Saturday 31 August 2019

Walt Disney Says "We're Not a Company"

A company? Gosh, shucks, no, we’re just a bunch of guys without a boss sitting around making cartoons for the fun of it.

So said Walt Disney.

At least, he said it to the press. But I can’t help but wonder if that’s what he really thought, and that’s why he was so hurt when his “bunch” went on strike against him. Mind you, the attitude Disney expressed was in 1929 and there was a big difference between the Disney studio then and the picketed operation of 1941.

This story appeared in the New York Daily News, as did the poor-resolution drawing accompanying it (we’re produced it from another source elsewhere in the blog). In it, Disney was already pushing the image of his superiority over the other cartoon studios, which would have meant Universal on the West Coast and Mintz, Fables (Van Beuren) and Fleischer back east. Disney’s cartoons arguably looked slicker than the rest but I still think the Fleischer shorts were funnier.

The line about a good relationship between Disney and distributor Pat Powers turned out to be wishful thinking.

One-Eyed Connelly, by the way, was famous years ago for slipping past ushers at ball games and political conventions in Chicago.

Animated Cartoons Going Over Big
How Silly Symphonies And Micky Mouse Hit the Up Grade

Hollywood, Cal., Nov. 30.—The old gag about making such mouse traps that even One-eyed Connolly would come crashing through the woods to buy one certainly applies to Walt Disney and His gang.
They are making the public rock with laughter with the antics of the animated cartoons, “Mickey Mouse” and the quaint members of the cast in the Silly Symphonies series.
While movie millions are juggled around in mergers and high priced screen stars are tossing their temperaments all over the studio lots, “the bunch of us,” as Disney describes his outfit, gather together in a little unpretentious building on Hyperion st., far from the cinema throngs, and turn out so much delightful nonsense that every picture company here is envious in trying to get some short sketches whipped into shape that will compete with the Disney creations.
A Headless Company.
A crew of cartoonists and an orchestra working under the supervision of Walt Disney turn out the work while Walt looks out to see that the bills are paid and enough money rolls in to meet the payroll.
“Who's the president or head of this concern?” I asked.
“We haven't any president or any other officers,” Walt explained. “In fact, we are not even incorporated. I guess you couldn't call us a company. We just get together, the bunch of us, and work things out. We voice our opinions and sometimes we have good old-fashioned scraps but in the end things get ironed out and we have something we're all proud of.”
Walt began his career in Chicago where he went to art school. When he was about 17 he picked up odd jobs on the Chicago Tribune, working on layouts, and from there he drifted to Kansas City and tried to peddle his talents to the Kansas City Star.
“But I guess fate was against letting me be a successful cartoonist,” he told me. “Gosh, how I used to envy the guys who were knocking out what looked like big jack in those days and I wondered if I could ever reach the top. I finally turned my eyes to Hollywood, where I decided I would go and try to become a director.”
The Proverbial Pot of Gold.
His ambitions along that line always feel short of realization, too. but he dabbled around the studios, getting what odd jobs he could. Then came the talking pictures and brought him what appears to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
A year ago Pat Powers began together, promoting the Cineophone [sic] talking picture apparatus. He was bucking the powerful Western Electric company and it looked like a forlorn hope but the Disney brothers cast their lot with him and began synchronizing their animated cartoons.
Right away they clicked. It didn’t matter to the public whether a company with millions back of it was giving them these entertainments. They were funny, that’s all anyone cared.
There was a dearth of good short movie bits and still is for that matter, so big houses grabbed greedily for Mickey Mouse when the first symphony appeared called the “Skeleton Dance,” it made such a hit that Roxy ran it for a stretch in New York and booked it again two weeks later for another run.
Fox west coast theatres have tied up the cartoons on the Pacific coast. The Manley theatres spoke for it on the east coast and “The Bunch” are beginning to taste the sweet joy of having their efforts appreciated.
Success hasn't made anybody high hat around the lot. They are one big family doing their stuff and having lots of fun. I asked for some pictures to illustrate this yarn and Jack King, who made a reputation in New York as a newspaper artist sat down and drew his impression of “The Bunch,” catching the characteristics of each with a grotesque humor.
The movie cartoons are drawn by a group of artists working over a glass board with a light underneath it. It takes about 5,000 different sketches for each of the symphonies. These are then re produced on celluloid.
A camera transfers the sketches to the movie film. On another film the music is photographed and then the two films are worked in together.
“It is the rhythm that has appealed to the public,” Walt told me. “The action flows along and we have to work hard to keep the movement flowing with the music. We had to work it out mathematically.
“We try to get something in the cartoon besides just nonsense. Some idea such as in the ‘Silly Symphony’ where the idea of thousands of members of the animal kingdom preying on each other was carried out. We have to be careful not to get the sketches too silly.
Money? What's That?
It costs about $7,000 to make a Silly Symphony. The biggest expense is the salary of the artists. The orchestra varies in size from eight to twelve pieces. The director, Carl Stallings, has much to do with the successful enterprise. He writes all the scores. The scenario of one of the cartoons is written on a sheet of music.
“Don’t ask me if we’re making money,” Walt begged. “I wouldn’t know about that. I know we’re getting by all right. My brother turns up here each week with enough to pay everybody off. We haven’t found time yet to sit around and count our profits.”
“Everybody here has his shoulder to the wheel,” Walt said. “Maybe some time we’ll all be rolling in wealth and move into more pretentious quarters and put on the high hat, but we won’t be making any better movies.”

Friday 30 August 2019


There was one thing that surprised me about Valerie Harper and one that didn’t.

I was a little stunned when, having watched her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show for some time, I heard her interviewed and she didn't sound like she was from the Bronx. Rhoda’s accent certainly fooled me.

I was kind of stunned but not really surprised after Rhoda debuted to learn the title character would be (sound the promotional trumpets) getting married. Even a teenager like me knew that was the kiss of death for the series. Weddings were a gimmick that never worked on Get Smart or I Dream of Jeannie.

Rhoda, on both shows, was a likeable, funny character (less so on her own series), so it's no wonder people liked Valerie Harper. Let's go back and look at a couple of newspaper columns. The first is after she burst onto the scene. It appeared in papers on November 12, 1970.

Friends Aid Miss Harper Make Grade

HOLLYWOOD (NEA) — Every television season, no matter how bad some critics say it is, there's always at least one young actor or actress who is spotted in a small part and becomes important.
This year, one of this lucky group is Valerie Harper, who plays Rhoda, the kookie upstairs neighbor on CBS' Mary Tyler Moore Show. She is a very funny young lady.
She also happens to be a very pretty young lady, a fact which you don't notice right away because you're laughing too hard. That's the way Valerie wants it, because she'd rather be known as funny than pretty. And that's funny, too.
VALERIE HARPER is one of many ex-dancers — she was in the chorus of a bunch of Broadway musicals — who decided there was no future in one-two-three-kick, so she switched to acting.
She grew up in many places because her father, a salesman for a lighting company, moved around. She spent her childhood in Suffern, N.Y., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ashland, Ore., Michigan and Jersey City. Jersey City gave her the proper edge to her voice to play Rhoda. She is modeling Rhoda after several friends and her Italian stepmother, Angela.
"ACTUALLY," she says, "I didn't think I'd get the part. It's sort of a Jewish character, and I'm not Jewish, and there are some very fine Jewish actresses around. But I had a lot of Jewish friends and that helped. There was a chemistry between Mary and me. They signed me the same day I read with her for the first time."
Valerie lived in New York for a long time, rooming with five other girls in a huge Riverside Drive apartment. One of her roommates was Arlene Golonka, who now plays Millie on Mayberry R.F.D.
ONE DAY Arlene came back from doing a show and told Val that there was a boy in the company who was very nice—"In fact," she told Val, "if I wasn't going with somebody now I'd grab him myself."
Arlene introduced Val to Dick Schaal, and Valerie is now Mrs. Dick Schaal. Dick is a Chicago-born actor and didn't like New York, but Val did. They were both with the Second City company which toured to Los Angeles. He wanted to stay but she didn't. She has adjusted to it now.
Being a hit on a hit show doesn't hurt.

Harper jumped to her own show and a wedding dress. Being the 1970s, that naturally brought about the then-standard questions about “women's lib” (ie. not needing a man, let alone a wedding dress). The column appeared on October 5, 1974.

Ratings, Marriage Pleasing Valerie

Monitor News Service
You are invited to the Oct. 28 wedding of Rhoda Morgenstern and Joe Gerard . . . on CBS.
Yes, Mary Tyler Moore's upstairs neighbor, who migrated back to New York only four weeks ago ("Rhoda," Mondays, CBS, 9:30-10 p.m.) has found a mate.
Star Valerie Harper is only too happy to share her home and her ratings ("Rhoda" jumped into the number one spot in her first week on the air) with actor David Groh, who plays her husband. Julie Kavner plays her sister Brenda and Nancy Walker (on off days when she's not Rock Hudson's maid or selling paper towels) plays Mother Ida.
In Los Angeles, where the MTM Enterprises crew has just finished the special one-hour marriage show which, by the way, also will feature most of the Mary Tyler Moore cast), Valerie Harper is resting up for a couple of weeks before heading back to the sound stage for more "Rhoda."
ACCORDING TO Valerie, she is not so different from Rhoda. "I call on a lot from my own life," she says. "But, I guess I am not as funny a person as Rhoda . . . or as free. I'm working on it but Rhoda is very free. That's what I like about her — she's the person who says the unsayable. I'm getting better — but I must admit that I am a little more uptight than Rhoda. Otherwise I guess it's me.
"I, too, have a weight problem. When I started on the 'Mary Tyler Moore' show I weighed about 150, then lost about 30 pounds.
In private life Valerie Harper is Mrs. Richard Schaal. Her husband is an actor and director very much involved in this own theater group in Los Angeles. They both studied and acted with Paul Sills of "Second City" and his mother, the famous coach, Viola Spolin. Three-time Emmy winner Valerie Harper also has been a ballet dancer.
Has the instantaneous success of "Rhoda" changed the daily life of Valerie Harper?
"Well, we were never really poor. Dick always has managed to work as an actor. We've been down to very little money but we were never hurting.
"NOW, WE have a business manager and all that — I feel like a teen-ager again with an allowance. It's less than I used to give myself.
"And we bought a house in Westwood. Not a mansion—a house with neighbors, and we can walk to the rest of the village. We just hated the idea of living in a canyon and depending upon a car.
"Dick's daughter by an earlier marriage lives with us— she's 20..."
Rhoda is a rather liberated character. Why is she getting married?
"Well, at first I resented that as a compromise. But then I realized — Rhoda would want to be married. She's not the swinging singles type — and when she meets the right guy, she wants a wedding and all that."
IS VALERIE Harper a liberated woman?
"I'm not sure what that means. I'm ever thankful to 'MS' Magazine — I read it and think it's fabulous. I've given 25 subscriptions for Christmas. And I can remember being absolutely altered by Germaine Greer's book. And in my own way I think I'm working daily at my consciousness being raised. Sure I'm a libber — a human libber, though.
"Don't forget that in the acting profession, males and females operate on the same level — we're all kind of pieces of meat. We're always being used — so there's a common bond. Also no man can fill my job. So, I believe — but I haven't joined any organization. "Maybe I ought to?" Miss Harper often asks questions of herself, of anybody around her. The usual thing is that she seems to want to get the answer.
WHAT COMES after "Rhoda"?
"I'd like to dance again. And do many different things. I've been offered many roles like Rhoda, but I'd be a fool to do her anywhere but on this show. For one thing, she could never be as well written as she is by our own writers. But, I've learned that Broadway is not the only place for talent There's just as much artistry and probably more rewards in television and movies." Rhoda Morgenstern is Jewish. Valerie Harper is not. Has playing the role made her feel more Jewish?
"There's a lot of Gittl (of 'Two for the Seesaw') in my Rhoda. I saw Anne Bancroft in it many years ago. But I guess I have an identity crisis because I feel Jewish and I feel Italian and I am neither. But, having lived in New York for a long time, I think maybe I'm more Zionist than a lot of Jewish people I know, but, no question about it — I've never paid any dues. I've never faced exclusion, discrirnination.
"We'd all be so much happier, though, if we all just danced together in the garden."
There'll be dancing in the garden . . . and probably in the streets as well .. . at the Morgenstern house on Oct. 28 when Rhoda marries her fellow in what may turn out to be the most publicized domestic event on television since Lucy had her baby. And they're dancing right now at MTM enterprises . . . over the phenomenal ratings.

Rhoda may have been likeable but evidently someone wasn't crazy about Harper herself in network executive circles. She may be the only star fired from a show named after her. (Jurors, however, apparently liked her, as they awarded her $1.4 million in compensation plus profit participation in Valerie, which morphed into The Hogan Family).

That can probably be considered a blip on her career. After all, she appeared on (arguably) one of the most popular sitcoms of all time. If it shows up in reruns for many more decades, that’s one more thing that won’t surprise me.

What's That On the Wall?

Background artist Fred Brunish plants an inside gag in the Woody Woodpecker cartoon The Coo Coo Bird (1947).

Bugs Hardaway and Milt Schaffer wrote another one of those trying-to-sleep-despite-interruptions cartoons. It starts off with a neon light from a hotel across the street blinding the bed-resting Woody. He pulls down the window shade and then walks back to his bed.

Notice the company that made the calendar in the background.

Knowing Walter Lantz, he probably offered Woody the calendar in lieu of overtime pay or some other kind of money.

It’s tough to tell in the frame above but there is scoutmaster-type hat hanging on a nail on the calendar, with skis to the left.

Brunish didn’t toss in as many inside gags as Paul Julian at Warner Bros. but they show up on occasion and it’s always fun to spot them.

Thursday 29 August 2019

How To Put Together a Cow

The Betty Boop Limited (1932) chugs along with not too much amusing going on until a bizarre scene closed to the end.

A cow (wearing boots) is straddling the rail tracks munching on grass. The speeding Betty Boop Limited hits it. Look what happens. The cow returns to the track in parts, its tail jumps back on it and it resumes placidly munching.

The Fleischer studio had an interesting type of brush work when it came to speed effects. We pointed it out in a post on Riding the Rails, a 1938 Boop cartoon.

Willard Bowsky and Tom Bonfiglio are the credited animators. Sammy Timberg and Bob Rothberg, according to ASCAP, supplied the score.

Wednesday 28 August 2019

To Leave or Knotts to Leave

A successful TV series brings a conundrum. An actor wants a hit, but then after a while, it’s “fans-be-damned,” they want to leave for something bigger.

Such was the situation facing Don Knotts.

Knotts had appeared in No Time For Sergeants at the Alvin Theatre in New York and did stand-up a few times on Garry Moore’s TV show when he was signed to be part of Steve Allen’s Sunday night supporting cast in 1957. That was his first real television fame. He parlayed that and the film version of Sergeants into his most famous role, thanks to TV reruns, on the Andy Griffith Show, starting in 1960. He won a bucket full of Emmys. But, as an actor, what do you do? Do you stay in a show the fans want to see and stagnate, or do you tell the fans “sorry” and move on? Knotts made a decision.

We’ll get there in just a moment. First, a King Features column from November 4, 1957. Knotts had appeared with Allen as a guest going back to 1956, but he and his fellow castmates garnered endless publicity the following year as a result of Allen’s “Man on the Street” sketches.
Allen Show Ties Don In Knots

With the addition of Don Knotts to his roster of auxiliary funny men, Steve Allen became the contemporary Ted Healy. Ted launched the notorious Three Stooges on the road of fame and fortune. Steve is performing the same service for his three stooges.
There's a basic difference, however. The term stooge has fallen out of favor and today supporting comics are called second bananas. But don't let the title fool you, they're still stooges.
Each of his helpers has achieved an identity of his own on the Allen show. Louis Nye is Gordon Hathaway, Tom Poston is a bundle of confusion, and Don Knotts the third second banana, is a nervous wreck. Each of the trio has developed catch phrases and mannerisms which they use on most of the shows.
Since his debut on the show in February, Don finds that, wherever he goes, people greet him with "Are you nervous?" to which his answer is an inevitable quick "Nooo."
Some Regular Basis!
Before setting down to do the Allen show on a regular basis (Some regular basis! Don's been on week-to-week notice since he started) "Don enjoyed a roundabout career in show business. He started out as a comic and switched to straight acting for five or six years. He appeared in both the play and the film of "No Time for Sergeants" and bad so much time on his hands during these that he worked up a nightclub routine and some special material. He auditioned for the Allen "Tonight" show, and whisk, he was back as a comic again.
"I enjoy what I'm doing," Don told me, "and the Allen bunch is great to work for, but I hope eventually to do other things. I realize I'm going to face the hazard of typecasting — I'll bet that, if and when I leave the Allen show, people will think of men only as a nervous comic — but it's possible to beat that. I learned. People tend to think of you only in the light of the last thing they saw you do. So, one time, when I auditioned for a Western, I sent in a picture of myself in a western, outfit. I was one of the first people selected."
Kept on Toes
I asked Don whether the intense competition, the Allen show was having with the Ed Sullivan show had much effect on his work. "It keeps us on our toes," he answered. "But competition doesn't frighten me. In fact, talking about competition, you ought to try working with Steve, Tom and Louie. That's fast company; You've got to be good to slay with them."
Of his many experiences on the show, one stands out in Don's mind. "When Lou Costello was on the show," Don said, "he asked me for two autographed pictures. And here I've been watching him since I was a kid!"
We’re now at 1964. Knotts is at a career crossroads. Here’s a King Features column from July 18th.
Actor Is Facing Hard Decision

HOLLYWOOD — Don Knotts, who plays deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith series, must make a big decision in the next month, and right now he is pondering, trying to figure out the correct move.
Don's problem is this — his contract ends next year and so does Andy Griffith's. What should he do after this coming season, which could be the final year for the winning combination of Griffith and Knotts?
If Andy decides to quit, should Don continue with the series? Or should he go after a series of his own, changing the locale and environment, but not the basic character of the small, know-it-all hero, deputy Barney Fife? Or, should Knotts leave TV and sign a motion picture contract? All these moves are distinct possibilities. As Don says, "almost every step you take seems a good one."
Since plans for such ventures are made many months ahead, Don must reach a decision shortly. "We've been on vacation so I haven't had a chance to talk to Andy about it," said Don. "I don't know how he feels about giving up after next season."
Series Could Go On
The Andy Griffith series could go on two or three more years running rampant over its competition, but the point has come when Andy might want to stop, having done his share. The point has also come where some storylines are off shoots of very funny shows, and, naturally, they can't quite top the initial ones. "So this makes you think, maybe you should move on to a new environment," says Knotts.
All this is going to disturb many Monday night fans who like the status quo of Sheriff Andy watching his little deputy, giving orders, acting like a vice-president only to foul up miserably.
Watching deputy Barney Fife is like looking in a mirror. He loves the pearls of truth that come out of his mouth and is willing to repeat them over and over. He loves to play boss, particularly as a little man, and he can't restrain from thinking he's a big law enforcement officer, only to remember at the last minute that he has the coinage of a mouse, Barney has a little of everyone in him and that's why Don Knotts is a three-time Emmy winner.
The supporting actor award is now known as the Don Knotts Award, thanks to the character the writers, Andy Griffith, producer Aaron Ruben and Don created. This year Knotts' name wasn't even mentioned, and was probably the first name to be tossed out. He had to be ineligible because he won too often. Don says the Barney Fife character was rounded out the first year on the air, and not much has been added to him since, because there isn't much more to take on first year on the air, and not much has been added to him since, because there isn't much more to take on.
"People don't change either," says Don. "You see, Andy and I have a pet hate — situation comedy. So we try to imitate real people and forget the plot as much as possible.
"What we try to do is make use of those conversational habits people have. Like Barney telling a joke, hearing laughter and then telling the joke over again. You've seen people do that. It's terrible, but some can't help it after hearing the laughter — it's a compulsion, and it's funny."
Has Don met many Barneys? "I ran into one in my home town, a perfect deputy Barney — ordering people around, acting efficient, loving his job. They had a parade for me and the deputy helped put everything together. After the parade dispersed the deputy drove the sheriff and myself back, and along the way the deputy hits the siren. In the back seat the sheriff looks over at me and says plaintively, 'I wish he wouldn't do that'."
'Child in Man's Body'
Evidently all sheriff departments have Barneys or write in to say they do, and all the law enforcement people like the character because he is so familiar. "Barney is a child in a man's body," says Don. "If you watch kids, you'll see them react immediately. They don't hide anything. The same thing happens with Barney. He expresses himself right there. If anything he overdoes it. "I think everyone wants to do that, but as grownups we can't. That's why it's fun to play the part. Then I'm free to let go."
Don doesn't react that easily off stage. He laughs a lot, he's friendly, but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He can get up before a live audience in a club and slay them, or he can relax and feel free filming the series, but he says he can't work before an audience and a camera at the same time. "I can't take that," he says.
Don first attracted attention on the Steve Allen Show, and says he went through a lot of strain at the time, because he was trying so hard to make good. The pressure was on him. "And I don't do as well under pressure," he says. "Others react differently. I'm much better when I'm relaxed and I know we can shoot over."
This past season Don spread himself out with nine or 10 guest appearances, and found the same old pressure returning when he appeared in front of an audience and camera. "It keeps coming back," he says, "and I just don't come off as well."
Like his crazy character, Barney, Don evidently is human too, not superman, and this chink or loophole only makes him even more likable.
Knotts was gone at the end of the 1964-65 season. He was jumping into films, lightweight farcical ones like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West and, later, G-rated feature film comedy from Walt Disney Productions.

Whatever his earlier feelings about television work, he returned to it in 1979 on Three’s Company. About all I’ll say about it is it was no Andy Griffith Show. The Griffith show had dignity and warmth.

Knotts was known for many years for his shaky characters. In the end his health was shaky. He was 81 when he died in 2006. He was liked by TV viewers and respected by critics and colleagues, as best as I can tell. Was he right to walk away from Andy Griffith? Perhaps. But quitting a show beloved by millions never hurt his career or reputation.

Tuesday 27 August 2019

I'm Multiplyin'

“Billions and trillions of wabbits!” cries Elmer Fudd, with the dialogue not synched to the animation.

Bugs Bunny rushes into the scene with the help of a dry brush and exits with a smear.

“I’m multiplyin’, see?” Bugs explains. “I’m multiplyin’!” As The Big Snooze was released in 1946, Bugs is using a 1946-style multiplying machine.

Rod Scribner, Izzy Ellis, Manny Gould and Bill Melendez are Bob Clampett’s animators on this one, which feels like it was edited with a lawnmower in places, the cuts in picture and sound are so abrupt.

Monday 26 August 2019

Tex Smears the Cat

The starving bum cat who wants to eat a puny canary (“Well, I’ve been sick”) realises he saw something on the label of a bottle of Garden Jumbo Gro. He grabs the bottle. Here’s a type of a smear drawing that I don’t recall seeing in an Avery cartoon at MGM.

This, of course, is from one of Avery’s masterpieces, King-Size Canary (released in 1947). Bob Bentley, Ray Abrams and Walt Clinton are the credited animators.

Sunday 25 August 2019

Youth and Violins

Loads of laughs came Jack Benny’s way because of all the things he really wasn’t. He really didn’t drive a Maxwell. He really didn’t live next door to Ronald and Benita Colman. He really wasn’t tight with a buck. He really wasn’t a hopelessly inept violinist. And he didn’t wear a rug.

Well, I should qualify that. He did have a small one in some of his pictures in the 1930s. Perhaps that’s why he joked about it on his radio show for years. Interestingly, his buddies George Burns and Georgie Jessel both wore one. And so did Eddie Anderson on his TV show.

Jack talks about his hair and violin playing in this 1959 news syndicate story. He was about to receive a reward for his music which, no doubt, thrilled him. After reading a number of these interviews, I truly get the feeling he wasn’t kidding when he said he wished he could have been a great violinist.

Benny Gets Kick Helping Music
Hearst Headline Service
NEW YORK, Nov. 28 — Talked with Jack Benny, 39, the other afternoon. Heavens, but the man has aged. Looked 43 if he looked a day.
In truth, he must be the best preserved Hollywood denizen in history. He is looking his 66th birthday in the face. Youthfully.
He was passing through, en route to Washington to receive the laurel leaf award at the National Press Club. It was given annually for contributions to music. Such as Stokowski and George Szell have won it.
For three years now he has been toting his Stradivarius around the land doing concerts to help local symphony orchestras. He was bubbling with pleasure as he recounted concerts last week in Detroit, St. Louis, and Rochester, N. Y.
"You know the people who gave, me this award tell me I won if for helping music. The money raised didn't hurt music, of course, but they think I help make fans for serious music. People attend a concert to laugh at Benny and they hear some Beethoven and Bach before they get Benny. They find they like Beethoven and Bach and come back to hear it without the jokes."
He endeared himself with a hit of candor unique among performers. He showed some newspapers with front page pictures and said "I enjoy doing this concert stuff for itself. And it isn't bad publicity, either. I could never get this kind of press if I went to Detroit just to do a broadcast."
I explained to Benny that I had a tin ear and was not capable of judging his music. What kind of a violinist was he?
He showed a St. Louis review. The critic wrote, "can Jack Benny play the violin? My answer is 'yes' and 'no.'" Benny said that was a fair description.
"I think I fool a lot of people with my violin," he added "I play straight. I don't have to hit any clinkers for laughs I can hit enough without trying. But I also have to stay even with the orchestra and finish in a tie. I usually do."
Benny gave a clue as to the seriousness with which he approaches the serious parts of his concerts when he said, "I had to start practicing all over again. I hadn't practiced in 40 years until these concerts came up."
He summed up his violin talent with a quote from his good friend, Isaac Stein, the great violinist. Stern told him, "when you make your entrance in tails and filled with aplomb you look like the world's greatest violinist It's a shame that right after such an entrance you have to play."
When you interview Benny he is pleasant but more often serious than not. He flashes humor now and then but unlike most of his colleagues he is not "on" every second. You gather that he takes being funny very seriously. And that he leaves nothing to chance.
He was enjoying his New York stay—"old friends" — but ample time was set aside to carefully prepare the ad libs for his speech in Washington. I mentioned how young he looked — that has never upset any interviewee I ever met—but he discussed that subject seriously.
"I do look young for my age," he said. "That's why I used the gag about being 39. If I looked 65 and said I was 39 it would be macabre. I look about 55 (a modest estimate) and I'm lucky. I do have the feeling I'll wake up some morning and everything will have collapsed and I'll look my age. But, so far so good."
As we parted, he scratched his head and I said, "you're the first Hollywood male star I've interviewed this year who didn't have to lift his toupe to scratch his skull."
Benny grinned. "Print that, he suggested. "A few people think I'm 39. But the whole country is sure I wear a toupe."
He doesn't. His hair, like his talent, wears well.

Saturday 24 August 2019

One of the Flip Cel Flippers

Ub Iwerks was man behind Flip the Frog. Well, unless you lived in one town in Montana. Someone else got the credit there.

Here’s a story from the Independent-Record, published in Helena in 1931.
Townsend Boy Author of "Flip the Frog" Animated Cartoons
Townsend, Sept. 16.—"Flip the Frog" whose antics on the animated cartoons has delighted millions of people about the world owes his popularity to a former Townsend youth, Ben Clopton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ben Clopton, Sr., of Townsend. The author-cartoonist is at present visiting his home on a much needed and hard earned vacation from the Hollywood artists colony. Mr. Clopton does other drawing but "Flip the Frog" is the one cartoon that will make him famous. He expects to return to Hollywood shortly to continue the activities of "Flip."
To the best of my knowledge, none of the Flip cartoons have the names of any animators on them (aside from Iwerks), so this was a nice little revelation.

The first time I saw Clopton’s name was many years ago watching those blasé Buddy cartoons produced by Leon Schlesinger. I’m always interested in biographical information about the people who worked on the old cartoons, and the world is fortunate that animation historians are, too. Some of them had the opportunity to interview co-workers of ones who had passed away so we can get a better idea of what they were like.

So it was with Ben Clopton.

Clopton was Montana-born and bred. He was born July 22, 1906 in Belgrade to "Rimrocker" Benjamin Ashby (Sr.) and Olivia Clopton. The family moved to Townsend in 1910 where Clopton graduated in 1924. Not many weeks later, he scoped out a job in Los Angeles as an electrician but moved back home and enrolled in university in Missoula. Timothy S. Susanin’s book Walt Before Mickey reveals Clopton went to work for Walt Disney in February 1927. It quotes Hugh Harman as saying “Ben developed this facility under Ub’s tutelage. He was not really as flexible or good as Ub . . . But he was a very excellent assistant[.]” Clopton was one of the Disney animators lured to work for middleman Charles Mintz after lawyers claimed Universal Pictures, and not Disney, owned the Oswald the Rabbit character; Michael Barrier’s Hollywood Cartoons states he left in May 1928. Clopton even got to direct some Oswald cartoons, including (Jungle Jangles and Saucy Sausages in 1929), before Universal punted Mintz and his studio. Barrier’s book gives the impression that Clopton stayed loyal to Harman and Rudy Ising when they signed their deal with Schlesinger to make a series of Bosko cartoons in 1930. Later in the year, he was obviously with Iwerks.

Mr. Barrier’s website features a fine interview with Warners animator Phil Monroe, who gave him some insight into Clopton.
Cal [Dalton] was influenced by an animator named Ben Clopton, who was the studio drunk, but was a goddarned good musical man, and his dances were all funny. He was good in the early '30s, or in the middle '30s, when they were making all those Merrie Melodies, when they used all of the songs. They would give Ben Clopton all of the dance sequences, and he'd get carried away. Say it was a lobster, doing a dance; they gave that to two different animators. They would give the lobster to Ham Hamilton, and Ham would make it look like the best dancer you could ever see, because Ham was probably the best animator that ever worked at Warners. . . .
If you'd give him the same dance you gave Ham Hamilton, Ham would put realism into it, and give you all the clicks. Clopton would give it a lot of bouncy rhythm, and all of a sudden a character would stand on his hands and dance on his hands and click his feet together and fly around—just wild. It was all in good rhythm, but it wasn't dancing, it was just good rhythm stuff. Every one of his dances received good comment; he was known as a good dance man. But he was wild.
The truth of the matter [was], he was drunk most of the time. I used to be his assistant, and I'd come in, and I'd be afraid to be around him, because you could smell the liquor on him. He thought he was a prizefighter, and the story about Ben Clopton is, at our Christmas parties he would always get drunk, then he'd go across the street to the drugstore—maybe to buy more liquor—and get in a fight. Every year he'd meet the same guy, and the other guy beat the hell out of him, and he'd come back. The next year, he starts breathing heavy and getting drunk, and he'd remember that fight he had—"Dammit, I can take him"—and he'd go across the street, and the guy'd beat the hell out of him again. That happened two or three years, and he always got beat up. He thought he was a fighter; he'd come in, and he'd spar around you while you were working. Cal Dalton would not pay any attention; Cal would sit there and work. Ben would sneak up behind Cal, and his fists would be coming right close to Cal, and Cal would just sit there and say, "If you hit me, we're going to have trouble." He never did hit Cal. He loved Cal; he thought Cal was the funniest guy. They really liked each other.
I remember one time in the late '40s that I came out of that studio at lunchtime, and I saw this guy lying in the gutter outside—a common drunk—and it was Ben. In '34, when I started, ten years, fifteen years before that, he was the top-paid animator, next to Ham Hamilton.
Clopton bounced from Schlesinger to Lantz to MGM (when Fred Quimby set up the studio in 1937) to Fleischer back to Los Angeles. Was he working for Hugh Harman Productions then? I have no idea.

His biggest publicity didn’t come from his work in animation but from his divorce in 1945.
Lamarr’s Stand-In Divorces Husband
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 3 (AP).—Sylvia La Marr [née Carmichael], stand-in for actress Hedy Lamarr and Joan Crawford, was granted a divorce today from Ben A. Clopton, rancher, when she testified:
“He kept a loaded rifle around the house. He used to shoot holes in the ceiling. It made me very nervous.”
Judging by the story, Clopton had forsaken animation for ranching. In 1950 he had a home at Arbutus near Clarendon in the Huntington Park area before moving to Santa Monica. His obituary in several newspapers in Montana reveal he returned to Victor, Montana to live with two of his sisters because of an unspecified injury. In 1979, he was moved into the Masonic Home in Lewistown, Montana, where he died of natural causes on November 19, 1987.

Friday 23 August 2019

The Multi Door Gag

Little Red Riding Rabbit is funny from start to finish. Friz Freleng and Mike Maltese worked together brilliantly on this cartoon (And Friz insisted John Dunn was his best writer. Pfuh!).

Some of the gags are old favourites. There’s the “echo” gag (Bugs echoes what the wolf says). There’s the “keeps singing” gag (the wolf keeps singing after Bugs escapes). And there’s the “multi-door” gag, reused some years later in Buccaneer Bunny.

One thing you can’t get from these screen grabs is Friz’ perfect timing as Bugs goes through various doors, the wolf gets there and then reacts. You have to watch the cartoon.

Bugs going up the stairs for the first time is worthy of frame-by-frame study. I really like the exaggeration of Bugs’ leg for emphasis. The same with how his hand is stretched to open the door.

Bugs has a look of delight through this whole scene. He knows he’s putting one over on the threatening wolf.

Here comes the wolf.

Wolf reaction to Bugs coming out the wrong door.

The wolf looks determined.

The wolf reacts again.

The wolf looks determined again.

The wolf reacts again.

The wolf is angered now. Check out the position of Bugs’ ears and how he leans back in anticipation. Some really fine animation.

Manny Perez gets the sole animation credit in this cartoon. Gerry Chiniquy, Dick Bickenbach, Ken Champin and Jack Bradbury would have been in the Freleng unit as well. It was officially released in 1944 but I found an ad for it in a paper at Christmas time 1943. Exchanges didn’t get worked up about when cartoons were actually shown.

Thursday 22 August 2019

The Cupboard Was Bare (In the Next Frame)

Ub Iwerks cartoons went out of their way to suck out any humour.

Here’s an example from Old Mother Hubbard (1935). You know the lines from the nursery rhyme. Mother Hubbard and her dog go to the cupboard. All there is in the cupboard is a spider.

If this were a Fleischer cartoon, the spider would come out with some kind of non sequitur. Even in a mid-‘30s Friz Freleng cartoon, the spider would say or do something silly.

But no. Not in an Iwerks cartoon. Not even a “Can you direct me to Miss Muffet?” The spider being there is the gag. That’s it. Are you laughing yet?

Below are consecutive frames.

“No bone,” gestures Mother Hubbard. Or maybe “No spider.” Where did it go? It was just there a frame ago. Maybe Ub is jumping into the future (and wondering how fast he can get back to Disney).

There are other spots in the cartoon where it looks like a gag is being set up and nothing happens. However, the dog mouths the word “Damn” twice (this is an Iwerks cartoon after all) and does a weak Maurice Chevalier impression.

Iwerks and his people seem more interested in loading up the cartoon with songs than humour. I love Carl Stalling, but as an operetta, this short is third rate.

The studio was only making these ComiColor cartoons by 1935; Willie Whopper had been kicked out by MGM the year before.