Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The Stars Resolve—For 1945

What did radio’s stars want 75 years ago?

Some of them answer that question in a story in the December 31, 1944 edition of Radio Life magazine. There were joke answers and there were serious answers.

If you’re of a certain age, you should recognise many of the names. It’s odd to see the magazine explain who Art Linkletter and Gabby Hayes are, but I guess Linkletter’s real fame came when CBS got into the television business. Sam Hayes was a news commentator sponsored as of the above date by Choclettos. Chet Huntley was a newsman on KNX (CBS) at the time. There are a bunch of cartoon voice actors here, too, and a few references to the war.

While the article is accompanied by a picture of Jack Carson (upper right), Carson’s resolutions isn’t in the story.

IF YOU THINK radio stars are perfect and able to do whatever they want to do when they want to do it, you have another think coming! To prove our point, Radio Life canvassed the studios during the remaining days of 1944, and asked your airlane favorites for their New Year's resolutions. Here's what they told us:
KENNY BAKER: "I hereby resolve to teach my kids how to fish. In that way, I'll be sure to do some fishing myself!"
ONA MUNSON: "I'm going to buy myself a hat in 1945. Right now, I don't even own one!"
MEL BLANC: "I resolve not to do more than nine shows a day."
HELEN FORREST: "I'm going to keep right on following my hunches. They've always been lucky for me."
DICK HAYMES: "For years, I've been kidded about my big appetite. In 1945, I'm cutting down to a starvation diet—only five meals a day and no more!" CATHY LEWIS (actress): "I'm going to quit worrying. I resolve this every year, but it never does any good."
JOE KEARNS (actor): "I resolve to learn to play "Staccato and Fugue" on the organ."
CHET HUNTLEY: "I'm going to take a day off next year."
ROBERT ARMBRUSTER: "I resolve to fulfil my life's ambition—to be a rich eccentric!"
TOM BRENEMAN: "I resolve to continue going to bed with the bees, getting up with the birds, and worming my way down to Sardi's to let four hundred chicks make a monkey out of me!"
HOAGY CARMICHAEL: "Someone said in 1944 that I didn't want to write any more songs. Well, in 1945, I resolve to make you forget these words, and to write what you'll want to remember."
DINAH SHORE: "I resolve to keep George out of the kitchen because no G. I. should be made to do K. P. at home!"
HELEN WOOD: "I'm not going to make any resolutions to break."
NORA MARTIN: "I'm going to find something good in everybody and everything."
TED STRAETER: "I'm going to learn to do the zomba and the rhumba. Sonja Henie's my teacher!"
KITTY CRAWFORD: "I resolve to write that fifth chapter of my book!"
ROSEMARY DE CAMP: "I'm going to try to keep up with my two-year–old daughter who is way ahead of me already!"
GINNY SIMMS: "I'd like to take a vacation—but it will be another two years before I get one!"
Won't Kid Benny
ROCHESTER: "I resolve not to kid Mr. Benny about his toupee—at least, not the curly one!"
CLAIRE TREVOR: "I have a husband in uniform whom I want my little boy to get to know better in 1945."
SARA BERNER (actress): "I resolve to remember my creed—'it's nice to be great, but it's really great to be nice!'"
TOM HOLLAND: "I resolve to keep on playing juveniles, so that I can go up to any producer and call him ‘Pop!’”
JANET WALDO: "I'm not going to make more than one date for the same night. I do it all the time!"
LINA ROMAY (singer): "I'm really going to work hard to achieve a spot for myself in radio, because I love it."
FANNY BRICE: "I resolve to make no more appointments in advance."
MARY LIVINGSTONE: "I resolve to be calm when we go on the air. I haven't been since my first broadcast, although I try to be every year.
JIMMY SCRIBNER: "In 1945, I want to come to Hollywood. Maybe I could resolve it, but maybe I'd better let 'Papa Johnson' evolve it!"
LOUISE ERICKSON: "I resolve not to have any more crushes on older men. Hereafter, I'll confine my attention to the Van Johnson type, rather than the Alan Ladds."
DIX DAVIS: "I resolve to do all my homework—well, at least one night a week."
DAVE WILLOCK ("Tugwell" of CBS' Jack Carson show): "I resolve (at my wife's request) to cook my own omelet only once each week in 1945."
GLENN HARDY (Mutual newscaster): "I hope to be able to carry out my 1944 resolution—to be the one to shout 'the war is over' first and loudest, in 1945!"
Ladies Won't Worry
ART LINKLETTER (Blue's "What's Doing, Ladies?"): "I've decided to be more discreet while going through ladies' purses on my program!"
ED GARDNER ("Archie" of N B C's "Duffy's Tavern"): "I'm gonna get into the higher income brackets next year—$17.50 a week or bust!"
FRANK MORGAN: "I never make resolutions. They always make a liar out of me!"
JACK KIRKWOOD (CBS comic) : will not "I knock ladies down in trying to beat them to a seat in the street car—I'll think of some other way!"
REX MILLER (Mutual news commentator) : "In 1945, I hope to put my own code for a commentator into practice with every word I say—'let every word build a straight, sure route to peace. Let no word begin a detour from that route.' "
HAVEN MACQUARRIE (NBC's "Noah Webster Says") : "I resolve to stoligate the frantistraph whenever I thiculize the entire fosnick during 1945."
GEORGE "GABBY" HAYES (Blue's Andrews Sisters show): "I'm gonna git more actors to go where I've jist been, on bed-to-bed Army and Navy hospital tours. I want more people to see what I've seen. You kin bet there'll be less gripin' about sech things as the cigarette and gasoline shortages. Yessiree!"
PATTY ANDREWS: "I'm going to quit flirting with every good -looking man I see!"
MAXENE ANDREWS: "I'm not going to buy any more dogs. I just got rid of seventy-five!"
LAVERNE ANDREWS: "I'm going to bed earlier every night!"
Dagwood Serious
ARTHUR LAKE: "I'm going to continue to do everything I can to promote the war effort."
ELSIE JANIS: "I resolve to keep sincerely trying to make it a better and finer world for those boys who we hope will be coming home soon."
SAM HAYES: "I resolve that through-out the New Year I shall never forget what those boys who have fought overseas have done for us. I shall always remember they have the right to ask as that soldier boy on the battleground in Italy did when he thought he was going to die:
'What did you do today, my friend,
To help us with the task?
Did you work harder and longer for less,
Or is that too much to ask?
What right have I to ask you this,
You probably will say.
Maybe now you'll understand—
You see, I died today.'"
DICK POWELL: "I'm going to stay on that war bond bandwagon."
JACK BENNY: "I hereby resolve to learn something else to play on my fiddle besides 'Love in Bloom.' In fact, I resolve to learn 'Love in Bloom.'"
PHIL HARRIS: "This New Year I dissolve to quit making them corny revolutions that nobody pay no attention to on Jan two, anyhow."
FRANK GRAHAM: "I resolve to continue living as wickedly as I have—and get by with it."
PAT MCGEEHAN: "I'm going to get married—that's all, brother!"

Monday, 30 December 2019

Goona!

Walter Lantz’s 1933 cartoon King Klunk climaxed just like the feature King Kong did—the giant beast fell from a skyscraper to the pavement.

In the Lantz version, the title character caught fire and turned into one of those skeletons so popular in early 1930s cartoons.



The big gorilla spent portions of the cartoon falling in love, thanks to arrows from what looks like an insect version of Cupid yelling “Goona!” at him. At the end, the taunting Cupid is smashed by the living skeleton, which flies into pieces. As the camera closes in, Cupid lifts up the skull and looks bewildered. Fortunately, our readers know more than I do. See their explanation in the comments.



Frankly, I’m bewildered by the “goona” business.

Evidently this cartoon was too much for the British Board of Film Censors. Motion Picture Herald reported on March 3, 1934:
'Pears they took objection to one of the Warner cartoon shorts. [sic] "King Klunk" it is called and it burlesques "King Kong." So they gave it an "Adults only" certificate and listed it as a "horrific" film, meaning that exhibitors would have to hang a notice on the theatre front to let patrons know it was a horror!
Manny Moreno, Tex Hastings, Les Kline, Ernie Smythe and Fred Kopietz are the credited artists, with Jimmy Dietrich littering the score with Arkansas Traveler.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

General Tire and Jack

As inconceivable as it is, Jack Benny was fired by his first two sponsors despite his popularity with radio listeners. Canada Dry got annoyed at Benny having fun with the soft drink on the air (and being forced to fire a writer it imposed on him). Chevrolet’s boss, C.E. Coyle, decided he wanted something classier than a comedian and over the objections of franchise dealers, replaced the Benny show with Victor Young (who didn’t last very long).

Benny wasn’t out of work for long. He was quickly snapped up by General Tire and Rubber Company. His last show for Chevrolet was April 1, 1934. His first for General Tire was five days later. Mary Livingstone and vocalist Frank Parker stayed when the new sponsor took over. Significantly, a new announcer was hired and Don Wilson won the audition over the others in the NBC stable. He remained until the Benny TV series ended in 1965.

How the Benny show came to be sponsored by General Tire is outlined in the book A Whale of a Territory: The Story of Bill O'Neil by Dennis John O’Neill (with two Ls), published by McGraw-Hill in 1966. What the book doesn’t reveal was how it came to be unsponsored. Trade publications in 1934 stated that a deal was struck that Benny would be “loaned” to General Foods for the winter and General Tire would resume sponsorship in the spring. But it never happened; Jack and Co. stayed with General Foods for another ten years. What happened? We may never know.

Benny was finished with General Tire on September 24, 1934 and, after a short break, took to the air with General Foods on October 14th.

Here are the pertinent points about O’Neil and the Benny show from the book.

One of the reasons his associates—and competitors—were frequently taken off guard by Bill O'Neil's ideas was his habit of starting with an idea and using it as a launching pad for a vaguely related but quite different one. A good illustration of this was what happened as a result of his first exposure to radio. In the early 1930s, national radio shows had become the glamour advertising medium. The big stars were coming into American homes and making friends in a way never before possible. These people could influence potential customers, and W.O. had great faith in the power of the spoken word to sell ideas and products. W.O. felt that in many cases the stars received more advertising than some of the products they were paid to advertise, but this was because their sales talks were not properly prepared. One young fellow seemed to have an especially nice, easy way of weaving the advertising messages into the format of his show. So Bill O'Neil phoned his advertising agency and asked how much it would cost to sponsor Jack Benny. Characteristically, he did not ask for any listener ratings or for any other program suggestions. He had made up his mind that he wanted Benny.
The price floored him. General advertised heavily in the expensive media of national magazine and newspaper advertising, but W.O. figured that they had large equipment and inventory expenses, tons of paper to buy, and costly distribution and postal charges.
Theirs was a manufacturing business and these costs he could understand. Radio, he figured, had none of these expenses, or practically none. For days W.O. reasoned his case with everyone remotely connected with the problem. He stormed, pacing up and down his office, hands jammed into his pockets. He burned the long-distance wire to New York. In short, he reacted as he always did when his own ideas collided with an entrenched status quo.
Finally the temptation of being able to speak with millions of consumers in their homes became overpowering. So W.O. instructed his advertising agency to sign a contract for the Jack Benny program, including Jack's wife, Mary Livingston, tenor Frank Parker, announcer Don Wilson, and the orchestra.
The association was a success and W.O. enjoyed it immensely. During the initial weeks he found excuses to be in New York and attend the broadcasts. One reason he gave for wanting to be there was to familiarize Benny with tires— General Tires— so he could ad lib some sales points: it was Benny's knack of selling other products informally and effectively that had attracted W.O. to him in the first place. But the hazards of the technique showed up on one of the early programs. Frank Parker had just finished a popular song and Benny returned to the air to exclaim enthusiastically, "Wonderful, Frank! Wonderful! That was as smooth as General Tires!" With this remark Bill O'Neil's enthusiasm for the ad-lib commercial waned.
On the first program, Jack Benny told a story about his new sponsor and referred to him as Mr. O'Neil. On the second show he told another story and again referred to Mr. O'Neil. After that program, W.O. got his advertising man to one side and and said: "I don't feel comfortable having Jack call me Mr. O'Neil. Don't make a big issue of it, but see if he'd mind calling me Bill O'Neil. It sounds more natural."
The significance of W.O.'s early association with the Jack Benny show was that it gave him his first contact with radio. No one at the time attached much importance to the interest he showed in every detail of the business. After each of the early Friday-evening broadcasts he gathered together a group from the studio, usually the producers, engineers, time salesmen, agency men— the people who were knowledgeable about radio as a business. More often than not, they would go out to a restaurant for a late supper and talk radio for hours. The studio people had never met a sponsor quite like him. He did not want to tell them how to handle his show, or talk about his business at all. He wanted to talk about theirs. A most peculiar sponsor!
They liked him, not only as a big, attractive human being with wit, great personal magnetism and a naturalness that was refreshing, but also because he was obviously interested in their business and shoptalk.
Usually at the restaurant sessions, he would sell one or another a set of General Tires. He seldom missed an opportunity to do that. There was always a new face or two at these get-togethers, any one of whom might be the next eager caller at the New York General Tire store the Monday morning after hearing W.O. quietly paint a word picture of the difference between Generals and other tires. "Bill O'Neil said you'd give me a good trade-in and a good price on a set of Generals," became a familiar opening gambit of these radio friends calling at the store.
This was the seed of General Tire's eventual role as a major factor in radio and television through RKO General, today the largest independent operation in the field. W.O. learned enough about radio to know that the business was attractive to him. He felt at home in it. He felt radio to be the wave of the future. It would be a challenge— his ideas against larger entrenched forces. There is no question that he him. He felt at home in it. He felt radio to be the wave of the future. It would be a challenge— his ideas against larger entrenched forces. There is no question that he decided then that someday he would like to test them. And test them he did, very successfully.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Don't Follow the Bouncing Ball

Cartoons have been considered kid stuff for so long, it’s refreshing to read a film critic who actually looked forward to going to the theatre and watching them.

Well, some cartoons, anyway.

Tracy Tothill was a columnist for the Abiline Reporter-News after graduating from the University of Oklahoma in Journalism in 1951. She revealed her love of cartoon shorts in her “Press Passes” column of August 3, 1952. Maybe we should qualify that by saying “West Coast cartoon shorts.”

Mrs. Tothill and I share a dislike for the Famous Studio bouncing ball cartoons. I always thought they were incredibly hokey and obvious, and I’ve never been crazy about the mixed chorus Famous hired. She wasn’t a fan of the Famous Popeyes (neither am I) and would have preferred someone silenced the operetta Mighty Mouse cartoons (I like them in small doses and some of the dialogue is clever).

But she cottoned onto filmdom’s newest star in 1952—Mr. Magoo. This was when Magoo was new and fresh, and hadn’t been run into the ground with the worn-out “misread the sign” bit, followed by Magoo being incapable of seeing anything for what it is. By then, Magoo had turned into a TV-only character and the sheer volume of the cartoons needed for the small screen must have taxed the abilities of a fairly adept group of writers.

This must be a rare column where someone noticed Hubie and Bertie, though the first name is wrong. I wonder what Bob McKimson (and even Kenny Delmar) would think of “Senator Laghorn.”

To finish the Tothill story, and it’s a sad one, she divorced and left Texas for New York. She was working on a book. She was found dead on her bed by a friend on September 3, 1974; she had been dead for several days. Tothill was 45.

About Movie Cartoons; The Singing Kind Flunked Out; Good Ones Are Hard to Get
Six "singing" (just follow the bouncing ball) cartoons at six successive movies were just too much.
This writer, who frankly admits the cartoons count as much as the shows, vowed to lodge a complaint.
The manager of the theater was very interested—but it seems the complaint was a little late.
Hollywood has given up making singing cartoons, he said. They just didn't go over, he added.
Hallelulia! Now if someone will just do something about those where the mice talks in lyrics, showtime will again be goodtime.
The manager also said it was nice to see an adult (supposedly anyway) take an interest in cartoons.
He said most of them love the cartoons as much as the kids do but getting them to admit it was another thing.
But for us "kids" who will speak up and grant that they're wonderful (sometimes), here's the lowdown on what Hollywood has planned.
Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker. Tom and Jerry, Slyvester [sic] and Tweety Bird, and Chip and Dale are still going strong and all are scheduled to be drawn during the coming year.
However, (unfortunately) so is Popeye. Also, still popular are most of the Walt Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto.
New cartoon characters making their mark in this world are Yosemite Sam, Senator Laghorn [sic], Herbie and Bertie [sic] and that wonderful Mr. Magoo.
Mr. Magoo is this writer's current favorite.
Dear nearsighted Mr. Magoo.
This writer first spotted him in a side-splitter in which he attempted to engage a Colonel somebody or other in a tennis match. Because of Magoo's nearsightedness, he ended up playing tennis with a walrus.
Hotel house detectives were horrified—but even when Magoo was convinced of his mistake he persisted in his friendship. He decided he liked the walrus better than the colonel. Mr. Magoo was seen on the screen in Abilene recently in a job called "Dog Snatcher".
His nearsighted campaign against an arrogant city hall tax collector and dog snatcher led him into the circus grounds, where he mistook a panther for his mutt, Cuddles.
Panther on lease [leash], he confronted the dog snatcher, who was all too happy to pay for the license himself.
The informative theater manager also told this writer that the local theaters have a ton of trouble getting good cartoons.
The reason is they're so complicated to make.
Every time a cartoon character moves so much as a little finger another picture has to be drawn.
He said that the normal cartoon runs eight minutes and that the film will travel through the projector at approximately 90 feet a minute. The film averages one picture to every inch so (if the arithmetic isn't off) that would mean 8,640 pictures have to be drawn for every single cartoon.
The manager also added the interesting sidelight that one man, Mel Blanc, is the voice for all the Warner Brothers cartoons. Their menagerie includes Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Herbie and Bertie, Tweety Bird and others.
Seems he should more properly be called "The Voice" than one other who has that monicker.
Latest addition to the cartoon world is a character named Pepe LePew, a skunk. He's a great lover and talks in a Charles Boyer voice. This writer hasn't seen the Great Pepe—but folks who have are raving about him.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Walky Talky Tree

Foghorn Leghorn steals the show in the Henery Hawk cartoon Walky Talky Hawky (1946). Director Bob McKimson scored a hit on this one. Showman’s Trade Review rated it “excellent.” Ray McFarlane of the Arbuckle Theatre in Arbuckle, California told the Motion Picture Herald: “One of the best cartoons we have had for a long time.” It was nominated for an Oscar (and lost to The Cat Concerto with Tom and Jerry).

Warren Foster’s inventive idea of a chicken hawk that doesn’t know what a chicken is sets up the cartoon takeover by loud-mouthed, aggressive Foggy, who is in the midst of harassing the barnyard dog.

The cartoon opens with an establishing shot of a tree. The camera “looks down” to the ground from mid-tree, then pans up to the top. It’s all on one drawing, so artist Dick Thomas had to paint it with an odd perspective when you look at the complete background (which, of course, the audience never did).

Mel Blanc changes voices on the father chicken hawk after the first line and Henery tosses away a Lucky Strike cigarette catchphrase for good measure.

Since the Foghorn-Leghorn-is-Senator-Claghorn story keeps making the rounds, you can do no better than to click on this research by Keith Scott who actually delved into the origins and timeline to come up with the truth, using Warner Bros. studio records.

Foggy had some pretty good outings at first. McKimson’s cartoons got tamer and tamer as the ‘50s wore on and were inert compared to some of the wonderful thrashing about you can find in the earliest shorts.

McKimson had recently taken over the Frank Tashlin unit, so Dick Bickenbach, Don Williams and Cal Dalton animated this cartoon; whether Art Davis worked on this, I will leave to the experts.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Turkey Eyes

Tex Avery liked eye gags. Eyes either became really huge or they took on a life of their own (such as the eyes unable to get back into a closet in Who Killed Who?).

In Jerky Turkey (1945), the turkey’s eyes did a bit of shocked travelling when the bird realised the pilgrim hunter had planted a bazooka in his snout.



Unfortunately, Avery and writer Heck Allen couldn’t figure out a way to finish the gag. The bazooka fires and that’s it; it’s on to the next scene.

Preston Blair, Ray Abrams and Ed Love are the animators on this cartoon.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

The Santa With Two Bags, One Under Each Eye

This story needs no explanation, other than it was published in the Indianapolis Star, Christmas Eve, 1974. I suspect the drawing of Allen’s Alley is by Sam Berman.

THE MYSTERY SANTA
By FREDERICK JOHN

DURING THE Depression, Dorchester, a residential section of Boston, was faced with unemployment and other problems of the times. Still, there were occasional happy faces, especially at Christmas.
Somehow the people of Dorchester managed to pinch together enough pennies to assure loved ones of the gifts of the great day. And there were the “mystery Christmas presents.”
They came from nowhere during the holiday season. Nobody knew who sent them. Once they arrived, for a few days at least, hard times were forgotten in Dorchester.
There was another reason for good feeling in Dorchester. Fred Allen, a local vaudeville juggler, had hit it big on radio as a comedian. There was even talk he would soon be making movies in Hollywood.
“IT'S Town Hall tonight,” the announcer said. “And here comes Fred Allen now, leading Jack Benny and a parade of guests.”
Clancy got up from his chair long enough to snap off the parlor radio.
“Can't stand that guy,” said Clancy. “Give me Pick and Pat every time. They're what I call funny.”
“Fred's funny, too,” his wife, Maggie insisted. “You're jealous. He grew up in the same neighborhood. He's on the radio making big money. You're sitting home doing nothing.”
Clancy snarled.
“What about the waiter's job?” his wife asked. “They would have hired me, Maggie,” the husband said sadly, “only I didn't own one of those black suits. They told me they'd be able to give me work if I had one of those waiter suits with the black bow ties.”
Maggie sighed. “It's going to be a sad Christmas,” she said. “No money's coming in and everything's going out. They'll be no joy for us this holiday.”
The next day, Christmas Eve, a messenger knocked on the door of Clancy's flat. Clancy, it should be noted, was not his real name. The messenger left a Christmas package and departed. Inside was a black waiter's suit which fit Clancy perfectly.
QUITE a few people in Fred Allen's old neighborhood were listening to him that Christmas week. Mrs. Cappadona was among them. She almost smiled when Jack Benny tried to sell her former neighbor a second hand car.
Mrs. Cappadona had trouble smiling. True, her husband had a job, there was enough money for food, coal and other essentials. But all Mrs. Cappadona's upper teeth had been removed a few months earlier. She lacked the money for an upper plate—$42, the dentist wanted.
The morning after the Allen show—Christmas Eve—Mrs. Cappadona received a telegram from her dentist (she couldn't afford a phone). The doctor wanted her in his office immediately.
“It's a good thing I made those impressions,” the dentist said, as he placed the brand new set of uppers into Mrs. Cappadona's mouth. "You'll be able to enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner.”
“I can't pay for these,” she reminded him.
“The teeth are a Christmas gift,” the dentist revealed. “They came from an old friend of yours.”
“I don't have any friends who can afford $42 gifts,” she objected.
“Yes, you do,” he said.
Mrs. Cappadona's smile at that was genuine, although the name is not.
MARGARET O'Shea was another Dorchesterite who enjoyed the Allen radio show that Christmas week. She had reason to be happy. Her husband was earning enough to get by on and there would be gifts for young Tommy. They were concealed in a bedroom closet.
Where the gifts came from she would never know. The doorbell rang and a messenger came in loaded down with Christmas toys, including the red fire engine her son had dreamed of getting.
Tommy, 5, wanted to be a fireman. But a few days earlier Tommy had been hit by a car near his home. The injuries had been minor, but the day in the hospital had cost all the money Mrs. O'Shea had put away for Christmas.
Mrs. O'Shea was not, however, her real name.
She told Mrs. Nellie O'Connell about having to spend the Christmas money on medical bills.
“Maybe something will come up,” said Mrs. O'Connell, who really was named Mrs. O'Connell. “Maybe there really is a Santa Claus and maybe he'll drop by your house on Christmas Eve.”
MRS. O'Connell headed across the street to confer with her good friend Elizabeth Lovely.
Mrs. Lovely was Aunt Liz, Fred Allen's aunt, the woman who raised him on Grafton Street in Dorchester after his parents died.
Elizabeth Lovely, Nellie O'Connell and the Rev. William Ryan, pastor of St. Margaret's Church in Dorchester, all are gone now.
So is Fred Allen. He died in 1956.
But all four played an important part in making Christmas merrier in Dorchester. They were the ones responsible for delivery of the “mystery Christmas presents.”
Even in the 1940s, when there was prosperity, the gifts continued to be delivered to those who needed a helping hand.
“Fred Allen never forgot where he came from,” said Daniel O'Connell, Nellie's son, now in his 60s. “One time, one of the kids on a local baseball team got hurt. Fred paid the medical bills and nobody ever knew he did.
“FRED lived with Aunt Liz, her husband, Mike, and another aunt, Jane Herlihy. They lived on the second floor and I lived on the first floor with my mom and dad.
“Every year during the Depression, Fred sent a check to his Aunt Liz. It always came a few weeks before Christmas and it was always a big check. Fred believed in sharing his blessings.
“There would be a note with the check. Fred always asked his aunt to check out families in the old neighborhood and to help those who needed a helping hand at Christmas. He always wrote, ‘Use your own judgment, Aunt Liz. You'll know the ones who really need help.’
“Then Mrs. Lovely would call my mother upstairs and they'd swap information for an hour or so. After that, Aunt Liz and my mother would go to St. Margaret's where they'd chat with Father Ryan, the pastor, for quite a while. He'd make some phone calls to other priests and ministers and rabbis in the area and eventually a list of people in need of help at Christmas would be compiled.
“If there was a real emergency, Mrs. Lovely would go right over and hand the people some money,” concluded O'Connell. “In most cases though, the gifts, or money, were sent anonymously. Those who needed help never knew where it came from.”
Toward the end of his Christmas show more than four decades ago, Fred Allen stepped out of character long enough to say: “From all of us here in the studio to all of you at home, may your Christmas be a joyous and blessed one.”
If you are still alive Clancy and Mrs. Cappadona and Margaret O'Shea, at last you know the identity of your mystery Santa Claus of years ago.
He had baggy eyes.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The Story of Christmas

A quiet, gentle version of the birth of Jesus came from the National Film Board in the 1973 animated short “The Story of Christmas.”

Director Evelyn Lambart created some very charming shorts for the NFB starting in the 1940s. She was a 1937 graduate of the Ontario College of Art. Lambart died in 1999.

This particular short won a blue ribbon at the American Film Festival in New York in 1976 in the religion and society category. The NFB’s site gives this description:

This short animation tells the familiar story of Christmas in an innovative and colourful way. Filmmaker Evelyn Lambart uses glowing zinc cut-outs to give this traditional tale a contemporary twist. Akin to a joyful medieval manuscript, the film is embellished by the artist's own whimsy—heraldic trumpet sounds, luminescent light, and wildflowers in every scene tell the message of rebirth. A film without dialogue.

“The Story of Christmas” is a fitting short to end our series of animated Christmas films.

Monday, 23 December 2019

The Great Toy Robbery

There’s nothing like a clever spoof, and that’s what you get in “The Great Toy Robbery,” a 1963 short directed by Jeff Hale for the National Film Board. Santa Claus is plunked into a Christmas-style hold-up a la “The Great Train Robbery,” and western film clich├ęs abound. The designs and score are a lot of fun.

The cartoon got released in the U.S. by Columbia Pictures (which had been inflicting the second-rate Loopy de Loop shorts on theatre audiences) and was generally sent out with Dr. Strangelove. By that time, Hale was working for Cameron Guess Associates in San Francisco.

It was the top winner at the Irish Film Festival in the animated and cartoon films category in 1963.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

The Unmerry Story of a Hollywood Christmas

The festive part of the festive season may not have been so, well, festive, in the city where there’s tinsel all year round.

True, stars and their families celebrate Christmas-time with a tree and gifts and parties and the various trappings we’ve come to know. In fact, Hollywood Boulevard was annually transformed into Santa Claus Lane with lights, decorations and a huge parade. Jack Benny was involved in the parade one year, as you shall see.

But something was wrong.

National Enterprise Association columnist Paul Harrison wasn’t in the Christmas spirit when he penned this jaded column that appeared in papers starting December 16, 1939. The Los Angeles climes didn’t make things feel like Christmas. And, in his mind, Hollywood’s holiday season was a whole lot of fakery. He doesn’t point it out in his column, but Benny, Andy Devine and some real horses were wrapping up shooting on a movie called Buck Benny Rides Again around the time his journey down Santa Claus Lane was taking place. Benny’s appearance in the parade was merely a film publicity stunt, a parade designed by merchants to attract customers to stores along the route.

HOLLYWOOD
BY PAUL HARRISON

NEA Service Staff Correspondent
In some ways, this doesn't seem much like the Christmas season. It's more like a fiesta sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, staged by the major studios and directed by Busby Berkeley. The star in the east is a Neon sign on a hovering blimp. Technicolor cameras guard the manger. Holy music comes to you by courtesy of the Upsy-Daisy Brassiere Co.
One trouble is that the “season” begins, by commercial decree and with a big parade, on the day following Thanksgiving. That made it Nov. 24 this year. It is almost as difficult to sustain a mood of sentimentality for a full month as it is to drive along Hollywood Boulevard when the traffic lights are obscured by lines of large tin Christmas trees.
The premiere pageant invariably includes several floats covered with cuties, along with swing bands, military bands and drum-and-bugle corps. You can't play "Jingle Bells" on a bugle. And you are not reminded of peace-on-earth, unless ruefully, while watching a mounted, uniformed troop flourishing unsheathed sabers. But for an ultimate discordant touch, I nominate the spectacle of Jack Benny astride a stuffed horse followed by Andy Devine with a shovel.
SANTA BETRAYS SLIGHT ACCENT
After the first, big parade, the Santa Claus float moves up and down the boulevard each evening unattended except by a couple of motorcycle cops. This month the whiskered saint betrays an accent as he shouts greetings into a microphone—“Folks, dis is de toiteenth year dat I been ridin' down Sandy Claus Lane . . ." In decoration and illumination, his huge conveyance looks faintly Japanese, but pure Hollywood is the blowing device which erupts every few seconds and showers the float with bleached-cornflake snow.
Of course the local weather, distressingly dry and enervating at this time, conspires against a Christmasy feeling. In previous years the shouts of newsboys could be depended on for a helpful touch. "Big Blizzard Sweeps Through East!" they'd holler. But the war has forced those stories off the front pages.
There are no sleds in the toy departments, and skates are for the refrigerated rinks. Only local ski slide is a slope covered with pine needles. The palms that line the avenues are dusty and brittle, though now and then some citizen will decorate one with colored lights in observance of the season.
In dozens of vacant lots, Christ mas-tree merchants sell dispirited little firs and spruces that have been tracked in from the mountains, many of them across the desert from Arizona. When a tree begins to droop and lose its luster, the merchants take a tip from movie prop men end spray them with bright paint. Besides misery green trees, there are pink, blue and platinum blond ones. In an uppity store here is a tree painted jet black and decorated with pearl ornaments. It'd give you the shudders.
POOR RICH KID CAN'T WATCH TOYS
In any town lucky enough to have seasons, the nip of winter enhances a grateful sense of snugness for people who have clothes and food and homes. Tingling cold is a reminder or others' needs, and a stimulant to human sympathy. But in Hollywood the street crowds seem to feel that the hot sidewalks are enough to keep Salvation Army kettles boiling. And the perspiring bell-clanging Santa Clauses, lifting their whiskers now and then to mop their faces, give little more than comic symbolism to charity.
This morning I watched a couple of raggedy kids with noses flattened against the window of a department store toy display. But then appeared a far more pathetic figure—a third boy, this one in a limousine that drew up at, the curb to let a woman alight. The youngster flattened his nose against the car window and tried to see the animated toys. He couldn't get out. His wealthy father and second stepmother are afraid of kidnapers.
On Christmas morning, he'll have plenty of toys, and a governess and a bodyguard to help him play with them. His dad and the blond dish whom he calls "mother" will he up at Late Arrowhead with their gang.


Now, Tralfaz Sunday Theatre brings you the aforementioned parade-promoted film: Buck Benny Rides Again.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Christmas Every Day

Back when cynic Henry Morgan had a show at the tail end of network radio’s heyday, he featured a play with some kids wishing it were Christmas every day. They get their wish and soon regret it.

Mr. Morgan’s writers (and he had good ones) weren’t all that original. A former editor of The Atlantic Monthly, William Dean Howells, explored the same subject in 1892.

Howells’ story was adapted a number of times over the years, including once for an animated half-hour special. “Christmas Every Day” didn’t join the pantheon of classics such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” It aired on CBS in 1986 and, well, vanished unnoticed within a few years.

The interesting thing is this special was not the product of Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freleng, Filmation or even a studio in Japan. It was co-produced by a guy who recorded hundreds of funny radio commercials and was known by industry insiders as the man behind the syndicated satiristic series Chickenman: Dick Orkin.

Orkin had a stock company of actors—Patti Deutsch and John Stephenson come to mind—and he used some in this animated effort. You’ll recognise Orkin’s distinctive voice in several roles and Edie McClurg as the Christmas Fairy. Orkin’s home base was Chicago, and the city’s Calabash Animation was hired to make this special. Orkin’s company also produced the animated half-hour “The Canterville Ghost” in 1988 with Janet Waldo, Nancy Cartwright and Susan Blu in the voice cast (along with Orkin, who seems to have been heard in almost all the radio commercials he produced). Orkin’s sense of humour is evident in the story adaptation (such as no television set or radio in the living room of 100 years ago).

My apologies for the wowwing soundtrack on this archive.org upload. The print is pretty beaten up.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Mole and the Christmas Tree

A delightful little series of animated shorts starring a mole was produced by Krátký Film in the Czech Republic. One was centred around Christmastime—“Mole and the Christmas Tree.”

This one is aimed at the very young kids and co-stars Mole’s friend Mouse. You’ll have to forgive the wowwing soundtrack on this archive.org upload. It spoils the Wurlitzer organ music on the soundtrack. This film dates from 1976 and got shown in North American libraries and other such places at Christmastime to the kids.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Christmas Cracker

Here’s an Oscar nominee and a seven-award winner at the 1964 San Francisco International Film Festival, courtesy of the National Film Board.

“Christmas Cracker” was co-directed by Norman McLaren, Gerald Potterton, Grant Munro and Jeff Hale. The NFB site tells us:

This short animation consists of three segments that take a playful look at Christmas: a rendition of "Jingle Bells" in which paper cut-out figures dance, a dime-store rodeo of tin toys, and a story of decorating the perfect Christmas tree. This holiday film received many awards and an Oscar nomination.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Radio vs Television, a Christmas Season Look

How much did entertainment change in living room after the television set was planted in it?

You can judge for yourself from these two columns by critic John Crosby ten years apart.

In 1949, the four TV networks were now broadcasting seven days a week (though not in all time periods) and despite a license freeze imposed by the FCC from 1948 to 1952, new stations were slowly going on the air.

But radio was still king. Witness the huge deal CBS made to get Jack Benny and other radio stars to leave NBC, stars people had been listening to for years. Radio had become a comfortable rut; Christmas shows featured repeats of well-loved old routines.

By 1959, network radio was considered something of the past. Advertising dollars had moved into television (now with three networks). Stations took back their time to put disc jockey and chatty housewife shows on the air. Even Benny was gone—gone permanently to television where his career continued on its merry way.

Here’s John Crosby on December 23, 1949 talking about the same old stuff on the radio, with the second half of his column an odd fantasy (Crosby was born in 1912; there’s no way his pre-teen years included network radio, let alone Frank Sinatra). Crosby had a fascination with Ed Herlihy (to the left). This may be the only radio column to include the word “ineradicable.”

The second column is from Christmas Day ten years later. By then, it seems Crosby was bored covering home entertainment; his paper even had another television columnist. Like the piece below, his columns started branching out into Broadway and other areas of entertainment.

Crosby was extremely critical of the banality and commercialism of television. His 1959 article is unusually buoyant for him; he appears hopeful the Payola and Quiz Show scandals would wash away what he sees as foul in the medium. Perhaps it was the holiday season talking. Within days, he was as cynical as ever about the ratings system and the viewing habits of the average American.

OLD-FASHIONED BOYHOOD
Now comes the time when the existence of Santa Claus is reaffirmed, when comedians dust off their Christmas routines, their Yule jokes, when “White Christmas” tinkles like silver bells from CBS to ABC, when Lionel Barrymore booms like an organ over Mutual and visions of sugar plums assault all the vice-presidents of NBC.
Christmas broadcasts, normally as traditional as plum pudding, offer a few new notes this year. Louella Parsons, for example will spend the day at the Allan Ladds. At 9:15 p.m. E.S.T. on ABC, she will tell her spent replete audience how a prominent Hollywood family passes the day. (Little swimming pools for the kiddies, I expect. A Cadillac carved out of solid emeralds for Mummy. Just like any normal American family.)
Overcome by seasonal spirit, WNBC in New York will broadcast an hour-long "Santa Claus Round-up" (3 p. m.) in which Ed Herlihy will interview Mrs. Claus, Ben Grauer will get a few pertinent comments out of Mr. Claus, and Bill Stern will describe the final loading of Santa's sled. Then H. V. Kaltenborn will analyze the implications behind Santa's yearly pilgrimage.
Out in far Hollywood, where Christmas falls every day, NBC (noon), will broadcast the Christmas morning activities at the homes of Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Phil Harris and Alice Faye, Gordon McCrae and Art Linkletter, each featuring the happy cries of the gilded children of these stars.
It'll be quite a holiday for the kiddies, all in all. For the tenth straight year, Amos of Amos ‘n’ Andy will explain the Lord's prayer to his daughter, Arbadella; a hidden microphone will broadcast the children's Christmas eve remarks to Santa from Macy's; Santa will visit the Quiz Kids on their broadcast (and I do hope they don't make a monkey of the old gentlemen); the three daughters of Red Foley—Shirley, 14. Julie, 11, and Jennie, nine—will help pop sing Christmas carols on the Grand Ole Opry program.
It all takes me back to my own boyhood Christmases which were as normal and American as any. boyhood could be. Up at daybreak, shivering a little in the frosty dawn, the microphone clutched securely in one childish fist, the script in the other.
“Wake up! Wake up!” I would shrill to my brothers and sister, directly following the NBC chimes. “This is Christmas day!”
This was the cue for the NBC symphony, huddled over in the far lefthand corner of the nursery to launch into “Adeste Fideles,” which in turn was the cue for my brothers and sister to roll over and yawn (always a different bit for the sound effects man) and the announcer to go into his bit.
“Good morning and Merry Christmas, one and all. This is Ed Herlihy, bringing you the normal American Christmas of a normal American family. And here are the Crosby kids . . .”
It is one of the most poignant and ineradicable memories of my memories of my childhood that we always got Ed Herlihy. We wanted Ben Grauer like every normal American boy. I used to write Santa every year for Grauer but we never got him. The O'Reillys, rich kids from the right side of the tracks, they got Grauer. They got the Philharmonic and a much better time break on CBS, and all the best stars like Bing Crosby. (We always got Sinatra.)
Gads, how it all comes back to me now! Opening the presents under the tree. Actually, we didn't. A sound effects man had a record which sounded much more like the tearing of Christmas wrappings than the real thing. Our happy cries of delight at the presents, being careful not to get too close to the microphone. I remember the gaily trimmed cables running across the living room, the electricians festooned, as was the custom, with mistletoe, Herlihy losing his place in the script and fluffing the words “Santa Claus.”
Today, it all sounds like a dreadfully old-fashioned Christmas. Today we have television. The modern child, I expect, will have to wake up with full makeup to the sight of cameras instead of the traditional Yule microphones. Probably have to rehearse for three solid weeks. We never rehearsed more than a couple of days.


A SOLID SOBER CHRISTMAS
I think the Christmas shows this year have been absolutely wonderful. This has been the year of the moral awakening; the year Hulan Jack and Bernard Goldfine and Charles Van Doren were called to account; the year of great soul-searching, not simply on the part of television but of the country at large. And all this moral rebirth seemed to come to a head in Bach's shattering "Magnificat" played by the Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein on "Ford's Startime" the other night.
It was a lovely show to look at as well as listen to and the cast, which included Marian Anderson, the St. Paul's Cathedral Boys' Choir of London, the Schola Cantorum under Hugh Ross, and Joseph N. Welch was terribly impressive. "Startime" is a fine program and this Christmas program marks a high point in its, I trust, long career.
On a much less exalted level, Dinah Shore's Christmas show was a lot of fun and very pretty and moving. I particularly enjoyed a duet between Dinah and Charles Laughton, acting as two pukka pukka colonials, singing "We Won't Be In England for Christmas," a witty satiric song. She’s a marvellously gifted and versatile performer, Miss Dinah, and just seems able to tackle anything. A moment after the English number, she was back—ah, the wonders of tape—in a white ball gown singing "White Christmas." Later Donna Attwood, the skating champion, was very seasonal and captivating on ice—that is, if skating captivates you as it does me.
There is always a tendency to get a little sticky at Christmas time and at least one of the special shows, "Once Upon a Christmas Time," didn't manage to fight down the urge. This one, based on a story by Paul Gallico, had orphans and kindly bumbly old Charles Ruggles and even dear old Kate Smith and it got so tinselly you could hardly stand it. “It’s going to be the ding dangdest parade you ever did see,” shouted old Charley at one point, and I shouted “God bless us every one” at him in my excitement.
Otherwise, though, it's been a quiet, sober Christmas season. Even the Christmas cards seem more subdued and more religious in tone, as if the lessons of the last year had left their mark. At any rate they've scared the daylights out of everyone. Incidentally, on WQXR, the carols are in stereo and they sound more solid and Christmasy than ever.
Is it a trend of the times or has Christmas affected my judgment? Well, one symptom of the times, one tiny pulse beat that may yet develop into something, is off Broadway. Down in Greenwich Village, a big hit is "Little Mary Sunshine" which is a sort of spoof of all the Sigmund Romberg and Rudolf Friml operettas, especially "Rose Marie." It’s got the Northwest mounties and “The Indian Love Call.” I don’t happen to think it’s quite as great and charming as everyone else does but it is charming and sweet and fresh and gay.
Its chief charm—now pay attention here—is its innocence. There is a great thirst in the populace, I feel strongly, for innocence of this nature. Heaven knows there is no great need to satirize Rudolf Friml at this period in our history, so the appeal must lie elsewhere. Greenwich Village is full of these charming period pieces. Not far away "Leave It to Jane," an ancient Jerome Kern musical, is running. "The Boy Friend," another period piece, closed not long ago after a long run. "Once Upon a Mattress," which went on Broadway, is not a period piece but it's a sort of updated fairly tale with the same sort of whimsey and charm.
It may be the sentimentality of the season has warped my reason but I seem to direct a revulsion on the part of the public against plays of southern degradation, of wild sexual perversion. 1959 may be remembered as the year they booed Tennessee Williams as he left a movie house playing his "The Fugitive Kind." (He booed right back.)
Of course, even while finding all this sweetness and light fraught with significance, it's my duty to report another small trend in show business. Cannibalism—that's the trend. At least that was the theme of Alfred Hitchcock's not-at-all-seasonal program the other day with Robert Morley and, just this week, "Suddenly Last Summer," which features cannibalism and Elizabeth Taylor, opened in the movie houses.
And with that Yuletide thought, I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Spunky the Snowman

Sigh. Good intentions don’t always work out.

Here I was all set to post Christmas cartoons you likely hadn’t seen before, and I should have known Jerry Beck would have done it already, at least in this case.

In the 1950s, television couldn’t get enough cartoons. Kids were willing to turn on the set and watch them for hours. Stations and their advertisers will willing to accommodate them. Even hoary old silent theatrical cartoons produced by John Bray were resurrected with a newly-added soundtrack. But there were only so many American-made cartoons to go around and, at the time, producing fresh animation for television appeared too unprofitable.

Eventually, low-budget packagers turned to foreign cartoons. All that had to be done was add an English-language soundtrack and ta-da! Whole half-show syndicated shows were built on them; The Nutty Squirrels Present was one; so was Cap’n Sailorbird.

Among the cartoons that aired on the latter show was a Russian short called “The Snow Postman.” As Mr. Beck’s Cartoon Research site points out, the unedited (19½ minute) version won an award at the Institute of Chartered Foresters in Edinburgh in 1956. It was scrunched down for American TV use and changed from a New Year’s cartoon into a Christmas one (after all, those Godless Commies in the Soviet Union we were warned about were engaging in a war on Christmas, you know). For TV, it was called “Spunky the Snowman.”

Producer Saul J. Turell started out in the post-war ‘40s as the head of Sterling Films, which originally produced educational films for TV, and distributed old shorts for the small screen. He was involved in a number of projects for David Wolper Productions, including a “videumentary” on Rudolph Valentino and won an Oscar in 1980 for his short documentary on Paul Robeson. He died of cancer at age 65 in 1986.

The print below is very red-and-green (appropriate for the holidays, I guess) and it looks like there’s been some rotoscoping.

Monday, 16 December 2019

The Bear's Christmas

This year, fans of Tralfaz, we’re going to do something different for the Christmas season, though it’s something you find on many blogs. We’ll post some Christmas cartoons.

The reason I don’t post a lot of video on the site is web links change or vanish, and Blogger periodically mucks around with its coding. I don’t have the time to keep checking and fixing broken URLs. However, I’m confident these posts will be intact for a while.

You will not find “Mickey’s Christmas,” “The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives” or “Gift Wrapped” in these posts (though “Gift Wrapped” is probably my favourite). Other sites will post those. These are more obscure. To be honest, I haven’t actually watched any of them all the way through.

First up is The Bear’s Christmas from the National Film Board, a 1974 short directed by Hugh Foulds. The NFB site says:

This short cartoon tells the story of a bear who didn’t believe in Christmas. His main problem with this most magical of holidays? Too many Santas. How would he ever recognize the real one? Alone, out of a job, he goes to drown his sorrows, but back in his lonely room, for all his doubts, the Christmas spirit makes a surprise call.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Show Never Heard on the Radio

Once the Jack Benny radio show settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1930s, he occasionally took it on the road (not counting war-time location shows). Jack and his cast appeared a number of times in New York, Palm Springs and San Francisco. The Bennys had a home in Palm Springs, New York was the home of Fred Allen and where his TV show was shot at the beginning (expenses were no doubt paid thanks to mentions of the Santa Fe railroad and Sherry Netherlands hotel), and San Francisco was close enough up the coast for a nice short trip.

For a number of years, the Benny cast did two live shows—one at 4 p.m. on Sundays for audiences in the East and Midwest, and again at 8:30 p.m. for the West Coast. But during one of his San Francisco stops in 1938, they did a third show—one that never got on the air.

It sounds like the special Saturday “show” was thrown together considering the cast rushed to San Francisco post haste, according to the San Francisco Examiner. There’s no mention of Rochester by the newspaper for a simple reason. He didn’t make the trip. The paper confirms a man named Carl Kroenke appeared on the programme; he played a “blusboy” in Ling Foo’s Chinese restaurant; it turned out Ling Foo was really Schlepperman (played as usual by Sam Hearn). Benny always seemed to get good reviews in San Francisco.

The first story ran January 8th (Saturday), the second the following day.

Just a note that really has nothing to do with these stories or Jack’s San Francisco appearance—the week before, Don Wilson mentioned 24 Canadian stations had been added to those airing the Benny show. The CBC network picked up Benny live from the East Coast feed but, for reasons I haven’t been able to discover, newspaper radio listings say “Not BC.” CBR in Vancouver broadcast a symphony concert at 4 p.m. Vancouver and Victoria fans had to listen to KPO in San Francisco, KOMO in Seattle or other NBC Red stations down the U.S. coast to hear Benny.

'Buck' Benny Will Ride Again To Appease S. F. Radio Fans
Return Engagement Planned by No. 1 Funnyman

By DARRELL DONNELL.
"Buck" Benny will ride through San Francisco again!
Close associates of the famed air comedian have revealed that unless some unforeseen obstacle mars present plans, Jack Benny will return to San Francisco within a few months to accommodate disappointed thousands who will not see the Sunday show.
As suggested in this column a few days ago, Benny would choose an auditorium with a seating capacity of thousands, although he prefers to work in small theaters where he feels a greater intimacy with his audience.
Bill Morrow, senior script writer for the program, suggested to Jack, and Benny has agreed, that the nation's most popular comedy show should return here in the immediate future.
Meanwhile, to accommodate at least a few of those who were first to apply for tickets, a special performance of the forthcoming Sunday show will take place in the Community Playhouse this afternoon. This presentation will not be broadcast. In all, three Benny appearances are scheduled for the week-end. And Jack thought he was coming here for a vacation!
At The Sound Of The Chimes
DON WILSON planed into San Francisco two days ahead of his scheduled arrival here to appear in this afternoon's special JACK BENNY show . . . ANDY DEVINE and BLANCHE STEWART were also hastily summoned.


Jack Benny's Preview Big Hit With S.F. Fans
Six hundred self-satisfied San Franciscans smiled, chortled, applauded enthusiastically yesterday at the preview of today's Jack Benny show, scheduled to be broadcast from here via KPO at 8:30 p. m. The fortunate six hundred sampled the six flavors and found them satisfactory. They heard Benny promise a return engagement at the War Memorial Opera House to accommodate those who were unable to witness the program today.
Broad grins became guffaws when Benny brought forth his famous fiddle before the show began.
They chortled at Mary Livingstone's poem, dedicated to San Francisco, were gleeful when Harry Baldwin (he's the man who's always knocking on the Benny door) made his appearance. They applauded so enthusiastically when Andy Devine made his appearance that genial Don Wilson began to worry about what approximately seventeen million listeners might say about studio applause tonight.
Unlike other radio shows, the Benny contingent is fearful of giving the impression of playing to a studio audience. At the same time Benny dislikes to mechanize the laughter and applause through warning the visible audience against prolonged demonstrations.
Backstage, this reporter watched writers Bill Morrow and Eddie Beloin, creators of many of the very funny gags on San Francisco (no we won't spoil it by repeating any of them). Morrow and Beloin were quite calm about the whole thing.
Suave, dapper Phil Harris and his bandsmen, arriving in the proverbial nick of time, tumbled out of a bus, turned in the typically smooth performance, and then trekked to Sacramento for a one-night engagement before returning here again for this afternoon's eastern show.
As for Schlepperman, wait until you hear him as a Chinatown restaurant proprietor. He has one line well, no, we won't spoil it. Carl Kroenke, of the local NBC staff as Schlepperman's stooge is another surprise.
Many a San Francisco girl found Kenny Baker no timid tenor, but a self-assured gent, considerably more handsome than his pictures, movie and still. Oh, yes—San Francisco, sophisticated San Francisco—is not above autograph seeking. Jack, Mary Phil, Kenny, Andy, Don and the others signed themselves into a fine case of writer's cramp.
Flashbulbs carried by news cameramen imbued the scene with a typical premiere atmosphere. Backstage, NBC moguls, including John Swallow and Syd Dixon, beamed approvingly.
Hollywood came to San Francisco, and unquestionably the cool city by the Gate went Hollywood.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Terry Tells Tales

Haven’t heard the “Little Herman” story? Well, you can read it below as Paul Terry tells his favourite tale about how he tried to sell his first cartoon in 1915.

Terry seems to have run a B-list studio through much of his career. In the silent film years, the Fleischers had Koko the Clown and the bouncing ball cartoons. And perhaps greater than them was Felix the Cat, turned out by Pat Sullivan’s studio. Terry carried on with his Aesop’s Fables and then was forced to strike out with animator Frank Moser when sound came in.

Again, the Fleischers had Betty Boop and Popeye. Terry had Kiko the Kangaroo. Guess which was more popular? Terry told one reporter in the ‘30s that it was better having one-shots than continuing characters. That, naturally, changed when Terry’s staff developed Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle, characters who seemed to be as popular as some of the stars at other studios. Terry carried on into the ‘50s when he sold his studio and films to CBS, then retired to a life of rest at a local gentleman’s club until he died.

Here’s Terry, paraphrased, after an interview with the Chicago Tribune. This appeared in the edition of April 25, 1948. I should probably groan at the pseudonym of the columnist but it’s kind of cute. Oh, and I’m not quite sure whether audiences rushed out to theatres to catch the next “Wacky Cat” or “No-name character” cartoons.

Pioneer Tells the Secret of Movie Cartoon
BY MAE TINEE

Animated cartoons have become firmly established as an integral part of every program offered by motion picture theaters. They round out and sometimes bolster the bill, and after sitting thru a dull full length feature, it’s remarkable to watch an audience perk up when a cartoon flashes on the screen. They’re colorful, musical, full of action and brief—probably four good reasons for their universal popularity, but if you think blithe tales about rollicking rodents are produced with any of the ease and nonchalance their principal characters exude, you’re very much mistaken.
Paul Terry, who pioneered in the field with a little boy character he labeled “Little Herman,” over which he worked laboriously for six months, drawing and photographing thousands of sketches, explained modern cartooning methods during a recent visit to Chicago.
● ● ●
His company produces Terrytoons, which are released by 20th Century-Fox.
“Mighty Mouse,” who always swoops to the rescue and brings about a happy ending in which the bully always meets a thoroly [sic] disagreeable punishment for his misdeeds, is probably the most popular of his characters, but the company also produces “Heckle and Jeckle,” “The Wacky Cat,” “Rudy Rooster” and many others, some of them nameless.
● ● ●
Modern cartoons are the product of the work of many people, and an idea goes thru a large number of departments before it’s ready for the screen. The story department provides a scenario, expert cartoonists fill in expressions, details and backgrounds. When the final cartoon emerges, the sound department takes over, noises and voices are dubbed in, and the final touches are provided by the musical department.
There is a complete research department for detailed information on all sorts of subjects, a publicity staff, in fact, almost all of the services available in studios making full length features. The company produces 20 cartoons a year, and each of them is viewed by an estimated 20 million people. Before sound, they were turned out at the rate of 50 a year. Color and music have added zest to the films, and time and expense to the production.
● ● ●
Mr. Terry, a rather quiet man with a mild and philosophical outlook on life, told of one of his early experiences in peddling his “Little Herman.” He took it to one of the top men in the film business, the father of David O. Selznick, and was offered one dollar a foot. The young artist explained that the stock for the drawings cost that much alone, and that price would be no reward for his painstaking work, whereupon the prospective buyer informed the young creator that such materials lost their value the minute they suffered the artist’s pen. Further salesmanship finally brought $1.35 a foot from another agent. Present day costs average about $50 for every 12 inches.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Bill and Joe's Angry Kitten

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera started directing at MGM with Tom and Jerry and ended directing at MGM with Tom and Jerry. While the bulk of their cartoons starred the cat and mouse, three of their earliest efforts did not.

One is Officer Pooch, released in 1941. The title character tries to rescue a kitten which kind of looks like Tom in some scenes and Jerry in others.

Here are some multiples from one scene, animated on twos, of Officer Pooch and the kitten that didn’t want to get caught.



Bill and Joe later ripped off this idea from themselves and deposited it in Fireman Huck, a 1959 Huckleberry Hound cartoon.

Hanna and Barbera are the only ones to get screen credit for this short.