Monday, 18 February 2019

Punny! Punnn-y!

The purpose of the 1938 Warner Bros. cartoon You're An Education is two-fold:

a) to see how many songs can be fit into one animated short
b) to see how many obvious visual puns can be fit into one animated short

I counted 25 different melodies in this cartoon, most used as musical puns. Carl Stalling didn’t have to think hard to come up with tunes to accompany very short scenes about Hawaii or Scotland (Canada is represented by “The Maple Leaf Forever”).

You want obvious puns? Here’s a string of them involving food as an Aunt Jemina-type chorus sings the Warren/Dubin title song.

They’re HUNGRY! Get it?

Now they get food and utensils.

Boxoffice magazine sure liked this cartoon better than I do. Its review of November 26, 1938:
A flight into fancy by the cartoonists that pays swell dividends as entertainment. Done in an ingenuous and brilliant manner, the action takes place on various travel folders. As the action shifts from folder to folder, appropriate music accompanies the change. On top of that, there is a villain who steals a large diamond from the Kimberly mines and is chased through all the foreign cities. It rates as one of the best animation job turned out by this studio.
The trade publication reported on October 22nd that Leon Schlesinger had shipped this cartoon to Warner Bros. exchanges (it was released on November 5th). At the time, Schlesinger had 26 cartoons in some phase of production. Maybe exhaustion due to a heavy release schedule is why director Frank Tashlin and writer Dave Monahan churned out the most corny gags and treated them with a total lack of irony.

Ace Gamer was the credited animator before this was turned into a Blue Ribbon re-release in October 1946.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Backswing Benny

Several episodes of the Jack Benny radio show, and at least one on his television show, involved golf with the plot showing Jack was a pretty lousy golfer. It was based on fact. Jack did play golf. And he wasn’t all that great at it.

When Benny accepted a humanitarian award in Boston in 1955, he had a chance to fit in a round on one of the local courses. The Christian Science Monitor decided to see how he fared. This was published May 6, 1955.

Jack Benny, the Golfer, As Seen by His Caddie
By Harry Molter
Sports Writer of the Christian Science Monitor
As one of the outstanding comedians of our time Jack Benny has been seen, heard and laughed at by millions of people all over the country.
But there is another, more relaxed side to him—that of Jack Benny, the golfer.
Like President Eisenhower, Benny likes to do his relaxing by playing a friendly round of golf as he did yesterday at The Country Club in Brookline with Francis Ouimet, Joe Cronin and Elmer Ward.
And you can take it from the young man who carried the clubs for Benny that he is as entertaining on the golf course without his gag writers, as he is on radio or television with a prepared script.
“A very enjoyable round,” said Guy Guarino, who cut five classes at Boston College for the chance to caddy for Benny. “He never stopped telling funny stories or cracking jokes. He kidded Cronin (Red Sox general manager) about being a long-ball hitter, laughed about his own bad shots and was strictly out there for pleasure. It was lots of fun, and for me a real thrill.”
Then, with the skilled appraisal of a man who has caddied eight years, young Guarino gave a cold, calculating caddie’s-eye view of Jack Benny, the golfer.
Hands Like Violinist
“He’s accurate off the tee but not too long, probably because he has small, soft hands for a golfer. (Ed. Note: More like the hands of a concert violinist.)
“He didn’t get in too much trouble and was good out of the sand traps. His putting was consistent. I think Mr. Ouimet (National Open champion in 1913) helped him read the greens.
Dress Rehearsal
“Over-all, though, I’d have to say Mr. Benny was a little erratic,” continued the college freshman. “Like on the short 16th where he hooked his drive into some trees, then played a delicate approach shot over a trap and right up to the pin. He had some pars, but he also had a few sevens mixed in and took two shots to get off the first tee.”
In “clubbing” Benny, Guarino advised him to take a little more club than he would the average player. “He took a practice swing before every shot,” laughed Guarino. “Sort of like a dress rehearsal.”
Benny seemed very pleased to play with someone like Ouimet and called him “The professor” whenever he (Ouimet) hit an especially good shot, added the caddy.
On Benny’s behalf, it might be pointed out he was playing on a strange course with borrowed clubs and borrowed shoes. Asked later how he plays, he said: “Not as well as I should after 30 years or so.
“I took the game up for relaxation during my vaudeville days and it still takes my mind off all my troubles when I get out on the course. It’s my only hobby. I can be on the Hillcrest course, near my Beverly Hills home, five minutes after I leave work. I play about four or five times a week.”
Benny has a 15 handicap, which means he shoots in the 80s—about the same range as the President’s game. His wife, Mary Livingstone, is also a regular on the golf course.
“But we don’t play much on weekends,” adds Benny in his dead-pan manner. “We’re usually pretty busy then.”

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Paul Terry's Got Rhythm

Movie producer Amadee Van Beuren interrupted his honeymoon in June 1929 for one thing—to fire Paul Terry. It was probably the best thing that happened to the cartoonist.

In September, the Carpenter-Goldman Laboratories morphed into Audio-Cinema and decided to get into the movie business. Among the people it got into business with was Paul Terry and his new partner, Frank Moser. Film Daily revealed on January 26, 1930 that the production schedule was under way on the new Terry-Toons. The first one was released on February 23rd (see screen grab of Caviar to the right, shamelessly pilfered from Jerry Beck). The last one began to hit theatres in 1968. Long before then, Terry had sold his studio to CBS and became a millionaire.

The Larchmont Times decided on April 10, 1930 to profile Terry, who explains how his cartoons are made and doesn’t resist a chance to put down the Van Beuren Aesop’s Fables series that continued without him.

Among Professional Folks Here is-- Paul Terry
The business of combining two arts music and motion, is an easy one for Paul Terry, animated cartoonist and originator of the famous laugh-provoking “Aesop’s Fables.” He is now producing a new sound movie entitled “Terrytoons," a series of cartoons which goes from country to country, taking in all the folk songs and customs of that nation and putting them on the screen, synchronized with music, and the comical characters drawn by Mr. Terry’s skilful pen.
“Rythm [sic] is so much in our business,” said the cartoonist, “everything done in the “Terrytoons” must he accomplished in time, every action or movement of the character. Music also decides the length of the film, rather than the cartoon having the preference over the melody. Of course, that requires mathematical skill and a stop watch to work out to the last beat, and the special music to be played—then it is figured in seconds and divided up into exposures. Moving pictures, as you know, are a series of small pictures. Therefore, after the cartoons are drawn, they are projected at the rate of 24 per second and photographed that way. It ordinarily requires nine to ten thousand, but the slack is taken up by pauses and breaks, so that the average length is only six thousand. Then, there is the actual drawing of the cartoon, which is always an interesting process. Each cartoon is on an 8 by 12 inch of paper. It is first done on tracing paper, then transferred, in ink, to celluloid. It is colored up in black and white, and finally, photographed in strips. These are regular animated cartoons, and the “Terrytoons” although different, are done the same way and manner, having the usual music is the main thing,—it must have a tune worked out in perfect synchronization with the picture.”
“Many people are puzzled as to how combining a real movie and an animated cartoon is done. This is accomplished much the same way. First, the moving picture is taken of a human being, then a bromide enlargement is made, which is placed over the photo of the cartoon (already finished in primary method), and the whole thing is again re-photographed.”
My [sic] Terry went on to tell of his special production which has just started to be released, but is already gaining recognition. “Terrytoons” are a lot better product than “Aesop’s Fables” and have been very successful so far, and he expects much to come of them. Up to now, he has produced eight. A Russian picture entitled, “Caviar," A German, "Pretzels”, A Hawaiian specialty called “Pineapples,” a western film with a quaint name “Indian Pudding” and a spicy one from Spain, “Spanish Onions.” There is also the Swedish [sic], “Swiss Cheese” an Oriental “Hot Turkey” and finally, “Roman Punch.” They surely sound good!
“Although the reel itself is short," continued the cartoonist, “it needs an awful lot to produce it. I have a staff of 20 artists who are drawing continually, and an eighteen piece orchestra, and a small army of official photographers, camera-men and song-writers. Of course, sound and the talkies have made a tremendous difference, especially in my business. No one produces silent films any more—if you stop and think about it, you have'nt seen a silent picture for months, and you probably never will again. They are as hopelessly out of date as the bustle and the bicycle-built-for-two.”
“The Aesop’s Fables had a great run in silent form, but wasn’t so good in sound. I thought it would be best to have a production with music taking the leading part and accordingly, adopted “Terrytoons.” The name is tricky, since it combines the idea of cartoons and tunes. The old Fables, however, get a big reception. They were showed in the Parish House for 9 years, every Friday night—I showed the first fable ever made there, they were tried out there, and 429 have been put on there, a fact that should be interesting to Larchmonters.”
Paul Terry is a native of San Francisco, where he worked as cartoonist on the San Francisco Chronicle, Call and Examiner. In 1910, drawn by the natural urge which brings everyone to the Big City, he came to New York and obtained a position on what was then the New York Press. He says that New York is the Mecca for artists who feel they have outgrown the smaller cities, and as a consequence, there is a steady stream of them constantly coming from outside. In 1915, he first started to draw animated cartoons, attracted to the business because he understood a bit about photography had done some painting and stage and gained a liking for the theatrical business, and mainly because he enjoyed the thought of putting a drawing in action.
Today, he owns the Audio-Cinema Studio on Harris Avenue, L. I., together with Frank Moser and Philip Schieb [sic] musical director. He owns a lovely home on Beach Avenue in the Manor and has a wife and small daughter Patricia. He belongs to the Larchmont Men's Club and the Larchmont Shore Club.

Doug Fox of the Exhibitors Herald-World of April 12, 1930 didn’t share the enthusiasm over the new Terry cartoons. Or the other B studios, either. He wrote:
Paul Terry and Frank Moser have created something in their new series of Terry-Toons, produced for Educational by Audio-Cinema, that is faintly reminiscent of the work of Ub Iwerks and Van Beuren Corporation. In other words, these sound cartoons do not bear the stamp of originality either in character or theme. “Pretzels,” the latest, lays claim to its title only in that a few feet of it are laid in a German beer garden to the accompaniment of wellknown Germany tunes. As entertainment it is so-so. I've seen lots better.
Regardless, Iwerks and Van Beuren were out of business before 1940. Moser was gone by then, too. Terry (at least his studio) kept going and going until pretty much the end of theatrical animated shorts. He must have done something right.

Friday, 15 February 2019

You Win A Cigar, Elmer

A joyous Bugs Bunny carefully and deliberately takes aim as Elmer Fudd sobs uncontrollably, thinking he’s killed the wabbit.

Now the sequence switches to an analogy with a carnival midway strongman game where someone uses a mallet to bash a weight up to the top of a pole, the winner getting a prize. That’s what happens here. Elmer soars to the top of a tree, bashes against a branch, a bell is heard, then when he lands, Bugs Bunny fishes into his pocket for the prize—a cigar.

The scene ends with a little balletic dance as Bugs exits.

This, of course, is from A Wild Hare (1940), Tex Avery’s Oscar-nominated take on Bugs. The pacing of the cartoon is far more measured than what he would create at MGM, where it seemed like he tried to cram as many gags in a short as possible. But the slower tempo works here. The audience is given the time to anticipate and then watch what the rabbit will do.

Virgil Ross is the only credited animator, but the Avery unit had Bob and Chuck McKimson, Sid Sutherland and Rod Scribner in it by this point.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Flying Pluto

By May 1931, Mickey Mouse was domesticated. In The Moose Hunt, he’s basically a boy with a dog.

The cartoon ends improbably with Mickey lifting up Pluto’s hind-quarters, and the dog flies like a bird, flapping its ears (no “illusion of life” here, folks). They can now easily escape a charging moose.

Mickey plays Pluto’s tail as a Jew’s harp. Then, because Disney cartoons had a rear end fetish, Mickey slaps the dog’s butt in rhythm to “Shave and a Hair Cut” as the iris closes.

Pluto fakes a death scene. Bugs Bunny did it a lot better, albeit it was nine years later.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Queens and Teens

The Golden Age of Radio had more than comedians fronting variety shows, noir-ish detectives, kid adventure stories, adult mysteries, soaps and the latest war news and commentary. There were sitcoms and quiz shows.

There were sub-genres, too. There were sitcoms starring somewhat dopey, incompetent dads. There were sitcoms starring earnest, incompetent young men. And there were sitcoms starring teenaged girls dealing with troubles caused by either earnest or dopey incompetent teenaged boys.

Quiz shows ranged from the intellectual (Information Please) to the parody intellectual (It Pays To Be Ignorant) to the whoever-tells-the-best-sob-story-wins (Queen For a Day).

John Crosby of the Herald Tribune syndicate dealt with the latter in both categories in the first month of his columns in May 1946.

His first column appeared May 6th. The following is from May 7th. In case you’re not up on your station/network connections: WABC is CBS. WJZ is ABC. WOR is Mutual. WEAF is NBC. Queen For a Day made a very successful leap from Mutual to television, filling airwaves on two other networks with tales of personal woe involving poor health, unemployment or natural disaster until 1964. Crosby thought they were tacky, a viewpoint that is quaint compared to the reality shows of today.

Incidentally, cartoon fans will notice the title to Crosby’s column is a play on a Jam Handy industrial film from 1936. Whether that’s the origin, I don’t know.
A Sedan for Cinderella
TOO many programs of late are built on the questionable theory that philanthropy is an adequate substitute for talent. Four of them, one on each of the major networks, are so similar in aim and so uniformly in bad taste that they may as well be examined in a group. The four programs, any one of which may be heard from Monday through Friday, are Cinderella, Inc. (WABC 3:30 p.m.), Bride and Groom (WJZ 2:30 p.m.), Queen for a Day (WOR 2:30 p.m.) and Honeymoon in New York (WEAF 9 a.m.)
Every month, the sponsors of Cinderella, Inc. bring to New York a group of four women from various parts of the country. The girls are put up at the best hotels in town, taken to the Stork Club and the Statue of Liberty among other places and showered with gifts. During the day the Cinderellas are turned over to a stable of experts who strive to improve their posture, their diction and their hair-dos but not, apparently, their minds. At the end of the month, the one who improves the most in the opinion of the experts gets a new sedan. At least, that’s what she got last month.
Every day during the week the girls are on the air to relate what they did last night and how wonderful it all was. And each day there is more loot—electric ranges, toasters, sweaters, compacts, silver, everything. To earn these gratuities they perform little chores in front of the microphone, such as reading poetry to demonstrate their improved diction or making beds to how they haven’t forgotten how, a performance that doesn’t register well over the radio. At the end of the month the girls return to Wichita or wherever they came from and a new batch of Cinderellas take[s] over.
* * *
Bride and Groom is a little different. At the outset of this program a young couple on the brink of matrimony are introduced to the radio and studio audience and then hustled to a nearby chapel for the ceremony. While they are away, the master of ceremonies dredges married couples, young and old, from the audience and plies them with questions. The principal question, the day I listened, was whether the husband or wife should wear the pants in the normal, happy marriage. The answers varied but the reward in each case was an expensive present. Any one who can fight his way to the microphone in these affairs gets something. Presently the newlyweds are back from the chapel to get their share of the largesse. This particular couple got a set of silver, a camera, a year’s supply of film, a vacuum cleaner and a makeup kit. The sponsor also blew them to a honeymoon.
* * *
In “Honeymoon in New York,” when I tuned in, an aged couple, who were celebrating their fifty-fourth anniversary, were relating that they had known each other since they were two years old and had been separated only once for any length of time. They told the story with touching eagerness as if it were an old, old story that every one else had stopped listening to. Of course, they were repaid handsomely with a set of gold cuff links for the old man and a gold wristwatch and a set of dishes for his wife. “Oh, dear,” gasped the lady when the bounty descended.
* * *
In “Queen for a Day,” the master of ceremonies selects a few girls from the audience and asks them to name what they want most at the moment. One girl, unless my ears were playing me tricks, said her heart’s desire was to dip her hands in fresh cement. Later one of the girls is nominated queen for that day and is given an expensive whirl of Hollywood night clubs and, of course, a lot of other things.
The four programs, all of them vastly successful, ought to be reviewed by a psychiatrist rather than a newspaper man. Exhibitionism is out of my line. However, the gifts are fabulous, and if your greed exceeds your inhibitions, get in the parade. You might win a roadster.
May 9th’s column looked at two of the teenaged girl comedies, one on NBC and the other on CBS. Both made the jump to television for a short period. One became a feature film with Elizabeth Taylor. Both shows could probably have used the same scripts and just changed the names of the characters. The stars of both shows used their gushy teenaged voices later. The star of one became Judy Jetson. The voice was easy because Janet Waldo was naturally bubbly and it was practically her real voice. She could sound like a teenage girl even in her 90s!
The Teen-Age Girl Again
FOR REASONS I find difficult to understand, the teen-age girl has become the most celebrated exponent of her sex in our time. She has been glorified on stage and screen, on magazine covers and comic strips, and virtually beatified at various times by “Life” magazine. I don’t know who started all this, but I suspect Miss Sally Benson must shoulder much of the responsibility for her stories in “The New Yorker” which formed the basis for that very successful play (and later movie) “Junior Miss.”
After “Junior Miss” came a deluge of imitators and eventually, the teen-age girl was enthroned on a number of radio programs where she still reigns. There is no doubt that the teen-age girl, with her whims and exuberance and wide-eyed crushes, was once a suitable topic for comedy. But much of the freshness has been wrung from the subject, and, since comedy depends largely on its element of surprise, the teenager just isn’t that funny any more.
* * *
Two of the teen-age programs are “A Date With Judy” (WEAF 8:30 p.m. Tuesday), which has been on the air a good many years, and “Meet Corliss Archer” (WABC 9 p.m. Sunday), which returned to the air recently to replace a far better program, “Request Performance.”
Miss Archer is the same girl who got slightly involved in pregnancy in the stage play “Kiss and Tell” and she is still tormenting her irascible father and her patient, harassed mother with similar, although milder, involvements. When I listened in, she had just started the “So Help Me Club” whose members were pledged to tell nothing but the strict truth, an idea which was thoroughly exploited in a play many, many years ago. Corliss, I’m afraid, is also inclined to say things like: “Oh, goodness, he’s elderly—he’s past thirty,” which has become a fixed idea in these girls. Even conceding its staleness, “Meet Corliss Archer” is a very limp and indifferently written attempt at comedy.
In “A Date With Judy,” the writers have apparently run through all the situations a teen-age girl can get into and are now concentrating on the eccentricities of her father. Next, I suppose will come mother’s eccentricities and then, possibly the maid’s. Even so, Judy is standard equipment—flighty, wide-eyed, passionately absorbed in trivia and rather worn with time.
* * *
Somewhat hesitantly, I should like to submit my own idea as to why the teen-age girl has lost much of her charm. When Miss Benson was writing her stories for “The New Yorker” the world, particularly the teen-age world, was slumbering quietly I pre-war innocence. For all I know, teen-age girls behaved that way. They don’t any more, at least the ones I know, don’t.
During the war years, the teenager matured with alarming rapidity. Many of them got married and had children, much earlier than they would normally, and they accepted adult responsibilities which a gravity and poise that was astounding for their years. Meanwhile a different breed of teen-age girl was filling the juvenile courts with her escapades, which are not nearly so cute as they are depicted on the radio. On the other hand, there are many admirable girls who kept house while their mother was busy with the riveting. In any case, whether admirable or not, the teen-age girl, it seems to me, is a much tougher little cooky [sic] than the ones portrayed on the radio.
* * *
If this idea is at all acceptable, I should like to add that these radio programs are guilty not just of imitation, which must be expected in radio, but of imitating something that has largely lost its point. Or maybe I know the wrong teen-age girls.
We talked a while ago about posting the early Crosby columns. Some are feature local or obscure programming, or are simply outdated. His May 6, 1946 review on Alan Young is HERE. May 10, 1946 on Fred and Tallulah is HERE. The May 17, 1946 column on kid adventure shows is HERE. Below, if you’re interested, are clickable versions of his columns for May 8, 13, 14, 15 and 16 in chronological order.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Bob Clampett In a Bob Clampett Cartooo-ooon

Jerry Beck remarked after reading yesterday’s crack about an animated Bob Clampett that it might be fun to do a quick post on the times there was an animated Bob Clampett in cartoons. I thought I had posted some of these frames before, but evidently not.

None of the animators got credit in Tex Avery’s Art Moderne masterpiece, Page Miss Glory (1936), so they were inserted in the cartoon itself. Clampett is the hook-nosed guy giving an annoyed look to a short guy, who is assistant animator Bobe Cannon.

“Captain Clampett” is one of the acts in Circus Today (1940), another Tex Avery cartoon. Clampett had been directing his own unit for several years at this point.

Here’s eager animator Bob Clampett rushing out of a ramshackle cartoon studio in A Cartoonist’s Nightmare (1936), directed by Jack King. That’s writer Tubby Millar in front of him.

Thad Komorowski points out that Clampett’s head appears for two frames in a wonderful set of fight drawings in Porky and Daffy (1938). Clampett directed this cartoon, with the credited animators being Bobe Cannon and John Carey. You’d never see this watching the cartoon. Incidentally....

This cartoon also has a reference to assistant animator Roger Daley. He never received a screen credit at Warners.

In Porky’s Hero Agency (1937), Clampett is part of a picket fence of Greek statuary, second to the right (Chuck Jones in to the far right).

In 1944, Clampett appeared naked as a gremlin from the Kremlin in Russian Rhapsody.

When Clampett’s company sold ABC on airing Beany and Cecil as part of Matty’s Funday Funnies, Clampett inserted his caricature and his name in the opening animation, tossing in his name into the show’s theme song. Chuck who? Friz what?

If anyone has other examples of Clampett cameos in cartoons, let me know so I can add them to the post (provided my discs aren’t corrupted). Thanks to Thad and Jerry, that fine English singing duo of the 1960s, for suggesting this.