Friday, 16 November 2018

Flying Failure

The dopey cat in Birdy and the Beast (1944) is flying. Until the Bob Clampett version of Tweety informs him he’s flying. Reaction time.



Tom McKimson is the credited animator. Bob McKimson, Manny Gould and Rod Scribner toiled anonymously. Warren Foster’s story includes a chicken that clucks “As Time Goes By.”

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Sailing to America, Thanks to Maurice Noble

“It wasn’t so long ago in the history of man’s voyage toward a better world that ships were carrying eager passengers toward the shores of a new nation that was just in the building.” So says narrator Macdonald Carey in the John Sutherland industrial cartoon It’s Everybody’s Business (1954).

Maurice Noble provided the art direction for this cartoon, funded by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States. Here are portions of the opening pan as the ship sails from Europe across the Atlantic.



Finally, they are about to each America.



Noble does a beautiful job with this cartoon. The background artist is not identified (Joe Montell may have been at the studio at that point) but the animators are Bill Higgins, Abe Levitow, Emery Hawkins and Bill Melendez.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

The Satirist Who Was a Good Paintbrush

Mock presidential candidate Pat Paulsen actually won an election.

In July 1969, the DeMolay youth group’s annual meeting in Kansas City unanimously elected him Honorary International Master Councillor. Paulsen spoke to the teenaged crowd. And so did someone else—a later, for-real presidential wannabe, Pat Buchanan, who was then a “special assistant” to president Richard Nixon. Paulsen and Buchanan are, to the say the least, worlds apart politically.

Paulsen’s television career skyrocketed in 1967 thanks to the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Paulsen was the Stephen Colbert of the day. He satirised the right wing by playing a right-wing editorial reader, effectively summing up the Smothers’ viewpoint on a subject (though the Smothers were actually anti-establishment, and the establishment was Democrat in 1967).

Cleverly, Paulsen must have realised you could go only so far speaking in favour of a cause and making it seem ridiculous. He hit on the idea of a phoney presidential run through 1968; he actually appeared at the Democratic convention that year, an event noted more for TV cameras capturing police violence than selecting a replacement for president Lyndon Johnson.

However, before any of this, Paulsen was known, if at all, for what may have been a piece of performance art. Here’s an unbylined wire service story from March 4, 1966.
One Artist Who Uses His Head
GLENDALE, Calif. (AP) - Artist Pat Paulsen isn't one of those persons who can't face his work.
To the contrary. Paulsen, 35, plunged into his art with gusto, beard, nose and hair.
Using his head, the San Franciscan eschews more traditional means of applying pigment to canvas. And an exhibition of his "cranial painting" is now on display at a Glendale theater restaurant.
Paulsen begins by spreading a blank canvas on the floor and placing several mounds of brightly colored pigments on the canvas. He then dips his beard into the primary "soul" color and he's ready.
The first stroke is a sensual curving jaw swirl, then the free-form motion of a deftly maneuvered ear, then the sharp visual staccato of the nose daub, a cheek-jaw swirl, an elevated nose daub and a forceful jaw sweep.
With a rope from an overhead tripod he then lashes one foot and hoists himself upside-down. Hovering over the canvas, he dips the top of his head into the color, spins, swings and dances, climaxing the masterpiece.
Says one reviewer:
"Pat Paulsen is not a great painter, but he is a good paintbrush."



The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour debuted on February 5, 1967, and aired Sundays at 9. A month earlier, Paulsen had been scraping the paint off windows in a housing project for $2 an hour. Now, he had become an overnight sensation with his deadpan, uncomfortably-delivered fake commentaries. The wire services started writing about him. First, a story from May 13th from the National Enterprise Association.
Pat Paulsen Instant Hit On TV Show
By ERSKINE JOHNSON

HOLLYWOOD (NEA)—The night sad-faced comedian Pat Paulsen read his first editorial about auto safety, on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour on CBS-TV, the producers counted on possible audience mail response.
But all they found a few days later in the post office box they had rented for the purpose was a note reading, "Please see postmaster."
When they saw the postmaster they were astonished.
No post office box anywhere was big enough to hold what the postmaster was holding for them —a stack of 17,000 fan letters.
MOST OF THE letters were from still-laughing people hailing Pat Paulsen and asking for more of him. He has since delivered other editorials (about littering and about firearms) on The Smothers Brothers Show, on which he is a semiregular.
He's on the show because the Smothers Brothers think Pat is "one of the funniest comedians in the country." Pat, you see, can't be serious about anything, including the vital statistics asked of him by the CBS public relations department. His answers were:
Height—9 feet.
Eyes—Several.
Hair—Receding.
Weight—82 pounds.
Birthdate—July 6, 1731.
UNTIL NOW 5-foot-8, 130-pound, 37-year-old Pat Paulsen, who was born near Aberdeen, Wash., has been knocking around on the small night club circuit where his routine includes kidding folk singers and giving impressions and a bit he calls "Cranial Painting."
With nose, jaw and ears daubed with paint, Pat hangs by his heels from a tripod and paints with what he describes as "the nose dab, the jaw swirl, and the free form ear touch."
Off stage, Pat is as versatile as he is on. He writes all of his own material and penned both "Chocolate" and "Mediocre Fred" for the Smothers Brothers. "The latter," he dead-pans, "is the story of my life."
PAT HAS a singing voice almost as big as Jim Nabors' but he laments, "When I try a serious song something happens. I can't control myself. I turn it into a comedy routine."
About himself, Pat says:
"I come on stage with the assurance of a concert pianist and then immediately proceed to fall apart at the seams. My career has been growing in leaps and bounds, bounds and leaps, fits and starts. I may always look sad but I'm a happy person who has had many happy years with the possible exception of 1958 when, unfortunately, I passed away."
This column is from the TV Key service of King Features Syndicate, dated May 27th. It shows, if nothing else, Paulsen knew how to get publicity, if not gainful employment.
How Pat Paulsen Caught On As Smothers Bros. Regular
By CHARLES WITBECK

Hollywood—One thing about the Smothers Brothers — they're unpredictable.
Like other young headliners with a new variety show, Tom and Dick made the usual noises about highlighting new talent, and, instead of dropping the idea, the brothers introduced a sad-faced comic unknown, Pat Paulsen, to the TV world Sunday nights on CBS.
Paulsen came on as a skinny tennis champ who looked believable until he demonstrated a few ungainly strokes, and later he appeared as the show editorialist, uttering silly diatribes.
Paulsen's put-on act and editorial delivery scored enough aces to warrant return visits until now Pat is considered a regular even though nothing to that effect is in writing. As a clincher, the put-on artist just signed with the brothers' manager, so he doesn't need a contract.
After earning his stripes playing strip joints, go-go palaces, beach hangouts and clubs in New York, San Francisco and Southern California, Paulsen was finally discovered by the brothers performing his tennis act at The Ice House in Pasadena. Pat had known Tom Smothers "vaguely" in San Francisco. The comic made contact again when the boys recorded his song, "Chocolate," and were trying to trace author credits.
• • •
ORIGINALLY, Tom Smothers intended to deliver the weekly editorials which would fit his non sequiture [sic] style, but after catching Paulsen's act, Tom pushed the monologues off on the unknown who tries them out during his current run at The Ice House.
At this stage, Paulsen takes nothing for granted, though he isn't overly worried about bookings for once. The new managers will take care of that, and may put Pat on the Smothers Brothers Las Vegas club act this summer before the gang returns for the fall TV season.
Up to the TV exposure, Paulsen's bids for fame have come from hoaxes designed to attract attention of newspaper wire services. A few years ago at The Ice House, Pat appeared as a cranial painter, a dedicated artist who drew with his long nose and wide forehead.
As a watered down version of Gregory Peck, Pat looked like a crazy artist, and he played his role with dignity, forming a school for cranial painting This foolishness attracted local network cameras and the wire services.
"We had 40 kids down on their knees smudging paint on the floor with their faces," said Pat. "It was beautiful. You can't believe the glory in rubbing faces in paint."
• • •
PAULSEN recreated the same act in Vancouver, British Columbia, outside on a sidewalk, rhythmically daubing away while a jazz band played in the background. He was arrested for the publicity stunt and charges were dismissed. The club owner was overjoyed with the publicity and news space.
Attempting to top this stunt, Pat walked on water for photographers, gingerly treading upon a chair hidden below the surface. Again the wire services bit, filming the comedian taking two steps before he plunged to the bottom.
The idea came from a similar act across the Pacific performed by an Indian mystic who charged admission and then failed to deliver. Pat took a more reasonable stand, earning news comments from friendly reporters, like "Paulsen walked on water faster than normally."
It is doubtful whether such hoaxes will take place on The Smothers Brothers Show. Pat uses the writers' material, saving his own for club dates. But he's thinking all the time, and jots down one-line gags on a pad he carries around, little quickies which can be used to put down hecklers.
• • •
THESE WERE important in the beginning when some engagements turned out to be duds. "At first I used to write out jokes which seemed very funny to me on paper, but turned out to be flops to the audience," said Pat. "That's when I needed the heckler-stoppers."
Pat would walk out and look everywhere but at the audience as he went through his routines. Silence stopped this habit as he learned to relax with a series of non-jokes before attempting a song. "It was a little five minute routine that worked for seven years," he said, "and I never had to sing."
The Paulsen repertoire has expanded considerably over the learning years in tiny clubs, and the performer can tell jokes, offer put-ons, imitate 50 different types and look at his audience.
"Nothing bothers me any more," says the new TV find. "I can get laughs anyplace except at home. I don't try out material in the living room because my wife doesn't find, me amusing, and that's a blessing."
Paulsen may have lost the U.S. presidential election campaign in 1968, but he did win something—an Emmy for special achievement. Actually, he and Art Carney both won. Both were unexpectedly the victims of a screw-up on the Emmy telecast on NBC. The director called for a split screen of Carney in New York and Paulsen in Los Angeles. That part worked fine. But neither knew what to do or, apparently, even if they were on the air. They kind of stared around for a bit. Being an Emmy-winner, Paulsen went on to host the Smothers’ summer show in 1968 with singer Glen Campbell, then was given his own Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour on ABC at the start of 1970. Despite a writing corps that included Steve Martin, Bob Arbogast, Bob Einstein and Tom Koch, it was taken off the air after four months. Paulsen rejoined the Smothers on a new ABC show on July 8th that lasted until mid-September.

Paulsen continued to stay in the news with phoney presidential runs, but he wasn’t doing terribly much television any more. On April 2, 1997, the Associated Press reported Paulsen had inoperable brain cancer that had spread from his colon. On the 24th, he was dead. But his deadpan character still inspires political and social satirists today.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

See the Flea

Frames from What Price Fleadom, a 1948 cartoon directed by Tex Avery starring Homer the Flea, who decides to park himself on a bulldog, where a cute girl flea resides. The bulldog takes exception.



You know this gag is coming. Scream from the MGM archive by Bill Hanna.



Walt Clinton, Bob Bentley and Gil Turner received the animation credits, with Johnny Johnsen providing the backgrounds. Pinto Colvig is the mongrel who fights to get Homer back.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Stan Lee, This Generation's Homer

People today are trying to put into words what Stan Lee meant to the comic book industry. Some, I hope, will succeed.

I won’t even try. I have never read a Marvel Comic book (nor one from DC). I have no interest in superheroes, though I watched Batman and the Canadian-voiced Spider-Man cartoon series of the ‘60s on TV (the latter is where I first saw Lee’s name). About all I know about him is from the very opinionated fandom surrounding superhero comics/films and his personal soap opera played out in the entertainment press (and will, perhaps, continue despite his passing today at age 95). Whatever I could say would sound trite, obvious and inadequate.

Instead, I will pass along the earliest interview in the popular press with Lee I’ve been able to scope out. It’s by Dean Pope of the Philadelphia Inquirer of March 17, 1966. His legions of fans, I hope, will find his quotes of interest.

ZAP! POW! Comics Sweep Princeton
PRINCETON, March 16
NOT even the Ivy League could escape.
Before you could say ZAP or POW the craze for comic book heroes had taken over Princeton University and Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk were big men on campus.
A hard core of about 70 Princeton students demonstrated their devotion to the superheroes by turning out for a two-hour comic session last week featuring one of the Nation’s top comic publishers.
The meeting was sponsored by the Merry Marvel Marching Society, one of the several organizations on campus devoted by comics, and the speaker was Stan Lee, editor and writer of Marvel Comics.
Lee has been in the comic book business 25 years, but only recently have his publications come into their own, he said. “When we switched to superheroes five years ago the boom started for us,” he said.
The superheroes include the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, Captain America, the X-men, Iron Man, Sergeant Fury and His Howling Commandoes and Dr. Strange.
The Princeton audience seemed to agree ecstatically with everything Lee said, which may be one of the reasons his company sold 45 million comic books last year compared to a mere 13 million five years ago.
“We think of Marvel Comics as the 20th century mythology, and you, Mr. Lee, as this generation’s Homer,” a Princeton junior told the speaker.
“I’ve always thought my education was based on the comics,” said an English major. “They were always set in some way out place like Crete or the ruins of Ankor Watt. That’s what stimulated my intellectual curiosity and sense of history and adventure.”
The student then asked Lee why he didn’t have an archeologist with superpowers to go along with his assortment of radioactive teenagers and Norse gods. “We could have a plumber with superpowers and it would sell,” the editor answered.
* * *
Lee said he felt “like a father” to his comic creations. “I pretend I’m Shakespeare,” he said. “Right now comics are the lowest art form in peoples’ minds. I’d like to fit them to equality with the movies. Then I’d be the Segei Eisenstein [sic] of comics.”
Lee said the usual method for creating a comic story is for the writer to give the artists a plot, the artists draw the panels, and then the writer fills in the dialogue.
He said sometimes new characters get slipped in by artists. “I marvel that everyone doesn’t copy our methods,” he said.
The comics publisher defended his industry as “the only media appealing to college students and soldiers which doesn’t emphasize sex. True, there’s a certain amount of ‘action or violence,’ but that’s to make the stories exciting,” he said.
Lee said comics used to sell predominantly in the summer but with a rising market among students and soldiers sales are now steady throughout the year. “We’re so ‘in’ that we haven’t reached the general public yet,” he said.
But Lee added new people aren’t coming into the industry like they should.
“I don’t know where the new people in comics are going to come from,” he said. “All those in it now are old and there are no bright young artists coming from places like the School of Visual Arts in New York where they used to study cartooning for the comics.”
Tom Tulenko, president of the Merry Marvel Marchings Society, said many other Princeton students are avid comic readers in addition to the 60 or 70 in formal club chapters. He and his twin brother Tim have been devotees for years and have hundreds of comics piled in their dorm room.
“Very few freshmen join,” he said. “Most of the guys wait until they get to be upperclassmen before they really get into this stuff.”

Waffles at the Piano

“Devoid of logical continuity and with very few gags” is how Film Daily described the 1932 Van Beuren cartoon The Last Dance. But, realistically, isn’t that how you can describe a lot of Van Beuren cartoons?

Sure, it may not make a lot of sense, and it may not be funny, but it has dancing fish and a radiator being played like an accordion.



It has a dancing hat rack, one of those big-headed parrots that pops up in some early ‘30s Van Beurens and a bird cage played like a banjo. The fox looks like he’s wearing a party hat over his nose.



It has Waffles the cat (with lashes at the top and bottom of his eyes) singing the Roy Turk-Fred Ahlert song “Why Dance” to an unidentified girl cat.



And it has a bear character with one of those weird stares at the camera. If this were a better copy, you’d see the stars in his eyes. I like how his ears and tail look like little stubby cactus plants.



John Foster and Manny Davis are responsible for this short, with Gene Rodemich cobbling together the score.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Trouper for the Troops

It’s doubtful few people think that living in the jungles of Melanesia is the way to spend a summer. But some fighting forces during World War Two didn’t have much of a choice. That’s where the enemy was, and that’s where the military brass told them to go.

There were a few who did make the choice to go there, and into other danger spots around the world. They were entertainers, doing their part to help the morale, and maybe sanity, of the people in uniform.

Among them was Jack Benny, who arrived in New Guinea on July 14, 1944 with Carol Landis, Martha Tilton, Larry Adler and June Brunner. They were greeted on their arrival by Special Service Officer Captain Lanny Ross. Jack was no slacker during the war. He also toured Africa, Europe and the Middle East with a unit while the Allies’ battled together.

There were reporters as well. George Lait of the International News Service caught one of the Benny shows in New Guinea. He wrote in the August 2, 1944 edition of Variety, in part:
Benny is making all the jungle camps where it stops raining long enough for his hour-and-a-half show. Hospitals, outdoor stages, and the rear end of trucks serve the troupe, and each performance has been seen by audiences so huge and so enthusiastic that even the Shuberts would be satisfied.
Benny opens the rapid-fire vaudeville-type revue as m.c., and never was funnier, even when he had Rochester at his side instead of a couple of bushy-haired Papauan natives...
Then comes Landis—gorgeous in a revealing costume—and the GIs soon. She sings, tells gags alone and with Benny, and kids the boys who shout wisecracks from the audience. Her smash bit is a love scene with Benny, whose kiss is apparently so hot Carole faints, and is carried off-stage by a burly MP (his is the best job in the Army). There’s talk around, though, that Miss Landis swooned for an entirely different reason. Benny, it’s said, just loves onions... The flash finale is a rendition by the whole troupe (even Benny) singing Harold Rome’s “Hup Hup,” from “Stars & Gripes,” with scattered audience participation. It leaves the crowd satisfied and happy.
Benny’s comedy holds the show together and gives it a speedy pace which the old Palace could well envy. His monologs are filled with local gags, and uses bits of pidgin (native manner of speaking English) and draws howls with pitch-and-toss banter to the audience.
More touching, perhaps, is Robbin Coons’ Associated Press press column on the show. He published highlights of a letter from an American soldier who caught the Benny show. More on the letter in a moment. The earliest I can find this version is in one small paper’s editorial section of September 13, 1944. (The photo below came from the INS and is cropped).
Jack Benny Plays, Gags For Troops In Pacific
By Robbin Coons

HOLLYWOOD—Pvt. Woodrow Boone writes from the Pacific:
"Grabbed a chance to make one of Jack Benny's New Guinea appearances at the base hospital this afternoon. . . . We got there by 1:30 on a dusty truck. The hospital is a series of long sheds on a hilltop. There are very tall, slender trees on and beside the hill, reaching above the level of the outdoor theater. The walking and wheelchair cases were already there. . . . Jungle fighters, anxious for a two-hour furlough with folks from home. . . . A blue-and-gold streamlined bird flitted high in the branches and a white parrot flew by. . . . Our own brigade "swingphibian" orchestra marked time in prelude. . . . Three poker games were under way. We made conversation, admired the nurses, and waited. . . .
"Presently two jeeps and a command car drive up behind the theater. The crowd rises, sees no one, settles back. From the right side front row, I see behind the stage a heavy-set, grey-haired, brown-faced civilian in gunmetal tweeds, polo shirt, and red-striped necktie, and I know there'll be a show. Jack disappears into the special service shed for a few minutes; the band continues; we wait.
"Then very casually, swinging a curled swagger stick . . . walks out the greatest trouper of them all, Jack Benny. "Hi ya, fellas!" he says, and all, who can, rise and give him a loud welcome. We gather 'round. One hand reaches out to remember how a red necktie feels. Jack pulls out his shirttail zoot-fashion to let 'em see what that looks like too. One of my buddies from Ohio had said, 'I don't give a damn about seeing Jack Benny I just wanna see a civilian suit!'
"Jack ad libs, autographs my hat, tries it on and mugs for the audience . . . jokes with the orchestra members. . . . By that time the mike is fixed, and Jack takes the stage, more at home than ever. . . . "All the lusty GI jokes. . . . Then he introduces Martha Tilton. She sings; the crowd goes wild. She sings again and again. Blonde Carole Landis comes on in a summer frock that fits like it should in the right places. . . . There are Fred Allen jokes, Errol Flynn jokes, and Roosevelt jokes. . . . Carole asks Jack to pretend he's Robert Taylor, and they do a love scene.
"Jack wants to accompany Martha on his violin, but she won't let him. Larry Adler plays a dream of a Beethoven number on his harmonica. . . . More jokes, more songs. Jack begs to accompany Larry on his violin no soap. . . . I see appendectomy cases in the audience holding their sides and trying hard not to laugh. Pretty, petite pianist Jane Bruner almost steals the show with an ad lib about Jack's violin. Jack and Larry drift into a duet. . . .
"Then comes the finale. Five hard-working American artists together on the stage, bringing a touch of the good old U.S.A. to those of us who are far enough away to see what we're really fighting for the right to laugh, the right to enjoy life."
Reporter Coons wasn’t the first to publish this. It comes from A Private’s Journal, published in full in Billboard on August 26, 1944, with a dateline of Sunday, July 30th. Coons simply edited it for public use; after all, who outside the industry ever read Billboard then?

Some of the stuff Coons left out is worth quoting.
Pvt. “Hepcat” Swartz, the drummer, wears a perennial shaved-headed, cue-ball hair-do, and Jack wants to know what kind of hair tonic he uses. The piano-player, named Nolan, is from Waukeegan, and Jack says “I went to school with your father—or was it your grandfather?”
We ask about Rochester. “He had to take a summer job to pay expenses.” Dennis Day? “He left me to join the navy. “For 50 bucks a month?” some O.I. Joe asks. “That’s a damn sight more than I paid him.” ...
All the lusty G.I. jokes that start getting hairy-chested at the point of embarkation, and reach full-blown maturity in direct proportion to their nearness to the front line. . . . “I was surprised to find that very few of the South Pacific islands look like they did in the movies; I haven’t seen a single one that looked like I thought it would. In fact, there’s not a goddamn island in the Pacific that even slightly resembles a Hollywood set. The crowd roars.—“I had a slight touch of dysentery while we were in North Africa. I think you-all call it the G.I.S.”
Coons left off the end of Boone’s story, with its tribute to Jack Benny, who gave selflessly of himself to entertain the troops.
Some G.I’s who came to New Guinea didn’t get a chance to see you, Jack; some others who did may never go back to tell the folks at home about it, but none of us will ever forget you, trouper. You’re Will Rogers without his cowboy hat; you’re Mark Twain without his cynicism; in fact, if you’ll excuse the pun, Jack, you’re the 20th Century “Twain”—Unlimited!
Keep pitchin’, soldier!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Why Woody Wouldn’t Warble

If nothing else, Walter Lantz was pretty astute.

He left Universal for United Artists, but when it turned out not to be a better deal, he stopped making theatrical shorts for about a year, built up some capital from reissues of old cartoons, and when he was in a better financial position, went back into production.

His only problem is his budgets had to be tighter than ever. He found one way of doing it, and solved two problems at the same time. He made Woody Woodpecker a pantomime character. That saved money, and made the cartoons more attractive to foreign exchanges.

Here’s Lantz chatting about it in a 1951 story by the Associated Press. Interestingly, it speaks of Grace Stafford as Woody’s voice. She certainly didn’t voice Woody in the theatricals prior to 1950; perhaps she was doing it in commercials.

This was published on March 22, 1951.
WOODY WOODPECKER'S PLIGHT
By GENE HANDSAKER

HOLLYWOOD (AP) — Woody Woodpecker has lost his voice. Not his raucous laugh — the soundtrack for that is the speeded-up voice of the wife of his creator, Walter Lantz. But no longer will Woody talk. And in pantomime, oddly enough, he's as funny as ever. Maybe funnier.
The expense of dubbing in foreign translations for exported prints inspired Lantz to try a wordless Woody. It costs about $1,500 to hire actors and pay technical costs of changing dialogue to, say, Italian, French, or German. With foreign restrictions on profit exports, that might be more than Woody would return.
The rascally red bird is popular also in Switzerland, Spain, Japan, the Scandinavian countries, Argentina, and India. Sometimes foreign-language subtitles were used, but Lantz thinks they interfere with the action. He's against too much talk even in feature pictures.
"We've all seen pictures that talk, talk, talk," the veteran cartoon producer said. "With less dialogue and more pantomime and acting, they'd be better pictures."
Lantz, 51 and graying, with friendly direct blue eyes, has produced about 700 movie cartoons in 35 years. That includes 55 Woody Woodpeckers in the last decade. The inkwell character was suggested to Lantz by a real woodpecker that woke him up by drumming on the roof of his week-end cabin. Woody's first appearance was as a supporting character to Andy Panda, but he soon stole the show.
Lantz, dissatisfied with his former releasing arrangement, recently took a year off from producing Woodies. Now he has signed a new contract for six a year with Universal-International and is redecorating and streamlining his studio for a busy output.
It’s a shame Handsaker’s story is so short. But he got a few chances to talk to Lantz again. Here’s a brief mention in his column from January 26, 1952.
Chit-Chat from Hollywood
By GENE HANDSAKER

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—If anybody boils at those middle commercials on TV shows, it's mild-mannered Walter Lantz. Says the producer of Woody Woodpecker and other screen cartoons:
"I don't know, what could be more disturbing. You're watching a drama. Some guy is all ready to be knocked off. Then another guy comes on and starts talking about ice-cold beer. This spoils the mood, and they don't pick it up again. I'm becoming a radio fan again-—because of TV commercials."
Lantz is turning out one-minute commercials plugging a soft drink and car equipment But he hopes they'll be used only once per program—and not in the middle. Incidentally, his cartoon star is just like the human variety when it comes to television. A releasing contract with Universal-International keeps Woody Woodpecker off TV.
Let’s pick up Handsaker again in 1967. By now, Woody was talking on screen again (with Grace Stafford’s voice) and had been since 1952. Lantz was still releasing cartoons to theatres and had managed, starting in 1957, to put Woody on TV in a half-hour show in which he was the host, to the delight of all kinds of kids. Woody was selling cereals for Kellogg’s on TV and bread for Butternut in print. There were comic books and merchandise to help add to the Lantz coffers.

Lantz’ career dated back to the silent era and he was honoured a number of times for his decades of contributions to animation. This Handsaker story was published May 21, 1967. You’ll notice the “Woody creation” story above now mentions that canard about a honeymoon. Lantz (and Gracie) related it time and time again for the rest of their lives. It simply isn’t true.
Luncheon Given At Universal For Walter And Gracie Lantz
By GENE HANDSAKER
HOLLYWOOD (AP)— Walter is 67, gray-fringed and shy. Gracie, 63 and jolly, kids him about the bags under his blue eyes.
"Walter was born with his eyes packed to go somewhere."
"No," he corrects merrily: "They've only been that way since I was 3."
One of Hollywood's happiest teams—in marriage, work and play—Walter and Gracie Lantz will be honored at a Universal City Studios luncheon next Wednesday for: —
—Their combined century in show business, and;
—Twenty-five years of their Woody Woodpecker animated cartoons, inspired by a bird that disturbed their honeymoon and has made them million-dollar rich.
Lantz, a son of Italian immigrants and onetime $10-a-week New York newspaper copyboy, got into cartoon animation at 16 and is the only pioneer still active in that field.
The former Grace Stafford entered vaudeville at 12 with her father, a blind pianist, and became a theater, radio and film actress. Of Irish descent, full of impish humor, she has been Woody Woodpecker's raucous voice for 17 years and cracks: "I'm the oldest woodpecker alive."
The Lantzes, introduced at a party, were married in 1941. A woodpecker that drilled holes in the roof of their honeymoon cabin—and that Walter couldn't drive away—inspired Gracie's suggestion: Make him a cartoon character.
"So I gave Woody a secondary part in my next Andy Panda, already a star for four years," Walter recalls. "The New York distributors said, 'You must be out of your mind; this raucous bird will never go.'
"But the preview crowds roared. Woody stole the picture and has been a star ever since."
Woody outshone other Lantz characters—Oswald Rabbit, Charlie Bear, Gabby Gator, etc.—and was the emblem of countless U.S. fighter planes in World War II. The Woodpecker Trail, a U.S. highway from Florida to North Carolina, bears Woody's likeness on its signposts urging careful driving.
Kay Kyser's "Woody Woodpecker" record, with Harry Babbitt cackling the vocal, led the hit parade for 13 weeks.
With 32 studio employes, Lantz produces 13 new Woody Woodpecker cartoons and reissues seven a year for theaters in 73 lands. A weekly Woody television show is seen in 200 U.S. cities. Walter makes his preliminary sketches.
Lantz, associated with Universal since his late friend Walt Disney left there in 1928, analyzes Woody's appeal: "He's a mischievous, likable person who does things we'd like to but mustn't."
Work requires only four or five hours a day for Lantz, who says: "You've got to have hobbies."
His include oil paintings— mostly still-lifes, which sell, to his amazement, for $500 apiece—fishing, with Gracie, who once landed a 110-pound sailfish with light line—and golf, which they both play.
"We're always having fun," says Walter, and Gracie echoes: "We enjoy everything—even catastrophes."
Golfing at Las Vegas when they heard the 1961 Bel-Air fire had destroyed 460 homes including theirs, they ordered drinks and the most sumptuous meal of their lives.
Walter is president and Gracie vice president of Walter Lantz Productions, Inc. As for any thought of retirement he says: "As long as I can entertain children, I'll keep going."
Lantz finally ended theatrical production in 1972. He crunched the numbers. It took him too long to see a substantial profit on new cartoons. He was content to have Universal release his back catalogue to theatres and make his money that way.

By every account I’ve read Walter and Gracie Lantz, especially during their senior years, were pleasant and delightful people who truly loved their cartoons and the effect they had on both kids and adults (even though the stuff in the last half of the ‘60s and in the ‘70s was completely forgettable).

Handsaker had a chance to chat with the Lantzs again. We posted it here. We’ve got more of Lantz’ comments from his retirement years we’ll save for a future post.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Try the Eel For a Meal

All kinds of great scenes highlight Daffy Duck’s debut in Porky’s Duck Hunt (1937). One starts out with something you’d expect from Tex Avery—a sign to act as a helpmate to those in the theatre audience who can’t quite follow the action.



And in case we still don’t quite get it.



Daffy decides to have eel sushi for lunch.



Now comes the fun part.



Whenever you get annoyed about how Daffy’s character was reduced to being an angry, incompetent foe in some unfunny cartoons with Speedy Gonzales, instead think back to this cartoon, and let your memories of drunken fish singing “Moonlight Bay,” Porky pulling out the script or Daffy sliding around the closing title card overcome you. This is a great comedy that holds up 80-plus years after its release.

Bobe Cannon and Virgil Ross are the animators credited on screen but Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and (I suspect) Sid Sutherland employed their craft on this one.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

An Anvil Gag From Walt Disney

“When was the first anvil dropped onto someone in a cartoon?” you may be asking yourself. I’m afraid I don’t have the answer, but it goes back to the silent era.

In fact, that gag staple of the outrageous Tex Avery was used before him by the guy who is thought of as the polar opposite of Tex—that “illusion of life” man, Walt Disney.

Of course, there was a time before Uncle Walt wanted his animators to caricature real life. He went for the gag, like anyone else. In the 1927 cartoon Alice the Whaler, Walt pulls the old anvil gag (or maybe the new one, depending on when it was first used). What’s interesting is props appear and disappear during a scene on deck with a monkey. He’s pulling a rope. At least, he looks like he is. Then the rope fades in. He tugs at the stuck rope. Down comes the anvil. Bam! Then the anvil fades away.



This cartoon’s hit and miss. There’s a gag where a parrot eats musical notes. Yeah, that’s it. But there’s a bizarre one where a mouse shoves a plunger or something down a hen’s throat and forces eggs out of the other end.

I imagine Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising animated parts of this one.