Thursday 28 June 2012

How Do I Know It's Friz

Popular books, popular products, they all came to life in Warner Bros. cartoons. They all had a sameness. Books or products would sing and dance, some evil force would sneak in (generally to kidnap a female character) only to be vanquished by the joint action of the singers and dancers. Iris out. “That’s all, folks!” If you were lucky, you’d see some celebrity caricatures as a bonus.

Many of those cartoons had something else in common—inside references to members of the studio’s staff. They’d be on spines of books or in names of products, placed there by background artists. Until home video came along, no one noticed (except maybe Jerry Beck when he wrote his book on the cartoons in 1981). Now, viewers can sit at home, freeze frames of cartoon DVDs and see for themselves.

Amongst parodies of real products (including Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Flit Bug Spray and Uneeda Biscuits) are a bunch named after Scheslinger studio staffers in the Friz Freleng cartoon “How Do I Know It’s Sunday” (1934). Let’s see what we can find.

Ray Katz, Leon Schlesinger’s brother-in-law, was kind of a studio manager. It also appears he made refrigerators on the side.

An Eskimo boy who is the hero of the picture leaps to grab a roll of paper towels. You can see he passes Pratt’s Dog Biscuits. Whether Hawley Pratt was briefly at Schlesinger’s at this time isn’t known. He started at Disney in 1933 if he wasn’t working for Leon, people who did would have known him.

As the boy drops, he passes a box of Friz’s Shredded Coconut. The first reference to Friz Freleng, the cartoon’s director.

The evil flies in the cartoon are going right for the Russian rye bread and avoiding Friz’s Salad Dressing. “Lofa Bread” is probably the funniest bad pun in the whole cartoon.

We get two of them in this frame. Armstrong’s Prune Cider Winegar is named for Tom Armstrong, who was in charge of the studio’s story department in the mid-‘30s. Norm’s Soda Crackers could be for musical composer Norman Spencer. I think animator Norm Blackburn had left for the Iwerks studio by the time this cartoon was made. Note: the consensus in the comment section is that it’s Norm McCabe, who I didn’t realise was at the studio that early.

The General Store in this cartoon is also a convenience store. Friz’s Pretzels are right next to Ben’s Brew, named for Ben Hardaway, who ended up directing cartoon after Tom Palmer was fired in 1933 and before Tex Avery was hired two years later.

So who is the background artist? No one ever talked about the background people in the Warners’ cartoons before the late-‘30s other than Chuck Jones and he blew them off as no-talents. Art Loomer was in charge of the background department at one time and former Kansas City and Los Angeles newspaper cartoonist Griff Jay worked under him. It’s possible one of them worked on this cartoon and provided enjoyable little in-jokes throughout the mid-‘30s, but we may never know.


  1. It was pointed out elsewhere a few years ago that for the background of "Have You Got Any Castles?", a unionization reference was snuck into one of the books, which refers to "Their Formation and Management", by the esteemed scholars of labor law (Keith) Darling and Ted Pierce. The reference also made it through the Blue Ribbon re-release, since Warners went in and had the years on the magazines in the background changed from 1938/39 to 1946 and 1949 in an apparent effort to convince movie-goers they were seeing a new cartoon (though they forgot to add the extra 'd' to Pierce's name for the re-release).

  2. Norm may also have been McCabe ....

  3. Norm WAS DEFINITELY Norm McCabe... Why is the Turtle so positive you say?! Simple, at this exact time McCabe had been forced into the story department, so the reference to Tom and Norm pretty much tells us who wrote this cartoon i.e. Tom Armstrong and Norm McCabe.

    With McCabe's experience as both animator and storyman it's amazing that he didn't make director a lot earlier...

    1. Ooooops, left out Ben Hardaway from his two storyman colleagues, sorry...

    2. His first credit was on Tashlin's third cartoon, "Porky in the North Woods".

      Was he a storyman until then or did he leave the studio and come back?