Tuesday 28 February 2017

From the Mountains To the Desert

The Woody Woodpecker cartoon “Round Trip to Mars” (1957) opens with a couple of transitional backgrounds by Art Landy. With a quick pan, the scene goes from a city to a mountain, and then from a mountain to a desert.

I tried snipping the frame grabs together to give you a panorama, but it won’t work. So here are some of the frames from the second transition.

No layout artist is credited.

Monday 27 February 2017

Shamus Sighting

Willie Whopper’s Spite Flight borrows a lot from Willie Whopper’s The Air Race (both 1933) . But the premise of the later cartoon revolves around Willie winning an air race to get money to pay Mary’s mortgage.

With the help of a large swarm of bees, Willie wins and vanquishes the villain.

Let’s get a closer look at who signed the mortgage.

Culhane? Hmm. I wonder who that could be.

Well, it’s one way to get your name in a cartoon when it’s not in the credits.

Sunday 26 February 2017

He Worries Before Every Sunday Night

Listening to the calm, even voice of Jack Benny on the radio or TV, you wouldn’t get the impression he worried a lot. But he did. It was fairly well known in Hollywood and written about on occasion in columns.

That’s part of the focus of this article in the September 1941 edition of Modern Screen magazine. Jack made movies on a regular basis in the mid-‘30s and into the ‘40s, so movie magazines covered him. This is one of several feature stories that appeared over the years in Modern Screen. The stock photos accompanied the article.

It's No Fun To Be Funny
By Hugh Roberts
"Look," said Buck Benny, the pride of NBC, "couldn't you change the title a little? Like 'It's No Fun to be Funny Except Once in a While When They Fall for a Gag You Didn't Think Was So Hot or on Sunday After the Show When You Feel Relaxed and Want to Stay Up All Night?' No? Too long, huh? Why don't you use initials?"
Benny's reputed one of the most brilliant worriers in the business, a non-stop nail-chewer, a chronic crosser of remote bridges, the pessimist par excellence. He even worries over the charge of worrying. Unable to refute it, he tries to play it down, as witness his attempt to tamper with our title. Get him cornered, and he'll admit that he worries exactly as much as he ought to worry, no more, no less. "If I didn't," he explains, still on the defensive, "I'd be in the ash can."
There are those who would have you believe that, shorn of the capacity to harass himself, he'd pine away. In proof of which, they offer a story of the days when he formed the fiddling half of a vaudeville team. One morning the phone jangled him out of slumber. His agent was on the line reporting an engagement. Only half awake, Jack heard the name of a town thirty miles away and mumbled okay. At the booking office later, he learned that another state boasted a town of the same name, that it lay some three hundred miles from Broadway, and that he'd committed himself to board a train for the hellhole that night.
He returned to the hotel, packed violin and bag and marched like a herald of doom into the room of his friend, George Burns, where the gang forgathered. There he paced for two hours, biting his digits and the dead end of a cigar, fulminating on the eccentricities of agents who couldn't talk English, city fathers who lacked the wit to invent their own names for their own one-horse burgs, phones that rang or didn't, trains that moved and stopped, jackasses who went into vaudeville for a living. At the end of two hours, Burns picked up violin and suitcase, deposited them in the hall, propelled his friend out by the back of the neck, locked the door and yelled, "Now enjoy yourself."
Legend has it that the last heard from Jack was a plaintive, "All right for you — " floating back through the transom as he trudged trainward.
He says it's a canard. I found him at Twentieth Century-Fox, his head in Kay Francis' lap. Recumbent on a garden bench, the capacious skirts of "Charley's Aunt" fell back from his trousered legs where he'd crossed them. Kay's white hand cradled his gray-ringleted wig. Gorgeous in rosy chiffon, sparklers at ears and throat, she bent to kiss him. One. Two. Three. Cut! She lifted her head. He stayed where he was. "Again?" he suggested. He didn't seem to be worrying.

As a matter of fact, he can take his movies in stride. They hand him a ready-made script. If a scene isn't right, they do it over. Physically wearing, he still considers movie-making a lazy man's dream of paradise compared with the nervous strain of putting on a radio show. For that show he's responsible — to NBC, to Jell-o, to the agency, to his cast, to millions of listeners. It's his baby, his headache and his crown jewel. He's built it into a national institution of six flavors, which he carries on his back. To the world at large he is J-E-L-L-O.
All week long the show goes on in his head. You may think you see him driving his car or swallowing his dinner. Actually his mind is writhing somewhere in gagland. A friend buttonholes him in a parking lot. Jack mutters an absent excuse me, I didn't mean to bump you. Mary's private game is to count how many times she can ask him a question before he hears it. The record to date is thirteen. They were in bed one night, Mary reading, Jack thinking. She closed the book and asked him to turn out the lights. He got up, touched the switch and went back to bed drawing the covers round him. Her wild burst of laughter finally roused him to awareness.
"What's the matter?" he cried in alarm.
"The lights," she could only whimper between spasms. "You went to the switch — and got back into bed — and the lights are FULL ON!"
'Seven days and six nights of the week are haunted, leaving one evening clear. With the termination of the second broadcast on Sunday, Jack's spirits soar, and he wants to stay up all night. First to be sure, there are always post-mortems. "They could have laughed more," he glooms.
"Everybody else liked it," says Mary firmly. "Don't take it so hard."
"We just played to millions of people, that's all," he mutters.
To Jack, nothing short of sensational is good. Mary's approach is more equable. "They can't all be tops." Even if she doesn't persuade him, she calms him, restores his perspective. In that respect — as in others — he thinks she's just the right woman for him to be married to.
On Monday the shadows begin to draw in. Jack and his writers, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin, have drawn up a brave platform which includes these planks: we won't get into a stew — even if by Thursday we've raised no idea, we won't yell omigod, it's going to be Sunday — what we've done before we can do again, and to hell with defeatists. The sole weakness of this platform lies in the fact that it doesn't work, Jack's the first to topple off. "He gets that look on his face," grins Morrow. "It's the look of a man who averts his shuddering gaze from a bottomless pit marked, 'No show this week.' The fact that there's always been a show brings no comfort. Next Sunday opens wide its gaping maw, and the cupboard's empty."
BUT suppose the boys show with an idea on Monday. If Jack's on a picture, it's Monday night. He got to the studio at eight for make-up and left at six-thirty. He's already done a normal day's work. He's tired. But that's his own lookout. It's not NBC's fault that he's a movie actor, too. His sense of responsibility's razor-sharp. It's up to him to see that neither job suffers by the other. If the time ever comes when he can't handle both by his own standards, he'll fade himself out.
Sometimes Ed and Bill come in with a piece of junk. They may have labored and brought forth a mouse. Or they may not have labored. Jack doesn't say, "That stinks," or "What the hell have you been doing with yourself?" He knows the writer's temperament and the problems of writing — that ideas don't come ready to hand like bricks, that the creative mind works in its own way its wonders to perform and may be active even while it's loafing.
He has, besides, the disposition of a lamb, which he excuses on practical grounds. "If you holler and scream at them," he says, "you put them in a mood where they can't write." Instead of screaming, he says, "Well, I don't know, let's try something else." Instead of hollering, he nibbles his nails — a habit Mary has tried to break by scolding, George Burns by derisive mimicry, manicurists by appeals to his vanity. Jack hangs his head and goes on biting. Or he chews gum. That's a sign that he's reached the end of his rope. When his eyes stare and he stuffs three sticks of gum into his mouth oblivious of what he's doing, Morrow and Beloin reach for their hats, murmur, "We'll fix this up and see you tomorrow," and beat a retreat.
Only once in the five years they've been working together has there been a blow-up, and that was due to a misunderstanding. Jack thought the boys, sore at something he wasn't responsible for, had gone on strike. His wrath stemmed from the pain of friendship betrayed, and whether he or they were more astonished by his tongue-lashing, they still can't decide. It's safe to say, though, that Jack was the ultimate victim. When the thing was cleared up, he wore sackcloth and ashes for weeks.
Once they have a workable idea, it should be smooth sailing. Not with Jack. He may think it's funny, but that doesn't prove the audience will. He may laugh his head off, but he's not paid to make himself laugh. He's a perfectionist aiming to top his last mark. When he doesn't succeed, it's not for want of trying. The man at the dial sits forever on Jack's shoulder. In the final analysis that's the guy he works for — and to make it harder, he makes the guy tough. "He won't say, 'They can't all be firecrackers.' He'll say, 'Did you hear the Benny show last night? Boy, was it foul!'" So Jack sifts and weighs and explores and rejects and tears apart. "You've got to sell back to him again and again," says Morrow, "what he's already accepted and laughed at. That way we get a refining process that's invaluable."
THE revue, "Pins and Needles," included a sketch called "Cream of Mush." A radio tenor sings a song which the agency hacks to pieces in its high resolve to please all comers. The sun can't be "red" because people don't like the word. It can't set in the West, because Easterners might be offended. Like all good travesties, this one holds a germ of truth. Policy apart, Jack's a softie who can't bear to hurt feelings. He keeps his ears peeled for phrases which might wound the susceptibilities of one group or another. When through all his guards something slips in, he dies. One evening he was supposed to be dining his cast. He told them they ate too much. "What did I invite here, a bunch of starving Armenians?" Letters came protesting the assumption that Armenians don't eat as well as the next race. "It was just a fill-in line," moaned Jack. "We could have skipped it and never felt the difference." That old saw, "He spends money like a drunken sailor," was construed by cranks as an affront to the navy. Even Jack conceded this too preposterous to worry about.
With a secretary taking notes they work all week. A run-through rehearsal is called for Saturday noon, its chief purpose to note cast reaction to the lines. If they don't laugh, figures Jack, nobody will. He watches them closely, asks no questions but draws his own conclusions. All through the pleasant Saturday afternoon, while people who have no radio programs play, he and his writers revamp the script. Sometimes they make wholesale changes, sometimes they snip jokes here and add others there. Jack goes home and tries the gags out on Mary. Then he broods in bed and forgets to turn out the lights.
Sunday rehearsal directed by Jack brings its own crop of headaches. He's a stickler for punctuality. Rochester's late. The boys and girls have plenty to tell each other. They won't settle down till Jack gets mad. The expression his madness takes is, "Now really, fellows — " or, "Well, gee, after all, girls, let's get together." The extreme duration of his madness covers two minutes. He decides he's really sore at Rochester. The company watches him when Rochester shows. He knows they're watching. He opens his mouth to bawl and grins instead. "I can't help it," he apologizes. "It's his face."
Which doesn't mean that they don't jump through hoops for him. They know that being funny's a serious business. In the end they give their all for dear old National Broadcasting, Jell-o and Jack. But each is responsible only for himself. They just walk in. Jack's been working all week. He has what they call Sunday-morning jitters. Everything bothers him. He rubs his nose, pulls at his ear, mauls his chin. He's got to shape script and players into a crack performance. Nervous as a jumping bean himself, he's got to avoid making the others nervous, with an eye trained on the idiosyncrasies of each. Mary, for instance, is always bad at rehearsals. If he corrects her too often, she gets mixed up. Dennis Day is best left to read as he pleases. He has his own style. Interfere with it, and you wind up with no style at all. Phil Harris is the champion line-blower. Jack loses patience sometimes. Then he kisses the top of his head and says he's sorry.
They rehearse till shortly before the first broadcast. Three-thirty in summer, four-thirty in winter, to hit the East Coast at half past seven. When Jack steps out for his preliminary breeze with the studio audience, he's the picture of bland self-possession, but the picture lies. The reason he appears so early is to keep from going nuts with suspense.

FROM start to finish of the show, he's tense. No, you'd never guess it. Airy and casual you'd call him, but his eyes are everywhere and his wits work at frantic speed. He ad libs to cover a blown line or a gag that doesn't get a laugh. But timing is of the essence of comedy, and he must decide within a split second whether an ad lib will do more good than harm. In the wrong place, it may bring one laugh and kill the next four or five — which makes for bad arithmetic and worse clowning. If a gag hits unexpectedly, he beams at Morrow in the control room. He's got the kind of mouth whose corners curl naturally up. Mary watches it. When the corners go down, her heart goes with him.
The broadcast over, his face tells the whole story. If he thinks it was bad, he looks like the end of the world. "In one minute," says Morrow, "he's a thousand years old." The boys follow him to the script room. The rest grab a sandwich and return to stand by for rehearsal. There's another show at seven-thirty for the West. "Let's pep it up," says Jack. They throw out the stillborn jokes, rack their fevered brains for sure-fire laughs and in drastic cases have been known to rewrite a whole scene between broadcasts. Jack hates the words "good enough." "Nothing's good enough," he says, "but the best."
That's the principle on which he builds his show. One thing he doesn't worry about is his Crossley rating. Of course it's pleasant to be first, and if he slipped way down, he'd take the hint, exit and devote his worrying to golf. But if another show went ahead of his, he'd be listening to it, swelling the Crossley by one. When Bergen and McCarthy topped him, he made fuel of their triumph for his own program. "We can't be better than someone who's better than us," he argues. "The most we can do is to be as good as we can, and let the Crossley rating take care of itself."
He even worried about the testimonial dinner given by NBC to celebrate his ten years in radio. He tried to talk them out of it. The prospect of acting as a butt for verbal bouquets terrified him. Not till Rudy Vallee got up and sounded off with, "Who's this bum Benny with his ten lousy years in radio? I've had fifteen, where's my dinner — ?"— not till then did Jack pop into chortles of joy and relax for the evening.

Saturday 25 February 2017

The Funny Business of Mighty Mouse

Say what you will about his cartoons, but Paul Terry had a long and successful career in the animation business.

It wasn’t until the 1940s that Terry finally had some A-list characters. No matter that Heckle and Jeckle had personalities borrowed from Woody Woodpecker, or that Mighty Mouse was a rodent derivative of Superman. Kids liked them and once TV came along, their cartoons ran for ages. And, to be honest, I’d rather watch Heckle and Jeckle sing and wreck a house than some piece of “art” like UPA’s Baby Boogie.

A columnist with the Toronto Globe and Mail came up with this piece on Terry and his studio for the paper’s edition of December 10, 1945. It doesn’t look like he interviewed Terry. The column reads like it was re-written from a news release from 20th Century-Fox about their coming attractions. Still, it’s nice to see the Terry studio getting a bit of publicity.

Rambling With Roly

If you have a small son who likes to do nothing better than draw amusing animals, don’t stop him. And, above all, don’t tell him that it is an impractical way to spend his time.
Paul Terry, who is grown up in years and business ability, but who takes a child’s delight in watching over the Terrytoon animated cartoons that issue from his organization to thousands of theatres every week in the year, has proved that sort of thing eminently practical. By keeping at it for 30 years, he has made it pay, both in the financial sense and in the rewarding pleasure of working at a job he likes.
Terry is one of the true pioneers of “this funny business,” as he has named it, and he is currently celebrating the 30th anniversary of his advent in screen cartooning. It is also the thirtieth year for 20th Century-Fox, distributors of Terrytoon cartoons, and by mutual agreement they are making it a joint celebration.
Starting out in 1915 with a little boy character whom he called “Little Herman,” Terry has brought to life hundreds of humanized animals in the course of releasing such tremendously popular series as his “Aesop’s Fables,” and through the creation of such heroes as “Gandy Goose,” “Smoky Joe,” the horse, innumerable cats, lions, wolves and mythical beasts. Perhaps the most influential and popular character he has ever invented, and the current Terry preoccupation, is a muscular combination of chivalry and derring-do, “Mighty Mouse.”
“Mighty Mouse’s” popular appeal is no doubt predicated on his willingness to sniff out nefarious characters and to set evil-doers to beating their way to the nearest exits, without regard to the size or prowess of his antagonist. Within the current year the “Mouse” has bested rampaging lions in a short called “The Circus”; traded sabre blows with buccaneers in “The Pirates”; thwarted a gang of Oriental thieves in “The Sultan’s Birthday,” and done an off-hand job on assorted cats in “The Port of Missing Mice” and “The Kilkenny Cats.” The above are a small instalment on the “Mighty Mouse’s” adventures for the year and only a portion of Paul Terry’s animated cartoon output.
Terry took his initial step in the field of screen cartooning in 1915. At that time he was moderately successful at newspaper cartooning; but pushed by an urge to find a job he would really enjoy doing. A chance invitation to a cartoonists’ dinner, where the famous Winsor McKay demonstrated one of the earliest cartoons, planted the seed in Terry’s brain and determined his future success.
The first Terry Cartoon featured a character named “Little Herman,” and consisted of thousands of drawings, all laboriously pencilled and photographed by Terry himself. It required a half-year of his time for production. Since that time the art has progressed so rapidly with the introduction of cartooning inventions, devices and processes (many of which were perfected by Terry himself) that the same “Little Herman” would require hardly more than a week in the modern Terrytoon plant located at New Rochelle, N.Y.
The present-day Terrytoon is the product of the work of hundreds of individual pairs of hands and dozens of brains.
A Terrytoon idea springs up “in the raw” somewhere about the beginning of the chain of processes. It goes to a story department, where a scenario is provided. Then follows a session with expert cartoonists, who provide expression, detail and incidental factors that point up the humor of the new personality. Assembly line production begins with animators, cartooners, backgrounders. As the final cartoon emerges, it obtains the services of the sound department, where noises and voices are dubbed in, and of the musical division, which is often called upon to provide original music as well as classical and popular tunes.
The Terrytoon studios are already at work on the first half-dozen of the “Mighty Mouse” productions for the coming season. Endowed by his creator with a perpetual dislike for bullies who tweak little boys’ ears, villains who molest pretty maidens, cats who pick on mice who try to lord over their own kind, and a lot of other assorted malefactors of the human and jungle society, the “Mighty Mouse” will travel to many strange countries and locales in search of malefactors for his new series of pictures. He is going international in a big way in the 1945-46 program of Terrytoons.
On hand for the “Mouse” is a Spanish adventure, under the title of “Throwing the Bull,” and one which will enable him to mingle with senoritas, matadors and “El Toro.” For his adventure in “Krakatoa,” the mouse will be taken to a South Sea setting, where he will perform no less amazing a feat than the harnessing of the power of a volcano, to save the existence of a colony of peaceful little mice.
One further extension of the mouse’s adventures carries him to the Blue Grass country in a feature entitled “My Old Kentucky Home,” with “Mighty Mouse’s” arrival coming in the nick of time to forestall a “wolf’s” foreclosing the mortgage on an aging colonel and his lovely daughter.
Still others of the “Mighty Mouse’s” adventures take him to the Far West in a picture called “Mighty Mouse Meets Bad Bill Bunion”; on a carefree adventure in “Gypsy Life,” and face-to-face with his lifetime enemies in a particularly charming and clever picture titled “Svengali’s Cat.”

My thanks to Devon Baxter for the screen grabs.

Friday 24 February 2017

Eating Words

A self-explanatory gag from Alice Gets Stage Struck (1925). Was this the first use of this gag?

Tom Stathes writes to say the earliest version he's seen of the gag is in Bobby Bumps Puts a Beanery on the Bum (1918).

There are no animation credits.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Kiddie Koncert Backgrounds

Fred Brunish (1902-1952) was Walter Lantz’s sole background artist in the last half of the ‘40s and into the early ‘50s; at least he was the only one credited on screen. At the age of 17, Brunish was sketching fashions in New York City; ten years later, he was an advertising artist in Detroit before heading west. He worked as an advertising company art director, and acquired a patent for an automatic slide projector in 1934, before eventually getting a job at the Lantz studio around 1940.

Not all of the cartoons he is credited on made it onto the Woody Woodpecker DVD, and one is 1948’s Kiddie Koncert, starring Wally Walrus as animated by Ed Love. It opens with three of Brunish’s watercolours. In the second painting below, the orange stage curtain is on an overlay.

Thanks to Devon Baxter for the frame grabs.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

The Non Beverly Hillbilly

Almost nothing about The Beverly Hillbillies was subtle. Even the supposedly ordinary characters on the show were over the top. (A case can be made that Buddy Ebsen, as Jed Clampett, was the one actor who gave a grounded performance).

Despite bouts of overacting, Raymond Bailey was convincing as banker Milburn Drysdale. So much that some people treated him like a real financial panjandrum. Witness these stories from United Press International. The first appeared in papers in late 1963.

Hillbillies Banker Has Exacting Television Role

HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 30 (UPI) —Raymond Bailey has one of the toughest jobs in television, a chore which demands that he bring staid old banking principles to "The Beverly Hillbillies."
THAT'S THE equivalent of wearing lace cuffs on an Ozark mountain coon hunt.
Bailey plays the role of bank president "Milburn Drysdale" on "Hillbillies." He's the zealous protector of $25,000,000 that mountain family amassed through the discovery of oil on their down home property.
With such riches, the show's "Clampett" family moved to a Beverly Hills mansion. Bailey was waiting with outstretched hands and a stuffy, social climbing wife.
Bailey, a former sailor, laborer and shipping clerk, is currently enjoying more notoriety than ever before in an acting career that had shaky beginnings in the silent film days.
THE SUCCESS of "Hillbillies" (CBS-TV) has been remarkable. As banker "Drysdale," Bailey should rightfully share in that success. He provides the contrast needed between that new rich family and their upper crust city neighbors.
"I think we work off each other pretty well," Raymond says. "The family respects Mr. Drysdale. And they don't call his wife a snob. He is a bit of a snob but not as much as his wife."
Bailey's career got a boost with the show, a series he expects to last for a long time.
"There is a long way to go with this show," he said. "You can bring in all these personalities who live in Beverly Hills or work in the movies." Bailey's bank role might tend to offend those viewers who dislike too much formality. But if it has, he's not aware of any animosity.
* * *
"WHAT IS THERE to dislike about him," he asks. "He's a fuddling old guy, I enjoy playing him. It's a field day, comedy.
And I've played this kind of part in dozens of shows. I was the publisher in the 'My Sister Eileen' series. That part was the same type of comedy."
Whenever Bailey gets a little too uppity with his folksy depositors, he ends up on the short end, an unusual situation for most bankers.
Youngsters sometimes recognize Bailey as the video banker, and supermarket shoppers occasionally eye him at the [missing word]. On one occasion when Bailey entered a bank, the establishment's assistant manager looked up from his desk, and said, "here comes a famous banker."
He's also robbery proof. Who would ever stick up a television set?

UPI chatted with him again. This story appeared in papers starting October 23, 1965.

Banker in "Hillbillies" Believes in High Living

UPI Hollywood Correspondent
Hollywood (UPI)—Raymond Bailey, the stuffy banker plagued by the antics of "The Beverly Hillbillies," is more a rustic than any member of the bizarre Clampett family.
He is, in fact a hillbilly in the literal sense of the word.
Both his homes are perched on mountain sides.
His favorite hangout is a rustic, two-story mountain cabin just off the 17th green of the Lake Arrowhead Country club. He and his Australian-born wife of 14 years, Gaby, spend summer vacations there and whatever time they can steal from the C.B.S. television series during the year.
A-frame in structure, the mountain retreat has three bedrooms, a den, a spacious basement (rare in southern California) and an enormous sun deck that runs completely around the house commanding a spectacular view of the pine-covered mountains.
On a typical day Bailey plays golf, followed by a siesta on the deck breathing air heavily perfumed by wild flowers. A couple of martinis before dinner prepared by Gaby—and then to bed.
The Bailey pets enjoy the mountains, too. A poodle named Pierre and Nicholas, a Weimaraner, chase squirrels while the Siamese cat Suki stalks birds.
During the work week, though, the Baileys can be found in a small home overlooking the San Fernando valley. It's ultra-modern and includes a swimming pool.
On a typical morning Bailey is off to General Service studios and ready for work by 8. He's home for dinner by the time it gets dark.
In the city or in the mountains, the 60-year-old actor can be found in old, comfortable clothes. His wardrobe, however, is filled with the formal banker-type attire he wears on the show.
His characterization has made him a hero with bankers across the country. Bailey is in great demand for speeches, personal appearances at conventions and the like, much as Raymond Burr, in his role as attorney Perry Mason, is besieged by law groups.
"I've been made a member of the Southern California Independent Bankers Association," Bailey says. "And I've made trips around the country to accept plaques. It's a lot of fun.”
In his youth Bailey was a bank messenger for two years, but abandoned banking as being too dull for his tastes.
A veteran of 34 years in show business, Bailey has few acquaintances among actors in Hollywood. His friends are businessmen and professional men with whom he plays bridge. They entertain casually and enjoy watching "The Beverly Hillbillies."
The graying performer answers as readily to the name Milburn Drysdale as he does to his own after four years with the C.B.S. series. He doesn't mind the association with the character and, in fact, is rather pleased by it.
Never a star, Bailey is content to roll along with the series reaping the rewards that television provides popular character actors.
"Who could ask for more?" he says.

The Beverly Hillbillies disappeared from first-run TV in 1971. I don’t recall seeing Bailey again on the screen except in reruns. He died in 1980 at his home in Irvine, California.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Rabbit Hood Smears

A wonderful twist comes at the end of Rabbit Hood (released in 1949), which features a running gag of the dopey Little John insisting in rhyme that Robin Hood is coming. Each time, there’s a pause and no Robin Hood. But at the end of the cartoon, Little John is right. Robin arrives. In the form of Errol Flynn in footage taken from the 1938 feature The Adventures of Robin Hood. Check out the in-betweens as Bugs Bunny looks where Little John is pointing. Each takes up one frame of film.

More Bugs reactions.

Bugs thinks for a moment. “Nah! That’s silly. It couldn’t be him,” he tells us as the iris closes to end the cartoon.

Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam and Phil Monroe are the animators of this sterling effort by Chuck Jones and writer Mike Maltese.

Monday 20 February 2017

The Horn of Tomorrow

In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, a company made newsreels for television called “Telenews Digest.” One of its weekly efforts in July 1951 included a segment on the car of tomorrow.

Tex Avery’s cartoon Car of Tomorrow, released the same year, follows the newsreel format with a narrator explaining what’s on the screen but then followed by a gag. There are two types of gags in the cartoon—some that were takeoffs on current car trends, and others that were just plain silly.

One of the silly ones involves the new superchromatic horn! “Listen!” advises narrator Gil Warren. The horn turns out to incorporate a duck that gives viewers a goofy look after honking.

Roy Williams and Rich Hogan worked with director Tex Avery on the gags. Walt Clinton, Grant Simmons and Mike Lah handle the animation (some of it limited) while June Foray provides voices.

Sunday 19 February 2017

Is Jack Benny Too Inside?

Jack Benny had a long list of personality traits and characters on his radio and TV show that his writers weaved together like a variety of symphonies. Not every trait or character showed up every week. The idea was to keep the show fresh, yet familiar.

Like Rochester’s brief running gag of shouting “Again?!”, critics mildly groused that the Benny radio shows sounded an awful lot like each other. But Benny knew that’s what his audience wanted; he just needed to find a new running gag or twists over the course of the season.

John Crosby of the Herald Tribune syndicate kind of admits the conundrum in his first of many reviews of the Benny show. It was published May 30, 1946. Crosby could be snarky and sarcastic about radio programs he didn’t like, but he just couldn’t be nasty to Jack Benny. Who could be?

(P.S.: I’ve left in the footnote about the Dorothy and Dick show on WOR New York for history’s sake. I haven’t heard the broadcasts so I don’t know if Crosby is being serious).


Fourteen Years of Jack Benny
In my own small circle we have a number of jokes which commemorate various episodes, usually disgraceful, which occurred far in the past. Over a period of years, these jokes have become so highly specialized that they are meaningless to any one who is not only thoroughly familiar with the episode in question, but also with all the jokes that preceded it. To the outsider, these gags are not only unfunny; they are totally unintelligible.
That leads me, in a rather roundabout way, to Jack Benny, who bowed off the air last Sunday night for the summer. In the fourteen years he has been on the air, Mr. Benny has joked tirelessly Sunday after Sunday about his age (thirty-seven), his stinginess, his thinning hair, his jealousy of other radio comedians, his violin playing and Waukegan.
Gradually through the years, the jokes on these themes have been foreshortened to the point where they would be unintelligible to any one who had never heard the Benny program, if there is any one like that. Last Sunday, Mr. Benny and his announcer held the following colloquy:
“I’m giving everyone a bonus check. That’ll help you get back to California,” said Mr. Benny.
“Get back to California – with THIS check?”
“Turn it over – there’s a road map on the other side.”
Unless you know Benny pretty well, that gag would mean very little. But, the veteran radio comedian has invented and perfected a sort of radio family joke. Benny's idiosyncrasies excite both laughter and sympathy the same way father does when he leaves his umbrella on the streetcar again. It’s not funny to any one outside the family.
A Jack Benny joke is an intimate thing shared only by himself and about 20,000,000 listeners. Very wisely, Benny doesn’t address himself to all 20,000,000 at once. The Benny show is a very personal show directed at two or three people sitting in a living room, which, I think is why it has held its popularity for so many years.
During the last year there have been dark whisperings that Jack Benny was seriously slipping; that his material was old; his scripts poorly written. There’s some truth to these charges. The Benny show is no longer put together with the loving care he once lavished on it. Some of his shows were shapeless and floundering, which you could never say about a Benny program in the old days.
But I keep listening anyway. I have been listening to Jack Benny for so many years my critical sense is paralyzed. He is like an old friend of whose faults you are fully aware, but are willing to forgive.

Benny, who once had a stranglehold on the top spot of all the ratings lists, is now tenth on the Hooper rating behind, respectively, Bob Hope, Fibber McGee and Molly, Red Skelton, Radio Theater, Charlie McCarthy, Walter Winchell, Screen Guild Players, Mr. District Attorney, and his old rival Fred Allen.
Somehow I have a feeling Mr. Benny doesn’t mind much. He has been one of the world’s most popular comedians for so many years he can afford to relax in that No. 10 position. Over the years his fans have stuck to him with a loyalty unknown in the amusement industry since the death of vaudeville.
When he returns in the fall they will be waiting again for that fine, that mild, that naturally pleasant comedy which Mr. Benny has been dishing out for fourteen years.
* * *
Program footnote: The canary heard on the Dorothy and Dick Kellmar [sic] breakfast program last Thursday and Friday in their broadcasts from Chicago was not their regular performer. It was an understudy provided by the Hartz Mountain Canary Company in Chicago.

Saturday 18 February 2017

Down With Betty Boop

Enforcement of the Motion Picture Code in 1934 is said by animation historians to have caused the Fleischer studio to tone down Betty Boop. Eventually, she reached a point where she was turned from a sex-pot into a slapstick comedienne who barely starred in her own films.

Some animation fans have declared the later Boop adventures dull and uninteresting. Few say the same thing about her earliest cartoons. Ah, but we found a critic who did.

Buried in the pages of the Ogdenburg Republican-Journal of May 27, 1932 is a somewhat disjointed criticism by the paper’s film critic. It’s disjointed because she goes on to praise the Fleischer cartoon “A Hunting We Will Go”—which includes Betty Boop.

And, naturally, because it’s 1932, the reviewer treats Walt Disney like the gold standard of animation. Oddly, her suggestion of an Alice in Wonderland series had, in spirit, already been done by Disney in the silent era with little live-action Alice being plunked into a cartoon world. (And we all know about Disney’s later “Alice in Wonderland” feature).

NOW that the pictures have come of age they are worth more than casual comment about this picture and that. Miss Croughton in her weekly column tries to look at the films in relation to their social and cultural effects as well as their entertainment values.
ONE of the many things we can not understand about the movies is why screen cartoonists who are constantly demonstrating their richness of comedy ideas and their ability in putting these ideas into clever and amusing synchronization expose themselves to suits for plagiarisation [sic] by grafting upon their films such excrescenes [sic] as the figure and tiresome lisp and queak of a "Betty Boop."
Fleischer, whose clown and little dog were a delight in animated cartoons long before the talkies came into existence and who, after a period of feeling his way with synchronisation, is now turning out more amusing creations than ever, certainly did not need the irritating Betty Boop to bolster up his efforts.
In a recent cartoon by Fleischer in which the clown and the dog go hunting to secure a fur coat for their sweetheart, there is a wealth of ingenious comedy of action and idea. The lioness who tries to get into the exclusive garden party "for leopards only," and who succeeds only after she has allowed herself to be peppered with black spots from the clown's gun, is delightfully funny; but the final touch, in which the animals who have been deprived of their pelts to provide the fur coat come shivering and complaining in their "underskins" and so work upon the sympathy of the sweetheart that she gives them back their fur, is little short of inspiration.
The cartoons, of course, rely for their humor on the reversal of the usual and expected. In another film seen recently, the rabbit character, who is being pursued by a knife-throwing Chinaman, suddenly catches two of the knives as they are flying past him and turns back to politely return them to their owner. Perhaps the suggestion may be looked upon as sacrilege, but we would like to see Lewis Carroll's "Alice In Wonderland" done by Walter Disney as an animated screen cartoon serial—provided, of course, that it was kept free from the vulgarities and trivialities of some of the cartoon series. The humor of the best animated cartoons is, basically, the inverted humor which Carroll used in his tale and the majority, of its incidents seem to us to cry aloud for representation.

Friday 17 February 2017

Little Cesario

A little animal doesn’t get the respect of the big animals until he saves one and becomes a hero. Sounds like a Disney short, doesn’t it? Only it’s not. It’s from faux Disney producer Rudy Ising and the cartoon is Little Cesario.

The dogs have way too much ruffed fur, run around way too much, are in a land loaded with effects animation (blowing snow, splashes of alcoholic liquid from broken barrels), and the title character leaves you with that aw-shucks-gee feeling you get in some Disney cartoons. But very un-Disneylike is a gag straight out of Tex Avery.

“Even Little Cesario didn’t miss a thing,” says narrator Frank Bingman. It turns out to be a dog/tree gag.

The narrator clears his throat. Little Cesario looks ashamed. There’s a little cycle of the dog’s tail banging against the ground bringing up puffs of snow. You can’t see it too well in the frame grab below.

There’s a literal gag later in the cartoon. “Then, suddenly, he froze,” says the narrator.

“Deep inside Little Cesario, something snapped.” Fred McAlpin lays down a “snap” sound effect and the uncredited animator gives us some multiples, with more effect brushwork by the MGM ink and paint department.

The cartoon reaches its climax as Little Cesario saves the day through his own clumsiness and good intentions. He then disappears into the Home For Retired One-Shot Cartoon characters after a stop at Dell Publishing where his story was adapted into a comic book in 1943 (and reprinted in 1952).

Bob Allen directed this cartoon for Ising. Some model sheets for this short are dated September 17, 1940. The cartoon was copyrighted the following September 4th.