Monday 31 December 2018

Bandmaster With the Barrel

Oh, if only Walter Lantz had been able to keep making Grade A cartoons like the ones he did for United Artists! Instead his studio stopped operating and when he re-opened, they were cheaper looking and sounding in every way.

The Bandmaster (1947) is a great example. My favourite scenes are animated by Pat Matthews where a drunk meets pink circus elephants on a high-wire. The climax is really well done, too. There’s all kinds of perspective animation (by Les Kline?). Andy Panda sees a high-diver falling toward an empty water barrel. Here’s the take.

Andy turns around the barrel and pushes it to a water-gushing hydrant. Here are some of the perspective drawings. Andy tries to skid the barrel to a stop so he doesn’t crash into the hydrant. You really get the feeling of his struggle. And there’s some great effects animation of water (by Sid Pillett, I suspect).

Andy runs toward where the diver should land but then discover the diver is running in mid-air to where he had been.

Anticipation drawing and take.

Andy puts the brakes on the barrel and changes direction. More perspective animation of the barrel turning toward the camera.

Director Dick Lundy and writers Webb Smith and Bugs Hardaway build things so Andy is knocking down the circus tent poles in more curving perspective animation. It’s really well done.

I haven’t even mentioned Darrell Calker’s fine adaptation of the Zampa Overture. Calker did a great job on the Musical Miniatures and the earlier Swing Symphonies at Lantz. Left to compose from scratch, say, in the Woody Woodpecker cartoons, he was hit and miss (his work at Columbia was even weaker).

Kline and La Verne Harding get animation screen credits.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Self-Effacing Benny And the "Old" Days

Did Jack Benny write some of his own guest columns in newspapers? Perhaps. But he had a highly-paid team of writers who he could draw on to do it for him.

I won’t speculate whether Benny actually scribed this piece that appeared in the New York Herald Tribune (and elsewhere) on May 17, 1959. It has the gentle ribbing of television that you’d hear on Benny’s radio show, not to mention Benny’s own self-putdowns. I’m at a bit of a loss to understand why he calls his TV show the “Jack Benny Hour.” I don’t think it was ever named that during the ‘50s (I’ve been puzzled for many years why some shows are label themselves an “hour” when they are only a half-hour long. Billy Graham’s “Hour of Decision” was one).

It may seem a little odd reminiscing about something that happened only nine years earlier but while television wasn’t particularly new, real network TV had only existed for about two years at that point, having ballooned from fewer than a dozen stations around 1948, all in the East, Chicago or Los Angeles.

Jack Benny Reminisces
(John Crosby is on vacation. While he is away his column will be written by guest columnists from the television trade).
Some years ago, after I’d done my first television show, I was asked to write a guest column. I called it "Vaudio to Video Via Radio," and it dealt with my impressions of the then infant medium of television. Those were the days of TV-B.C.—that's Before Cowboys.
It’s a little odd to read the words you wrote years ago in the light of what's happened since. A lot of the things I Was worried about then seem silly now, after I’ve been on television for so many seasons with my own half-hour show plus special shows like my May 23 Jack Benny Hour. You should see what I've got to worry about nowadays.
Anyhow, some of the remarks I made in my innocence and youth (I was only 30 at the time, nine years ago) gave me pause; others gave me a good laugh; and a few gave me chills. Before I had my secretary burn every copy, I jotted down a few of my statements in that column and offer them herewith.
"The day after my video show," I wrote, "I was walking down Broadway and I heard a woman say to her friend, "There’s Jack Benny, that new comic I just saw on television . . ." (Now they say, "There’s Jack Benny, that old comic I saw.")
In those days, of course, I was still on radio. I wrote, "It had always seemed to me that to go on television while continuing to do my radio show might be biting off more than I could chew." (The president of C.B.S. Radio agreed; he told me I should stick to television. The president of C.B.S. Television felt just the opposite.)
I was also worried in those days, about my format. To wit . . . "There was something about doing an hour show that didn’t feel right to me—an hour show without dancers, tumblers or other extraneous acts might be too long." (Today, a number of critics feel that my half hour show is too long.
"We rehearsed a scene in which I call Dinah Shore on the phone to ask her to appear on the show. She tells me her price is $5000, and I practically faint from the shock." (I did the same gag with Gary Cooper this season, only his price was $10,000 and I didn’t bat an eye or move a muscle. I think the doctors called it temporary paralysis.)
"Experience and proper organization can and eventually will simplify the creation of TV programs." (I should have saved a copy and sent it to my producers.)
Then I wrote, "We had Mary talk about getting three stations at the same time. She said that all night I kept shooting it out with Hopalong Cassidy to see who would marry Gorgeous George . . . (Hopalong Cassidy won, and they’ve lived happily ever after.)
"The $64,000 question," I continued, "which no one can really answer at this time, is whether television will wear out comedians?" (The answer to that one is simple . . . Television won't but the $64,000 Question almost did.)
"When we got to the cab, Milton Berle was sitting there waiting for us. He said he’d left his rehearsal just to come down and give me some technical advice. And then...he briefed me on the art of how to close your eyes when you’re getting hit in the face with a pie." (Today Milton is a very sophisticated comedian. He believes you should keep your eyes open when being hit by a pie.)
Jack Warner was on one of my early shows. “Speaking about ‘The Horn Blows at Midnight,’ Mr. Warner explained that if it were a little better, he might have gotten his money back from the theatres, and if it were a little worse, it would have been a natural for television.” (Since then Jack Warner released “The Horn Blows at Midnight” to television. This was part of the motion picture industry’s campaign to drive people back into movie theatres.)
Anyhow, these are some of the things I said nine years ago. And nine years from now, why, then I’ll do a guest column making fun of this one.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Dean Elliott

Reader Steve Bailey commented on a post several weeks ago:
You mentioned Dean Elliott. I wish you'd do a piece on him, because I'm curious as to how he ever landed a career as a cartoon music composer.
One of the reasons there have been profiles of some of the comparatively obscure cartoon music writers on this blog is simply because no one has bothered to research them. A big gun like Carl Stalling garnered attention of music and animation writers because of the ubiquity of the Warner Bros. cartoons on TV for decades. Scott Bradley at MGM got some notice, too. The lesser composers, not so much. Therefore, I’ve taken up Steve’s challenge.

Research can be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Little biographical facts pop up but you have to piece them together. The big part of the Dean Elliott puzzle comes from the January 30, 1949 edition of the Des Moines Register:
The marriage of Miss Lee Fisher, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Robert J. Fisher of Hollywood, Cal., to Dean Elliott of Hollywood, son of Mr. and Mrs. George L. Bunt, 1048 Sixty-fifth st., will take place at 9 a. m. today at Unity Temple of Truth.
Mr. Elliott, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wis., and a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, has produced and directed several radio shows on the west coast. He now is writing and arranging the music for the Jack Carson show and conducting the orchestra for the broadcasts.
Why is someone named Dean Elliott the son of someone named George L. Bunt? Census records of the Bunt household answer that one, as does the U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Index at Dean Elliott was originally named William Lorenzo Bunt and, in fact, composed under both surnames. Why he changed his professional moniker is still a mystery.

Elliott/Bunt was born in Sioux City, Iowa on May 11, 1917 (Why, look! Wikipedia is wrong again!). His father eventually worked in Des Moines for Davidson Co. demonstrating pianos. While attending university, Bill Bunt started his own 11-piece orchestra. In 1940, he was arranging the Edgewater Beach hotel’s dining room orchestra in Chicago, and had written the theme for a CBS show called “Something Old, Something New.”1 He also had a singing quartet on WBBM2 and moved to WGN within a year.

The war came along and Private Bunt was shipped to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center where he apparently found time to compose “I’m Going Around in a Circle” and “Pedestrian Panic”; at least, they were performed on a radio show broadcast on the Texas State Network.3 By 1945, he was in Hollywood, conducting a 24-piece orchestra for a syndicated radio show called Something in the Family starring Georgie Jessel.4

When do we first see the name “Dean Elliott”? It’s hard to say, but he was using that moniker by the end of 1946 as his orchestra shows up at Capitol Records, backing Martha Tilton’s version of “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” Besides his contract with Capitol, gossip columnists were chirping about how he was squiring singer Marilyn Maxwell.5 He also got into the radio programme business, putting together a summer show on NBC in 1948 featuring Mel Torme and eventual cartoon actors John Brown and Janet Waldo.6

Without going into a huge list of obscure credits, I will only add Elliott was musical director for a show on KLAC-TV in 1949 that was billed as “Cinemascope television.” He landed a summer TV show in the Big Apple in 1952; All Star Summer Revue starred Dave Garroway and magician Carl Ballantine.7 His musical “Herald Square” appeared on stage in New York at the same time.

As for cartoons, you have UPA to thank. Unlike every other cartoon studio, UPA didn’t have a musical director. It brought in people on a freelance basis to score its cartoons. Elliott was one of them. His first cartoon was the Oscar-winning Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956). He worked on some more Magoos, scored a couple of features, then came out with a Capitol LP in late 1962 called “Zounds! What Sounds!” The album cover called it “A sonic spectacular presenting music with...cement mixer, air compressor, punching bag, hand saw, celery stalks...”

Perhaps the odd effects and UPA pedigree appealed to Chuck Jones. In 1965, he was making Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM and had been using Eugene Poddany as his composer; the two had worked together at Warner Bros. Elliott first shows up for Jones supplying the music for Duel Personality (released January 1966). Evidently Jones was quite happy with Elliott’s work. Elliott composed the score for Jones’ animated feature The Phantom Tollbooth (released 1970), as well as the Curiosity Shop Preview (1971), a TV series that Jones shepherded through ABC when he was a vice-president of children’s programming, and Jones’ TV special A Very Merry Cricket (1973).

If nothing, Elliott was busy. Besides the Tom and Jerrys, Elliott was employed along with Les Baxter, Frank De Vol and Perry Botkin, Jr. in a company that supplied music for commercials.8 It was run by Charles Stern, who had an agency that also supplied voice-over talent including June Foray and Paul Frees. Elliott also arranged music for stage shows in Las Vegas and Reno. One was a 1970 effort at the Desert Inn called “The Daily Dirt.” Variety didn’t mince words. The blunt reviewer said “Production by Dean Elliott plumbs the nadir in taste, originality and amusement. Frankly, the show doesn’t entertain. Elliott also cleffed the purile score.”9


Elliott doesn’t seem to have the ear of many animation fans, the aforementioned Mr. Bailey included. Poddany’s work on Jones’ Tom and Jerrys has a bit of grace to it. Elliott’s comes across sometimes as not very melodic with snatches of little musical effects. Mind you, the series under Jones had other problems and perhaps Elliott just didn’t have enough to work with. As you can see, he certainly had a decent career as a musician/arranger/composer.

Elliott eventually retired to Palm Desert, California. He died on December 31, 1999 in Incline Village, Nevada.

This post isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing biography (yes, I left out a lot of his credits), and I’ll leave further comments on Elliott’s work to those with a better grasp of music composition. Unfortunately, I haven’t found an interview with him to re-post. This is merely a collection of random items because, even if you’re not a fan of Elliott’s cartoon scores, he and his colleagues deserve a bit of attention.

1 Wisconsin State Journal, February 16, 1940, pg. 3
2 Wisconsin State Journal, March 2, 1940, pg. 5
3 Billboard, Dec. 16, 1942, pg. 30
4 Broadcasting, May 6, 1946, pg. 56
5 Walter Winchell’s column, Nov. 24, 1947
6 Billboard, July 24, 1948, pg. 12
7 Variety, July 2, 1952. pg. 29
8 Back Stage, Dec. 1, 1967, pg. 85
9 Daily Variety, June 22, 1970, pg. 6

Friday 28 December 2018

Rescuing Paper Lanterns

“A very nice colored cartoon. Different.” Thus spake C.L. Niles of the Niles Theatre in Anamosa, Iowa about a new animated short from the Van Beuren studio.

He was referring to Japanese Lanterns, a 1935 effort that was part of the Rainbow Parade series for release by RKO. It was co-directed by Burt Gillett and Ted Eshbaugh. In essence, it was Gillett trying to imitate Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies.

Like a Disney cartoon, this one has innocent young characters, a comic relief animal, a terrible threat, a happy rescue, and chuckles at the end. Oh, and an original song. It has its charms and I image the colours, even in red/blue Cinecolor, looked very good on the big screen when the cartoon was first released. Winston Sharples’ score is also good.

Film Daily reported on October 3, 1934: “To insure accuracy and add a touch of Oriental splendor, a special staff of Japanese artists has been engaged to work on ‘Japanese Lanterns,’ an original creation and newest Burt Gillett Rainbow Parade all color cartoon new in work at the Van Beuren Studio.”

Van Beuren had a good coterie of young animators in the brief Gillett era, including Carlo Vinci, Jack Zander and Bill Littlejohn, and some of the animation in this short is likeable (and impressive for Van Beuren, considering what the studio was making even three years earlier). Among the scenes I like is one toward the end of the cartoon where the comic relief stork rescues a boy and girl from a windstorm and then gathers up the Japanese lanterns that have been blown away.

The stork has exasperation sweat as it looks at a small lantern.

The stork then makes a turn toward the camera and we get a point-of-view-like shot of the stork heading toward a little twirling lantern. He gives the audience a knowing smile in the process.

Leafing through the trades, Japanese Lanterns got favourable reviews. In just about 12 months, the Van Beuren studio would be dead, thanks to RKO signing a deal with Walt Disney.

I imagine most readers of this blog (at least those who come here for animation posts) are also readers of Jerry Beck’s animation blog “Cartoon Research” and know that Steve Stanchfield and his crew are restoring the Rainbow Parades for home release, including this one which Steve posted. It’s not the best series of cartoons, but it’s good to see it’s getting some attention.

Thursday 27 December 2018

Can You Guess This Pun?

Even if you aren’t a fan of Tex Avery’s Symphony in Slang (1951), you can guess the meaning of this visualised pun.

Tom Oreb designed this limited animation, modern-looking (for 1951) short, written by Rich Hogan.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Hail to The Chief

Ed Platt will always be known as The Chief on Get Smart, for a time one of the most brilliantly written shows of the 1960s, and one that benefited from great casting and chemistry.

Get Smart debuted in the 1965-66 season and was the top TV show of the year on Saturday nights, ranked 12th overall. Platt was vaulted into the spotlight. There were downsides; one newspaper article reveals how “funny” fans would bash into him on the street and say “Sorry about that Chief.” On the other hand, the same story revealed he would be catered to in restaurants, with staff respectfully calling him “Chief.” After all, he was ensuring America’s freedom by helping the government secretly thwart those baddies from KAOS.

Here are a couple of other newspaper stories about Platt from the show’s second season. The first is from February 1, 1967 and talks a bit about how he won the role.
Never A Star
By Erskine Johnson

Of TV Scout
HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — After 27 years as an actor, after 50 movies and 150 television shows, Ed Platt finally has a name.
The name is Ed Platt.
"I was one of those actors people recognized." he grins, "but when they asked me for my autograph I always caught them sneaking a quick peek at mv signature because they didn't really know my name."
As everyone knows by now, deep-voiced, 51-year-old Ed Platt plays the long-suffering Chief of CONTROL, boss of Don Adams, on NRG-TV's hit comedy series Get Smart.
Ed may suffer in the role, but:
"Really, I'm a fat cat. Every character actor in town envies me and it takes me half an hour every day to count my blessings."
Until Get Smart went on the air, Ed's acting world ranged from western heavies to liveable old fathers, from loveable doctors to fiery district attorneys and stern judges. He was always acting but he was never a star.
Winning a name via Get Smart he admits "is great for the ego but I'm even more delighted about the comedy facets to the role. I had never played comedy before. It's a crazy business but delightful.
"I guess my children are the happiest about Get Smart. There are three of them — 11, 10 and 8 — who until recently found it difficult explaining to young friends about their daddy's job. Now they just say he's the Chief on Get Smart and as the 11-year-old said to me recently,
" 'Dad, we're famous.' "
How Ed won the role of chief reflects Ed's own words about the crazy business he's in. He was called in to play a test scene with Don Adams just two days before filming of the series began. Before doing the test, he commented to his agent, "It can't be much of a role otherwise they would have cast it weeks ago.' "
When he later mentioned this to his friend, Howard Morris, who directed the pilot, Morris laughed and said:
"You don't know the whole story, Ed. We've been testing actors for this part for six weeks. I believe you were the 86th."
The combination of creator Buck Henry, producer Leonard Stern and Don Adams is the reason for the show's big success, Ed believes. "Henry and Stern are perfectionists and Don really surprised me. He's unerring in his judgment about what will be funny to other people and it's all because of his long career as a night club comedian."
Early in his career Staten Island-born Ed sang for two years with Paul Whiteman's band, then moved into acting via New York radio dramas and such Broadway shows as "The Shrike" and "Stalag 17."
This unbylined syndicated story showed up in papers starting July 21, 1967. This version was found in the Argus of Fremont, California, and talks about an actor dealing with fame and social responsibility. The photo accompanied the article in a number of papers.
Ed Platt—A Profile Learn To Live With Fame
Special to The Argus
HOLLYWOOD—Fame makes many changes in a man's life.
"For one thing my children now know what I do for a living," said Ed Platt.
The actor has become famous as The Chief on the spy-spoofing series, "Get Smart," starting its third successful year this coming fall on NBC Saturdays.
"NOW, WHEN I go anywhere, like New York, everything I do is watched and noticed," said Platt. "With fame, you give up a certain amount of privacy. You're well compensated for this, or course, but you'd still like to have a certain amount of anonymity. I would miss it, though, if people didn't pay attention."
Platt has become aware of the potential power that has suddenly been thrust upon him.
"I HAVE STRONG opinions on various matters, including the way to run the world," he said. "Three or four years ago people would have asked. 'Who is Ed Platt?' Now, I am asked for all kinds of opinions. I find it wrong to give opinions on subjects on which one is not qualified. In this position one's influence is too great. It's a terrible thing to have your own personal opinions accepted and tested on a large scale."
Platt is particularly conscious of this when he is asked to address youngsters.
"I HAVE BEEN asked to talk to 500 youngsters," he said. "Suddenly a strange set of events and circumstances is much public attention making me, Ed Platt, important enough to talk to them about their future career. I will just say 'platitudes' to them, and that's not a pun."
He gave an example.
“I usually tell them first thing, ‘If you depend on the word of an actor you’re in a lot of trouble.’ Naturally, I am flattered to be asked for advice, but I hope I will not be influential beyond advising them ‘to thine own self be true.’ This seems like a platitude, but when you think about it and when you’ve experienced it, it is really profoundly true.”
Platt has become more introspective as a result of so much public attention.
"It still seems indecent to me to be interviewed for hours by highly intelligent people and talk about myself all that time," he said. "Usually we go through life with our own private hells and heavens, but when you have to dredge your life and make it interesting to others you be come more introspective, you try to find out what you and your life are all about."
Platt has found the experience valuable.
"I am thrilled to have achieved this fame of sorts and this chance at greater introspection," he said. "I've tried to use this experience to help me build some of the qualities that should have been built within oneself early in life. As I build them in myself, I will build them hopefully, too, in my children. It gives you such a personal glow," he said.
Platt has seen some evidence of this and he is pleased.
"The other day my daughter wrote a 'Grace.' I was surprised to discover that her feelings went so deep."
The show eventually became stale and petered out at the end of the 1969-70 season after a change in networks. Platt didn’t have much time to enjoy any residuals from reruns. He died in 1974.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

The Ward on Christmas

Happy children joyously greet the gifts they’re receiving from Santa.

No, it’s Santa stealing the gifts!

Where have I heard that voice before?

Santa and his elves divide up the haul. The elves aren’t happy.

Nothing says “Ho! Ho! Ho!” better than Rocky and Bullwinkle, still one of the funniest series ever put on television.

Producer Jay Ward was probably even more irreverent off the screen than his cartoons were on it. He celebrated the Christmas season with a gag. Here’s one recorded for posterity by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune of December 20, 1961. Come to think of it, Rocky’s bankroller, General Mills, is based in Minneapolis.

Passing Fancy
By Will Jones
The mailings from Jay Ward Productions, producers of "The Bullwinkle Show," continue to be funnier than the show itself.
This week's mail brought an Office Christmas Party Kit, including a paper wassail cup to be cut out and assembled, a paper Santa hat with ersatz mistletoe instead of a fuzzy ball on top, do-it-yourself confetti ("Cut along dotted lines, then toss gaily in air!"), some tiny gift-wrap paper ("for small expensive gift to secret love"), a cut-out Santa beard, and an official office-party roadblock pass that reads as follows (written in a drunken scrawl):
Roadblock Pass
To the Officer in Charge:
The bearer of this card is a personal friend of the Mayor, and you will be back walking a beat if you give him trouble!
Jay Ward
Footnote instructions for use of the pass include these: 1. If detained at police roadblock, present pass with driver's license & $5.00. 2. Do not offer officer a drink or refer to him as "dirty flatfoot."

The incorrect-aspect ratio frames in this post come from the Riki-Tiki adventure, where Boris plots to make the tropical island the new North Pole. This is the one where Bill Conrad takes over as the voice of Sam the Native halfway through it. Someone has posted part of it on-line and you can watch a good hour’s worth of Rocky and Bullwinkle below. It’s the kind of Christmas gift Boris Badenov would never give you.

Monday 24 December 2018

Bedtime For Sniffles

Sniffles tries to stay awake to meet Santa Claus in Chuck Jones’ non-Grinch Christmas opus Bedtime for Sniffles. Alas, he fails.

Sniffles tries to read a magazine. It hints of sleep (the camera goes out of focus to show Sniffles is nodding off). He looks over the magazine and sees his bed in the distance.

He sees the bed in the mirror.

He sees the bed reflected on the wall.

He sees the bed while looking through a transparent wash basin. Wait! Why is there a Sniffles in the bed?

Oh, it’s a spirit Sniffles enticing him to bed. Jones has the camera pan back and forth from the imaginary Sniffles to the real one, whose resistance wears down and he finally, in an almost airborne walk sequence, floats into bed.

Jones interrupts this whimsy and sentiment with humour by having the spirit Sniffles suddenly blow out the candle.

Here comes Santa, Sniffles. You just missed him. The usual-late 1930s male chorus heard in Warners cartoons sings “Joy to the World” in the background.

Rich Hogan got the story credit, Bobe Cannon the animation credit (Phil Monroe worked on this cartoon as well, and I suspect Ken Harris did, too. Did Bob McKimson do the close-ups?). I’m pretty certain Paul Julian provided the excellent background art.

I really don’t like Sniffles but you can’t help but be touched a bit by this cartoon, especially during the Yuletide season.