Wednesday, 10 August 2022

You Called, Mervyn?

It’s a television pairing that sounds improbable—singer and game show host Merv Griffin, and an actor who played condescending English butlers, Arthur Treacher.

But it worked.

Treacher was in his 70s when Griffin tabbed him to be an announcer. But not only did they survive together for several years and versions of The Merv Griffin Show, Treacher embarked on a second career as a canny businessman, first with a rent-a-servant operation and then lending his name to franchised fish-and-chip restaurants.

His first career apparently began at the Oxford Theatre in London in October 1919 when he appeared in a musical production of Maggie. In April 1926, he came to New York to appear in Shubert's latest Great Temptations revue with Jack Benny, Billy B. Van, Miller and Lyles and a young lady who later became known as Penny Singleton. Motion pictures followed, with television arriving afterward, including a guest appearance on the Tonight show with fill-in host Griffin. They connected again in 1965 when Westinghouse dumped Steve Allen to syndicate Merv.

Treacher had a wonderfully dry and sometimes withering wit that scored well with talk show audiences. Here’s a King Features story that appeared in papers on April 11, 1970.

Presence of Dour Arthur Treacher Enhances a Television Broadcast
By CHARLES WITBECK

HOLLYWOOD—What this country needs is more grumblers.
This comes from a dour old man, Arthur Treacher, Merv Griffin's associate, who makes a very comfortable living grousing. You'd think Treacher would want to keep quiet about his secret in an age where friendship, the big smile, the glad hand and assume interest are considered essential to getting ahead.
But Arthur isn't worried about competition. The man has sinecure with his boss who only asks, "When will you have had enough?"
"When I feel badly," answers Arthur. Going on 76, he knows full well the beauties of his position. No other job could come close in matching benefits. Treacher leaves his house at three in the afternoon, and returns at 8:45 in the evening having performed, and taken time for drink and probably an excellent dinner at Sardi's, or some other good restaurant, where he reacts kindly to acclaim and familiarity from guests and waiters.
He represents the grand old man accustomed to receiving tribute and respect from associates, and he doesn't have to do a blasted thing in return, except peal off a few anecdotes about Hollywood days, or put on a look of disgust for the television camera when the guest becomes a bore. The man doesn't even to think to live this way.
Treacher really cinched this dream job by submitting to 85 minutes of silence on an old Griffin show, listening to guests prattle on, before he broke in with "I think you're all idiots.
"Is that all you did?" questioned Griffin, trying tp recall how the show went off.
"That's enough," Treacher replied, and his boss agreed.
Naturally, any employer with this kind of forebearance deserves recognition. Arthur puts Merv at the top of the list with this example of the understanding leader. He was grumbling a bit before the show one afternoon within earshot of the host, who touched Treacher on the arm and said, "You seem to be in bad temper. Go get yourself a drink before we begin."
Mr. Treacher's temper is decidedly on the bilious side these days because of a hepatitis bout, which means laying off the alcohol, a condition foreign to the man. "I have always been a credit to the distillery people," he said, anxious not to ruin his image.
Perhaps a liking for drink and bad temper go hand in hand. The perfect example is W. C. Fields, a man lionized by the young, a type needed desperately for their lack of humanity to the kiddies. Treacher isn't quite sure whether he agrees with this line of reasoning, but he knows grumbling is welcomed by youth. With Arthur this attitude came more or less by accident.
In his Hollywood days, Treacher was typecast as the English butler, competing for parts with Eric Blore. The two finally met in an M. G. M. picture in which they were rude to each in church, and Treacher admits he was far nicer than Blore, who "grumbled beautifully" even off the screen, but he picked up, Eric's trade secret.
Treacher doesn't expose his true nature on the air. Most of the act is a put-on, since it would take effort to use true feelings which are kept hidden. The actor claims he has a black heart, and says he's sick to death of “everyone sitting around on their hind ends talking about pollution, and not doing anything about it. If you're going to beef, action must follow, an English tradition.”
Naturally, at his age, grousing without backing it up, is accepted. The trick is to do it with humor, and not become a bore. Wit is essential, a good memory necessary, plus an ear for the latest anecdote. Treacher keeps in touch through cab drivers, newsboys, waiters and doormen.
“I never send food back,” he reposts, "nor am I ever rude to waiters, doormen or taxi, drivers. I even let some call me Artie, which like Perc, is an abomination."
For his pleasure, Mr. Treacher merely reads and frequents Aqueduct race track, an 18-minute ride from home. As for television, he never looks at the set. "It's too exciting," he says, deadpan.


CBS didn’t want Treacher on the show to begin with, Griffin once wrote, claiming the network’s research said he would only attract an older audience. The ratings showed otherwise. CBS then tried to use Griffin’s move from New York to California in September 1970 to get rid of the esteemed gent. But Treacher saved them the trouble, telling Griffin he did not wish to go back to the West Coast.

Here’s a story from the Rome Daily Sentinel of July 23, 1974 where Treacher shrewdly gets almost a quarter page of free publicity for his business.

'Naughty' Arthur Treacher denies fame, admits greed
By JEFF COPLON

At 80, Arthur Treacher is the perfect jocular old Englishman, complete with red lace, jutting chin and a presence at once commanding and gentle —Winston Churchill with a wink.
Treacher walks a little stiffly these days, his face is jowled, his pants rise high over a comfortable paunch. But he is nonetheless a rare octogenarian who has been more mellowed rather than declined with the passing years; the brain is still alert, and the delivery and timing are faultless, like that of a lead actor in a long-running hit play.
Now the king of a tartar sauce empire known as Arthur Treacher's “Fish ‘N Chips”. Treacher has spent the last two days in the area promoting local franchises.
There are now nearly 300 "Fish ‘N Chips,'' and in two years, according to Treacher, there will be 1,000. Their namesake spends a fair amount of time on the road.
Treacher will be at the Rome "Fish N Chips" franchise at 6 p.m. today.
While insisting that he's "not a traveling salesman," Treacher spends a fair amount of time on the road promoting the nearly 300 “Fish 'N Chips” throughout the country. He said he genuinely likes the product's he's hawking— "thank God, it would be awful if I didn't" — and even goes so far as to rate it higher and less greasy than the British original.
Treacher is bemused but hardly defensive about this latest twist to a career which has ranged over two continents and a half-century in on stage, screen, radio and television, most recently as the naughty but lovable sidekick to popular talk show host Merv Griffin.
"I don't think I've brought anything to the culture of the world." he said "When I did movies, I always looked at how much I got from them. My favorite film picture was the one I got paid the most for."
He is equally unimpressed with his growing fame: "People say I'm famous, but then so was Capone. I don't want any of this."
Treacher worked in his last play, “Camelot,” eight years ago, and he cannot conceive of doing another one.
"Theatre, the thought of going out every night and performing the same lines, bores me stiff. And it's not the same any more We used to have more fun in the early days, we'd go to a restaurant after the show and people from other plays would come and we'd kid each other.
"But after Camelot, everyone went their separate ways after the performance, there was no camaraderie."
Treacher also laments the disappearance of "the great, great stars, where the people went to see the star and didn't care what the play was.
"There were magnetic people like Al Jolson. It was just a joy to be with him near the end of the show, he'd get sick of the play sometimes and asked the audience if they wanted to know what happened at the end.
"Then he'd tell them, and he would sing and dance for them for an hour or more He was a man's man."
Treacher lists his favorite leading ladies as Joan Crawford, Ethel Merman, Ethel Barrymore and Shirley Temple, with whom he made six films, either as "a butler or a broken-down vaudeville man."
His own career began with a role as chorus boy in a 1919 London production. "I had always wanted to be an actor when I was a boy." he said. "My parents would take me to the theatre and the circus and I took to it right off."
In 1926, Treacher came to New York, and he's lived in the area ever since. He has returned to England for a few visits, but says he doesn't really miss it.
"When you get to be 80," he said, "most of your friends are dead. And England has altered a great deal physically. The houses in my mother's village have all been made over into apartments and condominiums. "
Treacher conceded, a bit coyly, that his image as a dignified and occasionally inebriated rake on the Griffin show was "all true — I went to Sardi's often to have a few drinks before doing the show." But was he ever actually . . .
"Sloshed? Oh yes, not enough to upset my brain, but my eyes were sometimes quite bloodshot. One time I told Griffin: ‘To be on your bloody show, you've got to be drunk.’"
More seriously, Treacher said he had a great affection for Griffin, and that "his was the only show I would ever go on." In between his bouts of promotional work, Treacher pursues his hobbies of French cooking and reading in his country home in Douglastown, Long Island.


Griffin carried on talking without Treacher until the mid-'80s; he ended up extremely wealthy due to smart business deals in real estate and television. He always talked warmly of his association with the former film and stage star, even after Treacher died in December 1975.

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Ah, the Old Pepper Gag

Disney’s second-rate version of Felix thinks (you can see the wheels turning) and an idea pops out of his head in Alice’s Balloon Race (1926).



Julius engages in the pepper-creates-sneeze cliché to get a hippo to blow Alice’s downed balloon back into the air.



I imagine the pepper gag dates back to newspaper comic strips before this.

The cartoon bears the name of Walt Disney and producer M.J. Winkler.

Monday, 8 August 2022

Eyes of Lantz

Abou Ben Boogie gets a load of Miss X as Darrell Calker’s brassy score plays in the background of this 1944 cartoon from the Walter Lantz studio.

In the first part of the scene below, there’s movement in every frame. Gravity (follow-through action) moves Miss X’s clothes in one frame, then her drawing holds in the next frame while Abou’s eyes combine and enlarge. The action alternates like that.

You’ll notice the eyes throb in a way; they pull back in a bit, then extend.



Miss X is on a held cel as Abou looks up and down, blinks twice, and his eyes pull back in. That part is animated on ones and twos.



Pat Matthews animates the dance scenes and they’re truly well done. Director Shamus Culhane uses only solid colour in the background in a number of places and, for whatever reason, has cycle animation of Miss X strutting, but you can only see the upper third of her body.

There are dopey, cross-eyed characters as well, so you know Bugs Hardaway had to be involved in the story.

Unfortunately, Abou Ben Boogie was the second and final of the Miss X cartoons. She was too much for the censors.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Jack on Jokes

“New jokes are hard to find,” claimed Jack Benny. In the vaudeville days, you didn’t need to look very often. An act moved across the continent and took the same gags with it. Only with radio was a fresh show needed every week.

The Benny solution was, eventually, to create new characters and situations and then use variations on old jokes. Jack didn’t write these—he had Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin come up with the Maxwell and Rochester and Dennis Day’s battle-axe mother and Phil Harris’ carousing—but he watched over the writers meetings to ensure they got the best show possible.

Coronet magazine interviewed Jack for its July 1941 edition. He breaks down humour more than I’ve seen him do it in other magazine features.

GAG-COINING AND GAG-FILCHING, AS DISCUSSED (WITH DETOURS) BY AN EXPERT ON BOTH SUBJECTS
THIS ONE WILL SLAY YOU
by Jack BENNY

DON’T get me wrong. I’m no Woollcott, but, well, there are lots of people who think I tell a swell story—among them Jack Benny, Mary Livingstone, and my relatives in Waukegan, Illinois.
Maybe I’m an authority on forms of story and joke-telling because I’ve had many half-hour programs of practice on good citizens whose only defense is a quick flip of the dial. Maybe it’s because I have learned from bores I have had to listen to, what not to say. (This last statement is not necessarily meant for Fred Allen.)
Why, anybody knows you don’t have to be a Woollcott to bring down the house—private or public—with a gag, joke, or story. And it doesn’t even have to be a new anecdote you’re telling. But it has to have a new twist.
Just the other day Mary pulled the latest variation on the oldest joke while talking with Don Wilson, who asked, “Who was that lady I saw you with last night, Mary?”
“That was no lady,” she answered. “That was Jack. He only walks that way.”
Unless you get a new twist, you may as well detour around a gag like that. It might be a good idea to do it anyway. New gags are hard to find or build. Ask any jokesmith. But there are certain standard forms that are the skeletons for all jokes. “That was no lady” is just one. A second cousin to that skeleton Methuselah, the “my but you have a kind face—the funny kind” gag came out like this in Bob Hope’s latest version: “You have a face like a saint—a Saint Bernard!”
Which not only brings to light gag-remodeling to fit changing times, but also the epigram, the parlor artillery of Mr. “Information Please’ Levant. I don’t want to steal even a clap of Mr. Levant’s thunder, but just as a fact, the epigram is old enough by hundreds of years for pension.
Now if Fred Allen, who loves me like a relative—a distant one —were going to insult me, he might build it up in this way:
“Jack, you know.” He smiles and pats me on the back. “You know you’re beginning to grow on me.” (A pause for effect.) “Grow on me—like a tumor!”
The whole thing amounts to an O. Henry twist. The unexpected comes where you expect the expected. Or does that sound like Gerty Stein? Psychologists have tried to find out what makes people laugh. They are about as successful as celebrities who try to keep stork secrets from Winchell. Even gag-writers who help put words into our mouths can’t make two and two equal two and two. They can throw out laugh-lines, but they can’t write a thesis on the whys and wherefores of them.
Most lives of the party are epigrammists, if you’ve noticed. It doesn’t take an Einstein I. Q. to fashion them. Even I made one up once—the “tumor” gag—and then what did I do with it? I gave it to Allen. All I did was get a pattern. Say, for instance, you wanted to tell someone off. Perhaps your wife, landlady, husband, sweetheart, or a speed cop. You might say, “You do something to me”—very earnestly and as an afterthought—“nauseate me.”
The old refrain “everything’s been done before” covers the joke situation. Script writers who work tooth and nail on my screen and radio shows—I find cuticle among the pages—say there is a limited number of dramatic situations. Change of settings and character make them sound different.

HERE’s an example of what I mean with a follow-up of the most modern version. Remember the one about G. B. Shaw who was approached by a beautiful actress whose brains were at a one to four ratio with her beauty? Well, the gal proposed their marriage and union, saying, “With my beauty and your brains think what a child we could have.”
Shaw deliberated for a moment and answered, “Think how tragic it would be if it had my beauty and your brains.”
Well, the other day Joe E. Brown dressed that one up in 1941 togs, explaining that in his boyhood he had had two main ambitions: to play ball like Tris Speaker and speak like William Jennings Bryan. “I played ball like Bryan,” he concluded ruefully.

A GOOD memory is handy for the person who wants to be known as a wag. He has to remember those upon whom he has inflicted his jokes. None of the 57 varieties of bores is worse than the one who is loyal to his gags for a lifetime—except the life of the party who takes off on a joke, works up enthusiasm, and comes down the home stretch without remembering the climax.
I know. I’ve been a member of this group more than once, having to say, “I don’t know just how the ending went, but it was very funny—ha, ha, ha.” And that was a solo laugh.
On a par with us who sometimes forget the punch lines are those who through lack of imagination or memory miss the point entirely when they record a good joke and muff it in telling. For example, the traveling Englishman who was overwhelmed by the thousands of acres of golden corn waving over Iowa. Hour after hour he had been seeing it on both sides of the train.
At a weatherbeaten rural station, a farmer in straw hat got on the train, sitting beside the Englishman because that was the only empty seat. Seeing his chance, the Englishman, monocle and all, turned to the farmer:
“I say, my good man, what do you do with all these hundreds of thousands of acres of corn?”
“‘Waaal, I tell you,” said the farmer slyly, “we eat what we can, and what we can’t we can.”
It took the Englishman five minutes for proper reactions, and he laughed with proper reserve, vowing he would pull the joke on his friends at the Drones Club when he got back to London. He did. He described the corn at length, giving the story a sound buildup. Then one of his impatient friends interrupted—“But, listen, old fellow,” he said, “what do they do with all that corn?”
Beaming and on the threshold of triumph, the Englishman capped it off: “Simple. Very elementary indeed. They eat what they can, and what they can’t they tin!”
While I’m on the subject of bores, I might mention the raconteur—Roget’s Thesaurus is on my left—who takes an evening’s lease on the floor. Inasmuch as most people have at least a favorite joke or story to contribute to the chatter, the monologuist freezes them out and sours his own audience.
Among the most obnoxious bores I have known is the variety that condescends, throws Boston “A’s” all over the room, and explains the obvious.
Platform speakers, equipped with water pitcher, glass, and note-stand, rarely if ever start a lecture without first winning the audience by revealing an embarrassing experience they’ve had, or some humiliating incident that can be tied in artfully with the lecture.
Once the speaker has his audience’s sympathy, he is ready to go to bat. A story told briefly usually has more punch than the long-winded kind.
Choosing the right words and details is important, but choosing an interesting subject is even more so. Ripley has something in his oddities. He knows what every parlor entertainer should know—that the spotlight should focus on unusual facts about a subject—not on facts we all know.
Chuckles and smiles a fellow gets from his audience depend a lot on his listeners’ mood. But by exaggerating, using punchy colorful words, speaking in a modulated voice—monotones are out this season as they are in every other he can put a lift into his stories. In a minute I’m going to sound as heavy as H. L. Mencken; so I’d better put a stop to this. But, first, have you heard the one about Samuel Johnson, the great literary critic of the eighteenth century?

ALL RIGHT. A brittle and sharp wit, Johnson was so sought after in literary circles that the Emily Post of her day could hardly omit inviting Johnson to her supper party, despite what she had heard about his boorish table manners.
She sat at the head of the table aghast. Everybody was for that matter. Everything they had said about Johnson was true. He siphoned his soup with such vigor that the veins in his forehead bulged and his face glowed. Perspiration beaded above his brows. Glances that withered the lettuce —glances from the many shocked —didn’t faze Johnson. He elbowed through his main course under par to the dessert, a steaming hot pudding.
Before anyone else started, Johnson began fanning the pudding with his napkin. Every guest at the long table gaped. What next? He dug in his spoon, shoveling it into his mouth. Suddenly he howled with pain. It burned his mouth, and he spat the blob of pudding back into his dish. Glaring angrily at his hostess, he snorted, “A fool would have swallowed it!”
Stories, jokes, and anecdotes are born every day—perhaps new ones or perhaps remodeled ones. Some of us can remember them. Others can’t. Although a memory would be doing us a favor to forget some well-worn stories, the point is, a storyteller must have a good stock on tap, a better than average memory, a feel for what’s dramatic, a clear vision of his story, and a capper line at the end.
There I go into things deeper than Joe Miller. First thing you know I'll be talking about something I don’t know a thing about.
But, as I said in the beginning, I’m no Woollcott, but you could do a lot worse than read what I have to say about story-telling. For instance, you could talk with Fred Allen!

Among world-famous violinists, Jack Benny is ranked as the foremost radio and screen comedian. His rendition of The Bee is too well known to require comment. Benny lives in Hollywood with his wife, Mary Livingstone, and an adopted daughter, Joan. He points out that in five years in pictures he has never won an Academy Award and is confident that he will never mar this perfect record.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

McKimson on Cartoon Art

I have mixed feelings about Bob McKimson, at least when it comes to the cartoons he directed. Some of the stories in his earliest cartoons are a little off-kilter for me; The Grey-Hounded Hare being only one. The Sylvester/“giant mouse” routine was beaten to death. In the later ‘50s, there were too many mild TV parodies (did anyone laugh at “The Honeymousers” shorts?). There is nothing hysterical in the cringe-inducing Pre-Hysterical Hare. Then there was his demand that Rod Scribner “calm” his animation; Scribner eventually moved on to UPA (McKimson’s other wild animator, Manny Gould, hightailed it to Jerry Fairbanks Productions in 1947). And, for some reason, for a while he gave caricatures little craniums and huge mouths.

He did try to vary the sound of his shorts by hiring people other than Mel Blanc (Jim Backus, Sheldon Leonard and Lloyd Perryman among them). Some of the early Foghorn Leghorn cartoons are full of raucous action. His Hillbilly Hare may be considered overrated by some, but I still enjoy it. There are others he directed I quite like. I feel bad for him because he quite unfairly and undeservedly ran afoul of office politics. "I've got scars all over my back," is how he put it to historian Mike Barrier. Friz Freleng wrested Warren Foster away from him and McKimson complained he was asked to accept "borderline" artists. And it should be remembered that when you read of the six-month cartoon studio shut down in 1953, McKimson’s unit was out of business for a year. It was closed several months before the shut down and revived in 1954.

The opinion seems to be unanimous that McKimson was an excellent and subtle animator, and created the definitive look of Bugs Bunny. He didn’t give many interviews over the years, but we’ve found one in the Hollywood Citizen-News of April 24, 1937. He was appointed chief animator of the studio by Leon Schlesinger in August 1939 but here he is referred to as the “head animator.”

Art Need in Movies Told
"Even in comedy the trend is toward the artistic and less toward the grotesque," Robert McKimson, head animator for Loony Tunes [sic] and Merry Melodies [sic] at Warner Bros. studio said today. "To achieve this aim some of the finest artists in the country are in the various studios now, while six or seven years ago there ware comparatively few."
McKimson, who studied art at the Theodora Lukits school even after drawing and looking at sketches all day, explained that the person who wishes to become a cartoon animator must have a good foundation in art.
"Each little character in animated cartoons is constructed and goes through the identical motions, although exaggerated, of a human being," the artist explained, “so it is necessary that an animator study anatomy for construction to train the eye for a definite sense of proportions and to acquire a sense of weight balance.
"Now that Technicolor is used almost entirely in all movie cartoons, a knowledge of painting is a great aid. The color of a character is of vital importance. The color must harmonize with the background and yet not fade or clash with it."
Many studios, including Walt Disney's, recognize this need for anatomy and color study and to further it have training departments for young artists in connection with the studio. McKimson stated, however, that since he had been studying with Lukits for the last three years he has noticed a gradual improvement in his own animation.


McKimson only did a little bit of animating at Warners after becoming a director. He animated almost all of The Hole Idea (finally released in 1955), but it’s more a triumph of story than anything else. The character designs are not very daring and the movement is not stylised.

Perhaps McKimson’s cartoons of the ‘50s were the product of the decade. The ‘50s were sedate. Ed Murrow wasn’t amongst bombs and armed soldiers as in the ‘40s; he was behind a desk. Husbands and fathers weren’t on the battlefront. They were urged to avoid the enemy by hiding the family in a bomb shelter. Families relaxed in front of televisions or around back yard barbecues. Stress was eliminated through over-the-counter pills. It was all so inert.

McKimson’s cartoons reflected this. Characters talked and talked. Movement wasn’t exaggerated all that much (a hole doesn’t move at all). The pace of his shorts was fairly leisurely (the same can probably be said of Jones and Freleng as the ‘50s wore on). It’s unfortunate there wasn’t something more captivating to make up for the lack of the frenetic energy of ‘40s cartoons (such as the designs in ‘50s animated commercials) but McKimson simply may not have had it in him.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Hat's Enough!

If you want an example of a Columbia/Screen Gems cartoon with a story that’s all over the place, we present The Mad Hatter (1940).

First we get a whole routine of stenographer/secretary Maisie racing around her home to get ready for work. She slaps on ghoulish make-up which disappears (other than rouge blotches) in the next scene. To beat the “racing” scenario into us, Mel Blanc is heard giving a race track play-by-play.

But this isn’t what the cartoon is about. Maisie races to work, sitting at her desk just in time. Other than Blanc and all the running around, there’s no real reason for the urgency. There’s no time clock and no stereotyped glowering boss (or clucking co-workers) around.

There’s a nice throwaway “Gone With the Wind” parody gag as the work-day unfolds. But that’s all. The cartoon isn’t a workplace comedy. All this is filler to what apparently is the intended story, which takes up about the rest of the 4½ cartoon. Maisie tries on hats. All kinds of them. The scene just goes on and on and on. The gag here is that women’s hats are crazy. Supposedly, we are to laugh at each one of them as they are introduced by narrator Frank Bingman, who barrels through the list.

We’re half-way through the cartoon, and Maisie orders a special hat. The scene now switches to the hat designing department. There’s one gag. Everyone here is insane. The cartoon stretches basically one gag for three minutes, with Blanc conjuring up another moronic voice (He’s a mad hatter. Get it?).

So how does the cartoon end? What’s the build-up to the big finish? Maisie walks by a cat in a window that is so frightened by the hat that it closes the window, pulls down the shade and cowers. Yes, that’s the gag.



I’d call the finish a let-down, but the whole 653-foot cartoon is a let-down. Mind you, maybe I know nothing. The Exhibitor magazine review in 1940 called it "excellent" (maybe they were misogynists) and it was released in May 1953 as a "Columbia Favorite."

No writer is listed in the credits. Sid Marcus directed the short, Art Davis and Herb Rothwill get animation credits and Joe De Nat supplied the score. The group was credited together in The Greyhound and the Rabbit and Tangled Television earlier in the year.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Schools Can't Dance

Van Beuren’s Good Old Schooldays (1930) follows the path laid down by Walt Disney in the earliest Mickey Mouses—animals play tunes with make-shift instruments. This one also tosses in any school references the staff could think of.

The cartoon ends with the school house growing into the sky to the sounds of the music.



The school house dances and crashes to the ground. The students run away in a 16-frame cycle to end the short.



The post-script is typical. Someone gets clobbered after reading the Aesop “quote.”

Tom and Jerry’s Piano Tooners (1932) has a growing theatre at the end, while The Tuba Tooter (also 1932) has the upper part of an apartment building bulging out.

John Foster and Manny Davis are credited on this Aesop’s Fable with the score by Gene Rodemich.

Wednesday, 3 August 2022

Criswell

You are not reading this.

You are dead.

Why? Criswell says so.

Well, he predicted the Earth would be gone on August 18, 1999.

Criswell’s book of prognostications published in 1968 is full of howlers. He’s even more hilarious than his appearance to bookend that great late-‘50s cinema epic, Plan 9 From Outer Space. He’s obsessed with aliens, gays, "filth" and End Times.

I suspect Charles Jeron Criswell King didn’t care so long as it sold books.

Criswell was around long before Ed Wood, Jr.’s film masterwork. An ad in the Hollywood Reporter of July 29, 1947 advertises him on a radio show on KHJ. Wizard of Odds was hosted by Leo Guild on KFI, dropped after 20 weeks, then picked up for airing on 85 Mutual stations twice a week starting June 24, 19471 and Criswell made regular appearances. “Odds” is an apt description of the Ed Wood-esque Guild, as you can read here. The funny this is, Guild also had a column in the Hollywood Reporter and basically outed Criswell as a phoney (“Seers are no more than amusing,” he wrote)2.

One wonders whether Criswell predicted his life path when he was an ambitious playwright. In 1930, he managed a production about a stock company called “The Semicentennial” in New York3. Six years later, he concocted “The Picture of Dorian Gray” for Broadway. “Closely borders on burlesque,” reviewed Danton Walker of the Daily News, who revealed the producer was the improbably-named Groves Quigley4. Criswell likely didn’t see that Equity would pull its unknown actors because of dispute with non-union stage-hands and was denied the starring role after a re-write of his adaptation5. Undaunted, he and Louise Howard (Mrs. Criswell) mounted Ladies and How in 19386, a musical set in a bordello7. It wasn’t on the boards for long. Criswell and Howard decided to revive “Loves of Dorian Gray” and in 1940 had brought the play to the Footlights Theater at Sunset and Laurel in Los Angeles8.

Exaggeration? The Hollywood Reporter of February 4, 1943 repeated the claim: “Jeron Criswell is starting his 20th year in the character of ‘Dorian Gray,’ the play now at the Troupers theatre. Criswell hope to beat his great grand-uncle, Joseph Jefferson’s ‘Rip Van Winkle’ record of 35 years.” The only thing is Criswell’s name was not in the cast of either New York versions of the play.

Then things started getting squirrely. Suddenly, Criswell acquired a doctorate. Listed in the City Directory of 1942 with no occupation, the Los Angeles Times of September 26 that year announced: “Dr. Jeron King Criswell, pastor of the Church of the Inner Voice, will conduct ‘all message’ services at Hollywood Hotel at 8 p.m., Wednesday and Friday.”

He had special powers now, too. The Reporter revealed: “Dr. Jeron Criswell, former pastor of the Fifth Avenue Spiritualist church, New York City, arrives today to serve as technical consultant on RKO’s spook film, ‘The Ghost Ship.’ Dr. Criswell is an authority on psychic phenomena and extra sensory perception, and will apply his theories to members of the cast. Criswell played a stage run in Picture of Dorian Grey here recently.”9 And in 1948, he got mixed up with a yellow-robed, unshaved “Buddhist missionary from Burma” named “Venerable Lokantha” who walked to a lecture over the tresses of 12 long-haired women. “Venerable is not permitted to walk on ordinary pavement,” insisted Criswell, after the Associated Press snapped a photo for posterity10.

By now, you’re wondering when we’ll get to his goofy predictions. Let’s do that now. His “Accurate Glimpse of the Future” was published by Atlas Features in the late ‘40s/early ‘50s. He rooked in people with an offer: “Criswell has agreed to predict for you in a personal letter FREE if you will purchase his lecture ‘The Secret Science of Being Lucky’ for $1” (along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope)11. Among his predictions for 1952:

● Socialized medicine established in spite of AMA protests (still waiting).
● The death of college football and intercollegiate sports (yeah, sure).
● Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner will divorce (he was a few years off).
● $50 TV sets would be made (a rerun prediction, see below).
● Over 100 Hollywood Communists will be jailed on charges of treason by October 15th (nope).

He claimed something like 86% accuracy. The United Press looked ahead and behind in this column of October 18, 1948. Vaguely “predicting” divorces in Hollywood is like predicting the sun rise.

Seer Gives ’49 Cinema Headlines
By ALINE MOSBY

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 17 (UP)—Today you can read the headlines that Hollywood is predicted to make in 1949, which ought to save you the trouble of poring over 365 newspapers next year. This time-saving service comes courtesy of the seer of the cinema city, Jeron Criswell. Mr. C. lectures and writes about the future, from the price of string beans to the next guy to sit on the White House balcony (he says Dewey).
Criswell also has predicted what the headline makers in town will be up to next year; he says movie bigwigs often consult him on this. Now if Hollywood follows through, you'll be ahead on the news and we can take the year off.
Prediction No. 1: Mitchum's marijuana is a warmup to a dope scandal that will sear 100 Hollywood names in '49!
He further foresees Rita Hayworth with another spouse. And a new California marriage law will turn packs of stars into bigamists, he says.
More future headlines: Famous actor lands in court on paternity charge. Character actor kills self. Head of big studio dies. Crooner and actress divorce.
On Hollywood's working side, Criswell predicts movie business will flop towards the end of next year because a $50 television set will flood the market. Theater tickets thus will nosedive, he says. Hollywood is predicted to grind out technicolor musicals and psychological, pardon the expression, thrillers. Jennifer Jones will win an Oscar for "Portrait of Jenny," for which David O. Selznick thanks Mr. Criswell. The prophet also says Hollywood will have a new Latin American star, and Mary Pickford, Theda Bara, Marion Davies, Mae Murray, Pola Negri, Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson will try comebacks.
"The era of child stars will end," Criswell added, with satisfaction.
Criswell bases his predictions on “trends, precedents of habit and cycles.” Last year his batting average was amazing.
For 1948 he predicted, in a magazine, a star's suicide around a holiday (Carole Landis' July 5 death), an explosion with fatalities in or near a studio (Hillcrest Country Club blowup), and the deaths of two stars in a May plane crash (Earl Carroll and Beryl Wallace crashed June 17).
He also figured a star would have a nervous breakdown in 1948 (Judy Garland did) and that William Powell would win an Oscar (well, he was nominated).
So far, he missed a couple of '48 predictions. Two top stars are supposed to elope to Mexico, a star was predicted to be deported on smuggling charges and he thought a child actress would file morals charges against a producer. The year isn’t up yet.




Let’s jump up to his January 4, 1978 column. Yes, he was still in print, courtesy of the McNaught Syndicate. He was big on Hollywood suicides and hated sports, it seems.

YOUR INCREDIBLE 1978 -- While December 31, 1978 is the last day on your calendar, you can be assured that the following events will take place. Events always seem more drastic when they are in cold type . . . The complete destruction of a Middle East nation by an atomic bomb! . . . I predict the stirring up of the dregs from the bottom of the oceans, wolving many of the nautical mysteries of the past. Historians will be delighted over the refuse, which will give them a clear and concise truth of the advancement of navigation.
OIL BOOM -- I predict Indiana will have an oil boom second to none along the Ohio-White-Wabash River banks. This long sleeping oil deposit will awaken like a hungry giant and change the history of the Hoosier State.
HEAVY RAINS -- I predict that the heavy rains in the far west will make deserts bloom like the green bay tree and will be the arrow that points to a new salvation.
The parched earth will be oozing with the rains and will give good crops.
FUTURE FRONT PAGE NEWS -- I predict the No. 1 crime in the future will be arson . . . I predict that America will face a revolution in entertainment, wait and see. Outdoor sports will include swim contests and water shows, circus acts and high wire attractions. Human-fly antics on buildings will draw the attention of thousands . . . I predict that brutality in sports will be the most sought-after virtue, and if many of the players can be taken off the field, diamond, court or ring on stretchers, the greater the enjoyment of the crowd. We will hark back to the "bread and circuses" of the Roman Empire.
FROM SCRATCH . . I predict that we will break away from the already-prepared foods and return to the kitchen where everything will be prepared from scratch . . . I predict that there will be a turn to the Conservative vs. the Liberal, and this will reach down to the very heart of politics.
WHAT PEOPLE WILL DO -- I predict Billy Carter will be the number one important man in the life of America, due to his exploits and his open honesty. His battle with the tax officials will endear him to all, plus his beer products will be found in every watering place in the nation. You can expect a "Brave Billy" club in your area soon . . . The CIA will be reorganized from top to bottom soon. This will not be a catch-all, but a new organization of Conservatives . . . I predict a new gossip columnist out of Canada will set the Fourth Estate on fire with her wild gossip similar to Louella Parsons or Hedda Hopper of the gossip heyday . . . I predict that the Africans and Cubans will come to a parting of the ways . . . I regret to predict a series of suicides of famous personalities through overdosage of narcotics.


How serious was all this? Criswell admitted there was a show biz element. “People aren’t interested in hearing about the future unless it’s more exciting than the present,” Newsweek once quoted Criswell as saying. “You’ve got to jazz it up a little.”12

Criswell Predicts From Now to the Year 2000 was not his first book. He and his wife wrote How to Crash Broadway in 1939 with 36 plot ideas to get your play on the Great White Way. The book was copyrighted and in stores in April 1968. We’ll link to the prediction book below, but among the many duds:

● (Robert F.) Kennedy will be elected president in 1972.
● Denver will be destroyed from outer space on June 9, 1989.
● Fidel Castro will be assassinated by a woman on August 9, 1970.
● The Lady of Light will build a capital on Borneo.
● People will be able to walk from Britain to France.
● The Prince of Darkness will rule from 1975 to 1988 and remove the name of God from books.
● Mexico City will sink into a lake and be extinct by 1985.
● London will be destroyed by a meteor in 1988.

On the other hand, even if you consider the era making this one probable, Criswell stated: “I predict that before October, 1968, one of the leaders of the Negro Civil Rights Movement in the United States will be assassinated.

Martin Luther King, Jr. died April 4, 1968.

As for Criswell’s reaction to his botchery that the world would end on August 18, 1999? There was none. He died in 1982. But you’re not dead. No matter what Criswell said.


1 Hollywood Reporter, June 17, 1947
2 Hollywood Reporter, April 12, 1954
3 New York Herald Tribune, June 14, 1930
4 Daily News, July 21, 1936
5 Billboard, August 29, 1936
6 Daily News, Feb. 10, 1938
7 N.Y. Herald Tribune, Feb. 27, 1938
8 Hollywood Reporter, May 14, 1940
9 Hollywood Reporter, Aug. 16, 1943
10 Rochester Democrat, April 29, 1948
11 Erie County Herald, March 6, 1952
12 Newsweek, July 15, 1963

And That's the Ball Game

He’s unrecognisable in this 1943 photo, a teenager whose football team at Mt. St. Michael’s High School in the Bronx had yet to be defeated. The day the photo was published, he was about to play in the Polo Grounds. But he became associated with a different sport and a different New York stadium.

The young man is one of the greatest of all baseball announcers, Vin Scully. His voice has been permanently silenced at age 94.

Before he began easing into his career in the broadcast booth with the Brooklyn Dodgers, we find him playing college football at Fordham. And doing something else. The New York Times of Oct. 8, 1947 reported.

A play-by-play description of this Saturday’s football game between Penn State and Fordam University will be carried at 1:45 over Fordham’s frequency modulation system, WFUV. Don Kearney, Vin Scully and Joe Sansone will be at the microphone.
The head of the station’s radio-TV department raved about him to Variety in January 1950:
[T]ake a lad from last year’s June class—“Vin” Scully. Graduation day found him working at WTOP, CBS’s Washington outlet, and in the fall the nation heard him reporting in each Saturday for Red Barber’s football and sports roundup. Now, we hear that Barber has signed him as his assistant for next season to broadcast and telecast the Brooklyn baseball games. Here is one of the Ted Husings of tomorrow.
Husing is forgotten today, one of greats of his time, and with a bit of an outsized personality, perhaps also not uncommon for the early network radio days of the ’30s.

Scully started announcing in a far different time than today. Like his mentor Red Barber, he was a reporter rather than a biased cheerleader. The ball park was a canvas. English was his paint brush, and he deftly and gently used the vernacular to inform millions of people tuned in exactly what they weren’t able to see. In television, he learned which paints not to use because the audience could view the canvas.

He outlined a bit of his philosophy in this January 25, 1957 story in the Daily News.
.
Season's Close Sends Vin Scully Home to Relax
By ART MULLIGAN
Thanks to the ever-vigilant sports writers, the off-season activities of our Brooklyn baseball heroes are no secret to the public. But what about the baseball announcer? What does he do during these long winter months? Take Vin Scully, the Voice of Brooklyn. He doesn’t do much of anything except what he wants to do.
And that includes reading, relaxing, making an occasional commercial or sports television feature, appearing at banquets or following his latest hobby—photography.
"I really don't have a worry in the world during the off season except maybe catching a cold that might affect my voice," he said yesterday. "I have to be careful about being out in the wrong kind of weather.
"After all that traveling around during the summer months, it's nice to be able to just stay at home and take it easy. I love to read and I devote quite a bit of time to it during the cold season."
Home to Vin, still a bachelor at 29, is in Bogota, N.J., where, he said, he lives with "my father, my mother, my sister, the canary and myself in that order of importance."
Vin doesn't have to train during the off-season for his job, but he still finds that doing some 30 exhibition games, 154 regular season contests and now and then a World Series, if the Dodgers qualify, is a strain.
“During the 1955 World Series, when Podres was turning back the Yankees, I lost seven pounds, " the angular, 164-pound redhead said.
Millions on Mind
Scully explained that part of the tension was caused by the realization that about 75 million persons were listening to his voice. "It wasn't so much the excitement or closeness of the Series," he said.
As for rooting for the Dodgers, Vin is not allowed to show partisanship on the air, and, in fact, claims he does not root so much for the team as for the individual players.
"You get to know these fellows pretty well," he said, "and you find yourself silently rooting for them to get a base hit or make the good play. When Hodges was in that slump of several years ago, I suffered almost as much as he did. The fans did too."
He would much rather work a game than be a mere spectator, Vin said. He found that out last fall when he went to Japan with the Dodgers and "sat out" about 30 games.
"I guess it's just like a ball player on the bench," "You'd much rather be in there doing your bit."
Vin still hasn't got over the wonder of becoming a Brooklyn baseball announcer less than a year after his graduation from Fordham in 1949. He was working for CBS the following winter when Ernie Harwell left Brooklyn to broadcast for the Giants. Vin auditioned for the job, went to Vero Beach in February, 1950, on a tryout basis and that was that.
He did his first sports broadcasting on the Fordham station, WFUV, but mostly football and basketball. He couldn't very well announce baseball he played centerfield for the varsity for three years.
Scully’s world was upended that year. Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley followed the money trail from one coast to another. Scully moved with the ball club to Los Angeles.

But Scully never changed as sports and sports broadcasting did. Leagues expanded. Television expanded. Fans today might have trouble fathoming that if you wanted to see the major leagues on TV, you got a chance once a week—after the cartoons on Saturday morning on NBC’s “Game of the Week.” The money trail got longer with time. A couple of decades later, there was cash for cable TV sports channels, cash by the billions and billions of dollars that made baseball ubiquitous on the home screen. Today, you can tune in several games at the same time—for the right dollars.

As the audience grew, so did the reputations of those in the broadcast booth heard and seen by the audience. Time needed to be filled. Play-by-play and colour announcers interviewed each other and made celebrities of each other. The classy Scully got caught in the wake by his mere presence. He was probably more revered at the time he retired than during those early days of highly partisan baseball in New York City.

Through it all, Vin Scully resisted any temptation to add phoney hype, to agonize over creating a “clever” trademark home-run call, to hyper-analyse meaningless trivia.

Instead, this is what Scully said on the air from Dodger Stadium at 9:46 p.m., September 9, 1965. Sandy Koufax on the mound:

“Two and 2 to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away.
“Sandy into his windup, here’s the pitch.
“Swung on and missed, a perfect game!”

Scully didn't say a word for the next 38 seconds as the sound of the crowd of 29,193 washed over him and his listeners. What else needed to be said?

One of the 29,193 was a little girl. She was a big girl in 2012 as it was nearing time for Scully to step away from the microphone. Here’s part of her story from Palm Springs’ The Desert Sun of February 4th that year. This excerpt gives you insight into Scully and his fans.

Marti Squyres has saved one message on her answering machine at home.
Squyres first remembers hearing the voice on the message in the early 1960s when she was a child searching for it on her small transistor radio. Hiding under her bedcovers so her parents wouldn't think she was awake, she would try to position the radio just right in order to hear it.
Squyres, a costume designer who lives in Woodland Hills, didn't need the man behind the voice to introduce himself on the message she received in 2007, but he did: "Hey, Marti, this is Vin Scully. I'm taking the liberty of calling you to thank you for your kindness and thoughtfulness."
The longtime Los Angeles Dodgers announcer was thanking her for baking him some cookies, which she has done twice every season since then.
Last August, those cookies became famous when she delivered her latest batch -- banana chocolate chip -- to Dodger Stadium with a note reading: "This is a bribe to get you to come back next year." Scully was holding two cookies during the fifth inning of a telecast when he announced he was returning for his 63rd year with the Dodgers.
"God's been awfully good to me, allowing me to do the things that I've always wanted to do," he said. "I asked him for one more year at least. He said, 'OK, and be quiet, and eat your cookie.' I'll do the same thing."
Until the day he retired, he told the audience what was happening, just as he did at Ebbets Field in 1950. In return, the audience gave him admiration and respect.

What else could a broadcaster want?