Monday, 13 August 2018

Papa Penguin Kaput

A penguin paces in Frozen Frolics, a 1930 Van Beuren cartoon.

A stork emerges from the chimney. You know what a stork means. The penguin hears a noise and a stream of identical baby penguins emerge from the igloo.

They do a little dance together until papa penguin releases more and more children are coming out of the igloo. That’s the end of him. The Van Beuren artist draws stars forming from lines coming out of his body.

Gene Rodemich supplies the score. The cartoon is directed by John Foster and Harry Bailey. (Sorry for the fuzzy frame grabs, that’s the way the cartoon looks on the DVD).

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Swingin' Sammy and His Bopping Boombase

The way it was told on the Jack Benny show, the members of Phil Harris’ band were petty thieves and cons. They weren’t, of course, but one of them sounded like he could have been.

Drummer Sammy Weiss was born on New York’s Lower East Side, and he had a flat voice like a mugg who was doing the strong-arming for the “boss” before a heist.

Sammy was referred to on the show for a number of years, but finally got to go in front of the microphone in the last season, 1954-55. For years, Phil Harris fronted the band on the show, then Bob Crosby took over in 1952. But in reality arranger Mahlon Merrick did the bulk of the work; Harris and Crosby had become characters. Benny didn’t really need Crosby. So in the final season, Crosby simply didn’t appear very much and the “musician” gag spot on the show was taken up by Merrick, pianist Charlie Bagby or Sammy the drummer. Sammy didn’t sound like a professional actor, which made him even funnier. It sounded like he’s right off the Benny bandstand, which he was.

His family was poor. After success had come to him, he met Eddie Cantor at a Radio Hall of Fame event and thanked him for something 25 years earlier. Cantor had taken him out of the tenements and gave him a free two-week vacation at the Surprise Camp for Boys in the mountains. Cantor said he could repay it with a donation to help other poor boys. Sammy readily coughed up $25.

I don’t know when Sammy joined the Harris aggregation but he had worked with some of the top bandleaders—Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman among them. He was a member of the Johnny Guarnieri Trio in the ‘40s. He cut Jewish novelty records with Mickey Katz. He made the front page of the April 15, 1939 edition of Billboard when he was drumming with Merle Pitt’s studio band at WNEW. The story had nothing to do with music. It talked about Sammy becoming the father of twins. His wife phoned him with the news an hour after the birth. Sammy asked where she was. “I’m in Whelan’s drug store having a Coca-Cola!!!” she responded. It must have been an easy birth. (In May 1951, the birth of a daughter to Sammy became part of the script of the Benny show).

Here are a couple of stories about Sammy. The first is from the Hollywood column of the Universal Radio and TV Features Syndicate dated February 2, 1953.
Weiss Is Unusual Ad Libber-He Does It on the Drums

HOLLYWOOD — One of the quickest men in Hollywood with an ad lib is Sammy Weiss. But Sammy is an ad libber with a difference— he does it on drums! Sammy plays with orchestras too—with Bob Crosby and the Jack Benny program, and with Irving Miller on the Bob Hawk show—and he's one of the best in the business. But it’s the unrehearsed stuff he does that captures and fractures the audiences, and has led to Benny considering him more a member of the cast than of the orchestra. For example, when Benny walks across the stage, Sammy may play footsteps in time to Benny’s pace. Or, as the comedian approaches the microphone, Sammy may give a drum roll like they do in circuses when the guy is about to dive 80 feet into a pail of water. Or he may express his critical opinion of a flat joke by drumming out a noise that sounds like a Bronx cheer.
He has a hundred or more such sounds that he can throw into a show, and the regular soundmen are considering picketing any day now on the grounds that he’s taking over their racket.
But the point is, the star of the show never knows when to expect Sammy to cut in, and frequently is caught with his lines down. When you can do that to Benny or Hawk, you're good!
It’s real disconcerting, some times.
However, the audiences love it, and what audiences love must be put up with.
Sammy, the drummer, as he’s called from coast-to-coast, wasn't always that way, but almost. He started drumming when he was 12, with sticks made from rungs of an old chair, just as Spike Jones did.
Physically, Sammy is as impressive as he is musically. He’s a giant of a man, 6-feet, 4-inches tall, with huge shoulders, hands and arms.
Everybody in Hollywood knows him, and even trying to walk, from one studio to another with him is often painfully slow, for everyone he passes, stops to talk. Right now he's busily writing a book about himself, tentatively titled, “What Makes Sammy Drum.” I say the title is tentative, because he’s also considering naming it “I’ll Take the Drumstick.”
And this is from the King Features’ TV Key column of July 19, 1962.
TV Keynotes
Drummer Has Fun With Boom

HOLLYWOOD--Ever hear of a boombase? It’s not a dance, a disease or a kid’s candy, but an ancient musical instrument that is currently delighting movieland celebrities at parties when played by happy Sammy Weiss, Jack Benny’s drummer for 17 years.
The instrument, which looks like it was made in a dirty cellar, consists of a broomstick on a spring saddled with a tambourine, a cowbell, and one wooden block tapped by two cymbals. A drumstick is needed to whack out the heat on the various knobs and that’s it. Weiss estimates average boombase technique can be picked up in five minutes, so there’s hope for everybody.
The boombase had been in oblivion until Sammy saw one in a music store window. He took the noble instrument home, made a copy of it and returned the original. Now Sammy’s main occupation in Hollywood, when not playing in the Benny band, is leading small combos at private parties. He works about a hundred a year entertaining stars and society folk. Sammy shows up with his boombase, and wanders from table to table, beating out “Never on Sunday” to delighted fans.
Hit With Listeners
The Shah of Iran heard him recently and immediately wanted one. Tammy Grimes thought the boombase noises so lovely she wants Sammy to do boom base background music for her next album. Red Skelton fell for the instrument and intends to use it on his hour show next fall. Actor Cliff Robertson thinks the boombase fad will soon replace the Twist.
The first sounds of the boombase—bonk, clink, clank, boom, boom are not irresistible, but when played by Sammy, something happens. He can even play it on the street and not send dogs off howling. In his day, Sammy has drummed for Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Dizzy Gillespie to name a few, cutting records with most of them, so he can get music out of a tree trunk and he makes the boombase really swing.
“You know what?” says Sammy. “I'm swinging better now than I did 25 years ago.”
But the main thing is Sammy’s personality. A big man, with a red, shining face usually wearing a grin, Sammy just makes people feel better as he bounces around whacking his boombase. After watching Sammy perform on “Truth or Consequences,” a midwestern company which happens to make boombases to practically no market at all, signed Sammy up to sell the thing. From now on it’s going to be known as “Sammy’s Boombase.”
Sammy has just been playing the gadget for fun, but, judging from the way it’s going, this boombase fad may get out of hand and turn into a big deal.
“I’m just happy playing drums in our little bands,” says Sammy. “I’ve been through the best band years, I’ve brought up three kids and I've stayed straight. Now look what’s happening. I feel I’ve got it made. I have a few good years left and I’m going to ride the boombase out.”
Last year Lawrence Welk’s band played for the Hollywood TV Emmy party. Because of the boombase craze Sammy got the nod this year. Bookings are increasing. He already has three parties booked one summer night soon.
“This presents a problem,” says Sammy. “People might think I’m getting bigger and thus too expensive, and maybe they’ll get some other hand instead. I don’t want that to happen.”
As a drummer Sammy wangles a few commercials, but there’s not a massive call for the sound. Since he fiddles with sticks, it’s assumed he can shake anything correctly, and on one commercial Sammy was called in to rattle money.
“I get a whole bag of quarters, halves and dimes and then I shake this dough,” he says. “I tell you, things are lookin’ up. “Drummers are coming back and so are big bands. You know why? The Twist. People who have never danced are out there wiggling. It’s good exercise. “Take the Shah of Iran and his Queen. She does a beautiful twist I tell you the Twist has changed everything. Maybe the boombase will be next, hey!”
Sammy led his own band and appeared at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs, the setting for a number of Benny radio shows over the years. A sadder connection with Benny is this—the two of them died of pancreatic cancer. In Sammy’s case, it was on December 17, 1977. He was 67.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Making Oswald and Pooch

Walter Lantz was a true pioneer in theatrical animation, starting as a cel washer at International Film Service in New York in 1916 and finally shutting down his own studio in 1972. Afterward, he continued to travel the world and talk about his cartoons until his death in 1994.

Lantz was handed a cartoon operation to run in 1929 by Universal’s Carl Laemmle, who considered him a good luck charm at poker games, according to Joe Adamson’s biography of him. The studio had one star—Oswald the lucky rabbit. After a well-publicised attempt to add Fanny the Mule in 1930 (Exhibitors World Herald and Motion Picture News both reported a Fanny short was released in Sept. 1930), Lantz added Pooch the pup to his starring roster in 1931.

Here’s Lantz talking about the transition to sound and how sound cartoons were made. He also has some advice for amateurs who want to make their own cartoons at home on 16 millimetre. This appeared in the July 1932 edition of American Cinematographer.

Sound Cartoons and 16 mm.

Creator of Universal's "Oswald" and "Pooch" cartoons

THE advent of sound has changed the business of animated cartooning tremendously. In the old days, one needed merely to be something of a cartoonist, something of a "gag-man," a good animator — and just a little crazy, in order to make animated cartoons. Nowadays, in addition to all of these, one must be something of a musician, as well, and demented enough to produce slightly crazy music as well as slightly crazy drawings. In producing sound-cartoons commercially, we have, of course, the advantage of being able — or to put it more truthfully, compelled — to do things by factory production methods; we let one man take care of the story, another the music, others the backgrounds, animation, etc. Of course, the average amateur movie maker cannot do things on this scale, but there is really nothing to prevent him from experimenting with animated cartooning, either silent or with sound, if he wishes to — and has the patience that the work requires.

Viewed from the photographic angle, all that is necessary is a camera that can be made to expose one frame (or picture) at a time, stop with the shutter closed, and wait until it is required to expose the next frame. There are several 16 mm. cameras available with hand-cranking mechanisms; one or two of them even have the required one-picture-per-turn movements; but even without this refinement, so long as they have the hand-crank, they can be used for cartooning. Any machine-shop can build a gear arrangement that will permit the single-frame work; the normal crank gives eight pictures per turn, therefore an 8:1 reduction gear will do the trick and give you one exposure for each turn of your crank.

To photograph the cartoons, the camera is placed in a fixed mount, pointed down on a board upon which the drawings are placed, and focused so that its field exactly coincides with the area of the drawing, which, for convenience, should be 8x10 inches or larger. Over the drawing is placed a plate-glass cover in a frame hinged to swing up out of the way when the drawings are being changed, and which fits down over the drawings tightly and firmly enough to prevent any wrinkles; in our own camera-table at the studio we have, as an extra safeguard, a vacuum device which forces the glass down with a pressure of 1200 lbs. per inch. This, of course, is unnecessary in amateur installations, as is our motor-drive, which works through a clutch, and exposes one frame each time a button is pressed. A frame counter, however, is necessary, especially with sound. An ordinary Veeder counter will serve this purpose. It can be attached to the single-picture crank, and should have room for at least four figures.

As to the exact method of "sounding" cartoons, perhaps the best suggestion might be gleaned from a description of the way we make our "Oswald" and "Pooch" cartoons.

In the first place, we have to have an idea to start with. From this idea I prepare a scenario. I cooperate with the musical staff in this, fitting the action and the music together. The scenario is partly drawn and partly written; it has on it the "key drawings," which are merely rough sketches of the scene, suggesting the action. Below each drawing, I describe the action. Above it is the musical outline. This is worked out so that we know definitely that any specified action will occur at a certain bar of music — or, to put it the other way around, that at that definite bar of music, a definitely known action will be taking place. The standard projecting-speed for talking pictures — either 35mm. or 16mm. — is 24 frames per second. Therefore, we use 24 frames as our unit, and arrange our music so that we begin a new bar each second — or 24 frames. By this means, we can be sure that if we have a certain sound effect in bar No. 100, its accompanying action will be made in frame No. 2400.

Having worked out the action and music scenarios so that they synchronize perfectly on paper, and so they make the film-footage required for our release, we are ready to proceed. The music department makes its orchestral arrangement of the music, and records it. Meanwhile, the cartoon department makes its cartoon film; when both are completed, we know beyond doubt that the two will fit together perfectly. If someone is to kick Oswald, for instance, we can rest assured that the kick's accompanying "Klunk!" will be in the sound track, exactly in its place to the frame, even though the sound is recorded as much as three weeks or a month before the kick is drawn and photographed.

So much for that: now for the cartoon itself. As anyone who has an amateur camera knows, moving pictures consist of a series of tiny still photographs taken in succession on a strip of film, with each picture just a little different from the one before it. Well, in making a cartoon, we merely draw these pictures and photograph the drawings in order: the result on the screen is the same — an illusion of movement. The movement can be made as fast or as slow, as smooth or as jerky as we wish merely by the spacing of the drawings of the individual phases of motion, and by the number of frames allowed for each drawing. For the smoothest action, use closely-spaced drawings, allowing one frame per drawing. For jerky action, space the phases farther apart. To speed the movement, use one frame per drawing; to slow it down, use more frames for each drawing. The best cartoon practice, I think, is to use moderately-spaced phases of movement, and photograph them giving each drawings two frames. A great help in learning animating — as this business of making these moving drawings is called — is the studying of slow-motion films taken of natural movements, which is easy with many of the better 16mm. cameras! study both the film on the screen, and the film itself, frame by frame Study both slow-motion and normal films — and then work hard, and you'll have it.

From our scenario, we begin to get into the specialized work of mass-production. One man specializes on the backgrounds. These are made on paper, usually as combination pen-and-ink and wash drawings. We cannot go in for too fine gradations, but confine ourself to a fairly limited scale of grays, in addition, of course, to black and white.

At the top of these paper-drawn backgrounds are two punch-holes, very accurately spaced. These fit over standardized pegs on the background-artist's board, corresponding pegs on the action-artist (or animator's) board, and upon the camera-table. They are what keep the figures in their proper places on the background.

The figures are first drawn on paper, in pencil, by the animator. Then they are traced in ink onto thin celluloid. The black areas are filled in — on the back of the "cell" — with India ink, while the white areas, through which the background must not show, are similarly backed with Chinese white. The areas around the figure, of course, through which the background is to be seen, are not backed at all. When used, these cells can be cleaned with ordinary soap and water, and used again and again until they become too scratched and dirty to be usable.

Now, of course, there are a number of short-cuts in animating. For instance, if we have Oswald in a scene where he is standing still, but talking, or gesticulating, we don't need to draw his body every time: instead, we draw him a body on one cell, and his head or arms, or whatever moves, on other cells; thanks to the registering-pegs, the two will be in their proper relation, and we won't be embarrassed by seeing "Ozzie's" body standing still, and his head talking busily away somewhere else.

Similarly, if we have more than one character that is to move in a scene, each character may be drawn on a separate cell — or cells. Too many cells, of course, will spoil the picture, but we can safely use three or four at once — sometimes more, if the cells are clean, and the light good.

When a character is to repeat a movement, we can naturally use the same cycle of cells as often as may be desired; similarly, when, for instance, we want hundreds of animals to pour out of a house, we can make a cycle for them, drawing them all on the same cell, and using a series of such cells for the cycle, which can be continued indefinitely.

When a character is to walk across the screen, we can use a walking cycle, with multiple registration-punches to give him the movement; of course, in this case, the cells must be long enough so that their edges don't come into the picture at either end of the walk. When, on the other hand, our character is to walk, but remain in the same place, while the background flows past him, we can use an ordinary walking cycle, while the background is drawn on a long roll of paper, and moved by, a sixteenth of an inch or so at a time. This type of movement must, of course, be handled very carefully, so that the background moves naturally, and does not appear to skid by under the character's feet.

Photographing the drawings is simple. I have already described the camera-set-up; the lighting may be either by Cooper-Hewitt mercury-vapor tubes or by incandescent light. We use the latter; I think that for amateur use a pair of the new "Photoflood" bulbs would be excellent. The only requirement as to lighting is that the field be illuminated evenly, and that there be no reflections, either of the lights or of the camera and its supports, in the cover-glass.

When it comes to "sounding" the amateur cartoon, there are several methods. In the first place, bearing in mind the way I have described that we allow 24 frames to the bar, you can, with some experimenting, synchronize your cartoon to existing records, either the 78 r.p.m. commercial records, the new 33 1/3 r.p.m. "long-playing" records, or the 33 1/3 r.p.m. theatre sound-effect records made by several of the photograph companies. The 33 1/3 r.p.m. records are the best, as they will last long enough for a 400-ft. reel, and, too, most of the 16mm. sound-projectors are made to take them. In addition, you can record your own sound on these records by means of the new Victor, R. C. A., General Electric and Greybar home-recording phonographs, or through one of the several agencies that specialize in making sound-effects for 16mm. films. If you haven't a sound-projector, it is possible, though difficult, to synchronize your ordinary projector with an electric phonograph. The results aren't, of course, perfect, still — it can be done, with patience.

There, in a few words, is an outline of sound-cartooning. It is difficult, and requires patience — but it provides a deal of enjoyment, and a type of film that is rarely seen on amateur programs — and therefore doubly welcome to home-movie sated audiences.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Cupid's Nose For Love

Poor B.O. Skunk is forlorn after unsuccessfully attempting to romance two female rabbits. But look who appears!

It is a rule in cartoons that skunks smell. The odour is even too powerful for little Cupid (played by Frank Graham), who skids backwards out of the scene and returns with some assistance.

Little ‘Tinker (1948) has all kinds of outrageous takes that you’d expect in a Tex Avery cartoon, a quick string of gags (including several Frankie! ones) and, unusual for Avery, a touching, happy ending. The credited animators are Bill Shull, Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton and Bob Bentley. Ex-Disney animator Louie Schmitt designed the characters.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Bare Faced Oswald

How often does a cartoon character strip off his face? There are some cartoons where a face comes off after a head is bashed into something but in Africa Before Dark (1928), Oswald takes off his face and leaves it by a hole to capture a tiger, while his body is at a second hole.

The plan works.

It’s a great gag, but a reused one. Walt Disney (this is a Disney Oswald) tried it out in Alice Gets Stung (1925).

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

She's a Happy Joyce

“Mr. Disney liked me because I reminded him of one of his animations.”
“Cinderella?” she was asked.
“No. Dopey,” she replied.
That rim-shotting line came from actress Joyce Bulifant, who appeared in “The Happiest Millionaire” (1967) for Uncle Walt. She also showed up seemingly everywhere on television where a laugh-track could be heard (or before live studio audiences), or a tumbleweed tumbled (such as “Bonanza”), and in some of the most obscure places.
Good reviews greeted the 23-year-old Bulifant in an off-Broadway production of “There is a Play Tonight” in 1961 (syndicated critic Alice Hughes declared her “a good actress, with charm and stage presence”). She soon found work on the West Coast in all kinds of TV roles, including a spot on the “Tom, Dick and Mary” portion of the rotating sitcom “90 Bristol Court” (1964, photo to right) and a season as a dancer on “Arthur Murray’s Dance Party.”
Due to its huge popularity, she’s perhaps most associated with “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” where she showed up occasionally as Murray Slaughter’s (Gavin McLeod) wife. Alas, attempts at other junctures in the ‘70s for her to break out in a starring role somewhat eluded her. One was in a short-lived series called “Love Thy Neighbor” in 1973. It was during that period where TV executives, uniting almost as one, decided if they imported some Britcom with a left/right, rich/poor or black/white dynamic, they’d be greeted with instant success. Let this King Features syndicated column from June 20, 1973 try to bring back some memories.

TV Key, Inc
HOLLYWOOD (KFS) – "Love Thy Neighbor," a modified version of the English TV series about blacks moving into a white neighborhood, arrived on ABC last Friday for a summer run, and the results are not encouraging. "All in the Family" it is not.
Even so, the black-white female comedy — scheduled for a six weeks' engagement — may have an extended run, earning a chance to find its groove, since the prolonged writers' strike has forced networks to drop plans for the customary grand fall opening in mid-September.
For those who missed the first episode, "Love Thy Neighbor'' looks in upon a middle-class San Fernando Valley, Calif., development called the Sherwood Forest Estates. Charlie and Peggy Wilson, played by Ron Masak and Joyce Bulifant, live on Friar Tuck Lane. Blue collar man Wilson, a shop steward, blows a fuse at the plant over the hiring of an efficiency expert, then has a second fit at home when hit with the news that a black couple has bought the house next door. The new neighbors, Ferguson and Jackie Bruce, turn out to be the efficiency man and his wife, portrayed by Harrison Page and Janet MacLachlan.
Wives Peggy and Jackie become immediate friends while the men are more wary, unable to drop their suspicions and prejudices over a handshake With wives forming allies, the promise slides into male-versus female combat for comedy playoff, and judging from the first two episodes, actresses Joyce Bulifant and Janet MacLachlan clearly have the best of it.
Bulifant had another obscure starring role, on—of all places—Saturday mornings. Here’s King Features again in a story published July 25, 1976. This series didn’t take off, either.
Joyce Bulifant, a Happy Little Dizzy Blonde, Can Make Silliness Palatable

TV Key, Inc.
HOLLYWOOD – (KFS) – Joyce Bulifant has a rare quality that's much in demand these days on the tube; she can make silliness palatable.
The happy little dizzy blonde with the turned-up nose, the elfish grin and the high-pitched squeaky voice brightens game shows like the new "Cross-Witts," and "The Match Game" in the daytime.
At night there's Joyce, when she has time after telethon and guest spots, bolstering her series husband, writer Murray Slaughter, on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
This fall the busy Bulifant invades a new territory of the ridiculous — Saturday morning, where she joins Herb Edelman and child actor Robbie Rist in NBC's "Big John, Little John." It's a crazy show by Sherwood ("Gilligan's Island," "The Brady Bunch") Schwartz and His son, Lloyd, about a housewife (Joyce) whose 45-year-old husband drinks from the fountain of youth and regresses back to the age of 12.
In the Schwartz rendition, fans will see both the 45-year-old husband in the form of actor Edelman, and the head of the household when he has slipped back to 12. Whether hubby is 45 or 12, Joyce's housewife remains steadfast, going along in her happy, giggling fashion.
As Bulifant fans can attest, the Schwartzes hit the bullseye when they thought of Joyce. On game shows, the actress plays the dizzy blonde, shooting verbally from the hip. She may be miles off target, but that hardly matters because she makes everyone feel better with her happy disposition.
"I speak before I think," Joyce admits. "That's a terrible thing to say, but it usually pays off in the game show business. I've never lost a job because of the habit."
Just because Joyce says the first thing that comes to mind doesn't mean she's a lame brain. "It's not a dumb mind, only a silly one," is her explanation. Silliness has its limits with the actress. She goes through periods of depression wondering what she is doing playing dumb games for daytime consumption. But then she bumps into an elderly couple at the supermarket and hears "You make our day." Little kids run up to her on the street and fuss over her. "That's really nice," she says.
Thanks to her happy-go-lucky silly image, the actress earns a good living, enough for three children. A working mother, the 13-year charter member of International Orphans, Joyce is known for her inability to say no to anything involving kids. When the first Vietnam refugees arrived in California's Camp Pendleton, there was Joyce ready to lend a comforting hand. This had nothing to do with show business.
As for her happy disposition — it's real, not put on. Evidently, the actress was born that way, and a lucky thing too. Before Joyce reached the seventh grade, she had attended 21 schools.
The Bulifants kept on the move after Joyce was born in Virginia, and the youngster learned to adapt quickly to new environments, shifting from the Southern states on up to New York before she went off to boarding school in Pennsylvania, where she met her first husband, "Hawaii Five-O's" James MacArthur, son of playwright Charles MacArthur and Helen Hayes.
Sailing through her childhood without visible scars, the outgoing actress appears to feel at home anywhere. True, she will get up and perform at the drop of a hat, but nobody ever minds. She brightens an evening.
"I enjoy people." she says. "And I don't take myself seriously. I'm having a great time.”
The scars may have been invisible but they were there. Joyce’s parents divorced when she was very young and she ended up in an orphanage. She married alcoholic husbands—four of them. You can find out more about her book on her web site. And this afternoon at 4 p.m. Pacific time, she’ll talk about her life with Stu Shostak on his webcast. If you’ve heard Stu’s previous interviews, you’ll know he likes and respects the people he has on his show, and has the background knowledge to ask the right questions. It should be a worthwhile few hours of listening.

Birthday Bouquets to Gene Deitch

Animator Gene Deitch has turned 94 today. As best as I can tell, he’s as hale and hardy as he’s ever been. We wish him a happy birthday and continued good health.

Mr. D. is known for trying to modernise theatrical Terrytoons in the late 1950s—and was succeeding until some politics in the front office got in the way. He brought the world Tom Terrific, a creative, delightful series by any standard. He was responsible for some fine, stylised animated spots while at UPA and elsewhere, and after his move to Czechoslovakia in the early ‘60s, came out with an array of independent cartoons that deserve wider circulation.

He also won an Oscar for directing the Paramount-released short “Munro.” If you’ve never seen it, watch it below. His son Seth provides the title voice.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

What Colour is He?

In Gerald McBoing Boing (1951), the colours of the scenes change depending on the mood being expressed. In the follow-up cartoon, How Now Boing Boing (1954), the colours of the backgrounds change because, well, I’m not really sure why. But in a lot of cases, the characters are simply outlines and the background colour is their colour.

In some scenes, it means characters are two-tone.

Rhyming dialogue and Marvin Miller’s narration don’t mask the fact this short has none of the charm of the original. But UPA boss Stephen Bosustow apparently felt pressure to make more Gerald cartoons.

So made them he did,
And it can be said
They didn’t go “boing boing,”
They went “splat” instead.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Stork Naked Backgrounds

Irv Wyner took over as the background artist in the Friz Freleng unit at Warner Bros. when Paul Julian left for UPA. Since it was the 1950s, his work was stylised. Certainly not as much as at UPA or in animated commercials made at that time, but more so than the 1940s.

To the left you see part of a painting of Paris in Stork Naked, released in 1955, where Daffy Duck takes on the drunken stork (which has Mel Blanc’s real voice at the outset). I can’t snip the whole thing together because of colour issues but this gives you a good idea of what Wyner was trying to do with Hawley Pratt’s layouts.

Pratt evidently loved tall, Victorian houses. You can see a great example in Back Alley Oproar (released in 1948) painted by Julian. We get some in this cartoon. They’re simpler as rendered by Wyner as we’re now into a period of stylised cartoons. They’re still very attractive, though I lean toward Julian’s work. The shades on the foliage of the trees is excellent.

More outline buildings over a solid colour with just a bit of green and purple to augment.

Same house, same basic angle, two entirely different backgrounds. Note the difference in the tree behind the fence. I’ll bet that later, the studio would have used the same background for both shots to save time and money (a la Hanna-Barbera).

An interior.

For reasons I do not understand, the version of the cartoon on DVD is cropped. Maybe people who demand everything in wide screen want it at 16:9, but it’s missing artwork at the top and bottom of the screen. Not terribly fair to Mr. Wyner, is it?

There’s an inside joke where the first family the stork visits is named “Pierce.” As there was alcohol on the premises, one can presume there is a relation to Warners writer Tedd Pierce (this short was written by Warren Foster).

The Facts of Miss Lubotsky

On August 12, 1942, a 16-year-old girl named Charlotte Rae Lubotsky stepped onto the stage at the Shorewood Auditorium in Shorewood, Wisconsin in the role of Gertrude in “The Merchant of Yonkers.” The play went on to become the musical “Hello, Dolly.” Young Miss Lubotsky went on to drop her last name and perform as Charlotte Rae.

Miss Rae died yesterday at the age of 92.

Those of you who watched sitcoms in the ‘80s will know of her most famous roles. For much of the 1950s, Rae was a nightclub comedienne; New York City seemed to breed them in clubs and revues in that decade and many moved on to television. We find her at the Old Knick on the week of February 8, 1950. On May 13th, she made a guest appearance on WOR-TV’s “Kirkwood and Goodman Show” (Jim Kirkwood later went on to write “A Chorus Line”). In September, she debuted at Max Gordon’s Village Vanguard. Variety reviewed her act.
Comedy, Songs
12 Mins.
Village Vanguard, N. Y.
Charlotte Rae seems like a parlor-performer graduate but with sufficiently fresh approach to comedy material to put her ahead of some in this field. She is frequently reminiscent of Shiela Barrett. Has good perception of comedy and flair for delineating a multitude of types.
Miss Rae scores strongest in a garden club bit in which she satirizes various clubwomen types. She has an off-key contralto which brings yocks, and several speeches that could have been written for the late Helen Hokinson characters.
Miss Rae also essays some straight numbers. She did a briefie of "Summertime" which was virtually a throwaway, and also "Begat" from "Finian's Rainbow." She indicates that she's more at home with her own material.
Miss Rae is yet to acquire more experience. There's lots to pick up on projection, and some of her material needs sharper editing. Since she leans toward plumpness, there's a need of some special material in gowning and coiffing. But it's likely that a long round of steady work will ready her for the uptown showcase's. Jose.
Her career was on the rise. Variety noted in April of her act at the Village Vanguard:
She debuted less than a year ago and has progressed considerably during that time. Her comedy is more certain and her delivery has gained polish. She's also improved in the coiffing and costuming. Her strongest material is a satire on operatic singers. She shows good vocal fidelity and excellent projection in these numbers. She's apparently trying some new material. The child prodigy number is still in rough stages and needs further development. Otherwise, she does excellently in this spot.
By November, she had been cast in the musical comedy “Three Wishes For Jamie” (and survived a re-casting). By 1955, Vanguard Records released a selection of her nightclub material. Someone has kindly embedded it on YouTube.

I wanted to find an interview with Rae from before her ‘80s sitcom days and discovered this non-bylined piece from November 24, 1962. Rae was gaining fame as Al Lewis’ wife in “Car 54, Where Are You?”.
Car 54 Drove Her Back to Show Business
New York — Loud-mouthed Bronx-accented, emotional Sylvia Schnauser will provide viewers of Car 54, Where Are You? with some wonderful comedy moments this Sunday when she becomes her version of a Hollywood star, complete with gold lame pants and long cigarette holder. But soft-spoken, non-accented, shy Charlotte Rae, who plays Sylvia, is still slowly shaking her head over the quirk of fate that made her a regular on the show.
Her first appearance, last season, was not in the role of Sylvia, but rather as a bank teller, who was under the mistaken impression that Toody and Muldoon, the show's improbable heroes, were robbing her. Then she was asked to do a bit as Mrs. Schnauser with a double-barreled result: she became a semi-regular cast member and she was launched on a comeback.
• • •
ACTUALLY CHARLOTTE, who began her career in 1951, was never far away from show business. But when she married John Strauss (who coincidentally is the musical director for Car 54), and had two sons, she concentrated on her family rather than her career.
“Now even though my children are small, they are in school, and this show represents the first step in my return. And I'm so grateful to be back. It's such a nice, happy, warm experience to be working with Nat Hiken, and those marvelously funny, well-written scripts.”
• • •
STEP TWO IN CHARLOTTE'S return will be launched on December 26 when S. J. Perelman's "The Beauty Part" opens on Broadway. In this show, which stars Burt Lahr [sic], Charlotte plays four roles, from high society matron to beatnik sculptor.
Show business has been the only aim for Charlotte since her days at Northwestern, where she was in a drama class that included Patricia Neal, Paul Lynde, Jean Hagan and Jeff Hunter. Producer Bob Banner was working toward his master's degree at the same time, and a classmate was Newton Minow, who married one of Charlotte's sorority sisters.
“The competition was so stiff there that at least 1,000 girls switched almost immediately to liberal arts.”
She doesn't find it difficult combining the full-time job of housewife and mother, with the full-time job of actress.
• • •
“IT'S NOT HARD if you don't have feelings of guilt. I feel I'm a better mother if I'm working. When I'm with my children I'm much happier, and they have learned to accept that I'm a working mother.
“Once one of my boys asked in pitiable voice, ‘Mommy, why do you have to go to work?’ I told him ‘because I LOVE it.’ A lot of mothers take just as much time away from the family as I do, but they spend it playing mah jongg and doing all kinds of social things. To me that would be a living death.”
The petite, pretty, blue-eyed comedienne longs to be a serious performer. "I want to do something where I can play a wonderful human being, where I can express deeper emotions as well as be funny.
“I almost didn't accept my roles in The Beauty Part' because I had been offered several serious roles off-Broadway. It's hard to know what to do in a case like that. It wasn't an easy decision. But I want to make people laugh. I also want to shake them up with a dramatic appearance. I shouldn't keep talking about that I should keep quiet and just do it.”
In a 1969 interview with syndicated columnist Frank Langley, she sighed “I am not a comedienne, I’m an actress. But everyone thinks I’m a comedienne.” But comedy was her forte in the ‘50s and it was in the ‘80s when she starred on “Diff’rent Strokes" and its spinoff "The Facts of Life.” You can find lists all over the internet of her performances so I need not go into it. Instead, have a listen to her satirical album from 1955.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Old Gags? Not to Worry

Jack Benny, by various accounts, wasn’t a rollicking humourist when he was off the air. He’d talk about how to be funny on the air, though, in various interviews.

Here’s one from the International News Service’s “Assignment America” column from 1955. It covers a variety of topics. Jack addresses his reputation as a worrier and reveals he never eats kadota figs. I believe he’s the only celebrity that ever mentioned them.

Jack Benny is Serious
By Phyllis Battelle
NEW YORK, May 2 (INS) — Expecting Jack Benny to be funny in the privacy of his hotel suite is something like expecting Marilyn Monroe to quote Tolstoy with accuracy.
It is a vain hope. Just as Marilyn is too shall-we-say busy to make mental notes on the classics, so Jack is too serious to make light of his million-dollar talent.
"You take the long-standing gags about me," he said genially, arms folded solemnly over his plaid smoking jacket, "the ones about my being stingy, and about wearing a toupee, and about my feud with Fred Allen. Those were each stumbled upon by accident, but since they caught on a lot of hard work has gone into them.
"People still want those gags now, but it gets tougher every time—the variations. We've kept these subjects alive for so long (Jack's stinginess, 23 years, the Allen feud, 17) that whenever we mention them now they must either very subtly done, or they must be so wild that we seem almost to be parodying our own jokes."
This was typical Jack Benny talk, off-screen and off-mike. He was once known as a man who dined on coffee and fingernails, but now that he is getting a trifle older he is no longer the No. 1 worrier among comedians.
"That other gag about my being 39," he said, and his deep dimpled chin trembled with droll emotion. "It is not true at all. I am 61. I no longer worry as much as most comedians do. I have, instead, a mere anxiety complex."
Benny, who was in New York for a rare business-pleasure jaunt, still looks at life and his career, however, with the respect of a man who was a poor plumber and an unheralded violinist before he located easy street.
"To remain an individual star for 25 years is not easy," he went on, demonstrating why the life of the clown is serious business. "Especially not now, with television. People are getting so sophisticated, there isn't a small town in the U. S. that doesn't know exactly what the heck is going on.
"You just can't be a gangster [sic] any more. You've got to be an actor, a perfectionist. You've got to be as sharp as the people watching you."
He, himself, is a perfectionist "of the worst kind," Benny says. His sense of dramatic timing, which is legend in radio and screen worlds, causes him to flare up when an actor reads a line without a sense of the rhythm of it.
"I despise myself, and try to hold it in. But I feel like firing people on the spot. It's most unreasonable of me, but I've spent years— with the writers, Rochester, Mary and others— going over every line, to make sure the timing is just right," he remembers.
"With practice like that, you get to know that the addition of one apparently, harmless word in a line will completely kill the gag!"
Jack, who looks slim and trim, says, "I play a round of golf every day and never eat Kadota figs or broiled scrod for breakfast" and who does not wear a toupee "but since people find the idea funny, I don't mind if they think I do," is returning to the West coast this week.
But he will be in Manhattan in mid-July, with wife, Mary, to spend his vacation. Their adopted daughter, Joan, is expecting a baby to arrive here then.
"Imagine spending July in New York," he says, grinning and grunting simultaneously, which is no mean feat. "If Joan weren't mine, I'd fire her . . . timing is lousy."

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Out of the Ink Stain

Here’s a feature story about Max Fleischer from Picturegoer and Film Weekly, a British publication, dated January 13, 1940. It’s actually one of two stories the newspaper wrote; an article the following April 20th gave profiles (accompanied by drawings) of the characters in Gulliver’s Travels.

This feature story starts off with an incident early in Fleischer’s animation career. It doesn’t attempt to be a history of his studio. Gulliver gets only a passing mention. To say the film “adheres strictly to the line laid down by Swift” is, well, not altogether true, even if you set aside all the travels that don’t involve Lilliput.

He turned ink into Gold
THE living-room of the little apartment on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn looked like a Heath Robinson drawing. Electric wires were hung on chandeliers, picture frames and any other place that would support them. Drawing boards were propped up on chairs, the drawings at first glance looking so alike that an outsider would have wondered why so many sketches of the same subject had been made.
An upright piano huddled timidly in one corner as if trying to escape the attention of three brothers working in the room.
The brothers were busy with a motion picture camera in the opposite corner. They were Max, Dave and Joe Fleischer. The camera poked its lens in between improvised standards bearer electric lights which glared at the drawings on one of the boards.
Max was at one side of the board. A pile of drawings lay on a small table beside him. Dave was on the other side of the drawing board and Joe stood at the side of the camera. Max would pick up a drawing and place it on the board. He and Dave then would fit it carefully within marked boundaries.
“Turn,” Max would say.
Joe would turn the crank carefully until the handle reached a mark on the side of the camera.
“Okay,” he would say.
Then the process would be repeated.
It was three o’clock in the morning. The brothers had worked steadily for honours. Max’s wife had long ago retired, after giving reluctant permission for the brothers to work in the living-room. Max had to plead with her.
“We have worked for months drawing these pictures,” he argued. “We have no money to rent a place to work and everything is read now to photograph them. Let us work there. We won’t hurt anything.”
“All right,” she had said finally. “You can work there tonight, but it you damage that rug of mine, out you all go.”
And so they had worked far into the night, trying to get as much done as possible. It was going to take several nights to complete the task.
“Hand me a wrench, Max,” said Joe. “This handle is loose.”
All of them were physically exhausted, so Max wasn’t as careful as he should have been. He turned to pick up the wrench from the table, his elbow struck a bottle of ink, and the bottle landed with a sickening thud on the beloved rug.
THE three brothers gasped in dismay as the pool of ink slowly but relentlessly spread on the rug. Suddenly they were galvanised into action. They grabbed blotters and pieces of paper to blow the flow of the ink. They stemmed the tide and mopped up the pool, but the blot was still there.
Max had become imbued with the conviction that characters could be drawn by artists and photographed in a series to make those caricatures move with human action across the screen. If he was right, as he had informed the brothers, there was a fortune in his idea. If he was wrong, all that they stood to lose was their labour.
And now disaster threatened to offset their months of labour. They were so tired that the inclination was to walk out of the room, go to bed, and take the consequences—which meant expulsion from the house and the abandonment of Max’s idea.
They slumped into chairs, so despondent that not one of them said anything for a few moments. Suddenly Max saw the way out. In whispers he convinced his weary brothers that too much was at stake to abandon the idea and sacrifice the time which they had spent upon it.
They unlocked the door to the dining-room and locked the door to the bedroom where Mrs. Fleischer lay asleep. Then, on tiptoe, they carried the furniture, the paraphernalia, and even the upright piano out of the living-room. They turned the rug around and then restored the furniture and the paraphernalia to their places. The tell-tale spot of ink was hidden under the piano.
That was twenty-five years ago. Since that time, the amazing combination of the Fleischer brothers has invented and developed virtually every piece of equipment which is essential in the making of animated cartoons. Dave directs the pictures and turns such problems over to Max. Max invents the equipment needed or adapts existing equipment to the problem. Joe then rebuilds it.
There are more than seventy-five patents, on everything ranging from drawing paper to rotoscopes, held by the Fleischers.
Today, twenty-five years after the ink bottle, Max and Dave have achieved their greatest success by producing, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Gulliver’s Travels for Paramount.
Employed in the Fleischer plant are seven hundred artists. In addition to the full-length feature, the Fleischers are under contract to make thirty-eight one and two-reel animated cartoons for Paramount release.
Max Fleischer was born in Austria in 1885, but was taken to America by his parents when he was four or five years old. He studied art in the Art Students’ League and mechanics in the Mechanics’ and Tradesmen’s School in New York.
Even as a boy, Max was determined to become a cartoonist and obtained a job in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle art department as an errand boy. On the same paper was J. R. Bray, also a cartoonist. Bray and Max began talking about the possibilities of animating cartoons for the screen. They began their experiments separately.
The Fleischers were almost a year making a piece of film 150 feet long. Max took the film to a distributor and screened it. It lasted one minute. The distributor was interested and asked him if he could make one a week.
“No,” laughed Max. “That’s a physical impossibility.”
“How long did it take you to make this one,” the distributor asked.
When Fleischer told him that it took almost a year, the distributor told him that if he had something he could offer for sale once a week, or once a month, he would be interested.
So that work started over again and Fleischer finally worked out a method whereby he produced a hundred feet every fourth week. Then Bray became interested in the Fleischer process and the two brothers went into partnership with Bray. Eventually, Fleischers broke away from the Bray organisation and formed their own corporation, retaining the title “Out of the Inkwell.”
It is general believed that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full length cartoon feature. This is not true. Max Fleischer produced two seven-reel features, virtually all done by hand drawings, many years ago, and both of them were very successful. Each of the pictures capitalised upon discussions which were in the public print at the time.
The first full length cartoon feature was titled Relativity. This was produced by Fleischer with Dr. Garrett P. Serviss, a science writer of the New York American, shortly after Dr. Albert Einstein announced his famous theory.
Fleischer’s second feature was Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and was produced with the co-operation of the American Museum of Natural History, at that time that William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow waged their famous battle in the Scopes trial in Tennessee.
Ever since the advent of sound, Fleischer has wanted to make a full length feature based on the famous Jonathan Swift satire, “Gulliver’s Travels.”
The picture adheres strictly to the line laid down by Swift. However, Swift wrote the story from the standpoint of Gulliver. Fleischer made the picture from the standpoint of the Lilliputians.
One of the most noteworthy things about the Fleischer organisation is the permanency of a job there. Many of the employees have worked for Fleischer for twenty years, at least twenty-five of them have been with him for twelve years, and there are more than forty that have been with him more than seven years.