Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Is the Great Pumpkin All That Great?

55 years ago today, Charles Schulz didn’t put on the small screen a character he didn’t put in the Peanuts comic strip. The character is the Great Pumpkin.

I guess I should qualify this. The beneficent vegetable isn’t seen in the strip. Is there a Great Pumpkin at all? The fact Linus continues to believe there is, despite no proof and annual no-shows, would make for a deeper discussion viz-a-viz religious faith than a mere comic strip would attempt. And certainly we won’t do it here. We shall, instead, discuss the TV special born after annual Hallowe’en seasonal plot-lines Schulz wrote and drew starting in 1959.

Schulz explained how the Great Pumpkin came to be in what looks like a network PR release that papers picked up before the special first aired on October 27, 1966.

The Great Pumpkin Now 'Real' Legend
Cartoonist Charles M. Schulz had never heard of the Great Pumpkin until Linus brought it to his attention.
Neither had anybody else.
But now largely because of the faith and loyalty of the little blanket-toting philosopher of the "Peanuts” comic strip the Great Pumpkin is fast becoming a legend in his (or its) own time.
Schulz, creator and artist-author of the “Peanuts” syndicated cartoon strip, also writes the stories for the Charlie Brown animated holiday specials, the third of which—“It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”—will be broadcast in color Thursday on CBS-TV as a salute to Halloween and a tribute to the mysteries of the Pumpkin.
Who Is He (It)?
Who (or what) is the Great Pumpkin and where did he (or it) come from?
"It all came about," Schulz recalls, “when I was trying to write a sequence for the strip involving Linus's confusion between Halloween and Christmas. The holidays run together so quickly at the end of the year — Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s— that it all becomes kind of a jumble to little children.
"Linus is a youngster to whom everything must have significance nothing is unimportant Christmas is a big holiday and it has Santa Claus as one of its symbols. Halloween is also a special kind of day so it ought to have some sort of Santa Claus, too. That’s what bothered Linus. And it bothered me. So between us we came up with the Great Pumpkin.”
Linus’s Definition
According to Linus's definition the Great Pumpkin rises out of its pumpkin patch on Halloween night and flies through the air with its bag of toys for all the good children everywhere.
“It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” tells the story of how Linus, in spite of the jeers of his fellow "Peanuts,” takes up his vigil in the pumpkin patch to await the appearance of the magic Pumpkin.
Each year Schulz receives hundreds of letters from readers all over the world inquiring into the legend of the Great Pumpkin.
"A number of professional scholars have written me about the origin of the legend they insist that it must be based on SOMETHING,” the artist says.
"I can't prove that there is a Great Pumpkin but then again — I can't prove that there isn't.”

What did the critics think? Ben Gross of the New York Daily News said it was “marked by whimsy and some touch of subtlety,” taking a shot at Saturday morning action-adventure cartoons. John Heisner of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle called it “a half-hour of good, clean fun,” concluding with “it was an enjoyable show.”

The Associated Press’ TV columnist had her review printed in papers across the country, mentioning a TV appearance I’ve never heard of before.

‘Charlie Brown’ Charming, Witty

AP TV-Radio Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Charlie Brown and his little friends celebrated Halloween on CBS Thursday night and demonstrated that faith and an optimistic attitude triumph in the end.
The worried little cartoon character, Charlie, continues to have a hard time. He was invited to his first Halloween party but hard-hearted Lucy immediately chopped him down by telling him that it was a mistake. When he went out trick-or-treat tag, the other kids wound up with the money and the candy: He got a bag of rocks. But in the end, he was certain he had been having fun.
Chief protagonist of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," was his friend, Linus, the boy with the blanket. Linus, although jeered by his pals, shivered all night in a pumpkin patch awaiting the arrival of "The Great Pumpkin Who Flies Through the Air and Brings Toys to All the Children in the World."
As in two past specials about Charlie, the half-hour animated show had charm, adult wit and wisdom.
- - -
One of the contestants on Thursday afternoon, "To Tell the Truth" on CBS just happened to be the director of CBS, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," and not only was the evening special plugged repeatedly but a bit of it was previewed for the home audience. The whole segment, including the plug occupied close to one-third of the half-hour program.

But you know there had to be a least one sour pumpkin in the critic crowd. In this case, it was the man who called The Flintstones “an inked disaster.” Jack Gould of the New York Times proclaimed the special was for fans only.

Charlie and Friends
To the admirers of Charlie Brown and his little friends it is axiomatic that their creator, Charles Schulz, can do no wrong. Accordingly last night’s Halloween cartoon special on the Columbia Broadcasting System undoubtedly satisfied its intended audience. Linus sadly learned that no Great Pumpkin would appear in his patch of innocent sincerity.
Charlie was invited to his first party and Snoppy [sic] survived an aerial dog fight.
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was for aficionados of the “Peanuts” comic strip. One suspects their imaginations and fond recollections may have supplied the humor and charm that to the unaddicted seemed notably missing from the TV variation.

We’ll leave the last word to Clay Gowran of the Chicago Tribune. He accurately predicted the future, pointing out Linus told Charlie Brown at the end of the special he would try to attract the Great Pumpkin “again next year”:
We hope he does, and that he brings the whole gang back with him, because these little animated specials have become a high point of the video season.
Attempts to shove it onto pay cable notwithstanding, the “little animated special” is still with us.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

The Time's Not Right For Murder

The victim has read the book “Who Killed Who?” (from the cartoon of the same name). He tells the audience watching “if this picture is anything like the book, I get bumped off.”

A message on a dagger zooms past him.

11:30 is an inconvenient time for death. Another message flies past.

A newspaper squib from the MGM publicity department pointed out:
For the first time in cartoon history an organ and Novachord will be used as background music for the animated murder mystery, “Who Killed Who?” directed by Tex Avery under Fred Quimby’s production supervision. Musical director Scott Bradley wrote the score which was played by Bernard Katz. Full orchestra recorded the main and end titles.”
Katz was related to Mel Blanc. Blanc isn’t on this cartoon, but Kent Rogers supplies the Richard Haydn voice of the victim.

Monday, 25 October 2021

Bewitched Bunny Backgrounds

Here’s Phil DeGuard’s work in Bewitched Bunny, the first of the Witch Hazel cartoons released by Warner Bros. Even though there are characters in front of some of them, they’re worth studying to see what DeGuard put on the walls.

Maurice Noble draughted the layouts. The cartoon was released in 1954.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Mrs. Wilson

It took Jack Benny several tries before he found an announcer that would stick with him for years—Don Wilson. And it took Wilson several tries before he found a wife to share his life with.

She was Lois Corbet, who was acting on a number of radio series. One of them was Glamour Manor, starring Kenny Baker, where Wilson was the announcer. They were married in 1950. Lois appeared occasionally on Jack’s radio and TV shows as Wilson’s wife. When they retired to Palm Springs, they were on the air together.

Radio Life magazine profiled Lois in its edition of March 9, 1947. She and Donzie would have met by this point; Wilson and his third wife Marusia filed for divorce in mid-1949. Wilson is not mentioned in the article.

Corbet, Camille and Camillias
Lois Corbet's Hobbies Keep Her as Busy as Her Radio Work Does
By Joan Buchanan

Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 9:00 a.m.

LOIS CORBET seems as far removed from "Jane J. Corbet" as a person can be. Though Lois portrays the pugilistic "Aunt Jane" on "Glamour Manor," in real life she's an attractive lady with a sense of humor all her own.
"I've never been an ingenue, though," she averred when we exclaimed over the difference between her and her characterizations. "On both the stage and radio I started out doing characters and gradually got younger." Lois names as her favorite parts those she does on mystery programs. " I like the neurotic parts with lots of screaming and frenzy. Yes, they're wearing," she agreed, "but it's such a good workout." She also likes her comedy work as "Aunt Jane" and as "Mrs. Potts" on the Frank Morgan show.
"When I was a very little girl I wanted most of all to play the leading role in 'Girl of the Golden West,' " Lois laughed. "After I grew up I wanted to do 'Anna Christie' and 'Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire'—and I still do."
Raised on the California countryside Lois first decided through poring over the Victor Book of the Opera that she was going to be an opera star. Her father, a short story writer, had had stage ambitions, and her grandfather had managed an opera house in the middle west. Father suppressed his own stage ambitions, according to Lois, because he thought he wasn't tall enough to be a hero. Lois, however, inherited the ambition and at a very early age was a veteran theatergoer, busy hatching secret plans of her own.
"Whenever we came to Los Angeles I was taken to the theater and at five and six I was soaking up movies," she recalled. Her vocal ambitions were restricted to singing in church, but Lois admits that she used to practice trills a la Galli-Curci alone in her room. "One day I tripped in the middle of a trill," she sighed, "and decided to be an actress."
Memorizes Easily
She joined a stock company doing character parts and dramatic leads, sometimes learning as many as one hundred sides each week. "I couldn't do it now," she admits. Lois and the ingenue lead, being the youngsters of the company, learned each new part with ease and spent their spare time going out on dates with the local boys. The older members of the company, who had to work to do the memory. task each week, still have Lois's sympathy. "They were actors in the day before it was fashionable to be an actor and they worked hard all their lives," she said, reflecting on the comparatively easy life actors live now. (Although when Lois arises at six in the morning for "Glamour Manor" and extends her working day to include the Frank Morgan and Borge –Goodman shows at night, it still doesn't sound like a terribly easy life!)
"We played all the tank towns and every city in the state. Now, whenever I take a trip, I recognize theaters where I've played in every little jerkwater town we pass."
In Los Angeles and Long Beach she appeared with the Majestic and Morosco players. Introduced as a native Iowan, she received a mighty ovation from Long Beach audiences, neglecting to mention that she had left Mason City at the age of three Gayne Whitman, J. Ronald Wilson, Victor Rodman and Hanley Stafford were some of her fellow artists in these companies. Lois and Hanley had the big reunion last year when Lois appeared on the Fanny Brice show as "Mummy."
"My hobby," replied Lois in answer to a question, "is a French poodle, Camille. It started once when I was low and discouraged. My sense of humor was at a very low ebb. I happened to read one of Alexander Woollcott's stories about French poodles and their wonderful sense of humor. I got one and—well, I haven't had a dull moment since!" she exclaimed.
Smart, Indeed
Lois has owned as many as five French poodles at one time and while she claims that none of them has lived up to the reputation the breed has for intelligence, that their sense of humor is as unpredictable as advertised. Which is why Lois's other hobby, the raising of camellias, takes place in the front yard while Camille is ensconsed in the back. It seems that Camille was so impressed one day by Lois's dainty clipping of flowers that she carefully bit off all the blossoms in the yard and deposited them neatly on the badminton court.
Camille, according to Lois, dislikes people and loves other dogs, who, however, don't like her. "Her idea of a good time is to catch me climbing up the hill. She runs about one hundred feet ahead, turns, and charges straight down for me. I scream and beg her to stop, but she butts right into me and down we both go".
Lois said we could do her a favour by helping correct the mistaken ideas people have about her favorite breed of dog. "They're not sissies or lap dogs," she exclaimed, pointing out that people still think of them as the tiny white variety that was popular at one time. The large, or standard, size poodle is used as a work dog and hunter in Russia and Germany, and though their fancy haircuts may make them look sissy, they're not, according to canine fancier Corbet.
"By the way," we asked, "how are the camellias doing this season?"
"Well," sighed Lois, "in spite of the fact they're kept away from Camille—not too good."

The two left Hollywood for Palm Springs, where they had a TV show together until one of those “we’re going in a different direction” conversations with management. Lois died in January 1983, less than nine months after her husband.

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Portis, Portis, Everywhere

Bing Crosby appeared in Paramount features for years. Bingo Crosbyana appeared in one Warner Bros. cartoon.

History doesn’t record whether the idea for the cartoon Bingo Crosbyana or its title song came first. The song was written by Irving Cahal and Sanford Green, and published by one of the Warners-owned music publishers. But it doesn’t appear to have been used anywhere but in this 1936 animated short. It seems odd to go the trouble of writing a Bing Crosby parody song just for a cartoon, but I can’t see Warners including something like that in a feature.

This cartoon is a gold-mine when it comes to Portis references. Portis, Kansas was the home town of writer Tubby Millar and someone in the background department liked sticking “Portis” on things in his backgrounds. You can see “Portis” in Porky's Pet, Porky in the North Woods, Porky's Road Race, Sniffles and the Bookworm, The Case of the Stuttering Pig and four times in this cartoon.

Other cartoons around this time had “Millar” in background art. Someone must have loved ol’ Tubby at the studio.

Is it true a lawsuit resulted from the cartoon? Yes. Well, presuming it was filed. The Hollywood Reporter told readers in a front-page story on August 5, 1936:
A potential blow to cartoon producers who caricature stars is seen in the legal threat by Paramount and Bing Crosby, Inc. against Warner Bros. over the latter company’s cartoon titled “Bingo Crosbyana.” Through the law firm of O’Melveny, Tuller & Myers, the Crosby corporation has demanded that Warners cease distribution and exhibition of the reel. The demand states that the Crosby voice is imitated and the character of “Bingo Crosbyana” is shown as a “vainglorious coward.”
The cartoon was still being shown in November so, no, it wasn’t pulled. It was never re-issued, but that could be a coincidence.

Crosby didn’t get the worst of it in this cartoon. Look what happened to the spider, thanks to an egg-beater.

There were any number of imitators (individual and in groups) on the air in Los Angeles at the time who could have supplied the impersonation of Crosby. Billy Bletcher plays the evil spider, the Rhythemettes are the fly girls (how meanings have changed!) singing away. Norman Spencer supplies a typical score, with an off-beat wood block and one of my favourite J.S. Zamecnik cues, “Storm Music” (published in 1919).

Friz Freleng directed this short. Not only did he have an earlier Mexi-insect short (The Lady in Red starring happy, dancing roaches) but earlier in the year, he directed a crooning Crosby chicken in Let It Be Me. These cartoons are pretty weak when it comes to parodies. Things were more fun in later years when, just like on radio shows, cartoons made fun of Bing’s lousy thoroughbreds, his Hawaiian shirts, his pipe, his “war” with Sinatra. By then, Crosby was like an old shoe, the ultra-laid-back host of radio’s Kraft Music Hall and, later, Philco Radio Time who recorded one of the biggest hits of all time, “White Christmas.” That’s a change from being a cartoon Cuban fly in a kitchen-full of things made in Portis, Kansas.

Friday, 22 October 2021

Krazy For Hawaii

It’s not George Herriman’s Krazy Kat in Honolulu Wiles, a 1930 Columbia cartoon, but it’s a fun cartoon.

Not much was expected in a 1930 cartoon. Lots of music. Singing. Dancing. And if odd gags could be stuffed in, all the better.

This cartoon opens with Krazy happily playing mice’s tails like a Hawaiian guitar while palm trees sway. There’s even the moon reflecting in the tide. Pretty good stuff for 1930.

Everything’s a musical instrument back then. In this scene, Krazy plays the bamboo of a house like a marimba, then lies down and blows into the reeds. His girl friend emerges from a window and sings “Boop-oop-a-doop!”

Maybe the most outrageous scene is Krazy playing the nose rings of the natives like bells, as they click their teeth like castanets.

Ben Harrison and Manny Gould are credited on this short, along with musical director Joe De Nat.

Thursday, 21 October 2021

No Rags, But There's a Musical Cat

Bimbo plays a garbage man with a jazz-playing cat in his wagon in Any Rags, a 1932 Talkartoon.

The cat’s on a cornet, which he turns into a machine gun. Then a horse comes out of the horn, whinnies, goes back in, then the horn develops teeth and plays “wah-wah-wah.”

Betty Boop loses her blouse a couple of times, and Koko does a swish routine, amongst other gags. Willard Bowsky and Tom Bonfiglio are the animators.

Take a listen to Arthur Collins’ version of the song that you’ll hear in this cartoon.

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Whoa, Nelly

Dick Lane was likely the first big TV celebrity west of the Mississippi, making regular appearances before there were networks.

Lane had appeared in all kinds of feature films and radio shows; he played Jack Benny’s publicity agent, for one. He was hired by Paramount’s video station to appear on camera during its limited schedule. The station was still named W6XYZ at the time. By 1945, Billboard was critiquing his appearances. One of his shows was “Fashion Guide,” a 15-minute effort featuring designer Edith Head. Another saw him and Keith Heatherington read comic strip dialogue balloons over slides of artwork. And he emceed and acted as straight man on a variety show named “Hits and Bits.”

But Lane made his lasting television fame when he began calling wrestling matches. He admitted he invented names of some of the holds out of sheer necessity. And just like Dennis James’ “Okay, mother” on the Du Mont TV wrestling shows in New York, Lane had his own phrase, shouting “Whoa, Nelly!” when a particular piece of action struck him as astounding. He handled blow-by-blow for boxing and roller derby as well.

Appearing in front of a camera or microphone wasn’t Lane’s only source of employment. I would say “source of income” but the income appears to have been minimal in his other ventures. This United Press story is from March 19, 1944. There’s no mention of television, let alone his involvement in Columbia’s Boston Blackie serial.

Dick Lane Puts Acting On Mass Paying Basis

HOLLYWOOD, March 19 (U.P.) — There are 52 weeks in the year for everybody, except Dick Lane, the movie actor. For him the average year has around 70 weeks of paychecks.
Richard is a phenomenon of Hollywood. No movie actor ever was so busy. The producers have to stand in line for his services in grease paint, his agents operate on the basis of first come first served, and Richard has issued one ultimatum: accept no job unless it carries a two weeks guarantee.
A while back he worked one day in a Jack Benny picture, but he was paid for two weeks. Another time he went to work in an Abbott and Costello movie at 9:30 a.m., and finished the chore at two p.m. He got his two weeks' pay nonetheless. Four figure pay, per week.
At this writing the Lane is playing an army sergeant in the Edward G. Robinson picture, "Mr. Winkle Goes to War." He had a day off the other day and used it to collect two weeks' salary as an admiral in somebody else's film. So you can gather that he is quite a guy.
"I left George White's 'Scandals' in 1937 to come out here under contract to R-K-O," he said. "I was with that studio for 18 months and in that time I worked in 33 pictures. It was good practice for what was to come."
So far he's played in 167 features; nobody else has worked in so many in so short a time. So you're probably wondering what he does with his spare time.
Well sir, Richard bought himself an automobile agency a few years back. He established a Venetian blind factory. He began raising silver foxes. He subsidized a dentist. He bought himself three wrestlers.
He went into the chemical business for the growing of tomatoes in water tanks. He invented a candy bar and began the manufacture thereof. He had a few other businesses, too, but he doesn't exactly remember them all, because he also was working on the radio at night and making a few appearances in army camps. So far he's done 380 shows for service men.
The chemical tomatoes didn't go so well. The war ruined the automobile business. And the Venetian blind business fell off because nobody could build houses. He had to lend his three wrestlers to his Uncle Samuel for the duration. He sold the silver fox farm. The dentist paid up his debt.
That left Lane collecting royalties on his candy bar. He had time on his hands.
"And I met a young fellow who had invented a new kind of paint remover, that would take the paint off the wall, but not the skin off the painter's hands," he reported. "You spray this stuff on and whoosh, off comes the paint in sheets. Fortunately it is not explosive."
So the paint remover factory is working 24 hours a day, trying to keep up with the demand, most of which is coming from the navy. For the first time in history paint remover, Dick Lane's paint remover, is listed as being safe for carrying in ships' stores.
This has been a break for sailors, who have been forced — since the days of galley slaves — to spend most of their spare time chipping old paint off and slapping new paint on. Now all they need to do is squirt on a little of Richard Lane's dope, wait 30 seconds for it to do its work, and half their job is done.

Theatrical features and shorts weren’t the only kind of films Lane made. He was also hired for industrials. There’s a U.S. government film called Don't Be a Sucker (1947) where he plays a bigoted agitator (Catholics, "negros" and foreigners are bad for America, his misguided character shouts. So are Freemasons). The one below is Telephone Courtesy, released by Wilding Picture Productions in 1946 (according to this site). It’s missing part of the beginning. Lane plays Henry Burton, who has the nicest, most efficient switchboard operator in the history of business telephony. Of course, she wasn’t always that way. But watch the film for more.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021


Symphony in Slang is an interesting experiment. Tex Avery liked visual puns, so he accepted the challenge of turning them into a seven-minute narrative.

For this different kind of plot, he brought in Tom Oreb from Disney to design and lay out the short. There are bits of Johnny Johnsen’s work in backgrounds but it’s mostly Oreb. These certainly don’t look like anything Johnsen would come up with.

Oreb, by the way, was let go at Disney on the same day as writer Roy Williams, who also ended up with Avery after a stop at Jam Handy in Detroit. Rich Hogan was the writer for this cartoon.

Scott Bradley's score was copyright September 11, 1950. The cartoon was released June 6, 1951.

Monday, 18 October 2021

The Enemy Alerted

Snafu bypasses the censor to get his secret information to girl-friend Sally Lou in Censored (1944). Naturally, she blabs it out and it reaches the ears of the Japanese on Bingo Bango Island. Reinforcements and disguises are on the way.

The artwork designs and camera angles are really good here.


The Frank Tashlin unit worked on this 1944 cartoon, so the animators would have included Izzy Ellis, Art Davis and Cal Dalton.

This short has probably the most sexual scene ever made at Warners. It's of a room adorned with pin-ups of bare-breasted women while Snafu is hidden under a blanket, with a long thin lump sticking up like... Well, if Tashlin put out a cartoon like this for civilian theatres, he would be greeted by the censor.