Saturday 30 November 2019

Mel Blanc, Businessman

Mel Blanc had two careers, three if you want to include all the charity work he did.

Mel was an excellent actor, in radio, cartoons and on records. But he also had a career in the 1960s as a businessman. Broadcasting magazine of November 14, 1966 published a fine profile of him, spending a good deal of space talking about his business endeavours.

WHAT'S up, doc? Mel Blanc is up.
Some five years ago, the victim of an automobile accident that broke almost every bone in his body except a few in his left arm, he was as down as a human being ever can be. He was a prisoner in plaster, encased in a full-body cast for more than a year. But the "Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga" train caller was not stilled.
Bugs Bunny's classic wiseacre voice still spills out from countless movie and TV screens around the world. Porky the Pig is stuttering in the same priceless way. Woody Woodpecker's taunting cackle continues to delight the young, the old and the movie exhibitors. Mel Blanc, the voice heard in more places, more times, for more years probably than any other in history, is back and in rare form. He's eyebrows-deep in the radio-television-advertising entertainment business, a broadcast pioneer of 40 years standing who's reached the promised land and is still pushing into new fields.
The round-faced man with the neat, French-accented mustache has parlayed a fine sense of timing, an ear that has picked up and retained all the sounds of a lifetime—and an uncanny ability to simulate them—into a grab-bag of personal achievement that consistently has been filled to overflowing.
It Pays Off ■ This year, for his work in commercials alone, Mel Blanc personally will earn more than $150,000. He received, for example, $54 at a one-time rate for doing the voice of a pig in a Paper-Mate TV spot saying simply: "With a piggyback refill." So far this spot has brought him some $40,000 in residuals.
A recent somewhat typical day in the life of Mel Blanc tells better than any adjectives how much mileage he gets out of a voice that can be twisted into licorice and made to come out sounding like anything from a lisping pussycat to an English race horse.
At 10 a.m. he was out of his house in Pacific Palisades and off to do four TV commercials for Raid insecticides (S. C. Johnson & Son Inc.) and Foote, Cone & Belding. By 1:30 that afternoon he was back in his own office at Mel Blanc Associates, where he taped a number of comedy turns for "Superfun," a new series of humorous brief radio features and inserts the company is marketing. At 8 that night he was back working the TV side doing five commercials for Royal instant pudding (Standard Brands Inc.). It wasn't until after 10 p.m. that he called it a day and headed west to his seaside home.
He started the company just before that near-fatal accident in 1961 as a way of cashing in on his knowledge of how to make effective commercials. Today Mel Blanc Associates is a solidly established commercials production house, specializing in the creation and making of humorous spots for radio and TV. (Mr. Blanc's son, Noel, is executive vice president.)
The emphasis at MBA decidely is on radio. In the last year, Mel Blanc, who remembers when listeners by the millions gathered to hear the humor broadcast by the medium, has been making speeches at conventions and before industry groups pitching the profit potential of funny radio commercials.
The natural outgrowth of this crusade is "Superfun," a five-part program service aimed at giving radio stations an overall image of humor. Mel Blanc performs regularly on the "Superfun" service, which is produced by his company. Although made available to stations only since September, the new service has been bought in 14 markets. Mr. Blanc believes this operation alone will gross $1 million for his company in the near future. As a comparison, MBA's current overall gross is less than that but somewhat in excess of $500,000.
Other Fields ■ As a second spin-off from his humor shop, Mr. Blanc and associates have created the Mel Blanc Blank Card, a series of greeting cards that are distributed by Buzza Cardozo, Anaheim, Calif.
This ever-creative, never imitative pace is the way it has been for Mel Blanc ever since he was a high-school singer in Portland, Ore., the place where he was raised. A one-time violinist and tuba player ( "I found a radio script was much lighter ") he began doing things with his voice while performing as MC for an hourly, six-days-a-week program called Cobwebs and Nuts on KEX Portland. "They were too cheap to give me talent," he remembers, "so I did all the voices."
That was the proving ground for a career that at its peak included performances on 18 (mostly network) radio shows a week and in 50 Warner Bros. cartoons a year. Maintaining this frenetic kind of schedule, however, was not without its complications. Mr. Blanc used to make rapid transitions from the Robert Benchley Show sponsored by Old Gold cigarettes to Burns and Allen sponsored by Chesterfields to Jack Benny sponsored by Lucky Strikes to Al Pearce sponsored by Camels, changing cigarette packs as he went so that the various advertisers would not be insulted.
That was the professional Mel Blanc of yesterday at work knowing that, even for the most talented, entertaining is a collaborative business. A scene at a commercial taping session the other day gave an indication of how the professional Mel Blanc is regarded today.
All the other performers and technicians stopped dead still, watched with glowing attention as the voice heard in more than 1,000 cartoons delivered its lines. It was like coming out to the ball park and seeing the way the other players watch Willie Mays field a ball.

Friday 29 November 2019

Stop the Bottleneck!

Something will be going on a Bob Clampett cartoon where suddenly there’s a burst of extreme exaggeration animation.

Here’s an example from Baby Bottleneck (released in 1946). Porky’s looking a little dozy when his machine goes nuts. He’s so startled, he even disappears for a frame (though I suspect that wasn’t intentional).

Porky pulls back the lever to stop the conveyer belt. Clampett used close-up perspective animation in some of his later Warners cartoons which, to me, heightens the oddness of the action. It’s too close.

Rod Scribner, Manny Gould, Izzy Ellis and Bill Melendez are the animators on this short.

Thursday 28 November 2019

By a Waterfall

Tex Avery directed several “competition” spot gag cartoons involving Droopy and Spike. Gags tended to be quick (and some were predictable). Avery and his writers didn’t linger on them.

Here’s an example from Droopy’s Good Deed (1951). The premise is funny, as in funny peculiar. Spike is a bum who takes the place of a little Boy Scout in a contest to “meet the president.” Why Spike would want to meet the president is odd, but let’s brush past that.

The gag is set up with a shot of the page of the Scout Manual.

Spike tries to get rid of Droopy by sawing off a log on a stream. Note animator Grant Simmons has Spike’s pinky up.

Anyone who has seen enough cartoons (not necessarily Avery ones) will know what’ll happen, just like it does when a bad guy saws off a branch only to have the branch stay in the air and the tree with the bad guy fall over. I guess in theatres the audience could have seen Spike’s expression better.

The gag is about 14 seconds and then its on to the next one.

Mike Lah and Walt Clinton also animate on this short. Rich Hogan was the story man.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

G-E-C (And Another Note)

They were an old friend. They ended every TV show on NBC. The sound of Bong-BONG-Bong as a slithering line formed the network’s initials.

I still smile when I hear the NBC chimes at the end of old radio shows, especially the version that was hand-struck by the announcer holding a little box with three rectangular metal plates.

We’ve written about the chimes in this post and this post. Well, here’s another post.

I’ve been curious when the network started using the sound. I think I’ve finally traced it to 1929. Here are some random and amusing newspaper clippings about the chimes.

Hartford Courant, Sept. 20, 1929
A Pleasing Innovation.
The usual "there will now be a brief pause for station announcements," has been missing from NBC daytime programs this week. In its place is a musical note. The "brief pause" phrase was used to warn stations on the network to make their own station announcements. The musical note, obtained from a specially designed four-note gong, serves the same purpose and is infinitely more pleasing to the ear.
Columbia, of course, has a musical signature for this purpose in both evening and daytime features. It is to be hoped that NBC will extend its use to the gong of the after-dark hours. In these days of long drawn-out commercial talks and program introductions, the fewer the routine statements to be made, the more pleasing the general effect, particularly if the program is a musical one.

Hartford Courant, August 6, 1930.
New Recipe for Chimes.
Inspired by the out-of-tuneness of those NBC chimes, Franklyn Baur, tenor, has submitted a suggestion for a new set to a New York newspaper. With apologies to Rube Goldberg, he submits the following recipe:
“Fill a hot water bag with water (not beer, because that 1 1-4 per cent stuff is too flat and other prohibited beverages are too sharp.) Then take four empty ginger ale bottles. Pour the first one-quarter full of water, the second one-half, the third three-quarters and the fourth entirely full.
“Science tells us that water seeks its own level. This is where I am relieved of the responsibility and science once more proves itself by holding the bag.
“So the musical vibrations given off at the finish of an orchestral number have the water in the water bag vibrating tremendously. Now the water in the four ginger ale bottles feels the common call of the water in the vibrating hot water bag and immediately seeks its own level. The announcer strikes the four bottles gently and you hear the most wonderful tones in tune.”

Graham McNamee Speaking column, October 26, 1930.
Chimes a Jinx.
Those chimes you hear between station announcements in network programs contracted a sort of a jinx of their own a few days ago. Every time an announcer had to sound them he would nearly have heart failure wondering what would happen next.
The chimes, which indicate to local stations that there will be a break in the program so they may announce their call letters, are struck with a small mallet. Ted Jewett seemed to start all the trouble one day when the head came off the mallet after the first crack, and be had to finish with just the handle. It was pretty sad. All you could hear was a tinkle.
The next day Neel Enslen was the goat. It was at the end of a program, and he had already sounded the chimes, just fifteen minutes previously. The mallet had been there, and he had put it carefully back in its place when he had finished. But he realized suddenly it was nowhere in sight.
Thru the window of the control booth he noticed the control engineer had an unlighted pipe between his teeth. In a trice Enslen had dashed into the booth, jerked the pipe from the engineer's mouth and was back at his place, using the pipe right merrily as a mallet. The disappearance of the original is still a mystery.
Jeff Sparks rounded it all off a evening at home for Charles Tramont, one of NBC's announcers.
Tramont was dozing peacefully on a couch in his apartment while Mrs. Tramont listened to the radio. The music stopped, and the identifying chimes of an NBC program vibrated the speaker. Tramont started to his feet and rushed toward a corner of the room, with his wife tugging at his arm. "Let me go," he protested sleepily, "I have to make a local announcement."

Wisconsin State Journal, December 28, 1930
Could Play 28,000 Tunes on NBC Chimes
Following a recent argument in the, Chicago NBC studios, Walter Lanterman, studio engineer, made a rather interesting discovery about the four-note chimes now being used between programs in national broadcasts. By mathematical computation, he has found that 87,296 different combinations are possible with the chimes now in use. It is improbable that NBC will experiment with all the possible combinations, for it would take a man more than a week to try them all out allowing five seconds for each combination. If NBC ever did desire to use sufficient chimes every day, however, the possible combinations would be sufficient to last for more than 200 years without repetition.

John Skinner column, Brooklyn Eagle, January 14, 1931
"WELL," boomed the hearty voice of The Man With the Big Ear way down the corridor, "I suppose you've noticed they've changed the N. B. C. chimes again. What d'ye know?"
"That you made an appointment with me to come and talk music," we replied, turning our cigarettes over resignedly as he entered, "not N. B. C. chimes." "Well," said our jovial snooper, "I was going to say something about the Symphonic Rhythm Makers. It's only that when I was up at N. B. C. watching them the other night. I had a chance to see that this frequent change of chime strokes can confuse even the best of announcers. Our friend John S. Young started the fifteen minute announcement gong with last week's strokes and ended with the latter part of the theme song of this week's strokes.
"However," he continued, tilting back his topper, "little matter. Asked him the cause for the changes in the manner of hitting the dinner gongs they use. Said it was to relieve the monotony. Seems the monotony could be relieved better by a special and complete dispensation. Ha!"

Birmingham News, March 22, 1931
Robert Stuart, Great Neck. Long Island, waits for NBCs morning chimes before dashing off for the train, while Mrs. Stuart sets the clocks. Recently the chime was omitted. Calmly, then aggressively, the Stuarts argued the matter. Finally Mrs. Stuart drove her husband by automobile to the depot, only to find the train gone. More words. Then neither spoke for two days. Later Mrs. Stuart asked NBC to verify absence of chimes, won her point, spent 15 cents telephone toll in telling her husband. Stuart called her back, spent 15 cents saying how sorry he was.

Syndicated story, October 11, 1931
“Dinner is served in the dining room,” Eddie Cantor roared out to startled visitors during a pause in the Chase and Sanborn Hour. The Broadway comedian learned that a “dead spot” of about 10 seconds follows the ringing of the NBC chimes signaling network stations to make local station announcements. During that period the studio is off the air and Cantor takes advantage of it to make unexpected remarks as “Vive La France,” “Ah ! Lunch is served” and “Mama, I want some candy.”

David Bratton, Brooklyn Daily Times, December 16, 1931
There appears to be a woeful lack of technic in regard to chime ringing is apparent. During the NBC-WEAF “Old Hunch” program we listened attentively and as the chimes rang at the close we moved over to WABC to catch Morton Downey. Imagine our surprise to have the CBS chimes almost exactly coincide with the NBC chimes.

Broadcast Weekly, June 5, 1932
Modern composers' habit of appropriating every-day noises and incorporating them into a musical composition, is making life more difficult for announcers. Sid Goodwin, of the NBC announcing staff in San Francisco, was standing in the studio the other morning, awaiting the moment when he should give the stand-by announcement—"KGO, San Francisco." The familiar sound of the NBC chimes told him the program coming from Chicago was ended, so he pressed buttons on the announcers' box, released all the stations on the KGO network, gave the stand-by—and then glanced at the clock. Then he hastily reached for the buttons again—for the chimes he had heard were part of the jazz composition still pouring out into the ether from Chicago.

Syndicated story, Sept. 18, 1932
Chimes on NBC To Alter Tone
The NBC chimes, which for years have had the important task of keeping the far-flung networks in synchronous step, are going to change their tone. An automatic electrical device, sending out a modulated, even tone at a constant level, will replace the familiar hand-struck chimes on all programs emanating from the NBC New York studios beginning Sunday, September 18.
The contrivance, invented by Captain Richard H. Ranger, designer of the pipeless organ and the bell-less carillon, has been installed in the main control room of the NBC building in New York. If the trial period proves its operation practical and its precise notes pleasing to the public, it will, be adopted as permanent equipment at the studios and also installed in the main control rooms of NBC studios in all other cities.
The purpose of the chimes, which previously have been run by the announcer striking one of the small hand sets with which each studio is equipped, is to synchronize local station identification announcements and to serve as a cue to engineers at relay points all over the country to switch various branches of the networks on or off as the programs change each fifteen minutes.
For some time NBC technicians have been seeking some automatic instruments which would insure a more constant level than could be obtained when different announcers were required to produce the three notes on different instruments.
Recently while working on the pipeless organ, Captain Ranger and O. B. Hanson, NBC manager of technical operation and engineering, were struck with the thought that the principle used to produce the organ tones might be applied in the creation of chimes.
After extensive experimentation, Captain Ranger perfected the idea, a centrally located contrivance, available for use on all programs originating from New York and capable of being operated by pressing a button in any New York studio.

Daily American, Nov. 20, 1933
Allen Schulman got an inspiration from listening to the NBC chimes—the ones that sound just before the station call letters are to be announced to the anxious listeners—so he sat down and wrote a musical composition which he calls "NBC Fantasies." It is in five movements, the last of which is "Announcers' Nightmare."

Redbook, February 1934
IF you have wondered why your three-tone NBC chimes occasionally come through your speaker with a fourth note, you may be interested to know that this is the emergency chime—the signal for any one of a list of some twenty executives and staff members to telephone NBC headquarters.
When the idea was inaugurated last spring, there was only one extra note sounded, and the entire list had to phone to find out what the trouble was and who was wanted at the studio. The signal was repeated until the desired party had communicated with headquarters. Nine times out of ten, however, the signal was for William Burke Miller, director of special events, so Mr. Miller not long ago instituted a change. Now, when the fourth note sounded is the highest, he telephones. When it is the lowest of the four, he calmly ignores it and lets the other nineteen worry.
As it is, Miller averages about four calls a week.When Jimmy Mattern was completing his epochal flight, the fourth high note went out on the air almost every fifteen minutes all day long. The regular three-note chime of the National Broadcasting Company is now rung automatically by an electrical device. However, when the emergency chime is needed, the fourth note is sounded manually by the announcer on duty.

Hartford Courant, Dec. 16, 1934
If you happen to hear what sounds like the NBC chimes around 6.45 megacycles, don't pass hastily on to some other station thinking you have an American short-wave station. You'll find it to be HJ1ABB at Barranquilla which has adopted an exact replica of the three chimes of the National Broadcasting Company for its identification signal.

This video shows a restored Rangertone chime machine. NBC sped up the pace of the chimes in the early 1950s so perhaps this box only dates back that far.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Cooking With Wimpy

Wimpy was used for side-gags in some of the early Popeye cartoons, and he’s a pretty funny character. Generally, he silently carries on doing his business.

In The Spinach Overture (1935), he casually fries a hamburger patty while playing the snare drum. A clash of the cymbal flips the burger and another sends the patty flying into his mouth.

My favourite Wimpy moments elsewhere are when he stalks after a duck with a meat grinder, and when he blithely pulls a switch, opening a trap door and sends eliminated dance contestants below the floor.

Seymour Kneitel and Doc Crandall are the credited animators.

Monday 25 November 2019

Horace Walks

One of the endearing things about early ‘30s animation made in New York is characters would do things just for the sake of doing them. Somehow, it worked.

One of the early ‘30s New York studios was Terrytoons, and it was still doing the same kind of thing years later.

In the 1953 cartoon Blind Date, Horace the millionaire has a silly walk at times. Why? Just to get a laugh. There’s no reason for him to walk that way; Carlo Vinci gave Yogi Bear a funny walk but the way his body was constructed, it made sense. This is just a rubbery thing solely to look stupid. Some sample frames. (Sorry for the fuzziness).

There’s an even odder sweeping-leg walk cycle later in the cartoon. Eddie Donnelly directed this short.

Sunday 24 November 2019

The Age of Benny

What about comedy? What about comic timing?

Jack Benny seemed to be asked about those two things constantly.

There certainly was a good reason. Jack had spanned virtually the entire life of comedy/variety on network radio and plunged into television with continued success. His colleagues (if not his viewers) marvelled at Jack’s joke timing, some quoted they wouldn’t dare try to use silence the way Benny did.

The San Francisco Examiner focused on Jack a number of times over the years, and not only when he paid the City by the Bay a visit. Here’s a story from June 21, 1959, with an age comparison, the exaggerated story about his “first” radio appearance (it wasn’t but it can be argued it was his first influential one), and how CBS protected him in the TV ratings when Maverick on ABC started killing off the competition, including the erstwhile Buck Benny.

The Old Showman, Young Jack Benny
By Dwight Newton

SOMEBODY said television was a young man's game. Haw!
This year the TV academy awarded two Emmys (one for "best comedy series" and one for "best actor in a comedy series") to a man who is older than Utah. Everyone knows Jack Benny is only 39, yet he is older than the whole bloomin' motion picture industry. Jack was born on Valentine's Day, 1894, and not until two months later did Thomas Alva Edison present the first public showing of his Kinetoscope at 1155 Broadway, New York. That was the year of the Chinese-Japanese War, Coxey's march on Washington, the Dreyfus trial and the great Pullman strike. Grover Cleveland was President, Robert Louis Stevenson died and Arthur Fiedler was .born. So were Irene Castle, Jeanne Eagles, Fred Allen and Walter Brennan.
Jack and Walter (of "Real McCoys") and their 1894 colleagues were here before the airplane, the dirigible, the depth bomb and the disc plow. They preceded cellophane, wireless and the X-ray. In Illinois, they still haggle humorously about which came first—Waukegan or Jack Benny. Waukegan is currently celebrating its Centennial and Jack is the in-person head-liner for Jack Benny Day.
The incredible thing is that after all these years in fiercely competitive show business, old Jack still receives the highest awards in America's youngest entertainment medium.
The Benny story began when Meyer Kubelsky emigrated from Poland to peddle wares with a pack on his back in and around Chicago. He settled in Waukegan and his first born was Benny. Kubelsky gave his son a $50 violin when he was barely 5. At age 8, Benny was giving solo performances. At 17, he went into vaudeville with a pianist partner. He called himself Ben Benny, later changed it to Jack Benny to avoid confusion with better known Ben Bernie.
During World War I, he joined the Navy and was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station, Chicago. While there he reported for a Naval Relief Society show and during rehearsal, the story goes, he amused his fellow sailors with timely quips and funny sayings. The show's hard-pressed writers worked them into the script and that was the birth of Benny, the comedian.
"Up until then for six and a half years," Benny recalls, "I'd never opened my mouth on the stage. I'd been a violinist." After the war, he went back to vaudeville, doing a monologue as well as fiddling. He played the Palace in New York. He did musical comedies. Another fateful day in his life was March 29, 1932. He was in "Earl Carroll's Vanities" and Ed Sullivan, who was then doing a radio show, invited him to appear on it.
It was Jack's first radio appearance. His first words were, "Hello, folks, this is Jack Benny. There will be a slight pause for every one to say 'Who cares?' "A few weeks later NBC signed him as a Sunday night comedian. He became an overnight sensation.
By 1937, Jack was radio's most listened-to comic. In 1941, NBC gave him a lifetime option on Sunday night at 7. In 1949, he shifted to CBS for what was then the all-time biggest package deal. When reporters besieged him for details, Jack told them, 'They have free parking at CBS.'
When radio began to falter in 1950, the two highest rated shows were Jack's and "Lux Radio Theater." In October of that year, Jack did his first TV show and I predicted that "Benny, the Mr. Big of radio, will become the ditto of television."
He did—and he still is the Mr. Big of the comedy field.
But big as he is, Benny last season could not compete commercially with the newest television phenomenon—the action western. Mighty "Maverick" came on to soften Sullivan, drive off Steve Allen, then "Bachelor Father" and now Benny. Last week's rerun was Benny's last show in the old Sunday at 7:30 slot. Tonight he'll be temporarily replaced by "I Love Lucy" reruns and when he returns to CBS-TV, Oct. 4, he'll be scheduled at 10 p. m., with George Gobel as his alternate week running mate.
About the westerns that knocked him out, Benny told me, "I think people like westerns. I like them. I like anything good. But if comedians did everything the same like the westerns, everybody would be sore."
Though Benny is forever identified with numerous trademarks (the toupe, the Maxwell, the violin, the age 39 stunt, the stinginess), he probably has attempted more new things than any comedian of comparable stature. Sometimes they boomerang.
"But I'm never sorry about anything I do," he said. "If you have an idea, do it—otherwise you'll stagnate. If your idea flops, you won't be thrown out of show business. You gotta be brave, you gotta try everything."
Like him or not, Benny's record proves that he is one of America's greatest living showmen. He is the master of the pause that builds laughter. He can do with expressions what Bob Hope does with dialogue. His timing is unsurpassed.
"Timing is very difficult to define," he confided. "Gracie Allen has probably the greatest timing of anybody I know and she probably has no idea why. Perhaps it's best you never know why. Some people have it with fast talk, others with slow talk. Nobody can teach that. They can't say, 'Now I'll teach you timing.'
"Judy Holliday is just great. Ed Wynn was sensational with it. It's easier for me to time on a live show than on film, for I let the audience do it for me."
Next month, after his trip to Waukegan, Jack plans to throw his golf clubs in the car and drive wherever the urge takes him. Later he may go to England for a week or two. In mid-August he'll take a new, combination variety-symphony into the Los Angeles Greek Theater for two weeks. Then he'll resume filming TV shows, the first with Red Skelton. He already has filmed two for next season one with Ben Blue, the other with his regular crew, Dennis Day, Rochester, Mel Blanc and Frank Nelson.
In addition to his regular series next season, he tells me he'll do two or three CBS "specials" and he expects to make at least three road tours—in the East, the Northwest and definitely in Texas.
Have a swell vacation Jack, we'll be tele-seein' you in October.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Tagging Along With Howard Beckerman

Howard Beckerman is not only a veteran of the Golden Age of animated cartoons and a respected instructor, but he’s an author, too. We’re not just talking about his book at his web site. Howard wrote a column for Back Stage, a New York-based periodical.

We posted this great remembrance by Mr. Beckerman about Jim Tyer. The article below won’t mean as much to some fans, I suspect. He goes on a little tour of part of Manhattan, and talks about the commercial production studios that briefly flourished during that great period when black-and-white TV sets were filled with cleverly-designed animated commercials. While there were many small studios on the West Coast then, there were a handful based in New York. They deserve a bit of attention by cartoon fans, hence I pass it along.

This was published August 6, 1982. New Yorkers may appreciate this post more than others as they’ll know the streets named.

Mr. Beckerman has a nice, friendly style of writing. He is still around and will turn 90 next year.

It is summer, and contrary to many other summers, animation assignments have been coming to many of the studios on a hit and miss basis. Time was when summer meant beefed up schedules to meet fall deadlines and the rush to produce pre-Christmas announcements. With everyone apparently holding back this season, the small studio operator finds he’s got some extra moments on his hands. He or she can use the time to make additional calls to usual work sources or prepare some artwork for an ad to be placed in a trade journal. Back Stage for instance is receiving material its special animation issue scheduled for September 10th.
When things are a bit slow I find that it’s a good time to do errands. It gets me onto the street for some needed exercise and I get to meet some of the people that I only get to know through the less personal method of telephone calls. This morning for instance I decided to retrieve a negative from Movielab. While the many messenger services in the city are capable and dependable there’s nothing like doing it yourself and perhaps knocking off a few more errands on the way. It’s also a good way to get some bills paid in person and save a few cents on the high cost of stamps. I left my studio on 45th Street, but first stopped into:
A.I. Friedman’s art store to pay a bill and say hello to George, the manager. Then I headed over toward the Avenue of the Americas, more properly known as Sixth Avenue. As I passed 49 West 45th Street I recall that it was here that such studios as Bill Sturm Productions and Academy Pictures had once occupied the same office space at different times, and both had gone out of business in that same space.
I began to ponder how many animation studios had come and gone in the little buildings along this street and are now moved on and the buildings replaced by high rise shiny glass and metal behemouths [sic]. At 165 West 46th Street, former home of Back Stage, the studio, Animation Central once operated with such talents as Paul Kim and Lou Gifford, Pablo Ferro and Ray Favata. As I headed toward Seventh Avenue I spotted a dime on the street and picking it up I realized that one of the other benefits of doing errands, you find money. When you go home and your spouse asks if the agency sent the $10,000 check you can answer, “No but I found a dime.” It’s actually very gratifying when you realize that the 10 grand gets paid out to employees, landlords, services and taxes but the dime is all yours!
Heading past 723 Seventh Avenue I realized that this was another address for the old Bill Sturm animation studio where partners, Bill Sturm, Orestes Calpini and Bert Hecht made some of the earliest television commercials. A couple of blocks north at 49th Street the Embassy 49 is showing Disney’s “Bambi.” It struck me that this theatre had not too long ago been an X-rated movie house and here they were all nice and tidy showing Disney G-rated films. This was the same theatre that was called The World and back in the late 40’s exhibited Roberto Rosselini’s “Open City” for a year, featuring the writing skills of a former cartoonist, Federico Fellini.
At 51st and Seventh I took a moment to drop in to TR’s Gallery, which offers for sale original cels from Disney films. Here for about $175 you can get a hand inked colored cel of Winnie the Pooh or characters from “Jungle Book” or “The Rescuers.” Turning the corner and moving onto 53rd and Broadway I passed the Broadway Theater and was reminded by a plaque in the lobby that this was once the Colony Movie Theater and in September of 1928 Mickey Mouse premiered on the screen in an early synchronized sound cartoon, “Steamboat Willie.” The plaque dutifully includes the engraved likeness of Mickey for the perusal of all those arriving the [to] see the current musical production, “Evita.”
I headed down through 55th Street past the DuArt building and recalled that in the early 50’s Lee Blair’s Film Graphics was situation here and we did many spots for many of the prominent shows of the day. “I Love Lucy” was one of the hits of home television and animation director Don Towsley kept us all struggling on the openings for this series. DuArt’s administrative offices today are where Deborah Kerr once performed for a public service spot. Upstairs was a studio called Loucks and Norling which specialized in technical animation for scientific films. Continuing on top Movielab over in Potamkin Country I passed by 450 West 54th Street where you can just barely make out the faded logo of Fox’s Movietone News. On this street ABC has a sound stage and I recall that not too far away Robert Lawrence had a live action stage and an animation studio across the street in the early 1960’s.
Eventually I arrived at Movielab and picked up the material that was waiting there for me. When I started back to my office the late morning heat was beginning to settle in. I arrived once more at 45th Street about an hour from when I had begun my errand and I realized that it was here on this same street that I had also begun my career in this field working at Famous Studios at 25 West 45th Street. Here at the studio that had once belonged to Max and Dave Fleischer we produced Popeye and Casper the Ghost theatrical shorts. Next door at 34 West there had been the animation studio of Ted Eshbaugh just before the Transfilm organization took over the same building. Today the buildings, 25, 35 and 45 West 45th Street still house several studios, among them, The Optical House, John Rowohlt Camera Service and Eighth Frame Camera Service. Suddenly I realized that I had gone in a complete circle, not just from my office to the lab and back, but as it happens to everyone, I had gone on another errand between the past and the present and back again. Though the term errand boy is often used disparagingly, it must be remembered that the very nature of the film business requires that everyone become an errand boy at sometime. There is hardly a producer no matter how high in status who has never carried a reel to an editor, a lab, an optical house or a screening. Sometimes it’s the only way to get it there. We are all candidates for the errand boy’s job, and like any conscientious errand boy, we do our job with care and responsibility, we are professionals. The call comes and we pick up and deliver. The agency picks up and delivers for the client, and we pick up and deliver for the agency. We speak of art and technique, of style and moody, but what it comes down to is, can you pick up and deliver?
As I entered the welcoming air conditioned confines of my studio and even before the small beads of perspiration had dried on my forehead, the phone rang. It was an assignment. Pick up and deliver.

Friday 22 November 2019

Tweety and the Beanstalk Backgrounds

There are three cartoons released by Warner Bros. in 1957 made by the Friz Freleng unit which have no background artist credit. One is Tweety and the Beanstalk. Irv Wyner had been painting backgrounds and was replaced in the credits with Boris Gorelick. It’s unclear when Wyner left; his birthday wasn’t listed amongst the September celebrators in the “Warner Club News” for that month in 1956. I don’t know enough about Wyner’s style to determine if he possibly worked on this short; his last credited cartoon was The Three Little Bops.

(Wyner, incidentally, was born Irving Weiner to Benjamin and Ethel Weiner, a pair of Russian emigres. He was living in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1935 when he won a scholarship to the New York Students Arts League. He arrived in California with his wife Joanne and son Richard in 1949; Richard was born in Minnesota. Wyner died in 2002; a plate with Yosemite Sam, Bugs Bunny and Sylvester is on his gravestone).

First is the opening shot; the camera trucks in on it. You can see how Hawley Pratt handled layouts involving the rising beanstalk, and Tweety in a cage with Sylvester below.

Warren Foster’s story fills six minutes and does little else; he actually wrote more fun fairy tale parodies at Hanna-Barbera.