Sunday 31 January 2016

A Day in The Life of Don Wilson

When Don Wilson was crooning forth in a lusty baritone in a night-time music show with Martin Daugherty and Harry Morton on KLX Oakland in February 1928, little would he have dreamed that awaiting him was a 20-plus-year career as the announcer/rotund stooge on one of the top radio comedy programmes.

But Don had a few moves to make before he headed East and later won an audition in 1934 to be Jack Benny’s announcer. He left the Bay Area for Los Angeles where he and Daugherty worked at Don Lee’s KHJ—then got fired because he bought a Packard. The Packard dealership was owned by Lee’s radio and automobile rival, Earl Anthony. Anthony owned KECA and KFI, and that’s where Wilson ended up in 1929.

Radio in Los Angeles in those days was a far different beast than it was a few years later. Technical limitations prevented radio networks to broadcast from New York and Chicago to the West Coast. So network radio in California meant a network of stations along the coast up to Washington State. And it meant locally-produced programmes featuring local talent—singers, musicians, talks. The few big stars in radio around then were way on the other side of the Rockies.

Here’s a great little story about Don and cohort Ken Carpenter from the February 1930 edition Radio Doings, a Los Angeles-based publication. The author may have exaggerated things a bit, though client interference in radio spot announcements doesn’t seem to have changed much in 86 years. And I suspect there may be radio promotions people around today who think those jocks have it soft.


(Director of Publicity KFI-KECA)
It is strange, indeed, this fascination that surrounds the lives of hunted things—be they birds in the jungle, butterflies in the gardens, speckled trout in the streams or announcers in radio stations.
Insofar as RADIO DOINGS is a magazine devoted in every throbbing line to radio and the modus Vivendi (no relative of spiritus frumenti) of radio workers, let us survey briefly and charitably one day's existence of a radio announcer.
We must first pick our announcer. From this distance, the first we see, munching peanuts behind a condenser microphone, is Don Wilson. It's quite easy to see Don—there's lots of him. And he's nibbling away in Studio A of KFI-KECA.
It's quite early in the morning, quite. Three o'clock, to be exact. Don often begins his day at this hour. Why? Because there's eight hours' difference between Los Angeles and London, and since KFI-KECA often carry speeches delivered and intended by King George or Premier MacDonald for posterity, Don must start work at 3:00 a. m. The knowledge that His Majesty or Mr. MacDonald have just finished one of those dear British breakfasts makes Don not a whit happier. Don's heart as a matter of fact is not, as we would think, in the words of royalty or viziership. Don, to put it in homely language, wishes he were in the hay—with hot cakes and nude bacon (beg pardon, I meant stripped bacon), still five hours away.
London signs off at four. Don turns the microphone over to another very sleepy and slightly irritated announcer, Kenneth Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter came to work in the belief that the program would continue for another hour. But it didn't continue. That ubiquitous and fugitive factor, "atmospheric conditions," did not allow it.
St we have two announcers sipping coffee before dawn, their matutinal dispositions ruined.
At eight o'clock Mr. Wilson returns to the studio. He is scheduled to announce a program for Lizzy Doakes, who breathes passionate blues and heart-broken ballads for the large-and-not-to-be-despised chamber-maid audience.
Lizzy is not in the studio. Time creeps to thirty seconds before eight. Don, in a cold sweat, wonders what to do if the delectable Lizzy doesn't show up. He is still wondering as he makes his sign-on announcement.
As he finishes speaking, the door opens and Lizzy saunters in, her accompanist at her heels, both giggling and chewing toffee. Don whispers: "Got your program?"
More giggles. No, they haven't their program.
"Then for Gawd's sake start singin'. Gimme the first number."
Don chatters amiably into the microphone until Blues-and-Ballads starts crooning. Thereafter, it is catch-as-catch-can to get from her, without being heard, the remaining numbers. Their public is saved, but Don's nerves are scratchy.
In the meantime, Gene Grant of the commercial department is having words with Mr. Kenneth Carpenter and another gentleman "Ken," says Gene, "this is Mr. Greenbaum, sponsor of the doughnut program Wednesday mornings. Mr. Greenbaum does not feel, in fact he is almost certain, that we could improve the way we put over his announcement. Maybe you could get together ..."
Mr. Greenbaum cuts in:
"We want it more enthusiasm in the voice. When you says 'doughnuts that you needn't dunk," you gotta get strong when you say 'needn't,' see? You gotta give it a little thought. Start kinda easy and slow and then give 'em everything on 'needn't.' It's an art, I tell you!"
"Well, perhaps I could do better if I understood the slogan better."
"You don't hafta. It's just a slogan. Sounds kinda cute, that's all. Just give 'em the big shot like I told you. Make 'em believe in doughnuts. Make 'em doughnut-conscious, see?"
"I see."
"Yeh—see that you do. Do sump'n. My wife (she took lessons in elocution once and she knows) don't like it the way you do."
Wilson is through with Lizzy Doakes. He is now announcing a program by Jascha Novgorod, violinist. M. Novgorod persists in touching the microphone, and Don has to issue dire warnings. M. Novgorod also neglected to inform either the program department or Mr. Wilson what he would play. M. Novgorod is a very proud and touchy gentleman whose family, of course, was driven from high estates and impoverished by the Bolsheviki.
Time, to M. Novgorod, is nothing. The fact that he must make way at ten sharp for an international broadcast disturbs him not at all. To him it is far more important that the Corelli variations be finished to the last harmonic.
Mr. Wilson gently, but firmly, disconnects M. Novgorod's microphone and signs-on the international broadcast. M. Novgorod, in Russian, announces himself the eternal enemy of that unfeeling monster, Mr. Wilson. Harry Hall, assistant program director, summons Mr. Carpenter.
"You'll have to take on the symphony concert tonight at nine, and at ten you'll have to be mastcr-of-ceremonies at the Hi-Life cafe." "Okay. But I came to work at four."
"Can't help it. We're short-handed."
"There's a continuity for the symphony, of course?"
"If we can get Mr. Rodriguez to write one. But he's not here."
"He's never here, the snake."
Mr. Wilson is next.
"Don, you'll have to read up on Einstein. We're broadcasting a banquet tonight from the University Club. He's going to speak, and you'll have to ad lib for some time."
"Holy cats! Einstein? How can I? I can't even understand my stub-book."
"Well, read up on him. The banquet starts at seven."
"But I've been working since three this morning!"
"Can't help it. We're short-handed."
"Can't Mr. Rodriguez write something about Einstein?"
"He's not here."
"Is he ever here?"
Mr. Rodriguez is miraculously found, and persuaded by guileful flattery to write material for both symphony and Einstein. So he prepares some acceptable and non-commital phrasery about the Coriolan overture and the shifting of the infra-red rays. But no mention is made of the infra-red rays at the banquet and the symphony conductor decides at the last minute to play the Egmont overture.
The announcers, both in a state of nervous collapse, are compelled to extemporize. Being gentlemen of infinite resource and sagacity, however, they acquit themselves nobly.
So, in spite of the exhausting requirements of the day, of which the above is only a partial picture, they both leave the studios at midnight, conscious of duty well performed. As they pass out of the elevator, they hear two orchestral players lamenting their own fate.
"My Gawd, Bill—what a life! Rehearsing since nine this morning. And then getting bawled out because that damn' tenor can't count up to four. And then missing supper!"
"I know. 'S tough. I often wish I was an announcer. Nothing to do but sit on your shoulder-blades all day long reading magazines and once in a while wake up to say, 'This is KECA, Earle C. Anthony, Inc., distributor in California of Packard motor cars.' O boy, what a life!"

Saturday 30 January 2016

Cartoons of 1952, Part 2

The poor animated cartoon must have been a forlorn thing in the second half of 1952. Bugs Bunny was only a few years away from monster stardom in television. But in December 1952, he and Disney shorts were relegated to the “cartoon carnival” format in theatres (MGM did the same kind of thing), with several cartoons lumped together on the programme to provide assistance to the main feature.

Cartoons on television consisted of four kinds: a staff artist making sketches while telling a children’s story, ancient silent theatricals (“Farmer Gray” or Mutt and Jeff, for example), primitive made-for-TV animated shorts which barely moved (like the Tele-Comics that had run on NBC) and fully animated commercials. The latter attracted the most attention; they were even reviewed along with the live TV shows they accompanied (and generally received favourably).

We’ve skipped reviews of the TV commercials found in Variety in the second half of ’52 but we’ll bring you what else we could find. There isn’t an awful lot of news. You can see things bubbling but not quite at a boil. Disney eventually left RKO and set up its own distribution company. Paramount looked to set up a TV network (it had content, including old cartoons) but a deal with DuMont got scuttled.

You can read part of what was a full-page ad masquerading as news for the Swift-Chaplin commercial studio, co-founded by ex-Columbia director Howard Swift. A lot of old-time theatrical animators who got screen credit once-upon-a-time ended up working for industrial commercial firms with fans today wondering about their whereabouts. Former Warners director Norm McCabe pops up below; we’ve also spotted a trade directory from 1958 in our travels where McCabe was the animation director for a commercial division of 20th Century Fox.

We have our doubts about actual plans for a Fifi the Fish series at MGM, but the Tom and Jerry cartoon that little Danielle Baiu appeared in was renamed “Neapolitan Mouse.” Presumably, “Sofari So Good” was not the Popeye cartoon of that name produced in the 1940s but I’m baffled about what else it could have been.

July 3, 1952
Sutherland Consultant On Mutual Telepix
New York, July 2.—Tom O'Neil's General Telradio outfit, parent company of the Mutual, Don Lee and Yankee networks, has inked John Sutherland, commercial film producer, as consultant on vidpix.
Mutual is expected to get into TV via the vidfilm route. Sutherland is producer of cartoons, commercial and educational pix.

July 8, 1952
Scott Bradley today starts conducting scores of pair of Metro cartoons, "Life With Tom" and "Sleepy Time Squirrel." . . . Metro short subjects department personnel will take their regular mass vacation in August. Fred Quimby's cartoon section will take the first two weeks, and Pete Smith's staff the latter two weeks of the month.

July 9, 1952
All-Disney Combo Sought With ‘Hood’
Walt Disney organization and RKO are bringing all possible pressure to bear on exhibs to book the producer's current "Robin Hood" as part of an all-Disney program, rather than add an outside second feature. Disney feels that grosses on some of his previous pix have been hurt by bracketing with badly-chosen dualers, resulting in audience squawks.
In almost all current dates, the 85-minute live-action "Robin Hood" is playing as part of a Disney trio that includes one of Disney's True-Life Adventure series, "Water Birds" (30 minutes) and a cartoon short, "The Little House" (10 minutes). Combo has been racking up smash biz.
Disney's major problem in exhib bookings in the past has been the squawk that his films attract mainly matinee trade and that evening grosses are weak. Theatremen, as a result, have tried to double-bill the Disney product with a definitely adult type second feature, hoping to hypo the after-dark trade. Result has often been that parents who brought their moppets were shocked at what the kids saw on the twin bill. Likewise, lots of adults who are partial to Disney resent the other half of the dualers and Disney feels this has hurt him.
Thus he has set up his three pix into a 125-minute program. Fact that he's also getting film rental on the two added pictures is not being overlooked, either, of course.
RKO, in selling the all-Disney show, has been citing figures at the N. Y. Criterion and other houses to indicate the preponderance of matinee biz is not holding true on "Robin Hood." Opening day, for instance, the Criterion did $3,400 before 6 p. m. and $3,600 after that time.
RKO circuit has agreed to play the Disney combo, and it is already running at Keith's, Washington; Pantages and Hill St., Los Angeles; Imperial, Montreal, and other houses.
Disney is setting up another combo to play with "Peter Pan," which is on his release slate for next winter. There will be another True-Life, probably "Prowlers of the Everglades," and a short.

July 24, 1952
Moppet Danielle Baiu has been by inked Fred Quimby to dub in juve's voice in "My Friend Toto," Metro cartoon.

July 25, 1952
Twelve of United Productions of America's top animators have walked out of the cartoon plant in a dispute over a wage increase, action reportedly following the down-grading of one animator and fear of the others their over-scale wages could be cut by similar method.
Walking is not a strike action and local 839, IATSE Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, currently meeting on a new contract with Animated Film Producers Association which would cover UPA, is status quo in the matter, as move was on employes' own initiative.
Top animators, who draw over-scale of $150 a week up, reportedly sought a raise on top of current stipends as a protection against down-grading. Request was nixed by management and walkout followed. Old scale for animators has a $125 weekly base and will jump to $187.50 base if and when ticket negotiated with AFPA is approved by Local 839 members.

August 12, 1952
Vidpix Chatter
Norman McCabe appointed animation director of Five Star Productions, vice Howard Swift who ankled to join Charles Chaplin.

August 15, 1952
WB Cartoonists Vacash
Warners cartoon studio closes down today for the annual summer vacation. Studio will reopen Sept. 2. . . . Edward Selzer, head of Warners' cartoon studio, leaves today for an Alaskan holiday with his wife.

On Air Waves
Walter Lantz yesterday inked deal with Auto-Lite to produce a series of one-minute cartoons in Technicolor for television.

August 18, 1952
New World Prod'ns Plans Documentary On Flying Saucers
Feature length documentary film, combining live action and animation, will be turned out by New World Productions as the first serious film on flying saucers. Pic will follow the format of "Victory Through Air Power" and will run exactly 60 minutes for both theatre and television distribution.
Pic is being done with the help of the American Rocket Society and its affiliate, the British Interplanetary Society. Animation will be used to explain certain technical portions of the documentary which will include guest appearances by top scientists discussing the saucer situation.
Ted Robinson will produce and direct with Arthur Scott [later of 'Beany and Cecil' and Hanna-Barbera] directing the animation and Sterling Barnett handling special effects.

Sheilah Graham column
Prince Aly objected to the cartoon characters in "Sofari So Good," and Jackson Leighter informs me the film is now in the hands of Aly's lawyers in Paris — "And whether it's finished is up to Aly."

August 20, 1952
Disney Ready to Start Producing Brit. 'Sword'
Paris, Aug. 12.
Walt Disney is here with his family on a combo looksee and biz trip prior to going to London later this week for the beginning of work on his next live-actioner, "The Rose and the Sword." It will be based on an incident during the reign of Marie Tudor in the 16th Century. The Technicolor film will star Richard Todd. A Paris preem of his "Robin Hood" will be held here this fall.
Disney stressed other new projects nearing completion in the U. S. such as "Peter Pan" and the cartoon, "Aquatic Birds." He has plans for an animated version of "The Sleeping Beauty" and a mixed, animated, live version of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

Prestone antifreeze, via William Esty agency, has bought "Football This Week," quarter-hour vidpic series, from Station Distributors, Inc., for 46 markets. ... SD also distributes a "Magic Clown" series in 45 markets not covered by Bonomo candy; "Roller Derby," now running in 29 markets; "Koko the Clown" cartoons and "Tom Tyler" westerns.

August 25, 1952
Swift-Chaplin Productions Already In Operation: List Heavy Sked Of TV Comm'ls
Harry Hinkle, former Business Manager of George Pal Productions, announced today the formation of a new TV film-production unit, Swift-Chaplin Productions, Inc. Hinkle takes over immediately as General Manager of the new company, with Charles F. Chaplin, President; and Howard Swift, Vice-President.
"This new organization was formed," Hinkle said, "for the express purpose of producing top TV commercials. In Chaplin and Swift we are fortunate in having two men who have been doing just that for more than 3 years for such well-known advertisers as Heinz, Pabst, Swift & Co., Hotpoint, Alka-Seltzer, Eastside, Folger's, Zenith and many others."
The new studios are located at 4316 Jefferson Boulevard with actual stage space in excess of 4,000 square feet. In addition to complete facilities for live action, Swift-Chaplin Productions are already staffed with their own Animation Department for cartoon and Photo-Animation (headed by Howard Swift); and their own Stop-Motion Department for actual product and stringless-puppet animation.
"As far as we know," Hinkle concluded, "there is no other studio anywhere that can offer its clients all these phases of production under one roof." Charles Chaplin, in charge of client contact for Swift-Chaplin Productions, has a background of more than eight years in the advertising agency business. During the past three years he has devoted his time exclusively to the writing and production of television commercials, and during that time has produced TV ads for some of America's top advertisers through agencies such as Maxon, Grant, McCann-Erickson, Moggee-Privett, Geoffrey Wade, Mac Farland Aveyard, Warwick and Legler, Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, and many others.
Over 90% of the commercials produced by Chaplin during this time were also created and written by him. This same creative service will be available to clients of Swift-Chaplin Productions.
Already in production at Swift-Chaplin Studios are commercials for Ovaltine, Dodge, Folger's Coffee, Bab-O, Helen Curtis, One-A-Day Vitamins and Alka-Seltzer.

August 26, 1952
Fred Quimby Returns
Metro cartoon producer Fred Quimby returns today from a Hawaiian vacation. He'll immediately put into production two shorties, “The First Bad Man” and “Pup On a Picnic.”

Lantz Doubling His Output of Shorts For UI Release
Walter Lantz has inked a new distribution pact with UI, whereby he will boost his annual output of cartoons from six to 18 for the up-coming 1952-53 season. Producer simultaneously disclosed that he will virtually double his staff of artists, to provide for the new program which starts Sept. 1.
Under the new deal, Lantz will boost the number of "Woody Woodpecker" subjects from the six he's turned out for the past two years for UI, to seven. The remaining six subjects on new slate will be composed of individual stories, with new characters which he is now creating. Producer said last night he hoped to hit upon one which could be built up into a new series.

August 29, 1952
Oscar the Octopus and Fifi the Fish, cartoon characters created for a sequence with Esther Williams in Metro's "Dangerous When Wet," will now star in a new MGM cartoon series.

Sept. 22, 1952
Disney Producing Spot Telepix Blurbs
Marking his entry into commercial telepix production, Walt Disney has completed a series of spots for Mohawk Carpet Co. Telefilms in Technicolor, utilize cartoon characters never before used by Disney.

Sept. 23, 1952
UPA Open House
United Productions of America, which copped an Oscar for its "Gerald McBoing-Boing" cartoon two years ago, holds five-day open house at its Valley studio for all members of film Industry, starting tonight at 8 p.m.
Celebrating UPA's ninth annual festival, there will be continuous showings of cartoons, and exhibitions of art techniques used.

Oct. 1, 1952
Roy Disney, president of Walt Disney Productions, arrived in New York from the Coast yesterday (Tues.) to discuss a new distribution deal with RKO. Disney organizations is anxious to continue its long association with the distrib unless the new controlling group headed by Ralph Stolkin decides on some unexpectedly radical changes in the operation.
Disney product has been going through RKO the past 14 years. Last of a series of pacts expires with the handling of the new cartoon feature, “Peter Pan.”

Oct. 2, 1952
Disney To 'Wait, See' New RKO Regime Before Renewing Pact
New York, Oct. 1. — Until the new RKO management shows its hand and signifies future intentions, the Walt Disney organization apparently plans to play a waiting game concerning future releasing arrangements with the company.
Indication of this came today from Roy Disney who, at the same time, admitted "great admiration" for RKO personnel and commented that "everything being equal," Disney would want to stick with RKO handlers.
"I hope the new management is such that we can stay with them," he said. "Meanwhile, we will wait to see what the new owners look like, talk like, and what they have to say as their objective before we make up our minds."
"Peter Pan," Disney's latest all-cartoon feature and according to Roy Disney "our most expensive production by a wide margin" — it was budgeted at $4,000,000 — is the last Disney feature commitment with RKO under the present deal. Other commitments include one subject in the True Life Adventure series and several shorts.
Roy Disney, prexy of the Disney organization, said he was shooting for a world premiere on "Peter Pan" for shortly before Christmas, to be followed by from 200 to 300 pre-release engagements in key spots.
He is now discussing sales policy with Robert Mochrie, RKO sales head. Disney pointed out his company has always had short releasing commitments and that he didn't have to worry about a new distributor until Spring. He said the current outlook was for one cartoon feature and one live-action picture a year over the next three years. The latest True Life Adventure short, "Bear Country," is due for programmlng with "Peter Pan."
Currently in work in Britain are Disney's "The Sword And The Rose," due for release In July, 1953, and, on the Coast, "The Lady And The Tramp," a Disney original and an all-cartoon job. Planned are "The Sleeping Beauty," also a cartoon; "Rob McGregor," to roll in England April 27, and the live-action "20,000 Miles Under The Sea," Jules Verne story which won't be ready until late in 1954.

Oct. 8, 1952
French Authors Fight Over $1,500,000 Cartoon Film; in Prod. Since '47
Paris, Sept. 30.
Full-length animated film, "Shepherdess And The Chimneysweep," is evoking intense industry interest here via the legal squabble over its artistic authorship. This row was started by the original creators, Paul Grimault and Jacques Prevert, against producer Andre Sarrut. At the recent Venice Film Festival, orders were given by a French court to impound all copies of the film including the one at the fete until hearings were heard on the charge by the plaintiff. Grimault and Prevert had claimed disrespect of their moral rights as authors.
At first Antonio Petrucci, Venice Fete prexy, bowed to the French court order and decided not to have the picture shown. Producer Sarrut as well as National Cinema Center topper, Jacques Flaud, persuaded Petrucci that French courts had no jurisdiction over a film in Italy and that it should be shown as part of the French film effort which transcended this hassle. Film was shown without the names of Prevert and Grimault in the credits and copped a special prize.
This film has been in production since 1947 and cost an estimated $1,500,000. It was started by Grimault with a script by Prevert. They had been responsible for top Gallic animated films that copped prizes at various festivals. This was to have been the first full-length animated film in the French idiom. Jean Image finished his "Jeannot L’Intrepide" before Grimault but it was rated largely for special moppet audiences. Grimault claims that "Chimneysweep" was practically finished early in 1951 when difficulties started with associate Sarrut who took over the pic to finish it himself.
Grimault says that at that time only $600,000 had been spent on the film and only $129,000 was needed to finish it. He contends the production was nine-tenths done.
When pix were being selected for Venice Festival, three members of the selection committee flew to London to see a copy, and it was chosen on the strength of their testimony. Film is an Anglo-French coproduction with an English version also in the can. A meeting of industry authors, held here recently, decided that this had given a black eye to French film-making with the rights of the author being sacrificed by the producer. Affair remains to be settled. Film runs only 65 minutes and this may make it tough to book without good supporting fare.

Oct. 15, 1952
Mr. and Mrs. Norman Ferguson, son, San Fernando, Cal., Oct. 7. Father is a cartoon animator.

Nov. 3, 1952
Sheilah Graham column
Disney is quietly completing a full-length feature cartoon, titled "The Lady And The Tramp" — the story of a dog — told by a dog .

Nov. 4, 1952
RKO Will Release 81 Short Subjects During Next Year
RKO yesterday announced a release schedule of 81 abort subjects to supplement its 1952-53 feature pic output. ... the short subjects department will offer 18 new Walt Disney Technicolor one - reelers, two true-Life Adventures, and a special short program entitled "Mickey Mouse's Birthday Party," celebrating the 25th anni of the animal as a cartoon character.

Nov. 26, 1952
Rep to Release Oldies for TV?
Republic Pictures may be the first big Hollywood studio to sell its backlog of feature film oldies to television. ...
Paramount has also flirted with CBS-TV anent the selling of some old films for video exhibition. Par reportedly was offering only its short subjects, such as the "Betty Boop" and "Popeye" cartoons, sports reels, etc., on the assumption that exhibs woujd have no complaints if Par withheld its features. Company now, however, is talking of setting up its own TV network. If that goes through, it will hold onto all its old film for the time when its own stations can use it.

Dec. 3, 1952
Robert F. Moore, 41, Walt Disney artist, died Nov. 23 in Burbank, Cal., of injuries sustained in an auto accident. He had been with Disney for 20 years and created "Three Little Pigs" and other cartoon characters. Wife and two daughters survive.

Dec. 15, 1952
Walter Lantz en route to NY to confab with UI execs on his "Woody Woodpecker" cartoon series, and with Coca Cola Export Distribution on a second series of 12 Technicolor shorts.

Dec. 17, 1952
"Touche, Pussy Cat!" has been set by Metro cartoon producer Fred Quimby as a sequel to "The Two Mouseketeers," which won the cartoon Oscar last year.

Dec. 24, 1952
Guffaw-expert Fred Karbo has been inked by Fred Quimby to do 87 different laughs for the cartoon, "Life With Tom."

RCA Includes Kid Line In Bluebird Low-Pricers
RCA Victor will broaden its low-priced Bluebird label series next year with inclusion of a kidisk line. Juve platters in the Bluebird series will probably sell for slightly under 60c. although Victor execs have not yet decided the exact price. Victor's regular Little Nipper line sells from 85c to $1. The Bluebird kidisk releases will include a "Mighty Mouse" series, based on a Paul Terry cartoon character, plus standard juve works. Victor launched a Bluebird classical line at a low price several months ago.

Pittsburgh, Dec. 23.
Stanley (WB) (3,800 [seats]; 50-85 [cent ticket prices])—"Cattle Town (WB). String of animated one-reelers under collective title of "Bugs Bunny's Cartoon Revue" booked to bolster Dennis Morgan starrer but not helping.

Kansas City, Dec. 23.
Annual pre-Christmas lull is in full force here. Paramount is running five Bugs Bunny cartoons with "Abbott-Costello Meet Capt. Kidd" for fair session.

WCBS-TV has installed two moppet-slanted shows in the 8 to 8:30 strip. "Tele-Comics," comprising specially-produced vidpix cartoons, goes from 8 to 8:15 [a.m.], to be followed by "Time for Beany" from 8:15 to 8:30.

Dec. 31, 1952
San Francisco, Dec. 30.
Golden Gate (RKO) (2,850 [seats]; 65-95 [cent tickets])—"Blackbeard Pirate" (RKO) and Walt Disney Cartoon festival (2d wk). Big $11,000 or near. Last week, strong $13,000.

Friday 29 January 2016

Jasper's Derby

CBS wasn’t among the networks covering the 67th running of the Bluegrass Classic in the George Pal Puppetoon Jasper’s Derby (1946). NBC and Mutual were. The Blue Network was there, too, even though the name had been discontinued on June 15, 1945 by the American Broadcasting Company (which couldn’t use “ABC” for a number of months because a smaller radio chain had that identifier).

The Puppetoons are striking pieces of work, thoughtfully laid out and technically dazzling. Boxoffice magazine reviewed the animated short in its edition of May 18, 1946, about four months before it was released by Paramount
Excellent. Striking Technicolor and skillful manipulation of puppets are combined to make this an outstanding one-reeler. In addition there is the amusing story of the violin-playing Jasper, who discovers that his music can reconvert a retired, broken-down race horse into a Kentucky Derby winner. The horse, Hi-Octane, not only wins the derby, but earns enough money in that race to provide Jasper and himself with a comfortable home and long, cool mint juleps.
Former Disney scribe Webb Smith came up with a fine story which builds nicely to a climax. Jasper’s violin playing becomes so intense, the strings break. But he quickly substitutes the horse’s tail for strings to keep the underdog animal zooming on the track. The race announcer says “But here comes something up from behind running in circles.” The perspective of the scene is from overhead and animator Herbert Johnson uses a cycle of eight drawings to have the old grey horse run around the young competitors. Notice the shadows. An incredible amount of work went into these stop-motion shorts.

The horse may be grey, but he has a stereotyped old Southern black man voice, while Jasper (played by Sara Berner) speaks in dialect as well.

Roughly a year later, Pal stopped making shorts. They became too unprofitable.

Thursday 28 January 2016

The Home Fires Burning

“So long, Betty,” says Betty’s house after Miss Boop and a witchy looking Mother Goose fly out a window. “I’ll keep the home fires burning.” And he does. The house catches fire and burns to the ground.

It’s because of a gag like this that I love the old Fleischer cartoons. Of course, the home is completely intact at the end of the cartoon.

Mother Goose Land’s credited animators are Doc Crandall and Seymour Kneitel.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

The Comedians by Walter Winchell

Sorry, but I don’t find jokes about body parts and bodily functions, punctuated by f-bombs, all that funny. Maybe it was my upbringing; my father loved non sequiturs and my uncle revelled in puns, especially ones that involved some thought. Maybe it was because my exposure to humour at a young age was through animated cartoons and TV sitcoms and variety shows in an age when shock or obscene humour couldn’t be broadcast into a home. I prefer to laugh at, or even admire, wordplay, and am bored with tired or obvious attempts to shock me.

Maybe that’s why I like the humour of a bygone age, and enjoy the comedy of radio, movies and television of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. I still laugh at Jack Benny and Stan Freberg and Phil Silvers and Carol Burnett, even though their approaches (and humour) are quite different. And it’s nice to know others do, too.

Walter Winchell took time out of his red-baiting and personal grudge-bashing in his syndicated newspaper column of December 19, 1954 (within nine months, he would flame out at ABC and end up at the Mutual network) to let loose with some squibs on people he admired in the radio/TV comedy business. It was subtitled “The Comedians.” I’m not much of a fan of Winchell’s but I liked this column and he picked a pretty good group of people to write about.

Jesters have gifted civilization with laughter—a precious possession that provides temporary refuge against the terror of a world crisis or a dreary daily existence. Looming among the titans of buffoonery is Jimmy Durante, a remarkable performer, full of contradictory characteristics. He is the nightclub comic with high comedy attacks of apoplexy who rasps: “Dere goes a load of ice wid three olives. Twelve-fifty! Somebody gotta pay for the cocktail room.” He is the anguished man who was extremely sensitive about the size of his schnoz for many years. But he made it the badge of success. He is the piano-flogging fool, inka-dinka-doodling, who was gripped by melancholy and almost quit when his friend and advisor, Lou Clayton, passed. “Without Lou,” he mourned, “it was like losing my arms and legs.”
He retains his passion for Broadway's electric excitement and always occupies a hotel room offering the best view of the shimmering graph. But Jimmy also cherishes nature's solitude despite occasional irreverence for its primary assets. During a fishing trip some years ago through the woods he conked every tree with a stick, bellowing: “When Durante’s up—no boid sleeps!”
Groucho Marx's sunny mischief has extended beyond his professional chores. A genuine wit. he reserves some of his sharpest jollies for dignified occasions. . . . He once attended a PTA meeting and almost caused a riot with nonsensical queries. When a Latin-American president welcomed him publicly and announced intentions to see him again the following day. Groucho cracked: “How do you know you'll be president tomorrow?”
Not even the solemnity of his initial marriage ceremony could deflate the jaunty attitude, his son's biog avers. When the minister intoned: “We are gathered here to join this couple in holy matrimony,” Groucho interrupted with: “It may be holy to you, but we have other ideas.” And when the minister enquired: “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife?” he Groucho'd: “Well, we've gone this far, we might as well go through with it.”
W. C. Fields’ personality was more bizarre than any ludicrous character he portrayed. The early days of his career were bleak and tortuous. He was frequently bruised by hunger and disappointment. Consequently, Fields remained fearful and insecure as long as he lived. When he began climbing he distributed his coin at literally thousands of banks. Gene Fowler has noted that he had safe deposit vaults in countless U.S. cities as well as Europe, Australia and Africa. The rampant insecurity and the inevitable suspicion constantly haunted him. He concealed microphones in his Hollywood mansion—checking his servants “plotting” against him. Nightmares involving famine were incessant. The result was insomnia, fatigue, despair. The zany who made millions laugh and became a millionaire—was an emotional cripple who required an alcoholic crutch.
During his final days a friend inquired: “If you had your life to live again, what would you like to change?” His response was wistful and tragic: “I'd like to see how I would have made out without liquor.”
Vaudeville was the incubator and the crucible for many of our leading ragamuffins, of course. The struggle was a rugged one—as Bob Hope has recalled: “Bookings were often scarce. Before long, I was four thousand dollars in debt. I had holes in my shoes. I was eating doughnuts and coffee and when I met a friend one day who bought me luncheon featuring beefsteak. I had forgotten whether you cut steak with a knife or drink it out of a spoon.”
Wit frequently has a scornful quality that demolishes the absurdities of life and the vanities of individuals. Among the deftest practitioners of satirical thrusts is Fred Allen. For example, his classic: “California is a wonderful place—if you are an orange.” His barbed size-up: “Hollywood is a place where people from Iowa mistake each other for stars.”
After quitting radio he wryly commented: “It's wonderful this freedom. You can live on the money you save on aspirin” . . . His quipper-snapper about following the bangtails is typically scornful: “Horseplaying doesn't make sense. The jockeys get the ride, the horse gets the exercise, the bookmakers get the money and the horse-players get the headaches.”
His well-known knack for bright gloom inspired the legend that he once snatched a youngster from the path of s speeding truck. Then he growled: “What's the matter, kid? Don't you want to grow up and have troubles?”
Ed Wynn once noted that “the true comedian makes you laugh, but you hardly know why—at least the reason is not as obvious as the point of the gag. That's a gift, completely. Either you've got it, or you haven't.”
The source of laughter (and its motivations) has been analysed in several scholarly tomes. The average comic, however, is not as concerned with cause as he is with effect . . . Some years ago Jack Benny was dining at a Hollywood eatery when he heard the loud laughter of a lady at another table. Jack promptly approached the table and seriously questioned her escort: “Pardon me, but what did you say that made her laugh like that?”
He is constantly beset by the same impossible challenge that taunts many clicks in show biz: The compulsion to make the next show superior to the last. You become your own toughest competition—for success deprives you of the luxury of even a minor failure. This anxiety helps explain why Mrs. Benny has declared that Jack “lives on a steady diet of fingernails and coffee.”
Milton Berle is another perfectionist. He may rehearse five hours to polish a five-minute bit. In brief, being a comic is no fun. It's hard work. A clown’s desire to revel in tragedy is an ancient lure. Fannie Brice once succumbed to it and starred in a serious drama produced by David Belasco. The reviews were so-so. That ended Fannie’s flirtation with serious drama. Incidentally, she bobbed her nose for the straight acting role.
The ability to inspire thoughtful laughter demands superior intelligence combined with a sharpshooter's accuracy. Will Rogers was a master of this form of wit. He wore the cap-and-bells like a crown . . . He could puncture the pompous delusions of politicians with a single stinging line. However, he was not content to merely ridicule. Will's flippancies were cushioned with wisdom. Consequently, he could gain the affection of the public and retain the respect of his targets. He could laugh at politicians and make them laugh with him.
Rogers’ wit was like this . . . When doing a daily “box” of comments on the news for the N.Y. Times, he wrote a gag which offended some readers . . . The newspaper spanked Rogers for it in a short editorial next day. He countered: “It ain't easy being comical in the paper when you get competition on the editorial page.”

Tuesday 26 January 2016

We Won't Do That Again

UPA was known for stylised animation, not wild Tex Avery-style takes. There’s a lot of the former in The Miner’s Daughter (1950), but there’s one of the latter, too. Not as exaggerated as Avery but something that UPA avoided in future cartoons.

Pete Burness, Pat Matthews (he drew telescope eye-takes at Lantz), Bill Melendez, Willie Pyle and Paul J. Smith animated this from a story by Bill Scott, Phil Eastman and Bob Russell. Jim Backus lends his Hubert J. Updyke/Thurston Howell III voice to the effort.

Monday 25 January 2016

Becoming, Isn't it Girls?

Feminising men is a guaranteed laugh in old cartoons. Take, for example, Tex Avery’s Big Heel-Watha, where the title character (with Bill Thompson’s Droopy voice) is hunting for Screwy Squirrel, who quickly pulls a home permanent gag on him.

Cut to the next scene, where Heel-Watha gets the permanent contraption off his head. As Scott Bradley plays “I Dream of Jeannie” in the background, the native’s pupils look up at the hair, he strikes a coy pose and says to the theatre audience “Becoming, isn’t it girls?”

The animation in the second scene is by Ed Love. He uses the same mouth movements and teeth positions on Heel-Watha in the cartoon that you can spot in his work at Hanna-Barbera in the late ‘50s. Preston Blair and Ray Abrams also received animation credits. Heck Allen wrote the story and Johnny Johnsen did another fine job painting scenic forest backgrounds. Thompson, Wally Maher, Frank Graham and Sara Berner supply the voices.

Sunday 24 January 2016

Questions to Benny

When Jack Benny signed off on May 22, 1955, he didn’t realise his radio series was finally coming to an end. A columnist in Variety reported on March 31th that Benny had a deal with American Tobacco for another radio season featuring more repeat shows. But something happened. When Jack returned in April from a meeting with company president Paul Hahn in New York, sponsoring the Benny radio show had been dropped in favour of pumping money into spot ads. Sponsor magazine also reported on May 1st that another sponsor had an option on the Benny show for the 1955-56.

It was not to be. Variety reported on August 19th that Jack was giving up radio, and:
It had been planned to use the old Benny tapes with occasional live leads and integrations, but Benny's unwillingness to continue on radio together with the lack of sponsor interest caused CBS to abandon the program.
But a deal was eventually worked out and Benny returned to CBS on Sunday nights at 7 in the East and 6:30 in the West starting October 28, 1956. But they were all reruns. There were no new Benny radio shows.

It would appear Benny’s management came up with a news release that was sent to papers to publish as a story. This unbylined piece appeared in the Buffalo Courier-Express of March 24, 1957.
Benny Herewith Answers 5 Most Asked Questions
There are five questions most frequently asked by newspaper and magazine writers, says Jack Benny.
Benny says the most frequent question is "Why did you decide to go back into radio?" With some pleasure, he answers, "When I left CBS Radio for television in 1954, I thought I'd never be I missed. But not so. Everywhere I went, people kept telling me that they missed the Sunday night spot. CBS executives heard the same thing. They called me for a little talk, and here I am back on the air each week. And believe me, it's a pleasure."
Another staple in the interviewer's kit is the question: "When was your first radio appearance?" Benny has the facts handy. "It was with Ed Sullivan in 1932. I'd known Ed for a long time, and as I was doing a vaudeville show in New York, he asked me to be a guest on his radio show. An agency heard me and signed me forthwith for 39 weeks."
Benny's habit of integrating commercials into his show is a frequent question subject. He answers that he was the first to do so, doing a light satire on the product. "At first the sponsor didn't like it," he says, "but then he got a flood of mail approving the stunt, and we stayed right with it."
"What is your approach to humor and the thing you try hardest for on your program?" is a frequently asked question. "We concentrate on building up characters that people like," Benny answers. "The audience wants to feel friendly toward you, and to be able to know the traits of the people in the show. You don't have to knock yourself out every week trying to come up with a blockbuster show. If people like you, they will stick with you, because they recognize the people in the show as friends."
Editing Most Important
Finally, the inevitable question, says Benny, is "What's the most important element in producing your show?" His answer is ready. "It's editing. This is the most important thing in show business, as well as in politics. In making a speech, or in any communications project. We go over our script and lines and keep changing and improving them right up to show time. And then if something good occurs to us during the program, we'll edit right on the spot."
Benny's radio show can be heard at 7 tonight on WBEN. His TV show will be carried at 7:30 tonight on Ch. 4
The recorded Jack Benny took the summer off in 1957, replaced on July 14th by the Henry Morgan quiz show Sez Who! (and not by Stan Freberg as is commonly thought). He returned on September 29th and bade farewell to radio again on June 29, 1958. John Dehner in Frontier Gentleman was moved into his slot. Benny was about to open at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, was performing benefit concerts and was still busy with television (and looking for a new director as Ralph Levy had quit). Whether Jack mourned the loss of his radio show is doubtful, considering he told interviewers a number of years later he was tired of being asked about it.

Despite that, the Benny radio show is still loved today. It’s not just the echoing voice of nostalgia that’s responsible. A whole new audience, albeit in smaller numbers, who didn’t grow up with the show, have heard it on the internet or “old time radio” shows broadcast by their local stations. They appreciate the humour and the characters, just as people did in the Benny heyday. CBS radio may have cancelled the show but, in one way or another, it’s never really left us.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Snickelgrass and the Stars

You’ve seen Smokey Bear, McGruff the Crime Dog and Vince and Larry, the crash dummies. They’re among the stars of TV public service announcements presented by the Ad Council.

For years, the Council has also provided radio stations in the U.S. with 30 and 60-second PSAs. Originally, the Council supplied print ads starting in 1941. You can read the Council’s history in brief HERE.

The Council first got into television in 1949, not long after the networks finally began offering a full prime-time schedule on weeknights. Its initial TV PSA was packed with stars—in caricature form. The cartoon wasn’t fully animated. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect it was the same as contemporary shows such as Tele-Comics, which featured drawings held for a period of time, with only a slight change in the next drawing. However, Broadcasting magazine of August 15, 1949 published the storyline and some of the frames of the cartoon, which we reprint below. The PSA had a message that is far too timely today.
Snickelgrass Saga...
SAD STORY of Sidney S. Snickelgrass Jr., who got his wish that all Americans of foreign descent "be sent right back where they came from," has been made into a one-minute musical cartoon sequence by the Advertising Council and will be distributed to all U. S. TV stations before the end of the month.
The film short, first venture into video by the council, was announced by Lee H. Bristol, president of Bristol-Myers Co. and coordinator of the United America campaign to combat religious and racial discrimination.
The pictures, drawn in crisp black and white against a gray background, are semi-animated by a technique that provides adequate motion without undue expense. A guitar-strumming vocalist sings the story in ballad fashion.
The TV spot opens with Snickelgrass rubbing a magic lamp [top photo] and telling the genie who appears that he'd like all people of foreign heritage sent back home. The genie explains that if that wish is granted "... all exiles may take what they've created."
"I don't care what they take. You just do what I stated," answers Snickelgrass. But his hat flies off and his jaw drops in amazement [second photo] as he watched huge ships loaded with:
"Roads built by Slovaks and farms plowed by Swedes [third photo], mills run by workers of hundreds of creeds.
"Skyscraper cities were loaded and stored [fourth photo] as Protestants, Catholics and Jews climbed aboard."
Frank Sinatra, Marian Anderson, The Marx Brothers, Jimmy Durante and Jack Benny wave goodbye [fifth photo] and poor Snickelgrass finds himself alone on the empty shore [bottom photo].
Even . .
"The genie was doing what Snicklegrass bade.
Like the rest of the foreigners, he'd gone back to Bagdad."
The story material was developed by Lynn Rhodes, copywriter, with Milton Krentz and Leonard Weil of the American Jewish Committee as programming consultants. Fred Arnott provided the art. Oscar Bryant arranged and sang the ballad. Edward Royal of the Advertising Council directed and produced the one-minute sequence.
Arnott semi-animated several other PSAs for the American Jewish Committee within the next few years. “Baseball,” “Sweet ‘n’ Sour” and “Three-Ring Circus” were all part of the AJC’s campaign promoting racial and religious diversity as part of a strong America, and available in 16 millimetre for free. They aired on 77 stations.

Arnott was born in New Jersey in January 1920 and went to Northwestern University where he was the staff newspaper cartoonist in 1942. Within a few years was working as an illustrator in Chicago. He later went to work for Bob Clampett on the Beany and Cecil cartoon series before returning to New Jersey where he taught art in middle and high school. Arnott told a Kiwanis meeting in Bernardsville in 1952 that four minutes of semi-animation cost $1,500. He died on November 20, 1998.

This is post is brought to you as a public service by this station and the Ad Council.

Friday 22 January 2016

Knighty Knight Bugs Opening

A pan shot opens the Oscar-winning cartoon Knighty Knight Bugs. You can click on it to make it bigger.

The wall and shields are on an overlay being panned at a different rate than the stone-walled rooms in the background, giving a nice 3-D effect that Warners used for more than 20 years. Tom O’Loughlin is the background artist for the Friz Freleng unit at this point. O’Loughlin was a painter prior to joining Warner Bros. in the late ‘50s; one of his exhibits received an announcement in December 1951 in the Los Angeles Times (along with UPA’s Herb Klynn).

Thursday 21 January 2016

The Cave Man

Willie Whopper cartoons aren’t funny. But you’re really missing out if you don’t get your hands on Thunderbean’s Willie Whopper Blu-Ray/DVD release.

The cartoons, as you may know, were made in 1933-34 by Ub Iwerks for Pat Powers’ Celebrity Pictures for release by MGM. There are some wonderfully off-beat character and background designs and some of the shorts have a peppy little orchestra toot-toot-tooting along as the action proceeds. And Thunderbean has pulled off another of their incomparable and loving restoration jobs on these B-list cartoons. The company deserves the support of anyone who loves animation from the Golden Age of theatricals (and commercials/industrials, for that matter).

Here are some background frames from The Cave Man (1934). Like most interiors in an Iwerks cartoon, things are broken, run-down, misshapen. These are from Mary’s thatched hut.

Here are some of the muted backgrounds. Ignore the characters that get in the way. I’d love to know who painted these and if it was the same person who did Porky in Wackyland for Bob Clampett a few years later (Clampett inherited some of the Iwerks staff).

Note how the distance is out-of-focus. It reminds me of a Fleischer cartoon, not surprising considering Grim Natwick, Berny Wolf (who get the animation credits) and others who worked at Iwerks had come from Fleischer.

There’s no music credit on this short. I don’t know if someone went to a record store, bought a 78 and had it played in the background, but it’s a hopping little tune.

Oh, and for character designs....

P.S.: I get nothing for the above plug for Thunderbean other than the satisfaction that it may help them carry on with their restoration of neglected old cartoons.