Thursday 30 April 2020

Wagon Ho Ho Ho

Droopy manages to thwart the cattle rancher throughout one of my favourite Tex Avery cartoons, Drag-a-Long Droopy (1954). The bad guy rancher jumps into sheepherder Droopy’s covered wagon, but because anything can happen in a Tex Avery cartoon, Droopy and his mule defy logic and gravity by going off on one direction and the wagon in another.

It takes seven frames for the wagon to turn into a surrey after hitting the cliff; it’s a gag Avery used in other MGM cartoons. These are two consecutive drawings.

The end result before Avery wipes into the next scene. Gritting his teeth, no doubt, Scott Bradley scores “The Old Grey Mare” in the background (various accounts have it Bradley hated old hat music in “his” cartoons).

Avery provides the voice of the wolf, Bill Thompson is Droopy while Mike Lah, Walt Clinton, Grant Simmons, Bob Bentley and Ray Patterson provide the animation in front of Johnny Johnsen’s backgrounds.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Miltie, March and Money

Milton Berle was network television’s first huge star. Starting in late 1948, vast sales of TV sets were credited to his Tuesday night show on NBC which was slowly adding affiliates as new stations were coming on the air.

Berle was the star of the Texaco Star Theatre which he had been hosting on radio to mixed reviews and audiences. Radio was never Berle’s forte. One of his short-lived ventures was a summer replacement show on CBS that was kind of an advice show with Berle’s hokey one-liners chucked in whenever possible.

Herald Tribune columnist John Crosby reviewed it and two other summer replacement shows in his column of July 10, 1946. Bob Sweeney was a well-thought of television director in later years but at the time he was in a comedy team with Hal March, noted more for The $64,000 Question than his acting. CBS gave them a show. The third replacement was a game show that was now on ABC after airing on the Mutual network. Break the Bank starred the overly-effervescent Bert Parks, who soon took his hype to another ABC radio show, Stop the Music. Break the Bank made the transition to television. It featured prize questions that a child of five could answer but adult game show contestants couldn’t, as Crosby notes.
Three New Radio Shows
At the outset of his new program, “Kiss and Make Up” (WABC 9 p. m. Mondays), Milton Berle went on at some length about his experiences at the beach.
“Honestly, the bathing suits these girls wear,” he said. “Midriff. All mid and no riff. The lifeguard has to rescue one girl from drowning. The girl screamed twice—once because he was drowning.”
That should give you some idea of Mr. Berle, who hasn’t changed a bit since his vaudeville days. In “Kiss and Make Up,” Mr. Berle plays judge in a sort of domestic relations court. On Monday night, a couple was brought before him both insisting that the other one snored so loudly that sleep was impossible.
“You mean he’s sleeping on the inside and snoring on the outside?” inquired Mr. Berle.
After a bit more of this patter, the couple are asked to kiss and make up, hence the title of the show. The program is supposed to be ad lib, but I have grave doubts about that. One woman complained that another woman heard her order liver on the party line and then rushed down and got the liver herself.
“I got her liver, but she got my gall,” said the other female. If that’s an ad-lib, I’m John J. Anthony. From where I sat I could see the beads of perspiration on the gag writer’s brow when he dreamed that up. I’m not a Milton Berle fan, but if you like puns, you’ll hear more in five minutes on this show than in an hour and a half of Eddie Cantor.
* * *
Some time ago I remarked that a good comedian makes a half hour fly past while a poor one makes a half hour seem twice that long. I had another long half hour on Friday night, while listening to “Sweeney and March” on their new comedy act (WABC 8:30 p. m. Fridays). In this case I think the reason is that they crammed enough material into a half an hour to make two or three shows.
The program opened with one comedian talking the other one out of going to the seashore on his vacation and invites himself to go to the mountains. Then there is a sketch up in the mountains, the trip back from the mountains, and the half hour ended with another sketch about buying a used car. Any one of those sketches would have made a good half hour if treated with a little wit, but lumping them all together made the program seem endless. The program also presents Patsy Bolton, fourteen-year-old singer, who tripped through “Great Day” with a suavity far greater than her years.
As a sample of the humor on the Sweeney and March program I seem to have only one joke on my notes, though I’m sure they must have told more than that. Here it is:
“Can I get a prescription filled here.”
“Certainly not, this is a drug store.”
* * *
If you want to make some easy money you might want to try to get on the “Break the Bank” program (WJZ, 9 p. m., Fridays). This is a new quiz show with a $1,070 top prize, but I advise against trying for the whole sum. It’s a cinch to make $200 or $300.
Some of the questions asked last Friday were: “What famous document proclaimed the independence of the United States?” “Who was first in peace, first in war and first in the hearts of his countrymen?” “What is the first love song you remember?” On that last question any love song that pops into your mind serves as an answer.
The jumbo question which would have won the contestant $1,070 was: “Where was the first atomic bomb exploded?” I thought every one had heard about the New Mexico test explosion, but the contestant apparently missed his newspaper that day. He retired from the program with just $10 for his previous answers.
As we’ve promised, we’ll give you the full week’s worth of Crosby’s columns. You can click on them to see them better. July 8, 1946 was about a drama starring Orson Welles on CBS. July 9th has Crosby nodding in affirmation at the cattiness of the Mutual programme Leave it to the Girls. July 11th has Crosby mulling over three different shows, while July 12th’s column focuses on a couple of women’s programmes, one on local New York radio.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Musical Spaghetti

Pluto hasn’t been invented yet, so Mickey pulls out the teeth of his 1929 pooch and opens a can of spaghetti in Mickey’s Choo Choo. Carl Stalling plays “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” in the background.

Mickey then plays “Humoresque” on the spaghetti like a harp (Disney turns from public domain standards to public domain classics) before it slaps him in the face. No, he doesn’t share the spaghetti with the dog.

Ub Iwerks gets a “by” credit; I imagine he did the scene with the train belching after dinner.

Monday 27 April 2020

The Eyes of Louie

Greedy Louie realises he’ll be a millionaire if he bumps off dopey cat Heathcliff in Dough Ray Me-ow, a 1948 cartoon by the Art Davis unit at Warners.

Here’s animator Don Williams at work with his multiple eyes and brushwork. Louie imagines the money, then imagines the money with him replacing Heathcliff.

Bill Melendez, Basil Davidovich and Emery Hawkins also animate scenes, with the story credited to Lloyd Turner.

Sunday 26 April 2020

Saving Money the Benny Way

Last week, we reprinted an article about Jack Benny from a weekend newspaper magazine of November 2, 1958. Here’s an indication how popular Jack was—the same magazine had another feature story about him the following weekend.

Here, Jack is in character doing a cheapskate advice routine. We suspect it was penned by one of his writers.

Penny For My Thoughts?

I am not what is known as a voluble man, but concerning certain subjects I seldom find myself at a loss for words. I consider myself an authority on antique cars, valets, violin solos and money. The last has always appealed to me especially the problem of keeping it.
Along these lines, I have formed a certain set of operating procedures which I will be happy to pass along.
Capricious buying should be avoided at all—you’ll pardon the expression—cost. Never, in a weak moment, allow yourself to purchase something on a whim. This may prove difficult for the neophyte, as all the guile and craftiness of merchants are directed at just such weak-willed persons. Signs and advertisements drip with sentimental suggestions like Buy your sweetheart a box of Goodie Chocolate.
It's The Thought
A nice card and a candy bar will serve just as well. After all, it’s not the money but the thought which counts, and a card and a candy bar makes you properly sentimental without overdoing it.
Never pick up luncheon or dinner checks at a restaurant, club, or night spot. And I mean that literally. Once I picked up a check out of simple curiosity. I had no intention of paying it, but by the time I had added the figures everyone had gone and I had to pay or wash the dishes. If I’d had my rubber gloves along I think I’d have chosen the dishes.
Now from time to time, even if you follow the above advice, someone will push a check toward you. At this point, you have several possible courses of action. Providing you haven’t drunk your glass of water you can knock it over, and in attempting to dry out the tablecloth, once again push the check across the table.
At times this is impractical, for instance if the table is slanting toward you. However, suddenly remembering you must make a telephone call can extricate you from such a position, as can a sudden desire for cigarets, a newspaper, or a just-remembered appointment, to which you must rush.
Only Showoffs Pay
I would like to make it perfectly clear that I am not cheap. It’s just that I detest ostentation in anyone, particularly myself. Check grabbers are such showoffs.
Another difficult situation a man may find himself facing is how to avoid paying for a round of drinks at his golf club. I have found that by being a step or two behind my friends someone always pays for the first round. The second is fought over and the third, etc., until everyone but me has paid.
That pretty well takes care of the ground rules for thrift involving outright expenditures. The delicate, subtle ways of saving money is what separates the men from the boys. However, I haven’t time to go into such detail, so I will leave you with my slogan for thrift, A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned.

Saturday 25 April 2020

Walter Lantz Keeps On Going

Walter Lantz finally shut down his cartoon studio in 1972, even though he said at the time there was still international demand for his shorts. Evidently, theatres didn’t care how bad the cartoons were. Woody Woodpecker was a wasted shell of himself and the less said about the Beary Family, the better.

Apparently, Lantz considered getting out of the cartoon business in 1962 but changed his mind. That’s what he told columnist Joan Dew in the Valley Times of North Hollywood. This short piece was published on April 20, 1963. As Lantz still had a contract with Universal-International, it’s doubtful the studio would have closed.

The Woody creation story hadn’t yet morphed to include the “honeymoon” claim, which was as real as any of Lantz’s cartoon characters. The “udder” story about the Lantz studio showed up in a New York newspaper in March 1931, so he’d been telling it a long time.

Walter Lantz Retired Once--For Two Weeks
At 63, Walter Lantz has as much energy as his precocious offspring, Woody Woodpecker.
He retired a year ago; and his retirement lasted all of two weeks. "I couldn't stand it," he says, "so I returned to work."
In addition to actively supervising his bustling studio, which turns out several dozen motion picture cartoons a year, he is an enthusiastic golfer, a world traveler and a talented painter.
HE LOST many of his landscapes in oil when his home burned in the Bel Air fire. He has painted 15 since then and decided to have them appraised in case of fire or theft. "I've never been so astonished," he told me, "as I was when the appraiser valued them at $200 to $500 each.
"I paint from colored slides my wife and I take when we travel. Our maid has never thought much of me as a painter, and she doesn't hesitate to tell me so. But she gave me one compliment recently. I had completed a scene from Holland of a windmill. She saw it and said, 'Mr. Lantz, that one isn't bad. I recognize it. It's Van de Camp's.' "
WALTER'S wife is Grace Stafford, a former actress, who is the voice of Woody Woodpecker.
"When AFTRA went on strike a couple of years ago, Gracie was on strike against me," Walter laughed. "I punished her by making her pick up her own dinner tabs."
Walter entered the cartoon industry at its inception. The year was 1916 and he worked under the late Gregory La Cava. But it wasn't until 1940 that Woody, his most famous character, was born. Walter was living at Lake Sherwood, Calif., and a pesky woodpecker almost destroyed the roof of his home. "That $200 roof bill became the best investment of my life," he says.
Since Walter's cartoons are made especially for motion pictures, each six-minute short must be approved by the Johnson Office and awarded a Purity Seal before being released to distributors.
"THAT'S NOT as simple as it sounds," he pointed out, "because of the requirements involved. For example, if we're going to show a cow, we must draw a skirt on it. Children are not supposed to see the udders."
"You can't be serious," I said.
"Oh, yes," he laughed, "then when it gets to the theater, they put it on the bill with something like 'Lolita.' "
Although Walter and his wife have no children of their own, they are god parents to many. For 10 years they have been sponsors of a Sherman Oaks Little League baseball team and they founded the Woody Woodpecker Foundation, which gives financial aid to boys' clubs throughout the country.
"Associating with youngsters keeps me young," says Walter. "I'm producing a new television show this fall that will combine my motion picture cartoons with an educational format. In order to know what will be interesting to kids, you have to know how they think, and learn the trick of entering their world."
Walter seems to have mastered the trick. I don't know a child who gets more of a kick out of life than he does. In fact, when we parted, it was much like a scene from a Walter Lantz cartoon. He hopped into his sleek '63 Corvette Sting Ray, gunned the motor and raced away.

Friday 24 April 2020

Hail to Bendover

Pete Hothead (Jerry Hausner) listens outside the Bendover and Grovel department store where Avery the floorwalker (Jim Backus) is leading employees in their pre-opening singing devotion to the store.

Marian Richman and Bill Scott provide additional voices ijn Pete Hothead. Scott co-wrote the cartoon and I suspect he came up with the names “Marmaduke” and “Chauncy.” Pete Burness directed this 1954 UPA short.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Leaky Dogs

What do you do when a duck drills a hole in your rowboat? You cover it up.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple in a Tex Avery cartoon. In Lucky Ducky, the small dog does a little dance in the air before diving to cover the hole. The water comes out of his ears. The big dog does a little dance in the air and... well, you can figure it out.

Finally, the little dog turns the nose of the big dog to shut off the water.

Walt Clinton, Grant Simmons, Louie Schmitt and Preston Blair are the animators on this cartoon.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

The Great One Fails

Jackie Gleason may have been known as “The Great One” but he had a moment that wasn’t too great. It was a game show called “You’re in the Picture.”

It debuted on January 20, 1961. It was cancelled after the second show one week later when Gleason went on the air and apologised for how lousy the first one was.

Of course, Gleason felt differently when he was plugging the show before it aired. He predicted success and a financial windfall to columnist H.C. of the New York Herald Tribune in a column five days before the show debuted.
Gleason Returns
WE ASKED the Great Gleason (which is the way he signs his mail, hotel registers, everything but checks) a loaded question. You’ve got all the fame you can enjoy, all the respect a sensitive genius needs, all the satisfaction and money your ego and extravagances require, all the booze you could ever lap up—aren’t you crazy to go back wrestling with the TV gremlins on a regular weekly series starting this Friday night at 9:30 over CBS?
“Fun,” my fine feathered fat friend snorted. “Fun is a commodity of which there is always a shortage. I’m an active guy, mentally and physically. I found out that last night’s applause doesn’t last till the next morning unless you’re weird enough to tape it and replay it. Public acceptance to acclaim is a living thing that acts as adrenalin to an entertainer—the only difference is you can’t take an overdose of it.
“About the upcoming show,” Jackie raved on, “the title, ‘You’re In the Picture,’ pretty much is a give away of the format. When Steve Carlin first approached me with it I listened with a critic’s ears, looking for clinkers and booby traps. Instead I found the whole concept palatable and practical because there’s nothing quite like it on TV—which makes it novelty night.
“It sets up like this. We have a panel of four familiar faces, preferably those of people. Maybe we’ll rotate the celebs, maybe we’ll anchor one or more of them. Sliding in front of the panelists will be a huge picture frame, about 10 feet wide by 7 feet high (my build before I went on a diet!) In each show pictures will be set into the frame, maybe the memorable photo of the raising of Old Flory on Suribachi, or a New Yorker cartoon, or Washington Crossing the Delaware.
“Let’s say it’s the Washington bit. Maybe it’ll be Tallulah Bankhead poking her head through a hole cut in the picture so from up front it’s George’s body and Tallulah’s head you see in the scene. Maybe one of the oarsmen is Ethel Merman or Bill Bendix. The game then is for the stars to guess who they are, what they’re doing, what famous painting or event is being recalled. After the guessing is over we’ll wheel a huge mirror in front of the panelists so they can see what caused all the guffaws.
“My job will be to act as a ‘mobile moderator.’ I’ll help with clues, capers, comments, maybe stick my head through a hole in the picture like I used to do at Coney Island when I was a kid.
“Since the series will be on tape this thing shouldn’t interfere with ‘Gigot,’ the movie Paddy Chayefsky is writing for me to do in Paris, which I think Jose Ferrer will direct. It also won’t interfere with the TV conversation series I’m itching to do, nor the sports shows, nor a variety idea I have up my sleeveless sweater. By the way, we’ll have the only panel show on TV with live music, something of which there is not enough on the air. To sum up, chum, I’m in this racket for two things—to get involved with anything that smells like fun and can make me a million bucks between laughs.”
It this makes Jackie Gleason crazy, I’d like to apply for membership in the club.
The concept was a good one; certainly as good as Godson-Todman’s I’ve Got a Secret. But the problem was Gleason. He thought he could create sparkling entertainment just by walking in and winging it for a half-hour. It doesn’t quite work that way.

Meanwhile, back stage, no one could figure out who should appear on the show with Gleason. Two days before the premiere, this story appeared. (It should be mentioned the original column in the Times didn’t mistake Arthur Treacher for Arthur Tracy. That line was added by the news service).
Who Will Be In Jackie Gleason’s Comedy Panel?

New York Times Service
NEW YORK—Persons involved in the presentation of Jackie Gleason’s new comedy panel television show, “You’re In the Picture,” have indicated they don’t know who will be in the picture when the program makes its debut Friday night.
Gleason could not be reached for comment—either in his office or his hotel. The Columbia Broadcasting System said it did not know who would be on the panel. Steve Carlin, producer of the program, said “I’ll let you know Wednesday.”
A representative for Gleason said the comedian had given approval to two proposed panel members—Pat Carroll and Arthur Treacher. He did not say, however, that they would be on Friday’s show.
Miss Carroll and Treacher, who performed as “The Street Singer” in the early days of radio, appeared on a four- member panel during a run-through of the Gleason show last Saturday. It had been expected that a decision about the panel would be made immediately after the run-through.
The indecision in picking a panel for the premiere is said to be a result of Gleason and others involved in the show not speaking in unison.
The Gleason show has been under development at least since December 9, when CBS announced it would have its premiere January 20 at 9:30 P.M.
Initially the network said it would be co-sponsored by the Liggett and Myers Tobacco Company and Plymouth, but the latter has been replaced by the Kellogg Company.
Gleason and producer Carlin considered 50 people in show biz and put 25 of them through trial runs, some of which were videotaped. But Gleason insisted the debut be live. So it was.

Critics weren’t kind the next morning. And neither was Gleason. This story appeared on the wire a day after the second and final show.
Jackie Gleason Admits New TV Show Giant Flop
NEW YORK (AP)—Jackie Gleason took to the air Friday night and confessed to a nation-wide audience that his new panel show was a giant sized flop.
The CBS program, "You're In the Picture," met something less than critical acclaim at its premiere last week.
The portly comedian, in rare form, strolled alone onto the stage Friday night, sat down in an arm chair and told how the whole thing came about.
Television hadn't seen anything like it since Jack Paar walked off his show to go to Hong Kong.
"You're In the Picture" originally had guest panelists sticking their heads through cutouts in prearranged pictures. But, said Gleason, the show was a failure and he tried to explain how a group of 20 TV veterans could have designed such a disaster.
"There's no panel tonight," said Gleason. "There's nothing but an orchestra and myself. We have a creed, namely, honesty is the best policy."
Between sips of coffee, which he identified roguishly as "chock full o' booze," Gleason tried to explain the anatomy of a flop. It wasn't clear why the show failed, but the answer lay partly in the fact that everyone concerned had apparently been wrong in his judgment, Gleason said.
"Show business," sighed Gleason, "is a strange and intangible endeavor."
The future?
"I don't know what we are going to do, but tune in next week for the greatest soap opera-less opera you've ever seen," he said.
Gleason took the failure in stride. He simply carried on with a new format (Kellogg dropped out, saying it wasn’t the show they bought) then revived his variety show in 1962, well-remembered by those old enough to have seen Joe the Bartender exchange words with Crazy Guggenheim. You’re in the Picture didn’t harm Gleason’s career a bit. He still was “The Great One.”

Tuesday 21 April 2020

The Duck Guitar

Bimbo picks up a roast duck and plays it like a guitar, inspired by the pre-human version of Betty Boop in Dizzy Dishes (1930).

Bimbo puts down the duck and they duplicate dance movements.

Ted Sears and Grim Natwick are the credited animators.