Wednesday 31 July 2019

Between 40 and Death

Her first review may have been in a caption of a newspaper photo showing her and fellow aspiring actress Elaine Herman painting a stage backdrop.

She was a member of the Dramatic Workshop Players of Great Neck, Long Island, a troupe consisting of World War Two service people, which was about to open a run of “Androcles and the Lion.” A newspaper story several days later concludes with her name in a list of unknowns (today and then, I suspect).

Her name was Bea Arthur.

The photo was in the New York Daily News of August 13, 1946. That gives you an idea of how long it took for Arthur to gain fame. (Sorry, we can’t reprint the picture).

In 1947 she was appearing in plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre but by 1951, she decided to toss acting away for a singing career. She joined the stock company on a short-lived musical show on the Du Mont Network called Once Upon a Tune. At the same time, she appeared at the One Fifth Avenue. Billboard’s Bill Smith reviewed her act on April 28, 1951—twice. One review went:
Bea Arthur, a tall, attractive brunette, in her first café job (she comes out of legit) impressed with a low contralto and a sharp under-selling style that drew and held attention. That the girl can act was evident from the way she handled the lyrics on torcheroos and ballads. Most of her material was standards tho she handled them so skillfully they sounded like specials. On the basis of her projection, the gal could make it in class uptown rooms and might even be a look-see by some record a. and r. guy.
In the second review, he mentioned “With proper costuming and lighting, Miss Arthur could catch on. She has the basic talent.”

Of course, we all know Arthur didn’t make it as a lounge act. She performed off-Broadway, unstudied Tallulah Bankhead in a 1956 version of the Ziegfeld Follies that died before it reached New York. She appeared on TV as a sketch performer. She didn’t appear on stage in an all-female “Hamlet”; only one actress was in front of the audience, the rest gave their lines from behind a curtain. And she did some cabaret work; she opened with the song “I’m in Love With Sammy Snead.”

Arthur had to be convinced by her husband to take the role that made her a Tony winner. She was appearing in “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1966 but Gene Saks wanted his wife to join the cast of his musical version of Auntie Mame, which tuned up in Philadelphia and Boston before hitting the Great White Way to, I think, universal rave reviews.

And then came Maude.

Well, some other things came between the two but we’ll never get there if we list anything and everything.

Here’s a National Enterprise Association story of October 5, 1972. She engages in that old show biz tradition of subtracting a number of years off her age. She was born in the Depression—if the Depression started in 1922. One thing she doesn’t underestimate is the power of television’s national exposure.
“Maude” is Really Soft-Hearted Inside

HOLLYWOOD (NEA)—Beatrice Arthur describes herself this way:
"I'm a large lady with a deep voice. Inside I'm butter."
She's physically perfect as the beautifully bitter lady known as Maude, on that sure-to-be-a-hit new CBS series. In it, the butter underneath doesn't show. She can be large, deep-voiced and tough and nobody knows about her miserable sentimental core.
It's always been that way with Beatrice Arthur. Her husband (director Gene Saks) kids her about how she looks and sounds so forbidding that she could get any shopkeeper to do anything she wanted. But, Saks says, she's too timid to go back to the butcher with a bad piece of meat.
"I always was big," Bea says, "and I always wanted to be an ingenue, when I was eight, back in Cambridge, Md., I'd go to the movies and read the fan magazines and dream of being small, delicate and blonde. Here I was big and hefty and dark."
She was born in New York, during the Depression—"but let's not talk exact years"—and then her family moved to Maryland's eastern shore. At first she wanted to be a concert pianist but gave that up when she realized she wasn't dedicated enough for a concert career "and didn't want to spend my life teaching piano to kids in Cambridge, Md."
She was a registered lab technician and she worked in the local Cambridge hospital but gave that up after a couple of years. "I just couldn't see myself taking urine specimens the rest of my life." So she headed for New York, dramatic training and Broadway. She was there more than 20 years and she says it was pretty good. She did well, worked most of the time, had a few hits.
"But in one night on television," she says, "when I did that first guest thing on "All in the Family," I got more recognition than I had in those 20, 25 years in New York onstage."
When they first suggested that Maude would be a series, she says she wasn't overwhelmingly excited. She came out to Hollywood with her husband—he was here to direct "Last of the Red Hot Lovers"—and did her thing. But now she's excited.
"I want this show to be a hit," she says, "and if it isn't I think I'll kill myself."
It's hard to think of Maude, as we know her, of ever being shy but Beatrice Arthur was. No more.
"When I studied acting," she says, "I was so shy I'd hide behind the angry peasants on stage. Today, if an angry peasant appeared on my set, I'd shoot him."
Arthur had enough of Maude and quit after six seasons. Several years later, Norman Lear talked her into something that must have seen great on paper—an American re-working of Faulty Towers. Critics hated it. The show was cancelled after something like ten episodes. Here’s how one reviewer saw the seaside show, in a column of March 25, 1983.
Frenzied 'Amanda's' Is Unwelcome Guest

NEA Television Critic
If you're a PBS watcher, you may have already seen "Amanda's."
This new ABC sitcom, a starring vehicle for Bea Arthur, is adapted from "Fawlty Towers," an incredibly funny British sitcom about an ill-humored, inefficient, hen-pecked bully of an innkeeper named Basil Fawlty. John Cleese of Monty Python plays him.
Since I'm a member of the "Fawlty Towers" cult following, I'm probably the wrong guy to talk to about "Amanda's." I've tried to watch it with an open mind, to take it on its own terms, to give it a chance.
I've tried. But this U.S. version still seems shrill and clumsy to me. To put it plain, I think "Amanda's" is an embarrassment.
Amanda Cartwright (Miss Arthur) is a sour, intimidating petty tyrant whose crumbling California seaside inn is in heavy financial trouble. Her neighbor and arch-rival, Krinsky (Michael Constantine), wants to buy her out and tear the place down.
"If I die before you," she advises him, "I'm to be cremated and my ashes strewn in your eyes."
Her son, Marty (Fred McCarren), has loads of advice for perking up business, seeing as how she did send him to hotel management school. But Amanda totally ignores him. He is an oaf.
As for his wife, Arlene (Simone Griffith), she's a pampered, snobby Bostonian who talks mostly about clothes and daddy, who is, she often points out, the third largest maker of folding chairs in America. Amanda despises her.
Rounding out our cast are Aldo (Tony Rosato), a forgetful bellhop who speaks no English, and Earl (Rick Hurst), the chef, who is an amazingly long-winded bumpkin.
Amanda is unfailingly nasty to all of them, as well as to her guests. When one diner complains that the lettuce is wilted, Amanda snaps, "You probably scared it to death."
While Miss Arthur went to town as the ill-humored, sharp-tongued Maude Findlay, she suffers from a lack of equals here. On "Maude," she had her husband, Walter, to keep her in line. Meanwhile, on "Fawlty Towers," Basil can bellow and huff until his face turns blue but you still know he's terrified of his tiny wife, Sybil.
Here, there is nobody to stand up to her. The rest of the characters are one-note patsies. She is out of control, and so is the show. It doesn't have stories, it has elaborate contraptions.
Each week we are force-fed an exhaustingly madcap, three-ring circus so crammed with stupid characters and frenzied sight gags that it reminds me of the disastrous movie "1941" - played out in a phone booth.
In one episode of "Amanda's," for instance, a bank robber holds staff and guests hostage in the lobby. Within the course of 60 seconds we are treated to the sight of: Marty, clad in snorkel and scuba mask, being tied to a chair; Arlene being hit in the face by a flying duck; two people being conked on the head by a large frying pan; a poodle named Joel being outfitted in a party hat.
While all of this is going on, Amanda is being wooed by the chief of police over the bullhorn.
In another episode, Amanda prepares an elaborate surprise party for Earl, invites banjo players, square dancers, a magician and a suicidal comic, only to learn at the last moment that the new bank president she was planning a party for next week is coming a week early.
So she has to switch the parties, only the place is already filled with the wrong crowd and Earl has found out about the surprise and Amanda has her arm stuck in a vase.
Two rules of comedy: More is not better, it's less; madcap is only synonymous with funny if you have Cary Grant as your star.
Bea Arthur is an imposing presence and a fine performer. It's nice to see her back on series TV. But this is the wrong kind of show for her. For anyone.
Perhaps it’s just as well that Amanda’s failed. That would have prevented her casting in the Golden Girls, which is Arthur’s biggest success in the eyes of some. If there’s one thing people like more than catty women, it’s catty older women. Yet she left that show, too, when she felt it had run its course.

There’s a line in the song “Bosom Buddies” from “Mame” about Arthur’s Vera Charles being “between 40 and death.” That’s what she was when she died in 2009. She’d come quite a way from painting backdrops after getting out of the service.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Tex's Missing Gag

There’s a gag you likely won’t see if you stumble across Tex Avery’s Happy-Go-Nutty on the internet. You might even notice there’s been a cut and can probably guess what the missing gag is.

Meathead the dog paints a bomb like it’s an apple. Screwy eats just like an apple. Well, if he can do it, Meathead thinks he can do it. Wrong. It turns into a bomb.

Yeah, it’s the old blackface gag. Scott Bradley plays “Swanee River” in the background (he even uses a banjo) while Meathead adopts a raspy Rochester voice.

This kind of gag wasn’t original with Avery. You can find it in Wheeler and Woolsey’s Diplomaniacs (1933). Avery kept using these blown-up/blackface bits periodically; there’s one in Garden Gopher (released in 1950).

Is this Ed Love’s animation? He worked on it, along with Preston Blair and Ray Abrams.

Monday 29 July 2019

Hot-Cha-Cha in the Cold

Blizzards, downpour, lightning, twisting wind. It all hits the Aleutians, Isles of Enchantment, in a 1945 cartoon starring Private Snafu.

After the storm, the camera pulls back. “My gracious!” says the narrator who isn’t Bob Bruce, “Such conditions are almost unbelievable.” The scene now includes a walrus in the foreground. The walrus turns around the reveal a familiar face and catchphrase.

“Never-de-less, dat’s the conditions dat prevail!” says the Jimmy Durante walrus (played by Mel Blanc). Unfortunately, he didn’t end with a Durante-esque “Hot-cha-cha-cha!” He makes a repeat appearance at the end of the short.

This spot gag/travelogue cartoon was made by the Chuck Jones unit at Warners.

Sunday 28 July 2019

The Song That Wouldn't Die

Jack Benny’s writers loved running gags and milked them as long as they could.

One concept they came up with was Jack writing a wretched song that he thought was tremendous and trying to peddle and publicise it everywhere. The gag began in the radio days on September 30, 1951. It petered out later in the season but, on occasion, Benny would continue to joke about it.

Benny really did write the lyrics for it. His musical director, Mahlon Merrick, composed the music.

Something else Benny’s writers loved doing when television came along was to rework old radio scripts for the visual medium. And they decided to bring back Jack’s song.

United Press International covered the story. This column dates from December 26, 1963.
Jack Benny's 2-Bit Song To Be Reborn

HOLLYWOOD (UPI)—Professional skinflint Jack Benny is still trying to unload that two-bit song of his on a gullible public. Jack's tune, "When You Say I Beg Your Pardon, Then I'll Come Back to You," is the hallmark of bad musical composing. It's a vocal jawbreaker with lyrics which would need to be sung by a mouth twice the size of Martha Raye's.
Benny has owned this musical turkey for more than 15 years. It was born on his old radio show, died the miserable death it deserved, and was reborn several times on his television series.
The song has been killed consistently by people of taste. However, it refuses to die. And if it ever did. Jack would refuse to bury the melody.
Song Is Bomb, Jack Knows
Deep down inside, Benny knows his song is a bomb. But he intends to bring back "When You Say etc." again on CBS-TV Jan. 14. The comedian won't sing his song though, for the simple reason that he can't. Jack's lack of singing talent is rivaled only by George Burns, who set horticulture back 1,000 years with his rendition of "Red Rose Rag."
During a steak luncheon recently, Jack reviewed the history of his song since its unfortunate inception.
"It was purposely written lousy," said Jack, indicating that poor lyrics gave the song charm. "We always get a pretty funny show out of it."
To indicate how durable the song has been during the years, Benny recalled some formative musicians and others who tried to lend it some class. The list includes Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Welk, Danny Kaye, George Burns and Groucho Marx. All failed.
Now Benny has hired the folk-singing trio of Peter, Paul and Mary to sing it. When they find out how bad that song is, they'll wish they had used their last names.
Publishers Interested
During the years, Jack's song has gained enough notoriety to interest publishers. They have seriously asked Benny to allow them to publish it. He has refused.
"The publishers heard us plugging it all the time." Jack explained. "And those were the days when they were publishing lousy songs."
Jack said there is one hope for his song a language other than English.
"The Guadalajara trio sang it once in Spanish," he said. "In Spanish it sounds pretty good." He might have added: "To everybody but those who understand Spanish."
Jack’s not quite correct about the publishing, unless it was done after this article was written. Merrick was a member of BMI and the song was published by what I presume was a Merrick company, Palisades Music. My guess is it had to be published so it could be used on television.

This was, to the best of my knowledge, Benny’s song’s swan song. It first appeared on TV on the January 9, 1958 edition of Shower of Stars in which, just as in the radio days, Benny tries to convince several people to sing it, including Tommy Sands and an old vaudeville colleague, Ed Wynn (who does a dramatic recitation). The writers dredged it up again for a Benny show in 1961, where they do a switch on the radio gag about dishes breaking every time Jack talks about giving 50 cents to a bum. In this case, playing the song opens windows. In 1962, he forces Lawrence Welk’s orchestra to play it (Jack, on his violin, repeats the old off-key/give-me-an-A bit), but Welk ruins Benny’s plans by turning the song into a polka (with the wonderful Madge Blake dancing with Mr. Wunnerful).

As funny as the Welk show is, my favourite version is from the radio show. Honorable mention goes to the Danny Kaye/Groucho Marx/Frank Sinatra/Sugar Throat travesty where the song morphs into something that sounds like a combination of The Chords and the Ink Spots. But the most enjoyable one to me is when Jack dreams a symphony orchestra is playing it at Carnegie Hall. Mahlon Merrick both satirises overblown arrangements but treats it straight as well with some beautiful string work. Maybe Jack’s lyrics were “a bomb” but Merrick’s music shows he really had great composing and arranging skills.

Saturday 27 July 2019

Something New: Cels!

How many of the artists connected with animated cartoons in the silent era are forgotten?

One of them is Bert Green.

You can read a short biography at the New York Public Library site. Green was animating Krazy Kat cartoons in 1916 and working for Pathé five years later, the same year he had a 14-minute vaudeville act with his cartoons.

In a post on Jerry Beck’s Cartoon Research site, chronicler Jim Korkis reveals Green was employed at MGM “sometime in the late 1930s and early 1940s,” though the 1940 U.S. Census has him back in New Jersey and cartooning for magazines. He had been in Hollywood, though; in 1933 he went on the Hal Roach payroll and in 1936 Variety reported he was working with former animation director Greg LaCava on the Universal lot.

Green died on October 4, 1948. He was 63.

He chatted about making cartoons move in this syndicated newspaper story of August 26, 1921.

Making Animated Cartoons Is the Modern Man's Job
NEW YORK—If Job were alive today he would probably surrender his crown for patience to the makers of the animated cartoons.
The astonishingly life-like action portrayed by outlined figures on the screen is obtained by drawing a series of pictures, photographing each one separately and in sequence and projecting them on the screen.
"You can't get any more out of cartoons than you put into them," says Bert Green. He animates maps and charts and other things that would appear only as dry statistical subjects on the screen for Pathe News.
Pathe maintains a complete mechanical plant for turning out cartoons and animated diagrams.
The operator touches an electrical button for the "shot" of each separate drawing. Often the camera is standing on its head for the shot.
The photographed drawing is withdrawn and another substituted. This operation is repeated several thousand times to make a reel that will run six to eight minutes on the screen.
Winsor McKay, some eight or ten years ago, drew 1,000 drawings and moved them in succession before a motion picture camera to illustrate a day in the life of “Gertie, the Dinosaur.”
This modern Job's job is no longer entirely a one-man job. The cartoonist create the scenes, characters and incident. But the details of action such as a man running of falling are made by his assistants, called “animators.”
Formerly the entire figure and the scene represented were re-copied for each drawing. This seemed to be necessary for a complete negative.
However, a recent invention obviates that labor. It is called the celluloid sheet. It is sufficiently transparent for photography through it.
Thus, if only the head, the arms or the legs move, only the part that move has to be re-drawn. The main part of the character and the "set" remain under the camera lens.
The animator must be so proficient that the lines of the changed part will join with the unchanged lines.
Many tricks have evolved from camera animation. Some of them are the pen that moves across the screen with no hand to guide it, the ink blot that resolves itself into characters, the monkey's tail that sweeps across the screen and leaves the artist's signature.
The latter is employed by Paul Terry who is animating Aesop's Fables.
Animated cartoons have acquired a place on the screen of importance equal to that of the strip comic in newspapers.

Friday 26 July 2019

The Bitingmobile

There are some very nice expressions (and shapes) by the cars in one scene of Ragtime Romeo (1931), when Flip the Frog won’t allow a large sedan to pass him.

Flips gets even when his car spews sooty exhaust at the vehicle behind him.

Only Ub Iwerks gets a title credit on this cartoon.

Thursday 25 July 2019

Quail! Rabbit! Quail!

“Bugs Bunny could have been a bird,” Tex Avery once said. No, Tex, he couldn’t. The proof is the dismal cartoon The Crackpot Quail (1941).

Avery took Bugs Bunny and turned him into a bird. He then took Elmer Fudd and turned him into a dog.

During the first encounter between the hunter and huntee, the dog comes to a Fudd-like late realisation. “Wait a minute!” he exclaims. “You’re a wabbit quail!”

The quail speaks into the dog’s ear. “Ya know, doc,” he admits confidentally, and then screams “I am a wabbit!You’re right!”

The quail takes off, ballet style, just like Bugs did in A Wild Hare

The dog, by the way, debuted in the enjoyable Of Fox and Hounds (1940). In this cartoon, he loses the “George” routine that Avery loved (and others copied). He’s really a proto-Meathead, the dopey dog in the Screwy Squirrel cartoons and, in a way, the quail is a primitive Screwy. There are no outrageous gags like you’d find in a Screwy cartoon. Instead, we get an incredibly boring scene involving the quail licking down its comma-shaped crest and an irritating, repetitive quail whistle. This one’s a real miss on Avery’s part (and that of his writer Rich Hogan).

Wednesday 24 July 2019

The Great Prohaska

The most over-the-top actor on Gilligan’s Island was one whose face you never saw.

He appeared in several episodes, jumping around, grunting and gesticulating wildly, or giving a stop-and-sweep-the-head stare take.

He was a gorilla. Okay, he was a guy dressed in a gorilla suit. His name was Janos Prohaska. He always struck me as hammy but his appearances were always funny.

Prohaska showed up when the script called for a large comic relief animal. He used to play a bear as well; I remember he was on an episode of The Lucy Show. He appeared on other shows I simply can’t recall about 50 or so years after the fact.

Either he had a good agent or made good copy because TV Guide profiled him years and years ago. On a whim, I hunted in some old newspapers and discovered a few articles on him. I’m going to reprint the earliest one I spotted, from the Atlanta Constitution of November 1, 1959. This was pre-Gilligan and it seems Prohaska was on dramatic shows at the time. He seems wistful that he never got a crack at TV stardom. Considering TV was on the cusp of airing shows starring a housewife witch, a reincarnated car-mother, an astronaut-loving genie, and a crash-landed Martian, maybe he could have carried a full half-hour.
They Make a Monkey Of Janos; He Likes It
A Hungarian-born actor named Janos Prohaska has an unpleasant effect on women: They usually faint when he takes his head off.
This bothers him little because, you see, it isn’t his head.
The cur[l]y-haired, 40-year-old apes monkeys. He’s been doing it from the inside of his two-piece costume for 20 years—for money.
Prohaska turns up tonight as a pickpocketing chimpanzee who works with a conman (Vincent Price) on “Riverboat.”
There isn’t a fortune to me made in such a disguise, Prohaska confided to me over a recent breakfast in Hollywood. But, he said, the “Riverboat” role did pay him $1,500.
“I am thinking that somebody could make a serial of a chimpanzee,” he said hopefully, his eyes brightening. “Like Rin Tin Tim or Lassie. You could have so much fun with it. I like to make chimp—to make fun—to make people laugh.
“Chimps like to be cheeky, to do things you don’t want ‘em to do. They think like seven-year-olds.
* * *
When Prohaska was a seven-year-old, he was amusing his friends with handstands (“I was always a gymnast”) and at 12 he started his first show. “I went to work in a side-show with a schoolmate. The announcer said we came from the Palladium. I didn’t even know where that was.” (But he later appeared in the London Auditorium).
“We then worked in theatres and night clubs. Then, in 1939, I first did my chimp act with a costume I made from goatskin.
“But the costume was no good. I couldn’t move in it. It was too stiff. But the kids liked it.”
In 1942, his partner died; in 1943, Prohaska was pacted to appear in Spain—but he only got as far as Austria. “They wouldn’t let us out of the country,” Prohaska recalled. He escaped the draft and, in 1946, wound up working for the U.S. Army’s Special Services unit—appearing for 2½ years in various centers. In the meantime, Prohaska had married (he is now separated: his wife, one-time target in a knife-throwing act, now lives in Australia, raising their 13-year-old son).
After bouncing around for years, Janos, who said he appeared on TV in Berlin in 1941, made his U.S. TV debut on the Ed Sullivan show in 1956. Since then, he’s appeared on some Westerns.
* * *
Apart from funding suitable job offers, Prohaska’s other difficulty is in making his own chimpanzee outfit.
“First I make costume of nylon but was no good,” he said. “Too stiff, too heavy, too fire-danger. Now,” said the five-foot-four muscle-man, “I have one costume. It cost me $300 and six months to make. I make with rubber, jersey, leather and yak hair. I sew with needle—even the to[u]pee I wear on my head. The feet and hands are from latex.”
When Prohaska appeared for the “Riverboat” role with his costume, the outfit weighed a lot. “But they chop off almost half the hair. Now, it weighs seven pounds,” he said.
Prohaska maintains that he has no competition for his act.
“Oh, there are a few doing gorillas here but so far I’m the only one making the chimpanzee. Others are too stiff—like robots.”
* * *
When Prohaska turned up on the “Riverboat” set, he came face to face with a real chimpanzee.
“He has armed like dot”—Prohaska demonstrated the wingspan—“and shoulders like dot”—Prohaska became bug-eyed—“and we started playing footsies. At first he do not know I am not real chimp.
“Then,” smiled the actor, “he smell my skin. Then he know, he know. . .”
Science fiction fans will know Prohaska for his work on a number of TV series.

He died in a plane crash during a filming expedition for the series The Primal Man on March 13, 1974 near Bishop, California.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Boogie Woogie WACs

Pat Matthews was known for his sexy girl characters at the Walter Lantz studio, especially his animation on “Miss X” in a pair of 1944 releases.

But there’s a nice little walk cycle of three women in uniform in Lantz’s Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company “B”, released three years earlier in 1941.

Whether Matthews was responsible, I don’t know. His son told animation blogger Kevin Langley that Matthews worked on Pinocchio but got caught at the Disney strike, which started in late May 1941, and went to work for Walter Lantz. This Lantz cartoon was released in early September, so it is possible the scene is Matthews’. I honestly don’t know who else at Lantz might have animated it. (Late note: a comment below points out the cycle is re-drawn from Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat, released at the start in 1941. It’s unlikely, then, that Matthews animated this).

There are 36 drawings in this strut cycle. All but two of them are animated on twos, the other two drawings are one frame each to give a bit of a hitch in the walk. Here is a middle drawing, followed by two extremes.

They don’t look like much, do they? Ah, but here’s where the magic of animation comes in. Add the in-betweens and you get something pretty neat.

Alex Lovy and La Verne Harding get screen credit for animation. Danny Webb, who was in the army and on the other side of the U.S. from Hollywood when this cartoon was released, is the frog-voiced sergeant. My guess is the black vocalists who sing the title song provide some of the character voices as well.

It’s unfortunate there are a couple of stereotype clichés in this short and mangled Amos-and-Andy English (though not as bad). It’s not a great cartoon but you can enjoy Darrell Calker’s fine brassy score. Oh, and the Boogie Woogie WACs.

Monday 22 July 2019

The Fudd Turnaround

For a rotund guy (for a while), Elmer Fudd could sure move.

Look at the speed lines in The Wacky Wabbit, a 1942 cartoon from the Bob Clampett unit. Clampett and his animators do something that Warners wouldn’t try years later. Elmer grabs his shotgun, then makes a stumbling, clockwise, 360-degree turn. Bugs then grabs Elmer and turns him around another 180 degrees and points with one hand, then another. It’d be considered a waste of animation by 1960 (think of the static Bob McKimson cartoons or Chuck Jones’ characters, inert except for a twitch).

I love this joyous drawing.

Sid Sutherland is the credited animator, while Virgil Ross, Rod Scribner and Bob McKimson likely animated this short as well.

Sunday 21 July 2019

Think Young, Stay Young

One of the reasons so many people were shocked when Jack Benny died was he looked not only healthy up until a few months before his death, but didn’t appear to be 80 years old, which he was.

He talked about youth to North American Newspaper Alliance columnist Cindy Adams, and talked about critics as well. Critics were generally kind to him, but he could get snippy about unfavourable reviews or low ratings. To be honest, though they are nostalgic today, at the time they aired Benny’s TV specials were really for Benny fans only. I doubt they attracted a new audience (especially followers of the counter-culture), even with overly obvious attempts to do it by booking “with-it” guests like Isaac Hayes who don’t look like they belong on the same screen with someone who had spent more than 20 years in vaudeville.

This was published April 26, 1968.

Jack Benny, at 39 Twice, Credits 'Thinking Young'

NEW YORK (NANA)— At the age where he can almost celebrate his 39th birthday twice, Jack Benny is called by chums "the Jewish Dorian Gray."
Deep in the heart of his 70's, his smooth, unlined face is that of a man in his 40's. Being that I know Jack and being that I also hail from peasant stock, I asked straight out if he'd ever had his face lifted.
"No, but I'm certainly flattered you think so," he grinned. "Tell you one thing, though. If I had lifted it I'd gladly admit it. I'm in a business where I must look as well as I can. I'm not a fat clown like Buddy Hackett with a funny characteristic to fall back on or point up, so I have to try and look as well as I can.
"TO ME, THERE'S no shame in having a hairpiece or lifting your face or wearing a girdle. It's the same as fixing a broken arm or repairing a bent finger. I did consult my doctor recently about tightening the extra skin on my neck a bit, but he was against it I have diabetes and at my age he said he's prefer that I don't. If I badly needed it I'd do it, though. Meanwhile, when I'm being made up for television, we use a dark shade on my neck to make it less pronounced."
"You have your own teeth, your own hair," I said admiringly. "Tell me, what's the formula for staying young."
"Thinking young," said Benny. "In my act at the Waldorf, I have a teenage girl with me. I've always utilized youngsters. New talent gives you new life. Bob Hope and I are a toss-up as to who's the world's biggest ham. He says I am and I say he is. But the point is neither of us stop. We both keep up to date. We both travel. We both keep going. I still play as much golf as I can. Sometimes it's only nine holes but at least I play!"
BENNY'S LONGTIME manager, Irving Fein, and the Waldorf's publicity girl, Lola Priess, were shushking loudly in another corner of the suite. Benny peered over once . . . twice . . . then hollered, "Hey, . . . young lady . . . er . . . what's your name?"
"Lola," she hollered back. "Well, listen, Lola, do me a favor, will ya?" "Sure," came the returning holler.
"Shaddup," yelled Jack Benny. Then, grinning happily when everybody broke up, the professional cheapskate of radio and TV fame continued, "Of course, I have reached the point where I no longer stoop to pick up a penny. It now has to be at least a nickel."
And can a Jack Benny, at this stage in the game, ever flop on stage?
"NO, I DON'T really think so," he answered slowly, thinking about it. "My trouble is with critics, not audiences. If I've done two or three good shows in a row, they just figure it's time they rapped me, so they do. I feel that after my many years of producing good entertainment they should be more considerate, but they aren't.
"See, I know what's good for me. I know how to handle my audiences. That's why I'd be a lousy director. I'd always make everybody do things the way I'd do them because that is the only way I know.
"My comedy isn't funny on paper. It's only funny in the way I make it work. Even if my audience should be bad, they'll never know it and neither will anybody watching because someway, somehow, I'll be able to pull something out.
"Let me put it this way," he smiled. "I can always keep a show from not being as bad as some of my critics will say it was!"

Saturday 20 July 2019

The Art of Voice Acting

The greatest actor in cartoons was Mel Blanc. He could do almost anything, including have his characters imitate each other. Instead of Daffy Duck adopting Bugs Bunny’s voice, he sounds like Daffy trying to mimic Bugs. That’s sheer brilliance.

My favourite actor in television cartoons is Daws Butler. He starred in all the great pre-1960 Hanna-Barbera series, which mainly relied on dialogue to entertain people. Daws came up with some great voices and, being a writer as well as an actor, could add things to the words provided by Charlie Shows, Mike Maltese and Warren Foster.

Daws’ cartoon career, according to historian Keith Scott, began with a Columbia cartoon Short Snorts on Sports before he was hired by Tex Avery at MGM. His voice could be heard at the Walter Lantz studio, which gave him his first screen credit, as well as innumerable animated commercials in the 1950s. His career on A Time For Beany and with Stan Freberg has been well documented.

The New York Daily News had a chance to interview Butler (it only made reference to Blanc) at the height of his career. As an added bonus, it spoke with Tommy Morrison, the story director at the Terrytoons studio in New Rochelle. The article even included a picture (which we, unfortunately, can’t reproduce). He talks about voice work, taking credit for Mighty Mouse with no mention of the character’s singing voice, Roy Halee, or any of the actors freelancing at the studio, such as Lionel Wilson and Allen Swift, or people like Dayton Allen, Arthur Kaye or even Doug Moye, who originated some of his characters. Perhaps he did say something and it was edited out, as Morrison is barely quoted in the article.

It was published October 18, 1959.

Heard but not seen
The men who provide the voices for TV's cartoon characters are stars in their own right

In the world of TV where anonymity is a fate worse than radio, there is a group of men, numbering not more than 10, that thrives on being unknown. Daws Butler, Mel Blanc and Tom Morrison rank foremost in this select clique. Rarely, if ever, seen on television, ignored by celebrity seekers as they walk along the street, these gents nevertheless are quietly getting rich supplying the voices for some of today's popular TV cartoon characters.
One such character, Huckleberry Hound, is now being seen on 175 stations, including New York's Wpix. Millions chuckle at the antics of the hound, but few realize that the syrupy drawl emanating from the Southern bowwow comes from Daws Butler's pipes. Butler also does Dinky and Jenks [sic] on the show as well as Quick Draw McGraw for another series. So popular has Huck Hound become that the University of Washington recently held a "Huck Hound Day" on the campus, and 11,000 joined his fan club. Southern Methodist University in Dallas also will dedicate a day to the pooch, and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth will follow suit.
Although Huck Hound is now a TV favorite, Butler has yet to make his first appearance on the medium. "I've never had much interest in being seen." says Butler. "Besides, voice work is lucrative and you don't burn out as quickly as the performer constantly seen live."
However, the 42-year-old native of Chicago knows what it's like to be in front of an audience. He was part of a night club act called the "Three Short Waves," which enjoyed more than moderate success before the war.
In the 25 years he has practiced his specialized art, Butler has done more than 1,000 different characters, including many voices behind cartoon favorites on commercials.
"You need a background of comedy to do voice characterizations," says magic-larynxed Butler. "Each character has a personality of its own; each has its own humor value. You must have the knack of giving life to the drawings."
But even when you have the knack, voice and experience, it still is arduous work to create a top-flight cartoon. The usual procedure is for all concerned to meet at the recording studio. Joe Barbera, the co-producer, then takes out a story board, which is nothing more than a sheet of paper divided into squares to represent frames of film. The dialogue is written underneath the squares, which contain the drawings. It is estimated that it takes over 90 separate drawings to create a laugh movement. A total of 10,000 individual drawing frames make up a half hour of cartoon enjoyment.
Barbera takes the parts of all the characters, telling Butler and the other voice men how he wants the cartoon characters to sound.
Butler, a man with a middle baritone, tries it once, twice, sometimes as many as 15 times until everyone concerned is happy. Barbera then retires to the control room as they run through a scene.
More or less the same tactics are used at other studios for the initial approach to cartoon making. At Terrytoons, Tom Morrison holds sway as a "50-year-old Mighty Mouse," as he describes himself. His voice characterization of the little cheese snatcher brings laughter to many a youngster watching the Mighty Mouse Playhouse on CBS every Saturday morning.
Flexible-voiced Morrison also speaks for such cartoon characters as Dinky Duck, the Terry Bears, Gandy Goose and Sour Puss, as well as serving as story supervisor at the studio. "If you have the voice range, you can do them all." says Morrison. Though Morrison, like Butler, has never appeared before the TV camera, he may become more widely known as the Mighty Mouse voice through an album just issued by RCA-Victor called "Terrytoon TV Cartoon Time." But Morrison really doesn't care who knows he's Mighty Mouse as long as they make the check out correctly to him.
Mel Blanc, Mr. Bugs Bunny himself, also doesn't give two carrots whether he's recognized or not. "People recognize my voice," says the multi-toned Blanc, "and, that's the important thing to me." He has appeared on TV a few times, mostly as a comic on the Jack Benny show. But mainly he's heard as Bugs on Fred Scott's wnew-tv show.
One executive in the cartoon-making business can only speak of Blanc with awe. "He has an iron voice," says the exec. "One minute he's doing Bugs, and the next he's barking like a dog. It's simple for him to change volume. Another marvelous thing about Mel is the way he reads a drawing. One time and it's usually 99 per cent correct. All in all, a funny guy and an A-1 technician."
Due in no small measure to the voice experts, the appeal of cartoons seems to be getting stronger all the time. There's more production of comical strips for TV than ever before. As Daws Butler explains it: "Adults can see the off-beat humor in a cartoon, as Huckleberry Hound for instance. They appreciate the fun in the dialogue and the different nuances. The kids go for action."
As an afterthought, Butler adds: "Maybe the attraction of TV cartoons today can be explained in that viewers don't get as tired of cartoons as they do of people." END

Friday 19 July 2019

Buggy Auctioneer

A glum tobacco bug spits out a radio catchphrase (and tobacco) in Crazy Cruise, written by Mike Maltese and begun by the Tex Avery unit, which then became the Bob Clampett unit.

“We are able to hear it by means of our super-sensitive microphone,” says narrator Bob Bruce and a cut-out of a hand holding a mike is shoved into the scene.

Suddenly, the bug goes from a chewing sound to a tobacco auctioneer’s spiel, ending brightly with “Sold to an American!” before spitting out some chaw and carrying on with his lazy chewing.

This is one of many parodies of the Lucky Strike cigarette routine that began on radio in 1937 when two tobacco auctioneers appeared on commercials, ending their indecipherable sales babble with “Sold American!” (Luckies were made by the American Tobacco Company). They began on the “Lucky Strike Hit Parade” but may be better known for their work on the Jack Benny radio show until 1951 when American Tobacco retired them (possibly in a money-saving move).

Variations on the “Sold American!” catchphrase were used in other Warners cartoons, as E.O. Costello’s Warners Cartoon Companion website shows.