Friday, 29 May 2020

Worms

Dick Huemer’s fun, Fleischer-like, sense of humour is a welcome sight in the Scrappy cartoons made by the Charles Mintz studio for Columbia.

In 1932, there’s a cute extended gag as Oopy finds the “X” that marks the spot for buried riches, confirmed by Scrappy’s map.



Wait a minute! It’s not an “X” at all. It’s worms.



In a Fleischer-esque unexpected throwaway gag, one of the worms is riding a tricycle, using little, um, legs.



But Huemer isn’t finished. Another worm comes out of the hole and whistles. A flap opens in Oopy’s onesy. We’ll let the frames tell the rest of the gag.



Sid Marcus and Art Davis are the credited animators with Joe De Nat supplying the musical background.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Now This Commercial Interruption

After a leisurely pan of a Johnny Johnsen background with overlays in the foreground, Tex Avery’s A Feud There Was opens a string of laziness gags.

We eventually get to a scene with some hillbillies sleeping on a back stoop. Out of nowhere, a KFWB microphone descends from the sky.



The hillbillies are lazy no longer. It takes them five frames to get up and whip into a song.



Perhaps as a commentary on commercials interrupting programming, the song abruptly stops as an announcer steps in to read an ad for a loan company. The announcer is an actual KFWB announcer, Gil Warren.

“Call Gladstone 4131,” he urges. That was the real phone number of the Leon Schlesinger studio.



The cartoon Warren steps away and the hillbillies quickly end their brief snooze to resume harmonizing.



Sid Sutherland is the credited animator, with Tubby Millar getting the story credit on the non-Blue Ribbon version.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Bilko

They say you need time to build an audience in television.

Phil Silvers didn’t. You’ll Never Get Rich was a critical smash and an instant hit with viewers. It won Emmys in three straight seasons and was nominated in the fourth and final year when the setting of the show was changed to punch it up in the ratings.

Evidently Silvers was taken aback by his sudden success on the small screen. Here’s a little local newspaper story from December 28, 1955. Silvers spent the Christmas holidays that year in Miami, full of hotels that were full of comics on stage. The mixing of show folk and sports figures (and alcohol) was very much a New York thing for decades in the days before astronomical salaries, at a time when baseball and boxing were the biggest athletic attractions.
SGT. BILKO GETS A SEVERE SHOCK
Comic Phil Silvers Amazed By Bilko's Great Popularity
By FRANK FOX
Miami Daily News Staff Writer
Phil Silvers is an old-time showman at 44. He broke in with Gus Edwards at New York's Palace at 7 as a singer.
For 36 of the 37 years he has been in show business he was just an ordinary Broadway star. He did motion pictures in between such Broadway hits as "Yokel Boy," "Top Banana."
Then, less than a year ago, along came Sergeant Bilko and Silvers' present and future turned to gold.
Weekly TV Show
Sgt. Bilko is the character Silvers plays on his weekly CBS television show (WTVJ, Tuesdays, 8 to 8:30 p.m.).
"I turn over in my cabana everytime I think about the success of Sgt. Bilko," Silvers told a visitor to his cabana at the Roney Plaza Hotel, Miami Beach, yesterday.
"Even though I was on Broadway and in pictures, there weren't too many people who recognized me when I went about the country. But now that I'm in television with Sergeant Bilko . . . !
"It gets a little tiring but I love it," Silvers added.
A Sports Fan
Silvers came to Miami Beach and the Roney Plaza to catch a little rest and to see the Orange Bowl football game.
"I'm a sports fan. I used to be for the Yankees when Joe DiMaggio was in there, now I go for the Cleveland Indians in the American League and the Giants in the National," he said.
The Silvers show, billed as "You'll Never Get Rich," is put on film before live audience.
"We're about six or seven weeks ahead so I could afford the time to take a vacation during the Holidays," Silvers explained.
We mentioned boxing above. If there’s any indication how huge the fight game was in the 1950s, it’s evident in Bob Considine’s column in the Hearst papers of October 26, 1955. Boxers turned actors? Why not, said Bilko creator Nat Hiken.
Phil Silvers Has Best TV Show
NEW YORK (INS) – If the Phil Silvers show isn't the best new show on television, I'll eat its kinescopes without ketchup. It's so good that it practically overcomes the canned laughter on its soundtrack.
This long-neglected master of situation comedy has found his perfect vehicle in "You'll Never Get Rich," which CBS is illuminating each Tuesday night at the tough hour of 8:30 p. m. (EDT).
Phil plays the part of Sgt. Bilko, a would-be scoundrel cursed with the heart of a mushmelon. But for that unlucky soft spot, and a vigilant chaplain, Bilko would be the richest man in the array.
If anybody had told you that Phil would finally get his TV break in a situation piece about the peace-time army you'd have laughed, but only in derision. Yet the man is so good, the writing so excellent, the direction so swift and true, the show became an immediate click.
It has all the warmth and cleanliness of an animated "Beetle Bailey," one of the best comic strips in years. . .so good, in fact, that it was barred by the brass which commands the "Pacific Stars and Stripes."
Phil is the kind of comedian who recognizes the right of other human beings to live. The other day, he gave a little party for Walter Cartier, the welterweight fighter who has turned actor, and had some sportswriters as guests at Shor's. He made Cartier the star of the occasion.
Cartier played the part of a flower-fancier with the wallop of a Marciano on Phil's show Tuesday night. He looks a little like Billy Conn looked as a kid but acts as if he had been at the business for years.
The fighter played Pvt. Claude Dillingham, a member of Bilko's platoon. There's a camp boxing show afoot and Bilko's only fighter is a hilarious powder puncher who took boxing lessons from a mail school and got trombone lessons by mistake.
Dillingham appears on the scene, numb with grief because the Pentagon had turned down his appeal to build window flower boxes for the barracks at Fort Baxter, but by accident flattens Bilko's fighter with one punch.
Bilko's venal dreams of using Dillingham instead of the awful one, and cleaning up on bets, are in time frustrated in a howling manner. Good stuff.
Rocky Graziano, the reformed hood, was on hand at the Silvers' party to explain how his quiet-spoken friend, Cartier, got into the acting business.
Seems that after Nat Hiken coaxed Rocky to try his hand as Martha Raye's TV sparring partner, and Rocky made good, the former middleweight champion still frequently patronized Stillman's Gym between rehearsals to bat the breeze with old friends. He'd pick up Cartier and take him back to the studio to watch the rehearsals.
And after Cartier lost to Kid Gavilan and seemed to be headed for the long decline. Rocky urged him to get into the other business with both feet. Rocky paid tribute to Hiken for his own redemption. "I can't tell you how nice it is to be nice," he said.
Hiken put Cartier next to Silvers when the show was being put together and they work like a charm.
“I don't say every fighter can act, because they can't,” Phil says of the species. “But they've got part of it made. They've taken instructions their whole lives . . . jab like this, stand like that, move like this. Acting is a lot like that and they take to it like ducks to water.”
Cartier said a few words. For all his 60 fights he looks like an applicant for the priesthood. And speaks like one.
In contrast to the robust language of his friend Rocky, who, when told by Hiken that his job with Martha Raye involved learning a script, bawled: “Are you nuts? I can’t read or write!”
At the Silvers luncheon, Cartier blushed when called on and said only this; “It’s a small day for you gentlemen, but a great day for me.”
Silvers never really shook the Bilko con-artist persona. He played it in all kinds of guest roles on TV and in the movie It’s a Mad, Mad (etc. etc.) World. Hanna-Barbera ripped off Bilko and put it in not one but two stars (Top Cat and Hokey Wolf). And why not? Ernie Bilko was one of the television’s great characters. Viewers knew it right away.

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

How a Horse Dances

Look! Those cartoon characters are moving along to the musical beat. And making noise!

In the early days of sound, that was pretty much good enough for a theatre audience, so that’s what Walt Disney delivered, enlivened occasionally by a bad guy threatening a girl who is then rescued by the good guy.

But there was an awful lot of dancing in those early Mickey shorts. Take, for example, The Plowboy (1929). In one scene, the plough horse does nothing but dance along for 23 seconds, using the same positions over and over. To us, it’s lacklustre. In 1929, it must have been a marvel.



There are eight drawings in the one dance cycle, all on ones.



The scene is followed by Minnie Mouse in more cycle animation, skipping (and even flying) to “Catcher in the Rye.” It’s a far cry from The Band Concert. But the artwork still looks years ahead of the Fables cartoons made in 1929 on the East Coast.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Just Whistle, Jerry (Again)

Remember how the hero cat in Bad Luck Blackie (1949) gave a whistle to a white kitten and told him to blow it whenever he was in trouble?

Mike Maltese remembered.

Here’s the situation in Much Ado About Mousing (1964), a Tom and Jerry cartoon.



Not that the idea began with Tex Avery. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera used the bulldog-whistle-rescue mouse scenario in The Bodyguard (1944).

If there is any doubt this is a Chuck Jones cartoon, observe the seemingly mandatory side glance to the audience.



Maltese can’t save this cartoon. It reeks of mailing-it-in by everyone involved; even Gene Poddany’s score sounds like something for the Grinch special left on the cutting room floor.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Bring Back Vaudeville

Jack Benny may have spent plenty of time in front of microphones, and for a while staring at a motion picture camera, but he never did give up appearing live on stage.

Of course, he began his vaudeville career before World War One. In the ‘30s, after becoming a huge radio star, he mounted his own personal appearance tour with a singer, acrobatic act, and so on, just like a vaudeville show. During World War Two, he and his little unit of singers and musicians appeared before soldiers around the world. He was still appearing on stage when he went into television in the early ‘50s, and then expanded that with violin concert performances until his health gave out in 1974.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, he was a little saddened by the demise of vaudeville at the hands of talkies and radio, and happy it got a boost 20 years later. He wrote for the UP about it (or someone ghosted for him) in a column published July 15, 1953. He, again, shows his affection and respect for other entertainers.

Benny Plans Tour In Vaudeville Show
(Jack Benny, CBS TV and radio star, is today's guest columnist during Jack Gaver’s vacation.)

By JACK BENNY
Written For United Press
NEW YORK (UP)—Recently I completed a three-week engagement at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. While I was there, a young couple rushed up to me in the lobby of my hotel, and the boy breathlessly asked, "Are you Jack Benny?" I nodded yes.
"Mr. Benny," he said. "we are on our honeymoon and seeing you here and on the stage last night is the biggest thrill we've had."
This is a rather sad commentary on honeymoons, but it does emphasize the fact that people do love to see actors entertain in person. And entertainers also love to entertain—in person. I know that I got such a kick out of my three-week stand in San Francisco that I plan to play a lot of cities around the country next year in a good old-fashioned vaudeville show.
Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton and a lot of us feel the same way about it, and we all owe this revival of vaudeville in America to one man and he isn't even an American. His name is Val Parnell, and he's managing director of the Palladium Theatre in London.
When vaudeville died in America in the 1930s, all of us who love the theatre were very sad about its passing and felt there was nothing to do about it except mourn a phase of show business that was outdated.
Although radio and television have been very good to me, I guess my first love is still the stage. I know I must be a ham. The old, trite familiar smell of the grease paint still smells good to me. And hearing the laughter and applause of a live audience night after night still sounds awfully pretty to those tired old ears.
In the old days, B. P.—Before Parnell—there weren't many of us who could take time off from radio and picture work to do a Broadway show. So, in order to go out and play to a live audience, we had to appear in the big picture theatre. We did make a lot of money. But five, six and seven shows a day is pretty tough when a man gets to be 39. And also, you always had the feeling that you were merely an extra added attraction.
But all this time, the variety theatre was doing very well in England, Ireland and Scotland, under the capable hands of Val Parnell and a few other showmen. However, in 1947, when business there started to slack off a bit, Val didn't shrug his shoulders and say, "too bad." He decided to import a flock of big name American stars to rejuvenate the variety theatre. His first big hit was Danny Kaye, and the rest is history.
Real Criticism
I think Parnell knows more about vaudeville than any man in the business. I played the Palladium four times in the first six years and every suggestion or criticism Val had to offer was constructive, and a great improvement to my show.
The Palladium policy is to do a strictly vaudeville first half of five acts, with a top star taking over the second half of the bill. All seats are reserved, and many Londoners buy their tickets a month in advance.
The night they come to the Palladium is a big event for these folks. And if the entertainment is good, they love every minute of it. Danny Kaye, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton, myself and many of the other Americans who came to the Palladium, kept asking each other "if the English people love this type of show so much, why shouldn't the Americans."
None of us had the guts to try it—except Judy.
Judy Did It
Judy, who hadn't sung before a live audience in years and years, stepped out on the stage of the Palladium one night and stepped off to one of the greatest ovations ever recorded a star in all history. And when she finished her engagement, she was so thrilled with the warmth of the live audiences, she decided to try it at the Palace in New York. As we all know, Judy stayed 18 weeks, and could have stayed 18 more. Danny could have done the same.
Judy, Danny Kay and Betty Hutton found that if you give them a good show, people will come to see whether it's New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Kokomo, London or Glasgow.
So I know I am speaking for Danny, Judy, Betty and all the rest of the entertainers in the U.S.A., when I publicly say, "thank you, Val Parnell, for bringing vaudeville back to America."

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Disney Vs Warners

The famous Dean of Animation, Eddie Selzer, gave newspaper readers in 1952 an idea of how his staff put together a Warner Bros. cartoon.

OK, Eddie was not a dean, or even an artist. He was a company functionary handed the job of overseeing the cartoon studio after the Warners bought it from Leon Schlesinger in 1944. But he provides a pretty good description in this syndicated feature found in the Nashville Tennessean of February 24, 1952.

For good measure, the unidentified writer chatted with someone over at Disney to be able to point out the differences between the two operations.

Several comments by Selzer are interesting. One involves the “skunk” dialogue by Bugs Bunny. The closest I can think of this being said is in the 1953 short Duck! Rabbit! Duck! where Bugs calls Daffy “a dirty skunk.” The dialogue change he refers to later in the story is from the 1949 Bugs cartoon Rebel Rabbit, directed by Bob McKimson. I admit I am stumped about Foghorn Leghorn and the Brooklyn Bridge. And the comments about everyone keeping Bugs’ character were echoed elsewhere in interviews (this is off the top of my head) by both McKimson and Friz Freleng, as Chuck Jones tended to go off on flights of fancy.

These poorly photocopied publicity photos accompanied the story.

Stars That Make You Giggle and Roar Work Long, Tedious Hours Without Receiving a Cent
HOLLYWOOD—Some of the most popular stars hero are never paid a red cent.
They are, of course, the cartoon characters who have become so famous over the years. These pencil personalities—Snow White, Bugs Bunny, Cinderella and Donald Duck—have made movie audiences weep, giggle and roar as genuinely as do the flesh-and-blood stars of stage and screen.
Since they are mythical, Hollywood citizens never get to see them except on the screen, but a tour of Warner Bros. cartoon studio brought them to life as surely as if they breathed 16 lungfuls of California air every 60 seconds.
There are two representative companies here who produce cartoon movies. They are the Warner company in Hollywood and Walt Disney Productions in Burbank. Each has its own special family of characters and types of productions. Warner Bros. studio makes 30 animated cartoons of seven-minute length each year, and the Disney company, in addition to producing several short comedies, makes full-length features.
Both companies use the same basic method of production, and it requires only five words to describe the method: Hard work and good taste.
Cartoon production is the exact reverse of actual movie production—the cartoons are fitted to the sound effects.
The tour of Warner Bros. cartoon studio, with Edward Selzer, president, acting as guide explained how this is done.
Uses Jam Session
“I believe in jam sessions,” Selzer said. “If any man in this outfit gets a hot story idea, we let him draw up his idea and show it to us. We all pitch into it and decide where it can be improved and whether, as a whole, it has possibilities.”
It is on this story, or "premise" session, that the cartoon depends. The creator introduces his story with simple sketches in continuity. These, with caption text, are arranged on large boards, approximately five by eight feet, called the “story boards.”
After the story board has been approved, changed, improved and given the go-ahead, it is turned over to a director who guides each phase of the production. Then the musicians, layout men, background artists and animators are called in to integrate their various assignments.
In both the Disney and Warner studios, music and dialogue are recorded first. The animation directors study and analyze and break down the sound elements into the number of film frames that will be required pictorially.
For example, says Selzer, it takes about 48 drawings for Bugs Bunny to say: “You are a skunk.” In this particular statement, now under production in the studio, the artists let Bugs' body remain still, and provided animation in the 48 drawings for his mouth and jaws only. This saves a lot of work.
Music and dialogue and sound effects are run over and over on a small sound projector for timing and accent so that the picture and the music and the dialogue come out exactly synchronized. The animator has complete control of his drawings—his actors, as they are in the cartoon medium—at all times, frame by frame. The control is maintained by the cutting department, which prepares the work sheet or chart which shows in terms of film the length of words, the intervals between words, the vowel and consonant sounds, accents, inhalations and out-breathing. These work sheets look something like this:
Y—3 frames
O—3 frames
U—3 frames
(Pause here—3 frames)
A—7 frames
R—6 frames
E—4 flames
(Pause here—3 frames)
A—4 frames
(Pause here—3 frames)
S—3 frames
K—1 frame
U—1 frame
N—1 frame
K—3 frames
The many frames for “You Are” are required because Bugs is forming with words with precision and to make the statement sound nastier. The word “skunk” requires less frames because there is little mouth movement in it.
Same Pattern Applies
The same pattern applies to general sound effects, as, for instance, a clap of thunder or the song of the bird of the fall of a tree.
Key animators have assistants who work under and with them in completing any series of drawings. The animators draw the highspots of the action or character gestures. The assistants follow through along the course indicated by the top animators, and then the remaining drawings required for smooth progression are done by men and women called "in-betweeners" because they supply the drawings in between the key action drawings.



The animators work on an illuminated drawing board. This is done so that after one drawing has been completed, a second piece of transparent paper can be placed on top of it and the new drawing varied just enough to make the movement smooth and natural looking.
When the drawings have been tested for animation, they are sent to the inking and painting department, where trained girls transfer the drawings to sheets of transparent celluloid and outline the characters with pen and ink in such a skillful manner that they lose none of the charm of the original drawings. Other girls apply the chosen colors of paint to the reverse side of the celluloids so that the inked outlines will show.
After the celluloids are finished they are sent to the camera department, where each is placed over the correct background and photographed.
The backgrounds are another phase which requires much painstaking labor and thought. By way of simple exclamation, if Farmer Brown is supposed to chase Foghorn Leghorn across Brooklyn bridge, then the background man simply draws Brooklyn bridge, and slides it under brown and the rooster while the photographer takes animated pictures of them.
From here on out it is the same as movie production. The film is previewed and sometimes undergoes further editing.
At present the Disney studio, with its hundreds of artists and technicians, is concentrating its creative labors on the elaborate forthcoming production “Peter Pan.” This full-length feature needs no flowery description, since movie fans throughout the country have already recognized Disney’s excellent technique through other features—"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Cinderella," and "Alice in Wonderland."
"Peter Pan," adapted from Sir James M. Barrie’s famous fantasy of the boy who never grew up, and his astonishing adventures with the Darling family, moves swiftly in its various excitements and wonders. It will reach the screen in at least 200,000 separate drawings especially painted for the technicolor cameras. This is the amazing factor of animated cartoons. Often the number of drawings a key animator does in a week's time will zip through the theater projector in 10 to 15 seconds. "Peter Pan," when it is released in 1953, will have been in production three years.
Selzer likes to discuss his cartoon personalities, and speaks of Bugs Bunny as a veteran of the screen whose character is so well established that it requires many sessions of the story men and directors to see that this character does not go astray.
He recalls with a chuckle one cartoon in which Bugs visited Washington to see why the government offered many dollars in bounty for wolves, coyotes and foxes, but only a few cents for rabbits. Bugs was insulted.
“Bugs is a guy who is cheerful and resourceful and a menace to the "wittle hunter who hunts wabbits,” he declares, “but you’ll notice he only plays his dirty tricks in self-defense. In this particular story he was originally supposed to kick a Washington cop, and tell him to make a note that Bugs Bunny had been there. He was also to slap the secretary of the interior a couple of times, and throw ink in his face. We changed the cop to a chauffeur, and we toned it down so that he only flipped ink from a pen in the secretary's face.”
But there is one trick of Bugs that has become his stock in trade. It occurs when the cop grabs him by the leg, or the hunter pokes a gun in his face, or the bear raises a club over his head, and Bugs, needing time to think, looks up angelically and asks—
“What's up, Doc?”

Friday, 22 May 2020

Olive Oyl's Brotherly Love

There’s no fight at Patterson Square Garden to-night. Instead, the Brotherly Love Society has taken over the venue for a rally led by Olive Oyl in the centre ring where she sings a great opening theme song by Sammy Timberg.

This gives the animators a change to have Olive’s arms gesticulate all over the place. At one point, she does a quick high-step dance in a circle and wraps her arms around herself to signify love.



This being a Popeye cartoon, you know what’s going to happen. Popeye’s attempts at brotherly love will end in fisticuffs and battered bodies against a dingy New York streetscape.

Brotherly Love was released in 1936 with animation credited to Seymour Kneitel and Doc Crandall. This has all the elements I like about Popeye—the ship’s doors opening and closing on the titles, a fun song, goofy-looking characters and run-down city backgrounds.