Saturday, 24 February 2018

Doting on Disney, Waxing on Walt

This blog hasn’t posted much about the Walt Disney cartoon operation. So much has been said and written about the studio for years and years to the point of overkill; nothing needs to be said by me.

In the ‘30s, if you read about cartoons in the popular press, it was Disney, Disney, Disney, as writers fell over each other to praise the studio’s cartoons and laud Uncle Walt as some kind of genius artist. One fan was Amy Croughton of the Rochester Times-Union. Basically, she took Disney news releases and re-wrote them for her column; the exact same wording she used can be found in other papers. Eventually, some readers rose up and said “Enough about Disney” So she finally wrote about other studios, though she gave credit for their success to Walt Disney!
Here is a small sampling of some of her columns. The dates they appeared in her paper are in bold.

June 23, 1933
WHATEVER one's opinion may be of the taste in hats displayed by Queen Mary of England —and, after all, they say King George is to blame for that—there is no denying her good taste in motion pictures.
With several million other film patrons, here and there about the world, Queen Mary is a keen "Mickey Mouse" fan and recently interposed to have that engaging rodent put back on the screen program of a charity entertainment from which he had been cut because of lack of time.
Not only has Mickey been applauded at public cinema performances by royalty in several countries but he has appeared at private showings on royal command before the rulers of England, Sweden and Japan, and the viceroy of India.
To be sure, Mickey has a good press agent, bin it seems to us that any one writing or seeking publicity for him has a pretty soft job. However, since the sincerest admiration often needs a spur to urge it on to concrete expression, we suspect the P. A. of having a hand in Mickey's receiving an invitation to be guest of honor at a recent Prosperity Festival in Worcester, Mass., and his being further exalted by having a street in that city named Mickey Mouse Mall. Personally, we doubt if even our strong predilection for Mickey would prevail upon us to take up residence on a thorough fare titled with his name. But perhaps the street is in the commercial section and is devoted to the offices of cheese importers.

February 21, 1934
One Some Say This And Some Say That, About the Films

MANY persons have asked us Mickey Mouse cartoons are made, but although we have read dozens of explanations of the process we never felt competent to condense them into something we were sure would be understandable.
The following synopsis of the process, sent out from the studio, apparently was written by someone who knew enough about it to write simply and definitely. Not that you are likely to be able to start producing Mickey Mouse cartoons on your own, immediately after reading it, but you will have a clearer idea of the mechanical means by which Mickey is sent dancing off to his adventures.
"Each reel, about 750 feet in length and taking about 12 minutes to show, contains from 10,000 to 15,000 separate pictures, each of which has to be photographed separately," reads the explanation.
"These pictures are drawn by a large staff divided into three groups known as Animators, In-Betweeners, and Inkers. The Animators develop the various sequences, but draw only the beginning and end of each action. Their sketches pass to the In-Betweeners, who draw the small, delicate changes. The Inkers then fill in the proper tints.
"The fitting of music sound to the cartoons is also a delicate and difficult job. The musical director begins to work on the musical score at the same time that the plot is being formulated. Perfect synchronization is secure by mathematical means, each of the 10,000 to 15,000 separate frames of film having to account for a certain action and also for music to accompany that action. As a result the rhythm is perfect, since it is mechanical."
Now who would have thought it was so simple?

June 28, 1934
IN OUR file of material on motion picture stars and executives by far the largest compartment is devoted to Walt Disney and his cartoon creations, Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies.
Very little of this material is the ordinary "publicity stuff" such as is received in fat envelopes on every mail concerning the flesh and blood stars of the screen. Occasionally United Artists sends out a notice of some new departure such as the making of all Mickey Mouse cartoons in color, but the majority of the writing done about the cartoons is by independent writers and cinema reviewers to whom they appeal and who enjoy discussing them as much as they enjoy watching them.
In February, 1931, Harry Carr wrote of Mickey in The American Magazine under the title of "The Only Unpaid Movie Star." Barnet O. Braver-Mann wrote of "Mickey and His Playmates," in one of the theater art magazines, and Walt Disney, or perhaps his ghost, wrote of "The Three Little Pigs in a Big Bad World" in the weekly magazine section of The Christian Science Monitor of Jan. 10, 1934.
Mickey's most recent interpreter is Claude Bragdon, former Rochesterian, now of New York City. Mr. Bragdon, architect, scenic designer and author, in an article in the July Scribner's Magazine on "Mickey Mouse and What He Means," traces the animated cartoons' derivation from the shadow plays that were shown at the Cafe Chat Noir in Paris before the motion picture was invented.
Mr. Bragdon feels that the cartoons have but scratched the surface of their own particular field. They are moving, he says, within the narrow limits of the merely funny. He would have them branch out "toward knowledge, toward beauty, toward social satire, symbol and allegory, or pure imaginative fantasy like 'Little Nemo In Slumberland' instead of in contradistinction to the warmed over fantasy of Grimm and Mother Goose."

September 28, 1935
Mickey Mouse, the famous film cartoon star will celebrate his seventh birthday. All over the world theaters will hold special showings of his films for the children and foils admirers of every age from three to 100.
In this city, Mickey is to cavort upon the screen of Loew's Rochester Theater next Saturday morning at a special children's show of his films and the Silly Symphonies which will include such favorites as "The Three Little Pigs", "The Grasshopper and the Ants", "The Wise Little Hen", "Mickey's Service Station", "Mickey's Garden", "The Flying Mouse", "Lullaby Land" and the most recent Mickey cartoon, "The Band Concert".
Undoubtedly Mickey was fortunate in being born into the Disney family which included not only Walt Disney, his artist-creator, but Roy Disney who is the business end of the firm. He was fortunate, also, in being properly christened and copyrighted almost at the moment of his birth and before he made his first public appearance on Sept. 28, 1928, at the Colony Theater, New York City, as a minor character in a cartoon called "Steamboat Willie". This copyright enabled the Disneys to secure an injunction in 1931 against other cartoon producers who were using characters imitating Mickey and Minnie Mouse. It has also enabled the Disney firm to build up a network of agencies in this and other countries which license manufacturers desiring to use the magic insignia of Mickey on all sorts of products from rubber balls to sweater-fronts.
The fact that Mickey Mouse has been expertly publicized and commercialized in this mariner reflects no discredit upon him as an artist. Mickey and his creator have not been content to loll back and grow fat on their profits. They have turned a large share of them back into production, to improve technical methods and to finance the cost of the new venture into color, and they have worked harder than ever to satisfy their public which is ever clamoring for more.
There will always be those, we are among them, who contend that the early Silly Symphonies, "Spring," "The Skeleton Dance," and others in black and white, and with their rhythmic movement synchronized to the music, but without squeaky dialog, or color, achieved something that could not be improved upon so far are pure artistry is concerned. But Mickey Mouse, and his cohorts, Pluto, the dog, Donald Duck, and Peter Pig, have personality that appeals to the children as the dancing leaves and flowers, the mischievous leaping flames, and the ironic skeletons cannot. So if Mr. Disney will just make us a Silly Symphony of the old type, occasionally, we will join heartily in the good luck birthday wishes to Mickey.

February 3, 1936

CLARK GABLE and Shirley Temple may have their fans, but so have Scrappy, Oswald, Buddy, Stinky the Skunk, Mickey Mouse and Popeye.
These cartoon character fans are jealous for the rights of their favorites, too. Witness a note we just received from one who reproaches us for giving too much glory to Mickey Mouse and falling to sing a peon of praise to the characters and exploits of Stinky and his barnyard friends as set forth in the "Loony Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" turned out by Hugh Harmon and Rudolph Ising under the Leon Schlesinger banner.
We acknowledge our shortcoming. It is high time something was said about these other cartoon products. However it must be remembered that they are all more or less imitators of the original Disney ideas and characters.
The list of cartoon series is longer, perhaps, than you have realized. There are Celebrity's "Comicolor", Columbia's "Color Rhapsodies", "Krazy Kat" and "Scrappy" cartoons; Educational "Terry-Toons"; M-G-M's "Happy Harmonies" —also a Harmon-Ising product; Paramount's "Betty Boop" and "Popeye the Sailor"; Radio's "Rainbow Parade"; United Artists' "Mickey Mouse" and "Silly Symphonies"; Universal's "Cartune Classics" and "Oswald" cartoons, and Vitaphone's "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies."
Next to the Disney cartoons the best use of color is to be found in the Harmon-Ising product, in our judgment, and the comedy ideas usually are clever. A current release, "The Country Mouse," is an excellent example. The illusion—and a very strong one— of three-dimensional images has been arrived at by Max Fleischer in his "Color Classics"; but in getting this result smoothness of color transition has been sacrificed. They are, however, very interesting. The most recent release was "Somewhere In Dreamland" in which one not only saw the holes in a ragged quilt, but actually saw through them.
Animated cartoons go far back in the history of motion pictures. A recent dispatch from Paris stated that Emile Cohl, 80 years old, who is credited with the invention of the animated cartoon, is living in poverty in Paris.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Look Who's Driving

One of UPA’s most stylish cartoons wasn’t intended for theatres at all. It was Look Who’s Driving, a 1954 short for the Aetna Casualty and Surety company.

Bob Dranko’s designs are really good, there’s a thoughtful use of colour (by Michi Kataoka) to reflect mood and some nice character morphs.

Here are some of the designs. Sorry the frames are fuzzy and contrasty. Rotarians will be pleased with the second frame.

Life magazine mentioned this cartoon. It was shown at the Edinburgh and Venice film festivals and won a plaque from the National Committee on Films for Safety.

Ben Washam, Fred Grable, Casey Onaitis and C.L. Hartman are the credited animators.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Multiple Brats

Porky tries to shake off the biting Butch in Brother Brat (1944). The child turns into multiples. Here are some of the frames.

Art Davis gets the animation credit in this Frank Tashlin cartoon. Tubby Millar wrote the story, which includes a baby version of Esquire that's pretty creepy.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Mad Russian

Most of us today didn’t grow up with network radio, but some of us grew up with the remnants of it through old animated cartoons. Radio shows were rife with catchphrases and characters that were easily transferrable to cartoons. Those of us who were growing up after network radio died didn’t need to know their origin to laugh at them; they were silly and funny on their own.

One radio stooge who found his way, once removed, into cartoons was Bert Gordon. He created a character called “The Mad Russian.” Like a lot of radio comedians, he had come up from the ranks of vaudeville. And like a lot of radio comedians, he had catchphrases: “Do you mean it?” “How do you do?” “Silly boy!” Yeah, not funny stuff on paper. It was all in the delivery.

Gordon is still preserved in a few cartoons, notably in Hare Ribbin’ (1944), where a Mad Russian-esque dog (not voiced by Mel Blanc) is killed off at the end of the picture after failing to capture Bugs Bunny under water.

Let’s give you a bit of Gordon’s background. This is from PM newspaper, October 29, 1941.


Among the more antic madcaps on the nowadays is a vaudeville-trained dialectician called the Mad Russian. He is the chief stooge on the Eddie Cantor program (Wed., WEAF 9).
In person, the Mad Russian, who marks 10 years on the air this week, is a short, quiet-spoken actor named Bert Gordon, quite the antithesis of his loudly dialectic radio character.
On the air the Mad Russian's forte is unconscionable exaggeration. Whoever the weekly Cantor guest star may be the Russian is invariably a better man at the visitors own game.
By his own boast, he has been a tougher mugg than George Raft and a rougher slugger than either Lou Nova or Max Baer. Recently, when he was introduced on the air to Maurice Evans, the Russian sniffed disparaging.
"A Shakespearean actor?" he scoffed. "Did I ever tell you the time I played the classics in Moscow?'
“You mean, Russian,” asked Eddie Cantor, “that you played in Moscow?”
“Of course, of course—Loew's Moscow.”
Bert Gordon created his Russian in 1930 after meeting Gregory Ratoff. In those days Ratoff was just a Broadway producer and hired after Girl Crazy, the Willie Howard-Ginger Rogers musical, ended its Broadway run, Ratoff bought the vaudeville rights. condensed the show into a mad unit and Gordon to play the Willie Howard role. Bert spent most of his time on the road cribbing the incomparable Ratoff accent.
Gordon, born on the East Side, has spent 38 of his 44 years trouping. Before he met Ratoff he had been a boy alto and mugging song-comedian, sung in temple choirs and worked as a magician's assistant, and when he was 16 he owned his own vaudeville act, the Nine Crazy Kids, two of whom were Bert Lahr and Jack Pearl. Inevitably, as with his boss, Eddie Cantor, and almost all show-business East Siders, Gordon worked in a Gus Edwards act, one called the Newsboy Sextet. Two of the ragged newsboys were Bert Wheeler and Georgie Price. A third newsboy, aptly enough, was Walter Winchell.
By 1916, Gordon was a Keith headliner with his older brother, Harry. When Harry quit to go into insurance, Bert did a cowboy travesty, Desperate Sam, starred in Europe, came back for a George White's Scandals, did Girl Crazy and then met Jack Benny, who himself had recently gone on the air. A typical Benny-Gordon routine had Jack as a schoolteacher. Bert a pupil.
"I'm Moe." Bert would say.
"Eeny, meeny, miney. Moe.”
Next to tin Mad Russian. Bert’s favorite part is the one that started him off when he was 6. This was in an East Side play called The Mother's Sin. Bert was the sin.
Now, an Associated Press column from November 23, 1942.
Hollywood Sights and Sound:

HOLLYWOOD—There are so many things and characters to investigate in this now sobering madhouse that I'm only now getting around to one of my favorite people—the chubby pixie with the Gable ears, the paunchy prince of theatrical peasants known as The Mad Russian.
Forty of Bert Gordon's 46 years have been spent in show business, which is more reason than most have for reminiscing in print. Bert is on the verge. He'll tell all in a tome called "Ring tip the Curtain," on which he has been laboring these lonely, unpixilated ever since he gave up cards and the polka-dotted ivories.
"Since I quit gambling," he said, "there's been nothing for me to do in Hollywood. I read and I write."
• • •
The Mad Russian, you see, is not authentically mad. He is, like so many comics, a little sad around the eyes when not working at being mad, and he doesn't work at it off duty. But he's genuinely Russian, at least in descent. His father was a reverend cantor from the old country who brought his numerous family to New York's East Side and there increased his progeny—including Bert among the later arrivals.
Bert got his early theatrical training on the sidewalks of New York, along with Georgie Price, Jessel and Winchell, and fell or jumped into the hands of the oldtime impresario of youth, Gus Edwards. For a while he was of the "school days" gang, emerged eventually into things like "Six Stage-Struck Kids," "Nine Krazy Kids" and other kiddishness. So it went on, through vaudeville and the revues and musical comedy, and marriage to a Ziegfeld beauty, and divorce, and now Hollywood, movies, the air, and litrachure. [sic]
"Seven years ago I was broke," he says, "from the cards and the dice. I quit, but I've got a memory. Once I took Arnold Rothstein for $12,000. I gave $3,000 to my wife for her Christmas shopping. I put $500 in my pocket. I locked the rent away in the hotel vault, and I was through with gambling. I walked the streets and didn't know what to do with myself. But the Rothstein boys waited for me. The game was right in the hotel. Pretty soon I was cleaned again."
• • •
Once Gregory Ratoff, casting a musical show, interviewed Bert, asked his salary. "A grand a week," said Bert. Ratoff snorted. "For $1,000 a week, I work for you!" That ended that—until later. Bert finally did "Girl Crazy.'
Eventually Gordon made a movie, a bad one. Strictly from hunger, he took up selling advertising to actors. He met Eddie Cantor. "If you can take a salesman named Einstein and make him a sensation as Parkyakarkus, what could you do with a comedian?" he asked. Cantor put him on, and soon—because Bert wanted a trademark—there evolved "The Mad Russian."
Eddie Cantor was not altogether a beloved entertainer, but one thing he can receive kudos for is his speaking out against Adolf Hitler and Nazism before World War Two. It resulted in a situation that Gordon may, or may not, have been part of. Here’s an Associated Press story from 1939.
Pair Attacked After Cantor Show
'Mad Russian' Faces Grilling; Hitler 'Slur' Resente

LOS ANGELES, March 28 (AP)—A beating which followed a couple's walk-out protest of a joke Eddie Cantor told about Adolf Hitler today resulted in Charles Gollob and his. wife, Elsie, demanding a battery complaint against the men they said attacked them.
A city attorney set April 8 for an official hearing of the Gollob's story, in which they accused Bert Gordon, Cantor's "Mad Russian," of being one of the men who struck them outside a broadcasting studio last night;—
Gollob said:
"I was leaving the studio, after the broadcast, and I told attendants I didn't care to hear any more propaganda. A woman shouted at me and I said I didn't want to hear any more of that kind of junk.
"They called me a Nazi. I'm not. I've been naturalized for 20 years. The woman followed me and my wife to the sidewalk. Then I was hit from behind. I nearly fell and my wife nearly fell. I didn't strike back."
Gollob's jaw was bandaged and a tooth was missing. His wife's cheek was swollen and bandaged. Cantor said:
"It was that part of the after show where the Rabbi tells Hitler that he cannot restore his youth, but he can fix it so Hitler won't grow any older, when there was a commotion in the back of the house.
"A woman shouted at some man, and he said, 'Shut up, you Jew so-and-so.' The woman followed the man, and a couple of fellows who appeared to be in her party went with her. Of course, the beating was inexcusable, but that fellow certainly asked for the trouble.
"Gordon was in the studio all the time. I could see him back stage."
Vick Knight, producer of Cantor's show, said the "Mad Russian" was in the control room with him immediately after the broadcast.
Gollob, a bungalow court operator said he was an Austrian native, naturalized for 15 years.
Radio Police Officers J. H. Bohanon and J.T. Foster reported Gollob told them he and his wife had heard the Cantor broadcast and were leaving during an informal program which follows, but does not go on the air.
"As we neared the door," he said, "a woman asked us if we didn't like the program. We explained that we liked it but didn't want to hear any propaganda against Hitler.
"We walked on out. Four men followed us. When we got to the corner, two of them attacked us without warning. I was struck on the mouth, cutting my lower lip, and my wife also was struck on the mouth and side of the face."
Tom Hanlon, night manager of the studio, said there was "some kind of a disturbance" and "I believe there were some Bronx cheers."
The prosecutor’s office in Los Angeles declined to lay charges against Gordon. The Gollobs decided to go to court on their own; the AP reporting August 1st they had laid a civil suit for 751 thousand dollars against Gordon, Cantor and others. (I have not been able to find the end result).

Dialect comedians became passé after World War Two. America had changed from a land of people getting off the boat and swarming into the cities to a land of people without thick foreign accents swarming the suburbs. Gordon drifted in obscurity. His last hurrah may have been an appearance on the Dick Van Dyke Show, a far more sophisicated comedy than anything that appeared on radio. Gordon’s role was to play Bert Gordon—a relic comedian of the past. Outside of the trades, he got little press when he passed away from cancer on November 30, 1974, age 76.

Gordon had a kick at stardom. The low-budget PRC Pictures gave him the co-lead with Harry Von Zell in a 1944 comedy/mystery/musical named for one of his catchphrases: How Doooo You Do!!!. Don’t confuse it with a 1942 Columbia feature he co-starred in called Laugh Your Blues Away, which began as How Do You Do. At times, the PRC movie is as cartoony as anything at Warner Bros. (though the ending seems inspired by Columbia/Screen Gems’ Tangled Travels). You can see a bad VHS dub of it on-line.

A late P.S.: Devon Baxter has more about Gordon and cartoons in this post on Jerry Beck’s blog.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

In Case You Missed the Name...

We posted about an inside gag in the 1933 Willie Whopper cartoon Spite Flight in this post. Here’s one from a similar cartoon, The Air Race, made the same year.

Aviator Willie can’t see where he’s flying. He crashes into a roadside fireworks seller.

Too bad the animator didn’t caricature Ub Iwerks as well.

Carl Stalling has a portion of Franz Von Suppé’s “Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien” Overture in the background during the scene.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Cat Face

The King Size Canary realises the cat chasing him has grown. Here’s the gag Tex Avery and Heck Allen came up with.

Walt Clinton, Ray Abrams and Bob Bentley receive the animation credits in this cartoon released in 1947.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Fred Allen's Side of the Jack Benny Feud

Somewhere close to 1 o’clock in the morning on December 31, 1936 (Eastern time), radio history was made. That’s when Fred Allen, in New York City, ad-libbed a crack on his Town Hall Tonight show about the ineptness of Jack Benny’s violin playing. Benny was listening on KFI in Los Angeles (it being around 10 p.m. on December 30th Pacific time).

Benny responded with a line directed at Allen during the tag of his own programme on January 3rd. With that their feud was on, supposedly climaxing with a “fight of the century” on Benny’s show of March 14, 1937, but it carried on, surviving Allen’s programme that left the air in 1949.

Benny devoted whole shows to the feud. In 1937, Allen’s Town Hall was an hour-long broadcast with a number of different elements so all he could do was write what the scripts call a “Benny insert.” Some of these Allen broadcasts may not be in circulation. Fortunately, radio historian Kathy Fuller-Seeley dug through Alley’s scripts at the Boston Public Library and made photocopies. So, here are a few of them.

A notation by Kathy on the script of January 6, 1937 was that no reference to Benny was made. Clearly there was, as there was a response as a running gag, complete with Benny doing an impression of Allen, on Benny’s show of January 10th. Perhaps the Allen file only has the East Coast script and Allen wrote something for his West Coast repeat broadcast, the one Benny would hear. So, let’s move ahead.

“PORT” refers to Portland Hoffa, Allen’s wife and stooge. “JOHN” is John Brown, who spent time off and on with Allen, portraying John Doe in the original version of Allen’s Alley. He specialised in low-life Brooklyn characters. Brown moved to the West Coast and continued radio, TV and film work before he got caught up in the insidious blacklist. “CHAS” is Charlie Cantor, another long-time Allen secondary player who was Socrates Mulligan in early incarnations of the Alley. He left for Duffy’s Tavern, where he played Clifton Finnegan. Benny radio fans may recall him as the nelly married man Logan Jerkfinkle on a few episodes. “Peter” is Allen’s orchestra leader, Peter Van Steeden. The copy with lines through it is dialogue that was cut. The copy in italics was hand-written on the final script.

JANUARY 13, 1937
BENNY BIT.......Fred Allen
ALLEN: Thank you, now the first artists we welcome this... You have just heard Miss Merrill Lee singing Taint Good. And now—
PORT: Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: Go away, Portland.
PORT: I want to tell......
ALLEN: You’ve been on already. Are you getting absentminded?
PORT: No. There’s a man to see you. He says it’s important.
ALLEN: I’m busy, Portland if it’s somebody who wants a dime for a cup of coffee.. Tell him I’ve done away with the middleman. There’s a percolator in my overcoat pocket he can help himself. Tell him to—
PORT: You’d better tell him. He’s right here.
JOHN: Yes. It won’t take a minute, Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: Oh! You want to see me, mister? What is it? Do you want to see me?
JOHN: Yes. I hate to butt in.
ALLEN: That’s just what you’re doing.
JOHN: I know. I hate to do it...but I’m doing it. That’s me all over. No will power.
ALLEN: Don’t worry. You won’t be tempted here. Well, what is it? What is it you want to see me about?
JOHN: Jack Benny.
JOHN: I heard his program last Sunday night.
ALLEN:’re the one.
JOHN: No. There was another man with me. He heard it, too. Now what’s all this trouble you’re having with Jack Benny?
ALLEN: There’s no trouble, mister.....
JOHN: Petrie.
ALLEN: There’s no trouble, Mister Petrie. Jack just said he could play The Bee on his violin, when he was ten years old, and I didn’t think he could. That’s all. Last Sunday, Jack got off on the wrong argument. He said I just happened to say one night that Jack couldn’t play a number called The Bee on his violin. That’s all. Last Sunday Jack said he could play the Flight of the Bumble Bee.
JOHN: That’s a different tune, ain’t it?
ALLEN: Yes. He’s off on the wrong argument. The number I meant is The Bee is by Shubert. And The Flight of the Bumble Bee is by two other fellows Rimsky and Karsakoff.
JOHN: A couple of foreigners, eh?
ALLEN: From what I can know the lowdown in As a matter of fact, the talk in musical that Rimsky and Karsakoff heard Jack trying to play Shubert’s Bee and that’s why they wrote their Bee In Flight.
JOHN: To give the bee a chance to get away, eh?
ALLEN: Yes. Now, Mr. Petrie, as man to man, I’m giving myself the best of it perhaps...But did you ever hear Jack Stuff Benny play The Bee on his violin?
JOHN: Well. I heard him play somethin in a vaudeville theatre in Waukegan one time.
ALLEN: Was it The Bee?
JOHN: Couldn’t a been. When he finished playin his violin was covered with somethin but it wasn’t honey. Looked more like tomatoes to me.
ALLEN: I see. With those tomatoes hanging on it his E string must have looked like a vine.
JOHN: I ain’t here to stool pigeon, Allen.
ALLEN: Well......
JOHN: You fellers ought to quit this arguin, Allen. All Waukegan is agog. The Chamber of Commerce sent me down here as a committee of one to straighten this thing out.
ALLEN: Oh! Are you from Waukegan, Mr. Petrie?
JOHN: Yes. I’m in the Post Office there. At the General Delivery window.
ALLEN: Yeah?
JOHN: Right across from the second spittoon as you come in the door.
ALLEN: Then you’re probably just the man I want to see. Did you know Jack in Waukegan when he was ten years old?
JOHN: Say....I knew Jack Benny back in Waukegan when he was knee-high to a cricket.
ALLEN: Knee-high to a cricket?
JOHN: Yes. Grasshoppers were scarce in Waukegan.
Sure Did.
ALLEN: Well. You ought to be able to settle this whole thing in two seconds. Could Jack play the bee on his violin when he was ten years old?
ALLEN: Can you prove it?
JOHN: Prove it? I been runnin the general delivery window in the Waukegan post office for forty years. You see—Jack Benny started takin violin lessons through the mail.
ALLEN: You mean he had his lessons come general delivery.
JOHN: He had to. That’s right. His family wouldn’t let him practise in the house.
ALLEN: I can imagine.
JOHN: I can see Jack now. He’d toddle into the post office draggin his violin. I’d give him his lesson and he’d practise right there in front of my general delivery window.
ALLEN: What did he play?
JOHN: Got a violin?
ALLEN: Do you play, Mr. Petrie?
JOHN: I never had a violin in my hands but I can show you what Benny played any day.
ALLEN: Peter! Will you lend Mr. Petrie a violin?
CHAS: Yes, Fred. Here!
ALLEN: Thank you. Here you are Mr. Petrie.
JOHN: This one’s got four strings on it.
ALLEN: Yes. All violins have four strings.
JOHN: Benny’s violin only had two.
ALLEN: Never mind. Just show us what Jack played around the post office back in Waukegan when he was ten years old.
JOHN: Oker-Doker. Here she goes.
ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Petrie. That will be plenty.
JOHN: I guess that settles the argument, don’t it?
ALLEN: You bet it does. If that’s the bee...I’m Koussevitsky.
JOHN: Well. I gotta be goin. Which way is Waukegan from here?
ALLEN: Just go out that first door...and keep left. Ladies and gentlemen...There is nothing we can add to Mr. Petrie’s story. The bee was may have been played by a ten year old boy on this program but his name was not...Jack Benny. And now getting back to our guests......

The following week, Allen tosses in an inside joke. The reference to “Boasberg” refers to Al Boasberg, who was Benny’s script doctor until he suddenly died in June 1937. Cantor is playing in Jewish dialect here. My favourite line is a real subtle one. When Cantor talks about Allen being a toothpaste salesman, Allen responds “That’s only the half of it.” It’s true. Half of Allen’s show was sponsored by Ipana toothpaste and the other half by Sal Hepatica laxative.

JANUARY 20, 1937
ALLEN: Thank you. And now? Before presenting the first of our guests, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to clean up a little extraneous business that has been popping up.....on the program....Helter skelter....As the saying goes every Wednesday night for the past few weeks....I refer to what, in French, we would call l’affaire Benny. Last Sunday, the this impetuous and self-styled virtuoso, Mr. Benny, showed a picture of himself playing the “BEE” at the age of ten. A new low in composite photographic skulduggery, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Benny could have waiting for television and the entire country could have seen what the picture looked like. picture was exhibited in a dinky, ill lighted West Coast radio studio to a hand-picked studio audience consisting of fifteen men named Boasberg. We are coping with a cutie, ladies and gentlemen, but we are prepared. We’ll show this pixie who is running the dell. We’ll show you exactly what this picture was. Tonight, we have spared no expense to bring you the man who took this picture of Jack Benny holding the violin when he was ten years old. Mr. DeWitt Levee.
CHAS: Thank you.
ALLEN: Put down the applause sign, Mr. Levee.
CHAS: Better I’m holding it. I’m not going flat if I’ll finish.

ALLEN: All right. Now Mr. Levee. Where is your home?
CHAS: Waukegan, Illinois.
ALLEN: What do you do in Waukegan?
CHAS: I am running...strictly by appointment...the Bide A Wee combination pawn shop and photograph gallery delicatessen.
ALLEN: I’ve never heard of a combination pawn shop and photograph gallery. Pawnshop and delicatessen. What kind of sign do you use outside of the store?
CHAS: Three meat balls.
CHAS: Why not? It’s my own idea. So many people are hocking valuables and never coming back.
ALLEN: I know. But where does the photograph gallery fit in?
CHAS: By me, let us say for no reason, you are hocking something. I am taking your picture with the article. You are keeping the picture for a souvenir.

ALLEN: I see. Do you ever listen to Jack Benny on the radio?
CHAS: Who else?
ALLEN: Don’t get personal, Mr. Levee. Just answer my questions.
CHAS: Jack Benny! There’s a comedian. You should like to see the day you could hold a candle to Jack Benny.
ALLEN: Wait a minute! I don’t want to hold a candle. Don’t turn this into an arson case, Mr. Levee.
CHAS: Last Sunday, Jack is slaying me. He is calling you a toothpaste salesman.
ALLEN: That’s only the half of it.
CHAS: A toothpaste salesman! Hi! Yi!
ALLEN: Well. At least my samples don’t wobble around.
CHAS: What’s the matter you couldn’t say Jello?
ALLEN: Did he say Ipana last Sunday.
CHAS: Who’s clapping? What’s going on?
ALLEN: Put down that applause card. You started that.
CHAS: Nu. So what? On a program like this you could use a little applause right now.
ALLEN: Now....Listen...Mr. Levee. At long last you and I are not gathered here tonight to eulogize Jack Benny.

CHAS: Jack Benny. An artist. A scholar.
ALLEN: But not a violin player.
CHAS: Look! I’m giving Jack Benny a little plug. And he can’t take it.
ALLEN: You know what happens if you give Jack a little plug, don’t you.
CHAS: So what happens?
ALLEN: Buck Benny rides again!
CHAS: Oy! Buck Benny. What a cowboy!
ALLEN: Now...Look, Mr. Levee. You were brought here tonight to tell our radio audience about a certain picture.
CHAS: Could I get a word in endwise....Up to now?
ALLEN: Quiet, please! Did you....or did you not....on the afternoon of July 7th, 1904 take a picture of Jack Benny holding his violin.
CHAS: I did.
ALLEN: Where was this picture taken?
CHAS: In the Bide-A-Wee Pawn Shop at Waukegan, Illinois with a Brownie Number Two.
ALLEN: Fine. What was Jack Benny doing in the Bide-A-Wee Pawnshop at the time.
CHAS: He was practising his violin.
ALLEN: He practised his violin in your pawnshop?
CHAS: Where else? You think I am letter the violin out of mine sight.
ALLEN: I see.
CHAS: The violin was in hock, a technical term, but I was letter Jackie come into the pawnshop to practise.
ALLEN: How did you come to take this picture.
CHAS: Confidentially, one day a party is relinquishing for money a Brownie Number Two. Jackie, a little boy, is asking me to take his picture to see if he will coming out a Brownie.
ALLEN: You have one of these pictures with you.
CHAS: Right here. See! It’s Jasha Benny with his violin.
ALLEN: Yes. Uh, huh. Which is Jack?
CHAS: The one that goes in the middle there.
ALLEN: According to this picture he was standing on his head at the time.
CHAS: No. It was me. I was holding the camera upside down.
ALLEN: Ha, Ha. Look at this. He didn’t even know how to hold a violin.
CHAS: Yi! Yi! The strings is underneath.
ALLEN: Not only that. The thin end he’s got stick in his neck.
CHAS: It ain’t right?
ALLEN: No. The fat end of the violin goes under a violin player’s chin to keep his head company.
CHAS: Hi! Yi! A schlemiel!
ALLEN: Now one vital question, Mr. Levee. Was Jack playing the Bee on this violin when you took this picture.
CHAS: Is his right arm blurred?
ALLEN: No. The right arm isn’t blurred.
CHAS: The he wasn’t even playing.
ALLEN: Now, Mr. Levee, you heard Jack play around your pawnshop a good many times.
CHAS: To destruction!
ALLEN: And what did he play?
CHAS: You got a fiddle?
ALLEN Yes....A violin for Mr. Levee, Peter. Thanks. Here you are.
CHAS: A violin. By me, in hock for this fiddle, you are getting two dollars only after an argument.
ALLEN: Never mind that. Just show us what Jack Benny played around the Bide-A-Wee Pawnshop back in Waukegan.
CHAS: Okay.
ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Levee, you have proved that the Bee was not played by Mr. Jack Benny in your Pawnshop. Thank you.
CHAS: How do I get out now. It’s falling flat.
ALLEN: I’ll Just lift your up this applause card and you beat it.
CHAS: Hokay.

The following week, there are several references to Benny. There’s one in the “Town Hall News” segment, where Allen tells listeners to stand by for Three Smart Girls, then asks “How do I know you are Three Smart Girls.” The girls, Minerva Pious, Eileen Douglas and Portland Hoffa, jointly reply: “We never listen to Jack Benny, Mr. Allen!” Later, in Portland’s spot, she and Fred kibbitz about New York City making electricity out of garbage. Allen compares a dynamo to a radio: “Imagine throwing a used tongue, a cabbage head and two big ears of corn in your radio and getting a program.” What programme? “Why should I advertise a certain party who’s been throwing six malicious flavors out of radio’s [sic] for years,” he responds. And he carries on with a couple of references to Jack. (Interestingly, this segues into a Southern sketch where one of the characters is named Miss Claghorne. Allen filed that away for future use).

But the main Benny gagging comes in another part of the show, with announcer Harry Von Zell butting in with a disclaimer. There’s another inside joke here, designed for Benny’s ears. One of the characters is “Myrt Plum.” Jack’s business manager at the time was Myrt Blum, who happened to be his brother-in-law (he was married to Mary’s sister Babe Marks).

JANUARY 27, 1937
ALLEN: Before presenting our first guest, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to mention a gentleman....and the word gentleman is used loosely here....Cad might better be the word...even cad isn’t the word but it will have to do. I would like to mention a Cad who, although he is no cupid, has seen fit to remove some pointed shafts from his verbal quiver and “ping” them at me from the West Coast. I won’t stoop to mention his name....But....He is a picture star...His initials are J.B....and I don’t mean John Bunny Barrymore. Last Sunday, J.B., on a cowboy radio program— referring to my profile, said that there was a limit to what the makeup man could for me when I come out to Hollywood to make a picture for Mr. Zanuck this summer. All right. I’ll admit I’m no middle Ritz Brother. I know that the stork flew backwards so he wouldn’t have to confront me in case the bundle flew open....but...why did moving picture theatres recently give mothers...taking their children into the theatres....a portable closet with each ticket. I’ll tell you why! So that when Mr. J.B. came on the screen the little kiddies could run into the portable closets and hide until this grotesque Punchinello had worked himself into a lap-dissolve. Still I had hoped he could keep this altercation on a dignified plane—but—If Mr. J.B. wants to get personal, all right. I quote from a Hollywood gossip column....Quote.....what radio and movie star was seen trying to get into a grapefruit-skin so that he could go to a masquerade as a little squirt...Unquote. J.B. isn’t exactly little but a big squirt would spoil the joke. All I said, originally, ladies and gentlemen, was that Mr. J.B.
HARRY: The character J.B. is entirely fictional, folks, and any incident that might be construed as having reference to any living person....or Jack entirely coincidental....signed....the management.
ALLEN: I only said that when J.B. was ten years old he couldn’t play the Bee on his violin. Tonight...I will go even farther. I shall Statistics don’t lie ladies and gentlemen and tonight statistics will prove conclusively that J.B. will never play the Bee on his violin. Statistics don’t lie, ladies and gentlemen, and tonight cold, ruthless statistics will prove that if you ever want to hear the Bee played on the violin you had better hitch your wagon to a violinist whose initials are not J.B. So much for venom....and now for the statistics, first At this time...I present Mr. Myrt Plum, vice-president of the Neapolitan Insurance Company. Mr. Plum.
JOHN: Yes, Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: As an insurance man you have a thorough knowledge of the life span in different parts of the world.
JOHN: Yes. Our insurance charts are authentic and complete.
ALLEN: If I ask you the life expectancy of a person you can tell me approximately how long the person will live.
JOHN: Oh yes! If you’re a Hindu, aged ten, under normal conditions your life expectancy is 48 point 5. That means you’ve got less than half a chance to live to be eleven.
ALLEN: This part isn’t a Hindu.
JOHN: Is he white?
ALLEN: Yes. He’s scared most of the time.
JOHN: Does he smoke cigars?
ALLEN: If you put a cigar down he’ll take it up from where you left off. Yes.
JOHN: Drink?
ALLEN: No. But he might as well. He always looks that way.
JOHN: I see. What month was he born in?
JOHN: Under Gemini, eh? Where was he born?
ALLEN: Waukegan, Illinois.
JOHN: How old is he now?
ALLEN: About thirty-five.
JOHN: What business is he in?
ALLEN: No business. But he plays the violin.
JOHN: I see. No business playing the violin, eh?
ALLEN: And how! He’s got no business.
JOHN: Well. According to our Neapolitan Life chart this party should live sixty-nine more years....and six months.
ALLEN: If he’s thirty-five today he’ll live to be 104 and six months.
JOHN: Unless he plays the violin in public. Yes.
ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Plum. And now from the South Bend Conservatory of Music I present professor Gustave Strad. Professor Strad, you are an authority on the violin.
CHAS: (DUTCH) Yes, Mr. Allen.
ALLEN: Are you familiar with a musical composition known as “Love in Bloom?”
CHAS: I am. Yes.
ALLEN: Are you also familiar with Shubert’s immortal masterpiece [sic]...The Bee.
CHAS: Bee as in Benny?
ALLEN: No. That’s what the whole argument is about. There is no Bee in that Party. It’s Shubert’s Bee.
CHAS: Bee as in something else?
ALLEN: Yes. As in to be or not.....I forget the rest of it. Shubert’s Bee.

CHAS: Ach, yes! I know Shubert’s Bee very well.
ALLEN: Good. Now, in your expert estimation, professor, how long would it take an alleged violinist who today can barely play “Love in Bloom” to render Shubert’s Bee?
CHAS: Speaking as an expert I would say....Three times as long.
ALLEN: In other words. If a man was thirty-five today and could barely play “Love in Bloom”. By the time he could play The Bee....
CHAS: He would be three times as old.
ALLEN: He’d be 105.
CHAS: To the day.
ALLEN: Thank you, Professor. That concludes my argument, Ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Myrt Plum, the insurance expert says:
JOHN: This man will live to be 104 years and six months of age.
ALLEN: Professor Gustave Strad says:
CHAS: He will never play the Bee until he is 105.
ALLEN: So you see, Ladies and gentlemen, statistics prove that Mr. J.B. will never play the Bee. He will be gone six months before he even masters the entire number. I thank you! rest my case.

To be honest, I find some of the feud to be pretty weak at the outset. However, once Benny changed writers to Tackaberry-Josefsberg-Perrin-Balzer and they got used to the show and its character relationships, the material got funnier. And Allen’s got better, too, with some very clever puns, and the famous King For a Day sketch which violated one of Allen’s no-nos and played to the studio audience to get laughs. And when the two got together on Benny’s show, there were off-the-cuff chuckles and commentary on the script by both. By the time the 1950s rolled around, and Allen was struggling with his health and finding a place on television, the nastiness was gone from the feud and the two behaved like a bickering old vaudeville team, which was a lot funnier than the 1930s name-calling.

Even after Allen was gone, Benny was linked to him. Jack would pull out his Allen impression on The Tonight Show and other talk shows. And the loving feud was one of the many things mentioned in obituaries when Jack Benny died 18 years after Fred Allen.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Living With Mel Blanc

Mel Blanc didn’t only have a successful career. He had a successful marriage, too.

He and his wife Estelle were together for 56 years. Their marriage only ended with his death in 1989.

Radio Mirror had a unique profile of Blanc in its April 1946 issue. It was, supposedly, written by Estelle. She talks about his radio career wherein her husband supplied character voices on some of the top shows. While she doesn’t talk about his cartoon work, some of the voices he used on the radio were also heard in cartoons, including Porky Pig and Sylvester (actually, Sylvester’s name and voice were borrowed from the Judy Canova show).

There’s no mention of Blanc’s own radio show that would debut in September; it likely hadn’t been conceived yet. Variety reported on April 23rd that a transcription demo was being cut at NBC by creator Joe Rines, who quit the show two months after its debut over creative differences.

Anyway, this is a different perspective on Blanc, and a pleasant one, too.

"Everything Is Shared"

FIFTEEN years ago, I wrote I my diary, "I met the cutest fellow. I wonder if he'll call me?"
That first note about Mel wasn't much different from the other entries in my diary in those five years from the time I was fifteen, when I started keeping it, until I was twenty — and met Mel. All the notations, in those days, were about dates I'd had, or adolescent speculations about what would happen to me in the years to come, plus anxious (and unanswered) queries to the deux ex machina of the little book about when and whom I would marry.
Then, late one night in the spring of 1931, I came home and wrote about the "cute" fellow who I hoped would call — and that was the beginning of the real diary — the first entry in a day-by-day account of pure happiness.
I had gone to a dance that night with a friend of mine named Vera, her brother, and my brother. While I was waltzing with my brother — and who, at twenty, wants to waltz with her brother, no matter how much she loves him — I saw Vera talking to a man I'd never seen before. Now, normally I was very shy indeed — which probably accounted for my dancing with my brother, while Vera found herself this delightful stranger. But even shyness couldn't keep me away then. I walked over toward them, and sort of hung around on the outskirts, hoping with all my heart that Vera would be generous enough to introduce him.
She was. "Estelle," she called, and I closed in the gap between us with most ungirlish haste.
Vera's eyes were teasing. "How would you like to meet someone who's in radio?" she asked.
Mel tells me that I turned a nice, rich rose color. "This is Mel Blanc," Vera went on. "He's in California from Portland, Oregon, and he's really and truly in radio — he's on the Al Pearce program."
Mel and I just looked at each other. In retelling the story, he likes to point out that here I blushed again. But he did ask for my telephone number. Even so, blushes and all, I wasn't sure that he was really interested. Didn't I anxiously question my diary that night, "I wonder if he'll call me?"
I spent the next two days in awful anticipation of the calamity that would blight my young life in case he didn't call. But finally the phone rang, and I could breathe again, for it was Mel. We didn't see each other that day, but my diary plainly states (with obvious relief) "I am so happy! Mel Blanc called today!"
I wish I could have seen into the future. I wish I could have seen Mel Blanc as my husband, and also as one of the most famous comedians on the air. It would have saved me a lot of worrisome days.
But now the future is here. I've been Mel's wife for a long time, and he's been that famous comedian for a long time. He's on five shows a week at present. He's Mr. Wortle on Judy Canova's show, and he's also Pedro and the man with the hiccups. He works for Jack Benny and meets himself coming and going on that program as the parrot, the train caller, the French violin teacher and Detective Flanagan. And my incomparable husband is also Bob Hope's incomparable Private Snafu. To George Burns and Gracie Allen he is the happy postman and the cigar store clerk. For Abbott and Costello he plays Scotty McBrown and Cartoony Technicolorvitch. And he gets a big kick out of the fact that he's been billed as "miscellaneous voices" on so many shows he can't keep count of them.

AND so, in the exciting present, I'm married to a motley collection of wonderful funnymen, all of whom boil down, at home, to the grandest husband in the world.
That, as I say, is the exciting present. Not that the past wasn't exciting, too. It was. There were those long months, for instance, when I knew as well as I knew my own name that I was head over heels in love with Mel — but when I had no idea whether or not he loved me.
I decided, at last, that it was up to me to make some move. I finally asked him if he would consider acting as master of ceremonies at the cabaret dance our club was giving. I didn't see exactly how this was going to further my romance, but at least I'd be with Mel, and that was something. I didn't really think that he'd accept, but he said yes without hesitation, and my stock rose by leaps and bounds with the other club members. I was pretty proud of myself.
I was still sure, when we went to that dance, that I liked Mel a great deal more than he liked me. But by the time the evening was over I was walking on air, because suddenly, right in the midst of a dance, I knew that the feeling was mutual. Mel hadn't said a word, but I just knew, in that mysterious way that females have of knowing when a man's in love with them.
Mel was the cautious type — he still is. For a long while we saw a great deal of each other, but he never mentioned that little word "love." Mother was suspicious — perhaps she thought I was wasting my time. And Mel hadn't said anything, so I couldn't reassure her. Instead I'd just say, in my best off-hand manner, "Why, I only feel sorry for him, Mother. He wants a home-cooked dinner — he doesn't know anyone in California." And I'd quickly add, while she was in a softened mood, "Can't we have him over again tonight?"
I don't for one moment think that Mother was fooled by all this, but just the same, she used to let me invite Mel to dinner regularly.
In July, he had to go back to Portland — to attend the wedding of a friend, and to see his family. I was pretty excited when he asked me, the night before he left, if he could leave his car with me. Surely, I told myself — and my diary — that meant something. At least, he trusted me with his most cherished possession. (I think if he had run over me with his most cherished possession, I would have found some way to turn it into an indication of affection for me!)
When an embossed leather writing case arrived from Portland for me, I smiled a knowing smile. Why of course — that was Mel's own way of saying, "Write to me, dear. I miss you."
In August, when Mel got back from Portland, I was so eager to see him that I drove right through a stop signal on my way to meet the boat. I got my first ticket then, and Mel hasn't let me forget it to this day.
But he was still slow about proposing. Being of a practical turn of mind, I decided to go to night school to fill in my time. I was working for an attorney, but I was interested in drama — which, incidentally, was elegantly labeled "Oral Art" in the evening sessions catalogue. Suddenly Mel, who had often told me how much he hated school, started going to classes with me. A good sign! To my diary I confided, "He must love me. He goes to school with me every night, and I know it isn't school he likes. Why doesn't he propose?"
To ease your mind — it certainly eased mine — he finally did!

HE waited until Thanksgiving Day to ask me, and even then we didn't get married right away. Mel thought that we should have an engagement period. Mel is very serious about marriage; he thinks far too many people ruin their lives by not being sure, by rushing into marriage. He didn't want us to make a mistake.
Goodness knows, I wanted our marriage to last, so I was perfectly content to do just as he wanted — and so we waited until May, 1932. We were married on Mothers' Day, and two hours later we left for Portland. It was a wrench to leave my Mother and Father for the first time in my life, much as I loved Mel — and I was, grateful to him, then, for that long waiting. By now I was sure. I wasn't any flighty girl, who rushed headlong into marriage. I was a woman, sure of my love, sure of my husband's love.
Mel had a chance to do a new show for a Portland station, KEX. The name of the program — Cobwebs and Nuts — will give you a pretty good idea of what it was like. Mel did the whole thing, from beginning to end — wrote it, ran the mimeographing machine, produced it, did all the male voices. And there my "oral art" came in handy — because I played all the feminine parts! We worked sixteen hours a day on the thing — and it was on the air six nights a week. Mel would sit at one typewriter and I at another; as he turned the stuff out, I made clean copies, with carbons.
The show was a success, if you count success in satisfaction and acclaim, and not in monetary gain. The financial end of that sixteen-hours-six-days-a-week show was a check for precisely fifteen dollars a week. After a couple of months we suddenly realized that we simply couldn't manage on that. So Mel scouted around and got a job writing scripts for the Portland Breakfast Club, also on KEX. This he managed to turn out on the seventh day — and got an extra ten dollars for it.
So, if we weren't wealthy on that, we were at least solvent for the time being. We kept our chins up, and managed. But after two years of it, we felt we owed ourselves a baby — but a baby couldn't possibly be squeezed into that budget. So Mel asked for a raise, and got it — five dollars a week.
When he came home that night he said, "Estelle — I think we'd better get out of this town. Cobwebs and Nuts has been swell as experience for me — in fact, I chalk it up as a college education. But we've got to have more money! I've got to get out of here — and it'll either be a sanitarium or L. A. Maybe down there we can make some decent money."
It was a good idea all around, of course. Los Angeles is the place where a good half of the best radio shows originate, and a lot more than half of the best comedy shows. Besides, in Los Angeles we had my family to fall back on.
And we did fall back on them to the extent of living with them for a year and a half. At that point, Mel was bringing home $25.00 every week — and twenty-five being just twenty-five whether it's in Portland or Los Angeles, he was pretty discouraged. But I wasn't. I had all the faith in the world in Mel. Everything in radio was "breaks," I told him, over and over — and someday very soon now, his break would come.
And one day it did seem, finally, as if our dam of hard luck was beginning to give way. Mel came home walking on air.
"Honey — listen to this," he cried. "I've got a spot on the Joe Penner show!"
"This is your break," I told him.
"At any rate, it's our first network show," he answered, cautious to the last ditch. (And right in that conversation you can see one of the reasons why our marriage is a happy one. "Our first network show" he said, not "my." Although it was his break, it was ours because nothing in all of our lives belongs to one or the other of us — everything is shared.)

IT'S fun to realize that although Mel is famous now for his dialects and voices, particularly animal voices, he did not play Joe Penner's duck. But as sometimes happens when things are going wrong, they suddenly begin to go very right. That first night that Mel was on the Penner show, two producers were listening, and both of them called Mel for their shows.
That was the beginning, and success, slowly but surely, followed on the heels of "our" first break. And success meant another fulfillment for me — we decided that now it was time for us to have our baby. We hoped and hoped for a son, and our luck held good. We named him Noel after Mel's grandfather, and he has been one of the greatest delights of our life together.
By 1943, my hard-working husband was doing a grand total of fourteen radio shows a week, and that meant hardly breath-catching time in between. Mel used to say that he met himself coming in and out of rehearsals.
As we always do when there's a problem, we talked it over; Mel was working too hard. We had too little time together. So we decided that Mel had better pare it down to five shows a week, and we'd have a little more time for living.

THE talking things over covers everything in our life together — our personal lives and business, too. We have no agent or business manager, and when a new proposition comes up, or when a change of some sort is suggested to Mel, it's the talk-it-over method that makes the decision. Mel never signs a contract unless I read it first, and he delights in telling our friends that I have an excellent business head. I don't know about that, but so far everything has worked out all right. I'll just keep my fingers crossed and go on helping as much as I can, because I love our share-and-share-alike way of life.
We've seen a lot of changes in our fourteen years together, Mel and I. There's the matter of money, for instance. People often ask, "Is there any money in work like Mel's — not being the star of your own show, I mean, but doing comedy parts on a lot of shows?" My answer is that there is, at least for Mel. It's a long, long way from that fifteen-dollars-a-week period in Portland. And so is our very pleasant, eight-room house in Playa del Rey, a suburb of Los Angeles, different from that first room in which we lived in Portland.
Our house is about one hundred feet above the ocean, so we get in lots of fishing and swimming. I started to fish because Mel loves it, although I privately had my doubts. He was so pleased with my cooperative spirit in the matter that he set about teaching me how to cast, and all of a sudden I found that I was a fishing enthusiast, too. Now we enjoy it more, and do more of it, than almost any other type of fun. Last fall we spent a month at Big Bear Lake in southern California, and most of our meals there consisted of the fish we'd caught ourselves. We liked it up there so much, in fact, that we bought ourselves a lake-front lot where we intend to build a mountain home this summer.
Mel's and my tastes are pretty similar. We like to swim; we like to fish; and most of all we like our quiet, simple home life. There's nothing in the sitting-and-drinking life of the night club that appeals to us, so we simply don't go to them. But we do love both the theater and the movies — and we're still young enough and in love enough so that it's a thrill to go dancing. We love to watch the jitterbug experts — although we feel it's out of our line and made a solemn pact never to try that particular form of exercise.
Our son, Nonie, wants to be "just like Daddy" when he grows up, but I have a private hunch that he'll be a doctor. When Nonie was three, Mel used to read him to sleep. But he didn't read fairy tales — he read, for some strange reason known only to himself, first aid books. Nonie is seven now, and very adept at amateur doctoring. When I have a headache he solemnly brings me a cold towel for it, then slips in with aspirin and a glass of water. When the recovery is complete, he is as satisfied as if he'd performed his own little private miracle.
We have a Scotch housekeeper, too — Mrs. Elizabeth Ross — who is like a third grandmother to Nonie. She's an excellent cook, but Mel and I both like to have our finger in that pie, too. Mel adores Mrs. Ross' roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, but hastily adds a "simply terrific" description of my fried chicken. He's embarrassingly dreamy too, about my macaroni and cheese, a dish I sometimes make of rice and mushrooms, and about my corn pudding.
But leave it to Mel — he always winds up with, "I'm not a bad cook, myself." And that's true. One of his specialties is baked ham. He uses lots of brown sugar, bastes it with ginger ale, and calls it, for some strange reason, "ham spliced and spiced."
Mel says, "I'm a one-woman man," but I say, in answer, "I'm a twelve-man woman." And I really do feel, sometimes, as if I had a round dozen of husbands because of all those air characters of Mel's. I have a male harem, and never a dull moment, and I love every second of my own brand of polyandry.
That's about all there is about us, except to say again and again that we're happy, and we're still in love. Those things could never be repeated too often. Our project for the future? To keep on living this life we love so much just as it is. Oh, yes — and we do have every intention of going to Niagara Falls some day for a bang-up second honeymoon!

Friday, 16 February 2018

That New Car Smell

“Man, my cars are clean!” insists shady auto dealer Buzz Buzzard. He opens the car door. It’s the old skunk gag. Buzz then pulls off one of those jagged, taffy-pull takes that were popular in Woody cartoons for a few years in the ‘50s.

Buzz gets rid of the smell, thanks to a cute pun.

Homer Brightman’s story in Hot Rod Huckster (1954) is loaded with car gags and he even resurrects the Woody Woodpecker song that Mel Blanc had done more than 10 years earlier. Unfortunately, the animation accompanying it is pretty tame. And Brightman can’t seem to make up his mind whether Woody is intelligent or goony.

Don Patterson directed this with a crew of Ray Abrams, Herman Cohen and Ken Southworth.