Thursday, 17 January 2019

Betty White

Who knew Betty White could act?

Through the 1960s and into the ‘70s, I didn’t. I never saw her on anything but game shows. Back then TV Guide listed her as a “television personality” whenever she appeared on anything. Then she got a role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and all that changed.

Her 1950s TV show was before my time. It was an effort called Life With Elizabeth that a syndicator shopped around to stations, generally independents, to use to fill their schedule.

In its February 1955 edition, TV Radio Mirror talked about White’s career up to that point through the eyes of her mother. Mom’s story seems to have gone through the eyes of some writers; it’s in that a-nobody-who-overcomes-adversity-with-encouragement-to-become-a-star vein that was familiar to show biz gossip magazines at the time.

This was before she met Allen Ludden but still at a time when she loved animals. Mom explains why she did.

My Daughter, Betty White
Those would be proud words for any mother, but I'm especially proud — because of what I know about Betty!
My daughter, Betty White, has a philosophy of life which grew out of a series of hard knocks. In the ten years that she has been climbing up the slim rope of success in the entertainment industry, she has frequently slipped, but she has never given up trying. The philosophy which has. sprung from these struggles? She says it in just five words: "I don't believe in defeat."
Betty learned this lesson very early in her career; she was only two when we moved from Oak Park, Illinois, to California. She went to Horace Mann Junior High School here in Los Angeles, and then to Beverly Hills High School— and in all these years she hoped someday to grow up to be an operatic singer.
Betty worked hard for what she called the "big voice." Rather than go on to college when she finished high school, she decided to continue her study of music, concentrating on her singing career. She had every reason to do so. She did have the raw material of a good voice; it was developing well; and she had the encouragement of her teacher, Felix Hughes, the brother of the writer, Rupert Hughes, and himself once a well-known opera singer. So, with all this behind her, Betty looked forward to a lifetime dream come true: a successful career on the opera stage.
Then fate stepped in. Betty was stricken with a strep throat. It was no ordinary infection; rather, it was very much like a seige, a six-weeks' battle for Betty's life. She was bedridden for almost two months during which time the fever — fought with the then-new sulfa drugs — gradually waned. But, when the fever left her, it took the best part of her voice along with it. During the weeks Betty was recouping her strength, she was able only to smile and croak, "Hello."
Yes, she was a discouraged little girl. But I think it was right then that she decided not to be beaten. True, she had lost everything she had dreamed about, worked toward for years, but she didn't give up. In fact, she told me one day: "Mother," she said, "you know, things aren't so black after all."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well," she said, "it seems obvious to me. I've lost my voice. Everything I've planned on is down the drain. Now there's only one way for my luck to go. It can't get any worse— that means it has to get better!"
And Betty really felt fortunate. She thought her situation quite encouraging. She reasoned that there was only one way she could go now — and that was up.
She decided that, if she couldn't do the "big" things, she would do the best with the tools she had. Though her father and I thought she was still spending her afternoons rebuilding her voice with Mr. Hughes, when she was well enough to be up and about, we eventually found to our surprise that she was out pounding the pavements. She was going from agent to agent, trying to find a job suited to her talents.
Her perseverance payed off. She finally got a one-line bit in a radio commercial, through a Mr. Van Heidensfelt. He was with an agency, and Betty, I think, looked a little pathetic and desperate. She certainly didn't need the job, for she always had a home— but she did want the break she thought the commercial job would give her.
I forget what the exact payment was. Something like twenty-five dollars— and It cost her father thirty-nine-fifty to have her join the federation of radio and TV artists!

So Betty was never an opera singer. After the first disappointment of her illness, she marshaled her courage and reorganized her plan of life. If she couldn't sing, she'd talk. And that's how she launched her career — with that first radio commercial and with many others that followed. It wasn't long before Betty was doing a regular part on The Great Gildersleeve, then regular parts on several radio shows and, finally, television came into the picture.
Betty has won some personal bonuses from her philosophy of life. "I don't believe in defeat" has taught her something of both courage and faith. There was the time, for example, even after she had started in radio, when her progress seemed stymied. She just wasn't getting ahead.
But she felt, inside of herself — or, rather, she knew deep inside of her — that making people happy with entertainment was for her, and in this she had faith. This faith carried her through a bleak period which followed her original radio success. But, during this time, she didn't complain. Instead, she told me one day how she felt:
"Mom," she said, "anybody can keep going when the going is good, but the secret is to hang on when everything seems to be going against you."
I think Betty's first job in television illustrates how faith pays off. Because she knew in her heart that entertaining was for her, she was willing to do anything to keep herself going — even working for nothing. This she did, one day on Joe Landis' early variety show. Where fate had previously stolen her voice, it stepped in again with this first job. Mr. Landis had a long list of singers and possibilities to call on for his show. But, by pure chance, not one of them was able to show up! Betty's name was the last on the list — and, just one hour before showtime, she got the call. She went on, did the song and, on the strength of it, was signed to do a song spot on another show, Wes Battersea's Grab Your Phone.

But this didn't last long, either. I think that, psychologically, this was Betty's low point. She had been trying desperately to break into TV — those two nibbles had encouraged and then disappointed her — and pounding the pavement from one agent's door to another had resulted in only "no work" news. She came in, on the day we call "the very discouraged Thursday," nearly defeated, saying: "Oh, Mom. I just don't know, any more . . . am I beat or am I beat?"
"What do you think?" I said. "Have you forgotten so soon what you told me about hanging on?"
"No," she said, "I haven't forgotten!" She sat up and, proceeding to pull herself out of it, said: "Yup! I will just go out again tomorrow. I still feel it: I just know there must be something!"
At that very instant, the phone rang. It was Al Jarvis. She had known him briefly on the KLAC lot — they had been introduced, but that's all.
"I've seen you on the Grab Your Phone show," he said. "How would you like to try out for a television show I'm starting?"
"Fine," said Betty, thinking it was for one time only.
"Tell me," asked Mr. Jarvis, "can you sing? Dance? Are you willing to do the commercials?"
Betty, stretching it a bit, bravely said "Yes" to everything. Then, hanging up the phone, she reported: "Mother, I think I've got a job for Monday!"
Monday she went in to discover that her job was to run five hours a day, six days a week!

That was Betty's real beginning. At first, she was only to answer the phone on Mr. Jarvis' show, as she had on Grab Your Phone. But the job grew to helping with the commercials, then "setting up" the commercials — then interviewing the guests.
I remember an incident that happened last year, which illustrates Betty's enthusiasm, her optimism, her "don't believe in defeat" attitude. Betty and her orchestra leader, Frank DeVol, were both candidates in the race for Honorary Mayor of Hollywood. Selection of the Mayor was part of an annual Kiwanis campaign to raise money for underprivileged and needy children. All of Hollywood — in fact, everyone — can vote, the votes costing ten cents each, the money going into the Kiwanis Children's Fund.
I remember that, at a luncheon honoring the "mayoral candidates" (Betty, Frank DeVol, Lawrence Welk, Tennessee Ernie, Jack Bailey, and others), there were a number of long Kiwanian faces. Though it was early in the race, there had been such a scant number of ten-cent votes counted that their $3,000 goal looked mighty distant.
But Betty didn't lose her enthusiasm. In fact, knowing that things looked rough, she was more determined than ever to make the campaign a success. Then, at the luncheon, she and Frank DeVol were thrown into an ad-lib skit together — as one mind, it seemed, they began making jokes of the financial situation. Before the luncheon was over, their enthusiasm had spread to all the club members.
No, neither Betty nor Frank DeVol won the title — at that time (though Betty did win this year's campaign) . Jack Bailey, of Queen For A Day, was elected. But the enthusiasm with which all the "mayors" campaigned did make the original $3,000 figure look pale and wan — all together, they raised $10,000!
And, the day after the luncheon, Betty went up to her producers, Don Fedderson and George Tibbles, saying: "That Frank DeVol is a funny man — if he can make the Kiwanians laugh in such a situation, he should be able to make other folks laugh, too. And we work like a charm together. We really ought to find a situation for him on Life With Elizabeth." And that's how Frank came to that show.
But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself. We were still talking about Al Jarvis and Betty's first success. You know, Betty has always been first to give credit for this success to Mr. Jarvis. Al gave her a schooling she will never forget. And it's fared her well, believe me.

By now, it seems that everything in Betty's career since her first introduction to TV on the Jarvis show is almost anti-climactic. From that beginning, she just seemed to grow. The next big break came when Betty was offered her own program on KLAC, here in Los Angeles. Mr. Don Fedderson, then station manager, had watched Betty take hold of the show, after Mr. Jarvis had gone to another station. When he saw that she was so at home, so successful, he just upped and told her one day: "Betty, from now on we're going to call this The Betty White Show!"
Then Betty started doing a little three-minute spot at night. It was Betty's brain-child, called Alvin And Elizabeth, and it, too, soon grew to five minutes— then more. There were no written sketches, just some things that Betty dreamed up. She finally ran out of ideas and hired George Tibbles to write material for it — but, by then, it was a weekly one-hour show. It was later chopped down to a half-hour of just plain Life With Elizabeth. This was the show which won her the 1952 "Emmy" as the most outstanding personality in TV.
And this year, of course, Life With Elizabeth won her her Billboard magazine awards. She was so surprised! Last year, Lucy and Jack Webb were the two big winners, with Imogene Coca running a close second. It was something Betty always liked to read about as happening to others, but she never dreamed she was under consideration. So it came like a Bolt from the blue, when she read that she had been voted two top awards: "the best actress in any syndicated program" and "best comedy actress"! Jack Webb won again this year, too, and Loretta Young won as the best network actress.
But not all of Betty's life since television has been smooth as cream. She has had to work hard for her success. Her schedule is demanding. She has been so physically tired at times that she was ready to drop. And we've had some emotional problems here in the house, in her private life, that have knocked the props out from under her, too.
You know, Betty's pets play such an important part in her life, and one night we had a tragedy — Betty's Pekingese was taken sick and, in the middle of the night, she took him to the vet's. We had had him for many years, but his time had come, and we lost him. Of course, Betty cried the rest of the night.

Well, some people may scoff. They may think you do not get attached to dogs. But I know better. They are just like children to us. They always become such an important part of our house. Betty, you know, is an only child. And, ever since she was a baby, we've had puppies for her to play with. We hoped they would help take the place of the brothers and sisters she couldn't have — because an auto accident took that possibility away from me shortly after her birth. It's for this reason we've always had dogs to help fill the house. And that's why, when we lose one, it's such a great tragedy.
Betty says that it's "a vacant place to fill." She has made it a policy always to fill that emptiness with a new puppy. She says it doesn't take the same place in your heart the other dog had, but it helps fill up the hurt — and then you get so preoccupied watching the new little puppy in its antics, you fall in love all over again.
The point is that, the night our little Peke died, Betty was prostrated. She cried all night — the very night before she was to make her first and most important film for Life With Elizabeth. Up until then, she had been a West Coast personality — but, the next morning, she was to make the appearance which would introduce her across the nation.
Believe me, that day she had to reach down into her faith to put on a smile, to be cheery in front of the camera. But she never said, "Why did this have to happen to me?" She didn't complain. Rather, as she wiped the tears and went out the door, she said:
"It hurts, Mother. But I guess I'm not the only one in the world with a pain. There must be millions who are far worse off today than we are. . . ."
And that statement illustrates the last point in Betty's philosophy of life: Courage — courage in the face of obstacles. She did not cover herself with self-pity; she did not take the attitude that she was in a situation in which nobody had ever been before. She smiled, went to work, hoping she could bring happiness into someone else's life.
The way I have been telling this makes it sound like I'm bragging about Betty. Of course, a mother would sound that way, but I don't mean to make Betty sound noble — she's nothing of the sort. She's just a regular gal who's learned, the hard way, that — when the going gets rough — faith supplies "staying power." She's learned from experience that she's never alone with her problems — other people have suffered before and won out, probably in the exact situations she found herself in. And these experiences have given her the courage never to believe in defeat.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Wanted: Tom and Jerry By Gene Deitch

There’s an enjoyable little twist in the opening titles of Tall in the Trap, a 1962 Tom and Jerry Western directed by Gene Deitch. There’s a cold open with some character dialogue (reused later in the cartoon) and then instead of stock footage of the MGM lion roaring, there’s a shot of a Wanted poster with a cartoon facsimile of the lion.

A quick pan shows another title card in the form of a poster.

Now comes a parody of the card Paladin carried in the TV show Have Gun Will Travel. The card is flipped around several times to reveal who worked on the cartoon. You’ll notice Deitch darkens the background so the card is easier to read. The chess-piece knight is in a mouse trap as a little pun.

Deitch chose to use a solo guitar played by Jiri Jirmal for much of the score, written by Stephen Konichek.

As you can see, ex-Warner Bros. writer Tedd Pierce freelanced on this, and you may recognise some of the gags as variations of what appeared in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Bradley Bolke, Everyone's Chum(ley)

In the 1960s, New York City had a small collection of actors who used their voices to make a living in cartoons and commercials. Allen Swift was one. Jackson Beck was another. And so was Bradley Bolke.

Word has come in from historian/author Rick Goldschmidt that Mr. Bolke has passed away at the age of 93. (Bolke is at the far left of the 1953 gag photo you see).

If you were a cartoon credit watcher, you would have seen his name at the end of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, playing Chumley opposite Don Adams’ Tennessee starting in the 1963-64 TV season. He also appeared on the TV Casper cartoons in the early ‘60s; it seems to me he did all three members of the Ghostly Trio opposite Norma MacMillan as Casper. Tennessee lasted three seasons on CBS before superheroes and fantasy-world shows shoved him off the Saturday morning network schedule and into syndication.

Bolke was born to Sol and Helen Bolke. He wasn’t the most famous member of the family. His brother was Dayton Allen, one of Steve Allen’s stock players and a cartoon actor as well (Heckle and Jeckle at Terrytoons). “The whole family jokes a lot. A bold sense of humour is just part of who we are,” he told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel on the occasion of his mother’s 100th birthday in 1997. Mother Helen explained it this way: “Sometimes I don’t turn up my hearing aid just so I don’t hear the boys.” She may have been the funniest one in the family. She explained she lived to be 100 because “I’m too darned charming.”

Bolke was more than an actor; he was an athlete in high school in Mount Vernon, New York. The local paper has results in its December 28, 1938 issue about a football kicking contest. Bolke placed just behind another junior, a young man named Ralph Branca, long before his errant pitch resulted in the Shot Heard Round the World and the Miracle on Coogan’s Bluff while pitching for Brooklyn against the New York Giants. Bolke had been appearing in school plays as far back as the fourth grade in 1934. He ran for school president at Davis High School in 1942, where he found time to do comedy on stage. In a performance of “Sweet Swing,” he and his female opposite “were much better than average and surprisingly good for high school performance,” according to the Daily Argus newspaper.

I’ve found one article about Bolke. Peter D. Kramer of the White Plains Journal News chatted with him about his work for Rankin-Bass and elsewhere. It was published December 22, 2012.
Since its 1974 premiere, there has been no year without "The Year Without a Santa Claus," the Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas classic about that fictional holiday when the North Pole's most famous resident wanted time off for good behavior.
Every year, Santa has a cold, thinks he's irrelevant, wants to skip Christmas, Mrs. Claus threatens to do the job instead, Heat Miser and Snow Miser battle, and Mother Nature settles the matter.
And every year, Bradley Bolke and his wife, Kitty, tune in to watch it in their Dobbs Ferry apartment. (It's on at 4 p.m. today on ABC Family.) "I have copies of it, but we watch it every year, and every year we watch it -- even though we've seen it God knows how many times -- we say 'This is a good show,'" says the 87-year-old Bolke, whose name is pronounced "BOWL-kee."
Bolke can be forgiven if he's partial to the show: After all, he's in it. He provided the voice for Jangle Bells, one of a pair of slightly dim Christmas elves in Santa's employ, the other being Jingle Bells (voiced by the late Bob McFadden).
The Mount Vernon native found regular work as a commercial and voice actor, which was sort of the family business. Bolke's older brother, Dayton Allen, was a fixture on "The Steve Allen Show," the voice of "Deputy Dawg" and the original Phineas T. Bluster on "The Howdy Doody Show." Allen died in 2004.
"Now, I'm a retired actor," jokes Bolke, who has lived in Dobbs Ferry since 1958. "In fact that's what it says on my unemployment card."
Bolke's most famous cartoon character is the lovably dim Chumley the Walrus, sidekick to the wise-cracking zoo penguin Tennessee Tuxedo. While that entire series was re-released in a boxed set just this year, it hasn't had the staying power of that perennial Christmas bauble with Heat Miser and Snow Miser.
He was also present at the creation of Vaughn Meader's classic comedy album, "The First Family," in which he played a shoe-banging Nikita Khrushchev. That album, which sold faster than any other comedy album to that point, was recorded on Oct. 22, 1962, the same night that President John F. Kennedy was delivering a crucial speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis. The audience was in the studio, unaware that the superpowers were on the verge of a monumental showdown.
"The Year Without a Santa Claus" was taped in one day in New York City, with Shirley Booth (Mrs. Claus) and the cast, minus Mickey Rooney, who added Santa's voice in a separate session.
Eight or nine years ago, they held a reunion of Rankin/Bass actors and creative team at the Museum of Television and Radio. "After it, I asked Arthur (Rankin) if Jangle was a caricature of me and he said it was. I'm thin-faced with a big nose."
Bolke says there was nothing particularly memorable about that recording session, when Jangle emerged from his voicebox. "It turned out to be a classic, but it's the same thing with 'The First Family.' It was another job," he says. "You come home and you don't realize it's going to become a classic."
It turns out Bolke isn't Dobbs Ferry's only tie to "The Year Without a Santa Claus." Rhoda Mann, who played the all-powerful Mother Nature in the show, also lives in the village. "We don't see each other that often, but we talk pretty regularly," says Bolke.
After retiring, Bolke and his wife began to sponsor a $100 humor award at Dobbs Ferry High School, The Bradley and Katherine Bolke Award, to a graduate who "in the opinion of the selection committee, either through performing, writing or any artistic endeavor, is outstanding in humor or wit."
"I still get fan mail," Bolke says, with a bit of wonder in his voice. "I don't know how they find me, but they write to tell me that this is their favorite show, or that Tennessee Tuxedo is their favorite show. It's a certain group that I don't quite understand. It's not very fancy vellum that they write on, it's more loose-leaf spiral notebook paper and I don't think they're allowed to use sharp implements."
"This is my fan base," he says with a giggle.
It’s nice to see that Bolke was remembered by his fans. We hope they’re remembering him today.

Diamonds Before Dolly

You should recognise one person’s name in the newspaper clipping to the right from April 22, 1933. That’s when she was in the San Francisco area before heading east.

A little later came the declaration: “Miss Carol Channing, as a nightclub singer, did a pretty fine burlesque on torch songs.” So wrote Virgil Thomson of the New York Herald Tribune in his review on January 6, 1941 of “No For An Answer” at the Mecca Auditorium.

A modest start for a woman who became one of the legends of the Great White Way, thanks first to the musical “Lend an Ear,” then “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” then her Tony-winning performance in “Hello, Dolly!”

We bid farewell today to one of Broadway’s greats at age 97.

We posted about Miss Channing HERE. So much has been written about her over the years, it’s hard to pick out something to reprint in tribute. I’ve settled on this feature article from March 20, 1959. “Dolly” hadn’t entered her life yet; she was still known for telling the world that diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

Carol Channing Has Been Comedienne Ever Since Although Climb to Stardom Was Hard; Here on Tour
By Mary Kimbrough

Of the Post Dispatch Staff
A SKINNY BLONDE fourth grader in San Francisco wanted to be elected student secretary. When she got up to speak, they laughed. And there, on the platform of Commodore Sloat School, a new comedienne was born.
The skinny figure is slender now and the still-blond hair has a circular part, front to back, right to left, like a scalp-toned tiara. But Carol Channing is still luring the laughs. They meant votes and victory back in the fourth grade. Today, they mean money.
Carol is in St. Louis now, with her husband, Charles Lowe; her wardrobe mistress, Jane Fogt; her son's report card, and Lorelei Lee. Lowe, who produced the show starring his wife in the Chase Club, more or less manages things and orders her hamburgers on rye bread. Jane keeps the snaps on the 11 costume changes and makes sure the clothes are at hand's length for the back-stage quick changes. Young Channing Lowe's first-grade report card, with its A in French and C in physical education, perches on a cabinet shelf in the path of proud parental beams.
Lorelei Lee is supposed to be dead and gone, but don't count her out while Carol is still kicking. She isn't one to forget old and dear friends, especially the money-making type.
Lorelei, the little girl from Little Rock who loved diamonds, made Carol, the big girl from California, what she is today, and a Channing is no ingrate. When she goes into a night club revue such as her current engagement, she makes loom for Lorelei.
The audience wants it that way. To them Lorelei IS Carol.
We were off, plumbing the depths of how and why actors act and audiences listen, and the immense brown eyes achieved the amazing feat of growing even wider. It was a moment for quiet reflection.
"I have to feel my way along," she said thoughtfully, "and decide what path I can take to reach the audience. You reach one by one path, another by another. "But at the end I make a little speech. This is Carol, you see. And if I come out with Lorelei's flat twang, I'm home. The audience loves it. This is what they really think Carol is."
She gazed more deeply into the mental mirror.
"You know," she said, "I think every actor really creates a personality he thinks he really is. Lorelei really is a part of me. Some roles just seem to rub off on an actor, and thereafter the one is a part of the other."

As a matter of fact, her current tour is more or less an escape from type-casting. From Broadway to Carol's home kept coming a stream of scripts featuring a dumb blonde of the 1920s. They didn't hold a candle to Lorelei Lee. So back they went, read but unaccepted. Then the revue was suggested, and Carol gave it her energetic nod.
She does a series of characterizations in her act, even a respectable strip-tease starring the mythical Miss Bertha Blodgett.
But Carol can't keep from imitating people. It's a happy-type, chronic ailment, a kind of bonus you get when you wind her up and start her talking about the people she knows, loves and admires. Her low, husky voice speeds off on tangential journeys, and as her thought rests on other people, suddenly she isn't Carol Channing anymore. She's Sophie Tucker, or Tallulah Bankhead or George Burns or Lorelei.
With dramatic daring, she recently impersonated Sophie Tucker in Las Vegas, not too yards from another night spot where the redoubtable Sophie herself was holding court. Then came the evening when Sophie announced she would come to see for herself.
"I was ossified with fright," Carol recalled. "Sophie swept in, watched the show, then she stood up and applauded. She looked around as though to say, 'Anyone who doesn't laugh will have to face me'."
Today wherever Carol appears, Sophie's gift of orchids is there to greet her.
Even back in the fourth grade of Commodore Sloat School, Carol was imitating. She won the job she campaigned for, so she perforce wrote up and read the minutes. Now, as any club secretary knows, these can he as limp as a wet dishrag, but not Carol's minutes. They had a zing to them. She not only QUOTED Miss Finney, the teacher. She WAS Miss Finney, complete with the pushing up the sleeves. Even the harrassed principal didn't escape the Channing treatment.
This was not calculated to place the name of Carol Channing on Miss Finney's or the principal's list of favorite students, but to Carol's ears, the students' laughter was manna from heaven and a prediction of things to come.
From Commodore Sloat, she went on to high school and then to Bennington College in Vermont, a fashionable institution for young ladies which saw the last of Miss Carol Channing when she landed a minor role in the labor group musical, "No for an Answer."
The road ahead was rough indeed as she stumbled along from one understudy role to Gimbel's bakeshop to another understudy role to Macy's basement. Rough, underpaid and discouraging.
By chance or design, her parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Channing drove to New York about that time, and Carol climbed in the back seat, glad to go back to California. There again, she tried her hand at various jobs until her chance arrived in the form of a role in the musical, "Lend an Ear."
There's a legend about that which the tall comic with the mobile face doesn't deny. With 600 others on stage for auditions, she announced to the bemused producers. "To get a real impression of my abilities, you would normally have to see me do nine numbers. But I know you're pressed for time, so I've cut them down to six."
It worked. She got the role. And from that, she stepped into Lorelei's shoes in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Overnight she was a star, and diamonds were her best friends.
The role was a happy one, from all viewpoints. Gone were the days of poor pay. Time was when Carol, between roles, chose her living quarters cautiously. The blistering hot rooms in the summer, the cold water flats in the winter. The kind with low rent that no one else wanted.
Now she stays in hotel housekeeping suites, and there's an aura of well-being. Easily rests the stardom.
Her husband interrupted the interview with an apology, bearing a gift.
"From your son," he smiled. It was a wristwatch.
"Every time they buy me a gift," she said, "It's a watch."
But no diamonds. She seldom wears them off stage. The only jewelry to be seen as we talked was her wide gold wedding band.
Diamonds, though, have become Carol's hallmark of the theater and night club circuit. In tribute to the glittering Lorelei, she wears a white satin dress, liberally plastered with glass gems, for one of her club numbers, and showers the audience with rhinestone bracelets.
Channing will arrive soon to join his parents during his Easter vacation, a prospect to gladden the heart of any mother, especially one whose career separates her frequently from her child.
But Carol is not one to assume that nearness only means love and affection. She looked hack to her own days at home, and there was a childlike wilfulness in her tone as she remembered. Even now she speaks of her father as "Daddy."
As the Committee on Publication for the Church of Christ, Scientist and member of his church's Board of Lectureship, the late Mr. Channing was absent many times from the family's San Francisco home.
"Yet, somehow, I always knew that Daddy loved me," Carol said. "We didn't have to be together for me to sense that security. It's the same way now with Channing. We can't be with him very much, but he knows we're interested in his welfare and when he is here, he's an important part of the family circle. We don't talk down to him. When we're together, we talk about the theater or the club."
Mom and Pop Lowe couldn't help it. They both turned as one to the cabinet where Channing's report card stood in proud splendor, alone on display. "Look at that," she said. "And be sure to read what the teacher said on the back."
Channing, the teacher had noted, is progressing nicely. For a moment, the theater was far away.

Under the Falling Chesnut Tree

The opening of The Village Smithy, a 1936 Warner Bros. cartoon, contains some of the elements that director Tex Avery would use throughout his career. We have an off-screen narrator reading a famous poem as the scene gets set up in an unusual way. The “spreading chestnut tree” and “village smithy” both fall into the frame.

Tex has the off-screen narrator talk to the on-screen smithy, telling him he’s supposed to be standing (because the poem says so), and then ordering him to turn around and face the camera.

Now the blacksmith shop falls into place. You can see the shop’s shadow before it hits the ground.

Avery has some good irreverent gags in this cartoon, such as the narrator calling for a horse to appear and a camel walks into the frame (which is then pulled out of the picture using an old vaudeville hook).

Cecil Surry and Sid Sutherland receive screen credit for animation. Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Virgil Ross no doubt animated as well.

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Fall of the Dog

The thespian dog’s “great inner strength” makes him survive being pushed down a mountain in a baby carriage by the two polite gophers. Or so he thinks. He stiffens in a great pose and falls to the ground with a metallic clack.

This is from Two Gophers From Texas (1948), an inappropriate Warner Bros. tie-in title for a nice cartoon from the Art Davis unit. I love the gophers. Emery Hawkins gives the dog some insane expressions in this short. Don Williams, Bill Melendez and Basil Davidovich animate scenes as well. And you’ve got to love Milt Franklyn’s arrangement of “Sweet Georgia Brown” toward the end of this short, especially the piano. Why isn’t this on DVD?

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Better Than Joe Cook

In show biz, money talks. And here’s what money was saying in 1932.

In the March 8th edition of Variety that year, it was revealed Jack Benny was making $2,000 a week to play at the Palace in New York City. By contrast, Joe Cook (photo to the right) was pulling in $5,500.

Today, you’d probably say “Joe who?” But back then, Joe was a bigger, more in-demand comedian than Benny.

Radio changed that. Benny jumped into the newish medium of network radio two months later. No doubt he looked at that same column and saw radio stars Amos and Andy were pulling in $7,500 a week for personal appearances. Despite some early sponsor turmoil, Benny became a hit. His popularity meant he could charge more to appear on a stage. He soon passed bigger vaudeville stars like Cook.

That’s one of the points Sidney Skolsky makes in a feature story on Jack that appeared in the New York Post in 1941. From what I can tell, it was rare for a newspaper gossip writer to devote a whole column to one person (magazines were a different story), but Skolsky set aside his entire space in one edition to Benny, giving the comedian’s life story in the process. In fact, he used some of these same words in a 1931 syndicated column and again in 1937.

Sidney Skolsky Writes...

Jack Benny, according to the official radio survey, is not only the No. 1 comedian, but he is the leading performer on radio. He is doing pretty good in pictures also.
His latest, "Love Thy Neighbor," in which he co-stars with another radio comedian, Fred Allen, is doing big business throughout the country. So good, in fact, that he is under contract to two studios, Paramount and 20th Century-Fox, to make pictures.
There was a time in the early days of the talkies when he made a couple of pictures and was given his release, considered through in pictures. He didn't start off with a bang on radio either. A couple of sponsors let him go before his style of program caught on.
In fact, if you listed the best comedians on Broadway in 1931, and were asked to name who would he tops in 1941, you wouldn't put Benny above any of these: Al Jolson, Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, Lou Holtz, Joe Cook, George Jessel, Frank Fay, W. C. Fields and Groucho Marx.
They all ranked higher than Jack Benny in vaudeville and in musical comedy. Benny was never the headliner on a hill with any of those names. But Benny's method of comedy is paying dividends now.
He says: "Even in those days in vaudeville, when I was a master of ceremonies, I always liked to have a reason for introducing the next act, or for telling a joke. I didn't think it should be as easy as 'on my way to the theatre tonight, etc. . . .' And I always tried to be the poor guy who was in trouble, that the other fellows picked on."
These points are today the basis for his radio show. He is the poor guy who's in trouble. And his show has continuity and believable characters.
He says: "I work harder with my writers trying to find a legitimate reason to go from one section of the program to the other than I do on the gags."
On the radio he has fun with the statement that he hails from Waukegan. He was born in Chicago on St. Valentine's Day, 1894. His parents went to Chicago so he could tell people he was born in a big city.
He is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs 155 pounds. His hair is gray and thinning. When broadcasting he wears glasses. He has blue eyes.
His first job in the theatre was as a doorman. Next he became a property man. Then he became a violin player (oh, you don't believe it, Fred Allen!) in the theatre's orchestra conducted by Cora Salisbury.
When the theatre closed, he and Cora went into vaudeville. They did a violin and piano act. Then he didn't play the fiddle for laughs.
He toured in this act for about four years, never getting to New York. While doing this act, he didn't speak a word of dialogue on the stage. If there was a curtain speech to be made, Miss Salisbury made it.
He had to join the navy to speak on a stage. During the World War he was in the navy and was put into the Navy Relief Society. This organization put on a show called "The Great Lakes Revue." Here Benny spoke for the first time on a stage. He was ordered to do so.
So he came out of the World War with a violin, some chatter, and the courage to do a single act in vaudeville.
He is married to Sadie Marks. She was not connected with show business. She worked in the hosiery department of a department store. Yes, she is the Mary Livingston on his radio show.
He generally starts work on his Sunday program on Tuesday. He sits with his two writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, and they discuss what the show should be about. The first writing comes out of these conversations. The program is generally written by Friday afternoon. There is a "run through" of the script on Saturday at the studio, and on Sunday, before the broadcast, there is a complete rehearsal. He stages the show. He wants to become a movie director.
The word he uses most is "marvelous." Everything he likes and describes to a person is "marvelous." When he was in vaudeville he used this adjective to describe almost every act. A letter he received from a fan caused him to be careful how he used the word. The letter read: "Enjoyed your performance very much. Like everything about you but the word 'marvelous.' Am sending you a list of words you can use in the place of marvelous. Except for that, Mr. Benny, you are marvelous."
Despite his popularity as "Buck Benny" on the radio and in pictures, he has never been on a horse except at Santa Anita.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Early Crusader Rabbit

Crusader Rabbit didn’t appear on television until July 15, 1950, but newspaper readers got a sneak peak at him a year earlier.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a picture article on him in its issue of April 3, 1949.

What’s interesting about these drawings is while the design looks like the TV Crusader, the story in the panels is entirely different. Crusader seems to be on a crusade to keep kids safe.

There’s no Rags Tiger or any bad guys, and no adventure.

The text accompanying the drawings:
A NEW cartoon character has been created for children’s television movie shorts. He is Crusader Rabbit, who energetically copes with a variety of difficulties, some of them facetious. In one series of films, he has a serious purpose—the teaching of playtime safety practices. In the safety crusading he plays opposite a little boy who gets exposed to several of the typically harrowing hazards of childhood. Each time the little boy is preserved for the next episode by nick-of-time appearances of Crusader Rabbit, whose rescues serve to dramatize dangers for children in familiar surroundings of home, yard and street. The cartoons, animated by a process developed for television, are produced by Jerry Fairbanks Productions.

Even though Crusader hadn’t appeared on TV when this article appeared, he was in development as early as January 1949. You can read more about the start of the series in this post.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Green-Eyed Cat

Tom thinks he’s been shot by a bird in Kitty Foiled (it’s really Jerry dropping a light, which makes a gunshot sound when it hits the ground).

The best part of this sequence is the green circles in Tom’s eyes.

Joe Barbera tops it with a parody of coin-flipping George Raft in Scarface (1932), who is gunned down at the end of the film.

Irv Spence, Ken Muse, Irv Levine and Ray Patterson receive the animation credits in this cartoon. Can anyone point out Levine’s scenes?

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A Typical Car by Tex

No one was making new cars in the U.S. in 1945. There was a war on, after all. Well, that doesn’t include Tex Avery, who united with writer Heck Allen in one of his favourite car gags.

“When out of the night, which was 50 below,” says narrator Frank Graham in The Shooting of Dan McGoo, as a limo winds its way down a snowy road into a clapboard town.

The limo pulls up....

....and keeps pulling up....

....and keeps pulling up.

Ah! It's finally arrived. Along with one of Avery’s signs.

I don’t know when Avery first used the stretch limo gag (was it Milk and Money at Warners?) or how often he used it, but it feels like it pops up in a number of his cartoons. It takes up about seven seconds of screen time to pull up in this cartoon.