Thursday 31 December 2015

Well, They Did

“Kill the umpire!” yells the fan (voiced by Kent Rogers) toward the field in Tex Avery’s “Batty Baseball.” His face changes colour in anger.

There’s the sound of a gunshot. The fan realises they actually have killed the umpire. He stops. Here’s his take. The fifth and seventh drawings are held for two frames. The fan is held in position from the eight frame until his derby lands on his head.

The fan’s colour changes against as he watches the dead umpire being carried off the field to the sound of “Taps.”

Is this a Preston Blair scene? He, Ed Love and Ray Abrams get the screen credit for animation.

Wednesday 30 December 2015

How To Become Laura Petrie

She came into our homes when she was 24 and 54 years later, she’s still there. Albeit in reruns. And what reruns they are.

Mary Tyler Moore had the tremendous fortune to appear in two situation comedies that are still highly venerated as among the best in television history. Her role as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show was ground-breaking. She wasn’t the rolling-eyes-at-the-husband, baking-in-the-kitchen housewife and mother that you saw on just about every other sitcom. She was more like a friend and partner to Van Dyke’s Rob than the standard issue cliché of “the little woman.” The ‘50s were over. And her show several years later featured a wonderful supporting cast anchored by Moore as “an independent woman,” not defined by her job or any man.

Well, let’s back up a minute. Moore actually came into our homes a little bit earlier, though few people knew it at the time. Let’s pass on two newspaper columns published the first season the Van Dyke show was on the air. The first is from the Associated Press of November 22, 1961.
TV Actress Started Career As Unknown Telephone Girl

AP TV-Radio Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Richard Diamond, one of TV's earlier private eyes, was the first of the convertible-driving, woman-chasing, villain-fighting murder-solvers to use a car telephone.
The novel gimmick of the series (which never did very well) is largely responsible for the current career of Mary Tyler Moore, who plays the young wife in CBS' "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
As a sort of sub-gimmick, the producers added the role of "Sam," the telephone operator, to the show. When our hero checked his answering service, it was "Sam," a sultry-voiced, leggy female operator who gave him the message. You never saw Sam's face.
"It was murder for an actress," conceded Miss Moore, "particularly since I was working for scale and my name never was listed in the credits. But even if my face was never shown, I was getting as much mail as the star. At least, I heard I was getting as much mail—they never let me see a line of it."
At any rate, after the demise of the series, Mary Tyler Moore was able to disclose her identity. Because of the success of the Sam gimmick, she started getting better acting jobs. And "The Dick Van Dyke Show"' is the best one she has had to date.
Along with other members of the Van Dyke show cast, she is pleased with an impending move of the show from 8 p.m. EST Tuesday nights to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday nights.
"All of us, including our sponsor, love the show," she said, "and the new time ought to help it. After all, over a third of the nation, it's only 7 o'clock when the show is seen now—and for the others, at 8, parents are busy putting the children to bed."
Moore is trying to put a good face on the show’s impending time change. A look at the schedule makes it seem CBS was trying to bury it for good. Van Dyke was moved off a dominant night for network and shoved opposite the second half of Hawaiian Eye on ABC and NBC’s Perry Como, which was in the top 25 that season. And CBS was ready to bury it, too, if it weren’t for producer Sheldon Leonard making a personal pitch to the sponsor to keep it on the air, with the show picking up steam in summer reruns. Ironically, this very column of Lowry’s has Como’s show as “Recommended tonight” in a tag after the main story.

Whether Leonard dispatched Moore to work her charms on CBS executives or whether the network asked her to show up for a meet-and-greet is unclear, but she made a trip to 485 Madison Avenue to promote the show. A column in the Binghamton Press of June 23, 1962 reveals the end result and gives us more of Moore’s TV background.
Mary Tyler Moore: A Comedy Find

When Emmy-award winner Carl Reiner was laying out the format for The Dick Van Dyke Show, he made sure1 it had flexibility. The program had three top comedy pros in Van Dyke, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, to say nothing of Reiner himself. Any one, of these could catch the fancy of the TV audience more than the others, necessitating plot. changes and story adaptations.
Since this had happened on many TV series before, Reiner was ready. But while he kept his guns leveled in front, the culprit caught him in the back.
It was the innocuous role of Laura Petrie, a kind of straight-man wife who was supposed to set up the funny lines for star Dick Van Dyke. With the casting of Mary Tyler Moore in the role, it became an overnight sensation and writer Reiner was busy replotting, restating and rewriting.
"We knew right away," Reiner recently commented, "that, even though she hadn't done much comedy before, we had a great comedy find on our hands."
Reiner's assessment was well founded. When the show went off for the summer, Mary Tyler Moore was as much the star as Van Dyke, sometimes having whole scripts written just for her.
Although a newcomer to comedy, the fetching Miss Moore has ample television background to her credit. She has wracked up a total of 60 television television appearances before beginning on the Van Dyke Show in such standards as Bachelor Father, 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye. In her best role, she wasn't even seen. This was the sultry voice of "Sam," the beautiful secretary to private eye Richard Diamond.
A few weeks ago Miss Moore came to New York to greet a meeting of CBS executives, present herself to the New York television press, and take a quick trip to Brooklyn, where she was born and raised.
"I'm sorry I went," she remarked on the return taxi trip. "The house looks smaller, the neighborhood so less inviting than I remembered. Perhaps it is a good idea to keep memories instead of trying to revive them. The results are usually pretty disappointing."
Miss Moore was born in Brooklyn but moved to California with her family when she was 8. Growing up in Hollywood she acquired the star lust as most Californla kids do. In Mary's case, she had an edge with two relatives already in show business.
Her Uncle Harold was a vice-president of the Music Corporation of America, a powerful talent and production agency, and her Aunt Bertie was a radio executive. Unfortunately, her connections got her nowhere, I don't think I was very feminine at the time."
She did finally crack the business, starting in television commercials, where money and image take a great toll of actresses. The money (Miss Moore earned $10,000 from one series of commercials) can make her terribly lazy, and the relationship of an actress's face to a given product can make her undesirable to dramatic producers. She broke with commercials using two devices." One was a chorus dancing job with Eddie Fisher and the other was "Sam," which used only her legs and voice.
Today her face is one of the most popular in all of show business, a fact she didn't appreciate too much until her New York trip. While here she found it quite uncomfortable having to hide in public for fear of small riots attending her even on a stroll down Fifth Avenue.
"I suppose California has me unaccustomed to this, sort of thing," she remarked. "Out there you can go to the farmers' market and rub elbows with a dozen stars in. 12 minutes. But this is different. It is both frightening and exhilarating to be mobbed by fans, and it's also very enlightening for an actress who isn't sure if she is a star.
Today, more than five decades after the role that brought her fame, it seems silly to think that Reiner was taking a chance putting Mary Tyler Moore in a big role on the small screen. But that’s what he did. And today, TV comedy fans are pretty happy he did.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Clampett Cat Sees Dog

Cat and dog see each other and react in the Bob Clampett short The Hep Cat

The cartoon’s loaded with over-the-top drawings, a helping of sex, and some radio catchphrases (the cat turns into Jerry Colonna at one point)—all the stuff you expect from Clampett’s unit.

Variety reviewed the cartoon on Sept. 30, 1942:
'The Hep Cat' (Looney Tune color cartoon comedy, WB, 7 mins.) — Screwball cat which is always barely eluding the hungry jaws of a dumb mongrel is basis for this excrutiatingly funny cartoon. Cartoon makers lately have discovered farcical chase sequences can be made highly laughable. Besides original touches, excellent voices make this actionful subject a top entry on almost any bill.
On November 4th, another Variety review simply said “Funny but not outstanding.”

Unfortunately, the cartoon has been “Blue Ribboned” so credits aren’t on the version of the cartoon restored and in circulation.

Monday 28 December 2015

The Eyes Don't Have It

Chuck Jones’ cartoons were known for characters with facial expressions but Tex Avery turned a pair of eyes into a character.

Mysterious eyes watch the detective trying to solve the murder in “Who Killed Who?” The detective realises something is up. The eyes try to hide to avoid detection but it doesn’t quite work. I like how the eyes stretch in realisation they are trapped then bang on the door.

The gag takes all of 11 seconds before Avery segues into the next one involving a ghost behind the door. Avery and writer Rich Hogan have picked up the pace from their work at Warners.

Sunday 27 December 2015

You Can Be The Next La Verne Harding

There was a time, I suppose, when young men dreamed of wearing a tilted fedora, a bottle of gin in their desk drawer, inking out their characters that’ll be as popular as Maggie and Jiggs and then head out for an afternoon at the racetrack.

Way-back-then, I imagine there was plenty of competition for work as a newspaper cartoonist (judging by piles of ads for cartoon schools). Jobs must have been few; it wasn’t like Chester Gould or George McManus (photo, right) were going to be quitting any time soon. But there was a more lucrative option, as Weekly Variety pointed out in its issue of February 12, 1935.

Animated Cartoon Prod. Is Now The Big Coin for Sketch Artists
Hollywood, Feb. 11.
No longer do American youths, who save their pennies for a correspondence course in cartooning, aspire to become newspaper strip artists or India ink commentators on current affairs. Their ambitions now are to get in with one of the cartoon comedy outfits where salaries are several times that paid by newspapers.
Aspirants for jobs in the various cartoon producing studios are as plentiful as contest winners trying to crash Hollywood's gates. They come here with their correspondence school sheepskins and samples of their work, neither very artistic, but the embryo artists are filled to the brim with hope.
Salaries for animators in pictures are way up. Walt Disney has animators on his stuff who draw up to $300 weekly. Walter Lantz at Universal, Harmon-Ising [sic], Leon Schlesinger, Charles Mintz, Paul Terry and others have artists who receive up to $250 weekly. Lowest salary for an animator is around $75 weekly. That's about average for a newspaper drawing board athlete.
Top salary goes to the animator, who draws the master figures, perhaps one out of every six figures. Lad who fills in the middle figures is lower in salary and lowest paid man is the chap who draws figures in between the other two, necessitating little change in action or position of the subject being drawn.
Though it would seem that draughtsmanship is the most essential requirement in making cartoons, it is not. Most important is the ability to get feeling into the drawing. If the feeling is there and the drawing poor, a good artist can take the rough spots out. No matter how good the artist, if he’s short on feeling, i. e., acting ability with a pencil, he is less valuable to his employers.
Kids who feel that they have the knack to become animators usually start as tracers, tracing the original drawing onto isinglass at $20 a week. From there they work up, or out, as the degree of ability might be.
Background artists are in a different category. They have nothing to do with animation, draw only the backgrounds. Their salaries run around 150 weekly. They are usually better artists than the animators but lack imagination.
Only one femme has made good as an animator, Laverne Harding at Universal. An art student and later a teacher of art, she joined Lantz’s outfit and made good. Usually women are too artistic to become animators. However, they are often keen producers of backgrounds.
In Hollywood about 300 artists work on animated cartoons. About a third of them have come from newspapers. Rest are graduates correspondence echo is, a few from art schools. All studios making cartoon subjects maintain their own school to wise up the youngsters on what is necessary for animation.

What the writer means by “too artistic to be animators,” I’m not sure. A number of animators studied fine art or sculpture; Carlo Vinci and Bill Tytla immediately come to mind.

Despite the “look at the money!” aspect of the story, it was only two years later the Fleischer studio was crippled by a strike over pay, and six years before Disney was ripped apart by the same thing.

Saturday 26 December 2015

Alan King on Benny

Tributes were seemingly endless after the death of Jack Benny on December 26, 1974. Newspapers ran more than wire service reports; their own columnists and even editorial writers would memorialise what Benny meant to the world.

Newsday did something else. It talked to comedian Alan King about Benny. King appeared on Benny’s TV show in the ‘60s and roasted him on a special in the ‘70s. But their relationship went beyond that. King talked about it years later in one of his books, and he talked about it in a column in Newsday two days after Jack’s death. King’s sentiments were universal, but he coupled it with a personal story.
‘Cheapest Man’ Gave Both Life And His Money

Special to Newsday
“Your money or your life!”
Not very funny, but it was the straight line to the biggest laugh in radio history. After spending 35 years developing an image as the “Cheapest Man in the World,” Jack Benny was walking down a dark radio street when a holdup man appeared and threatened: “Your money or your life!”
Jack didn’t answer. After one minute (you see, he was thinking about it), the audience started laughing. After his two minutes of silence they roared.
Strange, but that’s what Jack Benny’s comedy was all about. It wasn’t what he said. It’s what he didn’t say that was important.
But to a young comic of 16, it was what Jack Benny did say that was important. Whenever Jack was in New York, he'd come to see me at the famed Leon and Eddie’s on 52nd Street. And he always asked me to join his table.
“You were great,” he would say. “You’re gonna make it big. Stay with it.”
Always words of encouragement. And always treating me as an equal. He was my idol. And he became my friend. Always words of encouragement.
He never failed to call me after my TV show just to tell me that he was watching, and he enjoyed. He’d call collect.
His opening line was “Well, you don’t want me to destroy a legend, do you?”
Cheap? He was the most giving man I ever knew.
He appeared all over the world at benefits for charity, no matter what the cost. Many years ago he flew from California to appear with me for the Nassau Center for Emotionally Disturbed Children in Syosset, N.Y.
His opening line was: “I flew all the way from California because I figured it was cheaper than sending money.”
Two days later he sent a check for $5,000 to the center.
Your money or your life. Jack Benny gave up both to make this world a happier and better place. I’ll miss him.

Friday 25 December 2015

Merry TeXmas

The closest Tex Avery got to a Christmas cartoon was One Ham's Family (released in August 1943), where the mean widdle pig outsmarts the wolf (both played by Kent Rogers) dressed as Santa.

There’s lots of expressive movement in this one. Note the (phoney) glee of the pig as Santa tells him his gift is in the bag. The pig jumps up and down, pulls himself back and strolls into the bag.

In a high tie-toe, the wolf makes his escape. Naturally, the pig’s not in the bag.

Avery and writer Rich Hogan use no dialogue in the rest of the scene. It’s not needed. The drawings tell the story.

Preston Blair, Ray Abrams and Ed Love are the credited animators.

And, now, from the best cartoon director of all time comes this seasonal message.

Card courtesy of Devon Baxter

Thursday 24 December 2015

Must Be Santa?

Wally Walrus can apparently hear Darrell Calker’s orchestra playing “Jingle Bells” on the soundtrack of his own cartoon. He peers out the door of his Swiss Chard Lodge and is shocked by what he sees.

Cut to Woody Woodpecker disguised as Santa, whipping a disguised moose, in “Ski For Two” (1944).

Don Williams and Grim Natwick are the only credited animators. Lantz seems to have used six, plus effects guy Sid Pillett, in each of his cartoons around this time.