Tuesday, 20 August 2019

How Rubber Hose Runs

Gerald Mc Boing Boing’s father rushes in a panic to the phone after hearing his son make sound effects instead of speaking words. Because the timing is governed by Dr. Seuss’ rhyming dialogue, dad has lots of time to flail around with his spaghetti arms and legs.

What’s amusing is Gerald Mc Boing Boing was heralded as some kind of new style of animation, but dad stretches like rubber hose, similar to Bill Nolan characters in the ‘20s, though more elaborately.

The animation in this Oscar-winner is by Frank Smith, Willis Pyle, Pat Matthews, Bill Melendez and Rudy Larriva. Marvin Miller voices dad and everyone else.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Butt Walk

The story of Rock-a-Bye Bear (1952) is one Tex Avery used several times: character A does something to get character B to make noise to wake character C, prompting character B to go far enough way where can make the noise without disturbing character C.

One routine involves Spike’s little dog rival dropping stuff from a cabinet. Spike stops it all from crashing. Next comes the old pepper gag.

Spike is forced to do a butt walk to head into the distance. We don’t see him sneeze. We hear it and see the aftermath; all the stuff he was carrying flies up into the air from behind a ridge.

Now it’s back for the next gag.

Rich Hogan and Heck Allen get story credits. This was Avery’s last cartoon before he took an extended leave starting in May 1950; Hogan quit the studio at that point.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Jack Benny, Jail Bird

Even when Jack Benny’s radio show was based in New York, it didn’t stay there. Benny’s deal with General Foods was that he could make personal appearances; basically, he emceed a vaudeville show. One of the stops in 1936 was in Pittsburgh. The tour coincided with his on-air commitment, so he simply did his show from the Steel City.

Jack “wrote” a story for the Pittsburgh Press that was published March 1, 1936. I presume he didn’t really have time to write it, that Harry Conn ghost-wrote it. This was not long before Conn got into a huff and walked out on Benny for good.

Regardless of who wrote this, there are some nice little stories.

For those not familiar with Benny’s radio evolution, this is before Phil Harris joined the show later in the year when it permanently relocated to Hollywood. Green moved over to the Packard show with Fred Astaire. Vocalist Kenny Baker would remain with Jack until 1939.

Unfortunately, copies of the Pittsburgh broadcasts don’t exist. Blanche Stewart appeared, as did Vi Klein and a woman named Kathrine Lee, along with Jack’s personal secretary, Harry Baldwin. I can’t find my notes about Klein; I believe she was someone’s secretary and not an actress.

The sidebar story reveals Jack did his own audience warm-up. I don’t think it was uncommon for stars on comedy/variety shows to do this in the radio days. Fred Allen did it; he could get away with more satire off the air than he could on. Red Skelton did it with words that would never be permitted on the air.

Jack Benny Confesses He Has Prison Record In ‘Pittsburgh's Jail’
Ace Radio Comedian Remembers When He Was Really Able to Play His Fiddle on Vaudeville Stage

Jack Benny went to jail, but not for long, in Pittsburgh. He recalls the incident and other amusing memories of the days when he played the vaudeville stage here, in his guest column.
Hell-O Again.
This is Jack Benny pushing the middle valve down. Only the valve this time is a typewriter key and what's going round and round isn't the music but my head. I'm a microphonist and this typing machine gets me. Our mutual friend. Si Steinhauser, shoved it in front of me and there was nothing to do but give it a great big hand. So away we go, and let's hope it comes out here. If you follow me you’ll go to jail. If the Pittsburgh cop who once put me behind the bars can prove his identity I’ll give him a ticket to my broadcast tonight. And I’m not fooling. I’ll make him wish he had a sense of humor. He certainly had none the night he and I met.
Well, I want to start off by telling all my friends, and those who hear the Jack Benny program that I am delighted to be in Pittsburgh again. If I were Mary, I would express myself in verse, but since the muse has overlooked me, I will have to do the best I can in unpoetic, and probably ungrammatical, prose.
Pittsburgh has always been a great town for me. I suppose it's because so many of the people living here are music-lovers. It is a well known fact that we concert artists always look forward to giving recitals in Pittsburgh.
As a violinist, I want you to know that I was deeply touched that your distinguished Pittsburgh Symphony selected Thursday, the day of my arrival from New York, as the date on which to begin its new series of radio concerts. I regret that other committments [sic] prevented my making a guest appearance with the orchestra but perhaps Maestro Modarelli will give me an opportunity to do so at some other time. At any rate, I want to take this occasion (seriously) to congratulate him and his men on a very excellent performance.
Of course, I am still essentially a musician. In latter years such Pittsburghers who have seen or heard me on the air will recognize that my recitals are somewhat unorthodox and not in line with the accepted standards of concertizing. I am now going in more for what is better described as "words and music." Unfortunately there is a lot of jealousy on our program. Every time I start to play the "Love in Bloom" concerto, for example, Johnny Green has the orchestra strike up a loud dance tune. You see, he is afraid of me. Of course, that does not make him hesitate to try to be a comedian.
The first time I ever appeared in Pittsburgh, however, it was in a strictly musical act without interruptions by people trying to be funny. My partner and I—we were billed as Benny and Woods—played violin and piano duets. Woods was the pianist and I performed with my accustomed dexterity on the violin.
For the benefit of those who happen to remember having heard any of those early joint-recitals I hasten to assure you that my hand has never lost its skill. I don't know. I guess I just have that magic touch. We played two-a-day at the Davis Theater and were given an honorarium of $200 per week. We concert artists never accept salaries. We call them honorariums. The name is a little longer, but you can't get any more coffee and cake for them than you can with a salary. Not even so much sometimes, as a matter of fact.
Altogether I gave recitals at the Davis half a dozen times. After the Benny and Woods combination disbanded I returned as a solo violinist. During these solo performances I did no speaking whatsoever. You see, I was giving my all to my art. I had not met Mary Livingstone at this time. Therefore, the ability to talk back in order to maintain my self-respect was not essential. I don't have to tell you music-appreciating Pittsburghers that those were the days.
One of the few inartistic incidents in my career took place during one of my appearances in Pittsburgh. For the first and last time in my life I visited a jail. Of course, just a brief visit, sort of like dropping in for a little while. Nevertheless. I was there in a strictly official capacity.
* * *
Following my concert one evening I decided to stop in at a restaurant near the theater for a bite to eat before going to bed. Business was not particularly lively at this time, the crowd at the theater having pone home, for some reason or other, before my recital was completed. (Of course, this was highly unusual procedure, but not entirely beyond belief. I can understand that some people can appreciate only a certain amount of music at any one time).
At any rate in this particular restaurant they were serving at only part of the tables at this late hour. Being something of a stranger in town I could hardly be expected to know the customs of the restaurant. Innocently I sat down at one of the tables that was not supposed to be in use. The waiter quite obviously was not a music-lover, or else he would have known who I was. I can't imagine who he thought I was for his tone of voice in suggesting that I remove myself to another table was a little indelicate.
Words, as literary folks say, passed between us. I suppose it was my artistic temperament coming out. Anyhow, I had failed to observe that an officer of the law was also in the restaurant at the time, also bent on getting a snack. He happened to overhear the discussion I was having with the waiter. He expressed the opinion that perhaps it would be better if I left. I had come in to satisfy a justified appetite worked up after a vigorous evening of pushing and pulling the bow back and forth across the strings. I countered the officer's declaration of his views with the statement that that was my intention. Just as in a debate, he stated that he saw the affair in an entirely different light.
In school at Waukegan I had always been taught that it is the right of every American to have and to hold to the liberties guaranteed to him under the Constitution. Upon announcing my position, the officer said that I would either leave or accompany him to the jail. To which I replied, perfectly calm and collected, that then to jail it must be. As I said before, the visit was of extremely short duration. I was able to get in touch with someone at my hotel, the manager I believe, who was good enough to tell the representative of the law that I was Jack Benny, violinist, and generally considered to be a respectable citizen.
* * *
After the war I returned to Pittsburgh. The war did something to me. Whereas before I had been concentrating solely on music, words now began to play a more important role. In short, I had become a monologist, or as others termed it, a master-of-ceremonies. But music was still my great interest. I occasionally carried my violin on stage though I never played it. I played here in Earl Carroll's "Vanities" and also in "The Great Temptation."
There is another fond musical memory I have of Pittsburgh. It was here that my good friend, Don Bestor, [photo right] held forth for such a long time. Don, as some of you know, was with our program all last season, and he did a great job. Gee, I still can't think of anything to get that guy for Christmas. I understand he has been up north in Canada this year. I’ll bet those spats kept him good and warm.
* * *
My trip to Pittsburgh last year certainly will always be among my happiest recollections. You can well imagine how highly honored I felt when I arrived early on a cold, wintry morning and discovered that that very fine gentleman, Harry Milholland, had come down to the station to meet me. Then he drove me to the William Penn in his car. Later on that morning. I went to call on him at his office at The Press. We had our pictures taken together, and one of them I remember particularly. I sat at his desk as if I were the editor and he acted as copy-boy bringing the latest stuff from the city-room. I understand he is in Florida now, and I was genuinely sorry to learn it, because ever since my manager arranged the engagement in Pittsburgh I had been looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with Mr. Milholland.
Another highlight of my visit last year was the interview over KDKA with Si Steinhauser. He tried to cross me up with some ad-libbing. But fortunately the members of our cast quite often deviate from the straight and narrow path of the script, so I was ready for him.
Mary, Kenny Baker (who is getting a big kick out of his first visit to Pittsburgh), Johnny Green, Don Wilson and all of us are looking forward to broadcasting tonight from KDKA's fine studios. We rehearsed there yesterday afternoon and everyone agreed that your Pittsburgh radio facilities are as fine as any we've ever come across.
In conclusion we want to tell you how complimented we are at the number of Pittsburgh listeners who have expressed enough interest in our program to apply for tickets. We’re sorry that there can’t be room for everyone and I think my sponsor did the only fair thing—issued the tickets in the order in which requests were received.
With this final push of the keys let me acknowledge my gratitude to Si Steinhauser for making it possible for me to greet all of our Pittsburgh friends through his swell column.

Easy Jack
Mr. Benny Has Nothing To Do Today But Work

Here's Jack Benny's day's work in preparation for tonight's broadcast:
Having read the script, twice on Saturday, with Producer Tom Harrington, Lawton Campbell, sponsor's agent, and Harry Conn, gag writer, and previously rehearsed for two hours, he will:
Report at KDKA at 10 a. m. for two more readings.
Noon to 2 p. m.— Time program, using microphones.
2 to 4:30—Witness Johnny Green's Orchestra rehearsal.
4:30 to 6—Witness Kenny Baker's rehearsal with the orchestra and Don Wilson's timing of commercials.
6 to 6:30—Take part in a dress rehearsal with his cast.
6:30 to 6:45—Relax.
6:45 to 7—Kid with his audience.
7:00—On the air.
7:30—Sign autographs and try to get out of studios.
11:15—Return to studios for repeat broadcast.
Midnight—Sign autographs and try to get to his hotel.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

The Troubled Composer

He was a cartoon music composer who saved a life and took another.

His own.

Eugene Poddany is probably best known to classic cartoon fans for his scores for Chuck Jones at MGM in the 1960s. Poddany’s incidental music for How the Grinch Stole Christmas may have been his major achievement when it comes to animation. Jones was impressed. He told author Robert J. McKinnon “Gene Poddany worked very closely with Ted [Geisel aka Dr. Seuss] and did an outstanding job composing the score and arranging and orchestrating the songs.”

Jones knew Poddany before the two were hired by Walter Bien in 1963 to make cartoons. Poddany had been Carl Stalling’s copyist at Warner Bros. more than a decade before. When Stalling needed emergency surgery for a brain injury and then five weeks to recover, Poddany scored five Warners cartoons— “Room and Bird” (Freleng), “French Rarebit” (McKimson, frames to the left), “The Wearing of the Grin” (Jones), “Leghorn Swoggled” (McKimson) and “Lovelorn Leghorn” (McKimson), all released in 1951. But his career extended to other cartoon studios and outside of animation.

Eugene Frank Poddany was born in Hardin in Northern China on December 30, 1919 to Frank and Tatiana Girgilevich Poddany. His father was a Czech who made musical instruments and later became a prop maker at one of the Hollywood studios. The family arrived in the U.S. in August 1923 through Seattle and settled in California.

Tragedy hit the Poddany family. Gene’s younger brother James, age 5, was hit by a car and died of a fractured skull in 1924. A short biography attached to his papers at the University of Wyoming states he “graduated from Hollywood High School in 1937. He studied music composition and orchestration with Ernest Toch and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In the early 1940s he toured Europe while directing a classical orchestra. When he returned to America he started writing music for motion picture cartoons.”

Poddany’s military record reveals he was employed as a clerk by the May Company when he enlisted in 1941. He spent two years in the Army during World War Two.

Poddany was on a trip to Oregon in 1947 when he saved a boy’s life. The United Press reported:
Tourist Saves Boy From Drowning in Columbia
PORTLAND, May 26. (UP)—A California tourist was credited today with saving 12-year-old Harley Jacobs from drowning in the Columbia River Saturday when the boy fell from the Interstate bridge.
Vanport sheriff's deputies reported the lad told of Eugene Poddany, 24, Hollywood, Calif., jumping fully clothed from an excursion boat to hold him above water until the two were pulled from the river.
At Warners in the early ‘50s, Poddany was the third man in the music department behind Carl Stalling and arranger Milt Franklyn. He had a chance to become the first man at the well-paying industrial studio, John Sutherland Productions. His music scores can be heard on such enjoyable propaganda cartoons as A is For Atom (1953), It’s Everybody’s Business (1954, with Les Baxter), and Your Safety First (1957?). Poddany next got work with Clarence Wheeler at the Walter Lantz studio and was soon getting screen credit for scores, starting with The Ostrich Egg and I (1956), with his name showing up occasionally until 1962.

Poddany also wrote music for some Capitol children’s records, including “Woody Woodpecker and the Scarecrow” and “The Noisy Eater” with Jerry Lewis. He created some cues for the Capitol Hi-Q library but they were later replaced with other music for some reason. Poddany wrote a piece for flute, cello and piano performed by the Los Angeles Flute Club in 1956, and a modern classic piece called “Reflections,” which was performed by a small women’s group in Brentwood, California in 1959. He began sculpting in stone in 1956, according to the Valley News of Van Nuys in 1974 when it reported on one of a number of his displays in the ‘70s.

But Poddany was a troubled man, who ended his own life in a murder-suicide attempt. Here is the story from the Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1984
Friend Shoots Doctor Then Kills Himself
Times Staff Writers
A retired surgeon was shot and seriously wounded Saturday by a family friend who then shot and killed himself after the doctor went to the gunman’s Silver Lake home to calm him, police reported. Paul Grigorieff, 67, was in critical condition after surgery at Queen of Angels Hospital for multiple gunshot wounds. His assailant, Eugene Poddany, 64, was found dead, apparently of self-inflicted gunshot wounds, in his apartment at 2036 Griffith Park Blvd.
Officers on the scene said neighbors heard two shots from within the apartment shortly after the 3:30 p.m. shooting of Grigorieff and said it appeared that Poddany had killed himself.
Emotional Problems
Police said Poddany had a history of emotional problems. Grigorieff and a woman friend of Poddany had gone to the gunman’s apartment at about 10 a.m. to persuade him to seek psychiatric help, officers said.
Witnesses said they heard gunshots and saw Grigorieff stagger out of the apartment and onto the street, where he collapsed.
Grigorieff yelled, “I’ve been shot,” and then two more shots rang out from the apartment, said Arthur Fredette, owner of a nearby restaurant.
Paramedics quickly arrived and began treating the doctor while police cordoned off the area and evacuated nearby apartments.
Officers used a bullhorn to get Poddany’s attention, but in vain. SWAT team members entered the apartment shortly before 5 p.m., only to find the gunman dead.
If you’re like me, you’re shaking your head over what you’ve just read. He used his creativity to try to bring enjoyment in the world. It’s sad to see mental illness took away his own enjoyment. I can’t help but think of Disney’s fine cartoon composer Frank Churchill, who took his own life in 1942.

Poddany, to me, wasn’t in the A-list group of animation composers. But he wrote and arranged some music that worked in tandem with the action on the screen, and that’s probably the best way to remember him.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Evil Woody

Here’s another neck-ring take from a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. This is from The Barber of Seville directed by Shamus Culhane.

Woody exits from the scene with a great evil look. Culhane doesn’t exaggerate the timing here; all the drawings are on twos.

Culhane does use some extremely quick cuts in a couple of places in the cartoon, something that was unique in a Woody Woodpecker cartoon to that point.

La Verne Harding and Les Kline are the animators credited on screen.

Oh, there’s a radio catchphrase just before this scene. The customer who is trying to make a tip-toe escape says “Coming mother!” That’s from the Henry Aldrich show.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Casanova Cat Take

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera pull a Tex Avery in Casanova Cat. No, I don’t mean the tacky blackface gag.

Here are a few frames from an Avery-like eye-pop take when the alley cat (played by Jerry Mann) gets a look at a newspaper about luscious Toodles the female kitten inheriting a million-dollar fortune.

The credited animators are Ken Muse (he seems to have been busy in this one), Ray Patterson, Irv Spence and Ed Barge. The cartoon was originally titled Love in Gloom (according to the Jan. 27, 1950 edition of Daily Variety).

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Mommy, Where Do Jokes Come From?

There’s a problem with telling topical jokes. There is only a limited number of topics to go around. So the same topics are joked about over and over and over again.

That certainly applied to radio comedy/variety shows in the 1940s, as Herald Tribune syndicate columnist John Crosby pointed out in his inches of June 17, 1946.

The topics weren’t restricted to radio, either. Fans of old cartoons will recognise most of the topics mentioned below. A whole Frank Sinatra parody was worked into Tex Avery’s Little ‘Tinker. Avery even had a Truman presidential joke at the end of Droopy’s Good Deed. Woody Woodpecker dealt with the housing shortage at the start of Woody the Giant Killer. There’s a Warner’s cartoon with a Lost Weekend gag where a Ray Milland character is exchanging a typewriter. Hurdy-Gurdy Hare has a Petrillo reference in it. And you likely needn’t be told that Foghorn Leghorn’s personality was shifted a bit to more resemble Kenny Delmar’s Senator Claghorn.

In case you don’t know, John L. Lewis was the president of the United Mine Workers union and always seemed to be agitating for a strike. I.J. Fox was a New York-based furrier.
An Assortment of Jokes
Jokes, Jokes, Jokes.
Nothing gets standardized more quickly than an idea on the radio. In case that sentence opens too many vistas in your brain, I hasten to say I’m referring to jokes and only certain ones. Let’s see, there are nylon jokes, Sinatra jokes, President Truman jokes, “lost week end” jokes, Senator Claghorn jokes, housing shortage jokes, two-way stretch jokes, “owned and operated exclusively by Bob Hope”; Petrillo jokes and Jane Russell jokes.
Lately I have detected a regular path that these jokes traverse. The first person to become aware that something in the news is funny seems to be Fred Allen, who appears to read the newspapers rather than listen to other radio comedians. Edgar Bergen, or Charlie McCarthy, as we usually think of him, is another original wit who gets his jokes from the life around him rather than a gag file.
Then the jokes progress downward to Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Jack Haley and finally Abbott and Costello. Cantor, for instance, is still gagging about the nylon shortage. After all, nylons have been scarce for five years. For some time, Allen has been fashioning jokes out of nylon lines, which is a later manifestation of the shortage. Mr. Allen is more alert than Mr. Cantor.
I’ve amassed a huge file of these jokes and I don’t know what to do with them, but these jokes are non-inflammable, like pastifoam. You can’t drown them either. They float just like Ivory soap, although, so far as I know, they contain no secret oils. In fact, these jokes are virtually indestructible like those new Victor records. So to get rid of them, I pass the jokes back to the radio comedians so they may keep abreast of what’s going on in the rest of the industry.
As a gesture of respect, we’ll start with the Presidential jokes. Has every one got his laugh meter ready?
“I’m from Missouri”—
“Why aren’t you working in Washington?”
“Because I won’t play second fiddle to his piano.”
Here’s one about Sinatra from the Vallee program:
“Frank Sinatra walked in and all the girls fainted. Then I walked in and Sinatra fainted.”
And the nylons from the Cantor show:
“The bobby-soxers are wearing their stockings at half mast in memory of nylons.”
“Lost Week End” joke from Frank Morgan:
How would you feel if you rehearsed a role for thirty-five years and they turned around and gave the part to Ray Milland?
Clothing shortage from the Hope program:
“I bought a two-pants suit. I won’t say the trousers were large, but all the way home I was followed by a kangaroo.”
John L. Lewis joke from the Bert Lahr program. Same joke on the Allen show:
“Can you tell when it’s spring?”
“Sure, John L. Lewis comes up out of the ground.”
Housing shortage jokes from the Durante-Moore program:
“I’m going to become a hermit—if I can find an empty cave.”
Claghorn jokes from Art Linkletter’s “House Party”:
“A man was persuaded to sit on eggs like a chicken.”
“That’s a yolk, son.”
Just for contrast, let’s hear some real wit. Several weeks ago, Charlie McCarthy started a perfume business, and there’s an industry that’s wide open for satire. Charlie’s slogan was, “You look swell, but how do you smell?” He was marketing a perfume called “Love Life,” which came in 30 or 60 watt sizes. “Now, here’s a perfume for the outdoor girl,” Charlie told Bergen. “We call it High Heaven.”
“Because that’s what it smells to. It’s also good for killing gophers. We make it from rose petals soaked in alcohol and mixed with diluted water—that’s hard to get. The other day when we were mixing some, a skunk walked in waving a white flag.”
On his Easter Sunday program, in a delightful bit of fantasy, Charlie went hunting for the Easter Bunny and bumped into an educated owl, who cried “Whom Whom.” Pursuing his search, he found the Easter Bunny, who told him mournfully that a rabbit’s life was a hard one.
“Yes, I suppose so,” said Charlie. “Hare today and mink tomorrow.”
I like mink jokes provided it isn’t the one about meenk is for football. Here’s another one from Fred Allen’s Easter Sunday show. Portland was telling Fred about the platoon of minks who paraded up Fifth Avenue to Fifty-seventh Street, where they spelled out I.J. Fox.
“Ah,” murmured Allen, “If only I.J. could read!”
Another hobby of mine is collecting insults, of which my collection is one of the world’s largest. The art of insult is as American as frankfurters, and some time soon I’ll string up a whole column of them.
We’ll continue our promise to post a week’s worth of Crosby columns. The comedy quiz It Pays to Be Ignorant was reviewed by Crosby on June 18, 1946; we posted his pronouncement on it here.

Meredith Willson’s summer replacement show got a look in the June 19th column. Willson was the composer of The Music Man. He was the musical director on the Burns and Allen show for a time in the late ‘40s and later waved the baton on The Big Show, NBC’s star-studded radio spectacular series of the early ‘50s.

The various types of murder mysteries on the air was Crosby’s subject on June 20th. While the types of narrative may have been various, many of them had the same kind of characters, ripe for parody.

Crosby’s first television review was printed on June 21st. You don’t think of television being around in 1946. There were about a half dozen commercial stations and a handful of non-commercial stations in all of North America then. ABC didn’t have a station yet, let alone a network. Du Mont’s network was still experimental and the company had no studios yet. Stations were forced by the FCC to be on the air 28 hours a week; Du Mont claimed that was a hardship. Yet the American Television Society handed out its second annual awards that month (there were no Emmys yet), and the ceremony was aired live on Du Mont’s WABD. (Broadcasting, June 17, 1946). At this point, TV broadcasts on the East Coast generally consisted of films or remote pick-ups; Crosby is reviewing a remote. Broadcasting of June 24, 1946 gave the telecast huge coverage with raves from a number of New York newspaper columnists.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Crazy, Darn Fool Duck

It’s another glorious moment in a Warner Bros. cartoon. Porky Pig pulls out the script for the cartoon and protests to Daffy Duck that what just happened on screen wasn’t in it.

“Don’t let it worry you, skipper,” replies Daffy. “I’m just a crazy, darn fool duck!” Daffy crosses his eyes for the moment that he says “crazy.”

Daffy proves it by woo-hooing and bouncing across the water, disappearing into the background.

You think Buddy did anything like this? Or a little Dutch plate? Or Beans the cat? Naw. Tex Avery is here to show us how a funny cartoon is made.

Porky’s Duck Hunt was released in 1937. Virgil Ross and Bobe Cannon get the rotating animator credits.