Tuesday 31 March 2015

Sheep Wrecked Pan

The camera pans over a long Fernando Montealegre background drawing after an establishing shot in the Mike Lah-directed “Sheep Wrecked” (released in 1958). I’ve had to break it down into two graphic files because it’s so long, and the camera moves in on it slightly about halfway through the pan.

The drawing is from an Ed Benedict layout. Monty and Benedict’s work wasn’t quite as stylised at Hanna-Barbera, where they were working when this cartoon appeared in theatres.

Monday 30 March 2015

Out You Go Once And For All

Who’s going to throw whom out of the old lady’s house—Bugs Bunny or Sylvester the dog (played by Tedd Pierce)? The answer keeps changing in “Hare Force” (1944), a cartoon declared “a howl” by Film Daily. The dog picks up Bugs and walks toward the door. But turns things around and picks up the dog and heads in the same direction. I like how the switch is quickened simply by having multiple dogs and rabbits in a frame, instead of having two per frame.

Then the characters exchange places. The expressions are great; but you’ll never see them unless you freeze-frame the cartoon.

They switch back.

Who wins? Bugs and the dog. They throw out the old lady (played by Bea Benaderet).

Manny Perez gets the rotating animation credit.

Sunday 29 March 2015

Johnny Green

Phil Harris was the most popular bandleader on the Jack Benny radio show but the most celebrated may have been Johnny Green.
Green’s fame doesn’t come from leading an orchestra but from his composing. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972 for such standards as “Body and Soul,” “Coquette” and his movie scores for “Easter Parade,” “An American in Paris” and “West Side Story” (later in life, he preferred to be known as “John Green.”
Here’s a piece on him from the radio column Brooklyn Eagle of October 6, 1935. Of interest to Benny fans will be the reference to Michael Bartlett, the singer who left the show a few weeks into the 1935-36 season. None of the shows with him are known to exist.

Out of a Blue Sky
Radiography of Johnny Green, Graduate of Fair Harvard—Studio Happenings

RADIOGRAPHIES . . . the victim of our microscope today, ladies and gentleman, is Johnny Green, Jack Benny’s new music-master . . . the college boy gone Broadway . . . and in a mighty big way . . . the graduate of fair Harvard who is more at home on Tin Pan Alley than he is at the polo matches . . . Johnny’s every day conversation is an accurate gauge of his crazy-quilt background . . . “Listen, Toots, cahn’t you gimme haalf (with a very broad “a”) an octave higher on those horns?"
He pleads earnestly to his brass section in rehearsal . . . Massa Jack "Ebenezer" Benny may be the "frustrated fiddler," but our hero, Johnny Green, is the frustrated dialectician . . . that deliciously-funny Sunday night program is full of suppressed desires and you don't have to be a student of Freud or Jung to see it . . . Mary aches to be a poet . . . Mike Bartlett wants to read the commercial announcements and Don Wilson wants to sing . . . a house full of unhappiness, a Russian mansion, no less . . . but back to our hero, we must go . . Green is known as a composer . . . he always wears a French beret when he is writing new tunes and it doesn't seem to affect him for he has produced such big winners as "Body and Soul" (wotta a tune! wotta a tune!) and "I Cover the "Waterfront" (little resemblance, however, to the Max Miller book) . . . he is one of the shrewdest businessmen among the radio artists . . . what else would you expect from a Harvard Bachelor of Economics . . . he is an official of Mr. William S. Paley’s network (that's the Columbia Broadcasting System, in case you don't know), holding down his job as Columbia's musical adviser, although this season finds him broadcasting exclusively on one of the ace comedy shows of Mr. Merlin H. Aylesworth’s up-and-coming group of stations (National Broadcasting Company, if you please) . . . you ask Johnny Green how he is getting along his serious composing and he answers by querying if you have heard the latest one about the two, etc. . . . whether you have or not, he proceeds to tell it to you in the most butchering dialect these ears have ever heard . . . Lou Holtz couldn't do it any better . . . Johnny is married . . . tall . . . dark-haired . . . brown-eyed . . . his hair is always too long . . . of course, that's what the boys on the Main Steam and Radio Row call showmanship . . . a maestro, it seems, is always supposed to appear as if he were cheating the barber . . . otherwise he would look just like the rest of us mortals . . . he is definitely a member of Gotham's "smart set," the entrance requirements to which are talent and not money or family . . . get him in front of an orchestra and Johnny is no longer "the old smoothie" . . . gone is the Harvard poise (or should it be pose?) . . . he screws his countenance into amazing shapes and almost terrifying grimaces result . . . he began his career as an arranger for the highly-successful (financially, of course) Lombardos . . . later, he was musical boss of the Paramount theater here in Brooklyn . . we saw a lot of the guy then . . . that was back in the dim and distant days when stage shows were part of show business . . . a gentleman with what is so freely referred to as "a grand sensayuma" (and in this case it is genuine), Green manages to work his appreciation of fun and funny business into his arrangements . . . once in a while he is accused of making his orchestrations a touch complicated . . . but that is the desire for speaking in exaggerated dialect cropping up again . . . apparently he is saying it with music . . . right now Johnny thinks he is a little overweight and hopes to get rid of some of his excess poundage while he is out on the West Coast . . . how does he hope to accomplish it? . . . by reclining on the beach at Santa Monica . . . if Jack Benny is smart, he will build up Green as a wise-guy . . . because Johnny is an expert at repartee . . . but he is too well-behaved to bore you with his flippancy outside of the studio.

Saturday 28 March 2015

We're Not in Kansas Any More, We're in Ottawa

Canadian content rules have resulted in many things, including endless playings of Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” on the radio in the early ‘70s. They also brought about a cartoon series that has its charms for some despite very limited animation.

“The Tales of the Wizard of Oz” was produced in 1961 by Crawley Films of Ottawa for Videocraft International. By the mid-1950s, Crawley was the largest maker of filmed commercials in Canada, had created industrial shorts and, by 1957, worked out a co-production deal with the CBC and BBC for a TV series called “R.C.M.P.” Eventually the company expanded into features and ran into money trouble. You can read more about the company and its founder HERE.

Videocraft eventually became Rankin-Bass Productions. So much has been written about the company, I need not say much more (other than to suggest buying Rick Goldschmidt’s books on the studio). Rick explains that Videocraft International was begun in 1959, and trade ads show it was one of three subsidiaries of Video Crafts Inc. Broadcasting-Telecasting, in its July 6, 1953 edition, mentioned that Rankin had quit as head of ABC-TV's graphic arts department to join Video Crafts. Variety reported some history in its weekly issue of June 25, 1958:
Japanese Telefilmers Go Into Production On TV Blurbs for U.S. Use
Japanese animation and stop-motion producers have produced their first tv blurbs for American consumption. Via Paris & Peart, Illinois Baking, A& P and Vanity Fair Facial Tissues account for four full-length blurbs and a show opening and closing. Six of the major animators and puppet filmers in Japan formed recently, into the Japan Animation Producers Assn. and are doing their U. S. biz here via Video Crafts Inc.
Art Rankin topper of Video Crafts (begun in 1950 as a tv graphics house before expanding into the general commercial field a few years later), said that production on the Paris & Peart blurbs was begun approximately six weeks ago. His contention is that the Japanese are excellent animators and that most of their work shows a different approach from domestic animation styles. Moreover, animation production in Japan, done in just about the same amount of time as here regardless of the trans-Pacific-continental shipping, is generally one-third less expensive than American-made product.
Rankin's organization, holding an exclusive tie-up with the new Oriental outfit, has assigned them production of new tv program animations. Show, broken into three-and-a-half minute segments for the most part is being called "Willy McBean & His Magic Machine." Ultimately, the Japanese telefilmers will have 100 ready for syndication. Rankin also bought 60 animated and puppet films that had already been produced for Japan. They will be cut from half-hour lengths into five-minute segs and Rankin is doing new sound tracks for all of them.
[omit remainder of the article]
Videocraft’s deal gave birth to a series featuring what was originally called “dimensional puppetry;” a form of stop-motion animation. Here’s Variety to talk about it in the March 15, 1961. And this is where we find the first mention of the “Oz” cartoons.
‘Pinocchio’ Tees Off Videocraft's New Approach to Vidkid Entries
A new approach to children's programming—though actually it's the oldest of all kiddie forms—has been undertaken by Videocraft Productions, a firm heretofore confined to production of commercials and industrial pix.
The approach is the creation of series based on fairy tales and other traditional kidstories. First show out of the Videocraft hopper is "The New Adventures of Pinocchio," series of 130 five-minute segments filmed in a new process called "Anamagic," [sic] utilizing animated, puppets. Next up will be an animated series of five-minute segments, "Tales of the Wizard of Oz," employing the original Frank Baum characters. Both shows are syndication entries; "Pinocchio" is already sold in over 20 markets, with Videocraft handling its own sales.
Videocraft’s original intention was to have “Oz” done in Japan. But plans changed. This is from the weekly Variety of June 14, 1961.
Videocraft's Canada TV Animated Series
Videocraft Productions, already producing one animated series in Tokyo, has now slated another for Canada. Company has set a facilities deal with Crawley Studios in Toronto for production of 260 five-minute color episodes of "Tales of the Wizard of Oz," based on the original Frank Baum book.
As with "Pinocchio," Videocraft's Nippon production, the N. Y. company will supply the creative work, designs, characters, storyboards, scripts and soundtracks, while Crawley does the actual physical production.
And why did plans change? Simple. Canadian laws were changed all but guaranteeing a spot on television for any Canadian-made animation. I suspect Arthur Rankin wasn’t one to turn down a guaranteed sale. Plans to do the soundtracks in New York changed, too. What was Allen Swift’s loss was Paul Kligman’s gain (it’s sheer speculation on my part that Swift would have been cast, but he seemed to voice all kind of cartoons and untolled commercials in New York at the time). Weekly Variety again, from July 26, 1961:
‘55% Canadian Content’ Crawley's Big Plus in Wooing Tinted
The strongest factor, along with proximity, that won Crawley Films Ltd. here the 260-stanza color tv-film series "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" away from Japan was Board of Broadcast Governors' “55% Canadian content” rule. It comes fully into effect next year on all Canadian stations, CBC and indie.
Two pilots for the five-minute series were made in Japan for Vide[o]craft Intl. Inc. [sic], but Crawley got the nod for the $300,000-plus deal for world distribution. (It's actually for 130, with another 130 optioned.) BBG reportedly promised Videocraft a “55% Canadian” seal for its Japanese-made “Pinocchio” as well, if “Oz” was made in Canada.
BBG chairman Dr. Andrew Stewart is quoted as saying the concession was made to encourage formation of a Canadian animation industry. This is the first major cartoon series made in Canada. Three have been shot, three are in production and 40 are expected to be in the can by Oct. 31.
Crawley Films will do all the visuals, with soundtrack made at RCA-Victor studios in Toronto by Bernard Cowan Associates Inc., with Canadian actors Pegi Loder, Paul Kligman, Larry Mann, Alfie Scopp and James Doohan in leads, directed by Cowan. Thomas Glynn, vet Crawley director, is helming the visuals and all technicians are Canadian. So are five-of the six key animators and as many others of the 35 needed as can be hired in Canada, the rest to come from U. K. (Crawley has rounded up 25 so far.) Firm has had a small animation unit for years for its commercial films, headed by Vic Atkinson. Dickie Horn, w. k. U. K. animator, is another of the key men, who also include William Mason, Barry Nelson, Dennis Pyke and English-born Robert Dalton, all Canadians.
Story boards are being done by Tom Peters and Jules Bass, both of N. Y.; latter a member of Videocraft directorate. Script is based on the Frank Baum characters, partially renamed Rusty the Tin Man, Dandy the Cowardly Lion, Socrates the Straw Man. Dorothy and the Munchkins, however, remains the same.
The names of the voice actors should be recognisable to any Rankin-Bass fan. Several can be heard in the stop-motion “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and even later on the TV Spider-Man cartoons produced by Grantray-Lawrence and Steve Krantz. And if I have to explain to you who James Doohan is, you’ll be attacked by Trekkies/Trekkers faking a Scottish accent.

The Willie McBean project and another planned by Videocraft soon after are quite interesting and we’ll try to get to them in a future post.

Friday 27 March 2015

Hot and Cold Cat

The vile Jerry Mouse tortures Tom by freezing him then boiling him a phoney attempt to cure him of the measles (which he doesn’t have) in “Polka-Dot Puss” (1949).

Tom’s fake sneeze blows himself apart at the beginning of the cartoon.

The usual animators are at work: Ken Muse, Ray Patterson, Ed Barge and Irv Spence.

Thursday 26 March 2015

The Last Hungry Cat Backgrounds

Tom O’Loughlin came up with these exteriors for “The Last Hungry Cat” (released in 1961) from Hawley Pratt layouts.

This is the cartoon that’s a take-off on the Alfred Hitchcock TV show (complete with a bear walking into its own outline). Milt Franklyn’s inverse of the old song “Me-ow” is a neat opening theme. A pretty good late Freleng cartoon from near the end of the Warners studio.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

The Other Jolson

When Al Jolson died on October 23, 1950, he was known as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” He’ll never be considered that ever again, unless blackface becomes acceptable once more.

Jolson was already famous when he was catapulted into the entertainment stratosphere with the release of the historic picture “The Jazz Singer.” His popularity waned until he was propelled into the spotlight again with the the release of “The Jolson Story” (1946, full release in January 1947). And he stayed there until his death. Anguish and memorials filled the entertainment and editorial pages to mark his passing; Jack Benny wanted to cancel his TV show to go to Jolson’s memorial service (he was finally convinced not to).

There’s another Jolson story, and we don’t mean the movie sequel “Jolson Sings Again” (1949). It’s the one given to the Associated Press’ Hollywood reporter not many days after Asa passed away.

Harry Jolson had the unkind fate of being an entertainer who was completely overshadowed by his younger brother. He was a veteran entertainer and, even in vaudeville, unable to handle what life dealt the Jolson brothers. The Troy Times of September 9, 1921 sniffed that Harry’s act would be far better if he stopped sarcastically yelling “I’m Al’s brother” during his performance (which was greeted by the audience sitting on its hands). And if he wanted to stop the comparisons, it didn’t help that he also worked in blackface (in one 1916 ad, he was billed in terms that would be grossly offensive today).

The bitterness remained after his brother’s death. At least, that’s what I take away from his interview with the AP. That’s even though Al finally put him on his payroll; whether he performed any duties is unclear. The column appeared in papers beginning November 3, 1950.

Al Jolson's Brother Tells Of Family Feuds

HOLLYWOOD—(AP)—When Al Jolson died, many people learned for the first time that he had a brother.
But to the people in show business, the story of Al and Harry Jolson is a legend. I called on Harry at his comfortable home in the Hollywood hills to hear about the long and stormy association of the Jolson brothers.
“People are surprised to learn about me, because I wasn’t in the Jolson pictures,” said Harry, who bears a resemblance to the late star. “I always tell them that while Al and my mother were playing their scenes in our dining room, I was out in the kitchen washing the dishes.”
Also not shown in the film biographies were the two Jolson sisters, now dead. Harry corrected other misconceptions in the pictures.
“That stuff about Al going to a Catholic school,” Harry cited. “Al was only there a few days.”
He added that the film version of how Al entered show business was incorrect. “I got Al into show business,” said Harry. "Since we were rabbi cantor’s sons, we sang in the choir and were used to appearing before the public. I was older than Al and I was the black sheep. I was always getting singing jobs at the burlesque show, singing and selling stuff between acts.
“Like all kid brothers, Al followed my example and I helped him get started. When I ran away with a show, he got the same idea.”
Al, who had a “beautiful little soprano,” returned home when his voice changed, Harry related. The older brother, who was doing well in vaudeville, suggested they team in an act.
“But I can’t sing; my voice is changing,” protested Al. “You can whistle, can’t you?” Harry replied. And so the team of Jolson and Jolson began. Later they wore joined by an older vaudevillian named Joe Palmer. Harry showed me some yellowed theater programs billing “Jolson, Palmer and Jolson” in the early 1900s.
“It was Palmer who suggested Al try blackface,” Harry said. “Since Al was from the south (Washington, D.C.), he talked with a southern accent. Palmer thought he’d get more laughs if he blacked up.”
When Harry fell ill in New Orleans, Al deserted with Palmer, Harry said. That was the end of the brother act. Harry went on as a single act and was successful, especially in England. But he was always in the shadow of his younger brother’s fame.
When Al made a hit in the talkies, Harry was signed by Universal. But he never made a picture. Harry believes that Al’s movie boss convinced Universal that it would have trouble finding theaters for films starring another Jolson.
When vaudeville started to die, Harry’s singing career faded. He became an actor’s agent and handled Al and Ruby Keeler for seven years.
“Then Al walked out on me,” he recalled. “My friends persuaded me to bring a lawsuit for the money he owed me, but later I dropped it.”
His agency business folded and he turned to selling insurance. During the war he was a timekeeper at aircraft plants here. Recently he had been on salary at Al’s office. From the estate of millions, Harry received $10,000.
“Some people say he should have left me more,” sighed Harry, “But Al was like that. I am not going to worry about it. I have my health, my house is paid for, and somehow I will find a way to take care of my wife and her two children. I don’t want millions. I don’t want to be the richest man in the casket.”
Harry cleared up the matter of Al’s age, which was listed in the obits from 62 (as Al claimed) to 69. “He was three years younger,” said Harry. “I am 68, He was 65.”

Harry Jolson died on April 26, 1953. The AP ran the story four days later; I’ve found a newspaper that devoted one line to it. That was it. Al Jolson had topped his unfortunate brother one final time.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Take That, You Rat

“Take that, you rat!” yells a voice behind the police chief’s closed door. Fade into the police chief and a real rat being fed cheese.

Tex Avery was known for his quick gags at MGM, but this scene in “Thugs With Dirty Mugs” at Warners takes up only 13 seconds then it’s one to the next bit.

Monday 23 March 2015

Son of Beauty and The Beast

Some character designs from the Fractured Fairy Tale “Son of Beauty and the Beast.” The tall woman in the fourth drawing below looks a little related to Mr. Magoo.

And there’s nothing like a camera error. The cop’s mouth vanishes for two frames.