Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Busy! Busy! Busy!

Billy De Wolfe did not disappoint me.

The first time I watched the Rankin-Bass Frosty the Snowman cartoon, De Wolfe’s precise staccato delivery was easily recognisable. I wondered if De Wolfe would say his catchphrase “Bu-sy, bu-sy, bu-sy.” He did not let me down.

I don’t know when I heard him say it for the first time. It might have been on Phyllis Diller’s TV show that started out as The Pruitts of Southampton. It might have been on That Girl. It might have been on whatever incarnation of The Doris Day Show he was on (it seemed to me it changed settings and casts about four times). Or it might have been on a sitcom about a radio station which I have to be prodded to remember that it existed.

We’ll get to the latter in just a moment. First, let’s take you to June 18, 1941. The New York Sun’s “Cafe Life in New York” column came up with a lovely biography of De Wolfe, who was making a name long before a TV or even movie career.
Some Career Notes on Billy de Wolfe, Young Impressionist at the Rainbow Room.
By MALCOLM JOHNSON.

Those elusive big time "breaks," which performers are always seeking and seldom finding in show business, are coming to Billy de Wolfe at last, as a result of the solid success he has achieved at the Rainbow Room, where he is currently a star attraction with his original and amusing characterizations and impressions. When the lightning of good fortune does strike an entertainer, usually after long, lean periods, it often brings a deluge of offers. The irony of this is that the entertainer can look back wryly, on times when it was impossible for him to get any kind of job at any price, whereas, suddenly, overnight, he has more prospective jobs than he can take.
In the case of Billy de Wolfe there is a double dose of irony, for before the war he had been a favorite on the stage and in the smart cafes of London and other resorts of Europe. But up until recently he had been unable to get a real break in New York. His engagement at the Raleigh Room of the Hotel Warwick last winter gave him his first chance uptown. Prior to that he had appeared here only at Jim Riley's Greenwich Village Inn in New York, where he received good press notices but limited popular approval. The Hotel Warwick served as his springboard to the Rainbow Room and public acclaim in this aristocrat of the supper clubs.
Since his engagement at the Rainbow Room professional and public Interest in him has reached a boiling point. Two motion picture companies—Universal and Warner Brothers—want screen tests of him. George Abbott, the producer, is interested in him for a role in a forthcoming musical, "A Young Man's Fancy." Representatives of the Shuberts have been up to see film twice, with a view to featuring him in their musical, "Crazy House." He also is being considered for a role in a new Cole Porter musical, "Let's Face it," which Vinton Freedley will produce, starring Bert Lahr and Martha Raye.
Moreover, De Wolfe has been booked for four weeks at the Strand Theater, starting August 14, and for a return engagement at the Rainbow Room in October. FIRST JOB.
"Of course it is gratifying," De Wolfe said. "Especially when I can look back to the time I got my first job on the stage. I had been working as an usher in a vaudeville theater in Quincy, Mass. Wages, $7.50 a week. I had always fancied myself as an acrobatic dancer, practicing at the school gymnasium and getting my ideas from acts I had watched at the theater."
On Sunday morning at a rehearsal young De Wolfe secreted himself in a dark corner of the stage and went into his dance when the stage band played "Limehouse Blues." He danced through three choruses, unaware that the leader of the band was watching him from out front. At the conclusion of the dance the leader called out: "Say, you are all right I didn't know you were on the bill."
De Wolfe had to confess that he wasn't a dancer, but an usher. The upshot of the incident, however, was that he was offered $50 a week to join the band's act. He accepted promptly and played with the act for four months.
Then the owner of the Quincy vaudeville house, who had first employed him as an usher, brought De Wolfe to New York, convinced that he had a future in show business. A local producer put together a straight dance act called "Billy de Wolfe and Femmes," which toured for months with no startling success. His next act was with two girls, a dancing trio known as "De Wolfe, Metcalf and Ford." It lasted for five years and played all over the United States and Europe. When the act finally broke up De Wolfe started out as a single, and it was then that he began to add satirical impressions to his dancing routines. He played all over England and France, was a favorite of the London supper clubs and then landed a featured role in the Cochran musical show, "Revels In Rhythm," which ran for over a year in London. Other English shows, like the touring company of "Shout for Joy" and "Bing Boys" followed.
He returned to the United States about two years ago, after eight years in Europe, and played at various places outside New York.
Billy de Wolfe was born in Boston of Welsh parents who were visiting Boston at the time of his birth. He spent his early childhood in North Wales, then his family came to the United States to live, settling first in Boston and then in Quincy, where Billy attended high school.
In his turn at the Rainbow Room De Wolfe has returned to some of his earlier dance routines, in addition to regaling his audiences with his comedy impressions of cocktail lounge types, cheap night club acts and showgirls who give the impression that they are vastly superior to their audiences. His sketches are accurate, based on thorough knowledge and personal observation.
"You must have seen a lot of third rate night club shows to be able to get them down so perfectly," we suggested.
"Seen them!" Billy de Wolfe snorted with a good-natured grin. "I've been in them!"
The Sun reported on his return engagement in the “Cafe Life in New York” column on October 11, 1941, which gives you a better idea of his impressions and characters.
Billy de Wolfe Heads New Entertainment at the Rainbow Room.
By MALCOLM JOHNSON.

Headed by Billy de Wolfe, the talented comedian and impressionist, the new show at the Rainbow Room is Grade A entertainment, a combination of good music, laughs and graceful, stimulating dancing.
De Wolfe, making his second appearance at the Rainbow Room, supplies the comedy in abundance. His first engagement established him as a favorite with Rainbow Room audiences, and in this second appearance De Wolfe brings some fresh new impressions, together with the numbers with which his followers are familiar and which have proved highly popular in the past. He once more demonstrates his versatile talents as a one-man theater, into which he injects a sly note of satire. He introduces Noel Coward characters, does vivid and humorous impressions of Boris Karloff and takes you to a cocktail lounge, where you meet so many unusual people. Mrs. Murgatoyd, for instance, who doesn't frequent cocktail lounges, but who is there for this one, her wedding anniversary.
Mrs. Murgatoyd is both a pathetic and humorous character, and the tightness with which De Wolfe depicts her indicates that he is a shrewd, observing young man.
The strength of De Wolfe’s act resulted in a movie contract in 1943. The war interrupted his career, but he returned to Hollywood. Movies, in turn, gave way to television. Here’s a syndicated column from October 29, 1967, one of a number that profiled him after landing his first major role.
Billy Manages Laughs DeWolfe Plays Station Boss
By STAN MAAYS

HOLLYWOOD — Billy De Wolfe was in New York about to appear on Merv Griffin's show when he received an urgent call from his agent in Hollywood. They wanted Billy for a Dick Van Dyke show.
"I can't possibly come because I've just pressed all my suits," complained Billy in his usual perplexed manner. This little episode serves to illustrate one of the "momentous" decisions that can shape one's career.
FORTUNATLEY for Billy, he gave the matter further thought, changed his mind and headed west — pressed suits and all. He was cast as a snobbish dog groomer in the Van Dyke episode — the role that won him an Emmy nomination — and that led to his present part in CBS-TV's "Good Morning World."
Sheldon Leonard and writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff agreed unanimously on Billy for the role of Roland B. Hutton, the stuffy radio station owner. "I STILL think of Sheldon as a gangster, you know," whispers Billy, looking over his shoulder warily. "It's difficult to be at ease around him. Once in a while he laughs and says, ‘Ver-r-r-y good, Billy,’ and that I find comforting."
This is Billy's first series. He really hasn't done too much TV, aside from an occasional talk show. He made one pilot film, and from the way he fondly recalled the format, we can all share his sorrow over its not being sold.
"IT WAS CALLED "Plotkin's Prison," and we did nothing but laugh while making it," he grinned. "Don Rickles played the warden, a com-m-m-plete bungler. As the aristocrat among prisoners, I was continually upset over his activities. ‘Wilcox! What on e-e-earth are you doing now?’ I'd shout." Billy said each prisoner had his own individually furnished cell.
"Word got around about the outlandish fixtures we had, and people like Sinatra came by just to see the sets," he added. "IT’S A SHAME it didn't sell. I understand objections were raised about the way we pictured prison life. Now isn't that silly — and in a half-hour comedy? What a pair Rickles and I made."
Despite his marvelous characterization of Mrs. Murgatroyd, the tippling housewife, Billy doesn't drink at all. And that's the reason he'll never play night clubs on the road.
"They (the patrons) want you out at their tables for a drink, or you're forced to sit around musty dressing rooms between shows," he complained. "I HAVE a thing about dressing rooms, you know. I call 'em canvass lean-tos. That's why I only work in hotel supper clubs. You can go up to your room and relax between shows."
Reflecting about his "Good Morning World" role, Billy added, "I'm really featured in two of the first 13 shows, but I've been promised more to do later. However, the exposure will do me good, my agent tells me, even if the series fails.
"Say . . . I wonder if our show's too polite? After watching "Mothers-in-Law" the other night . . . piano in the swimming pool and all those wild things . . . . hmmm?" That's Billy De Wolfe, being his usual complaining self.
Whether the exposure helped him is anyone’s guess. His work in films years earlier with Doris Day did, and she found a place for him in her TV sitcom as her boss.

De Wolfe’s last role was for Walt Disney, spending his time around a shirtless Jan-Michael Vincent and a fully-dressed Tim Conway (whew!) as the head of a college in The World’s Greatest Athlete. Lung cancer claimed him in 1974 a year after its release, but to the end, De Wolfe’s on-camera career was, well, insert catchphrase here.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Cue the Old Jokes Again

Cavemen used to drag their women along by the hair. Whether it’s true, I don’t know, but that was the impression given to us kids back in the 1960s.

Tex Avery and Heck Allen take advantage of this as they roll out some clichéd gags in The First Bad Man (MGM, 1955). “Men had no trouble with their women in them days,” the narrator informs us, as a parade of pulled people passes by. “Exceptin’ the back seat drivers.” We get the nagging wife stereotype, with the wife (June Foray) growling at her man “Slow down. Turn left. Watch that car. Slow down. Yack, yack, yack. Blab, blab, blab. Yack, yack, yack!”



“Well, doggone! Newlyweds,” says Tex Ritter as they come into view. You know what’s next. You’ve seen it in before in Avery cartoons. 1950s Nightclub comics loved the joke too: “Uh, oh. The mother-in-law.”



The most off-beat part of the scene is, what I’m assuming, are not a husband and wife. However, they, and everyone else, are designed by Ed Benedict.



Walt Clinton, Ray Patterson, Mike Lah and Grant Simmons are the credited animators. Johnny Johnsen painted the backgrounds.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Shoeshop Celebrities

Columbia’s The Shoemaker and the Elves has everything a 1935 colour cartoon had—an original song, fairy tale characters and really mild gags.

Oh, and it has celebrity caricatures, too.

There’s a scene where shoes on a conveyer belt land on top of an elf (fuh-nee!). Another elf jumps in a pair of shoes. Look who it is!



Perhaps writer Art Davis showed his opinion of the gag by having Chaplin whisked out of the cartoon with a cane.



Next gag, another elf jumps into some shoes.



Then the elf lets his hair down. He’s Greta Garbo!



The cartoon involves a shaky shoemaker who, as a male chorus tells us over the opening titles:

This is the tale of a brother
As poor as a poor little mouse
Though his cupboard was bare
He was willing to share
All that he had in the house.


The shoes (some of them have holes in the bottom and are not stitched together properly) are the reward for the shoemaker taking in a hungry poor boy. He sings at the end: “Stay here, be my son, there is work to be done.” Yes, a touching tale of child labour is ahead.

Sid Marcus gets the animation credit with Joe De Nat supplying the music. This was the third Color Rhapsody made by the studio, and in a red-green colour process.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Commercials, Golf and Yet Another TV Special

Gaggles of reporters—or whatever a plurality of reporters is—tended to descend on Jack Benny around St. Valentine’s Day every year to chat with him about his birthday, which fell on the same day. In 1969, it coincidentally fell around the time of one of his TV specials, giving another reason to do a column on him.

Here’s what the Associated Press’ Cynthia Lowry had to say about him in her daily piece on February 13, 1969. It’s another example of Jack talking to the media while wearing a bathrobe. There are no real surprises here, other than some comments about the Texaco spots he (and his Maxwell) did. Incidentally, none of the specials he did after this fell near his birthday.

Jack Benny to Note 39th Birthday Again
By CYNTHIA LOWRY

NEW YORK (AP) – By mid-afternoon Thursday, the world's youngest 39-year-old violinist had been so busy answering telephone calls and being interviewed by relays of journalists that he was still in pajamas and dressing gown. The debris of a late breakfast still occupied a table in the living room of his hotel suite.
Jack Benny, born in Waukegan, Ill., on Feb. 14, 1894, will be celebrating his 39th birthday again on Friday. The birthday is a milestone but since Jack has an NBC special coming up Monday, it seemed less important than making sure Benny fans would tune in.
"When you do a few specials as I do—like one a year," explained Jack, with his own brand of earnest, blue-eyed salesmanship, "you’ve got to make sure that they—the audience—remember when you are on. It's different, of course, when you have a weekly or even a monthly show."
Frets About Appearance
The comedian, after 75 years mostly spent in show business, still frets about his appearances on television as much as a kid with his first booking. "What are you doing in all those gasoline commercials?" was a question asked by several interviewers.
"When it comes that way I know they are after something," said Benny with utter seriousness. "I just ask them why they don't ask me what Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and I are doing in all those commercials. I'll tell you this: It was a fabulous offer and the company was interested in a lot of things. I wouldn't have touched them unless the company had been interested in sponsoring my special. Besides, I love doing them—they relate to me and they make people laugh. So?"
Looks About 50
Benny looks like a man in his 50s. He works, he estimates, about six months out of the year on TV shows, charity concerts, club dates, and even an occasional tour. The rest of the time he spends playing what he calls "dreadful golf" in Los Angeles or Palm Springs. His wife, Mary, accompanies her husband on his many trips only when he expects to be away from home for a prolonged period. They moved into an apartment several years ago but "Mary felt cooped up," and they expect to move back into a Beverly Hills house again soon, they also have a home in Palm Springs. His health is excellent.
Jack will fly back to Los Angeles today for a small birthday gathering at home, followed on Saturday by a bash thrown by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences—not for his birthday but for his 20th anniversary in TV.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Curious Puppies and Mind-Gaming Mice

“Over the past few years,” wrote Alex Ward in the Washington Post in 1974, “there has been a steady rejuvenation of interest in animation, focusing first on Walt Disney, but since broadening to encompass others like Max Fleisher [sic] (creator of Betty Boop), pioneer Winsor McCay and the zany crew at Warner’s: Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, Michael Maltese and Chuck Jones.”

Animation fans today are so fortunate a number of people who loved cartoons decided to start researching them back then. They pretty much started from scratch to piece together the history of animated cartoons and the people behind them. They laid the foundation. Then knowledge built upon knowledge. We reap the benefits of those pioneer historians today.

One advantage they had back then was an awful lot of the people who had major roles in making those cartoons were still alive and (if they were willing) could be interviewed.

The January-February issue of Film Comment magazine was devoted to animation. Joe Adamson wrote a story with quotes from the likes of Maltese, Maurice Noble. Space was devoted to Richard Thompson’s essay on Duck Amuck. Greg Ford put together an elucidation on the Warner Bros. studio. And Thompson and Ford got together to interview Chuck Jones.

Jones seems to have been the perfect interview. He was intelligent and articulate, he spent a long career in animation starting in the early ‘30s, and he lived until 2002, giving him plenty of opportunities to get his thoughts and recollections in print. Jones later wrote two books on his time at Warners (with detours into his personal life) and a collection of his interviews saw print.

I’m not going to reprint Ford and Thompson’s entire work. Instead, I’ll post what Jones had to say about some of his minor characters—the two curious dogs and mind-gaming mice Hubie and Bertie.

The dogs? Ehh. They don’t do a lot for me. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh at their misfortune or feel sorry them. About all these do is sniff around looking for stuff and then try to get out of trouble. Pluto did it first at Disney. Herbie and Bertie are a different matter. They’re great characters. They’ve got great dialogue and insane ideas, thanks to the clever mind of Mike Maltese. And you can laugh at what they pull on Claude Cat because it’s so outrageous (eg. nailing an entire room to the ceiling).

What did Jones think? Let’s find out.

Q: Certain themes started emerging the very first year you began to direct. In Doggone Modern [1938], those two early dogs of yours, the boxer and his puppy pal, were pitted against the absurdities of technology, much as all those "Acme" devices would later backfire on the Coyote in his quest for the Roadrunner. The two dogs got trapped in a modernistic house-of-the-future.
A: That's right. They wandered in, and the place had a robot broom that would sweep up anything, regardless of what it was.
Q: And the dogs had to dodge the robot broom, to keep from getting swept up themselves. You did a remake of the same film about a decade later, this time starring your mice characters Hubie and Bertie [House Hunting Mice, 1947], which seems to be such an incredible improvement on the original Doggone Modern.
A: Well, the style of background was completely different in the two cartoons. In the first few pictures I worked on, we used a man by the name of Griff Jay, who was an old newspaper cartoonist—and he did what we'd call "moldy prune" backgrounds. Everybody used the same type of thing back then—Charlie Johnston [Johnny Johnsen] drew backgrounds for Tex Avery, and he was an old newspaper cartoonist too.
Q: But the biggest difference between the two films is in the starring characters. The situation is the same, a pair of characters being victimized by the crazy electronic house devices, but Hubie and Bertie in house hunting mice are active and fully developed characters, while the dogs are far too passive—they just don't have a chance.
A: No, they don't. The dogs don't really amount to anything. They just walk around and get mixed up in all the gadgetry. But they don't demonstrate any real human reactions, none that we can recognize anyway, beyond a sort of generalized anxiety. The characters aren't really established, so you don't care about them. You do care about Hubie and Bertie, though.
Q: They're real personalities. It's so much more exhilarating to see them respond to the machinery, occasionally react against it, and at odd times even triumph over it. There's a marvelous sequence where Hubie and Bertie succeed in temporarily outfoxing the robot, remember? Unlike the two dogs, they finally realize that this f***ing broom is going to whiz out and sweep up the debris, regardless of purpose, and so, this time, the characters make use of the fact and consciously try to wear the robot out. They turn on an automatic record ejector that shoots out discs and shatters them against the wall, the records fly and break into pieces, and the robot, invariably, has to come out and sweep up, again and again. Also, there are shots, with the simulated editing, of a missile sailing past intercut with a quick insert of a character, just watching it go by.
A: That may have been generated from a fascination with tennis matches, and such intercutting effects would often make the scene work. It also demonstrates that you could get an object to look like it's moving a hell of a lot faster with editing. And eventually, I began to add shadows of the missile flying past; this happened very often in the "Roadrunner" films.

Q: Another thing wrong with the two early dogs that appeared in Doggone Modern and a couple of other films at the time: there seemed to be some question as to what movements were defined for them. They were very naturalistically drawn, but their movements seemed to confuse human-like and canine actions.
A: That's why there wasn't any character, because what we were trying to do was to find out how the hell a dog moves. Just how he moves, and nothing much beyond that. That's when I was fighting the anthropomorphic idea of movement. They were modeled with back-legs like dogs, but nobody really knew how to move them properly. The result was that they looked rather awkward.

Q: Sometimes you have entire cartoons set up around the idea of gravity. In Mouse Wreckers [1948], for instance, you have a whole string of gravity gags, the coup de grâce being the upside-down room sequence.
A: An earlier gravity gag in that cartoon is when Claude Cat is pulled through the house by the rope, which is triggered by the mice pushing the heavy boulder off the chimney. And remember? Claude would get pulled into stacks of dishes, around bannisters, under tables. Gravity is the simplest thing to use if you don't happen to have any other tools at hand.

Q: Mouse Wreckers seems to us to be a major cartoon because of the controlling factors of the film are always kept off-screen. Your two mouse characters, Hubie and Bertie, are stationed on the chimney playing architectural mind-games on poor Claude Cat, who's alone in the house below. The mice reconstruct his entire room, and when Claude wakes up, he doesn't know whether these things are really happening or whether he's hallucinating it all.
A: In the later M-G-M remake, Year of the Mouse [1965], the cat finally realizes that the mice are provoking these disasters, and at the end he catches the mice.
Q: Yeah, it's a moral ending, where the earlier Warners film has an immoral ending.
A: Oh, well, I like immoral endings better. Forgetting the Tom and Jerry, the purpose in Mouse Wreckers was that the cat never realized exactly what was happening to him. And it was based on an actual happening. This upside-down room did exist: some English duke or something has a weird sense of humor, and at his parties, when someone would pass out, he'd haul 'em in there and everyone would look through the holes in the walls and watch them come to. And people would do exactly what the cat did: they'd try to crawl up the wall or something—particularly someone with a dreadful hangover, you can imagine how hideous that was.
Q: The second-to-last image of that cartoon is amazing. It's just Claude's eyes, with the cat being driven totally insane, cowering at the top of a tree, and the leaves falling away just enough to reveal those eyes.
A: In that picture I used a different thing: the eyes were handled almost like a pair of animated breasts—did you notice that?
Q: Yes, the pupil came out of the ball of the eye, like a nipple. The fear registered in Claude's eyes in amazing, as he looks from side to side.
A: Phil Monroe did a good job on that.
Q: When Claude is in the upside-down room, on the ceiling that he thinks is the floor, trying to keep his balance by digging his claws into the ceiling, the camera turns around and goes upside-down with Claude; it's fascinating. I wonder if you were trying to show the force of gravity through motion alone, and without the standard visual presentation of what's up and what's down.
A: Well, Claude opened the bottle and the liquid flowed up, while if it were shown from your viewpoint it would naturally flow down. And I wanted to show what he felt. Actually, Charlie Chaplin used something like that in the opening airplane sequence of the great dictator, when he's piloting his plane upside-down. And the same series of gags are in the Porky Pig cartoon Jumpin' Jupiter [1955] when they lose their gravity. There I didn't have to turn the camera around, obviously, since it was in outer space. I just used a little sign that read: "You are now entering a low gravity zone."


The interview may be more than 40 years old but there is still a lot of information in it I have not read elsewhere. Someone has graciously put the issue of Film Comment on-line and you can read it by going to this site.

Friday, 12 October 2018

The Almost Return of Miss X

Pat Matthews left his mark at the Walter Lantz studio by animating a couple of cartoons with “Miss X,” Lantz’ equivalent to Red in the Tex Avery cartoons at MGM. Miss X waving her butt while dancing in see-through pantaloons was a bit much for theatre owners, even during the WW2 years, and Lantz dropped her from his cartoon roster.

Matthews left Lantz around 1948 to work at UPA. Besides theatrical cartoons and TV commercials, UPA made industrial shorts; that’s how the studio got its start. One of them was The Sailor and the Seagull, a 1949 short for the U.S. Navy to sell sailors on reenlistment. This was before UPA decided limited character movement was the right movement; the short features lovely, flowing animation that you can find in its earliest theatrical shorts for Columbia.

There’s a dream sequence which feature Miss X-ish harem girls. Were they animated by Matthews? I’d like to think so. He should have been at UPA at the time.

Here are some frames. I wish the resolution was better than this.



There’s an inside joke at the end of the cartoon. It features the names of UPA staffers, likely some of the ones who worked on this cartoon. Matthews’ name isn’t among them, though.



Bobe Cannon was a director, Willie Pyle and Jack Schnerk were animators, Bill Hurtz was a designer, Jules Engel got credited for color, Herb Klynn was eventually the studio production manager who later founded Format Films. There are no credits on this cartoon.

It also features some early cartoon voice work by Daws Butler as the seagull and a few other characters.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Plane Dumb

Plane Dumb is plain dumb.

I’m referring to the 1932 Van Beuren cartoon which is almost close to unwatchable.

Okay, I understand the plot. Tom and Jerry are disguising themselves to go into Africa. But why do they have to speak with those stereotype voices to each other when they’re not in Africa yet?

Well, the answer is the cartoon was supposed to star a black vaudeville team named Miller and Lyles. The plan got scrapped, but the Van Beuren studio didn’t scrap the soundtrack; it just changed the two to Tom and Jerry. Of course, the theatre audience watching the cartoon didn’t know any of this and may have been puzzled if they had any interest on what was happening on the screen.

Even worse, Tom and Jerry don’t say anything funny. It’s as if their sound was the gag. The trouble is, there was nothing novel about the voices; they’re not much different than Amos ‘n’ Andy who had been on the air for about four years at this point; Miller and Lyles themselves were in vaudeville before World War One.

And then there’s a scene with an octopus. Why is he kissing Tom? And why is there no impact when Tom hits him. The less-than-skilled Van Beuren cartoonist simply has the arm sweep down, and there’s a sound effect and a few lightning bolts and stars. Oh, well. Van Beuren is not your sign of quality.



The octopus turns into a spanking wheel, spinning in mid-air. That may be the funniest thing in the cartoon. He dives into the ocean and the plot jerks along.



For added weirdness, the opening title animation is superimposed over cycle footage of a waterfall. Why? Who knows. It’s a Van Beuren cartoon.

John Foster and George Rufle get screen credit. Gene Rodemich again supplies the background music. I’ve drawn a blank naming the songs in it (see the comment section).

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Dances Better Than Sabu

This is a post about Morey Amsterdam. To the right, you see a picture of Sabu. There’s a reason. Morey will explain why below.

Amsterdam’s big fame came The Dick Van Dyke Show, which began airing in 1961. He’d been the star of his own show, one of the first variety stars of early modern network TV. Nobody remembers it because it was on the CBS and then the Du Mont network almost 70 years ago. And it didn’t have the advantage of being rerun over and over like Van Dyke because any versions of the show that existed would be on kinescopes and not considered airable.

Here’s Amsterdam in an unbylined story in the Salamanca Republican-Press published July 14, 1962 when the Van Dyke show was building an audience thanks to reruns. The reference to Bobby Kennedy deals with the president’s brother when he was U.S. Attorney General and conducting all kinds of investigations.

Morey Amsterdam of 'Dick Van Dyke Show' is Talented Fellow
It's quite possible someday that Morey Amsterdam will settle down long enough so that when asked to list his occupation on an official form he doesn't have to scratch his head in wonder or ask the clerk for a second piece of paper.
The extra sheet of stationery is a must for the dapper wavy-haired show business veteran because he can describe himself as a comedian, movie actor, television actor, radio performer, cellist, songwriter, nightclub impressario, gag writer, restaurant proprietor, movie, radio and television director, night club star, full-time father, part-time golfer, photographer and stock market watcher.
Ar the present time, Morey's numerous talents are confined to CBS' “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” where he teams up with the amiable Dick and versatile Rose Marie as a trio of gag writers for a mythical TV comedian named “Allan Brady.”
Viewers watching the summer re-runs of the half-hour comedy show every Thursday on CBS-TV at 9:30 p.m. discover more often than enough that Dick, Morey and Rose Marie produce more laughs for themselves than they do for their invisible boss.
“It's a funny thing," Morey was saying-over lunch, “but I've been talking to people who have made it a deliberate point to see the show a second time around to catch up on the laughs they missed - the first time because they were laughing so hard.”
Morey quickly adds that he is one of these time-tested faithful viewers.
“I watch to see Rose and Dick," he adds. “Me? I can see any time in the bathroom mirror.”
Morey's descriptive eyebrows fly up at this point. “And it's a good thing I watch that pair. They've stolen so many laughs from me that I think it's a case for Bobby Kennedy.”
But ask Morey who is the funniest comedian and comedienne and he gives full marks to the scene stealers mentioned above.
“We all have a good arrangement,” the effervescent Mr. Amsterdam claims. “We've got a great deal of respect for each other as entertainers and people. On some comedy shows the people, who give the public the impression they are buddy buddy, are about as friendly towards each other as Joe Lewis and Max Schmelling. But not on our show. We get along.”
Morey's eyebrows flashed again. “Actually, we get such a kick out of working together we'd probably do it for nothing but the laughs. If the sponsor reads this: remember I'm under psychiatric care, sir.”
A native of Chicago, Morey grew up in San Francisco. “But I stopped growing when I reached three feet” he adds, “because I liked the view from here.”
The elder Amsterdam was first violinist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and thought young Morey should get a classical education. Morey took up the cello and today is so proficient on it he plays to relax and also uses it as a comedy gimmick on occasions.
Morey recalls that he was always interested in show business. “I started my vaudeville career at sixteen in Chicago and ended at sixteen in that same city,” he states. But he was determined to stay in show business.
“I got a job as an usher,” he adds. “It was sort of a show business. Besides the uniform matched the color of my eyes which were yellow at the time.”
A few far sighted vaudeville house owners saw the comedy potential in young Morey, and the years that followed saw him steadily employed in clubs and cabarets.
About this time other comedians discovered the nimble-witted Amsterdam, and he was soon writing special material for them. The illustrious list of clients included Fanny Brice, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Joe E. Brown, Eddie Cantor and Frank Morgan.
Morey felt that the greatest thing to happen to him in show business was his friendship with the late Will Rogers. The cowboy humorist took Morey under his wing and gave him some advice the comedian has never forgotten—never be cruel to anyone even in jest.
“Mr. Rogers used to write to me a lot,” Morey adds. “Mostly postcards. I've got about a hundred of them in my home. I was the only guy-in show business lucky enough to get a million dollars worth of comic material by mail.”
The year 1930 found Morey in radio. Since then, he has been in and out of that medium.
After the war he appeared on so many radio and TV programs as guest star, Fred Allen quipped: “the only thing we can turn on in our house without getting Morey Amsterdam is the water tap.”
A few years ago, former movie hard guy Sheldon Leonard and comedian Carl Reiner had an idea for a show about a trio of gag writers. They both thought Dick Van Dyke, who was then appearing on Broadway in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” would be a natural for the part of “Rob Petrie,” the safe and sane head comedy writer. Rose Marie, they agreed, would be excellent in the role of “Sally,” the wisecracking female of the trio. But who was to be the third party?
Both Leonard and Reiner concluded that they would need a man who could act, dance, sing, charm viewers out of their chairs and, above all, rattle off funny jokes like a Gatling gun.
“Sabu couldn't dance," Morey flips, “so they wound up with me.”
“The Dick Van Dyke Show" was the comic hit of last season — one of the few shows to be renewed this year.
While not working twenty hours a day, Morey spends some time with his wife, Kay, and son Gregory, eighteen, and daughter, Cathy, ten. He plays golf and takes pictures, and he adds, “stare at myself in the mirror and wonder how lucky a guy can be.”

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Zcaring the Zebra

A string of fear gags greets viewers in Slap Happy Lion every time a fierce jungle lion roars. In one, a zebra calmly munching on the African veld becomes so frightened, it jumps out of its stripes and runs away. The stripes follow.



See how Avery’s animator turns the lower half of the zebra’s body, then the upper half before running into the distance. These three frames are consecutive.



Tex loved to have a tongue sticking straight out in fear drawings.



Now the zebra turns the upper half of the body. The two drawings below are consecutive.



Now the stripes.



Bob Bentley, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton are the animators in this cartoon.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Dad Gum Varmint

Rabbit Every Monday (1951) has an extended sequence involving bubble gum which Bugs Bunny uses to plug Yosemite Sam’s rifle. I like the look in Sam’s eyes as he’s about to fire.



Blam! Sam’s trapped in a bubble that Bugs blows over a cliff. I always like the “how did this happen” look Sam has when things don’t go right. Since you know Carl Stalling well enough, I don’t need to tell you what song is being played by a muted trumpet in the background.



Sam manages to blow himself and the bubble back up to the top of the cliff. You know what’s going to happen next.



Part two of the gag involves throwing a rock down Bugs’ hole. Problem: there’s gum attached to it.



Manny Perez, Ken Champin, Art Davis and Virgil Ross are the animators. For some reason, there’s no story credit on this cartoon. Warren Foster and Cal Howard get co-writing credits on the next cartoon Friz put into production.