Sunday 31 August 2014

How to be a Radio Comedian

The story’s been oft been told how Mary Livingstone, who had been part of her husband Jack Benny’s vaudeville act in the last of the ‘20s, ended up on radio in 1933 purely by accident when an actress didn’t show up for a Benny broadcast, and then remained on the air because of fan mail.

Oft told, too, is how Mary was nervous in front of a microphone and how Jack had to mark her copy to get the performance he wanted out of her. Whatever he did certainly worked.

Here’s Jack interviewed on what he did to get the best performance out the non-actors who appeared with him. It’s from the Long Island Press of May 3, 1936. There’s no byline.

Jack Benny, on Anniversary, Most Proud of Teaching Wife to Be Real Comedian
Jack Benny has begun hit fifth year of regular broadcasting with his funfest over NBC this month. The suave jester has built up an amazing record—for the past three years radio critics have voted him the air's foremost comedian and for the last two seasons his Sunday night shows have been chosen as the outstanding programs on the air.
"What," I asked, "are you most proud of, as far as your radio experience is concerned?"
I thought he would reel off a list of medals, plaques and other citations that have come to him for his efforts at tickling America's ribs. If not that, I thought he might quote the record-breaking box office statistics that result every time he goes on a vaudeville tour.
"I think the thing that pleases me most," Jack Benny replied, "is the good luck I have had in making fairly good comedy actors out of people who never had any previous dramatic training. Our show depends on personalities. Each time I have had a new orchestra and vocalist combination it has been a matter of training people who never read a line in their lives to toss off remarks in a casual, unstudied manner." The star comedian was, of course, referring to his long list of famous stooges who have included George Olsen, Ted Weems, Frank Black, Don Bestor, Jimmy Grier and the present incumbent, Johnny Green, among the conductors; Ethel Shutta, Andrea Marsh, James Melton, Frank Parker and Kenny Baker among the singers; and George Hicks, Paul Douglas, Alois Havrilla, Howard Claney and Don Wilson among the announcers. And Mary Livingstone, his wife.
"What do you do to these people?" he was asked. "How do you coach them?"
"Well," said Benny, "it's really a rather simple process. In the first place, I never tell them to act. If I were to do that, they would tighten up immediately. The effect that we always try to get over the microphone is that of a bunch of friends getting together for an evening.
"So the second thing I tell them is to read the lines just as if there were ho mike" or studio audience—just as if they were carrying on an ordinary conversation.
"Every once in a while they will make mistakes. Well, that's fine. As a matter, of fact, I always hope for a couple of errors in each broadest because it gives us a chance to razz one another. I think listeners like that sort of stuff because it's informal. Kenny, Johnny, Don and Mary always sound to me like a bunch of kids pretending they are acting, which is exactly the way we want to sound."

A great number of the Benny shows before 1936 no longer exist (with the exception of some from 1934) so it’s almost impossible to determine how well he “trained” non-actors who were on the show then. It may have been a case of better people coming onto the show. Bandleader Don Bestor’s read was flat and his attempts at portraying characters were amazingly amateurish. Announcer Howard Claney yelled his commercial interruptions but was far too serious about it. Singer Frank Parker was stiff, too. Still, the Benny show was top-rated while they were on it, so the audience liked them. By the end of the ‘30s, their responsibilities were taken over by Phil Harris, Don Wilson and Dennis Day, respectively. But each was given a stronger character to play than their predecessors and that likely was more of a factor in the improving sound of the show than any “training.”

As for Mary, all the training in the world couldn’t end her panic in front of the mike. The motto “the show must go on” wasn’t hers’. She missed more radio shows than any other regular member of the cast, eventually recording her parts at home (whenever she deigned to be on the programme) and having them inserted in the transcription while others acted her role in front of the studio audience. She rarely appeared on television, though she was funny and looked comfortable when she did. Instead, she took on a new role—that of the Celebrity Wife, spending money on herself with seeming abandon. It was one role she was quite happy to play.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Cartoons of 1947, Part 1

Ah, post-war prosperity! The auto industry was booming. The radio industry raked in bigger profits. The housing industry was filling up former fields, farmland and forests with suburbs.

The animated cartoon industry? It was sputtering and coughing, like Bugs Bunny faking a death scene. Except it wasn’t fake. There were real concerns the industry was dying. And it was. Walter Lantz reacted to the situation by changing distributors from Universal; George Pal went into features, Columbia shuttered its operations and released its stockpile of cartoons slowly over the next two years, John Sutherland gave up (temporarily) on theatricals.

Daily Variety explained the situation in this story of June 5, 1947.

Animated cartoon producers, including both majors and indies, will cut their output over 45% during season of 1947-48. Maximum of 105 cartoons will be made in forth coming year, compared to peak of 196 18 months ago. Figure was reached by Walter Lantz, Cartoon Producers Association prexy, in survey conducted among producers earlier in week. Those polled, besides himself, include Walt Disney, Metro, Warners, Paramount and Terry Tunes, latter made in east.
This all-time low is directly attributable to high labor costs, which have increased 41% ever past year [sic]. Difficulty in obtaining Technicolor prints, with their added costs, is another factor in producers reducing number of cartoons annually.
Reduced cartoon production sked throws approximately 60% of cartoonists out of work. It is estimated by Lantz, who has made thorough study of topic. Closing of Columbia's "Screen Gems" plant, which had been making between 26 and 31 cartoons annually, tossed about 150 on open market, and others left Harmon-Ising when this company closed down its production activities. Others were left without employment when Paramount’s "Little Lulu" series folded.

The situation, in a way, was reflected in the trade papers. Motion Picture Daily stopped reviewing one and two reelers altogether. The Film Daily gave less coverage to cartoon shorts and missed some interesting stories in the process. We’ll get to what it did publish in the first half of 1947 in just a moment. But, first, some stories in brief covered by Daily Variety. The most interesting is how MGM rushed “A Cat Concerto” through production so it would be eligible at Oscar time. The short didn’t get a national release until a month after it won the statue for Best Short Subject (Cartoon). Unfortunately, full stories are not available in some cases; thanks to Thad Komorowski for filling in some blanks.

Warners: Columbia Records [sic] has just completed an album of children's stories narrated by Mel Blanc in the voices of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and other Warner Bros. cartoon characters portrayed by Mel Blanc. (Mar. 13)
● "Bugs" Bunny, Warners cartoon star, has been set for a guest appearance in "Two Guys From Texas" on the same lot. Bunny will do a dream sequence, representing a figment of Jack Carson's subconscious during an inker stretch in the music film. (Mar. 21)
● Warners already has completed two cartoons and Walter Lantz is about to start his first in Cinecolor's three-color process, heretofore used only by Paramount for its "Popeye" series. (June 10)

Lantz: Walter Lantz has created a three-minute cartoon trailer for Universal-International's "The Egg and I." Cartoon is a teaser, opening like any other cartoon but throwing in picture plug at the tail end. (Feb. 26)
● Walter Lantz is setting up new 16m unit within his organization, to concentrate on commercial pictures in kodachrome. Producer recently bought out Oscar Productions, coming into possession of narrow-gauge cameras and equipment reported originally to have cost between $75,000 and $100,000. He plans to make use of this equipment, augmented with some of his own, in operating new department. Lantz will wind up his current releasing tie-in with Universal-International in August, when he delivers two final color cartoons. In September, he will start his new deal with United Artists. During first year with UA, he will turn out only 11 subjects, due to Technicolor limitations. (May 20)
● Embro Pictures, headed by Scotty Brown, has set deal with Marty Ross, prexy of Film Highlights, for distribution of 16m versions of feature pictures, as well as Universal musical shorts and Walter Lantz cartoons. (June 2)
● Additional revenue from old cartoons is anticipated by Walter Lantz in a deal closed with Castle For Sale and distribution of animated product turned out in the past for Universal. Cartoons are deemed valueless to theatres after they have played five years, and these will be reduced to narrow-gauge form, made available wherever 16m films are sold to the public. Deal calls for percentage of every print sold. (June 25)

MGM: BIRTHS Daughter, to Mrs. Ray Patterson Friday at Queen of Angels hospital. Father is in Metro cartoon animation department, and mother is former June Walker of Walt Disney's. (Jan. 6)
● Metro will produce a series of musical cartoons featuring characters of Tom and Jerry, felines, following reception given to "The Cat Concerto," at Carthay Circle Theatre. Each film will feature well known musical compositions, such as "Concerto," whose score is based on Second Hungarian Rhapsody. Fred C. Quimby currently is formulating plans for new series, work on which will start immediately. (Jan. 13).
● Johann Strauss' "Tales From the Vienna Woods" will theme forthcoming Metro Tom and Jerry short. (Jan. 15)
● "Good Mouse Keeping" is final tag for new Tom and Jerry Technicolor cartoon at Metro. (Feb. 24)
● Metro's next musical cartoon starring Tom and Jerry will be "100 Men and a Mouse," with Tom appearing as the maestro Catowski. Fred Quimby produces and William Hanna and Joseph Barbera co-direct. (Feb. 28)
● Deal with Metro for development and merchandising of novelties, toys, jewelry, dolls and comic books derived from Metro cartoon characters was completed yesterday by William C. Erskine, New York merchandising exec, it was announced by Fred Quimby, head of Metro shorts department. Erskine will handle world distribution of these articles which will feature Tom and Jerry, Red Hot Riding Hood, Barney Bear, George and Junior Skrewy Squirrel and other cartoon characters. (Mar. 12)
● "The Cat Concerto," which won 1946 Academy cartoon award for Metro, gets national release April 26. (Mar. 31)
● Release dates for two new shorts were set yesterday by Metro. Technicolor cartoon "Hound Hunters" produced by Fred Quimby with Tex Avery directing, gets national release Saturday. Cartoon features two new characters, George and Junior. [other short is a Pete Smith] (Apr. 9)
● "Tom the Cat," "Jerry the Mouse" and "Butch the Bulldog" are going into repertory, Fred Quimby of the Metro shorts department announced yesterday. Quimby said that from now on his cartoon characters will be seen in varied roles, cast for parts In different productions like actors in a stock company. This is strictly new stuff, other cartoon figures in Hollywood being always kept in character. Next production for the Inkpot Repertory Company will be "Texas Tom" in which "Tom," "Jerry" and "Butch" will impersonate rootin', tootin' cowboys. Quimby said first test of the plan was in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse,” which went over successfully and next was “The Cat Concerto” which took an Oscar. (Apr. 29)
● Trio of cartoons for immediate production was announced yesterday by Metro. Fred Quimby will produce and Tex Avery will direct. Three are "Lucky Ducky," "Lovey Dovey" and "Oily to Bed," which will feature Droopy the ponderous pooch (May 1)
● Metro will release "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse," seventh in 1946-47 Tom and Jerry releases, Saturday. (June 12)
● "Uncle Tom's Cabana," Metro Technicolor cartoon produced by Fred Quimby and directed by Tex Avery, opens June 24 with "Fiesta" at the Egyptian, Wilshire and Los Angeles downtown theatres. (June 20)
● Fred Quimby added "Outfoxed" to cartoon slate at Metro. (June 26)

John Sutherland: John Sutherland has cancelled his contract with United Artists, for latter to release series of Technicolor cartoons. Producer called off deal due to present situation in which cartoon-makers find themselves unable to turn out animated shorts at a profit. Sutherland has one more color cartoon, "The Fatal Kiss," to deliver before bowing out of deal. (Jan. 17)
● John Sutherland Productions yesterday was committed by Harding College, in Arkansas, to produce series of three more educational shorts for institution's public education system. Sutherland recently delivered a one-reeler to college for inclusion in this education project, which led to additional order. Shorts will be one-reel subjects, filmed on color, and will be completely in animation, like the first. Topic will deal with different phases of free enterprise, such as relationship in cost of labor to finished goods and supremacy in American merchandising methods. Producer returned from confabs with Harding prexy week ago. (Jan. 29)
● Bill Ramsey, one of Procter & Gamble's radio directors, is busying himself this trip with the making of nine "Minute Movies" for three soap products at the John Sutherland studios. It's in the nature of an experiment for P & G, marking its first use of picture (Feb. 21)
●"Too Many Winners," will see John Sutherland Productions swing into intensive program of industrial picture-making. "Winners" is first of two to be made this year for PRC release, second to start in late spring. Sutherland over weekend closed deal with United Fruit Co. for production of two cartoons in Ansco. Company already is engaged in turning out series of eight Minute Movies for Procter & Gamble, these to show in more than 8000 theatres through-out country, and is about to embark upon series for Harding College, in Arkansas. These will be made for school's public education program, and one already has been completed. Currently in work, too, is production on two shorts for Mido Watch Co., and work will start shortly on animation subject for General Electric. Recently completed were shorts for American Cancer Society and National Carbon Co. Sutherland is bowing out of his deal to produce color cartoons for United Artists release, due to increased cost of operation. Sixth and final subject on cartoon program, "The Fatal Kiss," will be delivered within next 30 days, after which producer will devote entire energies to feature and industrial production.. (Feb. 24)
● John Sutherland Productions has closed deal with Thomas Medley & Son, Ltd. British affiliate of Procter & Gamble, for series of minute movies, for distribution (Mar. 4)
● Chiquita Banana is name of cartoon character John Sutherland will use as star of minute-movies he is making for United Fruit Co. (May 20)

So, on to The Film Daily. Some dollar figures in the first story are not available due to holes being punched in the copies of the newspaper available on line.

January 30, 1947
Late '46 Inventories Lower Disney Income
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood—Walt Disney Prod., in a report to stockholders revealed an income for the fiscal year ending Sept. 28, 1946 of $199,602 after all charges. This compares with $350,XX2 for the previous year.
After provision for preferred dividends accumulated but not paid, the net income was equal to 26 cents a share on 652,840 shares of common stock outstanding as of Sept. 28, 1946. After similar provision for the same stock in 1945, net income equalled 31 cents per share on 380,000 then outstanding.
Roy Disney, president of the company, commenting on the $3,505.54 increase in inventories of picture and stories, pointed out that financial success depended upon having adequate inventories of product.
Disney revealed no income was derived from “Make Mine Music” and "Song of the South" in 1946 before the end of the fiscal year and the major costs of "Fun and Fancy Free" and “How Dear To My Heart,” forthcoming films, were expended before Sept. 28, 1946. The latter are reflected in the year-end inventory figures and first income from the properties will not be received before October, 1947.
Total income as of September last year was $4,097,700. In 1945 it was $4,550,921. The statement indicated plans by Disney Prod. for further development and exploitation of the educational non-theatrical market and it was stated a number of economic problems must be overcome before the field is entered on a large scale.
In 1948, the report stated, several films for this field will be ready, designed exclusively for that market. "How Dear To My Heart" based on the story by Sterling North, 'Midnight and Jeremiah,' will be the most extensive live-action Disney production to date, and release in the Fall of this year is contemplated.
On blocked foreign currencies, the statement showed an agreement to amend contract with the Disney distributor, RKO. The amendment granted RKO extended distribution rights in foreign countries and [16?]mm. distribution world rights on all products. In return RKO loaned Disney Prod. $1,000,000 payable out of blocked currencies.

January 30, 1947
Phil M. Daly column, New York
• Considered "the best available film dealing with racial tolerance," the War Department Civil Affairs Division has obtained rights to show the UAW-CIO color short, "Brotherhood of Man," in Austria and Germany. . . .

January 31, 1947
$3,200,000 for '47 Shorts
Hollywood's struggle with increased production costs is not restricted to the feature field alone. The situation perhaps is even more critical in the short subject production field. In the last five or six years shorts costs have jumped a full 100 per cent. In 1947, it is estimated snorts subjects budgets will total $3,200,000. The problem of the shorts producer and distributor is aggravated by the fact that there has been no appreciable gain in film rental returns during that time. Both producers and distributors declare that unless the rental returns can be Increased proportionately the short subject will go the way of the dodo bird.
The plight of the theatrical short producer-distributor explains why several of the major companies are turning a speculative eye on other spheres where the short subject bulks large — education and the home. The coming year should bring important developments in this respect.

February 4, 1947
Famous Studios, SCG Sign Pact For 25% Wage Raise
Famous Studios, producers of "Little Lulu," "Popeye," and other animated cartoons, signed a one-year agreement yesterday with the Screen Cartoonists Guild, which provided for a 25 per cent increase in wages.
The company was represented by Sam Buchwald and by Phillips, Nizer, Benjamin & Krim, its attorneys. The union was represented by Pepe Ruiz and by Marvin Cristenfeld, its attorney. Thomas G. Dougherty, of the United States Conciliation Service, participated in the negotiations leading to the agreement.

February 7, 1947
Phil M. Daly column, New York
A new Walt Disney cartoon character, Terry Turtle, bows in, with the release of "Pluto's Housewarming". ...

February 10, 1947
George Pal to Make Puppetoon Features
A reason why he could not renew his contract with Paramount, George Pal, producer of Puppetoons, told The Film Daily was that production costs have increased by one-third but rentals have not.
“I hate to quit the shorts business,” he said. He pointed out that all those concerned with making cartoon pix have a genuine interest in the medium, but many are forced to leave the field because they can get better pay in feature production.
And after he completes the four cartoons that will wind up his contract with Paramount, Pal also will step into feature length cartoons, concentrating on live action-cartoon pix. “Date With Duke,” a Technicolor short combining puppets with Duke Ellington and his band proved to be unusually satisfactory, Pal said, because of the three-dimensional quality inherent in the puppets.
Pal plans to budget feature-length Puppetoons in Technicolor below $1,000,000. He said he could keep costs down because "in shorts productions you learn to count pennies." He also plans to enter the industial - educational - business field. He said he was particularly pleased with the reception his "Prospecting for Petroleum," industrial Puppetoon, got at NAM's meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria last week. He inked a deal to produce six two-reelers on the oil industry. They will be Technicolor Puppetoons designed for schoolroom use, as well as for general distribution.
Even if he could be subsidized as one major company does with its cartoon producing subsidiary, Pal would not be eager for such an arrangement, since the cartoon is one of the most popular forms of entertainment and should be able to stand on its own merits.

February 20, 1947
Phil M. Daly column
Producer George Pal finally is heading back for the Coast, after a junket which took him to Chicago and Manhattan on business pertaining to the acquisition of three new accounts for industrial and commercial subjects, in addition to conferences here regarding financing of his production schedule of Technicolor shorts augmented by three features this year.

Sell Within Decree, Connors Tells Meet
...It was announced the company [20th Century Fox] would distribute 53 shorts consisting of 20 Movietones, 20 Terrytoons and 13 issues of the March of Time, in addition to 104 issues of Movietone News.
Sidelight of the concluding day was the presentation of a six-foot-high birthday cake to Paul Terry on his 60th birthday. Terry, making the shortest speech of the meeting said: “You have made an old man very happy.”

February 27, 1947
Bugs Bunny Figures In Rescue Operation
"What's up, Doc?"
Up, is an ATC C-54, the one that figured in the dramatic rescue of the crew of a B-29 on Greenland. The ship has "Bug's Bunny," Warners' outstanding advocate of the Stanislavki Method (Don't act like a rabbit, be a rabbit) as its insignia. But for this trip he was swathed in furs, in addition to natural coat, and wore skis. To the crew, decorations.
To B. Bunny, a carrot.

March 10, 1947
Lantz-UA Close 5-Year Release Deal for Cartoons
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Los Angeles — Walter Lantz has closed the deal with United Artists whereby UA will release his various cartoon series for five years. Lantz will provide 11 films annually with a possible increase when the Technicolor situation relaxes.

March 14, 1947
Cartoons: "The Cat Concerto," Frederick Quimby, producer. (M-G-M).

March 25, 1947
Metro's 1947 Production Schedule
Short subjects scheduled total 48, including 16 color cartoons.

April 7, 1947
Acquires Iwerks Rights
Twenty-five Cinecolor cartoons produced by Ub Iwerks have been acquired by Marc Gilbert Film Co. for distribution in Continental Europe.

April 8, 1947
Disney, Cartoonists Sign Pact
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood—A new one-year contract between Screen Cartoonist Local 852 and Walt Disney Studios was signed yesterday. New agreement calls for severance pay and adjustment in wages of five classifications in lower bracket.

April 16, 1947
Triangle Films has produced a cartoon in color which started a 13-week Pixad Signs run last night.

April 21, 1947
Para. Will Increase Short subject Schedule 33 1/3%
Dallas—Contrary to the general trend within the industry, Paramount will increase its production of cartoons by 33 1/3 per cent it was announced here Friday by Oscar Morgan, short subjects and newsreel sales head at a meeting where he discussed the 1947-48 lineup.

Metro To Use New Process For Live-Animated Shorts
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood—Using a new process details of which are undisclosed M-G-M will make a series of live action and animated cartoon subjects. Subjects will be two reels in length and will feature Margaret O'Brien, Elizabeth Taylor and Butel Jenkins.

May 13, 1947
Bunin's French "Alice" to Cost 144 Million Francs
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood — Lou Bunin has completed arrangements with Union General Cinematographique to produce "Alice in Wonderland," combining live action and animation, in Paris. "Alice," said to be France's first color film, is budgeted at 144 million francs, compared with the average of 35 million francs for French-made films.
Bunin, who conceived the live-action-animation process used in M-G-M's "Ziegfeld Follies," will take a party of 40, plus all needed equipment, to France for a 15-month stay while the picture is made. Role of Alice, to he filled by a British actress, will be the only "live" character in the picture.

Disney's "Alice" is Top Budget Feature of Lot
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood — Although Bunin announced he will produce "Alice in Wonderland" in Paris, reps of Walt Disney studios said that Disney's "Alice" is now in work and production plans are such as to make it the largest budgeted feature of the studio. Also they are fully confident as to the company's legal rights, not only with respect to copyright and title registration, but also other equitable protection.

May 14, 1947
UA Closes Distrib. Deals With George Pal, Argosy
Two distribution deals were approved by UA's board yesterday at a meeting in the home office. First deal calls for the release of two George Pal feature length cartoons, "Tom Thumb" and "Rip Van Winkle." Other is for the distribution of John Ford's Argosy Production, "Last Outlaw," in color.

May 16, 1947
Pal-Enterprise Talking Feature Financing Deal
West Coast Bureau, of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood—Producer George Pal and Charles Einfeld and David Loew, Enterprise heads, have been huddling on a projected deal whereby Enterprise will finance Pal's first feature production.
In addition to his regular program of commercial, industrial, and educational productions, Pal plans on making at least one and possibly two high-budget Technicolor features per year.

May 20, 1947
RKO Sets Disney's "Song" For Return Engagements
RKO is preparing repeat engagements on Walt Disney's "Song of the South," only six months after the film's general release.
Company reports that the picture is Disney's most successful since "Snow White," and ranks among the five top grossers ever distributed by RKO.

May 21, 1947
Disney 26-Week Net Up to $264,383
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood—Net income of Walt Disney Productions for the 26 weeks ended March 29 was $264,383, equal to 38 cents per common share, Roy O. Disney, president, reported in a letter to stockholders. Figure compares with a loss of $22,261, or six cents per share for the comparable period last year.
Pointing out that results for short periods frequently are distorted by the timing of feature releases, Disney said that, by virtue of the adoption of the receipt of income basis of feature amortization, "Make Mine Music" made a material contribution to earnings. in the first half of the financial year.
He also reported that substantial revenues from "Song of the South" were received in April, with signs pointing toward a profitable long-term distribution.

June 3, 1947
Shorts Prices Rise Slightly
Average 20% Gain Still Below Cost Gain
Even the most popular of shorts, animated cartoons, now cost so much to produce, it is claimed, that it takes shrewd figuring to break even on them. A seven-minute animated subject that could be made for about $10,000 before the war, it is stated, now requires a production budget of around $35,000—not counting prints and distribution costs.

June 12, 1947
Pal's Features is Natural Progression From Shorts
"Full-length features were just a natural progression from shorts," George Pal disclosed to The Film Daily, as he outlined his plans for his forthcoming initial feature, "Tom Thumb," in puppets and live-action. Puppetoon producer said that even if costs and exhibitor apathy had not made the shorts field nearly extinct—at least insofar as the independents are concerned—he would have branched out to feature-length subjects.
Pal's feature, now in production, will cost about $1,500,000 and will take about a year to complete. UA will release the film, as well as one subsequent feature, tentatively set as "Rip Van Winkle."
Pal will devote his entire facilities to features and commercial shorts. He is making a series of two-reelers for Shell Oil Co.
Pal is discussing production matters with UA president Ed Raftery while here and will leave for the Coast tomorrow.

June 18, 1947
Pal Plans $2,000,000 Budget For "Thumb" Feature
West Coast Bureau of THE FILM DAILY
Hollywood — Appropriation of a $2,000,000 budget and signing of Woody Herman and songstress Peggy Lee, as first of a number of top artists, were revealed by Producer George Pal as production plans were stepped up for "Tom Thumb," Pal's forthcoming live animation feature to be made in Technicolor for release by UA. Pal has just returned from New York where he checked preparatory research phases. With his augmented art corps, producer is developing 2,000 master charts of this classic fairy tale, with both human and animated players. Production is slated for late 1948 release and Pal is now testing players for his narrator.


January 14, 1947
"Fair Weather Fiends"
Universal 7 Mins. Excellent
Woody Woodpecker and his pal head for Southern climes in their yacht, the Palsie-Walsie. Special emphasis is placed on the tremendous food supply aboard. A tornado soon demolishes the boat and washes them upon a Southern Pacific isle, where, after frantically searching for food, they each scheme to eat the other. Many hilarious episodes result until they find a supply of food by a goony-bird. Well done, it should find a very large market.

January 27, 1947
"The Crackpot King"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. Jackpot Mouse
Mighty Mouse aids the townspeople when their favorite, Suzette, is unwillingly taken by the king to be his bride. The court sorcerer helps the king and almost repels Mighty Mouse, but M. M. withstands the attack and rescues Suzette. Fast moving and fun.

"Shoe Shine Jasper"
Para. 7 Mins. Should Sell Well
Po' lil ol' Jasper is awfully sad when his boss, the Scarecrow, goes off to a big jitterbug contest and leaves him with mountains of shoes to shine. A fairy godmother comes upon the scene and gives Jasper some of dem dere golden slippers with which he wins the contest. He pockets the prize money, buys an ultra-modern shoe shine emporium and has the Scarecrow working for him. This Puppetoon has plenty of life and should sell well.

"Musica-Lulu" (D5-5)
Para. 7 Mins. Novel
When Little Lulu deserts her violin practice to join the fellas and play baseball she gets hit on the head with the ball and dreams she is being summoned to the Court of Musical Justice. A fantasy follows with Lulu escaping from jail and being pursued by every known musical instrument. After having been thoroughly frightened by her experience, she awakes and dashes home for her violin. A cleverly done piece of work, it should get good notices anywhere.

"Wacky Weed"
Universal 7 Mins. Very Good
Andy Panda has just planted a flower in his garden when a weed grabs and tries to choke it. Andy's attempts to do away with the weed fail, to the extent where the weed tricks him into pulling all the plumbing out of his house. Andy finally corners him with a lawn-mower, the weed begs for mercy and promises to reform, then reneges on his promise and Andy starts the chase all over again. Cleverly done with lots of laughs.

"The Electronic Mouse Trap"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. Good
The Cat-professor builds a robot dinosaur which is in reality a giant mousetrap which traps, paralyzes, and crates mice with assembly line precision. Mighty Mouse speeds to the rescue of the helpless ones and is himself ensnared, momentarily. He extricates himself and turns the machine on the cats. M. M. has saved mouseville from extinction. Fantasy lends originality to this one.

"A Scout with the Gout"
Para. 7 Mins. Good
Carried away by his own boasting of prowess as a scout-master, Little Lulu's father takes her on a camping trip. But L.L. is adept at giving him problems he never had before, and he soon seeks escape from Mother Nature. On the way home, he gets trapped in an underwater cave, and after several attempts L.L. rescues him. Quite a few laughs with Little Lulu as troublesome as ever.

January 31, 1947
"The Uninvited Pests"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. Good Fun
A quiet picnic in the country anticipated by a farmer and his dog is turned into hectic confusion by a couple of talking magpies "who insist upon joining the party. All efforts of the farmer to eliminate them fail, with the magpies turning in more tricks than Culbertson. Should be good fun for all.

"Henpecked Hoboes"
M-G-M 7 Mins. Fun For All
George and Junior, a Lenny-type character, are hobo bears who come to the decision that its time to eat. The first thing they see is a hen, who has other ideas and leads them a merry chase. Best laughs come with George donning his different suits (rooster, chick, worm, etc.) in order to fool the hen. Plenty of fun for all.

"Mighty Mouse and the Hep Cat"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. Lots of Laughs
Mouseville is still being molested by cats who covet the tiny inhabitants. But Mighty Mouse usually steps in in the nick of time and saves the victim. One persistent puss, however, decides to be a modern Pied Piper. Entranced by the music the mice follow into a trap neatly set by the cats, and are rescued at the last possible moment by M.M. Lots of laughs plus some groovey jazz.

February 6, 1947
"Sleepy Time Donald"
RKO 7 Mins. Outstanding
Donald Duck, suddenly rises out of bed, puts a boot on his head instead of a hat, and starts out for Daisy's house. He awakens her and she realizes he is sleep-walking and shouldn't be awakened suddenly. In her efforts not to disturb him she is forced to do all sorts of queer things such as covering a manhole with her body so that Donald won't fall in. This one really has an abundance of laughs plus an air of fantasy that makes it outstanding.

March 5, 1947
"One Meat Brawl"
Warners 7 Mins. Comin' Up
It's the day on which the groundhog is supposed to come up and Porky Pig is all set, with his dog Mandrake to capture him, and add him to his collection of animals. Appealing to their sentimental nature, the groundhog outwits Porky and his dog and escapes annihilation. Good for laughs.

"Brotherhood of Man"
Film Alliance of America 10 Mins. Worth While
Cartoon technique is employed in an attempt to combat race prejudice with imagination and wit. The hero, Henry, dreams that the post-war world fits into his backyard. His first thought is to be friendly, but his devilish conscience interferes and he draws back suspiciously, as do the others. It explains most differences as result of historic development and environment variations. Quite novel.

March 10, 1947
"Goofy Gophers"
Warners 7 Mins. Very Good
A weary looking watch dog is guarding a vegetable patch. Two gophers raid the patch and successfully thwart the dog's attempts to stop them. Quite pleased with themselves they settle back to enjoy life only to be interrupted by Bugs Bunny. A definite laugh-getter with plenty of appeal.

March 17, 1947
"Fowl Brawl"
Columbia 6 Mins. Should Please
A sly fox enters a hen-house in search of a chicken dinner but is interrupted by the watch-dog. He dons the disguise of a chick and fools the dog, momentarily. A mad scramble follows which ends when a young chick, annoyed by the interruption of her slumber, lets go with an old shotgun. Should please children and adults as well.

"Musical Moments"
Universal 8 Mins. Novel and Colorful
Andy Panda is interrupted, while he is giving a Chopin piano concert, by Woody Woodpecker who decides to polish the piano. Intrigued with the music, Woody joins in to make it a duet, then starts off on his own. Barnyard disturbances have no effect on him till a drunken horse sets the place on fire, and he tries to finish the concert 7 without losing a note. Quite novel and colorful, with some good music for good measure.

March 18, 1947
"The Uncultured Vulture"
Columbia 6 Mins. Getting the Boid
A missing professor is located by the camera on a desert isle in the company of a large-beaked vulture resembling Jimmy Durante in actions and voice. The bird has designs on the prof, who barely escapes annihilation several times. Many laughs hypo this throughout.

March 20, 1947
"Gay Anties"
Warners 7 Mins. Light and Comical
While two lovers, who are on a picnic, hold hands and whisper sweet nothings, a colony of ants takes over and re-distributes the food to their own purposes Taking place in the form of a Gay Nineties revue, with singing waiters, can-can dancers, etc., the cartoon is thoroughly light and comical.

April 11, 1947
"Have You Any Castles"
Warners 7 Mins. Clever
Story concerns a library which is filled with mayhem when the characters on various book covers come to life. Poor Rip Van Winkle finally breaks the thing up because he can't sleep. Cleverly done, it will brighten any bill.

"Cat Fishin'"
M-G-M 8 mins. Rates High
Looks like the Tom and Jerry series has another Academy Award contender in their latest offering. Tom Cat decides to use Jerry Mouse as live bait when he goes fishing, but Jerry refuses to stay hooked and cooks up plenty of trouble for Tom. Thoroughly entertaining, this one rates high honors and should perk up any bill.

"Part Time Pal"
M-G-M 8 mins. Lots of Laughs
Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse are battling again, with Tom usually on the losing side. He is guarding the ice box with full intent of keeping Jerry away from its contents. Under the influence of cider, he collaborates with Jerry, forgetting their feud, till he sobers up and the chase is on again. Good for lots and lots of laughs.

April 16, 1947
"Mighty Mouse in Crying Wolf"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. Good
One black sheep can cause a lot of trouble to a slow-thinking sheep dog tending his flock, especially when he cries "Wolf, wolf." A scolding doesn't help, and the black one continues his mischief till he comes face to face with a real wolf. Thinking it another false alarm, the dog does nothing, the black sheep finds himself on a chopping block, and in a last minute effort Mighty Mouse is summoned. M.M. turns the table and saves the day.

"Pigs Is Pigs"
Warners 7 Mins. Okay
Junior Pig, who delights in stuffing himself with food, has a horrible nightmare about an ogre who forces him to eat continually. This doesn't change him, however, and he runs to breakfast with his usual enthusiasm. Okay for general consumption.

"Figaro and Frankie"
RKO 7 Mins. Plenty Of Laughs
Minnie Mouse is the proud owner of Frankie, a canary, and Figaro, a cat. Figaro finds it hard to sleep with Frankie singing, so shakes the cage. One thing brings on another and Minnie walks in to find the cage overturned, and Frankie missing. She kicks Figaro out thinking he has eaten the bird. They are re-united happily, however, when Figaro saves Frankie from the drooling jaws of an English bull-dog and brings him back to Minnie. Up to Disney standards with plenty of laughs.

April 25, 1947
"The Talking Magpies in McDougal's Rest Farm"
20th-Fox 7 Mins. Spells Laughs
The screwball Magpie twins are at it again—this time disrupting the peace and quiet of McDougal's Rest Farm. They upset the animals and befuddle the dim-witted watchdog, a Mortimer Snerd type. Fast talk and action keep it zipping along and should provide many a good laugh.

"Big House Blues"
Columbia 7 Mins. Lots of Chuckles
Flippy, a canary, has read a book on crime and envisions his cage as a cell and himself stir-crazy. He escapes, only to be caught by the cat, who is now the prison guard. This new "cops and robbers" slant should be good for lots of chuckles.

"Rescue Dog"
RKO 7 Mins. Audiences Will Love It
Pluto plays rescue dog among the snow-capped mountains, and goes out in search of something to rescue. When he accidentally falls into a frozen lake, a baby seal, attracted by the keg around his neck, saves him and tags along. Audiences will love this latest Disney character who claps and gargles his way into Pluto's heart, too.

"Cat's Tale"
Warners 7 Mins. A Laugh-Getter
A mouse tells a cat to stop chasing him and influences him to tell the dog the same thing. The dog has other ideas, gives the cat a good beating, whereupon the cat resumes his usual treatment of the mouse. A laugh-getter on any bill.

"Hare Grows in Manhattan"
Warners 7 Mins. One of the Best
Bugs Bunny has grown from rags, on New York's lower East Side, to riches, as a famous Hollywood star. Complete with belted coat, dark glasses and beret, he grants an interview and reviews the story of his life. One of the best yet, B. B. should top the laugh parade with this one.

"Scent-Imental Over You"
Warners 7 Mins. Plenty of Humor
Snooty dogs show off their fine furs in the Fifth Ave. fashion parade to the embarrassment of a Mexican hairless who borrows a skunk pelt to get in the act. A real skunk, with wolf-like instincts, catches up []n her, and she is glad to admit her real identity when he gets through with her. Plenty of humor in this one to make it a hit.

May 1, 1947
"Cat Concerto" Tom and Jerry No. W-835
M-G-M 7 Mins. Superb Fantasy
M-G-M's Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon in which Tom turns concert pianist. With a beautifully satiric rendering of Liszt's 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, Tom and Jerry perform an assortment of didoes that are guaranteed to leave the most phlegmatic moviegoer helpless in the aisles. Beginning wonderfully straight-laced, the reel runs only a short distance before Jerry booby-traps the piano into remarkably clever situations. Film winds up to a socko finish with Tom a quivering wreck slumped shirtless over the keyboard, and the victorious Jerry proudly taking bows from the top of the piano.

"Cockatoos for Two"
Columbia 6 Mins. Fast Moving, Funny
A cold and hungry pidgeon [sic] changes places with a rare Cockatoo on its way to a new owner with a craving for delicacies. When the pidgeon finds out the fate in store for him he is glad to admit to fraud when the real bird shows up. Fast moving and funny.

"Hound Hunters"
No. W-834 7 Mins. Clever
Two wandering bums, George and Junior, who sound like Archie and Finnegan, become virtuous and decide to take a job. Position as dogcatchers leads them in some merry chases with an assortment of mongrels, with the dogs foiling all passes with the net. Failing to outwit any of the pups despite a number of ingenious disguises, the two bums wind up with at least one convert among the dogs, and fade-out shows three bums walking the ties.

May 20, 1947
"Mighty Mouse in Aladdin's Lamp"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. For the Kiddies
Sultan Aladdin has everything one could wish for in Baghdad, yet his beautiful daughter spurns all saying, "I only want Mighty Mouse." A ruthless cat sees an opportunity to steal the Princess plus the magic lamp. This he does and it takes Mighty Mouse's best efforts to save them both. Should please the kiddies.

"Donald's Dilemma"
RKO 7 Mins. Laughs Galore
Daisy consults a psychiatrist in an effort to win back Donald's affection which has chilled since he was hit on the head by a flowerpot. This strange fate has also turned him into a great singer who ignores her completely. The doc tells her to hit Donald on the head again. This she does and he returns to his old gravel-voiced, Daisy-lovin' self. A new twist added to D.D.'s popular routines it should pull laughs from all.

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse"
Tom and Jerry M-G-M 8 Mins. Frightening Satire
To prevent Jerry Mouse from drinking milk from the refrigerator, Tom brews a deadly potion. Instead of polishing the rapid rodent off as intended, it imbues him with super-mousean powers and for a while the familiar cat-after-mouse chase is reversed. When the brew wears off, the familiar routine begins once again, with amusing, if frightening results. Some pretty strong stuff for kids, but entertaining overall.

"Loose in the Caboose"
Para. 8 Mins. Should Make 'Em Laugh
Little Lulu misplaces her train ticket and is thrown off by an eager conductor. Determined to stay on the train, she pulls most of her cute tricks to avoid being put off again, causing the conductor and passengers many hardships. Should bring on laughs.

"Straight Shooters"
RKO 6 Mins. Filled With Fun
Donald Duck is doing fine as a barker at a shooting gallery till his three nephews decide to try their luck. They break most of the clay pipes and are disgruntled when they receive tiny boxes of candy for their efforts. They decided to repay their uncle and proceed to do so in their most teasing manner and inimitable style. Filled with fun and mirth throughout.

"Gandy Goose in Mexican Baseball"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. A Home Run
Gandy Goose and his friend, Sourpuss, take on the Mexican League Bulls. Using all sorts of trick plays, Gandy & Co. run their score 21 to 0, but in the end lose the game by joining the Mexican conga line and forsaking the game for fun. Sure to fill the seasonal spot and score a home-run.

"The Talking Magpies in Cat Trouble"
Twentieth-Fox 7 Mins. Bright Spots
The Magpies, Heckle and Jeckle, turn protector to a 3 1/2 day old baby bird to save it from the clutches of a bird-hungry cat. It takes some fast thinking to outwit the feline, but they usually do. Filled with bright spots to please all.

"Wilbur the Lion"
Para. 10 Mins. For the Family
Wilbur, a juggling lion, retires from the circus and returns to Africa. He finds life not as easy as anticipated and his former friends are easily bored with his circus routine. He has himself purposely recaptured and returns to the lights and pleasures of the Big Tent. A novel Puppetoon, it has appeal for the whole family.

June 3, 1947
"Rabbit Transit"
Warners 7 Mins. Lots of Chuckles
After reading about the turtle beating the hare, Bugs Bunny challenges Cecil Turtle to another race to redeem the respect due rabbit. Various side trips occur, but Bugs finally wins, only to be arrested for speeding. Up to B. B. standards and good for lots of chuckles.

June 9, 1947
"Hobo Bobo"
Warners 7 Mins. Great For Kids
Sick of his routine life in India, Bobo, a little elephant, decides to go to America and join a circus. He disguises himself as a pink elephant to get passage and finds everyone acting queer till his paint is washed off. He gets his wish, though, and joins the circus. Should go over well, especially with kids.

June 19, 1947
"I'll Be Ski-ing Ya"
Para. 8 Mins. Typical Popeye Laughs
Popeye, trying to teach Olive Oyl to ice-skate, is interrupted at every turn by Bluto, who seeks the opportunity. After tripping Popeye, Bluto captures O. O. and carries her, via ski-tow, to the top of the mountain. The downward chase, with Popeye in full pursuit, is quite hysterical and is sure to provide lots of laughs.

"Crazy With the Heat"
RKO 6 Mins. Exceptionally Good
Donald Duck and Goofy are driving across the Sahara when they run out of gas. They start out on foot in search of some, but the net result is several mirages which only add to their general fatigue and despair. They finally escape on a camel which also proves invisible as they gallop away. Exceptionally good.

"Wide Open Spaces"
RKO 7 Mins. Donald Duck in Form
While taking a motor trip, Donald Duck stops to find a place to spend 1 the night. Typical try is the HOLD-UP MOTEL which charges 16 bucks for an outside cot. Donald decides to squander his money to better advantage and decides to sleep on his air mattress. Hilarious situations develop and as the cartoon ends D. D. is fast asleep in the arms of a cactus.

"Tubby the Tuba"
Para. 10 Mins. Melodious Fantasy
Victor Jory handles the narration in this puppetoon which pictures the story of Tubby, the Tuba, who wanted to play a beautiful melody instead of his monotonous oom-pa, oom-pa. A 54-piece symphony orchestra handles the musical end which makes this a unique and melodious bit of fantasy.

June 26, 1947
"Mighty Mouse in the Sky is Falling"
20th-Fox 7 mins. Exciting
A little duck successfully eludes a sly fox until the fox hits on a plan to make the duck think the sky is falling. The duck shouts the alarm to his pals and they go to warn the king. On the way they are trapped by the fox and his friend. Mighty Mouse speeds down to the rescue which should prove daring and exciting to all the kiddies.

"Mother Hubba-Hubba Hubbard"
Columbia 6 Mins. Pretty Good
When Mother Hubbard finds her cupboard bare, her little dog is very annoyed. A searching party is organized to find it, which finally reveals that he ate it while sleep-walking. Pretty good comedy cartoon.

"The Talking Magpies in the Intruders"
20th-Fox 7 mins. Very Good
Heckle and Jeckle, the Magpies, steal quietly by a sleeping watchdog guarding a huge estate. He soon awakens and a fierce and furious chase takes place, with the dog usually on the losing end. Some wonderful laughs put this one in the very good class.

"Mighty Mouse Meets Deadeye Dick"
20th-Fox 7 Mins. Good
Deadeye Dick is the untamed master of the West till he meets his match Mighty Mouse. D. D. is lured out into the open, so Mighty Mouse can finish him off, by a beautiful lassie who turns out to be M. M. in disguise. Good action cartoon.

"Up 'n Atom"
Columbia 6 Mins. Plenty of Laughs
A dog sets out to do away with his feline menace, but unfortunately gets all his advice from a wise-cracking pup who later turns out to be the cat in disguise. It's a dog's life all the way, but provides lots of ingenious situations and a great many laughs.

"Tooth or Consequences"
Columbia 6 Mins. Hilarious
The smart Crow is once again outwitting the dumb Fox, whose chief complaint this time is his aching tooth. The Crow puts him through all sorts of torture while trying to extract it, which proves hilarious to everyone but the Fox.

And, as a bonus, here’s one more story from Daily Variety of May 1, 1947 about an unusual programme that involved Mel Blanc. I’d love to have heard his work on this.

A 90-minute picture made up of nine short subjects from different studios has done so well in numerous situations along the Interstate Theatres circuit that Debbs Reynolds, head of Interstate's short subjects department, is here lining up a similar deal.
Interstate, a 160-house chain in Texas and New Mexico, is believed the only circuit in country that disdains double features, relying on one-picture-plus-shorts policy to such an extent that a special department has been set up to route shorts where they'll do the most good. Samples of how featureless bill, titled “Mirth of a Nation,” has gone over were cited yesterday by Reynolds. Picture was originally booked for four days at Kirby theatre, Houston, Texas theatre, San Antonio, and Melba theatre, Dallas, but was held over a week in each instance, because business was so good. Response was particularly gratifying in view of fact that shorts had already played theatres singly.
Because some payees complained they'd seen shorts previously, circuit has piled up nine more, which haven't been shown, and which will be strung together and titled “Second Mirth of a Nation.” Reynolds is here now confabbing with Edward Selzer of Warners’ shorts department on securing Mel Blanc for narration to hold program together.
Innovation will be tried out on program featuring following shorts: Metro's “Hound Hunters” and “Cat Concerto;” Warners' “Birth of a Notion,” “So You're Going To Be a Father,” “A Boy and his Dog” and “Facing Your Danger;” and Universal-International's “Coocoo Bird,” "Jitterumba” and “Let's Sing College Songs.”

Friday 29 August 2014

Familiar Publisher

There’s an inside gag buried inside “Chief Charlie Horse,” a 1956 effort for the Walter Lantz studio. Observe who owns the printing shop in the background.

Alex Lovy was directing at the Lantz studio, though this cartoon was handled by Paul J. Smith. Art Landy apparently came up with the backgrounds.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Hungry Sword

A sword in the wall develops a mouth and teeth to try to bite Bimbo as he runs away in “Bimbo’s Initiation” (1931).

This has to be one of the best Fleischer cartoons of all time. Clever layouts, imaginative story and neat gags.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Hans, the Personality

It’s an amazing concept, if you think about it. A late night network talk show with people who can actually talk. Not audience noise. Not cameras flying around. Not vapid, non-spontaneous chats to push coming movie or TV projects. But raconteurs, literate people with a command of the language and something interesting, relevant or amusing to say.

Such people were found on television at one time, and one place to find them was the Jack Paar Show (aka “Tonight”). And one was Hans Conried.

I suppose Conried is known today as the voice of Snidely Whiplash on the Dudley Do-Right cartoons. In the ‘40s, he made a good living with other over-the-top characterisations on radio sitcoms and variety shows. When radio started dying in the ‘50s, he put his dialect humour to use as Uncle Tonoose on “Make Room For Daddy” and his quickness to the test on the game show “Pantomime Quiz.”

Yet Conried made a bit of a name for himself with somewhat regular appearances on the Paar show. Paar assembled kind of a stock company of folks who would come on and tell stories, including Alexander King, Oscar Levant and dotty Dody Goodman. And as this Associated Press story indicates, Conried had mixed feelings about it, though he surely couldn’t have disliked the exposure. It ran August 18, 1959.

Hans Conried Is Paar Personality

NEW YORK (AP)—Hans Conried was brooding the other day over the new phenomenon of “personality” as introduced to modern life by American television.
After years of steady employment as a perfectly respectable actor everything from Shakesperean roles to mad scientists, Conried went on the Jack Paar Show and quite soon found himself a “personality.”
“At first I felt naked,” he recalled. “There I was, Conried playing Conried, with no role to hide behind. I had to talk, and that wasn’t too hard, of course. I’ve been talking since I was a year old. Then, I guess. I began creating the personality of Hans Conried, a role to hide behind.”
But who, asked a fellow, really is Conried? What is he?
Conried fixed his dark eyes on the fellow somberly, and offered an item, a clue: The true Conried lives happily with his wife and two sons in a large California house that contains 7,000 books, most of which he’s read.
But he refused to divulge anything further about the secret life of Hans Conried except that he wants another bookcase in his house and there doesn’t seem to be room for it.
Conried has become a “personality” thanks to his appearances on the Paar show and other TV panel programs. But it hasn’t hurt his professional career as an actor. In fact, his career has been enhanced, with more offers for better roles.
Next Sunday, for example, he will co-star with William Bendix in “The Ransom of Red Chief,” an which also NBC-TV features special Mickey Rooney’s 9-year-old son, Teddy.
Conried admits that he enjoys playing the role of Conried, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, on TV panel programs. But he won’t confide how he became a “wit”—or even that he is one. He is, he insists, just an actor.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Step Down

Two makes of cars used to get kidded a lot on network radio shows in the late ‘40s. One was the Studebaker. Its wrap-around windows confused some people about which end was the front and which was the back.

The other was the Hudson, which invented a wonderful marketing gimmick starting in the 1948 model year with its “step-down” design. The floor of the car was six inches lower than the door sill. That made the car look sleeker than others in the hugely-competitive post-war years.

So it was that both cars got joked about in Tex Avery’s automotive opus “The Car of Tomorrow.” The Studebaker stand-in drove sideways. And the scene featuring the ersatz Hudson shows a man stepping down and, naturally, disappearing as he falls for three seconds before a crash and a camera shake (his hat remains twirling in mid-air briefly before dropping).

Eventually the step-down design didn’t help Hudson. The company merged with Nash in 1954—the same year Avery left theatrical cartoons for good.

Rich Hogan and Disney’s Roy Williams helped Avery with the car gags. The narrator in this one is Gil Warren, who was also the voice man in some of Avery’s spot gag cartoons at Warner Bros.

Monday 25 August 2014

Porky Pig on Sunset Boulevard

One of the uncountable great moments in “You Ought To Be in Pictures” is when Porky Pig drives like a maniac to get back to the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. It’s point-of-view footage with Porky and his little car weaving in and out of traffic. I don’t know how someone shot it without being killed. The camera must have been on a motor scooter or something.

Curious about where Porky is? He’s rushing east along Sunset Boulevard, not too far from the Warners lot. Here’s Porky passing ‘Covered Wagon Trailers.’

Mark C. Bloome was near Sunset and Wilcox. Bloome ran a chain of tire stories. The Los Angeles Times published this obituary.

Bloome has gas for 13 9/10 cents a gallon. You may cry now.

Next, Porky whizzes by Fiedler Field. There were two ball parks by that name. The first was at Sunset and Ivar, seating 1,500 in splinty seats (the second park at 420 Fairfax was considerably larger). Both were named for Colonel Marty Fiedler, a huge promoter of women’s baseball. Note the Coca-Cola sign.

To your right is Chappell’s Cafe.

There are cars galore in this scene, but only one I can identify. The second car to your right is a 1936 Studebaker Dictator Coupe. You can tell by the bat-wing rear window. Evidently the people at Studebaker didn’t think that “Dictator” was a really poor choice for a name in the ‘30s.

The signal says “GO,” Porky. No amber lights back then.

And this frame is about the clearest one of a sign post in the whole scene. If you blow up the picture enough, you can make out a “Gower St.” above the traffic light. Porky is now in the famous Gower Gulch, where the cowboys from the San Fernando Valley would hang out hoping to get work as extras in movie westerns.

At the corner of Gower and Sunset is Columbia Drugs (you can kind of make out the Columbia sign on the building. I suspect it’s called that because the studios of the Columbia Broadcasting System (KNX) in Columbia Square were almost kitty-corner. It’s also mere steps (or stumbles, as the case may be) from Brittingham’s, the bar of choice of Tedd Pierce.

Here’s a shot of the same corner taken from atop CBS in 1940, Brittingham’s roof in the foreground. The water tower may give an idea how far this is from the Warners lot. The Jerry Fairbanks studio is a block north of the drug store at Sunset and Beechwood, with the Hollywood Film Labs next to it. Both were buildings that date back to the silent film days.

And the same area today. No Columbia Drugs, no Porky, but the old Fairbanks studio and Film Labs building survive (though not visible in this picture). The bench and the traffic light are gone, too, but the palm tree that was next to them has grown a bit.

Perhaps this is a better indication about how far Gower Gulch was from the Schlesinger studio on the Warner lot. The building at Fernwood and Van Ness is still used by KTLA. Brittingham’s and the old CBS building next door have been gutted.

Thus ends our little tour down Sunset Boulevard of 1940, just one of the delightful things in this great Friz Freleng cartoon. The combination of live action and animation, the staff cameos, Daffy’s singing and dancing, even Leon Schlesinger’s acting make this a terrific cartoon by any standard.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Singing Star Teddy Powers

One of the great, long-time cast members of the Jack Benny radio and TV shows was Teddy Powers.

You don’t remember Teddy Powers? You should.

Of course, he wasn’t using the name Teddy Powers then. He tossed out that stage name and picked another. He called himself Dennis Day.

It’s an oft-told story in old-time radio circles about how Dennis got his job on the Benny show. But here’s probably the most contemporary version. His first appearance on the show was October 8, 1939. This story appeared in the radio section of the New York Sun on October 21st, accompanied by an artist’s portrait of Dennis that we can’t reproduce. The part about Verna Felton’s hiring is new on me.

The New Day in Radio
Jack Benny's Young Tenor Won Place Over Horde of Applicants.

Take one natural tenor voice, add an eagerness to achieve prominence, mix well with an ingredient known as ambition to justify parental faith, sprinkle generously with good old Irish luck, stir briskly in a New York cauldron and you have Dennis Day's recipe for success.
The local boy who's making good in a great big way as Jack Benny's tenor discovery on the Sunday night NBC series out In Hollywood had sung a note professionally four months ago. And as recently as last November he hadn't even considered earning a living as a singer.
More than a few New Yorkers will remember Day as one Eugene Dennis McNulty, son of a city engineer, choir boy at St. Patrick's Cathedral, second ranking honor student at Manhattan College, president and soloist of that school's glee club, and winner of Mayor LaGuardia's vocational scholarship upon his graduation in 1938.
"Mac," as he was better known in those days, chose to exercise the scholarship by accepting a job at Radio Station WNYC. His four amateur appearances with Larry Clinton's NBC Campus Club the previous spring had whetted his appetite for radio. But far from becoming an immediate tenor sensation, Mac put in his time at WNYC as a glorified office boy, saving every penny he could toward the day when he could afford to enter law school. At times he showed up at WHN where as Teddy Powers he sang as soloist with the Ballou and Albert orchestras.
In October an appendectomy upset his well-laid plans When he was released from the hospital his savings were gone and he was faced with the necessity of making money quickly to regain lost ground.
Friml Recognized Talent.
Spurred on by Rudolph Friml Jr., who recognized his vocal talent after hearing him at a party, McNulty took the more appealing professional name Dennis Day (his own middle name plus his grandmother's maiden name) and began the heart-breaking routine of auditions. He was rewarded finally in June, when Del Peters of CBS signed him for the tenor spot on Ray Block's Musical Varieties. He started at the stupendous salary of $21 per week, of which an agent got 10 per cent.
A faux pas made during the second and last broadcast with Block made Dennis believe that he had snuffed out a promising career. After singing one song Dennis stepped out of the studio momentarily for a drink of water. Maestro Block, crossing him up, went immediately into the introduction of Day's next song instead of a band number. Dennis reached the mike on cue, but his first note should have been put through a wringer.
The error wasn't as tragic as Dennis had assumed, however, for he next was given the vocal berth on Leith Stevens's "Accent on Music," and was making his debut on this CBS series when Mary Livingstone heard him. She located his manager, obtained a record of the broadcast and flew with it to Jack, who was then in Chicago. After playing the record Jack returned to New York to audition Day.
Over 200 Vocalists In Try-outs.
All in all, Jack listened to more than 100 of the nation's best tenors during the summer, and his radio producer, Murray Bolen, heard that many more. But Dennis, a shy youngster who came along about number fifty, had the inside track from the moment Jack heard him.
Funny thing, too. Last June, when Day heard that Kenny Baker wouldn't be with Jack this fall he stroked that piece of Blarney Stone without which he wouldn't feel completely dressed, and immediately was seized with the feeling that he was destined to be the next Jack Benny tenor. Common sense told him that it was a crazy idea, since he had only one professional broadcast behind him at the time, and a few weeks later, when Jack Benny asked him to audition, Dennis felt as if he'd known about it and had [two words missing] it all along.
[Dennis left New York for Hollywood and] arrived early in September and made an immediate hit with the rest of the gang. But still no contracts were signed. On the spur of the moment Jack embarked for Treasure Island, pushed on to New York, Detroit and Chicago, and headed home with his mind made up to send for Dennis and give him a trial. But when Jack reached Hollywood he found that Dennis was still in town. No one had told him to go home. Dennis, figuring that he ought to stay under cover lest the cat get out of the bag and spoil his chances, had been practically hiding out for four weeks—and was he homesick!
Selected Own Stage Mother.
Homesick . . . mother . . . stage mother!! Jack had an idea. Why not introduce Dennis by means of a hard-boiled, domineering stage mother, who'd see to it not only that Dennis was protected from Hollywood, but also that Jack's life was made characteristically miserable?
Benny, his secretary, Harry Baldwin; his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin; Mary Livingstone and Producer Murray Bolen began auditioning "stage mothers," with Dennis sitting in. They finally eliminated all but two, voted, and wound up in a three-three deadlock. "Dennis, it'll be your mother," said Jack. "You cast the deciding vote."
Thus Dennis Day, probably the only lad on record who's had the privilege of choosing his own mother, said: "I like Miss Felton, Mr. Benny. She sounds like she'd be a world of protection to me. And so Verna Felton, who has been mother to Phil Harris, Don Wilson and "Tom Sawyer Benny," became the bass-voiced maternal protector of Dennis Day.
Now that he's been made a regular member of the Jack Benny gang and is succeeding in one of the toughest spots so young a singer ever had to fill, there to just one question that's uppermost in Dennis Day's mind: "Mr. Benny, will we do a show or two from New York this year?"

Day turned out to be a brilliant find. Somewhere along the way, Benny and his writers discovered he could do broad dialects and comic impressions, and enhanced the show by adding them to the scripts. And his timing was tops too, something you can probably say about all the main cast members on the Benny show. Day died June 22, 1988. He had a 40-year marriage and a longer career in entertainment. You might say a break and talent were his special Powers.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Boing Boing, You're Dead

Note: Since I bashed UPA earlier in the week, here’s a post for those of you who are fans of the studio.

There’s a pretty good chance you haven’t seen the 1950s cartoons “Prehistoric Eohippus,” “Jittery Deer-Foot Dan” and “The Unenchanted Princess.” The last one sounds like a Fractured Fairy Tale from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, and kind of looks like one (observe to your right) but these cartoons were all contained within a long-vanished TV programme called “The Boing-Boing Show.”

It starred Gerald McBoing-Boing (why it wasn’t called “The McBoing-Boing Show” isn’t clear) and was produced by UPA, the cartoon studio that bought the story rights to the character from Dr. Seuss, completely redesigned him in the flat UPA style, then won an Oscar. Like anything UPA, critics loved the show. Daily Variety’s review came in its December 17, 1956 edition.

A new television cult undoubtedly will spring up as a result of the arrival of Gerald McBoing-Boing on the video scene. And, as is the case with all cults, the vociferous supporters will meet with equally vociferous opposition. In the long run, however, “The Boing Boing Show” should settle down to enough of a following to more than justify its place on the television screens; it’s a light-hearted, humorous and frequently charming entry.
Initialler sets forth a format encompassing animated cartoon treatment of a pair of novel-tunes, “A Horse of Course” and "Miserable Pack of Wolves,” plus a pair of cartoon shorts. For the opener, one is the classic fable of the origination of Gerald and the other is fable based on the life of the French painter, Raoul Dufy. Latter packs some interesting art world information into its colorful and whimsical footage to provide an intriguing segment. The “McBoing-Boing” original, of course, still stands as solid fare.
Animation hews to the high UPA quality throughout, but there appeared to be some difficulty with the color on the original and some segments showed to better advantage on black-and-white screens. Show features an excellent original musical theme by Chico Hamilton. Bill Goodwin does an easy job as narrator. It is, for the time being, a CBS-house show.

The show ran for a half hour starting at 5:30 p.m. every other Sunday (2:30 on the West Coast). It was off the air by mid-March. Realistically, it didn’t have a chance. The reasons for the demise can be found in the syndicated TV Keynotes column of January 15, 1957:

Boing! Gerald's Comic But Expensive! $70,000 For 30 Minutes Viewing

Probably the brightest and most ingenious TV show to come out this winter is the Sunday afternoon half-hour cartoon series, the Boing-Boing Show. The title is taken from UPA's first big cartoon hit, Gerald McBoing-Boing, the little boy who only speaks in sound effects.
Gerald plays host, introducing four cartoon segments, running from three to six minutes, with musical backgrounds about such people as painter Raoul Dufy, The Average Giraffe, a Sad Lion, the Twirliger Twins, and a little girl who hits wolves on the nose.
The appeal of the cartoons comes from the UPA approach known on TV first in commercials—the Harry and Bert ones, the Mr. Magoo beer ads, etc. The UPA approach is simplicity, a light touch, stylized drawings, and a fresh use of color influenced by painters like Picasso, Matisse, Braque. The approach also differs in that artists create the show.
$70,000 Show
The big problem for UPA on the TV series is the high cost, said to be around $70,000 for 30 minutes of animation, which CBS is putting up while looking for a sponsor. So in conceiving a segment, producer Bob Cannon, and color expert and choreographer Jules Engel have to eliminate as much production value as possible.
"It's a good discipline," said Mr. Engel the other day at the small UPA studio in Burbank near the huge Warner Brothers lot. "We have to get to the point quicker."
Getting artists who can work in the UPA style is another problem. Training them takes time. "We had one talented young man who was here six or eight months before he suddenly saw what we were trying to do," said Engel. "We spend our time trying to take things out of pictures."
So Simple It's Difficult
It's been a long pull for UPA trying to put their style over. War training films and their early cartoons helped a bit, but not many backers jumped on their side. Producer Cannon remembers vividly telling his wife when he began the first Gerald McBoing-Boing show. "We're going to do it this way or it's the end." Most of the Hollywood criticism after the show was, "but it's too simple — looks like anybody can do it."
Mr. Cannon says his job now is "in getting out of the way of the guys who do the work." The trouble, for a while, was trying to pick the artists who could do the best job. He gives credit to the artists, the story men and the musicians for the conception of the segments. "That's what attracted the musicians like Shorty Rogers," said Mr. Cannon, "the fact everyone could speak up out here."
A story idea is tossed about between all groups and someone might take off with it. "In the beginning several were too costly and we've learned now we never should have considered them. There are others," Mr. Cannon continued, "like a series we had pegged on painters, but we never finished. We either couldn't get the right artist, or the story dwindled, or the cost became prohibitive."

Stories, cost and lack of sponsorship all contributed to the show’s demise, though it was brought back for a short rerun. Let’s face it. Who wants to watch a half hour of charm and whimsey, other than maybe Bobe Cannon? (Bill Scott, the future Rocky and Bullwinkle producer fired by the studio during the Communist scare, returned to try to make the stories funnier. I can only imagine Cannon’s reaction).

Life magazine evidently profiled the show and assigned photographer Ralph Crane to the story. He took pictures of cels or layout drawings that had been tacked up on a cork board. As the cartoons themselves have never been released on home video that I know, this will give you a bit of an idea of the graphic style.

This is from one of the cartoons starring the Twirliger Twins. They appeared in “Follow Me,” “Alphabet Song,” “Average Giraffe,” “The Violin Recital” and “The Ballet Lesson.”

“The Unenchanted Princess.” Besides Bill Scott’s presence as a writer on the series, there’s another Jay Ward connection as this short was narrated by Edward Everett Horton, the man who performed the same delectable task on Ward’s Fractured Fairy Tales.

These are likely from “Martians Come Back.”

“The Historic Eohippus.”

Don’t know about the top frame but the second is from “Outlaw” (aka “Jittery Deer-Foot Dan”). Stan Freberg provides a voice.

I suspect the top drawing is from “The Painter.” The bottom may be from “The Merry-Go-Round in the Jungle.” I’m pretty certain I’ve seen that cartoon somewhere, perhaps it was one of those Jerry Beck rarities that was on line for awhile.

There are other photos from this shoot that you can see on line. Even if you’re not a UPA fan—and I’m not crazy about much of their stuff—the artwork is interesting and worth a look. Click HERE.

By the way, a number of cartoons on the Boing-Boing show featured inventors and other characters from history. I can’t help but think of the Mr. Peabody segment on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Many of the same artists and writers that toiled at UPA in its pretentious days toiled on Rocky, one of the least pretentious TV cartoon shows ever. From what I can gather about the “Boing Boing Show,” they tried to leave pretentiousness behind there, too.