Tuesday 31 July 2018

Hell Freezes Over

Betty Boop falls asleep inside her house on a snowy night and dreams she’s in Hell in Red Hot Mamma (released Feb. 2, 1934). Even though they’re not really menacing her all that much, she gives the cold shoulder to some imps, who freeze. She gives a cold stare to the head imp. The same thing happens.

Then Hell itself freezes over. The imps escape.

Willard Bowsky and Dave Tendlar get the screen animation credits. The Motion Picture Herald called the cartoon “an entertaining little filler.” Frankly, it could have been a little more nightmarish like the great Snow White released the previous year.

Monday 30 July 2018

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Half-eaten poisoned apples come to life and dance around Andy Panda in Apple Andy, a 1945 release from Walter Lantz. The cartoon was built around the song “Up Jumps the Devil” sung by Del Porter.

I like how the trees in Terry Lind’s background painting have expressions.

There’s even a high-stepping apple core-us line. Some fine animation here.

Dick Lundy directs, while Emery Hawkins and La Verne Harding receive animation credits.

Sunday 29 July 2018

How Not To Retire From Radio

“Retirement” was a word in Jack Benny’s vocabulary. He talked about it, he threatened it, but he never actually did it. At the end of his life, he was doing the concerts that he loved and an occasional TV show, and he was likely content with that after a career that had begun in vaudeville some 60-or-so years earlier.

Sheilah Graham of the North America Newspaper Alliance devoted a whole column to Jack. It was published on November 2, 1947. Jack talks about leaving radio in a few years. He didn’t. In fact, his new agents MCA worked out a deal with CBS to move his show to the network and cut Jack’s taxes at the same time. He only gave up radio when all the sponsors’ money and audiences started going into television. In the interview, he also talked about having a second child which the Bennys never got around to doing, and why he didn’t end up doing stage plays, as he had mulled over off and on.

Jack Benny Looks Toward Radio Retirement
And He Has ‘No Desire to Make Another Picture’ Unless It Proves More Interesting Than Playing Golf Daily

By Sheilah Graham
“In four or five years I shall up radio,” says Jack Benny, puffing calmly on a large cigar. “I expect to very tired by then,” he adds. He means of radio. “I’m not much of a radio fan,” confesses the man who has been consistently among the first top Hooper-rating lords ever since the system was started. “Maybe it’s because I know what goes on backstage.”
Now I’ll tell you what goes on backstage—or rather off stage—with Mr. Benny. Jack is now starting his 16th consecutive year in radio—12 of them at the same time (on Sunday). But he is still nervous before each show.
“You’d never guess it,” says Jack. “People who see me just before I go on say I haven’t a nerve in my body. But stage fright is one of the reasons why I want to get out of the business in a few years. Nearly everyone feels the same—except Ingrid Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck; they’re always completely calm before a show.” Jack doesn’t believe even Crosby is as calm as he seems to be before a show. Yet I’d take bets that he is.
Golfs Constantly
I asked Jack what has happened to his plan to star in his movie autobiography, “Always Leave ‘Em Laughing.” “The script wasn’t too hot,” said Benny, who shudders when you mention his last movie, “The Horn Blows At Midnight” “I’ve no desire to make another picture unless it’s worth giving up my golf for.”
Jack plays golf seven days a week, but says he is not in the same class as Hope and Crosby. But, next to traveling, it’s his favorite outdoor sport. Jack has just returned from a three-month tour of the United States. “Mary (Livingstone, his wife) didn’t go with me she hates to travel and she hates to hear me talk about it. I usually come home every day with a handful of pamphlets. I’m always ready to go somewhere.”
The Bennys are going to adopt another child. They already have 13-year-old Joannie. “We should have done it years ago,” Jack told me. “We have a big house, and now, with Joan away in boarding school, it’s very lonely for us” The lucky baby probably will be a European war orphan.
We got to talking of the radio comics of tomorrow. I’ve heard a lot of moaning about “where are they to come from?” Even Mr. Benny doesn’t know. “There's no way of training future comedians today,” he told me. “In the old days, there was vaudeville—you traveled all over the country, did five shows a day, and when you hit the spotlight you knew your job. Today kids have to make good their first time out.”
Jack believes that if Dennis Day and Jack Paar are careful with their writing, they will be the two big radio stars of the future.
Here is the Benny system for having a good show: “I have four writers now. I used to have two, and at one time I only had one. After each show on Sunday, we have a huddle on the idea for the show the following week. Then I forget it completely until the following Thursday morning. The writers start work again on Wednesday, the day before.”
Shows Recorded
One of the secrets of success, according to Jack: “We don’t worry about the show being great—we just see that it isn’t lousy. We never try to follow a ‘great show’ with another great show. We just do our best each time.” Jack has made recordings of each of his shows for the last 12 years. “I can’t get into my bedroom because of records of my shows,” he said.
Jack’s favorite comedy show on the air is “Amos ‘n’ Andy”—“because of the great, great writing job; it’s like a play.” Jack prefers the story-line radio show to the gag show, such as Bob Hope’s. “But one of the reasons Bob has such a big following is because people don’t have to stay with their ears glued to the radio or they lose the plot. They can listen for awhile, then talk, then listen again. But then, again, some people like to listen all the time and follow the story-line.”
When his radio days are over, Jack says, he’d like to do a play on Broadway. “I was going to do stock this summer in ‘The Front Page.’” Jack would have played the part made famous in the movie by Pat O’Brien. “But I couldn't be bothered to learn it all just for two weeks.” Jack used to smoke 15 cigars a day. Now he swears he smokes only one. “I never smoked anything in my life until I was 36,” he told me, and his smoking was an accident. “I had to smoke a cigar in an Earl Carroll show.” Jack says his doctor wants him to drink more than he does. “Drinking is good for the arteries,” he assured me with a straight face.

Saturday 28 July 2018

The Silent Pioneer

A while ago, you read about some of the cartoon series on movie screens in 1924, courtesy of articles in Exhibitors Trade Review of August 16th that year. There was one more article, a profile of J.R. Bray, who operated what is conceded to be the first successful animation studio.

The article calls Bray a “funmaker” but, to be honest, if Bray had “fun” working in animation, it’s hard to tell from photos of him taken in the era. He seems to have treated cartoon production as solely a business and in pretty well every picture I’ve seen, he is shown with a stiff, business-like mien, as if taking his picture was cutting into his profit-making. He spent time in interviews talking about his patents on the animation process and lawsuits to enforce them; the comedies he produced brought money, not joy. Others like Walter Lantz, Paul Terry and Max Fleischer animated his films for him. Notice how they’re known by their first names. Bray was always a formal “J.R.”

He lost interest in cartooning and concentrated on industrial films; his studio never made theatrical shorts in the sound era. However, his ancient silent cartoons reaped a second reward when television rose in the late 1940s. He dug them out of storage, slapped stock music beds behind them and advertised them to the growing number of TV stations for use on/as children’s programming.

Bray lived until the age of 99. He died in 1978. Read what Tommy Stathes has to say about him here and here.

John Randolph Bray, Pioneer Cartoonist
IT sometimes has been said that the average cartoonist is more or less a gloomy individual. The same statement has been made of John Randolph Bray of Bray Productions and other companies of an allied nature.
Possibly there may be a basis for the fancied touch of gloom that occasionally appears to surmount the features of this funmaker. When taxed on one occasion with the suggestion that his face seemed to be one of unusual seriousness at times he told the story of his first professional experience as a cartoonist.
Mr. Bray's initial employment following his graduation from the University of Michigan was as cartoonist on the Detroit Evening News. One of his occupations there was drawing the features of the persons brought to the local morgue.
Engraving in newspaper offices in those days frequently was done on chalk, the molding being cut with a sharp steel instrument and the result afterwards sent to the stereotype room, where the completed cut was made.
His school friends used to marvel at the nerve of the young artist in entering such gruesome places, but Mr. Bray seemed to think it was all part of the day's work.

MANY stories have been told by his former newspaper associates of his unusual assignments. One of these was when he called on an undertaker at 2 o'clock in the morning in order to get a drawing of the features of a certain body in the keeping of that functionary. The undertaker removed the lid merely remarking "Go ahead and help yourself."
Mr. Bray was born in Detroit and educated in the schools of that city. He early manifested a tendency toward the artistic. His school books such as are at present in existence will bear testimony to that statement. On one occasion his teacher detected him surreptitiously outlining on the blackboard one of the creatures of his fancy. She stopped him and told him that really he should be dismissed for the day, but that she thought the drawing once started should be completed, and he was instructed to finish it.
All through his early school days he submitted drawings to different comic papers. Even at that age the humorous strain was highly developed. In high school and in college he drew regularly for the school publications.

IT was in 1901 Mr. Bray joined the Detroit Evening News as a cub artist. Then he went to New York City, where he obtained a position with an advertising agency. A little later he joined the Brooklyn Daily Eagle as staff cartoonist, remaining until 1904, when he resigned to take up freelance work.
The pages of Punch, Life and Judge for 1905 and 1906 contain many cartoons signed by John Randolph Bray. The artist in 1907 joined the McClure syndicate, and through this instrumentality his work was circulated throughout the United States.
It was about this period there occurred to him the thought that if cartoons and comic strips were such a hit in the newspapers they should be even more successful on the screen. With this idea in mind he began the creation of his first animated cartoon.
Not satisfied that it should be merely a curiosity, he determined to work with the idea of completing a commercial product — one that would rank with any other form of screen entertainment.
In 1912 Mr. Bray completed a dog cartoon and Pathe Freres, as the great motion picture house then was known, lost no time in acquiring the novelty. The artist immediately made application for basic patents on this method of making pictures.
The dog cartoon went over with such success that Pathe ordered six more and they met a similar reception. The order gradually was increased to an additional twelve and then to one each week.
Soon afterward Mr. Bray conceived the idea of Colonel Heeza Liar, the first cartoon character of the screen. The Standard Cinema Corporation is releasing the more recent adventures of the doughty colonel.
In 1913 Mr. Bray found himself forced into the organization of what became the Bray Studios, which soon had on its roster a list of forty artists. In 1915 the company signed a contract with Paramount for the distribution of Bray Paramount Pictographs, the first magazine of the screen.

ONE of the features of this release was the famous character Bobby Bumps. A precedent was formed at this time by leasing for five years instead of selling the negatives outright.
In 1916 Bray Pictures Corporation took over the Bray Studios. Paramount continued until 1920 to issue Bray product, when it discontinued its short subject department, and the Bray material was transferred to the Goldwyn company.
Following the inauguration in 1922 of the Bray Romances of Science Mr. Bray a year later invented the Brayco projector, a device doing away with the stereopticon and making available for the home, school and church 3,000 subjects in the Bray Library. It is the latest development in the rapidly expanding work of visual education — and entertainment.

Friday 27 July 2018

Say, That Looks Like...

There’s a scene in the episode of “The Capture of Thunderbolt the Wondercolt” on the Beany and Cecil show (1962) that any cartoon fan must love.

Dishonest John overhears that Thunderbolt has a “notorious distrust for humans,” so he disguises himself as non-humans to capture the heroic steed. Thunderbolt is a step ahead of him, and opens up his own trunk of disguises.

The disguises, though they bear Bob Clampett-style monikers, suspiciously look like cartoon characters from other studios, especially the late ‘50s versions of a pair of characters from the Chuck Jones unit at Warner Bros.

“Graham Quacker” is only missing a sailor suit.

Clampett and his writers parodied Disney a number of times, especially in the “Beanyland” episode.

“You’re not that Tom and Jerry-drinking mouse,” exclaims D.J., pulling off a mouse mask to reveal, uh...

That’s not all, folks.

“And you’re not Hare-cules Hare,” shouts the pig-headed D.J. I’m surprised Clampett, Eddie Brandt, Dick Kinney or whoever wrote this didn’t have him stutter.

“And you’re not Franken Swine,” intones Thunderbolt, dressed as, well, it looks like a really lousy version of Yogi Bear. Same colours and nose as Yogi. But it’s actually supposed to be “Rin Tin Can.”

The two reveal Beany masks and then themselves.

There are really lots of great celebrity puns and takeoffs in this cartoon. D.J. turns into a horsey version of Edward R. Murrow at one point, chain-smoking cigarettes and dropping them into an ash tray. One of the stars who left her horseshoe prints outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is “Betty Harness.” And there’s another electric shock gag for good measure.

The series was hit-and-miss, but this episode was a hit for me. It’s a shame the show was plagued with problems (including network TV’s sudden souring on animated shows around prime time) and didn’t last more than the one season.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Don Quixote

You can tell Ub Iwerks’ Don Quixote is nuts because of the rolling cross-eyes when the character looks at the camera.

Here’s Iwerks’ version (actually his unidentified storywriters’) of the famous tilting-at-windmill scene from de Cervantes’ book where Quixote sees it as a giant.

In Iwerks’ version, the windmill spanks him.

And it takes on a personality, growing a face, and spanks him yet again.

Quixote eats some nails and clobbers it into a grave which rises from the ground (along with a headstone, followed by a picket fence, followed by a flower pot with a lily).

Carl Stalling melds together a nice score from well-known classical tunes, including a minor key variation on “The William Tell Overture” at the start, and his own bridging music. No animators are credited in this 1934 cartoon.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Dictating to Other People's Children

It’s laughable that anyone, at any time, could have considered the Lone Ranger, Tom Mix or Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy, as harmful influences on children, programmes that should be censored or maybe banned altogether. But that was the case in the 1940s. The world has always had those who wished to impose their will on others using shame, labelling or legislation.

When I was a kid, after a day at school, I wanted to relax and not have to think a lot. So I watched reruns of Gilligan’s Island or Bugs Bunny cartoons on TV. It was no different for kids a generation before me, except they did it with radio serials.

Ah, but some adults were unhappy. They wanted to tell other parents’ kids what to do for their entertainment. Herald Tribune syndicate writer John Crosby mentioned it briefly in one of his early columns, then went more in depth into it the following year. Basically, all he found wrong with kids’ adventure programming on radio is it was hackneyed. Maybe that (and their episodic nature) is why the serials don’t seem to have the same love from old-time radio fans as night-time comedies, mysteries or variety shows aimed at adults.

The first column appeared on May 17, 1946.
Blood and Thunder From 5 to 6 P.M.
I once lived on a street that was alive with children until 5 o’clock, when they suddenly vanished. They were, of course, listening to the kids’ programs which several networks feature between 5 and 6 o’clock. Since every one on this particular street knew every one else, it was the custom of these children to run to the nearest house, sit in a semi-circle around the radio and fall into a rapt silence. Children, I find, are about the best radio listeners there are.
On several occasions I watched these kids as they listened with stars in their eyes to the extraordinary adventures of Jack Armstrong, the All-American boy. I realize that this type of program has brought storms of criticisms from parents’ associations and women’s clubs and I am perhaps sticking my neck out when I say that the mothers ought to worry about something else.
Provided it isn’t downright seditious, I don’t think it much matters what sort of story puts stars in a child’s eyes so long as they’re there. When I was young, I read with equal enthusiasm “Hopalong Cassidy,” “Tarzan of the Apes” and “Huckleberry Finn.” This does not mean I had a catholic taste; I didn’t have any taste at all. The only difference to me between Tarzan and Huck Finn was that one was cast in a jungle and the other took place on a perfectly wonderful river. I read some pretty awful stuff in those days and still managed to avoid the juvenile courts and to grow up reasonably literate.
The real harm in these broadcasts, in my opinion, is that they lure children away from books and make radio addicts out of them. This is a deplorable tendency, but I don’t know what can be done about it. Radio, I’m afraid, is here to stay and so are the kids’ programs.
I listened to four of them recently that follow each other at fifteen-minute intervals on WJZ from 5 to 6 p.m. and couldn’t see any great harm in any of them.
First I got “Terry and the Pirates,” which, unlike the comic strip of the same name, is slanted for children and not adults. Terry, in case you’re interested and I doubt that you are, is still in China and is mixed up with some one named Ruby Buckle. The comic-strip Terry is noted for his adult dialogue, which isn’t the case on the radio. Over the air, Terry talks pure blood-and-thunder and each move is carefully spelled out for the children.
After Terry comes Dick Tracy, “the protector of law and order,” who is now bending his great mind to the problem of solving the case of the snarling dog. Tracy is played by one of most virile voices in radio, which sounds as if it were nourished exclusively on vitamized breakfast foods.
Since all these adventures move at a snail’s pace, Tracy barely had time to open his mouth before Jack Armstrong took over with his manifold troubles. Jack and Billy, the modern version of Tom and Huck, are now in the hands of Slim Griffiths, a notorious sky bandit who has built up a huge fortune robbing stratocruisers. It’s not for you, pop, but the kids eat it up.
“Tennessee Jed,” the last on my list, who has apparently strayed far out of Tennessee to the wild west, differs from the others chiefly in the fact that he is likely to put his dialogue into song now and then.
“I can’t sit here wasting the rest of the night. I’ve got to meet Pancho before it gets light,” he sings to the accompaniment of a guitar.
I’m told that Superman recently has added a new twist to kids’ programs by mixing education to his adventures. Right now he is battling bigotry in the city of Metropolis and incidentally weaving in some very excellent talk on tolerance. It sounds like a fine idea, but we’ll have to take it up in some later column. At this time, I’m less concerned with programs aimed at winning the seal of approval of the United Parents Association than with shows aimed only at gripping the imagination of a child. All of the four programs I mentioned perform that function adequately and without, in my opinion, any unwholesome effects. I know a great many youngsters who listen to them regularly and there isn’t a juvenile delinquent in the lot.
This column is from August 21, 1947.
Ministers, Psychiatrists and Children
In the last few months the Parent-Teachers Association in San Francisco has been kicking up a devil of a fuss over children’s programs. The most recent action is a resolution urging two networks (Mutual and A.B.C.) to abandon eleven programs—Jack Armstrong, Lone Ranger, Sky King, Hop Harrigan, Superman, Captain Midnight, Tom Mix, Red Ryder, Cisco Kid, Tennessee Jed and Terry and the Pirates.
“Juvenile crime and horror programs are tending to dull the minds of children,” says the resolution with great piety but not much perspicacity. The parents and teachers went on to recommend that all future children’s programs be submitted to a “recognized, expert and impartial board of judges” consisting of radio representatives, psychologists, psychiatrists, ministers, educators, librarians and “listeners such as parents.”
I’m not quite brash enough to defend those eleven programs, but it seems to me the kids require some defense against this sweeping and unfair indictment. It’s much harder to dull the mind of a child than the P.T.A. seems to think. Dull-minded children—apart from those congenitally so—are usually the ones whose imagination has been stifled by well meaning but grim-lipped persons such as parents.
The literary merit of children’s programs is rather questionable, it’s true, but, in so far as the children are concerned, the programs are far better than anything turned out by any such panel of experts. The expertness, and particularly the impartiality, of psychiatrists, ministers and educators—let’s leave the librarians and psychologists out of this—can’t stand very strong examination. I should have violently objected to any of them passing judgment on my childhood reading. My mind might well have been purer if they had, but my point of view would very definitely have been narrower and my appreciation of style probably totally underdeveloped.
Besides, the ministers, educators and psychiatrists would have great difficulty finding any common ground of approval. The minister eager to adjust each word to accord with the precepts of the Christian church, the psychiatrist sniffing suspiciously at each evidence of trauma, his eyes alight with the holy fires of syntax, would be hopelessly at cross-purposes and any agreement any them would be—somewhat like Congress—a matter of generous compromises in which the script would be so excised, bowdlerized, sanctified and grammatical that it would not only dull the mind of the child but put it directly to sleep. Maybe that’s the idea. There’s no more virtuous child than one asleep.
The last group of judges—“listeners such as parents”—is a plain contradiction in terms. It’s the kids, not the parents, who listen to these things, and if any one should be consulted, it should be they. I’m not foolish enough to recommend that children be given complete control, but right now they haven’t any say-so at all.
In fact, without the addition of a single parent, minister or educator, children’s programs are already more carefully edited and supervised than any other group of programs on the air.
Vulgarity and horror are strictly forbidden and law and order and fair play inevitably triumph in all of them. That—to lay it bluntly on the line—is why they have no literary merit whatsoever. Not, dear parents and teachers, because they are so free from restraint but because they are so hag-ridden with regulations. The systematic attempts to purify children’s minds have recurred for years, and in retrospect they always look ridiculous. At the time they were written, “Tom Sawyer,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “Treasure Island” or “Snow White” (a little horror story if ever there was one) could never pass any such impartial board as suggested by the San Francisco P.T.A. These works have been hallowed by time and prestige—not an increase in tolerance or common sense on the part of parents and teachers.
For years, Mark Twain was plagued by many attempts—many of them successful—to bowdlerize his books. As recently as 1906 a group of women with minds like the drive snow attempted successfully to have “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” removed from the shelves of the Brooklyn Public Library. At the time Twain wrote a letter to the librarian, a little gem of irony, which I produce in full below:
21 Fifth Ave.
Nov. 21, ‘05
Dear Sir:
I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn for adults exclusively, & it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experiences, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and veer draw a sweet breath again this side of the grave. Ask that young lady—she will tell you so. (Ed. Note: I have no idea who is the young lady referred to by Twain.)
Most honestly do I wish that I could say a softening word or two in defense of Huck’s character, since you wish it, but really it is no better than those of Solomon, David, Satan & the rest of the sacred brotherhood.
If there is an Unexpurgated in the Children’s Department won’t you please help that young woman remove Tom & Huck from that questionable companionship? Sincerely yours,
I’ve heard of people who say their parents wouldn’t allow them to watch specific programmes (TV was off-limits to me after certain hours) or didn’t have a set at all. That’s good parenting. A TV has an off-switch. Use it. But if some other parents had tried to tell me not to watch Bugs Bunny (even that lame cartoon where he takes on a boring, drawling Stepin stereotype), I’d likely have a few words for them. Polite ones, naturally. Watching TV didn’t turn me into a mindless boor, like some of these do-gooders seemed to think it should.