Monday 31 August 2015

No Salt

Woody Woodpecker was a pretty expressive character at one time, even in his gooney stage in the early ‘40s when Mel Blanc voiced him. Here are some examples from a scene in his first appearance in “Knock Knock.”

Andy Panda wants to see if he can catch a bird by putting salt on its tail (we get a close-up of a salt shaker labelled “Salt,” as if Walter Lantz thought somebody would miss the gag). The casual Woody suddenly whips around and Andy tries to look casual. Character outlines weren’t uncommon in ‘40s Lantz cartoons.

Check out the expressions here (these are not consecutive drawings).

I believe Mark Kausler identified this as an Alex Lovy scene. Lovy and Frank Tipper (they were related by marriage) received the sole animation credits on this 1940 debut cartoon for the woodpecker.

Sunday 30 August 2015

Jack Benny: His Life, His Comedy, His Timing

A book called The Great Comedians Talk About Comedy was excerpted over a number of weekends in the Weekly Observer, a Sunday newspaper magazine supplement syndicated by the Gannett News Service.

First up in the series was Jack Benny. I need not say more other than it was published on March 9, 1969

Benny: The Penny Pinching Pauser

Perhaps Jack Benny’s most famous comedy moment has him walking down a street. A hold-up man appears from the darkness and shoves a gun in his ribs, saying, “Your money or your life!”
Because he is notorious for penny-pinching, there is an interminable pause. The audience is convulsed with laughter. At the last split-second, Jack says: “I’m thinking it over!”
As a guest on Fred Allen’s radio program, on which the comedians carried on their hilarious “feud,” to the delight of millions, Allen got off a particularly funny ad-lib, which stopped the show. Jack Benny, not to be outdone, came back with: “Hmmmm, you wouldn’t say that if my writers were here!”
JACK BENNY was born Benny Kubelsky on Feb. 14, 1894, in Chicago, but be grew up in Waukegan, Ill. He spent his early career touring vaudeville circuits, eventually doing Broadway musicals for Earl Carroll and the Shuberts. He entered the new medium of radio in 1932, switched to television in 1950, where he won eight “Emmy” awards for the excellence of his program. His best-known movies were: George Washington Slept Here, Buck Benny Rides Again, Man About Town, Charlie’s Aunt, and To Be Or Not to Be.
Jack’s latest enthusiasm is performing as violin soloist with the top symphony orchestras m America, with proceeds going to charitable causes.
THIS MEETING TOOK place m Benny’s Beverly Hills office. Fifteen minutes passed while Benny worked on some material with his writer for Lake Tahoe appearance.
As we chatted, it was difficult for me to believe that the man was in his seventies. He looked fifty-five.
Wilde: All right, Jack. How many years did you play the violin before you decided to become a comedian? Beany: We-e-ell . . . when I was about 14, 15 years old in Waukegan, I used to play with dance orchestras. We would play in stores on Saturdays and maybe get a dollar and a half for the day. Then I studied and I went into vaudeville as a violinist. There was a woman pianologist — or whatever they called them — who sang and did talking, comedy songs. Her name was Cora Salisbury. She took me with her on the road. We did a violin and piano act — Salisbury and Benny.
Wilde: Did you do any comedy?
Benny: No, only a little bit of kidding with the violin, but I never talked.
Wilde: What happened to make you give up being a musician and become a comedian?
Benny: Well, Cora’s mother became very ill and she had to give up the stage. So, I found another partner, a fellow by the name of Woods and I called the act Benny and Woods. That’s how I have Benny as my last name — Benny is my right first name. We stayed together doing a violin and piano act until the First World War and then I joined the Navy.
Wilde: Until then, you still had not done any comedy?
Benny: No comedy at all. Then in the Navy at Great Lakes, David Wolfe, who became a very dear friend of mine later, was the author of a couple of sailor shows for Navy relief. Wolfe needed somebody to play the part of an admiral’s orderly, who only had one or two comedy lines. He happened to see me and said, "Hey, young fella, come over here!" And I read a couple of lines and he liked it, because the next day he added lines for me and by the time the show opened in Chicago in the Auditorium, I had practically the comedy part of the show. Then I realized I could talk and get laughs. When I went into vaudeville again, I went back as a single act. But I always held the violin . . . did a lot of violin playing and just a little bit of talk. And then gradually I kept talking and less violin until finally I dropped the violin entirely. If I wanted to have a finish for my act I borrowed a violin from the orchestra.
Wilde: Even though you stopped playing the violin, why did you still hold it? For security?
Benny: Yes, for security. Also, it made all my jokes sound impromptu— when you hold an instrument, they always think you are ready to play.
Wilde: Where did you get the material you used?
Benny: I would get help occasionally from writers and I would pay them for that particular routine — $35 or $50 — but I wrote a lot for myself. In those days I was able to write because I had to. The only trouble . . . I was always walking down the street staring and people would pass me and say hello and I would not even know who they were. I was always thinking of jokes.
Wilde: Was your delivery basically the same as it today—that is, leisurely, unhurried?
Beamy: Basically the same, but I was always nervous, the first few years, when I talked. I wouldn’t gesticulate enough and though I work easy and smoothly now and I put into it, in the old days I was afraid to. When I was a bit in those days, I was a big hit because I worked easy and smooth, but if I flopped I was a flop for the same reason. You see, there’s such a thing as being too nonchalant on stage. It looked as though you were—
Wilde: Too well rehearsed?
Benny: Yeah. It looked as though you were over-acting and under-acting at the same time. Trying too hard to be smooth and easy. I learned since then I have to have a little action.
Wilde: What qualities are required, other than being able to make people laugh?
Benny: In the first place, to become real successful they must like you very much on the stage. They must have a feeling like: “Gee, I like this fella” — “I wish he was a very good friend of mine” — “I wish he was a relative.” You see, it’s like a television show—if they like you, you may think sometimes you are doing a bad show and you’re not at all. But if they don’t like you, you cannot do a good show. Of course, we had great schools in those days—vaudeville and burlesquer, which they haven’t got today. That’s why I give all the new comedians a lot of credit for making it as quickly as they do and actually getting big laughs. For instance, I can walk on stage and if I want to be secure I can open up with a stingy joke and everybody screams. Well, a lot of comedians who haven’t got those characterizations have to actually make good as comedians, not as institutions—household words.
Wilde: When yon started, were there any comedians you admired or patterned yourself after? You said Phil Baker was your idol—
Benny: It was not so much that Phil Baker was a great comedian — he was a great personality. One of the handsomest fellas you have ever seen and people loved him. He would always have somebody working with him to get the laughs, like I do on television. I used to like Frank Fay very much. Al Jolson was the world’s greatest entertainer. I don’t think there’s been anybody since then that had his magnetism, and particularly when he was in black-face. He had a sympathetic quality. I have always thought Ed Wynn was the world’s greatest comedian, and I still think there is nobody that has ever been as funny, or will be, in my time as he was in his heyday.
Wilde: Has what people laughed at changed much through the years?
Benny: I don’t think so. I think they laugh at the same things. Years ago you could do some corny things and be funny. I can look over what I used to do many, many years ago and pick out things to use now. The only thing is if you are working on characterizations, things that were funny 30 years ago have to be embellished — have to be smarter — wilder. Like, if I do stingy jokes I can’t do an ordinary joke about leaving a guy a nickel tip — that’s not funny anymore. Now you have to be more wild. Maybe the waiter leaves me a dime tip knowing how cheap I am. Today, it has to be actually funnier.
Wilde: Many comedians earn an excellent living doing club dates, conventions, but the world never hears of them. Some are very content with this anonymity while others are still striving to reach the top. Was it always your goal to become a star?
Benny: I would think so, and I nearly every comedian wants to be . . . just like a politician would like to be President of the United States. And I don’t care who the politician is—he might be the mayor of Carson City, but if he’s in politics he would like to end up being President. I think every dramatic actor, every singer, would like to be among the top few. Every concert musician would like to be considered among the top half-dozen. But when I say “would like to be the top” . . . you see, we didn’t demand too much in those days. For instance when I played the Palace in New York, which was the theatre every actor was nervous about, and I was a big hit . . . you had the feeling that everybody in the world knew about it and you didn’t have to go any farther. And the same with money. When I got to the point where I was getting $450 per week I thought I was quite a rich man. I started to move in the first-class hotels . . . oh, my goodness, I thought, if I could ever reach $1,000 a week, then I’m ready to call it a day—this is it.
Wilde: Could you pinpoint the specific steps you’ve taken to remain a star all these years?
Benny: I think I have had, through my years of radio and television, almost always a very, very good show. I can’t stand bad shows — I get embarrassed. I was the comedian, of course but I think I was almost a better editor. Most comedians give me credit for being not the best comedian in show business, but the best editor — which is important — as important as being a comedian. It’s not that I am such a particularly funny man. People will say to me, “Did you study the pauses in the tape?” There is nothing as important as editing.
Wilde: Were you born with this talent for editing or do feel it came about as a result of years of analyzing yourself and your material?
Benny: The latter — I don’t think I was born with it. It was important to me never to have a superfluous moment in my act or in my radio or television shows.
Wilde: How did all the Jack Benny trademarks come about? Thriftiness, bragging, playing straight to the people you work with, etc.
Benny: All these things happened by accident . . .with one show. Now how I probably became a stingy character happened because on one show I did some jokes about my being stingy. Then we did it again and again, until suddenly by accident this became one of my characterizations, and it’s the easiest one to get laughs. My feud with Fred Allen was an accident. Fred said something one night, I answered him —he answered me — I answered him, and it went on and on. We never got together and said, “Let’s have a feud.” If we did, the feud would have flopped, because it would have been contrived. We would have worked so hard at it it would have been lousy.
Wilde: Why was Fred Allen considered the comedian’s comedian?
Benny: Because he was a great writer. Fred was a wonderful humorist. He wrote funny letters. He wrote funny books. He wrote great shows. I don’t know whether he was altogether a great editor, because sometimes he’d have sensational shows and sometimes they wouldn’t be at all. They would be far from it. I always blame it on editing. Let’s take you . . . you are preparing this book, you gotta edit it, right? They say a play to never written, it’s rewritten. Well, the same goes for an article in the paper, or a monologue for a show—everything. My four writers and myself sit down and argue and discuss whether the word “but” helps or hurts a joke. That’s how important editing is.
Wilde: How did “Love in Bloom” become your theme song?
Benny: Quite by accident. “Love in Bloom” is not a theme song I particularly like. It has no significance with a comedian! It happened that I was fooling around with that number thirty years ago, and before I could do anything about it . . . it was an avalanche, and it became my theme song.
Wilde: You are considered to have the best timing among comedians. What exactly is timing?
Benny: Sometimes I think I have been given more credit than I merit in that because every good comedian has to have, right off the reel, good timing, otherwise he can’t even appear anyplace. I think the reason other comedians (feel this way) and maybe the public, who are gradually getting to know about timing, they know the words now . . . because I talk very slowly and I talk like I am talking to you . . . I might hesitate . . . I might think. Everybody has a feeling, at home watching television or when they come to a theatre, that I am addressing him or her individually. They feel that I am doing it for them, and because I talk slowly . . . I make it a point to talk like I would in a room with fellows. So they think my timing is great for that reason. Other people have great timing but they talk very fast. It would be tough for them to talk slowly and it would be tough for me to talk fast.
Wilde: Do words like “rhythm” . . . “pause” . . . help describe it?
Benny: Well, my pauses fortunately went over even in radio, when you couldn’t see me. The audience felt the pauses, but pauses make an audience think you are thinking. Sometimes I might do a monologue three or four nights and not change a word and an audience sitting out front will think I am ad-libbing a lot of it because I hem and haw around. But how do you define timing? It’s a necessity. It’s something everybody has to have. A good joke without timing means nothing and a bad joke without good timing means nothing — except you can help a bad joke with timing where you can’t help a good joke with bad timing . . . I don’t know how to define it.
Wilde: Is it a question of an easy flow . . .?
Benny: That’s right — one word or one syllable too much can throw it off completely. I had an experience one. I was playing Las Vegas . . . wonderful audience every night and I knew that my very opening line would be a big laugh, and every night it was a big laugh, and I knew just how long that laugh would hold . . . and then I would continue. One night I walked out and the laugh was good but not as long or as big . . . and that performance knocked me off my timing for about two medium—radio, television, movies, night clubs, or the stage — do you prefer to work in?
Beany: The stage — and my concerts. They’re all charity, you know. I enjoy playing with the big symphony orchestras . . . Carnegie Hall. A concert is the finest background a comedian can have. I’m dressed in tails as though I were the world’s greatest violinist. The musicians behind me are ninety or a hundred of the greatest musicians— Leonard Bernstein, George Stell, or William Steinberg. Alfred Wallenstein or Zubin Mehta are conducting for me like they would for Heifetz.

Saturday 29 August 2015

Explaining Woody

The cartoons of the Walter Lantz studio became pretty easy targets for ridicule; exactly when that happened is in the eye on the beholder. Lantz wasn’t the only one in the late ‘60s making unfunny, cheap-looking cartoons; the Warner Bros. output wasn’t much better. But everyone in the business around that time seems to have liked Lantz himself, and certainly they must have respected his lengthy, pioneering career in animation.

The Chicago Tribune syndicate published a feature story on Lantz starting around November 23, 1969. Lantz avoids the “honeymoon” part of the Woody Woodpecker creation story (it never happened that way), and he gives an interesting cost breakdown of animated shorts. And if you wondered how quickly Lantz churned out one of those painful Beary Family cartoons, he has the answer.

Lantz’s description of Woody’s voice is interesting. He calls the first voice “The Brooklyn Woody” and then Grace Lantz pipes in that she was the next type of Woody voice in 1949. The only thing is four voice actors played Woody in the ‘40s and none of them sound the same. Mel Blanc started the decade and Ben Hardaway finished it. Neither of them sound like they’re from Brooklyn; Hardaway has a flat, often expressionless Midwestern delivery.

Lantz’s comments about limited animation are interesting. While Lantz may have had more drawings than, say, a Filmation TV cartoon, held cels are pretty noticeable in his late ‘60s–early ‘70s efforts.

Whatever their faults, the Lantz shorts found homes in theatres of the 1970s that still chose to put cartoons on their programme, and Universal continued reissuing them after Lantz closed his studio in 1972.

The columnist believes “laughs” and “laffs” are two different things. I’m missing his point.

Woody Woodpecker's Creator Still Goes for the Laughs

The Los Angeles Times
HOLLYWOOD—"I still go for the laughs," says Walter Lantz, really meaning laffs. He's not the only one who could today; a lot more of us could, if we could find ‘em.
Lantz, at least, is doing something about it: He is the oldest active producer of movie cartoons, still at it after more than 40 years, most of them spent on Woody Woodpecker who is now 28 but still pecking away.
It's unique to see Lantz flailing steadily away at the old stand. At 69, he has a record of 42 years as a producer with one company—and has a new contract for three more. The company is Universal, and at this rate he just may outlive it.
Lantz is also unique in that he does his own financing; he has since 1937, with Universal doing the distributing. And unique, again, in that he has never made a feature and says he never will. “A short cartoon used to cost me $8,500 and ran 8 ½ minutes. Now we’re down to 5 ½ minutes at a budget of $35,000 plus a print cost of about $7,000. Rather than cut the quality, we cut the time.
“Walt Disney got up to $100,000 for a six-minute short and quit them. MGM (Tom and Jerry, etc.) was spending $55,000 to $60,000 and closed down. "I am the only one left with my own business—financing, producing—and it takes me seven years to recoup on an investment. When new you have a backlog working for you—and only if you have one—you can come out on your investment."
One source of continuing income has been TV. "The Woody Woodpecker Show was on the air for Kellogg’s seven years—it's off at the moment—and will be back again next year. These were cartoons that had already played theaters. But there's always a new generation of kids, so the old ones are just as good today as they were 20 years ago.
"One reason they don't really date is that we use no puns or popular phrases of the time; also, they are made up of two-thirds physical and sight gags and only one-third dialog. This is a secret of their success in foreign countries, too; often we don't even translate the dialog."
Woody Woodpecker, for instance, has been seen—and heard—in 72 foreign countries, plus some 12,000 theaters in the United States. He has appeared on TV in 38 lands abroad and in comic books as well.
Lantz emphasized that "we don't ever go for violence per se. Physical gags, yes. A character may be all banged up in one scene but he's all right in the next scene. And we never show blood.
"How would I explain Woody? Well, he was very raucous to start with, but he evolved as he went along.
It's very difficult to say a cartoon character, this is it—and since he's not human we can take a lot of liberties. I think 'precocious' is the word for him now. He goes along minding his own business until someone tries to take advantage of him; he likes to do the things we all would, only we don't have the courage."
One reason Woody lost some of his raucousness is that his voice changed. "The first voice was what I like to call the Brooklyn Woody. I'm the Boston Woody," volunteered Grace Lantz, who was sitting in. (Grace, before she retired—from the stage, that is—was a long-time trouper in the old Henry Duffy local companies and others. She was Grace Stafford then).
"Twenty years ago Walter lost the Brooklyn Woody and was auditioning sound tracks of other actors for both voice quality and articulation. I made one unbeknownst to him and he picked me. I've been Woody ever since." Walter listened without a word of contradiction—beaming, even—so who are we to presume otherwise?
Returning to the matter of "quality animation," he explained he requires about 5,000 drawings per cartoon—"as against television's 1,200 for the same length picture. Our characters act out the whole line with hands and bodies, not in the jerky movements of part-time animation.
“The fundamentals haven’t changed much in 40 and more years. When we started out we used 8x10 still photographs every other frame; then put our animation over the cells. The traveling matte and other improvements came later, but it’s still a good deal like it was.”
Lantz dates back to the very beginning. Born in New York on April 27, 1900, son of Italian immigrants, he took a mail-order course in cartoon drawing at the age of 12. At 15, he was employed as a copyboy for Hearst's New York American, where Morrel Goddard, the editor-in-chief, initiated Sunday color comics. Goddard recommended young Walter to Gregory LaCava (later a “live” director) who had opened a cartoon studio for the Hearst chain. Walter was soon animating such zany figures as Krazy Kat, the Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan and Mutt and Jeff.
By the tune he was 22, he was working for the J. R. Bray studio on the Col. Heeza Liar series, which, like Max Fleischer’s Out of the Inkwell series, included a live actor—in this case, Lantz himself. After five years the demand for silent cartoons dwindled and Walter headed for Hollywood by Locomobile.
In 1927, be began working as a gagman in Mack Sennett's story department and a year later left for Universal. The situation there was noteworthy: Disney, who had been animating Oswald Rabbit, which wasn't selling, wanted to introduce a new figure named Mickey Mouse. "But the whole Universal sales department was against it. What did they want with another mouse, after all the mice drawn by Paul Terry?
Anyhow, Disney took his Mickey to Columbia and boss Carl Laemmle bought me in to redesign Oswald Rabbit." One of the changes Lantz made was to color Oswald white instead of dark, but there were no objections at the time.
For the next 10 years he was occupied with Oswald, 26 a year. Sound came in, and color: In 1929 Lantz conceived an opening for Paul Whiteman's otherwise live feature "The King of Jazz."
It was in two-tone technicolor and the star, a lion, was sung by a film newcomer named Bing Crosby to an accompaniment by the Rhythm Boys, otherwise Harry Barris and Al Rinker.
From Oswald, Lantz went on to Andy Panda. When a woodpecker hammered his way into the Lantz vacation cottage at Lake Sherwood, causing $200 in damage, Walter was unable to forget him—so he put him into one of Andy's cartoons. It wasn't long before the ubiquitous Woody laughed Andy clear off the screen.
"Eventually, we built a whole new cartoon studio on the old Universal lot. It was so old, in fact, that when I started I had to hold an umbrella over the drawing board whenever it rained. About 20 years ago I established my own studio in Hollywood, where we employ a small staff of 30, most of whom have been with me from the start.
"We now turn out 13 theatrical cartoons a year: Seven with Woody, others with Chilly Willy, the penguin, and the Charlie Bearys—bears, naturally. Each one takes 3 1/2 weeks to complete—but actually, from the time we write the story, four months.
We use situations that are everyday—not dated, not old fashioned, and certainly not controversial ... as topical as taking a camping trip or installing a TV set.
"Yet still"—he chuckled—“we have to put a 'G' on every one of 'em--for general audiences!” At that, he says, more seriously, “someone is sure as hell to come out with one that won't rate a 'G'.”
A few later creators are turning out features like “The Aristocats” and “You’re a Good Man, Charley Brown.” [sic] “Since I started I’ve made about 1,100 cartoons—more than 300 Woody Woodpeckers—but all of them shorts. I’ve never had a desire to make features. Very few, outside of Disney’s, have ever been successful and his have come to $3 or $4 million apiece. Even with a one-shot death, if you miss, you can lose everything you’ve worked for the last 40 years.”

Friday 28 August 2015

Say, Something IS Burning Around Here

Even when there’s dialogue, the pictures tells the story in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. This is from “The Zoot Cat.” Tom stops his flame/fire/buring love analogies to remark “Say! Something is burning around here.

One of the treats of these early Tom and Jerrys is Jerry’s expressions. Sometimes they were pretty subtle.

Ray Patterson, Ken Muse, Irv Spence and Pete Burness got screen credits. Tom’s line is uttered by Jerry Mann. Sara Berner’s also in this cartoon, and I can’t tell who is doing the faux Boyer voice Tom uses.
Metro has 16 one-reel cartoons, which comprise entire program for 1943-44, and four additional pen-and-inkers from current slate's re-leases now In works at studio, under supervision of Fred Quimby.
Eight will have Tom and Jerry characters as stars. These include 'Zoot Cat,' 'Million Dollar Cat,' Baby Puss,' Bodyguard,' 'Puttin’ on the Dog,' 'Kitty Foiled,' Mouse Comes to Dinner' and 'Tee for Two.'
New cartoon star, Squirrely Squirrel [sic], will star in seven shorts, 'Screwball Baseball,' 'Nuts in May,' 'Little Heel-watha,’ The Shooting of Dan McGoo,' 'Screwy Truant,' 'House of Tomorrow' and 'Screwball Squirrel.'
Remainder include 'Worst Aid,' 'Strange Innertube,' Bear Raid Warden,' 'Bedtime for Barney' and 'Some Skunk.'
And Variety then announced on February 3, 1944:
'Zoot' Opens New Year
"The Zoot Cat" has been set as Metro's initial cartoon release for 1944, hitting the theatres Feb. 26. Short is first of six in new Tom and Jerry series.

Thursday 27 August 2015

Tex Avery, Literally Speaking

Tex Avery’s literal masterpiece is Symphony in Slang (1951), where idioms were visualised naturally. A year earlier, Tex tried out the concept in The Cuckoo Clock (story work had begun by early 1948).

There’s a great opening, reminiscent of Avery’s Who Killed Who (1943) with a dramatic narrator who loses his echo chamber when he’s revealed to be a house cat with the standard Avery design. The kitty narrator tells us..

There was a ringing in my ears.

I kept seeing things.

My eyes were big as saucers.

I couldn’t keep a thing on my stomach.

I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.

I was down in the dumps.

I kept blowing my top.

I felt myself going to pieces.

I had to pull myself together.

Here’s a great drawing of the cat declaring he is going mad.

I believe Avery changes animators during the sequence with the last three drawings handled by Grant Simmons. Mike Lah and Walt Clinton are the other animators with Rich Hogan helping with the gags, Johnny Johnsen providing backgrounds and Daws Butler as the cat.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Before He Was Menaced By Dennis

Television was a blessing and a curse for radio actors. One on hand, if the won a regular supporting job, fame and good money came their way. On the other hand, TV involved memorisation and days of rehearsal. Radio, on the other hand, required minimal rehearsal time, so an actor could dash from show to show to show and pile up a good pile of money.

The other problem with television was typecasting. On radio, a supporting actor was basically anonymous. The actor could do comedy, drama, mystery, dialects, and few would be the wiser. But on TV, the audience could see someone, and wasn’t prepared to accept that actor in any other kind of role. So it was that many accomplished radio actors only used a fraction of their talent after they made the transition to television.

One of them was Joe Kearns. If he’s remembered today, it’s for his role as Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace. Kearns died suddenly in 1962, five days after his 55th birthday. Kearns was perfect as an exasperated grump. After his death, he was replaced by Gale Gordon, who specialised in exasperated grumps, but the show went downhill; Kearns brought something extra to the role. Kearns (and Gordon, for that matter) could play more than exasperated grumps—and did on radio. It’s a shame he and many others never got the chance to show their full talents on the tube.

The fan magazine Radio Life published two fluff pieces on Kearns less than two years apart. There’s not a lot of meat (despite the title of the first story) but they’re still interesting. The photos you see below were published with the magazine (network publicity shots, I suspect; the scans are pretty fuzzy).

The first was published on June 3, 1945.
Microphones Are His Meat
Radio Isn’t Easy When You Do It Every Day, Says Joe Kearns, But He Sometimes Wishes He Could Do Two Shows at Once

By Shirley Gordon
THE phone rang for Joe Kearns while we were talking to him, and when the actor returned from taking the call, his face was furrowed into a frown. “Conflicts drive me crazy,” he complained. “I hate to turn down a show.”
When it comes to revealing the names of the shows on which you hear the voice (or rather, voices) of Joe Kearns, it is easier to list the very few on which he hasn’t yet managed to appear—usually because of the “conflicts” of which he spoke. He frequently has to turn down one show because he is working or rehearsing on another at the same time.
Radio-dialers hear him as the narrator on “Suspense,” as the little guy who watches the safe down in the basement on the Jack Benny program, and as any number of other people on such top-flight shows as “Screen Guild,” “This Is My Best,” “Judy Canova,” “The Adventures of Harriet and Ozzie” and “Sherlock Holmes.” His outstanding work as one of radio’s usually- unsung supporting performers won him honourable mention in Radio Life’s Second Annual Distinguished Achievement Awards, announced in our April 15th issue.
Radio Nerve-Wracking
Of radio work, Kearns has this to say: “The public may sometimes think that a radio actor’s job is a soft one. It isn’t; it’s nerve-wracking. We often work week after week without a day off. But we also love it.”
Of his own work in particular, the actor expressed a preference for comedy, but likes “meaty” roles, as well—those such as he does on “The Whistler.” Only once has he missed a show for a reason other than illness. That time, he wrote down “Thursday” as the day of the program, went unconcernedly to the movies on Tuesday, the actual day of the show’s airing, arrived at the studio Thursday, according to the memo he had made, and discovered his mistake.
Joe confessed that he is absent-minded, and can never remember phone numbers. He also admitted that he is sometimes “moody.” But his co-workers call him "a good listener”—“the kind of a guy you save things to tell, because you know he’ll enjoy them.”
Writes Plays
During rehearsals, when he is not at the microphone, Kearns remains devoted to a deck of cards, and he is lucky with them. When not working, he likes to go to the beach. He reads “incessantly,” likes good novels and non -fictional works, just recently finished “The Fountainhead.” He also likes to read plays, and has written a number of them himself, including three 3-act productions still playing in eastern stock theaters and a radio script, “The Man From Out of the East,” which was aired on “The Whistler.”
Joe Kearns was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, toured at an early age in vaudeville with a child act called “The Rising Generation,” in which he sang “Salvation Lassie of Mine.”
He attended dramatic school and played in stock, and, during one of his stays in California, appeared in a coast production of “What Price Glory?”
Back in Salt Lake City, he played Louis XI (“a non-singing part!” pointed out Joe) in “Vagabond King,” after which he became a staff member of radio station KSL, remaining there for the next six and a half years.
In 1936, he came to California and with the help of his friend, True Boardman, started his career in Hollywood radio.
Joe lives in Hollywood in a studio apartment which he designed and built himself. It is sem-colonial, has a 24x18-foot drop living room with a gabled ceiling and a big fireplace, and is equipped with a Hammond organ, which the actor plays a good deal of the time that he is home. Joe also has a pet cockateel named “Butch.” “He doesn’t talk,” Joe informed us, “he just whistles.”
Is Night Owl
Kearns calls himself a “night owl,” and hates to get up in the morning. The thing that annoys him most is loud talking. He is also annoyed when he finds himself sick so often. His fellow actors declare that Kearns has been in as many hospitals as radio programs. He buys so much medicine that he practically owns the corner drug store.
Last year, when he finally got away from Radio Row long enough to take a vacation, he went to Mexico City, where he promptly became ill. He has no desire to see Mexico again, and does not like Mexican food. He likes to travel, however, (particularly on boats) has spent several years in Australia and the South Seas, and desires to go to Europe. Whenever he decides to take a vacation, he has to get “clear out of town.” Otherwise, he finds himself answering his telephone and accepting an immediate call back to the microphones again.
This story was in the edition of March 23, 1947. At this time, Kearns was part of the starring cast of the Mel Blanc Show, which lasted one season and would be off the air within months.
Kearns Carries On
Like Most Radio Veterans, Joe Kearns Has Experienced Radio at Its Best—And Worst! Busy Kearns Takes Time to Tell Us of His Work and Hobbies

By Joan Buchanan
JOE KEARNS is a radio young-old timer, but even he isn't immune, he admits, to those radio nightmares! “I have a recurring dream, Joe told us, “in which I have a dirty old purple ditto copy of the script and I desperately try to read and ad lib through it!”
Joe is kept so busy in radio running back and forth between shows that he claims that if he broke a leg his career would end. You hear Joe as the voice of “Suspense,” on the “Maisie,” Judy Canova and “Sam Spade” shows, and as “Mr. Colby” on the Mel Blanc show. He does as many as eleven network programs a week and, amazingly enough, he doesn’t have to chart his time to remember where and when he is due.
Joe’s longest hiatus from the airways was a six-week siege in the hospital. He plans to get away for a trip this summer—and hopes it’ll be to Sweden.
Getting back to that nightmare, Joe recalls that incidents of nightmarish proportions have occurred to him while in front of the mike. The most recent was a heckler in the Canova show audience. Not content with trying to get into the act from the sidelines, the interloper jumped from the audience and ran up to the stage to join Joe. "Mel Blanc and George Neice grabbed hold of him and bore him out into the wings while the rest of us carried on,” Kearns related.
Too Smart
Joe’s worst memory of radio, however, was on an experimental show called “Your Witness.” The show was presented as a stage play. The actors had to memorize their lines and contend with props in addition to worrying about getting over the air. Joe, discovering that much of his scene was played from a phone booth on the stage, decided to pin up the pages of his script in the booth and read it then and there. “I was smart,” commented Joe. “I was going to save myself a lot of trouble! When we went on the air I discovered that it was so dark in the booth I couldn’t see to read—I had to ad lib practically my whole part!”
Joe also recalls the time the lights went out in the old KNX studio while he was at the mike doing a part in the “Scattergood Baines” series. The soundman lit candles and held them over the actors’ scripts while they tried to read by the dim light. “Unfortunately, though," Joe smiled, “the hot tallow from the candle kept dripping on my hand. I couldn't move my script away because I couldn’t have been able to see it and I couldn't stop and tell the sound man that he was burning my hand off in the middle of the broadcast!” Ah, yes, that soft life you actors lead!
But Joe still loves radio. He names Fred Allen, Henry Morgan, all the good musical programs as among his favorites. “And I like the quiz shows, too,” he added, “They're very stimulating.”
Music has played an important part in Joe’s life—and it still does. Joe was a theater organist in silent days. Remember the guy who played for community sings while the slides were thrown on the screen? Well, that was Joe. Locally he played at Talley’s Broadway downtown.
Played Local Boards
Joe started his career as both organist and actor in Salt Lake City. He first ventured into radio there as an actor and writer in connection with his stock company work. Later he played stock and legitimate stage locally. Joe recalls that two of the people with whom he was associated in those days were Lurene Tuttle and Victor Jory.
Music, cooking, writing, reading and movie-going all have their place in Joe's spare moments. He’s enthusiastic about good food and holds a card in the exclusive Societe des Gentilhommes Chefs de Cuisine, which you can probably decipher as Society of Gentlemen Chefs. According to Joe, the purpose behind the club is to trade original recipes with other club members. The only way to be tapped for membership is to he recommended by another member as astute in the way of food as you are.
Joe also “gobbles up” books and especially likes anything unusual in the way of psychological studies and novels. He admits that writing takes up so much time that he has neglected it lately, but in the past he has contributed scripts to “The Whistler,” and he was the scripter of a syndicated series, “Radio Writer’s Laboratory.” He loves the movies and was currently raving over “The Best Years of Our Lives” when we asked for a preference.
Joe still plays the Hammond organ and has a large collection of opera recordings. He also loves cards and claims he never cheats, even at solitaire. Calls himself a “very dull dresser” because he prefers nothing more original than blue!
Kearns mentioned Fred Allen, Henry Morgan and quiz shows. Ironically, he didn’t work with Allen, nor did he appear on game shows, at least not regularly. Allen generally broadcast from New York, and that’s where many of the quizzes were based. Kearns worked with Morgan on a West Coast jaunt, taking up roles normally performed back east by Charlie Irving (announcing and as one of the players in the radio salesmen sketches).

Variety reported in the first part of the ‘30s about Kearns’ stock company work and play writing (and a vacation to San Francisco from KSL Salt Lake City in September 1935), but the first mention of his radio work on the West Coast came in 1936 when he was tapped to play the title role in a four-part, non-sponsored presentation of Peer Gynt on KECA. The first broadcast was on November 17th. Variety’s reviewer wasn’t impressed. From the December 2nd edition:
Red Meat for the Ibsen fans and class mob but unlikely there’s enough of them to warrant the production outlay. Well enough done but too heavy and too noisy for the average dialer who might stumble across it while cruising. First of the four episodes had a narrator explain the different passages as a prelude to the dramatic action. Opening sally was that the station would present it as it was intended, ‘gay, fresh and exuberant.’ It didn’t exactly fit that gay mood. Joe Kearns, as the vagabond Peer, gave it a breezy characterization but all too often he was submerged by the crowd noises. Others were equal to their parts.
It’s a long way from Ibsen to being knocked off a ladder while painting by a pain-in-the-butt kid in overalls, but that was Kearns’ journey in broadcasting. He had plenty of stops in between, stops remembered by fans of old radio comedy and drama.

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Of Course You Know This Means War, Part Two

Bugs Bunny gets his revenge on opera star Giovanni Jones in Long-Haired Hare. Mike Maltese’s story contains what director Chuck Jones liked calling a a “discipline” based on two simple facts—an opera singer obeys the conductor, and he bows at the end of a performance. The ending of the cartoon features Giovanni holding a note so long, the Hollywood Bowl comes crashing down on him.

Giovanni takes his bow. Bugs decides to get a last lick in. Chuck Jones shows his love for silent film as these frames tell the story.

The cartoon ends the way it started, with Bugs and his banjo.

The smear animation is by Ben Washam. Lloyd Vaughan, Phil Monroe and Ken Harris also animated this wonderful cartoon, with backgrounds by Pete Alvarado from layouts by Bob Gribbroek.