Monday 30 September 2019

Kiss of the Hick Chick

The title character of The Hick Chick (aka Daisy Goon) kisses Lem. A typical Tex Avery-style reaction follows. We even get some perspective animation.

It’s a good thing this is a fun blog and not one of those intellectual ones where I would pontificate on the symbolism behind the scene involving the rooster crow.

Walt Clinton, Ed Love, Preston Blair and Ray Abrams are the credited animators, with backgrounds by Johnny Johnsen. Avery and writer Heck Allen borrow from, and use, Red Skelton’s Clem Kaddiddlehopper character as a starting point for this 1946 cartoon.

Sunday 29 September 2019

Radio Time With Jack Benny

Jack Benny and his writers, at times, struggled over a single word on a script, so it’s odd to hear that he “often changes the script after the program has started.” But that was the claim in a feature story on the Benny radio show in its waning days in New York City.

It’s true Jack would ad-lib, and some of the cast members would as well, but it didn’t happen very often. If a show was falling apart (generally when someone blew a line), Jack would play that up to the audience with some comments and they’d laugh probably louder than they were if things were going according to the printed page.

This story was published on March 3, 1936. The show had returned from Los Angeles only a few weeks earlier and would leave its New York City base for good by the end of May (returning occasionally until the early ‘50s over the years for a week or two at a time). It mentions writer Harry Conn, who would soon walk away from Benny in a fit of ego that proved to be an incredible stupid career move but one that benefitted Benny in the long run.

Jack’s off-the-air life is abruptly summed up in the final paragraph.

Jack Benny Rehearses Little So Mary Livingstone Just Says Anything and Radio Fans Roar
Couple Voted First Place on All Air Programs Two Years

This is the third of a series of articles by Dorothy Roe on the intimate personalities of America's leading radio entertainers.
(Copyright, 1936, Universal Service. Inc.)
New York, March 3.—Jack Benny points his cigar severely at Mary Livingstone and demands:
"Woman, don't you know we have to go on the air in 20 minutes?"
Mary powders her nose, ruffles her script and trills:
"Wouldn't it be funny if we didn't go on tonight?" Jack replies severely:
"Whaddaya mean—funny?"
Mary widens her immense brown eves and says innocently:
"Well, I'll bet a lot of people would think we were funnier if we didn't say anything at all."
Everybody Happy
That is a sample of a Jack Benny rehearsal. Jack and Mary, who is his wife, always intend to rehearse. They go down to the N. B. C. studios sometimes a whole hour and a half before their program goes on the air. But then Don Wilson, their cherubic announcer; Kenny Baker, their youthful tenor: Johnny Green, their orchestra leader; Harry Conn, their script writer, and the other members of the cast always have a lot of new gags and, what with this and what with that, time marches on.
But nobody seems to care whether Jack and Mary rehearse or not. The fact that the radio public has just voted them first place over all air programs for the second year in succession proves that.
And if the sounds of merriment that come through your radio of a Sunday evening make you think Jack and Mary and the boys and girls are having a good time earning their daily bread you guessed right.
Radio's No. 1 comedian goes on the air with less preparation than probably any other artist of the air waves.
Benny, bland, carefree, chewing his eternal cigar, explains:
"If we rehearsed too much, the program would be wooden. You see, we gotta be in the mood."
Little Preparation
One reading of the script, with the entire cast, and one so-called "dress rehearsal" with the microphone takes care of the preparation for the program, and that, it is explained, is done chiefly for timing.
Benny often changes his script after the program has started on the air, and Mary knows how to keep up with his ad libs.
It was an accident, as a matter of fact, that launched Mary Livingstone on an air career along with her famous husband. One night the script ran short during a broadcast, and Jack had to improvise. He called to Mary, who was sitting with the audience, and started an argument over the mike. Mary kept saying in a scared voice: "Hush, Jack, you're on the air. All those people will hear you." And the radio audience loved it. An avalanche of telegrams and mail proved that. So from then on Mary Livingstone was a part of the act.
A "Dead-Pan" Voice
Jack explains:
"Mary doesn't have to act. She just naturally has a dead-pan voice. She not only is my best pal and severest critic, but my ideal deadpan straight man."
And that may be a new kind of romantic compliment, but it came from the heart.
While most radio script writers keep from two to six weeks ahead with their programs, the Benny rang never even thinks of what the Sunday night act is to be until along about Thursday. Then Benny gets together with Conn, and the two map out the rough outlines of the script.
Nothing more is done about it until Saturday morning, when Benny reads through the script with his director and sponsors—that's to be sure the script is safe—that there is no danger of libel or censorship or any of the bogey men of radio.
The only real rehearsal takes place just before the program goes on the air and that is a performance which usually has even the studio page boys holding their sides. It goes something like this:
Jack: "Where are you reading? I'm on page nine."
Mary: "Well, I'm on page three. Skip it."
1500 in Audience
During a broadcast Jack chews a cigar, makes faces at the audience, executes a few dance steps now and then, and hangs his head prettily during applause. Broadcasts are held in one of the huge N.B.C. studios, before an audience of 1500, admitted by cards from the sponsors or the broadcasting company.
Both Jack and Mary throw the pages of their script on the floor as the broadcast progresses, and if anybody reads the wrong lines, that's all right. It gives them a chance to ad lib, which they would rather do than eat.
Sometimes the announcer, Roly Poly Don Wilson, goes into such roars of laughter during a broadcast that he is unable to talk, whereupon Benny nobly pinch hits. All members of the company, including the orchestra leader and Jack's secretary, are pressed into service before the 30-minute period on the air is over. And they love it. So does the public.
Jack fell in love with Mary Livingstone one day in Los Angeles, when she called him a ham actor and hired six little boys to sit in the front row at his show and not laugh. They have an adopted baby, Joan Naomi, 21 months old. Their closest friends are George Burns and Gracie Allen and their ambition is to get a million dollars so they won't have to be funny any more.

Saturday 28 September 2019

Am I Happy! And Will YOU Be Happy!

MGM’s Leo the Lion was animated in the very first Willie Whopper picture, introducing Metro’s newest animated star. However, he appeared in animated form again.

The studio wanted to bring back Leo to be part of a trailer for its 1935 feature No More Ladies, starring Joan Crawford. It made an odd choice to animate the movie promo.

The Ub Iwerks studio animated the first Leo but it and MGM parted ways in 1934. Metro began releasing shorts made by Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. For some reason, the studio didn’t get Harman-Ising to provide animated footage for the trailer. It called on Bill Nolan.

We wrote this post about Nolan earlier this year. He had been a long-time animator who was hired by Walter Lantz to co-direct cartoons at Universal and then left in October 1934. The next time the trade papers referred to him was in April 1936 when he briefly went to work for Charles Mintz at Columbia. What he did do in the interim? One thing was the animation for the No More Ladies trailer.

In it, Leo successfully breaks away from a theatre manager/hand who is trying to keep him off a stage. “Oh, boy!” yells Leo, who sounds suspiciously like Billy Bletcher, “Am I happy! And will you be happy!” Leo’s head and then a paw zoom toward the camera.

Historian/restorer Devon Baxter has come across this interview with Nolan conducted by The Daily Record of Long Branch, New Jersey and published August 13, 1935. Nolan doesn’t reveal what exactly he’s doing for a living. The story mistakenly states Nolan “originated” Felix the Cat and Oswald the Rabbit. The former was created, arguably it appears, by Pat Sullivan, Oswald was invented by Walt Disney. However, Nolan is credited with redesigning Felix to make him more attractive and, I suspect, easier to animate, and he directed many Oswald cartoons when Lantz took over the series.

Originator of Felix the Cat, Oswald the Rabbit Returns Here for Visit

No one would anymore think of introducing him as William Nolan of Hollywood, Calif., than they would take a chance killing a Japanese bettle [sic] with a fly-swatter. Both would be clownish. Honestly, this man who makes cartoons walk, talk and do spectacular stunts was halfway in the living-room of the Cross-Roads, Oceanport, and almost seated before his friend and war buddy, Charles Eager of Long Branch, announced, "Meet Bill."
A bulk of copy paper on a coffee table subtly hinted to the son of Mr. and Mrs. John J. Nolan of Long Branch that he was in for something. Arming himself with a cigarette he suggested, "May I smoke?" which was countered with "Proceed." He did and told how he studied at an art school in Providence, Rhode Island, and his first job, ('cause it didn't pay enough to be called a position!) was with the Bridgeport and Waterbury Herald as political cartoonist. The Associated Press signed him up in the same capacity and in between times he' did specialty sketches for the Worcester papers.
The thing that actually drove him to Long Branch was typhoid fever, plus his doctor's advice to wander seaward and throw the disease in the ocean. He certainly did and luck was with him again on his return to New England for he ran across Raoul Barrie [sic] who had brought back the animated cartoon idea from Paris. Of course the first pictures were crude and walked disjointedly but the two men dickered with them and modestly Mr. Nolan advanced, "I had a finger in most of the refinement ideas." Then, as if afraid he was boasting, he added, "The latest British Encyclopedia does give me credit for originating panoramic backgrounds in animated cartoons." Later on he released with Barrie some of the films as novelties. They were sponsored by the old Edison Film Company.
About this time Hearst had a hunch to put some punch in his cartoon strips and for a year Bill Nolan brought them to life. Recalling how Long Branch had brought him luck before in health, he came back and established in 1915 his first studio on Garfield Avenue and did Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff series. Every four weeks he alternated with Paul Terry of "Terrytoons," Raoul Barrie and Gregory LaCave (who is now the highest paid director in Hollywood) in turning out one of these motion cartoons. Next he drew some indoor sport animateds about Tad's stuff, featuring the Daffodil and Laughing cat. These were made in West End. Not to his liking he had to write his own stories, so once a week he drove his car early in the morning out to Goose Neck Point to pen his inspirations. He confessed, “I knew whose goose would be cooked if I failed to finish that story before leaving. So I never did.”
Did Felix the Cat
For two years Bill Nolan did Felix the Cat in New York with Pat Sullivan, but when Krazy Kat came along he hiked for West End and had a staff of 15 working there. This was during 1926-27-28. Locally, also, he did work for F. B. O. in News Laughs. They were really highlights and laughter on the outstanding happenings of the day. In other words, punning on people and situations.
Before 1930 had fully dawned the talkies had crashed silent pictures and sounds didn't come cheap. There was no alternative. The equipment was too expensive to buy alone so the song, "The Coast Is Calling You!" had to be put into action. Out to Hollywood Bill Nolan went and signed first a year, then a five year contract with Universal Film Corporation, using Oswald the Rabbit for his hero.
Here in the interview the last puff on his cigarette went in an ashtray and be stopped talking for a second or two, then quietly continued, "I picked something quite special in Long Branch, my wife, Viola Golden, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank X. Golden. We have two boys, Tom and Bill. They are 12 and 14 years old. Husky was his voice when he spoke of the late Frank Sherman of Long Branch and Chester Karrberg, who were graduated from Chattle High School in Long Branch. Both boys studied here with Bill Nolan and were part of his staff of 50 at Universal City in California. Karrberg died four years ago and Sherman passed away last winter. He fell on the ice and a bloodclot became lodged in his brain. Before the accident he was working on Aesops Fables.
Speaking of neighbors, Bill Nolan enlightened us with, "Why Bing Crosby lives right across the street from me and several doors down Dick Arlen, George Brent, Dick Powell, Mary Brian and Mary Astor hold sway. They all have lovely homes in the Tuluca Lake [sic] section. Dick Powell's home is on the golf course. All the actors are very domestic and never talk shop long. Once in a while they'll lament over their tedious hours. They hate to be paged by autograph hounds and despise people who stare at them from sightseeing buses. Instinctively they are retiring. They loathe high-hatted-ness and consider it a sign of cod-fish-aristocracy.
Dick Powell and Roy Disney, Walt's brother, own private swimming pools and love to have the children come and take a splash. Often they jump in with them and the boys call them regular sports. Bing, you know, has a five-foot wall around his estate, but that doesn't keep schoolgirls from trying to scale it. They use the boosting method one stands at the bottom giving the others a lift, sort of stepladder effect, the last one bewailing when no one's left to give her a push to look over the top."
Liked F. D. Film Best
Here the conversation turned personal again and Bill Nolan was confronted with, "What picture did you enjoy working on most?" and without any mental fumbling at all he retorted, "The Roosevelt film on Confidence. When the New Deal was trying out the Depression, or vice-versa, those in the film industry tried to be helpful to the President with educational features and I liked this picture best because it planted food for thought and was constructive in a humorous, friendly way."
Just lately Nolan made a smart, animated trailer for Joan Crawford's picture, "No More Ladies." Leo the Lion did most of the broadcasting and made himself very clear.
Asked, "How have the talkies influenced the animated cartoons?" he beamed, remarking, "They've put new life in the whole movie industry. Characters must have feeling and react to situations. In the animateds we have electric, visual metronomes which help the orchestras, voices and sound effects to keep step with the moving drawings. In other words there are sometimes three separate soundtracks to be welded to the cartoon film before it is finally printed for showing in the theatres. Universal last year made six films in color. They cost five times as much to print as black and white ones do, otherwise their making represents no added expense.
All the time Bill was chatting along a prayer was going up, "Rain, rain, keep on coming down, for if you don't this man will have to be trailed for the climax of this story all over the Long Branch Country Club where he's booked for a game of golf." Granted was the petition and when Bill Nolan whisked out of the driveway it wasn't "Goodbye" but “'Til we meet again.”

Friday 27 September 2019

Spike Surprise

Spike is overly abundant with confidence he will inherit the estate of his dead millionaire master in Wags to Riches (released in 1949). The executor’s voices build up to the big announcement. Spike moves closer and closer. Then comes the word “Droopy.”

Director Tex Avery has a typical jaw-drop take (the camera moves back so we get a better view) and Avery then tags it out with a stiff fall.

Avery takes advantage of the pause in the dialogue after the executor says “None...other...than..........” The circles in Spike’s eyes grow and shrink in various colours. There’s a cycle of four drawings, with drawings 2 and 4 being the same.

Jack Cosgriff and Rich Hogan are the storymen, with animation by Bobe Cannon, Mike Lah, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons.

Thursday 26 September 2019

W. Wren, Take Two

“Here is a terrible cartoon,” proclaimed H. Goldson, manager of the Plaza Theatre in Chicago.

He or she is talking about Magic Strength, a 1944 Columbia cartoon starring a guy with a name that you’d think is a bird character—Willoughby Wren.

The cartoon is another pre-UPA style effort. About the first minute is done in pose-to-pose limited animation. Later in the cartoon, you’ll find representational backgrounds, instead of the watercolours found at other studios. UPA loved that kind of thing. Columbia did, too, because the opening was re-used from the 1943 cartoon Willoughby’s Magic Hat. In fact, this is kind of a re-working at that cartoon, but is visually less interesting.

In the frames below, you can see sketchy backdrops to the action, and some silhouettes.

A wonder if the piano player is a caricature of someone at the studio, where Dave Fleischer was producing. The cartoon was directed by Bob “I-Work-Cheaper-Than-Art-Davis” Wickersham, and the animation is credited to Chic Otterstrom and Ben Lloyd, while the music was by Eddie Kilfeather.

Chuck Jones went for a similar kind of burlesque in The Dover Boys, including limited movement and stylised backgrounds. It was superior in every way. Jones had funny characters. This cartoon has a bunch of zeroes.

Dun Roman came up with the story. John McLeish is the narrator and several other characters. I don’t know who plays Willoughby.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Fred, Fans and Fuzzless Peaches

Fred Allen kept extensive scrapbooks of his radio career, with hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings glued into them. They’re now in the archives of the Boston Public Library.

Unfortunately, Fred didn’t bother dating most of the clippings or write where they can from. We’ve transcribed one below that’s obviously from the New York World-Telegram but other than being somewhere between 1934 and 1939, I have no idea what year it was published. (Yes, it would be magnificent if the World-Telegram’s archives were on-line, as well as several other New York City newspapers).

Here, Fred talks about putting his radio show together, and we learn he is annoyed with fan mail. And, a little sadly, we read how his wife Portland didn’t really have a social life. The two of them lived frugally, they didn’t hang out with anyone, and their summer break from radio was often spent in the Maine, far away from any people. By all accounts, she loved Fred but I wonder how lonely she got at times.

“It’s Tough Life,” Says Portland
Mrs. Fred Allen Has Nothing to Wear, but, Anyhow, She Has No Time to Wear It.

World-Telegram Radio Editor
IN the Fred Allen studio the other night, Portland (she’s Mrs. Fred Allen, you know) was confiding to a girl-friend, “I haven’t a single evening dress any more.” That seemed astonishing, with Fred making all this money in radio these last couple of years, but as Portland went on, “we just don’t go anywhere I’d need one.”
After his Wednesday evening broadcast, Fred sits down with a couple of friends for a midnight lunch and that is about the extent of the Allen’s social life. All the rest of the week goes into preparation of the program.
Thursday night around 8 Fred starts on the comedy hit of the show. If he finishes it Thursday he allows himself Friday night off. He might be uneasy about that wasted time with so much of the script unfinished, but he has convinced himself with, “We usually go to the theater and I often see something I can burlesque.”
* * *
Every Day Routined.
SATURDAY is set aside for the writing of the dialogue with Portland, and Sunday for the newsreels that open the program. Fred reads all nine New York papers daily and saves clippings to provide the inspirations for the newsreel travesties.
They don’t seem to take so much work, those three or four little newsreel skits, but radio rules complicate them. No living person can be mentioned by name without permission, nothing controversial even hinted, not one listener offended, etc. That makes it hard to deal with current topics.
Fred’s script runs twenty-odd pages, but he types the whole first draft of it himself Sunday night. “Doing that,” he explains, “I can make little changes as I go along and I find I save myself time in the end.” He usually finishes a little after midnight Sunday.
* * *
Then Comes Rehearsal.
FIRST rehearsals come Monday and then back to the hotel to revise the parts that didn’t play well. That takes up Tuesday, too. The revised script goes into rehearsal Wednesday morning and then comes a session with the sponsor, discussing whether this and that should come out or be modified. He broadcasts at 9 P.M. for the East and Middle West and against at midnight for the California listeners.
That brings him around to 1 A.M. and the big night over a dish of sour cream and vegetables or a steak sandwich at a little delicatessen with his friends. Occasionally they mar his digestion with remarks, “What a nice life you must lead. Just that one broadcast and all the rest of the week to yourself.”
* * *
Fred’s Outings.
OF course, Fred does have his little recreations. He allots himself two mornings for handball at a nearby Y.M.C.A. Elaborate precautions are taken to guard him from telephone calls, but if anyone does get him on the phone Fred talks ten minutes or so with obvious relish.
Answering fan mail is classified as work with radio stars, but the classification is a little doubtful in Fred’s case. He complains constantly about those letters, and repeatedly his sponsor has arranged to take them off his hands. Nevertheless, Fred always gathers the letters together and dictates answers all Thursday afternoon.
He carried on a long exchange of notes on fuzzless peaches with one man. Not long ago a sharp-penned correspondent was told, “Why don’t you send me a note telling me what you do for a living. Maybe I wouldn’t like that, either.” That part of his life isn’t so bleak.
And several times a day he smokes a cigar.
* * *
His Joke Books.
A COUPLE of weeks ago an aged, destitute juggler wrote he had a very valuable joke book which he would gladly let Fred have for $5. Fred had no desire for the book, but he started out as a juggler so he sent the money. Just as he thought, the book was the ordinary 10-cent variety, but with it came a note:—“I hate to play this trick on you, but I had to have money somewhere and I thought you would not mind helping out another juggler.” That confession seemed to please Fred immensely and he has been telling the story every Wednesday night at the delicatessen.
Fred has a collection of joke books in his hotel room, but he makes little use of them. Not that he loftily disdains old jokes, but he has the sort of mind that retains them for use when needed. The books do serve one purpose.
“It’s comforting to have them around,” he explained. “You feel that if you really do get stuck, you can always get some sort of gags out of the books. We spent one week-end in Atlantic City and I tried to work there, but I couldn’t get anything done. I sat and worried about what I could do if the inspiration didn’t come.”

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Olive Oyl Has Bananas Today

Be Kind to “Aminals” is one of the weaker early Popeyes, but it gives the animators a chance to indulge in a favourite pastime—to twist Olive Oyl into different shapes. Here are some frames as she slips on some bananas as the soundtrack plays the only possible appropriate song.

Willard Bowsky and Tex Hastings are the credited animators.

Oh, you can hear an ancient version of the appropriate song below.