Saturday 6 April 2024

Have You Seen These Cartoons?

Regular readers of this blog will likely know I’m a real fan of animated industrial films of the 1950s. Some fine artists who worked on theatrical cartoons found employment in the many companies which made them.

Probably my favourite industrial studio is John Sutherland Productions, which employed people like Tom Oreb, Emery Hawkins, George Gordon, Maurice Noble, Carl Urbano, Bill Scott, Eugene Poddany and many other names familiar to fans of Warners or MGM cartoons of the 1940s. Unfortunately, too many of the company’s shorts are, well, I won’t say “lost,” but are not available for fans in general to view.

Business Screen Magazine profiled a number of the Sutherland shorts—Sutherland bought full page ads in the publication—and, periodically, I find references to ones I have not seen. Leafing through several editions starting with February 1954 (Issue 1, Volume 15), I came across references to a number of animated or partly animated shorts, so I thought I’d pass them along. Unfortunately, there aren’t screen grabs for all of them.

First on our list is Take a Look at Tomorrow, copyrighted on Sept. 26, 1952. The Copyright Catalogue summary is, unfortunately, bereft of any credits. Here’s what Business Screen tells us:

Kaiser Aluminum Takes "A Look at Tomorrow"
Sponsor: Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp.
Title: Take A Look At Tomorrow, 20 minutes, color, produced by John Sutherland Productions
♦ Faced with the problem that the other two major aluminum companies had made a number of pictures dealing with aluminum production, the Kaiser Aluminum Company needed to find a new way of presenting the aluminum story on film. That it did find a fresh approach is shown in the film Take A Look At Tomorrow, a combination cartoon and live action 20 minute color movie which pretty well covers the aluminum production story.
The picture opens with a gay color cartoon sequence starring "Al Luminum" as a circus performer and magician. He stretches and twists, he's the light weight champion, and he's glamorous—outdistancing by far his competitors. Iron man McGinty and Chief Copperhead.
The cartoon sequence also shows how aluminum is mined, extracted from the ore, and brought to the Kaiser plants.
Live action then takes over and shows aluminum processing. Some of the plant shots which show the aluminum pigs bring rolled, drawn and extruded are magnificent. There is one shot made from a traveling crane along the length of one of the huge rolling mills that is particularly outstanding from a production and lighting standpoint.
Also shown are the many uses to which aluminum is put, from its use in structural I-bars, through the innumerable cast and molded parts that are made of aluminum, down to the microscopically thin aluminum foil for household use. The film is very well produced throughout, in beautiful color, and will be enjoyed by all kinds of audiences. Distribution is being handled by the Kaiser sales offices and warehouse distributors throughout the country.

This is a re-write of a review in the February 1953 edition.

The issue also mentions a couple of films Sutherland made for Texaco. Animators had something to with one of them, but they didn’t animate anything. We’re referring to some of the staffers of Walt Disney’s studio who were part of a musical aggregation. Says Business Screen:

This year, the Texaco spring meetings are based entirely on films — five motion pictures are used, each designed to do a real job on one particular subject. All in color, the films start out with Sell More in 54, 13 minutes, a wonderfully jazzy preview of Texaco advertising plans (produced by John Sutherland Productions) and featuring the Firehouse Five Plus Two band.
The second film (also by John Sutherland) is called Take a Look, George, 5 minutes, and it points up the importance of "Registered Rest Rooms" in making and keeping steady customers.

Here are a couple of full-page ads from John Sutherland promoting award-winning shorts. A is For Atom (1953) has some great designs from Lew Keller and Gerry Nevius of atom-head characters from the periodic table of elements, while It’s Everybody’s Business (1954) features designs from Maurice Noble and a fine score by Les Baxter and Gene Poddany. It was co-written by Bill Scott, who gritted his teeth at some of the stories he had to come up with for Sutherland’s clients, such as this one which equates capitalism with patriotism. Both films have been on-line for years.

Let’s turn away from the Sutherland studio for a moment and look at two other animated cartoons.

Walter Lantz released his cartoons, with the exception of a brief period at the end of the 1940s, through Universal (later Universal-International). But it seems “U” didn’t deal with him exclusively. An industrial cartoon short called Rip Van Winkle Returns is mentioned in the Business Screen edition we’ve been talking about. The article about it doesn’t mention Universal, or a theatrical release, but a cartoon by that name was copyrighted by Universal Pictures on Oct. 5, 1953. The Motion Picture Herald of that period reveals a ten-minute short by that name was released as part of the “Variety Views” series on Oct. 5, 1953.

Could it be possible there were two short films, the same length, with the same name, made around the same time? It’s dangerous to make assumptions, but I believe they’re one and the same. Here’s a snippet from Business Screen’s edition:

Animated Cartoon Helps General Mills Tell Story of Corporate Corporate Growth to Shareholders
♦ Rip Van Winkle was re-awakened for the benefit of General Mills, Inc. stockholders recently. The champion hibernator of the Catskills popped up in a busy color cartoon featured during regional stockholder meetings....
Vocal financial reports were highlighted by color slides employing fractional and full screen chart symbols, and by ten minute animated film, Rip Van Winkle Returns, produced by Dudley Pictures Corporation, Beverly Hills, Cal. ...
When a cordial, jet travelling cartoon “General” Mills aroused cotton-bearded Rip to the fact that the mill from which Rip acquired a stock certificate in 1928 now is considerably more than a mill the audience of stockholders was awakened to an articulate interest in the means by which the management plans to make use of its frontier.

There is no accompanying frame grab, and no other information about the cartoon.

Finally comes a cartoon I thought I had profiled on Tralfaz, as I spotted the wonderful frame of the moustached dragon some time ago. It appears not. There is a John Sutherland connection here, as animator Norman Wright moved on to NBC in 1955 to come up with some short films for Howdy Doody, then was hired for Sutherland’s writing department. He is responsible for the story for Your Safety First, a 1956 cartoon about the future that will remind you of The Jetsons, produced by Hanna-Barbera six years later. Wright, a former Disneyite, had his own company by 1961.

The Draggin' of Obsolescence
A New Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. Film Gives Fresh Slant on Industry-Wide Problem
"As far back as anyone can remember, people have wanted progress, and have wanted to get rid of anything that might be a drag on progress.”
WITH that innocent remark for a starting point, The Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. has launched an entirely new approach to an old problem through the medium of a fourteen-and-a-half minute fully animated Technicolor cartoon entitled 'William Johnson and the Draggin'. Produced in Hollywood by Wilding Picture Productions, Inc., written by Samuel Beall; animated by Norman Wright.
A deft combination of fantasy, reality, hilarity, and serious exposition in a timeless setting, the picture once more brings together the knights of old and the ideas of today with what should be a bombshell effect upon the nervously conventional field of industrial advertising.
Points Up Critical Need
The story drives home a nationally serious point so entertainingly that it should certainly have its intended commercial effect, too.
which is to make the buyers of capital goods equipment for industry more acutely aware of the nature and inherent villainy of obsolete equipment.
It is already being aggressively borrowed by top managements of some of our largest corporations to show not just to their buyers, but to everyone in the their respective companies.
Memo to Industrial Users
It’s that universal. The gist of this essentially complex industrial-economic message is presented so simply and clearly that it is easily translatable, by any audience, into a personal message. William Johnson is seeable and enjoyable by anyone with access to a sixteen millimeter sound movie projector. If you have no projector, just get in touch with any of the real-life William Johnsons in Cincinnati Milling’s field offices or agencies, all of whom have or can get you a projector and print.
It’s impossible to say whether the story takes place today, in yesterday's setting, or yesterday, in today's setting, but the presence of Draggin', today or yesterday, is sensed by King Customer The First, who is in a natural position to sense it. As any monarch worth his salt will do, he forthwith offers the hand of his daughter to any fortunate knight or commoner who can get rid of the Draggin'. That's what brings William Johnson into the courtroom, along with his Draggin' Locator — a combination of Geiger counter, television set, and electronic computer that behaves like a dedicated bird dog.
In a ludicrous series of sequences which have a deadly accurate aim, William Johnson exposes the Draggin’, all right, and wins the King's daughter. But an odd twist to this story is that he doesn't get rid of the Draggin’, and for a very good reason.
If you must know why, the only thing you can do is take a look at the picture, surrounded by friends. Don’t wait for it to show up on television; the color is something new in animation techniques and shouldn’t be missed.
Prints are loaned free from any of The Mill's direct or agency outlets or from headquarters: The Cincinnati Milling Machine Co., Cincinnati 9, Ohio.

Perhaps these cartoons will surface some day along with many others that could give us a better look at industrial animation from the 1930s onward.

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Joe Flaherty

Was there a more brilliant comedy show to come out of Canada than SCTV?

What started out as a half-hour, made-in-Toronto, low-budget, sometimes-set-less parody of a day of a television station blossomed into 90 minutes of running sketches with layers of satire, populated by a cast of characters who interacted perfectly, played by a young troupe of stage actors.

Most of them were from Ontario. One was from Pittsburgh, and older than the rest. He was Joe Flaherty, who passed away on April Fools Day at the age of 82.

The show, originally called Second City Television, had a Canadian flavour at first. Flaherty played serious newsman Floyd Robertson, a play on CBC-later-CTV newscaster Lloyd Robertson. As time progressed, he became more rounded. He was an alcoholic who was forced to host a late-night horror show as Count Floyd, where the movies were anything but scary (finally admitting to his kid audience they were not after trying to sell them, using the lamest imitation of Bela Lugosi possible, on their nightmarish quality). Using one person to perform several jobs was a money-saving device used by cash-poor SCTV owner Guy Caballero, also played by Flaherty. (Multiple jobs done by one person is not unheard of in broadcasting).

Flaherty was talk show host Sammy Maudlin, full of Hollywood B.S. He was Big Jim McBob, a farmer who liked to blow up things real good just for the sake of it (such as Dustin Hoffman playing Tootsie). He created other roles, too, and wrote them as well. Much of that time the show was shot in Edmonton, because that’s where their financial angel had his base of television operations (and a medical practice).

You never see it on the screen, but creative people are bound to clash. Flaherty told Ron Base of the Toronto Star in 1981:

“People get short fuses—we’re paying a price for doing a 90-minute show...One other producer came here for the first segment, and we sent his ass out of town. This group can freeze you pretty damn fast, make you feel uncomfortable. We’ve had some high-ranking (NBC) officials up here and it’s a question of fighting them off.
“So in came Barry [Sand, who went on to produce Late Night With David Letterman]. All he does is mediate the fights between us. It’s tough to take criticism from fellow cast members. We do a scene, there’ll be a playback. Someone will say do it again; someone else will say no. It’s worked somehow, but it takes its toll. You’ve got to develop a tough hide, and I don’t think any of us have. Yet you can’t do good stuff unless it’s held up to scrunity.”

Even the best shows come to an end, and SCTV petered out. Here’s Flaherty being interviewed by his home-town paper after the series was cancelled. This was published Dec. 27, 1984.

Joe Flaherty ponders TV
By Barbara Holsopple
The Pittsburgh Press
The question mark in Joe Flaherty's future creeps into his voice as he ponders various fates.
The Pittsburgh-born comedian-actor-writer spent a comfortable, if hectic, eight years with "SCTV," but the series is canceled now.
Just as he must examine his own future, another constant in Flaherty's life faces uncertainty. It is as if fate dealt him a double blow.
"The Pirates are for sale," he says, a quizzical look on his face. "I have season tickets. My accountant thinks I'm crazy, because I don't get back here that often."
But how could he not have season tickets?
"We used to catch the streetcar from Homewood into Oakland, buy a hot dog and wait for the seventh inning, when they raised the gate at Forbes Field and we could get in for free. Frank Thomas was my idol.
"I loved baseball . . . it drove my family nuts. If the Pirates leave, it's gonna be traumatic for me. I come to Pittsburgh and get off the plane and go right to the ballpark."
It is as if the Pirates' uncertainty symbolizes his own life.
"I'm doing odd jobs here and there," he says, a sense of wonder in his voice. "I was asked to be the grand marshal in WPGH's Thanksgiving parade and I thought might be fun.
"I'm a presenter for the Juno Awards, which are like Canadian Grammies for recording artists. I've never done that before.
"I find myself . . . I've never considered myself a personality, but television is a business of personalities, so I'm trying to refine that, to get out more in public . . ."
His words taper off, as he struggles with a definition for himself. The interviewer is tempted to help: Does he consider himself primarily a writer or an actor?
"I don't know. I really don't know," he says, the words emerging slowly. "I guess both. I don't think I could depend on either one, to make a living. I like doing both, so neither gets boring. It's hard for me to separate the two."
Until recently, Flaherty never had to separate the two. He enjoyed the happy status of writer-performer on one project, with occasional forays into one job or the other. But for nearly a decade, Joe Flaherty's being was tied into one major effort.
First he was a member of Second City, Chicago's improvisational troupe famed as a springboard for such stars as Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Alan Arkin, Gilda Radnor and others. He is co-author of a Second City 25th anniversary show to air next year on HBO.
Second City spawned "Second City TV," a syndicated series spoofing television. Flaherty was a moving force behind the formation of Second City's Canada troupe and the TV production, first in a Toronto studio and then in Edmonton.
For five years; the show was syndicated weekly on U.S. stations. In 1981, NBC picked it up for late-night runs as ''SCTV Network 90."
NBC canceled "SCTV" after two seasons, but the show was eagerly embraced by cable TV's Cinemax.
This summer, "SCTV" ceased production. It remains in reruns, shown here on WPGH weeknights at 12:30 a.m.
Flaherty blames the death of "SCTV" on the "erosion of cast members" and escalating salaries and production costs.
"When NBC dropped us, that sort of led to the erosion. We lost John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis. Cinemax was good, but Lord, that's a small audience.
"We were down to four cast: members Andrea Martin, Eugene Levy, Martin Short and myself. The workload was tremendous. We couldn't do as many characters as we wanted because there was not enough time in the makeup chair.
"I think the problem with 'SCTV’ ultimately was our failure to get new cast members. They always said 'no' to new members.
"Most producers wouldn't ask, most producers would run the show totally, but Andrew Alexander was never one to do anything without asking us. The 'SCTV' cast had so much autonomy. It worked in our favor creatively, but in the long run it hurt us.
"It was the strength and weakness of the show—a cast so strong and a producer who wouldn't come in and lay down the law.
"The cast was always conservative. When we had the offer to go to NBC, they (the cast) balked. Once we did it, NBC discussed musical guests and they (the cast) balked at that.
"And Andrew put himself in a bad position because he never had people under contract. People began making outrageous salary demands. You can't keep renegotiating salaries at the end of every season.
"From a business point of view, the show must have been unlike any other. We kept getting saved. We shut down for a year in 1979 and then that guy from Edmonton came along. Then NBC came along. And then Cinemax.
"We'd been doing the show since 1976 and when we went to Cinemax I thought we'd open it up and get some of that pay-TV feel in it. I was disappointed.”
But Flaherty is quick to point out that he's "generally pleased" with the work he's done for the past eight years. "I watch the reruns and it's not a show that makes you want to cringe and hide."
When "SCTV" expired, Cinemax issued a statement saying that its remaining cast was working on a new series.
"Cinemax asked for a show, but they wanted the best of our show," Flaherty said. "Andrew and I got called in and they said, 'Those movie parodies really worked.’ Andrew and I kind of liked the idea, but then Cinemax wanted a continuing element that could be carried over from week to week.
“We tried it, but I couldn’t come up with anything that was satisfying. The Cinemax deal isn’t dead yet, I don’t think, but . . . I would rather let 'SCTV’ go. If I'm going to write to order, I'll go to a (film) studio for big bucks.
"Brandon Tartikoff (president of NBC Entertainment) wanted us to write a baseball movie. It was his idea and we pitched some stuff and it just sort of died." Flaherty mixes his discussion with "we" and "they" when talking about "SCTV." Loyal to his fellow writers and performers, he does not say he argued with them about the need for new cast members or contracts. It is evident only as he separates "we" from "they.”
He takes pleasure in listing the new projects of his fellow "SCTV" staffers.
Two of the non-performing members of the "SCTV" writing staff, Flaherty's brother Paul and Dick Blasucci, "just had a meeting with Mel Brooks to help punch up a film Brooks is writing," he says.
"They're also writing a movie with Moranis and Don Rickles, about an aging Clint Eastwood-type who does all these action films he's too old to do.
"Another 'SCTV’ writer, Bob Dolman—he's Andrea Martin's husband—has written some pilots. John Candy is shooting a movie, ‘Volunteers,’ with Tom Hanks. Dave Thomas has a kids' show on Canadian TV called 'Rocket Boy.’ Andrea is doing a series pilot for Ed Weinberger (“Taxi”).
"John Candy and I and Dick and Paul have a project, a comedy mini-series that's sort of a take-off on 'Masterpiece Theatre.’ We're also talking with Graham Chapman and we may do it in conjunction with the Monty Python people."
Flaherty also is "still working on" a film about the Pirates' Roberto Clemente, who lost his life in a plane crash. Like other writers and producers before him, he's finding the Clemente personality elusive.
Aside from the Clemente script, Flaherty hopes to remain a writer who acts in own work as much as possible.
"If you can do a project and act in it, see it through, that's best. Of the two, writing's more difficult because of the discipline involved. And both are pretty low on the totem pole in the industry. Actors are treated like the proverbial beef and writers are even lower.
"The system won't change. It's been like that forever and it won't change and I like it."
Even the memory of the movie he wrote and lost to a big studio's interpretation does not dim his enthusiasm.
"Even when I was doing 'Berserk,’ as bad as that experience was, I thought, ‘I used to sit in movie theaters in Pittsburgh wanting to do this, and now I’m doing it.”

Flaherty went on to other things, somewhat quirky and cultish as befitting a graduate of SCTV. Shows like Maniac Mansion and Freaks and Geeks. (For other projects, consult your local search engine). They were lesser shows, but SCTV would have been tough to surpass.

Some years ago, in my voice-over days, I was asked to do a commercial sounding like Count Floyd. I thought I had done a pretty good imitation of Flaherty deliberately doing a bad Lugosi. I asked the spot’s writer about my steller performance, and he paused to choose some diplomatic words then said, “Well, you got the essence of Count Floyd.”

I should have known better. There was only one Count Floyd. And there was only one Joe Flaherty.

Sunday 25 February 2024

Eddie Marr

Robber: Look, bud, I said “Your money or your life.”
Jack Benny: I’m thinking it over!

That may be the most famous bit of dialogue on the Jack Benny radio show, heard on March 28, 1948.

Everyone knows who spoke the punch line. Very few people will know who played the crook who threatened Benny.

It was Eddie Marr.

Marr was mostly a supporting actor, but he did get some chances to star on radio. He hosted a five-minute afternoon affair Fun and Mirth with Eddie Marr in 1945 and the nightime quiz show Win, Place or Show the following year, both on ABC. In 1950, a late-night show was built around him on KECA Channel 7 in Los Angeles. Eddie Marr’s Medicine Show was on for an hour three nights a week and involved Marr doing the carnival pitch-man routine he made famous on radio (eg. “You say you want a job? You say you want it now? Tell ya what I’m going to do....”).

In a lovely coincidence, Marr was born on Valentine’s Day, just like Jack Benny. They were six years apart (which would make Marr a permanent 33 years old, I guess). And while his World War One registration card in 1918 says he worked for the Public Service Electric Co. of Jersey City, he already had show biz experience. And, as it turned out, his routine came to him quite naturally.

Zuma Palmer of the Hollywood Citizen-News wrote a two-part profile of Marr, published June 18 and 19, 1945.

"I’ll tell you what I'm going to do” was first used on the air by Eddie Marr of the Kay Kyser show when he made a guest appearance with Bing Crosby [see note below]. This, however, was not his first employment at the expression which goes back to the days of the first Americas pitchmen and “medicine” men. When work in the theater was slow Marr was a pitchman. He learned the “business” from one at Palisades Park where he was an announcer over a public address system. Marr, who sold pen and pencil sets for 50 cents (they worked a little while), spot eradicator and graters at street corners in various places, still has his "keister” (suitcase) and “tripe" (tripod). "You never know,” he said.
Marr always took out a "reader" (license) as soon as he reached a town so there would be no police trouble and he said he is glad he never resorted to some of the tricks sometimes used by pitch-men. At one time he was with “Doc” Hilliard who sold "snake oil” and "Mexican diamonds.” A monkey was a member of this medicine show company. One day he sampled the spot eradicator and was no more. The “Doc” made good money from his “snake oil” and “Mexican diamonds because he retired and built a five-story garage in New Jersey.
“When a person stopped to listen,” Marr said, “he was half sold right them. When to stop talking was one of the important things I learned as a pitchman. You were through when people began walking out on you. Fred Allen was right when he said announcers were ‘high’ pitchmen (they sold from the back a wagon while ‘low’ sold on the sidewalk) and that radio programs were medicine shows.”
Marr receives letters from pitchmen and medicine show men all over the country .Some of the writers recall day on Canal St. in New Orleans, the Bowery in New York. If he gets around to it, Marr may write a book based on this material and his own experiences. He built a radio program on the medicine show idea but could not make a sale became of the word "medicine." Prospective sponsors shied away afraid, the public would think they were selling a curative property.
The actor met his wife, Maybelle Austen, when he was trying to sell her series of transcribed programs he had made entitled “Romance.” He and the manager of the Paulist Brothers station had a terrific argument, but she bought the series. She came to his office later and saw five coffee pots and five small electric plates on a shelf. She had no electric plate. He gave her one with the suggestion she invite him to dinner did. He went. They married. Last Summer they canned 100 quarts of vegetables, fruits and poultry.
* * *
Mrs. James Marr thought Eddie, her 14-year-old son, was at a boy friend’s home studying his lessons. He wasn’t. He was dancing professionally at Shanley's, where the Paramount Building in New York now stands. Eddie had never taken a lesson. He was drawing down $450 a week when he was hurt. He did not know a new rug had been laid. It was slippery. Eddie came out doing a half back split, fell and badly tore some ligaments. He was in bed seven months then had to use crutches.
When his sister came into his room one day, Eddie told her to look under his sweat shirts and catcher’s mitt, but not to tell his mother what he saw. Virginia lifted the articles and saw many bills Girl-like she let out a shriek and cried out, "Mama see what Eddie’s got!” Mrs. Marr came running and saw her daughter holding handsfull of bills—Eddie’s earnings about which he had said nothing. He had over $4000. His mother thought he had stolen the money and said she would call his father who was away on tour. The bills went into a bank.
Marr and his sister went as juvenile and ingĂ©nue respectively with a respectively with a repertory company headed by Kitty and Matt McHugh, parents at Frank McHugh. On their arrival in Homestead, Pa., for their appearance, Marr was told to walk a goat bearing a sign reading “The Manhattan Players." His sister, at a distance, followed up one street and down the other making remarks. Marr phoned his father he was quitting. His parent, one of the founders of the Theater Guild, told him he had to stay. Stay he did, walking that goat around towns for three weeks performances with his sister trailing making comments.
The actor's first stage entrance was made at six months—in the arms of his father in a melodrama starring Coarse Peyton, who advertised himself as "The world's worst and was, according to Marr. The actor has since played on Broadway in “Kitty’s Kisses," "Irene," “The Comic Supplement," in “Greenwich Village Follies" and in vaudeville with Mark Hellinger and Gladys Glad.
Marr went into radio in 1924. He was paid $50 whether it was a 15 minute, a 30 minute or an hour show. That was higher pay than actors received here at that time. Marr said New York talent always has been paid more money for local programs because of the size audience a station there has.
The “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do" man thinks Kay Kyser the finest person for whom he has ever worked. “He is never interrupting my act to tell a joke of his own," he explained. ”If I don't go over, it is my fault. My spot is short so people will ask for more.” Marr also is heard in “Murder Will Out,” KECA, as detective Nolan

There was more than one Eddie Marr in Hollywood (the second was much younger than Money-Or-Your-Life Marr) so it can get tricky doing research. But an ad for a local radio station in the July 11, 1945 edition of the Fresno Bee said he has arrived in California in 1937 and appeared in Ceiling Zero, Dead End and Moon Over Mulberry Street, among other films. In 1931, he produced, wrote and starred in a one-act comedy skit given by members of the St. Joseph’s Dramatic Society in Hoboken. In the last few years of the decade, he was a member of the Galvin Players in Ottawa, where he also opened a dancing school.

There was more television; he was a regular on the Hank Penny variety show on KHJ-TV in 1955.

Among his many radio roles was Rick in a serialised version of Casablanca NBC’s Star Playhouse and Front Page Fink on Jack Carson’s show in 1943, where he pulled off his “Tell ya what I’m going to do” routine about two years before joining Kay Kyser. Cartoon fans may have heard the sales patter bit in the Andy Panda short Scrappy Birthday, released in 1949. That’s Marr.

But he had an unusual sideline. Glenn Ramsey wrote about it in the Louisville Courier-Journal of December 12, 1948. You will recognise another name from the Benny show in his column.

Yes, sir, there’s something different in bow ties!
The chief difference between the new bow tie and the conventional bow is the size and the jaunty look that is given it by a crushing hand.
Regular bows are 32 to 36 inches in length and about an inch and a half wide on the wings; the new bows are 41 inches long and 3 ½ inches wife at the widest part, and they do not have the usual padding—just two pieces of cloth sewed together.
Unlike the intricate operations necessary to perfect the Windsor or the four-in-hand knot, all that is required for the new tie is that you know how to tie a conventional bow, then apply the crushing hand. Honest, that's all there is to it. The new bow comes from Hollywood.
It was dreamed up by a veteran screen and radio actor, Eddie Marr. He frequently appears on radio shows and has been heard with Jack Benny. Earlier in the year, the Associated Press sent me to Los Angeles to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. An old friend of mine, L. A. "Speed" Riggs, one of the tobacco auctioneers heard on the air, now has a Palomino horse ranch near Hollywood and I visited him for a day. At dinner that evening Eddie Marr and his wife were among the guests.
Eddie had a number of the ties with him and I brought back a modest personal supply. I haven't seen them on sale any place in the East, but I created a bit of a sensation by wearing them in Florida a few months later. [...] And in closing—I don’t have ties for sale and neither do I know the address for Eddie Marr.

As television work dried up (there was a final appearance with Jack Benny on Nov. 20, 1962), Marr found another career. The Citizen-News of July 24, 1967 reported he was a travel agent. Marr died in Studio City on August 25, 1987.

Here's Marr on the Feb. 10, 1946 edition of the Philco Hall of Fame on ABC. Stooges were celebrated. Besides Marr, you'll hear a routine with Mel Blanc.

Sunday 18 February 2024


There are plenty of byways in the world of animated cartoons. One of the best places to learn about them is the Cartoon Research web site.

Recently, there was a post mentioning one of those byways I hadn’t thought about for a long time. It was post about JOT.

JOT starred in a passel of syndicated cartoons I don’t have a particular interest in, but it did get a fair share of ink in the newspapers of the 1960s, secular and otherwise.

Here’s an early review from the Tulsa World of September 20, 1964. Television columnist Chuck Wheat got a look at it.

Recently in Dallas I ran across a new type of religious program for children. Or maybe it is a church-sponsored non-religious program for children. In any case its name is “Jot.”
The production company of Keitz and Herndon has turned out the first few of a 13 program order for the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptists tried a Spanish film maker and were dissatisfied with the results so they turned to Texas and got “Jot.”
“Jot” is a brief cartoon creation.
The color productions combine cartoon central characters and some wild actual pictography of such things as swirling oil paint in water for backgrounds.
The problem was to produce a program that would give the Baptists something for their money yet keep kiddies watching. “Jot” is aimed at very little children but just like the sometimes cynical Stan Freberg and always wacky Jay Ward, “Jot” hits adults in the eye as well.
JOT IS A DOT, A WHITE DOT. Jot’s playmates become stylized little boys and girls, but Jot remains essentially a blob of white amid the bright colors of his cartoon universe.
There is a glorious little tune for Jot’s theme. It is a lilting, almost jazzy little number that permeates the program with delight.
In each show, Jot learns a lesson in conduct. The first program had Jot telling his mother a fib. He said “No ma’am.” That “no ma’am” haunts Jot, trailing him through a morass of suddenly strange surroundings that had seemed so certain and friendly.
Jot runs back to his mother to recant and feels so much better.
Those pale words don't do any justice at all to the sweet cleverness of the little adventure Jot goes through, an adventure in a world of abstract designs which had been playground equipment, with everywhere—like a tiger peeking through the vines of the jungle—that frightening fib, “No ma’am.”
The point for theologians and psychologists is that there is no point-of-view moralizing in “Jot.” The story unfolds and points the moral with its viewers making the point.
For instance, since Jot is a white blob why did I invest him with masculinity? He reminded me of my son Jack, that’s why. My wife, however, who saw it with me, saw Jot as a little girl.
THE VOICE OF JOT INCIDENtally belongs to a model in Dallas whose name I did not get but who, I am told, is a remarkably well-endowed young woman with an off-mike vocabulary that might shock the good Baptists. On mike, however, her voice is the epitome of wonderful childishness.
Each segment of “Jot” will send its hero through another adventure in learning morality. The Baptists will make “Jot” available to televisions stations free of charge, I believe, so we may get to see it here some time after Jan. 1.
This whole business of applying show business movie to matters of religion, morality and principle fascinates me. Beth Macklin, the World's youth and religion editor, is going into it in far greater detail beginning this very day.
I urge your attention.

The series wasn’t test-marketed until January, 1968. It was so successful, it received a thousand letters a day, according to a story in one newspaper in 1970. A paper in Fort Worth reported in August 1968 that the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission had been overwhelmed with 22 thousand letters the month before. The same paper reported in June 1970 that the series was being expanded to 100 stations and the National Association of Broadcasters had presented the Commission with a “Life Achievement Citation,” saying JOT was an “outstanding contribution to the moral and spiritual life of America.”

The Associated Press looked at the series in 1967, and how much it took out of the church collection plates.

Jot Cartoon Introduced By Baptists
FORT WORTH, Tex., Mar. 17 (AP)—He’s a dot named Jot, and the Southern Baptists are gambling that he'll touch the hearts and personalities of millions of children.
They've already plunged $200,000 into the pot. That's only a starter. Jot is the key figure in a series of animated cartoons being produced in Fort Worth by the Southern Baptists' Radio-Television Commission.
The five-minute color presentations are designed to carry nonsectarian messages, not necessarily Biblical, to children ranging in age from 5 to 10. Based on Biblical principles, they draw moral or spiritual conclusions.
The adventures of Jot being offered free to television stations and are expected to make their first appearances in the fall.
The Rev. Edward Shipman, spokesman for the commission, said finances pose the only restriction.
"We could be on 400 or 500 stations simultaneously," he said. "But we just don't have the money."
The commission estimate that the production, six years in the planning stage, will eventually cost between $100,000 and $150,000 annually. Each episode costs from $5,000 to $15,000.
Ruth Byers, director of Dallas Children's Theater, writes and produces the show, aided by a Dallas production firm.
"This is a tremendously expensive venture, but one so significant we feel we had to go ahead, no matter what the cost," said the Rev. Mr. Shipman.
Jot is a white dot which sprouts arms and legs, flies, sings, runs and jumps and performs a wide variety of animated duties, speaks with the voice of a small boy.
"Jot represents the child personality most characteristic of the greater moral and spiritual community in America," the Rev. Mr. Shipman said.
"His problems and experiences lead him to a realization of the importance of a right relationship with God, with himself and with his fellow man."
Commission members feel the need for such a series was illustrated recently in the remarks of a Los Angeles psychiatrist, who said:
“Tens of millions of children in this country are spending more time with the television set than in school—and are getting very little for this expenditure of time.”
The new approach was conceived several years ago by Dr. Paul M. Stevens, director of the Radio-Television Commission. He initiated a study that culminated with the creation of Jot.
“It was written to give children something concrete, to teach them, to give them a moral or spiritual value,” the Rev. Mr. Shipman said. “It had to be something construction in the life of a child, not just entertaining.” Scattered showings of the pilot films won favor with children and provoked interest among parents and teachers, he said.
Truett Myers, director of television, said the commission aims for “good animation,” creating cartoons that will catch and hold the youthful viewer.
Children are astute critics, he said. Once they lose interest, they react swiftly.
“They don’t even bother to turn the set off,” he said with a smile. “They just walk out of the room.”

Here’s one more JOT-ting. This is from the Scrantonian Tribune of June 16, 1969.

Kids’ Religious Show With Plenty of Bounce

FORT WORTH, Texas—A bouncing ball once helped movie audiences stay together in theater sing-alongs, and now another bouncing ball is teaching their children and grandchildren how to stay in touch with God.
“Jot" is the name of a TV creation, variously described as bouncing ball that sprouts arms and legs and as an "animated dot," which teaches moral lessons to children in 4 ½ minute cartoons.
Produced by the Southern Baptists’ Radio and Television Commission but non-sectarian in content, "Jot” has been described by "Newsweek" as the first genuinely entertaining and effective use of television for preaching moralily to pre-teen children."
The roly-poly "Jot" cheerfully bounces across the TV screen and stars in little dramas in which he comes up against moral problems similar to those faced by the 5-to-10-year-olds for whom the program is designed.
When "Jot" does something wrong—like stealing a cupcake from his mother's table or getting angry with a playmate—he changes shape and even his color turns sickly, to show the young viewers that "Jot’s” behavior is distorted and to reflect “Jot’s” suffering conscience.
The “Jot” character, created by a specialist in children's theater, Mrs. Ruth Byers, is supposed to represent "a child personality sensitive to an inner conscience," according to Paul Stevens, executive director of the Southern Baptists' Radio and Television Commission.
"Jot is also supposed to be an effort to offset the harm that some TV programs do to children," he added.
"Those of us who work in the medium," he said, "realize the tremendous pressures brought to bear on our boys and girls by television. In the midt of these pressures, words from parents about honesty, morality, fairness, and spiritual values often go unheeded.”
The “Jot” series, which began 18 months ago on seven Southern stations but which is now seen on more than 40 stations through the country and still expanding, is frequently scheduled on such programs as “Cartoon Carnival," Sunday Morning Cartoons," "Popeye, Bugs Bunny and Friends," "Romper Room" and "Captain Kangaroo.”
And though the series is designed to entertain children, “through this entertainment they are led to serious thoughts about God, themselves, and others,” according to the Southern radio-TV commission. The story lines are uncomplicated, and to the point.
In one episode, "Jot" becomes fascinated with a playmate's new toy, and when the boy absent mindedly goes off and leaves it behind in a schoolyard, "Jot" runs off to his treehouse with it. But aware that he has done something wrong, he can not enjoy the toy, especially when it emits a rhythmic sound that seems like "thou shalt not steal . . . thou shalt not steal." Suddenly ashamed, "Jot" asks God's forgiveness, returns the toy to its owner and is glad that he has done the right thing. The boy forgives him, and the two go off happily, playing with the new toy together.
In another episode, "Jot" is in a library and is impressed by a sentence which reads: “Trust in the Lord and do good." Impressed, he finds the courage to tell a bigger boy to stop marring a library book, but "Jot" suddenly finds himself accused of damaging the book and is barred from the library. He goes home, disgusted with himself for putting trust the scriptural advice. But his mother greets him and tells "Jot" the librarian has just called to say she has learned who the real culprit was and to apologize to "Jot."
"Do good,” he repeats courageously now, “and trust in the Lord!"
In an episode titled "The Birthday Party, "Jot" haughtily displays a new roller-toy before another boy in the neighborhood. As "Jot" struts with pride and confidence, his head grows larger, until he realizes the other boy is wearing ragged clothes and has no toys of his own. "Jot" is suddenly ashamed of himself, and his head deflates—until he gives the boy a toy to keep.

In late 1972, the Baptist publication Word and Way announced JOT would be getting a companion series, starring a girl character named SASH. This cartoon “was developed to reach the audience that had outgrown ‘JOT’,” Stevens said, and was aimed at young people up to 14. A pilot of some kind was sent to the stations airing JOT. Keitz and Herndon were out of the picture by then, the owners having sold their 19-year-old studio to a corporatio in 1969.

As for the aforementioned letters, one second-grader in Phoenix wrote: “JOT I like you very much. What are you JOT. Are you an egg? Are you a baseball? Are you a boy?” The Opelousas, Louisiana paper reported other letters were more poignant. One went: “JOT I don’t have any friends. I haven’t had any friends for 3 years. I hope you will be my friend JOT.”

While comparisons of JOT to Jay Ward cartoons or Stan Freberg may seem odd, it would appear JOT connected with his young viewers. And that was the intention all along.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Raffy Daffy Riffs

Cartoons from the Art Davis unit had some pretty solid animation. Here’s a fun scene from Riff Raffy Daffy (1948). Policeman Porky has conked vagrant Daffy on the head. He’s upset that he’s hit the duck too hard.

Porky is very expressive here, animated on twos and threes. He closes his eyes and scrunches his face before he goes into his next expression. He curls his lower lip. But Daffy’s okay. There’s some dry brush work by the ink and paint department as Daffy “wakes up.”

There’s a lot of enjoyable animation in this one, with Don Williams, Emery Hawkins, Basil Davidovich and Bill Melendez getting the screen credit; there's a Hawkins scene where Daffy develops rings around his pupils. Bill Scott and Lloyd Turner give Daffy some wit (the cuckoo clock gag feels like something Scott would come up with) and an ending out of nowhere. I love Davis' timing in the tent gag.

During the above scene, Daffy shouts “I love you Hortense!” Before someone rushes to Wikipedia and writes that Porky’s real name is Hortense, let me point out this is more than likely a radio reference. The Henry Morgan Show on ABC had a recurring sketch involving Gerard (Arnold Stang) and his girl-friend Hortense (Betty Garde and others) and that likely inspired this line of dialogue.

Layouts are by Don Smith and backgrounds by Phil De Guard.

Monday 22 January 2024

More Tex and More Obscure Stuff

Yes, this blog is retired but, like the Yowp blog, it seems I end up posting periodically (Yowp will have posts once a month for the next few months).

Some things in animation caught my interest today so I’ll pass them along.

I’m pleased the Warner Archive people are coming out with Blu-rays featuring some of the old Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons. Volume 3 of the “Collector’s Choice” (which “collector” chose these, anyway?) will be out March 12. There are 25 cartoons, and Warners fans should enjoy, well, most of them. Provided, of course, on how they look and sound.

Four of them are by Tex Avery. A Feud There Was with Egghead as Elmer Fudd, has only been released on laser disc. Cinderella Meets Fella stars Egghead (Danny Webb) and Cinderella (Berneice Hansell) as Tex and his writers made fun of the old fairy tale, ending with the pair in a theatre about to watch a newsreel. Egghead Rides Again features Mel Blanc instead of Danny Webb doing his best Joe Penner impression. And there’s I Only Have Eyes For You, with an iceman (Joe Twerp) in love with crooner crazy Katie Canary (Elvia Allman) but who gets stuck with an old crone (also Elvia Allman). “At least she can cook.” It would be great if the original titles had been found for this.

There’s an upgrade to the historic Honeymoon Hotel (1934), the first colour cartoon (Cinecolor) released by Warners. Hey! It shows a man and a woman in bed together. Okay, they’re bugs. But still...

Happily, Art Davis is represented in this release with two cartoons he directed. Davis did a good job with Daffy Duck (my favourite Davis cartoon is What Makes Daffy Duck?) and two Daffys are here: Mexican Joyride and Riff Raffy Daffy. Does anyone except Eddie Selzer and some Warner Bros. bean-counters think the Davis unit should have been disbanded?

For fans of Bugs Bunny with a weird voice, there’s Chuck Jones’ Elmer's Pet Rabbit from 1941.

There are some “eh” cartoons in this volume, and we can be thankful we’re spared the adventures of Daffy and Speedy or Cool Cat. But there’s one real stinker in this collection, and that’s Pre-Hysterical Hare (1958). I don’t know what’s worse, Tedd Pierce’s story, Dave Barry as Elmer Fudd or the Yogi Bear music (the Warners cartoons are about the only place I don’t like the Capitol Hi-Q library).

The other interesting news item comes from Devon Baxter, maybe the best and most dogged of the young animation researchers out there. Devon is working on finding out about the Daffy Dittys series of stop-motion animated shorts produced by Morey and Sutherland. Frank Tashlin left Warners after his final go-around there to work for the company. Six shorts were released by United Artists. We wrote about them a good 12 years ago.

Devon has far more patience and time than I do in hunting down information, and is willing to talk to people to find out what he needs to know. In this case, he’s been in contact with the son of Rev Cheney, an uncredited Warners animator who went to work for Morey and Sutherland in 1945. These frames are from The Cross-Eyed Bull, released before Cheney arrived. The film apparently doesn’t exist.

Cheney continued working for the company when Morey left and it became John Sutherland Productions. Rev was involved with the Harding College propaganda cartoons like Make Mine Freedom and Meet King Joe. I hope Devon will delve into that in a future post on the Cartoon Research blog. The Sutherland cartoons are probably my favourite of the industrial animated shorts.

Devon’s also acquired some other odds and sods, including artwork from Ray Patin’s commercial studio. I am anxious to read about that. He also has some cards from Five Star Productions. One of them is below.

Five Star is the answer to the question “What happened to Norm McCabe after Warner Bros?” He replaced Howard Swift in August 1952 when Swift opened Swift-Chaplin Productions.

I’m always pleased to read new information about old cartoons, even commercial and industrial ones, and I look forward to seeing what Devon has discovered.

Sunday 14 January 2024

The Last Honeymooner

Joyce Randolph was the fourth wheel on The Honeymooners. Unfortunately, that made her the fifth wheel.

Jackie Gleason was the star. Art Carney played his buddy so they did routines together. Audrey Meadows played his wife so they did scenes together. Randolph played Carney’s wife so there was no real need for them to interact a lot.

The Honeymooners began as one of a number of sketches on Gleason’s Cavalcade of Stars show on the Du Mont Network. Randolph was cast after Gleason decreed: “Get me that serious actress.” But when Gleason revived the characters during the 1960s and ‘70s, Randolph was not asked to return. Gleason never explained why (Gleason, I suspect, felt he owed explanations to no one) and if Randolph knew, I don’t believe she ever told anyone. She once remarked she wouldn’t have commuted from New York to Florida to do the ‘60s version, though announcer Johnny Olson did just that.

Still, Randolph became burned into the minds of the American television audience when the same 39 episodes of The Honeymooners went into constant reruns beginning in the late ‘50s. The show became a magnet for nostalgia and Randolph started doing interviews again in the 1980s.

Here are a couple of interviews, the first before the Honeymooners became a series and the second after when Gleason went back to a variety format for one year. First, a feature story from the Albany Times-Union of June 12, 1955.
TV’s Loveliest ‘Straight Man’
Joyce Randolph Finds Fun and Profit as No. 4 On the Gleason Show

By Reg Ovington
FOR years now, Mama, who lives in Detroit, has been sending scolding letters to her daughter, Joyce Randolph, a lovely young thing with green eyes, blonde hair and a lusicious shape that the millions who see her on television don't even suspect, on account of the thing's she's been doing since she came to New York. The letters have changed in the past few years, however.
“They're still complaining letters,” says Joyce, “but nowadays Mama is complaining about something else. Her chief gripe these days is because I play the wife of a sewer worker. 'Can't your husband be somebody with a fancier job?' Mama keeps writing, because the neighbors and her friends make jokes about a girl who had to leave home to go to New York just to get married to a man who works in the sewers.”
Miss Randolph slugged her pretty shoulders. “Can’t you just see me saying to Jackie Gleason, 'Instead of having Art Carney play the part of a sewer specialist, make him a bank president, or something, because Mama doesn't like me to be married to a sewer worker.'
“Also, Mama says that if I wasn't married to a sewer worker, I would get a chance to wear nicer clothes on television, and she complains that whenever my name is mentioned in a newspaper or a magazine, I'm always called 'The Fourth Banana.' Mama says that being called a banana is just as bad for a girl as being called a 'tomato.'”
Mama may complain about having her daughter called a banana, and a fourth one, at that. But not Joyce Randolph. For she finds fun and profit in being fourth on the stalk in The Jackie Gleason Show on CBS-TV. First banana, a term born on the burlesque circuit, means top comic in a show, and that position, of course, is held by proprietor Gleason. Second banana is Art Carney, and third, Audrey Meadows who plays Jackie’s wife in The Honeymooners.
“Playing straight man on a comedy show,” says Joyce, “with stars like Gleason and Art Carney means that your part isn't a top one, but there are compensations. They are all great people to work with. And the work is steady. Most actresses consider themselves lucky if they get one job a month on television, and I'm on almost every week.
Another advantage in working with Jackie Gleason is that the star of the show tries to get an air of spontaneity into his performance and into the work of everyone in his cast. “We've got to keep on our toes all the time,” she says, “because we can never be sure of what Jackie will do. We get our scripts, generally, on Wednesday and then we have a camera rehearsal on Thursday. On Saturday we start rehearsing at about noon, and we work through until show time, with just a break to eat. That's a lot less than most shows rehearse. We do it that way because Jackie believes the show will be more spontaneous if it isn't rehearsed too much. And then, sometimes, in the course of the show, Jackie will do something altogether unexpected, or say something that isn't in the script, or drop a couple lines of dialogue, to make up time lost for unexpected laughs. Art Carney, of course, is a master at ad libbing and he can keep up with Jackie without any trouble. So can Audrey. And after three and a half years on the show, so can I.”
Joyce has been playing Trixie, the sewer specialist's wife, in all but the very first sketch of The Honeymooners. “Before that,” says Joyce, “my mother had another complaint. I played in every TV crime and horror show, and I was always being killed. In one year I was killed 24 times.”
Joyce was shot, she was stabbed, choked, strangled and. hanged, and had her pretty skull bashed in with fire pokers, miscellaneous blunt and even sharp weapons.
“Always,” she says, “I was killed by my boy friend. I was killed so often by my television boy friends that I always expected my real life boy friends to take a gat, a shiv or a poker to me any time. That's what Mama used to complain about.
“ 'It's just terrible,' she used to write to me, 'what they're doing to you all the time. It's a terrible way to make a living, getting killed all the time.' “Playing a straight man is much more relaxing, and a lot steadier,” said Joyce, “than being slammed around and being killed. Even if it does mean playing Fourth Banana.”
This story was in the Detroit Free Press of April 21, 1957. I think it’s funny the paper felt it had to explain who the writer was.
‘I’m Not Drab,’ Says Detroit’s Joyce (Ed Norton’s Wife)
Now She’s Aiming At Glamorous Roles

Widely Known Broadway Columnist
NEW YORK—"I am not dowdy!" says Detroit's Joyce Randolph, who plays the wife of sewer-worker Art Carney on the Jackie Gleason show and she gets almost belligerent about it.
"Next year," she announces, "I'll prove it!"
Joyce, the daughter of the Carl Sirolas of 16853 Stansbury, has been playing Carney's TV wife, "Mrs. Ed—or Trixie—Norton," for six years.
And she's darned determined to get a divorce next season from the drabness and plainness that Gleason’s writers have forced upon her.
With Gleason abandoning "The Honeymooners," Joyce hopes to find herself something slightly more glamorous—and truthfully, she's got the equipment.
SHE WAS SEDUCTIVELY stretched out on a black divan, blond, slim and sophisticated in tight turquoise velvet toreador pants and matching satin top cut Chinese style.
She looked more like Eve Arden than Trixie, and conversed more in refined Detroit than the idiom of a sewer man's wife.
"It wouldn't be so bad," she said passionately, "if people didn't recognize one. But I'm always being stopped in the supermarket or on the street, 'Why, you're so-o-o much younger and prettier than on TV.' I don't know whether to be flattered or hurt."
IT ISN'T THAT Joyce is trying to bite the hand that feeds her. Being almost a folk heroine to millions of TV viewers throughout the county, she admits, is very flattering, indeed.
"But no actress likes being typed," she explained.
"It's gotten so that when my agent submits my name for a dramatic show, the producer sneers, 'Oh, you mean Trixie? Nah, she ain't the type!"
JOYCE'S DECISION to plug sophistication next season has been precipitated by Jackie Gleason himself. There won't be any "Honeymooners" and there won't be any Jackie Gleason Show next Fall.
Even this year when he returned to comedy-variety "live," he was planning to abandon the “Honeymooners” altogether, and Joyce was promised more versatile roles.
It didn't work out that way. The Kramdens and the Nortons were firmly established in the affection of the television audience, and Gleason had to bring them back.
JOYCE ADMITS that since the television script has taken the families on a junket to Europe, she's had better clothes to wear and an occasional song to sing. "But frankly," she confided, "as long as I'm on this show, I'll always be second fiddle to Audrey Meadows, and I dearly love playing leads."
JOYCE IS THE gal who even in Cooley High School was known to her teachers as a potential prima donna who could get temperamental if offered supporting roles. She never was.
"Things did go rather well for me," she acknowledged.
From leads at Cooley High, Joyce went right into the Wayne University Civic Workshop after graduation in 1944.
SHE HAD HER Actors Equity card at 13, and over her parents' objection, joined a touring company of "Stage Door." She was one of six local gals taken on by the company while it played in Detroit.
She later toured with "Abie's Irish Rose" and "Good Night, Ladies," did a Broadway play that closed almost overnight, did stock in Hollywood, started doing "early" television in New York, and settled down as Trixie in 1951.
Joyce is grateful to Trivia for giving her security.
"Much as I wanted a career," she said, "I was always afraid of the uncertainty in the theater."
BUT HER DESIRE for security has been competing for some time with her ambition. Alice Kramden and Trixie Norton are friends on the screen. In reality, Audrey Meadows and Joyce are friendly rivals.
Undercover battles are fought every week, as the two ladies jockey for position.
REHEARSALS GO something like this:
The director calls for song. Joyce and Audrey oblige. Joyce's voice is Mermanesque, Audrey's rather soft and sweet. Audrey is drowned out.
"Softer," she cautions Joyce, and the latter obediently puts the damper on.
“Comes the night of the performance," Joyce finished the tale, "and suddenly I notice Audrey's soft voice has become remarkably strong. In fact, she now is louder than I am.
"Naturally, I pull out the stops, and so we both end up shouting. It's kind of funny, really, because in a way it goes with the characters we portray, and I suppose the audience never knows."
JOYCE THINKS her ambition was beginning to flag a couple of years ago.
“I'd be wifely on the screen, and then I'd trot home to an empty apartment. A career can be lonely."
A year and a half Joyce decided a career was fine, but marriage was better. She married a handsome actor turned stock-broker, Richard Charles.
"MARRIAGE, strangely enough, has been good for my career," said Joyce.
She explained that since her husband is an ex-actor he en joys living the theatrical life vicariously.
"He keeps prodding me when sometimes I'd just as soon take it easy," she smiled.
Dick also pastes up her clippings and answers her fan mail.
SHE GETS FAN letters from all over, including—and this has Joyce shaking her head in amazement—Brazil.
"We've all been wondering whether they get the Gleason Show in South America, whether they can understand it if they do, and why they took a particular delight in Trixie.
"As far as I know," says Joyce, "I'm the only one on the show who got requests for autographed pictures."
JOYCE ALSO HAS fan club now. "About 73 members," she boasted.
Originally, she confessed she was rather bewildered having a fan club.
"What in the world does one do with a fan club?" she had asked her husband. "Relax, and enjoy it," he had counseled. "After all, Audrey has one, too."
THE MOST CONCRETE thing her fan club has done so far has been to write letters to all the womens magazines, clamoring for stories about Joyce and Trixie.
In return for their efforts, Joyce invites members to her home whenever they are in New York.
“The nicest thing about fans," she declared, "is that they like me better than dowdy Trixie."
The fans liked her even until her death, which happened yesterday at the age of 99.

Friday 12 January 2024

Radio's Dix Davis

Someone in Hollywood once warned about the perils for actors of working with children or animals, as they will steal any scene.

Jack Benny ignored that. He knew that it didn’t matter who got the laughs on his radio show, it was still HIS radio show, and he’d get the credit for the hilarity.

He employed a number of boys and girls on his show—toward the 1950s, he and his writers came up with a Scouts-like boys club—and Jack trusted their talents enough to give them whole scenes on their own. They were a success.

Jack tried another boy character before that in 1941. For me, it didn’t work. “Belly Laugh Barton” was supposed to be a child prodigy comedy writer. Precocious boys were a staple of radio comedy, but Barton behaved like a complete jerk to Benny for absolutely no reason. The character was soon dropped.

It was no fault of the actor, a young man who turned in fine performances on radio as Randolph on A Date With Judy starting in June 1942, the bellhop on The Ransom Sherman Show and Pinky on One Man’s Family, and appeared in the 1940 movie version of Our Town. His name was Dix Davis.

Word has come from people specialising in the old-time radio field that Dix passed away earlier this month at the age of 97 in Dorset, Vermont.

Davis had begun his acting career a few years before being tapped by Benny. A blurb in the May 26, 1938 Hollywood Reporter mentions his casting in “Breaking the Ice” for a company called Principal, followed a year later with “Singing Cowgirl” for Grand National. But he found a home in radio, starting on a broadcast with Rudy Vallee in 1939, not only in comedy, but performing on Lux Radio Theatre and in the 1942 version of Lionel Barrymore’s acclaimed “A Christmas Carol” on NBC.

Like seemingly every kid actor, Dix’s age was fudged to make him younger and, therefore, more employable. He was born September 12, 1926. His profile in the July 1940 edition of Radio and Television Mirror declares he was “not quite ten.” The arithmetic doesn’t add up in this story from the Sacramento Bee of June 27, 1942.

DIX DAVIS, boy actor on the Ransom Sherman show, is doing his own homework from now on. And there’s a lively story behind that action.
It was only a few weeks ago that the 13 year old actor brought his grammar and mathematics assignments to work on between his radio rehearsals. Immediately, Ransom Sherman, Actress Shirley Mitchell and Songstress Martha Tilton volunteered to assist Dix. The next time Dix came to rehearsal with another batch of homework, the three again offered to assist him.
Dix thanked them politely this time, and firmly refused their offer. Pressed for his reasons for refusing, Dix finally admitted that when they helped him the first time, his assignments were returned to him mostly graded less than fifty. It turned out the adult touches were too apparent to the teacher.

The March 1, 1942 edition of Radio Life reported on an unusual occupational hazard:

Dix Davis, who played little Alvin Fuddle on the "Blondie" show, created a problem when he showed up wearing a pair of squeaking huaraches which amplified to proportions of a forest fire over the mike. He had to act in stocking feet and hope the cold bugs wouldn't see him.

He had attended the Mar-Ken farm in Van Nuys, which also included Jimmy Lydon and Gloria De Haven among its student body. Virginia Vale’s syndicated column on June 2, 1944 stated that Davis was a freshman at USC—and had “just turned 16”!

Dix’s acting career went into hiatus. The Valley Times of March 28, 1946 reported he had been inducted into the army that day at Fort MacArthur. He returned to radio acting when he was discharged but, like many child actors, he was at an age where he moved on to other things. The time to play an obnoxious pre-teen comedy writer was over. The July 1948 Radio and Television Mirror informed readers:

Dix Davis, who plays Randolph Foster on the Date With Judy show, has sadly turned down a summer stock bid. He'll be graduated from the University of Southern California this June and is going to get to work on winning his master's degree with some courses during the summer session. He's majoring in foreign trade, which sounds like a forward looking idea.

Regular acting jobs more-or-less ended for him the following year, as the Reporter mentioned Dix had taken a year’s leave of absence from One Man’s Family to tour Europe.

In November 1942, Davis began a role as the son on CBS’s replacement series Today at the Duncans, which starred long-time supporting actor, “Mr. Yeeeeeeees,” Frank Nelson. The show was written by Fred Runyon, who later became a columnist for the Pasadena Independent. He has a sad tale in the paper’s edition of August 4, 1954:

SOME years ago the writer did a radio show for the Columbia Broadcasting system which featured the travails of a young married couple with a precocious 10-year-old son. The kid’s name was Dix Davis. He was a teriffic [sic] little actor and during rehearsal breaks or before going on the air he would regale me with tales of all the things he wanted to do and be when he grew up. “I wanna be in the foreign service and travel all around the world,” he would say, following it up with a prodigious recitation of geographical knowledge highly uncommon for a small squirt.
Yesterday he dropped in the office. Didn’t recognize him. The moppet had turned into a grown man.
“Where’ve you been?” I asked. “Around the world.”
“You mean you . . . ”
“Sure. Remember I used to tell you some day I wanted to enter the foreign service? Well, I did. And I’ve sure been around.”
WHEN I was 10 years old I knew what I wanted to be but a kindly fate intervened. I wanted to be the fellow who fearlessly swept out the lion cage in the Golden Gate Park zoo. While still handling a more or less related product the contact is figurative rather than literal.
Recalling the poet who mused: “A boy’s will is the wind’s will and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,” I marveled that this former youngster had been able to fulfill a childhood dream.
“Very few are fortunate enough to pilot such ambitious determinations through puberty,” I reminded my visitor.
I looked for a confirming smile to light his face but a frown appeared instead. He waited some time before he spoke.
“I quit,” he blurted.
“You what?” I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
“I quit, the foreign service. Resigned. Couldn’t take it.”
“Too strenuous?”
“No. Too disappointing.”
LITTLE by little it came out. This young man’s disillusion. He has just returned from his last tour of duty with the United States Information Office in Pakistan.
For me his revelations were particularly significant because they bore out what I have been trying to say in this column for some time—that we are NOT telling the story of the real America to the people of foreign lands. We, the people, are not getting through to the human beings we would like to help. Only we, the politicians, are getting through. Only we, the careerists, are speaking. In other words, the real story, the convincing story, the true story upon which peace could securely stand, is being muffed not told.
SO a young man, who dreamed from the age of 10 of a chance to do a job, has picked up his homburg and walked out of government service.
“I think the real job for me is not there,” he confessed, “but here. Here, telling Americans the size of the opportunities we are missing. The big job to be done right now is not in foreign countries but on our own soil.” THE child I once knew, while not an embittered man, is far from a happy one. I, too, probably would have gotten tired sweeping up after lions.

There’s a little happier post-script, provided by Oakland Tribune columnist Robin Orr in the Dec. 30, 1970 issue, who did a “Where are they now” piece on the cast of One Man’s Family.

Dix Davis, who played Pinky, one of Hazel’s twin sons on the show, speaks Russian, French, Pakastani [sic] “and maybe Chinese by the this time,” travels the world over for the State Department and has just returned from two years in Paris with the Vietnam peace talks.

Child actors from the Golden Days of Radio are still out there—Harry Shearer of Jack Benny’s show comes to mind—but when it comes to those who were on the air in the 1930s, Dix Davis must have been one of the last.

Here is his debut with Jack Benny, October 19, 1941.