Friday 31 August 2012

Baby Boogie

Faux children’s drawings. A story that doesn’t quite make sense. Visual effects for the sake of visual effects. For me, that pretty well sums up “Baby Boogie,” a 1955 effort by UPA.

It’s too bad. I like Jack Easton’s score. And I get what designer Paul Julian was trying to do. “I’m drawing a picture and this is me,” says a little girl as a drawing appears on the screen. The problem is the drawings don’t look like kids’ drawings. They look like an adult trying to mimic how kids draw, which undercuts the whole purpose. How many kids do you know draw like this?

There are bits of humour in the cartoon, but it’s a little hard to get emotionally involved with ugly-scrawls-as-humans. And the basic purpose of this cartoon doesn’t appear to be making the audience laugh or chuckle, it’s to show the world how creative the artists can be with design and colour (Julian was in charge of both).

Little Susan goes out to play with her friends but she gets in a depressive funk. How can you tell? It’s indicated by a line that suddenly swirls around her. It’s representational! It’s creative artistry!

The story is this—Susie keeps wailing to her parents that she wants to know where babies come from. Her dad finally tells her “Babies come from the hospital.” So as she jumps up and down the background changes behind her to a “Hospitl” and she steals a child. Why is she a common thief? “I just got a baby brother at the hospital, like daddy said.” Writers Abe Liss and veteran Leo Salkin have messed up the continuity. There was no mention of a brother. And her father never suggested she become a kidnapper; would any normal child’s mind think that way?

As Susie runs down the stairs from the paediatric ward, the steps form in front of her. Why? It’s creative!

After Susie jumps into a transparent cab, the taxi suddenly develops a yellow body. Why? Because it’s creative!

And when the cars chasing the cab turn on their headlights, all the colours in the drawing change. This isn’t like “Gerald McBoing Boing” where colour augments the mood of a scene. All the change does here is draw attention to itself. It’s more interesting than entertaining.

The ironic ending is fine. Susie gets a brother. “He asks the silliest questions,” she says. He wants to know where babies come from. Though Julian has decided a format change is in order. The two aren’t drawings now. They’re now two still photos with captions.

Fred Grable gets the sold animation credit. Ann Whitfield, the voice of one of Phil Harris and Alice Faye’s daughters on radio, plays the girl. The dad and Faye-soundalike mom aren’t credited but the father sounds familiar from radio.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Tex, I’ll Have the Ham and Eggs

Obvious visual puns in cartoons can be real groaners. The people at Famous Studios (Paramount) treated them like they were really funny, which made them really unfunny.

And then there’s Tex Avery.

Originally, Tex and his writers put a pun on the screen then made fun of it. After a while, he let the audience take it for what it was.

Here’s one from “One Cab’s Family,” a remake of sorts of Friz Freleng’s “Streamlined Greta Green” (1937) with Avery-style gags. It would be an eye-roller in a Famous cartoon, but Avery lets it zoom by so far, you don’t have time to groan.

Junior the Aspiring Hot Rod is hopped up on ethyl. Here he comes (in perspective) at a pig and chicken grazing on the country road. Notice the contented look on the pig’s face, then the pain and shock in the next drawing. These are all on ones.

After a brief pause, the plate drops back down. So do the pig and chicken. Sort of.

The camera starts moving in for a close-up before the eggs have even landed to quicken the gag. Then, on to the next one.

Walt Clinton, Grant Simmons and Mike Lah are the animators. Rich Hogan and Roy Williams (Disney) get story credits.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

America’s Most Beloved Showman

Why is Jimmy Durante great? I’ve been pondering how to word the answer to that but, in the process, discovered some anonymous newspaper headline writer in 1954 did it for me. In one sentence. It reads:

Jimmy Durante, The People’s Choice For Title Of America’s Most Beloved Showman, Is Real

Durante was around in an era where there were plenty of hammy, corny people on stage—and they wanted you to know they were on stage. They were among the top acts, too. Durante was somehow different. He was hammy and corny too, but there was something down-to-earth about him. He laughed at himself as much as anyone else did. And while he loved to put on a show, it seems he was doing it for the hell of it and not to leave you with the impression he was the epitome of show business in capital letters.

The headline above was one of the many that were printed above a weekend newspaper feature story on Durante by noted reviewer James Bacon, then of the Associated Press.

Perhaps to the dismaying ego of the writer, wire service stories are written to be edited. Writers can’t predict how much space a subscribing paper has, so their stories are generally structured to allow an editor to choose X number of paragraphs and drop the rest. Bacon’s piece on Durante, which appeared in American papers as of December 5, 1954, was no different. So I’ve played news editor and cobbled together all the paragraphs from about a half-dozen differently-chopped versions. I’m sure Bacon—and fans of Durante—would be happy I’ve tried to restore his full story as best as possible. The stock photo of Clayton, Jackson and Durante accompanied the article; I’ve substituted others from the internet for the rest.

‘Goodnight, Mrs. Kalabash’
(Editor’s Note—Things were exceptionally rough for young Jimmy Durante. He not only had to fight his way up New York’s East Side, but he had to do it with the extra handicap of taking piano lessons. Now, at 61, he’s not only one of the world’s great pianists, he’s quite a guy besides.)
By James Bacon
Associated Press Newsfeatures Writer

HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 4 (AP)—WHO IS THE MOST BELOVED person in show business?
At least a score in Hollywood, New York or Las Vegas lay claim to the title and all have the press agents to prove it. But the rightful claimant, in most minds, is a little guy with a heart as big as his nose — and no press agent.
Jimmy Durante would be the first to deny that he deserves any such affection. Yet on the wall of his Beverly Hills den hangs a plaque from B'nai B'rith which bestows the accolade on him in gold engraving. It may be significant that the donor is Jewish, the recipient Catholic.
There are a number of reasons why folks feel the way they do.
Durante’s kindness is legendary, his loyalty has a memory that reaches all the way back to his boyhood. He may die broke as a result.
Stagehands get $100 tips after his TV shows. A few years ago he played the London Palladium for four weeks at $10,000 a week. The trip cost him $50,000. He took along 11 friends, only five of whom were needed in the act.
“It was probably da foist and last time any of dese guys would ever get to see Europe,” Jimmy explained.
At 61, an age when he should be slowing down, he still does as many or more benefits than anyone in town. But he avoids the big star-studded affairs, concentrates his talents in such places as obscure parish churches where a pastor needs a little help in building a playground or adding a classroom to a school. As for the big affairs where studio bosses try to outdo each other in commanding talent to appear:
“Dose benefits got too much entertainment,” Durante says. “Why should I knock myself out for millionaires who can afford to pay for entertainment while dese little places that ain’t got none are screamin’ for it? Me and Eddie Jackson always work better in de little spots anyhow."
Jackson is an example of Durante's loyalty. Years ago he and Lou Clayton joined Durante and put on a club act. When Clayton was stricken a few years ago, Durante spent hours at his bedside, was crushed when he died.
Jackson isn’t essential to Durante’s act those days, but he’s on the bill for a steady spot. Jimmy is proud of Jackson’s success on TV, and fades into the background for a moment when he introduces “Eddie Jackson of Clayton, Jackson and Durante.”
HE'S SORRY that Clayton didn’t live to make a comeback in this new medium.
“Lou would have added class to da act,” Jimmy says.
Durante’s boyhood may provide the answer to his character today.
His Lower East Side neighbourhood was as tough as any in New York, and a spawning ground for many hoodlums. Growing up, Jimmy had an extra cross to bear. He was known as the kid who took piano lessons. But now he’s grateful for the insistence of his Italian father that he keep up with his music. Otherwise, he thinks, he might have wound up in Sing Sing, as some of his school chums did.
He could quit with the jokes today, and still be a big star.
“Wit hair,” he conceeds, “I cud be anudder Liberace.”
He’s a legitimate musician, a composer who has written hundreds of songs, including some he made famous. His early years were spent playing in honky tonks, where he was billed as “Ragtime Jimmy, the King of Harlem.” Once, in a Coney Island spot, he teamed up with a singing waiter, a fellow with pop eyes who bounced ail over the floor as he sang. The waiter was Eddie Cantor.
CANTOR RECALLS that musicians from other places used to gather after hours to watch Durante beat out barrelhouse and ragtime rhythms.
“Jimmy was a piano player’s piano player,” says Cantor now. “There was no greater compliment. He was the greatest jazz pianist of that era.”
He still could be, except that his comedy routines won’t let him play more than a few bars at at a time.
Durante and Cantor used to boast to customers that the number never was written that they couldn’t sing and play. It was a gimmick that brought big tips from homesick drunks.
“We could make good 95 per cent of the time,” recalls Cantor, “but once in a while someone would ask for some piece like ‘South Dakota Blues’ which we never heard of. Jimmy would compose the melody on the spot and I would do the same with lyrics. Most of the time, the drunks were happy but once in a while one would squawk. Our stock answer was: ‘Do you mean there are two songs with the same title?’”
When World War I came, Jimmy went in the Army but his knowledge of music got him in the band instead of the Infantry.
“Here I was leadin’ a band I down Broadway to sell liberty bonds. What a war dat was!”
Jimmy took up bandleading after the war, made friends with a strutting singer by the name of Eddie Jackson. Prohibition came and a waiter approached Durante with the idea of opening a speakeasy.
They hired a sign painter to hang up a sign. He couldn’t spell any better than Durante and thus the Club Durant was born. Durante and Jackson didn’t have enough capital to put the extra E on the sign, so it stayed Durant and became one of the landmarks of the prohibition era.
Clayton, one of vaudeville’s top soft shoe dancers, came in later to form the famous team.
At first Durante confined himself to playing the piano and greeting customers. His natural friendliness caused the club trouble in those shaky days. Jackson recalled the time two customers couldn’t get by the doorman.
“Jimmy waved them in, shook hands with them, bought them a round of drinks and the next morning the place was padlocked. They were revenue men.”
Durante played piano for awhile then decided he should try for laughs, too. His roughhouse comedy was timed for that rowdy era. He started playing the piano less and throwing the furniture at drummer Jack Roth more.
Roth, who has been the target for Durante's wild antics for 30 years, claims he's never missed a beat no matter how many things Durante threw at him.
“He only hit me once with the piano top,” says Roth. “It took four stitches to close my head but I kept right on drumming.”
Clayton, Jackson and Durante, along with Texas Guinan, became the top attractions of this giddy period. Sime Silverman, the founder of Variety, became a booster of the three. Soon they were out of the club and playing the Palace.
In this period of 1928-29-30 they would play three shows a day in such legitimate vaudeville theaters as the Palace. In between those legal shows and after midnight they would double into floor shows of such famed Broadway speakeasys as the Silver Slipper and Frivolity.
Their energy was unbelievable. Between the Palace and the speakeasy clubs they were playing from six to eight shows a day between noon and 2 a.m.
Next came Broadway shows and in the early ‘30s the movies beckoned — but only to Durante.
Characteristically, he brought the whole bunch along. Clayton became business manager and when personal appearances or benefits came up, it was Clayton, Jackson and Durante again. Only Clayton’s death in 1950 split them.
DURANTE may have been the big star of pictures and radio but when the trio performed, he was just one of the act.
The town is full of stories about him, some of the best told by Jimmy himself.
‘Way back in 1933, Jimmy met Ethel Barrymore in the MGM casting office.
“A hell of a nice dame,” recalls Jimmy. “She told me how much she and her brudder Jack liked my woik. I told her if dere’s anyt’ing I can do for ya’ — put in a word or somethin’ — I'll do it.”
Durante’s abuse of the king’s English is no affectation. He was brought up on New York’s Lower East Side and quit school in the seventh grade.
But when the Jesuits who run Loyola University of Los Angeles needed somebody for a TV short to plug the educational advantages of the school, they chose Durante.
“The fodders had a lot of trouble with me,” says Jimmy. "I couldn’t pronounce the name of the school. They kept telling me it’s Loyola but I couldn’t say Loyola so I kept calling it Lyola. How about dat? I changed the name of the university.”
ONCE GARRY MOORE, a radio partner of Durante’s, tried to educate Durante so he would pronounce the words right on the radio. It was a hopeless effort and finally one day Durante took Moore aside and said:
“You mean well, kid, and tanks, but if you teach me to say dem words right, we’re both out of a job.”
Durante’s memory, or lack of it, with scripts is famous in television.
“I’m de only comic who don’t need no cards or prompters,” he boasts.
“No wonder,” chimes in partner Eddie Jackson. “You can’t read.”
When Jimmy loses his place in the script, the laughs still fall because no one can get confused quite as hilariously as Jimmy — but it can be a tough spot for a straight guest star.
John Wayne went on one night with Durante in two separate sketches. Jimmy remembered his lines all right, but not in the proper order—or sketch.
"Here I am standing there with egg on my face in the first sketch. If it had been anyone else I would have walked off the stage, but I love the guy so I just stood there looking silly—and an actor with nothing to say can look pretty silly.”
The rabid Durante fan, and there are millions, couldn’t care less about scripts where Durante is concerned. To them, Durante only has to appear and do the same thing week after week — and he often does.
WHAT OTHER COMIC could get by for years, as Durante has, with the same opening and ending and little variation in between? It may come as a revelation to many constant viewers that Durante always starts off with “Ya gotta start each day wid a song,” and then segues into “Let me hear dat note” and “stop da music.”
And his ending, “Goodnight, Mrs. Kalabash, wherever you are,” is easily the most poignant — and oldest — ending in show business.
And who is Mrs. Kalabash?
No one, not even Jackson, knows.
“Many years ago,” confides Jackson, “I asked Jimmy who she was and all he said was, ‘Eddie, be a pal. Don’t ever ask me again’ and I never have.”
Many, who claim to know, say it is just a piece of smart showmanship to put a little heart into the act, also a little mystery, but that it is wholly fictitious. Others say that it is a greeting to a long ago boarding house matron who befriended Jimmy when he was a hungry piano player.
BUT BEST GUESS — and I base that on a reporter’s intuition after asking him the question many times — is that it’s the pet name for his wife, to whom he was very devoted. She died in 1943.
Durante married Jeanne Olson, then a beautiful singer in the night club where the not-too-handsome Jimmy was the pianist. That was 1921.
Other than one rift — when she sued him for separate maintenance for breaking up the furniture — they were much in love. During the last year and a half of her life when she was very ill, Jimmy gave up his career to be at her side.
He never has remarried though in recent years he has squired red-haired Margie Little to premieres and openings. But like anyone else who is friendly with Durante, she must share him along with the rest of the Durante entourage of Jackson, pianist Jules Buffano, drummer Jack Roth, writer Jackie Barnett and a half dozen others.”
“Where Durante goes, everybody goes,” asserts The Schnoz.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Olive Oyl Cuspidor Dance

Does any cartoon character get twisted and turned more than Olive Oyl? The Fleischer animators loved to bend and stretch her pipe-cleaner dimension arms and legs every which way, and a great example is in “Blow Me Down” (1933).

Olive is dancing in a cantina, with her big flat feet flying around as she slides on the floor (the background moves left to right). Then she gets cuspidors stuck on both her feet and tries to dance them off. She grows an extra leg (and cuspidor) in some of the drawings in the process.

Finally, she cartwheels, splits her legs and lands on her butt, still pissed off.

Finally, she makes a long-legged, triumphant leap off camera, even though she hasn’t triumphed at all. The cuspidors are still there.

They sure loved doing things in time to the music at Fleischer. Popeye stomps down the street to the beat. People in the cantina bob in unison to the beat. And Olive, of course, is landing her feet, butt and whatever on the floor to the beat.
Willard Bowsky and Bill Sturm get the animation credits here.

The Arch Supporting Steve Franken

Television of the 1960s was awash with fine comic actors who were cast as one type of character and took it from show to show to show. Steve Franken was one of them. He died of cancer last Friday, according to TV historian and interviewer Stu Shostak of

Franken was the small screen’s definitive spoiled, snooty mama’s boy, pretty much defining the character as Chatsworth on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” That was his big break on TV. He’d been a teenaged stage actor, appearing in productions of “Hansel and Gretel” and “Charley’s Aunt” as a member of the South Hills Players in Charleston, West Virginia in 1952. He parlayed that into a small role in Paul Muni’s “Inherit the Wind” on Broadway in 1955. Walter Winchell pointed out in a column that Franken was born an hour after his mother Edith had seen Muni in “Counsellor at Law.”

Franken was a New Yorker who grew up in the Eton Hall Apartments on 118th Street. He was the son of Merritt Franken, a newspaper reporter who later became director of publicity of Television Programs of America. His dad wasn’t crazy about his son’s chosen profession, as we read in this Panama City News Herald story dated July 7, 1963 about the things a guy has to do on his way to his big break.

The “inch-by-inch” career of Steve Franken now seems to be leaping and bounding

Fame of a strange sort has come at last to a diminutive former heel packer named Steve Franken.
The 28-year-old actor is known principally to TV viewers as the filthy rich Chatsworth on “The Dobie Gillis Show.” Brooklyn-born Steve made about 45 appearances on the Gillis series, which is now a-dying. He, Dwayne Hickman, and Bob (“Maynard”) Denver were known on the lot as "the world’s oldest teen-agers.”
After working at odd jobs to enable him to speak one-liners on stage in the evening—a career that has progressed “inch by inch,” the young man says slyly—he has now achieved immortality of sorts. Come fall, he’ll apparently be the first performer featured in two TV series at the same time. Both shows are NBC offerings. On one, Steve will have the roll of a wacky Marine lieutenant in a new comedy called “The Lieutenant.” The other show has him portraying a mild biology high school instructor who has Dean Jagger for his principal in “Mr. Novak.”
Steve didn’t deliberately set out to capture the two roles. His experience is typical of a business where you push and shove for a specific thing, only to have an advantage unexpectedly drop in your lap from left field. He did a pilot for one show, then was spotted by someone for the second show. Result: an envied TV double exposure.
A one-time NBC page boy who was almost fired for practicing his German accent on a German-speaking woman, Franken has succeeded in his career by sheer determination. His father, a well-known publicist, did not want him in show business and refused to help him.
Steve’s long, long trial included working in the complaint department at Macy’s in the daytime so he could utter his one-liner at night on Broadway in “Inherit the Wind.” He portrayed an eager-eyed youth who leaped out of the crowd and shouted: “Train coming and I see the smoke way up the track!” For that he got $16 per week. He also recalls standing behind some pretty distinguished actors in the Hollywood unemployment compensation line. “They pay the best unemployment compensation anywhere,” he said.
But Steve’s most fascinating sidelight was at an arch support factory. The factory was operated by some displaced Hungarians in New York, and Steve held the job while trying for the theater.
“I know it sounds like a ‘What’s My Line,’ but it's true,” he said. “I was a heel packer. I stood on my feet all day, and one day I got so tired I sort of sagged. The head arch support man, a master leather craftsman who looked like someone out of the Old Testament, asked: ‘Hey kid, you got hurt fits? Don't worry. I fix.’
“He made me a pair of elaborate arch supports, but when I put them on, they killed me. I stood them all day and almost died. I worried all that night about the sensitive old man, and how he’d feel if I didn’t wear them the next day. I just couldn’t face him, so I never went back.”

Franken soon moved on to play the best man who moves in with his buddy and his new brand-wife on the forgotten 1964 sitcom “Tom, Dick and Mary” (it didn’t have a prayer opposite “The Andy Griffith Show”). He played a doctor. Hollywood maven Rona Barrett, in her column of September 27, 1964, noted the irony that his parents wanted him to be a doctor in the first place (his grandfather was the chiropodist at the Hotel Astor for 33 years). And he was on the way there for a while. Here’s part of her story.

Physically he [Franken] doesn’t remind you of Kildare or Casey. He’s 5 feet 7, 140 pounds and has blue eyes that seem to pop cut at you. But the minute you hear him you can understand why momma and poppa Franken, the latter a Hollywood press agent, wanted little Stevie to be their son, the doctor.
HE’S a sensitive fellow, who’s probably too idealistic for his own good, but just the right type to fit into the idealistic profession of medicine. Only when he hears bells ringing and birds singing does he know he’s in love. At the moment all’s silent on the Franken front.
“I’m beginning to think monogamy is the answer to convenience,” he said staring after a pretty blonde who had just walked by. “It doesn’t pay to be too intellectual,” he then added.
“When I graduated from Cornell University (where he started out being a pre-med student, later switching to English), my BA degree couldn’t get couldn’t get me a doughnut.
“I do believe there’s some truth to the Hegelian theory that one must suffer a little in order to appreciate what he does get. But there is such a thing as diminishing returns. And I can remember in the beginning when going out into the cruel world that I ate less times than more.
“There were months and months during which I couldn’t get a job. When I finally did it was for a hand commercial. And wouldn’t you know it, when I went for the job, they told me my hands were perfect but my fingernails too short. And what made it even worse, I had just cut them for the first time in months earlier that morning.”
During the lean periods, Steve found happiness and contentment as a complaint adjuster at Macy’s and as a heel packer in an arch support factory run by Hungarians who couldn’t speak English.
For the experience in relationship to acting he said, “I’m happiest when I’m working. But an actor’s work is everyone’s business. No one asks the plumber how he fixes a pipe.
“However, it is far better than having a woman want to return her bed after four years because she’s just discovered bed bugs, or having to wear a pair of arch supports that don’t fit you in order to keep a Hungarian arch artisan happy so you can keep a job.”
HE constantly knocks wood in grateful appreciation of the day he finally made Broadway. His first acting experience was as a broom in the “Travels of Lucky Peter.” It wasn’t until after he appeared in “Inherit the Wind” as part of the scenery that his biggest break finally came: a part in Jose Ferrer’s “Edwin Booth.” [1958]
“I was introduced to Ferrer on the phone and before he could ask me any questions, I recited a speech from Richard III and got the part.”
When he finally landed in films, he said, “I had so much fun working that day I felt guilty about taking the money. I wanted to return some of it.”
And today you get the feeling that if he had to work in “Tom, Dick and Mary” for nothing he would. After all, not only is he satisfying his favorite vocation, but his folks can still call him, “Our son, the doctor!”

Franken may be best known for a pile of different roles on “Bewitched,” including one where he’s a smug client of Darren’s who hires a detective to snoop on Samantha. And he played against type in a great turn as the killer in an episode of “Perry Mason” (the one where Perry actually lost at the beginning).

As an actor, it probably gets a little disheartening and unsatisfying playing the same type over and over again. But someone has to have real talent to convince an audience of their portrayal so much they want to see it again and again. They may not be stars but they become a familiar presence in the living room that TV viewers look forward to seeing like a friend who pops over every once in a while. That was Steve Franken.

Monday 27 August 2012

Les Alpes de Gribbroek Sans Skunque

Chuck Jones bragged that he had something like 108 backgrounds in “What’s Opera, Doc?” but he seems to have liked constantly cutting to different scenic drawings. He sure did in “Two Scent’s Worth” (1955). I’d count them all except there’s only so much of Mel Blanc’s unctuous French voice I can listen to in one sitting.

Fortunately, Pepé Le Pew shuts up for a while in this cartoon so we can enjoy some of the artistry of Bob Gribbroek and Phil De Guard. The short opens with a pan down a really nice drawing of the French Alps and stops as we look down on a village of tall buildings below. About the first half of the cartoon takes place in the village. The rest happens across the slopes.

The drawings below are from the second half of the cartoon. Gribbroek uses a variety of angles in his layouts—looking up, looking down, looking slightly up or down. There were a lot more backgrounds than these in the last three minutes; I just picked the ones I found the most interesting that didn’t have characters in them.

I presume at least some of Jones’ cartoons released in 1955 would have been on the drawing board before the Warners cartoon studio closed on June 15, 1953. It re-opened some time in the first half of 1954. Jones’ best-known layout man, Maurice Noble, left the studio about March or April 1953 and returned around July 1955. The list below of cartoons and their layout artist is in order of 1955 release, with the production numbers in parentheses.

Beanstalk Bunny (1332) – Bob Givens
Ready, Set, Zoom (1327) – Maurice Noble
Past Perfumance (1329) – Bob Givens
Rabbit Rampage (1341) – Ernie Nordli
Double or Mutton (1343) – Phil De Guard
Jumpin’ Jupiter (1338) – Ernie Nordli
Knight-Mare Hare (1349) – Ernie Nordli
Two Scent’s Worth (1377) – Bob Gribbroek
Guided Muscle (1344) – Phil De Guard
One Froggy Evening (1335) – Bob Gribbroek

Sunday 26 August 2012

A Phoney Trip Down Allen's Alley

Fred Allen’s full-time career on radio ended on June 26, 1949 but his most famous segment ended before that.

Allen’s Alley was Allen speaking through the characters of an elected Dixiecrat, a Jewish New York housewife, a rural New Englander and a happy Irishman on issues of the day. The premise of interviewer Allen knocking on doors of homes along an alliterative lane was changed in his final season to a man-on-the-street format called “Main Street” with most of the same characters. It doesn’t work as well. You can picture the front porches when you hear the door-knocking sound effect in the Alley; the Main Streeters just show up and it’s less visually evoking.

Though the Alley was gone, it was not forgotten. Jack Benny spoofed it on his show on February 12, 1950. About the same time, syndicated columnist Erskine Johnson did the same thing. In Johnson’s case, he lobbed softball questions about Fred’s pet peeves to Allen, then set up the responses in an Allen’s Alley interview format.

The column appeared in papers beginning February 21, 1950.

Johnson Goes to Fred Allen For Some Sprightly Comments
NEA Staff Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD—(NEA)—And now let’s peek in on Allen’s Alley.
Just because Fred Allen doesn’t have a radio show this season, there’s no reason the Johnson Network can’t bring him to you.
ANNOUNCER: “The Fred Allen Show!”
ANNOUNCER: “Fred is packing his suitcase in his room at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for the trip back to New York after a month of California sunshine and several radio guest appearances, including one with his old pal Jack Benny.
JOHNSON: “Tell me, Mr. Allen, why did you come to Hollywood?”
ALLEN: “I was sick for two months this winter and I worried about owing Jack Benny a guest appearance. In case I die, I don’t want any trouble at the grave with Jack's attorney about owing them a guest shot.”
JOHNSON: “Thank you, Mr. Allen. Now let me get your opinion on several subjects. For instance, Milton Berle.”
ALLEN: “I’m mad at him. He didn’t steal any of my jokes—he stole one of my people (writer Nat Hiken). I guess you’d call it ‘artistic kidnaping.’”
Milton’s television show:
ALLEN: “A formula that won’t last. You hire six vaudeville acts and get a guy with five fingers—like Berle—to point at ‘em.”
California sunshine:
ALLEN: “The sun is all right if you are a tropical plant. The sun doesn’t do anything for a microphone.”
ALLEN: “I look great on kinecope. It straightens me out. Portland thinks I should remain on kinescope and never come home. I look better than I do alive.”
Television viewers:
ALLEN: “I know a fellow who hasn’t even got a set, but his neighbors have, and he’s sick of television already."
Television’s pioneers:
ALLEN: “Pioneers never make any money. Take Daniel Boone. He went through all those forests and didn’t make a dime. Then the lumber companies came in and cleaned up.”
His radio version of “It’s in the Bag” on the Screen Directors Playhouse on NBC:
ALLEN: “I broke a chair over the head of a radio M. C. The fact that he was the M. C. of a giveaway show is not coincidental.”
Giveaway programs:
ALLEN: “They're tough on actors. All a sponsor has to do is hire an M. C. and eight ice boxes.”
ALLEN: “Ninety per cent of the people are living off 10 per cent of the people.”
NBC executives:
ALLEN: “They’re all shaking so that if there’s ever an earthquake in New York the NBC men will be the only ones standing still.”
ALLEN: “There has to be unemployment. If everyone who is unemployed suddenly went to work, all the people working in the unemployment bureaus would be unemployed.”
California smog:
ALLEN: “It’s the reason no one ever leaves California. They can’t find the railroad station.”
The growth of Los Angeles:
ALLEN: “Everyone who gets off the train here is carrying a hammer and a piece of board and builds something.”
Wrestling on television:
ALLEN: “If you can't afford a set, I know a couple of guys who will come to your home and wrestle in the living room.”
His motion picture plans:
ALLEN: “I auditioned for the Paramount commissary but I couldn’t make it.”
Hollywood dinner parties:
ALLEN: “There’s a regular circuit you have to play when you come out to Hollywood. You go to certain people's homes for dinner and then you never see ‘em again.”
Jack Haley’s ranch, where he spent several days:
ALLEN: “Jack raises cows. Cows are easier to get along with than people and besides, they give milk.”
His own future in television:
ALLEN: “I’ll probably go back on the radio next fall. Then when there are 15 or 20 million TV sets, I’ll try television. Out of all this confusion will come a technique.”

Allen’s radio career ended for a variety of reasons. His health wasn’t good. His ratings were even worse, thanks to the giveaway craze on “Stop the Music” on ABC opposite him (“Radio is the Marshall Plan with music,” Allen tartly observed). And radio itself was sputtering and coughing to a death and rebirth as a home for popular music, friendly patter and top-of-the-hour news. He was a semi-regular on “The Big Show” for the two seasons it was on the NBC, starting in fall 1950, before a brief career on television that never really tapped his talents. Death claimed him in 1956 before his TV technique could come out of the confusion.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Let's Not Make a Deal, Monty

If Monty Hall had his way, he wouldn’t have been pointing at Carol Merrill standing next to Door Number Three or handing $10 to a woman in the audience if she had a tube of toothpaste in her purse.

That’s because if Monty Hall had his way, he never would have hosted and produced “Let’s Make a Deal” as he never would have been on American television to begin with.

There’s a long list of Canadians in show business who have headed to the U.S. to find bigger fame and fortune. Long before Alex Trebek got his green card to make American game show greenbacks, Monty Hall did the same thing. But he really didn’t want to, at least if an interview in the Winnipeg Free Press is to believed. This is from August 21, 1959, a couple of years before his big fame on “Deal.”

TV Star Says CBC Cut Him Off
Free Press Staff Reporter

A Winnipeg entertainer who became a star in New York television said he was “forced into the big time” when CBC cut him off Toronto shows with no explanation.
Monty Hall, now in Winnipeg to visit his parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. H. Halparin, said: “I never wanted to leave Canada for New York. I was content here. But the CBC forced me to pull up stakes and leave. I've seen them take other people off the network without explanation, and once they cut you off, you're through.”
Daily Show
Friday was the last program of Mr. Hall’s popular Canadian radio quiz show, Who Am I, which he started back in 1949. “That was my last link with Canada, and now it’s gone.”
In New York, he has a daily hard-hitting TV interview show called Byline, Monty Hall. He also headlines some of the other big-name shows such as Strike It Rich, Monitor, Keep Talking, The Sky’s The Limit, and has worked on the now defunct quiz show Twenty-One.
Recently he was featured in Life for his introduction of television Bingo, and is considered one of the top master of ceremonies in New York. This fall he’ll resume Monitor, and at the same time work on three shows on three different networks.
“I’ve formed my own package group, Skyline Productions, and in the future I hope to be the man behind the scenes rather than the performer,” he said.
Monty Hall was well-known in Winnipeg show business, performing in university productions and radio plays. A science graduate of the University of Manitoba, he had planned to he a doctor but “radio got in my blood.”
After a successful stint at CKRC, he pulled up stakes for Toronto in 1946 to work for CHUM, and within four months he was manager. In 1953 he got a break in television with a successful future virtually assured.
“After a good television start in Canada, I was really looking forward to a big year in 1955. Suddenly CBC blanked me off all shows, and three shows that I was signed for suddenly unsigned me, according to CBC.”
Mr. Hall was to have originally handled the Pick The Stars show, and Matinee Party, which is now P.M. Party with Gordie Tapp. A third show went to Billy O’Connor.
Wall Of Silence
I spoke to a million people, asked a million questions, but no one would tell me why. They were just silent. Finally in the summer of 1955 I went to New York looking for a job. When the CBC cuts you off, you just can’t walk across the street because there’s nothing across the street.”
Finding a job wasn’t too easy in New York, and he had almost given up when two calls came Dec. 7, 1955. One wanted him to replace Warren Hull on Strike It Rich, and the other was to M.C. a television quiz show, The Sky’s The Limit.
Until this week, Mr. Hall commuted to Toronto from his New York home for the radio show, but now that is broken.
“Anyone who can make the grade in Canadian television and not get blackballed for some reason or other should stay in Canada. I’m not bitter, and if they want to talk to me, I’ll be glad to discuss the possibility of my returning. This is my country, and my family is keeping its Canadian citizenship.”
With Mr. Hall in Winnipeg are his wife and two children, Joanne, 9, and Richard, 2.

What would Monty’s career have been like if he had stayed in Canada? He could have asked his brother Bob, who was a panellist on “To Tell the Truth.” Not the one with Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle. The one hosted by Norman Kihl, a 1962 made-for-Canada version that’s been forgotten by all but a handful of Canadians.

Monty Hall turned 91 today and he can look back on a full and happy career. And he can partly thank the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.