Tuesday 31 March 2020

A Bird in the Bush

How strong were the gags in a Mickey Mouse cartoon?

The earliest Mickeys, I like. Once the ‘30s started rolling along, things get really lame.

Take Mickey Cuts Up (1931), for example. A good portion of the cartoon is taken up by Mickey and Minnie whistling, part of the time while Mickey pretends to be a bird. That’s it.

The cartoon gets its title from the scene where Mickey (with huge pupils) is skipping along with gardening shears, what I think is a pair of rose clippers and some kind of hand rake/comb.

He sticks the end of the rose clippers in a bush to form a nose, grabs a couple of daises or something or other as makeshift eyes, clips a mouth and then pretends to be a barber. You can follow along with the frames.

Now the gag. Are you ready? A bird comes out of the bush and spoils Mickey’s work. Not even Minnie laughs at this one.

This is yet another cartoon where the climax involves Pluto creating complete mayhem by chasing something (a cat this time). If it’s all the same to you, I’ll take Galloping Gaucho, thanks.

Monday 30 March 2020

The Squares' Master

Something didn’t seem right.

It was 1986. La Cage aux Folles was in performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver and the ads proclaimed the star of the show was Peter Marshall.

Peter Marshall? The Hollywood Squares Peter Marshall? What was he doing singing and dancing?

I suspect the first exposure many people had to Mr. Marshall’s talents was as the emcee of a game show and didn’t realise he had a whole career before that, including being part of a stand-up comedy team. The latter would come in handy on Hollywood Squares as he set-up gag answers from celebrities (in some cases via staff writers).

The show first aired on October 17, 1966 replacing a forgotten half-hour starring Joe Pyne called Showdown which had been on the air a whopping 3½ months. The Associated Press review the next day wasn’t all that favourable (read it to the right) but audiences liked the mix of the show and it’s been off and on the air a number of times over the decades.

Let’s pass along a couple of profiles of Mr. Marshall. The first appeared in papers around April 29, 1967, the second in Harvey Pack’s “TV Key” column of July 3, 1969. Casual viewers of the show may not have realised Paul Lynde was not a regular member of the cast at the beginning. “Mumbles” Dalton and Morey Amsterdam fell out as the series carried on, while Cliff Arquette died while still playing Charley Weaver.
Personality, Wit Mark Emcee

HOLLYWOOD — At first glance NBC's Monday through Friday mid-morning celebrity game show, Hollywood Squares, looks like a retirement home for out of work TV series stars.
The permanent panelists are Morey Amsterdam, Wally Cox, Rose Marie, Abby Dalton and Cliff Arquette.
But look closer and you'll see the Who's Who of Hollywood guest-starring at one time or another to play the game — a TV adaptation of the familiar Tic Tac Toe — emceed by Peter Marshall. Four stars, In fact, appear in week-long guest stints along with the regular panelists.
One guest star has been known to upset many a TV show, but when they add up to NINE, well —
"Well, it may sound fantastic, but I've had trouble with only one guest since we started the show last October," says Marshall, who started big time show business life as Tommy Noonan's partner in a nightclub and TV variety show comedy-singing act. Marshall was the straight man who also sang.
The guest star with whom Marshall clashed on the show was a woman, and, he says, "she was unbelievable. She never stopped talking and she even tried to rewrite the questions I ask on which the whole game is based."
By contrast, Zsa Zsa Gabor is a dream, he reported. “She's been on the show 10 times and has never interrupted anyone.”
The need for a personality who could banter ad libs with the likes of Amsterdam & Friends was the reason Marshall landed the job after co-starring for a year on Broadway with Julie Harris In the hit musical "Skyscraper."
"I guess they figured I had been through the mill with Noonan because I knew nothing about the workings of a TV game show and I still don't know."
What Marshall does know is that Hollywood Squares is climbing in the popularity ratings and that he has never before enjoyed such personal recognition.
"For 15 years I've lived next door to the same neighbors who I guess never knew exactly what I did because now all of a sudden I'm a celebrity to them."
About Amsterdam, he has great praise. "He never knows what category the questions will be in, but if it's diamonds, for example, he has three jokes about diamonds even before I get to the questions."
About ex-partner Tommy Noonan, Marshall tells you:
"We're great friends. He's delightfully crazy. I appreciate his insanity — now."
Peter Marshall's Diverse Background Helps Him Emcee ‘Hollywood Squares’

NEW YORK—Peter Marshall, the hip guy who rides herd over the “Hollywood Squares,” NBC's popular daytime game show, was in New York recently to plug his new record album "For the Love of Pete." By his own admission Pete would go anywhere to put in a pitch for his singing career because as happy as he is picking up a weekly paycheck on "Hollywood Squares" he's put in too many years in this business to relegate himself voluntarily into the category of quiz show emcee.
"When I was first approached for the job on 'Squares' a lot of my friends advised against it claiming it would be the end of me as an actor But I kind of liked the format and since I do have a wife and four children I thought I'd give it a go."
Pete was picked because of his background as an actor and the experience has paid off for the show. Marshall's theatrical background goes back almost 20 years and includes such diverse activities as page boy at NBC, co-starring in a Broadway musical with Julie Harris and being part of a successful comedy team, Noonan and Marshall. "Now I'm asked to play straight man to nine performers five times a week and that not only calls for a lot of timing but even requires continuous change of pace. For example you can't throw a straight line to Wally Cox the same way you feed one to a comic like Jan Murray.
When “Hollywood Squares” first premiered all the guest stars had a ball and everybody around the production thought it was going over great. Everybody that is except host Peter Marshall who took time off from the golf course to watch the show on TV. "I noticed it had no pace." explained Pete, "and I blamed the whole* thing on me.
“I was giving the stars a chance to go off on tangents as they tried to be funny and often succeeded. But by not sticking to the basic game we were letting the thing get away from us and while we were enjoying it—it meant very little to viewers.”
Marshall spoke up and the producers listened. The game became the thing, stars were told to shorten up their anecdotes and gags and emcee Marshall kept the game going. The amount of questions asked doubled and the rating went up. The idea of selecting an emcee with theatrical experience paid off and "Hollywood Squares" became an NBC daytime staple.
"No matter who the guest is I don't let him run off with one of his answers," says Pete. "Except for Wally Cox. Wally must set his own pace and it generally works out funny."
Delighted with the security he has achieved with "Squares," Marshall has obviously not given up on other aspects of his career. In addition to the new record album, Peter is still shopping around for Broadway roles, will spend his summer vacation appearing in a play in Chicago and has written four screen plays.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Jack Benny on TV, 1939

You’ve likely read that Jack Benny made his radio debut on an Ed Sullivan radio show in 1932. Jack made the claim himself. It’s wrong. He made a number of appearances on radio before that.

And you’ve likely read that Jack Benny made his television debut during the ceremony dedicating KTTV on March 8, 1949.

Guess what?

Broadcasting magazine reported on a much earlier televised appearance of Jack Benny in its edition of September 1, 1939.

RCA was pushing television hard at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, airing daily programming on W2XBS, its experimental station that went commercial in 1941. But amazingly, Benny didn’t appear on small screens there, but in Minnesota.

There wasn’t a TV station there at the time, but there was a radio station (and still is) called KSTP. RCA was barnstorming the country with a mobile unit, or units, and one parked itself in Minneapolis in early August 1939. KSTP worked out an arrangement to televise the American Legion Convention parade to a solitary set in the convention’s headquarters at the Radisson Hotel. Coincidentally, Jack Benny happened to be in town, on a summer break from his radio show. The circumstances of how or why Benny got on camera haven’t come to light—the Minneapolis Star didn’t even report he was in town—but you can read the photo article below from Broadcasting.

Saturday 28 March 2020

The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E.

John Sutherland Productions was an off-shoot of a company Sutherland and fellow ex-Disneyite Larry Morey set up that made “Daffy Dittys” shorts for United Artists in the ‘40s. They were mainly stop-motion (the final one was a cartoon and released in 1947). Morey went back to Disney, so Sutherland started a new company to make animated films for business and educational clients.

Among his early successes were a series of Chiquita Banana commercials shown in movie theatres and a number of cartoons for Harding College that got theatrical releases from MGM, which had dismantled its Preston Blair/Mike Lah unit.

The Sutherland films, in my estimation, were wonderfully-designed and animated, and it’s a shame so few of them are available for viewing. Where Sutherland’s archives are today is anyone’s guess, so it’s impossible to know how many films he made.

Sutherland was still in operation in the ‘60s and still producing award-winning industrial cartoons. One of them has a title that anyone who grew up then will recognise as a spoof—The Man from A.U.N.T.I.E. It was Sutherland production no. 1599, and Back Stage magazine from New York indicates it was released in June 1967.

A copy of it recently sold on an on-line sales site and the seller graciously put up some frame grabs on-line.

Unlike some of the earlier Sutherland shorts, this one did not appear in theatres but was broadcast on TV. Sterling Movies’ TV department made other Sutherland industrial cartoon available for stations starting in 1958, including What Makes Us Tick and Working Dollars.

The Business Screen Magazine issue of July 1967 gave A.U.N.T.I.E. a short review:
Underwriters’ Cartoon Fantasy Shows Origins, Use of Insurance
A new cartoon film, The Man from A.U.N.T.I.E., is now playing extensively on television public service time via Sterling Movies, Inc.
John R. Galaxy, the man from the Association of Underwriters Needed to Insure Earthlings, visits our planet in his flying saucer. His task: discover how Earthlings use insurance. Animation and a clever story line maintain a swift, active pace throughout the film.
Meanwhile, the quarter-hour explains the origins of insurance and how it grew to meet demands of the times, various kinds of insurance and the protection each one offers, how rates are determined, and the role insurance plays in our economy. The Man from A.U.N.T.I.E. was produced by John Sutherland Productions, Inc.
The Weekly Underwriter magazine went into it in a little more depth in an edition in 1970. We’ve omitted the reference to a second film.
I.I.I. Films Get Wide Exposure
New York—A green-complexioned, pointed-eared character from outer space named John R. Galaxy has helped to bring the serious story of property and liability insurance in an entertaining way to an “astro”-nomical audience of earthlings.
The elfin Mr. Galaxy is the pivotal actor in an animated color film presented by the Insurance Information Institute which has been seen by 8.7 million people over a three-year period....
“The Man From A.U.N.T.I.E,” a 14-minute animated film, stars Mr. Galaxy as a saucer-flying agent from Venus assigned to investigate terrestrial insurance practices.
While Mr. Galaxy carries out his mission, the film achieves its objective of painlessly teaching a few basic facts — the different types of policies, what determines costs and a brief, amusing insight into the origins of property and liability insurance. ...
Of the 19,416 bookings, “A.U.N.T.I.E.” has received, 62 per cent have been in public schools at all levels, colleges and universities. ...
The total audience for “A.U.N.T.I.E.” includes 1.6 million persons at live showings and 7.1 million television viewers in 48 states and the District of Columbia. An evaluation of 19,181 reports on viewer attitudes toward this film revealed that 65.8 per cent rated it “excellent” and 25.3 per cent considered it “very good.”
Subsequent evaluations continue to show mostly “excellent” ratings for this free-loan, award-winning film produced for I.I.I. by John Sutherland Productions and distributed by Association Films, Inc.
The cartoon won the gold medal for insurance films at International Film and TV Festival Awards in New York in October 1967; several other Sutherland films were honoured as well. It also received a Chris Certificate at the Columbus Festival.

Director George Gordon had been a fixture at Sutherland. He began his career at the Paul Terry studio in 1930, writing and directing more than 50 Terrytoons. In 1937, he moved to California to join the new MGM cartoon studio and eventually became a director on the first Barney Bear series. He left MGM during the war and worked for Hugh Harman and Sutherland on at least two occasions, sandwiching in a stint with Mike Lah’s Quartet Films. Eventually, he headed to Hanna-Barbera where he freelanced on storyboards and direction for many of its TV shows. He died May 24, 1986 in Apple Valley, California, after a six-month illness.

Unfortunately, the seller didn’t provide a frame listing the animators on this particular cartoon. Oh, and to know who provided the voices.

Sutherland chugged along in 1967, coming out with an animated short for the Office of Economic Opportunity called The Owl Who Gave a Hoot. Among its other films in distribution that year: The Modern Corporation (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation); Buy Wise (Office of Economic Opportunity); The Text Case and More Than a Living (both for A.T. and T.); Make a Mighty Reach (Charles F. Kettering Foundation) and Lexicon (UCLA). It’s unclear how many were animated.

Perhaps some day we’ll see a full Sutherland filmography as well as the company’s animated films current resting in 16mm cans, and forgotten.

Friday 27 March 2020

Un Cameo De Skunque

There was a time there weren’t “universes,” a time when it was special when one cartoon character crossed over into another character’s animated short.

Porky’s Pig Feat may be the best one at Warner Bros. because Bugs Bunny unexpectedly shows up at the end as the topper gag. Another one is at the end of Dog Pounded (1954), where Sylvester spends most of the cartoon trying to get past a pack of dogs to Tweety, his breakfast.

In the final routine, he paints a white stripe down his back to look like a skunk and frighten the dogs. It works.

Ah, but the only possible reaction in a Warner Bros. cartoon to a cat with a painted skunk line is the appearance of Pepé Le Pew. Sylvester squirms to get away from his romantic advances. A few random frames.

Carl Stalling plays Friml and Cushing’s “L’Amour Toujours L'Amour” in the background.

The cartoon ends with a wisecrack from Tweety and Pepé making kissing sounds at the fade out.

Manny Perez, Ken Champin, Art Davis and Virgil Ross received animation credits.

Thursday 26 March 2020

Fred is Falling For You

Betty Boop’s Prize Show is her version of an 1890s Western melodrama, except she is performing it as a play in a small town theatre. This gives Dave Fleischer and the writers a chance to toss in some theatre gags.

One is when the bad guy punches Fearless Fred out the door and over a cliff. As he falls, it’s revealed the falling effect is pure theatre, as the stagehands operating the rolling background are revealed.

The backdrop restored, Fred falls toward the rocks below, but swims in place in mid-air until he can attach the branch that breaks his fall. (Don’t ask what happened to the board holding Fred aloft. It was only there for the sake of the gag. The gag’s done).

Myron Waldman and Lillian Friedman are the credited animators.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Can You Come Over and Insult People?

If you’re going to be insulted by anyone, you couldn’t find too many people better than Groucho Marx.

"The One, The Only" did it to ordinary people on camera and off. No one seems to have been offended; I suspected they treated it as a badge of honour.

Here’s a wire service story that showed up in papers around May 21, 1961. That’s the year Groucho gave up You Bet Your Life, a show which didn’t even make it on the air on the east coast on February 2nd because someone forgot to deliver a tape to NBC in New York (the network substituted a documentary on the old Third Avenue El. It’s a shame Groucho didn’t narrate that).

Nowhere does the story mention Groucho’s new kinda-quiz show, Tell It To Groucho, debuting in the fall. Considering its fate, that’s all just as well.

The writer was quite correct about Groucho pretending to be baffled about the end of his quiz show. He told columnist Hal Humphrey the same year that he went with a new show because of residuals, adding that sponsors weren’t lining up to buy time on reruns of You Bet Your Life because the original show was still on the air. No sponsors means no stations, and no stations means no residuals.

Anyway, on to the insults! The drawing accompanied the Pittsburgh Press’ version of the story.

Groucho, the Delight of Hostesses
HOLLYWOOD—Hollywood's most-sought-after guest for parties has no muscles, no sex appeal and rarely smiles. He's Groucho Marx.
Hostesses battle for him, because his wit makes their affairs the talk of the town the next day.
At a recent shindig, a bright-eyed young lady cornered him and told him she wanted her future husband to be able to swim, dance, ski, sing a little and ride horseback.
"You don't want a husband," barked Groucho. "You want a five-man relay team."
At another party, the host was speaking glowingly about famous persons who have lived to be 80 years old or more.
"Anyone can get old," said Groucho. "All you have to do is live long enough."
On one occasion, a clergyman told the comedian: "Mr. Marx, I want to thank you for all the enjoyment you've given the world."
"And I," replied Groucho, "want to thank you for all the enjoyment you've taken out of it."
The clergyman erupted into laughter and asked Groucho's permission to use the story in a sermon.
Rumor has it that Groucho will replace Jack Paar one night a week next fall. Most of Groucho's fans probably aren't aware yet that after 14 years this Marx brother is not coming back with his famous "You Bet Your Life" show next season.
In his own inimitable style, however, Groucho denies he will take over any part of the Paar show.
"Paar is a clever fellow. Everybody has been on the Paar show—Kennedy, Nixon, Billy Graham. Even Paar has been on the Paar show. Come to think of it, Khrushchev never made the Paar show, and that's the acid test. Would you want a leader who hasn't been on the Paar show?"
The eye-rolling humorist appears not to be too upset over the demise of his quiz show, although he is somewhat baffled by it or pretends to be.
"I don't know if the sponsors dropped it, or the agencies or the network. I don't pay attention to those things. But I have no complaint. The show lasted 14 years, 11 of them on TV, and I've made a lot of money and gone through two wives with this show –and four or five NBC presidents."
The comedian, once a top movie star, never took any guff from his sponsors on television.
When he was being feted at a cocktail party for his book, "Groucho and Me," a sponsor representative suggested that he put down his drink before posing for a picture.
"Ridiculous," said Groucho. "People watch TV with drinks in their hands. In fact, people watch television drunk. If they weren't, they wouldn't watch it."
Another time, Groucho was called in because NBC-TV had received some letters about the acid-like way he made some comments.
During the discussion, Groucho asked: "How many letters did we get?"
"Twenty-three," came the reply.
"How many people watch the show?" he asked an aide.
"More than 20,000,000." Without saying another word, Groucho got up and walked out. The network never complained again.
Groucho, in deadpan, mercilessly kids his old friend, restaurateur Mike Romanoff, when he eats at his famous dining place.
"Here comes that phony Russian prince," he says in a stage whisper so that all diners can hear.
Once, Romanoff came over with a smile to greet him and said:
"I just had my dinner."
"I wish you had mine," snapped Groucho.
Groucho is considered the fastest man in town with a line. Once, in a discussion about alimony, he defined it as "feeding oats to a dead horse."
When the conversation turned to gracious living, he offered this definition: "Having an icebox in the tropics."
Groucho is unfailingly polite to children, but cuts down offensive parents. In Romanoff's not long ago, he autographed a menu for a little girl, only to have her father follow her over.
The father offered his hand and said in an irritating manner:
"It's meant a lot to me to shake hands with you."
"It's meant a lot to me too," snapped Groucho. "Probably a skin disease."
Groucho is wealthy, likes to read, play golf and write letters. Of the termination of his show, he says:
"Really, I feel the way Man o’ War must have felt when he was retired. Except, in his case, he was going to stud and I'm just going to seed," says Groucho.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Felix Dogs It

Dancing butterfly. Dancing bear. Dancing flowers. Not exactly something you’d find in a Felix the Cat cartoon, but that’s what we get in April Maze. It was reported by Film Daily on September 21, 1930 that it was one of nine Felix synchronised to music by Copley Pictures. Basically, the Felix shorts were doing what other sound cartoon series were doing, and poorly at that. There was no singing or dialogue; just sound and vocal effects.

Felix isn’t only saddled with flora and fauna taking his screen time, he’s stuck with yowling kids. They even pray—twice! It’s far from the drunken Felix in Woos Whoopee. However, there are a few elements of the old Felix cartoons, such as the living wieners.

Felix and the kids go on a picnic. Among the food—wieners. I suppose they are supposed to be hot dogs, even though there are no buns, as the wieners bark like dogs.

When it starts to rain, Felix and his kids run away. The wieners follow behind, leaping.

Cut to the next scene where the wieners are rolling in a circle like a wheel. Because there’s a storm, the director (Otto Messmer?) switches from a positive to a negative of the shot off and on during the scene.

Cut to the wieners acting like horses, pulling Felix and the kids in the picnic basket along the ground.

Copley Pictures is still in the Film Daily Year Book in 1934 as the producer and distributor of Felix, but it stopped making new cartoons some time in 1930.

Monday 23 March 2020

Yes, He's Crooked

The puns are almost non-stop in The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945). “You know,” says Droopy to the viewers. “I think the dealer is crooked.” The camera pans to the left.

Metro was extremely high on this cartoon. It took out a full page ad in all kinds of trade publications.

The Showmen’s Trade Review of April 21, 1945 endorsed the cartoon:

The Shooting of Dan McGoo (Kids Itself)
MGM—No. W-545 8 mins.
The laughs in this Technicolor travesty on the Robert W. Service poem "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," starts early in the nine satisfying minutes for the subject kids itself, and that takes courage, even in cartoons. Its satiric vein continues with a hot number rendered by Red Hot Riding Hood as “the lady known as Lou,” in the Malemute Saloon in Coldornell, Alaska, in which the voice of Imogene Lynn is a mellifluent contribution. It is worth booking whether quality shorts are appreciated.

Incidentally, the title of this cartoon wasn’t original with MGM. The July-August 1931 edition of Radio Digest reveals the NBC Red network broadcast a show of detective send-ups by comedians “Snoop and Peep.” One was entitled “The Shooting of Dan McGoo” (it aired in southern California on KECA Los Angeles).

Bill Thompson is in the Midwest on military duty, so other than the first line, someone else is voicing Droopy. Frank Graham is the narrator and Sara Berner is Lou.