Saturday 30 April 2016

Hugh and Rudy, Their Story

Here’s how it worked: you bought a full-page ad in The Film Daily Cavalcade and you got a story printed about you. Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising bought an ad for 1939 edition. What you see below is the story.

Because it’s a puff piece and not a real biography, it glosses over a few things, like Hugh and Rudy being wooed by Charles Mintz to desert Walt Disney and work on the Oswald cartoons for him in 1928. And it doesn’t explain why Harman-Ising Productions discontinued operations in 1938 (they became insolvent after Fred Quimby went behind their backs to grab their staff and set his own cartoon studio the year before).

In the article, Harman waxes on about feature-length cartoons. MGM wouldn’t commit to one and when he finally walked away to form his own company in 1941, he couldn’t get one off the ground for a variety of reasons.

If nothing else, Harman and Ising deserve lasting credit for convincing Leon Schlesinger to bankroll their cartoons for release by Warner Bros. They sparked a multi-jillian-dollar business. Granted, it was with characters Hugh and Rudy never dreamed about made by other directors with a focus on humour instead of music, but it never would have happened without Harman and Ising.

Note: the great Looney Tunes display ad is from another publication from 1930.

A Couple of Failures in Kansas Only Made Them Fight Harder for Success in Cartoons

ALL heroes have their beginnings, Caesar had Rome, Napoleon had France, Washington had the Delaware and Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising had Kansas City.
In 1922, Ising was on his way to fame and fortune by way of $1,000 he had invested in an animated cartoon business with another young and ambitious cartoonist, Walt Disney. It must have been folding money, because, although Ising and Disney had the very best of intentions, the company folded, owing Hugh Harman, its oldest and most trusted employee, two weeks back salary.
The sting of defeat subsided with the smoke of battle; Harman joined Ising, and both wholly oblivious to the trick name combination (Harman-Ising) turned their efforts to the organization of a new cartoon producing company. One cartoon, "Sinbad The Sailor," was produced, which was notable at that date (1924) in that it set a precedent in its art work for the fine design and drawing, which subsequently were to distinguish the better cartoons.
This was the beginning; it was also the end. The celluloid dreams of Harman-Ising were shattered by financial storms. It seems the provincial moneybags of Kansas City didn't appreciate the finer things of life.
Kansas City's loss was Hollywood's gain, as 1928 saw our heroes set out for the Coast for Round Two of their fight to put Harman-Ising in a top spot as a fantasy factory.
They had a new idea. The cinema world had just seen the advent of sound. Why not make cartoons talk? They did; they produced the first talking cartoon ever made, 'Bosko, the Talking Kid," completed in 1929. With Leon Schlesinger supplying an important bank roll, Harman-Ising Productions, Ltd., really began to roll, turning out five series of "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies," distributed by Warner Bros.

Harman-Ising marches on. They wanted to make bigger and better pictures. In fact, they were not quite satisfied with that. They wanted to make the best. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted the best and were willing to furnish all the poker chips. This gave H-I new dignity and added zeal, so they blossomed forth with a new corporate structure and name, Harman-Ising Pictures, Inc. Such color fantasies as "Chinese Nightingale," "Calico Dragon," "Lost Chick," "Little Cheeser," "Bottles" and "Old Mill Pond" catapulted the boys to fame.
In 1938, Harman-Ising discontinued independent production. The partners joined M-G-M as staff producers. Their present productions include 'The Bear Who Couldn't Sleep," "Little Goldfish," "Art Gallery" and "Goldilocks And The Three Bears."
"In the last decade the animated cartoon has developed from its early grotesque form to its present lofty state and this development is really a miracle in art and an achievement in entertainment," said Harman, in an interview. "The significance of the cartoon can be realized only when we consider its world wide appeal and power of influence.

Friday 29 April 2016

Claude’s Nightmare

A wonderful morph scene highlights The Hypo-Chondri-Cat starring the mind-game playing mice, Hubie and Bertie. They’ve convinced Claude Cat to let them operate on him. The cat starts hallucinating. A needle and thread turn into Claude’s bed (changing colours along the way). The artwork tells the story.

Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan, Phil Munroe and Ken Harris get screen credit in the 1950 Warners release by the Chuck Jones unit. The story is from the mind of Mike Maltese. If only Jones had made Tom and Jerry cartoons like this instead of the facial expression pose-fest he gave audiences in the ‘60s, what a treat it would have been for theatre audiences.

Thursday 28 April 2016

Oswald's Dark Horse

Oswald the Rabbit and Peg Leg Pete take part in an air race across the Atlantic in The Ocean Hop (1927). A title card introduces ‘The Dark Horse.’ Oswald is hiding in a horse-like thing, his head sticking out of the horse’s neck, while the horse’s head bobs along, detached from the rest of the body. Animation by Ben Clopton.

The plane becomes human for a bit. He and Oswald tell Peg Leg what they think of him. This is all Hugh Harman’s work.

Ham Hamilton and Ub Iwerks animated on this cartoon, too. Read more about it HERE.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Have You Got a Couple of Penguins?

You could do lots of funny and grandiose things on network radio and about the only cost was the pay of the sound effects man.

Television was different. For the most part, you had to see the gag. So TV networks had to have a prop department. When the prop department didn’t have it, the show’s producers had to get staffers to go out and find what was needed, no matter how bizarre.

This was true in the early days of modern network TV (starting in the fall of 1948). Herald Tribune syndicate columnist John Crosby related this tale in his column of July 8, 1949, during the first year when the four networks had full weekday evening schedules.

Radio in Review
Robert Wade, manager of television production facilities at NBC, and his assistant manager, Robert Brunton, always get the shudders when they hear a gag writer at a script conference say: “Wouldn't it be funny if...”
Television comedy in its present state of infancy is entranced with props which are to TV what the switcheroo is to radio. "Wouldn't it be funny if Joe opened that icebox door and two live penguins walked out of it?" That is a fairly typical example of how that "wouldn't it be funny if . . . " line is usually finished.
Everyone decides it would be hilarious and then it is up to Mr. Wade and Mr. Brunton to produce a couple of live penguins by next Tuesday.
As a matter of fact, they once had to produce two live penguins within four days for a show called "The Hour Glass." First they tried the local zoo. No penguins were available. Wade figured the United States Navy might have a couple of penguins lying around as pets and called Washington. The Navy said no, it didn’t have any penguins but suggested the Peruvian navy. The Peruvian navy graciously sent a couple of penguins in time for the Friday show.
The most prodigious dreamer-up of crazy props is, of course, Milton Berle, who drives the NBC production staff into fits every Sunday at rehearsals by thinking up improbable things that have to be on hand by Tuesday night. Among the props Berle has demanded and got are a sled with a full team of eskimo dogs, a trick piano that punched him in the nose, a 1903 automobile, a hansom cab with horse, a Good Humor tricycle and a truth machine that explodes. An article on television in the current "Fortune" observes that Berle would have an elephant on the show if he could get one into the NBC elevators.
Wade and Brunton have laid their hands on a Fifth avenue bus for the Olsen and Johnson show, a display of jewels from Cartier's worth $1,500,000 and a valuable Rembrandt. In a single week, Wade's department has to produce about 3,000 properties which range from a derby hat out of which a canary flies to authentic armor for a period play.
Every order is a rush Order—legitimate theater stage managers are appalled at the speed with which things have to be done in TV—and Wade depends heavily on his own memory or that of his staff to locate elusive items. In the case of the 1903 auto, one of the prop men remembered having seen one in a New Jersey town. He went out and got it.
Since they have to obtain props with a minimum of haggling and explanations, the production staff has built up contacts with zoos, ships chandlers, antique dealers, second-hand dealers, museums, hospital supply shops and gunsmiths. Gradually, these contacts are getting used to frantic telephone calls at 3 p.m. for sixteenth century muskets needed that night.
Large animals are borrowed or rented. Smaller ones must be bought. Then the staff has to get rid of them. A zoo took the penguins but nobody wanted a live goose. It wandered around the shop for days and became a pet. Finally, one of the prop men took it home for dinner.
As in the movies, many real articles just don’t look real on a television screen. Cheese usually has burnt sugar added to it to give it some semblance of reality. Oranges get a hypodermic of vegetable dyes to improve their looks. Rain has to have milk added to it. Snow has become a particular nuisance around the RCA building because the mice eat it. Snow, as in the movies, is a mixture of unbleached corn flakes, mica and punched paper, and the mice love it.
NBC has built sets representing every part of the world—the South Seas, the Arctic, Australia, Africa, everywhere, and every period of time. Again, the designers have no time to bone up on periods and places. They rely on memory and do pretty well. The most elaborate set NBC ever built was for “Street Scene.” This was a couple of tenements with two working levels and one suggested third story. It was 90 feet long and each room was individually decorated so the cameras could peer into it.
By movie standards, the “Street Scene” set was kids’ stuff, but the movie people wouldn’t have got it up as fast as NBC. It took two days.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Ducking Out

Some nice little expressions highlight the scene in Field and Scream when a duck is shot from the sky and acts like a downed aircraft.

The duck escapes from inside itself and parachutes to safety.

Heck Allen helped Tex Avery with the story, and the credited animators were Grant Simmons, Mike Lah and Walt Clinton. Maybe someone knows if this is Clinton’s scene.

Monday 25 April 2016

Fox-Terror Backgrounds

A number of animators and other artists never got screen credit on Warner Bros. cartoons, even after the studio started putting “full” credits at the start of the shorts. And a few appear only briefly and then disappear.

One is Bob Majors, who provided backgrounds for the Bob McKimson unit after Dick Thomas left. He worked on Cheese It, the Cat, Fox-Terror and Boston Quackie, all released in 1957 and then vanishes from the screen.

Here is some of Majors’ work on Fox-Terror. It’s pretty straight-forward, similar to Thomas’ backgrounds for McKimson. The opening art is fairly flat while the remaining backgrounds have some dimension to them.

Majors was born in 1913 in Ottumwa, Iowa to William W. and Martha (Janney) Majors. His father was a candy salesman in Iowa but was selling life insurance for his father-in-law in Ontario, California by 1924.

The San Bernardino County Sun of April 10, 1955 described Majors as "an alumnus of Chaffey High School and College, the Chouinard Art Institute of Los Angeles and the University of Hawaii at Honolulu. He worked in the Walt Disney studios and the RKO Studios, designing sets, and has done furniture illustration in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. He has done murals for Bullocks Pasadena store, the new Clark Hotel, Los Angeles and for a number of night clubs and restaurants and in private homes." A Los Angeles Times story of July 3, 1938 reported he was a member of the Screen Cartoonists Guild.

During the war, some of his art was featured in Life magazine, which stated he was a sergeant who had worked on “Fantasia” at Disney. During the War, he was assigned to the Signal Corps Photographic Unit on Long Island. In 1955, the Times reports he was exhibiting his watercolours in Ontario, where he had returned after the war.

What happened to Majors? Why he did leave Warners after three cartoons? The latter is open for speculation. As for the former, he died an early death. The U.S Department of Veterans Affairs reports Robert Janney Majors, born May 23, 1913, died on May 14, 1960 and is buried in Honolulu.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Tralfaz Sunday Theatre – The Clown Princes of Hollywood

Television, at one time, featured documentaries on silent films, in some cases as filler programming on weekend afternoons. Stations could easily put them on the shelf and drag them out when needed because they didn’t date.

Here’s one apparently from 1963. The soundtrack is jumpy and the print isn’t the best but it’s still an enjoyable half hour. Ben Turpin, Charley Chase, Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Buston Keaton, Harry Langdon and Charlie Chaplin are included.

Niagara, Newton and Benny

A non-stop schedule of TV specials, concerts and stage shows awaited Jack Benny after his series ended in 1965.

Oh, and media interviews.

Jack made an appearance in 1966 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. And reporters were there to take up his time, as they seemed to do in every town where he appeared. He was in a pretty good mood during this particular news conference and comes across in print just like he did on the air—a relaxed, friendly man with a sense of humour.

Among other things, Benny is credited with giving Wayne Newton his biggest career break, and that’s addressed in this story in the Niagara Falls Gazette, August 8, 1966.

Jack Benny Opening Week at Melody Fair

Gazette Staff Writer

Comedian Jack Benny used this term to describe his return to the live stage, at a press party in the Griffon Room at Castle Court Motel Sunday evening.
Benny, and the newest star in his long list of discoveries —singer Wayne Newton—will open a one-week engagement at Melody Fair at 8:30 p.m. today.
The comedian, who has been in show business 55 years, said that he has had time for personal appearances since he stopped doing his weekly television show. "Direct contact with the people is just fun," he said.
Playing the tent circuit is "like a vacation," Mr. Benny said.
* * *
"I'LL PLAY a little golf and I might go and do a little sightseeing, but I'll be playing it by ear," Jack said, noting that this is the first time he has ever played in the Niagara Falls area and the first time he has been here "in years."
He regards playing a show as part of his vacation. "If I didn't have the show to do, I would probably be having dinner with somebody, and I can do that in Hollywood every night," he said.
The variety show will include a lot of Benny, who said he spends about 40 minutes on stage during the first part of the show and never leaves the stage during the second half.
WAYNE NEWTON, who will be appearing with Benny, was in Chicago Sunday and was flying into the Niagara Frontier today.
Newton was discovered "reluctantly" by Benny while the two entertainers were, playing in Sydney, Australia, two years ago.
Irving Fein, the comedian's manager, said they had heard Newton's name and had received a number of requests to see the singer, but they finally relented to see him "very reluctantly."
Their first reaction was "he's dynamite." Newton stopped the show at the Cheveron Hilton in Sydney.
"Another Al Jolson," was the way the manager described Newton who was only 21 at the time.
A few months later, Benny was booked at Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe, Calif., and needed another act to fill out his show, so he contacted Newton.
* * *
ONE YEAR LATER, the singer that Benny brought in to Lake Tahoe as a fill-in act was headlining at the same club, and Benny followed Newton.
Jack said that the younger generation doesn't remember the comedian who has been on the stage since before World War I, but they know Wayne Newton.
"Some kids come up to me and ask me for tickets to the Wayne Newton Show," Benny said. "I don't care what they call the show, just so long as they buy tickets," the comedian joked.
Dressed in casual gray slacks with a gray silk shirt and a blue and black striped ascot, the comedian kept asking people for matches as he re-lit his cigar several times throughout the evening.
"I'll never have retirement plans," he said, but noted that "each year I will cut down a little." He said leaving his weekly TV show was the first step in his plan to slip into semi-retirement.
* * *
BENNY SAID he is planning to do some TV work, but only on a "special" basis. He also indicated that he would be interested in doing a Broadway show, if he could find the right one.
He said he would be primarily interested in producing the show, but would play a part if there was one in it which he liked.
"I think I'd have to own the show though, so I wouldn't be tied to it and could go into it and leave when I would like to," he said.
He said his slow-down would be "like Bob Hope. God knows he doesn't need the money."
"The only reason I don't go to Viet Nam is because it would be a little bit tough on me," Benny said. He explained that the last time he hit the front line circuit was in 1951 when he spent 21 days and nights entertaining the troops in Korea.
"It's okay for Hope to do, after all, he's 10 years younger than I am," Benny said, acknowledging that that would make Hope "29."
* * *
THE DEAN of American comedy said that if he had it all to do over again, he wouldn't change a thing, but he did regret that he didn't start his concerts about 20 years earlier.
"The best thing I like doing are the concerts," Benny said.
Mr. Benny has played his violin in a number of concerts for charitable causes during the last several years.
"I like playing with a symphony orchestra," the comedian said. He said this type of work takes a lot of practice, because "I do have to play big heavy numbers, or it wouldn't be funny."
"I try to play good," he said, continuing that "all my sour notes are legitimate. I don't mean to play any of them."
Mayor Robert F. Keighan of Niagara Falls, Ont., introduced the official Niagara Falls Tartan when he presented Mr. Benny with a sports coat made of the material which is designed to reflect the muted colors of the lights on the Falls at night.
HE EXPLAINED to Mr. Benny that the tartan would help charity, because two per cent of the royalties from the sale of the tartan will be contributed to the United Appeal of Niagara Falls, Ont.
Mayor E. Dent Lackey of this city presented the comedian with an official Niagara Falls money clip.
"At last I'm being given something I can do something with," the comedian joked. "I get keys to the city everyplace. What am I going to do with a key to the city," Benny continued.
Whether he's 39 or 73, Jack Benny retained the same comic wit that has kept his name in headlines for so many years, even after two hours at the mercy of the press and a hot, four hour drive from Cleveland, Ohio, where he finished playing Saturday.

Saturday 23 April 2016

Bringing Cartoons to Life

There’s always been a curiosity, it seems, about how animated cartoons were made. News and magazine stories have appeared over the years outlining the process.

This syndicated piece was plucked out of the Independent of January 3, 1920. The frames of Ko Ko the clown by Max Fleischercame with the story, as did the other drawing.

By Jerome Lachenbruch
Independent Magazine
When the little animated cartoon figures jiggle across the motion picture screen to caricature our foibles and then suddenly fade away after ten minutes of silent, artificial hilarity, it is difficult to beleive that it has taken longer to make them than to make a five reel feature picture.
The conception to the final presentation of an animated cartoon idea on the screen covers a period of about seven weeks, whereas pictures photographed from life are often finished in five weeks. About a dozen artists assist the creative cartoon artist in the mechanical work of preparing the cartoons for the camera. Slow as the process still seems to be, an idea of the development of the process is evidenced from the fact that one of the first cartoons made by Mr J. R. Bray, the pioneer in this phase of screen humor, consisted of 16,000 individual drawing, which took ten months to draw and but ten minutes to reel off on the screen.
Boiled down to essentials, the making of an animated cartoon comprises five fundamental processes. These are, first, a series of original drawings; second, tracing of the drawings on transparent composition plates: third, the chemical process by which the cartoon figures on the plates are rendered opaque against a background; fourth, the method of photographing; and fifth, the development of the photographic negative.
Before going into the details of each process, it must be remembered that animated cartoons are a series of drawings that are photographed individually. The photographing process is an application of the kodak use of the roll film which is turned for each succeeding exposure.
The animated cartoon of 500 feet consists of from 1,200 to 1,500 original drawings. These are made by the artist who conceives the "story". The success of the picture depends more on his ability to gage the number of different drawings necessary to represent a single action that upon his draughtsmanship. He often draws detached heads and legs, which are superimposed on detached bodies to make a complete figure. For instance, if the artist wishes to show a figure turning his head and crossing his legs, he does not draw a series of pictures showing the full figure in different poses. Instead, he first draws the body, then on another sheet the head and the legs. Next he draws a bead turned toward the audience, and then makes a drawing of the legs, crossed. One drawing of the body suffices for both poses. When these reach the photographer, they are assembled according to directions and exposed in the proper order. The same body is exposed in every photograph because it does not move; and those parts which change position are superimposed and fitted to the basic drawing.
All drawings are made on transparent paper and may be photographed several times in different parts of the cartoon. Thus, drawing No. 17 may be a head which is used in connection with the headless body, figure No. 29, and also with figure No. 45, or even with a combination of two other drawings. By this method, time has been saved in drawing the individual pictures and the process of making animated cartoons placed on a practical basis.
When all the drawings have been made, a series of backgrounds, such as houses, streets, churches, etc., are drawn to aid in telling the story. After these are finished, all the drawings are then sent to the copying room, where they are traced upon a thin transparent composition plate which is made by a secret chemical process. The reason for using a transparent plate is that two or more plates must often be photographed, one placed on top of the other, to form a single picture.
Moreover, it is often necessary to photograph three plates together, two of which form a figure, and the third a background. As the figures are drawn only in outline, they would permit the background to show through unless treated in some way to render them opaque. This difficulty is overcome by coating the drawings on the plates with a specially prepared substance which has no effect on the chemical composition of the plate itself. Consequently, the part of the background covered by the figure does not show when photographed.
The photographic process itself is carried out with the same materials used in photographing a motion picture with living characters: but, the method of using the camera for animated cartoons is quite different.
In ordinary motion picture photography a reel of negative film 400 feet long is placed in the camera, which is mounted on a tripod and can be swung in a semi-circle on a horizontal axis. As the story is acted on the studio stage the reel is turned by the camera man, who operates a crank attached to the camera. But in photographing the animated cartoon, the same camera with the same film is fastened above a table on a rigid frame, the lens facing downward. The camera man sits at the table and, according to the numbers marked on the pile of plates beside him, exposes them in successive order. Instead of turning the crank by hand, a mechanical arrangement consisting of a slender chain revolving over a sprocket and a set of gears carries the control of the camera shutter to a pedal below the table. This is operated by the camera man's foot. The contrivance is so regulated that when a plate on the table is exposed to the camera, the photographer presses the pedal, the photograph is taken and the reel of film turned about one inch, thus revolving the unexposed part of the negative into position for the next photograph. In this single pressing of the pedal the shutter is automatically closed after the photograph is taken. Furthermore, an indicator records the exact number of photographs made. In short, picturizing the animated cartoon consists of taking 1,200 to 1,500 individual still-life photographs.
After these have been made, the negative film is sent to the developing laboratory, where it is treated the same as other motion picture films. That is, the negative is reprinted on another film called a positive. The positive is not sensitive to light and will keep indefinitely. Finally the positive print is sent to the editing room, where the cartoon is clipped, and individual pictures taken out or placed in a different order, so that the story may be told more smoothly. The strips cut out are pasted into the film again with a cement that fuses with the celluloid film and does not reveal where the picture has been pieced.
During the war a new use for the processes employed in making animated cartoons was developed by Mr. J. F. Leventhal of the Bray Corporation. Mr. Leventhal applied the cartoon process to technical drawings and evolved an entire course of instruction on the construction of bombs. This was used in the West Point Military Academy and re suited in reducing a course of instruction that formerly consumed twenty-four teaching hours to fifteen minutes . By means of the animated technical drawing, the most complete mechanical apparatus can be explained graphically with a consequent reduction in the time required for its study and an immeasurable increase in interest on the part of the students.