Saturday 31 January 2015

Toledo Loves Mel-O-Toons

If you try to think of the names of TV cartoon series before 1960 that were not comedic in nature, few names come to mind. One must be “Mel-O-Toons,” based on the ingenious idea of combining old children’s records and drawings to match the narration (with really limited animation cycles tossed in).

Most of the Mel-O-Toons weren’t all that visually interesting. Take, for example, these frames from “David and Goliath.”

We’ve written a bit of history of the Mel-O-Toons here before. Let’s add a few other items. The first mention I can find of them in Variety is in connection with another series which I don’t believe ever got off the ground. This is from July 17, 1959.
[Missing Words] To Burgess Tales
New World Productions has secured rights from Thornton Burgess for production of several series based on his works. Series will consist of 104 six-minute combined live action and animated cartoon films under the title of "Story[missing words]". [B]urgess, now 86 and still actively writing, has turned out some 16,000 stories dealing with Peter Cottontail, Paddy the Beaver, Roddy the Fox and other children's stories. Company has signed John Rust to adapt and narrate each full-color subject. Animation will be handled by Art Scott, who is now doing the company's "Mel-O-Toons" series of 62 six-minute animated cartoons based on childrens' records.
As the cartoons could be used as drop-ins for children’s show, they wouldn’t necessarily be in a station’s TV listings in the paper. They appeared on a station in Philadelphia as early as December 1959; one channel in New York still broadcast them in 1976. Evidently UAA wanted an extra push to get stations to buy them. Variety of November 9, 1960 explains what the company did.
UAA Melo-O-Toon Gets Toledo Test
In order to hypo its sales ammunition, United Artists Associated took the unusual path of buying time in test market of Toledo, to sample its recently acquired Mel-O-Toons cartoons. In mailings and on-the-air, it asked viewers to write-in. commenting on the two Mel-O-Toons shown Oct. 27, on WSPD-TV. The viewer response numbered over 400, virtually all commenting favorable on the two cartoons shown, "Rumplestiltskin" and "Waltz of the Flowers." Many replies came from kids in the 12 to 14 age bracket. Many parents compared the Mel-O-Toons favorable to what they called the usual violence in kiddie programming. Mel-O-Toons episodes are based on best-selling kiddie records. Viewer response will be used by UAA for its sales pitches throughout the country
This full-page Mel-O-Toons trade ad appeared in May 1960. “Top animation”?!

Back to “David and Goliath,” the children’s record was originally released by Capitol by October 1952, narrated by Claude Rains with music by Nat Shilkret (neither receive credit on the cartoon). It came out at the same time as other 45s and 78s featuring Woody Woodpecker and various Warner Bros. characters that were far more popular on TV than the Mel-O-Toons ever were.

Friday 30 January 2015

Calling All Cuckoos

A teeny Woody Woodpecker grabs a mallet from clock maker Herr Spring and bashes him with it in “Calling All Cuckoos” (1956). Woody multiplies during the gag.

Storyman Homer Brightman seemed to think witless dialogue and clobberings for the sake of clobberings were uproariously funny because that’s all that’s in this cartoon. And Woody continued to go down hill in Unfunny Land for the next 15 years.

Animation credits went to Bob Bentley and Les Kline.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Watch the Birdie

Big game hunter Flip the Frog tries to shoot a lion like he’s shooting a photograph in “Africa Squeaks” (1931). Flip pulls out a cross-eyed bird and tells the lion to “watch the birdie.” Then he fires. The screen is filled with feathers.

When everything clears, we see the bird has been blown to bits. The Ubiquitous Iwerks Radiating Lines™ show Flip’s emotion.

The credits say the cartoon was drawn by Ub Iwerks.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

CBS is Here

Radio in the middle part of the 1920s wasn’t much like the Golden Days of Radio that we think of today. There was no Jack Benny, no Ma Perkins, no Lux Radio Theatre. Radio stations broadcast shows with local musicians and singers, sports scores and news headlines. Even the correct time was a part of the broadcast day (and advertised in radio listings of newspapers). Some stations hooked up together to jointly broadcast special programming. Newspaper stories talk about the “WEAF network,” an occasional, ad-hoc thing. Eventually, that morphed into the creation of NBC in 1926, which was able to attract big-name talent by selling programme sponsorships.

A second network was created out of spite. NBC wouldn’t make a deal with a talent broker named Arthur Judson, so he helped set up United Independent Broadcasters which went on the air on September 18, 1927. By then it had assumed a new name thanks to a deal which sold the network’s operating rights to Columbia Phonograph.

Interestingly, the radio section of the Brooklyn Eagle that day devoted more space to an even bigger hook-up than the 16-station CBS debut. It was a six-hour broadcast from the Radio Industries Banquet to take place three days later, aired on NBC, CBS and the Atlantic Broadcasting Corporation (WABC New York), 80 stations in all, and included Mack and Moran, the Happiness Boys and Van and Schenk among the acts. You can see the Eagle’s preview story to the right.

So, how did the CBS debut go? Lewis Paper’s book Empire details dead air on some of the affiliates. The programming was heard loud and clear in New York, though the Eagle’s radio editor, the pseudononymous “L-S-N-R,” gave his review in the next day’s paper.

DEEMS TAYLOR acted as "interpreter" for his own opera, "The King's Henchman," that was the big feature of the opening program of the Columbia Broadcasting Company, which started business last evening, scattering melody and other things, through the ether, from two dozen stations, located between New York and St. Louis.
Mr. Taylor, we want to say right at the start, is one of the very best announcers—beg pardon—interpreters we have ever heard. Although he is the composer of a really great musical work, he "interpreted" or described it, and outlined, its plot, in the most delightful, human, unhighbrow manner imaginable.
It sounded almost as if a Bay Shore commuter, who had been to the Metropolitan Opera House, was describing the opera to a commuter from Patchogue, which is meant to convey the news that Mr. Taylor used every-day words, and an offhand, every-day manner, Mr. Taylor was introduced to the invisible audience by Maj. Andrew J. White, who acted as a sort of master of ceremonies. It was Mr. Taylor's aerial debut, and we congratulate him, not only on the successful broadcasting of his opera, but on his manner of letting us know what it was all about.
The debut into the ether of the Columbia Broadcasting Company was marred by too much advertising. Commercialism stuck out at every possible point. We have become hardened to the ad idea in radio, but it remained for this new concern to make it genuinely annoying.
We were reminded over and over again by a man with a very ponderous, slow delivery, of the identity of the owners of the company, the concern that was responsible for the hiring of the "facilities," and all the rest of it, so that it became very tiresome.
This was especially the case after Mr. Taylor's opera was over, and the "facilities" were taken over by a concern that manufactures various medicines and beverages. The musicians and singers were given trade names, and the frequent tiresome repetition of the names of the commodities took a great deal of the pleasure from listening to some really good music and singing.
The broadcasting itself, done through the new equipment set up at Kearney, N. J., by Station W O R, was very fine, indeed, and when the man with the slow, ponderous delivery was silent, everything was very much O. K.
The principal roles in "The King's Henchman" were admirably sung by Marie Sundelius, Giovanni Martino and Rafael Diaz, and the orchestral and choral effects were splendid.
A young woman who sang "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny" between the ads displayed a very fine voice and a remarkably clear enunciation, with an especially fine regard for the much-abused letter "r."
An announcement of special interest to the S. F. D. (Soda Fountain Dispensers) fraternity was made between songs, and we have no doubt all the sundae specialists in the U. S. A. will soon be as busy with their fountain pens as with their fountain faucets, grinding out literary effusions, so as to be in line for cash prizes, and the honor of being crowned "K.D." (King Dispenser).
One of the announcements made by the man with the slow-motion delivery, concerned the singings of the "Street Song" from" "Naughty Marietta." He took elaborate pains to preface the name of the song with the ad stuff, but forgot all about the late Victor Herbert, the composer of the song.

Seas of red ink became oceans of red ink. Columbia Phonograph pulled out. Finally, a new company president was elected in September 1928. He was 26-year-old Bill Paley. The affiliate contract was revamped and Paley started signing up more stations, jettisoning WOR along the way. The network prepared for a relaunch broadcast. Here’s a feature column by the National Enterprise Association. It may seem odd the science editor would be doing a radio story but during much of the ‘20s, the radio pages of newspapers were filled with technical data about tubes, transmitters and propagation for the hobbyist. As networks grew, the focus of radio stories changed to programming. This appeared in papers on January 5, 1929.

Columbia Broadcasting System Has Speedy Growth

Science Editor, NEA Service
NEW YORK, Jan. 5.—The high spot appearing in the spread of the Columbia Broadcasting System to the Pacific and the gulf coasts, may in the minds of some, be the prolonged “gala” program that has been prepared for this event on the night of Jan. 8.
But the real high spot, to those back of the scenes who have watched the progress of this national network, is the remarkable rise of this system from a chain of 15 stations only 15 months ago to a network of nearly 50 today. This and the National Broadcasting Company with its various divisions give the entire United States and adjoining territories “full coverage” of programs such as only New York can provide.
The extent to which the Columbia system has expanded is revealed in a booklet issued to prospective radio advertisers. Here it is noted that from a small chain confined to 15 stations in the northeast, furnishing only 10 hours of entertainment a week, the system has grown to one of 49 stations spread over the whole United States, broadcasting more than 21 hours a week and promising further expansion in this direction.
Buys WABC as “Key”
At the same time this expanded network is inaugurated, it is announced that the Columbia System has bought station WABC in New York and is preparing to build a new highpower transmitter from which the entire new network will operate. WABC at present is part time “key” station for the Columbia System, sharing its programs with WOR. After September, 1929, all programs will emanate from the new WABC studios and high power transmitters.
In addition the United Independent Broadcasters, which owns and operates the Columbia System, loses its identity in the change of official name to the Columbia Broadcasting System. William S. Paley, president of the United Independent Broadcasters, remains in the same capacity as head of the new Columbia System, while Major J. Andrew White, who has been managing the affairs of the old Columbia System as its president, becomes managing director of the new outfit.
The old network of the Columbia System remains the “basic network” of the new group. This consists of 27 stations in practically the same area which the original system covered. Here, according to the company's announcement, there is a population of 60,000,000, including a potential radio audience of 27,500,000.
Three new southern groups are to be added to this basic network. The first group Includes the stations in Richmond, Norfolk and Asheville. Serving a 5,000,000 population In the states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and part of West Virginia.
The second southern group takes in Nashville, Chattanooga, Birmingham and Memphis, including more than 7,000,000 inhabitants in this territory.
The third croup in the south is rather southwestern, as the states of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas are represented with stations in Hot Springs, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio. Here is another 7,000,000 population to be covered by this addition.
The fourth, group to be added to the Columbia System is that of the far west and the Pacific coast. The stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Spokane have already been linked to the eastern network for an hour every Sunday evening for the last three months. Now Denver and Salt Lake City are added and all, will get the full time benefits planned, by the new administration.
The far west area covers a potential audience of about 7,000,000 persons, say the Columbia System officials.
In addition to these groups there are the supplementary stations in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee and New Orleans which will take the programs of the new system. These broadcasters, it is estimated, have a combined potential radio audience of about 4,000.000 listeners.
The effectiveness with which the new Columbia Broadcasting System will cover the country is brought out in the following statement in the booklet issued by it: “In the territory blanketed by these stations. 87 per cent of the population of the United States is concentrated. Ninety per cent of all manufactured products and 79 per cent of all farm products are produced in this territory. Ninety-one per cent of the country's purchasing power is located here.”

“L-S-N-R” didn’t critique the January 8th gala—he did review a talk about hats on WNYC—but Paley’s autobiography reveals he went on the air and announced his little white lie about affiliates viz-a-viz NBC. Both were now nationwide networks, and both beefed up their programming to usher in the Golden Days of Radio.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Drag-a-Long Droopy Backgrounds

By 1954, Tex Avery’s long-time background artist, Johnny Johnsen was getting credited in MGM cartoons. Johnsen was called on, both at Warners and MGM, to come up with western motifs. Here are some of his paintings in the great cartoon “Drag-a-Long Droopy.” The best painting is a panorama of the Bare Butte Ranch, which I can’t snip together because part of it is on an overlay panned at a different rate than the background itself. You can see a piece of it below.

Oh, for a BlueRay DVD of this cartoon so everyone can get a better view of the details.

Johnsen painted from layouts by Ed Benedict.

Monday 26 January 2015

Hare Conditioned Smears

The department store clerk with the Gildersleeve laugh goes hunting Bugs Bunny in “Hare Conditioned,” making his way through various aisles. He looks around and then smears from place to place.

Ben Washam gets an animation credit on this one, along with Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan and Basil Davidovich. Don’t ask me who did the clerk’s voice. Dick Nelson’s name has been bandied about but it sounds like Tedd Pierce in places to me, with Mel Blanc adding a post-sync line (the mouth isn’t animated).

Sunday 25 January 2015

The House of Benny

It was never explained on the Jack Benny radio show why a notorious cheapskate who lived in underground dumpy hotels on trips to New York City would have an attractive mansion in Beverly Hills which obviously cost a lot of money. But does it really matter?

In real life, Benny, his wife and daughter lived for years at a home at 1002 Roxbury Drive. It was featured in a photo spread in the November 1947 edition of Radio Mirror. The article was plugged (like other Benny magazine pieces) in the October 26, 1947 show. Kind of.

Mary: I was just reading the Radio Mirror. There’s a picture of you here on page 28.
Jack: Oh, yes. That’s the one I had taken when I was in the service.
Mary: Gee, you were handsome in that uniform.
Jack: Yeah.
Mary: Jack, whose arm is that around you?
Jack: A fellow from the Draft Board.
(audience laughs) He didn’t turn me loose until we got to Europe.

The “picture on page 28” is the one you see above. It’s of Jack, Joan and Mary. He’s not in uniform. As Jack wasn’t married with a daughter on his show, the writers had to come up with something fictional.

Here’s the Radio Mirror feature piece. The photos below accompanied the article. Unfortunately, they’re low resolution scans from newsprint. You can click on them to make them bigger.

Come and Visit JACK BENNY
A place of his own for everybody—that is the Benny formula for happy, harmonious family living.

UNDER one roof: a house for everybody, and for everybody a house of his own.
This is Mary Livingstone's recipe for a harmonious family life, and it works like a talisman—even in Hollywood where (despite the well-paid efforts of half the psychiatric brains in the country) more marriages explode in the headlines than go on year in year out in a sort of a miraculous serenity.
Of course, if you're living in Quonset hut with your bride and her mother and planning to put Junior in the dresser drawer, a description of the Jack Bennys' serene and well-roofed existence will only hasten your trip to the divorce court, or to Washington to have the heads of the housing expediters.
But even in such dire straits as that you will be thinking and planning for your dream home of the not too distant future and a look-in at a housing system which is different — and which works — may come in handy.
As any good architect or builder will tell you, you must start planning your house by thinking hard about the way you live, about what sort of people your house must provide for, and what sort of work and play and rest and hobbies make up their lives.
For work is not just work — nor rest just rest, etc., etc. And people — and if you're living in a Quonset hut you have found this out — are not just people. Every individual has a way of living all his own, and if it is blocked and thwarted too long by the external conditions of his life, he will explode with as much noise and almost as much release of radio-active poison matter as did the atom bomb over Bikini.
Mary Benny knew this when she planned her house, and she planned carefully for lebensraum for three as disparate human beings as ever found shelter under a single rooftop.
First of all, of course, the house had to work for Jack Benny. More of the sweat and toil which produces the Benny radio show every week goes on at the Benny home than in Jack's office or at NBC studios — so Jack's lebensraum had to provide for working space, shut off from the noise and confusions of the rest of the household. As for Jack's recreation — if there is work to be done, he doesn't get any. His rest, ditto — if the script is in trouble Jack Benny can get along with catnaps, spending more of the small hours awake and at work than pounding the pillow. His hobbies — well, unless you count golf and gin rummy and seeing his friends (which he gets around to during the radio season only when Mary insists that he leave the woe to the writers for a spell) , his hobbies are more work. Jack's housing needs, then, are simple: quiet, privacy, the right to turn on the lights in the middle of the night — a room of his own.
Then there is Joan, the Bennys' daughter — twelve years old, healthy, active and gregarious. Her work — the teachers at El Rodeo School pile on the home work, to hear Joannie tell it — so there must be a place to study. Her hobbies are horseback riding, swimming, playing the phonograph and the piano with the more friends around the merrier. Her rest — black out! The sort of exhaustion Joan's life promotes is not like her father's; it makes for good, sound sleep, nine until seven, with no interruptions. Her needs; a place for hollering — alternating with sleep — preferably far away from her father's retreat and suitably soundproofed, i.e., a room of her own.
Mary's own habit patterns seem distinctly normal — humdrum, even — after a glance at the rest of the family, but on closer inspection they, too, make for a bit of planning. From long years in the theater, Mary has appropriated the custom of going to bed very late. This does not mean that she must be up and doing until dawn. The up-staying is just as pleasant if you're propped up in bed with plenty of pillows and a cigarette and some new books. But it means compromising on the other end of the night. Mary's maid knows that Mrs. Benny will want her breakfast tray before noon only if she has a vital business appointment. So Mary, too, needs a room of her own.
As a result the second floor of the Bennys' spacious Georgian home in Beverly Hills is laid out in three suites — so different in character and equipment that they could be three separate apartments, in three never conflicting worlds.
"Never?" As Gilbert and Sullivan put it, "Well, hardly ever."
Even with Mary's meticulous planning, Hard Working Jack and Hard Playing Joan sometimes manage a head-on collision.
At these moments, Rule No. One of family policy is invoked: "Daddy, if he is working, is always right."
Recently, Jack's producers and writing staff were working at the house with the boss. They were up against a knotty script-cutting problem. Down the hall with her door ajar, Joannie was practicing her piano lesson. She plays very well, but anyone's practicing has a tendency to become monotonous. And besides, the counting — one-two-three-four — was distinctly audible, and distracting, in the script session.
Jack sent Producer Bob Allen [Ballin] to Joannie's suite with a message.
"Your daddy," he said, "wants you to practice downstairs."
Joannie sighed, Junior Miss Aggrieved.
"I thought he would," she said. Unsaid was Career Woman's age-old complaint. "And my work, I suppose, has no importance around here."
But she went.
Mary Benny often sits in with the writers and Jack on the radio conferences.
So, as a matter of fact, does Joan.
What's more, Joan isn't afraid to criticize her Daddy's jokes — and her Daddy isn't too proud, sometimes, to accept her criticism.
Once recently, however, when Joan objected to a particular boffola on the grounds that it was "corny" her father overruled her.
"Keep it in," he ordered. "It may be corny but it's funny."
"THAT'S what you think," Joan — not easily abashed — argued. "But you should be in my shoes. On Mondays, I have to face my friends!"
The joke was blue-penciled.
Jack's big room is a sort of bed-sitting room with a desk almost as big as the bed, with shelves for scripts and reference books, and big, bright working lights, comfortable chairs, man-sized tables at the bedside with sharpened pencils and paper, books and the inevitable box of sleep-promoters. The colors are masculine and unbedroomy — brown and beige. The suite includes a dressing room, done in brown leather, a porch overlooking the garden, and Jack's bath — where he may leave the top off the toothpaste tube if he feels like it.
Joan, who is the smallest member of the family, rates the biggest suite — because her activities are so varied she needs plenty of room to blow off steam.
Her "apartment" has a big bedroom — with two beds, one for her frequent overnight guests — a dressing room with one whole wall of perfume bottles, a private bath, and a huge playroom, this room farthest away from the family. The playroom is the heart of the place. It has the phonograph and record collection, the spinet piano, Joan's collection of dolls and toy horses, her books, the photographs of her friends, the clutter which goes with being young and alert and busy. Joan's governess, Julia Vallance, who has shared her life for five years, is the sort of calm, imperturbable woman who likes children and doesn't mind messes and who can provide efficiently for a little girl's health and safety without imposing too rigid a set of rules. As Joan would put it, "She doesn't go around saying no and shushing you all the time."
Joan prefers to think of Miss Vallance as her "secretary." Not many of her schoolmates at public school can afford the luxury of a "governess" and Joan thinks the whole custom a little snobbish.
Mary Benny's personal rooms, in noticeable contradiction, are never cluttered, and they certainly are the prettiest rooms of all. The bedroom, in soft blue, rose and white is Victorian in feeling — without being stiff. The fireplace of black marble is for real fires—friendly and inviting. The chintz draperies and upholstery are in a cheerful floral pattern, which is repeated in the wall paper on two ends of the room. The blue-tufted oversized bed is pure feminine heaven, where a substitution of fat pillows for flat ones makes it easily as inviting for staying awake as for dropping off to sleep. Mary has, in addition, her private mirrored dressing room where vast cedarlined closets house what Howard Greer has called the smartest wardrobe in favorite bath oils and perfumes.
With such a plan, it is plain to see, there need never be any conflict of personalities — any reason for any of the members of the household to be uncomfortable for the sake of any of the others. A reconnaissance flight over the Benny home at any eleven A.M. — which caught Jack hard at work on a script, Joan practicing for her piano lesson, and Mary blissfully asleep — would prove incontrovertibly that planning makes perfect. Planning makes freedom, too, complete freedom for every member of the family to do what he likes, when he likes — to be himself. And that makes for an adjusted, happy family.
THE rest of the house is planned just as systematically for living happily together — and don't think for a moment just because the upstairs levels are designed as they are that the Bennys live in complete isolation with no traffic from one "apartment" to another. It is here that Mary's impeccable butler, Oscar, has his innings. Oscar is the perfect butler, English, proper, and — and this is unusual — always affable. Oscar is always smiling. (He doesn't know, fortunately, that Jack's writers with typical lack of reverence for the Way Things Are Done refer to him always as "Smiley.") And here, too, the rooms have as many moods as there are occasions which the Bennys enjoy as a family.
The drawing room is quite formal, its furnishings handsome, some of them rare and priceless since the Bennys have not had to consider a strict budget in planning their home. Mary Benny would be the first, however, to concede that a formal living room can be just as lovely without real antiques, without Chinese jade lamp bases, and real collectors' items among the objets d'art. She has gone to a great deal of trouble, as a matter of fact, to detract from the museum aura of such fabulous pieces by doing her upholstered pieces with her first thought for comfort, and by a subtle use of color — pale green, rose, and ivory, and a real fire's happiest companion, brass.
It is in this room that the Bennys welcome guests at their more elaborate parties. The drawing room's complement in character and style is the formal dining room, a beautiful room done in grey and gold, with a long table which comfortably will seat twenty, with massive silver pieces from old England and a crystal chandelier. These two rooms, along with a panelled library with dark blue oriental rugs and a Dutch tile fireplace are among the show spots of Hollywood.
A pair of rooms all three Bennys like much better, and live in much more, are the big, rambling playroom which faces on the garden and a sunny yellow and pale grey breakfast room in which green vines in silver urns bring the garden indoors.
The playroom is the keynote room — if there is such a thing in a house. It expresses life as the Bennys like it — when convivial friends are about, and the pressure of work is off, and one can relax and play games, sit by the fire in winter or wander in and out of doors on a warm summer night. It is the gayest room in the house, with a huge brick fireplace taking up half of the wall, the walls paneled with mellow walnut and the sofa and big chairs upholstered in a splashy red and white apple print. In front of the fire are two deep chairs, also one in the apple print, and a massive red ottoman on which people can sit without crowding. The big rag hand-braided rug also is predominantly red. There are the inevitable card table and chairs and some early American Windsor pieces.
As in all California homes the outdoors is part of the living space — background for many of the family's happiest hours. The house is set well forward on a commercial acre so there is room at the back of the house for a gently sloping lawn, swimming pool, cabana and terrace and a barbecue and complete outdoor kitchen and bar.
The drawing room and the big dining room get very lonely during the good weather, which in California is a good part of the year — for all of the Bennys enjoy having their friends for al fresco suppers which they help to cook themselves. If the fog comes in — as it will, despite all the pull of the All Year Club — it is but a step to the playroom and a warm fire. And any movie fan who could find his way into that room would reap a harvest of autographs — Barbara Stanwyck and Bob Taylor would probably be there, and the Tyrone Powers, Annie Sothern, the Bill Goetzes, George Burns and Gracie Allen, plus a noisy crowd of Joannie's school friends.
And if the unexpected callers were invited to stay they'd have a wonderful time and go home raving as Hollywoodians do about the Bennys' wonderful, cheerful house and Mary Benny's subtle understanding of what it means to be a good hostess. Mary understands the role very much as she interprets her job as the woman in the house — it is to let everyone do what he wants when he wants to, to be himself.
The system needn't be restricted to the Bennys — or to the sort of people anywhere who have money and leisure space. For the system is a product of good thinking, and good thinking can be done in Hollywood, or North Platte, or Wichita Falls.

At the behest of Mary Livingstone, Jack sold the home in 1965 and the two of them moved into a luxury apartment. We talked about it in this post. Mary became dissatisfied with that and the two of them moved into another house in the Holmby Hills that Joan Benny described as “an imposing Mediterranean villa” that was run down until Mary got her bank book open.

Laura Leff, the president of the International Jack Benny Fan Club, got a look at the Roxbury home a number of years ago while it was being renovated.
I was able to see that they had painted Jell-O flavors and names of Buck Benny characters on the beams above the living room--wouldn't have been able to see that if the ceiling was intact! So let's say's modest home by Beverly Hills standards. The dining room isn't huge (although it does sport a fireplace with delft tiles around it), love the dark wood library, and spiral staircase in the front hall. While many of the walls were down to the studs, you could see that Mary's room was enormous. It was a little hard to tell how big Jack's was in comparison, but definitely smaller.
The Benny home is still standing at Roxbury and Lexington Road. Here’s a lovely view of the front as it looks today.

We wonder what the people living there today do every Sunday night at 7.

Saturday 24 January 2015

Made-For-TV Cartoons in 1941

In the early days of television—and we mean pre-World War Two—any cartoons that appeared on the handful of stations on the air were old theatricals, like the Aesop Fables made by Van Beuren. By 1950, “Crusader Rabbit” and the barely-animated “NBC Comics,” made especially for TV, were on the air. But a TV-only cartoon was broadcast almost a decade earlier.

It wasn’t an entertainment short, though there was some entertainment value in it. There had to be, as it was a commercial.

The man behind it was Douglas Leigh, “the tungsten tycoon,” who was responsible for the electric signs in New York’s Times Square (silent-era Felix the Cat animator Otto Messmer worked for him) and later president of the Broadway Association. Judging by clippings in Variety, Leigh got into the animated sign business in 1930. In 1946, he put an advertising blimp with neon letters into the skies over New York. In 1953, he jumped into the wide-screen movie sweepstakes with his Glamorama deep-curve screen.

Leigh, briefly it seems, toyed around in the animated commercial industry. Cartoon commercials were airing in movie houses through the ‘30s but he may have been the first to have one created especially for the home screen. PM wrote a story about them, along with the screen shots below, which it published on October 15, 1941.

Television's Newest Character, a Weather-Predicting Lamb . . .
. . . Has a Sketch for Every Forecast

It's all wrong, that one about everybody talking about the weather and nobody doing anything about it. Television, and Botany Crinkle-Proof Ties, and young Douglas Leigh, the dapper animated-sign designer, have done something very amusing about it. The first sample of their handiwork was telecast over WNBT, the NBC television station last night at 9, and will go on nightly at the same time.
The something is a skittish, pipey-voiced cartoon character, a pert, snow-white lamb, which introduces itself this way:
It's hot, it's cold.
It's rain, it's fair,
It's all mixed-up together;
But I, as Botany's little lamb,
Predict tomorrow's weather.

Whereupon, Botany's lamb (which is really the Botany trademark, animated) last night gamboled into an 80-second sketch that showed a robber holding up the lamb, out for a stroll in the park. But the only one of Lambie's possessions that the footpad wants is his nice Botany tie. All of this, last night, was a rather non-sequiturish prelude to what followed, which was Lambie's prediction for today: Cloudy.
All told, there are 14 of these Douglas Leigh-produced Botany sketches. Most of them are as charming as the average movie-theater cartoon. The sketches cover just about every weather contingency you can think of. And they all work in sales blurbs lot the Botany ties, but in as easy-to-take a method as television has vet devised.
This is a first venture into television for 31-year, southern-born Douglas Leigh, who has long ago made his mark on Broadway. Leigh, a diffident little pioneer who wears bow ties (not Botany yet), is the creator of the Wilson Whiskey animated electric sign on Broadway and 40th St. Another Leigh sign familiar to all Broadway rubber-neckers is the Coca-Cola weather annunciator at Columbus Circle.
A typical Leigh-Botany lamb sketch starts off with Lambie hanging his tie on the washline (to show its washable), only to see it blown away in a rain storm. A dog picks it up on the ground, worries it and then gets into a tug of war (note sketch above) with another pooch. Despite all this hard treatment, when Lambie comes down to rescue his tie, it's as good as new, still its Wrinkle-Proof self. And the prediction: rain. In these sketches, Lambie has just the treble voice you'd expect. It look some searching to find the ideal voice for the part, but Leigh and Botany finally came up with Charita Bauer, a teen-age actress seen recently on Broadway in The Women as Margalo Gillmore's (Mrs. Haines) daughter. She was one of the few characters in the play you liked.

Mark Newgarden passes on the great news that at least some of these cartoons survive and were recently screened at an historical show in New York.

As television advertising had only been made legal the preceding July, Douglas Leigh can be considered a pioneer of TV animation.

Friday 23 January 2015

The Poses Tell the Story in Magical Maestro

About all you need to do to understand what’s going on in this scene from “Magical Maestro” is to look at the expressions. Opera singer Poochini tries to hide mysteriously appearing rabbits from the audience.

Mike Lah, Grant Simmons and Walt Clinton are the animators in this 1952 masterpiece from the Tex Avery unit. Whether Lah did these, I don’t know, but the seventh picture has an odd mouth shape Lah used on Yogi Bear at Hanna-Barbera.