Thursday 28 February 2013

Knock Knock Backgrounds

Background artists didn’t tend to get credited on cartoons until the mid-1940s. So it’s only a wild guess that Fred Brunish provided the backgrounds for the cartoon with the first appearance of Woody Woodpecker, “Knock Knock” (1940). I don’t know when Willie Pogany left the studio. The blend of colours and detail is terrific.

Animation credits go to Alex Lovy and Frank Tipper, though someone may be able to tell me if La Verne Harding and Les Kline worked on this as well.

Follow up note, posted in 2015: The artist is Edgar Kiechle. Read here

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Living Colour, Dying Show

NBC gave birth to a peacock in 1956 to advertise its colour broadcasts. By then, NBC had won a lengthy governmental battle with CBS over which network’s colour system would be the industry standard.

NBC had been broadcasting in colour on rare occasion prior to 1956. One of those rare occasions was in November 1953 when Bob Hope’s variety show was shot by colour cameras. I can’t imagine many people actually saw it in colour. New York Herald Tribune critic John Crosby was one of them but he played down the colour and played up the fact that Hope died on camera.

It probably isn’t surprising Crosby dismissed Hope’s broadcast. And, no, it has nothing to do with his name being “Crosby” (as in Bing). Hope sued Crosby for $2,010,000 in November 1950 for claiming in Life magazine that Hope’s writers had stolen material from Fred Allen. Hope dropped the suit the following May, but Crosby continued with his skewering of Hope’s shows. He called one telecast from London in 1954 “mediocre” and sally-forthed from there. And he’s equally uncomplimentary in this column a year earlier.

NEW YORK, Nov. 21. — The Bob Hope show on Monday night (which you probably didn't see because you haven't got a color set) was, according to an announcement at the beginning, "the first full hour commercial show on color television." A notable first. And, from beginning to end, an almost unqualified disaster.
For one thing, Miss Arlene Dahl, a luscious red-headed lollipop from Hollywood, had been imported to New York to play opposite Hope's wolf whistles.
Miss Dahl had also, rather absently, contracted to play Roxanne opposite Jose Ferrer's "Cyrano de Bergerac" at the City Center. The two assignments were too taxing for her voice (it says here) and Miss Dahl withdrew from the Hope show. In the nick of time.
Another Red-Head
Thrashing about for a replacement, the people in charge over there came up with another red-headed lollipop, Miss Janis Paige, who was precipitated in front of the color cameras with almost no rehearsals and only the dimmest idea of what she was expected to do. Naturally, she blew lines in all directions. It didn't matter much. The lines in that show were, if anything, improved by being massacred. Still, I think it's a bad idea to throw people in front of color cameras, unrehearsed.
About a week before the show, it was decided to demonstrate what color TV did for the feminine face and form and a call went out for beautiful women to show up at the Colonial Theater. A spy I have around here for occasions of this nature was dispatched to the Colonial to oversee this operation "About 100 lovelies showed up," he reported. "Lovelies—that's what everyone up there called them. They were accompanied by 100 agents, all unlovely." That's all I could get out of him.
Spectacular Gowns
A selection of these lovelies was presented on the show, done up like anything in evening gowns. The gowns were spectacular. The lovelies came off second best.
Considering what you can find on Fifth Avenue around high noon of any shopping day, this was not anything like the best New York can produce in the line of lovelies.
When color TV is really upon us, though, I bet we're going to see a lot of lovelies. The temptation to dress up a pretty girl in as little as the law allows and parade her across the stage in four colors is going to be irresistible.
As for the show, we were warned in advance that it was a dress rehearsal—it was broadcast in black and white the following night—and that it was several rehearsals away from the finished product. Even allowing for its unfinished state, it was pedestrian. Hope told some jokes about color TV and Bing Crosby. "You'll see the blue of the night meet the gold of his pot."
Hope, his guest Fred MacMurray, and Miss Paige then perpetrated a dreary sketch about the making of filmed TV commercials which should have been funny but wasn't. (I'm impressed, though, that they'd even allow such a thing on the air.) There was another fairly clubfooted sketch with Hope as a college football player which should have been funny but wasn't. And Hope and Paige sang a duet, tripping prettily all over, the lyrics which were pretty dull anyhow.
Clean As Whistle
Incidentally, the black and white show, for which this was a rehearsal, was the monthly replacement for the Milton Berle show, and Mr. Hope delivered himself of some jokes about the new, revised, expurgated Berle. In this connection, it seemed to me that Hope had undergone some revision, too.
Hope's last show got an awful lambasting from the critics on the grounds of poor taste. Mr. Hope, I guess, decided to scrub up a little himself and this show was clean as a whistle.
The color transmission, with all its imperfections and fumbling technique, was lovely to look at. Some dramatic shows will probably profit not at all from color but for every variety show, color is going to be a tremendous asset.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Funny Face Backgrounds

Ub Iwerks may have come from the Disney studio, but he emulated the early Fleischer sound cartoons when it came to backgrounds. You’ll find warped buildings and streetscapes that have a ratty, seen-better-days look (while Disney increasingly went for the pretty illustration-wannabe look).

The effect isn’t as pronounced in “Fresh Face,” a 1933 Flip cartoon, but you can see it. Unfortunately, the versions the cartoons I have been are full of digital pixilation, so I can’t clip together a nice long street background. But you can see what I’m talking about from some of these shots.

And here’s about half of one background drawing of Dr. Skinnum’s office.

A shame it is the artists never got credit. I’d like to know who did the backgrounds for Ub around this time.

Monday 25 February 2013

Popeye's Butt

Cartoon writers love butts.

Butts in cartoons are shot at, slapped with boards, attacked by buzz saws and errant arrows, kicked by donkeys, stuck in chamber pots. Characters land on them after a long fall. But only in a Popeye cartoon would one be punch-massaged.

The cartoon in question is “Let You and Him Fight.” I’ve always liked the openings of the original Popeye cartoons. The name of the cartoon is drawn in a rope calligraphic; I don’t believe the studio did it that way again.

The sound of Mae Questel is not in this cartoon; someone else is Olive. The sound of a desk drawer closing is in this cartoon; at least, I think that’s how the got the sound of the ship’s doors closing. Willard Bowsky and Bill Sturm received the animation credits.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Same Gags, Same Interview

Variations on the same gags. Jack Benny used them for years and years and years and people still loved them. And Jack used variations on the same stories he gave in interviews, too.

If you leaf through some of the wire stories about Jack, many talk about his writers and their length of service, how Jack wasn’t funny off stage, how he had to adjust his comedy. He even conducted several of these chats wearing pyjamas or a bathrobe. So perhaps you won’t see anything new in this piece that was designed to plug the start of Jack’s 1957-58 television season. It’s from the United Press.

Jack Benny Begins 26th Year On Air Sunday
United Press Hollywood Writer

HOLLYWOOD, Sept. 20. (UP)—Jack Benny, he of the blue eyes and 39-year-old dimples, began his 26th year of broadcasting last Sunday night when he returned to the video waves with his first show of the new season.
Unlike other firmly-established stars, the famed tightwad makes no claims of a "revamped format" or "big surprises." He will continue spoofing the stingy deadbeat he invented on radio in 1932.
“I guess 25 years of continuous comedy shows makes me the dean of the funnymen,” Jack sighed, drawing on a fresh cigar.
“And looking back through hundreds of shows, I can't come up with any formula for success. I can't even account for the fact that my show has stayed in TV's top 10 the past seven years when other shows folded.”
The comedian, dressed in pajamas, slippers and bathrobe, lolled on his bed. It was noon and he'd just completed a script conference.
“Maybe it's because my writers have stayed with me. Sam Perrin and George Balzer have been writing for me for 16 years. Hal Goldman and Al Gordon, the 'new kids.' have been at it for eight years.
“Then again, my cast has played a large part in the longevity of the program,” he grinned.
“Don Wilson has been with me since the old 'Jello' days — 25 years ago. Rochester has put in 21 years and Dennis Day is working on his 19th. The important thing is that I've used them all sparingly. Audiences haven't tired of them.
“I’ve used myself sparingly, too.
“I don't have to carry the ball. More often than not I give the funny lines to a supporting character and let them play the laughs off me.”
Jack, who doesn't make an attempt to be funny off screen, smoothed his hair and admitted the humor of his CBS-TV show has changed considerably in his quarter-century on the air.
You'd be surprised how carefully a comedian must watch the pulse of public humor. A joke or situation that was funny two or three years ago often won't be funny today. We have to keep up with the public.
“For instance,” he explained. “Fifteen years ago it was funny when I tipped a bellhop five cents. Today in order to get the same laugh the bellboy has to tip me.”

Saturday 23 February 2013

Prognostications of J.R. Bray

Who in 1924 could have predicted Bugs Bunny, let alone something like “Fantasia”? Animated cartoons made big strides, especially once sound, colour and the drive of Walt Disney came into play. How different were things in 1924. Disney was just beginning to try to make his name with the Alice comedies, a combination of animation and live action. Felix the Cat and J.R. Bray’s Heeza Liar were big cartoon stars. And Max Fleischer was building his own distribution company while impressing critics with his rotoscoped clown.

Let’s go back through the pages of The Film Daily, a New York-based trade paper, and see what happened in the animated world in the first six months of 1924. Perhaps the most interesting things are articles by exhibitors and producers in a special short subject edition. We’ve reprinted a piece by J.R. Bray (a few words are missing) and one about Margaret Winkler. Following the news stories, you can read reviews of some of the cartoons.

January 20, 1924
Song Cartoons Planned by Harris and Fleischer
Red Seal—State Rights Distribution—To Be in One Reel

Chas. K. Harris and Max Fleischer of Out-of-the-Inkwell Films arranged with Red Seal Pictures to produce a series of old-time animated song cartoons. A perfect synchronization of popular song music with animated cartoons is promised. The first release is now in work and will be finished in the next few weeks. Strict secrecy is being maintained as to just how the effects are going to be produced, but it is known that some rather unusual machinery has just been devised and installed in the Out-of-the-Inkwell studios, in c[] to handle this novelty properly.
The series will be distributed by Red Seal through state right exchanges.

February 20, 1924
In The Courts
Pat Sullivan, producer of the Felix Animated Cartoons, has filed suit in the Supreme Court against Margaret J. Winkler, for a court ruling as to whether she has an option for his next series of 24 cartoons. He said he has turned over all of the series contracted for except one which he is ready to deliver, but she contends that she has an option on another series. Sullivan contends that the agreement between them is void because it is too uncertain.
Miss Winkler stated yesterday she held a bona fide option with Sullivan and that, after two years of work in building up the Felix cartoons, she did not intend relinquishing her rights on the new group.

Action On "Outline"
J. R. Bray to See H. G. Wells While in England—Former Has New Projector

John R. Bray, president of Bray Prod. Inc., sails for England Saturday on the Berengaria for a four weeks' trip. While there, he expects to visit H. G. Wells, author of "The Outline," which the former has held controlled for pictures for some time.
Bray and Wells will probably discuss the actual production of "The Outline" which the former has held since May, 1922. It has been reported at various times that Bray intended producing the work in cartoon form. He has perfected what he calls the Brayco, a compact projector that is said to be smaller than a desk telephone. It would come as no surprise to learn that the making of "The Outline" and the sale of the Brayco will be closely connected.

March 9, 1924
Bray Placed in N. W.
(Special to THE FILM DAILY)
Seattle—J. Kopfstein, associated with J. R. Bray, has placed the following with Greater Features, Inc., The "Bray Magazine," "Bobby Bumps," and "Jerry on the Job" cartoons and "Secrets of Nature" educational subjects.

March 23, 1924
"Funshop," New Educ'l Release
Maxson Foxsal Judell, author of "Black Must Be Read" which appears in many theater programs in New York is the producer of a new reel called "Funshop" to be released every week by Educational. Tie-ups with newspapers in many cities have been made. The reel will contain sayings by well-known authors and a 200 ft. cartoon strip on "Mother Goose" by Max Fleischer.

April 17, 1924
Fadman Going to Coast
Edwin M. Fadman, [sic] of Red Seal, will leave shortly on a sales trip to the Coast. He will take with him a series of "Funny Face" comedies, and "Marcus Cartoons" which his company recently acquired.

May 11, 1924
The Felix Vogue
England Takes to the Famous Cat-
Experiences of the Only Woman Distributor of Short Subjects

Everybody knows Felix—the funny cat. Felix has brought laughter and life to many an otherwise dead program. And while America seems to have appreciated Felix considerably from the box-office view point, over in England—and they do say Englishmen have no sense of humor—Felix has walked right in, stood them on their heads and walked right out again. In London today Felix is the recipient of an honor in that the most popular song of the day is entitled "Felix Kept On Walking" and it is being sung by many music hall performers. There are Felix handkerchiefs, Felix toys, Felix chinaware and an actor in vaudeville is made up to resemble Felix and struts in the same manner as Felix's peculiar little walk.
Back of Felix is Pat Sullivan the cartoonist. Few know Sullivan but there is hardly anyone who doesn't know Margaret J. Winkler, the only woman distributor of short subjects in the business. Up to 1921 Margaret Winkler—she's married now and has another name—was secretary to Harry Warner. Because of the Federated Convention on the Coast she was taken there by Harry Warner and later she decided to get into the business on her own. She looked about for material and decided upon Felix which had been shown for three years on the Paramount schedule. Since then her success has been most unusual.
Felix is in distribution in practically every part of this country and the foreign rights are reported to be working out very successfully.
Now, in addition to Felix, Miss Winkler is handling the Alice series and in the Fall will start distribution on a series of two reelers based on a series of poems written by Edgar A. Guest and published in Red Book and other well known magazines. The Felix cartoons are distributed through the King Newspaper Feature service and it is reported that the Geo. Borgfeldt Co., will have a line of Felix toys.

Box Office Builders
Possibilities of The Short Length Feature For The Wise Showman

By J. R. Bray
I am going to preface my comments with a prediction. The prediction—and I make it without qualification or reservation—is this: There is going to be—in fact there are many instances that it has already begun—a marked increase in interest among the more progressive exhibitors everywhere in the short length attractions in their programs during the coming summer.
Many exhibitors who hitherto have been more or less indifferent to the kind of entertainment they have provided their patrons in the shorter subjects on their bill, are going to give this part of their program vastly more consideration.
They will do this because the big [ ] feature, whether cartoon, comedy or scenic, or all three combined, have a special appeal of its own for the hot weather audience and one which can be made to equal and often excel the drawing power of the triple reel feature, if adequately advertised and exploited.
This means; of course, that the exhibitor must use care and showmanship in selecting the subjects for his full-length program, just as he does choosing his main attraction, for I cannot profess to maintain that all short subjects will prove box office winners, any more than all big features will.
There is now such an increasing variety of good short length attractions to select from, however, that I am sure no exhibitor who takes customary care will have any difficulty in securing subjects that will please his patrons and increase his box office receipts, especially if he gives them a part of the consideration he gives the larger feature.
Recent reports from exhibitors in vastly different sections indicate that many theaters this summer are planning to set aside one or two days a week on which they are going show a program exclusively made up of short features.
They are also going to build up this part of their program on other days of the week with greater care than formerly, and many state that they intend to call increased attention to this part of their bill in their []y, program, screen or newspaper advertising.
The reasons that they give for doing this are twofold. One is that they recognize the growing interest among their patrons for the better type of short length picture and the fact that they believe it to be ideal for summer entertainment. The other is that many exhibitors are convinced that there is going to be a decided let-down in quality in a majority of the multiple-reel pictures released this summer and so are turning to the shorter subjects to strengthen their program and hold their patronage.

May 25, 1924
Acquires New Holmes Series
Margaret J. Winkler has secured distribution of a new series of 26 Burton Holmes travel pictures. They will be state righted. Miss Winkler is also handling the Alice comedies and a new group of 24 "Felix, the Cat" cartoons. The difficulties existing between her and Pat Sullivan, the producer have been straightened.
Nat Levine has been appointed general sales manager for Miss Winkler, who together with C. B. Mintz, her husband, leaves for the coast shortly to secure new product.

June 19, 1924
Tie-Up on "Felix" Dolls
Arrangements have been made with the George Borgfeldt & Co., importers and exporters, for the manufacture of a "Felix" doll, to exploit the famous cat series. The doll retails at $1, and the Liggett Drug Co., has purchased them for their stores.

June 22, 1934
New Earl Hurd Series
A new series of 13 Earl Hurd Cartoon Comedies will be included in the 1924-25 Educational program, along the lines of "Pen and Ink Vaudeville". The Lyman H. Howe Hodge-Podge group will be continued. There will be 12 subjects in the new series.


January 13, 1924
"The Black Sheep"—Aesop Fable—Pathe
Nice Little Cartoon
Type of production . . 1 reel animated cartoon
"The Black Sheep" is entirely up to the usual good standard of this cartoon series. The drawings are cute, the action amusing and the animation smooth. The little story deals with a pup who is considered the black sheep of his family and is thrown out of the family kennel. However, he performs several brave deeds for which he is rewarded by a farmer with a medal and a huge plate of bones which he bears proudly home as a peace-offering.

January 20, 1924
"Pen and Ink Vaudeville"—Earl Hurd
Amusing Cartoon Number
Type of production . . 1 reel cartoon
To get the most out of this Earl Hurd cartoon you'll have to have an orchestra. It can be used without it, of course, but not to as good advantage. The reel consists of a burlesque on a vaudeville show with the orchestra providing a wild accompaniment to the various acts, all of which are humorously sketched and naturally much exaggerated. It's a good novelty number that will give your program variation and offers a good number of laughs.

February 17, 1924
"Felix Loses Out"—Pat Sullivan
Amusing Cat Love
Type of production . . 1 reel cartoon
Pat Sullivan has his cats perform many comical antics in his latest cartoon, called "Felix Loses Out." Indeed Felix can't compete with his rival when it comes to love-making even though he rigs up a tin lizzie to compete with the other cat's home-made wagon. The cartoon isn't as funny as some of Sullivan's Felix numbers but they'll get enough laughs out of it to satisfy.

March 2, 1924
"The All Star Cast"—Aesop Fable—Pathe
Good Cartoon Comedy
Type of production. . .1 reel animal cartoon.
This is a diverting number of Paul Terry's animated cartoon fables showing all the different acts of a vaudeville show at the Animals' Opera House. Should be good for a number of laughs, especially for the children in your audience.

March 9, 1924
"Song Cartoons"—Charles K. Harris and Max Fleischer
Well Handled Novelty
Type of production . . 1 reel novelty
Here's a new idea in song reels, presented by Charles K. Harris, the music publisher who is responsible for the songs and Max Fleischer whose animated cartoons skip nimbly from word to word of the song and lend much charm and some laughs. There is no picturization of the action described in the song—simply the words which run along the screen in large single-line type that moves slowly from right to left in time to the music and on which the tiny cartoon figures dance. The songs included are "Mother, Mother, Mother, Pin a Rose on Me," "Come Take a Trip in My Airship" and "Goodbye, My Lady Love."

April 13, 1924
"A Trip to Mars"—Max Fleischer Red Seal
Some New Tricks
Type of production. . .1 reel cartoon
Max Fleischer continues to inject originality and novelty into his cartoon numbers. His latest, "A Trip to Mars," on the Rivoli program last week, is a clever and amusing number that shows the cartoonist at his best and with his pen clown performing a series of comedy tricks that will amuse and entertain any audience. The clown is sent, via a sky-rocket, to Mars where Fleischer installs all sorts of grotesque, imaginary beings. The artist appears in his film as usual and makes a flying trip to Mars himself through means of trick photography. This is an A1 cartoon number, a good novelty and quite amusing.

May 11, 1924
"A Stitch In Time"—Max Fleischer—Red Seal
Exceedingly Clever Cartoon
Type of production . . 1 reel cartoon comedy
Max Fleischer's imp of the inkwell tries a new stunt this time. The artist sews him together instead of drawing him, as usual. The imp grabs the needle and the artist his pen and they have a duel. Finally sliding off the paper the little imp gets the spool of cord and ties up everything in the artist's home, much to the amusement of the audience. Cats, puppies, pictures, chairs, all are tied with cord, which is finally untangled by the artist and the imp put safely back in the inkbottle. There is the usual deft handling of actual photography and cartoon work seen in the Fleischer offerings. The audience at the Rialto liked this a lot.

May 25, 1924
"One Good Turn Deserves Another"—Aesop Fable—Pathe
Entertaining Cartoon
Type of production . . 1 reel animated cartoon.
A little pup is befriended by a mouse who cuts a tin can off the doggie's tail. In return, the dog saves the mouse when a swarm of cats are about to kill him. That's the basic idea, but Paul Terry has enlarged upon it with clever animation and cute little tricks of expression and the finished cartoon is entirely entertaining as a result.

Two of the editions have a list of what’s purported to be all short subjects that were released from September 1, 1923 to May 31, 1924. I won’t include it but here’s a summary: Film Booking Offices (723 7th Ave., New York) released the Heeza Liar titles from Bray Prod., Inc. (130 W. 46th, New York) until September 1923; Selznick Pictures Corp. (729 7th Ave., New York) took over distribution in November. Pathé Exchange Inc. (35 W. 45th St., New York) released a new Aesop’s Fables (133 W. 52nd, New York) short every Sunday. Max Fleischer’s Red Seal Pictures (1600 Broadway, New York) put out an Out of the Inkwell cartoon roughly every month while M.J. Winkler (220 W. 42d St., N. Y.) gave the world a new Felix the Cat from the Pat Sullivan studio (1947 Broadway) every other week as well as the monthly Alice Comedies. No other cartoon releases are mentioned. Earl Hurd’s studio was at Kew Gardens, Long Island.

While “Alice’s Sea Story” was the first short delivered by Disney to Winkler in December 1923, The Film Daily of May 11, 1924 reveals it wasn’t the first to be released. It states “Alice’s Wild West Show” was released March 1, 1924, followed by “Alice’s Spooky Adventures” one month later and “Alice’s Sea Story” on May 1, 1924. Ray Pointer has an excellent look at the history of these shorts HERE.

Friday 22 February 2013

Mummies and Skeletons by Van Beuren

Let’s see. Skeletons? Check. Piano playing? Check. Ancient Egypt? Check. Ah! It must be a Van Beuren cartoon.

George Willeman of the Library of Congress found a nitrate print of this 1932 cartoon (while looking for something else) and I loved his screen grabs from it so much that I had to pass on some of them. The picture quality is outstanding and the drawings capture the oddness that seems to have been mandatory in every Van Beuren cartoon of the early ‘30s.

Silhouette camels with shadows. Ultra-stylised greyhounds (or maybe they’re whippets). And who knows what those long-nosed things are supposed to be. There’s something to love in every Van Beuren cartoon (well, until Burt Gillett took over in 1934).

John Foster and Manny Davis get co-director credits on this one.

Thursday 21 February 2013

I Hope It's Funnier Than This One

“The Early Bird Dood It!” (1942) is one of Tex Avery’s cartoons where the parts are funnier than the whole. It’s full of typical Avery gags, but I just can’t handle the main characters (the Lou Costello whistle of the worm gets annoying after a while).

The bird chases the worm as a Scott Bradley cacophony plays in the background. They stop at a billboard. It’s advertising the cartoon they’re in.

The bird turns to the worm:

Bird: Say, I hear that’s a pretty funny cartoon.
Worm: Well, I hope it’s funnier than this one.

The worm leaps up and the chase resumes.

Here’s the title card. It’s a different colour. I don’t know if it’s the original card or from a Gold Medal reprint.

Irv Spence, Preston Blair, Ed Love and Ray Abrams get the animation credit. Frank Graham plays the bird.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Anonymous Fibber McGee

On the face of it, it makes no sense that “Fibber McGee and Molly” never made it on television. It was incredibly popular on radio for years. It may be the only radio show that spawned two spin-offs that went on to some success on TV while it lagged behind.

But it boiled down to a few things. Jim and Marian Jordan didn’t want to compete in what they called “a killing rat race.” They certainly didn’t need the money. Marian’s health was never very good. And when the show finally did move to TV, it was 1959, seemingly generations removed from its heyday, and featured two different actors in a format not the same as what radio listeners heard for years.

Here’s an Associated Press column from 1953. Radio is already been treated as something passé. Jim Jordan talks about television and that fine byproduct of radio—anonymity in public.

Radio's Still Good Enough for Fibber and Molly, But Maybe--

HOLLYWOOD, Nov. 21.—(AP)— Fibber McGee and Molly vow radio is still good enough for them, even though the pay is less than half what it used to be in the pre-television days.
It's well known in the trade that many a sponsor would love to convert the saga of Wistful Vista from radio to television. If ever a format were ready made for TV, the story of the bungling Fibber and his practical Molly is it.
"We'll probably do TV one of these days," promises Fibber, "but we found out on our last trip to Peoria that a lot of people still listen to radio."
Mild Humor Is Goal
When that time comes, Fibber hints that he will not try for any sock belly laughs. "It makes you too hard to watch, unless you're Red Skelton or Abbott and Costello. I hate situation comedies that keep pushing too hard for the belly laughs.
His favorite television show is "Mr. Peepers."
"That show will last because it's easy to watch," says McGee.
Although McGee doesn't admit it, television might deprive Molly and him of one of-the joys of life for celebrities. The two, despite their success, are seldom recognized.
Privacy Uninvaded
As Jim and Marian Jordan, they love to take trailer trips and fish. Fibber tells of the-time they went fishing up in northern California. They spent five days with other campers and never once were associated with their famed radio characters.
On the last day a fisherman in the camp landed a big one and asked all the others to sign a certificate so he could carry his proof back home.
"I looked at Marian and she looked at me and said, 'Why not?' since we were leaving camp anyhow. I signed it 'Fibber McGee.'
"The guy got sore at me and said, 'Why did you have to sign that liar's name? Now no one will believe me'."
Another time a friend took them to visit an Indian woman and her family near Santa Fe, N.M.
"The whole family sang and played guitars. Our friend said to the woman, Do you know Fibber McGee and Molly?' She answered 'How does it go?' "

The Jordans held on to radio as long as they could, after just about everyone else had deserted it. In 1953, “Fibber McGee and Molly” switched from a nightly half-hour once a week to a daytime 15-minuter five days a week. Then the show moved to NBC’s all-weekend-long hodgepodge called “Monitor,” a show which still has fiercely loyal fans and attracted top announcers and other talent. But Fibber and Molly found themselves like countless people in the radio business—unceremoniously dumped. Indispensable talent one day is unwanted airwave clutter the next. Such is the nature of the radio business, as anyone who has worked in it for any length of time can honestly attest. Here’s a story from United Press International from February 4, 1960 about the end of Fibber McGee and Molly.

Wistful Vista Pair Out After 33 Years

By Rick Du Brow

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — Jim and Marian Jordan, radio's original Fibber McGee and Molly, are out of a broadcasting job for the first time in 33 years — and they're looking for another one.
Jim, 63, and Marian, 61, two of radio’s pioneers, are not at all happy about being let out to pasture by NBC. And they don’t pull any punches about how they were let go.
“It was just the turn of a word in August,” said Jim. “We asked them if they wanted us back the next week, and they said no. We were on a four-week notice basis anyway.
“BESIDES OUR weekly bits on the ‘Monitor’ show, we had done some things for a program called ‘Stardust,’ and apparently that ‘Stardust’ thing wasn't making money.”
Interviewed in his white, two-story home, Jim, who is stout and gray-haired, said he heard that new “Fibber McGee and Molly” series on television was a contributing factor to his and Marian’s release.
The TV series stars Bob Sweeney and Kathy Lewis.
“We heard NBC wanted to avoid confusion that might be caused by two sets of voices.
“But other shows — like ‘Gunsmoke’ — have different casts for radio and TV.”
* * * *
THE JORDANS, who met 45 years ago in their home town of Peoria, Ill., are looking for the leisurely kind of radio job they had for the last few years on “Monitor.”
“We’d like to be doing something,” said Jim. “On ‘Monitor,’ we did 10 three-minute bits a week. We did it ourselves on tape. There wasn’t much glamor and excitement, but we enjoyed it.
“We can’t do anything much more strenuous because doctors have told Mrs. Jordan to take it easy. We’ve been knocking ourselves out for years.”
Doctors’ orders are one of the main reasons the Jordans didn’t attempt the frantic pace of TV production — and originate the video version of “Fibber McGee and Molly” themselves.
At first, said Jordan, NBC wanted him and Marian to do the TV version.
“NBC bought the Fibber and Molly names in 1949,” he said. “The idea when we made the sale was that we were to continue pretty much as we had. Then the pressure started on us to do TV right away.
“But all our people and our common sense told us not to do it. After all, we were on top of the radio heap and had fine contracts — and we felt we shouldn’t do TV until it was necessary. And our doctor told us not to.
“If the business had been developed and refined in 1953 the way it is now, we might have started on TV. But there was too much emotional stress then. We didn’t know how to do it, and nobody else did either.
“THEY ALL had to learn, and a lot of them keeled over on the way. So NBC started trying to find other people to play our parts. We helped. After all, we still have a financial interest in the series.”
Jordan made it plain he misses the days when Fibber’s clogged closet, Molly’s exasperated “Heavenly days” and the shenanigans at Wistful Vista were a part of Americana.
“But we’re not retired,” he said. “We just disposed of a ranch, we’re fixing up our house and we’re planning a trip. And we’re lookin’ for work.”

You don’t retire from radio. Radio retires you. And that’s what happened to Jim and Marian Jordan. Marian died in April 1961 from her continued poor health. They never made it back on the air after “Monitor” except in reruns on old-time radio broadcasts evoking nostalgia. Truly was it appropriate that Fibber and Molly lived on Wistful Vista.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Volcanic Tom

There are some neat bits of acting by Jerry in the early Tom and Jerry cartoon “The Bowling Alley-Cat” (1942) is one of them where the mouse is almost balletic in the opening few minutes. And Joe Barbera pulls off a nice gag with Tom where Jerry twirls and throws the cat by the tail from the slippery bowling lane into an ash tray which forms a volcano over him.

Tom pops up from the top of the “volcano” then spits up a pipe.

Tom gives a head shake take that takes up almost a foot of film. 14 drawings; a little over half a second.

And then a one-eyed look.

Unfortunately, no animators are credited on this cartoon, nor is the fine background artist.

Tom and Jerry were at their peak in the 1940s. Once the designs started flattening out and becoming cheaper looking, the characters lost a lot of their personality. Adding little ducks, little mice, little birds and a suburban couple didn’t really help.