Friday 31 October 2014

The Mysterious Screen of Black

The 1930 Walter Lantz cartoon “Spooks” has an ingenious opening, very much in line with what Walt Disney did in “Plane Crazy” a couple of earlier later when a black scene reveals itself to be a cow.

In this cartoon, curtains close on a title card, blackening the screen. Slowly, the black recedes and we learn it’s a rubbery tree branch blowing in the wind.

Could cartoons be any weirder than they were in 1930 and 1931? This one’s disjointed, with an owl growing bizarre designs in its eyes and poking toward the camera, a skeleton putting out the cat, a couple of guys in a theatre shouting months at each other, a Phantom of the Opera setting for a bit, and finally a riddle, with the bad guy disappearing for some unknown reason and the cartoon coming to a stop.

Pinto Colvig provides the voice of a hippo and is credited on the artistic staff along with Bill Nolan, Ray Abrams, Manny Moreno and Clyde Geronimi (no Tex Avery).

Thursday 30 October 2014

And Molly Makes the Save

In 1958, Joe Barbera co-wrote a cartoon where Yogi Bear rescues a cute little native Indian boy who has accidentally fallen into the fast-flowing waters of a river.

23 years earlier, the studio where Barbera worked released a cartoon where Molly Moo-Cow rescues a cute little native Indian boy who has accidentally fallen into the fast-flowing waters of a river.

Coincidence? Well, Barbera did borrow from earlier cartoons when he came up with plots for his new made-for-TV animated shows.

It’s been a while since we heard from dear old Molly on the blog. For those of you unfamiliar with Molly Moo-Cow, she starred in four cartoons released within three months of each other by the Van Beuren studio in 1935-36. Then she disappeared, appearing decades later on tapes and DVDs of public domain cartoons. At the time of Molly’s creation, Van Beuren was being run by ex-Disney director Burt Gillett, who seems to have thought he could come up with a bovine Pluto. Molly emoted. Molly could twist and turn at various angles (any bets Carlo Vinci animated her dances?). She was painstakingly animated one drawing per frame of film. But she wasn’t charming or funny. She was just there. And that’s not good enough for entertainment.

The native boy rescue came in the appropriately named “Molly Moo-Cow and the Indians.” Here are some of Molly’s emotions as she watches the papoose being carried down the river.

Whoever the animator was—George and Dan Gordon, Jack Zander and maybe Alex Lovy were with Vinci at Van Beuren at the time—came up with this interesting expression, one of the oddest of the whole cartoon. Or perhaps it’s the work of an in-betweener.

But Molly dives onto land, not into the water. Are your slides splitting yet?

Molly’s body gets caught between two rocks in the river but, somehow, her heads keeps going and her mouth grabs the child off-camera and hauls him to safety.

Molly was gone soon after this picture was released. The Van Beuren studio wasn’t far behind.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

The Life of Gerard

Anyone who knows Arnold Stang solely from cartoon character voices is missing out on some of the best work he ever did.

Stang started out in radio and his main employment, after he grew out of pre-adult roles, was on various on-air ventures of jaded satirist Henry Morgan. He was cast as Gerard, a negative, amoral New Yorker who tried to get away with anything, like inventing a whole family to claim on his income tax. “Who’s to know?” he’d say to Morgan. He didn’t care if he succeeded, but he’s try it anyway. Basically, he almost took on Morgan’s personality (if not his viewpoint) while Morgan played the straight man.

Any time is a good time to post about Arnold Stang. He would be 96 if he were still with us. (For years, he lied about his age, likely to help his early career. Who’s to know?) Here’s a little story about Gerard from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of February 20, 1948. Stang began with Morgan on ABC in September 1946 and moved with him to NBC two years later.

'Gerald' on Henry Morgan Show True Sophisticate, Says Stang

Arnold Stang, who plays "Gerard" on the Henry Morgan show looked up from his scrambled egg and bacon breakfast the other afternoon and said "Gerard" is one of the completely sophisticated characters in radio.
Every line he repeats on the show with that verbal shrug proves it, he says.
"When I do Gerard, I always think of him as the kind of person who is very hard to impress. I think that is being truly sophisticated."
People laugh, he says, because they like "Gerard" and because they sometimes feel the way he does about things.
Arnold's technical approach to hilarity is a radio actor's method turned on comedy, he explains. He wants to make "Gerard" three dimensional.
"He becomes a real person because I don't step out of character or read lines in any trick way to get laughs. 'Gerard' is 'Gerard' all the time. That spontaneous laugh that "Gerard" gets when Henry Morgan introduces him is no accident, he added as he forked up his bacon.
"Audiences laugh as soon as they hear the name because they've gotten to like the character and they expect to laugh."
Although Arnold feels that Gerard is a good thing professionally he doesn't plan to let radio change his name; "I want people to say that's an Arnold Stang-type part," he says, "not one for 'Gerard.'"
Arnold, who lives at 1846 50th St., has been in radio since his Children Hour days and has worked with Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Ed (Archie) Gardner and he also subbed for Ish Kabibble on the Kay Kayser [sic] show.
He takes his work quite seriously but he doesn't call it art with a capitalized "a".
"I try to realize that what I do is creative but it's also a business and I have to keep on learning." He checks his performance regularly by having recordings made and listening to the playback.
His current popularity was preceded by a filling-in during lean months jobs, as a Western Union messenger, a fact which helps him keep his perspective in the soap opera and long commercial business.
"You've got to be independent in this business but you can't forget to be human," he says. "If you are too unsure of yourself you can't click when you read for a part because you try too hard."
Currently Arnold is lining up a new radio show from which "Gerard" will be barred, "I'll talk about the Morgan show on my show and my show on the Morgan show but "Gerard" will stay on the Morgan show.

Stang didn’t get much of a chance to talk about Morgan, or anything else, on his own show. It bombed. Summer replacement shows generally lasted through the summer. Stang’s didn’t. “It’s Always Albert” was a replacement for Danny Thomas on Friday nights at 8:30 on CBS. It aired for a mere four weeks in July 1948 before itself being replaced by “Romance Theater” (the cast were told before the fourth show that it would be the last). The failure was quickly forgotten. Gerard was still on the Morgan show and Stang was busy with a second radio venture, a comedy-variety show starring Milton Berle who was about to take off into the stratosphere on television. And Stang eventually went along for the ride.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

14 Carrot Backgrounds

“14 Carrot Rabbit” is maybe best known for the great animation of Bugs “getting that funny feeling” whenever he’s near gold, but there are some attractive backgrounds by Irv Wyner as well.

I’d love to snip together the pan shot of Bugs being chased by Sam down a map of North America or through some treed fields until he suddenly stops outside the gold reserve (you see part of the latter above), but the characters get in the way. So here are some of the gold country.

And a couple of more of the park around Fort Knox.

Hawley Pratt is the layout artist in this one from the Freleng unit.

Monday 27 October 2014

How To Frighten a Gun

Junior has his rifle ready to shoot at a duck through a hole in a log in Tex Avery’s “Lucky Ducky.” (Junior even kicks up some dirt as he skids around to get into position).

The duck avoids being shot. But it isn’t because he’s lucky. He pulls out a mask that frightens the rifle (and has an evil look on his ducky face).

The rifle shrinks in fear, fires weakly, goes limp and expends its shot on the ground (oh, if Freud were here!).

Walt Clinton, Preston Blair, Grant Simmons and Louie Schmitt are the credited animators. This is the cartoon famous for the “Technicolor Ends Here” gag.

Sunday 26 October 2014

The Friars' First Victim

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recall the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts. People seemed to love them in spite of the corny old jokes, intrusive laugh track and meat-cleaver editing job. That’s because it was about the only place you’d see all those great old stars together in one place. And who doesn’t love Dean Martin?

The Martin shows were an off-shoot of the far-better Friars Club roasts, sponsored on NBC by Kraft. Their humour was, shall we say, edited for home viewing. The Friars began in New York in 1904 as a private club for show folk. Testimonial dinners to its members soon followed; as they were behind closed doors, risqué humour the Friars would never use on the vaudeville or legitimate stage was acceptable (and, I suspect, encouraged).

The death of vaudeville and rise of the film industry brought many show people to Los Angeles from New York and so a West Coast monastery of the Friars was set up in 1947. And who was the victim of their first Roast? None other than Jack Benny, with his old pal Georgie Jessel in charge of the proceedings.

Erskine Johnson of the National Enterprise Association was apparently on the guest list. He also attended when Benny presided over a Jessel roast in 1948. But to read Johnson’s report, the comic material at the roast doesn’t sound any different than the gags you’d hear when a star guest-starred on another star’s radio show. Orson Welles does everything. Sam Goldwyn gets tagged with more “Hugo” jokes (he called Hoagy Carmichael “Hugo” at that year’s Oscars ceremony). Guess what Benny movie got ribbed? The same one that was a running gag on the air for years. Bing Crosby’s insistence on no longer doing his comedy-variety show live was fair (and tame) game. Johnson doesn’t even hint that some comic stars liked and told dirty jokes. And I suspect that back then, many of his readers didn’t want to know it, either (oh, how times have changed). But they would have loved to have been there and Johnson was there for them. I would, too.

Johnson’s column ran on July 5, 1947.

Hollywood — (NEA) — Fred Allen would have been drooling. All of Jack Benny's friends were insulting him at the first stag beef-steak dinner given by Hollywood's new Friars Club (Jack consented to appear only after being assured that he wouldn't be charged for his dinner.)
The speaker's table looked like a million-dollar movie cast—George Burns, Danny Kaye, Groucho Marx, George Jessel, Sam Goldwyn, Eddie Cantor, Parkyakarkus, Orson Welles, George Murphy and Pat O'Brien. The greatest wits in show business, plus the nit-wit—Benny.
Benny was the Friars' first victim—the questionable guest of honor—in what will be a series of roast dinners with Jessel as roast-master.
Jessel stared things off by telling a Benny anecdote and then adding, “I was married but I can't recall to whom at the time.”
Eddie Cantor just couldn't insult his old friend and praised him instead. So Jessel insulted Cantor.
“It's easy to wax sentimental,” said Jessel, “when you haven't got any jokes.”
But everyone else ripped Benny to shreds. “They charged 85 cents to see Benny's last movie, 'The Horn Blows at Midnight,'” said Groucho Marx, who then added, “They charged it but they didn't get it.”
Fred Allen, of course, wired from New York: “There isn't a beefsteak big enough to cover the black eye Jack Benny has given show business.”
Jessel introduced Sam Goldwyn as “Hugo Goldwyn, the man who makes all those mistakes in English but when he makes pictures we should make such mistakes.”
Pat O'Brien thought Goldwyn's speech about Benny was much too sentimental. "“It sounded,” said Pat, “like the 'Best Tears of Our Lives.'”
Orson Welles cracked that the only reason Benny was guest of honor was to remind movie makers of Benny's existence.
But Orson got it, too. Jessel introduced him as the “distinguished everything. When we called up Orson to join us he told me, 'I'll be there, I'll cook the dinner, dress the room, make all the speeches and clean up.'”
Benny took it all with a smile. “This,” said Jack, “is not a spot for suave comedian.”
Jack thought it was a mistake to appoint Bing Crosby as a Friar Dean. “He isn't here tonight,” said Jack. “In fact, he didn't even send in a transscription.”
Jack looked at Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz of Los Angeles and quipped: “He looks like a sheriff in a Pine and Thomas picture.”
The Friars just moved into their new clubhouse—the onetime Clover Club where Hollywood folk once lost thousands at the dice and roulette tables. “We were a little late in opening,” said Jessel. “It took us three says just to get the dice out of here.”

Saturday 25 October 2014


Aw, shucks, he’s just kindly, old, unassuming cartoonist Paul Terry. That’s the impression you’re left with reading The Corning Evening Leader of July 23, 1951.

Even Terrytoons fans are liable to bust a gut more reading his response to the “millionaire” question than they ever did watching his cartoons. Terry must have been pocketing a nice chunk if his shorts were playing in thousands of theatres on any given day. Soon, he worked out a deal with CBS to air his cartoons, then sold his whole studio to the network in January 1956 for $3,000,000 and retired to an exclusive men’s club.

Even though it’s 1951, Terry is still talking about the Fables cartoons he made from 1921 until 1929 when he was unceremoniously fired by Amadee Van Beuren, who had just been wed a couple of hours before. Yet he conveniently forgets Farmer Alfalfa, the human character he managed to wrest from the Van Beuren studio, which announced a series of Al cartoons in the early ‘30s.

A Woman's New York
By Alice Hughes

One of the best-known characters of the film industry, yet the least Hollywood-type; whose pictures have been shown more often and in more theatres than any others in the world; who rarely goes to the Coast but works quietly and happily in a place called Fableland, in New Rochelle, 16 miles from New York, is Paul Terry the movie cartoon producer. No one has been able to take a numerical count on his ability to make the world laugh in the past 36 years. We do know he has populated movie screens here and abroad with the antics of his animated family—Mighty Mouse, Heckle, Jeckle, the Talking Magpies, Dinky and the wobbly Little Duck, characters that flicker through the Terrytoon animated films distributed these past two years by 20th Century Fox.
To oblige me, Mr. Terry had come in from Fableland to lunch with me in New York. I regretted and wished I had gone there after he described Terrytoons Studios where he employs about one hundred artists to animate the 17 or 18 cartoons that are always in current production. His weekly payroll is $10,000. According to Spyros Skouras, president of 20th Century Fox, Paul Terry underestimates when he says that 10,000 theatres are at all times running one or another of the 26 animated Terrytoons he makes in a year. There are at least 12,000 theatres. I asked him if all this hadn't made him a millionaire. His answer was typical. "It has given me several millions in contentment," he said simply. Modesty as a characteristic is little in evidence among the people who make my world.
This quietly humorous man in his early 70’s bowled me over.
Terry's cartoon characters are always little animals, never people. "No one takes offense with animals," is his explanation. Besides the stories Terry gives birth to from imagination, he draws upon the 220 Aesop's Fables. Out-Aesoping Aesop, Terry has stretched these fables to twice their number retaining their eternal truth homespun philosophy and sure-fire laughs. Aesop's fables long have been in the domain.
This versatile cartoonist turns with ease from one talent to another. At the moment he is readying Terrytoons for television, and he has also just written a song called "The Miracle," about to be published by Charles Hansen Music Co.
Records prove that Paul Terry's friend Winsor McKay, [sic] an editorial and strip cartoonist, made the first film cartoon in this country. This was just before 1913, when Terry gave up a job as a strip cartoonist for King Features, as well as staff artist for the old N. Y. Daily Press, to go into film cartoons. Today it takes dozens of artists and thousands of individual drawings to make one modern Terrytoon. But Terry did his first one in his combination bedroom - living room studio by himself, using only a few hundred drawings for his 220 feet of animated cartoon called "Little Herman," showing a sleight-of-hand artist doing magic tricks.
Making it was hard enough, but selling it was next to impossible. Lewis J. Selznick offered him $1 per foot for it. As it had cost $330 to complete, Terry could not afford to sell it for $250. So he next took the cartoon about Herman the magican to Edwin Thanhouser who doubted audiences would care for it. Terry hustled out to collect an audience but all he could find was kids. They looked with wonderment at first, but laughed excitedly through the rest of the picture. Thanhouser bought the first Terrytoon and thus the pioneer of film cartoons began his long career 36 years old. [sic]
Making a film cartoon today is quite a different story from 1915. It then cost $1.35 per foot. Now it costs $65. Each 5 seconds of screen times requires 7 1-12 feet of film. In a 7-minute Terrytoon there are from 7 to 10 thousand separate drawings and it takes eight months to do one complete picture. Besides the film cartoon and the imminent television, Paul Terry has produced 354 comic books. These again are based on his beloved little animals which stand for forces of good, mischief, naughtiness and so forth. In the month of May, Terry's comics had reached an Impressive 80 million printing aggregate.

By the way, I checked about the status of Terry’s song. I couldn’t locate it, but Charles Hansen Music is still a member of ASCAP.

Terry must have given an audience to a throng of reporters the day he spoke to Miss Hughes. A similar story found its way onto the Associated Press wire. We’ll pass it along in due time.

Friday 24 October 2014

In the Key of M (For Mouse)

Tom Cat decides to go a-huntin’ in “When the Cat’s Away,” a 1929 Walt Disney cartoon. What’s odd about this is after the cat disappears in the distance, a little mouse comes out of a hole in the porch. It’s Mickey! He’s almost mouse-sized.

How does he get into the cat’s shack? Simple. He turns one of his unnamed mousey buddies (who isn’t wearing pants) into a key.

Ub Iwerks gets the sole animation credit, as usual.

Thursday 23 October 2014

I'll Go Into Television

“This is the last straw, man,” says the southern wolf as he lights explosives all around the brick house of the Three Little Pups. “If this don’t work, I’ll—I’ll go into television,” he vows. The low key wolf doesn’t even take his hands out of his pockets. He gestures with the top of his head, pointing off camera to where he lit the explosives.

There’s a huge explosion. A bunch of different explosion/fireworks cards take up about four seconds of screen time.

The dog house and the pups in it survive.

And the wolf fulfills his promise. We see him on the television set the pups are watching as the cartoon ends.

Ed Benedict designed the “The Three Little Pups,” with Vera Ohman handling the stylised backgrounds. Animators for Tex Avery on this one are Ray Patterson added to his usual unit of Mike Lah, Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton and soon-to-be-departing Bob Bentley.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Cage Away!

New characters were added to Tom and Jerry cartoons by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera to keep the series fresh. One of them was a canary in “Kitty Foiled” (1947).

The bird unhooks the bottom of its cage so it’ll fall on Tom, allowing Jerry to escape. You can see the weight in the first drawing below as the bird pulls on the latch. In the second drawing, you can see the sense of balance as the bird is thrown backward a bit by the force of the latch loosening.

Then the impact as the cage bottom flattens Tom’s head. Who else in the H-B unit but Irv Spence would draw like this? (See the answer in the comment section).

Ken Muse, Ed Barge and (for a change) Irv Levine receive the other animation credits.