Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Bick and Some Chicks

Frank Tashlin doesn’t have anyone cradling large milk bottles against their chest like he did with Jayne Mansfield in ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ but you don’t have to look far to find a sexual subtext going on in his cartoon ‘Swooner Crooner.’ Well, maybe it’s more aptly deemed a sexual sub-subtext because the cartoon’s all about female fertility (though no offspring result). Hens that were laying eggs for Porky suddenly stop when a Frank Sinatra rooster shows up. The early ‘40s stereotype of Sinatra gets played up—frail and not terribly manly. You know, someone who wouldn’t induce fertility in women.

Then along comes the Bing Crosby rooster, who casually arouses the hens into renewing their fertility and pumping out endless stacks of eggs. The Hens Can’t Help It. And who better than the Ol’ Groaner? His wife Dixie Lee had four sons by the time this cartoon was released in 1944.

(You’ll notice I’ve avoided any comment about the use of the word “lay”)

We get a bra and panties joke.

And then there’s the famous “between-the-legs” shot as the camera pulls back to demonstrate another of Tashlin’s fixations—camera angles.

In the finale, the crooner roosters prove to be so hyper-masculine when combined, they even make men (or, rather, a male pig) fertile like a female chicken.

Nice use of coloured filters in the shot. Presumably, Tashlin handled his own layouts. Historian Graham Webb says Dick Thomas did the backgrounds.

Of course, Sinatra and Crosby don’t supply their stand-ins’ singing voices. Tashlin didn’t have to look far to find his Crosby. He used Dick Bickenbach, who was animating for Friz Freleng unit but ended up in the Tashlin unit. Bick toddled off to MGM in 1946 to replace Harvey Eisenberg doing layouts for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, then stuck with the pair when they opened their own studio.

Bick sang for his wife’s mixed fraternal group and in a church choir—he came from a fairly religious background—but he was also a vocalist on radio before he got into the animation industry. The newspaper back home in Freeport, Illinois published this story on January 12, 1926:
Richard Bickenbach, son of Fred Bickenbach, formerly of Freeport and now a resident of California, will be on the air tonight and doubtless many of his friends in this city will listen in. The young man is to broadcast several songs from station KTBI, Los Angeles, between 11 and 12 o’clock, Freeport time, tonight. He is said to have an excellent voice and has been heard over the radio several times in the past few months.
Bick was born August 9, 1907, so he was 18 at the time. He lent his Crosby-esque tones to several other cartoons, if the voice experts are correct. He died June 28, 1994. You can read more about him here.


  1. I've never considered the 'Fertility' related themes present in this cartoon. Very disturbing.

    George Cannatta was a guest animator on this cartoon, but nobody seems to care, which depresses me.

  2. Zartok: *I* cared, and I've never known what occassioned Mr. Cannatta-mostly an east coast animator-to do work on this one. Was he moonlighting from Disney (which Bob Clampett alledged that Art Babbitt and others did)? Production manager John Burton was proud of his collection of filters and I'll propose he suggested this to Tashlin for the night scene (who would have been most receptive to it). I'm pretty sure Thomas was Tashlin's regular background man (at least on the color ones), which is how he came associated with McKimson, as he took over Tahlin's unit.

  3. This cartoon's also notable as the one that gave der Bingle the best treatment of all his Warners 'appearances'. Friz & crew disdainfully ranked him over the coals in the 1930s, to the point Crosby's attorneys reported threatened legal action against Leon for the "Bingo Crosbyana" effort (Bing should just be happy he was a part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and not Freleng's other bete noir, the St. Louis Cardinals, or lord knows how bad the treatment would have been). Avery would later jab him for hid poor ability to raise winning race horses for Santa Anita, and Art Davis made him something of a has-been compared to Frankie, and the only bird viewers would ever see Sylvester successfully catch and eat (because there's nothing like vitamins).

  4. Yowp:
    I wonder who did Frankie's singing voice and the auditioning ones..Of course besides Porky, I think it's Mel Blanc himself as the hens, and possibly the auditioning chickens..

    Zartok-35 and FrizandI:
    George Canatta is known from his "Ed Graham Productions" work, notably on "Linus the Lionhearted",1964-69, and on the few on YouTube also by Mr.Graham--"Dan Mr.Grew" and "Funny is Funny".Had no idea he worked on this short.

    And J.Lee:
    GUESS who gave Bing Crosby a big role in the former's first animated television special? FRIZ FRELENG: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" with Mary Frances Crosby as Goldie!!!!! [DePatie-Freleng with Sherman Bros. and costarring BIng's wife Kathryn and son Nathaniel, and also Paul Winchell and Avery Schreiber].I put it on my own blog,
    [Sorry if my link doesn't work.]
    Let's not forget Freleng's "Let it be Me" where the hick bird trounces "Bing". As for vitamins [Art Davis's 1947 short "Catch as Cats Can"] well, Bing shoulda taken that a compliment..I meanm, Frankie was all skin'bones, Bing is a nice and plump parrot, and we KNOW where more vitamins came from.