Sunday 28 February 2021

All Roads Lead to Jack Benny

Let’s peer into the Tralfaz question box.

Today’s query comes from Kathy Fuller Seeley from Coldernell, Texas. “What is the ‘I Cook and Cook’ Show?”

There is a Jack Benny connection here, but we have to set things up.

“I Got to Cook and Cook and Cook” isn’t a show. It’s part of the lyrics for a jingle for Hunt’s Tomato Sauce that was big on television in 1954. It was so big the jingle singer, Peggy King, was offered a contract with Columbia Records. She was also hired for The George Goble Show for which she was nominated for an Emmy. Along the way she also made a guest appearance on the Los Angeles TV game show Musical Chairs where one of the regulars was Mel Blanc.

But Mel isn’t the Benny connection in this case.

Peggy appeared on an episode of the Jack Benny TV show in 1955. A gentleman named Marc Myers interviewed her several years ago for She brought up Jack in the interview.
JW: You also worked with your share of top comedians. Was that tricky — making sure you didn’t laugh too soon?
PK: Jack Benny was my favorite. The strange thing is he was anything but tight with his money. He was a very generous guy. I did a five-week tour with him. He thought I was a good straight-man. It was hard not to laugh at Jack.
JW: How did you avoid doing that and blowing his jokes?
PK: It has to do with being an actress. You develop a sense of timing. I learned my timing from Jack and Bob Hope. The trick is to listen very carefully to what’s being said, even though you’ve rehearsed it. When Jack or Bob delivered the line, I had a way of counting to myself, “One, two — then I’d make a little face,” which would compound audience laughter. You have to put the punch line out of your mind and imagine you haven’t heard it before. Otherwise, you’d instinctively telegraph it. Working with Jack was a little harder than most because he made those great faces on his own. So I had to avoid laughing and wait until he finished completely before making my face. I also did this with TV, in general. I just thought of it as radio with everybody staring at you. I got to the point where I didn’t think about the lens much. I just thought about what I was doing.
Peggy King is yet another in show business who has a tale similar to what you’ve read from others on this blog, that Jack Benny was a great person, a generous man, with an expert sense of comedy timing. Her show with Benny and guest star Art Linkletter is on line.

Saturday 27 February 2021

Sugar Bear

There are people like Mel Blanc and Paul Frees and Hal Smith and June Foray who you’ll hear in cartoons all over the place. Then there are others who seem to show up in one animated series and that’s it.

Gerry Matthews was one of them.

Matthews didn’t seem to need more than one character to earn a living. He was the voice of Sugar Bear on the Linus the Lionhearted series and on the Post cereal commercials. He was kind of a mystery man otherwise.

Well, before that he was an actor on the stage, television and night clubs.

Here’s a bit of a profile from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of March 27, 1961. It’s one of those local-boys-makes-good pieces.

Waco Comic Hit in New York
NEW YORK, March 26 — Comic performer Gerry Matthews, who hails from Waco, is the son of Harold J. Matthews, who as former head of the Texas Youth Development Council, led the state's program for aiding juvenile delinquents.
Gerry has frequently been cast in the role of juvenile delinquent in various parts he has performed on television.
"In fact, you might say I used to be something of a delinquent myself," Gerry joked citing some exploits of his impetuous youth. His flair for having fun while he was going to school has been productively channeled into a growing career in which he is becoming known for his ability at off-beat humor.
CURRENTLY he is performing in a new musical revue, "Dressed to the Nines," at Julius Monk's oddly named "Upstairs at the Downstairs" supper club.
Gerry was stretched in exhaustion on a dressing room cot before his second show one night. All day long he had been busy taping a special "Play of the Week" musical for television. He had come to the club to perform his two shows, and then was due back at 2 a m at the television studio to continue working on the taping. But as tired as he was, the idea of talking for a Texas newspaper appealed to him.
Born in Waco, Gerry moved to Houston as a youth. He has uncles and aunts, Mr. and Mrs. Latham Downs, and Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Downs, currently residing in Waco. His parents now live in Austin.
IT WAS WHILE going to high school in Houston that Gerry's performing talent began to show itself. As he explained: "In high school, if you're not an athlete or a scholar, it’s a little hard to get attention. I was neither. I got a longing to do variety shows, got a lot of laughs and became very popular."
This continued at the University of Texas, where he struck up some important friendships with young men who have since brought a major Texas contribution to the New York theater. He became pals with Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt and Ward Baker and they decided to have a try at show business in New York one day.
All have made good on their intentions. Jones, Schmidt and Baker succeeded by presenting one of the most successful of off-Broadway shows a musical called "The Fantasticks." Jones and Schmidt wrote the "Play of the Week" revue in which Matthews recently appeared, and much of their material has been used at the Monk club.
AFTER PERFORMING in Houston and touring Texas, Gerry got a job with the Penthouse Theater in Chicago, where he met Tom Poston, who since has risen to TV and stage fame as a result of his work on the Steve Allen show. Gerry, Tom Jones and Poston worked up a night club act and got their first break with it at the Reuben Bleu in New York.
Matthews has had considerable TV work, including appearances on the Kraft, Studio One, Kaiser Aluminum, Red Buttons, Imogene Coca and Garry Moore shows. He has demonstrated his ability to do numbers of a serious mood as well as clown through such skits as a Japanese-type version of "Casey at the Bat" and frenetic rock and roll numbers.
"I believe the trend is now away from the old-fashioned stand-up comic," he observes. "That's corny. People now look for more complete well-rounded humor."
NOW A FAMILY man, Gerry is married to a Brooklyn girl. He and his wife Dolores have a son, 3, and live near West Point N.Y., which is a substantial commuting distance from the city.
He has special praise and gratitude for Monk, who has earned a reputation in New York for introducing new talent. As Gerry puts it: "He is the only man who would take completely unknown people. audition you. and make you feel like a human being. He helps you. His genius is picking out potential talent and giving you the right material. He has brought me to where I am today."

What’s Matthews doing today? Sugar Bear’s nemesis was Granny Goodwitch, played by Ruth Buzzi, who chucked show biz and moved to Texas. Matthews chucked show biz, too. He left New York in the late ‘80s and moved to Walla Walla, Washington where, at almost age 90, he runs The Museum of Un-Natural History, an odd and quirky place. You can read about it here. We hope Mr. Matthews is enjoying good health, as it sounds like he’s enjoying life.

Friday 26 February 2021

Between a Rock and a Rock

The cattle-raising wolf tries over and over to hide behind rocks from Droopy’s sure-shot guns (Droopy’s reading comic books while the guns do all the work)—but to no avail.

The guns keep cutting down the rocks. First, to a teeny stone, then to The Thinker, and then to Venus DeMilo. The last two are intact for a moment before more bullets fly and shoot the heads into pebbles.

The cattleman runs down the winding road into the distance and then into his ranch house. I like how his cattle pay no attention to him.

Drag-a-Long Droopy has some wonderful gags, with Heck Allen assisting Tex Avery with them. Ray Patterson and Bob Bentley animate this short along with Mike Lah, Grant Simmons and Walt Clinton. Tex plays the cattle owner.

Thursday 25 February 2021

J.L. Will Hear of This

Daffy Duck didn’t talk to an unseen artist for the first time in Duck Amuck, released in 1953. He did it in Ain’t That Ducky eight years earlier.

He’s treated better in the first cartoon.

Daffy looks around. Cut to a closer shot. “Hey, what’s the idea? What’s the idea? There’s supposed to be a barrel for me to hide in.” Daffy points to a spot on the ground, then whips out a sheaf of papers and points. “It says so right here in the script.”

“Somebody’s been layin’ down on the job,” he continues and points upward. “J.L. will hear of this!”

The artist quickly draws and paints in the barrel. The cartoon can now continue.

Mike Maltese came up with outraged Daffy gag for both cartoons, this one for Friz Freleng. Gerry Chiniquy gets the animation credit, and Paul Julian paints the backgrounds.

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Bud Hiestand

It’s safe to say when you think of people who voiced animated cartoons in the Golden Age, Bud Hiestand’s name doesn’t come to mind. There’s a reason. Hiestand’s voice was only heard in a few theatrical cartoons and, even then, they weren’t originally designed to be shown in movie houses.

He was employed by John Sutherland Productions to narrate its industrial shorts. Some ended up being released by MGM, such as Meet King Joe (right), Why Play Leap Frog? and Make Mine Freedom.

Like just about everyone who voiced cartoons back then, he came from radio. He has a cartoon connection there, too, being the announcer on The Mel Blanc Show.

Another cartoon connection of sorts would be that Hiestand replaced William “Voice of Bluto” Pennell on the NBC Westinghouse Program in March 1943. Pennell was off to war. Hiestand would follow two months later.

Here’s an article about him from the great publication, Radio Life, of January 4, 1948.

Being Sidetracked From a Radio Career Merely Meant, for "Bud," Aiding One of the Most Gigantic Operations of Wartime Radio

JOHN HIESTAND is probably best known to listeners and studio audiences as the "Dean" of the Kay Kyser show. There, in a bright red robe and blue mortar-board hat, he works at the mike with the "Prof" throughout the "Comedy of Errors," and herds the contestants on stage as they compete for their prizes. John’s held down this post for eight years, on and off.
Around radio circles Mr. Hiestand is known as "Bud." The childhood nickname sticks with the now six-foot-one-and-a-half-inch announcer as a result of his having entered radio at an age when "Bud" was a very suitable moniker. Now it's as much part of the big blond man as is his 185 pounds.
Since 1933, John has been heard as both actor and announcer on a string of shows as long as your arm, ranging from the old Joe Penner and Robert Benchley programs, Al Pearce, Olsen and Johnson, and more recently, Burns and Allen, Frank Morgan's show. "Screen Guild," "Cavalcade," "Let George Do It," and many more.
"My radio beginning didn't carry even the dignity of those clear channel stations that were such crucibles of radio men. I began by digging a ditch," Bud quips. The ditch he laughs about ran from a Burlingame. California, high school room to the football field, and therein Bud and his class mates laid the cable that first piped the Hiestand tones audienceward as he announced the home games. In the ensuing twenty-three years, the cables have graduated magnificently in size and range.
After a time break that took care of graduation from Stanford University, Hiestand's background of advancement continued in the Pasadena Playhouse, early network stints, and lending a voice to films in the role of announcer or commentator, traveling with the Theater League, Inc., and even taking a small band around the world on the famous Dollar Line.
The travel line in the Hiestand hand must be a strong one, for even after firm establishment in the usually confining radio world, John wound up trekking some 40,000 miles with Kay Kyser before John, himself, made his one departure from radio row.
The leave-taking occurred in 1943. Withdrawing from the West Coast announcing line-up in April of that year, John kissed his wife and four-year-old daughter goodbye, and hied himself off to Sydney, Australia, where he joined the rapidly growing OWI staff. For a while, the work consisted of promoting cultural relations between the U. S. and Australia by means of documentary films, educational radio programs, still pictures, press backgrounds . . . anything showing American aims and ways of thought. It was during this time Hiestand originated "Last Week in the U. S. A.," then stayed on the air as its commentator for a year.
Opportunity Opens
At this stage, the New Guinea campaign opened up the way for. OWI's actual propaganda function of psychological warfare, directly under the supervision of General MacArthur.
Listening to John Hiestand talk about the days when he was writer-producer-announcer of the Philippine Hour is like reading a background to the stirring book, "A Guerilla in the Philippines." He'll reminisce volubly and fascinatingly about the "hitch-hike" rides in planes loaded with cases of shells, about magically digging up buried press and type to print propaganda leaflets distributed by ships flying low over Corregidor or cruisers stealing into the bay after dark. When it was all over, Hiestand turned over his desk as Acting Chief of the OWI for the theater to his hard-working roommate, and headed for home, family and the Kyser show.
"Working the Kyser show is like no other, as far as I'm concerned. It becomes a family thing after so many years. We've all had the same laughs, the same trips, and all of us admire the way Kay goes on year after year pulling the crowds in wherever he plays. Kyser's a real showman," sums up the man who has had plenty of opportunity to look over showmen.
Hiestand is married to Jeane Wood, daughter of Sam Wood, and sister of K. T. Stevens. He and Mrs. Hiestand met in a little theater production.
"Jeane gave up actual participation in little theater or radio when we were married, and almost gave up attending shortly thereafter. She had come to a show I was doing, the old Jello program. I was reading the commercial, giving it everything I had, and just as I came to the flavor list, beginning with ‘strawberry,’ I looked down into the audience, right into Jeane's eyes. Then, very clearly and loudly, I started to proclaim the six wonderful flavors, beginning with ‘strawb-e-l-l-e’! It was months before Jeane would attend a broadcast . . . if I was on it."
When John isn't spieling or the Hiestands aren't househunting, John divides his energies between being an ardent hobbyist at color photography, and his new offices, home of "John Hiestand and Associates," a radio properties and production organization. That makes "the Dean" officially an announcer, actor, packager of shows, producer and agent.

Hiestand performed in about 30 roles at the Pasadena Playhouse between 1930 and 1934. His first radio job was doing remotes from the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles over KFI. One of his radio shows, voice historian Keith Scott wants you to know, was the Mickey Mouse radio show that ran for 26 weeks in 1938, and included an uncredited Mel Blanc (the only person allowed an air credit was orchestra leader Felix Mills). By 1940, he had appeared in more than 40 movies, all as announcers (Broadcasting, Oct. 1, 1940). He continued acting and appeared in a 3-D film (The Glass Web, Universal, 1953). He was one of the last announcers on a network radio variety show being heard on the 1955-56 season of The Edgar Bergen Show.

Hiestand still had some cartoon work ahead. He was employed by Playhouse Pictures for voice-overs, was in The Man From Button Willow (voiced in 1962 but finally released in 1965) and got screen credit on Ken Snyder's quasi-educational animated TV series The Funny Company in 1963.

He died of cancer in Newport Beach, California, on Feb. 5, 1987 at age 80.

Tuesday 23 February 2021

Not The Illusion of Life

The Karnival Kid (1929) has a great opening scene where crazy, funny stuff keeps happening. It ends with a cow blowing one of those snake-like party favours at the audience. It turns into a head that rattles its eyes and tongue. The cow then does a silly, rubber-hose dance out of the scene.

Early Disney is fun Disney. Who needs “illusion of life”?

Here’s the head cycle animation. Six drawings, one per frame. We’ve slowed it down.

Monday 22 February 2021

Rabbit Take

The snow in the The First Snow (1947) lasts only 24 seconds, which isn’t much of a first snow. But director Mannie Davis doesn’t want to block our view to the real purpose of the cartoon—a fox chasing around some kiddie rabbits for a wintery dinner.

Here’s a rabbit take. The take is held for four frames.

Clumsy mumsey rabbit trips on the ice and a carriage with the baby bunnies is grabbed by the fox. “Can no one save these innocent little rabbits?” asks the narrator. You already know what’s going to happen. Mighty Mouse whips the fox gang and snatches the carriage out of harm’s way just in time. You guessed wrong if you thought it would land on an ice flow and head precipitously to a waterfall. This is a Terrytoon. That would cost a fortune to animate. The carriage goes over a cliff instead. All you need is a verticle moving background of a sky.

Almost all your Terrytoon favourites are here. The strawberry box crumple sound effect, the drum thump, the double-time chase music with eighth notes riding up and down the scale. Oh, and this.

Yes, the Terry Splash™. And we get this old routine...

...the split ears going past a tree.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Tralfaz Sunday Theatre—The Wink and Alex of Tomorrow

What’s 1999 going to be like?

It’s going to have creepy music on the beach, a golden-coloured Seattle car and dad will be Wink Martindale.

And it will be narrated by Alexander Scourby.

The Philco-Ford Corporation decided to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 1967, with, among other things, a half-hour industrial film looking into the future. So, it hired the future host of “Gambit” and the future Kara of “Star Trek” (yes, Wink is married to Marj Dusay in this).

You can watch the video below but first, I want to post a little story about Scourby.

He was the voice of National Geographic Specials when I was a kid and it seems when producers wanted a narrator for a subject on anything to do with the liberal or fine arts, Scourby was the one they hired. In other words, he’d be more likely heard elucidating on the life of Debussy than calling a monster truck pull. Mind you, this was a man announcing the radio soap “Joyce Jordan, Girl Interne” in the late ‘30s.

This wire story was published January 20, 1963.

The Voice Does Commercials and Bible Classics

NEW YORK—(AP)—The world of show business, there are two Alexander Scourbys.
One is a prominent actor, a dark-haired, mature man who, if he isn't playing a weak judge, a society doctor or a. rich man with a difficult son, is likely to turn up with a crepe mustache and a remarkably accurate British, Greek, German, Mexican or Polish accent. You run into him frequently in the theater, in the movies or—mostly—on television.
The other is a disembodied voice—rich, deep, reassuring, substantial and elegant. You can't listen to television or radio for long without hearing — and recognizing — the voice.
It urges you to protect yourself with a certain mouthwash, to cover "big hurts" with a certain brand of adhesive tape and bandage, to use only a certain brand of gasoline and oil, reduce painlessly with a certain diet food, to make yourself positively irresistible with a certain perfume or kind of eye make-up.
Less frequently, but often, the voice is narrating what is inevitably a special, high-budget, high-level program. It is the creamy, mellifluous tones accompany such religious classics as "The Way of the Cross, "The Coming of Christ" and "He Is Risen." It is the warm, poised phrasing filling it the biographical details of "The World of Jacqueline Kennedy," or of Jimmy Doolittle or of Benny Goodman.
* * *
OF COURSE, the actor and the voice involve the same man, although Alexander Scourby himself admits a little sadly that his professional career sometimes seems to be going in two directions at the same time.
Speaking of his popularity as the unseen spokesman for so many commercial products, Scourby confessed:
The financial rewards are great. In fact, the money is so good it can be rather frightening for an actor. For one thing, it is kind of demoralizing to make a living without really working."
"But then when I got my call and found I had to report for makeup at 4:30 a. m. I found myself resenting it."
Scourby is frank to admit, however, that the demand for his voice has marked advantages.
"Actors always have a problem of employment," he said. "And when television picked up and went west, a lot of actors had to pack up and follow it. I didn't have to. I could still live in New York and be available for theater work."
* * *
SCOURBY KNOWS about actor's unemployment. He was born in Brooklyn where his parents, natives of Greece, ran a wholesale bakery. He emerged from college with a yen for acting but in the midst of the great depression of the 1930s.
There was little theater around, so his first post-college job was driving the family pie-wagon, delivering to restaurants. Then he was taken on as an apprentice at the Civic Repertory Theater which Eva LeGallienne had launched.
Today, Scourby's flexible voice contains no vestige of the easily-recognized Brooklyn accent.
"I've always been susceptible to accents," he said. "I went to West Virginia University for only a year and a half, and when I got back, people thought I was a southerner. After working with the repertory theater, I think it was closer to British — they were very strict about the broad A. But now. I've done so many things I think my natural speech is a sort of mish-mash."
• * *
SCOURBY MADE his Broadway debut in 1936 as the player king in Leslie Howard's "Hamlet." When it closed he made his first recordings for the American Foundation for the Blind—and has been recording for them ever since. During the years he has made full recordings of over 250 books— including three of the Bible "War and Peace," and—most recently, "Ship of Fools."
He has played in a lot of Shakespeare, some with Maurice Evans, and done all sorts of live theater jobs. Early in his career he discovered radio, and during its hey-day sometimes was playing running parts in as many as five soap operas at one time.
When television was learning how to present superior documentary shows, Scourby immediately was in great demand for the "voice-over narrator"—meaning that unseen voice.
"I'm lucky," he said. "I have a reputation as a good reader. Great actors aren't necessarily good readers, and conversely, good readers aren't necesarily good actors. There's something about facing a microphone—I remember hearing Alfred Lunt, a really great one, the first time he ever broadcast. You could tell he was frightened stiff, the way he was enunciating every syllable of every word."
• * •
THE SCOURBYS-his wife, Actress Lori March, and their daughter Alexandra—live in an apartment near Columbia University, and spend weekends at their Connecticut farm.
"Some times I wonder what I am doing here," said Scourby.
"It wasn't at all the sort of thing I wanted when I went into the theater. I wanted to be an actor — a real actor, playing lots of parts. But I don't for a minute forget how fortunate I am."

About this film, the Library of Congress says:

A whimsical yet serious-minded look into the future sponsored by the appliance and radio manufacturer. In the “1999 House of Tomorrow,” each family member’s activities are enabled by a central computer and revolve around products remarkably similar to those made by the sponsor. Power comes from a self-contained fuel cell, which supports environmental controls, an automatic cooking system, and a computer-assisted “education room.”
Note: Produced in Eastmancolor. Renowned interior decorator Paul McCobb designed the futuristic home.

St. Joseph, Jack Benny and Cockatoos

The Benny-Allen feud wasn’t just for radio and motion pictures. The venue shifted to newspapers on occasion.

Fred Allen couldn’t resist getting in his phoney digs at Jack Benny whenever a reporter or columnist interviewed him. But when Benny announced he was going to St. Joseph, Missouri (“they love me there”), Allen plunked himself in front of his typewriter and went on the attack.

Here’s how it was recorded on the front page of the St. Joseph News-Press of February 13, 1945 (we can’t reproduce the photo with this story).
ALLEN FORECASTS DIRE THINGS . . . Fred Allen, Jack Benny's chum, has written to the St. Joseph Lions Club in regard to the approaching visit of Jack Benny. The letter follows:
"Am sorry to learn that St. Joe intends to lower its social status through planning a welcome for Mr. Benny.
"Mr. Benny was born in Chicago. The city has yet to live it down.
"Mr. Benny spent some time in Waukegan as a boy. The city has labored under a blight from which it has yet to recover.
"Mr. Benny later came to New York but was asked to leave about the same time Tammany received a similar request.
"Mr. Benny has spent some time in Hollywood and I understand tourist travel has declined 71 per cent.
"What effect his visit will have on St. Joe I am loath to venture. I trust that you will make him an honorary member of the St. Joseph Lions Club. Too bad he isn't coming in March. We could use that gag about ‘If Mr. Benny comes in as a ham he can go out as a lion.’”
Sincerely, FRED ALLEN.
Mr. Allen also sent the above photograph to be presented to Jack. The inscription reads, "For Jack Benny. If they loved you in St. Joe this means the end of a beautiful friendship. "P. S.: I played the Crystal Theater in St. Joe. Ask the manager how I went."
While Allen was joking with his long-time friend, it seems not everyone loved him in St. Joseph. The editors of both the News-Press and St. Joseph Union-Observer were Benny defenders against cranks and malcontents. This story comes the latter paper of February 16, when Jack and his troupe were still in the city.
The following episode was observed on one of the city bus lines. Four dear old ladies of uncertain age were en route to an all day bridge party, and were discussing the tables prizes, food, et ceteria.
While many of us are enthusiastic in our admiration of Jack Benny, we fear there are those who think differently.
During a pause one of the ladies remarked, "So Jack Benny is coming here to entertain us and it is costing him $20,000! He could do a lot more with all that money than to come here and make a monkey out of himself. Why don't he do something to bring the dear boys back home? If I had $20,000 to spend I bet I could do better than that."
An elderly man spoke up: "Well, lady, we have to do something to keep up the morale."
"Morale! Morale! Why don't we do something to hurry the end of this war and stop all this nonsense. Morale, indeed!"
"Well, lady," said this man, "you are going to waste this day at bridge and, I suppose, gossip and eating too much. Why don't you try the Red Cross? You could do a lot more to win the war down there than where you are going. And let me ask you this, have you been to the blood bank?"
Perhaps this man was talking out of turn, but to many of us who labor long hours and have to stand up going home from work it does seem that these women of leisure could be better employed. They might try making shirts for the men who are fighting our war.
This editorial is from the News-Press of August 20, 1945
Somehow we cannot get excited about the $10,000 damage suit filed by someone somewhere against Jack Benny.
Plaintiff asserts he suggested a free broadcast by Benny admitting blood donors, that Benny did not take up the idea then, but did use it in St. Joseph.
Jack Benny did not fill that Auditorium or arrange the manner in which it should be filled.
The St. Joseph committee debated days how best to arrange for admission. The committee decided on the blood donor plan and put it into effect. The committee had charge of all ticket distribution.
If Jack Benny has $10,000 to throw away over this legal aftermath of his visit to St Joseph may we offer the suggestion he send the money to the St Joseph committee? If the blood donor idea is worth $10,000, brothers and sisters, we believe we can promise on behalf of the committee the 10 grand will go to a worthy cause, such as providing a legal commission to devise ways and means of prohibiting senseless damage suits.
By the way, in case you’re wondering when Benny played St. Joe, it was the week of November 1, 1915. Variety’s weekly roundup of who-was-playing-where doesn’t mention the duo, but the News-Press published two days beforehand did.
AT THE CRYSTAL. "Happy’s Millions," presented by William Morrow and company, will be the feature of the new vaudeville bill opening at the Crystal for an engagement of a half week tomorrow. "Happy’s Millions" is a Western singing comedy playlet. The company comprises eight persons, among them a midget who plays the part of Cupid. The sketch has special scenery, a number of catchy musical numbers and abundant comedy. "Happy's Millions" has been presented in many vaudeville theaters of consequence in this country and England, and has been on the road steadily for more than fourteen years. Special settings and numerous electrical affects are required for the radium specter, billed as "vaudeville's latest mysterious creation." "Ten Minutes of Syncopation" is furnished in the violin and piano act of Benny and Woods, who play both classic and popular numbers. Bert Wheeler and company offer a comedy pantomime, "The Troubles of a Jitney Bus," and Weber and Fields present themselves in the role of "Broadway’s Youthful Prodigies.” Comedy moving pictures complete the bill.
Two weeks earlier, they played the second half of the week in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with Swain’s Cockatoos. It’s the same Swain who later had an act with cats and rats and earlier put one together with alligators. Let’s see bridge-playing busy-bodies tut-tut about them.

Saturday 20 February 2021

A Panther Lives in Burbank

The most stylish theatrical cartoon series of the 1960? Can it be anything but “Chimp and Zee”?

Well, of course it’s the Pink Panther. (Sorry to any Chimp and Zee fans out there). In a way, the series is an outgrowth of the Warner Bros. cartoons. It was made on the Warners lot by a company run by two ex-Warners cartoon people. And many of the names on the credits—at least at the beginning of the series—are familiar from Warners cartoons.

The Valley Times in North Hollywood profiled DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and the Pink Panther series two years in a row. First up is a feature story from July 13, 1964.

Valley Firm Sparks Film Revolution

Valley Times Entertainment Editor
Sometimes the titles get better reviews than the pictures. It's possible they might defeat themselves with producers.
This wry, half-serious comment came from Friz Freleng, vice president of the Valley company which has started a minor revolution in the movie business.
THIS REVOLUTION has resulted in pleasant viewing of what used to be one of the dullest parts of a movie the showing of the title and those long, endless lists of credits naming everyone from top star to third assistant-powder-puff holder. Now, thanks to the firm of DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, those boring openings have been changed in some films to lively, swinging cartoons.
At lunch recently with Freleng and David H. DePatie, they told me how they got in the business of jazzing up film preludes.
The story started in January, 1963, when Warner Bros. in Burbank closed its cartoon division. DePatie, who had been executive in charge of the division, and Freleng, animation director, formed their own company to make cartoons and commercials.
LEASING THE Warner facilities at which they had worked, the two went into business just 14 months ago and soon were turning out amusing characters like Sharpie and Gillette Bird and Charlie Tuna. Then Blake Edwards was given the assignment of directing The Pink Panther for the Mirisch Corp.
“Edwards decided it would be a natural for an animated title,” DePatie explained, “using something with a panther. At his request we whipped up about 150 versions of a panther trademark. He picked one and we were given complete freedom to develop it.”
The result is history. It came out a four-minute-long cartoon starring a rather smug and slap-happy but lovable pink panther who bumbled his way through the titles and credits, sometimes trying to take all the credit for himself, always adding to fun of the proceedings.
WITH THE release and public response to The Pink Panther and its titles, DePatie-Freleng suddenly zoomed to the top of the heap. In quick succession the firm got the assignment for titles of “The Best Man,” “Sex and the Single Girl,” “The Satan Bug” and “A Shot in the Dark.”
“A Shot in the Dark" is sort of a sequel to Panther with Peter Sellers playing the same character in each, and it too features a zany cartoon as the lead. It opens Wednesday at two theaters in the area.
Why the excitement?
“The producers figured the Panther titles added $1.5 millions to the value of the picture,” DePatie said. “They found out that people were checking theaters closely on screen times to make sure they didn’t miss the titles.
“I DON’T KNOW if anyone bought tickets only because they wanted to watch the titles. But the titles certainly influenced viewers to tell their friends it was a good picture.
“I think it’s a good return on an investment of $10,000 to $15,000.”
But will these good results hold true if every picture has a jazzy credit sequence? I wondered.
“We’re trying to make them all different,” explained Freleng. “For ‘The Best Man,’ you'll remember, we used portraits of the Presidents. In ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ the gimmick is using the Ben Casey genetic symbols for male and female.
“NOW WE’RE working on assignments for titles for Hallelujah Trail, The Great Race and How to Murder Your Wife. Writers have been assigned Just as if these were story projects. But all of us are kicking around ideas. For ‘Hallelujah Trail’ we may use titles with live actors.”
“What about the mechanics of the title productions?” I asked.
“We have a staff of 24 and soon will increase it to 40,” DePatie said. “We’re called in nowadays ahead of picture production so a trademark can be worked out to be used in advertising and promoting the picture. Then we spend a lot of time sifting ideas and finally six to eight weeks for actual production.”
IS THE excitement about the new form of titles going to cause a trend? Will everybody want cartoons to open their pictures?
“That’s hard to say,” Freleng said. “Cartoons are no good, of course, for most serious drama. And they probably will be used only on high-budget films.
“But one thing is for sure the old-style credits were a complete bore for audiences. An[y]thing remedying this should stay popular a long, long time.”

The paper checked in again with the studio and columnist Larry Paulson wrote this for the issue of April 23, 1965. And guess who claimed credit for giving birth to Bugs Bunny? No, not Bob Clampett. It is nice to see the artists getting some credit in the popular press.

A GUY walks into another guys office and says, “How'd you like to make the titles for my new motion picture?” The guy answers “Fine," and a new business is born. It’s another Valley success story—a factory where panthers are painted pink!
The entire pink panther plant is pink, and you can pretty well guess the color of the little guard house by the front gate. The location is California Street in Burbank, and even the residence next door has caught the rosy fever.
Blake Edwards and the Mirisch Company asked Henry Mancini to create the music for "The Pink Panther, and Mancini won three Grammy awards for his efforts. They asked David DePatie and Friz Freleng to create the animation behind the titles, (credits) and they won an Oscar. The movie was a success and some people gave more credit to the titles than to the film.
The rubicund feline star proved to be such a hit that his creators are busy producing a series of 113 theatrical cartoons! Titles include “Pink Phink” (which won the Academy Award for cartoons), “Pink Pajamas” and “We Give Pink Stamps.” Coming up: “Sink Pink” and “Pinkfinger.”
The salon de DeFatie-Freleng now has 50 people doing commercials for television, more animated movie titles, advertising film strips, a public service film, shorts and a joke book. To come: a comic strip for newspapers, comic books, coloring books, toys and stuffed animals and undoubtedly a half-hour TV show.
So the pink panther that cavorted about the screen for a brief two minutes to introduce a movie has really begat a lota Pinks. They’re being created for adults, but of course kids watch anything that moves, and they love Pinky’s sophistication.
Dapper DePatie, the firm’s handsome president, started at Warner Bros. as a film editor when he was just 20. Right off he won an Academy Oscar for “Them.”
Freleng (pronounced Freeling, like in free-wheeling) is a living legend in the anima[t]ion business. Five Oscars are engraved with his name. He fathered such brush and ink stars as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Tweetie Pie and Daggy Duck [sic].
The two genii let me wander the length and breadth of the Pink Panther place on Warner Bros. back lot. I met affable Harry Love, all-around production man who cart act out a cartoon sequence at the drop of a drawing. Hawley Pratt is the animation director who gets the canny pink cat in and out of situations. John Dunn writes plots and Ken Mundie paints Panther backgrounds which are works of art all by themselves.
These people get assists from Tom O’Loughlin, Bob Kurtz and the rest of the unsung heroes who contribute to these wild cartoons.
But we, the audiences, make stars out of a chosen few. “Presently,” says Freleng, “we like the Pink Panther because he’s up to date and on the abstract side.” He’s the first new theatrical cartoon star in about 10 years since the same Friz Freleng created Speedy Gonzales. Bugs Bunny, and his “What's up, doc?” was born 18 years ago on Freleng’s drawing board, and Freleng gets a boot out of Bugsie's record: Number One cartoon character in the theaters for every one of those 18 years!
Pink Panther is a tougher to train for his motion picture shenanigans than the others—because he doesn’t talk. It’s all pantomime. “That makes it a bit more difficult,” says Freleng. “After all, Charlie Chaplin had to be much more of an actor to make his pantomime convincing than does, say, Phyllis Diller.”
You can’t argue with that. Or with the Pink Panthers success.

92 Panthers were made for theatres and then more for TV. Still later, he was given a son. The Panther was finally getting into Chimp and Zee territory.

Friday 19 February 2021

I'll Take Mine Neat

“Symbolic of this cold alpine region,” says narrator Bob Bruce over artwork of high mountains by Johnny Johnsen, “is the brave and faithful St. Bernard dog, ever on the alert in search for lost travellers.” We see the dogs enter in perspective from the background.

Cut to the gag.

Carl Stalling plays “Little Brown Jug” in the background, with lighter instrumentation for the little dog.

Crazy Cruise was Tex Avery’s last cartoon for Warner Bros. Bob Clampett took over his unit when he went to MGM in 1941 and finished this. It’s not an auspicious end to his career at Warners; one theatre manager in New Paltz, New York told the Motion Picture Herald: “This is poor material to give us in cartoon form. Someone in the studio might think it funny, but on the screen of a small town theatre it doesn't jell. This can’t be booked as a cartoon, as it’s more of a travelogue, and you know how boring some of those can be.”

And what’s a “cruise” doing at the top of the Alps?