Thursday 31 May 2018

Panther Against Panzer

Norm McCabe’s a real enigma, at least when it comes to directing at Warner Bros. There’s something odd about his timing that I just can’t place. His stories trot along like one big set-up with very little payoff, and he seems to have been forced into tossing in patriotic, war-time references that are lost on people today.

Here’s an example from Who’s Who At the Zoo, a 1942 short that borrows Tex Avery’s spot-gag format and marries it with 1930s Bob Clampett-style animation (ie. not the outrageous Scribner/Gould stuff). Narrator Bob Bruce intones about a black panther finishing a hearty meal. The well-animated animal then looks into its dish, sees something, and adopts the half-closed-eye goofy look (with voice to match) you’d find in Clampett’s Porky Pig cartoons.

“Alum-a-lim-alah-lum-um,” he says dopily, pointing to a star at the bottom before tossing it into a scrap pile to help win the war (“Dixie” plays in the background, but we presume the reference isn’t to the Civil War).

Whether theatre audiences cheered or stuck out their chests or swore at “Huns” under their breaths when watching this, I don’t know. I doubt that they laughed, though. Said one small-town theatre owner to the Motion Picture Herald in August 1942: “If another cartoon is produced trying to create funny expressions by various animals, we certainly will not use it. This had only one laugh and that seemed strained.” However, Showmen’s Trade Review (April 1942) declared it “funny,” so what do I know?

John Carey gets the sole animation credit here. Vive Risto, Cal Dalton and Izzy Ellis were also in the McCabe unit. McCabe was gone by November, making military films for FMPU.

Wednesday 30 May 2018

A Postman, A Pig and 998 More

He was hired on March 23, 1931 to head an 11-member band at the RKO Orpheum in Portland, Oregon. Little did he know that within a decade, he would be famous as the world’s number-one cartoon voice.

He’s Mel Blanc. And he would have turned 110 today.

Blanc had been the musical director at KGW radio. For a time, he hosted a variety show that was heard up and down the West Coast that brought him to the attention of radio people in California. Blanc made his name in network radio before he was hired at the Leon Schlesinger studio to become part of what amounted to a stock company of cartoon voice actors. His versatility and acting abilities quickly put him at the top. The canny Schlesinger realised what he had and sewed up Blanc in an exclusive contract.

The deal didn’t involve anything to do with radio, so Blanc continued to add more big network comedy shows onto his resumé. The great publication Radio Life profiled him in its issue of January 2, 1944. Unfortunately, a copy isn’t available on-line. However, the magazine wrote another article about his career in its March 11, 1945 edition. There’s nothing about Al Pearce, which was probably his first big network show. “Sad Sack” was simply Blanc’s Porky voice. Columnist Carroll Van Court apparently hung the man-of-a-thousand-voices moniker on Blanc, but the writer here chooses to play on the Heinz 57 varieties slogan.
57 Variety Blanc
By Betty Mills

BECAUSE Mel Blanc is fifty-seven other people most of the time, nobody believes it's he when he portrays—Mel Blanc.
On a recent Jack Benny show, "the man from Esquire" made his air debut. "It was me all the time," grinned Blanc, "talking in my natural voice. The payoff came when I was asked a million times who did the part—and when I told 'em, they wouldn't believe me. They still don't."
But it doesn't surprise Mel that his natural voice isn't recognized on the air. It pleases him. For a man who specializes in at least fifty-seven voices, dialects, and intricate sound effects, he's surprised that he, himself, can remember what it sounds like.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, busy Mr. Blanc again showed rare ingenuity. Not only did he sandwich a chat with Radio Life into his hectic schedule, but he located the only quiet spot, in the form of Dinah Shore's empty dressing room, at NBC. You might sum Mel Blanc up by saying that he's probably your favorite radio character. Remember "Moony" of the old "Point Sublime"—and of course, you're familiar with Burns and Allen's "Happy Postman," and Judy Canova's "Pedro"—and then there's that wonderful fellow, "Sad Sack," whom you civilians haven't had a chance to meet. But "Sad Sack" is the new favorite of all G.I.'s and is featured on the transcribed "G.I. Journal."
There are the voices of lovable little Chinamen, and hated Japs, sputtering engines, and even hysterical women. Blanc can do 'em all—and does.
Its Cartoon Character
His versatility doesn't stop with his ether performances. When he isn't "making like" somebody else on the airlanes, he's busy putting saucy words into the mouth of Warner's "Bugs Bunny"—or sputtering for "Porky Pig "—or whooping it up for "Daffy Duck." Tuesday—his usual day off in radio—is ofttimes devoted to bringing the above renowned cartoon characters to life.
If you've ever watched the fabulous Mr. Blanc at work, you're probably struck with one thought—what would happen if he got his characterizations mixed up? He switches from one dialect to another, from a character to a sound effect with rapid-fire succession—and never misses.
"Um, once I almost read a big, bad wolf's lines with 'Porky Pig's' voice, but I caught myself just in the nick of time," he said. He may fluff a line but he never misinterprets a character.
He has no formula for developing a new type of voice. From a picture of the character in mind, he experiments until he finds a voice to fit. He likes to outline his various parts in a script with different colored pencils—"That's how I keep from getting confused." And he's superstitious about signing his own name to his script.
"Woops," exclaimed Mel pulling out the gorgeous pocket watch with which his wife had gifted him last Christmas. "I'm late for rehearsal. Come on in and I'll tell you about my watch."
"Santa was good to me," he laughed, pulling out his round, solid-gold time-piece, an antique Pedek-Philippe. "All I have to do is press this button and it chimes the hour and minutes. Like to have people ask me the time of day because I don't have to look but can just listen. They think I'm wonderful."
Even Wears Carrots
People asking the time of day aren't the only ones who think Mel is wonderful. In tribute to his voice portrayal of that number-one cartoon character, "Bugs Bunny," his admirers have sent him real carrots to be autographed. In his coat lapel he now sports a plastic carrot, a gift from a fan—"Guess I'll never have to worry about starving."
Mel thinks one of the nicest tributes paid to his radio work concerns "Sad Sack." It seems that the most-played portion of the "G.I. Journal" record the world over is that one spot featuring the Army's favorite character. In some instances the records have been so badly worn that from across the globe will come a request for another. Mel was genuinely touched that "Sad Sack" contributed so much pleasure to the boys in service.
Blanc’s ability led Colgate-Palmolive to take a chance in 1946 and put him in his own sitcom called The Mel Blanc Show. It lasted only one season. The show had a problem from the start. All Mel could do was voices. How could he, as Mel Blanc, be fit into the plot? The answer was to surround him with radio clichés; Mel was turned into an earnest, somewhat bumbling guy that you could find in all kinds of sitcoms. The clichés didn’t work and Mel, as Mel, was dull and predictable. And the producers felt obligated to tell the radio audience at the start of each show all the famous voices Mel did, just in case they had no clue who he was.

Here’s Radio Life again, from November 17, 1946. I’m still a little sceptical about this whole “fix-it store in real life” business. What well-paid radio actor opens a hardware store as a hobby? And in a town where he doesn’t live? It just doesn’t sound right. If you don’t know, Scotty Brown was one of his characters on Abbott and Costello. You’ve probably heard Blanc use his Scottish voice in cartoons at Warners and Lantz.
Radio Draws a Blanc
By Jean Meredith

THAT old axiom about "Be yourself!" is wise advice. But if Mel Blanc ever took it seriously, he'd probably starve to death!
Because even when he's being Mel Blanc (on the CBS "Mel Blanc Show" every Tuesday evening), he's being somebody else, too. That is ... we mean ...
Oh, you know about Mel Blanc if you've ever listened to a radio. You know about his Bugs Bunny voice, his Porky Pig voice, his Happy Postman voice, his train-caller voice, his Private Snafu voice, his Pedro voice, his Scottie Brown voice and all the rest. You know that he does some ninety per cent of the cartoon character vocalizing out at Warner Brothers, too.
But Radio Life has an exclusive on the Mel Blanc voice. Yep, we caught him being Mel Blanc between rehearsals for his new Columbia Network comedy show ... and that's not easy!
"The first time I heard an announcer introduce me as Mel Blanc," says this modest, likable comic, "I almost missed my cue. I was that surprised!"
But the "Mel Blanc Show" is more than just a pleasant surprise to its star ... it's a career-long dream come true. There is nothing unusual about a supporting actor hankering for his own show, but there's something distinctly unusual about his getting it. Probably no other new star had the complete and heartfelt support of his fellow radio actors that Mel had when he began his own show. Somehow, every supporting player in town felt that Mel's success was his own success—and the invisible applauders in each "Mel Blanc Show" audience include literally every actor in the business. And that, dear listener, is the beginning of real success.
Pride of Venice
When the discussion arose to decide a locale for the comedy- drama, Mel suggested a natural in the form of a "fixit shop"—natural because Mel, on his own time, is the owner and proprietor of a hardware store in Venice, California. "You'd be surprised how many suggestions for scripts we get from just the everyday happenings around the store," Mel says. "And the folks out there are wonderful! You'd think they were part of the show, they're so willing and anxious to offer suggestions and encouragement." Mel says his customers are turning the hardware store into a ticket agency, with most of the population of Venice wanting to be in the studio audience on Tuesday nights when their home-town boy takes to the mikes.
In addition to the fixit shop atmosphere, Mel also included in the new show a couple of voices that are favorites of his... Zooky and Doctor Crabbe, for instance. Zooky is the stuttering, stumbling vocalist who is Mel's "helper" in the shop (on the air, that is), and Doctor Crabbe is the dog doctor (consulting veterinarian, if you don't mind) with a slight Dobermann- Pinscher in his throat.
Where does he dream up all these voices? That's a question Mel is called upon to answer a hundred times a week. The answer is imagination, plus vocal gymnastics. Mel creates a character in his own imagination, and then experiments until he finds a voice that fits it.
"My main difficulty is finding a place to rehearse," he says. "After all, a guy can't bark and stutter and giggle and burble in public without causing some slight disturbance!" The answer to that dilemma is his car. Mel just gets in his automobile, drives to some deserted spot, rolls up the windows ...and lets go with the voice tricks.
But that's the top-of-the-ladder Mel Blanc. There was another ... a very subdued character actor who tried to talk Hollywood into appreciating his talents a number of years ago, without results. Aside from the fact that he began entertaining his grammar school pals with vaudeville shows at the age of seven, learned to play the concert violin and the tuba when he was still in his teens and became the youngest pit orchestra conductor in the country when he led a theater band at the age of twenty-two ... still Hollywood was unimpressed. So Mel went back to Portland, Oregon. where he wrote, produced and starred in his own radio shows after making his original mike debut in San Francisco. After a few seasons as literally a one-man show, he came back to Hollywood and auditioned for a host of comedy-show producers. "Why," was their unanimous lament, "haven't you been around before?" Well, of course, the only answer to that one, if you're a guy like Mel, is a Mona Lisa smile and a slight, a very slight, grinding of the teeth!
Mel's first network radio appearance was with the Al Pearce gang, and since that time he's gained undisputed title to the reputation of being the busiest funnyman in town.
And possibly for the first time in history, radio is mighty glad it drew a Blanc!
The article above briefly mentions Blanc’s “train caller voice.” That’s one of the things he did on the Jack Benny show. As the late ‘40s wore on, Blanc was getting more and more work with Benny, with more and more new characters to do. For the last several years before the show left radio in 1955, Blanc was on almost every week, though he was never credited as part of the regular cast.

Blanc appeared occasionally with Benny on TV. Jack wasn’t close to his cast but he was with Blanc. When Mel got into the accident that almost killed him in 1961, Benny visited him every day for weeks.

Mel Blanc’s been dead for almost 30 years and his old Warners cartoons aren’t seen as much on TV these days despite almost uncountable numbers of channels. But the best way to celebrate his birthday is to hunt around on-line and watch Bugs and Daffy argue about rabbit season, or listen to Jack Benny’s frustration as he vainly tries to fire up his old sputtering, coughing Maxwell car. Blanc was a unique talent and the very best at what he did in many ways.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Naughty But Mice Background

Here’s another sigh of regret that background artists never got their due in Warner Bros. cartoons until the mid-‘40s. Paul Julian painted the backgrounds for the Chuck Jones unit from 1939 to 1941, so he very well could have been involved in Naughty But Mice, released May 10, 1939. I don’t want to make a judgment from the lighting highlights in the opening background.

Due to colour variations, I can’t re-create the attractive opening panned left to right. So here are some frame grabs of it.

Julian left Warners for WPA work. As you likely know, he returned to work in Friz Freleng’s unit before quitting to work at UPA.

Since someone will point it out if I don’t, this was Sniffles’ debut cartoon.

Monday 28 May 2018

Spot the Stars

Tex Avery had to do something a little different in Hollywood Steps Out. He had to animate Ben Shenkman’s celebrity caricatures and find gags that would work for them. He solved the problem by using movement only when he had to, and relying on some standard characteristics (Kate Smith is fat, Bing Crosby owns a losing horse, the Three Stooges engage in physical comedy with their hands) and the occasion radio catchphrase (the opening to The Aldrich Family in the Henry Fonda scene, Kay Kyser calling to his “students,” and so on).

Shenkman’s work was very good and Avery’s animators appear to have followed the model sheets faithfully. Anyone in 1941 would know who these dour actors are below, despite a lack of the kind of hyper-exposure today through social media and TV.

For the record, you’ve just looked at (left to right) Boris Karloff, Arthur Treacher, Buster Keaton, Mischa Auer and Ned Sparks.

Avery’s animators were, at the time, Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland, Bob McKimson and Chuck McKimson. The backgrounds in this cartoon are the work of Johnny Johnsen.

Sunday 27 May 2018

War-Time Benny

What do radio stars do when their show takes a rest for the summer? Well, during World War Two, many of them were involved in war work. Bob Hope was famous for entertaining troops around the world but, at the time, some columnists said Jack Benny did as much as Hope.

This short newspaper column from 1942 gives you an idea of what Benny and his cast did during the show’s down-time. NBC and General Foods might have wished Benny had stayed through the summer. His replacement show was The Remarkable Miss Tuttle. It starred Edna Mae Oliver. Then she became sick and was replaced with Mary Boland. The irony was Boland was ill earlier in the year, but the Theatre Guild was sceptical and went to Actors Equity claiming she had jumped her contract.

Jack’s wife, Mary Livingstone, never travelled overseas with him but still contributed to the war effort. You’ll notice to the reference to her poems. She gained her original fame on the show in 1932 reading silly poems. She had pretty much stopped ten years later, but the reputation lingered.

Benny Back After Busy Vacation
Jack & Co. Return Over WBEN Tomorrow After Many War Shows

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 3. — Jack Benny's notably longest vacation in radio was not all as Noah Webster defined the word. And that went, too, for other members of the premiere comedian's gang. Since last season's final broadcast on May 31, the NBC funsters worked hard—each in his or her own way—contributing to the welfare and morale of civilians and fighting men.
The program returns to its prized Sunday spot tomorrow evening at 7 o'clock over WBEN.
One of the first comedians to abandon writing new gags for the same old situation, Jack Benny insists on fresh new situation material as soon as he feels that his current idea has reached its peak in audience popularity.
He has popularized the usage of Western situations, of smart-cracking hecklers, of talking maestros, household help, and pet polar bears. This year marks a wide deviation in scenery and characters, for Jack and his troupe plan still more tours of Army and Navy posts and bases; thus comedy routines will be built around them quite often.
Jack himself has been working on a new picture, an adaptation of the stage play, "The Meanest Man In the World." He rallied his cast from far and near for the farewell show of the "Victory Parade" series Aug. 23, with only the touring band leader, Phil Harris, missing.
Mary Entertained, Too
Mary Livingstone, meanwhile, took time out from "po'try writin'" to help entertain soldiers as a member of the VACS (Volunteer Army Canteen Service), steering film stars to West Coast entertainment spots for service men.
Don Wilson, too, did a big job. He worked almost constantly on one war effort program or another. "Victory Parade" and "Command Performance" took many hours. In addition to his radio work, the portly actor-announcer serves at an air-raid listening post.
Rochester was far from idle. While acting in Jack's new picture, he did a lot of outside work entertaining soldiers.
Dennis Sang at Camps
Dennis Day visited many service camps and canteens. Aside from singing in such spots as the Stage Door Canteens of Philadelphia and Cleveland and the Chicago Service Men's Center, Dennis entertained one Naval audience on the afterdeck of a battleship in New York. Phil Harris brought his orchestra's tour to an end in the East in time to join the rest of the cast for the opening program.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Sidney's Golden Moment

Terrytoons weren’t exactly witty or magnificently animated into the 1950s. Then Gene Deitch came along in 1956 as creative supervisor and changed that.

He succeeded in some ways. Deitch invented Tom Terrific for television, little bare-bones cartoons that were imaginatively animated and occasionally dry in humour (thanks, Manfred). And his most enjoyable new creation for theatres, at least in my estimation, was Sidney the elephant. Sidney was well-defined. He was clumsy, helpful, neurotic and occasionally obsessive. He wasn’t a complete winner, like a Bugs Bunny, or a loser, like Wile E. Coyote. He got support from a giraffe that sounded like Carol Channing (both characters were played by Lionel Wilson, who was also Tom Terrific). And his beach-ball design was pretty clever, too.

Sidney outlasted Deitch at Terrytoons and appeared in 19 cartoons. It doesn’t seem like there were that many, but perhaps it’s because whoever owns these cartoons won’t put them into home video circulation (“Tusk, tusk,” as Sidney might say).

The Terrytoons, as Leonard Maltin opined in his still-valuable book Of Mice And Magic, suddenly got noticed. Around the world, too. Animated films appeared for the first time at the London Festival in 1959. Sidney’s Family Tree was screened along with animated features from Czechoslovakia and Japan, and cartoon shorts from Yugoslavia, Romania, East Germany, Canada and England’s Halas and Batchelor studio (The Insolate Matador). In other words, the kinds of films you’d expect at an international festival. And Terrytoons belonged there. This was the same studio that was foisting Dinky Duck on people just a few years earlier.

Why all the Terrytoon talk? Note this short article in Picturegoer, a British publication, of January 16, 1960.
Move over, Magoo
A FEW years ago the critics were raving about the wit and stylishness of UPA’s Magoo shorts. Today, if they bother to comment, it’s only to deplore the way the series has got stuck in a rut. Meanwhile Terrytoons—a name that once caused shudders in other animation studios—comes up with so many inventive productions that it’s won the place that UPA held as the most imaginative of American groups.
Films like Flebus and Sidney’s Family Tree have been the talk of international film festivals. They offer something new—animated psychology. The characters have complexes—and the studio uses artists like cartoonist Feiffer to explore them.
There’s even a line in crazy mixed-up animals. The elephant in Sidney’s Family Tree may be forty-four, but he still so pines for mother love that insists on being adopted by two very small monkeys. The dog in The Tale Of A Dog is mistaken for an employee by a frankfurter company and works his way up to be president. . . .
Bob Godfrey, a director of Britain’s own off-beat Biographic Cartoon Films, comments: “Terrytoons uses to turn out the worst American cartoons. Now it’s about the best. But I don’t that kind of psychological humour will be imitated over here. We’d call it sick humour.”
Sick . . . or sophisticated. Does Magoo need spectacles to read the writing on the wall? It’s time he got the opposition into focus, particularly after 1001 Arabian Nights, not on release. Or are the men behind Magoo short-sighted too?
Unfortunately for Magoo, things got worse for him, not better. Hank Saperstein soon bought UPA and started churning out television dreck, including cartoons featuring the almost-blind old man saddled with an outrageously unfunny Asian stereotype houseboy. (Magoo, in a way, recovered to star in the first animated Christmas special for television). Terrytoons then decided it didn’t want “a different approach to animated subjects,” as a PR flack for the studio put it when Gene Deitch was hired. Deitch was out (he moved on and won an Oscar). Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle were in (and looking cheaper). People went to theatres to see them. But critics weren’t talking about Terrytoons any longer.

Friday 25 May 2018

Jolly Juggler Bullwinkle

“Time for that jolly juggler, Bullwinkle!” we’re told by a rather dense moose. He manages to catch the first two balls in his head. The third lands on his head first. Animation on twos.

“And now here’s a feature you’re sure to like,” Rocky assures us. “Three,” counts the moose.

Thursday 24 May 2018

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Jets

Little Johnny Jet and his dad whizz past the Statue of Liberty in their Oscar-nominated short. In fact, they’re going so fast, the breeze lifts the statue’s skirt.

I’m not sure what Johnny is thinking after he looks back, but here’s his reaction.

Exhibitors liked this cartoon. It was their second choice in Boxoffice Barometer’s 14th annual shorts poll, only behind Disney’s live-action Bear Country

Heck Allen helped Tex Avery with the gags while Ray Patterson was borrowed from the Hanna-Barbera unit to help Avery’s usual crew of Grant Simmons, Walt Clinton, Mike Lah and Bob Bentley. Daws Butler and Colleen Collins, uncredited, provide voices. Patterson, incidentally, told animation historian/writer Earl Kress late in life that he didn’t recall why he ended up working in both units.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Selling Sausage and Singing to a Cow

In the 1950s, there was almost one way to guarantee success. By failing. As host of the CBS morning show opposite NBC’s “Today.”

Walter Cronkite went on to be the Most Trusted Man in America. Dick Van Dyke went on to star in one of the classic TV comedies of all time. Jack Paar went on to a memorable turn hosting the “Tonight” show. And Jimmy Dean went on to a number-one record, a gigantic meat empire and helped popularise Jim Henson in North America with his chats with Rowlf on an evening variety show.

And the tale of how Dean’s big, bad song came about is remarkable in its own way.

But, first, let’s look at Dean’s network TV break. He had been hosting a local morning show in Washington, D.C. that CBS decided to pick up. It had nothing to lose. None of its attempts to make a big dent in “Today” had worked. And, after all, hadn’t CBS seconded a Washington D.C. morning man named Arthur Godfrey and watched the money roll in? It hit the network on April 8, 1957. This story from six months down the road is from the United Press.
Jimmy Dean Music Gives 'Today' Jolt

NEW YORK, Sept. 14 (UP)—It appears that the Columbia Broadcasting System finally hit upon the right formula for getting an early morning TV audience opposite NBC's entrenched "Today" show (Ch. 17) when it put singing Jimmy Dean in charge of its 7 a.m. programming (on Ch. 4) and let him cut lose with that "country music."
The lean and likeable Jimmy and his company of expert vocalists and instrumentalists have lost little time since they took the air in April in making an impression on the early-morning ratings. For whatever ratings may be worth, the show has been able to get slightly ahead of Dave Garroway's "Today" in recent weeks.
"Country music's been national popular for years and years," Dean said, "so it's not so surprising that folks like to listen to it even early in the morning. We didn't have to break any new ground when we started this show."
Dean pointed out that so far as radio and television are concerned, much is owed to Station WSM in Nashville for spreading knowledge and appreciation of hillbilly or country or western songs around the land.
"I feel that our acceptance by the public in such a short time is due to the pioneering done by WSM and other radio stations like it over the years. Why, right after our first week on CBS-TV, we got over 40,000 letters.
"This response was something of a surprise because we figured that, although we knew there was a big audience for such entertainment, the early hour might be something of a handicap.
"Folks never really used to stop me on the street except, of course. In Washington, where we had a local show, but now I have to watch my manners wherever I go. Can't pick up the fried chicken in my fingers when I eat in a restaurant now."
Jimmy and his group have latched on so well that CBS recently spotted them also in a 30-minute night-time spot carried at 8:30 Saturday nights on Ch. 4 for the summer.
The 28-year-old Texan, who's sort of free and easy himself, said the performer he most admires is Bing Crosby.
"It's the way he relaxes when he sings that makes all the difference," Dean explained.
Dean and his family live near Arlington, Va., close to the National Capital where his telecasting originates.
"I'm teaching my two children to play the piano," he said. "One of the nicest things about country music is that the notes don't go too high or too low, so the whole family can have a sing-song whenever we're of a mind to."
After December 13th, Dean was replaced with dead air (affiliates filled their own time), but CBS kept him on Saturdays at noon. In September 1958, the network switched him to a half-hour daytime show from New York. But he was told to dump all that yokel stuff. The show didn’t last. By the following June, he was replaced with a soap opera and muddled around with some guest shots (on The Chevy Show, Dean sang while he milked a cow).

But then came “Big Bad John,” released in September 1961, racking up the best sales for Columbia Records in two years within weeks and parking at number one on November 6th after six weeks on the chart. Soon, the Newspaper Enterprise Association came knocking for an interview. This appeared in papers starting November 26th.
Big Bad John Born in Plane

NEW YORK - (NEA) - Out of a chorus singer, a flight certificate, a hunk of steel and a quonset hut has come the first big popular record hit in three years. Not since the late Johnny Horton yelled out "The Battle of New Orleans" has there been a record which has sold as fast as Jimmy Dean's current Columbia smash, "Big Bad John." Not so much a song as a recitation, it was written by Dean himself.
“Big Bad John" tells the story of a mighty miner who gives his life to save his fellows. Although it has the flavor of folk music, it is a complete fiction. It came about when Dean toured the summer stock circuit last year in "Destry Rides Again.” In the chorus was a 6-foot-5 singer named John Mento. "What else do you call a man that big whose name is John except Big John?" says Dean.
Let You Experiment
The two became friendly and one day Dean gave him a ride. To while away the time, he made up a story about Big John — and promptly forgot all about it. This fall, Dean was summoned to Nashville, the second capital of the recording industry, to do a session. For some reason the saga of “Big Bad John” flashed into his mind while he was flying to Tennessee. He called the stewardess and asked for some paper.
All she had was a flight certificate the airline gives out to babies commemorating their first flight. Dean scribbled the words of "Big Bad John" on the back. "What I like about recording in Nashville," Dean says, "is that they let you experiment."
So they let him put "Big Bad John" on wax. The recording stadio he used is a converted quonset hut. In it, Dean, five singers, a rhythm section and famed country pianist Floyd Cramer went to work.
Opens TV Doors
“We'd done one or two takes," Dean says, "when Cramer says, “You don't need a piano on this, but I've got an idea.” He took a hunk of steel they had been using for a door stop, hung it from a coil rack and began hitting it with a big bolt. That's the clang you hear on the record."
The result was something—nobody knew exactly what—which was an immediate hit (Dean originally preferred the ether side, a little number called "I Won't Go Hunting With You, Jake, But I’ll Go Chasing Women.")
For Dean, the huge success of "Big Bad John" has meant a 75 to 100 per cent increase in hit salarv for in-person engagements and, “It's opened some TV doors." Indirectly, it will mean the completion of a dream. Dean, originally from Plainview, Tex., has long wanted to build a certain kind of house on a particular plot of land. He already owns the land—75 acres in Loudon County, Va., not far from Leesburg.
"This coming summer,” he says, "I’m going to build that house. I’m going to dam up the creek and have a fishing pond about seven acres and stock it with trout and bluegill.
As for John Mento, the cause of it all, Dean would like to know where he is.
“I’d like to take him home and give him a steak dinner,” Dean says. “I owe him that much, any how.”
It took a little time for Dean to land a TV deal. He signed with ABC for the 1963-64 season and, despite mixed reviews for his debut, the show lasted 2 1/2 seasons. Dean told Lawrence Laurent of the Washington Post that a time slot change opposite “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was the main thing that killed his show. He went back to guest shots (none involving a cow) before adding to his wealth when he jumped into the pork sausage business in 1969. The friendliness he projected in his TV commercials sold a lot of meat.

Dean jumped back into television in 1973 with a syndicated show but had a lucrative contact in Vegas, so he really didn’t need the small screen any more. He died in 2010 at the age of 81. His TV shows may be long gone, but his sausages live on.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Radio Catchphrase Time Again

Flip and his dog manage to capture escaped convict Chow Mein (and a parrot) in Chinaman's Chance. Flip defers credit to the dog. The animator gives various expressions to both.

The dog bashes the heckling parrot, whose feathers all fly off in a gag we’ve seen elsewhere. After Iwerks’ patented radiating lines and flashing question mark, the parrot ends the cartoon with “Wass you dere, Sharlie?”

The phrase belonged to Jack Pearl as Baron Munchausen, teller of tall tales, who would say it at least once every show to Cliff Hall as Sharlie, whenever his straight man would express scepticism about what he was hearing. They hit the airwaves in September 1932 (though both had been around for years in vaudeville) but hadn’t worn out their welcome yet when this cartoon was released in 1933. Flip was about to wear out his, though. Only two more cartoons were released later in the year before he was retired by the Iwerks studio.

Monday 21 May 2018

Duck For an Oscar

Daffy Duck pretends to be an Oscar to try to get past the security guard of Warmer Brothers Productions in Hollywood Daffy (1946).

Who else but Mike Maltese would come up with this concept?

A desk and a mechano man (or is it just a glove) dispatches the duck,

This is from the Friz Freleng unit, so Manny Perez, Virgil Ross, Ken Champin and Gerry Chiniquy are the credited animators.