Friday 31 March 2017

Irv Wyner's Rome

Irv Wyner shows a good eye for light and shadow, especially inside the Roman Colosseum, in Roman Legion-Hare (released 1955).

Being the mid-1950s, Wyner’s trees and buildings are more streamlined than you would have found in a Warners cartoon a decade earlier.

Thursday 30 March 2017

Stage Hoax

The stories in the Woody Woodpecker cartoons of the early ‘50s aren’t exactly strong stuff. Some of the cartoons don’t have a storyman in the credits, like Stage Hoax (released 1952). It starts off with Woody being exhausted trying to reach some destination. But suddenly he’s not exhausted and has no interest in going anywhere. The plot kind of switches to how stupid male cartoon characters when they see another male cartoon character wearing any kind of female clothing, no matter how obvious.

Some of the gags aren’t bad, even though a few go back to the silent days. My favourite is when Buzz Buzzard is so aroused by a “woman” (Woody) with 13 legs that he flaps his feet around the frame of the cartoon.

Some of the animation is pretty good, but Woody had begun his slide. The worst was yet to come.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Radio's First Satiric Duo

If you tuned in to CBS any weeknight in 1931, you would likely be listening to music. A lot of it.

The invasion of comedians into network radio hadn’t quite begun. At CBS, other than a commentary by H.V. Kaltenborn, the bulk of evening programming at that time consisted of 15-minute shows featuring singers or bands. There were only two comedy shows—a stand-up act starring Richie Craig, Jr., the Blue Ribbon Malt Jester (he died of TB a few years later), and the sitcom Mr. and Mrs. with Jack Smart, who would soon be in Fred Allen’s cast before becoming The Fat Man. Around May of ‘31, the network overhauled its schedule and that’s when it got into the satire business with a pair of announcers unknown to New York City audiences.

By that time, big network radio was over four years old—a period long enough to have plenty of programming to make fun of. Raymond Knight began doing it on his The Cuckoo Hour in 1930 on NBC, and he was followed a year later on CBS by Stoopnagle and Budd.

The pair are pretty much forgotten today. They broke up in 1938. Few recordings of their broadcasts exist. On his own, Stoopnagle managed to survive into the TV era, first with a show on the Du Mont Network. He had been writing for Duffy’s Tavern when he died in 1950. Budd found a few network radio jobs over the next ten or so years. 1947 was a bad year for him. His four-year-old daughter was reported missing then found dead in the Miami River in Florida; he and his first wife were divorced at the time. He was working on radio in Buffalo again in 1950, then on TV in Albany, Georgia in 1958. He died in Florida in 1961.

On the air, Stoopnagle and Budd joked about advertising, morning shows, Amos ‘n’ Andy, and just about anything that was on the air at the time. And much like Fred Allen and Henry Morgan in later days, their parodies weren’t appreciated by everyone. Variety reported American Tobacco was prepared to withdraw all its advertising from CBS if it didn’t apologise for a Stoopnagle and Budd routine about Lucky Strike cigarettes. On the other hand, one radio magazine seriously reported how the show’s comedy stopped a woman from committing suicide one evening.

Radio historians compare them to Bob and Ray, another (originally) ad-libbing pair that found radio awash with programming deserving of ridicule. Bob and Ray came up from the local radio ranks in Boston; Stoopnagle and Budd from Buffalo.

Here’s a fairly matter-of-fact story from Radio Digest of July-August 1931 when the two were beginning their network career. They went from Tastyeast Bread to Ivory Soap (with Colonel Stoopnagle wondering what was in the 56-100ths of the soap that wasn’t pure) to Pontiac-Buick to Camel Cigarettes to sustaining (the show opened with the shout “Stoopnagle and Budd still don’t have a sponsor!”).

Goodbye Gloom
Colonel Stoopnagle and His Valiant Army of Tastychasers March on old Gen. Depression and Take Him for a One-Way Tour

THIS is two success stories in one. It is a story, first, of the phenomenal rise to a place of prominence in the national Radio picture of "The Colonel and Budd — the Tastyeast Gloom Chasers". And it is a story of how a great organization and business was built up almost entirely through the medium of Radio.
Radio's history is filled with tales of sensational success, but few compare with that of "Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle and Budd", Buffalo's two exponents of extemporaneous comedy. The rise of this dizzy duo has been even faster than meteoric, which is pretty fast. It happened in a manner which was something like this.
Announcer Wilbur Budd Hulick, of Station WMAK, Buffalo, found himself in somewhat of a predicament on the morning of October 10, 1930. This predicament arose suddenly and painfully in the form of a 15-minute gap to fill between programs.
In a panic he rushed into the studio offices. The first person he saw was F. Chase Taylor, announcer, continuity writer, director and actor for the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation, who was pounding out a script on his typewriter.
"Hey!" pleaded Hulick, "I've got fifteen minutes to do and nothing to do it with. Come on and ad lib with me."
Pausing only to lug a folding organ into the studio, the pair went on. Hulick's first words announced an overture on "the mighty gas-pipe organ" by "Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle". They began their extemporaneous buffoonery. Radio history was in the making.
Just a couple of "mike" men until that time, with a few mild successes to their credit, Taylor and Hulick overnight were catapulted into prominence.
"The program went over in spite of everything we could do," Taylor, alias "The Colonel", observes philosophically.
Letters poured in after that first broadcast asking for more. "The Colonel and Budd" continued their ad lib nonsense, taking the name of "The Gloom Chasers". They made no special effort, wrote no script, kept the chatter extemporaneous and soon were given a half-hour spot. A little later they were switched to an evening period over WKBW because business men complained they could not hear "The Gloom Chasers" in the morning and because it kept their wives from doing the housework.
The popularity of a Radio presentation is gauged largely by the response through the mails. "The Colonel and Budd" shattered all Buffalo fan letter records into tiny pieces. There were weeks when from 2600 to 2700 missives addressed to "The Gloom Chasers" cluttered up the offices of the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation. Some of these epistles bore post marks of cities in Alaska, Bermuda and Nova Scotia as well as of neighboring States. The fan mail editor of the B. B. C. hired an assistant whose duty it was to devote his time solely to the correspondence of this dizzy pair.
The flood of mail grew larger and larger. If "Stoopnagle" coughed during a broadcast, the next day's mail conveyed scores of boxes of cough drops. If "Budd" sneezed, auditors sent handkerchiefs and advice in profusion. Their mail included hundreds of well-done drawings and paintings of the listeners' conceptions of the act and its principals.
Fan mail was not the only indication of the growing popularity of Taylor and Hulick. From 1600 to 2300 persons crowded into the B. B. C. studios each week to watch "The Colonel and Budd" perform, even though no invitation was extended to them. Busses were chartered by the residents of nearby towns and excursions were made to Buffalo for the sole purpose of seeing "The Gloom Chasers" in action.
Dowd & Ostreicher, of Boston, advertising agents for Green Brothers Company, of Springfield, Mass., manufacturers of Tastyeast, were searching for a good Radio act when they heard news of "The Colonel and Budd". John C. Dowd, a member of the firm, went to Buffalo, heard the act and signed up Taylor and Hulick for a trial period along with other acts in different sections of the country to determine which was best suited for a nationwide network.
Taylor and Hulick, with their nightly half-hour of nonsense, built up the sale of Tastyeast 600 per cent, in their listening area and created such a demand for the product in Canada that the Green Brothers Company decided to open a branch factory there. There now is 100 per cent, distribution of the product in that area where hardly a bar was sold in November, 1930. "The Gloom Chasers" put Tastyeast in all chain stores without a representative or salesman ever calling.
A little more than five months after that morning in October when they first began their clowning over the air, Taylor and Hulick were signed by the makers of Tastyeast to broadcast nightly except Fridays over WABC and the Columbia network from 8:45 to 9 P. M., EDST. The contract signed by the Green Brothers Company with the Columbia Broadcasting System was the second largest ever placed with the chain. It calls for the appearance before the microphone of "The Gloom Chasers" for two years.
Not content with having shattered a number of records in Buffalo, Taylor and Hulick had to break another one before departing for New York to begin broadcasting over the Columbia chain. Billed as "Buffalo's Most Famous Laugh Creators and Fun-Makers", they appeared for a week at Shea's Buffalo Theatre and broke all attendance records.
Taylor and Hulick made their network debut over twenty-three Columbia stations on Sunday, May 24. Many stations have been added to the hook-up since then, and it is safe to say "The Gloom Chasers" will be heard over virtually the entire network before much more time has elapsed.
There you have the story of the amazing success of Wilbur Budd Hulick and F. Chase Taylor — "The Gloom Chasers'. More chapters will be written in the months to come if "The Colonel and Budd" continue at the same pace.
As for their modus operandi, Taylor and Hulick never have used a written script. Radio listeners, with their letters, write their programs. Most of the requests they receive are for imitations of Henry Burbig, Calvin Coolidge, Lindbergh, Rudy Vallee and Amos 'n' Andy. Sometimes they mix them all up and have Amos and Burbig or Coolidge and Andy working together.
These fun-makers work best when a crowd is present in the studios. They have never lacked a capacity audience. Because of the many requests for passes to the studio in which they work, Columbia shifted them to one of their largest studios so that as many of these requests as possible could be filled.
Taylor and Hulick are going to keep the tenor of their humor unchanged. Some humorists may deal in sophisticated gags, but "The Gloom Chasers" will adhere to homely, naive, simple jests. And they'll continue to ad lib their absurd nonsense.
Before that day when he asked Taylor to go before the microphone and ad lib with him, Hulick had only a few months of Radio experience to his credit. Although he had been dabbling in Radio for seven years, Taylor had only taken it up as a career a month or so before that day.
Taylor was born in Buffalo thirty-three years ago, a son of Horace F. Taylor, prominent Buffalo business man. He was christened Frederick Chase Taylor. His friends call him "Chase".
Originally Chase Taylor intended entering the lumber firm founded by his grandfather in 1865 and headed by his father since 1904. He prepared for this career at Nichols School. Montclair Academy, in New Jersey, and the University of Rochester, where he was a member of Alpha Delta Phi.
During the World War he served in the Navy. It was at that time that he first became interested in Radio. Radio became his hobby after the cessation of hostilities and continued to hold his interest after he entered his father's lumber firm. Later he became a stock broker, advancing to the position of vice-president of his firm.
All the time he was working Taylor was active in amateur dramatics and writing. For several years he was seen in the principal parts of many productions of the Buffalo Players, a Little Theatre group.
Taylor was heard many times over the air before the hobby became a career. He appeared before the microphone over WGR some seven years ago for the first time. Later, in 1926. he achieved considerable success in "Nip and Tuck", a black-face comedy act. which was presented regularly over WMAK. Still later came several series of presentations over WGR, and finally, a year and a half ago, the "Smax" and "Smoke and Ashe." broadcasts. On these last two programs he appeared with Louis Dean, who is announcing the "The Gloom Chasers" over the Columbia network.
The hobby finally gained the upper hand last fall and Taylor became a full-time member of the production staff of the Buffalo Broadcasting Corporation.
Taylor is good-looking, ruddy of mien and jolly as a comedian should noted for his vocal imitations of Coolidge and Lindbergh, and can make up to look exactly like President Hoover. During the last Presidential campaign Taylor's imitation of Coolidge was stopped by the Federal Radio Commission. They allowed him to resume after the campaign.
Eggs, from ostrich up or down, are his preferred dish. He likes 'em any style but old.
Railroad timetables and the minutes of City Council are his favorite reading matter. The sport in which he likes to participate above all others is going to fires. The sport he likes to watch is someone making out checks (good checks) to him.
Taylor has a younger brother, Horace, Jr., who resembles him so closely people take them for twins. Horace, Jr., attended Dartmouth, where he was captain of the swimming team in 1922-23. He now is secretary of his father's lumber firm and of Sunflower Plantation, Inc., and is president of the Clipper Oil Corporation.
"Stoopnagle" is married and has a son, F. Chase Taylor, Jr. eight. His wife is the former Lois Ruth De Ridder, daughter of a prominent Rochester shoe manufacturer.
Hulick, the "Budd" of this act, is a fair-haired boy of twenty-six. He actually intended to follow a musical career. As a boy he sang in the choir of St. Mark's Cathedral, Asbury Park, N. J. At the age of twelve he was winner of a school-children's singing contest.
At Georgetown University Hulick enrolled for a music course and spent much of his time with the glee club and the instrumental club, singing and playing the saxophone. He also played football. During his undergraduate days Budd always nursed the desire to enter show business or its cousin, Radio.
After his graduation Hulick tooted and crooned with Johnny Jones' recording orchestra. In Buffalo he made his inauspicious debut behind the spigots of a soda fountain. One day an executive of WEBR saw him cutting up for the customers, and Budd was placed before the microphone and told to talk. Three months later the Buffalo Broadcasting Company signed him as an announcer, actor and continuity writer.
Previous to his successful role on the "Gloom Chasers" act, Hulick was famed chiefly as the "Don" of the "Happiness House" program. He appeared also in the "Major Bullmore Expedition" episodes and as "Elisha" in the "Plain Folks" act. He also crooned on several programs.
One night Hulick was announcing a program from the Palais Royal, a Buffalo night club. Helen Lewis and her girl band, appearing at a motion picture house that week, were guests at the club on this particular night. During the evening Budd met Wanda Hart, an entertainer appearing with the band. Two weeks later they were married. Since then Mrs. Hulick has been on a number of programs with her husband.

Since someone would probably mention it in the comments, let me add that Stoopnagle and Budd, like many comedians, ended up making short films. One was a Fleischer screen song, Stoopnocracy, the title being a pun on Technocracy.

The internet being populated with fans dedicated to now-obscure pop culture, there’s an old web site devoted to Stoopnagle (and Budd). Visit it here.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

People! People!

“People are always getting’ boined up over nuttin’,” gripes the Cat That Hates People (from the cartoon of the same name). “Little things, like sharpenin’ your claws on the livin’ room foinature.” Note the proud look. Cat owners will recognise it.

Come to think of it, cat owners will recognise this, too.

The camera slowly pans left. We see a foot.

Five frames after the camera stops panning.....

The old “broken china” gag that Tex liked so much.

Heck Allen is the storyman in this cartoon, with Bill Shull, Louie Schmitt, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons animating. We’ll avoid speculation about the cat’s voice.

Monday 27 March 2017

Terrytoons' Red

MGM had Red. Walter Lantz had Miss XTC. And Terrytoons had, well, she didn’t have a name. But she served the same purpose as the other two in getting menfolk all excited in the short Post War Inventions (1945).

For no logical reason, women start appearing above Gandy Goose and then Sourpuss. They’re mirages, of course, as Sourpuss fails to capture one floating above him.

The women drift into a television screen. Then Red comes on to sing to the swooning Sourpuss. No huge eye takes here.

The punch-line (literally and figuratively) gets set up when the TV set automatically keeps changing channels. We see a commercial (in blackface) as well as a fight. Sourpuss goes to kiss the Red stand-in.

As usual, none of Terry’s animators are credited.

Sunday 26 March 2017

The Perpetually Peachy Parfait Lover

The real versus the on-air Jack Benny. Newspaper columnists wrote on the topic for years. Here’s one from the Washington Post of May 1, 1953. It may be the only one that doesn’t mention his violin playing.

To me, the most interesting part of this story is near the bottom where he talks about repeating shows. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, he couldn’t do it because he wasn’t allowed to by the radio networks. Shows had to be live. Bing Crosby changed that in 1946 when he convinced ABC to allow him to record his variety half-hours. All the networks finally broke down and Benny was occasionally recorded his broadcasts starting in 1949. He had been re-using portions—sometimes very healthy portions—of old scripts; some of the routines invented by Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin were heard again long after they stopped writing for the show. By the final radio season in 1954-55, a good percentage of the shows were reruns (Jack was hamstrung as he couldn’t use broadcasts before fall of 1952 as they included Phil Harris). In a way, it shows the writers were finding it tough figuring out new ways to gag the Benny characteristics as mentioned in the story below.

Just a Nice Guy
The Real Benny’s a Real Doll
By Sonia Stein

THE influenza bug that bit Jack Benny last Sunday must have had cast iron nerve. If ever there was a man who looked to be in the peach of condition (Californians seem to stay perpetually peach instead of pink) it was Benny. For a man who celebrated his thirty-ninth birthday for the twentieth time on Valentine’s Day, Benny cuts a fine figure.
This should come as a terrible blow to the fans of the 20-year-old radio character Jack Benny. They know him (Sunday nights at 7 on WTOP) as stingy, aging, bald, foolish, fat, vain and unloved. His gag-writers have created—with his enthusiastic approval—a querulous bachelor covering his baldspot with a toupee in a fruitless attempt to make his friends think he is 39. His acute parsimony leads him to cheat his employes, to take in laundry, to charge guests for refreshments and cigarettes, to wear seedy clothes and to drive around in a moribund Maxwell.
THIS character is so well planted in the American consciousness after Benny’s years as America’s top-rated radio comedian, that a hatcheck girl once flung a dollar tip back at him and begged, “Please, Mr. Benny, leave me some illusions!” If you feel as the hat check girl did, look the other way, because we must in conscience report that Jack is handsome, generous, well-loved, intelligent, happy to admit his 59 years, slim, modest, and the honest of a fine head of white hair which he tints steel grey for photographic reasons.
A quietly tailored man, Benny has, nonetheless, a look of the actor about him. He has a commanding “presence” even when he is silent. This looking-like-an-actor situation puts Benny in mind of a joke.
“When I first got on Broadway I wanted people to point at me and say, ‘There goes an actor!’ So I bought a flashy Broadway outfit that looking like sunset with buttons. Then, one night as I was leaving the theater I heard a stagehand remark, ‘There goes Benny. He always looks like an actor.’ For a moment I floated on air. Then I heard his companion reply, ‘Yep, Benny always looks like an actor—except when he’s on stage’.”
He does worry about his waistline and diets rather carefully the last two weeks before each of his TV shows (once a month Sunday nights at 7:30 on WTOP-TV). But even during his dieting period last month Jack relaxed his vigil. When a waiter set before him a creamy strawberry parfait at a press luncheon Jack looked sternly at it a moment and then dug in with the explanation that, “It’s not fattening if you don’t order it and I didn’t order it.”
THE conceited aspect of the fictional Benny seems to be practically nonexistent in real life. When Benny was here February 7 to entertain at the Radio Correspondents Association dinner, he had an appointment at the White House with President Eisenhower, whom he had met in Europe when he was touring Army bases to entertain the troops. Affairs of state necessitated moving the Benny appointment a couple of times. Instead of being hurt or angry, Jack was wreathed in smiles: “Say, that’s very complimentary to me I think. It would have been so much easier for them to just cancel the appointment than to move it, but they kept moving it to try and fit me in,” he said.
On his program Jack not only plays straight man and butt of the jokes for every member of his cast, but works hard to build the others into rounded, popular characters. “People don’t say ‘I listened to Jack Benny last night and he was good,’ they say, ‘I listened to the Jack Benny Show last night and it was good’,” Jack explains. And he considers that smart business tactics. (It’s a little hard to quibble with him on business tactics, since he sold Amusement Enterprises, Inc.—the company under which his various activities are organized—to CBS for $2,260,000. As owner of 60 percent of the firm he got $1,356,000.)
Benny’s program is also the first one on which I ever heard any credits given to the writers.
MENTION of Benny’s writers always brings up the subject of whether or not Jack can be funny on his own. Not noted for ad lib ability on the air, Benny is frequently described as a gifted comedian who can judge humor well and deliver it perfectly, but who cannot write it at all. This certainly doesn’t appear to me to be the case. Although he does not keep up a steady line of gags and tends to discuss his work on a very serious level in terms of general approaches rather than specific jokes, he has a delightful wit which comes through when he is relaxed.
At a recent conference with the press, Benny was discussing the virtues of repeating some of the good shows after a suitable time lapse. “You can repeat the good ones and skip the bad ones,” he said. Then, leaping to his feet as if he had been insulted, he demanded to know, “Who has bad shows?”
Benny has never been accused of off-color humor except by isolated persons who found some item offensive. His good taste in humor goes unchallenged. Ronald Colman, long shy of radio because of a few unpleasant encounters, finally entrusted himself to Benny because he trusted Jack’s sense of good taste. After several successful appearances with Benny, Colman and his wife became stars on their own show. Dennis Day and Phil Harris also blossomed out with shows of their own after learning some tricks at Benny’s knee.

Saturday 25 March 2017

Assorted 1950s Commercial Cartoons

The 1950s seem to have been a time of experimentation in animation—when it came to TV commercials. Production houses popped up on both coasts in the U.S., with animators and creative directors who tried different styles of both animation and drawing.

The 1962 book Design in Motion has quite a number of examples of character and background designs for commercials. Let’s post a few of them.

Quartet Films was originally partly owned by Arnold Gillespie and Art Babbitt and was taken over in the ‘60s by Mike Lah. Robert Lawrence Animation was based in New York City and affiliated with Grantray-Lawrence in Los Angeles. Playhouse Productions employed many well-known animators who had come from theatrical cartoons; Bill Melendez was among them. John Sutherland’s studio we’ve discussed before on the blog; George Gordon and Carl Urbano of MGM were among the original directors and a lot of talent went through the studio. I needn’t go into UPA’s history (it appears Charlie Brown was loaded out to UPA in the frame below).

Unfortunately, none of the animators or designers are identified.

Friday 24 March 2017

Scaredy Gun

Heckle uses a pop gun to scare the bulldog security guard’s rifle in Movie Madness (1951). Note the curved mouths in the first couple of frames.

Multiple corks for maximum effect.

Animation screen credits? Bahh. Isn’t working for Paul Terry satisfying enough?