Monday 31 October 2011

Your Mother Rides a Vacuum Cleaner

Witches are supposed to be scary. But Witch Hazel at Warner Bros. isn’t, despite her evil intention to turn Hansel and Gretel into waif waffles in ‘Bewitched Bunny.’ She talks to the audience, she cracks up at her own jokes like Phyllis Diller (the similarity doesn’t end there) and—my favourite thing when I was a kid—she leaves bobby pins in the air when she zips off camera.

A lot is made of Maurice Noble’s backgrounds that emphasize Witch Hazel lives in a world of corrupted reality but there are great bits of animation here, too. I love Ken Harris’ skipping cycle with the witch and the two kids. Ben Washam apparently is responsible for the scene when the witch answers the door and twiddles her crooked fingers in all directions when talking with Bugs Bunny.

And we have some smears, too.

Chuck Jones’ unit was down to three animators at this point (the cartoon was produced in 1952). Lloyd Vaughan was the third.

Bea Benaderet, and not June Foray, provides Witch Hazel’s voice in this cartoon. Bea left the studio for reasons we may never know, and June took over all her roles; her first cartoon at Warner’s was released in 1955 (‘This is a Life?’). Those who presume June played every single female role at Warners are quite mistaken. Even more forgotten than Bea is Marian Richman, who toiled without credit on a number of Warners cartoons (mostly for Jones) in the ‘50s before June arrived.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Go West, Young Jack

On April 7, 1935, Jack Benny and his cast performed two half-hour radio shows (one live for each coast) in New York City. The following week, they were in California. And that became their home base, though they don’t seem to have known it at the time.

Probably with good reason, too. For one thing, New York City was the seat of vaudeville, the pinnacle of which Jack had reached not too many years before. And that’s where the radio networks were based. Some programming did come from Chicago but the bulk of it was originated from New York for technical reasons. Phone lines went east to west and to reverse them was extremely costly. But that eventually changed. And you can blame Hollywood.

It seems to be a case of “If you can’t beat them...” for movie companies during the Depression. They had a new—and free—competitor in radio. So the studios simply started hiring the big names of radio and plunking them in films, hoping to attract the radio audience to theatres, and the radio shows moved west with them. These sojourns to the West Coast were viewed as temporary by the radio stars, including Jack.

But a story in the Bismarck Tribune, dated June 8, 1935, hinted what was ahead.

Full-Fledged Movies Star May Never Return to Gotham Permanently
Jack Benny is likely to become a permanent Hollywood resident if the handwriting on the wall speaks the truth.
While his Sunday night NBC shows now are originating on the west coast the jester airways has regarded Radio City as his home studio and the majority of his programs have come from New York.
An analysis of the present situation makes it appear highly probable however that from now on his microphoning will take place in Hollywood as a regular thing because of his motion picture work. Broadcasts from the East will be the exception.
Jack now is under contract to M-G-M. The film on which he is working tentatively titled ‘Broadway Melody of 1935’ is classed as one of the half-dozen specials the company is turning out this year. That means that the radio comedian is ranked as a full-fledged star and not just as a featured player. If options are taken up Jack will make one and possibly two more full-length films before the end of the year.
While the rather quiet and simple life that Jack and Many live in New York is infinitely more pleasing to the modest taste of the Bennys. Jack is not opposed to setting down in Hollywood.
If he decides to cast his lot with the films Benny will find little leisure time on his hands. With the exception of Fridays when he works on his radio scripts with Harry Conn and Sundays when he tries to squeeze in some relaxation between rehearsals and two broadcasts he puts thirteen-and-a-half hours every day on the movie lot.

And Lolly pretty well confirmed it less than two weeks later in her lead item.

Jack Benny Gets Hand in Movies
Will Do Another Picture After Musicale
By Louella O. Parsons
Copyright 1935 U. S.
LOS ANGELES. June 19.—(US)—Jack Benny seems pretty well set in the movies. He had expected to return to New York when he finished “Broadway Melody of 1935” but now he is to do another picture “In the Bag” immediately with Chuck Reisner directing.
“In the Bag” is based on an original by Byron Morgan and Lew Lipton and it’s all about a Broadway chiseler. Benny, we hear, has the same personality on the screen that he has on the air and that is considerable.

“In the Bag” changed titles to “It’s in the Air.” And even thought “Broadway Melody of 1935” was released in 1935, its title changed, too. Here’s a marvellous ad for it.

Jack’s move to the West Coast resulted in a couple of casualties. Orchestra leader Don Bestor elected to return east and was replaced by pianist and composer Johnny Green. And Benny lost his vocalist. Radio columnist Paul K. Damai of the Hammond Times, explained on July 3, 1935.

After grabbing off top honors in a few polls as radio’s top tenor Frank Parker went to the coast with Jack Benny and fully intended to play in Jack’s picture. Mr. Metro, or Goldwyn, or Mayer, decided against it. “We got to change the tenor of our ways,” said Metro, or etc. “Besides, Benny owes me a tenner since last year at Agua, and if he thinks he can pass a counterfeit like you on me. . . .”
But Frank wasn’t discouraged. He was still on the gelatine program, lending a seventh delicious flavor, so he considered himself fortunate. As a matter of fact (if you like facts—we eat them shredded for breakfast), Parker doesn’t know the half of it. If he hadn’t had the Benny program as a vehicle, he certainly would not have triumphed in all those polls. For years he sang on the Gypsy grocery hour during which he was just another tenor. Now, singing one song a week (stooging more than singing), he is voted over such warblers as John MacCormack, James Melton, Benjamino Gigli, Frank Munn, and Martinelli—all five of which are as good, or better.
Now it has developed that Carl Laemmle of Universal has signed him for a picture to be made in New York. To do such a thing, Frank has to dessert the Jello hour (good joke, hah?). At first, when Laemmle approached him, Parker was skeptical. “Laemmle alone!” he exclaimed. “Shucks, all I do is run back and forth across a continent after mirage contracts.”
But Laemmle let Frank taste the contract one day (shredded for breakfast) and it sounded real enough (it gave him indigestion).
What we’re trying to tell you is that Frank Parker will be absent from the Jack Benny program for some time, because he is going to make a picture tentatively title “Romance Unlimited,” in the Long Island studios of Universal Pictures, Inc.

Parker signed the contract with Universal on June 29, the day before his last Benny broadcast (there was no singer the following week and Mary Livingstone sung on the final week of the season). By July 25, it was being reported Parker wouldn’t be back at all. Wood Soanes of the Oakland Tribune speculated Peter Higgins would become the singer. Instead, Michael Bartlett appeared on a total of five broadcasts before bolting for a movie career of his own. Parker bounced around for a bit, finally making a comeback on TV with Arthur Godfrey in the ‘50s. Bartlett never achieved fame. Jack simply hired a likeable fellow named Kenny Baker and carried on.

Friday 28 October 2011

Harman-Ising Studio Staff, 1937

On August 23, 1937, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer opened its brand-new cartoon studio in Culver City, California, demonstrating the cut-throat world of show biz at the same time. M-G-M had spent more than three years distributing the increasingly-costly cartoons of Harman-Ising Productions. Management told Fred C. Quimby, who had been running Metro’s short subject division, to set up his own cartoon operation, so he promptly went behind the backs of Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, and threw money at their staff to desert. It killed the Harman-Ising studio. Boxoffice magazine of September 4, 1937 reported it was “at present inactive” but trying to work out a release with United Artists which never came about. A newspaper story reported on November 18, 1938 that Hugh and Rudy had “recently” been signed by M-G-M; by all accounts Quimby did it in desperation because his new studio had quickly become a fiasco. But they produced cartoons using the Metro studio, not their own.

The 1938 Los Angeles City Directory contains the names of at least 86 people who it specifically revealed were employees of Harman-Ising Productions. It’s difficult to precisely determine how old the list is. It’s certainly not from 1938 or even the end of 1937. Bill Hanna’s name is on it; he was one of the H-I staffers who chomped on Quimby’s bait. Because it contains people who lived outside Los Angeles, it’s safe to assume that it was submitted to the directory by the studio.

I’ll caution this probably isn’t a complete list, and some names may have been missed due to OCR errors.

Thos J Armstrong artist
r1912 N New Hampshire av
Rudolf Ising (Maxine) sec-treas h106 S Kings rd
Dawn I Ashworth artist r560 N Kingsley drRichard Kinney artist r5121 S St Andrews Pl
Helen Baughman artist r1012 N Ardmore avMichael Lah artist r3023 Hyperion av
Lee Blair (Mary) artistErnest Lynch (Betty) artist h1138 N Berendo
Mrs Lillian Bothuyne (Eug) artist r815 N JuneRichard Marion r815 S Sycamore av
Scott Bradley musician r ChatsworthCharles F McGirl writer h858 N Poinsettia pl
Frances Brady artist r Brentwood HeightsCharles E McKimson artist r5001 Pickford
Wilson D Burness artist r PasadenaThomas J McKimson (Ernestine) artist
h1203 S Orlando av
Lenore Cady sten r3628 10th avBarbara D Merrill artist r5746 Virginia dr
Jonathan T Caldwell writer h857 N JuneGeorge H Miller artist r1203 N Cherokee av
Beatrice C Chambosse artist r606 N Citrus avJohn H Miller (Mary M) artist h1861 S Curson av
James Cingoli artist r7101 S San PedroLucille Miller artist r6823 Iris pl
John R Clopton artist r1377 N Ridgewood plPaul J Murphy artist r West Los Angeles
Alfred Coe (Ruth) artist h957 Cole avJohn S Niendorff (Mary) artist h859 N June
Oneta Coffey artist r1178 N Madison avStanley C Onaitis artist h910 N Orange Grove av
James E Cook (Margt) cameramn
h8163 Waring av
Albert Pabian artist r9053 Nemo
John V Cosgriff writer r1710 N Harvard blvdAnthony A Pabian artist r9053 Nemo
Maurice E Day artist r1819 N Kingsley drJames A Pabian (Patricia) artist 112 Clybourn av
Eva Deetha artist r8814 Dorrington avHazel L Preston artist r839 ½ N Formosa ave
Mary Dement artist r1307 N Bronson avMartin Provenson r artist Glendale
Evelyn H Douglas artist r1382 Ridgewood plArthur Riley r artist Burbank
Walter G Elliott sound techn r West Los AngelesEsther E Rothwell artist r1640 Echo Park av
Evelyn Feilen artist r Huntingdon ParkPepé Ruiz artist r4239 Russell av
Edwin Fourcher artist r5942 Willoughby avFrank P Scheidenberger artist r919 N Ardmore av
Lillian Fourcher artist r5942 Willoughby avMelvin Schwartzman r648 Cloverdale av
Lucille Fuller artist r650 N Alexandra avEvelyn F Smith artist r1423 N Wilton pl
Marion Gates artist r1622 N Alexandra avFrancis Smith artist r957½ N Wilton pl
Robert M Gentle artist r No HollywoodWilliam Smith artist r1733 Cherokee av
Merle Gilson (Sarah) artist r1159 N DetroitWilliam D Smith artist r1740 N Gramercy Pl
Nancy L Gluck artist h1975 N Alexandra avMarion Stephens artist r970 N St Andrews Pl
Mary L Graham artist r829½ N JuneHelen M Stirdivant (Bryant) office sec r561 N Flores
George Grandpré artist r Hermosa BeachHelena Thompson artist r820 N June
Ernest E Griffiths acct r Beverly HillsFrank Tipper artist r Santa Monica
Rollin Hamilton (May B) artist h1931 Canyon drWilliam Tracy (Rae) artist r1740 N Gramercy pl
William D Hanna (Violet) writer
h5611 Carlton way
Carl Urbano artist r1111 Victoria av
Gladys Harding artist r5607 Virginia avAlexander Walker artist r1310 S Kenmore av
Hugh M Harman (Marguerite) pres
h1969 N Kenmore av
Virginia B Whitney artist r127 N Serrano av
Walker Harman (Jeanette) writer
h5611 Carlton way
Edrie Willebrandt artist r Montebello
Thurston Harper artist r1771 N Vmont avJune Willebrandt artist r Montebello
James C Hazell artist h5800 Carlton wayGordon Wilson v-pres r La Crescenta
Lucille B Holman artist r1115 N VistaBarbara Wirth artist r5636 La Mirada av
Adele C Ising artist r1848 N Gramercy plAlberta Wogatzke artist r1012 N Ardmore

The book ‘Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years’ reveals two of Ising’s brothers worked as cameramen at the studio. And we find them in the city directory, though the studio isn’t mentioned. It lists Herman F Ising (Selma S) studiowkr r2237 Sunset blvd and Max R cameramn r5640½ Hollywood blvd. Max went back to the days of Kansas City Film Ad with Walt Disney and was the head of the camera department at Harman’s own studio in the ‘40s. Herman was better known as “Sid.”

Four names are missed due to an OCR error: “Albt Bertino artist r833 Bartlett.” He was later a writer at Disney. “Alden Bicheno artist r Glendale.” Born in 1914 and a grad of Glendale High School, the 1940 Census lists him as unemployed, while in 1950 he was a shipping clerk for a model airplane maker. He died in Colorado in 2011. “Howard Hanson artist r Glendale.” He was the assistant production superviser to Max Maxwell at MGM, then was the first production supervisor at Hanna-Barbera into the mid 1960s. “Thos J Byrne artist r1408 N Ridgeway pl.” He went back to the silent days in New York and seems to have been an assistant for years, finally getting an animation credit at the tail end of the Lantz studio.

• Tom Armstrong had been the story director at the Schlesinger studio up to about 1935.
• Lee Blair was Preston’s younger brother by three years.
• Wilson Burness was one of the H-I staffers who ended up at the new MGM studio. When he finally got credited on a cartoon, it was as “Pete Burness,” under which he had a fine career.
• John Clopton was Ben’s younger brother. Ben and wife Sylvia were listed at 317 N Edinburgh pl; Ben evidently was still working for Walter Lantz at the time.
• Al Coe’s career took him to Disney then Lantz in the ‘60s.
• Jack Cosgriff was living with parents Jack and Jesse E. He sandwiched two stints at Lantz in the ‘40s around a few years at Columbia and fit in a stop at Disney. He moved on to MGM to write for Tex Avery and Dick Lundy, then showed up at Lantz again in the ‘50s.
• The Fourchers were brother and sister. Lillian was younger by three years. Their parents were Theodore A and Marie E and their father worked in radio.
• Bob Gentle’s dad was Burton C Gentle, the deputy assessor for the County of Los Angeles. He had a pair of older brothers, Burt Jr. and Bill. You probably know him best from the early Hanna-Barbera studio cartoons but he rendered fine backgrounds during the life of the MGM studio, including on The Captain and the Kids cartoons.
• Merle Gilson was an early employee (no later than January 1930) of Disney who worked for Lantz twice in the ‘30s, the second time in 1938. He lived across the street from Disney’s Freddie Moore at one point.
• Bill Hanna was living at the same address as Walker Harman, Hugh’s brother.
• Hanna remembers Jim Hazell as an Englishman whose recreactional activity was polishing his shoes. They had roomed together. He came to the U.S. in 1924. He and fellow Englishman animator Bob Edmunds were rooming together in 1930. Later he married a Lucille who was an inker or painter.
• Dick Kinney’s brother Jack was animating at Disney by this time. Dick, of course, later joined him there.
• When Harman opened his own studio, Charles McGirl was his production supervisor. The two of them acquired a patent for a bicycle in 1940. McGirl died in 1963. His son Pat was Southern California yo-yo champ in 1951 (see the things you learn here?).
• There’s another address for Jack and Mary Miller, h805 3-5 Poinsettia Place. He’s simply listed as “studiowkr”. My hunch this was a newer address from when he worked for Leon Schlesinger; his name first appears at Warners on ‘Have You Got Any Castles’, released June 25, 1938. To confound things, there’s another Jack Miller (wife Mildred) listed as “studiowkr.”
• John Niendorff was Harman’s layout man who, according to Rudy Ising, was “a bigger nut on perspective” than Hugh (Mike Barrier interview).
• Stanley Onaitis also went by Casey Onaitis. He spent part of the ‘40s at Lantz, the ‘50s at John Sutherland and UPA and finished his career in that graveyard known as Filmation. Why he went by his first and middle names has been lost to time.
• If you think that’s confusing, how about the Pabians? Word is that James Anthony Pabian went by both Jim and Tony. But, as you can see, there already is a Tony Pabian, Anthony Pabian. But his name is Anthony Albert Pabian, and there already is an Albert Pabian living at the same house. He’s Albert F Pabian. Anthony Albert went to the Fleischer studio and married Ruth Carol House in August 1939. The 1940 California Voters list shows Albert F. Pabian married to Joan. My head hurts. At any rate, Jim was born on April 14, 1909, Anthony was born March 3, 1914 and Albert’s WW2 enlistment card says he was born in 1918 in New York but I can’t find out anything else about him other there’s a phone number still listed for him in Panorama City. He’s 93.
• Martin Provensen designed Tony the Tiger in 1952 after a career at Disney and Lantz.
• In 1993, a drunk driver ran down and killed Pepé Ruiz, the long-time screen cartoonists business agent in New York City. The drunk driver was Wilson Pickett (thanks to Tom Sito for the information). Read Shamus Culhane’s autobiography ‘Talking Animals and Other People’ for his opinion of Ruiz’ union activities.
• William D Smith might be Don Smith, later at Disney and the Davis unit at Warners.
• The name “Mel Shaw” was assumed by Mel Schwartzman on credits at UPA.
• Edrie and June Willebrandt were sisters (Edrie was two years older). They lived at home with parents Charles and Edith S.
• Barbara Wirth lived with Mrs Mary Wirth, not to be confused with Mary Worth.
• Alberta Wogatzke had a twin sister named Vi, who later married one William Denby Hanna. She married Mike Lah.

Several names are noticeably absent. The main one is probably Max Maxwell, who had worked with Harman and Ising at Disney and then when they set up their own studio in 1930. Quimby plucked him to be the production manager of the new MGM studio. He’s in the directory: “Carman G Maxwell (Dorothy) h3455 Waverly dr” with no occupation. Fred MacAlpin, the film cutter responsible for the first set of sound effects at MGM, is not listed. Neither are Bob Allen, who Quimby hired as a director nor his brother Heck, who later wrote for Tex Avery.

The studio's effects animator is not in the directory. Baltimore-born Paul Gustav Sprunck was a teenaged barber in Long Beach in 1908. In 1915, he won a Gold Medal in the Fine Arts programme at USC and went to work as a salesman at Duncan and Vail (among other things, it sold artists' materials). He asked for an exemption from enlistment in WW1 due to unstated physical reasons. In 1920, the Los Angeles Directory lists him as an "artist." A 1929 newspaper article mentioned he had been the technical trick photography supervisor for Cecil B. DeMille; he was employed by Famous Players-Lasky before that. In 1942, he was at Columbia/Screen Gems, and later started his own company called Technical Films. Sprunck died of a heart attack in 1963; his obituary mentioned he had been freelancing as an artist and technical adviser in the film industry. Another story a year later stated he had had “a part in more than 1500 movies, 600 features and 900 shorts, cartoons, commercials and documentaries. Some of the dinosaurs battling, volcanos erupting, airplanes exploding in mid-air and ships battered on the reefs seen on television and in the theaters were actually filmed in miniature sets in Sprunck’s studio on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.” Yet another newspaper story in 2012 mentioned he worked briefly at Disney on Snow White and was the director and writer of the 1955 3-D stop-motion film The Adventures of Sam Space.

Volus Jones spent some time at Harman-Ising before a career at Disney, and he and his wife Susan are listed “h3526 Ellsworth” with no occupation. Similarly, there is a “Paul J Fennell h526 Westbourne dr” with no occupation. He and Hanna co-directed ‘To Spring’ in 1936 though only Hanna got screen credit. There’s also a “Jeremiah Brewer (Frances) artist h4439½ Willowbrook ave” but nothing about where he was working. Same with “Norman Blackburn (Alice) writer h724 N Spaulding av”.

The original Harman-Ising studio had been on Hollywood Boulevard when it was making cartoons for Leon Schlesinger to be released by Warner Bros. When it closed, it was at 861 Seward. In 1926, it was the Cinemagraph Film Lab. The following year, the City Directory reveals it was the home of Action Pictures, Binocular Steroscopic Film Co., Fashion Productions, National Aeromat (a film lab) and one Nat Levine. In 1929, you would find Belmont Productions, Producers Film Labs and producer Jack Kelly. United Productions and producer Claude Hammond were there in 1932. After Harman-Ising folded, Disney used housed his Bambi unit there for about a year, and it became the home of the Screen Gems (Columbia) cartoon studio in the ‘40s before Walter Lantz moved in. The building still exists today and you can see it below.

The real regret is that few of the Harman-Ising cartoons, post-Warners, have been restored and released on DVD. While they’re dismissed as not-quite-as-good Disney knockoffs, they deserve to be seen by fans today interested in the development of Hollywood cartoons of the 1930s.

Farewell, GAC Forums

If there’s one thing that animation fans may love more than watching entertaining cartoons, it’s talking about them with someone else who likes them just as much.

Perhaps that’s because many of us grew up—though that term’s kind of relative—viewing our favourite animated characters in relative solitude, maybe with a brother or sister at best. It becomes a revelation to find that you are not alone, that someone else shares your love and wants to tell you all about it. Watching cartoons almost becomes a combined experience.

It’s therefore with sadness, though with some understanding, I note that Jon Cooke has announced the Golden Age Cartoon forums are about to close this weekend after a long run of service.

The internet is evolving. An increasing number of years ago, people discovered something called Usenet where they could get together and talk about anything one could conceivably talk about. It was a time when internet speeds were slow, so web sites were rudimentary and just discovering their potential. Text was the way to go. So people flocked to text-only Usenet spots like rec.arts.animation or alt.animation.warner-bros to talk cartoons.

300-baud modems gave way to high-speed cable connections, making graphics on the internet practical. Web sites grew in popularity and soon cartoon discussions moved from spam-attracting Usenet to various web forums, each with their own individual flavour, kind of like how no two shops which sell ice cream are alike. I found the flavour of web forum I liked was the Golden Age Cartoons forum and was pleased when I was accepted as a member. A number of the people I had chatted with on alt.animation.warner-bros were there, bringing with them their well-thought-out opinions and expertise.

It’s been a real pleasure over the years to have a chance to read, comment and—best of all—learn about cartoons from people who love them as much as I do, though, granted, our tastes vary and not everyone likes the same thing. Many of the people who are friends on my Facebook account are people I first chatted with on GAC who satisfied their curiosity by stopping by the Yowp blog (or this recent one).

What a shame it is there won’t be—at least for now—a place for us all to get together. There are other places on the net and they aren’t quite the same. Who else has dancing poissons d'Avril?

I started typing a list of the friendly people I’ve appreciated reading there, and those with amazing depths of knowledge, and realised that, despite its length, I’ll end up leaving out names and unwittingly disappointing someone. Instead, I’ll thank everyone there who I’ve corresponded with for their insights and their ability to put up with my occasional snarkiness and irreverence. However, I am going to mention one name. Steve Stanchfield has affectionately restored, as best as possible, cartoons that big companies have ignored as being a not-profitable-enough use of their resources. I love the Van Beuren cartoons and his SNAFU set is something every Warner Bros. cartoon fan unquestionably must own. Had it not been for the GAC forums, I never would have learned about them and been able to watch them in the comfort of my palatial estate. Thanks, Steve.

And thanks, GAC. Until we meet again.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Jimmy Swinnerton and Yowp

We all, of course, know that loveable animated cartoon dog Yowp, with a vocabulary consisting of the word “Yowp” and not much more. He appeared in three Yogi Bear cartoons because, well, there wasn’t much more you could do with him.

Yowp’s first appearance was on this date in 1958.

I’m not sure who invented the word “Yowp” as an onomatopoeia, but I can say that newspaper cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton used it a few times more than 90 years ago.

Kids reading comics today likely have never heard of Al Capp or Walt Kelly, and when I was growing up, I’d never heard of Swinnerton. The first I’d read about him was in Of Mice and Magic and his work on Chuck Jones’ attempt at an animated ‘Canyon Kiddies’ which Swinnerton drew for Good Housekeeping magazine at the time. That was about 1940, and Swinnerton had been drawing comic strips for more than 40 years by then.

One Sunday page of his was called ‘Little Jimmy’ and featured a boy sent on errands by his father and inevitably gets sidetracked into some mishap. And it is here we find dogs who utter the word “Yowp!” One is Hortense in the cartoon below, dated June 1, 1919.

Swinnerton is credited with drawing the first comic strip in an American newspaper. The Eureka Times-Standard published a feature story on Swinnerton’s life on October 11, 1970:

The first newspaper comic strip titled “The Little Bears” appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1892. It was drawn by Jimmy Swinnerton who a few years later created “Little Jimmy” and in his later years became a highly successful painter of California desert scenes.
Jimmy Swinnerton was born in Eureka on November 13, 1873. His father published a weekly newspaper, The Humboldt Star. When he was 17 years old he went to San Francisco to attend an art school and at the same time got his first job as a newspaper artist for the Hearst-owned Examiner.
Today Jimmy Swinnerton lives with his wife Gretchen in Palm Desert, California and is looking forward to his 94th birthday next month.
Swinnerton worked for the Hearst newspapers for 75 years. He met his wife when he was in his late fifties. They were both attending a national presidential convention in Kansas City, Jimmy doing pen sketches for the Hearst Chain and Gretchen writing feature material for the King Features syndicate.
He was confined to his hotel room with a bad cold. One of the Hearst executives sent Gretchen up to his room to look after him. When she walked in the air was thick with cigar smoke, so she decided he wasn’t sick and walked out. It turned out to be the start of a romance and eventual marriage. They have been together now for more than 30 years.
First Drawing
Jimmy’s first assignment on the Examiner was to draw a picture of a little bear which he later developed into the first continuity-type comic drawings ever published. Later another of his drawings, “Commodore Noah” was the first comic strip to be syndicated, that is sold to newspapers throughout the country.
“Little Jimmy” which became a comic page regular in hundreds of newspapers first appeared in 1905.
“Swinny’s” comic strips delighted three generations of Americans reading the funnies and he remembers those early strips with a chuckle.
“They had to go in half-column cuts at the time, and there wasn’t enough room at the end of the strip to get my full name in. It came out ‘Swin.’”
He remembers another thing that happened along about that time.
“I contracted tuberculosis and three doctors gave me one month to live.”
Jimmy went around to say goodbye to all his old friends to pursue his work for “that last month” in the California desert. He has made his home in Palm Desert ever since.
That was 70 years ago. The doctors have long since passed away.
While cartooning, he took up oil water color painting as a hobby so it was only natural that moving to the desert to spend his “last days” led to his “re-discovery” as a landscape artist.
His desert scenes have brought him as much fame as cartoons.
Jimmy doesn’t cartoon or paint any more, he says his eye and his hand are no longer able to do the little things anymore, those details that make the difference in an artist’s work.
But he hasn’t quit the newspaper business yet. In the years since he has continued to serve as a talent scout and some of the “boys” he has discovered and put in business were Hubert Ripley of “Believe It or Not” fame, T. A. “Tad” Dolan [sic] and Hype Igoe.
Talking about the old time comic strip like the men who drew Happy Hooligan, Buster Brown and Mutt and Jeff, Swinnerton said:
“We always looked upon the comics as something strictly for the kids, and we wanted no harm to come to them. We decried the appearance or firearms, knives and violence in the strips. They are nothing more than dime novels.
“There seems to be a tremendous change—a trend to smut, crime and uncleanliness in the strip. I guess they think it’s being in fashion.”
Swinnerton has no explanation for the trend. He can’t ever say that it’s a result of “popular demand” by the present-day readers of the comics.
His present day favorite is “Peanuts” drawn by Charles Schulz.

Whether this is the first-ever ‘Little Bears and Tigers’ the newspaper doesn’t say. The scan of the newspaper microfilm isn’t great but I haven’t seen this on the internet, so I thought it was worth publishing.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Little Red Walking Hood

Red Riding Hood and Tex Avery had a long and fruitful relationship, which began at Warners and carried over to MGM. While the sexy Red of Metro may be the one most fondly remembered by animation fans, his first Red was the more ground-breaking. ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937) was Warners’ first real fairy tale spoof, a concept imitated over and over at other studios and on television cartoons. Tex was developing a stable of gags and you’ll find some of his favourites of that period here—the theatre audience walking in while the cartoon is in progress, characters talking to the viewers, the ubiquitous guy interrupting the action, not to mention the presence of Kate Hepburn’s voice (à la Elvia Allman this time).

Something that may be unique to this cartoon is the backgrounds were etched in coloured pencil.

I’m hoping someone can enlighten me about who is responsible for these. Johnny Johnsen was Avery’s long-time background man through most of the ‘40s but I don’t know when he arrived at Warners. I’d like to presume it’s Johnny solely because of the uniqueness and because of Chuck Jones’ low opinion of the backgrounds of the cartoons at that time. He told Greg Ford “We used a man by the name of Griff Jay, who was an old newspaper cartoonist—and he did what we called “moldy prune backgrounds.” Jones was a little less diplomatic in other interviews, calling the work “diaper brindle” to Mike Barrier. And that’s the polite version.

Griffey Jay was born September 17, 1880 and raised by his widowed mom Georgie (maiden name Griffey) in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Jay was yet another Kansas City connection to California animation which started with Walt Disney. He had been a cartoonist on The Kansas City Post; Warners storyman Bugs Hardaway had been a cartoonist on the rival Star. He arrived in Los Angeles in 1924 and was doing advertising art; the 1927 city directory reveals he was working for the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company. His career at Warners was apparently brief. He arrived in 1936 from the Charles Mintz studio where he was a “writer” (he might have been doing story sketches). He died at his home on February 2, 1951.

Jay’s name is the only one Jones brought up in interviews. Also in the background department at the time was Elmer G. Plummer, class of ’28 of Redlands High School in Redlands, California (that’s his house you see to the right). Plummer attended Chouinard where an instructor was another Redlands native, Phil Dike. He was already being written up as an award winner in the Los Angeles Times in 1932 and the paper described him and his wife Barbara as “cartoon artists” in an edition of May 18, 1936. Plummer soon joined Dike at the Disney studio; the Disney connection is interesting in that Disney and Plummer’s son Philip were both members of the Order of DeMolay, though roughly 40 years apart. Plummer was doing freelance work for UPA in 1954. You can read his biography here.

I suppose I shouldn’t close out this post without mentioning the cartoon’s loopy animation by Irv Spence and the clever Ted Lewis-like sing/speak by Tedd Pierce as the wolf. Pierce was more adept at downing martinis than anything else, but he wrote some fine cartoons and his voice work is really underrated.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Garden Gopher

Tex Avery sure loved those toothy takes, didn’t he?

This one is from ‘Garden Gopher’, released in 1950. The credited animators were Mike Lah, Grant Simmons and Walt Clinton. Simmons is responsible for the wildness here where Spike tests a hot pepper that had no effect on the gopher he miserably failed to catch. But on him...

Avery-dissector Kevin Langley explains:

Well with Spike Simmons usually draws those toothy grins and he draws Spike's feet entirely different than Michael Lah. Overall though his animation seems a lot more elastic than the other two.

Simmons arrived in Tex Avery’s MGM unit by way of Columbia, where he worked on some really thankless trying-to-be-Warners cartoons toward the end of the ‘40s. His first Avery cartoon was ‘Little ‘Tinker’ (1948) and his last was ‘The Last Bad Man’ (1955). By then he and Ray Patterson had packed up from MGM and opened Grantray-Lawrence with New York producer Bob Lawrence. The studio worked on two very enjoyable theatricals for Walter Lantz (both released in 1954). His name also appears on some Dick Tracys and Mr. Magoos made-for-TV by UPA, so it would appear those cartoons were done under sub-contract to Grantray-Lawrence. His company’s last hurrah was the 1967 Spider-Man show for ABC. After Spidey couldn’t save the studio from drowning in red ink, Simmons picked up some work directing for DePatie-Freleng.

Prior to all this, he was hired by the Walt Disney studio where he first met Patterson. According to, animator drafts show him working on ‘Officer Donald’ (1939). No doubt the highlight of his career at Disney was ‘Fantasia.’

Grant Alden Simmons was born November 11, 1912 in Pima, Arizona to Wallace and Willmirth (Hundley) Simmons, one of six children. His father was a carpenter who arrived in Los Angeles by 1927. He went into banking as a teenager and his 1937 marriage certificate lists his occupation as a bank clerk. He died in Los Angeles on October 31, 1970, only 57 years old.

Monday 24 October 2011

They Made Tunes Looney

Obscure lists are really geeky, but they’re also good if someone needs them for reference. So that’s why this has been put together.

The Los Angeles City Directory for 1942 is on-line. It has names, addresses and occasionally, tells where people worked. This is the first directory I’ve found where it specifically mentions cartoon studios (see footnote). With delight, I see that one is Leon Schlesinger Productions. There are 134 names I could find with the job listing “artist, LSP”. That generic title is given to everyone, including Ray Katz, who was no artist. Because it includes people who didn’t live in Los Angeles, I suspect the studio supplied the list to the compilers of the directory.

It may not be complete. Some names may have been missed because the search engine for the on-line version doesn’t always recognise the ‘LSP’ characters; I had to find Rod Scribner and Warren Foster by typing in their names. Not all employees may have been reported; I’ll mention some after the list.

There are assistant animators and in-betweeners listed here (Hudson, Farren, Zingler, etc.), but there are a number of men’s names I’ve never seen before. The impression I’m left with is the ink and paint departments was the exclusive province of women so I have no idea what some of these men did.

Ann Almond r2042 N Highland avPaul H Julian (Consuela C) h4957 Melrose Hill
Jane Anderson r1918 Taft avRaymond Katz r Beverly Hills
Mabel Andes rBrentwood HtsJohn Kennedy r2062 Argyle av
Louise Appet r925 IroloLeonard Kester r9009 Wonderland av
Marion Bagby r1610 N Nmdie avFlorence Kinkelhor r Beverly Hills
Mrs Vannie F Baker r5643½ Fernwood avAnatole Kirsanoff r1777 N Vmont av
Harry Barton r1553 N Hudson avMary T Lane r1726 Nichols Canyon rd
Warren Batchelder r Sta MonicaJacqueline Langdon r2314½ Beachwood dr
Raynelle Bell r1835 Wilcox aveRudolph Larriva h5746½ Fountain av
Richard Bickenbach r GlendaleLeslie H Larson (Blanche A) h808½ El Centro
Henry Binder r5424 FranklinRoy Laufenberger r1364 N Van Ness av
Raymond Bloss r6112 Winans drConstantine Lebedeff r4674½ La Mirada av
Betty Brenon r2042 N Highland avLee LeBlanc r725½ N Alfred
Geraldine Brimhall r5806 Carleton wayMonroe Leung r1619 1619 W Pico ave
David W Brown r1505 N McCadden plAbraham Levitow r5447 Monroe
Tregoweth E Brown (Mary) h5805 La MiradaHarold Lorimer r982 Stone Canyon rd
John W Burton r No HwoodJohn MacLachlan r3630 Effie
Robert Cannon r BurbankMichael Maltese r1401 N Hobart blvd
John Carey r2722 GlenedenJohn Marks (Sadie) h5436 Ascot av
Nellie Cary r1009 N Sierra Bonita avPaul Marron r Burbank
Kenneth Champin r GlendaleRobert H Matz r7512 Norton av
Revelle Chaney G h5179 Fountain avGodfrey Mayerhofer r4743 Bev blvd
Germain A Chiniquy (Olive) h611 N BronsonNorman McCabe r Burbank
Robert Clampett r GlendaleThomas J McDonald (Aliceruth) h5760 Fernwood av
Helen Cope t1719 Taft avJohn McGrew (Elfreda) h2440 Gower
Jos M Corral r6112 Winona drRobert P McKimson (Viola) h439 N Kilkea dr
Robert Cota r3737 Woodland avMelvin Millar r Burbank
Helen Currie r6141 Afton PlArthur Milman r4631 Kingswell av
Fern Crawford h4854 Lemon Grove avDavid Mitchell r5712 Fountain av
Roger Daley r1324½ N Alexandria avPhilip Monroe r5744 Fountain av
Calvin Dalton r PasadenaKenneth Moore r Burbank
Keith Darling r1750 N Wilton plSamuel Nicholson r1216 Tamarind av
Philip DeLara r6195 Oak Crest wayRobert North r4038 Marathon
Mary Dement r BurbankAlbert Pabian h1417 N Bronson av
Robert Doerfer r5712 Fountain avJoan Pabian r1417 N Bronson av
Edith Edgar r5612 Fountain avManuel Perez r9012 Graham av
Isadore Ellis (Frieda) h1423 S Odgen drLela V Perry r1366 N Beachwood av
Sidney Farren r AlhambraDorothy E Pettit r935 N Stanley
Evelyn Feilen r BellJack Phillips r5712 La Mirada av
Eugene Fleury r1022 Laguna avRuth V Pierce r6722 Sunset blvd
Warren Foster r1410 Murray drFrank Powers r5740½ Fountain av
Isadore Freleng (Lilly) h1058 S AlfredHazel Preston r1306 N Beachwood av
Lucille Fuller h5643½ Fernwood avElizabeth E Rehbeck r Burbank
Peter Gaenger h1519½ S ArdmoreVive W Risto r Studio City
Arthur C Gamer r2438 N Creston wayMyrta Robinson r6027 Barton
Frances Garcia r1241 N JuneJoseph Rose r507 N Kings rd
Leslie Garcia r1526 N MariposaVirgil Ross r3337 Bennett dr
Henry Garner r5849 Sunset blvdAda B Ruinello r606 Westbourne dr
Mrs Sue G Gee h2401 S Highland avMichael Sasanoff r851¼ Formosa av
Martha Goldman r5617 Fernwood avEdwin Schmidt r6134 Cahuenga blvd
Gladys Hallberg r BurbankRoderick Scribner r2925 Hill dr
Florence Hammontre T r1149 N VmontBenjamin Shenkman, r539 N Manhattan
Donald Harris Helen I Silbert r8248 Mannix dr
Lucille Hazell r4411½ Avodaco Seymour Slosberg r1219 Point View
Mildred Helfman r1933 N Bronson avDawn I Smith r815 N June
Fred Hofacker r Costa MesaEvelyn Smith r1423 N Wilton pl
Richard Hogan r3700 Arbolada rdEmily B Stafford h5718 Fernwood av
Esther Honig r4353 San Rafael avSidney Sutherland r N Hwood
LeRoy C Hooper r4615 Ambrose avEvans Taliaferro r1157 Tamarind av
W Murray Hudson (Louise) h6011 Lexington avMary Tebb r3374 Bennett dr
Alex Ignatiev r1123½ N Ardmore avAuril Thompson r1021 N Mariposa
John D Johnsen (Turena) h5139½ De Longpre avRichard Thompson h1021 N Mariposa
Charles E Jones r609 E 52dGilbert H Turner (Angelyn) h1536 Marmont av
Charles M Jones r6764 Milner rdLloyd L Vaughan r Venice
John R Jones r Manhattan BeachAlex Walker r351 N Westn av
Richard K Jones r1026¼ Laguna avBenjamin Washam r Glendale
Virginia Jones r BurbankRudolph A Zingler r Burbank

Where’s Leon? His listing is: “Schlesinger Leon pres Leon Schlesinger Productions and film labty 1123 N Bronson av r Beverly Hills.” And one of the greatest composers in cartoon history doesn’t have a studio listed. It simply says “Stalling Carl W artist r2644 Hollyridge dr”.

Now comes a pile of trivia, thanks in part to Martha Sigall’s wonderful reminiscence of her time in the animation industry, including almost ten years with Leon and Co.

• Ann Almond was a painter. She was Betty Brenon’s sister.
• “Louise” Appet should be “Louis.” Karl Cohen’s book ‘Forbidden Animation’ reveals he was an in-betweener at Fleischer’s who couldn’t find work, likely for union activity. Chuck Jones got him a job at Warner’s in 1941 and Appet later became a cartoonists union head in Los Angeles. It appears he was living with relatives.
• Raynelle Bell was hired as an inker in August 1936. She went to work at Fleischer’s in Florida, came back and was later Bob Clampett’s ink and paint supervisor at Snowball.
• Betty Brenon was the assistant head of ink and paint department.
• Dave Brown was an assistant animator in the Freleng unit. He shot down and killed overseas in World War Two.
• Corral is Manny Corral, a cameraman who later went to MGM.
• Cal Dalton and Sue Gee were married but are listed as living at different addresses. Hmm.
• Phil DeLara was living at home with his widowed mother Susan L.
• Robert Doerfer is actually Robert Doerfler, an assistant animator. He died in 1982.
• Peter Gaenger was a fairly prominent interior designer and worked in Leon’s background department.
• Yes, that’s Martha Sigall listed under her maiden name, Martha Goldman.
• Gladys Hallberg was hired the same day as Martha, July 13, 1936.
• “Donald” Harris has me puzzled. There’s no address for him. Ken Harris’ real first name was Karyl and there’s a “Karol Harris r980 Passmore Dr” with no occupation. It could be Ken; he was listed as “Karol” in earlier directories when he was an auto mechanic. His wife Alta is listed at living at a different address.
• Murray Hudson, according to Martha, used to raffle his pay cheque and thus collect more than he was being paid. His wife Lee worked at the studio.
• Try to keep up with the Jones’s here. Charles M. Jones is Chuck Jones. Charles E. Jones is not. They’re not related. Richard Kent Jones is Chuck’s brother. Virginia Jones was married to Fred Jones, who also worked at the studio but isn’t listed in the directory. I don’t know who John R. Jones is.
• Florence Finkelhor (her name is misspelled) was an inker who was sent with Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett to make cartoons at the Ub Iwerks studio in Beverly Hills before Leon basically took it over.
• Alex Ignatiev was possibly named for Alex D. Ignatiev, a painter who lived down the street. He lived with parents Tihon and Pauline Ignatiev, who came to the U.S from Russia.
• Mary Lane was hired the same day as Martha, July 13, 1936.
• Conny Lebedeff was living at home with his parents Charles and Ella.
• Monroe Leung’s dad Howard was a waiter. His mom was named Rose. Even more interesting is his life story is outlined in the book ‘Sweet Bamboo’ by Louise Leung Larson. Examples of his cartoon work can be found searching on-line.
• Abe Levitow lived at home with his parents (William and Sarah) and older sister Frances. Levitow’s father is listed as “studio worker” and you can learn more about the family on the finely-researched Mr. Magoo’s Christmas blog.
• It seems Mike Maltese and his family were moving about this time. There’s a separate listing for Mike and Florrie Maltese, 5832¾ La Mirada Avenue, with no occupation.
• Bob Matz lived with his widowed mother Mary H. He had a brother, John M., who was an accountant.
• Godfrey Mayerhofer lived with a Morris Mayerhofer, who is listed as “studiowkr.”
• My guess is Tom McDonald is the same Tom McDonald who later worked at UPA.
• You see Bob McKimson, but what about the rest of the family? Were they at Warners at this time? Tom McKimson is listed as “Thos J (Ernestine) artist h108 S Harper av”. There’s no listing for Chuck McKimson. I don’t know when the two spent their time at the studio.
• Art Millman turned 60 in 1942.
• Ken Moore was a cameraman.
• Al and Joan Pabian were married and are not to be confused with James Anthony Pabian, who seems to have gone by both Jim and Tony.
• Frank Powers ran the ink and paint department and had replaced Art Goble, who toddled off to MGM.
• Ada Ruinello’s parents were Henry A and Arabella Ruinello. Her father was an engineer.
• Mike Sasanoff’s brother Robert, at the same address, is listed as “artist.”
• There’s also an address for Rodney and Jane Scribner “cartoonist h5211 Argus dr”. That’s our Rod, though how the directory got “Rodney”, I’ll never know.
• Ben Shenkman lived with his mother Annie, as did sister Florence and brothers Harry (salesman) and John (clothing cutter). He was an assistant animator known for caricatures.
• Seymour Slosburg lived with Max and Hattye in a beautiful Spanish-style home. Another set of Slosburgs was in the same block.
• Dick and Auril Thompson were married. She was a painter formerly known as Auril Blunt who later worked under Ace Gamer in effects.
• I suspect Alex Walker is “Sandy Walker”, who had worked at the studio into 1935.

Names which don’t appear: Don Christensen, Herman Cohen, Bob Givens, Owen Fitzgerald, Milt Franklyn, Hawley Pratt (unless he was a salesman and married to a woman named Cora), Dave Monahan, Tedd Pierce or Dick Thomas (there’s a Richard H. Thomas listed as a “patternmaker”). Some names who had been, or were later, connected with the studio might be of interest.

• Vance D Colvig (Margt) writer h2177 Moreno dr. Pinto did a bit of freelance voice work for Leon about this time after his career at Fleischer fizzled. His son Vance D Jr. lived at home and later became a TV kids host, then the voice of Chopper on the ‘Yakky Doodle’ cartoons.
• Pernell D[ewey] Eller (Lula) gifts 4426 S Hoover. Unless something creepy was going on, Eller’s mother is listed as his wife.
• Ernest G Gee formn LAEH&E r1122½ Menlo av. Bob Clampett’s ex-writer worked at the Los Angeles Evening Herald and Examiner.
• Robert C Gribbroek artist h1335½ N Edgemont. His mother, Ada C, was living with him.
• Roland C Hamilton (Rmeda) cartoonist r1006½ N Hobart blvd. Yes, I know, his name is “Rollin”.
• Robert L Holdeman (Patricia C) artist h1606 N Alvarado.
• George F Manuell (Olga J) cartoonist h3051 Lanfranco av. George was born in Washington State (his father John was from Canada) but settled in San Joaquin County in 1910 before his first birthday. George was only 49 when he died on Oct. 19, 1958.
• Donald H Williams (Avis J) artist h1935 Carmona av.
• Albert L Tarter (Sylvia) artist h2412½ N Beachwood dr. Tarter had been in the Freleng unit in 1940.

There’s no Mel Blanc or Billy Bletcher, but there is:

Kent Rogers actor h1552 N Martel av

And some poor woman who married record store owner Roger Benaderet was likely constantly mistaken for a Warners cartoon actress. Both were named Bea, though the voice artist was born with the last name; she didn’t marry into it.

It’s unfortunate only one other studio lists employees in the directory—Screen Gems (Columbia). No Disney, no Lantz (though La Verne Harding and Alex Lovy are in the directory as “cartoonist”) and no MGM (nary a listing for Bill, Joe or Tex).

A directory isn’t exactly exciting to read, but I hope this has provided a bit of insight into some of the names you don’t normally see connected with the Schlesinger studio.

Note: After posting this, I discovered at least 75 names in the 1938 L.A. Directory listed as “artist Harman-Ising Productions”. I’ll have to go through them as well.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Jack Benny and Ronald Colman

A perfect blend of characters was one of the things that made Jack Benny’s radio show as great as it became. And all the characters were perfectly cast.

When you think about it, Ronald Colman seems to have been an odd choice to put in a comedy show. He certainly wasn’t known for laughs on the cinematic screen; costume dramas and romance come to mind. But it turns out he was absolutely perfect for the show and showed a flair (as did his wife, Benita Hume) for dry comedy along the way.

Benny needed someone to show that his radio persona was looked down upon as somewhat of a gauche simpleton by Hollywood’s upper-crust. But Benny knew they couldn’t be too upper-crust that you couldn’t sympathise with them as they tried to cope with or avoid Jack’s character. Colman’s English theatrical tones were just right. And his nationality allowed the writers to add another layer in the form of gentle ribbing of English culture stereotypes, including a somewhat severe butler delightfully played by Eric Snowden.

The Nebraska State Journal of March 6, 1949 revealed the genesis of Colman’s appearances on the show, which began December 9, 1945.

Radio In Review

RONALD Colman and his wife are the comedy profession's busiest non-comedians these days. They make another visit to the Jack Benny show tonight, their 15th within the past three years.
It all dates back to one night in 1946 when Colman had an engagement on another comedy program. His jokes went over like a mother-in-law’s advice. Colman, ever the conscientious performer, took his failure to heart.
He discussed the matter with friend Benny, who suggested the material might not have been up his alley. Shortly afterwards, Benny concocted an idea on paper and presented it to Colman.
Needless to say, his first appearance with Jack was a riot. He explained later that he took direction from Benny as he would from a top-flight screen director, remarking “Jack Benny is the greatest comedy director in America.”

A couple of other columns in 1949 made note of the funny Benny-Colman relationship. There’s a brief reference to the end of it in this syndicated column from September 14.

In Hollywood

Hollywood—Hollywood has joined the FCC and Fred Allen in the war on radio give-away shows with, the $43,000,000 question.
The whole giveaway business is being crucified in a movie, now before the cameras, titled “Champagne for Caesar.”
Ronald Colman is the star playing the role of an adult Quiz Kid who knows the answer to everything but who can’t get a job.
So he turns up as a contestant on one of those double-or-nothing shows with a legal loophole—as long as he can answer the questions correctly the sponsor has to go on doubling the money.
By the time Colman gets to the $43,000,000 question, the show’s sponsor—penny-pinching soap tycoon Vincent Price—is ready to blow his brains out.
But there’s a trick ending, too good to reveal here.
All I’ll tell you is that there’s a girl in the plot. Her name is Celeste Holm. And you know how attractive Celeste is.
Who’s Caesar?
That’s Colman’s pet parrot, who loves champagne. Colman found him in a gutter one night and the parrot drinks more in the picture than Ray Milland did in “The Lost Weekend.”
As you can see, it’s whamsy whimsy.
Colman is doing the picture, as usual on a percentage basis with a small token salary. When Hollywood producers scream that star salaries are too high, they’re not yelling about Colman.
If a Colman picture makes money, he makes money. If it lays an egg, he gets the shell.
I asked him if he and Jack Benny had ever thought of co-starring in movie, along with Mrs. Colman and Mary, as a result of all the Colman guest appearances on the Benny airshow.
“Many times,” he said. “But we haven’t been able to find the right story. If we find the right story, we’ll do it.”

One of Broadway’s most famous celebrity writers found Colman’s dry humour on the Benny show came naturally, and the Oscar winner showed an either mischievous or not-suffering-fools-gladly side, depending on your viewpoint. This is from December 2.

It Happened Last Night
By Earl Wilson

Just to give the women a break, I interviewed Ronald Colman.
In the elevator going up to his suite, I thought. “How tired this guy must be of us bums and our interviews, after 25 years.
“Yes,” admitted the handsome Colman, of the thin gray mustache and the gray hair, when I asked him about it “Because there comes a time when you’ve been interviewed so often you’ve nothing more to say.
“Do you ever make up things?” I asked.
“Yes”—I noticed he had on a black thin sweater under his jacket, and also wore garters (no slob, he)—“when I was on the market, before I was married, they were always getting me engaged.
“Now and again,” he said, “I hadn’t even met the lady.
"So a reporter phoned to ask who I’d been sitting next to at a theater, and I made up a name.
“Lady Somebody,” I called her. I said, “Of course, I don’t want too much made of it, as I’m very fond of her,” “Well,” he laughed, “I got a lot of space on THAT!”
“Who are better interviewers . . . men or women?”
Colman’s wife, the former Benita Hume, spoke up:
“Women are very nervous interviewers. They have the bends as they come through the door.”
Colman said, “Another trick is to interview THEM.”
“Ask her how she got in the newspaper business, etc., etc.
“She leaves thinking you’re a splendid fellow . . . and of course hasn’t a thing to write about.”
I now asked Colman—who became a screen lover in 1922 playing opposite Lillian Gish in “The White Sister”—and who must now be 56—what is the most common question asked him.
“Oh, the standard question is ‘Is it true that you live next door to Jack Benny’?”
(Benny’s built up this idea on the radio.)
“Well, I was going to ask you that,” I said, “Do you?”
Colman looked at me disappointedly, seeming a little like a college president, which is what he plays in his latest film, “Champagne for Caesar.”
“I wish you hadn’t asked me. Well, you can say I’m his neighbor. I live around the corner. Put it that way. Around the corner.”
“Recently,” he said, hurrying on,” “I was to take the Bennys to dinner. It was understood that I was to pay for the dinner.
“It was a crowded restaurant and everybody was looking at Jack. When the check came I reached, and Jack said, ‘No, no, no! People are standing on their toes, looking into this booth, to see if I’m going to outfumble you. I’ve GOT to take it.’
“He did, too. To be cheap on the radio, costs him a fortune in real life.”

Apparently he really was weary about the constant Benny queries. Or maybe his ego thought he was under Jack’s shadow. Johnson’s Hollywood column of April 1, 1949 was a roundup of the Oscar ceremony. He included this short paragraph:

Only sour note was Ronald Colman’s scowl when he walked on stage to present the best actress award and Johnny Green’s orchestra struck up “Love in Bloom,” the Jack Benny theme. I don’t think Colman appreciated the humor.

Green would certainly appreciate the humour, if he wasn’t responsible for it. He became Jack’s band leader in 1935 after Benny had adopted the song.

It’s notable that Colman played a college president in ‘Champagne for Caesar,’ considering he soon took on the same role about a month after the column was written on ‘The Halls of Ivy,’ which strove to be a little above middle-brow entertainment. Colman was at his best ‘Ivy’ when engaged in a philosphical soliloquy, echoing his rhapsodic monologue in ‘If I were King’ (1938). But he really was no better on radio than when he suffered at the hands, and violin, of Jack Benny.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Guess Who (Created Me)?

Riddle me this—when is a woodpecker a cow?

Answer—when it’s a cash cow.

And that’s what Woody Woodpecker was to the Walter Lantz studio. He appeared in a guest-starring role with the tedious child version of Andy Panda in November 1940, then began what turned into a long series of cartoons with the self-titled ‘Woody Woodpecker.’

Woody opens the cartoon with a song about himself which, for reasons I don’t understand, was never used as his theme. He ends it by filling the screen, poking his head and finger at the camera, emulating an audience-grabbing trick Harman and Ising loved doing in the early ‘30s.

The cartoon was supposedly released on July 7, 1941, but there are “now playing” ads going back to late June. The one on the right is from July 2.

Something rare about the cartoon is there are two female voices. Berneice Hansell supplies one and the other sounds like a voice Gay Seabrook used on network radio. An unusual, unbylined squib in the Ames Daily Tribute of July 5, 1941 states: “Robert Cummings’ stand-in, Ed Regan, is the voice of Willie the Woodpecker [sic] in a new Walter Lantz cartoon.” I have no idea what the source of the story is, but it’s pretty obvious Mel Blanc is Woody. Danny Webb shows up an owl and I’m guessing he’s the angry bird at the beginning.

The story is by Bugs Hardaway and for 1941, it’s not bad, but Hardaway substitutes uninhibited idiocy for real gags at times and wrote this at a time he just couldn’t stay away from a “look, he’s insane” ending which he first used at Warners. There’s no director credit, but the credited animators are Alex Lovy and Ray Fahringer. With Hardaway’s story and the presence of Blanc and Hansell, this has a Warners feel to it, though the animation isn’t as good.

In later years, Lantz continually spun a tale that Woody was invented when he and Grace Stafford were on their honeymoon. You could spot them on TV shows, Gracie clutching Walter and chuckling in affirmation as he repeated his spiel. He related the story in his biography written by Joe Adamson in 1985. The two are such nice people and it’s a nice story. But either Lantz believed his own B.S., or he just simply got to the point where he had told it so many times, he couldn’t change it. To the right, you see a story from the Reno Evening Gazette, dated August 30, 1941. That was the start of Walter and Gracie’s very happy marriage. The Associated Press the following day reported they were honeymooning at a ranch near Reno, not a cabin in Sherwood Lake near Los Angeles as Lantz later claimed. And even if they had, Woody had first appeared on the screen nine months earlier. If Grace and Walter were trysting in a woodpecker-infested cabin that resulted in a cartoon brainstorm, then it happened while he was still married to his first wife, Doris.

However, the “honeymoon” aspect of the story was a late addition. In 1944, Lantz talked about Woody’s creation. The bulk of the story has to do with “Miss X,” the sultry girl that Pat Matthews animated in a couple of great musical cartoons directed by Shamus Culhane. The story is from March 8th.

Hollywood Today
NEA Staff Correspondent
She's only a cartoon character but this Miss X has more oomph than Hedy LaMarr or Lana Turner or Ann Sheridan. At least that’s what the film censors say, and it's their business to know about such things.
The gentleman who draws Miss X, Cartoon Producer, Walt Lantz, was telling us about his troubles today. “Why,” he said, “we drew that lady 50 times before the Hays office said she was okay. In the first drawings we had her bare legged, wearing shorts. Nothing improper at all. Just like those chorus girls you see running around on the screen. But the censors said nudity in a cartoon drawing was different, too.”
So Lantz’s artists drew some transparent panties—just the suggestion of pants with light lines. The censors took another look, didn't blush and said Miss X was now properly dressed to go out on the screen.
Then there was her name. “The censors didn't like Miss X,” Lantz said. “‘When it's slurred,’ they said, ‘it sounds too much like Miss Sex.’ I explained the name was only temporary. That 19,000 Universal exhibitors are having a contest to name the lady, with a $100 War Bond for the winner. Thousands of names are pouring in, like Una Versal and Lana Lantz. We haven’t found the right one yet. The censors said, ‘Okay. Have your little contest. But hurry it up before all the little kiddies are slurring Miss X.’ ”
Animal Animators
Until he introduced Miss X on the screen recently, Walt Lantz had concentrated on animals like Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda and Oswald the Rabbit. “It was funny,” he said. “My animators had been drawing animals so long that when we dreamed up Miss X, they discovered they’d lost their touch for humans, and had to go back to art school to brush up on anatomy.”
Lantz is the dean of Hollywood’s cartoon producers. Started out drawing animated cartoons way back in 1916 while working as office boy in the art department of a New York newspaper. Except for a brief fling as a gag man for Mack Sennett, he’s been in the cartoon business all his life.
He says film cartoon animation is getting better all the time but that perfection still hasn't been reached.
“Cartoons won’t be perfect,” he said, “until animators become better actors. Sure, they know how to draw. But to be a good animator, you have to be a good actor—to inject your dramatic ability into the character you're drawing.”
He says if actors like Spencer Tracy or Cary Grant could draw, they’d be the greatest animators in the business. “Some day,” he said, “I’m going to start a dramatic school for animators.”
Creating Characters
How does Walt Lantz get ideas for his characters? Well, take Woody Woodpecker. Lantz has a cabin up at Lake Sherwood. One Saturday afternoon he was trying to sleep and there was a big racket on the roof. He climbed up and discovered some woodpeckers were stuffing acorns under the tar paper shingles. A forest ranger came along and explained the woodpeckers left the acorns under the shingles until they got wormy and then came back and ate the worms. Lantz decided if woodpeckers were that smart, he'd star one of them in a cartoon series.
“It cost me $120 for a new roof,” he said, “but the idea was worth it.”
This, of course, came as a great surprise to us. We figured that in Hollywood even woodpeckers had agents.

The tale still misses the key component. Hardaway, Lantz’s new writer, had written basically the same character as a duck and a rabbit at Warners. When he changed studios, he brought the character with him. It’s conceivable Lantz’s “ranger-woodpecker” story happened and it inspired him to ask Hardaway to come up with a character, one Hardaway had ready-made for production. It’s more conceivable Lantz hired Hardaway to duplicate the success Warners was having with its wacky cartoons and told him to copy what he did over there.

Woody suffered a decline starting in the ‘50s and his cartoons got downright pointless by the time the Lantz studio closed in 1972. But I really like the earliest, goofy Woody design and the woodpecker never sounded better than when Blanc voiced him.

Note: This post has been amended to reflect information that Bernice Hansen’s name was really Berneice Hansell.

Friday 21 October 2011

Johnny Johnsen’s a Riot

Anyone who’s seen the panorama opening of ‘Of Fox and Hounds’ (1940) or the suburban houses and cityscape of ‘King Sized Canary’ (1947) is acquainted with the work of background artist John Didrik Johnsen.

Johnny Johnsen arrived at the Leon Schlesinger cartoon studio some time in the late ‘30s and worked alongside Tex Avery. I’d love to know if Johnny was responsible for the unique coloured-pencil backgrounds in Avery’s ‘Little Red Walking Hood’ (1937). Avery left for MGM, and Johnsen soon joined him there (he remained briefly with the unit in 1942 when Bob Clampett took it over, as his draft card to the right attests). Johnny retired in the early 1950s. It was only later in life his name started appearing on cartoon credits and, certainly, never at Warners, where Avery said he was among the first to use watercolours in backgrounds.

While Johnny’s name wasn’t splashed on the screen, it did appear in the papers. And not for a reason you’d suspect.

Johnsen was born in Denver on July 23, 1885. His parents were Didrik and Karen A. Johnsen who arrived in the U.S. from Norway in 1893. His older and younger sisters were both born in Norway, so it’s a matter of speculation for now about why he was born in the U.S. His father was a blacksmith. The family was in Los Angeles by 1909, where Johnny was employed as an artist on the Los Angeles Express. He later had an office where he worked as a commercial artist before being hired at Warners.

But Johnny’s infamous publicity came during a riot outside the Warner Bros. studio on October 5, 1945. He wasn’t at Warner Bros. at the time, nor did the riot involve the cartoon studio. The Los Angeles Times gave it front page play the next day, and explained:

Interunion enmities, kindled seven months ago by a strike over control of 77 set decorators, yesterday flared into a full-fledged riot at the gates of Warner Bros. studio in which participants were knifed, clubbed and gassed before police reserves from three cities and the county could restore order.

Johnsen was there and among the people arrested. Tom Sito’s interesting book ‘Drawing the Line,’ outlining the history of trade unionism in animation, goes into detail. You can read the chapter about it on-line HERE. The case went to court on May 14, 1946 and the Times reported on it the following day:

Sorrell and Seven Aides Fined in Strike Riot Case
A fine of $50, or five days in jail, was meted out yesterday to Herbert K. Sorrell, Anthony V. Schiavone and six others, all of whom were the first group of persons arrested in connection with the film strike rioting at Warner Bros. last October.
They were found guilty by a jury of refusing to disperse when ordered. Schiavone was found guilty also of disturbing the peace and he drew a $25 fine, or two days in jail, on this account. The other six penalized are Charles R. Barker, Joseph R. Daniels, John D. Henderson, Howard R. Howe, John D. Johnsen and Richard L. Morley.
Sorrell, film strike leader, was not in court. He was said to be in the Washington (DC) AFL headquarters regarding Hollywood studio union matters. The maximum penalty for failure to disperse is $500 fine and six months in jail. The maximum for disturbing the peace is $200 fine plus three months in jail.
Judge Raymond L. Reid of Burbank Police Court, where the eight were tried, said in sentencing the accused that he had taken into consideration the fact that they had nearly all been in court for about a month because of their trial.
Atty. William B. Esterman requested and received a 48-hour stay of execution and announced that he will appeal the case. [Those charged] with the rioting are to go before Judge Reid for the fixing of dates to begin trial.

The Times reported on May 22 they paid their fines and the appeal didn’t go ahead.

Even more interesting than Johnsen’s name on the list is Richard Morley’s. I’m assuming it’s the same Richard Morley who was responsible for backgrounds in a handful of Chuck Jones’ cartoons like ‘A Pest in the House’ (1947). Even less is known about his career in animation, partly because a number of the Jones unit’s cartoons from that period became Blue Ribbon re-releases with no credits. Morley was involved later involved with Primrose Productions, and was the first secretary of the Alliance of Television Film Producers in 1951. In the USC archival photo above, Morley is on the far left while Johnsen is the grey-haired chap, third from right. He was a few months shy of 60.

Johnny was also an inventor. He filed a patent on July 25, 1916 for producing colour printing plates. If you want to see the intricacies, you can go HERE.

He died in Los Angeles on February 7, 1974, age 88

Thursday 20 October 2011

Name That Cartoon

If things had stayed the way Tex Avery originally planned, you would have been able to see cartoons of his called ‘Smellbound’ and ‘Bums Away.’ But along the way their names got changed to ‘Little ‘Tinker’ and ‘Henpecked Hoboes.’

Avery’s cartoons weren’t the only ones at MGM with titles that morphed. Some good examples can be found in Boxoffice magazine of October 23, 1943. It contained a story about coming releases by Metro’s cartoon studio and Gordon Hollingshead’s live-action shorts division at Warner’s. I’ve omitted the latter.

Studios Going All-Out On the Popular Shorts
Hollywood—It may have been coincidence, but the trend-seekers could easily pounce on the situation as being indicative that studios are concentrating increasing attention on short subjects—perhaps with a hopeful eye cast toward the return of single-feature programs. In any event, from two film foundries on one and the same day came reports of all-out activities on the shorts front.
With 20 subjects in various stages of production, Metro entered the most intensive schedule in the history of its cartoon studio. Included in the group, under the producer guidance of Fred Quimby, were 16 one-reelers comprising the entire output for 1943-44. The additional four films represent the remaining releases on the current program.
The Tom and Jerry characters, directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, will be starred in “Baby Puss,” “Zoot Cat,” “Million Dollar Cat,” “Bodyguard,” “Puttin’ on the Dog,” “Kitty Foiled,” “Mouse Comes to Dinner” and “Tee for Two.”
In a special slapstick series, directed by Tex Avery, are “Screwball Baseball,” “Nuts in May,” “Little Heel-watha,” “The Shooting of Dan McGoo,” “Screwy Truant,” “House of Tomorrow” and “Screwball Squirrel,” introducing the new pen-and-ink star, Squirrely Squirrel. [sic]
The balance of the product, now in animation or in the process of photographing, are “Strange Innertube,” “Worst Aid,” “Bear Raid Warden,” “Bedtime for Barney” and “Some Skunk.”

The last paragraph lists the cartoons under the direction of George Gordon, who held sway over the now-it’s-here-now-it’s-not third unit at MGM. It was originally the Rudy Ising and Gordon began to take it over in July 1942. It’s quite possible he had left MGM for John Sutherland when this story was written, considering his name isn’t mentioned it it, and someone else oversaw the finishing of his cartoons. These were the last cartoons made by the unit before it shut down. Its animators were Arnold Gillespie, Mike Lah, Ed Barge and Jack Carr.

The cartoons were released almost in the order listed above, and not all of them made it into the 1943-44 season (which, like radio and later television, began in September). And not all of them ended up with a name on the screen that’s mentioned above. Here’s the list in order of release (dates from ‘Of Mice and Magic’ by Leonard Maltin), with what I suspect are their final names:

Hanna-Barbera unit
Baby Puss – December 25, 1943
Zoot Cat – February 26, 1944
Million Dollar Cat – May 6, 1944
Bodyguard – July 22, 1944 (released as ‘The Bodyguard’)
Puttin’ on the Dog – October 28, 1944
Kitty Foiled – (likely ‘Mouse Trouble,’ December 23, 1944)
Mouse Comes to Dinner – May 5, 1945 (released as ‘The Mouse Comes to Dinner’)
Tee for Two – July 21, 1945

Tex Avery unit
Screwball Baseball – April 22, 1944 (released as ‘Batty Baseball’)
Nuts in May – (likely ‘Happy Go Nutty’, June 24, 1944)
Little Heel-watha – October 21, 1944
The Shooting of Dan McGoo – March 3, 1945
Screwy Truant – January 13, 1945
House of Tomorrow – rejected, but revived and released in 1949.
Screwball Squirrel – April 1, 1944

George Gordon unit
Strange Innertube – January 22, 1944 (released as ‘Innertube Antics’)
Worst Aid – (likely ‘The Tree Surgeon’, June 5, 1944)
Bear Raid Warden – September 9, 1944
Bedtime for Barney – (likely ‘Barney Bear’s Polar Pest’, December 30, 1944)
Some Skunk (likely ‘The Unwelcome Guest’, February 17, 1945)

Gordon never received a director’s credit on any of the five cartoons. His unit was disbanded after ‘The Unwelcome Guest’, though Fred Quimby had looked to continue it and eventually revived it after the war with Lah and Preston Blair co-directing.

Only one other cartoon was put into production before the final one on the list—Avery’s ‘Jerky Turkey’, released April 7, 1945. Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Mouse in Manhattan’ was released before ‘Tee for Two’ but put into production later, which explains its absence from the list.

This 1943 story from Boxoffice gives me a chance to mention Gasmask Ted’s ‘Cartoons of 1943’ blog. Ted’s taken on a fabulous, and time-consuming, project. He watched, and commented on, all animated cartoons released in 1939 and has been doing the same thing with 1943, with pictures, commentary and a production summary. He’s also delved into Boxoffice editions from that year to find little nuggets of information about the cartoons and their studios. Give him a read if you haven’t dropped by.