Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Mice on an Endless Move

Paul Terry was sure obsessed with two things in the early sound days—mice and cycles. He’s littered Club Sandwich with them.

The year is 1931 and the Terrytoons studio is churning out a cartoon every two weeks, so every cycle helps. Here are two from back-to-back scenes. The first one is ten drawings. Note how the mice at the top of the stairs and the once with the swords don’t move.

This cycle is 13 drawings and it’s slower than in the cartoon. There were some early Terrytoons which included a scene with an interesting layout and this is one of them. How high is that house anyway?

The cartoon also features mechanical horses and a skeleton donkey. Oh, and Farmer Al Falfa being dragged off into the distance as the proceedings end.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Opening Night Kiss

The great thing about the Fleischer cartoons was something unexpectedly coming to life and pulling off some odd gag.

I wish it happened more in the Van Beuren cartoons, but there’s an example in Opening Night, the 1933 debut short for Cubby Bear. A lion is playing a harp (yes, it’s a piano on the soundtrack) with a decorate head. After the harpist’s almost solo (there’s a violin in the background, too), the head stretches out to kiss him. G’wan!

Gene Rodemich gets the only credit, for “synchronization.”

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Script Helper to the Star

Several members of Jack Benny’s staff would show up on his radio show and one of them actually made the jump to television.

Jeanette Eymann was the show’s script assistant starting sometime in the mid-‘40s. You could tell she wasn’t a radio actress, but she read her small parts effectively and got laughs.

A script assistant, among other things, notes the changes in the script made during writing sessions and ensures the revisions get to the cast and crew.

She was originally from Illinois and the local paper in Bloomington wrote about her and her career in show biz, and published the pictures you see below. It appeared in the edition of December 15, 1963.

Script Secretary Gives Jack Benny Full Marks--He's Great, She Says

Comedian Jack Benny is "just great" in the opinion of a former Twin Citian who has been his script secretary for 18 years.
"I wouldn't have been with him this long otherwise," says Jeanette Eymann Barnes, Pontiac-born and ISNU-educated.
Jeanette, now living in Van Nuys, Calif., with her husband Kenneth, and his two sons, 9 and 12, says the comedian is even-tempered and not the temperamentalist he might have a right to be.
SHE HAS BEEN tapped several times to appear on his shows four altogether this year. "I've been a nurse so many times I'm type-cast as one," she said in a telephone conversation from her office in Beverly Hills.
In a recent Robinson Crusoe sequence in the Benny Show, though, Jeanette was the girl in the library.
A 1941 graduate of ISNU where she majored in art, speech and English, Jeanette taught school in Highland and Galesburg before moving to California 20 years ago. She answered a blind ad as a secretary to Jack Benny's producer and got the job after working as associate producer ("glorified term for secretary to the producer") for the Amos and Andy Show.
Jeanette's five-day working week runs from 9:30 in the morning till around 3:30 or 4, "when the writers usually quit for the day." She does a lot of her typing at home. Since she appears as an actor in some of the Benny Shows, she holds membership in the Screen Actors Guild.
THE BENNY company, J and M Productions (Jack Benny and Mary Livingston), which is at 9908 Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills, ground out 13 of this year's shows last summer and had five or six more to do to carry the show through April, Mrs. Barnes said last week. The ReVue Films are produced in Universal City.
In radio days, Jeanette subbed for Mary Livingston on the shows, standing in for Mary who had earlier taped her lines. Miss Livingston disliked appearing on the radio shows in person, Miss Eymann says.
Mrs. Barnes describes herself as "five feet, 4 inches tall, weighing 112 pounds, with dark hair and glasses," and Mr. Benny as "blue-eyed, about five feet 10, no toupee and 69 or 70 next February."
Jeanette lived in a rooming house near the ISNU campus while in school here, and friends here recall that she referred to herself as "the genius" in those days. She still has that sense of humor, the telephone conversation revealed.
She also worked briefly for State Farm Insurance while living here.
THE BARNESES installed a pool at their home last summer and are fond of California. Mr. Barnes is associated with Lockheed Aircraft., Her mother, Mrs. Joe Eymann of Pontiac, who usually spends her winters in California, is out there now in an apartment near Jeanette. Jeanette's brother, Dale, who is also remembered here, is in the public school system in Los Angeles, and another brother, Kenneth, is in Minneapolis.
A great-aunt, Mrs. John B. Eymann, also lives in Pontiac.

Jeanette was born December 5, 1919 and died April 14, 2012 in Castaic, California.

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Playhouse's Ford Dog

Some of the cleverest and best-looking animation in the 1950s was on TV commercials.

There were top-flight small houses on both coasts where a number of animators, layout artists and background painters took refuge from the major theatrical cartoon studios.

The commercials were hits, and well known to TV viewers of that era.

Here’s one example that was profiled in the June 1959 edition of American Cinematographer. It’s a shame the photos are low resolution, but they’re the first time I can recall seeing pictures of Chris Jenkyns (ex Sutherland, later of Jay Ward), Sterling Sturtevant (ex-UPA) and Bill Higgins (ex-MGM and Sutherland).

Note: Mike Kazaleh points out that Sterling Sturtevant is not in the second picture. It's actually Ade Woolery, who owned the studio.

...and how it was produced

It started as a gag, according to Bill Melendez, director for Playhouse Pictures, producers of television film commercials in Hollywood. “When Tom de Paolo of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency asked us for some new ideas for the TV spot campaign of the Ford Dealers of Southern California, we worked up one or two story boards to submit to the agency. Then, in somewhat of a brain-storming fashion, we hit upon our ‘Thinking Dog’ as a gag. We liked it, sketched it out, and sent it to de Paolo along with the others for a chuckle.”

Two days later, Playhouse Pictures received the word that the choice had been made. It was the “Dog.” And that was the beginning of the one television commercial everybody is talking about.

Playhouse has created and produced commercials for the Ford Motor Company for the past five years, ever since the popular “IT’S a FORD!” commercial—probably the only other spot that has created as much comment for the company. But aside from the fact that the “Dog” was the most talked about commercial locally, it was not destined for greater exposure until the news of its success spread to other branches of the J. Walter Thompson agency that represent local Ford Dealers associations. In this manner, it caught on exactly like its predecessor of five years ago, and has zoomed to national prominence.

Within two weeks after its debut, the agency was besieged with requests for prints for use in San Francisco, Salt Lake, Seattle, Boston, Pittsburgh and other cities. It was shown nationally on the Ford Show, NBC-TV, and is being considered by the New York office of J. Walter Thompson for showing on an expanded schedule.

The success of this 20-second spot led immediately to its characterization in other media. The Dog has appeared in direct mail circulars, radio spot announcements, newspaper ads, posters for Ford Dealers’ show rooms, and 35mm prints have been made of the spot for showing in Drive-In theaters in the San Jose-San Francisco area. Doggy banks have been ordered by Ford Dealers as a give-away item for the kiddies. In fact, the commercial sparked a whole new campaign which will feature the Dog character in subsequent spots.

For those who may not have seen the commercial, it opens with a dog dusting a Ford and being queried by an off-stage voice. John Hiestand is the announcer; Hugh Douglas the voice of the Dog. The dialogue goes like this:

Announcer: “Ah, you there. What are you doing?”
Dog: “I’m dusting a Ford.”
Announcer: “Oh, are you a Ford owner?”
Dog: “No. I’m a dog.”
Announcer: “Do you think everyone should be a dog?”
Dog: “Well, that’s something everyone should decide for themselves . . . but I do think everyone should be a Ford owner, don’t you?”
The dog then enters the car and drives off.

Much of the credit for the commercial’s success is due to the J. Walter Thompson agency and to the agency’s Tom de Paolo who sold the idea to the Ford Dealers. For they had faith enough in the spot to purchase a saturation campaign in prime time to exploit the commercial.

The artis[t]ic and creative credit goes to Playhouse Pictures’ director Bill Melendez; Sterling Sturtevant, for layout and design; and to Chris Jenkyns and Ed Levitt, story and story sketch.

Including time for story development, planning and final approval, it took eight weeks to produce the 20-second spot. A variety of production problems arose during its animation and shooting. The first 300 drawings that went to make up the commercial were discarded after the pencil test, because the dog looked more like a porcupine than the canine that was desired. More drawings ensued, and eventually a character was conceived that animated more readily and looked more like the shaggy dog the production staff had in mind.

After it was animated, Melendez decided that the picture had to be entirely reanimated to develop more subtle and funny movements for the dog to better fit the voice on the sound track. So, another 300 drawings were discarded; and with air time already purchased for the commercial and the date drawing dangerously near, a new technique was tried to save valuable production time.

This time the dog was animated with pencil directly on frosted cels, thereby saving the time that would be required for inking in the conventional animation method. However, the dog had to be painted on the reverse side of the cels in order to appear as a solid figure against the Ford in the background, so this stage could not be skipped.

After the third set of 300 cels were checked and arranged in sequence by the scene checker, cameraman Allan Childs took about six hours to shoot the finished production, not counting eight hours of pre-production camerawork for pencil takes and changes. The production schedule had been met, and 16mm prints were ordered and delivered on March 21st for the air date deadline of March 23rd.

Perhaps the most difficult problem of all in the production of the commercial, was the search for the Dog’s voice. It had been earlier decided that the Dog’s voice had to be different, yet not irritating or rasping, and not imitating numerous voices of other cartoon dogs —rather, a welcome visitor to the family living room for its client, Ford.

Over sixteen well known character-voice actors were interviewed and auditioned. Hugh Douglas, CBS staff announcer, was chosen to give voice to the dog. This has led to casting him in a number of other commercials, and as the voice of a dog in an upcoming motion picture feature by Hal Wallis. John “Bud” Hiestand was cast as the offstage announcer who queries the dog. A cartoon character has since been developed for him that is being used in the sequel spots that are to follow the original “Thinking Dog” commercial.

The Ford Dog has skyrocketed Playhouse Pictures into national prominence. The studio, which was founded in 1952 by Adrian Woolery, a former partner at UPA, is now ranked one of the top five producers of animated commercials for television. But “Ade” Woolery is the first to point with pride to his talented staff. Almost all of them received their training in major studio cartoon departments. Sterling Sturtevant, layout and design for the dog, did the same work for the Oscar-winning animated cartoon “The Day Magoo Flew” at UPA. Chris Jenkyns was the story originator of the “John and Marsha” Snowdrift commercial. And Bill Melendez was nominated in 1958 for the highest award bestowed by the National Society of Art Directors.

All have worked on the many award-winning commercials Playhouse has turned out in the past, including the Gold Medal winner at this year’s Los Angeles Art Directors Club Exhibit, “Energetically Yours,” a color industrial film designed by Ronald Searle, which was produced for Transfilm and the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. In all. Playhouse has been the recipient of six gold medals for its commercials, ten other first place awards, and over 40 certificates of merit or honorable mention prizes during its six years of operation. The studio has produced over 2,000 animated television commercials, business and entertainment films, since its founding.

Has the Ford Dog spot established a trend? In satirization perhaps, but more important, it has increased the value and prestige of the production studio as a story consultant for television commercials. Rare indeed are the times when a studio has the opportunity to lend an assist in a large campaign such as this. But it is in the field of story and story ideas that more studios are specializing in creating television commercials and utilizing the drawing wealth of experienced talent in the Hollywood entertainment field.

TV viewers throughout the country will he seeing more of the Ford Dog. A 20-second animated sequel now being televised in Southern California, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, features for the first time an animated cartoon character along with the shaggy mutt. The dialogue in the sequel runs like this:

Man: “Sit Up! ... Roll Over! . . . Speak!”
Dog: “Ford, Ford, FORD.”
Man: “No . . . say. Bow, Wow, Wow!”
Dog: “Oh . . . Ford, Ford, FORD.”
Man: “Look . . . Why can’t you say, Bow, Wow, Wow! like other dogs?”
Dog: “My mother came from Detroit.”
Man: (Resigned) “See your Ford, Ford, FORD dealer, today.”

Judging by its reception, this spot, too, will probably be seen nationally in the footsteps of its predecessor, for it generates a whole new series of gags, speculating on the exact ancestry of the popular Ford “Thinking Dog.” ■

Friday, 9 April 2021

Scrambled Aches Backgrounds

The mid-1950s saw a change in art styles at pretty well all of the cartoon studios, adopting a more stylised approach to characters and backgrounds.

Settings in the Roadrunner cartoons became increasingly representational. Here are some examples from Scrambled Aches, released by Warners in 1957. Maurice Noble laid out the cartoon, with Phil De Guard painting the backgrounds.

This is the most stylised art in the whole cartoon.

An attempt to identify the music over the opening credits has ended in failure. It may be a Milt Franklyn original.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

A Cab Ride With Tex

Droopy warns the escaped con wolf not to move. Of course, we know what’s going to happen.

He gets in a cab that makes a wild perspective 180-degree turn. Here are some of the frames.

The cartoon is Dumb-Hounded (1944) by Tex Avery. No animators are credited, but we know Ed Love, Preston Blair and Ray Abrams worked on this, with Johnny Johnsen painting the backgrounds, Heck Allen helping with gags, and Frank Graham and Bill Thompson providing voices.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Toreador, That Allen's Not a Bore

Fred Allen was known for his clever observations on various things, especially those he saw as inane, such as the bulk of show business. But he joined with writer Nat Hiken to come up with parodies of all sorts, from the musical Oklahoma to the operetta HMCS Pinafore to husband-and-wife morning radio shows. Several were re-used with some modifications; writing this kind of material would be impossible for 39 episodes a season.

Allen took aim at the radio advertising industry when he found the chance, but he didn’t leave it at doing a phoney commercial. On one show, he worked his puncturing of cigarette ads on the air into a version of the opera Carmen. His guest star that evening was Shirley Booth, whom we don’t exactly think of as a singer.

The broadcast was reviewed in the New York World-Telegram by Harriet Van Horne. We’re transcribed some of her reviews before. She seemed very sour on radio and television. In this review, though, she lauds Allen and Booth for their work.

Unfortunately, this story from the Allen scrapbook in the Boston Library has no date other than “1945” on the picture taken of it. After poring through old newspapers, it would appear the show was from February 9, 1947. Booth also guest-appeared with Allen on October 12, 1947 but the Daily Worker reported they starred in a parody of “Brigadoon” called “Broken Doon.” Allen brought her back on January 11, 1948 for a send-up of “Finian’s Rainbow.”

Allen Hits Top Form When Spoofing Radio

When Fred Allen sets his mind to parody, satire or burlesque, he is touched by moonbeams from a distinctly superior lunacy. At no time is his cutting edge keener than when he takes for a target the radio business itself.
Last night Fred took careful aim at the cigaret commercials. It was, in the opinion of many in the trade, the best score of the season. The oratory and balderdash of radio’s most objectionable tobacco plugs were lampooned in an operetta that made use of the melodies from “Carmen,” with lyrics from a pen dipped in vitriol, blended with Allen’s special brand of spoofing powder.
Singing the role of Carmen was Shirley Booth, whose razor-edged soprano will take anything—and frequently did in the early days of Duffy’s Tavern, when she played Miss Duffy. Her version of Carmen had a Brooklyn accent and a brazen way of sliding over and under the key.
Fred was Dr. Allen, the eminent cigaret authority, commissioned by the makers of Puffos to improve their product. Only thing wrong, he discovered, was that the cigaret contained nothing but tobacco. No treat, no treatment, no vapor-rub, no formaldehyde. “Gentlemen, you’re 50 years behind the times,” he told them. To the strains of the Habanera, Fred noted that “Raleigh cigarets were up a tree, ‘till I invented ‘whoosh,’ nine-o-three.”
“American Tobacco paid me a pretty penny,” he carolled, “for a Lucky that would sell in spite of Benny.”
To give the operetta some semblance of plot, Dr. Allen had a secret formula, which Carmen (last name Houlahan) is suspected of stealing. She denies this, and protests her love for Dr. Allen. “I fell in love with your pitcher . . . it was in the Medical Journal. You was doin’ somethin’ to a guinea pig.”
Somewhere along here, Carmen sings the Gypsy Song. In this case the words proclaim her the Queen of Nicotine. As a special fillip at the end, she quavers, “I don’t mean drene, or kerosene, just nicotine!”
To Dr. Allen’s accusations that she has designs on his new formula, Shirley confesses, “I came here, sent by my father dear, to snoop and pry and peer.” Her father, it turns out, is Mr. F.E. Boone of Lexington, Ky., the auctioneer on Jack Benny’s program.
But love for Dr. Allen is greater than duty, Carmen decides. She returns the formula (pronounced formerla) to Dr. Allen. Then a second complication arises with the appearance of Dick Riggs. He (Allen) would have you believe he is the father of Speed Riggs, Benny’s other tobacco auctioneer. He seizes the formerla and flees to the latakia drying room. He bars the door, a natural song cue. But this time the music is the Toreador Song. Fred brought the house down by bellowing, “Richard, I implore! Open the door!”
But there is no need for Richard to open the door. Carmen has given him the wrong paper. The Allen formula is safe; the new Puffo is saved. It is a miracle of blends—dried seaweed wrapped in oil-skin with a sponge tip. To this one of Dr. Allen’s colleagues asks meaningfully, as if he hardly dared hope, “You mean—?” “Yes,” said Fred. “It’s the only cigarette you can smoke under water.”
* * *
There aren’t many occasions when radio rises to the hopes its pioneers had for it. But Mr. Allen, when is good, comes closer to the ideal in radio entertainment than any other performer. His operatic satires are witty, sharp and wonderfully contrived. Wisely, he uses melodies familiar to all and keeps his lyrics simple. In the field of radio humor, and its [sic] an uneven field with foolish, dilapidated scarecrows marking the ruts—Mr. Allen is, it seems to me, our finest artist. I hope he never retires.
* * *
A special accolade is in order for Shirley Booth. She should be on the Fred Allen show every week, and if there’s ever a good-sized vacancy in Allen’s Alley, I hope Fred sees fit to give her a lease. If you listen to Shirley with a script in hand, you realize the fine creative artistry of her humor. She can make the most prosaic, pass-me-the-salt kind of line outrageously funny.
The dialog leading up to “Carmen” last night had some deft Allen touches. Shirley gave Fred a brief sketch of her operatic background. Besides being chanteuse on the Weehawken Ferry, she told of spending two seasons with Phil Spitalny.
Fred: You sang with Spitalny?
Shirley: No, I was in charge of the girls who played the ‘cellos.
Fred: You coached the ‘cello players?
Shirley: No, after each program, I helped pull their legs back into shape.
When Phil began calling his show The Hour of Charm, Shirley quit. “I didn’t wanna make a liar outa Phil,” she explained.

CBS signed Booth in early 1948 and hoped to develop a sitcom for her. It did. The show was about a Brooklynese school teacher. It was called Our Miss Brooks. As Variety put it in its April 21st edition: “CBS and the comedienne couldn’t see eye to eye and board chairman William S. Paley...was unhappy over the original audition record that was cut, and troubles and temperaments apparently piled up at the second auditioning last week.”

Booth went back to Broadway and collected three Tonys, as well as an Oscar before knocking on the Baxter’s door in 1961 and getting hired as Hazel and winning two Emmys in the process. Allen continued to be praised in the press even after his death in 1956.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

The Show Must Go On

Fire is destroying Andy Panda’s piano but he is determined to finish Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu Opus 66.

Woody and effects animator Sid Pillet are a little late, but they put out the fire. It's a musical triumph!

La Verne Harding and Les Kline are the credited animators in Musical Moments from Chopin, released in February 1947. Ben Hardaway and Milt Schaffer provided the story, with Ted Saidenberg and Ed Rebner providing the piano music under the direction of Darrell Calker.

Only six Miniatures were made before Walter Lantz temporarily suspended operations. They all have something to enjoy; this one has the drunken horse on the barn rafters.

Monday, 5 April 2021


An octopus becomes a weapon as Popeye and Bluto fight over an immobile treasure chest under water in Dizzy Divers (1935).

In maybe the most imaginative gag in the cartoon, which takes half a reel just to get to the treasure, Popeye punches the octopus (while muttering “puss” a lot) into a pinwheel, which rolls and picks up Bluto before crashing into a sunken a ship.

The octopus collapses in a heap and ends its acting career.

Willard Bowsky and Harold Walker are the credited animators in this ho-hum effort. Wimpy is wasted with very little to do. There are few real off-the-wall gags you expect from the Fleischers and there is reused punching animation.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Looking Forward — Except for Dinner

You can’t be bright and cheery all the time.

Jack Benny wasn’t.

He was reaching close to 80 in the early 1970s and seems to have been doing an awful lot of travelling. It had to have taken a toll. Witness this feature story from the Palm Beach Post of May 11, 1972. Jack has flown in for a convention appearance in Florida, and then had to fly to New York City for another performance. He seems particularly cranky—tired of “cheap” jokes, dismissive of his 23-year career on radio, basically telling Irving Fein to get lost when (and I would bet this wasn’t the first time) trying to get some food into him.

This isn’t the first time, by the way, Jack told reporters he didn’t want to think about what he did in radio. In this case it’s odd, considering a PBS special aired the same night as this story where he, George Burns, Edgar Bergen and others were interviewed about what made them successes on radio. But he went on the record saying he looked forward, not backward, in his career. Radio was backward in time.

It's Vintage Jack Benny

Post Staff Writer
The invitations stated "black tie only'' and there stood Jack Benny wearing a navy blazer and a red-striped tie.
"It's my fault," the public relations man for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores convention said. "I forgot to tell you."
"If it's your fault, then I won't go change." Benny said. "I'll just make a joke about it when I go on tonight."
He walked in front of a full-length mirror at the Breakers Hotel.
"I don't look so bad." he said, turning around. "I know a joke," his manager said. "Tell them that if you had known it was formal you would have rented a tuxedo."
Benny didn't laugh. "Or you could tell them you couldn't afford one," someone else suggested.
Jack Benny had heard his own jokes before, and wasn't particularly amused.
"Actually, I have two tuxedos with me," he said, "but when I eat I always get food all over myself."
Benny was performing last night at the convention in Palm Beach, before flying to New York for a Friar's Club testimonial dinner for himself and comedian George Burns.
"George and I have been friends for 50 years," he said. "A dinner for both of us should be exciting."
It is hard to imagine Benny is 78. Only his hands showed his age.
"I've been in show business more than 60 years," he said. "And I think humor today is the same as yesterday and yesteryesterday and yester-yesteryesterday. What I've been doing the past 60 years has been the same thing, only I've gotten a little better about it."
He wasn't interested in the "nostalgia" theme of last night's entertainment or reminiscences about his old days in radio.
"If anyone tells me how good I used to be. I say thank you, but I don't care. What I'm interested in is my next special or my next show and how good that will be."
He started off into space. "Nostalgia," he snorted, "those were the days, my eye. Those were the days only when we were living them. These are the days."
"But that doesn't mean," he shrugged, "that I'm going to undress or be in a pornographic movie. I still don't believe in those things."
Benny's manager, worried about the time, said. "Mr. Benny, your meal is ready."
"I'm not hungry," Benny said, "I'd rather talk."
His manager retreated, but looked reproving.
"It just happens that I'm not hungry." Benny ("Now everyone call me Jack") repeated.
He talked about things that aren't funny, as well as those that are.
"There are certain things I won't joke about, " he said. “I don't like political jokes. Oh, I do a few, but I don't deprecate anyone."
He looked at his small audience of reporters to see if they were agreeing with him.
"What I think about politics has nothing to do with what the country thinks," he said.
He laughed. "I did do one joke about the primaries: I said all the money the candidates are spending is like spending money on a girl who hasn't said yes yet. His manager approached again. "You've got to get something to eat before you go on."
Benny shrugged his Benny shrug. "All right, but I'm not hungry."
A photographer stopped him. "Before you leave, could I have one of those classic Jack Benny poses?"
"What's a classic Jack Benny pose?" Jack Benny asked. And then he folded his arms and tilted his head and everyone said "That's it." "So that's a classic Benny," he smiled.