Sunday 30 June 2019

The Suave Man of the Palace

He said it so many times, he probably believed it was true.

Jack Benny oft remarked how he started his radio career with a guest appearance on Ed Sullivan’s radio show, and tossed in his opening line on the programme.

It wasn’t true. What the short spot on March 29, 1932 did was help him get his own network radio show less than two months later. We’ve chronicled on this blog some of his earlier radio stints. One we’ve missed until now was on Friday, September 4, 1931 on the NBC-WEAF (Red) network. He showed up on the “RKO Theatre of the Air” show, which aired from 10:30 to 11 p.m.

There’s a very good reason he was booked on that programme. The following night, he returned after a seven-week absence to act as master of ceremonies at the Palace Theatre in New York—which happened to be part of the RKO empire. Nothing like a good cross-plug.

Joining him were Abe Lyman, making his first appearance at the Palace since 1924, and Kate Smith, whose popular standing was thanks to her radio show. Incidentally, Benny, Lyman and Smith reunited on the Benny radio show in March 1938.

Here are two reviews of opening night at the Palace, the first from the New York Daily News and the second from the New York Sun. I wish more was said about Benny’s stand-up. Not mentioned at all were the Robbins Trio, a roller-skating novelty act which opened the bill, and Gordon, Reed and King, a dance act in the number-two spot.

All the reviews call Benny “suave.” The New York Times’ review of opening night opined: “Few comedians have his suavity, few his ability to make a point with ease and surety. Through such simple devices as looking at his audience, pursing his lips or taking a handkerchief from his breast pocket and reflectively wiping his mouth, Mr. Benny can be funnier than can most comics with a whole stageful of gags and paraphernalia.”

The show ended up being held over. In the meantime, Benny was supposed to begin a gig with Earl Carroll. It eventually led to a proposed salary cut and Benny wondering if maybe his talents should be heard elsewhere.


The Palace Theatre, having found a large, new public during the course of a seven weeks' run of Lou Holtz and company, is attempting to retain its customers by assembling a new offering in which Jack Benny, Harriet Hoctor and Abe Lyman's band are featured.
Just for luck, too, the management has kept a couple of features from the Holtz fiesta. It will be interesting to see if the new program can approach a long-run record; to see if Benny is as successful a master of ceremonies as was his predecessor.
Miss Hoctor Returns.
Benny's scheme is different. Holtz, a sure marksman with a scatter gun, aimed for howls and got them. A shrewd interpreter of the vaudeville patron's mind, his humor was broad, low and loud. Benny's wit is sharp, dry and cynical.
Miss Hoctor returns in complete loveliness with a new dance to replace her successful "St. Louis Blues" ballet.
In a black velvet dress and with a perky black hat set upon blond hair, she whirls and drifts about the stage in precise but effortless grace. In another number she has no inconsiderable partner in Charles Columbus.
Lyman's band has rhythm and go—and some jerkily conceived arrangements. It serves for a funny scene in which Benny doubts that a leader's baton-waving amounts to much.
Left by Holtz.
"After all," says Jack to Abe, what could you do with this stick if the band didn't show up?" So Benny tries some stick-waving of his own with ludicrous results.
Inherited from the Holtz era are William Gaxton and Kate Smith. Gaxton reverts to his boss and office boy sketch with George Haggerty, which has more zip than that "Kisses" act.
Miss Smith calls to the Mississippi without even the transmissive aid of a broadcasting network, and the house is hers. Vaudeville customers know what they want, and there is no doubt about their wanting Miss Smith.

HAVING seen the wisdom of building programs that may tenant the Palace on longtime leases the R.-K.-O. executives offer again this week a bill that well could weather for some weeks the gales that blow shows on and off of Broadway. With the exception of William Gaxton and Kate Smith the talent is fresh and of a very different flavor from that of the unique program which has put out the S. R. O. sign for the last three weeks.
The new master of ceremonies is Jack Benny, the suave, slow-spoken and subtle satirist who so philosophically is the butt of blunders sprinkled into the evening's routine. His violin solo during a break in the newsreel is interrupted by the blaze of trumpets at Fort Something-or-Other when the film is mended. His protege, a jujitsu "champion," is carried off on a shutter, and Mr. Benny's attempt to conduct Abe Lyman's band causes mutiny, only the piccolo player remaining loyal to the baton.
Mr. Lyman and his musicians stop the show, as is their right. For smooth, distinctive music they have few peers, and there is in their turn just enough showmanship to make their effects a little breath-taking. Mr. Lyman is to be congratulated also on his vocal chorus arrangements.
The other new act is that of Miss Harriet Hoctor, the dancer about whom this reviewer already has written many superlatives. She again reveals herself in her three numbers the mistress of her art. During her interpretation of the popular blues chant, "Mood Indigo." one sits bewitched, oblivious of the Palace, the orchestra, the audience and of even the day of the week. Of her assistants only the young eccentric dancer is fittingly skillful for her act.
Mr. Gaxton offers his well-known skit, "Partners," well suited to his playful and energetic manner. It is most amusing if you haven't seen it too many times. Miss Smith is again her most likable self in a new repertoire of songs.
The other acts of the bill are the Robbins Trio and Gordon, Reed and King. T. P. H.

Saturday 29 June 2019

Tired of Magoo

After a while, an actor just gets tired of playing the same role. How many stories have you read over the years about someone on TV wanting to move on to something different?

Jim Backus was the same way. He had been a fairly successful radio actor, mainly on The Alan Young Show, and then on TV was cast opposite Joan Davis in I Married Joan. In between, his buddy Jerry Hausner got him a voice job at UPA which eventually blossomed into another career for him. He won the part of Mister Magoo.

Then came “after a while.”

We’ll get to Backus’ unhappiness with Magoo in a moment. First, let’s see what else he was doing in 1959. Gilligan’s Island was five years away (and may be what Backus is known for these days). Backus was always a good interview. Here, he bares all to columnist Hedda Hopper in a piece published on November 3rd. This, by the way, may be the only time you see the name “Jim Baxes” on this blog. He was a journeyman minor league infielder and bounced around the Pacific Coast League in the ‘50s. If I recall, he spent a little time in the majors with Cleveland. The PCL had left Los Angeles (it still had a team in San Diego) when this interview was done.
Irons in the Fire
HOLLYWOOD — I asked Jim (Magoo) Backus how many irons he had in the fire. "I have so many in the fire I'm afraid I might put the fire out. I've been working in 'Ice Palace' since July and the end is not in sight."
"Oh, that will let you put a new wing on your house."
"Yes, and I'm going to make it for name it for Vincent Sherman, our director. Until this picture I haven't done much that was important since I played Jimmy Dean's father in 'Rebel Without a Cause,' and getting this was a coincidence. I was on a plane to New York with Jack Warner. He'd asked me were I'd been. I told him I hadn't been able to get near his studio since I did 'Rebel.' He said, 'I'm marking it down and you'll be working within two weeks,' and I'll be darned if I wasn't. Did you know 'Rebel' is still playing in Paris in both English and French, also in Japan?"
"You must have made a mint on your book 'Rocks on the Roof.' "
"I would have if my publishers had been more co-operative. You know I had to pay my own expenses to New York, St. Louis and Chicago to pro mote it then I d get into a town and there wouldn't be any books there."
"I think it would make a funny picture. Have you sold it yet?"
"No, but there have been inquiries. If they do it, Henny wants Mitzi Gaynor to play her and Lemmon for me. But I'd like Henny played by Brigitte Bardot and play myself. However, by the time you write your life story you're too old to act in it.
"I have 'Magoo's 1000 Arabian Nights' [sic] coming out around Christmas time; it's the first full length color cartoon since 'Snow White' and 'Sleeping Beauty.' " "But your bank account got fat on those Magoo ads, didn't it?"
"It would have if I had not had a lousy agent; he was so busy getting mirrors for stars' dressing rooms and kowtowing to big name clients he didn't have time to make money for me.
"I have a record coming out that'll set music back 50 years titled 'I Was a Teen-age Reindeer'; on the other side is a monologue 'The Office Party,' a Magoo type businessman character. And I'm making a TV pilot called 'The Newspaper Story.' We need a young girl like Eve Arden for my secretary."
"Residuals are still rolling in from 'I Married Joan,' the series you did with Joan Davis, aren't they?"
"It's gone around six times and is being shown over the world. You have to be careful before taking on a TV series. When you do one it's the biggest step you can take outside of getting married." Then he said with a sly wink: "I have a new TV quiz, Stop the Money—I give away music."
I asked if his wife Henny has any picture plans. He told me no but she has a new sable cape and is burrowing a tunnel through to Saks.
"Did you know that Henny bought a book by Bill Randall called 'The 12th Step' and sold it to Columbia? It's about alcoholics—a sort of 'Grand Hotel' of sanitariums and Bob Ryan will star in it. I hope there'll be a part in it for me. There is good one, but whether I'll get it or not is a moot question."
We got on to the quiz and he told me that Steve Allen once said: "When I was in school the teacher gave us the answers all year long and some of us still flunked."
"I was with Jackie Coogan the night he blew the $64,000 question," Jim said. "He was given an area they were going to question him about but he still didn't know the answers."
I asked Jim which of his pictures he liked best. "Well," said he, "that's something like romance, you always love the last one. I think 'Ice Palace is good. Carolyn Jones has the best acting part and she's great in it. As Bob Ryan says, 'It's "Giant" on the rocks, a saga of a family.' I was disappointed I wasn't finished in time to play in 'Elmer Gantry,' but you can t do everything. Richard Burton, who's in 'Palace,' and I became great friends. And glory be, our wives liked each other too. His wife Sybil has gone to their home in Switzerland to have the baby which is expected in December."
"I hear you made some funny cracks at the stag dinner given for ballplayer Larry Sherry."
"Oh, I merely said, 'The reason I came was to honor Mr. Sherry—I thought it was Dore, and the reason they invited me was because they thought I was Jim Baxes, so we were even. I understand Mr. Sherry is from Fairfax Ave. and Jewish. Baseball has become very popular with the Jewish people but then they've always been very athletic. There was that fellow who hit that big guy with a slingshot And I learned something, too, when I went to see 'The Vikings'—even the Vikings were Jewish—Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.' "
And with that, he said: "I've got to go now and be made up as a 75-year-old for 'Ice Palace.' I age from 28 to 75 and it takes two hours to get the stuff on my face, then when it's off I scratch for another two—Well, so long."
But what about Quincy Magoo? Backus talked of being tired of voicing the character and explained why in this wire service story of October 7, 1959.
Jim Backus Tired Of Being 'Mr.Magoo'
UPI Hollywood Writer
HOLLYWOOD.(UPI)—Jim Backus, originator of chuckle-voiced "Mr. Magoo," is "getting awfully sick" of the near-sighted little character.
"He causes me lots of trouble sometimes," Jim says. "For instance, drunks come up to me in bars and insist I do the 'Magoo' voice for their whole table. "I've almost had fights because I wouldn't," he said with mock horror. "Thank goodness, I'm a devout coward."
"Mr. Magoo" is being heard on TV commercials these days, but contrary to what many people think, Backus isn't doing the voice work.
"Imitations of 'Magoo' are being done every day on TV and there's nothing I can do about it," Jim said. "I'm flattered, except when I go to the bank. The only money I get out of 'Magoo' on TV is from one commercial.
"Oddly enough, though, if another actor went on TV and imitated 'Magoo' it would be O.K. But, I need permission from the company that owns the character rights if I want to do him.
"That's because I originated the voice" he explained.
Waiting in his dressing room before facing the cameras in "Ice Palace," Jim claimed little "Magoo" has even cost him movie roles.
"My name has come up for a role in the past and a producer would say 'He's the Magoo guy, sorry, we can't use him,' " Jim complained.
On rare occasions "Magoo" comes to Jim's rescue.
"I remember one time I couldn't get a table in a busy restaurant when I called them up," he said. "So, I just called back and used Magoo's voice. I got the table!"
Because of the voice characterization in cartoons and his "I Married Joan" TV series, Jim is thought of as a comedian. However, he claims only three comedy roles in 82 movies.
"I usually play "best friend' roles," he said offhandedly. "It seems I'm always in the stands with the football player's wife.
"The lines in that case would be: 'Gee, look at him go. You're married to a great guy.'"
What strikes me as odd in these stories is 1959 was the year Stag beer had a contest to “Name Mr. Magoo’s car” (a fancier one than in those weak TV Magoo cartoons). Backus most definitely did the voice of Magoo in the Stag spots and, to be honest, I’ve never heard anyone else in the role.

When Magoo’s theatrical run ended, Backus did the TV Magoos, as well as a number of series and specials over the years starring Rutgers’ most famous graduate. Backus spent the last few years of his life in poor health and died in 1989. Backus’ Magoo lives on for those who have snagged DVDs over his theatrical and TV cartoons and even 1001 Arabian Nights during the last decade.

Friday 28 June 2019

No Ogg-scaping

The baker at the Ogg CafĂ© thinks he can avoid the “invitation” by Martian Dictator/Commander-in-Chief Ogg to Ogg Memorial Stadium to hear him introduce Colonel Cosmic.

Not so fast.

Destination Earth from John Sutherland Productions was animated by George Cannata, Russ Von Neida, Tom Ray, Bill Higgins and Ken O’Brien. The great designs are by Tom Oreb and Vic Haboush.

Thursday 27 June 2019

Not This Time, Flip

Flip the Frog gets a false face so his girl will go for him in Funny Face (1932), but a bully cracks it off with continual punches.

Flip checks the mirror.

Flip clearly says the word “Damn!” but no vocal is heard on the soundtrack.

The word “damn” can be heard in at least two other Flips, The Cuckoo Murder Case (1930) and Bulloney (1933). As the latter was released after this one, it’s silly to believe it was somehow banned in this cartoon.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

TV Tallu

You’re NBC. You’re paying a star on radio a large amount of money for a big show. In fact, “The Big Show.” But ad revenues are down because sponsors are moving to television.

What do you do? You put the star on television after a big publicity build-up.

Such was the circumstance under which Tallulah Bankhead made her TV debut.

The “glamourous, unpredictable” Bankhead had been hired by the network in 1950 to front a 90-minute radio variety show featuring big names, ostensibly to show listeners and ad agencies there was still life left in the old medium. NBC took it off the air after two seasons and a lot of red ink.

But maybe the problem was radio. The network decided to put her on television. And the timing was perfect. Bankhead’s controversial autobiography had just been released, raising her profile even more.

So it was that Bankhead debuted on “All-Star Revue” opposite Jackie Gleason on CBS on October 11, 1952. That same day, a small newspaper syndicate published a column about it. Bankhead’s opening routine that evening would be a critics satire co-starring Groucho Marx and Ethel Barrymore (hardly noted for her comedy). The syndicate decided to satirise the satire. The material is about at par with what I’ve seen from a transcription of the broadcast.
The Once Over

(Released by The Associated Newspapers)
Tallulah Meets The Critics
("Tallulah Bankhead is opening her first video program with a sketch in which, with Groucho Marx and Ethel Barrymore, she burlesques the "Arthur Meets the Critic' program."
News item)
Tallulah.—Well, Groucho, you read my book, of course.
Groucho.—Yes, I enjoyed every chapter of "Crusade in Europe."
Tallulah.—That's the wrong book.
Groucho.—Oh, I remember now, you wrote that new one, "Giant," with Edna Ferber.
Tallulah.—Buster, when I write about Giants they're plural and the scene is the Polo Grounds, not Texas. The title of my book was "Tallulah."
Groucho.—I wish I could make the questions that tough on my program.
Tallulah.—What part did you enjoy most?
Groucho.—I liked the part where the big fish towed you four days and nights and the sharks stripped It to the bones by the time you got back to Havana.
Tallulah.—That was Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."
Groucho.—My mistake. You're the author of "Tallulah the Old Girl of NBC." I read your other story, "Blood, Sweat and Tears."
Tallulah.—That was just the chapter in which I told of my row with Lillian Hellman and my experiences with Billy Rose, Leland Hayward, Louis B. Mayer and Somerset Maugham. Do you think my book has suspense and drama?
Groucho.—Yes. I think it falls somewhere between "Kon Tiki" and "Gone With the Wind."
Tallulah.—In my book I do not fight the Civil War all over again or cross the ocean on a raft.
Groucho.—Some of the people you wallop in that yarn will feel as if they had been through both experiences.
Tallulah.—Tell me, Groucho, has it a chance to be chosen the Book of the Month?
Groucho.—Only if the jury is spiked with Southerners, baby.
Tallulah.—Mr. Marx having indorsed (what am I saying?) my book, I turn to you, Miss Barrymore, for unfavorable criticism. Did you read it?
Ethel.—No, but I thought it wonderful.
Tallulah.—How could you enjoy it if you never read it?
Ethel.—That's the only way I could like it.
Tallulah.—What was your chief impression?
Ethel.—I thought it a little shocking in its candor.
Tallulah.—What did you expect, "Herbert Hoover's Memoirs"?
Tallulah.—Sum up, Ethel.
Ethel.—I would say few authors have told so much about so many for so much. But it will leave your public pretty sore. You confess to being in love with only two men, one of whom is dead. The other, who is still alive, you keep secret.
Tallulah.—Maybe I should boost sales by identifying the man now and end the guessing.
Groucho.—Not here, sister. Save it for my quiz show, "You Bet Your Life." Give the answer there and you can win a $2,750 jackpot!
Ethel.—And remember, Tallulah, NO PROMPTING!
Being a child of Broadway, Tallu naturally did what anyone on Broadway would do on opening night—go to a restaurant for a party and await the early newspaper reviews. This syndicated story appeared on October 15th.
Tallulah Goes to Rescue Of Big Show in Her Honor
NEW YORK, Oct. 15.—Tallulah shouted "Quiet!" in a southern accent that should have been heard clear back home in Alabama.
A few seconds before the microphone was dying and Sid Ceasar's [sic] master-of-ceremonies routine was falling flat on its face. For one, horrible moment it had looked as if the private "Little Big Show"—a magnificent $1 million worth of talent set to perform for the guest of honor—was going to do exactly the same thing.
Then, when the imperious "Quiet!" startled everyone into attention, Tallulah signaled singer Johnny Johnston. Johnny inched his way through a Pen and Pencil restaurant so jam-packed with celebrities you could scarcely tell Van Heflin from Eva Gabor. As comedian Ceasar walked away with an "I've had it" gesture, Johnny joined Tallulah at the mike.
Old Song
"Let's everybody sing . . . 'Harvest Moon,' Johnny said.
He and Tallulah gave with the first chords. And everybody followed.
It was the gol-darndest community sing ever staged, with Dorothy King and D. Sarnoff, Vivian (Guys and Dolls) Blaine, Cobina Wright Sr., Don Ameche, Eddie Arcaro and Beatrice Lillie just few of the members of the star-spangled chorus.
Thus was New York's gayest and most glittering party in many a moon climaxed.
The affair feted Tallulah. The reason was fourfold. It began at midnight, celebrating Tallulah's television debut of a few hours before. It was a "Ta Ta Talloo, saying goodbye to the inimitable Alabaman who goes to Hollywood for her part in the movie, "Broadway to Hollywood." It inaugurated host John Bruno's new policy of maintaining late hours for show folk and show-goers. And it was an excellent excuse for some 200 lucky friends of Tallulah's to have the time of their lives.
Wears Low-Cut Gown
Tallulah, wearing a low cut black velvet gown, entered regally to hold court at a table set against a backdrop of covers from her new book. Cass Canfield, head of Harpers Publishing Co; comedian Reginald Gardiner; Celebrity Service President Earl Blackwell; harried Publicist Michael O'Shea (who had everything from cops to autograph hounds outside to uninvited guests inside to worry about) were her table-mates . .. for a relatively quiet 10 minutes. Then the singing started.
The guests sang everything that came into Johnny's or Tallulah's minds. Then the two rambled the room, singing "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You."
The "Little Big Show" ended with a warm, Christmas-Eve-ish sort of feeling . . . with most of those who'd been slightly startled at "Silent Night" being included in the repertoire deciding maybe it was a fair idea after all.
NBC had a mild disaster on its hands. The show was kinescoped for the West Coast to be broadcast a week later. But some columnists in the West complained that the huge NBC hype machine caused their editors to leave space open for reviews on opening night, so they had to see the show right away. In 1952, that wasn’t so easy. After some frantic calls to 50 Rockefeller Plaza, a special closed-circuit line was opened so critics could see the show in a Los Angeles restaurant as it happened.

Perhaps that was a bad idea. Critics had mixed opinions. All of them didn’t seem to like the writing, some felt Tallulah rose above it. That’s not the best way for a network to start an expensive, promising show. On March 17, 1953, Variety reported Gleason outdrew Bankhead almost 2 to 1 on her final starring show of the season three days earlier, despite a change in writers (Neil and Danny Simon were now putting words in her mouth). It appears everyone had enough. Bankhead decided she’d go to Vegas where she could let loose far more than on television, and NBC announced on April 1, 1953 she would appear in a sitcom next fall. Bankhead and the other rotating stars joined together for a last broadcast on April 18th. All-Star Revue was cancelled by month’s end.

It turned out NBC had no plans for her. She appeared periodically on talk shows and, famously, as the Black Widow on Batman a couple of years before her death. In a way, she was another radio star who didn’t make the transition to television but she really didn’t fit either medium. The stage was her real home.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Heap Big Stereotype

Time for an eye-rolling gag from Tex Avery. Even he knew it was an eye roller.

The chief walks into an Indian brave. The brave explains he’s a half breed. Then he turns to face the camera.

Avery gives his opinion of this stereotype gag through the character.

This is from Jerky Turkey (1945), animated by Ray Abrams, Preston Blair and Ed Love.

Monday 24 June 2019

He's Toinin Plaid

Hubie’s way ahead of Bert in playing mind games on Claude Cat in The Hypo-Chrondri-Cat. Hubie has to slam Bert around to get him to catch on after pointing at the cat and saying “He’s toinin’ green.”

I like the disgusted look on Hubie’s face when Bert gets wise and declares that Claude is turning green.

Director Chuck Jones has the colours appear in Claude’s eyes before he changes colour. First, green, then purple, then plaid. (Carl Stalling has “The Campbells Are Coming” accompany the last gag).

The story’s by Mike Maltese with animation by the Jones usuals of 1949—Ben Washam, Lloyd Vaughan, Ken Harris and Phil Monroe.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Benny, Cantor, Crosby and Lotions-of-Love Winchell

Jack Benny wins. Walter Winchell wins. Paramount wins. And, ultimately, newspaper readers win, too.

Gossip columnists, like the rest of us, have to take time off work. One of the favourite ways to fill space during the respite was to have stars as fill-in columnists. I suspect in most cases, the stars had their writers pounding out inches at the typewriter.

Walter Winchell’s column of July 22, 1938 has Jack Benny’s byline. I imagine part of the deal was Benny got to plug his coming Paramount picture in return for gossip and gag copy. Jack (or Bill Morrow or Ed Beloin) tosses in references to Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Bing Crosby (including his horses) and his four-year-old daughter speaking like the Kingfish, which strikes me as highly improbable.

Jack Benny Buys a Clock, Gets a Grandfather, Free walk home.
(Today's guest columnist for Walter Winchell is Jack Benny, radio-screen comedian).
Dear Walter:
I received your letter (with three cents postage due) asking me to write a column for you while you are on your vacation. That’s fine. You’re on your vacation and I’m slaving and sweating in front of a hot camera, so why should I bother substituting for you? Why should I put myself out? Why should I take these few precious moments of freedom between scenes and use them in grinding out words to fill your space? You want to know why? Because I’m a ham. I like to see my name in print, even if it’s on a police blotter. So without further ado, I bring you your Hollywood correspondent—Jack Benny!
Well, to begin with, Walter, you asked me to give you some of the latest dope about Hollywood and the movie colony, as I rub elbows with all the important people here. Now I ask you, how much information can you get from an elbow?
The hottest thing in town right now is the Hollywood Park racetrack. It’s a beautiful place. You can get there by taxicab in 15 minutes, and it only takes you three hours to walk home.
It is a very modern track and the last word in progress. Everything there is streamlined, except the nags I bet on. I put $2 on one the other day, and as he was coming into the stretch he lost his wooden leg.
And everything is so formal there. The jockeys work in top hat, white tie, and the horses work in tails. They'll do anything out here, Walter. They even tried to get the Supreme Court for judges.
Bing Crosby has been very fortunate lately, as all of his horses have been winning. He happens to have the next dressing room to mine at Paramount, so I hid a dictaphone in his room to try and get some information. I played the record back today. All I found out was, his tailor's name is Smith, his youngest child is teething, and I’m a heel.
Can you Imagine that, Walter? And after all the things I’ve done for Crosby . . . What’s that? What have I done for Crosby? Well, for one thing, Walter, I have never played "Sweet Leilani" on my violin. Some gratitude.
Now let’s see, what else is going on in Hollywood? . . . Oh, yes. N. B. C. is building a new studio on Vine St. C. B. S. has already opened theirs, and the E. C. A. S. (Eddie Cantor's Antique Shop) is doing very well. I went in there the other day to pick up an antique chair and got paint all over my hands. Eddie had the nerve to tell me that it's been drying since the 15th century. I hope my hand has better luck.
Incidentally, Cantor just sailed for Europe, and the day before he left Hollywood he sold me a grandfather's clock, which financed his trip. I didn't mind that so much, but when I got home and opened the clock, his grandfather was in it.
By the way, Walter, you might be interested to know that Mary and I will be moving into our new home soon. It is really beautiful and located directly across the street from the lot you bought on Roxbury Drive. If you contemplate building on your property, I hope you will put in an extra bathroom, as the architect forgot ours.
Mary and I had quite a lot to do with the building of our new home. I’m not much of a carpenter myself, but Mary took up brick-laying at Vassar. Believe me, it came in very handy.
We had a hard time deciding on the type of architecture. Mary wanted our home to be French Colonial and I held out for Early Spanish. However, we finally compromised. The house is going to be French Colonial, but early every morning I’m going to have a Spanish omelette for breakfast.
And, Walter, I wish you could see our swimming pool. It's really lovely. But I do think it’s a little too large, as last night we had a typhoon in it. But even then I didn’t realise how enormous our pool was until I strolled over there this morning and found our backyard filled with beachcombers. Something will have to be done about that.
But the house itself is furnished in excellent taste. We have a gorgeous living-room overlooking a group of bill-collectors, a lovely dining room, and a beautiful den with a lion in it.
Well, so much for my house. Now let's see, what else is there to talk about?
DING-A-LING-LING! Oh, pardon me, Walter, there’s the telephone. (CLICK) HELLO . . . YES . . . OKAY, I’LL BE RIGHT OVER, GOODBY. (CLICK.)
Excuse me, Walter, that was the assistant director calling me on the set.
You know I’m in the middle of "Artists and Models Abroad," the new Paramount picture I’m making with Joan Bennett. Joan is a wonderful girl to work with. She’s so sweet and understanding. No matter how many times I forget my lines, she never says a word. She just groans. Yesterday I played a love scene with her, and I was so thrilled that I forgot to kiss her. I guess she was thrilled, too, as she forgot to remind me.
Our director, Mitch Leisen—who is one of the best in the business—runs a Men’s Shop on the side. So far in the picture I have a large wardrobe but a very small part. One of my checks bounced the other day, and he cut me out or three scenes. And is he commercial! He says he won't let me marry Joan Bennett at the end of the picture unless I buy a camel’s hair coat.
So you can see, Walter, what I’m up against. And that isn't all. The cameraman also sells insurance. And since I have all the insurance I need, you can imagine how I'm going to photograph.
But what worries me most about my career in the cinema is Mister Zukor, the head of the studio. I think he has lumbago, as he hasn't bent over to pick up my option.
But I’ll be through pretty soon, Walter, and go on my vacation. I haven’t decided just where to go, but I would like some place unusual this year . . . some tropical island nestled in the blue Pacific, with palm trees swaying in the breeze. So after looking up the boat fares to Tahiti, I’ve about decided on Catalina Island. I know it's only a short way from Hollywood, but I’m going on the far side of the island where, on a clear day, you can see Honolulu in the newsreel. I know Honolulu is very romantic with its beautiful native girls in their grass skirts, but I like women I can smoke around.
If I have time, I'll also take a trip East for a short visit. And inasmuch as I’m on a very strict diet, I’ll probably stay at the home of my old friend, Fred Allen. He has a cook who even knows how to make hash out of hash. In fact, Allen is so tight that—(KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!) ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT, I’M COMING!
I'm sorry, Walter, but I've got to run along now, as they're ready for me on the set.
Oh, by the way, before I go I must tell you about my little daughter, Joanie, aged four. I told her this morning I was going to write a column for Walter Winchell. And what do you think she said? You'll never guess. She said, "Daddy, are you going to get paid for writing this column?" I said. "No, darling." And she said. "Daddy, you-all sho am slippin’!" (You see, Walter, we have a colored nurse.)
Well, that’s about all. Have a good time, Walter. Relax, take it easy, and don’t do anything that will upset you. In other words, don’t read this column.
Best wishes always. JACK BENNY.
P. S. I just saw your picture on the front cover of Time Magazine. Gee, you're pretty!

Saturday 22 June 2019

Animators at War

Bob Givens was never recognised on screen for his work with Bugs Bunny in 1940, but he was in the press a year later.

When the U.S. entered World War Two, animators were among those who found themselves in the service of Uncle Sam. Some of them, however, spent their days working on films. On the West Coast, the First Motion Picture Unit produced training films, with Rudy Ising overseeing the animation division. Perhaps the best known animated short is Position Firing, starring Trigger Joe.

On the East Coast, the Signal Corps set up a film division at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Little apparently has been written about what was made there, but there were certainly enough animators sent there.

The first story appeared in both the Red Bank Daily Standard (June 26, 1941) and the Fort Monmouth Signal (July 2, 1941). The second story appeared in the latter edition. You should recognise many of the names in the first one. The second is a brief squib about actor and former New York fur salesman Danny Webb, who can be heard in the cartoons of a number of West Coast studios. The date should give you an idea of the time when he stopped voice work. We wrote a bit about him in this post. In the following story, as well as in the earlier post, he claims to be the voice of Bugs Bunny. I don’t even think he voiced the rabbit in those late ‘30s, still-in-development cartoons, nor do I remember him doing Andy Panda, though he was in at least one Andy Panda cartoon.

My thanks to Mariana Givens for the use of her dad’s photo.

Disney Aides Stationed Here
Other Hollywood Cartoon Artists, Story Directors In The Army Now

Recent additions to the personnel of Fort Monmouth's polyglot Fifth Battalion include Donald Duck, Porky Pig, and Popeye the Sailor. The beloved animated cartoon characters haven't actually joined the Army, but all three are represented at Fort Monmouth by men who helped create them.
The roster of Co. E. of the 5th Signal Training Battalion includes no less than ten artists and story directors from Hollywood animation studios.
Leading with the largest contingent is the Walt Disney Studio, home pond of the irrepressible Donald himself. Disney Men now stationed in the Fifth Battalion include:
Pvt. Berk Anthony, story writer and animator who worked on nearly all of Disney's characters over a six-year period; Pvt. Rodell Johnson, one of the artists responsible for the antics of Jimminy Cricket in "Pinnochio;" Pvt. Victor Michonski, who spent over two years working on "Fantasia," Disney's most lavish production; Pvt. George Paliwoda, whose artistic efforts included everything from portraying Donald's duckiest moments to creating an earthquake for "Bambi;" Pvt. George Peed, who prepared continuity sketches for "Mickey Mouse" and "Donald Duck" shorts, "Snow White," "The Wind in the Willows," and "Pinnochio." Pvt. Robert Perry, a "Goofy the Dog" artist, also worked on the hilarious mushroom sequence in "Fantasia."
Disney's competition from Leon Schlesinger Productions, creators of "Merry Melodies" and "Porky the Pig," is as intense at Monmouth as in Hollywood.
Pvt. Robert Givens, a story sketch man who helped originate tribulations for "Sniffles the Mouse" and "Bugs Bunny," is now drawing his pay through the Fifth Battalion Headquarters.
Pvt. David Monahan is also from the Schlessinger outfit. He helped Ted Cook prepare his "Ted Cook's Cook Coos" before joining the studio. The Max Fleischer Studios, "Popeye's" masters, are represented by Pvt. Alden Getz, who worked on "Gulliver's Travels" and Betty Boop" shorts in addition to "Popeye" himself.
Approximately a dozen additional animators and story directors have transferred from the Fifth Battalion to the Twentieth Signal Service Company and are at present helping produce training motion pictures at the Training Film Production Laboratory.

Dave Weberman, Man Of A Thousand Voices, Arrives
It wasn't so long ago that the arrival at Fort Monmouth of Pvt. Dave Weberman, Co. E, 5th Slg. Trg. B'n, occurred. Before entering the Army he was teaching Leo Carillo, Jeannette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy and a dozen other Hollywood stars the tricks of voice and acting that had made him one of the country's foremost voice impressionists. That was just after the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios lured Dave away from the East and took him to Hollywood.
Between courses in the Co. E Schools, he entertains his fellow students with the impersonations that earned him his reputation as The Man of a Thousand Voices." Under his stage name of Danny Webb, Dave has impersonated vocally at various times President Roosevelt, Hitler and Mussolini on "The March of Time"; Ken Murray's Mad Russian"; the little rab[b]it in "Looney Tunes"; and, his favorite role, "Andy Panda" in the famous animated cartoon. His last assignment before entering the service was with Johnny Downs and Mischa Auer in Columbia's "Sing Another Chorus," soon to be released.

Friday 21 June 2019

The Questioning Horse

There’s some hot Gene Rodemich music (with speak-song lyrics by that raspy voiced Van Beuren guy) in Horse Cops. I wish I knew the music better as I can’t identify the tune.

The cartoon is set around a speak-easy where cats dance, bugs and mice play musical instruments and drinks are untouched on tables because that saves animation. Oscar the police horse pulls one of those old silent cartoon bits I still like. His neck stretches into the club and a question mark forms from his ears.

The Motion Picture Herald of December 5, 1931 opined “An Aesop's fable parodying the raiding of dance halls in the days of the old West.” Old West? With jazz music? And billboards?

John McManus has a credit on this short as well as John Foster. The song “Horses” is all over the sound track. It’s another song you know from old cartoons.

Late note: Rollo Nichols tells me the song is The Man From The South by Rube Bloom and Harry Woods.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Tailing the Penguin

“He’s got m’tail again,” says the guard dog to the viewing audience in the Chilly Willy cartoon I'm Cold.

Here are some of the drawings as the dog tries to extricate itself from the hole in the floor. These are consecutive frames, shot only once.

Tex Avery borrows from himself here. The laconic dog with the accent is taken from his southern wolf character at MGM (both were done by Daws Butler). The gags have a nice flow. Avery handled Chilly Willy very well in the two cartoons he made with the character.

The orchestrations in Clarence Wheeler’s score in this cartoon are really good, especially the selection of solo instruments and the flute when the penguin scurries about. The animation is by Ray Abrams, Don Patterson and La Verne Harding.