Saturday, 3 December 2022

The Series That Lasted One Cartoon

Leon Schlesinger had big plans for a new cartoon series. It would feature paintings by a well-known and respected artist and uber-cute little boys. Sounds like an attempt to take on Disney, doesn’t it? But after Schlesinger poured out extra money and effort, the series died after one cartoon.



What was the series?

Schlesinger’s aggressive PR flack, Rose Horsley, got material planted on it with various columns (Lolly, Hedda, Fidler) and assorted news agencies and newspapers. Here’s an International News Service story from January 14, 1940.
IN HOLLYWOOD
By BURDETTE JAY

HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 13. (INS)—Leon Schlesinger, who produced the screen's first patriotic cartoon, "Gold Glory" [sic] and originated those popular animated travelogues, will present another innovation to the pen and paintbrush film industry in "Mighty Hunter," first in a series of one-reel Jimmy Swinnerton-"Canyon Kiddies" Technicolor cartoons, which will be released as a "Merrie Melodie" by Warner Bros.
The new idea is backgrounds painted in oils, rather than the usual water color, which have been done by Swinnerton, noted artist and newspaper cartoonist, who also created the screen characters and collaborated on the story.
Swinnerton, famous for his desert landscape paintings, has brought the splendor and colorings of the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert to "Mighty Hunters," which took 12 months to produce.
A precedent was established in cartoon production when Schlesinger sent Swinnerton, Director Charles M. Jones and several animators to the Grand Canyon and nearby Indian villages to make 16 mm. color pictures for background reference and study native dances, and costumes for this animated subject.
“Canyon Kiddies” was appearing in Good Housekeeping magazine every month. We’ll likely never know at this late date what induced Schlesinger to decide to turn Swinnerton’s comic into an animated series, but the first hint of him doing it appeared in Lee Shippey’s column in the Los Angeles Times of November 25, 1938.
Jimmy Swinnerton’s Canyon Kiddies, long featured by a national magazine, are to be put on the screen as animated cartoons.
Schlesinger and his wife boarded the Super Chief for New York on December 27th for meetings with Warners mucky-mucks (Daily Variety, Dec. 23, 1938). He already had some cartoons for the 1939-40 season in the can (Variety, Oct. 19, 1938). When he got to his destination, he had an announcement to make. Film Daily reported on January 6, 1939:
Schlesinger Expects New Short to Require a Year
In wake of his arrival this week in New York from the Coast, Leon Schlesinger, short subjects producer for Warner Bros, at whose home office he is currently discussing preliminary plans for his program of "Merrie Melodies" and "Looney Tunes" for the company's 1939-40 line-up, stated the "Merrie Melodies" series next season is virtually certain to include several subjects delineated by Jimmie Swinnerton, creator of “Canyon Kiddies,” whom Schlesinger recently signed to a contract.
Production will start on the initial "Canyon Kiddies" short on Feb. 6, and the picture will require approximately one year to complete, Schlesinger declared.
There’s a possibility most of the Schlesinger staff had no idea this was happening. Leon arrived back in Los Angeles on January 26th (Daily Variety, same date) and the studio newsletter, The Exposure Sheet reported that he had told the staff on his arrival about the series that would “retell old Indian legends” and that Chuck Jones would direct it. Kiddie characters were his forte.

Film Daily of February 9th reported:
Leon Schlesinger has started production on the initial "Canyon Kiddies" cartoon. Jimmy Swinnerton, recently signed to a long term contract, will create the characters and collaborate on the story and draw his inimitable backgrounds. The initial subject as yet untitled will be as a "Merrie Melody" of the 1939-40 program as Schlesinger has room for only one subject on this series. Schlesinger will probably do a series for the 1940-41 schedule.


A February edition of the Exposure Sheet provided an update:
Due to the unusual backgrounds and customs in the new series of Canyon Kiddies Cartoons, James Swinnerton, Chuck Jones and his story unit, left yesterday morning for the old Indian ruins of Arizona.
Mr. Schlesinger felt that it was quite necessary for the department to be familiar with the general atmosphere of the country. They took a 16 m.m. camera with which to capture, in color, the Indian dances, settings and characters. They expect to gather enough material on the old Indian legends for the entire series of cartoons.
Isn’t this the first time a cartoon studio has gone out on location for material.
P.S. – Tex Avery’s story unit [Tubby Millar and Jack Miller] swear their next picture will have a Hawaiian background.
Some of the tribulations of the Jones expedition were outlined in a March edition of the Exposure Sheet. It doesn’t say who went on the trip, but storyboard artist/designer Bob Givens revealed that, at the time, Jones’ story unit was Dave Monahan and Rich Hogan. They rotated credits and Monahan gets screen credit on Mighty Hunters.
The C. Jones unit’s trip to Arizona for research on “The Canyon Kiddies” was a huge success, their one disappointment being their inability to secure many pictures of the Indians who thought the boys were taking a part of their lives when they snapped any pictures.
On approaching the Indian settlement of Hoteaville, they had a feeling of being in Shangri La because of the detachment and unreality of the place. And although it was almost zero weather, many of the old Indians walked around barefoot.
In one hogan they saw a little old woman of 110 sitting near a stove, and were told she had been there for ten years, getting up only occasionally during the summer. The different tribes’ manner of living was also noted. The Hopis are pretty wealthy and are very commercial. They work well together, and are very friendly – in direct contrast to the Navajos.
The boys were very fortunate in witnessing the ancient Bean Dance which only a hundred or so white men have ever seen; particularly as it may be the last time the Indians will have danced it. The leaders of the dance were all over a hundred years old, and half blind. One was totally blind.
Outstanding, during the entire trip, was the unusually good behavior of the children – parents [remainder of sentence missing ].
Something delayed the Canyon Kiddies project a bit—Leon decided to join the flag-waving going on at the Warners main lot. He announced in late March a patriotic cartoon. The trades reported he assigned as many people as possible to Old Glory, with Chuck Jones directing. It was finished in ten weeks on June 16th (United Press story). Then it was back to Mighty Hunters for a bit. The Exposure Sheet of August 25, 1939 tracked the progress.
James Swinnerton has completed the oil backgrounds for the first of the “Canyon Kiddies” series – as yet untitled – and has turned them over to the studio.
Chuck Jones’ story unit has finished the story, and with Chuck now working on the timing of the picture, it will soon be in the hands of the animators. Much interest has been shown around the studio in anticipation of this first picture of the series, and from all reports the finished product will be indeed worthy of praise.
One of the interesting points of the cartoon will be the authentic Navajo music and dances. The backgrounds will also authentically show the Navajo land.
It’s clear, even looking at the murky version of the cartoon in circulation, that Swinnerton did not do all the backgrounds. Once the cartoon shows the kiddies in action, the backgrounds (and character designs) are very much in the style of other Warners cartoons. Art Loomer and Al Tarter were Jones background men in spring 1939. Paul Julian was hired and assigned to the Jones unit in mid-October but it’s unclear if he replaced someone. Let’s see how the cartoon moved along as reported in the trade press:
December 11, 1939 (Film Daily)
LEON SCHLESINGER has just put his new "Canyon Kiddies" cartoons ... first of which will be "The Mighty Hunters" ... before the Technicolor cameras for Warner release ... James Swinnerton, originator of the "Kiddies," created the screen characters ... collaborated on the story and painted all the backgrounds ... entirely IN OIL ... for the first time in an animated cartoon ... Schlesinger asserts the oil paintings will give the animated film the same advantage that an oil painting has over water color ... solidity, depth and color effect.

December 13, 1939 (Hollywood Reporter)
Leon Schlesinger will start scoring the first of the Canyon Kiddies-Jimmy Swinnerton cartoons, “Mighty Hunters,” today. Carl Stallings [sic] will conduct the Vitaphone orchestra.

December 22, 1939 (Hollywood Reporter)
Leon and Mrs. Schlesinger leave Tuesday by Superchief for New York where the cartoon producer will spend a month on business. He is taking with him a special Technicolor print of “Mighty Hunters,” the first of his new “Canyon Kiddies” series, to show to Warner home office executives.

January 9, 1940 (Louella Parsons column)
When I return to Hollywood I’m going to have to pay more attention to the animated cartoons—they are so popular across the country. Hear the new little characters Jimmy Swinnerton created for the Leon Schlesinger short, “Mighty Hunters,” are a knockout.

January 14, 1940 (Philip K. Scheuer, Los Angeles Times)
Backgrounds painted in oil, on the increase of late, reach full fruition in Leon Schlesinger’s “Mighty Hunters,” which I viewed last week. This Merrie Melodie is the first animated reel to use oil in lieu of water colors throughout: the artist was Jimmy Swinnerton, noted for his desert landscapes; his setting, the Grand Canyon. A camera unit actually dispatched to the spot to make 16-millimeter color movies for reference. The subject, first of a series about the “Canyon Kiddies,” redskins all, is more impressive than amusing—but probably even the animators were awed. You can’t get flip about a Grand Canyon.


The cartoon was released January 27, 1940. Parents Magazine liked it. Boxoffice magazine was lukewarm in its February 10, 1940 edition.
Mighty Hunters
Vitaphone (Merrie Melody) 7 Mins.
Although handsomely drawn and colored in a new oil pigment process, this bit of Indian whimsy is average stuff about children and their escapes [sic]. Based on “Canyon Kiddies” by Swinnerton, the comic strip, the action concerns a couple of kids who meet up with a bear high on the rim of a canyon. Very suitable for juvenile matinees.
But now that the cartoon was released, there was no more talk about a series. It ended with this one cartoon. Chuck Jones, known to pontificate about just about anything in animation, never mentioned the short or series in his two books, except in a filmographic appendix.

Some time ago, Jerry Beck wrote a piece about a full-page comic strip based on the cartoon. It appears to have been in a bunch of the Hearst papers; we’ve found it in the San Francisco Examiner. You can see a full-colour version in this post.

For the record, Ken Harris gets the animation credit in this short. Shepperd Strudwick is the narrator; Jones had him play the father in another 1940 release, Tom Thumb in Trouble. Carl Stalling’s score includes J.S. Zamecnik’s “Indian Dawn” over the opening credits as well as one of his go-to melodies, “The Sun Dance” by Leo Friedman.

Friday, 2 December 2022

Chinese Jinks Backgrounds

One of the good things to come out of restoration of cartoons from B-list studios like Van Beuren and Iwerks is you can get a better look at some of the artistry.

I quite like the Chinese-evoking background art in the 1932 Van Beuren short Chinese Jinks, even unrestored.

These frames are a little murky but you can still get the idea of what the anonymous background artist was trying to accomplish. Are they watercolours?

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The cartoon is pretty much what a non-slapstick cartoon of 1932 was supposed to be—music, romance, bad guy shows up, bad guy is quelled, happy ending. Being a Van Beuren cartoon, though, means having the quirks we come to expect from the studio, like a male quartet of animals whose mouths join together while singing.



John Foster and Mannie Davis get screen credit (the copyright catalogue has Harry Bailey instead of Davis) along with musical coordinator Gene Rodemich. Cartoons released by Warners and Paramount got to use songs owned by the studios’ music publishers. Van Beuren had to pay to use popular tunes. The one the sailor sings to the girl on the bench is “Is I in Love? I Is” by J. Russell Robinson and Mercer Cook. Here’s a version from the year the cartoon was released. Fran Frey was usually a vocalist with George Olson (on the Jack Benny Canada Dry show) but he’s with Bennie Krueger here, and sounding more resonant than usual.

Thursday, 1 December 2022

The Fish Gag Gets Canned

Tex Avery’s travelogue spoofs at Warner Bros. are hit-and-miss, sometimes in the very cartoon. In Land of the Midnight Fun (1939), studio politics must been the reason for gagless rotoscoped footage of Sonya Henje doing a skating routine. Why else would Avery stop everything in his cartoon to include this pointless bit?

There is some fun in Midnight Fun. I love the timber wolf commenting on the very pun he is in. There’s the ice breaker gag where Avery takes literalness to ridiculousness. And there’s just plain silliness. “These waters are truly a fisherman’s paradise,” says narrator Bob Bruce as he sets up an underwater gag. “We notice barracuda,” he says as several swim past while Carl Stalling plays “Over the Waves” in the background.



Swordfish. You’ll notice the underwater wave effect animation.



Tuna!



Avery was a master of timing as much as anyone. There’s a pause in the action. He’s setting up the punch-line. Bruce then remarks: “And here comes some salmon.”



Yeah, it’s not as funny as drunken fish singing “Moonlight Bay” (see Avery’s Porky’s Duck Hunt) but I like it. Stalling adds a silly arrangement of a snippet of “The Umbrella Man” to musically punctuate the gag.

Chuck McKimson gets the rotating animation credit, Tubby Millar rates being handed the story credit and background artist Johnny Johnsen remains uncredited. There’s good effects animation in this one, too. Oh, and a dog/tree gag. It is a Tex Avery cartoon, after all.

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

The Gambling Freelancer From Tacoma

It would appear the only time Art Gilmore’s radio broadcasting was silenced was because of clumsiness.

This is before the days of announcing for Red Skelton, Amos ‘n’ Andy and Doctor Christian, before narrating the opening on Highway Patrol, before recording children’s 45s and 78s that were turned into Mel-O-Toons, before turning into a villain intent on bumping off Joe McDoakes in the Warners short So You Want Be a Detective, before Dudley Pictures hired him to be the voice of industrial films, before hyping the thrills and chills of countless movies in theatre trailers.

This is when he was a ham radio announcer with the call letters W7MR, and was about to get into the insurance business in Tacoma. He bought an 80-metre crystal to control his transmitter. Before he was able to install it, he dropped it on the floor, where it turned in ten pieces. No matter. His love of radio became a career, first at KVI in Tacoma in 1934 (where he also sang), then eventually at KNX in Hollywood in October 1936. He was one of the original announcers at Columbia Square when CBS opened it in 1938.

Gilmore decided to freelance in 1941, served a hitch in the navy as a lieutenant, then returned to civilian life after the war to continue a broadcasting career we’ve barely touched on above. He emceed public events. He served as president of AFTRA (members struck against KFWB during his tenure). He was the founding president of the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters. Daily, he introduced the Ambassador College religious show The World Tomorrow.

How did he have time for all this?

Gilmore died in 2010 and his Los Angeles Times obituary was published in newspapers across the U.S. Here’s a much earlier profile, from the Hollywood Citizen-News of January 20, 1958.

Busy Schedule For Art Gilmore
By ARLENE GARBER

Being the announcer for “Climax," “Shower of Stars,” “Highway Patrol,” “Men of Annapolis," the Red Skelton Show, plus narrating numerous motion picture features, short-subjects, children's albums for Capitol Records, narrator for the “Laymen's Hour” on KABC-Radio, acting in dramatic productions and singing at civic affairs might be more than some announcers could handle. But Art Gilmore who does all that, is taking on another task Feb. 24 when he becomes the commercial host for General Petroleum on CBS-TV’s “Track-down" series.
All this is possible, because according to Gilmore, he gave up being a staff announcer at CBS-KNX radio after the war to become a free lance man at the microphone.
He explained it like this, “Free lancing is a gamble, but it is far more stimulating than being a staff announcer. And most important, there is less chance that you will get into a rut taking the jobs as they come.”
Twenty-five years ago he was a singer. After working as a singing announcer he decided to give up being a vocalist as profession. He said, “I had sung for money but the money wasn't good. I got tired of sitting around for eight hours at a studio, just so I could go on to sing four bars of music.”
He admits to having luck in getting many of his first free lance jobs.
A DECISION
“You come to that Y in the road,” he told us, “when you have to make a decision. I took announcing, but when I was 40 years old I started looking around for a good vocal teacher, just to keep in practice. And the strange thing is that all these jobs that have come to me came after I started taking singing lessons.”
Now he does moot of his singing in the bathtub, on tape where he can erase it, and at a few civic or religious affairs.
Among the great radio voices admires are those of Art Baker and Ted Husing, for sports. Of Baker he commented, “He is an excellent performer in anything he does.”
It was because this same Art Baker had laryngitis years ago on a radio show, “All Aboard,” that Gilmore got his first chance to “warm up” a studio audience before the show went on the air and had to be he impromptu host for the program.
Two of Gilmore’s first lucky breaks were being selected announcer for the radio shows, "Red Ryder” which was on the air nine years and for “Dr. Christian,” which continued for 16 years.
When asked who his favorite disc jockey was, Gilmore said, "Someone like Dick Whittinghill. He just seems to bubble over with enthusiasm and has interesting things to say. It's enthusiasm that is the basic quality of all selling.”
When he finds free time, and he claims that he does very often, he likes to get busy in his workshop or take his family, wife and two daughters, sailing on their 30-foot cruiser.


Here’s an example of Gilmore on camera. I’d have to do research on why a Valiant is parked on the warning path of a ball park. Someone should take a shillelagh to the actor with the lame Irish accent. It’s bad enough some whiz-bangs at a copy department someone came up with the idea to name him “Pat.”

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

The Starring Lamp

The cartoon’s called Aladdin’s Lamp, but the lamp really doesn’t have much to do with John Foster’s plot. It’s like the Terrytoons studio had to put another Mighty Mouse cartoon on the schedule and everyone went through it half-heartedly. There isn’t even a TerrySplash™ in this one. A tall female mouse gets kidnapped by a cat, is rescued by M.M. and, well, that’s it.

The cartoon takes about a minute to get into the plot. Aladdin has a daughter who cries like a baby and wants Mighty Mouse (as displayed in a huge picture in Aladdin’s palace). Foster doesn’t even bother having the cat in some kind of Mighty Mouse disguise. The cat (designed like Sour Puss with a huge red nose) simply shows up and grabs the girl about half-way through the cartoon.

The lamp? Oh, he grabs that, too. No struggle or anything.

Finally, our hero arrives, unnecessarily riding a magic carpet as he can fly on his own (I guess riding a carpet is what one is expected to do in Aladdin Land). Now, the evil cat summons the power of the lamp. Oh, no! It’s a flying black boar!!



Mighty Mouse punches it. And the gag is? Does it turn into a stack of pork chops with a “kosher” sign? Nah. (The Fleischers would do it). It looks like Foster and the rest of the crew couldn’t come up with anything amusing so the pig flies out of the scene and the cartoon for good. I do like effects in the frame below.



Next, the cat summons a vicious flying tiger–with a large moustache. Perhaps the story department was passing around some cheap hootch when they thought that up.



“Shhay, howbout he grabsh him by the tail?” “Yeah, a tiger by the tail! That’sh funny.” So that’s what Mighty Mouse does. Foster and his guys thought of a gag this time, borrowed from an old Popeye cartoon, I think. When the tiger crash-lands, his stripes come off him. The tiger sees the stripes and runs into the distance, like in a 1920s silent Fables cartoon, the stripes following.



Now the mouse is met with a fire breathing dragon from the lamp. As Phil Scheib fills the background with dramatic music, Mighty Mouse turns the fire back on the dragon, which falls into the ground. No Popeye punch-line here. That’s it.



Finally, bad guy cat gives up on the lamp. In the cartoon’s climax, the cat tries slicing Mighty Mouse with a scimitar. Failing, he is punched out of the scene and...



Well, Foster has no gag here, so that’s it. A punch. That’s all they came up with.

Cut to the daughter (and lamp) being reunited with her father in song as she kisses her hero. The lamp gets into the last word, growing a face and editoralising about the situation with a wolf whistle.



At least we’re spared hordes of cheering mice at the end like in so many other Mighty Mouse epics.

Fortunately, there’s no “bible” or “canon” or “alternate Mighty Mouse universe” or some other such nonsense. Otherwise, Mr. Mouse would be stuck with this obsessive pantalooned girl in future cartoons.

This is a 1947 release with Eddie Donnelly directing. The default identification is Carlo Vinci animating the dancing mouse girl in his usual fine fashion.

Monday, 28 November 2022

Knight-Mare Hare Backgrounds

Knight-Mare Hare (1955) was put into production not long after the Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng units returned to work at the Warner Bros. studio following a six-month shutdown.

Jones’ writer Mike Maltese was still at the Walter Lantz studio while layout man Maurice Noble had gone to work for John Sutherland Productions. Tedd Pierce worked on five stories for Jones until Maltese returned, and Ernie Nordli was hired to draw layouts, with Phil De Guard resuming his job painting backgrounds.

Pierce’s story for this short is in three acts and each has a different colour style from Nordli and De Guard. The first part starts off with blue skies and tan clouds. The second part features pink skies and purple clouds. The third part has Bugs Bunny outside Merlin’s castle. The outdoors is greyish.



Nordli went in for cockeyed interiors. You can see what he did in Broom-Stick Bunny (1956) in this post; some people attribute his designs to Noble, but they aren’t.

I really like the castle interiors that Nordli designed and De Guard painted. The long one is not a continuation of the first painting. You can see the difference in the angles of the table legs.



De Guard’s name appears on most of the Jones cartoons (he laid out a few shorts) until the studio shut down for good. When Jones was hired to make Tom and Jerrys at MGM in 1963, De Guard was one of the people he signed for his team. For the most part, the rest of his career was connected with Jones. He died in 1982 at age 72.

Sunday, 27 November 2022

The Movie Life For Me

Maybe he was frustrated and just spouting off.

Jack Benny talked about quitting radio. Not in 1955 when his radio show ended; he wanted to continue but sponsor money simply wasn’t there. He talked about it in 1937.

Jack bent the ear of a newspaper syndicate columnist, musing of the easy life film stars had by comparison. How serious was he? It’s hard to say. Up until that time, Jack did okay in pictures because people loved him in radio. But the pictures really weren’t okay. They were full of radio stars in implausible situations with the bare bones of a plot. Acting wasn’t really much of a requirement. Other than To Be or Not To Be (1942), his future films are really “For Benny Fans Only.”

Let’s see what he had to tell the North American Newspaper Alliance. This version, thanks to the Barbara Thunell scrapbooks, comes from The Detroit News and contains additional copy about a vaudeville appearance he and Mary made in the motor city. I can find no reference to it in any paper or in the Benny vaudeville database. I can’t picture him making it up. You’ll notice this version of the Jack/Mary first meeting doesn’t mention the imaginary seder that showed up in later explanations.

Jack Benny, Dick Powell To Desert Air Waves Soon
BY HAROLD HEFFERNAN
Motion Picture Editor, North American Newspaper Alliance
HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 7.
Two of the most important names on the air waves are expected to fade out before the New Year gets much more of a start, leaving yawning vacancies to be filled by the radio programers. In both cases the movies may be blamed.
Dick Powell drops his connection with the soup business after the Hollywood Hotel air show Friday night so that he may give all his time to pictures. To be more specific, Warner Brothers Pictures. The studio also is reported planning an air show of its own, and wants Powell and Joan Blondell to be the dominant personalities in its weekly broadcasts over a national hook-up.
Surprising as it may seem, Jack Benny is the other radio deserter. Jack will finish his present contract, which runs about six or eight weeks, and then will give his all to the Paramount studio, where his two most recent appearances, in "The Big Broadcast of 1937" and "College Holiday," have been marked up as definite personal hits.
Benny, during the last few days, has made no secret of his desire to quit radio and devote all his time to pictures.
"The hardest job in the world is to be consistently funny, and when you set a certain standard you must duplicate or excel it week after week," he told this writer in announcing his determination to go off the air.
"From Monday to Sunday it is gag-thinking, gag-writing, rehearsals every day. There's no rest. One program is over and you start right in racking your brains about the next one. And you're wondering, forever wondering, whether one of your prized bits of so-called humor is going to score or flop with a dull thud. You can never tell about radio. The best gag in rehearsal may be the one that doesn't strike the real audience at all."
Benny thinks the average picture star with no radio tie-ups leads a grand life, and he is eager to throw himself and Mary Livingstone (she's the wife and the other half of the skit, of course) into the midst of it.
"Picture making is on such a systematic basis nowadays that you know right where you stand. You get up at seven in the morning, report to the studio at nine, and you're through for the day at 5:30 or 6. That's more like a normal life. In radio and in the theater you're at it day and night. You never can let down for a moment.
“Yes, I believe I would like to live the life of a movie actor. And if they’re willing to have me, it’s okay by me. It’s silly to make so much money, anyway. The more a professional actor draws the more slips out in taxes. It’s taken me a long time to figure the thing out, but if I cut down my work I think I’ll end up with more money, or at least a greater sense of personal security.
"Of course, we've had a lot of fun out of the radio; almost as much as the listener thinks we do while we're going through those silly skits. It's the constant build-up between those Sunday night shows that saps the strength and takes its toll on the nervous system."
For a couple of years before radio or pictures knew them, Jack and Mary Livingstone toured the vaudeville circuits as a "comedy double." They were accepted as one of the smartest repartee trading acts on the big time and always drew good money. But they had their troubles in getting over with all types of audiences.
Shortly after the Hollywood Theater opened in Detroit, Jack and Mary were booked in for the second spot on a six-act bill.
In theatrical parlance, they opened cold. Jack’s subtle little cracks, his chief stock in trade, left the first show spectators wondering what the act was about. There was no applause. Actors thrive on handclaps. Money is essential but not all of them are temperamentally fitted to face cold undemonstrative audiences a whole week through.
Less than an hour after the first show, Benny called Ben Cohen, manager of the theater, on the phone.
“I can’t play your house any longer,” said Jack. “I’m sorry to leave you in such a fix, but I’m sick. I have a very bad earache. If you insist on my fulfilling the contract, I’ll produce a doctor to show my earache is very, very bad.”
Cohen obliged by substituting another act, one that cost the theater much less and one that won many more laughs. It was just a case of Benny playing before the wrong audience.
Benny and Cohen met again on the Paramount lot a few days ago during the Detroit exhibitor’s vacation stay in Hollywood. They laughed as the incident was recalled.
“Yes, that was a very painful earache,” said Benny, “but funny thing, it cleared up over in Cleveland the following week. At least I was able to hear some applause over there.”
Mary Livingstone is a mighty important part of the Benny act. Each is dependent on the other for little tips and real soul-to-soul encouragement. Each is always a “lift” to the other.
Jack fell in love with Mary because she didn't talk, he admitted. She was a salesgirl in a Los Angeles department store when they first met. Benny and another actor had planned to step out after their last performance in a local theater, but at the last minute Jack's girl telephoned she couldn't make it.
His actor friend came to the rescue with the suggestion he bring the girl's sister to pinch hit.
"You won't care much for her, because she's so quiet," he told Jack. "Just sits and listens."
So it was arranged and Jack met Mary. Contrary to prediction, he liked her, and liked her more every time he saw her. Finally Jack went east to fill some stage engagements.
"It was the strangest courtship you ever heard of," Jack recalled. "Mary didn't write to me, and I failed to send her a message of any kind. Weeks passed and next thing I heard Mary was engaged to some chap in Vancouver.
“I got the news from Mary’s sister, who was on a visit to Chicago, where I was playing. My pride got a terrific jolt. Deep down in my heart, I loved Mary, but I didn’t realize how much she meant to me until I was told somebody was about to take her from me.
"I suggested to Mary's sister that Mary be asked to come to Chicago on a little trip before the wedding. She came and while there we fell in love. There was no mistake about it this time. "When I asked Mary what she was going to do about the Vancouver chap, she replied, 'Oh, I’ll cancel that.'”
Our wedding was set for the following Sunday, but I felt if we waited that long it might never transpire so we were married the next night on Friday.
"After the ceremony, when I knew Mary couldn't get away from me, I asked her how she came to walk out on me and become engaged to somebody else. She had a good answer.
" 'You walked out on me once,' she said."
“Then she told me the story of how she met me when she was 12 years old. It happened in Vancouver, B. C. With Zeppo Marx, a friend then playing in vaudeville on the bill with me, I attended a family party. Everybody sat around and talked—all except Mary, who was too shy to participate in the conversation. I was bored so, after awhile I excused myself and went home. But it seemed ordained that I should meet Mary again, and that I should marry her.”
And Jack’s pet name for Mary is “Doll,” probably because dolls don’t talk.

Saturday, 26 November 2022

How to Make Oswald

One of the best things on The Woody Woodpecker Show—even better than some of the cartoons—was the little segments where Walter Lantz would show how cartoons were made.

It would appear this kind of thing was in Lantz’s blood. He and his staff appeared on a newsreel in 1936 demonstrating how an Oswald the Rabbit short was put together. Either that was extracted for home movie release, or he made a separate 16 mm. film, though I suspect it is the former judging by the sketch of Oswald and the turtle in a baseball game.

That film was the subject of the article below in the July 1939 edition of Home Movie magazine.

Lantz Movie Explains How To Animate
Authored by Curtis Randall
J.C. Milligan photos
Substantiating many of the things Walter Lantz described in his recent articles in HOME MOVIES on Animated Cartoons, is a 400 foot 16mm sound film recently made by him.
While this reel does not go into the subject as completely as did the articles, nevertheless it clarifies all of the important phases of animated cartooning Lantz dwelt upon in his interesting articles. In this film, he not only appears several times personally explaining a certain situation or technique, but the various important steps in the making of an animated cartoon are worked out before your very eyes. Here, in 400 feet of motion picture film, you see and hear what goes on behind the gates of the Walter Lantz studios. You are taken right inside the studio, as a personal guest of Mr. Lantz.
The opening scenes show Lantz pondering an idea for a new’ cartoon subject. As the idea develops, Lantz makes rough sketches and writes a brief outline of the action. Next, we see him take his idea — sketches and all — to one of his chief animators. He explains the idea and tells the animator just the kind of action he wants, emphasizing in terms of fractions of an inch, just how far one of the cartoon subjects should move within a given time to produce the desired effect.
The animator takes the idea and works up the cast of characters. It is he who conceives their costumes, mannerisms, and style of speech. He makes the initial sketches of each sequence on a shooting script, which differs greatly from the scripts used in regular motion picture productions. Adjacent to the sketch is a brief synopsis of the action for that particular scene or sequence. The animator calculates the number of separate frames of film that will have to be photographed for the given action, and this number is noted immediately beneath the sketch on the script page.
To the layman, the process of determining the exact number of separate shots that will have to be made to secure a given action would seem difficult. But the animators have this worked down to a fine science and know just how many eighths or quarters of an inch the subject should move per second to gain the required results, which Lantz clearly show’s in his film.
After the chief animator has completed all initial sketches and his shooting script, the script is broken up into sections and divided among the staff of artists, who immediately set to work drawing the necessary backgrounds and the thousands of characters necessary to making the full length film.
You will see the artists drawing the cartoon characters on clear sheets of celluloid which they term “cells.” A separate cell has to be made for each of the predetermined steps in the action as estimated by the chief animator and explained above. After these cells are completed with sketches of the characters outlined in ink, they are sent to another staff of artists who apply the colors. Still another staff of artists make the backgrounds and these are drawn on long sheets of paper, so that they may be moved horizontally in back of the cells as they are photographed, to add to the illusion of motion in the characters.
After all of the cells and backgrounds are completed, they are sent to the camera department, and here you see huge stacks of cells with their corresponding shooting scripts being studied and executed by the cameraman. The camera is of special construction with a “single frame” or “stop motion” mechanism tripped by a foot pedal, the pressing of which operates the mechanism and assures smooth action and even exposure.
After all of the cells have been photographed and a print of the film has been obtained and subjected to the initial cutting, another staff prepares to score in the dialogue and sound effects. You will see the film being projected a number of times, as the sound department rehearses and revamps the dialogue. Members of the sound staff are shown testing various sound and noise makers for just the desired effect called for in the picture. You see, in making an animated cartoon, the picture is made first and the dialogue and sound is dubbed in afterward.
When the sound director o.k’s the dialogue and sound effects and these have been so timed that they fit the action perfectly, the sound score is made. In this film you are taken right into the sound department projection room. The film is projected on a screen. Musicians, dialogue artists, and sound effect men stand before microphones — much the same as in a radio broadcast — and, at the right moment, they “do their stuff” so to speak, producing the sounds and speech required.
There is much to be gained regarding the modern technique of animated cartoon production in viewing this film, and amateurs who are interested in this phase of cinephotography should make it a point to see it. This film is available from the film rental libraries of the Bell & Howell Company, and is a worthy subject for screening at any club meeting.


The April 1939 edition of the magazine has an illustrated article by Lantz on filming cartoons. Here it is.

Equipment used in Animation Work
The first step in “shooting” animated cartoons is the taking of a few frames of the “slate.” This is, as the name implies, an old fashioned school slate upon which is chalked the information needed later for the cutting and editing of the finished cartoon. It is placed under the camera at the start of each scene. If the scene is taken more than once, it is given a “take” number. A properly filled out “slate” is shown in Fig. 1, the data on which is constantly being changed for each take, scene, etc.



Next, the cameraman places his “continuity guide” next to him, as shown in upper right hand corner of Fig. 2. This guide shows the cameraman the number of exposures in the next scene and the number of times each exposure is taken. For example, he is starting a scene and is getting ready to shoot cell No. 1, of scene No. 1, which requires three shots or “takes” for this particular cell. All of this data is contained on the “slate.” When this has been done, he moves to Cell No. 2 and so on, placing a pin marker on the next line below.



The cameraman is starting a scene, in Fig. 3, and has all the cells neatly stacked before him, in numerical order. As he shoots one he lays aside the previous cell and moves up a number on his sheet, using a pin-marker, to prevent error, as shown in Fig. 4.
Next, we come to Fig. 5 which shows the left hand of the cameraman holding a “cell” which is ruled off in various sizes of rectangles, each rectangle having a number. This cell is called “field guide” and as it is placed over the picture, shows the area capable of being taken at a given distance, from the camera. From the past experience you know that the farther away the subject, the smaller it becomes (unless you change lenses). In cartoon work, to get close-ups, the camera is moved down, closer to the drawing. This is called “trucking”; the lens being re-focussed, for distance, as the “trucking” continues. The theory involved is much the same as “zooming,” with which you are all familiar.



Upon closely examining Figs. 5 and 6 you will notice that the camera structure has accurately calibrated scales, as fine as l/32nd of an inch in controlled movement. Further, the calibrated, controlled movement is not limited to an up or down position but in various other planes as well ; such as forward, backward, right or left, across the picture area. This provides a fully universal control of movement, in any plane.
In Fig. 5 and also in Fig. 6 there is a scale in the upper part of the picture close to the left. This is a flat scale and is used for moving camera forward or backward. Underneath this and slightly to the front is a cylindrical movement of camera when “trucking.” Note also, in Fig. 6 a “counter” mechanism, registering the number of frames taken. The “lattice effect” boxes (prominent in Fig. 3) and on each side of the structure, are specially-designed mercury lights.



The ‘single-frame” or “stop-motion” mechanism is tripped by a foot pedal, as in Fig. 7, the pressing of which operates a solenoid (or magnet) which takes one picture for each time the foot pedal is pressed. Fig. 8 shows the camera motor unit, solenoid (or magnet) and other of the rather complex mechanisms required in this work.
Figs. 9 and 10 show the glass-press arrangement which holds the cells flat, while shooting. This is heavy plate glass, in a frame and is operated by foot pressure.
Notice particularly, in Figs. 9 and 10, the “background” being quite a bit longer than the cell. This background can be moved sideways in the slots, while the cell is held stationary ; causing the illusion of the characters moving and saves innumerable drawings. This arrangement is also accurately calibrated for movement, which must be synchronized with the action movement of the characters. Note also that the table on which this mechanism is built is round and capable of being rotated.



“Animated cartoons” are a highly specialized branch of studio technique, requiring, as you can now understand, complex mechanisms, a high degree of systematized skill and lots of patience, assuming that a two-reel cartoon has 2,000 feet of film, each foot of which has 16 frames or pictures, it would require 32,000 drawings (many of which have several characters on them) and each successive drawing must show a slight advance in animation to produce the illusion of motion.
The sound effects, dialog, etc., are “dubbed in” later; after the cartoon is finished, it is run in the projection room and a sound-track made of all noises while the picture is being shown on the screen. This separate soundtrack (on separate film) is superimposed on the cartoon.


It’d be kind of cool to see Woody Woodpecker (or even Oswald) come in with some comments, just like the ‘50s/’60s TV half-hour. I don’t know if the camera story was of any help to an amateur wanting to make a cartoon, but it at least gave the Lantz studio a bit of publicity.