Wednesday, 22 September 2021

He Didn't Want to be a Yokel

Buddy Ebsen really didn’t want the role that brought him everlasting fame.

He’d played enough rural types over the years, he felt, and wanted something different. But then Paul Henning came up with The Beverly Hillbillies, and felt Ebsen would be right for Jed Clampett. He read the pilot script to Ebsen and the man who had worn buckskin as Davey Crockett’s sidekick agreed to do the series.

Here’s Ebsen in a syndicated newspaper story that appeared around April 14, 1962, a good five months ahead of his debut as head of the Clampett clan. He talks about some of the roles he liked.

Buddy Ebsen Sheds Bumpkin Roles

NEW YORK—The big mop of farm boy hair is mostly gray, with patches of white now, and the sideburns are more Hollywood than Belleville, Ill. The suit is dark and richly tailored. The tie is white. And the outlook from those light blue eyes is sophisticated. But you'd recognize Buddy Ebsen anywhere.
He's still the boy friend of Judy Canova, the sidekick of Davey Crockett, and the long-boned drink of water who danced with Shirley Temple in "Cap'n January" so many years ago. He still gives that slow, stiff stretch of the shoulders before he speaks.
Just under his left eye, there's a piece of tape. "I had a little thing there I had taken off," he said. "Do you tend to be a warty fellow?" he was asked, somewhat crassly. "Oh, yeah, I used to get dozens of warts on my hands when I was a kid back in Belleville."
So there you've got him, warts and all Buddy Ebsen.
Ebsen is in New York at the moment rehearsing for a Westinghouse Presents drama by Tad Mosel, in the illustrious company of Jason Robards Jr., Kim Stanley and Patricia Neal. You'll get a chance to see "That's Where the Town's Going!" Tuesday, 10 p.m.
"I play a kind of alley cat in a small Midwestern town, who's hovering over these two spinsters. Jason Robards breezes in, stirs things up, and then leaves again. At the end, I'm still hovering. "And the thing is, what the girls really need is me."
He smiled a sweet, bumpkin grin, with a glint of evil in it "See?" Is that the way the part was written? a visitor asked. "Well," Ebsen said, with a stretch of the shoulders, "that may not be what Mosel had in mind, but it's what I have in mind."
Later, Ebsen will go back to Hollywood to film a few episodes for a series he'll star in for CBS next fall. Beverly Hillbillies, it's called, and it concerns an Ozark clan that strikes it rich in oil and moves in on an upper crust community near Hollywood.
"Y'see, I'm a hayseed again," he said, with a note of regret in his voice.
Ebsen didn't exactly start that way. He came to New York in 1926, with only a few coins in his pockets and the notion of being a doctor in his mind. He soda-jerked for a while and then, suddenly, he had a spot with his sister Vilma in the Ziegfeld show, "Whoopee."
The dance team of Vilma and Buddy Ebsen was a headliner for years on the vaudeville circuit—part of a troupe called Benny Davis and His Future Stars. Then came "Flying Colors," the Follies and Hollywood. "Broadway Melody of 1936" was the first one, then Broadway stardom in "Yokel Boy," then back to the movies for a string of hayseed parts.
Not long ago, Ebsen and his business manager came to a conclusion.
"We decided that we'd make the part the thing and not the money. We'd talk about the money later. So, along came 'Breakfast at Tiffany's and we grabbed it. In ‘The Interns’ I play the head of a hospital. There's no smell of the barn in that one.
“I like to get out of the overalls whenever I can. And no more buckskins, for me, no, sir! In hot weather, you melt in 'em, and in winter, they hang on you like a wet fish. I don't know how the pioneers could stand 'em.
"Now a part I’d like is 'Dodsworth.' My wife is an actress and one day she and I might just do it together. I’m in a playwriting group at UCLA and I have a play written—pretty good, too—and a musical book I have some hopes about."
Did he ever play a villain?
"Well, there are dirty dog villains and gray villains. I can do a gray one okay. My favorite part was in a cowboy movie where I was a coldblooded murderer but so charmin’, a real likable feller when I wasn't bumpin’ somebody off."
To look at him, there's nothing gray or dirty dog about Buddy Ebsen, no, sir.

Critics hated the Hillbillies. They wanted sophisticated, erudite television, and they saw the show as a continued dumbing down of American culture—improbable situations played out in front of a laugh track heard everywhere else. They couldn’t understand why the show quickly became a smash hit. That was addressed by the Los Angeles Times service’s TV columnist. The story originally ran on November 12, 1962.

Hillbillies Corn? Nation’s All Ears

"Everybody keeps asking why," said Buddy Ebsen. "Why, why, why?
"I don't know why. If I knew why people watch one show instead of another, I wouldn't be working here—I'd be a millionaire."
Buddy grinned his slow, easy, grin, scratched his stubbly chin. The whys being tossed at him concern why the Beverly Hillbillies, an innocuous comedy, waist-deep in corn, is the phenomena of this TV season.
I was on the set the other day just after Mr. Nielsen's busy figures had determined that the Hillbillies had nudged Lucille Ball out of the top spot on the rating polls and in five short weeks had become the most popular show on television, watched each Wednesday night by some 35 million people.
Even writer-creator Paul Henning is astonished at this smashing success because it seems to cross all levels of life, delighting sophisticates and rustics alike, as popular in New York as it is in Nashville. Perhaps the best answer to why comes from Ebsen, the Grandpa Clampett of the series, who says: "We were born into such a plethora of agony shows that people grabbed something that took 'em away."
It was a happy set, spreading across a vast sound-stage, duplicating the formal elegance of the Beverly Hills mansion the hillbillies bought with their oil millions. They were shooting a swimming pool scene with Donna Douglas and Max Baer Jr.
It has been said of blond Donna that she may do for bluejeans what Lana Turner did for the sweater. As effective as the beautiful Donna is in bluejeans, you should check her in a skin-tight bathing suit. She's one of the seven wonders of the world. Maybe all seven.
The incredibly talented Dick Wharf, who directs the show, shrugged, and said: "It's a comic strip. It means nothing, preaches nothing, says nothing—it's just for fun. And with this great cast—with Ebsen and Irene Ryan and Bea Benadaret and the others—it's a ball to do."
I'm always amazed at Wharf. A splendid actor, a fine director, an excellent painter, a noted sculptor he's a Renaissance man. Donna, who studies metaphysics, says: "It's just that he's a Gemini. Geminis are directed by the brain and they can do many things."
Donna wrinkled her pretty forehead and added: "I went home last week to Baton Rouge and to a football game and people kept surrounding me and yelling, 'Hi, Elly Mae.' I don't know about this. It's scary."
Irene Ryan, grandma of the show, wriggled her toes in the old Army brogans she wears. "They wanted to get some different shoes, but I went back to these. They're my funny shoes. I feel funny everytime I put 'em on."
Buddy Ebsen shook his head. "Hillbillies," he said. "When Paul Henning mentioned hillbillies to me, I started to run for the hills. I'd played too many hillbillies. But then he told me about 'em and he got me to laughing and here I am."
Maybe that's the real answer to why the Beverly Hillbillies are the country's TV delight. When they mentioned hillbillies, everybody headed for the hills. But then they got to laughing and . . .

Ebsen played Clampett for nine years before taking a breather and moving on to a non-hayseed TV role that lasted eight years—detective Barnaby Jones. Both were good parts, but I imagine fans of ordinary folk getting the best of city slickers every week enjoyed Ebsen as Clampett more than a jug of white lightning after a weekend hayride.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

The Soundtrack Laughs But We Don't

UPA’s The Emperor’s New Clothes (1953) is smothered in overly busy settings, repetitious dialogue, at times non-existent animation and a non-melodic score that’s in some non-major key (before it lapses into a march cadence heard over and over).

Not only are there times when mouths don’t move during dialogue, but after the climax when the monotone whiny boy reveals the emperor has no clothes, there’s laughter, but the camera cuts to static drawings. There’s even a part where windows go from open to closed with no in-betweens, but the sound of them shutting and the laughter stopping is about a second late on the soundtrack. Here are the drawings.

There may be laughter on the screen but I doubt there was any in the theatre audience.

Paul Julian designed this cartoon, with music by Benjamin Lees. Hans Conried gets a voice credit; the women don’t. This was the first theatrical directed by Ted Parmelee.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Challenging Sam to a Duel

Look at Bugs Bunny’s fingers in these scenes from Hare Trimmed (1953) and the little moustache twirl for added personality.

If I had to guess, I’d say Virgil Ross and his assistant Warren Batchelder were at work here.

Art Davis, Ken Champin and Manny Perez also animate on this short from the Friz Freleng unit at Warners, with a tidy story from Warren Foster.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Jack Benny Fans Unite

The internet has improved things so much for people who like to share common interests. Just log on and read or chat. En masse.

Kids today don’t know what it was like before everyone had access to the world in the palm of a hand (Old man shakes fist). You maybe got a newsletter or magazine in your mailbox (the kind where you pull out something that has a postage stamp on it). Maybe someone organised an annual convention if the group was interested enough.

An example is the International Jack Benny Fan Club. It still issues an old-fashioned newsletter. It has a web site where members and others can access a forum and leave posts. The forum is still there, but everyone seems to prefer communicating on Facebook, posting pictures, links to videos, asking questions and even hooking up with those connected to the show (Eddie Anderson’s daughter drops by. So does Sammy the Drummer’s daughter).

The Benny Club Facebook group has 5,500 plus members. Compare that to the story below. Laura Lee (under a different surname) still loves Jack and still runs the club after all this time. This story is 30 years old, appearing in newspapers on December 29, 1991.

Laura Lee is 22 and crazy about Benny
By Murry Frymer

Knight-Ridder Tribune News Writer
PALO ALTO, Calif.—There is one fascinating facet of show business that, to me, has always been a curiosity. It's the fan club, the collection of fanatics who make the avid absorption of a show-biz star a major factor in their lives.
Is it a chance to shine through reflected glory? Is it an addiction?
Laura Lee was 5 years old when comedian Jack Benny died. She doesn't remember it as a cataclysmic event.
But then, just five years later, she formed the Jack Benny Fan Club, and now, at 22. Laura Lee heads an organization that spans nine countries, from Egypt to Scotland, from Israel to Germany.
There are 300 card-carrying members, the youngest age 2 and the oldest 95. (The 2-year-old was coerced into joining by her parents, both members.) The oldest is George Burns, one of the first members, who joined because Jack Benny was his best friend.
What is more difficult to ascertain is why Laura Lee formed the Jack Benny Fan Club in the first place and why she devotes so much time to informing herself about the comedian.
Her answers to the question seem rather cryptic to anyone not so possessed.
"WELL, I just enjoyed his style of humor. I didn't like slapstick comics, because I was always afraid they would hurt themselves. Jack Benny was not like that. Many of my friends liked Jack, too, and one of them encouraged me to start the club," Lee says in her office at Quintiles Pacific, a pharmaceutical company in Palo Alto, where she supervises shipping and receiving.
The friend "said it was better to light one candle than to sit around and curse the darkness."
Instead of cursing the darkness, Lee has sought out anyone and everyone connected with Benny—his one-time writers, co-stars, adopted daughter, friends. She knows enough about the man to fill a book. And she has done just that, a compilation on Benny's career that is now in the library at the Smithsonian Institution. It's called "39 Forever" and sells for a thrifty $15.
New information about the comedian shows up in the bimonthly Jack Benny Times, a Xeroxed newsletter Lee writes and produces herself. Members reveal bits of trivia and ask for background.
The newsletter's Jack Benny Classified includes such items as: "Paul Pinch has Xeroxes of London Palladium programmes from three of Jack's appearances, which are available for trade." The address is in London.
PETER TATCHELL, meanwhile, is trying to get dates of three ancient Benny TV shows, which he describes in detail.
And Phil Evans wants to know the name of the theater where Jack Benny performed on Oct. 15 and 27, 1927. Evans already knows that the Frankie Trumbauer band was in the pit. Apparently, a new comic routine involving the band originated that night, and Evans, in his painstaking research, has found that it was repeated on the Lawrence Welk TV show of Oct. 23, 1962.
On such minutiae do fan clubs thrive.
Lee ran her club from her home in Ft. Wayne, Ind.. until moving to Castro Valley, Calif., this year. Much of her Benny memorabilia is still back home in Indiana.
But the knowledge Lee carries around in her head is amazing. In fact, an actor named Eddie Carroll, who is planning a one-man stage show on Benny, recently met with Lee to learn more about the comic.
Lee knows innumerable facts and dates. For example, Benny's home address in Beverly Hills was 10231 Charing Cross, but the house was torn down by a buyer who built what Lee calls a mausoleum.
Lee claims to know intimate details but says, "In most cases I was sworn to secrecy. His friends made me promise never to tell, but still they wanted me to know."
How did the long-running age-39 joke begin? "On one show," Lee says, "Jack said he was 37, and when he had his next birthday on the show he said he was 38. The following year he turned 39. "They were going to have a big blowout the next year when he was going to turn 40, but Jack said no 39 was a funny number, and 40 wasn't. And anyway, it was funny to stay 39, because people made a big deal out of turning 40."
"Benny claimed Waukegan as his home town on the show, and he did grow up there," Lee says. "But Benny was actually born in Chicago.
"Actually" is a word you hear a lot when talking to Lee. She seems to actually know everything about Benny.
As, I suppose, do all the members. If you hurry, you can be a member before the annual memorial of Benny's death. Jack Benny died Dec. 26. 1974. He was born Feb. 14, 1894.
At his death, he was 39.
The bimonthly Jack Benny Times is available for a penurious $6.39 a year from the Jack Benny Fan Club, 3561 Somerset Ave., Castro Valley, Calif. 94546.

I imagine the address is outdated. You can read the club on-line at this address or check out the Facebook group. There are nice people there. I’ll bet you all know of them know who Dreer Pooson is.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

The Enemy Bacteria

World War Two kept cartoon studios busy with work for the U.S. government. Perhaps Walter Lantz’s best known cartoon for military release is The Enemy Bacteria (1945).

The film was ambitious. It combines animation and live action over 28 minutes, with a few humanised germs combined with effects animation of masses of bacteria. It’s also pretty ham-handed, as I guess the U.S. Navy did not want humour or subtlety to get the message across. The first five minutes features nothing but hand-washing and strident music and narration. Dick Lundy directed the animation portion. Ray Taylor handled the live action, Virgil Miller was the photographer while Milburn Stone1 (getting some pre-Gunsmoke experience as a doctor) and Mel Blanc provided voices. Darrell Calker supplied the score2.

(Note: Shamus Culhane, in his book “Talking Animals and Other People,” states he directed The Enemy Bacteria with Art Heineman drawing the layouts. Dick Lundy told Mark Mayerson in a 1976 interview he directed the film. It could very well be they both directed parts of it, but the article below clearly shows Lundy was the animation director).

The Enemy Bacteria was in the planning stages in 19443 and the animation took roughly six months4. It was screened for reporters on September 20, 19455 and given a lengthy profile in the November 1945 issue of “American Cinematographer.” It may be a little technical, but it explains how the cartoon was made. There’s some flag-waving by Lantz as well. The photos, scanned at a maddeningly low resolution, were part of the article. You can read the caption by hovering your mouse over each picture. The full film can be seen on several video web-sharing sites, and I’ve been reminded (since writing this) that Jerry Beck posted a little bit about this several-reeler some time ago with some lovely frame grabs.

Lucite and Lantz Came Through For The Navy

PRACTICALLY every moviegoer is familiar with Walter Lantz Cartune characters: Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Wally Walrus and the others. But comparatively few people know anything about Lantz’ cooperation with our government in turning out twenty-two training films for the U. S. Navy. And they’re worth hearing about, too, because among other things, a new method developed during their production, has opened up hitherto unexplored fields in the realms of education and industry.
Lantz himself, quiet, pleasant, unassuming, has made his entry into the motion picture industry’s Hall of Fame in a completely unorthodox and uniquely un-Hollywoodish manner. In a town where short contracts are the rule and frequent turnover of personnel is the expected thing, Walter Lantz is unusual. For he has a phobia against job-changing and traces his connection with Universal Pictures through seventeen uninterrupted years of successful growth. In fact, Lantz’ tenure at that studio dates back to the regime of “Uncle” Carl Laemmle, its founder.
When Lantz and his staff first undertook the job of turning out training films for the Navy they found they were up against a towering obstacle: Time, spelled with a capital T. Those pictures had to be turned out, not only well, but, as Lantz says, “Yesterday!”
With Germany and Japan undefeated, there was no question of “take your time, boys, and give us a good job.” The government couldn’t afford to sit quietly by and wait for training films. New recruits had to be given the quickest possible instruction; those boys were needed on the battlefield, in the air, on the water and under the water. And—they had to be well-trained.
That’s where the motion picture industry came in. Hollywood had facilities and the “know how” of telling a story—any story, whether romance, comedy or instruction to kill—better than could be done through any other medium. The government knew it; negotiated and gave contracts to carefully selected Hollywood producers to furnish the needed pictures. Those were important films to all of us! Films rushed to training centers throughout the country where they would play a major role in the gigantic job of equipping American boys for the grisly business of war. Films that would hurry the day of total annihilation of our enemy, and bring our boys safely home again.
And so “speed” and “rush” became the order of the day. With every split second precious, Lantz knew he was up against a tremendous responsibility. He estimated that the first picture alone (which dealt with bomb fuses) would take a whole year to produce, if old methods of animation were employed. Obviously, a new method had to be devised; a method that would save time, yet not lessen the efficacy of the film. And so he and his staff entirely discarded old ideas of cartoon animation and set to work to discover that “new method.”
First, it was decided that, wherever possible, actual parts of the bomb fuse would be used. For other parts of the fuse plastic was employed, thus making it possible to photograph right into the fuse and show its actual workings. The almost microscopic parts were then enlarged so that they and their functions were clearly discernible. Workings of the fuse were shown in stop-motion. Incidentally, all of the machine work was done in the Lantz studio.
By thus showing the various mechanical devises set in plastic, the Navy recruits did not have to guess or imagine how a bomb fuse worked—they got a true pieture of its actual operation. Of the twenty-two Lantz training films, eleven were on Bombs and Bomb Fuses.
Other films included “Enemy Bacteria”—the only training film they made in color—and pictures on torpedo instruction. “Enemy Bacteria” combined live action with animation and was shot on Monopack film, a system that requires a single exposure process similar to Kodachrome. It represents a considerable saving on original film and it is further desirable because it does not necessitate the use of a special Technicolor camera. Any camera can be used for the Monopack system. Lantz thinks it will be used almost exclusively for the color pictures of the future.

The Torpedo pictures were very interesting and had to show the various wakes of ships, and the course taken when the torpedo was fired. For these, rear-projection screens were devised, with the wakes of torpedoes and wakes of ships being worked out with lighting rather than drawings. Also, instead of drawings of the ships, exact replicas, furnished by the government, were used. Perfect down to the smallest detail, these miniature ships ranged in size from four inches to one foot in length.
To get the correct effect, it was first necessary to decide where the wake should be, then it was superimposed on the back of glass by a special mechanical devise. It could be made to animate. By the same process, the course of torpedos going through water could also be shown. Blowing up of ships was very realistically reproduced with electrical flashes of light showing explosions.
One of the biggest problems was solved when they decided to shoot through transparency. At first, shooting through glass was attempted, but too many difficulties arose. Glass was hard to handle, couldn’t be machined, picked up reflections, scratched easily and heat from the lamps cracked it. After a few other unsuccessful experiments, Lucite was finally selected as being the most adaptable for their needs. Desirable in every respect, not the least of its good qualities was its flexibility, an important item when machining to specific shape.
As to the actual operation of shooting through Lucite, Lantz offers a simple comparison: suppose you remove the gold case from your watch, enclose it in a transparent material, then observe the inner workings of the watch’s mechanism. That’s about the effect accomplished in those training films.
Lantz estimates that, with this new process, the time required to make a picture was cut one-fifth, the cost one-tenth. His studio turned out twenty-two pictures in twenty-eight months, and of course that was in addition to his regular Cartunes. His staff had to be augmented, but not considerably, for with this process four men were able to do the work of thirty men in animation. It eliminated inking on celluloids, painting, air-brush work and drawing of backgrounds.
The government furnished complete scripts and also sent their technical advisors for every subject covered; and these experts supervised every set-up before it was shot.

Lantz thinks the Navy has done a tremendous job in its wartime film production. So has the Army, of course, but they were better equipped at the beginning of the war, having an already operative Signal Corp that immediately went into the production of training films. The Navy had no such organization and had to start from scratch. The Army turned out more films, but even so the Navy Department made over 900 pictures per year during the war. A staggering figure, when you consider that the entire annual output of Hollywood is about 450 features.
Films made by Lantz, plus the actual models for display purposes, are now in use by the government. The government, thinks Lantz, has gained lots of sound, usable technical experience through these developments of his and other producers. Particularly have they benefited in the field of teaching. Undoubtedly, training of both Army and Navy personnel in the future, will largely be undertaken via the approved training film. Previously, all classwork training was given via the usual instructor-textbook road. Now, while instructors and textbooks will not be discarded, neither will they carry the full load. They will be augmented in most helpful fashion by training films, which will be an integral part of every course.
Time required to master any subject will thus be cut to a minimum, no longer will the instructor be required to draw elaborate charts and graphs on blackboards to explain technical points from textbooks. That will all be covered—and amply—in the training film.
Industry, too, will greatly benefit from this new method, avers Lantz. With a technique for showing internal operation of any machine: whether automobile, sewing machine, refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, etc., a new field has been opened to industry. Much of the strife that arises among workers in factories from a misunderstanding of their jobs will be eliminated. Manufacturers will be able to instruct their personnel as to the actual operation of the device or utility they are manufacturing. In large factories, where thousands of men work on one small—and to them unimportant —job, ignorant of what preceeds and follows it, enlightening knowledge can be given to such employees through these films.
It would take years of study and research to master all of the operations that go into the creation of some of our modern machines, and no working man has that much spare time to devote to such an undertaking. But with the motion picture, he can be shown the operation of the plant generally, and his own part in it. While his job may have seemed trivial and unimportant before, when seen in the light of the whole operation, his job would take on added significance.
Lantz believes that the animated cartoon is better able than live action to make such films, because effects impossible to obtain with live action pictures can be accomplished easily and well with animation.
He also thinks that in the near future the government will wish to furnish pictures to the rest of the world. Films sanctioned by government and by various philanthropic groups on a variety of subjects such as hygiene, disease prevention, the cure and remedy of disease, and so on, will increase both in number and in distribution.

As to films made for foreign consumption, he thinks that’s as good a place as any to get in some of our American propaganda. Lantz feels very keenly on the subject of Democracy, U. S. A. style. There’s nothing wrong, to his way of thinking, with democracy, or in all of us doing a little more sincere, honest flag-waving. In fact, he thinks we, as a nation, do entirely too little of it, and sees no reason why we should wait until we are embroiled in war to start thinking of the Star Spangled Banner. It Lantz had his way, our National Anthem would be played at least once an evening in every theater in the land.
As to the importance of the use of films for educational purposes, Lantz grows enthusiastic. Every school has its vocational department, and these films will be of tremendous help in departments particularly where such subjects as electricity, carpentry, work shop are taught. He believes it is only a question of a couple of years when every school will be equipped with these films, which will be an important part of their training program, starting with kindergarten and continuing throughout every grade. Today’s four year’s study course could be cut to one year with such educational films, in Lantz’ opinion.
Another thing of great value, not only to our youth, but to our future as a nation, is some good, fundamental groundwork in American history, and what it means to present-day American life. Lantz would like to see every school teaching our history through educational films. By that he doesn’t mean that the School Boards should spend a couple of million dollars on a film showing Washington crossing the Delaware.
He means short subjects with a purpose—a definite objective behind each picture. Something, he says, with “a little glamour, a little dressing.” Show short incidents, make them vital, real, alive. Show why certain things in our history happened as they did, how they happened, what they mean to us as a nation.
In this suggested program, Lantz would include up-to-date lessons on topics like: “Why Do We Have Taxes?” and show why it is necessary. Subjects like that. Make our youth proud of the fact that they’re United States citizens. Show them reasons why, instead of griping, they can all contribute something of a constructive nature to their government. Most of us are too lazy, says Lantz, we gripe but that’s about all. The best way to improve conditions, is to know more, to be better equipped to help. To hasten this happy state of affairs, educational films are of prime importance.
When asked if his new process would help in the production of his regular Cartunes featuring Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda and Wally Walrus, Lantz shook his head dolefully.
“No, I’m afraid not,” he said. “We still haven’t figured out a sure way of shortening our work on making cartoons. It’s just a tough grind and we have to keep on plugging. Start cheating on cartoons, and they become jumpy and the cheating shows. Frankly, though I love the business, I’ve got to admit: it’s one heluva way to earn a living!”

1 Film Daily, Oct. 4, 1945
2 Hollywood Reporter, August 28, 1944
3 Motion Picture Daily, April 24, 1944
4 Motion Picture Daily, April 19, 1944
5 Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 19, 1945

Friday, 17 September 2021

Here's the Colonel

Before Hanna-Barbera came along with Ruff and Reddy in 1957, another studio was putting a half-hour of new animation on the air.

Soundac’s Colonel Bleep debuted in syndication earlier in the year. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera talked about their “planned” animation. Well, ALL animation is planned. Director Jack Schleh at Soundac had to plan when to reuse cels or cycles, how to make camera movement substitute for animation and when to use a held background and narration.

Here are some examples of the main characters coming into view in one scene from War in Robotland. Each pair are consecutive frames. The director simply holds the drawing in the first frame of each pair for two or three frames before the burred character snaps into focus. The background is continuously moving from right to left, creating the movement. The last one you see is held for 12 frames before an animation cycle is seen on the screen.

Here they are skidding to a stop and taking off past the camera. The drawings are on twos.

Colonel Bleep made up for animation shortcuts with interesting background designs. The stories are directed at children so they likely wouldn’t hold your interest, but the series is worth a look for the artwork.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Changing Flip

Flip turns into a familiar personality, then turns back, in The Soup Song, released by MGM on January 31, 1931. This is about the easiest way to do a transformation in animation. Just don't show the transformation.

Why didn’t he do this when he wanted to change his look in Funny Face a few years later?

I think every studio had a Paul Whiteman gag or caricature around this time, even Van Beuren’s Cubby Bear wore a Whiteman mask.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Rango Was Wrongo

Alright, put your hands up now if you liked Rango.

Hmm. Not too many of you.

Well, I liked it. It starred Tim Conway doing his patented clumsy stuff as the laugh track filled the living room. Hey, it worked for Don Adams. Unfortunately it didn’t work for Conway. It lasted 17 episodes.

Years ago, failures on TV carried on for a full season. The networks had committed the time, sponsors had committed the money. But ABC changed all that. It dumped ratings losers within months and put new shows on the air in January, with the network’s PR machine screaming it was a “Second Season.” Hey, it worked for Batman. Conway’s show was a Western sitcom. Hey, it worked for F Troop.

These stories have more to do with Conway than his soon-to-be first TV failure. This syndicated story ran starting November 16, 1966.

Tim Conway To Ride Scout For Second Season Shows

NEW YORK—ABC's Second Season, known in some quarters as the annual overhaul, is only a few months away (January) and one of its brightest stars has already been dispatched to ride scout for the new premieres.
He's Tim Conway, the bumbling Lt. Parker of the network's successful "McHale's Navy," now about to leave the sea and mount up as "Rango," a bumbling Texas Ranger.
For an actor Tim is virtually unarmed, he does not possess a big ego. A former funny local personality on Cleveland TV, Tim wouldn't bat a bankbook if he struck out in Hollywood and had to pack up wife and family and move back to Chagrin Falls, his hometown and a suburb of his beloved Cleveland.
After trying to convince me that Chagrin Falls got its name because the first settler to spot an Indian near the Falls was admittedly chagrined, Tim talked about his happy days there on local TV.
"We used to announce the imminent arrival of some big personality like the mayor to keep the audience watching while we showed some lousy feature film," he recalled. "Naturally, he'd never show up but we had him stuck in traffic or chasing a fire engine. Some people probably believed us but those that didn't had a lot of laughs."
Some day Tim would like to be rich enough to buy into a local station operation and then invite back all the people who got their start in Cleveland and make them his partners. "And we wouldn't starve," he added as if to defend his sanity. "There's plenty of money in that kind of operation and an awful lot of peace of mind. Who was it who suggested that the President could perform a great service by going on TV and ordering everybody to go back to their hometown? I believe in that."
No matter how busy his schedule Tim manages to get home as often as possible, particularly on weekends when his high school is playing football on Friday night and the Browns are home on Sunday. All this in spite of an immense fear of flying, which is so acute that on one occasion it threw an entire plane into a panic and actually delayed the flight.
"Rango" is the first joint effort under the newly formed alliance of Danny Thomas and Aaron "Burke's Law" Spelling. It was sold without a pilot and Tim was cast even before "McHale's Navy" submerged.
"I guess I was lucky," he said modestly. "The part fit my type of image and they thought of me. You know a lot of fans think I was the funniest thing on 'McHale's' but it's really not true. The star of a TV show is its concept and the way said concept is carried out. An actor is fortunate to be caught in such a situation."
Tim has already filmed several episodes of the new series and he sincerely expects to be lucky again. His co-stars, Guy Marks and Norman Alden, he thinks are just great and Conway feels they have a good chance of riding in on the crest of the second season ballyhoo and hitting like "Batman" did last year.
Conway does not expect to have too much trouble adjusting to westerns since he was born in the saddle. "My dad was a trainer around the tracks in Ohio for years," he explained. "And for a while I was going to be a jockey. But I fell off so often I switched to football. There I merely busted my back and retired from sports to become a TV star," and he laughed and recalled how that came about.
"Rosemarie heard me in Cleveland and asked if I had any tapes of some of the wild semi-satirical humor we were pulling on our show. I did, she delivered them to Steve Allen and he invited me out to do his show. The offer to appear on 'McHale's Navy' came just about then. So I moved to Hollywood with my bride and we soon had four children. Now wasn't that a tough struggle?"
Conway concedes he has no training as an actor and, except for a recent one week guest star appearance in Chagrin Falls as Ensign Pulver in "Mr. Roberts," he's never done a live show.
“I did entertain in local clubs to pick up extra money but I was really awful. Even today I read the script and do the part the way it comes out.
“If the director wants something special he can’t get it from me because I don’t know that much,” concluded the very refreshing Tim Conway whose laudable ambition in this maniacal business seems to be not to become too ambitious.

This syndicated story appeared in papers on February 4, 1967. The show was already in trouble after three weeks.

New Spoof on Old West Stars Funny Man Tim Conway

"You have a talent for creating problems," a wearied clergyman told Tim Conway in 1961 when he applied for permission to marry his godmother.
Tim's 1967 "problems" however, are principally those confined within the storylines of ABC's new Western spoof, "Rango." (Fridays - at 9:00 P.M.). And the Conway talents and creativity they're talking about this year have to do with his comedy impact. "Tim is a top banana," says his boss Danny Thomas who should know. A long-time top banana himself, Thomas has long also been one of television's top producers with a string of hit series that eventually cancel only because the actors tire of their roles with the passage of time. Contemporary situations and crisp comedy they had in common.
Right now for Tim, it's "do it or bust," but after hearing him for an hour, an insight strikes you for the future. Some day Thomas and his new partner Aaron Speling [sic] might do well to consider a series based on Tim Conway's own story. It was Danny Thomas, remember, who puffed contented cigars when his "Dick Van Dyke" property kept stacking up the Emmys. The Van Dyke show, of course, was based on the life of writer-comedian Carl Reiner. Like Reiner, Tim is a writer as well as a comedian. Also as I was told before I met him, "Tim is really a serious man who says funny things in a natural way. He's not a clown." And obviously the only man to play Tim Conway is Tim.
But Tim's serious side would have none of this "some day" talk right now. He was in town to do right by "Rango," which he himself finds funny and fun to do. For this new spoof on the Old West isn't so tightly written that Conway improvisations couldn't be sneaked in. Tim feels he's lucky, too, in Danny Thomas's casting of Guy Marks as the second banana. Says Tim: "Guy, who plays my Indian companion, Pink Cloud, and I met for the first time on the set. After ten minutes we were breaking each other up so, that they had to close things down for half an hour."
He goes on: "We stumble our way through the West at a pace that's more Laurel and Hardy than ‘McHale's Navy.’ Pink Cloud is no ugh-ugh Indian. He's educated." But not, it seems, in the ways of Indianship, which is supposed to add to the hilarity. Says Tim: "He can't read trails, doesn't want any part of violence, or buffalo meat, or smoke signals . . . in fact when he's ordered to build a fire, he burns the blanket.
Other Conway comments on "Rango:" "Yes, I can get on a horse. Once I was going to be a jockey because my father was a horse trainer," but for jogging along, Rango doesn't always need a real critter for closeups. Says Tim: "Sometimes we use a mechanical horse. Then I feel like a real idiot . . . getting up on four wheels and a truck."
As to villains, Conway assures: "Oh, you'll know the bad guys always in our series right away. John Wayne has already killed them several times."
As to himself, Tim concedes that having been born in a town called Chagrin Falls (Ohio) may have helped him develop his sense of humor early. He still visits his folks there often, describes it as "A New Englandish type village with high taxes and no industries."
He was also schooled in Ohio, and it was while he was a student at Bowling Green State that he made the serious decision to become a Catholic. Tim was dating a girl named Sue, thought they might marry and mother. The baptizing priest said no. So he settled instead for another school mate, Mary Anne Dalton, because "we didn't even like each other."
Then came the Army—two years each. Mary Anne went to Paris with Special Services. Tim was assigned to Japan but instead “guarded Seattle, Washington and some secret papers I had a rifle. And I lost it . . . but I did keep a broken fluorescent tube handy.”
At his release, Tim scooted home to Ohio, rounded up old friends and celebrated by giving himself a "surprise" birthday party. He surprised them by not showing up until midnight. Then all of a sudden HE was surprised. "Across that crowded room" he saw Mary Anne Dalton. He didn't hate her any more. She didn't hate him. And the priest had a fistful of red tape to unravel when they decided to wed.
Now they have four children. And a house in Tarzana, California which Tim first tried describing as "a 32-room cottage." Then scaled it down to kind of a barracks with a cafeteria. It's big, though, at least as far as bedrooms go. Because of the kids. A pool? No. Because of the kids. But when we turn the water on the ivy we let them run through." Then, seriously: "I've beamed the whole house myself and panelled it."
As to his career, the chubby Tim, who's not yet thirty, says, "It doesn't come any easier." His first job was answering mail at KWY in Cleveland for disc jockey Big Wilson. Big read some of Tim's letters one day and said, "You're funny. Why not write for me?" Why not? When Big went on TV, Tim went along, rapidly evolved into a producer-director-writer. Then one day Rose Marie the singer-comedienne was guesting in Cleveland, heard guffaws from the control room and investigated. "He's funny," she concluded and recommended him to Steve Allen. Next came "McHale's Navy," and four years for Tim as the inept, and very funny Ensign Parker. This year it's the starring role as the inept ranger, "Rango." All of which may be as "easy" as Tim says. Providing you're a serious funny man who's also noticeably ept and genuinely talented.

The storylines were the material from a pair of top writers, R.S. Allen and Harvey S. Bullock. Hey, it worked for The Flintstones. And The Danny Thomas Show. And The Andy Griffith Show. It just didn’t work for Tim Conway.