Friday, 27 March 2020

Un Cameo De Skunque

There was a time there weren’t “universes,” a time when it was special when one cartoon character crossed over into another character’s animated short.

Porky’s Pig Feat may be the best one at Warner Bros. because Bugs Bunny unexpectedly shows up at the end as the topper gag. Another one is at the end of Dog Pounded (1954), where Sylvester spends most of the cartoon trying to get past a pack of dogs to Tweety, his breakfast.

In the final routine, he paints a white stripe down his back to look like a skunk and frighten the dogs. It works.

Ah, but the only possible reaction in a Warner Bros. cartoon to a cat with a painted skunk line is the appearance of Pepé Le Pew. Sylvester squirms to get away from his romantic advances. A few random frames.

Carl Stalling plays Friml and Cushing’s “L’Amour Toujours L'Amour” in the background.

The cartoon ends with a wisecrack from Tweety and Pepé making kissing sounds at the fade out.

Manny Perez, Ken Champin, Art Davis and Virgil Ross received animation credits.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Fred is Falling For You

Betty Boop’s Prize Show is her version of an 1890s Western melodrama, except she is performing it as a play in a small town theatre. This gives Dave Fleischer and the writers a chance to toss in some theatre gags.

One is when the bad guy punches Fearless Fred out the door and over a cliff. As he falls, it’s revealed the falling effect is pure theatre, as the stagehands operating the rolling background are revealed.

The backdrop restored, Fred falls toward the rocks below, but swims in place in mid-air until he can attach the branch that breaks his fall. (Don’t ask what happened to the board holding Fred aloft. It was only there for the sake of the gag. The gag’s done).

Myron Waldman and Lillian Friedman are the credited animators.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Can You Come Over and Insult People?

If you’re going to be insulted by anyone, you couldn’t find too many people better than Groucho Marx.

"The One, The Only" did it to ordinary people on camera and off. No one seems to have been offended; I suspected they treated it as a badge of honour.

Here’s a wire service story that showed up in papers around May 21, 1961. That’s the year Groucho gave up You Bet Your Life, a show which didn’t even make it on the air on the east coast on February 2nd because someone forgot to deliver a tape to NBC in New York (the network substituted a documentary on the old Third Avenue El. It’s a shame Groucho didn’t narrate that).

Nowhere does the story mention Groucho’s new kinda-quiz show, Tell It To Groucho, debuting in the fall. Considering its fate, that’s all just as well.

The writer was quite correct about Groucho pretending to be baffled about the end of his quiz show. He told columnist Hal Humphrey the same year that he went with a new show because of residuals, adding that sponsors weren’t lining up to buy time on reruns of You Bet Your Life because the original show was still on the air. No sponsors means no stations, and no stations means no residuals.

Anyway, on to the insults! The drawing accompanied the Pittsburgh Press’ version of the story.

Groucho, the Delight of Hostesses
HOLLYWOOD—Hollywood's most-sought-after guest for parties has no muscles, no sex appeal and rarely smiles. He's Groucho Marx.
Hostesses battle for him, because his wit makes their affairs the talk of the town the next day.
At a recent shindig, a bright-eyed young lady cornered him and told him she wanted her future husband to be able to swim, dance, ski, sing a little and ride horseback.
"You don't want a husband," barked Groucho. "You want a five-man relay team."
At another party, the host was speaking glowingly about famous persons who have lived to be 80 years old or more.
"Anyone can get old," said Groucho. "All you have to do is live long enough."
On one occasion, a clergyman told the comedian: "Mr. Marx, I want to thank you for all the enjoyment you've given the world."
"And I," replied Groucho, "want to thank you for all the enjoyment you've taken out of it."
The clergyman erupted into laughter and asked Groucho's permission to use the story in a sermon.
Rumor has it that Groucho will replace Jack Paar one night a week next fall. Most of Groucho's fans probably aren't aware yet that after 14 years this Marx brother is not coming back with his famous "You Bet Your Life" show next season.
In his own inimitable style, however, Groucho denies he will take over any part of the Paar show.
"Paar is a clever fellow. Everybody has been on the Paar show—Kennedy, Nixon, Billy Graham. Even Paar has been on the Paar show. Come to think of it, Khrushchev never made the Paar show, and that's the acid test. Would you want a leader who hasn't been on the Paar show?"
The eye-rolling humorist appears not to be too upset over the demise of his quiz show, although he is somewhat baffled by it or pretends to be.
"I don't know if the sponsors dropped it, or the agencies or the network. I don't pay attention to those things. But I have no complaint. The show lasted 14 years, 11 of them on TV, and I've made a lot of money and gone through two wives with this show –and four or five NBC presidents."
The comedian, once a top movie star, never took any guff from his sponsors on television.
When he was being feted at a cocktail party for his book, "Groucho and Me," a sponsor representative suggested that he put down his drink before posing for a picture.
"Ridiculous," said Groucho. "People watch TV with drinks in their hands. In fact, people watch television drunk. If they weren't, they wouldn't watch it."
Another time, Groucho was called in because NBC-TV had received some letters about the acid-like way he made some comments.
During the discussion, Groucho asked: "How many letters did we get?"
"Twenty-three," came the reply.
"How many people watch the show?" he asked an aide.
"More than 20,000,000." Without saying another word, Groucho got up and walked out. The network never complained again.
Groucho, in deadpan, mercilessly kids his old friend, restaurateur Mike Romanoff, when he eats at his famous dining place.
"Here comes that phony Russian prince," he says in a stage whisper so that all diners can hear.
Once, Romanoff came over with a smile to greet him and said:
"I just had my dinner."
"I wish you had mine," snapped Groucho.
Groucho is considered the fastest man in town with a line. Once, in a discussion about alimony, he defined it as "feeding oats to a dead horse."
When the conversation turned to gracious living, he offered this definition: "Having an icebox in the tropics."
Groucho is unfailingly polite to children, but cuts down offensive parents. In Romanoff's not long ago, he autographed a menu for a little girl, only to have her father follow her over.
The father offered his hand and said in an irritating manner:
"It's meant a lot to me to shake hands with you."
"It's meant a lot to me too," snapped Groucho. "Probably a skin disease."
Groucho is wealthy, likes to read, play golf and write letters. Of the termination of his show, he says:
"Really, I feel the way Man o’ War must have felt when he was retired. Except, in his case, he was going to stud and I'm just going to seed," says Groucho.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Felix Dogs It

Dancing butterfly. Dancing bear. Dancing flowers. Not exactly something you’d find in a Felix the Cat cartoon, but that’s what we get in April Maze. It was reported by Film Daily on September 21, 1930 that it was one of nine Felix synchronised to music by Copley Pictures. Basically, the Felix shorts were doing what other sound cartoon series were doing, and poorly at that. There was no singing or dialogue; just sound and vocal effects.

Felix isn’t only saddled with flora and fauna taking his screen time, he’s stuck with yowling kids. They even pray—twice! It’s far from the drunken Felix in Woos Whoopee. However, there are a few elements of the old Felix cartoons, such as the living wieners.

Felix and the kids go on a picnic. Among the food—wieners. I suppose they are supposed to be hot dogs, even though there are no buns, as the wieners bark like dogs.

When it starts to rain, Felix and his kids run away. The wieners follow behind, leaping.

Cut to the next scene where the wieners are rolling in a circle like a wheel. Because there’s a storm, the director (Otto Messmer?) switches from a positive to a negative of the shot off and on during the scene.

Cut to the wieners acting like horses, pulling Felix and the kids in the picnic basket along the ground.

Copley Pictures is still in the Film Daily Year Book in 1934 as the producer and distributor of Felix, but it stopped making new cartoons some time in 1930.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Yes, He's Crooked

The puns are almost non-stop in The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945). “You know,” says Droopy to the viewers. “I think the dealer is crooked.” The camera pans to the left.

Metro was extremely high on this cartoon. It took out a full page ad in all kinds of trade publications.

The Showmen’s Trade Review of April 21, 1945 endorsed the cartoon:

The Shooting of Dan McGoo (Kids Itself)
MGM—No. W-545 8 mins.
The laughs in this Technicolor travesty on the Robert W. Service poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," starts early in the nine satisfying minutes for the subject kids itself, and that takes courage, even in cartoons. Its satiric vein continues with a hot number rendered by Red Hot Riding Hood as “the lady known as Lou,” in the Malemute Saloon in Coldornell, Alaska, in which the voice of Imogene Lynn is a mellifluent contribution. It is worth booking whether quality shorts are appreciated.

Incidentally, the title of this cartoon wasn’t original with MGM. The July-August 1931 edition of Radio Digest reveals the NBC Red network broadcast a show of detective send-ups by comedians “Snoop and Peep.” One was entitled “The Shooting of Dan McGoo” (it aired in southern California on KECA Los Angeles).

Bill Thompson is in the Midwest on military duty, so other than the first line, someone else is voicing Droopy. Frank Graham is the narrator and Sara Berner is Lou.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Moving to the Stars Address

No story gripped the radio columns—and some news columns, too—at the end of 1948 than CBS buying Jack Benny’s company Amusement Enterprises, meaning the Jack Benny show would move from NBC at the start of 1949.

CBS hyped and hyped the change; Benny even made fun of the hype on his first CBS broadcast. So did other CBS comedians, judging by the radio column of the Minneapolis Star Tribune of January 4, 1949. You probably won’t read a more thorough summary of what happened on the air the night of Benny’s debut, because the paper put two reporters on the story (kind of).

Frankly, this is far from one of my favourite Benny shows. The Jack/Mary song is nothing more than an over-long network promo—there’s even a reprise, as if to fill time because the show didn’t get enough laughs—with nothing funny in it.

In explanation, NBC replaced Benny with Horace Heidt’s Youth Opportunity musical talent show. And I strongly suspect the NBC staff announcer on duty that night was briefed on what exactly was going to take place; there’s no way he would have been unexpectedly thrown like that on a major network, especially because the extra banter would take up time and that would have to be accounted for on the network log.

Joneses Keep Up With Nets


For awhile Sunday night I was afraid I'd have to listen to two radios at once. I felt some obligation to chronicle the new Sunday night sound of a CBS with Jack Benny, an NBC without Jack Benny.
Mrs. Jones came to the rescue. She offered to listen to one network for me, and to take careful notes. With the rescue came a crisis. We had to flip a coin. Mrs. Jones won CBS and the kitchen. I got NBC and the living room.
Amos ‘n’ Unday
First, however, we both listened to Spike Jones on CBS. Before the Jones show, a CBS announcer reminded everybody to listen to Jack Benny in a half-hour.
Jones rather set the tempo for CBS. The City Slickers played "Sunday." It was all about CBS programs. One line ended with Amos 'n' Unday, to rhyme with Sunday, which sort of gives you an idea. The song was interrupted by a squeaky violin exercise.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Benny,” said Jones, “but you don't go on for a half-hour yet.” Folks laughed, Jones, then paraphrased some Longfellow quote about Sunday.
Right off, CBS showed how wonderfully fully big hearted and confident it was about the whole Sunday night affair by allowing mention of another network, by letters. Buddy Clark, a guest, referred to “my own program on—you’ll pardon the expression—NBC.”
The first commercial had a Coke-on-Sunday theme. Joan Davis, another guest, was ready with a gag about Benny. With Benny, she said, it's “Give that man $4,000,000 to change networks!” With her, she said, it's “Get the net and give ‘er the works!” Folks laughed.
Jones came up with a picture of how it must be in Benny's dressing room:
“I can see it now . . . Jack—surrounded by all his Jack.” Folks laughed.
Those gags, it turned out, were of about the same tenor and caliber of all that were to follow. Jones and Miss Davis got around to Benny-the-pinchpenny and Benney's-toupee-gags, too, of course.
Chuckle in Kitchen
At this point I shuffled off to the living room and NBC. Before Horace Heidt's talent show moved into the old Benny time spot, an announcer warned:
“Don't miss a second of the next 30 minutes.”
Somebody also said, a bit desperately: “The youth of America is in the No. 1 spot of America!” This referred, of course, to the choice NBC time vacated by Benny.
I listened to a saxophonist, a girl duet and was in the midst of an accordionist playing “Quicksilver.” From the kitchen I heard a familiar noise: Benny's Maxwell starting.
I heard Mrs. Jones chuckling. (She told me what the gag was later. Mary Livingstone: “I hope you don't have the usual trouble with your Maxwell.” Benny: “Don't worry. Yesterday I had the motor tuned up.” Sound of Maxwell motor grinding. Mary: “Who tuned it? Spike Jones?”)
Heidt next offered a banjoist, a tonguing trumpeter. The banjoist won. By way of a guest, Heidt hauled out Judge Robert T. Patterson, former secretary of war. Patterson said he trusted “every worthy American citizen will support” Heidt and his talent show because of what they are doing for the youth of America.
Then Heidt urged everybody to have plenty of Philip Morrises around the house “whether you smoke or not, because Philip Morris is helping the youth of America.” It'll be interesting to see just how strongly these noble appeals can compete with Benny’s Maxwell.
Cues, More Cues
The same half-hour on CBS, reports Mrs. Jones, was preceded by a breathless network cue:
“This is CBS-Where-Jack-Benny-Starts-in-30-Seconds, the Columbia Broadcasting System.”
Benny was found, supposedly two hours before his program, heading for the CBS studios to report for work.
Several gags later—
Mary: “Why should you worry—
Benny: “I'm not really nervous.”
Mary: “Stop pacing up and down on the running board—you must have $1,000,000 down in your vault.”
Benny: “I know, but I don't want to break up the serial numbers.”
Mary spotted a billboard on the way to the studio:
Jack Benny has switched to CBS.
Phil Harris has switched to Sterno.

Harris, impressed with the occasion, announced his band would play something special—“That's What I Like About the South.”
Dennis Day came in wearing hip boots, without pants.
His explanation: “I lost them by force of habit. As I passed NBC I walked by, but my pants walked in.”
Jack and Mary sang a special number to the tune of “I'd Like to Get You on a Slow Boat to China.” Their version: “We'd Like to Get You to Stay Tuned on Sunday.”
Amos 'n Andy appeared briefly on the Benny show. On their own program, which followed, however, they wisely avoided the stock Benny gags. Their only reference to the new setup, said Mrs. Jones, was when Andy closed the program: “See you next Sunday, right after the Jack Benny show.”
Network Loyalty
Phil Harris must have left the Benny show early to run down the street in time to compete with Amos 'n' Andy at 6:30 p.m. His voice, at least, was on hand to interrupt an announcer who started to say, “This is NBC.” The fellow got to say "This is—,” and then Harris cut in with:
“Hold it, Bub! Don't bong them chimes until folks know that Alice and me is comin' on next—over N! B! C!”
This display of divided network loyalty was touching, especially in the light of Harris plans to move his own show over to CBS, too. The Phil Harris-Alice Faye script was free of references to networks or personalities until the sign-off. Then Alice said, “Fred Allen follows us on the air now!” Harris then saw fit to “welcome Horace Heidt to our network,” although Heidt has been on “our network” Sunday nights for some months now.
The NBC man with the network cue said, “This is—,” and was interrupted again. Mrs. Nussbaum this time. “Excuse it, pal,” she said. “. . . the Fred Allen show is arriving early over N! B! C!”
“For 12 years Edgar Bergen has been on at this time,” mused Allen. “Thousands of people tune in to hear Edgar Bergen, and instead of Bergen they hear me. And instead of his dummy—”
Portland: “They hear me!”
Allen made some feeble references to Benny, capital gains deals and Horace Heidt's program, but pointed no gags at them.
While this was going on, Sam Spade was getting into the act on CBS. The program opened with Sam saying to his secretary, “What have you been doing?” “Oh,” said the girl, “listening to Jack Benny.” “Jack Benny,” said Sam. “What's his last name?”

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Making Looney Tunes

Ray Katz’ cartoon career began fairly easily. His brother-in-law gave him a job.

His brother-in-law was Leon Schlesinger.

He was personel manager of Schlesinger’s studio when it opened in 1933; he did some of the originally hiring, according to animator Don Williams. Later he was installed as sub-contractor in charge of the Bob Clampett unit making Looney Tunes; the Screen Cartoonists Guild treated his employees as a separate bargaining unit, according to Variety.

There’s no indication Katz knew anything about drawing (Chuck Jones didn’t speak well of him but Jones doesn’t seem to have thought highly of anyone in management) but it would appear he grasped the basics of how his Looney Tunes were made. Here he is giving an outline to the Decatur Herald of November 12, 1933.

When Schlesinger sold the studio to Warner Bros. in July 1944, Katz stayed as production manager under Eddie Selzer. But not for long. He went on medical leave in February 1945 and then quit the studio because of illness two months later. How sick he really was is open to conjecture. In July, he was hired to be the general manager of the Screen Gems studio and stayed until Columbia closed it over a year later. He went into commercial property building after that and died in Los Angeles on February 16, 1963.

How Animated Cartoons Are Made Is Told
Former Mattoon Man Now Hollywood Manager, Describes Method of Producing Movies.

By Staff Correspondent
Mattoon—Ray Katz, formerly of Mattoon and now of Hollywood where he is business manager for the Pacific Title and Art studios and Leon Schlesinger Productions, entertained a small group of listeners here a few days ago by telling how animated cartoons are made. The Schlesinger Co. produces all "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" which rank, as animated cartoons, second to Walt Disney's brain child, "Mickey Mouse".
"The first, and one of the most important things," said Mr. Katz, "is the writing. We employ a staff of a dozen writers who do nothing but think up ideas for cartoons and plot stories. They have found that they work better in a group; when they work by themselves they easily go stale.
Hold Conferences.
"They have 'conferences' in which everyone seems to have a good time, laughing and joking; but in reality, they are hard at work, digging out ideas. The qualifications of a 'story-man' are uncertain; one of the best we have had never did a lick of writing before he came to our studios; in fact, he hadn't done any sort of work.
"The writing isn't like fiction writing. There can be very little dialog; the stress must be on action, and very simple action at that, particularly the little ridiculous things we catch ourselves doing and see others doing all the time.
"After the story is doped out, the director must go over it. Changes must be made to suit him. When this is done he takes the script to the 'lay-out' men, who design and sketch the background against which the cartoon is to be thrown, be it barnyard, desert island or cabaret. This, too, the director closely supervises. The director is the hardest working man in the outfit. For when this is done he takes his script and 'layout' to the 'animators'.
What Animator Does.
"Now an animator has to be a very accomplished person; being a cartoonist is not enough. He must also be something of a writer and an actor. If he can write, he knows situations that will be impressive and if he can act he knows the value of facial expression and posturing. When the director comes to him he will tell the story, stressing the desired action. The director may have to get down on his hands and knees and bark like a dog to get his idea across; things like that are not unusual.
"The animator must then go through the same actions himself to satisfy the director.
"After this the animator draws the first cartoons that are made. what we call the 'key pictures'. These are portrayals of the chief character in the most important situations in the story. These are inspected by the director, and are then turned over to more cartoonists whom we call the 'in-betweeners'. They fill in the script with all additional characters and situations.
Flashed on Screen.
"When this is done, the cartoons, and there may be between 6,000 and 10,000 of them, and the 'layouts' are flashed on a screen to see how they film. The bad ones are culled out and done over. When they are all ready they are taken to the inking and printing department. The originals were done on paper with pencil. In this department, the drawings are placed on wooden blocks with sheets of celluloid placed over them. The pictures are traced on to the celluloid in ink. This takes a long time. When it is done the celluloid plates are taken to the printer for toning, shading with black, white, or gray. This is done with both cartoons and backgrounds.
"When these plates are finished the first filming begins. The cartoons are superimposed, one by one, on the background scenes, and pictures are taken. A regular camera is used, not the kind that you crank, such as they use in the movies. To "take" between 600 and 700 feet of film, the usual length of the animated cartoon, requires two weeks, a thing that could be done in a few hours with a movie camera. These pictures are composite prints, and are fitted together to make the entire cartoon.
Begin Recording.
"When all this is done, and not before, the recording process begins. As I said before, we try to use as little dialog as possible; but we do insist on our musical scores being elaborate. Some of the highest paid talent we have with our companies is among the musicians. The recording is very like phonograph recording, synchronized to the movement of the cartoon."
When all this has been done, Mr. Katz explained, the business of distribution begins. He estimates that his company's cartoons are shown in at least 5,000 theaters throughout the world. One of the most surprising things about the distribution end of the business is that the animated cartoon is even more popular in England and France than it is in the United States.
American "Art."
A few years ago an eminent French critic startled many people in this country with a magazine article in which he stated that the animated cartoon was the most distinctive contribution America had made to dramatic art. Mr. Katz explained this by saying that the subjects of animated cartoons were always so simple that they could be truly appreciated in another country, "so long as the people are human."
Mr. Katz was a resident of Mattoon for many years, working with his father at the Katz Clothing Co. His brother. Elmore Katz started the "K" theater in Mattoon. Leon Schlesinger, president of the company for which Mr. Katz works, married a sister, Miss Bernice Katz.

Friday, 20 March 2020

The Patient Chair

A dental chair is a living being in the Flip the Frog cartoon Laughing Gas (1930), and it’s none too patient with a patient.

It politely invites the walrus to sit down and when the frightened patient refuses, it has to reach off screen, grab him and plunk him down. See how the chair and the hygienist duplicate their actions.

A better “living object” gag comes after the successful tooth surgery when Flip’s cash register demands to be paid.

The cartoon claims it’s “drawn by” Ub Iwerks.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

My Masterpiece

Wile E. Coyote thinks his “masterpiece” can blow up Bugs Bunny. It’s a flying saucer. As usual, Wile E. outsmarts himself by having various selections of animals to choose from.

Perspective animation.

Crafty Bugs uses a disguise. I like how he briefly takes it off when the saucer isn’t looking, then puts it back on when the saucer turns to face him.

Bugs is a few steps ahead of the “Super Genius.”

More perspective animation.

Jones waits 24 frames after the saucer disappears into Wile’s cave before showing the explosion.

End of gag.

This is from Operation: Rabbit, released at the end of 1951.