Wednesday 31 May 2017

Kathleen Freeman

There are not many two-year olds who get written up in Variety. But one of them was Kathleen Freeman.

You know her as a character actress who was funny in everything she did on television in the ‘60s. Jerry Lewis loved her and cast her in movies. But way back in 1925, she made headlines (albeit small ones) for her feat of being the world’s greatest globe-trotting youngster, having travelled 30,000 miles around the world with her parents, who were vaudevillians. (She was born in Chicago on February 17, 1923, according to official records, not in 1919).

While she appeared in movies and television, she also spent the 1950s in stage work in Los Angeles and then toured in the late 1970s and 1980s in the musical “Annie.”

Here are a couple of feature stories I’ve found about her. The first is from the National Enterprise Association and touches on her latest role at the time—a starring turn on a sitcom with Dom DeLuise, based on the Britcom On the Buses. The latter ran for quite a spell. Freeman’s effort with DeLuise was quickly cancelled. This appeared in papers on August 17, 1973.
TVs Popular Toughie
By Joan Crosby
BURBANK (NEA)—KATHLEEN Freeman has one of the most familiar faces in Hollywood but probably not too many people outside Movieland can attach a name to it. She's the tough pioneer woman driving a wagon in westerns or she's the tough cookie prison guard in ladies' prison pictures, or she's the tough cookie comic or somebody's mother-in-law in situation comedies.
Now she's in her own series, "Lotsa Luck," Mondays at 8 p.m., and she's playing the tough cookie mother of series star Dom DeLuise. Someone asked her recently what she really thought of the series and her large face suddenly dropped into contours of sadness. "I gotta be honest," she said, then her face did a sudden upswing into a smile and she said, "I think it's marvelous."
Then she launches into raves over Dom, saying "I think he's one of the best actors around and I don't believe he has ever been in situations before, like in our show, where you see his humanity.
"You know, it's so easy to live in Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco or Chicago and get in a mental state where you think the entire United States is like those cities. We live in a put-down society in places like that where it's popular to put down a show like 'Lotsa Luck' which deals with a family that struggles.
"But let's face it. The yachting crowd is not the majority. The family that struggles is. So far, television hasn't done much to celebrate the guy who struggles and still makes it work. But that's what we're doing.
"You know, if you want to hear ego, here's some. I think 'Lotsa Luck' will be a hit because of Dom and because, after 25 years, I'm due." Kathleen, who founded both the Player's Ring and the Gallery Theater in Los Angeles, is also a dramatic coach. Probably her most spectacular result was coaching she did for Samantha Eggar, when she was doing "The Collector."
"She got an Oscar nomination and a Cannes Festival award," Kathleen says proudly, "and we became good friends."
Lotsa Luck needed more than luck. It needed ratings. And a change in time-slot didn’t help. It died after 22 episodes. But Freeman’s career wasn’t hurt in the slightest.

The Boston Globe’s William A. Henry III went more in depth about her in this feature article, talking about the frustrations of typecasting and Freeman’s union activities (at one point, she was involved in an oral history project with the Screen Actors Guild. This was published on February 27, 1980.
"The world knows my name," she said. "And they almost know my face."
Her eyes bulged slightly from beneath a squared-off brow. Her mouth slashed across her face just above a blocky chin. Her head jutted forward nearly every time she spoke.
She looked combative, and the world expected her to be combative, as it has every time it saw her face, since she was a girl. She is tender and humane and in her way beautiful, but life has compelled her, on stage and off, to play the battleax.
"I'd like to get away from this aggressive, obnoxious, frustrated woman they always see me as," she said. "But I can't. I keep telling myself that someday I will."
Her face has made her, if not rich and famous, at least prosperous and recognized.
She has never been the romantic leading lady, not in her three television series, her dozens of Broadway and road-show plays, her 150-plus films. She has hardly ever had the kind of part that wins awards. She lives in Van Nuys, not Beverly Hills, and she stays at the Bradford, not the Ritz. But her life is her work, and she is always working.
Her ability to find endless variations of the same character has won her the respect of her peers. They elected her a vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, where she fights passionately against British imports and low-wage American productions on public television, against federal government filmmaking with nonunion casts and crews ("there are about 150 government films, made with your tax dollars, about how to brush your teeth"), above all against the way women on network television almost all die, disappear or turn weird at age 40.
But Kathleen Freeman is still known to the world as a face, not a name, as an attitude, not an actress.
Throughout her run at the Wilbur Theater, where "Deathtrap" ends a 16-month national tour this weekend, people have come up to her to pour out praise for her television roles as Dom DeLuise's mother, Topper's maid, Sandy Duncan's landlady. Some even remembered her featured bit in "Singin' In The Rain."
When they had spoken they edged aside, waited for the right moment, and hissed a question into the ear of her nearest companion. Freeman always guessed the question. It was: "What's her name?"
She usually laughs about it. She waves merrily to people who are suddenly staring at her, half-excited, half-perplexed, knowing they know her but not knowing how they know. Nonetheless she longs for wealth and glory. Steady labor and second billing are not enough.
She wants her own television series so badly that she commissioned a script. "It's about a woman my age — which is 52, I don't mind saying, since I've been playing mothers of actresses my own age and men who are older for so long everyone thinks I must be 70. She is happily married and her children are grown up so she has a job and her husband has a job and they fight all the time and adore each other. It's normal life."
For the past several years she has tried to peddle it to the networks. No one bought it.
"But it will happen. Middle-aged women are the majority of wives and mothers in this country. Sooner or later they are going to get tired of seeing themselves as grotesque or ridiculous or as a bizarre like Maude. It is a violent, revolutionary situation" — in two sentences her voice had escalated from wistful to hortatory to mad — "and change will come. It will be forced. I know that sounds terrible but I feel violent about it.
"I don't suggest there will be a major revolution with pots and pans and broomsticks coming down the streets" — she was subsiding now, the years of public combat giving way to the private gentleness — "but you cannot make people go away and keep them forever quiet."
Freeman and Kathleen Nolan, president of the Screen Actors Guild, guided a recent study of network TV that claimed only four female characters clearly past 40 have leading roles in series — Barbara Bel Geddes of "Dallas," Doris Roberts of "Angie," Nancy Marchand of "Lou Grant," all of whom would more accurately be characterized as supporting players, and Sada Thompson of "Family," which is folding.
Perhaps other actresses should have been included. Audra Lindley of "The Ropers" and Isabel Sanford of "The Jeffersons" have parts as big as Marchand's. Like hers, too, their characters often approach the ridiculous or bizarre.
"And none of them," Freeman argues, "has her own series. None of them has both a good job and a happy marriage. None of them is a symbol of success."
Indeed some of them resemble the "aggressive, obnoxious, frustrated woman" Kathleen Freeman so often plays. So long as those parts are predominant for women over 40, Kathleen Freeman can keep working. "I don't think about that. There's this anger inside me . . . and maybe that's what shows on my face."
Freeman never did land that starring role, but she kept extremely busy for the rest of her life. She died on August 23, 2001, only several months after her voice could be heard in Shrek. She was always in demand; the mark of a good actress.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

You Dropped Something

Friz Freleng’s timing is perfect once again in The Trial of Mr. Wolf (1941). The Big Bad Wolf is on trial for crimes against Red Riding Hood. At the outset of the cartoon, he bows to those in the courtroom. At just the right moment, weapons fall out of his clothes. He does a telescope eye take, then there are a pile of drawings—most, if not all different—of the wolf swooshing around to gather them up. There are some cases where the animator/in betweener doesn’t even draw the eyes.

Dick Bickenbach is the credited animator, with the story by Mike Maltese.

Monday 29 May 2017

Done Swallered a Television

“Now, don’t ask how we got the television set back,” is Droopy’s comment to those in the viewing audience who try to put sense into a Tex Avery cartoon. For, a little earlier in the cartoon (Three Little Pups), the big bad wolf sucks the TV set out of the house of bricks through a straw and into his stomach.

“Heck's fire. I seen that one last night,” says the wolf, as he shuts off the set to end the gag.

Sunday 28 May 2017

1002 Roxbury Drive

Jack Benny's favourite home, by his daughter's account, was the first house he owned in California. Jack and Mary Livingstone rented three different places in Los Angeles after leaving New York, then bought a piece of land in 1937 and had a home constructed on it. The address was 1002 Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills. The home is still there but has apparently been renovated extensively inside. It's said the house was copy of the home of George Burns and Gracie Allen but larger.

Joan Benny related in her book that the area was still fairly rural at the time and vacant lots were not uncommon. It was a kindler, gentler time. The Benny home had minimal security, with a system which Jack sometimes activated accidentally. Fans could walk up to the door if they wished—and some did.

The Bennys called it home for 30 years before Mary Livingstone decided she wanted to move. She and Jack bought two 39th floor penthouses before tiring of life overlooking the Pacific and purchasing a house hidden away in the Holmby Hills area.

Radio Mirror took a tour through the Benny house on Roxbury and published its findings in the April 1940 edition. These poorly-scanned photos accompanied the story.

House of Laughter
OF course, it's just a "tumble-down shack," the Benny house on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, California, or so Jack says. Just a modest little grey home in the West. Even if you remind Jack of its Venetian chandeliers, inch-thick carpets, movie projection room, five bathrooms, two bars and real Battenburg lace piano cover, he insists those were Mary's ideas, not his. As star of his new Paramount picture, the rip-roaring "Buck Benny Rides Again," he could hardly admit that he likes such fripperies. Then, you say what about his mirrored dressing room, his antique mahogany highboy and his fourposter bed, whereupon he grins and says, what the heck, a guy's gotta have a half-way decent place to live in, and shows you all around, pleased as punch with the house and with himself for building it.

Well, it is something! White French Proven├žal set in the middle of an acre or more of ground with a swell green lawn in front; mammoth patio, swimming pool and rose garden in the back. And from the moment you enter the spacious, circular hall, papered in gray, canopied by a gorgeous chandelier fully ten feet long and sentinelled by a beautiful grandfather's clock, you realize you are in not only a house but a home.

The drawing room (Jack won't call it that, but Mary does) is done in soft rose beige tones with harmonizing satin-striped wall paper. The carpet is beige, the drapes beige and apple green satin brocade and most of the furniture is antique with beige and apple green coverings. But here and there a scarlet chair or cushion provides a bright color accent.

Back of the drawing room is the playroom, a gay, homey place with corner seats upholstered in scarlet or green, pool, card and backgammon tables scattered conveniently about, and a projection room opening off one end, its door cunningly concealed by two large pictures.

The very formal beige and brown dining room opens on a gay little chintz hung breakfast room, where Jack and Mary and Baby Joan eat when there isn't any "company." The library is a comfortable room with a blue Oriental rug on the floor, shelves full of books that look as though they have been read, and a handsome desk which Jack says is too fancy for any real transaction of business. Several secret closets, tucked away behind movable book shelves, were when we viewed them stuffed full of Santa Claus' Christmas presents for Joan.

Upstairs you'll find Mary's bedroom. It is very luxurious, decorated in the same quiet beige shades as the drawing room, but her dressing room, as big as some people's living rooms, is a gorgeous affair of mirrors and crystal fittings. Across a little hall, Jack's bedroom, dominated by the simply huge highboy we mentioned and his equally huge four-poster, is a pleasingly masculine room done in browns and tans, with leather upholstered chairs and even a leather upholstered chaise longue. And, yes, Jack's dressing room is lined with mirrors, though he vows he never looks in any of them—well, hardly ever!

Upstairs there is also a gay nursery for Joan and beyond that a sun deck built especially for her. There is a guest room, too, a pretty, quaint apartment complete with dressing room and bath.

The playhouse, a separate building beyond the swimming pool, has another big bar, more card and game tables, a barbecue pit and dressing rooms for swimmers. The furnishings are done in scarlet and green.

There are several other things, too, about the Benny house which make it quite complete—things like huge servants' quarters, fireplaces in every room except the dining room and kitchen, a mammoth butler's pantry (well stocked with jello) and a perfectly ducky powder room on the first floor.

All in all, the house that Jack Benny built is something to be proud of—and who wouldn't be with a charming wife like Mary and a beautiful adopted daughter like Joan to share his long cherished dream?

Saturday 27 May 2017

Cartoons in Theatres, 1961

Short subjects fought a losing battle in the 1960s. They were still being shown at movie theatres but their heyday was long past (it could be argued that shorts fared better before sound came in). And by 1970, they were almost extinct.

In 1961, distributors were still sending cartoons, newsreels, sportsreels and travelogues to theatres. The cartoons had a big advantage over the others. New releases could later be sold to television for a profit. Old ones could be cobbled together for a kiddie Saturday matinee “carnival” or run in connection with a G-rated feature.

Boxoffice magazine still had a Short Subjects Spotlight edition in 1961, gamely trying to convince the movie houses (and, perhaps, producers) that people really wanted to watch reruns of old Candid Microphone shorts. And there were some new things at theatres—Gene Deitch’s Tom and Jerry cartoons had been produced, while Paramount promoted a two-reel cartoon, Abner the Baseball.

Here’s what the magazine had to say about various shorts coming soon to a theatre near soon in its November 27th edition. Photos and publicity drawings accompanied the stories but we’ll only reproduce the ads which, I suspect, were the reason Boxoffice had a special Shorts edition in the first place. Some non-cartoon items have been omitted.

Wide Variety of Subjects In Columbia's Lineup
“Today’s ‘shopping-customer’ will go to the motion picture theatre, and will continue to go only if a full effort has been made to provide him with his money’s worth in terms of a well-balanced program of judiciously selected features and short subjects,” according to Maurice Grad, Columbia’s short -subjects sales manager. ...
Highlighting the one-reel color cartoons is the popular “Loopy de Loop” series, created by the Academy-Award winning team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Other one-reel color cartoons will be the two-time Academy Award winner, “Mr. Magoo,” in eight of his favorites, and 15 selections from some of the company’s Cream of the Crop of past years.

First New Tom & Jerrys In 3 Years From MGM
After a three-year halt, new Tom and Jerry cartoons are being produced once again for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer — with 11 new subjects on the release schedule for 1961-62. In recent seasons, the MGM Tom and Jerry lineup has consisted of reissues of the most popular of the subjects in the series.
Three of the subjects already have been placed in release — “Switchin’ Kitten,” “Down and Outing” and “Greek to Me-ow,” all in Metrocolor. The Tom and Jerrys have proven so popular, both in this country and abroad, that many theatres regularly book festivals exclusively devoted to subjects featuring these two animated characters.
The cartoons are being released through an arrangement with Rembrandt Films of New York, of which William L. Snyder is the president and Gene Deitch the creative director. Both have had wide experience in the animated cartoon field, Snyder having produced, among others, “Munro,” an Academy Awards nominee, and Deitch having served as creative director for Terrytoons.

'Abner' Story of a Baseball, Prime Paramount Entry
With the current shortage of feature product in today’s markets, shrewd exhibitors are surrounding their feature programs with the most attractive short subjects obtainable in order to cultivate a continuous flow of patronage and maintain a well-balanced show, says Howard Minsky, Paramount’s assistant general sales manager and executive in charge of shorts sales.
“The essential values in a company’s short subject program to increase exhibitor patronage is best summed up in these important subject matter requirements: timeliness, variety and action — with color an additional strong plus factor. Opinions from leading exhibitors on the most desirable type of short subjects patrons prefer almost invariably revealed cartoons leading all other divisions with sports, travel shorts and novelty films running closely behind,” he said. For its current program of short subjects, Paramount will have available a brighter, newer array of 40 assorted short subjects encompassing a wide variety of colorful subjects “geared to meet any and every showman’s program requirements.”
The 1961-62 lineup is composed of the following: A two-reel cartoon special, “Abner, the Baseball,” which documents the life of a major league baseball from the time it is stuffed and stitched in a factory to the time it gets the stuffing clobbered out of it on the diamond. This subject was shown to various baseball writers as well as major league clubs. Phil Rizzuto, baseball radio commentator, declared it “one of the funniest pictures about baseball I have ever seen.”
There will be 20 other colorful cartoons of four series each: seven Noveltoons including “Munro,” a cartoon gem which won this year’s Academy Award; “Turtle Scoop,” “Kozmo Goes to School” and “Perry Popgun”; seven Modern Madcaps consisting of “The Plot Sickens,” “Crumley Cogwheel” and “Popcorn and Politics”; six Comic Kings with “Mouse Blanche” and “Hits and Runs” now ready and the following six Popeye Champions: “Fireman’s Brawl,” “Toreadorable,” “The Ace of Space,” “Shaving Mugs,” “Taxi Turvy” and “Floor Flusher.”

Universal Has 36 in Color One Black, White Subject
Acting on the premise that short subjects are continuing to form a more important part of a theatre’s programming. Universal again will offer a varied program of 36 shorts in color and one in black and white during the 1961-62 selling season.
F. J. A. McCarthy, assistant general sales manager in charge of short subjects distribution, said that the increase in output effected last year by Walter Lantz would be continued during 1961-62, with Lantz making 19 new color cartoons for release, augmented by seven rereleases of Woody Woodpecker subjects.

Terrytoons Winning Favor On Film Festival Front
For exhibitors booking Terrytoon cartoons, William Weiss, vice-president and general manager of CBS’s Terrytoon division, has a few suggestions that should help create more public interest in the subjects.
“The nature of the pictures we currently have in distribution provides the alert and aggressive exhibitor with a great opportunity to point out with pride that the Terrytoons releases he is now receiving have been selected for showing this year at the world’s best known film festivals. He should point out to his local Parent Teachers Ass’n, his local school administrators and to any other educational group in his community, that Terrytoons cartoons featuring Hector Heathcote, Hashimoto San and Silly Sidney were seen in the Cannes, Berlin, Moscow, Locarno, Edinburgh, Cork, San Francisco and Mexico festivals; in fact, were requested to be shown at these festivals by those in charge. He should also point out that at the Venice Film Festival, “Drum Roll,” featuring Hector Heathcote, won first prize in the children’s category,” Weiss said.
“By promoting the quality of these Terrytoons films, the alert and aggressive exhibitor can help his continuing drive to bring children back to the movie theatres. Also, because of the current lack of full-length films for the entire family, the alert and aggressive exhibitor can put together a Terrytoons cartoon festival of his own that he would be proud to invite the family unit to attend,” he said.
Weiss said the Terrytoon studio is working on two new series with new characters, which will be available some time next year.

Union Film Distributors, releasing organization of Kingsley International, will offer eight new short subjects for the 1962 season, in addition to 11 now in release. The new subjects consist of “Two Men and a Wardrobe,” a Polish live-action film; “Children of the Sun,” a cartoon; “A Bowl of Cherries,” from Greenwich Village; “Rembrandt,” the story of the artist’s life as told through his paintings; “A Chairy Tale,” about the revolt of a kitchen chair; “Return to Glennascaul,” a ghost story with Orson Welles; “Romance of Transportation,” a cartoon novelty, and “Life with Caesar,” a comedy.

Lester Schoenfeld Offers 14 Shorts in New Season
Lester A. Schoenfeld Films will offer 14 short subjects during 1962. The subjects cover cartoons, art, travel, adventure, sports, nature and military — with running times ranging from ten to 30 minutes.
Titles of the lineup are:
“The Colombo Plan,” art cartoon; “The Queen’s Visit to Nepal,” travel-adventure; “An Oscar for Signor Rossi,” art cartoon; “A Date With Gulienne,” travel; “Sicilian Memories,” travel; “Champs of Sport,” sports; “Springtime in England,” nature; “Aran of the Saints,” travel; “Down Killarney Way,” travel; “Northwest Horizons,” travel: “State Opening of Parliament,” art; “Safari South,” travel; “Edinburgh Tattoo,” military, and “Three’s Company,” travel. All are in color except “Champs of Sport.” The sole Cinemascope subject is “State Opening of Parliament.”

Laurel & Hardy Cartoons
The famous comedy team of Laurel & Hardy will again be seen on the world’s screens, in a series of two-reel animated cartoons to be produced by Larry Harmon. The subjects will be produced for both television and theatrical showing, but films made for theatres will not be available for television.

1961-62 Shorts Lineup, Company by Company

Buena Vista
One seven-minute Goofy short ; three Donald Ducks, including one 28-minute subject; two live-action featurettes, and groups of cartoon and live-action reissues.

Six two-reel color travel featurettes, a new series; a group of new Loopy de Loop cartoons; eight Mr. Magoo reissues; eight Three Stooges reissues; 12 reissues of two-reel comedies under Assorted Favorites and Comedy Favorites banners; 15 Cream of the Crop cartoon reissues; ten World of Sports one-reelers; six Candid Camera re-issues.

Eleven new Tom and Jerry color cartoons; 104 issues of News of the Day.

Kingsley-Union Films
Eight new subjects, encompassing a variety of subjects, mostly imports, plus 11 subjects already in release.

Forty subjects — one two-reel cartoon special, seven Noveltoons, seven Modern Madcaps, six Popeye Champions, six Sports in Action, two two-reel specials in color, plus cartoon favorites.

Lester A. Schoenfeld
Fourteen subjects, encompassing cartoons, art, travel, sports and other subjects.

20th Century-Fox
Twelve color CinemaScope short subjects, encompassing national defense, national progress, sports, music and travel ; four subjects in a new series, “Amazing But True,” a believe-it-or-not type of subject, plus a selection of new Terrytoons and reissues of popular Terrytoons of the past.

Nineteen new Walter Lantz Cartunes; seven Woody Woodpecker rereleases; two two-reel specials (travel) ; eight one-reelers in color; Football Highlights of 1961; and 104 reissues of Universal-International News.

Warner Bros.
Three two-reel Worldwide Adventure Specials; six one-reel Worldwide Adventure specials; 16 Merrie Melodie-Looney Toon cartoons; 13 Blue Ribbon cartoon reissues.

By the end of the decade, there were still short subjects around—just fewer and fewer of them. As for cartoons, Walter Lantz and DePatie-Freleng were the only studios still producing new shorts, Terrytoons was putting TV cartoons (like the Mighty Heroes’ The Toy Man) on the big screen, Warners had ended production with the release of Injun Trouble on Sept. 6, 1969 but was reissuing old shorts, as was Disney. Not that I saw them. The local theatre was torn down. No one was going to the movies. They were watching TV instead.

Friday 26 May 2017

Thanks a Lot, Harry

We all know that a rabbit sold Trix cereal for years, but did you know rabbits also sold milk?

Playhouse Pictures was contracted in 1965 to animate some very short blurbs starring Pete and Harry to sell various products under the Carnation brand.

Backgrounds were almost non-existent (one commercial has a lone cactus) and there was usually some kind of take to end them with the line “Thanks a lot, Harry.”

The characters were copyrighted by Playhouse on October 21, 1965 but the spots aired earlier. Variety of May 28, 1965 reveals:
Those Carnation "rabbits" are the creation of Playhouse Pictures vocalized by Lennie Weinrib and Al Hammer, directed by Gerry Chiniquy from Bernie Gruver's fable.
Chiniquy spent many years at Warner Bros., mainly in the Friz Freleng unit, and was reunited with Friz at DePatie-Freleng. Gruver was normally a layout man. He had worked for John Sutherland and soon after these commercials were made, worked for Bill Melendez on A Charlie Brown Christmas and other Peanuts cartoons.

Thursday 25 May 2017

Silk Worm?

Sex plays an important role in many Tex Avery cartoons. Here’s an example from The Early Bird Dood It! (1942), the first he put into production at MGM.

A bird (Frank Graham) is chasing a worm (Kent Rogers) but the action is halted by a shapely leg in what appears to be a silk stocking. Naturally, it’s the worm. And, naturally, the bird gets clobbered before it’s on to the next gag.

Irv Spence, Preston Blair, Ray Abrams and Ed Love are the credited animators.