Tuesday 30 April 2013

Whoa, Camel

You know the routine. It’s a Friz-Foster Favourite!

In “Sahara Hare,” we only get to see Sam clobber the camel to get it to go, not to stop. The scene is focused on Bugs Bunny, we hear the impact, then the scene cuts to Sam and the bopped camel.

Ted Bonnicksen worked on this cartoon in his brief spell as a Freleng animator, along with Gerry Chiniquy and Art Davis.

Monday 29 April 2013

Smiling Exit

Cute gag in “Casanova Cat” (1951) where Tom gets a rival cat out of the scene so he can make time with Toodles.

He ties a flagpole to the end of the black cat’s tail.

Then the pole pulls the cat out of the room, briefly leaving its smile behind.

The usual Hanna-Barbera unit animators get credited: Ken Muse, Ed Barge, Ray Patterson and Irv Spence.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Before Jack Benny Sold Canada Dry

We’ve spoken before on this blog that it’s pure bunk that Jack Benny made his radio debut, as he long stated, on the Ed Sullivan radio show on March 29, 1932. You can read about a 1931 broadcast here and a 1929 programme here.

But before Jack’s Sullivan appearance morphed into a legend, there was another claim of a “first” Benny appearance. It was published in the Pittsburgh Press of June 16, 1937 and related a broadcast on an unspecified date in 1931. Considering how meticulously planned the Benny shows were in later years, reading this account is somewhat surprising.

Jack Benny’s Radio Debut Is Recalled In Cincinnati
Newspaperman Who ‘Interviewed’ Clown Hasn’t Recovered From Seeing Carefully Penned Script Snubbed

Jack Benny’s first appearance before a microphone was a riotous, ad lib affair on Cincinnati’s WFBE (now WCPO) with Frank Aston, managing editor of The Post, as his ‘straight’ man.
Few people know that the memorable day in 1931 that Benny had the engineers and announcers of WFBE rolling on the new studio rugs, and radio fans throughout the city in tear-jerking hilarity, marked the famed comedian’s initial broadcast.
Jack was appearing in Cincinnati at the time with Earl Carroll’s Vanities, playing the Shubert. Frank Aston, then drama critic on The Post, was to interview the vaudeville headliner on WFBE. After a weary afternoon at the typewriter, trying laboriously to be as funny as Benny, Mr. Aston finished the script for the broadcast.
Makes No Carbon Copies
Benny appeared at WFBE five minutes before time for the interview to go on the air. As was the custom of that early day in radio, only one script had been prepared. (Incidentally, Jack makes no carbon copies of his program to this day).
Mr. Aston handed his brainchild to Mr. Benny with the comment: “Here’s the script we’re going to use.”
“Ummmmm,” said Mr. Benny. “Ahhhhhh,” as he preceded the critic to the studio. Two minutes to go before broadcast time. Benny still pursued [sic] the script. Frank was getting fidgety. One minute. A green warning light appeared above the studio door.
“We’re on in one minute,” the nervous Mr. Aston hissed.
“Yeah,” said Benny, still studying the lines.
The red light flashed. Aston and Benny were on the air and Aston still couldn’t see the script to read his opening lines.
Aston Up to Occasion
“I guess we can get along without this,” the comedian said, and forthwith hurled the Aston interview over his shoulder, scattering its many pages about the studio.
Mr. Aston’s spirit sank with the falling pages. But he was up to the occasion. He gave the trooper [sic] an extemporaneous introduction. John Koepf, promotion editor of The Post, who was standing in the WFBE control room watching the broadcast, can carry on from there:
“Benny took the ball after Frank’s introduction, and did he carry it! It was the best program I have ever heard out of the fellow and I don’t miss many of them. Frank made the perfect straight man, too. I’m still surprised that Benny didn’t sign him up on the spot.”
Mr. Koepf, following the program, rode down on the Hotel Sinton elevator with the vaudeville headliner. They paused for a moment in the lobby to converse before parting.
“Do you know,” said Benny, “that was the first time I ever did a radio program.”
Recognizes Mike’s Might
“Benny went on to discuss his plans in radio,” Mr. Koepf recalled. “He said he recognized the might of the microphone and saw in it a possibility to get even further on the stage.”
Jack told John that he planned to approach radio in a business-like fashion. “As soon as I get a few ideas glued together, I’m going in for this radio stuff,” he said.

Benny celebrated his 10th anniversary in radio on his broadcast of May 4, 1941, with Don Wilson stating that the actual ten-year mark was May 9th. The rest of the show had a made-up scenario about Jack’s debut for a buggy whip company.

A huge gala took place at the Biltmore Bowl in Los Angeles. But a story about the anniversary in the May 4th edition of the Kingsport Times reads in part:

But radio didn’t want Jack Benny until one night in 1932 when Broadway Columnist Ed Sullivan presented the jester as a guest over a New York Station.

No matter how you do the math, you can’t get ten years between 1932 and 1941. Certainly people must have been able to add back then and see that something wasn’t right. Jack never mentioned the Cincinnati show in any interviews that I’ve found. He always gave credit to his buddy Sullivan, originally for giving him a spotlight that helped him land the M.C. job on Canada Dry programme (debuting May 2, 1932) which then evolved into a tale of his “radio debut.” So what “debut” was he celebrating in 1941? We may never really know.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Cartoonland 1929: Mickey and Bonzo

A headline in The Film Daily said it all: “Flood of talker shorts with fewer silent in prospect.” By 1929, movie theatres had begun making the inevitable transition to sound to try to keep up with the competition.

And so had cartoon studios. Credit Walt Disney and the wonderful synchronisation of music to action in “Steamboat Willie,” released in November 1928. Granted, the Fables studio was the first to take advantage of the talkie craze with “Dinner Time” several months earlier, and Universal announced in mid-November of ’28 that all of the Oswalds produced by Winkler Productions would be in sound. But “Dinner Time” is a mere curiosity and the speaking Oswald never grabbed the public’s attention as Steamboat Mickey Mouse did. So the tale of cartoon studios in the first half of 1929 is that of sound.

Let’s leaf through some cartoon news and reviews for that period. There’s actually very little news. Much of it deals with Pat Powers, who had jumped into the sound game by pitching his Cinephone system to compete with RCA Photophone. Disney signed with Powers to distribute his cartoons and supply him with sound equipment. Until the equipment arrived in Los Angeles, Disney had to record his cartoons in New York City. It’s interesting to note that Bill Garity was originally with Powers; in fact, he’s partly credited with developing Cinephone. Garity would later be employed by the Disney studio and then move on to work for Walter Lantz (he died in 1971).

The interesting news squibs include the distribution of a series of cartoons from England starring Bonzo, the short-lived Kolortone cartoons in Brewster Color, a sound cartoon featuring Mutt and Jeff (a deal in the ‘30s saw sound added to silent Mutt and Jeffs) and the arrival of Les Kline to work for Walter Lantz on Oswald cartoons. Kline’s last credit on a Lantz cartoon was in 1971; he was 90 when he died in 1997. But there’s more to the story than this. Film Daily neglects to mention Lantz was now supervising because Universal had dropped the Winkler studio and its ex-Disney animators like Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, who now had to find work. And there’s one lonely item about Felix the Cat, but not involving Felix cartoons per se. Educational Pictures had dropped the distribution rights to them in 1928.

You’ll notice not all cartoon series are reviewed; I haven’t a clue why that was.

January 3, 1929
Interchangeability of Cinephone Again Shown
Another demonstration of the interchangeability of a subject recorded by Cinephone, over Western Electric equipment is being given this week at the Strand, New York, with "The Galloping Gaucho," one of the Micky Mouse sound cartoons created by Walt Disney, being shown.

January 11, 1929
First Oswald Ready in Sound
"Hen Fruit," first of the synchronized Oswald comedies, is set for release Feb. 4. Prints are now being sent to Universal exchanges.

January 23, 1929
Roseland Handling Cartoons
Roseland Pictures Corp., New York, is distributing on a state right basis, a series of 26 one reel "Bonzo" cartoon featurettes, the creation of the English artists, G. E. Studdy, which long has been a supplement of Saturday and Sunday feature pages. The first three of the series titled "Bonzolina,” "Detective Bonzo" and "Spooks Bonzo" are ready for release.

February 3, 1929
Walt Disney in New York
Walt Disney creator of the "Micky Mouse" sound cartoons, is in New York from Hollywood with two new subjects in the "Micky Mouse" series, and the first print of a new series of novelty sound cartoons. The Disney pictures are made for sound synchronization, recorded by the Powers Cinephone system of sound-on-film.

February 19, 1929
First Powers Cinephone On Way to West Coast
First Powers Cinephone sound-on-film recording equipment to be installed on the coast and made available to the western producing companies will reach Los Angeles the end of this week. The equipment is on its way west in charge of Walt Disney whose "Mickey Mouse" sound cartoons are synchronized by the Powers Cinephone system. This installation is a portable equipment which may be used for location work as well as studio recording. It will be followed by several other outfits to be mounted in a fleet of Powers Cinephone sound trucks which will the at the service of all producers.

Walt Disney Returning West
Walt Disney, creator of the "Mickey Mouse" sound cartoons, is en route to Hollywood after completing the sound synchronization of "The Opry House." While in New York, Disney also made the sound synchronization of the first of a new series of novelty pen and ink comedies, on the Powers Cinephone system of sound-on-film.

March 7, 1929
Powers Cinephone Studio Planned at Los Angeles
Negotiations are under way for site for a Power's [sic] Cinephone studio at Los Angeles. William N. Garity, chief engineer, leaves New York for Los Angeles March 15 to supervise installation of recording apparatus and to act as technical advisor to Walt Disney who will install a Powers Cinephone recorder in his animated cartoon studio under a license signed last week. In addition to stationary recorders, the new Powers Cinephone studio will have a number of portable equipments mounted in a fleet of sound trucks which will be used for silent studios and location work.

March 13, 1929
Metropolitan Studios, Fort Lee's active studio, has finished scoring "Simba," camera record of the African open spaces. Fifty-two cartoon shorts are now being scored.

March 14, 1929
Publix Students to Visit Studio
John Barry, head of the Publix Managerial School, and 28 of his students will visit the studios of Aesop's Film Fables this afternoon to study the making of animated cartoons. Paul Terry and his staff will give demonstrations for the embryo managers.

March 27, 1929
Cinephone Equipment on Coast
Arrival of the first Powers Cinephone recording apparatus at the Disney studios also marked the occasion of the first sound recording by this method of the initial subject of the Silly Symphonies series titled "The Skeleton Dance."

March 31, 1929
. . . Fox's step in abandoning all silent production is being followed to great extent by short subject producers. Paramount, with the Christie talkers and the many sound shorts being made at the Long Island studio which will number 100 within a few months, only has the Krazy Kat cartoons decided upon for silent product next year. . .

April 15, 1929
Lester Kline, commercial artist and cartoonist, has been added to the staff of "Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit," according to Walter Lantz, production supervisor. The first of the series entitled "Ozzie of the Circus," in complete sound is ready for release, and work on the second, "The Permanent Wave" has already started.

May 1, 1929
WILLIAM J. GARITY, sound engineer for P. A. Powers, who is making a tour of the west coast, has been supervising the recording of Walt Disney's animated cartoons. Disney has now completed his first Mickey Mouse sound opus recording here. In the past it has been added in New York. Seven of the series are ready for release.

May 3, 1929
"Felix" In Song
Educational is popularizing its screen character, "Felix the Cat," through a song by that title, published by the Sam Fox Publishing Co.

May 20, 1929
Van Beuren Sound Shorts Now Recorded on Discs
Van Beuren sound shorts distributed by Pathe are now available on discs as well as on films. Subjects covered are "Topics of the Day," "Aesop's Sound Fables" and "Sportlight."

May 23, 1929
Six Cartoons With Sound Produced By Kolortone
Kolortone Prod. has been formed by Leo F. Britten, formerly with Paramount and Universal, and George S. Jeffrey, formerly with Paramount and Harold Lloyd. The company has produced a series of six all-talking and synchronized Kolortone Kartoons.
The subjects are: "An Egyptian Gyp," "Boney's Boner," "Hectic Hector, "Wanderin's," "A Pikin' Pirate" and "Kriss Krosses." The Brewster color process is used. Scoring of the shorts is by David Broeckman, who has been associated with First National, Columbia and other major companies.
Disc recording is used. The series, available for distribution. Kolortone is opening offices at 236 West 55th St.

June 16, 1929
Kolortone Plans Six More
Kolortone Prod., headed by George Jeffrey and Leo Britton, will make six more cartoons in color and with sound. The first series of six has been completed and is ready for marketing.

June 25, 1929
Mintz Placing Krazy Kat Series Through Columbia
Columbia is slated to handle a series of 26 Krazy Kat cartoons in sound for next season, it is understood. Contracts are now being drawn between Charles B. Mintz, representing Winkler Prod, and Jack Cohn, representing Columbia.


January 6, 1929
"The Gallopin' Gaucho"—Walt Disney—Powers Cinephone
Great Burlesque
Type of production . . . . 1 reel cartoon
This features Mickey Mouse, the demon hero who has his ups and downs trying to rescue his sweetie who has been kidnapped by the villain Cat. In this one he takes a regular Doug Fairbanks part as a hard riding gaucho of the South American pampas. It is good burlesquing all the way, and the cartoon work of Walt Disney is clever in the extreme. It has some neat comedy effects through the addition of sound, which make the film far more enjoyable and laughable than it could possibly be in silent form.

January 13, 1929
"Hold ‘Em Ozzie"—Oswald
Gridiron Fun
Type of production..1 reel cartoon
Oswald the funny rabbit does his bit as the hero on the football team. He gets a great hand from his admirers in the grandstand, where are to be found all the animals rooting for him. Of course Oswald wins the game by scoring the deciding touchdown. He does it by converting his ears into a propeller and flying down the field to the goal. It is cleverly animated in the usual peppy style of this series.

January 27, 1929
"Sweet Adeline"

The Usual
Type of production..1 reel animated
This follows the usual line of Fables, with Milton Mouse and his sweetie who are on the vaudeville bill at the neighborhood playhouse. After the show the villain cat kidnaps the heroine, is chased up and down skyscrapers, and finally the hero catches the cat and rescues his sweetie. It's about time the artist on this cartoon dug up a new idea that gets away from this continuous kidnapping stunt. We have seen it in at least a dozen Fables lately.

February 17, 1929
"The Barn Dance"—Walt Disney
Powers Cinephone
Mouse Comics
Type of production. . .1 reel animated
This is another of the adventure of Mickey Mouse and his sweetie. The villain cat tries to take the gal driving in his auto, which is wrecked. So she goes to the barn dance with Mickey who is driving his carriage drawn by the old plug. This horse is one of the funniest cartoon characters seen in the animateds. Later at the dance the cat shows up and tries to take the gal away again, but Mickey fools him. The sound effects are funny, and this number enhances the usual cartoon subject easily 100 per cent.

"Grandma's House"—Fables
Mouse Antics
Type of production. . 1 reel animated
This is just a cartoon version of the Little Red Riding Hood fable with Little Rita the Mouse substituted for Red Riding Hood. The bad cat plays the part of the wolf and poses in bed as grandma when Riding Hood comes to the cabin in the woods. She is saved from the crafty cat by the arrival of her sweetie, Milt. Up to the standard.

March 10, 1929
"Alpine Antics"—Oswald
Type of production. . .1 reel animated
The usual line of Oswald antics, pepped up with funny sounds that help this type of short subject immensely. Oswald starts out to rescue his gal who sends an S O S by a big St. Bernard. So Oswald rides on the dog's back to rescue his sweetie. The cartoon gags are very ingenious and comical, showing how the funny rabbit helps the poor exhausted dog to complete his record making run to save the girl. The synchronized animal noises will make the kids laugh.

"Old Black Joe"
Paramount Sound Novelty
Type of production . . cartoon
We get a kick out of the Inkwell cartoons. Everybody, of course, knows the strains of "Old Black Joe" if not the words. This cartoon supplies the words and invites you to sing them while the unseen, mechanical orchestra plays. This subject is best when the cartoon master of ceremonies, so to speak, does his funny antics and drops when the words only appear on the screen. Diverting. Time, 6 mins.

March 10, 1929
"The Suicide Sheik"
Oswald Cartoon
Type of production.. 1 reel animated
Oswald, the funny rabbit gets turned down by his gal and steps out to commit suicide. The tale recounts his various efforts, trying to get himself bumped off by a falling safe, and then a cannon. But the cannon shoots him back to the gal's house which has caught on fire. He is just in time to save her, and she falls in love with him all over again.

March 24, 1929
"Plane Crazy"—Walt Disney
Powers Cinephone
Type of production. . . .Animated cartoon
Mickey Mouse does his animal antics in the latest mode via aeroplane. The cartoonist has employed his usual ingenuity to extract a volume of laughs that are by no means confined to the juveniles. The sound effects are particularly appropriate on this type of film, and certainly add greatly to the comedy angle with the absurd squeaks, yawps and goofy noises.

March 31, 1929
"Fishing Fools"
Oswald Novelty—Universal
Clever Antics
Type of production...1 reel cartoon
This is a fish story, with Oswald as the fisherman who falls asleep, what ensues is a fish dream. The fish relish his bait but not his hook so finally he uses a stork for a fish-catching device. Later he tries to lure the innocent fish through phonograph music and nearly lands a small member of the family when along comes papa (or maybe, mama) fish and ruins his plans. Finally when he does catch a fish, a thief steals it for the fadeout. This is a fine piece of cartoonist ingenuity, with the sound effects helping a lot.

"Presto Chango"
Type of production . . . Animated comedy
Paul Terry and Frank Moser combined their cartoon talents in turning out a clever animated that is placed definitely in the real laugh numbers by the comedy sound effects. Hero Cat takes his gal for an auto ride, and finally lands up in a Chinese joint. Here the chinks get busy and kidnap the gal, and after some hair-raising adventures the hero succeeds in vanquishing the horde of pig-tailed villains single handed. A good laugh number for grown-ups as well as the kids. Time, 8 mins.

April 7, 1929
Mutt and Jeff in "Ghosts"
Fox Movietone
Very Amusing
Type of production . . . Cartoon
The famous cartoon characters take animated form, aided by clever sound effects and a smattering of dialogue to help along. This is what is found here. To begin with a well-executed cartoon with amusing gags. Secondly, music and sound effects applied with a discerning hand. The result is a sound short that never causes outbursts of laughter but induces chuckles in more than sufficient number to slide it over.

April 14, 1929
"Stage Stunts"
Type of production. .1 reel animated
Pepped up with some clever cartoon ideas, and the sound effects are goofy and funny. Oswald, the lucky rabbit, turns actor and does a snake charmer trick with a cat's tail as the snake and the cat concealed in a jar. Then Oswald gets a skinny horse for a xylophone and plays on the animal's ribs till the horse swallows a bomb that somebody throws. Then the usual wild chase and unexpected finish. Directed by Hugh Harman.

SILENT [sic]
Type of production. .1 reel animated
Oswald the funny little rabbit, gets a job as a lumberjack, and when he chops down a big tree discovers a bag of gold. But the villain bear grabs it, and Oswald starts hotfoot after him. The bear escapes in a canoe, so Oswald gets two logs and rides them down the stream. Good gags are worked by having the hero use his tail as a wind-propeller and then as an outboard motor. Finally Oswald has passed the bear, and diverts the stream over a cliff. As the bear passes they go into a clinch, with Oswald victorious. The sound effects are ridiculously funny, and will certainly amuse the kids. Directed by Ben Clopton.

May 5, 1929
"The Faithful Pup"—Aesop
Type of production.. 1 reel animated
Old Al Falfa and his dog Danny start off on a hunting expedition to Africa. There things start to happen fast and plenty to poor Al, and sometimes the bow-wow helps him, but more often he makes matters worse. All the wild animals of the jungle take turns giving Al the time of his life, but all ends happily. The sound effects are funny, and build up the comedy highlights of the reel immensely.

May 12, 1929
"Stripes and Stars"
Type of production. . .1 reel animated
Oswald is the porter in the police station when all the cops are murdered by the gangster Bear. So the captain appoints him a special officer to round up the terror, which he does after some very clever work on the part of the animator. But they really should be told (whoever is responsible) that there is nothing funny for intelligent patrons, even if they are kids, in having shots of the Bear sentenced to do porter work, swabbing up the expectorations of the Captain behind the desk. This may be a big laugh-producer in Poland. But this picture was presumably made for American audiences. Outside of that it's good. Walter Lantz did the cartoon work.

May 19, 1929
"Screen Songs"
Max Fleischer—Paramount
Novelty Cartoon
Type of production . .Animated song
Max Fleischer gets a big break on the sound angle, for it gives him a chance to show something in the way of a real novelty with his clever cartoon stuff. He has a college cheer leader putting his gang through some of the old tunes. Then the words are flashed on the screen, with a variety of comedy manipulations of the letters and animated figures such as autos, dancing balls and college boys sliding over the letters in harmony with the tune. A fine male quartet is used on the one number, and the popular melodies had a Broadway audience humming out loud—which is quite a record in itself. Will click in any type of house. Time, 9 mins.

Type of production..1 reel animated
Farmer Al Falfa and the animals go in for the study of concentration. They work it on an old hen to increase its egg laying, with very funny and disastrous results. Then the other animals start studying the book on concentration, and before the reel is over the cartoonist has succeeded in developing some really comic situations that will get laughs without any trouble.

June 9, 1929
"Daisy Bells"
Paramount Screen Song
Very Clever
In the days of B. S.—before sound—Max Fleischer's song cartoons always provided diversion. Now that the ear hears while the eye sees, the entertainment qualities of this series is considerably enhanced. The cartoon work is clever and the sound effects fine. Sure-fire for any type of audience. Time, about 6 mins.

June 9, 1929
Fleischer Cartoon—Paramount
Great Fun
Proof that it isn't so much what you do as how you do it. The melody of "Chinatown" can trace its beginnings a number of years. Certainly there is little distinction about the song, yet Max Fleischer so cleverly handles his animation and so adroitly injects novelty into his treatment that the result is a corking piece of entertainment. Difficult to see how it can miss anyway. Time, 5 mins.

June 30, 1929
"April Showers"
Aesop Fables—Pathe
Has A Kick
Al Falfa has his troubles when a violent rainstorm starts. He tries to salvage some of his household effects and drive off in a wagon. But he loses everything when crossing a stream—everything but the fish bowl with one gold fish. The animal antics are amusing, the cartoon work clever, and the idea very well worked out for the laughs, which the kids especially will enjoy.

Friday 26 April 2013

Slap Happy Boo

Tex Avery goes on a safari over some familiar ground in “Slap Happy Lion.” A lion can’t escape his tormenter, exploding in a huge take before rushing off on the next futile escape attempt, as Avery sees how many different ways he can do the same routine.

Here are just two of them; I’m only posting a few of the drawings. The lion’s hiding in a tree. The mouse goes “Boo!” The lion’s pupils turn toward the mouse. Take.

And here’s the boo-ing mouse with the lion hiding in a bed.

Bob Bentley, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton are the credited animators.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Don't Lose Your Head

Nothing says animated fun like a good old beheading. And that’s what we get in the very first Cubby Bear cartoon, “Opening Night” (1932).

The cartoon involves an opera on stage at the Roxy Theatre in New York. There’s a huge sword-fight scene at one point. Like in a number of New York cartoons of the era (mainly at Terrytoons), there’s a large crowd shot in cycle animation.

The hero cat is engaged in sword-play with a devil cat (second from top). He’s shocked when his head his sliced off and the head flies, shouting, past the camera.

What makes the beheading even more touching is a quiet version of “Silent Night” is heard over the opening credits and then the iris opens to reveal Santa and his reindeer in the sky.

Cubby’s involvement in his debut cartoon is conducting the animal orchestra in the pit at the Roxy. Devon Baxter points out good portions of the cartoon are lifted from the 1931 Fable Melody Mad, including the sequence above.

One of the problems with the Van Beuren cartoons is they weren’t packed with gags like a Fleischer cartoon, which had stronger gags to begin with. But Cubby’s best cartoons aren’t all that bad and they have some surprising bits in them. Like a head being cut off.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Quiet Man Gale Gordon

Anyone raised on television will think of Gale Gordon as a self-important blowhard picking on poor Lucille Ball, sometimes with justification. Lucy never tired of Gordon’s characterisation and stuck it in every one of her shows after “I Love Lucy” moved into Lucrative Rerun Land. No doubt she realised having a “bad guy” put the audience’s sympathy on her. It was a good way to make sure people still loved Lucy.

By then, Gordon had been playing pompous bellowers for so long, people likely forgot he had once been a dramatic actor; he even starred as Flash Gordon at one time. Yet Gordon felt the bellowing wasn’t what made his character. It was the way he reacted before the shouts of annoyance, he believed, that provided the comedy that kept him constantly employed at a high salary. Here he is talking about it to the Associated Press in a radio-TV column published in 1951, when his only appearances with Lucy had been on radio.

Radio Actor Makes Money By Keeping Quiet

While Bob Thomas is vacationing, guest writers will conduct his column.
HOLLYWOOD, July 11. (AP)—Silence is golden, especially if you can keep as mum as artfully as Gale Gordon.
Mr. Gordon, a handsome, fortyish gentleman with a Clark Gable mustache and the trace of a British accent, earns as much as a lot of movie stars simply by keeping his mouth closed—at the right time.
One of Hollywood’s top radio actors, he is known in the trade as “The Master of the Eloquent Pause.”
If you don't quite place his name, you undoubtedly know him by voice if you’re any kind of a radio fan—he appears regularly on seven big network programs. Gordon is:
Mayor Latrivia on the “Fibber McGee and Molly” show; bank president Rudolph Atterbury on “My Favorite" Husband;” school principal Osgood Conklin on “Our Miss Brooks;” Mr. Scott, head of RCA, on the Phil Harris-Alice Faye show; Mr. Merryweather, Ronald Colman’s rich friend on “Halls of Ivy;” Mr. Bullard, the next door neighbor, on “The Great Gildersleeve,” and the girl friend’s father on the Dennis Day show.
“These characters are all of a type,” says Gordon, “pompous, stuffy, opinionated and loud. Therefore, it is easy to make them humorous if the script writer is skillful.”
What is the eloquent pause? Here is an example from, say, the Fibber McGee show:
McGee says something insulting or aggravating. Gordon, as Latrivia, should properly reply with anger or frustration—something quick and sarcastic. But he doesn’t.
“I wait. There is a long pause. I am trying to control my temper. The audience knows this and it is going over all the possible answers I may give.
“Then, at last, I come out with a very flat remark. Maybe something as simple as the one word, ‘yes.’ It is doubly funny because everyone listening knows that you fought off a temptation to explode into something more violent.”
Gordon says the technique is so effective he frequently gets laughs before he makes his comeback. The secret, he says, is knowing how long to keep silent before replying.
“It’s instinct, really,” he says. “The ear helps a little, but the eyes never. I have one infallible rule—never look at the audience. I build up the silence by showing frustration, exasperation. But you can’t hold it too long.”
Gordon readily admits he’s typed, but he doesn’t mind. “I am paid very well, well enough so I’m not struggling to get out of the rut,” he says.
Some might consider his work very easy indeed. He devotes less than two and a half hours to each show, including air time. That’s only about 20 hours a week.
But besides his regular appearances, he is in demand for mystery and drama programs in which he capably plays a variety of roles.
New York born, his father, Charles T. Aldrich, was a vaudeville headliner for many years. His mother, Gloria Gordon, sang in musical comedies and is still active as the Mrs. O'Reilly of “My Friend Irma.”
Schooled in England—which accounts for the British accent—he broke into show business on Broadway and was a leading man in stock companies before settling in Hollywood in 1926.
His eloquent pause being such a laugh-getter, why haven’t more actors tried it?
“Several have,” says Gordon, “but they didn’t have the nerve to keep still long enough.”

There’s a big difference between Mayor LaTrivia and the various characters Gordon personified on the various Lucille Ball shows on TV. LaTrivia would finally explode because both Fibber and Molly kept, stupidly and somewhat illogically, misinterpreting what he was saying until he became tongue-tied. LaTrivia was sympathetic in his own way; you could understand he had a good reason to be frustrated. He wasn’t a naturally nasty, sour character like Gordon played opposite Lucy, and Eve Arden before her. For me, the routine got wearying. Audiences didn’t agree until 1986, when “Life With Lucy” served up the same old comedy stew for eight episodes before the Ball-Gordon kitchen was closed for good. By then, Gale Gordon was 80. He had carved out a steady, high-profile career with paycheques that even Theodore J. Mooney and Uncle Harry Carter couldn’t gripe about.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Pun of the Puny Express

Heck Allen wrote for Tex Avery, so it’s not a surprise an Avery-like joke or two would seep into his work for Walter Lantz.

Much like Avery’s “Lucky Ducky,” Lantz’s “Puny Express” (1950) has a chase interrupted at the side of a road for a sign pun. Woody and his horse skid to sudden stop when they hear a blare of car horns.

Cut to a toad with horns slowly hopping along. He stops, reveals his gag, then resumes hopping.

Pun king Bugs Hardaway co-wrote the cartoon with Allen. They were gone from Lantz by the time the cartoon appeared in theatres. The storyboards were made before a shutdown of the studio in 1948 and this was the first cartoon released after it re-opened. Dick Lundy claimed in a letter to Mark Mayerson he directed it before being let go in the shutdown but there’s no director credit.

Monday 22 April 2013

Goldimouse Hammer Bash

“No spoiled brat son of mine is going to have to eat porridge!” declares Sylvester. So he sets out to capture a blonde mouse with the expected end result in “Goldimouse and the Three Cats” (1959).

One gag has Sylvester building a contraption that’ll smash the mouse with a hammer when she goes through it from her mouse hole.

But the mouse simply bypasses the contraption.

Then she activates it when Sylvester chases her into her hole. You knew the gag was coming.

The cartoon is directed by Friz Freleng. What’s unusual is it features Sylvester, Jr., normally handled by Bob McKimson, and was written by Mike Maltese, who was long attached to the Chuck Jones unit. It could be that Freleng’s writer, Warren Foster, had left for the John Sutherland studio so Maltese was seconded and used whatever characters he felt like. The cartoon features a rare appearance by Sylvester’s wife.

Art Davis, Gerry Chiniquy and Virgil Ross handled the animation, likely assisted by Bob Matz, Art Leonardi and Lee Halpern.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Frank Fontaine Became Crazy

A week ago, we mentioned how Larry Storch hosted a summer replacement variety show in Jackie Gleason’s TV time slot in 1952 and 1953. But it appears Storch wasn’t the first choice. It looked like Jackie had his eye on someone who later appeared as a regular on his show.

Gleason was much more than Ralph Kramden. He had a number of characters he’d trot out on his variety show in the early ‘60s. One of them was Joe the Bartender, who’d banter with the camera as if it were a customer named Mr. Dunahee, and then play straight man after bringing on Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim. I loved Craze. He was like a silly, corny cartoon character. In fact, he was. Fontaine’s Crazy vocal mannerisms were borrowed for cartoon characters at Warner Bros., Walter Lantz and Hanna-Barbera, most famously by Stan Freberg as Pete Puma.

It’s tempting to call Fontaine an overnight success and to give credit to Jack Benny for it. Fontaine’s brain-frozen character first appeared on the Benny radio show on April 9, 1950 as John L.C. Sivoney, the slow-thinking sweepstakes ticket winner. The audience howled. Benny broke up. Then Benny handed him the last third of the show to do an extremely good Winston Churchill and other impressions. Fontaine’s career was on its way. Here’s how Fontaine described it to a columnist for the North American Newspaper Alliance in 1950.

TV, Radio And Pictures All After Frank Fontaine

HOLLYWOOD, July 18—Couple of months ago an undiscovered character actor named Frank Fontaine playing the role of a panhandler stole two successive Jack Benny radio programs by mumbling something like “I was just hanging around . . . I wasn’t doing anything.”
Those two brief air appearances performed one of Hollywood’s minor miracles. Before going on with Benny, Fontaine actually “wasn’t doing anything . . . was just hanging around,” but within a matter of days he became the busiest, most sought-after fellow in the entire Hollywood amusement field—movies, radio and television. He hasn’t done anything definite as yet about his future—and for a very astonishing reason.
“I haven’t had time to sign up with anybody—and I mean just that,” the new-found mimic grinned between scenes of “Call Me Mister,” in which he is playing a comic army sergeant at 20th-Fox.
“CBS wants me to sign a 25-year optionless contract to play Amos and the Kingfish on the Amos-Andy radio show starting next year. Gosh, I haven’t had time to take care of that.
“Columbia wants to star me in a picture, but I haven’t had a chance to go over and check on that deal.”
“This studio (20th-Fox) wants me to sign a long-term contract, but there are problems in connection with that which requires time to think over and talk about.
“NBC has offered me a one-hour television show of my own which would be channeled all over the country. I hope to get a few hours off this week to look into that.”
Fontaine, only 30 years old, is the father of 7 children—oldest 12 and the youngest an infant. His wife and family reside in Boston—and therein lies the greatest of all his “time” problems.
“After all those offers following the Benny show, I knew I was set,” Frank said, “so I wanted my family to join me here—in a hurry. But—in the 2 months since then I haven’t had a chance to go out and look for a house and back yard big enough to take care of them.”
This coming fall and winter Fontaine’s fantastic comedy characterizations will be making their long overdue appearance in one picture after another. First will be Republic’s “Hit Parade of 1951,” followed by “Stella,” with Ann Sheridan and Victor Mature and the currently filming “Call Me Mister,” supporting no less a star than Betty Grable and if radio and television don’t sew him up completely there’ll be other screen roles, too, and in rapid order.
No longer is Mr. Sevony—his Benny radio character—“just hanging around.”

But the Sivoney/sweepstakes routine wasn’t something carefully concocted by Benny’s writers. It was something Fontaine had been doing for some time and one Benny had likely seen or heard. In February that year, he appeared on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town.” The previous April, Sivoney showed up on radio’s “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.” And Billboard’s review of Fontaine’s turn in the Vaughn Monroe road show on July 5, 1947 refers to the sweepstakes routine as “standard.” By the time Fontaine had appeared with Benny, he was already in theatres in the MGM film “Nancy Goes to Rio.” But exposure on a top show like Benny’s couldn’t hurt. CBS signed him to a contract in November 1950.

In fact, the Sivoney character predates Fontaine’s professional career. He talked about it to Anton Remenih of the Chicago Tribune in a story published August 10, 1952. This transcription is missing part of a couple of sentences, including the final one, but you can get the gist.

Frank Fontaine, a rising comedian we confidently predict will be a television hit in 1953, is the only guy in show business we’ve met who made more money as an amateur than as a professional. The creator of the hilarious radio, WBBM, 7 pm, Sundays, and stage character, John L.C. Silvoney, the punchy sweepstakes winner, recalled his hardtack days between appearances at the Chicago theater the other day.
"When I turned pro at 16, I dropped from $52 a week to $18," he chortled. Frank married his wife, Alma, when both were 16. He had no job. "I won a Major Bowes amateur show with some imitations. Every other theater in New York City held amateur nights in those days (1936). I went from one to another, winning most of the time. I averaged $52 a week but this was a precarious living especially after our first two children were born."
When he got an offer of regular employment at $18 a week, Frank took it.
"You could feed a family of four on $1 a meal in those days," he said. Today CBS has Frank signed up to an exclusive seven year radio and television contract. He could, he said, go on TV regularly immediately, but he’s not ready. He’s playing it slow and he hopes smart. Just as he did 16 years ago on the amateur night circuit.
"As everybody knows, amateurs often win on sentiment not talent. So I appeared on the stage with holes in my shoes and elbows, and if we were especially hungry that week, with a limp. The audience took one fast look at this courageous, struggling youngster, whispered 'O. look at the poor kid,' and voted me first prize. I'm one of the few guys who ever beat a blind accordionist on an amateur night. He made the mistake of appearing well dressed and arriving in an automobile.
"Don’t dress up too good," Frank advises youngsters butting their heads against one of the most competitive professions in the world.
"Love everybody in show business. And don't discuss religion or politics. Show people are sensitive or they wouldn't get in the business."
"You’ve got to get into the money with one gimmick," he said. "Mine is Silvoney. But how long do you think I would last on television with one character?"
Fontaine expects to appear in his own TV show by December. In the meantime he is developing more characters. One is Pop, a toothless old gent always harking back to the good old days. Another Is Fred Frump, a gabby bore and corny joke teller. Everybody knows at least one Fred Frump and one Pop.
Fontaine belongs to the Red Skelton-Jackie Gleason school of comedy. All are masters of caricature, specialists in the art of molding hilarious characters from basic human types. You could get by on radio stringing one joke after another, sausage style. In radio, the talent is often reposed in the writers. In television, you need some yourself.
Fontaine was born with it. His father, half of a top flight vaudeville team, perched his 8 year old son on his knee and sang "Sonny Boy." He became a teachers pet not because of academic prowess but because he could mimic the principal, an irascible character unpopular with the staff.
At 15, Frank’s front porch at Medford, Mass., was mecca for the neighborhood kids who came to hear Henry, a character he assumed to recite "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
Look at the accompanying picture of Silvoney [not in this post]. Henry was simply a 15 year old Silvoney.
Fontaine got the idea for this character after seeing Irish sweepstakes winners recite their reactions on the newsreels in the ’30s.
We’ve never met a showman with stronger paternal instincts than Fontaine. Let’s look at the record. There are now 10 in the family. They share four baths in a big 12 room house near Hollywood. They mean to stick together.
"Movie stars love their families, don’t be mistaken about that," he said. "But some of them love their careers more. When necessary, they choose in favor of their careers. Nothing like that is going to happen to us. We’re sticking together.
"I could have gotten into television this summer as a replacement for Jackie Gleason. But that meant going to New York and leaving my family. I could pick up money, a lot of it, at the Palladium in London. But London is even farther away from home. We could really live it up."
Fontaine let it go at that, but we think this guy will make out all right. At 32, with the best years still ahead on television, he hasn’t forgotten a sure fire formula he learned at 16.

Despite the comparisons with Gleason and Skelton, Fontaine never accomplished what they did and made a career of hosting a variety show doing a multitude of characters of his own creation. People only wanted one—the one with the wheezy laugh he developed as a teenager during the Depression. Being boxed in must have grated on him after awhile. He expanded a bit on the Gleason show by interrupting his Crazy schtick for a song in a straight baritone, popular (if not schmaltzy) with some, but oddly jarring to others.

Frank seems to have worked steadily but ran into money troubles. In 1971, he filed for bankruptcy and his 12-room house was put up for auction to pay an almost half-million-dollar tax bill. He was $850,000 in debt. Frank Sinatra and others came to his rescue with a benefit show. His health wasn’t good. He had been hospitalised in 1970 after collapsing following a lengthy performance on the Jerry Lewis telethon. In 1977, he lay unconscious in hospital after what may have been a heart attack. And then the following August, he had just finished his fourth encore before a crowd of 3,000 in Spokane and had accepted a $25,000 cheque to be donated to heart research when he dropped to the boards backstage. A heart attack claimed Fontaine at age 58.

Here’s a great clip of Fontaine with Gleason as Joe the Bartender. The best part, besides the model at the opening who doesn’t seem to know when to talk, is Gleason alternating between Joe and Gleason-playing-Joe. Gleason generously acts as straight man to Fontaine, and then Fontaine stays out of the way to let Gleason’s reactions get laughs.

Saturday 20 April 2013

The Lost Cartoons of MGM

The MGM cartoon studio seems to have gone through more abandoned projects and units than anywhere else, though it may be a case of information about the other studios not surfacing. Boxoffice magazine had brief mentions of them at the time, possibly planted by Rose Joseph, who had been Leon Schlesinger’s P.R. department before going over to Metro.

The studio’s unit system was a little awkward at the beginning, with Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising “supervising” the directorial work of others, including Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, as well as Jerry Brewer. Then things settled down with Hanna and Barbera in charge of one unit, Tex Avery another (September 1941), and George Gordon a third (July 1942). Gordon left in 1943 and the third unit vanished for a bit. Then Boxoffice mentioned on July 28, 1945:

TONY RIVERA has joined the cartoon department as a layout artist assigned to the “Barney Bear” unit.
Producer Fred Quimby’s Technicolor cartoon, “Rivets Stay Away From My Door,” introduces a new cartoon character, Rivets, a robot.

The Barney Bear unit seems to have been in a state of flux for months. Mike Barrier’s fine Hollywood Cartoons states that Mike Lah and Preston Blair began to co-direct the Barneys (only three were made) in early 1946. But before that happened, yet another MGM unit was announced in Boxoffice. Kind of. From December 15, 1945:

Quimby Organizing Cartoon Unit To Be Staffed by Ex-Service Men 
A new cartoon unit, to be staffed exclusively by returned service men, is being organized by Fred Quimby, chief of M-G-M’s shorts department. In the group, slated for assignment to the Barney Bear unit under the supervision of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, co-directors of the Tom and Jerry series, are Bill Williams and Ralph Tiller (AAF), Jack Cosgriff and Chuck Couch (U.S. navy), Vonda Bronson Wise and Kathleen Coyle (WAVES).

The best-known names may be Cosgriff and Couch. Cosgriff had been writing for Lantz and then Columbia before the war broke out. His name first appears on an MGM cartoon released in 1949 (Tex Avery’s “House of Tomorrow”) but he spent at least a year at Lantz again before that. Couch worked at Disney through the ’30s before being hired to write at Lantz.

So what happened to the unit? Your guess is as good as mine.

You’ll also notice the mention of a cartoon about Rivets the robot. Boxoffice announced the production of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse” by the Hanna-Barbera unit about a month earlier. Newspapers actually announced it twice; I’ve found stories about Rivets published August 20, 1945 and again on October 19th. So it appears the end of the war wasn’t responsible for Rivets’ abortive screen career.

In leafing through Boxoffice, there are mentions of other cartoons that vanished from the production schedule, with the exception of “Lucky Ducky.”

December 16, 1944
Fred Quimby’s next slated cartoon is “The Thin Mouse.” First of a series to satirize the features. It will be a pen-and-ink burlesque of “The Thin Man.”

October 20, 1945
“Our Vine Street Has Tender Wolves,” Technicolor cartoon travesty starring animation stars, Red Hot Riding Hood and Wally Wolf, will be directed by TEX AVERY for FRED QUIMBY, producer.

May 10, 1947
Cartoons "Lucky Ducky," "Lovey Dovey" and "Oily to Bed," the latter starring Droopy the Ponderous Pooch, set to roll with Fred Quimby producing and Tex Avery directing.

Wally Wolf? Did Avery really call him that? Likely not. In fact, some of these mysterious cartoons may have been news to the directors who were supposed to be making them. Thad Komorowski, who has a list of MGM cartoon production numbers on his site, has commented “For the record, a lot of these were just fake titles ‘leaked’ by the MGM publicity department, often with no basis on what was actually going on in the cartoon studio.”

Here’s what Metro (or perhaps Quimby) trumpeted to Boxoffice in the first half of 1950.

January 21, 1950
“I’ll Be Skiing You” is the latest in Producer Fred Quimby’s cartoon series covering sports subjects.

February 11, 1950
Gil Warren, radio news commentator, was signed by Producer Fred Quimby to do the narration for the Technicolor cartoon, “You Auto Be in Pictures.”

February 25, 1950
“Jerry O’Mouse” is scheduled as the third in the foreign-locale series of Technicolor cartoons to be produced by Fred Quimby. The cartoon will be backgrounded in Ireland.

April 8, 1950
Slated for production as a Technicolor cartoon is “Tom Van Winkle.” Fred Quimby will produce the new adventure of “Tom Cat,” in which the feline gets hit on the head with a bowling ball and wakes up in the atomic age.

April 22, 1950
Scheduled as a new Tom and Jerry Technicolor cartoon was “Cat Carson,” to be produced by Fred Quimby.
“Jerry’s Dream Mouse” is being prepared by Producer Fred Quimby as a new entry in the Tom and Jerry Technicolor series.

May 13, 1950
Producer Fred Quimby has slated “Lighthouse Mouse” as a new Tom and Jerry cartoon.

June 10, 1950
“Putty Cat” has been added to the 1950-51 slate of Tom and Jerry cartoons by Producer Fred Quimby.

“You Auto Be in Pictures” might be Avery’s “Car of Tomorrow” (1951); Warren did provide narration in it. But the rest of the shorts were never made. Finally, in the July 15th edition, Boxoffice announces the Barney Bear cartoon “Wise Little Quacker,” the first cartoon Dick Lundy directed when he arrived at the studio on May 15, 1950 and made it to screens in late 1952. Some of the titles might have made good cartoons, though “Tom Van Winkle” sounds like a ‘60s Tom and Jerry by Chuck Jones and Abe Levitow, to be honest.

The most intriguing cartoon of all is mentioned in the December 9, 1952 edition of the Los Angeles Times, written by Edwin Schallert, the father of actor Bill Schallert. My thanks to Mark Kausler for deciphering the contents of the column.

Full-Length Tom, Jerry Cartoon Anticipated
While this may be away off as yet in fulfillment, there is a dream, at least, of a feature-length Tom and Jerry cartoon. And it’s about time, too. Fred Quimby’s animations in the short pictures released by MGM have already won an array of Oscars. It is logical that the progression should he achieved to the longer type of films, which have brought such manifest distinction to Walt Disney.
It comes to me from a very special unofficial source that the picture contemplated will involve Robin Hood type characters, with Tom and Jerry as valiant allies of whoever is proceeding rightly. And again it may be that the cat will be mixed up in his amusing fashion in sinister plotting.
Incidentally, Quimby and his directors, Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna, were due to join Gene Kelly in England this week to work on the cartoon in “Invitation to the Dance.” Not Kelly but children will take part in this with the animations if these are included. However the chances are that the cartoon part will be shot here and naturally this episode would follow a general form of Kelly’s dance with the mouse in “Anchors Aweigh,” and one lately devised for “Dangerous When Wet.”

As we all know, no feature cartoon was ever made at MGM.

The clipping you see to the right comes from Boxoffice of December 23, 1944. It may be tied in to this story in the March 27, 1943 edition:

Under the supervision of Executive Producer FRED QUIMBY, a series of cartoons featuring stories familiar to citizens of Latin America will be launched. First production is to be “Panchito y el Lobo,” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” adapted from the universally known fable. Spanish main titles will be used with American sub-titles as subjects are slated for U.S. and foreign release.

While no series appears to have been made, the cartoon mentioned in the story was produced, after a name-change. You can see it below.

Friday 19 April 2013

Sally in Hollywoodland

Some real treasures have been posted over the years on Rand’s Esoteric OTR. I’m pleased to discover not only is Randy posting again, he’s somehow got his hands on an audition disc for a half-hour radio show featuring the characters from the Walter Lantz cartoons.

The disc is dated June 7, 1947 and was produced by Harry Jacobs Productions, a syndicator with offices on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and in New York City. As far as I can tell, the company wasn’t able to sell the show and a series was never made.

Lantz had a good collection of voice actors in the late ‘40s (which makes his choice of the amateur Bugs Hardaway as Woody all the more puzzling). Amongst his regulars during that period were Lionel Stander as Buzz Buzzard, Jack Mather as Wally Walrus and Walter Tetley as Andy Panda. None of them are on this disc. But anyone familiar with cartoons will quickly recognise a few of the voices. Billy Bletcher is Wilbur Wolf, Sara Berner is Andy (she played the panda in cartoons such as “Knock Knock,” the Woody debut in 1940) and the wonderful June Foray provides a couple of voices, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and the mother.

You won’t find a raucous Woody in drag trying to con Wally on this show. The plot is strictly kid stuff with the Lantz characters befriending a girl named Sally (played by Norma Jean Nilsson, who appeared on radio’s “Blondie” and “Father Knows Best”). Samuel Kaylen’s score incorporates the Woody laugh. Press the arrow to play or stop.

Thursday 18 April 2013

Mysto the Magician Dance

Poochini is not impressed with Mysto the Magician’s hallway audition, which concludes with a little dance in “Magical Maestro,” one of Tex Avery’s best cartoons.

Here are 11 drawings used in the dance. Whoever animated it mixes them up. Some are shot on ones, some of twos, some on threes but the dance has a nice rhythm to it.

Grant Simmons, Mike Lah and Walt Clinton animated the short. Daws Butler is Mysto.