Friday 30 June 2017

Galloping With Willoughby

The Warners cartoon “Of Fox and Hounds” (1940) is pretty much one long set-up to a punch-line at the end. A Bugs Bunny-sounding fox sends dumb dog Willoughby past an old tree stump and over a rail fence. Time after time, Willoughby jumps over the fence and over a cliff—until the last time.

Whoever animated Willoughby gives him a really awkward gallop in a 24-frame cycle. Here are the frames.

Tex Avery took the cliff gag to MGM and used it in a Screwy Squirrel cartoon, but I like it better in this one.

Thursday 29 June 2017

Cat's Eyes

Our hero Little Roquefort knocks down a pile of books that Percy the cat is standing on to get at a pet bird in the Terrytoon Mouse Meets Bird. We get eye takes.

I wonder if any of the artists even snickered when drawing this cartoon. Sylvester and Tweety it ain't.

Connie Rasinski directed.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Another Look at Phil Harris

Phil Harris enjoyed life. If you believed his character on the Jack Benny radio show and later, he loved partying, boozing it up, charming the ladies (and perhaps more), corny one-liners, and didn’t care what people thought about him. (In many ways, he was the proto-Dean Martin).

Another element was added to that after a very well-publicised marriage to Alice Faye—doting husband and father (although one suspects his eye wandered whenever there was a feminine form that he appreciated). All of this was heaped together when Harris landed his own radio show. He and Alice replaced Cass Daley on the Fitch Bandwagon in the 1946-47 season. It basically carried on with the Harris character invented for the Benny show; the fact Harris had a son by a previous marriage living with him was completely ignored because, in the Benny world, he had never been married before. So it was that on the air, Philsy had a patient wife, two somewhat-precocious daughters and a classless buddy named Frank Remley.

Some critics cringed at the domesticity of the Harrises. Patient wives and somewhat-precious children were not unheard of in radio. One of those critics was John Crosby of the New York Herald Tribune. We reprinted his first review of the show in 1946 here. By 1950, he was praising it; you can read that here. Crosby insisted the show had changed, not him.

After his first review, he looked back on November 5, 1946:
Second Time Around: The Phil Harris show (NBC 7:30 p.m., Sundays), which took a pretty severe lacing from everyone when it started, is gradually groping toward the light. The painful domesticity of the opening program has been sharply reduced and Mr. Harris, a pretty fair comedian when he isn't kissing his wife, has been turned loose with his boys in the band. When he's discussing horses or trying to understand what M-I-L-K stands for, Mr. H. is a robust comedian and may turn into a good one.
The show which occupies one of the most coveted spots on the air still suffers from schizophrenia. Alice Faye doesn't seem to know what she's doing there and Baby Alice, a stand-in for the Harris child, is getting no wittier as she goes along. To keep you abreast of Baby Alice, I pass along the following snatch of dialogue:
"Was Daddy ever a dog, Mummy?"
"Of course not."
"Well, I heard him say before he married you he knew plenty of cute little tricks."
Crosby revised the show again when it was still being broadcast for Fitch. He pretty well picks out what’s good and what’s bad. Alice Faye was the reality anchor in the show but there wasn’t much for her to do. She’d warn Phil and Frank not to do something, they’d do it anyway, and Alice would show up at the end. In between, she’d do a song. The byplay between Phil and Frank (played by Elliott Lewis) carried the show (though they sometimes stretched credibility with their ignorance) and Walter Tetley as the sneering, over-the-top Julius Abruzzio was the best part. I didn’t mind the daughters but I suspect Crosby was a little tired of yet more world-weary kids on the radio.

This column ran February 16, 1948.
Radio in Review
Phil Harris Show: Mystifying Success
By John Crosby

NEW YORK—EVERY so often in a spirit of morbid curiosity I feel impelled to return to the Phil Harris how (N.B.C., 7:30 p.m. E.S.T. Sundays), one of the most mystifying successes in all radio. It is easily the crudest and least inhibited comedy show in the first 15 of the Hooper ratings and my only explanation for its persistently large audience is the fact that it reposes comfortably between Jack Benny and Edgar Bergen. It is a triumph of N. B. C. voltage which is high and the personal voltage of the average listener which on a Sunday evening is too low to turn the darn thing off.
The Harris show is a particularly irritating example of radio's exasperating immutability, because Harris is a very funny fellow indeed and could quite easily be head man in a good comedy show. As I guess everyone knows by now, Harris is refreshingly innocent of all textbook knowledge and scandalously well-informed on the lamentable but pleasant aspects of civilization blondes, horses and pool rooms. He's brash, breezy and wolfish.
WITH SUCH a collection of qualities, it seems totally implausible that he should be married at all. Nevertheless, on this show he is not only married but imbedded in matrimony to the ears. There is nothing implicit about the connubial bliss of Alice Faye and Phil Harris either; it is all too vividly explicit. Their love affair is easily the most public romance since Douglas Fairbanks married Mary Pickford in 1920 as newsreel cameras turned and millions wept happy tears.
"You blonde, beautiful bundle of dynamite," shouts Harris to Miss Faye, "put your arms around me and tell me how much you love me!" This is followed by a kiss excruciatingly audible to millions and millions of married listeners who must stare at their loudspeakers in some disbelief, wondering how this flame of intense though licit carnality could possibly have continued to burn so brightly after seven long years of marriage.
MOST MARRIED FOLKS of my acquaintance pause occasionally in their love-making to discuss the kitchen screen door that sticks or the leaky faucet in the upstairs bathroom, or the radiator that bangs. Not the Harrises. They can't leave off clutching one another for so much as an instant. It's nice to know that such a passion exists undiminished by the routine activities of matrimony, but it's a little unnerving to find it in your living room. I feel uncomfortably like an eavesdropper.
The writers don't seem to know what to do with Miss Faye. She's mild, low-voiced, colorless and if this phrase is permissible in radio almost invisible. Occasionally she is required to be sarcastic and she performs this unpleasant chore almost apologetically. She sings innocuously, not unpleasantly but not, on the other hand, with any distinction at all.
THERE WAS a time when the Harrises spent much of their half hour each Sunday with their two email girls (or rather two small actresses who impersonated the Harris children) and this interlude was even more painful than the love-making already noted. Fortunately these dear children have been shoved lovingly into the background. Harris seems happiest and his own carefree self only when he gets out of the house away from the embraces of Miss Faye and in the company of Frankie Remley, a character as uncouth and untrammeled by formal education as himself. These two are wonderfully funny together and I wish they spent more time out of doors.
AS A SINGER, Phil Harris has possibly the most limited repertoire in concert circles, consisting, as I figure it, of about three songs. One is his classic about poker; another is his paean of praise to the South, and the third, a recent addition, concerns the disadvantages of civilization. Within this narrow field, he is all by himself. No one else can spit out so many words so rapidly and with such menacing self-confidence. Robert Taylor, substituting recently for Harris, tried it and broke down, panting, after about four phrases.
The level of taste on the Harris show is not high. ("My sister is very distinguished looking. She has a mustache.") If I had the management of the Harris show, a number of changes would be made. Miss Faye would be returned with thanks to the motion picture industry, where at least you could look at her. The locale of the show would be switched from Hollywood to Broadway, where Harris indisputably belongs. And some intimations of good taste would be interjected here and there. Not enough to extinguish Harris. Just enough to curb him.
The Harris-Faye sitcom didn’t make the transition to television, despite NBC locking up Phil in an expensive, long-term contract. He must have had some kind of right-of-refusal clause because about all he did for the network was guest appearances on variety shows. As for the radio show that caused all that cringing in 1946, it expired in 1954, but not because of a lack of popularity. Blame TV. That’s where the big advertising dollars were going. Sponsors—even the corporate parent of NBC—weren’t willing to pump in the large amounts of cash needed for big radio comedy shows. Variety reported on June 18, 1954:
Phil Harris Fading Off NBC After 15 Years
Phil Harris and Alice Faye close out their season on NBC for RCA tonight and it may be the last of the singing comic on the radio network. He started more than 15 years ago on NBC with Jack Benny and for the past seven years headed his own show with his wife.
Harris is still under exclusive contract to NBC and will confine his guest shots to tv until NBC comes up with a format for his own show. For next season RCA will split its sponsorship on NBC's "three-plan" with alternating bankrolling of "Fibber and Molly," "It Pays to Be Married" and "One Man's Family," all quarter-hour strips.
All of this meant more time for Phil to go hunting, fishing and golfing with Bing Crosby and other pals. Just as his character did on the air, Phil Harris enjoyed life. He had 91 years of it.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Running From Egypt

Gypped in Egypt has all the hallmarks of an early Van Beuren cartoon—inconsistent drawing, skeletons doing all kinds of stuff, a piano, wood block sounds for footsteps. This is one of those East Coast nightmare cartoons where doors (trap and other kinds), stairs and windows appear out of nowhere and one scene segues into the next.

The cartoon ends with Don and Waffles running toward the horizon. But something’s coming at them. Waffles is always afraid and shakes. Nothing bothers Don.

Off they run into the distance to the strains of Gene Rodemich’s Middle Eastern-evoking music.

What is that thing chasing them anyway? Oh, who cares. It’s a Van Beuren cartoon! Its eyes have a great psychedelic effect on a cycle of five frames. Here’s a loop of it. (Sorry for the jumpy frames).

Manny Davis and John Foster get the screen credits for overseeing this 1930 cartoon.

Monday 26 June 2017

Buccaneer Blow Up

"If ya does that just once more," vows Yosemite Sam to Bugs Bunny, " I ain't a-goin' after it!" In this case, "that" refers to Bugs lighting a match and tossing it in the gunpowder hold in Buckaneer Bunny. Well, Bugs does it again. Sam tries to look casual, tapping his foot, playing with a yo-yo and indulging in a game of jacks. But we know what's going to happen.

Mike Maltese and Tedd Pierce combined on the story.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Jack Benny on Women

When Jack Benny’s TV series went off the air in 1965, he switched to a number of specials every season. Bob Hope did the same kind of thing, except Hope’s in his later years were filled with bad cue card reading, lame sketches, football players, Brooke Shields (or before her, Elke Sommer). Jack seemed far more relaxed on his specials but a few of the sketches were cringe-worthy.

One special featured a send-up of beauty pageants. Who better to guest star than that curvaceous beauty, Phyllis Diller? It wasn’t the best Benny comedy, but fans didn’t seem to mind, and neither did the sponsor.

Here’s Jack in a syndicated newspaper story that prompted by the coming special which takes, as its topic, women. It looks like a production company or network publicity handout; in fact, I found a version in one paper where the TV writer used some of the quotes and kind of left you with the impression he interviewed Benny. Variously edited versions of this appeared in papers around November 26, 1966.

By all reports (mainly George Burns), Jack was a ladies man in his vaudeville days, and his daughter wrote in her book that her dad was very comfortable around women, who liked him because he was a good and sympathetic listener.

Jack Benny Hosts Musical Fun With Phyllis Diller
New York — Jack Benny emcees a beauty contest, the Smothers Brothers do the judging and Phyllis Diller gets into the act, on The Jack Benny Hour, color special on the NBC television network, Thursday, (8:30-9:30 p.m.). Singing, swinging Trini Lopez is another guest star on the program.
In the beauty contest, 10 girls from all over the world compete for the title of "Miss Northern and Southern Hemisphere." The banners on their bathing suits bear designations ranging from Miss Sweden to Miss Tunisia, Miss France to Miss Japan.
In the best beauty pageant tradition, Benny sings the contest theme song, "Here She Is, Miss Northern and Southern Hemisphere." The girls' official chaperone is Miss Diller.
Leading up to the contest, Benny introduces and trades quips with each of his guest stars. Between times, his more musical guests manage to squeeze in a number or two.
Trini sings "Fly Me to the Moon" and "This Train." The Smothers Brothers offer "I Talk to the Trees."
• • •
THE SMOTHERS LADS, like Miss Diller, made their first splash in show business at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco. The brothers' act there was such a smash that they were encouraged to record it.
The recordings, in turn, was bought by thousands, including Jack Paar, then host of NBC's Tonight Show. Paar booked Tom and Dick onto his show and thereby started a career that earned wide TV popularity for the brothers.
It was Paar who said, in commenting on the duo's unique blend of humor and music, "I don't know what it is that you fellows have—-but whatever it is, no one is ever going to be able to steal it from, you."
There's something funny about beauty contests.
• • •
"The more legitimate anything is, the funnier is the satire," said Benny. Jack's a beauty contest ogler along with around 50,000,000 other Americans who watch the various beauty pageants on TV.
"I watch them for the same reason others watch them—to see beautiful girls," he said. "We're doing our show with real beauties, incidentally. They're all former contest winners."
Jack, who has seen many beautiful women in show business, singled out several for special mention.
"I consider Greta Garbo the most beautiful," he said. "She and Audrey Hepburn, have the most beautiful eyes. My wife, by the way, fits into that category, too. And that's a truth. Garbo, Hepburn and Mary Livingston! I'd say Garbo has the most beautiful mouth and Cyd Charisse has the most beautiful figure. She also has a beautiful face."
• • •
THERE'S MORE to beauty than looks, according to Benny.
"If a woman is very talented, in addition to her looks then she has beauty," he said. "She doesn't have to be in show business to be beautiful. She can have other talents she can be brilliant or have a sense of humor, for instance."
Benny was modest — and honest—when asked what he has hoped to achieve through humor.
"My purpose was to be a big success," he said. "It was a selfish purpose. But a comedian doesn't start out any other way. Of course you serve a function, too in the process. As for the value of humor, I guess you could say that laughter is a sort of virtue. We would all like to see the whole world langh if we could. If everyone could laugh, we wouldn't have any problems. You can't be angry when you laugh and you can't hate when you laugh. When I laugh I feel good. Most of the time that means feeling good physically and mentally."
Obviously a comedian has to be funny to be successful, but there's another ingredient that's important, according to Benny.
"To be a real success," he said, "People have to like you personally and what you stand for. Just getting them to laugh isn't enough."
Generally speaking Benny indicated that humor, if it has a function, "brings people down to size" and exposes "vanity."
Asked what serious thought he has found helpful through years of living, Benny reflected and then, said:
"There's one saying but none of us practice it: 'Don't worry about what you can't do anything about.' "I worry about little things that don't mean anything. But then maybe if I didn't worry about little things, when the big things come along, I wouldn't worry about those either. Maybe I'm successful because I worry."