Friday, 7 May 2021

Quick Change For Betty

An easel with a picture of Maurice Chevalier grabs a megaphone nearby on the stage and puts it to the picture’s mouth. “Can you imitate me, Betty Boop??” says the Chevalier picture. (Yes, that really is Chevalier’s voice). Betty answers in the affirmative and the picture tells her to do it right now.



A screen with legs trots onto the screen, Betty changes, and the screen trots off stage. Betty grabs a straw hat from someone in the audience and sings “Hello Beautiful,” a song Chevalier did on his 1931-32 radio show for Chase and Sanborn.



Doc Crandall and Rudy Eggeman get the animation credits in Stopping the Show (1932). Mae Questel is Betty.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

How to Become a Skunk

Slowly, Spike transforms from a dog into a skunk as he plot to kill Droopy in Wags to Riches. The dissolve happens over 16 frames, one frame for each change in colour and character. Here are just some of the frames.



Spike snickers just like Precious Pupp and Muttley would in Hanna-Barbera years later. As far as I know, director Tex Avery is doing the voice himself.

Bobe Cannon, Mike Lah, Walt Clinton and Grant Simmons are the credited animators in this 1949 release.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Shapeless as a Scrambled Egg

In a day when radio announcers still intoned, Arthur Godfrey didn’t. He was the most relaxed, informal guy you could listen to.

And it was all phoney.

It took until Godfrey fired singer Julius De Rosa on television in 1953 for people to realise the guy was a callous control-freak. They started noticing he fired an awful lot of his “Little Godfreys” whom he doted on when the camera light was on and there never was a good reason why. Still, Godfrey maintained a following, as well as a place on CBS schedule until 1972 when just about every non-information programme had long been cancelled.

It was a different story in 1946. Godfrey was low-key and observational and audiences at it up. So did noted cynic John Crosby. His opinion changed after The Firing. In his column of October 23, 1953, he quoted from the piece below and added “But that was long ago, before all that humility crept into the act,” putting Godfrey high on the list of celebrities “least aware of the meaning of humility.” (Godfrey told the media he fired La Rosa because the singer “lacked humility”). This column is from August 20, 1946 and Godfrey sounds very entertaining.

“The Barefoot Boy of Radio”
This seems to be my week to discuss redheads. Yesterday it was Red Barber. Today let’s take up Arthur Godfrey, whom Fred Allen refers to as the Huck Finn of radio, an apt description in some respects and not at all in others. Godfrey has a Huck Finn voice, the laziest in radio, but this vocal appearance is misleading. The red-headed master of ceremonies is easily the busiest man in the industry. He’s on the air twenty-two hours a week, or about five more hours than I like to listen during any one week.
Mondays through Fridays you’ll find his homespun comments emanating from your nearest Columbia Broadcasting System station from 11 to 11:30 a.m. in a program as shapeless as a scrambled egg, as informal as a naked child.
* * *
It’s a wonderful day for a wrong number,” he’ll remark in that barefoot voice. “You know there’s a new gadget on the market. It answers the phone for you, insults the party on the other end and then hangs up. It gives a Bronx cheer to wrong numbers. Frank Saunders, what have you got for us this morning?”
Mr. Saunders then steps up and sings something like “Mean to Me” or “Exactly Like You,” nostalgic, old numbers as restful as a second cup of coffee. Pretty soon Godfrey is back again.
“I have a news item for you. The United States government has bought 1,045 dead horses. The horses are—or were—ponies illegally seized from the Indians during the Sioux War. Well, Congress has appropriate money to pay for ‘em. But there are only a few Indians old enough to make a claim. Let’s see, there’s Bear With Black Body. He’s ninety-three. And there’s Daniel Grass Rope, eighty-four. But White Buffalo Leader. who is 103, can’t collect a dime. You see, he had a hand in wiping out General Custer and he’s still considered hostile.”
Godfrey is also likely to tell you about the 27,000 pigeon strait-jackets the government is trying to get rid of (paratroopers used them to keep pigeons quiet during jumps), or he will become engrossed in statistics on the number of girls who say yes the first time a man asks for a date and the number of marriages this leads to. (Only 8 per cent, in case you’re interested). Heaven knows where Godfrey digs up this zany comment on our civilization, he but he takes keen relish in telling about it. His voice gurgles with pleasure like spring water in the back yard pump. Sometimes he sings a parody on the whole art of singing, and I can think of no higher praise than to say he even makes “Five Salted Peanuts” likable or, at least, endurable.
At intervals, Godfrey brings on the Jubilaires—I think it’s a quartet though I can’t be sure—or Jeanette Davis to sing and the song is probably “Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet.” Even the singers seem infected with Godfrey’s easy going ways, so the tempo of the whole program is just plain lazy. First thing you know the half hour has slipped by and Godfrey is saying good by until tomorrow. As he fades off you hear him whistling like a small boy roaming down a dusty road with nothing on his mind but the joy of living.
I can’t speak as highly of Godfrey’s evening program—C.B.S., 9 p.m., E.D.T., Tuesdays. The purpose of this program is to give a break to promising but unknown singers, entertainers, piano players and the like. Talent scouts, some professional, some amateur, introduce these newcomers to Godfrey, who gives them a chance to do their stuff. It’s not a Major Bowes program, the talent is strictly professional. I applaud the aim of the program, but somehow it sounds rehearsed and Godfrey is better at ad lib.
One of the recent talent scouts turned out to be an explorer. “Aren’t you sort of unemployed,” inquired Godfrey. “I mean, is there anything left to explore?” a remark which indicates the kind of mind Godfrey has. The explorer explained that all you had to do to get along with the lady head hunters was to bring them beads and trinkets.
“Just like New York,” observed Godfrey.
There’s some pretty good talent among these unknowns. One night I listened as Godfrey introduced Hildegarde Halliday, a monologuist [sic], who rattled on in a devious and highly entertaining manner.
“I think politics are so common—what with allowing every one to vote,” she said. “That reminds me: I saw your husband last night with the most attractive woman—probably your sister.”
Oh, the talent scout program is worth listening to, all right, but, for my money there is too much talent and there are too many talent scouts. They blanket the Godfrey personality, certainly one of the warmest in radio.
* * *
In a lot of ways Godfrey is the nearest thing to a humorist we’ve had since the death of Will Rogers. His humor is free from malice; it has that searching tenderness I’ve missed since E.B. White went to Vermont to raise chickens. It’s difficult to convey that quality in print. Much of Godfrey’s humor is like those screamingly funny remarks you hear at parties. They’re uproarious at the time, but somehow lose their point when you repeat them the next day.
It puts me in mind of a statement once made by the late, great Percy Hammond. Hammond remarked once that he’d never left a J.M. Barrie play without feeling a revived and wondrous delight in being a human being. In this impassioned and jittery age Godfrey is doing his bit to restore our faith in the amiable and gentle characteristics of our high-strung civilization.


As for the columns for the rest of the week, Crosby sat in with the great Brooklyn Dodgers announcer Red Barber, a man with turns of phrases everyone (well, maybe not a Yankees fan) could enjoy. He related some of the play-by-play and ancillary chatter in his column of August 19th. On the 21st, Crosby had three topics, including a musing on the tables being turned by contestants on game show/audience participation show hosts. The next day he looks at a now-forgotten 15-minute medical show which aired on ABC, while the 23rd examined an episode of Inner Sanctum written by Ben Hecht. You can click on any of them to make them bigger.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Tanks, Snafu

Private Snafu thinks the infantry sucks, so Technical Fairy First Class uses his magic wand to let him try out the other armed services.

In the tank corps, he ends of motoring his tank over jagged rocks.



A cut to the next scene shows a cutaway of the tank with Snafu in silhoutte, getting tossed around.



Cut to the next scene where his eyes are jiggling around due to the impact of the tank moving.



Infantry Blues was produced for the “Army/Navy Screen Magazine” of September 11, 1943 by the Chuck Jones unit at the Schlesinger studio.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Witchiepoo

65 years ago, she was a “New Face.” But in her most famous role, you never got to see her face.

Billie Hayes was packed under all kinds of make-up as the scenery-munching Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf, a live-action show nestled amongst the cartoons on Saturday mornings in the 1969-70 television season.

Only seventeen episodes were made but they still resonate with anyone who watched the show way-back-when. You can partially credit Hayes for that. Witchiepoo was supposed to be the villainess, but she seemed to be having a great time camping it up, so kids loved her.

Hayes has passed away at the age of 96.

She got a break when she was cast in “New Faces of 1956,” a revue staged by Leonard Sillman and partly written by Paul Lynde. She moved on to the role of Mammy Yokum in Li’l Abner not long afterwards. But she had been around before that. For example, she appeared in what Variety called a “vestpocket musical” that kicked around for about a year and a half before it arrived at Gogi’s Larue in New York City in 1953. Of the six original cast members, she was the only one kept for the whole time. The trade paper called her “a mugging cutup as evidenced in a very bouncy ‘Back in the Old Routine’,” which earned her an encore.

Here’s a story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution of September 9, 1953. I don’t understand the ‘50s preoccupation with asking women show-folk about getting a man. There’s some of that in this story.

Visiting Comedienne Wants Contract With Fun, Not Man
By JEAN ROONEY

A visiting bachelor girl admits she wants a long-term contract, but it can be with a movie or TV company instead of a man.
But Billie Hayes may have been joking when she made this announcement as she came to Atlanta Tuesday morning from Manhattan.
A tiny, curvesome, platinum blond, a comedienne by trade, Billie is one of the stars of an entertainment troupe in the city for about 10 days to appear with an international fashion show to be presented by Rich’s and the Young Matron’s Circle for Tallulah Falls School, Sept. 14-19.
Husky-voiced Billy [sic], who weighs in at a neat 110 pounds and measures five feet two inches high, quickly explained she has nothing against romance.
“I just haven’t time to dress up and go out courting a man,” she elaborated, without a smile.
Besides Billie’s “awfully undomestic,” she reported. “I always have to pick a roommate who can cook.”
The little blonde bounced into the entertainment whirl when she was in high school in Du Quoin, Illinois.
Since then, “a hundred years ago,” she has made Manhattan her headquarters, fanning out for night club appearances over the country as well as starring on national TV shows.
With a style her friends say is like Mickey Rooney’s, Billie’s acts range from take-offs on a fluttery dean of a girls’ finishing school to a rubber-necking American tourist in Paris.
But the little blonde isn’t sure how she makes people laugh. “I guess I’m so doggoned happy other people know it,” she said.
As to Southerners’ sense of humor, Billie thinks they are “a little reserved and dignified in their appreciation of comic situations.”
“They don’t double up guffawing like audiences do in other parts of the country,” she explained.
She and Atlantans “understood each other” when Billie appeared in an Atlanta hotel supper club about a year ago.
“I hope I’m still good for a laugh,” she chuckled.


Let’s turn our attentions to the role you know about. Yes, a Saturday morning show which looked like Mayor McCheese would show up any minute drew the attention of a few reporters (and not because of drug culture fan theories). I haven’t found a byline for this feature story, which appeared in papers around November 18, 1969.

Much Ado About Witchiepoo
HOLLYWOOD — Witchiepoo, portrayed by Billy [sic] Hayes, might well qualify as the Sad Sack of Saturday morning television.
Somehow, Witchiepoo, hard as she may try, just doesn't qualify as an authentic genuine 14-karat creature of evil. She has too many hangups. For one thing, she seems to lack authority even in her own castle, as when she asks:
"Castle, Castle, I hate to boast.
But who's the Witch who sends you the most?"
When the castle answers, "Not you, you old fossil!" Witchiepoo's only recourse is to kick the castle and exclaim in frustration, "Ahhh, you got termites in your tower!"
This is the character who tries unsuccessfully every Saturday to make life difficult for "H. R. Pufnstuf," the friendly dragon-mayor of Living Island, and his island friends, especially Jimmy ("Oliver!" star Jack Wild) and Freddy Flute, on the NBC Television Network.
"I wanted to do this role very much," said Billie "Witchiepoo" Hayes, the gamine-like actress who considers herself basically a singing and dancing comedienne. "I felt they would really let me be nutty, zany and wild."
Witchiepoo, according to Billie, shares some of the elements of two other characters she has portrayed, including Mammy Yokum in "Lil’ Abner (Broadway, national company and motion picture), and Minnie Fay in "Hello Dolly" (Las Vegas).
"Witchiepoo" said Billie "is really wilder and nuttier than Mammy. She's allowed more freedom. She can cry and admit she was scared or frightened."
Witchiepoo's gentler elements remind Billie of Minnie Fay in “Hello Dolly.”
“Minnie had a sweet character,” said Billie. “This comes out from time to time in Witchiepoo, too, when she is down and feels a warmth for Seymour (one of her two otherwise abused sidekicks).
Billie, who is the youngest of four children (two boys and two girls) was born to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Brosch in Duquoin, Ill.
"My dad still lives there," she said. "He's a retired coal-miner. He was president of his Local for 40 years. My dad is a sort of colorful kind of character, and I'm a lot like him. He's like a gremlin. He's a nonstop talker. He has a booming voice and stands up and uses his hands when he tells a story." Billie's mother passed away in 1952.
"She was a great, softspoken cheery, outgoing person," said Billie. "I was thrilled when a family friend came to me after the show in Las Vegas and said, 'I can't tell you how you remind me of your mother.' You look and act just like her. Mother was very dedicated to helping people who were in need. She was also the school's Santa Claus every year. I believed her till the third grade. Then I recognized Momma's voice. I asked her if she was Santa Claus. She said, 'Only at school.' I called her Santa in class, but when she gave me my present, I whispered 'Thank you. Momma.' "
Billy, who is single, lives in Hollywood. She has two new hobbies, photography and bicycling (she just bought a 10-speed bike). She also has an 11-year-old dog, Tina, a boxer-Great Dane.
"She's my true life sidekick" said Billie. "But I don't hit her, like I do Orson in the series."
Billie is pleased at the way youngsters are taking to Witchiepoo. As one adult friend put it, "They love Jack (Wild), but they don't hate you you've got that hangup!"
If she needed evidence that children like her, she got it recently when a mother kept prodding her shy youngster to speak to Witchiepoo, As she knelt down to the boy's level, he asked, "Will you hug me?"


Margaret Hamilton, who knew a little something about witches, praised Hayes’ performance on ‘Pufnstuf,’ calling her “one of the best witches ever.” Perhaps for once, the Wicked Witch of the West got something right.

Moving a Herr

Hermann Goering realises something’s wrong when part of “Hitler”’s moustache comes off and sticks to his face. Bugs Bunny is disguised (rather poorly) as Hitler.

Check how Friz Freleng handles the in-betweens in this scene from Herr Meets Hare (1945).

>

Gerry Chiniquy is the credited animator.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

No. 1 Jack

Besides the big-name gossip columnists working for various syndicates, the wire services had entertainment reporters, too, though they tended to write profiles, reviews or talk about current projects with the stars. At one time, the Associated Press had Charles Mercer and Wayne Oliver in New York, and Bob Thomas and Cynthia Lowry in Hollywood. United Press International had Fred Danzig and William Ewald in New York, and Vernon Scott and Aline Mosby (later Rick DuBrow) in Hollywood.

All of them, I’m pretty certain, interviewed Jack Benny on more than one occasion. Here’s a column by Oliver published February 9, 1955. In looking it over, Jack isn’t quoted at all. It’s more of a review with some facts tossed in. There’s little new. Jack works a lot and has good ratings.

At 60, Benny's Ambition Makes Some Think He's 39
By WAYNE OLIVER

NEW YORK (AP) — A youngster by the name of Jack Benny who takes television in a breeze must confound some of the older comics who are in and out of hospitals with video fatigue.
Nearly 23 years after he first took to the air. Jack continues a weekly radio show that currently is No. 1 in the ratings and takes a turn on TV every second week. Jack has moved to seventh among the American Research Bureau’s ten most popular shows. I Love Lucy, seen Monday nights at 9, still ranks as No. 1.
While many comics are considering a cutback in the frequency of their appearances, Benny is pondering the possibility of stepping his video visits up to one a week next season. His contemporaries must wonder if he isn't serious after all about being only 39.
Even on his occasional filmed TV shows, such as last Sunday night’s program, Benny's performances seem as relaxed and spontaneous as a first rehearsal although his superb timing must require plenty of practice and polish. Benny and his writers also have the knack of mixing the believeable and the ridiculous to get a blend of pure fun.
Sunday night, for example, Benny's experience in being wakened by the telephone at 4 a.m. was one that has happened to most viewers. On the other extreme was his wonder at the unusual visibility in the early morning in Los Angeles that enabled him to see the Statue of Liberty without his glasses and the Eiffel Tower when he put them on.
Benny was already a show business veteran when he made his first radio broadcast in March, 1932, as a guest on a CBS program. He became master of ceremonies on a weekly NBC radio show in May, 1932, and in October the same year started his full comedy routine.
Benny switched from NBC to CBS radio Jan. 2, 1949, as a result of a famous capital gains deal reportedly involving $2,260,000.
The Waukegan Wit made his TV debut on CBS Oct. 28, 1950, but limited himself to six appearances the first season. He stepped it up to every sixth week the next season, every fourth week the one after that, every third week last season and every second week this season.
For the record, Benny will be 61 next Monday, Valentine Day.


Newspapers could spike wire service columns for use when they wanted, so this particular column may not have appeared on February 9th. For example, some papers on February 8th ran an Oliver story on Charles McGraw. Others ran a review of NBC’s “The Women.” Another published a column about Leontyne Price that had been published elsewhere the day before. Newspapers were not beholden to use any of the wire material; it was there if necessary, especially for smaller papers, to be chopped to fit space requirements.

However, if you’ve been reading the blog for some time, you’ll notice a wealth of wire service columns and feature stories about Jack Benny. That’s what happens when you’re Number One.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Phrases and Words and Newscasts

Saturday mornings, at least for me back in the 1960s, were for fun. They were a break and a rest from five days a week of school. I didn’t want school on weekends, too. I wanted to see George Jetson bumble around in reruns, or Bugs Bunny put one over Yosemite Sam dressed as a pirate or a knight of olde or a desert sheik.

But do-gooder groups thought education was just fine on Saturday mornings. And while they caused the bowdlerisation of new cartoon series, they also forced some creative ideas to come to the forefront to teach kids stuff that may have bored them at school.

I enjoyed the CBS “In the News” featurettes. It wasn’t much of a stretch from the short newsbreaks on the network during weekday afternoons, Christopher Glenn had a smooth, credible sound and I was not far away from starting a radio news career.

The “Schoolhouse Rock” segments on ABC didn’t interest me as much. They were designed for a pre-teen audience. There were a lot of Americanisms. And they were shown over and over and over and over. They were good to get something to eat. No childhood nostalgia for me about them. But watching them now, I can appreciate the creativity that went into them.

It’s not often that newspaper columnists write about Saturday morning programming, other than to bash it for violence or poor taste or banality. But the Associated Press’ Jay Sharbutt put something together before they began a second season and urged parents to watch them. The column is from Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1973.

ABC’s ‘Scholastic Rock’ Sets Grammar, Math to Music
By JAY SHARBUTT
AP Television Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — One of the briefest, hippest kid shows on television—ABC’s “Scholastic Rock”—will start some swinging grammar lessons next Saturday morning It already has put a lively beat to basic math.
The new lessons are in ‘‘Grammar Rock,” a companion series to the 11 “Multiplication Rock" segments that have been part of ABC’s Saturday and Sunday morning childrens’ programming since Jan. 6.
The method of both series is simple but highly effective: The usually dull rules of multiplication and grammar are written as catchy lyrics to pop music with cartoon characters moving about briskly to illustrate the number or rule of grammar involved.
Each show lasts only 3½ minutes, but you might try to catch one some morning. They’re excellent. The music is billed as rock, but It really isn’t. It’s more in the jazz vein.
Several of the singers behind the cartoon characters are respected jazz artists, albeit not as widely known as some of today’s pop music stars.
The "Multiplication Rock" team consists of Blossom Dearie, an excellent pianist; jazz drummer-vocalist Grady Tate; and pianist Bobby Dorough, who composed all the multiplication songs.
Another well-known figure in jazz circles—trumpeter Jack Sheldon—sings in the new grammar series according to spokesmen for Scholastic Rock, Inc., the New York-based producers of both shows.
Segments from both series will air five times each Saturday and twice on Sunday, according to ABC, which says yet another “Scholastic Rock” series—dealing with American government and history—may be ordered up at a later date.
Another project aimed at young viewers is in the works right now at CBS-TV. It involves current news items and an effort to put these stories into perspective for the 10- to 16-year-old viewer.
CBS says the shows, each running nearly two minutes, will start in October, run Monday through Friday and examine one current story a day with detailed but easy-to-follow background material on it.


I may not be nostalgic about the “Schoolhouse” featurettes, but some people of a later generation are. Saturday Night Live parodied “I’m Just a Bill” while a musical based on the shorts was put together with a three-man, three-woman cast in 1993. A version hit the stage in Poughkeepsie, New York in 2000. Columnist Dana Anhalt explained in the Millbrook Round Table how they came about.

Many of us remember waking up on Saturday mornings, planting ourselves in front of the television for a hearty dose of our favorite cartoon programs and watching those catchy little "Schoolhouse Rock" vignettes during the breaks (that is, if we happened to be in our Saturday morning cartoon prime anywhere from 1973-1985).
In the early 1970s, advertising executive David McCall was concerned that his son was having trouble memorizing his multiplication tables, but at the same time he could effortlessly spew forth the lyrics to every pop song on the radio. To McCall, the solution seemed obvious: Why not marry pop music with information that kids need to learn?
With the fusion of these two elements came the pop-culture phenomenon known to us as "Schoolhouse Rock." McCall worked with creative directors at his ad agency to come up with scripts and storyboards. They hired jazz pianist Bob Dorough to compose a song based on the multiplication tables, and the result was "Three is a Magic Number." The concept was quickly snatched up by Michael Eisner, head of ABC's children's programming at the time, and other "Schoolhouse Rock" cartoons came soon after, each with their own delightfully infectious tune and entertaining animation. They cover a wide range of topics including history, grammar, math, science, government and finance (basically, anything an elementary school child would otherwise dread). The outcome: children walking around singing (brace yourself) EDUCATIONAL LYRICS!


Whether the little cartoons are still airing somewhere other than being posted on a video website, I don’t know, but why not put them back on TV when they hit their 50th birthday in 2023? There’s a gaping need to teach American kids about bills, and phrases and words and clauses.

Friday, 30 April 2021

The Magic Fluke Background

An opening pan of the nightclub scene off Broadway opens The Magic Fluke, the second UPA cartoon designed for theatrical release. “Club Bobo” is in honour of Bobe Cannon, one of the animators of this 1949 short.



Herb Klynn, Jules Engel and Bill Hurtz handled layouts and backgrounds. The voice of the narrating crow is an uncredited John T. Smith.