Tuesday 31 July 2012

Not Even an Egg

Bugs Bunny may have made his name in the early ‘40s but his best cartoons were made at the end of the decade.

One of my favourites is “Rabbit Hood.” Everything works so well together in it—the violence (and realisation) gags, the score, the phoney Shakespearean English. And the work of Bob Gribbroek and Pete Alvarado is pretty attractive. Gribbroek’s layouts are interesting and he works with Alvarado in providing nice settings that don’t overpower or detract from the animation. The opening’s a good example.

The cartoon starts off with two background drawings being examined by Ken Moore’s camera, saving the animation department some footage. Gribbroek may have liked the desert but he’s designed a very nice castle surrounded by greenery to open the cartoon; he showed sunlight changing the shade of green. Topping the turrets with an orange colour is a nice choice.

The camera pulls back and then pans to the right across the background drawing. Was the stone fence painted with a roller? Jones changes speeds in mid-pan to zoom to the Wanted posters. You can see that Robin is covered up for reasons that become evident at the end of the cartoon.

There’s a cut to the next background drawing, featuring a sign with a corny gag (having the punch line on a second, smaller sign is another effective choice). The camera pans up the stone fence to reveal a carrot garden in the background, then moves in. Having the camera moves at different speeds and in different directions makes the shots a little more interesting.

Alvarado had a long, productive career in animation, comic books, comic strips and children’s books, and worked on some fine cartoons in both the Jones and McKimson units. He was born in Colfax County, New Mexico, and grew up in Glendale. His father, Peter J. Alvarado, Sr., had a bakery on 317 South Broadway in Los Angeles, managed by his older brother Ernesto. There’s a tribute page to him set up by his family with links to some articles and remembrances about him. You can find them HERE.

Monday 30 July 2012

Oompahs Backgrounds

Let’s see...

Outcast child?
Accepted by the adult world at the end?
Stylised designs?

Must be a Bobe Cannon UPA cartoon.

Yes, but in this case, it’s not “Gerald McBoing Boing.” It’s “The Oompahs” (1952), another effort from Cannon and designer and storyman Thornton Hee.

The story is really a warmed-over version of the basic plot of “The Jazz Singer”—child wants to play jazz, traditional father says “no” but capitulates in the end. At least Marvin Miller, as the dad, doesn’t shout “I haff no zonn!” in this.

The idea of humans transposed as musical instruments is clever but, let’s face it, how much sympathy can you have for a trumpet? Even if he does wear a beanie with a propeller (which should make this “A Bob Clampett Cartoo-oooon!”).

There are some other imaginative concepts, too. The doctor (didn’t “Gerald McBoing Boing” feature one of those, too?) uses a metronome as a thermometer. And the wallpaper in six-year-old Orville Oompah’s room is sheet music.

The art also emphasises the plot. The cartoon’s second shot is a background drawing of the Oompah house. The home is Victorian, and stands next to a modern glass-windowed house topped with TV antennas. The contrast already tells the audience Mr. Oompah is living in the past.

Jules Engel may be making his own subtle statement about the old-fashionedness of the Oompas by his use of colour. The interiors have painted walls and furniture, which makes their antiqueness stand out. Unlike “McBoing Boing,” the home doesn’t have blocks or swaths of colour to represent things. It’s as if Engel is saying the home is outdated by using the old “cartoon realism” idea of colouring everything within the lines.

Ray Sherman is responsible for the score, which switches from a ponderous solo tuba for the dad to a swinging Dixieland combo for Orville and his buddies. I don’t know who the musicians are, but they’re damned fine, especially whoever’s on trumpet.

Sunday 29 July 2012

The Walking Man

He made up being 39, being incredibly cheap and having a butler named Rochester, but Jack Benny was occasionally completely honest in some of the things he said to the listeners on his show. When he mentioned on the March 7, 1948 broadcast that he had stayed up all night re-writing his show because he was guessed as the Walking Man the night before, he wasn’t kidding.

The Walking Man was a contest on the audience stunt show “Truth or Consequences.” Host Ralph Edwards promised a mountain of prizes if the person he telephoned could decipher the weekly clues to guess whose feet were being heard on the broadcast. Edwards proved to be a promotional genius. The contest got all kinds of free, front-page publicity for his show. And it didn’t hurt Jack, either. He built two of his shows around it, including the one with the quick re-write job.

Jack picked his good friend Ed Sullivan to tell how it all unfolded. Sullivan’s known today as a stiff Sunday night TV host with “a rilly big shoe.” But he’d been a newspaper columnist on the Broadway beat for years before that and, more importantly, gave Jack what turned out to be his break on radio.

Here’s Sullivan’s column of June 19, 1948.

Little Old New York
Behind the Scenes
On the third Saturday night on which he came home late, Mary Benny said to her husband: “Jack, I’m getting fed up with this every week. What’s the alibi this time?” She looked at him with the curious glint in her eye that husbands accept as the last calm before the storm. “I haven’t any alibi, Doll,” said Jack weakly.
He had pledged not to tell even his wife that he had been picked as “The Walking Man.”
Each Saturday, at 5:30 p. m., he had to drive into the Hollywood hills, to a house occupied by a semi-hermit, where they recorded the clues that had the country going daffy. As a result, he was late for dinner each Saturday night, and he was rapidly getting himself into a peek of trouble with the irate missus.
The only tension that ever existed in the Jack Benny home developed during the weeks leading up to the final announcement that Benny was it.
The tension started easing about two weeks ahead of the formal revelation. At that time, in Los Angeles, enterprising hawkers were peddling handbills in the street, price $1, giving a regular racing sheet rundown of the possibilities. Mary bought one of them, saw that Jack was high on the list of probabilities.
From then on, when he came home late Saturday nights, she just looked at him coldly but stopped bawling him out. When it was all over, he said: “Thanks, Doll, for trusting me.”
“It even started mysteriously,” Benny told me backstage at the Roxy. “I got a call from Mickey Rockford, of MCA, to rush to NBC to discuss something he couldn’t divulge over the phone. He met me and told me to follow him to an office. He unlocked the door, looked up and down the corridor, entered quickly and beckoned me in. When I saw Ralph Edwards alone in the place, I figured that it was one of Ralph’s contests, and it was. . . . ‘This is the only time I’ll ever talk to you, Jack,’ said Ralph. ‘From now on, we can’t ever be seen together.’ Then he gave me my instructions and I had to pledge I’d never reveal our secret to a soul.”
“It was funny at Hollywood parties,” grinned Benny. “Van Johnson is a nut on mystery contests, and this contest really drove him batty.
“One night, at the Billy Goetz house, Van was sitting with me and saying how exasperated he’d become at his failure to identify ‘The Walking Man.’ He wouldn’t talk about anything else. ‘Ding, dong, bell,’ reasoned Van, ‘must be a church. Do you think it’s Winston Churchill, Jack?’ I said it probably was.
“Weeks later, after the announcement, I met him at a party. Van looked at me and whispered: ‘You no-good louse.’”
His radio writers started suspecting that it was Benny, laid a Saturday trap for him instigated by Mary’s brother, Hilliard, (Jack’s program is written every Saturday afternoon).
Hilliard and Sam Perrin, pretending they’d left their cars at home, asked Jack to have dinner with them after the program was drafted and then drive them home.
“Throughout dinner, Jack couldn’t look at his watch. Then he drove them home, and after dropping off Perrin, he drove away very slowly. Once around the corner, Benny tore at high speed up to the house in Hollywood hills, reaching there at exactly 5:29.
“If a motorcycle cop had grabbed me, I’d have been a dead pigeon,” says Jack.
For fear of tipping off contestants, the Benny program following Ralph Edwards’ announcement could not be written in advance.
On Saturday afternoon, the Benny writers completed the regular Sunday night program. A few hours later, Ralph Edwards named the winner.
Benny had to assemble his writers and, with the exception of the Phil Harris spot, they had to write a whole new program. They finished it at 2 a. m. Sunday.
“And you know,” marvels Jack, “it was one of the funniest programs of them all.”
Benny emerged from the contest with a deep regard for the scrupulous honesty of “Truth or Consequences” and a tremendous respect for the radio savvy of Ralph Edwards.
“The one thing that was stressed was the secrecy that had to be maintained. There was no leak at any point. It was a very impressive set-up, and that guy Edwards is an amazing organizer and executive.”

Edwards couldn’t have come up with a more appealing winner for his contest, unless it was a soldier who had been crippled in the recent war. It was a widow from Chicago. The International News Service reported:

Clerk is “Fluttery” About Winning $23,000
CHICAGO, Mar. 8 (INS)—A gray-haired, 68-year-old shop clerk, winner of the lucrative NBC “Walking Man” radio contest said last night she would bank the $23,000 in cash awards and continue to work in a Chicago Loop department store.
Mrs. Florence Hubbard (of 48 North Waller St.) said she still felt “fluttery” about her good fortune. She declared:
“I can hardly believe it happened to me. I came home Saturday from work, wet from the rain, hungry and tired.
“I took a hot bath and just had an opportunity to get into a bathrobe when the telephone rang.
“It was Conductor Ralph Edwards of the Truth or Consequences program, sponsors of the ‘Walking Man’ program. He asked me who was the ‘walking man’ and I replied: ‘Jack Benny.’ Mr. Edwards congratulated me and told me I was the winner.”
She said she hardly had an opportunity to realize her good fortune when the telephone began jangling and her apartment doorbell began buzzing.
It was newsman, neighbors and friends calling for a story or eager to offer congratulations. Mrs. Hubbard laughed happily as she declared:
“I never did have a chance to get dressed properly or even comb my hair. News photographers simply swarmed into my apartment and littered the floor with flash bulbs.
“It was tremendously exciting.”
The small, pleasant faced widow said that despite the excitement she spent a restful night and slept well.
Yesterday she posed for news reels and continued to meet interviewers.
She ate lunch with a woman friend in a nearby restaurant and planned to retire early so that she would be rested when she reports back to work as a $30-a-week-checker in the casual clothes section of the store. Mrs. Hubbard said:
“I don’t see any reason why I should change my mode of living or quit my job. I enjoy meeting people and I like to work.
“Part of my awards include trips to Hollywood and Palm Springs. I am leaving it up to my company officials when I will take the trips.”
Mrs. Hubbard said she mailed “20 or 30 letters” to contest officials. Each contained a reason why “we should support the American Heart Association.” She declared:
“I cannot recall the exact text of my letter but I remember that I wrote everyone should support the Heart Association because it is seeking a cure for heart disease.
“My husband, Dr. Charles F. Hubbard, an optician, died of heart disease 13 years ago, and I have been interested in it ever since.”

What did she win? The INS gave a list:

Home laundry consisting of washer, drier and automatic ironer.
$1000 diamond and ruby watch.
New 4-door sedan.
Gas kitchen range.
Sixteen mm. motion picture sound projector and screen with print of current film and delivery of motion picture of the month for one year.
Two weeks vacation for two from any place in the United States to Sun Valley, Idaho, all expenses paid.
$1000 diamond ring.
Vacuum cleaner with all attachments.
1948 console FM and AM radio-phonograph combination and television set, all in one cabinet.
Gas refrigerator.
All metal Venetian blinds throughout entire home.
Paint job on house, inside and out.
Complete wardrobe of women’s clothes for every season in the year.
Fifteen cubic foot heavy duty home or farm freezer, filled with frozen foods.
All metal plane.
Installation of ceramic tile in kitchen and bathroom.
Furniture to fill dining room and two bedrooms.
De luxe trailer coach with modern kitchen and sleeping quarters for four.
Thousand dollar Persian lamb coat.
Aluminum boat, complete with outboard motor.
Two years supply of sheets and pillow cases for every bed in house.
Choice of $500 worth of electric home appliances.
Electric blankets for every bed in house.
Three suits apiece for every man in immediate family.
Desk console electric sewing machine.

And what became of Mrs. Hubbard, you ask? Her three-room apartment (the building was built in 1927 and still stands) couldn’t fit most of what she won, so she kept only the sterling silver set and the sewing machine. She turned down 40 marriage proposals. She quit her job at Carson Pirie Scott & Co. about a year later and bought a duplex in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Read about her passing in the comment section.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Betty Boop On Trial

The irony was inescapable. Betty Boop sang, “Don’t take my boop-oop-a-doop away!” And Helen Kane claimed Betty did just that to her. That prompted a trial with probably some of the silliest testimony ever heard in a courtroom.

Kane filed a lawsuit on May 4, 1932, demanding damages from the Paramount and Max Fleischer Studios and an injunction stopping them from making Betty Boop cartoons. Kane’s basic argument: she came up with Betty’s phrase “boop-oop-a-doop” so she should reap the windfall from it. But it basically boiled down to this: Kane’s career had peaked. Betty’s was climbing; she even had her own music show on WJZ-NBC, debuting November 18, 1932, with Mae Questal providing her voice.

The case finally went to trial in 1934. By then, Helen Kane had bigger problems than a cartoon character.

● December 29, 1932 – Kane wins a Mexican divorce from Joseph Kane, New York Department store buyer.
● February 1, 1933 – Kane marries Max Hoffman, the son of a dancer. Yeah, a month later.
● April 14, 1933 – Kane is ordered to pay $40,000 plus $6,400 to Irving Trust as Trustee for money paid to her in 1929 by Murray Posner, president of a dress company. She has admitted in court she went out “almost every day and night” with Posner and accepted “very substantial gifts” from him—while she was still married.
● Some time, 1933 – Hoffman deserts her.
● January 31, 1934 – Kane is in a sanitarium in California, recovering from a nervous breakdown.
● March 6, 1934 – Kane sets sail from New York for a “rest” before her big court date.

A column by H.I. Phillips in the Brownsville Herald of June 1, 1932 makes fun of the coming trial, with fake Kane testimony about “boop-oop-a-doop” that drove the judge crazy before dismissing the case. The parody was psychic. That’s exactly what happened.

Take a look at just three of the Associated Press stories during the trial. You can probably read the wire service reporter smirking.

Court in Uproar as Helen Kane ‘Boop-Boop-a-Doops’ for Judge
New York, April 28 (AP)—“Boop-boop-a-doop.” Four little words. Uproar, shouting, objections—in supreme court Justice J. McGoldrick’s somber courtroom.
It was Helen Kane, showing how the “Boop-boop-a-doop,” which she values at $250,000, is really sung.
Miss Kane, suing Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer studios and the Paramount-Publix corporation on charges of “unfair competition,” pursed her lips, pouted a bit and
burst forth with a “Boop-boop-a-doop for Justice McGoldrick’s benefit.
Defense counsel jumped to their feet shouting objections. For a moment all semblance of order was lost. Justice McGoldrick seemed to have difficulty keeping a straight face as he scratched notes on a pad.
Miss Kane’s counsel smiled. He had asked her to demonstrate her “Boop-boop-a-doop” for the justice, who alone will decide the suit.
“Boop-boop-a-doop,” she burst forth a second time, shouting to the puzzled court stenographer to “put it down; put it down!”
Miss Kane was silenced by Justice McGoldrick and a couple of her “boops” were eliminated from the record.
“How do you interpolate your boops in your songs?” the counsel asked.
"It’s hard to say,” she explained. “It’s a form of rhythm I created. There’s a bar of music and at the end there’s a stop.”
“Were you ever known as the boop girl?”
“Sometimes,” she replied, smiling, “I was introduced as just ‘Boop.’”

Origin of Sounds Traced by Theater Man at $250,000 Damage Suit Over Cartoons
NEW YORK. May 1.—(AP)—A medley of strange, unintelligible sounds came today from the courtroom where Helen Kane’s big boop-a-doop trial is being heard.
There was a “boop” or two, then a “doo-doo-doo,” finally “wha-da-da-da!”
Everybody—especially the court stenographer—was confused. The stenographer’s knowledge of spelling did not transcend the dictionary.
The assortment of noises came during the attempts of the defense to show that the art of “booping” was not original with Helen Kane—that the responsibility rested with others who had preceded her on the stage.
Miss Kane is seeking $250,000 damages from Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer Studios and the Paramount-Publix Corporation on the ground that the Betty Boop screen cartoons constitute larceny on her mannerisms and song technique.
Testifying for the defense, Lou Bolton, theatrical manager, said that one of his stage proteges, Esther Jones, a negro woman, had interpolated songs with syllables similar to Miss Kane’s as long ago as 1925.
In April 1928, Bolton continued, Miss Kane and her manager attended a performance of Miss Jones—whose stage name was Baby Esther—in a New York night club.
Just a few weeks later, he testified. Miss Kane began to “boop” at a theater here.
Then followed an exhaustive retracing of the history of “Boop-Boop-a-Doopery.”
“Baby Esther made funny expressions and interpolated meaningless sounds at the end of each bar of music in her songs,” said Bolton.
“What sounds did she interpolate?” asked Louis Phillips, a defense attorney.
“Boo-Boo-Boo!” recited Bolton.
“What other sounds?”
“Any others?”
“Yes, Wha-Da-Da-Da!” said Bolton, tiring a little.
The court stenographer broke down at this point. He threw up his hands in a gesture of despair and announced he would need aid in spelling the “meaningless” sounds.
Bolton could not give him any aid. Phillips did, however.
Other defense witnesses were Bonnie Poe and Margy Hines, whose voices are used in the sound tracks of the Betty Boop films.
Miss Hines was asked if she knew the meaning of the disputed “Boop-Boop-a-Doop” sounds.
“Well—I call them ‘licks’,” she replied.

Court Upholds Betty Boop In $25,000 Suit
Justice Decides Heroine of Movie Cartoons No Imitator
NEW YORK, May 5.— (AP)— Helen Kane, the “boop-a-doop” singer, today lost her suit for $250,000 against Max Fleischer, cartoonist, the Fleischer Studios, Inc., and the
Paramount-Publix Corporation. Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McGoldrick held that she had failed to prove her contention that the defendant wrongfully appropriated her singing technique in the Betty Boop film cartoons.
Miss Kane said she was deeply shocked at the verdict.
“I consider it very unfair as all my friends believe the cartoons a deliberate caricature of me,” she said.
Samuel R. Weltz, her attorney, said an immediate appeal would be filed.
The “boop-boop-a-doop” trial began April 17, Miss Kane seeking, damages on two grounds, that the defendants had used her picture in violation of the civil rights law and that the cartoons constituted “unfair competition.”
No Proof Shown
Justice McGoldrick decided: “The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force.”
In the opinion of the town’s faithful court ringsiders, there has never been a more melodious trial in the city.
At times, during attempts to determine the origin, and even the reasons, for the “boop" style of singing, it resembled a musical comedy. One of the witnesses even tried to tap dance. Justice McGoldrick discouraged this quickly.
Justice McGoldrick’s decision constituted this contribution to musical knowledge: the “baby” technique of singing did not originate with Miss Kane, in his opinion.
The testimony given during the trial was, for the most part, in two-fourths time and very syncopated.
Miss Kane “boop-boop-a-dooped.” Defense witnesses “whad-da-dahed” and “vo-do-deo-doed.” The court stenographer was bewildered. He tried to get help in spelling these noises from one of the defense attorneys.
Viewed Boop Pictures
Several times, Justice McGoldrick left the courtroom to view Betty Boop cartoons in a motion picture projection room.
The defense presented a galaxy of talented performers to show that long before Miss Kane made her debut as a singer of “baby” songs, the practice of interpolating songs with meaningless sounds was common.
Justice McGoldrick and the audience got a thorough education in the vernacular of the theatre. The trial played to a packed house throughout.

Kane lost her appeal on May 1, 1936. By that time:

● May 17, 1935 – Kane finally wins a divorce from her second husband (he died suddenly ten years later).
● August 10, 1935 – Kane is sued for $250 in back rent money after moving from Hollywood to New York without telling her landlord.

News stories appeared in 1936, 1937 and 1938 that Kane was a little less pudgy and was hoping to make a film comeback. No one was interested. Her little-girl flapper routine belonged to another decade, another era even. She spent her time emptying her bank account, travelling to Europe and Mexico, making and breaking an engagement to a Los Angeles car dealer, and then finally settling down in 1939 and marrying the man to whom she sang “I Want to Be Loved by You” on Broadway in “Good Boy” ten years earlier. Simultaneously and coincidentally, Betty settled down, too, due to the 1934 change in the motion picture Production Code.

Helen Kane died on September 26, 1966. Obituaries in the two main wire services omitted references to Betty Boop and the lawsuit many years earlier. Here’s one version.

Helen (Boop-Boop-a-Doop) Kane Dies After Long Cancer Battle
NEW YORK (AP) – Helen Kane, the-boop-boop-a-doop girl of the roaring 20s, died Monday after a 10-year bout with cancer.
By one of those tricks of fate and show business, the 1950 movie “Three Little Words” in which she was heard singing her most famous song — “I Wanna Be Loved By You” — was televised in New York just a few hours before Miss Kane died.
She inserted “boop-boop-adoop” in most of the songs she sang during her stage and movie career, which was at its height in the 20s and early 30s. But she never knew why.
“It was 1928,” she once told an interviewer. “I had just opened at the (New York) Paramount doing “That’s My Weakness Now.’
“Boop-boop-a-doop? I just put it in at one of the rehearsals. A sort of interlude.”
“This thing,” said her husband, Dany Healy, singer, dancer, writer and night club impressario, “goes back to Shakespeare with hey-nonny-nonny.”
Wherever it came from, boop-boop-a-doop took Helen Kane to Hollywood where she starred in nine movies and moved into the $8,000 a week class.
“Money was falling off trees,” she said some years after retiring in 1935. “I once got $5,000 at one of those big society parties just to sing four or five choruses of ‘Button Up Your Overcoat.’”
After leaving the theatre, she said she “bought houses, swimming pools, invested in businesses.”
“The only trouble,” said Healy, “was that there weren’t any businessmen in those businesses.”
When cancer struck 10 years ago, Miss Kane was trying for a comeback. Even after four operations she insisted she wanted to keep going “until they wheel me off.”
A requiem mass will be sung at St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Jackson Heights, N.Y., at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, with burial at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, N.Y.

While the trial focused on the similarity between Helen’s and Betty’s singing, and somewhat on their appearance, it didn’t deal with the huge difference between the two, the reason that Betty maintains her popularity even to this day. Helen was a novelty singer. Betty had more than that. The Fleischer Studio had its own peculiar sense of humour that was injected into the Betty cartoons. They’re fun to watch, at least the pre-1934 Code cartoons are.

One could say Helen Kane was from a time of reckless and self-indulgent spending, extra-marital sex and wide-eyed media attention. But the entertainment world really hasn’t really changed a bit, has it?

Friday 27 July 2012

Felix and the Snakecycle

The silent Felix the Cat cartoons always have at least one imaginative transformation and though the story may not be clear, Felix’s emotions always are.

“Outdoor Indore” (1928) has some nice cycle animation of a tiger and an elephant, a bizarre gag when the elephant sucks up the entire Atlantic Ocean, and a laughing ending I still can’t figure out. But probably my favourite scene is the snakecycle.

Felix is in Africa where, eventually, he finds an elephant to bring back to the United States (whether that was his intention at the outset of the cartoon, I don’t know). His feet become sore and he needs some transportation. The scene cuts to a charmer with a recorder making a snake dance. That gives Felix an idea.

This may be the first time an idea teapot has poured water on a cartoon character’s head.

Anyway, Felix detaches his tail to use as a flute. Sure enough, two snakes come out of the ground and start dancing.

Now the weird stuff. The snakes jump past each other. One snake eats the other, then bites on its own tail, forming a circle.

The head then snakes around (pardon the pun) to form a second little circle. Ta da! Felix has a Pennyfarthing bicycle).

The movie ad above is from 1929; The Film Daily says the cartoon was “Indore” not “Indoor.” The significance of the spelling is lost on me.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Hollywood Loves Vin Scully

The United Press International’s Hollywood correspondent proved his point, albeit unintentionally.

Vernon Scott wrote a story published 52 years ago today explaining how Los Angeles Dodgers baseball announcer Vin Scully was unknown in most of the U.S. Except in the column, Scott called him “Vince.”

It was ten years earlier in January 1950 that another national columnist, Hugh Fullerton, Jr., revealed that Vin Scully, ex Fordham outfielder and announcer, would be helping out on the Brooklyn Dodgers broadcasts in the summer. And he’s still doing it, 62 years later.

Getting back to Scott’s column, you might wonder why a Hollywood reporter would choose a baseball announcer as his subject. It’s very simple. Hollywood loved baseball.

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby each had a piece of major league clubs. Joe E. Brown had played ball before he made movies (his son was later general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates), including the baseball-themed “Elmer the Great” (1933). Bill Frawley had a clause in his “I Love Lucy” contract that he was to be given time off to see World Series if the Yankees were playing. Hollywood was the home of the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, in those days practically a major league circuit. Stars filled the box seats, some bought shares in the club. And Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher pushed his way into a show business career, guest starring hither and yon on radio comedy/variety shows.

Several of Jack Benny’s radio broadcasts revolved around Benny attempting to listen to a ball game, but being thwarted by the channel switching to wailing soap opera actresses (Bea Benaderet), sinus-congested singers (Sara Berner), cheesy commercials (Frank Nelson) and a variety of running gags. On one show, Nelson pulls off one of the funniest routines of all time as an announcer calling the bottom of the ninth with his mouth stuffed with a hot dog so no one can understand how the game ended. Another broadcast had Jack and Mary watching a PCL contest involving the Los Angeles Angels and the Seattle Rainiers with The Sportsmen Quartet singing a Lucky Strike commercial to “Nobody Loves an Umpire.”

And so it is that Jack and Vin Scully are connected in Scott’s column.

Even Benny Listens to This Celebrity
HOLLYWOOD, July 26—(UPI)—Jack Benny fired off the first fan letter in his long career to the most listened-to man in Cinema City—a celebrity’s celebrity who has stars and moguls hanging on his every word.
Outside of Southern California and Brooklyn this imposing figure is almost entirely unknown. But he can break up concerts, stop shooting on the sets and commands fan mail on the grand scale. He’s Vince Scully, the man who announces the Dodgers baseball games.
An 11-year veteran with the ball club, Scully has made Southern Californians a sect of transistor radio fanatics.
When Dodger games are in progress, movie sets, TV stages and the streets are filled with semi-conscious listeners with wires running from tiny radios to their ears.
Scully, an engaging Irishman with a shock of fire-red hair, is delighted with his popularity among movietown’s bigwigs.
“I guess my biggest fan is producer Mervyn Leroy,” Vince said. “He gave me a small role in one of his pictures just for the heck of it.
“Benny sent me a telegram of congratulations for the job I’m doing. He said it was the only fan letter he’d ever written. Kirk Douglas also sent me a nice letter.”
During games in the Coliseum fans can hear Scully’s account of the action clearly—there are that many transistor radios blaring through-out the crowd.
“I think that’s because so many Californians are unfamiliar with major league baseball,” he explained, “and they like to understand what is happening out on the field.”
Scully considers his broadcasting job a part of show business.
“There is always excitement and drama in a ball game, and I depend a great deal on the roar of the crowd to give it punch.
“There have been complaints from the Hollywood Bowl and theaters in this area that people can’t hear what’s going on because of the radios smuggled in to performances. Even the actors can keep up with the games by listening from the stage between lines.”
One performer was embarrassed in a restaurant recently when he approached a patron wearing an ear phone to inquire about the Dodgers' score. It turned out the man he had asked was wearing a hearing aid.
“We’re all mighty happy that the club is so welcome here,” Scully concluded. “Underneath it all, Los Angeles fans are almost exactly the same as the ones we left in Brooklyn.”

What makes Scully a great play-by-play announcer? Perfect timing. Makes going on the air seem effortless. Avoids phoney hype and just builds on the situation as it unfolds around him. Dependable, year in and year out. And a genuine guy.

That descriptions fits one of Scully’s biggest fans, too. It can be said that Vin Scully, really, is the Jack Benny of baseball broadcasters.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Not the MGM Lion

What’s the point of being paid by MGM if you can’t make fun of the MGM lion? That’s what Tex Avery does in “Batty Baseball.”

A player sliding into home plate suddenly stops in mid-air. He demands to know what happened to the opening credits of the cartoon, “the lion roar and all that stuff?”

The player then opens his mouth wide, in approximation of a lion roaring, rolling his head before resuming its regular shape. The first four drawings are on ones, the rest are on twos.

This cartoon was released in 1944. I wonder if Avery would have handled the animation and timing differently in later years, with one huge lion take interrupting the player’s spiel.

Picking out 1940s MGM voices for me is a bit of a challenge. The player’s growly voice isn’t the same as the growly voice in Avery’s “The Cat That Hates People,” at least that I can tell. The umpire-baiter is Kent Rogers and the narrator is John Wald, who was the announcer on “Fibber McGee and Molly” in the ‘50s when Harlow Wilcox stuck to playing himself as commercial pitch-man.

The credited animators are Preston Blair, Ed Love and Ray Abrams. Mark Kausler reports this scene is by Blair.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Reckless Driver Outlines

“The Reckless Driver” (released 1946) is another Walter Lantz cartoon where outlines of characters are used to quicken the action. You can find them in one scene where lazy cop Wally Walrus is taking Woody Woodpecker’s reflexes. It’s a variation on the old bop-knee-foot-kicks gag. Instead, Woody pecks the cop. Here are a few drawings to give you an idea of the outline effect.

Later in the scene, Wally contemplates how to test the reflexes without getting jabbed by Woody’s beak. These are consecutive drawings leading to Wally drumming his fingers against his face. You’d have no idea Wally’s shrug is in there unless you freeze the scene as it’s there for one drawing. You can see the outlines again.

Les Kline and Grim Natwick get the on-screen animation credits. Mark Kausler reports Natwick animated this scene.

Wally doesn’t have his Swedish accent in this one. It sounds like he’s played by Will Wright in this cartoon. Voice actor and historian Keith Scott says Wright is the devil conscience of Andy Panda in “Apple Andy,” which has the same voice as Wally in this short (and the wolf in “Fair Weather Fiends”).

Monday 23 July 2012

Porky the Fireman

Today’s cartoon inside jokes come from the Frank Tashlin cartoon “Porky the Fireman” (1938). It features Tashlin’s wide-eyed, squat version of Porky and one of his typical montage sequence toward the end of the cartoon.

Porky’s fire truck rushes past the same wooden buildings four times and comes to a stop. And a fence advertises some cartoons.

Mel Millar wrote the cartoon and his name appears on a couple of stores in the background. Here’s one to the right of another establish run by the illiterate members of Friz Freleng’s family.

The background artists were never credited in the ‘30s. Griff Jay and Art Loomer handled backgrounds for a good part of that decade; these look like BGs from their time a few years earlier.

This is still before 1940 so cartoons don’t have the wild, eyeballs-out-in-two-frames takes that Tex Avery made famous. Tashlin has Porky express surprise by his eyes growing wider (one ones; they take their time). You can see them at their widest above. The eyes kind of grow a second white.

Bob Bentley is the credited animator. I suspect Volney White and possibly Phil Monroe were in Tashlin’s unit at this point.

Sunday 22 July 2012

TV Needs More J.P. Patches

J. P. Patches died today. Whether he knew it or not, he symbolises what’s wrong with television today. And maybe something greater.

J.P. was really a guy named Chris Wedes. For years, he hosted what was supposed to be a children’s show on Seattle television. The smart kids got what was going on. A guy in a ratty clown outfit ad-libbed ridiculous routines and dialogue with the other member of the cast, who was in either bad drag, an animal trainer’s outfit or as a black-hatted bad guy. J.P. would talk to the announcer. J.P. would talk straight into the camera (which went up-and-down or side-to-side, depending on whether the camera was nodding or shaking its head). J.P. would refer to inanimate objects as if they were living characters (a reference to a rubber chicken named Tikey Turkey would result in the sound guy playing the same gobble noise every time).

There was no slow, condescending talk to the young audience. The pies-in-the-face, deliberately bad puns and guffaws from the camera crew at inside or suggestive lines could have been for adults, too. At least ones that were smart enough to figure out the show was about a couple of guys in goofy costumes winging a bunch of business.

And it was all live.

This was in Seattle. Other cities across the U.S. had similar kids’ shows featuring extremely creative people doing incredibly silly and funny things, and not talking to viewers like they’re brain-dead. Some went on to fame outside their own region. Soupy Sales comes to mind. Thanks to the internet, we can learn about Chuck McCann in New York City and similar shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland and so on.

This was all during a time when there were three networks and a few independent TV stations. We have countless more channels today, more than anyone can possibly watch, with a place for every conceivable programming niche. But on no channel will you find anything like the live kids’ shows that one generation grew up with.

What do people laugh at on television today? I shudder to think. Kids can watch modern-day freak shows under the Reality TV banner, where the idea is to laugh at ignorant people inflicting insults on other ignorant people. There are cartoons where the idea is to laugh at rudeness that prides itself in its obviousness.

Where’s the innocent fun?

It could be that audiences today don’t want it. They want gaucheness and cruel ridicule instead. If that’s the case, the problem is far greater than the messenger, television.

Here’s part of a special on J.P. You can watch some bits of it if you want to get a flavour of the show.

What to do with Adolf

Radio programmes, like the rest of the entertainment world, became involved in the war effort during the ’40s. Shows went on location to military bases, war references popped up in the dialogue, Jack Benny even gave up some of his time for a five-minute plug for the U.S.O.

World War Two was pretty black-and-white in everyone’s mind. Hitler and Mussolini were Evil, pure and simple. And I imagine just about everyone in the Allied countries had their personal opinion about what should be done with the pair when our boys marched victorious into Berlin and Rome. Certainly radio stars did.

The National Enterprise Association’s Hollywood columnist put the question to them; no doubt it was one of several questions where the answers could be banked and cobbled together for a subject story during fallow periods of news, like during the Christmas holidays. This one ran in 1943. As you’ll see, some stars treated the question seriously, others cracked jokes. I suspect all of them had answers that would be too blistering for print.

While fans of old radio shows will recognise the stars, though Alan Reed’s name is butchered, the person mentioned at the start of the story may be unfamiliar. Marshal Badoglio conquered Ethiopia for Mussolini in 1936 but soured on Fascism and replaced Il Duce as Prime Minister in 1943, then signed Italy’s unconditional surrender. He died in 1956. His obit warranted only two lines in the U.S. military paper Pacific Stars and Stripes. The war was behind everyone by then.

Hollywood On The Loose...
NEA Staff Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 18.—Marshall Pietro Badoglio has an idea on what ought to be done with Hitler and Mussolini after the war. He thinks the Allies should put them both in a cage and exhibit them throughout Europe.
Famous stage and screen comedians have some ideas, too:
George Jessel: “When everything else is done to Hitler and Mussolini that everybody thinks they deserve, I suggest they be put in a small theater, chain them to their seats and have me sing 200 choruses of ‘My Mother’s Eyes’ in a key much too high for me and I should have a cold yet besides.”
* * *
Jack Oakie: “Turn ‘em loose on the field between innings of a Brooklyn-St. Louis baseball game. Instead of pop bottles, supply the Brooklyn fans with hand grenades.”
* * *

NBC’s Fibber McGee and Molly: “Mussolini should be chained on a balcony overlooking a cemetery with nothing for company except copies of his speeches. Hitler should be chained under a loudspeaker playing over and over a Lou Holtz record of ‘Mein Kampf’ in Jewish dialect.”
* * *
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello: “Put Hitler in the Abbott and Costello torture chamber — a room with walls lined with copies of ‘Mein Kampf.’ At intervals, levels behind the books would shoot them out at him. Feed him only leaves from the books.”
* * *
Edgar Bergen: “Hitler and Mussolini should be given parachutes and taken up in an airplane. Hitler should be dropped off over Warsaw and Mussolini over Addis Ababa. Both gentlemen should have free choice as to whether they wanted to open the parachute.”
* * *
Harvey Fischman, 13-year-old Quiz Kid: “I suggest that they be catapulted from a cruiser. But before that I’d like to shave off Hitler’s mustache on a moving train.”
* * *
Bob Hope: “Make ‘em run around a race track for the rest of their lives under Bing Crosby’s colors. They’re taking a beating now but nothing compared to what would happen to ‘em if they ran under Bing’s colors.
* * *
Fred Allen: “Make ‘em listen to Jack Benny’s radio show for the rest of their lives.”
Jack Benny: “I would lock ‘em both in a projection room and make them look at Fred Allen’s movies for 12 hours a day. No—that would be inhuman. Only 11 hours a day.”
* * *
Bob Burns: “Let me serenade ‘em with my bazooka and then eliminate ‘em with a bazooka gun.”
* * *
Cecil Kellaway: “Exhibit ‘em in a cage. Then, at night, give ‘em benzedrine and continuously play a recording of ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama.’”

* * *
Allen Reid [sic], rhyming Falstaff of Fred Allen’s radio show:
“Fetter the international crooks,
“So they cannot get away.
“Then make ‘em listen
“To Baby Snooks from dusk till
break of day.”