Saturday 31 July 2021

Mister Lookit

Bill Golden’s lasting contribution to television is the CBS Eye logo. He created it as the network was growing in the early ‘50s and it’s still on the air. Why tamper with success?

Golden was the network’s chief designer, and came up with something else around the same time which wasn’t as lasting, but is still charming to anyone who likes puppets. He’s the creator of “Mister Lookit.”

The stop-motion jester showed up in short promos in the 1953-54 season. He was made by Lou Bunin, noted for a feature-length version of Alice in Wonderland, two years before Walt Disney, who took Bunin to court to stop its release. The character was voiced by Phil Kramer, whose distinctive whine could be heard a few years later on Paramount cartoons. (He was the emcee in the 1939 Warner Bros. cartoon Hamateur Night).

Perhaps inspired by a CBS ad in the New York Times in November 1953 announcing the character, Broadcasting magazine wrote about Mister Lookit on January 18, 1954, along with a local station promo puppet on the New York NBC station.

Messrs. 'Lookit' & 'Four' Make the Break
Puppets at WCBS -TV and WNBT (TV) now are trying their hands with commercials at station breaks promoting shows and stars that appear on their respective stations.

PUPPETS, which from the first days of television have shared the spotlight and the public favor with live entertainers before the tv cameras, have now expanded their operations into the field of commercial announcing. New York viewers in recent weeks have become well acquainted with "Mister Lookit," who pops up between shows on WCBS -TV to plug other CBS video programs, and "Mister Four," who performs similar chores for NBC's teleshows on WNBT (TV).
"Mister Lookit" is a jester puppet, wearing the traditional cap and bells, who, according to CBS-TV, "lives in your television set ... just leave the dials turned to WCBS-TV and he'll be along in no time.
"He may seem impertinent at first, but don't let his manner throw you. Like most show people, he's merely trying to be entertaining. Admittedly, he's a ham, but we think you'll find him pretty valuable to have around. He'll keep the inside of your picture-tube clean, he'll battle the static and he'll help to unscramble the ghosts in your set. Most important of all, however, he'll keep you posted on the best shows on television-the shows on the CBS Television network."
"Mister Four" is a puppet "but he's no dummy," WNBT said in its introductory ad for him in New York newspapers. "Actually, he's real smart," the copy read. "Without moving a muscle or ever touching the dial on his tv set, he watches the finest in all television ... He pops into sight between programs on ch. 4 and calls your attention to NBC shows so spectacular they excite even his mahogany heart.
"Rather stylish is Mister Four. Always dresses for the occasion. Describes a western program wearing chaps. Chats about our fancy evening-time shows garbed in white tie, topper and monocle, and trousers."
Noting that "Mister Four" is not the only "symbolic puppet in New York television," the WNBT ad reported "there's a new puppet too on one of our delightfully competitive tv stations. And while we would be the last in the world to start a Hatfield-McCoy between two puppets, we must report that our puppet thinks our neighbor's puppet has sawdust in his head."
This slur has so far been ignored by "Mister Lookit" and by William Golden, creative director of the CBS Television advertising dept., which brought the jester puppet into the world of television and promotion. Filmed by Punch Films in a series of 132 different 20- second trailers for CBS video programs, "Mister Lookit" is available to all of the network's tv affiliates.
In contrast, "Mister Four" is strictly a WNBT employe, confining his activities to the New York area served by that station. He is the brainchild of Max Buck, director of advertising, sales promotion and merchandising for the station.

CBS figured there was merchandising money in Mister Lookit. “Operation Quietly Efficient” was set up to push CBS-owned items, such as Charlemagne the Lion on The Morning News, in the form of toys, games, books, clothing, even newspaper syndication. A set of Mister Lookit party clothes was yours for the proper cash payment.

For whatever reason, Mister Lookit was cancelled. Maybe there wasn’t enough promo time available for him. Maybe the network thought puppets were for kids only. Maybe they thought he wasn’t classy enough for CBS.

I’m sure you’ll want to see Mister Lookit in action. Rick Prelinger’s archives can make it possible. The first promo below is for Lucy, the second plugs You Are There and the third pushes Red Buttons. There are others on the site for Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny, Jackie Gleason and some forgotten shows like Medallion Theatre with Janet Gaynor.

Friday 30 July 2021

Radio References in the South

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera indulge in some radio star references in The Goose Goes South, a 1941 non-Tom-and-Jerry short.

In a little mountain cabin in Virginia, a hillbilly father gesticulates to his lazy son to “get up and get to work.”

Cut to a close-up of Zeke. “Why daddy?” he says coyly, just like Baby Snooks.

“Why, it’s the songbird of the south!” exclaims narrator Frank Bingman, as a hefty canary whistles “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain” on a tree branch. “Hello, anybody!” she says to the camera, spoofing Kate Smith. (Yes, she was known as the ‘Songbird of the South’).

There are no animator credits on this cartoon. You can hear Mel Blanc, Sara Berner (as Zeke/Snooks) and Cliff Nazarro doing his double-talk routine. And if you’re wondering where the title came from....

Thursday 29 July 2021


Hare Tonic is a funny cartoon that seems lost when praise is heaped on Chuck Jones’ outings involving Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. No coyness. No cutsy held poses. Just comedy that barrels along.

This is the cartoon that brought you “Rabbititus.” Bugs (disguised as the brilliantly-named “Doctor Kilpatient”) convinces Elmer he has it. When he “weal-wizes” he’s been had, Fudd gets taken in again again by Bugs, who convinces him the theatre audience watching the cartoon has it. “The lady there with the long ears. They’re getting longer all the time! And the guy back there in the 17th row with the cute tomato. He’s getting all fuzzy!”

Bugs screams. Anticipation drawing, then the extreme.

Elmer turns around and runs back into his house. I wish Jones had moved the camera back a bit.

The cartoon ends with Bugs having a little fun with the audience, trying to convince THEM they have Rabbititus.

Tedd Pierce is credited with the story. Ken Harris, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam and Basil Davidovich are the credited animators.

But Wait! There's More!

They’re the TV shows everyone knows, they’re ridiculed constantly—and they make an awful lot of money.

They’re infomercials.

Crowning a King of Infomercials is a task too daunting for someone such as me, but I imagine Ron Popeil would be somewhere in the royalty. (Someone has suggested the Queen of Infomercials would be Richard Simmons. I roll my eyes and carry on).

You have likely heard Popeil passed away this week. He was 86.

If you watched television in a certain era, even if you didn’t buy any of it, you knew all the stuff he was pitching. In the days before half-hour demonstrations, he bought 30 and 60-second spots. He first got noticed in the “Pipes For Pitchmen” column in Billboard of January 28, 1956. “We understand that,” wrote columnist Bill Baker, “Ron Popeil, a newcomer to the pitch business, is kinda knockin’ them for a loop in Woodworth’s five and dimer opposite Macy’s, New York, with the Do-It-Yourself Plastic Plant Kit.”

Yes, Popeil started out as one of those “Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up” guys on the sidewalk. Here’s a syndicated story from August 10, 1973; it’s been edited to focus on the Popeil parts.

Pitchmen Chop Their Way to Your Wallet

Ron Popeil is a millionaire today because he learned at the age of 15 to make a perfect rose from a radish. Then he learned to fascinate folks with his tricks. Ron, who is now president of Ronco Products, Inc., has been known to create roses for 12 hours at a stretch—demonstrating paring knives at county fairs and dimes-stores, from the Atlantic City Boardwalk to the California shore. Now he has switched to 30-second spots on your late night TV.
Recently, Ron recalled the old days: “It took strong kidneys, and my lungs were actually sore at the end of a working day.”
If you haven’t seen Ron work, you’ve watched others like him and at least been tempted to buy their products—vegetable choppers and fancy glass cutters, for instance, garbage compactors that double as kitchen stools, and magnetized window washers that clean both sides of your pane at the same time.
The gadgets are endless and endlessly appealing. Never mind that you suspect they’re worthless or at best unnecessary. . . .
When Ron Popeil worked on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, he said he spent six minutes on a demonstration, with four minutes allotted for collecting money. He gave six spiels an hour. “You have to keep the momentum going,” he says. . . .
“You also have to create a need,” Ron instructs. “If it’s two weeks to Thanksgiving and you’re making the traditional rose from a radish, you say ‘I know a woman who fixed these for her Thanksgiving dinner.’ ” . . .
Then there’s the classic case of the woman who says loudly, “I bought one of those last year and it didn’t work.” The thing to do at that point, says Ron, is to ask her to pick one for you to demonstrate. Chances are, the crowd will just think she’s inept—and probably she was. . . .
Pitchmen all over the country seem to know each other. Often the trade runs in families. Ron’s father, S.J. Popeil, is one of the best known oldtimers. He, too, has a gadget company, Popeil Brothers, which operates in direct competition with Ronco. . . .
Ron Popeil, not known for his modesty (what pitchman would be?) claims he was one of the best. “I’ve cajoled people out of their last penny,” he brags. “I’ve left them without bus fare home.”

Popeil and his dad had a falling out, reported the Chicago Tribune in a February 14, 1973 story, basically because of the competition. Popeil, by this time, had dropped the beloved Veg-O-Matic from his line-up. That was after the FCC ordered him to reduce the claims of how well it sliced tomatoes.

The Associated Press profiled him, with the photo below, in papers published in November and December of 1982.

Late-Night Fast Talker Sells to a Targeted Audience
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Remember how your eardrums were assaulted by blaring late-night television advertisements for Veg-a-Matic, the device that slices, dices and shreds its way through your cooking chores?
How about more recent commercials for Mr. Dentist ("The Plaque Attacker"), Pocket Fisherman ("rod, reel, line and hook the whole thing!") or the Vibrating Back Massage Air Cushion ("Bye-bye backache! Yes, it's concentrated massage where you need it most")?
If so, you might wonder who is behind the commercials that for years have jarred late movie viewers frequently with ads for any given product repeated night after night and several times during any one night.
The voice is that of Ron Popeil, founder of Ronco, the firm that uses TV hard-sell to push its assortment of gadgets and gewgaws.
"Ronco wants to hit the viewer two or three times an hour and hit the same viewer every night in the same time period," said David Woodcock, general sales manager for KCOP-TV, an independent Los Angeles-area station. "It may cost $1,200 for one 30-second spot on the 'Tonight Show,' but maybe only $100 at the same time for a spot with us or another independent," Woodcock said. "They get 12 for the price of one."
Popeil got his business started and cut his first commercial in 1964, and has been doing a land-office business ever since.
"And I started with zero," Popeil said during an interview this month at his Beverly Hills homes where all his commercials are now filmed at a cost of up to $20,000 each. "I was working in a dime store in Illinois six days a week doing product demonstrations. I would buy other people's products and practice my marketing technique," said Popeil.
Popeil's first-year sales in 1964 were $200,000. By the time he went public and started selling Ronco stock in 1968, his annual sales were $8.8 million. Now, at age 47, Popeil presides over a Ronco empire that he said accounts for $35 million in annual retail sales with its current line of 17 products.
Popeil says 85 percent of his products are sold during the month of December.
Ronco spent more than $6 million on TV advertising during the first two weeks of December 1981, and prepared an even more expensive blitz this month.
“When you go out to buy a Christmas present, you wonder what you can get that the person doesn’t have,” Popeil said. “You know they’ll have a toaster and color TV, but what are the odds they’ll have a Mr. Microphone or a Miracle Broom?”

Popeil took the six-minute demonstrations he did in stores and compacted them for commercial TV. When infomercials came along in the ‘80s, he merely expanded them. I suspect that’s when the REAL money came rolling in.

All those 30-minute ads featuring Tom Vu and his yacht-babes, Susan Powter yelling “STOP THE INSANITY!!”, and a blond gymnast writhing onto a Soloflex (I succumbed. I bought a Soloflex T-shirt in San Francisco) caused the price of formerly almost-unsaleable air-time to skyrocket. It was in demand now by all kinds of people from Kevin Trudeau (didn’t he have a Larry King look-alike set?) to televangelists. For a while, Popeil moved to radio, which was cheaper and full of stations with marginal programming.

He sold Ronco in 2005.

But, wait! There’s more!

Popeil once won the Ig Nobel Prize in Consumer Engineering. He happily displayed the honour on his web site. Even if you think he was shady, you have to like a guy that has a sense of humour about himself.

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Notes to the Mills Brothers

The Mills Brothers make some creative entrances in Dinah, a 1932 Fleischer screen song. At the start of the cartoon, jigsaw pieces fly onto the screen to put them in the frame.

The second time, the scene starts with a sign and pans down to some sheet music. Two sets of notes jump off the staff and land on the ground. They slowly rise back up, revealing the Mills Brothers beneath from foot to head.

There are some cute typical Fleischer gags in this, such as a swordfish sawing on the anchor chain. A little fish jumps out of the ocean, pulls out an oil can, oils the swordfish’s “saw” and jumps back into the water.

Dave Tendlar and William Henning get the animation crdeits.

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Birthday Bunny

It is said that 81 years ago today, Tex Avery pretty much erased the memory of any other cartoon rabbit that Warner Bros. had offered to movie houses. That’s when A Wild Hare went into formal release.

We use the word “formal” here because the release dates published in trade papers of the time were, more or less, suggested. If a short film was available at an exchange before then, then an exhibitor could book it.

To the right, you see an ad from the Pittsburgh Press of Friday, July 26, 1940 for the cartoon with the words “Now Showing.” The same paper published an ad the day before reading “Starts Tomorrow.”

But who am I to spoil a birthday celebration with facts?

How popular was the cartoon?

In September 1940, it was “re-booked because of many requests” by a theatre in San Bernadino. “The funniest of All Merrie Melody Color Cartoons Returns for Your Enjoyment,” crowed a newspaper ad.

The Los Angeles Daily News of October 17, 1940 reported, with a reference to an earlier rabbit film:
FROM all indications a new star is born at Leon Schlesinger’s cartoon factory. He’s not much for looks, being buck toothed and insolent eyed. He’s also a smart aleck who doles out sarcasms in a voice that is more Dead End Kid than Basil Rathbone. But you've got to admit when you see him that Bugs Bunny has what it takes to win fans. His antics as the shrewd, carrot munching rabbit outwitting the lisping hunter in “A Wild Hare” brought batches of mail from all over the country.
So now Schlesinger announces plans to feature Bugs in five more cartoons, three of which are already completed and a fourth on its way. It won't be long before "Hiawatha’s Rabbit," [sic] "Elmer’s Pet Rabbit" and "Tortoise Beats Hare" find their release. Tex Avery, producer of Bugs’ movies, and Arthur Q. Bryant [sic], the voice of the hunter, have been working overtime turning these out to meet public demand. Bugs, let it be added, began his career modestly when Schlesinger included him in a small part in a Merry Melodie subject, "Harum Scarum." He can dictate his own terms today.
Mel who?

The story, I suspect, was planted by Rose Horsley, Schlesinger’s excellent PR flack, as similar stories popped up in papers around this time.

One theatre which (according to newspaper ads) showed A Wild Hare on July 27, 1940 was the Worth in Fort Worth, Texas. Devon Baxter has provided us with a pertinent box ad from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram of the day before. The paper insisted on calling it “Wild Hare Hunt” (adding “The” in later ads). They loved Bugs so much in the city that the following year, a mini Bugs Bunny film festival was booked.

The Star-Telegram’s film critic, Katherine Howard, wrote in the issue of April 8, 1941:
Donald Duck would raise an awful squawk if he knew that Bugs Bunny has superseded him as the No. 1 comic of the cartoons. Bugs is the talk of the movie-goers now.
No fluffy pink and white creature, Bugs Bunny is about as cuddlesome as a horned toad.
He is everything an Easter bunny shouldn't be but just the same the Parkway Theater is going to put on a pre-Easter show of Bugs Bunny cartoons Friday and Saturday. He will be seen in "Elmer's Candid Camera," "A Wild Hare" and "Elmer's Pet Rabbit."
"Don't give me none a dem candy eggs. I like de hardboiled kind. Get me guy?" croaks Bugs.
South Side merchants will sponsor two free shows at the Parkway Friday—at 10 a.m. and 12 noon—preceding an Easter egg hunt in Forest Park at 2 p.m. Feature will be "Laddie" with Tim Holt and Virginia Gillmore.
Ads for the cartoon starting Sunday, July 28, 1940 appeared in the Paducah Sun-Democrat (with All This and Heaven Too, starring Bette Davis) and the Newport News Daily Press (with Sporting Blood starring Robert Young, a Pete Smith short called Romance of the Potato and Paramount’s News of the World).

Anyway, best wishes to Bugs on his (sort-of) birthday.

Oh, by the way, he was never named Happy Rabbit by Mel Blanc or anyone else. Mel made up the story, much like the “allergic to carrots” tale he finally admitted was not quite accurate.

Questions and Answers With Norman Lear

Norman Lear almost didn’t change the face of North American television.

Comedy on television in the ‘60s was either of the but-honey-the-PTA-is-coming-tonight variety or the my-daughter-is-a-reincarnated-Egyptian-cat type. Lear took an idea that wasn’t his, modified it for the U.S., then had trouble selling it.

Of course, we’re talking about All in the Family.

When Lear failed to sell a couple of pilots for the show, he considered another venue, as we learn in this syndicated story from July 11, 1969.

British TV Series Thence Of New Film
NEW YORK (Special) – Producer Norman Lear and director Bud Yorkin have announced "These Were The Days" as their next project for United Artists release. Their most recent film was "The Night They Raided Minsky's, a Norman Lear-Bud Yorkin Production which was one of UA's most successful films of 1968.
Lear and Yorkin are currently at work on "Cold Turkey," starring Dick Van Dyke, which will start filming this summer as a joint venture of their Tandem Productions and Dyke's DFI Productions. This film also is for United Artists.
“Those Were The Days” originated as a British television series called, "Till Death Do Us Part." Underscoring the generation gap, it concerned a bigoted mother and father and their two liberal children. Lear states, "Just about every subject in the book including sex, race, and religion was treated with frankness rarely seen on the tube."
Setting of the motion picture is being switched from Britain to Brooklyn and the people caught up in the proceedings include the father, mother, and their daughters. Also involved is the girl's boy friend, who is a member of the S.D.S. [Students For a Democratic Society]
Shooting will begin in Brooklyn's Besenhurt [sic] area this fall.
Lear and Yorkin joined forces in 1959 to form Tandem Productions and their association resulted in various aspects of writing, producing and directing many important motion pictures such as "Come Blow Your Horn," "Never Too Late" and "Divorce American Style," In addition, they have been active on TV both with specials and series.

Another pilot was shot, CBS bought it, put it on the schedule in January 1971 and then saw ratings climb as audiences learning began to learn it was a comedy that didn’t involve a wife with a slapstick vacuum cleaner or an office Joe with a pet dog that could turn into a human at inopportune times. Lear wanted his comedy real.

This Q & A session was picked up by the Windsor Star and published August 5, 1972.

This man created your favorite bigot
Washington Post News Service
CENTURY CITY, Calif.—"A Hebe Hollywood egghead" is probably what Archie Bunker would call his creator, TV writer-producer Norman Lear.
Archie and All in the Family won seven Emmys at this year's awards presentation, which Johnny Carson dubbed The Norman Lear Show. Earlier this year Sanford and Son, produced by Lear's and Bud Yorkin's Tandem Productions, made its debut and bounced up to second place in the ratings—just below All in the Family. This fall yet another Lear outrage will be unleashed upon the television-watching public—Maude, a spinoff from All in the Family about an upper-middle-class, suburban New Jersey housewife, a cousin of Archie Bunker's wife Edith.
But the names Norman Lear, Bud Yorkin and Tandem Productions were well known in Hollywood before 1971. The team created and produced such television shows as Another Evening with Fred Astaire, The Many Sides of Don Rickles, An Evening with Carol Charming and the original Andy Williams Show. They were responsible for such films as Come Blow Your Horn, The Night They Raided Minsky's, Start the Revolution Without Me and Divorce American Style, for which Lear, as writer, received an Academy Award nomination.
Even before joining forces with Yorkin, Norman Lear had been active in television production. Born in 1922 in New Haven, Conn., Lear was a college dropout, an air force pilot and a theatrical publicist before he became co-writer of The Ford Star Revue, a weekly one-hour variety show on NBC starring Jack Haley, in 1950. Three months later, Lear and his collaborator, Ed Simmons, went to work for the Colgate Comedy Hour. Their task was to introduce a new young comedy team, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. After succeeding admirably, Lear doubled as a writer on the team's radio show and on some of their movies. Later, Lear directed and co-wrote (with Simmons) a series of one-hour live musicals starring Martha Raye for the 1954-55 television season. Later still, Lear directed and wrote the third and fourth years of the George Gobel Show on NBC.
Lear does his creating in a Century City office decorated with All in the Family memorabilia. Once seated before a tape recorder, the monarch of the boob tube is gently articulate and expresses a concern that an interview about his genius and his triumphs might sound self-serving. He's a rarity in television: A civilized, educated and thoughtful man who refuses to believe that the television set is just some new form of electronic billboard.
QUESTION: We've heard for years that the TV audience has a 12-year-old mentality. Evidently you don't agree.
LEAR: No, I think we've labelled the audience that way. But they're smarter than that. All of us have to remember that because we're better educated and have a higher income level, we have very definite attitudes about the people who have less education, and sometimes the attitudes are a little prejudiced. I try to watch it very carefully in myself I'm aware of it, anyway.
Q: Why do you think, then, that so much of what we see on television is disappointing?
LEAR: A lot of it has to do with network management. The people who think for big business really don't get out there wherever it's at and find out what the hell the public wants. Writers do, because they listen to people, and they care, and they read. Even watching television, writers are watching in another way. But I hate to isolate television from the rest of American business. I don't want to condemn management without remembering that Volkswagen sales went up, up, up for a long time before the American motor companies looked at each other and said, 'Hey, we'd better build a small car.' Well, television makes those mistakes, too. They don't give enough new things a chance.
Q: It had been some years since you'd worked in television when All in the Family came along. What was the genesis of that series?
LEAR: We were living in New York at the time. I was completing a long editing process on The Night They Raided Minsky's, and I read a little squib I forget in what publication about the English series, Till Death Do Us Part. It simply said that the series was a sensation over there and that it was about a cockney father with his son-in-law; they're living together, and it was about all the issues of the day. I was transported to my youth and I thought, My God, if that could happen on American television. I grew up on that. My father and I fought all of those battles. I had a ready image of the man, of a boy, of a girl and of her mother; the whole thing was there. So I was getting the rights to the series before I'd ever seen an episode. Later, much later, I saw one. If you're looking for where All in the Family began in American life, though, it began with Lenny Bruce. He really was a prophet. And I think he would have adored the success of the show, because it proves a lot of what he said.
Q: When you created the first pilot of All in the Family for ABC in 1965 [sic], how was it received?
LEAR: They commissioned the pilot, they laughed at it when they saw it, and said they loved it—but they didn't schedule it. It's really as simple as that. Then, when their option was about to lapse, they asked for another pilot. That's the only way they had of holding it a little while longer. Then CBS picked it up and we made a third pilot.
Q: How did you cast the show?
LEAR: Well, Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton were people whose careers I had watched and I brought them in. Jean is brilliant, and Carroll is wonderful, and they were right. It was very important for Archie to have a likable face because, you know, I've never known a bigot I didn't like. They were all relatives and friends.
Q: There must have been times when you've had unfavorable audience reactions to something you've attempted?
LEAR: Strong reactions mean a few letters, out of millions of weekly viewers. But there are two areas of great sensitivity: God—not denominational religion—and sex. We hear from nuns all the time who adore the show, and Archie has been very vocally anti-Catholic. We hear from all minorities, and we've heard from leaders in all religions. But on our Christmas show last year, Archie and Mike had an argument about the existence of God. That argument—and it was in joke form—caused a flood of letters. That flood of letters, I might add, was 50 or 60 letters. But that's a great number of letters on a particular show. The other subject on which we have had as many as 50 letters on one specific subject was the area of sex. One show dealt with menopause. It was perhaps our most popular show, but it brought a spate of letters.
Q: Have you any theories of your own about why the show has been so successful?
LEAR: Well, television's always used the same things. Even Father Knows Best. All the humor, basically, is based on conflict. The conflict in a great many shows for a great many years was whether dad would give the kid the keys to the car, or whether the dinner would be ready in time for the boss to come over for dinner. We deal in conflicts that are more serious than that. The more serious those conflicts are, the funnier we can make the comedy, because the more people you touch with reality. I'm sure that its greatest appeal, though, is that audiences recognize their humanity—the realness of the characters. We ask you to believe, by virtue of what we're doing, that the Bunkers exist. That's what is hard for a lot of people to take. We're saying that we want you to believe that this lovable bigot is real.
People says [sic] to me, do you believe the show will have any effect? But what they do is make an unfair equation, in both directions. They say in terms of bigotry, let's say either the show reinforces racial stereotypes, or the show does good and will have some effect. I don't think either is true. How much could I expect to happen from my silly little half-hour television show, when the entire Judeo-Christian ethic for some 2,000 years hasn't budged in the area of race relations? I don't think there's much impact.
Q: I've been struck repeatedly as we've talked, by the fact that somehow you seem to associate writing and communication with a sense of conscience. You seem to have a sense of artistic duty, which I find unusual in television.
LEAR: No, not artistic duty. I would say that it's not possible to be 49 years old and live in this world with all its problems and not want to assume some responsibility. It seems to me that any fully grown, mature adult would have a desire to help where he can in a world that needs so very much, that threatens us so very much. Now, I write basically for television and I'm doing comedy; that desire for responsibility has to come out in whatever I do. I'm not altruistic in making an artistic contribution. It's a human response.

All in the Family lived for nine seasons, then morphed into Archie Bunker’s Place for another four. Viewers and critics debate how many of those seasons the show was running on fumes, but Carroll O’Connor did win an Emmy in Family’s final year. They also debate if the show would ever air if it were proposed today. I’ll, um, stifle my own thoughts on that matter, other than to say that television—and society—needs insightful social satire, if for no reason other than to point out our own failings.

Monday 26 July 2021

Daffy's Surprise Package

Daffy Duck woo-hooing and running around is always lots of fun to watch.

Here’s our screwy duck in Daffy Duck in Hollywood (1938). He’s sorry (sure he is!) he’s heckled director Mark Hamburger and gives him a present. Daffy turns to walk away.

Guess what the present is? “It’s me again,” shouts the duck as he runs in circles in a woo-hoo celebration of another gag being pulled off. Unfortunately, the scene fades out as we get some twirling animation of Daffy.

Dave Monahan is credited with helping Tex Avery with gags, with the animation credit going to Virgil Ross. Mark Hamburger is a spoof on director/columnist Mark Hellinger, while the big studio boss dresses like Leon Schlesinger and has a Miss Morgan as a secretary, just like Ginger Morgan at the Schlesinger studio.

Sunday 25 July 2021

Sneaking in a Commercial

Jack Benny loved making commercials a part of his show. He was one of the first to do it in 1932 on radio and carried on into the late 1960s when he hosted television specials (he was fortunate that one sponsor picked up the tab, something TV pretty much abandoned due to cost).

The book A Decade of Radio Advertising, published in 1933, pointed it out and also quoted an example.

There are two things interesting about it. One is that Jack’s character isn’t what it later became. No one on TV would assume he was dating a bevy of women or investing money in stocks. The whole idea of Benny being hauled off to a mental hospital is completely improbable; even Dennis Day didn’t drive him that crazy.

The other thing is Jack and writer Harry Conn used this same routine, almost word-for-word, to open the show of March 18, 1934. The only difference was the sponsor and the actors. In the latter show, the announcer was Chevrolet-pushing Alois Havrilla, the band leader was Frank Black, and the singer was Frank Parker. In this one, the announcer is Paul Douglas, the band leader is Ted Weems, and the singers are Andrea Marsh and Parker Gibbs. Mary Livingstone is in both broadcasts, though she’s his secretary only in the first one.

An example of the dramatized form of commercial announcement is found in the Canada Dry program of January 19, 1933. This company was one of the pioneers in product dramatization, and originally featured the sound of ginger ale being poured into a glass. Later the sales appeal was shifted to that of emphasizing its fountain trade and the fact that five cents would be refunded for every bottle returned to the dealer. In the example in question this is the principal point of selling interest.
The announcement begins with a brief opening comment by the announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, a half hour of sparkling entertainment by Canada Dry—the Champagne of Ginger Ales. Canada Dry is now available in the large, as well as the regular size bottles for the home, and made to order by the glass at fountains. This program stars Jack Benny,—the Canada Dry Humorist—and Ted Weems' Orchestra.
Following this there is a brief musical interlude and the program begins. The announcer, a character by the name of Mary and another by the name of Andrea are hunting for Jack Benny. Finally Ted Weems tells them that Benny has been taken to a sanitarium. The scene shifts to the sanitarium where Mary questions Benny as to why he is there. From here they proceed as follows:

MARY— Hello, Jack. Don't you know me? I'm Mary, your secretary.
JACK—Mary ! How are you, dear?
MARY—Why .... why .... don't you know where you are, Jack?
JACK—Yes, Mary, I'm in a sanitarium.
MARY (whispers)— Gee, Paul, he seems perfectly sane. They shouldn't have him in here.
PAUL (whispers)—Wait—I'll find out .... how are you feeling, Jack?
JACK—Fine, Paul. I never felt better in my life.
PAUL—Well ....Well.... then why have they got you in here?
JACK—I don't know, Paul. All I know is that I'm in here. Oh, hello, Andrea.
ANDREA—Hello, Jack .... I'm awfully sorry to see you here.
JACK—That's all right, Andrea. They'll find out their mistake.
PAUL (whispers) Say, Ted, you ask him a few questions.
TED—Oh Jack, you remember me, don't you?
JACK—Sure, Ted Weems .... did you bring that fruit for me, Ted?
JACK—Then stop eating it.
TED (laughs at this)—There's nothing the matter with you, Jack. What have they got you in here for?
JACK—You're asking me? Say Ted, there are a lot of people here who don't belong.
JACK—Yeah .... you see that fellow in the next cell?
TED—Yes, Jack.
JACK—Well, he thinks he's President. He leaves here March the 4th.
(Everybody laughs at this)
MARY—But you don't think you're somebody else, do you, Jack?
JACK—No, Mary, I'm Jack Benny.
MARY—Well, I'm going to see the superintendent and make him let you out. I'll be right back.
TED—There must be something wrong, Jack. Did you lose your money in the market?
JACK—Certainly not. I sold before the crash.
TED—Is it a woman?
JACK—Don't make me laugh I never have trouble with women.
TED—But you must be here for a reason.
JACK—I tell you—it's all a mistake.
PAUL—But it's not a mistake to buy Canada Dry Ginger Ale made to order by the glass, sold in the 5 -glass bottles, with a nickel back on each large bottle .... Canada Dry Ginger Ale .... Canada Dry Ginger Ale . . . .
[at the word “glass’] Jack starts to scream. That's it .... that's it. Take him away ... Canada Dry Ginger Ale ...
PARKER—Hold him, hold him, hold him.
ANDREA—Jack—Oh Jack ...

At this point, it didn’t matter how the Benny show sold soft drinks. Canada Dry had already announced the show was cancelled and would go off the air after January 26th. Benny had run afoul, as Variety reported on January 3, 1933, of the show’s agency because he insisted on deviating from the script. The agency actually had stenographers transcribe the show as it aired to see if it matched the script.

Benny wasn’t off the air for long. After failing to hook up with Old Gold cigarettes, a deal with signed by February 24th and he returned to the air for Chevrolet on March 3rd, replacing Al Jolson.