Tuesday 5 December 2023

Chicken Goes to Pot

Perhaps the silliest moment in Goofy Groceries this one.

A chicken pot pie clucks like a chicken. Well, I think it’s funny.

Carl Stalling plays “Chicken Reel” in the background.

There are a lot of fun little moments in this Warners cartoon from 1941. Director Bob Clampett and writer Tubby Millar fill it with pop culture references and parodies and tongue sandwiches that go la-la-la to “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” Vive Risto is the credited animator (in non Blue Ribbon prints).

Monday 4 December 2023

A Tex Limo

The artwork in the cartoon Page Miss Glory (1936) is modern. In a way, so are the gags. Tex made fun of things in what became familiar and, in some cases, copied by other cartoon studios.

For example, Tex loved ridiculing long limos. He does it in this cartoon, as the car with (the imaginary) Miss Glory pulls up at a hotel. The hood ornament is a parody of one found on luxury Packards of the day. And there isn’t just one spare tire in the back, but a row of them.

Tex isn’t through. There’s a topper gag with a compact roadster pulling up with a hood ornament that reminds of something you might see in a Bob Clampett cartoon (Clampett was an animator in this short).

Tex and the writing crew even took a pot shot at the Warners’ concept of forcing Merrie Melodies cartoons to contain part of a Warners-owned song. The Warren-Dubin title tune comes to a sudden stop mid-lyric because a champagne bottle has to be forced open.

Only designer Leadora Congdon gets a screen credit; none of the animators do, nor does Avery.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Jaunting With Jack, Romping With Remley

Jack Benny never restricted his appearances to radio, television or movies. Even before his concerts with symphony orchestras in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, he’d get a troupe together and appear in various cities. In a way, he was re-living his old vaudeville days.

One of them was during the summer of 1950. The Scranton Tribune mentioned he had a cast of 42 on that particular tour.

These weren’t publicity tours. Jack was raising money for charity.

Here are several stories. First up is from the Des Moines Register of May 18th. Before some of his appearances, a parade made its way down the street with Jack riding, inevitably, in a Maxwell someone in town had found.

Benny Flying Here To Ride in 1914 Maxwell
Jack Benny may be true to the horseless carriage for getting around town, but he's part of the air age when traveling.
Benny is scheduled to arrive in a chartered TWA Constellation at Des Moines airport around 11 a. m. today. He will make the trip here from Kansas City, at 300 miles an hour.
Accompanying Benny will be 40 members of his troupe, including some top Hollywood names, Phil Harris, the orchestra leader; Rochester, and shapely Vivian Blaine.
Two Performances.
Benny and the remainder of the cast will appear in two performances at 7:30 and 9:30 p. m. today at KRNT theater.
Immediately on arrival, comedians, musicians and dancers will be whisked to the statehouse to take part in the Jack Benny day parade, which will start promptly at 12:30 p. m.
[Route of parade omitted]
Four Benneys. [sic]
All participants then are expected to dash for the nearest cafe for the luncheon they haven't had.
Benny fans will have a chance to see four versions of the comedian—the real Benny—and three younger Bennys of 8, 12 and 21. The young impersonators are scheduled to play "Love in Bloom," reportedly Benny's favorite violin composition, as they tour the loop.
In keeping with his radio personality, Benny will scorch along the streets in a 1914 Maxwell. This Is Jack Benny at 39, which he humorously gives as his real, age, in contrast to those 55 years since his birth.
Curly-haired Harris, who likes to sing 'That's What I Like About the South," will trundle along in an even more vehicle, a 1912 Sears. The show troupe and orchestra will be in other cars.
Miss Blaine, former dance band singer; Rochester; Stuart Morgan dancers: Wiere brothers, a comedy team and the Peiro brothers, acrobats, will ride in separate cars.
[List of merchants riding in the parade omitted]
Amusing portions of the parade will include references to Benny's traditional thriftiness, Harris' aversion to water, and Rochester working for "peanuts" (although he drives his own Cadillac.)
Other units in the parade will include the Argonne post American Legion band, the State University of Iowa Highlanders—and a calliope.
A navy color guard and Mayor A. Chambers will lead the parade.
Nationwide Tour.
Benny's appearance here is part of a nationwide tour of major American cities. The group will go from Des Moines to St. Paul, Minn. On completion of the 21-city tour, Benny, Rochester and Harris will sail for England to appear at London's Palladium theater.
Oh, yes, the helpful Remley also will be here—he's a guitarist in Phil Harris's band. But the radio Remley is Elliott Lewis.

Next stop: Moline, Ill. The Daily Times of Davenport, Iowa, has the story on May 20.

Jack Benny and Gang Greeted by Throng of Fans
Arrive in Big Plane; in Parade This Afternoon
Jack Benny, top radio comedian, back to playing one-night stands, arrived in the quad-cities today and he didn't come in a Maxwell.
He arrived on the biggest plane ever to land at the Quad-city airport and threw a kiss to 2,000 fans gathered to greet him. He explained later that "it didn't cost me anything to do it and they love it."
A big parade was scheduled for this afternoon and Benny, Phil Harris, Rochester and Vivian Blaine, along with that somewhat ebullient character, Frankie Remley, will do a stage presentation at Wharton fieldhouse, Moline, tonight.
Benny was first out on the field the airport, but the girls set up a yell for Phil Harris. Rochester's popularity was also much in evidence.
Benny immediately took over Moline and acted as his own press-agent for his show.
"We've got the best act have ever been in," he said "and I'm not kidding."
Benny, snappily attired, was pleased with the thousands who greeted him at the airport. "All nice people," he said.
Shortly after settling in the LeClaire hotel, Benny and his cast went to the fieldhouse where Benny supervised several changes in the seating arrangements and on the stage.
When told the seats were no more than ten feet from the stage he was pleased. "That's the way I like it, more intimate," he said.
Benny winds up his tour in the east. He, Rochester and Harris will then depart for London, England, for a weekend engagement in the Palladium theater.
His wife, Mary Livingston, who Benny says "can just about beat him in golf," did not make the trip.
Benny said he is grooming his 16-year-old daughter to follow in his footsteps. "She appeared in my show several weeks ago and likes it as much as I do."
Rochester, Benny explained wasn't feeling too good. He sprained his right ankle in the first presentation of the program and uses a cane to hobble along. Frankie Remley, Harris' guitar player, was anxious to visit a cousin, Diane, in the quad-cities.
His efforts to trace her were unsuccessful this afternoon.
One of those who greeted Benny was Walter Thorngren, exalted ruler of the Moline Elks. Part of the proceeds tonight are to go to the Elks Crippled Children's clinic, according to G. LaVerne Flambo, the promoter.

Indianapolis was on the schedule as well. Jack got some advance (and, as it turned out, national) publicity by “entering” his Maxwell in the Indy 500. The focus of the story in the Indianapolis News was native son Phil Harris. This story from May 25th leaves me with the impression Phil was as casual in real life than he was on the air.

Phil Harris Greeted by Linton Delegation
It was one big happy Harris family reunion at the Speedway yesterday when folks who came up from Linton greeted their boy, Phil.
The stars of the Jack Benny show made their appearance on the apron promptly at 4 p.m. The genial, long-suffering "Jackson," Rochester, petite blond Vivian Blaine and the heralded Maxwell appeared on schedule, accompanied by Wilbur Shaw and Tony Hulman to launch the afternoon's routine.
All hands were on deck but Phil Harris. Shouts of "Phil, Phil," echoed down gasoline row as those in charge tried to get the big, good-natured former Hoosier into his proper role.
But Phil reverted to type. He was pleasantly stymied along the fence, greeting the home folks and in no hurry to get on with proceedings at all. There was no budging him until he'd passed considerable time of day with the delegation from Linton. He was laughing and shaking hands and kissing his old friends over the fence that keeps the curious out of the pit areas.
Asked the identity of the pretty gray-haired woman on whom he bestowed the first resounding cousinly kiss, he said "Why, that was Mrs. Jug Harris. The Harrises are all over Linton where I come from. I've got lots of folks down there. Two hundred and fifty of them came up for the show tonight. I love 'em, every one."
His last visit to Linton was several years ago. "We were in Chicago," said he, "and naturally I wanted Alice (Alice Faye, his famous wile who, like Harris, expertly sells a song) to meet the Harrises."
Asked how he spotted his old friends in the crowd at the Speedway, he replied with jaunty Harris gusto: "Why, I can see a Linton person a mile away. They were the first people I saw. Couldn't miss 'em."
The dandy Southern accent with which he reels off "That's what I like about the South" isn't entirely Southern Indiana. He lived in Memphis, Tenn., a while when he was a kid and it colored his diction.
The coal fields of Linton still hold tender memory for him. It's home and to borrow a fast spiel: "Ain't no town, ain't no city, awful small, but awful pretty. . .”
Harris arrived in town with a guy named Benny, who arrived in town with a guy named Rochester. Benny left town today after proving that you don't have to be a show horse or a hockey player or be able to ice skate with the grace of a Sonja Henie to fill the Coliseum at the Fairground.
You just need to be Jack Benny, which is precisely what the comedian was for better than 2 hours last night on a stage at the west end of the huge building. And that was all right with the audience of nearly 9,000.
It was the same Benny who steps into millions of homes each Sunday night. He was the same right down to the gags about his penuriousness, his receding hairline, his ineffectual manner with glamour girls, his impotence in the face of the hearty, blustery -personality of Harris.
Benny's gags also touched on Fred Allen (unfavorably), television (he approves), income tax (he disapproves) and sundry other matters.
For the audience, perhaps the most amusing stretch was the "love scene" played by Benny and Vivian Blaine, the show's glamorous singer. The point was that Benny pretended he was Clark Gable and there sat Gable and his wife within a few feet of the stage. The screen lover, here to make a picture about the 500-Mile Race, seemed to relish the burlesque of his romantic technique.
Gable's entrance, just before the show started, provoked a minor demonstration, with nearly all those seated in the arena, men and women alike, jumping to their feet to catch a glimpse of the Gables.

When these stories were written, the Maxwell hadn’t been made for 25 years. While finding a 25-year-old car today might not seem difficult, this was an era where pre-war cars were turned into scrap metal for war materials, and people wanted fresh, new post-war cars, not something that looked ridiculously out of date. Considering this, how easy was it to dig up a Maxwell for Jack to parade around in? This story from page one of the May 23, 1950 Kokomo Tribune will give you an answer.

Sellers Brothers To Oblige Benny with 2 Maxwell Autos
Tribune Staff Writer
When Jack Benny arrives with his gang at Indianapolis Wednesday—he will drive a Maxwell belonging to Tom and Don Sellers of Kokomo.
Tom and Don, accompanied by their sister, Mrs. Harry Stewart, will follow the Benny driven Maxwell in another from the Sellers stable.
The two spruced up Maxwells were taken to Indianapolis Tuesday by truck. The Sellers family will leave Wednesday morning to be on hand to greet the famous radio and movie star.
Time of arrival of the Benny entourage was not revealed.
Tom said Wednesday that Benny would meet the Sellers' two Maxwells at a street intersection near the downtown business section.
With Benny under the wheel, and Rochester at his side, the Maxwell will be driven around the Circle and to a hotel. The Sellers family will follow in the other Maxwell, "in case something should happen," Tom said.
According to Tom, he was asked by an Indianapolis group to bring the two Maxwells down for the radio star's arrival. Benny long has "driven" a Maxwell "over the air waves" and many quips about the ancient model car have been made a stock part of his radio show.
As far as is known, there are only three Maxwells in the state—that are in good running order—and two of these belong to the Sellers family. The other, Tom said, is being readied in Indianapolis for Benny to drive around the 500-mile Indianapolis Speedway Wednesday afternoon.
Benny and his gang are on a 21-day tour and will present a show in the Coliseum at the Fairgrounds Wednesday night.
Mrs. Alice Sellers and Harry Stewart will accompany the others to Indianapolis.

By the way, the photo at the top refers to hiding dishes. If you don’t know, the reference is to a Benny radio show in April when Jack explained to Rochester he “gave 50 cents to a bum,” and Rochester was in such shock, he dropped the dishes he was carrying. The Benny writers turned it into a running gag where the dishes would fall on their own whenever the act of charity was mentioned.

In real life, Jack’s tour stopped in Buffalo to help the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, then Carnegie Hall where he and Fred Allen traded words at a benefit for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund (tickets: $1.80 to $6.00).

Meanwhile, an Associated Press story in late May 27 reported that University of California regents had accepted $1000 from Jack for surgical research at the UCLA Medical Centre. Even when he wasn’t there, Jack Benny was helping good causes.

Saturday 2 December 2023

The Making of Of Mice and Magic

There was a time, and this will be hard for people weaned on the internet to believe, when there was next-to-no information out there about animated cartoons, especially those without the name “Disney.”

In fact, cartoons weren’t treated seriously. They were something for kids. You were kind of an outcast if you were past the age of 12 and liked cartoons. You might have thought you were the only one out there.

But there were plenty of outcasts out there. And they were brought together when someone decided to write a history of animated cartoons.

That someone was not a dry, dull historian. He was the movie reviewer for the most populist television show dealing with show biz—Entertainment Tonight.

Leonard Martin’s name was known to millions of movie fans. He had instant credibility. And he and a team of trusty researchers began to delve into the glory days of animated shorts that had appeared on the big screen.

Remember, this is before internet sites and home video formats. If you wanted to watch a cartoon, you had to find a 35 or 16 millimetre print. The origins of some of the cartoons was muddied because their credits had been chopped off and replaced by the names of television distributors. As odd as it may seem to fans today, discovering there was something called Van Beuren Productions and that someone named Ub Iwerks had a studio that made cartoons were major revelations to many.

Of Mice and Magic banded together adults who loved Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Betty Boop, Woody Woodpecker, Mighty Mouse and many other characters from a dead movie era. And it provided the foundation for all further research.

Just how did the book get written? Maltin talked about it in a feature story that appeared in a Sunday edition of the Hartford Courant, Dec. 28, 1980.

Movie Writer's Work Was All Animated
To Leonard Maltin—author, historian, and film buff extraordinaire—the limit of the 24-hour day is a major problem.
Maltin writes movie history, and that means seeing hundreds even thousands of films. The reference book "TV Movies," which he edited, is now in its ninth printing; he has just written "Of Mice and Magic," the first complete, scholarly history of American animated cartoons. And, he said, there simply isn't enough time in each day to do the research for such books, let alone the writing.
"I get very frustrated," he confessed recently in a conversation at his publisher's office. "How I got it done, I don't know," he said.
Living in New York City helped, said Maltin. In fact, it would have been nearly impossible for him to see so many movies if he had happened to live anywhere else—even Hollywood.
Maltin has a film collection of his own (mostly cartoons and short subjects), but for his research he also made use of the dozens of first-run theaters and movie revival houses in New York, had access to several private collections, took advantage of the plentitude of movies shown on television in New York and haunted the Department of Film at the Museum of Modern Art. "If you live in New York," he said, "you're all set."
The new book deals with the rise and fall of every American animated cartoon figure from Gertie the Dinosaur to Fritz the Cat. All the big ones are there, of course—Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, Porky Pig, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Donald Duck, the Pink Panther, Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny, Superman, Mr. Magoo, Casper the Ghost, Daffy Duck, Deputy Dawg, Farmer Al Falfa and dozens more. But there are also passages devoted to the importance of formerly popular characters who have nearly been forgotten. Koko the Clown, Bosko, Herman and Katnip, Flip the Frog, the Egghead, Barney Bear and Gerald McBoing Boing are all studied.
Maltin, 29, teaches a course in the history of animation at the New School for Social Research in New York. But his interest in cartoons goes back, as one would expect, to his childhood in Teaneck, N. J.
"My love of cartoons is based on TV and the shorts they used to show in the movies," he said. "I was a Saturday matinee freak—when they still had Saturday matinees."
The move away from merely enjoying films to writing about them came in Maltin's early childhood. He and a friend put out a neighborhood newsletter dealing mainly with comic books and films; it was printed using a device known as a hectograph, basically a plate of firm gelatin which is used to transfer written images. (It’s a lot easier in this age of Xerox, when any kid with a nickel can get something copied," he commented.)
This led to a mimeographed magazine—"a giant leap forward" which featured the young Maltin's interviews with the likes of cartoonists Jules Feiffer, Charles Shulz [sic] and Rube Goldberg.
In his early teen-age years, he began contributing occasional articles to a Canadian journal called Film Fan Monthly, a struggling publication with a mere 400 subscribers. “It was offset-printed," Maltin said. "This was Valhalla for me." After a while, however, the man who headed the magazine discovered that he couldn't keep it up and offered to turn the whole business over to Maltin, by then his premier writer. At age 15, the film buff found himself in the publishing business.
"We dealt with old Hollywood movies," he said. "From the '20s, '30s and '40s. Everybody worked for free, of course, and we loved writing about film personalities who weren't the really popular ones. We were almost doggedly non-commercial; we'd say, 'I don't want to do this—just because everybody else is doing it.’” Film Fan Monthly eventually built its circulation to about 2,000.
While editing the magazine, Maltin continued his education, though he considered Film Fan Monthly "much more important than high school." (He said he was a better-than-average student, although between seeing hundreds of movies and writing about them, he found little time for his studies.)
In his senior year, Maltin was introduced to an editor at the New American Library publishing house who was a fellow film fan. The editor, it turned out, was a subscriber to Film Fan Monthly—and was surprised to discover that this 18-year-old was the brains behind the magazine.
The rest, as they say, is history. The book editor had been searching for someone to put together an encyclopedic guide to old movies on TV and, before long, he and Maltin had signed a contract. "TV Movies" has been updated over and over again, and now contains listings for some 13,000 movies and 1,200 more made-for-TV films.
During the 1970s, Maltin attended New York University and majored in journalism. More books followed, all dealing with films of one type or another—"Movie Comedy Teams," "Our Gang," "The Great Movie Shorts" and others.
Maltin attended an International Animation Festival in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, in 1974, and while there got to talk to animators, fimmmakers, journalists, artists and others in the cartoon business. He also saw about 200 animated films and became interested all over again in his first love, cartoons.
Back in the United States, he made some inquiries and discovered that almost nothing in a serious vein had been written about animated cartoons.
"A lot of books talked about early experiments he said, "and of course there was lots of stuff on Disney. But as for Bugs Bunny, Popeye, or anything like that—forget it."
So he started assembling material. He reviewed and organized his own cartoon collection, and began viewing obscure or forgotten cartoons at the Museum of Modern Art (a service, by the way, that is open mostly to experts and scholars, not to the general public). "It was all original research," he said, "because so little had been written."
During his research, Maltin always carried a notebook to screenings—a practice of his for years now. "I try to rely on my memory, but sometimes it just can't be done," he said. "I'm sure to forget some minor but important point."
He also made it a point to talk to cartooning pioneers. "I cornered John Hubley (the Disney animator who later headed UPA Studios) at a cocktail party," Maltin said. "He has since died. I was very lucky to get to talk to him. And others filled me in on a lot of material; Dick Huemer is a virtual one-man history of animation. He started with Mutt and Jeff and went through Disney, Fleischer, Mintz—he wrote 'Dumbo' for Disney."
Not one person Maltin asked for an interview turned him down. "Everybody in this field feels very keenly the neglect that animation has suffered over the years," he said.
"Of Mice and Magic" deals with such subjects as why it was so difficult to animate the Seven Dwarfs (they all had to move in different ways, yet keep in step) and how the success of Hanna-Barbera cartoons on TV changed Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes series. It is informative on such technical matters as Max Fleischer's rotograph and Disney's multiplane camera.
But it also takes a nostalgic look at the "stars" of animated cartoons and the characteristics that endeared them to millions of children—and adults. Popeye's fondness (nay, obsession) for spinach; Woody Woodpecker's inspired zaniness; and Bugs Bunny's cheerful "What's up, Doc?" are all treated with affection.
Bugs is Maltin's favorite cartoon star, although he added hastily, "I like so many for so many different reasons."
He isn't only captivated with old-timers, either; many of today's cartoons fascinate him, but he pointed out: "Most people only see what is shown on TV on Saturday morning. And if they see that, they see garbage there's no getting around it."
Animated cartoon festivals are held in various places all the time, he said. Last year, he attended a festival in Canada which featured some 600 different brand-new animated firms—some short, some long, some serious, some humorous, some fantastic and some realistic. "The talent is there," Maltin said. "The technique is there. But the films are being done by people who are starving."
He suggests that those who like cartoons petition local colleges and museums to book The Tournee of Animation and other traveling film packages that highlight recent animated films. But he quickly admits that the public may not take to foreign animated films with the zest that greeted Mickey Mouse. "I know I know," he said.
"People think, ‘Yugoslavian cartoons? Get away!’ What they want to see is Tweety and Sylvester! But I can tell you that seeing new animated films is not like swallowing medicine. It's like watching wonderful movies."
With the cartoon book into a paperback printing and the 1981-82 edition of "TV Movies" behind him, Maltin says he is now "quieting down" in his movie-viewing habits. What that means is being content with seeing every new film in New York, reviewing old favorites, and not worrying about much else.
"My quieting down," he said, "is someone else's film mania."

Of Mice and Magic proved the commercial saleability of research involving the history of animated cartoons and the people who made them. From it sprang, slowly but surely, further revived knowledge of cartoons through fresh interviews and old films. We, as fans of cartoons, have all benefited. The internet has been a boon. Yes, well-meaning people have published their hard-to-kill personal theories as cold, hard factual history. But oceans of information about cartoons are now available with a few keystrokes. Video cassettes, then laser discs, then CDs/Blu-rays have brought animated shorts into the home that would have been almost impossible to see before, some thanks to incredible amounts of love by fans that have restored them.

Leonard Maltin deserves some credit for sparking all this. I’ve never met him, but I do thank him.

Friday 1 December 2023

Cat Eye

Don Williams liked multiple ghost-eyes when moving characters, and you can see it in various cartoons he worked on in the Art Davis unit at Warner Bros.

Here’s a brief example in Mouse Menace, the first cartoon from the Davis group to be released. Writer George Hill’s gag has the robot (Porky pronounces it “roe-butt”) cat behaving like a real cat by cleaning himself.

Porky disappears halfway through the cartoon as the cat battles a one-shot mouse, destroying the pig’s house in the process.

Manny Gould and Cal Dalton also received animation credits and Tom McKimson handled layouts. It sounds like Carl Stalling wrote much of his own music in this cartoon.

Davis became a director in April 1945 but this cartoon did not hit screens until November 1946.

Thursday 30 November 2023

A Silent Cartoon With Sound

I was watching the Van Beuren cartoon Happy Polo the other day and thought it looked awfully primitive for 1932. There’s a reason. It’s a silent cartoon from 1929 that Gene Rodemich slapped a sound track and sound effects over it.

That’s also the reason no animators are credited. The short was made when Paul Terry ran the Fables studio. Amedee Van Beuren fired him that year, reconstituted the studio into Van Beuren Productions while Terry and Frank Moser formed their own operation with Joe Coffman.

The cartoon storyline is familiar and weak, even by 1929 standards. A cat (in a top-hat like an 1890s melodrama villain) has sexual desires for a mouse. The hero saves her. We get mechanical horses with detachable parts and other things we’ve seen before.

Perhaps one of the better gags is when the hero and his horse twirl in the air and land on a goal post. The post develops a helping hand which send them back onto the field of play.

Rodemich tosses “Tiger Rag” in the background. The song had been around for a while, but the Mills Brothers recorded a version of it in 1931 that was a smash hit. People who complain about repetitious lyrics in songs today should seek out the words to this one.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

How To Warm Up a Night With Richard Nixon

We passed along a couple of stories on the weekend about Fred Allen warming-up his radio audiences.

In the television era, that task generally fell on people other than the stars. The general consensus at one time was the best in the business was Johnny Olson.

Likely your first thought when Johnny’s name comes to mind is the 1970s revamped version of The Price is Right and his excited call to contestants to “Come on down!” Those of us at the age of superannuation will fondly remember him before that on To Tell the Truth, The Match Game (the New York-based version) and “from the Fun and Sun Capital of the World, Miami Beach,” home of the mid-1960s version of The Jackie Gleason Show.

There were many, many more shows.

And there was one extremely unusual warm-up job—for a political rally.

Here’s the scoop from the Chicago Tribune of July 4, 1971.

Television’s Top Second Banana Reaps Rewards
By Carol Kramer

He jumps up and down, kisses the ladies on the aisle, makes funny, faces, and does so much to make an audience appreciative that even the most hardened cynic, including a television writer, feels impelled to applaud and applaud and applaud.
Who is this magician? Johnny Olson, television's top second banana, the man you've probably heard more often than any other television voice. This is his 25th year in television. He spent the first decade as a top banana, host of his own shows, the Johnny Olson Luncheon Club and Rumpus Room, the first daytime network television show from New York.
But then, he explains, the tide turned, and "since I had always done warmups I got the idea of being a second banana, announcing the shows and doing the stunts. I'm not seen, but the money's the same."
That money has often been as much as $100,000 a year. But he works hard for it.
I visited Johnny recently during the taping of two segments of Joe Garagiola's Memory Game. Johnny's regular assignments this season have included that show, which goes off the air soon. [He's already been approached about some other shows, as well as What's My Line? And To Tell the Truth. The latter is syndicated and not seen in Chicago just now.]
Johnny has been announcing What's My Line? for 18 years and To Tell the Truth for 12. The current top performers on those shows are Wally Bruner and Garry Moore. Johnny's first radio job in New York, when he arrived in 1944, was as a replacement for Moore on Everything Goes.
The boss that people associate Johnny with most in recent years is Jackie Gleason. Johnny warmed up the Great One's audiences for 11 years. For six of those years, he commuted to Florida every Friday night just so he could tell people that Jackie Gleason was about to step out of the wings.
Now that the Gleason assignment is over, Johnny Olson has not slowed down his pace. He does 18 shows a week.
And he doesn't confine his work to the studio. People standing in line at NBC are often surprised to find Johnny Olson shaking hands and asking them where they're from.
"I feel the pulse of the crowd and it gives me food for material. I find out if there are any special groups, and it helps to know that there are people from Chicago or Libertyville."
Over the years, he's announced I've Got a Secret, the Match Game, Play Your Hunch, the Peggy Fleming special at Madison Square Garden, and the Victor Borge special at Lincoln Center.
That warmup holds the record. The cameras kept breaking down, Borge didn't want to come out before air time, and Johnny did a 42 minute warmup.
What does he say? He never knows. The day I watched him, he found a group of kids from P. S. 227 and a little boy named George who broke everyone up because when Johnny offered George a buck to say "a big black bug" three times in a row, George refused his money.
Kids seem to take naturally to Johnny. Once, he had a show called Kids and Company on Saturdays. And when Leslie Uggams was nine years old she sang with Johnny on Rumpus Room.
Leslie has never forgotten, Johnny says, and he glows whenever he reads a quote from Leslie about how "Johnny Olson gave me my first break."
Some of the other kids who were on Johnny's early shows Include Connie Francis, Sal Mineo, Bobby Darin, Patti McCormick and George Segal.
Perhaps the most difficult warmup he's had to do, aside from those for shows that have been taped just after national tragedies, was a nontelevision assignment. Johnny was asked to warm up the crowd at a rally for Presidential candidate Nixon in 1968. It was at Madison Square Garden, the Friday night before the election, and a lot of hecklers were in the crowd. "Ron Ziegler and the others kept asking me how I would handle it. I didn't know. I never know until I get out there."
Johnny just went out and gave them that Scandinavian charm, asked the crowd to have some respect, and asked the nonhecklers to squelch any heckling as soon as it began. It worked so well that Nelson Rockefeller came over and said, "Where were you when I needed you?" [Remember Miami?]
The fact that Johnny worked at the Nixon rally doesn't indicate his political bent. He says he's nonpolitical, but he also is quick to tell you that audiences have changed in the last couple of years "and I hate to say it, but I think it started when the Republicans came in."
Whatever it is, audiences are more somber today. "They're not in that fun mood. Maybe they're more concerned with world problems. Sometimes I come out and they're sitting there in deep thought. They're not as happy as they used to be."
But being a second banana hasn't made Johnny more somber. "It was a little difficult at first. I've had to bite my tongue a lot of times. But as far as fulfillment, I get that from the audience, and I don't have any ulcers because I don't have to worry when a show is canceled."
Johnny has been married to the former Penny Towers of Stevens Point, for 32 years. During the week, they stay in their Manhattan apartment. On weekends, they head for their 16-room, four-story stone house in Greenwich, Conn. It's so big, Johnny hasn't been on the top floor in two months.
I guess that's proof enough that being a second banana at least has some monetary advantages!

Olson died in 1985. Bell-McClure Syndicate writer Richard K. Shull, long-time entertainment editor of the Indianapolis News, had a personal remembrance published Oct. 30, 1985. He reveals Olson played a little subterfuge on audience members that was similar to one on a Bob and Ray radio show, except Olson’s is funnier because it’s real.

Johnny Olson, master of warm up
When Johnny Olson died at age 75 a couple of weeks ago, the only photo Associated Press could find to send out to newspapers was 33 years old.
The picture was taken back in the days when Olson still was considered "talent" on TV, a fellow who could move easily from game shows to talk shows as a host.
That was before he reached his real forte as television's premier warm-up man, a guy with a special talent, who could take 200 or so human beings and train them in about 20 minutes to laugh and applaud on cue.
In recent years, he was best known for his work on "The Price Is Right." "Come on down," he would shout to prospective contestants.
But I admired him most for his glib ability to make any stranger feel like a long lost friend. He had the knack for what palm readers and fortune tellers call a "cold reading," to get people to tell all while thinking they are revealing nothing.
He never acted superior about it. Olson genuinely loved people. And the cons he pulled on them were to make them feel good, not to take advantage of them.
One rainy morning, I met Olson at the Ed Sullivan Theater on Broadway in New York where he was scheduled to warm up audiences for three game shows. In those days, he did the warm-up for 14 different shows, a behind-the-scenes chore that brought him about $250,000 as year.
It was mid-morning, but Olson decided it was time to have a little eye-opener, so we dashed up the aisle of the empty theater intent on going to a bar next door.
He never forgot
In the lobby, a horde of tourists waited to be seated. We pushed through the crowd, and a gray-haired lady looked at Olson with anticipation.
"Good to see you again," Olson told her.
"I was here 10 years ago," she replied.
"Why, of course." Olson gushed, "You're Mrs. . . .”
"Of course, Mrs. Appleton. I never forget a name. And you've come all the way from. . .”
"Davenport. Iowa."
"That's right. Davenport. Once I see a face. I always remember the name and where you're from. I'm glad you came back to see me, Mrs. Appleton."
Olson repeated the routine three more times before we got through the lobby. And each time, the women turned and beamed to their friends, a bit awed by Olson's photographic memory.
In the bar next door, Olson stowed away a boilermaker while I attempted to gag down a few sips of draft beer. It's 10:30 in the morning, remember.
Warming up an audience was an exacting science, Olson explained as he fondled the second jigger of bourbon before him. A lot of amateurs are in the warm-up business, he complained, inepts who will clumsily make an audience crest 10 or 15 seconds early, losing the moment.
He prided himself in working his audiences to peak pitch at the precise microsecond the cameras roll and the emcee steps out.
Sometimes, he said, if he had an audience finely tuned, he'd reuse it, cajoling the people to stick around and sit through another show, and maybe another, having them move around in their seats so the home viewers couldn't detect the deception.
One time, he laughed, he not only used the same audience on three shows taped for CBS, but trooped it down the street to NBC and used it on three more shows.
When he had an audience ready, it was ready for anything.
When we returned to the theater, the fortified Olson moved back through the lobby crowd, making a few more tourists feel like he'd had their names and hometowns on his lips all along.
Having a laugh-in
When the audience was seated, Olson began working with the people—gentle humor, a few jokes, maybe patter, all calculated to put the guests at ease and ready to respond to his commands.
He taped their loudest guffaws. Later, when the show was rolling and they laughed, he'd dub this pretaped laughter in on top of their live laughter, compounding the sound.
And if anyone asked if that was really the reaction of that audience, he could swear on a stack of Bibles that it was.
"Watch me, don't watch them," Olson told his audience. When he applauded, they applauded. When he laughed, they laughed.
When the game show started, Olson was in position on the wing of the stage, just out of cameras range, and all eyes in the audience were on him, not the performers. At the end of the half-hour, the emcee could congratulate himself on how well the audience had loved the show. But I knew, and now you know, it wasn't the show, it was Johnny Olson who earned their reactions.
The obituary from California said that Olson died on Oct. 12, which was technically accurate. Actually, he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on Oct. 7 while driving to the studio for yet another taping of another game show. When there was no hope of recovery, his wife invoked a pact they had made against heroic medical measures and ordered the plug pulled on the life support systems on Oct. 12.
And all these years, you thought the audiences were laughing at the shows.

Warming up could be dangerous. A December 1961 newspaper story revealed Olson was running toward the stage as usual to begin his warm-up. It was a rainy day in New York. A woman in the audience left her umbrella in the aisle. Olson tripped on it and broke his ankle.

Perhaps even more unusual for Olson than warming-up an audience for Richard Nixon was his casting in a Broadway musical. He played himself in “The Selling of the President,” which opened March 22, 1972. Olson’s role on stage was, not surprisingly, as an audience warm-up man. He even understudied. No, he didn’t get to sing (though he did in his first radio job in 1928), and was quickly back in Los Angeles. Audiences didn’t “come on down” and the show closed after only five performances.

Johnny O wasn’t known for being on-camera, though he was eventually put into showcase sketches on The Price is Right.. But he was actually one of the first game-show hosts who appeared on the small screen. His Blue Network radio show Ladies Be Seated jumped to television in February 1945 for a short test run. He was among the hosts who stopped on the DuMont television network before 1950.

After his death, producer Mark Goodson said Olson “can never be replaced.” Of course, he was. The show had to go on. Goodson-Todman director Mark Breslow said it best when he declared “There isn’t a single person at CBS...who didn’t love Johnny Olson.” That went for millions of TV viewers, too.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Good Night!

Perhaps this shot is the most famous ending of a Tex Avery cartoon.

The cat and mouse chasing each other, trying to get an advantage on the other by beefing up their bodies with a bottle of Jumbo-Gro, “run outta da stuff.” That means the cartoon has to end. After the mouse (played by Frank Graham) wishes “Good night,” Avery cuts to the two at the top of the Earth, giving a friendly wave goodbye to the theatre audience as the cartoon ends.

The final scene is a switch of the ending of Ride Him, Bosko! from 1932, where Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising run outta da stuff (in this case, gags) and abruptly end the cartoon.

King-Size Canary was released in 1947 with Heck Allen assisting Avery with gags, Bob Bentley, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton animating, and Johnny Johnsen painting the backgrounds.

A theatre in Wichita Falls seemed to think Avery was a cartoon character but we know better. He was one of the finest directors ever to come along in animation.

Monday 27 November 2023

Vanishing Popeye

How do you draw violent animation? Simple. You have no animation.

Here’s an effect in Shape Ahoy, a 1945 Popeye cartoon. The animation shows the impact of the blows by having the characters disappear for two frames. Here’s an idea of what the scene looks like.

Multiples, held cels and dry brush are used, too. These are consecutive frames.

Jim Tyer and Ben Solomon are the credited animators.