Thursday, 12 December 2019

They Rattle My Brains

Daffy Duck’s The Upstanding Sitter has what you’d expect in an early Bob McKimson-directed cartoon—waving arms, floppy tongues, walking in perspective to the side of a camera. This one also has some rhyming verse courtesy of Warren Foster.

When Daffy strolls to his next gig complaining that his young charges rattle his brain, his head goes off in all kinds of directions. The scene is animated on ones.

Sorry there’s so much digital fuzz. My DVD with the cartoon won’t play and this version was grabbed off the internet.

Manny Gould, Phil De Lara, John Carey and Chuck McKimson are the animators in this short.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Behind the Scenes at To Tell The Truth

You wouldn’t think people need to be taught how to lie (insert your own politician joke here) but it came in handy on one TV show.

To Tell The Truth featured two liars trying to convince a panel of TV/stage actors they were someone else. They got a little bit of help, and for good reason.

Here are a couple of neat little backstage stories about the game show from the years Bud Collyer hosted it. The first is from the Associated Press and appeared in papers that published on Christmas Day 1966. The second is from the Niagara Falls Gazette of September 16, 1963.

In going back 50-some-odd years and thinking about it, To Tell The Truth was probably my favourite of all the Goodson-Todman game shows. It was on every day, so you got to know the panelists and they all seemed to have a good rapport. (The Match Game and Password had different people every week). And it was fun to guess along.

On 'To Tell the Truth'
Contestants Are Taught to Lie

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fooling the panel of To Tell the Truth isn't easy, so the producer runs a "school for liars." The imposters get all the dope on Oman, an oil sheikdom in Arabia, along with tips like don't volunteer information and never say "I don't know." But watch out, the panel's sharp.
NEW YORK (AP) —The two gentleman liars, scribbling furiously on legal-size yellow paper, listened intently as the honest man paced the room, describing the weather of Oman, the small oil-rich state on the Arabian Peninsula.
"Muscat, the capital," said the pacing man with the air of a lecturer, "is one of the three hottest cities in the world. I've read the thermometer at 120 degrees at midnight three nights in a row."
It was a briefing session for contestants on CBS' "To Tell the Truth," a panel show that has been around the network for 10 seasons. This month it made the jump to Monday evening's schedule as an emergency replacement for "The Jean Arthur Show."
The briefing, held the day before the show was taped, took place in a small room in the 30th floor offices of the show-packaging firm, Goodson and Todman.
Presiding was Bruno Zirato Jr., producer of the show. The lecturer was Wendell Phillips, an oil millionaire, honorary sheik of Oman, archaeologist and author of a new book, "Unknown Oman."
He and Zirato were teaching Thomas Gillis, a professional fund-raiser, and Howard Larson, an advertising man, how to fool a panel of four experts.
The object of the game is for the panel — Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle — to try to pick the truth teller from the imposters on the basis of brief questioning.
"We get the southeast monsoon," continued Phillips, "and it lasts from May to September — it stops around my birthday, Sept. 26 . . . ."
"Libra is his sign of the Zodiac," interrupted Zirato. "Peggy Cass might hit you with that kind of a question — she's interested in astrology."
Then Zirato addressed himself to Phillips:
"What's a Caftan? It's a cloak but women around here are wearing them and Kitty Carlisle knows fashion."
"That's Morocco," Phillips said. "I've only been there once."
"Zirato turned to the two liars: "That's a good answer — brush if off like that."
Gillis asked Phillips, "What are your oil interests?"
"They consist of rights covering 65 million acres — no, make it 75 million because I picked up some more last week. That's to look for oil or drill for oil, although some acres are producing now."
Zirato and the two contestants looked impressed.
"What makes oil?" asked Larson, the second liar.
"The Arabian Peninsula was an inland sea during the Jurassic Period, the age of dinosaurs," replied Phillips. "Oil comes from either marine or animal organisms—no one is quite certain about that."
"What if someone asks my opinion about the Israel-Jordon thing?" asked Gillis.
Zirato broke in: "Just look at them sternly and tell them they can hardly expect an unbiased opinion from an Arabian sheik—and don't forget to pronounce it 'shake.' "
The session went on for more than two hours. Finally the contestants left, carrying with them copies of Phillips' book for homework.
Zirato relaxed and pushed away a pile of notes from in front of him. Mostly they covered subjects he knew, from long experience, might be the basis of questions from the panel.
"We know, for instance, that Orson and Peggy are real experts on flying saucers, and if you think of a spot involving comic strips, forget it. Orson knows everything about comic strips and he knows old movies, too."
POSTON is likely to trip liars with detail questions, like asking the location of the brakes in a small plane. Both Peggy and Kitty have traveled widely, but, according to Zirato, where Kitty would ask for the name of a hotel in a town, Peggy "would know the name of the hotel manager and the name of the sacristan of the local church, too."
Zirato always instructs the liars never to provide unsolicited information, and never to say "I don't know."
Thus if a panelist asked one of the liars to name his college archeology teacher, he was briefed to parry with a question: "Which one of my teachers? I had many, but if you mean in Egyptology, it was John Wilson."
"Use any name that comes into your head," said Zirato, "and if you can't think of one that sounds read, use your own name—which you probably can remember. In a lot of instances, the vague answer to a technical question—'I don't think that has ever really been established'—works well."
The panel has remained intact now for the past couple of years.
"People sometimes want to know why we keep the same panel, and the answer is that they are good and we couldn't do better," Zirato said. "And Bud Collyer, the moderator, adds a lot, too. He has probity. It isn't necessary for us to make statements that the show is absolutely on the level."
In their hunt for contestants, Zirato and four assistants wade through newspapers, magazines and books, and also accept nominations from press agents. The liars are found among volunteers, friends, of the producers and friends of friends.
Zirato interviews all the candidates for the imposter spots. From long experience he can judge whether they will be able to think quickly before a camera and not forget vital information.

Panelists Spot Him
Reporter Struggles 'To Tell the Truth'

EDITOR'S NOTE —Earlier last week Gazette reporter Austin Hoyt took part in the production of a segment of "To Tell the Truth" in New York.
• • •
Gazette Staff Writer
SUPPOSE your name is Barbados Gunglefinger and you just went over Niagara Falls in a rubber ball.
The papers make a big scene over it, and the next day the phone rings. It's a producer for the TV show "To Tell the Truth." He offers you a round trip flight to New York, $50 expense money, and what you, as the "real Barbados Gunglefinger," can make by fooling the panel of four. No mention of a date with Miss America, a free evening of dancing at the Ritz or a set of luggage in case you win nothing else, but you decide to go anyway.
The day before the show is to be taped, you appear at a producer's office on the 35th floor of a glassed-in building.
A secretary's slim digit with a well polished nail motions you to an office where you meet your two impersonators, a shoe clerk and a pediatrician, both from New York.
• • •
FOR TWO HOURS the producer briefs you on the show and you help the impersonators fabricate likely stories. The shoe clerk's motive will be that he always liked rivers and water falls. You decide the pediatrician has had a life long fancy for rubber balls. You are to be yourself, the Pine Avenue butcher who just got sick of 20 years of hacking up meat.
You see that the imposters learn how high the Falls are and all the facts of your voyage.
• • •
EARLY THE NEXT DAY you walk through the stage door of the CBS-TV studios. You are given a blue shirt to cut down glare from the lights, and you take your place for another briefing. Across from you are the "three Cookie Gilchrists," and the "three barbers for Harry Truman" being filmed for Wednesday's show. You and the "three Dr. Salks" will be taped for Thursday's show.
A minor functionary passes out coffee and doughnuts as the imposters nervously recollect their stories.
An assistant producer arrives with more advice. "When you hear a voice say, 'What is your name?', that is your cue, number one," he says, addressing the shoe clerk. "The cue for the number twos and threes will be the spot light turned on you."
"When you turn to walk down to your seats, just stick out your left foot and walk. No army turns or marches," he warns.
Then there is a dress rehearsal with a mock panel, using the real panel's names: Joan Fontaine, Phyllis Newman, Jan Murray, and Dana Andrews.
There is another wait backstage as the audience fills the house. You can hear them practicing applause. They must be old ladies or degenerates, you think. Who else would be out there at 10:30 in the morning?
Then reassuring words from Bud Collier, the master of ceremonies. He wants you all to meet him so you feel "you have one friend out there."
• • •
HE REMINDS YOU there are no awards given for dramatic performances and not to upstage the panel when you chat with them at the close of the show. And, he goes on, when the game is over and he says "Goodbye and God bless you," that means "up and out."
The three Cookie Gilchrists and the three Truman barbers traipse off to the platform and you watch them on closed circuit TV.
Have to sit through the commercials, too. You're not nervous. All you have to do is tell the truth, but the imposters are writhing and smoking, wishing they had never volunteered.
• • •
"WHAT IS YOUR NAME?", a voice asks. What if the imposters keel over or say their real names, you think, but they all say, "My name is Barbados Gunglefinger." The quizzing goes quickly and you try to stall and underplay the truth and hope the imposters will feel casual. You enjoy the game and wish the panel would ask you more and not call so much attention to themselves.
Then it's over. Three panelists guess you. Why? You shouldn't have smiled at Joan Fontaine, and as Phyllis Newman said, you did "look like a Barbados Gunglefinger." And the shoe clerk should have known what a back eddy was.
• • •
THE IMPOSTERS reveal their true identities. Someone forgot his real name once, so they have cards saying who they are, but they manage without them.
A prompter beckons the audience to applaud, and the ladies muster what enthusiasm they can.
"Well that's one wrong answer, $100; split three ways, that's not enough for a new rubber ball," Bud says, "but next time you go over the falls, take our best wishes with you."
Up and out. There's a man waiting for your blue shirt. As another holds open the door for you, a voice says:
"Will the three James Meri .....

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Fishy Skunk

Even the minor gags in Tex Avery’s Little ‘Tinker (1948) are well animated and timed. Unfortunately you won’t get that in the screen grabs below, but you can get an idea of some of the poses.

B.O. Skunk pulls a Romeo and Juliet routine (thanks to an advice manual) and sings opera to his lady-love raccoon as he climbs a balcony. The raccoon is delighted at first, but takes a whiff and realises he’s a skunk. The Disney animation principles of anticipation and follow-through are used. When the raccoon expresses shock, she stops but her cheek ruff follow the principle of gravity and continue to move.


B.O. is clobbered with a flower pot.

Avery’s timing is excellent here. He doesn’t wait too long or rush his next gag. The horrified fish come out of the lake after just the right amount of footage. The water doesn’t have time to completely settle before the fish leap out of the water and run away.

Bill Shull, Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton and Bob Bentley are the animators.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Van Beuren Does Fleischer

There’s glorious fun in chickens singing, dancing and piano-playing the old song “Ida.” That’s how the Van Beuren cartoon Panicky Pup (1933) starts out.

The cartoon turns dark, though, when a cat (who has just finished dancing with a blow-up kitten doll) falls in a well. The dog is haunted with a minor key chorus imposing guilt. The Fleischer studio did a great job with this kind of plot in Swing You Sinners in 1930. This one is isn’t as imaginative but it’s full of skeletons, ghosts and weird morphing stuff.

Swaying haystacks become ghosts. Pumpkins become devil cat heads.

In the next scene, a tombstone becomes a xylophone player.

Sorry for the poor screen grabs; I hope this cartoon gets restored.

John Foster and Harry Bailey get the “by” credit on this short. Van Beuren was always a hit-and-miss studio, but this strikes me as one of their hits.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Tralfaz Sunday Theatre: The Light in Your Life

One of the busiest industrial studios in the 1940s and ’50s gets no notice from animation fans today. It was Raphael G. Wolff studio at 1714 North Wilton Place, not all that far from the old Warner Bros. cartoon studio. For a time Earl Klein was Wolff’s art director after leaving the Chuck Jones unit and the musical director was a chap named Hoyt Curtin.

Ray Wolff was an advertising photographer from Chicago who came to Hollywood and opened a photographic business in 1937. He somehow expanded into advertising films. His studio made hundreds of shorts for businesses. Some included animated portions. One (of many) of them was made for General Electric in 1949 and called The Light in Your Life.

Business Screen magazine devoted two pages of its May 5, 1949 edition to this film (“Thirty types of lamps are featured,” we’re told). It would appear G.E. (who would later use Mr. Magoo as its spokescartoon) wanted to be represented by an animated character like many other businesses of the day and came up with J. Lumen Lightly. He co-stars with nine-year-old Eilene Janssen, an MGM contract player who was crowned Little Miss America of 1948. She later recalled G.E. sent her on tour with the film along with her mother, her pianist and her marimba. Eilene continued acting until 1980 (she had a recurring role on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet on TV). I can’t tell you who is playing Lightly. I thought it might be Earle Ross.

The story owes something to Alice in Wonderland and, to a small extent, Tom and Jerry cartoons where the black housekeeper is seen from neck down. Jonathan Boeschen located the print below on-line.

There’s virtually no biographical material about Wolff on-line. An obituary article was written in the South Pasadena Review of Monday, February 21, 1972. Oddly, it doesn’t make a direct mention of his career in industrial films; it focuses on art instead. And it avoids mentioning he was six-foot-five.

Raphael Wolff Died. Funeral Held Feb. 16
Funeral services for Raphael G. Wolff, Sr., well-known Southern California artist, were held at the Wee Kirk O’ The Heather, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Wednesday noon, Feb. 16. Interment Forest Lawn, Glendale.
Wolff was born in St. Louis, Mo., June 3, 1901. He was a sickly boy and, at the age of 14, was given only one year to live. With this in mind and to enjoy that short period of time, he and a friend went to the head waters of the Missouri and floated down of the Gulf of Mexico. [Note: Wolff was 22 and with two other friends according to contemporary newspaper reports).
Later, with his health restored, Wolff came to California and became a noted photographer for advertising, eventually entering the scenic art field, doing backgrounds for television advertising spots. At one time, his studio employed 85 artists.
Ray’s father was a noted artist around the turn of the century, but the son didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps.
About ten years ago, Wolff sold his studio and business, and began the study of art, painting with oil colors. He developed rapidly and soon was taken into many of the leading art groups. He was a member of the California Art Club, the Valley Artists Guild, the San Gabriel Fine Arts Association, and just recently was voted a member of the Artists of the Southwest, Inc. He had been active in the Business Men’s Art Institute and had served on its board of directors. He had won many ribbons and honors.
Ray was a member of the William D. Stephens Masonic Lodge No. 698, F. and A.M. and the Masonic Press Club, Los Angeles.

Jack Benny, His School and His Gang

Jack Benny accomplished many things in the entertainment world, but he remarked on several occasions his most proud moment (charity concerts notwithstanding) was having a junior high school named after him. Benny never considered himself a studious boy years earlier in Waukegan.

Benny talks about this and his age in a February 1960 article by United Press International. The rest is a biography and a few quotes from others.

You’ll notice the article says “Part Two.” You may be wondering about Part One. Well, to be honest, it was posted last December. However, the version I found didn’t indicate it was a Part One, otherwise these two parts would have been posted on consecutive Sundays. Both are stand-alone stories so newspapers could run one or both.

Jack Benny Flabbergasted, Jr. High Named After Him
(Editor's Note: This is the second of two dispatches about Jack Benny, one of America’s most beloved and enduring comedians.)
UPI Hollywood Writer
HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Jack Benny, the pride of Waukegan, Ill., is flabbergasted that his home town has named a new junior high school after him.
“It's such an honor,” he said. “I could understand maybe a theater being named after me — or a bowling alley, but a HIGH SCHOOL!”
Benny, who began his show business career 49 years ago as doorman of the only theater in Waukegan, recalled that “I was so lousy in school, they almost threw me out.”
Now, however, he has equal billing in Waukegan with Thomas Jefferson end Daniel Webster, after whom the two other junior high schools are named.
“One thing we have in common is that we're all up there in age,” the 65-year-old CBS-TV star told the home folks at the ground-breaking ceremony.
Nicest Thing
“This is the nicest thing that has ever happened to me,” he added as he turned the first load of dirt on the $1,200,000 structure, which will spread over 17 acres.
When the comedian was born in 1894, he was christened Benny Kubelsky. As he grew up, he spent summers working in his father’s haberdashery shop. But he preferred to practice on the violin his father gave him.
In high school, he played with a small orchestra at local dances and firemen's balls. But Waukegan's Barrison Theater, which has a pit orchestra, would accept him only as a doorman.
Soon, however, he became a property man, and before long he became the only knickerbockered member of the pit orchestra.
When he was 17, Benny teamed up with a pianist named Cora Salisbury in a vaudeville act called “From Grand Opera to Ragtime.” His next partner was another pianist, Lyman Woods. They toured the nation until Benny joined the Navy in 1916.
In service, Benny traveled in a revue put on by the Great Lakes Naval Station.
His violin-playing failed to raise money for Navy relief, but he discovered his wisecracks did produce results. Soon he was a monologist.
After the war, he decided Ben K. Benny would be a better name for vaudeville than Benjamin Kubelsky. But he was confused with another fiddler —Ben Bernie—so he changed his name to Jack Benny.
In the next decade, his suave comedy made him a vaudeville favorite, and he did big musicals on Broadway for Earl Carroll and the Shuberts.
On Radio In 1932
His first words on radio — the medium that made him famous — were spoken in 1932 when he appeared as a guest on a show hosted by another up-and -coming personality, Ed Sullivan.
“Hello, folks!” he said. “This is Jack Benny. There will be a slight pause for every one to say, ‘Who cares?’”
In a few years, however, the nation’s radio listeners cared very much. He and the members of his show—Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, Mary Livingstone (his wife) and announcer Don Wilson—became household favorites.
“My cast,” he says with a grin, “has played a large part in the longevity of the program. Don has been with me since the old ‘Jello’ days—more than 25 years ago. Rochester has put in 24 years.
“I don't have to carry the ball. More often than not I give the funny lines to a supporting character and let them play the laughs off me.”
Rochester A Hit
Rochester was originally a character written in for one broadcast. That was when Benny moved his family and program to California. Rochester was supposed to be the Pullman porter in the radio enactment of the journey west.
But the public clamored for more of Rochester, and the script was written so that Benny hired him away from the Pullman Co. to be his valet.
Mary became a regular the same way. Benny had met her on a trip to Los Angeles, where she was a department store clerk named Sadye Marks.
Then she started playing the part of a young fan from Plainfield, N.J., who would burst into his program reading him “poems” and wisecracking. The public loved her lilting giggle, and she became a regular.
Rich Man Jack Benny
Today, Benny is one of Hollywood’s richest men. In addition to his own production company, he has “a little property in California and Florida, a little oil in Texas and here—and some cattle in several places.”
Many believe that Benny’s greatest strength as a comedian is his perfect timing — knowing exactly how long to pause before speaking his next line to get the maximum humorous effect.
It was his timing, coupled with his on-stage reputation as a miser, that made what may very well have been the funniest bit on any Jack Benny program. He was supposedly approached by a holdup-man who demanded, “Your money or your life.” The silence that followed while Benny was “thinking it over” produced howls of laughter.
Great Stamina
His greatest asset, however, is his stamina — which keeps him looking almost as young as the 39 he has pretended to be for a quarter of a century.
“He never slows down,” said a friend. “Recently, he flew from Rochester, N.Y., to Manhattan, changed his clothes, went to a cocktail party, then a Broadway opening, then a Rodgers and Hammerstein party, then Eddie Fisher’s opening at the Waldorf, then a party thrown by Liz Taylor for Eddie — and. finally, at 3 a.m., to a party Josh Logan was throwing for Mary Martin.”
Benny, who plays golf three times a week and has a good head of hair despite all the jokes on his program that he wears a toupee, says with a grin:
“I don't mind telling audiences my real age because they leave shaking their heads and saying,
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it.”

Saturday, 7 December 2019


Servicemen and women hunkered down in the Gilbert and Mariana Islands during World War Two enjoyed two things when they got a chance to relax and watch a movie. According to the October 1944 edition of Redbook, one was Bugs Bunny cartoons. The other was animated shorts starring Private Snafu.

Few people outside the military ever saw Snafu during the war. The cartoons were designed to use humour to convey to soldiers how to behave (and thus win the war). Years later, being public domain, they began showing up in home video collections and several years ago, Thunderbean did a very nice job issuing a DVD with restored versions.

Snafu did get a bit of publicity in the civilian press in the war years. Here are two wire service articles about the cartoons. The first appeared in papers starting around December 23, 1943 and the second on August 3, 1944 (feature stories back in those days could be spiked for use even months later). Both stories are referring to the cartoon Spies, directed by Chuck Jones in 1943.

Army Pin Up Boy Popular Private Snafu Liked By Men
AP Features Writer
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 29 (AP)—The screen's pin-up girls have competition now in fan mail from American servicemen. Their rival: a funny little guy named Private Snafu who is a model soldier—a model in everything, almost, that model soldier isn't.
Snafu is a military secret. His starring pictures are of, by, and for the armed forces only. But when the army takes surveys to ascertain the soldiers' film favorites, Private Snafu usually rates highest or second highest.
Snafu's misadventures in army life emanate from the information branch of the office of morale services, located in part of the old Fox studios in Hollywood. Originating in an idea of Lt. Colonel Frank Capra, a former movie director, Snafu is a product of the "lighter moments" of the men who create him men, incidentally, who have gone through the regular prescribed military training.
For a "light moment," however, Snafu represents plenty of hard work. Each Snafu film has been turned out in six weeks, compared to the six months usually taken for a short cartoon. And Snafu does his stuff in four minutes, whereas a commercial short cartoon runs ten.
What's Snafu like? Well, he's a patriotic guy who does everything wrong. He's a fellow who thinks it would be a swell army with a few minor changes. He's a guy who can keep a military secret with a zipper on his lip, if there's somebody handy to keep the zipper zipped.
Leon Schlesinger's cartoon studio animates his films from stories and drawings by Capt. Theodore Seuss Geisel (the "Dr. Suess" [sic] of such children's stories as "To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins;") First Lieut. Otto Englander, formerly of Walt Disney's story department; Lt. Jack Sarkin, former art student; Staff Sgt. David Rose, late of Disney's; Cpl. Philip D. Eastman, and Pfc. Eugene Fleury, both formerly of Schlesinger's and Disney's.

"Snafu" Films Shown To Army To Stop Talk

United Press Staff Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (UP)—Hitler and Tojo take notice! Snafu is in the army now. Brass hats call him the goofiest soldier in the U.S. Army, but they've handed him one of the toughest assignments.
Snafu is an animated cartoon soldier and it's his job to impress on U. S. troops the importance of being good soldiers. Snafu does it by being a horrible example through hundreds of feet of movie film.
His name springs from the military slang word, "Snafu," meaning "situation normal, all fouled up."
The pitfalls for the Army private, or any other personnel, for that matter, are depicted in this series of Snafu training films being turned out by the film production section of the special service division of the U. S. Army for showing at posts here and overseas.
Snafu, the bantam-weight private, with the outsized ears and feet, scoffs at Army rules and regulations to bring on resultant cataclysms. How he lives up to his name is shown in the film, "Spies," an illustration of the importance of secrecy.
"I'll never let it slip," Snafu sings in the film, when he learns his sailing time for overseas. "When I learn secrets, I zip my lip."
A Japanese spy, disguised as an ice cream wagon horse, hears Snafu boast as he bounces along the street and into a telephone booth to inform his mother he's bound for overseas. Snafu doesn't realize that a Japanese agent is concealed in the telephone box into which he is speaking.
Next Snafu stops in a bar for refreshments. He does not know that the two moose heads over the bar are really a couple of enemy spies. He drinks and his tongue loosens.
He sits down at a table with a lovely, who records his words on a concealed typewriter she has strapped to her garter.
The siren is revealed as a veritable Mata Hari, who wakes the carrier pigeon, sleeping on her hat, and dispatches the bird to Berlin with a notation of transport sailing. Furthermore, the bar queen is something of a sweater girl who absorbs more of Snafu's secrets in her special transmitters and relays them to Germany.
As a result, Nazi U-boats spot the convoy in which Snafu and his fellow soldiers are moving. From the aft deck Snafu sights the sub and is thrown overboard as the ship gains full speed. Below, in Satan's kingdom, Snafu is shown his own reflection in a mirror.
"This guy blabbed," Satan explains.
Snafu is currently starring in four films.

The bulk of the cartoons were made at Warners and it’s pretty easy to tell. While there are Seussian characters at times (especially in Rumors, which is my favourite; Ted Geisel worked on some of these cartoons), the designs look like something out of the Warners units. Carl Stalling’s music is no different than in your average Daffy Duck cartoon, and the soundtrack is filled with Mel Blanc (with his various dialects), Bob Bruce, Frank Graham and other Warners actors. No doubt all that familiarity—and humour—sold Snafu cartoons with battle-weary audiences.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Trombone Lightning

The special effects in the performance of the Overture to William Tell (from the Walter Lantz cartoon of the same name) are a little too realistic.

A trombonist is hit by lightning. Here are the drawings. They’re animated on ones. The effects animator (Sid Pillet?) does all the work here.

The one below is my favourite.

La Verne Harding and Casey Onaitis are the credited animators for director Dick Lundy.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Rubber Hose Dwarves

Walt Disney and dwarves met up in the early days of sound cartoons in The Merry Dwarfs (1929). These ones didn’t do much more than have funny dances in time to the music but that was good enough for 1929.

Disney weaned himself away from rubber hose-style animation in the ‘30s, but it’s evident in this cartoon. Here are some frames of a couple of dwarves dancing.

There are a few drawings that remind me of poses in Flip the Frog cartoons, so Ub Iwerks had to have been one of the animators.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Before Allen’s Alley

The Allen’s Alley segment is the best-remembered portion of the Fred Allen radio show, but it existed for only a comparatively short period of time, and not all the cast members who were in place at its height in the late ‘40s were there at the beginning.

The Alley was Allen’s attempt to put a running format behind something he had been doing on his show since the early 1930s—using his stooges to comment in various ways on some item in the news. The difference was while several of the actors used similar voices or dialects often on the earlier broadcasts, there were no distinct characters.

When things settled down, the characters in the Alley were played by Minerva Pious, Peter Donald, Parker Fennelly and Kenny Delmar, who doubled as the show’s announcer. Pious had been with Allen pretty much since the beginning, the others came along as replacements over the years when Alley denizens decided to try Hollywood or moved on to other shows.

A fellow named Jon Stokes profiled Allen’s supporting players, first in a 1938 article in “Screen and Radio Weekly,” a newspaper magazine supplement. He then took the same article and sold it to Radio Varieties magazine for its May 1940 edition. Stokes had to make some modifications. For one thing, Allen was no longer on “Town Hall Tonight,” the show changed names in 1939 (and also changed producers). For another, actress Eileen Douglas died in 1939. And child actor Jackie Grimes was no longer on the show. Stokes had to delete copy and pad out the 1940 version. I’ve combined the two articles.

Besides the news commentary on the 1930s and early ‘40s shows, Allen used his supporting cast in a weekly sketch. At the height of the Alley years, sketches were built around guest stars and the supporting cast didn’t take the main parts.

John Brown ended up, among other things, as Digger O’Dell on The Life of Riley, before getting mired in the blacklist and dying several years later. Charlie Cantor went over to Duffy’s Tavern, playing the same type of brain-dead character (you can hear Sid Raymond using the Cantor voice in cartoons as Baby Huey).

Nice, Fresh Ham
Fred Allen’s A-1 Quality

By Jon Stokes
Ham, often found between slices of bread, has a traditional way of turning up on theater stages, the screen, in night clubs, and over the air. As a dramatic term it is strictly a mark of opprobium, a label of discredit that rings of artistic ineptitude. A ham, in short is a lousy actor. Yet members of one of the most popular dramatic groups on the air today are self-confessed "hams", and mighty proud of it, too.
There are, of course, hams and hams. To wear that badge of dubious distinction because you don't know any better is one thing, to be a "good" ham is another. For hamdom at its best, take a look at the Mighty Allen Art Players, heard with Fred Allen every Wednesday evening on the "Fred Allen Hour" over the NBC-Red Network.
There is no question but what the Mighty Allen Art Players belong to the group which merits that stamp of porcine perfection. When Allen, himself, introduces their fifteen -minute dramatic sketch he openly refers to them as "the pullets of Pulitzer," the "only group of actors to bring tomato baskets on stage," and "The only thespian troupe ever to play 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' and have the blood hounds walk out on them." One is easily misled into thinking that their ludicrous dramatic farces would make the collective Little Theater groups of the country look like a flock of Duses and Drews in comparison. But such, indeed, is far from the case.
Minerva Pious, John Brown, and Charlie Cantor have reached their present positions of first-rate hams only after years of experience and success on the stage and before the microphone.
Take Charlie Cantor who was introduced to grease paint more than twenty years ago when, during high school vacation, he answered an urgent summons to act as "straight" man for his brother, "Rusty" Cantor, then a famous vaudevillian. Save for a few ill-fated years when he decided to settle down and enter the shoe business, Charlie's been trouping either in vaudeville, musical comedy, dramatic stock, or on the air.
A short, butter-ball of a fellow, consistently jolly despite the ever-increasing bald pate that privately causes him much mental anguish, Charlie is starting his 4th year as a member of the Mighty Allen Art Players. During that time he has taken more than 200 different parts in the Allen sketches, ranging from that of trained seal to a mediaeval bailiff. He personally favors such characterizations as a cloak-and-suiter, or an harrassed delicatessen proprietor. For Allen, Charlie is always the ham. Yet he is in constant demand for straight dramatic programs.
Commencing his career in vaudeville in 1920 as a black -face comedian and dialectician, Charlie next turned to stock, and then for two and one half years, believe it or not, he played the part of Little Eva's mild -tempered plantation owner father in a road company of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Then came the ill-fated shoe venture and Charlie, flat broke, saw desirable coffee and cakes as a radio actor. His first job was at a small Brooklyn station with a banjo -playing partner. They worked sustaining—and gratis—for one week and then went commercial at $15 a pair.
Harry Richman gave Charlie his first real start, and before long he was on constant call by network producers. Currently Cantor may be heard not only with Fred Allen on the "Fred Allen Hour," but on as many as twenty programs throughout the week.
Charlie's voice isn't hard to recognize, once you learn it, but like most character actors his name is rarely mentioned over the air. It's one of the hazards of being a first rate ham.

Minerva Pious, is another Mighty Allen Art Player who arrived at the enviable status of a well-smoked ham only after plenty of seasoning.
"Min" is a veteran of the Mighty Allen Art Players. She has been with Allen since he started his program seven years ago. Only five feet tall she belies her penetrating voice, but she does have that saucy, impertinent appearance you would expect from listening to the parts she plays over the air. Wait for the sharp-tongued shrew; the rasping voice of the chambermaid or spinster of uncertain years and you have Minerva. Pious, incidentally, is her real name.
Born in Moscow on March 5, 1909, Min had her first stage experience as a child walk-on in a production of the Russian Imperial Grand Opera in which her father sang the baritone lead. She was educated in dramatics in Salzburg. Before she arrived in radio she played character bits on the New York stage and did a turn in the editorial department of a nationally known news syndicate.
Minerva broke into radio as an accompanist, and says she wouldn't be the ham she is today if she hadn't been fired early in her career. One night she was playing for a radio singer when she forgot the notes. The singer, Harry Taylor, fired her, but later on, in one of radio's strange twists of fate, he became producer of Fred Allen's show, and remembering the little girl who spoke with a Russian accent, hired her for a Mighty Allen Art Player. [The show is now produced by a triumvirate—Pat Weaver, Jack Van Nostrand and Bill Rousseau. 1938 version]. The show is now produced by Bob Welch.
John Brown, "the Englishman," as the rest of the troupe refer to him, is a third member of Allen's coterie of hams. Tall, dark, mustached John was born in Hull, England, thirty-four years ago; Most likely because he was hired originally six years ago, to do the part of an English duke, John gets the bulk of the more refined masculine roles, but nevertheless is as versatile a dialectician as Charlie Cantor, and plays with him on several straight dramatic shows.
John's first stage experience came in 1916 when he was in public school in England—a short lived experience since in the play, "Master Skylark," he was always killed in the first act. After a theater venture in Australia, he came to this country in the early twenties and started in stock in upper New York State. For six months he played character parts, acted as stage manager, and painted scenery. Then came Broadway and the legitimate stage, where he is still remembered for his work in "Peace On Earth" and "Milky Way." In fact, if it weren't for a serious shortage of good hams in radio, John would have probably continued his stage career. As it was he was the one man Fred Allen wanted to fill an opening in the "Mighty Allen Art Players," and Fred has a way of having his way.
Eileen Douglas, the fourth of this famous group, divides the female parts with Minerva Pious. Their work tends to bear the same relation as does John Brown's to Charlie Cantor's, in that Eileen is apt to be the lady of a haughty English salon, while Min romps around in the part of the scullion in the kitchen.
The only native American of the group, Eileen is a born and bred New Yorker. She, too, worked on the legitimate stage, and is an accomplished writer to boot. Last of all comes the apprentice of the group, little Jackie Grimes, who wears the distinction of being a well seasoned ham at 11 with consummate ease.
Ordinarily a well mannered youngster, Jackie becomes a snarling, spitting urchin of the genus brat at the drop of a hat when he plays opposite Allen in the dramatic skits.
If Jackie can be termed a Mighty Allen Art Player apprentice it is not because of age primarily, nor his brief few months on the show, but rather from the point of view of experience on the Allen air opus. He's been in radio since he was four years old; is heard regularly on the Columbia Workshop, and for some time has taken all boy parts on the March of Time. He's been on the legitimate stage too—with parts in "The Old Maid," the Pulitzer Prize winner which starred Helen Menken and Judith Anderson; "Stark Mad," "Excursion" and "Western Waters," among others.
However, though prospects look bright and he apparently has all it takes to make the right sort of ham, acceptance as a full-fledged Mighty Allen Art Player is no trifling matter and many months more are likely to pass before he is given a permanent set of cap and bells cut down to his size.
So, the next time you tune in "Fred Allen Hour" and hear Charlie, Min, and the rest clowning through script, buffooning this line, and muffing that until your own sides are splitting, at their hammy acting, remember, it takes plenty of time to smoke a ham!