Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Little Match Girl Model Sheets

A New Year’s Eve-quasi Christmas cartoon is one of the saddest ever made. “The Little Match Girl” by the Charles Mintz studio was nominated for an Academy Award in 1938 and was screened for Academy voters the same night as Disney’s “The Old Mill” (guess which cartoon won the Oscar?).

One of the auction sites posted these model sheets on-line some time ago.

Last New Year’s Eve, we posted some frames from the short. You can view them here. Art Davis got the screen credit but a lot of the animation was by Emery Hawkins.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

The Champagne Lady on the Cider Gentleman

Some people are famous for being famous. I suppose Elsa Maxwell falls in that category. About all she was known for was throwing champagne parties and then writing about them in the New York Post (she was syndicated by Press Alliance).

One person who I cannot picture at an Elsa Maxwell party is Fred Allen. He and his wife Portland led a very quiet existence. Allen was so busy writing or re-writing his radio show, he didn’t have time for much else. But Maxwell wrote a nice tribute to Fred Allen in prose that was about as elegant as she ever got.

I haven’t checked to see how accurate her claims are about Minerva Pious and Charlie Cantor. It seems to me both were still on the show in the 1943-44 season and that Cantor was playing Mr. Nussbaum; Alan Reed (Falstaff Openshaw) and Jack Smart (Senator Bloat) were other players who made regular appearances in Allen’s Alley along with Elsie Mae Gordon (Mrs. Prawn) and Pat C. Flick (Digby Rappaport).

This appeared in the Post on March 9, 1944.

Elsa Maxwell's Party Line
Off Up for Allen's Alley

Although I have made guest appearances with him more than once, I don't think I had ever appreciated the real value, beauty, and extraordinary fantasy in the mind of this greatest of all radio stars—this Columbia Attic philosopher, this radio Erasmus, with his cadenced drawl and whimsical tones that might be measured by a metronome—who has charmed me every Sunday night this last month during my illness as a cobra charms a cornered rat.
Fred Allen has added a quality to radio without parallel . . . for there is only one Fred Allen, as there is only one Portland, and as there was only one Minerva Pious, who though stolen for a brief time by Jack Benny will shortly, I feel, return to the fold—the one and only Allen s Alley. Also missing—and I hope soon to join the glittering Allen Family circle—will be Charlie Cantor, the greatest character man of radio.
I don't know which special facet of the Fred Allen diamond makes him so irresistible. Perhaps it is the sheer sweetness, humanity and kindliness of the man. Or perhaps it is the hominess, and simplicity of Fred's humor, which is always founded on realism and life, and never taken from the well-known, and rather shop-worn-wits of the last decade: i. e., Joe Cook to "Dottie" Parker. In fact, Fred's caviar still remains just fish eggs, and his champagne still remains apple cider.
There is also the amazing suggestion of spontaneity in Fred's program that makes you believe he extemporizes when everyone familiar with radio realizes that few, except Fred, dare to tamper with the delicate art of improvisation when the relentless clock ticks away the minutes which divide sponsored radio shows. It has been said that unlike most comedians who try to make material sound spontaneous Fred's problem is to make his extemporing seem part of the show.
The first time I saw Fred Allen was when he was an actor. It was way back in the 1920's, when he appeared in "The Little Show," which starred. Clifton Webb and Libby Holman. No one could have possibly imagined that this rather small bit-player could become master of the air.
I once asked Fred "Why did you leave the stage?"
"Oh," he answered, "I didn't leave the stage. The stage left me. Radio came along, and I thought I'd fiddle with that."
"So you fiddled while the stage burned? Was that it?" I inquired.
"No—vice versa," said Fred.
But it's hard to realize the intensive work Fred puts into every show . . . Not only does he write most of the material himself, but, he spends his time "ungagging" the sometimes too goofy gags of his gag writers. Then there are three rehearsals to an Allen show. If you are a guest on it, you will be called for the first reading—say on Tuesday.
Then the script undergoes revision and even amputation. On Saturday there is another "going-through," and on Sunday a dress rehearsal before the evening show. And this is all under the psychological baton of the Maestro, who deeply respects his metier.
On "Information Please," Fred did not even attempt to match wits with John Kieran or F. P. A. when it came to knowledge of the classics. But neither Kieran nor F. P. A. is an Allen when it comes to wit. Fred ad-libbed constantly in a low tone, and rarely missed the bull's-eye, though you could barely hear him.
* * *
One of the questions Clifton Fadiman asked was, "What would Jack Benny, Midas, and Silas Marner be talking about if you met them on a street corner?" The answer, of course, was "money." When Fadiman pointed out that Midas was the king who could turn everything to gold, Allen murmured, "I don't think a fellow like that would have spoken to Benny."
* * *
Some have called Fred and Portland, who have been happily married for fourteen years, the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne of the radio. It is very aptly put, for they are never apart and every anniversary they face each other over a glass of whatever is their favorite beverage and solemnly congratulate each other. If the art of humor lies in surprise, then Fred's voice is certainly his greatest asset. His incredible drawl as it gives utterance to his incredible wit and fun amazes as well as delights you.
But even at the most convulsive moments of Fred's buffooning one is always impressed, even through tears of laughter, by the innate dignity and decency of Mr. Allen—who, unlike many of his colleagues, never descends to the vice of either vulgarity of cheapness in the endeavor to catch a laugh. No higher compliment can I pay a man.

Monday 29 December 2014

Thirsty Cat

“The Cat That Hated People” (1948) can be looked at as an anti-Communist love-letter to America, where you discover things in the Good Ol’ U.S.A. aren’t as bad as you think they are, and certainly better than the way you’re treated in a certain foreign country far away where everything’s strange.

Or is could be about an over-emotional cat.

Taking the latter into consideration, here’s a scene where the narrating cat (Keith Scott suspects it’s Pat McGeehan) complains that people “are always forgettin’ to put the cat out at night.” See how the cat is calmly sleeping then awakes with a start. Nice squash and stretch here by, I think, Grant Simmons.

One of several worried looks.

Here are a few drawings of the cat churning its feet in the air as it gets set to zoom to the front door.

He churns in the air again as he runs through the door.

Ah, good old American water!

Walter Clinton, Louie Schmitt and Bill Shull are credited on this cartoon besides Simmons. Schmitt drew the model sheets.

Sunday 28 December 2014


As Don Wilson reads an inside reference to Bert Scott during a Jack Benny radio show, a loud chortling voice can be heard in the background. No, it’s not Benny and it’s not Scott (Benny’s personal manager). It belonged to radio’s most famous left-handed guitar player, Frank Remley.

Remley had what must be the most improbable career in radio, as part of the career wasn’t really his. It came about very gradually. Remley was part of Phil Harris’ orchestra and when Harris was hired as Benny’s orchestra leader in 1936, Remley came along. Harris started out as a combative foil for Benny (or, occasionally, very vocally subdued) until the writers realised making him a brash boozer was a far better character. And the only person even more of a boozer than Harris, said the scripts, was Harris’ guitar player. Finally, the writers decided to use Remley’s name and pretty soon, Remley’s phoney alcohol-soaked antics were getting huge laughs. All during this time, Remley was never heard on the air, except when his unidentified laughter soared into the microphones from the bandstand on the back of the stage.

Harris became such a hot commodity, he was courted for his own radio comedy show. His writers went looking for characters, and since Remley was synonymous with Harris from the Benny show, the writers decided to make Remley a character on the show. But Remley didn’t play Remley. The great radio producer-actor Elliott Lewis did. And that caused no amount of confusion for him, as we can see in this syndicated story from the North American Newspaper Alliance. This was in the Long Island Star-Journal of July 29, 1949

Remley Hopes Film Job Will Prove He's Real
By Harold Heffernan

PERSONALITY PARADE: Frank Remley gets so confused at time that he pinches himself to see if he exists. Most people who have heard Jack Benny talk about him on Jack's radio program, and Phil Harris and Alice Faye on theirs think he's strictly a fictional character.
They say when introduced to Frank, "oh, come now, you're not Frank Remley on the Phil Harris show. You can't fool us. We know—because the announcer at the end of the program always says, ‘Frank Remley was played by Elliott Lewis.’"
Remley then tries to explain that Elliott Lewis does play him on the radio but nevertheless he—Frank Remley—does exist in the flesh and blood. He's no fictional character. He does play the second guitar in Phil Harris's band and when the instrument is heard, that's the genuine Frank Remley. But when Frank Remley talks, that's Elliott Lewis.
• • •
"I'M NOT GOOD enough to play myself," said Remley. "I tried out for the role but everybody said that a famous character like Frank Remley should sound better over the air. They chose Elliott Lewis which is okay by me because I want to sound good. He's given me quite a reputation back in my home town of Fargo, N. D.
Remley, who's been a pal of Harris's for 27 years, is coaching Phil now on how to make love to Betty Grable in "Wabash Avenue" at 20th Century Fox. Vic Mature provides the competition. Remley himself is acting a small part in the film just to prove to people that he's not something out of Jack Benny's imagination.
"Jack started it all," said Remley as he awaited his next appearance in the movie. "When Phil went on the Benny show 13 years ago, I was playing second guitar, like I had been in Phil's band for 10 years before that. Jack took pot shots at me in his ad libbing and soon I was getting fan mail.
• • •
"WHEN PHIL and Alice started their show four years ago Phil decided to give me a buildup. At first it gave me a strange feeling to watch Elliott Lewis play me. I felt like I was watching my own ghost. But I've gotten used to it. I go to rehearsals, sit there strumming my guitar and saying to myself, 'golly, that Frank Remley's a great actor.' I always say to Elliott before the show starts, 'don't let me down tonight. Remember, my reputation is at stake.'
"Elliott has played me so well that, the other night, when I went to a party with Phil and Alice, a producer offered me a leading role in a film. I said, 'but you've made a mistake. I'm not Frank Remley. I mean I am but not the guy you think I am.' He got sore and said, 'wise guy, eh? Well, I'll give the role to someone else.'
"Elliott is swell about it. Here he is building up my name but not his. But he doesn't mind. Sometimes when we go out together, someone will shout, 'hello, Frank.' At first, we didn't know what to do. Now. we both shout back and the fans probably think one of us is crazy."
• • •
A HAIL-FELLOW-WELL-MET with a rugged physique and a handsome face, he finds the fictional character of Frank Remley embarrassing at times.
"Especially that part about me being a hard drinker," Frank said. "If I go to a bar where I'm known, I always hear someone whisper, 'uh-uh, there he goes again.' I'm so conscious everyone's watching me that I usually down a coke and go home."
On the "Wabash Avenue' set, Remley plays gin rummy by the hour with Phil. The two met in 1922 on a ship when Harris was taking a band, the Dixie Syncopators, to Hawaii for an engagement. Remley was playing a banjo in the ship's orchestra and Harris offered him a job. They've worked together over since.
"Many of the incidents we use on the air actually happened to Phil and me," he said. "We blow them up of course, to get the most laughs possible but basically they're true stories."
Release of this movie will be a red-letter day for him, Frankie says.
"Folks will know then," he declared, "that in spite of Benny and Harris there is a real Remley. That is," he added and the thought almost overcame him, "unless they slap me down en the cutting-room floor."

Remley’s on-air situation got more bizarre. Harris left the Benny show at the end of the 1951-52 season. But his orchestra stayed, including Frank Remley. But this seems to have sparked a change on Harris’ own show. Starting in the 1952-53 season, Frank Remley was known as “Elliott Lewis.” Yes, Lewis used his real name and a contrived explanation was given for the name change on the season opener. All those years of Remley jokes went down the drain; Elliott Lewis being called Elliott Lewis just didn’t seem right. The real Remley ended up making the occasional on-camera appearance on the Benny TV show and even had a line or two. As an actor, he was no Elliott Lewis. But he was a great friend of Benny’s; they took trips together and Jack wrote him letters which, I understand, weren’t quite G-rated.

Remley had a heart attack and died in Newport Beach, California on January 28, 1967, age 67. He may have provided more laughs for more radio listeners by not being on the air than anyone else.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Hugh and Rudy

For at least a decade, whatever Walt Disney was doing in cartoon shorts, Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising were doing in cartoon shorts. It was quite understandable at the start. Both worked for Disney in Kansas City and then on the West Coast. They took over for Disney when Uncle Walt was punted off the Oswald series by middle-man Charlie Mintz in 1927. Then came their own studio in 1930 where they made Bosko cartoons for Warner Bros. that were reminiscent of Disney’s Mickey Mouse shorts. They were fun and bouncy and are still entertaining today. When they moved to MGM in 1934, the Warners cartoons suffered.

By the late ‘30s, Harman and Ising larded their MGM cartoons with large numbers of characters on the screen (or large numbers of shingles in “A Rainy Day”), stopping the plot for little gestures or expressions. The motto seemed to be “More characters than Disney!” “More gestures than Disney!” “More Disney than Disney!”

The cartoons looked nice. They showed creativity. There was one problem. Audiences wanted to laugh; they didn’t go to the movies to be impressed with artwork. Leon Schlesinger realised it. Walter Lantz realised it. And Fred Quimby at MGM realised it, too, but found he needed Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and Tex Avery to give him laughs, not Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising (Ising’s cartoons were more of the smiles-and-chuckles type). By this time, even the critics barely paid attention to Disney shorts. They weren’t going to pay attention to imitation Disney shorts.

The war interrupted Ising’s professional career, while Harman made military shorts and dreamed dreams that never quite got off the ground. After the war, the reunited Harman-Ising sunk into obscurity. The theatrical animation business was starting to slide and studios had all the cartoonists they needed. New commercial studios came along and snapped up the increasing (and lucrative) TV ad business. Harman-Ising did try to get into the TV cartoon business, and before Hanna-Barbera, too. But it got bogged down over money. Variety revealed on May 23, 1957:

State Intervenes In Cartoonists' Labor Dispute
State Division of Labor Enforcement will hold hearings Monday on dispute between seven cartoonists and animators, and two associated cartoon firms, Harmonising Enterprises and Nasser-Bien Productions, Inc. Dispute revolves about sum of approximately $3,000 owed the cartoonists for work on two telepix pilots, "Pokey" and "Emmett Kelly," and whether this work could be done on speculation

Here’s a story found in the Buffalo Courier-Express of November 19, 1939, when Hugh and Rudy had returned to MGM after new studio boss Fred Quimby made a complete shambles of things when he refused to renew their contracts. You can read their attitude toward cartoons.

Filmland Rambles

Peering into the byways of Hollywoodland at this long distance is hard work but it does develop ideas and even by mail—you meet the most interesting people. This week, for instance, we finally put the finishing touches on a story of the guys behind the animated cartoons—in person, Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising. It has been our aim to present the little written of geniuses and certainly Hugh and Rudolf fit the bill. Those sad-eyed gents who have been busy mourning the passing of "color" in Hollywood just haven't looked in the right place. Hugh and Rudolf have been there all the time. To those who have wept that stars have become business-like to a painful degree, we introduce Hugh and Rudolf a couple of zanies who are everything the lovers of "screwball" folk could wish.
Working side by side with the hard-headed folk at MGM's big studio lot they are nevertheless Hollywood's dream children, living in a world of fantasy and perpetual childhood. Yet, they have a concrete and successful theory on why the world likes cartoon films and how to give the world what it wants.
They read profound literature on psychology, philosophy, biography and sociology. But, they are just as likely to be found immersed in a book of fairy stories. They can't tell you a thing about what goes on in the War Zone, or Washington politics, but their pictures are as timely as tomorrow's newspaper. They can figure out an animated effect to the nth degree of accuracy, yet, in their personal lives, they are so impractical that they find It necessary to hire personal business managers. Music carries them clear off this earth and art is a tender thing of inspired beauty to them, yet one of them gets keen delight in a session of vicious boxing and the other rides bucking broncos.
On one hand they may create a truly spiritual subject, like animated paintings to describe Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," and on the other they milk dry the field of slapstick and burlesque comedy with a ludicrous bear who can't go to sleep.
Professionally, they work separately, yet actually they have to be considered as a team. On the screen, it is either a Hugh Harman or a Rudolf Ising production and each is sole creator of his product with his separate staff. Yet, each knows what the other is doing and exchanges advice. If you want a concrete example. Ising is the Wallace Beery-like voice for the popular Papa Bear in one series of Harman's pictures!
Their personalities are as different as Garbo's and Judy Garland's but their minds are like twin motors. Ising is quiet, serious, dark and built like a fighter. Harman is an easy talker, perpetual smiler, and small and wiry. Strangely, he's the one that likes fighting in the ring. Ask them for a theory and they'll both come up with the same answer simultaneously.
Although they do use human characters occasionally, animals are their popular stand-by, also for definite reasons.
"Through animals, humans can be caricatured more expertly," they state. "Animated cartoons stress the faults and limitations of persons rather than their strong features. To an audience, it is like looking into a strange world, yet recognizing themselves and their acquaintances.
"The public would rather see animals do human things than human drawings do the same. Every animal unless played for comedy menace, can be made to look lovable and cute. There is also the advantage of being able to give our animal characters all of the individualities in actions and thought of animals plus the same actions and thoughts of humans. We really have a two-barreled gun to shoot."
As long as cartoons are strictly fantasy, the unreal is valuable, but never possible with human characters. Hence, the two point out, a real character can never be a prolonged cartoon star—eventually all the limitations will be used up and the character will begin repeating his adventures because he can't do impossible things which animals can do.
They realized this when "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" was made. Goldilocks was just a stooge for the bears, which turned out to be the stars. Harmon is now making more with the Bear Family, treating them as a cartoon counterpart of the Hardys. Papa Bear is the main character, his character patterned after a cross between Edgar Kennedy and Oliver Hardy, with Beery's voice.
He is a "fall guy," unemotional, suppressed, lazy, slow-moving and continually irritated by events that mount to the unbearable. The next Bear picture will be "The Bear Family," in which they again do the unconventional. The subject will open with a hand stretching Papa Bear. Gradually, the public will see how he is made to move and then he goes into his story. Papa Bear will also be treated as an unwilling actor on a stage through the use of a heckler, always brought in merely by his shadow looming from an "audience" and an off-screen voice.
This will be followed by "A Rainy Day" and an untitled fourth now in preparation (it takes eight months from story idea to completed subject). "A Rainy Day" will illustrate one of their principals—always base fantasy on realism. Papa Bear tries to repair a tiny hole in the roof, eventually wrecking the roof. As a storm comes up, the shingles blow away, forming themselves into billowing waves, into which the bear plunges and starts swimming. They have probably the largest and ever-changing cast of cartoon characters in the business. That is because they continually experiment. If a star is created—as in the case of Papa Bear—they make a few more with him. Having no strict star characters, they don't have to work a certain one into every cartoon.
The present "talk of the department" is Peace on Earth, story of animals joyously living after man has succeeded through war in killing off the human race. The story is told by Grandpa Squirrel, a prototype of the late Chic Sale in his old man characterization. They lean heavily in their brilliant satire on this character's provincial mannerisms, wisdom of speech and homey truths.
Tom Turkey will be Harman's next introduction. He'll be human, all right—a small-town "slicker" in mail order suit and yellow shoes. He's the peppy fellow everyone knows, the guy who has an answer for everything and never seems to learn a lesson. Surrounding him will be a "stock company" of fowls representing small town folk. At the same time, Ising is readying a little calf character for introduction in Home On the Range.
What of the future of cartoons? Well, "the boys" sincerely believe that animated cartoons eventually will express other emotions than the basic ones now used, but this will depend on technical advancement.
They believe pathos, tragedy, love, drama, suspense and many other emotions will some day be as easy to express as comedy and irritation are today. "After all," they say, "animated cartoons have come a long way. Why it was only ten or twelve years ago when figures only moved. Today our cartoon characters really are individuals."
Yes, Harman and Ising have "color" but also common sense; they picked a field where their actors can show no temperament.

Friday 26 December 2014

How to Make a Cartoon

Gene Deitch Tom and Jerrys? Yeah, I know what you’re thinking.

Even those who think they’re wretched blights on film can’t dislike the opening of “The Tom and Jerry Cartoon Kit” (1962). Chris Jenkyns, who had worked on “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” came up with the facetious dialogue intoned by Allen Swift:
Anyone can now enter the lucrative field of animated cartoons with the new Tom and Jerry cartoon kit. This kit contains everything needed for quiet, sophisticated humor. One mean, stupid cat. One sweet loveable mouse. And assorted deadly weapons.

And the numerals appear on the screen as each is numbered.

What about the other things in the kit? The best line in the short. Swift treats it as an aside.
The coffee and cigarettes are for the cartoonist.
And they float away out of the picture.

I suspect, in real life, the cartoonist had something a little stronger than coffee.

Thursday 25 December 2014

From all of here at the Tralfaz blog, here’s a cheery holiday song from one of the greats of show biz.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Regifting Christmas Cartoon Goodies

These have been corralled from various parts of the internet, so I’m regifting them to you as an early Christmas present. The great drawing with the Fleischer characters in a stocking comes from the Cartoon Research blog via Thad Komorowski. I believe the Jim Tyer drawing at the bottom was posted by Milton Knight. The caricature of Ub Iwerks surrounded by signed is by Dick Bickenbach, who moved on to Warner Bros. and MGM before helping to start up the Hanna-Barbera studio.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Do Not Open Until...

“Hysterical Highspots in American History” is one of those cartoons which, as the old joke goes, could be sued for false advertising. A lot of early-‘40s spot gag cartoons are really painful.

The short has a Christmas gag buried in it. Also buried in the background drawing are the initials of Walter Lantz and Alex Lovy. What or who “B.C. INS” is your guess. Someone at the International News Service, perhaps?

Lovy and La Verne Harding are the credited animators. Bugs Hardaway came up with the groaners.

Monday 22 December 2014

Santa Sings to Scrappy

Santa Claus at a Thanksgiving party? Making an alcoholic toast to a little boy? That’s the scenario we get in “Holiday Land,” a 1934 Columbia cartoon where producer Charles Mintz tried to do his best Walt Disney impression. There’s Technicolor (two-strip only), there’s a sunrise revealing tweeting birdies, there’s sentiment, and there’s special musical material.

Scrappy dreams that every day is a holiday, and is led by Father Time into rooms with Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving celebrations. Scrappy is beckoned into a party at a long table (with a bottle of champagne prominent in the foreground), as revellers, with swaying glasses, chant the following song (is it a Joe De Nat original?):

Come, we call, each Tom, Dick and Harry
Come on and be merry and happy!
Fill your glass with laughter and folly
And chase melancholy away!

Laugh, laugh, ah-ha-ha-ha!
Sing, sing, tra-la-la-la!

Come, we call, and make life worth living
Our thanks we’ll be giving today.

Santa gets the “laugh” line.

A toy (?) kangaroo pops out of a box in Santa’s sack to “sing, sing.”

Then three joeys pop out of individual pouches to “tra-la-la-la” on the soundtrack.

The cartoon was nominated for an Oscar along with Walter Lantz’s attempt at mimicking Disney with colour and song, “Jolly Little Elves,” while Disney countered with “The Tortoise and the Hare” (guess which cartoon won?).

Here’s a lovely version of the opening title card.

This is from a print owned by Steve Stanchfield. You can read a bit more about his hunt for it on Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research blog.

Sunday 21 December 2014

A Musical Interlude

Sure, there are the Beatles and Elvis Presley. But did anyone have more influence on popular music—at least one month of the year—than Bing Crosby?

His version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn became a monster hit. It sold more singles than any record in history. More importantly, it begat an entire Christmas music industry as songwriters got out their pens and used them to try to dig for their own Yuletide gold.

Some of them found it. Soon came “The Christmas Song,” with its chestnuts and open fire, released on disc in 1946. Johnny Marks scored big with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” three years later. By 1954, there were so many new Christmas songs annually, Billboard magazine put out a list. See how many of them you know.

Evidently the mambo was the Craze of ’54, as there were more mambo Christmas tunes than there had any right to be. And there were novelty songs, too. How can you not love titles like “Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop” or “Too Fat to be Santa Claus” (especially since the lyrics have a reference to King Farouk)? My personal favourite is “I’m Gonna Put Some Glue Around the Christmas Tree,” which—and you’ll want to know this—was also recorded by Joel Grey and released on the Majar label. Eartha Kitt released a sequel to her 1953 hit “Santa Baby.” And the Pennsylvanian’s Teen Trio sounds like an act on “SCTV” (without bothering to research it, I imagine they were part of Fred Waring’s musical aggregation).

So, let us play disc jockey. Here’s John Greer and “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo.” It’s a little repetitive but there are some roots of rock and roll buried in here.

Here’s a version of “Dig That Crazy Santa Claus.” This isn’t the one on the Billboard list. It’s by Oscar McLollie and his Honey Jumpers on the Modern label. Dig that sax solo! I imagine radio stations playing Eddie Arnold, Kitty Kallen and Russell Arms wouldn’t have been playing this.

And here’s Betty Johnson’s touching plea, in waltz time, for Santa to give her Eddie Fisher for Christmas. Apparently Santa listened to a similar request a few years later from Liz Taylor.

One of the records on the list is still heard around the holidays after making its debut in 1954. Perry Como’s “There’s No Place Like Home For the Holidays” was recorded November 16th and hit number eight on the charts. Como had been on radio through the ‘40s and eased into television quite nicely. He and Andy Williams vied for the title of “Relaxed Musical King Wearing a Sweater” at Christmas time on TV for years.

So if you get sick of the endless barrage of overplayed Christmas tunes that arrive earlier and earlier every year, take heart that there are some hidden old gems on the internet that appeal to almost every musical taste. Now, where’s that Red Buttons song?

No Maxwell For Christmas

Just about everyone loves the festivities of the Yuletide season, and just about everyone loves a parade. So leave it to Hollywood to combine the two, and throw in big stars at the same time.

Here’s a United Press story about the 1940 Santa Claus parade in Hollywood. Jack Benny took part but without one of his favourite props. And I imagine if Santy didn’t come home that night, he was probably having a snort or ten with Jack Barrymore.

Typical Movie Parade Despite the Cold Wind.

Hollywood, Nov. 23 (U.P.) — Christmas came to Hollywood last night on the wings of a gale which nearly removed Santa Claus’ whiskers, gave the bathing beauties goose pimples, ruined Dorothy Lamour’s hair-do, and blew pieces of palm fronds into the eyes of 300,000 celebrators.
Heralding the great day a full mouth ahead of time were brass bands and a lady with a calliope, all tooting away at “Jingle Bells.” Bob Hope traveled down Hollywood boulevard in a driverless automobile! Jack Benny rode in a bogus Maxwell towed by a horse, and John Barrymore put his arms around Santa Claus atop a three-story float, which was said to have cost $25,000.
Down Hollywood Boulevard, whose every lamp post had been covered with a tin Christmas tree, marched the welcomers of Christmas in November. Moving with them were traveling searchlights, and in front of each light was a drum majorette and her band.
Edgar Bergen rode in a car wired for sound and made wisecracks via Charlie McCarthy, while Fibber McGee and Mollie lolled on the cushions of one of the most magnificent limousines in the west. Behind this masterpiece of motordom came the employes of the Wistful Vista Finance Company, with shotguns to keep an eye on their property.
The celebrated Leo Carrillo rode his horse. Smiley Burnett, the cow-opera comic, nearly fell off his. Andy Devine also had a horse, and so did Irene Rich. And about the only star in town who wasn’t on hand was Dick Powell, who had a cold.
Bob Burns drove a six-horse team of Percherons; Gracie Allen shivered under a blanket, and Rudy Vallee was the only citizen for miles around in a dinner jacket.
Benny’s Maxwell provided the only crisis of the evening. He promised to ride in one with his trusty Rochester at the wheel, but the nearest thing his agents could find was a one-cylinder Brush, manufactured in 1907. Rochester studied its manipulation during a quick lesson in a parking lot, but Benny’s bosses said, “No sirree, Christmas or no Christmas, we aren’t going to risk damaging a valuable piece of properly like him.” So they hitched a horse to the machine and Benny rode in safety.
Behind him came Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, complete with meerschaum pipe, which he didn’t light because he said it was too strong. And then marched the angels with the pink noses and an unidentified platoon of gents in red suits and gold hats. And finally came Santa Claus himself, shouting greetings on a loudspeaker against the cold wind from the sea.
He rode upon a two-seater shay, attached by strings of electric lamps to four solid silver reindeer. The whole works was perched upon a mobile mountain of white gypsum. In the rear seat sat Santy and Barrymore in a Homburg hat; in front were Miss Lamour and Vallee. From above came imitation snow, puffed from a gold smokestack.
That ended the parade and started one of the most superb traffic jams ever devised by the hand of man. At an early hour today Mrs. Santa Claus said her husband still hadn’t come home, and anyone who thinks this sounds a little far-fetched has plenty of time to come see for himself; there’ll be more of the same every night until December 25.

Jack Benny had great Christmas shows on both radio and TV. Mel Blanc’s performance was usually the highlight. Here’s his final one from radio, broadcast December 5, 1954. The best part of this show is Bea Benaderet going crazy at the end; she never got to cut loose like this on “Petticoat Junction” or “The Flintstones.” Frank Nelson, Sheldon Leonard, Veola Vonn and Artie Auerbach made appearances as well.

Saturday 20 December 2014

The Critic Who Didn’t Like ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

There were three things that I thought as I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” in 1965—that I had read some of the routines in the Peanuts strip in the paper, that the music was really odd for a cartoon and that I could read the lines better than some of those kids.

But that was all minor. I really liked the special. I was a big Peanuts fan at the time. I had put together scrapbooks of Peanuts comics I had cut out of one of the city papers. I even convinced my dad to let me use his reel-to-reel tape machine and put up a mike next to the TV speaker to record the Christmas special.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” won a Peabody, launched seemingly endless hours of Peanuts on TV, and was beloved by everyone.

Okay, not everyone.

I’ve gone back through a bunch of newspapers to see, after its debut 49 years ago, what the critics thought. And the TV columnist for the Associated Press, who had panned a Danny Thomas special in her previous column, wasn’t charmed by the animated Charlie Brown.

Cartoon Cuties Lose Some Of Charm on TV
AP TV-Radio Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Worried Charlie Brown, aggressive Schroeder, insecure Linus — all the inhabitants of the delightful, satiric comic strip by cartoonist Charles Schulz were participants in a Christmas special on CBS Thursday night.
And by some reverse magic, the moment the little pen-line characters were animated and moved off the printed page, and acquired voices, they lost most of their special, piquant charm.
Thus “A Charlie Brown Christmas” became an explicit demonstration of the sad truth that some good things are better left alone—particularly in cases when about half their charm is in the eye of the beholder and in his imagination, too.
Charlie Brown was an infinitely sadder, appealing and sympathetic little character when his admirers were able to fill out his personality with some of their own doubts and fears. Lucy’s destructive manner and bossy ways were much more deadly when the readers were able to identify her with humans of their acquaintance.

With that, the writer turned her attention to weekend pro football games on the tube for the rest of the column.

However, United Press International’s counterpart had a different opinion, though much of his column looks like it comes from transcribing the plot from a CBS news release.

‘Charlie Brown Christmas’ Gets Good Point Across
By RICK Du Brow
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — The comic strip known as “Peanuts” staked out a claim to a major television future Thursday night on CBS-TV with a half-hour animated special about the commercialization of Christmas.
The program, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”—named after one of the chief characters in the strip—was referred to by CBS-TV as “The first of a planned series of Charlie Brown holiday specials,” and the idea of similar encores is thoroughly welcome.
In brief, Thursday night's offering tried, with humor and gentle world-weariness, to recall the real meaning of Christmas. The executive producer was Lee Mendelson, who was responsible for the network documentary “A Man Named Mays,” about Willie Mays, and the director of animation was Bill Melendez, with the production being made in cooperation with United Feature Syndicate.
The plot, so to speak, of Thursday night's half-hour is indicated as follows: “Everywhere Charlie Brown goes the shadow of commercialism and greed obscures what he knows exists somewhere, if only he can find it: The real Christmas.
Plot Thickens
“In desperation Charlie visits Lucy, the little girl ‘psychiatrist,’ who prescribes ‘involvement’ in the holiday activities and appoints him director of the neighborhood Christmas play. Thrilled by the idea of being leader of the pageant, Charlie soon finds only added disillusionment as his little friends concern themselves with pleas to Santa Claus, money-making schemes and rock ‘n’ roll carols.”
Well, you get the idea. And Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Snoopy the dog, Schroeder and the others were on hand to flesh it out And Charles Schulz, creator of “Peanuts,” did the writing, which was a very smart move.
At one point, Lucy tells “Beethoven wasn't so great. Have you ever seen his picture on bubble gum cards?” At another point, asked what she really wants for Christmas, Lucy answers: “Real estate.” And another time she notes that it's well known that Christmas is commercial, and that it is run by a big Eastern syndicate.
Needless to say, Charlie Brown finally gets his message across. But, as might be expected, that crazy-silly-wonderful dog Snoopy was the scene-stealer every time he appeared — playing the guitar, mocking Lucy or dancing like a swinger. His doghouse, by the way, was wildly decorated with all those ugly lights and blinking designs that human beings also have been known to use on their homes at Christmas time.

Within a week of the special, CBS announced it would broadcast two more Peanuts half-hours sponsored by Coca-Cola, one about baseball and the other possibly about the Great Pumpkin.

Incidentally, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” wasn’t Charles Schulz’s first go-around with the holiday season. In the December 1963 edition of Good Housekeeping, there was an “exclusive bonus book” called “Charlie Brown Christmas Stocking.” And Variety announced on October 27, 1963 that World Publishing would be out with a book called “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” conveniently available for purchase after the charming TV special aired. After all, what’s Christmas without making a buck?

Friday 19 December 2014

Noses For Christmas

It’s Christmas-time during the Depression and the Little King decides to do something nice for the holidays by bringing home a couple of hoboes in “Pals” (1933).

They press their noses against the window of a toy store to watch a dancing toy. The gag is the funny shapes the noses make against the glass. The trio get their noses stuck and have to pull them away with a pop.

Jim Tyer gets the animation credit.

Van Beuren made cartoons starring Otto Soglow’s silent character for a little under a year before he was swept off the screen by new management at the studio.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Merry Christmas To Kitty (Again)

A typical Famous Studios mouse is shocked to see Santa at the window in “Mice Meeting You” (1950). The mouse shrinks and then stretches. The holly leaves in the background get in the way of the take.

Ah, but it’s not Santa at all. It’s Katnip!!! Don’t worry. Cousin Herman will come to the rescue and fill the cartoon with the spirit of the holidays. Like pouring boiling coffee down the cat’s throat. Ho! Ho! Ho!

This is the cartoon which infamously ends with Herman plugging Katnip’s tail into a wall socket and illuminating the lights strung over the seemingly-dead cat. I get all misty-eyed just thinking about that touching memory of Christmases past.

Bob Jaques, who is unimpeachable when it comes to this topic, identifies this cartoon as being made by the Tendlar-Golden-Reden-Taras unit.