Thursday 31 July 2014

Gruesome Collision

Bob Clampett’s best cartoons have some outrageous animation that looks every more outrageous if you stop and admire each drawing.

In an incredibly ridiculous premise in “A Gruesome Twosome,” two cats in a suddenly-rubbery old vaudeville horse outfit get wrapped around a tree. Here are just some of the drawings. Note the white in the impact drawing.

There a bunch of drawings in perspective in the scene, with body parts poking near the camera. Another great bit of work is when the “horse” lands on the ground. See how a foot is in perspective. And look at the multiples and the swirls. Just fun stuff to look at.

Manny Gould, Rod Scribner, Bob McKimson and Basil Davidovich are the credited animators.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

A Grander Old Nag

Thad Komorowski’s blog has a new post today that should excite all fans of old cartoons.

Republic Pictures decided in 1946 to release cartoon shorts and contracted with former Warners director Bob Clampett to make them. He finished a grand total of one before Republic decided conditions weren’t ripe for animation and the deal was off. We detailed the situation in this post.

Some time ago, the one cartoon—“It’s a Grand Old Nag”—was made available to the world on the internet via Jerry Beck’s now-former web site, with a very interesting commentary by Mark Kausler, a first-rate dissector of cartoons and a kind and gentle man. The copy was pretty ratty and missing footage but it was all that was around.

You can read the full story on Thad’s site but, in summary, a 16 mm. version turned up, and a transfer has been made by Steve Stanchfield, who has been helping to preserve animation history by restoring B-list Golden Age cartoons that, if it weren’t for his painstaking work, are now far more appreciated. And they have, quite generously, uploaded the transfer on the internet.

Want a comparison between the two versions? You could barely see the main title card before. Now, you can view the detail, even though it’s gone through compression posting it on line, it’s not from a 35 mm. print and was printed in an inferior colour process.

And how about the difference here?

It’s a funny thing how you can appreciate the animation more when you can actually see it. And you can get a better idea of how Clampett handled cartoons when he didn’t have animators like Rod Scribner and Manny Gould providing funny and outrageous character takes. This cartoon’s much tamer (despite atypical Clampett gags) but the animation seems far smoother than his work at Warners, and the great Ed Love came up with some fine scenes of the emotional director (voiced by an uncredited Dave Barry). And it’s hard to believe Jeff Alexander never scored a cartoon before this (or after this, for that matter). His work is clever and matches the on-screen action perfectly.

Head to Thad’s blog HERE for the story and the cartoon.

Now if there were only a complete and viewable version of “Wacky Quacky”....

Explaining Godfrey

Arthur Godfrey has gone down in history as the friendly, relaxed guy who was neither, a man who audiences eventually rejected because they felt duped. After all, he was the man who insisted on honesty in advertising while plugging countless products, so many of them that the sheer volume was the subject of radio satirists.

At one time, Godfrey was all over the CBS schedule in a real-life role as the network’s huge cash cow. No doubt that’s why National Enterprise Association columnist Dick Kleiner included him in his “funnymen” series of newspaper features even though Godfrey wasn’t a comedian. Old red-head Arthur punctuated his patter with random observations, some of them mildly amusing. Kleiner tried to dissect why audiences went for Godfrey, almost four years before the TV host fired Julius La Rosa on the air and opinion changed. This column is from January 28, 1950.

What’s Godfrey Got? Nothing—But Fans
By Richard Kleiner

NEW YORK (NEA)—The boys in the radio business would like to know the answer to one little question: What has Arthur Godfrey got?
He sings, but he isn't a serious threat to Crosby. He tells pleasant little jokes, but nobody dies from excessive laughter. He emcees three shows, but spends most of his air time talking about his airplanes and his Virginia farm.
According to the radio crowd, Godfrey’s got nothing, absolutely nothing—except a large, loyal audience who’s cheerfully slit the throat of anybody who says anything against him.
What makes that audience so large and so loyal is Godfrey’s knack of making friends over the air. He's a male Mary Margaret McBride, in that he can make himself sound like he’s right in the parlor, sitting in the best chair, gabbing with the folks.
• • •
His commercials are perfect examples of his man-next-door technique. Nothing high-powered, nothing persuasive, nothing flowery—just an easy-going, tongue-in-cheek discussion.
“We’re offering this pot, he’ll say, talking about a gift offer one of his sponsors is making. “All you gotta do is send 50 cents and a boxtop and we’ll send you the pot. You wanna know why we’re making this offer? The factory is short of boxtops, that’s why.”
His actual material, what there is of it. is delivered in the same style. It is sometimes difficult to tell when the commercials stop and the program begins. Which is Godfrey’s diabolic scheme to get people to listen to commercials. It works—and the audience is happy and the sponsors are delirious with joy.
• • •
His easygoing manner isn’t a pose. He is a friendly, relaxed, informal man. He’s got a big grin that spreads over his face in the morning and doesn't set until he goes to bed. He might even sleep with it on. He's easy to talk to and likes to shoot the breeze with anybody.
“I never want to become one of those stuffed shirts who hides from his public,” is the way he expresses it himself.
While his restful pace is a delight to his listeners, it is—or, at least, it was—a pain in the kilocycles to the radio industry. By now the writers and producers and technicians are used to it, but it still gives an old-style radio man the willies to watch Godfrey at work.
In the first place, up until the moment he goes on the air. Arthur Godfrey has just the foggiest notion of what's going to happen. In the second place, he gets deep satisfaction out of driving the control room insane with impromptu bits of drollery, such as simply shutting up for 15 seconds while the control room frets over what it thinks is dead air.
• • •
Godfrey doesn’t work from a script. He has a staff of writers who cull the newspapers for odd items and funny ads. They also make up jokes. All these things are typed on separate sheets of paper, and Godfrey is given a pile of them. He may, or may not, use any of the writers' contributions. The jokes run something like this:
“That makes me think of the man who called the manager of a bar and asked what time the bar opened. The manager told him one o’clock, A little while later the same guy called again and asked what time the bar opened. The third time, the manager said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t break the rules and let you in before one.’ The man answered. ‘Who wants in? I want out!’”
“It’s colder than a maiden aunt’s kiss this morning,” is a typical Godfrey ad lib.
That sort of stuff, told in Godfrey’s deep voice that can be described as sounding like a bullfrog, a bassoon or a north wind, whistling over a pile of rusty bathtubs, makes listeners roar. So do his ad-libs, which average, roughly, 75 percent of his program.
• • •
There is no rehearsal for his daytime shows, except for the musical numbers. But there is a bare minimum of rehearsal for his hour-long television night-time show.
For one show, Godfrey had hired two table tennis professionals. Up until three hours before airtime, however, he didn't know what they were going to do on the program. Then he ambled slowly onto the rehearsal stage, picked up a paddle, and called out to his orchestra leader, Archie Bleyer, “Hey, Archie, did you ever play this game?”
The two of them played table tennis for 15 minutes, knocking the ball back and forth and under the table while 50 high-salaried persons made cracks about their ability—or lack of it. And, as he played, he outlined the night’s stunt, when it came on, later that night, it was a polished performance.
That’s Godfrey, and, be the good Lord willin’, he'll be around for quite a while.

Godfrey dismantled his show piece by piece. Bleyer was let go in what was seen as a move of petulance. After winning praise for hiring a quartet of black and white singers, Godfrey was castigated by the Baltimore Afro-American for sending them on an extended vacation. Long-time announcer and loyal foot-soldier Tony Marvin was finally told in 1959 there was no place for him on the Godfrey show.

Even during the height of his popularity, there was a little bit of controversy about Godfrey. We’ll go into that next week.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Let’s All Dance!

Dinky Doodle and Weakheart get “Dinky Doodle and Red Riding Hood” off to a rollicking start by dancing on top of a turntable (warping the record as it turns). An orchestra appears in the horn of the gramophone for a bit.

The scene cuts away from the animation to show an exuberant dancer.

Let’s look a little closer. Say, it’s none other than Walter “Jazz-Hands” Lantz!

This is a silent cartoon from 1925, released by Bray. Whether it’s the first cartoon spoofing Red Riding Hood, I don’t know, but it’s an early one. Lantz did it several more times in the sound era, the last being “The Three Little Woodpeckers” 40 years later.

(My thanks to Tom Stathes for a copy of this short)

Monday 28 July 2014

Booming Flame

Tex Avery borrows the “Boom” gag from his own “The Blitz Wolf” where an explosion spells the word “Boom” that goes past the camera.

“Red Hot Rangers” involves George and Junior putting out a cute little yellow flame in a forest. The flame runs into an explosives shack, followed by George, then Junior.

You can guess what happens next. Here are some of the drawings.

The scene ends with the harp-heaven gag Avery used in “Batty Baseball.”

The animators are Walt Clinton, Ed Love, Preston Blair and Ray Abrams. The story man is Heck Allen.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Cooking With Benny

There was a time when celebrities attached their names to recipes that were dutifully printed in feature stories in newspapers or magazines. Whether they really had anything to do with the recipe in question really wasn’t all that relevant to the homemaker reading at home. If they liked Ann Sothern or creamed squash, they’d test out Ann Sothern’s recipe for creamed squash they had just read.

Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone weren’t immune to the here’s-my-favourite-recipe story. This one was clipped out of the Niagara Falls Gazette of March 11, 1970, though I found it in another paper the previous year. Much of what’s in the “news” part of the article was in other newspaper stories around that time. It’s a little stunning to read that Benny was incapable of making a cup of coffee until you realise he was in the kind of income bracket where he could hire anyone to do anything he wanted or get anything he needed (one of the Benny biographies stated he had no idea how to turn on the lights in his home).

Linda Chase’s book Pitching Las Vegas reveals Jack used to patronise Fong’s Garden in Sin City, and Broadway: An Encyclopedia by Ken Bloom tells how he liked Ruby Foo’s near Lindy’s in New York, so maybe he really did enjoy chop suey.

Chop Suey Is Jack Benny's Favorite Dish

NEW YORK - "I'll be a son of a gun, if you can get a hot cup of coffee in your room. It's not enough for the average person, but I kept telling the waiter, that it's not hot enough for me," a slightly irate comedian, one Jack Benny said recently over breakfast in his hotel room.
"Besides, we went through all this yesterday. If I want coffee, I have to go out and order it. Now if I wanted to put cream in this, which I would like to do, it would be too cold. And this is not a cheap hotel, right?" he said to the frenzied waiter. "Listen, they don't charge a nickel for a cup," he said, haughtily drawing his gray silk bathrobe around his spare frame. Jack's visitors sympathized with him. The comedian's exaggerated complaint, an example of his mock despair, appeared to dispel his stinging words.
In town to lampoon Milton Berle at the Friars' bash, his monologues naturally touched on his age, his cheapness, his violin and his taste in food, a less familiar subject.
"I don't really know how I stay this way, I feel fine," he said. His face was slightly tanned and unlined; Benny has been performing for more than 50 years.
JACK CLAIMS no secret for his ageless appearance. "I don't drink too much. I don't drink at all when you come right down to it. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's because I work a lot." His television special, "Jack Benny's New Look," will be seen on NBC-TV Dec. 3. He and a slightly "younger generation" (gravely-voiced crony George Burns and Gregory Peck) will go mod.
Like Frank Sinatra, Jack Benny says he has a gang. "Only, in our gang, we have Edward Everett Horton, Spring Byington, Walter Brennen and myself. We call our gang Ovaltine a-go-go. We sing and play Lawrence Welk records. Sometimes we get highland speed them up a little. Sinatra takes his gang on a yacht. I take mine on a bus — to the Mayo clinic!" Jack has a mild case of diabetes. "I used to carry around special diabetic cookies. But my diabetes is so slight I don't really have to. I don't have to take insulin, I take a pill, and it's not that bad that I have to carry them now. Besides, I can cheat with food and it's ail right, as long as I don't cheat too much."
Benny is a lover of parties. "The best publicity gag and most fun party we ever had was one at the Automat. Before a season of television or before a special, we'd have a publicity stunt in New York. I've turned everyone down since because nothing could come close to that. Imagine inviting people, most of them pretty rich, to the Automat! They would come there in Rolls Royces and other beautiful cars with chauffers. I'd give them two dollars worth of nickels for them to get the food out. We kept a little hot food on the side where they could hardly see it so as not to spoil the effect of the whole thing. But it was a great stunt. It caused an awful lot of talk and it fit, you now. It was a natural situation for me."
• • •
JACK HAS BEEN paying the high cost of being a tightwad for years.
"Last night there were six of us at 21. I worry about tipping a lot. I must tip an awful lot because of the character, and everybody hollers at me, 'You're overdoing it' or 'You're doing too much.' But I know this situation. I'm supposed to tip taxi drivers a lot, too. Actually, my wife and I are very big spenders. I've been able to make this penurious character pay off because if I were really stingy — really stingy — I don't think I could have started a character like that. My problem wouldn't have been funny to me."
The Bennys entertain often these days, particularly since they moved into their new house in Holmby Hills. "Everybody wants to see the new house."
He recalled the meals his mother, Emma Kubelsky, used to prepare in Waukegan, his home town. "My mother prepared real Jewish food, gefilte fish and all of those kinds of things. She died when I was about 18. She never lived to see a good thing happen to me. She wanted me to be a musician. My father lived to see me become a radio star. They both would have been very happy to know that I give concerts, even though in a humorous way."
These days Jack practices from one to three hours each day. Does he fiddle in the kitchen, he was asked. "No, I have such a nice large closet for clothes and its acoustically good and large enough to practice in, so my wife can't hear me.
As for cooking, Jack said, "I couldn't prepare a cup of coffee, if you want to know. I never tried in my life. I would have to go into our kitchen and ask our cook, 'Will you show me how to make a cup of coffee, because I might want some tonight when I come home?"' His favorite food is Chinese, he said.
• • •
"OUR COOK hasn't been with us very long. We did have one woman who was great too. She was with us many many years, and then she got pretty old, She lives in Czechoslovakia now. The one we have now is equally good. She can make practically anything you want, nothing is an effort for her.
We could say to her, 'We have about eight people we'd love to have to dinner tonight,' and she'd say, 'Good.'. Nothing bothers her."
One of his favorite foods is steak tartar. "But I only like it when they don't make it too gummy. My wife, Mary, makes it very well," he said.
"New York is probably the best-eating city in the world, if you go to good places. I could name 20, all good."
Asked if there was anything else he'd like to do, the 75-year-old comedian said, "There was for a while, and now I don't think I'd like to do it. I would have liked to have done a real good comedy on Broadway. It would frighten me now to know that I would have to remember all that dialogue." Recipes from the famous fiddler and his wife, Mary, follow:

1 bunch Chinese cabbage
1 10-oz. can bean sprouts
6 spring onions
3 large celery stalks
1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen or 1/2 pkg. frozen Chinese peapods)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken (or turkey, veal, beef or ham), cut in thin slices
1 teaspoon salt
few gratings freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon corn starch pinch sugar
1/2 cup clear chicken stock (beef broth or water)
cooked rice (or Chinese noodles)
1. Prepare vegetables as follows: Chop Chinese cabbage coarsely; drain bean sprouts well; rinse well under running water and dry. Chop onions coarsely; cut celery in 14-inch slices diagonally.
2. Saute onion and celery in vegetable oil in Chinese wok (or-heavy skillet) about 2 minutes. Add chicken, salt and pepper. Stir-fry over medium heat, adding vegetables one at a time, set aside.
3. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce with "corn starch, sugar and two tablespoons chicken stock and blend well. Slowly pour thickened soy sauce mixture over vegetables in wok (or skillet). Slowly add remaining chicken stock (beef broth or water). Bring to a quick boil. Cook few minutes, stirring constantly. Serve at once over cooked rice or Chinese noodles. Serves 4.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: Never overcook chop suey. Actual preparation should take no longer than 5-7 minutes. If desired, start with paper-thin sliced raw meat, cooking quickly in vegetable oil until it begins to turn color. Then proceed as directed above, sauteeing vegetables. For a change of pace, vary the vegetables substituting Chinese vegetables, water chestnuts (cut in thin slices) or Chinese mushrooms. Jack's choice is an excellent offering for weight-watchers as well as penny-pinching cooks!

1 lb. top grade beef filet
1/2 cup minced onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 or 2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons capers
garnishings: capers, chopped onion, minced fresh parsley
1. Trim off any sinewy material or excess fat. Put meat through meat grinder three times (or have butcher grind meat just before serving).
2. Mix in onion, salt, pepper; shape meat into round or oval 1-inch thick patty. Score the top crosswise with knife. Make indentation in center of meat. Break eggs carefully, discarding whites. Place yokes in indentation in center of meat. Garnish with capers, chopped onion and parsley. At the table, the trimmings are removed and yolks mixed into the meat with additional seasonings added to taste. Serve with butterfried toast rounds and sliced tomatoes. Serves 2.
AFTERTHOUGHTS: For more highly-seasoned tartar; add Worcestershire sauce, bottled Escoffier or A-l sauce. Vary the trimmings, using caviar, lemon wedges and grated hard-cooked egg yolk or thin. sliced salmon and sliced lemon or filets of anchovy, pickles and pickled beet-slices.

Saturday 26 July 2014

The Merry Voice of Mae

Is there any doubt the premier cartoon voice actress based in New York City was Mae Questel? If not, she’s certainly the most beloved.

Questel wasn’t the only voice—or first, for that matter—of Olive Oyl or Betty Boop, but she’s really the only one almost anyone remembers. Questel turned Olive from a whiney Zasu Pitts clone into a unique personality, and she imbued Betty with a cheerful, tuneful enthusiasm. During the 1960s, when the Popeye cartoons stiffened for television, Questel, Jack Mercer and Jackson Beck turned in top performances.

The New York Sun of January 4, 1930 reported Questel “first came to public notice when she won the recent R-K-O Greater Manhattan Helen Kane contest,” had been appearing at the Franklin Theatre in the Bronx and was about to open at the Eighty-First Street Theatre. The same paper 18 days later revealed she was appearing unbilled at the Palace in the Waite Hoyt and Freddie Coots act. It also pointed out Helen Kane herself set up the contest that Questel won and then predicted she would appear on Broadway. One must wonder how Kane felt about Questel when she sued the Fleischer cartoon studio for expropriating her act and infusing it into Betty Boop—with Questel as Betty’s voice.

Questel’s first radio performance was apparently on the Radio Keith-Orpheum Program on WEAF (and the NBC Red Network) on Thursday, December 19, 1929, not long after she won the contest. She then appeared on the Camel Pleasure Hour on WJZ (NBC Blue) on Wednesday, March 18, 1931 where she did impressions of Maurice Chevalier, Irene Bordoni and (are you surprised?) Helen Kane and sang “There’s Danger in Your Eyes Cherie,” “Ain’t Cha” and “Valentine.” She also occasionally sang on a 15-minute Wednesday night show on NBC Red called RCA Radiotron Varities, and replaced it on May 27th for a mere six weeks. Later in the year, she appeared on Rudy Vallee’s top-rated show for Fleischmann’s Yeast.

When was her first appearance in cartoons? This 1932 feature story by the National Enterprise Association doesn’t say but she obviously was voicing the character by the time it was published. The photo accompanied the story.

Boop-a-doop! Here's a Movie Star Never Seen on the Screen

NEW YORK, July 14.—In the tales of the better Magi, it was assumed possible to transform, the inanimate into the animate. Thus a shrinking violet plucked from the garden might turn into a Russian duke disguised as a Savoy-Plaza doorman.
But up in New York's Bronx is a highly animated young lady who has been nationally identified as a series of pen scratches and a voice.
Almost anyone who attends the movies has made the acquaintance of Betty Boop. But have you heard of Mae Questel?
Mae Questel is that oop-de-yoop voice you hear when Betty sings or converses. Furthermore, Mae is today the model for Betty. When, in the Broadway offices of Max Fleischer, cartoonists go to work on the Queen of Boop, it is Mae who rolls her eyes, wiggles her hips and otherwise models the role.
From an inkwell character, Betty Boop has become a caricature of the young lady who furnishes her voice.
And, on the other hand, Mae Questel has studied hundreds of reels in an effort to develop a voice that would fit the character of the animated cartoon.
It all began a couple of years ago when a contest was being held in New York's neighborhood theaters to find the best imitator of Helen Kane, then the outstanding boop-a-doop girl.
Miss Questel was conducting an elocution class and had ambitions to get on the stage. She appeared at a Bronx movie house and won the contest by two doops and a boop. Within a few weeks she found herself making the movie house circuits with her impersonation. The radio boys heard her and she went on the air. Sound pictures were developing the while, and Betty needed a voice. Miss Questel seemed to be just what Fleischer was seeking. But there are other noises, if you recall, in the Betty Boop films—sounds so strange and inhuman that you may have wondered where they came from.
Which brings us to Cookie Barrows.
Barrows was going about the stage circuits making noises like a buzz-saw, a mosquito, a sewing machine and a political orator when sound came to the films and radio came to the air.
He was grabbed up at once as a running brook and an eruption of Kilauea. As such he appeared back stage in Holywood [sic]. only to have the ante raised by radio, which needed an imitation of Sherman's march to the sea and a plague of locusts. Barrows is claimed capable of 1000 noises, with others ready on three hours' notice.
• • •
It seems, according to Mr. Fleischer, daddy of Betty Boop, that in the screening of the animated cartoons, the human voice picks up much better than mechanical imitations. Frequently the mechanical processes are too rapid for good recording, whereas the voice can be timed to meet the requirements.
To keep up with the changing variety of sounds introduced, Barrows must practice as rigorously as a Metropolitan diva. Just about the time he can do the Four Original Hawaiians, along comes a new musical instrument which he is asked to imitate. Giving the fellow due credit, he has balked at the saxophone, and once tried to get out of being a crooner.
It is the lot of such performers that they are rarely seen on the screen, but must go through life identified as noises and voices. However, Miss Questel did appear with Rudy Vallee in a couple of shorts.
• • •
Fleischer started as a cartoonist on a Brooklyn newspaper. When animated cartoons were first appearing he spent a year turning out his first one. It required 10,000 separate drawings or more. But it clicked.

Let’s fast forward about 30 years. There were no more big singing shows on what was left of network radio. Popeye cartoons weren’t being made for theatres any more. But that isn’t what bothered Mae Questel. Something had been eating at her for years. Here’s a feature story from the Buffalo Courier-Express of December 10, 1961.

The Voice Is Familiar, But—
After 30 years, “Betty Boop” and “Olive Oyl” wears her own face in a movie

When someone says “Mae Questel” chances are that everyone — well, nearly everyone — will say, “Who?”
Mae has starred in 1,800 films during the past 30 years—more than anybody else in movie history. She has received more than 1,500,000 fan letters, written in every civilized language, over the years. But she can walk down the street in any city and nobody recognizes her face.
It's her voice that made her famous. When you (or your children) watch Betty Boop or Popeye's girl friend, Olive Oyl, in movies or on TV, you're listening to Mae Questel. She's also the voice of Popeye's baby Swee'pea, and the Sea Hag.
The success of these films (phenomenal and seemingly interminable; only recently she completed recordings for King Features of 220 new Popeye cartoons) has made her rich
[Tralfaz note: Questel claimed in other interviews to have made $75,000 voicing them]. She owns two apartment buildings in New York's Bronx, where Mae was born some 50 years ago, a large batch of annuities, and a safety deposit box full of blue chip stocks. But she’ll swap all her golden anonymity for a living, breathing role that would let her be recognized for herself alone.
“I guess my real frustration first started,” says Mae, “when my two sons used to brag to the neighborhood kids that their mother was a movie star. The kids didn't believe them, of course, as they had never seen my face on the screen. The boys would come home with black eyes and bloody noses.
“The closest I ever came to recognition was during the heyday of Betty Boop. I was having an argument with my landlord over re-painting the kitchen. ‘If I didn't know you,’ he said, ‘I'd think you were the little flapper in the movies.’ When I told him I was Betty Boop, he raised my rent and charged me for re-painting.”
This unrecognition problem became so deep-rooted with Mae that she even consulted a psychiatrist. “It was bugging me,” she says.
She did finally get a real live role in the Broadway play, A Majority of One. Gertrude Berg was signed for the lead and Mae, who had been working with Mrs. Berg in a radio series, was given the part of the flighty Brooklyn neighbor. The sound of applause perked her up no end. But Broadway audiences are small compared to the millions who go to movies.
The old frustrations set in again—until Warner Bros, decided to film the play. Mae was one of only two in the cast who were tabbed to re-create their stage roles. (This is said to have caused a definite coolness between Gertrude Berg and Mae Questel. Both of them, friends of many years, deny it.) Mae almost fainted with joy. At last —a chance to sign autographs!
Mae and Roz Russell, who plays the Berg role in the movie, hit it off from the beginning. During rehearsal the first day Roz confided her worries to Mae: “I don't want to be a caricature in this part. I want to be a warm, vibrant person like Mrs. Berg.” Said Mae with a shrug, “The only way you will ever be Jewish is to eat Jewish. Come to my apartment for dinner.”
Roz spent a week of evenings at Mae's apartment, while that dynamo cooked matzoh ball soup, kreplach, gefilte fish, etc.
“Mae Questel,” says Roz, “is a hazard to dieting.”
On set, she made a hit, too. Her store of funny-but-clean jokes, in a heavy Bronx accent, kept everybody in stitches. When director Mervyn LeRoy discovered that she liked to bet on horses he took her to the races and, “She drove me crazy. She'd play four or five horses across the board in every race. Even when she won she lost. But those who've played poker with Mae (“I never play with women”) claim she is a most astute player and you're lucky to come home with your shirt. Wall Street and its manipulations she knows better than any broker.
Mae (the family name was Kwestel) grew up in the Bronx. After high school, she enrolled in a dramatic class sponsored by the Theater Guild. Her grandparents, who were very orthodox, discovered what she was up to, and yanked her out. She should be a good housewife, that's all.
Those were the days of singer Helen Kane, the “boop-boop-a-doop” girl and Mae, secretly urged on by her girl friends, entered a Helen Kane Contest at a local movie house. She won $150 and a week's booking at the theater and, grandparents or no, promptly signed for a career in vaudeville. Her act became so successful (she was, and is, a superb mimic) that she was booked into the Palace and given her own radio show.
About this time cartoonist Max Fleischer signed her for his new Betty Boop series and changed her name to Questel. Paramount and King came calling next—and she became Olive Oyl.
As the cartoons took very little time, Mae made extra money making records (imitations of famous people) and working in radio shows, her most famous one being The Goldbergs, with Gertrude Berg. But she wasn't happy. On her first trip to the Coast, this spring, Mae took to Hollywood like a duck to water. She promptly bought herself a huge white Thunderbird convertible. She rented an expensive apartment and, a divorcee of many, many years, announced she would not mind marrying again. When Jack Warner, president of Warner Bros., came on the set one day she said, “Why, you are exactly the kind of man I want to marry.”
At nights she often drops by Schwab's drug store for an ice-cream soda which “I need like a hole in the head.” But she has read that this is the place where movie stars mingle with columnists, so she mingles.
Just trying it on for rise, she keeps telling herself.

Questel went on to do something that would assure her of instant recognition on the street—she starred as a character in TV commercials. In 1972, she became Aunt Bluebell, pushing paper towels. And she appeared in films with Woody Allen, which resulted in more “You know Mae Questel” newspaper articles.

The story ends sadly. The woman who wanted recognition increasingly could not recognise things herself. Alzheimer’s claimed Mae Questel at the age of 89 in 1998. You can read more about her life HERE.

Here’s Questel as Betty Boop performing “Ain’t Cha” from “The Betty Boop Limited” (1932). It was originally from the 1929 Paramount Technicolor short “Pointed Heels” and sung by Kane.

Friday 25 July 2014

Spanking Mickey

There’s a whole lot of spanking going on in “The Jazz Fool,” a 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon. A horse uses a cat as a percussion instrument and slaps his bottom. (Gasp! The horse is smoking!).

Then Mickey does it to himself.

Then his piano develops butt cleavage and Mickey takes care of that.

Ub Iwerks get the sole animation credit.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Neapolitan Dogs

Any Tom and Jerry cartoon with cute, girl-sounding, foreign-accented mice is cringe-worthy, but I really like the dog designs in “Neapolitan Mouse.” Whether they’re by Dick Bickenbach or Gene Hazelton, I don’t know.

The cartoon’s weird. The Italian girly mouse recognises Tom and Jerry from cartoons. That means the whole Tom and Jerry world realises its living in a cartoon. And the big climax scene has the dogs thumped into the ocean by wheels of cheese which evidently have minds of their own, as they churn away from the cartoon after performing their deed.

But the dogs haven’t been vanquished. Like fanbois, they happily wave goodbye to Tom and Jerry to close the cartoon. Yeah, after the blue dog beats Tom into a hand-accordion earlier in the short.

The Hanna-Barbera unit’s usual animators are all here—Ed Barge, Irv Spence, Ray Patterson and Ken Muse.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

A Calabash Explanation

It is impossible to dislike Jimmy Durante.

Durante’s act was, at times, corny and old-fashioned, but it was easy to ignore that. He was having such a good time entertaining that you’d just get caught up in his enthusiasm. And even though he made fun of his nose and vocabulary, he never appeared self-centered.

Dick Kleiner of the National Enterprise Association profiled him in one of his five “funnymen” features in 1950. This column appeared in papers on February 25th. Incidentally, this is one of the few columns I’ve seen where Durante isn’t coy when talking about the identity of Mrs. Calabash.

Carryin's On
Jimmy Durante Loves 'em And so Does His Public

New York—(NEA)—Jimmy Durante is no babe in arms any more. He has to wear glasses when he reads and his hair is so sparse that when he combs it in the morning he has to decide whether the two of them want to be combed east or west. But time has dulled neither his wit nor his vocabulary nor his nose. All three are just as sharp as ever, particularly the schnoz. The great feature of Durante's humor, it dominates his life as it does his face.
Jimmy was posing for a publicity picture in his hotel room here. Always obliging, he had agreed to aid a charity campaign. The idea was to have a close-up of the charity's seal, affixed jauntily to the Durante schnoz.
But the photographer put the seal on the wrong way.
"Wait a minute, Jimmy," said the photographer, "well have to turn it upside down."
"What," said Durante, mortified, "turn de nose upside down? Den people will smell me!"
NOT A WEEK goes by but what the Durante radio show contains at least one reference to the nose. Something like this:
Durante calls the hotel room service and orders a dozen roses, pink lace curtains and the room sprayed with perfume. Asked for an explanation, Durante says:
"The hotel made my nose and I register as man and wife so I thought I'd make it look like a honeymoon suite."
Besides his radio appearances, Jimmy is in constant demand as a night club performer. He thoroughly enjoys himself in his act, because he likes to perform to a live audience.
"Ya know he says, "dere's all de difference in de woild between de oily shows and de free o'clock "show. De free o'clock show is like a party at somebody's house. Everybody's happy — not drunk, but just happy.
"But de dinner-time shows is tough. Dat crowd ya gotta go get—you just gotta go out and get 'em. Ya gotta make friends wit 'em.
"And sometimes dey don't laugh, dey just don't laugh. Den de trapdoor opens and you fall t'rough de floor."
* * *
THAT the trapdoor hasn't opened very often for James Durante is proven by his long, successful career in show business. Now 56, (or possibly a few years older), he was born in New York and grew up helping his father run his barber shop.
But, at 17, he was pounding a piano in a Coney Island night spot and a year later he was accompanying a singing waiter named Eddie Cantor.
In 1923, he teamed up with singer Eddie Jackson and dancer Lou Clayton, and Clayton, Jackson and Durante became one of Broadway's brightest teams. Durante turned down solo offers until the depression flattened show business, then went to Hollywood.
Clayton and Jackson are still with him, the former acting as his business manager and the latter helping with his routines.
The rest is history.
By now, Jimmy is one of the most popular guys in the business, with fellow performers as well as with the laughing public. On his annual visits to New York, his hotel suite is a madhouse. Jimmy holds court in the living room, eating his breakfast about three in the afternoon.
Drinking prune juice (out of a glass especially constructed to accommodate the proboscis) and eating two raw eggs, he explains:
"I been eatin' rore eggs for breakfast for years but I don't know why."
* * *
FOUR WRITERS work on the Durante radio show, with Durante usually in on story conferences "to help kick t'ings around." They usually manage to include a fine assortment of multi-syllable words for Durante to mangle. In one script, here were some of the ones he had to read:
Mispreaprehension, punkrutude, plutonic, sprouse, catastroscope, statnatory.
Those, of course, were designed to be Durante-ized, but there were many others that just sort of fell into the trap, unpremedicatated.
As every Durante fan knows, he closes each show with a reference to "Mrs. Calabash," usually saying, "Good-night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."
"It was about ten years ago," says Jimmy. "I was in Chicago, between trains. I runs into Mrs. Calabash who was a school friend of mine back here in New York. Mrs. Calabash was her married name. We had a fine time talking about de old days.
"About four years ago, I just fought she'd get a kick out of it if I mentioned her name on de air. So I said 'Good-night, Mrs. Calabash.'
"But I never heard from her, although I got letters from all the wrong Mrs. Calabashes. So I added dat 'wherever you are' because I don't know wherever she is."
Wherever she is, she probably does get a big kick out of Durante. She and millions of others.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Crazy Barnyard Dog

The Goofy Gophers are known for their extreme politeness but in “Gopher Broke,” written by Tedd Pierce, they’re almost sadistic. They try to drive the barnyard dog (seen in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons) insane so they can get at the vegetables harvested from the farm where they’re living.

In the climax scene, the gophers lace up a pink corset around the drugged-up dog, tie a balloon to him and let him float away to the top of a telephone poll. The dog wakes up, sees a bird, and looks around to see where he is.

That’s enough to drive him over the edge. Here are some of the drawings to show him going crazy. Some are held on twos, others on threes and aren’t on a cycle to heighten the jerkiness.

This cartoon was the product of the later version of the Bob McKimson unit, with Tom Ray, Warren Batchelder, George Grandpré and Ted Bonnicksen animating.