Sunday, 18 March 2018

Jack and George

George Burns and Jack Benny were practically lifetime friends. The two first crossed paths in vaudeville in the early 1920s. In 1974, Jack gave his final wire service interview before his death with George Burns chiming in. Burns replaced Benny in the film The Sunshine Boys when Jack died.

New York gossip columnist Cindy Adams talked to the pair about each other in a feature story published in the May 1963 edition of the TV Radio Mirror. Despite the click-bait style sub-headline, there’s no trash talking. Just funny stories and a demonstration of how close the two were.

Jack Benny & George Burns
what they say to each other's face!
what they say behind each other's back!

I first met George Burns a couple of years ago, when he was starring at Harrah's Club, one of the classier saloons and gambling emporiums in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Being that Burns and Allen had been a team since the Stone Age. and being that this marked Burns' debut as a solo performer without Allen, this naturally was what the man was expected to talk about, breathe about and think about. Therefore, I naturally expected this would be Topic A in conversation.
"George," I said, "the songs and jokes you do all by yourself are wonderful. The audience adored . . ."
"Yeah," said George. "Jack was here for the opening, you know. Mary, too."
"Jack Benny."
"Well, I'm sure he loved the act because it's so terrific that . . ."
"Yeah," said George. "Jack helped with the act, you know. Let's face it, he's reasonably successful, so sometimes I listen to him."
During this, George, a sun-worshipper, was cutting a dashing figure at poolside with a peaked cap on his head and a soggy stogie in his mouth. Neither ever got removed. And never once did the cigar impede the talk. George Burns can squat for twelve years at a stretch and never run out of anecdotes. The only thing he runs out of are characters. All his stories center around Jack Benny.
It seems that, 'way before Mary entered the picture, Jack knew Gracie. Back some four decades ago (George: "It's exactly 38 years." Jack: "It's exactly 40 years."), Jack dated a girl whose assets included a roommate named Gracie Allen.

Although they worked few shows together (Jack: "Maybe a half dozen times in all." George: "Just once at the Palace Theater in Indianapolis."), Jack and George were already devoted buddies who knew one another from hanging around the same booking offices, the same hotels and the same girls.
"In those days, Jack was making $450 a week in vaudeville and," gags George, "I think he's getting more now. Incidentally, he was doing those same stingy jokes, even then. We enjoyed one another right away. Besides, he used to laugh me up and, since he was earning more than me, whenever he laughed I thought I was a hit!"
Meanwhile, back at the unemployment office, Gracie was looking for someone to team up with in a comedy act. She told this to her roommate who told it to Jack who told Gracie he had a friend. George, who was working with someone who might just be what the doctor — or, at least, Gracie — ordered. Gracie came. She saw. But she conquered George, not the other fellow. And so, a couple of years later, between shows in a theater in Cleveland, George Burns took unto himself the wife that he'd already taken as a partner and — like it says in the storybooks — they've laughed happily ever after.
The cigar in George's molars bobbles overtime when he describes his wedding night: "Jack was working in Omaha (Jack: "Kansas City.") so he wasn't present for the ceremony. Gracie and I were earning $250 a week. We lived strictly in two-bucks-a-day hotels, but for our honeymoon we figured we'd go the whole route and blow $7 a day. We checked into the Statler at four in the morning, but the desk-clerk explained our day officially started at six.
"Well, we weren't gonna pay no extra seven bucks, so we sat in the lobby for two hours.
"The wedding was scheduled for eight that morning. But the justice of the peace was furious because he'd planned to go fishing that day, and he married us so fast that it was eighty cents on the taxi meter when we pulled up — and ninety cents when we left. He wasn't going to let any marriage kill his fishing.
"Anyway," grins George gleefully, "we were dead tired from sitting in that lobby, so we went to bed early. At two A.M., the phone rang. It was long-distance. It was Jack. Now I know his voice, see, so the minute he said 'Hello,' I said, 'Will you have the waiter send up another order of ham and eggs, please,' and I hung up. Four o'clock the phone wakes us again. It's Jack. All he said was, 'Hello . . . hello,' and I said, 'I'm still waiting for the eggs.' Not another word and I hung up."
George, who, as Jack Benny says, "is conceded by most comedians to be the funniest man in the business," continued with his crackling dry wit. "I always hang up on Jack. Always. In the middle of any conversation, I suddenly hang up. It started once when he talked so long I couldn't stand it. So right in the middle of a comma, I hung up on him. He thought it was a riot. Next time, I did it again. I did this three times in a row, and each time he got hysterical. Finally I figured it isn't funny anymore, so I stopped. Well, he was hurt. He thought I was mad at him. Since then, I hang up on him every single time we talk on a phone. It isn't funny anymore, but I don't want him to think I'm mad."

After this poolside chat, I didn't see George for two years. Our next meeting was at his office. He was the talk of the industry because he'd just discovered the rising star, Ann-Margret, and had just packaged a CBS-TV series, "Mister Ed," so this naturally was what the man was expected to talk about, breathe about and think about. Therefore, I naturally expected this would be Topic A in conversation.
"George," I said, "you're doing so well without Gracie that ..."
"Yeah," said George, "Gracie would have quit even sooner if not for Jack."
"Jack Benny."
"Well, in any case, you're doing so sensationally that . . ."
"Yeah," said George, "You know, Gracie wanted out of the business for four years before she finally retired. She'd been working all her life, and she was tired. I hated to cancel a sponsor who was offering us forty weeks of TV plus twelve weeks of repeats. Besides, I was afraid that, without her, I'd have to quit, too. And I love to work. That's the reason, when I okayed that final year, I called Jack and Mary to break the news for me. Gracie was staying at their Palm Springs house. Jack and Mary helped a lot. They explained how wonderful it was for us and how ordinarily actors throw parties when their options are picked up. I'm certain that, if not for them, she wouldn't have done that last season."
As long as Jack Benny has been alive — "thirty-nine years" — the Bennys and the Burnses have been a close quartet. Even the wives have much in common. They were married within a year of each other. The Burnses became Mr. and Mrs. thirty-seven years ago. The Bennys, thirty-six years. Both wives teamed with their husbands professionally. Both women wanted out. Both women are out.
The two couples occasionally vacation together. They've gone to New York, Europe and Vegas together. The Burnses live within four blocks of the Bennys in Beverly Hills. They see each other constantly. The womenfolk have been known to lunch or shop together. Come a holiday or birthday, they exchange lingerie, nighties or "some inexpensive little doodads like silverware, glasses or something for the house," since each decided long ago that the other has practically everything.
Although the men began the friendship, it's well-known that the ladies could have finished it. It's an accepted fact that not only can women change the face of a foursome, but down through the centuries the frail li'l female of the species has rechiseled the destinies of whole families . . . whole countries. Take Helen of Troy, the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth Taylor. . . . However, both men disagree that the wives could kill off their friendship, because it is far too enduring. However, they agree that the parallel of their wives' theatrical background — and now retired foreground — makes for a tremendous closeness.

The first time I met Jack was a year-and-a-half ago, when he taped several television shows from New York. The night before, he'd taken over the Automat on 45th Street and Fifth Avenue for a black-tie party. In line with the professional Benny "stinginess," he personally handed each guest a $2 roll of nickels. To see Helen Hayes in a floor-length gown and elbow-length gloves jockeying apple pie from a glass window, or to catch Arlene Francis carrying ermine and diamonds and a tray of corned beef, was a beautiful sight. Naturally, it had been a tremendous party, and naturally I figured this would be the major topic of discussion.
"Jack," I said, "it was so funny at your party when . . ."
"Yeah," Jack said, "too bad George wasn't there."
"George Burns."
"Well, I'm sure he'd have howled the way you . . ."
"Yeah," Jack said. "But he'd have deflated me somehow. He always does. It's very easy for George to make me laugh. Mary can be quite witty at times, too, but mostly we three just sit around and scream at him."
He explained how he prepared Mary for her first introduction to George — who, although straitlaced Gracie doesn't sanction it, is known to toss off lavender verbiage. True to form, George teed off this meeting with a few four-and five-letter words that not even Webster knows — "Just so Mary could get used to how I talk real fast." George explained later.
"It's just that everything he does breaks us up, and he knows it. As a result, he's always planning how to make me laugh." continued Jack. "Like at the Command Performance last year. We were walking down a dark London street at two A.M., and George stopped to look into a basement window. A little further on, he bent down to look into another one. Each time I stooped down, too, but I saw nothing. The third time. I ran over to ask what he saw. And he said, 'Nothing. But I'm in England and I don't want to miss anything.'
"Once, we were at somebody's home when an opera singer was giving a recital. Everything was fine until George sat down behind me. He didn't do anything. He just whispered. 'Now whatever you do, don't laugh.' That's all I needed. Just his power of suggestion. Before you know it, my shoulders heaved and I couldn't control myself. I had to leave."

The fact that Jack is wildly susceptible to George is best illustrated by the time Jack said to him. "Now, listen, don't try to be funny today." Being an Eagle Scout, George didn't try to be funny. Suddenly, Jack started to guffaw maniacally. George looked startled. "I didn't say anything," he said. "Yeah," giggled Jack, "but I know what you're thinking!"
The upshot is that Jack is always trying to make George laugh, and George's always deflating him. "Once," grins Jack, "he was in Minneapolis and I was so desperate to break him up that I concocted a really hysterical telegram. I worked hard on it. I threw everything I could into it. It was about fifty words, and it was really a riot. I got a return wire from him. All it said was, 'Don't worry. I won't show your wire to anyone.' "
(Author's Note: When George told the story, the wire was "over two hundred words." When Jack was told Burns' version, he giggled happily and said, "That's George. The world's biggest liar.")
During my visit to Benny's dressing-room, he sat slumped in a chair while the makeup man was pretending he was a Rembrandt and Benny's beautiful, familiar face was a canvas. Between the artiste crayoning his eyebrows, and this interviewer recording his adlibs, and the fact that he was due to face millions on television in three minutes, Mr. Benny was so high-strung and nervous about the whole thing that he was yawning altogether.
At the end of the hour's discussion on George Burns, Jack said, "By the way, just what was it you wanted to interview me about?"
"George Burns," I said.
"Oh, my God, honey," yawned Jack as he sauntered onstage, "We've been friends for so long I couldn't possibly think of anything to say about him!"
— Cindy Adams
"The Jack Benny Program" is seen on CBS-TV, Tues., at 9:30 P.M. EST.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Cartoon Sophisticate

The 1960s were just horrible for theatrical cartoons. If your local movie house ran them at all, you were subjected to Honey Halfwitch, Cool Cat or, if you were really unlucky, the Beary Family. But there was one theatrical series that was a real bright spot.

The Pink Panther.

Friz Freleng, Hawley Pratt and the other creative people who came up with the idea hit on the right combination. Instead of the aging concept of funny animals chasing each other, the Panther was plunked into a human world. Making him a pantomime figure instead of a lippy Bugs Bunny type caused John Dunn and the other writers to rely on sight gags enhanced by Friz’s (and Pratt’s) perfect timing. The gags were pretty imaginative. And the use of Henry Mancini’s Panther movie theme as the main background music gave each short a sly and jazzy air.

Here are a couple of stories about how the Panther cartoons came about. The first is from United Press International, February 4, 1965, the second from the Los Angeles Times syndication service, originally published December 24, 1964.

The Panther series kind of petered out in 1971 but theatrical cartoons continued to be released into 1977.

Cartoon Panther Is A Box Office Tiger
By Vernon Scott
HOLLYWOOD—UPI—If you have been to the movies recently you have probably noticed the comeback of an old theater standby, the animated cartoon. With the increasing disappearance of double features, theater owners are filling out the bill with animated hijinks.
Moviegoers will be seeing more of Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny and the ubiquitous Tom and Jerry. They will also be entertained by a skinny and malevolent character named the Pink Panther.
The Panther made his debut when the credits flashed on the screen more than a year ago for the feature film thriller-comedy, The Pink Panther, starring Peter Sellers. Audiences enjoyed the animal's rapscallion adventures almost as much as the phenomenally successful film.
Director Blake Edwards, along with David Depatie and Friz Freleng (who created the animated prologue), saw gold in the Pink Panther and forthwith turned him into a star in his own right.
Depatie-Freleng Enterprises have been contracted by United Artists to turn out 13 Pink Panther short subjects a year.
Thus far they've produced three, all with the theme music from the Pink Panther movie; all without dialogue of any kind.
“We think of the Panther as an adult cartoon character, but geared for children, too,” said Depatie at his cartoon headquarters near Warner Bros. studio. “But our dilemma is whether to give him a voice or keep him in pantomime.”
His partner, Freleng, added, “we were as surprised as everyone else with the Panther's popularity.
“He captured public imagination because here was a character fussing around with the credits of a movie which are supposed to be a serious undertaking. He was the first cartoon 'personality' involved in main title credits and was therefore, different.”
Depatie and Freleng hope to stockpile more than 100 Panther cartoons and dump them on the television market which gobbles up cartoons faster than it does old movies.
According to Freleng, adults enjoy cartoons in theaters as much—or more so—than their offspring, but will not admit it.
Freleng is an old hand at fathering cartoon characters, having originated Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweetie Pie, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales. He foresees as big a future for the Panther as any of his previous children.
“The Panther is egotistical, effeminate, affete, [sic] chic, and very pink,” said Depatie.
“He's not in-step with the regular pattern of a cartoon cat chasing a cartoon mouse,” Freleng said. “We're staying out of the trap of creating another Bugs Bunny.
“You could say the Panther is sophisticated.”

New Craze Started by ‘Pink Panther’
DePatie and Freleng Reveal Story Behind Cartoon Series

Times Motion Picture Editor
Having flipped over “The Pink Phink,” an animated cartoon being released with “Kiss Me, Stupid,” I hastened to call a high-level conference with its creators—primarily two chaps with the arresting names of David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng. They had introduced their Pink Panther, who reappears in “The Pink Phink,” in the picture of that name—behind the opening credit titles. Since almost everybody thought the credits deserved more credit than the picture, the Mirisch Corp. and Blake Edwards urged DePatie-Freleng to keep the sly young fellow alive in a series.
“The Pink Phink” is the first. Four others are ready: “Pink Pajamas,” “We Give Pink Stamps,” “Dial P for Pink” and “Sink Pink”—in which the PP is refused entrance to Noah’s Ark “because there’s only one of you.”
Friz Freleng, older of the pair, is roundish, bald and mustached. (Actually, he apparently served as the model, consciously or not, for the only other character in “The Pink Phink.”) “My real name is, of all things, Isadore,” he explained. “There used to be a cartoon-strip character called Congressman Frizby—and years ago, at Warners, they somehow hung the tag on me.” DePatie is taller and has curly black hair.
Pair Partners For 10 Years
Both are veterans of the cartoon field, only Friz is a veteran veteran. He came west from Kansas City about the same time Walt Disney did and went to work for him in 1927, later moved on to MGM (“Krazy Kat”) and Warner Bros. (“Looney Tunes,” “Merrie Melodies”), for whom he originated such characters as Porky Pig, Sylvester, Tweety Pie, Yosemite Sam, Speedy Gonzales and Daffy Duck. Eventually he tied up with DePatie, who had begun his career as a film editor at Warners and returned there later as head of the studio’s commercial department. They have been partners for 10 years.
When, in May of last year, Warners decided to drop its commercial and animation divisions the pair took them over—as DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. “But now,” Friz said, “we have resumed for them with a contract for 39 cartoons—this in addition to our other work. This includes titles for other pictures (‘A Shot in the Dark,’ ‘Sex and the Single Girl,’ ‘The Satan Bug,’ ‘The Best Man,’ ‘How to Murder Your Wife’ for Ross Hunter and, coming up, ‘The Great Race’), a trailer for ‘John Goldfarb’ and the pilot for a Screen Gems TV series, ‘I Dream of Jeanie,’ with Barbara Eden.
He’s a Natural For Animation
The idea for their new beastie was born when Blake Edwards approached them and said, “I have a picture that is a natural for animation, ‘The Pink Panther.’” Continued Friz, “Edwards and the Mirisches gave us complete freedom—and now all the other producers who wouldn’t, want us.”
DePatie nodded agreement. “The pinks are being geared for the adult intellect; kids will watch anything that moves. Our first give are in pantomime only—far more difficult to do, by the way, than with a voice. But since they may later be put together three at a time for a half-hour TV show—and TV won’t sustain without dialogue—we are using dialogue in No. 6. The panther will speak with a kind of Rex Harrison voice—knowledgeable, the ultimate in sophistication. In the past the industry has missed by making cartoons that adults might enjoy but that were a little immature. The exceptions were Disney, in some of his, and UPA.”
I asked how they thought they compared with Hollywood’s Saul Bass and Maurice Binder, in Europe, as creators of opening titles. “They use more abstract designs and graphics; we’re more character animation.” The most successful big-scale commercial title makers are Pacific Title and National Screen Service. On the financial side, they estimated from $17,500 to $18,000 as the cost of their own title-making for a picture. Pretty reasonable, since they figure their opener for “The Pink Panther” has added $1.5 million to its gross—“gives people something to talk about.” Another by-produce that could develop into a bonanza is merchandising. United Artists in New York has been making tie-ups for the Pink Panther in comic strips and joke books, toy manufacturers, etc. He is, incidentally, the first new character to be invented for theater exhibition in eight years.

Friday, 16 March 2018

The Changing Pianist

There’s humour—intentional and unintentional—in cartoons made by New York’s C-list studio, Van Beuren.

In Mad Melody (1931), notice what happens when the camera cuts to a closer shot. The pianist doesn’t even look like the same character. The lion has tousled hair, a huge collar and teeth (or a tooth) in the second frame.

That’s the unintentional humour. The intentional is how the lion sings in a female soprano, then changes his voice in what’s supposed to be bass. His body drops as his voice drops.

Alright, maybe it’s not that amusing. But you can’t dislike a cartoon where a piano suddenly gets up and paces, or where a monkey assistant sweeps up notes that tumble out of the open piano and throws them back in (and a note jumps out to conk him on the head and knock him out).

There are no credits on this cartoon other than Gene Rodemich for synchronization.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

He Was SO Thin...

In his Bobby Sox days, there were some standard jokes about Frank Sinatra. One of them was how unhealthily thin and anaemic he was. Tex Avery and his uncredited writer tossed some into Little ‘Tinker (released 1948).

The Sinatra disguised skunk is so thin, he falls through a hole in the wooden planks on stage. Notice how he looks down at his predicament.

He’s as thin as the microphone stand.

He’s lighter than a feather.

The other gags are self-explanatory.

The Sinatra singing voice, according to Keith Scott who knows this stuff, is Bill Roberts, who you will best remember from the Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening. Oddly, MGM layout man Dick Bickenbach had done a Sinatra-esque singing voice in other cartoons but wasn’t called on for this cartoon. Bick was an accomplished amateur singer.

Louis Schmitt provided layouts for this cartoon (at least he designed the characters), while the animators were Bill Shull, Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton and Bob Bentley.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

His Heart Picked Peas

Tennessee Ernie Ford may have been the only person whose TV show lost a potential sponsor because of his name.

He was hosting a revival of Kay Kyser’s old radio show College of Musical Knowledge on NBC in October 1954 when he decided he wanted to be billed as “Tennessee Ernie Ford.” That was quite unsatisfactory to a company looking at paying the bills for the show, and it walked away. The company was General Motors.

Ernie had been billed as plain old “Tennessee Ernie,” which he had adopted when he headed to the West Coast after the war and worked as a radio announcer, first in San Bernadino and then at a small station in Pasadena catering to fans of western and country music. The big star at the station was Cliffie Stone, who became Ernie’s manager. Pretty soon, Ernie was playing gigs, signed a record deal by Capitol and then got an insanely huge break in 1954 by appearing on two episodes of I Love Lucy.

And all this happened before the biggest thing in career—a monster record in 1955 called “Sixteen Tons.” That led to his own NBC variety show. He didn’t have to worry about General Motors. The show was sponsored by the Ford Motor Company (the programme was actually named for the carmaker).

One of the main reasons behind Ernie’s success over the years was he came across as a down-home folksy guy, not a Hollywood phoney. He was helped by his countrified similes. He came across as rural as a passel of hoot owls nesting in a barn loft in the Ozarks. Columnists loved his turns of phrase and included them in stories.

Here’s one from the June 12, 1954 of the Chicago Tribune, from the city as windy as a politician stumping 24 hours before voting day.

COUSIN ERNIE: Ernie (Tennessee Ernie) Ford is now in the process of transformation from a caterpillar into a butterfly, if metaphor may be a bit strained.
Ernie is the hillbilly character who appeared on two successive I Love Lucy shows as “Cousin Ernie” a few weeks ago and emerged as a new comedy find.
Up to that assignment he had (1) never acted on stage, and (2) never been cast formally as a comedian. Tennessee Ernie is an incredibly successful hillbilly singer who has told more than 4.5 million records in four years. His “Shotgun Boogie” has sold more than a million disks.
That he should score a hit in a new field in his first try is as unusual as if Toscanini clicked as a cigaret huckster.
“I’m as happy as a peach orchard hog,” says Ernie, who comes from the Tennessee hill country. “That Lucy thing created quite a stink (fuss), and the smell ain’t gone yet.”
● ● ●
FOX IN PEPPER PATCH: Four years ago Ernie earned $87.50 for a 40 hour week as announcer with KXLA, Pasadena, Cal. Today he grosses close to $100,000 annually, and the biggest loot is ahead because, to crib a phrase of his, Tennessee Ernie currently is as “hot as a fox in a pepper patch.”
Drawl talkin’ Ernie came to town this week to entertain for his radio (WBBM, 6 p.m., week days) sponsor. He starts his first network TV show July 4 at 6 p.m. over NBC-TV-WNBQ. The program is the old Kay Kyser College of Musical Knowledge.
Ernie, whose ultimate ambitions is to quit work to “fish ‘n’ hunt,” likes to hark back to his boyhood days at Bristol, Tenn. The state line between Tennessee and Virginia runs down the middle of the main street.
Bristol has two city councils, two mayors, and two police forces, and both states are “dry as chips.” Yet occasionally a drunkard who had been sampling his own “grape squeezins” in the hills wandered into town. If the cops on one side of town chased him he escaped by staggering across the main street.
● ● ●
WALK THE LINE: “But once cops from both forces chased one at the same time,” says Ernie. “He tried to get out of town by walking the white (state) line down main street. This was a mistake. He wavered heroically for a few yards, then gave up without a fight. He’d flunked the line test in front of both police forces. As they dragged him off to jail, he moaned, ‘I got no more chance than a tied mink in a smokehouse.’”
In some circles, Ernie was as admired for his descriptive use of the vernacular as a blue ribbon steer on the closing day of the County Fair. A fine example was given by the Herald Tribune syndication service in a story of June 12, 1957.
Ernie Ford's Phrasing Called Equal to Bard's

FROM the bright lexicon of TV's hayseed performers streams a pithy new language that we've all too quickly dismissed as corn pone and molasses badinage. The most prolific of these philologists is Tennessee Ernie Ford ("They've got me squirmin' like a worm in hot ashes"), and from now on Mr. Ford's verbal output draws this pillar's utmost respect because it's just won the wholehearted approval of that Shakespearean scholar, Dr. Frank C. Baxter.
Lo and behold, Dr. Baxter says Mr. Ford's colorful use of language is almost Shakespearean, a conclusion he arrived at after sitting in on rehearsals for an appearance on the "Ford" show tomorrow night.
"Ernie and Shakespeare," said Dr. Baxter, and his tongue wasn't in his cheek, "share a common ability to say things in fresh, new ways."
Showing the extent of his interest in the Ford gems, Dr. Baxter took the trouble to make notes during rehearsals and he offers some notable comparisons between Shakespeare's sterling lines and Ernie's hominy grits utterances.
"On the subject of a man's charm, for instance," Dr. Baxter continued, "Shakespeare used the phrase, 'A lion among ladies.' Ernie would say, 'He's like a rooster in the hen house.' To indicate indecision, Shakespeare wrote 'I am a feather for each wind that blows.' Whereas Ernie would say, 'I'm like a puppy in a room full of rubber balls'."
Among Dr. Baxter's jottings on "Ernieisms" are:
"Flat as a gander's arch."
"Hotter'n a bucket of red ants."
"Tear off a quill and write me a letter."
"I'm hogtied to you."
"These," says Dr. Baxter, "are truly brilliant in the imagery they evoke. If Shakespeare were alive today, he'd be proud to have written such a line as, 'He's as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs'."
????????? That's what the doctor said!
I suspect NBC or Ford’s ad agency sent the list of Ernie’s sayin’s endorsed by the astute Dr. Baxter to media outlets hither and yon. The Albany Knickbocker News of June 8th has many of the same sentences and Bumpkinville observations in an unbylined story but gives a comparison:

POSITION: SHAKESPEARE – As upright as the cedar (The Winter’s Tale). ERNIE – Flat as a gander’s arch.
HEAT: SHAKESPEARE – As cold as any stone (King Henry V). ERNIE – Hotter’n a bucket of red ants.
SIMILARITY: SHAKESPEARE – As like as eggs (The Winter’s Tale. ERNIE – As like as hams on a Hampshire hog.
CHARM: SHAKESPEARE – A lion among ladies (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). ERNIE – He’s like a new rooster in the hen house.
INDECISION: SHAKESPEARE – I am a feather for each wind that blows (The Winter’s Tale). ERNIE – I’m like a puppy in a room full of rubber balls.

“This,” according to Baxter, “is truly brilliant in the imagery it evokes.”

In 1961, as Variety put it, “There's no longer an Ernie in Ford’s future.” The Ford show finished the season ranked 24th but Ernie wanted to spend more time on his ranch and cut his weekly TV load in half. The car company decided to sponsor Hazel instead the following season. Ernie worked out a deal closer to his home in the San Francisco Bay area, spending three days a week taping daytime shows that ran daily on ABC for several seasons and jetting down the coast for occasional guest shots. His recording career, especially in the gospel realm, continued as his fan base aged.

Alcohol caught up to Tennessee Ernie. It killed him on October 17, 1991. He mused on his popularity to the Associated Press in a 1990 interview, saying: “I met families at state fairs and they seemed comfortable around me and gave me a warm feeling. They’d say, ‘I feel like I know you.’ It was the greatest compliment you could get.”

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Hot-Cha-Cha Cat

A starfish decides to stay stuck on Tom’s head in Surf-Board Cat (1967). And look! He turns into Jimmy Durante, complete with show-biz playoff music by Dean Elliott. The cat even says “Hot-cha-cha-cha-cha” like Durante used to do in the ‘30s.

Bob Ogle came up with this one along with some camera stares and crash gags that were done by Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese in the Roadrunner shorts at Warner Bros. Carl Bell and Hal Ambro animated this cartoon along with Phil Roman, Dick Thompson, Ben Washam and Don Towsley. Abe Levitow directed. Elliott tosses in some ersatz-groovin’, “It’s Happening Now ‘67”-type music that sounds like old people trying to be hip.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Bunny Kaye

Bugs Bunny pulls off a Danny Kaye-like scat routine in Hot Cross Bunny, a cartoon directed by Bob McKimson and written by Warren Foster (who had written a similar routine for Daffy Duck in Bob Clampett’s Book Revue).

Bugs thrusts himself at the camera for emphasis in a scene by Manny Gould.

See more about the animators on this cartoon at the Cartoon Research site.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Daddy Day

On the Jack Benny radio and TV shows, Dennis Day was a naïve young single man. In real life, Dennis Day was married with (eventually) ten children and, by all accounts, a fairly savvy businessman.

Just after Dennis’ ninth child was born in 1963, columnist Bob Thomas of the Associated Press caught up with the singer (the photo to the right accompanied the article). That wasn’t easy as Day was performing in Vegas and other spots around the U.S., pulling down money that could easily support a family of ten.

How he and his wife cope with that many kids? Here’s the answer. It appeared in papers starting June 7, 1963.

Dennis Day Stays Busy As Dad

AP Movie-Television Writer
HOLLYWOOD (AP)—The father of this or almost any year in Hollywood appears to be Dennis Day, Jack Benny's madcap tenor who has made a serious business of raising a family.
"We've never been out of diapers at our house," says Dennis, who seems somewhat astounded himself at the size of the Day (McNulty) tribe.
Here's how they will line up on Father's Day Sunday June 16.
Patrick James, 14.
Dennis Eugene, 13.
Michael Joseph, 11.
Margaret Mary, 10.
Eileen Maria, 8.
Paul Thomas, 7.
Thomas Francis, 5.
Mary Kate, 2.
Daniel Gerard, 6 weeks.
During a rehearsal break at the Jack Benny Show, Dennis rattled off the names and numbers with confidence—until be arrived Thomas. He made several stabs at the middle name before arriving at Francis. I checked with his wife later and discovered he was correct.
How do they manage such a crowd scene?
"It's my wife Peggy who gets the credit," said Dennis. "The burden is on her, because I'm out of town six months of the year; that's the way it is with performers nowadays."
"We have one live-in help and a day girl, but we've never had a baby nurse. Peg has done it all herself. Nine babies, and every one of them has had the colic for the first six months! We're tried every formula and every preparation that is made. You name them and we've had them."
Dennis admitted that the logistics for a family of nine children can be staggering. They manage to find room for sleeping accommodations in their expanded Mandeville Canyon home—now five bedrooms. The three oldest boys board at military school in Anaheim, so that's a help.
When the family goes for a weekend at their Palm Spring house, it's a regular caravan. Sleeping bags are a must.
Outfitting the nimble nine is a major operation.
"Shoes!" muttered Dennis, shaking his head. "We're always buying shoes. I got the boys shoes with a guarantee the soles couldn't wear out in six months. Know something? They beat the guarantee.
"I was in New York recently, and I looked up some wholesalers I know—I haven't worked for Benny for 24 years without learning some tricks. I went through the racks of girls' dresses and said, 'I take this and this and this.' That's the way we shop."
Dennis was one of six children, who have now produced 31 of their own-sister-in-law Ann Blyth has five. "I think large families are closer," said Dennis, an obvious advocate.
Any hazards to rearing children in Hollywood?
"It's no different from other towns," he said. "You can't let other people raise your children. You've got to know your kids and keep the lines of communication open.
"I tell mine if they ever have any problem to bring it to me; I won't belt them if they've done something wrong. So far we've done pretty well on that system."

Saturday, 10 March 2018

How Van Beuren Did It

In 1931, the Van Beuren cartoon studio released Making ‘Em Move, a gagged-up short about how cartoons were made. That same year, the Baltimore Sun published a feature story on how Van Beuren cartoons were actually made.

The West Coast studios worked a little differently. Because many shorts were based around singing and dialogue, the voices were recorded first and the animators matched the characters’ mouth movements to the soundtrack. On the East Coast, the voices were the last thing recorded. That’s why Popeye and other Fleischer characters talked without moving their mouths (mumbling their words so it didn’t look so obvious). Van Beuren worked the same way.

The studio soon hired Margie Hines to voice female characters. But as you can read in the article, men who worked at Van Beuren doubled as voice artists when the need arose in the early years of sound. I’ve always wondered if Gene Rodemich did some of the voices, especially a raspy voiced guy who surfaces in Tom and Jerry and Cubby Bear cartoons.

There are a couple of lines on the Rufle Baton invented by Van Beuren animator George Rufle. The article also touches on colour. Van Beuren didn’t bother with it until after Burt Gillett arrived from Disney and replaced Rodemich in 1934; Uncle Walt’s use of Technicolor in the hugely successful Flowers and Trees in 1932 induced other studios to follow along.

The drawing above accompanied the article; the other frame grabs are for decoration.

The Noah’s Ark that Movies Built

OF all the make-believe worlds created by the imagination of man there are fewer stranger and more fascinating than that in which are found the creatures of the new Noah’s Ark. In practical language this world is found in what is called the animated cartoon. Specimens of the elastic fauna and collapsible flora which abound in this realm are found in every part of the earth, the only condition necessary for their appearance being the conjunction of a motion picture projector, a strip of film and a screen.
Intelligible alike to the Arab who visits the portable cinema camped overnight near his village, to the Chinese who jams himself into the ride neighborhood nickelodeon in Shanghai, and to the American schoolboy who welcomes the appearance of the funny animals with unfailing eagerness, the animated cartoons is one of the most universal forms of art. It is a secondary art, of course, one which exists solely for the amusement of crowds casually gathered together in theaters everywhere. It has nothing to teach and is never, never serious. But perhaps for the very reason that this art is detached and self-sufficient, the best examples of it may have a surprisingly long life. The new Noah’s Ark is a timeless vessel, and it reflects very little of contemporary fashions of any sort. It may be, therefore that inquisitive connoisseurs a century hence may find these quaint creatures even more interesting than do we, to whom they are a routine part of film entertainment.
WHERE THEY LIVE there is no vexing law of gravitation, no pain, no apparent limit to the things anybody wants to do. It is nothing for a horse to turn itself into a steam shovel, or for a dinosaur to make of its neck an escalator. Since the coming of the sound films all the cartoon creatures have become musical. Nowhere is to be found such widespread and amazing talent. A pig thinks nothing of using its own skeleton for a xylophone, and the cat’s whiskers, stretched out and plucked by a jazz-mad mule, give forth the twang of a harp.
They are great dancers, too, being skilled in all known forms of that art. Often the piano will take to dancing, not to mention the trees, the mountains and the houses. The musical libraries of the world, classic and popular, are at the hoof-tips, claw-tips and paw-tips of these fantastic animals.
ALMOST AS INTERESTING as the magic menagerie itself are the artists who have created this make-believe world and its inhabitants. The Noah’s architects are not well known to the public, and even their methods remain much of a mystery to moviegoers. The making of a screen cartoon, of course, is far from a one-man job. Conceivably, one artist might draw a complete cartoon, but it would take him perhaps six months of grinding labor, and the second would probably break him down altogether.
Groups of men in shirt sleeves, most of them accepting their work as a matter of course, collaborate upon the drawing, and must work in close cooperation with the musicians who supply the sound track. Most of the process now has got down to a fixed routine, and there is a strong contrast between the apparent spontaneity and freedom of movement of the screen creatures and the slow, tedious manner in which they are made.
THE METHOD employed by Æsop’s Sound Fables, one of the oldest of the existing cartoons, is typical of that employed in most of the animated cartoon laboratories. Entering the main office, in the middle of the morning, say, one finds it not at all imposing or romantic. Perhaps a dozen men in various stages of comfortable shirt-sleevage may be observed seated before drawing boards, intently at work. One or two filing cabinets and a number of black, circular, table-like drying racks complete the furniture of the room.
Each drawing board has two pegs near the top, on which sheets of ordinary thing paper are fitted by means of perforations. The board is so arranged that a light shines through the section over which the paper is placed. The animator makes his first sketch, then places a second blank sheet over it. The first drawing thus shines through, enabling the animator to make his progressive drawings with accuracy.
But much has been done before the cartoon reaches this stage. The first thing the visitor is apt to notice is that each artist is drawing from music. Each one has a strip of manuscript to printed music propped up in front of him to serve as a guide in his work.
TO EXPLAIN THIS it is necessary to start at the beginning. The first step in the making of a cartoon is the conceiving of the general idea and the working out of the details. This is done in the case of Æsop’s Fables at a roundtable conference, held in a smaller office room. Here John Foster, head animator, with Gene Rodemich looking after the musical interests of the animals. In this conference each artist may set forth his ideas and views. Models for proposed characters are drawn and decided upon.
All suggestions are put into type by a stenographer, and the head of the animating department, possibly with the assistance of two or more aides, shapes the notes into a detailed scenario including story, musical themes and gags. The completed scenario is a meticulous document, with carefully worked out scenes and subtitles.
Meanwhile Musical Director Rodemich has been busy completing the score. The tunes, of course, are very simple. Whenever possible, Mr. Rodemich and his assistants compose their own score. Familiar songs are introduced only when there is some definite purpose to be served in the telling of the story. One of the staff knows something about dancing. Often he illustrated the steps to be used in the film for the guidance of the animators who will draw the scenes. With the completed scenario in hand, Mr. Rodemich lays out the entire score on paper. This is a mathematical process, tedious but simple. There are forty-eight frames or pictures to each bar of music, and each note must be held for a certain number of frames. The object is, of course, to let each animator know how long to let Henry Cat keep his mouth open while singing high C.
The various scenes are now parceled out among the various animators. With the bit of music before him, the artist now may bring the cat’s foot down on the beat of a march tune, and having him burst into song at just the right moment.
WE NOW RETURN to the artist at his drawing board. He and his fourteen coworkers will make from 6,000 to 10,000 drawings for a single cartoon to be run off upon the screen in a few minutes. It takes long practice and a special talent to be able to make these simple drawings well. The trick is to know just how far to advance the foot in the case of walking, running and other exercises. The various stages of any operation shown on the screen must be timed right if there is to be a smooth animation.
Some of the artists have been detailed to supply the backgrounds. These are sometimes exterior scenes and sometimes interiors. They may be as varied, indeed, as the backgrounds used in motion pictures. Some of the sets are the same size as the individual sheets. Others are panoramas, several feet long, to be used in creating an illusion of motion. On the screen it seems as if Henry Cat is walking along a country road. In reality the strip of scenery is moved one-eighth of an inch every time the animal is photographed.
The individual tissue sheets, filled with drawings, ranging from groups of figures to a single foot or hand, are given to the tracers, twenty-five of whom are employed in this particular studio. These men trace the drawings onto celluloid sheets. The tracers then fill in the bodies with black or white, after which the sheets are ready for the camera.
The cameraman has a little room all to himself. Each drawing comes to him numbered and he works from a chart which tells him the sequence. On a flat table before him is the frame which holds the drawing to be photographed. On the bottom of the frame the cameraman places the celluloid sheet containing the drawing of the background, whatever it may be. On top of this he places a second celluloid sheet containing the characters in a particular scene. Those parts which are to be moved in the following pictures—perhaps an arm or a leg—are missing from the second sheet. They are contained on a third celluloid rectangle which completes the picture to be photographed. Three “cells” are always used, whether needed or not.
THE CELLULOID being transparent, the entire picture presents itself to the eye of the camera, which is contained on a support above the cameraman’s head. When the picture is complete the operator presses a pedal with his foot and the picture is taken. He replaces the third layer of celluloid with a drawing showing the leg or arm moved a fraction of an inch, then makes another photograph. Sometimes he changes the second and third sheets, sometimes all three, according to the directions on his chart. Sixteen of these photographs make a foot of film and they are unrolled on the screen at the rate of 1,440 a minute.
The cameraman also makes what is called the baton by moving a white spot up and down along a narrow groove at left of the photograph. He varies the rate of movement in accordance with the chart which accompanies each film sequence. This chart has been marked by Mr. Rodemich. The result, when thrown on the screen, shows the white dot bouncing up and down in the time in which the music is to be played. After the bouncing dot has served its purpose it is replaced by the sound track.
The baton serves as an automatic leader, and also enables the musicians to rehearse sometimes as much as half the score before the scenes are photographed. All they need to rehearse—or even, in some cases, to make the recording—is the score and the automatic leader. Sometimes half the synchronization is recorded without the musicians seeing the film, and the timing, as shown in the completed film with sound track, will be perfect. When Mr. Rodemich wants a section of batonized film he simply asks the cameraman to give him a certain number of feet of three-quarters time, or whatever the time may be, and the cameraman makes the necessary number of pedal exposures.
THE SCENE CHANGES for the next step the making of a modern Fable. One must cross the Hudson to the New Jersey sound studio in which the recording is done. There, in a large, barnlike room, one may find Mr. Rodemich with an orchestra ranging in number from ten to twenty-five, including half a dozen members called effect men.
The realm of sounds has been exhausted in search for comic notes and novelty, and many combinations of instruments have been tried. Mr. Rodemich has done whole films with two cornets, a clarinet and a piano; another combination he favors is a flute, clarinet, oboe and bassoon. The effect men have trunkloads of queer devices at their command, not counting the regulation trap drums and such conventional noise-makers as the xylophone, tom-tom and cymbals. Penny whistles, sleigh-bells, sandpaper blocks, rattles, tambourines and many such devices are used to counterfeit the strange, universal language used by the animals in the new Noah’s Ark. The human voice is used sparingly, various members of the staff being called upon to pinch hit for the creatures whenever occasion warrants.
WHENEVER POSSIBLE the creatures are made to express their loves and hates by gibberish which suggests only in tone the required emotion. This is due to their international nature. The Noah’s architects must never forget that Henry Cat is equally welcome in Rangoon, Cape Town and Vienna.
When the orchestra is all set the film is run off upon a screen in front of them. They rehearse the scenes to be recorded five times before going through with it with the microphones in action. The resulting sound tracks are fitted to the corresponding film sequences and the whole picture subjected to careful editing.
All in all, some forty artists are employed to make the Æsop’s Fables. They make an average of twenty-six cartoons a year. To do this they must animate 152,000 drawings, each of which is worked on five times before completion. All the drawings occupy 18,200 feet of film. And the full year’s work of forty men, if shown continuously, could be unreeled on the screen in three hours and two minutes!
UP TO THE PRESENT TIME the make-believe world of the fantastic animals has been in black and white, with the exception of a few experimental subjects, such as the colored cartoon incorporated in “The King of Jazz.” Whatever advances color photography itself has yet to make in the wider world of the feature picture, it is ready to be adapted to the cartoon strip. Therein the artist may choose shades which photograph well and match carefully.
One naturally asks, then, why is not more color used? It is wholly a matter of expense. The addition of color to the cartoons would be a simple matter. In the Æsop studio it would simply necessitate the employment of artists to tint the pictures in place of the tracers who now fill them in in black and white. The extra expense of this operation would be negligible.
BUT WHEN IT COMES to printing the films it is a different story. The film must go through many costly operations, one for each basic color used, and this increases the cost of the print seven or eight times. This cost would fall heavily upon the proprietors of the smaller cinemas, and this difference they are either unable to unwilling to pay for at the present time. If the fascinating creatures of the cartoons are to take on colors, there must be a definite public demand to offset this added expense.
However, they have done well enough in black and white, and, since they do not imitate life except in a broad and ludicrous fashion, the added realism of color is not needed. It is the idea which counts most, and there are whole new realms of fancy still to be explored.