoon work is to be enjoyed in this Oswald. This series is easily one of the leading cartoon series on the market today. With such high-calibre men as Walter Lang [sic] expending their ability on gag construction and the like, the Oswalds have taken a commanding position in the cartoon field, which they should maintain easily with their high standard. This Oswald cartoon contains plenty of fun. It should please anybody, anywhere, should he be man, beast or exhibitor—RAYMOND GANLY [Motion Picture Herald, August 17, 1929]

Good Cartoonantics. Mopey, the mare, faces the yawn of the big race day without much enthusiasm but Oswald finally gets her up and in action. During the race Oswald, who seems to have dirty characteristics, repeatedly tries to win by foul means, like burning the elephant and puncturing the hippo. And for at least once in screen history such a villain wins. He is blotted out, however, when Mopey, in her final leap for the wire, jumps on him. This is excellent cartoon entertainment. [Film Daily, Sept. 1, 1929].

Globe, New York. Another of the Oswald cartoon series, credited to Walter Laitz [sic] for animation and production (with two assistants, names not caught from screen), and Bert Fiske for synchronization.
Silly Stuff, as usual, with a couple novelty effects in the cartooning and synchronizing to distinguish it and make for a bright program filler. Abel [Variety, July 17, 1929]

Best thing ever made on film. Effects are great. When you play one of these you are assuring your people a real kick. (Carl Veseth, Palace theatre, Malta, Mont.—General patronage.) [Exhibitors Herald-World, Nov. 25, 1929]

Good from every standpoint. (Carl Veseth, Palace theatre, Malta, Mont.—General patronage.) Very good. (G. H. Wright, Jr., Star theatre. Wendell, N. Car.—Small town patronage.) [Exhibitors Herald-World, Dec. 7, 1929]

This sure is a riot, the best Oswald we have seen, and they sure help to fill in the program. (H. G. Williams, Quanah theatre, Fletcher, Okla.—Small town patronage.) [Exhibitors Herald-World, Feb. 15, 1930]

Race Riot was very good for the kids. We are getting tired of cartoons...One a month would be plenty.—FRED FLANAGAN, Flanagan and Heard, Vona theatre, Vona, Colo. [Exhibitors Herald-World, Aug. 9, 1930]

Musician Bert Fiske, by the way, played the piano off-stage during a scene with Al Jolson at the keyboard in The Jazz Singer at Warners. Fiske moved on, and so did Lantz, though Oswald remained his main box office draw in increasingly lacklustre cartoons in the ‘30s until, after several failed attempts at creating stars, Andy Panda came along in 1939.

Friday, 20 April 2018

The UPA Horse

For a few cartoons early in its theatrical life, UPA opened with a horse with a tartan. I presume the tartan was on a background while the body of the horse was transparent on cels.

Here’s the horse turning around and sitting. It then sprouts a gloved hand.

Here are two consecutive frames.

The hand disappears. The horse sprouts wings and flies out of the scene.

Bill Hurtz may have come up with the horse as he was designing cartoons at the studio at the time. I won’t venture a guess on the animator. And, no, I can’t tell you if this is a real Scottish tartan. It’s safe to say it’s not from Clan Bosustow.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Bad Note

Likely the most famous scene in the Tom and Jerry cartoon Piano Tooners (1931) is when Jerry chases and bashes a bad note that comes out of a piano and flushes it down a toilet.

I’m not sure if the close-up is a death scene or the note begging for mercy or what it is. But does it matter? This is a Van Beuren cartoon.

John Foster and George Rufle receive the “by” credits. The bad note comes from a rendition of “East Side, West Side.”

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Henry Morgan and the Start of ABC-TV

Henry Morgan had the distinction of being on ABC-TV before there was an ABC-TV.

In 1946, there were nine television stations in the U.S; some were still experimental. Not one of them was owned by ABC. But the radio network knew it had to get into the TV business, so it took over airtime on the Du Mont station in New York, WABD, and ran its few programmes. There was no ABC TV network yet.

Morgan was busy in 1946. He was on WJZ (the ABC radio flagship station) Sunday through Friday and was put on the network on Saturday nights starting in late January. This was a 15-minute grump-fest with “humorous comments, odd recordings” as the New York Herald Tribune put it. Morgan resumed his radio career after World War 2; before his military service, he built a reputation because of the war he had with advertising claims by his sponsors (coincidentally, sponsoring show mogul “Old Man Adler” died in 1946). He was well known enough to be given space by the New York Times that April to expound on what was wrong with radio (he blamed audiences that wanted “junk”). ABC seems to have believed it had a hot commodity in Morgan, one ripe for its experimental TV casts. Thus, Morgan ended up on TV on Thursday nights starting June 6, 1946. Variety reviewed:
With Henry Morgan,
Producer: Harvey Marlowe
15 Mins.; Thurs., 8:15 p.m.
Adler Shoes
Henry Morgan's first video show has probably brought to light more problems that the Television Broadcasters Assn. can handle at the moment. In tele, as in radio, he's one of the most unorthodox performers extant, completely uninhibited to the point that he can cause more gray hairs to producers in a brief 15 minutes than most performers during an entire career.
Privately, performers complain of the terrific heat generated by the overhead light banks, but no one has ever done anything about it. Morgan—he stripped down to the waist, showed the viewers how the lights melted the records, and complained bitterly about the conditions under which video workers perform. TBA will probably promulgate a Hays office code to take care of guys like Morgan. Unorthodoxy of the performance was probably the most surprising thing ever to come over the screen, but lest TBA clamps down on Morgan too hard, it was all inoffensive and didn't exceed good taste, and it was funny.
His gab, strictly ad-lib, poked fun at the product in a manner which would cause immediate cancellation by a less liberal bankroller. His lampoon of Adler shoe products was funnier than anything he's done on the audio medium because of the sight values afforded by video. But withal, he gave a practical demonstration of the efficacy of Adler elevators by having a gent from the audience, accompanied by a femme, try on a pair. The guy afterward was much taller than she was.
Morgan probably didn't mean to be that good to his sponsor. Morgan has provided the first burlesque of television, a certain sign that the medium is on the way to growing up.
What happened with the TV show? Did the experiment fail? The show ran only four weeks, but it wasn’t cancelled. Nor was sponsor Adler unhappy. “Exceptionally worthwhile,” was how Arthur Adler (company president and son of “Old Man Adler”) viewed the short series because people could see his slogan was correct and the Adler shoes made men taller. Nor did Morgan throw a fit and walk off (he saved that for the CBC many years) later. Women’s Wear Daily of July 26, 1946 had the answer: “In accordance with the policy of the American Broadcasting Co., with whom the contract was originally for a period of four weeks. This is time enough, says Ken Farnsworth, ABC Television Sales Manager, to enable the sponsor to take advantage of the promotional possibilities inherent in the experiment, and to gain the necessary experience with the new medium.”

ABC finally launched regular TV network programming on Wednesday, April 15, 1948 when Hollywood Screen Test aired unsponsored on WFIL-TV Philadelphia and WMAL-TV Washington. The following Sunday—70 years ago today—its first-ever commercial network programme aired—On the Corner, starring one Henry Morgan, and sponsored by Admiral Television. It aired on a whopping four stations, in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and New York on Du Mont’s WABD. ABC still didn’t have a New York TV station. Here’s Variety from April 21st:
With Henry Morgan, George Guest, Virginia Austin, Roy Davis, Clark Sisters
Producer: Charles Holden
Director: Ralph Warren
30 Mins.; Sun., 6:30 p.m.
ABC-TV, from Philadelphia
(Enders) [ad agency that booked the show]
One of the first major tele comedy shows to recruit top comedic talent from radio, the new Henry Morgan "On the Corner" variety program "went network" via ABC-TV Sunday (18) after a "sneak preview" the previous Sunday for Philly audiences. Program originates from WFIL-TV in Philly and is carried in New York by the DuMont station, WABD.
It's a half-hour comedy-variety format, with Morgan bringing on the "acts" culled from the vaude section of Variety, which gets its share of camera showcasing as Morgan is shown thumbing through its pages. As variety-slanted video programs go, there was nothing particularly inspiring or distinct live about the talent surrounding Morgan. One act featured a marimba turn (George Guest); another a puppeteer act (Virginia Austin); the third some off-the-record impersonations (Roy Davis), with a femme quartet (Clark Sisters) rounding out the bill. It was the kind of stuff that, even at this early stage, already has old-hat overtones through their multiple showcasing on the flock of amateur, semi-pro and pro shows that have found their way into video.
Chief interest, of course, centered around Morgan and his particular style of delivery and satirical brand of humor. The Morgan technique, with its casualness and suggestion that it's all off-the-cuff, lends itself to the visual medium. Certainly it demonstrates anew that when a comedian's got it, he's got it for stage, screen, radio or tele, of course, depending on his material.
Morgan's got it— but if there were any major regrets about last Saturday's show, it was the lack of funny material. Plus a too casual mannerism of "throwing it away." Obviously it isn't deliberate, but it suggests to the videogler that, even on his preem tele performance Morgan's kinda bored by the whole thing.
Perhaps it was only natural that the show's top laughs came from the Morgan "kidding-the-commercial" routine, a carryover from his radio show, in this instance his TV sponsor's Admiral refrigerator. The prop really got a kicking around both verbally and physically. Here, too, the sponsor sensitivity angle projects itself, only doubly so. For a visual gander at the punishment taken by the product might easily start Admiral Corp. execs to wonder. It's funny, but how practicable it can be in terms of sales impact is questionable. There's an earlier commercial extolling the virtues of the Admiral radio-tele-phonograph combo set, but it's delivered straight.
The show was scheduled for 13 weeks. It never got that far. The third and fourth weeks saw WFIL-TV technicians on strike; ABC cancelled one show and Morgan refused to cross the picket line for the second. The fifth week originated from WMAL-TV Washington on May 15th. Admiral brought in someone other than Morgan to do the commercials. He considered that a breach of contract. Admiral said that was fine with them. That ended On the Corner after a total of three broadcasts. Even Hayloft Hoedown lasted longer.

Morgan wasn’t through with radio. We said Morgan was busy in 1946. That year ABC had sunk $100,000 into failed shows starting Bill Thompson and Jimmy Gleason, but decided to put up the same amount of cash to develop half-show radio outings with Morgan and Ray Wencil (Variety, June 26). He cut an audition disc in early July and then fumed live on his 15-minute radio about what happened next when he tried to negotiate with the network—“Little did I know I’d run head-on into a foul den of thieves” (Variety, July 17). However, things got squared away by mid-August when the trades reported he’d get a half hour comedy show, with Aaron Rubin eventually signed to write for him.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Word Association

There are some pretty clever visualisations, even making old groaner puns funny, in Tex Avery’s Symphony in Slang (released in 1951). And there are some that, well, just don’t work for me.

Tex and gagman Rich Hogan try not one but two word visualisations. They’re the weakest ones in my estimation.

Tom Oreb’s designs really help this cartoon. The “raining cats and dogs” and “cat got your tongue” gags could be cringingly bad but the animals are amusingly drawn so the gags work. I still laugh at the cat even though I know the gag is coming. Why Oreb went to MGM and why he only worked on one cartoon (that anyone knows of) is, perhaps, a mystery. His work is great.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Wacky Wabbit Backgwound

May 2, 1942. There’s a war on. As you are reminded at the start of the Warner Bros. cartoon The Wacky Wabbit, released on that date.

I suspect this was the last Warners cartoon released with backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen. He was working in Tex Avery’s unit when Bob Clampett took it over after Avery’s departure in mid-1941. Johnsen soon joined Avery at MGM and stayed there until his retirement.

Disney had his multiplane camera, Fleischer had his “setbacks” but Warner Bros. managed to simulate 3-D depth in a cartoon simply by taking background overlays and moving them at different speeds during a pan shot. The Wacky Wabbit is one of those cartoons (Clampett and Johnsen did the same thing at the start of Wabbit Twouble in 1941). You can play the clip below and see there is a foreground overlay and another one with the bare rock peaks in the near foreground.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The 39th Birthday Surprise

How many top stars or celebrities do you think would call you with a special greeting?

Let us tell you about one who did.

Jack Benny spent years insisting he was 39 years of age. It was so embedded in his comedy routine that when a high school in his home town was named in his honour, its sports teams were (and still are) called the “39’ers.” So it was that a husband cooked up a 39th birthday surprise for his wife. Here’s the story from the Indianapolis Star of March 2, 1958. We wonder if Jack played a “reverse the charges” gag.
Jack Benny Phones

A birthday gift--one of those special imaginative ones--will make Mrs. William S. Deckelbaum's 39th birthday a long-remembered event.
Rosalind has been a Jack Benny fan for years and years. On Sunday night she would from the radio to the television to hear his show, ... her family's dinner would wait.
"What could be a better gift," thought her husband, Bill Deckelbaum, "Than a birthday telephone call to his favorite 39'er from her favorite 39'er."
Bill wrote an air mail letter asking Jack Benny if he would telephone a birthday greeting between 7 and 9 p.m. on the special day.
HE WROTE, "In the 17 years we have been married she probably has not missed a single one of your shows. She was your fan before I knew her." He added, "you'll have to do a selling job for she won't believe who it is. She will know nothing about it."
To celebrate the birthday the Deckelbaums invited a group of friends to their home before taking them out for dinner. Bill let the guests in on his secret.
THAT AFTERNOON Rosalind said to Ann, her teen-age daughter, "I thought of borrowing a violin and meeting the guests at the door but I'm afraid they won't know how crazy I am about Jack Benny and wouldn't get the point."
Ann never cracked a smile. Neither did her younger brother, Bill. But Rosalind did think it strange when she heard her daughter tell her date, "I have to be here until 9 o'clock tonight." Ann normally did not think it necessary to hang around when her parents were entertaining.
Around 8 o'clock the phone rang. No one moved. Rosalind answered it ... It was a child calling his mother. The phone rang again. Still no one offered to answer it. Rosalind went again. Another child calling.
Rosalind began to suspect there was a surprise coming over the telephone. "Is it an old boy friend calling?" she asked. No one bothered to say a word.
At 8:55 p.m. the phone rang again. A voice sang "Happy Birthday." She said, "Your voice sounds familiar. Who is it?" There was a grand rush to the telephone extensions. It was only an old friend in town who had remembered the date!
AT 9:50 P.M. the phone rang again. "Long distance" and then, "Rosalind, I want to wish you a happy birthday. This is Jack Benny."
"Oh, come on now!" said the birthday girl. "Rosalind, it IS Jack Benny," said one of the listening guests, not wanting her to waste time on identifications.
BENNY SAID: "Your voice sounds very young for 39." They visited a few minutes and he asked to speak to her husband.
"I just came in and saw your letter," he told Bill. "I looked at my watch and saw I still had a couple of minutes to make the call. I wanted you to know that I am sending back your check." "No," said Bill, "it was marvelous of you to call. Anyway I would like the check with your signature." "When I send the check I'll send a letter," Jack said.
LATER ROSALIND sent Jack Benny a wire thanking him for his call and saying, "I'll never be 39 so successfully again."
"I got a big kick out of the phone call myself," wrote Benny later. And as for her birthday, Rosalind said, "I never felt so pampered in my life."
It was a kind and thoughtful thing to do. No wonder Jack Benny had so many fans.

Mrs. Deckelbaum was a life-long resident of Indianapolis. Benny outlived her by three years. She died in 1971.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Mintz Staff, 1933

Do you know what this is? Yes, I know it’s a house. But do you know whose house?

Scrapologist Harry McCracken (or is it “Scrappologist” with two ‘p’s?) had a quiz amongst a number of us about this the other day. It’s the final home of studio mogul Charles Mintz who died on December 30, 1939. The home is at 717 North Linden Drive in Beverly Hills and was built in 1927.

But this isn’t a post about the house, nor Mintz, nor Harry McCracken for that matter. In hunting for the home address, I checked out the 1934 Los Angeles City Directory and found what amounted to a staff list for the Mintz cartoon studio. I suspect it was compiled in 1933 when Mintz was making Scrappy and Krazy Kat cartoons. See how many of the names you recognise.

ALGRE Felix artist Chas Mintz studio
BACON Frances L artist Chas Mintz studio r534 N Curson av
BLAIR Preston artist Chas Mintz studio
BLUM Blanche sten Chas Mintz studio
BONFIGLIO Thos artist Chas Mintz studio
BRINKER Frank artist Chas Mintz studio
BRONIS Jas officer mgr Chas Mintz studio
COUCH Chas artist Chas Mintz studio
CULBERTSON Ethel artist Chas Mintz studio rSanta Monica
DAVIS Arthur artist Chas Mintz studio
DeNAT Jos artist Chas Mintz Studio h1857 N Wilton pl
DUNNING Marshall artist Chas Mintz studio
ELLIS Irwin artist Chas Mintz studio
EUGSTER Alf artist Chas Mintz Studio
FORSHAY Elma artist Chas Mintz Studio
FULLER Lucille artist Chas Mintz Studio h5356 Lexington av
GARBER Sidney artist Chas Mintz Studio
GATES Marion artist Chas Mintz Studio
GOULD Allen artist Chas Mintz Studio
GRANVILLE Roy artist Chas Mintz Studio
HAWKINS Emery artist Chas Mintz Studio
HUFFINE Ray artist Chas Mintz Studio
JONES Fred artist Chas Mintz Studio
LIVERS Virginia artist Chas Mintz Studio r1400 N Serrano av
LOVE Harry artist Chas Mintz Studio
MARCUS Michl artist Chas Mintz Studio
MARCUS Sidney artist Chas Mintz Studios r8240 W 4th
McRAE Byron F artist Chas Mintz Studio r620 N Occidental blvd
MINTZ Chas pres Chas Mintz Studio r Beverly Hills
MINTZ Chas Studio pres mot pict prod 1154 N Westn av
MYERHOFER Mary artist Chas Mintz Studio
NOVAK Paul artist Chas Mintz Studio
PATIN Ray Mrs artist Chas Mintz Studio h2405 Holly dr
PATTERSON Donald artist Chas Mintz Studio r5351 Sunset blvd
PATTERSON Raymond artist Chas Mintz Studio r5351 Sunset blvd
REHBERG Edw artist Chas Mintz Studio
REIMER Otto G (Laura) artist Chas Mintz Studio h2751 Angus
ROSE Alf artist Chas Mintz Studio
ROSE Geo artist Chas Mintz Studio
ROTH John E artist Chas Mintz Studio
SHULTZ Edw artist Chas Mintz Studio
SPECTOR Irving artist Chas Mintz Studio
SUMMERVILLE Ralph artist Chas Mintz Studio
THIEDEMAN Christine artist Chas Mintz Studio h5426 Virginia av
TIMMINS Rube artist Chas Mintz Studio
WINKLER Geo genl mgr Chas Mintz Studio r West Los Angeles

Not all of these “artists” were artists. For example, Joe DeNat was the studio’s musical director. Byron McRae was a cameraman. And the list seems incomplete. There’s no mention of Ben Harrison, who came west with the studio from New York in early 1930. Is “Allen Gould” the same as Manny Gould? (Irwin Ellis is not the same as Warners’ Izzy Ellis; both are in the directory). Poor Ralph Somerville’s name is misspelled. So is Felix Alegre, and Allen Rose’s first name.

Pretty much everyone reading here knows the names of many of the Golden Age animators, so I need not say more about Preston Blair, Emery Hawkins, Artie Davis, the Pattersons and Sid Marcus (there seem to be a few Sam Singer employees here, such as Marcus, Ed Rehberg and, I think, Irv Spector).

There are names you may not recognise. One is likely Marshall Dunning. He had a very interesting career, mainly in newspaper cartooning, though he worked at the Disney studio for a time. He was living in Long Beach in 1929 when he came to Vancouver to get married. You can read about his career at this link.

Otto George Reimer wasn’t exactly a cartoonist. He was born in East St. Louis, Ill. on July 7, 1892. When he enlisted in World War One, his home was in Los Angeles and he was a litho engraver. In 1930, we find him in Chicago where he was a stone engraver. It would appear he moved to New Jersey by 1935 and New York City by 1940.

Anyone know anything about Paul Novak? Or Frank Brinker? Or Sid Garber?

As for the Mintz studio address listed in the directory? Well, you see the poor old home to the right. The aforementioned Mr. McCracken visited the site last year and wrote an excellent history of the building, complete with a drawing of it in its glory days on his Scrappyland blog. Don’t know much about Scrappy cartoons? You’ve never heard of Scrappy cartoons? Tsk. Go to Harry’s blog and learn about them.

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Kornered Kitties

I get the feeling that Bob Clampett told his animators “Go as much over the top as you want to” when Kitty Kornered was in production. Some of the takes are just insane.

Porky’s pets are drinking, relaxing on a couch, smoking El Ropos and chowing down on chocolates when the pig bursts in.

Some reaction drawings. Nobody but Clampett would have had anything like this in their cartoons.

The littlest cat spits out a chocolate he’s eating. These are consecutive frames. This must be Manny Gould at work.

The characters are panicked a lot in this cartoon. Here’s a great example.

Gould, Rod Scribner and Bill Melendez receive screen credits for animation. This seems to have been the third-last cartoon Clampett directed before he left Warner Bros.

The verdict in the Motion Picture Herald from Fred J. Hutchings of the Community Theatre in Leader, Saskatchewan, not far from the Alberta border: “Not too good. There have been better cartoons from this company.” Said the Showmen’s Trade Review: “All Right. Porky Pig and the cat have a runaround here which goes so fast it is hard at times to follow the action on the screen. However, this crazy pace is going to pep up any program, so you will probably want this one. Artwork and Technicolor are splendid.”