Tuesday, 21 May 2019

An Elephant Gun

In Felix Doubles For Darwin (1924), our hero climbs into a hollow log. It turns out to be the trunk of an elephant.

The elephant tries to get him out of his trunk in a cycle of three drawings.

He succeeds but then pulls back the cat, twirls him around then tosses him out of the scene.

This cartoon was on home video—in 1930. You could have bought the reel from Home Film Libraries of New York for $22.50, a pretty steep price in the Depression, I’d say.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Let's Try That Again

Daffy zips into the scene in six drawings after his beak is shot around his head in Rabbit Fire (1951).

They have another go at declaring whether it’s rabbit season or duck season. You know what happens.

Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan, Ken Harris and Phil Monroe animated the cartoon with woodsy settings by Phil De Guard.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

He Knows How to Pick 'Em

When Jack Benny arrived in Vancouver in 1954, he did more than perform on stage. He decorated a horse in the 5th race at Lansdowne Park (there were no reports of a tout offering him a tip), visited Shaughnessy Hospital during a garden party with pony rides for the kids (Buck Benny didn’t ride again), met a polar bear at the Stanley Park Zoo (it was not named Carmichael), wrote guest columns for the Sun and Province newspapers, popped by the opening of swim classes at Lumberman’s Arch pool (they were free), hung out with models at a fashion show on the Panorama Roof of the Hotel Vancouver and was officially initiated as a member of the Irish Fusiliers (he did not play “Clancy Lowered the Boom” on his violin).

Somehow, he found time to do some shows.

The funny thing is that Benny fans in Vancouver had some difficulty listening to his radio show. When Lucky Strike took over sponsorship in 1944, Benny was dropped by the CBC because the American cigarette references were too woven into the show to be edited out. Listeners had to pick him up from Seattle. In 1954, that meant tuning in KIRO. The problem was KIRO’s frequency was 710, but local powerhouse CBU was at 690, overpowering the signal from Seattle.

Benny basically fronted a vaudeville show. There were several acts, including the Will Mastin Trio and Gisele MacKenzie. The trio was led by Sammy Davis, Jr.; one Vancouver paper pointed out that three years earlier, they had played a $50 gig in Cloverdale, about 30 miles in farm country from the city. MacKenzie had a Vancouver connection; her brother Georges La Fleche was at the CBC in Vancouver for quite a number of years. He was running the French language side at one time and famously anchored the evening news on English television during a strike in 1989.

Here are reviews of opening night from the two main newspapers. The first is from the Vancouver Province, the second from the Vancouver Sun. I suspect the third daily, the long-departed News-Herald, was there but it is not available on-line.

The Georgia Auditorium has been a patch of grass for many, many years.

Benny's All-Stars Live Up To Name, Result—A Fast, Furious Frolic

The Jack Benny All-Star Revue has the most appropriate title of any show ever to play Vancouver. It's half over before Benny stroll on stage and the first part (approximately one hour and 20 minutes Wednesday night) was so good that nobody missed the comedian.
Then, when he took over after Intermission (for roughly another hour and five minutes) you wondered how you could have enjoyed the show so much without him. Answer is that Benny's a shrewd genius, not only at his pecularly effective brand of comedy but at showbuilding. The result confounds the grammarian who insists there is no superlative for "best." The Benny revue—as a near sell-out audience of 2000 first-nighters can swear to starts with the best and works unbelievably to bestest.
Those who remember the recent Bob Hope visit (we'd like to forget it) are going to be happily disappointed if they expect the same, tossed salad from Benny. Hope, gave us an evening of practically nothing except Jerry Colonna at a $5 top price before he appeared. Benny gives a night of everything worth every bit of the $1.60 top ticket—and then throws himself in as a bonus.
First act is Nita and Peppi, a couple of frisky youngsters whose acrobatic antics forecast a great future as long as their muscles and nerves hold out. Then comes magician Channing Pollock, a suave fellow whose hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye manipulations fool everyone.
Next is Canadian export Gisele MacKenzie, and what a surprise. This girl not only can sing (no news there) but she's a competent comedienne. Had she done nothing but her devastating impersonation of Marilyn Monroe, she'd have been a hit. As is, she's a sensation.
First-half clincher was the Will Mastin Trio and that wonder of wonders, Sammy Davis Jr.
This boy is fantastic whether he's dancing, impersonating movie stars, singing in the voices of famous personalities or delivering songs in his own voice and style, Sammy is more than slightly terrific.
The Stuart Morgan Dancers—three muscular young men and a supple miss—had the enthusiastic audience on seat edges.
And lastly, Jack Benny, a visual funny man with a perfect sense of timing and an ability to get laughs from a quizzical look, a raised eyebrow or his slow burn expression and even his folded hands and patient helplessness.
Yes, he had his violin with him. He played it with the Beverly Hillbillies in best vaudeville tradition. And he played it with Gisele MacKenzie. He did everything that was expected of him and more.
Mahlon Merrick, skilled musical director, had local musicians rehearsed well and the overture included snatches of every song ever associated with Jack Benny and the cigaret he advertises. This slick commercialism, which was most evident with Gisele MacKenzie's performance, is the only complaint. And it's not really serious.
Another excellent feature of the show is that it starts practically on time and to heck with the latecomers. It will do the same tonight, Friday and twice Saturday at the Auditorium.

Benny's Good and So's His Troupe
Sun Reviewer Finds Comedy Show Most Rounded and Fully Packed

Sun Entertainment Editor
Jack Benny and his Variety Revue received a well-deserved ovation Wednesday night from a near-capacity audience of 2200 in Vancouver's Georgia Auditorium after two and a half hours of comedy, spectacle and music.
Frankly, it's a honey of a show.
The bland and dapper comedian of radio and television renown proved that he is even funnier "in the flesh" than via any electronic medium.
And he did it without the support of his heckling wife, Mary Livingstone; his ever-boyish tenor stooge, Dennis Day; his impertinent valet, Rochester; his multi-chinned announcer, Don Wilson; his primeval Maxwell car, his subterranean treasure-vault, or any of the other amusing props and characters familiarly linked with Jack Benny "on the air."
Instead, the 60-year-old American funnyman surrounded him self with a roster of mainly young and gifted entertainers, topped by the Canadian-born songstress, Gisele MacKenzie, and Sammy Davis Jr., a triple-threat dancer, singer and mimic of phenomenal powers.
Even without Jack Benny, the assisting acts were almost enough to carry the show—which continues tonight and Friday and Saturday evenings, plus a Saturday matinee.
No other show-business celebrity in many years has come to Vancouver as the centre of such a solid and balanced program.
More than most of his competitors, he has always openly acknowledged that he is not much of an ad-libber and that he depends heavily on good script-writers for his material. It is plain to see, though, that his artistry excels that of the "human machine-gun" type of wisecrack conveyor belt. There is a grace and urbanity in the Benny style; and some of his biggest laughs are evoked without a word of dialogue.
"I may not be very clever myself," Benny grinned at Wednesday's opener, "but I sure know how to pick 'em, don't I?"
He was referring to the calibre of his colleagues on the show, and his words were well-chosen.
Canada's Gisele MacKenzie, now a leading attraction of big-time U.S. television and recordings, began rather depressingly, I thought, with a self-congratulatory act called "Look What Happened to Me." Her impression of a stately opera star's nightclub debut also struck me as being too forced to be hilarious.
But Miss MacKenzie did herself proud a moment later in a wonderfully funny take-off of screen-queen Marilyn Monroe, pouting hippily through a torchy ballad. An accomplished pianist and violinist as well as a pretty girl and a constantly improving comedienne, she has a secure musical technique far beyond the ability of most of her chanteuse rivals. The audience had good reason to give her rapturous reception.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Squegee the Pirate, Cartoon Star

For every Walt Disney, there’s an Ub Iwerks. And for every Ub Iwerks, there’s a Tommy Hill.

Disney, of course, was animation’s superstar producer whose Mickey Mouse caused a craze for sound cartoons in 1929-30. Iwerks was a producer as well, but his cartoons really weren’t better than B-listers and his weak output resulted in his studio closing in the late ‘30s. Hill was a would-be cartoon mogul whose grandiose ideas don’t seem to have gone anywhere. His overly-ambitious scheme included Fleischer-like model backgrounds and, presumably, animation in colour.

Like Iwerks, Hill was a Disney artist. Briefly. The Los Angeles city directory lists him as an artist in 1930 and an artist at Walt Disney Productions in 1931. Iwerks split from Disney and Hill evidently thought he could do the same. He came up with an idea for an animated cartoon starring his own character, Squegee the Pirate. How far along he got is unknown, but he set out on a publicity campaign and bent the ear of a writer at the Tennessean. The Nashville paper published this story on April 6, 1931.
Cartoonist Who Has Helped Draw "Mickey Mouse" Tells How It's Done
Tommy Hill of Hollywood Is Now Working On "Squegee," an Animated Screen Pirate

People who get a bunch of laughs out of watching the queer little animated cartoon characters that cavort across the screens on almost every movie program, ought to get serious about it sometime and think of the loads of work it lakes to make those few moments of entertainment possible.
For the benefit of those who never have taken the trouble to figure out just how many gallons of perspiration are shed by the dozens of artists and creators who are responsible for this form of amusement. Tommy Hill of Hollywood, veteran cartoonist despite his limited years, was shanghaied into an interesting conversation here yesterday.
Hill, a diminutive fellow with big ideas and the artist of at least a million or more drawings in the building of the animateds, is motoring through Nashville to New York, from where he will possibly sail for England to gather material for his forthcoming new animated serial, "Squegee."
"Squegee," by the way, is a little pirate in bright red-topped boots and and bandana about his head with more colors in it than the rainbow boasts of. He is as affable as his red-haired creator, and, upon the completion of his first picture, will be presented in the theaters all over America as the most unusual of the animated characters.
But to get back to his creator, Tommy Hill, who began his cartooning career drawing foolishness about sports on the Cleveland News when he was but 14 years old, has lived the kind of interest-packed life that he intends for his pirate protege to live in celluloid and screen. Until three years ago, he was art director for the Central Press association and the McNaught Syndicate, for whom he did drawings in his own decorative and fantastic manner. And then he listened seriously to the siren call of Hollywood, where now he heads his own studio for the making of animateds.
Helped Make "Mickey Mouse."
For some time he was one of some 30 artists who drew the millions of little sketches that made "Mickey Mouse" possible. This little mouse, created by Ub Iwerk [sic], and now carried on by Walt Disney, is one of the most popular of present day animateds, as any movie fan knows. It Is the dessert on a lot of programs. "How do we make those things?" repeated Hill. "Well, one fellow originates the story and draws the first drawings. Dozens of other artists draw the many sketches. One fellow draws the first and the last sketch of a piece of action, such as the character taking a healthy swing at some other character. In between those two drawings, there are some times a few hundred drawings to represent the progress of the motion, and that's where the other artists come in. I labored that way for a spell myself and, boy, it's work."
Not so long ago, Hill had an inspiration and the result was "Squegee," the cherubic pirate which is to lead children through numerous adventures at sea, and even, like Sir Hubert Wilkins, he is to go down to the bottom of the ocean via the screen. Hill secured the old studio of Charles Ray, onetime great star in hick roles and his personal friend, to begin work on the new idea.
Miniature Settings
Unlike other such characters, "Squegee" will not have to do his stunts with a drawn background for his sets. Instead, Samuel Huntley, famous Hollywood settings builder, is making numerous miniature settings from drawings by Hill. There are castles, old ships, and a real little ocean, with a Davy Jones locker, and a little Neptune down at its bottom.
"It was my plan to make "Squegee" the 'Peter Pan of America,' " said Hill, "and I may, upon completing my business in New York, go on over to England to talk with Sir James M. Barrie, if I can, about it." " 'Squegee' is going to be a clean little fellow whose antics will stretch the imaginations of the children. His every antic will be clean and honor inspiring, and every child will be richer for having seen him in action.
"I hope for him to make enough money to use part of it to place a 'Squegee' bed for sick and under privileged children in some hospital in every town where a theater shows him. At least, some of the earnings from the feature will be used for some good work among underprivileged kiddies. I think it would be only just to do such a thing and, too, I'm crazy about kids.
"I'm planning now to erect a studio planned after a pirate's ship, and to have in it a place where visitors to Hollywood can leave their children in the care of expert nurses while they go sightseeing."
Hill, in motoring through the country on a leisurely trip from Hollywood to New York, has been visiting newspaper offices in many cities. No man can work in his studio whether he be artist, writer, cameraman or what not—unless he has had years of successful experience on the newspapers. On his trip he has run into at least a couple of fellows who are to go to California soon to join his forces. And considering that from 10,000 to 12,000 drawings are needed to make each production, there's plenty of hard work yet awaiting his artists.
Thomas Crawford Hill was born in Belfast, Ireland, on February 10, 1896 to Joseph and Mary Jane Hill. The family came to the U.S. in 1907; Hill’s mother is listed as a widow in the 1910 Census for Cleveland. Hill is listed in the Cleveland city directory for the first time as an artist in 1915 and vanishes in 1927.

After his Squegee tour, Hill was apparently back in Hollywood by 1932. The Los Angeles Times reported he had co-written a screenplay about cartoonists to be made by Universal called “Black and White Clown,” though Variety attributed it to press agent William Leyster. The New York Herald Tribune, reporting on his engagement in its edition of March 10, 1940, states: “Mr. Hill is a cartoonist, the creator of Tippity Witchett and Willie Crashitt. For many years he has been in Hollywood, drawing sketches of the actors and directing the art work in a number of films. Mr. Hill has directed a number of industrial films and is the author of several plays and stories.”

At the tail end of World War Two, he was entertaining in government hospitals and had worked out a deal with Jack London to draw a comic serial of “Sea Wolf.” He seems to have bounced around, but there’s no indication he ever worked in animation again. He died on November 15, 1951 in Glendale, California. You can read a wire service obituary to the right.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Bluebeard Pie

Art Davis exhibits some masterly gag timing in Bye Bye Bluebeard, the last cartoon made by his unit at Warner Bros. before it was disbanded.

A mouse leads Bluebeard on a chase, jumping into various household items to hide. Bluebeard takes a look, his head moving slowly (animated on twos). Three frames later, Bluebeard’s face is smashed with a pie. It happens again and again. The pies come out of nowhere because your attention is on Bluebeard’s head and three frames isn’t a lot of screen time. The whole sequence had a nice rhythm.

Finally, Bluebeard is ready for the pie. It doesn’t come. He lifts up his protective mask. Wham!

Davis went out on a high note. This cartoon is solid all around. Sid Marcus’ story is structured well with some good dialogue. Porky has a couple of reaction scenes with creative expressions. Some of the layout work is interestingly angled. Emery Hawkins, Bill Melendez, Basil Davidovich and Don Williams are the animators with layouts by Don Smith. We can only speculate about the calibre of future cartoons if Davis’ unit had been spared from budget cuts, and was allowed to keep going.

Thursday, 16 May 2019


The hobo cat in King-Size Canary gallops to a fridge (the Coldernell model) that he envisions is full of food.

Afraid not.

Here are some frames from the reaction take. There’s a head shake then the cat’s tail fur sticks out.

Tex Avery doesn’t let the tail just stay here. There are three other drawings, slightly different, giving the impression the stiff tail is wavering a bit.

Walt Clinton, Ray Abrams and Bob Bentley are the credited animators in this cartoon, released in 1947. Ed Love had been fired by Fred Quimby by this point; Preston Blair had been transferred out.

There is no dialogue in this cartoon for about the first 90 seconds after the credits and, actually, very little in the rest of the cartoon. The cat sounds like Pinto Colvig, Frank Graham is the mouse, Sara Berner plays the title character.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The Calabash Chronicle

Many people tried to solve the mystery surrounding Jimmy Durante’s Mrs. Calabash. Only one person—Durante—knew the answer, and he wasn’t telling.

But is that true?

No, according to the man who resurrected Durante’s career by teaming him on the radio with Garry Moore.

Here’s a two-page feature story from The American Weekly, one of those newspaper magazine supplements, dated July 30, 1961. It goes into the Calabash conundrum with a possible explanation. I always love how any newspaper story quoting Durante spells the words in Durante’s dialect. You can hear his voice when you read them.

By the way, you can read another possible explanation in this post.

Durante's secret "good night" gal is either a childhood sweetheart (says Jimmy) or a horse (it says here)

Somebody asked Jimmy Durante if his upcoming special on NBC television, in which he'll be assisted by a couple of much younger and less experienced performers named Bob Hope and Garry Moore, would end with the familiar and customary Jimmy Durante ending—a fond good night to a mysterious lady named Mrs. Calabash "wherever you are."
The explosive Mr. Durante, who still behaves offstage at the age of 68 with the same wild and jaunty abandon that he displays in his night-club and TV comedy act, turned on his questioner with an indignant stare and shouted hoarsely, "If they don't let me mention Mrs. Calabash in there, they're outa their minds!"
Jimmy, in other words, knows when he has a good thing going for him. Tell somebody you know Jimmy Durante and the first question you are asked about him is, "Who is Mrs. Calabash?" When he commutes in Hollywood between his two houses—one near the Sunset Strip occupied by his wife, Margie, whom he married last December, and his old bachelor residence in Beverly Hills, which he holds onto because he likes its shower bath—the passing truck drivers yell at him, "Hey, Jimmy, how's Mrs. Calabash?" Mrs. Calabash is almost as famous as Jimmy Durante and all sorts of legends and stories are told about her.
But not a word is said about her by Jimmy himself. Back in 1950, when the late Gene Fowler was working on the official Durante biography, Schnozzola, Jimmy talked freely to Fowler about everything else in his life story but he refused to talk about Mrs. Calabash. "That's my secret," Fowler quoted him as saying. "I want it to rest where it is."
Fowler reported in Schnozzola that two of Jimmy's closest friends leaned toward a belief that Mrs. Calabash was a widowed mother of a small boy who listened to the Durante radio show in the 1940s and exchanged letters with Jimmy. Fowler himself was inclined to feel, as many other people do, that Mrs. Calabash was Jimmy's first wife, Jeanne, who died in 1943.
I heard two other explanations of Mrs. Calabash in 1949 when I was writing an article about Durante for Cosmopolitan magazine. One, which I am inclined to believe, was given to me by Phil Cohan, who was the producer of the Durante radio show 15 years ago when Mrs. Calabash was first mentioned by Jimmy on the air.
Cohan said he and Durante, with the writers of the radio show, originally created Mrs. Calabash as a fictional joke. Each week, over a period of several weeks, Jimmy was to say good night to her solemnly at the end of the show.
Then, after building up curiosity in the listening audience about who Mrs. Calabash was, Jimmy was to reveal her as a race horse on which he had lost several thousand dollars at various tracks over the years.
"We got the name from a pipe I was smoking when we first talked over the idea," Cohan said. "My pipe reminded me of the big pipe with the curved stem that Sherlock Holmes smoked, which was called a calabash because its bowl was made from a calabash gourd."
According to Cohan, the Mrs. Calabash joke proceeded as it was planned until one day, shortly before the scheduled revelation of her identity, when Jimmy was visiting friends at a Catholic monastery. A group of monks at the monastery asked him about Mrs. Calabash. He explained to them that the whole thing was only a gag and the monks were horrified. They pointed out that most people who listened to the show had come to believe that Mrs. Calabash was a real person. Exposing her as a comic hoax would only destroy the warm and touching image of her that Jimmy had created.
"Jimmy decided that the monks were right, as, of course, they were," Cohan said. "The race horse joke was dropped and Jimmy kept on mentioning Mrs. Calabash without telling who she was. As time went on, I think Jimmy began to associate the Mrs. Calabash he was saying good night to on the radio show with somebody he had known in his own past life. Now he actually believes that she is a real person. Ask him about her and see what he says."
A few days later, when I was alone with Durante at his Beverly Hills home, I did ask him who Mrs. Calabash was. He leaned back reflectively on the couch where he was resting and a faraway look came into his eyes.
"A kid I grew up with in New York," he said. "We was stuck on each other for a while but nuttin' ever came of it. Well, she married this other guy and they moved to Chicago and once in a while later on when I was playing in Chicago at the Chez Paree she useta drop in and say hello. But nuttin' out of the way. Just a nice kid."
That was 12 years ago. Nowadays Jimmy dismisses questions about Mrs. Calabash lightly without giving out any information.
"Jimmy," I asked him a few weeks ago, "who is Mrs. Calabash?" He gave me a roguish wink.
"Some day I'll tell ya," he said, "butcha won't be able to write it." Scheduled for next August 9th, the Jimmy Durante television special was designed by Goodman Ace, the George Bernard Shaw of TV comedy writing, but it is safe to assume that Jimmy on that Wednesday night will be the same old Schnozzola. He never seems to change or to slow down. Watching him clown and sing and stop the music to fly into a rage for an hour and a quarter during his slam-bang nightclub show, it is hard to believe that this is his 51st year in show business. He began in 1910 at the age of 17 as a piano player in a Coney Island saloon where Eddie Cantor worked as a singing waiter. "They kept me at that piano like I was chained to it," Jimmy says. "One night I got up for a coupla minutes to go to the washroom and the manager comes over to me and says, 'What are you tryin' to do—take advantage?'"
The inimitable Durante buffoonery has never changed since the early '20s when he teamed up with the late Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson to become New York's favorite speakeasy and night-club entertainers. He is one of the few remaining headliners from the Prohibition period who is still going strong.
Jimmy has never had to worry about other comedians stealing his humor. Nobody else can get a big laugh as he does merely by stopping in the middle of a song and announcing to the audience, "If they hadn'ta cut off my curves when I was a kid, I'd be another Anna Marie Alberspaghetti!" He can also cause convulsions of mirth simply by declaring, out of a clear sky, "Up in Seattle, I have 1,283 acres of wooded land!"
Durante's songs are also burglar-proof because nobody but Durante can sing them effectively. He is the proprietor of the Jimmy Durante Music Publishing Company, which seldom does any business because nobody but Durante wants the Durante songs—So I Ups to Him . . . The Strut away . . . I Can Do Without Broadway, But Can Broadway Do Without Met . . . Who Will Be With You When I'm Far Away, Far Away In Far Rockaway? and, of course, the classic that Jimmy refers to as "our national emblem"—Inka Dinka Doo. If Jimmy forgets to sing Inka Dinka Doo his audience always demands it.
As he starts his second 50 years in show business, Jimmy keeps busier than ever. Except for an occasional TV engagement, such as August 9th's special, he concentrates on a steady diet of night-club work that would exhaust most younger men. He feels more comfortable in a night club than he does on television because "in a club, you scramble along getting laughs, doing anything that comes into your head without sticking to a script and worrying about what time it is," he explains. "That's the way I like it."
In May, after a long tour of appearances in such places as the Copacabana in New York, The Desert Inn in Las Vegas and the Chase Hotel in St. Louis, Jimmy and his vivacious wife hurried to Italy where he played in Vittorio Di Sica's movie, The Last Judgment. On the way home he stopped in Paris where he wore out his traveling companions by visiting every night club in the French capital in one night.
Then, before rehearsing and taping his forthcoming television show in Hollywood, he rushed to Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe for another nightery date, accompanied by Margie and an entourage of 13 friends, co-partners and advisers. "I woulda brought more people with me only I'm still on my honeymoon," he explained.
His physical stamina is amazing. One of his recent night-club shows lasted much longer than usual because he became fond of the audience and hated to leave the stage. His partner, the young and muscular Sonny King, had to endure an extra load of abuse from Durante. Three times, when King tried to join in on a song that Durante was singing, he was strangled and hurled to the floor—"You gotta be 20 years with Durante before you can come that close to the mike!"
Then, holding his hat aloft and shaking his head. Durante stomped across the stage in a strutaway with Eddie Jackson, turning to admire a beautiful show girl—"If I mailed that home, I wouldn't know where to put the stamp! Is it cold outside, honey?"
"No," the girl said.
Jimmy went berserk.
"Who give this girl the permission to speak that line of dialogue?" he shouted. "Call the manager! Stop the music! Everybody wantsa get inna the act!"
The performance ran 20 minutes overtime. When it ended, I made my way backstage to see Durante. Sonny King was stretched out on a cot in his dressing room, exhausted, and Jackson was slumped wearily in a chair, trying to get his breath. Jimmy was contentedly eating two lamb chops and drinking a cup of tea and looking at an old movie on television.
"I could go back out there right now and do that whole thing all over again," he said.
Jimmy discussed his new television show with Bob Hope and Garry Moore and recalled that he had worked with both of these stars when they were starting their careers. Moore broke into big-time radio as Durante's partner on the same comedy show where Mrs. Calabash originated. Hope's first big role on Broadway was with Durante and Ethel Merman in Red, Hot and Blue in 1936. This recollection moved Jimmy to reminisce about his musical New Yorkers, the Cole Porter show of 1930, in which Clayton, Jackson and Durante appeared in one scene rowing a boat in the middle of the ocean. Durante shouted, "Land!"
"That's not land," Clayton said. "That's the horizon."
"Well, it's better than nuttin'!" Jimmy would snort. "We'll head for it anyway!"
Jimmy's marriage last December to the former Margie Little, his fiancée for the previous 16 years, has gone smoothly except for the complication it has caused in Jimmy's real estate holdings. Margie refuses to give up the house in the Hollywood Hills that Jimmy bought for her a few years ago. Jimmy is reluctant to leave the gray-shingled ranch-type residence in Beverly Hills where he has lived since 1945.
"I'm the only husband in California who is keeping His and Her houses," he complains. "One of us has got to move but Margie says it won't be her."
I asked him if there might be a question about the propriety of continuing to say good night on the air to the mysterious Mrs. Calabash now that he is a married man. Jimmy snickered.
"Margie managed to put up with Mrs. Calabash all during them years while we was engaged," he said. "So I guess she can share me with Mrs. Calabash for a few more years."

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Star From Chagrin Falls

Tim Conway’s career may have been overshadowed by an outtake.

Conway spent a number of years on a successful sitcom, starred in several unsuccessful series and was added to shore up the cast of Carol Burnett Show.

It was there that his shining-est moment took place. He got into another one of his ad-libbing jags (this one about elephants) designed to break up the cast while the tape was rolling—and finally, Vicki Lawrence shut him down with a not-very-dainty comment that stopped everything dead as the actors and audience howled. Fortunately, the video tape was preserved by someone on the crew and found life years later on the internet.

Conway came to national attention on what was supposed to be a starring vehicle for Ernie Borgnine. McHale’s Navy was, more or less, taking the premise of Phil Silvers’ Bilko show—a con-artist military guy surrounded by a gang putting one over on the commanding officer—and moving it from the army to the navy. But it wasn’t really Bilko because, first off, Borgnine is no Phil Silvers, and the writers found strengths and weaknesses of their new characters and scripted accordingly. Conway’s Ensign Parker quickly became a guy protected by McHale and his crew—even though he was “management”—because they knew he was well-meaning and could easily be taken advantage of. On top of that, he innocently annoyed his dyspeptic commanding officer, played by Joe Flynn, in comedy chemistry the viewing audience enjoyed. Suddenly, Conway’s career took off.

Here are a couple of stories about him from 1963 at the end of the show’s first season. The first is from the King Features Syndicate, dated June 15th. A trivia note: Tim Conway changed his name from Tom Conway because there was already an actor named Tom Conway (who wasn’t really Tom Conway). But he wasn’t the only McHale cast member to change his name. Tennessee hillbilly singer Bob Wright became John Wright because there were two other Bob Wrights registered with the Screen Actors Guild.
Bungling Ensign Gets Laughs

Hollywood — Ensign Charles Parker on ABC Thursday night comedy, McHale's Navy, is a real kook. And fans love him. They also know him well, because there's a little bit of Parker in everyone. The show is seen at 9:30. p.m.
Tim Conway, the short, stocky and balding actor who plays the well-meaning ensign, puts it this way: "Parker's problem is that he doesn't realize what's wrong. There's a certain unawareness about him. He just doesn't sense what's going on and works on his own badly directed course.
"Parker is not offensive about being a bungler. He's just a person in trouble and you're embarrassed for him. We all act a little like Parker in an unfamiliar situation and put on a false front."
Playing the well-intentioned idiot who outwardly pretends he knows what he's-doing is sure-fire on television. Don Knotts does a superb job as the small, go-by-the-book deputy on the Andy Griffith series. It's impossible not to laugh at Don Knotts playing Barney Fife.
It's hard to keep a straight face watching Conway as Ensign Parker harasses his boss, Captain Binghamton. Of course, the U. S. Navy isn't happy about Ensign Parker's image, but that's silly, because the series doesn't pretend to have anything to do with the Navy in reality.
"Originally I was going to be the thorn in McHale's side," said Conway. "But after the first show we changed direction, and my job is to drive Captain Binghamton (Joe Flynn) out of his mind. I'm the go-between for McHale and the Captain (the laughable villain) and I completely botch the job weekly."
The weekly plot this season has simply been to get free-wheeling McHale or his men in trouble and then extricate the group. Next year other steps will be taken now that the show has a solid following. "At first, fans tuned in," says Conway, "to watch Ernie Borgnine as McHale, and then they got to know and like the whole cast."
Next fall the show will be a bit wilder and parts for the crew will be fatter. It will also be on at a different time—Tuesday night at 8:30 following the hour war series, Combat, and competing with the first half hour or Red Skelton and NBC's Redigo. But the way McHale's Navy gained fans as the season went on indicates it should be able to hold its own.
The cast has already filmed a few for next fall—one a costume affair where McHale's men and Captain Binghamton have to pretend they're a Japanese Kabuki theater group, and entertain hostile Japanese troupe. Joe Flynn, as the Captain, appears dressed as a Japanese lady wearing glasses, and, while he dances, Ensign Parker, in the costume of a Japanese warrior, steps on his costume, and, by force of habit, continually salutes the Captain.
Costumes have been a big thing with Ensign Parker this past season—he's played a hillbilly, Japanese pilot, British Intelligence officer with a monocle and beard and a French lover. Laughs come because Conway's face can't really be disguised.
The series is also a hit because of a talented cast led by the lovable Borgnine. The trio backing up Borgnine — Joe Flynn, Conway and magician Carl Ballantine—are funny, delightful comics and all have come into their own on McHale.
Conway came out of Cleveland where he'd been writing, directing and acting on KYW-TV.
Rose Marie, out on the road promoting the Dick Van Dyke Show, heard his tapes and later played them for Steve Allen who immediately sent for Tim. Since the initial Allen show, Conway has done 16 others for Steve and will be seen shortly playing an old Tarzan doing a cottage cheese commercial.
Says Conway: "I'd always admired Allen for the way he handles people. He's kind about the kidding. I was his fan long before he ever heard of me. I enjoyed Fred Allen, Jack Benny and others, but Allen's humor appealed to me more in the Man-On-The-Street bits. That was the kind of humor I wanted to do.
"Allen, Bill Dana, Louis Nye, Don Knotts and the others don't tell jokes," Tim continued. "It's an ad-lib session when you're with them. In fact, I don't think I've heard Steve tell a joke. Their humor comes from looking at people and that's more in my line."
Conway says he can't write jokes and that he can never come up with a one-liner. He's more of a situation writer. He's also come upon a gold mine character—the well-intentioned bungler, and with his face he could play the part in any field and get laughs.
Before McHale begun production on a second season, Conway received a hero’s welcome in his hometown. Well, maybe it wasn’t so heroic. This is from August 3rd.
He'd Be Better Off in Hardware Store?

Hollywood—Tim Conway, the eager ensign of McHale's Navy, seen Thursdays on ABC at 9:30 p. m., left his hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, a nonentity two years ago and returned this summer still pretty much unsung.
“Chagrin Falls isn't exactly the kind of a town that gets excited about things,” said Conway.
“But I wasn't totally ignored. After all, there are 3,000 people in Chagrin Falls and I know most of them personally. They made me grand marshal of the annual Blossom Time Parade.”
Conway, round, balding and pink-cheeked, became hazy about the festival in that it was too early in the year for blossoms of any kind, and he wasn't sure what type of blossoms were involved.
“But it was a great parade,” he said. 'I rode down the center of town followed by about 3,000 other people. The trouble was that nobody was standing on the sidewalks watching. The whole town was taking part in the parade.”
According to Conway the parade was such a hit they held another one the same afternoon.
“Actually, it wasn't so much a parade as it was a traffic jam,” he added.
What other festivities were held for the returning celebrity? After all, it is not every round, cherry-cheeked, balding son of Chagrin Falls who makes good in Hollywood.
“Well,” said Conway, who was nominated for an Emmy earlier this year, “they did hold a testimonial dinner in the Chagrin Falls High School cafeteria for me. I graduated from there back in 1952. It was a real big event. I think 300 people turned out.
“There were lots of speeches. My old English teacher gave a speech in Old English. The principal gave a speech — he's the one who advised me to quit clowning around and do something serious. And a couple of friends spoke, too. Then we all had a chicken dinner.
“After dinner I was given a big silver tray. It was really big, but I noticed it had a 'for sale' sign on the back.”
Conway giggled to himself for no apparent reason.
“Chagrin Falls is only 18 miles from Cleveland,” Conway said. “That's where I got my start in television. So I went back there for two months this summer to do some work and earn a little money.
“I wrote some stuff for local television shows and appeared a few times on the 'Mike Douglas Show.' I guess nobody out here has heard much about it.” What impressed Conway most about his triumphant return home?
“Something my mother told me,” Conway concluded. “She said she still thinks I'd be better off in some solid line of work like finding a job in a hardware store.”
Burnett was Conway’s next success (a side note: Conway’s partner on Cleveland television, Ernie Anderson, later became Carol Burnett’s announcer), gradually forming a team with another very funny man, Harvey Korman, who vainly struggled to contain himself while Conway’s antics unfolded on camera. They made a perfect comedy pair and, years later, toured together until Conway didn’t want to do it any more.

Harvey Korman liked Tim Conway. Chagrin Falls liked Tim Conway. I liked Tim Conway (I even liked his silly Western spoof Rango). Audiences did, too, and that’s why he had a great career,

Upside Down Flies

Flies frolic in a home in Walt Disney’s The Spider and the Fly (1931).

But wait! The camera turns. It turns out the opening shot was upside-down.

The cartoon has that plot you love. The flies gang up to rescue the girl from the menace. Add butt-stabbing and pepper gags.

Franz Schubert's "Erlkönig" is heard on the soundtrack as the flies shoot pins at the spider.

Monday, 13 May 2019

The Old Skunk Gag Again

Bosko the Lumberjack begins chopping down a tree, not realising someone is living inside it.

It’s a skunk! And you know what that means in cartoons. “I’m going to raise a big stink about it,” he cries in an early-‘30s cartoon falsetto.

The dotted circles represent the skunk smell. They follow Bosko out of the frame into the next scene.

Max Maxwell and Friz Freleng are the credited animators. Harrison’s Reports of October 1, 1932 says the cartoon was the last to be released in the 1931-32 season, on September 3rd.