Saturday 30 June 2018

Koko and Max Silence the Wise Ones

Max Fleischer’s wonderful little cartoons of the silent era straddled the real and unreal worlds. On one hand, Max and his studio, and even the streets of New York, were seen in all their realistic glory. His Koko the Clown, thanks to the rotoscope, could duplicate human movement. On the other hand, the characters in the cartoon—and occasionally, the “live action” humans—could morph into all kinds of different things. Their marriage of live action and animation not only inspired others during the 1920s, it’s still a real delight to watch today.

Fleischer had been releasing his Koko shorts as part of the Goldwyn Bray Pictograph when, in 1921, he set up his own studio. His operation was expanded in 1924 into a company called Red Seal which distributed his cartoons and a variety of other films. During the same year, Fleischer made the first of the “Song Car-Tunes” where theatre-goers could sing along with the song on the screen, following the bouncing ball. Red Seal only lasted a few years because of financial mismanagement, but Fleischer carried on until Paramount took away his studio in the early ‘40s. Even so, Fleischer’s cartoon are enjoyed by fans today.

Picture and Picturegoer (an English publication, I believe) caught up with Fleischer that same year. The story below appeared in the April 1924 issue.

In & out of the Inkwell
Max Fleischer, creator of one of the most delightful screen characters extant, explains how it’s done.

Have you fallen under the spell of that smallest of screen comedians, that clever and decidedly original “Out of The Inkwell Clown?” If you haven’t there is something materially wrong with you and you should see a doctor at once.
There is no screen character quite like him—one minute, he is nothing, then from a mere spot he becomes a jolly rollicking playmate who thinks of more devilment in a few minutes than the worst school-boy would in a whole holiday time. When the clown first joined the host of screen comedians, there were many Wise People who were certain that a new Charlie Chaplin had come to town and that Max Fleischer, the new artist, was putting something over on the public. “It is impossible for an animated cartoon to do all those stunts,” they said wisely. “All the others that we have seen show decided movements where the pictures change and these are just as smooth as an ordinary film. Something wrong!” Somehow this was repeated to the clever young artist and he settled matters conclusively and silenced all those Wise Ones. How? By simply making the Clown disappear just as he had created him, from a blot, he made a man and from the man he made a blot and then just simply rubbed him out! Marvellous, said everyone, and so it is.
I went to the Out Of The Inkwell offices to find out for myself all about it. I found out a lot and had a mighty nice time, but, between ourselves, I was almost as mystified as when I went in. The whole process looked absurdly simple when I was there, but once outside I marvelled anew at the cleverness of Max Fleischer and his genius in creating a new and delightful screen-character.
Mr. Fleischer is almost as interesting as the Clown, though not so mysterious a personage and his staff of workers is like a big family. Nowhere have I seen the co-operation and the friendly atmosphere that I found in his little office studio. Perhaps the fact that it’s small, may account for some of the homelikeness of the surroundings, but whatever it is, it is most delightful.
Max Fleischer told me all about himself, of his coming to the new country from Austria when he was only a lad, of his struggles for an education, his art lessons taken at night after working hours and finally of the position which he secured on a small newspaper where he made cartoons that soon attracted notice. “But my dream was to make drawings for the screen,” he said. “At that time there were a number being made but none of them were perfected and the changes from one sketch to another were plainly noticeable to the audiences. I made up my mind to perfect a camera that would have the same ease in changing pictures that the regular motion picture ones did and I worked in my spare time perfecting such an invention. The camera must operate more freely to eliminate the difference of movement which was perceptible and often annoying to audiences, who had hard work keeping their minds on the subject before them. My theory was to make the process so smooth that the mechanical side would be forgotten. I gave up my position and as I had no money to waste put all I could spare into the experiment and did away with the problem of office rent by working in my bedroom. After a year and a half I was ready to show the results and the getting of a release was the easiest part of it all. Just as we were ready to go ahead the War came and I was sent to Ft. Sells to do war work. This consisted in making a series of films which were used in the instruction of the soldiers.
“In what way was this done?”
“I made different drawings of different kinds which were destined to shorten the time of training. For instance, military maps, diagrams of cannon and guns which demonstrated themselves most plainly. After I was mustered out I made my first drawing. What to call it was a problem, and I finally decided upon “Out Of The Inkwell.” I think I’m the only artist who makes his figures move exactly like a human being. And from being a mere trailer to a screen magazine, they now occupy an important part of a picture programme.”
I learned that it takes from 2,500 to 3,000 little drawings for one cartoon. I saw them drawn, photographed, put together and “reeled off.” A perfectly marvellous operation, but it left me dazed.

Friday 29 June 2018

Rover is Carmen Miranda

Bugs Bunny was Carmen Miranda in Slick Hare (1947). Daffy Duck was Carmen Miranda in Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943). But before both of them was Rover in Porky’s Pooch (1941).

Rover uses the routine that the Chuck Jones unit put into Charlie Dog several years later: Porky Pig ain’t got no dog and Rover ain’t got no master. At one point, Rover tries to impress his potential new owner by grabbing a table cloth, swirling it around him like a skirt, and then turning into Carmen Miranda when a bowl of fruit that had been on the table lands on his head.

Rover, as Carmen, sways and sings “Mi Caballero” by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl from the 1940 Warner Bros.’ feature Torrid Zone.

The angry Porky is having none of this and hauls Rover out of the scene. Porky looks awfully large.

Warren Foster wrote the story (Mike Maltese and Tedd Pierce wrote the first Charlie Dog short) for director Bob Clampett. Izzy Ellis is the credited animator.

Thursday 28 June 2018

Iwerks' Bosko

Is there a pun I’m missing, or is this an inside gag?

In The Air Race (produced in 1933), Willie Whopper points to a list of entrants. Some of the puns are easy to pick out, but look at the name of one of the pilots—Bosko Turnover. Is there a play on words here, or is the Iwerks studio making a reference to a cartoon character made by Harman-Ising?

The irony is MGM dumped Iwerks and its Willie Whopper cartoons the following year and replaced them with Harman-Ising shorts, including Bosko. It really was a Bosko Turnover.

Wednesday 27 June 2018

The Crazy Smash Hit

How many stars would, basically, turn over half of their show to someone who audiences barely knew and let him loose?

Jack Benny did.

On April 9, 1950, much of the Benny radio show that evening was taken up by impressionist Frank Fontaine. He used Jack as a straight man for a brain-addled sweepstakes ticket holder character of his named John L.C. Sivoney. Later, Fontaine was given full reign to pull off some of the impressions he had used in his act (his Winston Churchill was exceptionally good).

Fontaine had appeared on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town earlier in the year but the Benny show turned him into a sensation. Benny kept inviting him back and kept having to stifle laughter because Fontaine’s gooney routine broke him up. Fontaine milked Sivoney for several years, then brought him back as Crazy Guggenheim on Jackie Gleason’s TV show in the ‘50s.

We printed a newspaper column on Fontaine’s sudden fame in this post. It turns out the columnist loved Fontaine, too, as we’ve found a different article he wrote several months earlier. This was published a little over six weeks after Fontaine’s first Benny show.

Two Radio Bit Parts Make Unsuccessful Movie Actor A Star Comedian Overnight

North American Newspaper Alliance
HOLLYWOOD, May 24 — "I was just hangin' 'round ... I was mindin' my own business ... I wasn't doin' nothin' . . . just hangin' round . . . then he came along ... I asked him for a dime and he gave me fiddy cents! ... I was just hangin' round . . ." etc.
This strange line of jargon coming over the ether waves on a Jack Benny program several Sundays back — from a panhandler identified in the script as "Mr. Sevony" — touched off a major explosion in show business.
Allowed To Drift
Listeners throughout the country sat back and howled. Benny himself was convulsed to the point of stopping his own show. One Sunday later, "Mr. Sevony" played an encore on the Benny show and from that moment big things began happening for him.
"Mr. Sevony" is really Frank Fontaine, a talented young character actor who had been trying for the past 18 months without success to find a foothold in Hollywood pictures.
Signed to a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contract and given a role in "Nancy Goes to Rio," he was allowed to drift away by that studio. The actor kept going by working in small night spots and finally in a Hollywood musical revue called "A la Carte." It was there that a 20th Century-Fox scout noted his remarkable impersonations and signed him for a role in "Stella." He finished his part and was allowed to go his way.
Jack Benny was Fontaine's unwitting rescuer. It is now acknowledged that through those two brief guest appearances with Benny, Fontaine overnight became the top comedian and the most sought-after actor in film business.
In his debut for Benny, Frank shattered the traditionally tight-fisted reputation of the star by announcing, to the crashing of falling tinware, "I asked him for a dime and he gave me fiddy cents."
This led to another comedy routine, wherein Jack was congratulated on his generosity by famous personages, among them Winston Churchill and Cary Grant. Fontaine handled these impersonations.
Critics Doubtful
After the first radio fill-in, all Hollywood voted Frank one of the funniest men uncovered in a decade. But the critics were doubtful. Possibly he was just a one-show flash-in-the-pan. The "Mr. Sevony" repeater on the following Sunday removed any doubts.
By another of those freakish turns of events in movie-town, Frank Fontaine had become pedestaled as a smash hit. From a nobody faced by the unwanted sign on every movie lot, he was now sought by all. "Jack Benny better get that fellow off his program and quick or he'll steal it," warned all the Hollywood "brains."
What happened to Fontaine the following morning— a Monday— is typical of sudden recognition in fickle filmtown. His phone in the little Culver City hotel where he occupies a small hall room began jangling early. People he'd never heard of before were calling to congratulate him— and making with the "pal" and "buddy" stuff.
A Fat Contract
Nicest message of all, however, came from Republic Studio. John Auer, producing that company's biggest picture of the year, a musical "Hit Parade of 1951," asked Fontaine to come over for an interview.
Frank took a bus across to Auer's valley office and emerged two hours later with a remarkably remunerative contract and the star comedy role in the feature. From 20th Century-Fox, where he had finished his small part in "Stella" two weeks before, came a frantic plea. The Zanuck studio, with its ear to the radio ground, wanted him back for what they termed "retakes." Actually, they sought Frank for an enlargement of his part as Ann Sheridan's job-dodging brother-in-law. Frank obliged— but received a fee for the so-called "retakes" that made his original deal look ridiculous.
Radio agencies, with eager advertising sponsors, were standing in line, too. Frank had two wired offers from Broadway show producers. And during all this time, he was in a great daze, torn between a desire to be back in Boston with his wife for an important family event and the economic necessity of staying around Hollywood and sorting those Jack Benny-propelled offers.
Fontaine, who is only 30 years old— looking five years younger— finally decided on flying east to be with his wife to quarterback the arrival of their seventh child. The newcomer safely checked in, Frank scurried right back to Hollywood to take charge of his quickened career.
The rest of the Fontaines, at one time packed and ready to move West when MGM suddenly dropped his contract, are a cinch now to make the move.
Born in New York, the son of a vaudeville team, Frank managed to get the feel of show business early in life— by setting up a shoe-shine stand at 46th and Broadway. Here he polished the brogans of many a great name in the amusement world, among them Cary Grant, George Jessel, Edward G. Robinson, Spencer Tracy, Pat O'Brien and others he now imitates so impeccably.
Fontaine's fabulous new popularity includes a startling offer from C.B.S. to play Amos and the Kingfish on the Amos and Andy air show when Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll retire, as announced, next year. The Fontaine bid was a straight 25-year deal— optionless!
Fontaine's "discovery" is additional proof that no one in Hollywood is a Solomon when it comes to judging talent. Only a few months ago, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's experts were so certain Fontaine wouldn't do, they passed up his $500-a-week contract— and that barely a week after he'd been assured it would be O.K. for him to move his family out from Boston. Frank had sold his furniture, given up his house and purchased bus tickets for the family to travel west.
Now it will be different! The Fontaines will come out on the Super-Chief, in bedrooms. They'll probably live in a Beverly Hills mansion, have fancy furniture and a swimming pool.

Tuesday 26 June 2018

It's Higgins, Sir

In Tex Avery’s 1949 cartoon Wags To Riches, Spike reads over a Will leaving everything to him if something should happen to Droopy, and there’s an inside joke by Avery and background artist Johnny Johnsen.

The Will is signed by W. Higgins, and therein lies the joke. “W. Higgins” was Bill Higgins, an assistant animator in the Avery unit who never got screen credit at MGM but did later at other studios.

William Thomas Higgins was born in Indiana on November 2, 1911 to Patrick and Freda Higgins. His father worked in a glass factory, and that’s what he was doing in Los Angeles by 1920. There’s a William T. Higgins who graduated from Los Angeles Polytechnic in 1927, though we don’t know if it’s the same person.

Higgins was in animation by 1933; his name and head shot are found on a Charles Mintz Christmas card that year. It looks like he was an original employee of the MGM cartoon studio that opened in 1937. Variety reported on December 10th that year he was at Metro and had married Jean Glover, who was a painter at the studio. He was getting $35 a week in 1939.

When the war came along, Higgins left MGM and enlisted in November 1942 and was assigned to the animation division of the First Motion Picture Unit at what everyone called Fort Roach. When he was let out is unclear, but Variety reported on June 24, 1947 that he was on the Board of Trustees of the Screen Cartoonists Guild and that he was now working for John Sutherland Productions. Evidently he came and went as his signature is on the1948 Christmas card from the Avery unit.

Higgins was at Sutherland in the ‘50s and he started to receive screen credit. A full collection of Sutherland’s commercial and industrial cartoons isn’t available—oh, where, oh where, did the company’s archives go?—but you can spot his name on The Devil and John Q, What Makes Us Tick (both 1952), It’s Everybody’s Business (1954) and the great Destination Earth (1956).

He moved on to Playhouse Pictures, a commercial studio, where he worked on award-winning cartoons in 1957. After that, he animated some TV Popeye cartoons for Gerald Ray, possibly under TV Spots/Creston Studios. The end of the ‘60s found him assistant animating (and there wasn’t much animation to begin with) on the Hot Wheels series at Pantomime Pictures.

Higgins died in Los Angeles on March 5, 1991.

Monday 25 June 2018

Library Check Out, the Martian Way

A librarian is shocked to see books floating in mid-air in Destination Earth (1956) and promptly faints.

But, no, it’s simply Mars’ first space explorer, Colonel Cosmic, who has gone to the library to learn all about the wonders of petroleum brought to you by the friendly folks at the world’s multi-national oil companies. As you might suspect, the American Petroleum Institute paid for the making and distribution of the cartoon.

The Colonel is invisible, the better to stealthily discover the “secret” of oil and smuggle it past “the border guards.” However, the Colonel is a nice guy and goes back to see if the “guard” is okay. “In spite of my infinite precautions,” he narrates, “one of them became suspicious and gave the alarm.” The shrieking librarian turns into a factory whistle in voice and animation.

Destination Earth remains my favourite cartoon by the John Sutherland studio. The designs were by Tom Oreb and Vic Haboush, late of Walt Disney, with animation by Russ Von Neida, Tom Ray, Bill Higgins, Ken O’Brien and George Cannata. The wonderful backgrounds are by Joe Montell, formerly with Tex Avery’s unit at MGM. Colonel Cosmic is the great Marvin Miller. We’ll have a post-script tomorrow.

Sunday 24 June 2018

Domestic Life With Phil and Alice

One of the great ground-breaking characters of radio was Phil Harris.

When he arrived on the Jack Benny show in 1936, the writers completely miscast the bandleader in an argumentative role with Benny. Then, thanks partly to the Buck Benny sketches in the second half of the show, they changed him. They made him a fun-loving tippler, braggart and playboy, expanding it further to make him really larger than life. When Harris left the show in 1952, there was no replacing him.

Benny and his writers had to tread carefully. NBC censors weren’t very high on glorifying drinking or sexual escapades. But Phil’s character was so over-the-top, no one could take it seriously.

Harris used the fame from the Benny show to spin off his own successful radio series with his wife Alice Faye. It’s therefore appropriate on the 114th anniversary of Harris’ birth to pass along this lengthy feature story from the Radio-TV Mirror of February 1948. Fan magazines can exaggerate and be loose with the facts, so I wonder if the Harris’ real grocery boy was named Julius.


I HAVE two lovely children — Alice, aged five, and Phyllis, aged three — an Encino ranch home — and a broadcast to do every week for the Bandwagon show. Wouldn't you think that was enough problems for one woman? But, as every wife can tell you, it's only the beginning! Bringing up a husband is a career all in itself.
(And just about the time I'm congratulating myself I've put a fast one across and Phil is seeing the error of his ways — I find the tables have been turned — I've been out-maneuvered — and I'm left wondering who's bringing up whom.)
With my girls I can usually count on the arithmetic table, the Golden Rule, and patience seeing me through; but bringing up a husband is something no book can explain and no rule help out. It's strictly catch-as-catch-can and keeping your eyes wide open for traps.
And do you know, Phil as you hear him on the Bandwagon show very much resembles the real Phil at home!
Take the other morning, for example.
Phil is anything but lazy, but lying in bed mornings is his idea of the natural way for a human being to live. He was orchestra leader, with his own band, at the Cocoanut Grove and the Wilshire Bowl in Los Angeles for so many years that to him the day never begins before noon and should always end at four a.m. Now that our hours are more normal ones, with the Bandwagon show and the Jack Benny show both early on Sunday evenings at the National Broadcasting Company studios, we can live the way I've always wanted to — like other people —
But it's hard to break a habit.
"Phil—" I call to him— "it's time to get up. Breakfast is ready." There's a slight stir from the bedroom. "Hmmmph? Oh, yeah, breakfast. Sure. Sure," he mumbles. Then there is silence again.
"No, Phil — you don't understand." I'm still being sweet and patient at this point. "Breakfast is on the table. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Alice says you promised to mend her wagon this morning. And you said last night you wanted to paint Wanda's doghouse today. It's time to get up."
I peek in the bedroom door just in time to see him shudder. "Aw, honey — it's the middle of the night — only eight o'clock!"
"Okay — okay, sugar. Be right out." And with that he flops over and buries his nose again in the pillow.
I count up to ten.
"Do you want us to pretend we're Indians, like we did yesterday morning, and we're going to scalp Daddy?" Little Alice and Phyllis ask eagerly.
"Not this morning. This time I'm going to try psychology. Phil — oh, Phil — " I call, softly — "the grocery boy will be here any minute and you know what Julius always says about you."
There is wary silence from the bedroom and then a yell of outrage. "What does that little rutabaga say about me?"
"We — ell, he says you're a— no, I can't tell you. I can't bear to repeat it."

Sounds of threshing about of bedclothes and a resounding thump as feet hit the floor; then the master of the house strides into the kitchen, belting his robe around him. There is fire in his eye.
"Why, that fugitive from a potato patch! I'll tell him a coupla things! Just because he's nuts about you he doesn't haff to be goin' round telling things like that about me. Trying to separate a man and his ever-lovin' little wife — that little grapefruit squirt! Why, honey, you know I'd never do anything like that!"
"Like what, Phil?"
"Like — like — well, whatever he said about me. Look at me, honey. I'm a good husband! I'm a good provider! I'm the best father our kids have! Maybe I can't spout poetry at you like that Julius, but I'm handsome and clean-livin' and — and — and — well, handsome." He snorted once more, but then his attention was diverted. "What's this — waffles? Hmmmm, man — I do like waffles."
And he settled himself at the breakfast table and the day began. The wonderful good humor which is such a prominent quality of Phil's asserted itself and when Julius, our teen-age grocery boy and friend, did appear a few minutes later the insults they exchanged were as harmless as they were good-natured.
Afterwards he went with Alice to fix the wheel on her wagon. Anything more complicated than that, my daughters have learned to get repaired elsewhere — Phil has an insatiable desire to take machinery apart and he just hasn't the knack of putting it together again. It keeps me busy trying to anticipate when things are about to break down in the house — I want to be very sure to have the plumber or the carpenter or the clock-repairer on hand before Phil sees the trouble and starts to tinker with it, himself.

It's still amazing to me to see how domestic and home-loving Phil has become. Orchestras, night clubs, tours, one night stands — these were standard equipment to him once, but for the past five years he's been a stay-at-home and he loves it as much as I do.
"Imagine — " he marveled to me the other day — "having one whole room just for eating and another for cooking and one just for sitting down. And green grass outside, without any 'Keep Off' sign on it. I've lived in apartments and hotels and train compartments so long I'm still not used to this home-life stuff."
Used to it or not, Phil takes to this 'home-life stuff' with all the enthusiasm of an explorer arriving in the promised land. In fact, most of my job of bringing-up my husband consists of holding some of that enthusiasm in check, or else every time he saw something new for the house we'd have it — if it were anything from a new kind of rose to a new kitchen gadget, he'd be lugging them home by the bushel basket.
He even likes the household chores — when he remembers them. He cheerfully exercises Wanda and Kip, our dogs, putters around the garage, willingly obeys the gardener's orders to trim the garden walks, arranges, rearranges, polishes and oils his collection of guns and fishing tackle in the den. And in the evenings when we aren't broadcasting he much prefers to invite some of our friends over to sit around the fire and talk or listen to the radio, than to go nightclubbing.
I don't think it was my doing, either. I think we were both ready, after our separate and hectic careers, to settle down. To do things together. To make plans for the future that would insure permanence and stability in our lives. But motherhood, somehow, has made the change easier for me; Phil has had to make a few of the adjustments the hard way.
It seems strange to me that I should so passionately love being a homemaker — when in years past I was just as passionately anxious to let nothing interfere with my career as an actress. While I was in the George White "Scandals"; when I travelled with Rudy Vallee and his orchestra, singing; and all the while I was making motion pictures, acting — being a star — were the only worthwhile things in the world.
The change was an abrupt one. With marriage to Phil Harris and with the coming of little Alice and then Phyllis, a career seemed suddenly unimportant. Keeping our family together and keeping them happy came first, and being an actress came second. But I didn't really want to give up the last — not entirely . . . and Phil agreed.
Then along came the Bandwagon show, to star Phil and me, and there simply was no problem any more. I found I enjoyed radio work. And rehearsals and broadcasts take up very little out of the week; the rest of the days I can concentrate on bringing up Alice and Phyllis — and Phil.
It's that boyish quality that I so like in him, that can also be so exasperating. He goes headlong into a new experience or a new hobby or a new job with an impulsive eagerness which can sometimes land him flat on his face. At times like these, the women of his family stand by to help.

THERE was the time he decided to build a brick barbecue in the patio at the back of the house.
The first I heard of it was when a man came to the door.
"Lady, where do you want them put?" he demanded.
"Put what?" Then I saw them — a whole truckload of new, shining red bricks. "Phil! Did you order all these bricks?"
He came rushing out from the garage — proud and happy. "I sure did, honey. I'm goin' to build us the best and the biggest barbecue in the whole of Encino."
The truck driver sniffed. "Whattya expect to roast in it — a jumbo elephant? You got enough bricks here to build the Chinese Wall."
"Okay, wise guy — you just wait and see. I don't fool around with no piddlin' little handful of bricks when I set out to do a job. This is going to be a biff barbecue."
It was a big one. When it was finished it was immense — also, it had a slight slant to windward and a tendency to billow out clouds of black smoke everytime it was used. But that was unimportant. What did worry me was the huge pile of bricks left over and still sitting on the edge of the patio.
"Now what?" I asked Phil. "What do we do with those?"
He sighed. "Yeah, I guess there are a few extras. Tell you what! Alice and Phyllis could use a few to pull around in their toy trucks."
"They'll use all of two or three bricks," I said, witheringly. "Or do you expect them to build a house?"
"There must be something."
"There certainly is. I've always wanted a brick walk down to the incinerator and the incinerator itself is falling apart and I'd like a brick wall all along the driveway and We could have a nice circular seat under that pepoer tree made of bricks and — "
"Hey, wait a minute. Aw — honey — "

And from then on, everytime Phil gets these large expansive ideas with too much of everything, all anyone needs to do around our house is to say 'bricks'! That stops him.
Of course, one of the first things I tackled in this business of bringing up a husband was the matter of Phil's language. The way he drops his g's and says 'ain't' and his murdering of the King's English was not the best example for the children to follow. I tried very hard at first to change this. Put I soon stopped trying.
Because Phil doesn't want to speak correctly — and there's a reason and I respect that reason. He knows good grammar, but as far as he's concerned it's only a nodding acquaintance and that's the way he wants it. It comes from his hatred of stuffed shirts and his horror of putting on airs. He is the most democratic person alive and his bad grammar is his way of thumbing his nose at social la-di-da conventions. I'd much rather have him that way and know that Phyllis and Alice will grow up with his same easy tolerance of the world, than have him be their model for pure English. They'll learn not to copy his language; they've already learned to understand his true evaluation of people, regardless of their manners or money.
When Phil first organized his own orchestra with some other boys from Nashville, Tennessee, he found himself knocking around the country wherever the "Dixie Syncopaters" could get jobs — barnstorming in small joints and dance halls, before they graduated to the big time in the Princess Theatre in Honolulu. It was a tough, rough education, this barnstorming, and Phil had to hold his own against the kind of drunken, unthinking insults some fellows on a dance floor always direct to a man singing on a bandstand. At first he handled these insults with his fists. But later he learned to out-talk and out-insult the insulters — and by singing and talking in the slangy way he has developed. No one then could accuse him of being a sissy . . . even with that southern accent of his.
And one of those instances where I wonder today "who's bringing up whom?" was the matter of our library. When we were first married it seemed to me as if Phil's reading matter consisted solely of hunting and fishing magazines, so I stocked the library shelves with the best of the classics and the latest of good modern fiction and non-fiction. Then I began to plan my campaign of introducing them to Phil.

THE campaign backfired. Somehow — between taking care of the children and taking care of the house and rehearsing for broadcasts and all the rest of it — I find I have very little time left to read and Phil is always about five laps ahead of me! It's very disconcerting to plan to be teacher and find myself audience, instead. "You really oughta read this, Alice," he'll say to me, reproachfully. "This professor guy knows all about neuroses and things like that. If you don't read it, howdya know you ain't got a complex?"
I know I almost did have a complex over Phil's determination that I should be an athlete. He is an enthusiast over sports of any kind: baseball, fishing, hunting, golf, horseback riding. And he wanted me to share that enthusiasm.
It was on the subject of horses that we crossed swords. He had long ago given up hope that I might be induced to wade around icy streams over slippery stones to catch a fish — when I couldn't even put a worm on a hook without shuddering. Or shooting when I'm terrified even of the unloaded guns in the racks of our den. But he still thought he could make a horsewoman out of me.
Little did he know. At that time a horse was just a huge, ferocious beast to me, with large, hungry teeth that would bite if I came within two feet of him, and a back that was made of sharp bones for my own personal torture.
"Come on, honey — " Phil would beg — "just try it, once. If you don't like it I'll never ask you again."
I shuddered, but this seemed like a good opportunity to settle it once and for all. Just once — and that would be the end of horses and I would have some peace. So I agreed.
At the stables, when they brought out the tame, gentle creature I was supposed to ride, I felt like a lamb led to the slaughter. They hoisted me onto his back. With my eyes closed I hung on for dear life.
"Whoa! Phil — make him stop! He's jogging up and down — "
"It's all right, Alice. He's gentle. And you're doing swell. You've got a fine seat."
"Don't g — get s-so-so personal!" The jogging was making my teeth chatter and old Pinto seemed made of nothing but a hard, unresistant spine. We started down the bridle path.
AND then Phil really went to work — that sweet-talking husband of mine! "Gee, Alice, you're doin' wonderful. And you sure do look pretty in that get-up." (I should have known this was blarney, but I was too weak to resist.) "You know, sugar, very few women can wear those rompers — "
"Jodhpurs, Phil."
"Okay, jodhpurs . . . but honestly, very few gals can wear them and look like anything in them. You look like a million dollars. Just like one of those ads in those fancy magazines of yours."
What woman could be impervious to that? I began to sit up and take notice; old Pinto and I were beginning to get together on our ups and downs and the saddle — while it was still no rocking-chair — wasn't quite so uncomfortable as it had been. Or perhaps I just wasn't aware of it.
"No kiddin', you ride that horse like you was raised in a padlock, Alice. Why, in a week you'll be jumping him; you'll be riding in horse shows!"
"I will?" I was weak enough to say.
"Certainly. And gosh, honey — you sure do look pretty. This kind of exercise puts the roses in your cheeks and your hair bounces up and down — "
"It's me bouncing up and down. My hair can't help it." But by this time I was a goner. His blandishments had had their effect; I had visions of myself seated on a horse, lightly springing over steeplechase obstacles, showing off on a tanbark.

I've been riding ever since. And the other day I suddenly realized that somehow or other Phil has even inveigled me into going on hunting trips and fishing expeditions. Didn't I say, in the beginning, I had to watch out for traps?
But I have had my innings, too. There's one problem in bringing up a husband which I'm sure every wife has to face, sooner or later. Breathes there a man who hasn't said to his wife, sometime "Women drivers! There isn't a woman born who has any sense about a car — don't know their left hand from their right!"
This matter of the family automobile is the perpetual male-vs.-female battle. Phil never came right out and said I wasn't to be trusted behind a wheel, but I always figure a hint is as good as being hit on the head. I knew what he thought. For the first few years of our marriage we got along all right; I had my own little car and even though I think my husband suspected the motor vehicle department of astigmatism when they gave me my license, he limited his worrying to just a few little coaching remarks every time I backed out of the driveway.
But just recently we bought a brand-new station wagon. And, since this was neither my car nor his car, but our car, it looked as if trouble was brewing.
Of course it was all settled in Phil's mind. As he told me, this was not the proper car to pack groceries in — this was the perfect car for hunting and fishing trips. That was his way of telling me I couldn't be trusted to know how to drive this brand-new lovely station wagon.
I waited. And said nothing.
"It's just too much for you to handle," he said to me one morning patronizingly. "It's a man's car."
So that very same day he drove off to a baseball game with a few of his friends — and came home that night with the right front fender of the car ripped completely off!
"It's all right, Phil," I assured him. "Don't worry about it. It's just the right thing, now, for packing in groceries." And I've never heard another word about my driving since.

IT'S impossible really to quarrel with Phil. He can flare up quickly; he will pretend that I have hurt him deeply, but all the time we both know he's kidding. On the few times when he believed I was really angry, he went to such absurd lengths to make things right again, that I just couldn't hold out. Like the time he brought me so many boxes of flowers we all came down with hay fever.
We're both neighborly. We both like lots of friends and we like having them drop over evenings. But it's taken me some little time to teach Phil that food has to be ordered and prepared in advance for a houseful of people; that a refrigerator is not inexhaustible. To bring him to the point of giving me some warning.
A typical day for Phil goes something like this:
He takes the children for a walk or a ride in the morning.
"Good morning, Mrs. Jones — " he calls to a neighbor — "where you been keeping yourself? Me and Alice were talkin' about you only the other day, wishin' you would come over." (And that's perfectly true: we were.) "How about tonight?"
Later he goes to the recording studio and after the recording session is over:
"Look, guys — how about bringing the platters over tonight and we'll play them back and see how they sound. Okay?"
Still later, at the Bandwagon rehearsal:
"Why don't you-all come over and we'll relax over some pretzels tonight?" ("You-all" means cast and orchestra!)
And so they all come and I love having them and it's fun for me, too — except for those frantic moments all housewives know towards the end of the evening when they are mentally counting on their fingers the number of times the ham is going to have to be sliced to be sure there are enough sandwiches to go around — and shaking the coffee tin hopefully, estimating whether there will be enough coffee for everyone.

PHIL has learned a home isn't like a hotel, where you just ring for room service if you want anything. And now he lets me know, in advance, so I can stock up at the grocery store.
Though we may not always see eye to eye on some things, raising our two little girls is a joint responsibility for Phil and me. We agree on all matters of discipline and training. "None of this rough stuff" is the way Phil puts it, and we've never found that spankings were necessary. We want Alice and Phyllis to have a normal childhood, with freedom for playing, but a sense of duty, too.
Wanda, our dog, is their playmate, but they have already learned that Wanda has his rights, too. If his ears are pulled, he's going to growl at them. They will never, as I've seen some children do, torment an animal, because they know that if a cat or dog scratches them we don't scold the animal — we explain to Alice and Phyllis that it's their responsibility not to anger the pet and to realize he has only that method of protecting himself.
Their sense of responsibility extends even to themselves. Alice looks after Phyllis with great maternal pride. This always surprises me — or perhaps it's a clue to Phil's character, too — because Alice, who looks very much like me, has all the personality of her father . . . impetuous, bubbling over with good humor, quick to catch on and a twinkle in her eye that shows she understands more than she lets on; Phyllis resembles Phil in looks, but she has my quieter, more reserved temperament.
We have deliberately kept them from having any consciousness of the lime-light that goes with radio or motion pictures in the family. We want them to grow up free of any publicity-tainted childhood — to look upon the work Phil and I do as just another job and not something glamorous to brag about to the neighbors' children.
We'll do it. As Phil says: "This bringin' up a family's a cinch as long as you got a sense of humor. And an inflexible will."
"A what kind of a will, Phil?"
"I pronounced it, didn't I? Do I have to know what it means, too?"
And that's my husband — Phil Harris.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Playhouse Pictures Presents:

Cartoon commercials sold all kinds of things. They even sold commercials themselves.

No doubt you’ve been on sites that have fuzzy or murky copies of well-designed and amusing animated TV ads from the 1950s. While Disney and Walter Lantz, at least for a time, produced cartoon commercials, there were a number of small studios that specialised in the same thing. They employed artists who had worked on theatrical cartoons, and about the only place they got credit was in the trade press.

Playhouse Pictures was one of them. In 1960, the company took home three of the four prizes for animated TV commercials at the International Advertising Film Festival in Venice. First prize for spots 15 to 45 second went to a Ford commercial directed by Chris Jenkyns and Sterling Sturtevant; both had been at UPA. Animation over 45 seconds went to an Olin Mathieson Chemical spot directed by Bill Melendez and co-produced by Saul Bass. I shouldn’t have to tell you who they are. And the first prize for series animation over 15 seconds went to a campaign for Kaiser Aluminum, directed by Melendez, Jenkyns, Stan Freberg and A. Barzman, with Freberg co-producing.

Ford was one of Playhouse’s big clients. The studio developed the Ford Dog, and also animated the Peanuts characters pushing the latest model Fairlanes. This was Melendez’ first crack at working with Charles Schulz’s kids a number of years before A Charlie Brown Christmas. Here’s a story from Broadcasting magazine of September 19, 1960 about a new Ford ad campaign. Again, the names mentioned in the article should be familiar. It’s a shame the frame grabs are murky, but you get an idea of the design the studio was going for. Were the voices Freberg and June Foray? Unless the spot surfaces, we’ll never know, but I can hear them in my mind.

A maximum of action, a minimum of words. That just about sums up the new animated commercials for the new Fords which Playhouse Pictures of Hollywood made on order from J. Walter Thompson Co., New York.
One 20-second spot for the 1961 Ford opens with a herald holding a standard marching across the screen to regal music. Behind him come two pages and behind them a knight, whose armor squeeks as he walks. He approaches the queen, seated on her throne and bows as she speaks:
"Would you like to go up to 30,000 miles without a chassis lubrication?"
She taps him with her sceptor, his armor drops and turns into a 1961 Ford. She gets in beside him and they drive merrily off as she continues:
"Then get a '61 Ford. Beautifully built to take care of itself."
The "beautifully built to take care of itself" theme is used in all the animated commercials and will be the basic slogan of all advertising for the new Ford. Another 20-second spot opens with a statue of a general on horseback brandishing a sword, with several white pigeons sitting on the stone figures as the announcer, offstage, says: "Beautifully built . . ."
The plink of a raindrop is followed by a flash of lightning. The pigeons fly off. The rain comes down in earnest. The general raises his sword which becomes a sheltering umbrella. The pigeons fly back to roost safely beneath the rain-shedding shield as the offstage voice continues: ". . . to take care of itself. The '61 Ford at your Ford dealers."
Four 20-second commercials and four eight-second versions of them were shipped last week by Playhouse Pictures to more than 350 tv stations, along with almost as many teaser spots containing the tag line, "At your Ford dealers Sept. 29."
The Ford spots were created and produced by Playhouse. Chris Jenkyns and Ed Levitt were story editors; Bill Melendez, director; Sterling Sturtevant and Brenard [sic] Gruver handled layout and design; the animators were Bob Carlson, Rod Scribner and Ed Levitt.
The same theme of the self-servicing automobile is carried in a group of three radio commercials created and produced for Ford by Freberg Ltd. of Hollywood. Stan Freberg, president of the firm, which specializes in the creation of radio-tv commercials, did the Ford spots in conjunction with William Hockerr of the Detroit office of J. Walter Thompson Co. under the supervision of Ed Rodgers, Ford's radio-tv advertising coordinator.
One of the one-minute commercials for the 1961 Ford goes like this:
(Note: man and woman are very British.)
Woman: Harry isn't that fellow taking an unusually long time to put the gas in?
Man: Now where did he go? (He calls) Hello . . .
Guy: (OS) I'm under the car,
Man: Under the car?
Sound: Car door opens and closes; footsteps.
Man: Look here, what are you doing under there? This is a brand new '61 Ford. There's nothing wrong with it.
Guy: (Crawling out from under the car) Oh, I know that. I was just waiting for it to adjust its own brakes.
Man: What?
Guy: But I guess it wasn't ready yet. Every '61 Ford that comes in I keep hoping it's getting ready to do it so I can watch. 1 read there's a little mechanical brain in the wheel that decides when it's time.
Man: How's that?
Woman: (OS) What's he doing, Harry?
Man: (Calls) He's watching our brakes. (To guy) Now look here there's nothing to see . . . I mean the Ford makes its own mechanical brake adjustments during the life of the lining. You don't have to worry about it.
Guy: Oh, I'm not worried about it. I just want to see how it handles a wrench.
Man: Aah, look I hardly think there's anything to see under there?
Guy: Well, I heard a little click just now.
Sound: Scuffling.
Woman: (Calling) Harry, what are you doing?
Man: I'm under the car. It looks like we've bought ourselves a phenomenon!
Woman: Really? I thought it was a Ford.
Music: Tag 1 second.
Another Playhouse’s clients was the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, a July 18, 1958 article in Broadcasting doesn’t give specific names of artists.

The usual procedure in developing an animated commercial campaign for television is to create a character, identify him with the product or service being advertised, and use him over and over in a series of more or less varied situations. Each situation presents a problem which he solves through use of the product or service. Continuity is the key to this technique, whose motto is the tried and true advertising saw: repetition means recognition.
The new series of recruiting spots which Playhouse Pictures has produced for the Navy Dept. represents a complete break with that traditional technique. Each of this series of five 60-second and five 20-second animated films concerns distinctly individual characters. None appears in any of the other nine spots. Each has his own particular problem, his own peculiar worry. What links the 10 individual spots into a series is that the solution to all 10 problems is the same: Join the Navy, young man. Well, that's virtually true but not exactly so. In one or two of the films the answer is: Join the Navy, young woman.
The films, shipped to all tv stations in the country for use as public service material, were aimed specifically at the young men and women of Navy enlistment age. To reach that group, they must "combine salesmanship with entertainment, fusing solid facts with elements of whimsy, humor, striking artwork and modern musical backgrounds," says Commander J. "B" Stewart, Bureau of Navy Personnel, who coordinated the project for the Navy.
Commander Stewart also appreciates that there are other realities of tv life which must be considered. "We realized that there is a great deal of public service film competing for free television time," he states, "and wanted our spots to be original and interesting enough to capture the attention of television station program directors. Once accepted and scheduled . . . (they) must then compete for attention with the steady flow of commercial spot announcements and must therefore be of equal or superior quality to the best of these."
The presentation is done in a variety of ways. There's the cat and dog, gazing at their absent master, agreeing "it's kind of lonesome" but they're "awfully glad he did enroll in Navy Officer Candidate School." There's the graduate, wondering which branch of the service offers him the best opportunities and singing his problem with a chorus of professors in an operetta spot which gives the Navy man the chance to sing: "Oh, see what the Navy offers you. Travel and adventure, yes, and good pay, too. We have many jobs that you might do." And so on to the chorused conclusion that "He will join the NA-AA-VEE."
There's the excitement hunter, with his head in the lion's mouth; the kid who's given up his "idle childish dream" of being a cowboy and "after considerable deliberation — decided to join the Navy"; the man who has devoted his youth to inventing a machine to crack a nut, then realizes he is the nut and it's time he joined the Naval Reserve and learned a trade. And so on.
The new spots will shortly make their tv debut.
The “dog and cat” spot mentioned above won third Prize in the 20-second category at the Advertising Association of the West convention that year. Playhouse also won first (Burgermeister Brewing) and second (Ford) prizes, as well as colour TV honours for a Carnation “Half the Fat Calories” spot.

But Playhouse was only one of several West Coast companies making animated spots. At the time, there were also Cascade Pictures of California, Churchill-Wexler Productions, Film Fair, Fine Arts Productions, Format Films, Graphic Films, Pantomime Pictures, Ray Patin Productions, Quartet Films, Swift-Chaplin Productions and TV Spots, and even smaller operations. There were others on the East Coast. All did interesting work that deserves exposure to animation fans today.

Friday 22 June 2018


Musical notes from a saxophone turn into geese (that sound like ducks) in Pencil Mania, a fun 1932 Tom and Jerry cartoon from the Van Beuren studio.

Then Jerry sets down the saxophone and it turns into a happy dancing goose.

Finally the goose honks at Tom and ends its cartoon life.

John Foster and George Stallings are credited with overseeing the cartoon, with Gene Rodemich adding “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” “Rag Doll,” “You’ve Got Me in the Palm of Your Hand” and “Play That Hot Guitar” on the sound track. I don’t know what the music is when Jerry is creating geese from notes, but Rodemich picked some good mood tunes.

Thursday 21 June 2018

A Twist on a Bugs Bunny Gag

Mike Maltese tossed a great baking gag into Rabbit Hood (1949), where Bugs goes to the time and trouble of quickly baking a cake just so the Sheriff of Nottingham can fall into it.

He pulled a twist on the gag when he went over to Walter Lantz to write. In Real Gone Woody (1954), Woody Woodpecker goes to all the trouble of moulding, baking and painting a vase just so he can throw it at Buzz Buzzard.

Maltese fills the story with other great material, including parodies of Johnny Ray and Guy Lombardo, and a good ending. The cartoon was directed by Paul J. Smith and may be his finest. Gil Turner, La Verne Harding and Bob Bentley are the credited animators.