Saturday 30 September 2017

He Can't See, But He Can Sell

For years, there have been gag presidential campaigns. Gracie Allen mounted one. So did Pat Paulsen. And Huckleberry Hound. So did someone else with the goal being something other than the White House—Mr. Magoo.

Ad agency BBDO took the 1960 election campaign and used metaphors to sell General Electric light bulbs, building it around Mr. Magoo. It would seem like an odd choice, given that light bulbs wouldn’t make the almost-blind Magoo see any better. But Magoo was an incredibly popular character through the ‘50s, winning two Oscars, and 1960 was a good year for him, too. Hank Saperstein had wrested control of the UPA cartoon studio from Stephen Bosustow and was about to flood television with brand-new, made-for-TV Magoo cartoons, after a deal for a half-hour show sponsored by Kellogg’s fell through. The less said about the TV cartoons, the better. But thanks mostly to Jim Backus’ enthusiastic voice work, Magoo was not only popular, he was better known to people than than giant corporation General Electric.

Magoo had proven to be a good salesman, too, appearing on beer commercials in the 1950s. Here’s how Broadcasting magazine of August 15, 1960 describes his job at G-E.

General Electric bets a million on Magoo to win
A million dollar's worth of tv time will be thrown behind the autumn campaign on behalf of General Electric's favorite candidate — Mr. Magoo, animated spokesman for GE's light bulbs.
The largest block of time yet bought will carry the Magoo message to the precincts through 269 tv stations in 129 markets. A total of 14,000 spot tv commercials will be sponsored over a four-week period starting Sept. 19.
One-minute announcements, 20-second spots and IDs will present the cartoon character as he solicits votes for GE's lamp division. The Magoo platform — "The soft-white bulb for better light."
The little fellow with the genial visage and the worst case of near-sightedness on the air will shake hands with water-pump handles and smooch babies in his "Ballot For Bulbs" campaign. In a typical 20-second commercial he quips, to a poodle in a woman's arms, "It's easy to see whose baby you are" and enters a police station in the belief it's a fine place for a campaign speech.

Salesman Magoo ■ After Mister Magoo had been given a test run last spring, Marty King, advertising manager of the GE lamp division, described the campaign as "the best tie-in and sales-getter General Electric has used in its advertising history."
The spring test was based on a three-week campaign of 20-second IDs in Fort Wayne, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. GE's agency, BBDO New York, had suggested Mister Magoo as the company searched for a livelier message than had been used in its extensive network radio and tv campaigns. Tv particularly, it was felt, needed a more exciting vehicle.
GE figured it should be able to build up sales through saturation spots, perhaps in the Lestoil manner. It already had a distribution and permanent merchandising system.
After the three-city test, Mister Magoo was given point-of-purchase displays tieing-in with commercials appearing in a 125-market saturation run that lasted three weeks. From now on Mister Magoo will be featured in spring and autumn tv schedules backed by "push-through merchandising on top of good advertising."
The spring testing was checked by Schrewin Research. The verdict: good company recognition. In a sampling made later during the actual placement of Magoo commercials (using a 2,000-phone call sample and a check that included 375 stores), recognition of Mister Magoo scored in one-half of those interviewed, while GE earned a 35% recognition.
According to Mr. King, part of the GE bulb success came from a realization simply that "selling bulbs was like selling Jello, a Revlon lipstick or a Lestoil. What we needed to instill was 'local excitement'." And that's the tenor of Magoo selling.

Female Audience ■ Since 70% of the electric bulb market is traced to women purchasers, most of the "Ballot for Bulbs" campaign will be minutes placed near daytime programs. But last spring GE found that though dealers heard about Mister Magoo, they hadn't seen him. This will be rectified in the fall with some 20s and IDs in prime evening time.
In this energetic GE push which will aim toward the traditional bulb outlets of drug, variety, hardware and food stores, dealer contests will be held along with establishment of tie-in displays.
Already there's been a bit of fun that GE hadn't planned on. During the Democratic convention last month CBS-TV cameras picked up a demonstration for Adlai Stevenson. In the background but flying high waved a "Magoo for President" banner. Westinghouse Electric, a director competitor of GE's, sponsored the CBS coverage.
GE contrives carefully for attention. At a Battle Creek, Mich., store (CutRate market) last spring a direct tie-up with the Magoo commercial campaign included a 40-foot GE bulb display set up along one whole wall. In the three-week tv campaign the store sold $4,000 worth of bulbs, or 25% of its annual bulb volume.
The Magoo commercial concept is the creation of Art Bellaire, vice president and associate copy director in charge of tv and radio at BBDO. who conceived the idea of making a salesman out of the familiar UPA animated character. Dick Mercer, vice president and creative group supervisor at the agency, and Mr. Bellaire have written the commercials. UPA Pictures produces the films with other credits going to Bill Fuess of UPA and Eddie Dillon, an art director at BBDO.
Mister Magoo, an effective means of personalizing the soft-white bulb featured by GE, has his larynx flexed and his hair trimmed for what may be one of the brighter spots of the fall political maneuvering. GE's counting on him to sell its bulbs.

Friday 29 September 2017

Mickey Plays Mickey

Draw some circles and you have Mickey Mouse. Well, you have the Mickey Mouse of 1929, the one who played animals as musical instruments and cavorted around cuspidors and outhouses, back when synchronising sound was enough of a novelty to capture the audience’s attention.

In Mickey’s Follies (1929), Mickey plays sings and plays several instruments. And himself.

He plays a saxophone two different ways.

He plays his buttons, his head and his butt.

His tail helps him play his teeth.

He plays a trombone and thrusts the slide at the audience in the theatre; early Disney sound cartoons always seem to have something coming at or coming away from the camera in a late ‘20s try at 3-D perspective.

The gag seems to be how many “funny” shapes the rubberised trombone can be made into. And there’s the old cartoon gag (I’m sure it was old in 1929, too) where someone blows into an instrument or a balloon or at birthday candles so hard, their body contracts to almost nothing.

All this happens to the background strains of the song “Minnie’s Yoo-Hoo,” co-written by Carl Stalling (who, I’m guessing, played the piano in this short) and making its film bow.

Thursday 28 September 2017

A Likely Story

One of my favourite pieces of Mike Maltese dialogue at Warner Bros. is when Daffy Duck starts accusing the butler in Daffy Dilly (1948), building and building his case through detective and mystery plot clichés.

Ken Harris’ gestures augment the words very nicely.

“Where were you the night of April the 16th?”

“A likely story!”

“I see it all now.” Note how Daffy’s cogitating.

“You and the upstairs maid.” Daffy points toward the upstairs.

“ ‘Do the old boy in,’ you said.” Daffy gives a strangling motion.

“ ‘Elderberry wine and old lace,’ you said.” Daffy motions like he’s pouring wine.

“ ‘Then the quick getaway,’ you said.”

Daffy eventually gets to that great line: “But you weren’t smart enough, John. Alias Johnny. Alias Jack. Alias Jackie!” as Mel Blanc’s voice rises.

Phil Monroe, Ben Washam and Lloyd Vaughan also animated this cartoon.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Radio's Tart Aftertaste

Bob and Ray spent a great deal of their career wandering in the towered canyons of the New York City radio wilderness, going from network to network, and station to station, as the industry evolved.

One of their stops was at CBS, where they broadcast for 15 minutes each weeknight starting June 30, 1959 until the following June 24th when the network fiddled with its evening programming and they looking for work again. That means they were no longer on the air when the Christian Science Monitor praised their CBS show in a story published June 28, 1960, an amusing twist in itself.

Despite what the column states, there were good portions of their CBS show which were not ad-libbed. A fellow named Phil Green was helping them with sketches. And the animated “Bob and Ray’s Hollywood Classics” never made it to air, despite Variety stating on March 30, 1960 a deal had been struck with California National Productions—an NBC company—to distribute it. Bob and Ray were in business with Ed Graham, who later produced the Linus the Lionhearted cartoon series.

The article mentions the WHDH shows in Boston which ended in July 1950 when the duo went to NBC. I enjoy parts of them but they’re quite different in tone than the 15-minuters in New York. With the shorter time slot, they couldn’t meander like they did on the Boston shows. On the other hand, I miss the musical interludes that CBS decided not use (perhaps for cost-savings) and you’d hear on the NBC 15-minute broadcasts. The CBS shows ridiculed Jack Paar, treating his humility as less than genuine, and the network’s own policy in the wake of the quiz show scandals to put disclaimers on shows in an attempt at transparency.

The Mild Acid of Bob and Ray
By Melvin Maddocks
New York
Slumped on their kitchen stools, the so-called “sick” comedians sit, half-contemptuously throwing darts at their audiences. At the other extreme, hopping like pogo sticks, the gagsters peddle their patter—fast-talking, slick, and a little too eager to please.
In between, range a mere handful of comics, neither barbed nor bland. Among these belong CBS Radio’s Bob and Ray.
Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding may best be described as kind-hearted satirists who would, one feels, honestly hate to see harm to come to the things they make fun of. Like most radio and television comedians, their humor is parochial. The prime target, in other words, is radio and television, not life.
They have spent a combined 41 years in the media. Down to the last pear-toned caress, they know the way of unctuous announcers. Not a cliché of soap operas, Boris Karloff-type mysteries, or space-fiction dramas has escaped them. They command equally the absurdities of the woman’s program hostess and the pretensions of the on-the-scene interviewer.
● ● ●
In a well-equipped scale of voices, extending from deep nasal to crackling falsetto, they take off these and other airwave stereotypes. Characteristically, their fictional personalities are self-important and solemnly obsessed by March-hare ambitions. But, on balance, the laughter they provoke is affectionate. As their brief sketches—three or four per 15-minute program—genially wander to improvised conclusions, Bob and Ray almost seem to deserve the fatal label, whimsy. But a tart aftertaste nearly always rescues them.
The two, after 14 years of togetherness, works without a script. The effect is a bit like jazz improvisation, with one following the other’s lead, then trying to top it. Transcribe the routines to paper and—again like a jazz solo—the whole flavor evaporates. Everything depends upon hesitation, inflection, and nuance.
The scene where Bob and Ray tape their broadcasts, two or three at a session, is as informal as the entertainment it produces. In a small parlor-sized studio the comedians sit at plain rectangular table. While Ray, the more ebullient one, rocks back and forth in his dangerously tipped chair, Bob quietly doodles as they record a broadcast. A sound man and a turntable man share the studio with them. Behind glass a producer-director, assistant director, and technical director watch. Ray works hard—and successfully—to make them all “break up.” He clowns just as eagerly for the messenger boy who drops into swap repartee during commercials or between “takes.”
● ● ●
Behind their convincing air of casualness, Bob and Ray are craftsmen with a solid respect for comic tradition. Among their admirations: Stoopnagle and Bud, Laurel and Hardy, and Robert Benchley, traces of whose deceptively guileless style may be found in their own work.
As multiple-voice impersonators, Bob and Ray have never done as well in television as on radio. There is something dampening about the soprano of Mary Magoon, for example, emerging a little sheepishly from the burly person of Mr. Goulding. Now they think they have this handicap licked. The answer: animated cartoons. The comedians, who have also made a reputation in the industry for their commercials, own their private animation studio. At present, they are writing, producing, and acting in a cartoon series dealing in parodies of overworked movie plots, which they hope to sell next season.
Old Bob and Ray fans, who knew them back in Boston a dozen years ago and before they went “network,” natural swear they were at their sharpest in the early days. But in this latest project it may be taken for granted that Mr. Elliott and Mr. Goulding will still be operating on the theory upon which their reasonably literate, reasonable subtle humor is based: “There are no hicks anymore. They’re as hip in Sioux City as they are in New York.”

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Rough on Rats

It’s called Rough on Rats, but avenging kittens are rough on only one in this 1933 Van Beuren cartoon.

They toss anything they can get their hands on at the rat and finally kill him with a shoe.

Then what do the kittens do after killing the rat? The same thing any murderers would do. They sway and sing a happy, chirpy Disney knock-off song.

Harry Bailey directed this short and Gene Rodemich supplied the score. Who the chirpy singers are is your guess.

Monday 25 September 2017

We Attack At Dawn

Tex Avery cartoons aren’t merely exercises in outrageous takes and ridiculous puns. There’s solid posing, too. After all, over the years, Avery had ex-Disney artists in his unit, though they may not have worked for Uncle Walt all that long or in major positions.

Check out these poses (and an in-between or two) from Drag-A-Long Droopy, where the rancher wolf (played by Avery himself) decides to attack the Droopy’s sheepherders at dawn.

Animator Ray Patterson was plopped into the Avery unit for this cartoon along with future business partner Grant Simmons, as well as Mike Lah, Bob Bentley and Walt Clinton. If I recall, all but Bentley spent time at Disney before eventually moving to MGM.

Sunday 24 September 2017

Doesn't Slow Down

Jack Benny had been around so long, and seen or heard so often by 1968, it must have been tough for national columnists to come up with something different to write about him. But they managed, though if you view them collectively, there’s a lot of repetition.

Jack hit the publicity circuit in early 1968 to push his latest TV special. Columnists usually got around to fleshing out their story—after all, an out-and-out plug would be a little unseemly—generally asking about his charity concert work or about his show-biz friends.

This story published March 8, 1968 has a few of the usual nuggets and a couple of other little things. Jack gets across some “cheap” and “39” one-liners; I suppose he was resigned to the fact it was expected of him.

Jack Benny, at 74, Refuses To Slow Down; Acts Like 39

North American Newspaper Alliance
HOLLYWOOD — Jack Benny is a man who acts like he really believes he's 39 years old. The way he bounces around the country, doing symphony concerts, personal appearances and now his own special on TV, you would think he has forgotten that he has been 39 since 1933.
"Take it easy?" asks Jack. "At my age?"
The fact is that Jack is having a ball. His closest friends realize that. Nobody enjoys life and movement more than Jack. This couldn't be more definitely projected than when he is doing a guest soloist spot with a major symphony orchestra, as he just did in Boston with Eric Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony orchestra. Or when he is cavorting around in a TV comedy special.
"I have just finished a show which will be seen on NBC-TV March 20," he says with all the enthusiasm of a video newcomer, "and I think it's one of the best I've done in years. We've got a great cast, real pros like Lucille Ball and Johnny Carson. And Ben Blue and a combo called Paul Revere and The Raiders. "Sure thing," Jack chuckled, "somebody had to ask me if I played with the original group."
Some of his old buddies turned up, too, for what they called "cameos" — among them Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Danny Thomas, George Burns, The Smothers Brothers and the Dodgers' 100-grand-per-year pitching ace, Don Drysdale.
It is a historic fact in show business that Jack Benny is the best audience in the world. He laughs louder and longer than anybody. Oddly, although they've been pals and perennial trodders of the vaudeville boards for many decades, Benny and George Burns are each other's greatest fans.
"The guy can just walk into a room and he breaks me up," says Jack. When they appear on the same dais at stag events around Hollywood, the dialog is something to remember—and to shudder over. They are constantly contriving practical jokes.
Having attained the venerable age of 74 on Valentine's day, Jack is actually more occupied these days than in years past. He has made 60 appearances with major symphonies around the country at no fee to himself, raising close to $4.5 million for symphony funds in the process. He has racked up box office records all over the U.S. and in Canada. Next month he goes to London for several TV shows and concerts.
Also in March he will deliver to U.C.L.A. all the memorabilia of his show business career, which he began saving upon his first professional appearance (in Knickerbockers) in the pit orchestra of the Barrison theater in Waukegan, Ill., at age 16. He will donate all of his scripts, film, tape recordings, stills and clippings, and U.C.L.A. authorities are properly ecstatic over their coup.
Does Jack have any secrets of eternal youth? Nothing spectacular. "I've been blessed with good health and an ability to relax. I love to fiddle and I play the violin to keep myself amused during the long waits between television shots. Mainly, I love doing what I'm doing, I enjoy my work so much, I think I would do it for nothing . . . BUT DON'T PRINT THAT!" he screams.

Saturday 23 September 2017

A Curious Combination of Sentiment and Hard Common Sense

People can’t handle feature-length cartoons? Time has proven that to be completely untrue. And it was untrue in 1951 when Paul Terry made the claim. I suspect that more people had enjoyed Disney’s Snow White or Dumbo by that time than they had a Terry Little Roquefort short. To be cynical, it was better for Terry to say that than to admit features cost money and he didn’t want to spend any more than absolutely necessary.

Terry made a nice living out of making B-list cartoons. They weren’t all that polished, but he had a few characters that audiences liked, and that was all that mattered in the long run—if the cartoons entertained, they accomplished their goal.

Here’s the old man himself talking with the New York Herald Tribune in a story published on July 22, 1951. Terry had no qualms about stealing ideas from other cartoons; he readily admits it. And, yes, his first sound short came out in 1928 before Disney’s Steamboat Willie, but historians say Terry initially didn’t really want to spend money on sound and that caused his break with Amadee Van Beuren on the Aesop Fables series. Perhaps Van Beuren was waiting for him as well, as per the last sentence.

Terrytoons, 20 Years Old, Going Strong

Twentieth Century-Fox’s annual convention in Hollywood recently sported an out-of-town guest of honor in the person of Paul Terry, sponsor of Terrytoon color cartoon shorts. The occasion of Terry’s trip to the film capital where the ten-minute adventures of Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle and other Terry creations take shape was ostensibly to celebrate the twentieth year of association between the cartoon producer and the film company that releases his Technicolored fantasies. While sentiment was undoubtedly involved, there was a hard core of commercial appreciation on the part of Twentieth behind the festivities.
In these times of straitened circumstances in Hollywood the steady financial returns from the Terry films, heretofore unheralded among the plush post-war profits of major productions, now stand out in comforting black and white on the studio’s ledgers. The individual income from each short may be small, but Terry makes twenty-six a year, and where other Hollywood films have been failing at the box office. Terrytoons have gained steadily in popularity to a point where today they reach an estimated weekly audience of 40,000,000 through 450,000 bookings in 17,000 theaters.
Like What He Does
The man behind Terrytoons is about as far removed from the usual conception of a producer of such financial magnitude as his suburban New York studio is from Hollywood, a fact that is probably primarily responsible for his success. A chunky man in his sixties, with all his original sandy hair and a deceptively calm and easy-going manner, Terry believes in his films. Where other producers have occasionally had to sponsor studio projects that they would not want to make on their own initiative, Terry likes what he is doing and has felt that way for a long, long time.
Originally a newspaper cartoonist and photographer—about as perfect a background for film cartooning as one could ask for—Terry made his first animated short in 1915, when Walt Disney and other “newcomers” will still in grade school. He lays his conversing from journalism to film making to the late Winsor MacKay, a close friend and creator of what is believed to be the first animated cartoon in this country, “Gertie, the Dinosaur.” Terry, who treasures a collection of the original “Gertie” drawings, recalls that MacKay told him, in effect: “Young man, this form of artistic expression is going to be important one day, and I advise you to get into it.”
Terry did so with a conviction of purpose that has survived the passing of time with little abatement. There have been tremendous changes in execution and technique since his initial black-and-white “Little Herman” cartoon of thirty-six years ago, but Terry has been one step ahead of the evolutions of sound, color and other developments with a curious combination of sentiment and hard common sense that is the other key to his longevity and freshness in the medium. Perhaps the best example of the Terry composition is his attitude toward what appears to be his major interest outside of cartooning, the volunteer fire department of New Rochelle. He has a warm and affectionate regard for the smoke-eating tradition—a fireman’s hat occupies a handy and important spot in his office—but at the same time he shrewdly estimates that the conclave around the firehouse of a small town is the best vantage point for satisfactory social maneuvers.
Long-Time Employed
Among the friends and employees in the small, three-story studio in New Rochelle, the Terry approach shows up in the fact that the average length of service of his associates is ten years, while his musical director, Philip A. Scheib, has been with him for twenty. If he is sure of those who help him turn out a record-breaking twenty-six cartoons a year, he takes no chances on the fickle public taste, keeping tabs on his audiences with a variety of methods that would put fiction’s top private eyes to shame. There is one man on the Terry payroll who does nothing but go to theaters and take voluminous notes on audience reactions on all types of entertainment. Anything and everything that draws a laugh is reported to Terry and his panel of writers, directors and artists for possible use in future Terrytoons.
Ten Minutes Best
Terry is equally certain that the ten-minute film is the best cartoon size. He professes to great respect for his chief competitor’s technique, but feels that Disney’s feature-length pictures are too much for audiences to handle. The cartoon film requires tremendous concentration, he says, and anything over the short length becomes tiring, with the result that most of what you put on the screen after that goes by unnoticed.
After thirty-six years in cartoons, Terry admits to a comfortable feeling that, if not himself, at least his Terrytoons will go on forever. “You know,” he said reflectively, “before sound and Terrytoons came in twenty-odd years ago, we made 460 Aesop Fable cartoons. He wrote only 220 stories—I’m afraid to die, he’ll be waiting for me.”

Friday 22 September 2017

Organ and Harp(o)

A monkey examines a second-hand store mannequin in Harman-Ising’s The Organ Grinder, a 1933 cartoon.

Something is familiar here.

Look! It’s Harpo Marx!

Naturally, a harp happens to be conveniently nearby. Frank Marsales cheaps out and uses a piano on the soundtrack.

I always thought Groucho was the centre of the early-‘30s Marx Brothers movies, but Harpo seemed to get caricatured in cartoons more often back then.

Ham Hamilton and Tom McKimson are the credited animators.

Thursday 21 September 2017

Harpo For Madame

Time for another celebrity caricature in one of those insufferable mid-‘30s Friz Freleng musical cartoons, this one Flowers For Madame (1935).

A flower (is it a red clover?) puts on a bluebell for a hat.

Look! It’s Harpo Marx!

Naturally, he has to play a spider web as a harp. And there’s a harp on the soundtrack playing “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”

Norman Spencer’s usual back beat woodblock is part of the arrangement, while J.S. Zamecnik’s "Traffic" shows up when the snail starts running to when the watermelon juice puts out the fire. Spencer even treats us to march-tempo versions of the title song.

Oh, and an inside joke as the end of the cartoon!

Whether cartoon writer Tedd Pierce liked the ladies more than Harpo did on screen is open to debate.