Monday 30 April 2018

Baseball Bugs Scores a Run

How does Bugs Bunny score a run against the invincible Gas House Gorillas? Distract them with cheesecake.

The Gorilla bounces into the distance in ecstasy. Bugs crosses the plate. He scores. The Gorilla doesn’t.

Another fine scene from Friz Freleng’s Baseball Bugs (1946). Gerry Chiniquy, Virgil Ross, Ken Champin and Manny Perez are the credited animators.

Sunday 29 April 2018

To the Front of the Line

Likely there are few people reading this post who saw Jack Benny live in person. He’s been dead for 43 years after all (or maybe that should be 39). But I imagine they probably saw him in a concert setting or at a fair, certainly not like in the situation below.

This story from the King Features Syndicate only cursorily deals with Jack Benny. It’s about seeing top entertainers as part of a tour package. It’s certainly different than just walking up to a window and buying a ticket.

I found this in a newspaper dated March 6, 1959. The picture of Gisele MacKenzie with a kind of pensive Jack comes from a fan magazine around that time.

Miami Night Tour Can Be Cheap

While I was vacationing in Miami, Jack Benny and Gisele MacKenzie were booked into Miami Beach's swankiest hotel for a one-week stand. Neither of these stars can be classified as night-club performers. Benny has been tops in radio and TV for about 39 years, and Miss MacKenzie is strictly a TV graduate. An evening for two in this hotel's night-club costs about 40 bucks and that's a lot of cash to lay out to see entertainers that come into the living room free.
As stars of mass medium, however, the Benny-MacKenzie combo was a must to the tourist vacationer. But for a budget-minded guy to spend 40 clams just for one quick evening is a rough order. Even when she shows up at his hotel he's-competing with the regular night-club patron who's willing to toss the captain a 20 to help locate a "reserved" table. Our tourist friend finds himself behind a pole in the back of the room wondering why he let the old lady con him into springing for this show.
In Miami things have changed, however, and the tourist is beating the sharpie to the good shows, thanks to a small group of promoters who have organized tours. For $22 a couple, you are picked up by a bus, taken to one night club where you are permitted one drink plus the show, then on to a second spot for a chicken sandwich and the show, finally, a third joint for dessert and another show and back to your hotel on the bus.
Super-Duper Party
The night Benny opened, I signed on for this super-duper excursion into the saloon world. Along with 44 strangers hailing from about 25 assorted states, and dressed all the way from casual to formal, my wife and I piled into the streamlined bus.
As we headed out of our low-rent district and toward the more fashionable beachfront palaces, the guide instructed us in tour rules. Our gratuities are already paid, but if we wish something not included in the package—like extra drinks—we are to take care of the waiters ourselves. We all sit together at one table, and leave as a unit.
I checked the baggage rack but my barracks bag was not there. It was on a civilian tour.
Benny's hotel was a madhouse. Every important member of Miami Beach's cafe set was there for the premiere. As our bus pulled up in front of the joint, we noticed about a dozen more buses dislodging assorted cargoes of tour customers. Our sergeants, I mean guides, lined us up and led us into the hotel lobby. Through the magnificent lobby, we trotted, advancing on the night club.
You could hear fee desperate screams of the sharpies as you approached the club's entrance. "OK, Eddie, what do you want for a table?" "Remember me, Eddie, I'm a friend of Anastasia." "One hundred bucks for a table—please take my dough." Everybody who was anybody had to be seen at that opening and these men knew it. Failure meant exile.
Suddenly above the din the voice of our guide cried out, "Make way for the tour! Make way for the tour!" Even Eddie responded and, as if by magic, the sharpies were pushed aside to permit us to get through. Once our beachhead was established, it was easy. We all sat at a long table, watched the show and left. Even as we made a sharp "column right" and headed back to our chariot the desperate were still pleading for attention." Here's fifty, Eddie, let me in so people can see me leaving. That might fool them."
One of our gang, a very pleasant TV fan from upstate New York, turned to the big spender and really summed up Miami Beach night life under the delightful, all-inclusive tour system when be said, "Why don't you join us, sir? We've just caught Benny and now we're en route to Betty Grable's show. It's easy when you know the right people."

Saturday 28 April 2018

Pat Sullivan Reveals How to Make Cartoons

Felix the Cat was at the height of his career in 1928. Then, something happened.


Mickey Mouse’s Steamboat Willie debuted at the Colony Theatre in New York City on November 18, 1928. It wasn’t the first sound cartoon but its adept marriage of image and sound was greeted with enthusiasm by theatre-goers, and the ensuing publicity had other cartoon studios quickly incorporating sound into their cartoons.

Except the studio that made Felix the Cat. Educational Pictures dropped distribution. By the time Felix studio owner Pat Sullivan realised his mistake, it was too late. The major studios weren’t interested in the cat any more and a small company named Copley Pictures tried to find theatres willing to play new Felix cartoons.

Sorting out Sullivan’s involvement has been messy over the years with experts claiming he didn’t even create the character in 1919. It’s conceded Sullivan had next to nothing to do with the animation, he had a good staff which included Bill Nolan (who rounded Felix’s design), George Cannata, Al Eugster, pioneer Raoul BarrĂ© and Otto Messmer, who receives most of the credit for Felix these days. Sullivan showed up when the media came sniffing around for an interview.

Thus it is Sullivan was ready to take credit when Amateur Movie Makers magazine did a story on how to make an animated (silent) cartoon. The story was published in its January 1928 issue with poses aplenty of the world’s most famous animated cat.

By Marguerite Tazelaar

Illustrated by

ACCORDING to Pat Sullivan, creator of Felix the Cat cartoons, the amateur can make animated movies by providing himself with proper equipment, and by choosing the right kind of scenario or story.
While it is necessary to recognize certain limitations in making animated pictures, they may, on the other hand, serve as a vehicle for particular types of entertainment which nothing else suits so well.
The amateur, Mr. Sullivan believes, should choose at the outset either a comic strip or a mechanical device for his animation. The comic strip, such as Felix represents, hinges on burlesque or take-off for its effect, and often achieves a sharpness and satire in which living actors fail. For purely educational purposes the animation of complex or detailed types of machinery serves as no other medium can. It shows step by step the details of a machine and the way it works.
Most of the equipment the amateur needs he can make himself. He must have, first of all, a camera that will enable him to expose one frame at a time, because when he comes to photograph his drawings, he will need for each change one or more single exposures according to the action. For instance, a man rubbing his head necessitates a single exposure, then double, then single again, in order to get the movement smooth and life-like. Felix, walking normally across the screen, takes two exposures for each drawing.
If too many drawings are made, the picture lags; if too few, the picture is jerky and stiff. To hit upon the right amount is an art, gained only from experience. A good plan is to make a short film for the first attempt, judging as best one can the requirements of the drawings. When this is screened the amateur will find many points where he can correct his faults and thus build up his films, by degrees, to perfect animation.
The first step is the making of an animating stand on which to place the drawings as they are being made. This is simply a wooden frame, rather like a triangular box on which the cover is at a slanting angle to the base. In the centre of the cover a hole is cut, about 12 by 9 inches in which a piece of glass is inserted. Beneath it is an electric bulb. The paper or celluloid upon which the drawing is to be made is now placed over the glass and attached to the frame by brass pins. The animating stand will have, of course, the same dimensions as the title stand. After the electric light has been switched on in the animating stand, the amateur is ready to begin his drawings, which he will later place on his title stand to be photographed. Next, the camera or title stand must be obtained. This may be horizontal or vertical, as shown in an accompanying photograph. In the vertical stand, the camera is supported above the drawings (see "Animation Data," Amateur Movie Makers, August, 1927, page 35). The drawings are placed in a frame similar to the animating stand already described, with the exception that the frame is perfectly flat, so that it will lie parallel to the camera lens. A horizontal stand may be used if it is more convenient. The basis of construction is the same, the only difference being that the camera is placed at one end of a base board and the stand to hold the drawings parallel to it at the other end. The size of the stand and distance of drawings from the camera are governed by the type of camera the amateur uses and the distance he must place the lens from the drawings to insure proper size and focus on the film.

With reference to the plan of his drawings, Mr. Sullivan says, that, first of all, the characters must be determined upon. He has found after years of experiment that a small, doll-like figure is best for an animal character. He should have a head about the size of a nickel, a pear-shaped body about the size of a dime, legs and feet that resemble rubber hose, squatty, thick, and stubby. He should be black in color for black gives solidity, other characters will vary.
Having figured out a character, it is now necessary to plan a story for him. Felix is motivated always by his desire for food and comfort. He is the most ingenious cat in the world when it comes to finding means to these ends. He can make a black-jack out of his tail, or a fiddle, or an airplane. He can pull lanterns, sealing-wax or kettles out of his pockets, but never food; for this he must always forage.
It is better, according to Mr. Sullivan, to use an animal as a central character or hero, for this gives him the power to do things people can't do. and to burlesque the human race, generally. Such a hero can go to Mars in the twinkling of an eye, or tunnel through the earth to China, at the drop of a hat.
If mechanical type of animation is to be made, such as the inside of an engine or a piston, there is no story, of course. Drawings need simply to be made of each movement of the mechanism.
Now comes the actual work of making the drawings. The amateur must decide first which portions are to be stationary, that is, to be used for backgrounds, or scenery, and which are to be straight action drawings. Of course, the action drawings will always be those in which movement is shown, which means generally, the action of the central figure across the screen. The stationary drawings, making up the backgrounds, must be drawn on celluloid. They should also be drawn high on the screen so that the central character can pass below or above them.
For instance, when Felix walks over a bridge in front of a schoolhouse, the schoolhouse is drawn on a celluloid screen, and is drawn high on the screen, leaving the lower portions of it empty, unless a few scattered objects are put at the extreme lower edge, such ac- stones or a bit of shrubbery. In this case Felix will pass between the schoolhouse and the shrubbery as he walks over the bridge.
The straight action drawings, that is the movements of the central figure, are always made on paper, and for each movement a separate drawing is made. Therefore Felix walking across the bridge will mean a set of drawings, each showing progress in his movement, and all made on paper.
All drawings should be made in black ink, and it is better, as was noted before, to make the central character in solid black. When other figures are used (this will make the picture more complicated for the amateur) the same rule will be followed as that already laid down stationary figures or objects, must be made on celluloid, and moving figures must be made on paper.

In the illustration showing Felix reading about card tricks, the head is drawn on paper and the eyes, hands and book on celluloid, because in this closeup his head remains in the same position throughout the scene while his eyes rove up and down the pages and the book changes positions. Much labor in drawing is saved in this way.
Sometimes two celluloids need to be used in making up backgrounds. Two may be used, but never three or four because of the difference in the density between the celluloids and the paper drawing when the two are being photographed on the title stand.
Mr. Sullivan estimates that an interesting animated story could be told in about 75 feet of 16 mm. film. This footage should be divided into approximately twenty scenes, which means the average scene would be about three and one half feet. To give an idea of the amount of work which this will involve it should be remembered that there are forty frames to a foot of 16 mm. film, so each average scene would require about 140 exposures, although this does not mean there must necessarily be 140 different drawings or parts of drawings, as has been pointed out above. For such a seventy-five foot story the total number of exposures required would be 3,000. This program can, of course, be varied with the individual plan. In beginning it would be quite sufficient to animate one scene only, splicing this short piece of film into any reel for convenience in projection.
Mr. Sullivan advises against over production for the amateur. He says, the motive or skeleton of plot should always be in mind before work on the picture starts. The location should be decided upon, and the whole thing written out for clarity.
The animated movie has become possible only during the last decade. It was Mr. Sullivan, in fact, who perfected it and made Felix famous in the animated field. It is still difficult to secure experts in this work. The amateur experimenting with animated cartoons may eventually find rich awards awaiting him, should he switch over into the professional ranks, and especially if he should hit upon a character whose antics take the public's fancy.

Friday 27 April 2018

My Mouth's Bigger Than Your Mouth

Chuck Jones was influenced by silent films and that seems evident considering how often he made cartoons that either lacked dialogue or had scenes without it. Of course, the cartoons weren’t altogether silent. Carl Stalling provided appropriate background music and Treg Brown included sounds when needed.

In The Aristo-Cat (1943), Hubie and Bertie convince the ignorant spoiled housecat that a dog is actually a mouse, the kind cats eat. There’s a scene where the bulldog realises the annoying cat wants to eat him. These are consecutive frames.

A contest follows where each animal opens its mouth wider and wider. No dialogue. Just Stalling’s building music.

A smear drawing.

The cat gets confirmation, then slowly closes the dog’s mouth. Some fine expressive work.

This cartoon is mainly known for the patterned backgrounds (zigzags, mosaics and so on) but there are good gags and expressions like you’ll find in the best of Jones’ work at Warners.

Thursday 26 April 2018

Martian Schlepperman

Al Rose promises “a new kind of insane surrealism” in Krazy’s Race of Time (1937) but, instead, has a story that’s all over the place.

The first half is a March of Time parody with Billy Bletcher narrating. It starts off with gags about traffic jams, quickly moving into a futuristic scenario of 1999. Then the second half starts with Krazy Kat mixing formulas, then being shoved into a rocket for Mars, and after coping with a giant there, races (presumably) back to Earth and the cartoon ends.

One scene that’s imaginative is a greeting by two Martians, but even it begins safely with a Schlepperman parody, as one says to the other “Hi, Stranger!” (Schlepperman’s catchphrase on the Jack Benny radio show and elsewhere). One removes his hat to the other, but the hat goes into a hole in his head. Then they greet each other by putting a foot in the mouth while the other slaps it. The scene is capped by the two going through each other and on their way out of the cartoon.

Harry Love gets an animation credit (on the Samba re-issue) with Joe De Nat supplying the score. There is no director credit.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Whatever Happened To ... That Announcer Guy

The demise of network radio didn’t just claim the careers of hundreds of actors, it didn’t help the livelihoods of announcers, either. The networks continued to need (generally anonymous) staff announcers, but freelancers who announced on the big network shows that started disappearing in the ‘50s had to find work. Del Sharbutt and Tony Marvin ended up reading news on Mutual. Others got out of the business altogether.

Ah, but radio seems to have a kind of magic that draws people back—so long as someone wants to hire them. And that was the case of Tobe Reed.

When you think of the announcers on the Burns and Allen Show, you probably think of Harry Von Zell (in the television years) or Bill Goodwin (during the latter radio days). You likely don’t think of poor Tobe. When Goodwin graduated from the announcer to announcer-as-a-character, Tobe was brought in to announce and help out on the end commercial. Unfortunately, if Tobe had any comedic abilities, he never displayed them with George and Gracie that I recall (nor did he interact with them). He was a little formal sounding. But he was in demand. In fact, his “Scrap Book” show aired on ABC opposite Burns and Allen.

Reed won a full-time announcing job at KFRC in San Francisco in July 1936 when he replaced someone on the staff named Ralph Edwards. He left for Hollywood in June 1940 and was soon replacing Henry M. Neely on the Fitch Bandwagon. (Reed recalled he was replaced on KFRC by future game show mogul Mark Goodson. Trade papers at the time say it was KYA’s Bob Forward).

I was all set to post an article from after he got out of radio but, on a whim, I thought I’d check that wonderful old magazine Radio Life, which seems to have profiled everyone in radio in Los Angeles in the ‘40s. Sure enough, here’s an article from the edition of June 24, 1944.
Tobe Reed Refuses to Take Life Seriously, Relates Tales of His Radio and Reporting Success With Tongue-in-Cheek Chuckles
I NEVER TAKE myself seriously," tall, sandy-haired, bushy-browed Tobe Reed chuckled. "I often look like I'm frowning because I'm near-sighted, and I make enemies because I can't remember names. A lot of people have me libelled as a guy with 'the wrong attitude'."
Actually, Tobe Reed, genial mike-man of suet) popular airshows as "Don't You Believe It", "Three of a Kind", "Duffy's Tavern" and "The Star and the Story", is a chap with a terrific sense of humor. Take, for instance, his answers to a CBS biographical questionnaire:
Question: Where would you prefer to live?
Tobe: Indoors.
Question: Any preference in clothes?
Tobe: Men's.
Question: Any serious illnesses?
Tobe: Normal mentality.
Question: What are your convictions regarding show business?
Tobe: I'm convinced that radio is better than working.
Trying to tie Tobe Reed down to a sober discussion of his' life and career IS fairly an impossibility. He's too full of fun. With typical humor, he tells how he bluffed his way into radio.
He had read once that the sound of a fire was produced over the air by crackling cellophane in to the microphone. So when he filed an application for radio work, and was asked to give his previous experience, he stated smugly that he was the man who thought of crackling cellophane into a mike to make the sound of a fire!
Newspaper Bluff
Before radio, Tobe continued with a laugh, he blithely bluffed his way into a newspaper reporter's job. He didn't know anything at all about being a reporter; he couldn't even type. So, unbeknown to the editor who hired him, he persuaded someone else to give him stories which he simply (so he says!) "colored" up a bit. The person who supplied him with the ready-made skeleton stories was none other than a reporter on a rival paper!
Reed maintains that his childhood ambition was "to become a man", but later, in college, his earnest ambition was to become a lawyer. He majored in philosophy, with the thought of taking an extensive sixteen-year law course that probably would have qualified him for no less than the Supreme Court. He entered college when still less than sixteen years old, and at seventeen, he was studiously assisting a learned psychiatrist.
But "things happened", as Reed himself puts it, and when he left the University of Washington, he became a reporter on the San Francisco Chronicle. During his four-year stint with the "press ", he had many memorable experiences.
At this point in his story he became serious for a moment to tell us of the times he interviewed prisoners at San Quentin. One afternoon he had occasion to spend several hours in "Death Row", the block of cells in which are interned the men who are condemned to die.
"The silence," related Reed with a grimace, "was ominous and overpowering. But as I stood there, I was startled to hear one of those stone-faced condemned men suddenly start to whistle the most cheerful tune in the world! It was the only sound he made before going to his death."
Some day, Tobe declared, he would like to do a series of broadcasts based on the simplicity and drama of such sounds as that convict's whistling. His chief desire concerning radio is to spin yarns, and he has an extensive supply of story ideas on which to base his narrations.
His First Broadcast
Resuming the story of his radio career, Reed laughed heartily and related this tale of his first big broadcast. Having made an inconspicuous debut on the airlanes as an announcer giving station identification, he was elated to be suddenly sent out to do a remote broadcast. Chuckling, Tobe commented at this point that, being new to radio, he thought 'doing a remote' meant some magnificent deed. "I contemplated getting a medal for it," he smilingly maintained. Actually, the "remote" turned out to be a pick-up broadcast from a big night -spot, with Reed emceeing a coast network show. It was his big moment! But two minutes before air-time, he accidentally locked himself in the men's room! A key couldn't be located in time, so the microphone was inserted through the transom' and, according to the fun-loving Mr. Reed, he started his radio career there, amid such unglorified surroundings!
Tobe Reed declared with a resigned smile that, after a three-year stint on the Fitch Bandwagon (during which time he travelled by plane some 200,000 miles!), radio listeners still associate him almost solely with that show.
In spite of his years as an outstandingly successful "driver" of the Bandwagon, however, Tobe confesses that he prefers classical music.
It was the strain of so much travelling that forced him eventually to forsake his emceeing spot on the Bandwagon show, and shortly after his departure, Uncle Sam called him to the colors. "I was in the Army just five days," he informed us, "then was given a medical discharge because of a bad heart."
Tired of living out of his suitcase, Reed came to California to settle down. He hopes some day to buy a house "on the highest hill".
"Right now," he frowned, "we live in a house that's just on a little knoll."
Married a Reed
Tobe is married to Bette Reed, a Beverly Hills girl whom he met during his Bandwagon travels. Because their names were the same, they found themselves continually being introduced to everyone as Mr. and Mrs. Reed. "We were practically married before we met, it seems," smiled Tobe. Last January they made the Mr. and Mrs. an actuality.
"Butch" is the ruler of the Reed domicile. He's a little five-year-old wire-haired terrier that Tobe maintains should really be named "Me too!" because that's the expression he always has on his face.
"Bette and I," smiled Tobe, "have decided that 'Butch' was meant to be a human, but just happened to turn out as a dog."
After so much night-life in his work, Reed prefers staying at home most of the time, but on their nights out, the young Reeds find fun at good stage shows and nice night spots. Tobe enjoys the "atmosphere "; he doesn't like to dance, and will seldom do so with anyone but his wife.
The ex-Bandwagon driver's favorite band now, we would say, is the plain gold wedding band he wears, with an inscription from his wife engraved on the inside. She wears a duplicate, and neither has removed the ring from his or her finger since the day they were married.
Tobe mentioned then that, although they have just been wed five months, it is coming close to the second anniversary of their first meeting. At the comment that he was starting married life off the right way, remembering such an important anniversary, Reed grinned and quipped, "Well, when you get hit by a truck, you're bound to remember it!"
1949 rolled around and Fred Allen and Edgar Bergen announced they were quitting broadcasting. Tobe got out, too. But not for long (I suppose the same could be said for Allen and Bergen). Here’s a National Enterprise Association column that appeared in newspapers on May 3, 1958. Poor Tobe must have had his first name misspelled more often than anyone on radio or TV. Even newspaper ads for Top Dollar placed by the network got it wrong.
Top $ Tops to Toby Reed

NEW YORK — (NEA) — Stories about the demise of CBS-TV's "Top Dollar," which only started recently, are news to MC Toby Reed. In fact, he's inclined to doubt them, or, at least, call them excessively premature.
Reed says the sponsor and the network and the public all seem happy, so far, and he figures it'll catch on more and more as the weeks go by.
One of the most interesting features of the show is Reed, himself. He's an old-timer in radio—for five years, he MCd the old Fitch Band Wagon, when it was a Sunday night mainstay between Edgar Bergen and Jack Benny—but this is his very first TV.
He quit radio in 1949, investing in a successful West Coast plastics company. In 1951, he and his family moved East, "to show the kids some other kind of weather." They've all turned into rabid ski enthusiasts, and, for seven years he worked at his plastic business with very few thoughts about show business. But, inside, he was getting anxious to get back. So when his old friend, Hal March, brought up his name as a possible MC for "Top Dollar," he was happy to accept. And he loves being back.
"I'm in show business now," he says, "up to my hips. I guess I'm really a ham all the way."
Even though the public never knew his face, he finds that most people over 25 will remember his name and his voice. He's had a lot of "Where've you been?" letters, and he's loving every minute of his new, second career. He still has his plastics investment, but is now more or less the silent partner.
Two new pilot films of two potential TV shows are in the can—Marie Wilson's "Ernestine" and Hermione Gingold's "Theodora."
They keep turning out pilot films left and right, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into these test runs—most of which never get on the air. Marie says, "What TV needs is an automatic pilot film."
Reed was at the centre of a bizarre situation when a Top Dollar contestant suddenly refused to carry on. Alice Young had been told prior to the show that, for reasons not explained in Variety, the rules dictated she could not use the letter ‘J’ in trying to come up with the winning word. Reed told her as much on TV. She protested and finally, on camera, announced she would not play the game any more and walked out on the show.

That was the least of Reed’s problems. Kleiner’s report of rumours of the demise Top Dollar were true, thanks to the Quiz Show Scandal which brought down money programmes one after the next, whether they were rigged or not. Dotto was suddenly pulled from the CBS schedule in 1958—a stand-by contestant had complained to the FCC about answers given to someone prior to broadcast—and a daytime version of Top Dollar was quickly shoved in its place on August 18th. For whatever reason, Reed didn’t host the daytimer; Warren Hull did. Reed’s nighttime version of Top Dollar then was bounced from the air on August 30th.

Reed seemingly vanished from television at this time and he eventually was hired by the San Francisco Chronicle to write a column which, presumably, spelled his name correctly.

Reed died March 3, 1988—the same day as the wife of another former KFRC’er named Don Wilson—having retired to Bermuda Dunes, not too far from the Wilsons’ home in Palm Springs.

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Spinster of the Circus

Ub Iwerks was obsessed with irradiating lines. His cartoons are full of them. If you had a drinking game where you drank every time you saw one, you’d pass out before the end of the cartoon.

You can see them on the old crone in the final scene of Circus (1932).

The storyman came up with a twist ending. A crook robs the crone of her purse. Flip chases him down. But it turns out the crone doesn’t want the purse back. She has the hots for the crook.

Lines even accompany the running feet as they hit the ground. Ub’s film cutter adds a woodblock sound effect.

No artists are credited on this cartoon, though I presume the score is by Carl Stalling.

Monday 23 April 2018

Tex Avery's Cat Reacts

The cat realises a cuckoo bird has removed part of his fur in The Cuckoo Clock, a mystery cartoon from Tex Avery released in 1950.

This is the same generic cat designed by Louie Schmitt that Avery plopped in a bunch of his cartoons around this time. Mike Lah, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons animated this cartoon, with Daws Butler voicing the cat.

Sunday 22 April 2018

When Viewers Stop Viewing

It’s remarkable how nobody complains when their ratings are good, but when they’re bad, there’s either something wrong with the system or the audience. The stars never blame themselves.

That went for Jack Benny, too.

Here’s Jack complaining to the Boston Globe of July 10, 1967. The show he’s referring that soured him on television was broadcast on November 3, 1965—it was his first special after NBC cancelled his series. Critics at the time gave it mixed reviews. Jack’s response to losing the ratings war that night is to make a snide comment about Green Acres which a) had an audience that tuned in every week, something he didn’t have any more and b) hadn’t jettisoned the format that made it popular as Jack admits in the article he had done with his own show. Instead, Benny stole Bob Hope’s format, which relied on guest stars (Elke Sommer was a Hope favourite for a while). While Hope eventually became a parody of himself, Jack never did.

True, there were some cringingly bad sitcoms on TV around that time. But Jack seems to have had a real bias against rural shows. He was annoyed when CBS put Petticoat Junction as his lead-in during the 1963-64, a show that turned out to get better ratings than him, ratings that he couldn’t hold. It, of course, starred his former secondary player Bea Benaderet who, coincidentally, appeared on the Green Acres episode he complained about. In his last full season in 1964-65, Gomer Pyle had huge numbers against Jack. This is the same Jack Benny who used to love doing an old rural voice in broad hick sketches on his radio show.

His complaint about “too many satires” is especially hollow, considering the special he talks about working so hard on every line featured almost nothing BUT satires—on Mary Poppins, on California’s surfing culture and even TV commercials. Benny, perhaps more than anyone, pioneered parodies on network radio with his funny send-ups of current movies and radio shows (especially Fred Allen’s).

It’s surprising reading his trepidation about being “in the round.” That setting would appear to work to Jack’s strengths—where he can make funny observations and joke around to an intimate group of people, then react. He was a master at it.

It appears the columnist ran out of space. The story ends abruptly. I would love to have read more of his anecdotes about Mary and George Burns. I’m sure he would have pleased his stage audiences with that kind of material, too.

Movies? Television? Both Bewilder Benny

Globe TV Critic
Jack Benny is saddened by the state of television today.
“People accept too easily what is offered them,” he said at a press luncheon at the Sheraton Boston. “The audience doesn’t seem to care.”
“If they don’t particularly like the comedy shows that are on, they’ll watch them anyhow. It’s a way to relax. They’ll get into a robe and sit there and take whatever is fed them through the tube.
“After all, it’s the best bargain I know of, and I know something about bargains. You can’t beat the price.
“It beats me how some of these shows get on the air. They get their laughs stumbling over tables—things like that.
“Critics wouldn’t give these shows two weeks. Yet they’re still running. I can’t understand it. It must be the kids that keep them going.
“That’s one reason why I’m not doing as much television work as I used to. Why be so meticulous and try to get every line right in a situation. It just isn’t worth it.
“I can remember not too long ago doing a special in which we took great pride. We had a cast full of stars and our big feature was doing ‘Mary Poppins’ as it would be made for an Italian movie. The best we could do in the ratings was to tie ‘Green Acres.’ That soured me.
“I will say that my old show was easy to do, probably because the humor came from characterizations. But I have no desire to go back to it.
“Just one of two specials a year, a couple of ‘Hollywood Palaces,’ and maybe a Lucille Ball or Bob Hope show are enough for me. I expect to make no more than four appearances this coming season.
“But I’m not about to retire, either. I’ll just do a little less and less each year. Just so’s I won’t have to drop out entirely. Why should I? Bob Hope has $9 billion and he’s worse than I am.
“It’s been a long career. I started when I was 16. I had 17 years on radio and 15 years on television. I remember how hesitant I was to make the switch. But it took me only four shows to get used to the new medium. It was like going back on the stage.
“I was scared of going into the theater-in-the-round, too, at first. But it’s worked out beautifully. I seem to be able to get to the audience in such a setting, particularly when the front seats are close up, as they are at the Carousel. I’m enjoying my week there.
“What I’d like to do now is act in a play and perform in South Africa. Those are about the only areas of show business I have not gone into. I almost played in ‘The Impossible Years,’ a wonderful comedy, but they’d have to wait too long for me and got Alan King instead. I thought he was great in it.”
Jack, who is 73, doesn’t think much of today’s movies, either.
“So many of them I don’t understand,” he said. “Even one like ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie.’ Half of the things that happened went over my head. They didn’t seem to have any motivation. There are too many satires, too. All those Bond imitations.”
Jack laughs at his “tight-wad” image. Everyone knows it isn’t true. But he goes further.
“I’ll bet my wife and I are the two most extravagant people in show business,” he said. “We’ve spent a fortune without making any particular issue of it.
“Mary has enough stuff to open eight stores. She went on a Paris shopping spree that was really something. She gets a big enough allowance but that isn’t enough.
“She’s always been that way—even when we didn’t have it. But one thing about Mary. If I suffered reverses and didn’t have the money to spend, she could adapt herself in a minute. She’s that way.
“But she still loves the silliest things. We were paying $150 a day for a suite in London and she shopped around to save 40 cents on bottled water. She’s that way, too.”
Jack talks with great affection of George Burns, “who still loves to break me up.” He loves to tell stories about George.
“We were in Chasen’s restaurant in New York,” he related. “George likes cold things cold and hot things hot. He ordered vegetable soup and said, ‘I want to so hot you can’t carry it. If you can bring it in, I don’t want it.’”

Saturday 21 April 2018

Oswald Talks

Cartoondom’s most famous rabbit before Bugs made a successful transition from silent pictures to sound though, to be honest, Oswald didn’t have a distinctive voice and the best gags in his sound cartoons were visual ones, at least judging by the few early shorts I’ve seen.

Oswald was created by Walt Disney in 1927 for release by Universal Pictures through middle-man Charlie Mintz, who was running Winkler Productions. Disney’s studio was employed on the basis that Universal owned everything he produced, including Oswald. Mintz apparently figured he could be making all the money that he was giving to Disney, so he raided the Disney staff and set up his own studio. Karma got him in the end in more ways than one. Disney ended up creating an even more popular character, then Universal did to Mintz what Mintz did to Disney.

One of the reasons Disney’s new Mickey Mouse was popular is because of the way Walt, Carl Stalling, Ub Iwerks and others at the studio coordinated the soundtrack to the picture. There was nothing done arbitrarily; sounds weren’t just tossed in for the sake of sound. It was perfect and it was engaging.

By 1929, it would appear both movie studios and theatres came to the realisation that the era of silent films was over. It meant Oswald would have to dance and gag it up in time to a soundtrack. The in-house Universal News told exhibitors in its issue of January 12, 1929:
Music and Sound Effects to Be in All Future Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, Cartoon Comedies—First Three Now Being Shipped

THE first of the synchronized Oswald Comedies have arrived in the East and are being printed and rushed to all Universal Exchanges. They are hailed by the Universal home office executives as the last word in cartoon entertainment. Universal, in launching this comedies series with synchronized music and sound effects, is one of the first in the field with a sound cartoon series.
The first synchronized Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, comedy set for release is “Hen Fruit,” which will officially reach the screen every other week. Three synchronized comedies have been completed to date. The second and third are “Sick Cylinders,” and “Hold ’Em, Ozzy!”
The Oswald Cartoon Comedies, according to the Universal sales reports, are one of the most popular cartoon series on the screen. The addition of sound effects greatly enhances their entertainment value, “U” executives state.
It further announced on March 23, 1929:
The famous Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon comics now are being released in synchronized form and are very popular with audiences, according to reports reaching the Universal sales executive. They are released every other week. “Sick Cylinders,” “Hen Fruit,” “Hold ‘Em, Ozzie” and “Suicide Sheiks” already have been released. “Alpine Antics” and “Lumberjacks” will reach the screen early in April. There will be fifteen synchronized Oswald Comedies this season.
These Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons have proven peculiarly well suited to synchronization as they fuse a hilarious element of utterly inconsequential noise into an already laugh provoking and popular short subject. This type of screen fare makes an excellent antidote for heavy photodrama, and will prove a boon to the exhibitor who needs a light and bright spot on his program.
According to the March 15, 1930 edition of the Motion Picture News, the last silent Oswald was “Yankee Clippers”, released on January 21, 1929. Despite the extra planning, time and expense, Mintz continued to produce a new Oswald every other week. The cartoons were available to theatres with sound on film or sound on disc. The release schedule was:
Hen Fruit, February 4, 1929.
Sick Cylinders, February 18, 1929
Hold ‘Em Ozzie, March 4, 1929
Suicide Sheiks, March 18, 1929
Alpine Antics, April 1, 1929
Lumberjack, April 15, 1929
Fishing Fools, April 29, 1929
Stage Stunts, May 13, 1929
Stripes and Stars, May 27, 1929
The Wicked West, June 10, 1929
Nuts and Jolts, June 24, 1929
Ice Man’s Luck, July 8, 1929
Jungle Jingles, July 22, 1929
Weary Willies, August 5, 1929
Saucy Sausages, August 19, 1929

(I presume “Fishing Fools” was originally silent and had a soundtrack added, as it was reviewed by Motion Picture News on Dec, 8, 1928).

Ah, but a change was afoot. The Syracuse Herald of March 11, 1929 reveals “Walter B. Lantz, animated cartoon artist, has arrived in Universal City to do his stuff,” though Leonard Maltin’s book Of Mice an Magic points out Lantz received a story credit as early as “Bull-Oney,” released October 29, 1928. We read in Film Daily on April 15, 1929 that “Lester Kline, commercial artist and cartoonist, has been added to the staff of "Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit," according to Walter Lantz, production supervisor.” Lantz received a director credit on “Stripes and Stars” (“The Wicked West” was directed by a chap named I. Freleng. He became somewhat better known at another studio).

Somewhere along the way, Universal figured it could be making all the money that it was giving to Mintz. Joe Adamson’s fine biography on Walter Lantz reveals that studio head Carl Laemmle decided to make cartoons on the Universal lot, and producer Sam Van Ronkel told him that the perfect guy to run it was Lantz, who was spending some time chauffeuring him to poker games at Laemmle’s. Laemmle always seemed to win when Lantz was around the table, so he figured if Lantz brought him good luck at poker, he could bring him good luck in cartoons. Bye, bye, Charlie.

When the decision to dump the Mintz studio was made is unclear but Universal News announced on July 13, 1929:
Oswald Comedies
The popularity of the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Cartoons both in sound and silent prints is a matter of short subject history by now. Universal will produce in its own studios twenty-six one-reelers for next season. The addition of sound has greatly enhanced the entertainment value of the lively rabbit and makes him top the one-reel field in box-office appeal.
Walter B. Lantz, animated cartoon artist, has been signed to draw the series of pictured for the pen and ink character of Oswald. William C. Nolan will assist him. Lantz was last with the Bray Studios in New York where he drew the “Unnatural History” series. He drew for the screen “The Happy Hooligans,” “Jerry on the Job.” “The Katzenjammer Kids,” and, recently, “The Colonel Heeza Liar,” after the screen rights were purchased from the cartoonists of the various newspaper comics. He will write the stories for “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” and arrange novel sound effects for a synchronized version.
The Lantz studio’s first release for Universal was “Race Riot” on September 2, 1929. The others that calendar year (released with sound on film or sound on disc):
Oils Well, Sept. 16, 1929
A Permanent Wave, Sept. 30, 1929
Cold Turkey, Oct. 14, 1929
Pussy Willie, Oct. 28, 1929
Amateur Night, Nov. 11, 1929
Snow Use, Nov. 25, 1929
Nutty Notes, Dec. 9, 1929
Ozzie of the Circus, Dec. 23, 1929

Oddly, Film Daily had reported on April 15th that “Ozzie of the Circus” was ready for release; the delay is a little puzzling.

Now, the purpose of this post isn’t to run off a bunch of lists. It’s to pass along some of the great full-page ads for Oswald in Universal News after sound came in.

Universal News provided plot summaries for a number of the sound Oswalds produced by Mintz.

March 2, 1929
“Sick Cylinders”
Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD, with his newly acquired car, made the home of his best girl in “high.” She was delighted and ready for a ride in no time. They hardly got started before the flivver began to act up. Finally Oswald had to crawl under it!
A playful pup appeared and pestered Oswald to throw sticks for him, which delayed matters considerably as the sticks got larger and larger. Long before Oswald got things ship-shape the girl was impatiently looking at her watch. Eventually they got underway and everything was lovely until, on a mountain road, they jarred a big rock loose. That rock seemed possessed and pursued them up hill and down dale!
From then on their ride was a “bust”! They finally fell into a sand pit and the best girl didn’t hesitate to tell Oswald what she thought. In the midst of her tirade her other beau breezed up in a “straight-eight” and the ungrateful minx went off with him, leaving Oswald to take it out on his little car. And what he said!!!

April 13, 1929
“Hen Fruit”
Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD was foreman of the egg factory, but even with every modern device in the way of alarm clocks, it was difficult for him to get on the job. The time clock, however, never missed a trick and didn’t let any late pullets get by. A young cockerel managed to sneak in, and certainly disrupted the business of the egg laying! Oswald was so long pulling his basket that before he got out to his tin lizzie a goat roaming around had swallowed it. Oswald had a terrible time with that goat, but finally made him disgorge his lizzie. Of course, it was chewed to bits, but Oswald collected it in a couple of tin cans and soon shook it together again.

May 25, 1929
An Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD’S debut as actor was attended with much gaiety. Mice musicians tickled the hippo’s ivories, the thousand-leg chorus was spritely and Oswald was making a great success as snake-charmer and xylophone player when an old meanie in the audience broke his instrument, and gosh how bottles flew. Oswald, not to be foiled, returns with a skinny horse and plays on the animal’s ribs, but a pup throws a bomb which the horse swallows. Pandemonium!
Out of the theatre they rush,—though Oswald gets the bomb out of the horse’s mouth the thing follows them and they’re blown up. Oswald has a pleasant dream of kissing a nymph but comes to, finding himself kissing the horse. He has the horse knock him out again so that he can again enjoy his dream.

June 1, 1929
An Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD was asleep at the line, —the fish were having a grand time diving around him. They stole the bait and carried on generally. Oswald wakes up to find that his sleep hasn’t been profitable. When a stork steps up and ducks his head in the water, fetching out a fish or two for a slight snack, Oswald decides to use the bird’s services—so he hooks Sally Stork on the line and knots her neck so she can’t swallow,—and casts her off. But when a whale comes up as the catch and nearly swallows our Oswald (after devouring Sally Stork), the rabbit decides to rush out of the fish’s way.
Next Oswald tries music, which pleases one fish into doing a dance. Oswald gets the little fish into his clutches, but lo and behold a huge finner comes out of the water,—there is a battle. Oswald, the winner, is just about to carve a neat sirloin from his prize, when a thief comes along and steals it and the fadeout comes with Oswald hot in pursuit of the burglar.

June 8, 1929
Oswald Cartoon
WHILE the animals kept things “humming” at the sawmill, little Oswald went gaily through the forest, chopping down trees. But one tree was a tough one — so tough that his axe went back on him and nearly knocked him out. Puzzling what to do, he heard a noise. Aha, an idea! There was a sleeping pup who was sawing a lot of wood in his sleep. He used the sleeping dog’s saw and it worked! Lo and behold, the trunk exposed a bag of gold but, before little Oswald could take it, a Brute Bear reached for it and away he scooted; but Oswald ran right after him. The bear made a getaway down a stream in a canoe, but Oswald catches up to bear by riding on two logs and using his tail, first as a wind-propeller, and then as an outboard motor. Oswald diverts the rushing stream so that it runs over a cliff and grabs the bear as he passes by. While they are both falling, Oswald snatches the money and then flies back to safety on the cliff-top. Meantime the bear fell into the jaws of a huge crocodile and Oswald, in great glee, sees the crocodile salt the bear to taste and (galoomp!) swallow him. The sound version is happily animated with animal noises.

June 15, 1929
Oswald Cartoon
TIMES were hard for our Oswald when his days were spent in cleaning up the police court floor and he did have such a time keeping it free from tobacco juice—the captain was an old meanie who just would “chaw” while knitting.
Big Bruin Boloney, the gangster, held up the jeweler, and all the big and little Ben clocks threw up their hands in fright and the cuckoo retired into his nest. “The dials all went wrong.” All the available police did their best to catch Big Bruin, but he blew them up.
Little Oswald was promoted to the rank of cop, and he went out to get his “ham” (Boloney). The Big Brute nearly got Oswald, but our hero came to the courthouse triumphantly with the Bear a captive under a manhole.
Oswald is made judge, and the bear has to clean up tobacco juice forever after.

July 29, 1929
Oswald Cartoon.
OSWALD, a new Lochinvar, a bit weary from much lassoing and riding, reins in his horse and stops at a saloon—produces his own seidel of beer and amuses himself by having the Mouse-on-the-Keys Piano play for him. When the mouse drops on the ivories in exhaustion, Oswald goes in search of further adventure and “noses” in on a checker game which Big Bruin is enjoying in solo. Staking his money bag on the game, Oswald, through brilliant play, turns victor. The loss is too much for the Bruin to Bear and the ensuing battle is a fierce one.
After the “war” is over, our hero gallops away, in triumph, to find new fields to conquer.

August 17, 1929
Oswald Novelty
OUR little hero found his job as iceman not so hot. A feline tried to make a cat-a-away with a huge cake of ice, and only the glace eye of Oswald prevented it. Then, too, just as Ozzie’s favorite maid was about to present him with a delicious hot pie, big Bear butted in and the first thing you know he went off with the burnt offering. But the final deluge of poor luck came when Oswald and his faithful mare were nearly drowned by melted ice—caused through the placing of a bonfire under the ice-truck.

August 24, 1929
Oswald Cartoon
OSWALD is trying a hobo life by an encounter with a copper takes the keenness out of his freedom. But life looks promising again when he meets Brother Bear hobo, who is boiling coffee over a campfire. Oswald donates an egg to the repast—which is promptly stolen.
Suddenly they see a freshly-roasted chicken on a pantry window and Oswald is made to act as a purloiner. His first attempt at theft is squashed by a ferocious bulldog.
Finally a neat-but-not-flashy set of long woollies on a line acts as endman and trolleys the bird to Ozzie.
Foiled again (for a policeman happens on the scene) down the unfriendly road rushes our hero.
The bulldog, spying the policeman who has seized the fowl, chases the officer into the far horizon, much to Oswald’s glee.

Not all the issues of Universal News are on-line, so we can’t find a prĂ©cis for the first Lantz produced cartoon, “Race Riot.” We reprinted a review from Film Daily in a post on the cartoons of 1929. Other opinions were expressed in the trades:

SOME highly amusing and clever cartoon work is to be enjoyed in this Oswald. This series is easily one of the leading cartoon series on the market today. With such high-calibre men as Walter Lang [sic] expending their ability on gag construction and the like, the Oswalds have taken a commanding position in the cartoon field, which they should maintain easily with their high standard. This Oswald cartoon contains plenty of fun. It should please anybody, anywhere, should he be man, beast or exhibitor—RAYMOND GANLY [Motion Picture Herald, August 17, 1929]

Good Cartoonantics. Mopey, the mare, faces the yawn of the big race day without much enthusiasm but Oswald finally gets her up and in action. During the race Oswald, who seems to have dirty characteristics, repeatedly tries to win by foul means, like burning the elephant and puncturing the hippo. And for at least once in screen history such a villain wins. He is blotted out, however, when Mopey, in her final leap for the wire, jumps on him. This is excellent cartoon entertainment. [Film Daily, Sept. 1, 1929].

Globe, New York. Another of the Oswald cartoon series, credited to Walter Laitz [sic] for animation and production (with two assistants, names not caught from screen), and Bert Fiske for synchronization.
Silly Stuff, as usual, with a couple novelty effects in the cartooning and synchronizing to distinguish it and make for a bright program filler. Abel [Variety, July 17, 1929]

Best thing ever made on film. Effects are great. When you play one of these you are assuring your people a real kick. (Carl Veseth, Palace theatre, Malta, Mont.—General patronage.) [Exhibitors Herald-World, Nov. 25, 1929]

Good from every standpoint. (Carl Veseth, Palace theatre, Malta, Mont.—General patronage.) Very good. (G. H. Wright, Jr., Star theatre. Wendell, N. Car.—Small town patronage.) [Exhibitors Herald-World, Dec. 7, 1929]

This sure is a riot, the best Oswald we have seen, and they sure help to fill in the program. (H. G. Williams, Quanah theatre, Fletcher, Okla.—Small town patronage.) [Exhibitors Herald-World, Feb. 15, 1930]

Race Riot was very good for the kids. We are getting tired of cartoons...One a month would be plenty.—FRED FLANAGAN, Flanagan and Heard, Vona theatre, Vona, Colo. [Exhibitors Herald-World, Aug. 9, 1930]

Musician Bert Fiske, by the way, played the piano off-stage during a scene with Al Jolson at the keyboard in The Jazz Singer at Warners. Fiske moved on, and so did Lantz, though Oswald remained his main box office draw in increasingly lacklustre cartoons in the ‘30s until, after several failed attempts at creating stars, Andy Panda came along in 1939.