Saturday 31 March 2012

The Life of an Inker

The Walt Disney studio seems to have been as adept at publicity as making cartoons. Granted, the studio was continuously doing something new—and therefore, easily sellable to reporters—in the ‘30s and ‘40s. But even when it didn’t, Disney’s PR people got the studio’s name—and, by extension, his—into the press.

Other studios would have struggled to get their top-line employees a line in print. Disney managed to get a wire service to profile his ink-and-paint department in another of those how-cartoons-are-made pieces that still fascinate anyone with an interest in cartoons.

This story is from 1946. The cartoon in question is most certainly “Rescue Dog,” released March 21, 1947. It’s interesting to note that this story has what must have been mandatory for any wire story of the ‘40s and ’50s dealing with women—a description of their appearance. Of course, times are far more enlightened now. Today, you can go to any entertainment news web site where touched-up photos of female stars with artificial enhancements are unavoidable.

One Inker Has A Doggone Tough Time Putting Point On Pluto’s Tail
Associated Press Movie Writer
HOLLYWOOD, May 24—Cried my guide in a tone of pride: “It’s like a college campus.”
And so it was: a neat, two-story building ... blue air-conditioned corridors with pretty, personable girls flitting about ... and nearly 200 of them at desks beside big windows, doing the tedious, exacting, non-creative part of bringing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to life.
Joan Anderson, for instance, is a livestock broker’s 20-year-old daughter. This former U. C. L. A. commercial art student has been a Walt Disney studio inker for two months. She’s small, shapely, black haired and freckled and has a lively personality.
Disney puts a pleasing personality on a par with artistic ability in hiring employees, my guide said.
Joan explained her work. This pencil sketch here on her desk—a silly-faced seal sitting on ice on his hind flippers—had been drawn by an animator.
Over it she placed a sheet celluloid (called in shop talk a “cell”) measuring about 12x14 inches. On the cell, wearing cut-away a glove to prevent hand marks, she copied the sketch with a pen and India ink.
For Joan, the most difficult detail she has encountered is the dog Pluto’s tail, a curving, tapering line that ends in a point.
The cells go upstairs to the painters, another battery of attractive girls who paint in the water colors (mixed in a laboratory in the same building by girls with expert eyes for pigments), as directed by little notes on the animators’ sketches.
A painter who makes a mistake can rub it out and start over. That’s partly why painting is considered a little easier than inking.
The cells are photographed on 35-mm. film. A short like Donald Duck needs about 12,000 cells. A feature like “Snow White” or the new “Make Mine Music” requires some 120,000.
It’s tedious, all right, but Joan likes the work. She said: “People say: ‘Where do you work?’ and you say: ‘Disney’s,’ and they say: ‘Oh’—like you're a big wheel. Mother thinks I’m a real artist.”

The story contains evidence the public bought into the Disney hype. Even the inker’s mother thinks her daughter is an artist because she’s at DISNEY. But the movie itself, despite some attractive artwork, is ordinary. It’s Pluto versus yet another pesky smaller creature that ends in yet another “Aw, isn’t-that-sweet?” moment. But Disney sentimentality must have been liked by someone. The studio still trades off on it today.

Friday 30 March 2012

Cameo Appearance

Staff and even management at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio sometimes found themselves plopped into animated shorts. Some were characters driving the plot like in ‘Wackiki Wabbit’ (1943). Some merely made quick appearances, like the Tex Avery unit in ‘Page Miss Glory’ (1936).

Animator Virgil Ross appears to have graced ‘Ain’t She Tweet’ with a cameo shot. Most character designs at Warners about this time feature eyes with whites and pupils and look fairly cartoony. But there’s one character who’s different in this 1952 release: a mailman with beady eyes that looks an awful lot like Virgil.

Layout man Hawley Pratt had a moustache but his face was much wider. Animator Greg Duffell believes it’s Pratt, and as he knew Virgil (I don’t recall if he met Hawley), my guess could be quite wrong. At any rate, it wasn’t Art Davis, as he was bald. It certainly doesn’t look like Manny Perez or Ken Champin, who also worked on this cartoon.

Friz Freleng’s cartoons were known for in-jokes on signs, generally painted by Paul Julian. When Julian left for UPA, Irv Wyner took over doing the backgrounds for Freleng’s unit. He’s on a sign in this one.

Thursday 29 March 2012


Tex Avery called up some standard gags for Spike time and time again in his later MGM cartoons—being burned to a crisp, an explosion creating a hole in his body, the coy blush after his butt’s blasted (and revealed) .

And then there’s the “timber” gag, the one where Spike chops down a huge tree but it lands on him in between syllables of the warning “Timber!” It’s always accompanied by a little four-drawing stomping run, shot on ones. This version’s from ‘Daredevil Droopy’ (1951).

And then the fall.

The same animation was used in each of the cartoons with the gag, “Wags to Riches” and “Cock-a-Doodle Dog” being two of them. Some times, the drawings were reversed so the run was left to right in the scene. The animation was by Mike Lah (and whoever assisted him) and the yell unmistakeably belongs to Billy Bletcher.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Parker Fennelly

Characters need the right setting to connect with the audience. If it weren’t true, every TV spin-off would be a success.

Parker Fennelly was an actor, not a character, but he was known for playing the same type for decades—the rural New England philosopher. But he needed the right setting and the right characters around him. He succeeded on his own show with Arthur Allen in the mid-’30s, he succeeded a decade later with Fred Allen, he even succeeded on the Pepperidge Farm commercials of the ‘60s. But he didn’t succeed all the time.

Fennelly was handed a starring role in a summer replacement show sponsored by Auto-Lite in 1947. He played the home-spun role everyone was accustomed to hearing weekly in Allen’s Alley. Agency Ruthrauff and Ryan had high hopes for the show, realising a hit could put the show on the fall schedule. But the long-forgotten “Lawyer Tucker” is proof that entertainment requires the right mix of elements in place. After all, an outhouse will work just fine in the living room, but you wouldn’t put one there (that’s about the best cracker barrel philosophy I can cough up for now).

Here’s a review of the show from June 18, 1947, six days after the first episode.

Just One Laugh to A Carload
As Lawyer Tucker in the new program of that name (CBS 9 p.m. Thursdays), Parker Fennelly is a bit of Ephraim Tutt, a bit of Calvin Coolidge and quite a lot of Titus Moody, the character he normally plays on the Fred Allen show. He is, in short, cynical, shrewd, kind hearted in a pickle-pussed way, a defender of the oppressed, and a deflator of politicians. And through it all, he is rustic as all tarnation, a cuss word of such mild voltage that it’s allowed on the air.
“Being at a bar of justice is like bein’ at any bar,” says Lawyer Tucker. “Sometimes what you’re handed is mixed wrong. Gets ya into trouble. Ya know there’s some folks that looks down their noses a a city the size of this. An’ lookin’ down his nose a feller’s not apt to see much except maybe a wart or a freckle.”
That is a fair sample both of the prose style Lawyer Tucker employs and the sentiments he enjoys expressing.
I’m afraid the lawyer just isn’t as shrewd as the authors seem to think he is or nearly as witty as Titus Moody, who used to have trouble sleeping, because, he had short eyelids.
Around Lawyer Tucker are fathered a paste-up of small town types, most of them recognizable. Tucker has partner named Biggers who is a dope or, to be more specific, a Harvard man. Biggers is meek, confused and a little pompous.
Then there's Tucker’s sister Sairie, spinsterish, respectable and smelling faintly of lavender. Also around is a nonegarian with as irritating a wheeze as I’ve heard in some time, and a villain named Whateley who got what was coming to him just as the curtain fell.
The plot of the first episode was a slow-moving, almost non-moving, business about Tucker’s retirement from the law, a retirement which lasts only about 20 minutes. Through it all Fennelly talks that clipped, twangy American he does so well on the Allen show. (“Don’t lose your temper, Dan’l.” “Ain’t lost it. Just found it.”) But somehow it isn’t very funny. The show wallowed rather uncertainly between characters, situation and gag comedy without ever quite making up its mind.
There’s no reason why the adventures of a small town lawyer shouldn’t make good comedy, particularly when he’s played by as skilled an actor as Parker Fennelly.
But the writers will have to pump a little more life, a lot more comedy, and much more action into the script before this hits the mark. Well, this was only the first script and maybe next time they will.
Incidentally, the show’s sponsor has that foghorn voice in there advising you to switch to its product, but they appear to have cut down the number of times it’s inflicted on the listeners. It only appeared six times in this script, which is about five too many.

“Lawyer Tucker” signed off September 4, 1947. Soon, radio was replaced by “furniture that talked,” as Titus Moody put it, but Moody was nowhere to be seen on television.
Someone who sounded an awful lot like him popped up on the tube in the 1960s as an unnamed spokes-New Englander hawking frozen baked goods. Then, Fennelly got a supporting role on a TV series.

Somehow, it seems appropriate that a man who had played a casual, rural New Englander would team up with a man whose most famous role was a casual, rural North Carolinean. So it was that Fennelly was cast in Andy Griffith’s “Headmaster.” Griffith may have been a real-life high school music teacher before TV immortality as the sheriff of Mayberry, but audiences didn’t accept him in his new role. The show flopped after 14 episodes. But it gave Fennelly, the actor, to do some out-of-character musing of his own in this newspaper feature of October 13, 1970.

Aging Actor Yearns For Broadway
Inter-Press Feature Syndicate
At age 78, he’s a regular on the CBS-TV situation comedy series “Headmaster” and he’s been doing commercials regularly for 16 years, but Parker Fennelly’s ambitions do not stop there.
“What I’d really love to do is get back on Broadway,” he said. “The trouble is, nobody asks me. They all think I’m dead. But I’m not. I just haven’t done a show on Broadway since I was in a revival of ‘Carousel’ at the New York City Center. The person I marvel at and secretly envy is Margaret Hamilton. She’s always working and she’s no child.”
Fennelly, who is quite a few years older than Miss Hamilton, doesn’t seem to realize that as far as she's concerned, he’s probably working all the time. The two veteran performers, however, have had to face the same sort of career problems. Miss Hamilton, for all the things she’s done over the past 30 years, is still thought of as the Wicked Witch of “The Wizard Of Oz.” Fennelly, for all he’s done, is best remembered as Titus Moody of the Fred Allen radio show.
“For that matter,” he said, “even the old ‘Snow Village Sketches’ haven’t been forgotten.
That show is still remembered by ‘old, old people,’ and every once in a while someone stumbles across it and tries to turn it into a TV series. Ray Goulding, of Bob and Ray, called me a while back and said he was interested in becoming a producer and he wanted to do the series on TV. I put him in touch with the widow of the man who wrote the radio series, but nothing ever came of it.”
He doesn’t say it deprecatingly, but if you listen closely, you’ll find him referring to the episodes of “Headmaster” as “sketches.” This may possibly derive from his memories of “Snow Village Sketches.” But if you think about it, much as the people producing TV series episodes may dislike the term, it is possibly the most apt description of these half-hour crumbs of life — rarely, if ever, substantial enough to be considered even a slice.
“I play ‘Mr. Purdy’,” said Fennelly of “Headmaster,” “sort of a philosophical and humorous caretaker of a private school in some unidentified community which looks suspiciously like a California suburb.
“Mr. Purdy is really a cameo character, I haven’t got nearly as much to do as Andy Griffith (the series star) or Jerry Van Dyke. But it’s a thankful part with a lot of good small scenes.”
Fennelly started acting in the theater in 1916 and he’s done movies and TV, but he is remembered fondly for his characterization of Moody, one of Fred Allen’s favorite residents of “Allen’s Alley,” the man who immortalized the catch phrase “Howdy, Bub.”
“I’ve never retired,” he said. “I don’t want to retire and I don’t intend to retire.
“I don’t really work all that much — a movie once in a while, about 30 commercials a year for Pepperidge Farm bread and now ‘Headmaster.’
Unknown to most people is Parker Fennelly, playwright. He was first represented on Broadway by “Fulton of Oak Falls,” which starred George M. Cohan and opened in New York in 1937 after a long road tour.
“I finished a play a couple of years ago,” he said. “I set it in New England, but it was based on one of the longest and most famous cases in English legal history, ‘The Tichbourne Case.’ The play hasn’t been produced yet.”
He relocated his play from London to a town in New England, because he knows that area best
“After all,” he said, “it doesn’t matter what name you give him, I've been playing the same character for eons. I guess it’s a combination of the fact that I come from a small town and I have the Down East accent. And when it comes to writing, people from small towns write about people from small towns a lot better than people from big cities do.”
If “Headmaster” and his commercials aren’t enough and you want to catch Fennelly in his patented role, his last movie, which stars Don Knotts, is scheduled for release this fall.
“It’s called ‘How To Frame A Fig’,” he said. “It’s not a bad little movie, but isn’t that a terrible title? I sure wish they’d change it.”

Fennelly lived to a ripe old 96. He died in 1988. And if you hunt around the internet, you can still enjoy him in Allen’s Alley. Because, outside of rural Maine, that was the best place for him to be.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Happy Joe Lucky

The 1950s were a great time for animated TV commercials. Everyone seemed to use cartoons to get their message across with stylised characters. Former studio animators opened their own commercial operations in Los Angeles—Ray Patin, Playhouse Pictures, Quartet, Swift-Chaplin, Raphael Wolf, TV Spots, Animation Inc., Cascade. Even Disney and MGM got into the commercial business.

Some of the animated spokes-cartoons became fairly well known. Others flourished briefly and vanished when someone at an agency came up with the next Great Advertising Idea. One that seems to have enjoyed only a brief career was Happy Joe Lucky.

Joe appeared in campaigns for Lucky Strike cigarettes through agency Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborne, located along New York’s Madison Avenue. I haven’t been able to finish researching where Joe’s animated adventures were created, but one lively little spot that ran on the Jack Benny show at the end of 1956 sure reminds me of the work of Ed Love, the MGM and Lantz veteran who did commercial work in the ‘50s. I wish the drawings were bigger and the quality of the digitised kinescope better, but you may be able to get an indication of what looks like typical ‘50s character design.

The best spot Joe ever appeared on was a combination of live action with Gisele MacKenzie singing at the piano. At the time, it was compared favourably with the Gene Kelly dance sequences with various animated characters crafted at MGM. Gisele had been taken under the wing of Jack Benny, whose sponsor was Lucky Strikes. Soon Gisele “coincidentally” landed on ‘Your Hit Parade,’ sponsored by—guess who?

Joe and Gisele were even featured together in a Sunday newspaper comic which, of course, was paid advertising.

Joe didn’t have the longevity of a Tony the Tiger. He seems to have pitched the fun side of cigarettes for a few years in the mid-‘50s before disappearing. But, if nothing else, he provided some gainful employment to some cartoonists.

Monday 26 March 2012

Beep, Beep Exit

Back when I was a cartoon-loving kid, the best time to get something to snack on during Saturday mornings was when the Roadrunner cartoons came on. I knew what was going to happen. The Coyote would strap some contraption to himself, it would fail, he’d stare at the audience, and disappear at the bottom of a cliff. If you’ve seen one...

It didn’t help that neither of the characters said anything funny. So I wasn’t a big Roadrunner fan.

(As a digression, the one I liked the most was the catapult one, “To Beep or Not to Beep,” because I didn’t know what was going to happen with the catapult).

However, that won’t stop me from posting things I’ve found interesting in some of Chuck Jones’ Roadrunner shorts. Like the Coyote’s body being controlled by jet skates in “Beep, Beep” (1951).

Here’s Wile E. being drawn out of camera range by the skates. The drawings are on ones. You’ve got to like the way Wile E. is stretched beyond recognition.

And here’s one from round two.

Mike Maltese uses a writing trick found in a couple of other Roadrunners. A booby-trap doesn’t work. The cartoon quickly moves on to the next gag and carries on. Wile E. then ends up in the forgotten booby-trap. Jones telegraphs the gag in this cartoon but perhaps he’s trying to build anticipation as we see the returned booby-trap for a little too long before it springs.

Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan, Phil Monroe and Ben Washam are the animators. I suspect Abe Levitow was assisting.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Cooking With Phil Harris

The image Phil Harris projected on the Jack Benny Show, and which followed him throughout his career, was the relaxed, boozy, vain guy who didn’t let something like illiteracy or lack of formal musical training bother him. You couldn’t help but like Phil Harris.

Unlike Benny and almost everyone else who was big in network radio comedy or comedy/variety, Harris didn’t make the jump to television. He insisted in the ‘50s the right vehicle didn’t come along but, frankly, the reason was he didn’t need to work. He explains a bit of that here in a 1961 Associated Press feature story. Phil and Alice Faye virtually retired from show biz at the end of their radio career and, every couple of years, reporters would trek out to Palm Springs to see how he was doing.

Phil Harris, who rarely works anymore, spends his time cooking
AP Movie-TV Writer
HOLLYWOOD, May 12 — (AP) — This may shock the boys at the corner saloon, but Phil Harris spends more time cooking nowadays than he does drinking.
It used to be that when Phil felt sad, his tears were 86 proof. No more. Of course, he never did as much drinking as Jack Benny made out. If he had, his liver would be in a bottle at the Harvard Medical School.
The one-time bandleader now makes only occasional entertainment appearances, hence has plenty of time for the kitchen.
It’s quite a sight to see Phil with a market basket picking out choice vegetables at the Farmers Market. It’s even more astounding to see him hovering over the stove at his Palm Springs home, whipping up a special dinner.
“I cook every dinner at home,” boasts Phil. “And I feel like I’m in heaven in that kitchen.”
Phil is so ardent an amateur chef that his kitchen is restaurant equipped.
He ribs his wife, ex-actress Alice Faye, as to the inspiration for his love of cooking.
“I either had to learn how to cook or starve to death,” he says.
“I didn't used to let Alice in the kitchen, but I’ve taught her how to fix salads. She’s a pretty good salad maker now.”
PROBABLY no one in show business lives the good life Phil does. He and Alice live in a beautiful home facing the Thunderbird Country Club golf course. When he's not in the kitchen, he's out on the course playing with Bing Crosby.
Sometimes for variation Phil and Bing go hunting or fishing. Bing is a guy who knows how to live, too, but he has to work harder and oftener than Phil.
How does Phil—or anyone else—get this life of paradise?
“Well,” he says, “when Alice was a big star, I told her always to save her money—and she did.”
Actually, Phil doesn’t need Alice’s bank account. He is the only grownup show business personality who believes in Santa Claus—and Santa looks exactly like NBC’s Gen. David Sarnoff.
Back in the days when radio was big, Jack Benny, Amos & Andy and some other stars made a famous exodus from NBC to CBS.
Phil had been a mainstay of the Benny radio show for many years. Then NBC gave him his own show, co-starring Phil and Alice. It was a top-rated radio show for a long time.
“I felt grateful to NBC,” Phil recalls “so I didn’t make the big switch. Gen. Sarnoff was grateful too, so he gave me a long-term contract.”
The contract, similar to the TV deal later given Milton Berle, was one that paid Phil whether he worked or not. It still has two years to run.
Some sources say that Harris gets $100,000 a year. The network never came up with a TV series for Phil, but occasionally uses him on special productions, such as the Bob Hope show.
He also does a month at Las Vegas each year.
NOW THAT HIS lucrative contract with NBC is running out, Phil and Alice are preparing a new TV series starring themselves.
“It’s not going to be one of these situation things where Alice is in the kitchen all the time. The air is filled with those.” Besides, she seldom is allowed in the kitchen at home—she wouldn't know how to act.”
Harris’ cooking must be pretty good because Crosby, who can afford to eat in restaurants, is a steady customer.
And Benny never turns down one of Phil’s invitations.
“Jack never says much about the food but he loves that price,” says Phil.
What's the secret of good cooking?
“A good cook starts his meal early in the morning by shopping personally for the meats and vegetables. All great chefs do their own shopping. Then take time, loving time with your dishes.
“About the only drinking I do nowadays is to sip a tea while I’m stirring the soup. Man, it’s real living. It’s the greatest relaxation in the world to create a meal.”
BUT THERE are hazards. When an AP photographer took pictures of Harris in his Palm Springs kitchen, he had just come back from a visit to his doctor. The photographer quoted Phil:
“That guy must be nuts,” he said. “How can anyone as relaxed as I have an ulcer?”
Maybe his own cooking doesn't agree with him.

Incidentally, Phil wasn’t the only ex-radio or TV star of the day who didn’t have to work for a while. We’ll explore a few others from 50 years ago in a future post.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Gerald McNotDisney

For those of us who grew up with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and a host of other cartoons where characters mangled and belittled other characters in impossible ways, it’s hard to stomach the undisguised disdain they were held in by the animators at UPA. But perhaps it’s understandable.

Television and time changed things for cartoons. Today, Warners, Fleischer/Famous and MGM shorts are loved by adults the world over who saw them on TV as kids. Before television, they were considered family filler until the feature came on in the movie house, appealing generally to children (hence, special screenings of “Cartoon Carnivals” for kids at theatres).

Animators thought they were better than that. UPA gave them an opportunity to say so by creating cartoons that didn’t have the negative connotations they (and the audience) associated with children’s programming—animals (albeit behaving like humans) based on Disney designs, and endless assault and battery.

Their idealism—and air of superiority—can be detected in a story from the United Press about the UPA hit “Gerald McBoing Boing.” Their idealism was a purely artistic one. Not too far buried in Ted Geisel’s story is a tale of a triumph over discrimination. It’s a powerful message but, instead, all the UPAers did was chant in unison about their drawings and how they weren’t like those old-fashioned ones in those kids’ cartoons. The medium was the message. One wonders how Geisel felt about all that as his own drawing style was rejected in the process.

Here’s the story from February 22, 1951.

Hollywood’s New Hit Is Cartoon Hero
By Aline Mosby.
HOLLYWOOD (UP)—One apparent parent cinch Oscar winner among the Academy award hopefuls is an actor who was nominated for his first movie and will never be seen on the screen again.
This new thespian sprang to stardom after one seven-minute movie. He has been exalted by the press, fan mail has poured into his studio, movie theater managers are begging for more of his pictures.
But his bosses announced Thursday that Gerald McBoing-Boing has made his first, last and only movie.
Gerald, is a cartoon character who has stirred up the most fuss among animation addicts since Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs.” He’s a little boy who speaks only in sound effects such as train whistles, thundering hooves and “boing boings.”
But United Productions of America, a new live-wire cartoon outfit that created Gerald, say his debut that may win him an Oscar is also his retirement.
“When they have something good in Hollywood they always repeat and repeat,” said Robert Cannon, who directed the cartoon.
“There are so many things we’d rather do than stick to one subject. Gerald McBoing-Boing is a complete statement. We don’t want to make any sequels.”
Gerald was the brainchild of children’s book author Dr. Seuss. He sold the idea to UPA, which makes cartoons for armed forces trainees, television and Columbia Pictures in modern art style. UPA was formed by cartoonists who were “frustrated”, as one puts it, after years of drawing animals, curved lines, opaque forms, realistic details and violent action at Disney’s, Warners’ and MGM cartoon factories.
They decided to rebel, against traditional cartoon style when they created Gerald McBoing-Boing. So Gerald and his family are simple line drawing over abstract, unrealistic backgrounds.
The result was so artistic that the critics are turning handsprings, and so entertaining that the public is too.
“We made a cartoon that is frankly a drawing," Cannon explained. “You never think of Mickey Mouse as a drawing. To audiences he’s a real little character.”
Now UPA is busy on “The Oompahs”, a family of musical instruments that doesn’t own the usual faces and limbs, and “The Magic Boxing Gloves”.
Between cartoons the company’s now unfrustrated artists invite the public to view their after-hour paintings at their modernistic plant next door to Warners’.
“This shows that you can do good work in Hollywood,” UPA Artist Jules Engel says.
The McBoing-Boing cartoon showed on the re-issue program at the Iowa earlier this week. It may be returned later.

Idealism has a habit of withering away when money is concerned. Gerald McBoing-Boing did not go into retirement, despite what Bobe Cannon wanted. UPA needed cash. UPA could sell Gerald McBoing-Boing. So young Gerald found his way into several lesser theatrical cartoons and a nine-month television show which got critical acclaim but, as animation historian Leonard Maltin noted, needed Bill Scott to punch up that detestable comedy. UPA needed that, too.

It still wasn’t enough. By 1960, UPA was basically gone, with a new owner mainly interested in churning out awful television cartoons for children. Gerald McBoing-Boing had been silenced. His animators weren’t bragging now.

Friday 23 March 2012

Beep Beep Backgrounds

Bob Gribbroek’s scenic layouts in the Roadrunner cartoons of the early ‘50s weren’t as abstract as Maurice Noble’s in the later part of the decade. They certainly weren’t landscape art of New Mexico, like he painted on the side, but were representational enough to be an effective stage for the cartoons.

Here are some examples from “Beep, Beep,” released by Warners in 1951.

The best-known background drawing in this cartoon isn’t of a desert. It a video-gamish tunnel system in an underground coal mine. The Roadrunner and Coyote are different coloured dots that race through the passages.

And, being a Warners cartoon, there has to be an inside reference. Animator Ken Harris is in the soup business.

The backgrounds were expertly painted by Phil DeGuard.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Cat Concerto Expressions

“Personality animation” is one of those terms that gets batted around that doesn’t quite mean what it says. Felix the Cat had a personality, expressed through animation, but no one ever calls the action in the Felix silents “personality animation.”

So let’s set aside the term altogether for now, and look at some of the drawings one of Joe Barbera’s favourite cartoons from his MGM unit, ‘Cat Concerto.’ One of the reasons it succeeds so well—and certainly did with the Academy of Motion Pictures—is due to the personality exhibited by Tom and Jerry. Like good silent film actors, you know what they’re thinking. Here are just a few of the emotions they display in the cartoon, thanks to animator Ken Muse.

Snooty superiority


Gleeful abandon

And to counter-balance the intricate posing above, there’s a take that must be by Irv Spence.

Dogs and humans excepted, all the characters seem to have similarities in head construction. Occasionally, that posed problems. Here, Tom looks more like a giant mouse than a cat.

Only three animators are credited in this cartoon; Ed Barge is the other.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

June Foray

There might be a debate over who is the best cartoon voice actress of all time, but I’ll bet you there would be almost unanimous, universal consent over who is the most beloved.

Can it be anyone else but June Foray?

I have decided, for no particular reason other than I love her work, to declare this June Foray Day on the Tralfaz and Yowp blogs. You’ll be able to read old newspaper clippings about June on both, stories written before she was tipsy-fied by Jay Ward and Bill Scott into accepting what’s probably her most popular role as Rocket J. Squirrel in 1959.

Newspapers before 1950 mentioned June on rare occasion, generally in radio listings for a show called “Smile Time.” It was a daily, 15-minute comedy broadcast that debuted December 31, 1945 on the Mutual network and starred Steve Allen and Wendell Noble. Soon after the show started, one radio column noted (no doubt assisted by a network handout):

June Foray, star of “Smile Time”, can do most anything with her vocal chords—she has been the parrot in Spike Jones’ “Chloe”, the hiccup of Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake, and can imitate every animal sound imaginable.

Earlier in the year, one newspaper noted her role on “A Man Called Jordan” as “an exotic German spy” (Hmmm. Shades of Natasha?) and as a 13-year-old Arab boy. And, the following year, she was hired to play a pain-in-the-butt tenant of Stu Erwin in the long-forgotten “Phone Again Finnegan” on CBS radio.

Like almost everyone else in radio, June made the jump to television. Oddly enough,
Steve Allen didn’t use her on his television show; maybe it was due to the late hours. June did appear on an early Johnny Carson show (April 20, 1953) based in Los Angeles. The big-name guest was Fred Allen.

Syndicated columnist Al Morton had this cute little biography of June on August 6, 1953. The reference to little old ladies is interesting, given her later career at Warners.

One of the most surprising voices in show business belongs to a pint-sized, throaty girl who says she always wanted to be a leading lady but ended up a character.
She’s June Foray, who can deliver any one of a thousand voices, human or animal, at the drop of a cue. She’ll be exhibiting her vocal talents over ABC-TV on Saturday, Aug. 22, when “Smilin’ Ed’s Gang” makes its debut.
Her own description of her unusual talent range is “anything that walks or crawls.” It all started when June was six. Her mother thought her voice was too low and marched her off to a dramatic school to “elevate her sounds to a more ladylike pitch.” This instigated, instead, such an interest in the theater that June is still with it.
Throughout her schooling, June did summer stock. By the time she reached her early teens, she has tried every role from the town moppet to Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth—with a specialty of being very good in portraying “little old ladies.”
June has done voices for many cartoons and juvenile record albums. She was a cat in Walt Disney’s “Cinderella,” and imitated two mermaids and an old squaw in “Peter Pan.”
June, dark-eyed, size eight and four feet 11 inches tall, is an apartment dweller whose favorite companion is Katrina, a two-year-old Daschshund. June says Katrina has a fairly man-sized bark, but not “half as good as mine.”
Incidentally, one of her favorite pastimes is barking at the neighborhood dogs before she leaves home in the mornings. More than once she has had the whole canine' populace of her block in an uproar—not to mention the neighbors.

The United Press concentrated on her film work in this 1951 story.

Screams for Living
HOLLYWOOD, March 26 (U.P.)— Tiny June Foray, who screams for a living, recommended screaming today for anybody desiring a sexy voice and a slim tummy.
Miss Foray, a “voice specialty” actress, is never seen on the screen. But when the celluloid heroine lets loose a blood-curdling yell, it’s often Miss Foray on the sound track, not the star.
By now, she says, she has “a very firm diaphragm.” Her own voice isn’t husky, but she says a certain kind of screaming can make anybody’s that way.
Lauren Bacall got her boudoir voice by screaming on orders from her discoverer, Howard Hawks.
“You can get a husky voice by screaming incorrectly, with your throat,” she explained. “You strain your throat muscles, what I call ‘stroking the glottis.’
“When I scream I keep an open throat and yell from the diaphragm. That’s good exercise for the stomach.”
Miss Foray has the job of making movies “shriller than ever” because, she said, movie stars are too embarrassed to.
“When a movie actress screams, out comes a little ‘eek.’ They never let loose, so their scream has to be redubbed on the sound track,” the pretty screamer said.
“I guess movie stars are afraid of straining their voices or embarrassed. You have to be be uninhibited to scream.”
June looks like she’d never got more than a whisper out of her pert four feet 11 inches. But she’s hollered on movie sound tracks for glamour queens like Paulette Goddard, Joan Caulfield and Veronica Lake.
She’s also sneezed for Constance Collier, made whooping cough noises for a boy in “Shepherd of the Hills,” sobbed for Olivia De Havilland’s baby in “To Each His Own,” and is now doing seven different children’s voices in Walt Disney’s “Peter Pan.”
On the radio she’s an actress who screams for herself. For NBC’s “Smilin’ Ed McConnell” children’s adventure program she plays everything from a space siren to a horrible witch to a cat, sometimes all on the same program.
“I use different types of screams to register fright, surprise, anger and pleasant surprise,” she said. “The hardest was for a movie, ‘Burma Surgeon.’ I screamed for one hour and got a headache.”

June helped in the war effort in Korea. The United Press wrote about her travails in a story for newspapers of December 16, 1954, revealing how a star’s life is different than ours’.

USO Troupers Head Overseas
HOLLYWOOD — (U.P.) — Terry Moore and other stars get most of the glory when Army planes take off today and next week to overseas, but there is many an unsung heroine in the troupe.
At no pay, a loss in salary and considerable expense, singer June Foray, for example, had to do the following to get ready for the USO trek that brings Yuletide cheer to GIs far from home;
Take tetanus, typhoid, small pox, diphtheria and cholera shots; get a passport, do her Christmas shopping, mail Christmas cards, rehearse her act for two weeks with other members of the 71-performer troupe, do her regular work at Capitol Records, attend Army briefings, leave her cat at cat motel, make her costume, buy winter underwear, pay her bills, insure her fur coat, postpone work dates until she gets back in three weeks, make out a will, and get her hair bleached.
Typical of Most.
“But it’s worth it,” laughed June as she packed her suitcase before stepping on the plane en-route to Iceland, France and Germany.
“When the Army told us the boys appreciate our giving up our Christmas to entertain them, we felt kind of happy to do something good for them.”
June, a little-known singer and mimic who records cartoon voices for records and movies, is typical of most of the show people making the trip. She's a veteran of
10 years of “Tom and Jerry” movies, radio, TV and “Woody Woodpecker” records, and was asked by USO to work up a comedy-imitations act.
To Look Feminine.
The troupers get $10 a day expense money and their board and room, but, except for the union musicians, no salary. Terry, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope and other stars have received headlines for their trips to Army bases. But June and other troupers wade through snow, work two or three shows a day, travel by Jeep and get little sleep with no recognition.
“Forrest Tucker, the star of our group, won’t let us girls wear slacks,” June added. “He thinks the GIs will want us to look feminine.”
Disc Jockey Johnny Grant, another unsung hero of the USO troupe, left today on his seventh overseas trip to entertain homesick GIs at forgotten bases in the Orient.

Why did June get into voice acting in the first place? Let’s hear from her in her own words, written in the Pasadena Independent of July 9, 1959.

Girl Behind Voice Likes Her Calling
A small number of people in Hollywood earn their living in what amounts to a really offbeat fashion. I’m one of them.
I specialize in imitating all sorts of voices for TV and radio commercials, motion picture cartoons and sometimes for big-name stars whose dialogue, for some reason or other, did not record well. My voice is heard by millions of people daily and to them I’m more vocal than visual as I seldom appear before the cameras.
From time to time, I have been seen on the Jack Benny and other television shows, but principally my work is confined to doing all types of voices—from babies to witches and then some.
Why have I specialized in this field? Well, for one reason I’m rather short to play leading roles. And another is that I have developed an ability to imitate all sorts of people am in this area, there isn’t as much competition as in the straight acting field. Economically, too, it has its rewards and I’m frank to admit that money is always desirable when you earn it by delivering an effective and conscientious job.
My voice has been heard, impersonating all sorts of characters, on such cartoons as
“Woody Woodpecker,” and “Bugs Bunny.”
I have worked with the great Stan Freberg on practically all of his records and radio shows. A lot of people remember “St. George and the Dragonette” for example and, more recently, the “Best of Freberg,” album.
I’m practically a voice detached from a body, but I love my work—and its financial rewards. And another good angle is the fact that in the far distant future, I won't have to worry about my appearance—only my voice which, from all indications, is holding up well despite its constant use, professionally, that is.
I dare you to turn on your radio or TV set without hearing me.

These days, perhaps you can find her on TV constantly, but you can on video-sharing web sites with endless cartoons. Let’s end our June Foray Day post with a fan-made video of a few of June’s most famous animated roles.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

No Flies on Me

The Walter Lantz cartoons dropped a few notches in quality when the studio reopened in 1950. Character designs were simpler, the animation was less elaborate and the timing has a different feel. Still, there were worthwhile Woody Woodpecker cartoons into the mid-‘50s, but it was a case of hit or miss.

‘Puny Express’ (1951) was the first short released when the studio re-signed with Universal International and went back to work. The lack of dialogue hurts this and other cartoons around this time—Lantz wanted to release cartoons to foreign markets and words got in the way—but there are a few things I like in this one.

There’s a throw-away gag involving Buzz Buzzard’s horse, Flea Biscuit. Horse rears tend to attract flies. Flea Biscuit’s does. And he deals with it. I really like the expressions.

The animation credits go to Don Patterson, La Verne Harding and Ray Abrams. The horse design may have been by Dick Lundy; he worked on this cartoon along with writers Bugs Hardaway and Heck Allen before they were let go when the studio closed in 1948.

Monday 19 March 2012

Page Miss Glory and Mr Avery

“Page Miss Glory” is an unusual cartoon in so many ways. It starts off as the raison d’ĂȘtre of the Merrie Melodies series—to push Warner-owned songs, in this case Warren and Dubin’s “Page Miss Glory” from the 1935 feature film of the same name. How it was done is what’s unusual.

Leon Schlesinger’s cartoons were not noted for their art; some around that time are flat-out ugly with some dull stock character designs. But, for reasons we can only speculate, Schlesinger decided to make a cartoon with Art Moderne designs, brought in mystery woman Leadora Congdon to create it, then never tried anything like it again. Congdon only worked on this one cartoon. Who she was and where she came from is one of those great unanswered questions of animation; I’ve never found her name in a census report, a Los Angeles City Directory, nor a newspaper of the day.

Even more odd is the cartoon was assigned to director Tex Avery (“I think I was forced to make it,” he recalled to historian Joe Adamson). Avery was hardly the veteran on staff. Friz Freleng was the number one director at the time and Jack King had experience at animation’s Shangi-La, the Walt Disney studio. Avery had only made four cartoons before this one was released in 1936 and was noted for his gags, not his artistic temperament. But he geared up his crew of Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Sid Sutherland, Virgil Ross, Bobe Cannon and writer Tubby Millar and came up with an interesting cartoon at worst (none of them received credit but all appear in caricature near the end of the cartoon). Certainly the gags and the twist ending are what you’d expect out of Avery.

Avery isn’t known for his perspective animation, but there’s some of it in this cartoon. My favourite bit is a funnier variation on the old Harman-Ising camera-in-the-mouth routine. This one has the “camera” drink champagne.

Tuxedoed men run to and away the camera. In an enjoyable bit, an endless group of them run from elevators toward the camera, turning the picture black (I’ll bet this was a hit on a big screen in the theatre). A few seconds later, the men walk away and the picture reveals them surrounding the idealised Miss Glory.

More perspective animation as the men high-step in a ring around Miss Glory. It’s remarkable to think this same studio could only muster lame Buddy cartoons a year earlier.

Anyone familiar with Busby Berkeley’s choreography at Warners has seen his overhead shots during songs. Congdon (or Avery) imitates one in the cartoon, with the dancers going clockwise and the rings they’re on going counter-clockwise. Really a great effect.

And there are rounded or angular geometric shapes everywhere in this cartoon. Some have the camera looking up at them, and others down. Here are two examples.

These designs are in stark contrast to the standard-issue characters and Elmer Plummer’s backgrounds we see outside of the art deco dream sequence. A wandering cow is downright crude. It’s hard to believe the same animators were at work. Despite that, I still like this cartoon. And you can’t beat a surprise pop culture reference to Jack Benny’s orchestra leader at the very end.