Sunday 31 July 2016

Maybe I'll Try Radio Instead

Jack Benny had a very short-lived and uneven vaudeville partnership before launching his radio career on May 2, 1932. He appeared on stage with comedian Lou Holtz, who mounted a revue that opened at Warners’ Hollywood Theatre on Broadway just over two weeks earlier on April 18th. That’s Holtz in a 1935 radio show to your right.

Benny dominated radio and was incredibly successful on television, beloved when he died in 1974 and someone who attracts new fans to his old broadcasts even today. But in 1932, Holtz was the mega-star. He pulled in $75,000 for an 11-week run at Warners’ Hollywood. Jack apparently got $2,000 a week. But then vaudeville died. Holtz’s agents put out feelers. He landed his own show on CBS for Chesterfield cigarettes starting in May 1933, but radio was never really his medium and he was never a star on TV. Unless you’re a real fan of the golden, pre-Depression era of vaudeville, you’ve probably never heard of him.

Money was the centre of Benny’s appearance with Holtz. He took the spot of Harry Richman, who had been pulling in even more cash than Holtz.

In the ‘30s, New York was littered with newspapers and each had its own theatre critic; the bigger papers had more than one. So let’s see what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published the day after the opening of the revue.
The Theaters

Lou Holtz Presents the Third Edition of His Vaudeville Revue, Adding Jack Benny and the Extraordinary Borah Minnevitch
Lou Holtz replenished his Vaudeville-Revue at the Hollywood Theater last night, making this, the third edition, all new except himself and the notables he picks out of the audience for purposes of introduction. The new didos are looser than the last but better. For one thing Jack Benny replaces Harry Richman as co-star with Mr. Holtz. That's a big step in advance. Mr. Benny is much easier to watch and listen to. And there is Borah Minnevitch!
A few are missed from the last edition, Hall LeRoy and Mitzi Mayfair for instance. No one fills the gaps they leave vacant. The third yersion needs a good dancer. It has a lively young man to sing songs, sentimental ones about the girl he loves or anything else the audience asks for. He's too lusty to be a crooner, but he means it just the same.
And for those who have long adored Blossom Seeley, there she is, as large as life and working hard, and seriously, Benny Fields meanwhile helping out. Her following is a large one. She is one of the bill's assets.
Borah Minnevitch and his harmonica symphonists are the real hit of the evening, though. He has something genuine to contribute to the show, a gift of a quality none of the other players have to offer. A fine musician himself on his mouth organ, he has gathered together an orchestra of ragamuffins of all sizes and senses of humor and they play beguiling music on their throbbing instruments while he directs. He doesn't say anything. Most of the comedy is silent. But it is good comedy, he is an oddly humorous leader and the music is really very fine, like nothing to be heard anywhere else. Minnevitch has his little touch of genius.
A young girl named Martha Raye, with a wide and mobile mouth and insinuating hips, sings eagerly. There is some dancing and a sketch or two. The rest is Holtz and Jack Benny. They are content with a simpler kind of comedy than that manufactured by Holtz and Richman in the preceding edition, and the effect is better.
Benny's poise is more genuine than Richman's, so the fun is less oily. The two kid each other and the audience and offer at one point in the evening what is perhaps the funniest, if also the boldest, of those jocularities about effeminate men who go about with their hands on their hips. Later, as a couple of Hill Billies, they sing a song called "West Virginia Gal" that is very amusing.
Hillbilly music was starting to become popular in the Depression and went in for a lot of ribbing. Jack himself did yokel sketches on his radio show, especially in the ‘30s, and featured a makeshift act called “The Beverly Hillbillies” (no relation to the later TV series) that was part of his stage act and even appeared with him on television. And, as you can see, jokes about “effeminate men” were perfectly acceptable in an era when white guys appeared on stage in blackface, and comedians used thick Yiddish, Swedish, Irish or German dialects to get laughs. Holtz was a dialect comedian and that kind of humour fell out of favour after the war.

The revue closed days before Benny began his radio career. Holtz jumped aboard the S.S. Bremen on May 5th for a vacation in France and England, turning down $3,000 to appear at the Palladium in London.

Fast forward to 1949. Benny was one of the top stars in network radio and had been for years. CBS had fought NBC (and the IRS) for his services. Holtz was trying to hawk a five-minute non-network “Laugh Club” radio series on transcription discs. Maybe he should have taken the big money at the Palladium when he had the chance.

Saturday 30 July 2016

Cartoons on TV, 1957

As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when there no cable channels devoted to cartoons, and no such thing as “Saturday morning cartoons.” If you wanted to see cartoons, you watched the local afternoon shows for kids where some costumed host would intro them in between routines. If you were lucky, the TV station (especially a small one) wouldn’t have a host and simply run a half-hour block of old cartoons, either every weekday or some time early on a weekend.

Cartoons have always been part of TV. Before World War Two, at least one New York station aired some of Van Beuren’s Aesop Fables. As television expanded, especially after the freeze on new TV licenses was lifted in 1952, more and more stations needed programming, and time could easily be filled with old films that were of no use to movie studios. Syndicators brokered deals for the films—in some cases whatever a studio owned before a certain date—and soon found cartoons were incredibly popular with kids. Popularity equals ratings, ratings equal sales, and sales equal profits.

By 1956, the bulk of theatrical cartoons made in the U.S. before 1948 had found homes in TV syndication, though Disney cleverly hung tight onto its animated shorts to use in its own programming. The obvious solution was made-for-TV cartoons but the results to date had been pretty cheap looking and couldn’t compare with the theatricals.

Here’s Variety summing up the situation as it stood as of the publication date of July 31, 1957. It included a helpful chart to reveal the origin of the cartoons being broadcast. Primrose Productions simply bought European cartoons for broadcast in the U.S. And Here Comes Pokey has nothing to do with Gumby’s horsie. It was a radio series put together by Phil Nasser; I’ve found a Feb. 4, 1957 copyright date. It would appear Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising worked out a deal to bring his characters to the screen, though I’ve seen no evidence a cartoon was ever made.


There are, by the best count of the moment, 3,298 fully-animated cartoons being sold to television stations across the country. In most cases, their impact on the audience has been terrific, usually downing the opposition wherever they have played on a regular basis. But the impact on advertisers is not always commensurate: There is a dearth of tv sponsors who are interested primarily in attracting juvenile lookers-in, yet, at the same time, out of necessity, any cartoon distributors have been able to point to a reasonable quotient of adults, to appeal to adult sponsors.
Exactly 1,533 cartoons have reached tv distributors in the past 24 months, 550 of those animations will break into the market between now and September of this year. Those include 130 from George Bagnall, somewhere in the vicinity of 175 from Metro, 104 from Onyx Pictures, 52 from Screen Gems (cartoons made for CBS-TV’s "Captain Kangaroo" and being prepped now for syndication), and 92 from Sterling Television. Sterling, incidentally, is expected to add another 50 or so new cartoons in the next couple of months.
Few Specifically For TV
Most every one of the cartoons that tv can lay its hands on these days was made first for theatrical release, and there is no strong indication that matters will change in the foreseeable future; market conditions, it has been said, don't encourage fully-animated cartoons made specifically for video. However, there are 466 of the over 3,000 cartoons around which were made for television, George Bagnall's distribution company having the biggest lot, the durable "Crusader Rabbits" and the new "Here Comes Pokey," for 325. Then there are the 52 "Adventures of Pow Wow," the Screen Gems pix mentioned before as "Captain Kangaroo" network material, which were made for tv, plus 89 "Cartoon Classics" from Sterling. The 104 untitled cartoons owned by Sam Lake's Onyx Pictures might in a way qualify as tv productions, since the European-made pix will have had their first U.S. appearance on tv.
There are 14 different distributors in the tv field with cartoons. The largest, in terms of numbers and the forerunner of the present-day cartoon "revolution," is Associated Artists, which, particularly behind the "Popeye" theatricals, has amassed a strong rating record.
National Telefilm Associates has 475 and Guild Films 370, most of which, in both instances, were released for tv in 1954 or 1955.
George Bagnall has 325. Screen Gems has a mixture of new and veteran cartoon product, for a total of 386 pieces. Sterling has 159, new and rerun, Onyx 104, Metro 175 and CBS Film 156. The smallest number known to be held by a single distributor is 11, that being out of the Governor TV camp. Others are Commonwealth with 400, Cinema-Vue with 150, RKO and Goodman with 13 each.
Filler Dillers
Until "Popeye" and "Looney Tunes," cartoons were invariably used as filler for established kidvid, both locally and on network. Trade recollections are clear about how well the material did pre-"Popeye." WATV, Newark, for instance, the first station in New York and one of the first in the country to use cartoons, brought an otherwise weak lineup right up to the top of the seven-station afternoon heap on the basis of "Junior Frolics," which showcased animations. This kind of filler stuff brought a good, steady rating and since there was a limited number of juve-slanted programs two and three years ago, a hefty number of sponsors.
While many of the cartoons for video are as old as the Fred Sayles show on WATV, a wide contention nevertheless is that the kid audience is unlike the adult market, in that product for the juve has recurring, periodic strength. Three or four years, perhaps a little more, the cartoon material that has played again and again in a short span of time and theoretically worn itself out for the moppet mart has in time a new market to play for. So far the theory hasn't proved out in syndicated sales, but if it does in time it will help alleviate the relative shortage of animated-material for tv.
Bonus Audience
About a month ago, Associated Artists, distributor of "Popeye," released the findings of a research study indicative to some degree of the whole cartoon field. Company disclosed a "bonus" adult audience of at least 20% in ARB surveys for cartoon shows. Cartoons for years previously had been popular with the grownups in theatres, so, argued AAP, why shouldn't they be via tv?
AAP went on to say that when cartoons were slotted favorably competition and time-wise, they attracted as much as a 30 and 40% adult share and even "an exceptionally fine" 50% adult audience. An example was a recent 7:30-9 p. m, cartoon "carnival" on WFIL-TV, Philadelphia, when the 50-50 audience was achieved, and this against the Ed Sullivan-Steve Allen competition, and Jack Benny-"Circus Boy."
Nearly every tv market in the United States has its cartoons, sometimes through the networks (as with CBS' "Kangaroo"), but usually via the syndication route, with the product as often as not integrated into a favorable local kid format. It's hard finding a local rating for the integrated cartoon, but the "Popeyes," "Looney Tunes," "Terrytoons," which are so frequently slotted in tailor-made local tv formats provide a representative sampling of the strength of cartoon product recently released to video.
AAP, on the basis of a 29-market ARB average, reports that "Popeye" pulled a 16.3 against an average competition of 8.9. That's for all markets studied by ARB since December, 1956. "Popeye" kept pace with ABC's afternoon strip by Walt Disney, "Mickey Mouse Club," beating it as often as it lost, but in either event the margin of difference in ratings was minute. ("Popeye" is currently sold to 71 stations.)
A 19-market average for AAP's Warner Bros. cartoons, a package including the "Looney Tunes" ("Bugs Bunny," etc.), was 14.0 against a collective competitive average of 10.6. (The Warner animations are inked on 53 outlets.)
CBS Film reported a series of "success stories," from among the 47 station deals it has made since starting sales. Again with the ARB's, distrib shows that "Terrytoons" on WOR-TV, New York, jacked the anchorage's returns 68% over last year, when Gene Autry and Roy Rogers features were shown. Packages, too, runs neck-and-neck with "MMC," instances being Buffalo and Providence.

Two names conspicuous by their absence are Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. At the time this story was published, their company, H-B Enterprises, was roughly three weeks old. Little did anyone realise that they would soon find the key to mass production of TV cartoons and change an entire industry.

Friday 29 July 2016

Columbia's Quiet Boulevard

Columbia’s “A Hollywood Detour” (1942) does a pretty good job imitating a Warner Bros. Hollywood caricature/spot gag cartoon (it even includes a Mel Blanc hiccough) but there’s one thing that’s a little different.

Director Frank Tashlin (another Warners connection) includes a long pan of a crowd along a street. But he’s showing how out of control the traffic situation is on what the narrator describes as “a quiet boulevard” by not only adding a police siren to the soundtrack, but by tilting the camera around as it pans across the painting. Tashlin re-uses animation of a car (seen in the distance in the second frame below) as it fills the camera to allow him to go back and re-pan over part of the background a second time.

Adding to the Warners feel, besides the story structure and even a few gags, are the presence of Ben Shenkman’s celebrity caricatures and Frank Graham as the narrator. Even some of Paul Worth’s music selections (“Little Brown Jug” with a W.C. Fields caricature), are reminiscent of what Stalling would do at Warners.

Unfortunately, the background artist is uncredited, but (s)he provides some very nice watercolours.

Thursday 28 July 2016

The Screwy Door

“You have to catch me first,” challenges Screwy Squirrel to Lonesome Lenny. So the chase is on.

Here’s Tex Avery’s first chase sight-gag. If you ask how this can happen, you cannot be a Tex Avery fan.

Walt Clinton has joined the Avery unit from Disney by this point. Others getting animation credits on this 1945 release are Ray Abrams, Preston Blair and Ed Love. Only Clinton remained until the unit disbanded in March 1953.

Heeza Liar and His Friends (No Lie)

It’s always a time for celebration when old cartoons are properly restored and released on DVD, and there is a great release to tell you about.

(Note: I am not associated with this DVD. I don’t even get a free copy. I haven’t seen it, either, but point it out in the public interest).

I won’t go into the numbers about how few films from the silent era still survive, especially short films. But one man who has spent a great deal of his life rescuing prints of silent cartoons is Tommy Stathes. And he’s garnered a nice collection of silents that has been restored as best as possible and released on DVD.

His Cartoon Roots—The Bray Studios focuses on the work of what, arguably, was the first commercially successful animation studio. John L. Bray opened his own studio in 1913 and supplied cartoons from artists on a rotating basis that were part of a screen magazine released by a number of companies—Paramount and Goldwyn to name two. Many of the famous names of animation worked for Bray before striking out on their own—Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Paul Terry and Pat Sullivan among them.

Alas, this DVD doesn’t feature my favourite silent character; Felix the Cat is still tied up under copyright, I imagine. You do get Colonel Heeza Liar, the first film cartoon character who starred in a series; Carl Anderson’s The Police Dog; Lantz’s first star, Dinky Doodle—two hours of cartoons in all. For anyone interested in the early days of animation, this collection would seem essential. Find out more about it at this Amazon link. My congratulations to Tom and his team of experts who worked on this.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

On My Way To the Grave

If Fred Allen was ever a happy, optimistic person, he never let that side of his personality show in interviews. Something was always wrong. And, generally, Allen was right about what was wrong.

He constantly found fault with the radio industry—networks, sponsors, ratings, even studio audiences. The title of his book Treadmill to Oblivion leaves you with the feeling that a morose Allen believed all his entertaining was, in the long term, really for naught.

Here’s Allen speaking to a friendly columnist at PM in an interview published on October 4, 1946. At the time he, arguably, may have been at the peak of his radio career, thanks to his Allen’s Alley segment. His comments about formats are interesting. He mentions programmes copying the Jack Benny format at one time (one of his sponsors had demanded the same thing of him in the ‘30s) and then copying Fibber McGee and Molly. The funny thing is Benny himself was pretty much doing the Fibber format by the end of his radio career, necessitated by the departure of Phil Harris and the reticence of Mary Livingstone to appear. Instead of a gang around a microphone, Benny ended up talking individually with what was left of his cast, just as Fibber and Molly chatted with stooges who individually came and went into their living room during the course of the half hour.

Wandering in Allen's Alley

Fred Allen, busy getting his own show ready for its bow this Sunday, took time out to be a guest on Information Please the night before last. Right afterwards he gave us a fast, 20-minute interview before hurrying back to the job of sweating out a program for Sunday.
As Allen settled himself on a folding chair at the engineer's booth of the studio, we said it was good of him to see us, since we knew how little time he allowed right now for anything but work. "It's all right," Allen said in his customarily dry way. "I'm just stopping by on my way to the grave." Two men sitting in the booth laughed. Allen did not smile at all. "Just passing through," he went on. "Another year should do it."
Radio 'Drudgery'
Allen recently called radio work "drudgery." Was it true he might quit radio at the end of this season to return to the stage? Allen said it was possible. "I've been sick," he explained. "I've had high blood pressure for several years. It doesn't improve as I get older. I'm half as old as a century plant. And I don't want to drop dead just to make the Joke of the Night in the New York Post. I consider that a dubious distinction. So whenever the doctor says enough . . ." Why did Allen look on radio as drudgery?
"You can't relax," he replied. "You just can't if you're going to maintain a standard week after week. For years I did an hour show every week. That's like doing one act of a play. But a playwright can take three months to do just one act. In radio you have to turn it out and it has to be good if you're going to be fair with people.
"Some of the comedians in radio come from the theater—Benny, Hope, myself. Our standards are a little different from those of the comedian who starts in radio. His standards are based on what he finds out talking to fat women at nine o'clock in the morning. The comedian who starts in radio also has a different concept of the mental level of audiences.
"I suppose you can't blame him. Radio is a medium that runs 18 hours a day. How can you even mention standards?"
TV-Too Many Imitations
Allen, despite the bitter under-current in his words, did not sound bitter. He spoke with a half-humorous sort of resignation, as though he had been over all this before and how long could you let it bother you anyway? But he did not smile at all.
"Ninety per cent of the people in radio are living on the other 10 per cent," he went on. "The minute you get something new everyone starts to imitate it. The first structures are built and the rest copy those structures. Jack Benny's show has been widely imitated. Right now everyone's using the Fibber McGee format.
"And what is it all for? A net-work wants to sell time. An agency wants to sell a show. A sponsor wants to sell a laxative. The actor, where is he? He is always in jeopardy because of a mythical rating that comes out every 30 days claiming to report mass reaction to a program. There are a million people in Indianapolis, this rating out-fit talks to four guys on the street. The four guys don't think you're funny. You're fired."
A man came into the engineer's booth and began to talk into a mike. "One, two, three, four," he said. "One, two three, four." Allen listened to him. "If you can count to 10," Allen said, "you can be a referee in a prize fight. If you can only count to four, there's a place for you in radio."
This Sunday night Allen will introduce a new character, Ajax Cassidy, to Allen's Alley. Ajax will be played by Peter Donald. Minerva Pious will be back as Mrs. Nussbaum and Kenny Delmar as Senator Claghorn.
Ajax Cassidy, "philosopher with no philosophy," is coming into Allen's Alley to replace Falstaff Openshaw. Alan Reed, who was Falstaff, is in Hollywood making movies.
"Everybody's in California," Allen said. "Radio really operates from there. This Radio City has become a mausoleum. They build a great building and then, with true radio efficiency, send everything to California."
Allen got up to leave. His wife, Portland Hoffa, was waiting for him. Had he and Mrs. Allen had a good Summer in Maine, we asked?
"Yes," Allen said, "though it rained quite a lot. Strange, he added, "NBC forgot to take care of the weather."

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Miss X Appears

Walter Lantz’s “Abou Ben Boogie” (1944) owes an awful lot to Tex Avery but its success is due mainly to animator Pat Matthews. He does a great job with the sensual Miss X and he’s responsible for a wonderful solo dancing scene involving a camel.

Here’s how director Shamus Culhane handles the arrival of Miss X into this cartoon, carried by two burly servants/slaves. These are consecutive drawings.

Culhane wasn’t too concerned about matching cuts. These are consecutive frames.

Since Bugs Hardaway co-wrote this, I’d better say “The eyes have it.” He’d appreciate the hokey pun.

Lantz planned to have Miss X co-starring in the first of the Musical Miniatures, “Poet and Peasant” (Variety, Sept. 12, 1944), but the character ran afoul of the censors. Lantz never made another cartoon with her.

Monday 25 July 2016

Not the Jones Eyes!!

Anyone want to take a guess at who was responsible for these drawings?

Far more interesting are these representations of diseases:

Whooping Cough


Rheumatic Fever


This is from the industrial short So Much For So Little, released in 1949. As you can tell from the baby with the Cindy-Lou Who eyes, nose and eyelashes, it was made by the Chuck Jones unit at Warners. Storyman Mike Maltese doesn’t get a credit but Jones’ animators do—Ken Harris, Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan and Phil Monroe. I don’t know which one is responsible for the smear below; it’s either Vaughan or Washam.

Bob Gribbroek, Paul Julian and Pete Alvarado are also credited. Your narrator is Frank Graham.

Sunday 24 July 2016

More Lolly on Jack

Not one of the Hollywood gossip columnists ever wrote a bad thing about Jack Benny, at least that I can tell. All the columns I’ve ever run across praise him for being a kind and gentle man and not anything like his radio character (a point I suspect Mr. B. wanted the columnists to make clear, considering how many times he talked about it himself).

Louella Parsons of the Hearst chain was particularly friendly. Perhaps it’s because Benny fed her ego by inviting her to appear on his radio show three times (something he never did with her rival, Hedda Hopper). She devoted her entire column to Jack on a number of occasions. We’ve posted a couple of them here. Here’s another one from newspapers of November 30, 1952.

Mrs. Parsons never hesitated to make herself part of the story. She does so again in this column.
Jack Benny Is Generous, Not Stingy

Motion Picture Editor
International News Service

HOLLYWOOD—I was rushing to meet Jack Benny at my house, and as we drove up to the door, I said to Collins, my driver, "Oh, dear, that's Jack Benny's car now."
"No ma'am, Miss Parsons," said Collins, "Mr. Benny drives an old Maxwell."
This will give an idea of the impact of Jack's Jokes. All of his radio listeners firmly believe Jack is the stingiest man in Hollywood, and that he wants all the glory for himself. Nothing could be farther from the truth. After 20 years. Jack still makes these gags seem true, but in reality he is one of the most generous of men, the kindest, and the people who work with him swear by him.
He will never do anything to keep others on his show from going out on their own and making good, as witness Dennis Day and Phil Harris, both of whom started with Jackson (as they call him) and now have successful shows of their own.
Jack is one of the few entertainers who has stayed on radio, and can stay as long as he wishes. His format, which varies little throughout the years, is still a must in many, many homes. However, he is going to do a TV show once a month. "There are so many places where television does not reach," said Jack, "so I will do both radio and TV this year."
He takes radio in his stride, and everyone has a good time on his show. That's one of the reasons it's a success—the merriment comes over the microphone. I told him I can always hear Mary Livingston's laugh above all else.
"Mary doesn't care at all about show business," he said, "and she is so good. She would bow out anytime. She's also a wonderful critic but do you know where I go when I want to know whether my show is good or bad?"
"To Mary's great friend Barbara Stanwyck," he answered. "Barbara is completely honest. She'll say, 'you missed the boat' or 'that is a good show.' When she says the show is good she means it."
In the course of our conversation I told Jack another reason I think he is so loved is because he never resorts to off color jokes. His shows are for the whole family. Other comedians often say something so suggestive it brings a blush to people who aren't used to innuendo, but Jack never offends in the slightest.
Jack was born near Waukegan, Illinois (not far from my hometown, Freeport), on Valentine's Day, and still says he is 39 years old. His real name is Benny Kubelsky, and the boy who became Jack Benny and played on the fiddle has come a long way.
The Bennys have been married since January, 1927—and in all those years there has never been a breath of scandal connected with either of them, Jack has made "The Horn Blows at Midnight" pay off by kidding himself and the picture, which isn't in any language, a work of art. But I happen to know that it made money anyway. In fact Jack has never made a picture that didn't.
Rochester calls Jack, "Mr. Benny, star of stage, radio and screen." Now he'll have to add "and television" to the list.
If there were more Jack Bennys, Hollywood would be a better place. But I feel as do those who love him, that they broke the mold when they made this fine person.
A number of people in Hollywood didn’t have as high of an opinion about Parsons as she did about Jack Benny. Eventually, Parsons simply became irrelevant. The studio system that kept the stars—and her—in business disintegrated. In the meantime, Jack Benny, who had been in show business even longer than Parsons, carried on into the 1960s and 1970s. He was still a star when he died in 1974. When Parsons died in 1972, she was part of the past.

Saturday 23 July 2016

RKO's New Star

Felix the Cat couldn’t beat a mouse.

The rodent he was dealing with wasn’t an ordinary one. It was Mickey Mouse.

The year was 1936. RKO was releasing cartoons featuring Felix, who had been off the screen for several years thanks to the death of a) silent films and b) the man credited with creating him, Pat Sullivan. In the intervening period, Disney rose to reign over the theatrical animated world thanks to a) Mickey, b) Flowers and Trees, a Technicolor milestone and c) The Three Little Pigs, arguably the most popular cartoon to that point.

Mickey had jumped from Columbia to United Artists, but Walt Disney was looking for a better deal for his cartoons. In the meantime, RKO had been releasing cartoons by the Van Beuren studio, of which it was a part owner. Van Beuren was in a state of turmoil, with characters and staff coming and going, exacerbated in 1934 when the director of the aforementioned pigs cartoon, Burt Gillett, was hired and put in charge. Gillett’s cartoons looked like night and day compared to the fun, quirky and not always well drawn Van Beuren shorts of 1930, but it wasn’t enough. RKO decided it wanted the world’s most famous cartoon character.

Daily Variety reported, in part, on March 3, 1936:
Radio Captures Disney

Disney cartoons will release via RKO exchanges for 1936-37 season. Producer pulls away from United Artists when he fulfills present commitment of five cartoons on current program.
Papers were signed late last night, after negotiations covering month. Leo Spitz, president of RKO, M . H. Aylesworth, chairman of board, and Ned Depinet, president of RKO Distributing Corp., sat in for releasing company, Walt and Roy Disney taking care of their end with attorney Gunther Lessing.
Releasing All Product
Agreement provides for RKO to release all Disney product, including Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoon shorts. Producer has been working on feature cartoon, 'Snow White,' expects to have it ready for spring release.
Understood main reason Disney jumped away from United Artists was his not getting owner-partnership share when Alexander Korda was taken in last fall. Another reason was unsettled affairs of U A with various executive changes, Disney figuring RKO deal, which gives him guaranteed negative cost on every subject produced, is safer than U A release without negative advances and does not require as much operating capital.
Here are some trade ads heralding the Mouse’s impending arrival.

But what of the Van Beuren cartoons? Weekly Variety reported on March 11th:
Disney Ousts Van B.?
Conflict in type of shorts product may result in RKO's dropping of Rainbow Parade cartoons, produced by Van Beuren Corp. next season. Addition of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies gives the company a surplus of animated cartoons. RKO claims it is not definitely set on any change thus far. Van Beuren series includes Felix the Cat, Toonerville Trolley, etc.
Other Van Reuren product which includes five other series of short features, probably will remain set unless RKO decides two-reelers are not profitable in face of influx of dual programs.
But drop Van Beuren it did. The studio was closed by June. The last Van Beuren cartoon released was Toonerville Picnic, directed by Gillett, on October 2nd. RKO’s first Disney cartoon wasn’t released until September 21, 1937—Hawaiian Holiday. A couple of months later, the studio released The Old Mill, which won an Oscar. And Disney had acquired a new director, and from Van Beuren no less. Burt Gillett had toddled home.

Friday 22 July 2016

A Change of Scenery

An interesting but jarring effect shows up in the early Terrytoon By the Sea (1931). A mouse is driving his car in the city and makes a left turn. Suddenly, the background drawing changes. The last two frames are consecutive.

The cartoon’s story involves a cat in love with a mouse, who is stolen away by the heroic mouse in the frames above.