Sunday 30 September 2018

Peroxide That Polar Bear!

How does a movie studio publicise its latest blockbuster, other than buying advertising and supplying theatres with one-sheets and maybe a promotional kit?

Let’s find out.

I’m not so sure this United Press story from 1939 about ideas to push a Jack Benny movie is tongue-in-cheek. Maybe this really happened as reported. You never know in Hollywood. Certainly all the Paramount publicity people mentioned in it were real. For the record, they were Terry DeLapp (department head), Ed Churchill, Jean Bosquet, Don Ashbaugh, Kathleen Coghlan (fan magazine publicist), Don Chatfield, Bert Holloway, Don King, Steve Brooks, Ralph Hustin, Gretchen Messer (fashion editor) and Edward Mills.

How Press Agent and His Aides Map Attack Is Disclosed.

By Frederick C. Othman
United Press Hollywood Correspondent.
We were in the conference room at Paramount today where the publicists were deciding how to make America conscious of a motion picture entitled "Buck Benny Rides Again."
This film will feature a radio star named Jack Benny, a polar bear called Carmichael, and a dusky comic named Rochester.
Boss Press Agent De Lapp and a dozen helpers were mapping their attack upon the public.
Mr. De Lapp: "We don't want to overlook this Mr. Rochester. And we might even go to Reno for the premiere to cash in on the dude ranch stuff."
Mr. Churchill: "We can't find us a Carmichael. Polar bears are hard to tame."
Mr. Ashbaugh: "I know a trained brown bear named 'Big Boy.' Couldn't we peroxide him?"
Mr. Bosquet: "They whitened two tigers for the last Anna Mae Wong picture."
Mr. Churchill: "It's dangerous to paint a bear."
Mr. Holloway: "Are any of the girls set yet?"
Mr. De Lapp: "Not yet, but there'll be four of 'em. And the Abbott Dancers. They ought to be swell for roto leg art."
Miss Messer: "They'll be wearing summer clothes. We've already got a tieup with a manufacturer."
Mr. De Lapp (in an aside): "Where's Johnny Engsted?"
Mr. Brooks: "He's out looking for a stained glass window."
Mr. De Lapp: "Oh."
Miss Coghlan: "The fan magazines should go for some Easter art."
Mr. De Lapp: "Let's get Benny in a jackrabbit roundup."
Mr. King: "Maybe we can have a picture of a jackrabbit pulling Benny out of a hat."
Mr. De Lapp: "Well if we can't get a live Carmichael. we'll have to have a stuffed bear for the stills."
Mr. Brooks: "There isn't a stuffed bear in Hollywood. We've looked."
Miss Coghlan: "I understand Benny is afraid of horses."
Mr. Brooks: "Anyhow he has agreed to sit on a horse, if we can find one that can rear safely."
Mr. De Lapp: "What about Benny's Maxwell auto?"
Mr. Huston: "Maybe we can find a guy named Maxwell who will sue Benny for defaming the family name."
Mr. Mills: "Let's get Benny to write a magazine story on how to tame a polar bear."
Mr. Holloway: "What we need is a good layout of Pratt Falls."
Mr. Del Valle: "Can't we get a by-line story by the bear on how he became a star?"
Mr. Ashbaugh: Let's send Frank Buck out to get us a bear. He oughtn't to charge too much."
Mr. Del Valle: "A picture showing Benny being thrown off a mechanical horse should be funny."
Mr. Mills: "If we can't get a bear, we ought to have a bear rug anyway."
Miss Coghlan: "We must start a nation-wide search for the oldest Maxwell."
Mr. Holloway: "Then we can get Benny to speed in it down Hollywood boulevard and have him arrested."
Mr. Chatfield: "I've got an idea for a giveaway, aluminum coins that say 'one buck.'"
Mr. King: "I believe we should get a double for Benny to be bucked off a horse for the Paramount newsreel. They ought to go for that."
Mr. Bosquet: "If there's anybody in the cast about to get a divorce, they ought to have him do it in Reno, "while the picture is in production."
Mr. De Lapp: "Unless we can talk him out of it, altogether."
The boys went on from there, far into the night. They hold these idea meetings at the start of every picture and a stenographer takes down each word they say. Then the hair begins to fly. Woe is the actor who balks at co-operating.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Shouts for UPA

“What was all the shouting about?”

That was the rhetorical question Leonard Maltin wrote in Of Mice and Magic when it came to the UPA cartoon studio. It was rhetorical because it set up the response from critic Gilbert Seldes, writing in the May 31, 1952 issue of The Saturday Review. Maltin published excerpts of the article but we’ll reprint it in full below.

Seldes’ main complaint seems to have been that cartoons should look like cartoons, not the “illusion of life” espoused by Disney (something praised by critics not too many years earlier). He also favours the UPA attempts at light humour and whimsy. Certainly “Gerald McBoing Boing” was an excellent short in all facets, from colour to camerawork, while “Rooty Toot Toot” combines interesting artwork and movement, and has its humorous moments as well. Later, Magoo became more blind than bombastic and the one-shots became increasingly coy and child-like instead of wry.

But this article was written, arguably, when the studio was at its peak—and the very same day director and UPA vice-president John Hubley was fired as fall-out from the McCarthy witchhunt.

THE best way to identify United Productions of America is to say: "They're the people who made 'Gerald McBoing Boing'." And the best way to identify the quality of their product is to say that every time you see one of their animated cartoons you are likely to recapture the sensation you had when you first saw "Steamboat Willie," the early "Silly Symphonies," "The Band Concert"—the feeling that something new and wonderful has happened, something almost too good to be true.
Twelve times a year UPA releases, through Columbia, one of these seven-minute masterpieces; current or soon to be seen are "Rooty Toot Toot" (based on Frankie and Johnny), "Willie the Kid" (which is a travesty of the Wild West legend), and several episodes in the career of Mister Magoo, who plunges with supreme confidence into all sorts of adventures although he is so near-sighted that he doesn't know himself in a mirror. Also on view is the film "Man Alive," a serio-comic film about cancer released by the American Cancer Society. And recently the Roxy Theatre paid UPA the significant compliment of showing "Man on the Land," a documentary prepared for the oil industry, for its sheer entertainment value.
In a sense, the UPA product is not so much new as it is a return to the first principles of the animated cartoon, those fundamentals which Disney understood and exploited more fully than anyone before him, and which he has abandoned. They are so simple that the name of the medium, animated cartoon, comprehends all the essentials, since a cartoon is a drawing that deliberately distorts certain salient features of the subject and animation is an exaggeration of normal movement or expression. As Disney has come closer and closer to photographic realism, he has subtly violated the character of the cartoon (which is a drawing on a flat surface) by giving it depth and, in a brilliant combination of art-work and machinery, has substituted movement—remarkably lifelike—for animation.
The UPA cartoons are flat; whatever sense of depth you get comes from perspective, lines drawing your eyes to a small door in the background, and by color—as the door opens you get a flash of blue in contrast to the sepia or gray of the surrounding walls. And because they use one drawing for every two or three frames of the film, instead of Disney's one for each frame, the figures move less smoothly, they have a galvanic animation.
The delight which these pictures gives is, however, not merely pleasure taken in any return to the primitive. The positive virtues of UPA are their impudent and intelligent approach to subject matter and a gay palette, a cascading of light colors, the use of color and line always to suggest, never to render completely, a great deal of warmth, and an unfailing wit. Some of the cartoons recall stock episodes—tubas grunt and Mr. Magoo steps off a girder into thin air—but the best of them are as fresh in concept as in execution.
In "Willie the Kid," for instance, the brigand on a tricycle is commiting a hold-up or a rescue in the West and a split-second later is in his own backyard dealing with his mother and a moment later is out West again. In "The Oompahs" the conventional musical instruments of animated cartoons appear—and suddenly they are engaged in a baseball game which is all spots and shapes of color dancing against the geometry of the diamond, giving you some of the enchantment of Len Lye's color experiments on film. In "Family Circus" a lesson in child psychology is taught, sympathetically and humorously, through a dream sequence in a circus.
So far UPA has released nothing longer than seven minutes for theatrical use; the company will be represented by animations which are part of the Stanley Kramer production of "The Fourposter," and a plan for a feature picture, using Thurber's "Men, Women, and Dogs," has been long considered. Past experience indicates that feature-length animations are the first step toward the decline of the imagination, but the exuberance and copiousness of the UPA talents will, I believe, protect them. To be gay and intelligent and inventive all at once is a rare phenomenon. I, for one, hope UPA goes on for ever. —GILBERT SELDES.

Friday 28 September 2018

Popeye in the 3D Cave

Every time I watched the Popeye/Ali Baba cartoon (and I saw it over and over when I was a kid in the ‘60s), I was always amazed by the scenes in the cave with the 3D backgrounds, wondering how they did it. As you likely know, the process was used elsewhere in the cartoon and gave a wondrous feeling of depth.

You can’t get the effect from looking at still frames, but you can see the detail in the backgrounds.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves is still an impressive cartoon after all these years. It’s a toss-up whether the first colour two-reeler, Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, is better. Willard Bowsky (head animator) and George Germanetti get screen credit on both; Orestes Calpini also gets an animation credit on this. The background people toiled in anonymity.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Jerry's Surprised

Pop-eyed takes were a rarity in the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM, but here’s one in The Milky Waif (1946).

Jerry looks outside the door after a knock and sees nothing. After he closes the door, Hanna holds the drawing for 15 frames, then the door is suddenly opened as Jerry realises what’s outside.

Jerry was one of the best pantomime characters in Hollywood. He always had a range of expressions, sometimes subtle, especially when violence isn’t involved. Here he is looking at the audience just before he closes the door.

Ken Muse, Mike Lah and Ed Barge are the credited animators.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

The Second Mr Stephens is the First Mr Cheever

There were character actors aplenty who seem to have appeared in every hit sitcom in the 1960s. They weren’t stars, so there was no incentive for columnists to interview them. But a few did get some press and we’ve featured several of them on this blog.

One who found steady work was Roy Roberts. He was the second Darrin’s father on Bewitched (well, there were two Darrins after all) and he was on The Beverly Hillbillies as Mr. Cushing of the Merchant’s Bank, failing to get the Clampetts to moved their millions into his financial institution from Milburn Drysdale’s Commerce Bank of Beverly Hills.

He was a banker on another series, playing Theodore J. Mooney’s boss and nemesis on The Lucy Show. That attracted the attention of one syndicated columnist, who coaxed Roberts into telling a funny story about one of the great American Ac-Tors of the 20th century. It was published December 14, 1967.

TV Character Jolly Demeanor Like a Santa in Civvies

HOLLYWOOD — It's an axiom in television never to stand pat, even when you've got a guaranteed rating winner like The Lucy Show. For that reason, a new character was introduced this season.
Mr. Cheever was brought in as Mr. Mooney's banking boss, thus opening a whole new bag of involvements for Mooney, as well as Lucy.
Cheever is played by Roy Roberts, a burly 230-pound veteran actor, whose theatrical roots date back to the likes of David Belasco, Jane Cowl, Helen Hayes and the Broadway stage. Roberts was Capt. Huxley for three years in the old Gale Storm series, Oh! Susanna. He's also had semi-regular roles in McHale's Navy and Petticoat Junction, And he has countless movie credits.
It is doubtful that viewers could possibly enjoy the "play" between Roberts and Gale Gordon as much as they do themselves.
"Why, we're like two old lovers—it's shocking!" laughs Roberts, whose jolly demeanor is like a Santa in civies.
"We appreciate what the other one does. Our timing is such that we never have to shoot a scene over. One take, that's it.
"Like Gale, I seemed to be stuck in banker roles in my old age, but we're making the most of it. Being his boss I'm more pompous, stuffy and arrogant. I frighten him and he in turn frightens Lucy."
Rogers admits to being "basically a straight man," but he prides himself in knowing how to be a good one. "It's important to play up key words," he continues. "Gale and I, old hams that we are, get together and go over the script. We see a spot and say, 'Let's give this a goose here.' It's fun for us because on the Lucy show you have to play half to the audience and half to the cameras."
This ability to emphasize clearly key words wasn't any over night accomplishment. Roberts, early in his career as a member of the E. B. Coleman's Honey Bunch Stock Company, when all he had was "curly hair and teeth," realized he had to overcome a Florida accent, which apparently is more southern than southern.
A chance meeting with the great John Barrymore helped. He suggested reading Shakespeare aloud. So as not to disturb anyone, Roberts used to go to Jones Beach and shout Shakespeare at the waves. This triggered a story about the "great profile."
"I met him again a few years later in Hollywood. It was in a restaurant crowded with his friends, the occasion being the opening of his movie, 'Twentieth Century.' I didn't think he'd remember me (his sister Ethel later assured me he wouldn't have bothered if he hadn't), but I had such admiration for him I had to approach him.
" ‘Speak, my son,’ he said in a great stentorian voice, ‘What do you require of me, anything?’ Stymied for a moment, I suggested a soliloquy from 'Hamlet.' So while his friends waited he sat down and did the whole thing for me, complete with gestures.
"When he finished, he leaned over and whispered, ‘Now never speak to me again, you s.o.b.’"

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Drunken Horse Becomes Celebrity Caricature

Goopy Geer isn’t just an obscure cartoon character. He’s the subject of a song written by Herman Hupfeld, the same man who composed the immortal “As Time Goes By.”

Hupfeld’s song gets a workout in the aforementioned cartoon. It features re-used gags and re-used animation from Lady Play Your Mandolin, released the year before. Oh, and Goopy pulls off that little slide-step dance that Bosko did ad nauseum. (Keith Scott reveals it was based on dancer Will Murray’s act).

The most bizarre gag is when a drunken horse takes a long gulp of some rot-gut and begins to see creatures in the mirror. When he sees the image of Mahatma Ghandi, that’s enough. He runs screaming at the audience.

Friz Freleng and Ham Hamilton are the credited animators.

Here’s Hupfeld singing his song with the Victor Young Orchestra on the Brunswick label.

Monday 24 September 2018

Rockabye Clarinet

Chilly Willy was never better than in The Legend of Rockabye Point (1955). With Tex Avery directing and Mike Maltese writing the story, how could it be otherwise?

The cartoon follows a pattern: a polar bear stealing fish tries to be silent so he doesn’t wake a guard dog. Chilly Willy interferes. The noise wakes the guard dog who bites the polar bear. The bear sings/plays “Rockabye Baby” to put the dog to sleep. Repeat cycle.

Maybe the best gag is when Chilly Willy sticks a clarinet in the dog’s mouth so the snores play the instrument and wake the dog. The frames below tell the story. I like how Walter Lantz’ musical director, Clarence Wheeler, goes from a solo clarinet playing “Rockabye Baby” to a loud Dixieland band playing the substituted song.

The dog taps the bear to get his attention. But he doesn’t get a chance to bite him; the polar bear bashes him with the clarinet and he runs out of the scene.

Don Patterson, La Verne Harding and Tex’s former MGM animator Ray Abrams are the credited animators (Patterson worked at MGM but not in the Avery unit).

By the way, I think the sheet music for “Rockabye Baby” is fairly correct, though the copy I have in that key is in 3/4 time, not 6/8.

Sunday 23 September 2018

He Might As Well Be 39

We all know Jack Benny wasn’t really 39 all the years that he claimed to be. And while it was a gag, it did serve a real-life purpose. It made him think young, and that kept him healthy.

At least, that’s what he claimed. There are all kinds of stories that Jack was an intense worrier and had a night-stand filled with medicines (though he doesn’t appear to have used them).

I’d love to find his full interview in Today’s Health, but you can get the gist of what he said in this column by Ida Jean Kain in the Rockland County Journal-News Sept. 22, 1961. It’s good advice for us all.

Good Recipe for Staying Young
Middle age is not the same time of life for everyone, birthdays notwithstanding.
Take Jack Benny, for good example. He’s been 39 now for going on 29 years. That’s really an excellent record, and even better psychology.
In the spring, a story in “Today’s Health” about this durable comedian is certainly well worth quoting.
“That ‘only 39’ gag my writers came up with was just about the best thing that ever happened to me,” Jack Benny reports. “The cliche, ‘You're only as old as you feel,’ happens to be true. I feel young and as far as I can find out, I’m healthy.”
What, in this comedian’s opinion, is most important to keeping young . . . diet, exercise, or mental attitude? It’s the latter. “To stay young in heart, think as young people do. Look forward, never backward. Work instead of worrying,” he summed up.
This actor does minimize the physical aspects of keeping young and vigorous. “To stay young-looking and keep healthy, you have to give some thought to it and work at it,” he added. Mr. Benny gets regular outdoor exercise. And he watches his food intake. “This is important and it's not likely that you can keep your weight where it belongs without counting calories. You can’t have three chins and look young.” So he controls starches, sugar, and fats. He uses sugar substitutes and drinks skim milk. He keeps his weight controlled even though he has stopped smoking.
It’s well known that this veteran comedian has more energy, vitality, and bounce than performers half his age.
We all need to think young and banish our phobias about aging. Then the extra years added to our life span can he added to the best years of living. We often think we might like to be younger if we could know all we know now. Well, in a wonder way science has made this miracle come true. So let us think of 50 as the high noon of life. Actually middle age can be an elastic period from 40 to 70.
When we lose our enthusiasm, we begin to grow old. When we stop learning, we start aging. When we stop using our bodies, the aging process catches up with us fast. Since there is no physiological age at which we must stop all activity, there is no age at which we “must’’ grow old. This is by no means the same as hanging on to youth for dear life, but rather to keep our zest for living fully.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Has Jay Ward an Offer For You!

No idea was too outrageous or ridiculous to promote The Bullwinkle Show on NBC. At least in the mind of producer Jay Ward, not NBC. Ward insisted the network found ways not to promote his cartoon series.

Ward, somehow, found a way to convince United Press International to let him fill in as a columnist and make a completely bogus offer. (Hmm, on second thought, maybe it wasn’t completely bogus. Ward came up with the damndest stunts). I, for one, would welcome a Jay Ward Film Festival. Even if Smash Brugal wasn’t able to come. This made the wire August 9, 1962.

Want to Gain Stature? Order ‘Jay’s ‘Genuine Film Festival
EDITOR'S NOTE: Guest writer Jay Ward, zany producer of The Bullwinkle Show, offers to sponsor a film festival in an American City.
Written for UPI
Hollywood—With film festivals the rage of Europe these days, how would you like to have a genuine film festival right in your city?
That's right—an actual film festival in your own home town with all the trimmings: half-clad starlets, all-night parties, drunken producers—everything!
Nothing can add sophistication and stature to a town like a film festival. Look what film festivals have done for towns like Cannes and Venice. Who ever heard of those places before?
Now, Jay Ward Productions is offering any town in the United States its own film festival! Here's all you have to do:
ONE—Show an honest and sincere interest in motion pictures and buttered popcorn as an art form.
TWO—Get your city council to appropriate $750,000 to Jay Ward Productions as a token of good faith.
THREE—Redecorate your largest movie house at a cost of not less than $60,000, name it the Bullwinkle Hall of Cinema Arts, and donate it to Mr. Ward.
In return, Jay Ward will:
ONE—Visit your town himself with a galaxy of top name stars that will make your unsophisticated head spin! Irmgard Blatz, Smash Brugle, Emma Maude Hupp, Cynthia Dengue, and Fenton Burnie, to name a few!
TWO—Provide a 75-watt searchlight, without the likes of which no festival would be complete! (You supply the bulb.)
THREE—Persuade the eminent actor George C. Scott to wire your nominating committee, declining any nomination he might receive!
FOUR — Graciously accept the invitation of your town's leading citizens to spend the duration of the festival as their guest.
FIVE—Provide coveted "Golden Bullwinkle" trophies to be presented to best actor, best actress, best picture, best twister, etc. Mr. Ward will sell the trophies to the winners at the very reasonable price of $17.95, including, tax. Additional trophies will also be on sale in the lobby, for anyone who would care to buy one.
In addition, Jay Ward will offer the following great films as entries in your film festival:
"Twist at Nuremberg," "Ambush at La Dolce Vita" (Italian), "Gidget Goes Hungarian," "The 3 Stooges Meet the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse," "Tamara Tell Me True" (Russian entry), "Son of Cleopatra," "The Seventh Strawberry" (Swedish, directed by Ingmar Birdman), "Ben Hur Strikes Again!"
What will a Jay Ward film festival do for your town?
ONE—Make it famous as a mecca of culture.
TWO—Give you an excuse for getting bombed every night for a week!

Friday 21 September 2018

That Baby's Coming Right at Us!

A story with a crying baby flies right at the audience in Shuffle Off to Buffalo, a 1933 Merrie Melodies cartoon produced by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising with animation credits to Friz Freleng and Paul J. Smith.

This sort of “camera swallowing” was common in the late ‘20s and into the ‘30s at the Walt Disney studio, whence Harman, Ising and Freleng came.

What storks and babies have to do with Buffalo, I don’t know.

Other than the title tune and the opening theme “Get Happy,” the only song is “When I’m The President” by Al Lewis and Al Sherman.

Thursday 20 September 2018

How to React to Finding Gold

Here’s a Tex Avery take from Detouring America (1939). Tamer and slower than when he picked up the pace after arriving at MGM in 1941.

Avery uses five drawings for the miner to wag his head as he stretches backwards while the arm holding the nugget stretches forward.

The head wags back another four drawings. Avery’s animator resists the temptation to use the same drawings in reverse order.

Here’s the extreme drawing of the eye pop. There are two in-betweens before it. Avery holds it for two frames.

This takes up 13 drawings, about a half-second of screen time. Remarkably, Avery would make this sort of thing even faster in later years. And funnier.

Ham Hamilton gets the animation credit on this cartoon. I don’t know how long he was in the Avery unit.