Thursday 31 October 2013

Crap-py Skeletons

Skeletons seemed to abound in cartoons for a couple of years after the release of Disney’s “The Skeleton Dance” (1929), especially on the East Coast. I haven’t tried to count how often a skeleton appeared in the Don and Waffles and earliest Tom and Jerry cartoons made at the Van Beuren studio, but it seems like they were in a lot of cartoons.

One is “Wot a Night” (1931), the first in the Tom and Jerry series. Skeletons take up a good portion of the second half of short. We’ve posted on the blog from one scene of a skeleton in a bathtub. It’s followed by a scene of a skeleton painting a piano keyboard and playing it.

The next scene features Jerry happily playing an umbrella like an accordion while Tom stands in fright. Something singing slowly appears in the darkness.

Jerry pulls on a light cord and we see four skeletons in blackface singing James S. Putnam’s 1882 spiritual “I’ll Be Ready When the Great Day Comes.” Singing quartets were a staple in Van Beuren cartoons.

Jerry tosses a pair of dice. The skeletons jump on it and the collision breaks them apart into a boney heap. Our heroes can now make their escape.

Harry Bailey and John Foster get a “by” credit on this cartoon. There’s no animation credit.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Is That a Martian?

The two most famous radio broadcasts of the 1930s—and, arguably, in radio history—are Herbert Morrison relating the crash of the dirigible Hindenburg in 1937 and the Mercury Players’ dramatization of “The War of the Worlds” 75 years ago today.

Orson Welles once claimed “The War of the Worlds” catapulted him to Hollywood. It certainly didn’t catapult him to fame. Welles had been known for his broadcasts as The Shadow not too much earlier. But inducing fright didn’t exactly make him anonymous.

His ersatz Martian invasion proved the power of radio—and of the imagination. Front pages of newspapers all across North America told of the concern and panic across the continent of people who thought it all was real. We’re not talking a handful of crackpots. So many calls were made to newspapers that the Associated Press took the unusual step of sending out this advisory at 8:48 p.m. that evening: “Note to editors: Queries to newspapers from radio listeners throughout the United States tonight, regarding a reported meteor fall which killed a number of New Jerseyites, are the result of a studio dramatization. The A.P.”

There are a multitude of newspaper stories to pick from to give you an indication of what the atmosphere was like that evening. But here’s an A.P. dispatch as printed on the front page of the Montreal Gazette the next morning. A snippet from the Utica Daily Press has been added.

New York, Oct. 30 —(AP)— Hysteria among radio listeners throughout the nation and actual panicky evacuations from sections of the metropolitan area resulted from a too-realistic radio broadcast last night describing a fictitious and devastating visitation of strange men from Mars.
Excited and weeping persons all over the country swamped newspaper and police telephone switchboards with, the question: “Is it true?”
It was purely a figment of H. G. Wells’ imagination with some extra flourishes of radio dramatization by Orson Welles. It was broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System.
But the anxiety was immeasurable.
The broadcast was an adaptation of Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, in which meteors and gas from Mars menace the earth.
New York police were unable to contact the CBS studios by telephone, so swamped was its switchboard, and a radio car was sent there for information.
A woman ran into a church in Indianapolis, screaming: “New York destroyed; it’s the end of the world. You might as well go home to die. I just heard it on the radio.” Services were dismissed immediately.
Five boys at Brevard (N.C.) college fainted and panic gripped the campus for a half hour with many students fighting for telephones to inform their parents to come and get them.
In Utica, scores of persons called The Press asking “Is it true?” what they said about New Jersey. There were sighs of relief when they were assured it wasn’t so.
One man prevailed upon the management of a local theater to page his wife so he could tell her about the “catastrophe” which had struck New Jersey where all her relatives live.
At Fayetteville, N. C, people with relatives in the section of New Jersey where the mythical visitation had its locale, went to a newspaper office in tears seeking information.
A message from Providence, R. I., said:
“Weeping and hysterical women swamped the switch-board of the Providence Journal for details of the massacre and destruction at New York and officials of the electric company received scores of calls urging them to turn off all lights so that the city would be safe from the enemy.”
The New York bureau of The Canadian Press received queries relayed from Canadian listeners who wondered what it was all about.
In various parts of the United States mass hysteria mounted so high in some cases that people told police and newspapers they “saw” the invasion.
The Boston Globe told of one woman who “claimed she could “see the fire” and said she and many others in her neighborhood were “getting out of here.”
Minneapolis and St. Paul police switchboards were deluged with calls.
In Atlanta, there was worry that “the end of the world” had arrived.
It finally got so bad in New Jersey that the state police put reassuring messages on the state teletype, instructing their officers what it was all about.
And all this despite the fact that the radio play was interrupted four times for the announcement: “This is purely a fictional play.”
Newspaper switchboard operators quit saying, “hello.” They merely plugged in and said: “It’s just a radio show.”
The Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va., reported some of their calls came from people who said they were “praying.”
The Kansas City bureau of the Associated Press received queries on the “meteors” from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Beaumont, Tex., and St. Joseph, Mo., in addition to having its local switchboard flooded with calls.
One telephone informant said he had loaded all his children into his car, had filled it with gasoline, and was going somewhere.
“Where is it safe?” he wanted to know.
Residents of Jersey City, N. J., telephoned their police frantically, asking where they could get gas masks. In both Jersey City and Newark, hundreds of citizens ran out into the streets.
Atlanta reported that listeners throughout the Southeast “had it that a planet struck in New Jersey, with monsters and almost everything, and anywhere from 40 to 7,000 people reported killed.” Editors said responsible people, known to them, were among the anxious information seekers.
In Birmingham, Ala., people gathered in groups and prayed, and Memphis had its full quota of weeping women calling in to learn the facts.
After an introductory explanation by Welles at 8 p. m., (EST), an announcer gave a commonplace weather forecast. Then, in standard fashion, came the words: “We take you to the ____ hotel where we will hear the music of, etc.”
After a few bars of dance music there came “a bulletin from the International Radio News Bureau” saying there had been a gas explosion in New Jersey.
After that the bulletins came more and more rapidly with “Professor Pierson,” played by Welles, explaining about the attack by Mars and the little men who were pouring out of their meteor-like airplanes.
For some time Mars warriors drove everything before them. Mere armies and navies were wiped out right and left and the real radio audience was as frightened at the actors pretended to be. But then the little men acquired a lot of germs to which we men-of-the-world are virtually impervious. So the little men died and everybody lived happily ever after.
In later broadcasts, the Columbia system announced:
“For the listeners who tuned in to Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, tonight, and did not realize that the programme was merely a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ famous novel ‘The War of the Worlds,’ we are repeating the fact, made clear four times on the programme, that the entire content of the play was entirely fictitious.”
The Columbia System later issued a formal statement which said in part:
“Naturally, it was neither Columbia nor the Mercury Theater’s intention to mislead anyone, and when it became evident that part of the audience had been disturbed by the performance, five announcements were made over the network later in the evening to reassure those listeners.”
The action revolved around what might happen if monsters from Mars boarded flying machines which resembled meteors and called upon the earth with malice aforethought.
The whole thing was done realistically and in present tense. Before it reached its climax, late tuner-inners were pretty upset.
Right in the centre of the warfare—with every trunkline on the switchboard lighted—sat L.W. Smith and S.M. Zimmerman of the Fire and Police Dispatchers’ Office, Trenton, Mercer County, N.J.
They were answering all kinds of calls, local and long distance, assuring everybody concerned that Trenton was as calm as could be expected. It seems that the first arrivals from Mars had just landed at a hypothetical city called Grover’s Mill which sounded to listeners like Groveville, another community in Mercer County.

Afterwards, CBS apologised. Welles apologised. One Louisiana Democrat said he’d introduce a bill to control “just such abuses as was heard over the radio tonight.” The FCC vowed the next morning to do something. And the Harvard Astronomical Observatory issued a statement assuring people there was no life on Mars.

Not everyone was afraid. The New York Post related how hundreds of people jammed roads around Princeton as they tried to find the meteor to ogle it for themselves.

The following morning, CBS station WABC in New York, which had scheduled “Spooks Inc.,” for a midnight broadcast the next night, cancelled it and substituted a program of dance music which couldn’t scare anybody. And CBS rejected requests from people to rebroadcast the show. New Yorkers had to content themselves with a truncated transcript in the Post. But a line-check must have been made that evening as there are various places you can go on-line to listen to it.

Radio recovered from the controversy. It carried on, bringing World War Two into living rooms, along with comedy, music and even Orson Welles. Then came television. Today, radio brings loud-mouthed talk show hosts, auto-tuned singers and commercial after commercial after commercial. I’ll take a little panic instead, thanks.

Pop Culture Caught in a Dragnet

There’s a difference between a satire of a TV show and a send-up of its theme song. But bandleader Ray Anthony doesn’t appear to have understood that.

“Dragnet” began on TV the same year as “I Love Lucy” and both have probably never left the tube since then. “Lucy” had a huge audience, but “Dragnet” must beat it when it comes to parodies and rip-offs. Jack Webb’s monotone style delivery of abrupt lines and the show’s theme have been imitated countless times for laughs. And I suspect the first person to see the lampooning value in Webb’s cop show was the master satirist Stan Freberg, who scored a huge hit with “St. George and the Dragonet” on Capitol records. He and the great writer and voice actor Daws Butler took the “Dragnet” concept, theme and all, and plunked it in mediaeval times.

Meanwhile, others thought the theme itself could be a money-maker. And that’s where Anthony comes in. But he griped to Associated Press reporter Bob Thomas about Freberg. Neither seems to have understood “St. George” wasn’t competing with anyone; it wasn’t as if someone was going to decide between buying Freberg’s parody of Webb’s show and a jazzed-up version of the show’s theme.

This is from 1953.

'Dragnet' Music and Takeoffs Score Huge Success

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 8—(AP)—Dumm da dum dummm.
The opening theme of "Dragnet," the cops-and-hudlums TV show on NBC tonight, has become the most famous four notes in America today. They have eclipsed "Da da da dum"—the start of Beethoven's fifth symphony that was the victory symbol in World War II.
Reports Variety: "No show biz phenomenon has captured public interest as much as the musical theme of 'Dragnet' since the pioneer radio catchphrase days of 'Voss you dere, Sharlie?' 'Wanna buy a duck?' . . ."
Everywhere you go, it's "Dumm da dum dummm." It blares from juke boxes and radios. TV comics use it as a punch line. My five-year-old even brought it home from kindergarten the other day.
The craze was set off by Ray Anthony's hardrocking disc of the "Dragnet" theme. Now it is reaching a frenzied climax with a runaway record seller called "St. George and the Dragonet." Heaven knows where it will all end.
I sat down with bandleader Anthony to find out how it all happened. The suave musician, who looks like a trumpet playing Cary Grant, said it started over a year ago.
"My manager, Fred Benson, thought it would be a good idea to get out a record on the 'Dragnet' theme," he explained. "We asked one of my arrangers to whip up a treatment. Every month or so, I would ask him how he was coming. He'd say, 'Man, I can't get with it.'
"So we let it slide. There was some doubt whether Jack Webb would release the rights to the music for records.
"When we were in New York last summer, we heard that Buddy Morrow's band was coming out with a 'Dragnet' side on Victor. So I ordered a couple of arrangements in a hurry—one playing it straight and the other in boogie.
"We sat down to the recording date and played both versions. Neither of them sounded right. So we combined them and added some new touches. Four hours later, we came off with the finished product."
Capitol records put a hurry order on the disc and beat Victor to the market. Anthony's version began telling like hot dogs at a world series, it was by far the biggest seller his band ever had.
Then came "St. George and the Dragonet." A hilarious satire of Webb's underplaying, repetitive style, it was whipped up by two "Time for Beany" creators, Stan Freberg and Daws Butler, plus Walter Schumann, who composed the original "Dragnet" music.
The record is one of the fastest stellers in history, reaching 900,000 and still climbing. It has naturally cut into Anthony's sales. Why would his own company bring out a competing record?
"That's what I'd like to know," replies Anthony, who is slightly indignant about it. But he added that his sales are beginning to build up steam again. The latest figure is 700,000.
Many people have wondered how Webb feels about the jazzing up and lampooning of his TV show. He appears to favor the Anthony version and tolerate "St. George." But he has frowned on Spike Jones' record and some others.
"It's the small, commercial outfits which never bothered to secure clearance, that we're out to stop," he said.
The big question about 'Dragnet' is whether the show's theme will make the Hit Parade, which is sponsored by a rival cigaret firm. So far it hasn't made the grade among the top seven tunes. Yet it appears in the top three of most record sales, radio and juke box lists. How now, Hit Parade?

Here’s the Anthony version of the “Dragnet” theme.

And here’s a hissy version of Freberg’s great single featuring him, Daws Butler and June Foray with Hy Averback intoning the opening lines much like George Fenneman did on the TV show.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Gone With the Wand

Tex Avery and Heck Allen comment on their own gag in “Swing Shift Cinderella” (released 1945). The fairy godmother hears there’s an available wolf at Red Riding Hood’s. She whips out here wand, turns her barstool into a car and speeds off. That results in one of Tex’s famous sign gags.

A visual commentary on the sign follows.

The credited animators are Ray Abrams, Preston Blair and Ed Love.

Monday 28 October 2013

The City!

Charlie Dog’s most famous moment in Warner Bros. cartoon history came during his “towers” speech in “Often an Orphan” (released in 1949). You know the one. Charlie goes into a panicked monologue describing being sent back to the claustrophobic city and ends as he imagines some skyscrapers falling.

Everyone talks about the “towers” part but I really like the animation at the very start of Charlie’s ersatz paranoia. Here’s a smear from one pose to the next.

Then Charlie drops down to a crazy-eyed look. The eyes poke out to the right; Jones used this effect in other cartoons.

Now, Charlie swoops into the next pose.

Lloyd Vaughn, Ken Harris, Phil Monroe and Ben Washam get on-screen animation credits (in that order). The animation is fairly intricate. There are times in this scene when there’s just a slight snout or nose movement on Charlie so the character isn’t static.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Wedding Bells For Dennis Day

The world knew Jack Benny was married to Mary Livingstone but people willing to accept them on the radio as having some kind of vague, but quite non-marital, relationship. And the world must have known Dennis wasn’t a goofy young man with the occasional hots for Mary. If anyone did, they shouldn’t have after reading the following story about happy husband Dennis in the July 1948 edition of Radio and Television Mirror.

Day was at the peak of his fame. He not only appeared on the Benny show, but he had his own programme on Wednesday nights on NBC. There wasn’t much competition at the time the story was written; CBS was airing The American Melody Hour, ABC countered with Mayor of the Town and Mutual was running Scotland Yard.

Radio and Television Mirror was an odd amalgam of romantic fiction, radio listings and news, and “inside stories” aimed at housewives. Female subjects of stories were either glamour pusses, or stereotypes of the ‘50s who stayed at home and cooked and cleaned, with at least one comic disaster story, and something about food. This article is no exception. And anyone familiar with Dennis’ character on radio might be taken aback by the revelation he packed a gun in his car.

Writer Robbin Coons’ career covering Hollywood dated back to the early sound days. He worked for the State Times in Baton Rouge before joining the Associated Press in 1920 at age 15. He spent some time as a political reporter but was sent to Los Angeles in 1928 where he covered movies until being shipped to the Pacific as a war correspondent in 1945. After the war, he freelanced in Hollywood until he died of a heart attack on September 20, 1949.

The Wife in the Life of Dennis Day
Dennis was like any other bachelor: he had his list of wife-specifications. But one day he became an exception. He met the girl who filled them.
THIS is the story of some golden days in the life of Dennis Day. . . .
It's the tale of a bridegroom who did not forget the wedding ring, and of a bride whose very first biscuits were neither burned to a crisp nor stony-hard; of a wedding that was "simply beautiful" and of a honeymoon that was brief but perfect—unless you count as imperfections' such minor details as the car radiator that froze in the night, the mountain lion that got away, the lamb chops that played iceberg. . . .
The story began, actually, when Boy met Girl. That was two years ago.
Margaret Ellen Almquist was the daughter of family friends of Dennis's folks, the McNultys. She lived in Lynwood, a pleasant community close to Los Angeles but far from the gossip columns of radio and screen. One Sunday afternoon the McNultys and a couple of their boys called on the Almquists, and Peggy was there, home from the University of California—and the McNulty boy known as Dennis Day asked for a date right then and there.
None of this was in the script Hollywood's matchmakers had laid out for the very personable and eligible Dennis. The way Hollywood doped it, Dennis Day would fall eventually for one of its own career-and-glamor girls. But Dennis, a home boy, picked Peggy, a home girl, just as those who really knew the lad had always known he would. Peggy — blue-eyed, brown-haired, cream-skinned—is as pretty and wholesome as a May morning.
So that first date led to another, and finally to the date on which, some eight months ago, Dennis asked that question and got his "Yes." Well, as the folks all said, it was a beautiful wedding, just as Peggy and Dennis had wanted it.
"Quiet, with dignity, and just the two families and family friends," they'd agreed when talking it over, "because this is the only wedding we'll ever have—and we want it to be ours."
“I'LL ask Betty to be my matron of honor," said Peg. (Betty — Mrs. Jerome Linenkugel—is a longtime friend of Peg's.)
The day in the lives of Dennis and Peggy was a Thursday (January 29th), the place the beautiful old chapel of Mission San Juan Capistrano, some fifty miles from Hollywood. Here, 172 years ago, California's pioneer padres dedicated this holy ground in the then pagan wilderness. The mission bells the padres heard still ring sweetly today, and the towering gray olives and golden acacias they planted still shade the fragrant gardens they laid out.
Our Mr. Day, before the nuptial Mass began, was not the least bit nervous. Unlike the breathless, hapless young man he portrays on his own air show, unlike the meek and mild butt of Jack Benny's jokes on Sundays, Dennis was poised, calm, and collected.
"It's only the cold," he whispered to his brother and best rrian John McNulty, "that's making my teeth chatter and my hands shake. These thick adobe walls, you know. . . ."
"Yes, I know," John grinned sympathetically. "You want me to take the ring now?"
"N-n-no, not yet. I—I just want to keep it here in my pocket where I can check on it—myself—once in a while."
Father John Conlon officiated, and Father George Gallagher sang "Panis Angelicus" and "Ave Maria," and white tapers gleamed before the carved altar of Spanish gold-leaf. And Peggy Almquist, a picture bride in white satin and veil, became Mrs. Eugene Dennis McNulty, wearing a slender platinum band encrusted with small stones to match her dazzling engagement diamond.
There followed the wedding breakfast at nearby Balboa, at the home of Peggy's uncle Joseph Bahan, with all the padres joining their good strong voices in songs to Dennis and his bride, and Dennis and Peggy so busy kissing guests and being kissed they scarcely had a chance to eat. The breakfast was gay, a regular family reunion with McNultys and Almquists from miles around, and it was hours before Peggy could slip away to change to her "going away" outfit—a smartly trim tailored suit—and return to join Dennis in their "escape." More kisses, a few affectionate tears, then the dash to Dennis's parked gray convertible, and they were off under a shower of rice and shouted goodbyes. "I've a wonderful idea, Peggy," said Dennis suddenly as they sped along.
"Let's," he said deadpan, "get married!"
"M-m-m. . . ." She shook her head. "Never again—because that time was for keeps!"
The honeymoon site was near Warner Hot Springs, a resort north of San Diego. Dennis and Peggy bypassed the Springs for his friend Ben Benbough's ranch, 640 acres in a wilderness of desert-mountain country. Benbough was an overseas pal of Dennis's, during their Navy days in the war, and his offer of the secluded ranch for the honeymoon was eagerly accepted.
Secluded? Except for the caretaker's cottage, two miles from the ranch house, there's not a human dwelling for miles. The house itself is of stone, with the three bedrooms in knotty pine, a stone fireplace in every room.
THE sun already was losing its warmth and the night's chill creeping into the air when Dennis and Peggy pulled up at the door. Fires were already laid, waiting for a match, and in no time Dennis had them crackling.
"You're beautiful, Mrs. McNulty," he remarked solemnly. "Can you cook?"
"By some reports, m'lord," replied Peggy.
"But I reserve the right to do the steaks," he warned.
That first meal was something to remember.
Succulent steaks, barbecued in the Dennis manner, which means they must be marinated in a special sauce before the flames touch them. Stuffed baked potatoes, done Peggy-style with onions and cream cheese. Corn on the cob. Green salad. And biscuits, Peggy's own, feather-light and golden brown. ("I'm here to testify," said Dennis later, "that Peggy is a cook
They ate by firelight, with the dark velvet sky framed in the windows, the stars huge and brilliant and romantic. But there was one item Dennis had forgotten. In that country the winter days may be warm, but the nights are freezing cold. In the morning, when he suggested a sightseeing ride, he found the gray convertible balky. He had neglected to empty the radiator, and it was frozen solid.
"Well," said Peggy helpfully. "Walking is nice, too."
So they took a sightseeing hike instead. As Dennis remarked, they didn't have to go anywhere. No singing lesson to take, no rehearsals to rush to, no on-the-air deadlines. Four whole days of freedom from the hectic rush of his career, and a longer honeymoon trip to anticipate later, when he would take Peggy to New York (which she had never seen) while he recorded songs for his next film, “Babes in Toyland.” Sunday, their last day, with the car's radiator now nicely thawed, they drove to the quaint chapel of Santa Isabel for Mass, and they delighted in the singing of the Indian worshippers. It was on the way back that they met their mountain lion—the big one that got away. " Unfortunately," says Dennis.
They were driving along when the cat loomed, suddenly, just ahead of the car, and Dennis had to swerve to avoid striking the animal. Peggy gasped, and Dennis thought longingly of his gun collection at home while he reached for his .22 pistol in the glove compartment. But the cat was too fast. With one leap it disappeared into a roadside thicket.
"Now," said Dennis, "I'm going to sulk. That was a fast 125 bucks that just escaped me—there's a bounty on those cats. As a married man with responsibilities, I have to think about items like that!"
Well, that honeymoon ended, too soon, when Mr. and Mrs. McNulty parked their car in the Dennis Day home garage in Hollywood's Los Feliz section and Dennis, true to tradition, carried his bride over the threshold. To hear him tell it, he did it in a walk—but "He almost dropped me," teased Peggy later.
"But, honey, you're a big girl," Dennis alibied, grinning.
Actually, Peggy is a slim young creature. And, incidentally, she meets the Day specifications for a wife as Dennis once outlined them in pre-Peggy days: "... a girl with good health and a zest for life ... a sense of humor . . . interested in music . . . can cook and sew . . . and she must love children. . . ."
The Day home, a two-story Mediterranean-style dwelling, has twelve rooms, enough to meet space requirements for the fulfillment of their mutual desire for small McNultys. The newlyweds are settling down there now, looking for household help but with Peggy, meanwhile, doing what Dennis calls a great job of "pushing that vacuum cleaner, cooking those meals, and washing those dishes—she washes and I dry." PEGGY markets in the new blue Olds that was Dennis's wedding gift to her (she gave him a gold watch band) and she talks to decorators about a few changes they'll make in the home.
She's arranging display space for her collection of demi-tasse cups, and trying to decide whether to bring her pet cocker, Mickey, to live with Dennis's cocker, Dink Trout. She and Dennis are working out a budget, and planning their New York trip, and how she finds time to write poetry (a secret avocation of hers which Dennis proudly reveals to her dismay) is beyond calculation. And Dennis, when he isn't working at radio or pictures or his new song-publishing business, is laboring on the new barbecue. The bids he received for its construction were steep, and — "I've got two good hands, and friends," he explains. The friends are Pat Sullivan, a fire chief, and John Fitzgerald and John Kowser.
And—oh, yes, about those lamb chops that played iceberg. . . .
The Days' first meal at home was somewhat less idyllic than their firelit first meal in the desert. It seems that Peggy, newly initiated to the ways of deep-freeze units, forgot to allow those lamb chops time to thaw out before cooking. When Dennis came home to dinner that evening, the chops were still hunks of icy granite.
"We had pork and beans," reports Peggy ruefully.
"Peggy, you see," beams Dennis approvingly, "is a resourceful, all-around cook. She knows all there is to know about can-openers too!"

Dennis and Peggy had a marriage with lasted through the birth of ten children until his death on June 22, 1988.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Cartoons of 1927, Part 1

The cartoon studios didn’t know it at the time in 1927, but things were about to change for them. In the first half of the year, no one was talking about making sound cartoons—the Fleischers had experimented a few years before—but within a couple of years, sound would transform the business. Old studios died or morphed. New ones opened in their place.

In looking over copies of The Film Daily for that period, it was almost status quo for the animation industry from the year before. There’s very little news. A couple of developments proved to be significant. Walt Disney’s Alice Comedies came to an end and his studio began producing animation-only shorts featuring Oswald the Rabbit. Disney got a mention as the creator, which meant nothing as far as producer Charlie Mintz and Universal Studios were concerned, as Disney suddenly discovered. The other development was the corporate game that saw Max Fleischer’s Red Seal Pictures cease the distribution of shorts. A deal was worked out to release them through Paramount, a relationship that ended when the studio bounced the Fleischers and took over management, finally shutting down things in 1967. Paramount also worked out a deal with Charlie Mintz to distribute Krazy Kat cartoons, returning the cat to the small screen.

Perhaps notable was the end of distribution of Mutt and Jeff shorts by a company called Short Films Syndicate; the duo would return in the sound age with soundtracks added to old silent films. J.R. Bray finally got out of the cartoon business, with the Hot Dog animated short “The Farm Hand” by Walter Lantz being the last. This freed Lantz to move west and eventually set up his own studio that lasted into the early ‘70s, in the end producing unfunny groaners that paled compared with his fun silent efforts.

I’ve transcribed the full cartoon schedule. It was published in two parts, for the months of February to April and again for May to July. You can also read short reviews of some of the cartoons. I don’t know how many of these shorts still exist. I love “Felix Dines and Pines” and there are a couple of other Felixes that sound imaginative and I’d really love to see.

March 6, 1927
"U" to Release Cartoons
Twenty-six one reel animated cartoon comedies, known as "Oswald Comedies" produced by Winkler Pictures, have been added to Universal's next season schedule. They will be built around adventures of a caricatured rabbit, the creation of Walt Disney.

March 8, 1927
Bray to Sue
Charging infringement of patents, the Bray-Hurd Process Co., is preparing to start suit against producers of animated cartoons not licensed to use the patents. The Bray-Hurd interests and Fables Pictures, are the only two companies licensed to produce cartoons under the patents, the company states. Fables Pictures obtained a license last September in an out of court settlement of the suit for infringement brought by the Bray-Hurd firm.

March 27, 1927
"Meet Felix" Buttons
For distribution especially to children, Educational is offering buttons for $12 per thousand, for use in exploiting "Felix" cartoons. This price includes the following imprint: 'Meet Me at the Blank Theater."

April 6, 1927
F.B.O. Plans "Newslaffs" Series
F.B.O. has added a series of 20 one reel "Newslaffs" to its short subject lineup. The "Newslaffs," travesties on the news events of the day, will be made by "Bill" Nolan, creator of the Krazy Kat cartoons, and produced by a new cartoon photographic process which Nolan says he has just perfected.

April 12, 1927
With 208 releases already assured, Paramount is completing its short subject line-up for 1927-28.
In addition to the 104 issues of Paramount News, there will be 26 Krazy Kat cartoons produced by Winkler Pictures, Inc., and 26 Out-of-the-Inkwell cartoons produced by Out-of-the-Inkwell Films, Inc. The Winkler company also will produce five novelties and five short comedies and comedy dramas.

April 15, 1927
Bray Sues Winkler
Infringement of patents covering cartoon reels, is charged by Bray Prod. in suit filed against Winkler Pictures, J. R. Bray announced yesterday. The Winkler office had no comment to make.

May 9, 1927
Animated Cartoonist Loses Suit
Verdict in favor of Florenz Ziegfeld was returned by a jury before Supreme Court Justice John Ford, holding that Bert Green, maker of animated cartoons was not entitled to the $29,000 he had brought suit for. Green claimed in his suit that Ziegfeld had contracted with him to make four animated films.

May 29, 1927
Films for Homes
Rochester—Monthly service of four-minute feature films for showing at home will be inaugurated June 1 by the Eastman Kodak Co., with a regular monthly release of new pictures. The first stars to be presented are John Barrymore, Charlie Chaplin and Bobby Jones, along with travelogue and animated cartoons.
The films will be known as "cinegraphs," and will add to the home entertainment of amateurs who make their own pictures.

June 5, 1927
Publix Class Studies "Fables"
Visiting the studios of Fables Pictures, Inc., recently, the student body of the Publix Theater Manager Training School met Paul Terry, cartoonist and creator of Aesop Film Fables. Terry explained in detail the art and mystery of animated cartoons enlightening the class on the process of animation, the subject matter and the systemized procedure from the conception of the scenario to the photography of the finished drawing. The class left with an understanding of production details in animated film and an appreciation of the care involved in that division of motion picture products.

June 30, 1927
Court Reverses Judgment of Kalmus
Judgment for $896 obtained by Max Kalmus against Irwin Classics and Red Seal Pictures, for furnishing automobiles in taking the defendants' players to location, has been reversed by the Appellate Term. This action was on the ground that evidence was excluded as to the authority of Dave Fleischer of Red Seal to bind the defendants on the agreement.

729 7th Ave.—N. Y. C.
Cartoons—1 Reel
Petering Out 2-4
S'Matter Pete 2-13
Lunch Hound 3-4
Pete's Pow Wow 3-11
Hot Dog Cartoons—1 Reel
Bone Dry 4-15
The Farm Hand 5-1

370 7th Ave.—N. Y. C.
Felix the Cat Cartoons—1 Reel
Felix the Cat in Icy Eyes 2-2
Felix the Cat in Stars and Stripes 2-20
Felix the Cat Sees 'em in Season 3-6
Felix the Cat in Barn Yarns 3-20
Felix the Cat in Germ Mania 4-4
Felix the Cat in Sax Appeal 4-17
Felix the Cat in Eye Jinks 5-1
Felix the Cat as 'Roameo' 5-15
Felix the Cat Ducks His Duty 5-29
Felix the Cat in Dough-Nutty 6-12
Felix the Cat in 'Loco' Motive 6-26

Life Cartoons—1 Reel
The Heavy Date 2-13
Hitting the Trail 2-27
Local Talent 3-13
Ruling the Rooster 3-27
The Prince of Whales 4-10
Racing Fever 4-24
North of Nowhere 5-8

1560 Broadway—N. Y. C.
Alice Cartoons—1 Reel
Alice at the Carnival 2-7
Alice's Rodeo 2-21
Alice the Collegiate 3-7
Alice in the Alps 3-21
Alice's Auto Race 4-4
Alice's Circus Daze 4-18
Alice Naughty Night 5-2
Alice's Three Bad Egges 5-16
Alice's Picnic 5-30
Alice's Channel Swim 6-13
Alice in the Klondike 6-27
Alice's Medicine Show 7-11
Alice The Whaler 7-25

Krazy Kat Cartoons—1 Reel
Kiss Crossed 2-14
A Fool's Errand 2-28
Stomach Trouble 3-14
The Rug Fiend 3-28
Hire A Hall 4-11
Don Go On 4-25
Burnt Up 5-9
The Night Owl 5-23
On Trail 6-6
Passing the Hat 6-20
Best Wishes 7-4
Wild Rival 7-18

Paramount Building, N. Y. C.
Animated Cartoons—1 Reel
Inkwell Imps No. 1 8-6
Krazy Kat 8-13
Inkwell Imps No. 2 8-20
Krazy Kat 8-27
Inkwell Imps No. 3 9-3
Krazy Kat 9-10
Ink-well Imps No. 4 9 17
Krazy Kat 9-24

35 W. 45th St.—N. Y. C.
Aesop's Film Fables—2/3 Reel
In The Dough 2-6
The Crawl Stroke 2-13
The Mail Pilot 2-20
Cracked Ice 2-27
Taking The Air 3-6
All For A Bride 3-13
Tht Magician 3-20
Keep Off The Grass 3-27
The Medicine Man 4-3
The Honor Man 4-10
Anti-Fat 4-17
A Fair Exchange 5-1
Bubbling Over 5-8
When Snow Flies 5-15
Horses, Horses, Horses 5-22
Digging for Gold 5-29
A Dog's Day 6-5
Hard Cider 6-12
Died in the Wool 6-19
A One Man Dog 6-26
The Big Reward 7-3
Riding High 7-10
The Love Nest 7-14
Subway Sally 7-24

1600 Broadway—N. Y. C.
Hair Cartoons—1 Reel
Issue 23 2-15
Issue 24 3-15
Issue 25 4-15

Ko Ko Song Car-Tunes—1 Reel
Trail of the Lonesome Pine 2-1
In the Good Old Summertime 3-1
Oh You Beautiful Doll 3-15
Jingle Bells 4-1
Robert E. Lee 4-15

Out of the Inkwell—1 Reel
Ko Ko Makes Em Laugh 2-10
Ko Ko in 1999 3-10
Ko Ko The Kavilier 4-10

729 7th Ave.—N. Y. C.
Mutt and Jeff Cartoons—2 Reels
One every two weeks.


January 2, 1927
"Sink or Swim," Fable-Pathe
Type of production. .. 1 reel cartoon
Summertime at the sea side seethes with sleek shining swimmers. Hippo and bird, elephant and dog, cat and stork have a grand time sporting in the briny surf. Milt blows up water wings for Rita Mouse, who swims out beyond her depth, and when a swordfish punctures her wings she is in dire straits. To the rescue comes Milt. The caricature, the action and theme are excellent concoctions of the humorist's mind.

"Dog Gonnit," Lantz-Bray
Entertaining Throughout.
Type of production. .1 reel animated photography
If there were an absolute dearth of gags or comedy situations, "Dog Gonnit" would still have distinction because of the diverting character of the drawings. An artist who is so sure of his draughtsmanship, his imaginative quality in caricature, has half the battle over, before he even thinks of his story. But this offering does not have to depend on technique alone, sufficient as that is to get it by. There are any number of graphic quips and gags, and the continuity of camera photography with the animated sequences is perfect. The story concerns Pete the Pup's aim to cross the English Channel, and his adventures with the finny denizens along the route comprise the essential features of interest. This should go big.

January 23, 1927
"Why Women Pay"—Life Cartoon

Cartoon Burlesque
Type of production. . . .1 reel cartoon
High Hat Harold continues his villainy, this time selecting as his victim a prospector named Mike, who has just discovered a gold mine Harold swindles him in a card game and then goes to the mine to endeavour to get possession of it. He sets a bomb near the cabin to finish Mike, but a bird nicks it up and drops it on the scoundrel. Thus Mike is left in happy possession of his mine. This burlesquing of the typical western is good fun—if folks can get the point.

January 30, 1927
"The Musical Parrot," Fable-Pathe
The Usual Chase
Type of production. . .1 reel cartoon
There are a few amusing wrinkles in caricature when Al and his pet cat, Tom, engage in a game of billiards. Having exhausted all the gags the artist could possibly get out of this situation, there seemed to be nothing left but a good old fashioned chase. And so, poor Polly, who has been rending the welkin with a lamentable song entitled, "Oh, I Wish I Had Someone to Love Me," is the victim in the case, with Al, a blind man and his performing monk, and the cat in hot pursuit. What happens in this episode is nothing more exciting than a number of conventional falls.

February 13, 1927
Felix the Cat in “Zoo Logic”—Pat Sullivan

Cleverly Comic
Type of production. ... 1 reel cartoon
The creator of these animateds gets far away from the factory product and puts originality and ingenuity into the exploits of Felix. This one is no exception. A clever travesty, poking sly digs at some of our fool city regulations, and other civilized annoyances. Felix is more than a cartoon. He shows up human damfoolishness—and does it with a laugh.

February 20, 1927
"Ko-Ko Gets Egg-Cited"—Out-of-the-Inkwell Cartoon—Red Seal
Clever Cartoon
Type of production. ... 1 reel cartoon
Perhaps Ko-Ko doesn't "know his onions" as well as he might. In his latest escapade he trails a chicken to gather in eggs for Max Fleischer, his boss, but he frolics too long in a hennery and before he knows it Ko-Ko is the father of a fine brood of little ko-kos. Good laughs if not always strictly refined.

February 27, 1927
"Alice at the Carnival"
Alice Comedy—F. B. O.

Type of production. . .1 reel cartoon
"Hot Dogs and All"
Alice and her pup hit the trail to Coney or some other amusement resort and the frolic that follows furnishes some mild enough fun with the cartoonist taking the customary liberties with the result that a lot of things happen at the Carnival that would never happen at Coney. The roller coaster, for instance, becomes hysterical and hot dogs misbehave in hilarious fashion. Good for a fair amount of laughs.

"Felix Dines and Pines"—Pat Sullivan

Type of production. . 1 reel animated
Original methods are employed by Felix to get himself a meal. He starts with an appetizer by stealing the contents of a punch bowl which he sucks through a tube of spaghetti. Each course of the meal is obtained from a different source. The result is Felix has an indigestion dream. There is more originality in this animated than in a lot of features—and more genuine comedy. Felix as a screen entertainer is there—as always.

March 27, 1927
"The Magician"—Fables—Pathe
Superlatively Clever
Type of Production . . . 1 reel animated cartoon.
This is by far one of the funniest, one of the most cleverly drawn and one of the most imaginative reels of animated work done by the modern Aesop. The gags are of the unexpected variety that can't fail to bring the laughs, the plot is fanciful burlesque, and the sheer drawings have an entertaining quality. Don't miss this one. It's a natural.

"Hitting the Trail" Life Cartoon—Educational
Hobo Humor
Type of production .... 1 reel cartoon
Relates the adventures of Nibbins and Pal, his dog, who go on a tramp and ride the rails. Most of the fun is built around a pancake stand, and the efforts of the two animated characters to get a meal without paying for the pancakes. This cartoon develops a definite situation and works it out with a good deal of humor. It is better than most of the series that have preceded it.

"Felix in Icy Eyes"
Pat Sullivan—Educational

Clever Animation
Type of production .... 1 reel cartoon
At last Felix finds his ideal in the line of lady cats. He follows her to a skating pond, and tries to make an impression with fancy skating, but the only impression made is with Felix's head on the ice. Finally Felix distinguishes himself as a hero by capturing a couple of crooks. It's a Felix. Therefore, it's good.

"Cracked Ice"

Type of production . . . 1 reel cartoon
Farmer Al out for a turn on an ice pond meets the inevitable mishap, falling through the ice, and when he's fished out has to be thawed out of an encrusted cake. In the meantime a polar bear has been making life miserable for him. Finally, free of the ice, he attempts to eat a frank furter. The hot dog takes heels and he chases it. All told, the treatment results in sprightly screen fodder.

"Petering Out"
Bray Studios

Good Combination Cartoon
Type of production .. 1 reel animated
Walter Lantz, the artist, features himself in a comedy skit with his cartoon dog. The combination of animated and straight acting is cleverly worked out. It winds up with the artist all covered up with the wallpaper, and falling out of the window in his paper suit that makes him look like a convict that the cop outside is searching for. Clever all the way—and humorous.

"The Mail Pilot"—Fable

Deft Caricature
Type of production. ... 1 reel cartoon
Slick work by Milton Mouse and the courageous spirit of his girl, Rita, saves the government mail plane from falling victim to two airway robbers. The author found himself fertile with gags and interest in this one.

April 10, 1927
"Soft Soap"—Life Cartoon

Novelty Cartoon
Type of production. .1 reel animated
The gags are built around a safe delivered to Mike's home. Little Nibbins and his dog furnish the fun by making a sliding pond in the hall with soap. This results in Mike slipping all over the place and wrestling with the safe. The trouble with these cartoons is that the draughtsmanship has a smudgy effect that makes the entire reel suffer. A technical defect that, it seems, can be easily remedied.

April 17, 1927
"Felix the Cat in Germ-mania"
Pat Sullivan—Educational

A Gloom Chaser
Type of production. .. .1 reel cartoon
The realm of science is invaded to get the comedy for this one. But it is put over as popular science that all can understand and enjoy. Felix wanders into a laboratory where a chemist is at work on two fluids One enlarges objects, and the other reduces them. With this promising start, the artist works out one of the best Felix cartoons in this long list of clever animated offerings. Felix gets the goat of a kissing bug by spying through a microscope on his necking party. It winds up by the chemist using the reducing fluid on Felix, and the enlarging fluid on the love microbe. Then the latter, now a giant, chases poor Felix all over the map Here is a screen scream as cleverly executed as it is laugh-provoking.

"The Plow Boy's Revenge"

Clever Nonsense
Type of production. ... 1 reel cartoon
Paul Terrry gets his hand in with a good natured distortion of the extravagant melodrama that used to grace the celebrated "Ten, Twent' Thirt' " stage. Thus, we find Milt Mouse, after having been befriended by Graham Goldfish, save the latter's mate from the whirling teeth of a buzz saw. The manner of the goings and comings are worked out with good-natured gusto in the author's well known style. A diverting bit of nonsense.

April 24, 1927
"Felix the Cat Sees 'Em in Season"
Pat Sullivan—Educational

Spring Fancies
Type of production . . . 1 reel cartoon
This opens with a fine animated portrayal of winter changing magically into spring. The snow melts before your eyes, and the trees, resembling sleeping people, yawn, stretch themselves—and blossom forth into leaves and flowers. A corking conceit, with a comedy flavor. Then spring fever starts to seize all the animals. The highlight is that of Felix chasing a mouse. Gradually both are overcome with sleep, and lie down peacefully. A laugh for old and young in this cartoon classic.

May 15, 1927
"Horses, Horses, Horses"

Funny and Clever
Type of production. . 1 reel animated cartoon
No question about it, Milton Mouse can be as funny as a “Follies” comedian, when the artist feels the gag urge. Here we find him engaged in a one-man round-up, and making love to Rita on the side. The usual adventure of the great Western outdoors cross his path, but when the dust of incident and action has settled, Milton is pretty much on top. This number is sprightly, well-drawn and original. Good stuff.

June 5, 1927
"Felix in Eye Jinks"
Pat Sullivan—Educational

Optical Illusion
Type of production. .1 reel animated
Felix the Cat lands a job with an optician who is overrun with mice. Felix is getting away with it till he falls asleep. The mice place a pair of magnifying glasses from the optician's stock on the cat's nose. When he wakes up the mice appear like young lions in size. The reel has the usual sprightliness and comedy of these popular animateds.

"The One Man Dog"

Entertaining Cartoon
Type of production. .. .1 reel cartoon
"A boy's best friend is his dog" is the moral to be drawn from this animated thriller, even when the pup is censured for various indiscretions. How packed this is with "meller" may be judged by the fact that a whole police force is wiped out in the battle. However, Aesop ends up with: "A stitch in time saves embarrassment."

"Digging for Gold"

The Usual Chase
Tyne of production ... 1 reel cartoon
Old Al and his dog and cat arrive at Weepah. where thev find some nucrgets. These are on Bill Bear's claim, and so while Al and Bruin fight it out. the cat and dog run off with the booty. There are very few variations in treatment, gags or ideas from the usual run of these cartoons but it is nevertheless entertaining.

June 26, 1927
"Died in the Wool"

Cleverly Animated
Type of production. ... 1 reel cartoon
Shepard Milt Mouse banishes an incorrigible sheep, and then visits his sweetie Rita. Terrible Tom Cat, seeing the lovers, runs off to make a bargain with a wolf. Tom then forces his dupe to don feminine garb and Vamp Milt. A droll little drama.

Friday 25 October 2013

Three Little Houses

Friz Freleng directed cartoons based on popular music in the ‘30s and classical music in the ‘40s. In the ‘50s, he put together another based on a jazz/rock tune. “The Three Little Bops” (released in 1956) isn’t as broad as, say, Freleng’s “Pigs in a Polka” made over a decade before but it sure shows the Freleng sense of timing and rhythm, set to one song with a great little arrangement (the song was written by Shorty Rogers and Warren Foster, and owes something to “Rock Around the Clock” released in 1954).

Since it’s based on the Three Little Pigs, there are houses of straw, sticks and bricks (appropriately stylised for the ‘50s). They’re all nightclubs, of course. Here are Irv Wyner’s backgrounds showing each house; the latter one isn’t free of dancing characters in the windows.

The designs, as usual, are by the fine Hawley Pratt. The animation was done by Gerry Chiniquy and his assistant, Bob Matz.

Thursday 24 October 2013

The Gold Cream Trophy Winner

The camera pans down to see what Hubie and Bertie can see in “Mouse Wreckers”: Claude the Cat, underneath his vast array of honours. Claude proves no match for the wise-guy Hubie and the enthusiastic dullard Boit.

The backgrounds in this cartoon are by Pete Alvarado from layouts by Bob Gribbroek. As you’d expect in a cartoon directed by Chuck Jones, there’s some really fun animation. Next time you see the cartoon, watch the staggering, hoppy entrance that Bert makes onto the window sill. It’s a great little bit of work. Then Ben Washam picks up the scene after the cut to Claude and his trophies with some really nice finger and head movements on the mice. They do logical things with their bodies to demonstrate emotions, they don’t just stand and talk.

The Hubie and Bertie cartoons show Warners at their best—expressive animation from Jones’ character layouts with little extras, subtle scoring that sets the mood by Carl Stalling and a string of gags by Mike Maltese that build to something incredibly imaginative (in this cartoon, the upside-down room). Everything works together.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

The Hope of Radio

The tide of television slowly washed radio out of the living room in prime time. In the 1949-50 season, all four U.S. TV networks were finally offering evening programming seven nights a week. More shows made the jump from radio: “The Aldrich Family,” “The Life of Riley,” “The Voice of Firestone” and Ed Wynn among them. It was a matter of time—and TV sets in more North American homes—before most of the big prime time radio stars joined them. Milton Berle’s phenomenal success made it a matter of “when,” not “if.” TV had to be in the back of their minds as they once again trudged into the studio to read their rehearsed scripts in front of radio audiences.

TV was in the front of the minds of radio writers. By 1949, it had become a big enough part of pop culture to make jokes about it; certainly Fred Allen had done so before he ended his radio show in spring of 1948. That brings us to syndicated columnist John Crosby, who seemed to feel the whole radio industry had accepted its inevitable fate and was half-heartedly going through the motions. His example was Bob Hope who, oddly enough, never succumbed to the idea of a weekly show like Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Red Skelton and others eventually did. Hope survived for decades (thanks to an astute long-term contract with NBC) doing occasional specials, eventually racking up 64 years on radio and TV.

This column ran September 30, 1949.

Radio In Review

Absent-Minded Comedians
BOB HOPE, the nation’s favorite radio comedian, devoted about half of his opening show of the season to wisecracks about killing radio.
“But radio so much more to offer things—like money,” he exclaimed with some wistfulness. There ensued a skit in which he was thrown out of his own studio by a television crew, then a gag about Milton Berle.
“You know Berle made a picture out here this Summer. I don’t know if he stole anything but the studio is now called ‘Warner Brother’.”
There was even one of those telegrams.
“Miss Ryan, ever since your face has appeared on bar-room television, our place is crowded every night. (signed) Alcoholics Anonymous.”
I don’t know who stole what from who, but Berle had his telegrams on the air an hour earlier the same night.
WELL, TELEVISION certainly is fair game for the comedians and we can expect a good many jokes on the subject this season. But I don't know whom the joke is on, exactly.
The opening of the Hope show, as well as the openings of a good many other big, popular radio shows this season, indicates that the comedians don’t think television is as funny as they are making out.
While these old-time radio favorites don't sound precisely alarmed, they do sound a little absent-minded, as if they were turning over their own television plans in their minds even while they were making jokes about the medium.
Radio may be with us for a long time to come—I certainly believe it is—but it seems to be in a state of paralysis. Most of the big shows that have reopened this season have a tired, frayed air about them.
THE WRITERS appear to have dished out their old, old material by some sort of involuntary spastic action that didn't involve the cranium at all. Their minds, like those of the comedians, seemed to be on other things.
The Hope show in particular emphasized that the nation’s favorite comedian is going to be a lot hotter on television than he is on radio. It opened, as it always has, with more noise than a circus, the audience trying to outshout the orchestra and succeeding very well.
The nation's favorite radio comedian came aboard and told three jokes in rapid succession about the outstanding romances of the Summer. “Boy, is Rita’s baby going to be healthy. I can just hear Rita saying: ‘Go ahead, Junior, eat your emeralds!’ And this Summer Jimmy Stewart got married. It was a novel ceremony. The bride said: ‘I do.’ And the groom said: ‘Oh, shucks!’”
There was another one about Stromboli, something to do with Miss Ingrid Bergman. I missed it.
THE BROADCAST ended with Mr. Hope, as some instinct told me he would, diving into the English channel and wisecracking his way to the white cliffs of Dover. Shirley May France is getting more publicity by missing her big chance than she would if she’d made it (Take note, press agents. The gallant failure hasn’t begun to be exploited).
Mr. Hope is assisted, as he was last season, by Doris Day, who sings prettily enough; by his announcer, Hy Averbach; by a Stooge named Jack Kirkwood whose trademark is the line: “Put something in the pot, boy” and who is quite a handy man for Hope to have around; and by Irene Ryan, a professional hypochondriac, whose act has worn a little thin.
As for Hope himself, I still think he’ll be a great man in television even if there isn’t any money in it.

Considering Doris Day’s huge career in movies, recordings (and, to a lesser extent, television), it’s odd seeing her in a supporting role rather than starring. But she wasn’t the only female vocalist who went on to bigger things than kibitzing with a radio comedian before and after songs; Dinah Shore (Eddie Cantor) and Peggy Lee (Jimmy Durante) did the same thing.

And it’s odd seeing Irene Ryan’s name in any context except Granny of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Though she had been in vaudeville with her husband Tim, she certainly wasn’t an old crone by the time she was cast as a member of the Clampett kinfolk. Hy Averbach later went on to a prolific directing career when TV graphics virtually killed the concept of show announcers.

You can hear an example of the Hope show from the 1949-50 season below. Jack Benny is the guest star.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

You Missed Something, Betty

Who else but Dave Fleischer would have a toenail clipping gag? He does in “Bimbo’s Express” (1931).

In this cartoon, Fleischer (or whoever directed this) cuts to a close-up of Betty’s foot. She’s only cut off part of the big toenail. The toe grows a face and hands and urges Betty to finish the job. She does. The toe smiles and the face disappears.

I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember the title of the song that plays during the opening moving van sequence, but the soundtrack includes “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” “The Old Grey Mare,” “Hello, Beautiful” and “Horses.” (See the answer in the comment section).

Monday 21 October 2013

Screwy Horsesense

Lonesome Lenny decides to sock Screwy Squirrel and set up a gag in his eponymous cartoon. Another great, though typically Tex Avery, fright take by Screwy.

Screwy checks the boxing glove. Sure enough, it’s filled with horseshoes (did a fighter actually do that at one time?) and, by logical extension, a horse.

The horse trots out to end the scene. Scott Bradley’s soundtrack plays the 1926 Byron Gay/Richard Whiting novelty song “Horses.”

Avery used a horseshoe/horse gag again in “Bad Luck Blackie.” I’m sure it came up in another cartoon.

Ed Love, Preston Blair, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton are the credited animators with Heck Allen handling the story.

By the way, if you want to hear a fun version of “Horses,” play this:

Sunday 20 October 2013

A Cow on Wheels and Other Salesmen

Have you been checking out Mike Kazaleh’s great series of posts at the Cartoon Research web site? He’s been examining the work of animators who spent time in the 1950s coming up with TV commercials.

The ‘50s were probably the Golden Age of Animated Commercials. They seem to have blanketed the airwaves at one time. Cartoons were funny. Cartoons were warm. More importantly, cartoons sold product. New animation houses popped up to create them. And those houses—Storyboard, Quartet, Animation Inc., Ray Patin, among others on the West Coast—attracted many top animators who had been working on theatrical cartoons at MGM and Warners. So if you wonder where people like Emery Hawkins or Bill Littlejohn ended up when their names vanished from cartoon credits, commercial and industrial houses are the answer.

The commercials gave animators, layout artists and directors a chance to come up with cartoons that rivaled UPA for stylised, “modern” designs. There are quite a number of them on internet video sites and Mike has linked to some of them.

Here’s a compilation video someone has put up on-line. My favourite is the Foremost cow on spoked wheels. The design is really funny and the animation is pretty neat (the cow does a 180 and the kid has a staggered walk). Mike has revealed the artist behind it is Rod Scribner, who needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the people behind Warner Bros. cartoons.

Late note: Mike has written to mention this compilation is his, too. Thanks to Chris for mentioning it in the comments as well.

The Legacy of Jack Benny

These days, you might get the idea the relationship between show folk and the media is little more than a battle between belligerent paparazzi and arrogant stars, with each accusing the other of boorish behaviour. That’s merely the tabloid press perpetuating itself. There’s also a world of press agentry with endless and carefully-controlled hype for their clients sopped up by reporters eager to fill space or air time, even with triviality.

How different it was for one young reporter who set out to interview one of TV’s biggest stars, Jack Benny, in the late ‘60s. The reporter could have easily been blown off and told to get lost; I suspect many a star would do that today. But that isn’t what happened. This column by Bob Greene in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise of December 11, 1995 shows you what kind of man Jack Benny was.

Sometimes, the old way is the best way
There was a network television tribute to Jack Benny that was broadcast last week; maybe you saw it. It was a lovely look at Benny’s life and his talent.
A friend and I were talking about the TV special, and we also were talking about some of the people currently in public life who specialize in outrage and calculatedly crazed behavior (athletes, TV and radio performers, comedians), and the thought occurred that the two subjects — Jack Benny, and the present-day purveyors of outrage — are not entirely unrelated.
Because the reason that people still talk fondly of Benny, still consider him almost a member of their families, is that day after day, year after year, he let the public see that talent and dignity are not mutually exclusive qualities; that if you treat people the way you’d like to be treated yourself, not only will they appreciate it, but they will accept you into their lives not just for a hot season or two, but for the long run.
It’s an idea that seems to be all but outmoded in public life today, where the loudest and the most abrasive get all the attention. You wonder whether a Jack Benny, were he to come along now, would even be given a chance to shine. Where are the headlines in Jack Benny’s demeanor? Where are the news flashes in a career built on taste, and impeccable timing, and respect for one’s audience?
And yet — this is what is being lost today — those are the things that stick. People remember.
I certainly do. I met Jack Benny. Only once. I was 22 years old, a beginning newspaper reporter, and Benny, then 75 and near the end of his remarkable career, was performing in the Empire Room of the Palmer House hotel in Chicago. I had called the hotel’s management to arrange an interview, and had been told to show up one evening at a certain time.
When I did, there seemed to have been a mixup. From the house phone, I called Benny’s room; there was no answer. I rode the elevator upstairs, knocked, on his door. No answer there, either.
I kept knocking, for a minute or more, and finally there was that unforgettable voice: "Come in!" In the middle of the hotel room, sitting at a room-service table eating dinner for one, wearing a blue bathrobe over a white T-shirt, black slippers covering black knee-length socks, was Jack Benny.
"I don’t know anything about any interview," he said, peering through his eyeglasses. "No one told me."
He was one of the biggest stars and greatest talents in the world; I was some kid trying to do well in his first full-time newspaper job. Anything I might write about him, he didn't need; he had been written about for half a century. "I have to go downstairs and be on stage in 15 minutes," he said. "I’ve got to finish eating, I’ve got to shave. I’ve got to put my makeup on. ... Can you come back in the daytime sometime?"
I couldn’t, because that’s when I had to be at the office. The interview with Benny was something I was attempting on my own time. "Oh, come on then," Benny said. "Finish dinner with me and then you can come down and watch the show, and we can come back up and talk some more afterwards if you like. Sit down."
And so my evening with Benny began. He treated me like a young relative; he sat and talked with me in the room, he took me down to the Empire Room with him, he whispered something to the maitre d’ so that I would be given a seat where I could clearly see the stage. He invited me back up afterward, sitting around with me until after midnight, treating someone he’d never met and would never see again with absolute courtesy and graciousness.
"I hope I’ve given you enough for a story," he said when I finally left to go home. Whatever I would write would have no effect on his life, but he understood that doing the story was important to me.
He lived for five more years, and we never spoke again. There must have been thousands of people who passed through his life whose names and faces he inevitably forgot. But watching the television tribute to him last week. I understood the legacy of people like him — the people who do things right, who realize that soft voices echo longer than strident shouts. All this time later; and I’m telling you the story of that night. That’s the legacy — the legacy is that people never forget.

Saturday 19 October 2013

And Then I Created...

It’s almost impossible to discuss Bob Clampett without the topic of The Letter coming up. “The Letter” was written by Chuck Jones, disputing claims Clampett made in a 1969 interview with historian Mike Barrier about creating or developing most of the major cartoon characters at the Leon Schlesinger studio.

Clampett directed some great cartoons. But there’s no question that in the days before animation historians began digging through the life of the Warner Bros. cartoons (and 1969 certainly falls in that time period), Clampett either somewhat stretched the truth or let reporters make assumptions about his career. A great example is in a story originally published in the Dallas Times Herald in 1977 when Clampett was on a tour of college campuses with drawings, reels of cartoons and his helmet hair. Today, anyone somewhat knowledgeable about the Warners studio will look at claims of a Clampett Oscar and wonder “What the …?” Or that Clampett created characters for Walt Disney Productions, let alone worked for Disney in 1920 when Walt was in Kansas City and Clampett was 7. The story was syndicated by the Los Angeles Times service and this version was found in a newspaper of February 27th with the accompanying photo.

What’s Up, Doc? A Daffy Career

ARLINGTON, Tex.—“I tot I taw a puddy tat.”
“What’s up, doc?”
Tweety Bird and Bugs Bunny recently lectured at the University of Texas at Arlington.
So did Beany and Cecil, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Elmer Fudd.
That wascally wabbit and his friends actually weren’t there. But their creator, Bob Clampett, was.
Clampett created the characters while working for Walt Disney Productions from 1920 to 1930. He then become a creator of characters for Warner Bros. until he quit in 1946 to open his own Hollywood studio to make television films and commercials.
He won three Emmys for Beany and Cecil and an Oscar for Tweety.
“Tweety was patterned after my baby pictures,” says Clampett.
His mother had a picture of him naked on a bear skin rug.
“It was embarrassing, but that’s where I got the idea for Tweety’s form—round and naked,” Clampett says.
He lamented that cartoons are not what they used to be.
“Now people look at the things we did and say they are classic,” says the high school dropout. They don’t make them like that anymore. They were walkie-talkies back then. Walked a little and talked a lot. But today on Saturday mornings, there is no idealistic push. Ideas are limited.”
Clampett admits there is some violence in cartoons today but in his days at Warner Bros. and Disney Productions, it was “classic slapstick.”
“When Tweety put a firecracker under Sylvester and he exploded, kids knew he would be back in the next cartoon,” he says. “And that’s how we got some of our ideas back then. I would sneak up to someone hard at work and put a firecracker under his chair and he would go to the ceiling.”
In touching on the history of American animation, he compares Felix the Cat to the X-rated cartoon Fritz the Cat and says animation is a medium.
“It can do anything your mind and pencil tell you to do,” he says.
While a high school student in California in 1920, Clampett designed and made a Mickey Mouse doll after Disney created the character. “I got a chance to see Walt one day and walked in and he went crazy over the doll,” says Clampett, who already had begun a comic strip career at age 12. “He hired me as a creator.”
He dropped out of school and soon was working with such greats as Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny.
Does Clampett have a favorite among his creations?
“They become very real to you,” he replies. “It’s like you have 20 kids and someone asks you which one you love the best. You love them all.”

I can’t remember where I first read about Clampett’s claims and Jones’ outrage; I keep thinking it was in Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic, as that’s the first real animation history book I bought. But I never saw a copy of the interview or Jones’ rebuttal until years later, thanks to the internet. And that same internet today can let you see it. Mike Barrier has posted the interview, his remarks about it and a link to Bob Clampett Jr.’s comments about it HERE, and you can see The Letter with annotations by Tex Avery HERE.